What he said 

I was going to write something like this (except for the rooting for the Panthers bit), but Nat Chakeres of Deadly Mantis beat me to it. I'll add a couple thoughts:

1. I just saw the moveon.org ad. Maybe I'm not as easily offended as some other people, but that ad looked pretty mild to me. (However, the issue not really one of free speech. The ad is not specifically a campaign ad, so CBS is entirely within its rights to reject it.)

2. There should never, never, never, never be two weeks between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.

Why you should periodically Google(TM) all of your friends, relatives, coworkers, dates, etc. 

From the BBC:

A suspected US fraudster on the run for a year has reportedly been caught after a woman checked his name on the Google website before meeting him for a date.
LaShawn Pettus-Brown was wanted in Ohio for allegedly siphoning off city funds from restoration projects.

The woman found his name on an FBI arrest warrant after using the Google search engine and contacted authorities, local media reported.

The woman, who has not been identified, told the Federal Bureau of Investigation that she was meeting Mr Pettus-Brown in a New York City restaurant last Friday evening, Cincinnati news channel WLWT reported.

Mr Pettus-Brown showed up to meet his date only to be greeted by several FBI agents, not the woman of his dreams.

"We had surveillance there to see if the tip was good and, lo and behold, the tip was good," FBI spokesman Jim Turgal told the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

He is currently being held in New York City but will be returned to Cincinnati, Ohio, to face the fraud charges, law officials said.

Mr Pettus-Brown was wanted in connection with a failed plan to rehabilitate a 90-year-old theatre in Cincinnati's city centre, the paper said.

The city is said to have lost more than $180,000 after investing in the project and the FBI told the newspaper that more than $90,000 paid to Mr Pettus-Brown is missing.


Physicists create fermionic condensate 

Well done.

An unfortunate consequence, however, is that the following joke is no longer universally valid:

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?

Wolfgang Pauli: Because there was already another chicken on its side of the road.

Another one from the log 

To the fella from UC-Berkeley who was apparently searching for porn videos shot in Berkeley dorms, I regret to say that you'll find nothing of the sort on this site. I just haven't been able to find a webcam that'll do the job.


Album review of the month: Artists United for Africa, "In The Name Of Love" 

This review also appears on my other blog on Xanga.

Anyway, a whole bunch of Christian recording artists decided to record a U2 tribute album in order to increase awareness about AIDS, poverty and other issus in Africa. For each album purchased 50 cents goes to World Vision.

The tracks that stayed faithful to the original U2 recordings are uniformly good: Gloria by Audio Adrenaline, Mysterious Ways by TobyMac, Pride by Delirious?, and Where The Streets Have No Name by Chris Tomlin.

Starfield's recording of 40 is quite good as well. It's a hard rock version that still manages to have a melodic feel to it. But while Starfield added a more prominent guitar piece to 40, Nichole Nordeman left Grace as a fairly stripped-down performance. She sings it pretty well, though.

Tait does an excellent acoustic version of One.

Todd Agnew's straight-ahead hard rock version of When Love Comes To Town is passable, but it completely loses the bluesy feel of the original in both the vocals and the guitar work. Agnew also changes the lyrics slightly: instead of singing "I used to make love under a red sunset/I was making promises I would soon forget/She was as pale as the lace of her wedding gown/But I left her standing before love came to town", he changes the first line of the verse to "I used to fall in love under a red sunset". The verse loses some of its meaning that way, I think; the original idea is that before "love came to town", the singer used to live a life of empty sex and romance without commitment.

The heavy metal versions of Sunday Bloody Sunday by Pillar and Beautiful Day by Sanctus Real are pretty lousy.

Jars of Clay's attempted boogie-woogie version of All I Want Is You doesn't work at all. Maybe they deserve some credit for trying, but not much.

Sixpence's version of Love Is Blindness starts out with an acoustic guitar, a spaced-out synth line and a glockenspiel (?) and then adds a piano and an electric guitar. It sounds quite bizarre, but it's worth a listen.

The hip-hop stylings of Grits' With Or Without You are an absolute abomination.

Well, there you go. As I said at the top, it's a rather uneven effort, but there are a few gems in there.

The new new economy 

Kevin Drum and friends muse about the social effects of an increasingly technological economy. One of the commenters predicts that unless the government does something to ensure a higher standard of living for unskilled workers, they will someday outnumber the educated elites to the point where they will reenact the French Revolution. (Actually, come to think of it, this prediction of the future is more in line with the Unabomber's vision than with Robespierre's.)

