Jon Gruber: "This Is How Apple Rolls"

Jon Gruber of Daring Fireball has a pretty good writeup on Macworld regarding Apple and their history of product development. Grubes points out that Apple never releases a blockbuster product. They start off well enough, but always with enough problems/missing features that there's work to be done. Over the course of the next few years, Apple will polish that pearl until it shines. This is obvious when you consider something like the iPhone, which was far from perfect with the original product: no 3rd party software, no 3g service, etc. Now, as we look to the summer's iPhone 4G (or HD, as it will probably be called), so many features have been added that it's miles better than the original, which was only 3 generations ago. In his article, Gruber points out that Apple has done much the same with OS X:

One example is Apple’s oldest core product: Mac OS X. It took four difficult years from Apple’s acquisition of NeXT in 1997 until Mac OS X 10.0 was released in March 2001. Needless to say, those four years were… well, let’s just say it was a difficult birth. But from that point forward, Mac OS X’s major releases have appeared regularly (especially by the standards of major commercial PC operating systems), each better than the previous version, but none spectacularly so. Snow Leopard is vastly superior to 10.0 in every conceivable way. It’s faster, better-designed, does more, and looks better. (And it runs exclusively on an entirely different CPU architecture than did 10.0.) But at no point between the two was there a release that was markedly superior to the one that preceded it.

Well put; I've never considered any one release of OS X essential, but they've all added useful features that build it into a stronger, more coherent OS. Windows, on the other hand, slowly axes older machines with each OS release (OS X only 2 years ago finally cut out non-Intel Macs.) Each Microsoft OS feels markedly different from the last and fixes so many problems that everyone wants it, whether they pay for it or not, in the hopes that it will be the amazing product Microsoft has been promising all this time. While it does appear they might have finally gotten something right with Windows 7, they couldn't afford not to have done so; Apple's market share is holding steady and the iPhone has caused many to consider change.

The iPad, as I see it currently, is inessential. I felt the same way about the original iPhone, thus my waiting a year before buying in. Once the iPhone 3G launched, there was no way I could consider not getting one. The 3GS was a minor upgrade, but to someone who still has a 3G, the new iPhone will be an easy sell, due to all the features it has that they can't use. Apple has a history of slowly, methodically, dragging their users into new devices/OSes. I can forgive them, though, as their old products continue to work and are still utterly useable. I just passed down an 2004 iMac to my parents as I finally upgraded, after 6 years, to a glorious 27" iMac. Six years from now, I'll probably repeat the process, unless an iPad has become my computer of choice. Given Apple's track record, that doesn't seem far-fetched.

Back From the Dead

Five years later, I feel it's time I returned to the blogging world. I've got things to say and maybe someone out there wants to listen. As previously, I'll link to stories I find interesting and music I think is awesome. I'll try not to get too political; I'm usually fairly good at this outside of election years. :)

Welcome to my world, I hope you find something you like!


Guantanamo Tactics Revealed

Just when you thought it had gone away that travesty of a prison they call Guantanamo Bay has come back into the news. A former translator at the infamous prison detailed the twisted tactics the US is using to interrogate suspected terrorists:

[ed: Emphasis Added] Female interrogators tried to break Muslim detainees at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay by sexual touching, wearing a miniskirt and thong underwear and in one case smearing a Saudi man's face with fake menstrual blood, according to an insider's written account.

A draft manuscript obtained by The Associated Press is classified as secret pending a Pentagon review for a planned book that details ways the U.S. military used women as part of tougher physical and psychological interrogation tactics to get terror suspects to talk.

It's the most revealing account so far of interrogations at the secretive detention camp, where officials say they have halted some controversial techniques.

"I have really struggled with this because the detainees, their families and much of the world will think this is a religious war based on some of the techniques used, even though it is not the case," the author, former Army Sgt. Erik R. Saar, 29, told AP.

Saar didn't provide the manuscript or approach AP, but confirmed the authenticity of nine draft pages AP obtained. He requested his hometown remain private so he wouldn't be harassed. Saar, who is neither Muslim nor of Arab descent, worked as an Arabic translator at the U.S. camp in eastern Cuba from December 2002 to June 2003. At the time, it was under the command of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who had a mandate to get better intelligence from prisoners, including alleged al-Qaida members caught in Afghanistan.

