Saturday, May 31, 2008

Democratic Rules Committee Meets Today

Over at FireDogLake, they're live blogging today's meeting of the Democratic Party's rules committee. It seems there have already been at least one hissy fit, one ejection, and they didn't break for lunch until 3PM.

In other words, business as usual.

For those who may have forgotten, this meeting is supposed to determine how the Florida and Michigan delegations will be represented at the convention. For once, this sort of thing actually will have consequences, as they're two of the states Hillary Clinton carried by wide margins, and they're big states. Circumstances, combined with political manuevering, have so far prevented them from being seated. Since they might be swing states this year, the Democrats don't want to be seen as slagging them. They also don't want to be seen as making an arbitrary decision that gives the nomination to one candidate or the other.

A bit of irony was provided by a Democratic official today:

As secretary of the Democratic National Committee, Alice Travis Germond will call the roll of states later this year when the party nominates its presidential ticket at its convention in Denver. She took note of that today as a member of the party rules committee that met in Washington to try to figure out if -- and to what degree -- the Michigan and Florida delegations would be part of that confab.
Germond -- for many years a key behind-the-scenes player in California's Democratic Party before she moved East -- seemed loath to use the term "primary."

Her favored term for the votes: "events" (which drew a chuckle from the committee's audience the first time she used it).

Michigan and Florida voters participated in "events," not primaries

As far as I'm concerned, if you can term anything that was used to determine the Democratic nomine "events" this year, it would be the caucuses. As emptypockets has pointed out at Next Hurrah, Obama has won those events, and Clinton the real primaries. While that is somewhat less true than it was in February, it's still true.

As usual, though, none of that matters to the partisans.

UPDATE: Apparently, the woman who was ejected from the meeting was bruised. A look at indicates that this may not prove she was handled roughly:

Some people who have great health and get plenty of vitamin C and B complex vitamins and who are in good muscular shape, don't show a bruise at all, unless they take a very hard blow in an area where the skin and muscles and vascular system is much more fragile and "thin" (the facial area for example, like around the eye). How fast a bruise shows up is very individual, and likewise, how long it takes to fade to the yellow-green colors then disappear is also very individual, based on the factors mentioned above. How long does it take for a bruise to appear?

On the other hand, in contrast to what some know-it-alls at that FDL article have asserted, it's possible for bruising to show up very soon after an injury. While I wouldn't look to for serious medical advice, this is consistent with my own experience. This site, supposedly run by a medical doctor, seems to confirm that bruising sometimes can appear with little actual trauma. This is especially true as we get older. There's also a page on bruising at WebMD, which also states that bruising is a very individual thing.

This and other disturbances apparently happened after the DNC decided to give each state half its votes, and to award Obama a rather large share of the Michigan delegation, given that he wasn't even on the ballot:

It may take more than a Solomonic, split-the-baby decision on delegates to undo the months of accumulated bitterness between Obama and Clinton supporters. Clinton - who outpolled Obama in Michigan and Florida - had hoped the committee would recognize the full delegations along with a full vote for each delegate. Saturday's rulings frustrate her effort to gain on Obama in the delegate count, and she is rapidly running out of time and states to make up the difference.

Dems compromise on Florida, Michigan primaries

My own opinion remains that in Florida's case, the full slate of elected delegates should have been seated. What to do about Michigan is less clear, since most Democratic candidates stayed off the ballot in protest of Michigan's early primary. Clinton was the only one who decided not to support the DNC's position there. Perhaps this ruling was fair in that case. In the case of Florida, I think it wasn't fair, and it was a foolish decision besides. All that it did was make sure that the results were not changed by the DNC's decision.

But then, cowardice is something I'm used to seeing on the part of this Democratic Party.

UPDATE 2 (Jun. 1): Emptywheel summarized the results of the rules committee meeting, at least as they applied to Michigan.

Greetings From Mars

Image credit: NASA, via University of Arizona.

My apologies to any dial-up users who may be dropping by, but I love this picture. NASA has accomplished something astonishing this month, which is to send a probe tens of millions of miles through space, land it on another planet, and have it start up and perform its mission with nary a hitch.

I'll spare you the long-winded explanation of why that's such an accomplishment, and just point out that so far, space agencies from five nations have tried to do this, and only NASA has succeeded.

That's a DVD on the lander's case, by the way, just to the left of the flag. It contains the usual greetings from Earth, videos and pictures. I hope it contains instructions on how to play it. For some reason, I can't believe that Martians use the same standards we do.

As I've noted lately, we're a country with its share of fools, cowards, and jackasses. Still, we're also a country full of people who are clever enough to do something like this, and wise enough to make the attempt.

It's things like this that give me hope.

Scarves And Bigots - A Dangerous Mix

Image credit: Monsters and Critics

Like Martha Stewart before her, I've largely missed out on the whole Rachael Ray thing. She seems like just another beautiful woman who's at least moderately good at some domestic tasks like cooking or making pottery, and is thus a candidate for all sorts of endorsement opportunities. She has her own line of somethingorother, which she may or may not have had a hand in designing. I'm sure her fans could fill me in on all that should they choose.

I think the important point here is that as threats to the American way of life go, Rachael Ray is at best small potatoes. Most of us wouldn't consider her a threat at all. And yet, she's managed to make some people very nervous. How did she do it? Apparently, through an item of clothing that the fashion-conscious would probably term an "accessory":

Dunkin' Donuts said in a statement, "In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design. It was selected by her stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended. However, given the possibility of misperception, we are no longer using the commercial."

Dunkin' Donuts yanks Rachael Ray 'terrorist' ad

That's the scarf in the photo at the head of this article. Note that it is, indeed paisley. It's also a bit, ummm, what's the word, frilly? I'm sure there's a better fashion term for it, but I'm a bit out of my element here. Also note that Ray is wearing it around her neck. I had to look around quite a bit to find a photo that was large enough to see what this scarf actually looked like. Here's another one, by the way. Why is that? It would appear that there are lots of people who operate based on what they fear these days, including the press:

Critics, notably conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, said the scarf looked reminiscent of the black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf. To some, such garments symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism. Dunkin' Donuts said no symbolism was intended.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

Monsters and Critics quotes Malkin as saying:

Fox News right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin explained, "The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad. Popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons."

Dunkin' Donuts yanks Rachael Ray 'terrorist' ad

That's it. They don't even bother to point out the obvious factual errors.

Just as an aside, fans of logic will note that Ms. Malkin has managed to insult the intelligence of people who don't believe her, engage in some guilt by association and fear-mongering, and name-call all in one paragraph. Most of us would have to work to accomplish that much in so few words, but I'm sure Malkin wasn't even breathing hard at the end of it. It's her bread and butter.

Let's do what an inquisitive journalist might do and explore the basis for Malkin's assertion, shall we? Here's what a kaffiyeh looks like, when modeled by an international terrorist, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Note that it's not paisely, nor is it frilly. It's also worn on the terrorist's head, not around his neck. He does have brown skin, though, so I suppose there's some resemblance.

In short, Ms. Ray's scarf resembles Mr. Arafat's about as much as the French flag resembles the American one.

This, believe it or not, is what's had a sadly large portion of America checking on their supplies of fresh water and MREs this week. Once again, I feel that I'm on the wrong side of an historical arc.

