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Monday, June 21, 2004  

News and analysis: Downfall of a governor

Connecticut's chief executive may soon be trading Brooks Brothers suits for stripes and his name for a number. He will be resigning from office under an ominous cloud today. The man some people thought might someday become president of the United States will be lucky if he avoids prosecution. Rowland's closest associate pled guilty to federal charges in regard to trading state contracts for profit in March. The governor's house of cards tumbled fast.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Connecticut Gov. John G. Rowland will announce his resignation Monday night, amid a federal corruption investigation and a growing move to impeach him, two sources told The Associated Press.

. . .Rowland, 47, a Republican easily re-elected to a third term in 2002, admitted late last year that he lied about accepting gifts and favors from friends, state contractors and state employees.

State and federal authorities have been investigating those allegations, and a special House committee also has been considering whether to recommend Rowland's impeachment. The committee was scheduled to begin its third week of hearings later Monday.

The announcement comes several days after the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislative panel could compel the governor to testify.

Rowland was once the nation's youngest governor - he was 37 when first elected in 1994 - and considered a rising star in the GOP. He is a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association and was rumored to be considered for several positions in the Bush administration.

Rowland's situation interests me partly because of his use of executive privilege to try to hide his malfeasance. On the national level, we are seeing corrupt Pres. Richard M. Nixon's supposed trump card reemerge as a barrier to the release of information the public has a right to know. The chief executive, George W. Bush, and his staff, including a national security advisor, cite it as grounds for not revealing information that would confirm events preceding and during the invasion of Iraq. Rowland is somewhat novel in attempting to apply the same evasion to unseemly decisions at the state level. His bad decisonmaking was quite personal, despite its political implications. Free lodgings here, there and everywhere. Unpaid work done on a vacation home, including installation of a hot tub. Gratuitous boxes of boxes of Cuban cigars. Rowland would have been the eighth governor ever impeached and removed from office if he had not caved in to pressure. Considering the paucity of similar cases, I don't believe we can call the use of executive privilege to hide malfeasance by governors a slippery slope initiated in national politics, but the issue is worth considering.

The blogosphere being the partisan place it is, some people will wonder if I am writing about Rowland because he has been considered a Great Republican Hope. I am not. I have also expressed concern about the activities of Oregon's favorite son, Neil Goldschmidt, while he was in various offices. Goldschmidt carried on a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl while he was in his thirties and mayor of Portland. With the help of well-placed friends, he was able to keep the rape of a child secret for nearly 30 years. Continuing investigations reveal the man Goldschmidt used as the victim's handler was compensated by the then governor intervening in regulatory affairs on his behalf. Goldschmidt is a Democrat.

The commonality between a Rowland and a Goldschmidt is hubris. Both are men who were told they were special and always given their way from a young age. The plums of society and approval of millions were conferred on them. Along the way, they began to have such a strong sense of entitlement that any 'good fortune' they could avail themselves of struck them as their just due.


3:10 PM

Friday, June 18, 2004  

Freeway Blogger strikes again

Yes, the blogger who really is different has a put up a new sign reflecting his views about the 'conquest' of Iraq by the United States. The Scarlet Pimpernel places personal billboards with short, pithy statements alongside highways and over overpasses. Thousands of drivers see them.

Here's a billboard I made yesterday to protest the use of torture as U.S. policy. The text, shown with the hooded figure from Abu-Gharaib, reads, "If this was our policy. . . We're losing a hell of a lot more than just a war."

Visit the Scarlet Pimpernel at his site. And, tell him to be careful erecting those signs. He is taking much greater risks than folks do posing those feckless felines for cat blogging.


11:30 PM

Thursday, June 17, 2004  

Around the blogosphere

Bush, Iraq and kid gloves

Blogger and composer Richard Einhorn at Tristero is surprised that editorial writers at the New York Times used mild language when saying George W. Bush dissembled about the invasion of Iraq. Understandably, Einhorn would have preferred those nice middle-class men and women at the top of their field be forceful, even bold. He would probably settle for honest.

The New York Times: Bizarro World Edition

Man oh man, the New York Times has truly outdone itself. It seems the editorial staff has decided to go out on a real limb and opine that Bush may have been. . .dishonest about the war rationale. No, he's not a liar. Just, you know. . .dishonest:

Of all the ways Mr. Bush persuaded Americans to back the invasion of Iraq last year, the most plainly dishonest was his effort to link his war of choice with the battle against terrorists worldwide.

No shit, Sherlock.

And what does the Times suggest? Now that countless thousands of Iraqis have died, well over 800 Americans too, and terrorism has increased mightily? Read it and weep, my friends: President Bush should apologize to the American people. . . .

I am not surprised. For all the talk one hears about the liberal media, the media isn't. I don't believe most newspapers have editorialists who are as far to the Right as most of the blogosphere is either. Instead, there is a tendency to hew to a middle-of-the road policy that leans more to the Right than to the Left. Furthermore, this is a situation involving people of power. People who can strike back if displeased with coverage of them. The writers at the NYT slipped on their kid gloves and made sure they fit before they penned the piece. In addition, be prepared for a 'but it doesn't matter' follow-up by at least some of the editorialists now that the admission Bush lied about why Iraq was invaded has been made. After the heeing and hawing, the status quo will be declared not all that wrong.

I speak from experience. My first job out of college was as an editorial writer for a large newspaper. Looking back on the time, I believe I was unqualified for the job. Youth, naivete and opinion writing should not be allowed to mix. But, at least I had a backbone. The editorial writers at the NYT probably lost theirs on the way to success. It is enough to lead a person to re-read Babbitt.

Visit Einhorn's blog to read the rest of that entry.

