Saturday, October 31, 2009

Two Must-Sees

You never know what's going on unless you watch Jon Stewart.

After giving The New Yorker a free plug here the other day, I open the latest issue and what do I see as the first article in Talk of the Town, but an exasperatingly stupid essay on why the Obama Administration is wrong to point out that Fox News is not a real news organization. Talk about clueless!

Stewart gets it:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
For Fox Sake!
Daily Show
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Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

There's always been a group of people in the Anglican/Episcopal Church who wished they were really Roman Catholics.

(Don't look at me like that. I can't fathom why, either.)

Anyway, the Pope decided to play on their misogyny and homophobia and lure them away.

To which I say, "They are seeking a new church home, and God bless them as they seek that place for their journey."

Stewart has more:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Ecce No Homo
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Dignified Transfer

It was impossible not to be moved by the Dignified Transfer ceremony Obama attended at Dover Air Force Base a couple of days ago. More pictures are here.

It's hard to say anything about it without sounding trite or partisan. It is interesting that Obama chose to do this at this time, when he is about to announce (according to news reports) that we're going to tough it out in Afghanistan, and can expect more Dignified Transfer ceremonies in the future.

This had to be a sobering experience.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Formula for Success?

The Writer's Almanac did a little profile of the editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, today, that was enlightening:
When Remnick took over in 1998, the magazine was in financial straits. But it's remarkably profitable now, with greater advertising revenue and the highest renewal rate of any subscription magazine in the country. But Remnick said, 'My principle in the magazine -- and I am not being arrogant -- is that I don't lose sleep trying to figure what the reader wants. I don't do surveys. I don't check the mood of the consumers. I do what I want, what interests me and a small group of editors that influences the way of the magazine.'
The principle is, I think, that if the editors find it interesting, the readers will, too.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Thanks to Cappy, a commenter over at Think Progress for his hours of research on this:

F = the 6th letter of the alphabet.

O = the 15th letter of the alphabet. 1 + 5 = 6

X = the 24th letter of the alphabet. 2 + 4 = 6

FOX = the mark of the antichrist!

Suellen and I are in Minneapolis this week visiting family. Sorry for the slow posting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Can We Do About Goldman?

Goldman Sachs, one of the companies America went into deep hock to rescue in the last year, has announced it will pay $23 billion in bonuses to its managers. Think about that. We're left holding the sack of stuff they created, good people are out of work all across the country, and these guys are wondering if their Palm Beach house is big enough.

Frank Rich isn't happy about that, quoting Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, who famously calls Goldman Sachs a "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." Rich thinks the reason Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner can't deal with them is because he "marinates in the culture." Rich might be right.

But British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is angry about it:
Ministers are drawing up plans for a tax raid on Britain’s banks worth hundreds of millions of pounds, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

The radical move, being considered as a way of forcing banks to pay a price for the taxpayer-funded bail-out of the financial system, could include a one-off “windfall” tax on profits.
Kevin Drum's approach seems imminently reasonable:
I don't know if a one-off windfall profits tax is the right approach to this, and I don't think it should be motivated by anger in any case. The rescue plan put in place last year was bound to make the banking sector pretty profitable in the short run, so it's hardly a surprise that that's what happened. Nonetheless, there's no reason the industry as a whole shouldn't be expected to help pay for its own rescue one way or another. There's certainly no reason the taxpayers should do it all.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Some people are really, really talented. And every once in a while we get a genius.

Gustavo Dudamel is in the latter category. Dudamel, who is only 28 years old, last week began his tenure as Conductor and Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Lucky Los Angeles.

Here he is conducting the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of his native Venezuela in a performance of Mexican composer Arturo Márquez's Danzón No. 2. I first heard this piece just a few weeks ago, and it is one of the happiest compositions I've heard in years.

If it doesn't grab you by the two-and-a-half-minute mark, you're hopeless. And wow, what a finish.


Impressed? You ain't seen nothin' yet. Check out the same orchestra's handling of Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story.

And if that's still not enough, check out their encores.

You're welcome.

Addendum: Here's a good illustration of the difference the conductor can make in a piece. Just listen for a minute or so to this. The players are professional, they're playing all the right notes, and they're playing them at the right time. But something's different (and it isn't just the production values of the video, though that doesn't help). For this conductor, the piece is a chore. For Dudamel, it's a joy.

Netanyahu: Israel's Very Own George W. Bush

There is a condition common to many unsuccessful leaders. This condition makes the person unable to discern the difference between someone who agrees on goals but disagrees on tactics, and someone who disagrees on goals. George W. Bush summed up this attitude perfectly with his challenge to the world: "You're either with us, or you're against us."

In foreign relations, this condition always decreases the chances for success.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has got the condition. Thus, he appoints an Ambassador to the United States who allows his spokesman to announce that American Jews who are not charmed by his ham-fisted, right-wing government are "anti-Israel".

More here.

