Friday, May 27, 2005

MORE SNOWFLAKES: Pandagon Jesse's been "poking around":

The Houston Chronicle has a more recent story on the matter, and it's a doozy.

The couple was matched with and adopted 10 unused embryos from a family in Michigan. Three survived the thawing process (the survival rate is about 50 percent), and were implanted in Tracy's womb. One took hold. The whole process cost them about $7,500.

Hold on...this is what they said earlier:

Embryos are "human beings from conception," Houston native Tracy Jones, 32, said Tuesday. She proudly showed the first picture of her child — when he was just a mass of cells.

The Joneses were among more than a dozen families who traveled to Washington this week, with the children they bore from unused embryos they "adopted" from other families, to protest a House bill that would expand the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research.

They adopted ten children and killed nine of them? This is the new face of adoption - near-genocidal disregard for your $750 globsicles?

I think they just think all the blastocysts deserve up-or-down votes. ZING~!

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

NOW I AM IN FAVOR OF STEM CELLS: All cute and pluripotent as they are. But I find the existence of an embryo adoption agency to be really interesting. The children the President used in his photo op today (to grandstand against the House's pro-stem cell bill) were the results of this agency's efforts. What they do is collect embryos leftover from IVF treatments and make them available for implantation in willing parents. There's something quite science fictiony about it.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

IN A MOVIE MOOD: Rewatching Empire and New Hope last night (on widescreen Han-shot-first laserdisc format) and googling for reviews I came across Alex Jackson's I Viddied It On The Screen, his collection of on-line reviews. Which are readable, informed, and kind of Kaelesque, who I think is one of his influences--he references her quite a bit. I thought the title was a Kael reference too but he says it's a movie reference in the FAQ. Anyway--I've been killing hours over there today. Really good, distinct reviews where the author isn't afraid to interject himself into his writing (which is, again, very Kael).

Friday, May 20, 2005

SO: I expect we'll be served a big heaping cup of outrage about the Saddam underwear pictures appearing in the Murdoch papers, right? Absolutely. Any second now.

Yep. Outrage coming. I'll just stand over here and wait for it, then. For the big pile of outrage that's coming.

Mm-hm. Outrage.

No ultrasounds in the galaxy far, far away, I see.

Jedi sure do combust fast, when they're not being easily disposed of by clones who can be turned against them by the push of a button.

A clone named Commander Cody. Thank you, George.

It was nice to see Uncle Owen gazing into the Tatooine sunset. Perhaps he will inspire Luke's need to escape his surroundings in some small way.

Jar Jar: no dialogue whatsoever. Thank you, George.

Jimmy Smits will never die on camera unless Lucas revisits A New Hope again. Unfortunate, that.

Padme and Anakin have the most excruciating on-camera relationship in filmic history.

It was nice to see George give the Star Trek II reference with the full-on Darth Shatner when Vader learns of Padme's death. KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

There was a lot of endearing goofiness that is one of the things I've always associated with Star Wars (unlike the crap goofiness that was everywhere in Phantom Menace.) Like when Bruce Spence was whispering to Obi-Wan all of the sudden: "Oh hey, Master Jedi. Nice to see you. Sure you can borrow it. Psssst! Droid overlord! Up there. UP THERE." Or the weird sudden closeups of characters who get one line of dialogue (like in that Monty Python joke: "But it's my only line.....") So I'm seeing where the it-felt-like-Star-Wars thing is coming from.

The Trade Federation aliens lost their Asian accents all of the sudden. They were still awful.

We didn't need to see Chewbacca.

McGregor and McDiarmid were great, especially McDiarmid in full Wicked Witch of the West mode.

It was nice to see the New Hope rebel starship interiors. Comforting, in fact. Also comforting: James Earl Jones.

Was Boba Fett in this? I had heard that he was but I didn't notice him.

It was good. I was entertained.
BRIDE OF CHET: This whole Chet discussion has been fascinating. I am wondering, though, is there a single type of woman who marries a Chet, and maintains the Chet numbers across human populations? The basic Chet qualities, as explained by ObWi von, are:

1. Smart and personable, with the ability to be an asshole to the right people at the right time.
2. Uncurious in an intellectual sense. (My distillation of von's point 2, which might not be exactly what he meant.)
3. Hard-working.
4. Risk-taking.

