Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our God-fearing Christian family planning will defeat their Mohammedan fascism

From News Blaze's "Iran Democracy Monitor" (10/30/06):

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is trying his hand at a new social endeavor: family planning on a national scale. The Iranian president has announced his willingness to decrease the number of hours worked by married professionals in an average week as a way of encouraging greater fertility. Ahmadinejad's plan, which is said to be currently under review by the Ministry of Health, would reverse population control measures put in place by the regime over the past decade to boost prosperity. It envisions a near-doubling of Iran's population, to some 120 million souls, in the foreseeable future.

From the NRO "Corner" blog, Michael Ledeen, "With Respect to Islamic Fascism" (10/30/06):

No doubt Jonah, who has been working on his book about fascism, will have had the same reaction as I. For this is right out of the fascist manual. Indeed, Mussolini once wrote an impassioned introduction to a very boring book (authored by one Richard Korherr, who I do not believe was from Bologna, and called something like "shrinking population, the death of nations") urging Italians to reproduce like Topsy. And of course Hitler had all those breeding programs, about which I will say no more for fear of being lumped in with Webb and Libby as a foul-mouthed (or is it foul-penned, or foul-keyboarded) sex fiend.

From USA Today, "Abstinence message goes beyond teens" (10/31/06):

The federal government's "no sex without marriage" message isn't just for kids anymore.

Now the government is targeting unmarried adults up to age 29 as part of its abstinence-only programs, which include millions of dollars in federal money that will be available to the states under revised federal grant guidelines for 2007.


The National Center for Health Statistics says well over 90% of adults ages 20-29 have had sexual intercourse.

But Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, said the revision is aimed at 19- to 29-year-olds because more unmarried women in that age group are having children.

Government data released last month show that 998,262 births in 2004 were to unmarried women 19-29, the ages with the most births to unmarried women.

"The message is 'It's better to wait until you're married to bear or father children,' " Horn said. "The only 100% effective way of getting there is abstinence."

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Allow me to consult my Milton Friedman on this question"

Here's a good read, courtesy of A&L: GOP and Man at Yale, from the American Conservative. It's a paleoconservative lament, as we should expect from a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan, about the ascent of "mindless Republican boosterism" among college-aged conservatives. Before you dismiss this as the flipside to the liberal coin of complaining about how we youngins aren't activist enough, read on. The author, Daniel McCarthy, makes some (on the surface) salient points about how young Republicans today haven't done their homework: rather than reading the "greats" of conservatism, the Russell Kirks and Richard Weavers and Ayn Rands and Milton Friedmans, they wear "George Bush is my homeboy" shirts and listen to Coulter and Hannity.

The "canon" of conservatism has always interested me. It seems so much more neat, nice, and carefully delineated than the sprawling mass of countercultural pamphlets, vague manifestoes, and pop culture oddities that constitute the "mission statement," if there is one, of the 60s New Left. As a young conservative, one need only read The Road to Serfdom, Capitalism and Freedom, The Conservative Mind, The Virtue of Selfishness, Ideas Have Consequences, and anything by Murray Rothbard and presto, you're a card-carrying member of the movement, with the requisite answer for every political, cultural, and economic question. So, my first response to the piece was a question: What was the comparable reading list for the (60s, New) Left? Was it The Other America by Michael Harrington, books by Arthur Schlesinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, radical philosophy (i.e. good old-fashioned Marx and Engels), Marcuse-style critical theory, Silent Spring, Soul on Ice, The Female Eunuch? And furthermore, what is it today? Who here has read anything from the past fifty years that solidifed their stance as a progressive liberal? (I throw this label out in the "biggest-tent-possible" fashion; work with me here. But dissenters from this label please feel free to, well, dissent.)

But then I got to thinking more about McCarthy's article, and how ultimately irrelevant his canon is. I will grant that popular conservative books were at one time argued more carefully, intellectually, and politely. Intelligently written conservative (and progressive!) books are now more likely to be distributed on highly specialized university presses for higher prices. But is McCarthy correct in supposing that his hallowed books once meant something to a significant portion of the Republican party, or even to a significant portion of its elites, and that that number has lately dwindled? Which is the same thing as saying something like, did Dissent magazine ever mean more to the Democratic elites than it does now? It seems to me that McCarthy is mistaking the periphery for the core here. Except for a few fundamental ideological touchstones, political movements rarely latch on to whole systems of philosophy. That's something only elite academics have time for, because they're not constantly campaigning, forging alliances, formulating policy points to attract the largest possible number of voters, etc. This is not to say that many people don't read political philosophy (very loosely defined) and absorb it into their arguments. I just mean that very few people who are actually politically involved can afford to consult their Mises on every question.

Nor do I think that a decline in erudite study can account for the gutterization of political discourse, something which McCarthy rightly detests. It's the medium more than the message--that is, the technological advances, the rise in cable news, conservative talk radio, "soundbyte" culture, well-funded publishing companies with nothing to lose (Regnery, Crown Forum, et al), shortened attention spans, etc. Mix these with disgusting but attention-grabbing punditry and you get the feedback loop of Rush, O'Reilly, and their ilk. (I would berate the Democrats here as well but there really is no comparable institutionalized hate parade on their side. Rush, Hannity, Coulter and the rest are dyed-in-the-wool Republicans; the most vociferous and uncivil anti-Bush rants tend to come from people who abandoned the Democrats long ago. So when Republicans search for an "America-hating leftist," they can usually only drum up Ward Churchill, an obscure blogger, and Some Guy with a Sign Somewhere [I owe this formulation to Scott Lemieux at the American Prospect blog].)

