the absurd observers

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Confirmed

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Woodward and Bernstein now confirm that Felt was Deep Throat.

We Now Know Who Deep Throat Revealed Was... Or Do We?

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If Felt admits he is Deep Throat, and is telling the truth, why won't Woodward and Bernstein confirm:

Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward broke the story as Washington Post reporters, issued a statement neither denying nor confirming Felt's claim. Bernstein stated he and Woodward would be keeping their pledge to reveal the source only once that person dies.


Surely any pledge they made to the real Deep Throat not to reveal his identity until he died would be irrelevant if he publicly admitted he was Deep Throat. Is it possible he is just claiming to be Deep Throat to turn a profit before he dies:

In the article, O'Connor reports that Felt's children, Joan and Mark Jr., urged him to go public after he revealed his secret to them in 2002.

Felt argued with them, O'Connor writes, saying he didn't want the story out there.

“I don’t think (being Deep Throat) was anything to be proud of,” Felt indicated to his son, Mark Jr., at one point, according to the article. “You (should) not leak information to anyone.”

But Joan is quoted as saying that "Bob Woodward's gonna get all the glory for this, but we could make at least enough money to pay some bills, like the debt I've run up for the kids' education. Let's do it for the family."

O'Connor adds that Felt finally agreed, saying "that's a good reason" even though Mark Jr. recalls him as saying "he wasn't particularly interested" in disclosing the secret.



Moreover, if someone else is Deep Throat, then Woodward and Bernstein cannot deny that Felt was Deep Throat without making it easier to determine the real Deep Throat.

It seems that despite Felt's claim, we won't know the truth until he dies. Only then will Woodward and Bernstein confirm that it was him. If they still say nothing, then we can surmise that it is someone else.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Texas is the winner

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We made our way back to Austin, sated. I had driven 1,800 miles in seven days, eaten 15 barbecue meals in a row, and finally found bliss in Texas. The four Texas barbecue meals I ate in 24 hours were better than any other barbecue I ever had in my life (save my one meal at Cooper's in 1989). I had found my barbecue bliss, and I was done. My lower intestine had ground to a complete stop, and I had a slight pain in my chest. It was time to go home.



As someone who traveled to Texas several times to visit my grandfather when I was young, I agree whole-heartedly that Texas barbecue is a step above the rest - way above. As much as I enjoy Chicago's ribfest, nowhere else can compete. The only place that compares, is Rockland's Barbecue in Washington, DC. I encourage those blog readers who live in the DC area to try it if they have not done so already. You will not be disappointed.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Take your time...take your time...

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The Bolton Nomination will not come to a vote tonight. The Dems were able to round up 42 votes against ending debate over Bolton. Usually, I am all for efficiency and progress and moving on (but not in a Moveon.org sort of way), and yet I am happy about this rejection of cloture.

Partly because I like saying the word cloture, it either sounds like the name of the frat guy that would eat pizza that's been under the couch for three months or like a word destined to be used by sports announcers in the next few years - Bill Walton: "That's what I call cloture! The Lakers think they have cloture, but they just learned the hard way that cloture isn't just a bunch of guys standing around pretending."

Partly because I like having pictures of Bolton served up daily. I like imagining him running through a hotel, yelling at people, his mustache and hair out of control, people staring at him wondering if someone stole part of his comic book collection. I like hearing more accounts of him bullying people, and listening to the arguments made against and in-favor of his bullying.

Mostly, though, I like the idea of the Senate grinding to a halt. I love the theater. I like the idea of the Dems getting excited about one little victory and going nutty with clogging tactics for other matters. I want to see the look on hard line right wingers' faces similar to the look on Seinfeld's face when he found out that something of his had been in the toilet. I want all the chicanery to blow up in the Democrats faces. I want the GOP to fall apart. I want votes on volatile issues. I want inquiries and investigations and references to Caligula, Wile E. Coyote, and Darth Vader. I want spectacle. And then, in the end, I want Arnold to stroll in and call them all girlie men. Have the moderates start their own party. And watch the rest of them battle it out in hot dog eating contest.