Outsourcing and 'inherent' abilities

If any of the journalism reviews have analyzed something that has caught my eye, I am not aware of it. It seems to me that there is less international news about other countries in major newspapers now that Iraq dominates foreign news. Though news from Iraq is foreign news, it is focused on the occupation by the U.S. Filling the foreign news hole with articles about the war may have squeezed out pieces about other foreign countries. Domestic news gets first priority at all newspapers. So, if there is limited space, I think non-war related foreign news likely gets left out. Could just be a personal impression. I wonder.

The Wily Filipino, Benito Vergara publishes a blog that chronicles news in Asia, especially in the Philippines, as well as in the U.S. He has been thinking about outsourcing.

We Internalize Storylines

While doing some surfing for yet another long-simmering project completely unrelated to the St. Louis one, I came across this report on outsourcing labor to the Philippines. The customer service / call center business is already well-known; the projection that the "aggregate growth rate" for this particular niche would grow by 50 percent to $864 (million?) doesn't look too farfetched at all.

The description of the Philippines' advantages over other Asian countries is rather interesting, though, as it could be read in funny ways:

In Asia, the country is in the best position to gain a large share of e-services contracts in view of the following reasons: affordable quality human resource; affinity to Western culture; strategic location; hospitable lifestyle and expanding infrastructure.

Or, if you will: low salaries, hostility to labor unions, a legacy of colonialism, and the desperation to do anything for cash

But there I am grousing needlessly about what is apparently a genuine economic boom that actually doesn't stink of sweatshop-style exploitation, so I should be a little more positive. I do like the way the dry and rigorous economist language gives way to culturalist explanations of Filipinos' seemingly natural affinity for, in this case, the animation industry:

Demand for Filipino e-services in this area is also enormous in view of the inherent ingenuity, creativity and artistry of the Filipinos. Aside from their artistry, Filipino animators stand out from the rest of the world for their multi-cultural orientation that enables them to internalize storylines and concepts for better artwork and faster execution.

This isn't unfamiliar either: "inherent" cultural traits are also retroactively employed to "explain" Filipinos' supposed "aptitude" for nursing, housecleaning, singing, and so on -- only a shade removed, really, from physical, i.e., racist, characteristics employed in similar fashion, such as small hands (the better to assemble tiny computer chips with) or more flexible backs (the better to pick asparagus with).

Still, there's something quite resonant about that "multi-cultural orientation," one that could be construed a kind of strategic rag-picking engendered by the colonial experience. And that part about internalizing storylines! It's almost... poetic.

One of the aspects of so-called diversity training that makes me wary of it is that it often relies on the kind of reductive stereotyping Vergara is referring to. That occurs when people are listing the 'strengths' of various cultures, ethnicities and races. The supposedly natural ease (subservience?) of Asians. The alleged superior physical strength (brutishness?) of blacks. The presumed guile (sneakiness?) of Jews. Claims like these are packaged as compliments in that situation, sometimes by not being explicit about precisely what is being praised. But, they rely on reclaiming outdated notions about being able to look at a person, group or country and know what the abilities of the individual or individuals are. Meant to be complimentary or not, that is stereoytyping.

Really related

Richard Einhorn and Benny Vergara are energetic people who maintain fine blogs and careers in interesting and stimulating fields. You can buy Einhorn's recording, Voices Of Light, at Amazon. You can order Vergara's book, Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th Century Philippines through links on his blog.


5:54 PM

Wednesday, June 16, 2004  

Fiction bonus: "The Depressed Person"

My memories of short fiction are usually of outstanding collections. But, occassionally, a specific story will lodge itself in my brain for years to come. That occurred with a short story called "The Depressed Person," by David Foster Wallace, in Harper's a few years ago. The story is well-written and entertaining. But, those were not the reasons it became a cause celebre at Harper's. Wallace caught considerable flack from some readers because he portrayed the depressed person as a sniveling, shallow woman oblivious to everyone else's problems. That was in 1998, and the story is still with me. I'm sure many of the other original readers recall it, too.

I've been reading Harper's forever. That controversy was one of the top five or so over the years. Ironically, many of the letters from depressed persons were so abusive they added support to the alleged 'unfair portrayal,' instead of mitigating it. Wallace was accused of insensitivity toward people having emotional problems. Most people have experienced short bouts of situational depression at one time or the other, so I don't believe those of us who defended Wallace are cold-hearted. We just found the story to be both accurate and funny, though perhaps a bit over the top.

You must read this story. It is hilarious. I've located a full reprint online. I'll start you off.

The Depressed Person

The depressed person was in terrible and unceasing emotional pain, and the impossibility of sharing or articulating this pain was itself a component of the pain and a contributing factor in its essential horror.

Despairing, then, of describing the emotional pain itself, the depressed person hoped at least to be able to express something of its context -- its shape and texture, as it were -- by recounting circumstances related to its etiology. The depressed person's parents, for example, who had divorced when she was a child, had used her as a pawn in the sick games they played, as in when the depressed person had required orthodonture and each parent had claimed -- not without some cause, the depressed person always inserted, given the Medicean legal ambiguities of the divorce settlement -- that the other should pay for it. Both parents were well-off, and each had privately expressed to the depressed person a willingness, if push came to shove, to bite the bullet and pay, explaining that it was a matter not of money or dentition but of "principle." And the depressed person always took care, when as an adult she attempted to describe to a supportive friend the venomous struggle over the cost of her orthodonture and that struggle's legacy of emotional pain for her, to concede that it may well truly have appeared to each parent to have been, in fact, a matter of "principle," though unfortunately not a "principle" that took into account their daughter's feelings at receiving the emotional message that scoring petty points off each other was more important to her parents than her own maxillofacial health and thus constituted, if considered from a certain perspective, a form of neglect or abandonment or even outright abuse, an abuse clearly connected -- here she nearly always inserted that her therapist concurred with this assessment -- to the bottomless, chronic adult despair she suffered every day and felt hopelessly trapped in.

