Thursday, August 31, 2006

Watch this video. Please. Or at least read the transcript!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

As if we needed another reason

The race for the Senate seat in Connecticut is going from stupid to sick. Jack Kemp, that well known supporter of Democratic Party principles, is campaigning for, that's right, Joe Lieberman. Kemp, for those of you who don't know, ran for Vice President in 1996 as a Republican. Because Jack Kemp is a Republican. He has been for his entire political career. Since 1971! But now, Kemp's decided that Joe Lieberman is the right candidate for him to come out of retirement to stump for. Jeebus, who's next on the list of Lieberman backers, Alexander Haig and Dan Quayle?

Pets, pt. 3

My next pets were a pair of wild snakes. The first my friend Phil and I discovered amidst the branches of a small bush in his backyard. This one was not in the best shape; it didn't react much at all when we picked it up and there were a number of spots on it where the scales had been broken. I think that it had suffered some serious bird attacks and wasn't feeling too well, but it revived under my care and I was happy to have another snake! This one was a black rat snake--a close relative to corn snakes, although obviously not as colorful:

Less than two weeks later, a friend of my mom's found a small, quite youthful snake in her basement and gave it to me as well. This snake too was quite tame, and I originally thought it was a gray rat snake, because it looked like this:

It was actually just another black rat snake; apparently their young tend to lose their gray patches as they grow. See if you can tell the difference:

Like night and day, eh? Clearly a 14-year old should have been able to tell the difference! In any case, these two got along quite well in the same cage. Their favorite resting spot was on the tree branch that was braced into opposite corners of the cage to provide a diagonal line. First the adult black would lie down, then the young one would lie down on top, resting its head right on the other's. Too cute! I'm sure mom must have a pic of this somewhere; if we can find one, I'll post it later.
I named the black "Cindy" and the gray "Julia", after two of the many, many women on whom I had had a crush that went thoroughly unrequited. We had no idea if these snakes were female, but who cares, right? They're snakes!
(As a side note, about 2 years later, Julia (the person) and I faced off on "It's Academic", the DC and Baltimore-area high school quiz show. Quite accidentally, our two high schools were matched up and we were on our respective teams. She was as standoffish as she had ever been, so I felt no pang of retroactive remorse in my naming practice.)
When I went off to college, I had to give up Cindy and Julia; I contacted the National Zoo to find out what could be done. Since Cindy was found as an adult in the wild, the herpetologist told me that we could let her go in the wild with no problems. Julia, on the other hand, had spent too much of her development with me, so he was kind enough to take her for the zoo. I have few illusions that he actually kept her, but you never know--she was awfully pretty. The snake, not the person.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pets, pt. 2

My second pet was a corn snake, whom I originally named "Corny". He was a pretty mild-tempered fellow, almost never striking (I think he bit my Dad once) and never minded being held. Corny was a great first snake to have, but I must not have done too good a job, because he died relatively early. I probably didn't keep his terrarium warm enough, I guess.
Mom was dead set against my getting a snake, but once I conned her into it, she soon liked Corny well enough. I seem to remember her saying that watching Corny eat was fascinating, and Corny was certainly beautiful to look at. These days, corns come in all kinds of colors--they've bred combos so intensively that it's more difficult to find the basic/natural colors for sale than it would be to find some whacked-out albino striped green thing, most likely, which just doesn't seem right.
Here's the standard, found-in-nature color scheme:

Or this one:

Cute, eh? And beautiful, I think (and I'm not that much of a fan for fall colors). Corn snakes don't get all that big; they might reach 6 feet long and maybe get to a 1 inch diameter at their thickest point, so handling them is not the production that holding a thick, heavy python or boa would be. These guys are sleek and pretty. Some of the other breeds are simply weirdly colored by comparison, imho, and don't even look like corns at all:

Some don't have the right patterns:

Heck, this one below doesn't have anything in common with my corn snake except bits of DNA!

