Saturday, June 04, 2005

Yet More Koran Abuse

The U.S. needs to finally get serious here: years late, finally classify non-state terrorists, get a Geneva covenant to cover them, and then adhere to the Geneva Conventions! Anything less is a propaganda disaster. But, unfortunately, under the Bush Administration, much less is business as usual.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Revenge of the Sith

Just returned from seeing the latest Star Wars epic with the DMTC crew. As other reviewers have commented elsewhere, the first half of the movie is slow (to the point where I have trouble remembering anything that happened in the first half at all), and the last half is deep - deeper even than the (rather psychological) finale of 'The Empire Strikes Back,' where Luke kills his father. The dialogue is unbelievably wooden, with a few flashes of inspiration. The acting is better: I think I liked Hayden Chritiansen's acting better than some of people in our group did. Here is some trivia from IMDB:
part of the final look for General Grievous' face was inspired by the shape of a bathroom detergent spray nozzle.
There are evident political parallels between the political tragedies of the dying Republic, and our own time. Others have commented on these connections, but the what I liked best was when Obi-Wan Kenobi explained to disillusioned Padme the tragedy of everyone's wasted good intentions, Annikin's particularly: reminds me of our current 'war liberals' and their dilemma regarding their support for Bush's invasion of Iraq.

I really liked the "MYSHTICHISM!" But irritable me: everyone knows it's impossible to get from Naboo to Tatooine in anything less than a parsec! George Lucas has had 30 years to tinker with it: get it right next time!
Saving Face

Matt Yglesias hit a nerve:
The truth of the matter is that most pro-war liberals seem willing to privately admit that they were mistaken about the war (I was), but don't want to publicly say so lest their credibility take the hit that necessarily comes with admitting you were wrong about a very important issue.
How could ANY layperson have made a correct decision to support going to war in Iraq, or not, when so much of the information on which the decision was based was (necessarily) classified, and thus not open to debate? That's the basic problem of running a democracy in an information void: bad decisions get made! Bush and company opportunistically took advantage of the dearth of reliable, public information to get their little war.

No liberal's credibility is going to take a hit by admitting error. For example, I reluctantly supported going to war, but I renounced that position almost immediately, as soon as no WMD were discovered.

Persistent refusal to admit error, in the face of continued failure, and with the example of Vietnam in mind, speaks of mulish pride. A liberal who admits mistakes can't lose credibility, only a liberal who can't. The longer the warmaking liberals wait, the more credibility they lose. Need an example? Just look at The New Republic these days!
Hurricane Outlook

The National Hurricane Center has forecast a weaker than normal hurricane season in the eastern Pacific, and a stronger than normal season in the western Atlantic. In both locations, however, it looks like the hurricane season is already trying to fire up. Forecasts show an area of thunderstorms moving up next week along last year's Hurricane Ivan's path, off the west coast of Florida: the storm system look suspiciously tropical to me. And in the eastern Pacific, we've already had Hurricane Adrian.
Gulag vs. Guantanamo

Amnesty International, in a moment of rhetorical hyperbole, made a serious error in comparing the War on Terror prison system to the former Soviet Union's Gulag system: The scale of the camps is vastly different, and the moral comparison fails as a result.

Nevertheless, it's unfair for TNR and other critics to focus strictly on a Gulag vs. Guantanamo comparison: Guantanamo is merely the most prominent example of the U.S.'s new Geneva-Convention-free approach to handling prisoners. We have other camps besides Guantanamo, in Iraq, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, etc. In that sense, the gulag comparison is apt: remember, Alexander Solzhenitsyn called his masterwork 'The Gulag Archiplego,' which catches the sprinkled, scattered (and thus omnipresent) nature of the system well. We have a smaller, but even more scattered archipelago: certainly less omnipresent, but nevertheless a serious danger to our moral health.

I very nearly blogged on this same article by Janet Hook (aka Linder?) in the Los Angeles Times that Josh Marshall brings up, but I abandoned the post when I went back over the Bush campaign agenda during the 2004 election, and found some mention of Social Security and tax reform.

Nevertheless, Marshall is right, Bush did not focus his campaign on radical reforms: Bush mentioned reforms principally to confirmed supporters. Now, after the election, for Bush to claim a mandate on these points, when the genuine focus was instead the War on Terror, is clearly just bait-and-switch.

After the election, Bush clearly felt he had graduated to Master of the Universe status, and was freed of the need to seek any consensus with Democrats. Overreaching and hubris were in fashion. As Marshall says:
The idea that President Bush ran on a specific agenda that included privatizing Social Security strikes me as little more than preposterous. And I am surprised to see Linder accept it so uncritically.

