Saturday, February 11, 2006

Did Rumsfeld sugar the FDA?

There's an article on the front page of the Sunday New York Times Business section which reports that a cancer researcer in Italy found after a seven-year study that the artificial sweetner aspartame (Nutra-Sweet or Equal) may be carcinogenic.
The research found that the sweetener was associated with unusually high rates of lymphomas, leukemias and other cancers in rats that had been given doses of it starting at what would be equivalent to four to five 20-ounce bottles of diet soda a day for a 150-pound person. The study, which involved 1,900 laboratory rats and cost $1 million, was conducted at the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, a nonprofit organization that studies cancer-causing substances; Dr. Soffritti is its scientific director.

The artficial sweetner trade organization disputes the results, of course:

It said Dr. Soffritti's study flew in the face of four earlier cancer studies that aspartame's creator, G. D. Searle & Company, had underwritten and used to persuade the Food and Drug Administration to approve it for human consumption.
Later on, buried deep inside the story, is this interesting fact:
Others have also challenged Searle's studies. Documents from the F.D.A. and records from the Federal Register indicate that, in the years before the F.D.A. approved aspartame, the agency had serious concerns about the accuracy and credibility of Searle's aspartame studies. From 1977 to 1985 — during much of the approval process — Searle was headed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, who is now the secretary of defense; Searle was acquired by Monsanto in 1985.

I don't have a "side" in this dispute. I don't drink beverages with artificial sweetners (except that my wife slips some Splenda (sucralose) into my homemade ice tea when she thinks I'm not paying attention), and I have to wonder whether the study compared the results for aspartme against not only a placebo but against equialent amounts of sugar, to determine if aspartame is more or less carcinogenic than the alternative -- but, still, any mention of Rumsfeld makes me terribly suspicious, and leaves me wondering if he worked his magic with the FDA to help get aspartame approved.

I mean, that is why corporations get guys like Rumsfeld and Cheney as their CEO's, isn't it? Not because of their organizational genius, or their thorough knowledge of the ins and out of the business, but because they can grease the wheels of the Federal bureacracy and get favorable legislation through Congress, right?

Next best thing to owning a politician is to own an ex-politician with great connections.

[Cross-posted to a Daily Kos diary]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/11/2006 10:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, February 10, 2006

Lawyers to the rescue

I admit it, there are times when I feel that I should rename this weblog "Digby's Clipping Service", but, damn it all, there are just some things that must be reposted. I could rephrase his ideas in my own words, or just riff off them (which I'm going to do in any case), but I'd rather give you an extended excerpt and tell you to go read the post:
I wrote sometime back that we had reached a point with this administration that we were entirely dependent upon the integrity of a few members of the legal community to save the country. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but I think it may literally be true.

I'm not usually a big friend of tough prosecutors. I hate the drug war and I think they play fast and loose when trying to take down a target by squeezing people who are only peripherally involved. There is always tension between civil libertarians and the government and that is as it should be. It's that balance that allows us to live in a (mostly) civilized society.

When a government becomes corrupt and power mad one normally depends upon the political opposition and the press to sound the alarm --- and to some extent that has happened. But due to a corporate media that pumps non-stop sensation into people's heads 24 hours a day, the signal to noise ratio is seriously out of whack, even when something very important happens. Only terrorist attacks and catastrophic natural disasters can break through the static. As Peter Daou writes today, the sheer number of scandals makes it almost impossible for the press and the public to see any of them clearly.

And even if something begins to break through, we know from the Plame scandal and others that the administration exerts an iron grip on the media almost as painful as the one with which it chokes dissenters in its own party. After all, when Scooter Libby called Tim Russert to complain about Chris Matthews' coverage, bureau chief Russert didn't simply say that Matthews had a right to his opinion or that NBC always provided a forum for the administration to rebut any claims and leave it at that. No, he reported Libby's complaints to the president of NBC, Matthews' bosses. I think that pretty much tells the tale of the Washington press corps in a nutshell. I wouldn't count on them to help us out of this mess.

In addition, our two party tradition provides for very little real power to be invested in an oppostion party on its own --- the rules have been devised for bipartisan compromise. When you have a very disciplined majority (even if only with a slight numerical advantage) the minority party can be virtually shut out of government, as in a parliamentary system. We have little experience with this kind of government and without the open floor debate and partisan press that exists in other systems, this makes for very lopsided power structure.

The structural political imbalance, the media cacophany and the overwhelming numbers of crises and scandals both large and small have virtually paralyzed this country's ability to deal with the very serious constitutional crisis that is developing over the president's assertion of unlimited executive and warmaking powers. I think the law is our only backstop on this. It's appearing more and more that we are going to have to ask certain lawyers, cops and judges who understand that their duty to their country is bigger than their duty to this president to step up.

As I said, read the whole thing here.

In a sense, we're suffering through one of the ramifications of the Founders not anticipating the rise of political parties, and failing to make allowances for them in our system, for their choosing not to go with a Parliamentary system (in which the Head of Government is an integral part of the Legislature), and for their choice to combine the roles of Head of State with Head of Government in the person of the President. They counted on the natural tensions which should obtain between the Executive and the Legislature to provide a check on the power of both, but failed to conceive of the type of modern political party which could hold strict control of both parts of the government, thereby eliminating (for the most part) that tension and erasing their value to block abuses by the other.

And when the Press, another institution not quite anticipated by the Founders (except in the afterthought of the First Amendment), is neutered, as ours is currently, another check from outside the government is eliminated as well, opening things up (or closing them down, depending on your point of view) even more.

Since Congress is a multi-headed creature (even when strictly controlled by one party), and the President stands alone, it was almost inevitable that he would accumulate more power over time, which means that when checks are eliminated, it's the President who is the most likely to abuse his power in ways that are damaging to the national polity. (Congress instead plays out its lack of a checking influence through rampant personal and institutional corruption, which we're also seeing.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2006 09:38:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Knew, didn't care

Senate Democrats investigating FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina say they have documented nearly 30 instances in which federal and local government officials gave early reports on Aug. 29 that levees had broken and that New Orleans was flooding, including one report at 8:30 a.m. the day of the storm.

That information is likely to raise fresh questions about why President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff were evidently unaware of the flooding until the day after the storm.

Geez! I was following the storm closely here in New York via media reports, and I blogged about the first rumors of problems with the levees at 10:10am Eastern, which would be 9:10am local time in New Orleans, and then posted an AP confirmation of a breach at 11:30am Eastern.

Maybe the Feds ought to replace their emergency management system with a couple of bloggers with CNN and web access.

"The first communication came at 8:30 a.m. (Monday). So, it is inexplicable to me how those responsible for the federal response could have woken up Tuesday morning unaware of this obviously catastrophic situation," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, said.

The Democrats released the analysis and a new batch of FEMA e-mails Thursday in advance of a Senate hearing Friday featuring former FEMA Director Mike Brown. Brown resigned after coming under relentless criticism about FEMA's response to Katrina.

According to the records compiled by the Senate investigators, New Orleans Homeland Security Director Col. Terry Ebbert said in an 8:30 a.m. conference calls that the levees had broken.

"We're faced with major flooding both in the east, East New Orleans, and then out on the lakefront," Ebbert is reported to have said. FEMA and National Weather Service personnel participated in the call, the analysis says.

At 9:36 a.m., a FEMA employee stationed at the National Hurricane Center e-mailed FEMA official Michael Lowder that a report had been received that a levee in Arabi, next to the Industrial Canal, had failed.

And at 10 a.m., a DHS official e-mailed DHS headquarters in Washington: "It is getting bad. Major flooding in some parts of the city. People are calling in for rescue saying they are trapped in attics, etc. That means water is 10 feet high there already."

A White House Homeland Security Council report at 11:13 a.m. takes note of the dire reports. It reads in part: "Flooding is significant throughout the region and a levee in New Orleans has reportedly been breached sending 6-8 feet of water throughout the 9th Ward area of the city."

So it's not that the Administration wasn't getting the information, it's that they didn't give a damn! (And they still don't, except to the extent that it might cause them political damage.)

Evil is the absence of empathy.

Update: It's even worse than the CNN story made it appear -- they actually knew about the levee breach the night before, according to the New York Times:

Congressional investigators have now learned that an eyewitness account of the flooding from a federal emergency official reached the Homeland Security Department's headquarters starting at 9:27 p.m. the day before, and the White House itself at midnight. [Emphasis added -- Ed]

The Federal Emergency Management Agency official, Marty Bahamonde, first heard of a major levee breach Monday morning. By late Monday afternoon, Mr. Bahamonde had hitched a ride on a Coast Guard helicopter over the breach at the 17th Street Canal to confirm the extensive flooding. He then telephoned his report to FEMA headquarters in Washington, which notified the Homeland Security Department.

