Saturday, June 30, 2007

Redrawing The Battle Lines

There are a couple of elements to this story which I had to ponder as I read it:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democratic leaders vowed Friday to keep up the pressure on President George W. Bush to end the Iraq war with more votes next month on withdrawing U.S. troops.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would seek a vote on legislation instructing the Pentagon to begin pulling out U.S. troops within 120 days, similar to a provision Bush vetoed in the first version of a war spending bill Congress sent to him in May.

A comparable provision also is expected to come to the floor of the Senate in July. So far this year, Senate Democrats have been unable to get the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles to proposals to start a pullout from Iraq.
So far, pretty straightforward. Obviously, Pelosi, Reid, & Co decided that they caved a little too easily with Bush on the war funding bill, and heard about it from both the left wing ideologues but also from mainstream Americans who elected them in large part to end this national nightmare. Too, that Senators Richard Lugar and George Voinovich, not exactly firebreathing lefties, came out strongly against the war this week gives them some political cover to reintroduce this withdrawal timetable.

Bbut here's the intriguing bit:
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted legislation from Congress called for progress reports on Iraq in July and September and suggested those should determine any decisions.

"It seems to me that Congress has laid out a sensible timetable and we ought to adhere to it," he told reporters at the Pentagon.
Huh? Is Secretary Gates suggesting, or at least, leaving the door open, to a troop withdrawal this year? After all, those "progress reports" to be delivered by General Petraeus, will show that the surge has had minimal success (the Anbar region is raised continually as a beacon of hope, which neglects the truth that the Anbar region was relatively peaceful right up until the surge) and that the general benchmarks it will report on-- oil revenue sharing, suppression of the sectaraian violence, and regional elections-- will fall woefully short, mostly due to the Iraqi parliament's lack passing legislation.

Meaning the Democrats in Congress will have a field day at Bush's expense.

If in fact, this was the game plan, to give the surge the summer and then cut off funding anyway, then it concerns me that the Democrats would play this so cynically. Hundreds of Americans would have died to gain an incremental political position of giving in one last time and letting the baby have his bottle.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Music Blogging

The Moody Blues - In Your Wildest Dreams

Perhaps one of the most nostalgic songs ever written.

Friday Kitten Blogging

Why is da katnip gone?

On ur bed, kicking ur camra!

Dis iz me wit mah duckie and mah bear!

Nobody Asked Me, But...

This has been a weird week for news. So many little aggravating and annoying stories have surfaced, it's hard to keep track of them all.

1) The car bombs in London are particularly disturbing in light of the fact that London is notorious for its "Ring of Iron" video system which can track a car coming into the city, driving around and leaving without ever being out of camera range. Imagine, instead, this car had been parked on the streets of Manhattan.

2) American forces in Iraq suffered their 100th casualty in June this morning.

3) The iPhone. Want it. Won't buy it until they drop the worst carrier in the cellular business. It will be like the low hanging sour grapes of fabledom.

4) Another example of Republicans praying the problem would go away: Bush wishes Cuba's Castro would disappear

5) Paris Who?

6) Speaking of celebrities, this weekend marks what would have been Princess Diana's 46th birthday, and ten years since her death. NBC will be showing highlights of the concert for Diana from London. As anyone who reads this blog regularly knows, I'm not a big celebrity fawner. Titles, accomplishments, crowns, mean very little to me, as does being famous for being rich and famous, but I have a slight fascination with Diana. I've always felt this strange connection to her, even tho I've never met her nor do I know anyone who has. This feeling manifested itself one night in September 1997 when, while in the midst of an existential crisis, I was sitting on my deck staring at the stars. Diana's funeral had ended earlier that afternoon, and I was pondering her troubled life and comparing it to my own, when a question flashed into my head simultaneous to a meteor flashing through the sky. I've always believed that was the spirit of Diana, sending me some sort of message that I have yet to figure out. Perhaps she was part of my karass.

7) One more thing on celebrities: the whole Chris Benoit incident has taken a truly dark and disturbing turn, with the revelation this morning that Benoit's Wikipedia entry was altered to read that he had killed his wife hours before the bodies of his family were "discovered". It wouldn't surprise me to find out that someone from the WWE had entered his house over the weekend and cleaned up a bit before the police were called. More disturbing is the about face that the WWE has taken in portraying Benoit. Monday night saw a three hour tribute to him, often quoting other wrestlers saying Benoit was the consummate family man who always brought his kids to the shows, and how polite and well-behaved they were. One night later, nary a word was said about Benoit. And then there was this reprehensible weasel interview with WWE chairman Vince McMahon on the Today Show.

