Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm Just Resting

[This is Bernie, who was recently adopted through the St. Bernard Rescue Foundation, Inc. I'm sure they'd appreciate a donation (or gifts, via Donate.net).]

For the next couple of weeks, this blog will again be on a reduced publication schedule. That's a fancy way of saying I probably won't be posting very much, because I'll be really busy doing something else.

Meanwhile, enjoy the linky goodness.

This Week's Polls

The results are in, and it looks like we can make some judgments about how much the Jeremiah Wright revelations have had on Barack Obama's Presidential hopes. The answer appears to be "not much".

This week, Pollster.com put the race at 46.9 - 45.2 in Obama's favor, for a 1.7 percent difference. Last week, it was 1.8 percent. One thing that's noticeable about these numbers, though, is that they both are lower than the candidate's totals last week. It would be tempting to ascribe this to increased dissatisfaction with both candidates, but I don't think that's true. Most of this change appears to be due to the results of a Pew Research poll(PDF), which put the number of undecideds at 12 percent. I don't know why it's so high. Even among polls of registered voters, it's much higher than normal.

The Wright thing may have an effect on the campaign, but it's clearly not going to happen soon. I suspect it will be after Obama's won the nomination that most of the effect will be felt. That's when the rest of the TV news channels will wake up to their responsibilities to show us all the dirt on Obama. Meanwhile, Obama handled the issue pretty well, and I think at least with Democratic voters, it's mostly a non-issue at this point. Very few minds seem to have changed, based both on the polling data and on my observations of what's been written at political blogs. No one's admitted to an "aha!" moment that I can see.

More On The Pew Poll

That same Pew Research poll(PDF) also included questions about other issues, including whether the poll participants were satisfied with the way things are going in this country. The answer was that 22% were satisfied, and 72% were dissatisfied. The last time those numbers were similar was in 1995. The number of satisfied Americans has been declining, according to the poll, since April of 2003, when it was 50 percent.

Approval of how President Bush is doing his job has also never been lower. It's now at 28 percent.

It's definitely not Morning In America, anymore.


Understatement Of The Day

Jane Hamsher, quoting Paul Krugman, gets the Understatement Of The Day award:

Also got to meet Paul Krugman. It was surprising that the most confident of intellects, the one that can navigate his way with complete self-assurance when everyone around him has lost their mind, is quite shy and sort of compulsively, unintentionally funny. He said that we're living in the age of the anti-Cassandra --- she was the one who was always right, and never believed. But we're ruled by people who are never right, and always believe. Well, when we look back on this era I think we'll be saying once again that we should've listened to Krugman.

EschaCon08: Dirty Fucking Hippies Forever

Truth is, we should have listened to lots of people, like Juan Cole on Iraq, for instance, instead of the parade of raving lunatics we see on the cable news networks. Sadly, they don't write or say what's convenient to the people who run those networks, so they don't get much air time.


Stay In The Race

Image credit: HillaryClinton.com, reduced by Cujo359.

Bloomberg reports today:

Supporters of Democratic presidential contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton said neither candidate should feel compelled to leave the race until June, after all states have held their nominating contests.

Clinton, who trails Obama in total votes and pledged delegates, has spent the last four days rejecting calls to drop out of the race from politicians who say she can't overcome Obama's lead in delegates for the nomination. Clinton told the Washington Post yesterday that she may continue running until the Democratic nominating convention in August.

Obama, Clinton Should Stay in Race Until June, Supporters Say



In one sense, I no longer have a horse in this race. Of course, anyone who's read my comments on the two remaining candidates knows I favor Hillary Clinton, but that's beside the point. Even if I were in favor of Obama, but otherwise possessed of my senses, I'd be writing that she should stay in the race until there's clearly no chance she can win. Bill Richardson, an Obama supporter, agrees, at least to a point:

"She has every right to stay in the race," New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who's supporting Obama, said today on the CBS Face the Nation program. "But I think it's important, at the end of the June 3 date, we look at who has the most delegates, who has the most popular vote, who has the most states."

Obama, Clinton Should Stay in Race Until June, Supporters Say

I think she should stay in until it's clear she can't win, whenever that is, but otherwise Richardson's right. Barack Obama adds:

"My attitude is that Sen. Clinton can run as long as she wants. Her name is on the ballot. And she is a fierce and formidable competitor, and she obviously believes that she would make the best nominee and the best opponent," [Obama] said. "I think that you know she should be able to compete and her supporters should be able to support her for as long as they are willing or able."

Obama: Calls For Hillary To Quit Are Premature

To think this race is over is to not be aware of where it is at the moment. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Clinton supporter, provides some perspective:

“Just flip it for a second,” Mr. Rendell said. “Let’s say Senator Clinton was ahead by about 110 delegates and ahead by less than 1 percent of the vote cast, and she and her supporters started to call on Senator Obama to get out. Just picture what the media would be saying. They’d be saying you’re being racist, you’re being everything in the world. It’s nuts! It’s nuts!”

Endorsement of Obama Points Up Clinton Obstacles

This thing isn't over. Not by a longshot. That's particularly true when superdelegates make up a substantial part of the delegate count. They aren't pledged to vote for anyone.

Being President requires more than just giving pretty speeches. It involves gaining enough support from Congress to get legislation passed in a way you want it to. For an example of how things go when this works, see Lyndon Johnson. For an example of how things go when that doesn't work, see Jimmy Carter. As both Vice President and President, Johnson managed to push through a tremendous amount of progressive legislation. He managed to get the Dixiecrats to allow the Civil Rights Bill to pass. Carter, on the other hand, despite initially strong support of the electorate, couldn't get anything he wanted out of Congress.

I know that any suggestion that Johnson helped pass the Civil Rights Act, as Senator Clinton did not all that long ago, will send Obama supporters into overload. Somehow, they seem to think that this is demeaning to Martin Luther King and all the other civil rights workers who brought that issue to the nation's attention in the first place. If you're one of the people who believe that, then you either know far too little about your government's history, or you're a raving shithead. Johnson got that bill passed, with some help from others in Congress and pressure from around the country. If he hadn't gotten the Dixiecrats to cooperate by not filibustering, we'd still be waiting for it to pass. The Republicans' pandering to the "states rights" crowd would have been enough to keep that bill in committee for a generation. That he did that in no way diminishes what the civil rights movement did to get that legislation there.

That's why I think that Hillary should stay in this race until it's certain she can't win. Being President is about being able to deal with your own party and the opposition to get things done. If Barack Obama can't do that, then he shouldn't be President. On that score, Kevin Hayden had an interesting observation a couple of weeks ago:

Clinton keeps utilizing spin to try and achieve victory. Obama’s team keeps out-organizing them though, gaining what counts: more delegates. Ohio and Rhode Island have been the only exceptions since Super Tuesday. 13 out of 15 times since, Obama’s walked away with more delegates and he’s also pulled in far more superdelegates in the same period.

