Friday, November 20, 2009

Finally Getting Around To Chappaquiddick

Jetta said: "You've got to read about Chappaquiddick; I mean you've GOT to read about Chappaquiddick! You won't believe about Chappaquiddick! You've got to read about it NOW! NOW! Right NOW!"

Sigh. It's been forty years since Mary Jo Kopechne's death. Since good ol' Uncle Ted took the last ferry outta Martha's Vineyard, it hardly seems pertinent anymore. And why would Jetta, whose politics are somewhere Left of Michael Moore's, even care about the case, given all the more recent meaty fare provided by the Bushes? But everyone loves to hate the Kennedys, no matter what their political persuasion. So, what the hell.....

The book Jetta was referring to was "Death at Chappaquiddick" by Richard L. and Thomas L. Tedrow. The book reads like an illegitimate 1970's offspring of the RNC and Jack Anderson's investigative journalism boiler room. It contains occasional contradictions, and sentences like: "After viewing the scene there is no question but that we were right." No doubts there, no sirree! Nothing like a scientist would write: "on the one hand; but on the other hand." Just the facts, and a whole lot of speculation, presented wide-eyed and without doubts.

To me, the simpler the story, the more credible. It doesn't help that the instant Ted Kennedy got out of the car he started to embroider his story and that everyone started embroidering the story too. There was lots of speculation regarding his movements, and whether or not he and Mary Jo were having sex, or whether there was a proper autopsy, or not. It just confuses matters. Simpler answers; closer to truth!

To me, it appears that, very late at night, Ted and Mary Jo were trying to get to the beach. They had both been to the beach and across the bridge several times earlier that day, but critically, they had both been driven across the bridge, and neither one had tried to drive across the bridge themselves. Ted was likely driving, and too fast, and in a sleepy or drunken state, across a narrow wooden bridge without guardrails that angled left. He either rolled the car, or it sailed into Poucha Pond (depending on speed).

Since the car rolled right, Mary Jo was unable to escape immediately. She found an air pocket and survived, perhaps for several hours, before suffocating. She was never able to either locate an exit, or couldn't force one.

Meanwhile, Teddy panicked. I don't believe he tried to rescue her, and probably gave up hope immediately. He didn't try to rouse people living nearby (strangers of unknown loyalties). Instead, he walked a couple of miles back to gather his lieutenants and try to figure out what to do. (The impulse of politicians to first figure out a story and then alert the public is very, very strong. For example, when Dick Cheney shot his friend on Feb. 11, 2006, he too felt the irresistible urge to circle the wagons first).

So, in the ensuing hullabaloo, what was the key factor? Massachusetts law regarding involuntary manslaughter states:
As with voluntary manslaughter Massachusetts statutory law does not define involuntary manslaughter. Rather, Massachusetts common law, as pronounced by the courts, provides the definition for involuntary manslaughter:

One can commit involuntary manslaughter through:

(1) an unintentional killing occasioned by an act which constitutes such a disregard of the probable harmful consequences to another as to be wanton or reckless; or
(2) an unintentional killing resulting from a battery.

The first theory under which a person may face conviction for involuntary manslaughter requires an unintentional, yet unlawful killing resulting from the wanton or reckless conduct of the defendant. This theory of involuntary manslaughter is sometimes called "Welansky manslaughter," after the 1944 case in which the owner of a nightclub was convicted of involuntary manslaughter when a fire in his club caused the death of over 400 patrons. That case also established that wanton or reckless conduct includes both affirmative acts and failures to act where a duty to act exists. Such acts or omissions must embody a disregard for the probable harmful consequences to another. The conduct must involve a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to another. The law requires that the defendant have knowledge of the circumstances and the intent to do the act that caused the death, and also requires that the circumstances presented a danger of serious harm such that a reasonable man would have recognized the nature and degree of danger. Wanton and reckless conduct is distinct from negligence or gross negligence for which, in the common law of Massachusetts, there is no criminal liability.

The second theory on which a defendant may face conviction for involuntary manslaughter requires that the defendant commit a battery, not amounting to a felony, which causes death. A person who uses a level of force against another that is likely to cause harm and which produces death is guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The law requires that the prosecution establish that the defendant knew, or should have known that his conduct created a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm would result to another. This means that the same standards of proof apply to both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.

The punishment for both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, as set by statute, is the same. The maximum sentence for an involuntary manslaughter conviction is imprisonment for twenty years, except in circumstances where the voluntary manslaughter involves explosives or infernal machines, in which cases the maximum punishment is life imprisonment.
Now, as asinine as it was not to have mounted an effective rescue effort, Teddy Kennedy probably could not have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter because of that. A strong rescue effort could have jeopardized his own life in the murky darkness. He may not have even realized that she could have survived a long time, trapped in the car.

But involuntary manslaughter (theory 1, above) because of driving too fast, or driving recklessly? Now people get convicted all the time because of that! So, the cover-up that followed was directed mostly, even single-mindedly, to ensuring that no testimony regarding the car's speed, or reckless driving, was ever entered into the official record. Because that path led directly to jail.

As it was, Ted's path was hellacious enough. In the ensuing tempest, his wife Joan suffered a miscarriage. Lots of suffering for everyone involved.

It's amazing, really, how much latitude the authorities will give to people who DO NOT rescue people under their care, particularly when those people have high standing in the community.

