November 30, 2004

Red dawn

China and Asean signed a trade and security agreement that could be an ominous portent of fading American influence in Asia.

I posted earlier about how gutting funding for American diplomatic institutions has left a vacuum that Beijing is keen to fill, and how many Asian governments and businesspeople are responding to the Chinese initiative.

This agreement takes things to the next level. China is eager to convince Southeast Asia that its huge economy represents an opportunity, not a threat - which is true. But for the first time that I can think of, the commitment to trade with Asean created a structure with a security element, and without American involvement.

Continue reading "Red dawn"
Posted by Jame at 10:39 AM GMT | Comments (39)

I went to Alabama, had to turn my watch back 50 years

Apologies for linking to the Guardian for this article, but the US press seems to be pretty bad at covering it. USA Today has the lite version, but read Gary Younge's article for the full story of how the referendum to repeal segregationist language in the Alabama constitution has failed. Here's what the constitution says right now, and what it will continue to say, since a majority of voters wants to see it unchanged:

Separate schools shall be provided for white and coloured children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.

Those who opposed change, including Roy "10 Commandments" Moore, claim that oh, no, they're not racist at all; they simply want to make sure that education is a privilege and not a right for Alabaman kids. Here's the logic: if you guarantee a state education in the state constitution, then trial lawyers might come along and hold you to that guarantee. And we all hate trial lawyers, right? Therefore, we should vote to retain the segregationist language.

Then again, as Younge points out,

A statute banning interracial marriage in the state was struck down only four years ago by 59% to 41%, with a majority of whites voting against the change.

I'm pretty sure that if I were a black Alabaman, I'd take this referendum result as yet another slap in the face. Although I would be interested in the opinion of New York-based Alabama exiles on the matter.

Posted by Felix at 04:56 AM GMT | Comments (10)

November 28, 2004

Handing on the torch

Adam Gopnik has not been on particularly good form of late. Last year he wrote a much-derided article about riding the bus in New York, which finally got its comeuppance in the New York Times today. In a first-person piece for the City section, Simi Linton, who rides the buses in a wheelchair, effortlessly takes Gopnik down a notch or five:

In an article in The New Yorker about riding the bus, the author groused about how a "guy in a wheelchair held things up for three minutes." He said that "law and propriety dictate" that buses pick up, as he called us, the "wheelchair-bound." While he allowed that the lift is a "civic mitzvah" - the city's good deed, I suppose he meant - he said that the municipal employee had been "reduced, or raised, to a valet."
I would be embarrassed if I felt the drivers saw their role as personal valet or good Samaritan. They are public employees acting in fulfillment of federal law. They provide a critical service, one that enhances the comfort and safety of all New Yorkers.

In fact, it's been a long while since Adam Gopnik really enjoyed much buzz. He was The New Yorker's art-world wunderkind in the 1980s, and then moved on to pave the way for David Sedaris when he filed piece after piece on the idiosyncracies of his own overpaid middle-class French ex-pat life. Not many people thanked him, although his writing could be wonderful. Since his return to New York, however, I don't think he's written a single really worthwhile article.

The career trajectory of Gopnik's erstwhile editor, David Kuhn, has been similar. Long Tina Brown's right hand man, he was "v hot" at Vanity Fair and "v hot" at The New Yorker before becoming not hot at Talk and positively icy at Brill's Content.

All the same, these two men surely know buzz when they see it. Right now one of the most buzzworthy magazines in New York is Topic, the refreshing young magazine I lauded back in 2003 and which has only got better since. If you want to see the torch being passed on, the old guard honoring the new, then get yourself over to the Accompanied Library at the National Arts Club tomorrow night. Topic magazine is holding what it calls "an intimate night of literature (and booze)", hosted by Kuhn and featuring Gopnik. More importantly, however, your $30 ticket will also get you (a) into a lovely space well worth knowing about; (b) drunk; (c) well fed by Cook's Venture; and (d) a subscription to the magazine (worth $30 just on its own) which, if you don't want it for yourself, you can always give away as a Christmas present. What's not to like?

Remember – buy your tickets online now, since they won't be sold on the door. It really is a good cause.

Posted by Felix at 11:18 PM GMT | Comments (2)

Lys Mykyta

Re the Ukraine: I think it's important to differentiate what we're cheering for. I'm unequivocally in favor of there being a new vote, as it's beyond debate that there were widescale irregularities. But that's different from wanting to see one side win. I'd prefer a Yushchenko win, but that's subordinate a wish to seeing the people's will reflected in the popular vote.

It makes sense, if you are Ukrainian and a Yushchenko supporter, to go stand in the cold and drape yourself in orange — motive doesn't matter in righting a wrong. But it should also be possible for Yanukovich supporters to decide a re-election would be best, without this being interpreted by others as a switch of allegiance to Yushchenko.

This is why, for the sake of avoiding worst case scenarios such as civil war, we outside observers/bloggers should tone down the orange. Refrain from adding the Our Ukraine political party symbol to your blog or draping yourself in orange, unless of course you identify especially strongly with the specifics of that party's program. Just as in the US, this is not a choice between good and evil, but between pretty good and pretty bad, and guaranteeing the democratic process is a bigger prize than a win by either party.