Obama wins more delegates today by being well organized

In short, Obama's not bringing a knife to that gunfight. He's doing very well at courting superdelegates, as Bill Richardson's endorsement should make clear. Speaking of fights, Kevin has a few more words of wisdom:

Sure, there’s Obama supporters so angry they say they won’t vote for Clinton and there’s even more Clinton supporters saying the same about Obama. And the tenor of the campaign is part of why that’s so. But even that’s not the whole story. Race, gender, and past records account for some of that obstinacy. And how people feel by June 3rd is not a good predictor of how they’ll act on Election Day.
...
And don’t start expecting Clinton to concede the nomination easily. After Pennsylvania, which she’s heavily favored to win, she really needs Indiana at minimum, and probably North Carolina, which will be very hard to do. So if you thought the Reverend Wright flap was bad, you ought to be prepared for another fresh revelation and new line of attack to emerge before that pair of primaries. Because that’s how political campaigning is done when it’s the fourth quarter, and the two minute warning occurs.

The candidate that’s behind starts throwing Hail Marys, hoping for a lucky break. So it’s likely to get contentious all over again. Folks will get apoplectic again. And at the end of it all, a nominee will emerge. Half of the party will sulk. Pundits will ask if the party’s broken.

And frankly, the party won’t be broken, as much as I wish it were. After all, what I want from the nominee is someone who represents me, my family and community and the US of A. The party’s just a vehicle, not the destination.

It’s the stupid primaries, stupid

This primary fight won't have any effect that I can see on the outcome of the general election, other than to determine who goes into it as the Democratic nominee. In the end, most of us will choose between whatever is the lesser of evils presented us. There's already plenty of hard feelings and there are more than a few people whose judgment I've learned not to trust. All that aside, I have yet to see any evidence that an acrimonious primary fight in and of itself will lead to defeat in November. If anyone has an example of one from the last century, let me know, but all the typical examples had plenty of alternative explanations, including the things that caused those fights. By those standards, this thing's been a pillow fight.

So, I invite all the Obamabots and pundits to get over themselves and consider the fact that this might actually be a Democratic convention that decides something. Revel in the suspense, and remember that this is why we have conventions.

UPDATE: You can add Alegre and Mick Arran to the list of folks who can tell you about hard feelings.


Friday, March 28, 2008

WVWV Favorite Female Blogger Vote



If you look at the "Blogs I Read" column on the left, it's pretty clear that many of the blogs I read are run by women. Some of them, including Marcy Wheeler (A.K.A. Emptywheel), and Taylor Marsh, are in the running for Women's Choices, Women's Votes' Favorite Female Blogger award. Others I read occasionally, like Shakespeare's Sister's Melissa McEwan, and Digby, are also on the list of nominees. Of course, some of my favorite female bloggers aren't on the list, but these ladies are every bit as deserving as any of them. There's a lot of talent out there, and it needs to be recognized now and then.

I don't know if there's a cash value to this prize, but it always feels good to be recognized. If you want to vote, click on the graphic, or click here.

UPDATE (Mar. 30): Corrected Melissa McEwan's first name.


Tula Connell On Health Care

No, that's not Tula Connell, that's Micheal Moore. Same subject, though.

Over at Firedoglake, Tula Connell wrote about our health care system yesterday with a clarity I wish that more people in the news business could do:

Many people who wrote in had experienced the health care systems of Canada, Great Britain, France or Sweden—and say, by comparison, the U.S. system stinks. Their firsthand experiences are a stark contrast to the media noise machine that repeats ad nauseum (pun intended) how lucky we are in this country not to suffer through state-backed health care systems where we would—gasp—wait in line for care. Like what planet without HMOs do those writers live on?

Sick, Sick, Sick. Health Care in America

Ms. Connell has been helping the AFL-CIO conduct a health care survey, and she's reporting on some of the responses. It's not an eye-opener for anyone who's had to deal with the health care system as an ordinary working stiff. My guess, though, is that it's going to cause a few editorialists a bit of vertigo if they ever bother to read it.

It's appalling that even the most progressive health care proposal of the candidates for President, which was John Edwards', still meant to leave the financing of the health care system in the hands of the people who have screwed it up so badly. As I mentioned before, Edwards' was the only one that even took the idea that the insurance companies had an obligation to reform their practices seriously. It has to be one of the most inefficient ways of doing this. Ezra Klein quotes California Health Care Foundation CEO Dr. Mark Smith:

Perhaps at the end of this someone can explain to me why we would insist on paying Aetna 12 bucks so Aetna can pay Medco 10 bucks, so Medco can pay CVS 7 bucks, so CVS can collect a 5 dollar copay per patient, for a drug that the patient could have gone to Costco and paid 4 dollars for. I’m not sure how that is good for society. I understand it’s how we’ve been financing this. But that's different.

How Insurance (Doesn't) Work

Yet this is the system that every Presidential candidate, and many people running for Congress, insist we must preserve.

Whoever wins in November, you can be sure that he, or she, will do nothing useful on behalf of the people who need health care in this country. If positive change is going to happen, the impetus will have to come from elsewhere. Following that link will lead to this petition (more of a pledge, really) on health care.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cures For The Blahs

A gray seagull on a gray day. Does it get more depressing than that? Image credit: Cujo359

Elsewhere in the lefty "blogosphere", they're arguing about who's fault it is that Florida and Michigan won't be represented at the Democratic Convention. My vote goes to the DNC, but who cares, really? Just people who live in those states, and people who have a stake in whether they have an election or not.

They're also arguing about superdelegates. I answered that one already.

I'm done reading political blogs for a while. Maybe for the next eight months.

If you want to cry, read Hope.

If you want to laugh read Watertiger.

If you want to solve a puzzle, read "How Stupid Is Chris Matthews?" and answer the question. That should keep you going until the convention, at least.


How Stupid Is Chris Matthews?

How preternaturally stupid is Chris Matthews? You don't have to answer right away. Consider this:

On the March 24 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews asserted: "We're stuck in Iraq; 4,000 people are dead now because of decisions made by politicians like the Clintons." Matthews did not explain how "politicians like the Clintons" were responsible for the deaths of "4,000 people" in Iraq, nor did he mention President Bush, who actually made the decision to invade Iraq. Sen. Hillary Clinton herself has accused Bush of "misus[ing]" the authority given him by Congress.

Matthews: "4,000 people are dead now because of decisions made by politicians like the Clintons"

Nor did he mention that John McCain could be considered one of those politicians. Here's what he had to say on the day of the vote for the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Iraq:

"Giving peace a chance only gives Saddam Hussein more time to prepare for war on his terms, at a time of his choosing, in pursuit of ambitions that will only grow as his power to achieve them grows," McCain said.

Senate approves Iraq war resolution

McCain repeated the lie that Hussein was prepared to fight the United States after he voted for the resolution. All of the Republican Senators save one voted for the resolution. The vote was 77 to 23. Why were "politicians like the Clintons" responsible for this, when politicians like John McCain, who was a cheerleader for this disastrous war from the start, and is one of the few willing to expand it, were not? Yet Matthews never misses a chance to fluff McCain's reputation. Here's what he had to say about McCain that morning:

I think McCain, although we all agree he's a good man, has left it up to the Iraqi politicians how long we stay. It's not their call. It's our foreign policy. and we should re-establish control of our own foreign policy. The american people should decide on american foreign policy and war policy, not the iraqi politicians. I don't know why the Vice President is able to get away with saying our opinion doesn't matter, but iraqi politicians' misbehavior matters. we have to reassert our control over our forces, I think.

