Monday, August 31, 2009

Death Panel Advisors

Everything's real:


Single Molecule Phtographed For The First Time

Some historic close-up photography:

It may look like a piece of honeycomb, but this lattice-shaped image is the first ever close-up view of a single molecule.

Scientists from IBM used an atomic force microscope (AFM) to reveal the chemical bonds within a molecule.

'This is the first time that all the atoms in a molecule have been imaged,' lead researcher Leo Gross said.

The researchers focused on a single molecule of pentacene, which is commonly used in solar cells. The rectangular-shaped organic molecule is made up of 22 carbon atoms and 14 hydrogen atoms.

In the image above the hexagonal shapes of the five carbon rings are clear and even the positions of the hydrogen atoms around the carbon rings can be seen.

To give some perspective, the space between the carbon rings is only 0.14 nanometers across, which is roughly one million times smaller than the diameter of a grain of sand.
Cool, but pentacene? It's a b-list molecule at best. Show me some Buckminsterfullerenes and I'll really be impressed.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Rebranding Health Care Reform

Since the Republican fear mongering about death panels and death books has not yet completely destroyed President Obama's health reform initiatives they've recently decided to try a new tactic: Rebranding the term "universal health coverage" as "government-run health care". Not only does it put the verboten verbiage "government" front and center but it also handily fits into the right-wing talking point of "If the government can't even run 'blank', then how are they going to blah, blah, blah?"

Perhaps this is envy on my part but it seems to me that the political left in this country completely lacks the ability to frame debates using catchy or cleverly named policy initiatives the way the right does. Aside from the aforementioned death panels and books, legislation like the Clear Skies Initiative (which actually allowed for an increase in air pollution), the Healthy Forests Initiative (which actually allowed for an increase in logging and deforestation) and the Patriot Act (which actually allowed the decidedly unpatriotic acts of government eavesdropping and torture of US citizens) was not only extraordinarily Orwellian but was also passed extremely successfully by the Bush administration. Meanwhile, the Democrats have only been able to come up with relatively unimaginative and blasé policy monikers like SCHIP and "economic stimulus package" (even the fairly successful "Cash for Clunkers" program sounds like a child suggested it).

So now hot on the heels of Ted Kennedy's recent death the Republicans have predictably started frothing at the collective mouth over the prospect of the Democrats naming Obama's health care initiative after the late senator, claiming that it would be some kind of disrespectful, crass exploitation of the man's passing and the sympathy it has elicited from the American public. Call me crazy but I'm pretty sure that not only would Kennedy be deeply honored if this bill carried his name but that he'd also whole-heartedly approve of using this marketing technique to ultimately get it passed into law. I know that if using my name after my own death helped achieve anything I'd repeatedly referred to as "the cause of my life" I'd be posthumously all for it, respect for the dead be damned.

But upon further reflection I've decided that merely naming the bill after Kennedy still might not be enough to achieve this critically needed legislative victory, so I've taken the liberty of coming up with some alternate branding names/catch phrases that might elicit a bit more public support:

- Health Care '09: The Rehealthening

- Who Wants to Live Forever? (this one is just for the Queen/Highlander fans)

- I Can't Believe It's Not Socialized Medicine!

- Super Happy Fun Time Feel Good Plan (suggested by my Korean grocer)

- President Obama's No Drama, Less Trauma Health Care Plan

- So You Think You're Healthier Than a 5th Grader?

- Twilight (just to capitalize on the current popularity)

- We Promise You Won't Get Michael Jackson's Doctor...

- Now Death Panel-Free!

- Home of the Glenn Beck-ectomy
I hadn't meant for that to resemble a top ten list when I started writing it but apparently all those hours watching David Letterman as a boy had a much bigger impact than I thought. Have any other health care plan rebranding suggestions? Feel free to drop them in the comment section.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Picture Of The Day

President Barack Obama faces down the Healther/Tea Bagger zombie hordes at an impromptu public town hall. George W. Bush never had to worry about these guys because they only feed on brains. Thank you, thank you! I'll be here all week! Try the pepper steak, and don't forget to tip your waitress...


Neurosonics Audiomedical Labs

Get ready to have your mind blown clean off your shoulders:


Thursday, August 27, 2009

How To Read A Menu

Frank Bruni, restaurant critic for The New York Times, offers several pieces of advice for restaurant goers in his final column. Amongst them is the best, safest way to navigate a menu:

Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.

Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.

Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.

Choose among the remaining dishes.
Pretty sound advice, although I have had several great dishes that incorporated truffle oil. I have one of my own to add here as well: Look at the menu. If it has pictures of the dishes printed on it lay it back down on the table, get up and go to a better restaurant. You're welcome.


Something Someone Else Said

"You want to know who the biggest hypocrite in the world is? The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers and not for homosexuals. Hypocrite. The same God who instituted the death penalty for murderers is the same God who instituted the death penalty for rapists and for homosexuals - sodomites, queers! That’s what it was instituted for, okay? That’s God, he hasn’t changed. Oh, God doesn’t feel that way in the New Testament … God never “felt” anything about it, he commanded it and said they should be taken out and killed." -Pastor Steven L. Anderson, Faithful Word Baptist Church.

Yeah, I'm sure Jesus would have been totally down with this kind of hateful bullshit. I feel sorry for anyone, straight or gay, who is amongst this man's congregation. Is it any wonder that atheism has been steadily growing in popularity in American society?

Ted Kennedy's Death Draws The Wingnut Ire

The extremely classy yet morbidly elegant graphic above was created by Carol at No Sheeples Here! (you might remember her work Photoshopping me as a baby during my back and forth with Donald Douglas a few months back) and posted by my conservative counterpart Donald Douglas (yeah: That Donald Douglas) as the lead for his post "Wellstoning Ted Kennedy: Democrats 'Never Let a Crisis Go to Waste'".

