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January 09, 2003

From the mailbag

That police-shooting-dog story inspired a few messages making this point:

I am a dog lover. Even if I wasn't I would be shocked and appalled by this incident.

But what I want to point out is the really scary part of this story:

Mrs. Grundy sees this station wagon drive past, and sees the money flying out of the wallet. She is not a trained observer. She is just a nosy busybody. Yet on her say so, these people are on their knees, handcuffed, with many guns pointed at them, and no idea of why it is happenning. They then are forced to watch their pet get murdered. ALL BECAUSE MRS. GRUNDY SAID SO!!! The police even checked to see if there had been a robbery that they could have been a part of, and there wasn't. And they were still held at gunpoint!

This is the America of John Ashcroft's vision. How many more lives will be lost or ruined because of it?

Don't ask me, I don't know either

A reader, who probably wishes to remain nameless, forwarded this image. I don't know anything more about it.

It is presented here for educational purposes only.

An interesting tidbit...

...about North Korea's plutonium, on Kevin Batcho's blog:

I came across an interesting fact while researching the history of North Koreaís nuclear ambitions. The North Koreans manufactured all of their Plutonium between 1987 and 1991, this being, of course, during the Reagan/Bush and Bush I administrations. According to the Federation of American Scientists:

close examination by the IAEA of the radioactive isotope content in the nuclear waste revealed that North Korea had extracted about 24 kilograms of Plutonium. North Korea was supposed to have produced 0.9 gram of Plutonium per megawatt every day over a 4-year period from 1987 to 1991. The 0.9 gram per day multiplied by 365 days by 4 years and by 30 megawatts equals to 39 kilograms. When the yearly operation ratio is presumed to be 60 percent, the actual amount was estimated at 60% of 39 kilograms, or some 23.4 kilograms. Since 20-kiloton standard nuclear warhead has 8 kilograms of critical mass, this amounts to mass of material of nuclear fission out of which about 3 nuclear warheads could be extracted.

This is completely contrary to Republican propaganda, eagerly regurgitated by our lap-dog press, which claims former President Clinton is an appeaser and responsible for allowing the North Koreans to become a nuclear power.

Over the line

From Lileks' Daily Bleat:

I donít hate Michael Moore, I pity him - heís going to die in 15 years of a massive coronary on a cold tiled bathroom floor, awash in the blasts of his emptied bowels, his autopsy photos posted to The Smoking Gun's new 3D holographic photo section.

Wow, is that ever a coldblooded piece of prose.

I understand that a lot of right-leaning bloggers have a particular fixation on Michael Moore--but this is really disturbing, even within that context.

(Post edited slightly to stem a tide of unnecessary email. These things happen.)

Corporations are people too!

From TomPaine.com:

While Nike was conducting a huge and expensive PR blitz to tell people that it had cleaned up its subcontractors' sweatshop labor practices, an alert consumer advocate and activist in California named Marc Kasky caught them in what he alleges are a number of specific deceptions. Citing a California law that forbids corporations from intentionally deceiving people in their commercial statements, Kasky sued the multi billion-dollar corporation.

Instead of refuting Kasky's charge by proving in court that they didn't lie, however, Nike instead chose to argue that corporations should enjoy the same "free speech" right to deceive that individual human citizens have in their personal lives. If people have the constitutionally protected right to say, "The check is in the mail," or, "That looks great on you," then, Nike's reasoning goes, a corporation should have the same right to say whatever they want in their corporate PR campaigns.

In Porter Township, PA, meanwhile, they're having none of it.

Just asking

Does Arianna Huffington read This Modern World?

(To be clear--I'm not serious. It's an obvious idea, and one which needs to be out there, and I'm glad she's doing this.)

"Double taxation"

Some propaganda is so blatant, so clumsy, so self-evidently stupid, it hardly seems worth refuting. But of course it always is, and Bob Kuttner does a bang-up job, as usual.

And this little buzzphrase does provide us with a useful lesson in meme-spreading. See the White House introduce their latest Big Lie. See the lapdogs at Fox News and the Wall Street Journal start using it as if it is a serious concept worth addressing. See it become conventional wisdom on the Sunday talk shows.

See the rich get richer and the poor get screwed.

Back to business as usual

From this morning's Times:

During last month's firestorm over Mr. Lott, Republicans tried to have it both ways on race. They appeased the majority of Americans, who were outraged at Mr. Lott's sympathetic words about segregation, by pressing him to resign as the Senate Republican leader. At the same time they winked at Mr. Lott's supporters by having prominent party members stand by him. More recently, they announced plans to award Mr. Lott a new position of honor by making him chairman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Throughout the zigging and zagging it still seemed possible that the party would heed the advice of Bill Frist, the Senate's new G.O.P. leader, who said one of his priorities would be "ensuring that our agenda is inclusive of all Americans." That hope evaporated with the renomination of Judge Pickering and several other jurists with dubious records on racial issues. Senator Charles Schumer of New York, among others, has declared that he will use every weapon at his disposal to defeat Judge Pickering. Other Democrats should join in, as should moderate Republican senators, who insisted last month that Mr. Lott's views had no place in their party.