8) Ironically, the WWE had been running an angle which had McMahon die in a fiery car bombing. Talk about prescient of the news...

9) This would shut down half of Congress.

10) Somewhere, Jerry Falwell is smiling. I've never particularly liked the Teletubbies, to be sure, and always felt that they were a marketing machine wrapped in an educational program.

11) Poor Michael Moore. It seems like no one wants him to talk. Megapoints for trying to walk into the lion's den to speak, tho.

12) Oh, THAT Paris Hilton!

13) Global warming hits Jupiter.

14) My favorite Spice Girl was always Baby Spice, but, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh, it looks like she took me up on my offer to have my baby...

Or maybe it was Posh.


No, wait, Scary.

Sporty has gotten cute, too. . Of course, I only know these ladies because my daughter is the right age...

Thursday, June 28, 2007


A couple of items popped up on the radar this morning that made me wonder about just how strong America is right now:

1) New York City blackout:
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A power outage struck Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side during a heat wave on Wednesday, snarling subway service during rush hour in another embarrassment for utility Con Edison.

The outage left half a million New Yorkers without power for 50 minutes. Traffic signals died, classrooms went dark, the fire department rescued people from elevators and the Metropolitan Museum of Art was evacuated in scenes that raised fears of another major summer blackout.
This is now five consecutive summers in and around New York City where a blackout has hit a significant number of people, and it's not even July yet. This blackout was minor in comparison to the August 2003, which crippled the entire northeast into Ohio, or even the one last summer, in which parts of western Queens were without power for nine days.

2) US Lags In Internet:
A communications workers union has released a study showing that the median U.S. download speed is a mere 1.97 megabits per second. That number comes into perspective when you consider Japanese users enjoy a whopping 61 mbps for the same price.

We used to be the bastion of advanced technology, in research and development, in pure science for science sake. Now we can't even keep the lights on.

Particularly since the turn of the decade, it seems as though America doesn't do anything anymore. We don't innovate. We don't lead. We don't implement. We don't discover.

This is far deadlier to our society than one might think: without the competitive advantage we've taken in the 20th Century, America would be a second rate agrarian society. Think the Soviet Union, only without the cool uniforms and national health care.

Worse, this ennui about discovery leads us to be a lot more aggressive against those who actually do the work we used to do in our labs. Think about it: why expend the energy and resources to innovate when we can wait for someone else to fund a lab to do all that work, and then move in and either buy it all up, or worse, just take it as if it was our birthright?

Isn't that essentially what Iraq is all about? We can't drill here, so let's drill there?

Quick: name a technological advance of the past ten years that is wholly American.

Google? A couple of Russian emigres (admittedly, they came to America seeking the chance to be something), but even then, what technological advance is it to have a faster librarian, and one that's not even that reliable (in terms of factual content)?

I'm having a hard time even coming up with any technological advances of the past ten years, nevermind American.

What's truly troublesome about this nauseating turn of events is, as the US loses its lustre in the eyes of the world, we will be more and more beholden to the predations of those countries who do take the lead in innovation, to those countries that thought ahead, instead of in the now.

America was about a vision. Now it's about myopia.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Hump Day Comedy Blogging

Billy Connolly - American Food

Oh, Rudy, How Doth Thee Pander!

What a doosh:
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Rudy Giuliani charged yesterday that former President Bill Clinton made a "big mistake" when he failed to see the first World Trade Center attack as an act of terror rather thana mere crime - one that set the stage for even bigger and bolder attacks culminating with 9/11.

"The United States government, then President Clinton, did not respond," Giuliani said, ticking off terrorist attacks that followed, including the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole in 2000. "[Osama] bin Laden declared war on us. We didn't hear it."
We also didn't send hundreds of thousands of troops to a land that had nothing to do with terrorism, terrorist attacks, or frankly anything at all to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

Bill Clinton stopped an additional 19 terror attacks by treating that bombing as a crime. Period. He kept the Pope alive. He stopped the Milennium Bomb plot. He kept the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels into New York City from being destroyed.

He stopped a plot to hijack seven planes over the Pacific and crash them, as well as a plot to hijack ONE plane and fly it into a building, CIA headquarters.

Failure of imagination, Condoleeza Rice called the inability to prevent the September 11 attacks, and yet, we managed to do it once, already, under a different president.

Bill Clinton rolled up a terror cell in New York City, and reached into Saudi Arabia and brought to justice a high level Al Qaeda operative there.

