November 30, 2005

The only important election next year (!)

Here's the 2006 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot:

Rick Aguilera, Albert Belle, Bert Blyleven, Will Clark, Dave Concepcion, Andre Dawson, Gary DiSarcina, Alex Fernandez, Gary Gaetti, Steve Garvey, Dwight Gooden, Rich Gossage, Ozzie Guillen, Orel Hershiser, Gregg Jefferies, Tommy John, Doug Jones, Don Mattingly, Willie McGee, Hal Morris, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Jim Rice, Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, Alan Trammell, Walt Weiss, John Wetteland.

Who deserves to get in? I strike Aguilera, Clark, DiSarcina, Fernandez, Gaetti, Garvey, Guillen, Jefferies, Jones, Mattingly, McGee, Hal Morris, Jack Morris, Weiss and Wetteland off immediately.

That leaves Belle, Blyleven, Gooden, Gossage, Hershiser, John, Murphy, Parker, Rice, Smith and Sutter.

Ok, Belle: 12-year career, lifetime BA .295, 381 HR, 1239 RBI. Pretty good, but not spectacular. Nope.

Blyleven: 22-year career, 287-250 W-L, 3.31 ERA, 3701 K. He played mostly on bad teams, which is why his losses are so high. Plus, 60 shutouts, 9th all time. Yup.

Gooden: 16-year career, 194-112 W-L, 3.51 ERA, 2293 K. Six excellent years to start his career, average after that. Nope.

Gossage: 22-year career, 124-107 W-L, 3.01 ERA, 1502 K, 310 SV. One of the first of the closers, in a time when the relief pitcher was routinely used for 2 and even 3 innings. Yup.

Hershiser: 18-year career, 204-150 W-L, 3.48 ERA, 2014 K. A very good career, but he's riding the one incredible year (1988) when he set the record for consecutive scoreless innings. Nope, not this year.

John: 26-year career, 288-231 W-L, 3.34 ERA, 2245 K. In a way it's too bad he was the first baseball player to have the arm-changing surgery which bears his name; it takes away from his baseball achievements. He had 46 shutouts, too. Yup.

Murphy: 18-year career, lifetime BA .265, 398 HR, 1266 RBI. A good career, but he only hit .300 twice in all that time. Nope.

Parker: 19-year career, lifetime BA .290, 339 HR, 1493 RBI. One of the most feared hitters of his day, he hit over .300 six times. Yup.

Rice: 16-year career, lifetime BA .298, 382 HR, 1451 RBI. A scary hitter, he hit over .300 seven times. Yup.

Smith: 18-year career, 71-92 W-L, 3.03 ERA, 1251 K, 478 SV. He led his league in saves 4 times and was in the top five 12 times. He's the career leader in that category. Absolutely yes.

Sutter: 12-year career, 68-71 W-L, 2.83 ERA, 861 K, 300 SV. Like Gossage, one of the first closers. He introduced the split-finger pitch. Top five in saves 8 times, first 5. Yes.

Charles Kuffner votes here.

Update: Somehow I neglected André Dawson: 21-year career, lifetime BA .279, 438 HR, 1591 RBI. He hit over .300 five times. If I'm gonna vote for Dave Parker, I gotta vote for the Hawk too. Yup.

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November 29, 2005


One of the most disingenuous phrases that keeps cropping up in the immigration debate (this is the new toy, since the Social Security debate flopped so badly) is "jobs Americans won't do." Well, lemme tellya, if the jobs paid a decent wage and had decent benefits, not to mention adequate inexpensive housing near the job site/farm, I suspect a whole lot of Americans would be quite ready to take at least some of those jobs. I'm not saying that stoop labor picking strawberries or artichokes is an ideal occupation, but it isn't so hateful that American workers would refuse to do it if the above conditions were met. Hell, Hawai'i used to farm thousands of acres of sugar and pineapple, and its history shows that if there are somewhat decent working conditions, people will take the jobs.

"Jobs Americans won't do" is code for "minimum-wage-at-best jobs with no benefits and one Porta-pottie per acre, if you're lucky."

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Ancient art

If you want to see some beautiful illustrations, go here right now. The self-portrait with Australopithecus is wonderful, although I wouldn't have picked that brand of beer.

Wish the artist a happy birthday, too.

