Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Make the Democratic Party... Democratic

Instead of waiting and hoping somehow the Republican congress and state governments decide to give us democracy, we could go ahead and start ourselves.

All the things we want, things we just dream about, that are so difficult (or impossible) to do by federal and state law, could easily be implemented within the party - from campaign finance reform to term limits to direct democracy.

The result would be a far stronger party.

There's something funny about elections: They're these grand, extraordinarily complicated affairs that have progressed little since... well, progressed little. Period.

Despite the exponential advances in various technologies, many of our voting machines still utilize technologies that would have been familiar to our great-great-grandmothers. And maybe their great-grandmothers. --

When we finally got around to utilizing more current technology, it's actually represented a regression, leaving us with these bizarre machines that are ridiculously insecure. Somehow, we manage to spend hundreds millions of dollars for a result that's less accurate than paper.

Other advanced democracies just use paper, and all these crazy problems with machine errors and butterfly ballots are immediately solved. (Interestingly, where paper ballots are used, the exit polls are more accurate as well.)

Consider that that: A technology far older than our oldest voting equipment is actually... far superior.

Makes you wonder why Diebold is getting hundreds of millions. Doesn't it?


Yes, they always bang on about how elaborate elections are, how expensive, how complicated.

But it's not so complicated. Unless someone is trying to make it that way.

And machines don't have to be so bizarre and expensive.

State lotteries all across the US essentially hold elections every week, more than once a week, in fact. And they never make a mistake, miscount a vote (a vote in this case being for a string of numbers). They're not phenomenally expensive or the lotteries wouldn't be profitable.

Now, let's look at the democracy wrecking problem in politics - money. A US representative has to raise 10,000 dollars per week to have a hope of re-election. Even long established beloved politicians, multiple term Senators who seem to have been appointed for life, talk about how much they hate the fundraising aspect.

With good reason. Who gives the kind of money they need? It's not people whose civil rights need protecting, whose poverty needs alleviating, who want someone honest and dedicated to the well being of their society. That's not how you raise money. We may want to vote for someone concerned about such things, but we'll never get the chance.

Because in order to become a candidate, you have get past the primaries. And you do that by showing you can raise a lot of money. And you do that by convincing wealthy backers it's in their interest to support you: I'll keep this unnecessary military program going because you make money off supplying parts for it... and so on.

Even then, the Party still chooses. Many states have these non-binding primaries, where the candidate who wins might not get the delegates. Make sense? Well, if you're afraid of democracy, it does.


We all say we want campaign finance reform. But then... how to do it? How to do it without infringing on free speech yada yada yada, on and on?

Well, here's a thought:

Just do it within the party. Don't wait forever hoping somehow the Republicans, the big money party, is going to just kindly legislate away their cheif advantage.

How about this: All primary candidates have a very limited cap. They can advertise for free on the party's websites, and perhaps move up by how ordinary party members rate them. (Some of that money saved on primary battles can go to public access machines at your local party office.)

Instead of these very expensive primaries, save the money.

Save the money for the election that really matters, instead of spending millions fighting each other within the party, scrambling against a pack of your sisters and brothers to kill them all off so you can emerge, bloodied, for further battle. That's insane. It's an insane way to do it.

So ditch the whole thing. Vote the primaries via Internet, with phone in votes for those who don't have access (leave a voice print as signature).

We can accept credit cards over the Internet; we can certainly figure out how vote for a primary.

Instead of one day, we could allow revocable votes up to a deadline. That would make everyone much more involved in the process, and hence much more committed to the results.


But it goes beyond that.

The big problem comes after the candidate is elected, when you really have no idea what she'll do, no matter what she's promised beforehand.

Think about, say, buying a car: We wouldn't just elect someone else, and then they'd chose what kind of car we'd drive - heck, we wouldn't even let them choose the color. Yet, for the far more important issue of running our society, we do just that.

Frank Zappa wanted legally binding campaign promises. Well, we can wait for that law to get passed. Or...

How 'bout a democratic idea for the Democratic party: When a candidate is elected, she guarantees she will actually represent her constituents.

And she'll do this by allowing them to express their wishes via her website (and phone-in).

She can lead by arguing her case, and by trying to persuade all she wants, but if the people of her district disagree with her, she'll vote as they desire. She'll truly be...
representative of her district.

Now, who wouldn't vote for someone who promised that? Even many people who disagreed politically might be willing to vote for that person knowing there'd be real representation in government for them. Because, let's face it, even conservatives aren't being represented - unless they have a lot of money.

But, for the rest us, such a candidate could be the universal choice. She might speak out against the very thing she votes for, or speak for the very things she has to vote against. And sometimes, she might persuade us to go along with her. And sometimes not.

On a few core issues, known beforehand, the candidate would vote a certain way no matter what, but otherwise her job would be to represent.

And if the candidate broke the promise? She's out of the party for good. There might be times she would choose to do that. For example, in the case of war hysteria where we've all been whipped up to attack some country based on lies. She might say, Well, here I have to vote my conscience.

Finally, a suggestion for how to keep them from stealing the next election: Print up a bunch affidavits. After leaving the polling station, voters may choose, on a completely voluntary basis, to come to stand set up nearby and swear they voted a certain way. They're choosing, if they like, to give up the secrecy in order to ensure accuracy.

Do it polling station by polling station, all across the country. That way, if say, two-thousand people swear they used the touch-screen to vote for the Democrat, but only six-hundred votes are recorded, we'll have a pretty sure idea that something went wrong.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Windows Disingenuous disAdvantage:

Yes Virginia, It's Spyware (oh... and Beware of the Leopard)

So we discover that Windows Genuine Advantage, what seemed a harmless little utility to check the serial numbers, is in fact snooping and secretly reporting back to Microsoft.

Microsoft says this isn't spyware.

Actually, it's the very definition of spyware.

