Worst. President. Ever.

January 10, 2007

Updated and Expanded!

Is it too early to be declaring this, with two years of untold disasters left for the Bush Administration to bring? Personally, I think Bush crossed the finish line for this contest long ago and hasn’t quit running yet. Let’s take a look at his legacy:

I’m not sure I can even remember it all, but starting at the beginning:

  • He won the Presidency after losing the popular vote, with a highly contested election result in the state of Florida.
  • When he took office, was told by Clinton’s outgoing people that Bin Laden was the biggest threat, and was handed a plan to deal with it. He then demoted Richard Clarke and totally ignored Bin Laden and terrorism for the first eight months on his Administration.
  • During this time, his signature policies were whoring for the religious right (by prohibiting federal funding of stem cells and funnelling tax dollars to churches through “faith based initiatives”), passing tax cuts which were little more than a billions-of-dollars giveaway to the wealthiest Americans, and introducing sweeping education reform (No Child Left Behind) while proceeding to underfund it by tens of billions of dollars.
  • He went on vacation for the month of August and then some in 2001, while warning sirens about terrorist activity were going off all over the place. During this time, he was handed a memo titled “Bin Laden determined to attack US”; he didn’t ask any questions about it.
  • On September 11, the worst attack on American soil in history occurred on Bush’s watch. His response was to sit like a deer in headlights for seven minutes after being told the country was attacked.
  • Almost immediately afterwards, according to reports, the Administration wanted to pin the attacks on Saddam Hussein.
  • Days later, he signed the Orwellian named Patriot Act, one of the biggest curtailments of civil liberties ever, and has defended it vigorously since.
  • With most of the world united in condemning the attacks and the highest approval rating of any President, ever, Bush of course fell back on the politics of divisiveness: “You’re either with us, or with the terrorists.”
  • He opposed setting up the Department of Homeland Security before he was forced to flip flop on the issue. He then staffed it with cronies.
  • He opposed a 9/11 commission. When one was finally convened, he refused to testify for it. He finally did so though… off the record, not under oath, and with Cheney by his side.
  • As commander in chief, he botched the best chance we had to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora, who five years after 9/11 remains uncaptured. These days, Bush isn’t even concerned about the man who killed almost 3,000 Americans and left a hole in downtown manhattan.
  • By the end of 2002, the war in Afghanistan was all but forgotten (and lost, allowing for a Taliban resurgence.)
  • In September of 2002 (because you never launch a new product in August), the focus had shifted to justifying an invasion of Iraq (and making “The facts fit the policy” according to Downing Street Memos)
  • He timed the fearmongering about Iraq to strengthen the Republican majority for the 2002, in other words, he picked the time for this war for political gain.
  • Meanwhile, he was busy running up the biggest deficit in history and all but bankrupting the country. He’s spent more than any “tax and spend” liberal who’s come before, and has yet to veto a single spending bill.
  • He lies constantly. His lies are too many to even begin to list, but this President has an amazing capacity for doublespeak. Black is white, up is down, war is peace, ignorance is strength and freedom is slavery.
  • He lied and misled about *everything* regarding Iraq in the run up to the war, from WMD’s to terrorist links and its relationship to 9/11. Nothing he told the American people about this war turned out to be true.
  • When he was called on one of his lies (in the State of the Union no less), his Administration (with his knowledge) revealed the identity of an active undercover CIA agent payback, jeopardizing national security for political payback.
  • Despite his pledge to fire anyone involved with the leak (which he authorized) and get to the bottom of it (guess he never thought to just ask Rove, Cheney, or Libby about it), no one has yet been fired over it. Scooter Libby did resign upon being indicted for perjury though and the investigation is still ongoing.
  • In March 2003 he launched a “pre-emptive” war against Iraq to stop Saddam from giving WMD’s he didn’t have to terrorists he didn’t know, without any meaningful international support for the action.
  • “Mission Accomplished”
  • He ignored any generals who told him there weren’t enough troops or that the troops didn’t have the right equipment. As Rumsfeld said so eloquently, they went to war with “The army you have, not the army you wish you have”
  • In the chaos that followed Saddam’s downfall, poor planning led to widespread looting an anarchy. But the oil fields were well defended.
  • Years later, Iraq’s infrastructure still isn’t where it was at the time of the invasion, and Halliburton and other contractors haven’t been asked to account billions of missing dollars.
  • An insurgency grew and the country has descended into a sectarian civil war. Our troops are stuck in a quagmire with no exit plan. Iraq has become Vietnam II.
  • But… “Bring em on”
  • He’s held Jose Padilla, an American citizen, in blatant violation of his fifth and sixth amendment rights.
  • He’s also holding prisoners in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without charges being brought against them, or attorneys, or any of those other rights we’re supposedly fighting for.
  • His Administration formed a policy of torture (and then made the guy who wrote the torture memor Attorney General) with no regard for human rights, which led to Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay abuses, to say this least. This has resulted in irreperable damage to the war effort, our image abroad, and human rights in general.
  • In continuing to be a whore for the religious right, he backed a constitutional amendment to enshrine bigotry against gays into the constitution.
  • Meanwhile, North Korea was allowed to develop nuclear weapons and test fire missiles (basically doing all the stuff Bush falsely accused Saddam of being guilty of.)
  • But he can’t recall a single mistake he ever made, aside from trading Sammy Sosa.
  • He wins re-election by the slimmest margin ever for an incumbant president (and with questionable goings on in Ohio), he declares he has a “mandate” to continue his policies.
  • I’m not even sure why he wanted re-election, as being President is such “hard work”.
  • He tries and fails to destroy social security.
  • The economy is a mess. The war is a disaster. Everything’s going to hell. But somehow, Bush finds the time to bust through the record for most days spent on vacation by any President, with three years to spare. In fact, 20% of his time in office was spent on vacation.
  • His Administration blatantly and (likely illegally) paid for outright propoganda. And hello, Jeff Gannon?
  • Vacationing for him is so critical, he doesn’t want to cut it short to deal with Hurricane Katrina. Neither does the rest of his Administration for that matter. Condeleeza Rice, for example, was shoe shopping in NYC as the city of New Orleans was being destroyed.
  • He says “No one could have predicted the levies would break”. He was told, two days before they broke, that the levies were likely to break.
  • But “Brownie” did a “Heckuva job” dealing with the disaster.
  • The event revealed just how widespread cronyism is within his Administration. As if Michael Brown wasn’t enough proof of that, he then tried to nominate Harriet Myers to the Supreme Court.
  • All the while, Bush has embarked on a frightening power grabs for the executive branch, offering legal justifications for many actions that amount to dictatorial powers. (Or as Nixon would say, “When the President does it, it’s not illegal”)
  • He used the NSA to track and tap domestic phone calls without warrants, congressional approval, or judicial oversight.
  • He’s the financial transactions of Americans, again without warrants or the involvement of other branches of government.
  • He’d wanted to hand over our ports to the UAE, before public pressure forced a flip flop on that.
  • Oh yeah, and he’s also been up to his neck in one of the most corrupt congresses in history; he’s good friends with Tom Delay and Jack Abromoff (and Ken Lay, for that matter).
  • But at least the War on Porn is going well. Even in the midst of a post-9/11 “War on Terror”, the Justice department has found the time to go after the real danger to the American people: consensual sex.
  • And he’s making progress in the War on Science – not only does he continue to not do anything about global warming, he’s had a habit of censoring and editing scientific reports since the beginning of his Administration.

