Friday, August 28, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I have evidence.
The crypt above Marilyn Monroe's at Westwood Cemetery has been sold.
Here's a piece of the write-up:
Here is a once in a lifetime and into eternity opportunity to spend your eternal days directly above Marilyn Monroe. This crypt in the famous Westwood Cemetary in West Los Angeles currently occupied above Marilyn Monroe is being vacated so as to make room for a new resident.Don't you love that? The crypt "is being vacated."
But don't feel too bad for the former occupant:
[T]he person occupying the address right now is looking face down on her."Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." [F. Scott Fitzgerald]
We still have a rotary phone on the wall in the kitchen. We once had a youngish repairman in the house who asked to use the phone. When we pointed to it, you could see the confusion and panic in his face. Too bad we didn't have this video at the time:
There's an interesting op-ed in the Times this morning about Peak Oil, the theory that there is a finite amount of oil in the ground, that we're just about done pumping the stuff that's easy to get at, and that oil production will inevitably start declining, starting in [insert date here]. It's a provocative piece, attempting to debunk three of the observations made by Peak Oil proponents.
I can't say it's particularly convincing, even if the author, Michael Lynch, is right on all three points. For instance, on the issue of whether the easy oil is gone, he says:
A related argument — that the “easy oil” is gone and that extraction can only become more difficult and cost-ineffective — should be recognized as vague and irrelevant. Drillers in Persia a century ago certainly didn’t consider their work easy, and the mechanized, computerized industry of today is a far sight from 19th-century mule-drawn rigs. Hundreds of fields that produce “easy oil” today were once thought technologically unreachable.And that's all he has to say about that. Sorry, but that's at least as vague and irrelevant as the argument it attempts to rebut.
But let's grant him the point on all three of his arguments. Let's say that for all practical purposes there is an unlimited supply of reachable oil in the world, that there's no reason at all to be concerned about the fact that nearly all that oil is somewhere besides America, and that the reason we shouldn't be alarmed that the rate of use exceeds the rate of discovery is a mystery known only to manly oil men.
The Peak Oil issue is a concern, but it is just part of a much larger concern: man-made climate change. The overwhelming weight of scientific opinion is that our use of fossil fuels is leading us to disaster. Mr. Lynch doesn't talk about that, although he does endorse alternate energy – at the same time he dismisses it:
This is not to say that we shouldn’t keep looking for other cost-effective, low-pollution energy sources — why not broaden our options? But we can’t let the false threat of disappearing oil lead the government to throw money away on harebrained renewable energy schemes or impose unnecessary and expensive conservation measures on a public already struggling through tough economic times.Uh, Mr. Lynch, the issue is bigger than Peak Oil.
Update: And while Mr. Lynch is trying to divert our attention, China Racing Ahead of U.S. in Drive to Go Solar.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Perhaps you haven't yet heard of the adventures of Daniel Hannan, a Conservative Member of Parliament who had been in the States, making guest appearances on Froth News. Mr. Hannan, one of the more wacked-out MP's on the Sceptered Isle, was brought over to denounce the British National Health Service as part of the Froth News campaign against affordable health insurance.
There were only two problems with the plan:
• The plans for improving American health insurance bear no resemblance to the National Health Service. But that's okay, because if your only source of information is Froth News, you will remain ignorant – of this, and generally.
• The British like their National Health Service, by significantly higher margins than Americans like our health system, and when You Tube videos of Hannan calling it "communist" started playing in the UK, the Brits started getting upset.
This priceless column from WalesOnline gives you a flavor, or should I say: a flavour.
And Andy Tobias points us to this article. If you haven't heard how Investor's Business Daily embarrassed themselves (tee-hee), make sure you click through.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Rick Perlstein (not to be confused with Steven Pearlstein at the same paper) sums it up well at the Washington Post:
Conservatives have become adept at playing the media for suckers, getting inside the heads of editors and reporters, haunting them with the thought that maybe they are out-of-touch cosmopolitans and that their duty as tribunes of the people's voices means they should treat Obama's creation of "death panels" as just another justiciable political claim. If 1963 were 2009, the woman who assaulted Adlai Stevenson would be getting time on cable news to explain herself. That, not the paranoia itself, makes our present moment uniquely disturbing.The entire article is a good history lesson.