Posted by Stefan at 11:50 AM GMT | Comments (6)

Evolving tactic

Since nationalism and religious fervour are highly correlated traits in humans, perhaps a backdoor to getting the excessively religious to accept evolution is to appeal to their nationalism. How? Turn creationism into an unAmerican activity. If you deny evolution, the terrorists have already won.

Posted by Stefan at 11:44 AM GMT | Comments (1)

The Badness of George XLIII

With the U.S. presidential election now safely in the rear view mirror, it may be a good time to address European animosity toward George W. Bush. From everything I've read and seen, W. is indeed widely loathed throughout Western Europe. Yurpeen venom is foolish and short-sighted for a number of reasons, but Europe really gave away the game when its media and statesmen tacitly attached culpability for the Iraq War to W. specifically, and not to the United States generally. From where I'm sitting, it looks like the next president will simply have to utter some friendly words about a "fresh start" or "new beginning" during his inaugural address, and Europe will swoon at his feet. [Update: like the scatterbrained, menepausal old maid that she is.] All parties will go back the status quo ante bellum, except for Iraq and Afghanistan and anybody else Bush overthrows in the next four years.

If my supposition is correct, it's a delightful state of affairs for the United States. Bush can do almost anything in his second term, and blame will be almost entirely attached to him rather than the country. Europe's blind loathing gives Bush a blank check to be even more aggressive in his second term.

This brings me to my idea for managing the Iranian nuclear problem. Bush should request a contingent declaration of war from Congress, to the effect that should Iran be shown to have developed or possess even one nuclear weapon, a state of war will immediately commence between the United States and Iran, with full support of the Congress for the deployment of nuclear weapons. Give it an expiration date in 2010.

Such a move would be blunt, but it removes the bullshit factor. If the mullahs understand that their country will immediately be nuked if the United States determines Iran itself has nukes, they'd have to be suicidal to continue their program. And then the E.U. could play "good cop" some more.

Normally a U.S. president wouldn't be so pushy, but where's the harm? Y'all already hate him.

Posted by Sterling at 03:17 AM GMT | Comments (74)

That's grand of ya.

While I was cruising down Interstate 95 in Bal'more this afternoon, I spotted something I hadn't seen in almost 15 years - a "26 + 6 = 1" bumper sticker. It was on a white minivan.

I thought we'd all agreed to put that stuff away? The governments of the UK and the Republic of Ireland - with a fair amount of support from the U.S. - managed to get two truly repulsive representatives of the two truly repulsive sides in one room, and they promised to stop killing people and get jobs.

In a way, it's a bit like all of those liberals in the U.S. who still have Dukakis/Bentsen stickers on their Volvos, except Michael Dukakis never killed anybody. That we know of.

Anyway - big time bumper sticker faux pas.

Posted by Sterling at 02:43 AM GMT | Comments (23)

November 24, 2004

Old Trots

Lance Knobel reprints a wonderful letter from the British foreign secretary today, in which the Rt. Hon. Mr. Straw displays his familiarity with various dead Commies. Lance then asks whether there is "any US politician that would admit to reading Lenin (even for research purposes), or who would know how to use terms like revanchism, false consciousness and splitism".

The irony, of course, is that Condi Rice, as an old Kremlinologist, probably knows more about Leninsim vs Trotskyism than Jack Straw does. (She might even be able to pull off that wonderful feat of explaining the difference between a Trotskyist and a Trotskyite.) But the idea of her ever penning a letter like this one is so outlandish that one wonders what might happen if she ever did, and whether an ice-pick might be involved...

Posted by Felix at 06:33 PM GMT | Comments (5)

November 22, 2004

Because I'm not done yet.

Verbatim, from a new Gallup Poll (anyone have access to the full results):

Only about a third of Americans believe that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a scientific theory that has been well supported by the evidence, while just as many say that it is just one of many theories and has not been supported by the evidence. The rest say they don't know enough to say. Forty-five percent of Americans also believe that God created human beings pretty much in their present form about 10,000 years ago. A third of Americans are biblical literalists who believe that the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word. (My italics)
So, that's 45% in the bag for Bush; he only had to convince 10% of the remaining 55% relatively sane people to vote for him to remain president. How did we ever think he might lose, especially considering that Sterling is technically in those 10%? [Via p-blog.]

Posted by Stefan at 05:33 PM GMT | Comments (72)

November 20, 2004

World's Oldest Man Dies. Again.

I don't have access to Nexis anymore, but it occurs to me that an interesting data gathering project would be to search out all the iterations of "world's oldest man/woman dies", and then find the average length of time between those headlines. My guess: about six months. It is in the nature of the honor that the title holder only rarely keeps it for very long.

Fred Hale, Sr. - age 113 - went to his eternal reward early this morning in Syracuse, New York. Hale was actually from Maine, where he was born on December 1, 1890 and spent most of his life. He moved to Syracuse only four years ago, at the same time he gave up driving, to be closer to his son Fred Hale, Jr., age 82. (The harsh Maine winters did not, apparently, enter into the equation.) He outlived three of his five children and his wife, but is survived by the world's oldest woman, 114-year-old Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper of the Netherlands. Hale became the world's oldest man in March, when Spaniard Joan Riudavets Moll shuffled off this mortal coil.

By all accounts Hale was a hell of a guy - he took up boogie boarding in his 90s on a trip to Hawaii, and rarely if ever lost his temper. Amusingly, he was a Red Sox fan; probably one of only a handful who clearly remembered both of Boston's last two World Series wins.

