Thursday, March 30, 2006

God isn't watching us?

Apparently praying for people doesn't actually do any good.

Well, duh.

It always amazes me that people can intone their belief that praying for someone will help them, and expect to be taken seriously, but when someone says "oh, well I believe in unicorns" that same person will think the unicorn believer is crazy.

No doubt the religious-minded will find a way to spin away these results. After all, empiric evidnece is always open to differing interpretations.

What I also love is how you can make up a "foundation" or "institute" with a fancy name, and it gives you credibility:
I would hate to have premature closure based on a handful of studies," said Marilyn J. Schlitz of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, Calif. "We just don't know enough about this to close the door."

What the hell is Noetic Sciences?

Any suggestions for what Mike and I can name our institute? A prize to the best name that will allow us to say "Mike and Dean, of the Institute for XXX, say that . . . . "

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What is up with the baseball cap?

Okay, this picture is just ridiculous. I mean, here Abramoff is, going to court, and getting lucky and getting the minimum sentence, and he thinks that the suit-with-baseball cap look is styling?

We saw his mafioso pic and he looked pretty lame in that. But really, trying to dress like a 20s Mafia don is infinitely preferable to a double-breasted suit (bad) with an orange, pink and purple tie (worse), a bad knot for such a wide collar, and a plain beige baseball cap (ultimate sin).

Republicans really just suck. I mean, not only are they busy bankrupting us, engaging us in random wars for no real reason, making the world more unsafe through breaking the NPT treaty, losing major cities to hurricanes and things (side note: you thought the response in red-state Louisiana was bad - imagine what would happen if The Big One hit LA?), kicking out Mexicans (but who will clean their houses?) - they're also promoting bad fashion.

Can someone tell Abramoff that really, the 20-year old frat boy look isn't really appropriate, even for skeezy criminal lobbyists?


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Karen Hughes is a moron

I heard an interview with Karen Hughes - Dubya's "Make America's Image Better" envoy - on NPR this morning.

Wow. If we're relying on her to make America a little less-hated, we're in serious trouble.

Her big plan, which she made seem as if it were the sole cause of all the dislike of the US and its policies these days, was to make airports more welcoming.

I'm not kidding.

She talked about "welcome signs" in airports, with "vidoes explaining our way of life," presumably running in the long lines foreigners face when arriving back. She thought that airports "weren't very welcoming," in part because there's one line for non-US citizens and another for citizens/green card holders (which I like very much - getting stuck behind a plane from Seoul is seoul-destroying).

She dodged questions about torture ("we have to take it for what it is - a crime." Well, yes. However, punishing the crime might be a good first step), and said that the decline in America's image has been going on for "decades" - thus, of course, implicitly absolving Dubya of any responsibility.

So let's see: the US is off invading Iraq, dropping out of the Nonproliferation Treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, the Geneva Convention, threatening to break its treaty obligations with Canada and drill for oil in the Arctic, preaching free trade while not practicing it, torturing arabs, keeping them locked away beyond the reach of due process - and making a few "Welcome To America!" signs is going to help?

Monday, March 27, 2006

I want my leader to be as obnoxious as I am

Not all Liberals, however, relish the thought of settling for a compromise candidate.

"That's how Dalton McGuinty won," huffs Milton Chan, policy vice-president of the Young Liberals.

Although McGuinty improved over time and eventually won the premier's job, Chan says he was seen in 1996 as "the epitome of mediocrity."

"The reason he was elected is because no one had a goddamn clue who he was. Personally, I don't want my leader to be the bland, inoffensive guy. I want my leader to stand for something."

Chan supports acclaimed Harvard academic and rookie Toronto MP Michael Ignatieff, who is among the so-called first tier of putative candidates - including glamorous Tory defector Belinda Stronach and former Ontario NDP premier Bob Rae - deemed to have the highest profiles, most money and best campaign machines.

But each has liabilities that could limit their ability to grow beyond the first ballot: Johnny-come-lately status in the party, inexperience, or, in Rae's case, a dismal record as premier.
(or obnoxious supporters who's leadership campaign role models are evidently the Martinites)
Note to Chan: sometimes the outwardly mediocre are the right people for the job. If they aren't touring the lecture circuit or endlessly talking about their vision (or lack thereof),  they just might actually do the job they were elected to do, that is, leading.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


Absolute barbarians.

And I'm not talking about terrorists (though they are too).

I'm talking about Americans. This link will take you to, which has published some 200+ photos from Abu Ghraib. (VERY VERY DISTURBING)

Now, we know that Bush blames it on his underlings. And those underlings, ignoring the principles of command responsibility, blame it on their underlings. Et cetera.

Meanwhile, the American public yawns. So what. They were terrorists? They're foreigners. They wanted to hurt the USA. They aren't Christian.