Why is that? It's because apparently, there is a group of people out there who are both blind and unobservant enough to confuse these two articles of clothing. What's worse, they then can make the utterly daft connection that somehow a woman who has never displayed any political leanings whatsoever is expressing sympathy for terrorism because they can't tell the difference between a frilly, paisely scarf and a non-frilly checked one. To make things really, sadly pathetic, they then felt motivated to share this fear with an advertiser who was just trying to sell some ice coffee.

What's really frightening, though, is the deference shown to these people by the American press. Here's what Market Watch has to say:

The matter is more than an embarrassment to Ray and an inconvenience to Dunkin' Donuts.

It also underscores the potential perils of employing celebrity endorsers. Dunkin' Donuts was eager to capitalize on the legitimacy of Ray, a celebrity chef, in its ads. But in a way, her fame worked against the interests of the food company.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

Yes, because as any marketer knows, allowing your spokesperson to wear clothing that some group of boneheads might mistake for a different article of clothing is just the sort of thing that will typically kill an ad campaign for a soft drink. It then continues:

Celebrities can make consumers pay closer attention to products because ordinary people want to identify with them. But when the celebrities run into criticism, the company that hired them can pay a price by getting unwanted publicity.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

I'm inclined to observe that this is probably helping Dunkin Donuts more than it's hurting. I wouldn't have even known they were serving ice coffee if it hadn't been for this incident. A few fools will be turned off, but a few others will say to themselves "Hmm. Ice coffee and donuts. Sounds like the perfect combination for a hot summer day." Where's the harm?

Denver's CBS affiliate intones:

Critics, including conservative commentator Michelle Malkin, complained that the scarf looked similar to the black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh, the traditional Palestinian scarf. Critics who fueled online complaints about the ad in blogs say such scarves have come to symbolize Muslim extremism and terrorism.

Rachael Ray ad pulled by Dunkin Donuts

The emphasis is mine, of course. One would think that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of critics were rallying round Ms. Malkin on this one, instead of a particularly clueless and vocal band of wingnuts.

At least in Chicago they haven't lost their minds. The Tribune writes:

And so, Malkin's pattern-recognition sensors kick in: Palestinians!

According to her, if Ray's scarf looks like a keffiyeh, the traditional scarf worn by Palestinians, then it must be a keffiyeh.

So what if it were?

Well, she further argues that, unbeknownst to the world, keffiyehs are actually a symbol of terrorism, hence her insinuation that the ad promotes terrorism.

Malkin then proceeds to educate the world about Palestinian keffiyehs, when they are worn, by whom, and why.

Not surprisingly, she gets it all wrong: In reality, the average Palestinian is much more likely to wear a keffiyeh than a terrorist.

Think about it: would the keffiyeh really be your preferred disguise if you were a terrorist and wished to walk incognito into a Tel Aviv bus or pizza parlor?

Probably not.

The blogger, the chef and the terrorist

If you want to be frightened of something, I'd suggest examining how rare it is for news agencies in America to point out the foolishness of these fear campaigns. They'll bend over backwards to avoid honking off these people.

I suppose I should really thank Ms. Malkin for stirring up all these idiots and getting them to do something completely useless for a while. Instead of keeping us safe from a 5' 3" spokesmodel for housewares and domestic appliances, they could have spent that time and energy fucking up something important.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Update On The Crazy Car Dealer

Remember the crazy car dealer from California who felt that people who didn't agree with his spiritual beliefs should sit down and shut up, because they're not the majority? Seems he's had a "come to Jesus" moment:

“It’s just something that went by us,” said Kieffe, who does not attend church but considers himself “a Christian spirit.” “We’re obviously sorry that it offends a given segment who identifies themselves as atheist.”

Car dealer regrets ads urging non-Christians to 'sit down and shut up'

Anna Lemma, who called attention to this ad at her blog The Underground Unbeliever, wrote this yesterday:

Perhaps they will review the ads that they pay for in the future. They ended up with a lot of egg on their faces this time. I emailed them weeks ago about how the ad was offensive to nonbelievers, especially atheists. The portion of the ad that offended me was the "shut up and sit down" portion. The arrogance and condescension I can put up with, but not being told to give up my right to free speech.

Kieffe & Sons Ford Apologizes for Offending Nonbelievers

The part about them feeling aggrieved because they can't have publicly led prayers in government institutions and can't be sure they're going to get their way on the question of whether we openly declare ourselves "One Nation, Under God" is rather tiring, too. They seem to feel that they're entitled to a level of forbearance that they've never engaged in themselves - which is to see someone else's spiritual beliefs represented as the beliefs of all of our country's citizens.

But the shear intolerance of the "sit down and shut up" comment was the issue for most of us. As numerous commenters had observed, it went well beyond stating a point of view, however narrow-minded, and turned into the worst form of intolerance. It was a clear implication that the rest of us are just second-class citizens, and that our views are not deserving of any consideration.

For a little while, they learned what that really feels like.

I Like This Guy

Steven Porter is running as an independent in the PA-03 Congressional district. He ran as a Democrat last time, but decided that the Democratic Party wasn't substantially better than the other one. There are days when I agree with him.

Today, he sent an e-mail out containing a press release. Since it's labeled a press release, I see no reason not to present it in full here, minus his campaign's phone number. You can look that up if you need to.

From: Porter for Congress

To: Media, PA-03

Date: May 29, 2008

Contact: Dr. Steven Porter (XXX-XXX-XXXX)


“Today’s outrage over Scott McClellan’s new book is misplaced,” said Dr. Steven Porter, independent candidate for Congress in the third district of Pennsylvania. “The Republicans are furious over McClellan’s revelations that Bush and his administration manipulated intelligence to lead us into war. Predictable but rather irrelevant. The press is all agog about asking McClellan to explain his revelations further. Again, predictable and irrelevant.

“The real question ought to go to Nancy Pelosi, and it ought to be this: ‘In the light of McClellan’s book—and several others like it—why did you take impeachment investigations off the table two years ago when you became the Speaker of the House?’

“That the Bush Administration has mangled our Constitution and led us into military and economic disaster is no longer the point. The tragedy equally appalling is that the Democrats, who came to power promising to hold Bush accountable, have done nothing in the last two years except to contribute to the deaths in Iraq and sit idly by while gas prices have risen and our jobs have continued to be exported.

“Before the 2006 elections, the Democrats in Congress fairly salivated at the chance to hold impeachment hearings. In fact, senior Democratic Congressman John Conyers did hold them—at least mock inquiries in the basement of the Capitol Building. On March 2, 2006, Conyers said this: “People think of Watergate or Iran-Contra as constituting crises…Today the crisis is substantively and systematically far worse. The alleged acts of wrong-doing—lying about the decision to go to war; manipulation of intelligence; facilitating and countenancing torture; using confidential information to out a CIA agent; open and flagrant violation of wiretap laws—are more egregious than any I have witnessed in my 41 years in Congress…We could simply ignore the myriad transgressions…or we could do everything in our power to call attention to and document these grave abuses…I opted for the latter.’

“But the day after the Democrats got control of both houses, Pelosi took impeachment ‘off the table,’ as she said. In other words, all the pre-election hullabaloo was just a ploy to gain political power. Pelosi and the Democrats had no intention of stopping the war and devoting their attention to the American economy. And they are counting on the voters in 2008 to turn to them for the “change” they have failed to deliver. Laughable.

