Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The National Review, For What It's Worth (Not Much)

Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly is spot on in this post, included in its entirety:
THE BLURRED LINES.... Thomas Sowell, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a prominent conservative writer, has a new National Review piece that's ... how do I put this gently ... a little out there.
A quadrupling of the national debt in just one year and accepting a nuclear-armed sponsor of international terrorism such as Iran are not things from which any country is guaranteed to recover.

Just two nuclear bombs were enough to get Japan to surrender in World War II. It is hard to believe that it would take much more than that for the United States of America to surrender -- especially with people in control of both the White House and the Congress who were for turning tail and running in Iraq just a couple of years ago.

Perhaps people who are busy gushing over the Obama cult today might do well to stop and think about what it would mean for their granddaughters to live under sharia law.
Sowell goes on to insist that Republicans resist calls that the party reach out to a larger audience, and steer clear of "moderates."

Now, anyone who raises the specter of the United States surrendering to Iran, which would in turn impose sharia law on Americans, has a terrific imagination, but a rather tenuous connection to reality.

Reading Sowell's piece, though, my first thought wasn't, "Wow, this is nuts"; it was, "Wow, National Review published this on purpose."

Over the last couple of decades, the line between the GOP establishment/leadership and the unhinged GOP base has become blurred. At the same time, the line between the analysis offered by "serious" and "respectable" conservative voices and the unbalanced tirades put forward by the nutty conservative fringe has all but disappeared.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm Melting, I'm Melting

Is human activity causing the world to warm up?

I dunno.

Almost every scientist worthy of the name says so, but I'm used to taking the long view, and in the long view the earth heats up and it cools down; it heats up and it cools down. Are scientists playing Henny Penny?

But also in the long view, the scientific method – though it's only been around for a few centuries – looks like a pretty good way to find out what's going on. Looking at human history in the long view, we wasted quite a few millennia blaming things we didn't understand on the evil eye. Or God.

Using this relatively new method of looking at the world, we observe things and describe what we think is happening based on those observations. Then we observe some more, and measure some more, and that description either stands or falls based on evidence, not on what we wish were true.

This has worked pretty well for us. We had a lot more success treating smallpox as a disease caused by a virus, than by blaming it on sin. [Sin tried to make a come-back as an explanation for AIDS, but just didn't have the staying power it had in centuries gone by.]

Right now the evidence that's been gathered makes a strong case that human activity is causing the Earth to heat up. And projecting the charts and graphs over the next century, things look catastrophically bleak if we don't do something about that. Can this be true?

I dunno. Maybe not. But that's how the evidence is understood right now, and if we're understanding it correctly, we're in big trouble. With so much at stake, any rational person will have more confidence in scientific evidence than in Congressional gasbags. Paul Krugman spelled it out in his column today:
... [S]ometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking — if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided — they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate [in the House of Representatives] on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists — a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.
Legislation to address climate change barely passed in the House. Things are not looking good in the Senate. Where do your Senators stand? (Or, in the case of Minnesota, your Senator.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

A phrase kept coming back to me; something I'd read years ago. Somehow it's stuck with me, to be pulled out when feeling slightly cynical about media reaction to the death of a noted person: "Our grief has gone to market."

It turns out to be a misquote of a poem by Oscar Mandel, found in a book my parents gave me for my birthday or Christmas in 1964, Of Poetry and Power: Poems Occasioned by the Presidency and by the Death of John F. Kennedy. My gosh, that was 45 years ago, and I've carried this book around through Pittsburgh, Ironton, Harrisburg, Racine, and Chicago.

The first two stanzas go like this:

First came the special issues of the magazines
With loyal photographs: the old rich times, the rocking chair,
The wife who knew who Dali is, the muscular war,
The politics retouched and smiling, the happy hammer
Of his power, the idiocy of death. Fifty cents.

The president was dead, tears fell and incomes rose.
Wait, brothers, wait,
My grief has gone to market too.

The picture books cost more but they were meant to last,
They used the most caressing words, like strong ideals
And dedicated heart and faith in our democracy.
And those who sold the plaster statuettes (one dollar each),
Their right hand mourned, their left rang up the cash.

The president was dead, laments and incomes rose.
Wait, brothers, wait,
My grief has gone to market too.

For a few hours it looked like Farrah Fawcett was going to be the cash cow this weekend.

Poor Farrah. Poor Michael.

Time Wastes Too Fast

You must read this. Artist Maira Kalman attempts to encapsulate the life of Thomas Jefferson.

And she almost does it.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Last year a friend asked me to take slides of some artwork he had created. He was trying to get into a show, and the organizers required color slides of his work to determine whether it was up to their standards. (It was.) It was rather archaic of them, but those were their rules. I hadn't used slide film in at least 20 years, but was glad to give it a try.