It used to be different. You never heard the late Walter Cronkite taking time on the evening news to "debunk" claims that a proposed mental health clinic in Alaska is actually a dumping ground for right-wing critics of the president's program, or giving the people who made those claims time to explain themselves on the air. The media didn't adjudicate the ever-present underbrush of American paranoia as a set of "conservative claims" to weigh, horse-race-style, against liberal claims. Back then, a more confident media unequivocally labeled the civic outrage represented by such discourse as "extremist" -- out of bounds.
The tree of crazy is an ever-present aspect of America's flora. Only now, it's being watered by misguided he-said-she-said reporting and taking over the forest. Latest word is that the enlightened and mild provision in the draft legislation to help elderly people who want living wills -- the one hysterics turned into the "death panel" canard -- is losing favor, according to the Wall Street Journal, because of "complaints over the provision."
Good thing our leaders weren't so cowardly in 1964, or we would never have passed a civil rights bill -- because of complaints over the provisions in it that would enslave whites.
Meanwhile, Steven Pearlstein sees hope. Some of the crustiest stalagmites in the conservative arsenal are seeing the need to reform American health insurance: Behold, a National and Rational Conversation on Health Care.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Atrios, at Eschaton:
One weird thing about our press is that lies about personal stuff, and things which are likely just inadvertent slips, can cause Great Outrage among the assembled Villagers [the Washington press corps], while sustained and repeated lies about policy are just laundered and retransmitted.It has something to do with that attention span thing (see previous post). Thinking about policy issues is hard. Who wants to do that? And if you call Newt Gingrich a liar, he won't talk to you again! Then how would you do your job!?!
On the other hand, the NY Times has a good piece this morning: False "Death Panel" Rumor Has Familiar Roots. It's not news, really, but it's starting to get at the real story behind the wingnut outrage.
I might have lost some money if anybody had taken me up on my challenge.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Here's something different: Kseniya Simonova is a sand painter. She lives in Ukraine, and was a contestant on the Ukraine version of "America's Got Talent."
They gave her eight and a half minutes for this. I guess one of the advantages of having lived behind the Iron Curtain (I can't think of a second) is you still have an attention span. Commercial television hasn't taken over your brain patterns yet.
For her performance, Ms. Simonova painted the Nazi invasion of Ukraine:
By the way: she won.
I found this on Huffington Post.
From Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly, news that a coalition of groups has put up $12 million to run ads like this one:
Did you notice that it's being referred to as health insurance reform, now? People in the know (or at least, people with $12 million) read Sempringham.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I was never really a big fan of comic books, with one exception: Back in the 1950's and early 60's, I couldn't get my hands on enough comic books about World War II Navy battles. Nowadays you hear only about the superhero comics, and I'm sure I read a lot of Superman. But you may be surprised to hear there was another genre, a group of comics that provided spine-tingling stories about American submarines evading Japanese depth charges, then firing off their torpedoes when the Japanese thought they were home-free. They were called "Japs," though, not "Japanese."
I can think of three reasons for my Navy battle fixation: one, World War II was fairly recently over when I was born, but was still fresh in the mind of everyone who lived through it; two, my eldest brother, who hadn't lived at home since I was four, was a Naval officer and my hero; and third, there was an enormous picture of the USS Enterprise hanging on the wall in the bedroom I shared with my two other brothers. It looked something like this one:
I was going to join the Navy myself. Every week the family would watch a program called "Men of Annapolis" on television, a show that told stories about the lives of midshipmen. (There was another, vastly inferior, program about West Point, too.) I wouldn't miss an Army-Navy game; Navy pummeled Army with regularity in those days. (They had a pretty good quarterback named Staubach. Don't know whatever became of him.) And I read and re-read a book about life at Annapolis. Here's my main takeaway from that:
"How's the cow?"I decided I'd better memorize that in case an upperclassman ever asked me if there was any milk left at the dinner table, where I would be seated on the front three inches of my chair. Fifty years later, I'm still prepared.