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November 28, 2005

Dr Strangelove reincarnated?

Sy Hersh has a new article in the New Yorker, and if even half of it is true, we (citizens of the United States) are in a world of trouble.

Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the President remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding.

Bush’s closest advisers have long been aware of the religious nature of his policy commitments. In recent interviews, one former senior official, who served in Bush’s first term, spoke extensively about the connection between the President’s religious faith and his view of the war in Iraq. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the former official said, he was told that Bush felt that "God put me here" to deal with the war on terror. The President’s belief was fortified by the Republican sweep in the 2002 congressional elections; Bush saw the victory as a purposeful message from God that "he’s the man," the former official said. Publicly, Bush depicted his reëlection as a referendum on the war; privately, he spoke of it as another manifestation of divine purpose.

Now, I don't know about you, but that terrifies me. If Bush really feels that way, how is he any different from the Crusaders, or even the bad guys? We know that zealotry of that nature allows one to fall into the "end justifies the means" trap without even a single second thought.

And it looks like we're headed there.

"The President is more determined than ever to stay the course," the former defense official said. "He doesn’t feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage 'People may suffer and die, but the Church advances.' " He said that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. "They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway," the former defense official said. Bush’s public appearances, for example, are generally scheduled in front of friendly audiences, most often at military bases. Four decades ago, President Lyndon Johnson, who was also confronted with an increasingly unpopular war, was limited to similar public forums. "Johnson knew he was a prisoner in the White House," the former official said, "but Bush has no idea."

And he's got three more years to carry on with this?

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November 27, 2005

Spare time, mister?

Those of you who are SETI contributors probably know this, but it's been consolidated with seven other distributed computing projects at the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. That's one of those names that I suspect was chosen for its acronym, especially when you see its screensaver moving across your screen at all angles.

Anyway, if you've got spare computer time, go there and sign up for one or more of the jobs. Here are your choices:

  • study climate change
  • Einstein@home: search for gravitational signals emitted by pulsars
  • LHC@home: improve the design of the CERN LHC particle accelerator
  • Predictor@home: investigate protein-related diseases
  • Rosetta@home: help researchers develop cures for human diseases
  • SETI@home: Look for radio evidence of extraterrestrial life
  • Cell Computing biomedical research (Japanese; requires nonstandard client software)
  • World Community Grid: advance our knowledge of human disease. (Requires 5.2.1 or greater)

I'm continuing with SETI in hopes that ET will be found during one of my work units, and I signed up for Rosetta as well.

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November 26, 2005


I went down to Safeway and then to the Dollar Store (cheaper cigarettes) today, and I found a) a half-price sale on the special edition DVD of The Princess Bride, a movie I've never seen, and b) on the radio, the most unbelievable musical segue I've ever heard in my life: from a choral version of Sleigh Ride to Touch Me by the Doors.

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November 25, 2005


You've heard of National Novel Writing Month, right? Now comes National Solo Album Month, NaSoAlMo for short. Yup, compose and record a solo album within a thirty-day period. The guy who thought it up insists it's not a competition, but a challenge. There's no need to release your album to a larger audience if you don't want to. You've got till November 30 to do this, although it's too late to sign up for this year's event. I can think of at least one of you (Hey, Commish!) who shouldn't have any trouble doing it at all.

The rules are simple: record with what you've got around the house/apartment. Ambient noise, washboards, spoons, actual musical instruments, whatever. It must be

An album of music you have written, played and recorded entirely by yourself*. The shortest inarguably awesome album that a lot of people have heard** is the first Ramones album, which is 29:09 long, so your solo album must be at least that long. Beyond that, its form and content are up to you.

*Since Ramones includes a cover of "Let's Dance," your NaSoAlMo album may, if you wish, include one cover of somebody else's song.

**It has been pointed out to the administrators that Slayer's Reign In Blood is 29:03 and that Nick Drake's Pink Moon--which actually is a solo album--is a mere 28:22. You may set your personal goals accordingly, if you wish. You're welcome.

Sounds like an amusing project, no?

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In keeping with longstanding Thanksgiving tradition:

Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago, was on - two years ago onThanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
restaurant, but Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the
church nearby the restaurant, in the bell-tower, with her husband Ray and Fasha the dog. And livin' in the bell tower like that, they got a lot of
room downstairs where the pews used to be in. Havin' all that room,
seein' as how they took out all the pews, they decided that they didn't
have to take out their garbage for a long time.

