Friday, February 18, 2005

Peretz Misses the Challenge

Martin Peretz at TNR misses the challenge of our times: the rise of fascism in the United States. Instead, he is focused on long-documented failings of liberalism, failings TNR has done much to reveal, to its great credit, such as the inadequacies of the U.N., e.g. with respect to the Balkans and Rwanda:
(The liberal) complaint is not a matter of circumstance. It is a permanent affliction of the liberal mind. It is not a symptom; it is a condition. And it is a condition related to the desperate hopes liberals have vested in the United Nations. That is their lodestone. But the lodestone does not perform. It is not a magnet for the good. It performs the magic of the wicked. It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics. It does not recognize a genocide when the genocide is seen and understood by all. Liberalism now needs to be liberated from many of its own illusions and delusions. Let's hope we still have the strength.
There is no point to beating up liberals, however. The new challenge is beating up on triumphal conservatives. People like George Bush or Richard Perle or Rush Limbaugh have the power to do far more damage than Jesse Jackson, or Al Sharpton, or Michael Moore ever could, even on their worst days. Despite the Fox-News glitz, most conservative ideas are no better than even the mustiest liberal ideas. If Peretz can't see that, then he's hopelessly out-of-touch with our times, and he should consider leaving TNR to someone who can.

What a waste! TNR is becoming irrelevant. That is unfortunate. I've been a subscriber for a quarter-century. It's my favorite magazine. Or, it once was my favorite magazine. It's quickly becoming a favorite of tiresome cranks, however, a den of obsessive self-hatred. Get a grip! Point your weapons at the enemy!

When raw economic interests drive questions, rather than a search for the truth, journalists are bound to become an endangered species.
Patches the Horse

Life of the modern horse.
Grab That Third Rail, George!

Grab it good and hard!
President Bush's push to transform Social Security is in trouble, despite intense salesmanship designed to build support in Congress and with the public. Democrats are united against the president on the issue. A new national poll shows the idea is losing ground with taxpayers. Many Republicans in Congress remain hesitant to promote letting workers under 55 privately invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes.

And Thursday, Bush's political challenge became more daunting as one of his key constituencies — economic conservatives — fumed at his new willingness to consider a tax increase to pay for the changes.
On Public Education

I went to get a haircut yesterday, and explained to the hairdresser that my hair had to be quite short, as I will be playing FDR in "Annie," which opens next weekend at DMTC in Davis. She had never heard of Franklin Delano Roosevelt! I gave a thumbnail history of the Depression, and World War II, which she seemed to have heard of, at least a little bit. To be fair, she seemed to be an immigrant, but still!!!

On the Relative Merits of Various Extreme Sports

Skydiving is probably the best: no matter one's age or physical condition, it shouldn't be that hard to contrive to fall out of an airplane.

The New Cycle of Rain

After the Pineapple Express went through last week - at least, went through Arizona, anyway...

An aside:
The term "Pineapple Express" is often used in California to signify a long band of moisture featuring heavy rain originating around Hawaii. I use the term more loosely, to signify any long band of moisture, featuring heavy rain, originating from roughly the same latitude as Hawaii.
Anyway....after the Pineapple Express went through last week , a cutoff low established itself off the California coast, which is acting like a mechanical cog propelling a conveyor belt of moisture from the tropics. Over the next week, the cog (the low) will slowly move inland, offering new opportunities for rain for the entire SW. We are in a rain phase! Halleluljah! (Snowpacks south of 42 degrees latitude are above average: long-term Palmer drought severity index is in fairly good shape everywhere except Montana and Wyoming.)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Run Silent, Run Smack Into Poorly-Charted Mountains

Mapmaking, chartmaking, and other geophysical surveying enterprises always seems to get the short end of the federal budget (the U.S. Geological Survey is a perennial target), but attention to detail can save a submarine full of problems down the road. Like on January 8th, when the nuclear-powered submarine San Francisco was travelling at high speed, 500 feet under the surface, heading towards shore leave in Brisbane, Australia, when it ran straight into a poorly-charted undersea mountain:
Military officials have said the mountain, which rises within 100 feet of the surface, was not on the navigation charts that the Navy uses. One sailor was killed and 60 were injured.... It's bow was severly damaged, and 23 sailors were hurt too badly to stand watch as the vessel limped back to Guam.

...The main chart on the submarine was prepared by another agency within the Defense Department in 1989. Officials at the charting office have said they never had the resources to use the huge volumes of satellite data to improve their charts.