"Sir, she walks, she talks, she's full of chalk. The lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the nth degree."
But this is a post about comic books, and I left them in the 50's, I'm sure. Like most people who grow up.
While I wasn't paying any attention to them, comic books became something else: they became graphic novels. I've only read one graphic novel, something called Maus: A Survivor's Tale. My Father Bleeds History, and I'd say it adds enough gravitas to the genre that nobody needs to feel apologetic about being a graphic novelist. If you haven't read it, you should.
So, that's where things stood until this morning, when I saw this review in the NY Times of a comic book series called Unknown Soldier which is being collected into a book. Unknown Soldier is a comic book about – are you ready for this? – the civil war in Uganda.
Perhaps because I know this can be done well (Maus), or because I got to talk to a bunch of wonderful children from Uganda recently, I'm looking forward to reading it. I think it's going to be a far cry from my Navy comics, though.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Andrew Tobias to the rescue, again. This morning he points us to this article by Matt Miller at The Daily Beast:
The truth is that everything that’s taking place right now is irrelevant.... Between now and [the House/Senate conference], everyone should take a deep breath. The talking heads have to fill up air time, but the rest of us should remember: until we get to conference, it's all prelude.We need to think back to Obama's incredible political campaign. Does everybody remember a time when we were all frantic? We thought Obama was being too easy on McCain? He had dropped in the polls!
These guys know what they're doing.
Courage is not a common commodity among politicians. Right now they're being pummeled by the wackos. We need to take Matt Miller's advice: "Legislators need to get the message that their constituents want "change" on health care, and will punish them for supporting the status quo."
And the Republican Party needs to be put on notice that if health insurance reform fails to pass, they will be held accountable.
Saturday, August 08, 2009
The Washington Post had a picture of Sonia Sotomayor's swearing-in as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court today:
Notice that Chief Justice Roberts, who is administering the oath, has it written out in front of him. (If you're unclear what's snarky about this, look here.)
What is even more interesting, however, is that it appears to be in LARGE PRINT. The ravages of age strike Supreme Court justices, too.
You are excused from reading this post just as soon as your eyes start rolling into your head, which shouldn't take long. But Chicago friends should read the last paragraph before lapsing into REM sleep.
A couple or three years ago a couple asked me to be the photographer at their wedding. I knew something about them, and even though they offered to pay me I knew they really couldn't afford to. So I cheerfully offered to do their wedding gratis, and it was an honor to do so.
I thought I could just show up for the wedding with a camera and, since I know an f-stop from a shutter speed, do as well a professional.
Stupid, stupid me.
By the time it was over, I swore I'd never photograph a wedding again. It was work! Hard work! With some significant pressure thrown in. Although everyone was kind enough not to mention them, I made some monumental mistakes. Like not getting pictures of the bride's family (whom I did not know). That's not all, but it gives you the flavor. If I were to catalog them all I would break down in uncontrollable sobbing.
I've shot three gratis weddings since then (they got what they paid for), with varying degrees of success, and one thing I noticed each time was that the experience pushed me to better understand what I was doing right and, more frequently, what I was doing wrong.
When I get in one of those places I start buying things: books on photography, books on wedding photography, videos on photography, videos on wedding photography, a new lens, gizmos for the camera, and so on. And I scour the internet for training materials, and magazine articles to validate my purchase of books on photography, books on wedding photography, videos on photography, videos on wedding photography, lenses, cameras, camera gizmos, and so on. I basically do everything except go out and take some pictures.