One thing every photographer – at least, those of a certain age – knows about color slides: they're unforgiving. Photo processors routinely "improve" your photographs printed from negatives or digital files, but with slides: what you took is what you get. When I went to the shoot, I took a film camera I hadn't used in years, loaded with Kodachrome. But I also took a digital camera. I shot first with the digital camera, and used the resulting images to make sure I had the exposure just right and the flash didn't glare off the paintings. Only then did I pick up the film camera, and reproduce the settings.

What got me talking about that was the recent news that Kodak will discontinue production of Kodachrome later this year. They stopped making Kodachrome 25 in 2001, though you can still buy it on eBay (as I'm writing this, 8 rolls are going for $152.89, with 4 days left in the bidding). But now they're shutting down all Kodachrome production.

I'm a little sad about that, but as beautiful as a good Kodachrome slide can be, there are lots of good reasons why hardly anyone is shooting Kodachrome anymore.

My favorite (professional) photographer, Steve McCurry, has been selected to shoot the last, ceremonial roll of Kodachrome film. You know McCurry's work, even if you don't know his name. According to The Online Photographer, McCurry estimates he has shot 800,000 pictures on Kodachrome.

If you've got a few minutes, I can't recommend his web gallery enough.

Fade to black.

♬ Schadenfreude,
Darling Schadenfreude ♬

You've probably asked yourself many times, "Which New York Times columnist would Sempringham most like to have over for dinner?"

This week it's Gail Collins.

An interesting exchange of points of view occurred in the Sempringham household when Mark Sanford appeared at yesterday's mea culpa news conference without his wife by his side (see Vitter, Ensign, Craig).

"Good for him!" I said, thinking he at least had the decency to not drag his innocent wife through the hell he made.

"Good for her!" Suellen answered.

Well, yeah. There's that, too.

Update: Talking Points Memo reads The Washington Times so we don't have to. So it's thanks to them that I can pass along this gem from that hotbed of conservative looniness:
Extramarital affairs, gambling, alcohol abuse, prostitution and sexual pursuit of minors have taken a toll on the GOP.
Among other things.

Later Update:

The New York Times says:
Questions were raised about whether Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina followed proper procedure when he left the state to meet a woman in Buenos Aires.
They have a proper procedure for that?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer in the City

Went to the doctor today for a physical, and as usual took along my G9. It is pretty warm in Chicago right now, which is always a good reason to go over to Millennium Park for pictures, and since it's just a four-block walk, I couldn't pass up the chance.

"The Bean," actually named Cloud Gate, which I think is a great name:

It's hard to take an uninteresting picture of Cloud Gate. If you've never seen it, you should definitely click on the picture for the bigger view. Can you find me in the reflection?

And the fountains:

The picture above is made of hundreds of TV screens. The eyes open and close. The mouth opens and closes. And when it starts opening, watch out, because it's about to spew that stream of water.

Meanwhile, kids are standing at the base, cooling off from the heat.

I hope to go down again in the next week or two, and spend some time there.

Barbara Boxer, Ma'am

Am I the only liberal who was offended by this exchange:

The right-wing blogosphere is frothing about it, and I was, too. I've recovered my equilibrium enough to scoff at notions that Boxer "has a problem with the military," as one person put it. But she definitely has a problem.

Health Care

Two good articles on health care: David Brooks and Paul Krugman. They approach it from two different places, of course.

Brooks concludes:

If this process goes as it has been going — with grand rhetoric and superficial cost containment — then we will be far better off killing this effort and starting over in a few years.
That would be a catastrophe not only for the Democrats, but for the millions of people who don't have access to health care.

Update: Steven Pearlstein had a third perspective a few days ago that's worth reading.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Meanwhile, in Iran

It's a little staggering how little information the nightly news gives you about what's going on in Iran. It's not like nobody is there.

Read Roger Cohen. A brave guy. Brave people.

And let me send you again to Andrew Sullivan.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Their Names are so Long!

You no longer have to go to your local bar to get commentary from people who have no idea what they're talking about. You can go to Faux! It's official: they're now funnier than Comedy Central.

This is 46 seconds long. Try to keep your jaw from going slack. You can't do it.

By George, I Think He's Got It!

David Brooks tells us how Obama is going to get us health care. Well worth the read.

Monday, June 15, 2009


The best coverage I've found of what's going on over there can be found on Andrew Sullivan's blog at the Atlantic Monthly.

This quote from Steve Clemons, who has excellent sources, causes great concern:

The scariest point he made to me that I had not heard anywhere else is that this "coup by the right wing" has created pressures that cannot be solved or patted down by the normal institutional arrangements Iran has constructed. The Guardian Council and other power nodes of government can't deal with the current crisis and can't deal with the fact that a civil war has now broken out among Iran's revolutionaries.