“I hope that the American people understand how corrupt both parties have been, and how poorly we have been led. Neither party deserves our support. They are both cut from the same cloth. Both are willing to play with our lives for power. Disgusting.”

[emphasis mine]

Disgusting is a word I've used a lot lately, along with its various synonyms, to describe our political process.

If you live in the Erie, PA area, you might want to consider sending someone to Congress who is willing to ask questions like this.

When this press release is up on his website, I'll provide a link.

UPDATE (Jun 1): Here's the link to the press release. It's a PDF file.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Further Proof That John McCain Is Crazy

If you need any additional ammunition when you're arguing that John McCain is batshit crazy, consider this:

McCain's speech was interrupted several times by anti-Iraq war protestors, prompting McCain to restate his pledge to remain in Iraq until the U.S. achieves victory there.

"And by the way, I will never surrender in Iraq, my friends, I will never surrender in Iraq," he added.

McCain Urges Stemming Spread of Nuclear Weapons

Video here.

I'll let Patrick Lang do the honors:

What the hell is he talking about? Surrender to whom? To Al-Qa'ida? (alkayda) They have been beaten to a pulp by the Sunni rising against them and Patraeus' new-old tactics. McCain would have to find Al-Qa'ida before he could surrender to them and then everyone else in the country would have to go along with the idea. This is unlikely. Surrender to Muqtada al-Sadr? Have I missed something? "Mooky" is now the leading Shia factional leader in the country? I guess you never know... Maybe the Mahdi has anointed him. Surrender to Maliki and actually let him run the country? I have had a couple of people (American) say to me recently things that reflect a reflexive idea that we are going to "call the shots" in Iraq indefinitely. Is that what McCain means?

"I will never surrender in Iraq! Never! Never!" McCain

Of course, we've been hearing and reading variations of this insane theme from the current administration, so stuff like this almost gets lost in the noise. Still, as Col. Lang points out, there are so many absurdities implicit in this declaration of McCain's that it really does deserve a special place in our Presidential political rhetoric.

It makes the goofiest things Clinton and Obama have said seem positively scholarly.

The New York Times Discovers xkcd

Image credit:

I was surprised and delighted to see this article in the New York Times yesterday:

FOR a certain subset of Internet users, “Sudo make me a sandwich” may as well be “Take my wife ... please.”

This Is Funny Only if You Know Unix

Being a part of that subset is an unusual thing these days. A decade or so ago, Unix was the operating system most often used in server and workstation computers. Nowadays, Windows is dominant in workstations, and has a pretty large segment of the server market, as well.

Still, for those of us familiar with it, Unix and its cousin, Linux, are often the programming environment of choice. Its many utilities, including sudo, can be combined together in numerous ways to form a powerful system programming environment. System administration on Unix systems is often done by setting up scripts that take care of settings and maintenance, and then checking once in a while to make sure the hardware's OK.

So, not surprisingly, there are many of us out there who are still quite fond of the environment.

The NYT article, though, was about, a comic strip site created and run by Randall Munroe, a physics student and computer programmer:

Mr. Munroe, a physics major and a programmer by trade, is good for jokes like this three times a week, informed by computing and the Internet. By speaking the language of geeks — many a strip hinges on crucial differences between the C and Python programming languages — while dealing with relationships and the meaning of a computer-centric life, xkcd has become required reading for techies across the world.

The site, which began publishing regularly in January 2006, has 500,000 unique visitors a day, he said, and 80 million page views a month. (Why “xkcd”? “It’s just a word with no phonetic pronunciation,” his Web site,, answers.)

This Is Funny Only if You Know Unix

Actually, the name of the site imitates many of the utility names in Unix. Directories are listed using the ls command, for instance. What does it stand for? Nothing; it's just what you get when you type the characters under your left and right ring fingers, respectively. There are similar origins for many of Unix's commands, like df, du, awk, and grep. When it was developed in the 1970s, Unix was run from a command line. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs) were something that was being experimented with at a Xerox research lab. The first Macintosh was still a decade in the future. Authors of Unix's various commands tried to keep the typing they had to do to a minimum.

Of course, xkcd isn't the first comic strip to make light of programmers and the world we work in. Dilbert and User Friendly are two that come to mind, but for humor based on out-and-out esoterica I don't think it gets much funnier than xkcd.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hope It Was Good For You, Too

[Image credit:NASA. The caption for this image reads: This image shows a polygonal pattern in the ground near NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander, similar in appearance to icy ground in the arctic regions of Earth.]

The Phoenix Mars Lander had a good Memorial Day, according to NASA:

PASADENA, Calif. — One day after a picture-perfect landing on Mars, NASA’s Phoenix lander seemed Monday to be in perfect health.

The spacecraft has redundant systems to survive the failure of some components, and mission controllers have drawn up contingency plans for possible problems.

“Up to this point, we haven’t needed any of it,” said Edward Sedivy, the Phoenix program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, which built the spacecraft.

NASA Spacecraft Ready to Dig on Mars

It might not look like much, but any image from another planet is impressive to me.

I had a good day, too. I got a little work done, but mostly got to relax. I hope you had a good day, too.

UPDATE (May 31): Finally fixed the NASA Phoenix mission link.

I Understand Where I Am, Part III

This post isn't about racism. Rather, it's about another form of bigotry that I mentioned in the first of these articles:

My own experiences with prejudice have been nowhere near as dreadful, but they at least help me imagine what it's like for ethnic minorities here. Part of that experience is being an atheist in America. We're probably the most openly despised group in America.

Here's an example of what I mean. In Mojave, California, there's a Ford dealer who seems to think that his religious beliefs entitle him to tell the rest of us to screw ourselves:

Here is a transcript of the ad, with the missing part in blocks. Karen has more recently heard the ad, so I'm putting in what she remembers.

["Did you know that there are people in this country who want prayer out of schools, "Under God" out of the Pledge, and "In God We Trust" to be taken off our money?"]

"But did you know that 86% of Americans say they believe in God? Since we all know that 86 out of every 100 of us are Christians, who believe in God, we at Kieffe & Sons Ford wonder why we don't tell the other 14% to sit down and shut up. I guess I just offended 14% of the people who are listening to this message. Well, if that is the case then I say that's tough, this is America folks, it's called free speech. None of us at Kieffe & Sons Ford is afraid to speak out. Kieffe & Sons Ford on Sierra Highway in Mojave and Rosamond, if we don't see you today, by the grace of God, we'll be here tomorrow."

Well, Mr Kieffe, you won't be seeing me either today or tomorrow. And you certainly won't be seeing my money. What an asshole. It seems that he is for free speech for himself and his majority, but the rest of us 14% are second class citizens who need to "sit down and shut up." Also, his percentages are wrong. According to the Pew Poll, 10.6% say they don't believe in God, and 73% identify as Christian.

Some Exciting News About the Kieffe & Sons Ford Ad

In case you're not sure, yes, these guys are advertising, over public airways no less, that their religion is the only one that counts in public discourse. And yes, they're bragging about their courage for slagging what are certainly a very small minority of people in their region who have demonstrated no special tendencies toward violence or political activism. In short, they're cowards as well as bigots. That's one of the reasons I'm pretty sure they don't care about either Anna Lemma's money or mine. PZ Myers observes:

One sad thing about that is that it is probably effective, and I would be unsurprised if the ad is doing well for them. The dealership is in a conservative part of California (Mojave), and I suspect the area has fewer than 14% in the group they've just kicked to the curb. In addition, the ad probably simply reinforces in-group loyalty for the dominant Christian audience.

