Sunday, December 31, 2006

observations on three funerals

"They" always say that important deaths come in threes. I guess the execution of Saddam Hussein completes the Christmas week trilogy of mortality begun by the deaths of the godfather of soul James Brown and former President Gerald Ford.

Three more different funerals would be difficult to find. James Brown was given a sad but joyful send-off by over 8500 people at an arena named after him (the crowd overflowing into the streets) in his home town of Augusta, Georgia. With a career spanning over 50 years, the hardest working man in show business had given his fans a lot to enjoy, and it was entirely appropriate that music and entertainment were big parts of his farewell. So long, James Brown, I hope you feel good.

There has been a little controversy about attendance at Gerald Ford's state funeral, which is being played much more low-key than the week-long extravaganza that surrounded the death of Ronald Reagan. Two reasons for the difference in scale and scope. One is the wishes apparently expressed by Ford's family for a more modest event. The other is that Reagan's farewell was less a funeral and more a political rally where Republicans, including de facto President Bush, used Reagan's death to reaffirm the "Reagan revolution" and to bask in the glory reflected from the hero of late-twentieth-century conservative Republicans.

Ford was a decent guy who served honorably as President despite the pardon of Tricky Dick Nixon, the second-worst president of the past 40 years (see Bush, George W., for the worst), but as Ford himself would have said, he didn't revolutionize anything. So he got a more modest affair. The relative dearth of Congressmen and other VIPs attending his services is also explained by poor Ford's bad timing in dying over the Christmas and New Year holidays.

But I thought it was particularly cheesy of Bush not to show up. The fraternity of Presidents is small, and that of unelected Presidents even smaller. Unlike some Congressman, the Decider-in-Chief didn't even have the poor excuse of foreign travel to explain his absence. Put bluntly, George W. Bush decided to cut cedar and ride his bike rather than attend Gerald Ford's state funeral. For shame.

And finally, Saddam Hussein was buried in his home village, Awja, in the same graveyard as his odious sons. I'm a bit surprised his burial location has been allowed to become public. I'd have thought the US and Shiite Iraqi governments might have wanted to bury him somewhere without telling anybody, to avoid the chance of Hussein's grave becoming a rallying point for Sunni Iraqis and Baathists and others opposed to the US-backed Shiite regime -- because believe it or not, there are still Iraqis who liked the old bastard.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

kansas republicans take aim at their foot

This is very amusing -- read here for the story of how Kansas' Republican state attorney general Phill Kline was beaten in November by a Republican-turned-Democrat Paul Morrison, prosecutor for Johnson County. Kline, and other GOP candidates like Congressman Jim Ryun, lost because Democrats and moderate Republicans turned against their extremist politics (Kline was searching for abortionists to hang).

And what did the GOP precinct leaders of Johnson County do to replace Morrison for the two years of his term remaining? They picked KLINE to take over.

As a supporter of the Democrats, all I can say to the GOP leaders of Johnson County is, thank you. Yes, the poor people of Johnson County (who supported Morrison over Kline by 2-1) will have to put up with Kline's fundamentalist christian grandstanding for two years. But this will help keep the whacko wing of the Kansas Republican Party front and center in Kansas' most heavily populated county, and will help them suffer another sharp defeat there in 2008.

saddam's gone, but we're still in iraq

So we -- I mean, the Iraqi judicial system -- hung Saddam Hussein early Saturday. I'll shed no tears for him; he was a tyrant who brutalized his own people directly (killings, torture, gas attacks) and indirectly (ill-conceived invasions of Iran and Kuwait). He richly deserved death.

But his richly-deserved death still doesn't mean that on balance, Mr. Bush's Excellent Adventure has been a net positive for the United States. It still was an invasion sold to the US and international publics on wrong or false grounds (wrong if you are generous about the Republicans' motives, otherwise false), that has destabilized the Middle East, allowed Iraq to become a haven for terrorist groups that before the war, weren't present there, and sullied the reputation of the United States (see Abu Ghraib). It has not made us safer (remember -- Iraq had no WMDs, and no connection with Al Qaeda or 9/11), and it's still questionable whether Iraq as a whole is actually better off or not.

Friday, December 29, 2006

a canadian atrocity

The list of Canadian atrocities is relatively short, Canada being a relatively decent place. (Native Americans have their complaints, although treatment in Canada was less bad than in the US.) But a Canadian has perpetrated another one. Check this link from YouTube. Go on, watch it now.

Celine Dion, a crime against humanity.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

bush's reading material prompts a reply

Adam Hochschild, the author of "King Leopold's Ghost," an account of how the King of Belgians raped and pillaged the region in central Africa now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (previously Zaire, previously Congo, previously Belgian Congo) for personal profit, heard de facto President Bush say he had read his book. And author Hochschild, in a cheeky open letter to President Bush that was published in the Los Angeles Times, asks the President if he sees the parallels between Leopold in Africa, and Bush in Iraq. Plunder, profit, important commodities (then rubber, now oil), deaths of locals, torture camps, rapacious corporations, etc.

After reading this rebuttal*, Bush may wish he had been reading a different book.

*which I know of course he won't, since this particular clip won't be included in his reading file, and we know that as Bush himself said, he doesn't read the newspapers.

comparing ford and bush

Gerald Ford's death prompts some thoughts on the similarities and differences between Ford and the current occupant of the White House, George W. Bush.


Ford was from a humble background, Bush was the son of a President and grandson of a Senator, from a wealthy family.