We got up there, we found all the garbage in there, and we decided it'd be a friendly gesture for us to take the garbage down to the city dump. So
we took the half a ton of garbage, put it in the back of a red VW
microbus, took shovels and rakes and implements of destruction and headed on toward the city dump.

Well we got there and there was a big sign and a chain across across the
dump saying, "Closed on Thanksgiving." And we had never heard of a dump
closed on Thanksgiving before, and with tears in our eyes we drove off
into the sunset looking for another place to put the garbage.

MP3 available here.

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November 23, 2005

The (soon-to-be) groaning board

I'm hungry already.
(click to enlarge)

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"The Plot Against America"

I finished reading The Plot Against America, Roth's fictional history of America if Lindbergh had run against FDR on an isolationist platform in 1940. Lindbergh's campaign is pure Rovian: he barnstorms all 48 states via his famous airplane, makes 50-word speeches ("My opponent will take you into war; I won't"), and carries all but two states. I don't find that an entirely unlikely scenario.

Roth tells this tale autobiographically; his 10-year-old self is the narrator. He conjures up precursors to relocation camps in the Midwest, Walter Winchell as a Presidential candidate whose assassination sets off pogroms against Jews in major cities, Jewish collaborators, and families torn apart by differing viewpoints about the direction Lindbergh takes America.

It's a scary scary book, and I suspect Roth (who might or might not deny it) was consciously trying to create an allegory for the current Administration, particularly the intolerance of dissent.

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November 22, 2005

Nov. 22, 1963

(Reposted from 11/22/03)

On November 22, 1963 I was a 13-year old 8th grader at Edgar Allen Poe Intermediate in Alexandria, Va. It was an ordinary school day until about 2:20 in the afternoon, when we were changing classrooms, and suddenly a rumor was flying that the President had been shot. That was confirmed about 10 minutes later, and we were sent home early. I got home to find my mother in shock (Dad was in Antarctica), and we spent the remainder of the weekend, as did so many other Americans, glued to the TV screen. We were in disbelief, of course; "this doesn't happen in America," we thought. Of course, it had happened before, as we all quickly learned. That weekend I learned more about McKinley, Garfield, Harrison and other Presidential deaths in office than I'd ever learned before. I was fortunate enough to wangle a ride to Arlington Cemetery on that Monday, the 25th, where I stood about 500-1000 yards from the gravesite, along with many many other people. Neither Mom nor I have any memory of who I got a ride with, why she felt it was OK for me to go, or any other details. I just remember standing there among all those people, trying to make sense of it.

Who else has memories of that weekend?

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November 21, 2005

The unhappy traveler

You know, if I were flying to Asia on somebody else's dime I might be inclined to go see some of the sights, eat some of the local food (I do draw the line at kim chee), and generally take an interest in things/places that were new to me.

Not our President.

As he barnstormed through Japan, South Korea and China, with a final stop in Mongolia still to come, Bush visited no museums, tried no restaurants, bought no souvenirs and made no effort to meet ordinary local people.

Outback Steakhouse? You're visiting countries with millenia of culture and tradition behind them, and you choose to eat (twice!) at an Australian-themed chain restaurant?

What's that line from Simon and Garfunkel? Ah, yes: "The man ain't got no culture." *

*"A Simple Desultory Philippic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)" Paul Simon, 1965. "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme."

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November 20, 2005

Chicago 1903

I finished Erik Larson's The Devil and the White City last night. It's a good book, but I have to admit that I was much more interested in the struggle to get the 1903 Chicago Fair up and running than I was in the parallel story of the serial killer. There wasn't quite the sense of horror that I've gotten in reading about other mass murderers. Jack the Ripper, in Patricia Cornwell's Portrait of a Killer, comes off as a truly malevolent creature. The murderer in "Devil" is equally malevolent, I suppose, but somehow Larson just doesn't pull it off, perhaps because the method of killing is much less bloody. He does tell the Fair story very well indeed. Weather, strikes, bungling management committees, auditors...nothing stopped the architect/planner from getting the thing done.

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November 19, 2005

Did the flu bring on World War 2?