What if they wouldn't sell cars to uppity blacks, Jews, and women?

That's fancy scientist talk for "appeals to people's prejudices". The sad truth is there are plenty of congenital losers who will find such an appeal appealing.

I've encountered plenty of Christians who would be just as appalled as I am at this sort of thing. I suspect they're in the minority, though. This sort of prejudice sells. As PZ Myers implied with the title of his article, if they couldn't get away with it, they wouldn't do it any more.

UPDATE (May 28): The car dealer, Rick Kieffe, has apologized for the ad:

“It’s just something that went by us,” said Kieffe, who does not attend church but considers himself “a Christian spirit.” “We’re obviously sorry that it offends a given segment who identifies themselves as atheist.”

Car dealer regrets ads urging non-Christians to 'sit down and shut up'

He went on to say it was some sort of mixup with the ad agency. I don't know if that's a valid explanation or not, but the article makes Kieffe sound pretty sincere (for a car salesman. ;) )

Those who haven't seen them yet should stop by the Anna Lemma article and read the comments. I mentioned that this prejudice is deep in many Christians, and you can see it from some of the comments. They really seem to believe that since they're in the majority, it isn't anyone's country but their's.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

... And A Couple of Deletions

Image credit:

Besides adding a few new links to my blog roll, regular readers may also have noted a couple of deletions. Thanks to repeated obnoxious political postings, I've removed both No Quarter and from the rolls. earned that honor with this article that I mentioned earlier. It slimed former Senator George McGovern after he endorsed Barack Obama for President. No Quarter earned the distinction with this bit of sexist nonsense. That people wrote the same sort of tripe about Bill and Hillary Clinton is especially ironic.

I am really sick of this shit. Taylor's one of my favorite people on the Internet. Both she and Larry Johnson of NQ have an admirable policy of welcoming opposing points of view that quite a few sites could stand to emulate. But I really don't want to see this stuff any more. Most of the pro-Obama sites that pull it are already off the list, or were never on. The ones that are on the list, like FireDogLake, at least still have enough good content to make up for their occasional incivility.

This isn't going to hurt their traffic in the slightest. If anything, it will hurt mine, but I'm not in this for the traffic. I'm in this to try to shed light on things when I can. When Taylor and Larry decide they want to do that again, I'm sure I'll be happy to visit their sites again.

Something To Celebrate

[The view from Opportunity's camera early in its mission. Image credit: NASA]

It's Memorial Day Weekend in America, and while there's plenty to memorialize these days, I'd thought I'd take a moment to remark on something worth celebrating:

Come Sunday evening, NASA will have placed some new hardware on Mars. Whether the Phoenix spacecraft lands in one piece or ends up in a number of charred scraps remains to be seen.

The Phoenix Mars Lander is the latest embodiment of humankind's quest to learn whether life might once have been sustainable on the Red Planet and to prepare for eventual human exploration there.

For Mars lander, a trial by fire

Since Mars has an atmosphere, albeit a thin one, the challenges of landing there are similar to the ones on this planet. While Mars isn't covered with water, it is covered with lots of rocks, sand, and other nasty stuff:

The most challenging part of the entire mission, getting from the top of the atmosphere to a safe landing on three legs, still lies ahead. Internationally, only five of the 11 attempts to land a spacecraft on Mars have succeeded.

Mars Pulls Phoenix In

The good news is that of those five successful landings, all were accomplished by NASA. By my count, they're five for eight, with one of those failures being the notorious Mars Climate Orbiter:

Mars Climate Orbiter is infamous for Lockheed Martin engineers mixing up the usage of imperial units with metric units, causing the orbiter to burn up while entering Mars' atmosphere.

Wikipedia: Mars Landings

There are many calculations that have to be made correctly in order for a spacecraft, even one without design flaws, to reach the surface of another planet successfully. Let's hope NASA gets the sums right, and nothing unforeseen happens.

There are far less expensive ways to make a flaming mess on Memorial Day.

Much as NASA's Apollo missions were a contrast to the tragedy that was unfolding in Vietnam, these Mars missions and the International Space Station are reminders that we can do better. Thousands of people working for dozens of different entities worked together to make this thing fly across space and attempt to land on another world. That's what's worth celebrating.

UPDATE (May 26): The landing was a success, according to NASA. Update here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Can We Live Without Clams?

[Fishermen on Puget Sound. Some day, there may not be anything there to catch. Image credit: Cujo359]

I read a rather disturbing article in my home town newspaper today:

Climate models predicted it wouldn't happen until the end of the century.

So a team led by Seattle researchers was stunned to discover that vast swaths of acidified seawater already are showing up along the Pacific Coast as greenhouse-gas emissions upset the oceans' chemical balance.

In surveys from Vancouver Island to the tip of Baja California, reported Thursday in the online journal Science Express, the scientists found the first evidence that large amounts of corrosive water are reaching the continental shelf — the shallow sea margin where most marine creatures live.

Off Northern California, the acidified water was only four miles from shore.

"What we found ... was truly astonishing," said oceanographer Richard Feely, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. "This means ocean acidification may be seriously impacting marine life on the continental shelf right now."

Acidified seawater showing up along coast ahead of schedule

The culprit, apparently, is carbon dioxide (CO2). When CO2 is introduced into cold water, which is abundant in the northern and southern regions of the Atlantic and the Pacific, it forms carbonic acid, a weak acid used in soda:

It has long been recognized that it is impossible to obtain pure hydrogen bicarbonate at room temperatures (about 20 °C or about 70 °F). However, in 1991 scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (USA) succeeded in making the first pure H2CO3 samples. They did so by exposing a frozen mixture of water and carbon dioxide to high-energy radiation, and then warming to remove the excess water. The carbonic acid that remained was characterized by infrared spectroscopy. The fact that the carbonic acid was prepared by irradiating a solid H2O + CO2 mixture has given rise to suggestions that H2CO3 might be found in outer space, where frozen ices of H2O and CO2 are common, as are cosmic rays and ultraviolet light, to help them react.

Wikipedia: Carbonic Acid

So, colder is better for carbonic acid. The oceans in the arctic and antarctic stay near freezing (0 C, 32 F) for much of the year. It can be formed at higher temperatures, too, but not as readily. Water near the bottom of the oceans is similarly cold.

As you might imagine from what folks have been doing to create it, there's a good deal of discussion going on about just how much of a danger it is in the oceans:

The idea is not without controversy. Some scientists still cling to the idea that the buffering capacity of the oceans, by virtue of their sheer size, will counter any acidification effects. Others insist that carbonate inputs from dissolving rocks on land will counteract any reduction in alkalinity in the oceans. Still others argue that a feedback loop between oceans and atmosphere would dampen the effect; others argue that even a significantly lowered pH would not send any marine species to extinction and organisms would adapt to the changes. And even those who are most vocal about the possible effects of ocean acidification acknowledge the uncertainties, and the lack of in situ empirical proof that elevated carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lowers pH and causes significant ecological impact.

Dropping pH in the Oceans Causing a Rising Tide of Alarm

It would appear that the expedition the Seattle Times article covers is demonstrating that it may be as bad as anyone feared. The problem with carbonic acid, as with acid of any sort, is that it dissolves calcium. Calcium, of course, is what makes the shells of shellfish hard:

SHELLFISH, crabs, lobsters and a host of other familiar species could become extinct around Britain and Europe because our seas are becoming steadily more acidic.