Yes, he did mention it during the campaign -- just enough to allow his supporters to say now that he didn't spring it on the public without ever having mentioned it before. But when he did mention it, it was almost always in speeches to loyalists and just as a few toss-off lines intended for said loyalists' eager consumption.

But he didn't bring it up in ads, in the debates, in any prominent setting. And for good reason. His entire campaign was framed around two planks: strength against terrorism and the flaws of John Kerry. The first time it got any sort of significant emphasis from the president was a couple days after the election.

Indeed, I think we could make the whole point more specific. Since his election President Bush has laid out a very aggressive legislative agenda, one based on reforms that would fundamentally change how the country looks -- privatization, tax reform, etc. These just weren't the things he ran on. It may not have been 'Morning in America', more like 'Midnight in America'. He ran on toughness against terror. Then once he'd bagged reelection he shifted gears entirely to focus on political economy.

If he really had run hard on privatization and won, even narrowly, he'd be in a vastly stronger position on the issue now than he is. What this last six months has shown is the poverty of the idea that winning an election gives you a 'mandate' if you try to use it to push policies you'd never told voters you were going to push.

Thursday, June 02, 2005


Where everyone is above average:
Davis still identified 26 percent of its students as gifted this year, more than three times the state average. But this year's total is a far cry from the 35 percent of students identified last year.

Adding ethanol to gasoline increases the Reid Vapor Pressure (RVP) of the fuel, which, in the summertime, worsens California's ozone problem. Wintertime blending is OK: the extra oxygen lowers carbon monoxide emissions. EPA's judgement to hamper California's flexibility regarding when to blend is really screwed up, and likely reflects the desires of Republican, Midwestern ethanol/farm interests to feather their own nests.

Something we all need in our political battles.
Bass Ackwards

A friend's brother, now aged about 30, recently learned from medical authorities that his lifelong walking problems can be traced to having been born with his pelvis facing backwards. Has anyone ever heard of such a thing?
Seniors Packing Heat

Don't arrive unexpected at this residence:
Police officers had just walked a disoriented woman back to her Ridgefield home when they found a surprise: stacks and stacks - and more stacks - of high-powered weapons.

Nearly 500 guns in all, along with 100,000 rounds of ammunition and 500 pounds of gunpowder, were carted away Wednesday from the home of Sherwin and Elizabeth Raymond, both 82, police said.

The weapons included semiautomatic assault rifles, as well as firearms collected from throughout the world, they said.

So much firepower turned up that the National Guard was called in to haul away the ammunition, and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office was asked to help store the weapons, said Ridgefield Police Chief John Bogovich.

..."We also found a bumper sticker," the chief remarked. "It says: 'The right to bear arms makes someone a citizen. If you are not allowed to bear arms, it makes you a subject.
If You've Got The Time, Do The Crime?

Meth users can DO identity theft: enforcement officials are finding more and more evidence of what they believe is a link between meth use and identity theft.

"The thing that is somewhat unique to identity theft is that it requires an almost absurd amount of hours and focus, which methamphetamine users have in abundance," said Mark Lindquist, team chief of the drug unit with the county prosecuting attorney. "We've seen methamphetamine users putting together papers that have been through shredders."
Tornado Numbers Dip

Interesting news:
No one died in a tornado in April or May, normally two of the three busiest months for the storms.

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center reported Wednesday that only 129 tornadoes struck the USA last month. There were more than 500 in May of both last year and 2003.

Over the past decade, an average of 1,274 tornadoes a year struck the nation. For the first five months of this year, the count is 365, far below normal.

In another twist, Oklahoma, in the heart of “Tornado Alley” and home to the prediction center, had zero tornadoes in May, a new record.

Five people have died in tornadoes since Jan. 1, matching the lowest total recorded. In 1992, there were five tornado deaths, and none in April or May.
Never Accept Responsibility! Ever!

It sounds like Rush Limbaugh blames Mark Felt for everything that went wrong for the last 30 years. All part and parcel of the Republican governing philosophy: Never accept responsibility! Ever! For anything! And certainly not Vietnam! Now - Shut Up!
Buchanan got some solid backup from fellow history wiz Rush Limbaugh, who added that Woodward, Bernstein, Felt and company were also responsible for the genocide in Cambodia that left approximately 1.7 million dead. "Had they not brought down Nixon, we wouldn't have lost Vietnam," Limbaugh affirmed during his Wednesday broadcast. "Had [they] not brought down Nixon, the Khmer Rouge would not have come to power and murdered two million people in a full-fledged genocide."

So, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man who drives Hummers and flies home to Pacific Palisades, not just on weekends but on weekdays too, is now on the global warming bandwagon. Forgive me if I'm a bit skeptical.

It's very easy to actually do something about global warming: stop driving and travelling so much! It's hard to do, of course. Put those toys in the garage and say "Hasta la vista, baby!"

And as for California? If Arnold was serious, he could say: "Not vun dollar more for California highway construction!" Build highways, and they will come. Don't build them, and people will learn to travel less. Think he could do such an unpopular but effective thing? (I knew it: a girly-man, through and through.)
BU** SH**

After a year and three-quarters, Bush fans finally got to my bumpersticker last night. They peeled it off, and put it on my windshield. I destroyed the fragile bumpersticker trying to get it off the glass. It was my favorite. Fortunately, there are more where it came from!

Rain, Hail, or Shine

Didn't cover all the possibilities, apparently:
WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A 6-year-old racehorse named Rain, Hail or Shine died in its paddock Wednesday after being struck by lightning, its trainer said.
Mark Felt, Patriot

People forget just how rampagingly paranoid and vindictive the Nixon White House was, and therefore how justified Felt was in keeping things deep, deep undercover. If 'Deep Throat' hadn't help confirm Woodward and Bernstein's reporting, Nixon might well have succeeded in putting a lid on Watergate. It's particularly noxious that today, Chuck Colson, Gordon Liddy, and the other gang of convicted REPUBLICAN Watergate criminals are now criticizing Felt on Fox News, and other media outlets.

We all owe Felt our deepest gratitude and respect for helping restore our republic's integrity.
Summertime Crowd Strut Their Stuff at AM/PM

Apparently I missed the fun at AM/PM last night. A friend, who sits in the locked store behind a cashier's window during the graveyard shift, conveyed some of the goings-on there.

Two Asian girls drove up, started pumping gas and necking at the same time. They then began to argue about who was going to pay for the gasoline. One girl went to the window to insist on paying for the remainder of the gasoline. My friend told her she couldn't determine what that amount would be unless they stopped the flow of gasoline at the pump. The girl stomped off and began wrestling for the hose with the other girl. Within seconds, the girls were using the gasoline hose like a garden hose at a pool party, and had doused each other with gasoline.

Meanwhile, a man began beating a woman in a Mercedes Benz at the other set of gasoline pumps. Customers began to demand my friend call the police, even though she couldn't see what was happening there and was busy with customers. When she finally made the call, a customer ran over to warn the man the cops were on the way. The abusive man retreated with his vehicle behind the store.

Then the Asian girl stomped up to ask how much gasoline her vehicle could hold, and got frustrated when my friend told her she didn't know. The police showed up, but my friend couldn't provide details since she never saw the car. When the cops left, the Mercedes Benz reappeared from behind the store, and, with tires squealing, roared off down the street. Then the Asian girl reappeared, saw my friend's cell phone, and erupted in fury: "Hey, that's MY phone!"

Seems like I always miss the good parts at AM/PM graveyard shift!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

S.F. 49'ers Public Relations Fumble

Do people like wooden lampoons of political correctness by the city's foremost football franchise? (Well, at least they used pretty girls for the lesbian parts....)
Life As A Skywatcher

Some days are harder than others:

(I'd like to give credit on the photo, whether retouched or not, but it came via an E-Mail chain, and so I don't know it's provenance).

Why is the White House trying to stymie the documents request Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have made? Perhaps...
Some of the information that the White House has refused to provide to Congress for its review of the nomination of John Bolton includes the names of American companies mentioned in intelligence reports on commerce with China and other countries covered by export restrictions, say government officials who have been briefed on the documents.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Dick Cheney can see it. Can't you?

This Iraq debacle looks more like Vietnam every day. Several weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine reported that we are employing assassination teams similar to those used in El Salvador in the 80's to hunt down leftists. People forget that what turned El Salvador around wasn't assassination teams, but rather the collapse of the Soviet empire, particularly after 1989: deprived of an international sponsor, the leftist Salvadorans turned to negotiation to eventually work out a surrender.

In Iraq, there is no need for international sponsors: the arms are plentiful. But there are several international sponsors available anyway (Iran, Al Qaeda, Syria) who can help in a pinch. And there is no indication at all that a surrender is in the works. Time is on the side of the insurgents, and everyone knows it.