I recall truly knowing only three people born in the 19th century - my mother's aunt Daisy who was born in 1891 and died in 1984, my father's aunt Lucy who was born in 1895 and died the day after Christmas in 1997, and Charls [sic] Lerner, a World War I vet who was my barber when I was a boy. (Lerner's wife Elizabeth was reputed to be the witch of the Jersey Pine Barrens whose spells kept the Jersey Devil at bay, which was mighty nice of her.) Mr. Lerner died about eight or ten years ago. My recollection is that he was 101.

There's something very powerful about people who retain vigor and mental acuity into their 90s and beyond. Thomas Aquinas wrote that "great age is a mark of virtue, and therefore merits consideration and esteem." There's more to it than that, I think - obviously the long-lived are genetically blessed, but to survive to great age is also to be indomitable, to never give up or become weary of life, and to surrender to the night only when the flesh fails.

Posted by Sterling at 08:13 PM GMT | Comments (3)

November 19, 2004

Silly MoMA meme

As the first reviews of the new MoMA start getting printed, ArtsJournal bloggers are quoting some of them approvingly. Terry Teachout, for instance, singles out Justin Davidson and Ariella Budick in Newsday, complaining about the absence of "Fairfield Porter, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, John Marin, Philip Pearlstein, or Alex Katz". Tyler Green, meanwhile, quotes Christopher Knight in the LA Times, bemoaning "no Chris Burden, no Mike Kelley, no Lari Pittman, no Charles Ray".

This is a really stupid parlor game to play, of course: look for artists who aren't in the MoMA display and then blame MoMA for that. The facts are that MoMA doesn't even pretend to be exhaustive; that the space available for pre-1945 art has barely increased at all; and that after 1970 there's absolutely zero consensus on who the absolute must-have greats might be. Come on, critics: tell us how good the show is, not that it's not the show that you would have put on had you had your druthers. And don't even pretend that "a synoptic overview" (to quote Knight, again) of contemporary art is even conceivable, let alone something MoMA was trying to achieve.

Posted by Felix at 09:52 PM GMT | Comments (12)


It's Friday: let's metablog.

Recently I've come across two instances of diplomats blogging anonymously:

A third secretary at the Croatian Embassy in Washington DC was recently recalled after he was outed as writing a blog ( no longer up, and I can't even find a Google cache. let's not even start about how good my Serbo-Croatian is...) complaining about how bored he was (in DC! how is this possible?!), how all he did was dream about his girlfriend, and (what no doubt got him canned) how there was no difference between Bush and Kerry. Dubrovnik is lovely, though, (much nicer than Zagreb) and he seems to be the son of a TV journalist in Croatia, so I'm sure he'll land on his feet somewhere with his lovely lass in tow.

Via Dan Drezner (my kind of republican), our next diplomatic-blog-disaster-waiting-to-happen is the Diplomad, Sterling's kind of diplomat. While he tends to stoop to MemeFirst levels of childishness when talking about politics, he does have some relevant points about bureaucracy at State (although I wonder how useful his "fire is the solution to everything" approach is).

However, I think he's playing with fire in having a blog. Organizations like the State Dept. (and governement in general) place great stake in being "on message" at all levels, and, given the quasi-public nature of a blog, as soon as they figure out who he is (and he leaves a lot of clues), I imagine the DSS goons will decend on him like the proverbial million-pound shithammer (to borrow from Hunter S. Thompson). I give it three weeks.

Posted by Mike at 05:32 PM GMT | Comments (10)

Dear no more

Several news organizations have run a story today about how North Korea's Kim Jong-il is downplaying his cult of personality. The official media apparently are no longer referring to him as "Dear Leader".

Most Koreans, however, never refer to Kim as "Dear Leader", a sobriquet reserved for only the most public occasions. Rather he is generally referred to simply as "the General", so any such 'downgrade' of his titles is something that may not be relevant to North Koreans. The foreign media may be getting excited over nothing. Even if this does signify a change in Pyongyang politics, it may not necessarily mean bad news for Kim Jong-il.

Continue reading "Dear no more"
Posted by Jame at 08:47 AM GMT | Comments (5)

More monkey business

A nice little evolutionary timeline, for our evangelical friends who say there was so little time, it had to be divine intervention.

Posted by Jame at 08:06 AM GMT | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Mood indigo

This is enough to generate melancholy. Hardly news in my neck of the woods, of course, you see it every day. That it is only registering now in the US media is sad though predictable, and unlikely to change a thing.

Posted by Jame at 10:02 AM GMT | Comments (24)

November 17, 2004

Like shooting fish in a flat-screen

I assume most have seen this about an internet-based (as opposed to reality-based?) hunting outfit that is going to try to let you hunt and kill animals (deer, antelope, and wild pigs- not fuzzy kittens and cute rabbits) all over HTTP. It's very easy to exhibit outrage at this because it makes hunting easier.


I am outraged because it takes all the fun out of hunting.

Continue reading "Like shooting fish in a flat-screen"
Posted by Mike at 09:49 PM GMT | Comments (10)

Bullet time for DNA

CSC-Fig.5.jpgSometimes, it looks like scientists keep all the best toys to themselves. While posting this, I came to wonder what electron tomography might be.