Saar said he witnessed about 20 interrogations and about three months after his arrival at the remote U.S. base he started noticing "disturbing" practices.

One female civilian contractor used a special outfit that included a miniskirt, thong underwear and a bra during late-night interrogations with prisoners, mostly Muslim men who consider it taboo to have close contact with women who aren't their wives.

Beginning in April 2003, "there hung a short skirt and thong underwear on the hook on the back of the door" of one interrogation team's office, he writes. "Later I learned that this outfit was used for interrogations by one of the female civilian contractors ... on a team which conducted interrogations in the middle of the night on Saudi men who were refusing to talk."

Some Guantanamo prisoners who have been released say they were tormented by "prostitutes."

In another case, Saar describes a female military interrogator questioning an uncooperative 21-year-old Saudi detainee who allegedly had taken flying lessons in Arizona before the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Suspected Sept. 11 hijacker Hani Hanjour received pilot instruction for three months in 1996 and in December 1997 at a flight school in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"His female interrogator decided that she needed to turn up the heat," Saar writes, saying she repeatedly asked the detainee who had sent him to Arizona, telling him he could "cooperate" or "have no hope whatsoever of ever leaving this place or talking to a lawyer.'"

The man closed his eyes and began to pray, Saar writes.

The female interrogator wanted to "break him," Saar adds, describing how she removed her uniform top to expose a tight-fitting T-shirt and began taunting the detainee, touching her breasts, rubbing them against the prisoner's back and commenting on his apparent erection.

The detainee looked up and spat in her face, the manuscript recounts.

The interrogator left the room to ask a Muslim linguist how she could break the prisoner's reliance on God. The linguist told her to tell the detainee that she was menstruating, touch him, then make sure to turn off the water in his cell so he couldn't wash.

Strict interpretation of Islamic law forbids physical contact with women other than a man's wife or family, and with any menstruating women, who are considered unclean.

"The concept was to make the detainee feel that after talking to her he was unclean and was unable to go before his God in prayer and gain strength," says the draft, stamped "Secret."

The interrogator used ink from a red pen to fool the detainee, Saar writes.

"She then started to place her hands in her pants as she walked behind the detainee," he says. "As she circled around him he could see that she was taking her hand out of her pants. When it became visible the detainee saw what appeared to be red blood on her hand. She said, 'Who sent you to Arizona?' He then glared at her with a piercing look of hatred.

"She then wiped the red ink on his face. He shouted at the top of his lungs, spat at her and lunged forward" — so fiercely that he broke loose from one ankle shackle.

"He began to cry like a baby," the draft says, noting the interrogator left saying, "Have a fun night in your cell without any water to clean yourself.

Events Saar describes resemble two previous reports of abusive female interrogation tactics, although it wasn't possible to independently verify his account.

...Sexual tactics used by female interrogators have been criticized by the FBI (news - web sites), which complained in a letter obtained by AP last month that U.S. defense officials hadn't acted on complaints by FBI observers of "highly aggressive" interrogation techniques, including one in which a female interrogator grabbed a detainee's genitals.

About 20 percent of the guards at Guantanamo are women, said Lt. Col. James Marshall, a spokesman for U.S. Southern Command. He wouldn't say how many of the interrogators were female.

Marshall wouldn't address whether the U.S. military had a specific strategy to use women.

"U.S. forces treat all detainees and conduct all interrogations, wherever they may occur, humanely and consistent with U.S. legal obligations, and in particular with legal obligations prohibiting torture," Marshall said late Wednesday.

But some officials at the U.S. Southern Command have questioned the formation of an all-female team as one of Guantanamo's "Immediate Reaction Force" units that subdue troublesome male prisoners in their cells, according to a document classified as secret and obtained by AP.

In one incident, dated June 19, 2004, "The detainee appears to be genuinely traumatized by a female escort securing the detainee's leg irons," according to the document, a U.S. Southern Command summary of videotapes shot when the teams were used.

...At Guantanamo, Saar said, "Interrogators were given a lot of latitude under Miller," the commander who went from the prison in Cuba to overseeing prisons in Iraq, where the Abu Ghraib scandal shocked the world with pictures revealing sexual humiliation of naked prisoners.

Several female troops have been charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Saar said he volunteered to go to Guantanamo because "I really believed in the mission," but then he became disillusioned during his six months at the prison.

