Saturday, May 13, 2006

Ben Ferguson, the Yankees, and the ideology of the right

There have been a few diaries on Kos concerning Randi Rhodes' destruction of young Republican Ben Ferguson on Larry King on Friday--you can read diaries by mrblifil here and by A Patriot here.

Each of these three links contains a transcript for reference, so please read one of the three. Much of the conversation concerning this piece of folly concerning Ben Ferguson has centered around his idiotic excuse for not serving in Iraq--namely, that the U.S. Army is like a sports team and you don't have to serve to support them.

While this argument is noticeably pathetic and deserves a lot all the ridicule it has received to this point, I actually found the earlier part of the conversation far more disturbing than the bit about the Yankees.

You see, whether or not Ben Ferguson gets himself off of his chickenhawk ass and volunteers to join his "friends" in Iraq is immaterial to the larger question of the internal logic the rightists use in blaming us for the current situation in Iraq--whatever it is, because the rightists can't seem to figure out whether their strategy is to convince us that Iraq is a success, or whether to concede that it's a failure and blame us for it.

We've heard the standard arguments that liberals are losing the war in Iraq like they lost the war in Vietnam because we don't have the resolve to keep going long enough to see the operation through to success. What Ben Ferguson has done, however, is something qualitatively different, and symptomatic of what has now become the typical right-wing mindset:

He has blamed us for the decisions of the administration.

Don't believe me? Examine the transcript.

RHODES: Our troops don't get the support they need. They're there without the proper troop numbers.

FERGUSON: Because you guys are saying that it's a quagmire.

You see, if we hadn't called it a quagmire, all of a sudden there would have been enough troops to occupy Iraq! Of course, the fact that it was our lack of troops that caused it to be a quagmire in the first place never crossed Ben's mind. But he continues:

RHODES: They are there without the proper body armor. They're there without the proper exit strategy.

FERGUSON: You're right. There's no support from the left because you say it is a quagmire, it's a waste of time, we shouldn't be there. We need to come home.

So apparently, if we had all supported the war, all of a sudden the troops would have had body armor that doesn't shatter on impact. All of a sudden the troops wouldn't have had to create improvised Humvee armor using scrap metal.

Personally, while I appreciate Randi Rhodes' smackdown of Ben Ferguson based on his lack of service, I would have been far more satisfied with an exploration of this ideology far more than I am with the personal thrashing of another chickenhawk coward--because Ben Ferguson's response are a perfect example of what the current ideology of the right has become:

It's not our fault for doing it. It's your fault for pointing it out, because if you hadn't pointed it out, there would be no problem.

It's this ideology that defines their critique of our critique of their war. It's this ideology that defines how they respond to revelations concerning the violations of FISA, and the national datamining operation. It's this ideology, even, that has been their defense of Rove and Libby in Plamegate: "if Joe Wilson hadn't talked, nobody would have cared. So Joe Wilson outed his own wife."

There are lots of things that I wish Democrats would have the courage to stand up and say, but now you can add another one to the list:

HEY AMERICA! If you don't like bad policy, blame the people who do it, not the people who point out that it's being done.

Because the fact is, they decided to violate the law on a broad scale. They decided to invade occupy Iraq with insufficient troops. They decided not to make sure that our troops had adequate armor. They decided to harm our non-proliferation efforts in Iran.

The Republicans are playing a blame game here, and we can't let them control it. Bad policy is the fault of the policy-makers, not the whistle-blowers.

[Cross-posted on Daily Kos]

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday spider blogging

Science (spider) Friday: The Black Widow

As my tribute to Science Friday on Daily Kos, I would like to welcome you to the first weekly edition of Spider Friday--an introduction to the spiders that either do or could affect your daily life. You like science, and I like spiders, so it seems like a perfect match.

Why spiders? Because to me, there is nothing that symbolizes the wonder, diversity, and even the beauty of nature quite like the spider. To me, spiders are the most amazing animals on earth. Imagine if you pulled your house out of your ass every night and then ate it for breakfast the next morning.

So let's get things started with the Black Widow. You think you know the Black Widow--but do you really?


Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Class: Arachnida (Arachnids)
Order: Araneae (Spiders)
Infraorder: Araneomorphae (True Spiders)
Family: Theridiidae (Cobweb Spiders)
Genus: Latrodectus (Widow Spiders)

This Friday, we will be discussing spiders in the Latrodectus genus, including, but not limited to, the Black Widow. But first, some background is in order.


These spiders get their name because of the cannibalistic reputation of the females, who have a reported proclivity toward eating their much smaller mates after sex. The truth is far less interesting, however--while such behavior has been often seen in captivity, it apparently happens much less often in the wild when the male has a better chance to escape (girls, if you really want to know the reason we guys tend to head out in the morning and leave you waking up to a stereotypically empty bed, now you know the reason). While we're on this subject, black widow females also have the capability to store sperm after a mating and can produce more fertilized egg sacs without mating again (girls, another note: don't ever try to develop this capability).