Now, for a final point: McCarthy goes out of his way to establish the conservative Old Guard's anti-war credentials. His point seems to be that if young Republicans delved deeply enough into the classics, they'd find ammunition aplenty against George Bush's particular (preemptive) worldview. But couldn't one counter that it's not as though the Bush administration doesn't read philosophy, it just reads the wrong kind of philosophy? And here we could introduce (yet again) the question of Straussianism. I for one see nothing in this Presidency that couldn't be traced back to a combination of greed, power, and religious fervor (yes, Robot, I read the Wills piece), rather than Plato and Machiavelli. But even if this administration isn't studying ancient texts esoterically, we could still point out that there might still be a more "ideological" rather than "pragmatic" bent to this group. I won't say any more on this topic, but because of it's synthesis of academia and actual public policy I find it fascinating. Any thoughts (on the roughly 400 questions I've raised)?

A minor development

My super-special personalized webpage is online now. Just google my name and "Stanford" and you should be able to find it. Marvel at my terrible picture, taken in the Classics library! Check out my fellow students! (Not as fun as Facebook-stalking, but still worth your while.) All I need now is a Ph.D.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More white boys with mad flows

Weird Al hasn't been funny in years (if ever), but this "White & Nerdy" video is AWESOME. "I'm fluent in Javascript as well as Klingon." "My ergonomic keyboard never leaves me bored." Austin, you fit too many of the descriptions in this video for comfort.

Nice to know what he spends his time on...

Bush is as dumb as a child. Watch this video and youll see what I mean.


It's so easy to picture him just zooming in an out on the image of the bird's-eye view of his ranch, over and over again. 'Ooo, now I'm gonna use the google to find the White House!'

But what is so shocking about this clip is not his admission to wasting time on Google Earth, nor is it how he calls Google 'the Google' (how much more out of touch can he get); what I find most idiotic about this clip is that you know he has access to satelite images with 100x the capabilities of Google Earth, but he still uses Google Earth.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Euro-American free trade zone

I know there are people around here who purport to be against free trade, and, although I feel this to be a fairly silly idea, I suppose I must tolerate it. But even socialists and anarcho-syndicalists (or whatever you call yourselves these days) should support a Trans-Atlantic free trade zone. This is because, from an American perspective, it gets around the only plausible argument against free trade, the so-called race to the bottom: Europe has higher labor and environmental standards than we do, and these laws have persisted in the face of stagnant economies and the opening of trade in the Eurozone. A stronger economic alliance, as this (awkwardly translated) article argues, between Europe and America will serve to raise the standards everywhere, or at least maintain the status quo while bolstering countries that have high standards. Objections? Objections with clear economic argument behind them?

Something Fun in a Cone!

This has nothing to do with anything but it's tres entertaining...

Watch This.

PS- how do you put the actual video screen into the post?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

This is Stupidcenter.

You're probably all familiar with the phenomenon of bizarre baby names, both among celebrities (Apple, Suri, etc) and hoi polloi (Orangello, Bocephus, Stand-up-and-shout-for-Jesus Jones [I swear this is one]). Well, time to add a bold new addition. It turns out that not one, but four couples have decided to name their children "ESPN." ESPN Montana Real was born earlier this month to proud parents in Biloxi, Mississippi. There are three other little ESPNs already out there, two in Texas and one in Michigan. That makes just enough ESPNs to one day find each other and join intensive group therapy. God bless America. I await with bated breath CSI Smith and ROTFLMAO Rogers.

So fucking what if everyone's already seen it

I'm often deterred from posting things I like on this blog because I believe that everyone else has already seen it. Well, not anymore, at least not to the same extent. Because I'm interested in hearing what you all think about shit, I'm going to start posting links to stuff that's interesting/good even if I know you've already seen it. I won't let the bastards win!
All of this is from Metafilter, a site which is still pretty good for some reason.
So here's Jeff Tweedy hitting a guy that comes on stage:

I happen to love "Airline to Heaven," the song that this jerk interrupted, so it's ok with me, although I'm not so sure about Woody Guthrie's take on the issue.
And here's Tweedy apologizing, and playing a mediocre version of "Hummingbird" that still makes me incredibly nostalgic:

And here's Keith Richards really beating someone's ass with a guitar:

As some guy on Metafilter wrote: "He seems so utterly nonchalant about it too. On seeing the approaching stranger, he casually shrugs off his guitar, swings and then shoulders it again. It's like he's done it every day for years on end."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Troubling Developments

Just real quick:
So the Guardian puts out an article about an "invisibility" device that completely shields objects from radar (if not yet from visibility). However, the troublesome part is that in such a short article Harry Potter's invisibility cloak was referenced 5 times. Maybe the author's purposefully belaboring what might be the obvious association for humour's sake, but perhaps there's just something fundamentally awry with the British subconcious.

Political smorgasbord

Rather than encumber you with one of my long-winded posts that no one responds to, I will throw out a few brief notes and see what sticks.