...It is possible that the San Francisco could have detected the undersea mountain if it had used its active sonar system. But since early in the cold war, submarines have avoided using active sonar, which emits loud pings that can give away their location. Even on training missions, they practice operating silently and rely on passive sonar systems that can detect only ships and other objects making noise.
Chemistry Teacher

An electric detonator - that's the ticket! I wish I had had this guy for my chemistry teacher in high school: he knows his explosives! We could have used the help. The resourceful in our class (e.g., charismatic folks like J.H., who graduated early) made do with dangerous, impact-sensitive plastic explosives instead:
David Pieski, a teacher at Freedom (High School in Orlando, FL) for two years, used an overhead projector in class to give students detailed instructions in bomb-making, including advising them to use an electric detonator to stay clear from the blast, according to an arrest report.
Gannon's Access

Male prostitute Gannon had White House access without a background check and before being affiliated with even the phoniest press operation (Talon) at all! So, how does that happen without White House complicity?

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bush Looking Cornered

Despite his faux public-relations campaign, Bush is looking defensive, and he's beginning to stumble on Social Security:

President Bush says he has not ruled out raising taxes on those who earn more than $90,000 a year to help bolster Social Security's finances.

Under the current system, payroll taxes are paid only on the first $90,000 in wages. Bush has repeatedly said that he opposes raising taxes, but his advisers have been intentionally vague about whether he would also rule out subjecting a greater share of pay to the existing tax.

Asked directly, Bush said that he would not rule out raising that cap, though he does not want to see the payroll tax rate go up. The rate is now 12.4 percent of pay, split between workers and employers.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush will consider this option along with many others proposed. "Just because he said it was an option doesn't mean he embraced it," he added.

Bush has now hosted Social Security-focused forums in eight states since his Feb. 2 State of the Union address. The campaign-style event took him to the home turf of (New Hampshire) GOP Rep. Jeb Bradley, who said during his fist run for Congress in 2002 that "privatization is not the answer" to Social Security's problems.

Though Bush heaped praise on scores of local politicians, from the state's two Republican senators on down, he did not mention Bradley.

"You don't have to worry about your senators. They're people who understand we have got to address the problem," he said, conspicuously omitting Bradley.

But the White House has said the aim now is to sell Americans on the idea that there is an immediate problem, even though the system doesn't run out of money for decades, in hopes that they will put pressure on their representatives in Washington -- like Bradley -- to get behind the plan. Bush aides say the time for the legislative nitty-gritty of writing bills and negotiating with lawmakers will come after this intense public relations phase.

Bush wants to make certain that workers age 55 and over understand that their Social Security benefits will not change under his proposal for private accounts. Political advisers see that as crucial, especially to protect Republicans who fear that Democrats will use their tangling with the popular retirement benefit against them in the 2006 midterm elections.

The president portrayed his plan as both good for the Social Security system and as a crucial step in building ownership for more Americans. But he did not mention that investing in stocks and bonds means workers with private accounts risk seeing their assets shrink, nor did he talk about lower benefits or the enormous transition costs of the accounts, estimated in the trillions of dollars.

He did acknowledge that the private accounts "don't fix the system."

"Scoop" Jackson

Neocon archival shenanigans!
Ballet, the Kirov, and the Soviet Ballet Canon

How does the Western dance world reincorporate Soviet ballet, and vice versa? Jennifer Homans tackles the Soviet side of the tricky question, because of its urgency. So many of the best ballet dancers and choreographers alive worked under the Soviet system. St. Petersburg's Kirov Company, under director Makhar Vaziev, in particular, must decide how to proceed:
Should the company close the door on its Soviet past, re-open Peter the Great's "window on the West," and rush to "catch up" with Europe and America? Or is there something of value worth preserving from the ballet of Soviet times?