After leaving the Army with more than four years service, Saar worked as a contractor briefly for the FBI.

The Department of Defense has censored parts of his draft, mainly blacking out people's names, said Saar, who hired Washington attorney Mark S. Zaid to represent him. Saar needed permission to publish because he signed a disclosure statement before going to Guantanamo.

The book, which Saar titled "Inside the Wire," is due out this year with Penguin Press.

Guantanamo has about 545 prisoners from some 40 countries, many held more than three years without charge or access to lawyers and many suspected of links to al-Qaida or Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime, which harbored the terrorist network.

It's not hard to imagine that these female squadrons are being formed, since US officials obviously don't care much for "playing by the rules." Certainly, I understand that females exist in the military and are just as likely to be sent on certain detail. But when they are used in this manner, to apparently humiliate prisoners, many who are wrongfully imprisoned in the first place, only because their religion is different from ours is just outrageous. I hope they realize they're going to burn in hell for what they've done. I've never imagined such vile acts could ever be committed by someone attached to the United States.


Battle Won Over Gonzales

Well, we've won the battle, but we haven't won the war just yet. KOS is where I first read that many a dem on the judiciary committee voted against confirming Gonzales, though the Republicans had enough votes to push him through for a full house vote. Of note, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) voted against Gonzales despite his past record. Feingold has always given deference to a President's cabinet nominees; he even voted for Ashcroft, even though he didn't necessarily like the guy. Here's what he had to say about Gonzales:

As all of my colleagues on this Committee know, I believe that Presidents are entitled to a great deal of deference in their cabinet nominations. I have voted in favor of a number of this President's nominees, including the current Attorney General, with whom I had serious disagreements on matters of policy and general ideology. My votes may not have always pleased my political supporters, or my party's leadership. But in carrying out my part in the constitutional scheme, as one who is asked to advise on and consent to a President's nominations, I am guided by my conscience, and by the history and practices of the United States Senate. Rejecting a cabinet nominee is a very rare event. The decision to do so must never be taken lightly.

Mr. Chairman, I have reached the conclusion, after a great deal of thought and careful consideration, that I cannot support Judge Gonzales's nomination.

As usual, the best news bits aren't in US papers, but found over at this article from the UK:

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Gonzales on Tuesday to tell him that he would voting against him.

Bush said that he chose Gonzales ``because of his sound judgment and role in shaping the administrations policies in the war on terrorism,'' Leahy said. ``Based on the glimpses of secret policy formulations and legal rationales that have come to light, I believe his judgments not to have been sound.''

``His judgment is defective,'' added Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del.

Democrats complain that Gonzales was evasive with his answers to their questions about White House policies in the war on terror. They have used his nomination and that of secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice to criticize the Iraq war and the treatment of foreign prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

``The continuing effort to pin the blame for the torture scandal on a few bad apples among our soldiers while ignoring or even rewarding Mr. Gonzales and others responsible for the policy has sent the wrong message to our nation and the world,'' said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. ``I cannot support a nominee who has done so much to harm America's basic interests and fundamental values.''

Republicans said Gonzales shouldn't be the scapegoat for what happened to foreign prisoners.

``Most of these allegations have nothing to do with Judge Gonzales and in any event have been thoroughly discussed,'' said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.

Gonzales, who served as White House counsel during President Bush's first term, would replace John Ashcroft if confirmed. He would be the nation's first Hispanic attorney general.

Even if Gonzales is approved by the committee, Democrats say they will require several hours of debate on the Senate floor before allowing a confirmation vote.

``I think that a man who gave the legal advice to the president to allow this to take place is someone that deserves to be talked about on the Senate floor,'' Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada said Tuesday.

Gonzales has said he supported extending the expired federal assault weapons ban. He also told senators he wanted Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act this year, despite complaints that it is too intrusive.

I suppose we can only dream of actually keeping him out of the cabinet, but stranger things have happened.


Gonzales TKO?

Well, the movement against Alberto Gonzales has grown quickly and I dare say it is possible (not probable) that he will be turned down for his post. KOS posted a list, which I would like to add my name to, of bloggers who are against Gonzales's Nomination:

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales's endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions "quaint."