The problem that unskilled laborers face is not that their work is intrinsically not very valuable; the problem is that the market places such a value on their labor because they have few other options for work, while they have to compete with cheap immigrant labor and cheap outsourced labor overseas.

As the intellectual prerequisites for work in the new new economy continue to increase, our schools have to be able to train people to succeed in such jobs. If this isn't possible, then people who don't have the aptitude for this kind of stuff need to be trained as plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics, or whatever else -- they need to be able to find jobs that aren't likely to be automated or outsourced in the near future.


A moral dilemma 

Today's Dilbert:

America: An empire to rival Rome? 

That is the question the BBC asks.

Here's a better question to ask: is America's power a good thing or not?

Well, actually the BBC is asking this question, and under their breath they're answering "no". Come on, comparing America to the Roman Empire? I think if you think for a few moments, you can come up with a list of important differences between the two entities.


"The Passion of the Christ" is NOT anti-Semitic 

Mel Gibson is bracing himself for an onslaught of criticism as the release date for his film approaches.

I don't understand how anybody who has actually read the Gospels can claim that a representation of the events detailed therein is anti-Semitic. Jesus was a Jew. His disciples were all Jews. Just about all the ordinary people Jesus interacted with were Jews.

The Pharisees -- the religious leaders who, according to the Gospels, wanted Jesus killed -- were a very small sect of all of Jewry. They were formed some time before Christ in an effort to call the Jews back to faithfulness, but according to the Gospels they became legalistic, intolerant and hard-hearted. In that respect they might be compared to, say, the Guardian Council in Iran, and I don't think you'd hear too many people who would say that speaking out against the rulers of Iran constitutes hate speech against Islam.

In fact, a faithful reader of the Volokh Conspiracy notes that conservative Christians today are staunch supporters of Israel, since they still regard the Jews as God's chosen people. The ADL and other Jewish groups have other things to focus on, like the millions of people in the Arab world who from childhood are indoctrinated with vile falsehoods about Jews.

Of course, the more salient point of the movie is that in the cosmic sense, all of us human beings who walk this earth are responsible for the death of Christ...

More nitpicking about the SAT 

Apparently Pitzer College no longer requires students with a 3.5 GPA and a top 10% ranking in their schools to submit SAT scores. Why? Because of culturally biased questions such as the one below:

Here, for example, is an actual SAT question: "Aware of the baleful weather predicted by forecasters, we decided the — would be the best place for our company picnic. (A) roof (B) cafeteria (C) beach (D) park (E) lake"

Now, if I had grown up on the East Coast, my immediate choice would be "cafeteria," as my assumption would be that "baleful weather" would indicate rain or maybe even snow. But in fact, I lived for many years on the western side of the Pacific Coast Highway, so "baleful weather" could indicate high waves — meaning that my company picnic would be best, and more pleasantly, relocated to a lake.

On the other hand, if I had lived in Iowa (and I did for five years), baleful weather might indicate flooding. Obviously my company picnic would be best held on the roof. What to do? What to choose?

Context: the framework within which we make sense of the world.

Great, we have one example of a culturally biased question, and a rather dubious one at that. Come on, baleful means "deadly or pernicious in influence", or "foreboding evil", or "ominous", according to Merriam-Webster. In the context of weather, all of these choices clearly mean "rain and/or thunderstorms". Duh.

The problem with the SAT (the verbal section in particular) is not the rare incidence of "culturally biased" questions of the "boat: regatta :: runner: marathon" type. The problem is not that otherwise smart kids from poor, underperforming schools do poorly on the exam. The problem is that otherwise stupid kids from rich households can buy higher SAT scores by taking expensive SAT prep courses, and it's amazing to me that more educators don't realize this.


Disney sells town center of Celebration, FL 

From the wire:

Disney Sells Heart of City It Created

Associated Press Writer

CELEBRATION, Fla. (AP) -- The Walt Disney Co. on Wednesday sold the heart of a city it created, ending the entertainment giant's most visible connection to an experiment in urban planning.

Disney sold the town center of Celebration to Lexin Capital, a private real estate investment firm, for an undisclosed amount.

The purchase encompasses 18 acres of shops, restaurants, offices, apartments and three land parcels. A spokesman for Lexin Capital didn't return a call seeking comment.