"FYI from FEMA," said an e-mail message from the agency's public affairs staff describing the helicopter flight, sent Monday night at 9:27 to the chief of staff of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and recently unearthed by investigators. Conditions, the message said, "are far more serious than media reports are currently reflecting. Finding extensive flooding and more stranded people than they had thought — also a number of fires."

Michael D. Brown, who was the director of FEMA until he resigned under pressure on Sept. 12, said in a telephone interview Thursday that he personally notified the White House of this news that night, though he declined to identify the official he spoke to.

White House officials have confirmed to Congressional investigators that the report of the levee break arrived there at midnight, and Trent Duffy, the White House spokesman, acknowledged as much in an interview this week, though he said it was surrounded with conflicting reports.

But the alert did not seem to register.

Of course not, to register, someone would have to care.

Somebody high up in the Bush Administration would have to understand that there really is a serious and solemn purpose to governance, that the awesome machinery of the Federal bureaucracy doesn't exist to line the pockets of the people in power, or to help out your political backers by crushing any restriction that inhibits them doing anything they want, or to push through your pet ideological fancies, or to reward the prejudices of the people who voted for you. No, there really are people who understand, who feel it in their gut and know it in their bones, that the government is there to do some good, to contribute to the common welfare of the country, to help out whenever it can, to keep the poor and defenseless and the average guy from being picked on by the stronger and more powerful, and to keep us all safe.

But there was no one like that around to notice when the word came in that New Orleans was drowning, and badly needed help.

Heckuva job!

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2006 08:29:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


It's almost that time!

To a baseball fan in wintertime, there are no sweeter words than these: "Pitchers and catchers report to spring training camp in one week."

Hooray! Our long wait is coming to an end, the countdown to the start of the season can begin.

New York baseball fans can catch up on news of our hometown teams at these sites:

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/10/2006 03:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Anger can be good

So says John Colton:
I am filled with RIGHTEOUS ANGER about what is being done to our country by this administration and this congress!

Democrats all around the nation should agree with the right and say that all Americans should be angry! We are spending billions of dollars on an unwinnable situation in Iraq - notice that I didn't say an "unwinnable WAR" in Iraq. This administration's leadership of and conduct of this war and its reconstruction is what is unwinnable. Let there be no doubt that our men and women in uniform can WIN any battle they are sent into - provided they are given SMART and ADEQUATE leadership and the tools they need to both defend themselves and lead an effective offense.

Democrats should also agree that we are angry with the class struggles taking place within this country - a struggle Democrats did not start. By placing themselves above the law and by favoring the rich, this administration exaserbated the "Culture War" Pat Buchanan foretold in his speech to the 1992 Republican Convention. He just lied about how it got started.

Democrats should also agree that we are angry with this administration's response to Katrina/Rita! Empty promises and photo opportunities with supporters / kool-aid drinkers in the stricken areas are not going to provide permanent housing or reunite families or help put this horrible trauma behind us.

Democrats should also agree that we are angry with an administration and a Republican Party that has wiped its collective ass on our Constitution! There are three (!) CO-EQUAL branches of government - no matter what Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Roberts, Alito, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, Wolfowitz, Rice, etc. maintain. By offering to "listen to ideas" the Congress may have on reigning in the domestic spying that is going on in this country just shows how little respect this crowd has for the rule of law.

The problem with anger is that it can turn people off, which loses votes, but the value of anger is that it really motivates you. Let's channel our legitimate and justified righteous anger into support for candidates who can help take down the right-wing machine and replace it, once again, with representative government.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 09:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



The real question about the AP story which tries to sully Harry Reid and tar him with Abramoff scandal, is not whether it's true, since the story is completely lacking in any quid pro quo, or even in any action by Reid that was favorable to Abramoff's firm's clients -- no, the real question is which Republican operative(s) fed the story to these two particular stenographers, John Solomon and Sharon Theimer? And, will the media see it for the sham it is, or latch onto is as "proof" that the Abramoff scandal show equal opportunity corruption, as the White House, the RNC, Fox News and the Washington Post have claimed.

More indication that the Republicans are really worried about the Abramoff thing.

Addenda: My general philosophy is that when things pop up that are terribly convenient or just too good to be true, they probably are, indeed, too good to be true. When that happens, it's worthwhile to take the stance that they're untrue until otherwise proven. Application of both Occam's Razor and the principle of cui bono or "Who benefits?" are then called for. If subsequent investigation reveals the revelations to be true, there's no dishonor in changing you mind and accepting them, but, in the meantime, you've taken steps to prevent too much bullshit from seeping into your life.

Update: Josh Marshall quotes an e-mail from a senior Democratic staffer on the Hill:
Its not illegal to be lobbied, and hell, we couldn't do our jobs if we didn't interact with them. Legislation/regulation/oversight can't be done solely by Google research. What is illegal is to go out of your way, and use your position, as quid pro quo for gifts, jobs, and campaign contributions. The vast majority of Democratic staffers work on the Hill, despite the miserable pay and long hours, to try to achieve some measure of good. Many, many Republican staffers- convinced that government is an evil- work here in order to make money off that necessary evil. That breeds corruption. When you have a majority of members and staffers that could care less about policy ad governing and more about power/influence/money/profit Abramoff is inevitable. When the hard, tedious work of legislating and oversight is done by people motivated by careerism rather than professionalism not only do you have Abramoff, but you have Michael Brown, Halliburton, and illegal NSA wiretapping.

Even some of my liberal friends (and at least one liberal blogger who should know better) are concerned that the Reid allegations are in some way corrupt or unethical -- they're not.

More: Digby:

When Republicans are in charge, watch your wallets. Corruption and incompetence naturally stem from sending people who hate the government to Washington. They obviously aren't there to be responsive to the public because they don't believe the government can or should be responsive to the public. They are either there to exercize power for power's sake, make contacts and build their careers or they are second rate hacks who can't make it in the private sector. Democrats come to Washington to do good. Republicans come to Washington to feed at the trough.

As I wrote on another post:

[T]here really is a serious and solemn purpose to governance ... the awesome machinery of the Federal bureaucracy doesn't exist to line the pockets of the people in power, or to help out your political backers by crushing any restriction that inhibits them doing anything they want, or to push through your pet ideological fancies, or to reward the prejudices of the people who voted for you. No, there really are people who understand, who feel it in their gut and know it in their bones, that the government is there to do some good, to contribute to the common welfare of the country, to help out whenever it can, to keep the poor and defenseless and the average guy from being picked on by the stronger and more powerful, and to keep us all safe.

For a 20 point bonus, guess which party holds which viewpoint.

Update: Typically, the AP's digging in its heels. The media really should learn that "we stand by our story" is not always to appropriate response to criticism.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 08:31:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Livin' in the USA

On TPM Cafe bgreer has the story of a right-wing band, "You Can Run But You Cannot Hide", which is paid by public schools to spread their religiously-based message at school assemblies.
[H]ere is a sampling of what occurred at the school assemblies:

  • Lead singer Bradlee Dean said pornography increased by 97 percent when Bill Clinton was President.

  • Dean strongly defended the Second Amendment and said that "blaming Columbine on guns is like blaming spoons for Rosie O'Donnell being fat."

  • Dean said that "there is nothing in our Constitution or founding documents about separation of church and state" and characterized evolution as just a theory.

  • Dean was also critical of the news and entertainment media, saying that the news media are liberal and have accepting attitudes toward adultery, homosexuality, and abortion.

  • To his credit, Dean criticized the passage of the Patriot Act, which he said was not read by lawmakers before they passed it.

  • At at least one assembly, the boys and girls were divided into two groups, and in the girls' group a female staffer from the band told the girls that they would be serving "leftovers" to their husbands if they lost their virginity before marrying a "God-fearing man."

  • At at least two schools, students were told that attendance at the assembly was mandatory and that they would be suspended if they skipped.

The band's fee ($1500) was paid by the schools from anti-drug funds provided by the Department of Education.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 02:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Whither the Cult of Bush?

Speaking of Roger Keeling, a couple of days ago I wrote a post about paying attention to what we could learn from cult deprogrammers about dealing with the radical right, and Roger wrote me to say that he's noted for some years now the resemblence of the right to a cult. Since I have a tendency to file Roger's ideas in the back of my brain and trot them out whenever they resurface, it's more than likely that I copped the concept from him in the first place.

Here's what he had to say:
Really just a "right on!" for your posting about the cult-like qualities of today's rightwing hate machine. I think that may be the single most important observation anyone has made about the VRC. I said something like this myself a number of years ago, but I never followed up on my thinking, and then I simply forgot I'd made that connection. But it really goes to the most profoundly frightening things about the way our nation has changed, and the emergence of the rightwing revolution.