Ford was a distinct improvement over his predecessor.

Ford's wife Betty never killed anybody behind the wheel.

Ford wasn't an alcoholic, but his wife was. Bush was an alcoholic, but his wife wasn't.

Ford was a star for the University of Michigan football team. Bush was a cheerleader.

Ford was a uniter. Bush is a divider.


Neither were elected President.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a surge in crap

Neocon Fred Kagan is all over the press pushing for a "surge" in Baghdad as a way to (maybe) bring victory to Iraq. He wants at least 30,000 troops for at least 18 months, believing their use in Baghdad may (he doesn't guarantee anything) "secure" the city and bring stability there.

Sounds dubious to me. First, 30,000 troops for 18 months isn't a "surge", it's a big ramp-up in troop levels. And it would either involve finding new troops (as Colin Powell and others have said, we don't have 30,000 idle Army soldiers and Marines just hanging out waiting for the call, they are all pretty well employed anyway) or keeping troops there longer, further stressing our ground combat forces. And to call the mission "unfocused" would be charitable.

Sorry, this isn't persuasive.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

feds moving out of the bomb zone?

This article makes me feel confident in the federal government. Agencies like the FBI and FEMA are moving to the Shenandoah Valley in western Virginia -- and one of the reasons they cite is to not be incinerated should somebody drop a nuclear weapon on Washington, DC.

Such confidence, such inspiration. Such fucking cowardice.

Hey, I have an idea. Let's disperse the ENTIRE federal government away from Washington. We can put the Labor Department in Richmond, VA and the Veterans Affairs Department in Gettysburg, PA, and the State Department in Ocean City, MD, and the Treasury in Delaware (where all the banks and credit cards have their "headquarters" for tax purposes anyway) and the Pentagon in some desert in Nevada (a bit far from Washington, but hey if all the other agencies are gone, it won't matter as much will it?). And better yet, every federal employee can just stay the hell home and work by cellphone and Blackberry. We can save big bucks on federal buildings and office supplies, right? And no nuclear bomb will be able to take out the federal government all at once.

It's taking this trend to the logical, absurd extreme.

Monday, December 25, 2006

an unscroogelike story

Over a thousand US Postal Workers volunteered to deliver packages on Sunday Christmas Eve in Wyoming and Colorado, to get packages delayed by the snowstorm to homes in time for the big day. Well done.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

a grief-stricken nation

The people of Turkmenistan on Friday buried their late, great leader, President-for-Eternity Saparmurat Niyazov. The grief was apparent throught Turkmenistan for their enlightened leader, in particular among the sculptors, poets, graphic designers, and architects who made a steady living making statues, sagas, billboards and buildings extolling the glory that was the Turkmenbashi, the Father of Turkmenistan, a leader so marvellously modest that he had January renamed after himself.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

ironically, he IS a "sane republican"

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a sane Republican? It's hard to imagine the Hummer-driving, woman-groping cigar-smoking actor-turned-governator laying claim to that title -- but he comes by it honestly with his attempts to do something about climate change by trying to cut California emissions.

And when you compare him to the de facto Bush administration and GOP congressional morons like Richard Pombo (who was defeated in November) and James Inhoffe, he looks like the very model of logic and reason on the environment.

Maybe Arnold and Al Gore can do a road-show together extolling the virtues of trying to mitigate climate change. Al & Arnold -- the Road Show to Save the Planet. Could be Arnie's greatest role.

Friday, December 22, 2006

no more dynasties, please

Senator from God Sam Brownback actually said something I agree with. Referring to the dimming presidential prospects for Jeb "No tengo futero" (I have no future) Bush, Brownback said "People may be wanting to see a different name."

Damn right. I was tired of the "Bush" name before election night 2000. I'm ready for him to go NOW. And please please spare us any more Bushes. We can't stand any more corrupt over-reaching mediocrities and elite-favoring, disastrously visionary-in-the-wrong-cause nutjobs like Papa and Baby Bush.

Hell, I don't even want Hillary Clinton. Not because of her politics or personality, but because it's a bit of a joke that so many of our Presidential contenders in recent years have been the immediate family of Presidents or other senior US Government officials. Start with George H. W. Bush -- son of a Senator. Al Gore, son of a Senator (although incomparably smarter and better qualified to be President than ANY of the Bushes). George W. Bush -- son of a President and grandson of a Senator. Hillary Clinton -- wife of a President. John McCain -- son of the Admiral in charge of the US Navy. John Kerry -- ok bad example, he just SEEMED like the son of a President even though he wasn't from a wealthy or politically-connected family, and he only married into the Heinz family (indirectly) after becoming a Senator on his own. And a few years ago, we had a string of Kennedys seeking the top job after JFK. And look at the state of Ohio, with its Taft and Brown dynasties going back to the 19th Century. Other states have similar political families.

Give me somebody with a non-royal background like Reagan's or (Bill) Clinton's or Ford's or Nixon's, not another member of a present or putative political dynasty.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

virginia's other warner

Virginia GOP Senator John Warner is still deciding whether to run for re-election in 2008. As Republicans go, he isn't so bad. I still admire him for his opposition to Oliver North when Ollie was running for the GOP Senate nomination back in the 1990s. Going along with Ollie, who like him or not had high name recognition, would have been easy, but Warner opposed him largely on the grounds that he's a lying sack of shit.