The female Chet--let's call her "Muffy"--would probably at least have to have characteristic 2, so she'd be compatible with Chet and not keep him up all night with dreary dull conversations. They probably have 1 in common too. 3 or 4--I dunno. I figured I'd more throw it out there.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

THE STAR WARS EPISODE III CRITICAL CONSENSUS: Reading the tomatometer it seems like Episode III is about as good as Jedi, which means it's pretty good. I'm getting a lot of the "Hey--this feels like a Star Wars movie" vibe from the reviews.

UPDATE: This Star-Ledger review makes the point that the turn of Darth Vader could've been done in one movie, and I agree. Just cut out the drek from I and the endless debate from II and you'd be left with the Darth Maul fight, the pod race, and....I can't remember the set pieces from II. There was Ani hacking sand people to death (".....the WOMEN....and the CHILDREN.....") and Obi-Wan fighting Boba Fett Sr. on the neato aqua-planet of the cloners. The rest was filler--and Lucas really should've picked up the Padme/Anakin relationship in mid-romance, since the most cringe-inducing scenes in I and II were from their meeting ("Are you an angel?") and their early "dating," for lack of a better word. Apparently their relationship is still bringing the cringe in III, but there's less of it.

Maybe that "Phantom Edit" guy can put it all together. The Ledger review also says this:

"Sith" is the longest "Star Wars" episode, its running time augmented with subplots involving younger versions of well-known characters like Chewbacca and Boba Fett. These cameos are of little use beyond nostalgia and demonstrate how the filmmaker's reverence for his own creations has clouded his judgment as a storyteller.

This, I'm a bit worried about--it sounds like when Spock shows up in Next Generation episodes, or--shudder--Shatner meeting Picard. And I still think Lucas has no idea why Boba Fett was cool in the first place--why kill him goofy in Jedi, and then coat the prequels with the Fett genome unless you had no idea why the Fett underoos were so coveted?--but I'm just a fan with a blog.
CHEAPEST GAS IN MY AREA: $1.909 in Pennsauken, New Jersey. It's one of those indy stations where it takes them five minutes to run a credit card transaction, so I actually went to the Riggins that was 20 yards away where it was $1.919. So I paid a penny a gallon more for a smooth credit card transaction. There you are.

While Washington plunged into a procedural fight over a pair of judicial nominees, Stuart Butler, head of domestic policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, and Isabel Sawhill, director of the left-leaning Brookings Institution's economic studies program, sat down with Comptroller General David M. Walker to bemoan what they jointly called the budget "nightmare."

There were no cameras, not a single microphone, and no evidence of a lawmaker or Bush administration official in the room -- just some hungry congressional staffers and boxes of sandwiches from Corner Bakery. But what the three spoke about will have greater consequences than the current fuss over filibusters and Tom DeLay's travel.

With startling unanimity, they agreed that without some combination of big tax increases and major cuts in Medicare, Social Security and most other spending, the country will fall victim to the huge debt and soaring interest rates that collapsed Argentina's economy and caused riots in its streets a few years ago.

"The only thing the United States is able to do a little after 2040 is pay interest on massive and growing federal debt," Walker said. "The model blows up in the mid-2040s. What does that mean? Argentina."

"All true," Sawhill, a budget official in the Clinton administration, concurred.

"To do nothing," Butler added, "would lead to deficits of the scale we've never seen in this country or any major in industrialized country. We've seen them in Argentina. That's a chilling thought, but it would mean that."


The unity of the bespectacled presenters was impressive -- and it made their conclusion all the more depressing. As Ron Haskins, a former Bush White House official and current Brookings scholar, said when introducing the thinkers: "If Heritage and Brookings agree on something, there must be something to it."

Yet that is not how leaders of either party talk. Former Treasury secretary Paul H. O'Neill recounted how Vice President Cheney told him that "deficits don't matter." President Bush projects deficit reductions in the coming few years but ignores projections that show them exploding after that. And Democrats, fighting Bush's call for cutting Social Security benefits through indexing changes, are suggesting that only tinkering with the program is indicated.

