«  October 2008  |   Main   |  December 2008  »

»  November 26, 2008


From the Department of They Can't Be That Stupid Can They?: From Templeton Press:

Thrift: A Cyclopedia

Revisit a time when Thrift was one of America's most treasured values

Gathering hundreds of quotes, sayings, proverbs, and photographs of David Blankenhorn's vast personal collection of thrift memorabilia, this handsome book is a treasure trove and gift of wisdom from around the world and throughout the ages.

For $35.


»  November 24, 2008


If You Don't Build It, They Won't Come:

Obama iPhone application

With another year or so on my Sprint contract tying me to my trusty old Treo, I missed out on the Obama iPhone application frenzy during the last month of the election.

Politico has a story out this weekend about a panel on campaign technology in which the McCain participants spin the story that it was simply impossible for them to put together something similar because all the tech people supported Obama:

"Memo to self: next time get the co-founder of Facebook on your team," said McCain-Palin veteran Becki Donatelli. "The CEO of Google was in the Obama commercial. I mean, you don't get more out front than that."

Speaking on a panel about the role of technology in the 2008 campaign, Donatelli said the McCain team had plans for using the Internet to reach voters, but ultimately lacked the resources and the personnel to put them into action.

"We're very jealous. We loved your iPhone application," she told her co-panelists from the Obama campaign, Joe Rospars and Sam Graham-Felsen, explaining that the McCain campaign had wanted to harness the iPhone for their effort as well. "We had it sketched out. We had it planned and no way to get it done."

A couple of things ought to be mentioned here, however. John McCain's national campaign co-chair for most of the year was Meg Whitman, the former CEO of eBay. McCain mentioned her as a potential choice for Secretary of Treasury in one of the presidential debates. The idea that McCain's campaign was shut out of the world of high-tech should end right there.

But what should really put a nail in the touchscreen of this conceit is that Republican Congressman Ron Paul was on the iPhone with a Web 2.0 application months before the iPhone Software Development Kit was publicly released and the App Store was up and running, with a number of the same features as the Obama application.

Paul iPhone application

Bad enough for McCain's people to lie about how they couldn't keep up with Obama because all the competent programmers were on the other side, but they couldn't even bring themselves to take notice of what Ron Paul had done a year earlier. Surely that would have given them some time to build something.


»  November 18, 2008


Meatley!: A post from kos (based on an AP story) praised newly-minted Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley for siding with members of the Democratic caucus who called for Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman to be removed from the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Problem is, AP changed their mind half an hour later.

(This version CORRECTS by DELETING Merkley from lawmakers who opposed Lieberman; Merkley did NOT oppose Lieberman.)
But I enjoyed one of the comments from poster Churchill (who did correct himself in a subsequent comment):
Meatley should replace Reid (2+ / 0-)

[UPDATE] The story never ends. Politico reported via "Democratic sources" that Merkley spoke out in favor of Lieberman. Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian says he expressed "disappointment bordering on anger" although he doesn't attribute that to anyone (he does have direct comment from Merkley in the same piece, saying he "stopped just short of saying Lieberman should be stripped of his committee chairmanship.")

Hard to pin down and he's not even in office yet.



JOEP: C'mon. Nobody really thought the Democrats were going to make Al Gore's 2000 running mate and the long-time former chair of the Democratic Leadership Council give up his chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee just because he thought it was more important to try to elect John McCain instead of doing his job, did they?



»  November 17, 2008


Write, Baby, Write!: Governor Sarah Palin may be getting $7 million for her presumably forthcoming book, but I hope the eventual publisher has set aside a chunk for whoever's going to have to edit that baby.

"We realize that more and more Americans are starting to see the light there and understand the contrast. And we talk a lot about, OK, we’re confident that we’re going to win on Tuesday, so from there, the first 100 days, how are we going to kick in the plan that will get this economy back on the right track and really shore up the strategies that we need over in Iraq and Iran to win these wars?"