To which he apparently inexhaustible Atrios (from whom I've lifted a couple of links this morning) adds: "Sanctimonious backslapping bloggers, too."

Don't count on it, though.

Protecting and serving
COOKEVILLE, Tennessee (CNN) -- Police video released Wednesday showed a North Carolina family kneeling and handcuffed, who shrieked as officers killed their dog -- which appeared to be playfully wagging its tail -- with a shotgun during a traffic stop.

Story here. Cookeville PD homepage here.

Update: they've apparently taken their homepage offline.

Update: video can be found here. This is just sickening.


January 08, 2003


According to one of Atrios's readers:

The Bush White House has an "opinion" line for you to call about the war, so if you have a minute, take advantage of this democratic "service." The line only accepts calls from 9-5 EST., Monday thru Friday. Just call the White House at 202-456-1111. A machine will detain you for only a moment and then a pleasant live operator will thank you for saying "I oppose our going to war with Iraq, or anybody else!" It will only take minutes.

Note that the weekends are closed for calls. The president has said that he wants to know what the American people are thinking. Let him know.

This site's readers have made their opinions known on unscientific online polls from time to time. Well, here's the mother of all unscientific polls (if you'll pardon the expression)...

UPDATE: I am informed this is at least partly ADIR (Another Damned Internet Rumour). According to Snopes:

Origins: This item is true in the sense that people can call the White House at the phone number given above to offer their comments about whether or not the USA should initiate military action against Iraq, but the phone service was not set up specifically to record public opinion about the Iraq issue. It's simply the general White House Comments phone line, which callers can use to express their opinions about any issue on their minds. (One has to call between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM Eastern Time on weekdays to speak to a real person, though; otherwise the number just plays a recording inviting the caller to try again when the department is open.)

An exchange...

...between Helen Thomas and Ari Fleischer:

Q At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the President deplored the taking of innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world? And I have a follow-up.

MR. FLEISCHER: I refer specifically to a horrible terrorist attack on Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds. And the President, as he said in his statement yesterday, deplores in the strongest terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people, innocents in Israel.

Q My follow-up is, why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends --

Q They're not attacking you.

MR. FLEISCHER: -- from a country --

Q Have they laid the glove on you or on the United States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?

MR. FLEISCHER: I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's aggression then.

Q Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think you know very well that the President's position is that he wants to avert war, and that the President has asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of averting war.

Q Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that he can defend our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make certain that American lives are not lost.

Q And he thinks they are a threat to us?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that Iraq is a threat to the United States.

Q The Iraqi people?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government. If there was regime change, the Iraqi --

Q So they will be vulnerable?

MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he has not dispute with the people of Iraq. That's why the American policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the people of Iraq --

Q That's a decision for them to make, isn't it? It's their country.

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that has been what history has shown.

Q I think many countries don't have -- people don't have the decision -- including us.

In the same briefing, Russell Mohbiker asks:

Q Ari, other than Elliott Abrams, how many convicted criminals are on the White House staff?

MR. FLEISCHER: (Laughter.) You tell me, Russell. You seem to keep count.

Q Can you give me a list of convicted criminals on the White House staff, other than Elliott Abrams?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll go right to the convicted criminals division and ask them to turn -- (Laughter.)

Q No, seriously -- why isn't being convicted of a criminal a disqualifier for being on the White House staff?

MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, this is an issue that you like to repeat every briefing. I refer you to the --

Q But you don't answer --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- repeat I gave you the third time you asked it, which matched the second, which corresponded to the first.



January 07, 2003

Of course, it can always be worse

I'm watching live footage of a collapsed Brooklyn apartment building on MSNBC. Can't tell where it is, but I can hear the news helicopters out my window, hovering somewhere in the near distance.

My car was stolen, but at least I still have a home. Everything's relative.

I don't like Mondays

It started Saturday night, when my friend Barry convinced me that actual backup software would work much better than my current method of backup, which consists, basically, of trying to remember to either copy important files onto the external hard drive or to burn them onto cd, but in reality rarely doing either. So the next day I went to the Dantz site and paid for and downloaded Retrospect Express, but apparently missed the screen with the sixteen digit license code needed to activate the software. No problem, I think, I'll just wait for the confirmation email.

It never arrives.

There's no one in their offices over the weekend, so I wait until Monday morning and call up and explain the situation to a very nice woman who says, "Oh, you're the second person I've talked to this morning who had this problem." Great, I think, so you'll certainly want to make it up to me, the customer, and get me a code right away, yes? Well, no, as it turns out, we simply can't do anything until the online order has migrated leisurely from one computer system to another, like a flock of geese slowly making their way south for the winter, because that's, you know, how the system works.

But her supervisor will call me back in five minutes.

An hour later, I am of course still waiting for the phone call.