Reasonably related

Harper's Magazine online.

•An unofficial David Foster Wallace fan site.


10:10 PM

Tuesday, June 15, 2004  

Blogger of the day: David Anderson

David Anderson, at In Search of Utopia, has quite a few entries that may interest you up presently. Like this weblog, Anderson's blog is general assignment. He writes about whatever is on his mind. That can be his business, domestic politics, high tech news, the war in Iraq or anything else. So, be prepared for an eclectic mixture of opinion and reportage.

Time does blogging

Anderson brought my attention to an article about blogging in the current issue of Time. Balanced and long, the piece reminds us when blogs began to matter.

Most of America couldn't have cared less. Until December 2002, that is, when bloggers staged a dramatic show of force. The occasion was Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, during which Trent Lott made what sounded like a nostalgic reference to Thurmond's past segregationist leanings. The mainstream press largely glossed over the incident, but when regular journalists bury the lead, bloggers dig it right back up. "That story got ignored for three, four, five days by big papers and the TV networks while blogs kept it alive," says Joshua Micah Marshall, creator of talkingpointsmemo.com, one of a handful of blogs that stuck with the Lott story.

Mainstream America wasn't listening, but Washington insiders and media honchos read blogs. Three days after the party, the story was on Meet the Press. Four days afterward, Lott made an official apology. After two weeks, Lott was out as Senate majority leader, and blogs had drawn their first blood. Web journalists like Matt Drudge (drudgereport.com) had already demonstrated a certain crude effectiveness — witness l'affaire Lewinsky — but this was something different: bloggers were offering reasoned, forceful arguments that carried weight with the powers that be.

The full five-page article is worth reading,

Feds probe Islamic law confab

Anderson is also interested in how easy it is to get in trouble with the law these days. Turns out that a conference on Islamic law was seen as suspicious by secret agent men. (Who just might give you a number and take away a your name.) He read about it in Newsweek.

Last February, two Army counterintelligence agents showed up at the University of Texas law school and demanded to see the roster from a conference on Islamic law held a few days earlier. Their reason: they were trying to track down students who the agents claimed had been asking "suspicious" questions. "I felt like I was in 'Law & Order'," said one student after being grilled by one of the agents. The incident provoked a brief campus uproar, and the Army later admitted the agents had exceeded their authority. But if the Pentagon has its way, the Army may not have to make such amends in the future. Without any public hearing or debate, Newsweekhas learned, Defense officials recently slipped a provision into a bill before Congress that could vastly expand the Pentagon's ability to gather intelligence inside the United States, including recruiting citizens as informants."

Living in the Pacific Northwest, which is often the locus of anti-terrorism activity, has made me certain that the investigations and arrests arereal. First there were the imams and mosques allegedly linked to funding terrorism in Seattle and Portland. Then, the Portland Seven, who eventually pleaded guilty to charges they traveled to China in an effort to reach Afghanistan, where they holded to join al Qaida. A supposed terrorist training camp is said to be located in Oregon. More recently, Brandon Mayfield, a Portland lawyer, was in custody for two weeks. It was falsely claimed that his fingerprint was found at the site of the terrorist bombing that killed more than 200 people in of a train ins Spain. He says he was targeted because he is a Muslim. So, the reality of the times we live may be more vivid to us here. If I still lived in Des Moines, Iowa, these events probably would not resonate with me as much.

Anderson is wary, too, all the way from Costa Rico.

It gets more and more scary folks. What I cant figure out is how some of the more intelligent conservatives I talk with, cant figure this out. . . We have the Justice Department giving the President Legal Advice on how he can authorize torture. We have CIA agents being outed for revenge. We have FREE SPEECH zones, and people being locked up without access to legal representation. We have civil rights being selectively ignored... The Republicans got upset not long ago about a MoveOn.org add comparing Bush with the Nazis. But it may not take a Right Wing organization to draw parallels if these trends continue.

Viable cases have been made against some terrorism suspects. But, that doesn't make the abuses of investigative powers by federal agents more acceptable.

Ugly American, send me money

Blog readers aren't Anderson's only stubborn correspondents. He recently heard twice from an email scam. Not Nigerian, but Liberian.



Subject: THANK'S FOR YOUR CO-OPERATION
Date: Sunday, June 13, 2004 6:48 AM
From: JOHNSON TAYLOR <johnsontaylor54001@yahoo.co.uk>
Reply-To: johnsontaylor540@yahoo.co.uk
To: <dsanderson11@mac.com>

Dear Sir/madam,

This request may seem strange, but if I may crave your indulgence and hope that you view this proposal very seriously. My name is MR..JOHNSON TAYLOR, the junior brother to Mr. Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia. Due to the current situations in our country (Liberia) we where forced to leave the country for Nigeria where we are currently on political asylum. My brother Ex. President Taylor on getting to Nigeria.

. . .Based on these developments, the various foreign Banks Account of my Uncle is already being investigated and that of Switzerland has already been frozen.

In view of this very unpleasant development the sum of £16.5Million pounds has been Secretly moved to a private security vault for safekeeping.