Chris Matthews: Victory means 'Americans get to come home'

[capitalization corrected]

Matthews talked as if McCain was just not quite getting the idea, not that McCain was one of the principle cheerleaders for this war from the beginning. Yet he's a good man and Hillary Clinton is especially responsible for the carnage.

John Kerry voted for this resolution, as well. If anyone should have known better, it was he.

Hillary Clinton deserves criticism, perhaps even scorn, for her vote. To say that somehow she belongs to a class of politicians who bear a special responsibility for this war that does not include McCain or Bush, which is what Matthews was clearly implying, is absurd.

OK, now you can answer. How much of a fucking moron is Chris Matthews? Why does he have a job as a political reporter, when there are so many people who are far more qualified?

Yes, I know - the same reason that Joe Klein has a job.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Four Thousand And Counting



Via Watertiger, from Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post. Just click on the picture to see the full size image. If you're getting to the Internet over a modem, go take a break while it loads. Then consider that if someone ever did a mosaic of the Iraqi dead, it would be something like 250 times larger.

As Nico Pitney notes, some pictures are duplicates, because photos weren't available for all of the dead.


More Fun With The Google

"Ferrous", the official mascot of the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs AAA baseball club. Image credit: cropped from Iron Pigs website image by Cujo359. See Note below.

For some reason, Slobber and Spittle is the number one Google site for "bethlehem iron pigs schedule baseball". Of course, a few weeks ago I wrote an article about them, "From Pig Iron To Iron Pigs", and referred to the Bethlehem Steel plant that inspired that name. That's part of the reason.

Part of the reason is that the Iron Pigs are actually located in Allentown, which is right next door to Bethlehem (literally, they share a border), but they're not located in Bethlehem.

The other part of the reason, I think, is that you can't find any mention of their schedule on the Iron Pigs' website. Talk about amateurish site design. The first thing I'm usually interested in when I visit a team's site is the schedule. You'd think they'd understand such things and make it as easy as possible. Instead, they make you discover it by accident.

Compared to the task of finding their schedule on that website, trying to find it on a political blog named after a rabid animal might seem like a good idea. So, as the Internet's leading expert on the Iron Pigs' baseball schedule, let me pass on a bit of advice if you're having trouble. Go to their site, then enable Javascript. You'll find it in the floating menu under "Tickets".

NOTE: This should be blindingly obvious, but I'll state it anyway - this site is in no way associated with, or endorsed by, the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs baseball club.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Another Reaction To Obama's Speech

Debra Dickerson has an interesting essay in Mother Jones online edition:

In a post I found quite illuminating on the black prophetic tradition, I still note a troubling flaw from Melissa Harris-Lacewell, in The Root: "But we cannot enter that promised land together if white America refuses to acknowledge the prophetic truths of black religiosity. ...We cannot learn from our prophets if we denounce them. Silencing Jeremiah Wright will not makes us forget hundreds of years of racial inequality. Now is the time to listen to each other carefully." I see what whites are supposed to listen to, but blacks make up the 'other' here: to what are we supposed to listen?

In the only post written after the speech, I found this offering most helpful. Also from The Root, it's by WaPo religion reporter Hamil Harris:"But the lingering question out of this whole episode is whether Americans, black and white, can ever be liberated from a mindset in which it is always hard to believe that those who look differently from us can really be a brother or sister."

Amen.

For too long, blacks have "asked" this question of whites, assured that the answer will, must, always be no. But, based on what I'm reading so far, it's time for whites to flip the script and ask blacks the same question. Don't ask whites to do what you have no intention of reciprocating; it takes two to transcend race. It only takes one to unleash a diatribe no one will listen to.

This, brothers and sisters, is where we begin. Not with reparations or the fight against affirmative action or the criminal justice system, or who's right and who's wrong. Do we actually want to co-exist peacefully in mutual respect? If so, how best is that to be achieved?

Black Intelligentsia: Holla If You Hear Obama

[quotes from the original]

In my own reaction to Sen. Obama's speech, I tried to get across the idea that part of what needs to happen for race relations to improve is for all sides to realize that the others are not going to be perfect, and that understanding the other point of view is just as important as stating our own. In reading it over, I realize I only emphasized that point using quotations, but that's certainly a feeling I got from that speech.

I'm glad to see I'm not alone.


The Gap Closes



In national polls this week, Barack Obama's lead over Hillary Clinton has begun to diminish, according to Pollster. The latest graph, which is based on polls through Wednesday, March 18, shows that the gap between them on the smoothed chart has closed to 1.8% (47.5 - 45.7). Obama's support had leveled off, and Clinton appears to have picked up undecideds and "otherwise-decideds" - people who were for other candidates and have now picked between the two who are left.

These numbers don't include the effect of the revelations about Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, nor Obama's response. Next week's numbers should tell that tale.

One possible explanation of this recent trend is bias in the polls conducted recently. Most have been from one organization - Gallup. Gallup does show a gradual trend in favor of Clinton, but it's not quite as large as the gross numbers would indicate. Gallup's numbers generally have shown Clinton doing better than average. As other organizations conduct new polls, this effect, if any, should also become clearer.

Meanwhile, eRobin, over at her blog Factesque, sums up my feelings about this race pretty well:

I think I have NAFTA Derangement Syndrome. If the PA primary were tomorrow, I'd vote for Hillary. How's that for American voter crazy? But I just saw her on SNL and she was likable enough and now she's the underdog and they're both Republicans anyway. And that NAFTA CTV story is really bugging me. How am I supposed to vote for that guy?

Deciding the Lesser of Two Evils Turns Out to be Harder than I Thought

While I don't agree that they're Republicans (at least, they wouldn't pass for Republicans these days), they definitely are less desirable than some of the earlier candidates. They're also less progressive than I'd like, by a long ways. But that's the choice we're left with. I seriously doubt the wisdom of any progressive who pictures either of these two as the ideal candidate, or the other as the anti-Christ. It's pretty clear to me that they're neither.

So, take your pick, but don't try to tell me it's a great choice. It's just better than the alternatives. Particularly these alternatives.

UPDATE: Rasmussen's results for today indicate that Clinton has experienced a ten point bump in the last couple of days. A look at their daily results table shows that she's seen such bumps before, for whatever reasons. I'd call this within the margin of Rasmussen's error for now. There is some bad news for Obama, though. His numbers seem to be nearly identical to Clinton's now:

On Saturday, Obama’s favorable ratings slipped a little further—46% favorable, 51% unfavorable. Before the Pastor Problem became big news, Obama was viewed favorably by 52%. One month ago, he was viewed favorably by 56%. McCain is viewed favorably by 54% of voters nationwide and unfavorably by 43%. For Clinton, those numbers are 43% favorable, 54% unfavorable (see recent daily results).

