30th April 2007

Standards of proof

It’s not often you get to see an old-school Washington reporter tear apart a political operative. Th’other night 60 Minutes did that, and even if they were stabbing the mammoth that was stuck in the tarpit, it was still something to see.

Tenet: There’s lots of technical data. And you put all this together and it’s not evidence in a court of law. Remember, when you write an estimate you — when you estimate you’re writing what you don’t know down. You might win a civil case you’re not going to win a criminal case. In terms of evidence.

60 Mins: We’re going to war. Tens of thousands of people are going to be killed. And you’re saying you have evidence to prove a civil case but not a criminal case?

Tenet: …This was very painful for us…

60: A conservative estimate of 100 to 500 tons [of chemical and biological agents]? I mean, how can you be so wrong?

Tenet: Scott, we’ve gone through this. It’s what we believed. It’s what we wrote.

60: Where do these numbers come from?

Tenet: From our National Intelligence Estimate. You don’t make this kind of stuff up.

60: Wait a minute. You did make this kind of stuff up.

Now Tenet will sell lots of books and will enjoy a long career in the reality-starved hallways of Georgetown University. The residents of Iraq, which didn’t have any chemical or biological weapons, will live with his mistake.

I agree with the woman who wrote to CNN today who said he should keep his medal of freedom and should be required to wear it every day.

posted by hedgehog in Iraq, Slapping the Man, War! | 1 Comment

28th April 2007

Return of the poll!

Due to popular demand, the poll is back. A probatory poll is to the left. If it proves stable, we’ll replace it with something more robust and full-bodied.

posted by saurabh in A Series of Tubes, Bloorg | 5 Comments

28th April 2007


I have not paid my taxes yet for 2006.

If I were to pay my taxes, it is likely that a significant portion of those dollars will go towards funding the Iraq occupation, nuclear weapons, and a host of other military-industrial projects that I somehow can’t bring myself to masturbate about.*

I am a poor individual, and my contribution in this regard will be meager. Specifically, I estimate that my total contribution to the Iraq War will be about $160, a mere billionth of the total cost of the war. I’m not sure what can be purchased for this amount, but I find it an alarmingly large quantity from my own perspective. I’m somewhat dismayed that my material contribution is so substantial. I could certainly do a lot that was less damaging to the world with that $160.

I’m not sure how guilty I should feel about this – refusal to pay means I might end up with severe debt or, in extremely unlikely scenarios, prison. Should I balance this against the fact that I’m purchasing bullets? Maybe those bullets go unused – maybe they’re only fired off in warning and not into someone’s spine. Maybe I pay for a soldier’s insulin supplement or boots. Whatever the case, ultimately I’m pitting a bit of my well-being against that of someone else.

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.

* Am I un-American?

Roughly, assuming I pay ~2700 in taxes and the Iraq budget is about $161 billion out of a total of $2600 billion in outlays for 2008.

posted by saurabh in Angst, What Is To Be Done | 15 Comments

26th April 2007

Dinosaurs with laser-beams

How do we know, exactly, that ours is the first civilized species on this planet? In 500 million years of life, it seems at least plausible that intelligence could have developed at other points. After all, there’s a number of existing tool-using, improvising species besides ourselves. It doesn’t seem implausible that, in our absence, some evolutionary contusion would produce in them the necessary burst of intelligence that would allow them to develop reason and the ability to build on acquired knowledge.

Human beings have been around for a scant few hundred thousand years. Of all that history, we find precious little in the form of remnants – maybe a few tools here and there, some bits of clothing or weapons, if we’re lucky. But the record is sparse. Meanwhile, the history of life is vast. There are 1100 extant mammalian genera. The total number of known dinosaur genera is 572, spanning a period of almost 200 million years. Recent estimates say that there are probably around 1844 total discoverable genera of dinosaurs. It seems unlikely to me that this represents more than a tiny fraction of the true diversity. Whole swaths of the fossil record might be missing. So if some small saurischian species at some point diverged and produced a brief flutter of intelligence, which might have only survived for a scant few hundred thousand years, would we know about it? Would any of their tools or clothes, their habitations, have survived? Perhaps not.

