Monday, January 31, 2005

Stuff and Nonsense

See if you can believe Mike's Monday Story: I went to and transacted in four different government bureaucracies today, and it took all of 80 minutes, including driving time. First to the Texas Real Estate Commission, up north behind Pappadeaux where a lot of UT kids live in inexpensive apartments. There I tried, at first unsuccessfully, to reinstate my license to the point where I can retake the state exam. The nice lady there told me I had to finish my continuing education requirements before, not after, applying for reinstatement.

I charmed, I cajoled, I Jedi mind tricked. She feinted toward the weary I've-heard-it-all-before-and-I-don't-care state employee persona but zagged the other way into "let me ask my supervisor" ultrahelpful mode. The girl behind me cheered me on as she was in the same boat but to her it meant a fine if she didn't get it done today, and we both relaxed visibly when the nice lady came back smiling. At 15 minutes, it was the second-longest wait I had all day.

Next was the Department of Public Safety building behind Highland Mall to get a copy of my driving record, just before 1 p.m. Utterly packed, of course, and it took me a while just to figure out that while I did need a number, I should be looking for a person rather than one of those number-taker thingys you see in delis and, well, the DPS office. The number I end up with is B296, and when I look at the "Now serving" sign, and a lovely and easy to read sign it is, it becomes apparent that I am in one of three groups, and group B is on 280 now. Sixteen doesn't seem like a terrible wait, so I sit and start reading "Flight to Arras" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the guy who wrote "The Little Prince." He was an avid pilot and flew for France during their disastrous collapse before the Nazis, and the book describes in poetic tones what it felt like to be a disposable part in a crumbling machine. I had read only five pages when I looked up just in time to see my number flashing in the DPS on-deck circle, becoming solid as the robot voice called it in English and Spanish. The bored girl took my paperwork and whipped out my driving record in less than a minute. Done and off to the Texas Education Agency.

The TEA is just north of the Texas State Capitol and just south of the University of Texas campus, in a large granite block with cubic holes cut into it. I went there to pick up my Defensive Driving certificate because procrastination made me wait until the date of my court appearance, and I chose that moment to call my phone company to demand the idiots there fix my goddamn phone right for once, and the girl behind that desk waited patiently as I savaged the tech support moron, which cause a number of TEA employees to pretend to have something to do at the front so they could scope me out. I ignored them and interrupted the phone company guy to ask the girl very sweetly for what I needed, and she scurried off to get it while I wrapped up with phone boy. Then home to do some real estate studying while I wait for my court appearance.

That's right, they allocate a whole judge to examine Defensive Driving documents. You'd think they would let you show that stuff to the paper-pushers, but apparently not. I showed up a little early to account for the metal detector line and timed it just well enough to be seated less than a minute before the judge entered. Although my last name is early in the alphabet, my hopes for being the first of the 30 or so miscreants I shared a courtroom with were dashed when the judge started with a guy named David Thomas. I couldn't decide if it would be disrespectful to read a paperback in the front row while his honor laid down the law and decided that in case it was I'd sit patiently and daydream. I ended up being third and exiting the building ten minutes after my appearance time.

So all I can figure is that the next time I have to do stuff like this, I'll get punished for how easy today was. And that's fine with me.

Ground Beneath the Tweels of History

Originally uploaded by Uncle Mikey.
From Boingboing, Michelin has a new tire/wheel combo that freaks me out, baby.

The heart of Tweel innovation is its deceptively simple looking hub and spoke design that replaces the need for air pressure while delivering performance previously only available from pneumatic tires.

The flexible spokes are fused with a flexible wheel that deforms to absorb shock and rebound with ease. Without the air needed by conventional tires, Tweel still delivers pneumatic-like performance in weight-carrying capacity, ride comfort, and the ability to "envelope" road hazards.

Michelin has also found that it can tune Tweel performances independently of each other, which is a significant change from conventional tires. This means that vertical stiffness (which primarily affects ride comfort) and lateral stiffness (which affects handling and cornering) can both be optimised, pushing the performance envelope in these applications and enabling new performances not possible for current inflated tires.

Well it's about time. We've been using pneumatic tires for far too long. If we don't stop we're going to run out of air. Thank you, Michelin.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

One of the World's Greatest Athletes, Ever

Ayrton Senna
Originally uploaded by Uncle Mikey.
One of my heroes was Ayrton Senna, in my mind the greatest race driver in history. He dominated Formula One racing when I was a fan, during the 1980s when motors were cranking more than 1,000 horsepower and the drivers were almost all fascinating characters. Alain Prost, Nelson Piquet, Nigel Mansell, Senna, Keke Rosberg, and even second-raters like Andrea de Cesaris and Thierry Boutsen were engaging people who loved to race and did magic in firebreathing monsters that would have killed lesser men (one of my favorite articles Road and Track ever did was when they made an F1 pilot [that's what they call them in Europe] trade mounts with a Grand Prix motorcycle racer - the biker spun the F1 car twice from a dead stop while trying to get it rolling). They made enormous amounts of money, risked death regularly, lived in Monaco and other fabulous locations, and entertained millions of devoted fans. And Senna was the leader of that very elite pack, a national hero in Brazil and an international one everywhere else.

I've never liked Michael Schumacher because of his heartless comments after Senna's death at Imola, Italy in the Grand Prix of San Marino, which Schuey saw from directly behind as Senna hit the wall at 190 mph. "Senna lost it" is to my mind a slander of the worst and most offensive kind; Senna was the best of them all, despite Shumacher's unprecedented number of wins. Had Senna not died that day, Schuey's career would have been very different. The Brazilian had many more years of expert racing ahead of him when he died and would have given the German a serious challenge, something he has not always had since.

I cried when I heard about the crash. I don't remember crying for anyone's death before that, not having had a family member or friend die since before I was able to fathom what it all meant, and it really broke me up for a while. I watched the crash over and over, like so many others. It looked like he just never turned in at the fast 45-degree corner, impacting the wall almost head-on at speed. It was determined eventually that the steering column had broken at some point and that part of the car's suspension killed him, entering the face shield of his helmet and penetrating his brain, but there is much confusion and conspiracy theory around the circumstances. He was 34.

Although I saw many of his races on television, often getting up at odd hours of the night to catch live feeds on ESPN, I only saw Senna drive once in person, in Mexico City in 1986. F1 had not raced there for 30 years, and the track was a mess. The earthquake that killed so many there had just happened, and the streets and buildings were still rubble in places. While we were watching qualifying on Saturday, we saw the master at work. Senna was legendary for taking the pole in the final minutes of qualifying, and he did so that day. At the beginning of the long back straight was the start/finish line, and right before that was a mid-speed 180-degree sweeper probably the most important corner to get technically perfect. The bumpiness of the track was a real problem, and on the last qualifying run of the day, Senna came in a little hot and hit a couple of bumps just wrong, tossing his car up on the two outside wheels for a millisecond.

F1 cars are the most twitchy, dangerous vehicles in the history of mankind. What can be recovered from in any other car would take a miracle to survive in an F1 car, and when I saw that car rise up on two wheels I just prayed that Senna would live, having abandoned all hope that he could avoid crashing.

But Ayrton Senna was F1's version of Dale Earnheardt, having cowed other drivers with his driving and the force of his personality much as the Intimidator did, and in Mexico City that day he stared disaster down and disaster blinked. With a tiny, precise but utterly firm touch, he set the car back down without a twitch of the tires and crossed the line 2/10ths of a second faster than Nelson Piquet had moments earlier, securing the pole. Ten years later he is still the F1 leader in pole positions won, with 65.

He didn't win that race; Gerhard Berger won his first there in the alarmingly painted Bennetton car despite contracting Montezuma's Revenge before the race. My friend and I spotted him unstrapping himself from his car frantically after his warmup lap to sprint to the portable toilet, something I never saw before or since in 10 years of F1 watching, a driver leaving his car between warmup and race. I'm glad he made it. His driving suit looked awful enough without a stain on the seat.

Rest in peace, Ayrton Senna. I miss you, and I miss the old Formula One. Today's races are boring in the extreme, and I've never liked Michael Schumacher, who wins the title like clockwork these days, usually before all the races are done. There's not much racing any more, just the guy with the best car smoking everyone else from pole to pole. Senna would have hated it. Joe Saward of got it right in 1995:

If he had to die I guess he died at the right time - at the absolute peak of his ability, in the prime of his life, doing what he loved best and adored all around the world by millions and millions of fans. He will never grow old nor disappoint those fans.

