Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

One More Day

No, this has nothing to do with the recent Spider-Man storyline, it's just the number of days left in 2007. We made it back to Chicago without any further weather problems. It was clear until we made it into Chicago. The snow started and is continuing, but we're inside now, so it doesn't much matter.

As we were making our way back, though, I did get to wondering why exactly we've placed the beginning of the year in the middle of winter. It makes no sense. We could've started on the spring equinox, which would've been a real time of rebirth. We could've done it on the winter solstice, which would at least be when the days stop getting shorter and start getting longer again. But instead, we go for about a week and a half after the solstice. I don't have a lot of time to search around (there's partying to do, after all), but Wikipedia isn't particularly helpful. It tells us that the ancient Romans started their new year in January, but it makes no explanation as to why. Apparently January fell out of favor for a time, and Britain and its colonies didn't establish January as the beginning of the year until 1752. That's just over 250 years of a January new year. It all seems so arbitrary. Maybe I'll have a chance to find out a better reason later. In the meantime, I hope everybody out there has a great 2008.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Temporary Setbacks

We were planning to take our time in returning to Chicago, but this is ridiculous. We were heading back this evening (after a stop at Swiss Chalet for some fabulous chicken), but it started to snow. Before we crossed the border, we saw several police cars at the scenes of accidents--cars that slid around on the highway, that went into the ditch, etc. I thought that it might be a lake-effect snow that might dissipate as we went inland. It seemed like that might indeed be happening, but then the snow kept on coming. It wasn't really a whole lot--maybe it'll amount to two inches at most--but there was no snow clearance going on on the Interstate, and our speed was reduced somewhat, so we figured that we'd pull over in Flint, Michigan. Michael Moore (does he still live here?) has chronicled the decline of the city, and I don't know if it's still got a hotel district, but.if it does, we couldn't find it. The best we could do is a two-bit motel (for which we're paying more than two bits)where we can't turn down the heat, so we're running the air conditioner at full blast. Thus, the fairly insubstantial post. We hope to get a fairly early start tomorrow, so with luck, there'll be plenty of time for blogging tomorrow.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Some Suggested Reading

Just some light blogging tonight as Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I make our way back home from the Great White Wilderness to the north. One of my 9th-grade teachers (I think she was a civics teacher, but I don't remember clearly) marveled when I told her I was from Canada. "It must be very primitive up there," she said. "No," I replied, "it's very modern. They have running water and TV and everything." Never mind that the Greater Toronto Area, where we've been over the past few days, has a population of 5 million.

Avedon Carol at Eschaton pointed me to Corrente, which has a couple of intriguing posts today. Lambert writes an insightful (though long) post about the current friction between Obama and Paul Krugman (which was a topic of conversation at lunch today). You should read the whole thing (it's worth the time it'll take), but here's my favorite part:

Obama wants to "reach out," but that strategy has already been tried. Obama says he wants to "reach out" to Republicans. But Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans, and that strategy was a miserable failure.

Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans by taking impeachment off the table.

Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans by not using the power of the purse either to end the war or to curb executive power.

Read and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans through FISA "reform" by trying to give Bush more power than even the Republicans tried to give him, when they were in the majority.

In fact, Reid and Pelosi "reached out" to Republicans by caving and capitulating to them on just about any issue you can name.

And what did we get? We got nothing.

In another post, Shane-O asks some trenchant questions about the pocket veto we discussed last night. Apparently the Prez may be trying to veto the bill in the traditional manner (which would be subject to a vote to override) and use the pocket veto (which is immune from such a vote). Could it have anything to do with veto-proof majorities of 370-49 in the House and 90-3 in the Senate? Hmmmm.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Constitution? What Constitution?

I'd intended to write more about the Bhutto assassination tonight, although I barely expected to touch on the how it will likely affect the Iowa caucuses--plenty of other commentators seem to have that covered (from what I can tell, their consensus is that it will help Hillary, McCain, and Giuliani, unless it doesn't). But I came across this little tidbit on Daily Kos and found it fascinating. Just in case you don't click through, essentially it says that the Prez has announced that he's going to veto the "National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008."

John Aravosis at AMERICAblog points out that White House opposition only arose after the bill cleared Congress, but what I find fascinating is the potential confrontation the Prez is setting up. According to the White House statement, he's not actually vetoing it, he's using the "pocket veto," something that is available to the executive if Congress passes a bill and then goes out of session. Since there's no active Congress to which the bill can be vetoed and returned, the bill gets killed simply by the executive doing nothing (I'm using executive rather than president because many governors have this power, as well). That's all well and good, except for the fact that the Senate has not gone out of session. In order to keep the Prez from making recess appointments of nominees for judgeships or other offices who couldn't achieve Senate approval, Harry Reid has kept the Senate open in pro forma sessions (here's the definition of pro forma session from the Senate Website; just for good measure, here's the definition of pocket veto, too). If the Senate's open, Bush's pocket veto is impotent. So will the bill become law? Who's going to make sure it does? Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi? While they've been ready to talk a good game against the Prez, I'm not sure they're ready to push back in this kind of manner. (And I'm not exactly sure what kind of power they have to push back. If you get this kind of impasse, who decides whether something is a law or not? Do the requisite enforcement agencies just start to enforce it or not?) Even though the Bush administration is pushing back against the Senate, don't expect anyone to start making recess appointments. The Prez's MO seems to be to establish the precedent this time, and when no one in the Senate says anything, he'll wait until the next recess that's thwarted by pro forma sessions to act on it. If this becomes an actual issue, I'll be very pleasantly surprised, but I'm not counting on it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto Assassination

I know people don't come to this blog for breaking news, but sometimes, what can you do? The assassination of Pakistan's Benazir Bhutto is the only thing to see on the news this morning. Bhutto had returned from exile a couple of months ago to help bring Pakistan back to being a working democracy. She knew the danger of the situation she was getting into, and in fact, she was greeted with an assassination attempt upon her return. I won't get into all the details of the political turmoil in Pakistan (because, truthfully, I don't follow them terribly closely, but here's a Reuter's timeline if you want to; Reuters also offers a Bhutto obituary and bio), but it's enough to know that the world is just that little bit more unstable this morning. Merry Christmas!

For the really important stuff, you can click here for the most popular article on Reuters when I was harvesting those links: "Paris loses out: Hilton fortune pledged to charity." Poor Paris--doesn't anything go her way?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Even on vacation I have no time to write to this blog. My Boxing Day post is right up against midnight for Boxing Day, so probably the majority of people reading it will read it after Boxing Day itself.