Andrew Sullivan Defends Bush's Stem Cell Policy

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In my view, he's right to veto federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. There is a very clear principle here: do you take life to save lives? My conviction is that you don't, and that the human life in embryonic form is still human life. The idea of cloning embryos to experiment on them is morally repugnant; equally, using left-over, frozen embryos for the same purpose is using human beings as means, not ends. If that isn't a clear, moral line, then I don't know what is. My own religious faith in the dignity of human life is not necessary to support this argument, whatever the NYT says. We're all humans; whatever we believe about our origins or destiny, we can all agree that each of us deserves to be treated as ends in ourselves, not material for others' benefit. If we cede that principle, then we will slide (and have already slid) toward hideous forms of eugenics. Now I know many people disagree. But the pragmatic arguments they deploy - these embryos will be destroyed or kept in limbo anyway, they're teensy-weensy - don't circumvent the deeper moral issue. The only logical justification is an entirely utilitarian one, in which the use of "lesser" humans for the benefit of more developed ones is justified. But this begs an important question: in our society, there is no fundamental moral consensus any more, especially on contentious issues like these. Under those circumstances, it seems to me that the government should remain as neutral as possible between moral claims. The NYT interprets neutrality as funding embryonic stem cell research. That's a funny form of neutrality. In this case, the president has carved out a policy that is, indeed, about as neutral as it could be. If the private sector wants to pursue this course, it can; if individual states want to, ditto. But no American taxpayer should be required to fund from her own dollars what she regards as a moral outrage. Keep the feds out of it. Let the states and private sector do as they will.


While usually I respect Andrew Sullivan's intellectual honesty, in this instance he is disingenuous. He assumes that embryos are humans and therefore labels proponents of stem cell research as utilitarians. While any moral intervention that saves lives can theoretically be labeled utilitarian, this label falsely presumes a moral calculus that disregards individual rights in favor of the group good. Yet if one rejects Sullivan's assumption that embryos are humans, then there are no such rights that are being violated by stem cell research. The choice is between allowing real people to die and intervening to save their lives. It is perfectly proper for the government to intervene to save the lives of its citizens. In fact there is no more compelling role for government to play.

Rejecting that embryos are human is hardly a radical position. That they one day can become human is not the same thing as them being human. They do not yet have cognition and as such, they lack the capacity to have subjective experiences - an essential aspect of humanity.

That some might label embryos human beings does not mean that the government ought to remain neutral about the issue. It is simply impoossible to conduct public policy if the subjective beliefs of crazed religious zealots must be respected. Many of those who stand against funding stem cell research also protested government funding of AIDS research and prevention on the grounds that this too was immoral. Theoretically they did not have to be religious to hold this view. I wonder whether Sullivan would say goverment should remain neutral on that too.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

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Will Saletan criticizes Bush's hypocrisy on the death penalty and stem cell research:

The standard Bush set four years ago and repeated last week is that we shouldn't take one life—even an embryonic life—in order to save others. Cost-benefit analysis is never sufficient grounds for the premeditated killing of civilians—except when it comes to the death penalty. When the discussion shifts from embryos to murderers, Bush and his spokesmen routinely argue that killing is justified not because murderers deserve it, but because it's moral to take one life in order to save others. He doesn't say that Person A should be executed because Person A is a danger to society. He says that Person A should be executed because the execution will deter Person B from killing Person C.



While Bush is a hypocrite, Saletan slightly misses the point. Bush can distinguish the killing of embryonic stem cells from the killing of murderers on the basis of guilt. There is a plausible argument (though i disagree with it) that a murderer gives up his right not to be killed when he kills someone else. This does not inherently mean that he ought to be killed, but merely that it is ok to kill him if if advances some utilitarian purpose. For someone delusional enough to believe that embryos are actually full human lives, however, it is plausible to say that embryos have sacrificed no such right and therefore cannot be destroyed for the benefit of others.

Bush's hypocrisy, however, lies in the fact that the death penalty is inherently imperfect. As numerous studies have suggested, the amount of innocent people put to death is far from insignificant. The only way to justify such a system is to say that while some innocent lives will be lost, more will be saved by the deterrent effect of the death penalty (although, notwithstanding a recent paper by Cass R. Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, most studies have concluded that there is not much of a deterrent effect). Yet this is exactly the tradeoff Bush refuses to make with stem cells when the lives to be saved are indisputable and the "lives" taken barely human life. Therein lies the real hypocrisy.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

But can you eat a filibuster?

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Much has been made lately about preserving the right to filibuster. One argument can be summarized: we need to preserve the traditions of the Senate.

I agree with the idea that Senate traditions should be preserved, but I wonder if we should put so much energy into preserving the filibuster. Afterall, we can't eat a filibuster.

We can, however, eat bean soup. Apparently, Bean Soup has been a regular fixture in the Senate for more than a 100 years. If the GOP is willing to neuter the filibuster, what will stop them from discontinuing the bean soup? I bring this up because clearly there are some Senators that would be coerced by such a threat. Sure, the filibuster mess could cause a shut down, but without soup, the Senate would petrify.