Disney will keep a presence in the town of 8,000 near Disney World for several years while focusing on selling its remaining commercial land, said Andrea Finger, a spokeswoman for Celebration Co., a real estate development division of Disney.

Residents and retailers said they were reassured by Lexin Capital officials that there would be little change.

"It's just a different name on the rent check," resident Heather Clayton said.

Disney's name attracted residents who had high hopes the affiliation would recreate the idyllic small-town ambiance found in many Disney films. While the town has had some problems, such as early criticism of its public school and its rigid covenants, most residents call Celebration a success. Property values are among the highest in the Orlando market.

When Disney founded Celebration in 1994, it based its designs on the concepts of "new urbanism," a school of urban planning that emphasized parks, sidewalks and the mixing of residential and commercial space.

The city now has two public schools, an 18-hole golf course and a hotel, along with the retail area.

"It's a wonderful place to raise a family," Clayton said.

Hmm. First they abandoned their attempt to acquire an institution of higher education, and now they're selling most of their planned community. Perhaps Disney isn't really trying to take over the world.



What the hell was that spiel about recreational and performance-enhancing drugs?

I can't believe that Bush is still talking about WMDs in Iraq as if it's certain that we'll find them. Bush made part of the case for war by saying that Saddam's use of WMDs was a possibility that couldn't be tolerated. It was a legitimate point at the time; Saddam certainly acted as if he had something to hide. But now that we have better information about the state of Saddam's WMD programs, there's no point in pretending that we still think they're as advanced as we thought it was back in March 2003.

While Iraq remains a dangerous place, the country and the universe are better off without Saddam.

Bush wisely said very little about a proposed Constitutional amendment to "define" marriage as an institution between a man and a woman. As I wrote a couple days ago, proposing such an amendment seems rather pointless.

I find it hard to have a strong opinion on the state of health insurance in the country today. One way or another, somebody has to pay the bills.

I'm no fan of the Patriot act, but the couple sentences his speechwriter wrote about it were pure genius. "The Patriot act is set to expire next year..." (derisive applause by some Democrats) "...but the terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule." (massive applause)

I'm all for higher standards in our public schools, but that's only one strand in the web of problems engulfing our public schools. (If you asked me to list the main problems with public schools in decreasing order of importance, I'd probably list them as follows: lack of discipline, low expectations for students, cultural overemphasis on the social aspects of school, weak/uninspiring teachers, shortage of funds.)


I had given Kerry up for dead, but I guess I was a bit hasty in making such a judgment.

I'm not voting for anyone who's changed his official position on the Iraq war 273 times, though.


Been spending most our lives living in an Amish paradise 

This might be amusing to watch.


Why the Patriots rock 

- Peyton Manning, by far the smartest quarterback in the NFL, puts up the following line: 23/47, 237 yds, 1 TD, 4 INT.

- A live version of "Walk On" plays over the PA during the last two minutes of the Patriots' victory over Indianapolis, and "Beautiful Day" plays after the AFC championship trophy presentation.


Hey fun boys, get a room 

Just go ahead and read this story about President Bush meeting one of Paul Martin's aides.

(Hat tip: Calpundit.)

Apparently Bono's Golden Globes speech was not really, really, fuckin' brilliant 

Another item from interference.com:

Bono's Use of Expletive Gets Second Look

By JONATHAN D. SALANT, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell has asked his fellow commissioners to overturn a much-criticized
decision that an expletive uttered by the musician Bono on a network program was not obscene.

During last year's NBC broadcast of the Golden Globes Awards, the lead singer of the Irish rock group U2 said "this is really, really,
f------ brilliant."

The FCC's enforcement bureau ruled in October that the comment was not indecent or obscene because Bono used the word as an adjective, not
to describe a sexual act. "The performer used the word ... as an adjective or expletive to emphasize an exclamation," the bureau said.

Powell circulated a proposed ruling to the four other commissioners on Tuesday. He needs the votes of two of the four to overturn the

The enforcement bureau had rejected complaints from the Parents Television Council and more than 200 people, most of them associated with
the conservative advocacy group, who accused dozens of television stations of violating restrictions on obscene broadcasts by airing
portions of the awards program last January.

Under FCC rules, broadcasters cannot air obscene material at any time and cannot air indecent material between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

In a letter to the Parents Television Council last November, Powell said the FCC needed to balance its rules against indecency and obscenity
with the First Amendment right to free speech. Even so, he said, "I find the use of the 'F-word' on programming accessible to children

Some lawmakers have criticized the FCC decision.

Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., introduced a resolution that called it the "latest salvo in a string of decisions by the Federal Communications
Commission that establishes a precedent regarding the use of universally recognized vulgar expletives on our nation's public airwaves."

And Reps. Doug Ose, R-Calif., and Lamar Smith, R-Texas, proposed legislation that would ban five words and three phrases from the airwaves.
On the Net:

The legislation, H.R. 3687 and H. Res 482, are available at http://thomas.loc.gov

Federal Communications Commission: http://www.fcc.gov

Parents Television Council: http://www.parentstv.org

Some people are just no fun.

NFL muzzles Bono's activism 

From interference.com:

U2 Frontman's Super Bowl AIDS Spotlight Scrapped

LAUNCH Radio Networks

U2 frontman Bono's hopes for a mention of the global AIDS crisis during the Super Bowl halftime show were shot down last week. According to an article in Friday's (January 9) New York Daily News, National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue reportedly rejected the idea, on the grounds that the halftime show was meant for entertainment, and not to promote causes. Bono had been meeting with NFL officials on and off for two years.

In 2003, he and Jennifer Lopez recorded a song he wrote, called "An American Prayer," which addressed the African AIDS epidemic. He proposed that the two sing the song at the game in Houston on February 1, and secured the approval of MTV executives. MTV is producing this year's halftime extravaganza.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the News, "We simply decided that we were going to have our halftime show, and we were going to deliver, as we do annually, an extremely entertaining halftime show...we don't believe it's appropriate to focus on a single issue."

McCarthy added that this was a long-held view, and that Tagliabue was not involved in the decision. He said that NFL officials had continued to meet with Bono "out of their great respect for him."

Bono is scheduled to visit Africa this spring to draw attention to the AIDS crisis. The NFL plans to participate, and send players along with him.

U2 performed a tribute to the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks during the halftime show at the 2002 Super Bowl.

Good for the NFL for sending a few guys to visit Africa with Bono...but really, I think if the NFL asked really nicely, Bono would have performed "American Prayer" and said a few words about the AIDS epidemic in Africa without getting too preachy or annoying.

In addition, this means that the Patriots have no shot at winning the Super Bowl.


Oh, really? 

President Bush has been traveling through the South, and today he laid a wreath by Martin Luther King's grave.

Some think that this marks Bush as a hypocrite:

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, said Bush's policies on the Iraq war, affirmative action and social service funding have been "in direct contradiction to the King legacy."

Well, the last chapter of King's book "Why We Can't Wait" makes it pretty clear that King, were he alive today, would support affirmative action in many of its current forms. But I'm not so sure he would have opposed the war. I seem to remember him saying the following:

"If your enemy has a conscience, follow Gandhi and nonviolence. But if your enemy has no conscience, like Hitler, then follow Bonhoeffer."

Self-indulgent bitching 

Here in Cambridge, MA at the time of this post, the temperature outside is 3 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind chill is -18. The overnight low is supposed to be -9, with the wind chill around -30 or so.

The boiler in the basement of my house isn't working, so right now I have *two* separate 1500-watt space heaters running right in my room right now. (I have them set at maybe two-thirds of full power right now.)

I'm also wearing three layers on top, two on my legs, and two pairs of socks.

A piece on proposed marriage legislation in which all sides look really dumb 

From the New York Times:

Bush Plans $1.5 Billion Drive for Promotion of Marriage

Published: January 14, 2004

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 — Administration officials say they are planning an extensive election-year initiative to promote marriage, especially among low-income couples, and they are weighing whether President Bush should promote the plan next week in his State of the Union address.

For months, administration officials have worked with conservative groups on the proposal, which would provide at least $1.5 billion for training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain "healthy marriages."

Yeesh. Is our species in such dire shape that we need the government to run TV ads and hold seminars (at taxpayers' expense) to teach us how to live in happy marriages?

Well, maybe, but I still think it's a silly idea.

The officials said they believed that the measure was especially timely because they were facing pressure from conservatives eager to see the federal government defend traditional marriage, after a decision by the highest court in Massachusetts. The court ruled in November that gay couples had a right to marry under the state's Constitution.

"This is a way for the president to address the concerns of conservatives and to solidify his conservative base," a presidential adviser said.

