Saturday, July 21, 2007

What Does This Really Mean?

I can sum up the reason for this in one phrase: too little, too late:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush, under fire over the treatment of CIA detainees, on Friday ordered that agency interrogators comply with the Geneva Conventions against torture.

Five years after he exempted al Qaeda and Taliban members from the Geneva provisions, Bush signed an executive order requiring the CIA to comply with prohibitions against "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" as set down in the conventions' Common Article 3.

Human rights activists criticized Bush's action, saying it did not go far enough to eliminate dangerous interrogation techniques.
Not only is this action in and of itself "too little, too late" in terms of helping shape what pathetic little legacy Bush hopes to salvage, but in point of fact, it describes the results of our activities under a program that ignored the Geneva Conventions.

In other words, the presumable tortures that occured led to no prevented terror attacks, no solid leads on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, and no measurable increase in homeland security.

How do I know this? Prima facie evidence: Bush gave the program up. Think about it. This a man who stubbornly refuses to admit any error in any part of his administration of this country, suddenly deciding that the Geneva Convention is a good thing? He's going to "coddle terrorists"?

Granted, he couldn't even get his hand picked SCOTUS to vet this theory of governance for him, which had to be a blow, but he certainly could have run out the clock and stand on his "principles"...not the most solid ground in any Republican administration, but nothing more than a pile of shale debris in the Bush years.

It's possible, tho unlikely, that Bush is running scared from the odd chance of a war crimes trial looming after he's out of office and so is trying to mitigate the damage. Even with a Democratic president in place, I can't imagine any US President would permit it, since it would open the door to any number of future trials for some fairly routine matters, like Bill Clinton being brought up on charges over the Kosovo conflict (remember, the charges wouldn't have to be proven to destroy US credibility, just brought to trial).

That's a scenario that plays out incompletely at best.

There really is no other reason for this grudging admission that the Geneva Conventions exist in the matter of the Afghani conflict, except to say the torture wasn't fruitful, and the time had come to wind down the operation. More terror attacks have been prevented by focusing on the domestic crime prevention methods that allowed the UK to stop the recent car bombings, and the US to prevent the pathetically amateurish attempts in the past two years.

Which is the way it should have been from the get-go, once we captured Osama.

Oh. Right. I forgot.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

Lenny Kravitz - Fly Away

This was the version you didn't see on MTV...

Friday Kitten Blogging

Doin' whut i duz bess!

Nobody Asked Me, But

The weekly whip-around of the news you should have seen, but probably didn't:

1) From the DoggityBlog, we learn of squirrels infiltrating Iran. Jeez, you know, I wish that was a joke...

2) ...but that doesn't excuse the United States from unleashing its most terrifying weapon in Iraq to date: giant killer badgers!

3) Remember a couple of weeks ago, I was bemoaning the fact that the United States was falling desperately behind in keeping the lights on? It gets worse. Much worse. To the tune of $1.6 trillion just to maintain and repair our crumbling infrastructure!

4) Yes, but damn, those tax cuts are just TOO important!

5) Call me a Muggle, but the last Harry Potter book does even less for me than any of the first six, which was basically zero, so we're talking negative impact here. The new movie is pretty good, though.

6) As an actor, I admit it's been fun watching Daniel Radcliffe grow as an actor. He has the best shot at a real career as an actor, followed by Rupert Grint.

7) Barry Bonds is just two home runs away from Hank Aaron's record. This has been like root canal, following this story for so long: painful, and it could have been prevented.

8) The Emmy nominations are out. YAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWN! Most of the major awards are useless exercises in stupidity, vapidity, and outright cocksuckery. I can thoroughly understand why Brando and Scott skipped the Oscars when they won.

9) Tilting at windmills, Jude? As snarky as that sounds, I have to applaud that he is at least speaking out.

10) This is no story. We have a hydrocephalic moron for president. Match THAT, France! Oh. Right. You did.

11) I've said it before: The UN reports on the environment, in a nod to the Bush administration, grossly understate glacial melting.

12) ESPN must be spinning in its grave. Not dead yet? Don't worry, just give it time. A network that has to scrape so far as to broadcast spelling bees and "rock, scissors, paper" competitions as sport is not long for this world.

13) So now we know where the Simpsons live. Funny, I don't recall Homer skiing much. Must be that global warming. Damned global warrrrminggggg....