I look around the paddock for that same fiery passion in the F1 stars who have taken his place but I do not see it.

And there are times when I wonder if I ever will.

Amen, brother.

Remind Me To Disbelieve My Eyes From Now On

How did they do this? It's a matter of time before we see damning film evidence of things that never, ever happened. Assuming we haven't already.

Poppin' and lockin' courtesy of Gerard at American Digest.

The Real Face of Democracy

Over at Iraq the Model you will find this touching reminder by Omar and Mohammed why we went into Iraq in the first place:

The media is reporting only explosions and suicide attacks that killed and injured many Iraqis s far but this hasn't stopped the Iraqis from marching towards their voting stations with more determination. Iraqis have truly raced the sun.

I walked forward to my station, cast my vote and then headed to the box, where I wanted to stand as long as I could, then I moved to mark my finger with ink, I dipped it deep as if I was poking the eyes of all the world's tyrants.
I put the paper in the box and with it, there were tears that I couldn't hold; I was trembling with joy and I felt like I wanted to hug the box but the supervisor smiled at me and said "brother, would you please move ahead, the people are waiting for their turn."

It's one of the most powerful and touching blog posts I've ever read. Read it all and bookmark these guys, they are risking it all every day for just a taste of Democracy. And to them, it's worth it. God bless 'em.

UPDATE: How would you like this to be your armored humvee? Sometime we forget how good our soldiers have it, by comparison to others. Not that they don't deserve even better, but sometimes living in the real world means compromise. We are all deeply in debt to all of the men and women who risk their lives to bring Iraq a better way of life.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Best Porn I've Ever Seen

By far.

UPDATE: Link fixed

Stop Sign

This is the only reason you'll ever need to keep from doing methamphetamine in any form. If you have kids, make them look at this.

But of Course

From LGF, an enormously long and fascinating post on Right Intention about Colbert King's fine essay, "Why the Crass Remarks about Rice?" I have been asking myself the same question since MLK day. How is it that the first administration that has appointed an African American man and woman (it's an old and bigoted joke to say that's a twofer but it's true) to heavyweight political positions is the racist one? Colbert's not buying Barbara Boxer's fantasy that Condoleeza Rice is a Bush puppet:

As I was leaving a Post dining room after participating in my first off-the-record session with Rice and other Post editors and reporters a couple of years ago, it struck me that Rice could be where Bush gets it from. Subsequent meetings only have reinforced that supposition. Rice's notions of preemption, unilateralism and America's responsibilities as the dominant power in the world are not hand-me-downs from Bush. They strike me as very much her own.

Wonder why Rice stayed close to Bush's policies in her hearings? Consider the possibility that the administration's policies happen to be hers too. Consider too the likelihood that years of study and work in foreign affairs, both as an academic and as a senior foreign policy wonk, are what inform her views -- not George W. Bush.

It's patent nonsense to say, write or imply through a vile political cartoon that Condoleeza Rice is anything but an extrememly smart, informed and accomplished woman who could be doing anything she wanted and make a ton of money doing so. Unsurprisingly, a fair number of bottom-feeders do just that, and may they die gutshot in a sewer for it. It's racist and despicable.

Right Intention's RD is not having that bullshit either:

Colbert, I am also a Black man. And it's about time we stop dancing around the issue. The evidence is piling up and the answer is obvious. Liberals are racist, too.

Over the last few years, I've become quite disappointed with the Democratic party on a number of fronts. I believe the party is too reactionary and offers up no ideas of its own. They more or less just oppose whatever the Republicans want to do. I believe the party is too soft on national defense, and is more worried about opinion polls in France than defending the country. I believe that the Democrats are more worried about pleasing certain special interest groups than implementing worthwhile ideas (teacher's unions vs. school vouchers). And so forth.

But nothing has surprised or saddened me more than to see the overt racism from the left. [RD's emphasis]

And then he goes off, at length. And it's good stuff. Check it out.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Panhandle Wisdom

Can't say I've ever heard of Moses Sand, but Dean Esmay has a spoken essay of his on his site and it's pretty good. It's friggin' huge, but you should check it out:

Personally, I get a measure of amusement out of watching polls rise and fall based on daily news stories. If you have a memory, go back and you'll see that through it all ol' Bush's never varied in a thing he said from the first day. Nor has he lied. The first time America met the Germans head-on in World War Two, they kicked our ass. A place called Kasserine Pass in North Africa. I don't recall anyone asking for Ike's head after that fight, let alone FDR's. Ten times more Americans died there in a few hours than have died in over a year in Iraq. You can look it up.

So, when I see that sixty percent of Americans say the Iraq war wasn't worth it one day, compared to sixty who said it was a helluva good idea a year earlier, that says more about America than it ever did about ol' Bush.

What it really says is that anybody will lay a bet on a fight when it looks like a sure thing.

Well, in wars, just like bar fights, there's two kinds of bystanders. First are those who take sides no matter what the outcome. They have a stake it in... could be family, philosophy, money. Who knows? Then there's those who just sort of naturally glide to the sideline, waiting to see which way the fight tilts. Them? Their most over-powering urge is to look like they came out on the winning side in the end. Both are natural human conditions. You see it everywhere. The stakes determine.

"What worries me is when the fight is about something as important as a person's stake in his own House, and his own House's stake in his own democracy, it makes you kinda worry... that so many, almost fifty percent now, are sidling off to the side to see who wins before they cast their vote. That means they don't know a damned thing about the real stakes in this fight. They don't know a damned thing about their democracy anymore, because they don't really know a damned thing about their own House.

It's also probably why the people of Baghdad became so quiet after that shoe-slapping spree. Remember? Same as right out here a hunnerd and fifty years ago. It was why townsfolk, peeping out shop windows when the marshal was staring down outlaws in the street, didn't yell out, 'Look out, Sheriff, there's one up there on the roof!' Think about it. What if that guy on the roof nails the marshal... which was most likely in those days? What if ol' Bush really loses? Far too many people for my taste want to position themselves to damn his soul to hell if he does lose, but be able up to rush to his side if he wins, so they can say, 'We was always right there behind you, Dubyah.

The sad truth, Mr. Bushmills, it's those people that carry an election nowadays, for there's an overabundance of cowards, lawyers' wives and other reformed whores among 'em.

LOVE the last line. That may be my new signature; I'll have to think about it for a spell. As thick and faux-homespun as it's laid on, the guy's right. Most people are pretty cowardly when the stakes are high. That's fine, I just don't want them calling the shots. The real voices of fear are on the left these days, and W just keeps saying the same thing over and over: You can't run from these people, and from now on that's what they're going to be saying about us. And that's a good thing.

Common Sense from a Good Man

More magic from Thomas Sowell, who along with Mark Steyn and P.J. O'Rourke is my hero. I suppose you could add Neal Stephenson to that list, and Allan Holdsworth. But I digress.

Sowell states the obvious because it obviously needs stating. When respected ninnies like Sy Hersh and Paul Krugman are working full time to fill the world of polite discourse with utter bullshit, people like Thomas Sowell are stuck with the maddening task of shepherding us back toward reality. It must be heartbreaking for people like Sowell, who can see the potential inherent in this country and the world, to watch dilettantes and idiots take over the discussion of the important issues of our time. Here's some of Tuesday's column:

One of the biggest American victories during the Second World War was called "the great Marianas turkey shoot" because American fighter pilots shot down more than 340 Japanese planes over the Marianas islands while losing just 30 American planes. But what if our current reporting practices had been used back then?

The story, as printed and broadcast, could have been: "Today eighteen American pilots were killed and five more severely wounded, as the Japanese blasted more than two dozen American planes out of the sky." A steady diet of that kind of one-sided reporting and our whole war effort against Japan might have collapsed.

Whether the one-sided reporting of the war in Vietnam was a factor in the American defeat there used to be a matter of controversy. But, in recent years, high officials of the Communist government of Vietnam have themselves admitted that they lost the war on the battlefields but won it in the U.S. media and on the streets of America, where political pressures from the anti-war movement threw away the victory for which thousands of American lives had been sacrificed.

Too many in the media today regard the reporting of the Vietnam war as one of their greatest triumphs. It certainly showed the power of the media -- but also its irresponsibility. Some in the media today seem determined to recapture those glory days by the way they report on events in the Iraq war.

