Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Leap Second Conspiracy

Steve Martin has a post up at the Huffington Post where he channels Bill O'Reilly.

It almost makes me want to forgive him for Cheaper by the Dozen 2. Almost.

Happy New Year

Well, folks, the wild, futuristic year of 2006 will soon be upon us. While I'm disappointed that we haven't gotten to the sleek rocket cars and fembots that were promised to us in science fiction works of the past, I do think there's something big that we can all look forward to. The Jack Abramoff scandal is just about to spread wide open.

The Associated Press has the latest:
Federal prosecutors and lawyers for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff are putting the finishing touches on a plea deal that could be announced as early as Tuesday, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

The plea agreement would secure the lobbyist's testimony against several members of Congress who received favors from him or his clients. Abramoff and a former partner were indicted in Miami in August on charges of conspiracy and fraud for allegedly lying about their assets to help secure financing to purchase a fleet of gambling boats.

For the past two weeks, pressure has been intensifying on Abramoff to strike a deal with prosecutors since his former business partner, Adam Kidan, pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy in connection with the 2000 SunCruz deal.

Abramoff's cooperation would be a boon to an ongoing Justice Department investigation of congressional corruption, possibly helping prosecutors build criminal cases against up to 20 lawmakers and their staff members.
If they're preparing cases against twenty congressmen, this thing is going to be bigger than we ever thought. Bigger than the check-kiting scandal that helped usher in the 1994 Republican tidal wave, bigger than the Abscam sting that brought down a half dozen congressmen in the early 1980s.

Big. Gabby Hayes big.

Friday, December 30, 2005

"Let It Be Noted That the Witness Made the 'Drinky Drinky' Motion"

With the biggest boozing night of the year coming up tomorrow -- and on a Saturday night, no less -- we here at LLatPoN would like to extend the following video clip to you as a cautionary tale.

Here's George Bush, back on the sauce. Don't let it happen to you.

"Surrender Pronto, or We'll Level Toronto!"

I've been wondering where the third front in the Awesome Global War on Terra would open up, but until now I hadn't really considered a target that's really an obvious choice -- Canada.

For far too long, they've been lurking above us, launching cheap prescription drugs across our borders and sending us wave after wave of brilliant comedic talent. I, for one, have had enough.

And it looks like I'm not the only one. As the Washington Post reveals, the government has had a plan for invading Canada on the books since the 1930s:
It's a 94-page document called "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan -- Red," with the word SECRET stamped on the cover. It's a bold plan, a bodacious plan, a step-by-step plan to invade, seize and annex our neighbor to the north. It goes like this:

First, we send a joint Army-Navy overseas force to capture the port city of Halifax, cutting the Canadians off from their British allies.

Then we seize Canadian power plants near Niagara Falls, so they freeze in the dark.

Then the U.S. Army invades on three fronts -- marching from Vermont to take Montreal and Quebec, charging out of North Dakota to grab the railroad center at Winnipeg, and storming out of the Midwest to capture the strategic nickel mines of Ontario.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy seizes the Great Lakes and blockades Canada's Atlantic and Pacific ports.

At that point, it's only a matter of time before we bring these Molson-swigging, maple-mongering Zamboni drivers to their knees! Or, as the official planners wrote, stating their objective in bold capital letters: "ULTIMATELY TO GAIN COMPLETE CONTROL."
Let this be a warning to our neighbors to the north: Our president is clearly batshit crazy, and he's just one whisper from God away from launching an all-out assault on the Great White North.

Bush isn't really one for "war plans," though, so I doubt we'd see him follow this well-researched script for the Canadian invasion. Instead, he'd probably focus on raiding the Blue Jays roster and securing the Labatt's breweries.

And, of course, rounding up all the Frenchies in Quebec. You know they're on his list.

Friday Random Ten

This week's album cover comes from the Christian Crusaders. Crusaders, eh? Well, I guess an army really does travel on its stomach. I believe that's Jonah on the right, and the Whale on the left.

As always, the appearance of a tragic cover image here is a sign that it's time for the Friday Random Ten. You know the drill, so I'll skip the formalities this week.

Here's mine:

1. Sugar Hill Gang, "Apache" -- This song is flyer than a four-finger gold ring that says "PIMP" on it. "Tonto, jump on it, jump on it, jump on it!" Dammmmmn. 9/10

2. De La Soul, "I Can Do (Life)" -- An excellent track off Art Official Intelligence, a funky strutter that includes solid vocals and a guitar that can only be described as "wicked." 8/10

3. P J Harvey, "Man-Size" -- P J Harvey covers the entire range of emotion for a psycho ex-girlfriend. It begins sultry, and slowly becomes ever crazier. She winds up in the neighborhood of semiprofessional nutjob Courtney Love by the end of the song. 8/10

4. Radiohead, "Morning Bell" -- This song has a lot of things going for it, not least of which are the amazing lyrics. "You can keep the furniture, cut the kids in half. Release me." 8/10

5. Rose Royce, "Car Wash" -- Damn, I'm on a roll. This song, as you may have surmised, is the theme song to the classic 1970s film Car Wash, which co-starred Fraklin Ajaye and his colossal afro. I'm pretty sure he could shammy the Camaros with that thing. Anyway, the entire soundtrack is phenomenally funky, and this one is no exception. 9/10

6. Harry Belafonte, "Will His Love Be Like His Rum?" -- A really sweet calypso tune from Harry Belafonte. It's sort of a wedding toast set to limbo music, and it works like a charm. Drink up, rummy. 7/10

7. Stereolab, "Motoroller Scalatron" -- I'm a pretty big fan of the electrobounciness that is known to humans as "Stereolab." (Seriously, catch them live if you ever can.) I have high standards for their work, and this song certainly doesn't disappoint. In a word? It's moogielicious. 8/10

8. Jon & the Nightriders, "Depth Charge" -- Some nice, if fairly standard, surf rock. 6/10

9. Danger Doom, "Space Ho's" -- I wasn't much of a fan of the Mouse and the Mask collaboration when it first came out, but I have to say it's really grown on me. The Adult Swim samples, the catchy-as-hell arrangements, and Doom's lyrics are just phenomenal. This song is solid and chocked full of Brak. 'Nuff said. 10/10

10. Air, "Maggot Brain" -- A Funkadelic classic gets reworked as a live, tripped-out, tranced-up electronica coma. I guess that should be cool, but something feels a little too self-consciously hip. There's no trying in coolness. 8/10

Alright, that's an 8.1 overall average. If I can keep this level of coolness up for a little while longer, I can say goodbye to the world of noogies, wedgies, atomic wedgies and, worst of all, the dreaded rear admiral!

Drop your own Random Ten in the comments. If you're ready to trade up from the world of nerds to the world of jocks, give us a coolness self audit as well. In the meantime, let me just say this: "Neerrrrrrrrrddd!"

This is all.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Put Down That Dialing Wand!

Sick of calling a help line, only to have to hit 87 buttons before you get any help? Fingers too fat to use a touch-tone phone? Some guy named Paul English has created a handy list of scores of company phone numbers along with the quickest way to get a human on the line.

If Paul's tricks don't work for you, you can always just mash the touch pad.

(Hat tip to the lovely Mrs. T.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Strange Bedfellows

For those of you who think that the Bush administration doesn't care about good, honest, hard-working Americans, think again.

Taking time out from their busy schedule of pardoning moonshiners and just generally destroying America, the White House has dispatched the Solicitor General of the United States to put the power and prestige of the nation alongside a distingusihed citizen who has been egregiously wronged by an out-of-control federal judiciary: former Playboy Playmate and current substance abuse expert Anna Nicole Smith.

This AP article tries to understand the reasons for the administration's intervention:
She is trying to collect millions of dollars from the estate of J. Howard Marshall II, the oil tycoon she married in 1994 when he was 89 and she was a 26-year-old topless dancer in Houston. Marshall died in 1995.

Like Marshall, President Bush was a Texas oil man. Both attended Yale. Both held government positions in Washington.

There are differences. Marshall had a penchant for strippers, and the court record before the justices is one of poverty, greed, sex and family rivalry.
Am I the only one who thinks the president's horndog brother Neil Bush had a hand in this? (And I say "a hand." The other one was doubtlessly busy.)

Denouncing the Infidels

You know who kicks ass? Keith Olbermann.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

They Can Take Our Lives, But They'll Never Take Our Freedom

The lovely and talented Malibu Stacy and I have just returned from our holiday travels through my native South. We have two clusters of family located within a day's drive of each other and, therefore, we made our annual Sherman-like march across the countryside to pay our respects.