Okay, so Bush is pandering to conservatives. Well, at least he's being up front about it.

The president's proposal may not be enough, though, for some conservative groups that are pushing for a more emphatic statement from him opposing gay marriage.

"We have a hard time understanding why the reserve," said Glenn T. Stanton, a policy analyst at Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization. "You see him inching in the right direction. But the question for us is, why this inching? Why not just get there?"

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of a national group called the Traditional Values Coalition, has started an e-mail campaign urging Mr. Bush to push for an amendment opposing the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Other groups, like the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family, are pushing more quietly for the same thing, through contacts with White House officials, especially Karl Rove, the president's chief political aide, who has taken a personal interest in maintaining contacts with evangelical groups.

In an interview with ABC News last month, Mr. Bush was asked if he would support a constitutional amendment against gay marriage and gay civil unions.

"If necessary," he said, "I will support a constitutional amendment which would honor marriage between a man and a woman, codify that, and will — the position of this administration is that whatever legal arrangements people want to make, they're allowed to make, so long as it's embraced by the state, or does start at the state level."

This last paragraph does belong in a collection of Bushisms, instead of all those out-of-context quotes that Slate usually posts. The whole point of a constitutional amendment is to enact a federal law that is otherwise stipulated to be exclusively a states' matter. That is, 38 states can dictate to the other twelve that gay "marriage" is "illegal".

I can't imagine that a constitutional amendment banning gay "marriage" or "defining" "marriage" to be a union between a man and a woman would have any real effect, either. If enough people support the idea, some state legislature will figure out a way to legalize gay unions. As far as I can see, the only effect of such an amendment, or the proposal of such an amendment, would be political. And it wouldn't be a positive effect.

All right, so far the conservatives look really patronizing and intolerant at this point. But a few paragraphs later, the civil liberties pinheads have to chime in:

Some women's groups like the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund oppose government programs that promote marriage. "Such programs intrude on personal privacy, may ignore the risk of domestic violence and may coerce women to marry," said Timothy J. Casey, a lawyer at the fund.

That comment doesn't even deserve to be heckled.

So we have a piece on a controversial issue on which everybody looks really dumb. I wish it'd happen more often.


An op-ed supporting legalization of gay marriage...from a conservative Pentecostalist in Kentucky 

Link is here. The whole thing is worth reading, but here's the clincher:

Even in the conservative Christian community, divorce is rampant. As the only lawyer in my church (a very conservative Pentecostal congregation), I frequently receive telephone calls from fellow church members requesting assistance on child custody matters, property division and other divorce-related questions.

I have fielded so many questions about divorce that I am sometimes surprised when I encounter middle-aged congregants who have not been previously married. The gay community could not treat their marriage vows any worse than many Christians treat their own.

For those who believe gay marriage is morally wrong for Biblical or other religious reasons, this decision changes nothing. Churches can still speak out against sexual immorality and can still choose not to perform gay weddings. The gay couple down the street in no way makes our own straight marriage more difficult or challenging, nor can any decision of any court of law change the definition of marriage in the eyes of God.

In the days, weeks and months to come, we can expect to hear many conservative commentators decry the continuing decay of our culture. In the debate that follows -- and as accusations of intolerance and immorality fly between left and right -- remember that Christians and conservatives long ago met the real enemy of the sacred institution of marriage -- and we are that enemy

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the pointer.

On a related note, Howard Dean recently proclaimed that "if homosexuality were a sin, God wouldn't have created gay people."

I'm rather loath to credit Dean with any deep insight here (or anywhere else, for that matter), but the main point still holds: if a man says he deeply and honestly desires to live in a lifelong relationship with another man, and he is willing to endure public humiliation and to be ostracized for the sake of such a relationship, perhaps his word should be accepted in good faith. Every form of therapy that has ever been used to try to change a person's sexual orientation has failed, and I think that one would be hard-pressed to defend the position that such a man is better off living alone or in an artificial marriage with a woman.

Pot, meet kettle...aw, forget it. 

Well, I don't have a ESPN Insider subscription, but there's a blurb for an article on ESPN.com that reads like so:

Perry Rips Rose

If Pete Rose's reinstatement is left in the hands of the Veterans Committee, "he wouldn't stand a chance with us," Gaylord Perry told Insider Jerry Crasnick, who found little support for Rose among the ex-players he interviewed.