That is indeed the American media, a big powerful child who bases his reactions on vague impressions and deeply held biases instead of what is actually happening. The Viet Nam War may forever be misunderstood by the majority of Americans, and the real lessons will go unlearned. Let's not let that happen this time.

The Passing of a Show Biz Giant

Cold Fury links to a really nice column by comedian Larry Miller, who you may remember from his fantastic standup act or maybe as the hostage negotiator character in Best In Show who flirted heavily with Catherine O'Hara's character, to Eugene Levy's character's dismay, at the dinner table. He's hilarious, and a great actor, and an even better writer.

Miller pays homage to Johnny Carson better than anyone else I have heard or read since Carson's death, in a thoroughly poetic and hilarious tribute here. It's one of the best things I've read this month.

I loved Carson; I can hear the theme song in my head and it gives me that "you're in for a truly entertaining 90 minutes" feeling even today. I was born in 1964, so Johnny was still seriously cool when I first saw him. Performers did their best work on the Tonight Show, and it showed. Getting a compliment from Johnny after your act meant you had arrived, and it changed your level of fame permanently, and seriously increased your currency in the entertainment world. Johnny made America feel good every weeknight for 30 years, and without him there would be no Leno or Letterman. I miss you, Johnny. See you on the other side.

Speaking of Leno and Letterman (and Best in Show, for that matter), one of the best things HBO ever made was The Late Shift, an up-close look at the battle for the Tonight Show. Kathy Bates is in top form as Leno's former agent, and John Michael Higgins, who played Michael McKean's gay lover in Best in Show, does a really fantastic Letterman impression. Rich Little appears briefly as Carson giving Letterman advice on how to deal with NBC's snub, reminding us what a force he was even in retirement. Great movie.

Nauseating Stupidity

This is what passes for liberal "thought" on Iraq and the War on Terror. Seymour Hersh is probably the most prominent military reporter in the US right now, although he's better known as someone who has made a career out of being the most delusional conspiracy theorist in this country. You'd think that would disqualify you as the voice of your party, but no such luck. I don't have the time or energy to debunk this idiot, but others have here and here.

Shame on the Democrats in this country, who have degraded political discussion to this sickening level. They've given up on this country and democracy in general and are eager to see the United States put in its place by people who fear freedom and progress. Such childish lashing out in reaction to the realization that the majority of Americans disagree with their insane points of view is disgusting. Shame on the whole goddamn party; to tolerate such behavior by prominent members is the same as agreeing with it.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Slow-Blogging Multipost

I've been getting my real estate license back in order lately as I am leaving the chairbound realm and reentering the world of the mobile and talkative very soon. My back is healed, I'm tired of sitting at a desk all day, and dammit I like meeting strangers, so back to work I go. When I left real estate, I assumed (wrongly) that I wouldn't be doing it ever again, so I let my license lapse instead of putting it in cold storage, which means I have to take the damn test again. I barely passed it last time (not that I studied) and don't look forward to struggling through it again, but frankly little or nothing of what they test you about is applicable in real life. Which is kind of the way multiple-choice testing is, I guess.

So I'm not blogging worth a crap, and that's cool too. Doing it at a high production level (which I rarely have) takes considerable time and effort, and when you express most of your feelings about politics and pop culture in writing religiously for a couple of months, you stop giving a damn about any of it remarkably quickly. I have no idea how Instapundit does it, but God bless him.

Speaking of the Blogfather, there's a fine post by him today about reality versus good intentions, based on the cameras being installed at stoplighted intersections where there is a problem with people running red lights. It seems like they would help, doesn't it? According to the State of Virginia, they don't.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

An Angel on Earth

Belmont Club points to an amazing Mudville Gazette post about Rick Rescorla, a hero of the Vietnam War (he was one of the people who lived through "We Were Soldiers Once, and Young") and of the World Trade Center on 9/11. It's well worth your time.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Monday, January 24, 2005

So That's What the Problem Is With the French

They're whiny bitches. Or that's what this column in the New Scotsman says:

"It's a fact: France and the French are pessimists," said Alain Duhamel, a respected French commentator.

He said: "The French doubt themselves and worry about the future. They do so more than the citizens of neighbouring countries, even when those neighbouring countries are doing less well than we are and have a more negative future ahead.

"France has been anxious about its future, about its way of life, for the last 30 years, ever since the employment crisis and doubts about identity, ever since the absence of clear perspectives and collective projects."

Politicians agree that the French are particularly upset about the drop in their purchasing power, which has led to strong group pessimism even if individual confidence is quite high.

This fear for the country's economic future is illustrated by the fact that the French are among the most assiduous savers in the world, putting aside an average of 16 per cent of their income.

Pierre Taribo, writing in L'Est Républicain, agreed with Mr Duhamel. He wrote: "One is forced to say that the French no longer believe in very much. Confronted with the reality of an open economy, clearly showing less and less appetite for politics, they are disillusioned and doubt everything from Chirac to the government and the Right, which is accused of every ill, to the Left, which has no projects, and the unions, whose activism no longer inspires a reflex of blind adhesion."

In times of crisis, or for that matter in any times at all, you don't pay attention to those who bemoan the difficulties of forging ahead. You ignore those injured members of the pack like your life depends on it, which it does. The French have centuries of shame to live down, and they're going to take a while. Until then, they're dead to me.

Why You Can Hate the Patriots

A commenter on another site wrote that you can't hate the Patriots because they are everything that's good about football. I disagree strongly. Here's how you work up a hatred for the Patriots:

1. Their coach is homeless, or dresses as if he were, and may be a robot. Just once I'd like to see him sing, "Happy, and Peppy, and Bursting with Love" from the Odd Couple episode where Felix is extra gay. No, the other one.

2. Tom Brady is deeply uninteresting when the topic is not football. I wrote elsewhere that he exhibits savant behavior, which is entirely true. He has no opinions about anything but football. He's one-dimensional and will become for real what Belichick looks like now after his career is over: homeless. Not through losing his fortune, or becoming a drug addict, but because no one will be able to stand him when his career ends.

3. Bruschi, Johnson, Vrabel, and most of the rest of the defense have large, misshapen cartoon heads. In fact, they are misshapen all over. It's creepy. They probably smell weird too.

4. The Pats are not what's best about the NFL. They are a flat, featureless landscape of uninteresting boringness, an undifferentiated sack of yawn-inducing plainness, what Studio 54's Steve Rubell called "the grey people." The Steelers and Cowboys of the '70s had more interesting characters on those two teams than are in the entire league today, and the Patriots have the least interesting roster ever in the history of sports.

5. The Falcons and the Steelers would have been 25 times more interesting than the game we're going to get in Super Bowl 39. Hell, any matchup would have been more interesting than this. The Patsies are going to win big and McNabb and Owens are going to cry about how it would have been different if he TO hadn't been hurt. Yawn.

In conclusion, the Patriots are the new Yankees, and I hate them.

The Kind of Global Warming I Can Get Behind

Instapundit links to a positive global warming story, one that says we have saved ourselves from an Ice Age inadvertently:

Over the last 8,000 years carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have gradually risen, when previous trends indicated that it should have dropped.

Methane, another greenhouse gas, had also increased instead of fallen.

The unexpected trends could be explained by massive early deforestation in Eurasia, rice farming in Asia, the introduction of livestock, and the burning of wood and plant material, all of which led to an outpouring of greenhouse emissions.

The United States researchers, led by William Ruddiman from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, used a climate model to test what would happen if these greenhouse gases were reduced to their "natural" level.

They wrote in the journal, Quaternary Science Reviews: "In the absence of anthropogenic contributions, global climate is almost 2C cooler than today and roughly one-third of the way toward full glacial temperatures."

At the peak of the last ice age, which began 70,000 years ago, 97% of Canada was covered by ice.

The research showed that without the human contribution to global warming, Baffin Island would today be in a condition of "incipient glaciation".

See? We're so smart we heated the planet in anticipation of the coming ice age. Good for us; I was really starting to get sick of people whose sole purpose on this earth is to kill any and all buzzes around them, making sure we're all as unhappy as we can be about our lots in life. This kind of thing is invariably more about the unhappiness and lack of fulfillment of the speaker than scientific fact - they think guilt is what Americans, and people in general, deserve. How sad for them.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Beauty of Research Science

Snowflake 3
Originally uploaded by Uncle Mikey.
I am fascinated by the story of Wilson A. Bentley featured in this Boingboing post. He spent a large portion of his life photographing snow crystals, or snowflakes, and revealed a world of intricate and extremely delicate beauty in a massive collection of photos.

