Sunday, January 30, 2005

Elections in Iraq.

I don't have a ton to say about the Iraqi elections because, frankly, I haven't had a ton to read. I'm just going to squeeze off a few bullets and go back to napping.
  • From what I can tell, people voted.
  • Also, some bombs went off.
  • It's inspiring to see the people over there voting.
  • I think those blue fingers are swank, and I hope we adopt a similar system in America.
  • The government they're electing will do nothing but make a constitution, which will then create the real government. In that sense, the soundness of this election is not as critical.
  • As with all things Iraq, it's nigh impossible to get any unbiased information. The election is either a sham or a triumph.
Much as I've been down about the whole Iraq situation, I really have my fingers crossed for it all to turn out well. A peaceful democracy in Iraq would be fabulous, no doubt about it.

Amazing recovery.

We've had serial flu in the house for the last week, starting with me and ending with our daughter.

Daughter: I very sick.
Mommy: Well, if you're sick, we can't go to the show.
Daughter: I feel better now.
Daddy: That's an amazing recovery.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Being there.

I was there when my mom died.

She seemed to be in some distress between 6:00 and 6:30. It seemed to me that she was crying, but I could not communicate well enough to understand what was happening to her. At some point, I realized that she hadn't blinked in all too long, and I pointed this out to others.

We thought of a couple of things that may have been wrong and contributed to her difficulty. I blamed myself for something I missed; my stepfather blamed himself for something also. We consoled each other.

Being alone with someone who's about to die is a burden. If you're ever in this position, get a partner. I knew Mom would not last the rest of the week regardless. I'd accepted her death. Even with that, I had to process a little guilt from being alone with her when the trouble started. I had to contend with the idea that I may have missed something.

We called other family, and we called the hospice nurse. I held Mom's hand until Grandma got there, and then I relinquished my seat to her. My sister and Mom's sister each held her other hand at different times. We waited.

Just before she died, I saw Mom's eyes move toward where Grandma and I were sitting. Then they moved back. I tried again to get a response from her, but nothing happened. Then she had a lot more trouble breathing, and she was gone shortly after.

Most of us cried, not all together, and not all at the same time, but all near the time of death, which the nurse put at 7:57. I fear that I will always remember looking at Mom's face after she died. It was yellow; she looked like a ghost.

We called many people that night. We probably had four cell phones going at once. The nurse made the official calls, and someone from the mortuary showed up shortly. We left the room while they took the body.

The nurse had to witness the disposal of the morphine, and we made an appointment for the next morning with the mortuary to discuss the funeral arrangements. After that, it was a very quiet night.

With Mom's machines turned off, and her empty wheelchair stored in the empty bedroom, the house seemed almost peaceful. Some people said they'd have a hard time sleeping. Our daughter, who'd missed the whole event, didn't go to bed until very late, but she slept, as they say, like a baby.

I rested fairly easily. I had feared the event far more than warranted. I'd built it up to be an awful event that I might never recover from. Once it was over, I was relieved to find I was more ready for it than I thought, and what I felt mostly that night was gratitude for the people who helped me, and sorrow for others who'd also lost.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A genocide by any other name would still stink up the street.

The Daou Report pointed me to "Defining Genocide" at The Fourth Rail.

The article's beef seems to be with Ted Turner's remarks comparing [the popularity of] FOX News to [the popularity of] Hitler, but all I have to say about that is:
  1. I guess Godwin's Law holds.
  2. FOX's official response ("Ted is understandably bitter having lost his ratings, his network, and now his mind") sounds a lot like "Oh yeah? Well, Ted's a loser! So there! Ha!"
The excerpt at the Daou Report was this:
It is precisely upon this point that we need agreement in the international community: at what point does mass execution rise to the level of genocide? How many bodies must be disposed of in mass graves to rise to the level of international intervention?
There is an international definition of "genocide" which does not require mass graves at all to be satisfied. As with torture, I'm dumbfounded that this question comes up. To me it sounds as if these people intend to say that there is no definition for these atrocities, so there's no grounds for describing anything that way (least of all, America's actions). It's ludicrous.