I remember when I was going to U of A in Tucson, a professor (whose name I can't quite recall), who had once been at Tucson but currently lived in Pennsylvania, returned to Tucson for a Christmas visit. He, his wife, and a grad student friend, went into the Galiuro Mountains for an overnight camping trip. Heavy rains soaked them all, and a winter chill descended. Soon, the professor was faced with the prospect of both the ill-clad grad student and his wife suffering hypothermia. He decided he could rescue only one, so he bundled his friend into a cave and walked out of the wilderness with his wife. The wife survived; the grad student died.

I never believed that the professor couldn't have made a stronger effort to save the grad student, but the authorities did. To me, it sounded like involuntary manslaughter, having failed to ensure that the party took reasonable precautions against bad weather. No matter. Case closed.

For your family's peace-of-mind, be careful regarding the social status of your companions before undertaking hazardous activities. Caveat inferior!

(Hey, I wonder if Andrew can get away from his professorial duties and wouldn't mind taking a glacier walk with me on a nice, warm day if I get back to NZ sometime soon? There are crevasses, and falling rocks, and all, I know, but.....)

Now, to talk Chappaquiddick over with Jetta and figure out her take on the 40-year-old matter....

Jargon Run Amock?

Jerry wonders:
"keystone megaherbivores" -- a good name for a band?

(Gill, et al., page 1100 of current issue of Science.)
That's real nice terminology, actually. You can almost see the elephant, or dinosaur, or mammoth chewing its way through a tree's canopy.

And far below, scrambling through the leaf litter, evanescent microcarnivores.


Jerry replies:
My definition:

Keystone megaherbivore: A large salad eater from Pennsylvania.

Two Cats. Make That Three.

Early this morning, two cats were walking all over my car, fighting mad, and asserting dominance over the driveway.

Yyyyeeeeoooowwww! Meeeeoooorrroooowww! Hiss! Slash!!!!!

Let's make this clear. It's MY driveway! Mine! Not yours: MINE!

Meeeeoooorrroooowww! Hiss!!!!!!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bev On "Carousel"

Like many, Bev likes "Carousel", but is disturbed by the wife-beating theme. Which brings up the question: can wife-beating, artfully presented, make good entertainment?

Strangely enough, the comic Johnny Steele spoke on just this issue last night. He imagined Frank Sinatra as just your typical, limited New Jersey goombah, guiding guests through a photo gallery: "And here is a picture of me by the Jersey shore - smackin' a broad! And here I am by the waterfront - smackin' a broad!" Disturbing imagery, and yet funny at the same time.

Rodgers & Hammerstein were more subtle, and provided more entertainment value, but were no less dependent on the disturbing theme to create their art. No art without someone suffering, somewhere.

Old Ironsides 75th Anniversary - Moe Bettermann Reunion Show

Left to right: sidekick Matt Wolkis (?), Eric Lobo, and Moe Bettermann.

In the 90's, very late night Sacramento TV viewers could sometimes catch Mr. Lobo, Sacramento's answer to Elvira, introducing trashy sci-fi and horror films, at say, 3:05 a.m., on Channel 10.

Mr. Lobo remains active wherever a splash of gore indicates sci-fi and horror have collided in the Sacramento area.

Michael Rowe, who plays Stan the Man with Moe Bettermann, clued me in to the reunion of the Moe Bettermann Show.

The Moe Bettermann Show, a comedy/interview show modeled after The Tonight Show, ran at Old Ironsides (a bar across from Waffle Square, at 10th & S Streets) from 1992 through 1999, before disbanding so everyone could get married, have kids, and enjoy real lives for a change.

But life wasn't the same without the Moe Bettermann Show, so what better than a reunion show in celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Old Ironsides? (And if I'm not mistaken, the show is now revived, and will continue henceforth until people feel they need real lives again, which hopefully will be never).

In its eight years, The Moe Bettermann Show showcased many significant comics and became an important fixture in Sacramento's entertainment firmament. Indeed, I remember seeing it once before (in 1995, my girlfriend Katherine Arthur appeared on Moe Bettermann's 'Slice of Life' segment, promoting her 'Personality Poems' - poems tailored to the individual.)

I particularly liked the last Moe Bettermann Show Community Calendar entry: "Clowns For Frowns: On Sunday morning at Pancake Circus (21st & Broadway - just three blocks from my house), cartwheeling clowns will surprise jittery Vietnam Vets suffering PTSD by spraying seltzer water and popping balloons!"

Johnny Steele is one hella funny comic! In this picture, he notes that Mr. Kannellas (the bar owner) "will need his stove lights back soon".

He talked about presenting his vaulting childhood comic ambitions to his father: "'One day, I'll stand on a six-inch-tall stage and play to 14 people across from Waffle Square!' My father replied: 'You dreamer!'"

He talked about Pittsburg - California's cultural center; watching an introduction-to-vasectomy video over at Kaiser; Frank Sinatra responding to the Pope's admonitions for people in third-world countries to have more children - "It's Witchcraft! Come on, you crazy nut, come outta that hut, and grab some butt!"; and trying to update his material from the 1990's for the Moe Bettermann reunion: "My manager responded to my Ted Kaczynski jokes by saying 'can't we update the references?'; to which I replied 'but then it's not funny!'"

The one-armed character played here is T.T. Jenkins "America's Very First Crack Baby".
Sinitra (together here with her hubby) played "The Weather Lady".

Hall Of Mirrors

When you live in Las Vegas, New Mexico, you live - where, exactly?:
My quest to discover how 40 years have altered a movie version of America has stumbled on a pocket of America altered for a movie.