I could go on and recount the battle in tedious detail, but long story short: four phone calls to Dantz, one to my credit card company, and it's four p.m. before I finally manage to extract a license code from these people for software I'd paid for and downloaded some thirty hour earlier. Despite their acknowledgement that their system had screwed up somehow, their primary concern seemed to be the possibility that I was some sort of latter-day Frank Abegnale, running a complicated scam on them to get a license code so I could, bwah ha ha ha ha, use their backup software for free! And until they saw some proof that I had actually paid for the software, proof which was not forthcoming because their computers are apparently powered by hamsters running around in little exercise wheels, then it was just: I'm sorry, sir, there's nothing we can do!

What's that old saying? The customer is always a potential criminal to be treated with extreme suspicion at all times?

When Dantz finally managed to confirm my purchase with my credit card company--by calling the latter on the telephone, at my prodding, since their own computers never did get around to acknowledging my existence--well, at that point they were abjectly apologetic for having wasted so much of my time and energy, and offered me a free upgrade on the software in compensation as well a coupon worth twenty-five dollars off my next purchase because the last thing they wanted out of this experience was an unhappy customer--

Ha ha. I joke, of course. They treated it like the end of any other transaction that happens to last thirty hours and requires the customer to beg, plead, cajole and scream before he is allowed to, you know, use the item he has paid for.

So you can imagine the mood I'm in when I take the dog out for a walk and discover that my car has been stolen.


We have--well, we had--an old hand-me-down Buick, given to us by my wife's parents. A nice, reliable car, whose primary duty, apart from hauling the odd piece of furniture around or dropping the dog off at the kennel, consisted of trips down to Pennsylvannia to visit those same in-laws. Otherwise, we mostly left it parked out on the street; weeks would go by and the only time we'd use it was when we had to move it on street cleaning days.

But we wanted to see a movie on New Year's Day, and since it was raining ferociously, we decided to drive. And when we got home, we parked the car in a spot two blocks from our building, made note of the street cleaning hours, and didn't think about it for a few days.

And at some point between New Year's Day and yesterday evening, the car vanished. All that is solid melts into air.

So: the car's not where it's supposed to be, and there's a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I hurry home, but I'm still hoping that maybe my wife has moved it without telling me and in a few minutes we'll share a good chuckle over my needless anxiety.

She has not, and we do not.

I start trying to figure out if it has been towed--a laborious process in this stupid goddamned mess of a city, where there are at least three or four different agencies you have to work your way through and a few tow yards you have to call before you can be absolutely certain that the city probably didn't tow your car but hey, there's no telling, why don't you try back tomorrow.

So then it's time to call the police. Wait for them at the scene of the crime, per their instructions, on this cold snowy evening. A cruiser pulls up, and I repeat my story once again. They ask if I'm sure that I don't have any outstanding parking tickets. I tell them that I'm as sure as anyone can be, I mean, of course there's always the possibility, and they tell me to wait right there, on the corner, they're going to drive off and check one of the tow yards, they'll be right back. Fifteen minutes, standing around in the cold. They come back, tell me to keep waiting there, while they check another tow yard. Ten more minutes. They come back, tell me to get in the back of the cruiser so we can drive around the neighborhood looking for my car. They're not thinking that the thieves have stolen the car and parked it a block away, of course--they're thinking I'm another absent-minded yuppie who forgot where he parked his car. And I'm wishing they're right. But they're not. So we finally stop and fill out the paperwork, me sitting in the back of the squad car with that metal grillwork they have between the front and back seats and maybe six inches of legroom, at a generous estimate, and I'm trying to fill out these forms using my leg as a desk, and the only light is coming from the dome light which is on their side of the grillwork, so I have to hold the paperwork at just the right angle or I can't see a goddamn thing...

I spent well over an hour with these guys, and I don't think they ever really believed the car was stolen--they kept reiterating that it just wasn't a very desirable model to thieves. Which had always been my assumption, which is why I have no theft insurance--I figured within a few years, I would have paid more in premiums than the car was worth, and my thirteen-year-old Buick just wasn't the most obvious target in a neighborhood full of newer and more expensive cars.

A calculated risk. I lost.

We didn't use it that much, but I really liked knowing that we had a set of wheels out there if we needed them. And now we do not.

Oh, and did I mention that I got a form letter from the City of New York yesterday informing me of some obscure business tax I apparently haven't been paying?

I must admit that I am growing weary of this place.


January 06, 2003

The more things change

From Saturday's Washington Post:

"The earliest vivid memory in my life," said Kazuo Matsubayashi, "is the day my father was arrested on January 7th, 1943. My mother took me to the police station, where my father and many Japanese men were being loaded on trucks. I remember my father shouting something to us from the back of the truck as it left the compound, but I could not hear what he was saying. Even at the age of less than 6, I felt some invisible force was changing our lives."
The internment of Japanese Americans? No. Matsubayashi was recalling a shameful and forgotten chapter in American history. From 1942 onward, the United States abducted some 3,000 people of Japanese, Italian and German ancestry from Latin America, shipped them to the United States and placed them in internment camps. These prisoners were never charged with crimes.

Via CalPundit, who notes:

This is why I think it's important not to romanticize the past: it prevents us from learning from our mistakes. Yes, interning those people was wrong, but it's different today. Don't you understand that the world is a far more dangerous place than it was in our parents' day?
No it's not. And if in hindsight something was wrong 60 years ago, it's also wrong today.


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