Daily Presidential Tracking Poll: March 22, 2008

As voters get to know a candidate, they often start to like him less. Clinton supporters have argued that we've been through that process before, and her numbers are what they are likely to be. That may or may not be good news, considering that her unfavorables are also higher than her favorables. Personally, I don't get why her unfavorables are as high as they are, but I don't watch much TV news. Nevertheless, that's where they are, and they don't seem likely to change. Here's why that's bad:

Looking ahead to the General Election in November, John McCain continues to lead both potential Democratic opponents. McCain leads Barack Obama 49% to 41% and Hillary Clinton 49% to 43% (see recent daily results). New polling shows McCain leading both Democrats in Georgia and Arkansas. In Minnesota, the race is very close.

Daily Presidential Tracking Poll: March 22, 2008

The only antidote to this, I think, is for the news to start covering McCain's numerous indiscretions regarding lobbyists. So far, as Media Matters observes, they haven't done that.

(h/t Taylor Marsh reader Scan.)


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Image credit: Clarke Foundation


The man whose writing introduced me to science fiction died on Tuesay. Arthur C. Clarke, who movie fans best know as the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and 2010: The Year We Make Contact, died of what the Wikipedia entry terms "breathing problems". CinemaBlend writes:

Arthur C. Clarke died on Wednesday at the age of 90. He had left instructions that no rites of any faith should be performed at his funeral, which will take place on Saturday in Sri Lanka. He will be buried at Colombo’s general cemetery.

Arthur C Clarke Dead At The Age Of 90

This isn't surprising. He's listed in the Celebrity Atheists list as of "ambiguous" beliefs, but in this interview in a Sri Lankan newspaper, he makes the case that he was an atheist:

Does Sir Arthur think much about death? ``When I was last in New York I met Woody Allen and I agree with him: `I'm not frightened of death. I just don't want to be there when it happens.' When I joined the RAF they put me down as C of E. I got hold of the man handling the paperwork and made them change it to `pantheist'. Now I say I'm a crypto-Buddhist, but I'm anti-mysticism and I have a long-standing bias against organised religion. I don't believe in God or an afterlife.''

Exclusive interview with Arthur C. Clarke: Life beyond 2001

Whatever his beliefs, clearly mysticism and nonsense weren't among them.

My first brush with Clarke's work was Tales From The White Hart, a collection of short stories supposedly told at a pub frequented by scientists. Clarke had a powerful imagination and an equally powerful grasp of science - his stories about alien encounters, including 2001, are still among the most imaginative and plausible. He also was among the first to imagine things like geosynchronous satellites and a "space guard" that would watch for asteroids on course for the earth.

The story of first contact that I found to be one of the most memorable was Clarke's "Encounter At Down", where an alien survey crew encounters primitive humans, but has to abandon them in order to return to their own world, which is in crisis. "If I Forget Thee, O Earth", featured in one of my high school English classes, involved a rite of passage for a young man on the Moon. His father takes him outside the habitat to show him the Earth, which has been ruined in apocalyptic war. While the characters weren't as deep as those of some modern science fiction writers, they were much more than cardboard cutouts. CinemaBlend observes:

The best sci fi stories are those that do not worry about a setting. Sci fi lives and breathes in its characters, and Clarke never lost sight of that. And while the tale was being told he also took the time to create a world that was based on a skewed version of our reality. In that way he inspired many young kids to dream of what could be, and there are more than a handful of adult scientists who are currently putting to work the dreams of a novelist. Not that Clarke was required for NASA to look at a possible moon base, but it didn’t hurt for one man to dream and imagine.

Arthur C Clarke Dead At The Age Of 90

Clarke wrote some of the most interesting stories I read as a young man, and now the world seems a little emptier knowing there won't be any more.

For those interested, researching this article has turned up some interesting sites related to Arthur Clarke. They include:

The Arthur C. Clarke fansite, which discusses many of his stories and novels.

CNet's Remembering Arthur C. Clarke, a collection of photos of Clarke and related subjects.

A BBC article on many of the things Clarke imagined in his novel.

And, of course, the Wikipedia entry.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Five Years And How Many Dead?




The very first article I wrote here was entitled "3000 Plus 650,000 Equals 1 And 0". At the time, that was the number of U.S. dead in Iraq, the number of Iraqis estimated (roughly) to have been killed by the effects of that invasion, the number of Iraqi dictators executed, and the number of perpetrators of 9/11 who were apprehended.

Today, more than a year later, as we mark the fifth anniversary of this unnecessary war, we seem no closer to ending it. The first two numbers have gone upwards, we are now close to 4,000 combat deaths, and we must be closing in on a million Iraqi dead if you project out what's known about mortality rates since then. The other two numbers haven't changed. Neither has this:

We've gotten nothing out of this war that the average American would want. We haven't defeated Al Qaeda. We haven't defeated a country that was a threat to us. We haven't even made that country healthier, let alone a thriving democracy. That adds up to nothing for a whole lot of death, not to mention a whole lot of expense.

"3000 Plus 650,000 Equals 1 And 0"

There are now at least four and a half million Iraqi refugees.

Juan Cole, summarizing today's article in Salon, sums up the Administration line over the last five years:

I posit that each year of the war has been characterized by a central lie by the Bush propaganda machine.

Year 1: "There is no guerrilla war."
Year 2: "Iraq is a model democracy."
Year 3: "Zarqawi is causing all the trouble."
Year 4: "There is no Civil War."
Year 5: "Everything is calm now."

I also suggest that John McCain is pushing for:

Year 6: "Total victory is around the corner."

5 Years, 5 Lies: Cole in Salon

It looks like President Bush is getting started on the Year Six narrative already:

WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush will acknowledge on Wednesday the Iraq war has been fought at a high cost but will insist a U.S. troop buildup has opened the door to a "major strategic victory" against Islamic militants.

"The successes we are seeing in Iraq are undeniable," Bush will say in an upbeat assessment of the U.S.-led campaign in a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the war, according to excerpts released on Tuesday.

Bush to hail prospect of Iraq "strategic victory"

The urge for fantasy hasn't changed, only the nature of the fantasy. Curiously, the rest of the world hasn't felt the urge. Voice Of America reported Monday:

The image of the United States has suffered as a result of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. Opinion surveys show international approval of the United States at all-time lows. VOA's Michael Bowman reports form Washington, America's continued involvement in Iraq remains a major irritant in global perceptions of the United States.

Since 2003, demonstrations against the United States have become commonplace, and not just in countries historically opposed to U.S. policies. Major protests against the U.S.-led war in Iraq have been mounted in dozens of countries allied with Washington, including Canada, Britain, Germany, and Japan.

War in Iraq Badly Damages US Image Internationally

Five years, a million lives, and a half-trillion dollars later, our reputation around the world has never been lower, and things are just as screwed up in Iraq as the day we pulled down Saddam's statue.

Over at Outta The Cornfield, One Fly writes:

It's difficult to express the rage within me the last five years. Five years ago February 15 drove a total of 11 hours to spend four hours in Colorado Springs to protest the upcoming invasion of Iraq. Not much has changed since then because to me these people in power do whatever they want whenever they want because they can as there is no one to stop them.