Well, it turns out to let you make something similar to bullet time in the Matrix, where the camera seems to revolve around actors suspended in mid-air, except you do it with individual cells and DNA. Here are some movies of rotating mitochondria for you. Here are some incredibly cool pictures of DNA and viruses and an explanation of the methodology.

Posted by Stefan at 10:11 AM GMT | Comments (2)

The Fall-uja guy

Because Sterling is obviously queasy about this let me go grab the bull by the horns.

That marine did what you could have expected him to do: Boobytrapped bodies had killed marines before; he didn't know these wounded had already been captured a day earlier; there was a miscommunication; he was scared, tired, antsy, and had just been wounded himself... Hesitation can lead to death in a war zone — it's the fog of war and shit happens, and when in doubt shoot first and ask questions later... Or maybe the policy is not to shoot prisoners when there are cameras around, and this marine just lost the plot — literally.

Who knows. Except for the fact that this is yet another PR disaster for "us", I don't think it's a particularly surprising turn of events — I don't think there has ever been close combat in a modern war where neither side broke the law of war, because wars are incredibly messy, confused and angry things.

This is all the more reason why the case for a war should be iron-clad, and a measure of last resort: So that we can stomach breaches of jus in bello by our side. It's clear to me that when it came to WWII, abuses by allied forces would not have led me to question the justness of that war and the importance of winning it. In the Vietnam war, however, such abuses, vividly portrayed on TV, did lead Americans to question the war's larger point.

I don't think these lastest images will have the same galvanizing effect on those Americans who are not currently against the war; the images will however make the likelihood of a US policy success in Iraq slimmer, due to the galvanizing effect they are having on the country's Sunnis.

Posted by Stefan at 01:17 AM GMT | Comments (16)

November 16, 2004

Thank Christ Felix Stefan Finally Got Rid of The Purple

Man, but that purple crap was driving me to distraction. I didn't mention it before because then Felix might have left it up until the next presidential election, just to spite me.

That's really all I have to say.

Update: Actually, I might as well squeeze in my favorite headline of the day, just to fill space. It's "Shooting of Iraqi in Mosque Angers Muslims." It's right up there with "Man Throws Ball Up in Air - It Comes Right Back Down."

Posted by Sterling at 11:10 PM GMT | Comments (20)

November 15, 2004

When posses attack

Fel-X has the stuff of blogging dreams: A megabucks tour, a No. 1 album, a hagiographic concert film, and designs on a corner office at Euromoney. He also has the one thing no blogger has to dream about: an enraged entourage. One month into the "Best of Both Worlds" tour, a Fel-X associate named Eurof allegedly spritzed Fel-X's co-headliner Schmeffan and members of the Schmeffy entourage with pepper spray. X kicked S off the blog; S filed a $90 million lawsuit.

Could this dust-up be bad for Fel-X? Are there consequences for a blogger when his posse acts up? While Schmeffy's lawsuit claims "Eurof acted on instructions and authorization from Fel-X," netiquette holds that no blogger is his entourage's keeper. If bloggers had to give out $90 million every time their entourages misbehaved, the small-time internet execs and clueless surfers entourages typically prey on would dominate Forbes' list of the world's richest people.

Continue reading "When posses attack"
Posted by Jame at 11:33 AM GMT | Comments (9)

November 13, 2004

Vice President Edwards?

Vice President Cheney was taken to the George Washington University Hospital this morning, complaining of shortness of breath. I have great admiration for Mr. Cheney and I hope he recovers quickly. It is worth noting, however, that should his ailment persist or his ability to serve fall into doubt, there may be electoral consequences falling under the 12th Amendment. Given that the 538 electors each cast a vote for president and a vote for vice president, there are three possible scenarios:

1) If just 18 of the Bush/Cheney electors were to doubt Cheney's ability to serve and switch their vote from Cheney to Edwards, then the U.S. would have a Bush/Edwards administration.

2) If Cheney were to die or resign his office all 286 votes might be up for grabs. With Edwards just 18 votes from a majority, he would be the most likely to come away with the office - but he'd need to get a majority. Without a majority, the Senate would choose the vice president. It gets dicey here, because the Constitution says that the Senate must choose from the two vice presidential candidates with the highest electoral vote tally, and so it would be up the Bush/Cheney electors to agree among themselves on an acceptable alternative to Cheney before it got to the Senate. Dissension among Republicans could give the office to Edwards.

3) There's also a possibility that even in the face of Cheney's inability to serve, the GOP would remain steadfast and vote him in, and then let Bush choose a vice president as per the 25th Amendment. (Which is what the Democrats did in the 2000 Missouri U.S. Senate race.) The nominee would then have to be confirmed by a majority vote of both houses of Congress. I'm not sure if the Democrats would accept such a course, though, and they might bring the Supreme Court into the process to decide its legality.

Of course this might all be a ploy by Bush to give the vice presidency to Edwards and kill Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations once and for all.

Posted by Sterling at 08:30 PM GMT | Comments (0)

The disappearing public editor

What's happened to Dan Okrent's blog?

Aside from his column every two weeks in the Sunday New York Times, Dan Okrent occasionally writes shorter pieces online which might not fit into whatever he's writing about that fortnight.

His first day of posting, February 9, he managed three different entries, and he wrote nine more over the course of the rest of that short month, including four on February 19 alone. In March he posted 13 times, but that figure fell to just five in April, two in May, two in June, and one in July. Then he went on holiday.