And they knew it. They even have it set up deceptively so that you have to copy the number it reports back and paste it into the browser. Why? To make you think that all it does is check your copy of Windows once, and that's it. It's such a simple little utility program it can't even connect to web - you have to manually copy and paste the info. How quaint. How intentionally deceptive.

I certainly thought that's all it did. Once found out, a Microsoft spokesbot was just a tad disingenuous in her response: Well, it's right there in the End User License Agreement.

Ah, if only I'd spent an hour poring over that. It brings to mind that bit in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where the "public notice" is prominently displayed in a basement bathroom blocked by a file cabinet and with a sign warning, "BEWARE OF THE LEOPARD."

Some legal challenge ought to nullify all EULA agreements. I'm not sure there's enough time in the known universe to read all of those things. (Images come to mind of some poor compulsive who actually reads these agreements, like we're supposed to, before she clicks I ACCEPT.) Congress or the WTO or somebody should legislate them away on the basis of the billions of lost hours if people actually read through every single one of those things every time.

So ... now Microsoft is saying we actually have to read each one?

You know, Microsoft has not innovated with a single thing. Everything, everything Microsoft has supplied us has just been copied from somewhere else, from the DOS (pretty much certainly copy of Digital Research DOS) to Windows (Bill Gates saw somebody else's version at a trade show) to Word (a crappy copy of Wordperfect that still hasn't gotten it right). Bill Gates didn't even program DOS, he bought it for $50,000 (he was born a multimillionaire) from the people who'd copied it from DR, and then his multimillionaire mother, who was on the board of the United Way with IBM chief Lou Gerstner, got her little boy the contract to supply all of IBM with his purloined product.

Since then? Garbage. Endless vaporware that's held back innovation.

You wonder if one day everyone well just realize, all at once, that Microsoft has been slinging nothing but junk at us all this time.

But, actually, I guess some good has come out of all the endless frustration we have trying to format tables in Word and changing settings in Windows and...rebooting: The Gates have been donating massive amounts to dealing the diseases everyone else with money has long since stopped caring about, like polio and malaria. And they've been donating at an astonishing rate.

So, let's hope when that day finally comes, the money's already been spent.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

French Fries

Because I have some unpleasant critiques about French life these days, I need to make clear that none of my criticism comes from the idiotic Freedom Fries perspective.

The Freedom Fries criticisms of France run, basically that France did something terrible to "our troops", and that the French hate America , or even Americans as individuals. Jay Leno said the French were spitting on Americans.

It never happens. Americans are in fact welcomed and well-treated - as much as this culture treats anyone well. Whatever differences in the foreign policy of their governments, the French, like people in most of the world, always have enough sense and maturity to see that it's not the fault of, and shouldn't be taken out on, individuals.

That's in contrast to the disgracefully immature behavior of so many Americans, who have blamed ordinary individuals of French nationality, including even teenage girls that they refused to host or had deported for babysitting. The French are able to understand a high-level political spat doesn't extend to teenage girls. And in this spat, it's the US leaders that are in the wrong.

The barrage of lies and distortions continued, including statements that France was getting most of Iraq's oil (France was getting 8%, the US, 50%). And when the Oil-for-Food scandal implicated French companies, the American media went bananas over it, neglecting to mention much about the American companies involved (and then failing to make much of the mind boggling 8 billion dollars of reconstruction aid that went missing, half of which was stolen from the people of Iraq, the other half from the people of the United States).

Bill O'Reilly yabbers about a boycott. What boycott? Actually, the US is buying more goods and services from the French than it was when Bill and his ilk started calling for their boycott. (The only people it's really hurt have been small businesses in the US. Nice going.)

Even the Daily Show, generally progressive, has repeatedly played this up with stupid anti-France jokes. Good for a quick chuckle from the ignorant.


OK, so... It is true that the French populace didn't want to go to war in Iraq.

Along with the entire rest of the world.

No government in this so-called coalition had much support. I was in Italy around that time - huge protests, brightly colored gay pride flags everywhere. I thought that at least 90% of the populace had suddenly come out of closet. The flags were on every balcony, hanging even from convent windows.

Turns out they use the rainbow flag for peace, and the people of Italy were overwhelmingly against this fraudulent war.

As was, basically, the entire world.

Rumsefield, Wolfowitz et al. threw a hissy fit when the Turkish government refused to override the overwhelming desire of that country's populace to stay out of the war. Dammit, don't these people know where trying to bring democracy to the area? How are we gonna do that if governments insist on doing irresponsible things like... behaving democratically?

(Speaking of which, over 80% of Iraqis now want the US to leave. Should we let them vote on that? I mean, isn't the idea to bring democracy? Well, same as when bringing democracy to Vietnam meant cancelling the promised vote on reunification because... the election might not go our way. You're free to have a democracy, as long as you vote the way we tell you to. OK? If not, we bomb. Until you understand democracy.)

Even the United States government got the populace to support it only by lying: most Americans thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. They didn't dream that one up all by themselves. Then Bush administration made up the WMDs, told us we'd be attacked and thousands of innocent people would die. As with 9/11, somebody'd have to explain why mommy or daddy wasn't ever coming home again.

So, we attacked. And thousands of innocent people died. And somebody has to explain why mommy or daddy won't ever be coming home again.

However, and this is an important however, the French government was, in fact, very willing to support, and to actually join, the American action against Iraq. So was the German government, and the rest of NATO and beyond.

So what happened?

French troops were already fighting in Afghanistan - praised by American commanders for their skill and bravery - as part of the reaction the 9/11 attacks.

Those attacks weren't against France, but French President Jacques Chirac was the first foreign leader to visit New York after 9/11 (he got there so fast he almost beat Bush); "We are all Americans now," declared by the national French newspaper, Le Monde; and the French rushed troops to support the invasion of Afghanistan to avenge the attacks on their friends, the Americans.

Chirac, the supposedly anti-American French president had in fact lived in the United States. He'd worked at Howard Johnson's, and as a forklift driver at the Anheuser-Busch brewery in St. Louis, and as a writer for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. He's often said how much he likes America, even the food, which he says he likes too much (how 'bout that, a Frenchman even complimenting American cuisine?).