Blogswarm

I feel that way, too. What will it take for our Congress to finally wake up and realize what a mess they've allowed us to get into? I don't accept that we need sixty Democrats in the Senate to make any real progress. If they can't manage with the ones they have, they aren't trying very hard. They have yet to make the Republicans carry out a threat to filibuster, and they've threatened at unprecedented rates, in order to stop the things from happening that most Americans wanted at least two years ago.

So today I'm displaying this blogswarm picture here. I have no idea if it will do any good. I'm not sure I'm even doing it right. But in honor of his being such an ineffectual majority leader, I'm going to put this picture here of Senator Harry Reid looking like a hopeless putz one more time.



I'm pretty sure I did that right.

UPDATE (Mar. 24): Added a mention of Iraq's refugees. Hard to believe I'd forgotten to mention them, but then they're probably used to being overlooked.


Hardin Smith On Patriotism

The Magna Carta, from a page on citizenship at the UK National Archives


If there's one reason I visit Firedoglake, it's to read what Christy Hardin Smith has to say. She has a clear, analytical writing style that most of us would do well to emulate. Today, she reprinted her speech at the Take Back America conference. She concludes:

Giving up our civil liberties does not make us more safe. It simply makes us less free. And if we hand over everything it is to be an American -- our core values to be sacrificed on the alter of consolidation of power in a false trade for a trumped up version of temporary peace of mind...until the next time we are asked to give up a little more liberty, and so on and so on...then we have already lost. We must all, every day, stand up for liberty, for our laws, and for the freedoms so hard won by so many generations who stood tall in the face of tyranny and threats in the past. We owe that to our forbears and to all the generations that follow ours.

It is up to all of us. Every single day. Being a citizen ought to be something that all of us DO.

Being A Citizen Is Something That You DO

The people I respect most are the ones best able to put this thought into action. It's not just about working for a political party or voting. It's about doing whatever you can to make your neighborhood, country, or world a better place. Free people can choose how best to do that.

Click on the link and give it a read.


Obama On Race In America

As I noted yesterday, Barack Obama has a problem he needed to address in the words of the pastor of his church, Jeremiah Wright. Today, he did a pretty good job of doing that:

And occasionally [black anger] finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

Obama Race Speech: Read The Full Text

As a life-long atheist, I can't comment much on how segregated Christian churches are in this country, but given what's happened over the years in our communities, I have little doubt that they are. I do know that there's anger from all sides in this debate, some of it justified, some not. To not acknowledge that it's there or that it is somehow un-American is to not understand what it is to be American. Obama adds:

On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike.

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Obama Race Speech: Read The Full Text

Personally, I think that the terrorism threat is overstated, albeit a real one. The others things are problems that are likely to divide us further. One thing's for sure, and that is that incendiary rhetoric isn't helpful. I wish Obama's supporters would take that idea to heart.

Obama addresses his relationship with Pastor Wright here:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
...
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

Obama Race Speech: Read The Full Text

How well this explanation works for other people remains to be seen, but it rings true to me. We do have imperfect lives, and we sometimes being part of a community means you accept the eccentricities of others. None of this explains to me how Obama plans to bring us all together, but then, I really wasn't expecting an answer.


In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.

Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.

Obama Race Speech: Read The Full Text

Like I said, there's anger on all sides in this discussion. I also find his observations spot on - it's astonishing sometimes what some white people believe about the advantages and disadvantages of their own racial makeup. Sometimes, white people really are hurt by things like affirmative action, but on the whole it's nowhere near as much as they believe, and it's certainly counterbalanced by the disadvantages of being a racial minority here.

I'm not a supporter of Obama's. In fact, I'm still not sure I'd vote for him in the general election. Nevertheless, I think his speech is worth a read. On the subject of our race relations, it's a good description of what it's like to be an American in the early Twenty-First Century.

UPDATE: SusanUnPC at No Quarter points out something I'd neglected to point out because it's not germane to the subject of racism:

Obama LIED repeatedly in the weeks before today’s confession. Today, he said, “Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely …”

Obama told the Chicago Sun-Times on March 15, 2008, “But the sermons I’ve always hear were no different than the sermons you hear in many African-American churches. I had not heard him make such, what I consider to be objectionable remarks from the pulpit. Had I heard them while I was in church, I would have objected. Had that been the tenor of the church generally, I probably wouldn’t be a member of the church.”

On March 14, when CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Obama if he ever heard from others about Rev. Wright’s controverisal remarks, Obama replied with a flat “No.”

What We’ve Noticed About the Speech

I think this truth ought to work against Obama. It's one of the reasons I have my doubts that this speech will help him very much. The speech is still an important glimpse into how race relations are working in this country. On that basis, I think it's worth serious thought.

UPDATE 2: Taylor Marsh posted a copy of Bill Clinton's speech marking the Million Man March. Ironic how similar the sentiments of these two speeches are, given the current tiff between Obama and Hillary Clinton over alleged racism.

UPDATE 3 (Mar. 19): Another interesting perspective on race and politics from a Hillary Clinton supporter (h/t democrat1 at TaylorMarsh.com).


Monday, March 17, 2008

Another Specious Charge of Racism

Image credit: Cujo359

More cause for depression showed up at Firedoglake today:

If you wondered how the nation's mainstream media would ensure that racism and religious militarism influence the next election, just watch MSNBC and ABC stage endless faintings about "Obama's pastor problem." America's DC pundits are bullying a black candidate while making racist attacks on black pastors and churches, thinly disguising them as a defense of American civility and patriotism.

ABC’s and MSNBC’s Racist Attacks on Black Pastors

This article strikes me as another specious charge of racism in a campaign that’s already had too many of them. Obama belongs to a church that openly declares itself afro-centric:

We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.

Trinity UCC: About Us

To me, and I think to most people who aren't in Obama's camp, that’s going to sound a bit fishy when the man promises to bring us all together. Given that he hasn’t had much of a track record of doing that, it’s reasonable to look at his background and associates to see what might be learned from them.

Would anyone think that if John Edwards or Chris Dodd had belonged to an “unashamedly white” church that they were OK? Edwards was pilloried as a racist even though he never gave anyone real reason. Dodd probably only escaped that label by being too small to matter.

You don’t need to posit racism to explain any of this stuff. The people Scarecrow mentioned on the ABC and NBC shows are there all the time. There’s already an imbalance in favor of the conservative, rich, and male. One also needn’t posit racism to understand Fox’s fascination with the subject of Pastor Wright. Some of the things Wright has said would set off alarm bells with just about anyone if they were taken out of context. Explaining that context is a much better counter than calling people racists when they probably don’t deserve the label.

Claiming Obama just wasn't there isn't going to cut it, either, for what I think are obvious reasons.

I agree that black people have something to be angry about. That doesn’t stop me from thinking that some forms of that anger sound just as intolerant as white people who complain that black folks get all the breaks, or that they’re all no good because so many are in jail. Bigots are bigots, no matter what ethnic group they come from. When you're on the other side of that anger, and it seems to be directed at you for no good reason, you're not going to take it as valid.