Hollywood gets out here a lot. Tom Mix shot some Westerns here. The Communists invaded it in Red Dawn. Billy Bob Thornton's been here a couple of times, once when he directed an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and again when he starred in The Astronaut Farmer. It makes a fine stand-in for McCarthy's border country; the Coen Brothers were here for No Country for Old Men. But it's also a fine stand-in for small-town America, which I'm guessing is why Paul is using it. Later, I'll try to enter a cool-looking comic-book shop only to be told it's also part of a set.

...Movies have long idealized small-town life. Easy Rider is not one of those movies. It presents the "silent majority" that swept Nixon into office the year before as a bigoted and ultimately murderous bunch. (What is still just a threat of prejudice and violence in Las Vegas becomes a terrifying reality when the film reaches the Deep South.) This no doubt played well with the movie's counterculture audience, and it's not as if a cultural divide didn't exist in America at the time. But the movie's depiction of Las Vegas and, later, the South tars a whole swath of the country with a broad brush.

..."This used to be a hell of a country," Hanson tells his new friends after agreeing to join their trip to Mardis Gras. It's an oft-quoted line, one that makes Hanson sound more like the people he's leaving behind than the hippies he's joined. Would he really want to turn back the clock on the decade's political advances? Or has the end of that decade left him feeling hopeless? While cameras rolled on Easy Rider, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy died violently, the Vietnam War showed no signs of slowing, and domestic unrest mounted. It was enough to make anyone nostalgic for small-town comforts.

I spent much of my day in Las Vegas hanging out in a charming coffee shop where tattooed baristas served senior citizens playing board games. I left ready to pull up stakes and move there. It fit my movie-shaped ideal of what a small town was supposed to look like: the pleasant, tree-lined town square, smiling locals, a burger joint not associated with clowns or kings, a corner drug store complete with a soda fountain. The town surely has the same problems found across America, but they were nowhere to be seen during my visit. Of course, Las Vegas has an incentive to appear idyllic. If it appears otherwise, filmmakers will need to look elsewhere to find small-town imagery to idealize or subvert in their films. I ended up unsure whether I'd really seen Las Vegas at all, or just some Hollywood idea of small-town authenticity. After admiring a cowgirl painted on the side of a building announcing I'd arrived where "the Great Plains meet the mighty Rockies," I noticed it welcomed me to a town called "Calumet"—Las Vegas' name in Red Dawn. I could live here, but where would I really be?

Extraordinary Polling Result

I am reminded of that apocryphal story (probably true) about the Manhattan liberal who said he couldn't believe that Nixon got re-elected, when he didn't know anyone who voted for him. Or the black activist from Oakland who (having never been to places like lily-white Idaho) seemed bewildered by the clout of white people.

When you are insulated from the national mainstream, you can confuse your surroundings with the national mainstream.

This poll suggests that the majority of Republicans are similarly insulated. To think that tiny rinky-dink ACORN has all this clout shows an utter lack of comprehension of basic realities:
The new national poll from Public Policy Polling (D) has an astonishing number about paranoia among the GOP base: Republicans do not think President Obama actually won the 2008 election -- instead, ACORN stole it.

This number goes a long way towards explaining the anger of the Tea Party crowd. They not only think Obama's agenda is against America, but they don't think he was actually the choice of the American people at all! Interestingly, NY-23 Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman is now accusing ACORN of stealing his race, and Fox News personalities have often speculated about ACORN stealing the 2008 Minnesota Senate race for Al Franken.

The poll asked this question: "Do you think that Barack Obama legitimately won the Presidential election last year, or do you think that ACORN stole it for him?" The overall top-line is legitimately won 62%, ACORN stole it 26%.

Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the race, with 52% -- an outright majority -- saying that ACORN stole it, and 21% are undecided. Among McCain voters, the breakdown is 31%-49%-20%. By comparison, independents weigh in at 72%-18%-10%, and Democrats are 86%-9%-4%.

Now, the obvious comparison would be that many Democrats felt that George W. Bush didn't legitimately win the 2000 election. But there are some clear differences.

First of all, Al Gore empirically won the national popular vote in 2000, and lost in a disputed recount process in Florida. By comparison, John McCain lost the national popular vote by a 53%-46% margin.

In order to believe that Obama wasn't the true winner of the 2008 election, one would have to think that ACORN (and perhaps other groups) stuffed ballots to the tune of over 9.5 million votes, Obama's national margin.

PPP communications director Tom Jensen says: "Belief in the ACORN conspiracy theory is even higher among GOP partisans than the birther one, which only 42% of Republicans expressed agreement with on our national survey in September."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I Want A Stock Market Like My Great-Grandpa Used To Know

And it looks like we've got one too.

I disagree with Robert Reich: the economy CAN recover without consumers. But still, in this new world, it will truly suck to be a consumer, especially a consumer that remembers what nice places shopping malls used to be and how a trip to Salvation Army wasn't required to buy Christmas presents.

Several generations ago, consumers had a lot smaller piece of the economy than they do nowadays, so if we try to reverse-engineer the consumers out of the economy, it'll be just like it was in the good old days (just so long as I can keep running water - they can keep hot running water, just so long as I can keep some running water).

The stock market will go up and down based on other considerations than what fickle consumers are up to. The part of me that will rely on the 401K will be happy (and the part of me that requires a job in order to put money in the 401K will be sad).

No sir, we don't need no stinkin' consumers. They never did anything good but get into debt and go bankrupt anyway:
How can the stock market hit new highs at the same time unemployment is hitting new highs? Simple. The market is up because corporate earnings are up. Corporate earnings are up because companies are cutting costs. And the biggest single cost they’re cutting is their payrolls. So they let people go and, presto, their balance sheets look better and their stock prices rise.