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales's actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality - views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings - inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: "After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should 'judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'" We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales's nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, "[t]he world is indeed watching." Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

Add to this all the other stories about Gonzales's "selective memory" regarding his past actions and his ultra-cocky attitude and you have the recipe for what should be a good battle, at least if some of the dems out there have the guts.

Got a little free time? Email your local senator, quickly, and tell them that you don't support the nomination of Alberto Gonzales.

Swank + Eastwood * Freeman = Oscar

I attended a media screening for Million Dollar Baby last night and was absolutely blown away. It's rare to see a movie which brought out so many emotions. It brought out so many emotions you could barely keep up. The chemistry between Freeman and Eastwood (two real-life friends, and it shows) makes for some strikingly hilarious moments, in a movie that isn't billed as a comedy. The story of Swank's rags-to-riches character will lift your spirit, even if you're not a fan of boxing (and I am not). But most importantly, the movie expresses a deep emotion of sadness and regret that will haunt you, even after you've left the theatre. Swank, Eastwood and Freeman all excelled in their roles, but Swank in particular, as a championship calibur boxer who experiences downfall at the height of her career, shines like few before her. I've always been a fan of her work, but she is capable of showing world's of emotion through simple facial expressions.

Perhaps I've talked the movie up too much, but the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes seem to back me up. Roger Ebert summed it up as well as I ever could:

Clint Eastwood's "Million Dollar Baby" is a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true. It tells the story of an aging fight trainer and a hillbilly girl who thinks she can be a boxer. It is narrated by a former boxer who is the trainer's best friend. But it's not a boxing movie. It is a movie about a boxer. What else it is, all it is, how deep it goes, what emotional power it contains, I cannot suggest in this review, because I will not spoil the experience of following this story into the deepest secrets of life and death. This is the best film of the year.

...Movies are so often made of effects and sensation these days. This one is made of three people and how their actions grow out of who they are and why. Nothing else. But isn't that everything?


Bush's DUI, Record Deficits & Evolution

Thanks to Notes From a Different Kitchen I ran into an interesting story about the man running for attorney general Alberto Gonzales. Seems Mr. Gonzales memory got hazy during questioning about how he supposedly helped his boss get off the hook about his DUI:

...Gonzales's most surprising answer may have come on a different subject: his role in helping President Bush escape jury duty in a drunken-driving case involving a dancer at an Austin strip club in 1996. The judge and other lawyers in the case last week disputed a written account of the matter provided by Gonzales to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "It's a complete misrepresentation," said David Wahlberg, lawyer for the dancer, about Gonzales's account.

Bush's summons to serve as a juror in the drunken-driving case was, in retrospect, a fateful moment in his political career: by getting excused from jury duty he was able to avoid questions that would have required him to disclose his own 1976 arrest and conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) in Kennebunkport, Maine—an incident that didn't become public until the closing days of the 2000 campaign. (Bush, who had publicly declared his willingness to serve, had left blank on his jury questionnaire whether he had ever been "accused" in a criminal case.) Asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy to describe "in detail" the only court appearance he ever made on behalf of Bush, Gonzales—who was then chief counsel to the Texas governor—wrote that he had accompanied Bush the day he went to court "prepared to serve on a jury." While there, Gonzales wrote, he "observed" the defense lawyer make a motion to strike Bush from the jury panel "to which the prosecutor did not object." Asked by the judge whether he had "any views on this," Gonzales recalled, he said he did not.

While Gonzales's account tracks with the official court transcript, it leaves out a key part of what happened that day, according to Travis County Judge David Crain. In separate interviews, Crain—along with Wahlberg and prosecutor John Lastovica—told NEWSWEEK that, before the case began, Gonzales asked to have an off-the-record conference in the judge's chambers. Gonzales then asked Crain to "consider" striking Bush from the jury, making the novel "conflict of interest" argument that the Texas governor might one day be asked to pardon the defendant (who worked at an Austin nightclub called Sugar's), the judge said. "He [Gonzales] raised the issue," Crain said. Crain said he found Gonzales's argument surprising, since it was "extremely unlikely" that a drunken-driving conviction would ever lead to a pardon petition to Bush. But "out of deference" to the governor, Crain said, the other lawyers went along. Wahlberg said he agreed to make the motion striking Bush because he didn't want the hard-line governor on his jury anyway. But there was little doubt among the participants as to what was going on. "In public, they were making a big show of how he was prepared to serve," said Crain. "In the back room, they were trying to get him off."