I had no idea there were so many shapes possible and some newer color shots at reveal even more amazing sights. The method Bentley used involved being cold and spending painstaking hours acquiring and protecting the snowflakes from damage or melting until they could be photographed, forcing him to turn his head away to breathe while working. Nuts like him make the world go 'round, and I love reading about them.

Cream of the Big-Picture Blogs

The wise and wonderful Greg Djerejian is cranking out masterful posts like sausages over at Belgravia Dispatch.

Depleted Uranium Mythology

Winds of Change has an interesting post about DU ammunition use in Iraq and its supposed ill effects, and drops a little science on an NPR employee concerning the truth of the matter:

Depleted uranium has two possible modes of instigating biological damage — ionizing radiation due to the fact that it's a radioactive metal, and biological toxicity due to the fact that it's a “heavy” metal. Regarding the first of these, radioactively “depleted uranium” is basically as little radioactive as it's possible to be and still be radioactive and not inert. This may sound like a quibble, but the half-life of uranium-238, the major radioactive component of depleted uranium (since it's been “depleted” of other uranium isotopes) is 4.5 x 109 (i.e., billion) years (not "109" years as news pieces have erroneously reported). In other words, over the entire 4.6 billion year age of the Earth, the quantity of uranium-238 on this planet has decreased by only half. That is barely detectably radioactive at all, on the human timescale.

Even when it does decay, virtually all (> 99.99%) of uranium-238 follows the mode of alpha decay (emission of a Helium-4 nucleus), which cannot penetrate beyond a couple of inches in air and is stopped cold by sheet of paper. Contrast with gamma rays (high energy electromagnetic radiation emitted by some radioactive decayers) which can penetrate through feet or meters of lead and are highly destructive to biological tissue.

The possibility of heavy-metal toxicity by uranium is potentially of greater scientific import. That, though, is fundamentally no different than toxicity due to say lead, which has traditionally been used (without environmentalists' extraordinary complaints) as bullets on battlefields for centuries.

And from the comments:

In a number of applications depleted uranium is used specifically to shield people from radiation.

Ordinary drywall dust is more radioactive than DU. Window glass is more radioactive. Many phosphate fertilisers used on crops are more radioactive.

Ignorant, silly, agenda-driven ninnies, none of whom has a clue that 'lamda' signifies anything other than a homosexual advocacy group.

Depleted uranium could be scattered all over my farm and I would nevertheless be at greater risk from mould spores growing on the depleted geraniums [insert rimshot sound] in my greenhouses.

Can't confirm any of that comment, but radioactivity paranoia is all around us. People still whine about global warming but won't hear of constructing nuclear plants while the coal-burning power plants down the street put out enormous amounts of radiation and they don't give a crap. Nimrods are forever up in arms with no real basis in reality; it's one of the pleasures of being part of the human race. But enough with the DU paranoia (hey, that's a pun in itself - Democratic Underground is nothing if not paranoid).

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Now That's Comedy

It's alwa satisfying to see moralizing jagoffs exposed for what they truly are.

UPDATE: More of the same. Delicious even though it might not be entirely true . . .

Don't Fuck With the US Army

Skinny Bean from Denver sends this object lesson in not rousing sleeping giants.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Handy Office Weapons, From Scratch

Boingboing links to an "office bricolage" contest in which the entrants were asked to make the deadliest weapon they could out of office supplies. You'll love the winner, scroll down until you see the first entry, something called the "Scilock."

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

An Extraordinarily Bad Idea

This is one of the worst ideas I've heard about in years. Adding essays to the SAT will be expensive, unreliable in terms of fairness and accuracy, and egregious in that it's a rare school that won't demand some sort of essay of an applicant anyway, and one that is more indicative of a student's work since it won't be dashed off without rewriting or time to seriously consider the issues at hand. Grading won't be anything like objective or evenhanded:

To guide scorers, the team has already approved a sample set of answers to a question about the benefits and drawbacks of secrecy. The "prompt," as an essay question is called in education parlance, consists of two quotations, one justifying secrecy as an indispensable part of human life, the other attacking it. Students are then asked to develop a point of view on secrecy, with examples to support their argument.

An essay that does little more than restate the question gets a 1. An essay that compares humans to squirrels -- if a squirrel told other squirrels about its food store, it would die, therefore secrecy is necessary for survival -- merits a 5. Brian A. Bremen, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, notes that the writer provides only one real example. Nevertheless, he says, the writer displays "a clear chain of thought" and should be rewarded, "despite his Republican tendencies."

What a surprise, a UT prof biased against conservatism. I don't think essays in the SAT will help anyone in any way. Then again, I'm still unhappy that kids can use calculators for the SAT. In fact, I think everyone should stay up all night before the SAT and nap between the times they finish each section and the end of that section's time period, like I did. It's character building, or something.

From Pejman, via Tyler Cowen.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Wow That's Pathetic

From LGF, one of the saddest and dumbest things I've ever seen: a device that blocks Fox News Channel. That's how you "restore balance" in the minds of the left: censorship of messages and information they don't like. This is the beginning of the end for Democrats. Say goodnight, Franken. That sound is your party swirling down the toilet.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Anna Kournikova's Naughty Bits

I try not to do this sort of thing here, but really it's more funny than dirty. What the hell is she looking for?

UPDATE: Extreme fashion weirdness here from the same site.

Brutal Evisceration, Well Deserved

Instapundit links to a devastating post about a French TV analysis of French relief efforts concerning the Boxing Day Tsunami (a much better name than Christmas Tsunami, if you ask me). It's so good I can't excerpt any single bit, read the whole thing. It's delicious.

Twice the Fun, or Maybe Half

My brother in law Fringy reminds me that you can make love AND war. Or at least that was the plan.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

What Real Torture Looks Like

Ace posts a link to The Jawa Report's excellent post on torture. Very graphic, as it shows the difference between American "torture" and the real version.

Numa Numa Madness

This is my favorite version of the Numa Numa song immortalized here. Thanks to American Digest for the heads up. Many other odd versions from the original source here.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Civil War II Fuel

This isn't going to help matters. I wore a Livestrong bracelet for a while but will not wear a red one to show my political preference. Good grief.

Weird and Wonderful

From American Digest, a wild collection of interesting blog sites, including a fine post on Football Fans for Truth on the top 10 Christopher Hitchens ass-kickings here, including my favorite, about Michael Moore:

To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.

The sites collected by Gerard are simply fascinating. Check them out.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Science and Politics Don't Mix

Interesting post at Dean's World about the HIV/AIDS link, or lack thereof. When I lived in Berekeley in the early '90s, I read and heard a lot about Dr. Peter Duesberg and his battle with the forces of political correctness and anti-science silliness over what he believes to be a nonexistent link between the Human Immunodeficiency Virus and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. This is his argument, and it's pretty convincing. For example:

It is paradoxical that HIV is said to cause AIDS only after the onset of antiviral immunity, detected by a positive "AIDS test," because all other viruses are most pathogenic before immunity. The immunity against HIV is so effective that free virus is undetectable, which is why HIV is so hard to transmit. The virus would be a plausible cause of AIDS if it were reactivated after an asymptomatic latency, like herpes viruses. However, HIV remains inactive during AIDS. Thus the "AIDS test" identifies effective natural vaccination, the ultimate protection against viral disease.

Duesberg went from one of the most respected in his field to the most loathed man in the Bay Area when he managed to offend all of San Francisco at once by observing that although HIV didn't seem to cause AIDS by any serious scientific understanding of the virus/disease relationship, drinking, smoking, doing drugs and having anal sex with strangers was a great way to compromise your immune system, as was having whole blood transfusions like Arthur Ashe. Pete probably thought he was passing along a useful piece of info and ended up almost fired, with empty classes because the politically hyperaware students were boycotting him. He'd get invited by CNN and the networks to debate the topic and get replaced at the last minute by a detractor. Everybody hated him.

But he was doing the science right, and still is. Making observations about a disease and possible causes has nothing to do with politics, and it's immeasurably sad when the mob dictates scientific truth. Next time you meet a scientist and he or she expresses a political preference, punch them in the face. That'll teach 'em.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Han Solo - Victim or Cold-Blooded Killer?

From Professor Bainbridge, something I'm not sure I'm enough of a geek to fully appreciate, the trial of Han Solo. I don't know much about the "Greedo shot first" geekitude surrounding the remastered Star Wars DVD, but it's still pretty damn funny.

If Only

Our presidential inaugurations could be more like this.