In the old-fashioned kind of recession decades ago, big companies laid off people with the expectation of rehiring them when the economy turned up. Then a few recessions back, companies started laying off people for good, never rehiring them even when the economy recovered.

In the Great Recession of 2008-09, companies are going a step further. They’re using this sharp downturn to cut payrolls even below where they were when times were good. Outsourcing abroad, setting up shop in China and elsewhere, contracting out, replacing people with software and automated machines -- they're doing whatever it takes to get payrolls down so earnings bounce up.

Caterpillar earned $404 million in the third quarter, or 64 cents a share. Analysts had expected only 5 cents. Caterpillar’s stock is up 165 percent since March. How did Caterpillar do it? Not by selling more bulldozers. It did it by cutting more than 37,000 jobs.

The result, overall, is an asset-based recovery, not a Main Street recovery. Yes, the economy is growing again, but the surge in productivity is a mirage. Worker output per hour is skyrocketing because companies are generating almost as much output with fewer workers and fewer hours.

The Fed, meanwhile, has become an enabler to all this, making it as cheap as possible for companies to ax their employees. Money costs so little these days it’s easy to substitute capital for labor. It’s also easy to buy up foreign assets with cheap American money. And it’s now blissfully easy for Wall Street to borrow money almost free and buy all sorts of interests in foreign assets, especially commodities. That's why we're seeing the prices of foreign commodities and other assets go through the roof.

...The Fed and the Teasury have, in effect, placed a huge bet on a recovery driven by asset prices. That’s a bad bet. The great disconnect between the stock market and jobs is pushing stock prices way out of line with the real economy. This isn't sustainable.

No economy can recover without consumers. Yet American consumers, who constitute 70 percent of the U.S. economy, are facing mounting job losses as well as pay cuts. They’re in no mood to buy and won’t be for some time.

Where is this heading? No place good. Without a major shift in policy -- both at the Fed and in the White House -- the economics point to a big stock-market correction and a double dip.

The CBO Weighs In: The Senate's Opt-Out Health Reform Bill Is A Big Budget-Deficit Reducer, And Will Produce Fantastic Cost Savings

And how could it not? Our current system is so inefficient that it's easy to design something better.

So, let's roll:
The health care bill--which includes an opt-out public option--will require $849 billion over 10 years in new spending, to be paid for with cuts to Medicare, while reducing the deficit by $127 billion.

In that time it will extend coverage to 31 million Americans--94 percent of citizens will be covered by 2019.

Over the second 10 years, CBO projects even greater cost savings--up to $650 billion, with the caveat that after 10 years, their analyses become highly uncertain.

Trawling For Assassins

In 1994, Republicans spent a lot of time attacking the legitimacy of the federal government. In 1995, they got their avatar: child-murderer Timothy McVeigh.

If you constantly attack the legitimacy of an institution, or a person, you eventually get your John Brown. In fact, it's inevitable. You just need to hit the alert button hard enough for long enough, and someone will answer the advertisement. That is the purpose of FOX News, after all: a Craigslist for killers. And having done this once before, they can hardly be unaware of what they are doing now.

By constantly impugning President Obama's legitimacy, and hammering the point over and over, Republicans are openly calling for his assassination. To deny this is to deny a long history of how these things are done. The fingerprints are there for those who can read:
Not only have the Wall Street Journal and the hosts of Fox News been issuing their usual dark mutterings, but a new slogan has began appearing on bumper stickers, tshirts, and even teddy bears: "Pray for Obama: Psalm 109:8."

That psalm reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Maddow seemed mainly amused by the teddy bears, but when she turned for comment to former right-wing evangelical leader Frank Schaeffer, he emphasized that in a religious context "it means something more threatening."

"The situation that I find genuinely frightening right now," Schaeffer explained, "is that you have a ramping up of biblical language ... and what it's coalescing into is branding Obama ... as 'not us.' ... Now he joins the ranks of the unjust kings of ancient Israel ... who should be slaughtered, if not by God then by just men."

"Really, this is trawling for assassins," continued Schaeffer, "and this is serious business. It's un-American, it's unpatriotic, and it goes to show that the religious right, the Republican far right, have coalesced into a group that truly want American revolution. ... They cannot be dismissed as just crazies on the fringe. ... This bumper sticker simply says to them, 'It's open season.'"

Appearing increasingly agitated, Schaeffer went on to say, "This is the American version of the Taliban. The Taliban quotes the Koran, and Al Qaeda quotes certain verses in the Koran, in or out of context, calling for jihad and bloody war and the curse of Allah on infidels. This is the Old Testament biblical equivalent of calling for holy war. ... And what surprises me is that responsible -- if you can put it that way -- Republican leadership, and the editors at some of these Christian magazines .... do not stand up in holy horror and denounce this."

"I would just say to them, 'Where the hell are you?'" Schaeffer concluded. "'This is not funny any more, and be it on your head if something happens to our president.' ... There are not many steps left on this insane path."

Impaled Ninja

Seattle ninja needs training regarding liquor:
A drunk man believing himself to be a ninja drew the help of Seattle police and aid crews late Monday after impaling himself on a First Hill fence post, a police spokesperson said.

The man's ninja skills, it seems, were bested by the 4- to 5-foot-tall fence he attempted to vault, according to the police statement. He ended up stuck on a spike atop the fence in the 600 block of Seventh Avenue.