Was Bill Clinton lax in responding to the bombings in Africa in 1998? No. It was the Republican witchhunt Congress that prevented President Clinton from doing more than lobbing a few shells into an already-empty tent. What has Bush done with troops on the ground where the bastard was?

A smart man, who wasn't running for any office, once said, "The idea of trying to cast blame on President Clinton is just wrong for many, many reasons, not the least of which is I don't think he deserves it."

His name? Rudy Giuliani. Maybe you ought to listen to that feller?

Unintentionally Funny

I often wonder if Bush, the great American frat boy, does this kind of stuff deliberately:
LONDON (Reuters) - President George W Bush wrote a lengthy tribute to Prime Minister Tony Blair on his last day in power on Wednesday, describing him as "a strong guy" and dismissing claims that the British leader acted as his "poodle."

[...]"I've heard he's been called 'Bush's poodle'. He's bigger than that," he said. "We're working together to achieve global peace in the face of enormous danger. This kind of thing is just silly ridicule."
Presumably, that's intended to mean that Bush and Blair are equals. But you know, you could take that to mean Blair is "just a bigger dog," like maybe a schnauser or terrier, and Bush is sniggering as he baldfacedly insults Blair (and the UK) while paying him a backhanded compliment.

It's likely better, Dumbya, to just let those kind of comments alone, and to focus on the bigger picture of paying tribute to Blair. Since it's unlikely you actually wrote this letter alone and unassisted, I'm going to presume that you meant to say this, and that you phrased it deliberately ambiguously so as to demean Blair, while saying good bye.

Sort of, "So long, suckah!"

The biggest joke of the letter, tho?
"We have very different speaking styles, of course. He's much more kind of lofty and eloquent than I am. I tend to be just pretty matter of fact."
(emphasis added)

If only...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


We mark our lives by the distance in time between two events: you've been married twelve years, she's expecting in October, he's worked that job for eighteen years. Milestones are particularly important, if totally arbitrary.

Most of them, anyway, are arbitrary. Some, not so much.

2007 has been (and will be) a year of such milestones. My daughter turned eighteen. My father died. An old friend leaves work. And today, my daughter graduates high school.

It's the last milestone that means the most to me. For the first time in her life, she struggled with school. Like me, things came very easily to her, she comprehended the basic stuff with breathtaking ease, so easily, in fact, that when she did run into trouble in middle school, her work before then had kept her grades up, and so it was hard to notice.

Thanks, No Child Left Behind! When she needed help, when it really could have meant something, you were there to make sure the curriculum was dumbed down to the test, and that teachers were going to focus on the school as a whole and not a kid who could be brilliant.

She fought her way through this school, one of the premier high schools known to mankind. Put it this way: if it was a country, it would be credit with more Nobel Prizes than all but seven other countries.

For that, I'm proud of her, even proud of her for trying to keep up the image at home that things were going along OK, when in fact she was in danger of failing at times. That told me she gave a damn about her schoolwork, and at least she won't have the adjustment problem to college that so many teens do.

So yes, milestones. Some are worth noting, some (like the fact I turn fifty this year) are mathematical absurdities linked to the fact we have ten toes and fingers.

In the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut, I'd like to "give" my commencement address:
Ladies and gentlemen, for that is who you are now, today, you begin the steps towards adulthood.

It's typical for the speaker at such events to talk long and hard about the struggles you'll face and to offer some advice and insight into how to overcome them to achieve your dream. Who am I to look askance at tradition.

Let's face facts: the vast majority of you will lead lives that are superficially comfortable, but just under the surface, a slick of peace and prosperity, boils a raging torrent of anxiety and tension. You've seen it in your own parents. You will see it in yourself.

You'll learn with time that your dreams change, that your visions change, that your ideals, things you thought were etched in stone, will adjust as you experience life. Experience is the one lesson learned only after you've already taken the test. How true that is.

So how do you deal with this? How do you deal with conformity when right now the last thing you want is to conform? Most people go with the flow and eventually lose their passions, frustrated and disillusioned with reality.

Don't let that happen to you. Don't give into the temptation to do something just to get along. Don't compromise your vision, even as that vision changes, for someone or something else. Find what truly makes you happy, and then find out WHY it makes you happy, because the world is filled with people looking to steal your cookie. You'll want to be able to replace it.

Reality hurts. It does. That can't be helped. You're walking into the maw of six billion other people on this planet, and you can become the short fingered vulgarian who steals in the zero sum game of life, steals food from widows and money from the poor sucker on the corner.

Or you can find some small corner that reality has a hard time penetrating. It can be a lover. It can be a hobby. It can be an avocation and if you're really really lucky, it can be a career. Find out what makes you happy, find out what makes you passionate, and along that path lies your true calling.