Starting with my freshest memory: I saw Seymour Hersh speak tonight. It was very strange, much like watching George Pepe deliver a talk about international policy. Hersh stumbled, ranted, went off on wild tangents about historical figures, was self-deprecating, cut people's applause off ("That's nothing to applaud--No, no, really, please, please, ahhhh...Abu Ghraib!"); but in general, it was informative, if only to see a totally different type of journalistic personality. Hersh has never hidden his political slant ("I'm a left-wing Jew. You know us."), so he's much more like I.F. Stone than an "elder statesman of journalism" figure like Bob Woodward. (Both were mentioned in the course of the talk--Hersh seemed jealous of Woodward's connections but a bit dismissive of his journalistic prestige.) Hersh gave the impression that he was just this normal guy, flying by the seat of his pants, who always happened to be at the right place at the right time (on stories like My Lai, Watergate, etc). He downplayed "official sources" and seemed totally oblivious to norms of fact-checking and exactitude. Many times he said "I mean, I know people who know this stuff. Or they know people they heard it from." In other words, take my word for it. It wasn't necessarily sloppy, just...old-fashioned. It was like he was still a young reporter on a beat, kind of quaint. Not much new to learn from the speech, though. He did mention Strauss at one point, saying that he knew him at Chicago and that his philosophy really was anti-liberal. He described neoconservative/Straussian debate sessions where they "sit around and read Aristotle." More likely Plato, but okay. The talk was part of this "Thinking Humanity after Abu-Ghraib" series, which is continuing tomorrow with talks by the original researcher of the Stanford prison experiment, as well as Judith Butler. The Communists made it out from Berkeley to pass out literature after the speech. I took a CD-ROM of speeches by Bob Avakian, "Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party." Creepy maoist stuff, this.

Second, perhaps you've seen by now this manifesto by American academic liberals in response to this Tony Judt essay in the London Review of Books. Judt's essay was certainly unfair in many respects--it painted the broadest strokes possible, and basically said it was the liberal intelligentsia's fault that Bush had gotten away with so much--but what exactly does this self-satisfied statement of principles accomplish? At least with the awful Euston Manifesto and its American counterpart you can have fun playing "spot the conservative signatory." ("Oh look, there's Eliot Cohen! And there's Michael Ledeen! Maybe you can spread democracy with airstrikes after all!") With this new manifesto, all you get is recycled platitudes. It also leads with a curious declaration of support for Israel, perhaps in response to Judt's own belief in a bi-national state? Which has gotten him in trouble recently, don't you know. Anyway, I don't want to malign the signers or question their motives (in fact, I read and respect the views of many of them, and one of them is my professor this quarter), but again, what does this accomplish? When the dust settles around this Presidency, with or without the help of opposition from liberal academics, will this be proof that they were on the "right side"? Personally I find programs like the Project for the New American Century much more interesting, if only because the members end up in government positions, rather than upper-level politics courses. Read it, though.

Third, if the name "JD Hayworth" does not immediately equal "Congressional dumbass" in your minds, it will now. Although there are too many stupid politicians to choose from, our boy JD (R-AZ) takes the cake for his recent remarks about Jews. After refusing to stand down from his support for Henry Ford's racist "Americanization" program, he had campaign supporters tell a synogogue that Hayworth is a "more observant Jew" than them (despite the fact that--ta-da!--he is not Jewish), and when met with boos, one supporter apparently said "No wonder there are anti-Semites." This election year is proving to me that American politicians haven't forgotten racism, despite the centrality of the "terrorist appeaser" tactic. Some new ads in favor of Patrick Rooney contain interesting dialogue between black men about their "hos." In Tennessee, Republicans sent out flyers with a photo of Democrat Harold Ford Jr. darkened to make him appear "blacker." All in a day's work.

Finally, I very much enjoyed this little gem from Missouri's own Rep. Roy Blunt: "[If they gain the majority,] Democrats will plot to establish a Department of Peace, raise your taxes, and minimize penalties for crack dealers." Condoleezza Rice would put it like this: "There is no greater threat to long term peace in the Middle East than a Department of Peace."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

OOOhhh Internet!!!

A friend asked me this question a couple of days ago: Would you rather go two years without any sort of sex (which includes both genital and oral), or go two years without being able to use the internet?
Go ahead, take a minute and think about it for yourself.
This question is obviously a difficult one to answer. Yet after a few moments of reasoning, most people say that they would rather go two years without sex.
The aforementioned conclusion actually makes sense, because it has become almost impossible to exist socially, academically, or even personally without the use of the internet.
Evidently, the strangest aspect of our relatively new-found dependency on the internet isn’t the amount of time that we use it, but rather the relative importance of its role in our lives.
Approximately 11 years ago I had to beg my parents to sign up for Prodigy Internet, which involved me basically explaining to them what the internet was. And now, for many of us, it's more important than sex.
Humans sure can adapt quickly.
In 30 years kids are gonna be blogging whether you would rather go 2 years without sex, or 2 years without your flying car.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Well, that clears that up a bit

It's a minor blip compared to Woodward's new book, but David Kuo's Tempting Faith has made a few waves for its insider's look into the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The interesting thing is that Kuo isn't writing from the perspective of a jaded defector but as an unreconstructed evangelical Christian. His problem is that the Bush Administration didn't help Christians enough. He says that White House officials smiled and welcomed Christian leaders but then called them "goofy," "ridiculous," and "out of control," and that Karl Rove referred to them as "the nuts."

