Saturday, November 15, 2008

One Guy, 2 Seats, One for each cheek

So I'm reading the summary of Inside Washington from last Saturday . . it occurred to me during a graf from Colby King, about how Kerry wants to be Secretary of State (and that this week its rumoured that Sen. Clinton was asked to be SoS), there's no reason I know of for the Secretary of State and the Vice-President to be the same person.

Vice-President and Secretary of State Biden.

Man, it's ultimate power of the sort that makes you want to flip out and kill someone.

Anyway, the only technical objection I can think of is that the SecState is pretty damn busy - it's not like the Vice-President's duties are a 24/7 position, but the occasional time a guy (or gal) would have to do his VP thing is going to just put one more burden on someone trying to be Secretary of State. The Obama Administration might have to find another permanent stand-in for state funerals, or something.

I've always suspected that what made Dick Cheney so dangerous as the VP was the large amounts of idle time on his hands, his experience, and a complacent boss willing to let his minions do it all. Joe Biden is almost as much of a threat as Cheney except Obama doesn't outsource. However, Cheney's now set the precedent. Giving Joe the State Department would give him something to do rather than sitting in the undisclosed location and hatching nefarious plans.

It's just an idle thought . .

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The Fine Art of Making You Look Like An Ass

In case you missed it.

PDFs available too.

The money shot? Tom Friedman's column:
The sudden outbreak of peace in Iraq has made me realize, among other things, one incontestable fact: I have no business holding a pen, at least with intent to write.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Some Doctor's Offices Have Better Magazines Than Others (And Some Doctor's Receptionists Let You Take Them if You Ask!)

(note from id - I edited this for size, it was driving me nuts!)

(Picture courtesy of "Discover" magazine.)

Sometime within the last few weeks I was in my Rheumatologist's office and found my way to an issue of "Scientific American." It was a current issue, which is a really big deal in a doctor's office.

This issue, October 2008, has the article "Web Science: Studying the Internet to Protect Our Future." Very cool article with some fascinating charts.

In summary, the article outlines a relatively new science, beginning in late 2006, of studying the Web.

The article defines it as
“This new discipline will model the Web’s structure, articulate the architectural principles that have fueled its phenomenal growth, and discover how online human interactions are driven by and can change social conventions. It will elucidate the principles that can ensure that the network continues to grow productively and settle complex issues such as privacy protection and intellectual-property rights. To achieve these ends, Web science will draw on mathematics, physics, computer science, psychology, ecology, sociology, law, political science, economics, and more.”

The article then goes into the mathematical algorithms involved in “PageRank” and the need to “engineer out” properties such as “link farms.” The article continues discussing how the study of the Web and the understanding of scale-free networks has led to a cross application of disciplines by applying “power-law degree” distributions to business alliances and even using it at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to
“improve its models of sexual disease transmission and has helped biologists better understand protein interactions.”

As if the above weren’t fascinating enough, the article then began to discuss the impact of blogs. The leading graphs discuss the origin of the phrase “six degrees of separation” [damn I love Etymology] and then goes on to admit that no one really knows the size of the blogosphere.
"It is difficult to estimate the size of the blogosphere accurately. David Sifry’s leading blog search engine, called Technorati, was tracking more than 112 million blogs worldwide in May of this year, a number that may include only a mere fraction of the 72 million blogs purportedly in China. Whatever the size, the explosive growth demands an explanation. Arguably, the introduction of very simple mechanisms, especially TrackBack, facilitated the growth. If a blogger writes an entry commenting on or referring to an entry at another blog, TrackBack notifies the original blog with a “ping.” This notification enables the original blog to display summaries of all the comments and links to them. In this way, conversations arise spanning several blogs and rapidly form networks of individuals interested in particular themes. And here again large portions of the blog structure become linked via short paths—not only the blogs and bloggers themselves but also the topics and entries made."

The article goes into the rise of “Semantic Web.” From my vantage point this is nothing more than drilling down information to get you as close as possible to what you are actually looking for. However, for Web Scientists and Web Designers it has actually led to a new programming language,
"Engineers have devised powerful foundations for the Semantic Web, notably the primary language—the Resource Description Framework (RDF)—which is layered on top of the basic HTML and other protocols that form Web pages. RDF gives meaning to data through sets of “triples.” Each triple resembles the subject, verb and object of a sentence. For example, a triple can assert that “person X” [subject] “is a sister of” [verb] “person Y” [object]. A series of triples can determine that [car X] [is brand] [To¬yota]; that [car X] [condition is] [used]; that [car X] [costs] [$7,500]; that [car X] [is located in] [Lenox]; and that [Lenox] [is located in] [western Massachusetts]. Together these triples can conclude that car X is indeed a proper answer to our query. This simple triple structure turns out to be a natural way to describe a large majority of the data processed by machines. The subjects, verbs and objects are each identified by a Universal Resource Identifier (URI)—an address just like that used for Web pages. Thus, anyone can define a new concept, or a new verb, by defining a URI for it on the Web."