When he came back, in September, he managed two more postings, but since then, silence. Nothing at all for the entire month of October, when one might have thought there was quite a lot for him to write about, and nothing in November so far. Can we conclude that Okrent is tired of his difficult job?

Posted by Felix at 04:56 PM GMT | Comments (1)

Quartered safe back home

Patriotism, said someone or other, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Flag waving and militarism, I always thought, tend to be the preserves of generally younger people and younger countries, or the naive, impressionable, romantic and isolated: in all, people and groups with no idea about the meaning of conflict and its cost.

I got sent this by an almost anonymous emailer. The writer added "go on, annoy Sterling". I have no idea as to the veracity of the military records of the figures listed, and I could take issue with the fact that the sample is not a controlled or exhaustive one. I don't even know who many of them are (Ted Nugent?). But I just thought it was amusing if not instructive, and annoying Sterling is a gift that keeps on giving.

Continue reading "Quartered safe back home"
Posted by Eurof at 03:59 PM GMT | Comments (19)

Who wants to claim the Incredibles?

I saw The Incredibles last night on opening night here in Stockholm, a week behind the US, and I am just shocked, shocked you other MemeFirsters haven't blogged this yet. It was the shortest two hours of my life, thanks in no small part to Elastigirl (I'm so smitten). That good. BUT. Do we approve of the message? What kind of movie is it? For example:

  • It's against trial lawyers. Is it Republican?
  • It's against affirmative action. Republican again?
  • It's against big insurance. Democrat?
  • "If everyone is special, no-one is." Rampantly Ayn Randian?
  • The superheroes are clearly Supermen, shackled by society. Nietzschean propaganda?
  • Superheroes are worshipped by the populace as the demigods they are. Polytheists encouraging the worship of false idols? Not really sending a proper Christian message, now is it?
  • Syndrome is brilliant, overcoming his genetic deficiencies through mental application and dedication. He's lived the American dream, where hard work earns you rewards. But this is bad? Is this movie anti-American, old-Europe commie-royalist claptrap?
Posted by Stefan at 01:24 PM GMT | Comments (13)

November 11, 2004

What's the BBC?

Here's a thought exercise for you. Assuming that the BBC's deliberate misrepresentation of events in Fallujah is intended to damage the American military effort, what does that make the BBC? Is the BBC an enemy collaborator?

And if the Beeb is an enemy collaborator - and I believe it is - is there a good reason why the United States government shouldn't freeze the BBC's American assets and expel all BBC reporters in the U.S. and Iraq? Aside from the PR consequences, I can't think of one. Maybe you all can?

The BBC is increasing the risk faced by American soldiers and giving aid and comfort to the enemy. Its dishonest and harmful activities must cease one way or another, as soon as possible.

(Also see Little Green Footballs on this.)

Posted by Sterling at 08:10 PM GMT | Comments (55)

Arafat II

I don't know what's on CNN USA, but CNN International's nonstop Arafat death coverage is getting a bit ridiculous: Just now, long lingering shots of the plane as it taxied down a Paris runway while anchors provide droning filler, then "Let's just observe the takeoff" and we indeed did just that...

The only reason Arafat died in office is because he never could stomach democracy. I understand that there is some insightful commentary to be had on the chances of peace in the Middle East now, and I guess CNN International has to compete with Al Jazeera in many of its markets, but Arafat's funeral is getting as much overexposure right now as Reagan did on Fox.

Posted by Stefan at 04:52 PM GMT | Comments (5)

Swearing allegiance

Maybe we should try to get this guy to write for MemeFirst...

Posted by Stefan at 11:35 AM GMT | Comments (6)

November 10, 2004

God's army

Fallujah prayer: A rosary hangs off the barrel of a machinegun mounted on a Bradley belonging to the 1st Cavalry Regiment 5th Battalion positioned on the outskirts of Fallujah. (AFP/Patrick Baz)

Is that like go-faster stripes on a Camero? Is Al Qaeda's recruitment director hiding among the infidels, driving a Bradley? Does that guy think "winning hearts and minds" refers to actual organs? Does the tank also have a WWJD bumper sticker on the back? Do you feel like a caption competition?

Posted by Stefan at 09:36 AM GMT | Comments (15)

November 09, 2004

I need a harder target

ATLANTA (AP) - A trial opened Monday over whether a warning sticker in suburban Atlanta biology textbooks that says evolution is "a theory, not a fact'' violates the separation of church and state by promoting religion.
[...] Cobb County schools put the disclaimers in biology texts two years ago after more than 2,000 parents complained the books presented evolution as fact without mentioning rival ideas about the origin of life, namely creationism. A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union then filed a lawsuit over the stickers.

The stickers are correct: Of course evolution is a theory. So are all mental constructs we employ in our quest to avoid dying before procreating. Some of these constructs even survive rigorous empirical tests — for example, evolution. Some do not — for example, creationism.

Personally, I'd be offering to settle with stickers intact on the schoolbooks if all bibles in the county get a sticker that reads "Faith, not fact". Very Solomonic of me, no? [1 Kings 3:25]

Posted by Stefan at 01:03 AM GMT | Comments (79)

November 08, 2004

The best electoral map yet

For the full explanation, go here. (Via Lance)

Posted by Felix at 07:10 PM GMT | Comments (8)

November 07, 2004

Genius I (Morons II)

Earlier this year I blogged the publicly available software that lets us all view and analyze data from the Mars rovers on pretty much the same terms as NASA, though (tantalizingly? mercifully?) not letting us take actual command of the rovers for our own pleasure rides or misbegotten investigations. I even named a rock MemeFirst, albeit just within the confines of my Mac:


Fast forward to one of the coolest NYT articles, ever.