Kuo's claims are, of course, in the process of being refuted by the White House, but if what he says is true, it confirms something I've thought for a long time about the administration. They are not, as some liberals would claim, motivated by some sort of crazy evangelical spirit. How many times have you heard it said that both Bush and bin Laden are "religious fanatics"? Or that the country's problems, domestic and international, have their bases in some sort of Christian revivalist upsurge? The first problem with this analysis is that it gives Bush far too much credit. It's easy to hoist signs like this and this, but do you really think that the man possesses any real power? That he does anything more than scratch his ass at meetings and attempt to parse the multi-syllable words? His stupidity and pettiness have been on even greater display than usual recently. (There's also the interesting "unacceptable" article in the Washington Post that's been making the blog rounds; I don't know if those are scripted instances or ex tempore, though.)

Second, and more importantly, all the evidence points to the conclusion that Rove and the other elite Republican political spinners simply use religious rhetoric as a way to attract voters. As Andrew Sullivan has pointed out--rightly, I think--many inside-the-Beltway GOP movers and shakers have gay friends and probably have learned to live quite comfortably with gay neighbors, associates, and relatives (let's not forget Mary Cheney). It wouldn't surprise me at all if they distrust or even loathe truly creepy religious freaks like Tony Perkins.

The bigger picture is that there is no tail that wags the dog in these scenarios. The religious right does not dictate to the White House. One can draw a similar conclusion from the US's relationship with Israel. It is often said, in both respectable and often downright nasty company, that Israel exerts too much power over the US or even "controls" it, whatever that means. In this and the religious right case, nothing could be further from the truth. The United States, and especially this particular Presidency, uses these entities as its apparatuses to the extent that it can, and no more. Sound overly bleak? Can anyone present a more likely explanation? This is how it seems to me.

Of course, then there's the question of whether the government is controlled by big business. But that's assuming that you're dealing with two separate entities to begin with...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Addition to "Friendly Blogs"

I'm afraid that someone we all know has begun a blog, and, due to an obligation from the distant past, I am forced to link to it. The first post is surprisingly well written, considering the writer and his dubious subject matter. Here's to Alex Thompson's Westside BikeSIDE.

Crime, Punishment and the Bernard Williamization of the U.S.

The title refers to a dead British philosopher whose book Shame and Necessity was read by a few of us at the Huffy Crew. One of the major themes of the book was this concept of "shame," with one of the implications being that where it was once a critical component of Greek life, it is now largely lost to us moderns.

One quote from an article in this week's Economist which highlights the rise of shaming punishments in the U.S.:

"Many support shaming punishments. Amitai Etzioni of George Washington University has argued that they are a good way to express communal values. Fines, in contrast, imply that you can buy a clear conscience. And shame seems to be a powerful deterrent."

When you read the kinds of examples listed in this story, I have little doubt they will do the trick of deterring -- at least in these cases -- petty crime. What's more, I'm all for expressing "communal values" and treating crime as a profoundly anti-social matter, but there's something about this shaming business that gives me the creeps. Perhaps because anytime I think of such public shamings, I'm reminded of far worse times, and far worse places: the so-called "spectacles"of public hangings, stonings, disembowlings, parading of captives, etc.
Also, the artice's first example, of the frat boy having to stand outside in his toga, reminded me more of a pledge activity than a mature form of social punishment. Is this what shaming is? Fraternity initiation?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Only in Vermont...

...could a Republican-turned-Independent be replaced by a socialist. Certainly an interesting development, which will throw a tiny bit of much needed variance into the Senate, but I would think the buck stops here. Still, it warms my heart a little...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Thoughts on the newest from our man Will Oldham

That I, of all people, have waited this long to get the new Bonnie "Prince" Billy, The Letting Go is surprising. (I buy this guy's rather superfluous live albums, after all.) However, it is finally mine, all mine, and seeing as how there are at least two people on this blog who I know care about this, well, lemme lay it all out for ya.

This is Oldham's third great album qua album (the first being Viva Last Blues, the second being Superwolf). Previously he had great albums qua "universe-of-its-own singles collection" (Lost Blues, which I will always swear by), and great albums qua "freaky atmospheric pieces" (Days in the Wake, I See A Darkness). Then there are the "very good" albums, mostly consisting of what I would call the "middle period" (Joya, Ease Down the Road, Master and Everyone), and the "good" albums (Hope, Arise Therefore, Guarapero, There is No-One What Will Take Care of You). Admittedly I have not heard everything put out by this man, but I can safely say the remaining stuff is mostly weird side projects (did anyone hear the Tortoise record? Now, for the superfans who pass that test, did anyone like it?) This isn't a permanent canon, either; sometimes I really have a hankering for Joya, sometimes Hope hits the spot.

Now that my little nerdboy discography is out of the way, we can get to this record. I say it's a great "album album" for several reasons: first of all, it's the best produced album he's done (unless you count the country polish of the Sings Greatest Palace Music record, which shall not be spoken of again). Second, there are no bizarre distractions as there are on other BPB albums. So, no creaky voice, no throwaway stoned songs, etc. This might disappoint some people, because along with that stuff goes a lot of the offhand humor and goofy wordplay (sadly, no "horny horns" or "spank you mercilessly"s this time around, but we do get something about "your inner croco shout," whatever the hell that is). There's also not too many creepy sexual bits. So--no sex, no horny horns, no voice cracking--is this really a Will Oldham album?