The article goes on to minimize what happened at Abu Ghraib:
Abu Ghraib has some public humiliation and Gitmo has some possible stress interogations. But let's see... No showers. No open pits and close range executions.
Actually, according to this, at least one prisoner was taken to the showers and beaten to death. According to this, one of the tortures was, "sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick." This is not merely "some public humiliation." We're not talking about a fraternity hazing ritual here.

The article talks a lot about France and Germany also, in the context of World War II. It reminds me of "The Red and Blue Book narratives" which discusses the different "narratives" that shape Americans' views of events. It's highly worth reading the whole post, but this is the summary:
The Blue Book worries about America becoming Germany. The Red Book worries about America becoming France.
The question on my mind is whether there's yet another answer. I think the Bush administration framed the Iraq situation as "bomb or be bombed," and that frame persists to this day in both narratives. I can't imagine why anyone would want to defend torture or genocide, but I think it's meaningful that the arguments I hear from them most often are, "what we did wasn't really torture" and "our torture wasn't nearly as bad as..."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Weapons of mouse destruction.

During our long week in Peoria, two things happened, mouse-wise. First, a mouse died in one of the six death traps we left them. Second, there really wasn't much food laying around for them the entire time. We haven't seen any sign of the mice since then, but I can't tell which event had the effect. Did they abandon the house that no longer feeds them? Did the trap kill the last one? Were they frightened off by the switch from humane trap-and-release methods to merciless maim-and-kill methods? Perhaps they decided to move on from local pestilence to a nation-wide attack on our health. I don't know; perhaps I can ask when they return next winter.

Since they seem to have taken their leave of us, I thought it might be a good time to collect links to all the mouse postings. My only fear is that I might declare victory right before mouse incursions resume.
  1. Mouse warfare.
  2. Mouse arrest.
  3. Sighted: two mice.
  4. Captured: two mice.
  5. Pestilence, war, death...
  6. Mice: seven down, more to go.
  7. Eight captured, two killed.
I can hope that next year we won't have this problem, but I think that's like hoping next year we won't have snow in winter.

My lack of opinion on the Oscars.

I looked at the list of Oscar nominated films this year (which appears to be a link to something that will change next year, so if you're reading this from my archives long after it's posted, the link I've given will be bogus), and I notice that I saw only one of them in the theaters, and two others I pirated to watch.

I don't put much time in my schedule for movies anymore, especially not the full-on $82 popcorn, $37 candy, $99.99 tickets Theater Experience. I don't regret that, especially considering what they do with the money. Still, this is the first year I've looked at the nominations and felt so completely out of it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Big media: lazy and corporate.

Let's talk media bias for a moment, just because it's all the rage these days, to accuse the metaphorical "media" of some kind of bias.

Media Matters notes that there's "No room for progressives on cable news inauguration coverage" and also "No room for progressives on primetime in inauguration coverage either." My first inclination here is to say that it's a Republican inauguration, so there are mostly Republicans watching, so the coverage is geared toward them. It'd be interesting to make this comparison again when a Democrat is inaugurated; then we'd know whence the bias comes.

Chrenkoff says all the coverage of Iraq is bad news. It's hard to argue that's not true, but I'm not convinced that it's the result of a liberal bias. I commented that I think it's more a result of a corporate bias. Since these all the organizations reporting news rely on advertiser dollars, they want to get the largest audience possible. Bad news sells; it's more entertaining than good news.

You can see this also in how West Nile is talked about in the news far more than automobile deaths, in spite of being much less prevalent. (At this point, my gentle reader might find it entertaining to try to say "virus bias" five times fast.)

Rebecca MacKinnon worked for CNN and now has something to say about how they've gone downhill in a quest for ratings and revenues. My favorite quote:
Any person who thinks that he or she can sit on the living room couch every night and be spoon-fed the truth is highly delusional.
(I heard about it from a post on Joho the Blog.)

What she's saying connects neatly with what Jon Stewart has been saying about the media lately too. "It's lazy, and it's corporate."

Stem cells contaminated with mouse DNA.

Here's the story at The Washington Monthly.
a study released yesterday by researchers at the University of California San Diego and the Salk Institute shows that all the stem cell lines approved by the president are contaminated with mouse DNA
As a result, they're no good for the therapies they're intended to support.

I thought the president's compromise was a pretty good one. I would have preferred fewer limits on this kind of research, but I understood what the guy was trying to do. Now it appears the United States government has taken itself out of the stem cell business entirely.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Gay rights and fertility.