If you haven't heard by now Senator Ted Kennedy, the only remaining patriarch of the Kennedy clan and the aptly named "Liberal Lion of the Senate", finally died from brain cancer a little more than 24 hours ago. Kennedy came from a family that can only be described as a political dynasty while at the same time seeming to be a living Shakespearean tragedy within American history. One should obviously expect that the political left in this country will try to celebrate his legacy while at the same time the political right will do everything within their power to tear down and destroy every good thing the man ever did as a result of his public service.

And here it comes: Don reproduces this quote from Kim Priestap:

It seems the left is intent on debasing Kennedy's death with a concerted effort to manipulate the American people into supporting Obama's health care reform. Will it work or will it turn into a Paul Wellstone spectacle with similar results? Considering how pissed the American people are at the left and the Democrats for trying to shove this down their thoats, I have a feeling they won't appreciate this new push for a government take-over of health care recycled and presented to them in Kennedy wrapping. It's crass, cynical, and simply disgusting.
Yeah, as if Kennedy would object to any effort on the part of the left to push through a universal health-care system in his name. The man lived for this type of legislative activism and I'm sure that he would have no problem with it being carried out in his name. And this bit of linking commentary from Don about the man's funeral and legacy speaks volumes as to neoconservative values:
And Gateway Pundit again with, "AP: Obama to Deliver Eulogy at Kennedy Funeral" ("Here we go ...The messiah and the saint").

Well, you get the picture ...
Yeah, calling someone else a "messiah" or a "saint" when they've obviously never referred to themselves in this manner and then tearing them down because no human could ever live up to those descriptions is fucking classy. Class, all goddamn day.

But a few readers may be wondering about the word "Wellstoning" that Don used in the title of his post. Since I assume that many readers are unfamiliar with the life and death of former Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone, I'll reproduce the words of newly elected Senator Al Franken, who now holds Wellstone's senate seat, and who also wrote a chapter in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them about Wellstone's memorial. In a piece about similar dynamics surrounding Coretta Scott King's funeral in 2006, Franken explained:

The chapter was mainly about how cynically Republicans used the memorial politically as they complained that the Democrats had used it politically. And how the mainstream media, many of whom had neither attended the memorial nor seen it on TV, bought into the Republican spin.

Mainly, there was a lot of lying. Rush Limbaugh claimed that the audience was "planted," when, in fact, Twin Cities' radio and TV had to tell people to stay away because Williams Arena was jammed to capacity three hours before the Memorial was scheduled to begin. Thousands were crowded into an overflow gym to watch on a screen and thousands watched outside on a cold, late October night.

A pained Limbaugh asked his audience the day after the memorial: "Where was the grief? Where were the tears? Where was the memorial service? There wasn't any of this!"

This was a lie. I was there. Along with everyone else, I cried, I laughed, I cheered. It was, to my mind, a beautiful four-hour memorial.


It was the Republicans that tried to cheapen Paul Wellstone's life by dishonoring his death. It was the right-wing media, not the friends and family who spoke at the memorial or the people who came to it, that seized an opportunity to use a tragedy for political gain.

But wait! The right-wing class doesn't end with the shameless, partisan comparison of the supposed semblance of Wellstone's funeral with Kennedy's future service. Don's acolytes are much more vocal:
Grizzly Mama said...I couldn't listen to the memorials on this guy. He was a disgusting human being and this hero-worship that he inspires boggles my mind. The next generation of Kennedys is pretty screwed up, but hopefully they will never be as screwed up as Teddy was.
And that's just the reaction from Don talking shit about President Obama eventually giving Kennedy's eulogy sometime in the future. The comments from the post entitled "The Edward M. Kennedy Memorial Care Health Bill?" are much more indicative of Don's average readership:
Dennis said...

One should give Kennedy his due as a stanch fighter for what he believed in, but that has no bearing on anything else.
It seems rather macabre for the Left to have to use his death in this manner and denotes a realization that they do not have the upper hand or even the moral high ground.
I did not agree with Kennedy on much, but hope that GOD treats him well. Unlike those on the Left I find no pleasure in his death nor a need to use it as a reason for some cause.
By their use of Kennedy's death the Left has demonstrated how truly disgusting they are as human beings. Shades of Paul Wellstone and the disaster the left made out of his death.
Respect Kennedy's service to the country is all that is required. To do otherwise is to taint that service.

Sadly yes, even when those that cared for him did exactly as he asked the right claims that his legacy is being threatened by those same activists. Kennedy even pushed for a law in his native Massachusetts that would have let the state choose a successor for his senate seat should his death become a certainty. He had hoped that this legislative move would further the cause of health-care reform even after the event of his death. But let's not ignore this mot juste about the late senator:
One liberal paper even attributed Obama's victory to Kennedy's radical revision of our immigration policy.

This lying sleazebag deserves not one bit of sympathy or respect.
Basically, according to the right in this country, Ted Kennedy was a murdering socialist who barely skated through life on the coattails of his famous and wealthy family members. Compare this to the story you're getting from everyone else on the Internet and in the mainstream media and then tell me that I'm wrong about my relatively modest, liberal perception of this statesman.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

FOX News Discovers Obama's "Death Book"

OK, it's actually Bush's "death book" and it's actually not even a "death book" but rather one of several end-of-life planning books referred to and distributed by the Department of Veterans Affairs:

First "death tax", then "death panels" and now "death book". Those Republicans are marketing geniuses, I tell ya.