In the midst of our eggnog-fueled mayhem, we stopped at a combination gas station and Gulp'n'Blow somewhere within spitting distance of Knoxville (and its fabulous SunSphere!) At the station, I stepped inside the Civil War-era men's room and, as always, glanced over the fine assortment of items available at the vending machine perched next to the urinals. I've long admired the array of gentlemen's gifts on sale at these machines -- licorice ice breath mints, coconut-flavored condoms, the patented Rough Rider brand's combination of studded condom and snow chains, etc. -- but I've never had the urge to actually purchase anything. Until then.

At this gas station, I discovered the greatest gentlemen's gift of all time: the Freedom Tickler™.

The picture to the left here is exactly what I purchased for the low low price of 75 cents and the last remaining shreds of my dignity.

But the product packaging doesn't really do the whole purchase justice. The image on the machine was much more dramatic, and had a tagline that read: "The FREEDOM Tickler: It's the PATRIOTIC thing to do." As if to confirm that it was, indeed, the patriotic thing to do, right next to the picture was an image of the Statue of Liberty, an all-American lady who would doubtlessly appreciate a good pleasuring from a patriotically-equipped American man.

As stupid as I thought it was when conservatives renamed French Fries (which originated in Belgium) and French Toast (which originated in Albany, NY) as Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast, the decision to rename the French Tickler makes those acts look like nothing. I mean, really, did they think that the French would be shamed into supporting Operation Kick Ass! simply because thousands of Cletus lookalikes were no longer pleasuring their wives and/or sisters with a French tickler?

Truly, if there ever were a symbol of the right wing's unique combination of ignorance and arrogance, it's the Freedom Tickler.

In the spirit of their great leader Dick Cheney, I suggest they go use it on themselves.

Best of 2005 - Politicians

Continuing the parade of rehashed content, we turn our attention to politics. Unfortunately, disasters (mainly the weather) were the main focus of the US voter this year. A year where new ideas and independent thinking were embraced as much as little Cousin Oliver on the Brady Bunch.

My recommendation for politician of the year is Harry Reid (D-NV). My expectations for Reid were remarkably low from the outset. What I didn't foresee is that Reid seems to walk the line of having strong conservative moral values (being a Mormon) and recognizing that Americans have the right to make their own decisions -- even if you disagree with them.

On talk shows, he represents the party very well, even on the most contentious issues. Speaking with calm perspective and applying heavy doses of common sense, Reid has shown consistent strength and leadership as the GOP has struggled with Iraq, Katrina, the Federal deficit, the environment, free trade, tsunami relief, . . . you get the picture.

His November Gambit struck me as pure genius as it was (1) the right thing to call for accountability in the Federal government and (2) caught the GOP off guard and highlighted the growing schism within the GOP.

Again, I was wrong on Harry Reid. Very wrong -- and I'm more than happy to admit it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Best of 2005 - Websites

As the media companies are all on vacation and rolling out their "Best and Worst of 2005", I figured we could steal the "creative crutch" as well for favorite (new) website. The website doesn't have to be new, you just need to have found it in 2005.

As for mine, I must warn you; this website is whole heartedly inappropriate, unprofessional, and fairly disturbing; but it is so American, so amateurish, and reflects so much care by the owner - it made my "best of."

How did I find it? Long story - searching for "Flashlight"- the ringtone; the Google ad words showed "Fleshlight" and more intriguing "Fleshlight Accessories." My mind could guess what a "Fleshlight" on the internet was; but what "accessories" could go with it? I had to find out. The rest is history.

A man had a dream:
"Someone should build a line of sex toys that is powered externally by something everybody already has like rechargeable cordless electric screwdrivers and drills" I told her. The sex industry is, of course, huge and I simply expected to see such products emerge. Years passed, and still only junk.
In the spring of 2003, while watching the level-wind system on a Penn fishing reel move back and forth to distribute the line evenly, the epiphany struck. I suddenly
knew how to build it. I made some drawings and went to the garage to start prototyping. Within two months we had proof of concept. It would take another 16
months with engineers, manufacturers, lawyers, accountants, insurers, bankers,
and bucket-loads of money to bring PricelessTM to you.
He built his dream - in China, of course.

When we started building the machine in China, we had to tell the factory workers what it was they were building. The factory owners started calling Priceless the "Zou ai ji". This means "make love machine" and is pronounced "Zoe Eye Gee". This resulted in some confused expressions. It turns out "ji" is also the word for chicken. Context didn't seem to help either. "Make love chicken" seems no less likely an interpretation for the Chinese than "Make love machine".

Everything went well once we convinced them we were not promoting any form of bestiality. We wanted to build the machine in Long Dong province but alas, there wasn't a Long Dong province. So we settled on second best. Here are a few snaps of the machine being manufactured in Dong Guan City, Guang Dong.

But remember: safety first!

Do not use Priceless with broken or damaged components. All parts should be smooth, free of burs and abrasions, and without sharp edges. Verify this immediately upon receiving your package and before each use.
Use only battery-powered devices with Priceless. Do not use corded screwdrivers or drills where danger of electrical shock can exist.
Do not use Priceless with any power source capable of exceeding 550 RPM. A clutch in the gearbox will release and prevent excess power from reaching the other operating components, but you can damage that drive mechanism if you routinely overpower the machine. The machine was designed for use with cordless electric screwdrivers that operate between 180 and 400 RPM.
If your power source has a torque limiting adjustment, you should adjust it such that it releases at about 9 or 10 inch/pounds.
Use is restricted to hand-held operation. Do not attempt to fix Priceless rigidly to any other object. Do not place this product between a mattress and box-spring or use in any manner that would prevent it from being quickly withdrawn from close bodily contact.
When using Priceless with the Fleshlight, assure that the edges of the Fleshlight's plastic case are smooth, free of burs or rough spots, and that no sharp edges are present.
When used with a dong or phallus in the female configuration, use only soft, flexible devices. Do not attempt to affix any rigid phallic device to the machine.
Do not share sexual devices that come in intimate bodily contact with other users. To do so puts you at risk of being exposed to a sexually transmitted disease. In theory this precaution would not apply to Priceless itself, but only to the devices attached to it. Nevertheless, we caution you not to share use of Priceless with anyone with whom you would not feel comfortable having un-protected sex.
Maintain good personal hygiene.
Make sure Priceless is clean and dry before you store it. In most instances,
removing the extension from the shuttle and washing it, the vent, the stand-off
tubes, and the comfort ring in warm water will be adequate. In some cases, you
may wish to clean the entire product. Remove the power source you are using and
feel free to place the entire product in the dishwasher. Be certain to turn off
heated drying if you do use the dishwasher.
Use the lubricant recommended by the manufacturer of the device you are using with Priceless on both that device and your genitals. Adequate amounts of lubricant will likely be in excess of that required when operating the same device by hand. You may also need to add lubricant during the course of a session. It is vitally important that proper lubrication be maintained throughout the session.
Do not use this product while you are driving or operating heavy equipment.

So, enjoy:

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

Friday Random Ten

I actually had a number of Christmas album covers to choose from for the Big Day, but this one just seemed a little bit more demented than the others. There's something about a grown man in dress shorts and a bad orange wig that brings to mind the classic comedy of Telemundo's Sabato Gigante! (You know, the Spanish-language insanity showcase where all the characters seem like inspiration for Chesperito?) And what's more all-American than that?

Alright, time for this week's Friday Random Ten. For those of you who've suffered memory loss due to excessive nog consumption, here's how it's done: Open up your iTunes, set it on shuffle, and give us the first ten presents that pop up. It doesn't matter if they're reject songs from the Island of Misfit Toys, give them to us all the same. If you're really feeling the yuletide spirit, go ahead and throw in a Coolness Self-Audit as well. (But be honest. Santa's watching.)