The physical magazine has a very cool map of the blogosphere, which I had to find in Discover Mag so that I could post it. The Discover article explains it better anyway. (It also reminds me of the cartoon map of the blogosphere that I have spent so long looking for now, because I do not remember where I saw it, that I am now bored to death with this entire post.)

This science of new science might lead to a discipline devoted to studying exactly how Obama won the election. Funny how science works that way.

For more information on next generation web technology, I found this forum of forums while doing this research.

If I were more ambitious (and maybe more well) then I might be interested in pursuing something in this direction. I find the convergence of sociology, poli-sci, psychology, math and technology pretty cool. However, since I am not that ambitious (and tend to get bored easily) maybe I will just pursue a subscription to “Scientific American.” Kiddo wants it for Christmas anyway, so I could kill two birds with one stone [that was a metaphor, never would I advocate the killing of any birds with any number of stones.]

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Brought To You In Part, By The Yellow-Magnet Society

It's that special time again.

It only comes once a year. Everywhere you go today, people stop to offer goodwill to their fellows. People remember a time, a shared experience. Decorations come out, holiday banners line the street.

You know what day I'm talking about, of course. It's Veterans' Day.

All day today, I've seen the signs: "Thank you for your service," "God Bless Our Veterans." On the news, hair-sprayed anchors devote hours of airtime to specials on military history. They exhort us to remember the sacrifice of those who served, and on the crisp November air, comes the scent of renewed patriotism, the aroma heady, warm, like late-season apple pie. It's a glorious time, a time when we remember our national roots, and celebrate those who answered the nation's call.

You'll forgive me for not sharing in the holiday spirit.

Don't get me wrong. I understand the sentiment, and I appreciate it. And I am glad to pass it on. Whether you served on the front lines in WWII, or just served as a radio operator beneath the burning sun of Iraq, this day is YOUR day, and above all else let me say this to my fellow Initiates: Thank you. Thank us. Let us remember what we have fought for, and what we have earned.

And as for those of you who never served, well, fear not. Many of you have borne us in your hearts, all this time, have worried and prayed for us. Some of you, like the gentleman I spoke to the other day, continue to do so, working as he did in physical therapy, providing care to those of us who came back wounded, broken. To to those of you who have remembered us in the hard times, allow me to say this: this is your day, too. You have my sincere and unending gratitude.

Let us reflect.

In case you didn't notice, that was my dose of cheer. I hope you enjoyed it. Now, as I take another swig of my Killian's, allow me to turn my baleful gaze upon the rest of you. You know who you are, America--The Yellow Magnet Society. You, with your cheap gas-station trinkets, parked strategically next to your McCain-Palin bumper stickers, the ensemble carefully offset by your 50-cent Chinese-made window flag. You, who speak of Victory as a condition for ending an endless war. You, who think the survivors of a lesser war to be lesser men for having, as you so often put it, returning home broken, defeated.

To you I say: what right do you have to thank me? To thank any of us?

I get it: it must be very hard seeing all those reports on the news. Another suicide bombing in Ramadi, another story on proud veterans, now homeless and crippled by mental illness. This last few years has been just as hard for you. I mean, every day, having to go outside the Wire. It's all good when you're nestled behind the razor-wire optimism of Fox News, but man, when you're neck-deep in the shit--that Communist News Network?--man. Some of us, I guess, can never even know.

So here's what I want to know: why the FUCK should your thanks, on this one day out of the year, mean shit to us? What the FUCK do you think your appreciation's gonna do for my buddy Oz, kicked out of the Army three months ago because of his drinking problem? How the FUCK do you think your gratitude's gonna get that old crazy dude in the Vietnam-era Army field jacket to a bed tonight? You think your words are going to keep him warm? You think your platitudes are going give back to Oz the job in which he took so much pride?

I sure hope not.

"Well, what do you want from us?" you ask me. "We're trying, doesn't that mean anything?" And in response, I say: "Yes." It does. It means everything to me. It helps me stave off the guilt I battle every morning, leaving battle-buddies behind behind by not re-enlisting. It gives me hope that maybe this feeling, this nagging voice that says if I'd just done one more mission, that that voice is just trying to psych me out.