An official report is to warn that carbon dioxide generated by human activity, already linked to climate change, is also sharply altering the chemistry of the oceans. The gas forms carbonic acid when it dissolves into sea water.

Some species, such as corals and certain plankton, are so sensitive to the rising acidity that they could be in rapid decline within decades. Others, such as crabs, mussels and lobsters, are more resistant, but they too will be in danger by the end of the century. All the affected organisms build their shells or skeletons from calcium carbonate, a mineral they extract from sea water but which is attacked by carbonic acid.


One of its authors, Carol Turley, of Plymouth Marine laboratory, said: “This issue is emerging as one of the most serious environmental threats humanity has faced. The oceans are acidifying very rapidly and many marine organisms are at risk.” Turley and her colleagues have carried out experiments measuring how marine organisms cope when sea water becomes more acidic. They tried growing a range of plankton and animal species in water that had been slightly acidified with extra carbon dioxide. Although the findings are not yet formally published, she said: “We had some very alarming results. Just a small change in acidity saw some of these creatures unable to grow or reproduce properly.

Acid seas threaten to make British shellfish extinct (PDF)

The fact that this was a problem for shellfish appears to have been discovered by accident:

Like all significant and surprising scientific discoveries, many great minds may have simultaneously converged on the idea that loading up the atmosphere with carbon emissions would begin to affect the ocean environment, and in turn its ability to further sequester carbon and maintain environmental parameters in balance. The story of one such scientist playing a key role in uncovering the phenomenon of ocean acidification was Victoria Fabry. According to New Scientist magazine, Fabry was doing shipboard experiments on small pteropod mollusks she kept in sealed jars, when she began to notice that their shells were dissolving. She surmised that the carbon dioxide respired by the pteropods was making the seawater more acidic and dissolving the calcium carbonate of their shells.

The fate of the delicate pteropods in her jars made Fabry join other scientists in wondering whether increasing the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere could have a similar effect on sea life in the oceans. There had already been publications and reports on the increasing acidification -- technically, decreasing alkalinity since seawater is has an average pH of more than 8.0, and the predicted drop in pH will not take seawater below the neutral pH of 7. Most notable was perhaps the 2003 Nature paper calculating that absorption of fossil CO2 would make the oceans more acidic than they had been in 300 million years. But it was only in 2005, when the Royal Society of UK launched an investigation into the effects of acidification on marine life, that significant attention was drawn to the consequences of this "other CO2 problem".

Dropping pH in the Oceans Causing a Rising Tide of Alarm

The problem is that the shellfish can't gather enough calcium to build their shells:

A change of 0.1 units sounds small but represents a huge shift in ocean chemistry. Crucially, it represents a 30% decrease in the amount of dissolved carbonate — which marine creatures must extract from water to build their shells.

Acid seas threaten to make British shellfish extinct (PDF)

Which brings us back to the Seattle Times article, and why maritime scientists find this latest discovery so disturbing:

On the pH scale, which measures acidity, strongly alkaline materials such as oven cleaner measure about 13. Hydrochloric acid has a pH of 1. Seawater usually measures around 8.1. The most acidic water the scientists found off the Pacific Coast measured 7.6 on the pH scale. The numerical difference may seem slight, but it represents a threefold increase in acidity, Hales said.

Acidified seawater showing up along coast ahead of schedule

That's an increase of 0.5, five times the amount of acidity the Plymouth Marine Lab's report said could adversely affect shellfish survival rates. What's worse, apparently carbonic acid isn't just for cold water any more:

Until now, researchers believed the most acidified water was confined to the deep oceans. Cold water, which holds more carbon dioxide, sinks. Deep waters also are naturally high in carbon dioxide, which is a byproduct of the decay of plankton.

Feely and his NOAA colleague Christopher Sabine previously have shown that zones of acidified water are growing and moving closer to the surface as the oceans absorb more man-made carbon dioxide.

During surveys on the Pacific Coast last year, a team including Feely and Sabine discovered the natural upwelling that occurs along the West Coast each spring and early summer is pulling the acidified water onto the continental shelf.

Acidified seawater showing up along coast ahead of schedule

Shellfish aren't the only sea life that could be endangered:

We already know that warmer water is bleaching the coral of the Great Barrier Reef, but just recently it was discovered that there’s a new threat to the reef’s survival ... carbonic acid.

It’s only been in the science journals for the last few years but ocean acidification is a time bomb. It could not only destroy the Great Barrier Reef but it could wreak havoc on marine life around the world and, ultimately, affect land dwellers like ourselves.

Ocean Acidification – The BIG global warming story

A collapse of coral reefs could lead to the collapse of any number of fish populations. They often feed off the things that live in or on the reefs. To say this could be a disaster is probably an understatement.

My guess is that in the years to come, we will be reading about other effects that will either have been discovered or observed in the oceans.

What can be done about it? It's hard to say. If the problem were confined to a small pond, dumping fertilizer into it might do the trick:

Low pH can be increased easily by applying agricultural limestone. The amount of lime required can be determined by sending samples of the mud from the pond bottom to the NCDA Soil Analysis Laboratory for analysis.

Effects of High and Low pH Levels in Water on Fish

Unfortunately, scaling this sort of solution up to something the size of an ocean could prove impractical. The International Symposium On Effects of Climate Change On The World's Oceans was just held in Spain. One of the subjects was mitigation strategies. Covering all the suggested strategies would require another article, but they seem to come down to three categories of suggestions:

  1. Study specific aspects of the problem, including the rate of evolutionary change that can be expected in ocean life, and the spread of acidification and warming

  2. Regulatory responses

  3. Better management of natural resources

In short, no fixes, only mitigation strategies seem to be under consideration. This isn't too surprising. We barely understand the problem, so suggesting solutions is basically a fool's game.

So, the next time someone suggests that he doesn't see a problem with climate change, in addition to asking him if he thinks we can do without New York City and Florida, now you can ask him if he can live without shellfish. Or fish of any sort.

Two New Additions To The Blog Roll

When I've had to go searching for a blog a certain number of times, I add it to the "Blogs I Read" roll. Today, Amused Muse, by Kristine Harley, made the list. Here's why:

The Discovery Institute does believe in eugenics after all.

Michael Medved claims that Americans are genetically superior to other human beings.

The radical notion that our national character stems from genetics as well as culture has always inspired angry controversy; many observers scoff at the whole idea of a unifying hereditary component in our multi-racial, multi-cultural society. Aside from the varied immigrants who now make up nearly 15% of the population, the forebears of today’s Americans journeyed to this continent from Asia, Africa, Latin America and every nation of Europe. Our stark differences in appearance, if nothing else, argue against the concept of common DNA connecting contemporary citizens of wildly divergent ancestry.

Gee, I guess different colors of paper also show that it can't all be made from trees. (I suppose that God made the nice colors - pink, blue, yellow - and Satan the colors that I like, like black, red, and hot pink.)


What utter nonsense! I've been to "command and control" Europe several times, and then had the shock of returning here. Europeans are lively - walking everywhere, meeting friends at the cafe instead of watching television, going out at night (without the kids, because they actually leave them with a babysitter or a nanny, whereas American parents drag their little darlings everywhere, even into bars and nightclubs, and then complain about the skimpy dress, raucous behavior, and unchurched language of child-free people like me who think that bars and nightclubs are for adults). I don't know how to put the difference more clearly than this photo:

And I wish this was an exaggeration.