Well, yes, because it's alternatively beautiful songs and well-written song songs. This is what I've really been a fan of all along (so, I have a soft spot for "epic" sing-alongs like "Horses," "New Partner," "O Let it Be," "Agnes Queen of Sorrow," etc). For the former, beautiful type, see "Love Comes to Me," "Strange Form of Life," "Lay and Love," "Then the Letting Go." For the latter, "Cursed Sleep" is really all you need, it is that awesome. There's plenty of overlap between the two types, too. Plus, he's got this woman singing with him, Dawn McCarthy, who records under the name "Faun Fables." Their harmonizing is excellent; Austin, I suspect you will especially like this part. I never thought Oldham was much of a harmonizer, but after the Superwolf record and seeing him perform those songs with Matt Sweeney, I now know better. That boy good. There are a couple of songs I don't really care for in the middle of the album, but they're interesting and well done nonetheless. The bottom line is, you will sing these tunes, you will think about these words, you will certainly want to lay in bed with someone and listen. Now, go forth ye and line Will Oldham's pockets with your CD money!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

North Korea's nuclear test

Apparently, North Korea just tested a nuclear bomb. This fact came to my attention less than a minute ago, and I feel the need to record my thoughts at this historic event. It seems to me that the reactions to events like these are more significant than the events themselves. For instance, 9/11 and its response. So at this point, the thing that frightens me the most is an increase in the power of the Republican Party. If the American public reacts to this event by increasing their support for George Bush, we will face increased support for a belligerent, unintelligent leader. This is the same leader that (1) fucked up negotiations for preventing the occurrence of this very event and (2) probably increased North Korea's desire to have a bomb by his use of threatening rhetoric. Let's hope this support doesn't materialize. Any other thoughts? I'm feeling much less whimsical than I was when I wrote the previous post.

Here's the best article I could find. I'm going to bed before I have to stay up all night reading about this.
Here's an article on North Korea's threatening rhetoric. Not looking good.

ECLIPS: A new method of ice production for homes without ice machines

Traditional approaches have focused on surface area and, to a lesser extent, shape as the primary variables for manipulation in domestic ice production. Wilen (2004) embodies this conventional wisdom: "A smaller ice cube is to be recommended for its superior surface area-to-volume ratio, which cools drinks faster, and for its versatility, which allows it to be used for medical purposes as well as recreational ones". Wilen's sloppy writing fits well with his atrocious argument construction; as we shall see, the conventional wisdom on ice production is a card house. When we realize that larger ice cubes are equally appropriate for over 95% of the tasks needed for ice as small cubes, this card house begins to fall apart. We discover that the high labor costs associated with smaller ice cubes are one more ingredient in the immoral oppresion of women and minorities. We find that the bourgeois snobbery associated with the Artisanal Ice Movement is even more hollow than it appears. Indeed, we find that all ice machines, as long as they freeze water in a safe and efficient manner, can produce ice equally as valuable as that produced by the most sophisticated artisanal producers.
All of this depends on a simple trick, one that every child learns in her high school chemistry class: with the introduction of stirring, shaking or any other method of circulation, the size of the ice cubes in any beverage quickly becomes irrelevant. Thus the choice of a mode of production for consumable ice need no longer be made on the basis of size or shape. Now, after the advent of ice packs for inflammation reduction, this finding has the potential to change ice production completlely, because consumable ice, ice used for internal cooling of beverages, now accounts for 95.6% of all ice consumed in America. Significant gains in efficiency can be gained because of this new finding.
It is not prima facie evident that large ice cubes are more easily produced than small ones. After all, the large surface area-to-volume ration associated with small ice cubes means that they will be produced much more quickly in a conventional freezer. But this focuses too much on the immediate production of ice cubes and ignores the regular patterns associated with ice consumption and the fact that ice can be stored. With these insights in mind, we can observe that, ceteris paribus, the most important variable in choosing a mode of ice production is cost. It is obvious, then, that the icemaking machine is by far the most efficient method, as human labor is the most accounts for 98% of the cost of ice production. But what about those homes which do not have the use of an ice machine? Obviously, the best practice production method will be that which minimizes labor consumption. That method is the extremely cubical, large ice production system (ECLIPS), which I have developed in my domestic research laboratory in Washington, DC.
I observed that ice cube producers attempt to minimize their labor commitment by reducing the number of times they filled ice trays instead of filling trays more quickly. This follows our traditional understanding of the cognitive requirements involved in beginning discrete tasks: when evaluating the efficiency in a given process, people take into consideration the fact that changing ones focus involves a significant amount of energy; it thus becomes rational to minimize the quantity of attention shifts involved in any given task. My studies indicated that most ice producers would prefer only to make ice once or, at most, twice a day.
But a second observation was also essential to the development of ECLIPS: ice producers often have significant space constraints. This means that most ice producers (72% +/- 12% with 95% confidence) are limited to two producing trays and one storage unit.
The ECLIPS system attempts to maximize this limited space by filling trays to the highest feasible level. But the genius of ECLIPS comes in the method for filling said ice trays. Instead of filling them to their maximum capacity before transfer to the freezer, the ECLIPS method enlists the support of another device, a small cup, "top off" the trays once they are already in the freezer. This prevents unnecessary spillage, reducing the variability in expected labor time that was formerly considered an inherent part of ice production.