The congressional staffers, accustomed to sitting on opposite sides of the room in such events, seemed flummoxed by yesterday's unusual session in the Rayburn House Office Building. One questioner suggested Republicans are to blame for multiple tax cuts; another implied the problem is a Democratic appetite for spending. The bipartisan panel would not be goaded. "I'm willing to talk about taxes if you're willing to talk about entitlements," Butler offered.

Not surprisingly, the Heritage and Brookings crowds don't agree on an exact solution to the budget problem, but they seem to accept that, as Sawhill put it, "you can't do it with either spending or taxes. Eventually, you're going to need a mix of the two." Butler wants taxes, now at 17 percent of GDP, not to exceed 20 percent. Sawhill prefers 24 or 25 percent.

But such haggling seems premature when both parties still deny the problem. "I don't think we're there yet," Walker said. "The American people have to understand where we are and where we're headed."

And where is that? "No republic in the history of the world lasted more than 300 years," Walker said. "Eventually, the crunch comes."

He wasn't talking about filibusters.

Via that Carpetbagger guy Kevin Drum is always linking to.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

AND A NEWSWEEK ASIDE: The cover story to the dreaded riot-causing issue, Does the Future Belong to China?, by Fareed Zakaria, is worth a read.
2046: Neat IMDB thread about the performers apparently using different dialects within 2046, and Wong Kar-Wai letting them do it.
MISSING THE POINT, NEWSWEEK EDITION: Instapundit uses this paragraph (from Anne Applebaum):

It is also possible that Newsweek reporters relied too much on an uncertain source, or that the magazine confused the story with (confirmed) reports that prisoners themselves used Korans to block toilets as a form of protest.

To make this point:

I had missed those confirmed reports, but heads should roll at the Pentagon for this.

Not because it happened, but because we didn't make it a big story across the Arab media. That's unforgivable.

That paragraph's natural environment looks a little like this:

Now, it is possible that no interrogator at Guantanamo Bay ever flushed pages of the Koran down the toilet, as the now-retracted Newsweek story reported -- although several former Guantanamo detainees have alleged just that. It is also possible that Newsweek reporters relied too much on an uncertain source, or that the magazine confused the story with (confirmed) reports that prisoners themselves used Korans to block toilets as a form of protest.

But surely the larger point is not the story itself but that it was so eminently plausible, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and everywhere else. And it was plausible precisely because interrogation techniques designed to be offensive to Muslims were used in Iraq and Guantanamo, as administration and military officials have also confirmed. For example:

· Dogs. Military interrogators deployed them specifically because they knew Muslims consider dogs unclean. In a memo signed by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in September 2003, and available online, the then-commander in Iraq actually approved using the technique to "exploit Arab fear of dogs."

· Nudity. We know (and the Muslim world knows) from the Abu Ghraib photographs that nudity has been used to humiliate Muslim men. More important, we know that nudity was also approved as an interrogation technique by Donald Rumsfeld himself. He signed off on a November 2002 policy memo, later revised but also available online, that specifically listed "removal of clothing" as a permissible, "category II" interrogation technique, along with "removal of facial hair," also a technique designed to offend Muslims who wear beards.

· Sexual harassment. The military's investigation of U.S. detention and interrogation practices, led by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, stated that at Guantanamo there were "two female interrogators who, on their own initiative, touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner in order to incur stress based on the detainees' religious beliefs." Although the report said both had been reprimanded, there is no doubt, again, that the tactic was designed for men whose religion prohibits them from having contact with women other than their wives.

· Fake menstrual blood. When former detainees began claiming that they had been smeared with menstrual blood intended to make them "unclean" and therefore unable to pray, their lawyers initially dismissed the story as implausible. But the story has been confirmed by Army Sgt. Erik Saar, a former Guantanamo translator, who told the Associated Press that in a forthcoming book he will describe a female interrogator who smeared a prisoner with red ink, claimed it was menstrual blood and left, saying, "Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself."

There is no question that these were tactics designed to offend, no question that they were put in place after 2001 and no question that many considered them justified. Since the Afghan invasion, public supporters of "exceptional" interrogation methods have argued that in the special, unusual case of the war on terrorism, we may have to suspend our fussy legality, ignore our high ideals and resort to some unpleasant tactics that our military had never used. Opponents of these methods, among them some of the military's own interrogation experts, have argued, on the contrary, that "special methods" are not only ineffective but counterproductive: They might actually inspire Muslim terrorists instead of helping to defeat them. They might also make it easier, say, for fanatics in Jalalabad to use two lines of a magazine article to incite riots.