Warner's a bit conservative, true, but in a relatively reasonable way. My main problem with him is the company he keeps in the Senate -- Lott, Santorum (not for much longer!), and company.

imagine there's no domestic surveillance, i wonder if you can

The FBI really argued that releasing its files on John Lennon would have possibly provoked a military strike? From who? Margaret Thatcher's United Kingdom? A particularly absurd example of the government's reluctance to release files, claiming national security when the real reason is to hide their embarrassment at having wasted so much time tracking the activities of a lefty rock musician. Anyway, they are finally going to release the rest of the files, 25 years after Lennon's murder.

Wonder what they've got on Steve Earle, Green Day, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, or The Hives, who have all released anti-Bush songs in recent years?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

things are getting warmer out there

Two front-page articles today in the Washington Post about global warming. The Washington area now finds itself in a warmer "hardiness zone" (zones describing the sorts of plants that are able to grow there) now than it was way back in 1990. Yes, 16 years and we are seeing perceptible changes in the climate, Mr. De Facto President. Maybe we should think about doing something about it before Maine becomes like Florida -- and Florida is underwater.

Similarly, Europeans from Switzerland to Russia are unnerved by the very warm start to winter. Moscow hasn't even had its first snow of the winter yet, and bears haven't begun their hibernation. Britain's weather service says 2006 was the warmest year since they started keeping records in 1659. Birds are mating in Switzerland because they think its spring.

Of course, this warm trend for Europe could reverse itself nastily if the Gulf Stream shuts down...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"no can do, sir"

If this Washington Post report is to be believed, the Joint Chiefs are standing firm against the White House/John McCain idea of a "surge" of troops for Iraq. As Colin Powell pointed out Sunday (and Eugene Robinson writes today), it ain't clear that such a "surge" would actually ACCOMPLISH anything on the ground. Politically, it would mostly just make it look like the White House is trying something new in Iraq, to cover for the fact that it isn't really because it is out of ideas, and that its entire Iraq and Middle East project is a flaming wreck. Which probably explains why de facto President Bush's big speech on Iraq has been delayed and delayed and delayed.

Apparently, the Joint Chiefs figure that insurgents and terrorists in Iraq would just melt into the background during the "surge", and would re-emerge essentially unscathed after it was over. Gosh, where have we heard that thing before? Sounds like Vietnam. But unfortunately, Bush was alternating between flying obsolete airplanes and going AWOL from the National Guard, while Dick Cheney famously had "other priorities", and they clearly didn't learn anything from that fiasco.

And adding to the general gloom and doom, a new Pentagon report acknowledges that violence in Iraq is worse than ever, that American and Iraqi attacks on insurgent forces have essentially no effect, and anti-American forces are succeeding in destroying whatever political institutions Iraq has.

Welcome to Mr. Bush's New and Improved Iraq.

Monday, December 18, 2006

church votes, no gays

As expected, a group of Virginia episcopal churches have voted to leave the US Episcopal church to associate themselves with the Episcopal Church of Nigeria. The head of that church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, supports laws that would criminalize gay sex. That is much more in the liking of these Virginia churches, who are unhappy that they have a gay bishop.

Two quotes from church members caught my eye. One church member said, "... the issue is: Are we going to follow Scripture?"

Aah. "Follow Scripture?" I guess they aren't following the bits of Christ's teachings about tolerance.

Another church member said, "I want to do what's right in the Lord's eyes. It's kind of embarrassing when you tell people that you're Episcopal."

Embarrassing? Less embarrassing than rejecting an entire church because it promoted a gay person, instead embracing a gay-bashing Nigerian version of the church whose leader supports jailing gays? Indeed.

Although I find it ironic that in their homophobic rush to avoid having to associate with a poofter biship, these (overwhelmingly white) Virginians have embraced a NIGERIAN church. I guess there could be something hopeful there -- racism in places like Virginia has receded to the point that it is OK to associate with African archbishops, if they are sufficiently homophobic.

a bit late, colin

Colin Powell finally speaks out on Iraq. Everything he said on "Face the Nation" makes sense: we are losing in Iraq; a "surge" in troops just means keeping the guys who are in Iraq there a little longer because we don't HAVE any more troops, and in any case isn't likely to "secure Baghdad" or accomplish whatever it is the Administration thinks it can accomplish; the active Army "is broken"; that most of the anti-US activity (not to mention anti-Shiite, anti-Sunni, etc) in Iraq is Iraqi, not Syrian or Iranian or Al Qaeda.

Too bad Powell didn't do the honorable thing back when he was still Secretary of State and resign in protest at this absurd, trumped-up, misconceived, invasion of Iraq that is badly damaging our national interests.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

a dolphin, extinct

The odd river dolphin (baiji) of China's Yangtze River looks like it has gone extinct. "Gone extinct," such a quaint, indirect term. It was hunted, and it lost its habitat as the river was dredged and grew increasingly polluted -- human activities, all.

This would be the first cetacean to go extinct in modern times. But don't bet on its bigger marine cousins like the blue whale and the right whale outliving the baiji by too many decades.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

a minor consequence of global warming

As the possible negative effects of catastrophic climate change go, losing ski resorts comes in near the bottom of the scale when compared to things like oceanic drought and the inundation of Bangladesh, London, and New York. But when they can't hit the slopes in the Alps any more, it might make a few rich climate change deniers realize that this isn't just some idea cooked up by Al Gore to punish Exxon.

Friday, December 15, 2006

panic in belgium

Belgium had its own "War of the Worlds" moment Wednesday when a TV bulletin announced that the Flemish parliament had announced that Flanders had seceded from Belgium, and the King and Queen of Belgium had fled the country.