That being said, though, if I were to get another Corn snake, I might consider one of these:

But I think I might just have to work at finding another Corny:

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Shark jumping

I was originally appalled by reality shows, or at least the concept of them. Then TBO got me all hopped up on them, and now I catch as many episodes of as many of them as we can remember each week. Our friends sporksforall and scout, one time partners in video crime along these lines, have dropped many of the "old school" shows, although for the life of me I can't see how most of them are any different than they used to be, so I'm not sure why.
In any case, the biggest of them all at one point--the flagship, if you will--CBS's Survivor, may have finally gone completely nuts. It used to be all about torturing a variety of Americans through malnutrition--or simply sheer starvation when Survivor hit Africa--in order to reward a couple people with money. In order to boost sagging ratings the last couple of years, though, the producers of "Survivor" have tinkered with the format of the show.
As an aside, anyone with 1/2 a brain knows this is incredibly counter productive; the history of television is littered with shows that soldiered on waaaay past their prime by similar methods, forever sullying once proud broadcasting future legends. "M*A*S*H*" was one of a very few shows that took major cast defections in stride, even if the last few seasons were pretty stale anyway. For every "M*A*S*H*", however, there is a Cousin Oliver-era "Brady Bunch", a post-Richie "Happy Days", a post-Duchovny "X-Files", "Archie Bunker's Place", a post-Dr. Fleischman "Northern Exposure", and far more. Far, far more.
What has "Survivor" done now? Not content with producing an "all-star" show--which is quite an ironic feat for a show conceptually designed to have no stars--or splitting up the 2 "tribes" of 8 people each into 4 mini-tribes of 4 based on age and gender last season, this season they may have completely gone officially around the bend. You see, now these new mini-tribes will be divided based on their ethnicity. Yep, there will be 4 African-Americans, 4 Asian-Americans, 4 Latino-Americans, and 4 White Americans. (What is the hyphenate for "Caucasians" anyway--Western European Melted In The Pot-Americans? I digress.) As if we don't already have enough racial tension in this country, huh? Not to say I won't be watching, of course, since I have a hard time turning away from train wrecks, but maybe that just speaks to my willful lack of productivity. I'm sure all of you would welcome more musings on world and national affairs, right?


Now that I'm 44, it's clearly high time I set aside my obviously petty grievances with the felons in high office, doncha think? To that end, I thought I'd post some pretty pictures of the pets I had in my youth. Unfortunately, I've never been much for picture taking, so I'm simply going to steal these pics from the Web for the most part.
My first pets were gerbils. I don't remember how or why we got them, but these guys lived for a looong time--longer than the average, that's for sure.

We had two of them, and there were many afternoons that we forgot to feed them. Which sounds horrible, but I bet that our neglect ended up allowing them to live their long lives; my guess is that gerbils in captivity are far more likely to be overfed than not, leading to their short lives. Our gerbils were also radically in shape, since they spent countless hours running on their wheel:

This contraption doesn't look like much fun to you or me, but man oh man did those guys love it. Their favorite trick was to run as fast as they could to get that wheel moving, and then stop instantly while grabbing onto the metal crossbars with their claws. The momentum of the wheel would then carry them all the way around the loop! Long before any roller coaster was perfected that could take you upside down, these gerbils had done it themselves. Fun for the whole family!
I will spare you the gory and heartwrenching story of their demise; I'm still upset about it. Seriously.
I miss having these cute little furballs, but they are illegal to own in California, so they might just remain simply a part of my past. *sigh*

Thursday, August 17, 2006

George. Felix. Allen. Racist to the bone

First off, let me say that my family, on both sides, were/are huuuuge Redskins fans. George Allen, the Dad, was beloved because he brought instant and lasting success to the 'Skins in the early 1970s after decades of futility. He was a stern coot, but at no time did we get any inkling of trouble at home beyond the fact that he spent too much time in the office. Perhaps if he had taught his namesake some manners and tolerance, though--Allen the coach couldn't care less about the color of anyone's skin, as long as that man played his a$$ off for him--we wouldn't be where we are today. You see, George Felix Allen, the US Senator for Virginia (although born and bred in Palos Verdes, California, where racial diversity exists as a concept only), is an unctuous slimebag racist through and through.
The whole country is getting its first glimpses of that, thanks to a truly incredible and unbelievable videotape made by his opponent Jim Webb's videographer. Rarely have we been shown the true face of racism so baldly as this. Not sure what I'm talking about? Allen's repeated use of the word "macaca", which is a common racial epithet slurring North Africans, shows him for what he is. Yes, George Felix Allen called the cameraman a nigger. On camera. To an applauding audience. Too obscure to be true? Not for him; you see, his mom is from Tunisia. It is hardly a logical reach to discern where he might have heard this term before, and in what context it could be used.
On Tuesday, Allen attempted to weasel his way out of this mess by issuing what he probably thinks is an appropriate apology. You will notice, of course, that nowhere in that statement did he actually apologize for his behavior or his beliefs, instead lamely adding at the end that he is sorry if the cameraman was offended. He was simply "misunderstood by members of the media" and had his remarks misinterpreted, you see, all the while attacking Webb for somehow being out of touch with Virginia. (As if it hasn't been Allen himself who has left the state to campaign [for President in 2008, by any rational standard] in Iowa! Repeatedly!)
This man is scum, and a blight on our national scene. I'm hoping my family in Virginia will help to kick him out of the Senate this fall, while the rest of us can keep him out of any other office for the rest of his miserable life.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A little love for the Ducks