So I tried something different. In the past few weeks I've taken a couple of photography courses at Calumet Photographic's Chicago store. Both courses were taught by a highly skilled photographer and teacher, Bill Skinner, who's shot more than 1,500 weddings and knows his way around a photo studio pretty darn well, too. Two weeks ago was Introduction to Lighting and Portraiture, which started out slow with explanations of what an f-stop is [well, the syllabus did say "Introduction"], but finished in a flurry of really useful information.
Yesterday was a full day of Wedding Photography, and my mind has been blown. I think I've got it! The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain!
The pictures are from yesterday's class.
That's Bill pushing light up the model's nose. No, actually, he was demonstrating the effects of the different types of reflectors and diffusers.
Loop lighting, short side.
I've known for more than 25 years about the four classical lighting patterns: Split, Rembrandt, Loop, and Butterfly. For some reason, though, I've always viewed them as things to evaluate portraits with after they were taken. Looking at my pictures I might say, "This is an example of Rembrandt lighting." I might say that. But usually what I'd say was "This is an example of garbage," because I was paying no attention to the lighting pattern while taking the picture.
Bill showed me how a professional photographer – or any portrait photographer who knows what he/she is doing – builds the picture with the light. I am transformed.
And he gave me some powerful information, if I have but the courage to use it. Such as:
- When shooting with a strobe, such as an off-camera flash, the exposure of the subject is controlled by the aperture; the exposure of the background is controlled by the shutter speed. So what? Well, if you want a sky that's richer and bluer than it really is, adjust the shutter speed and let those colors soak in. The subject will still be properly exposed. I know you knew that, and I have about 20 books that tell me that in so many words, but somehow Bill managed to actually beat it into my brain.
- If you need to know which aperture to use when taking a flash picture [because the aperture – not the shutter speed – is what gives you the proper exposure], divide the guide number by the distance between the flash and the subject. Then you can play around with the shutter speed (see item #1).
And then I swoop in and take a shot like it's my studio:
If it really were my studio, I'd have Leigh's eyes in sharper focus. That's butterfly lighting, by the way.
Leigh, like many brides, knew what she was doing in front of a camera. To represent grooms, who don't, Bill brought in a young man who had never modeled before.
He did a great job and reminded me of every groom I've ever photographed. (All four of them.)
The classes were a great experience. When I started talking to people in the class I discovered that, in addition to doofuses like me, there were people there who knew what they were doing and were there to get their batteries juiced, so to speak. A woman I talked to at lunch had done documentary shoots for non-profits in Brazil and Iraq. Another had been second photographer for a DC wedding photographer for two years, and was now ready to hang out her own shingle.
I'd love to do more weddings, but don't want to make a business out of it. I'll be happy to do the best job I can for people who just can't afford a professional.
In the meanwhile, I've got to get out and take pictures. I've imposed upon my friends in the past to serve as models for me. Friends, start thinking up excuses, because I'm comin' round again.
It's still doom and gloom here.
Talking Points Memo reports that Sarah Palin has managed to discover the secret intent of the current health insurance legislation:
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's "death panel" so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their "level of productivity in society," whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.Which made this challenge from Publius seem appropriate:
Can the American media, as an institution, inform the public about what's really being proposed? And can it do so in the face of sustained, outright falsehoods (not good faith policy disagreements).Publius quotes the Steven Pearlstein column quoted below, and optimistically opines, "Well, this column by Steven Pearlstein sure is a good start."
Alas, it will probably be the end of it, too. I'll give 5 to 1 that the answer to Publius's question is "No."
Friday, August 07, 2009
Steven Pearlstein, the business columnist for the Washington Post, is a must read today.
While holding themselves out as paragons of fiscal rectitude, Republicans grandstand against just about every idea to reduce the amount of health care people consume or the prices paid to health-care providers -- the only two ways I can think of to credibly bring health spending under control.Meanwhile, over at the NY Times, Paul Krugman is saying this:
When Democrats, for example, propose to fund research to give doctors, patients and health plans better information on what works and what doesn't, Republicans sense a sinister plot to have the government decide what treatments you will get. By the same wacko-logic, a proposal that Medicare pay for counseling on end-of-life care is transformed into a secret plan for mass euthanasia of the elderly.