As you know, I long ago decided that what the United States faces today is nothing less than neo-Nazism. Period. I've thought it would be great, actually, to write a book entitled, "The New American Fascists." I can already see the hardbound edition, maybe in coffee-table size, with bright, glossy, full-color photos lined up top and bottom on the slipjacket -- front and back -- with shots of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Michele Malkin, Michael Savage, Karl Rove ... the whole lot of 'em. The contents would be a series of essays on each of these sleazeballs, and the way they so perfectly conform to the spirit of either Italian or late German fascism. I'd certainly include all of the Bush sycophants.

But what of the opening and closing essays -- the opening one particularly, the key essay tying all the others together? I'd wondered about it, but now I know I'd make the full-on argument about how today's rightwing cult bears such resemblance to the Hitler Cult of Germany in the 1930s. I'd point out all the similarities, most particularly the incessant paranoia, the incessant claims to victimhood, the utter disregard for long-cherished American political values, the calculated use of super patriotism, the relentless cronyism and corruption that typified the Nazis, the cynical embrace of the church, the peculiar need for a "Father Figure" they consider above criticism and whom they fawn over, and above all how they've demonized their enemies -- liberals such as you and me! Millions of Americans in the Red States and Red Counties (and, yes, I've actually encountered some of these folks) really do believe that any person who's a liberal is some kind of defective, an insane person bordering on monstrosity. Dehumanization is the first step, as any good Nazi will tell you, if you eventually want to launch purges. I don't know how likely it is that they could successfully begin the kind of broad-brush totalitarian sweeps that Hitler pulled off, but I am absolutely convinced that there are a lot of top rightwing figures who privately wholeheartedly dream of it, death camps and all.

(And the recent disclosure that Halliburton's subsidiary, Brown and Root, were granted a huge contract to build "detention centers" to be kept on some sort of standby status -- the excuse given is that they might be needed if ever the nation faced a sudden wave of illegal immigration -- just makes me all the more frightened. What do these criminals have in mind, really, for all of this?)

What gives me pause is the extent to which the Bush Machine is going about doing things, in this, his second and final term in office, in exactly the same manner they were in the first term, when, of course, they had the election in 2004 to be concerned about. What, though, are they so geared up for now? Why is Rove twisting arms in the Senate now with the same fervor as four years ago?

You can't convince me that the Bushies are really concerned about getting their legislative program passed -- if they were, the State of the Union wouldn't have been so full of filler and folderol. And while it's certainly easier for the President to go about his business with a high approval rating then with a low one, so that they have a vested interest in stopping it from plummeting any lower, and that means stopping any potential revelations from any open Senate investigation of the administration's various sordid doings, they've never shown any particular compunction against acting in a premptory and authoritarian manner whenever it suits them, whatever his approval ratings. In fact, they have shown such contempt for the Federal Legislature as an equal partner in governance with the Executive, and the Senate's "advice and consent" role in particular, that it buggers the imagination to think that they're really concerned about counting votes just on general principles.

No, I think there's an ulterior motive involved for keeping the Continuous Campaign going at full strength, and I don't believe it's to help the Republican nominee in 2008. Sometimes I wonder if they're holding the reigns of power so tightly because they're aiming to repeal the 22nd Amendment, in order to keep Bush in power indefinitely.

Related: Atrios.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 01:20:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Easterbrook: Screwballs are ruining ID

Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money points to the latest idiocy by Gregg Easterbrook (yes, on the NFL website!):
Yours truly thinks the "intelligent design" idea is being given the short shrift by the mainstream media. Yes, some intelligent design advocates want to use I.D. as a Trojan horse to put religious doctrine into public schools -- forbidden by the First Amendment, and wisely so in the opinion of this churchgoer. And some intelligent design advocates believe young Earth creationism, a nutty idea for which there isn't one iota of scientific evidence. But as they mock the notion of intelligent design, the mainstream media are systematically avoiding a substantial question mark in evolutionary theory: it does not explain the origin of life. That organisms evolve in response to changes in their environment is well-established -- anyone who doubts this doesn't know what he or she is talking about. But why are there living things in the first place? Darwin said he had no idea, and to this day science has little beyond wild guesses about the origin of life. Maybe life had a natural origin that one day will be discovered. Until such time, higher powers or the divine cannot be ruled out. Exactly because I think intelligent design is a more important concept than the mainstream media will admit, I really wish right-wing screwballs would stop advocating I.D. -- they're giving the idea a bad name!
Farley does a good enough job in his commentary, but it happens that my friend Roger Keeling has kept a close watch on Easterbrook over the years, so I asked him for his take. Here's what he wrote:
Easterbrook is a nitwit ... but you already knew that, didn't you? I'm quite sure I've said as much in the past, particularly when I regaled you with the story of how he pretty much reprinted a timber industry talking points memo in Newsweek on the eve of President Clinton's Forest Summit and then lied about the scientific references "supporting" it.

It's just that now he proves he's an even BIGGER twit than we previously knew. Who'd have guessed that he thinks ID is a "theory" that has any credibility whatsoever? I mean, Easterbrook's whole schtick has been his "serious" evaluations of complex issues (often, scientifically complex issues ... e.g., environmentalism). He's posed himself as an above-the-fray dispenser of truth and common sense. Whether it be the American health care system or the future of America's land, water and air, he's majestically floated in to bop us on the head with his comprehensive evaluations of all the facts. Again and again, he's implied that he's quite the science whiz: a guy with the ability to really "get" these complex issues and then boil them all down for the rest of us, cutting through all the jargon and spin to deliver unvarnished sensibility and nothing else. It was always egotistical puffery -- his work has been slipshod dreck pretty much forever -- but, for some reason, for a long time, a lot of people (editors as well as readers) bought into it.

And thinking about that, maybe he's now done us all a favor: henceforth, no one with half a brain should ever be flim-flammed by him again. The next time he opens his trap about any issue involving science, he can be browbeaten with his endorsement of ID. (But will critics actually do that, or just let it slip into the memory hole? And what about the vast numbers of people -- including editors -- who don't have nearly half a brain?)

In any case, Lawyers, Guns & Money does a reasonable job of criticizing him, I guess. Actually, some pretty funny and biting lines in there. But the writer kind of misses the most important thing of all. So allow me: "Gregg, just because science can't definitively say what caused life to initially start does NOT mean that 'God must have done it' constitutes a reasonable competing theory. (Oh, excuse me, it's not 'God must have done it,' it's 'An intelligent designer must have done it.' Right. Sorry about that. Must be more precise at all times)."

In fact, we can reasonably reply to Easterbrook with a question: "So, Gregg, who exactly designed the designer?" I mean, that's REALLY the crux of it, isn't it? If Easterbrook just can't see how any natural forces could have created the first life forms on this planet, then how come he's so willing to give a pass to the alleged designer of life? Where did that designer come from? At some point or another, advocates of ID -- no matter how they try to squirm out of it -- have got to confront this issue. And almost any answer they come up with must, more or less, amount to the same thing: the so-called "intelligent designer" must either have evolved elsewhere from life that originated spontaneously (as scientists generally postulate happened here) ... or, the designer (or his/her predecessor designers) has existed forever. In other words, the designer is God Eternal.

No matter how you boil down ID, it always comes to this.

By the way, nevermind Easterbrook's absurd central assertion for a minute: notice that what's par for the Easterbrook course here is his glib assertion that science just can't explain the origin of life ... that is, the emergence of the initial life forms. He just drops this whopper in, then moves on so quickly that critics are likely to miss it as they rub their eyes in disbelief at the baloney that follows. But this assertion really IS a whopper. Yes, in the absolute strictest sense of the word, it's true: science has yet to demonstrate the spontaneous emergence of life, in the natural environment, from non-living matter. But if it's true in the strict sense, it's also profoundly disingenuous. The fact is that science HAS demonstrated natural processes that have narrowed (almost to nothing) the gap between non-life and life. To cite but one key example, the discovery of molecules that reproduce themselves ("Prions! Get your prions here!") was one important step. There are more, way more than I'm competent to describe.

And don't forget the silliness -- the pure absurdity -- of Easterbrook's contention, which I would boil down to as: "Science hasn't actually been able to demonstrate the transformation of non-life to life, ipso facto, ID is a reasonable competing theory." This, of course, is exactly the same assertion that ALL the ID advocates make, which doesn't stop Easterbrook from trying to claim a special class for himself as being somehow better than the usual run-of-the-mill IDer. In any case, application of Occam's Razer right about now might be appropriate. It seems far less the leap of imagination to believe that natural processes could turn a non-living compound into a self-replicating, energy-seeking biological entity -- and that our knowledge is incomplete, but the process is ultimately knowable and indeed probably not all that far beyond our grasp -- than it is to believe that, "Well, we haven't seen it in nature yet, SO AN ALL-KNOWING BEING SITTING ON A GIANT THRONE MUST HAVE DONE IT." (Yes, yes, Easterbrook doesn't specifically assert the latter ... but he does, it seems, think it ought to share equal billing with the former. THAT is the silly absurdity of it).