You read that right...baseball's most notorious ball-tampering pitcher is judging Pete Rose.


Rumblings (of another kind) in Iran 

Mohammad Khatami and his cabinet are threatening to resign if the Islamic Guardian Council does not rescind its ban on certain candidates in next month's parliament elections.

If this actually happens, the people of Iran may end up taking matters into their own hands...

Cam Neely's #8 retired 

The Boston Bruins retired Cam Neely's number last night. It's a tragedy that his career was cut short.

On that note, I'm trying to think of the athletes who are most beloved or despised around Boston. Since I'm merely a transplanted Masshole, not a native, it's a little hard for me to come up with these lists, but here goes.




CNN's forte seems to be stories like this 

Link is here:

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters) -- Seafood restaurant chain McCormick & Schmick's Monday settled a lawsuit brought by a California woman who said she suffered severe emotional distress after she discovered a condom in her clam chowder, a company spokesman said.

The settlement was reached the day the Portland, Oregon-based chain was to go to trial in Santa Ana, California. The settlement terms are confidential.

"The case has been resolved... in its entirety in a manner acceptable to both sides today," McCormick & Schmick's spokesman Brian Douglas said. "The parties have chosen to resolve it without further court intervention. Both sides are happy with the outcome."

The privately held company, which operates 42 restaurants nationwide, maintained that Laila Sultan's claims that she suffered anxiety and depression were "frivolous."

"We still believe that's the truth but in this day and age it's the price of doing business," Douglas said. "You have to deal with scenarios like this."

Sultan's attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sultan, 48, said the trouble began February 26 when she and three companions sent their soup back to the kitchen to be reheated while dining at the Irvine, California, restaurant.

Sultan said she was treated rudely by the waiter, and when she began eating the soup she encountered a chewy, rubbery object that she first thought was calamari or shrimp, she told local media. She spit the offending object into her napkin and discovered it was a rolled up condom, she said.

"I said, 'Oh my god' and ran into the bathroom with another friend of mine and I started throwing up," she said.

The restaurant chain launched an investigation but had no idea how the condom got into her soup, Douglas said.

McCormick & Schmick's reported year-end gross revenues of $200 million, Douglas said.

A condom just happens to have roughly the same consistency, shape and size as a piece of squid and would not normally be found in the kitchen of a restaurant. But the restaurant maintains that they have "no idea" how the condom got into the soup; I think this means that they're not admitting that the waiter actually put it there on purpose. Amazing.

Again from the logs 

I'm quite amazed at how many people stumble across this site while searching for ways to avoid or prevent or combat or circumvent or stop the alcohol-related phenomenon known as Asian flush. I should say that my "solution" is not known to be universal or foolproof.

Neat tip of the day 

If the arms on your plastic-frame eyeglasses have been corroded by sweat, a little olive oil will restore them.


The Guardian's weekly roundup on Iraq 

Link is here.

Dozens of mortar rounds believed to be armed with mustard gas have been discovered buried in Iraq, Danish troops said yesterday.
If confirmed, the find will be the first discovery of chemical munitions in Iraq by coalition forces scouring the country for the weapons of mass destruction used as justification for the US-led invasion.

'All the instruments showed indications of the same type of chemical compound, namely blister gas,' the Danish Army said in a statement on its website. Final test results will be announced within two days.

However, the find of a small amount of mortar shells is unlikely to satisfy a growing chorus of criticism that the much-touted weapons of mass destruction either never existed or were destroyed years ago. The Danish team has found only 36 mortar rounds buried in desert about 45 miles from Al Amarah, a southern town. But it added that up to a 100 more could still be hidden at the location. The rounds were in plastic bags and some were leaking. It seems they had been buried for at least 10 years.

The mustard gas shells were in plastic bags? Seems kind of odd to me. If the Iraqi military buried them and intended to use them again, I'd think they would have been better preserved. Maybe they were intended to be recovered in a short amount of time but were forgotten.

Even coalition military spokesmen said the weapons were likely to be a leftover from the Iran-Iraq war fought during the Eighties when mustard gas was widely used. The gas blisters the skin painfully and can be lethal if it is breathed in. Victims die in excruciating agony.

The discovery of the banned weapons will be greeted with enthusiasm in some quarters as it marks a rare success for those working with the coalition's Iraq Survey Group to find weapons of mass destruction. The US-led mission has been under heavy fire for failing to turn up any weapons. Instead its reports have focused on the existence of clandestine weapons development programmes, rather than actual weapons production.

