Sunday, April 29, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 6

Breakfast: Turkey bacon, egg, and cheese on a toasted bagel (Steve made breakfast)

Lunch/dinner: Turkey, bacon and cheddar sandwich from Cosi with kettle chips. I was gonna wait until I got home from tutoring, but my co-workers suggested it and I had an hour off.

Also, in between breakfast and lunch/dinner, I had a 24 oz. coffee from Wawa (I have to get one when I'm near that place), and a big Powerade.


Better Living Through Blogging, Part 5

Saturday's food: Too much. All around. I hadn't really thought through the ramifications of trying to limit my intake, but then going to Steve's for wings and beer. Anyway, I don't need reader scorn to know that I ate & drank too much yesterday, so I'll get back to this feature later today, for today's stats.


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 4

Way past bedtime now, so here goes:

Lunch (I woke up too late for breakfast): Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Dinner: Buffalo Blue sandwich from Cosi, with kettle chips, a side order of chicken noodle soup, and a 16 oz. mixture of lemonade and raspberry iced tea.

That's all for now. G'nite.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 3

OK, not much time/will to post, so here's the vitals:

April 26, 2007

Breakfast: Bacon, egg and cheese on a poppy seed bagel (Yeah, I know, but it was so damn good yesterday), large green tea with honey and lemon juice, 16 oz. Apple juice.

Lunch: One (1) slice of pepperoni pizza, small hot chocolate, one (1) Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with caramel (verdict: not so much)

Dinner: One (1) Yuengling, One (1) Sam Adams, One (1) Harp, One (1) Smithwick's

I may well have some of the leftover rigatoni before I go to bed, though.

Yeah, beer for dinner is terrible, but so is genocide. Are you going to criticize me for my dinner before you criticize what's going on in the Sudan? Priorities, readers.


UPDATE: That rigatoni ended up in my belly, too.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sectarian Violence Down in Iraq?

General Petraeus recently told reporters that the troop surge in Iraq is working. As evidence, he presented them with the undeniable fact that sectarian murders are down:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told reporters that sectarian murders in Baghdad have been reduced by about one-third since the beginning of the year.

"That is an important development, because sectarian murders can be a cancer in a neighborhood," he said after separate briefings in the Senate and House on Wednesday.

In addition, "progress in Anbar is something that is breathtaking," he said of the vast Sunni-dominated province where many U.S. troop deaths have occurred, including one Monday.

Huge inroads have been made, he said, in regard to learning a "great deal more" of the "nefarious" Iranian involvement in the war in Iraq. He did not elaborate on whether he meant the Iranian government or outside factions.

Well, undeniable except for this one pesky, nagging fact:

U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Well, McClatchy's just trying to stir up trouble, right? If they're excluding car bombs from the statistics they're using to prove their point, it must be because there haven't been very many people killed by them, right?

Bush administration officials have pointed to a dramatic decline in one category of deaths - the bodies dumped daily in Baghdad streets, which officials call sectarian murders - as evidence that the security plan is working. Bush said this week that that number had declined by 50 percent, a number confirmed by statistics compiled by McClatchy Newspapers.

But the number of people killed in explosive attacks is rising, the same statistics show - up from 323 in March, the first full month of the security plan, to 365 through April 24.

Oh. So there still are a lot of bombings going on.

To be fair, deaths are down in Baghdad since December.

Overall, statistics indicate that the number of violent deaths has declined significantly since December, when 1,391 people died in Baghdad, either executed and found dead on the street or killed by bomb blasts. That number was 796 in March and 691 through April 24.

Nearly all of that decline, however, can be attributed to a drop in executions, most of which were blamed on Shiite Muslim militias aligned with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Much of the decline occurred before the security plan began on Feb. 15, and since then radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his Mahdi Army militia to stand down.

But if this is true even with the bombs included, why would the spokespeople for the war not include them? I don't get it. While it's good that civilian deaths are down in Baghdad, there seems to be something deeply dishonest about not including one of the major killers in the official statistics.


Texas House Rebukes Governor

The Texas House recently voted strongly against Governor Rick Perry's attempt to make HPV vaccination mandatory for 11 and 12 year old girls in the state. The vote was 135-2 in the House, and 30-1 in the Senate. Doesn't get much stronger than that.

Here's what had been at issue:

He said he would sign an executive order directing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to adopt rules requiring all 11- and 12-year old girls entering the sixth grade to be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus, or HPV, starting in September 2008. The order allowed parents to let their daughters opt out of the program.

Here's the Wikipedia page on Gardasil, which is the HPV vaccine being discussed. Looking through the list of proposals about the vaccine in various states, one thing sticks out to me:

Allows parents to opt their daughters out on religious grounds.