I believe we'd be a better society if gay marriage were allowed because I believe in equal rights for gays. I consider all other arguments about the issue subordinate to that simple principle. No matter how you slice it, without gay marriage, we deny rights to some citizens based on sexual orientation. It's wrong.

With that in mind, I don't feel it's necessary to address the argument given in "Law, Philosophy, and Homosexual 'Marriage'" (because it's irrelevant), but I will anyway.
I keep hearing it said that the rationale for limiting marriage to heterosexuals can't be childrearing, since infertile heterosexual couples are allowed to marry and homosexual couples with children are not.
He goes on to argue that "no gay marriages", as a law, is a sort of heuristic for "only marriages that make children." The reasoning is, legislating what we mean ("only fertile marriages") is too difficult, so the legislature took this short cut. He uses drinking age as another example of a law like this.
Why doesn't the law say, "All and only the mature may drink"? The answer, which should be obvious, is that it would be unworkable. Maturity is difficult (expensive) to ascertain. But we know that maturity is linked to age, even if imperfectly, so we use age as a surrogate for it.
That's an interesting argument, but I consider it bunk for three reasons.

First, age is a good surrogate for fertility too, but we don't restrict the elderly from marrying.

Second, the surrogate law, in the case of drinking age, follows a social custom. People frown upon someone who drinks without being mature enough to handle it. There's nothing similar for infertile marriages. When septuagenarians get married, society does not raise an eyebrow.

Third, this idea directly contradicts existing state law. Illinois state law says:
a marriage between first cousins is not prohibited if: (i) both parties are 50 years of age or older; or (ii) either party, at the time of application for a marriage license, presents for filing with the county clerk of the county in which the marriage is to be solemnized, a certificate signed by a licensed physician stating that the party to the proposed marriage is permanently and irreversibly sterile;
(Emphasis mine.) Right after that it says "a marriage between 2 individuals of the same sex" is prohibited. So, reconcile these statements:
  1. Marriage between individuals of the same sex is prohibited because it cannot produce children.
  2. Marriage between first cousins is allowed only if it cannot produce children.
I anxiously await a reply.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Advice on death.

In the line at the visitation, I shook hands with a man who will also lose a parent to ALS. I told him, "make sure to visit." Early in Mom's illness, I committed to visit two weekends per month (it's about a three hour drive). I didn't always make it, but it gave me something to shoot for, and it got me out the door.

I sometimes felt my trips were wasted, that I didn't talk to Mom enough, but I'm now very glad I went. When my grandmother died, I realized I hadn't visited enough. I felt like a heel. Every time I went to see her, she was obviously very excited to see me, and Grandpa told me that she'd always talk about it a lot after I was gone. Still, I didn't visit much, and after she was gone, I regretted it. When I learned that Mom was sick, I was determined not to let that happen again. I'm glad that I learned that one last lesson from my grandma.

Mom died at home, surrounded by family, and this was exactly right. When she had trouble early in the week, we could have called 911 and taken her to the hospital. They'd have done about the same things for her, but it would cost a lot more and be less comfortable for all involved. We had daily (or more) visits from the hospice nurse, and that was good too.

Before Mom died, my wife told me to say goodbye, to give Mom permission to go. I can't know how hard it is to face death, but Mom was, and she needed to accept it. I told Mom that I hadn't wanted to say goodbye, that it sounded as if I was leaving, abandoning her, but I realized that's not true. Mom was leaving us. I said goodbye to her, and I said that I was sorry to see her go, that she was important to me, but that I understood it was time for her to move on. We cried.

Saying goodbye lifted a lot of tension off of me. Relinquishing hope is hard to do, but I recommend it highly.

I've been told recently that it will take a year to grieve. I have to go through all the holidays, birthdays, and other special times. I have to experience them without Mom, and miss her then. Having done that, I can really get a handle on what I've lost. I suspect I have a head start on this because Mom was sick for over a year, and I've had that time to consider the loss, if not experience it fully.

Eventually, that's what I have to do, experience the loss fully. I've heard that I need to know what I'm losing, and I believe that's true. It's easy to say, "I've lost my mom," but there's a lot more to it than that.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

It's been a long night.