Yes, Cowboys Punt Fail

Dammit, Dallas. I know that last season was supposed to be our year but can't we at least design the stadium correctly? The nation is watching:


[Update: New video (via)]

Freedom Of The Press Isn't Always Free

This is the danger in allowing an American military that is well-versed in the art of propaganda and public relations (as it invariably must be at the dawn of the 21st century) to also be the sole arbiter of who can and can not cover the actions of that same military during a time of war:

As more journalists seek permission to accompany U.S. forces engaged in escalating military operations in Afghanistan, many of them could be screened by a controversial Washington-based public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to determine whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light.

U.S. public affairs officials in Afghanistan acknowledged to Stars and Stripes that any reporter seeking to embed with U.S. forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion.

Rendon examines individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” compared to mission objectives, according to Rendon officials. It conducts similar analysis of general reporting trends about the war for the military and has been contracted for such work since 2005, according to the company...

...U.S. Army officials in Iraq engaged in a similar vetting practice two months ago, when they barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division because the reporter “refused to highlight” good news that military commanders wanted to emphasize.

Professional groups representing journalists are decrying the Pentagon’s screening of reporters.

As well they should. Now, I understand the need for positive propaganda and effective PsyOps to win a war but the ability of a free American press to document and report on the activities of its government halfway around the world should not be subject to military approval based on their history of "pro-military" stories. If George W. Bush had run his White House press corps this way during his tenure as president FOX NEWS, the National Review and The Wall Street Journal op/ed page would have been very lonely in that room all by themselves with the Press Secretary.

And even more disturbing is that this business with The Rendon Group is still going on a full seven months after Barack Obama entered office. Yes, as the Commander-in-Chief it's obviously now his military to command so I can see why he would want it portrayed in the best possible light but manipulation of the press on any level is something that should be avoided by any honest administration, regardless of the subject matter and location. And the fact that very few Americans read Stars and Stripes and thus will never hear about this officially sanctioned practice of military censorship only makes it that much worse.

Monday, August 24, 2009

TDS: Poll Bearers

Jon Stewart explores why cable news channel polls are all completely worthless:

[Update: Welcome to all Southeast Missouri State University Psychology 103 students! Please feel free to have a look around Brain Rage, and if you have any ideas about how to make the voices in my head subside leave a detailed comment.]

Apparently I Really Am Brian Griffin...

I was reading an interview with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane the other day in which he mentioned that the character of Brian the dog (the only character he uses his real voice to portray on the show) is loosely based on himself. Now I've been compared to Brian by several different friends in the past (I know it's hard to notice over the Internet but we even have similar voices) but it wasn't until I read his Wikipedia page that I realized just how much we have in common as far as politics, alcoholic refreshment, relationships, etc. Aside from the jazz and the cigarettes it appears that this guy is pretty much me if I were a cartoon dog and no, I still haven't finished that novel I've been working on:

[Update: A few readers have wondered in the past what the "B" in James B. Webb actually stands for. Yep, you guessed it...]

Sunday, August 23, 2009

America's Socialist Fire Departments

Finally, there's a Facebook group to combat this un-Americanism:

For too long now, fire departments across the United States have been socialist organizations, resulting in taxes on the American people.

FACT: Most Americans never use the socialized services of the fire department. The Obama administration has been very clear about keeping the status quo when it comes to taxpayer-funded fire departments.

It is time to open the fire department up to private industry. We have the best fire departments in the world in the US, but that doesn't mean that anyone (even non-US citizens) should be able to dial up and have fires put out, etc. There are private companies (Halliburtion, Etc.) who could step in tomorrow and take over every fire department in America and charge the consumer directly.

Obviously making fun of the Healthers but it really does frame the debate differently when you actually apply their "logic" to other supposedly Socialistic institutions in our society.


Picture Of he Day

Crazy organic. The inside of a leatherback sea turtle's mouth:

Interesting. I presume the (?cartilaginous) tooth-like projections point inward to keep prey from wiggling back out of the mouth. They obviously aren't for mastication. I've never seen this before.
Creeps me right the hell out. But cool as hell, just the same.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Picture Of The Day

Found by way of a post on my conservative counterpart Donald Douglas' site American Power, a conservative protester stands outside of Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill's Missouri office. Now I support President Obama's efforts to reform the health care system so obviously I don't agree with the message of this protest (although I have no problem with the act itself, of course) but seeing her sign made me think: How fucked up is the political messaging on the right in this country when you can differentiate yourself from your fellow protesters by pointing out that you're not a racist douchebag calling the president a Nazi?

KFC Is Practically Daring Me To Eat This...

It's called the Double Down Chicken Sandwich and it's pure culinary pornography:

Who dreamed this up? This is perhaps the most insane “sandwich” I have ever seen. A fried chicken patty, 2 slices of cheese, 2 slices of bacon, and another fried chicken patty. Wow. Sorry I don’t have much else to say, it is like the Monster Burger of chicken. My mind is boggled… the funny thing about this sandwich is that it is part of the “unthink kfc” advertising, which has previously only been for grilled chicken.
That's right, it's a cheese and bacon sandwich with pieces of fried chicken instead of bread. Touché, Colonel. This makes up for that whole Famous Bowls fiasco. Here's a crappy cell phone video of the commercial (it's all I could find):

Friday, August 21, 2009

Picture Of The Day

Best. Pun. Ever. If you don't get it you've obviously never seen this. Don't, because there are some things in this world that can never be unseen.


Support The Billionaires

It's nice being on the winning side of a debate for once, isn't it?:

I wear my rich guy top hat every day. Reminds me of just how much health care coverage I have. Oh, wait a minute...


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Apparently Black People Own Guns Too...

A lot of the conservative blogs have been getting rather excited about this story:

On Tuesday, MSNBC’s Contessa Brewer fretted over health care reform protesters legally carrying guns: "A man at a pro-health care reform rally...wore a semiautomatic assault rifle on his shoulder and a pistol on his hip....there are questions about whether this has racial overtones....white people showing up with guns." Brewer failed to mention the man she described was black.

