December 28, 2004

Sonia Tetlow Joins Cowboy Mouth

Ah, I've been meaning to do this for about a month, even though I don't think she reads this, but I wanted to say congratulations to Atlanta multi-talented singer/songwriter/guitarist and all around musical genius Sonia Tetlow who was recently hired on to as the new bass player (yeah, she does that, too) for the band Cowboy Mouth.

There are not enough kind things that I can say about her. It's such a rare thing for an artist of any sort to be able to make a living through their art, and I can't think of anyone more deserving. Congratulations Sonia.

For Atlanta-area folks, Cowboy Mouth will be performing New Year's Eve at the Marriott Marquis downtown.

Posted by shamanic at 3:02 PM

December 27, 2004

Lessons from a Chinese Cookbook

I was flipping through a rather thick Chinese cookbook the other night as my girlfriend and I were thinking about our weekly grocery list, and I noticed the frequent use of "phoenix" and "dragon" in recipe names. Both are mythological creatures from early in the existence of China, and I thought for a minute about how great it is that this culture retains its history and legends within its distinctive cuisine.

As an American, I felt a little sad for a minute that my own young culture's cuisine lacks this sort of weaving together of myths and legends with food and cooking, which have always brought people together. Then I realized that we do have something comparable: the Happy Meal.

And it made me even more sad.

Posted by shamanic at 4:22 PM

Bush Considers Punishing Blue States with Tax Hikes

Finding that flat taxes equal bankrupt government, the Bush is administration is casting about for ways to restructure the tax code to ensure that those who can most afford to pay taxes don't have to.

A few weeks ago, the White House floated the idea of repealing the business tax deduction for health insurance, which would have ended employer-sponsored health coverage for millions across the country. Now, Bush is floating the idea of repealing the personal federal deduction for state and local income taxes.

Blue states and counties, where property values are high, populations are extremely dense, and state and local services are required to maintain order, pay disproportionately higher amounts of state income tax and local property taxes, which are then often written off.

Repealing this write off would most likely have some unintended consequences. Cities would face unprecedented budget difficulties as they either cut taxes or saw the middle-class and above move out to the burbs. With fewer resources, crime and other indicators of shoddy governance would likely skyrocket, and the divide between urban and rural would grow wider.

Here's the administration's thinking on this topic:

Pamela F. Olson, a former assistant treasury secretary for tax policy under President Bush, said, "There is a basic issue of fairness at stake here." States with higher deductions end up paying far less in federal taxes than the states with lower deductions, she said.
In other words, places where a lot of people want to live have been getting a free ride for too long. The problem with this nonsensical "fairness" argument? New York City, which would be among the hardest-hit places in America, sends more than $11 billion more in federal taxes than it receives in services from the fed, local deductions or not.

And then finally, because the states' rights folks really believe that states should determine their own destinies:

"If you believe, as I do, that the state and local deductions encourage higher spending in states," said Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, "then abolishing the deduction will help bring this spending down and will also cause people to demand lower taxation."
Why is it that conservatives worship at the altar of the free market when it comes to Wal Mart, but when it comes to looking at where people choose to live, somehow they assume some abberation in the statistics?

Well, my Blue friends, it turns out that we don't pay enough to Uncle Sam already with our high-paying jobs and our spending that drives the economy. Maybe we should start to pick red congressional counties to move our urban values to, what do you say? We'll take the cowboy honkey tonks of America and turn them into Martini and Oxygen bars. We'll buy up neighborhoods in established communities and gentrify them, devastating long-time residents with increased property taxes. We'll make Wal Mart go toe-to-toe with Target, Best Buy, Circuit City, PetSmart and the rest of them. We'll be openly gay in our own new communities.

Come on DC, write your laws. We've got the cash to take our values to your towns.

Posted by shamanic at 8:30 AM

Opposition Leader Yushchenko Appears to Win Ukraine Election

Opposition leader Victor Yushchenko appears to have won Ukraine's re-vote by a 52-43% margin.

Now, we'll see if he can hold that country together, facing polarization among the regions and the electorate that most Americans would probably find familiar.

Best of luck, and congratulations to Ukranians for experiencing American-style modern democracy, where nothing is agreed even after the votes are counted. Sad days, these are.

Posted by shamanic at 7:59 AM

December 26, 2004

Best Wishes to Survivors in India

Massive tidal waves have apparently killed thousands in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

My condolences to those who've lost loved ones. Best wishes to those affected, and may rebuilding be swift and life find normalcy soon.

Posted by shamanic at 2:25 PM

Happy Holidays All

Merry Day-After-Christmas and happy holidays all. I'm on a light blogging schedule (as you can see) while I spend this time with friends and family. I hope that all my Christmas-hating fellow liberals are enjoying the time with their family and friends, too.