Continue reading "Genius I (Morons II)"
Posted by Stefan at 04:16 PM GMT | Comments (7)

Morons I. The post-election special

So the consensus among the three smart republicans I know seems to be that while of course gays should be allowed to marry, individual American states should decide such matters in their legislatures, instead of by an unelected judiciary, even if that means gays will never be allowed to marry there since those states are hopelessly socially backward. This is because states rights is a more important concept to defend than equal rights for individuals. If you can't have the latter without breaking the former, you have to abandon the latter. Am I paraphrasing that right?

The right to marry for gays is nowhere near as important as the abolition of slavery, and not worth fighting a war over. The moral wrong of slavery is more akin to laws making homosexuality a crime, and both those battles have already been won. But the issue of gays marrying is like the issue of segregation in the US, and there SCOTUS did feel warranted in intervening to ensure the equal rights of citizens, against the wishes of the voting majority in some states.

Had SCOTUS not intervened, what would things look like today? Would blacks still be "separate but equal"? Would the enterprising and creative ones all have moved to New England by now? Would there be race riots? Would socially enlightened companies like Mercedes be building factories there? Should or would New Yorkers have anything but contempt for white majorities in segregation states today?

The exact same questions arise now regarding the gay marriage debate. If this thing get settled at the state-level, I think I know who the winners and losers will be: Gays who stay put in socially backward states will lose, while states that allow gay marriage (and Canada) will win as they accrue a creative cosmopolitan workforce and those companies who want access to it. But the US as a whole will be diminished, since a significant amount of its own citizenry cannot see past their own bigotry to apply the basic tenets of their constitution consistently. And this hurts the idea of America.

But let's entertain the notion for a minute that, like in the South with segregation, electoral majorities just "aren't ready" for gay marriage, and foisting this right upon them will just lead to the kind of social unrest that tears apart the fabric of society and their trust in the judiciary and the federal government. Fine. That doesn't make them any less stupid, bigoted or contemptible, however, and I am in a mood to let them know.

Posted by Stefan at 12:39 PM GMT | Comments (41)

November 06, 2004

Beware the fnords

The New York Times today runs its quadrennial editorial arguing for the repeal of the Electoral College. I was following the argument pretty well until I came upon this sentence: "The spectacle of Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry all but setting up housekeeping in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida while they acted as if California and New York were barely in the Union, should have driven home the irrationality of the system."

Funny, I have a vague recollection that the Republican National Convention (also quadrennial) was held in Manhattan just two months ago. Nearly every important Republican from the county level on up spent a whole week in Manhattan. Included quite prominently in the mix were the governor of California, the former mayor of New York City and the current governor of New York State. Does anyone really believe that New York and California lack influence at the national level?

Further along, the editorial also claims that a repeal of the Electoral College "...would deal a body blow only to some special interests that currently luxuriate in being able to wield disproportionate influence in swing states: the sugar lobby, the Cuban refugee bloc and the gun lobby, to name just a few." Two of those consistently lean right. And the third - the sugar lobby!? Have I somehow missed the diabolical machinations of sugar producers? The term "sugar lobby" scores less than 2000 hits on Google, roughly 10% of Memefirst's impact. How big a threat could it be? Or is the Times' just laying the groundwork to move on to a new crusade against the menace of fructose, since it's pretty much exhausted past topics such as Augusta National and Abu Ghraib? (And if the Times succeeds in its campaign against sugar, what will Democrats use to coat their crypto-socialist agenda?)

The Times might have made a more compelling argument if it had listed the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the NEA, the AFT, People for the American Way, or any number of other left-leaning pressure groups and 527s that also "wield disproportionate influence". (I don't recall the Times complaining when a few billionaires attempted to buy the election for Kerry, either.) If the Times wants to have more influence in how elections are decided, it might start by once again becoming a newspaper that conservative Americans can read without gagging. It might regain some of its lost authority. Leave the Constitution out of it.

Posted by Sterling at 05:40 PM GMT | Comments (9)

November 05, 2004

Schrodinger's Arafat

Is Arafat dead or not? Some people say yes, some people say no, and some people say yes and no. What do you think? Has he stayed or did he go, now? If he stays there could be trouble, but if he goes it could be double. So c'mon, let me know - has he stayed or did he go?

Memefirst pool - guess the time of Arafat's death, closest time without going over wins. Entries in GMT, only. First prize is something of almost unheard of rarity - Eurof will pay you a compliment.

Posted by Sterling at 02:53 AM GMT | Comments (18)

November 04, 2004

Real-time revisionism

Nick Denton, November 2:

Calling the election for Kerry · Major media is in an increasingly untenable position. The exit polls are indicating Kerry is now the favorite. The numbers are leaking out through every orifice. For the latest numbers, see Wonkette. On Tradesports, Bush has gone from 53% likely to win re-election, as of 2pm, to 30% as I write, at 5.20 EST. And the headlines? Long lines greet voters, says CNN. Heavy turnout at the polls, according to Fox. In an internet era, it's impossible to maintain an information embargo, particularly when attention is so intense. The news organizations put up bland holding headlines, so as not to affect polling while stations are still open. This is the last election cycle they'll be so restrained. This embargo has gone beyond responsible journalism; it's verging on Luddism. But, hey, guys: thanks for making the internet look good.