The broadcast was a spoof, but many people and even foreign ambassadors were briefly duped. It certainly was a more realistic scenario than the Martian invasion written about by HG Wells and adapted for radio by Orson Welles. Belgium, with its divide between Dutch-speaking Flanders and French-speaking Wallonia, is the stable, wealthy European democracy voted Most Likely to Fall Apart every year at the annual European prom.

more presidential comparisons

Apparently, de facto President George "Iraq" Bush compares his plight to that of Harry S Truman; he read David McCullough's biography of Truman.* I guess there are some common points. For example, Bush first because President without being elected, and neither was Truman (he succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt when FDR died in early 1945). Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, over MacArthur's public call for a more aggressive strategy in the Korean War. Bush fired General Eric Shinseki (ok, technically he wasn't fired -- but he was neutered when Bush named a replacement for Shinseki many months before Shinseki's term as Chief of the Joint Staffs was due to end) for publicly stating he thought the US would need 500,000 troops for Iraq. (A difference -- history has proven MacArthur wrong in this instance; it is proving Shinseki right.)

Beyond that, comparisons become difficult. Truman was a straight-talker. Bush is a liar. Truman was a Democrat, Bush a Republican. Truman got involved in a war defending a country (South Korea) that had been invaded by its neighbor. Bush launched a war of aggression (Iraq; again Afghanistan was the right war, although not so well prosecuted as I'd hoped). Truman was widely perceived as being for the little guy, and came from humble roots. Bush's base, by his own admission, is the elite.

Better for Bush to look to his own Republican party for the President with whom he shares the greatest characteristics: Richard M. Nixon. Power grabs, lies, marginalizing other parts of the government, lies, oh and lies -- a much closer fit.

*So when did Bush actually start to read books?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

impeding information

Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey are complaining that the de facto Bush Administration's new system requiring an internal review of their work before it is published "may impede them from conveying information to the public."

And of course, that is precisely the point. Because so often, the facts of science, from climate change to the physics of anti-ballistic missile defense, do not match the political needs and desires of the de facto Bush Administration. Unfortunately, most scientists have the pesky habit of making judgments based on the scientific facts, not the preferred Republican technique of bending the facts to support the judgments they wish to make. So they resort to censorship, distortion, and cover-ups.

Business as usual.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

catch them if you can

Police in Arlington County, Virginia have had good success using bait cars to tempt car thieves. They've cut the absolute number of car thefts practically in half since 2002, to levels last seen in 1965 -- and you KNOW there are way more cars in Arlington now than 40 years ago, making the success of this program even more impressive.

Entrapment? Nah. They can park a tempting car (like this one guy's Jeep) somewhere and almost all of us will walk buy it without a second glance -- except the thieves...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

you have to wonder what the rationale really is

Somebody has leaked about a possible retooling of the examination system that the State Department uses to bring in diplomats into the Foreign Service. Seems the idea is to de-emphasize the written test -- by reputation, a very difficult exam -- and instead look at resumes, references, and "intangibles" to decide who should get to become an American diplomat.

One of the anonymous people involved mumbled something about the "war for talent". But unlike other federal agencies, State does well -- hell, it was the only US government agency rated in the list of top 10 desirable places to work, along with corporations like General Electric and Goldman Sachs. And, as the Post article points out, it is consistently highly ranked by federal employees as a place to work.

So, what could the real rationale be from an Administration that has tried to weaken federal employees unions (look at the Department of Homeland Security) and generally make everybody more directly beholden to the ruling party? Well, what sort of person generally benefits from a hiring process that looks at resumes, references, and "intangibles?" Answer -- well-connected people, people who say, get into Yale because their father went there and maybe only get a gentleman's C but manage to pass. People who know important people, maybe because their grandfather was a senator and their father was oh, say, director of the CIA or maybe the roommate of somebody important in the current Administration. East Coast elite grads from elite universities. Or people who have worked for Senator Filibuster or were an intern for Ambassador Striped-Pants in London. Not uppity types who went to some state university in Missouri or Arkansas or Wisconsin who are smart enough to pass the test but really aren't up to those indefinable Yale I mean State standards.

Hope this doesn't go through, because if it does it'll be back to the 1950s for hiring at State.

Monday, December 11, 2006

a death far too late

Chilean ex-dictator and former torturer-in-chief Augusto Pinochet finally kicked off, and there was much rejoicing. The old General was 91, further proof that "only the good die young." Pinochet apologists inside Chile and elsewhere try to credit Pinochet for Chile's current prosperity and political stability. They ignore the fact that before Pinochet's coup -- inspired, if not ordered, by Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon -- Chile was already South America's most prosperous and politically stable country.

And Pinochet apologists also need to answer a few questions about the thousands of people executed and tortured to death by Pinochet's regime, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars found in bank accounts and gold deposits overseas in the General's name. Hardly the stuff of a patriot just looking to help his country.

It's too bad Pinochet didn't die 35 years earlier. Good riddance, and if I believed in Hell, I'd be glad to contemplate his eternity there.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

good riddance to the 109th congress

Much reminiscing and recriminating withing GOP circles about the impending end of their 12 years of power in Congress (less that period where the Democrats controlled the Senate early in the de facto Bush administration's first term). As Newt Gingrich said, after a fast start, "we ... failed."

Good, because if they had been more successful at passing their agenda, things would have been even worse.