And let that path lead you where it must. Don't ever listen to someone who tells you, "No, don't go down that path! It's too...whatever!" This is your life and your path, and when you're dead and gone, those folks will not be clambering into your casket with you to accompany you on your path into history, so why let them choose your path today?

Your parents love you, but they cannot live your lives for you. That's your, that's your privilege. Your spouses and partners will love you, but even they can only follow you on your path so far. If you're really fortunate, they'll make it alongside you to your ultimate destiny. Try to find that person, but failing that, try to find the person who's content to wait for you to report back in.

The Beatles wrote a marvelous little song, "When I'm 64." Memorize this song. This is the person you want to grow old with. And by that, I don't mean your partner. I mean you. Don't lock your own doors because you stayed out til quarter to three. Ultimately, you have to be in love with yourself, in love enough to forgive you your trespasses.

Do not look at life as a challenge. Life will win immediately on the first roll of the dice. Instead, look at life as an adventure, filled with dragons and maidens and princes. Just don't expect the fairy tale ending. Nevertheless, invest your life with the same emotion and passion and breathlessness you experienced when your dad read you a book to help you sleep.

You will become your own Prince Charming and your own fairy princess, and that will be the greatest treasure one could ever find.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A Study In Executive Responsibility

One could only hope a certain twice-selected President would be subject to this:
Abe, who faces his first major electoral test in a July 29 upper house poll, is trying to soothe voter outrage over mismanaged pension records, but the Nikkei said its survey showed he has failed to do so.[...]

Abe will return 2.34 million yen ($18,890) of his summer bonus of 5.36 million yen to take responsibility for the pensions issue, chief cabinet secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki told a news conference.

"As head of the government, the prime minister has decided to do this to take responsibility for the pension issue," Shiozaki said, adding that he and Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa will also return 940,000 yen of their bonuses.
Oh, that we could insist Bush return some of his oil companies' bail out money for the piss poor job he's done keeping gasoline prices down, or that Dick Cheney would be forced to return some of his ill-gotten gains from Halliburton as a result of this hideous train wreck of a war!

Or goodness knows how many other Cabinet and near-Cabinet level officers would be forced to return money earned in the industries they've had what we can laughingly call "oversight" in!

But more important...
Abe's recent low poll numbers have not been seen for a prime minister since the gaffe-prone Yoshiro Mori, who was forced to step down in April 2001.[...]

Abe will not automatically have to resign if his ruling coalition loses its majority in the upper house, and it could control the chamber by wooing independents or members of tiny parties if it falls short of majority by a few seats.

But a major defeat would mean the ruling bloc would be unable to enact legislation, which must be approved by both houses of parliament, threatening political paralysis and prompting calls for Abe to resign or even call a snap lower house election.
If only...

But here's the telling quote that President Bush ought to pay attention to, from his NBFF..."Japanese citizens are feeling very angry about how this has been handled, so I felt that I needed to take responsibility."

Responsibility, a word Bush has little experience with.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Going Up!

Curiously, this is a story you didn't hear or read about in the American media, and for the life of me, I can't imagine why:
Now though, scientists at Columbia University are proposing an alternative. Their vision of the future is one in which the skyline of New York and other cities include a new kind of skyscaper: the "vertical farm".

The idea is simple enough. Imagine a 30-storey building with glass walls, topped off with a huge solar panel.

On each floor there would be giant planting beds, indoor fields in effect.

There would be a sophisticated irrigation system.

And so crops of all kinds and small livestock could all be grown in a controlled environment in the most urban of settings.

That means there would be no shipping costs, and no pollution caused by moving produce around the country.
One of the themes of the burgeoning global warming fight is to try to reduce transportation costs by getting food locally.

Something on the order of 90% of the vegetables grown in this country are grown in California, and the average distance food travels is 1,500 miles, all using fossil fuels of some sort or other. That's a lot of carbon in exchange for a fresh head of lettuce.

Of course, this is necessitated by the fact that you can't grow crops in concrete, and it's hard growing crops in the snowy cold winter. California's ideal climate makes is a place of abundance.

This project would be, in effect, an arcosanti for agriculture: a nearly closed system that would produce little if any waste, recycling the waste into either heat or feed. You wouldn't need pesticides, since there would be minimal contact with the agricultural environment, and besides, what self-respecting weevil would hop the #2 train to get here?

In effect, it would be a nearly wholly organic growing system in the middle of a city. Whoda thunk?

The question becomes, could it be profitable enough to justify a square foot cost in the hundreds (if not thousands) for the land?