14) To say that life for me these past two months has been challenging is an understatement. I think there's a change underway. Something to change my luck a little.

15) Bush to have colonoscopy, to remove fragments of brain that still linger.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Banking Lobby Rears Its Ugly Head

No surprises here. Bush is beholden to his pin-striped partners:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration said on Wednesday it cannot support a U.S. Senate bill to cut college student lender subsidies by $18 billion and boost student grants, but it will work with Congress on the issue.

As the Senate neared a vote on its version of legislation passed in the House of Representatives, the White House said it "cannot support Senate passage of (the bill) in its current form because of serious concerns with some provisions."
While the administration claims it would veto the bill because not enough additional money would be in the form of grants that would not require repayment, the real reason is...
The House last week passed a bill that would cut subsidies to lenders -- such as Sallie Mae, Citigroup and Bank of America -- by $19 billion and boost grants.
(emphasis added)

Citibank is a key player here, so far as Bush is concerned. A major shareholder for Citibank is Al-Awaleed bin Talal. Tangentially, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shaukat Aziz, was Executive Vice President & Head of Global Private Banking.

Once again, genuine progress for working and middle class Americans is stymied, while Bush and his cronies look for those last crumbs to feed their corporate masters and partners.

The end can't come fast enough for our country.

I'm Fine!

I'm flattered by the flood of emails asking if I'm OK after yesterday's blast in midtown Manhattan.

While the intersection where the steam pipe blew, 41st and Lexington, is a mere block and a half from my office, I had been long gone when the explosion took place, at 6PM. I am staying home today until I get an all-clear from our esteemed mayor, Mike Bloomberg, regarding the air quality. Because I work for the miserable rat bastard who owns the building that straddles the quarantine zone, and that building has one small entrance outside the quarantine zone, I was forced to come into work, despite the lack of air quality report.

According to the latest news, any asbestos exposure was last evening, brief, and knocked out of the sky by all the condesing steam.

Had the blast happened 4 1/2 hours earlier, however, I might be parboiled. Such is my luck with lotteries...amen, in this case.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Steve Martin - Roxanne - 20 Something Betters

I Kin Haz Ur Attention, Pliz?

Dis story nids to be tawked about more now:
U.S. Animal and Plant Inspection Service officials argue that the house, listed as a National Historic Landmark since 1968, requires a federal Animal Welfare License, like a circus or zoo, in order to keep housing the cats.

The city of Key West and Monroe County, which includes Key West and the other islands in the Keys chain off Florida's southeastern tip, are fighting back against federal intervention.

"I think it's kind of sad that a government agency would be spending taxpayers' money on this," said Linda Mendez, the home's event director and author of the "Hemingway Museum Cats" souvenir book. "We're against caging them because they're not used to it."
I live in a tiny 'partment, so I know tht catz don' like to be caged. Dadby makes me eckercise a lot every day, an' gives me plenty cat toyz to play wiff.

(Sum I eben hide my catnip in....shhhhhhhhhhh, don' tel!)

I blamez tha Preznit, George Dumbya Boosh for dis! He hatez catz! He hatez Hemingway! He hatez Florida cuz hiz brover is gov...gober...runs tha joint!

Pliz make sure you mantion how much we catz hate Boosh.

How Desperate Is John Edwards?

No one would ever accuse the Edwards' family of having a traditional family in the old style American sense: stay-at-home, docile wife, breadwinning hubby, 2.4 kids. But you'd figure John wouldn't hide behind his wife's skirt:
WASHINGTON -- Elizabeth Edwards thinks her husband is a better woman warrior than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In an unusually blunt, no-holds-barred interview with, Elizabeth Edwards, who is fighting cancer, said Clinton is "not as vocal a women's advocate as I want to see."

She went on to question Clinton's commitment to defending abortion rights, making a veiled reference to the former first lady's recent claim that abortions are tragedies.
Fair enough, we're all entitled to different opinions. After all, we're not Republicans. Hillary Clinton, whose work for women's issues stretches way back to pre-First Lady days, doesn't need me to defend her comments that abortions should be safe, legal and rare. It certainly doesn't help us sway moderate voters when Ms. Edwards' tries to claim that's too moderate a position. Continuing...
"She describes some cost-saving things, which John also supports, but she acts like that's going to make health care affordable to everyone," Edwards said.