Also in The Great Influenza, Barry postulates that Wilson suddenly dropped many of his requirements during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 partially as a result of a bout of flu he suffered during the Conference. He cites some evidence that the flu physically affected its victims' brains, with a loss of cognition as a result. I don't know enough about what Wilson did there to count this as an "Aha!" moment, but it's certainly food for thought. Wilson did have a stroke several months later; Barry suggests that the stroke may have been partially due to the flu. It's an interesting idea; any World War I scholars want to take this on?

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November 18, 2005

Flu, v. 1918

I finished The Great Influenza, and it's a great read. It's also terrifying and instructive. Some of us are outraged at the current media's shortcomings in reporting the Administration's failings and prevarications, but today's omissions look mild compared to what happened in 1918. My opinion of Woodrow Wilson has changed drastically after reading this book. Here's a quote from a speech he made even before the U.S. entered the war:

There are citizens of the United States, I blush to admit, . . .who have poured the poison of disloyalty into the very arteries of our national life. . . .Such creatures of passion, disloyalty, and anarchy must be crushed out.

To do that, he pushed the Espionage Act through Congress. It gave the Postmaster General the right to refuse to deliver any periodical he deemed unpatriotic or disloyal to the Administration. (Remember, this was before TV and radio, so virtually all political discourse went through the mail.) The Attorney General asked for and got a law which allowed him to punish statements made "from good motives or. . .[if] traitorous motives weren't provable." This law, the Sedition Act, could get you twenty years if you were to "utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive language about the government of the United States."

To arouse the country in favor of the war, something called the Committee on Public Information was created. It generated thousands of press releases, and the media ran them unedited (or fact-checked). Moreover, the press practiced self-censorship (probably partly in fear of the Sedition Act). This self-censorship meant that reports of illness at military camps (where the disease originated) were unreported or watered down, thus creating a false sense of safety in the population. After a while, the public caught on through its own observations of sickness and death in its neighbors and its families, and after that it stopped believing anything the press published. Because of that, precautions to avoid flu weren't taken and people refused to help their fellow citizens, raising the death toll.

It's an amazing book. It's got an afterword which was written as the avian flu began to appear in Asia, and that in itself is enough to make the book worth reading.

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November 17, 2005

Moving pictures

Why is the blogosphere not buzzing with anticipation about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Is the magic gone? The film opens tonight, and yet I've seen none of the furor that accompanied the first couple of movies. At least two of the reviewers (Kenneth Turran, linked above, and Manohla Dargis of the NYT) think this is the best one by far.

I'll wait for the crowds to drop, but I expect to see it soon.

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November 16, 2005

If they said this about me...

The I-G report (see here) from the Corp. for Public Broadcasting is now out, and our man Tomlinson does not come off like a champ.

The report said he violated federal law by being heavily involved in getting more than $4 million for a program featuring the conservative editorial writers of the Wall Street Journal. It said he imposed a "political test" to recruit a new president. And it said his decision to hire Republican consultants to defeat legislation violated contracting rules.


The report said that Mr. Tomlinson violated federal law by promoting "The Journal Editorial Report" and said he had "admonished C.P.B. senior executive staff not to interfere with his deal to bring a balancing program" to public broadcasting. The board is prohibited from getting involved in programming decisions, but the investigators found that Mr. Tomlinson had pushed hard for the program, even as some staff officials at the corporation raised concerns over its cost.

An e-mail from around the same time shows that he threatened to withhold some money to public broadcasting "in a New York minute" if public broadcasting did not balance its lineup.

He denies everything, of course; accountability in a Bush political appointee is non-existent, as we've seen (Hello, Michael Brown!).

The story says there are no sanctions or further action expected. Why not? If he broke federal law, shouldn't he be charged by somebody?

Update: The full Inspector General's report is here (pdf).

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November 15, 2005

More perfidy at FDA

A new GAO report (pdf) indicates there was no intent to approve the morning-after pill and in fact every intent to disapprove it, no matter the consensus of the review panel.