...In response to the upheavals of 1905, World War I, and the Russian Revolution, many of the dancers and choreographers trained under Petipa and his successors fled the country, taking their skills and knowledge to Europe and America. (They included Fokine, Nijinsky and his sister Bronislava, the impresario Diaghilev, and perhaps most importantly, Georgi Balanchivadze, or George Balanchine.) Those who remained in Russia were swept into heated debates about what constituted "socialist" forms of dance. Classical ballet was a natural target: at first Lenin saw it as a corrupt "landowners" art, but finally he conceded that it was the rightful heritage of the proletariat, and the former Maryinsky Theater became the self-appointed guardian of Petipa's legacy. Indeed, the company has often been seen as a haven that protected imperial classicism from the artistic degradations of Bolshevism.
It is not possible, or even desirable, to ignore the accomplishments of Soviet ballet, but the impulse to do so is strong:
In short, the Kirov is trying to give itself a new history--the history it might have had but for 1917. Vaziev and many of his ballet masters belong to the Yeltsin generation, and their disdain for the Soviet era is palpable, and understandable. They are too young to have seen original productions of Soviet works of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, but they came of age when the Kirov was languishing and communism was crumbling.

...But this dismissal of Soviet aesthetics raises a serious problem. Ballet has no universally accepted standardized notation, and so the "text" of a dance exists in the minds and the bodies of those who perform it. ...The "classical tradition" is thus little more than a fragile chain of memories passed down from one generation to the next. Vaziev and his team are breaking the chain and removing many of the Soviet links, yet they depend on teachers and coaches whose careers were made in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. And these Soviet veterans feel that it is the accomplishments of their era that are being lost and betrayed, with dire consequences for the future of Russian ballet.

...Many Kirov coaches complain that today's Russian dancers, by contrast, slavishly imitate the "mannerisms" of Western artists. And in their judgment the new "authentic" reconstructions of Petipa's classics that Vaziev has commissioned are "primitive," old-fashioned, and anachronistic. The problem, one senior coach confided, is that the new ballet masters hired by Vaziev are mere "children," "provincials who know nothing" and want to "explode" the Soviet heritage. This impulse, she argues, shows a depressing lack of historical reflection: "We have to keep those things which were achieved. It is like our great revolution of October 1917, in which we destroyed everything. We have to learn not to repeat this mistake."
Jennifer Homans observes:
There are many problems, but the company is striking out in bold directions, and it has a deep tradition to draw from. The danger lies in the desire to retreat into ersatz imperial grandeur, and the impulse to elevate cynicism about the Soviet past into an artistic creed. This would be unfortunate, for ballet is an idealistic art form, and one that depends--perhaps more than any other--on how its artists treat their history.
Evolution, not revolution, is the best approach. Reinterpret the Soviet dances, as the older Imperial dances have been reinterpreted in both East and West, but above all, keep dancing them. Work out a rapprochement with Western ballet. In a half-century or so, the two traditions will fuse into a workable new tradition. Remember, these "provincial" children aren't so bad either, and their instincts may be sound. Ballet is a living tradition: if you lose the children, you lose everything. Everything!
Don't Think....

Don't think of a gay conservative male prostitute sitting in the middle of the White House press room.

(Apologies to and inspiration from "Don't Think of an Elephant - Know Your Values and Frame the Debate," by George Lakoff; Foreword by Howard Dean; Introduction by Don Hazen).
The End is Near!

Nancy did some damage:
Nancy uprooted trees, damaged roofs and flooded coastal areas...
Nevertheless, Nancy is doomed! By Thursday night, or Friday morning (CA time), Cyclone Olaf will overtake Cyclone Nancy.

As Nancy M. here at work recognizes:
I've been busy, but I'm weakening...
Rio Tinto, No?

No wonder they call it Rio Tinto: it's so red! Best terrestrial analog to Martian chemistry!
Good for Woodland!

Looks like Woodland will join Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD):
The Woodland City Council voted late Tuesday to become the first of four Yolo County areas to officially request joining the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.

The council voted 4-0 to accept the findings of a recent study that said residents in Woodland, Davis, West Sacramento and parts of unincorporated Yolo County probably would save money by joining the Sacramento electric utility. The council also approved formally asking SMUD to annex the areas in a resolution to be prepared by the cities and county.
Missed The Big Protest

But I support the Pearcys 100%!
Chanting, shouting and shaking tambourines, about 300 people divided themselves evenly Tuesday night across a tree-lined street in Land Park to volley their views on war and free speech.
More Tales of Sacramento At Night

You learn a lot loitering around an AM/PM convenience market in the early morning hours. The little flavored cigarillos called "Swishers" are very popular: everyone has to have at least just one. Who knew? Not tobacco-free me!

People get nighttime cravings. My favorite was the sleepy teenager who wakened his mother so they could drive down to the AM/PM for an early-morning snack. Given a selection of possible snacks, though, Sleepyhead couldn't decide, and ultimately earned a tongue-lashing from his inconvenienced and exasperated mother.

