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September 30, 2004

Scoring the Debate

Given the countless thousands of bloggers undoubtedly writing about the presidential debate tonight, I'm not sure how much I have to add... but a dear friend who couldn't watch the debates asked me to do so, so with that...

I watched the debate with a couple of friends. It ended and we watched as CNN's analysts seemed to say, "Kerry 1, Bush 0". I wondered aloud what the house news network of the Republican Party had to say, and so tuned into Fox News... and I could swear I watched a heavily conservative panel say, in essence, "Kerry 1, Bush 0".

Oh, and if you asking me? Kerry 1, Bush 0.

September 28, 2004

Homework Assignment

This is a bit dated, but better late than never...

  1. Read Rudy Giuliani's speech given to the Republican National Convention.
  2. Count the number of times he utters the words "September 11". (Hint: it's the same number as three times four.)
  3. Ask yourself what it means for American politics when someone can invoke September 11 that many times in a partisan political speech without shame.

September 26, 2004

The World's Funniest Joke Revisited

I've briefly mentioned the world's funniest joke -- the skit by Monty Python about the killer joke of World War II -- but the URL I referenced is broken now, and I'm not sure it had the complete text to begin with. So...

My favorite part of the skit has always been the German response to England's killer joke:

Voice Over: But at Peenemunde in the Autumn of '44, the Germans were working on a joke of their own.

A German general is seated at an imposing desk. Behind him stands Otto... Bespectacled German scientist/joke writer enters room. He clears his throat and reads from card.

German Joker: Die ist ein Kinnerhunder und zwei Mackel uber und der bitte schon ist den Wunderhaus sprechensie. 'Nein' sprecht der Herren 'Ist aufern borger mit zveitingen'.

He finishes and looks hopeful.

Otto: We let you know.

He shoots him. Film of German scientists.

Voice Over: But by December their joke was ready, and Hitler gave the order for the German V-Joke to be broadcast in English.

Cut to 1940's wartime radio set with couple anxiously listening to it.

Radio: (crackly German voice) Der ver zwei peanuts, valking down der strasse, and von vas... assaulted! Peanut. Ho-ho-ho-ho.

Radio bursts into "Deutschland Uber Alles". The couple look at each other and then in blank amazement at the radio.

September 24, 2004

Malthus Then and Now

This week marked the first anniversary of Vancouver's safe injection site, which I blogged about when it was about to open last year. According to the site's press release:

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) believes its Supervised Injection Site, Insite, is savings [sic] lives following the release today of the one-year research report from the team responsible for evaluating the site for a three-year clinical trial.

According to the Evaluation of the Supervised Injection Site ? Year One Summary [PDF available here] released today, Insite is achieving high client volumes, referring clients to health services they might not have otherwise accessed, and providing overdose interventions to clients...

"Insite is exceeding expectations in terms of client volume and satisfaction, and referrals to addiction services and other treatment," Ida Goodreau, President and CEO of VCH, said. "Based on what we see in the report, Insite has saved lives and improved lives."

As noted in my previous blog entry, the US government has criticized the idea of safe injection sites, and more recently a UN agency weighed in against it.

I've been reading Robert Hughes' exquisitely written and staggeringly well-researched book on Australia's founding, The Fatal Shore. A passage in the book reminded me of opposition to harm reduction policies, which is typically (though not always) a right-wing view. In the passage, Hughes describes England of the 1830s:

Most rural workers were below the poverty line at a shilling a day or less; some earned only three shillings a week. But the Tory politicians of the day saw the problem in terms of one hypnotic ideology: that of Malthus, who taught that it was futile to spend any money on poor relief, since it would only encourage the poor to breed and thus make the problem worse. If left to survive or starve, the poor would find their "natural" level. And since the out-of-work did not, by definition, generate wealth, their survival was not an issue for the government.
It would be hard to find a harm reduction opponent who would admit it, but if we could look in their hearts -- in some of them, at least -- would we see Malthus at work, two centuries later, telling them to let the junkies kill themselves off?

September 23, 2004

Wasabi != Decongestant?