(A) "Topping off" the ice tray

(B) A full storage unit
As you can see below, the end product is suitable for any beverage cooling purpose. The larger cube is significantly more massive and thus provides more cooling power per unit of time invested. The greater volume of the cube produced means that ECLIPS users fill an ice storage unit much more quickly than producers using other methods. In addition, the cube has superior aesthetic qualities--even artisan ice makers, who produce the smallest cubes available to civilians, have admitted that a larger cube is more interesting due to the complexity of its crystal structure. ECLIPS is therefor not only a small step towards the liberation of the domestic class, but a method for increasing the amount of aesthetic pleasure received by ice consumers of all classes.

(C) The superior aesthetic qualities of large ice cubes are self-evident.

Our public intellectuals at work

Many people, myself included, have been eager to hear what Christopher Hitchens has to say about Bob Woodward's revelation that Henry Kissinger has been advising President Bush on Iraq. I read Hitchens' book The Trial of Henry Kissinger over the summer, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to know about the Nixon (Kissinger) government's complicity in a staggering number of human rights violations (Bangladesh, Cyprus, East Timor, and of course, Vietnam). It's also a good way to see the old, pre-9/11 Hitchens in action, as he's completely different now (all the while claiming that his views haven't changed).

Well, Hitchens' new column is out, and it's a doozy. One can only imagine the extreme mental gymnastics that had to be carried out in order for Hitchens to square the circle of his arch-nemesis acting in collusion with his neocon heroes. His column basically amounts to this: there is some obligatory name-calling ("bungling old war criminal," "his usual standard of depraved politics and world-class disaster-mongering," "the malign effect of this little gargoyle"), a truly specious argument that attempts to separate Kissingerian aims from neoconservative ones while at the same time blaming everything that's gone wrong in Iraq on Kissinger and his associate Paul Bremer, and an astonishingly dishonest analysis of Kissinger's influence on Bush.

The ad hominem elements are largely a smokescreen. Hitchens has no new things to say about Kissinger, and the onus is entirely on him to show how he can continue to support Bush in good faith, so he falls back on some of his typically venomous polemics. The problem is that at the end of the day, even if Kissinger is a troll he's now Bush's troll, and he seems to have been for quite some time.

In order to counter this potentially fatal fact, Hitchens tries to say that Kissinger has never been a good regime-changer the way Bush, Wolfowitz & co. have. "Nonetheless, in the debate on whether to actually intervene in Iraq in the first place, it was noticeable that the proponents of 'regime change' generally defined themselves as anti-Kissingerian." In other words, we good, noble people have always held to the path of truth and justice, promoting freedom and liberation for the Iraqis, while Kissinger & associates skulked in the background, doing nothing, propping up evil dictatorships like they always do. Unfortunately for Hitchens, he links to an article by Kissinger that absolutely dashes this thesis to pieces. In it Kissinger presents himself as an even more hardcore neoconservative than those selling the war strictly on the "self-defense" basis: "The issue is not whether Iraq was involved in the terrorist attack on the United States. The challenge of Iraq is essentially geopolitical...The remaining regimes flirting with terrorist fundamentalism or acquiescing in its exactions would be driven to shut down their support of terrorism." If this is not the "painful birthpangs of a new Middle East" rhetoric of the Bush administration, I don't know what is. Hitchens zeroes in on a few stupid statements tossed off by Kissinger about China and the "Sunni majority," as if these gaffes nullified Kissinger's greater argument, which states very plainly that the United States should overthrow unfriendly regimes in order to further our interests and those of our friends.

Then there's this gem by Hitchens:

"During the Bremer period of governance in Baghdad, both the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis and the calling of elections were fatally postponed (perhaps when it was hastily discovered that a combined Kurdish and Shiite list could win a vote). It has proved difficult, if not impossible, to regain the political ground that was lost in that time. Shall we never be free of the malign effect of this little gargoyle and his ideas?"

As if it was only through the machinations of Kissinger and his stooge Bremer that the elections were postponed! The truth, as these news articles make clear, and as this Juan Cole analysis nicely summarizes, is that the American provisional government, with the approval of the Bush administration (who else??), had no intention of allowing elections until Sistani's fatwas brought thousands of protesters to the streets. It's possible, but highly unlikely, that Bush, Bremer et al. really did think that the country was too unstable for elections; what's more probable is that they wanted to hand the government over to a strongman of their choosing, namely Ahmad Chalabi or someone else once he was disgraced. When Hitchens says "it has proved difficult, if not impossible, to regain the political ground that was lost in that time," he is ironically correct: if not for the pesky democratic tendences of Iraqi citizens, we might have had a puppet government we could count on by now.

Hitchens' final paragraph is just too rich:

"If Kissinger really does have anything to do with the conduct of Iraq policy, then what we should fear is not just another attempt at moral blackmail of those who call for withdrawal. For the analogy to hold, we should have to find that while this militant rhetoric was being deployed in public a sellout, and a scuttle was being prepared behind the scenes. We are not fighting the Viet Cong in Iraq but the Khmer Rouge. A bungled withdrawal would lead to another Cambodia, not another Vietnam. It would be too horrible for Kissinger to live to see two such triumphs."