Hans Rudel, Crazy Nazi Mofo

Originally uploaded by Uncle Mikey.
I've been reading a book called Stuka Pilot, by Hans Ulrich Rudel, the most decorated Nazi soldier of WWII. Hans was a Ju87 Stuka pilot, using the two-seater dive-bomber to attack antiaircraft positions, bridges, tanks, and some shipping (he was the first Stuka pilot to sink a battleship). While principally a bomber, the Stuka did have forward armament and Rudel describes watching preparation for what must have been one of the last cavalry charges ever by the Russian Army and how he and the other pilots felt really bad about machine-gunning the horses into dog food. Half of the war memoirs I've read have some reference to how sad it was the time we had to kill the horses, or the cows, or some other animal. Far rarer are references to being sad about killing people. Just the way it is, I guess.

Rudel flew 2530 missions, which seems likely to be far more than any other WWII pilot, and did enormous damage to the Red Army, sinking a battleship, two cruisers, a destroyer and 70 landing craft, and being personally responsible for more than 500 tanks, 1,000 other vehicles and 150 artillery pieces. Many of the tanks were killed while Rudel flew a special Stuka fitted with two 37mm cannon. He was an unrepentant Nazi and a fitness freak, and was brave to the point of stupidity. German pilots had to be; they didn't get time off or rotated out like Allied pilots, and suffering Russian winter and flying out of forward fields that were regularly in danger of being overrun by Russian armored thrusts will break or kill all but the most extraordinarily courageous and lucky.

Rudel tells some pretty amazing stories, and just as many heroic figures seem to tell their stories, it's all perfectly deadpan. He talks about birthday parties and taking off amid enemy artillery and tank fire in exactly the same way, in a Heroic Nazi tone of hearty self-sacrifice and chin-up pluck. Even as the Russians drive remorselessly West and finally enter Germany, and he sustains wounds that put other pilots in the hospital for long periods, Rudel can think only of battle and the cameraderie of his pilots and ground crew. He is shot down 30 times, makes some pretty amazing escapes, and has the dangerous habit of landing in rough fields to pick up downed German fliers, usually with little chance of his own escape or survival. I haven't finished the book yet, but it seems likely he will be captured by Soviet forces and spend a fair amount of time in a nasty Russian prison. Then again, maybe not, since he had a large bounty put on his head by Stalin himself and would be unlikely to survive capture and identification, and he died in 1982 in Germany. I'll report back when I find out.

While there is something admirable about Rudel's fighting spririt, he's part of a monstrous machine that he either didn't reconginze as such or didn't care. Either way, he needed killing. This book is a testament to the power of propaganda and what a person can be persuaded to do when they don't bother with reality. In a major war, you have to kill this kind of person or the society that bred them will not change. We had to kill millions of true believing Germans and Japanese before their nations capitulated, and it worries me that we didn't kill more Ba'athists before morphing into peacekeeping mode. That may have been the biggest mistake in the war in Iraq. We'll see . . .

Speaking of Nazis

Dissecting Leftism points to an interesting post at Nobs Blog about a book that details possible Russian war plans against Germany during the 1930s and suggests that Hitler was right when he said he was attacking the Russians before they attacked him. Some interesting info on the kind of tanks that were in production by the Red Army:

In the 1930s, practically all tanks in all tank-producing countries were designed and produced with the engine at the rear and the transmission system at the front. The Mark BT was an exception to this rule. The engine and the transmission system were both in the rear. It would take another quarter-century before the rest of the world understood the advantages of this structure.

The Mark BT tanks were continuously being improved. Their radius of action on one fuelling was increased to 700 kilometres. Fifty years later this is still a dream for the majority of tank crews. In 1936, Mark BT tanks produced in series were fording deep rivers underwater and along the river beds. Even now, at the end of the twentieth century, not all tanks used by the probable enemies of the Soviet Union have the same capability. Installation of diesel engines on the Mark BT tanks began in 1938. This was done elsewhere only ten or twenty years later. Finally, the Mark BT tank carried a weapons system which was very powerful for that time.

Having said so many positive things about the numbers and quality of Soviet tanks, one must note one minor drawback. It was impossible to use these tanks on Soviet territory.

The basic characteristic of the Mark BT tank was its speed. The quality so dominated all its other characteristics that it was even used in the name it was given.

The Mark BT is an aggressor tank. In all its characteristics, it is remarkably similar to the small but completely mobile cavalry warrior who emerged from the countless hordes of Genghis Khan. This great world conqueror vanquished all his enemies by delivering lightning strikes with great masses of exclusively mobile troops. Genghis Khan destroyed his enemies not, in the main, by force of arms, but by swift manoeuvre in depth. Genghis Khan did not need slow, sluggish knights, but hordes of light, fast-moving troops, capable of covering vast distances fording rivers and moving deep into the rear of enemy territory.

That was just what the Mark BT tanks were like. By 1 September 1939, more of them had been produced than any other tank of any other type by any other country anywhere else in the world. The mobility, speed and radius of action were bought at the price of lighter and less thick, though still efficient armour. Mark BT tanks could only be used in an aggressive war, only in the rear of the enemy and only in a swift offensive operation, in which masses of tanks suddenly burst into enemy territory, bypassing his centres of resistance and racing into the depth of his heartland, where there were no enemy troops, but where his towns, bridges, factories, aerodromes, ports, depots, con alld posts and communications centres were situated.

The strikingly belligerent qualities of the Mark BT tank were also achieved by means of using a unique system of tracks and suspension. On unmade roads, the Mark BT operated on heavy caterpillar tracks, but once on a good road, the tracks were discarded and it then shot ahead on wheels, like a racing car. It is, however, well known that speed is not compatible with cross-country performance. The choice is therefore between, on the one hand, a high-speed car which will go only on good roads, or on the other, a slow-moving tractor, which will go anywhere. The Soviet Marshals favoured the high-speed car. Thus, the Mark BT tanks were quite powerless on Soviet territory. When Hitler began Operation Barbarossa, practically all the Mark BT tanks were cast aside. It was almost impossible to use them off the roads, even with caterpillar tracks. They were never used on wheels. The potential of these tanks was never realized, but it certainly could never have been realized on Soviet territory. The Mark BT was created to operate on foreign territory only and, what is more, only on territory where there were good roads, as already observed.

The point is that these were not for defense but for attack, and could best be used where there was a solid highway system. Sounds like Germany to me. Then again, that just means the Russians understood the situation and were planning to act on it, which is more than the rest of the world can say. Good for them, and too bad it didn't work out the way they had hoped. I'd like to think the Soviets would have ended up a lot less paranoid in a scenario where Germany was taken down early and Russia didn't have to bear the major burden of defeating the Nazis by themselves for years. I guess we'll never know, and frankly Stalin was a monster in his own right.

Monday, January 10, 2005

That's Not Mooning, Packer Nation

Randy Moss did not fake pulling his pants down to moon Packer fans during the Vikings/Packers game yesterday, he did it to wipe his ass on the goalpost. Other Vikings players jostled him around enough to make him stop pretty quickly, but make no mistake: he was wiping his ass with the Frozen Tundra. I love the fro, and he's a great player I guess, but you can't poop on another team's property. Bad Randy.

Tortured Reasoning

From Mickey Kaus, a fine bit of journalism from Heather MacDonald:

Nevertheless, Bush-administration critics seized on the [Abu Ghraib] scandal as proof that prisoner “torture” had become routine. A master narrative—call it the “torture narrative”—sprang up: the government’s 2002 decision to deny Geneva-convention status to al-Qaida fighters, it held, “led directly to the abuse of detainees in Afghanistan and Iraq,” to quote the Washington Post. In particular, torturous interrogation methods, developed at Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan in illegal disregard of Geneva protections, migrated to Abu Ghraib and were manifest in the abuse photos.

This story’s success depends on the reader’s remaining ignorant of the actual interrogation techniques promulgated in the war on terror. Not only were they light years from real torture and hedged around with bureaucratic safeguards, but they had nothing to do with the Abu Ghraib anarchy. Moreover, the decision on the Geneva conventions was irrelevant to interrogation practices in Iraq.

It's essential reading, and includes illuminating info about Abu Ghraib:

The abuse at Abu Ghraib resulted from the Pentagon’s failure to plan for any outcome of the Iraq invasion except the most rosy scenario, its failure to respond to the insurgency once it broke out, and its failure to keep military discipline from collapsing in the understaffed Abu Ghraib facility. Interrogation rules were beside the point.