Following Brewer’s report, which occurred on the Morning Meeting program, host Dylan Ratigan and MSNBC pop culture analyst Toure discussed the supposed racism involved in the protests. Toure argued: "...there is tremendous anger in this country about government, the way government seems to be taking over the country, anger about a black person being president....we see these hate groups rising up and this is definitely part of that." Ratigan agreed: "...then they get the variable of a black president on top of all these other things and that’s the move – the cherry on top, if you will, to the accumulated frustration for folks."

Not only did Brewer, Ratigan, and Toure fail to point out the fact that the gun-toting protester that sparked the discussion was black, but the video footage shown of that protester was so edited, that it was impossible to see that he was black. The man appeared at a health care rally outside of President Obama’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Phoenix, Arizona.

Now, was it disingenuous of MSNBC to have focused their cameras so tightly on this guy's gun that it was impossible to discern his race while also not mentioning that he was black in the context of a discussion about race? Yeah, totally. But let's be honest here: This isn't indicative of the liberal media, it's indicative of all corporate media at large. For the most part they already have their stories written, be they conservative or liberal. They just send the cameras out to find a shot that supports that narrative. But did MSNBC also have a valid point about the racial overtones inherent to electing the first black American president? Yeah, totally. Of course not everyone who carries a gun or disagrees with Obama is a racist but a significant portion of them are and anyone who can not see that is either blind or willfully ignorant.

Although what the conservative blogosphere seems to be implying with this story is that by pointing out that this guy was black, now any discussion about those racial overtones has apparently been neatly negated. A black guy showed up at a town hall with a gun too so now white people doing it can't be racists, right? Right, and according to these same people the day we elected a black man as president all the racism in this country just magically dried up and blew away. We made one of them president, what more do black people want!? Of course there are plenty of legitimate reasons for people to disagree with Obama on many different issues (I have several myself) but to also deny that a certain portion of the opposition movement is racially motivated is obviously untrue and it only further discredits whatever else you have to say. MSNBC may have gone about making their point about race in the wrong manner but that doesn't in any way lessen its importance or validity and the people who think that it does should know better.

[Update: Jon Stewart follows up on this story as he and Wyatt Cenac try to divine what carrying around loaded assault weapons could possibly have to do with health care reform:

Picture Of The Day

Understandable, so I'll allow it this one time. After this, though: No! Bad dog! You let go now! No!


[Update: I'm serious! He served his time! The Philadelphia Eagles have forgiven him, why can't you? Come on. Capitalism? Business? Bad dog!]

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Something Despicable Someone Else Said

"Liberals seem to be under the impression that health care reform will be like a new entititlement, and that Republicans will run against it at their own peril -- as was the case with Social Security reform in 2005. And they may be right, but not until this monstrous bill actually goes into effect some time in 2013. Which means that for the next four years, Republicans will be able to say whatever they want about the health care reforms that were passed but won't come into effect for years. Republicans will be able to come up with another "death panel" every week." -Michael Goldfarb, Weekly Standard.

The Republican party has hit upon a winning strategy: Lie, make sure that enough people are scared by your lies, and repeat. The American people need to wake up to this soon or we're all really going to be screwed.


"Grassroots" Are Really Expensive

You've heard the talking points: The tea bagging protests and town hall shout downs were all spontaneous, local grassroots movements occurring simultaneously all across the country fueled solely by the will of everyday Joes and Jills who are patriotically preventing the government from destroying the greatest health care system in the world. Well, now not so much:

FreedomWorks, the conservative group organizing much of the "tea party" movement, has riled allies by charging hefty fees to participate in a Sept. 12 March on Washington aimed at bringing the movement's broad anti-government agenda — notably, opposition to health care changes — to Capitol Hill.

FreedomWorks, which is chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is charging other groups a minimum of $10,000 for the right to distribute material to the activists gathered for the march, and to attach their own names to the event. The group has raised its rates from an initial fee schedule, which would put a group's name on the website for free, and would allow it to distribute materials for $2,500.

Groups can also pay to have a speaker address a rally and workshops, with $10,000 securing a prime Saturday afternoon speaking slot, according to the fee schedule, obtained by POLITICO and printed after the jump.

The organization is citing the event's increasing cost in justifying the increased price to conservative allies, one of whom disclosed the details to POLITICO.
Rachel Maddow has a bit more info on just who FreedomWorks is and what their role in this whole "grassroots" movement really entails:

So yes, aside from the massive and well-funded organizations run by former Republican politicians and the money-laden front groups for the insurance industry organizing and scripting various protests across the country this whole movement is totally grassroots. Actually this movement is about as grassroots as the Brady's back yard: It's obviously fake but they still manage to make it look pretty good for the cameras.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

While He Was Away

If you've ever been in a relationship with an "intense" person you'll relate to this guy's story much as I did:

If this is indeed real here's my one question: Dude, you never checked your email the whole time you were in Europe? There are cheap Internet cafes everywhere there. Obviously this particular chick was a psycho hose beast but still...


Something Someone Else Said

"Contra Rush Limbaugh, history’s actual fascists were not primarily known for their anti-smoking policies or generous social welfare programs. Fascism celebrated violence, anti-rationalism and hysterical devotion to an authoritarian leader. To date, the Obama administration has fallen rather short in these departments.

Perhaps uncomfortably aware of the shortcoming, the hardliners have developed — okay, invented really — their own mythology about Obama “brownshirts.” (The popular conservative website RedState.org literally uses the term.) The complaint rests on a single case — that of conservative activist Kenneth Gladney, who got into a scuffle at a townhall in St. Louis, Missouri. The altercation was captured on video and you can watch it on YouTube. What you’ll see is a man, already on the ground, and another man stepping back in order to avoid tripping over him. The man on the ground is Gladney. Gladney walked away from the confrontation and later went to hospital, where he was treated for light injuries and released the same day. Whatever happened and whoever started it, this happily bloodless encounter bears not even the most glancing resemblance to the brutality that made Hitler’s brownshirts notorious. And yet, look up Gladney’s name online and he’s suddenly a poignant martyr." -David Frum, New Majority.