When I get down on myself, thinking of how I should have covered better for my friends, how I should have gotten to Brooks before the unit humiliated him by confiscating his mags, making him sit in the day room on Suicide Watch, your appreciation, your thanks, the looks of awe you give me when I tell you about my time in the desert, that helps me remember. It reminds me that, no matter what,it all really happened, and that nobody, no matter how much they disagree with me, can take that away, ever.

When I think to myself late at night, maybe I should go back in, those voices, those words are there to give me solace. You did enough, they tell me. Don't worry about all of that. You did your part. All of the lies, all of the bullshit, they don't mean anything now. Think about what you have here at home. Think of your wife. And that should be enough, I think. And for some part of me, it is.

But then that other part of me kicks in, the one that remembers how tomorrow the injustice, the neglect we all face when we come home, or lose parts of ourselves, will be forgotten. And then it's just back to business-as-usual. Another disabled man or woman denied treatment; another soldier kicked out for not being able to face the day without drugs or booze; another stupid kid straight out of high-school, lied into things he cannot even begin to understand. And after tomorrow, it's gonna be back to waiting for next year. Veteran's Day goes away, and with it so do millions of veterans.

You want to honor veterans? Call your Congressman and lobby for reforms of our VA system. Be there for the returning GWOT vet, and provide a listening ear when he gets down on life. Go downtown and deliver a fucking sandwich to the old coot in the ratty fatigue blouse, sitting on the park bench mumbling to himself. Fuck, give him a lift to the shelter. And don't just do that today; do it this weekend, do it in six months. Find the time. Something. Anything.

Me? I'm gonna sit here and take another swig of my beer. This is my day. I earned it.

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"This Veterans Day, U.S. Soldiers Say 'Stop the War'"

An open letter from war resisters calls for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On this day, Veteran's Day, we would like to express to the American public why we, veterans of the Global War on Terror, have chosen to refuse orders to reactivate into military service. We are direct witnesses to the horrors of this war, having experienced its atrocities at their source, and we have decided that we can no longer carry out these illegal and immoral policies.

We believe that veterans and active-duty GIs are in a key position to stop illegal and unjust war, and we are inspired by the resistance of troops who stood against the war in Vietnam. One of the preeminent reasons for the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam was increasing dissent among the active-duty troops stationed abroad and at home. By the end of the war, there were entire units refusing to participate in combat, many going as far as outright mutiny.

The United States learned a lesson from the Vietnam War: that it is unlikely, except in the event of self-defense, that regular civilians will execute the life-threatening orders that are given to them by military authority. The solution of policy makers was to create an all-volunteer force that negated the need for a draft. This translates into a mercenary force composed of America's disadvantaged: a sector of the U.S. demographic that is particularly susceptible to military recruitment for lack of other options and finding themselves with deployment orders again and again.

To compensate for huge pitfalls in recruitment since the invasion of Iraq, the military has resorted to recalling former service members. This policy is known as "involuntary activation" and utilizes deactivated service members who still have time on their contracts in the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR) to fill shortcomings in specific job specialties. The abuse and misuse of this policy has escalated under the current administration to such a degree that it can now only be viewed as a "backdoor draft" that targets the same disadvantaged individuals the military sought out for enlistment, namely because they are better at not questioning orders.

However, we have now begun to question these orders. We are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and members of the IRR who have refused or will refuse any activation orders that would lead to us serving an unjust and imperial U.S. foreign policy. It is a prevailing notion that this refusal is unpatriotic, but we consider our actions the only choice. Not only did the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan do great harm to the people of those countries, but it undermined the ostensible goal with which the wars were begun: Instead of stopping terrorism, it has proliferated terrorism, an expectation that was predicted well before the war started.

By refusing activation, we are refusing to participate in wars that serve the purposes of furthering the careers of politicians and high-ranking officers. We openly support other IRR members who follow in these footsteps. The military is a force that rules through fear of retribution for disobeying its will. In reality, more than a third of IRRs simply refuse to report to duty. Most of the rest report out of fear that the military will change their discharge status or prosecute them for desertion, but up to this point, prosecution has been rare. Members of the IRR are not under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), and thus far, the military has had a practice of not prosecuting them with criminal charges unless they report in some form or function to activate. Very few willingly volunteer for activation.