I'm afraid I know of no comic book covers that would represent Boxing Day. The Beano or Viz probably have something if I had access to look at them, but you can pretty much bet that there's nothing in American comics. It's not entirely clear how the holiday came about. As it's on the day after Christmas, there's little question that it's related to that larger holiday, but precisely how it's related has not (to my knowledge) been pinned down. Even the all-knowing Wikipedia can't come up with a definitive answer and offers instead a handful of possibilities. What I pretty much do know about Boxing Day is that in most of Canada, it's roughly equivalent to the day after Thanksgiving in the United States. We're in suburban Toronto at the moment, and the papers today were chock full of ads for all the great sales available. There are the same kind of doorbuster items that you can find south of the border. I guess the idea is that now that Christmas is over, you can go out and buy what you really wanted but didn't get the day before.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Putting U.S. Surveillance Tech to Good Use

I was intending to write some sort of substantial post this evening, but then it hit me that it's Christmas Eve, and who wants to read about serious stuff? I also need to post this quickly, get off the Internet, and go to bed before Santa arrives. He's never been shy about his surveillance of us when we're sleeping, being good or bad, etc. And if the U.S. government is reasonably open about spying on us, you've got to believe that Santa's got way better surveillance tech than they have. That's why I always appreciate the NORAD Santa Tracker, through which the governments of the United States and Canada help put us on an equal footing, at least for a few hours. I'm not actually sure what you'll see at that link if you click on it after Christmas Eve (which, in truth, won't last much longer). We can keep track of how Santa's coming along and be sure to be off to bed before he's close to us.

Happy Christmas (war's not over) to everybody, and I hope Santa will be good to you whether you see him coming or not.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nothing But Too Much Complaining, Actually

Well, now that it's only two days before Christmas, we've hesitantly started moving toward the Christmas spirit here at Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk headquarters. We would've started yesterday, but a little fender-bender on the freeway yesterday quashed that pretty quickly. Don't worry, everybody seems to be fine, but we've got to deal with getting the car to a body shop and renting a replacement during the holidays. Mrs. Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk and I tried to go out this morning to one of the few rental agencies open on a Sunday, and they were packed. The attendant told us that they'd been sold out for three weeks. So it appears that I should've made a reservation three weeks ago just in case I got into a traffic accident. We repaired back to the house and made an actual reservation for the first thing tomorrow morning, so we should be covered (but there'll be no sleeping late on vacation time).

The day job was far more hectic coming into the holidays than I remember it being in the past, so there was no time for concentrating on anything outside work. I'm finally catching up with last Sunday's e-mail. At the rate I'm going, I'll be perpetually one week behind.

Thus we move from one hectic focus to a wholly different hectic focus. There seems to be no escaping the hectic these days. It's a whole other post to start speculating why life is so hectic. Does anybody else remember how as a little kid they couldn't wait to grow up so they'd finally have some modicum of control over they're lives rather than being ruled by their parents. Looking at it from the other side, although I have much more responsibility these days, I don't feel like I have any more control. And at least (most) parents are (for the most part) benevolent. I don't know that I want to go back to being a kid, but if I did, I certainly know not to envy adults quite so much.

Because I feel like I'm doing nothing but complain, here's a bit of fun from boingboing.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Tale of Two Continents

The European Union established a border-free zone some years ago. Participants in the Schengen Agreement have done away with border and passport checks when moving from one to another. I was surprised at this a few years ago when traveling to Greece. I flew overseas to Milan and passed through Italian border control at the airport. It wasn't a big deal--my passport was stamped and I was sent on my to way catch my flight for the rest of the trip to Athens. Once I landed there, I fully expected to go through the same process again, and I actually spent three of four minutes looking for someone to stamp my passport and officially allow me into the country. It quickly became apparent that there would be no such process, and I was soon heading out of the airport and into the rest of the country to travel wherever I wanted to go.

This week, participation in the Schengen Agreement grew from 15 nations to 24, as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and other Eastern European countries joined the party. If you land in Milan, as I did, you can travel to Athens, Paris, Warsaw, Copenhagen, Madrid, Budapest, Stockholm, Berlin, Lisbon, Oslo, Prague, Amsterdam, Vienna, Brussels, Reykjavik, and any number of other places without going through a border check once. Information and trade are moving around more, and so are people.

Contrast that to the new passport restrictions that the United States is implementing. The U.S. border with Canada, long celebrated as the longest undefended border in the world, has been getting tighter. Toward the beginning of this year, anyone entering this country by plane from Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean needed a passport. They wanted to expand that in January of next year (a month from now) to anyone entering by car or ship, as well, but with all the local traffic coming back and forth across the borders, it was too much to do too quickly. So next months, U.S. customs will tighten up the restrictions to allow for some sort of government photo ID and proof of citizenship. An actual passport won't be necessary until the summer (on an as-yet-undecided date).

I don't want to put too much on all this, but I can't escape the symbolism that as the United States is becoming more and more removed from the rest of the world community, it's playing out its isolation in its border and customs policies. With the dollar falling, the war in Iraq having lost what little favor it ever might have had in the first place, and U.S. recalcitrance in the face of international efforts to address climate change, the last thing we need to do is make informal interaction even more difficult.

We're Entering a News-Free Zone

Well, we've made it to the weekend before Christmas. I'm not sure whether there's an actual law to this effect or whether this is just the way things go, but unless there's some sort of emergency like an unexpected tsunami or something, hard news has pretty much ended for the year. We've moved on to the fluff that no one remembers and no one cares about. Does that mean that nothing important will happen in the world? No, of course not. Lots of important things will happen, the people of the United States just won't pay attention to them. This could result in odd things this year since we're less than two weeks away from the Iowa Caucuses and we're just about two and a half weeks before the New Hampshire primary. The caucuses are being held on January 3. Simple math tells us that's only two days after New Year's Day, and probably before anyone starts paying attention to current events again. January 8, the date of the first in the nation New Hampshire primary, is a bit farther out, so some people may have started paying attention over the first weekend of the new year, but many people still will be regaining their sea legs when it comes to news. Does that mean that the caucuses (and the primary to a lesser extent) will just reflect what's going on now? Are the candidates locked in to their current positions? Unfortunately, it's hard to say what their "current position" is, because that can change from poll to poll and depending on the time of day, whether the sun is shining or not, and how the wind's blowing in Iraq. But regardless of precisely where the various candidates stand, it will be very difficult for campaigning to have much influence in changing that position. We'll get lots of spin from the campaigns (such as this, trying to set up Joe Biden's Mo-Joe as 2008's answer to Joementum). But we're really in uncharted territory here. These elections have never been this close to the holidays, so there's no telling how much effect they'll have. The last time around, the Iowa Caucuses were held on January 19, and the New Hampshire primary was held on January 28. That's enough time for life to get back to normal and people to start focusing in. This year, we might as well start the polling on Boxing Day for the amount that people will be paying attention. Maybe the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire will take their duties more seriously and keep their focus during the holidays, but like New Year's resolutions, people intend to do much more than they actually pull off.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's a New Congressional Record!