My Uncle Mr Charles Taylor is Presently in Nigeria for asylum, he has confided in me With this task of seeking a very reliable and honest person that Will receive this Fund into his/her account for the future Survival of him and his family since he cannot presently deposit Or transfer the fund on his name or that of his family members Name due to the present situation in our country. He may likely Face war crime charges as declared by the United Nations in Respect of his alleged involvement in civil war in Sierra-Leone

It is in light of this present situation that made me to come over to Europe on a different identity in search of a reliable, trustworthy individual who would be able to assist us by providing us with an account (A Fresh account just for the purpose of this transaction), so as to enable us transfer the sum of (£16.5million pounds) into that said account. You would also be required to buy properties, stocks I multinational companies and also engage in other safe non-speculative investments. In appreciation of your assistance, we have worked out the sharing ratio for mutually beneficial transaction as follows. 75% for us would further be best wishes from our corporation on your professed endeavors.

I said a Liberian scam, but who really knows? The culprit could be anyone anywhere.

Something I notice about these emails when I get them is that there is an automatic assumption that I will be sympathetic to the plight of a despot, usually one of the Right Wing sort. Is that because people in Second and Third World countries think all Americans have conservative or reactionary political values? I don't recall encountering such a perspective when I was in Africa years ago, but maybe I was talking to the wrong people. I've never gotten an email soliciting funds from someone claiming to be the second cousin twice removed of Allende or the granddaugher of Lumumba. I wonder why.

These entries are just a sample of material available at In Search of Utopia. Visit David Anderson.


9:15 PM

Wednesday, June 09, 2004  

Politics: Obama's campaign tense, touching

I am following the Senate campaign of a Chicago politician pretty closely. Barack Obama took his primary by storm and is the favorite to go all the way. Young looking, very, very smart, and half-African and half-American, he is far from ordinary fare for either state or national politics. Though I have never met Obama (pictured), I'm acquainted with him through the network of African-Americans, Hispanics, Indians and Asians who have moved in circles traditionally peopled by the white elite. Many of us know of each other. The reason I am interested in Obama is that I hope to see a person of color I can respect become the third elected to the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, that may not happen. There is a tendency for white voters to say they will support African-American politicians in polls and then switch to the white candidate when they are in the voting booth with the curtain drawn. Andrew Young, Tom Bradley and others hoping to bridge the racial gap have been defeated by the jinx. Obama will make history if he becomes a senator from Illinois.

Columnist Bob Herbert is also heartened by Obama's candidacy.

In a political era saturated with cynicism and deceit, Mr. Obama is asking voters to believe him when he talks about the values and verities that so many politicians have lied about for so long. He's asking, in effect, for a leap of political faith.

So far, at least, the voters of Illinois seem to be responding. A Chicago Tribune poll released this week showed Mr. Obama with a huge lead, 52 percent to 30 percent, over his Republican rival, Jack Ryan.

Mr. Obama has not ducked the issues. He has opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, and he delivered a stirring antiwar speech at a rally in October 2002. He supports the war in Afghanistan . He believes the Bush tax cuts went too far, and he makes that clear even in appearances before wealthy audiences. He said: "I tell them, `Look, I think we need to roll back those tax cuts that benefited you. You don't need them. Let's talk about what we could do with that money.' "

Obama is used to excelling. He became the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review and was elected to state office at an age when most people are still using milk crates as bookcases. His life has been a complicated one. At forty-two, he has made peace wihth the memory of the Kenyan father who he saw little of growing up. He believes being reared by white grandparents from the Midwest helps him understand the rural voters he will need to combine with his urban constituency to win this election. He is satisfied with having rejected a career at a silk stocking law firm for public service.

Obama's foe is not so much a person as a huge heap of money. Republican Jack Ryan, a multimillionaire, is being backed by the big guns of the Republican Party. Vice President Dick Cheney, said to spend more than three-fourths of his time fundraising, recently helped Ryan raise $500,000. Ryan is also supported by the ultraconservative Club for Growth. We last discussed the Club in regard to its efforts to defeat moderate Republican Arlen Spector of Pennsylvania. The far Right pulled out all the stops against Spector, painting the more conservative than not veteran pol as a quiche eating liberal. The campaign against Obama threatens to be equally nasty. Ryan has assigned a shadower to follow Obama wherever he goes and film his every move. The cameraman is said to stand so close to the candidate that he probably gets sprayed whenever Obama sneezes.

SPRINGFIELD -- For the past 10 days, U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama hasn't been able to go to the bathroom or talk to his wife on his cell phone without having a camera-toting political gofer from his Republican rival filming a few feet away.

In what has to be a first in Illinois politics, Republican Jack Ryan has assigned one of his campaign workers to record every movement and every word of the state senator while he is in public.

Warfel interrupted Obama several times with heckling questions, but wouldn't respond when reporters asked him about who he was and why he was filming Obama's every move.

Fortunately, there does not seem to be any dirt to be dug up in regard to Obama. He has bared his life thoroughly in an autobiography to be released this fall. Ryan, on the other hand, is not so fortunate. He is fighting to keep records of his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan secret. (She is best known for the role of 7 of 9 on Startrek: Voyager.) I believe that if the records are opened or leaked, there is significant danger of harm to his campaign.

L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert A. Schnider has tentatively scheduled a "final hearing" on the question for June 18.

Ryan declined to answer any questions at a fund-raiser Friday night, but his spokesman dismissed persistent speculation among GOP insiders that the contents of the file are so explosive that the former investment banker from Wilmette will wind up folding his candidacy.

Most incumbent senators are in safe seats, as usual. However, a pair of neophytes is battling in Illinois. If you are looking for a real contest and a candidate who inspires, Obama's campaign is the one to watch.

Reasonably related

Barack Obama's autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, will be published in August. You can preorder if from Amazon.

•Visit Obama's blog.

Read about his accomplishments.