I make this argument not in an attempt to dishonor the tradition of the filibuster, but rather to honor the tradition of the soup, which is getting scant attention in the main stream media. Soup, and bean soup in particular, might not be as flashy as a filibuster. It might not bring in the lucrative CSPAN audience. It might not inspire a bipartisan group to gang together and find a compromise over a related issue - like soup spoons. But, the Senate Bean Soup is a tradition we must protect, not because the soup protects the rights of a political senate minority, but because the tossing out of soup would create a slope, slippery with soup, down which the majority party could toss every tradition we hold dear, like gerrymandering, pork barreling, and other shadiness.

A decline in war

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Gregg Easterbrook makes a compelling case that notwithstanding all of the conflicts that regularly make the news, war and death from war is on the decline. Of course if North Korea decides to launch an atomic weapon or give one to terrorists, this trend will be completely reversed.

Our Uzbek Problem

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It is rare that i agree with the Weekly Standard, but they get this issue exactly right:
The Uzbek regime that was part of the solution in 2001 is now, with its bloody suppression of protests, part of the problem.

Sweet barbecue

there is nothing remotely political about these posts. But they are odes to gluttony, and for that they deserve recognition. An example:



After my long walk, I took Carolyn Wells to lunch at another celebrated Kansas City smokehouse, Fiorella's Jack Stack in the suburb of Martin City. Wells—who founded the Kansas City Barbeque Society and still runs it—is tall, energetic, and charming, with a brassy Southern accent. For a while we batted back and forth theories about why barbecue is so iconic in America—its cowboy roots, the intimate connection of barbecue and drinking, the thrilling alchemy of turning a cheap cut of meat into a delicacy, etc., etc.—until finally she said the most romantic, and most true, thing I have ever heard about barbecue.

"Once, I was judging a competition, and there was a box of shoulder, and I opened it up. It was so beautiful! I just wanted to stick my face in it. I just wanted to bury my face in it."

Hitchens on Afghanistan

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While Hitchens has gotten tiresome with his repetitive theme of the harm of not judging Arabs by the same standards we apply to ourselves, this is one of his better pieces:

Over the last week, the flag of the United States of America has been cheerfully incinerated by grinning crowds in several cities... Some of us can be offended at insults to our culture, and we, too, possess unalterable convictions and principles. Many people take the same view of the desecration of Old Glory. But we would never dream of venting ourselves in random assaults on mosques or Muslims, and if anyone on our soil did dare to commit such atrocities, I hope and believe that they would not receive moist and sympathetic treatment in the pages of the American press.

Part of the answer to 100 million missing women

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For those familiar with Amartya Sen's famous essay, there appears to be an interesting benign answer to 50 million of them - hepatitis B.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Other columnists

In the continued spirit of the Slate piece I thought it worthwhile to list my 10 favorite columnists/journalists. As should be self-evident, they span the ideological spectrum, so I am not just listing people with whom I ususally agree. Anyway, here is my list:

1. Anne Applebaum
2. Nicholas Kristof
3. Peter Beinhart
4. Christopher Hitchens
5. Dahlia Lithwick
6. David Corn
7. Andrew Sullivan
8. Tom Friedman
9. Jonah Goldberg
10. George Will

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Worthless Krugman

I agree with Dan on refusing to pay for Krugman. I would go a step further and say that I have stopped bothering to read him even though it is free. I thought it impossible for a semi-intelligent person to somehow lose a debate with Bill O'Reilly, yet somehow Krugman managed to pull it off last fall, with Tim Russert as the moderator no less. Essentially Krugman combines Maureen Dowd's analytical ability with the humor of a typical Kristof genocide column. A recipe that appeals to party-line alarmists, but not to people who actually try to analyze issues on their own.

For the record, my alottment would be:

Kristof $10
Friedman $8
Brooks $3
Tierney $1
Rich $1
Dowd $1
Hebert $1

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Columnist budget

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Chatterbox, on Slate, is asking people to budget how they would spend $25 on NYT columnists. The budgets/contributions/votes are due this afternoon. The results/rankings will be posted at some point in the future.

This suggests a great program for newspapers to use with their own columnists. Every year let readers vote off one of the columnists. Bring some fresh perspective to the papers. Get rid of some of the dead weight. Provide another gambling opportunity. Give us more chances to compare business management to reality television. It's a win win win win scenario.

For purposes of the slate column:
Brooks $8
Friedman $8
Kristof $5
Dowd $3
Herbert $1

Monday, May 16, 2005

President Bush: a nonbeliever.

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Apparently, President Bush doesn't believe in magic. Recently, he said:
"Americans are concerned about high prices at the pump and they're really
concerned as they start making their travel plans, and I understand that," the
president said. "I wish I could just wave a magic wand and lower the price at
the pump. I'd do that. But that's not how it works."

