Category: "culture/news"

Nations that don't use the metric system

That's Burma, Liberia, and the US.

(via Digg)


I started reading Slaughterhouse-five on Friday night and finished it on Sunday afternoon. It's about a man that comes unstuck in time and experiences his life in a random order. Part of the story follows him through the allied fire-bombing of Dresden, Germany, where he was held as a prisoner of war by the Germans in World War II. After the war, the main character is up late one night when this happens:

He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

I thought that was one of the more poignant passages of the book.

Powell: Close Guantanamo

Former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell was on Meet the Press today. Here's this retired four-star general's view of the detention center in Guatanamo Bay, Cuba:

If it was up to me, I would close Guantanamo. Not tomorrow, but this afternoon. I'd close it. And I would not let any of those people go, I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system. The concern was, well then they'll have access to lawyers, then they'll have access to writs of habeas corpus. So what? Let them. Isn't that what our system is all about?

You can add Powell's name to the long list of people calling for Gitmo to be closed. That list also includes Tony Blair, the UN, the European Parliment and Amnesty International. This American Life did an episode about Habeas Corpus where they interview some of the detainees who have been released.

Powell goes on:

I would also do it because every morning, I pick up a paper and some authoritarian figure, some person somewhere, is using Guantanamo to hide their own misdeeds. And so essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open and creating things like the military commission. We don't need it, and it's causing us far more damage than any good we get for it.


Does John McCain like to ask rhetorical questions? Yes he does. Does it wear thin? Yes, very quickly. Did he squirm and dodge like a weasel today on Meet the Press? Yes. Is he still a maverick? No.

Gas Boycott

People, for the love of crap, if you get an email that sounds too good or bad to be true, it probably is. Before you hit the forward button, do a quick Google search for the subject of the email and the word hoax. Or visit

Google search for gas boycott hoax
Gas boycott page on Snopes

Someone taped this gem to the breakroom door at work. I also got it in an email from an otherwise reasonable person. First of all, there's never been a one day gas boycott that dropped the price of gas by 30 cents. Second, if you just buy gas on another day, the monthly total sales won't be different at all. The only things that can drop the price of gas are an increase of supply or a (real) decrease in demand.

If you actually want to do something about gas prices, then use less gas. Bike, walk, carpool, don't travel as much or get a more efficient car.

Gov Blunt's Biggest Donor

Fired Up Missouri reports that Governor Blunt's latest campaign finance report includes some big numbers from a notable name: Bob Perry. He was also a contributor to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the 2004 smear campaign that brought us four more years of Bush. Perry has been the largest donor of some of the political action groups run by disgraced former congressman Tom DeLay.

Some find it surprising that the increasingly unpopular Matt Blunt is even raising money for a reelection run in 2008. Bob Perry is not the kind of person that we want associated with our state. If we judge by the company he keeps, then Matt Blunt isn't either.

Quid pro quo

Contribute toward the character assassination of a war hero and you, too, could be rewarded by being made an ambassador. Bush is so loyal to his hitmen, he's appointed Sam Fox even when it was clear that the Senate thinks he's unfit to serve. At least this crony appointment won't put lives in danger like Mike "heckuvajobbrownie" Brown.

EMI drops DRM in iTMS

Apple, inc and the record label EMI announced (EMI press release, Apple press release) this morning that they will begin offering songs in the iTunes Music store that have no digital rights management (DRM). If you're not familiar with DRM, here's a quick explanation. When you buy a 99 cent song in iTunes, you can play it on your computer and up to four more computers where your iTunes account is authorized. You also can only play the song on an iPod, so if you have bought some songs on iTMS and you get an mp3 player that's not from Apple, you can't play your songs. There's also a limit on how many cds you can burn from the music you buy. The idea is to prevent piracy, but the people who are willing to pay a dollar for a song are usually not the pirating type. They could have downloaded the entire album for free from BitTorrent if they wanted to pirate it. What usually happens is that DRM is an annoyance to law-abiding music purchasers.

EMI is offering DRM-free tracks on iTunes for a premium ($1.29), but they are higher quality (256K). I think the price is still too high, but this is a huge step in the right direction. You'll be able to do whatever you want with these files: email a song to friend, burn as many cds as you want, back them up, play them on any mp3 player and not worry about losing your investment if technology changes. Steve Jobs says that similar deals with other labels will follow and by the end of the year he hopes to have 50% of the iTMS catalog available DRM-free. This may be the beginning of the end for DRM. I've never bought songs from iTunes, but I may consider it now.

I mentioned DRM in a post almost two years ago. I linked to Cory Doctorow's great speech on the subject (still a good explanation of why DRM is terrible) and I hoped that Microsoft's forthcoming portable audio player wouldn't have an oppressive DRM. It does.

If you're wondering what artists this will include, here's a list of EMI artists.

Best and Worst Presidents

A discussion over at Voter Vault got me thinking about who I would rank as the best and worst Presidents in our history. Here are my top five:

1. Abraham Lincoln
2. George Washington
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. John Kennedy

I don't feel too strongly about Kennedy. Maybe Wilson should be there. Kennedy did get us into Vietnam, but he also pushed the Apollo program. I guess the nerd in me wins out.

Now, for the worst Presidents:

39. Franklin Pierce
40. Herbert Hoover
41. Andrew Johnson
42. James Buchanan
43. Warren G. Harding

It's still way too early to put George W. Bush in either list. Unless things turn around in Iraq in the next year, he'll probably find his place in the bottom five eventually.