Blaming the messenger, even for a bungled message, doesn't get the administration off the hook. Yes, to paraphrase Rumsfeld, people need to be very careful, not only about what they say but about what they do. And, yes, people whose military and diplomatic priorities include the defeat of Islamic fanaticism and the spread of democratic values in the Muslim world need to be very, very careful, not only about what they say but about what they do to the Muslims they hold in captivity.

You see the problem? The bits that I bolded? The way the Applebaum piece sort of destroys the blame-Newsweek argument? The way he wants heads to roll for not publicizing Guantanamo prisoners backing up toilets with their Korans, and not for continuing to treat prisoners in a fashion that undermines the United States' stated purpose in the Muslim world? It's like Insty's the Riddler and he wants to be caught.

RED IN VICTORY: So I'm listening to NPR talk about this story in Nature about how British researchers are floating a theory that wearing red gives athletes a slight but not insignificant advantage. They looked at combat sports in the Olympics--where the participants are assigned red or blue colors at random--and red-wearers won 55% of the time. So I was thinking, well, numbers aside, this is probably pretty silly, and then one of the British guys they were interviewing said this started as a water-cooler discussion, where it was noted that the long-term successful English football clubs Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool all wore red. And then I was like, well, American sports teams don't really wear red, do they? I mean, there's the Red Sox, whose long-term futility is only exceeded by their fellow red-wearers, the Philadelphia Phillies. The Cincinnati Reds have had moderate success, but not dominant success. The Raleigh-Durham Skyhawks--the only World League of American Football team to never win a game, wore red. The only successful red-based American team I can think of is Indiana basketball. Oh--and, of course, the Red Wings, who were a dominant team (after decades of futility, I should mention) in a league that doesn't exist anymore. So there you go.

I'm guessing the red effect was some kind of statistical aberration--as whoever NPR brought in to provide the counterpoint suggested--and I would love to see who was wearing red or blue in each individual contest. One of the researchers is an evolutionary biologist, and he was trying to tie in redness as a sign of aggressiveness with redness having some kind of unconscious effect on those who wear it (or those who are confronted with red-wearers), but I'm thinking there isn't much there.

Even on the conservative, all-Republican bench that the State Supreme Court had become, Justice Owen occasionally stood out among her colleagues, sometimes in tandem with another justice, Nathan Hecht. In no situation was this more so than in cases involving the interpretation of a state law providing for a teenage girl to obtain an abortion without notifying her parents if she can show a court that she is mature enough to understand the consequences.

In one dissent, Justice Owen said the teenager in the case had not demonstrated that she knew that there were religious objections to abortion and that some women who underwent abortions had experienced severe remorse.

Mr. Gonzales, a Texas Supreme Court justice at the time, was in the majority and wrote that the position of the three dissenters was "an unconscionable act of judicial activism" because it would create obstacles to abortion that the Legislature did not enact.

Mr. Gonzales, in interviews with The New York Times, acknowledged that his words were directed at her dissent but said that he remained enthusiastic about her nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

But he has been repeatedly pressed by conservatives to declare that he did not mean her. Recently, he tried to distance himself from the remarks by telling a Senate committee that he was referring to himself, not the dissenters. His apparent explanation seemed to be that it would have been an act of judicial activism for him if he had done what Justice Owen and her two fellow dissenters had done.

Via TNR via Laura Rozen.


Remember micro-scandal over Washingtonienne, the Capitol Hill kiss-and-tell sex vendor whose copiously blogged exploits roiled the Beltway last summer? (No? Lucky you.) Well, now there's a little coda, and it's actually more interesting than the former senatorial assistant's inventories of receiving a toaster for anal sex or a pearl necklace for a pearl necklace.

Thank you, Julian Sanchez, for teaching us to laugh about small-time Washington sleaze. Again.

The story, anyway, is that somebody she had talked about is now suing her for emotional distress. She never made Playboy like we all thought she would, did she? There can't be a big payout there, except in vindictive capital (as the Reason commentators suggest.)
LEARN A NEW STEREOTYPE EVERY DAY: Asian people can't drive? That I can safely say I had never heard of. Thank you, Internets. I guess.