The lame-duck 109th Congress wrapped up its last session this week. It did a couple of decent things -- passing legislation on the civil nuclear deal with India -- but naturally, managed to get in some more tax breaks and perks for the Republicans' friends in big business.

The 109th Congress -- we won't miss you.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

surprise, mel gibson engages in historical inaccuracies

Mel Gibson's latest flick "Apocalypto" gets a few things wrong, in ways that paint a negative image of the classic Mayan civilization. This will come as no surprise to anybody who's paid attention to Mel's career making movies (as opposed to acting). "The Last Passion of Christ" made Jews out to be lurid murderers. "The Patriot" made the English in the Revolutionary War look like Nazis in their taste for atrocity (not to mention the absurd idea that blacks were fighting on the side of independence for the slaveholding colonies. They generally supported abolitionist and emancipation-promising Britain.)

And "Braveheart" (go a bit more than halfway down the page to comments by Dan Marcus that highlights the biggest of Mel's inaccuracies/revisionist changes/lies in that movie) similarly slandered the English.

Ok -- Mel's animus against Jews and the English are well known. But my question is -- what did the Mayans ever do to Mel???

Friday, December 08, 2006

republican parents have family problems, too

"Cheney's unfit-to-be-a-mother, lesbian daughter to bear a bastard out of wedlock"

That's the kind of crap that many theocrats are saying or thinking about Mary Cheney. Wonderfully illustrated by Tom Toles. Personally, I couldn't care less -- good luck to her and her partner. But her father's friends won't approve, even if the old man is supportive.

But you have to wonder whether the de facto vice president's attitude towards gays wouldn't have been quite different if Mary had turned out straight... Is Dick Cheney really tolerant about gays, or is he just willing to put it aside to support his own flesh and blood?

Boo hoo about who?

It's bizarre that Papa Bush had his crying jag in public. Crying about Jeb, who is a towering paragon of brains and accomplishment compared to brothers George W., (you know, the guy who invaded Iraq), Neil (who thought that beautiful strange women coming to his hotel door were just really friendly, not hookers paid for by business associates), and Marvin, so bad at business that even being a Bush isn't enough to make him a success at anything, is clearly crying about the WRONG kid.

Think it's mean to pick on the President's family? Did you think so when crude jokes about Hillary and Chelsea Clinton were circulating? If so, you're consistent and that's good. If not, you're a hypocrite.

changing attitudes about computerized voting?

The New York Times -- which really has done a good job of reporting on problems both technical and procedural with American elections -- reports that there could be big changes in the mechanics of voting by the 2008 presidential elections. Good. Because articles like this one (not to mention Ohio 2004, Sarasota 2006, etc) show how serious the problems with electronic voting machines is in so many places.

As I've said before, the primary concern for election officials should be making sure the elections are fair and accurately reflect the will of the electorate, and can be checked and double-checked. That manifestly isn't the case with most electronic voting machines, where a recount is just hitting the "count" button again to see if the machine gives the same answer -- which it does.

climate change, the oceans, yawn

Yes, Phytoplankton Are Important

Research drawing on NASA satellite data shows that climate change may be reducing the stock of photoplankton (tiny sea plants) which fish stocks rely on. In other words, warmer temperatures could bring about an oceanic famine. Fish will grow scarcer -- and that doesn't even take into account the horrendous level of overfishing we humans are engaged in over much of the ocean, using modern industrial techniques designed to catch the last fish, populations and damage to the seabed, coral reefs, and other fish be damned.

So enjoy that fishwich now. And remember -- climate change WILL affect you. There is no excuse for not trying to whatever we can to mitigate the effects. Sure, we don't know the worst case scenario -- but that doesn't mean we just sit and hope that the vibrating tracks, blowing whistle and approaching light don't mean there is a train coming right at us.

I found this article first at the British newspaper The Guardian's website. I see some US papers (Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, Detroit Free Press) have picked up coverage. Nothing from the Washington Post or New York Times though, which surprises me. I guess potential famine in our oceans just doesn't quite cut it. And I've seen little coverage in the US press about another Guardian story, first reported some time ago, about the possible shutdown of the Gulf Stream, which would chill Europe. I say "possible," but its flow has already declined 30%...

Democrats Soon to Take Stage

And let's hope the Democrats (and sane Republicans like California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) can inject some reality into the issue. Outgoing Senate Environment Committee Chair James Inhofe chaired his last committee hearing, and continued to deride climate change as a hoax. (An aside -- who benefits from the hoax?) Inhofe had a couple of lap-dog scientists seconding his case. One was a geophysicist from the University of Oklahoma (gosh, I wonder if he relies on the good graces of the senior Senator from Oklahoma for grant funding), the other a marine scientist.

Funny, they aren't climatologists. But the fact that a few scientists here and there argue that climate change isn't happening, or that if it IS, either it will be beneficial (truly a lunatic argument) or there is nothing we can do about it so we should lie on our backs and enjoy it (truly a defeatist argument) doesn't undermine the scientific consensus that is is real, and is a real threat. Hell, there are people who still think the Earth is hollow, and that civilizations live in the center of the Earth -- but that doesn't undermine scientific consensus about the solid nature of the planet.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

realism on iraq?

So the much-hoped for Baker/Hamilton Iraq Study Group has come out with its report. You can read about it here and here and here.

Much talk about realism -- but honestly, how realistic is it to expect Iran and Syria to help us out in Iraq? Especially after the stuff de facto President Bush has said about them, and after we not only rejected tentative Iranian overtures after 9/11, but slammed the door on them by lumping them into the Axis of Evil with the world's pre-eminent lunatic (Kim Jung Il, who'd you think I meant?) and Iran's arch-enemy, Saddam's Iraq.