If this seems implausible to you, let’s consider the ocean. There’s a number of intelligent sea-faring creatures, not all of them mammalian. And the ocean is far more vast and impenetrable to us than the continents are. Much of what lives there even today is unknown. So how likely is it that some kind of civilization might have formed in the ocean at any moment in the long history of life and have escaped our notice?

posted by saurabh in Gee-whiz | 16 Comments

24th April 2007

Cubans can be coffins

Strange. I was reading about the Venezuelan terrorist just freed on bail when I saw this Google Ad at the bottom of the screen that said something like “Coffins for everyone!” I had to click. It was for these mass-casualty coffins, easily folded and stacked and then assembled and stacked again. Clever! Too bad they are 100% tropical hardwood. Boo hiss. What’s wrong with a pine box?

But on the topic of the terrorist, it’s sad to see liberals agitating against Posada’s bail. I agree he should face murder and terror charges at least, if not extradition to Cuba or Venezuela. But bail is ok. I don’t support the hypocrisy of letting a CIA asset right-wing nutjob off the hook for terrorism. But I do support bail for all, even those facing terror charges. Prisons suck.

posted by hedgehog in A Series of Tubes, Ecofascism, Global Machinations, Government, Stackable Coffins | 3 Comments

23rd April 2007

Poor fool, poor blind fool…

The next day I saw his picture in the Daily News, beneath a caption saying he had been “mugged.” Poor fool, poor blind fool, I thought with sincere compassion, mugged by an invisible man!

Where I come from (a watery planet called Earth) this is news.

Congressman Kucinich Will Hold Press Conference to Announce Introduction of Articles of Impeachment Relating To Vice President Richard Cheney

But on this strange desert world, where the sand has blinded the rich, this impeachment is the action of an invisible man. It will be funny if it prevails.

It got a few minutes on CNN followed by senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who spoke in a tone that said “he’s not one of us, we’re responsible, I’ve never even seen him before!”

“This is not what the Democrats were elected to do,” she said. Her tone made it sound like even honoring the news with a report was akin to holding soiled toilet paper. But I should give her credit — the cool kids haven’t even gone as far as her. The story isn’t on the web sites of the Washington Post, the allegedly “newspaper of record” New York Times, LA Times, or Chicago Tribune. It isn’t on Bloomberg or the Wall Street Journal. Not even the most liberal major newspaper website in the USA, SFGate (of the San Francisco Chronicle), has anything about it. But who can blame them? Even my favorite liberal blogs have blacked (tee hee) out the news. Nothing on Eschaton or Talking Points Memo.

I don’t care if the reporters and editors think this is a stupid move by a fringe candidate. When someone moves to impeach the Vice President of the United States, the public deserves to know.

Fortunately, they have these news sources:
Associated Press
And blogs like Tiny Revolution, which I believe beat all but CNN, and the liberal uber-blog Daily Kos, which even (holy cow!) has a discussion on the topic.

I suppose the situation goes along with the rest of Kucinich’s “Invisible Man” campaign. The media love to say that none of the Democratic candidates have a comprehensive plan to reform the American health care system, ignoring Kucinich’s repeated call for a single-payer Canadian-style insurance system. And they say the Dems don’t have a plan for Iraq, ignoring his call to shrink the military and create a Department of Peace. Funny, I might even have to vote this year for an invisible man.

posted by hedgehog in Bad People, Government, War! | 2 Comments

20th April 2007

O Brave New World!

This is a real picture! Of an actual place! Someday, when I am a real boy, I will go there.

posted by saurabh in Starry-eyed | 2 Comments

20th April 2007

God bless America

Thank god we don’t live in an evil torture state! Remember, it’s okay for us to hold people indefinitely without rights if it’s not on American soil. We can do that without being an evil torture state. Hooray!