—Sarah Palin, suggesting we are at war with Iran,
FOX News interview, Nov. 1, 2008



The Gross Lock: There have been seventeen Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. The first of them to be appointed in the era of the "modern" Democratic/Republican two-party system was the sixth Chief Justice, Salmon Portland Chase, who was brought to the Court by President Abraham Lincoln shortly after his re-election in 1864.

Of the eleven other Chief Justices who've served in the 144 years since that appointment, only three were selected by Democratic presidents, and those three served a total of about 24 years (Democratic presidents were in the White House for 60 years of that span). The last Chief Justice selected under a Democratic administration was Fred Moore Vinson (appointed by Harry Truman), who died in office more than 55 years ago.


What the...?  

Missed Fortune: I don't remember when I got this (although it's almost certainly from Fujin) but it was tucked underneath some business cards on my desk:

Your careful nature will bring you financial success.
Doesn't sound like me, but I'll take what I can get considering the times.



Sen. Wyden, Do You Trust These Guys?: In August of 2007 at his Town Hall on Iraq, one of the bones of contention between members of the audience and Sen. Ron Wyden was his repeated statements about the implication of Iran in providing weapons to people making attacks in Iraq. Each time he brought it up a hubbub would rise from the crowd — many of whom were uneasy about Bush administration intentions to attack Iran — and Wyden would assert that it was all real.

A number of reports since then have cast doubt on the scale and scope of Iran's activities within Iraq (you'd have to be an idiot to think that there was no Iranian influence in Iraq given that many of the Shi'ite leaders in the government spent time in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's reign). but the US military has repeatedly made claims about large weapons caces of supposed Iranian origin, only to have those stories disproved or walked back by the military themselves. By May of this year, even TIME magazine reported on the Iraqi pushback of the view promulgated by Wyden and others.

Indeed, the U.S. allegations appear to be based on speculation, spurred by the appearance about a year ago of a new breed of roadside bomb in Iraq. Explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, proved effective at piercing American armor by firing a concave copper disc from a makeshift cannon, which transformed the slug midair into a molten jet of super-heated metal. Accusations that Iran was shipping the things into Iraq grew louder as U.S. casualties from the weapon rose. But no concrete evidence has emerged in public that Iran was behind the weapons. U.S. officials have revealed no captured shipments of such devices and offered no other proof.
And speaking of "captured shipments" brings us to the latest bit of information, based on a paper by Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman at West Point (via IPS's Gareth Porter):
According to the data compiled by the task force, and made available to an academic research project last July, only 70 weapons believed to have been manufactured in Iran had been found in post-invasion weapons caches between mid-February and the second week in April. And those weapons represented only 17 percent of the weapons found in caches that had any Iranian weapons in them during that period.

The actual proportion of Iranian-made weapons to total weapons found, however, was significantly lower than that, because the task force was finding many more weapons caches in Shi'a areas that did not have any Iranian weapons in them.


The caches that included Iranian weapons thus represented just 2 percent of all caches found. That means Iranian-made weapons were a fraction of one percent of the total weapons found in Shi'a militia caches during that period.


Only two months before the new high-level propaganda push on alleged Iranian weapons supply to Shi'a militias, the U.S. command had put out a story suggesting that large numbers of Iranian-supplied arms had been buried all over the country. On Feb. 17, 2008, U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters that Iraqi and coalition forces had captured 212 weapons caches across Iraq over the previous week "with growing links to the Iranian-backed special groups".

The Task Force Troy data for the week of Feb. 9-16 show, however, that the U.S. command had information on Iranian arms contradicting that propaganda line. According to the task force database, only five of those 212 caches contained any Iranian weapons that analysts believed might have been buried after the U.S. invasion. And the total number of confirmed Iranian-made weapons found in those five caches, according to the data, was eight, not including four Iranian-made hand grenades.

The task force database includes 350 armour-piercing explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) found in Iraqi weapons caches. However, the database does not identify any of the EFPs as Iranian weapons.

That treatment of EFPs in the caches appears to contradict claims by U.S. officials throughout 2007 and much of 2008 that EFPs were being smuggled into Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The allegedly Iranian-manufactured EFPs had been the centrepiece of the U.S. military's February 2007 briefing charging Iran with arming Shi'a militiamen in Iraq.