I'd like to say that this year, I finally found a really good gift for my parents. They're hard to shop for because they have everything, and while their tastes aren't expensive, they've had the same hobbies for years and have already been gifted with mountains of stuff on those themes.

Anyway, they're approaching the time of their lives where they're thinking about where they'd like to retire to, and recently have begun flying their plane to Cedar Key, Florida, to relax when they have time. Through the miracle of the Internet, I was able to locate this panoramic map, a reproduction of an 1884 hand-drawn map of Cedar Key. It was finally something that they really loved and didn't already have. It's so nice to be able to find a gift that really calls to mind the people you've gotten it for.

Anyway, I'll try to get back to regular blogging during the week, but expect light usage until the New Year.

And have a safe and happy rest of the holiday period, with best wishes to you and yours.

Posted by shamanic at 2:11 PM

December 19, 2004

GOP Hires More Gays

The GOP needs to paint that elephant in rainbow colors!

According to BlogActive, the House Committee on Government Reform has hired former Virginia congressman Ed Schrock as a staff director. Schrock, you may recall, was outed by BlogActive after tapes of his requests for discreet, butch gay sex partners surfaced last summer.

This is in addition to homosexual RNC leaders Ken Mehlman (Chairman), Dan Gurley (National Field Director), and Jay Banning (CFO).

What I really love about BlogActive is the e-mail lists Michael provides for direct action. Take a look at these, for congratulating various people on the Schrock hire:

House Staffers
corinne.zaccagnini@mail.house.gov
keith.ausbrook@mail.house.gov
ellen.brown@mail.house.gov
john.hunter@mail.house.gov
david.marin@mail.house.gov
drew.crockett@mail.house.gov
howie.denis@mail.house.gov
david.young@mail.house.gov
phil.barnett@mail.house.gov
marc.wheat@mail.house.gov
barbara.kahlow@mail.house.gov
ronald.martinson@mail.house.gov
mark.walker@mail.house.gov

Religious Right Personalities and Organizations
mail@traditionalvalues.org,
upport@familypolicy.net
awaugh@traditionalvalues.org
lsheldon@traditionalvalues.org
alafferty@traditionalvalues.org
rknight@cwfa.org
askeen@traditionalvalues.org
buddy@afa.net
coalition@cc.org

Nice, huh? Talk about poking people in the eye with a stick. I love this tactic. Rile up the nutcases and force confrontation with the legislative side of the coalition. Well done, BlogActive.

Posted by shamanic at 12:06 PM

Liberals and Christmas

The right wing has just gone bonkers about Christmas this year, so as a liberal, I would like to take a moment to address the burning issue of the role of one of Christianity's holiest days in American culture. Here is my take on Christmas, in as short a phrase as I can manage:

QUIT MAKING IT ABOUT MONEY.

There you go, Christians. I have a very hard time accepting that Jesus would feel good about his followers celebrating his birth with a spending frenzy. Jesus, after all, was inordinately concerned about the poor, the weak, and the forgotten. This is why liberals think highly of Christ himself and much less so about those who think they follow him by reading The Prayer of Jabez--"Oh that Thou would bless me indeed, and enlarge my coast [territory], and that Thine hand might be with me, and that Thou would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!" Selfless is not the word I would use to describe the intent of American Christians endlessly reciting these lines.

That being said, everyone knows that the holidays can be a stressful time. The influx of relatives, or the travel to go see them, our families' expectations of us and our own sense of whether we've lived up to them (does anyone think they've lived up to their parents' expectations, at least before they're 40 or so?) all combine to create a mix of emotions that have to be worked through year after year. This is also one of the great gifts of the holiday season, but in the moment I think a great many of us would just as soon have our therapists' numbers on speed dial.

Liberals, while we are no less consumers than conservatives, also have a certain anti-consumerist streak that conservatives don't understand at all. We have an inherent distrust of corporations and we display this by being hesitant about purchasing their goods. We tend to research companies and buy from those who we feel practice ethics more in line with good citizenship. This is why Wal-Mart is one of the bugaboos of the left: their labor practices drive down wages at home and they don't offer affordable healthcare to their employees. Their purchasing policies force suppliers to outsource manufacturing jobs, often to countries like China where workers aren't much different from slaves. Their stores cluster in rural areas where there often aren't a lot of jobs to begin with. The existence of the superstore in such places leads to the closing of existing businesses, further diminishing job opportunities. Liberals tend to think that Wal-Mart ends up trapping a lot of people in low wage jobs with no benefits and no future--not a situation that conservatives support, either, I might add.