Here's mine:

1. The New Pornographers, "The Laws Have Changed" -- As a card-carrying music hipster-doofus, I know I'm supposed to adore this band, but for some reason it just doesn't click. It's fine enough indie pop, but I'm not floored by it. Meh. 6/10

2. Black Keys, "10 A.M. Automatic" -- Some nice distorted guitar rawk from the Black Keys here. This song will not only kick your ass, but it won't even remove the unfiltered Pall Mall from its lips as it does so. 10/10

3. The Cure, "Killing an Arab" -- This may be the very embodiment of mid-'80s college rock. It's hard to outgeek a song based on French existentialist Albert Camus's L'Etranger, but when you perform it as men with eyeliner, that pretty much seals the deal. Nice job, Nerdlinger. 7/10

4. Bloc Party, "This Modern Love" -- I generally like Bloc Party quite a bit, but this one doesn't really do it for me. It's a little too light and airy, and just reminds me of a lesser song by Blur. Meh, again. 6/10

5. The Roots, "Thought @ Work" -- A nice little driving groove from the uneven Phrenology CD. Not my favorite Roots song (I'm detecting a theme here) but still solid enough. 7/10

6. The Stanley Brothers, "Just a Little Talk with Jesus" -- Pretty straightforward bluegrass from the legendary Stanley Brothers. They toy around with the tone and tempo throughout, moving from slow, deep-pitched vocals to fast-as-Hades, high-toned ones. It's all over the place, and peversely nice. 7/10

7. Pete Rock and CL Smooth, "It's Like That" -- A sweet song from the classic Mecca and the Soul Brother. What the hell happened to these guys? 9/10

8. The Replacements, "Little Mascara" -- I think Tim was the peak of the Replacements' career, and this tune certainly explains why. It has just enough rock and just enough angst to make for a great adolescent anthem. Well played, my friends. Well played. 8/10

9. Gorillaz, "Latin Simone (original version)" -- While I enjoyed the album's version with Ibrahim Ferrer providing the vocals, I actually think I prefer this version with Damon Albarn on the mike. Maybe it's the sadder-sounding English lyrics. Maybe I just hate people who speak Spanish. Who knows? 9/10

10. The Beatles, "Baby, You're a Rich Man" -- For those of you who've never heard of this group, they're an obscure pop band from England. They played in the 1960s, and I believe one of their members was later in the supergroup Wings. This is a great, if largely neglected, tune from Magical Mystery Tune. Nice stuff, but I suppose the Beatles are not exactly cool. 6/10

Alright, that gives me a typical 7.5 average. I'm apparently running at three-quarters coolness, which is pretty much par for the course. Boo!

Sick of talking to your relatives? Then go ahead and drop a Random Ten of your own in the comments, and be sure to give the gift of a Coolness Self-Audit as well. Baby Jesus would've wanted it that way.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Never meanin' no harm

We do a lot of the Bush Bashing here at LLatPoN, so when the preznit does something good, it's worth noting. Today Bush used the presidential power of the pardon to free two moonshiners.

We love the booze here, and are very happy to see justice brought to some thirsty men who only needed a drink. While they only received probation, the pardon will enable them to shoot next time someone tries to take them into custody.
The pardons this week restore full U.S. citizenship to the men, including the rights to vote and buy a gun, their attorneys told The Knoxville News Sentinel. But their records will reflect both the felony convictions and the pardons.

How grateful are these two men to have been given back their voting rights?
McKinley added that he may have to change his political support since he's been helped by a GOP president: "I'd almost be a Republican after that."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"If You're Alive in 2005, I Hope You're Exceedingly Thin"

In the last few months we've been treated to a variety of media types telling us the economy is pretty darned good, but their benchmarks for economic improvement seem a little fuzzy. Don't get me wrong -- I can't tell you how thrilled I am that the investment portfolios of the well off are bringing in more money than ever while the rest of us have relatively static, or even declining, incomes.

I'd like to suggest a metric besides GDP or the stock market or whatever else warms the cockles of Daddy Warbucks' heart: food insecurity.

BOSTON, Dec. 19 (UPI) -- At least 38 million U.S. citizens can't count on having enough food throughout the year -- and Tufts University scientists say the number is increasing.

The Economic Research Service of the Department of Agriculture announced in October that household food insecurity increased last year 2004.

Assistant Professor Parke Wilde of the university's Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy said, "This increase represents the largest one-year jump since data collection began in 1995." Wilde, a food economist, tracks household food insecurity, food stamps, and related measures of hunger.

The percentage of U.S. households classified as food insecure rose from 11.2 percent in 2003 to 11.9 percent in 2004. While that one-year increase might not seem like a lot, it represents the fifth consecutive year of worsening food insecurity.

The most troubling thing is that last bit about how food insecurity has been rising for the last few years. (Gee, five consecutive years of more and more people not having enough food? You'd almost think something happened five years ago, something not good . . . .) Add to that the fact that Americans are spending less of their incomes on food than ever, and you see this is not a sign of an economy that's lifting all boats.

I know, this sounds like your typical anti-Bush post: don't like the good news, go find some bad news. Of course I like the good news; I'd rather have the usual indicators going up instead of down. But this is a case where the bad news is real bad. We're not talking about buying a bigger TV for junior's room, we're talking about putting food on the table. Can we really say the economy is improving when more and more Americans are struggling just to get enough to eat?

(By the way, even though it doesn't really fit, I had to use that post title. It's a line from an old British rock song that I like a lot, and the number of days left in 2005 for me to use it is dwindling. Can you name the song?)

Update: Thanks to some friendly prodding by reader Tokyo Joe, I did some more searching for the above-mentioned research paper. You can't get it from the journal in which the paper was published, but you can get it for free from the USDA. Yes, I am an idiot.

Iraq's Fremen

A few years ago, I was at a party chatting with someone I had met only a few minutes ago. I don't remember what we were talking about, but it was generic party conversation. Out of nowhere, she said, "You were really into Dune in high school, weren't you?" Not one of my prouder moments. Sure, I'm a nerd and all, but is it that obvious?

It's true, though. I was really into Dune in high school. Thus, my first thought when reading about these vests was that the US Army is coming closer and closer to developoing a stillsuit.

Same World, Different Planets

Ever get the feeling that some people are really, really weird?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kristolizing the Issue

This NSA domestic spying thing is really something. I can't tell if it's going the usual way of Bush scandals (i.e., nowhere, followed by bashing of those who raised it in the first place) or if it's getting big. I can tell you that I don't like William Kristol, who has a moderately odious op-ed in the Post today. Here's a sampling:
A U.S. president has just received word that American counterterrorist operatives have captured a senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. Among his possessions are a couple of cell phones -- phones that contain several American phone numbers. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, what's a president to do?
If the president were taking the advice offered by some politicians and pundits in recent days, he would order the attorney general to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. . . . But the attorney general might have to tell the president he might well not be able to get that warrant. FISA requires the attorney general to convince the panel that there is "probable cause to believe" that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist. Yet where is the evidence to support such a finding? Who knows why the person seized in Pakistan was calling these people? Even terrorists make innocent calls and have relationships with folks who are not themselves terrorists.
The hypothetical attorney general to this hypothetical president is a hypothetical idiot. Remember, this "24"-esque scenario is playing out in the post-9/11 world. Is there any question that the FISA court would approve tapping those phone lines? As Jonathan Alter explains, the threshold for obtaining a FISA wiretap is very low, and the application can even be filed after the tapping has begun. (If I didn't know better, I'd say that congress designed FISA to be an effective tool for national security.) Back to Kristol:
Consider the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the French Moroccan who came to the FBI's attention before Sept. 11.
Wait a second. Kristol wants us to get all frothy about this hypothetical post-9/11 security scare, and his real-world parallel is from pre-9/11? That don't work, buddy. Kristol goes on to do more time flip-flopping and suggests that if federal agents had felt empowered to spy on Moussaoui they might have prevented 9/11.

Once again, a conservative criticizes the government for having a pre-9/11 mindset when it was, uh, pre-9/11.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

It Takes Two To Lie

Man, have y'all been following this NSA domestic spying thing? In case you haven't, here's a quick summary:
The super-secretive NSA, which has generally been barred from domestic spying except in narrow circumstances involving foreign nationals, has monitored the e-mail, telephone calls and other communications of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people under the program, the New York Times disclosed last night.
At first the White House refused to comment on this, but now the prez has admitted to authorizing the spying (for some reason, the press is mostly using the term "eavesdropping") and is defending it with his usual "I can do what I want, and if you disagree you want the terrorists to win" rhetoric:
Bush said the program has been reviewed regularly by the nation's top legal authorities and targets only those people with "a clear link to these terrorist networks." Noting the failures to detect hijackers already in the country before the strikes on New York and Washington, Bush said the NSA's domestic spying since then has helped thwart other attacks.
I hate to sound like Dennis Miller, but I actually don't mind some increased government interference in my life, including email monitoring and phone tapping and such, in order to keep me from getting blown up. I know, I know, in principle this is a terrible thing, but I can only get worked up about so many principles, and this week most of my emotional energy is being spent on the big Dallas Cowboys - Washington Potomac Drainage Basin Indigeneous Peoples game.