Press reports of a series of discoveries of shops for manufacturing EFPs in Iraq in 2007 forced the U.S. command to admit that the capacity to manufacture EFPs was not limited to Iran. By the second half of 2008, U.S. officials had stopped referring to Iranian supply of EFPs altogether.

Felter and Fishman do not analyse the task force data in their paper, but they criticise official U.S. statements on Iranian weapons in Iraq. "Some reports erroneously attribute munitions similar to those produced in Iran as Iranian," they write, "while other Iranian munitions found in Iraq were likely purchased on the open market."

The co-authors note that Iranian arms can be purchased directly from the website of the Defence Industries of Iran with a credit card.

Wyden implied that he'd seen hard evidence of Iran's involvement in supplying weapons to Iraqi insurgents responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. I think it's time for him to put his cards on the table or tell us how he;s going to provide actual oversight on stuff like this in the future.


»  November 14, 2008

What the...?  

Friday Fortune: From the Fujin:

Tomorrow is a good day for trying something new.
No sign yet of last Tuesday's "opportunity."


»  November 13, 2008


»  November 7, 2008


The Audacity of OPE or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Obama :

Entering the 'OPE' code into the CRM-114 in 'Dr. Strangelove'

Thomas Schaller at Salon.com wrote an article on election day titled "The end of the satirical industrial complex?" in which he predicts that "An Obama era almost certainly promises to be less funny -- at least in terms of satire."

He bases this largely on the instant popularity of Tina Fey's imitations of Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, during a "very unfunny time for America" in which:

U.S. troops are fighting two very different wars in two very different countries, and neither campaign is succeeding as promised. Many Americans are uninsured, left to battle catastrophic illness on their own. Oh, and the American economy is in the crapper.
He goes on to quote James Downey, a writer at SNL and comedian Will Durst on what they perceive will be a difficulty in mocking Obama (Durst: "Until I can say 'President Homey' and get away with it, it's going to be a little tougher.")

In a way Schaller's right. If your primary take on a President Barack Obama is that the guy's skin is a few shades darker than George W. Bush's hide, and you're — in Durst's words — "a white guy" or you're SNL where the current brand of political humor barely penetrates to the skin-deep, then Obama might pose some challenges.

But the idea that political comedy and satire is about to enter a drought cycle for the next few years is in itself hilarious. And from an historical standpoint, it's grossly mistaken.

Even if a President Obama was to do absolutely nothing mock-worthy over however long he holds the Oval Office (and here I'm just going along with Schaller's apparent assumption that there are no funny conservatives who would be mocking Obama for doing something for which Jon Stewart presumably wouldn't mock him, because I do agree that there are no funny conservatives), even if Obama is completely and miraculously unmockable, there's a lot going on in the world that's not going to magically change after Inaguration Day. Just the stuff the Bush administration has done is going to be with us for years; heck, David Letterman was still making Monica Lewinsky jokes on a regular basis in his monologues in 2006! Seven years into Bush's administration.

But Obama's going to do plenty of things that people will write jokes about. He's human.

What really got to me is the utterly ahistorical tone of Schaller's piece.

Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair and co-founder of the satirical magazine Spy, predicted "the end of the age of irony" after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Roger Rosenblatt of Time simultaneously lashed out at "'the vain stupidity' of 'ironists'" according to — and ironically — a 2001 article by David Beers in the very same online publication Schaller's writing for.

Beers hoped for "a golden age of irony," recalling the words of writer Randolph Bourne, who died in the 1918 influenza epidemic at 32: "The ironist is ironical, not because he does not care, but because he cares too much." I don't think that we've gotten the golden age of irony Beers wanted but I'm pretty sure that it hasn't died off.

Carter, Rosenblatt, and their ilk were, of course, forgetting even their own lived history. The magazine Carter was editing a dozen years before 9/11 had — ironically enough — predicted irony's overreach with the theme "Isn't it Ironic?" and a picture of Chevy Chase pulling air quotes on the cover.