Right-wing politics endangers lives:

FDA officials gave conflicting accounts of when the not-approvable decision for the Plan B OTC switch application was made. FDA officials, including the Director and Deputy Director of the Office of New Drugs and the Directors of the Offices of Drug Evaluation III and V, told us that they were told by high-level management that the Plan B OTC switch application would be denied months before staff had completed their reviews of the application. The Director and Deputy Director of the Office of New Drugs told us that they were told by the Acting Deputy Commissioner for Operations43 and the Acting Director of CDER, after the Plan B public meeting in December 2003, that the decision on the Plan B application would be not-approvable. They informed us that they were also told that the direction for this decision came from the Office of the Commissioner. The Acting Deputy Commissioner for Operations and the Acting Director of CDER denied that they had said that the application would not be approved. In addition, although minutes of the January 15, 2004, meeting stated that the Acting Director told review staff that a not-approvable decision was “recommended,” review staff documented that they were told at this meeting that the decision would be not-approvable. Both office reviews were not completed until April 2004.

So if a woman has been raped and needs the morning-after pill, that's too damn bad. No doubt she put herself in a compromising position and she should pay for it with an unwanted pregnancy.

Add this to the argument against vaccination for human papilloma virus (see here), and you can see how dangerous it is for politicians to interfere with science.

NYT story here.

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November 14, 2005

Spam that makes you think

Received today:

DEAR (My name here),


A government prostate? Sounds really painful.

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November 13, 2005

Random thought

The good news is that college basketball season is about to begin; the bad news is that that means Dick Vitale is about to return to our television screens.

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Write it like this, man

I was listening to NPR's Weekend Editions, both Saturday and Sunday, and it occurred to me that I can't imagine the programs without that distinctive theme music. I then wondered, how do you explain to the artist exactly what you want when commissioning a piece of art or music? How do you put into words the sound and effect you want?

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November 12, 2005

You are old, Father William

Sheesh. I missed my four-year blogiversary. I started out at LiveJournal here, back on October 7, 2001. I moved to Blogger in November of that year, and to Movable Type in March of 2002.

For who knows where the time goes?

Who knows where the time goes?

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November 11, 2005

11th Hour, 11th Day, 11th Month

The Parable of The Old Man and The Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned, both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets the trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

Wilfrid Owen

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November 10, 2005

Liberalism's voice

I'm absolutely sure that the Republican party wishes that Bill Moyers would just shut up, but he won't. The occasion of this speech was a testimonial on the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer, the liberal magazine in the President's home state, former home of Molly Ivins, Lou DuBose, Jim Hightower and many more.

The crowd that came to Washington from Texas arrived like atheists at the Vatican – they don’t believe in government – except as the means for aggrandizing their autonomy, wealth, and privilege.

What we’re seeing today has been forty years in the making. No sooner had Barry Goldwater gone down to a crushing defeat in 1964 that the Radical Right of the Republican Party resolved that the election would not be the end of the campaign but the beginning of a movement. For four decades they honed their slogans into a mantra: military strength, limited government, no taxes, individual responsibility, and faith in God. Forty years later they exercise a monopoly over Washington – the White House, the Congress, the regulatory agencies, and (soon) the judiciary. And they have muzzled the mainstream media that should have been the watchdog over one-party rule.

But look at what they have delivered: reckless tax cuts, a relentless assault on social services, monumental debt, pre-emptive war, an exhausted military, booming corporate welfare, and pervasive corruption. The face of modern conservatism – the embodiment of the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Taft, and Dwight Eisenhower – is the face of Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, Ralph Reed, and Grover Norquist. They came to lead a revolution and stayed to run a racket. They don’t believe in government except as it enriches them.

There's much more, and it's well worth reading.

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Now this is just downright mean. The vote in favor of ID was six to four, after all; it wasn't unanimous.

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November 09, 2005

What a piece of work is man

With today's news of bombs in Jordan these lyrics seem appropriate:

They're rioting in Africa,

They're starving in Spain.

There's hurricanes in Florida,

And Texas needs rain

The whole world is festering

With unhappy souls.

The French hate the Germans,

The Germans hate the Poles;

Italians hate Yugoslavs,

South Africans hate the Dutch,

And I don't like anybody very much!

But we can be tranquil
And thankful and proud,
For man's been endowed
With a mushroom-shaped cloud.
And we know for certain
That some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off,
And we will all be blown away!

They're rioting in Africa,
There's strife in Iran.
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man!