Congratulations are in order. The Senate Republicans have set a new record for mucking around and making sure noting gets done. According to The Campaign for America's Future, Senate Republicans have successfully blocked legislation by threatening to filibuster 62 times. The previous record (at least as far as can be determined using online sources, which only go back 35 years) is 61 set by Democrats in 2001-2002. The Republican accomplishment is even more amazing when we realize that the 110th Congress is not even halfway through--we've still got another whole year before the elections will bring a new Congress to Washington.

This is an amazing situation all the way around. It seems like only yesterday that the majority Republicans were decrying the minority Democrats for using filibusters to block the Prez's right-wing judicial appointments. Majority Leader Bill Frist called the filibuster a "formula for tyranny by the minority." Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said, "'Advise and consent' does not say, 'A supermajority is required.'" The Republicans must be thrilled that they never pursued the "nuclear option," which would have greatly curtailed--if not banned outright--the use of the filibuster. Although I've got no great desire to see the Republicans back in charge, it would be interesting if they were to see just how quickly it took them to turn against the filibuster again as an anti-Constitutional tool of Satan. Do they even bother to pretend they don't have a double standard these days?

UPDATE--Oh, man. I've joked about sleep-blogging before, but this is by far my worst example of it. For those of you coming in late, this post started its life without a title and with a final sentence fragment just kind of drifting off into nothing. I've made the bed and turned the lights back on, so it's a bit more presentable. My apologies to everybody who stopped by before we were open for business.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Some Video Picks

It comes as no surprise, I'm sure, that I'm hardly a Mike Huckabee booster. I'm intrigued about how the Republicans will deal with him if he keeps rising, but I've got a feeling that we'll never actually get to that point (although, as we've seen, the Republicans can be crafty in their attacks, so even though we might indeed witness such a reaction, it's possible that we wouldn't quite recognize it as such). But even though I'm nowhere near the Huckabee camp, it still seemed like The New York Times was serving up a cheap shot at him this morning. In a profile examining his new status as frontrunner, Mark Leibovich described Huckabee's "round brown eyes and smiley bearing [that] make him slightly resemble the actor Jim Nabors." That's right, out of nowhere, the Times said Huckabee reminds them of Gomer Pyle. That just seems unnecessary.

You may have heard some hubbub about Huckabee's new Christmas ad that says nothing about politics and everything about Christmas being Jesus' birthday. He's got an ersatz cross in the background (which just annoys me--if you're going to blur the lines between church and state, at least have the decency to be up front about it; don't put a cross in your commercial and then claim it's really just a book case, so what's everybody making such a big deal for?), and he insists that all he really wants to do is wish everybody a merry Christmas. Of course, the ad is paid for by his presidential campaign, making it the very definition of a political ad, but never mind that. I was looking at the ad after I read the Times piece, and darn it if it wasn't right. There is something in his manner that evokes Jim Nabors. Can it really be a cheap shot if it's true?

You can see the ad in a number of places, but one of them is at Time's Swampland. In the same link, you can see Rudy Giuliani's Christmas ads, one for broadcast and one for the Web. They're very odd pieces of work. In the broadcast one, Rudy's sitting there in a red sweater next to Santa Claus, listing his Christmas hopes. They're pretty normal "peace on Earth" kinds of things, but one item on his list is harmony among the Republican presidential candidates. Up to now, Santa's been nothing more than window dressing, but at this point he jumps in. For reasons known only to himself (and the Giuliani campaign, I guess), Santa's against harmony among the candidates. No, he actively wants discord. Presidential primary fights! That's apparently what says Christmas to Santa Claus.

Since we're already on the subject of video clips, Stevie T recommends this one. Don't be fooled. It looks like a straight-up version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," but if you were following the discussion around this post, you'll find something worth your while.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


How long is it worth it to support a Democratic party that has a majority in both houses of Congress and yet insists on rolling over for the minority and their extremely unpopular leader. We've had another cave to add to our list of ignominy. And no, I'm not talking about Harry Reid and his performance yesterday in dealing with the FISA and telecoms bill. It's tradition in the Senate to honor the holds of its members, by which a senator can essentially take a piece of legislation and make it off limits from consideration by the larger body. Republican Lindsay Graham of South Carolina currently has a hold on a bill that would limit CIA torture. Do a Google search for "Tom Coburn" and hold for an idea of how much Republican Corbin from Oklahoma uses this perogative to stop legislation he doesn't like. He even has a page on his Senate Website explaining how holds work. But when Chris Dodd, Democratic stalwart puts a hold on immunity for telecoms, all of a sudden holds are advisory, subject to the whims of the majority leader. (By the way, Reid is claiming that Dodd's actions had nothing whatsoever to do with his own decision to pull the bill until next year. I'm sure it was his plan all along to push the bill hard and than give up on it. Actually, given the way he's been running the Senate lately, maybe it was.)

No, although it might've been on point, this post wasn't inspired by any of that. Instead, it was brought to mind by the Democratic Senate's complete surrender of the elaborate plan they'd made to keep from giving the Prez an unconditional funding bill for the Iraq war. After about a month of sticking to their guns to force Bush to accept some sort of troop pullout for the money, last night they said, "Sure, no problem." As part of a massive spending bill, the Senate gave the Prez exactly what he insisted he needed: unfettered money.

Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted. But for Majority Leader next time, do you think we can find a candidate who won't make empty promises while lining up to fulfill all the president's requests? Maybe not, but let's try, OK?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Dodd Filibuster?

Something happened in the Senate on Monday, but I'm not entirely sure I can explain what it was. We were supposed to have seen a courageous filibuster by Chris Dodd against a provision in the FISA bill to grant telecoms immunity for whatever spying, eavesdropping, and surveillance they committed against their customers. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was putting forward a version of the bill that included retroactive immunity for the telecoms, which would mean that not only would they be forever protected from prosecution, but they'd be forever protected from investigation. We'd never get to find out what they actually did, whether we agreed ahead of time not to punish them or not. Russ Feingold had a good summary of the issue, including some discussion of how Reid had the opportunity to present a bill stripped of the immunity provisions early Monday morning at TPMCafe.

Dodd and Feingold both gave impassioned speeches this morning, but I continued to wait for Dodd to start filibustering. There were reports that he was negotiating with Reid for some sort of compromise, but details were hard to glean. Finally, it was announced that Reid was pulling the bill from Senate consideration. He's threatening to bring it back in January, but for now there's no telecom immunity bill.

For further reading, check out Barack Obama's Glenn Greenwald's post about the filibuster. Also, wade through the posts on December 17 at firedoglake, which has been heavily invested in the process. (Specific subjects are harder to find there now that the posts have lost their tags.) For now, just be glad that we got to this point. We've still got to fight the no-immunity FISA bill next month, but we should be appreciative of any small victories in this process. In the meantime, before this post gets any more unfocused, I'm going to bed.