Who would you put in these two lists? If you need some help, take a look at this article about scholar's rankings.

Eight Lies about the Iraq debate

In Washington we're now seeing the debate that should have happened in 2002. Sadly, at that time Congress was not performing its duty to oversee the people leading us into a war. Now that Congress has changed hands and there's a Presidential election looming, the debate is in full swing. The administration that worked so hard to quell debate in the run-up to the war is not about to welcome an open and full debate on the future of the war. They've apparently come up with some talking points that they're going to repeat ad nauseam in an attempt to silence their critics. I've heard them so many times over the last week that I can tell you what the administration shill is going to say even before he opens his mouth.

Lie #1: Questioning the war undermines the troops
If the troops are fighting to defend and spread democracy and freedom, then how are we undermining them when we exercise our freedoms and promote the full functioning of our democracy? As far as I know, everyone who is questioning this war and the proposed escalation is doing so because they love the troops and want them to come home. This charge should be turned around against those who would throw 20K more lives at an obviously failed policy.

Lie #2: Questioning the war emboldens the enemy
Yes, I'm sure al Qaeda just loves it when the hear that our democracy is still functioning. My personal theory is that they're smart enough to know that they can't beat the US in military conflict, but if they make us so paranoid that we voluntarily exchange our freedom for unquestioning devotion to a draconian government, then in a sense, they win. At any rate, we need to do what is right, regardless of how it makes our enemies feel. The debate is right and this argument against it is just a desperate appeal to emotion.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam -– How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
-- Vietnam War veteran John Kerry in his 1971 appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Lie #3: No one who is against the war has a plan
Although there's disagreement about details, most opponents of the escalation agree about what should be done instead: Get out. You can call it cut and run or defeat or, as seems to be the new strategy, you can pretend that this plan doesn't exist. Just this week there have been several new proposals for how to exit most gracefully. They should all be considered and debated in Congress until they have merged them together to form some sort of cohesive alternative to the Bush/McCain escalation. The President may still reject it and call it defeat, but he can't really say that there's no alternative plan. Bush claims that defeat is not an option, but sometimes you don't get to choose. Sometimes defeat happens whether you want it or not. The choice we do have is how long will we keep digging this hole? How many men and women will die in our vain attempt to salvage an ill-conceived war?

Lie #4: Talking to Iran is not worth a try
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be a megalomaniac who is generally working against our interests, but that doesn't mean he can't be persuaded to play ball. Statesmen like Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton wouldn't suggest talking to Iran if they thought there was no chance that it could help. As the old saying goes, "If you want to make peace, you don't talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies." I don't get why sending 20K more troops to Iraq is "worth a try," but we can't be bothered to talk to Iran because we "don't talk to evil."

Lie #5: The Congress has no say
While the President is the Commander in Chief of the military, the Congress does have certain war powers. This New York Times article does a good job of discussing those powers. In my opinion, the current war has gone far beyond the original authorization for force. I think Congress should revoke that authorization and vote on a new authorization with more specific benchmarks, scope and deadlines.

Lie #6: Congress should skip non-binding resolutions and go straight to funding cuts
This may be the lie that I've heard most often. It's really more like a schoolyard taunt. The President's men are trying to bait the opponents of escalation into the potentially unpopular position of cutting off funding. I like the idea that we're actually seeing a debate and the resolutions will serve as a clear message to the President about where they stand. He'll still have a chance to do the right thing and heed the advice of Congress, the public, the military leaders that he's fired and most of the rest of the world. Bush would much rather have the decision taken out of his hands by a funding cut so he can have someone else to blame.

Lie #7: The news media is going to lose the war
Speaking of blame, I hate that I even have to address this lie. It's plainly false, but I've heard it so many times that I must respond to it. I'll admit that a lot of reporting is sensationalized and yes, perception does affect reality, but blaming the problems in Iraq on reporters is just stupid. Our government invaded a country without good reason and without a plan for stabilizing and rebuilding that country. The consequences of that were accurately predicted by a great deal of people. Reporters are simply doing their job when they tell us what's happening over there. Even if we somehow managed to keep the problems in Iraq a secret, they would still be happening. Ours are not the only reporters there, anyway. If the American media was under state control and didn't report anything that wasn't handed on a Presidential spoon (is that what they want?), the world would still hear about the trouble in Iraq from European and Arab reporters.

Lie #8: It's too late to discuss mistakes made before the war
There are still a number of unanswered questions about how we got into this war. It's late, but it's not too late to find out the truth and hold people responsible for it before they're out of office. Books like The Assassin's Gate and The Greatest Story Ever Sold have begun to reveal how badly this war was planned and justified. This is not some insignificant historical detail, it's the very essence of why we're in Iraq. It should have an effect on what we do in the future. I hope to see Congressional hearings on this subject.

These aren't the only lies, but they're the lies that I'm hearing the most right now. In time they may be abandoned like so many of Bush's earlier lies (Don Rumsfeld is doing a fine job, I listen to my generals on the ground, etc). There's one other thing I've noticed about this. Bush's influence in the Congress has slipped to the point that he can't even get any big names to go tell these lies for him. On all the interviews and debates I've seen, the person taking up the Administration position is someone I've never heard of. With the exception of McCain, Bush is having a hard time finding anyone to support him. And McCain has to support this plan because he came up with it.

Here's to speaking truth to power and bringing our brave men and women home.

1 ... 4 5 6 ...7 ... 9 ...11 ...12 13 14 ... 32