Sporting News writer Matt Hayes ranks the ten most intimidating stadiums in college football here. And who came out on top? That's right, the University of Oregon Ducks's Autzen Stadium! Of course, most of the 139 commenters (about 9x the number of comments Hayes usually gets) posted nothing but slurs about his ranking. Sore, sad, ignorant losers. I'm sure none of them have even seen Autzen on the TV, let alone been there in the last, oh, 10 years or so. Suck it, Swamp and Touchdown Jesus fans.

Quick hitter on Time hatchet job

From a response I gave to a friend who emailed me the article:
Nicely balanced "reporting", isn't it? The entire article includes quote after quote from Republican Party goons about what is "best" for the Democrats, with only one, highly shaded quote from Howard Dean, at the absolute end of the piece. Is it any wonder I've stopped using Time as a reference for students looking for news articles on topics?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Victory in Connecticut?

Well, Ned Lamont and the Democratic voters of Connecticut did something rather remarkable yesterday, and were treated with disdain, scorn, and dishonor. The purpose of primaries are to democratically pick candidates for office from all the various parties who then run in the general elections held in November, but apparently, that simple calculus is too much for Joe Lieberman to handle. What should have been his concession speech last night was instead his opening salvo against what was his own party, as he begins a run for the Senate as some sort of quasi-independent (he can't run as an actual "Independent", because that Party already has a candidate, as do all of the parties that actually exist in Connecticut). This incredible turnabout of fortune is made all the more sickening because, much like the Green Party candidacy in Pennsylvania, this campaign will be supported almost entirely by Republicans.
Shades of 2000 and Ralph Nader's quixotic attempt at consciousness-raising? Exactly, but we know what the stakes really are this time around.
Both Nader in 2000 and Lieberman today had/have every right to run for office by any means legal--I freely admit that. My argument then and now remains, though, to what ends are these men dedicated? We now know what results we got from Nader's run (and yes, I am fully aware that Gore ran a less-than-stellar campaign, but there is no single factor outside of Republican fraud that cost him the election other than Nader's vote-draining in a any of a handful of the crucial states)--virtual destruction of our entire country's fund of goodwill everywhere in the world, an almost certain financial and economic catastrophe in the making, and the deaths of pretty much countless numbers of people--and I am not arguing that Lieberman's spoiled child act will prove as disastrous as that. The stakes in this and the next election, though, are higher precisely because we now have to live in the shadow of Nader's run. We have far less of a margin for stupidity or selfishness nowadays; every Senate and House seat up for grabs in the US Congress and the Presidency itself has now become vital to the interests of humanity, and I would defy anyone to tell me that that is hyperbole. That Lieberman thinks he alone can represent the voters of Connecticut--even though they themselves (since Connecticut is a seriously Democratic state; no one believes, even in a three-way race, that the Republican candidate has any chance at all of winning the general election) just told him he doesn't--is the height of arrogance, snobbery, entitlement, and solipsism. He is behaving exactly like his hero Smirky does when told he can't do something--he does it anyway, regardless of the consequences to anyone in the entire world. The only difference between the two is that Smirky holds all the cards in his realm, while for now, the good people of Connecticut hold Lieberman's. They can still tell Joe "no". And they should. They must.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Quick hitter on Connecticut

Today is the vitally important Democratic Primary in CT. If you know anybody that lives there, please tell them to get out and vote--for Ned Lamont. Tell them that it's imperative we send a message to the entire Party that it's not ok to run to the right when our very lives and national well-being is at stake. Tell them it's not ok to embrace the President under any circumstances. Tell them it's not ok to continue to support a sociopath and his allies when they are clearly trying to destroy the very foundations of democracy in this nation. Tell them that Joe Lieberman, for all his good efforts at equality and socially liberal stances in the past, is not ok for Connecticut, and their vote means something today. Lamont may not be perfect, but he is better than Lieberman on every issue, and there is no chance we can lose this seat to a Republican--even they've given up on fielding a decent candidate and are instead supporting Lieberman! That's not ok. If we are ever to recapture the Senate, the House, the Presidency, and our country, it must begin somewhere, and this is the first golden opportunity we have. Go Ned!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Book review--Friendly Fire