Really? A vaccine that prevents 70% of cervical cancer, and parents are allowed to point to the Bible and let their child be subject to the whims of fate? It seems to me that if there's a moral argument to be made here, it's that it's dead wrong to oppose a public health initiative that has the potential to save thousands of lives just because your religion doesn't agree with it.

I'd heard about this story before, and this is the exact thing that stuck out to me in the first place. Religious parents in Texas were afraid that if their daughters were vaccinated against HPV and were at significantly lower risk for cervical cancer, that they would take it as a license to have premarital sex all over the place.

Newsflash, Texas: people have been having premarital sex for years. This vaccine would only serve to save lives, not to significantly change behavior. Chances are, if they're human beings, most of these girls are going to have premarital sex with or without the vaccine.

Of course, I guess that's not an argument against those who would view cervical cancer as some sort of divine wrath executed against those who disobeyed God's will and had sex out of wedlock.

So it goes.


The Justice Department Strikes Back

Stories like this really should surprise me, but they just don't anymore. I guess that's indicative of how bad things have gotten.

The dispute is the latest and perhaps the most significant clash over the role of lawyers for the detainees. “There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country,” the Justice Department filing argued.

Under the proposal, filed this month in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the government would limit lawyers to three visits with an existing client at Guantánamo; there is now no limit. It would permit only a single visit with a detainee to have him authorize a lawyer to handle his case. And it would permit a team of intelligence officers and military lawyers not involved in a detainee’s case to read mail sent to him by his lawyer.

The proposal would also reverse existing rules to permit government officials, on their own, to deny the lawyers access to secret evidence used by military panels to determine that their clients were enemy combatants.

Many of the lawyers say the restrictions would make it impossible to represent their clients, or even to convince wary detainees — in a single visit — that they were really lawyers, rather than interrogators.

Did you catch that? Not only do the detainees lack basic human rights now, but the people who would represent them lack the right to visit them to do their job. I assume the Justice Department thinks it's being cute with this proposal. If asked, they'd probably say that they're being quite generous in allowing any visits at all, based on the premise that "There is no right on the part of counsel to access to detained aliens on a secure military base in a foreign country."

It seems to me that there's a Supreme Court decision that's relevant to this, isn't there?


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 2

OK, part 2 of my self-indulgent blogging-as-personal-accountability experiment is upon us. I don't have much to say tonight, so I'll be concise.

Breakfast: Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on English muffin, 20 oz. Green tea with lemon.

Snack: Bagel with Cream Cheese (office celebration of Administrative Assistants' Day), Hot Chocolate with whipped cream at the mall (Turns out this Snack was my lunch, so, you know, not so bad.)

Dinner: Big plate of Rigatoni, tomato sauce, and beef.

There were also a couple of Fruit Roll-Ups in there somewhere. Yeah, Fruit Roll-Ups. You read that right. I got a hankering last week and wondered if they still make them. Turns out they do.


Edwards Responds to Rudy

After Rudy Giuliani's asinine statement this morning about how 9/11 will happen again unless we elect a Republican President in 2008, Kevin Drum had a lot of criticism for what he saw as the tepid response of Hillary and Obama. I didn't feel as strongly about it as he did, and frankly, I was glad that they said something rather than being afraid to go after "America's Mayor" (Obama referred to Rudy by this nickname in his statement, although from the context it seemed as though it was sarcastic at best). Here's Kevin's take on what should have been said:

Whining just reinforces the message that Democrats are wimps. The real way to be "hard hitting" is to explain why Giuliani is wrong and what Democrats would do instead — and why the average Joe and Jane would be safer and better off without guys like Giuliani bumbling recklessly around the globe leaving a stronger al-Qaeda and a weaker America in their wake. Until they do, Rudy and the Republicans are going to win every round of this fight.

I share Greg Sargent's skepticism on whether that's entirely true, but Kevin does have a point. If this is the kind of combative rhetoric that we're to expect from now on from the Republicans, then we shouldn't be afraid to use strong language in return. In that regard, Sargent noted Edwards' response to Giuliani's idiocy. Here's the money quote:

As far as the facts are concerned, the current Republican administration led us into a war in Iraq that has made us less safe and undermined the fight against al Qaeda. If that's the 'Republican' way to fight terror, Giuliani should know that the American people are looking for a better plan. That's just one more reason why this election is so important; we need to elect a Democratic president who will end the disastrous diversion of the war in Iraq.

Good. Hit him on the substance of the statement, rather than on being too divisive. I feel like nobody wants to hear, at this point, divisive arguments about who's being more divisive. It's like having an argument about whether we're having an argument.