So, what basis does Cheney have for his comforting little fantasy? What muezzin call does he hear?
Midtown Athletic Club, RIP

It was a good - what? - forteen years? What now? Maybe Step One? Or Natomas?
Head Start to Oblivion

Lest we forget such things on a holiday weekend, let's recall that Windy M. Hill resigned on Friday as director of Head Start:
Hill's leadership of the administration's Head Start program started badly. As soon as the White House started announcing its intention to cut the program's budget, Hill's office sent terse letters to Head Start center across the country, telling parents and teachers that if they shared their concerns about the program's future with members of Congress, it would constitute illegal lobbying.

The sad attempt at intimidation was a sign of things to come for Hill. An HHS review later held her responsible for serious misconduct involving Hill's mismanagement of more than $150,000 when she was the executive director of the Texas Head Start program. (The HHS review findings were confirmed in an outside audit.) Reports also indicate Hill received three large bonuses that were not reported to the IRS as income.

Bush sure knows how to pick 'em, doesn't he? Hill mismanaged federal grant money for the Head Start program in Texas, so the president asked her to — you guessed it — lead the national Head Start program to disburse federal grants. And once the controversy broke, Bush waited until he thought no one's looking to throw Hill overboard.
Intelligent Design

I liked these two Letters to the Editor in today's Sacramento Bee:
Intelligent aliens?
When I read arguments about Intelligent Design, I'm reminded of the writings of Eric Von Daniken, who in the 1970s wrote bestselling books such as "Chariots of the Gods" that contend that inexplicable advances in human technology were caused by the influence of advanced space creatures. His premise: Advances we can't explain must be the work of a superior intelligence.

Although this thinking was accepted by some people at the time, especially with the popularity of science fiction films such as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," most people eventually rejected this line of reasoning. It seemed presumptuous to believe that the only explanation for not being able to determine the cause of something was because a superior intelligence was involved. The notion of us simply not being smart enough to figure it out, based on the information at hand, was ignored.

ID seems to follow the same line of reasoning, except it deals with mathematics instead of archeology. It uses the fact that there is no mathematical model to account for evolution as proof that intelligence must be involved.

So why should ID be taken more seriously than Von Daniken's aliens?
- Richard Siegel, Auburn

Intelligent design of weather?
Although Intelligent Design proponents claim to offer science, ID is not much more than an argument from its rival idea's supposed shortfalls and one's own failure to understand the history of life through evolution alone.

Because ID proponents misunderstand the basic concepts of evolution, they make assertions like "nothing produces everything" and "nonlife produces life" that have no relevance to the theory (contrary to widespread misinformation, evolution doesn't address the origin of life). In addition to this, they work backward. They start with a conclusion and look for evidence to support their idea.

Instead of being consistent and demanding equal time for ID in other branches of science, such as medicine, physics and meteorology, IDists accept that no intelligence is required, no gods are necessary for weather, holding the solar system together or causing illness.
- Elizabeth Redford, Sacramento

On today's Wall Street Journal editorial page ('Mr. Greenspan's Cappuccino', available here for subscribers), Brian Wesbury presents statistics from an unnamed source that I find interesting, because they seem wrong:
Roughly 80% of all people between the ages of 50 and 64 own their own homes, versus 70.6% of people aged 35-49, and 69% of all Americans.
I take issue with calling people with mortgages "homeowners": fantasy future homeowners is a better title. As long as that mortgage is there, everyone knows that the real homeowner is a big, faceless bank or mortgage company somewhere. Semantics aside, are these numbers correct? I know lots of older people who are not homeowners.

Then there was this quizzical set of statistics:
While many believe that irresponsible borrowing is creating a bubble in housing, this is not necessarily true. At the end of 2004, U.S. households owned $17.2 trillion in housing assets, an increase of 18.1% (or $2.6 trillion) from the third quarter of 2003. Over the same five quarters, mortgage debt (including home equity lines) rose $1.1 trillion to $7.5 trillion. The result: a $1.5 trillion increase in net housing equity over the past 15 months.
Presumably its not much of a bubble if net housing equity is increasing.

My experience is that the bubble is affecting newer, younger entrants into the market much more than older, established 'homeowners.' Many young people, as a matter of necessity, do not expect to ever finish paying their mortgages. Rather they hope to get the biggest house they can, and hope to profit from the rapidly appreciating value of the housing. The housing bubble is affecting these people the most.