Fucking Easterbrook ... every single time that prick gets a paycheck from a magazine or newspaper, while another more honorable writer goes unpublished, it's a damned injustice.

I'd say that wraps that up.

Update: PZ Myers takes on Easterbook here.

Some time agom when I saw that the New York Times had assigned their Sunday review of Jared Diamond's Collapse to Easterbrook, I just cursed and turned the page. Here's a review of that review, which says that Easterbrook took Diamond to task for not understanding "society's evolutionary arc."

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 01:02:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Legal name change?

I hope this is settled before the beginning of baseball season, the suspense is killing me.
The month-long trial between the city of Anaheim and the Angels over the name of the baseball team will go to the jury Thursday after attorneys for each side presented closing arguments Wednesday.

Throughout most of the Orange County Superior Court trial, only about a dozen people watched the proceedings. But the courtroom was nearly full for the closing arguments.

In his closing, Anaheim attorney Andy Guilford acknowledged that Angel owner Arte Moreno was "technically compliant" with the stadium lease when he changed the team's name from Anaheim Angels to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. But Guilford said the hypothetical names "Angels of Bush League Anaheim" and "Phoenix Angels Formerly of Anaheim" also technically comply with the lease clause that requires the team to "include the name Anaheim therein." Guilford said those "silly, oxymoronic, bizarre" names don't meet the state's covenant of good faith and fair dealing law, which the jury is being asked to consider by Judge Peter Polos.


The city is asking for as much as $373 million in damages from lost exposure through television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet. But Theodora called those damages "just a handful of fog."

The jury will begin deliberating Thursday at 10 a.m. Nine votes are needed for a decision. If the jury rules in favor of Anaheim, the city will ask Polos to grant a permanent injunction that would forbid the Angels from using the Los Angeles name. Polos last year refused two such requests.

If the jury finds the Angels broke the lease and awards damages, Polos could deem a financial penalty appropriate but refuse to issue the order to drop "Los Angeles." He could also award the city damages for last season and return the name to Anaheim Angels, thus nullifying any future damages the jury had awarded.

Since the name "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" is one of the clunkiest to come along in years, I have to hope that the city of Anaheim prevails, whatever the value of its legal arguments.

[Los Angeles Times via How Appealing]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 12:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


No bounce

Pew finds that Bush got no bounce in his approval numbers from the State of the Union address:
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Feb. 1-5 among 1,502 Americans, finds that President Bush received no bounce from his Jan. 31 State of the Union address. Bush's approval rating stands at 40% ­ largely unchanged over the past month. Interest in Bush's speech was fairly modest ­ about as many paid very close attention to the recent layoffs at the Ford Motor Co. (25%) as to the State of the Union (24%). The public continues to take a mixed view of Bush's performance on issues ­ generally positive on terrorism (53% approval) but negative on virtually every domestic issue. In two key areas, health care and the deficit, Bush's ratings have declined markedly over the past year, to below 30% on each issue.

[via Mystery Pollster]

Update: Gallup concurs, no SOTU bounce:

President George W. Bush's State of the Union address on Jan. 31 did little to move his overall job approval rating, according to a new Gallup Poll. Roughly 4 in 10 Americans continue to say they approve of Bush, with a majority saying they disapprove. The poll also asked Americans to rate Bush on six issues facing the nation today. Of these issues, Bush scores highest on terrorism and lowest on energy and healthcare. There have only been modest variations in Americans' ratings of these issues since late January, with the exception of a slight decrease in his healthcare policy rating.

I continue to think it unlikely, barring a major personal scandal, that Bush will ever drop below the high 30's/low 40's region he's mired in -- but also that he's unlikely to go up much either.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/09/2006 12:15:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Counting the words

How many words are there in the English language? I'd've thought a precise answer to that question was not possible, but someone claims to have calculated it, and came up with 986,120.

The story is here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 11:33:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Quote without comment

John Derbyshire:
I went to Drudge to see what was happening in the world. The lead story was about a ship disaster in the Red Sea. From the headline picture, it looked like a cruise ship. I therefore assumed that some people very much like the Americans I went cruising with last year were the victims. I went to the news story. A couple of sentences in, I learned that the ship was in fact a ferry, the victims all Egyptians. I lost interest at once, and stopped reading. I don't care about Egyptians.

[via Crooked Timber]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 09:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Wikinews has the dope

Wikinews has the details about its investigation into Senate staffers altering Wikipedia entries.

Here's what they found about Joe Biden:
Staffers in the offices of Senator Joe Biden who, according to his changed Wikipedia biography, "announced in mid-June 2005 that he will seek the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2008 if he believes his message and vision for the country resonate with Americans," removed a paragraph about a 1996 plagiarism scandal, as well as changing the section regarding a possible 2008 candidacy to read very positively.

Conrad Burns:

References, citations, and descriptions of Conrad Burns' use of the word "ragheads" were removed from Wikipedia's article, as was mention of legislation, co-sponsored by Burns, that would reduce Native American tribal sovereignty. These were replaced by a paragraph titled "A Voice for the Farmer". The citations supported the discussion of Senator Burns's legislative record regarding tribal sovereignty.

Norm Coleman:

The staffers of Senator Norm Coleman changed a description of Coleman as a liberal Democrat in college to an "activist Democrat," and then to "an active college student." They removed references to Coleman's voting record during his first year of Congress, which lined up with President Bush 98% of the time, which cited Congressional Quarterly. They also removed a reference to Coleman being persuaded by Karl Rove to run for senator instead of governor in 2002.

There's also stuff about edits made from the offices (or at least from IP addresses apparently assigned to the offices) of Dianne Feinstein, Tom Harkin and other senators.

[Also via Boing Boing -- obviously I should read Boing Boing more often]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 08:45:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Little boxes

Real aerial photographs of a low-income housing project
in Ixtapaluca, Mexico City, by helicopter pilot
C.O. Ruiz

[via Boing Boing]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 08:24:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


More on the AOL e-mail scheme

Cindy Cohn, legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, weighs in on the AOL / Yahoo / Goodmail pay-email scheme I posted about a few days ago:
this isn't really an anti-spam measure as much as a "pay to speak" email measure, and it won't end spam or phishing. Prominent anti-spammer Richard Cox of Spamhaus agrees: "an e-mail charge will destroy the spirit of the Internet."

Email being basically free isn't a bug. It's a feature that has driven the digital revolution. It allows groups to scale up from a dozen friends to a hundred people who love knitting to half-a-million concerned citizens without a major bankroll.

Email readers and senders will both lose, because the incentives for Yahoo, AOL, and Goodmail are all wrong. Their service is only valuable if it "saves" you from their spam filters. In turn, they have an incentive to treat more of your email as spam, and thereby "encouraging" people to sign up.

Even email senders who just want to reach may eventually be in trouble. Once a pay-to-speak system like this gets going, it will be increasingly difficult for people who don't pay to get their mail through. The system has no way to distinguish between ordinary mail and bulk mail, spam and non-spam, personal and commercial mail. It just gives preference to people who pay.

And prepare to be shaken down if you run a noncommercial mailing list, whether for local bowling leagues or political organizations with a national membership. Not only will the per-message fees quickly add up, but the Goodmail technology will also be costly for senders to setup and use. Goodmail's giving a "special offer" for nonprofits through 2006, but when that ends their messages will presumably end up in the trash, too.

If email senders bear a burden, who gains? Not Yahoo and AOL customers, whose email boxes are being sold off. It will presumably be harder for even desired email to reach them.

In return, customers probably will now get not one but two helpings of spam. For only $.0025 cent per message, Yahoo and AOL will guarantee delivery of this extra-special "certified" paid-placement mail, served alongside your ordinary spam. They'll also preserve webbugs, little privacy invaders that report back when you look at the email. Goodmail says that it will ensure that the messages aren't spam, but it's not clear how they will enforce this. After all if a foolproof way for a third-party to distinguish wanted from unwanted messages existed, we would have solved the spam problem long ago.

[via Boing Boing]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 08:18:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Keeping us secure

Kevin Hayden's got some of the Great Moments in the War on Terror:
Cat Stevens plane is rerouted to prevent him from dropping a Peace Train on America

Well, I feel safer.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 04:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The changing scene

Jay Rosen writes about his expansion plans for his weblog, PressThink, and also details some of the other blog expansion that's been going on around the blogosphere:
There’s Weldon Berger’s BTC News, which added a White House correspondent, Eric Brewer, in 2005. (See Dan Froomkim on it.) At the time I didn’t catch the significance of Berger adding a White House reporter. Now I think it’s one of the smartest moves any political blogger has made; and I have been considering how PressThink might develop its own network of correspondents.