UPDATE--I have no idea why I typed Barack Obama when I clearly meant Glenn Greenwald. I've never confused them for each other before--they look nothing alike. Note to Doug: Stop posting in your sleep!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Just a Couple of Things

I need more time. No, that's hardly a new realization. I've been well aware of this for a while, now. I have a combination of too much that I want to do and too much that I have to do. Unfortunately, there's not as large of an overlap between those two things as I'd prefer. I'm already giving up sleep to try to fit everything in. And, oddly, that provides a lead-in to what I was going to mention today. I heard NPR's science personality, Ira Flatow, on Bob Edwards Weekend last week. That's a show that's broadcast on NPR but produced by PRI and features a host that was fired by NPR a few years back. I need more time because I heard this last Sunday but I'm only getting around to writing about it now. For now, you can get a podcast of that hour, but I don't know if they might replace it soon with a segment of today's show. Anyway, Flatow had a couple of interesting points, including the fact that we need six hours of sleep to be able to retain whatever we learn in a day. If that's true, it's very sad for me. I must be years behind in my learning by now. Six hours of sleep has become a luxury for me, but I'm sure that it means that I'm operating well under my peak capabilities when I'm awake. And now I discover that I can't learn anything new, either. You may be able to find out more about that here, which appears to be the segment of Flatow's own show that covered the subject back in 2000. I haven't had time to download and listen to the segment yet myself. Another interesting tidbit Flatow offered up is the fact that noted anthropologist and primate researcher Jane Goodall believes in bigfoot. I don't know that I particularly have anything to say about that, but I find it fascinating. There may be nothing to various bigfoot or sasquatch sightings--or any other cryptozoological creatures--but I find the openness that Goodall's attitude demonstrates to be quite hopeful, and it fills me with optimism.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Froomkin Watch

One of the largest concerns I have about a new president is just how much he or she is prepared to roll back the expansion of executive power, mostly at the expense of Congress. We certainly should go back to following the Constitution, but I'm afraid the question won't be as black and white as that. Whether we get a Democrat or Republican in the White House, I have a hard time imagining the new president suggesting, "You know, I'm too powerful. Maybe I should hand some of these powers back to Congress." Once you've got something, it's hard to let it go.

Unfortunately, this has so far seemed like a pretty dead issue in the campaign. That's not really a surprise, of course. To explore how the candidates would address the Bush administration power grab, the press would first have to acknowledge that there's been a Bush administration power grab. So don't expect that to become a sudden focus. But there may be a way of getting at the issue without explicitly pointing out how the current administration has mugged the Constitution. The Prez himself has somehow remained a nonissue in this campaign, as well. After all, why ask a candidate intending to replace Bush what he or she thinks of Bush? What does that have to do with anything?

Over at Nieman Watchdog, Dan Froomkin has a handful of questions an enterprising reporter could ask of any of the candidates. He's focusing on the Republicans, who are studiously avoiding even mention of the Bush name while they're apparently trying to run on his legacy, but the questions cold work just as well for the Democrats. Whatever the candidates say in response would be quite revealing.

Q. Do you approve of disapprove of the job President Bush is doing?

Q. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate Bush as president?

Q. What would you consider some of Bush’s greatest successes?

Q. What would you consider some of Bush’s greatest failures?

. . .

Q. If you had to give President Bush a grade for how he managed the war in Iraq, would it be an A, B, C, D or F?

Q. What decisions if any would you have made differently if you had been in charge these past seven years?

. . .

Q. Would you continue President Bush's practice of using signing statements to quietly assert his right to ignore legislation passed by Congress?

Q. President Bush's lawyers have asserted that there are few Constitutional checks on a wartime president. Do you agree? And would you consider yourself a wartime president?

While we're on the subject of Froomkin, we should never forget that he has an online column at The Washington Post. Because he often links to the subjects he's writing about, Froomkin almost functions as a blogger. He rarely shies away from controversy, as the titles to his last two columns attest:

Bush Demands Freedom to Torture

Congress Goes Belly Up

If Dan Froomkin in The Washington Post isn't part of your daily routine of what's going on in the world, he should be.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

More on the Writers' Strike

I'm absolutely exhausted. I've been pushing too hard for too long, and right now I feel like I've got nothing to pass on. I could maybe do some research at various sites about whatever happened today in regard to the pressing issues of our time, but I don't have the energy or stamina. How lame is that, to claim that I don't have the stamina to surf the Web? So instead of a fabulous linkfest, I'll simply pass on some secondhand wisdom I heard this evening. We had dinner with a longtime TV writer, and although the subject of the writers' strike didn't overwhelm our conversation, we certainly touched on it. Our friend has been through the process of writers' strikes before, but this time around he notices one main difference: All the old studio guys are gone. In the past, he argues, the studios always had at least one person on their side who had enough stature (he identified it as Lew Wasserman) that at one point he could cut through the red tape and get to the heart of the issue. He'd identify some sort of compromise in which everybody got something they wanted, and both sides would agree and get back to work. This wise old man (for lack of a better name) realized that writers were a valuable part of the process of making films and TV. Now, however, all those guys are gone on the producers' side, and the writers have never had anyone with the stature to pull this off. The producers are focused even more on the bottom line than they once were. Although that was certainly always part of the equation, many on the producers' side also had a pride in the final product. They knew that art, either intentionally or unintentionally, was part of the process. Now, however, the bottom line is far more important. Fewer on the producers' side have a stake in the community of Hollywood. They can just look at the economic issues, and on those the producers are in a much stronger position than are the writers. Although he hoped that agreement on some of the issues could have been reached, at this point, our writer friend is not expecting a short strike.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mitchell, Steroids, and Baseball

So have the Claude Raines impressions started yet? Is anybody out there shocked that baseball players have been using steroids and other substances? There's been enough of a shadow hanging around baseball for years by this point that it's pretty much a given that some number of players are doing something they shouldn't be. And, just as much, there's more than plenty of evidence that Major League Baseball has been turning a blind eye to it. Steroids can enhance athletes' physical powers and performance. It can make a more exciting game. While there can certainly be a downside, Major League Baseball has benefited from a stronger platoon of players. But now that names have been named, watch for a mass of surprised baseball officials. Who could have guessed? How could this have happened under their very noses? What could possibly have been suspicious about a 45-year-old pitcher remaining maybe not at his peak but certainly head and shoulders above most other Major League pitchers of any age, and way beyond any other 45-year-old man? Why should they think he's anything more than an outstanding competitor? And who could have possibly suspected a succession of home-run sluggers just weren't really good hitters? Never mind that the record for home runs hadn't been approached for more than 30 years and is now regularly bettered?

I haven't had time to comb through the full report (PDF), but there's nothing much surprising that I've seen so far. Unfortunately, there's not a smoking gun that I can find, either. Much of the report is filled with testimony from convicted felons fulfilling their plea agreements. While they can be charged with perjury if they're telling lies, these aren't exactly unimpeachable sources. Predictably, many of the players named in the report, including Roger Clemens, have issued denials. This will change, or course, but as I write this, the News Home at the MLB site is full of "he said/he said."