There are an awful lot of people lost in Sacramento. People trying to find the road to San Francisco or Roseville. People trying to find discontinuous streets, like 30th Street. People who don't know the difference between Interstate 80 and Highway 50, and thus hunt for the Norwood Exit miles away from its actual location.

My favorite lost soul was the fellow who had his address scrawled on a piece of paper. He had just moved to that location - in fact, had been there only once - and now he couldn't find his way back home. Poor guy. Looking at the map this morning, it appears he lives on a very minor discontinuous street far from the AM/PM, so it's no wonder he was having problems. Hope he made it home before sunrise!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Brigham Young Redux

Perhaps Margaret Spellings meant Mormons are "our" people, in which case everybody else is someone else's people.
Ms. Spellings said that Senator Orrin G. Hatch had invited her to Utah and she expressed eagerness to visit there. "These are Republicans," she said. "These are our people."
Upon first arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young proclaimed "This is the place." It seems only a short step to saying "These are our people." Next is "This is our quest," or "These are the times of our lives." The kind of portentous silliness that Masters of the Universe like to spew at the rabble, and that seems right at home in the Land of Zion.
Bush Administration vs. Tortured American Pilots

The asininity continues....

South African sloop training for the America's Cup collides head on with a whale.
When Hurricanes Collide

Interesting situation in the Western Pacific, Southern Hemisphere. After wrecking American Samoa Cyclone Olaf is catching up to Cook-Islands-wrecking Cyclone Nancy. After swallowing Nancy, engorged Olaf will then get caught up in the Southern Hemisphere Pacific Westerlies, and make for stormy conditions mid-Pacific.

This is a far-grander replay of events in 1993, when Hurricane Hilary caught up to and devoured Tropical Storm Irwin off the Mexican coast.
Dark Physics Humor

From the Daily Rotten:
Feb 15 1988
Surely you're dead, Mr. Feynman.
Cockroach Caucus

On a blogger-crunching march, in Tulsa!

Monday, February 14, 2005

Stupid Media

Ripley, via Paperwight, regarding Jeff Gannon (aka J.D. Guckert) - the DC Press Corps sure look like the stupid complacent chumps the Bush Administration knows they are:
But despite the ultimate responsibility lying elsewhere, by not reporting on Gannon themselves, by not protesting loudly about his admittance to the club, the national media’s best and brightest were tacitly participating in a smack-down of their own credibility.
Single Women, Democrats, and Jabba the Hut

Loathsome gasbag Jabba the Hut (aka Rush Limbaugh) today picked this report in 'The Nation', that single women sided with the Democratic Party in the 2004 election, to mean that Democrats now oppose the marriage of single women, so as to retain electoral advantage. Limbaugh then proceeded to caricature single women as desperate and miserable. What an ass! If there's any bias in the Democratic Party, it's towards marriage - remember, Democratic Massachusetts has the lowest divorce rate of any state in the country.

There is only one major political party that wants to keep single women desperate and miserable and it ain't the Democrats!

Limbaugh also stated that Howard Dean's candidacy for chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was opposed by a majority of elected officials in the Democratic Party. There is an element of truth there - certainly some major, elected officials feared Dean - but the 447 Democratic operatives that compose the DNC thought differently:
A heretofore obscure entity, the Association of State Democratic Chairs (ASDC), a subgroup of the 447, moved aggressively to take the place of the bumbling Hill leadership and Democratic governors who found themselves unable to influence the process.
There is no reason why these people are any less able than elected officials to determine what is best for the party as a whole. Someone has to do some party-building, and Dean looks like a builder!
Why the Southern Agrarians Were Right About The War of Northern Aggression

The loss of community, the depersonalization, the anomie, the mountains of damaged mail:

Dear Postal Customer:

...We realize your mail is important to you and you have every right to expect it to be delivered intact and in good condition.

...When a Post Office handles in excess of 7 million pieces of mail daily, it is imperative that mechanical methods be used to maintain production and ensure prompt delivery of the mails. It is also a fact that modern production methods do not permit attention to individual pieces of mail.
It's Valentine's Day, Dammit: Stop Joking Around!