Now, to be fair, I think you can make the case that there are instances of President’s doing stuff worse than some of the stuff above. But I don’t think there’s any that can compare for the sheer volume of incompetence and corruption that we’ve seen in the last six years. But, maybe I’m not giving him a fair shake. At least he never got a blow job.

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A cynical look at the iPhone

January 9, 2007

The iPhone is easily the most hotly anticipated gadget in well… well, ever. Just look at the reaction to today’s announcement. And it seems Apple managed to deliver, despite the high expectations – the fanboys are jizzing their pants big time at the mere thought of this thing.

To be sure, this is a sweet device, and it is going to be deeply disruptive to the mobile phone business (thankfully).

But in the tsunami of overwhelmingly positive reactions, I thought I’d dare to be different and point out some of the shortfalls I see in this device:

  • $500-600 with a 2 year contract? Ouch. Especially considering that most phones, sucky as they are, fall in around $100 with the same agreement.
  • Only five hours of talk time… when it’s new. I wonder how much life that battery will have by the end of that two year contract? That’s barely enough to last a day with heavy use – better carry the charger around with you.
  • I realize that given the sheer number of features already offered, asking for more is greedy – but it’s disappointing that there’s no integrated GPS to work with Google maps, and for geotagging the photos.
  • It only works with Cingular’s network. I realize this has less to do with Apple than the sorry state of the wireless industry; but it’d be nice to have a choice of providers.

It’s a testament to Apple that those are the only complaints I can muster. The battery life is the only potential show stopper, although the high price will likely limit the size of the market for this thing.