But more particularly, the idea that serious times and serious leaders are anathema to irony, satire, and humor in general belies a complete lack of knowledge of precedents. Think back to our American Camelot, with the tousle-haired, war hero, socialite, Pulitzer Prize-winner John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the White House along with his debutante wife and their wonderful children.

In the fall of 1963, the pilot for a new series ran on NBC. Henry Fonda hosted the first episode of That Was The Week That Was (abbreviated TW3), Mike Nichols and Elaine May were guests. Twelve days later President Kennedy was assassinated. Nonetheless, the pilot was picked up and began running in January. Among those who appeared on or contributed to the show were David Frost, Buck Henry, Alan Alda, Gloria Steinem, Calvin Trillin, and Tom Lehrer. It ran for sixteen months. I grew up listening to a collection of Lehrer's lighthearted songs from the show, which covered the decidedly non-lighthearted topics of racism, Cold War politics, pretentious folk singers, US militarism, pornography, pollution, nuclear annihilation, nuclear proliferation, and letting ex-Nazis run the space program, among other topics. And that's just some of the songs from the show, which had plenty of other material, as well.

The same month that TW3 began its regular run, Columbia Pictures released Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, one of the greatest pieces of satire ever produced for American consumption.

Between 1960 and 1963, Nikita Khrushchev had famously pounded his shoe on a table at the UN, an American U-2 was shot down over the Soviet Union, Nixon and Kennedy went at it for the Presidency, Eisenhower cut off relations with Cuba, Gagarin became the first man into space, Ike's Bay of Pigs invasion blew up in JFK's face, the Freedom Riders started their campaign, James Meredith enrolled at UMiss, the Cuban Missile Crisis came and went, George Wallace promised segregation forever in his inagural speech as governor of Alabama, a US nuclear submarine (Thresher) sank, Martin Luther King wrote "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and Bull Conner sicced dogs on African-American marchers there, a nuclear test ban treaty was signed, King delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech in DC, JFK was killed, and newly-minted President Lyndon Johnson promised more aid to the coup leaders in South Vietnam. Overlaying the whole thing was more than a decade of Cold War tension. You'd think that if there was going to be a somber pall cast over the country — and the world — that would be the time (although things had been seriously worse during the World Wars).

Working through those years of turmoil, Kubrick, Terry Southern, and Peter George put together a crazy-but-plausible tale about the end of the world, in which an Air Force general subscribing to a "purity of essence" philosophy — and worried about the Commies flouridating the water supplies — intentionally triggers a nuclear standoff between the USSR and the US, leading, of course, to the explosion of a Soviet "Doomsday Device" which will make the surface of the Earth uninhabitable for a hundred years and necessitate — in the words of the title character, a former Nazi working in the US government — a group of humans to live at "the bottom of some of our deeper mineshafts." Ideally, with a "ratio of, say, ten females to each male" to better propogate the species (there's a logical problem in that assumption, but I'll let you figure that out).

The idea that comedians, satirists, and ironists are going to be at a loss for material in the upcoming years is itself laughable. The 1960s — a period of assassinations, riots, civil rights struggles, the Vietnam War, and so much more — was a breeding ground for mockery of the government. It didn't matter that the White House and Congress were controlled by Democrats for most of the decade, political comedy was on the rise. So far as I know, there weren't any notable LBJ impressionists in the same way that there were of JFK and Richard Nixon, but he still got heat from comedians.

So I'm not particularly worried about not having anything to laugh about over the next four years.

OPE, by the way, was the code programmed into the decoder units of the bombers in Strangelove to authenticate any message to recall them from their targets, the message that Major Kong's plane didn't receive.

The Audacity of OPE


»  November 5, 2008

What the...?  

The Russians Are Here. The Russians Are Here.: A couple of months back we got a good laugh because my wife — whose last name comes from good Ukrainian stock — got a plug in the mail for some sort of women's health magazine that was in Russian. We figured they must have some sort of program out there matching the "-sky" and "-ski" surnames to target the large recent immigrant community in the Portland/Vancouver metro area.