But "fascist", "nihilist", "socialist", "marxist", "atheist", "communist", "brownshirt", these terms are all equally inherently bad, right? Their actual definitions or the context of their usage don't really matter, just that one yells them loudly and often enough about one's enemies in order for something to stick. That's how you win political debate in this country and it's why wanting to make sure that every American has affordable health care obviously makes Obama a dirty Nazi.


Financing The Taliban

This isn't so much a surprise as it is just disturbing:

KABUL — It is the open secret no one wants to talk about, the unwelcome truth that most prefer to hide. In Afghanistan, one of the richest sources of Taliban funding is the foreign assistance coming into the country.

Virtually every major project includes a healthy cut for the insurgents. Call it protection money, call it extortion, or, as the Taliban themselves prefer to term it, “spoils of war,” the fact remains that international donors, primarily the United States, are to a large extent financing their own enemy...

“In the past there was a kind of feeling that the money all came from drugs in Afghanistan,” said Holbrooke, according to media reports. “That is simply not true.”

The manager of an Afghan firm with lucrative construction contracts with the U.S. government builds in a minimum of 20 percent for the Taliban in his cost estimates. The manager, who will not speak openly, has told friends privately that he makes in the neighborhood of $1 million per month. Out of this, $200,000 is siphoned off for the insurgents.
As I've said before, I'm not at all sure what role the United States should be playing in Afghanistan at this point and I'm fairly uncomfortable with President Obama's plans to double-down the war effort there. I hate to admit this but it seems just as bad an idea as Bush deciding to go into Iraq. The Afghan people are fiercely nationalistic and have pretty much outfought and outlasted every country that has tried to occupy and pacify them in the past, regardless of their intentions. Our policy of continuing to try to hold that country together just seems like another quagmire that we should be avoiding, given how much each of those two countries have cost us in lives and treasure over the last six years. That said, I still think that this suggestion is a pretty good idea but I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, August 17, 2009


My apologies for the lack of posts today. I had several things I wanted to talk about but real life keeps getting in the way. Regular posting will resume again tomorrow.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Obama Gang Signs

Word. Don't ever let it slip to the Republicans. Imagine the chaos if they ever derived the meaning of our super-secret, anti-American code scheme.


Should The Ends Justify The Means?

Per my post yesterday about the lies of Sarah Palin and others concerning so-called "death panels" essentially killing the end-of-life provision in President Obama's health care reform legislation regular reader Truth101 left the following comment:

I've been a low level hack since I was 13 JBW. One recurring theme to winning elections in my view is that lies and distortion win more than they lose.

I can't go into it here but the ones I worked on that lost, most of them we ran positive campaigns.

I wouldn't lose any sleep if the DNC or Move On or something else decided to make the scumbags that lie about health care pay. Fighting the good fight isn't doing any good against these assholes. Losing this with dignity is not going to insure 47 million people without and the millions more that will be added as business decides it can't afford the expense.

I don't know how much experience you or your readers have with politicing and working elections. But this my friend is "nut cutting time."

I regret if I your opinion of me has been diminished.
First and foremost, let me say that I've known Truth101 online for some time now and despite his occasional lapses of decorum (you know of which I speak, amigo) I can say unequivocally that he's a real stand up guy. And I recognize the compulsion to fight dirty when dirty is the only way the other side will fight. Regardless, I have to say that this line of reasoning takes me down a road that I am somewhat loath to travel upon.

To address T101's query about my own political experience, I only made phone calls to voters in other states from my home on behalf of Barack Obama last year (in Northern California it seemed like it would do more good than walking precincts) but two years before that I was a paid staffer on a federal congressional campaign. The reason I bring it up now is because at one point the campaign manager (also a stand up guy, as far as I knew him personally) wanted to engage in some rather nefarious tactics against the Republican incumbent and trust me: This guy deserved it and much more. But my boss (we referred to him as a "boy scout" because he was so straight-laced) wouldn't have it. He felt that we should be able to win the fight based on the issues and their merits, and we ultimately did. I'm very proud to say that he's now my congressman, having been reelected last year and I couldn't wish for a better or more honest human being to be working within the House of Representatives on my behalf.

So I understand T101's compulsion to fight fire with fire, or dirt with dirt if you will. And I'm not so naive to think that the ends do not justify the means in certain cases. My real concerns arise when that philosophy becomes the working strategy for the majority of situations. Now, do I think that Obama and his Democratic cohorts should take the figurative gloves off and start ramming health care reform legislation through the House and Senate, regardless of Republican obstructionism? Absogoddamnlutely. This man was elected with what can only be described as a real mandate for change and if the opposition party can't accept that then I say steamroll over them and count the flattened corpses at your leisure. That's fucking democracy. We put up with it for eight long and agonizing years. It's time for the righteous side to chalk a few up in the win column.

But having said all that, do I think that we should use lies and deception to insure our side wins the debate, in essence scaring the American public into endorsing our vision? No, we don't need to and we should not. We've won two consecutive national elections, both rather decisively. We don't need to lie or obfuscate the truth to ram our legislation home, we just need to flex the legislative muscle we've built up over the last four years while also disregarding the whining and dithering of the political pussies we've picked up along the way. And yes, I said pussies. Every hemming and hawing Democrat, every Johnny-come-lately fiscally conservative Blue Dog, every spineless poll-following career politician on our side of the aisle needs to either throw down with the good of the American people or decide that they want to go it alone because there shouldn't be a third political option for these weasels.