What many people don't realize is that some members of the group (I suspect Sandra Day O'Connor) had suggested an even better idea. We should get Superman to fly around the sun real quick so that time reverses, and go back to late 2002 or early 2003, and NOT INVADE IRAQ IN THE FIRST GOD-DAMN PLACE. But the other members of the group, while sharing the sentiments, sadly concluded it was probably technically impossible, unless James T. Kirk and some guy called Spock could be located, pronto.

The real "realism" is providing cover for Bush to adapt a plan that draws on elements of "cut and run" (but of course, a nicer term will be used when it's official Republican policy) and just enough training to prop up Iraq's security forces just long enough to allow for a withdrawal of most US forces. The hope being that utter collapse wouldn't come until after a decent interval had passed...

Will Bush grab the chance? Who knows. Will it work? Well, define "work." I don't see much prospect for Iraq to remain unified nor to become peaceful in the near- or mid-term. But maybe it will work in the sense of providing political cover for the Republicans, if the Iraqi collapse isn't too rapid and doesn't spread too widely and doesn't provoke a regional war or new terrorist attacks against American targets outside of Iraq.

Don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the wisdom of robert gates

Unsurprisingly, Robert (I almost typed "Bill") Gates cruised through his Senate hearing. He said that the war in Iraq isn't going well. The media focused on that story, to the exclusion of Gates' other utterances. But I found the transcript, and here are a few other things Gates said that the mainstream media neglected to report.

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is critically dead.

Shaquille O'Neal sure is tall.

Women -- who really understands 'em?

Drinking two frappacinos a day will make you fat and broke.

The new Who album is OK but not as good as "Who's Next".

They don't right 'em like that anymore.

You can never get a taxi when you need one.

outrageous -- a four-day week

Wow, those slave-driving Democrats plan to force House members to actually spend 92 hours a week -- from 6 PM Monday to 2 PM Friday -- in Washington. That is, during the weeks the House is in session. This only seems like drudgery compared to the current Congress's schedule, which was from Tuesday evening to Thursday morning. Which meant time for a fancy lunch on Wednesday paid for by Jack Abramoff or some other lobbyist, and maybe 18 holes early Thursday before catching a plane home.

There was some whinging about Steny Hoyer's announcement. Georgia Republican Jack Kingston moaned, "Keeping us up here eats away at families. Marriages suffer. The Democrats could care less about families -- that's what this says."

Oh poor, poor baby. If you want to see marriages that suffer, ask the wives and husbands and children and parents of the American troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They were sent to those places by a Republican President -- so that says, "Republicans could care less about families," right?

Those troops also have to spend time away from their family, and unlike Kingston and company they don't get a long weekend EVERY weekend to go home -- a trip paid for by the taxpayer, I might add. And Kingston and others have the radical option of actually having their family join them in Washington -- which really isn't such a terrible place. I mean, there are very few car bombings or insurgent activity there, so it is reasonably safe for families to visit or even live.

The real hardship of course is that this will cut into the time House members have to tend to their permanent campaign of money-raising and glad-handing. Instead, they may have to actually legislate, and maybe even perform some oversight of the executive branch. What a concept.

complaisance is dangerous

A disturbing essay at Slate by Dianne McWhorter about her fear that the results of the midterm elections did not so much entail a rejection of the Bush Administration's policies and tactics -- which she finds parallel in many respects those of Nazi Germany -- as the rejection of their failure to work well.

Well worth a read. Obviously, Germany of the 1930s is far different from the America of the 2000s. But even if you don't buy the Nazi analogy, I think McWhorter is essentially right that complaisance by the citizenry -- and by the corporate-owned mainstream media that ranges from explicitly cheerleading on behalf of the junta I mean de facto Administration, to timidly going along for fear of being metaphorically slapped around by the right-wing noise machine -- in the face of radical and often undemocratic actions of the government is a dangerous thing.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

more god in the news

Continuing the accidental theme of God in the news...

The Most Important Text of American History?

If I were asked that question, I guess I'd come up with the Federalist Papers, maybe the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, maybe even Uncle Tom's Cabin. But conservative talk show host/columnist Dennis Prager says it was the Bible. He also says that Minnesota Congressman-elect Keith Ellison (a Muslim who wants to use the Koran) and everybody else should use the Bible, or don't bother running for Congress.

The Bible is more part of something that informs the religious and cultural background of the US. More important are texts that help differentiate us from other countries that also have the Bible in their religious background. At least, that's how I see it -- and no lightning bolts have hit me yet.

A Godly Candidate

Sam Brownback, the holier-than-Santorum Senator from Kansas, has announced his candidacy for the GOP's 2008 Presidential nomination. Brownback will seek the support of far-right and far-too-fundamentalist religious types in trying to grab the nomination.

If Brownback wins the nomination, this would simultaneously answer the prayers of two large groups of people -- the aforementioned right-winger theocrat types who would see Brownback as one of them, ready to execute abortionists in their very zeal to protect these God-given lives. And the Democrats, who would relish running against a guy that makes Bush look like a religious moderate.

Monday, December 04, 2006

a schism and a wiccan

Stealing the concept from The Daily Show, here is This Day in God...

Episcopals to Split?

The Episcopal Church may be about to undergo a schism, as two major Northern Virginia churches prepare for a vote on whether or not to associate themselves with a Nigerian church. The reason?