Many, if not most or nearly all, Americans are clueless (and sometimes quite audibly and proudly so) about what the world thinks of our country and unfortunately, the people running the US are part of that majority. Julia Sweig attempts to draw attention to this serious problem in Friendly Fire. Sweig seems fairly non-partisan throughout the book; indeed, at times I thought she might be a righty blaming Clinton (and at others she attributed much of the cause to Smirky), but overall I think she is actually uninterested in party politics. Instead, Sweig wants to show anyone who reads the book that our antagonistic diplomatic policies have been in place for decades, although clearly the Bush Administration has done far more damage than any before it in erasing any good will that the international community felt for us.
The book is loosely organized into 3 parts: the first describing our Cold War policies and its effects on Latin America primarily, the second giving case studies of various countries' rising hatred, and the last providing some tentative solutions. This structure is fairly slight, actually, as each section contains some damning evidence that the US is losing friends fast while showing that it really has been our fault all along. Echoing Mahbubani's Beyond the Age of Innocence (reviewed here), Sweig makes it clear that the US is no longer acting in anyone's best interests but its own, and we have only ourselves to blame for any ill will our selfish attitudes and policies have created in others. She does not dwell overlong on that point, however, preferring instead to prove her assertion with short regional histories and the case studies mentioned above. Our "interventions" into governments all over the globe (but primarily in Latin America) in order to stave off Communism during the Cold War have now evolved into incursions into foreign economies for the sake of profit (in addition to the new anti-terrorist military expeditions). While our anti-Communist/pro-democratic interventions were apparently mostly forgivable (as shown by mostly pro-US feelings abroad), the new wave of pro-capitalist (or simply ignorant and self-serving) political diplomacy is failing spectacularly. The most startling case studies involve Germany, where shame of the Holocaust is receding and nationalist assertion of pride is increasing, and South Korea, where actually our interventions in both the Cold War and modern eras have proven damaging to Korean desires.
As World War II's atrocities fade slowly away into institutional and personal memory, the German people and its politicians have begun to reassert their desire to be treated as a major and trustworthy player in European politics. This new independence from US influence was shown most dramatically during the run-up to the Iraq occupation, as the Germans were among the most vociferous anti-Bush voices. Indeed, "[t]he war in Iraq, George Bush's particular style, and his cabinet's dismissive and derisive attitude toward Germany accelerated the force of generational changes already under way [sic] and reinforced the new German argument that the time had come for "a more assertive and sovereign Germany." Our new diplomacy is fomenting evolutionary changes in some of our former allies, according to Sweig, and very few of them are favorable to the US.
Our continued interference in Korea over the past 6 decades has begun to yield bitter fruit as well, although only in the last few years has it turned angry. Sweig quotes a popular song released in the aftermath of Apolo Anton Ohno's controversial victory over Kim Dong Sung in the Salt Lake City Olympics; clearly these people are pissed:

Did you see the short-track speed skating race?
What a vulgar country, fucking U.S.A.!
You'd go that far just to win the Gold?
What a nasty country, fucking U.S.A.!
Don't forget the blood and tears we've shed!
You, the cause of our division, Fucking U.S.A.!
Don't forget the No Gun Ri massacre of civilians!
You, country of murderers, Fucking U.S.A.!
The mp3 of the song was apparently downloaded or listened to over 30,000 times in the first day of its release in February 2003. That's not good, folks--South Korea is supposed to be an ally of ours.
Sweig's book is frightening in its analysis, made the more so due to her lack of seeming political stance: this book cannot be dismissed as a partisan polemic. The one weakness it has is that her section on solutions is rather thin and incomplete, but that is even more upsetting; reversing the trends of anti-Americanism is a problem even someone who has studied them had trouble solving, even in theory . . .

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Whither the Democrats?