Now I don't know if President Obama will follow the strategy I've just laid out. Aside from the fact that he rarely calls me for my advice, he seems like he genuinely cares about this whole "bipartisan" thing although I hope the last couple of months of rabid Republican obstructionism has at least somewhat cured him of that apparent weakness. It has also become glaringly obvious at this point that the political right in this country is not at all interested in any type of compromise whatsoever, and I am now of the opinion that we should no longer even give them the time of day as far as that's concerned. They've had ample chance to work things out in a civilized manner and the time for engaging in that course of action has long since passed.

I only hope that at the end of these proceedings we can still in some way come together as a unified and civil society. I've been on the losing end of the political policy debate before and I can say unequivocally that it definitely sucks mucho ass on a personal level, but that's the system we have and I still think that in the end it's a pretty damn good one. If the other side continues to fail to recognize this then I honestly don't know how we should proceed from this point but if selling our souls for a victory is the only way to ever win I have to say that I'm not sure how much longer I can continue to play this game. I'm all for the good of the American people but if this is how we're going to win the fight from now on I fear that the majority of good men will henceforth opt out of the political process altogether. It's sad but it's also unfortunately the truth.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Ultimate Star Wars Collection

Some Japanese guy put together what has to be millions of dollars worth of Star Wars collectors items in one of the most tasteful decorating schemes I've seen by the type of person who fills their home with plastic toys. It's The 40 Year Old Virgin if he won the lottery and moved to the Hollywood Hills. The picture above is but one small fraction of the collection. You can see the rest of the photos here.

"Death Panel" Lies Kill End-Of-Life Provision

Per my post yesterday, I'm becoming somewhat depressed that it's been so easy for Republican lies and smears to dismantle some of the very important provisions of President Obama's health care reform legislation. And it now appears that the end-of-life provision is the latest casualty:

Key senators are excluding a provision on end-of-life care from health overhaul legislation after language in a House bill caused a furor.

Senator Chuck Grassley
of Iowa, top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said in a statement Thursday that the provision had been dropped from consideration because it could be misinterpreted or implemented incorrectly.

A health care bill passed by three House committees allows Medicare to reimburse doctors for voluntary counseling sessions about end-of-life decisions. But critics have claimed the provision could lead to death panels and euthanasia for seniors.
I guess what's bothering me the most about all of this is that Obama and the Democrats haven't lost control of the debate because their proposals are unpopular with the majority of Americans or even because their plans are unrealistic or unworkable. The president is legitimately trying to institute the change that the American people asked for back in November (although the value of the contributions from some of his fellow Democrats is questionable at this point). No, they've lost control because the Republicans are just so good at spreading lies and fear mongering that the Democrats have been forced back onto their heels for months now and no matter how many times they present the actual facts to refute these untruths the lies have still been able to maintain a great amount of traction. Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic sums it up thusly:
[F]or those Democrats and liberals who'll be angry about this: the response to Palin's remarks about "death panels" as well as to Sen. Chuck Grassley's repetition of the idea was swift and fairly unequivocal: it's not as if the pro-reform side didn't quickly rebut the issue with better facts. My sense is that fear-based emotional appeals set in more quickly than reason-based emotional appeals -- always have.
So once again fear trumps reason in the battle for the soul of American politics. Maybe I'm being a bit naive here but is anyone else as disturbed as I am by the fact that the American people are so susceptible to this type of blatantly transparent emotional manipulation? I mean, I know we're not a nation of rocket scientists or anything but when a vapid political opportunist like Sarah Palin can so easily sway the argument by simply making up crazy shit about murdering old people and the mentally handicapped, what hope do we have of ever actually thinking our way out of any of the serious problems we face? I've actually been making a real effort to curtail my intake of alcohol lately but it's things like this that make me truly want to crawl into a bottle and not come out again for a very long time.

The Earth Moved

Only a 2.7 quake tonight. It felt smaller. Damn, I was just starting to doze off too.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Something Someone Else Said

"As the war over health-care reform rages on and Beltway commentators tut-tut over the decline of respectable political discourse, I invite observers everywhere to step back from their passions and policy preferences for a moment and bask in the glorious absurdities of the American political system: Watching the president of the United States make the rounds to deny that Congress is planning "death panels" while protesters compare him to the twentieth century's greatest monster is in some ways depressing. Looked at another way, though, it resembles nothing so much as good-old-fashioned entertainment. No screenwriter could possibly gin up a scenario this delightfully loony, and if one did, no one would believe it." -Peter Suderman, Reason.com

If the success or failure of President Obama to achieve his goal of substantive health care reform were not literally measured in human lives I might find these absurdities somewhat more entertaining. As it is, I am indeed finding the entire affair more depressing than anything else. Is there such a thing as "chronic cynicism"? Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking...


The Hubble Ultra Deep Field In 3D

Sometimes scientific discovery purely for discovery's sake is the best use of our extraordinary technology and curiosities:

Just imagine the incredible views we'll discover when the more powerful and righteously named James Webb Space Telescope is finally deployed in 2014.


Conservative Protester Elevates The Dialogue

This disturbed wingnut has apparently fashioned himself into a "death panel" of one:

There were signs comparing President Barack Obama to a Nazi and showing him with an Adolf Hitler-style mustache, but federal officials believe another sign referencing the president and his family went too far.

A man who was holding a sign reading "Death to Obama" Wednesday outside a town hall meeting on health care reform in Hagerstown, Md., has been turned over to the Secret Service.

Washington County Sheriff's Capt. Peter Lazich said the sign also read, "Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids."