In my opinion, conservatives whitewash Christmas with the bizarre nostalgia for a mythical past America where everything was wonderful for all people all the time and there was no crime, distrust, hurt feelings, and everyone knew their places and lived up to them. This America never existed, and while things may have been simpler in the 1950s, all that simplicity was the direct cause of the unrest of the 1960s. It was, in a word, a sham. Simplicity through injustice is false and will collapse. The simplicity arrived at through limiting the choices of women, racial minorities, and maintaining the invisibility and oppression of sexual minorities is simply not desireable. It is not sustainable. If women want to work, they should be allowed to. If people of color want to attend public universities, they should simply be allowed to. If homosexuals want to purchase homes as couples, they should be allowed to. Period.

So this is the divide on Christmas, as I see it. Conservatives see Christmas as harkening back to a time that liberals simply don't believe in.

Perhaps it makes sense to wrap the fiction of Santa Clause up in the fiction of a perfect previous America, and to simultaneously believe that dropping hundreds or thousands of dollars on disposable crap at places like Wal-Mart serves the equal role of strengthening families, improving America's economic engine, and celebrating the birth of one of the strongest advocates for social responsibility and community in the history of the world, but I'm skeptical.

I see it as hypocritical on every side, and as the boomers age, I lay more and more responsibility for the society that they increasingly hate at their feet. After all, they're the ones who announced that the old order wasn't working and went into full revolution mode in the 1960s. They're the ones who integrated schools and both fought in and fought against war. They're the ones who began the mass marketing of commodities on a scale never before seen in the world. They're the ones who announced that greed is good. They continue to live by this credo, and my generation has been infected with this thinking through and through.

And now the likes of Bill O'Reilly don't like the world they've created. I think it has a lot of problems, too, but my Christmas hope is that my generation can look at the eternal excess of his generation and craft a better nation, and stronger communities, than that which we've been handed.

So genuinely, Merry Christmas. May the true spirit of the season find us all and lead us to be better to ourselves and to one another, and to live better, more gentle lives in the new year.

Posted by shamanic at 11:24 AM

Abusing Animals for God's Greater Glory

Digby's got a write-up from James Dobson on using violence to bring a dog into line. He apparently also feels that this works with children.

I use treats and frequent obedience commands for the dogs. You know, practice and reward. While I have one neurotic and dog-aggressive dog, she's always been that way and accepts me as alpha with a minimum of grumbling. I also have one spectacularly sweet and well behaved dog. No beatings required.

Add James Dobson to the "that guy's a dick" list. Beating dogs with belts? Hey, I know, let's make him an influential voice in the eternal discussion on how to best raise children!

Posted by shamanic at 9:47 AM

ACLU Violates Donors' Privacy

The ACLU is dragging itself through the weeds, having compiled information about donors through extremely modern, and to many eyes (including their own) highly invasive techniques.

By contracting with a data mining (definition) company, the ACLU began collecting and organizing publicly available information about even small donors, according to the New York Times.

Some board members say the extensive data collection makes a mockery of the organization's frequent criticism of banks, corporations and government agencies for their practice of accumulating data on people for marketing and other purposes.
New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer is investigating whether the ACLU violated its members' and donors' trust.

Though the ACLU did change its privacy policy, it did not announce the change in the privacy policy, nor did it explicity use the revised privacy policy to explain that it would engage in data mining if you hand over $20.

The problem appears to be Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, a successful attorney and public interest activist whose resume includes stints at the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation.

Romero has played fast and loose with the board of the ACLU, and while he has also been responsible for the largest period of growth for the civil liberties group, it appears that Romero's pro-growth values frequently contradict the ACLU's pro-privacy and pro-liberty ethics.

In May, the ACLU board learned that Romero had registered the group in a federal charity drive that would have required the group to run names of potential employees through a federal terrorist watchlist database. Romero says he didn't realize they would have to actively screen for terror suspects by being part of the drive, and eventually the group pulled out.

In June 2003, Romero revealed that he had signed an agreement with Spitzer settling a complaint relating to the group's website. The agreement was signed in December 2002, and stipulated that it be disclosed to the board within 30 days. Romero says he didn't read it carefully and didn't think disclosure was required.

In these times, the ACLU should not be a scandal-ridden organization. There are so many fronts to the new war against civil liberties, and so much education that needs to be accomplished among the American people to show them there are other ways than complete surrender to authority. We need an ACLU that is not just growing but also strong and ethically correct.

Ditch Romero if you need to, folks. There's too much work to be done for this kind of petty crap.

Posted by shamanic at 9:30 AM

December 18, 2004

American Index of Economic Freedom

The Pacific Research Institute has released 2004 state by state rankings of economic freedom in America.

Obviously, this is a complicated topic to measure, though the results are roughly what I would expect. The top five states ranked (with my notations of per capita income, which is not what the PRI report measured per se) are:
Kansas ($22,089)
Colorado ($26175)
Virginia ($26362)
Idaho ($18,809)
and Utah ($18,905)
while the bottom five are:
Illinois ($24,694)
Rhode Island ($24,669)
Connecticut ($31,474)
California ($24,420)
and New York ($25,854).