The existence, and the toleration, of Abu Ghraib is a blot on America. If the nation rose up in anger, if the people who tortured, and every single person up the chain of command were also held to count for this, it would be one thing.

But America's complete apathy, the lack of any punishment, is a damning indictment not only of American government but also of the American people.

Seal Pups

I'm really over this Pop-Star hysteria over the seal hunt.

People lament the killing of these cute, cuddly little seals. This particular writer in the star complains that the seals killed are all under two years of age.

And? They aren't toddlers. It isn't the tragic story of lives cut short, of prosaic days of seal-y lounging on the beach, looking cute and fluffy, with Sam the Seal cavorting with his oceanic friends, going on adventurs with Shamu and Bob the Polar Bear.

Come on. They're animals. The problem is they're so damn cute and fluffy (of course, they aren't killed when they're whitecoats, but people seem to forget that.)

No one objects to the daily slaughter of cows, pigs, and sheep. No one really complains that my yummy steak was from a 2-year old cow. God, last week I ate 20 chicken wings with a few pints of beer. 10 chickens died to make my snack (and I thank them for their sacrifice). How many protestors are out there picketing the French Embassy in communion with the countless slimy frogs and snails that go into French snacking?

My roommate in college studied genetics, and used to perform all sorts of unspeakable mutations on fruit flies - you know, eyes growing on their legs, wings growing out of their butts, that sort of thing - but never did you see Paul McCartney protesting that!

Either you are against the hunting/killing/mutating of animals, or you are not. You can't pick and choose just because a seal pup is a hell of a lot cuter than a lungfish.

Monday, March 13, 2006

O'Connor's Warning - that no one is listening to!

Why is this story not getting much more press?

I mean, when Scalia stands up and says that America is going to hell in a handcart and if we just stuck to the Constitution as it was in 1789, all would be well, his remarks are plastered over every paper in the country.

But when O'Connor says that the Republicans are driving us to dictatorship, no one listens? Not a surprise, of course, when the media gives Dubya and his cronies a free ride. But still.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Andrew Sullivan . . .

. . . is really starting to piss me off. He completely exemplifies that whole stream of conservativism which manages to admit it's wrong but somehow blame it on liberals and make us seem worse.

Here, he publishes his mea culpa that maybe the war in Iraq is a mess. And yet manages to turn it into some sort of neo-con plea by stating that his biggest mistake was "To overestimate the competence of government."

Such conservative nonsense. Conservatives have this idea that everything is done better by the private sector, and that everything the government touches is ruined. He's mistaken.

In Canada, and in Europe, and even in states like California and New York, there are a whole host of government provided services which work well.

What Sullivan really means is that he overestimated the competence of the Bush government, as much as he tries to spin Bush's failings to be inherent to the act of governance, rather than the act of the governor. If his thesis were correct, we would have seen such similar rank incompetence in the Clinton administration, and we would see it in countries like Canada, the UK, and Scandinavia, which have activist and strong governments.

Strangely, though, on their watches, those countries haven't lost any major cities (with the exception perhaps of Halifax, but that can be quite handily blamed on the French and Belgians).

They haven't entered into ill-prepared wars.

They haven't seen massive expansion of government debt.

They haven't seen a widening of the gap between rich and poor.

You get the point. Bush has demonstrated not that government cannot get it right, but that he cannot. Perhaps this is his goal - to make government so useless that people will start to believe the Kool Aid that Sullivan has clearly been sipping and equate government generally with Bush specifically.

That would be Bush's greatest triumph, and America's biggest disaster.

South Dakota's new state logo

Can be found here.

Gay Parenting

This is another example of just why Daliah Lithwick is the woman I'd switch for. She argues that the whole point of family law is to take the best interest of the child to heart, and that allowing gay adoption does exactly that.

The final quote is the best:
Rules rooted in sweeping moral judgments don't generally work in family law for the same reason they don't work for families: Kids love and need the parents they have, not necessarily the parents we love.
What amazes me is that so many states are moving to ban gay adoption. As Lithwick notes, is it better for a child do languish in state custody or bounce from foster home to foster home, than to be adopted by gay parents?

And really, they'll be much better dressed, too.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The GG is my queen

I have always thought Canada is best served as a monarchy. We have an apolitical head of state, someone who isn't loathed by over half the population, who doesn't need to pander to a base or anything nonsensical like that, who has no real power but stands there as the living embodiment of the Canadian state. I believe in the oath of allegiance, I believe in the Crown, and most importantly, I LOVE our last two Governors General.

This editorial, which I copy in full below, from today's Globe, is an example of why. When Dubya goes and "emotes," it's cynical at best, shallow and fake at worst. It always has a political goal. Same, to be honest, with our PM, and with any elected official. But when Her Excellency speaks, you can believe in what she's saying. Read on:

'It happens to so many families, we have to realize. And being silent about it is not a good thing to do. I think part of the solution is to speak out . . . about it, and make it known."