At five, I left work. Due to the snow, my commute was a little over two hours, so I met my wife and daughter at our appointment a little late. After that, a little after eight, I had some cold pizza they'd brought, and we went to the grocery store. I must have flat feet; after standing at the store for an hour, they hurt. We were home around 9:45, and I carried the groceries in. After our overtired daughter went to bed, we finished putting the groceries away, and a little after 10:00, we're sitting down in the living room with laptops, taking care of a little business before we fire up the TiVo.

At 10:25, I sneeze.

Down the hall, I faintly hear a sweet little voice say, "bless you!"

My wife laughs. I call back, "thank you, Dear."

Then I spend ten minutes writing the above, and the evening goes on...

Talk about porn, get more readers.

On Boing Boing, "Free porn magic for you!" says that if you have a pornographic keyword (such as "free porn") in your text or in your titles, you'll get more visitors because of people looking for porn, even if what you've written is not pornographic.

I've experienced this myself. People searching for the word "fornicating" find my post, "Fornicating for Chastity," which is about politics (and the discussion of it). Someone interested in Bridget Moynahan's ticklish feet (for dry academic research purposes, surely) landed on my July archive because those terms appear in completely separate articles.

Beyond people searching for "toehold", those have been the most popular keywords that brought anyone here. The most popular relevant search seems to be to stuff about hamsters. I'd be interested to hear why anyone searches for "toehold" and what exactly they're looking for.

Meanwhile, it's good to know you can attract some pornographic attention innocently.

Saddam was a bad bad man.

I was against going to Iraq, even before we went to Iraq. I recall going to a church and sitting with a group of people who prayed for a quick and safe return of the troops and things of that nature. All I could think to ask of God was forgiveness. Forgive the leaders for making war. Forgive the soldiers for the innocents they'll maim and kill in the execution of their duties. Forgive us for letting it happen.

Jeanette Rankin said, "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." War is a catastrophe. Starting one is like starting an earthquake because you think your house will survive better than your enemy's. Those cheap plates you're willing to have shaken off the shelves and smashed on the floor? Those are your soldiers. Nevermind the other folks in the neighborhood.

Leading up to the war, we heard (among other things) that Saddam had the dreaded WMDs, weapons of mass destruction. His nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons would destroy masses.

Today it's a different story. No WMDs! We're not even looking anymore! But, in our defense, he really wanted them. Here was an evil wretched man who couldn't do anything to us but thought about it a lot. So we bombed him, and his family, and his friends, and some people who were standing in the same country. They were shocked and awed.

One thing, though. The key findings of the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD (aka "the Duelfer report") says said that Saddam wanted that junk for Iran. Are we there to protect Iran? Frankly, I think if we had the troops, we'd attack Iran next.

Anyway, the bad bad man really really wanted some bad bad stuff. People in Hell want ice water.

I've seen it said that, "every intelligence agency in the world believed that Iraq had WMDs". I don't think that means it wasn't a mistake. What it says to me is that "every intelligence agency in the world" needs to wipe the egg off their faces, give a sincere "my bad", and do a better job next time.

In October 2002, the CIA said that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, but no nuclear weapons. They had recordings of Saddam making late night phone calls to 1-900-HOT-NUKE and breathing heavily into the phone, "oh yeah, baby, I want you so bad." Pretty much everyone agreed with them, although some wise-ass at the CIA noted that only one intelligence agency disagreed: Iraq's. You'd think they'd know best, but I guess you just can't trust some people.

Come to think of it, I don't trust President Bush much. I think this is a basic difference between people who support him and people who don't. Bush's supporters trust him. He says, "Iraq is a threat, and their streets are paved with Uranium," and some people believe it. He says, "the sky is blue, and you can't defeat a concept," and some people think it's a lie. I think you can't trust the guy, but that's just me.


I wrote this at Mom's bedside Saturday night. Writing it helped me face the reality of the situation, helped prepare me to say goodbye two nights later.
We're giving her morphine, a drug that has a sort of legendary status in my mind, a drug that got many good men addicted to it before we knew that it did that. Morphine is a drug of last resort. It's bad for the patient in the long term, so it's only used for patients that don't have a long term. It's so potent that it's dangerous, but once a patient is about to die anyway, that danger is irrelevant. Morphine doesn't kill you; it just tells you you're about to die. This drug of legend is what's keeping my mom asleep as I type. It keeps her comfortable. It keeps reminding me that she's about to go, that hope is gone, and all that's left is morphine.