1:14 PM

Monday, June 07, 2004  

Reading: Le Guin creates a hero

I've been thinking about heroism. That is partly because of the brouhaha over the death of former President of the United States Ronald Reagan. The obsession the Right has about creating military heroes in the amorphous war against terrorism also has something to do with it. Last year, I was one of the first bloggers to be very skeptical about the elevation of Pfc. Jesssica Lynch to heroine. Just last month, I reprised the role in regard to the deification of Spec. Pat Tillman. Another reason is literary. I have been an admirer of speculative fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin since childhood and have the good fortune of knowing her. However, I had not read the Earthsea series until recently. All of the books, five writtten over three decades, deserve reviews. But, for now, let's consider the first of them, A Wizard of Earthsea.

Though a winner of prizes for young adult literature, Wizard is a profoundly adult novel in my opinion. To paraphrase the wonderful singer and songwriter, Phoebe Snow, being an adult means learning to bear your life in pain. The moral of the novel is ultimately that.

We are entering Earthsea, a land where magic is as common as cattle. Suspend your disbelief.

Anyone who was a precocious, but not confident, child, will recognize the personality of the hero of the book. The boy, Duny, goes through a catch as catch can childhood after his mother dies during his infancy. His father is a hard-bitten craftsman who has already reared several other sons. He pays little attention to his youngest, except to smack him around from time to time. The aunt who cared for Duny as a baby is just as indifferent until she discovers the boy has a gift. A witch herself, she decides to train her nephew in the art of magic. When he is about 12, the boy comes to the attention of the local wizard. The warlike Kargs invade Gont. Duny defeats them with a distraction spell that masks the town in mist and confuses the invaders. They kill each other in the confusion and make a bumbling retreat. As a result of his obvious power despite rudimentary training, the boy is eventually sent to the academy for wizards on the isolated isle of Roke.

The fifteen-year-old, true name Ged, use name Sparrowhawk, has the most potential of all the students at the academy. However, he comes from one of the least comfortable backgrounds among them. The manners, money and self-confidence of the older boys is a constant reminder that he is considered to be of inferior stock. The matter comes to a climax when Sparrowhawk allows himself to be goaded into invoking a forbidden spell to try to impress a wealthy, sophisticated schoolmate. The effect of the spell is to bring an evil into the world that will follow him, intent on taking control, for years to come. It is the pain of that encounter, which will humble and scar Ged for the rest of his life, that makes it possible for him to become a hero. Without that self-knowledge, the feats that will be the content of the Deed of Ged, the song the denizens of Earthsea will commit to memory for life, would not occur. Those acts rely on self-sacrifice. The experience that alters the eventual mage's life is the catalyst that makes his capacity for self-sacrifice possible.

The reason I do not agree with claims that people such as Lynch and Tillman are heroes is that their stories lack the elements of self-knowledge and self-sacrifice that define heroism. A Wizard of Earthsea, a work of fantasy that some folks may think is for children, gets heroism right.

Reasonably related

Wikipedia has collected information about the Earthsea series.

•Visit Ursula K. Le Guin's home on the Web.

•The lyrics to Phoebe Snow's "Harpo's Blues."


11:45 PM

Wednesday, June 02, 2004  

People are saying

Judge rules agains abortion ban

Mac, who is filling in for Ms. Lauren, along with with several other bloggers, at Feministe, has an opinion about the most recent ruling in the late-term abortion controversy. First, the news.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - In a ruling with coast-to-coast effect, a federal judge declared the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional Tuesday, saying it infringes on a woman's right to choose.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling came in one of three lawsuits challenging the legislation President Bush signed last year.

She agreed with abortion rights activists that a woman's right to choose is paramount, and that is therefore "irrelevant" whether a fetus suffers pain, as abortion foes contend.

I don't much care for the phrasing in that last graf. What the judge has done is follow the reasoning in Roe v. Wade, which does extend some protection to fetuses. Society has an interest in protecting fetuses because it needs citizens. Fetuses are potential citizens. However, there is no question that the scales are weighted toward actual citizens -- women. Hamilton's focus on the impact on pregnant women is appropriate. To recast the issue in terms of whether fetuses feel pain would ignore the presumption in favor of abortion embodied in Roe.

Mac says the matter seems to be one of common sense.

I occasionally have one of those days when I want to point to the current administration and yell "Ha ha!" in the style of Nelson Muntz. Today is one of those days.

So there's some good news for women.

I'm not excited by the idea of late term abortions [I refuse to use the term "partial birth abortion" since it's a misleading phrase created by abortion foes], but if it's my health or the health of the fetus [or both], well, I want late term abortions to be an option for me. For Congress to declare that a late term abortion is "never medically necessary" demonstrates just how far up their collective butts their heads are.

Sadly, George W. Bush and John Ashcroft don't credit women with having common sense. That is proven by their false claim that pregnant women will eagerly embrace late-term abortion if the option is available. In reality, there are few late-term abortions and the women who have them agonize over the decision.

Blog readers have balls

What is the unpredictable Brian Flemming up to now? I wondered, so I visited his weblog. The blogger and filmmaker is channeling Al Gore. He also has some interesting information about blog readers.

About you

The results of the Blogads survey of readers are in. In case you didn't know, here is the likelihood that you:

  • Donate online to causes or candidates: 50%

  • Are over 30: 61%

  • Earn more than $45K/year: 75%

  • Have a penis: 79%

  • Disdain television: 82%
  • It's my impression that BFW readers have fewer penises than the general blog readership, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

    Eighty-two percent of blog readers don't watch television? Some folks are pulling our legs. So, why would they lie about it? Image, perhaps? It sounds cool to be above the boob tube. I would be more willing to believe that blog readers, and people who read period, watch less television. Say, one or two hours per day instead of the national habit of having the damn thing on most of the time. If I were writing that survey question, I would ask how many hours of TV are watched per day or per week, giving ranges. The more open-ended the question, the more people are likely to give an all or nothing answer. That is probably why we see so many in denial.