The speaker was Governor-General Michaƫlle Jean, talking this week of domestic abuse and the need to let those who are suffering it know they are not alone. She went further. She told of her own experience as "a little girl who saw her father strike her mother. My younger sister and I lived with the anguish that all children feel when the family unit breaks down."

In her case, the husband left and the smaller family unit went through hardship. But Ms. Jean's very presence showed that triumph can come from adversity, and she had a further message: that her violent father had eventually renounced his violence. Those who have suffered in silence with abuse have been reminded that this is not some anomaly they must live with -- that the problem cuts through all layers of society, and that those who are abused should not hesitate to seek help. The Governor-General has been there, and has borne public witness.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Can we ever let go of "National Security"?

Some days, the extent to which the "debate" about "national security" paralyzes the country overwhelms me.

Since 9/11, all we've heard from the government is constant invocations of "national security" and "the war on terror." It's gotten to the point now where completely sensible, rational deals get turned into some critical issue of security. It's nonsense - but now the mood of the country is such that all you can do is talk about security. I'm sure congressmen know that really, the Dubai ports thing is not at all a bid deal, but because the public expects the government to be putting national security first, it's a way to score points, no matter how stupid they are.

After all, if the Democrats had stepped back and said, hey, national security is important, but this deal has nothing to do with it - the Republicans would have argued that they're soft on terror.

What horrifies me is how "national security" overpowers everything. So we have terrible health care, crumbling social services, increasing poor, crime, we're missing a city, a national debt spiralling out of control - we don't have time to discuss those things.

Let's get it straight. The US is arguably one of the safest countries in the world. There aren't bombs going off every day here. There have been exactly ZERO attacks on the US since 9/11 - and Bush may claim he's "thwarted" others but the absence of detail is just a touch suspicious. But here, it overpowers us, unlike other places.

I lived in the UK when Canary Wharf was bombed and when Heathrow Airport was shelled by the IRA. Still, "national security" was never the overwhelming debate. There was still bandwidth to talk about healthcare, about the environment, about the economy. Not here.

But then, it's amazing how Americans are encouraged to be afraid. You can't turn on the TV that there isn't some breathless newsreader discussing how to protect yourself from natural disasters, theft, terrorists, earthquakes, credit card fraud, identity theft, restless-leg-syndrome. Heck, even children are being told they need to be constantly vigilant. You recall those stories of people in nowheresville who asphyxiated themselves by covering their windows in plastic?

So what sort of surprise is it that Americans are a people living in constant fear of something, that they can't discuss other priorities?

And so, while the country hurtles towards bankruptcy, makes ridiculous investment decisions, makes enemies of the world, watches its rich get richer and its poor get poorer, all we do is obsess over national security in its countless meaningless invocations.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In bemusement . . .

. . . of LA Drivers.

Okay. Los Angeles is all about its cars. I had resolved, on moving here, never to buy into the LA car culture. How wrong I was. Now, I look at people's cars, and if the car is dirty, I think, "I'll bet they keep their house like that too."

Part of this is because after you've lived here long enough, you start to get a little Zen about your car. In a lot of ways, my 30-minute/3-mile drive is my "me" time - the time to zone out (while paying attention, of course), listen to my music, and have a think. There are plenty of times when I'm going somewhere that the getting there is more pleasuable than being there.

But LA drivers really exemplify this town - a lot of people who think they're important, that really, what they want to do is what matters, and that they're under no obligation to think of anyone else.

For example, I have to turn left from Santa Monica onto Avenue of the Stars. This left turn is normally easy, but they've shut the street right before it (Century Park East), so it has twice the traffic. I found myself not able to get into the lane, having overshot the end of it. I thought okay, and drove to the next street and did a ewie. However, I've seen plenty of LA drivers simply stop, put their blinker on and wait for a space to open, completely blocking all traffic behind them. No thought about what this does for others.

Today, a woman on a cell phone in a Porsche, yakking away while the light went green and she went nowhere.

It's the symptom of this town - a lot of people trying to get ahead, tought through what is alleged to be "Self Empowerment" to actually just be self-absorbed and thoughtless. It's not malicious, just an utter inability to consider that getting what you want might negatively impact others. It's not like I haven't dated a few of those.

I've always believed that Los Angelenos should be sent to the UK for a year, where you quickly learn that you can't always have things exactly the way you want. No, you can't have the chicken grilled and not sauteed, and they don't have low-fat-Atkins-friendly ranch dressing, and no, it comes with fries, not a salad. Sometimes things just don't work. Sometimes it gets a bit drafty. Laundry takes a long time. If your friend buys you a drink, you must buy him one (the number of times I've bankrupted myself doing that - assuming that I've just bought 8 drinks, so I'm set for the night, when the recipients are assuming I'm just being nice . . .).