As the avalanche of prisoners taken in the street fighting overwhelmed the inadequate contingent of guards and officers at Abu Ghraib, order within the ranks broke down as thoroughly as order in the operation of the prison itself. Soldiers talked back to their superiors, refused to wear uniforms, operated prostitution and bootlegging rings, engaged in rampant and public sexual misbehavior, covered the facilities with graffiti, and indulged in drinking binges while on duty. No one knew who was in command. The guards’ sadistic and sexualized treatment of prisoners was just an extension of the chaos they were already wallowing in with no restraint from above. Meanwhile, prisoners regularly rioted; insurgents shelled the compound almost daily; the army sent only rotten, bug-infested rations; and the Iraqi guards sold favors to the highest bidders among the insurgents.

The idea that the abuse of the Iraqi detainees resulted from the president’s decision on the applicability of the Geneva conventions to al-Qaida and Taliban detainees is absurd on several grounds. Everyone in the military chain of command emphasized repeatedly that the Iraq conflict would be governed by the conventions in their entirety. The interrogation rules that local officers developed for Iraq explicitly stated that they were promulgated under Geneva authority, and that the conventions applied. Moreover, almost all the behavior shown in the photographs occurred in the dead of night among military police, wholly separate from interrogations. Most abuse victims were not even scheduled to be interrogated, because they were of no intelligence value. Finally, except for the presence of dogs, none of the behavior shown in the photos was included in the interrogation rules promulgated in Iraq. Mandated masturbation, dog leashes, assault, and stacking naked prisoners in pyramids—none of these depredations was an approved (or even contemplated) interrogation practice, and no interrogator ordered the military guards to engage in them.

Read the whole thing ASAP.

More Anti-Americanism from the BBC

Not that I'm surprised, but the BBC is going out of their way to be hateful to the US over tsunami relief, as they have done for years now about everything.

Smelling Salts from Mark Steyn

Thank God this guy's on blog hiatus, not column hiatus. I really needed some of this:

For the most part, the press now fulfill the same function for the party that kindly nurses do at the madhouse; if the guy thinks he's Napoleon, just smile affably and ask him how Waterloo's going. So Alan Fram of the Associated Press reported with a straight face that Sen. Boxer, Congressman Conyers and the other protesting Democrats ''hoped the showdown would underscore the problems such as missing voting machines and unusually long lines that plagued some Ohio districts, many in minority neighborhoods.''

I think not. What it underscores is that the Democrats are losers. Speaking as a foreigner -- which I believe entitles me to vote in up to three California congressional districts -- I've voted on paper ballots all my life and reckon all these American innovations -- levers, punch cards, touch screen -- are a lot of flim-flam. I would be all in favor of letting the head of Bangladesh's electoral commission design a uniform federal ballot for U.S. elections. But that's not the issue here. What happens on Election Day is that the Democrats lose and then decide it was because of ''unusually long lines'' in ''minority neighborhoods.'' What ''minority neighborhoods'' means is electoral districts run by Democrats. In Ohio in 2004 as in Florida in 2000, the ''problems'' all occur in counties where the Dems run the system. Sometimes, as in King County in Washington, they get lucky and find sufficient votes from the ''disenfranchised'' accidentally filed in the icebox at Democratic headquarters. But in Ohio, Bush managed to win not just beyond the margin of error but beyond the margin of lawyer. If there'd been anything to sue and resue and re-resue over, you can bet those 5,000 shysters the Kerry campaign flew in would be doing it. Instead, Boxer and Conyers & Co. are using a kind of parliamentary privilege to taint Bush's victory without even the flimsiest pretext.

And that's sure to work, isn't it? Another two years of Tom Daschle obstructionism and Michael Moore paranoia. You don't need to run a focus group to know that's the formula that will sweep Dems into office on Election Day 2006, right?

A Democrat chum said to me on Thursday, oh, well, they're just doing this to toss a bone to the base. But they're running out of bones to toss, and the base needs a reality check, not more pandering. One reason why the party has shriveled away to Greater New England plus the ''minority neighborhoods'' of a few cities is that it's all fringe, and no mainstream. The base is out of control; the kooks still holding their post-election vigil outside one of John Kerry's mansions sound no loopier than the big-time senators. The party has no urge to move on from

Until we insist on a "reality-based" party platform, Democrats won't do it on their own. They're not getting more reasonable and logical but less so with each day. It's the "big lie" philosophy in retail form, so many lies in so many directions that reality itself is warped. Liberal reporters and columnists don't see much of a reason to hold themselves to a standard their politicians don't acknowledge, so it's a free for all out there now in a way it's never been before. And that's a bad, bad thing for everyone, not just the people committing political suicide.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

No Shame in Hygiene

Instapundit links to this reason for the Sitzpinkler phenomenon.

Like every other man, I have seen a lot of wet bathroom floors, and it seems to me that people must be trying to miss in public restrooms, so they're not terribly representative I suppose, but the problem of urine ending up other places than in the bowl or urinal is universally bothersome. Being a sitzpinkler eliminates pretty much all of the problem issues, like missing, splashback, and mishandling the shake. I grew up with six sisters and was critiqued ruthlessly on my accuracy, and spent the first 7/8ths of my life maintaining that standard of performance, and now I'm tired of it, so I'm a sitzpinkler. I don't feel any less manly, but I sure have enjoyed not paying attention so closely. Gives me time to think about something interesting.

To Torture or Not to Torture

Excellent post at Ace of Spades about torture, which goes nicely with some more nuanced stuff here and stuff over at Belmont Club. An excerpt of an article in Ace's piece:

The three men were brought before Thomas. He asked them where the bomb was. The terrorists—highly dedicated and steeled to resist interrogation—remained silent. Thomas asked the question again, advising them that if they did not tell him what he wanted to know, he would kill them. They were unmoved.

So Thomas took his pistol from his gun belt, pointed it at the forehead of one of them, and shot him dead. The other two, he said, talked immediately; the bomb, which had been placed in a crowded railway station and set to explode during the evening rush hour, was found and defused, and countless lives were saved.

On other occasions, Thomas said, similarly recalcitrant terrorists were brought before him. It was not surprising, he said, that they initially refused to talk; they were schooled to withstand harsh questioning and coercive pressure. No matter: a few drops of gasoline flicked into a plastic bag that is then placed over a terrorist's head and cinched tight around his neck with a web belt very quickly prompts a full explanation of the details of any planned attack.

It is childish in the extreme to ban torture as a method of getting information out of terrorists who target civilians. As Andrew McCarthy writes in a column linked by the saucy Michelle Malkin:

But the critics should do us all a favor: If you're going to talk the talk of righteous indignation, be ready to walk the walk. Be ready to tell Americans exactly what protections you want to give to the terrorists. Be ready to tell Americans that you would prohibit coercive interrogation even if it were the only way of saving a hundred thousand of them.

In keeping with the movie theme in the post above, I've noticed that there is a basic code of hero conduct in films and TV that says we do not stoop to their level unless the bad guys are so bad that it doesn't matter. Well, in the case of terrorists who target civilians, it doesn't matter. Torture away, when it's the difference between life and death for innocent people. Thomas in Sri Lanka doesn't have time to fuck around, and neither do we.

Perspective from VDH

LGF points us to a new piece from Victor Davis Hanson's site:

Imagine a world in which there was no United States during the last 15 years. Iraq, Iran, and Libya would now have nukes. Afghanistan would remain a seventh-century Islamic terrorist haven sending out the minions of Zarqawi and Bin Laden worldwide. The lieutenants of Noriega, Milosevic, Mullah Omar, Saddam, and Moammar Khaddafi would no doubt be adjudicating human rights at the United Nations. The Ortega Brothers and Fidel Castro, not democracy, would be the exemplars of Latin America. Bosnia and Kosovo would be national graveyards like Pol Pot's Cambodia. Add in Kurdistan as well — the periodic laboratory for Saddam's latest varieties of gas. Saddam himself, of course, would have statues throughout the Gulf attesting to his control of half the world's oil reservoirs. Europeans would be in two-day mourning that their arms sales to Arab monstrocracies ensured a second holocaust. North Korea would be shooting missiles over Tokyo from its new bases around Seoul and Pusan. For their own survival, Germany, Taiwan, and Japan would all now be nuclear. Americans know all that — and yet they grasp that their own vigilance and military sacrifices have earned them spite rather than gratitude. And they are ever so slowly learning not much to care anymore.