When we got here, they'd already taken her off her feeding tube. This is another clear message. Through the tube she got water and food and water and medicine and water. Part of what makes it hard for her to breath is fluid in her lungs that she can't get rid of. By taking away her water, she may be able to breath longer. Of course, this means she will dehydrate and starve. She's a patient with nothing left, where the choice is food or air. We've chosen air. Air and morphine.
I'm not sure why saying goodbye helped as much as it did, but I think it had to do with letting go of hope. Perhaps it's better to let it go than to have it yanked away.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Random brain dribbles

My good friend (who has chosen not to reveal its identity and therefore obligates me not to do so also) has started a blog: Random brain dribbles. Allow me a few notes before my audience goes stampeding off.
  1. I think this friend is my only regular reader right now.
  2. As such, I can surmise that the sum total of my regular readership has already heard about this new blog.
  3. Nevertheless, I'd like my first time visitors, who don't know me from Adam, to know that I wholeheartedly endorse this other blog which will no doubt soon be filled with things you'd like to have in your head (or, at least, things you will be unable to remove from your head).
  4. This brings to two the number of my friends who've described their writings as "random" while I have described my writings randomly.
Thank you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Ten ways to pay back the open source community

I'm pleased to discover I've done most of the things listed in "10 ways to pay back the open source community." This Christmas I handed out copies of The Open CD to family members. After the new year, I got a request for another one. I consider that some success.

Eight captured, two killed.

After catching mouse number eight in the live traps, the mice learned a new trick: how to steal from the traps. In all our use this year and last, no mouse had ever stolen the bait from a live trap! I'd bait them, and sometimes they were tripped accidentally, but they always had either bait or a mouse in them. I thought it was a fluke at first, but I kept finding unbaited traps.

Last night I saw two mice hiding in the stove, and I'd had enough pussyfooting around with the live traps. I went to the hardware store for some old fashioned neck breakers. The death traps we used last year were left outside and rusted. Now they're lost under the snow.

Standing in the aisle at the hardware store, I marveled at the dazzling array of mouse control devices. The more you paid, the more humanity you got. You could buy a trap that electrocutes the mice. You could buy something that makes a high pitched sound to drive the mice away. These were the most expensive. The cheapest traps were the ones I came for: blunt force trauma, intended to kill without being guaranteed. A step up from those were killer traps that were covered so you didn't have to see or deal with the maimed mouse directly.

As I gawked at the assembled counter-mouse techniques, a cat walked past. The hardware store had a cat, and it was on patrol near the weapons of mouse destruction. It was surreal.

I set the death traps in a couple of strategic places in the kitchen. In a couple of days we had two dead mice. I can't tell if they were the same two mice I'd seen marauding about. I wondered whether they worked together to steal from the humane live traps, and I considered the neck breakers a lesson: smart mice will be dealt with harshly. Think of it as evolution in action; in this house, we select against the mice who can figure out how to avoid being safely relocated.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The white board has you.

Continuing my trend, my white board now reads:


Hacking Coke Machines

Hacking Coke Machines gives instructions for how to access a menu in most modern Coke machines. I tried it on three machines in the building, and it worked on all three, but all I could do then was interrogate them about their sales figures. Apparently some Coke machines could be configured to do more than that (such as drop coins on request), but I'm guessing that's very rare. Still, it's a nice curiosity to pass around the water cooler.

Thanks to Does This Look Infected? for the link.

Friday, January 14, 2005

My mom died.

UPDATE: Folks seem to find this post by searching for "my mom died" and variants. I wrote more about my mom's death than this, and you can find links to those posts in "Mom retrospective," if you're interested.

Saturday, January 8, we got a call telling us that Mom had a bad night, was having trouble breathing, and had begun taking morphine. The nurse guessed that she would die that day. My family and I rushed down to be with her.

Sunday, we spent the day with her. That night, I said a goodbye.

Monday, Mom asked for a Coke. She'd been on a feeding tube for months and hadn't had anything in her mouth in that time. Since the feeding tube had been removed Saturday (to help with breathing), we'd been swabbing her mouth when it got dry. Monday I dipped the swab in Coke instead of water, so she could taste it.