Government negotiation on drug prices? The end of medical innovation as we know it, according to the GOP's Dr. No. Reduce Medicare payments to overpriced specialists and inefficient hospitals? The first step on the slippery slope toward rationing.
Can there be anyone more two-faced than the Republican leaders who in one breath rail against the evils of government-run health care and in another propose a government-subsidized high-risk pool for people with chronic illness, government-subsidized community health centers for the uninsured, and opening up Medicare to people at age 55?
Health reform is a test of whether this country can function once again as a civil society -- whether we can trust ourselves to embrace the big, important changes that require everyone to give up something in order to make everyone better off. [My emphasis.] Republican leaders are eager to see us fail that test. We need to show them that no matter how many lies they tell or how many scare tactics they concoct, Americans will come together and get this done.
If health reform is to be anyone's Waterloo, let it be theirs.
... right now Mr. Obama’s backers seem to lack all conviction, perhaps because the prosaic reality of his administration isn’t living up to their dreams of transformation. Meanwhile, the angry right is filled with a passionate intensity.That "prosaic reality" and "dreams of transformation" claptrap is pure Krugman. He mocks Obama's supporters, then says they're the only people who can get health insurance reform to pass. Krugman still thinks Obama is going to lose in November 2008.
And if Mr. Obama can’t recapture some of the passion of 2008, can’t inspire his supporters to stand up and be heard, health care reform may well fail.
Finally, take a look at the reports of the tea bagger protesters being reported at Talking Points Memo here, here, and here.
This does not bode well for the future of this country. Has the Republican Party damaged the American political process beyond repair? Are we never again going to be able to accomplish great things? Is our future going to be held captive to ignorant mobs?
We'll see in the next few months.
Addendum: Andrew Tobias has a very worthy post on health care in America here.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Here's the fullest version I could find of a story that's starting to make the rounds. It concerns George W. Bush's efforts to convince former French President Jacques Chirac to join us in the invasion of Iraq:
Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”Shorter versions have been reported by Andrew Sullivan, the Toronto Star, Kevin Drum, and Beliefnet, among others.
This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”
After the 2003 call, the puzzled French leader didn’t comply with Bush’s request. Instead, his staff asked Thomas Romer, a theologian at the University of Lausanne, to analyze the weird appeal. Dr. Romer explained that the Old Testament book of Ezekiel contains two chapters (38 and 39) in which God rages against Gog and Magog, sinister and mysterious forces menacing Israel. Jehovah vows to smite them savagely, to “turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws,” and slaughter them ruthlessly. In the New Testament, the mystical book of Revelation envisions Gog and Magog gathering nations for battle, “and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
In 2007, Dr. Romer recounted Bush’s strange behavior in Lausanne University’s review, Allez Savoir. A French-language Swiss newspaper, Le Matin Dimanche, printed a sarcastic account titled: “When President George W. Bush Saw the Prophesies of the Bible Coming to Pass.” France’s La Liberte likewise spoofed it under the headline “A Small Scoop on Bush, Chirac, God, Gog and Magog.” But other news media missed the amazing report.
Subsequently, ex-President Chirac confirmed the nutty event in a long interview with French journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, who tells the tale in his new book, Si Vous le Répétez, Je Démentirai (If You Repeat it, I Will Deny), released in March by the publisher Plon.
I can't believe this story, though. If it were true, it would mean that for eight years our foreign policy was being run by lunatics.
You may remember Kathleen Parker, the syndicated conservative columnist for the Washington Post. It has been kind of fun to watch her wake up to the realities around her.
In September she wrote:
I've been pulling for Ms. Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I've also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.And after the election she wrote:
Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party. And, the truth -- as long as we're setting ourselves free -- is that if one were to eavesdrop on private conversations among the party intelligentsia*, one would hear precisely that.My gosh, if you take away the Bimbo, and you take away armband religion, what do you have left in the Republican Party?