"She knows it won't. She's not really talking about poverty, when the face of poverty is a woman's face, often a single mother," she said.
You can't have it both ways, Ms. Edwards. If your husband supports the same measures that Hillary supports, then it's kind of pointless to claim Ms. Clinton doesn't have a comprehensive plan, unless by extension you're admitting your own husband hasn't done his homework as well.

What bothers me most about these comments is that it's not John Edwards who is making them, and it ought to be. I'm not saying Elizabeth Edwards has no place on the campaign trail...hell, she's earned her stripes...but attacks like this ought to come from the candidate him (or her) self, and Mr. Edwards ought to stand by them. That would take courage, of course, which seems to be in short supply in the Edwards' campaign.

I say this having remarked in the past that I think Elizabeth Edwards' voice may be the most important in her husband's campaign, but I said that with the meaning of speaking to the issues, not tearing down other candidates. Contrast these comments with the ones Hilalry made in 1992 when she was running against Barbara Bush for First Lady.

What's that? She said nothing about Mrs. Bush?

My point, precisely. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bush had great sport with Hillary Clinton and in the end probably cost her husband more votes with her bitchiness than she garnered for him by tearing down Hillary.

I voted for Edwards over Kerry in the 2004 primaries. I won't make that same mistake again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Your Tax Dollars At Work

I'm going to make a slightly surprising confession: I'm not against faith-based organizations obtaining government funding. There are somethings they do well, like family counseling, and if they promise to keep religion and the social aspects of their operations separate, I really see no point in not allowing taxpayers to provide funding. I am against proselytizing, of course, but not against a minister ministering to people in need, no matter what their faith.

There are somethings that churches do rather unwell. One thing I imagine would be public transportation.

Enter Higherway. Now, most public transport solutions involve moving masses of people from one destination to another quickly and efficiently.

Apparently, Higherway transport systems are, um, a bit more "rugged individual" than that. Here, take a look:The Higherway system employs a may recall one of those from summer camp. Your counselor sent you out looking for one, along with a stick to hunt snipe gently lift your car off the ground and attach it, somewhat like a ski lift, to a cable running above the ground.

The Higherway PRT system has been in use in precisely one location in the United States, for some 30 years: Morgantown, WV, on the campus of West Virginia University. While the developers have touted it's utility, claiming it's even better than light rail systems, apparently, the PRT system on the West Virginia University campus breaks down about every other day under not-exactly taxing usage, and certainly that doesn't presage well for its use in a normal rush hour situation, so bad that the mayor of Kansas City said he'd never install one there, and rushed to put in place a light rail system.

UPDATE Thanks to Britisher (who's blog you should all be regularly attending to, even if he doesn't), who had enough energy to dig up this little treasure:The Control Panel Inside Each Car
Note the direct phone line to the nearest jail...

Does any of this sound at all familiar to you? It should...

Leaky Drums And Other Musical Instruments

I consider myself a liberal, and as such, when I tear someone a hole, it's usually a conservative. This time, I focus my guns to my left:
KASHIWAZAKI, Japan (Reuters) - Officials at the world's biggest nuclear power plant said on Tuesday there had been more minor radiation leaks after an earthquake in Japan that killed nine people and forced thousands from their homes.

The latest admissions by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) have reignited fears about nuclear safety in a country that relies on atomic power for one-third of its electricity but has faced repeated cover-ups of past accidents by atomic power utilities.
Now, you know damned well this is going to spark some idiotic backlash here, as well.

Trouble is, nuclear power is a technology we could (and obviously should) have spent the last fifty years developing safely, that would be clean, efficient, and more important, would have minimal impact on global warming.

I don't mean to minimize the glaring errors that were made early on in nuclear development. There was a distinct air of hubris once we harnessed (and then unleashed) the power of the atom, making America feel godlike, and we were fortunate in how little damage was really done. That, make no mistake, is a testimony to the "No Nukes" movement.

But as with all good things and all "causes", it was done to excess. The strident and vociferous protests against anything nuke created an environment, pun intended, which forced us to remain thoroughly dependent on fossil fuels, to the ultimate detriment of not only Americans but the world.

One wonders how many people have died because we turned 180 degrees on nuclear power, and how many would have died if we had gone back to the labs and worked harder on the admittedly serious problems involved in nuclear power generation, developing safe ways of use and disposal of nuclear material? How many have died from complications of acid rain, or asthma, or name any number of fossil-fuel related issues?