Now, every news story about Woodward's book has pointed out that Kissinger's advice to Bush has been that "victory is the only meaningful exit strategy." As Woodward rightly notes, "This is so fascinating. Kissinger's fighting the Vietnam War again because, in his view, the problem in Vietnam was we lost our will." There is no reason whatsoever to assume that Kissinger is saying these things to Bush while "secretly" preparing a "scuttle" behind the scenes. Hitchens simply has to make this stuff up in order to save his own ass. This is the lie that will allow him to rest easy at night, thinking that he and Kissinger are still mortal enemies, locked in hand-to-hand combat, when in fact they are, have been, and will continue to be part of the same team on the Iraq War. There is no way to know Hitchens' true motives, whether he honestly favors regime-change as a way to promote democracy or simply signed on to promote a war that would win him friends and influence. I dunno, maybe both. But it's been fascinating to watch this extremely intelligent and highly talented polemicist abdicate virtually all principle in his apologetics of the war. And now the former Trotskyite has met his strangest bedfellow by far.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

From Russia Without Love

Add one more absolutely horrifying news story to a country that seems to be spiraling rather quickly into insanity. Let's go over this month's highlights:

Mid September: Less than a year after a journalist for Forbes was murdered while exposing the immense fortunes and corrupt practices of the Russian oligarchy, the deputy central bank chief Andrei Kozlov -- also committed to exposing corruption, in this case, money laundering, was shot to death as part of a contract killing.

Late September: After several Russian spies were arrested in Georgia -- and not long thereafter released -- Russia turns all Mel Gibson-on-a-late-Saturday-night on us. So, why not just impose some economic sanctions and call it a day? Because if you're Russia, that doesn't go quite far enough to punish the Georgian superpower, whose hands are forever mettling in Russia's business (think Stalin). No, the only way to teach the Georgian government not to mess with Russia is by deporting Georgian citizens working in Russia. But even this rather remarkable move -- can you image the United States repatriating the immigrants of a given country because of their government's actions? -- seems a bit too soft for Putin. Thus, we now learn that if you have a Georgian-sounding name in a Russian school, you will be suspect to inspection to determine if you are an illegal Georgian migrant. Has the Georgian replaced the Jew as the new basis for totalitarian politics?

If we place these two developments together, we have rather conclusive evidence for what has long been feared: that Russia is truly becoming the most anti-communist state in the history of the world. Oligarchic, dictatorial, and jingoistic. My freshman year I wrote a research paper on Russian nationalism, and still recall some horrifying websites I visited. Because Russian nationalism is a newly emerging phenomenon, there remains a great deal of uncertainty as to just how dangerous it can become. A recent article in the New York Times -- now accessible only through Times Select -- had this to say about recent surges in ethnic violence in russia:

'They need to leave,' said Denis Doronin, 19, who said he took part in the protests that led to the violence. 'They arrive from another country and they act like kings.'

Russia has experienced a surge in racist violence in recent years, from isolated acts of assault and murder to last month's bombing of a Moscow market, which killed 12 people, most of them from Central Asia; three university students have been charged.

But the events in Kondopoga have exposed a strain of ethnic strife that extends beyond the acts of neo-Nazis and skinheads, infecting society as a whole 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union discredited the enforced harmony of Russia's many nationalities.

'What happened was a shift from class struggle to ethnic struggle,' said Viktor A. Shnirelman, an anthropologist with the Russian Academy of Sciences who is writing a book on racism in Russia. 'And it is very dangerous.'

Ethnic tensions across Russia have been fueled by the latent racism common among many Russians, who freely use the pejorative 'blacks' when describing people from the Caucasus, even in casual conversation. It also reflects a growing political opposition to migrant workers not unlike those movements in Europe and the United States and the indifferent or at times hostile responses from elected officials when violence erupts.

Considering how crucial Russia's role will be in managing such current and future issues as Iranian and North Korean WMDs, these recent developments just aren't reassuring.

Friday, October 06, 2006

War: Is it good for?

This provocative article by Christopher Clamer via Open Democracy raises many fascinating issues. His general thesis, that intellectuals and journalists need to be more honest and historically accurate about war and its non-military-related consequences is a good one. In the sense that an unconditional, ahistorical dismissal of war as "irrational" or "counterproductive" should be avoided as much as possible, he is absolutely right. If we are to look at wars from any kind of historical perspective (in addition to a moral one) we must look at the domestic consequences of war beyond simply death and destruction.

"Wars have given a boost to the efficiency of financial markets as well as to pressures for greater democracy and greater participation of women in political and economic life," Clamer writes. He, no doubt, is correct. The civil war gave us, in addition to the abolition of slavery, "standard sizing for mass production of clothes, the wider national use of legal tender paper bills (greenbacks), and Salmon P Chase's innovations in marketing bonds." In the years following the end of World War I -- and partly in response to the war itself -- women's suffrage was granted. World War II gave us the G.I. Bill, and the end of the depression.

However, now that we have acknowledged these historical events, like good students of Christopher Clamer that we are, what do we do now? For one, he says, we should no longer buy into the Enlightenment "liberal peace thesis" or "liberal view of violence." Fair enough. So, for all of you out there who believe, along with 18th century thinkers like Thomas Paine, that international commerce and free trade will forever end wars (I know that's a lot of you), you may now free yourself of this belief. For all of you who believe that it was entirely Roosevelt's New Deal, and not his war, that ended the single greatest economic depression in the history of the United States, you too may be disabused from your life of falsehood.