New Jersey seeks to eliminate the best part of living in this state

January 9, 2007

Up until now, we’ve been the only state in the union that constitutionally bars idiots from voting. Now Governor Codey wants to change that:

New Jersey is to consider cutting the word ‘idiot’ from its constitution so that people with some mental disabilities won’t be barred from voting. State Senate President Richard Codey introduced a bill Monday that would remove language from the New Jersey constitution that was designed more than 150 years ago to prevent people suffering from mental illness or handicap from casting their vote in national, state or local elections.

Codey wants to eliminate a section that says “no idiot or insane person should enjoy the right of suffrage” and substitute with a reference to “a person who has been adjudicated by a court of competent jurisdiction to lack the capacity to understand the act of voting.”

Codey, a Democrat who was previously acting governor of New Jersey, said in a statement the term “idiot” is “outdated, vague, offensive to many and may be subject to misinterpretation.”

Bloody hell. The world needs less idiots voting, not more. It’s a shame to see New Jersey backsliding on this.

Proof: Republicans have no sense of irony

January 9, 2007

From Overhead in New York:

Middle-aged Long Island lady thumbing through magazine: Look, there’s Stephen Colbert.
Husband: Who’s that?
Middle-aged Long Island lady: He’s a terrific Republican reporter on TV. You should watch him. He’s really great. Puts the liberals in their place.

Sex positive blogs fall down the Google memory hole

December 28, 2006

This is kind of disturbing. From Tiny Nibbles:

In recent weeks, Google has been changing its search algorithms and now many (though not all) sex websites have been dropped — including this one. It seems to have coincided with changes they made relating to their pay-for-play keyword ad program, AdSense. What’s disturbing to me (besides the harm it’s done to small businesses over the holidays) is that Google’s snafu seems to have dropped more sex-positive businesses (that focus on accurate sex ed) than big-gun, mainstream adult businesses (that sell unsafe sex toys and skanky product).

Personally, all the searches worked for me, resulting in the top hit that you would expect. But this was also reported on Boing Boing, Babeland, Pretty Dumb Things, and Valleywag, among others, so I don’t doubt that it was/is a problem for at least some people doing these searches.

The likeliest scenario is that Google did some algorithm tweaking, and it took a while for these pageranks to be properly recalculated, giving temporary favor to spam blogs that are “optimized” to appear high in Google rankings. The problem is that we, the users, the web site operators, have no way of knowing for sure one way or the other. Their search engine is so shrouded in secrecy that we’ll likely never know.

And here we see the danger of a one search engine world, especially when that search engine is about as transparent as mud:

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of The Times and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.

If Google is the Library of Alexandria, the place (and the only place) that we turn to, because it’s supposed to be an index of all information – then Google is potentially a memory hole even more effective than anything Orwell could have imagined. If you search for something in Google and it turns up nada… then for all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist.

I like Google, but they seriously need to be more transparent about what they’re doing behind the scenes.

Danger Will Robinson, Danger!

December 22, 2006

Robots could demand legal rights

Robots could one day demand the same citizen’s rights as humans, according to a study by the British government.

If granted, countries would be obliged to provide social benefits including housing and even “robo-healthcare”, the report says.

At least this is British taxdollars at work, for once. I think someone in the government there has read just a little too much Isaac Asimov.

As to the meat of the study; I think it’s being a little misguided. What are “Human rights” as applied to a robot, anyway?

The thrust of the article is correct, I believe. Protecting robot rights is the moral and ethical thing to do, if and when strong AI is developed. But the mistake is in assuming that these rights will be identical to the rights afforded to biological human beings.

Take robot healthcare, mentioned in the article.

Human healthcare is expensive in large part because the human body is so complex and poorly understood, even in the modern era. Providing healthcare requires spending a decade educating doctors just so they can learn to address a narrow specialty of human biology.

Intelligent robots, however we’re imagining them, would be engineered, not born. We’d have a much more perfect understanding of their workings, reducing the fuzziness of diagnosis and treatment. Further, there’s no reason to imagine that robots wouldn’t be able to perform many of the maintenance tasks on themselves (or each other) – learning what needs to be done would be a simple matter of downloading the information. Further, assuming that a robot “brain” is similar to computers, we need not worry much about their “bodies” at all. Upgrades and backups would reduce much of the imperative for healthcare as applied to humans (the biggest expenses with us, after all, are all associated with aging).

The main problem with this thesis though is that social services would be the least of the economic issues that AI powered robots create.