The choir has become absurdly off-key, and many Republicans know it.
... the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.
Today, Ms. Parker goes after that:
What the GOP is experiencing now, one hopes, are the death throes of that 50-year spell that [Lyndon] Johnson foretold [i.e., that the Civil Rights Act would drive the South into the Republican Party for half a century]. But before the party of the Great Emancipator can rise again, Republicans will have to face their inner Voinovich and drive a stake through the heart of old Dixie.The column had 1600 comments by 7 a.m.
* By whom she apparently means herself and David Brooks, because for the life of me I can't think of third!
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
A little while ago, Jeannelle at Midlife by Farmlight pointed her readers to Drifting in Asia, a spectacular blog by an American photographer living in Indonesia with his wife and two little girls.
The photographer's name is Scotty Graham, and he does some funky things with color. Go pay him a visit. You'll be amazed at the things going on Southeast Asia. He doesn't know me from Adam, but I'm going to add his blog to my list of blogging friends just so you'll be reminded to visit him from time to time.
Almost forgot: He has a separate, photo blog here. And take a look at these.
Apparently, this television ad really rattled Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the Democrats who is trying to kill health insurance reform:
Nelson called the Nebraska businessman cited in the ad, Michael Snider, to explain his position:
"He said if we went with a full public option -- which he called a government plan -- it would drive the price down and hurt private companies. I said, 'you mean competition.' And he replied that it would force people off the private plan and onto the government plan."Of course, no one would be "forced" off the private plan by the availability of a government plan. What's forcing people off private plans is their cost!
When you take $2 million+ from insurance company lobbyists, you have to be prepared to have people suspect you're putting insurance company interests ahead of your constituents'.
Keep a close eye on television news in the next few days. The Teabagger Movement, those folks who were screaming about fascism just a month or two ago, has set its sights on disrupting Congressional town hall meetings, shouting down people who disagree with them. Talking Points Memo has been chronicling their activities.
Our eagle-eye press, on the other hand, is reporting this as some sort of grass-roots reaction to health insurance reform, as though these brownshirts had wandered into the meetings independently of one another.
Kevin Drum quotes Marc Kleiman on the best tactic for handling these goons:
If I were a Member of Congress threatened by this nonsense, I wouldn't stop holding town meetings; I'd start out each meeting by welcoming my constituents and warning them that there's an organized group in the hall planning to disrupt the proceedings. Never pass up an opportunity to portray your opponents as extremists, especially when they are.Will our wonderful Washington press wise up to what's happening? Don't bet on it.
Update: Credit where credit is due. Not 10 minutes after this was posted, ABC News carried a story about how the disruptions were being organized by low-lifes from the Bush Administration. They didn't actually use the word "low-lifes", I think. It would have been redundant.
Update: Publius at Obsidian Wings isn't concerned about the brownshirts. He's (She's?) concerned about the lies.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
If you consult your Stunk and White, or your eighth grade grammar textbook, you will learn that writing clear sentences requires placing a comma before the word and in a series. Hooray for the red, white, and blue.
Some years ago, though, somebody decided that the last comma in that sentence took up too much ink, or space, or something, and now you will find far too many journals that should know better writing that sentence as Hooray for the red, white and blue. Not so bad, you might say. I understand what the writer means, and that's what's important, right?
And if we never had a complex thought, that would be just fine. But every once in a while we try to mix things together to share information in interesting ways, and that's where the danger lies.
I just happen to have an example here. Today we learn in the New York Times that Annie Liebovitz was in an incestuous relationship with her mother, Susan Sontag!
Let's not even talk about that semi-colon. Good Lord.
In the last five years, Ms. Leibovitz lost her father, her mother and her companion, Susan Sontag; added two children to her family and oversaw the costly and controversial renovation of three properties in Greenwich Village.