Isn't it odd that Bush, a man of faith, spits in the general direction of people that believe in magic wands. Maybe adherents to the religion of magic wands, who call themselves Wanderers, are not your traditional religious group, but why should that matter? For them, that is "how it works". It might just seem like a sideshow to Bush, but to many people magic is real. They believe it is real. And by scoffing at the power of magic wands he is trampling all over their beliefs. Is the "beliefs" rhetoric just rhetoric, or does Bush really believe it?

Wanderers don't hold press conferences like Bush and announce: "I wish I could do that Ten Commandments thing and then go to heaven. I'd do that. But that's not how it works." No. They are much more savvy than that. People who believe in magic accept other faiths, and respect the beliefs of people of other faiths - like scientologists and their beliefs in that Travolta movie about aliens.

Wanderers have been quietly pushing for stickers in text books that would question the concept of gravity. "Gravity is just a theory. Other theories involve magic wands." And yet, the intelligent designers get all the press. Where is the fairness?

Eventhough most Wanderers believe in dragons and fairy princesses, that doesn't mean they don't vote. I think it's time that the believers in magic wands stand up and form a left-wing religious base, dedicated to the proposition that all faiths should be recognized, whether they involve witches and trolls, or not.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Hostage saved by pizza

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I have praised the power of pizza and other fast food quite often. It seems that the world is starting to catch on:

An Australian prison siege ended on Monday after a group of inmates agreed to release a guard they had held for two days in return for a delivery of pizzas, prison officials said.

And it makes me wonder: have we stunted the magic of pizza? Have we held back pizza, simply because we misunderstood its greater gifts and social muscle? Yes, we have.

Pizza soothes football rivals watching a game in the same living room. Pizza sends college students to bed, when only mayhem awaits them at night. Pizza signals the end of a children's pizza party. Pizza teaches us how to share. It shows us that compromise is possible. Pizza is a mouth watering treat and a lesson in diplomacy.

Maybe the problem with Oil for Food was that we weren't being specific enough with "Food". Maybe Oil for Pizza would be more successful.

Maybe the Jets and the Sharks wouldn't have had the dance-rumble if someone had delivered a pizza to their meeting place. Perhaps a slice of cheese would have helped them "stay cool boy."

I'm not saying that all the world's conflicts could be solved by pizza. But it might give us the right place to start. Compromise between world leaders would find its seed crystal in a negotiation over the last slice of pepperoni. Mutual benefits would be realized when rival companies bit into a slice of Chicago-style.

The world would be a better place...if we just let pizza make it better for us.

Friday, May 06, 2005

And we wonder why schools are failing...

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A high school student was suspended for 10 days for refusing to end a cell phone call with his mother, a soldier serving in Iraq, school officials said.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Super-Duper Size me

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A restaurant in Pennsylvania is now serving a 15 pound burger:
Dennis Liegey, the owner of Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, 120 northeast
of Pittsburgh, said the "Beer Barrel Belly Buster" weighs in with 10 pounds of
meat molded into a 20-inch patty on a specially baked, 17-inch bun.

I'm glad that they mention that the bun is "specially baked", because I was slightly worried that if I ordered the burger it would come out on a hot dog bun.

This gargnatuan burger raises the question: who will eat such a burger? I, of course, have already put together a short list:
  1. Actors and actresses that want to gain weight. The surest way to win an award is to ugly up or gain weight. Now, thespians could be one step closer to an Oscar after one meal. After two meals, they might look like the girl from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that chews the wrong gum.
  2. Competitive Eaters. These people eat between 30-50 hot dogs in a matter of minutes. One 15 pound burger is wind sprint to these thoroughbreds. (When will competitive eaters be as acclaimed as other great athletes? When will society respect the fast twitch fat of the stomach as much as the fast twitch muscle of the leg? When will the strategy behind shoving hot dogs down one's gullet be as revered as a quaterback identifying a defense in a football game?)
  3. Elvis impersonators. If you could change from skinny Elvis to fat Elvis in the same day, you would have a more versatile performance range. No longer would impersonators have to slog through fried PB and Banana sandwiches for months. Plus, if this burger was around while Elvis was alive, I'm sure he'd have eaten it.
  4. World leaders. This restaurant would be the home to many a successful summit. Centuries of conflict could be settled as two leaders shared a gigantic slab of beef, cheese, and shredded lettuce. Smaller feuds could be settled over the Belly Buster as well. Maybe Tom DeLay could take out the Democrats on the House Ethics Committee, and they could all share the burger, compliments of Jack Abramoff.