An example I continue to admire is Terry Teachout’s About Last Night, which has a second contributor, Laura Demanski. (“TERRY TEACHOUT on the arts in New York City, with additional dialogue by OUR GIRL IN CHICAGO” is says at the top.) I have considered in the past expansion by adding a second contributor.

There’s the more ambitious example of Chris Nolan (see her PressThink post, The Stand Alone Journalist is Here) who expanded her own blog, Politics From Left to Right, into a group of writers on politics, who range from left to right. Her new (and very handsome) site is called Spot On; it’s the home of six authors.

And there’s the example of Talking Points Memo by Josh Marshall. He expanded by adding a spin-off site, TPM Cafe, which has a roster of talented part-time contributors and reader-written blogs. It also has comment threads (Talking Points Memo does not.) Marshall will soon debut a second spin-off. TPM Muckraker, for which he has raised money.

Rosen clearly thinks that these moves are a good thing, but I'm not so sure.

When I first began reading weblogs (and dithered around about starting one of my own for several years before I actually did so), the majority of the sites that I read were individual ones, or at most two-person affairs, in which the voice and views of the proprietor(s) rang out loud and clear. I read the blogs I settled on as my regulars because I wanted to hear those voices, to see what those people had to say on a daily basis. Reading weblogs, and commenting on them, felt personal, because that's what it was, a personal interaction between the blogger and his or her readers.

To some extent, partly because of the increase in the blog-reading audience causing a dilution of the relationship between blogger and reader, but also because of the expansion, consolidation, groupification (for want of a better word) and professionalisation of weblogs, that personal experience has been much diminished. It's much rarer now to have a single blogger be responsible for the vast majority of a weblog's content, and much more usual to see group efforts and mega-blogs. It seems as if everyone is trying to be a mini-Daily Kos or to emulate the growing TPM empire. (dKos throws off privileged front-page writers at regular intervals, and it's understandable that they would then go off and start their own group blogs, like The Next Hurrah.)

These trends are part of two related phenomena we can see going on around us, the blurring of the lines between journalist and blogger (about which too much has already been said) and the growth of a professional or quasi-professional blogging corps. It's no longer unusual to see one writer posting her or his material on multiple blogs, much as freelance writers will shop their work around to different periodicals, and the writers who do so collectively constitute the blogging corps.

This was probably all inevitable once massive attention was turned on the blogging world: people who write a lot understandly want to get paid for it, and it's better to have multiple reliable sources of income rather than one uncertain one. (And note, I'm not claiming that the average professional blogger is making big bucks from their efforts, or that the mega-sites are motivated by profits instead of getting opinions out to the public or organizing political activity, I'm just noting that the professionalization is taking place, and it has ramifications.) The result is that reading the blogs has become less personal, more channeled, and somewhat less serendipitous.

I can see that people would rather write for a quasi-professional site which can guarantee an audience, rather that slog away at a personal weblog in obscurity, and I appreciate that the mega-blogs are providing good quality information and opinions, but I also miss the amateur quality of the blogosphere of yore -- "amateur" in the very best sense, of course.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 03:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Today's tickle

I have no particular desire to make fun of our good neighbors to the north ("The Great White North" aside), but this picture of the Canadian Supreme Court tickled me, as it did Chris at Talking Stick, from whom I stole it.

Of course, given the current make-up of our Court, the Canadian Court may turn out to be the premier defender of individual rights in North America, regardless of the color of their furs.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 01:39:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Advice to Democratic leaders

Several threads seem to be coming together to form the beginning of the lefty blogosphere's collective advice to our Democratic leaders (and, by implication, to the Democratic candidates for President, especially the eventual nominee). Here's a summary of the advice to date:

  • Don't talk process. Don't tell the voters what the Democrats should say in order to win, just say it! And mean what you say.

  • Remind everyone that the Rebublicans are in charge. Let the voters know who's been running the country, who's controlled Congress and who's been in the White House, and thereore who's responsible for the lousy state we're in.

  • Advisors, let the leaders do the talking. Stop going public with quibbles and contradictions, and especially stop running down our elected leades and designatied representatives to the media. Democratic advisors don't exactly have a stellar record at winning elections, so they're in no position to air our dirty laundry -- doing so isn't admirable whistle-blowing, it's simply confusing the voter and providing talking points for the opposition. Express your opposing views in private and support our leaders in public.

I'll add this one:

Listen to the rank and file, including the netroots. There is, of course, no guarantee that they'll be a font of wisdom on every issue, nor will they speak with one voice (especially on the Internet, where dissension on the left sometimes seems to be as much an expression of the right to disagree as actual fundamental disagreement), but Democratic leaders had better understand that in the age of Bush, the electorate is damn angry and not in the mood to be trifled with. They -- we -- demand to be taken into account, and to have our views taken seriously, and we will not continue to support those who ignore us or take our votes for granted or patronize us. You don't have to agree with us, but you do have make the effort to make your case to us, and gave us the respect we demand and deserve.

This is a democracy, and we are the people. We're also your only hope of winning elections -- if you don't have us, you don't have squat.

Addenda: Some may see in my comments a hint of hypocrisy, since I chastise Democratic advisors for contradicting our leaders in public, when I myself indulge in the liberty of blogging my own criticism. That's true, but that's the way it is. They have taken on positions of considerable power and privilege, but wth that goes the responsibility to wield their advise in ways that help and to do no harm.

Update: Semi-relalted -- Kevin Hayden's got thoughts about how bloggers can be organized into an effective political machine. It's worth reading, but color me doubtful.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/08/2006 01:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Bolton a peace-nik?

On MyDD's Breaking Blue, Matt Stoller notes that John Bolton, wild-haired neo-con ideologue and George W. Bush's royal representative to the United Nations, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize -- and, indeed, there's a press release from the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs:
United Nations Ambassador John Bolton and longtime Iran investigator Kenneth R. Timmerman were nominated for their repeated warnings and documentation of Iran's secret nuclear buildup and revealing Iran's "repeated lying" and false reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Bolton was formerly U.S. Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security and was author of the Proliferation Security Initiative, an international effort to interdict shipments of weapons of mass destruction and related materials, which led to the eventual breakup of the secret nuclear network directed by Pakistan nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. Bolton repeatedly warned of Iran's nuclear plans.

Timmerman, an independent researcher, has written extensively on Iran's nuclear activities for more than 20 years. His report for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 1992 first detailed Iran's ties to A.Q. Khan. His most recent book, "Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran," was published last year.

Bolton and Timmerman were formally nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Sweden's former deputy prime minister and Liberal party leader Per Ahlmark.

The Nobel Peace Prize is given by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the website of which helpfully explains who is qualified to make nominations for the prize:


New nomination rules, effective from 2003. Compared to the old rules the list of nominators has been slightly expanded.

Any one of the following persons is entitled to submit proposals:
  • members of national assemblies and governments;

  • members of international courts of law;

  • university chancellors; university professors of social science, history, philosophy, law and theology;

  • leaders of peace research institutes and institutes of foreign affairs;

  • former Nobel Peace Prize laureates;

  • board members of organisations that have received the Nobel Peace Prize;

  • present and past members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee; (committee members must present their nomination at the latest at the first committee meeting after February 1);

  • former advisers at the Norwegian Nobel Institute.

Observing the rules given in the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, the Committee does not publish the names of candidates.

The Nobel Peace Prize may also be accorded to institutions or associations.

The nominators are strongly requested not to publish their proposals.

Given that Per Ahlmark is a former Swedish deputy prime minister, I'm not sure how he qualifies under these rules to make nominations -- perhaps he's a former advisor to the committee -- but in any event, Bolton's nomination is, in reality, just a suggestion to the Norwegian Nobel Committee that they should consider him for the prize -- it's not a shortlist, or in any significant way official.

The organization which released this information, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, is described by Right Web in this way:

JINSA functions as an Israel and weapons lobby group whose mission is to inform several groups (such as defense organizations, administration officials, congress, and its 20,000 members) about how vital it is to support U.S.-Israeli cooperation on security issues. They view cooperation between these two groups as vital to maintaining and spreading democracy in the Middle East. In other words, United States and Israeli interests are largely one and the same.

Since 1976 the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) has played a key role in cementing ties between U.S. and Israeli armed forces and military industries. With groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbying Congress for increased aid to Israel, JINSA zeros in on the U.S. military network to increase strategic (and financial) links with Israel’s military-industrial complex. In addition to the generous flows of economic and military aid to Israel—accounting for one-sixth of all U.S. foreign aid—the U.S. military has underwritten the development of Israel’s armaments industry.