Ok, now that we've washed our hands of our erroneous ways, what now? Here, I'm just a little unclear as to what Mr. Clamer wants from us. The fact of the matter is that wars sometimes have good effects on social, economic, and political domestic affairs; but more often than not, their costs outweigh a set of benefits that were in the works to begin with. A bit of patience in these matters can go a long way. I don't think it's a stretch, for example, to say that we could have avoided the 126,000 U.S. military deaths (not to mention 600,000 deaths from the Spanish flu, a number that wouldn't be so inflated in the U.S. without war mobilization), and the social and political repercussions of the First Red Scare, while still granting women's suffrage, albeit perhaps a bit later. After all, the idea and practice of women's suffrage did not, of course, arise from the circumstances of the war. A bit of honest "History" demonstrates these reforms were right around the corner. In other words, the notion of the pristine "innovation of war" did not exist as this imagined 1918 conversation would have it:

General: Say, these women sure have been working hard at the factories while us men are doing the killing.
Politician: My God General, you're absolutely right ... Wait a second, I've got an idea! We ought to find some way to repay our appreciation to these fine gals, don't you think? Something to show that we because of this war, we think they're not so inferior after all.
General: What exactly do you have in mind, Politician? I haven't the slightest idea of what you're talking about.
Politician: That's just it, General. No one does. For all I know, this has never been thought of or done before -- not in New Jersey following the American revolution, and not even in Wyoming in 1869. No! This idea is entirely new. I'm talking about suffrage, man. Women's suffrage!

In World War II, the same idea holds. The idea of boosting government spending and providing a social safety net -- as demonstrated in the GDP increases at the start of the war, and the G.I. Bill at its conclusion -- were clear, simple extensions of the same ideas and practices already put in place in the pre-war stages of the New Deal.

If we are going to be honest about history, then let's do it. Clamer is right to remind us that war and violence on a large scale are complicated historical phenomena that cannot simply be dismissed with a bit of liberal utopianism. However, the fact remains that these strange "liberals" are hopeful because they have at least in part a right to be. Social and economic progress, history shows, can happen without war, and if there's any way to act in the future, it's in such a way as to stress these non-violent, historically validated, means to progress. (Hence my recent faith in the promise of the United Nations; my growing disgust with every new piece of evidence about the build-up to the Iraq War; and my horror at the recent actions and policies of the Israeli government).

Clamer himself says it better: "
Rather than merely criminalising these processes [of economic accumulation], the intellectual and policy challenge is to design ways of encouraging their conversion into less violent, more progressive, and more sustained processes of wealth-accumulation and job-creation..." We can at once abstain from turning a blind eye to the progress of war, while at the same time focusing more intensely at the progress of peace.

For Kushakov

I came across this poem and immediately thought of your question. This is of course not a source for the origin of the term, but rather an extreme example, perhaps even a perversion. The capitalization is in the original.

From Stephen Crane, "The Black Riders"



Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Didn't see this one coming...

Because 8 million deunionized workers can't compete with Mark "Pageturner" Foley, the media (and the "netroots" blogs for that matter) have been largely silent about the "Kentucky River" cases that went before the National Labor Relations Board yesterday. The argument was over whether certain workers count as "supervisors," a position that basically nullifies their ability to organize. You'll never guess who won! "Labor board redefines employee eligibility for legal protections on union membership." If you ever needed proof that federal politics affects union membership, here's Clinton's NLRB chairman, William Gould: "It's a radical reinterpretation of the statute to make it more difficult for 'charge nurses' to organize...It has potential for harm to the collective bargaining process." Do you think you could find one person on the current Board who shares such sentiments? And here's a gleeful word from the opposition, U.S. Chamber of Commerce lawyer Stephen Bokat: "When undergoing any organizing efforts by unions, you have to know who in the work force belongs to you and who belongs to the union." I suppose these "supervisors" "belong" to corporate management, much in the same way that helots "belonged" to the state of Sparta. A pretty transparent acknowlegment of class conflict in America, though. More here and here. Forget expanding local politics; at this point it's a question of whether we have any to begin with.

Eat at Denny's

The only joy I've gotten out of the continuing Mark Foley scandal is something Austin and I noticed long ago, namely that Dennis Hastert is immensely fat.

I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Hey, German-speaking types...

I have the wonderful responsibility of teaching myself German this year. Can either (any?) of you recommend a good grammar book, a good starting point, if you will? I'm so excited about my entry into the world of actually spoken languages that aren't 2000 years old!

Back when I was your age...

Here's a bit of heartwarming news that practically got me misty-eyed from all the nostalgia. I mean, remember how it used to be that terrorism meant hijacking a plane, making vague threats about the passengers, and then demanding a free trip to Cuba or some other similarly tropical location? Now with all this new-fangled technology, your WMD's your IED's your Dirty bombs, your "Play-Stations" and your antrhax scares, you can't really even think about a simple hijacking. It's so strange, these fellows just seemed to be disgruntled about the Pope, "they declared that they will surrender the moment they hijacked the plane," they just wanted to make a little hubub perhaps.

(Just so we're clear, I shouldn't have to say it but I don't want to be misquoted in the Jerusalem Post or something, I'm not in any way supporting or condoning this, quite to the contrary)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Mardree By Any Other Name...

I said, "Marjorie," but they don't call me d'Mardree for nothin'...

As if you needed it...

Here's further evidence to the fact that Jesus was most likely a swarthy Middle Eastern fellow. Could this be the work of the Notorious Banksy? Or have Jay and Silent Bob truly struck back...against 'Islamic Fascisssm'