Gonzales last week refused to waver. "Judge Gonzales has no recollection of requesting a meeting in chambers," a senior White House official said, adding that while Gonzales did recall that Bush's potential conflict was "discussed," he never "requested" that Bush be excused. "His answer to the Senate's question is accurate," the official said.

Very convenient, how he insists that his recolection is the right one, while everyone else remembers it completely different. I dislike this man more and more every day.

Next up, no matter where you heard it, the national deficit grows larger still, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. Funny, four years ago, when Bush stepped in office, we had a record surplus, now we've got this:

he White House will project that this year’s federal deficit will hit $427 billion, a senior administration official said Tuesday, a record partly driven by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The official, among three who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said the estimate was a conservative one that assumed some higher spending than other analysts use. Last February, the White House projected that the 2004 shortfall would hit $521 billion, only to see it come in at $412 billion.

The official said the figure represented progress because it would be smaller than last year’s record $412 billion shortfall when compared to the size of the growing U.S. economy. That ratio is a key measure of the deficit’s potency.

“Our projections will show we remain on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009,” one of President Bush’s budget goals, the official told reporters.

Even so, the number was among a blizzard of figures released Tuesday that illustrated how federal deficits remain a problem that Bush and Congress must reckon with.

Scarier still is that Bush is asking for even more in war funding from congress, as well:

Underscoring budget pressures hounding lawmakers, senior administration officials invited reporters to the White House to outline their upcoming request for an additional $80 billion, or slightly more, to help pay this year’s costs of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

...There is little doubt lawmakers will follow Bush’s lead, as they have repeatedly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The latest proposal would bring war spending so far to about $308 billion, including $25 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Research Service, which provides reports to lawmakers.

Nice. But, worry not, fellow Americans. Our finances may be in a bind, but at least our kids are getting excellent educations, places like Cobb County Georgia excluded. I mean, who's the nutbag who came up with this:

One line of attack - on display in Cobb County, Ga., in recent weeks - is to discredit evolution as little more than a theory that is open to question. Another strategy - now playing out in Dover, Pa. - is to make students aware of an alternative theory called "intelligent design," which infers the existence of an intelligent agent without any specific reference to God. These new approaches may seem harmless to a casual observer, but they still constitute an improper effort by religious advocates to impose their own slant on the teaching of evolution.

The Cobb County fight centers on a sticker that the board inserted into a new biology textbook to placate opponents of evolution. The school board, to its credit, was trying to strengthen the teaching of evolution after years in which it banned study of human origins in the elementary and middle schools and sidelined the topic as an elective in high school, in apparent violation of state curriculum standards. When the new course of study raised hackles among parents and citizens (more than 2,300 signed a petition), the board sought to quiet the controversy by placing a three-sentence sticker in the textbooks:

"This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered."

Although the board clearly thought this was a reasonable compromise, and many readers might think it unexceptional, it is actually an insidious effort to undermine the science curriculum. The first sentence sounds like a warning to parents that the film they are about to watch with their children contains pornography. Evolution is so awful that the reader must be warned that it is discussed inside the textbook. The second sentence makes it sound as though evolution is little more than a hunch, the popular understanding of the word "theory," whereas theories in science are carefully constructed frameworks for understanding a vast array of facts. The National Academy of Sciences, the nation's most prestigious scientific organization, has declared evolution "one of the strongest and most useful scientific theories we have" and says it is supported by an overwhelming scientific consensus.

The third sentence, urging that evolution be studied carefully and critically, seems like a fine idea. The only problem is, it singles out evolution as the only subject so shaky it needs critical judgment. Every subject in the curriculum should be studied carefully and critically. Indeed, the interpretations taught in history, economics, sociology, political science, literature and other fields of study are far less grounded in fact and professional consensus than is evolutionary biology.

A more honest sticker would describe evolution as the dominant theory in the field and an extremely fruitful scientific tool. The sad fact is, the school board, in its zeal to be accommodating, swallowed the language of the anti-evolution crowd. Although the sticker makes no mention of religion and the school board as a whole was not trying to advance religion, a federal judge in Georgia ruled that the sticker amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because it was rooted in long-running religious challenges to evolution. In particular, the sticker's assertion that "evolution is a theory, not a fact" adopted the latest tactical language used by anti-evolutionists to dilute Darwinism, thereby putting the school board on the side of religious critics of evolution. That court decision is being appealed. Supporters of sound science education can only hope that the courts, and school districts, find a way to repel this latest assault on the most well-grounded theory in modern biology.