After an officer in the area heard the man's screams and located him at about 11:15 p.m., Seattle Fire Department personnel were able to free the man. They took him to Harborview Medical Center, where officers attempted to ascertain exactly what the would-be silent assassin was up to.

"The male claimed he was not being chased, but rather he thought he was a ninja and would be able to successfully leap over the 4'-5' fence," the police spokesman said in a statement. "Clearly he was overconfident in his abilities, no doubt bolstered by alcohol."

Fireball Over Western U.S.

Oh, something happened last night:
FIREBALLS AND METEORS: As forecasters predicted, the Leonid meteor shower peaked during the late hours of Nov. 17th, favoring sky watchers in Asia with an outburst of 100+ meteors per hour. Just as the outburst was dying down, an even bigger event took place over the western USA. Something hit Earth's atmosphere and exploded with an energy equivalent of 0.5 to 1 kiloton of TNT. Witnesses in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and elsewhere say the fireball "turned night into day" and "shook the ground" when it exploded just after midnight Mountain Standard Time. Researchers who are analyzing infrasound recordings of the blast say the fireball was not a Leonid. It was probably a small asteroid, now scattered in fragments across the countryside. Efforts are underway to measure the trajectory of the asteroid and guide meteorite recovery efforts.

Adams: Doctor Atomic - The Countdown

I've posted this before, but I like it so much it's time to post it again! As long as we have these terrible things with us, it's pertinent.

I particularly admire the care these folks took to get the New Mexico setting just right. After all, far removed in their European redoubt, they didn't have to make that effort - they didn't have to care - and it wouldn't have affected the show much. These folks cared about everything they did, however, and it shows.
John Adams
Doctor Atomic (2005)

De Nederlandse Opera
Muziektheater, Amsterdam, June 2007

Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest
Koor van De Nederlandse Opera
Lawrence Renes, conductor
Peter Sellars, director

This is a thrilling orchestral/ensemble set piece from Act II of John Adams' Doctor Atomic - here the countdown to detonation has begun.

Cast featured:

Gerald Finley as J. Robert Oppenheimer
Jessica Rivera as Kitty Oppenheimer
Eric Owens as Gen. Leslie Groves
Thomas Glenn as Robert Wilson
Ellen Rabiner as Pasqualita (Maid)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wingsuit Flying

Like the article says, the idea is to avoid any ground-breaking developments.

Why Our Afghani Adventure Will End Badly

Everyone is on the take, to the point where President Karzai's family feels left out and American soldiers are little more than pawns:
In this grotesque carnival, the US military's contractors are forced to pay suspected insurgents to protect American supply routes. It is an accepted fact of the military logistics operation in Afghanistan that the US government funds the very forces American troops are fighting. And it is a deadly irony, because these funds add up to a huge amount of money for the Taliban. "It's a big part of their income," one of the top Afghan government security officials told The Nation in an interview. In fact, US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts--hundreds of millions of dollars--consists of payments to insurgents.

...What NCL Holdings is most notorious for in Kabul contracting circles, though, is the identity of its chief principal, Hamed Wardak. He is the young American son of Afghanistan's current defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak, who was a leader of the mujahedeen against the Soviets. Hamed Wardak has plunged into business as well as policy. He was raised and schooled in the United States, graduating as valedictorian from Georgetown University in 1997. He earned a Rhodes scholarship and interned at the neoconservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute. That internship was to play an important role in his life, for it was at AEI that he forged alliances with some of the premier figures in American conservative foreign policy circles, such as the late Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick.

...But the biggest deal that NCL got--the contract that brought it into Afghanistan's major leagues--was Host Nation Trucking. Earlier this year the firm, with no apparent trucking experience, was named one of the six companies that would handle the bulk of US trucking in Afghanistan, bringing supplies to the web of bases and remote outposts scattered across the country.

At first the contract was large but not gargantuan. And then that suddenly changed, like an immense garden coming into bloom. Over the summer, citing the coming "surge" and a new doctrine, "Money as a Weapons System," the US military expanded the contract 600 percent for NCL and the five other companies. ... Put it in this perspective: this single two-year effort to hire Afghan trucks and truckers was worth 10 percent of the annual Afghan gross domestic product. NCL, the firm run by the defense minister's well-connected son, had struck pure contracting gold.

Host Nation Trucking does indeed keep the US military efforts alive in Afghanistan. "We supply everything the army needs to survive here," one American trucking executive told me.

...The real secret to trucking in Afghanistan is ensuring security on the perilous roads, controlled by warlords, tribal militias, insurgents and Taliban commanders. The American executive I talked to was fairly specific about it: "The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them. It is Department of Defense money." That is something everyone seems to agree on.

...Hanna explained that the prices charged are different, depending on the route: "We're basically being extorted. Where you don't pay, you're going to get attacked. We just have our field guys go down there, and they pay off who they need to." Sometimes, he says, the extortion fee is high, and sometimes it is low. "Moving ten trucks, it is probably $800 per truck to move through an area. It's based on the number of trucks and what you're carrying. If you have fuel trucks, they are going to charge you more. If you have dry trucks, they're not going to charge you as much. If you are carrying MRAPs or Humvees, they are going to charge you more."

Hanna says it is just a necessary evil. "If you tell me not to pay these insurgents in this area, the chances of my trucks getting attacked increase exponentially."

...One of the big problems for the companies that ship American military supplies across the country is that they are banned from arming themselves with any weapon heavier than a rifle. That makes them ineffective for battling Taliban attacks on a convoy. "They are shooting the drivers from 3,000 feet away with PKMs," a trucking company executive in Kabul told me. "They are using RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] that will blow up an up-armed vehicle. So the security companies are tied up. Because of the rules, security companies can only carry AK-47s, and that's just a joke. I carry an AK--and that's just to shoot myself if I have to!"