Here is a bit from the authors talking about what economic freedom means in their report:

Economic freedom is the right of individuals to pursue their interests through voluntary exchange of private property under a rule of law, and this freedom forms the foundation of all market economies. We start from the position that freedom requires that people be safe and secure in body, home, and property. We assume the necessity of a "minimal state" that provides a rule of law in order to have any freedom.

State security and a rule of law, however, require some form of organized violence. And since many collectives of people, be they family, neighborhood, county, state, or country, have a difficult, nearly impossible, time collecting sufficient levels of money voluntarily to enforce the rule of law, some taxes are good in the sense that they create the framework or superstructure for the freedom to truck and barter.
...
For the purpose of the index, we assume that all relevant economic-freedom indicators are greater than the levels needed for a "minimal state" in every state; so, for example, jurisdictions that tax more are less economically free. Given the minimal state, we take the following bias in our assessment of indicators that impact economic freedom: if the indicator leads an individual to have more rights to contract, then the person is more free. If a person loses rights to contract by an indicator, then the indicator reduces freedom.

(click here to go to the table of contents for the report for more information on economic variables studied and methodology)

No surprise then that the authors cite what may be an inverse correlation between population and economic freedom.

And that kind of gets to the heart of why, on some level, and measure of economic freedom and the measure of economic opportunity would probably also show an inverse correlation.

I live in an urban environment, where wages easily outpace the typical income in a rural area, and where the cost of living does, too. Does this make me economically more free than a person living in a rural area?

That depends. I also pay taxes that support the policing and infrastructure of my community, and since my community, relative to a rural community, has a lot more policing (and educating, and large public hospitals and libraries, and all the rest of it) to be done and a lot more cars driving on the roads and wearing them down and so forth, my taxes for these services are higher.

Then there are the less measurable factors, for instance, the social benefits that go with living in a less economically free but more population dense environment. I work and socialize with people of many races, from several countries, and with diverse social, economic, and educational experiences. As a gay person, I have little fear of being stigmatized in my daily life or suffering consequences in the work place. I have a large social network of gay and lesbian friends that extends into my working life.

Let's call these opportunities, and they are not easily measured. I live in an opportunity-rich environment, and there is a price for that degree of opportunity.

Because of the sheer number of people and commercial transactions, there are issues of local regulation, zoning, and the like. In short, to best ensure everyone's freedom in an environment where there is a large population and a large marketplace of commercial transactions, that freedom must be regulated more than areas of low population and fewer commercial transactions.

In Atlanta, the price of this much activity is paying for greater regulation than I would find outside of the metro area. There is also a measurable payoff: the per capita income in Atlanta (2003) is a little over $27,000, while in Georgia it's a little over $22,000.

I can attribute the fact that my income is higher than both of these averages to the wealth of opportunity available to me. Does this make me more or less economically free than residents of Macon or Savannah (both with a per capita income of $20,000)? In real terms, not economic ones, am I more free here than in Americus, GA?

I don't know the answer. I know that my state ranks 19 on PRI's list, but I doubt that these numbers tell us very much other than the fact that small towns, and states with few cities, have fewer regulations and fewer barriers to commerce. But when you have very little commerce, and the community agrees that economic prosperity is important, you keep regulation to a minimum.

Once everyone is prosperous, regulations go into effect to protect the standard of living the community has built. In one sense, PRI's rankings demonstrate which states have yet to become truly prosperous (Idaho, anyone?) and which states already have accumulated wealth and have moved into the quality of life phase.

Map and graph below the cut.

Map of economic freedom

table of economic freedom

Posted by shamanic at 4:33 PM

December 17, 2004

Responding to the Troops, and Holiday Greetings from the Hoff

Here's an insightful man on the street report on the complaints our troops are expressing about conditions in Kuwait and Iraq.

Also, avert thine eyes. I've been reading Live Journal again.

Posted by shamanic at 3:07 PM

December 15, 2004

Bernard Kerik

Also from the Post:

A few days of digging by news organizations have revealed that Bush had planned to entrust one of the most sensitive jobs in his Cabinet, secretary of homeland security, to a man who had failed to report lavish gifts he received as a New York City official, had declared personal bankruptcy and was the subject of an arrest warrant in a civil case involving unpaid condominium fees.

Since Kerik withdrew, reports have emerged that he helped a company suspected of doing business with organized crime, and he has been accused of extramarital affairs that his representatives do not deny.

Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the lobbying community, accustomed to a White House that resists any whiff of sleaziness, were left wondering whether it was more astounding that Kerik allowed himself to be considered or that Bush disregarded a forest of red flags and nominated him anyway.

An exhausted staffer who has been closely involved in the matter from the beginning called it "a case of hubris on both sides."