So, again, what happened?

Well, they held a high-level NATO meeting to prepare for this big military operation against Iraq because the Iraqi government was developing weapons of mass destruction. And somewhere in that meeting, they said, almost as just a formality, OK, let's go over that evidence on Iraq developing these weapons.

And this is where everything stopped. Not only did Donald Rumsfeld fail to provide any, he got snotty with them.

They were stunned - You're actually asking us to go to war based on...? Do you really understand what you're asking? What war is? What it means?

So Rumsfeld, ever the diplomat, said, "The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence," and felt terribly clever.

Our allies were bewildered: OK, yes, very witty line, but we don't go to war based on your wordplay.

Now, France could have agreed to join the so-called coalition the way other countries have - just send a few support personnel and leave it at that. That's the route the Australian government took: Yeah, the war might be bullshit, but if the Aussies are ever overrun by Indonesia or get into hot water with China, they'll need help in a hurry, and let's not bother to take a stand here and piss off Bush and country music stations, resulting in a boycott of Fosters (which isn't Australian anymore, just saying).

They sent a few air-traffic controllers, and Australia got to be considered part of the coalition (though they'd already sent troops to Afghanistan, but that seemed not to matter beside the all-important Iraq).

But the French, well, maybe they took a more honest stance. And then there followed the semi-farce of decorated combat veterans in the French government being lectured on fighting war, and on bravery under fire, by notorious chickenhawks in the US government.

It was funny how this Freedom Fries nonsense was picked up. It was basically orchestrated by certain members of the Republican Party. Those French, they're cowards. They hate America.

Ahem... A Little History

The "cowardice" claim is based on something that happened almost seventy years ago now, when a colossal blunder resulted in France being overrun - that blunder being dependence on the Maginot line.

The line actually worked just fine, it was just that German mechanized units managed to come around it.

But consider that by that point the rest of Western Europe had fallen to the Germans - Austria, Czeckoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Luxembourg and, crucially, Belgium. Any country that took a stand against the Nazis was steamrolled.

Why? The Blitzkrieg brought in new mechanized tactics that were practically unstoppable.

Of course, Hitler couldn't have done it without considerable help and investment from his American supporters, notably Sosothenes Bethe of ITT and, most importantly, the crucial, even critical, support of Henry Ford.

Thanks to Bethe, ITT supplied the communications systems between tanks that went a long way towards making Blitzkrieg possible. But Bethe wasn't done: ITT then used the profits to... invest in Fockker-Wolfe, which supplied the aircraft that so aided Franco (and devasted cities like Guernica) and went on to be invaluable in the Hitler's conquest of Europe.

(In the invasion, French forces had to rely on telephone lines - easily cut - and messengers. The Germans, thanks to ITT and Bethe, had excellent radio communications. (Compounding that was a heirarchical mentality - one that plagues France to this day - that had the field units waiting for commands from above - a disaster in times of communication difficulties - while the German units were able to act more autonomously.))

(ITT has never been a company to shy away from a little blood if it means more profits, hence another September 11th, this one September 11, 1971, when Chilean President Salvador Allende had decided the resources of Chile should be for the people of Chile, and the Nixon administration set up a bloody and vicious coup, complete with a genuine concentration camp designed by a genuine Nazi, Walter Rauff, who found welcome under the new US-backed dictatorship. And that's why Henry Kissinger can't travel anymore, because if he leaves the US, there's a good chance he'll be arrested for crimes against humanity and sent to the Hague. But that's another story.)

The only thing missing for Hitler was a way to move ground troops in rapidly, and for that we turn to Ford.

Who's the only foriegner mentioned in Hitler's Mien Kampf? Henry Ford. Mr. Ford also received the Grand Order of the German Eagle, the Nazi's highest award for a foreigner, the same one given to Mussolini.

But then that soft-headed sentimentalist Franklin Roosevelt went and embargoed Ford's beloved Nazis.

No worries, Ford helped them get around that, continuing to supply vehicles to the extent that by 1942, fully of third of the Wermarcht's vehicles where, you guessed it, made by Ford.

(I was stunned to see Bill Ford narrating these commercials about his wonderful grandfather and "whoever the President was". Why not talk about how important his grandfather's support was to the rise of "whoever the Fuhrer was"?)

So when the Nazis swept Europe, France was actually the last opposition country on the mainland to be overrun, and it fell along with about 200,000 British expeditionary troops. In fact, but for a blunder by Hitler, the war was pretty much over right there.

It's true that the arrogant French military command failed, yet again. (In a system where communication from the top command was absolutely critical, the commanding general set up his headquarters in a castle that... wait for it... had no telephone communications.)

However, once the command strategies had failed utterly, the completely outmatched French soldiers in the path of the Blitzkrieg demonstrated outstanding courage, slowing the German advance on the trapped British, and ultimately saving the whole thing. The defense of Dunkirk, carried out by French forces, is among the greatest acts of military gallantry in history.

That said, let's not forget that... the whole thing happened over sixty years ago. Or that twenty years before that, at the end of WWI, the French had pleaded for a buffer zone to provide them some security against another attack by their larger neighbor.

Instead, they go the assurance that the US and Britain would provide for their military security.

Still, we can't let it go without noting that French military command has been an inept mess for the last century and half, during which France has been defeated in every major conflict, and the high command seems rigidly incapable of adapting or even learning anything from their mistakes. (What mistakes?)

They even spectacularly botched the sinking of a sailboat (a terrorist bombing of an unarmed sailboat in the undefended harbor of an ally, which the French blew up because they disagreed with the politics of Greenpeace... oh, but terrorism is wrong... and this in New Zealand, which twice sent soldiers to fight and die to bail out the French). The arrogance in French culture is all too often astounding.

But that doesn't mean individuals haven't been incredibly gallant and courageous. They have been.