Tuesday, Mom died. We knew she was having trouble around 6:30, and we called family. Before this, her only response to us was blinking and eye movement. We knew something was wrong because she no longer responded even that way. She died at home, surrounded by family. I sat next to her mother, who held her hand.

Wednesday, we made the funeral arrangements and otherwise had a free day in which to contact those we hadn't contacted the night before. We gathered pictures for the memorial.

Thursday, the obituary appeared in the Peoria Journal Star. I've reprinted it below (complete with errors). That morning we talked to the minister about the funeral service, and that night was the visitation.
PEORIA -- Carolyn Lee Beaumont, 53, of Peoria died at 7:67 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2005, at her home after her battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Born May 15, 1951, in Turlock, Calif., to Carol O. and Joyce E. McLaughlin Johnson, she married Kevin Hasselbacher. She later married Robert J. "Beaver" Beaumont on June 11, 2000, in Peoria. He survives.

Also surviving are one son, Kyle (and Dana) Hasselbacher of Lombard; one daughter, Lee (and Jim) Trifone of Peoria; three stepdaughters, Melissa (and Steve) Deller of Madison, Wis., Susan (and Frank) Korfias of Kingston, Wash., and Alyce (and Jason) Welch of Chillicothe; one sister, Kathy (and John) Maher of Brimfield; her mother of Elmwood; one granddaughter; and four stepgrandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her father.

She was a window clerk for the U. S. Post Office in Chillicothe for 12 years. She also had owned and operated the Candy Corner at the Pekin Mall for two years.

She received a bachelor's degree in economics from Illinois State University in Normal.

She was a 15-gallon blood donor for the American Red Cross.

Services will be at 1 p.m. Friday at Wilton Mortuary, where visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. today. The Rev. Michael Brown will officiate. Cremation will be accorded after the service.

Memorials may be made to the Muscular Dystrophy Association Clinic of Peoria.
Friday, we went to the funeral. Afterward was a lunch at a buffet. My sister put up a sign that said, "Carolyn's Party. Putting the FUN back in funeral!" We drove home afterward, and I'm posting this now with the first network access I've had since Saturday morning.

Friday, January 07, 2005

What is and is not torture?

I see this over at Instapundit which discusses political implications of a torture debate. It contains this quote from an email: "Sleep deprivation, loud music, kneeling, withholding blankets. THIS is torture?" It links to an article that says, among other things, "I'm against torture. But I'm not against harsh interrogation techniques, intimidation and the like."

I'm a little sick of this, "is it really torture" attitude. Boing Boing posted What is torture? eight months ago.
BoingBoing reader Tony sends in this timely reminder that real definitions of torture do exist. Here is one of them -- the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US government ratified along with 70 other countries.
Follow the link to "A/RES/39/46. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," and you will find this passage:
For the purposes of this Convention, the term "torture" means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Get all that? Let me pull it apart a little.
  • It's "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental"
  • It's done to get a confession, to get information, to punish, to intimidate or coerce, or to do any of those to a third person.
  • It's done by public officials or people acting in an official capacity (that is, citizens beating each other is abuse, but soldiers beating people is torture).
This is the definition of torture that the United States government has agreed to.

I have another quote for you, this one much older.
Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster...and if you gaze into the Abyss, the Abyss gazes also into you.—Nietzche
I don't believe for a minute that the choice is "torture or die" but if it were, there's a simple choice that people are making different ways here. Is it more important to survive the attack of the uncivilized or to remain civilized even during conflict? I think the proponents of the former are saying, "I'll be anyone I need to be to stay alive." Proponents of the latter are saying, "I'd rather be dead than a monster."

The Poor Man: I'm Not Sure How Many More Corners We Can Stand To Turn

This is "ha ha, only serious":

The Poor Man: I'm Not Sure How Many More Corners We Can Stand To Turn

It starts out talking about how estimates of the size of the insurgency keep going up over time and goes on to discuss the idea that "the left" is somehow conspiring with the insurgency. It's a fun read. My favorite part:
...And, before you ask: no, I have no clue about how we can improve things in Iraq. I don't have a single idea for how we can un-shit the bed, and I don't hold out much hope that this whole bed-shitting episode is ever going to be brought to a lemony-fresh conclusion. I do, however, know who shit the bed, and have some sense of how frequently he shits there. Let's stop shitting for a start.
Yeah, what he said.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

More kid talk: restaurants.