A quick look at the Wikipedia entry on black churches suggests that black churches are an integral part of their communities, as does a review of the civil rights movement in this country. They are, to some extent, different from their counterparts in mostly white neighborhoods. That's what Obama supporters ought to be pointing out. Part of the process of bringing people together is understanding each other's point of view. Giving people labels they don't deserve only serves to hinder that process.

UPDATE: While it's not directly related to this article, Sen. Obama is giving a "major speech" tomorrow on race relations and Pastor Wright. Taylor Marsh notes:

One thing Senator Obama should not do is defend Rev. Wright. One thing this does prove, which Obama refused to admit early on, is that some 1960s conflicts are still very much alive. Just ask Rev. Wright. Obama needs to speak about how Wright is the past and Obama is the future, with their relationship and what he's learned from Wright the reason he's the one to lead us out of the racial conflicts of the 20th century. Obama is a truly gifted orator so this could work. Frankly, for the sake of the Democratic party, I hope it does.

Oratory to the Rescue?

Taylor's right in this assessment. What's more, he needs to avoid the sort of disingenuous excuses I mentioned earlier. Whether they are literally true or not, no one with any sense is going to believe Obama wasn't aware of Wright's opinions. It would probably be best to just say they disagree and move on.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dickie Scruggs Pleads Guilty

Image credit: The Oxford [Mississippi] Heritage Society

Since I was obsessing about FISA reform and other issues yesterday, I completely missed this item:

As has been posted, this morning in open court, Richard Scruggs and Sid Backstrom pled guilty to conspiracy to bribe a state court judge. This was a remarkable and sad event... Here’s at summary level what occurred:

* Richard Scruggs is pleading to conspiracy to bribe a state court judge, count 1 of the indictment, with other counts to be dismissed. This was an open plea, that is, no recommended sentence.
* The government expects that he will get the full five year sentence on that count.
* Scruggs is still in jeopardy from the investigation into whether the judge was bribed in Wilson v. Scruggs. Prosecutor Tom Dawson said: “I want to make it painfully clear as to the investigation with respect to the Wilson case: This has no effect on a subsequent investigation as to that case.” Reading between the lines, I would take it to mean that the Scruggs plea only resolves his exposure on the Lackey bribe issue. That is remarkable.

From the courtroom with the Scruggs guilty pleas

[links are mine]

That's the report yesterday from nmisscommenter, A.K.A. NMC, who was at the court yesterday. Wilson Vs. Scruggs was another case that Scruggs is alleged to have tried to bribe a judge for a favorable settlement in a dispute over legal fees. If only there were a pattern to these crimes ...

In any event, Lotus and NMC are all over this. Check out Folo for all the latest developments. The server went down yesterday, so things may be a bit of a mess for a while, but check back later if it is.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Finally, A Win

Image credit: National Archives

Dust off that "goddamned piece of paper". It's not quite ready for the recycling bin:

The House just now approved a new FISA bill that denies retroactive immunity to lawbreaking telecoms and which refuses to grant most of the new powers for the President to spy on Americans without warrants. It passed comfortably, by a 213-197 margin

House Democrats reject telecom amnesty, warrantless surveillance

This means that the House and Senate will now have to resolve the differences between the two bills in committee, or the Senate will have to vote on the House bill. Assuming they really want to change FISA.

Kudos to Glenn Greenwald, Firedoglake, and everyone else who's been keeping after this. It's pretty clear that at least a few conservative Democrats changed their minds about whether immunity for the telecomms was a good idea. Whether it was the blogs themselves or all the voters they helped mobilize, that idea didn't come out of thin air, of that much I'm sure.

UPDATE: Forgot to provide a link to the roll call of the vote.


A Silver Lining

For once, the white girl the news is obsessed about isn't missing or dead. That's one last thing we can thank Eliot Spitzer for, I suppose. Reuters is positively gushing:

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Could Ashley Alexandra Dupre, the aspiring singer embroiled in the prostitution scandal that toppled New York governor Eliot Spitzer, have a music career?

Top talent scouts are weighing in on her chances after the 22-year-old racked up millions of MySpace views and launched much-sought-after new songs on priced-by-demand Web site AmieStreet.com since the Spitzer story broke.

Could woman in Spitzer scandal become a star?


Enjoy the break while you can.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

FISA Recap For Today

It looks like they'll be having the vote tomorrow. Earlier today, CNet wrote:

Update at 2:44 p.m. PDT: There's a new twist in the FISA schedule. Upon request from Republican Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has agreed to convene a rare "secret" session, in which politicians meet behind closed doors on the House floor to debate the bill. (Republican leaders apparently requested the procedural move because they believe there are elements of the proposal that shouldn't be discussed in public.) A Hoyer aide said the hour-long session will likely begin around 8:30 p.m. EDT. As of press time, no final decision had been made on whether the bill vote will occur after the Thursday night meeting or on Friday.

Democrats plan last-minute FISA vote

Jane Hamsher added a couple hours later:

Per a Democratic aide:

I think Republicans are the dog that caught the car. They thought we would say no, and now they don't know what to do.

Kucinich wants to know what they're going to talk about in the secret session. Hoyer: "I can't tell you that because I don't know."

Kucinich says he will not be attending a secret session on principle.

Um, to say that Dave Obey doesn't think much of the value of a secret session would be something of an understatement.

FISA House Session on CSPAN — Open Thread

According to Politico, this is only the fifth secret session in the history of the House. It's not particularly apparent why they want a secret session, or why it's worth so much trouble:

"Mr. Blunt stated that members in the Minority believe they have information relevant to the debate on FISA that cannot be publicly discussed," Hoyer said. "The majority agreed to Mr. Blunt’s request so that the Members may hear this information in a secret session that will proceed for one hour."

A closed session would require at least three hours for security personnel to sweep the chamber for listening devices.

House to go into rare closed session

Considering the Bush Administration's record on secrecy, I wouldn't trust anything I heard in such a session, and apparently Kucinich doesn't, either.

I've checked the roll call list and there's no mention of the bill. So it looks like we go to sleep no more screwed than we were this morning.

If you haven't called or e-mailed your representative, please do so Friday morning.


Once More On FISA

Image credit: National Archives


I'm running out of titles. As I wrote before, this "goddamned piece of paper" needs our help. Once more, the bad version of the FISA "reform" act is being considered in Congress, this time in the House. The bill is now called HR3773, even though the earlier, good version of this bill was also given that number. In short, it's now a bad bill, and needs to be rejected unless telcomm immunity and "basket" warrants are removed from the bill via amendment.

So call or write your representatives. Tell them they won't lose support if they stand up for freedom. If you're not sure who that is, this site can identify your congresscritters if you give it your address or zip code.