The Merry Minuet, composed by Sheldon Hamrick

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November 08, 2005

Day-of-the-week challenged

Bah. Acting on the idea that it was Wednesday and thus "Lost" night, I bought a couple of Marie Callender's frozen dinners (Slow-Roasted Beef and Sweet and Sour Chicken) so I wouldn't be cleaning the kitchen while the show began. It wasn't until ABC ran a promo for "Commander in Chief" that I realized it was Tuesday, and by that time the dinners were already in the oven. Now I have to figure out another alternative for tomorrow night which will keep me out of the kitchen.

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Med skool

I'm reading Barry's book about the flu epidemic of 1918, and one of the things he emphasizes is how miserable American medical education was, particularly when compared to Europe. In 1870, for example:

European medical schools required and gave rigorous scientific training and were generally subsidized by the state. In contrast, most American medical schools were owned by a faculty whose profits and salaries -- even when they did not own the school -- were paid by student fees, so the schools often had no admission standards other than the ability to pay tuition. No medical school in America allowed medical students to routinely either perform autopsies or see patients, and medical education often consisted of nothing more than two four-month terms of lectures. Few medical schools had any association with a university, and fewer still had ties to a hospital. In 1870 even at Harvard a medical student could fail four of nine courses and still get an M.D. (p. 32)

William Welch, who was the first dean of the medical school at Johns Hopkins, said in 1893 when he was hired "no American medical school requires for admission knowledge approaching that necessary for entrance into the freshman class of a respectable college...some require no evidence of preliminary education whatever."

Who knew? Think about the requirements necessary to become a doctor now, according to the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics:

4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, and 3 to 8 years of internship and residency, depending on the specialty selected. A few medical schools offer a combined undergraduate and medical school programs that last 6 rather than the customary 8 years.

Premedical students must complete undergraduate work in physics, biology, mathematics, English, and inorganic and organic chemistry. Students also take courses in the humanities and the social sciences.

So any doctor reading this who's now struggling with student loans is probably saying "Damn. I was born too late!"

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Best practical joke ever

Apparently the victim of this well-planned and well-executed bit of vandalism once perpetrated a similar prank on the author.

Man. Best my office crowd ever did was move everything from below desks to above and from above to below. We weren't in the same league.

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November 07, 2005

Mi data es su data

I didn't like the Patriot Act when it was enacted, and I haven't seen any reason to change my mind. Certainly this article isn't calculated to make me do so:

"National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.

I thought we were assured that libraries hadn't been required to show logs to the FBI (Right. Wanna buy a bridge?), but the genesis of this article is a complaint from a librarian: "Under the shield and stars of the FBI crest, the letter directed Christian to surrender 'all subscriber information, billing information and access logs of any person' who used a specific computer at a library branch some distance away."

I thought we won the Cold War, but apparently the Bush Administration found the Soviet secret police methods admirable.

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November 06, 2005

So many candles!

So many candles!
Originally uploaded by Linkmeister.
I'm how old?

That's my older niece holding the cake and her boyfriend on the couch. He can't fathom my age, I guess.

So what did I get for my birthday? Along with boring things like clothes, a Borders gift certificate which, because of a 3-for-the-price-of-2 deal, enabled me to get Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, and John M. Barry's The Great Influenza.

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November 05, 2005

Scary costumes

Heard on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday:

In a brief comment about Halloween, host Linda Wertheimer said "What do you think it means that two children came dressed up as Scooter Libby?"

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Follow the money

Damn. Our man Tomlinson may have been even more of a fool than I thought:

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, the head of the federal agency that oversees most government broadcasts to foreign countries, including the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, is the subject of an inquiry into accusations of misuse of federal money and the use of phantom or unqualified employees, officials involved in that examination said on Friday.

So he not only felt there was a liberal bias at PBS, he thought he could steal money from both CPB and the Broadcasting Board of Governors? Incompetence we knew about; now possible theft?

Oh, and look whose fingerprints are on Tomlinson's appointment to the Board:

In recent weeks, State Department investigators have seized records and e-mail from the Broadcasting Board of Governors, officials said. They have shared some material with the inspector general at the corporation, including e-mail traffic between Mr. Tomlinson and White House officials including Karl Rove, a senior adviser to President Bush and a close friend of Mr. Tomlinson.

Mr. Rove and Mr. Tomlinson became friends in the 1990's when they served on the Board for International Broadcasting, the predecessor agency to the board of governors. Mr. Rove played an important role in Mr. Tomlinson's appointment as chairman of the broadcasting board.