While I can't get worked up about this issue in principle, I can get plenty hot about the issue in practice. Bush sr., Clinton, Carter, even Reagan I could have trusted to manage the precarious balance of national security versus civil liberties, but not the present gaggle of Mayberry Machiavellis. "Reviewed by the nation's top legal authorities"? Does that mean torture boy Gonzales? I'm supposed to think the people who are fine with Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are going to protect my civil liberties? They're only going after folks with a clear link to terrorist networks? What about the reports we've heard about guys with muslim heritage getting hauled off for torture and what not, only to later be revealed as innocent bystanders?

But the thing that's really got me worked up is the bit about "failures to detect hijackers already in the country before the strikes on New York and Washington." Uhh, according to the 9/11 report, quite a few of the hijackers WERE detected, but the dots never got connected. Communication, both within agencies such as the FBI and CIA as well as between agencies, was the biggest problem, not limited surveillance (although I do recall the report calling for better surveillance, I sure as heck don't remember any recommendations for domestic spying).

As a wise man once said, it takes two to lie: one to lie, and one to listen. I'm pretty tired of listening.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Random Ten

I've hesitated using this album cover for a Friday Random Ten for a long while now. As disturbing as it is to see the searing image of Tino in his short short jean shorts -- or "jorts," if you will -- I'm worried that leaving this image on my computer's hard drive will only lead the authorities to investigate me as a possible sex offender.

Anyway, as Tino's seductive gaze has no doubt alerted you, it's time for the Friday Random Ten. Take our your iThing and give us the first ten songs that stumble into the daylight. And if you're feeling frisky -- and I mean, Tino-style frisky -- then throw in a Coolness Self-Audit too. Even if it is, like Tino, "for the first time."

Here's mine:

1. Wilco, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" -- A song so perfectly Wilconian that they named a tour documentary after it. Just a little bit off-key and off-kilter, this slow strummer from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot really is the band at its best. 8/10

2. Greenskeepers, "Lotion" -- Lordy, Lordy, I love this song. It's catchy as hell, but you'll hate yourself for singing along, since the entire tune is written from the perspective of Buffalo Bill from "Silence of the Lambs." The song is absolutely brilliant on its own, but the video -- which syncs the song up to actual clips from the film -- is pure genius. 10/10

3. Irma Thomas, "Time is on My Side" -- I forgot to include this in yesterday's post on original songs that were better than the more popular versions, but this predecessor to what would become a Rolling Stones' classic is just phenomenal. She belts out the lyrics like a woman scorned, a woman that Mick Jagger could never be, no matter how much lipstick and hot pants he tries on. 10/10

4. Radiohead, "Everything In Its Right Place" (live) -- Normally, live albums are fairly weak reflections of the original work, but the excellent I Might Be Wrong strikes a nice balance between capturing the quality of the album versions and livening them up before an audience. Great stuff. 8/10

5. Earth, Wind and Fire, "September" -- A great song, and usually the one song I can count on for rump-shaking inspiration at a wedding. But if Aunt Reba is shaking her considerably large groove thing at the same time, I suppose the song can't be all that cool. 7/10

6. Yo La Tengo, "Cherry Chapstick" -- Hoboken's finest deliver the goods here on a nice strummy bit of indie rock. I think the entire And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out CD is terrific, and this song is certainly no exception. 7/10

7. Archers of Loaf, "Might" -- Two minutes of stripped-down indie-rock love. Sweet. 8/10

8. ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, "The Rest Will Follow" -- Not surprisingly, a band with the balls to use that as their name also throws a wall of sound at you too. Two drummers and what sounds like a half dozen guitars lead to a nice driving rocker. Solid stuff. 8/10

9. Blackalicious, "Powers" -- This song has everything you'd expect from Blackalicious, a driving beat and mile-a-minute vocals, but it also has something a little different for them, some tongue-in-cheek sassiness. Daddy likey. 9/10

10. Simon & Garfunkel, "The Only Living Boy in New York" -- Yes, I own the Garden State soundtrack. 8/10

Alright, that gives me an 8.3 average. Either I'm getting cooler as the holiday season nears, or just getting much less judgmental. I prefer to think it's the former.

Let's see what you've got, folks. Drop your own Random Ten in the comments below, with or without the Coolness Self-Audit.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Welfare States

In a typically brilliant post over at his place, TBogg quotes a sarcastic conservative comment about "rubes in middle America [you know - the people who fight the wars, pay the taxes, etc.]." In typical liberal fashion, TBogg responds to this wanker's claim with the unfair use of facts, data and reason.

First, TBogg references a fact that's probably familiar to most liberals by now, namely that the Red States are generally the ones who get more back from the federal government than they pay into its coffers in the form of taxes.

But he also challenges the other half of that conservative assumption, the claim that "middle America" does all the fighting. As this map shows, a surprisingly large number of our soldiers killed in Iraq come from the decadent cities of the Blue States.

Is there anything that the Red States are doing while the Blue States are out there paying taxes and fighting wars? Does the Republican War on Science and Foreign Languages really take up all their time?


Our discussion of our favorite cover songs has invariably led us to a related matter that we might as well turn into a discussion of its own. What well-known songs were actually better in their original form? What got it right the first time and was only watered down in its hit form? We'll take all songs, all genres, all eras, but I think the more obscure the original, the better.

I'll start us off:

Muddy Waters, "You Need Love" -- This was the basis for Led Zepplin's "Whole Lotta Love." While the Zep version is a classic, the original blues tune is just scorching. The guitar work that he lays down is phenomenal, and the fact that he did this in the early '60s (when the pop charts were full o' Fabian) is amazing.

Gloria Jones, "Tainted Love" -- Soft Cell turned this into a one-hit wonder of the '80s, but the original is an inexplicably forgotten Motown tune. The tune's better in every way: a little more upbeat, a little more sassy, and a little more convincing coming from an angry woman than an androgynous man.

Dolly Parton, "I Will Always Love You" -- Before this song was systematically slaughtered by Whitney Houston and a thousand tone-deaf contestants from "American Idol," it was a sweet country tune from Dolly Parton. Supposedly about her break-up with Porter Wagoner, the song actually sounds sadly sincere in her rendition.

William DeVaughn, "Be Thankful for What You've Got" -- I'm always surprised at the number of people who know the weaker Massive Attack version, but never heard the original. This early '70s soul strutter is coolness defined.

Wow, that's a whole lot of love on the list. I guess things like "feelings" and "caring" are subjects that can be updated for any age and any audience.

Any original favorites of your own? Drop them in the comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Vacaciones Felices

Once again, The Onion has the last word.
"Getting rid of every wreath or nativity scene is not enough," Kennedy said. "In order to ensure that Americans of every belief feel comfortable in any home or business, we must eliminate all traces of this offensive holiday. My yellow belly quakes with fear at the thought of offending any foreigners, atheists, or child molesters."

Jesus Loves the Unborn and the Tax Cut

News flash: Liberals are Christian. What's more, they seem to actually pay attention to the words that came out of Jesus' mouth.

Lots of hypocrisy, selfishness, stupidity and unChristian attitudes are exposed in this article, but I like seeing how these "Christians" are completely unconcerned with slashing benifits for the poor, a group that Jesus said a few words about.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said the government's role should be to encourage charitable giving, perhaps through tax cuts.

"There is a [biblical] mandate to take care of the poor. There is no dispute of that fact," he said. "But it does not say government should do it. That's a shifting of responsibility."
Hey everybody! Free food and shelter at Tony Perkins' house! He's not one to shirk his Biblical responsibilities.

Cover Me

As both of our regular readers understand, I'm a sucker for a good cover song. Invariably, at least one bizarre cover will make an appearance in my Friday Random Ten, and I'm not just talking about the literal covers like the brilliant "Ethel Merman Disco Album" cover that stands to the left here.

I'm talking about people having the guts and/or laziness to tackle a classic song and put their own spin on it. There's just something about hearing a familiar tune reworked in unfamiliar ways, about having someone rip apart a perfectly good song and patch it together in new and surprising ways. I like seeing what different artists can do with the same text.

In that spirit, I thought we'd have another midweek musical discussion.

What are your favorite cover songs? Here are some of mine:

Jose Gonzalez, "Teardrop" (Massive Attack) -- This one is incredibly impressive. With just an acoustic guitar and his own vocals, Gonzalez somehow manages to get this one right. Doubt me? Check it out yourdamnself.

Superchunk, "100,000 Fireflies" (Magnetic Fields) -- The worst interview I've ever read? A college newspaper sent its music reporter out to interview the notoriously-moody Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields and, in the very first question, asked him, "What does it feel like to be in a band most people only know because of a Superchunk cover?" Wow. Way to insult the interviewee and expose your own ignorance at the same time, Chuckles. While lots of people love to cover the Magnetic Fields, this is probably the best cover I've found.

