Goose the Blog 2.0

"Oh, ha! Sarcasm: The last refuge of sons of bitches!"


well, damn

by John at 9/28/2006 07:29:00 PM

Not even close. 65-34. They couldn't put together enough votes to beat cloture, so they didn't even try a filibuster.

Update: F-in' Specter voted for the torture and indefinite detention bill. Damn it, man, stand up for something! For a few hours, I almost believed you had principles. Note to moderates: There are no moderate Republicans.

stand up now, or kneel forever

by John at 9/28/2006 08:53:00 AM

Last night the House voted to approve the torture bill (Democrats voted nay 160-34, while Republicans voted "yay!" 219-7).

From today's NYT editorial:

These are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the powerto apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

•There is not enough time to fix these bills, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.

Call 1-800-AMNESTY to be connected to your senators to tell them to vote against this bill, or filibuster. The Senate is the last possible hold on this tyrannical bill.

This is serious shit. The very unpopular Republicans are using this bill as a tool against Democrats in order to try to hold their own in the midterm election. I do not believe these Congress schemers actually understand how dangerous this is to our nation. The Republicans are determined to hold on to power, and they will do whatever they can to keep it, damn the consequences. They will burn the Constitution if necessary.

Update: Senator Specter has co-sponsored an amendment to the bill to restore Habeus Corpus. That's something, so tell your senator to support the Specter amendment to S. 3930. Tell them to oppose S. 3930. Tell them to oppose cloture on the bill if necessary (the Senate will need 60 votes for cloture to vote on the bill if the Dems manage to filibuster). Here are some numbers - even if you think your Senator will vote to oppose the bill, give them some love and tell them they are doing the right thing. (Also, it's a good idea not to call from your place of employment - use a cell or home phone)

Kyl, Jon
(202) 224-4521
McCain, John
(202) 224-2235

Santorum, Rick
(202) 224-6324
Specter, Arlen
(202) 224-4254

Cantwell, Maria
(202) 224-3441
Murray, Patty
202) 224-2621

Update 2: My quixotic hero, the lovable loser of 2004, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, summed it up: "This bill is everything we don't believe in". 609 law professors agree:

Taken together, the bill’s provisions rewrite American law to evade the fundamental principles of separation of powers, due process, habeas corpus, fair trials, and the rule of law, principles that, together, prohibit state-sanctioned violence. If there is any fixed point in the historical understandings of constitutional freedom that help to define us as a people, it is that no one may be picked up and locked up by the American state in secret or at an unknown location, or without opportunity to petition an independent court for inspection of the lawfulness of the lockup and of the treatment handed out by the state to the person locked up, under legal standards from time to time defined by Congress. This core principle should apply with full force to all detentions by the American state, regardless of the citizenship of detainees.

Update 3: The Specter Amendment was voted down by Republicans. After all, the Preznit gets what the Preznit wants, and above all, they must pass a bill that is completely abhorent to Democrats.



by John at 9/27/2006 08:52:00 PM

While tyrannical Republicans act like the Constitution is just another piece of paper, cowardly Democrats can barely bring themselves to utter a word in disagreement, and the rest of the world circles around the drain, please enjoy these pictures of Elias at the beach last weekend.


He doesn't know any better than to enjoy himself, and when you're around him it's easy to forget and join in.


what moral relativism really looks like

by John at 9/25/2006 01:20:00 PM

I will leave others to claim that torture, in fact, does not work, that confessions obtained under duress -- such as that extracted from the heaving body of that poor Argentine braggart in some Santiago cesspool in 1973 -- are useless. Or to contend that the United States had better not do that to anyone in our custody lest someday another nation or entity or group decides to treat our prisoners the same way.

I find these arguments -- and there are many more -- to be irrefutable. But I cannot bring myself to use them, for fear of honoring the debate by participating in it.

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? Have we so lost our bearings that we do not realize that each of us could be that hapless Argentine who sat under the Santiago sun, so possessed by the evil done to him that he could not stop shivering?

Ariel Dorfman - Are We Really So Fearful?


fall equinox

by John at 9/22/2006 08:36:00 PM

Look, up in the sky! It's the autumnal equinox* (at 12:03 am EDT, 9/23/2006)!

I'm going to spend my evening trying to balance eggs on end.