The rules are there for a good reason: to guard against devastating collateral damage by private security forces. Still, as Hanna of Afghan American Army Services points out, "An AK-47 versus a rocket-propelled grenade--you are going to lose!" That said, at least one of the Host Nation Trucking companies has tried to do battle instead of paying off insurgents and warlords. It is a US-owned firm called Four Horsemen International. Instead of providing payments, it has tried to fight off attackers. And it has paid the price in lives, with horrendous casualties. FHI, like many other firms, refused to talk publicly; but I've been told by insiders in the security industry that FHI's convoys are attacked on virtually every mission.

...Which leads us back to the case of Watan Risk, the firm run by Ahmad Rateb Popal and Rashid Popal, the Karzai family relatives and former drug dealers. Watan is known to control one key stretch of road that all the truckers use: the strategic route to Kandahar called Highway 1. Think of it as the road to the war--to the south and to the west. If the Army wants to get supplies down to Helmand, for example, the trucks must make their way through Kandahar.

Watan Risk, according to seven different security and trucking company officials, is the sole provider of security along this route. The reason is simple: Watan is allied with the local warlord who controls the road.

...It's hard to pinpoint what this is, exactly--security, extortion or a form of "insurance." Then there is the question, Does Ruhullah have ties to the Taliban? That's impossible to know. As an American private security veteran familiar with the route said, "He works both sides... whatever is most profitable. He's the main commander. He's got to be involved with the Taliban. How much, no one knows."

...It is certainly worth asking why NCL, a company with no known trucking experience, and little security experience to speak of, would win a contract worth $360 million. Plenty of Afghan insiders are asking questions. "Why would the US government give him a contract if he is the son of the minister of defense?" That's what Mahmoud Karzai asked me. He is the brother of President Karzai, and he himself has been treated in the press as a poster boy for access to government officials. The New York Times even profiled him in a highly critical piece. In his defense, Karzai emphasized that he, at least, has refrained from US government or Afghan government contracting. He pointed out, as others have, that Hamed Wardak had little security or trucking background before his company received security and trucking contracts from the Defense Department. "That's a questionable business practice," he said. "They shouldn't give it to him. How come that's not questioned?"

...The Afghan intelligence service even offered a solution: what if the United States were to take the tens of millions paid to security contractors and instead set up a dedicated and professional convoy support unit to guard its logistics lines? The suggestion went nowhere.

...In any case, the main issue is not that the US military is turning a blind eye to the problem. Many officials acknowledge what is going on while also expressing a deep disquiet about the situation. The trouble is that--as with so much in Afghanistan--the United States doesn't seem to know how to fix it.

Loreena McKennitt's "The Mummers' Dance"

I wondered, what is the real value of the 90's-nostalgia radio format adopted by Sacramento's KWOD 106.5 radio, considering that the 1990's wasn't that long ago, and nostalgia radio tends to reduce the usable past into a pureed paste - a simulacrum of the real thing?

Well, maybe songs like this. I had never even heard of Canadian singer Loreena McKennitt's 1997 hit "The Mummer's Dance" until I heard it on the radio the other night.

So, some utility there with the radio format (and beautiful pictures from the YouTube video), and some solace for everyone's inner Celt on a November day:
When in the springtime of the year
When the trees are crowned with leaves
When the ash and oak, and the birch and yew
Are dressed in ribbons fair

When owls call the breathless moon
In the blue veil of the night
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light

We've been rambling all the night
And some time of this day
Now returning back again
We bring a garland gay

Who will go down to those shady groves
And summon the shadows there
And tie a ribbon on those sheltering arms
In the springtime of the year

The songs of birds seem to fill the wood
That when the fiddler plays
All their voices can be heard
Long past their woodland days

And so they linked their hands and danced
Round in circles and in rows
And so the journey of the night descends
When all the shades are gone

"A garland gay we bring you here
And at your door we stand
It is a sprout well budded out
The work of our Lord's hand"

Nouriel Roubini States The Obvious

Things are continuing to deteriorate:
Think the worst is over? Wrong. Conditions in the U.S. labor markets are awful and worsening. While the official unemployment rate is already 10.2% and another 200,000 jobs were lost in October, when you include discouraged workers and partially employed workers the figure is a whopping 17.5%.

While losing 200,000 jobs per month is better than the 700,000 jobs lost in January, current job losses still average more than the per month rate of 150,000 during the last recession.

Also, remember: The last recession ended in November 2001, but job losses continued for more than a year and half until June of 2003; ditto for the 1990-91 recession.

So we can expect that job losses will continue until the end of 2010 at the earliest. In other words, if you are unemployed and looking for work and just waiting for the economy to turn the corner, you had better hunker down. All the economic numbers suggest this will take a while. The jobs just are not coming back.

...This is very bad news but we must face facts. Many of the lost jobs are gone forever, including construction jobs, finance jobs and manufacturing jobs. Recent studies suggest that a quarter of U.S. jobs are fully out-sourceable over time to other countries.

Other measures tell the same ugly story: The average length of unemployment is at an all time high; the ratio of job applicants to vacancies is 6 to 1; initial claims are down but continued claims are very high and now millions of unemployed are resorting to the exceptional extended unemployment benefits programs and are staying in them longer.

Based on my best judgment, it is most likely that the unemployment rate will peak close to 11% and will remain at a very high level for two years or more.