UPDATE: To keep up with this issue today, I'd suggest watching Firedoglake. In particular, here's Christy Hardin Smith's article on why Republicans should be against it, too.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Depressing Evening

A gray seagull on a gray day. Does it get more depressing than that? Image credit: Cujo359

For a while this evening, checking in at various political blogs was a pretty depressing endeavor. Some folks just don't know when to shut up and think, as Eli notes:

What the hell is wrong with these people??? How can anyone honestly believe that the world is just handed to minorities or women? Any preferential treatment at all (i.e., affirmative action) is far outweighed by the prejudices and disadvantages that it’s supposed to (ineffectually) counter. Can you really look me in the eye and tell me that if you were an unborn spirit floating in the void, and you wanted to be President Of The United States, or attain some other prestigious (okay, formerly prestigious) position, that your first choice would be to be born as a black man, or a woman who gets very publicly cheated on?

Black Privilege

You'd think that having a black person and a woman as the two leading candidates of one party would be a cause for optimism, and yet the reactions I'm seeing to it on the Democrats' part is positively depressing. Will a day go by without someone accusing someone of racism or sexism? Not bloody likely, it appears.

I understand Geraldine Ferraro's frustration. I don't understand why she said what she did, because she should have known better. Clearly, Obama has something going for him besides being black. He's shown himself to be good at politics. If he wasn't, he would not be a front runner. He's outlasted some accomplished opponents to get where he is. That's not all due to charm or favoritism from the news.

In fact, given the number of times folks in the news business have remarked on Obama's middle name and his supposed Muslim education, I'd say that he hasn't had it all his own way with the press, either.

I wrote about this back in January, when people were accusing John Edwards of being a racist and a sexist for no good reason. He could be both, of course, because he's a white man. He had an advisor named Mudcat and a supporter named Cooter. What more reason did anyone really need? I wish people would take a breath and think for a second, but with many folks, it's not happening. It's ironic that some of the same folks who were doing the accusing then wonder where all this stuff is coming from now.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Yesterday At No Quarter

At his blog No Quarter, Larry Johnson writes:

Now we face terrorism. Since [1990?] less than 10,000 Americans have died in terrorist attacks around the world. Got that? Less than 10,000. No terrorist organization on the face of the earth has an air force, naval fleet, submarine fleet, or armed force capable of striking the United States with anything even approximating 10% of the Soviet capability in their hey day. No terrorist force on the face of the earth has a nuclear arsenal ready to be launched at a moments notice that would destroy all major U.S. cities.

So what in the hell is Michael Scheuer and other fear mongers doing? They are making shit up and using fear as a bludgeon to convince Americans that we should surrender our honor and lose our humanity. I believe terrorism is a threat. And I believe folks like Bin Laden, if left to their own devices would try to do us harm again and would not hesitate to use a nuclear weapon. But that fact does not justify torture. Our fear should not be used as an excuse to act like the tyrants that our nation fought during and after World War Two.

Terrorist Fear Mongering and Torture

I'm guessing about the 1990 date, obviously. It's certainly true that no more than that many have died in that time. In contrast, around 18,000 Americans die each year of inadequate health care, according to the American Medical Association (PDF). In 2005, approximately 113,000 Americans died due to accidental injuries such as automobile accidents, according to the National Safety Council. Similar numbers of Americans die due to the medical effects of cigarette smoking.

Yet we continue to treat terrorism as though it were a mortal danger to our country. It is, at worst, a problem. What's worse, it's a problem that requires cooperation and support from other countries. Blatantly advocating the use of torture is the last thing that will gain us such cooperation, and it is useless for obtaining reliable information (PDF - pg. 225). There may be no more obvious sign of how low we've sunk as a society than the open advocacy of torture that I see every time this question comes up. Stupidity and cruelty aren't a desirable combination, yet they are the traits we seem to be most eager to show the rest of the world these days.

It's long past time that we declare such talk for what it is.


Friday, March 7, 2008

More Bad SciFi

Fans of science fiction, particularly real science fiction, aren't likely to be impressed with the latest offering from Roland Emmerich:

For the wackiest portrayal of the Stone Age since The Flintstones, we have no hesitation in recommending 10,000 BC, an adventure that starts in an icy Pleistocene village and ends in a vast desert where an Egyptian civilization has magically taken form.

Windsor Star Review: 10,000 BC
Anyone who's seen the trailers for this thing shouldn't be surprised at the observations of the more thoughtful movie critics. Here's another one:

The new Roland Emmerich movie "10,000 B.C." can be recommended to those who have (1) never seen Mel Gibson's vastly superior "Apocalypto"; (2) never seen the matchless "Lord of the Rings" pictures; or (3) never seen a movie before in their lives. To call the film derivative would be to over-praise it. Much of the story and several key sequences - especially one set in a huge pyramid city swarming with slaves - are ripped straight out of the Gibson movie, while the stampeding mastodons and snowy New Zealand mountaintop panoramas (along with some sub-Howard Shore soundtrack symphonizing) will surely stir feelings of familiarity among Frodophiles.

'10,000 B.C.': Time Bomb, By Kurt Loder
Yes, I thought I'd seen that somewhere before - like on The Flintstones. Emmerich, as you may recall, was responsible for the stupid, but amusing, Independence Day. My guess is that this one will be just as stupid, but far less amusing:

Still, there are nanoseconds of accidental poetry, like the visible tear stains on Evolet's resting face. But then comes a moment of Mesolithic silliness, like a "Braveheart"-ish speech by D'Leh to his men, or a reference to snow as "white rain" or Omar Sharif's narration. And the less said about historical accuracy, the better.

'10,000 B.C.' quest for early flair is just too Neanderthal
Independence Day at least featured skilled and accomplished actors like Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum. Not so with this turkey:

While the plot might look good on paper, it falls flat on screen and turns out to be just another run-of-the-mill hero story. The end result was made worse by weak acting and poor dialogue across the board.

Watching [Steven] Strait is uninteresting and uninspiring; he may have the look of a hero, but lacks the emotions and speech.

Prehistoric epic gets trampled
Another critic observes:

While the CGI induces laughter and a little bit of confusion, purposeful attempts at humor fall flat. The dialogue, besides being trite, is randomly dotted with absurd guttural noises presumably aimed at mimicking the era’s speech. Especially insufferable is the young Baku, the bumbling comedic relief, whose antics fail to prompt anything but embarrassment and the odd awkward chuckle.

Despite Visuals, "10,000 B.C." Is An Epic Disappointment
I haven't seen this film, nor will I do so without being paid handsomely (very unlikely), or being threatened with bodily harm. The only reason I'm writing about this thing is that it just represents another example of Hollywood's attitude toward the genre. These days, if you want to see good science fiction, you should turn on your TV.

It's hard to remember the last film I saw that could genuinely be called "science fiction". I think it was Contact. It definitely was a long time ago. Ten thousand years ago, agricultural societies were just getting started. The old world of hunter-gathering humans was changing into the world we live in now. Considering how interesting and dangerous those times actually were, you'd think that someone could write an interesting tale about them that was featured a passably accurate setting. Instead, we're treated to colossally expensive tripe like this.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

One Proud Puppy

[This is Zip, who was three months old when this image was taken. Image credit: PuppyDogWeb.com]

While I'm still in a sort of Internet-free zone this week, I had a chance to write a couple of articles, and I'm thankful for that. I didn't want to go back into hiding, though, without thanking a couple of folks for thoughtful gestures of support.

