Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: May 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Here we are again, honoring and remembering those who have sacrificed in our name, and those who continue to put themselves in harm's way. We've got a new commander-in-chief this year, and a new strategy for the two wars he inherited. The current iCasualties count in Iraq, in which U.S. involvement is ostensibly winding down (whether military interests will drag their heals to avoid Obama's deadline remains to be seen), is 4,300 U.S. military dead, and 4,618 coalition fatalities. Afghanistan, which is picking up the slack for the drawdown in Iraq, currently stands at 687 American fatalities out of a total of 1,154 coalition deaths.

Let's keep this in mind when we're flipping burgers and grilling brats.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Mancow Advances the Torture Discussion

No, really, he does. And in a positive way. Hard to believe, I know.

OK, he didn't plan it to go the way that it did. The whole thing started as a publicity stunt in which Mancow would undergo waterboarding on the air during his radio show so that he could prove that it's no big deal for a real man. He expected to "laugh it off." But then he actually went through with it.

Without training, regular people can stand only a few seconds of the process. A marine on hand at the studio said that 14 seconds is the norm. Mancow withstood about six seconds before pulling away. In friendly, casual, two-consenting adults waterboarding, of course, pulling away is allowed, but prisoners aren't generally afforded that luxury. Speaking afterward, Mancow was clearly shaken. He said that he although he didn't want to admit it, he now accepts that waterboarding is torture. (There's video of the experience at the site of WMAQ, Chicago's NBC affiliate.)

Steve Benen made the obvious point. Addressing those who refuse to acknowledge waterboarding as torture, he said:

This is not only absurd, it defies common sense: if this wasn't torture, we wouldn't have done it. The whole point is to do something so horrific that the detainee would feel compelled to give up information. If it were merely a "splash in the face," as some on the right have argued, why would Bush administration officials think it might be effective?

Mancow is not likely to change any minds, though. Christopher Hitchins conducted a similar experiment almost a year ago, and as I mentioned at the time, those who claim to believe that waterboarding is not torture do so for ideological reasons, certainly not for any reason based on its merit. Already, the gang over at Hot Air (I'm not linking--go find it yourself, if you must) have started their ridicule of Mancow's virility. What a way to debate a nation's morality.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pringles Really Are Potato Chips After All!

The U.K.'s Valued-Added Tax doesn't usually apply to food, but potato-based snacks are a different matter. As a snack food, they're presumably regarded as something less than a necessity. The good folks at Pringles, though, probably fearing that they were losing sales from customers who didn't want the extra VAT expense, thought that they might have a way around it. It seems reasonable enough--Pringles are much more bland than other potato chips, and they look and taste like they've been processed within an inch of their lives. Lives that they never had, by the way, because it seems like there's nothing natural about them in any manner.

Unfortunately, Procter & Gamble couldn't convince the British courts of that. Last year, a judge had bought the argument that, since Pringles are only 42 percent potato, have uniform taste and shape (a shape that "is not found in nature," by the way), and are packaged in tubes rather than in bags, they're actually more like cakes or cookies than like chips. Yeah, I don't understand how that argument got them the time of day, either. But common sense has prevailed. Pringles may not exactly seem like potato chips, but they're a lot closer to that than, say, Twinkies.

Now that's got me wondering. In a contest between Pringles and Twinkies, which would decay first?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sidetracking the Torture Debate

During my recent blogging downtime, I haven't been paying quite as close attention to politics as I had been, and I've got to admit that I'm a bit confused about the Republicans' recent tactics on torture. The CIA released a memo claiming that Nancy Pelosi was briefed on its torture tactics way back in 2003. Pelosi claims that she wasn't. So the GOP has taken the opportunity to pile on Pelosi and implicate her in whatever backwash all this torture has. One of the strongest arguments to this effect appeared in The Wall Street Journal under Karl Rove's byline: "If she knew what was going on and did nothing, does that make her an accessory to a crime of torture, as many Democrats are calling enhanced interrogation?"

Does he really want to go there? You don't need to follow that line of argument very far to see that it can't end well for Rove and his compatriots. Apparently, the idea is some sort of blackmail--if you implicate us, we'll implicate you back! That line might have some juice if being an accessory were worse than being a perpetrator. Matt Yglesias points out what else is wrong with this tactic:

But in their zeal to score a tactical win, the right has made a truth commission more likely not less likely. Obama wanted to avoid a backward-looking focus on torture in part because it distracted from his legislative agenda. But if we're going to be looking backward anyway, thanks to conservatives' insistence on complaining about Pelosi, then the move forward strategy lacks a rationale. And far from forcing a standoff in which Pelosi will abandon her support for an investigation, the right has forced her into a corner from which she can't give in to moderate Democrats' opposition to such a move without looking like she's cravenly attempting to save her own skin.

There's no sign that Pelosi or anyone else is backing off the truth-commission idea. And, indeed, by suggesting that Pelosi could be a target of an investigation, conservatives have helped cleanse the idea of the odor of victor's justice.

That last line raises another question. When can we expect David Broder going to take the Republicans to task for scapegoating Pelosi out of vengeance?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

It's Monty Python Night Tonight!

We've got our tickets to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Jones tonight. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk is making her plans to start getting a picture with and/or autograph from the second half of the Pythons (she's already got a snapshot with the difficult one, so it's all downhill from here). To get further into the mood, here's an article from earlier in the week from the Trib with some facts about the movie. One very disappointing note for me comes when they talk about how the film was financed. Against my better judgment, I guess I have to be appreciative to Andrew Lloyd Webber about something after all.

Postscript: Yes, it looks like this is turning into a special events blog. That's not my intention, but it seems to be the way things are working out for now. I'll try to do better as my various nonblogging responsibilities seem to tamp down for a bit.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Free Comic Book Day

When I wrote a few weeks ago that I was going to slow down on my blogging, I had no idea that I'd end up being as busy as I've been. I hadn't intended to go quiet for two weeks, but, well, here we are. It's a good thing that there wasn't much going on in the outside world while I had to devote all my time to my latest work project (which will be a nice book on the national parks come August, or so). I'm glad that I came to my own decision on the matter, though, because I would've had to quit for a few days anyway, but I would've been much more upset if I'd been forced to end my streak of daily posts rather than choosing to end it on my own terms.

There is an awful lot to catch up on, and I'm not sure exactly how much I'll actually get to cover, but for the time being, I'll just remind you to go out and find your local comic book store and then drop in on Saturday for Free Comic Book Day. Just like I've been working and not paying as much attention to what else is going on, I haven't been paying attention to Free Comic Book Day, either, so I just took a look at what various companies are offering myself. There appear to be almost 40 different titles, some all ages and some not, and while you can't expect every store to have every title, the bigger comics will be in most places. If you're not sure where your closest comic store might be, the Free Comic Book Day site has a locater that can tell you which ones are participating. For those of you looking for autographs, various creators will be appearing all over the country.

Go explore comic stores near you and find out what intrigues you (for free or otherwise). Then come back here to report how you liked what you got.