Black widow mating takes place in late spring or summer. The female will then produce an egg sac containing anywhere from 25 to 250 eggs. When the spiderlings emerge from the eggs, they're usually white, as seen in the fascinating picture below:

The spiderlings take a couple of months to mature, growing darker with each successive molt.


Black Widow venom contains a very potent neurotoxin that affects the muscles and the central nervous system. Bites will not initially be felt at first, but they will generally be followed in a few minutes by intense pain at the site of the bite, as well as red dots at the puncture points. This is followed by severe muscle cramping, especially in the legs and abdomen--which can become literally board-stiff some time after the bite (but if you're looking to get washboard abs, believe me--this isn't a good way to do it). Excessive salivation due to loss of gland control is also a common symptom, as well as mild psychological reactions, such as mild anxiety. In more extreme cases, stupor or severe paranoia can be exhibited as a result of Black Widow bites. Black Widow poisoning (also called latrodectism) is typically treated with a combination of antivenin, as well as the muscle relaxant calcium gluconate to counteract the muscle cramping and relieve the associated pain.


And now for the fun part!

Really, it's a misnomer to be talking about the "black widow" at all, because what we commonly term the "black widow" is actually three different species! If you live in the Western United States (essentially the Rockies and further west), what you might see in some dark corner is the Latrodectus hesperus--the Western Widow. But if you live in the South, you're far more likely to encounter L. mactans, the Southern Widow. And if you live in New England or Southeastern Canada, L. variolus--the Northern Widow--is your native species. And if you're Jerome a Paris? Well, the L. mactans tredecimguttatus--the Mediterranean Widow--is more in style, with a range that includes all of Southern Europe east into Kazakhstan.

So how is a budding arachnologist like yourself supposed to tell the difference? Well, if locality isn't enough for you, you can just go ahead and examine the red "hourglass" that make the "black widow" famous.

Black widows are known for their "hourglasses", but only one of the species mentioned above has a true hourglass marking--and that's the Western Widow, as you can see from the picture below:

The Southern Widow has a marking that actually more closely resembles an anvil shape:

And the Northern Widow actually has two separated red markings:

And the Mediterranean is quite visibly different, with spots (tredecimguttatus means "bearing 13 spots"!) all over the abdomen:

But that's not all! There are 31 different species in the Widow genus. I'll take up just a little more of your time and introduce you to a few that you've probably never seen before.

There are two other Widow species that you might see if you like in Central or South Florida. One of them is the L. bishopi, the Red Widow--and the only place you'll find L. bishopi is in palmetto fronds in Central and South Florida scrub-pine areas, which is too bad:

There is also another species in Florida, but it's nonnative, having been introduced there from other tropical ports of call. It's L. geometricus, the Brown (or Grey) Widow:

There are no recorded cases of Red Widow bites, but the venom is undoubtedly toxic. The Brown Widow has less dangerous venom, but should still be accorded respect.

Widow spiders are scattered throughout the world. If you're in Australia, you might find L. mactans hasselti, the Redback spider--and South Africa has six Widow species, including the intimidating L. indistinctus, whose distinctive red mark appears on the very tip of the abdomen.

But perhaps the largest debate among scientists today concerning the Widow genus is what to make of another potential American species, currently dubbed L. Bush:

L. Bush has been previously observed causing the death of potential mates, though this behavior has not yet been duplicated as a natural phenomenon, so no definite conclusions can be drawn. Other potential clues pointing to successful identification in the genus Latrodectus has been the tendency of this species to pair-bond with a non-threatening, easily controllable male, as well as the proclivity to retreat into a burrow and hide during times of danger. Nevertheless, the scientific evidence is inconclusive, and we are awaiting further study.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

CA-36: Declare independence from Jane Harman

When, in the course of Democratic events, it becomes necessary for one party to dissolve the political bonds which tie it to one of its members, and to elect among its Representatives a qualified Candidate to whom the values of our Party and its various Gods entitle it, a decent respect to the opinions of our voters requires that it should declare the causes which impel it to the separation.

The history of the present Representative of California's 36th District, Jane Harman, is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations against our Party, all having in direct object the aiding, abetting and facilitation of, as well as cooperation with, the establishment by George Bush and the Republican Party, of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid blogosphere.

She has voted YES on eliminating the Estate Tax, the most wholesome and necessary for dissuading the creation of a plutocratic class in these states.

She has voted YES on legislation to make the PATRIOT Act permanent, thus supporting the endeavors of King George to ignore the constitutional provision of these states against searches and seizures without an issuance upon probable cause.

She has voted YES on an amendment to our Constitution outlawing the burning of the flag of these states, thus enabling the removal of the rights guaranteed by the first amendment to said Constitution, and further emboldening the spirits of those who would conspire to declare our Party unpatriotic.

She has voted YES on the bankruptcy bill, a document that relaxes the hindrances of Corporations from sending swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

She has known for years that King George justified his war of aggression and usurpation against the sovereign nation of Iraq, using information both dubious and unreliable, while ignoring evidence that might have served to dissuade the people of these states from supporting this war, and yet has refused to require an investigation into the acquisition and misuse of this intelligence, despite the lack of support of both King George and the war he commenced.