Those god-damn gays.

Seems some of the Episcopalians (hey, weren't they the MODERATE Christians?) resent the fact that the church named a gay bishop a few years ago. So they find themselves attracted to their Nigerian counterparts, headed by Archbishop Peter Akinola. Akinola is confident he knows what to do with gays. Not content with the usual shunning, depriving of civil rights, etc, he thinks they should be jailed. Jailed, like a rapist or a thief or an enemy combatant.

So the good people at the Falls Church and the Truro Church and other churches in Virgina, good Christians all I'm sure, get to decide whether they'd rather be associated with a church that lets gay people become bishops, or with bishops who like to jail gay people. Somehow, I suspect I know where Jesus H. Christ would come down on this one -- something about tolerance being a big part of his preaching. But I suspect they will side with intolerance and homophobia.

A Wiccan Is Buried

Sargent Patrick Stewart was buried in a state cemetary in Fernley, Nevada on Saturday, another servicemember killed in Afghanistan. A sad but common story. What made this unusual is that he is the first such person to be buried under a headstone with the Wiccan symbol, a pentagram within a circle. Nevada GOP Governor Kenny Guinn helped make sure this basic show of respect was made available to Sgt Stewart. But the federal Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't offer the Wiccan symbol as one of the 38 symbols of faith (and non-faith, atheists get something if they want) available for headstones.

Good for Guinn and Nevada. I don't mean to be a pessimist here, but I bet Sgt Stewart's headstone is vandalized soon by some Christian whose intolerance is surpassed only by his/her ignorance, and who will imagine that Wiccans are Satanists when in fact they practice a benign version of nature or Earth worship that doesn't involve human sacrifice or anything like that.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

republican congress going out with a whimper

The outgoing GOP leadership apparently plans on a quiet lame-duck session this week. I guess they won't be authorizing new forms of torture, cutting new checks for the richest 5% of Americans, diagnosing Terry Schiavo's medical condition using a grave-camera, or granting immunity to themselves from prosecution for crimes -- criminal and political -- they have committed.

The 109th Congress will have spent the shortest amount of time in session of any Congress in at least 50 years. Given what they DID do when in session, I guess we should be grateful they spent so much time away from Washington.

historians debate whether bush is the worst president ever

Presidential historian Sean Wilentz in a recent Rolling Stone pronounced de facto President George W. Bush the worst president ever. In today's Washington Post, several other presidential historians address the subject.

Fortunately, George Bush doesn't read the newspapers, because if reading your reviews is bad for the mental health, reading THESE reviews would send him over the edge. Eric Foner pronounces Bush the worst president ever, comparing him negatively to Pierce, Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson, failures right before and after the Civil War; to Harding and Coolidge and their corrupt, beholden-to-big-business administrations; and to Nixon and his imperial presidency for sheer disdain of the Constitution and law.

Tulane professor Douglas Brinkley correctly notes there are two years left, but with Iraq in the mess it's in, it is difficult to imagine Bush's legacy there being positive -- so Bush will join Herbert Hoover as a case study of How Not to Be President.

David Greenberg says that, for the moment, Nixon was still worse than Bush. (That's like saying for the moment, having cholera is worse than having H5N1 influenza. Not a great choice.) But I disagree with Greenberg on the long-term effects of Vietnam vs Iraq. Fortunately for the US, although the actual war in Vietnam was bloody for both sides, and caused significant social dislocation at home and in Southeast Asia (not to mention millions of deaths in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), it did NOT create a state that would shelter terrorists intent on attacking the United States. If five or 10 years from now, some terrorist group founded in the chaos of Iraq commits a major atrocity against the US, that will have to be laid squarely at Bush's feet. Greenberg nicely summarizes Bush's disdain for the law:
Bush's theory of a "unitary" executive power is little more than a restatement of a Nixon utterance: "When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal."
Vincent Cannato grumbles a bit about left-wing historians, correctly notes that the record on Bush isn't finished yet, says rather hopefully that just because things are grim now doesn't mean they will be grim in the future, and basically punts in passing a firm judgement.

Journalist Michael Lind says Bush is only the fifth-worst president, ahead of the Civil War era incompetents Pierce, Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson, and ahead of Nixon. Not the sort of company any President would want to keep.

All five of these guys are I think too generous in giving Bush a pass for personal integrity. I think willfully shredding the Constitution, condoning possibly fixed elections in 2004 (not to mention Florida in 2000), authorizing torture as an instrument of US policy, and ignoring climate change all deserve some mention -- and all weigh on the negative side of the ledger.

I think it's safe to say that no credible historian is ready to make the case for adding Bush's face to Mount Rushmore.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

webb is ungentlemanly???

It literally takes my breath away that conservatives can say with a straight face that it was wrong, wrong of Senator-elect Jim Webb to be "rude" to de facto President George W. "How's your boy in Iraq, my daughters are fine thanks, and my Vietnam service was pretty cushy too" Bush?

Have they forgotten how the REPUBLICANS have contributed to the coarsening of American politics with acts of rudeness aimed at Democrats often compounded with out-and-out lies? A few examples off the top of my head:
Dick Cheney to Senator Patrick Leahy on the floor of the Senate: "Go fuck yourself."

Jean Schmidt calling Vietnam vet Jack Murtha a "coward" on the floor of the House?

Anything and everything Ann Coulter has written, accusing liberals of being godless baby-killing anti-American pro-terrorist submoronic traitors? (Yes, she's not a politician. Please show me a mainstream Republican politician who repudiates her bile.)