Several months ago, shoephone tagged me as a Thinking Blogger awardee. Of course, one of the obligations of accepting the award is to nominate five other blogs. Unfortunately, nearly everyone I could think of who deserved that award already had one, or they were just too big to bother giving something like that. Awards like that should really be for unrecognized blogs, shouldn't they? I'm still looking, I swear. Someday, there will be a list here.

A few days ago, Bustednuckles named me as an awardee for the E for Excellent award. Of course, this award requires that you name ten worthy blogs.

I'm getting farther behind all the time. But I'm not complaining.


From Pig Iron To Iron Pigs



Image credit: Composite image by Cujo359 (See Note)

Every once in a while, I travel back to the area where I grew up - the Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania. When I was growing up here, it was an industrial center. There was a Mack truck plant and a Western Electric plant in Allentown, and a huge steel mill in Bethlehem. Bethlehem Steel was the second-largest steel manufacturer in the world back then. Mack moved their plant south many years ago, and thanks to the incompetence of its management and the intransigence of its unions, the Bethlehem Steel plant is long abandoned.

In those days, the huge blast furnaces that sat along the Lehigh River, produced pig iron from the raw ore shipped in from all over the country. These furnaces, tended by hundreds of steelworkers, plant managers, and engineers, ran around the clock, stopping only for maintenance. They were hot, noisy, and dirty machines, but they produced a vital product in what was, at the time they were built, the most modern and efficient way. Unfortunately, after the Second World War the world's steel industry was largely destroyed outside of the U.S. Bethlehem and other U.S. steel companies became lazy and arrogant, refusing to invest in new technologies. When foreign countries like Japan and Korea rebuilt their steel industries, they used more modern equipment in them, and they gradually learned to make steel better and more cheaply than their American counterparts. By the late 1970s, Bethlehem Steel and its American competitors were a shadow of their former selves. The Wikipedia article on Bethlehem Steel contains a good history of its rise and fall. In addition, a book entitled Crisis In Bethlehem, by John Strohmeyer, is an excellent chronicle of this sad time in our industrial past.

What brought all this to mind was a visit I paid the other day to the new Lehigh Valley Stadium, which will be the home stadium for the Iron Pigs, the Philadelphia Phillies' AAA minor league team. Anyone who has looked into the recent history of minor league baseball can tell you that it is nearly as difficult for a city to hold onto a minor league team as it is a major league one:

We here in Emmaus and the rest of the Lehigh Valley are the direct beneficiaries of Ottawa's loss of the Lynx. Still, it should sadden any fan to know that AAA baseball no longer will be played in Canada starting next year.

AAA baseball, and International league ball in particular, has a proud history in Canada that should not have ended the way it did. Canadian teams have won a total of 18 AAA titles.

Eulogy: AAA ball in Canada

Like many minor league baseball teams, the Iron Pigs, formerly the Lynx, got a better offer, moved, and changed their name. Lehigh County, with the help of various grants, built a beautiful new stadium with a bigscreen TV, sky boxes, and other modern features for the team to lure them here. Apparently, Ottawa decided it couldn't compete. What's especially interesting is where one of those grants came from:

Minor league baseball will return to the City of Allentown Pa. in 2008, thanks in part to a grant from EPA's Revolving Loan Fund (RLF). The Philadelphia Phillies will move their Triple A team (just a notch below the majors) to a new stadium being built on the site of a former electronics plant. The 7,000-seat stadium, located between American Parkway and Union Boulevard in East Allentown, is expected to cost $34.3 million.

We see this project as a hub around which economic development will occur. It's a perfect re-use for a former industrial property because we're taking a good portion of land and turning it into greenspace, said Glenn Solt, Manager of Capitol Projects for Lehigh County.

...

The site was originally developed in the 1940s and operated by Western Electric, AT&T Microelectronics, Lucent Technologies and Agere systems until the facility was closed in 2003. The site was used for the manufacture of electronic components such as circuit boards and computer chips. The buildings were demolished in 2004.

A Phase I environmental assessment was completed in 2005 and subsequent Phase II assessment work was completed in early 2006. A subsurface soil investigation noted an approximately 30,000-square-foot area that contained some buried electronic parts and concentrations of chlorinated solvents, mercury, nickel and silver in the soil.

Brownfield of Dreams Becoming Allentown's Reality

Silver and nickel are typically found in circuit board solder, solvents are used to clean circuit boards and integrated circuits. All of this was buried beneath the ground where Lehigh Valley Stadium, which is now called Coca Cola Park thanks to an advertising contract, now stands.

The source of these contaminants is another example of the decline of this area's industrial base. The stadium is next door to, and on top of, what remains of the old Western Electric plant, which was once a part of AT & T, the telephone monopoly. Among other things, early research into semiconductor manufacturing was done there:

But the transistor was still a long way from becoming the mass-produced gizmo that would reshape—or create—huge industries, including radio, television, microelectronics, and aerospace. More than a decade of development—involving silicon purification, crystal growing, and the diffusion of chemical agents called dopants into semiconductors—was required before transistors could begin to assume the forms they are found in today. Much of that work took place not at Bell Labs but at two Western Electric plants in Pennsylvania, in Allentown and nearby Reading, where engineers developed the precision manufacturing processes and techniques needed to mass-produce transistors. The clean room, used today in almost every aspect of semiconductor manufacturing, was born and raised in Allentown.

The End of AT&T

Later, this plant produced the laser diodes that constituted the long links in the information superhighway. It employed hundreds of engineers, technicians, accountants, and other professionals, most of whom were well paid. When we drove past what was left of this facility on Monday, it was sporting the logo of LSI Corporation, and it had a parking lot that was almost empty. Much like the Bethlehem Steel plant, it is now too antiquated for most applications.

In a sense, these giant industries have been replaced by a small niche industry, albeit one that the local governments were happy to put up $34 million to obtain. What economic benefit is likely to accrue? The EPA estimates:

When the stadium opens in April 2008, it will have 30 full-time employees, as well as providing numerous part-time service jobs. It will also require trash hauling, food, cleaning services, advertising and printing in addition to other goods and services which will generate jobs and economic development in the area.

Brownfield of Dreams Becoming Allentown's Reality

Thirty jobs, mostly low-paid, replace thousands of high-paying jobs. This is the transition much of America is undergoing. Personally, I'd rather have the blast furnaces.

Note about the image: This is a composite of images from the Bethlehem Steel online site, and the Iron Pigs' stadium page.

UPDATE: There's no new content, but I've made several edits to clarify things. I also fixed the link to an explanation of laser diodes.

UPDATE (Mar. 24): If you're having trouble finding the Iron Pigs' schedule, I offer some advice on the subject.

Afterword (Aug., 2011): For those who landed here because they asked the online question "What is an iron pig?", or words to that effect, I think the most common answer is "a motorcycle police officer". An obscure minor league baseball team named after a failed American industrial sector is probably the second definition.

Glad I could help.