Earlier this month the US pulled out a 400 strong military team from Iraq, which specialised in disposing of weapons of mass destruction. That move caused outrage as it was seen as a tacit admission that significant numbers of armaments were unlikely to be found.

Critics of the war got a further boost yesterday when a former senior official in President George Bush's administration claimed plans for invading Iraq were hatched just days after Bush came to power - and long before the terrorist atrocity of 11 September 2001.

In leaked excerpts from a TV interview to be broadcast tonight former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Bush's team began laying the groundwork in early 2001. 'From the very beginning, there was a conviction that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go,' O'Neill told the 60 Minutes programme.

And yet one of the planks in the Bush platform during the 2000 campaign was that he was not in the business of nation-building, probably a response to the NATO intervention in Kosovo. Obviously Bush changed his mind in late 2001, but to hear O'Neill claim that the Iraq invasion had been planned shortly after Bush took office is puzzling.

O'Neill, sacked by Bush in December 2002, also attacked the 'Bush doctrine' of pre-emptive strike that has come to the fore of US international strategy since 11 September.

His comments were attacked immediately by Bush officials. 'It appears that the world according to Mr O'Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinions than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people,' Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, said.

With a presidential election looming later this year the Bush administration is keen to move away from the Iraq issue and towards domestic problems.

With Iraq generating support for Democrat frontrunner Howard Dean, senior Republicans have instead focused on more voter-friendly topics such as relaxing immigration laws and a manned space mission to Mars.

This is a believable interpretation of current events vis-a-vis Bush's presidential campaign, but also kind of strange. It's only been a month since Saddam Hussein was captured, so I don't buy the notion that the failure to find WMDs has caused significant numbers of voters to flock to the Dean camp. As far as I can tell, Dean's constituency still consists mainly of staunch leftists who have opposed the invasion of Iraq from day one.

I don't really know if putting a man on Mars will really impress voters, but I do know that there are other things that deserve higher priority on our shopping list right now.

Then again, this image of the surface of Mars is fascinating.

UPDATE: About Bush's planning for postwar Iraq:

What former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and other Bush administration blabbermouths failed to mention when leaking NSC documents and the like for the forthcoming book O'Neill worked on, is that the Clinton administration had many of the same documents prepared laying out plans for a Iraq post-invasion Iraq.

"We had the same stuff," says a former senior Clinton Administration aide who worked at the Pentagon. "It would have been irresponsible not to have such planning. We had all kinds of briefing material ready should the president have decided to move on Iraq. In fact, a lot of the material we had prepared was material that the previous Bush administration had left for us. It just isn't that big a deal. Or shouldn't be."

Finally, at one of the 2000 debates both Bush and Al Gore talked about trying to overthrow Saddam.

(Hat tip: InstaPundit, again.)


Global warming 

I wonder if 2004 qualifies as the coldest year in recorded history.

Probably not, but around these parts (Boston) temperatures have been dropping below zero (Fahrenheit) during the night.


Best pun EVAR 

Jason van Steenwyk on companies reporting stock options as income:

Just for the record, I'm not ready to agree with Warren Buffett that we should require expensing of stock options. I'd rather just see the earnings, and see the stock incentive programs laid out in a table with all the various numbers of shares and prices myself. I haven't seen an equation for figuring the value of stock options that I'm really satisfied with--or even really understand. And I hate to throw money down Black Scholes.


Marni Soupcoff composed this little ditty about Howard Dean's recent profession of faith:

Dean's a Believer

(Sung to the tune of the Monkees' I'm a Believer)

I thought God was
Only true for Republicans
Meant for some white trash
But not for me
God was just so kitschy
That's the way it seemed
Wind-powered energy
Was more for me

And then I saw the polls
Now I'm a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I'm pi-ous
I'm a believer
I couldn't leave God
If I tried

I thought God was
More or less for low-class dupes
But the less I prayed the worse
I polled, oh yeah
What's the harm in claiming
Jesus is my guy
Southern votes got me kneeling
That's no lie

And then I saw the polls
Now I'm a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I'm pi-ous
I'm a believer
I couldn't leave God
If I tried

God was just so tacky
That's the way it seemed
Organic pilafs

Were more for me

And then I saw the polls
Now I'm a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
I'm pi-ous
I'm a believer
I couldn't leave God
If I tried

Then I saw the polls
Now I'm a believer
Not a trace
Of doubt in my mind
Now I'm a believer
Yeah, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah
I'm a believer
I'm a believer
I'm a believer

And if you love dogs, I'm a retriever

And if you're a football fan, I'm a receiver

And if you're into wool, I'm a weaver


Thanks to David Bernstein for the pointer.