Will the Mitchell Report have an effect on attendance when the new season starts up in five months? Are baseball fans going to stay away from the ball parks? I doubt it.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The White House Terror Regime--Falling Apart?

Does it seem to anybody else that the White House stonewalling against discussing torture in general and waterboarding in particular is starting to run its course? There's not even any effort at this point to pretend that waterboarding might not have happened. The consensus seems to be that the destroyed CIA video tapes featured waterboarding. That was followed by a Washington Post report that blandly made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi complicit in the torture policies. The LA Times featured an editorial by former chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions Morris D. Davis that very strongly implied that he quit his post overseeing trials in Guantanamo over waterboarding. He was barred from testifying to Congress by the Defense Department. Piling on is a former CIA interrogator who thinks that waterboarding was necessary when it happened. For a lot of time his conscience was clear, but then he changed his mind, decided that waterboarding is torture, and feels just awful about it now. Add to this the fact that Attorney General Michael Mukasey still hasn't decided whether waterboarding would count as torture or not. Which is convenient, because if he determined that it was torture, it would become a crime, and Mukasey would be obligated to prosecute. I guess he thinks it's better to look like an idiot than to take responsibility for his own job.

Throughout all of this, there's been very little response from the administration. I don't expect that they'd jump in and own up to it all, but a mild nondenial denial might be in order. Or have they given up on this point and are saving all their energy for the fight of whether waterboarding is a criminal act or not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is It Hot in Here?

Congratulations to Al Gore, who picked up his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Monday. In accepting the award, Gore compared those who deny global warming and climate change to some world leaders in the 1930s who ignored the Nazis' rise to power in Germany, picking a choice quote from Winston Churchill.

Too many of the world's leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler's threat: "They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent."

Meanwhile, new data from NASA satellites show that the ice sheet of Greenland melted this summer at a faster rate than even the most alarmist observers expected. By the end of the summer, there was only half as much ice left in the Arctic as there had been four years earlier.

Just last year, two top scientists surprised their colleagues by projecting that the Arctic sea ice was melting so rapidly that it could disappear entirely by the summer of 2040.

This week, after reviewing his own new data, NASA climate scientist Jay Zwally said: "At this rate, the Arctic Ocean could be nearly ice-free at the end of summer by 2012, much faster than previous predictions."

According to the Associated Press, here are a few ways in which 2007 has been a watershed year:

_ 552 billion tons of ice melted this summer from the Greenland ice sheet, according to preliminary satellite data to be released by NASA Wednesday. That's 15 percent more than the annual average summer melt, beating 2005's record.

_ A record amount of surface ice was lost over Greenland this year, 12 percent more than the previous worst year, 2005, according to data the University of Colorado released Monday. That's nearly quadruple the amount that melted just 15 years ago. It's an amount of water that could cover Washington, D.C., a half-mile deep, researchers calculated.

_ The surface area of summer sea ice floating in the Arctic Ocean this summer was nearly 23 percent below the previous record. The dwindling sea ice already has affected wildlife, with 6,000 walruses coming ashore in northwest Alaska in October for the first time in recorded history. Another first: the Northwest Passage was open to navigation.

_ Still to be released is NASA data showing the remaining Arctic sea ice to be unusually thin, another record. That makes it more likely to melt in future summers. Combining the shrinking area covered by sea ice with the new thinness of the remaining ice, scientists calculate that the overall volume of ice is half of 2004's total.

_ Alaska's frozen permafrost is warming, not quite thawing yet. But temperature measurements 66 feet deep in the frozen soil rose nearly four-tenths of a degree from 2006 to 2007, according to measurements from the University of Alaska. While that may not sound like much, "it's very significant," said University of Alaska professor Vladimir Romanovsky.

- Surface temperatures in the Arctic Ocean this summer were the highest in 77 years of record-keeping, with some places 8 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, according to research to be released Wednesday by University of Washington's Michael Steele.

Also meanwhile, in Bali, international leaders are meeting for a UN conference on warming and climate change. Things aren't going so well. Don't worry, though. It's only the planet that's at stake.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Giving Out Chances

Here's an item that ties together a couple of recent posts. Glenn Greenwald has been following the saga of Jonah Goldberg's upcoming speech at the University of Massachusetts. You remember Goldberg--he was lately mooning over Moussolini in the National Review blog (though, he was quick to point out, not necessarily for the reasons you might think). This time around, he's set to present "All I Am Saying Is Give War a Chance" (alluding to the subject of this post) to the UMass Republican Club. (According to Google, he's given it before.) Goldberg, of course, has never been in the military. (He rather famously explained his other "priorities.") I think it's pretty safe to say that few--if any--UMass College Republicans have served, either. So I was prepared to make some sort of quip about how the Army recruiters might want to pull themselves away from trolling for high school students at the mall and look into renting table space at Goldberg's presentation.

But that was before it got interesting. According to Greenwald, Jonah is uncomfortable with the attention he's receiving. What he calls his "hate mail" has expanded quite a bit, and he says the event has to beef up its security more than normal. In other words, Goldberg may have to face some opposition opinion. In response, he put out a call for "friendlies" to attend, as well.

But isn't this exactly the situation you'd expect Jonah to be looking for? What better way to cement his position as warrior philosopher than to take on all comers over the issue and really show us what it means to "give war a chance"?

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Conservatism of Rock Radio

Atrios was out driving and listening to the radio a few days ago. He had a thought:

Spent some time listening to the basic rock radio station for awhile, with a mix of all the things they played when I was growing up and newer things. The Talking Heads came on, and it occurred to me that the station probably wouldn't play music by a band that sounded just like the Talking Heads if they were a new band.

I'll go him one better. Mainstream radio didn't play Talking Heads when they were a new band. There are a number of bands from the late 70s and early 80s--pretty much anybody who was labeled punk or new wave--that were well established before they started to get significant radio play. Fabulous, exciting new music was popping up all around us, but you couldn't hear any of it on the radio. They were too busy playing Foreigner, Journey, Toto, Kansas, and a number of other groups I don't want to bother remembering.