What I don't get is how all these Creationist zealots can completely overlook the honest scientific proof that supports evolutionary theory. Certainly, it's possible to believe in a "Creator" as well as evolution, but these people seem wholy incapable. I should point out that an NPR story last week stated that the Cobb Co. board had lost a case and was told to remove the stickers, but they had so far not done as much. What a wonderful world.


The Day After

Wish this was a joke, but apparently the Federal Emergency Management Agency decided that it would be a good idea to make a game for kids involving Tsunami cleanup. Crazy old me, I'd call it a tiny bit insensitive, considering the major disaster that just hit Asia, but what do I know?

Mr. P sent me a nice link to Thom Friedman's latest OpEd over at the New York Times. Here's an excerpt from An American in Paris:

Why are Europeans so blue over George Bush's re-election? Because Europe is the world's biggest "blue state." This whole region is a rhapsody in blue. These days, even the small group of anti-anti-Americans in the European Union is uncomfortable being associated with Mr. Bush. There are Euro-conservatives, but, aside from, maybe, the ruling party in Italy, there is nothing here that quite corresponds to the anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-tax, anti-national-health-care, anti-Kyoto, openly religious, pro-Iraq-war Bush Republican Party.

If you took all three major parties in Britain - Labor, Liberals and Conservatives - "their views on God, guns, gays, the death penalty, national health care and the environment would all fit somewhere inside the Democratic Party," said James Rubin, the Clinton State Department spokesman, who works in London. "That's why I get along with all three parties here. They're all Democrats!"

While officially every European government is welcoming the inauguration of President Bush, the prevailing mood on the continent (if I may engage in a ridiculously sweeping generalization!) still seems to be one of shock and awe that Americans actually re-elected this man.

Before Mr. Bush's re-election, the prevailing attitude in Europe was definitely: "We're not anti-American. We're anti-Bush." But now that the American people have voted to re-elect Mr. Bush, Europe has a problem maintaining this distinction. The logic of the Europeans' position is that they should now be anti-American, not just anti-Bush, but most Europeans don't seem to want to go there. They know America is more complex. So there is a vague hope in the air that when Mr. Bush visits Europe next month, he'll come bearing an olive branch that will enable both sides to at least pretend to hold this loveless marriage together for the sake of the kids.

...Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.

An Oxford student who had just returned from research in Iran told me that young Iranians were "loving anything their government hates," such as Mr. Bush, "and hating anything their government loves." Tehran is festooned in "Down With America" graffiti, the student said, but when he tried to take pictures of it, the Iranian students he was with urged him not to. They said it was just put there by their government and was not how most Iranians felt.

Iran, he said, is the ultimate "red state." Go figure.

Next up, Democratic Underground was nice enough to point out the most memorable comment about the inauguration over at Salon's War Room:

Meanwhile, our favorite TV nugget of the day so far came courtesy of Barbara Walters, who matter-of-factly informed viewers that Laura Bush recently had her hair done by famed New York City stylist Sally Hershberger, who charges $700 for a haircut. Just take a moment to think back to the go-go '90s, and try to imagine what the press' hysterical reaction would have been if word ever leaked out that Hillary Clinton had sat down for a $700 trim."

Now, I'd rather not speculate about what might have been said, had this happened several years ago. However, I can honestly say that not only does $700 seem just a bit excessive, you have to wonder how that sort of thing is approved, and how often it happens.

More importantly, I don't think an inauguration and its festivities should cost over $50 million dollars:

Estimates on the cost of the Bush inauguration have wavered in the $30 million to $40 million range, maybe as high as $50 million for three or four days of events.

...The inauguration festivities will be supported by private donations from oil companies, insurance companies, investment and mortgage companies and other companies that will be opening up their checkbooks out of the goodness of their hearts, expecting nothing in return, just looking for a chance to jitterbug at any one of nine balls in the nation’s capital, watch fireworks displays, listen to a youth concert, see a parade — and, oh yeah, there’s a swearing-in ceremony, too.