As a post-script, I enjoyed the DNC's official response to Rudy, as well:

How can the man who failed to prepare NYC for a second attack after the first one, quit the 9/11 commission because he was too busy raking in money from sketchy business deals, can't assess if the surge is working or if Iran and North Korea have nuclear weapons claim that he will keep America safe?

I like that they're not ceding 9/11 to Rudy anymore. Hit him where he lives.


Bobbin' in the Float...

Via Danger Room (another blog you should probably be reading if you aren't), a story of a problem in Iraq. There's no one part that sums it up, so do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to read it. Sometimes it helps cement how horrible it really is over there to look at some specifics. Numbers can get numbing. I guess that's why they're called numbers.


Random Links

Here's a few links to things that are noteworthy, but wouldn't generate a post of their own.

  • Kevin Tillman and Jessica Lynch testified before Congress today about the falsehoods told about by the military, exaggerating the heroism of Jessica and of Kevin's brother Pat. You know, it's a sad day when the stuff that would formerly have been considered the province of conspiracy theorists turns out to be true.
  • If you haven't seen it, and you have the capacity to watch video on the computer, check out Jon Stewart's interview with John McCain from last night's Daily Show. I can't help but comment on how much Stewart's grown into his role at The Daily Show, and how fearless and articulate he's become. Two and a half years ago, when Stewart delivered his now-legendary performance on CNN's Crossfire, he was visibly nervous. Almost shaking. Today he's strong, confident, and not afraid to look a man like John McCain in the face and tell him exactly where he's wrong.
  • There's a few of blogs that I love, that have provided outstanding commentary on all sorts of things. If you're not reading them, you should. They are, in no particular order, Talking Points Memo, The Carpetbagger Report, and Political Animal. TPM is particularly valuable in getting all relevant updates in the ongoing Prosecutor Purge scandal. The Carpetbagger Report and Political Animal give thoughtful analysis of a large variety of political issues, both from a left-leaning perspective, of course. While I'm at it, I'll throw a link to the one right-leaning blog that I read: Mark Coffey's Decision '08. Most of the time I don't agree with him and his analysis, but he's thoughtful and well-written and has a thriving comment section where reasonable discussion from all sides is encouraged. Good stuff all around.


I'm not always in agreement with Andrew Sullivan, but he's nothing if not thoughtful, and a wonderfully expressive writer to boot. That's why I suggest that you read his piece on Obama in full.

But in case you don't, here's the gist of it:

But this much we can already say: Obama brings something no one else does to this moment. By replacing one of the most globally despised and domestically divisive presidents in American history with a young leader half-Kansan and half-Kenyan, America would be saying something to the world: Bush-Cheney is not who we are. America is not what it has come to appear to be. This country is among the most culturally and racially and religiously diverse on the planet. America has long been a powerful and vital beacon for human rights - not, as recently, the avatar of torture, rendition and executive tyranny. The simple existence of Obama as a new president in a new century would in itself enhance America's soft power immeasurably, just as a clear decision to leave Iraq would provide much greater leverage for diplomacy and military force in a whole variety of new ways. Obama would mean the rebranding of America, after a disastrous eight years. His international heritage, his racial journey, his middle name: these are assets for this country, not liabilities.

I couldn't agree more.


Taxi to the Darkside

Via Andrew Sullivan, here's a link to a trailer for a movie called Taxi to the Darkside. It's about the American use of torture over the last 5 or 6 years, which is an issue about which I am very passionate. I'd seen the clips of President Bush used in the trailer before, but they still give me chills. At the very end, a man says, "If they think so very little of life, and clearly 9/11 exemplified that, screw them. Anything goes."

And so it has.


My Opponents Want You Dead

Rudy Giuliani, who is still leading in the preposterously early polling for the Republican candidacy for President in 2008, has thrown down the gauntlet:

“If any Republican is elected president —- and I think obviously I would be the best at this —- we will remain on offense and will anticipate what [the terrorists] will do and try to stop them before they do it,” Giuliani said.

Translation: We'll fight the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them over here. If by "terrorists" you mean "Iraqis," and if by "remain on offense" you mean "we're never leaving Iraq. Ever."

“But the question is how long will it take and how many casualties will we have?” Giuliani said. “If we are on defense [with a Democratic president], we will have more losses and it will go on longer.”

Translation: I know you're thinking that if we pull our troops out of Iraq, we'll lose less of them, and it will not, in fact, go on longer. I know you're thinking that this is a contradiction to my assertions that we need to stay in Iraq as long as it takes. But I was Mayor of New York on 9/11. God Bless America.