OK, let's dial the time machine back to the present:

During the preparations for the 200th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase, Louisiana governor Mark Foster said it was difficult to invite Jaques Chirac after "what he did to our troops".

("Our troops" is what certain elected officials declare undying loyalty and admiration for... at least until it comes to diverting a little money from their tax breaks and crony-spending for a little armor for vehicles and bodies.)

So, what exactly did Chirac do to "our troops"?

A decorated and wounded combat veteran himself, he tried to keep them out of a senseless, unnecessary war, to keep them from maiming and killing, and from getting maimed and killed themselves.

For that we're supposed to hate him.

For how long?

Did Chirac say the US can go to hell? No. What he actually said was, Let's make sure those WMDs, the reason we're going to war, are actually there. He just said, Let's at least give the inspectors time to finish their work.

He, along with the rest of Europe and, well, the world, was shocked that Bush administration seemed so determined to go to war.

Mostly, like everyone sane, he wanted to exhaust all other avenues. France, he said, is not a pacifist country, but, "force should be the last resort."

It should be the last resort no matter how much you want to act tough, impress daddy, prance on aircraft carriers in a flight suit, etc.

Also, very importantly, French officials including Chirac said the French military would join the US immediately if those WMDs showed up. In fact, they started readying the equipment to go fight under those conditions.

It was Bush and Co. that threw the tantrums and were uncooperative. It wasn't France.

Most governments, most of the world, were stunned by the Bush administrations childish stubbornness and petulant determination to have a war, not to mention their benighted prediction that American forces would immediately be welcomed as liberators, and that oil would immediately flow without problems so profusely that it would actually pay off the costs of the war and occupation. The war would pay for itself!

Chirac was amongst those who candidly, without needing to read from a teleprompter, discussed the dangers and repercussions of the invasion.

His predictions turned out to be accurate; BushCo's turned out to be very wrong. So who do we blame?

(Most of the world was stunned, as well, that the US military planners did so much to assure the security of the oil facilities, but nothing about the WMD facilities that they were supposedly so concerned about, resulting in those those facilities being looted. We now have no idea where the materials, including the nuclear ones, disappeared to, significantly increasing the dangers of terrorism for everyone.)

So here's the confusing part to me: Everyone now knows that Bush et. al. were lying, that they've killed all these people, American and Other, for their politics and their greed (and continue to do so).

Everyone knows this now, but they're STILL mad at... *the French*. They're not mad at Bush.

And they're not just mad at Jacques Chirac, or even at the French government. They're mad at the French. All of them. Every man, woman and even child. They're mad for "what they did to our troops." That would be... trying to keep them out of a meaningless, pointless war that would dangerously destabilize the region and make the entire world view America with a sort of horror not seen since... since... since the US invaded and occupied another country halfway around the world 40 years ago.

I'm very much a critic of the French government, and the mortifying and moribund state of French society and culture (which seems as inflexible and as resistant to reassessment as the country's military culture), but not on this on this one. On this one, they got it right.

So, yes, I would like fries with that. French fries.

We'll leave the last word to Mr. Chirac:

"I think that the relationship between the French and the Americans, the human relationship, is a relationship of friendship. Of love even, I would say. But if I see my friend or somebody I dearly love going down the wrong path, then I owe it to him to warn him be careful…"

Friday, February 03, 2006


Good afternoon.

Today's interview is with a man who needs no introduction, Randall P. Wentworth, IV. He's known to his friends as "Bartholomew". Let's begin:

Bartholomew, you're a true, rags-to-riches, self-made billionaire. How did you get your start?

Yes, I started with nothing, penniless, on the street.

But you wanted to improve your situation?

Not just mine. It wasn't just a selfish thing.


I looked around at the society, and realized that all the theft was ruining people's lives, damaging the economy, and costing jobs.

I see. So how did you address this problem?

Well, I thought I had to deal with the most immediate problem inpeople's everyday lives. I became a hum catcher.

A hum catcher?

Indeed. See, there was a lot of theft going on. Theft makes everybodysad. And I figured I could have a vital role in stopping it. Whenanyone hums a tune someone else has written, without prior permissionand a royalty payment, they're committing an act of theft.

And how did you go about catching these hums?

It wasn't easy, being penniless and on the street.

I imagine not.

What I did was use high powered directional parabolic microphones withdigital audio recording decks and parallel processor computers running in tandem on custom-written software.

Sounds very complicated... It must have been difficult to acquire all that.

Not really.

Well, it must have been quite a bootstrap operation. After all, youwere penniless.

I was. I had to ask my dad.

Oh. He wasn't penniless?

Lord, no. He's a multi-millionaire.

He is. I see.

When I told him my idea, he gave me seven-hundred-thousand dollars.

Ah. And you used this to invest in equipment for your enterprise.

No, I bought a jeep.

A jeep. Well, that must have been quite an... expensive jeep.

Not really.

So you invested the rest of the money in your enterprise.

No. I drove around in the jeep until I'd blown all the money on cocaine and hookers. A jeep is a very stupid vehicle you know. Unless you're actually driving off-road, there's not much point. The only benefit it offers is that it tips over easily on curves.

I see. So I suppose you had to take the curves slow.

Of course, but that's not as easy as it sounds.

No, I imagine not.

Especially with all that cocaine.


But the cocaine was an unfortunate necessity.

It was?

Sure. Driving a jeep is sooo boring.

And why is that?

'Cause you have to take those curves so slow, of course.

Of course.

So I ran through the money pretty fast because of that. That and the hookers.

Ah. And then, when you hit bottom, you realized it was time to getyour life back together. You settled down and worked your way back up.

No, I just asked my dad for another seven-hundred-thousand dollars.

And this time you used the money wisely.

No, I bought another jeep.

I see. So, you're a rags to riches story like Bill Gates or Donald Trump -you started out fabulously wealthy, and you're fabulously wealthy today.

It's the American dream.

But you did eventually start catching hums.

I did, yes.

Because you wanted to improve society.

