Archive for July 2009
I’ve already mentioned The IT Crowd, which everyone who has worked in or with IT should see. And last night I was watching again Fawlty Towers, and I had forgotten how truly funny it is. I watched the episode (first on the second DVD of the complete collection) in which the Fawlties decide to have a gourmet night on Thursday nights. Basil, with his social pretentions, is delighted at the chance to attract a upper-class clientele, and he gets to write the ad. Only two couples (both upper-class) show up, probably because he included in the ad the phrase, "No riff-raff".
The evening, of course, strikes directly at the core of his pretentions, beginning with his attempt to introduce the second couple to arrive to the first couple—and he blanks on the name. He tries an increasingly desperate series of dodges to cover—and that contretemps is mild compared to what follows. It was so funny that I tried to describe the introduction routine to The Wife and I couldn’t because I was giggling so hard. Great stuff.
Just back from buying Bing cherries and a rather nice Zinfandel for the duck dinner tonight. For this afternoon, I also got some tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. The Eldest highly recommended I try the orange colored tomatoes—I want to say the "newfangled heritage tomatoes", but of course the point is that they’re oldfangled. She said those that are orange when ripe are generally low-acid and high-sugar and just delicious. I also got some of the very dark red Motomoro (or is it Moromoto) tomatoes—they’re delicious.
It takes them a long time to get going, doesn’t it? James Ridgeway in Mother Jones:
When the Department of Homeland Security warned in April that the financial crisis and Barack Obama’s election were inflaming right-wing extremists, many conservatives were outraged. But a spate of high-profile murders this year has prompted questions about whether the government should have been more proactive. In April, Richard Poplawski, a 22-year-old frequenter of white supremacist websites, was charged with fatally shooting three Pittsburgh cops. In May, former militiaman Scott Roeder was accused of gunning down abortion doctor George Tiller (he pleaded not guilty this week). In June, 88-year-old neo-Nazi James von Brunn allegedly killed an African American security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Only then did the government spring into action. Later that month, federal agents in three states moved against a prominent far-right leader and his associates, with almost no attention from the national press.
At 6:45 a.m. on June 25, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrested Dennis Mahon on domestic terrorism charges stemming back to a crime committed more than five years ago. An indictment from a federal grand jury in Phoenix, unsealed in late June, charges Mahon with constructing a pipe bomb that exploded in Scottsdale city office that promotes racial and cultural diversity. The blast severely injured the office’s director and hurt two other staffers. Mahon and his twin brother, Daniel, were also accused of conspiring to build and send the bomb, and with disseminating training materials on domestic terrorism.
Also on June 25, the ATF arrested Robert Joos—a 56-year-old white supremacist preacher in Missouri—in connection with the Mahon investigation. According to court documents, Dennis Mahon had told an undercover agent that Joos was an expert on bomb making. (In the end, Joos was only charged with illegal possession of weapons.) On the same day, ATF agents also raided the northern Indiana home of the 71-year-old Tom Metzger, the head of White Aryan Resistance (WAR) and a longtime associate of Dennis Mahon.
Mahon has been known to the feds for many years. During my years of reporting on right-wing extremists, I’ve encountered him on several occasions, and interviewed him a couple of times. He’s known as a …
For months, Republicans have been trying to scare Americans away from supporting a public option in health care reform, claiming that “government-run” medicine is akin to socialism and would be disastrous. But the government already runs several successful, well-loved health care programs — most notably, Medicare.
Yesterday, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) decided that it was “put-up or shut-up time for the phonies who deride the so-called ‘public option.’” He offered an amendment that would eliminate government-run Medicare:
Not a single member of Congress voted for the amendment, and Republicans were blasting it as a “political farce.” Last night, Weiner went on MSNBC and explained the GOP’s hypocrisy:
WEINER: Well, for some reason, I guess Republicans don’t like publicly funded, publicly administered health plans except for Medicare, and, I guess, except for the Veterans Administration and except for the health care that our military gets from the Department of Defense. The fact of the matter is, what we’ve learned is that government administered health care works pretty darn well. It’s got lower overhead and people like it.