    In regard to penises, I believe men generally tell the truth about having them, but not about their size.

    And, yes, both Brian and I know a survey by Blogads is not scientific.

    Heller has had enough

    When I last heard from Rick Heller, he was ambivalent about the publication of prisoner abuse photographs from Abu Ghraib. He appears to have accepted the necessity of looking the scandal in the face, and, that the revelations about the abuse are the straw that broke the camel's back. Rick tells us what he thinks now at the Swing Voter Weblog.

    Lift My Spirits, JFK

    The latest developments from Iraq are, frankly, depressing. With these photos of prisoner abuse circulating, I don't know how we're going to be able to leave a non-hostile Iraq behind when we eventually withdraw our troops. Even President Bush seems shaken.

    There's an expression, "When you're opponent is commiting suicide, don't get in the way." It's obvious to most Americans that the country is on the wrong track. What we need from John Kerry is a way forward.

    Jimmy Carter won in 1976 in part because of him famous smile, which faded after taking office. Reagan managed to keep his optimism throughout his term. Kerry's demeanor is funereal. I don't know if he can do it, but if someone could lift the nation's spirits at this distressing time, he would earn our gratitude. God knows President Bush can't do it.

    Rick started out as a true centrist about the presidential election. In my opinion, he was leaning toward Bush as recently as a couple months ago. Now that an honest to goodness centrist like Rick has left the GOP's 'big tent,' others are sure to follow.


    1:37 PM

    Tuesday, June 01, 2004  

    Analysis: Fate and the female general

    The question: Is Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski getting screwed? Since we are not discussing Pfc. Lynndie England, I am not using the term sexually. Is Karpinski being taken advantage of by her superiors? The issue arises because some folks wonder if the tenuously situated female officer may have been made a scapegoat because of her gender and inadmissability to the good old boys' club. Karpinski was relieved of her stewardship of Abu Ghraib prison, the most notorious site of abuses of Iraqi detainees by American troops, in November of 2003. Her fortunes have declined further since. Mark Rothschild, writing at Antiwar.com, believes the general is getting screwed.

    Karpinski Was 'Set Up,' but Sanchez Takes the Fall

    Less than two weeks after Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez abruptly removed Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski from her command of Abu Ghraib prison, Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski , Sanchez's chief deputy, convened a meeting at which certain legal issues emerging at the prison were discussed.

    . . .Now, six months after that November meeting, it seems that nothing has changed in the way the Army treats Janis Karpinski .  She complained on Monday that she had just received a terse email notifying her that she has now been officially suspended from her command. 

    . . .It is now clear that the Pentagon's wagons are circling and that Karpinski is on the outside.  However, back in November of 2003 it was not so clear to Karpinski that she was being set up to take a fall.  

    At that meeting in the fall of 2003, Karpinski (pictured) agreed to be the one to sign a letter which which denies that there is is anything wrong with the way most Iraqi prioners were being treated at Abu Ghraib. The pretext for the denial is that the inmates are 'security detainees' under the Geneva Conventions, and, therefore, subject to torture. However, the Geneva Conventions define security detainees as persons likely to have useful information that could prevent future harm or shed light on past atrocities. Very few detainees in Iraq fall into that category. Most inmates are civilians rather arbitrarily plucked from the population. The letter was written in response to confidential findings of the Red Cross that detainess at Abu Ghraib were being mistreated. Karpinski signed it on Dec. 23, 2003, though she denies having read the Red Cross' full report. The report was leaked to the public on May 7th.

    The chain of command has denied knowledge of the abuses, though the participants in the November meeting, which included Karpinski's successor, Colonel Thomas Pappas, and her superior, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, seemed aware of the abuses by then. Rothschild believes Karpinski's claims that she was left out of the discussions prior to the meeting, did not see evidence of abuses and did not know she was lying when she signed the letter to the Red Cross. He thinks she was set up, apparently because of her outsider status.

    Greg Fischer, who wrote a letter to his hometown newspaper, believes that there has been discrimination in Karpinski's favor because she is a woman.

    Karpinski has not been formally relieved of command nor charged in connection with a prisoner-abuse scandal that has tarnished the military's image in Iraq and hindered the U.S.-led occupation.

    Why is there a double standard, one for men, and then one for women in the armed forces? Why hasn't she been relieved of her command? Why is she not censured?

    Is it not politically correct to hold women to the same standards of conduct as men? Are people afraid of what the feminists may say or do? Punishment must be consistent, for women and for men.

    Fischer is in error in regard to Karpinski being disciplined. She has been suspended and sent back to the U.S. She also has been officially admonished. He compares the situation to the Tailhook scandal, in which male Air Force personnel sexually abused their female peers, saying that accountability was swift for the male brass in that episode. Karpinski has mounted a tour of the media, telling her side of the story, from her current assignment to Fort Jackson, S.C. She obviously fears that she may be subjected to stronger disciplinary measures. It is premature to say her fears are unfounded.

    Karpinski's alibi is that she was not really in charge of Abu Ghraib. Her words to CNN's Soledad O'Brien are typical.

    KARPINSKI: The accusations were without foundation that this was not a military police leadership issue, specifically.

    This was a much broader responsibility, and that particular cellblock was under the control of the military intelligence command at the time and, in fact, from November on Abu Ghraib Prison was under the control of the military intelligence command.

    O'BRIEN: You had no control over this facility after a certain point?