Listening to the wonderful CBC show As It Happens on my way home tonight, I heard a common belief shot down. From the Reuters story on the same topic:

Many people believe the sushi-seasoner wasabi clears their sinuses, but new research presented this week suggests that the spicy green paste may do the opposite.

U.S. researchers found that eating wasabi appeared to increase congestion in a small group of healthy volunteers, despite the fact that participants said they thought that the spice had cleared their nasal passages.

"Actually, wasabi is a congestant," study author Dr. David S. Cameron told Reuters Health. "It makes the space of your nasal passages smaller, but it makes you feel more open."

Cameron explained that wasabi probably clogs up sinuses by increasing blood flow to the lining of the nose. That extra blood takes up space, he said, which constricts the nasal passageway.

Wasabi may make the nose feel more open, Cameron noted, by causing changes that increase the cooling effect of air breathed through the nose, or by stimulating flaring of the nostrils, which enables air to flow more easily though the nose.

I suppose one learns something new every day. Or something like that.

I have a dear old friend who absolutely loves wasabi, more than anyone else I've ever known. Over a sushi dinner a few months ago, she talked about how she'll sometimes eat a large chunk of wasabi paste just to feel her neck and scalp tingle. "Why not?" I thought to myself, and so we each had a chunk at the same time. She was right. It wasn't so much a burning sensation in my mouth as much as the feeling that my nervous system was being overloaded in a local region. My neck definitely tingled.

I told this story to another Japanese food-loving friend of mine some time later.

Him: That was stupid.

Me: Why do you say that?

Him: You could have overstimulated yourself into a seizure.

Me: I hadn't thought of that.

So could enough of something like wasabi really send someone into a seizure? It seems unlikely, but...

September 13, 2004

"Be Silent; I See It, If You Don't"

By then-Representative Abraham Lincoln (italics in the original):

Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation, whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so, whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose -- and you allow him to make war at pleasure. Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after you have given him so much as you propose. If, to-day, he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada, to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, "I see no probability of the British invading us" but he will say to you "be silent; I see it, if you dont."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war-making power to Congress, was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons. Kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This, our Convention understood to be the most oppressive of all Kingly oppressions; and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

Via Bartleby.com.

September 12, 2004

Remind Me of Who the Flip-Flopper Is

The Associated Press beat me to writing about something that has been on my mind of late -- and did a far more comprehensive job than I would have:

Republican audiences chant "flip-flopper" when Kerry is mentioned, some political novelty stores are carrying flip-flop sandals bearing Kerry's picture, and the theme is reinforced by late-night comedians...

If he is a flip-flopper, Kerry has company.

In 2000, Bush argued against new military entanglements and nation building. He's done both in Iraq.

He opposed a Homeland Security Department, then embraced it.

He opposed creation of an independent Sept. 11 commission, then supported it. He first refused to speak to its members, then agreed only if Vice President Dick Cheney came with him.

Bush argued for free trade, then imposed three-year tariffs on steel imports in 2002, only to withdraw them after 21 months.

Last month, he said he doubted the war on terror could be won, then reversed himself to say it could and would.

A week after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Bush said he wanted Osama bin Laden "dead or alive." But he told reporters six months later, "I truly am not that concerned about him." He did not mention bin Laden in his hour-long convention acceptance speech.

"I'm a war president," Bush told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Feb. 8. But in a July 20 speech in Iowa, he said: "Nobody wants to be the war president. I want to be the peace president."

Bush keeps revising his Iraq war rationale: The need to seize Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction until none were found; liberating the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator; fighting terrorists in Iraq not at home; spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. Now it's a safer America and a safer world.

What I can't understand is why people don't see this. Bush is seen as strong and decisive, when in fact he changes his position on major issues with great regularity.