So, when my Republican colleagues pound the drum and pound the podium about how they hate government-run health care, I guess they haven’t looked at what they get.
Republicans are refusing to acknowledge the hypocrisy in their statements warning about “socialized” medicine and their support for Medicare. Of course, conservatives also opposed the creation of Medicare in the 1960s and made many of the same claims that their counterparts are doing today. Forty-four years later, Medicare has helped America’s senior citizens live longer, healthier lives. By not voting for Weiner’s amendment, conservatives are acknowledging that their supposedly substantive claims about health care reform are nothing more than crass political fear-mongering.
The GOP seems to have been taken over by thugs. Take a look at this ThinkProgress post by Lee Fang:
This morning, Politico reported that Democratic members of Congress are increasingly being harassed by “angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior” at local town halls. For example, in one incident, right-wing protesters surrounded Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and forced police officers to have to escort him to his car for safety.
This growing phenomenon is often marked by violence and absurdity. Recently, right-wing demonstrators hung Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-MD) in effigy outside of his office. Missing from the reporting of these stories is the fact that much of these protests are coordinated by public relations firms and lobbyists who have a stake in opposing President Obama’s reforms.
The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress:
– Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: “Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington.”
– Be Disruptive Early And Often: “You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”
– Try To “Rattle Him,” Not Have An Intelligent Debate: “The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions.”
The memo above also resembles the talking points being distributed by FreedomWorks for pushing an anti-health reform assault all summer. Patients United, a front group maintained by Americans for Prosperity, is currently busing people all over the country for more protests against Democratic members. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the NRCC, has endorsed the strategy, telling the Politico the days of civil town halls are now “over.”
Meanwhile, AHIP, the trade group and lobbying juggernaut representing the health insurance industry is sending staffers to monitor town halls and other right-wing front groups are stepping up their ad campaign to smear reform efforts. The strategy for defeating reform — recently outlined by an influential lobbyist to the Hill newspaper as“delay” then “kill” — is becoming apparent. By delaying a vote until after the August recess, lobbyists are now seizing upon recess town halls as opportunities to ambush lawmakers and fool them into believing there is wide opposition to reform.
This is what the GOP has to offer: not ideas, but disruption.
The old tag-team that fought Clintoncare are back. Joe Conason in Salon.com:
If the current effort to reform American healthcare ends in frustration, much of the blame rests on our political culture’s empowerment of deception and ignorance. Fake erudition is revered, every hoax is deemed brilliant, and prejudice is presented as knowledge — while actual expertise is disregarded or devalued.
The glaring evidence may be found in media and online everywhere today – but most blatantly, perhaps, in the nation’s rapt attention to the fraudulent pronouncements of William Kristol and Betsy McCaughey, the right-wing celebrities who worked so hard to kill the Clinton reform plan. Knowing what we have since learned about him and her, it is hard to believe that anyone believes anything they say. But once again it is their words — brimming with falsehood, stupidity, and possibly both — that inspire the opposition and confuse the public.
It appears that McCaughey is the source of the "elderly euthanasia" hoax now circulating on the Internet, talk radio and in right-wing media, which claims that Democratic health bills will force old, ill Medicare recipients into making plans for their own deaths. Two weeks ago, on former Senator Fred Thompson’s radio program, she warned that "the healthcare reform bill would make it mandatory — absolutely require — that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner." The nonpartisan Politifact.com website described this claim as a "ridiculous falsehood."
Over the past several years, …
The fish soup I made last night was quite good.
1 med red onion, chopped
1 med yellow onion (or spring onion would be nice), chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp habanero oil
Sauté the above in a 4-qt pot for a while. Add:
1 qt water
juice of 2 lemons
1 can chopped tomatoes
kernels cut from three ears of corn
Fish — I used 4 medium cod fillets, but any white fish would do. You want lots of fish, though.
Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
It’s very tasty. I had white corn, but yellow would be better: more colorful. Also, a chopped red pepper would be nice, also for the color, or some chopped carrots. Seemed both healthful and tasty.
For the first time in generations, people are challenging the view that a free-market order – the system that dominates the globe today – is the destiny of all nations. The free market’s uncanny ability to enrich the elite, coupled with its inability to soften the sharp experiences of staggering poverty, has pushed inequality to the breaking point.
As a result, we live at an important historical juncture – one where alternatives to the world’s neoliberal capitalism could emerge. Thus, it is a particularly apt time to examine revolutionary movements that have periodically challenged dominant state and imperial power structures over the past 500 years.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which laid the foundation for liberal democratic elections and the expansion of the free-market system throughout the world, revolution and protest seemed to lose some of their potency.
Leading historians believed that a new age had appeared in which revolutionary movements would no longer challenge the status quo. Defenders of the contemporary system were suspicious of nearly all forms of popular expression and contestation for power outside the electoral arena. But remarkably, this entire discourse sidestepped the major impulses of human emancipation of the past 500 years – equality, democracy, and social rights.
Proponents of neoliberalism are …
Take a look at Elite Razor: Shaving brushes and Merkur razors (including long-handle and slant-bar models) with custom-crafted handles of wood or stone or neo-resinate. Some beautiful work there, ideal for graduation gifts.
Krugman’s always worth reading, and his column today is no different:
At a recent town hall meeting, a man stood up and told Representative Bob Inglis to “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” The congressman, a Republican from South Carolina, tried to explain that Medicare is already a government program — but the voter, Mr. Inglis said, “wasn’t having any of it.”
It’s a funny story — but it illustrates the extent to which health reform must climb a wall of misinformation. It’s not just that many Americans don’t understand what President Obama is proposing; many people don’t understand the way American health care works right now. They don’t understand, in particular, that getting the government involved in health care wouldn’t be a radical step: the government is already deeply involved, even in private insurance.
And that government involvement is the only reason our system works at all.
The key thing you need to know about health care is …
Yesterday when I was at the dentist, the hygienist and I got to talking about food and I mentioned my method of sautéing duck breast and then cooking greens or other veggies in the fat. (Discussion started with comments about the burn on the roof of my mouth, from the potatoes and spring onions with balsamic reduction I had the other night.) I mentioned that I had some very nice Bing cherries, and I thought I might cook some of those with the duck.
Then last night I was sitting in my chair, contemplating the cherries where they sat on the dining room table, and it occurred to me that some Christmases ago I received a pitter from The Wife’s family. It was called an olive pitter, but I suddenly realized that it would well with cherries. So how to cook them? I discarded before it fully formed the thought of cooking them with the duck in the fat—I wanted the cherries to contrast the fat.
So I thought of pitting them and simmering them in a pan with a little cognac and perhaps lemon juice until they were cooked. But I wanted the sauce to be thick, and I thought of and discarded the usual thickening agents (arrowroot, cornstarch, and a roux). I talked to The Wife, and she suggested just using balsamic vinegar and then simmering the cherries until the sauce was reduced and thickened naturally.
Sounds great, eh? I’ll try it tonight. Perhaps a glass of red wine. And I will cook in the duck fat some dandelion greens, kale, and spring onion, perhaps with a sprinkling of pine nuts or slivered almonds.
I think The Younger Daughter is right: abandon all plastic water containers and go with stainless steel. Here’s the story by Janet Raloff of Science News:
The Winnipeg Free Press reported some disturbing news today. Tests by the Canadian government, it said, have found that some plastics labeled as being free of bisphenol A — an estrogen-mimicking chemical — actually contain the potentially toxic substance.
Canwest News Service unearthed the new government data along with correspondence from government researchers through use of the Access to Information Act — the Canadian equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act.