And get rich. And squash people.

I see.

I tried to become a cop, but I scored too high on the intelligence test.

Yes, I can see that. So, what sort of hums did you catch?

Well, I'd catch children, mostly. The Muppet Theme was a big moneymaker for me early on.

And what did you do when you caught them?

Terrify them. Threaten their parents with lawsuits. Did you know Happy Birthday to You is copyrighted?

I did hear something about that.

Well, we'd slowly patrol neighborhoods until we found mailboxes withballoons on them, then we'd camp outside with sensitive listening devices until we heard the song.

What did you do then?

We had the police kick the doors in and arrest everybody.

That sort of trauma, one imagines, could destroy a child's life. Must've been hard on the police, doing that.

Not at all. We used the drug police. Very handy for that sort of thing, and used to destroying the lives of people who aren't doing any harm to anyone.

I see. So by protecting that song, you were preventing theft.

Yes. We haven't managed to copyright the words, though.

The words to the song?

No those are copyrighted, but we'd like someone to get a royalty everytime the words Happy Birthday are uttered.

You would?

Why not? The phrase was invented by someone.

I suppose so.

Invention must be rewarded, that's how we spur new inventions. Why do you think no one's improved on Happy Birthday all these years?

No one's getting paid for it?

You see my point. Someone should get a royalty. We'd like to get one for the words used together, separately, or in any combination.

Not a lot of combinations in two words, one imagines.

Still, it's the principle. Someone could go Birthday Happy!, and use that loophole to get around our copyright. Or Happy Happy! or Birthday Birthday To You!

I see your point.

Of course you do. And that's just a start. We need to get all words copyrighted, and soon.

But, aren't words part of our common heritage?

Copyright has been extended so long now that we say why not make it forever. If I make aviolin or a butter jar, it's mine forever, or my family's, or whoeverI sell it to.

What's a butter jar?

The point being everything is better if someone owns it. Otherwise,you get the Tragedy of the Commons, where no one owns something so noone cares about it.

I've never heard of a butter jar.

Look at the state of our language, people mumbling all the time.

A honey jar, sure, but never a butter jar.

Now, if words were owned by someone, they'd have an interest in preventing that sort of thing.

Like, "effect" and "affect".

Or "hopefully". Indeed. And you couldn't just add -ize to something togive it a new, business-speak use, unless you paid a lot extra for that. There'd be a lot of jobs created in marketing just such words.

Wouldn't that harm society, the common discourse, all that?

Oh, on the contrary. Not at all. Corporations would ensure theirproducts would be used wisely. They'd protect the common discourse from, say, ridiculous skits like this one. With the words owned,corporations would have a vested interest in making sure everyone was literate, so that there was a bigger market for their products. That'show the free market takes care of itself.

It does tend to do that, doesn't it?

Also, the language is often quite shabby, people mumbling and so forth. That's because there's no pride of ownership. If someone had paid for a license to use the world "regardless" for example, they'd certainly want to protect their investment by not mumbling.

Or using meaningless constructions like "irregardless".

You see my point.

What about works that might be considered lewd? I hate lewdness.

We all do, of course, but the invisible hand of Adam Smith would take care of that.

I'll thank Adam Smith to keep his invisible hands to himself.

Speaking of lewdness I'd like do something about home shagging.

About...? You mean, you'd copyright that, too?

Well, something has to be done about it. It's just causing huge losses to the prostitution industry, you know.


Of course. We calculate billions are lost daily. Practically killing the industry.

And ownership would make it better?

Works with everything.

So what's next?



Well, it's a huge problem.

It is?

Of course: People are getting it for free. When something's free, they don't appreciate it. You're not appreciating the air right now. But if I were to take it all away from you, you'd see its value.

I imagine I would, yes.

But you get it for free, so you don't. And why should anyone getanything for free? You have to work for things. Water has been privatized; why not air? Nothing in life is free.

I suppose it would generate a lot of economic activity if air were privatized, and, as we know, all economic activity is good. Are there other benefits to this?

Certainly. Suppose I'm spewing a lot of arsenic into the air near your house.

You're not, are you?

It's a hypothetical.


So, supposing I'm doing that. Now, I've bought the air that I'mpoisoning, so it's mine to do as I like with.

Of course it is.

So, I put a chemical marker in the smoke, and if you're breathing myair, without prior permission in writing, you're violating my copyright.

Oh heavens, I wouldn't want to do that.

Of course you wouldn't. Plus I'd have you arrested.

That doesn't sound very fun.

Believe me, it isn't. So, to avoid that, you'd have to buy oxygen tanks and breathe with air masks. Whether piped in our delivered by tankertruck, air would become a service like any other, just as it should be. And you'd be much healthier for it. Do you realize 40,000 people ayear die in the United States as a result of air pollution?

I didn't, no.

That's 'cause nobody owns it.

You're quite a visionary. Thank you for sharing your views.

Oh, don't get me started on views, especially not on sharing them.


They infuriate me. Billions are lost daily on view pirating. Why do you think everything keeps ruining the view?

No one owns it?

Exactly. When fat people stand in front of you, you can say, "You're blocking the view!" all you want, but because it's hard to show a monetary damage, you can't have them arrested. If you could, they'd have an incentive to lose weight.

People need incentives.

They do. Privatizing views is essential. Every view should be owned and copyrighted. It would be marvelous for the economy. For example, there'd be royalties from the photographs.

It must be difficult for you, having to think how much damage is being done to the economy by view theft.

I get so infuriated every time I see a picture of a lovely sunset.

I'm sure you do.

Almost as infuriated as when I see a kitten.

You'd copyright kittens?

Don't be absurd. You can't copyright a kitten.

No, I suppose not.

I just hate kittens.

You must be very proud of Bill Frist.

Incredibly. Anyone who would cut the beating hearts out the living kittens is a natural-born Republican leader. Other students were just out drinking or maybe studying - Senator Frist was cutting the beating hearts out of living kittens, after he'd kept them as pets.

