Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Every week I thank Kendra for introducing me to the Harper's "Weekly Review."

And this week's review made me laugh out loud in the library.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice painted an
upcoming U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference as a
"moment of opportunity" for Israelis and Palestinians,
while film director David Lynch claimed that 250 experts
in Transcendental Meditation could end that conflict by
dissolving "the suffocating rubber clown suit" of hatred.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Seems unlikely to Bitter Laughter, but it does make one wonder -- am I related to Dick Cheney? Let us hope not.

My condolences to the Obama family (the Cheney side excluded) for their bad news.

They may be polar opposites politically but US Vice-President Dick Cheney and Democratic candidate Barack Obama are related, Mr Cheney's wife says.

Lynne Cheney said she had discovered while doing family research for a new book that her husband and the Illinois senator were eighth cousins.

She said she traced a common ancestor of the two men to be a 17th century immigrant from France.

. . .

Mr Obama's spokesman, Bill Burton, responded to the news by saying: "Every family has a black sheep."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Deep Fried

State Fair Food: so delicious!

This food all looks pretty great, but as with most Fair Food, I'm guessing it looks (and sounds) a lot better than it tastes. (Deep friend snickers bars, for example, bring together flavors and textures that may be complimentary, but in no universe is such a combination necessary or desirable).

I'm holding out for the day when I will finally behold a staple of State Fair food fun: the butter sculpture. I guess they don't make butter sculptures in Texas.

Thanks, Metafilter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Taser Sales Up; Police Competence Down

The Lede has a couple of good posts today, one about the findings of the LAPD about their mishandling of a May Day protest last year, and another about everyone's favorite non-leathal weapon, the taser. Of course these postings seems natural right next to each other since it's hard to think about police brutality and incompetence and not think about tasers. According to the Lede, taser sales are going up despite the cries against it of late, especially the very public tasering of a student in Florida. According to the statistic's of the Lede's article, recent studies of tasers have shown that the weapon is as non-lethal as TASER International has avowed all along.

So, here's a question: If we presume for a second that taser are not lethal and do no serious harm to a significant portion of the population, does that justify their use? That is, if science deems tasers humane, does that change our attitude about the reasonableness of their use? It is on the strength of the argument that tasers are humane, after all, that sales are up and tasers are proliferating.

I feel that what is fundamentally at issue with the use of tasers is not the danger they pose to civilians. Yes, very few people die after being tasered; yes, most can get up and walk away (after a few minutes of utter decapacitation and intense pain). The question is whether law makers and communities feel that they help promote more humane means of policing. What the experience of the LA riots last May show is not that tasers injure people, but rather that they are a crutch on which undertrained, poorly supervised, unaccountable, and power-hungry police officers inflict pain upon civilians. It is precisely because tasers are non-lethal weapons that they can be used so widely so flagrantly against civilians. The issue isn't weather or not tasers are dangerous, but rather whether or not we want police to be given such free reign to inflict violence on the population, especially as a shortcut to adequate training.

Here's an idea: give all cops a taser, fine. But tase them first so that they remember what it feels like. That might significantly cut down on the incidence of grievous abuses of weaponry in this country.

The Future is Bright (and Gravity-free)

File under the big fat lies my grade school teachers told me about the perfect future that lay just around the bend.

In 1918, long before George Jetson commuted to Spacely Space Sprockets, the U.S. Patent Office issued Felix Longobardi the first patent for a vehicle capable of both driving on roads and flying through the air. But given all the impractical prototypes built since Longobardi's original whimsy, history suggests that any vehicle design combining these two modes of transport will be a commercial failure: aero-auto hybrids always seem to result in a compromise that serves both functions poorly.

Now a group of MIT alums believe that they are on their way toward overcoming this problem. Founded in 2006 and called Terrafugia, their startup, based in Woburn, MA, recently produced the first automated folding wing for a light sport aircraft. (A light sport aircraft is a type of airplane deemed by the Federal Aviation Administration to be easier to fly and hence more accessible than regular private planes.) The wing, however, is just the first step toward an aero-auto hybrid that the company plans to call the Transition.
I'll believe it when I drive it. Via Gerry Canavan.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

North, East, South and West of Tikrit somewhat

GOP candidate Fred Thompson on October 1:

"We can't forget the fact that although at a particular point in time we never found any WMD down there [Saddam Hussein] clearly had had WMD. . . He clearly had had the beginnings of a nuclear program. And in my estimation his intent never did change. And by today, he clearly would have had that rejuvenated."
Something tells me that this man isn't the right fit for this job.

Via Harper's.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus Day

Mark Twain once remarked of Christopher Columbus that "it was wonderful to find America—but it would have been more wonderful to miss it."

A good point he had, too.

Columbus knew what he was about when he sent word home.

"They... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

Via Howard Zinn.

Oh, and there's always this classic quote on the deep deep roots of American spirituality:

"Gold is most excellent; gold constitutes treasure; and he who has it does all he wants in the world, and can even lift souls up to Paradise."

Happy Columbus Day.