The weakness in labor markets and the sharp fall in labor income ensure a weak recovery of private consumption and an anemic recovery of the economy, and increases the risk of a double dip recession.

The Perils Of Being DMTC Treasurer

A DMTC regular secured a donation check to DMTC for $750.00.

I was happy.

Then, I promptly lost the check. I was frantic. I spent the last two days looking for it - looking, and looking again, and relooking everywhere for it - even making a special trip to Davis just in order to look there, but doing nothing useful but examine dust bunnies under the copy machine.

I finally found the check late last night.

Preparing to file away papers, I had scooped out a small stack of Karaoke Party fliers from my briefcase, and had inadvertently scooped up the check too. The fliers were the right size to perfectly conceal the check. I had gone through the small stack of fliers several times before, but it wasn’t until I went through the fliers individually that I finally found the check.

Since I haven't deposited the check yet, I still have ample opportunities to lose it again.

Now, where's that briefcase?

NFL Fans Celebrate 41st Anniversary Of "Heidi"

Oh! The Daily Rotten reminds me it's the 41st anniversary of this classic NFL moment:
NBC preempts the final 1:05 from a very close Jets-Raiders NFL football game with "Heidi". Two touchdowns were scored during this missing time. Sports fans everywhere applaud and understand the network's decision.

Sunday Talk-Show Rant

Driftglass is on target (the original link is better than this excerpt):
If your idea of eternal damnation is watching the watching the same, lame junior varsity debating team banging the same, stupid arguments together forever...then welcome to Hell.

The usually non-vomit-inducing “Face the Nation” was the worst of the lot yesterday, with Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich) building his Party's rhetorical fortress on the following foundation:
"We're going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11. We're now going to rip that wound wide open, and it's going to stay open for, what - two, three, four years, as we go through the circus of a trial in New York City?"
Hoekstra's concern-troll distress over "going to go back into New York City, the scene of the tragedy on 9/11" would seem a lot less, oh, liar-ish had the political party to which he proudly belongs not spent virtually every f****** day of the last eight years making an entire multi-level marketing industry out of ruthlessly mining the "wound" of 9/11; using every propaganda tool in Karl Rove's toolbox to flay and scald and salt the "wound" from the worst national security failure in America history into a bottomless cornucopia of politically exploitable rage and fear.

...David F****** Brooks on Sarah Palin:
"The idea that this potential talk show host is considered seriously for the Republican nomination, believe me, it will never happen. Republican primary voters are not going to elect a talk show host."
Corn: She’s a joke…and she may destroy the Republican Party. There is this huge gap between the GOP base -- who love of the Wasilla Grifter -- and not-crazy-Americans, who want her off the f****** stage already.

Will: If conservatives of a sort are looking for a populist they have Mike Huckabee.

...OK, quick history lesson.

Nixon was a monster.

Republicans elected him twice.

Reagan was a radical who was good on camera. He and his people set off bombs inside the American economy that have been blowing the pylons out from under our country for a generation. He traded weapons to terrorists. Outsourced the conduct of a blatantly illegal, secret war to a traitor/convicted felon/FoxNews regular named Ollie North.

Republicans elected him twice.

George W. Bush was vicious, dimwitted moral imbecile whose contempt for the Constitution made Nixon look like Thurgood Marshall, and who destroyed everything he touched and visited more long-term catastrophe on this country during any one year of his reign than Reagan managed in eight.

Republicans elected him twice.

All of this was made possible because the GOP has spent the last 40 years aggressively recruiting people who think these (photo of Arkansas school segregation standoff) were the good old days.

Angry, fearful bigots who have been feeding off of the rancid Confederate leftovers of white entitlement, victimhood and Bible-sanctioned hatred of "big gummint" ever since Lincoln took their slaves away.

The Pig People have been the margin of Republican victory since 1968. They have been growing stronger and more vocal every year; seizing more power every year; destroying the Party of Lincoln a little more every year; driving more non-crazy Conservatives screaming into the streets every year.

Now the Pig People have their own anti-Christian religion, and Sarah Palin is their Madonna.

They have their own anti-factual "News", and Sarah Palin is their Talk-Show-Host-in-Chief.

They have their own anti-literate publishing houses, and Sarah Palin is their own, private Bestselling Author.

They have their own anti-intellectual ideology, and Sarah Palin is their Philosopher Queen.

And they have their own anti-American political Party, and Sarah Palin is its heir presumptive.

As David F****** Brooks f****** well knows, is was his party and his movement who -- despite ample warning that what they were doing would lead to disaster -- spent the last 40 years methodically weaponizing the hatred and fear of the Pig People.

So now that it has all gone to s***, pardon me for laughing as Bobo continues to frantically pretend that the Mutant Atomic Monsters his Party's despicable Southern Strategy unleashed and that are stomping the Party of Lincoln to rubble right before his eyes are really just a joke.

I Need 500 Beautiful Italian Girls, Stat!

A fun evening with Colonel Gaddafi:
He has a habit of making bizarre requests when travelling abroad - usually for a Bedouin tent to be pitched outside the building where he is staying.

This time an aide contacted Hostessweb to ask for 500 'beautiful Italian girls' to be supplied for a gala evening.

They should be at least 5ft 7in, aged between 18 and 35, and should not wear mini skirts or plunging necklines, although 'high heels were OK'.

They were told to meet at a hotel in the centre of Rome before being taken to the Libyan Ambassador's residence.

Several were turned away after being told they were inappropriately dressed or they were too short.