JINSA’s two architects are husband and wife Stephen and Shoshana Bryen. Michael Ledeen was its first executive director, hired in 1977. Two years later, Stephen Bryen took the helm and his wife succeeded him in 1981. Stephen left in 1981 to become Deputy Undersecretary of Defense and was in charge of choosing which U.S.-made defense toys Israel would buy with U.S.-allocated military funds. (3)

In recent years, JINSA was one of the groups that most strongly supported the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. Former head of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, is a member of JINSA’s Board of Advisers and serves as a spokesman in furthering JINSA’s goals. Other former advisory board members include Dick Cheney, John Bolton, and Douglas Feith. Former administration officials from the Reagan era are James Woolsey, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Michael Ledeen.

So, they're well integrated into the neo-con power structure, the Bush Defense Department, and the pro-Israel lobby, which means they've essentially nominated (or caused to be nominated) one of their own.

(There's more on the JINSA here and here.)

Incidentally, despite their name, the Liberal Party in Sweden in considered to be a "center-right" party, and it's been "accused of trying to attract new voters by adopting right-wing populist rhetoric." It supported the invasion of Iraq. Per Ahlmark, it's former leader "often uses the word fellow travelers (medlöpare) to critizise people within the left and their attitudes towards totalitarian ideas and dictatorships." (In other words, he sounds like a Swedish neo-con.)

Update: In comments, BadTux has more on Per Ahlmark.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/07/2006 09:12:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Let's deprogram the Right

the Right has so effectively demonized the left that people on the right believe it is their MORAL DUTY to keep democrats out of office. Stealing votes from democrats is easy if you think they represent the devil.
A Rational Being
A Rational Being weblog

Which brings to mind the thought that in pondering about how to go about attempting to restore some semblence of civility to our society and undoing the damage to our social fabric caused by the rise of the radical right-wing and their hideous propaganda efforts, it might be worth looking into cults and the techniques used by deprogrammers in wresting people away from cults and back into the mainstream culture. Are there any lessons to be learned from them, and can anything they do be scaled up to the public arena?

In other words, how do we deprogram the right's rank and file, and deny their leadership the footsoldiers they desperately need to maintain their current dominance?

Update: More here.

It's not enough to defeat the right politically, and to put us back on the path to a truly liberal society, we also have to regain the essential balance that's been lost in the past decades. There is no value, or glory, in subjugating the people who see liberals and Democrats as devils, and who would (apparently) happily subjugate (or eliminate) us -- we need to restore them to social sanity as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/07/2006 08:24:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Just say it!

That's what Digby counsels Gov. Tom Vilsack and all Democratic politicians: Just say it!
Nothing drives me more nuts than a politician who talks process instead of engaging voters directly. [...] Just saying that we should do something or we need to do something is not the same as doing it. And it's a big reason why people are confused about what we stand for.

If they think that we should be tougher on national security, they shouldn't say "we can't win elections until we reassure people that we can keep them safe." They should say, "here's how we'll keep you safe..." If Vilsack really thinks that Democrats will lose if we don't support unconstitutional domestic spying programs then he should just say, "I think the program is probably legal and I support it." A winning message is a winning messsage, right? Why all the navel gazing?

I suspect that he knows most Democrats don't support his stance. But then perhaps he ought to think about how to convince us that we are wrong on the substance of this argument instead of appealing to us on this issue of "winning." Maybe we can be convinced. [...] It's this meaningless "we must convince people" process mush that will ensure that nobody knows what in the hell he actually believes. And that's the biggest problem most Democratic politicians face.

Bloggers and blog commenters who are political junkies indulge themselves in exploring lots of options for political tactics and strategy, which means that we're prone to making a lot of statements about process and electability and what needs to be done to win elections, but there's hardly a case when you don't know for damn sure just what their bottom line is, what they believe in and stand for -- that's one of the points of blogging, to stand on the mountaintop (or the balcony or the milk crate or in the dark back alley, depending on the popularity of your weblog) and let the world know what you think about things. Few bloggers would be blogging if they didn't have that impulse.

Politicians have a lot of motivations for doing what they do, and I wonder if the urge to represent, to let everyone in on what you believe, is high among them, or whether, for some of them, it's included at all? It may be that too many of them don't really feel the urgency to tell the world what they really think. It can, after all, be very dangerous to a politican's career to be too honest and forthright.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/07/2006 01:37:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Super Bowl Round-Up

This year, I paid much more attention to the Super Bowl than I generally do -- which is to say that I actually watched part of the game. (Normally I just totally ignore it, but my son is a little bit intrigued by football, which I enjoyed playing as a kid, so in the interest of a rounded education we watched some together before his bedtime.) I enjoyed the Steelers' "gadget" play, and thought Seattle got robbed by a bad call at the goal line (watching ABC's replays, it seemed to me to clearly not be a touchdown), and that's pretty much the sum total of my football analysis.

So, onto more peripheral matters. Michael Berube explains, in advance, why Pittsburgh won:
[N]o Super Bowl champion has ever worn jerseys and pants of the same color. Yes, the Seahawks have ditched the Pacific green-and-blue motif that has doomed West Coast franchises for decades (Oakland Seals to the green-and-blue courtesy phone!), replacing it with a much meaner, metallic bluish-grey color scheme. But football players whose jerseys and pants are the same color inevitably look like they’re playing in their pajamas.

And that's that.

A lot of people apparently pay as much attention to the commercials on the Super Bowl as they do to the game itself, to the extent that people go to great lengths to measure which commercial is the most effective. Zogby, for instance:

After some Monday-morning quarterbacking, Super Bowl XL viewers have decided that Budweiser’s “Young Clydesdale” ad wins Sunday’s other big game – the battle for the top commercial spot.

At around $2.5 million per 30 seconds, Sunday’s ads occupied the most expensive advertising real estate ever. And Zogby International finds Budweiser’s ad a clear first-place finisher, the favorite of 15% of viewers. FedEx’s hapless caveman, meanwhile, placed second at 10%, while Bud Light’s “Secret Fridge” commercial rounds out the top 3 at 8%.

In the battle for age demographics, meanwhile, “Secret Fridge” strengthened its position, with 13% of viewers under 30 rating it the top pitch, but tanking among those age 30 and older. The “Young Clydesdale” spot, which climbed to 18% among the under-30 demographic, finished weakly among 30 to 49 year-olds. FedEx’s fossil film, meanwhile, skewed older in its impact, taking 13% of 50 to 64 year-olds, second to “Young Clydesdale,” which took 21% of this demographic.

“Young Clydesdale” was a top pick for a key reason with viewers: 79% of those who chose it said they did so because the spot made them “feel good.” Humor and special effects were more likely to be chosen as rationales for fans of the other two top ads.

Some ads may have missed the mark in the ad agency championship, however.’s ad depicting workplace chimps celebrating the “growth” of sales at their company scored progressively worse as income level rose, besting the income categories below $25,000, but rapidly receding among others. The “Young Clydesdale” spot, meanwhile, scored the equivalent of a touchdown and two-point conversion in the income category, heavily winning among those whose household incomes hovers between $35,000 and $50,000 per year. It also performed well with fans of another sport – among self-professed NASCAR fans, it was the favorite by a massive five-to-one margin over the next closest competitor.

Zogby seems to still be interested in this subject, because questions about Super Bowl commercials were a part of an interactive poll I was notified of just today. Of course, I really couldn't answer with any detailed knowledge, because I'm as annoyed by commercials as I am disinterested in football, so my immediate impulse was to mute the sound when the ads came on, only remembering later that I was supposed to be paying attention to them.

Of the ones I saw, the FedEx commercial bugged me because of the caveman/dinosaur thing (we really don't need to reinforce anti-science ideas, even in humor, and especially for commercial purposes); the car commercials were all anti-climactic, because whatever special effects or humor they contained, it always ended up with that most pedestrian of consumer items, a damned car; and as a long-time Star Trek fan I enjoyed the Leonard Nimoy Aleve spot, although not enough to wind back and watch it again.

Other people are paying attention to the Super Bowl ads in a more rigorous way, like Marco Iacoboni and his group at the UCLA Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure brain responses in a group of subjects while they watched the commercials. The results are being posted to The Edge website.