Do a Yahoo! search on "Lieberman could be on an administration list to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld," and what you get is this:
Romance is in the air today across the land. But in Washington, the buzz continues about "The Kiss." No, not Gustav Klimt's famous painting. It's the big fat one an exuberant President Bush planted on Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's right cheek as he waded through the Capitol crowd after the State of the Union a couple of weeks ago.
Schwarzenegger Kicks Sand in Face of 98-Pound Weakling State GOP

Interesting! Two years ago, Schwarzenegger couldn't win a fair Republican primary, and today he's completely locked out the intraparty competition! It's appropriate that Dora Kingsley resigned - that was the only honorable course!
Rube Goldberg

Overmatched by all the things that can go wrong, our supposedly almost "operational" missile defense system fails yet another test.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Oh, Come Off It...

Howard Dean will be a fine DNC Chairman, but these cartoons seem to show the world is full of panicked "Fainting Violets."
Extremists on the March in Ohio

The proposed academic "Bill of Rights" in Ohio, a brainchild of David Horowitz, isn't about rights at all. It's about enforcing political conformity on professors. An academic setting is didactic in nature: the professors teach and the students learn. It is not a free speech forum, although the professor may lead students through a limited amount of open discussion:
The proposal ... would prohibit public and private college professors from presenting opinions as fact or penalizing students for expressing their views. Professors would not be allowed to introduce controversial material unrelated to the course.
Who decides what is "controversial material unrelated to the course?"

Some classes are necessarily political in nature: education and political opinion are deeply intertwined (example: classes in Middle East studies). Getting a balance there is difficult, and professors often fail. Employing "minders" in the student body or from the state legislature is the wrong way to go, however, since they have little or no committment to the body of learning, as teachers do. The faculty and the professors must have the freedom to get that balance right.
"It doesn't matter a professor's viewpoint," Horowitz said in an interview. "They can be a good professor, liberal or conservative, provided they pursue an educational mission and not a political agenda."
Who decides what a "political agenda" is? Does a political interest in "climate change" among climatologists, for example, constitute a "political agenda?" Where does the aggrandizement of the state legislature stop? Who said professors had to surrender their opinions to teach anyway? Why does America have to embrace fascism and tyranny in order to operate public or private colleges or universities? Is it a matter of "values," or is it really about enforcing political discipline? Remember, professors are generally not hired to teach "values," but rather bodies of knowledge and expertise. The idea is that students should become active adults who can decide for themselves, without minders, what public policies they wish to support:
[State Senator Larry] Mumper said he is concerned universities are not teaching the values held by taxpaying parents and students.

He questioned why lawmakers should approve funding for universities with "professors who would send some students out in the world to vote against the very public policy that their parents have elected us for."
It Never Rains in Southern Arizona (continued)

It's scary there when the waters rise - like wild beasts charging through peaceful river beds.
Right-Wing Thuggery

I was vastly annoyed to hear that the local protest in Land Park that featured a U.S. soldier hung in effigy (a story carried nationwide by Drudge) came to an end because trespassers stole the effigy. Supposed conservative respect for the law was shown to be a sham:
"I'm a huge military supporter, and I've got some good friends over in Iraq right now," said Mike Coates, 25, of Fair Oaks.

Coates heard about it on the radio and drove by Wednesday afternoon with a ladder in his pickup truck to take down the effigy. It was already gone.

The camouflage fatigues, noose and U.S. flag that was bundled as a head were partially ripped down by someone who fell off the facade of the house in doing so, according to neighbors. The rest was taken by someone on a motorcycle, they said.
Fascistic tendencies of the neighbors also came into focus as well:
Neighbor Marque Cohen, however, has made repeated calls to police and city officials to get the Pearcys' protests removed.

"I'm outraged," he said. "The First Amendment is fine, but I think it's definitely being abused. The forefathers wouldn't have agreed to this type of thing. This is more like malice."
Respectful disapproval was nevertheless also heard from another neighbor:
"I don't necessarily agree with everything (Pearcy) puts up there, but it's his right," she said.
I say, a person's house is their castle, and they have the widest possible latitude on deciding whether or what political protest they want to display on their own property, without interference from disapproving ruffians or neighbors. That is what being an American citizen is all about! Freedom of expression! And where better to express yourself than from your own property?

When Bush supporters in my neighborhood of Curtis Park wrote into the local paper, "The Sierra Viewpoint" four months ago and asked their pro-Kerry neighbors (such as myself) not to rip up their Bush lawn signs, we complied. It was the right thing to do. So where's the fair play?
Heartwarming Story

The brain-damaged woman who began speaking again after 20 years.