Organizers say the festivities would have a solemnity missing from other inaugurals because the country remains at war.

“There have been 55 inaugurations and very few have taken place during wartime, and this inaugural will reflect that,” said Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the inaugural committee.

Part of that “solemnity” will likely come at the Commander-in-Chief Ball, a new event this time around.

It will be free of charge to 2,000 members of the armed services and their families, featuring those who have recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, or those who will be deployed there soon.

Don’t get too comfortable, taxpayer; you will be paying something. How about a little thing called security?

The $40 million for the inaugural gala doesn’t include the cost of security. While the string quartets fiddle, ball-goers can look at the windows and see evidence of millions being spent for security.

The District of Columbia anticipates spending $8.8 million in overtime pay for about 2,000 D.C. police officers; $2.7 million to pay 1,000-plus officers being sent by other jurisdictions across the country; $3 million to construct reviewing stands; and $2.5 million to place public works, health, transportation, fire, emergency management and business services on emergency footing.

Somehow, I failed to see any sort of "solemnity" in all those huge balls they were throwing. Solemn people would have the swearing-in, hold a somber dinner and then gone back to work helping our troops and rebuilding our poor, broken economy. This was one huge party that lasted a whole three days.

After the party ended, Republicans decided they needed to get back on the offensive. Their target this time: Spongebob Squarepants:

On the heels of electoral victories barring same-sex marriage, some influential conservative Christian groups are turning their attention to a new target: the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

"Does anybody here know SpongeBob?" Dr. James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, asked the guests Tuesday night at a black-tie dinner for members of Congress and political allies to celebrate the election results.

SpongeBob needed no introduction. In addition to his popularity among children, who watch his cartoon show, he has become a well-known camp figure among adult gay men, perhaps because he holds hands with his animated sidekick Patrick and likes to watch the imaginary television show "The Adventures of Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy."

Now, Dr. Dobson said, SpongeBob's creators had enlisted him in a "pro-homosexual video," in which he appeared alongside children's television colleagues like Barney and Jimmy Neutron, among many others. The makers of the video, he said, planned to mail it to thousands of elementary schools to promote a "tolerance pledge" that includes tolerance for differences of "sexual identity."

..."We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids," he said. "It is a classic bait and switch."

We all remember how Bert and Ernie were accused of being gay. I don't know if I speak for the rest of you, but I know growing up watching them made me queer as a three dollar bill.

Lastly, let's all relax for a moment and thank these patriots, who have stood up for true freedom and the liberty we all hold so dear. They are the true Patriots.


Return of the Low

Just a note: I've returned. Reading some liberal non-fiction as well as this amazing inauguration have possessed me to take back up my former pastime of blogging. Welcome to the new and soon to be hopping Caffeine Low. It may take me a few weeks to get my feet back on the ground, but if you're looking for links to pertinent news about politics, with a few stories about gaming, technology and music thrown in, here's the place to be. Sign up over on the right if you'd like to be emailed anything I post, in case my posts get sporadic, as they sometimes are.

Just a quickie to get you going, ever wonder what it'd be like to have a truly dissenting voice on FoxNews? Here's how it might go:


FoxNews just doesn't know how to properly screen their guests, I suppose, as this isn't the first time they've been had. Can't say I mind, though. It makes for some good TV.

Bush Inaugural Approval Appalling

The link to Air America probably won't be active for much longer. This is referring to their "Top Stories" section, which doesn't seem to have any sort of permalink. Anyway, I'll link as much stuff as I can, as it's all very pertinent.

Here we stand, at the dawn of a new Bush Era. The country is in shambles, our economy is getting fucked over by the Shrub and hundreds of thousands(perhaps millions?) have died in Iraq, though we've not found a single WMD. So, what do the American people, a not-quite-majority of who re-elected this nut, think of where we're going? Well, perhaps this CBS/NYTimes poll has the answer:

Fifty-eight percent of Americans say their outlook on a second Bush term is generally optimistic – a low number when compared to Mr. Bush's approval rating before his first term or Bill Clinton's before his second. At the same time, 56 percent say the country is on the wrong track, versus 39 percent who say it is on the right track.

Looking four years down the line, most Americans see very little changing, despite the ambitious agenda Mr. Bush is laying out for his second term.