Radiohead, "Nobody Does It Better" (Carly Simon) -- This is a live version from the B-Sides collection. Thom Yorke introduces it as "the sexiest love song ever," and dammit if he isn't right. The original was the theme song from "The Spy Who Loved Me," and was so sexy that it drove superhot Russian spy Barbara Bach into the arms of the talentless, nebbishy Ringo Starr.

Christopher O'Reilly, "Everything in Its Right Place" (Radiohead) -- O'Reilly is a classical pianist who put out an entire album of Radiohead covers for which all aspects of the original -- vocals, guitars, keyboards, etc. -- are reproduced by him and him alone on the piano. If you're a Radiohead fan (and thus, not a dirty communist) you might enjoy this. It has moments where it gets close to Muzak, but for the most part it's impressive.

Afghan Whigs, "Band of Gold" (Freda Payne) -- Greg Dulli has a thing for Motown songs, usually Supremes songs like "I Hear a Symphony" and "Come See About Me." I guess he's in touch with his feminine side and it looks a lot like Diana Ross. Despite his Supremes obsession, this Freda Payne cover is one of his best.

Johnny Cash, "Hurt" (NIN) -- This has to be the greatest swan song from a musical legend. Ever.

Miho Hatori, "Crazy for You" (Madonna) -- This is like Cibo Matto on quaaludes, with Hatori's airy vocals and a sparse acoustic guitar slowing the song waaaaaaaaay dooooowwwwwnnn. Beautiful.

The Folksmen, "Start Me Up" (Rolling Stones) -- This is from the soundtrack to A Mighty Wind. It's easily my favorite thing to come out of the movie, and I'm surprised they didn't show it in the film itself. It's a brilliant twist on the original, and one that really brings out the dirtiness of the lyrics. "You make a grown man kum-ba-yaaaaaaaaah, my Lord!" Beautiful.

Magnapop, "Thirteen" (Big Star) -- They take a nice, sweet folk song and make it a nice, sweet grunge song.

Urge Overkill, "Emmaline" (Hot Chocolate) -- Most people would probably select their cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon," but I've always loved the tragic groove of this slow funker. It's fairly close to the original's sensability, but the vocals set it apart.

Red House Painters, "Long Distance Runaround" (Yes) -- This one's for the Thrillhous. Great cover.

The Cardigans, "Iron Man" (Black Sabbath) -- I have a weakness for Scandinavian pop groups, but when they regularly cover Black Sabbath songs -- as in this one, and another cover of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" -- I have no defense.

Cat Power, "Wonderwall" (Oasis) -- This is from a live performance on BBC Radio. I normally despise all things Oasis, but her slowed-down acoustic version of this song is pretty damn good.

The Gourds, "Gin and Juice" (Snoop Doggy Dogg) -- There's something perverse about hearing a bluegrass band sling it Westsiiiiiidddeeeee, but this is absolutely brilliant. Along with an accordian-dominated cover of the Stones' "Miss You," this cover closes out a three-CD live set that the Gourds did at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Sa-lute!

Iron & Wine with Calexico, "Always on My Mind" -- This is from a concert given by these two for NPR (available here). The two combined for a final set of nine songs, three of which were great covers. ("All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Wild Horses" were the other two). This is perfect.

Alright, that's enough for now. I could do this all day, but you would've stopped reading long, long ago when I got into the ABBA covers I discovered over at Copy, Right?

Please feel free to drop your own favorites in the comments below. We'll then cover your comments into a new and wholly original version of our own.

I'm Not Dead Yet

Here at LLatPoN, we've made no secret of our love for the show Arrested Development. Its (non-official) cancellation was mourned, but apparently there's life in the girl yet.
Both ABC and Showtime have had conversations with 20th Century Fox TV and indicated they're open to making a deal for new episodes of the critically beloved, Emmy-winning comedy from creator Mitch Hurwitz. No formal negotiations have taken place, and there are still numerous hurdles that might prevent such a move -- including the show's hefty pricetag.

That said, those familiar with the talks described them as serious, with Showtime said to be in particularly hot pursuit of the ratings-challenged laffer, now on life support at Fox. SkeinSkein's third-season order was recently cut to 13 episodes.
And there was much rejoicing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Lady Doth Project Too Much

In part of her celebration of the execution of Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the always calm and rational Michelle Malkin calls Jesse Jackson a "racial demagogue-turned-wannabe Death Row gawker."

Funny, but if I were someone who had just written a controversial polemic arguing in favor of the internment of minorities solely on the grounds of their racial background, I might not cast that "racial demagogue" stone too quickly. Also, if I were in the middle of a long post about a Death Row inmate, one with multiple late-night updates and one that serves as the sixth installment in an ongoing series on the same Death Row inmate, then I'd probably avoid calling someone else a "wannabe Death Row gawker."

But, of course, I'm not clinically insane either. That might account for our differences in approach.

Yeah, But It's the Gays Who Are Destroying Marriage

How come the Georgia boys haven't mentioned this family values story?

ATLANTA (AP) - A 37-year-old woman who is seven months pregnant by her 15-year-old groom says she prefers older men, but the teenager aggressively wooed her. Lisa Clark, who is charged with child molestation, statutory rape and enticing a child for indecent purposes, said in television interviews Monday that she still hopes to make a life with him and their baby. . . .

Clark was arrested last month after the couple's Nov. 8 wedding. Georgia law allows children of any age to marry - without parental consent - if the bride-to-be is pregnant. The law dates to the early 1960s and was written to discourage out-of-wedlock births.

The true meaning of marriage: exploiting legal loopholes to stay out of prison.

(Thanks to Mrs. T for the heads up.)

Remember How I Said I'd Kill You Last?

So, Tookie is dead. I feel so much safer, don't you? That menace has been snatched from the chaos of a high security prison, strapped to a gurney, and filled with poison. I know I'll be sleeping better tonight.

I agree with Atrios that this guy was not the poster child for the anti-death penalty movement. If being mentally retarded can't keep you safe from state-sanctioned bloodlust, I'm not sure how being penitent would save you.

The War on the War on the War on the War on Christmas

It's already all over the internets, but it's worth repeating. Sam Seder was on CNN yesterday for a segment they had on the War on Christmas™, and he knocked it out of the park:
SEDER: Listen, as far as the war on Christmas goes, I feel like we should be waging a war on Christmas. I mean, I believe that Christmas, it's almost proven that Christmas has nuclear weapons, can be an imminent threat to this country, that they have operative ties with terrorists and I believe that we should sacrifice thousands of American lives in pursuit of this war on Christmas. And hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

PHILLIPS: Is it a war on Christmas, a war Christians, a war on over-political correctness or just a lot of people with way too much time on their hands?

SEDER: I would say probably, if I was to be serious about it, too much time on their hands, but I'd like to get back to the operational ties between Santa Claus and al Qaeda.
Crooks and Liars has the video. Well worth a look.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bubble Boy

Evan Thomas has the current cover story for Newsweek, an excellent study of the president's insularity and how this bubble of an administration compares to past ones:
Clearly, George W. Bush's role model is not his father, who every week would ride down from the White House to the House of Representatives gymnasium, just to hear what fellows like Murtha were saying. Nor is the model John F. Kennedy, who during the Cuban missile crisis reached out to form an "ExCom" of present and past national-security officials, from both parties, to find some way back from the abyss short of war. Nor is it Franklin Roosevelt, who liked to create competition between advisers to find the best solution. Or Abraham Lincoln who, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in her new book, "Team of Rivals," appointed his political foes to his cabinet.

Bush likes to say that his hero is Ronald Reagan, a true-blue conservative who knew his own mind. But Reagan also knew when to compromise, and when he got into trouble early in his second term, he reached out for help, making a moderate, former senator, Howard Baker, his chief of staff. The chance that George W. Bush will give a top White House job to an establishment moderate (say, Brent Scowcroft, his father's national-security adviser) is about the same as that Texas will become a province of France. Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon. ...

Lately, there are some signs that the White House is trying to dispel the image of the Bush Bubble (or Bunker). Last week, as part of a campaign to reach out to critics, the president addressed the Council on Foreign Relations, a bastion of East Coast establishment moderates. This week Bush will entertain a delegation of Hill Democrats (routine in the administrations of his father and Reagan, very unusual under this president). In his public comments, Bush for the first time is acknowledging that the war in Iraq has not gone quite as well as hoped for. And some kind of a cabinet shake-up is likely in the new year.