In truth, Bush's strategy is quite clever: when forced to bow to pressure and change a position -- as with the 9/11 commission or the Department of Homeland Security -- claim that your new position has always been your position. Bush's loyal advisor Karen Hughes did this quite blatantly not too long ago, as I blogged at the time. From the transcript of Tim Russert's interview of her on Meet the Press in April of this year:

MR. RUSSERT: Many observers will point to the fact that the president and vice president resisted or discouraged the creation of the commission. They had to be threatened with subpoena in order to provide documents and Dr. Condoleezza Rice for weeks refused to testify in public under oath. Why such resistance and reluctance to cooperate fully with the commission?

MS. HUGHES: Well, Tim, I'm not sure that I characterize it that way, because what I've heard the president say is he wants all the facts to come out, he wants the commission to be able to report fully to the American people. After all, he and his national security team are responsible for preventing another attack. But I've been in the White House and I've seen the competing pressures there. There are a lot of factors at work when you're the president of the United States...

MR. RUSSERT: But now in hindsight the president believes the commission's a good idea.

MS. HUGHES: Well, I think, Tim, I don't know if the president ever opposed the creation of the commission. What he did was try to balance and look at all those different things...

MR. RUSSERT: But the history is clear. Here's the headlines. "The 9-11 Commission could subpoena Oval Office files because the White House was resisting. Bush opposes independent commission to investigate September 11th." Vice President Cheney, on this program said, "I did actively discourage the notion, for example, of a national commission." There had been opposition; there's no doubt about it.

MS. HUGHES: There were concerns about what impact it might have on our ongoing foremost priority, which again, is to protect the American people from attack. But that said, Tim, once the commission has been created, I mean, unprecedented cooperation...

Our intention and the president's direction all along was that he wanted to cooperate and to make sure that the commission had all the information it needed to do its important work.

One thing is for sure: Bush's political team can spin with the best of them. Bill Clinton might have the greatest political skills of any leader of our time, but Bush may well have the most formidable political team of our time. Think about it: their candidate is: the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose jobs on his tenure; the president who was in office at the time of the worst terrorist attack in our nation's history; the president who took us to war against Iraq based on false evidence, at a cost of over $132 billion (and counting) and the lives of over 1,000 American soldiers (and counting)... and yet he is slightly ahead in the polls. It's a stunning achievement, really.

September 11, 2004

"Father of the Pride"

Let's see... a computer animated series following the imagined lives of the animals in Siegfried & Roy's magic act? This sounded to me like nothing less than a surefire disaster-in-the-making. Yet Father of the Pride is amazingly funny -- the funniest thing I've seen on television since Futurama. This isn't because it's raunchy -- what little I've seen of the last few seasons of South Park demonstrates that raunch alone isn't funny for very long.

Make no mistake: Father of the Pride is extremely raunchy; the last episode had one of the characters, a desert gopher, hiring two female desert gophers, Chimi and Changa, as set dressing for a comedy act; the two decided they were attracted to one another and we were treated to multiple scenes of girl-desert-gopher-on-girl-desert-gopher make out action, without a doubt a network (or anywhere else) first. Yet in addition to being raunchy, it's seriously funny. One line from the same episode had me laughing so hard I literally was falling out of my seat. A pair of unwanted tigers show up unexpectedly at the protagonists' den, one of whom reacts:

What a nice surprise -- like when the gas wears off early and your dentist is buckling his pants.
Whoever is writing this stuff, you all deserve raises.

Tuesdays, 9:00 PM, NBC. Highly recommended, at least if you're not easily offended. (Note that I don't watch much prime-time television. This may render my opinion more or less relevant in your book.)

September 09, 2004

One Simple Question

Via boing boing, a truly brilliant idea from One Simple Question: offer a bounty to the first person to ask President Bush the following question in a public forum:

"How many times have you been arrested, Mr. President?"
As of this writing, the bounty stands at $1,002. I predict this will rise to at least $5,000 based on blog mentions. If a network television show picks it up, $20,000 is easily possible.

Of course, I'd do it for free.

"We Apologize for the Inconvenience"

I apologize for the lengthy gap -- nearly three weeks now -- in my blogging. Too much work, too little free time, the usual suspects. Those of you who blog, you know the drill. Except for those of you who never miss a day. You don't know the drill. But the rest of you? You know it.