Lazich said U.S. Secret Service agents took the unidentified 51-year-old man into custody Wednesday afternoon after deputies detained him near the entrance to Hagerstown Community College.
And we're supposed to be listening to and debating with these people? Yeah, no anger or hate here: Just patriotic Americans who are only upset about health care legislation and deficit spending. The second sign about the president's wife and kids is definitely the scariest part of this story. Remember what I said about "the ominous undercurrent of right-wing anger"? And how much do you want to bet that this guy owns several guns and regularly listens to Glenn Beck or some other irresponsible provocateur? I'm relieved that he's been taken into custody but you can be sure that he isn't the only one out there who feels this way.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Women In Bikinis Reading Star Wars Scripts

If you're asking "Why?" you and I obviously live on two different worlds:

I saw some real passion there and these girls are definitely quite talented. OK, "talented". It's just so cute when they try to pronounce "auxiliary" though, isn't it?


Mythology Fail

This just proves that studying the classics is still important.


Obama's Health Care Dilemma

Yesterday reader BD left the following comment concerning this quote about President Obama's health care reform plan being conflated by the right with programs from Nazi Germany:

Amen. I am concerned that Obama has lost control of the health care conversation which will result in no new legislation. I'm not burying myself into the details enough to speak super intelligently as to the actual plan details, but the right is accomplishing what they wanted: major FUD...I get it that both sides of the aisle have their faults, but the right just does some crazy shit and turns a blind eye to some crazy shit - unfortunately they've become pretty good at it. That, or the American public's ability to smell shit has lessened. Probably both factors at work. Sad.
At this time I'm afraid I have to agree with his assessment of Obama's handling of this issue. As I've said before, health care is hardly my area of expertise (or even an area of personal interest, aside from having a need for it) so I've never really understood why the White House abdicated so much of the responsibility for crafting legislation to Congress in the first place. Many say that it was to keep from making the same mistakes as the Clinton administration in 1993 or that it was intended to help foster a bipartisan solution with Republicans and they're probably correct on either or both counts. Regardless of his reasons though, Obama should nevertheless have recognized that a legislative body as large and diverse as Congress would need a fair amount of guidance to successfully implement a plan as vast and complex as the one he asked for, and his failure to provide that guidance thus far has cost him both valuable time and political capital.

Any chance of creating a single-payer plan for the nation was already dead from the start while the public option is quickly losing support and is being watered down more and more with every compromise put forth by Congress. And despite Obama's recent explanatory speeches and town hall meetings the White House still has yet to frame the issue completely in a way that can be adequately understood by the average citizen. The senators and congressmen who support the legislation have done a piss poor job of explaining and supporting the various policy proposals while the resistance of the supposedly fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats has only aided Republican obstructionism in both houses. And that's not even mentioning any likely behind the scenes problems caused by the glaringly obvious conflicts of interest for dozens of lawmakers who continue to receive generous campaign contributions from the very same insurance and pharmaceutical industries they're attempting to regulate.

Speaking of Republican obstructionism, FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) certainly sums up this fairly successful strategy quite accurately. Not only is national health care reform a monumentally ambitious political undertaking but with its effects on so many industries and aspects of American society it is also intricately complex, consisting mostly of confusing medical terms and procedures coupled with extraordinarily dry actuarial tables and financing programs. Republicans, the aptly named "Party of No" on this issue, recognized these complications quite early in the debate and instead of wasting time crafting any actual legislation of their own capitalized on them by making callous yet simplistic appeals to people's innate worries and worst fears. And they have indeed become pretty good at it, using rhetorical obfuscation and outright lies to force the Democrats to back off passing any meaningful legislation until after the autumn recess.

Having said all that though I hope I can allay BD's and anyone else's concerns about no new legislation getting passed on this issue. Although whatever eventually does make it out of committee for a vote on the floor may be a somewhat diluted version of President Obama's original vision it will still be of paramount importance to ultimately get something substantial onto his desk and I believe that his insistence on moving as quickly as possible from the outset is a clear indication that he understands this much better than Clinton ever did. Creating a near-universal right to health care coverage (and despite right-wing protestations to the contrary I do consider health care to be a human right) is a necessary first step in building the political will for true cost controls on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries along with substantial reform of our entire system.

As for the American public's lessening ability to smell shit, it is indeed sad but while I blame the average citizen's intellectual laziness coupled with a general anathema to partisan politics for this failure they are not the only ones at fault here. One expects the unthinking hordes that comprise the hardcore base of the Republican party to buy into and repeat the outrageous lies about creeping socialism and governmental death panels being propagated by FOX News and AM radio as a matter of course but for the rest of the corporate-owned media to have lent these untruths such legitimacy over the past few months is truly disheartening.

Now of course the quest for ratings (read: advertising dollars) largely drives how the media covers political issues so obviously creating a narrative of conflict by pitting left vs. right is and always will be preferable to fostering honest debate, and as a society we've come to expect this to some degree from for-profit journalistic outlets. However most Americans don't have the time to wade through the complexities of the various aspects of health care reform legislation themselves and they should be able to rely on news organizations to at least have enough journalistic integrity to present them with unbiased coverage and accurate information as they report on such important and complex issues. Shit definitely becomes a lot harder to smell when it's coming from a supposedly nonpartisan news organization that gives it the same amount of airtime and legitimacy as they do the literal truth; a "fake balance" as it were.

So while I do fault the American people for buying so much of the right-wing propaganda about Obama's health care reform the blame also lies with the corporate media and news outlets that have been willfully selling it to them. And while I fully expect Obama to eventually get some version of reform passed into law I also have several real concerns about just how substantial those reforms will be and what form they will ultimately take. He warned us that these would be hard times with very few easy solutions and I take those warnings just as seriously now as I ever have. By taking on so many problems and adversaries at once he's been playing a very complicated and dangerous game, but then real change always is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Something Someone Else Said

"Let me see if I understand right wing reasoning...