The preliminary results:

Who won the Super Bowl ads competition? If a good indicator of a successful ad is activity in brain areas concerned with reward and empathy, two winners seem to be the 'I am going to Disney' ad and the Bud 'office' ad. In contrast, two big floppers seem to be the Bud 'secret fridge' ad and the Aleve ad. What is quite surprising, is the strong disconnect that can be seen between what people say and what their brain activity seem to suggest. In some cases, people singled out ads that elicited very little brain responses in emotional, reward-related, and empathy-related areas.
Among the ads that seem relatively successful, I want to single out the Michelob ad. Above is a picture showing the brain activation associated with the ad. What is interesting is the strong response — indicated by the arrow — in 'mirror neuron' areas, premotor areas active when you make an action and when you see somebody else making the same action. The activity in these areas may represent some form of empathic response. Or, given that these areas are also premotor areas for mouth movements, it may represent the simulated action of drinking a beer elicited in viewers by the ad. Whatever it is, it seems a good brain response to the ad.

While fascinating, and labelled as an "Insta-Science" experiment, what this actually amounts to is the cutting edge of market research. Who needs focus groups or bloodless polling when we can just wire up people and evaluate their actual physical responses?

And speaking of polling, in that Zogby Interactive poll I took today there were a couple of questions which seemed as much philosphical inquiry as marketing poll:

  • An authentic but controversial life is better than a celebrated, but compromised one

  • I view my life more like a canvas to be painted than a blueprint under construction

  • You shouldn't trade off the pleasures of life today for a tomorrow that may not come

  • Faith may get you through tough times, but ambition and talent determines success

And that brings us back around to where we started.

Update: Discussion of the creationist-friendly FedEx commercial is here and here. I agree that entertainment value can sometimes trump objectionable content in a commercial, and I was prepared to like it, but they really never delivered (!) It just wasn't all that funny.

Update: More results have now been posted from the Iacoboni experiment.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/07/2006 12:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, February 06, 2006

Everyone's wrong

In the Muhammad cartoon situation, I think a number of different problems or questions are unnecessarily being conflated together, when it would be best if our consideration of them were kept separate and distinct.

First, there is a question of policy: should a newspaper have the right to print the broadest possible range of material, even material that upsets some people, or insults their religious or cultural beliefs? To that, the post-Enlightenment Western World should of course answer "Yes, without any doubt."

(Of course, this question is easiest to answer for those who are free-speech or First Amendmendment absolutists, or who, like me, come quite close to that position. It's complicated, however, by the fact that many European countries have laws against hate speech, or denying the Holocaust, or which in some other way restrict speech in ways that we don't generally do here, where speech is restricted primarily by social inhibitions -- which is frequently a much stronger and more wide-ranging censor. That Europeans are not allowed to propagandize in ways that are anti-Semetic, but can publish cartoons which are perceived to be anti-Islamic, would surely rankle were I a devout Muslim.)

Second, there is the question of civility: is it civil, or polite, or politically correct to publish cartoons which depict the Propher Muhammad, when such depictions are certain to cause some Muslims (perhaps a sizable minoroty) to be angry or uncomfortable? The answer is, again quite clearly, "No, it was not a civil thing to do." This was a point that Atrios made when he wrote that it's best not to be an asshole when it comes to other people's political beliefs.

(Not everything that can be said, should be said, especially not when urbanized Western civilization relies on a certain amount of mutual politeness or tolerance -- or, at the very least benign disregard -- to keep things on an even keel. For that reason, the cartoons should probably not have been published, even though there should be no law forbidding it.)

This brings us to the third problem, the question of motive: Why, given the potentially inflammatory nature of the cartoons, was the decision made to publish them? I'm far from informed about the nature of the local politics, but I've read a number of claims that the newspapers that published them is a right-wing rag, and their purpose was to deliberately insult Muslims and perhaps to incite them as well. If that is indeed the case, then we can say that whatever their legal right to disseminate them, morally and ethically they should not have done so, and deserve public censure -- but not prosecution -- for their decision to do so.

Fourth, there is the question of reaction: What is a legitimate response to such a provocation, whether deliberate or accidental? There are many choices of how to respond: editorials, speeches, rallies, protests, boycotts or the response in kind, with anti-Western or anti-Christian or anti-Danish cartoons designed to insult. Almost anything, in fact, could be considered to be a legitimate response except the ones that have been taken, namely riots, violence and destruction.

Finally, this is the question of tolerance: Do Muslims have the reasonable expectation in the public arena of being shielded from those things which their religions forbids them to do? No, not in a pluralistic Western society, which almost anything one can think of will be considered to be insulting or taboo to somebody. Everyone has the right to be free from those things in their own homes, or in their freely joined private associations (if all members are in agreement as to the restrictions), but no one can or should be guaranteed not to be exposed to things they disapprove of, or which cause them religious or cultural anguish. The Western society must be very stingy about accepting taboos, and should only do so when interests of public safety, security or health are at risk, never on the basis of any one group's religious or moral beliefs (even the majority group).

There is no contradiction is saying that the publishers should have the right to publish those cartoons, whatever their contents and for whatever motivation, but that they should be subject to public disapproval and condemnation for having chosen to do so, but that at the same time, the violent and aggresive response by the Muslim street is unwarranted and wrong.

Addenda: Let me add that I'm completely aware that such an analysis as this, one which attempts to look at many different aspects of a situation, and which strives for fairness to all parties, is precisely the kind of thing which has been diagnosed as one of the problems of American liberalism. It's said that it's not possible to put such complex and sometimes convoluted arguments up against the simplistic and emotionally satisfying solutions favored by right-wing propagandists and win the support of the electorate and, perhaps as importantly, the media.

I don't know what to do about that. I'm as capable as the next person of emotional outbursts and simplistic thinking, but rationality is still my preferred mode of operation (most of the time), and sometimes complicated situations just can't be explored or explained except by complex arguments.

Of course "Everyone's wrong" is a pretty simple summary.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/06/2006 09:46:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Revive "enlightened self-interest"

In a comment to a post on MyDD by Scott Shields about the value of solidarity, commenter tgeraghty points out that
[The] idea of enlightened self-interest is what is missing from modern political discourse. On the right, we see this as the "greed is good" philosophy, but we see this on the left too in the balkanization of different social movements and the seeming inability to come together on a common philosophy and program that furthers our mutual interests and the common good.

This idea is what American liberalism has historically been about - a balance among the values of individual freedom, equality, and community/solidarity that permits all of us together to achieve a higher quality of life.

I grew up with "enlightened self-interest" as the operative motivation for social and political action, and, boy, do I ever miss it.

I think perhaps the self-interested and solipsistic Me Decade of the 70's (so-named by Tom Wolfe), and the Greed Decade of the 80's, the one is which people were making money hand over fist on the stock market, and the Wall Street ethos of "greed is good" prevailed, buried "enlightened self-interest" in their dust.

Perhaps it can be revitalized?

(Take a look at tgeraghty's comment for more about the background in moral philosophy for the value of balancing individualism with concern for the community.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/06/2006 06:41:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The value of values

[T]he values to which people cling most stubbornly under inappropriate conditions are those values that were previously the source of their greatest triumphs over adversity.
Jared Diamond
Collapse: How Societies Choose
to Fail or Succeed

Obviously, there are any number of situations where this observation might prove to be useful, but the one I want to mention here is the Democrats in the Senate continuing to pursue a modicum of civility and comity with their Republican counterparts, when, in fact, the GOP has clearly declared total war on all members of the Congressional opposition, no matter how willing they are to "work with" the majority party.

(Think "Max Cleland".)

Bipartisan cooperation made perfect sense when both parties were cooperating, but once one party defects, the best strategy is "Tit for Tat", in which any defection from the course of mutual cooperation is met with stringent counter-measures. Failure to launch those counter-measures only encourages the other player to defect once again -- you have to make it clear that the cost of defection is high, and that the penalty will be applied without fail.

Diamond's book deals primarily with the collapse of civilizations due to their inability to cope with or change in relation to their changing physical environment, but the lesson holds anyway, since for the Democrats, the political environment in Congress (especially the House, but also including the Senate) has shifted significantly thanks to the ruthlessness of the Republicans. The failure on the part of the Democrats to adjust their values to their new environment has put them on the losing side of battles they really should have won, even though they are in the minority, because they've clung to their old ways, when new and drastically different ones would be more appropriate.

These folks have to disabuse themselves of the notion that by fighting back against the attacks of the GOP they're doing something bad. "Tit for Tat" is not a moral philosophy, it's a strategy, one which can be changed once the conditions in the legislature have shifted back to where they once were.

Update: Welcome to those folks who are here from the Daou Report. If you've got a few minutes, check out the rest of unfutz.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/06/2006 01:44:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Funny and stuff

In a comments thread to a post on Dispatches from the Culture War about athletes rotely praising God, mhojo writes:
I saw a comedian do a bit on this once. He was complaining that athletes were always praising God for their victories but never blaming him when they lost. Just once, he said, he wanted to hear something like, "We would have won, but *Jesus* made me fumble."

Ed Brayton, the proprietor, identifies the comic involved:

That was Jeff Stilson, the comic I mentioned the other day in another thread. He also went on to talk about boxers thanking God after a fight: "Without God, I could not have crushed my opponent's skull and rendered him braindead. I am blessed by the Lord."