Her father's branch of the family immigrated to the US a decade before the Civil War, and the her great-grandfather moved to Oregon in the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, so they've been here a while, there are a lot of them, and some of them have done fairly well.

But most of them — like my wife — don't speak or read any of the languages using any variation of the Cyrillic alphabets. Needless to say, we didn't buy or respond to the magazine solicitation. But now we're starting to get flyers targeted to Russian speakers from organizations that we already get stuff from.

Russian-language flyer for Comcast International: 'BMECTE HA COMCAST!'



GOP4EVA!: CNN's been on most of the day in The Living Room, and it seems like the only politicians and pundits they're talking to are Sarah Palin and other assorted Republicans. Republicans, Republicans, Republicans. Have they not been able to figure out that Democrats took control of the White House and both houses of Congress?



Hail Columbia!: Columbia County joins the Obama change wagon by changing basic math:

105% of votes counted



Baggage: Talking about the mistakes Sen. John McCain made during the campaign, Jack Cafferty on CNN was just saying that Gov. Sarah Palin's choice as VP candidate "came with too much baggage."

I suspect she needed the baggage to carry home all those new clothes she got the RNC to buy her and the family.

NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin's shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. ... One aide estimated that she spent "tens of thousands" more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast," and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.



Crichton: I remember being enthralled by The Andromeda Strain when I first saw the movie as a kid. It's one of those stories that hit me at an impressionable time, and in such a way that I remember it far better than other movies from the same era.

Despite being a big sci-fi fan though, I never read much of Michael Crichton's stuff. I watched the big movies like Jurassic Park, even picked up a used copy of his early Muslim warrior gone a-viking novel Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922 (and laughed at Antonia Banderas's performance as the title character in the movie adaptation: The 13th Warrior).

His later stuff, however, seemed to go off the rails. Just "wack" as the kids say. Like 2004's State of Fear, in which "eco-terrorists" plan to break off a piece of the Antarctic ice shelf with explosives in order to create environmental crises that will enable them to keep raising funds on climate change. Enough explosives to break off huge chunks of ice? You could sell that stuff on the market to raise funds if you had it.

Still, sorry to hear of his death, for old times' sake.



Holograms: Hey, CNN! If you have to tell people it's "pretty amazing technology" every time you show your faux holograms, it's not actually pretty amazing.

BLITZER: You know what I like about this hologram -- and you're a hologram now, Jessica -- instead of having thousands of people behind you screaming and shouting, you know what, we can have a little bit more of an intimate conversation, and our viewers can enjoy that as well.

How excited are you, Jessica, that this is -- you're the first one that we've beamed into the "CNN Election Center?"

YELLIN: I know. It's like I follow in the tradition of Princess Leia.


I'm inside a tent in Chicago that's been built -- engineers spent about three weeks doing it. There are 35 high-definition cameras ringing me, in a ring around me. I'm in the center. And they shoot my body at different angles, and I'm told that transmits what looks like an entire body image back there to New York. These cameras, I'm told, talk to the cameras in New York, so they move and they know when to move when the cameras in New York move. And it looks a little different from real person there, but it's pretty remarkable.

BLITZER: It's still Jessica Yellin and you look like Jessica Yellin and we know you are Jessica Yellin.



Heckuva Job, Sherman County!: From the Oregonian's detail page on the Merkley/Smith Senate race:

102% of votes counted



Pundits: Much as I might sneer at the lousy capabilities of most pundits to predict, prognosticate, or otherwise prophesy about any topic, I at least think people on TV ought to pronounce the term correctly. But practically everyone I heard on CNN and elsewhere last night (and for most of the past couple of months) has seemed to Palinize the term, to "pun-dints."

There's no "n."

UPDATE I: Apparently, I've gotten the newfangled spelling wrong.

I think McCain lost because he listen to the far right pundents on cable.

UPDATE II: It's not in the dictionary, but apparently there are thousands of pages out there with variations on "pundint" and "pundent."



Commercials: I was wondering just the other day what would fill the commercial slots on the TV after the election was over and the campaign coffers had blown their wads. Now I know.

Credit and debt counseling service ads.