Animal studies have demonstrated a host of deleterious effects from ingestion of BPA, the basic building block of polycarbonate plastics. And human studies have confirmed that use of polycarbonate food-ware containers releases BPA that can later be found in the body.
Because so many baby bottles and sippy cups have been made from BPA, several municipalities have passed ordinances to ban sales of polycarbonate food ware that might be used by children.
Last year, Canada became the first nation to announce it would ban polycarbonate baby bottles over concerns about BPA health risks. Almost immediately, a host of polycarbonate alternatives — labeled BPA-free — began springing up in the marketplace.
Health Canada researchers were attempting to confirm that these alternatives were indeed BPA-free. Of the nine brands of baby bottles it tested, two hosted the hormone mimic, Canwest’s Sarah Schmidt reports. The name of each brand was blacked out in the materials that had been turned over to Canwest.
According to Schmidt’s account, “The study says ‘traces’ of the toxin [sic] were found in ‘BPA-free’ bottles while internal correspondence between a department official and the lead scientist went further, characterizing the amounts in two brands as ‘high readings.’”
At a reader’s request, I turned to Mitchell’s Wool Fat shaving soap today with a boar brush—in this case, the Omega Pro 48 (model 10048), of which I’m rapidly becoming quite fond—enough so that’s it hard to force myself to use a different boar brush.
The Mitchell’s jar is good for boar brush lathering: the puck is slightly smaller in diameter than the jar, so that there’s a trough around the puck for the watery lather, which I then work back into the good lather I’m creating. A little vigorous brush work on the puck, and I had a dreamy, creamy lather—and the brush held enough lather for 5 passes (I checked), though the 5th pass was a tiny bit sparse.
But I shaved only three passes with my English open-comb Aristocrat, carrying a still-good Polsilver blade. An absolutely terrific shave: smooth and perfect.
Pashana was a good finish. I still have trouble describing the fragrance, but it’s definitely an aftershave with some presence. You can get it here.
But probably it will go nowhere. Mike Lillis in the Washington Independent:
In a full-page spread in Roll Call Wednesday Thursday, a long list of business executives are trumpeting their support for an unlikely proposal: Legislation that would rein in the influence of business over congressional lawmakers.
“We are on the receiving end of Senators’ and Representatives’ endless fund-raising calls,” the ad reads. “And trust us: we hate getting those calls every bit as much as they hate making them.”
Signed by an impressive list of 34 business giants — including Arnold Hiatt, former Stride Rite CEO; Alan G. Hassenfeld, executive committee chairman of Hasbro Inc.; Christie Hefner, former chairman and chief executive of Playboy; Gordon Segal, chairman of Crate & Barrel; and Gerald Grinstein, former CEO of Delta Airlines — the ad promotes passage of the Fair Elections Now Act, a bipartisan proposal to promote public financing of elections and mitigate the disproportionate influence of moneyed interests over the campaign process.
The concept of public financing was supported by President Obama in the run-up to November’s election, though the White House has been largely silent on the issue this year.
The ad, sponsored by Common Cause and Public Campaign Action Fund, coincides with a Thursday hearing on the FENA bill in the House Administration Committee.
Evil actions happen—in the stress of war, for example. But what about evil actions taken in cold blood. Greenwald describes one in this column, which begins:
I’ve written several times before about the amazing quest of Binyam Mohamed — a British resident released from Guantanamo in February, 2009 after seven years in captivity — to compel public disclosure of information in the possession of the British Government proving he was tortured while in U.S. custody. At the center of Mohamed’s efforts lie the claims of high British government officials that the Obama administration has repeatedly threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing programs with the U.K. if the British High Court discloses information which British intelligence officials learned from the CIA about how Mohamed was tortured. New statements from the British Foreign Secretary yesterday — claiming that Hillary Clinton personally re-iterated those threats in a May meeting — highlight how extreme is this joint American/British effort to cover-up proof of Mohamed’s torture.