As a consequence, Americans live shorter lives than West Europeans. Their children are more likely to die in infancy: the US ranks twenty-sixth among industrial nations in infant mortality, with a rate double that of Sweden, higher than Slovenia's, and only just ahead of Lithuania's—and this despite spending 15 percent of US gross domestic product on "health care" (much of it siphoned off in the administrative costs of for-profit private networks). Sweden, by contrast, devotes just 8 percent of its GDP to health. The picture in education is very similar. In the aggregate the United States spends much more on education than the nations of Western Europe; and it has by far the best research universities in the world. Yet a recent study suggests that for every dollar the US spends on education it gets worse results than any other industrial nation. American children consistently underperform their European peers in both literacy and numeracy.

Now They Can Quit Pretending

Yep, intelligence, wit, and good taste in photography are the things we prize here at SnS. She'll fit right in with this group.

Also being added is Pharyngula, PZ Myers' blog about science and the lunatics like Medved who like to think they understand it. His take on Medved:

Did someone declare this National Flaming Racist Idiot week, and I just didn't notice until now? You have got to read Michael Medved's latest foray into pseudoscience: he has declared American superiority to be genetic, encoded in our good old American DNA. Because our ancestors were immigrants, who were risk-takers, who were selected for their energy and aggressiveness. Oh, except for those who are descended from slaves.

Michael Medved says something dumb

Demonstrating that Michael Medved is an ass is certainly rhetorical low-hanging fruit, but the man has style as well as some serious scientific chops.

Congrats to both. This ought to net you a couple of extra hits a month - on a good month.

10,000 Satisfied Visitors

Umm, well, at least none of them have tried to kill me. Looks like we're closing in on 10K here at the start of the Memorial Day Weekend.

Thanks for all the clicks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Still Getting Caught Up On E-mail

Image credit: Swapatorium.

As many people do, I suspect, I have an e-mail account that is expressly for political junk e-mail. Needless to say, it's been overflowing recently, and along with the usual nonsense are a few gems:

Democracy for America wrote:

How many times this year did you wake up and say to yourself
America needs more from our elected Democrats?

I've said it too many times to count. That's why our Primaries
Matter campaigns are so important.

When Donna Edwards sent Bush Democrat Al Wynn packing a few
months ago, we shook the establishment and sent a message to
Democrats in Congress: move America forward or move out of

Now, Ed Fallon is working to beat Bush Democrat Leonard Boswell
on June 3 in the Iowa primary and Rep. Boswell is running


[link from the original.; It leads to a Blue America page.]

I've been saying for some time that just electing Democrats isn't enough. We've already done that, and, predictably, it wasn't enough. It's time we got rid of the kind of Democrats who don't vote as their constituents would have them vote. Dianne Feinstein is one such Democrat. Leonard Boswell is another.

Ed Fallon is on Howie Klein's Blue America page. Howie links to this article Fallon wrote for Down With Tyranny a few months ago. Boswell's voting record has been pretty bad, and has only improved since Fallon announced he was running for Boswell's seat.

Progressive Democrats for America wrote:

Doubleday just released Bill Moyer's new book entitled Moyers On Democracy. An excerpt from it is printed here. It ends with this paragraph:

"I wish I could say that journalists in general are showing the same interest in uncovering the dangerous linkages thwarting this democracy. It is not for lack of honest and courageous individuals who would risk their careers to speak truth to power--a modest risk compared to those of some journalists in authoritarian countries who have been jailed or murdered for the identical 'crime.' But our journalists are not in control of the instruments they play. As conglomerates swallow up newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, and networks, and profit rather than product becomes the focus of corporate effort, news organizations--particularly in television--are folded into entertainment divisions. The 'news hole' in the print media shrinks to make room for advertisements, and stories needed by informed citizens working together are pulled in favor of the latest celebrity scandals because the media moguls have decided that uncovering the inner workings of public and private power is boring and will drive viewers and readers away to greener pastures of pabulum.

Good reporters and editors confront walls of resistance in trying to place serious and informative reports over which they have long labored. Media owners who should be sounding the trumpets of alarm on the battlements of democracy instead blow popular ditties through tin horns, undercutting the basis for their existence and their First Amendment rights."

Take action now to stop more corporate media consolidation:

[links from original e-mail. The second link leads to a page where you can write your congressman to ask him to vote for the resolution against media consolidation.]

I've written about the deterioration of the news in this country. It's been getting worse, and the consolidation of ownership that's happened in the past couple of decades hasn't helped it one bit. As Moyers observes, it's becoming harder for journalists to express what they feel is the truth when that truth runs counter to what the rich and the powerful want us to believe. A free and open press was one of the things Jefferson and other founding fathers felt was important for a functioning democracy. Today, we seem farther from that state of affairs than ever.

If you feel the same way, click on the link and tell Congress how you feel.

Of course, after last night's win/loss in Kentucky and Oregon, both the Obama and Clinton campaigns sent out self-congratulatory e-mails. See if you can guess which is which:

The polls are closed in Kentucky and votes are being counted in Oregon, and it's clear that tonight we have reached a major milestone on this journey.

We have won an absolute majority of all the delegates chosen by the people in this Democratic primary process.

From the beginning, this journey wasn't about me or the other candidates. It was about a simple choice -- will we continue down the same road with the same leadership that has failed us for so long, or will we take a different path?

Wish I had a nickel for every time some politician promised a "different path" and then proceeded to go down the same old path everyone else did. I could afford to buy a few congressmen of my own.

And then, not ten minutes later:

Once again tonight, you and I stood together and showed America what we're made of.

Every time we win another state, we prove something about ourselves and about our country. And did we ever prove something tonight in Kentucky.

We showed America that the voters know what the "experts" will never understand -- that in our great democracy, elections are about more than candidates running, pundits commenting, or ads blaring.

Wish I had a nickel for every time I've heard that one, too.

Of course, as Obi-Wan might say, each is true from a certain point of view. Clinton won a lopsided victory in Kentucky, and Obama is closer to the nomination. Guess you just have to accentuate the positive.

PZ Myers On Creationism

From Pharyngula, here's PZ Myers' thought for the day on the idea that nature is perfect because it was designed:

Don't tell Geoffrey Simmons — he's been on a credulity junket lately, crowing about every functional adaptation, including the egg, as proof of purposeful design. I don't know about you, but a system that muddles excretion with reproduction and that allows random lizards to crawl up your butt and squat in your oviduct doesn't sound like great engineering to me.

Another reason to wear underwear at all times

Click on the link for the rest of the story.

I've expounded before about what constitutes good design. For a more thorough discussion of the subject, I'd suggest Henry Petroski's The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are, a wonderful book on engineering and design. Note the word "evolution" in the title. The truth is that good functional designs never spring full grown from the mind of an engineer. They take refinement and adaptation to the realities of the environment in which they'll be used. This is how biological evolution works, as well.

I'm not familiar with all the authors of Creationist books out there, but I'd be surprised if any of them ever actually created a functional design. Most clearly don't understand how engineering works.

A Brief Review of The Rules

A spam production line. Apparently, it's been too efficient lately. ;-) Image credit HaYnCaNdi808 (See NOTE below).

It would appear that a review of the rules about comments here is in order.