But some have criticized him for that, saying it was sadistic or even psychopathic. He now calims it was the result of being under so much pressure.

Well, then, I'm relieved the man found a low-pressure job, something that won't bring out his natural sadism. He is, in any case, an inspiring example for all Republicans. Vicious little things that they are.


Kittens. Tadpoles make far better pets. Very loyal, and you don't have to declaw them to keep them from biting your elbows.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Attacking pop. Posted by Picasa

Lilou, just before Chloe gave her away. The next day, she realized what a terrible mistake she'd made. Posted by Picasa

Lilou attacking her pop, the Damnation. Posted by Picasa

Picture Jenny took of me in Maui. Everyone loves this picture... everyone except me. Posted by Picasa

Lilou, same day. Posted by Picasa

Picture Chloe took of me, Montpellier, France. Cold. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pro-Butchery: Pro-Life isn't pro-life

It's always confusing when people who declare themselves pro-life support things like the death penalty. There's seems to be this fanaticism that life begins at conception and ends at birth... or it if doesn't end, rapidly diminishes in value - the opposite of the way most people view it.

Hence the surreal inversion where people shrieking about the "sanctity of life" gleefully support executions and the mass slaughter of warfare. (Five-hundred thousand kids dead in Iraq? Do you mean, born or unborn? Oh... phew, I thought you meant unborn.)

We know, from those who claim to know the mind of the deity, that god is Pro-Life. Now, Jerry Falwell tells us, "God is Pro-War."

(And his arch Pro-Life colleague, Pat Robertson, accepts the horror of coerced abortions in China, where he has business interests: "If every family over there was allowed to have three or four children, the population would be completely unsustainable.... They're doing what they have to do."

Note that Robertson's faith in his all-powerful god is so weak that he isn't able to believe god will be able to deal with the situation.)

They're also not concerned with the lives of the women are going to terminate their pregnancies. Because making it illegal has nothing to do with stopping abortion. In fact, the restrictions already in place in the US are more likely making the problem worse.

Consider that in permissive Holland, the abortion rate is one-fourth that of the US. The teen pregnancy rate is one-tenth that of the US.

If we really wanted to reduce the abortion rate, wouldn't it make sense to look there?

C. Everett Koop, Reagan's pro-life Attorney General, drove the Pro-Lifers crazy by flatly telling them the truth: The only way you're going to stop abortion is to have foolproof birth control.

But they didn't want to hear that. They booed and despised him for saying it.

That's because they don't care about stopping abortion. They US has this very high abortion rate and they don't have any interest in bringing it down. (The only method of birth-control these people approve of is one conclusively, repeatedly, regularly proven not to work.)

The legislative Damoclean Sword hanging over us makes discussion impossible. It so polarizes the debate - with everyone forced to chose sides between equating it with wart-removal or with cold-blooded murder - that even those making the decision are ill served. How can you talk about adoption, viability outside the womb, etcetera, when the thugs are waiting to kick the doors down.

And lets say that sword falls. Roe v. Wade is torn up. What then? States exert control over women's bodies. Won't that be glorious?

Because the real point it that you'll never stop abortion by making it illegal. All you do is drive it back to the back alley, coat hangers and bleach and baseball bats, young women horribly maimed... and killed.

These are things we're already seeing in states where abortion is substantially restricted. Legalized abortion has been compared with the polio vaccine as an advance in public health.

The real issues of abortion go far deeper than just shrieking outside a clinic. Many of them are economic - that seems to be the single biggest factor women site in choosing not to carry through with a pregnancy.

But issues of wealth distribution are complicated. Make my head hurt. Much easier to just shriek outside the clinic, with no thought of what it'll mean if these efforts are successful.

Anyone genuinely pro-life has to look at the issue realistically, and then start talking about how to proceed, without this lust to control others' bodies.

Why doesn't in bother these people that banning abortion would directly result in the deaths of so many women? Might as well ask why the same people don't seem to care about poverty, famine, disease, wars... Call that a culture of life?

Take your death cult somewhere else. You're not pro-life, you're pro-butchery.

And those who oppose you? You can call us Pro-Liberty.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Beur Republic: Factors Behind the French Riots

Beur Republic: Factors Behind the French Riots

There have been various analyses of the French riots, almost all of them from a comfortably remote viewpoint.

In "A War of Words", Françoise Mouly, art editor for the New Yorker, said of the French rioters, "As true Frenchmen, they understand the importance of discourse [...] they seem to parse the fine nuances of every word; then they fight back bitterly..."

Then some people (a lot of them Americans) responded, as they always do when problems of France come up, that this is actually evidence of the failure of the government's "socialism", defined by these folks as the five-week vacations, the three-month maternity leave, and so on.

Others have blamed architecture, and so it goes.

To start, when it's spread to 300 cities (and destroyed six-thousand cars), it's not a
riot or even a series of riots anymore; it's a rebellion. If all of the "rioters" were all concentrated in one area, part of France would've likely declared itself the Beur Republic, however short-lived.

Yet, in many respects, these are old-fashioned riots, for old-fashioned reasons.

Explaining this as some kind of failure of socialistic policies is based on ideology, not reality. It's also patently idiotic: if this sort of thing were caused by socialism, Stockholm and Malmo would be glowing in the light of Saabs and Volvos set ablaze their sizeable immigrant populations.

On the other hand, the explanation that this is "a war of words" suggests that the New Yorker's art editor hasn't spent much time in the streets where the "war" is happening, and where it's about a lot more than words. Yes, the words have been inflammatory - either due to ineptness or intention - but they'd be easily ignored were there not something more concrete to back them up.

Three primary factors are behind the current reaction of French youth, and I think it's fair to call it a reaction, that we've seen recently:

The main one is just how vicious and useless French police in general are. Remember that it was two children fearing they were being chased by these police that started this all, the thousands of cars torched, the violence roiling right into Paris and forcing
riot police encampments around the famous monuments, the international disgrace as it's raged on night after night into a national state of emergency.