In August 2008, the British High Court ruled in Mohamed’s favor, concluding in a 75-page ruling (.pdf) that there was credible evidence in Britain’s possession that Mohamed was brutally tortured and was therefore entitled to disclosure of that evidence under long-standing principles of British common law, international law (as established by the Nuremberg Trials and the war crimes trials of Yugoslav leaders, among others), and Britain’s treaty obligations (under the Convention Against Torture). But as part of that ruling, the Court redacted from its public decision seven paragraphs which detailed the facts of Mohamed’s torture — facts which British intelligence agents learned from the CIA — based on the British Government’s representations that both the Bush and Obama administrations had threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing with Britain if those facts were disclosed, even as part of a court proceeding.
The British government’s claims about these threats led the British High Court to conclude that it could not disclose those facts in good conscience because the U.S. was, in essence, threatening to put the lives of British citizens at risk by terminating intelligence-sharing over terrorist threats. When re-affirming its decision (.pdf) to withhold that information in light of American threats, the Court pointedly wrote: …
Glenn Greenwald has a really exceptional column today—and before you read it, you definitely should read this post by Brad DeLong—and the comments are good, too. Read that, and then read Greenwald. Let me quote just a bit from the Greenwald column:
… By the design of the Founders, most American political issues are driven by the vicissitudes of political realities, shaped by practicalities and resolved by horse-trading compromises among competing factions. But not all political questions were to be subject to that process. Some were intended to be immunized from those influences. Those were called "principles," or "rights," or "guarantees" — and what distinguishes them from garden-variety political disputes is precisely that they were intended to be both absolute and adhered to regardless of what Massing calls "the practical considerations policymakers must contend with."
We don’t have to guess what those principles are. The Founders created documents — principally the Constitution — which had as their purpose enumerating the principles that were to be immunized from such "practical considerations." All one has to do in order to understand their supreme status is to understand the core principle of Constitutional guarantees: no acts of Government can conflict with these principles or violate them for any reason. And all one has to do to appreciate their absolute, unyielding essence is to read how they’re written: The President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." "[A]ll Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land." "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech." "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Even policies which enjoy majoritarian support and ample "practical" justification will be invalid — nullified — if they violate those guarantees.
Consider how Thomas Paine described the rule of law and the presidential obligation to obey the law and be subject to it. Does this sound like it was supposed to be waived whenever "the practical considerations policymakers must contend with" made it convenient to do so? …
Do read it—and the Brad DeLong bit as well.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said yesterday that he withdrew an amendment to a defense appropriations bill that would have weakened the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy because of “pressure” from the White House and some “congressional colleagues.” Hastings’ amendment would have prohibited “spending money to investigate or discharge members of the military who reveal they are homosexual or bisexual.” Saying he didn’t want “to get into names,” Hastings added, “I didn’t talk to Barack Obama.” During an appearance with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow last night, Hastings expressed his agitation:
HASTINGS: If something is bigoted and if your intent is to see to it that it does not continue, then I did not understand the leadership of Congress or the White House in saying that the time is not right. My position is: The president has said he wishes that this matter be repealed. My colleague, Patrick Murphy, now has more than 170 co-sponsors on a measure to repeal it. Secretary Gates has said, I`m glad he is now saying when we change our policy. Last year, he would have been saying “if.” But my view is, that the time is now to eliminate this bigoted law once and for all.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that, until the law is repealed, he is looking at ways to make the application of it more “humane.”
Apparently, the editor loves pseudo-science and false medical claims. Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., discusses this in Salon.com:
This spring, during the swine flu outbreak, I was searching the Web for news when a blog post on the Huffington Post caught my eye. Titled "Swine Flu: Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones," its author, Kim Evans, offered a unique prescription for swine flu, one she believed could "save your life": deep-cleansing enemas.