Not to get all down on the mainstream media, but it's not as though Bush had any reason to think there were reporters doing any digging anymore.

Posted by shamanic at 6:33 AM

Well, so long as they attack us with ICBM's on a beautiful day...

A short item in the Washington Post describes the recent string of failure with the national missile defense system that the Bush administration has been boondoggling the public with since taking office nearly four years ago.

The Post tells us that the Missile Defense Agency has attempted to launch tests repeatedly over the last month, the first live-fire tests in nearly two years.

While the missile to be intercepted was successfully launched from Kodiak, Alaska just before 1am EST (earlier there, of course, but certainly not daylight this close to the winter solstice), the interceptor missile experienced an "unknown anomaly" and failed to fire. Other reasons for failure in the last month have included bad weather and various malfunctions.

According to BBC, the "Son of Star Wars" program costs the US taxpayer some $10 billion a year, and was to be in operation by the end of 2004.

The Pentagon claims a success rate of five in eight attempts at earlier NMD test fires, but critics point to homing beacons on some of the intercepted missiles as cause for skepticism. Apparently, we cannot expect our enemies to equip their weapons with homing beacons designed to make our missile shield more effective. Nor can we count on daylight launches on sunny, windless days. Our enemies, it seems, are far more devious than the Pentagon is prepared for.

Allegations of fraud in the reporting of missile sensor data by MIT's Lincoln Laboratory also do little to instill confidence in this particular tax payer.

I'm of two minds on this. As a defense measure in the post-Cold War era, I think that NMD is an amazing waste of resources and energy, but I support the vast amount of pure and applied science that is called to the fore in the creation of such a program. This is one of the few areas where the Bush administration has accepted that science is an integral part of our national life.

My father worked on SDI in the army in the 1980s and has great confidence in the program's ability to work -- eventually. I can imagine a number of applications for related technologies with sensors that accurate, including deploying a small fleet of satellites whose job it is to intercept "space junk" in low Earth orbit before we start losing equipment and possibly astronaut's lives from all the nuts and bolts floating above us.

But it's still an 'if'. All the evidence is that the sensors do not work effectively.

During the Cold War, missile defense was predicated on the idea that the Soviets would never launch a nuclear strike if they couldn't count on a hit rate approaching 100%, because our counter-strike would be overwhelmingly devestating.

I believe that this equation has changed somewhat since 9/11. Now, we know that a small number of hits can be nearly unbearable. What does it matter to a leader crazy enough to launch nuclear-equipped ICBMs if the hit rate is 35%, 50%, or 100%? Don't you just fire two at each target and assume a certain success rate?

There's also the painful realization that a non-missile based, domestically launched attack can paralyze entire sectors of the economy and kill thousands, which brings us back to the price tag attached to NMD.

Is this the best use of $100B in the next decade? What if we applied 1/10th of that to funding secular school initiatives in the Middle East and supporting a rising and tolerant middle class in countries where we have influence? Wouldn't a fraction of that 1/10th go a long way to transforming the culture in, say, large swaths of Pakistan? Who is our enemy in the long term, especially when in the short term NMD is hardly a defense at all?

Posted by shamanic at 6:17 AM

December 14, 2004

Finished with Rehab, but Still a Degenerate

Rush Limbaugh is such a dick.

He spends a decade or two empowering the forces of deceny and morality only to end up with a Republican House, Senate, White House, and FCC.

That last one is the issue here. We can all remember a time when the FCC was a lax, benign entity whose chief job was to limit commercials on children's programming and remind the American public that they are free to change the channel when something comes on that they find distasteful.

Thanks to Rush and his many imitators, the FCC has gone from an agency that encourages people to take responsibility for their remotes to an agency of big government which will safeguard the public from things deemed offensive by the Parents Television Council.

Which brings us to Atrios' FCC Action Alert.

1. Go to http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/menu/rush.guest.html and find your Limbaugh station.
2. Send an email to fccinfo@fcc.gov with your own version of the following:

On Monday, December 13 in the 2nd hour of his program (1pm EST) broadcast on [CALL SIGN HERE], Rush Limbaugh used the vulgar, sexual term "dick" when referring to a Miss Plastic Surgery pageant. Specifically, Limbaugh said:


"LIMBAUGH: Miss Plastic Surgery. (chuckle) And Id Id I I dont I dont know what the winner I and, oh, I didnt print out both pages, so I dont know what the I dont know what the winner gets. Probably a certificate to go to San Francisco to have an add-a-dick-to-me operation. "

Ooh, Rush, you degenerate pill popper. Don't you know that in the Rush Limbaugh era, you can't just come right out and talk about sex organs on the radio? Especially during the day, you dick. People don't tune into your show to hear graphic discussions of the male sex organ. What are you, a faggot or something? There could be children around.

At the risk of having Christian Grantham* accuse me of supporting censorship again, I'd like to encourage Simianbrain readers to do as Atrios says.