My contact predicted serious violence at the highest levels. He said that Ahmadinejad is now genuinely scared of Iranian society and of Mousavi and Rafsanjani. The level of tension between them has gone beyond civil limits -- and my contact said that Ahmadinejad will try to have them imprisoned and killed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

On Vacation

Sorry for the slow posting.

We're headed to Minneapolis in the morning to visit family. Have a great week.

Update: Before shutting down I dropped by Bullied Pulpit to see what's new. And he sent me to this column by Steven Pearlstein, who is so on target it's breathtaking. When I saw Bank of America's CEO whining to Congress yesterday about the Merrill Lynch deal, the only thing I could think was, "Why, you little weasel!"

Pearlstein tells you why.

Bank of America is our bank, by the way. Not by choice, really. By merger, acquisition, and inertia. We started off at Talman Home. Which was acquired by LaSalle and became LaSalle Talman, then just LaSalle. Until it was acquired by ABN/AMRO, and became LaSalle ABN. Then it was acquired by Bank of America. The bank I hated in the 60's.

But that's ancient history. Read the column.

And have a great week.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Okay, I'm Impressed

This post is for brothers Mike and Chip, and for my friends Ethan and Jared, but it's okay if you watch it, too. You'll be glad you did.

Go here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Cairo Speech

I'm about half-way through listening to Obama's Cairo speech for the third time.

If you have not heard it yet, set aside an hour and watch it here. It could very well be yet another turning point in history. It is the most carefully constructed speech I have heard in my lifetime (and I've heard a lot of Obama speeches).

There have been criticisms of the speech. Some said Obama implied something called "a moral equivalency" between the Holocaust and the mistreatment of the Palestinians. People making this criticism weren't paying attention, or maybe hope you weren't.

Some said he should have said something nasty about the Mubarak government in Egypt, who provided him the Cairo venue for his speech. These people don't explain how being nasty to Mubarak would be helpful to the people of Egypt. An Egyptian TV journalist's reaction to the speech implicitly endorses Obama's approach:

... there were even greater emotions among Egyptians that went beyond "wow" and "pride." Maybe some of my more eloquent friends can give me a better word to describe the impact of the whole day. But let me try to describe the sense in the example of one very prominent TV journalist. She always plays her cards close to the chest and is a very tough interviewer with US officials. I usually consider her to be fair, but not "pro" U.S. Well, yesterday tears were streaming down her face. She was in a bit of panic, too, because she had to go live right after the speech and was frantically touching up her make up. Later I saw her and without me even asking what she thought, she started in. Her view was that never in her life had such a cross section of Egypt been together in one room. Egyptian government officials, opposition leaders, religious leaders, bloggers, journalists, activists, students, Muslim Brotherhood, the Israeli ambassador (he was invited with other regional ambassadors), intellectuals and artists. To her there was suddenly hope.
And inviting that cross-section was at Obama's insistence.

Finally, for comic relief, there were those who said the speech was "un-American". Like that icon of the Modern Republican Party, Oklahoma's senior Senator, Jim Inhofe.

So, by all means, listen to the speech, and note down all the nasty things he says about America.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Alas, Poor Meshie. I Knew Her Well, Horatio

Here's a fascinating story about a man who visits the Museum of Natural History in New York to see a chimpanzee that lived with his family 80 years ago.

The chimpanzee is stuffed.

I should tell you ahead of time it's not a particularly cheerful story.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Wackos Coming Out of the Woodwork

One of the biggest dangers of the government being a shareholder in GM and Chrysler (and there are many) is that it gives the lunatic fringe more opportunities for lunacy. To wit:

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Tiananmen Square

It has been 20 years since the leadership of China decided it was a good idea to massacre hundreds of their unarmed citizens in and around Tiananmen Square. Do you remember the Goddess of Democracy?

The BBC has a short slide show, with audio, here.

Some very interesting pictures of an 18th anniversary Tiananmen commemoration by Hong Kong citizens are here.

Addendum: Don't expect to see visitors from China popping up to read this post, as they do for nearly any post that mentions China or anybody or anything in China. Tiananmen Square is different. Their internet filters don't allow the words.

Blasé About a Disaster

Helicopters are hovering over our house.

Time to put on the tin foil hat? Not yet. There's probably an accident over on the Kennedy Expressway.

Yep, there is is. We live (roughly) under the left-hand arrow. The red indicates traffic is backed up in both directions from a particular point – from just about where we live.

So those are traffic helicopters from the various local TV news shows. The tin foil hat can go back in the emergency kit, and life goes on. Hopefully for the people involved in the accident, too.