I posted before about special names our daughter has taught us for the things in our lives. She names things simply, as she sees them, and the names stick.

When asked recently what she'd like to eat, my hungry daughter said she wanted dark soup. Confused, we asked where she's had dark soup, and she said, "the pillow restaurant." She calls it that because we usually get to sit in the private booth, on pillows.

In our house, Denny's is not the chain. It's a restaurant called Maxfield's where a man named Denny always gives my daughter candy before she leaves.

She calls the buffet "the bee restaurant" because they have a bee as a mascot, and she's seen the bee walking around while we've eaten.

She can ask for McDonald's by name, but she generally just asks for a cheeseburger and cares not whence it comes.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Social Security is not in crisis.

An article in The Washington Monthly talks about Social Security.
In other words, after actually studying the issue, I changed my opinion almost 180 degrees. Nothing is going bankrupt, benefits will continue to be paid forever, and future funding problems are both modest in size and not that hard to deal with.

Unfortunately, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and now George Bush, each for their own reasons, have found it politically convenient to use Social Security as a useful bogeyman for scaring the public. The difference is that, unlike me back in 1995, they all know better. It's too bad they couldn't have figured out some real problems to focus on instead.
A few things come up in the comments.
  • SS has been running surpluses for years (that is, it got more money than it paid out).
  • It's about to run deficits instead (gets less than it pays).
  • The surpluses were deliberate because the deficits were forecast, and the result was supposed to be a trust fund to carry SS through the deficit years.
  • That trust fund has been ransacked (er, borrowed from) again and again to fund other things (this is why Al Gore kept talking about a "lockbox" for it).
  • Now we're supposed to believe there's a SS crisis because SS has been mismanaged, but the truth is other things have been mismanaged, and SS was sacrificed.
Now it's true that Social Security is lacking money it needs, but that's not because of anything wrong with SS. I regret that I have but a few minutes to give for this topic, else this post would be linked-to-the-gills with supporting material. Suffice it to say that I think that Social Security abolition/privatization is a Bad Idea.

Ugly car award: Honda Element

Let it be known that the Honda Element is the ugliest car I have ever seen. When I first saw one, I thought it was a joke—that someone had custom made this ugly car as a way to amuse onlookers in some way. I've seen a minivan decorated like a Federation starship. I've seen a SUV with mock bullet holes in it. I've seen the Wienermobile. I figured, when I saw the Honda Element, that I just didn't quite get the joke.

Then I saw another one. And another. A dull horror crept over me. Since then, I've said with confidence that the Honda Element is the most godawful ugly vehicle I have ever seen. I'm not exaggerating! There is none uglier, in my humble opinion, than the Honda Element.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Planned Parenthood's "Pledge-a-Picket" program

This is brilliant.
  1. Planned Parenthood supporters pledge donations based on picketers ($0.25 to $1 per picketer).
  2. Picketers are then counted by Planned Parenthood.
  3. Donations roll in.
  4. Planned Parenthood puts a sign out front notifying the picketers of how much money they've raised for the organization they oppose.
This makes me want to go picket with absurd anti-abortion signs that make the picketers look bad. Imagine a picketer carrying a sign that says, "coat hangers don't kill babies, people kill babies" or "I is aginst planing parinthud."

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Cyclosporin to Treat ALS

FDA Grants Orphan Drug Designation for Cyclosporin to Treat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis to Maas BiolAB

When the story is, "look what the FDA decided," you know it's a "please invest in our company" story. Of course, that's what I've come to expect from Business Wire, but there's a little info about the drug too.
Cyclosporin is a unique neuron-protecting drug, with the advantage that it is the only one in development that is a direct mitochondrial neuroprotectant. Cyclosporin targets the mitochondria for stabilization and preservation, blocking both the apoptotic and necrotic pathways that cause neuronal death. The mitochondria are "waterproofed" by cyclosporin and neurons are able to continue functioning under the conditions of attack seen in ALS.
This is another "slowing onset and extending lifespan" drug.