To illustrate, let’s take it to the extreme example. Imagine a company that makes widgets. The raw materials for the widgets are mined by robots. They’re transported to the factory by robots, where they’re manufactured by robots. The finished widgets are then shipped to the store by robots, where they’re placed on the shelf by robots. The company has robots dedicated to maintaining the other robots. The company even has robots that handle the sales and marketing. In short – in a world where humanoid robots possess human level intelligence, the value of labor falls to zero. There’s no job that can’t conceivably be done (better) by a robot. The very foundation for our economy falls apart.

We’ll probably adapt, mind you – but getting back to the main point, worrying about social services seems shortsighted; we’d have to figure out how to make this robot economy work first.

Are the smart users on Yahoo?

December 19, 2006

Google and Yahoo have both released their end of the year Zeitgeists for the most popular search terms of 2006. I find it curious the difference between the most popular news searches between them.

The most popular news searches on Google:

  1. paris hilton
  2. orlando bloom
  3. cancer
  4. podcasting
  5. hurricane katrina
  6. bankruptcy
  7. martina hingis
  8. autism
  9. 2006 nfl draft
  10. celebrity big brother 2006

And the most popular news searches on Yahoo:

  1. Steve Irwin death
  2. Anna Nicole’s son dies
  3. Iraq
  4. Israel and Lebanon
  5. U.S. elections
  6. Fidel Castro stroke
  7. North Korea nuke
  8. JonBenet confession
  9. Saddam Hussein trial
  10. Danish cartoon

In summary:

People searched on Google News for celebrities, the NFL, a TV show, Hurricane Katrina (which happened in 2005) and some generic terms I can’t quite imagine the newsworthiness of (cancer, autism, bankruptcy, and podcasting).

People searched on Yahoo News for… actual news (and at least the celebrity searches reference actual events).

So what’s that say about the difference between the two news portals, and the users thereof? Does Yahoo simply attract a smarter audience, or just smarter searches? Does Google do something to encourage junk searches that Yahoo doesn’t? Honestly I don’t have any good theories, but I’d love to hear some ideas.

Time’s person of the year

December 17, 2006

Is You.

America loves its solitary geniuses—its Einsteins, its Edisons, its Jobses—but those lonely dreamers may have to learn to play with others. Car companies are running open design contests. Reuters is carrying blog postings alongside its regular news feed. Microsoft is working overtime to fend off user-created Linux. We’re looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it’s just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I’m not going to watch Lost tonight. I’m going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I’m going to mash up 50 Cent’s vocals with Queen’s instrumentals? I’m going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME’s Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

In other words, they went with “Web 2.0”.

I have to admit, they got this one mostly right. In considering the question myself, I’d come up with Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert. The defining moment of the year, in my humble opinion, was Colbert’s speech at the White House Correspondent’s dinner. He stood up that night and spoke truthiness to power; but the most amazing thing about that night was the dissonance between how the mainstream press covered it (they mostly didn’t, or else claimed that he bombed) and the way the blogosphere covered it. It was at once symbolic of the political shift which culminated this November, as well as the technological and cultural shift that Time did wind up acknowledging.

Ironically, Time’s choice has been met with almost predictable cynicism from the very blogosphere that it awarded. In fact, I looked, and I couldn’t find any bloggers that actually had a positive outlook on the thing.

I applaud the choice though. After all, even in the case of Stewart and Colbert, where would they be without Youtube, and the millions of people who link to those videos? Would George Allen have lost the Virginia Senate race had his infamous “Maccaca” comment not spread in the same fashion? After a false start in the 2004 election cycle, this was really the year that the propagandists and marketers lost control of the message, where the people, collectively, took control of the political discourse. I lost count of the number of times in the past year that the mainstream press followed the lead of the blogosphere – the long tail really is wagging the dog now.

So, especially given how sucky Time’s choices have been in recent years, I’m willing to give credit to Time for giving credit to something deserving this year.

Life doesn’t imitate sci-fi

December 17, 2006

It imitates bad sci-fi, of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 variety. Believe it or not, research funded by DARPA has apparently succeeded at developing remote controlled sharks.

The next project? To attach frikkin’ laser beams to their heads.

NASA plans moon base

December 5, 2006

I should be enthused, but honestly I’m pretty annoyed with NASA that we’re not there already. I want to live in space, dammit:

NASA unveiled plans yesterday to set up a small and ultimately self-sustaining settlement of astronauts at the south pole of the moon sometime around 2020 — the first step in an ambitious plan to resume manned exploration of the solar system.

2020? I can’t help but feel jipped.