    KARPINSKI: I can't say no control at a certain point, but it was certainly far less control. And the reason I retained any control is because I had MPs that were still working out there and they remained under the 800th MP Brigade.

    Some of those MPs have been charged in the abuse scandal, but the general denies knowledge of their activities. Karpinski says military intelligence placed barriers in parts of the prison that she never went past. My response to that is a question: Why? As the commander of the prison, I believe she had the authority to visit any part of it. Even if discouraged, a person of integrity would have insisted on knowing what was going on at his or her site. Karpinski's choice to be ignorant of the truth about Abu Ghraib is negligence. Her claim to have heard no evil before November also lack credibility. If lowly enlisted persons knew what was going on with their limited access to parts of the prison, surely a high ranking officer could have garnered the same information. The letter? It is elementary that one does not sign documents that profess knowledge one doesn't have. If Karpinski did not know whether the abuses had occurred, she should have refused to sign the letter. If she knew that the inmates did not fall under the designation, 'security detainees,' she should have refused to sign the letter. Karpinski's willingness to go along with the others reveals her to have been a member in good standing of the Iraqi occupation family. I cannot in good faith endorse her divorce from that family now.

    Is sexual discrimination in the military real? Yes. From what I've read and been told, it is endemic. Women are tolerated within rather narrow boundaries. Those who get out of their place pay the price in abuse or demotion. Getting out of one's place can be doing something as right as reporting having been raped. Writer Debra Dickerson was ostracized and targeted by her commanding officer in the Army for doing just that. But, in this situation, I am not at all sure that the woman has been singled out because of her gender. Her superiors have passed the buck to males as well as to Karpinski. Sanchez, her former boss, is now an officer without an assignment, sharing her disgrace.


    12:30 PM

    Monday, May 31, 2004  

    Technology: The Digital Home

    Does a refrigerator really need an Internet connection? That is the kind of question I'm asking myself more and more often as I continue to read articles about The Digital Home. The high tech geek part of my personality latched on to the topic about four years ago and hasn't let go. Much of what is being said about TDH has changed during that time because early ideas about poducts turned out to be vaporware, or, new technology outpaced them. A look through aging editions of MacWorld, Business 2.0 and Wired is telling since many of the innovations suggested relied on wired Ethernet or old phone network connections. Now, the emphasis is on going wireless.

    Before we go on, let me clarify what I mean by The Digital Home. ZDNet's Anchordesk has a current piece that familiarizes readers with what the concept is and where it is going.

    SEOUL, South Korea -- At the Samsung Tower Palace, even the refrigerators are logged onto the Net.

    The luxury apartment complex here is a showcase for Samsung Electronics' burgeoning digital home business -- an idea that once was dismissed as a pie-in-the-sky but now is starting to gain traction. Besides refrigerators, Samsung Tower's $1 million-plus apartments are outfitted with Internet-enabled ovens, security cameras and wall-mounted flat-panel displays.

    Samsung has sold more than 6,000 networked homes in South Korea, and now it's eager to export its success. The company has tests under way in Canada, Australia and Europe, and it recently struck deals with two U.S.-based home builders to conduct digital home trials in the United States. According to Samsung, wiring homes in the United States with the necessary networking gear will cost from $2,000 to $10,000--making adoption relatively affordable.

    The basic concept of TDH is that consumers will benefit from having just about every electrical appliance in their abodes connected to the Internet. The success of high speed Internet access -- digital subscriber lines and cable -- is making the idea seem more and more achievable. Improved 802.11 (WiFi) connectability will make that even more so. A pragmatic use of TDH is a product like a media adapter. Linksys explains why one might want to use such a product.

    The Wireless-B Media Adapter sits by your home stereo and television and connects to them using standard consumer electronics cables. Then it connects to your home network by Wireless-B (802.11b) wireless networking, or if you prefer, it can be connected via standard 10/100 Ethernet cabling. Using the included remote control and the user-friendly menus on your TV, you can browse through the digital pictures on your computer by folder, filename, or thumbnail.

    . . .You can also use the remote to browse your MP3 or WMA formatted music collection by title, artist, genre, folder, or playlist.

    However, it seems to me that designers are putting the cart ahead of the donkey much of the time. Consider this description of an Internet ice box.

    LG Electronics' Digital Multimedia Side-By-Side Fridge Freezer with LCD Display was one of the first available products; its features include a touch screen in a 15.1-inch thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT-LCD ) and its own LAN (local area network) port. This refrigerator can keep track of what foods are stored in it and how long they've been there. There's a built-in video camera, so you can leave video memos for other household members, and a built-in digital camera, so you can take a photograph and save it to an album, post it to a Web site, or send it out to an e-mail recipient. You can also watch television, play MP3 files, or listen to the radio.

    Some of the uses of TDH products, such as the media adapter and its predecessor, the wireless music adapter, make sense. A New York Times story which described how having computers in rooms other than the home office or livingroom, including the kitchen, increases the likelihood of their actually being used instead of gathering dust was convincing. I can also relate to having some appliances connectable to the Internet so they can be accessed for troubleshooting. However, The Digital Home loses me at the point when the frig and the microwave are supposed to call home. Most appliances don't fail often enough for such access to be necessary. It strikes me as technology in search of a need. I get the same feeling thinking about TDH that I do browsing the Sharper Image catalog or hanging out in the store. Yes, some of these inventions are gee whiz clever, I think, but they are also easily done without because they serve no even semi-pressing need. It seems to me that the tenants of Samsung Tower Palace could surely find more practical ways to spend their money -- unless pointless consumption is the point.

    Reasonably related

    •There is a a magazine dedicated to The Digital Home.

    Intel offers a series of articles and white papers on The Digital Home technology.