* This may be a little confusing, depending on where you are standing or sitting right now. It's the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, but the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere.

nerd? geek? or dork?

by John at 9/22/2006 08:08:00 AM

Modern, Cool Nerd
78 % Nerd, 52% Geek, 39% Dork

"The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent, knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one up there, winning the million bucks)!"

The Nerd? Geek? or Dork? Test

Update: How appropriate. "White & Nerdy" - Weird Al Yankovic


the unbearable lameness of me-ing

by John at 9/21/2006 07:43:00 PM

Lately I've been too busy reading scifi books, watching Project Runway, and playing marathon sessions of Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy to upload very important pictures of Elias to the internets, but that is all behind me (the uploading part, anyway).



I be plunderin'

by John at 9/19/2006 12:01:00 AM

How to Talk Like a Pirate (via Pharyngula)


the 30 second book reviews strikes back

by John at 9/15/2006 02:02:00 PM

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) - Jerome K. Jerome (1889)
This is a breezy short tale of three young, unmarried, mostly idle men (one of them works at a bank) who decide to take a boating trip up the Thames to Oxford to relieve themselves off the ills of Victorian London. They bring along their rascal dog, Montmorency, who seems to have only a little more sense then they do. On their way to Oxford, the boating group get involved in several still-funny adventures, mostly due to their own mild incompetence and careless laziness. Supposedly this book was very popular back in its day, and provided a gently satirical look at middle-class Victorian life. A good quick read, so it's recommended for a rainy weekend day.
free e-book available

Radio Free Albemuth - Philip K. Dick
Published posthumously (it was written in the mid-seventies), in this novel Dick imagines an America nor unlike the one in A Scanner Darkly: This America is run by a man who is a combination of Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon, and civilian spy corps try to root out communist sympathizers through intimidation and dirty tricks. Oddly, Dick features himself as a character (named Phil Dick) who is friends with another man, Nick Brady, who just might be receiving messages from outerspace while he sleeps. This dark tale deals with some of PKD's familiar themes of identity and reality, but also gives the reader a strong indication of Dick's anti-authoritarian beliefs. There's a lot to digest in here.

Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality - Steven Poole
"Unspeak" is the art of speaking while doing two things: 1) Avoiding discussion of the unspoken assumptions behind words, and 2) simultaneously silencing the counter-argument. It's not exactly "framing" (Lakoff) and it's not "Newspeak" (Orwell) but a combination of the two and more as well. One of Poole's arguments is that, by analyzing unspeak, one can really begin to understand what the person doing the speaking wants or believes. Drawing mostly from the last couple of decades (and especially the last ten years or so) Poole goes through a large variety of examples, taking special care to examine how the words used really betray the speaker's actual desires. The emphasis is largely on Britain and the USA, and especially the Blair and Bush administrations. You can imagine that this gives the work a mostly partisan flavor, although I think Poole usually doesn't take sides - the unspeak speaks for itself, as it were. This is a clever and useful idea, I think. Poole keeps a blog at, where he keeps up with instances of unspeak in public discourse. It's fascinating and maddening, so check it out.

The Cyberiad - Stanislaw Lem
Here's another series of short tales by Lem. They concern two "Constructors" - supremely powerful robot engineers (and by robot engineers, I mean they are engineers that are robots) - and the adventures they have in a wild universe peopled primarily by persons of a mechanical nature. The tales almost always have a humorous bent, but typically belie some deeper point that Lem is trying to make. As I said above, there's a lot to digest here. There's a problem though. I think I said in a review a long time ago that Lem tends to use made-up-word puns (I suppose this is both in translation and in the original Polish - of course, I can't read Polish so I don't know) in his humorous stories, and these neologisms are thick in this book. I got tired of them after a while. Because it is a series of tales related mostly by the two main characters, it might be best to read this book one story at a time, with a night or more in between stories, just to give yourself a break. Anyway, it's another SF classic, and you'll be a better person if you read it.

The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross
Do you remember "A Colder War?" This book has two stories in it that are kind of like that, except not as depressing - "The Atrocity Archive" and "The Concrete Jungle." The narrator of both, Bob Howard, is a budding field agent at The Laundry, which is sort of the equivalent of MI-5, but for the supernatural. Their job is to keep very bad people, or very curious people, from unleashing unnameable horrors upon the world. Stross has made a very clever combination of Lovecraftian horror and spy-thriller here. These stories are both very engrossing and you'll probably stay up late to finish them, and then go to sleep with the covers pulled over your head so the bad things can't get you.