Yet such concessions may be more show than substance. White House officials, as well as one of his closest friends (also speaking anonymously so as not to complicate relations with the president), say that Bush remains sure that he is on the proper course in Iraq and that ultimately he will be vindicated by history.
As we all know, the president loves to think of himself as a swashbuckling fighter pilot. And the more of these insider stories I read about life inside the bubble, I'm starting to agree with him. It's just that the fighter pilot I have in mind is this one, ignoring all the advice to change course and stubbornly promising to stay on target.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Group of Death

Well, FIFA just announced the groupings for the 2006 World Cup and it looks like the United States has had the misfortune of getting placed in a tough one.

The U.S. is currently ranked eighth in the world, but missed being one of the eight seeded teams by just one point. Instead of getting a break like that, we wound up in an extremely tough Group E alongside the second-ranked Czech Republic, an always dangerous Italy, and Ghana, the first West African nation the squad will face. Some are already claiming our group is this year's Group of Death. I think it's certainly in contention, but at least we avoid Brazil, Germany and England in the first round. (That said, if the U.S. comes out of Group E in second, we'll get to face Brazil in the very next game. Terrific.)

Well, it's a tough draw, but it's not impossible. The U.S. squad has lots of experience, some great talent, and sharp coaching. They made it to the quarterfinals last time around, and have a lot of that squad coming back, stronger and surer than before.

In any case, I'm taking solace in the story of another band of underdogs who used their impressive soccer skills to escape a certain doom -- against Germany, no less -- and ride to victory. Of course, they had Pele on that team, so maybe it's not the best comparison. Still, I believe in miracles.*

(* Note to Al Michaels: As required by law, a check is in the mail for my use of this catch phrase.)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Rocket's Red Glare

I challenge you not to laugh.

Beer Science

Just in time for Friday (and Smitty's thirst-inducing random 10) comes a look at the science of beer. There's lots of interesting stuff in this fairly short article, but one thing I found fascinating:
Brewing chemists attribute skunky flavor to 3-methylbut-2-ene-1-thiol, a constituent of skunk spray. This compound arises from a reaction that light triggers within the beer, and the resulting taste can overwhelm other flavors.
1) I didn't know actual beerologist used the term "skunky."
2) How cool is it that beer is skunky due to a chemical found in skunk spray? Now this is evidence of Intelligent Design.

Seriously, Kansas: What the F*#k Is Wrong with You?

A high school in Kansas City, Kansas, recently suspended a student for a day and a half for the heinous crime of -- and I am not making this up -- speaking Spanish. As they stood in the hall, between classes, another student asked him a question in Spanish, and he responded with "No problema." And for violating a school rule that existed only in the fevered imagination of the high school administration, this kid was suspended.

You know, when I was in high school, they actually encouraged us to speak foreign languages. This may be hard for some of our younger readers to believe, but they even had formal instruction in several foreign languages, actual classes that were condoned by the school administration and taught by accredited teachers. What can I say? It was the '80s, a wild liberal era of carefree experimentation. We, as a nation, were so much younger then. And, apparently, smarter.

My condolences to any and all high school students inside the state of Kansas. With public schools there standing strong against the teaching of science and foreign languages, I'm sure a diploma from the Jayhawk State will really do wonders for your college applications. If things continue at this rate, the next generation of Kansas educators will be shielding school children from such secular evils as fire and the wheel.

(Tip of the sombrero to Steve Gilliard.)

Friday Random Ten

Ladies and gentlemen, the awesome audio stylings of Eddie Jackson. I have no idea what kind of music was put forth by Eddie -- or "Jackson," if you're nasty -- but I've got to assume it was zany. Maybe not "barbershop zany" or "vaudeville zany," but certainly zany. Just look at the expression on his face! Either he's zany, or he's just suffered a massive stroke. Perhaps both.

Alright, time for the Friday Random Ten. You know the rules: Take out your iPod, set it to random, and give us the first ten songs that stumble forth. If you're feeling particularly zany, feel free to offer a Coolness Self-Audit as well.

Here's mine:

1. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, "Cortez the Killer" -- This is one of my favorite Young songs. Sure, the lyrics don't kick in until you're nearly at the four minute mark, but if they started a second sooner, the song would be ruined, I tells ya, ruined! 9/10

2. Malvina Reynolds, "Little Boxes" -- What a great tune. This is an old folk classic from the early 1960s, a nice little indictment of suburban conformity: "And the people in the houses all went to the university / Where they were put in boxes, little boxes, all the same / And there's doctors and there's lawyers, and there's business executives / And they're all made out of ticky tacky and they all look just the same." I don't get Showtime, but apparently this is the theme song for the new suburban show "Weeds." If so, I may have to check that out. 10/10

3. The Stooges, "1970" -- This isn't my favorite Stooges song. Hell, it's not even my favorite year-themed Stooges song. ("1969" is such a better tune you have to assume Iggy took the end of the '60s as a major blow.) Still, it's Iggy Pop, and he's cooler than me. And he's cooler than you, punk. 7/10

4. They Might Be Giants, "Ana Ng" -- I like this song, but TMBG are almost certainly the exact antithesis of "cool." They used an accordian, for chrissakes! 4/10

5. Willie Bobo, "Spanish Grease" -- This song, however, is incredibly cool. Nice Latin jazz-funk from the late '60s, full of a great groove, nice horns, and a nice call-and-response chorus. Sweet. 10/10

6. The's, "Ah So!" -- Just your standard 1990s Japanese-sexpots-dressed-as-cavegirls rockabilly. We've all seen it a million times, but this is a nice, rollicking tune. 8/10

7. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, "In This Home on Ice" -- A nice little bit of indie pop from Brooklyn's finest. Alec Ounsworth's vocals sound a little less David Byrne-ish on this track, but still has a nice groove to it all. 9/10

8. David Bowie, "Moonage Daydream" -- A nice little strutter from Ziggy Stardust. Sure, some of the lyrics may be hard to decipher ("Keep your ’lectric eye on me babe / Put your ray gun to my head") and the kazoo-like chorus is a crippler. But the overall glam rock thrust is still pretty sweet. 7/10

9. Barbara Lewis, "Hello Stranger" -- An amazing, haunting doo-wop song that I only recently rediscovered while watching an old episode of "Homicide." (Whoever picked the music for that show was a genius, by the way.) Absolutely perfect. 10/10

10. De La Soul, "Wonce Again Long Island" -- I've said it before, and I'll say it again. De La Soul is easily one of the most important hiphop groups of the past decade. Right up there with Outkast and the Roots in a holy trinity of hiphopitude. From the criminally overlooked Stakes is High CD. 9/10

That's a nice 8.3 average. It would have been even better without They Might Be Giants nerding up the place. Thanks a lot, dweebs.

Think you're better than me? Or at least better than TMBG? Drop your own Friday Random Ten in the comments below, with or without the season's hot accessory -- the Coolness Self-Audit.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tortured Logic

When historians in the future pass judgment on the Bush administration, I'd wager that some of their attention will be focused on the White House's support of torture.

Sure, a lot of attention will be devoted to how Bush destroyed the American economy and instituted a barter system based on animal skins; some will of course explore his inadvertant nuclear strike against Spokane, Washington; and some will want to know just how he got his dog Barney onto the Supreme Court. But there will be plenty of work to go around, and surely some of these historians will want to explore the administration's approach to torture.

Fittingly, the administration has taken a rather tortured approach to the issue itself. On one hand, the administration has been insisting loudly that it does not ever torture people and that it would never ever want to torture people, but all things considered, it would like to keep the option open.

The administration's desire -- to have its nipple clamps and use them too -- has led to some Clintonian parsing of language. Sometimes, the schizophrenia of the administration appears in the form of two people. We saw this a couple weeks ago, when Bush was insisting we don't torture and Cheney was at that very moment lobbying the Senate for the right to torture. And we saw it again in this odd exchange between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and JCS Chief General Peter Pace:
PACE: It is absolutely responsibility of every U.S. service member if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it. . . .

RUMSFELD: I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it, it's to report it.

PACE: If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.
Nice to see the military commanders have a higher standard than their civilian overseers. Scary, but nice.