    •A consortium called Digital Home Working Group is attempting to establish standards for products and champion interoperability.


    6:30 PM

    Saturday, May 29, 2004  

    News: Tillman fell to friendly fire

    In an effort to explain why I think the word 'hero' is often misused, I offered several hypothetical situations involving the death of former National Football League player Pat Tillman a few weeks ago. The discussion, at a Right Wing blog, occurred before the luster on the word 'hero' had been eroded by revelations that American troops in Iraq have been torturing helpless Iraqi detainees. Along with a couple allies, I was roundly condemned for not declaring Tillman a hero. It appears that one of my examples of non-heroic death in the military, an accidental shooting by a comrade, is the truth about what happened to the pro athlete turned soldier.

    FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) - Pat Tillman was probably killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan after a U.S. solider mistakenly shot at an Afghan soldier in the former NFL player's unit, military officials said Saturday.

    Tillman walked away from a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Previous military statements suggested he was killed by enemy fire.

    According to an Army investigation, Tillman was shot to death on April 22 after the friendly Afghan soldier in Tillman's unit was mistakenly fired upon, and other U.S. soldiers then fired in the same direction.

    . . .But an Afghan military official told The Associated Press on Saturday that Tillman died because of a ``misunderstanding'' when two mixed groups of American and Afghan soldiers began firing wildly in the confusion following a land mine explosion.

    Speaking on condition of anonymity, the Afghan official said, ``(There) were no enemy forces'' present when Tillman died.

    The circumstances of Tillman's death do not detract from his willingness to put his body where his mouth was. Many people who share his Right Wing politics eschew any actions that might put them at risk. Other people are supposed to sacrifice themselves to protect them. Pat Tillman was not a coward. But, based on what is now known, I cannot say he is a hero, either. Tillman died because of an accidental shooting. He was not in the process of sacrificing his interests for anyone else's at the time, the key component of being a hero.

    I hope that any American personnel or agents who performed ineptly at the time will be disciplined appropriately. The needlessness of Tillman's death should not be ignored.

    Reasonably related

    Why did white, middle-class America want Pat Tillman to be a hero?


    6:00 PM

    Thursday, May 27, 2004  

    Blogospherics: Time and the blogger

    A reporter for the New York Times recently visited with some bloggers and discovered they have problems. Wait! Don't go! Jumping to the conclusion that a newspaper is bashing blogging again doesn't solve anything, you know. Besides, Katie Hafner, writing for the NYT, is mainly right. Much of what ails the bloggers profiled in the story turns on time. Readers' time. But, of more importance, bloggers.' How much time should bloggers put into preparing material that only four percent of Internet users will even glance at, anyway? Which comes first - blogging or work? Are there times when one should not blog at all?

    To celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

    "I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.

    Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

    "It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.

    Wiggins, the Bathroom Blogger, acknowledges having few readers. He also admits that he makes no money from his blog. Still, he devotes numerous hours per week to it.

    Entertainment blogger Tony Pierce has plenty of readers, probably because he posts cheesecake photographs of women to his blog. But, having a lot of readers can can be a problem, too. No one should feel that he or she has to blog, which Pierce, and some bloggers I know, do. It becomes an obligation. They feel like they are skipping out on what is expected of them if they don't do it.

    Where some frequent bloggers might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Pierce is more realistic. "I wouldn't call it dedicated, I would call it a problem," he said. "If this were beer, I'd be an alcoholic."

    But, Wiggins may beat him in blogging pathology still. He has actually passed up renumerated activity to blog for free.

    Mr. Wiggins has missed deadline after deadline at Searcher, an online periodical for which he is a paid contributor.

    Barbara Quint, the editor of the magazine, said she did all she could to get him to deliver his columns on time. Then she discovered that Mr. Wiggins was busily posting articles to his blog instead of sending her the ones he had promised, she said. "Here he is working all night on something read by five second cousins and a dog, and I'm willing to pay him," she said.

    Other bloggers in the article echo Wiggins' and Pierce's problems or expand on them. A researcher who has considered blogging thinks it may come down to delusion. Bloggers create a sense of productivity by their continual activity and having a tangible result to point to. The communal nature of blogging can actually make the situation worse by creating the impression that 'everyone is doing it.'

    Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

    People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.

    The procrastination, said Scott Lederer, 31, a fellow graduate student with Mr. Hall, has a collective feel to it. "You feel like you're participating in something important, because we're all doing it together," he said.

    The echo chamber aspect of the blogosphere leads people to believe they are having a much more significant impact on others, and society, than they are. So, I think it is a good idea to rely on other forms of communication, remembering the blogosphere is tiny. When I find myself reading fewer newspapers, magazines and books, I make a point of easing up on the blog reading and writing and going back to those sources of information and insight. Their publishers have the resources to invest into real mining of information that bloggers don't. I believe anyone who relies on the blogosphere for most or all of his information is depriving himself of factual content, largely missing from it.

    I haven't experienced the tendency to give personal relationships short shrift that some of the bloggers in the article describe. They say they find themselves spending time they would use interacting with other people blogging instead. However, the answer to those dilemmas seems rather clear. If you are neglecting your job, your significant other or your child to blog, I think you should have stopped blogging yesterday. It is not nearly as important as any of those. The content of nearly all blogs will prove to be ephemeral. Your need to pay the bills, your marriage and your children will not.

    Some people like to believe whatever they're involved in is perfect. I've always been skeptical about that attitude. Everything I've ever done had its pitfalls. I believe it behooves anyone who blogs or reads blogs to consider what the medium is, does and means. Reading Hafner's article, and others like it, can provide worthwhile food for thought. At the very least, it will make you think about how you spend your blogging and/or blog reading time.


    5:59 PM