Here is an informative press release:

U.S. households net worth is now, according to the Federal Reserve, $48.5 trillion. Residential real estate accounts for almost $10 trillion ($17.2 trillion value minus mortgage debt of $7.5 trillion). Financial assets, including stocks, bonds, bank accounts and pension accounts, totaled $36.8 trillion.

The value of total household assets has risen nearly 20% since the end of 2000, but borrowing has risen at a much faster pace. The outstanding debt owed by households has soared 45% in that period, the Fed reported.

It may be that much consumer-oriented borrowing is, only lately, turning into a housing bubble. And notice that, if both quotes are correct, nearly all of the increase of housing asset value has occurred since 2003. Borrowing going up faster than equity?: Yup! A bubble!

Here is an interesting graphic from Freddie Mac showing that mortgage debt is likely to double over the next decade:

Mortgage debt will have to increase since wages aren't increasingly as rapidly as 8.25%. The money will have to be borrowed, likely from overseas. Will that much money be available? Quien sabe?! To me, economics novitiate but familiar enough with the dangers of exponential growth, it looks unsustainable. Notice that inflection point at the current date? They can't even get the current rate of increase correctly! This graph is showing low-ball estimates! It's likely that residential mortgage debt will double in five years, not ten! Who is going to finance this bubble?
The Washington Post Confirms...

That Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat!' Amazing! The author of the world's greatest political aphorism: "follow the money."
Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

Whatever the reason, the jaywalking citation has been dismissed.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Delicate Sensibilities

Times change, Mr. Cheney:
"Frankly, I was offended by it," Cheney said in the videotaped interview. "For Amnesty International to suggest that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly just don't take them seriously."

But at least everyone is getting their message coordinated:
The US president bristled when asked at a White House press conference about an Amnesty International report last week which said the Guantanamo detention camp for terrorist suspects had become the "gulag of our times".

"I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation," Bush replied.
Meanwhile, the politically-correct conservatives at Lucianne whine about quote marks and other literary trivia....
Bright Lines

And stepping across them in the frantic search for oil in Wilderness Areas.
Benjamin Netanyahu


Sunday, May 29, 2005

"La Mancha" and "Wizard of Oz" Close

Fine show today at DMTC! People were uncharacteristically emotional about closing the show. Usually the cure is simple - audition for another show! - but people were particularly sentimental about this show. Byron Westlund's down-to-earth helpfulness really set the tone for the everyone's experience: friction was minimized everywhere as a result. After strike, the crew recovered at "Woodstock's," with (ugh!) cinnamon pizza, plus a cornucopia of other pizza-related foods.

Amber Jean Moore Lazard (and Juliette) were at the show today, along with Erin Jones (senior). Carrie Gifford was there as well!

Apparently I missed some watershed moments at DMTC by failing to see the Young Performer's Theater's (YPT's) "The Wizard of Oz." There was quite a buzz about the theater regarding what an excellent show it was, particularly Hailee Ketchum-Wiggin's performance as Dorothy. Hailee's performance has apparently raised the bar regarding what YPT auditioners must accomplish to gain a lead role. The competition was stiff already, and it keeps getting stiffer - it takes a lot of heart to reach for the lead roles!

As treasurer, I noticed how "The Wizard of Oz" was bringing in more money in walk-up tickets than "Man of La Mancha" was doing. Season tickets purchased long ago dominate much of the Main Stage ticket activity late in the season, so modest ticket sales are to be expected, but still, it's atypical to have the YPT ticket sales exceed the Main Stage ticket sales.

Regarding YPT scholarships, Paula Short will receive the DMTC Scholarship and Mark Carpenter will receive the Laura Wilson Memorial YPT Scholarship. Congratulations to them both! There is a lot of sentiment to expand the number of scholarships awarded, but right now, with New Theater still unfinished, I'm just glad that we were able to award scholarships. Maybe next year, we can expand our focus.
A Long Time?

Picked up Kylie's "Giving You Up/Made of Glass" single CD tonight at Davis' Tower!

It may be awhile before the "Showgirl" tour recommences. Despite the blackout on specific information regarding Kylie's treatment, the apparent problem is the absence of criteria able to satisfy everyone's need for a clean bill of health:
A spokeswoman for the Frontier Touring Company said the pop star was resting and "everyone is giving her plenty of space".

"It is going to be hard to know when she is actually touring again because we just do not know the outcome of her operation," the spokeswoman said.

"Live shows are a long way off yet I think. Amazingly, not many people have sought refunds for her postponed tour as yet."

Long-time colleague and tour promoter Michael Gudinski said it was far too early to know the success of Minogue's treatment.