Tuesday, November 16, 2010


You be the judge. This is George W. Bush's official portrait:

Actually, I kind of like it as a portrait. But as a Presidential portrait?

Take a look at GWB's most recent predecessors, via Obsidian Wings.

Placed among the other portraits, GWB's reminded me of the dining halls at Oxford's colleges. They all seem to have portraits of the colleges' past presidents up and down and all around the walls. Some of them are in Henry VIII-era garb, and gradually they work their way through the clothing and hair styles of the different centuries. The 20th century is kind of a shock, with portraits that stylistically look avant garde at best (well, avant garde for Oxford, anyway), inappropriately informal at worst.

One thing about GWB's portrait: it stands out.

Dr. Strangelove (1964)

It's not really on anybody's radar these days, what with the recession and all, but via Crooks and Liars, here's a fascinating time-lapse video showing where all 2,053 nuclear explosions have occurred since World War II. As bluegal suggests, watch the world light up in the early 1960s. Fun times.

Don't let the 7-minute run time scare you; despite the modern world's efforts to the contrary, you still have an attention span that long. And it's so fascinating that you'll loose track of the time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Simpson/Bowles Report

I've been scratching my head about the Simpson/Bowles deficit reduction report, which the media is referring to as a draft of the President's Deficit Commission Report, which it is not.

Some people, like Simpson and Bowles, think the government needs to be smaller. This doesn't seem to be based on any practical calculation, it's some kind of "philosophy" or something. It's very important to them. More important than making sure old people have enough to live on, or that sick people get health care. Personally, I think government should be as big as it needs to be. No bigger.

But I guess if you propose cuts to Social Security and Medicare, you're considered a serious person. Even if, as part of a deficit reduction package, you are proposing additional tax cuts for the wealthy. One man's serious is another man's insane, I guess. Paul Krugman doesn't think this is a serious package.

Kevin Drum has the facts that will not go away. Please read. It's short.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Profiles in Courage

Back in 2001, when the horrifying events of September 11 were still raw in our memory, a homicidal idiot decided it would be a good thing to send envelopes through the mail containing anthrax spores. Five people died. Nobody knew who was sending the letters, or why, or where the next one might turn up. It was frightening. It was during this time that I learned we can be at the mercy of the most hysterical people among us.

But we don't have to be hysterical. We can make another choice.

Last week it was reported that two packages mailed to the United States from Yemen contained explosive devices. One of those packages was addressed to a very small religious congregation in Chicago. This small congregation has been meeting in the building of a larger Chicago congregation.

That's pretty frightening for both congregations, and raises interesting questions, one of which is: How did the obscure, small congregation, which doesn't even have its own building, come to the attention of bomb makers in Yemen?

That's a question for the National Security folks. The questions of greatest moment for both congregations are: How purposeful were the bombers in sending the package? Are they determined to strike this little congregation, or was it a random pick in a long list of places they would like to destroy? In other words, what are the chances they'll try again?

If you're a member of either congregation, and your children attend its Sunday school, these are questions to keep you up at night. And you have a choice in how to respond to them.

You could choose hysteria. You could run away and never come back. Or you could allow your fears, which are real and justified, to trump what you say are your values. We see that so often these days.

Or you could choose another approach: courage. It's a quality we don't hear about too often outside of war stories, and apply to ourselves mostly in fantasies. But it is a courageous thing to face evil and not flinch; to say, "Our values are real, even when we are afraid."

If you're a member of the congregation, you do what you can do to make the place as safe as any place can be in this world, short of turning it into a place that violates its own values. I've talked to members of the congregation, and that's exactly what they're doing.

"Does that include suggesting the guest congregation find another meeting place?" I asked.

The response was emphatic. "Absolutely not!"

For some reason, I feel safer now.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ted Sorensen 1923-2010

If you start watching this interview with Ted Sorensen, you'll have a hard time turning it off before it's over. He talks, among other things, of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, things from the earliest days of my political memory. Very interesting.