There can be no promise that President-Elect Barack Obama will stop the stressful and unfair techniques of back-to-back deployments, "stop-loss" or the "backdoor draft" that are damaging the psychology of veterans in irreparable ways. Nor that he will stop encouraging global violence by unlawful uses of force. It is in this vein that we turn to organizations like Courage to Resist, Iraq Veterans Against the War and many other large-scale and grassroots organizations to solicit change in a largely unrepresentative democracy, and to allow the voices of the people to ring through the halls of the Capital.

Benjamin Lewis, former Marine Corps mortarman, Iraq veteran, IRR recall resister, peace activist

Brandon Neely, former U.S. Army Military police officer, Iraq veteran, IRR recall refuser.-- Benjamin Lewis and Brandon Neely

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Analysis and Aftermath

There are some great post-election pieces being written. Analysis of what happened and the pictures painted of the crumbling walls of the GOP.

The final map is really interesting. MSNBC breaks down the results by county, so we can drill down the results and see that Obama (Democrats) won everywhere that there is a higher population (cities). This is not so different, Democrats typically win cities, but Obama won many cities in very red states, like Wyoming and Montana. In addition, the Democrats are reaching out into the suburbs, overtaking what was once a GOP stronghold.

I think that the suburbs are fed-up with the partisanship and the extreme focus of the GOP on social issues. Suburban folks just want to be able to pay their bills, most don't care if the neighbor kid has an abortion, if there are (what was previously thought of as 'minorities' - demographics are changing and in another generation 'whites' will be the minority) living down the street or if a gay couple owns the home in the next cul-de-sac. Middle class people are less able to be divided by those GOP social issues; because they care more about having cable and getting the next generation TV, than they do this wedge issue crap. I think that the new “Republicans” are more libertarian than social conservatives and I don’t think that the GOP has figured that out.

It is also interesting to look at the margins. As of 10:01 am PT, Obama won the election 53% to 46%. He won by 7,974,965 votes. This is an amazing mandate, but what is also incredible to think about is how close many of the states not won were. When I look at some of the closer races, if we had gotten another few thousand people to the polls, Obama would have won those states too. This is an amazing factoid.

The young voters, despite popular mythology, were not necessarily the ones who carried the Obama victory. The demographics are interesting. Obama won every single demographic, except for whites, but even that margin was greater than Kerry.

*61 percent of Obama's votes came from white voters; 90 percent of McCain's came from white voters.
*23 percent of Obama's votes came from black voters; only one percent of McCain's came from African American voters.
*Latino voters accounted for 11 percent of Obama's vote and six percent of McCain's.
*Twenty-three percent of the Obama voters were under age 30 but only 13 percent of McCain backers were.

The demographic analysis in the article is interesting; they approach it asking "what if" certain blocks did not vote.

I love this. Obama has been going over Bush's executive orders and signing statements and is preparing to reverse some of the most egregious crap in his first days in office. Anything that can be reversed by his signature - he is already lining up the papers to sign them. Right. Fucking. On.

"A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration."

This makes me smile.

The Christian Right is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder. The treatments for this disease are intense and success rates are minimal. Perhaps we will find an end to the Religious Fanatics having so much of an impact on our politics.

Some, the old school Godbots, want to dig in their heels deeper, and focus harder on the wedge issues of god, guns, gays and controlling women and their bodies. The newer evangelicals are actually reading their Bibles and discovering that Jesus actually cared more about the poor and the planet, (because the planet's health affects all people,) than He did giving onto Caesar God's law. We shall see which direction they go, but I suspect that they will just implode into a million different pieces - some more tolerable than others.

The Right Wing extremists are freaking the fuck out. They really do not know what to do except to continue to spew lies and mistruths and half-facts and fear.

The thing is that that kind of crap just does not work on people who are really afraid, of real things.

I am going to counter a theory that I proposed earlier: that people who are insecure because of uncertainty and instability are more apt to believe conspiracy theories. I do not necessarily think that this is incorrect; I just think that the Right Wing's plan to keep people too busy and so uneducated that they do not have time to pay attention to the truth of a situation has backfired on them.

I think that the far Right's BS has not only hit the lower class in such large numbers that they do not have the time to pay attention to Rush and Hannity's crap - it has also spread to the middle class in such a way that the people are so worried about paying their bills and making ends meet that they do not have the energy to worry about whatever extremist bile that Rush and Hannity are selling. It backfired. For this I am grateful.

Eleanor's article really does not say anything much different than we have all been talking about since Tuesday; really I linked to it because I love her Newsweek photo. She looks fabulous in the photo and I just thought people should see it.

(PS: There is not any more...not even any photos of journalists that I think are better than their real life look. Clicking the "read more" will just lead to the many thousands of comments that my blogging generates...heh.)

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