The New York Times described the French police, accurately, as "widely resented and often despised". That was in an article not about rioting, but about police who roller skate. One tourist guidebook warns visitors that victims of racist attacks can expect little sympathy from the police (and are better off contacting their consulates).

It's illegal to insult the police in France, so all a French cop has to do is claim he overheard you insult him, and you're going to jail. With their highly trained and surprisingly keen sense of hearing, the police seem to pick up racial minorities insulting them all the time, even when bystanders hear nothing at all.

Sometimes they may actually be insulted, as when they behave abusively at the checkpoints they set up in poorer areas. For example, even when being addressed by the polite "vous", police officers will regularly call their subjects "tu". This is unbelievably rude and insulting - translated to US culture, it's the equivalent of a Southern sheriff calling a black man "boy". If the person being so insulted should react with even the mildest of insults in return, it's a crack with the baton and off to jail.

Imagine regularly being subjected to this. Imagine, say, watching your grandfather being called, "boy", and trying to hold your tongue (even if you do, they might "hear" an insult and arrest you anyway). Imagine how you'd feel towards the police.

With absolute impunity, the police do things like stuff somebody into the trunk of a little French car, wildly fabricate charges despite a street full of witnesses, essentially drug a suspect into signing a "confession" (ostensibly to "calm down" the suspect, though against his or her will) and generally menace or even attack pretty much whoever they feel like. (These are all things that I’ve either witnessed or have happened to people I know, many of whom have also suffered astonishing indifference in the face of their distress calls.)

In fact, after writing the above paragraph, I came across a recent Amnesty International statement on out of control police behavior in France. Interestingly, Amnesty saw the same thing: "In our view, there is effective impunity for police officers committing human rights violations..." Amnesty goes on to say that basically no one in France can do anything about anything the police do, and that the French government so fails to control police behavior that it is in violation of international covenants against torture.

Then there's the uselessness - they simply don't respond to many calls (and not just in the projects). And though they swagger about in packs, often dressed like combination
riot-police/paratroopers, they seem unable to see or react to a vicious fight happening or a woman being assaulted just 20 meters away... though they will savagely attack, for example, peacefully striking nurses. In cases of outright brutality, in the very unlikely instance a prosecutor should somehow bring charges against them, they can confidently expect at worst a suspended sentence, even for "voluntary homicide".

Call the police for a car accident or an assault, or even visit the station, and they seem to not only fail to respond, but to even refuse to take a report. Perhaps it’s a way to keep the statistics down. Whatever the case, it leaves the society with a police culture that’s only to be feared.

Cities in United States have, of course, seen similar reactions against similar police cultures – we’ve seen them from Watts to Brooklyn. There are other factors in those situations, too, but what finally sparks off the rampages are often specific instances of police brutality.

France is widely referred to in Europe as a police state, as seen not only in the powers of police, but the horrors of the prisons (condemned by human rights observers as being worse than anything in Europe until you get to, perhaps, Moldova – French officials all say they’re somebody else’s responsibility). That's the reality of France today. Nicolas Sarkozy ("Sarko"), the main target of the car-blazing rage, is head of the French police, and seems to encourage their worst qualities.

Those two children were electrocuted after they saw a group of police on the street, and feared it was one of these abusive street checks (the police were there for another purpose, but many if not most French people, though innocent of wrongdoing, have learned to fear and avoid their police). The boys had been trying to get home for dinner and wanted to avoid the police. In France, even adults with respectable lives and careers will go out of their way to avoid the police.

The police said that they didn't know the boys had gone into the power station, though this was later shown to be an outright lie. Instead of expressing some sort of official sadness, Sarkozy then arrogantly, and falsely, claimed the boys had been fleeing a burglary.

That's a lot of what's going on, much of what's behind the rage in the street. You don't need a whole lot more to set off riots.

(It's worth noting that the police recently objected to a simple plaque remembering those killed in a massacre in Paris in 1961: Under the command of Nazi-collaborator and, later, convicted war-criminal Maurice Papon, police slaughtered about 200 peaceful Algerian demonstrators in the center of downtown Paris and then dumped many of the bodies in the Seine. According to police officers who'd tried to stop the massacre perpetrated by their colleagues, about 50 of the victims had been summarily executed in the courtyard of the Paris police headquarters. It took forty years for the city to even acknowledge it happened, and then the police union objects to even a small memorial for the victims.)

However, this is also a rebellion against the general French malaise - both a widespread despair that's hard to escape (a mere 30 percent of French feel optimism about the future) and a general decline of French culture (to the current veritable persistent vegetative state).

The cultural decline includes the highbrow - in a recent interview, French philosopher Jean Baudrillard talked about little besides how dead and/or useless everything from literature to philosophy is in France today, a view on finds repeated among the more astute observers, one of whom, a professor who lives near me, recently commented, “I would hate to be young in France today – everything is dead, from the culture to the future.”

But it's also the street culture, from the general alienation, to the economic problems, to the inability to do anything about organized crime (the only national politician who dared speak out against the mafia's power in southern France was quickly assassinated, as were several people working with her - though some of these murders were ludicrously termed "suicides" by the aforementioned French police).

There is, in much of France, an overhanging sense of despair, defeat and futility. Look, for example, at supposedly festive occaisions: Arriving at French party, you could easily mistake it for a wake - everyone is sitting around, eyes to the floor, looking as if they're chilly and mildly constipated (at least unless/until they get sloppy drunk and start shouting along with the choruses of American pop songs... then I guess it becomes Irish wake). Guests from neighboring Spain and Italy - and you hope there are some present - will be laughing and singing and having fun, and ignoring their morose neighbors.

This feeling that one is arriving at a wake happens so often it's become the basic stereotype of French party, and it symptom that says a very great deal the necrosis afflicting about the wider culture. Who wants their cultural identity to be subsumed and absorbed into that?