Levi's manufacturing moves completely offshore 

Levi Strauss has closed its last two US plants.

As much as I would prefer to stick to clothing made in the US, I don't think that wearing Under Armour clothing exclusively is really feasible. While they make quality gear, it's kind of expensive. Plus I'd look really silly if I walked around all day decked in spandex.


Oh, that explains everything 

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

Millions of words have been written as to the motivations of voters. Particularly in close elections, as in the 2000 presidential contest, pundits and laypeople alike have speculated on why people voted for whom. The exit poll has been a major tool in this speculation.

But the speculation misses the mark by far. It's increasingly obvious, for example, that none of the so-called theories can explain President Bush's popularity, such as it is. Even at this date in his presidency, after all that has happened, the president's popularity hovers at around 50 percent -- an astonishingly high figure, I believe, given the state of people's lives now as opposed to four years ago.

What can explain his popularity? Can that many people be enamored of what he has accomplished in Iraq? Of how he has fortified our constitutional freedoms with the USA Patriot Act? Of how he has bolstered our economy? Of how he has protected our environment? Perhaps they've been impressed with the president's personal integrity and the articulation of his grand vision for America?

Is that likely?

Granted, there are certain subsections of the American polity that have substantially benefited from this presidency. Millionaires and charismatic Christians have accrued either material or spiritual fortification from Bush's administration. But surely these two groups are a small minority of the population. What, then, can account for so many people being so supportive of the president?

The answer, I'm afraid, is the factor that dare not speak its name. It's the factor that no one talks about. The pollsters don't ask it, the media don't report it, the voters don't discuss it.

I, however, will blare out its name so that at last people can address the issue and perhaps adopt strategies to overcome it.

It's the "Stupid factor," the S factor: Some people -- sometimes through no fault of their own -- are just not very bright.

It's not merely that some people are insufficiently intelligent to grasp the nuances of foreign policy, of constitutional law, of macroeconomics or of the variegated interplay of humans and the environment. These aren't the people I'm referring to. The people I'm referring to cannot understand the phenomenon of cause and effect. They're perplexed by issues comprising more than two sides. They don't have the wherewithal to expand the sources of their information. And above all -- far above all -- they don't think.

I can't figure out what this column is supposed to accomplish. As far as I can tell, it's just going to make the author look like an asshole. I know plenty of people who share his opinion (not too surprising, given that I'm in graduate school at Harvard), but no one who doesn't already agree with him is going to be enlightened or persuaded by this rant.

Myself, I think you can find plenty of dim lightbulbs on all sides of the Christmas tree.

(Hat tip: Bird Dog.)


Michael Crichton on SETI, nuclear winter and global warming 

That was the subject of a speech he gave last year at Caltech; link is here. (Hat tip: InstaPundit.)

Other reasons the EPA deserves to be savaged: "water-saving" shower heads and the 1.6 gallon flush toilet.


AOL censors criticism of Kwanzaa 

The story is here.

Essentially, AOL at one point had been screening and filtering out email containing a URL to a webpage containing a poem lampooning Kwanzaa.


The last time I saw a Michigan football team get flat-out beaten by a better team was in the 1992 Rose Bowl, which Michigan lost to the national champion Washington Huskies, 34-14. Usually Michigan loses games because of self-inflicted wounds.

Michigan was dominated by a superior USC team in yesterday's Rose Bowl. The Wolverines put up their best effort, but they were quite simply outrun, outmuscled, and outcoached.

USC looked a lot stronger than LSU ever did during the season, and they never lost a game 35-7 like Oklahoma did. Sure, USC played a weak schedule (a schedule that is starting to look stronger with the Pac-10's recent bowl wins), but they can't really be blamed too much for that. Their only loss came in triple-overtime. Unless LSU or Oklahoma wins the Sugar Bowl in a blowout, USC looks like the #1 team to me.

UPDATE: Amid all the noise about minority (read: black) coaches in the major team sports not being considered for head coaching positions, it should be noted that one of the most brilliant minds in college football is Asian.

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