When advocates of censorship (or those who support advocates of censorship) cross the line into indecent speech on the public airwaves, it's really only fair that we use the benevolent government watchdogs of their own creation to pull them back from the brink, don't you agree?

*If you haven't checked out Christian Grantham's blog, it's a really good read with very thoughtful, principled discussion. He leads my list of Queer Observer links for a reason.

Posted by shamanic at 6:56 PM

Ford to Deplete US Gas Guzzler Reserves (And Not A Moment Too Soon)

A source within Ford Motor Company says that the car maker plans to eliminate its 19-foot long, 10-mile-per-gallon (city) Excursion in September 2005.

I'm sure the 25% drop off in sales this year has nothing to do with Ford's decision to open up more production space for its pickup truck line.

Also on the chopping block, the Lincoln Aviator (sales off by more than 20% for the year).

Other SUV offerings taking a hit: the Ford Expedition (down 13%)
General Motors' H2 Hummer (down 21%)

Wow, Americans really do respond to high gas prices. At least there's this bright spot to the theivery going on at the gas pump: the conspicuous consumers are looking a little silly now.

I think I'll stick to my little Toyota, thanks.


Posted by shamanic at 3:09 PM

December 11, 2004

No News is Good News Blogging--HTML Questions

In the midst of doing garden-variety computer upkeep over the last several days, I changed my screen resolution settings to one more closely matching my favorite workstation at work. Admittedly, that work station has a larger monitor, but the effect is pleasing and more expansive at home, too.

One issue I'm noticing, however, is an exaggeration of the problems I've had trying to format Simianbrain to function well in Internet Explorer as well as Mozilla's terrific Firefox browser.

Do any more-experienced HTML coders have any tips on formatting a page that will be seen on a variety of browsers and a variety of screen resolution settings? At this resolution, (1024x768) I have so much more room to play, but how many people use this resolution? (Okay, I'm looking at my Statcounter page and see that the vast majority of users use this resolution. Also that Firefox is now outnumbering Explorer with users who log in here.)

I'd love to know: at what point does a web designer just say, "Aw, fuck it," and formats the page to work best with his or her settings, perhaps including some documentation to that effect on the page?

The Simianbrain graphic, for instance, used to be larger (and looks pretty weak at this screen res) but I couldn't get Explorer to agree with Firefox that it was centered in the left sidebar. It would fall off the screen in Firefox when it was centered in Explorer.

For a while I just thought, "Well, I hate Explorer and no one should be using such a buggy, insecure browser anyway," but at the time 70-90+% of my hits came from Explorer browsers, so I had to shrink the graphic so Explorer wouldn't push the initial entry a quarter of the way down the screen. Have I mentioned that I hold an extremely low opinion of Explorer, and Microsoft's software generally?

Anyway, looks like I'm just gonna say screw it again. If something doesn't look right, be aware that if you were using Firefox at 1024x768, it would.

On the topic of computer upkeep, I'd like to recommend a few products that I've tried out recently and feel pretty good about. Ad Aware is a really good spyware/adware scanner and killer, which located more than 400 problem files on my machine, nearly all of which I authorized it to delete.

RAMBooster is a nice memory optimization tool. I've got 512MB of RAM, but still experience lag and slow processing. After installing RAMBooster (which is free, by the way) and playing with the settings a bit, I've had few to no problems of the kind.

Any suggestions for other memory optimization tools would be much appreciated. My machine is pretty top line, even at 18 months old, and I'd prefer that it had the speed and handling capacity to match.

Posted by shamanic at 1:17 PM

December 10, 2004

Rummy's Rant

Here's an imaginary dialogue between Donald Rumsfeld and General Barkley, regarding armor.

Excerpt:

RUMSFELD: Aha! No! The reason that you're here, general, is to share with me what is known about the now-known problem and also to present, as always, any problems that I don't know so that I can know them and thereby not not know them anymore, while you, in turn, must endeavor to determine what I know as far as what is known to be a known problem and thus be in a position to inform me about what you know I don't know.

BARKLEY: We don't have enough armored vehicles in Iraq.

RUMSFELD: What?

BARKLEY: Iraq. We don't have enough armored vehicles. That's a problem.

RUMSFELD: And this is a known problem, personally, to you, knowledge-wise?

BARKLEY: Yeah. We've.... sent memos.

Very nice, Felber.

Posted by shamanic at 11:10 AM

December 9, 2004

Donald Rumsfeld Should Kiss the Ass of Every Soldier in Harm's Way

I have to admit that I nearly laughed out loud when I heard Rummy's responses to questions from soldiers deployed to Kuwait on their way to Iraq the other day. Such classic Rummy: "You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want," which sounded to me a lot like he was saying, "We're stuck sending you into combat, not the people who could actually win this thing." But I know that's not what he meant.