But I did see a strange one today - a Red Civic with a sticker of California in the gay rainbow colours. But the license plate: JAG ESQ. The ESQ shows he was a lawyer. JAG? Judge Advocate General? Combine that with the gay thing and you can colour me confused.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ut incipit sic fidelis non permanet

What is Dalton McGuinty smoking?

Abolish the Senate, because it doesn't adequately reflect Ontario's population?

This is heresy. Of the first order. For two reasons.

First, the whole point of the Senate is that it doesn't reflect population, but rather regions. Twenty-four seats for Ontario, for Quebec, for the Atlantic, and for the West. Six for the Newfies, and one for each territory. It means, of course, the Atlantic is horrendously overrepresented in terms of population and Ontario, as McGuinty notes, is underrepresented.

Again, though, that's the point. The "rep by pop" thing is in the House. It mirrors, in a way, the US system, where California, population some 30 million, gets as many senators as Wyoming, population some 500,000 - i.e. one sixtieth of California (I can look out my office and probably look over more people than live in Wyoming).

Forget, though, that McGuinty is actually calling for two redundant houses (as he himself notes), which would be a complete nightmare. The second, more important point, is that McGuinty is suddenly buying in to the sort of politics of regional grievances that every other province (ahem, Quebec, Alberta, and Danny Williams' little flag spat) that Ontario always avoids.

I've always been proud of Ontario as the fixer of the federation, the Ontario that realizes, okay, it's the big brother of the country, and because of that exercises a little more responsibility than the upstart children that make up the other provinces. The Ontario that accepts it has to get less than its fare share, so that things work. Other legislatures might be treated by their premiers as provincial baronetcys, putting their own interests first, but Ontario would always remain above it.

Sure, this comes at some cost - a sort of Ontario hubris that thinks of Canada as nothing more than Toronto writ-large (We always hear about how "multicultural" Canada is - get 10km outside a city and it's pretty damn white).

But when McGuinty, in order to get votes, stirs up some sort of regional sense of grievance that hitherto has not existed in Ontario, you know things are bad in the federation. If McGuinty starts playing this 40% card at every meeting, we're going to have trouble.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Alito, servant of the Christian Right

So apparently Alito sent James "Only I Can Define Marriage" Dobson, of Focus on the Family, a thank you letter for Dobson's help in securing his nomination.

The full text is below. Anyone who ever doubted that Alito would be a servant of the Christian right can go to sleep with their doubts assuaged. We are all doomed.

Dear Dr. Dobson:

This is just a short note to express my heartfelt thanks to you and the entire staff of Focus on the Family for your help and support during the past few challenging months.I would also greatly appreciate it if you would convey my appreciation to the good people from all parts of the country who wrote to tell me that they were praying for me and for my family during this period. As I said when I spoke at my formal investiture at the White House last week, the prayers of so many people from around the country were a palpable and powerful force. As long as I serve on the Supreme Court I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me. I hope that we'll have the opportunity to meet personally at some point in the future. In the meantime my entire family and I hope that you and the Focus on the Family staff know how we appreciate all that you have done.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bush Did Know

So apparently Bush's claims that he didn't know the scale of the potential catastrophe in New Orleans is nonsense.

According to a confidential video secured by the AP, Bush was briefed in very great detail about the potential disaster. According to the AP:

In dramatic and sometimes agonizing terms, federal disaster officials warned President Bush and his homeland security chief before Hurricane Katrina struck that the storm could breach levees, put lives at risk in New Orleans' Superdome and overwhelm rescuers, according to confidential video footage. Bush didn't ask a single question during the final briefing before Katrina struck on Aug. 29, but he assured soon-to-be-battered state officials: "We are fully prepared."

So hugely typical of Bush. "We're ready." "It's all going to be okay." "Trust me."

He said, "Mission accomplished!" And look where Iraq is.

He said, "My tax cuts will make everyone better," and look at the deficit.

Now we know he said "We are fully prepared." And how gravely we weren't.

Is this lie number 2? Bush said that no one had anticipated the levees breaking. Apparently, people had told him. He said that he wasn't aware of the problem. But apparently he was.

How the American people put up with this - lie after lie, buck-pass after buck-pass, incompetence explained or justified away - is beyond me.

Brian Mulroney, not a tenth as incompetent as Bush, was down at 11% in his final years. Here, Bush still can find some 40% of the population approving of what he's doing, in spite of losing a city, lying his way into war, letting Osama escape, during a huge surplus into a huge deficit, torturing detainees, and lying about spying on Americans.

It's almost a more damning indictment of the American people than it is of Bush.