Most expect they will be as safe from terror at the end of a second Bush term as they are today, but not safer. They think the economy and education system will be the same, but not better.

Despite Mr. Bush's focus on tax cuts, 41 percent of Americans say their taxes will be higher in four years, while just 9 percent say their taxes will be lower; 47 percent expect their taxes to be the same.

While Mr. Bush has a stated goal of cutting the national deficit in half, two-thirds of Americans expect the deficit to be higher after four years.

A slight plurality of Americans, 38 percent, say there will be fewer U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of a second Bush term. But 30 percent say there will be more, and 28 percent say the number will be the same.

As for the most ambitious and controversial item on Mr. Bush's agenda – overhauling Social Security - Americans expect to see big changes by 2008. But 50 percent say Mr. Bush's call for private retirement savings accounts is a bad idea, versus 45 percent who say it's a good idea.

Perhaps best is the last part, where a pure majority of American's feel that Mr. Bush's biggest issue, Social Security reform, is a terrible idea. Of course, don't expect him to take notice of that fact. He'll never have any idea of what the "average American" thinks, from inside that little bubble of his. Moving on...

Apparently foreigners continue to hate America, as shown by this poll:

A poll of 21 countries published yesterday - reflecting opinion in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe - showed that a clear majority have grave fears about the next four years.

Fifty-eight per cent of the 22,000 who took part in the poll, commissioned by the BBC World Service, said they expected Mr Bush to have a negative impact on peace and security, compared with only 26% who considered him a positive force.

The survey also indicated for the first time that dislike of Mr Bush is translating into a dislike of Americans in general.

The numbers get worse by the day. As the election date passes, and things get worse in Iraq(we all know they will), perception will darken and eventually it won't be safe to travel abroad. Good thing I got my European vacation out of the way long ago.

Of course, we all know Condi Rice is moving up in the world. Thank God, because she certainly doesn't need to be looking out for our security anymore. I mean, could the memo have been any more plainly-worded? Anyway, big ups to Barbera Boxer for showing she's got some sense(as well as Mr. Kerry) and here's David Corn's excellent take on the situation, even if it's basically "old news."

This just in from the "ironic offings" department, check out what happened in Iraq, according to the LA Times:

An American contractor gunned down last month in Iraq had accused Iraqi Defense Ministry officials of corruption days before his death, according to a report in Thursday's Los Angeles Times. "Dale Stoffel, 43, was shot to death Dec. 8 shortly after leaving an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, an attack attributed at the time to Iraqi insurgents. Also killed was a business associate, Joseph Wemple, 49," the LA Times reports. The killings came after Stoffel alerted senior U.S. officials in Washington "that he believed Iraqi Defense Ministry officials were part of a kickback scheme involving a multimillion-dollar contract awarded to his company."

Of course, a little more blood on the hands of Bush(or whoever ordered this execution) shouldn't matter. I mean, their hands are already so fucking red they'll never even notice.

An Iraqi girl screams after her parents were killed when U.S. Soldiers fired on their car during a dusk patrol January 18, 2005 in Tal Afar, Iraq. The car held an Iraqi family of seven of which the mother and father were killed.

Photographer Chris Hondros

Agency: Getty Images

Photo Date: JANUARY 18

Lastly, you can read Rick Perlstein's new article, Eve of Destruction, in the Village Voice, but only if you're in for a bit of a downer:

It shows up in the tautological narcissism of Bush's National Security Strategy document, which actually uses the phrase "the best defense is a good offense," and artfully constructs a vision in which whatever the United States does to preserve its interest is always already "peaceful," even when it requires war, is always already "democratic," even when it requires installing governments by fiat, is always already selfless, even as it establishes only two categories of states, those who cooperate and those who do not, in a situation of crisis defined unilaterally and whose time horizon stretches to infinity.

...The next four years? Anticipate another possible terrorist attack, certainly. Tommy Thompson, leaving his post as secretary of Health and Human Services, used his newfound freedom to wonder aloud why his bosses hadn't done anything to prevent an attack on "our food supply, because it's so easy to do." The EPA said an attack on any of 123 chemical plants would threaten over a million people—then the Department of Homeland Security took over the job, changed the measurements, and found that only two would do that. The chemical industry gives a hell of a lot of money to the Republicans.

Horray. God Bless our troops in harms way and God HELP this country.

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