I've watched the ire of the blogosphere, with Glenn Reynolds throwing his outrage at the outrage ("I think it's nice that Rumsfeld heard criticisms from the troops -- though not, in this case, troops that had actually gotten to Iraq yet..." is one of my favorite lines, topped only by his quote of Jeff Taylor, "Further, more armor is not a magical solution, never has been." Nice, indeed!) while anti-[everything] observes from the anti-[everything] position, "This statement could only come from someone who is not about go to war."

My take, having had a day or so to stew on this one, is that Donald Rumsfeld deserves a good hard slap from every single soldier in the field. Even the French troops in Afghanistan should get their shots in here.

I support our troops, and as an American I want to know why Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon has things set up so that our soldiers are digging through landfills to acquire scrap metal and glass? Images from "Save the Children" ads are scrolling through my mind. What kind of third world operation are we running here?

I live in the richest nation on the planet, home to more cars than can be found on most continents, and our troops aren't being supplied with enough metal to outfit their vehicles on the way to fight a vicious insurgency that likes to detonate bombs as convoys drive by?

What is going on, Mr. Secretary, that our troops' safety doesn't get top priority on your to-do list?

I guess it's true: You run a country with the leaders you have, not necessarily the leaders you would want, or the leaders you would want to have in the future.

Posted by shamanic at 6:14 PM

December 8, 2004

FCC Complaints Add Up To Nada

According to the XBiz website, nearly all FCC indecency complaints come from one source: the website of the Parents Television Council.

Aside from the Janet Jackson incident at the Superbowl, more than 99% of FCC complaints come from the PTC.

In the FCC notice filed against Fox, the regulatory agency said that it had received 159 complaints about the program in question, but a FOIA request revealed that only 90 complaints had been received and that those 90 complaints had been filed by 23 different people.

Also noted in the FOIA response was that, of those 90 complaints, all but four were identical because most were generated by a website, and that only one of the complainants said they had watched the program.

I don't know if this is a bad thing. It's television, and somebody else is always going to dictate the programming. Should it be ethically bankrupt executives or citizens with mouses? I do not know the answer to that question.

I can tell you that the Internets appears to be broken. Massive lag tonight, and hinky memory issues with the computer last night that I seem to have gotten resolved. Apologies if I seem to be negligent of the blog, in fact I'm wrestling with tech issues (and at work, too--something in the bitstream, I guess.)

ATLBlogs is also having issues that they're working hard to resolve, so any performance issues with this or any other ATLBlog are likely to be taken care of soon.

December 6, 2004

Military Gets Sued by... well, Everyone

Today two lawsuits that should (but don't) resolve each other were filed against the US military.

First up, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell". 12 former servicemembers filed suit against the military for being discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, enacted in 1993.

The suit is premised upon the findings in the June 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, which found that homosexuals have the same constitutionally protected right of privacy that heterosexuals have. This case reversed the court's earlier finding in Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld a state's right to enact and enforce sodomy laws.

I will quote here from Lawrence v. Texas because I think this ruling is one of the best the Supreme Court has handed down in a long time, and the language captures the essence of what it means to be an American:

For this inquiry the Court deems it necessary to reconsider its Bowers holding. The Bowers Court's initial substantive statement--"The issue presented is whether the Federal Constitution confers a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy ... ," 478 U. S., at 190--discloses the Court's failure to appreciate the extent of the liberty at stake. To say that the issue in Bowers was simply the right to engage in certain sexual conduct demeans the claim the individual put forward, just as it would demean a married couple were it said that marriage is just about the right to have sexual intercourse. Although the laws involved in Bowers and here purport to do not more than prohibit a particular sexual act, their penalties and purposes have more far-reaching consequences, touching upon the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home. They seek to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals. The liberty protected by the Constitution allows homosexual persons the right to choose to enter upon relationships in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons.

Back to the case at hand... "Don't ask, don't tell" allows homosexuals to serve in the military, provided they abstain from sexual conduct and keep their sexuality private.

Plaintiffs here argue that under Lawrence, which stated plainly that neither homosexuality nor homosexual conduct is criminal, "don't ask, don't tell" is unconstitutional.

Ironically, the military's only problem today isn't discharged soldiers trying to get back into the service, but active duty troops who have been kept past their contractual obligations under the stop-loss policy. Specifically, eight plaintiffs argue that the military is in breach of contract for lengthening their enlistments beyond the service agreements they signed. They argue that the service contract makes no mention of stop-loss, and that they should immediately be released from service.

I just can't help thinking that Rummy needs to sit down with all these folks and have a real lightbulb moment. One group wants back in, one group wants out. The group that wants back in is larger than the group that wants out. Hm... Whatever shall we do to solve this problem...?