In fact, an American consensus is growing that envy and hatred of the United States, coupled with utopian and pacifistic rhetoric, disguise an even more depressing fact: Outside our shores there is a growing barbarism with no other sheriff in sight. Any cinema student of the American Western can fathom why the frightened townspeople — huddled in their churches and shuttered schools — almost hated the lone marshal as much as they did the six-shooting outlaw gang rampaging in their streets. After all, the holed-up 'good' citizens were always angry that the lawman had shamed them, worried that he might make dangerous demands on their insular lives, confused about whether they would have to accommodate themselves either to savagery or civilization in their town's future, and, above all, assured that they could libel and slur the tin star in a way that would earn a bullet from the lawbreaker. It was precisely that paradox between impotent high-sounding rhetoric and blunt-speaking, roughshod courage that lay at the heart of the classic Western from Shane and High Noon to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and The Magnificent Seven.

The U.N., NATO, or the EU: These are now the town criers of the civilized world who preach about "the law" and then seek asylum in their closed shops and barred stores when the nuclear Daltons or terrorist Clantons run roughshod over the town. In our own contemporary ongoing drama, China, Russia, and India watch bemused as the United States tries to hunt down the psychopathic killers while Western elites ankle-bite and hector its efforts. I suppose the Russians, Chinese, and Indians know that Islamists understand all too well that blowing up two skyscrapers in Moscow, Shanghai, or Delhi would guarantee that their Middle Eastern patrons might end up in cinders.

I'm generally reluctant to endorse simplistic metaphors for global events, but this is pretty much how I see it. You're either part of the solution, or you're something else. We're all familiar with people who, in time of crisis, focus on the wrong things. That's what the French, Germans and Russians did before the Iraq War, and what the UN is doing now. Shame on them, and when they eventually come crawling to us for help with the disaster that Europe is becoming, we might just feel like we did about WWII before Pearl Harbor: what does that have to do with us? Especially since you were such assholes about the tsunami relief:

All this hypocrisy has desensitized Americans, left and right, liberal and conservative. We will finish the job in Iraq, nursemaid democratic Afghanistan through its birthpangs, and continue to ensure that bandits and criminal states stay off the world's streets. But what is new is that the disenchanted American is becoming savvy and developing a long memory — and so we all fear the day is coming when he casts aside the badge, rides the buckboard out of town, and leaves such sanctimonious folk to themselves.

Great column. Read all of it now.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Part of the Problem

Excellent interview on with former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold. If your default position in life is that Israel is the root of all the world's problems, you of all people need to read this. And slap yourself while you're doing so, you deserve it.

For President Franklin Delano Roosevelt the UN was supposed to be instrumental in "nipping aggression in the bud," and by doing so, preventing a re-play of the Second World War. But the UN couldn't even define aggression until 1974 and even then its definition was full of loopholes. Worse still, the UN is a manufacturing plant for the worst moral equivalence that just cripples effective action to stop wars: in its international behavior, for the most part, the UN does not distinguish between aggressors and the victims of aggression. In Bosnia, UN forces were partial to the Serbs, and not to their Bosnian Muslim victims. In Rwanda, when General Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander on the ground, proposed to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, headed by Kofi Annan, that it was necessary to destroy the arms of the Hutu militia before they were used to exterminate the Tutsi tribe, he was told by Annan's office to not take sides--indeed, he was instructed to remain "impartial". More than eight hundred thousand Rwandans were massacred within a few months.

Most recently, the UN General Assembly sought to activate the UN's judicial arm--the International Court of Justice in the Hague--to stop Israel's security fence. Annan's office supplied supporting documentation to the judges in the Hague about Palestinian grievances over the fence, without even relating to the wave of Palestinian suicide terrorism against Israeli civilians that caused the fence to be built in the first place (nor was there mention of other security fences built on disputed territory in Kashmir or Cyprus). Yet the UN holds itself up to be "the source of international legitimacy"--a beacon of international justice. It is clear, however, that the UN does not determine the relative justice in the claims of parties engaged in an international dispute. It can only reflect the sum total of the political power that a state or national movement can mobilize on his behalf within the halls of the UN. For many peoples, from Tibetan Buddhists to Rwandan Tutsis, to Lebanese Christians to Iraqi Kurds and Black African Muslims in Darfur, Sudan, (and not just the Jewish people) that leaves them completely unprotected if they have to rely on the machinery of the UN.

Gold doesn't think disbanding the UN is a good idea, and I suppose he's right. But it's been a disastrous failure, and you don't reinforce failure, you change the system. Not sure how that's going to happen, but it is necessary.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Fred on a Rampage

Fred on a Rampage
Originally uploaded by Uncle Mikey.
What a Wizard of Oz moment for Fred, who loved every minute of it even though it was abysmally hot. At this time of year it's perfect when it's not cold, which isn't that often, and you forget how hot it's going to get. Every year, it surprises you just a little, and you wonder why you subject yourself to it. When I spent half the week on Lake Austin wakeboarding it was perfect, but that water is cold as hell coming out of the bottom of the dam up where the water is smooth, so it balances out nicely. Now that I'm not on the lake ever, maybe I should move. Hmmmmm. .. .

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Journalists as Cheerleaders

LGF posts an article about audience reaction to Norman Mailer's address of Harvard journalism conference attended by writers, editors and other media professionals. An obvious truth wilfully ignored by many is getting more and more difficult to ignore:

It's hardly a shocker that Norman Mailer could show up at a place like Cambridge, Mass., and win big applause with a speech attacking President Bush. After all, employees of Harvard University gave more money to John Kerry's presidential campaign than people who work anywhere else (except the University of California). What made the standing ovation for the novelist so disappointing, though, was that it came from a great big pack of journalists.

I have fairly limited journalism experience, but the people I met in in that business, and those I met in journalism school at two different universities, were nearly 100% liberal democrats. I happened to find a former schoolmate's blog not long ago and exchanged emails, he's a programmer and journalist with a neat blog here, and I was reminded of how even though I was the only conservative in the Journalism department, I got along very well with everyone else even though we frequently argued political and social issues en masse as part of newspaper policy in editorial board meetings. And it's not like I'm a tactful or even somewhat reasonable debater, on the contrary I can be extraordinarily cruel when I think I understand things better than other people, but no matter how hostile it got in ed board, it never spilled over in to real life. Or at least I never noticed, which is entirely possible.

But regardless, I guess I never thought of any of those people as the kind of people who would let their biases color their duty to The News. We were all schooled by the same crusty old newsmen, men from the age of lead type who believed that the reporter was never part of the story, and that conclusions came after research. Men who didn't fuck around, men who would have taken a flame thrower to that Harvard media conference when Norman Mailer got his first standing ovation. I like to think the training those men gave us is incontrovertable, and that my former classmates will pass it on.

I also like to think that none of them would have stood up and applauded Mailer during the conference, not because they didn't agree with him but because it is a betrayal of the sacred office of the journalist to put your personal beliefs above your duty to see the world clearly and without debilitating bias, and because giving the impression of taking sides is as bad as doing it.

Admittedly, some of the attendees were academics, publicists and students, so it's hard to say who was laughing at which remark. But the thousand-member audience was dominated by freelance writers and editors and reporters from nearly every major paper in the country. None of the dozen people who stood up to question Mailer challenged any of his political assertions. And only a few failed to stand and applaud at the end of a speech that had characterized Bush as "lord of the quagmire" in Iraq.

"I'm a newspaperman - these people don't seem to understand what their role in society is," said Jack Hart, managing editor of the Portland Oregonian, which cosponsored the conference along with the Boston Globe and the Poynter Institute (which owns the St. Petersburg Times and Governing magazine, where I work). "It makes me very uncomfortable."

With good reason. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a widely touted study in June that found that the audience for news is increasingly fragmenting along partisan lines. In other words, large numbers of readers and viewers are turning to media outlets that reinforce their previously held convictions, and tuning out those in which they detect a disagreeable bias.

Major news outlets routinely have their reports and credibility questioned nowadays because of perceptions of bias. Just before the election, stories in the New York Times and on CBS stating that tons of explosives were missing in Iraq were loudly dismissed in some quarters with the taunt that these "liberal" outlets were trying to turn voters against Bush. The same held true when the Los Angeles Times reported on Arnold Schwarzenegger's past sexual aggression in the days leading up to California's gubernatorial recall last year.