Nick Denton, a bit later on November 2:

And we project... · Based on the early calls by the networks, and the exit polls, this is the way it's going: 299 to Kerry; 222 to Bush, with Nevada, Iowa and New Mexico tied.

Nick Denton, later still on November 2:

Those exit polls were pretty dodgy, weren't they?

Choire Sicha, November 4:

At every opportunity, most bloggers made disclaimers about the meaningless ness (or, at least, the unknown meaning) of the numbers found in exit polls. (Drudge didn't, as I recall.) Many linked to explanations and debunkings, such as the ones by Mystery Pollster. At no time did any weblog that I read make a "call" for Kerry based on these numbers. The numbers were described as being very favorable to Kerry, which they were -- and then were usually disclaimed.

Yes, folks, Nick is Choire's boss.

Posted by Felix at 09:16 PM GMT | Comments (9)


What disturbs me about this election result is that the GOP marshalled such huge numbers of people who voted on 'moral' issues. To be crude, the election was decided by rural churchgoers who don't like the idea of gay marriage or abortion.

Although I'm aware that a lot of people hold these views in America, I confess I'm mystified about why this is the trump campaign issue. It seems that the President can damage our foreign relations, imperil our civil rights and ignore any hint of economic probity, but as long as he supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, he gets voted in. Again, to be crude, Americans go for bombast and culture crusades instead of a thoughtful examination of the challenges the country faces.

I acknowledge that this is not how evalengelicals see it. They apparently see the Republicans saving America from a moral disaster that, if not reversed, will sweep us all into...what, damnation? Armaggedon? I'm an East Coast liberal (in the classic sense but sometimes in the contemporary American sense) who has spent most of the past decade abroad. I can't claim to speak for the average American. But I am increasingly unable to understand the average American, except in the most abstract ways.

Two reasons for this come to mind. One is our education system. Education must teach people to think critically, if democracy is to work properly. I felt I got these tools in my public education, but I wonder if I was the exception.

The second reason is the media. I find CNN appalling, let alone Fox, or the local news stations I watch when I'm visiting the US. This isn't about bias, but the abliity to be analytical, to attempt to hold people's attention for more than 30 seconds, to facilitate critical thinking instead of repeating bald nostrums. We don't have TV news anymore in America, we have infotainment. I just had a long business trip where my only English-language channels were CNN and BBC, and the difference is alarming.

I wish I had clever answers to these problems.

Posted by Jame at 05:26 AM GMT | Comments (83)

November 03, 2004

Stick a fork in John Zogby?

Kerry and Edwards come out of this election looking pretty good - they lost, but kept their dignity. Pollster John Zogby, however, has damaged his reputation. Zogby publicly called the election for Kerry - in a landslide - at 5pm yesterday, before polls were closed. In addition to being profoundly incorrect, it was also reckless and irresponsible for a nationally known pollster to "call" an election while polls were still open throughout the United States.

He is defiant today, releasing the following statement on his site:

We feel strongly that our pre-election polls were accurate on virtually every state. Our predictions on many of the key battleground states like Ohio and Florida were within the margin of error. I thought we captured a trend, but apparently that result didnít materialize.

We always saw a close race, and a close race is what weíve got. Iíve called this the Armageddon Election for some timeóa closely-divided electorate with high partisan intensity on each side.

You'll note that in no place does he admit an error. He made no mistake, you see - the fault is with the electorate, for not voting in such a fashion to make his predicted result "materialize". In an effort to help Zogby salvage his reputation, here's how I'd write the mea culpa:
Well, I screwed up big time. I had a notion of how the election would go that was completely incorrect. It was not my intention to affect election results, and I regret any confusion that may have occurred when I declared a winner at 5pm. I was wrong on the results, and I was wrong in my conduct. In the former case I hope my clients will forgive me for relying overmuch on exit polls. In the latter, I hope my fellow Americans will forgive me for breaking a reasonable tradition and possibly damping turnout throughout the country.
This is no time for hubris. A pollster can adjust his models when he finds them incorrect, but there is no corrective measure once he has lost his reputation for fairness and integrity. Right now a lot of people - including me - suspect that Zogby was up to no good yesterday. His burden is to convince people otherwise.

Posted by Sterling at 08:09 PM GMT | Comments (7)

Raw data

Yesterday, after seeing the raw exit poll data, I got very excited – and so, it would seem, did everybody from Tradesports to the NYSE. Of course, the vast majority of us are not pollsters and have no expertise whatsoever in understanding or interpreting that data, but that didn't stop us from jumping to conclusions. I think there's a word for what we did – could it be stovepiping?

Posted by Felix at 07:19 PM GMT | Comments (2)

How much of a shake-up?

There will obviously be changes in the cabinet and top-level staff for the second term, but how much? When Nixon won in 1972, he fired everybody and then went to Camp David for two weeks to build a new executive branch leadership. I doubt Bush will do anything so radical, but he may fire a significant number of people. Some suggestions:

  • Powell's performance has been wobbly, his office leak-prone and his ego irrepressible - he must go.
  • Likewise, Rumsfeld appears to have become cobwebbed and ineffectual in his office, and should also be replaced.
  • Norman Minetta, Secretary of Transportation, should be ridden out of town on a rail.
  • John Ashcroft has served his time at Justice under constant fire, and may actually resign within the next few days. If not, fire him.