My suspicion is that, on the whole, more people have died in this timeline than would have died with a careful roll out of nuclear power. Call it a gut feeling, I guess. Call it the dreams of someone who believes in science, but science done carefully, without agenda, research for research purposes.

We have a long way to get back to even with global warming, and things are going to get worse before they get markedly better. For all our handwringing on the left about dependence on fossil fuels, and with the admission that we could (and should) have been developing alternative renewable sources of energy as well, we have to, I think, grudgingly admit this is one area we screwed up.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tall In The Saddle No More

Well, here's another chart we've fallen off the top from:
America used to be the tallest country in the world.

From the Founding Fathers through the industrial revolution and two world wars, Americans literally towered over other nations. In a land of boundless open spaces and limitless natural abundance, the nation turned increasing wealth into human growth.

But, as it has in other arenas, America's predominance in height has faded. Americans reached a height plateau after World War II and gradually fell behind the rest of the world.
Wait till you read who we've fallen behind...
Young adults in Japan and other prosperous Asian countries now are almost as tall as Americans.
You may recall that the stereotype Japanese during World War II was a short stocky fellow with buck teeth and slanty eyes. Aside from the short, not a whole lot of truth to that image, however, the short part was true.

So how come Americans have fallen so far down the list, heightwise?
Like many human traits, height is determined by a mix of genes and environment. Experts agree that, aside from African pygmies and a few similar exceptions, most populations have about the same genetic potential for height.
That leaves environment, specifically the environment children experience from conception through adolescence. Any deficiency, from poor prenatal care to early childhood disease or malnutrition, can prevent one from reaching his or her full height potential.
OK, so here goes: The United States has an infant mortality rate of 4.6 deaths per 100,000. That sounds pretty good, and in fact, is the best of any country that doesn't have nationalized health care.

But is just behind Cuba in terms of worldwide infant mortality rates (which average somewhere around 36 deaths per 100,000), and factoring out stillbirths doesn't do much to improve our standing (meaning that most developed nations have better post-natal care than we do, something to think about the next time a "pro-life" person wails to you about dying babies). Further, if you look at the odds of a kid under five dying in the United States, we're much worse than Cuba.

Michael Moore seems to have a point, you begin to think.

But back to this article. What does this all mean? Well, the richer a country is, the taller its population tends to be, what with improved health care and nutrition available to them. And the taller your population is, the longer it tends to live.

Note a particular word in that paragraph, though: "nutrition." That doesn't mean more food, it means better food, and clearly the American fast food diet is contributing more than its share of this trend. Fast, fatty foods contribute a lot of calories, but not much in the way of nutrition.

Finally, there's a factor at play here that gets talked about a lot in the media but never really gets looked at: income inequality. Richer countries where all people are benefitting economically tend to be taller than countries that have increasing poverty levels and increasing economic inequality.

So that's one more feather in George Bush's cap: he's made us a shorter nation, figuratively AND literally!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Clouds Looming

Much sport was made of Michael Chertoff's "gut" instinct with regards to an imminent Al Qaeda attack in the United States (or against US interests abroad). While I mentioned it in passing and may even have given it an air of snark, my own life experiences tell me to keep an eye open when someone speaks of a "gut feeling".

On the heels of that statement comes this:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden praises martyrdom as a weapon and a path to glory for Muslims in a video that CNN said on Saturday was intercepted before it was to appear on radical Islamist Web sites.

CNN, which noted it could not verify the authenticity of the 40-minute video and had translated it from Arabic into English, said on its Web site there was no indication of where or when the footage had been shot.

The news network said the video contained old clips but concluded it had been compiled in the last four weeks.
I have to admit, my gut instinct concurs with Chertoff's: something's brewing. That Al Qaeda would, for the first time since September 11th, trot out footage shot ahead of (and pretty much warning of) those attacks is a tactic I would expect a group that has shown a propensity to go back to the well when something worked.

Already in Algeria this week, we've seen not less than two seperate attacks by Al Qaeda forces in a country that for fifteen years has suffered brutal civil unrest following the nullification of an election that radical Islamist candidates were poised to win. Al Qaeda's swap out of Iraq and Sudan to an African nation is typical of the kind of misdirection play they've been known to run in the past, and may be laying the groundwork for bigger things to come, just as the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud presaged the 9/11 attacks.

I suspect we here in the States are in for a long hot summer. I suspect President Bush will have to skip his extended vacation, as well.