You could read about the new music, so we had some idea of what it was, but you never really knew what you'd get until you played it. I bought any number of albums from new groups I'd never sampled but who sounded intriguing in print. Talking Heads was one, the Clash was another. I never heard the Jam until I put my own copy of their first album on the stereo. I knew about Blondie but never actually heard them until a cousin bought my brother their third album for Christmas. I must have heard the Sex Pistols before, because I saw the report on punk in late '76 on NBC News' Weekend show, hosted by Lloyd Dobbins, and I can't imagine they didn't show some footage (although what I most remember from that report is a discussion of whether or not one would want to stand next to Rat Scabies), but when I got my own copy of the album for Christmas '78, I certainly didn't remember it (and if I'd had any question of whether it was a keeper or not--I didn't--it would've been evaporated when I noticed my 8-year-old brother singing along to "EMI" the first time we played it). Basically, you were on your own for trying new music back in the day. Saturday Night Live helped some--I saw both Elvis Costello and Devo on the show before I bought their music--but there were too many new and interesting groups for them to cover everybody. (I have to admit that I wasn't blown away by Elvis's now infamous performance. I thought he was fine, but surely there was more exciting music to be had. It wasn't until a month or so later when a high-school friend mentioned that she and her friends were still making fun of what a jerk he was that I realized he had something I needed to know about.) But I could go through my record collection and remember records I bought based only on reputation--Siouxsie and the Banshees, XTC, Magazine, the Specials, the Beat (not Paul Collins's combo), Television, Tom Robinson Band, the Raincoats, Gang of Four. There was an excitement at the time, because new sounds were bubbling up at such a rate that you never knew what sound was going to come out when you dropped the needle down.

A lot of this was changed by MTV, of course, and I remember back in the early 80s when no one could figure out how the Stray Cats were selling out venues while receiving no radio airplay. A number of the groups I mentioned who later became big did it through MTV. The Clash got a lot of play for a single off their fifth album, "Rock the Casbah." Talking Heads did it with their fifth album single, "Burning Down the House." I may have told this story on this blog before, but when Speaking in Tongues came out, the local club DJ refused to play "Burning Down the House" until we bribed him a dollar (big money to an unemployed grad student at the time). My friends and I were enthusiastically dancing, but the rest of the floor cleared out. A couple of weeks later, after the video had had few spins on the MTV, we were at the club again, and the DJ put the single on all by himself. Patrons left their tables to get on the dancefloor. I later saw the tour for that album, and a picture of the house from that video got as big an ovation as any member of the band.

All this to say, Atrios is right, but it ain't nothing new. Let's just be glad that nowadays we've got a lot of other venues where we can check out what's new before the radio ever gets around to playing it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Anniversary Rememberings

So we're twenty-seven years on from the murder of John Lennon, who was gunned down in front of the Dakota on 8 December 1980 (I started this post while it was still December 8, but I'm not getting it up until the early hours of December 9). I was half a world away at the time, an exchange student in Japan, so it took us a little while to get the news and even longer to digest it. Lennon, of course, had been away from the limelight for quite some time (or at least what seemed like quite some time for a teenager in the '70s) and was just coming back to public performance again with what was, frankly, a mediocre album, but he was coming back, and that's what mattered.

I've always thought that there's a surreal quality to hearing serious news when you're on a vacation or otherwise out of your natural routine. It somehow feels like when you return to your own normality, the news will fade away, and the world will be back like it was. That surreality was exponential in a country where we couldn't understand or even read the language. I didn't believe the first person who told me the news--I wasn't sure why he'd come up with such a far-fetched lie for a joke in bad taste, but surely there was a reason. With the time difference, and all, I'm not even sure how old the news was by the time we confirmed it. A friend and I went out for a drink shortly afterward, and we found a record bar that mostly focused on jazz but somehow had a Japanese Lennon single that featured "Working Class Hero" (it may well have been "Imagine," which in some incarnations has "Working Class Hero" on its B-side, but I don't recall for sure.) We got the bartender to play it twice in a row, but he wouldn't keep it on any longer than that. Then we went back home, knowing the world was a lesser place than it had been earlier in the week.

This year has an added bonus to the commemoration of Lennon's life and death. A new movie has been released in the UK called The Killing of John Lennon (it'll be out in the states in January). The film takes Mark David Chapman's perspective of the events leading up to the murder, and it's getting mixed reviews (The Times liked it, The Guardian did not). What's more interesting is the backlash among some fans who are offended at the very idea of the film (there are examples among the comments at The Times review). Although it has been twenty-seven years--a generation and a half by some calculations--that kind of reaction is not a bit surprising.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The CIA's at It Again

What's going on inside the intelligence community these days? They certainly seem possessed of something to keep coming up with material that damages or undermines the Prez's "War on Terror." First we discover Iran doesn't really have an active nuclear arms program, and now it turns out that the CIA has destroyed videotapes of the interrogation of terrorist suspects. Admittedly, the CIA has only come clean about this because The New York TImes had the goods on them and was going to publish their story on Friday morning no matter what. Better they admit it first-hand than get caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Upon hearing this news, my first assumption was these Candid Camera moments caught CIA officers in the act of being themselves torturing the suspects, and in fact the Times story says as much. It refers to "severe interrogation techniques," which is administration code for activity that may cross the line into torture but that no one is quite paying enough attention to, so who can say, really?

Most anyone who should've been overseeing the situation has denied any knowledge of any sort. Representative Pete Hoekstra was head of the House Intelligence Committee in the term before the Democrats took over, and he claims he was unaware any tapes were destroyed. While that could well be true, it's odd the Representative Jane Harmon, the ranking Democrat on that committee at the same time, argued to the CIA that the tapes should not be destroyed. Surely Hoekstra was aware of the tapes and the controversy over whether they should be eliminated or not. If nobody ever bothered to tell him what happened, I'm sure that was so he could maintain willful ignorance. Jumping full bore into my suggestion last night that we ask what didn't the President know and when didn't he know it, the Prez went into complete Sgt. Schulz mode, claiming he never heard anything about any of it until Thursday.

The Democrats have seemed eager to start some investigations, and why shouldn't they, to find out what's really going on. Congress needs to dig deeper into its oversight responsibilities, and this might be just the thing to jumpstart the House and the Senate into starting to get into some sort of parity with the executive branch. Needless to say, further developments will bear watching.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Further Clarification--Sort Of

Yesterday, I noted that the Prez and National Security Advisor Steven Hadley seemed to be on two different pages about what he knew and when. (Perhaps the Prez would prefer a paraphrase of the famous quote: What didn't the President know, and when didn't he know it?) According to CNN, Press Secretary Dana Perino issued a statement on Wednesday to the effect that in the August meeting:

Director McConnell said that the new information might cause the intelligence community to change its assessment of Iran's covert nuclear program, but the intelligence community was not prepared to draw any conclusions at that point in time, and it wouldn't be right to speculate until they had time to examine and analyze the new data.

The Prez said he didn't get details, and this agrees with that state of affairs. But the Prez seemed to be insisting that he didn't get any information whatsoever. For once, the press stayed on it, and Perino had some clarification at a press briefing Thursday morning. If you're a fan of Fred Astaire, you'll appreciate the tap dancing that Perino takes on to avoid admitting the contradiction.

Q Dana, on Tuesday at his press conference, when the President was asked about when he learned about Iran's nuclear program being halted, was he being completely candid?