“I listen a little to the Democrats and if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense,” Giuliani continued. “We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation and we will be back to our pre-Sept. 11 attitude of defense.”

Translation: If the Democrats win, they'll usher in a pansy agenda like not spying on Americans, or not torturing people. And I say to you good people, if there's anybody who loses more from a pre-9/11 attitude, it's me, who gained everything from 9/11.

“This war ends when they stop coming here to kill us!” Giuliani said in his speech. “Never, ever again will this country ever be on defense waiting for [terrorists] to attack us if I have anything to say about it. And make no mistake, the Democrats want to put us back on defense!”

Giuliani said terrorists “hate us and not because of anything bad we have done; it has nothing to do with Israel and Palestine. They hate us for the freedoms we have and the freedoms we want to share with the world.”

Translation: The Democrats want you dead because they're latte-sipping freedom-haters! And that's what the terrorists are! Freedom-haters! Please ignore any other reasons they gave for anything they've done, because I have the inside line on why they do what they do, and it's because they hate freedom!

Honestly, do we have to listen to this nonsense for another year and a half? Or is it going to get worse? Are the Republicans going to try to outdo each other at fearmongering? Will they rush to smear each other as weak on terror?

The thing that immediately struck me about these quotes from Rudy's speech has to do with movies. Relating everything to movies is a fault of mine, I suppose. But anyway, in movies set in a dystopian future, isn't Rudy's speech here the kind that would be filmed from skewed camera angles, with sharp, discordant string music behind it, underscoring just how wrong it is? Think V for Vendetta. Think The Dead Zone. Stuff like that. Leaders who talk like Rudy in movies are presumptively the enemies. There's no question about it. It seems to me that Americans, at least in their art, embrace hope over fear.

Why is it different in the voting booth?

UPDATE: Statements from both Obama and Hilary on Giuliani's childish scare tactics.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Better Living Through Blogging, Part 1

You probably think it's horribly self-indulgent, and you're probably right. But too bad. This is the beginning of my experiment in holding myself accountable for my personal habits via blog.

Here's what I had to eat today:

Breakfast: Plain bagel w/ cream cheese and 24 oz. green tea, both from Dunkin' Donuts

Lunch: 6-inch turkey & cheese on wheat w/ mayonnaise and lettuce, Baked Lays and 20 oz. Diet Coke. Also an Auntie Anne's pretzel, and 2 Diet Coke Plus (it's new, I had to try it)

Dinner: One peanut butter and jelly sandwich, on wheat bread, with Skippy Natural Peanut Butter (no trans fat)

As far as exercise, it wasn't much, but I played probably 15 minutes of Dance Dance Revolution with Jason around 9:00. Scoff if you want, but that game can get pretty damn strenuous. Also, it helps me channel my inner Asian child. Actually, interestingly enough (or not, depending on who I'm asking), I have a picture of me and Josh playing Dance Dance Revolution in front of a bunch of Asians in China:

Yeah, a couple of crazy white guys playing DDR at an arcade in China. I think it was, like, 11:00 am on a weekday, too. It's OK, because we were on vacation.

Anyway, here's what I look like right now. Maybe I'll give y'all some periodic updates.

Maybe I'll shave sometime, too.


For My Own Edification

I've been thinking for a while that I should get down to the nitty gritty and start losing some weight, but I've lacked the motivation. Sure, I know that fast food is no good for me, but somehow when I'm coming home after working a full day at work and tutoring for 4 hours afterwards, the convenience of McDonald's or Burger King wins out easily over waiting a half hour to go home, figure out what I have, figure out what of that I want, and then take the time to make it.

Need I explain how easy it is to not bother to factor exercise into a day when I leave home at 7:30 am and get home at 8:30 or 9:30 pm?

These are, I understand, excuses. They're my pathetic attempt to rationalize what's really been my following the path of least resistance for too long. What I need is a way to realize my own motivation. Reinforcement, if you will. I used to go to the gym when I had a friend (Nick) who was on a schedule similar to my own, where we could reinforce one another. We ate healthier, we got exercise, and we lost a lot of weight by helping each other out.

So this afternoon I had the idea that maybe I could use my blog as that reinforcement. Maybe I could hold myself accountable to my readership, meager though it may be. It may be boring to read what I had for breakfast and how much exercise I got in a day, but I think there's a good chance that it'll help me call myself to task.

The pleasant side-effect for my readers, I think, is that if I could get myself into this habit, I would find it easier to jump-start my blogging, which I've tried and failed to do for quite some time now.

So what do you think? Good idea? Bad idea? Do you think my idea of using the blog in this way is a sound one, or do you think it's flawed in some way? Lemme know what you think.