Still Thinking About Afghanistan

Thanks to Andrew Tobias for pointing to two interesting, unrelated items.

In An Open Letter to President Obama, Middle East specialist William R. Polk gives a five minute course in Afghan history and demographics, and a warning about seeking a military solution. It is well worth the read, even if your inclination is in the other direction.

The second item from Tobias is so off-the-wall it might actually work.

This is a Bo-Go Light. It is a solar-powered flashlight that will give several hours of light with each charge. In parts of the world where there is no electricity, the day ends when the sun goes down. A man named Mark Bent, who founded the company that makes them, established a project called Light Haiti, which aims to provide these flashlights to families in that country, where 85% of the population does not have electricity.

Tobias says Bent sees a possibility in Afghanistan, too:
Ninety percent of Afghans have no electricity and the Number One thing they want, he says, is light at night. What if our troops could clip half a dozen of Bogo Lights to their belts each morning and hand them, personally, to families that need them.

On one side is the solar panel. On the other, in Afghan, could be a message: “Please help us leave your country and get home to our families. We miss them terribly. But we can’t leave until you are more safe. In the meantime, and long after were [sic] gone, we hope this gift from the American people helps light up your life.”

With 50,000 troops handing out half a dozen lights each day it would take just weeks to touch the hearts and minds of millions. And maybe even demonstrate the potential of modern technology, versus the appeal of Seventh Century fundamentalism.

At less than $10 in such quantity, we could cover the whole country for $50 million. Nothing, in the scheme of things.
We are spending $65 billion a year (!) in Afghanistan, and things are moving backward. There's probably some way this could blow up in our face, but couldn't we spend a million on these things and see if it really does make an appreciable difference in people's lives, and whether that makes them better disposed to these foreign troops? It sure beats chewing gum and chocolate. What have we got to lose?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Madness! Madness!*

The Wall Street Journal reported today that:
Major U.S. banks and securities firms are on pace to pay their employees about $140 billion this year — a record high that shows compensation is rebounding despite regulatory scrutiny of Wall Street's pay culture.
In a post named "Burn It Down and Salt the Earth," Kevin Drum's response was a bull's eye:
I sort of feel like I've run out of things to say about this. There's an insanity here that's almost beyond analysis. Wall Street can spark an economic slowdown that misses destroying the planet and causing a second Great Depression only by a hair's breadth — said hair being an 11th hour emergency infusion of trillions of taxpayer dollars — and then turn around and use those trillions to return to bubble levels of profitability within a year. And they can do it even though the rest of the economy is still suffering through the worst recession since World War II. It's mind boggling.
Amen. Read the whole thing here.

* This is a reference to a line in The Bridge on the River Kwai. Okay, maybe a little obscure.

What a Real VP Looks Like

Newsweek starts off its cover story on Joe Biden with this story about the VP:
Joe Biden had a question. During a long Sunday meeting with President Obama and top national-security advisers on Sept. 13, the VP interjected, "Can I just clarify a factual point? How much will we spend this year on Afghanistan?" Someone provided the figure: $65 billion. "And how much will we spend on Pakistan?" Another figure was supplied: $2.25 billion. "Well, by my calculations that's a 30-to-1 ratio in favor of Afghanistan. So I have a question. Al Qaeda is almost all in Pakistan, and Pakistan has nuclear weapons. And yet for every dollar we're spending in Pakistan, we're spending $30 in Afghanistan. Does that make strategic sense?" The White House Situation Room fell silent. But the questions had their desired effect: those gathered began putting more thought into Pakistan as the key theater in the region.

Obama is facing a lot of pressure to find some way to bring the Afghanistan war to a successful conclusion. McCain, the proverbial man with a hammer (every problem is a nail), cannot fathom a situation in which the best course of action is anything less than full throttle military action.

Thank goodness we have Obama and Biden thinking about this, instead of McCain and Palin.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bad News from Russia

Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov says Russia will not cooperate with Obama's effort to increase pressure on Iran concerning its nuclear program. This after Obama had canceled an antimissile defense system, which Russia had strongly objected to.

This is clearly a slap in Obama's face, and will be seized upon by the anti-Russians in the American foreign policy establishment as proof that Russia is still an unreliable, dangerous foe, not a potential ally. What's worse, the Russians had to know that would be the result.

The inescapable conclusion is that Russia is more interested in currying a relationship with Iran than with the United States and Western Europe. Well, nobody can say Obama didn't try.

Addendum: The antimissile defense system should have been canceled anyway, so nothing ventured, nothing gained. And at least now we know the Russians are still the Russians.

A Morning Eye-Opener

Looking for something different? Try "The Collider, the Particle (sic) and a Theory About Fate".

Favorite quote: “We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Part of the Problem

Kevin Drum printed a little map yesterday that sheds some light on the problem in Afghanistan.

From Wikipedia: "The Taliban (Pashto: طالبان ṭālibān, meaning 'students'), also Taleban, is a Sunni Islamist, predominantly Pashtun radical religious and political movement...." [My emphasis.]