The saintly John McCain's "joke" about Janet Reno being the real father of Chelsea Clinton.

Newt Gingrich telling Bill Clinton in 1998, "Mr. President, we are going to run you out of town."
How is Jim Webb saying that his relationship with his son is between him and his son any ruder than the average GOP statement for the past 25 years? It isn't. But it was made by a DEMOCRAT, and so the right-wing media machine whips itself up over nothing.

winds of insurance change

Those coldly calculating insurance companies are voting with their wallets, and are scaling way back on insurance in vulnerable coastal areas, Joel Garreau reports.

And a big boo-hoo to people who've built on the Outer Banks and can't get insurance now. We've subsidized them long enough -- they shouldn't get FEDERAL coverage or disaster relief either. Nobody is going to compensate me if I set up my lemonade stand in the middle of the Beltway and it is eventually smashed by a Wal-Mart truck. If they want their $2 million, 14-bedroom dream homes on the Outer Banks, let 'em find a way to fund the risk too. (As for the couple who had their home as their retirement fund, let me kindly suggest that is just plain fucking stupid, and was probably just a rationalization they made when they overspent on their two-week- a-year cabin-on-steroids.)

Insurers aren't being mean or unfeeling in doing this either. Believe me, they LIKE selling insurance because they expect to make a profit on it. So you know their calculations are bleak if they are essentially pulling out of a sector.

Not that you should let climate change worry your pretty little head. After all, de facto President Bush isn't worried about it.

yes, driving while black is still risky

Columnist Leonard Pitts is right to be worried about the treatment his young-adult sons get from police in Prince George's County, Maryland. There is a track record there, including one story Pitts tells about his son being cited for having his windshield blocked. The blockage? One of those dumb tree-shaped air fresheners.

I've heard similar stories from enough black friends -- professionals driving nice cars -- who while out and about doing their routine, have been pulled over repeatedly for "offenses" that likely would have been ignored if Jackie Chan or I were driving.

Dear Mr. Policeman. "Being black" or even "being young, black, and male" isn't "probable cause."

Is it any wonder that Americans and residents of Middle Eastern heritage are so concerned? At least most black Americans don't risk being called an "enemy combatant" and locked up without trial.

good news for afghanistan's farmers

Hey, great news -- Afghanistan's number one cash crop is booming! Production is up 26%, and the land dedicated to this top seller (most of which is exported, earning hard currenty) is up 61%.

So, why the long faces at the White House?

The crop is opium. Oops.

Friday, December 01, 2006

technical experts call for paper ballots

The non-partisan National Institute of Standards and Technology has stated the obvious: electronic voting machines "cannot be made secure." NIST's recommendations will go to the US Election Assistance Commission; we'll see what THEY do with it.

NIST suggested two alternatives: paper ballots with optical scanners (which does speed the initial count), or electronic machines that print a paper record that voters can double-check, and that can be recounted if necessary.

Fine -- but why bother with electronic voting at all if you need to print a paper confirmation? Stick with paper ballots. They are cheaper, more reliable, and (using optical scanners) quick to count and easy to recount. All our local election commissions could save big bucks by doing this -- not to mention restoring some credibility to the ballot-box in the United States of America.

mehlman speaks the truth for once

It's usually not hard to tell when outgoing Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman is lying. If his lips are moving in front of a camera, microphone, or journalist, it's usually a pretty sure bet that he's applying the usual Republican slipperiness with truth.

But yesterday, talking to a bunch of GOP governors, Mehlman said something that may actually be true. Speaking about the 2006 elections, he said, "If we shrug our shoulders and say, 'It was just a fluke, a perfect storm of factors out of our control,' then we will lose again in 2008. If that is the approach we take, then we are destined to spend far more than one term in the minority. And we as a party will deserve it."

Clearly, the GOP already DESERVES to spend more time in minority, and not just in Congress or state houses. The Bush-Cheney-DeLay track record of failing to even TRY to prevent 9/11, of turning the Clinton-Gore surplus into the greatest deficit in the history of the Republic, of supporting torture, of electoral chicanery, of screwing the poor and giving to the rich like dooH niboR, of refusing to even start trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, and of lying lying lying to us at every step of the way has earned them so much negative karma that they deserve to be in a minority for 50 years.

sorry, no hall for mcgwire

Mark Starr lays out a good case in Newsweek for why Mark McGwire should not be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I think Starr's right.* I've been down on Barry Bonds for steroid use and the same standard should apply to McGwire, Palmiero, Sosa, Canseco, and others.

But the difference is that, despite his steroid use and being an arrogant ass, Bonds is clearly a Hall of Fame quality player. He hit with a lot of power (even BEFORE steroids), drew tons of walks, stole a lot of bases, and fielded his position very well. His production over the past few seasons absolutely has been steroid-enhanced, but he was already on a no-doubt HOF career path. McGwire, by contrast, in addition to spelling his name in a weird way that I always screw up, was basically washed up at age 30 before steroids helped him bulk up (although he was already very big and strong) and more importantly, simultaneously helped keep him healthy for several more years.

As Starr wrote, it's not so much the steroids useage per se, as the fact that without steroids, McGwire would have been a very good but NOT Hall-quality hitter, with career statistics reminiscent of Dave Kingman -- whom NOBODY is touting for the Hall. Hell, Kingman's page doesn't even had a sponsor.

*Please note, this sentence should never be applied to KEN Starr.