An old friend of mine and I have been exchanging emails in regards to what the Democratic Party's problems are. He advocates (if I read him correctly) recapturing the hearts and minds of those disaffected "Reagan Democrats" who exist towards the center, in order to win a majority of voters. Another friend of mine asked me what I thought about the advisability of a third party, and I think these two questions are really one: Is the Democratic Party outmoded? Do we need to disestablish one or both of our current parties so as to more accurately reflect the populace? My answer to those questions is--aside from the snarky "Yes, I would love to eliminate the Republican Party!"--"No, but . . ."
I think the Democratic Party has done nothing but move toward the right, ever since Reagan stripped off a chunk of their constituency more than 25 years ago. How much further to the right can it go before losing whatever sense of purpose it has? As I asserted in my previous post, the whole political spectrum has shifted to the right as the Democrats attempt to position themselves in some mystical "center" that doesn't exist while the Republicans simply shore up their rightwing base and get out their votes. We are seeing some politicians switching back from the Republicans (see here), as the absolute nuttiest rightwing programs have begun to be enacted, but I would attribute that more to their realization that the Republican Party has left them, rather than any seduction by the Democrats. Are there more of these moderate Republicans to be grabbed? Sure. But what possible platform could the Democratic Party stand on that would encompass both these old fashioned Republicans and the traditional Democratic base of "The Common Man"?
My impression is that voters are sick to death of Democrats who ignore their pleas for a return to a more leftist stand, as the disastrous campaign of Ralph Nader in 2000 showed. If the Democratic Party moves any further to the right in order to capture some imaginary center (when they are already beyond the true center of the populace), they will permanently lose those of us on the actual left, leaving them lacking a majority yet again. Many progressive posters on Daily Kos (which, by the way, is not a progressive blog, but one dedicated to the survival of the Democratic Party) continually bemoan the lack of true representation in the Democratic Party, swearing that if this politician or that one does this or says that, they will never vote for another Democrat again. These are not radical Lefties either, imho, but formerly mainstream Dems who have been betrayed too many times by party leaders more interested in positioning--"triangulation" is the current derisive term--than standing for something. Most of these commenters are referring to the Dems living on the rightward edge of the Party; clearly any further additions to that side of the Dem equation would drive them away for good.
And this is where the question of a third party comes into play. I can easily envision a Progressive Party inheriting those Democrats left behind rising up to create a new left wing in American politics, since that's pretty much already happening. Staving off this potential defection is the whole point behind the creation of the Daily Kos blog in its effort to refashion the party, reincorporating its own left wing. I can also envision a third party consisting of libertarians fed up with the Republicans who are now swelling the size of the federal government beyond all recognition, including such intrusive actions as domestic spying and the continued "moral" wars on personal liberties.
Libertarians are on odd bunch, who are actually the mirror opposites of the center as it is perceived by the two parties, which is what is confusing the DLC wing of the Democratic Party. Libertarians advocate the elimination of almost every facet of governance as they pertain to individual actions, regardless of traditional "values"--drugs, sex, guns, whatever you can think of, they want the government to simply butt out--but they have no qualms with cutting funding for the military and social programs as well. In other words, they are the ultimate small government voice, verging almost on an anarchist ideology. Socially radically "liberal", but economically radically "conservative", where for most Democrats at least, the center consists of social conservatives and economic liberals. I exaggerate, but not too much, I think.
I don't think these two disaffected groups would work all that well together, although they are both in favor of getting the government out of the home entirely, with the possible progressive exception regarding guns. The libertarian call for the elimination of any restrictions on business and any kind of safety net for the citizenry would not too eventually cause progressives to withdraw in disgust, I would think/hope.
The actual electoral process that we have constructed, though, makes the concept of third parties a virtual non-starter. Our winner-take-all elections, whereby all a person has to do is have one more vote than his/her opponent to gain the seat, leaving the loser and all of his/her constituents pretty much completely powerless, necessitate coalitions and combinations outside of the governing bodies (in order to find the one person who can garner that 50%+1 votes), not in them. A third party of disaffected voters derived from a section of one of the existing parties merely dooms both of those wings to defeat against a united existing foe, given a relatively even distribution of voters.
The Democratic Party is in danger of losing its left wing, and the Republican Party is in danger of losing its libertarian wing. Even Steven, right? Not really, since the left wing of the Democratic Party really consists of what used to be most of the whole Party, whereas the libertarians are just a small faction of ideologues ill suited to supporting a mainstream party anyway. The Democratic Party really needs to move left, both to shore up its own base among the populace, and also to provide those non-voters out there a better picture of what the two parties really stand for, and perhaps entice them back into the voting booths. I think most people don't vote because they don't see the point; both parties claim to speak for "middle America", and the Republicans have successfully tarred the whole process with the brush of scandal--even if their claims of Democratic corruption are bogus. The Democratic Party needs to convince people that the Republicans have lied and cheated their way into power, and are now in the business of destroying the American Dream to enrich the rich. Shouldn't be too hard, seeing as how that's all true, right?