First, please avoid really long comments that repeat something written elsewhere. A link and a summary will do fine, thank you. Be creative.

Second, it's best to be substantive, particularly if you disagree with something I've written. Just calling names and leaving it at that won't work here. For an excellent example of how to do this, although not of how to follow the first rule, read the comments here. Personally, I think this person is a crank, but he made substantive points, and someone reading that article might be interested, so he stays.

Third, don't pretend to be someone you're not.

Finally, spam is not permitted here. There are many forms of spam, but one that's shown up here recently is in the form of a basically meaningless comment followed by a link to a commercial website, say something about credit. Such links will be deleted, and if they persist, the commenter will be reported to Blogger. If your comments disappeared today, you know who you are. Don't make me clean up more of your crap.

I know this isn't the first time I've written about this, so let's try to remember this time, OK? Enjoy the linky goodness, follow the rules, and everyone is happy.

NOTE: This site is in no way associated with the Hormel Foods Corporation, nor is the use of the image here intended to denigrate this product in any way. Its only intended use is humor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ted Kennedy Gravely Ill

Image credit: Senator Kennedy's official Senate website.

On Saturday I wrote that Senator Edward Kennedy, who collapsed early Saturday, was out of iminent danger. I chose those words carefully, though, and apparently it was only imminent danger that he was out of. The New York Times reports:

Tests performed over the weekend at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston indicated that Mr. Kennedy, 76, has a type of cancer known as a malignant glioma in the left parietal lobe, the upper left portion of his brain.

Senator Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor

Perhaps ironically, Senator Kennedy has spent much of his Senate career trying to improve health care, particularly for average Americans:

Now, as he is undergoing further tests in Massachusetts General Hospital -- an institution he has done much to fund over the years -- and prepares to battle a disease for which he has done more than any other legislator to fight, Kennedy and his legacy are on the minds of one and all in Washington.

Analysis: Senator Kennedy's lasting legacy

The Boston Globe's analysis goes on to say that one of Kennedy's greatest achievements was his ability to be effective even when his party was in the minority. Maybe no better example of how well he worked with his fellow Senators can be found than this quote:

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has shed tears as he deals with the news that Sen. Edward Kennedy has a brain tumor.

In Washington, Hatch tells the Deseret News that he loves Kennedy "like a brother." He says the news is terrible.

Hatch says Kennedy is 'like a brother'

I've sent e-mails to Senator Kennedy on a couple of occasions, thanking him for support of this or that legislation. In contrast to most Senators, who generally ignore communications from out of state, Kennedy's office always responded politely. Political relationships were important to him, and he always seemed to realize that the bothersome writer from out of state today could be a supporter or an ally tomorrow.

Should we be talking about Ted Kennedy's legacy yet? I hope not, but the prognosis isn't good:

Dr. John Golfinos, an associate professor of neurosurgery at the New York University Cancer Institute, said malignant glioma could be difficult to beat.

“Typically, the outlook is not that great for this disease,” said Dr. Golfinos.

Dr. Golfinos said he could not speak about Senator Kennedy’s case specifically, but in general, a patient’s prognosis depends on a number of factors, including age and a general description known as performance status. He said there is no common screening test to discover the presence of such a tumor, and that for most people who develop one, no cause is ever identified.

Although a large number of promising treatments have been developed in recent years, Dr. Golfinos said the long-term survival rates have not improved greatly so far.

“It is still a difficult one, so the prognosis has not improved that much,” he said.

Senator Kennedy Has Malignant Brain Tumor

Another brain cancer expert elaborates:

According to Dr. Lara Kunschner, a brain cancer specialist at Allegheny General Hospital, malignant gliomas are increasingly prevalent in the elderly.


"In general, in Sen. Kennedy's age group, it would suggest he has a rapidly progressive brain tumor," Dr. Kunschner said. "With maximal treatment, the average survival would be somewhere between one and two years."

Kennedy's treatment will be decided after more tests, but typically people will get radiation and chemotherapy. It might keep him alive a bit longer, but it won't be curative.

Doctors: Prognosis Grim For Senator's Brain Cancer

My thoughts are with him and his family. In contrast to the Associated Press, I'm not planning on writing a retrospective just yet, though. If heart and spirit mean anything here, we may have Ted Kennedy around for a good deal longer.

UPDATE (May 21): If you want to pass along your good wishes for Senator Kennedy, you can do it at his Senate website. Javascript is required.

UPDATE (Aug. 21, 2009): For a recent update about Sen. Kennedy, try here.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kennedy Out Of "Imminent Danger"

Image credit: Senator Kennedy's official Senate website.

Updated. This is not an article about Sen. Kennedy's collapse at the 2009 Inauguration.

I started surfing the web today after work, where I'm largely isolated from news, the web, and most forms of reality, and saw this:

Senator Edward M. Kennedy was hospitalized today after suffering a seizure, triggering shock in the political world and drawing an outpouring of support from across the nation and the ideological spectrum.

The 76-year-old Democrat, a tireless advocate for liberal causes and the surviving patriarch of the storied Kennedy political dynasty, was talkative and joking with family members this afternoon, friends and associates said. His condition was considered serious, they said, but his life did not appear to be in imminent danger.


By the evening, the mood of Kennedy family and friends contrasted markedly to that of the morning, when he was stricken at his Hyannis Port compound at about 8:15 a.m., rushed first to Cape Cod Hospital and then transported by helicopter to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Ted Kennedy not in immediate danger; seizure cause sought

Ted Kennedy is not only one of the most prominent people in American politics, he is also a rare thing in politics these days - someone who is fabulously rich and yet never tires of trying to make the lives of working people in this country better.

I wish him and his family the best.

UPDATE (Jan. 20, 2009): If you're looking for information about Sen. Kennedy's collapse at the Inauguration, go here, or better yet, go here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Understand Where I Am, Part II

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my own experiences relative to racism and prejudice, entitled I Understand Where I Am. Today, while visiting Pharyngula, I ran into this nugget:

The publishing company that owns the Curious George image says it is considering legal action to stop the sale of a T-shirt depicting Barack Obama as the monkey from children's books.

The T-shirts are being peddled by Marietta bar owner Mike Norman at his Mulligan's Bar and Grill in Cobb County. They show a picture of Curious Georgie peeling a banana, with the words "Obama '08" underneath.

Curious George publisher may sue over T-shirt

Hmmm, bananas, monkeys, does this imagery strike anyone else as familiar?

Norman acknowledged the imagery's Jim Crow roots but said he sees nothing wrong with depicting a prominent African-American as a monkey.

"We're not living in the (19)40's," he said. "Look at him . . . the hairline, the ears -- he looks just like Curious George."

Curious George publisher may sue over T-shirt

It certainly struck me as racist imagery, and as my befuddlement over the reaction to Tony Snow's tarbaby remarks should demonstrate, I'm not always quick to pick up on these things. But one person's humor is often another's bad taste, so let's give Norman the benefit of the doubt here, and consider the point he makes.

Yes, it really would be nice if we could all just make good-natured fun of each others' differences - "Be careful out in the sun there, Paleface", that sort of thing. It would also be nice if we didn't live in a country where people are still shot at or harassed for being where they "don't belong" due to their ethnic makeup. It would be nice if we didn't live in a place where more African-American men are in prison than in college. But that's the place we're in today.

In short, we're not there yet, and on some level I understand why. Anyone attempting this sort of humor should be very sure of the ground they're standing on.