The level of public distrust evoked by partisan leanings - real or perceived - did not stop the reporters at the Nieman conference from applauding frequent left-leaning sentiments. Although most of the sessions were dedicated to nuts-and-bolts instruction on journalism, such as interviewing techniques and tips on how to create a sense of place, Mailer was far from the only speaker to touch directly on politics. Seymour Hersh, the author and investigative reporter for the New Yorker, gave a talk that equaled Mailer's in its anti-Bush venom.

"I was surprised when Hersh used his keynote address to give us his rewrite of Fahrenheit 9/11," said Rick Whittle, a military reporter with the Dallas Morning News.

Got that? The Pew poll clearly shows that the mainstream media is totally busted. We know they're biased and not telling us the truth, and we have acted accordingly. And from what I can tell, they don't see any reason to change. Sy Fucking Hersh, who should at least know better, can't elevate his game above Michael Moore level. Nick Coleman and other sad old jerkoffs keep doing the wounded elephant routine, bellowing about how evil blogs are and thrashing around incoherently and not understanding that the thrashing is making it worse, that they're hurting themselves. And they lose miserably every time in the eyes of the public while proclaiming victory, which is even more pathetic. Worst of all, the criticism of these and other absurdities in the mainstream press has rarely come from within, even when they have the most to lose when journalistic ethics are ignored or abused.

But what standard is upheld for journalists to follow these days? Who is the ethical conscience of Journalism? Katie Couric? The one guy who could lay claim to the crown of Edward R. Murrow, Bill Moyers, has gone loopy himself with Bush Derangement Syndrome. When Keith Olbermann and the formerly sensible but now thoroughly deranged Chris Matthews take a big dump on on-air news analyst credibility for months like they have recently, it's hard for the others, no more talented but less suicidal professionally, to make up for it, but frankly they don't really have to. That's how little we expect from journalists these days. Thank God that when Dan Rather cheats and lies as nakedly as he did over the TANG memos, it's a disaster for the entirety of the mainstream media, and rightfully so. He's been doing the same thing for decades, playing fast and loose with the news and being a celebrity himself above all else, but he's always had enough power and influence that his detractors could never get sufficient traction to make a dent in his facade. That time is over.

And people in the news industry should be more excited about that than anyone else. This is an unheard-of opportunity in an established industry, a cleanish slate and the power and resources to do it right from the ground up. And that's what it's going to take, a top-to-bottom redo of the whole mess. Respect is earned, not given freely, and when you've failed as spectacularly as the US press has in the last decade, you've got a long road ahead. Let's not make it an easy one, they won't learn a damn thing if we do.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


I don't know what it's called when your head hurts so much that it makes you want to throw up, but I have it. Opinions vary on what the cause is although friends have told me it's a tumor or meningitis. Aren't they helpful.

So no blogging today other than a link to Mark Steyn's latest, a resounding smackdown about the truly shitty attempts at moral superiority concerning tsunami relief. Excellent reading.

Link from Instapundit

Monday, January 03, 2005

What the Internet is For

This is the whole point of online life. Whether you're curious about glass-chilling or just want to know if you're gay, the internet is here to help.

A New Low for the UN

From Instapundit, a post from Diplomad about the UN being treated like the poop-stained leper it is:

In this part of the tsunami-wrecked Far Abroad, the UN is still nowhere to be seen where it counts, i.e., feeding and helping victims. The relief effort continues to be a US-Australia effort, with Singapore now in and coordinating closely with the US and Australia. Other countries are also signing up to be part of the US-Australia effort. Nobody wants to be "coordinated" by the UN. The local UN reps are getting desperate. They're calling for yet another meeting this afternoon; they've flown in more UN big shots to lecture us all on "coordination" and the need to work together, i.e., let the UN take credit. With Kofi about to arrive for a big conference, the UNocrats are scrambling to show something, anything as a UN accomplishment. Don't be surprised if they claim that the USS Abraham Lincoln is under UN control and that President Lincoln was a strong supporter of the UN.

Maybe watching the UN flounder is not like watching a train wreck; perhaps it's more akin to watching an Ed Wood movie or reading Maureen Dowd or Margo Kingston -- so horrible, so pathetic, that it transforms into a thing of perverse beauty. The only problem, of course, is that real people are dying.

Even when it was just being an impediment to world peace and effective world government, the UN was a disastrous mess that needed to be abolished. How much more money and effort will be wasted on this pack of gangsters who are interested only in padding offshore bank accounts? Too much:

WFP (World Food Program) has "arrived" in the capital with an "assessment and coordination team." The following is no joke; no Diplomad attempt to be funny or clever: The team has spent the day and will likely spend a few more setting up their "coordination and opcenter" at a local five-star hotel. And their number one concern, even before phones, fax and copy machines? Arranging for the hotel to provide 24hr catering service. USAID folks already are cracking jokes about "The UN Sheraton."

The UN must be abolished, the buildings torn down, the ground sown with salt, and all references to its disastrous existence purged from books, other publications and the internet.

UPDATES: Three savage posts from Wretchard at Belmont Club here, here and here. It's all great reading, deep and wide as anything else you'll see today, and although I hate to excerpt a tiny bit of such fine work, here's a nibble: "Every organization responds according to its repertoire and a UN captured by 'advocacy groups', riddled with ethnic politics, hamstrung by corruption and managed by individuals derived from academia and NGOs is no different. The problem is not that such people exist -- they are tolerable in some roles -- but that they have been put in charge of serious business."

Amen. Read all of it, and ask yourself if we can ever trust the UN again under any circumstances.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The NFL Playoffs, Gayer-Looking than Ever

Why has the NFL paid Benjamin Bratt to grow a neatly trimmed Van Dyke and embarrass all of us with a series of ads about the excitement of the playoff season? It doesn't get any more creepy. Who's next, Richard Simmons?

Good Lord that's Heartbreaking

Originally uploaded by Uncle Mikey.
I haven't seen any tsunami pictures as terrifying as this one until I found this site on Instapundit. As the author of the site says, we don't know the fate of these poor people, but donating at Amazon or somewhere like it is your best hope for doing some good for the survivors.

UPDATE: Check out this post on American Digest that addresses Alan E. Brain's argument that it could have been a lot worse. Like Alan, the first thing I thought of when I heard about an earthquake and tsunami in the region was Bangladesh, which has borne the brunt of natural disasters like tsunamis and cyclones (hurricanes) far too often. Read the whole thing.

MORE UPDATE: This video is the most terrifying I've seen yet. From Wizbang.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

No Shit

"The UN is a sham." That may be the truest statment in this Powerline post but the rest is well worth reading. Kofi Annan didn't leave his vacation spot for three days after the tsunami hit, Undersecretary Jan Egeland won't stir except to criticize American generosity, and meanwhile the real work is being done without the worthless UN, which now has long since gone from not being part of the solution to being part of the problem. Don't contribute in any way to the fiction that the UN can help anyone. It must be abolished as soon as possible.

In Case You Run into Zell Miller and He Isn't Satisfied with the Cut of Your Jib

Pejman gives us the Code Duello, or Rules of Dueling, laid out in 1777 by "gentlemen-delegates of Tipperary, Galway, Sligo, Mayo and Roscommon." I particularly enjoy Rule 5:

As a blow is strictly prohibited under any circumstances among gentlemen, no verbal apology can be received for such an insult. The alternatives, therefore -- the offender handing a cane to the injured party, to be used on his own back, at the same time begging pardon; firing on until one or both are disabled; or exchanging three shots, and then asking pardon without proffer of the cane.

If swords are used, the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed; or until, after receiving a wound, and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon.

N.B. A disarm is considered the same as a disable. The disarmer may (strictly) break his adversary's sword; but if it be the challenger who is disarmed, it is considered as ungenerous to do so.

In the case the challenged be disarmed and refuses to ask pardon or atone, he must not be killed, as formerly; but the challenger may lay his own sword on the aggressor's shoulder, then break the aggressor's sword and say, "I spare your life!"

It must have been nice to have a set of rules for solving complicated social questions, although it seems absurd that anyone would submit to such rules when to do so would put them at more than a minor disadvantage. And yet they did, as men and women of honor have always done what they thought was their duty. There's a terrible beauty in placing principle above all else, and while it can also bring about the worst in people, the fact remains that ideas and principles are more worth dying for than just about anything else, except family. That may be the sign of a worthy principle; is it worth dying for?

And if it is, in what order should one apologize during the resultant duel, and to whom, and what if a lady is present? The Code Duello will set you straight.