And I work in a big trauma center and it's not like we're bursting over with Asian MVAs. But I do live in South Jersey and most of the commentators on the Yglesias thread seem like they're from San Francisco, so there you are. And the accident accident Matt describes is more of the goofy confusing reverse with forward and winding p in a tree kind than the hitting the pole at 90 m.p.h. kind.

Monday, May 16, 2005

RISE OF THE SUPERVILLAINS: Here's a Charles Paul Freund post about the possibility the Saudis have rigged the entire kingdom to blow up if anybody tries to invade. Yes, it's completely ridiculous, but so are the Saudis, and I wouldn't put it past the nation responsible for 9/11. They've displayed plenty of aptitude for the bad kind of creative destruction before.

Two 9/11 references on one day. I must be returning to the warblogger womb.
SAY--: Isn't blaming Newsweek for deaths via riots in Afghanistan kind of like one of them thar blowback arguments, the kind one could easily dismiss when left-wing nutters argued that the United State was ultimately responsible for 9/11? Why, I believe it is. It's just as tenuous, at least, taking people's explanations for the horrible things they did at face value.

You should read Arthur Silber's analysis of this "scandal."

UPDATE: You should really read Layne-via-Welch's analyis of this "scandal" too. Part 212 of Why Instapundit Doesn't Link To Ken Layne Anymore.

UPDATE UPDATE: In case this isn't clear yet--you are completely frigging insane if you are blaming Newsweek for the deaths in Afghanistan or if you are suggesting Newsweek needs to be prosecuted in court in any way.

UPDATE THE THIRD: Kevin Drum: "As near as I can tell, the Pentagon has demonstrated more genuine outrage over this incident than they did over months and months of disclosures of similar (and worse) actions at Abu Ghraib. It's revolting."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

SALETAN GIVING ID A LITTLE TOO MUCH CREDIT: When I read Saletan saying this:

The new challenger, ID, differs fundamentally from fundamentalism. Like its creationist forebears, ID is theistic. But unlike them, it abandons Biblical literalism, embraces open-minded inquiry, and accepts falsification, not authority, as the ultimate test. These concessions, sincere or not, define a new species of creationism—Homo sapiens—that fatally undermines its ancestors. Creationists aren't threatening us. They're becoming us.

And I'm like, isn't the whole problem with ID is that it isn't falsifiable, makes no predictions, follows from no evidence, and so on? RPM at the evolgen blog noticed the same thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

EEK: If Abu Ghraib wasn't disturbing enough, the back story makes it creepier. I wonder if this lends any credibility to the few-bad-apples hypothesis. Something along the lines of, "See how freaked out these people are? Of course they were going to start taking naked pictures of the prisoners!" But I'm thinking it's more likely that while the particular form Abu Ghraib took on was influenced by the Graner-England-Ambuhl triangle, torture-via-porno was a lame idea brought down from the higher levels of authority.
WOW: Peter Vecsey kills Dan le Batard deader than dead after Le Batard's whole "white people might like Nash over Shaq" thing. Via SLAM. I always read a little bitterness into Vecsey when he writes about fellow journalists with TV jobs (like Le Batard's frequent substitutions on PTI) while he hasn't been on TV since his TNT job a few years back. But he really makes Le Batard look like a cretin for kind of half-picking up the racism card.
OKAY--I KNOW LITTLE ABOUT ECONOMICS: But is there any concept of a corporation's lifespan? I 'm listening to NPR and they're talking about United Airlines and their bankruptcy and them trying to shift their pension plans to the government because the plans are these big dead weights that are preventing United from seeking investors. And I'm thinking, why don't they just let United die? Sell everything off, use that to fund the pensions, let somebody else step into or grow in the marketplace. I can't imagine what is gained by keeping it alive. I mean, I think I know the answer: it's too big to let it die. But that's not a good reason.

Friday, May 06, 2005


If you're a female, describing your night out at the strip club is just cute.

If you're a male, describing your night out at the strip club is unspeakably sleazy, makes you worthy of public condemnation, and--most tellingly--did not actually happen during the week of May 1st, 2005.

There you go. For what it's worth, there is a chance I could have found Laura's speech funny if it hadn't been so obviously scripted. Which may be why I can't enjoy any of the members of the Bush team.