The only really vibrant and vital part of French culture today is from the ethnically African (North and Sub-Saharan) groups, and rather than accept this and integrate it into a stronger and more dynamic France, there's this attempt right from the top to repress it.

And that's the third main factor here.

This attitude isn't so far from the Académie Française trying to force French kids to say "planche-à-roulette" instead of "le skateboard":
there's some vague idea of a glorious, pure (and purely fictional) French culture that needs to be "preserve" by preventing change, especially "foreign" influence.

And thus there is this tendency, far too often on an official level, to insist on keeping a significant part of the French population separate - from the endless bureaucratic hassles a dark-skinned French woman might run into that her blonde cousin will sail past, to the dreadlocked driver regularly getting pulled over and roughed up in the name of searching for drugs, to the desperate situation of the ghetto housing projects.

Ironically, banning the headscarves, seen everywhere as a sign of intolerance, was originally intended to help the cause of integration. Problem was, banning religious symbolism in public institutions was one minor suggestion in a long list of ideas on how to better integrate France.

(Girls who tried to remove their headscarves at school faced harassment from certain Muslim boys. Rather than deal with that, rather than committing to protect the girls in whatever religious or fashion choices they chose to make, French officialdom came up with a bit of a sledgehammer approach, the intentions of which were widely misperceived.)

Far more important was dealing with the problems of the ghettoization and employment issues, but the patrician patronizing patriarchs decided to skip over all that stuff and, to the astonishment of the people who'd come up with the suggestions, obsessed on that one alone.

One study showed that, in private industries, a resume submitted with an "Arab" name at the top was 50 times (not 50 percent, 50 times) less likely to receive a call than one without. And the society in general has a very hard time realizing that Hassim the Hoodlum is a lot closer to Guillaume the Gangster than he is to Ahmed the Academic.

(The only way around this is to get a white supervisor to write a letter saying, basically, that you're a still a good worker in spite of your obvious racial handicap. Really. For many jobs, if you're submitting a resume with an Arab name at the top, accompanying it with such a letter is about your only chance of getting a response.)

People old enough to remember recount that decades ago, French people were saying the same things when it was Italians who made up the bulk of the immigrants (and with the Spanish, as well). Unfortunately, on an official level, nothing is being done to counter that. In fact, politicians on the right are playing it up, stoking the fears and pandering to the worst in French society for their own gain, while the culture almost childishly resists the sort of integration that would value diversity rather than insist on assimilation and subjugation.

Still, those second and third factors are background, reasons to push for rights and so on. If you had to pick the one root cause, and the trigger for all this, it'd certainly be the behavior of the police, and the right-wing Interior Minister responsible for them.

And in that, you can't blame socialism any more than you can blame socialism for anti-police riots in Cincinnati or Chicago or Los Angeles.

Somehow, the 35-hour workweek, five-week vacations, and a basic, reasonable maternity leave don't seem to be driving people to

But, ah, we'll keep you posted on that one.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Fox Freeloaders: Today's Lies

Today we have lies from Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson.

GIBSON: In part of their campaign to shift Katrina (non)response blame from Bush, Gibson weirdly pushed FOX's hackneyed blame-the-French misdirection, stating, "... After all, when the French President presided over the deaths of 15,000 elderly in Paris in a heat wave, he took the international derision, not the mayor of Paris."

Well, this is wildly inaccurate. It wasn't 15,000 in Paris, a city of 2.5 million, it was 15,000 in France, a country of 60 million. Slight difference - entire country or one city.

And a big lie.

To say Chirac "presided" over the deaths from a heat wave means you have to say Bush also "presided" over the deaths of Katrina, and an awful lot of other deaths as well, including 9/11, Iraq, and so on, for all of which he bears responsibility.

But, as it was a problem well beyond the scope of one municipality, a national problem, the French President and his government were much to blame.

And it happened because the right-wing French government (right-wing to most of the world, though, since even they believe in basic societal well-being, I guess they would "extreme left" for FOX) had cut the services that used to regularly check on isolated elders.

(The government at first tried to blame it on people not returning from their vacations, a myth Gibson, ever wanting to vilify all things French, repeated.)

There's also, we might add, the question of how well the US does in dealing with elders during heat waves. (This isn't a stupid Democrat-Republican thing: The toll from Chicago's '95 heat wave was, proportionately, far worse than in France's heatwave.)

And FEMA was (and is) still a basket case, whatever the problems of local and state authorities.

O'REILLY: Then we have O'Reilly, who tried to paint Bush America as better than Clinton America for people in poverty.

He said in 1996, in the middle of Clinton's reign, the poverty rate was 13.7 percent; at the midpoint of the Bush reign the poverty rate is 12.7 percent.

OK, but... as usual, they grab a couple things out of context to lie, because here's the background:

Clinton came into office at the end of one of the only two times the poverty rate had increased since they started tracking it. It has, in that time, twice climbed, both times to over 15 percent - first under Reagan, then under Bush I.

Bush I left office with it having become a runaway train.

In 1996, the Clinton administration had it under control and it was steadily declining, which it did until... Bush II took over, and it's been growing ever since.

So, with Bush, we're seeing the numbers on their way up, after he'd inherited a huge surplus, low unemployment, and a declining poverty rate.

With Clinton at the same point we saw the numbers going down, having inherited massive debt, high unemployment and peak poverty rate.

Simple facts: Poverty went down every year Clinton was in office; poverty has gone up every year Bush II has been in office.

The only increases in the poverty rate since they started keeping track in 1959 have been under Reagan (starting in the tail end of Carter, but most of it was during Reagan, until he borrowed a trillion dollars from Japan), Bush I, and Bush II.

Brit Hume was also doing his usual nonsense, but I won't bother.

I guess I just never see this stuff because I never watch FOX, only watched a bit on the Net recently because there'd been that Geraldo/Smith freakout, when they both suddenly dropped the FOX everything-is-peachy, go-make-money nonsense and started (horror) actually reporting. (Very weird, were so unaccustomed to it.)