I keep thinking that there's one book I'm forgetting. If I remember what it is, I'll update it here.


Clinton's fault!

by John at 9/12/2006 07:36:00 AM

Did you watch "The Path to 9/11" last night?* Wow!

The most riveting part of the miniseries was when Former President Bill Clinton flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower while receiving oral sex from a full-figured intern. It was totally his fault!


* yeah, me neither.


out of the duffel bag

by John at 9/06/2006 11:19:00 AM

... and into the jacket. It's a step up as far as I'm concerned. And all those rumors about her not having any ears? Demonstrably false.


planet Pluto petition

by John at 9/01/2006 02:09:00 PM

Several hundred researchers have signed a petition to overturn the definition of "planet" made at the IAU meeting in Prague last week. I've discussed the reasons for this previously.

Anyway, this is interesting*. The scientists are organizing a conference for mid-2007 that would attempt to fix what they think is a flawed definition. Their new definition would probably be at odds with the official definition made by the IAU. This is a kind of scientific mutiny!

I wonder what makes the IAU one the official definition - some kind of international treaty? Just convention? I've googled around a little bit but I can't find anything except that "The IAU also serves as the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies."


* Yeah, probably not.

option ARMs

by John at 9/01/2006 11:21:00 AM

Nightmare Mortgages

This a BusinessWeek article about option ARMs, and how they are devastating to unwise borrowers.

Everybody wants to own a home. It's part of the mythic "American Dream," and I can understand why a person might stretch themselves to purchase a house they cannot really afford, and why, as a first time buyer, they might not have the experience to navigate the home loan market. But more than that, buying real estate has been seen by some as a sure-win investment opportunity for the last several years, and others have been using these option ARMs to refinance exisiting loans so that they can reduce their monthly mortgage payments.

Basically option ARMs are adjustable rate mortgages that allow you to make a monthly payment that is less than the interest due on the loan. Its worse than an interest only loan, in which the principle never goes down; for option ARMs, as you make these low payments, the amount you owe gets larger and larger, instead of smaller and smaller. It's called negative amortization. Also, these loans might have large pre-payment penalties, which prevent you from refinancing your way out of loan when you realize what a bad deal it is. Banks have a lot of reasons for offering these loans (not least of which is the hunger for new customers, including ones who probably shouldn't be getting loans in the first place), and the accounting is screwed up as well (for example, allowing the banks to count the full monthly payment as revenue at that time, even though they only received part of it). But frankly, there are probably only a few customers in the country who should really get one of these loans. Nonetheless, the number of option ARMs has skyrocketed as house prices have gone up, from 0.5% of all mortgages in 2003 to 12.3% in the first half of this year.

The article mentions a couple of people who refi'd their existing low rate fixed mortgage (5.1%, 5.25%! Historically low!) for an option ARM with an insanely low teaser rate (1 or 2%). I don't know the motivation. Maybe they really needed the extra money in their monthly budget because someone was sick or out of a job, or maybe they just wanted to buy more crap. Anyway, they clearly didn't understand the loans they got, because they were then surprised to find out that the low, low interest rates they had were just temporary and that they were actually digging themselves a deeper hole to get out of every month. Normally I take the side of people over corporations, but I have to ask: Which is it - stupid, or greedy?

Anyway, this all ends badly for the borrower. Either they can afford to make their full monthly payment and stop negative amortization (and they are hit with an ARM with rising interest rates), or they can cover the pre-payment penalties and refinance into something sensible. When these folks decide to sell to get out of the terrible loan, they had better hope that they aren't upside-down (owing more on the loan than the value of their home - more than 1/5 of option ARM holders are upside-down already). So they sell and still owe the bank money, or they default and the bank forecloses, or they declare bankruptcy and have to deal with the harsh new bankruptcy laws. The banks and Wall Street are protected because they have the resources and knowlege that lets them manage the risks.

Update: This is related - "Going For Broke: Elizabeth Warren discusses how ordinary families wind up bankrupt and why new legislation could be hurting those at risk."