Those evil liberals are engaging in "class warfare" by wanting to raise the highest tax rate to where it was through most of the 1990s -- and at least 11 percent lower than it was through most of Reagan's term in office -- but when we rant about the "liberal media elite" and their disdain for Sarah Palin and all those wonderful people we produce in those always-invoked small towns in America, we're just standing up for Joe Six Pack.

When the president unilaterally suspends habeas corpus and imprisons American citizens indefinitely without charging them with any crimes, undermines the rule of law and ignores treaty obligations in order to justify torturing people, engages in wholesale data mining and records virtually every phone call, email and text message sent or received anywhere in the country without getting a warrant, thus negating the 4th amendment completely, and then argues that no court has the authority to even consider a challenge to that totally unbridled authority, and hires thousands of armed mercenary thugs to go kill Iraqi people in the name of God, that's protecting the country against terrorism. But providing healthcare to the people who don't have it so they won't die or go bankrupt trying to stay alive in the event of serious illness? That reminds them of the Nazis!" -Ed Brayton, Dispatches From the Culture Wars.

18 Movie Spoilers

Can you identify them all? "The villagers sacrifice the policeman" was the only one I got stumped on, although a couple of the others I've never seen were admittedly guesses. The answers are listed here.


Man Waits For Obama With Loaded Handgun

Yeah, that's right. A guy was waiting for President Obama to arrive at a town hall meeting yesterday actually carrying a loaded weapon:

President Obama hosted a town hall meeting about health care in New Hampshire today.

Outside the event, a group of protesters shouted slogans and held signs. Raising some eyebrows was protester William Kostric, who showed up with a gun strapped to his leg.

New Hampshire is an open carry state. Kostric said police asked him to move back from school property, but because the gun was in plain view, he wasn't breaking any laws.

There are federal laws about how close a firearm can be brought to a school, but Kostric got permission from an official at a church to stand on its property.

Kostric said he was there to voice his opinion, like everyone else.
New Hampshire has a strong streak of independence running through its citizenry (the state motto is "Live Free or Die") so this occurrence is not altogether surprising and this man will most assuredly not be there wielding his gun when President Obama finally arrives; I have ample trust in the Secret Service to make sure of that. Clearly he did this just to cause a stir and draw media attention to himself. Even the nuttiest of wingnuts obviously know that it's unacceptable and unallowable to wait for the arrival of the president of the United States with a loaded handgun strapped to your leg. But what bothers me about this story is how it dovetails quite neatly with all of the other right-wing fear mongering and intimidation tactics we've been seeing with regard to President Obama lately.

Full disclosure: I am a staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment to the constitution and I fully believe that Americans have every right to own and operate firearms as long as they conform to the laws of this country, and there's no indication that Kostric actually meant any physical harm to the president in this instance. That said, the ominous undercurrent of right-wing anger seems to be roiling closer and closer to the boiling point lately. Incidents like the Glenn Beck-inspired, would-be national guard base attacker are obviously committed by the fringes of society but just like with this gun toting idiot and the various unhinged town hall shouters (they're called "Healthers" now) the atmosphere of discontent is being driven farther and farther towards that fringe while the overall message has been getting uglier and uglier.

First Obama was a Muslim, then he was a Kenyan (from way back in the day), after that he became a Socialist, he got fitted for jackboots to become a Nazi and now it turns out that he's even a eugenicist. Or to put it in "Republican *wink*wink* to our base" speak: He prays to the brown god of your enemies, was born in another country and thus is not really your president, wants to take all of your money and give it to welfare queens and illegal aliens, wants to control every aspect of your life from cradle to grave and speaking of which, ultimately wants to put your retarded child and poor grandmother to death as part of his Final Solution...we mean, as part of his "health care reform". And these claims are not just being made on wacko conspiracy-theory websites read by a few lone malcontents, they're being repeated ad nauseum and pushed as legitimate news stories by the mainstream of conservative media.

So now surprise, surprise, people who disagree with Obama are bringing prominently displayed and loaded firearms to town hall meetings. It appears to me that the actual intent of this man was neither to protest health care reform nor to show support for his right to bear arms: A homemade sign or printed t-shirt would have adequately served either of those purposes. What this guy wanted was for everyone to see not just that he disagreed with Obama but also that he obviously owned a deadly weapon. Again, I'm not saying that he ever intended to shoot the president but the current state of vehement unrest on the right coupled with the incessant demonization of Obama by their media flacks certainly made him feel justified in having that gun on his person with the president en route.

The question some are now asking in lieu of this incident is this: How long is it going to be before someone else feels similarly justified in bringing a firearm to one of these town hall meetings, although much better concealed and with far more nefarious intent? Or as Glenn Beck ominously predicted a few days ago:

You know, um, I have to tell you I think the clock is ticking, gang. I think everybody needs to back away -- not from your passions, not from what you believe in. You believe in health care, you keep going. You believe it's wrong, you keep going.

But we need to be very, very careful. I fear for the future. Somebody's going to do something stupid and it will change the Republic -- [snaps] -- overnight.

Let's just hope that he's as wrong about that as he usually is about almost everything else, although Zeus knows there's no shortage of crazies out there who would be quite happy to see it happen (and undoubtedly a few who wouldn't mind pulling the trigger themselves).

And on that note, a final thought: What do you suppose the media/law enforcement reaction would have been if instead of a hick-looking white guy waiting for Obama to arrive this had been an obviously well-armed black man waiting for George W. Bush? Or better yet, a brown-skinned guy in a turban carrying a sidearm and yelling about "the blood of tyrants" whilst standing on the lawn of a neighborhood mosque? I personally have a feeling that New Hampshire's rather lax gun laws would have become a bit more stringent while at the same time that man would suddenly be living a lot less free.

(hat tip: Doug"e")