Here's the map:

The border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is called the "Durand Line," and was established by the British in 1893. What were they thinking?

I Wish I'd Said That

Gail Collins on Obama's Nobel Prize:
It was sort of like one of those greeting cards that say: “Thank you for being you.”

Friday, October 09, 2009

Why Do Republicans Hate America?

Here's a statement from the Taliban concerning the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama:

KABUL - The Taliban Friday condemned the decision to award this year's Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama, saying he had "not taken a single step towards peace in Afghanistan".

"We have seen no change in his strategy for peace. He has done nothing for peace in Afghanistan. He has not taken a single step for peace in Afghanistan or to make this country stable," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

"We condemn the award of the Noble Peace Prize for Obama," he said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We condemn the institute's awarding him the peace prize. We condemn this year's peace prize as unjust."
And here's a statement from Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee:

“The real question Americans are asking is, ‘What has President Obama actually accomplished?' It is unfortunate that the president's star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights. One thing is certain – President Obama won't be receiving any awards from Americans for job creation, fiscal responsibility, or backing up rhetoric with concrete action.”
And here's the response of the Democratic National Committee to both:
"The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," DNC communications director Brad Woodhouse told POLITICO. "Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party.

"The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore -- it's an embarrassing label to claim," Woodhouse said.
The Republicans sure do make it easy.

Why did Obama get the Nobel Peace Prize?

Diplomacy died under George W. Bush. Obama single-handedly brought it back from the dead. The world appreciates that, even if the Republicans do not.

Addendum: John McCain, who undoubtedly has thrown a temper tantrum about this, "gets it," nevertheless.

Friday, October 02, 2009

A Stupid Self-Indulgence

If you're interested in the kind of photography that I am (portrait photography), and there's no reason you should be, you'd be aware that there is an international community of people who are kind of nuts about off-camera flash. The idea is that if you use a flash other than that little thing that's built into your camera, and can make it work without being attached to your camera, you'll get much better pictures. No red-eye, to start with. More interesting light, for another.

If you're already nodding off, move on to something else. This doesn't get any better.

Another thing you can do with this off-camera flash is modify it in some way. In this silly little video (shot with a Canon 5D Mark II (sigh)], the videographer is illustrating the kind of light you can get by bouncing the flash off something silver, then something white – in this case, off Bounceman's cape, then off Bounceman's shirt.

What he's saying in the third episode is "What you need [is] a little hairlight" (the guys who made this are Belgian). And the principle works when you're photographing people who aren't beautiful models, too, but who'd watch a video like that?

Hey, I warned you go move on to something else. You've got nobody to blame but yourself.

A Diamond Roughed Up

It was surprising to read yesterday that General Stanley McChrystal, Obama's choice for commander of forces in Afghanistan, was arguing publicly with Vice President Biden's suggestion that we scale back those forces and concentrate on eliminating Al Qaeda.

Biden's position on this issue may not be correct, but that's beside the point. If you want to retain the confidence of the President, you give as strong an argument to the Vice President's analysis as you want to in private, but in public you shut up.

Gen. McChrystal should know that.

Today we learn that Obama summoned Gen. McChrystal from London to Copenhagen for a 20-minute consultation aboard Air Force One.

Which do you think you can do in 20 minutes?
  • Review the pluses and minuses of the different strategies being considered in Afghanistan.
  • Tell somebody to shut up.
Just a guess.

Conservative Shock Jocks

David Brooks has been described as the liberals' favorite conservative, and that's true here. Today's column, The Wizard of Beck, is illustrative of why. Brooks today takes on the voice of the Republican Party: the wackos on Faux, though he never mentions Faux by name. He's courageous, but not that courageous.

Of course, if you're a Republican trying to make the case that the GOP is not as wacko as Hannity, Rushbaugh, O'Reilly, and Beck (and there are many more), the first thing you have to do is blame the Democrats for the perception that it is. Thus:
[The shock jocks] still ride the airwaves claiming to speak for millions. They still confuse listeners with voters. And they are aided in this endeavor by their enablers. They are enabled by cynical Democrats, who love to claim that Rush Limbaugh controls the G.O.P.
It's the Democrats' fault.

But then he goes on to say:
The Republican Party is unpopular because it’s more interested in pleasing Rush’s ghosts than actual people. The party is leaderless right now because nobody has the guts to step outside the rigid parameters enforced by the radio jocks and create a new party identity. The party is losing because it has adopted a radio entertainer’s niche-building strategy, while abandoning the politician’s coalition-building strategy.
Gee, I'd say that sounds like Rush Limbaugh controls the GOP.

I'd say that, but I wouldn't want to be an enabler.

Addendum: Was Brooks's column part of a wider conspiracy of non-Faux Republicans to try to take the party back? Within the past few days Sen. Lindsay Graham was taking the same tack.