    I am not well enough versed to pass judgement on the rest of the cabinet, but Bush surely is. He should strive to err on the side of being too aggressive in cleaning up his cabinet.

    Posted by Sterling at 04:55 PM GMT | Comments (10)

  • Avanti Populi!


    Italian blog Wittgenstein points to this morning's edition of Il Manifesto.

    Posted by Stefan at 11:23 AM GMT | Comments (1)

    What does it mean?

    I'll be brief because I want to go to bed. At this point - 0800 GMT - it is clear that Bush has won re-election, by a clear and unassailable margin of victory in the popular vote. No president has captured an absolute majority of the popular vote since 1988 - Clinton never got so much of the vote. Bush has managed this feat for the first time in 16 years.

    As I write this Bush has 269 electoral votes, with more likely to come. 269 is not enough to win but is enough to tie the best Kerry can hope for. If Kerry were also to get 269 votes - which seems unlikely - then the election would be kicked into the House of Representatives in January. The House would almost certainly re-elect Bush. So any way you look at it, Bush wins.

    It is also clear that the GOP has picked up a handful of seats in the House of Representatives, and a significant number of seats in the Senate. Presidents generally do not have coattails going into their second term - I don't think any president has managed this feat since Johnson in 1964. Bush has delivered coattails to congressional candidates.

    This is a powerful victory, and an endorsement of Bush's policies by the American people. He has won and expanded his party's leadership in Congress. Bush will have something approaching carte blanche to reshape the Supreme Court and to continue his agressive foreign policy, if he so chooses.

    Posted by Sterling at 08:06 AM GMT | Comments (27)

    MemeFirst endorses Bush

    I've decided I now support Bush. Speaking for all MF "sources" as I know I do, we want all 3 of our readers to go out and vote Republican. I mean it. I hope it's not too late for this site to influence the outcome. Apart from our natural tendency here to support the underdog, here are 10 reasons why:

    Continue reading "MemeFirst endorses Bush"
    Posted by Eurof at 12:09 AM GMT | Comments (12)

    November 02, 2004

    United States Reference Terminology

    I'm assuming we're getting more European traffic than usual. So, to help out, the postal abbreviations for US states are here. There's a good interactive electoral college map here.

    If you have any questions about what something means, ask it in the comments section of this post.

    Posted by Sterling at 08:01 PM GMT | Comments (14)

    For the Love of Karl Rove

    Karl Rove unloveable? There exists evidence to the contrary. Who would have thought that someone would set up a website proclaiming their true love for the man behind the puppet propped up by Cheney. I must admit, even a liberal like me gets a bit misty when I look at I Love Karl Rove.

    Just one example of the poesy of Rovey contained therein:

    Good states are Red
    Bad states are not
    We'll make up the difference
    And never get caught!

    Posted by Gherm at 08:01 PM GMT | Comments (0)

    Go Kerry!

    I've been increasingly optimistic that Kerry is going to win this election for a few days now, but Wonkette's exit polls show a huge victory for the Democrat – I make it at least 315 electoral votes in total, including all three of the big states (FL, OH, PA), with Pennsylvania going Democratic by an enormous 20-point margin. I have a feeling I'll be celebrating tonight...

    Posted by Felix at 07:23 PM GMT | Comments (63)

    Toke Vote

    Due to the attention focused on the presidential election, it has gone largely unnoticed that Alaska is voting today whether to largely decriminalize the possession and sale of marijuana. Alaska already has a very open drug culture. Assuming it passes, the Alaska legislature will be obliged to define laws and regulations for marijuana trafficking, possession and consumption. It will be interesting to see whether the Feds will act to counter this, and what they do.

    Amusingly, the leader of the opposition group owns a drug testing lab.

    Posted by Sterling at 07:07 PM GMT | Comments (2)

    Your voting instructions: A A B B C C

    In an effort to let people blow off election-day steam,
    The Post is soliciting poetry: election-themed.
    Sonnets, couplets, limericks, and more,
    Itís elephants, asses, and greens galore.
    From the funny and light, to the serious and sublime
    Itís a surprisingly original way to pass this down-time.

    Posted by Mike at 04:58 PM GMT | Comments (1)

    November 01, 2004

    Your voting instructions

    You might have thought, after the Guardian letter-writing campaign, that Republicans tend to resent foreigners who try to influence the US presidential elections through earnest appeals.

    You'd be wrong.

    They are not at all averse to foreign meddling if it's of the correct kind: Eagle-eyed blogger Jonas SŲderstrŲm has found Swedes manning a phone bank in Texas urging callees to vote for Bush. They provide fodder for some unintentionally hilarious quotes. (Even better, Jonas suspects he knows who they are: whippersnapper youth wing leaders of the Swedish right-of-center Moderat party.)

    I'm glad they have established this precendent...

    Now go vote for Kerry. I'm Belgian, and I approve of this message.

    Posted by Stefan at 11:52 PM GMT | Comments (24)


    If you haven't already seen the Rawhide video, here's a link. I love it even more than the JibJab stuff.

    Posted by Sterling at 05:20 AM GMT | Comments (7)