Speaking of funny, this is hilarious.

And speaking of God, Daniel Dennett has a new book out, Breaking the Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon.

The spell he hopes to break, he suggests, is not religious belief itself but the conviction that its details are off-limits to scientific inquiry, taboo. "I appreciate that many readers will be profoundly distrustful of the tack I am taking here," he writes. "They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that—that’s what I am, and that’s exactly what I am trying to do."

[George Johnson in Scientific American]

Yay! Too bad the people most in need of being cajoled won't come within a furlong of the book -- unless they happen to be picketing the local book store that's selling it.

More preaching to the choir -- I'll be buying it as soon as I can scrape up the dough.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/06/2006 12:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Nuts (and bolts)

You can't very well compare the players without the right stats, so keep the Crackpot Index handy.

[via Pharyngula]

Addenda: Incidentally, it's interesting to compare two recent cases from the world of Academia -- pay attention, there'll be a short quiz following.

In the first instance, a visiting biology professor isn't rehired at the end of her contract period because she, apparently, didn't believe in the core tenets of biology and was teaching her students falsehoods about her own subject. She believes she is being persecuted because of her religious beliefs.

In the second case, a student objects to a physics professor's supposedly constant and virulent anti-Bush remarks in class, and complains to her Congressman -- an investigation ensues.

Recap: untenured professor not rehired because she's not properly representing her discipline versus tenured professor investigated because of political remarks unrelated to his ability or wllingness to teach his subject. Now, here'e the quiz: which one resulted in a general academic witchhunt at another university, which David Horowitz' wingnut propaganda rag Front Page called "an historic moment for academic freedom." (Hint: it's a blatantly Orwellian usage of that phrase.)

Update: Michael Berube, one of the most dangerous professors in the entire US fo A, on David Horowitz.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/06/2006 12:08:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, February 05, 2006


This man says Hillary Clinton "seems to have a lot of anger".

Update: Stoller comments.

Note: I replaced the original lo-rez montage with the one above.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/05/2006 06:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Just plain dumb

Chris Matthews apparently thinks it's possible that a series of church burnings in Alabama might have been carried out by an outraged gay liberal, who, as we all know, often burn down churches and attack innocent heterosexuals enjoying some after-hours fun, totally unlike rabid rght-wing extremists, members of the KKK, militiamen, neo-Nazis and other assorted wingnut crazies, who generally do nothing at all to deserve all the approbation the hate-filled liberal media heaps on them.

Chris Matthews, super-feeb.

[Via Green Knight]

Chris Matthews, genial host
of MSNBC's newest hit comedy,

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/05/2006 03:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Seeing Muhammad

Apparently, pictorial depictions of Muhammad are not generally forbidden in the Muslim world. The Cranky Professor has the info in a post from November 2005:
I am not a specialist in Islamic art, but I teach an occasional low-level survey of the field at these Colleges, where we have an excellent Visual Resources Collection for a school of our size, a collection which is unfortunately for your visual delight very observant of copyright laws, so I can't post any pictures. I popped some terms into the search engine and came up with this list of paintings of the Prophet Muhammad executed by Muslims that we happen to own slides of; this is not an exhaustive list!

So, journalists, don't tell us this is a taboo subject matter in Islam. The physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad may be a taboo subject matter in some sects of contemporary Islam, but let's all be clear -- this is not a universal prohibition.

There are many examples listed in the post. The one on the right is from the website of the Nour Foundation's Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art.

[via Follow Me Here]

More: Publius explores the discontent about the Danish cartoons of Muhammad as another aspect of the fundamentalist "outrage industry".

Both the Middle East regimes and fundamentalist Islamic leaders have a vested interest in convincing the Muslim rank-and-file that they are being perpetually persecuted. The persecution takes the people’s eyes off of the regimes’ or leaders’ own failures and repressions and directs them toward an “Other.”

In this sense, the Islamic world has its own version of the Outrage Industry. Islamic leaders need outrages – in particular, they need outrages that foster a sense of persecution. While the distribution of these outrages is not as sophisticated as the American GOP and evangelical leadership’s, there is a conscious effort to play up these outrages to maintain the persecution complex that is so essential for maintaining loyalty to both regimes and fundamentalist leaders. For this reason, the Danish cartoons are literally a godsend. They fit the “persecution” role perfectly and leaders are milking them for all they're worth.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the Islamic and American persecution complexes are not the same. Unlike American evangelicals (for the most part), Muslims have a lot of legitimate gripes. This is a critical point and one that needs to be more widely recognized.

Of course, the solution for Muslims who don't wish to see the Danish cartoons is don't look, just as the solution for people who don't want to see certan kinds of programs on TV is: turn the channel. Unless someone is in some way forcing you to do so, you have the option of turning away, and the responsibility to do some due diligance to prevent yourself from accidentally seeing them again.

Undoubtedly, an exceedingly small number of Muslim's would have been exposed to the Danish cartoons if they hadn't been turned into a global cause celebre, all the rest who have seen them have done so either because someone has deliberately exposed them to the images as provocation, or because they themselves have searched them out. Outrage under those circumstances is something less than genuine.

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/05/2006 01:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


AOL opts-in to new source of income

It looks as if AOL and Yahoo have found a way to use concern over spam to extort some cash from businesses using e-mail:
Companies will soon have to buy the electronic equivalent of a postage stamp if they want to be certain that their e-mail will be delivered to many of their customers.

America Online and Yahoo, two of the world's largest providers of e-mail accounts, are about to start using a system that gives preferential treatment to messages from companies that pay from 1/4 of a cent to a penny each to have them delivered. The senders must promise to contact only people who have agreed to receive their messages, or risk being blocked entirely.

The Internet companies say that this will help them identify legitimate mail and cut down on junk e-mail, identity-theft scams and other scourges that plague users of their services. Thy also stand to earn millions of dollars a year from the system if it is widely adopted.

AOL and Yahoo will still accept e-mail from senders who have not paid, but the paid messages will be given special treatment. On AOL, for example, they will go straight to users' main mailboxes, and will not have to pass the gantlet of spam filters that could divert them to a junk-mail folder or strip them of images and Web links. As is the case now, mail arriving from addresses that users have added to their AOL address books will not be treated as spam.

Yahoo and AOL say the new system is a way to restore some order to e-mail, which, because of spam and worries about online scams, has become an increasingly unreliable way for companies to reach their customers, even as online transactions are becoming a crucial part of their businesses.

"The last time I checked, the postal service has a very similar system to provide different options," said Nicholas Graham, an AOL spokesman. He pointed to services like certified mail, "where you really do get assurance that if what you send is important to you, it will be delivered, and delivered in a way that is different from other mail."

But critics of the plan say that the two companies risk alienating both their users and the companies that send e-mail. The system will apply not only to mass mailings but also to individual commercial messages like order confirmations from online stores and customized low-fare notices from airlines.

"AOL users will become dissatisfied when they don't receive the e-mail that they want, and when they complain to the senders, they'll be told, 'it's AOL's fault,' " said Richi Jennings, an analyst at Ferris Research, which specializes in e-mail.

I'm as concerned about the problem of spam as the next person. I've long argued that spam filters such as AOL features only appear to solve the problem, as messages still clog up the transmission system even if they're not delivered to users' mailboxes. Something needs to be done, but I don't think the AOL/Goodmail solution is the answer -- all it does is create a new class of paid-for spam.

Right now, despite the drag on the system that filtered spam does nothing to help, at least I'm not bugged with a lot of unwanted commercial e-mails, and the few that get through can be quickly dealt with, marked as spam and deleted, with the hope that the system will start filtering them in the future. With this new system, however, I'll have no choice about the mail that comes from businesses that have paid for guaranteed delivery. I can delete them until I'm blue in the face, but I won't be able to tell the system that I don't want to receive mail from that vendor, because the vendor's money has trumped my preferences. And I doubt AOL will allow me to opt out of the Goodmail (I almost wrote "Greenmail" there -- it's the same idea), unless they start offering a fee-based premium service.

Of course, one thing we can do about this is to spread the word and hope there's a user rebellion among AOL and Yahoo subscribers.

[NY Times]

Ed Fitzgerald | 2/05/2006 01:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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03/16/2008 - 03/23/2008
03/23/2008 - 03/30/2008
03/30/2008 - 04/06/2008
06/01/2008 - 06/08/2008
09/21/2008 - 09/28/2008

search websearch unfutz

Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
2005 koufax awards


Carpetbagger Report
*Crooks and Liars*
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Political Animal
*Talking Points Memo*
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2004 koufax winners
2003 koufax award
"best blog" nominees
the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


take all you want
but credit all you take.

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