UPDATE (May 15): While it is dated May 13, this article was actually finished and published today. I wish Blogger had a better means of dating articles.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Edwards Endorses Obama

Image credit: The New York Times.

I'm a bit surprised by this, but I suppose I shouldn't be:

At a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday evening, John Edwards endorsed Barack Obama, who was on the stage with him, to be the Democratic nominee for president.

Sounding a theme of a nation divided into parts by walls, Mr. Edwards said, “The reason I am here tonight is that Democratic voters in America have made their choice and so have I.”

Mr. Edwards then went on to say, “There is one man who knows in his heart that it is time to tear down that wall and make one America, Barack Obama.”

John Edwards Endorses Barack Obama

While Obama's speech on racism, which he gave in the wake of the Jeremiah Wright issue, was certainly compelling, it was, like most of Obama's accomplishments, just a speech. That Obama spent so much time with both Wright and Antoin Rezko, both of whom have done a great deal to make those separations greater, makes me wonder why I should believe there is anything behind those words.

Nevertheless, this has to be a blow to the Clinton campaign, so soon after a resounding win in West Virginia. Edwards' campaign was aimed at working class people, whom Clinton has also courted of late. They represented much of her strength in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. But I suspect the most important thing about this endorsement is its effect on the minds of superdelegates. I think very few Democratic voters will be swayed by Edwards, but what he says may carry weight with professional politicians and other party leaders.

If that's true, we may have seen the end of the Clinton campaign's chances today.

UPDATE (May 15): Speaking of whiny pissants, here's a choice quote from someone at No Quarter:

John Edwards committed a mortal sin. He joined the gang of liberal elitists busily sharpening their long knifes. He chose sudden relevance over democracy. He threw universal health care out the door without bothering to consider the consequences. Edwards will pay a steep price for this betrayal. Plenty of us will not allow the American people to forget what he did and with whom he aligned. Count on it.

With Edwards Relevance Trumps Respect

What more is there to say? Seems to me that the longer these people write, the fewer options they have. What happens when Edwards, or any of the other folks who have been slagged by one side or another, is the one we have to negotiate with for something? Seems to me that would go a lot better if we just said we disagreed and left it at that.

Politics is the art of the possible, not the perfect.

Why not save the invective for the people who really deserve it?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yes, I'm Still 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]

Yes, I'm still "resting" much as I have been for most of the past three months - meaning I've been on the road doing something that's taking up most of my attention. Right now, I think of this as a good thing.

Why is that? It's because every time I look at political news lately, including much of what's been posted on politically-oriented blogs, all I've seen is one stupid charge of racism, sexism, or whatever from one side or the other. Clinton pointed out yesterday that she does better among white voters. This is an established fact, which is something that Obama supporters should be aware of. Yet no sooner had the ink dried on that story than the chorus of Obama supporters cried "racism". Last week, a Clinton supporter couldn't help but slime George McGovern after he said that he thought Clinton should end her campaign. While I still disagree profoundly with Sen. McGovern, (as do most Democratic voters) he deserves far more respect.

I suspect that even if I weren't this busy, I'd still be reluctant to spend time reading the comments of these whiny pissants. I'd love it if these people would just shut the fuck up and think for once, but that's not going to happen.

The USA Today published an interesting perspective on the race today:

Out of money and facing a decisive loss in the North Carolina primary, the long-shot presidential contender rejected the idea of getting out of the race. Another candidate had the party nomination in hand, but the refusal of his rival to concede reality divided the party in November.

Is it 2008? No. The never-say-die challenger was Ronald Reagan in 1976. The embattled nominee was Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Obama-Clinton race echoes past bouts

Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter's chief political strategist had this to say:

Hamilton Jordan was a strategist for President Jimmy Carter in 1980 as he battled a primary challenge from Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who continued his rivalry to the Democratic convention in New York.

"It was the single critical factor in his defeat. When people ask me why we were defeated, I say the (Iranian) hostage crisis - which was seen as a failure of Carter to free the people after being held for so long - the general state of the economy, and the Kennedy challenge. Without any of those three problems, we might have been elected.

"Of those three problems, the most significant was the Kennedy challenge. ... If there hadn't been the Kennedy challenge, there wouldn't have been the (independent candidate John) Anderson phenomenon, which was an outgrowth of the Kennedy challenge.

"If we'd had the whole year to pull the party together and to try to work on the economy, I think Carter would, or at least could, have won."

Obama-Clinton race echoes past bouts

Mr. Jordan may know a great deal more than I do about politics in general, but it's clear that he's in a serious case of denial here. I know that for one simple reason - the moment Ronald Reagan became the Republican nominee, Jimmy Carter was toast.

The reality of that time is that we were in a mess. The Iran hostage crisis had gone on for months, with one television network reminding us every night how many days America was Held Hostage. The economy was in bad shape, with inflation running in double digits. Except for the Camp David Accords, President Carter had little to show for his first term in office. America had a choice between taking a hard look at itself and changing its ways, or believing in a fantasy. Reagan provided the second option, which America, being then as now more interested in sniping and nonsense than in facing reality, chose enthusiastically. If we had made the logical choices back then regarding our dependence on oil, we might not be stuck in Iraq today. Instead, too many people chose to believe that it was "Morning In America", rather than to make their Congress and the rest of their government aware that they didn't want the future to look like an even longer version of the infamous gas lines of that period.

Ted Kennedy's campaign wasn't Carter's problem. It was just another symptom.

Much like Obama, Reagan used his early campaign experiences to become a better campaigner and political strategist. He learned to spin the yarns that people would take up with such relish in 1980.

The lesson I draw from this is that, once again, we're headed for bad leadership in the White House. While it's hard to believe anything could be worse than eight years of George W. Bush, we may be finding out if that's true. Just as with Reagan's disastrous Presidency, a McCain or Obama Administration is likely to do little to help those of us who need it, nor is either likely to correct the things that are most desperately wrong with the country. That's because the same people who whine about the confrontation in front of them in the form of Hillary Clinton will be just as uninterested in facing the hard choices as Reagan's supporters were. The reality, unfortunately, is that the people who are in control at the moment are not going to let go of it easily or politely. Anyone who believes that Hillary Clinton, who sometimes seems to enjoy dancing around an issue, is somehow going to be more divisive than Obama once the Republican-owned press gets through with him is a first class fool.

Obama, like Reagan, is someone who speaks in glittering generalities. Like Reagan, he is appealing to the unrealistic expectation that everything will be alright if we just trust him. Like Reagan, his rhetoric isn't matched by his political record. While I don't think Obama will be as disastrous as Reagan, I also know that I'm not looking forward to all the excuses we'll be hearing from his more clueless supporters about how he couldn't possibly have made things any better, because there were all those other folks (led by the Clintons, no doubt) who were in the way.

I don't have much more hope for a Hillary Clinton presidency, other than that it will be a bit less awful. The presidential candidate who has shown the most interest in protecting the Constitution lately is Bob Barr. This is how low we've sunk.

Needless, to say, right now I view being busy as a blessing. I wonder if I can keep it up for the next four years?

UPDATE (May 21): Thanks to a link that appeared here today, I found out that Hamilton Jordan died yesterday at age 63, of cancer. It was the fourth time he had cancer, Undoubtedly, his previous experiences with cancer inspired him to found, along with his wife, Camp Sunshine, a camp for children with cancer.