Once inside - and after an hour's delay - Gaddafi arrived in a stretch white limousine to lecture them on the superiority of Islam. While opinions were mixed on the religious instruction, most girls agreed that the catering was rubbish.

One said: 'I thought we were going to a party - we didn't even get a glass of water or some salty snacks.'

Another, an engineering graduate, said: 'It was all very polite but I expected at least a little bite to eat.'

Mr Londero insisted he was not running an escort agency.

He was unwilling to discuss how much he had charged to supply 500 girls, or what they were paid, although he admitted he had received a bonus for arranging the event at only two hours' notice.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Interesting Correlation Regarding The Uninsured

My thought is that street crime and resulting more-severe trauma correlates well with low income which also correlates well with lack of health insurance. But it's an interesting observation nonetheless:
Patients who lack health insurance are more likely to die from car accidents and other traumatic injuries than people who belong to a health plan -- even though emergency rooms are required to care for all comers regardless of ability to pay, according to a study to be published Tuesday.

An analysis of 687,091 patients who visited trauma centers nationwide between 2002 and 2006 found that the odds of dying following an accidental injury were almost twice as high for the uninsured than for patients with private insurance, researchers reported in Archives of Surgery.

Trauma physicians said they were surprised by the findings, even though a slew of studies had previously documented the ill effects of going without health coverage. Uninsured patients are less likely to be screened for certain cancers or to be admitted to specialty hospitals for procedures such as heart bypass surgery, for example. Overall, about 18,000 deaths each year have been traced to a lack of health insurance.

...The risk of death was 56% higher for patients covered by Medicare, perhaps because the government health plan includes many people with long-term disabilities, said Dr. Heather Rosen, who led the study while she was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.

However, the risk of death was 80% higher for patients without any insurance, according to the report.

...Rosen, now a surgical resident at USC's Keck School of Medicine, said the group expected to find at least some disparity based on insurance status. But she said the group was surprised at the magnitude of the gap.

...The researchers offered several possible explanations for the findings. Despite the federal law, uninsured patients often wait longer to see doctors in emergency rooms and sometimes visit ERs at several hospitals before finding one that will treat them. Other studies show that, once they're admitted, uninsured patients receive fewer services, such as CT and MRI scans, and are less likely to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility.

Patients without insurance may have higher rates of untreated underlying conditions that make it harder to recover from trauma injuries, the researchers said. They also may be more passive with doctors and nurses since they don't interact with them as often. All of these factors could influence whether a trauma patient is able to recover from his or her injuries.

But the link could also be coincidental, the authors acknowledged. Perhaps the hospitals that have fewer resources at their disposal also happen to see the most uninsured patients, they said.

The types of injuries may differ too, Zwemer said. Gunshot and stabbing victims were much more likely to die from their wounds than other trauma patients tracked in the study. These people are generally uninsured, but the type of injury -- not insurance status -- is the reason for their higher fatality rates, he said.

Respected Economist Wanted For Impartial Study

Only respected economists with sterling reputations need apply:
The US Chamber of Commerce, one of the leading opponents of both health care reform and climate change legislation, is soliciting for donations to hire a "respected economist" to study how health care legislation will affect jobs and the economy -- but the chamber apparently already knows what the results will be.

An email sent from the chamber to supporters last week, and obtained by the Washington Post, states that the group -- which bills itself as the US's largest business advocacy organization -- needs $50,000 to hire an economist to study the impact of the proposed health care reform legislation on jobs and the economy as a whole.

Then, the email states, "the economist will ... circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document."

Early Warning System

Egads, sensitive!:
The birds were among hundreds lined up in their cages ready to be judged Gwynedd Budgerigar Society Open Show in North Wales when disaster struck.

One toppled off his perch then others began "dropping like dominoes", according to the organisers.

Owners fearing a gas leak – canaries have highly sensitive respiratory systems and were once used down mines to detect leaks – grabbed their cages and ran for the door.

Some of the birds, which are worth around £1,000 each – were revived outside but in total 38 died.

..."We saved the majority but what happened was utterly horrible. It was a freak event. We may never know the exact cause."

Retired pet shop boss Dave Cottrell, 55, lost ten birds at the event, at the end of last month.

"They were dying by the second," he said. "The odd thing is, I have asthma but I was unaware of anything."

Plumbers and gas board officials who were called in found no trace of a leak, and inspections by the fire brigade and environmental health officers also proved inconclusive.

An autopsy on two casualties revealed they died from congestion and haemorrhaging of the lungs.

The organisers believe a boiler flue may have become temporarily blocked by leaves, causing it to emit noxious fumes.

Europeans Out! No More Illegal Immigration!

Prisoners Of Love

Dance auditions Sunday night for DMTC's New Year's Eve (and January) show, "The Producers" (Director, Steve Isaacson; Choreographer, Ron Cisneros).

Gutter Management

Jeebus, I never got around to mowing the lawn, and swept up only a portion of the leaves. Instead, I spent most of the time scooping out all kinds of organic debris from the house facade's gutters, and wondered how an entire ecosystem had managed to spring up there without human intervention.

Ignorance Is Bliss

I returned to Pam's Sunday ballet class for the first time in nearly two months.

Just before class, I explained to the other dancers about my left foot and its troubles. Jennifer asked if I had seen a doctor. "No," I said, "I was afraid he'd tell me things I didn't want to hear."

Katrina thought this was highly-amusing. In addition to being a talented and accomplished ballerina, she is also a doctor. "Ignorance is bliss," she proclaimed. "Sometimes it's better not to know!"

And sometimes it is!