Some of you may have missed the fact that we started the Tribunal farce process in Guantanamo Bay, to finally give those terrorist scum the cursory dog-and-pony show they deserve. There was a lot of fanfare a few weeks back when Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessed to planning every single terrorist attack of the past ten years. They even released his testimony. Note how the names of the judges and all the court officers have been redacted from the record, just like in a real fair, impartial public trial!

Anyway, my point. A few months back I was throwing up in my mouth because someone made me remember that Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s kids were at one point in American custody, fate now unknown. Well, since then, we’ve heard a little bit more on the subject, in this rather disturbing letter from the father of one Majid Khan, formerly a legal resident of the United States, one-time guest at a CIA “black site”, and now cooling his heels at Guantanamo Bay. Majid’s father, who had no idea whether his son was alive or dead for the past few years, is submitting testimony to the Tribunal, not being allowed to attend himself. Just like in a real public trial! Ha ha!

[left eye twitches unsteadily]

Included therein is this nice little bit about those kids:

Also according to Mohammed [Majid’s brother, not KSM – ed], he and Majid were detained in the same place where two of Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s young children, ages about 6 and 8, were held. The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs, and were denied food and water by other guards. They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.

Good to know they’re in such warm and tender hands.

Please disseminate this letter widely, so everyone can know what a wonderful, freedom-loving government we have.

posted by saurabh in Bad People, Rhinocrisy, Travesty | 2 Comments

18th April 2007


I’m just registering a note of shame over this story about Richard Gere, which you may have missed. Apparently the guy kissed Shilpa Shetty (a Bollywood starlet) a couple of times on the cheeks during an AIDS rally in Mumbai. Subsequently a band of Hindu nationalist thugs known as the Shiv Sena (which has a long and illustrious history of idiocy) staged protests around the country, burning and beating Gere in effigy and burning pictures of Shilpa Shetty, in protest of this outrageous act of indecency:

“Even if the protest has been staged by the Shiv Sainiks, I would not blame them as the way Shilpa Shetty and Richard Gere indulged in a shameless public display, it was not at all in keeping with our culture and tradition,” Sena MP Sanjay Raut said.

Now, I know I’m an ultra-liberal American; I was raised here and my permissive attitudes are informed by American libertarian ethics. But I’m pretty sure people kiss all the time in India. Given the current rate of growth of the population, I’m also pretty sure they get up to other things as well. And they certainly display affection in public settings quite often. Here’s a picture of Rani Mukherjee kissing Shah Rukh Khan:

And let’s not count the number of lips-on-bare-chest scenes I’ve seen in Bollywood films, which might be considered a bit more risqué than a simple kiss on the cheek. So let’s be clear that this is NOT the viewpoint of Indian society. Indians are certainly more conservative than Americans are, but this is the extreme reaction of a bunch of right-wing nutjobs, not a mainstream view.

There might be some value in debating whether this anger flows from the “interracial” nature of the kiss in question, but mostly I think the only value to be gained here is to wave an angry hand in the direction of the cloud of hornets infesting that particular corner of the Indian polity. Please, please, you Nazi shitheads, for the sake of all of us, disappear off the face of the planet.

posted by saurabh in Fascists, Galloping idiocy | 5 Comments

16th April 2007

Enough homes?

When do we say “enough” to new building construction?

The average occupied American home in 2005 — renter and homeowner, apartment and house — was 1,795 square feet. That’s an 11% increase from 1,610 in 1985 (big PDF).

At the same time, the median number of square feet per person in occupied units rose by 18% to 752 from 633 as the number of people per unit declined.

The current population of the USA is about 302 million. By returning to the cramped, miserable living conditions of 1985, we could house the next 48 million Americans — about 15 years’ worth of growth at one new resident every 11 seconds — without building a single new unit of housing.

By advancing to a more collectively oriented culture in which real estate investment isn’t considered the be-all-and-end-all of middle class existence, by opening up to more coop living or extended family living, who knows how many more could fit while increasing happiness.

edited 5:20 a.m. to correct math errors

posted by hedgehog in The Future, What Is To Be Done | 7 Comments

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