She has not only refused to condemn, but has in fact eagerly supported acts of espionage by the officers of King George in direct violation of Acts of Congress, as well as the Constitution of these states; and further, has even condemned those who acted in the public good by giving notice of these transgressions to the people of these states.

She has expressed her proud allegiance to the Blue Dog Coalition and to the Democratic Leadership Council, organizations which not only facilitate divisiveness within our party, but favor appeasement of our opponents and encourage acquiescence to their system of governance.

She has betrayed the trust of her fellows by calling herself “the best Republican in the Democratic Party.”

She has accepted excessive funds from military corporations, giving just cause to question whether her allegiance is to the people of her district, or to the corporations within it; and has supported the Star Wars Missile Shield in spite of its egregious cost to the citizens of these states and its utter failure to engage in any compelling provision for the common defense.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Congresswoman, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a facilitator, is unfit to be the Representative of a progressive Democratic district.

We, therefore, the representatives of the liberal blogosphere, in Online Congress, assembled virtually, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the internet, whomever it may be, for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these blogs, solemnly publish and declare, that the 36th District of California is, and of right ought to be free and independent of Jane Harman; that it is absolved from all allegiance to her, and that all political connection between it and the organization of the DLC, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as a free and independent Democratic district, it has full power to levy war against the culture of corruption, conclude peace in Iraq, contract renewed alliances with our jilted allies, establish fair-trade commerce, and to do all other acts and things which a strong Democratic Party may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of PastorDan's Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred screennames.

(With props to Thomas Jefferson)

For a Common Sense approach to Democracy in America, please support Marcy Winograd's primary challenge to Jane Harman in the 36th District. If you feel like contributing, please consider using my ActBlue page, or the sidebar tool on this blog.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bush "wants" to close Gitmo!!

How can you know that a sea-change is afoot in this country when Republicans start saying that they all of a sudden want to do things that we've been campaigning for for years. E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post wrote recently about the Republican attempts to re-brand themselves and give themselves an image that fits more closely with Democratic concepts than Republican ones.

Little did I know or expect that one of the political reeds that would be blown by this wind would be our own fearless leader.
Bush said very recently that he would like to close our prison at Guantanamo Bay--and all he is waiting for to be able to do so is a Supreme Court ruling on whether the detainees there will be brought before a military tribunal or a civilian jury:

"Of course Guantanamo is a delicate issue for people. I would like to close the camp and put the prisoners on trial," Bush said in comments to be broadcast on Sunday night.

"Our top court must still rule on whether they should go before a civil or military court. They will get their day in court. One can't say that of the people that they killed. They didn't give these people the opportunity for a fair trial."

The quotes were translated by Reuters from a German transcript.

It would, of course, be fundamentally un-American™ to speculate that Bush's announcement was politically motivated, because our President acts straight from the gut when it comes to determining right and wrong. But it wasn't more than four months ago that Bush believed the 180-degree opposite about Gitmo:

The camp on the U.S. Navy base there is "a necessary part of protecting the American people," Bush said after meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House.

The only thing that could possibly make this dramatic a difference is if we've already won the war on terror!

Okay, but all snark aside, I'd like to bring some other things to your attention concerning Bush's (translated remarks about wanting to close Guantanamo.

First, he says that he would "like" to close Guantanamo. Oh really, Mr. Bush? You'd "like to"? So you want to, but something prevents you? I thought you were the decider, Mr. President. I thought you were the unitary executive, with exclusive authority to do what it takes to protect the American people. You didn't need Supreme Court approval to engage in extrajudicial warrantless wiretaps to protect the American people. So why do you need the Supreme Court to decide on how to try the prisoners there before you close the camp?

You also say, Mr. President, that "they will get their day in court." I'd like to ask you something, Mr. President: why do you care so much now about whether they get their day in court? It wasn't very long ago, that federal prosecutors argued relentlessly on your behalf that you had the ability to detain even American citizens indefinitely without trial or arraignment on charges, and that that ability was also integral to the security of the American people and the successful prosecution of the war on terror.

Lastly, Mr. President, I'd like to ask you about something else that you said. You said that "the people they killed didn't get an opportunity for a fair trial." I have a couple of questions on that, Mr. President. First of all, concerning the people "they killed": what would they have been tried for? Weren't they innocent people? People who are murdered wouldn't have needed a fair trial in the first place.

But more importantly: you already said "the people they killed." I thought that the point of a fair trial, Mr. President, was the presumption of innoncence until guilt is proved. That's what a fair trial is all about. Aren't you preventing the conclusion of a fair trial by already declaring, in your omnipotent power as a unitary executive, that they are guilty of murder?

And furthermore, I wanted to ask you, Mr. President, if your conclusion about these people--all of whom are killers by your own declaration--applies equally as well to those who are still detained whom the Pentagon has declared are innocent. Will these killers get a fair day in court as well, Mr. President? Or will they need to be brought before a second military tribunal to declare their already proven innocence yet again?

Answer me these questions, Mr. President. Because the American people deserve to know.

[Cross-posted at Daily Kos]