Karl has reverse Midas touch recently, doesn't he?

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November 04, 2005

What? Another One?


That number reminds me of something today. What could it be? Hmmm. I'd better see if the driver's license expires on this date.

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November 03, 2005

Tomlinson resigns from CPB Board

Well now. The upcoming report must contain some really unflattering things about this guy.

The board said in a statement: "[F]ormer chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson has resigned from the CPB board. The board does not believe that Mr. Tomlinson acted maliciously or with any intent to harm CPB or public broadcasting, and the board recognizes that Mr. Tomlinson strongly disputes the findings in the soon-to-be-released Inspector General’s report.

"The board expresses its disappointment in the performance of former key staff whose responsibility it was to advise the board and its members.

"Nonetheless, both the board and Mr. Tomlinson believe it is in the best interests of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that he no longer remain on the board.

"The board commends Mr. Tomlinson for his legitimate efforts to achieve balance and objectivity in public broadcasting."

I've previously written about Mr. Tomlinson and his attempts to "balance" PBS here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Update: WaPo has more, including these semi-revealing paragraphs:

The CPB's inspector general has been investigating Tomlinson's practice of using agency money to hire consultants and lobbyists without notifying the agency's board. Tomlinson last year hired a little-known Indiana consultant to study the political leanings of guests on such programs as "Now With Bill Moyers" and "The Diane Rehm Show" on National Public Radio. He also hired lobbyists to defeat legislation that would have changed how CPB's board is structured.

The inspector, Kenneth Konz, also had been looking into whether Tomlinson violated agency procedures in his recruiting of former Republican National Committee co-chairman Patricia de Stacy Harrison to be CPB's chief executive, and into possible White House influence in the hiring of two in-house ombudsmen to critique news programs on NPR and PBS.

Guess we'll just have to wait till the report is made public to learn all the details.

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Pokey, pokey

Does it usually take Flickr three days to recognize your photos, determine they're not naughty, and hook them to the tag with which they were uploaded?

(LibraryThing is having a bookpile photo contest, so I signed up for a Flickr account; that's the reason for those god-awful photos.)

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November 02, 2005

Theirs is not a merciful God

PZ Myers doesn't think much of the argument against universal vaccinations which protect against cervical cancer. "The vaccine appears to be virtually 100 percent effective against two of the most common cancer-causing HPV strains."

Yet these sick, evil people want to be able to hold this horrible disease as a threat to their daughters, their friends' daughters, their neighbors' daughters—they want to be able to say to their kids, "If you don't obey my rules, your womb will rot and dribble out your private parts, and you'll thrash in pain for a while before you die and go to hell."

Yep. These miserable people insist upon abstinence rather than face the fact that teenagers might have sex. If they turn out to be wrong, some of those kids just might contract a deadly disease, but (their) God forbids that it should be prevented through a simple jab with a needle.

Oh, by the way, one of the members of the FDA panel which is deciding on this medicine is a former member of Focus on the Family. Don't you feel confident that science will overcome idiocy now?

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November 01, 2005


Oh, great. Shortly after Porter Goss took over at CIA there were some stories about departures, firings, and a serious drop in morale at the place. Anytime that happens in any organization (yes, I speak from experience) there's a sense of drift, at least. Apparently it's far worse than that.

Without a doubt, Goss’ team is the most highly partisan ever to run the CIA. The ex–HPSCI staffers were notorious for taking a Republican Party–oriented stance on many issues, especially Murray, who once tried to get classified information released so it could be used against the Democrats. Under Goss, the CIA public-affairs office has been nearly shut down, under the tight control of Jennifer Millerwise -- not an intelligence person, but a political operative who worked on the Bush-Cheney election campaigns and for Goss at the HPSCI. The partisan, pro-Bush nature of the current regime at the CIA was underlined when Goss issued a widely leaked memorandum telling agency employees to "support the administration and its policies in our work" adding,"As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration or its policies."

In the midst of a war the Director of CIA doesn't want honest analysis. This is depressing.

The article goes on to say there's been massive turnover and many of the experts in areas like the Near East (can you say "Afghanistan?") have left. What's next? Will we learn that, just like in Iraq, the Agency is now hiring kids who posted their resumés at the Heritage Foundation?

(Found at Digby's place.)

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