MS. PERINO: Yes, he was. And I talked to you about that last night, I talked to your colleagues this morning, and I'll reiterate it here. If you look at the rest of that sentence, what the President -- the President was clearly told that there was new information that was coming in, but he wasn't told the details of it. And the President was also told that the intelligence community was going to need to go back and check out to find out if it's true.

What I said is that McConnell told the President, if the new information turns out to be true, what we thought we knew for sure is right: Iran does, in fact, have a covert nuclear weapons program, but it may be suspended. He said that there were many streams of information that were coming in that could be potentially in conflict. They didn't have a lot of confidence in the information yet.

Q But the President said, "He didn't tell me what the information was." But you're now saying he was told that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program and also that there may be a new assessment, right?

MS. PERINO: Right, but he doesn't -- he didn't get any of the details of what the information, in terms of what the actual raw intelligence was.

Q He didn't say, he didn't tell me what the information --

MS. PERINO: Okay, look, I can see where you could see that the President could have been more precise in that language, but the President was being truthful.

Q Dana, but listen to what he said: "He didn't tell me what the information was; he did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze." Was the President told that there was a possibility that Iran's nuclear program could be suspended? That's what you said he was told.

MS. PERINO: Yes, the President was told that there is new information in the context of raw intelligence, not told the details of what it was, and told that he's going -- they're going to have to go back and do some more checking on it because they didn't have a high degree of confidence in it, and it could potentially be in conflict.

Q But he said he didn't know what the information even was. I can see the details of it, but --

MS. PERINO: Martha. Okay, you could -- I grant you, he could have been more precise in his language. But if you look at the follow-up -- the following sentences of that quote he says -- I have it right here -- he says, that "it would take a while to analyze." "It" -- he's referring to "it" in terms of what the information was. I think that --

Q But he said he didn't know what the information was.

MS. PERINO: He didn't know that there -- he did not know what the specific details were of the raw intelligence that they had found.

Q But he knew it was strong enough information to delay the NIE.

MS. PERINO: No -- well, strong enough information that they said that they needed to check it out, and the President thought that that was an appropriate and responsible thing to do, sure.

There's plenty more at the link. Pick your own favorites of the press secretary's prevarications.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Parsing the Press Conference

I didn't take the time to comment on the Prez's news conference on Tuesday, but there were a couple of quick points I wanted to make. First of all, since he planned to use this opportunity to bash Congress rather then answer questions about the Iran NIE, he seemed his usual petulant, I don't-need-to-be-here persona. But the most significant thing he had to say about the NIE was that it truly didn't matter. He had his opinions about Iran, and no pesky bunch of facts was going to change them. Although none of the reporters commented on it or asked him about it, the Prez contradicted his National Security Advisor, who on Monday said that the Prez had been told a about this new information in August or September. The Prez claimed that, while he knew that new intelligence existed, he had no idea what it might portend until last week. Thus, when he hinted that Iran might soon be responsible for World War III, he didn't know what he was talking about. But now that there's a new understanding of what he was talking about--one that's 180 degrees away from what he claims he believed at the time--it makes no difference. He was right to regard Iran as a threat then, and he's right to regard them as a threat now.

Look, Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. The NIE says that Iran had a hidden -- a covert nuclear weapons program. That's what it said. What's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program? And the best way to ensure that the world is peaceful in the future is for the international community to continue to work together to say to the Iranians, we're going to isolate you.

So, short of unlearning anything they may have learned when they had an active nuclear weapons program, is there anything Iran can do to step into the good graces of the world community? Or since it's now explored nuclear weaponry, is it forever a member of the imminent nuclear threat club? I hesitate to say what the implications are for countries that invade other sovereign countries for reasons based on faulty intelligence and lies.

Moving away from the NIE, another intriguing moment occurred in the press conference a little while later. The Prez was asked about a phone call he'd recently had with Putin, and he refused to discuss the matter in any way whatsoever. That's not necessarily surprising, but the manner in which he did so was quite interesting.

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to get into the specifics of conversations I have with any world leader. Otherwise, the next time I have a phone call it might be a short one. But I'd be glad to talk about the themes.

Q Please do.

THE PRESIDENT: I don't particularly like when people read out my phone calls with them. Sometimes the words get mischaracterized. Sometimes what I say might not be exact -- what they say I said might not be exactly what I said.

I know just how he feels. In fact, I suspect that most Americans do. Does this mean we can expect that the administration will be pulling the plug on its program of surveillance of Americans? Just wondering.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Whither Poutine?

I've got a quick Canadian question. I've addressed this to various Canadian friends and relatives, and they gave me the answer I expected, but they're all in Montreal or southern Ontario. Various sources on the web suggest another answer. My question is a simple one, and I invite answers from anyone in the know. Is poutine readily available in Canada outside of Quebec?

I know, for many readers the true question is, "What is poutine?" Fortunately, the answer to that is fairly easy. Poutine is french fries topped with cheddar cheese curds and then covered with brown gravy. And yes, it is popular in some areas. As traditional foods go, it's a fairly recent addition to the Quebecois cuisine. In fact, this year it celebrates its 50th anniversary! There's no big secret to its creation. A customer asked restaurateur Fernand LaChance to add some curds to a bag of fries he was taking out, and voila! It's not clear where the gravy came in, but LaChance claimed he later added it to the concoction to keep the fries warm. Another restaurateur, Jean-Paul Roy, claimed that he served fries with gravy, and customers were adding curds to it by themselves, so he just added the dish to the menu. This happened in 1964, seven years after LaChance's gravyless poutine. Could poutine really have existed without gravy for all that time?

I'm curious to find out now whether, unbeknownst to me and the people I know, poutine has expanded its grip into Canada at large. My aunt told me that it's available in Ontario but that they replace the cheddar curds with mozzarella cheese. A cousin pointed me to New York Fries, a Canadian fast-food emporium (with outposts in Korea and the United Arab Emirates!) that has it on the menu. New York Fries appears to be mostly situated in malls and movie theaters, so I'm not sure if each location counts as a full-fledged restaurant, but if they do, their Website lists more than 175 locations across nine provinces, so I guess that counts for something. Burger King in Canada and Harvey's each has poutine on their online menus. Canadian McDonalds and Canadian KFC don't offer online menus, but they each offer nutritional information about poutine. Does this mean that I can pretty much go to any McDonalds or Burger King in Canada and order poutine? It sure looks that way.

If this is the case, ultimately you have to wonder if it's a good idea. Poutine is tied up with the very identity of Quebec. Not even a month ago, the Montreal Gazette covered a new book on the subject. Here's what the article had to say on the subject:

If you thought poutine, Quebec's favourite fast food concoction, was made of french fries topped with gravy and salty cheese curds, you're wrong.

According to the political scientist who wrote a book on Quebec's signature dish, the real recipe is a generous portion of shame fried gently in an inferiority complex and topped with a hint of denigration from the ROC (Rest of Canada) - and a touch of guilty pleasure.