"Most estimates are that the average person has ten or more pounds of stored waste just in their colon," Evans wrote. "In any case, many people have found that disease disappears when this waste is gone, and that when the body is clean it’s much more difficult for new problems, like viruses, to take hold in the first place. And it’s my understanding that many people who took regular enemas instead of vaccines during the 1918 pandemic made it out on the other side as well."
This is not exactly first-line advice on influenza prevention. There’s no proof that a cleansing program will prevent influenza. In fact, Evans’ notion contradicts basic germ theory. Influenza infection is transmitted through respiratory channels and not, like gastrointestinal infections, through contact with fecal matter. And even if people in 1918 did try to protect themselves with enemas — Evans doesn’t cite any historical record — there’s no evidence the practice saved anybody’s life. Note to Evans: People did not have a choice between enemas and vaccines in 1918. The first influenza vaccine was developed in the 1940s.
The Huffington Post is one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on the Internet these days. It operates mostly as a news aggregation site (it has featured Salon stories) and throws open its doors to a wide range of bloggers, who cover everything from politics to entertainment. "When it comes to health and wellness issues, our goal is to provide a diverse forum for a reasoned discussion of issues of interest and importance to our readers," Arianna Huffington, the site’s namesake founder, author, socialite and pundit, told me.
I would like to believe her. But when it comes to health and wellness, that diverse forum seems defined mostly by bloggers who are friends of Huffington or those who mirror her own advocacy of alternative medicine, described in her books and in many magazine profiles of her. Among others, the site has given a forum to Oprah Winfrey’s women’s health guru, Christiane Northrup, who believes women develop thyroid disease due to an inability to assert themselves; Deepak Chopra, who mashes up medicine and religion into self-help books and PBS infomercials; and countless others pitching cures that range from herbs to blood electrification to ozonated water to energy scans.
As a physician, I am not necessarily opposed to alternative health treatments. But I do want to be responsible and certain that what I prescribe to patients is safe and effective and not a waste of their time and money…
I still want one. From their newsletter:
By now many of you are familiar with the interior of our PP4 show vehicle, so here’s a quick first look at what you can expect to see in the Aptera 2e production vehicle.
For starters, we should probably review the process that led us to make any changes in the first place. To enhance your overall driving experience, we conducted clinical research on all vehicle details, which uncovered a number of issues that could have been potential "dissatisfiers" in our original designs. Accordingly, we have been busy working to correct them ever since.
The first major issue was space. We tested men and women of every age and stature and found, in many cases, we were not offering enough room in the cabin. With that information, we enhanced the cabin using our Aptera formula — safety, then aerodynamics, then lightweight. The new interior cabin is now roughly 10% larger by every measure.
The new 2 series also now has headroom and legroom comparable to, if not better than, the Mini and Chevy Volt. We widened the area at the hips to provide more space than the Smart EV and the Nissan Cube. Then to top it off, we increased our cargo capacity by more than 24 cubic feet, which is nearly two times the space available in the Honda Accord.
The next issue, interestingly enough, was perception of space. Many people, when surveyed, felt the cabin was dark and imposing, so we’re introducing ‘Eva,’ your electronic travel companion. ‘Eva’ is the nickname we have given to the new body colored center console in the vehicle, and, yes, we were watching Wall-E when we came up with the name. What is more important, though, is the function and flair that Eva brings to the cabin.
For starters, …
After coming home from Iraq, 21-year-old medic Bruce Bastien was driving with his Army buddy Louis Bressler, 24, when they spotted a woman walking to work on a Colorado Springs street.
Bressler swerved and hit the woman with the car, according to police, then Bastien jumped out and stabbed her over and over.
It was October 2007. A fellow soldier, Kenneth Eastridge, 24, watched it all from the passenger seat.
At that moment, he said, it was clear that however messed up some of the soldiers in the unit had been after their first Iraq deployment, it was about to get much worse.
“I have no problem with killing,” said Eastridge, a two-tour infantryman with almost 80 confirmed kills. “But I won’t just murder someone for no reason. He had gone crazy.”