Currently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking the Tortured Logic Show on the road to Europe. "As a matter of U.S. policy,” she said, “the United States' obligations under the CAT (Convention against Torture), which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States." While the press has generally treated this as another denial -- of reality, perhaps -- Eric Umansky does a nice job of digging into the language and coming up with the essence:
Now, here’s the trick: Do “those obligations” apply to U.S. treatment of foreigners abroad? Not according to the Justice Department’s legal opinion. And bonus weasel: The anti-torture treaty also says that countries are only responsible for the actions that occur in "any territory under its jurisdiction." Those secret CIA prisons? They aren't in "territory under U.S. jurisdiction," so, in the administration's opinion, the U.S. isn't responsible. QED!
The Rice Exception is perhaps best illustrated by the administration's use of "torture by proxy" -- where America gets to keep its hands clean, but the people we want tortured get tortured all the same. It's win-win, really! And, despite the constant denials, it seems this is something we actually do:
Although Bush administration officials have denied that they transfer terrorism suspects to countries where they are likely to be abused, a classified memorandum described in a court case indicates that the Pentagon has considered sending a captured militant abroad to be interrogated under threat of torture.

The classified memo is summarized — its actual contents are blacked out — in a petition filed by attorneys for Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmad, a detainee held by the Pentagon at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility.

The March 17, 2004, Defense Department memo indicated that American officials were frustrated in trying to obtain information from Ahmad, according to the description of the classified memo in the court petition. The officials suggested sending Ahmad to an unspecified foreign country that employed torture in order to increase chances of extracting information from him, according to the petition's description of the memo. ...

The memo appears to call into question repeated assertions by the administration that it does not use foreign governments to abuse suspected militants — what critics call "torture by proxy."
Hey, we've outsourced everything else. Why not our torture industry, too?

There are so many reasons why we, as a nation, should be solidly against torture. Practically, it doesn't work. Politically, it makes us look bad and cripples our efforts to bring allies to our cause.

But most important of all, we don't torture because we're the good guys. I don't care if there's a ticking nuclear bomb underneath a pile of adorable puppies and unborn fetuses, we don't torture. No ifs, ands, or buts, my moral relativists on the hawkish side. We don't torture. If you want to torture, there are plenty of piece-of-shit countries out there that enjoy that sort of thing. We just toppled the ruler of one, in fact.

Come on. You're better than that, America.

(A tip of the hat to Atrios and Kevin Drum for some of the links.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

"History, We Don't Know. We'll All Be Dead"

President Bush may not know or care how history will judge him, as the title's quote suggests. A recent survey of professional historians shows that he probably wouldn't like the answer:
The History News Network at George Mason University has just polled historians informally on the Bush record. Four hundred and fifteen, about a third of those contacted, answered -- maybe they were all crazed liberals -- making the project as unofficial as it was interesting. These were the results: 338 said they believed Bush was failing, while 77 said he was succeeding. Fifty said they thought he was the worst president ever. Worse than [James] Buchanan.

This is what those historians said -- and it should be noted that some of the criticism about deficit spending and misuse of the military came from self-identified conservatives -- about the Bush record:

# He has taken the country into an unwinnable war and alienated friend and foe alike in the process;

# He is bankrupting the country with a combination of aggressive military spending and reduced taxation of the rich;

# He has deliberately and dangerously attacked separation of church and state;

# He has repeatedly "misled," to use a kind word, the American people on affairs domestic and foreign;

# He has proved to be incompetent in affairs domestic (New Orleans) and foreign (
Iraq and the battle against al-Qaida);

# He has sacrificed American employment (including the toleration of pension and benefit elimination) to increase overall productivity;

# He is ignorantly hostile to science and technological progress;

# He has tolerated or ignored one of the republic's oldest problems, corporate cheating in supplying the military in wartime.

Quite an indictment. It is, of course, too early to evaluate a president. That, historically, takes decades, and views change over times as results and impact become more obvious.
I think they're right. Bush may look bad now, but with a little perspective I think he can overtake Buchanan and stand alone as the Worst President Ever.

Buying (My) Votes

LLPoN has been uncharistically quiet on the one political issue my GOP lovin' wife and I can discuss and agree on - the alternative minimum tax.

Now, I'm not saying I'm not willing to pay taxes, but to avoid raising them dramatically in a single year is enough to get my vote.

I don't care if you believe there are WMD's in Canada and want to invade. I don't care if you tell Europe to suck your nuts. I don't care if all the interns in the world have blue dresses with stains - if there is a $5,000 swing in it for me - that is where my vote is going.

Before kids, house, and dogs, I might have said, "Well, the moose in Alaska must be saved, I will pay more at the pump." Now, its a lot more black and white. I know this will garner a collective boo from crew, but I gots ta keep it real.


Demonstrating the sharp political instincts that led him to mediocrity in the 2004 primaries, Senator Joe Lieberman has responded to President Bush's recent political failings just as you'd expect a member of the opposition party would -- by rallying around the president and turning against his own party. Brilliant!

Last week, Lieberman had a Wall Street Journal op-ed defending the president's plans for Iraq from Democratic criticism. This week, he's gone a step further, arguing that any criticism of Bush is, in fact, a threat to the survival of the Republic itself. "It's time for Democrats who distrust President Bush to acknowledge he'll be commander-in-chief for three more years," the senator said. "We undermine the president's credibility at our nation's peril." (Really? As Digby reminds us, Holy Joe sure had no problem criticizing the last Commander in Chief.)

It's fairly obvious that Lieberman is sucking up for a reason. With rumors of a real challenge from Lowell Weicker in the next election and rumors that the Bush administration wants Lieberman to replace Rumsfeld in the coming year, he's looking to make his status as an administration lapdog official.

I guess this makes sense for Lieberman, but I can't imagine anyone wanting to be part of this clusterfuck of an administration at this point in time. Iit seems a lot like rushing to get on board the Titanic after it hit the iceberg.

Which is, I suppose, what Joementum is all about.

The War on the War on the War on Christmas

In this great video clip over Crooks and Liars, Keith Olbermann and Mo Rocca offer a scorching exposé of the War on Christmas. You should watch just to hear the phrase "Arkansas creche-jacking" and Olbermann's dry skewering of his competitors at Fox News.

Deep Throat

Once again, the Onion has the goods on the Bush administration.

Funny stuff. Of course, the underlying premise for the story still scares the bejeezus out of me.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

And They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love

Courtesy of Crooks and Liars, here's a disturbing story about an attack on the University of Kansas religious studies professor who proposed a course treating "intelligent design" as a religious myth.
A professor whose planned course on creationism and intelligent design was canceled after he sent e-mails deriding Christian conservatives was hospitalized Monday after what appeared to be a roadside beating.

University of Kansas religious studies professor Paul Mirecki said that the two men who beat him made references to the class that was to be offered for the first time this spring.

Originally called "Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies," the course was canceled last week at Mirecki's request.

The class was added after the Kansas State Board of Education decided to include more criticism of evolution in science standards for elementary and secondary students.

"I didn't know them," Mirecki said of his assailants, "but I'm sure they knew me."
Way to beat the infidel, boys. If a good ass-kicking doesn't get the message of Jesus Christ across, I don't know what will. Maybe a giant cross, lit on fire and stuck in his front yard? That would demonstrate the shining light and warm embrace of true Christianity for sure!

Sheesh. I do love the irony here -- the opponents of evolution have once again proven themselves to be the least evolved people in the country.

Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

In the spirit of the War on the War on the War on Christmas™, I thought we might take some time to share our favorite Christmas and/or Holiday songs.

The lovely and talented Malibu Stacy is a huge fan of Christmas tunes, while I've always been a Festivus man myself. We're a mixed marriage. What can I say? With lots of holiday cheer and holiday alcohol, we make it work.

I know it's only the first week of December, and thus the malls and stores have only been playing Christmas tunes for two months now, but hopefully that's enough exposure for you all to come up with some favorites.

Here are my favorites:

10. Vince Guaraldi Trio, "Christmas Time is Here" -- An all-American classic. 'Nuff said.

9. Burl Ives, "A Holly Jolly Christmas" -- See above.

8. El Vez, "Christmas Wish" -- Yes, El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. This is a nice steel guitar '60s tune, something that could easily have appeared in any one of the 328 Hollywood films the real Elvis appeared in between 1960 and 1963.

7. Ann Margaret and Al Hirt, "Baby, It's Cold Outside" -- This is a song that should clearly be labelled a "holiday song" and most definitely not a "Christmas song." With lines like "No, no, the answer is no" and "Hey, what's in this drink?" it sounds more like an episode of "Law and Order: Holiday Victims Unit" than a festive holiday tune.

6. Patton Oswalt, "My Christmas Memory" -- Not exactly a Christmas song, but a killer comedy routine about a Christmas song. I can't do it justice here, but go download it on iTunes and be glad you did. You'll never look at Alvin and the Chipmunks in the same way again.