Posted by shamanic at 7:47 PM

December 5, 2004

Bin Laden is Gone, Musharraf is Staying

The Washington Post has an almost fascinating piece today about Pakistan and its leader Pervez Musharraf, in Washington for talks with the Administration.

The lede is that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has gone completely cold in Pakistan, but further in we learn some interesting things about Pakistan and Musharraf himself.

General Musharraf, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, is likely to retain his positions both as civillian and military leader. He had previously promised to relinquish his military role.

"The amount that I, in uniform, have done for democracy has never been done in the past in Pakistan," he said. "So let's not see democracy in the limited scope of [a] uniform. I don't believe that is the end-all of democracy." Under his rule, he added, "there is total democracy in Pakistan."
Obviously there isn't total democracy in Pakistan, but the United States is a democratic Republic lacking "total democracy".

I'm actually a big fan of stories where bloodless coups in repressive nations bring forth leaders who are genuine populists and reformers. My understanding is that Musharraf is one of these, and that while his government is far from perfect on issues of human rights and openness, his leadership has represented a real shift towards democratization.

As he often has in the past, Musharraf characterized himself as the indispensable figure holding together a fractious country that needed to find unity among its political, bureaucratic and military establishments to confront its problems. "At this moment," he said, "I provide that unity."
Musharraf is also quoted as expressing hope about renewed efforts to find peace with India over the disputed Kashmir region, which saw bombing last night that killed 11 Indian army soldiers. The bomb, described as a "remote controlled road-side bomb" sounds an awful lot like the infamous IEDs that American troops are facing in Iraq. This may have occured to highlight Musharraf's trip and raise the urgency level, symbolism being everything.

Musharraf also assigns some blame to the United States for the apparent loss of bin Laden, noting that low troop levels have decreased their effectiveness.

The United States shares major responsibility, Musharraf suggested, because the U.S.-led coalition does not have enough troops in Afghanistan, which has left "voids."
He does not mention that his government has officially forbidden US military action on the Pakistani side of the border, though soldiers with the US Army Special Forces have told SimianBrain that cross-border incursions by US Forces are, unofficially, common.

Posted by shamanic at 11:55 AM

December 4, 2004

Red v. Blue Number Crunching

Andrew Sullivan brings us a rundown of "values" in Red and Blue states. The results will only surprise you if you're conservative.

29 percent of Baptists have been divorced, compared to 21 percent of Catholics. Moreover, a staggering 23 percent of married born-agains have been divorced twice or more. Teen births? Again, the contrast is striking. In a state like Texas, where the religious right is extremely strong and the rhetoric against teenage sex is gale-force strong, the teen births as a percentage of all births is 16.1 percent. In liberal, secular, gay-friendly Massachusetts, it's 7.4, almost half. Marriage itself is less popular in Texas than in Massachusetts. In Texas, the percent of people unmarried is 32.4 percent; in Massachusetts, it's 26.8 percent. So even with a higher marriage rate, Massachusetts manages a divorce rate almost half of its "conservative" rival.
(...)
America has an abortion rate of 21 abortions per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44. Holland has a rate of 6.8. Americans, in other words, have three times as many abortions as the Dutch. Remind me again: which country is the most socially conservative?
Well worth reading as our nation appears torn at the seams and is clearly in need of some points of common ground. It turns out that the things that people in states like Texas believe in are the same things practiced in states like Massachusettes. How about we begin the discussion there--by recognizing that "liberal" states actually do a better job of holding families together and reducing teen pregnancy while "conservative" states care passionately about these issues.

Isn't this where the two meet and discuss strategies? In a less politicized world, these numbers would be cause for summits between governors, but that's just not where we are in America today. More the pity.

Posted by shamanic at 1:14 AM

December 2, 2004

LiveJournal Photoblog

Here's something that I've been just scrolling through for the last little while, somehow totally enjoying the pictures. Katia Roberts is the photographer's name. Really good stuff randomly located on the web.

Posted by shamanic at 9:21 PM

Abstinence: Just Do It.

Is this what you want your child taught in sex ed:

Some course materials cited in Waxman's report present as scientific fact notions about a man's need for "admiration" and "sexual fulfillment" compared with a woman's need for "financial support." One book in the "Choosing Best" series tells the story of a knight who married a village maiden instead of the princess because the princess offered so many tips on slaying the local dragon. "Moral of the story," notes the popular text: "Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man's confidence or even turn him away from his princess."
Wow. Wow.

To all the girls who are willing and able to help out with dragon slaying, let me urge you to consider lesbianism. And actually, you'd be succeeding in the stated goals of Abstinence Only programs--reducing STDs, pregnancy, and HIV transmission. (Unless you're an Australian lesbian, in which case you are inexplicably more likely to have had more male sex partners than hetero women. My guess is there's something queer about that study.)

Posted by shamanic at 7:20 PM


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