"Love it or hate it, poutine has become a strong symbol of Quebec," said Charles-Alexandre Théorêt, author of Maudite poutine!

Is it really responsible to allow McDonalds to stand in the way of that?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Useful Television

Yesterday I was noticing banner ads at The Washington Post for tonight's edition of Charlie Rose. I don't recall ever seeing Rose advertise a guest in this way (and I've often been disappointed to be channel-surfing and come across the middle of a Charlie Rose interview with someone I'd have been very interested in seeing from the beginning), so it must be one blockbuster of an interview in the offing. Or not. It turns out that Fred Thompson is going to be with Charlie tonight. At first I was underwhelmed at the idea, but it occurred to me that such an interview could come in quite handy for someone in the right situation. On one of our public TV stations, Charlie Rose comes on very late at night, so an interview with Fred Thompson might be just the thing if you're having trouble getting to sleep. Who knows--the former senator may just join you in nodding off himself. Thanks, PBS!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Straight Out of Left Field

A bombshell of sorts was dropped earlier today by the intelligence community in Washington. Despite what you may have been led to believe, it turns out that the country's sixteen intelligence agencies have determined that Iran shelved its nuclear weapons program in 2003. I know, that contradicts everything I've heard from the Bush administration, too.

The whole situation is weird. This intelligence estimate has been around for awhile, and Dick Cheney has apparently been trying to shift it more over to his point of view, i.e. that an Iranian nuclear bomb is an imminent danger to our very way of life. Now that we see the strength with which the intelligence community is holding on to its view, I'm not sure how Cheney could've nudged it toward his side--he'd have had to obliterate it. Kevin Drum waded into the morass of motivations for the release of this material, and he didn't come up with much. Cheney certainly didn't want this released in this form (or at all, most likely), and it's commonly assumed that he sways the Prez. In a different post, Drum linked to a CNN report in which Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell promised that he was not going to release the estimate. And yet, golly, here it is. What changed? Drum speculated that Congress pressured to get this out, but--have you seen Congress lately?--that seems somewhat unlikely. Spencer Ackerman at TPMmuckraker came up with some actual statements from actual Democratic Senate staffers that this wasn't the case. Then how did this get past the vice president's office?

Regardless of who was behind the intelligence release, though, there's another point. This has been floating around intelligence circles for a year or more. The Prez and his crew have been aware of this the entire time they've been sabre-rattling against the Iranians. No, it's hardly surprising that they'd do such a thing, but this reminds us again that our own government is entirely unreliable when it comes to foreign policy statements or decisions. They were going to (and they still might, so don't get too comfortable) take us into a war with an unthreatening (but extremely hated) sovereign power. The actual facts of the situation were something to be overcome, not something to be respected. We've still got almost fourteen months left with these guys in office. What else that has no relation to reality are they plotting?

UPDATE--I noticed this last night, but I hit "Publish" before I mentioned it. The link on The Washington Post's home page to their analysis of the situation reads: "Report a Potential Blow To Bush's Tehran Policy." Ya think? If you actually click through this morning, though, you'll see the much stronger headline: "A Blow to Bush's Tehran Policy." I'm glad they made up their minds.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Quick Hits

I overlooked this yesterday, since I was just online and didn't have an actual copy of The Washington Post in front of me. But the Centers for Disease Control have raised their estimates of U.S. HIV infections by 50 percent. Instead of 40,000 new infections annually, they now believe it to be 55,000 to 60,000. Unfortunately, they don't yet know whether this means the rate of infection is growing or if there have been more people infected than we've assumed for all these years. Here's the money quote from the article:

"People in the United States are under the impression that this is more of an international than a domestic issue," said Rowena Johnston, vice president for research at amfAR, an AIDS research foundation. "Yet these new CDC numbers are telling us that not only does this continue to be a serious problem, it is actually a larger one than we suspected."

Gee. Maybe someone should look into AIDS prevention education.

The recent Australian election probably isn't on most people's minds in the U.S., but there's one intriguing development that I'll pass on. New Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has appointed Peter Garrett, former lead singer of Midnight Oil, as Minister for Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Garrett's been involved in politics for awhile, and if I remember correctly, he's been on the ballot for prime minister in the past. The new position may not be as clear cut as it seems, though, because Australia also has a Minister for Climate Change and Water, which seems like it would overlap environment to some extent. I'm sure that they'll figure it all out somehow. Of course, this appointment just raises the question, has the time come to say fair's fair? Maybe so. Rudd was sworn in on Monday (which is still Sunday for us), and he's already fulfilled his promise to ratify Kyoto.

I was remiss in overlooking the 100th birthday of Jacques Barzun on Friday. Back in the day (i.e., the middle of the 20th century), he was a major player in U.S. intellectual and academic circles, and perhaps the supreme example of how the term "public intellectual" can be a good thing. Barzun wrote very insightfully about a broad range of topics, and much of what he had to say is as valid today as it was then. A quick look at Google News suggests that a lot of other people were remiss in marking the occasion, as well, but it will point you to a nice remembrance in The Wall Street Journal. To find somewhere where Barzun fans actually were on the ball, check out the Jacques Barzun Centennial page. Pick a few things to read and dig in! Happy birthday, Dr. Barzun.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day

I don't have as much to say about World AIDS Day as I should. When my book on AIDS prevention education came out, I railed against the people who had lost interest in addressing the pandemic, who had moved on to other things. But in the dozen years since then, I'm afraid I've done the same thing. I haven't lost interest, but I did become overwhelmed with the size of the problem and the obstacles faced in dealing with it. Just about the time the book came out, AIDS drug cocktails were developed that made HIV manageable. Up until then, a diagnosis of AIDS brought fears of a wasting disease that would lead to death. Not to be unnecessarily blunt, but once the presumption of death was off the table, there wasn't the same desperation to find a cure or hone prevention efforts. People still die of AIDS, of course, but it's not nearly as inevitable. So we still acknowledge World AIDS Day, but we don't get too excited about it. And we don't particularly pay attention to the fact that AIDS remains just as deadly as it ever was to those who can't afford the cocktail--in this country or around the world, where the numbers are much higher. We don't go out of our way to push for something beyond abstinence-only sex education. We just figure that--for the most part, at least--we'll be fine.

If you're interested in finding out a little bit for yourself, UNAids has some materials for the day, as does the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you're in the U.K., you might be interested in this page sponsored by the National AIDS Trust. In U.S. papers, Laura Bush had an op-ed in The Washington Post that didn't end up to be as innocuous as it could've been--she even mentioned condoms! As far as I can tell, The New York Times didn't have anything on their print editorial page, but they featured an online column by Josh Ruxin calling various international AIDS organizations to task. AIDS isn't as deadly as it once was, and it doesn't have the spotlight that it once did. But it's got a long way to go before it stops being a concern. Let's just hope that we can give a bit more focus to fighting the disease and preventing its spread before another few World AIDS Days pass us by.