5. Bing Crosby and David Bowie, "Little Drummer Boy" -- Yes, the alcoholic wife-beating crooner and the androgynous glam rocker, together to sing a tribute to that first Christmas Eve. Somehow, they pull it off, in a nice harmony.

4. Clarence Carter, "Back Door Santa" -- Another one on the list that's a little more naughty than nice. Still, it's a scorching soul number, and contains the opening horn sample used in another holiday classic, Run D.M.C.'s "Christmas in Hollis."

3. James Brown, "Sweet Little Baby Boy, Pts. 1 & 2" -- James Brown used to put out a Christmas single every year, with titles like "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto" and "Soulful Christmas." This is one of the more sincere songs, though, and it has a nice string arrangement that's unusual for the Godfather.

2. Billie Holiday, "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" -- Come on, even her name is Holiday. A surprisingly swinging tune from Lady Day, and a nice one at that.

1. Otis Redding, "Merry Christmas Baby" -- One of my favorite Christmas tunes, done beautifully by Redding here.

Alright, the rules from the Friday Random Ten are in effect. Well, except for the Random part. And the Friday part. And the Coolness Self-Audit, too, since everyone's cool on the Yule.

I guess just give us the holiday songs you hold dear. Is that so much to ask?

Rush to Judgment

It seems the GOP spin machine is set on full - attack all Democrats who question the "strategy for Success" in Iraq. Dean is under fire for questioning if winning is possible - or if possible is it worth 23,000 American lives. Other media outlets, such as "Hillbilly Heroin" friend Rush Limbaugh, are calling Kerry a traitor by twisting his words into calling American troops "Terrorists." Yes, the man who actually served and received Purple Hearts.

While clicking around wondering how low can these folks get - I found my answer - The Rush Limbaugh "adopt a soldier" program. My first thought was that this was a nice idea. They must be:

(1) Buying soldiers who have lost limbs quality prosthetic replacements;
(2) Help make payments on mortgages or car loans while the primary income holder had to take a cut in pay;
(3) Offer free marriage and PTSD psychological support;
(4) Buy airline tickets for them to come back to the states during free time;
(5) Holiday presents for soldiers' children to say thanks for their mom or dad's sacrifice.

Well, I was wrong. As an "adopted soldier", they will "receive unfettered access to Rush 24/7 online as well as every big, colorful issue of The Limbaugh Letter." The cost? Good news; it's discounted! Its ONLY $49.99!

Now, I know us liberuls are all going to hell and don't deserve freedom or fresh air; but, come on, $50 for something which is essentially free for you to distribute. This may not be direct war profiteering; but it damn sure stinks like it.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rumsfeld Introduces New Staffers "Not Me" & "Ida Know"

"Some people in the military signed a contract with a private contractor, and the private contactor is alleged to have written accurate stories, but paid someone in the media in Iraq to carry the story," Mr. Rumsfeld said. "That's an allegation. I don't know if it's true yet."

Well, as long as its a contractor's fault, I guess you can't hold anyone in office accountable. Can you?

Caption Contest

Time for another caption contest. Have at him.

As always, this photo was shamelessly stolen from the brilliant Dependable Renegade.

Losing Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens has always been one of my favorite crazy people. I like reading his stuff, even when he is obviously wrong because he makes some interesting observations. (Note: the Mother Theresa thing is not a joke.)

It seems that at long last Christopher Hitchens seems to have been shaken loose from the inexplicable Bush worship that he has been inflicted with (and inflicting) for the last few years. What has caused his vitriol to spew back on the noble warriors? The latest (Shocked! Shocked!) story on fake news to emerge from the Pentagon.

How bad is it?
This time, someone really does have to be fired.
That sounds pretty bad. Do you really mean it?
I remember reading, decades ago, of a moment when Richard Nixon had made some desperate speech from his bunker and had then arranged for telegrams of support to be sent to the White House. And I wondered—did he eagerly tear them open and turn moistly to his aides, saying, "See: You can always count on the horse sense of the American people"? Was he, in other words, utterly and happily insulated and yet alarmingly insane?
Wow. Comparing Bush to an "insane" Richard Nixon. There's more gold in thar hills.

Sounds Like Somebody's Got a Case of the Mondays

I've just discovered a music blog that might help chase away the Monday blues -- So Much Silence.

The top few posts contain entire live sets by Arcade Fire, Iron & Wine, and Calexico. Well worth a visit, if only to hear Iron & Wine covering Elvis's "Always on My Mind." Enjoy.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Extra, Extra "Times Select" Sucks

Several weeks has passed since the Times pulled their best content for a subscription based service called "Times Select." I thought I would give it some time and see if (1) they would put it back because of a popular demand, or (2) I would miss it so much I would start paying myself. Well, neither has happened.

Why are they doing this? Greed? No, that's not a fair criticism; they are a company and companies are supposed to make money. Furthermore, like all companies which are directly impacted by the internet, the Times are faced with a radical change to their business model. Remember - companies don't like big change, much less radical change - they like slow, predictable growth. Newspaper companies (Gannett, Knight Ridder, WaPo) are all seeing their traditional newspaper sales drop and their advertising from that service dropping 2 to 5% a year. In fact, its so dire one of Knight Ridder's largest owner has thrown in the towel (publicly) and asked for someone to buy their stake to put the owner out of their misery.

So if there is no answer for how to reverse this erosion of the margins, the media companies turn to their online properties. Now, online properties in large "non core internet" companies are interesting places. In the late 1990's, they were the next Messiahs. Internet people could make money fall from the sky - all you needed were the "right" people with enough stock options. When these Silicon Valley Wonderkids proved they weren't capable of hosting the company Holiday Party (much less actually run the company), there was a fierce backlash against anyone with the "dot com" stigma associated with their resume - rightfully so, I might add.

Google has changed all that. They are making real money and lots of it. They are making money without asking their customers to pay while providing services (including this blogging service) free of charge (thanks by the way). Now, all companies are giving the internet a second chance and we are seeing so "aggressive" (also see "stupid" and "NewsCorp") acquisitions of internet properties. So, that brings us back to the Times Select. They (1) have to make more money and (2) are seeing others being successful.

Unfortunately, although they are proud of their sales, I would encourage them to think longer term. I no longer reference their editorials in my witty diatribes. Their opinions no longer impact my understanding of the world around me, and I am resigned to finding analysis from other sources. I won't play the "ideals in journalism" or "duty to inform" card, but they can learn from Google - if you provide enough of a quality service, advertising can more than cover your costs and satisfy the wildest dreams of your board of directors.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Spot the Bands

Here's an interesting way to waste your Friday afternoon. This picture contains references to 75 different bands. (Click the image to enlarge.)

I'll start the ball rolling in the comments, but let's see if we can get all 75.

(H/T G-Town Love.)

We Gon' Party Like It's Yo' 13th Birthday!

From GNN, through Crooks and Liars:
David H. Brooks, CEO of bulletproof vest maker DHB Industries, spared no expense for his 13-year old daughter’s entry into adulthood. The girl and 300 of her closest BFFs were entertained recently in New York’s Rainbow Room by Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Kenny G, Aerosmith and, believe it or not, 50 Cent.... It was hosted by Tom Petty. The reported cost: $10 million. ...

First off, what 13-year old is a fan of Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac and, for God’s sake, Kenny G? Who was this party really for? Second, and more importantly, where does a guy get $10 million to blow on a Bat Mitzvah? Well, it appears, from you, the American taxpayer. According to United for a Fair Economy, Brooks and Co. have made a tidy profit outfitting our nation’s fighting men and women in body armor that allegedly couldn’t take a hit from a 9mm round:

David H. Brooks, CEO of bulletproof vest maker DHB Industries, earned $70 million in 2004, 13,349% more than his 2001 compensation of $525,000. Brooks also sold company stock worth about $186 million last year, spooking investors who drove DHB’s share price from more than $22 to as low as $6.50 [DHB was trading at $4.20 Wednesday]. In May 2005, the U.S. Marines recalled more than 5,000 DHB armored vests after questions were raised about their effectiveness. By that time, Brooks had pocketed over $250 million in war windfalls.
Well, I didn't think it would happen, but I've finally found a David Brooks who's even more clueless than this one.

David H. Brooks -- a name that should be pronounced like "Jesus H. Christ!" -- must have balls as big as church bells. The problems with his company's not-exactly-bulletproof vests have been well publicized and so have the massive profit/profiteering he's made off the faulty merchandise. You'd think with all that publicity swirling around him, he'd probably be a little subtler about the profligate spending. (Of course you'd think that. You'd also probably think only a moron would spend $10 million on crap music like Kenny G and Don Henley.)