Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Donald

It appears that Mitt Romney is the only person alive who's afraid of Donald Trump. George Will isn't. On the Sunday talks Will called him a "bloviating ignormus." That's putting it mildly.

But Alexandra Petri has it right: Donald Trump beats George Will. Although how somebody who was seven in 1995 has a column in the Washington Post is a mystery.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You'd Think This Many Starlings Would be a Disaster

What do you get when a few hundred thousand starlings gather overhead?

No, that's what I thought, too. It's actually called a murmuration. Observe:

Hat tip to Chicago Ted for pointing me to this.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

John Edwards Update

From the Washington Post:
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Something exceedingly strange is happening at the John Edwards trial: all four alternate jurors dressed in red shirts Friday. They each wore bright yellow the day before.

Coincidence? Few here think so.

The demeanor of the alternate jurors and their behavior has become the talk of the courthouse. The alternates enter the courtroom each day giggling among themselves. One of the alternates, an attractive young woman, has been spotted smiling at Edwards and flipping her hair in what seems to some to be a flirtatious manner. On Friday, she wore a revealing red top with a single strap and an exposed right shoulder.

Her actions have not gone unnoticed by courtroom observers, some of whom have chatted about her in increasingly anxious tones during the long stretches of down time while the jury, now in its sixth day of deliberations, meets behind closed doors to decide whether Edwards should be convicted on six campaign finance and conspiracy charges.
 The rest of the story is here.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Crazy Arizona

Timothy Egan:
We interrupt reality to bring you Arizona, once known as the Grand Canyon state....
Let’s start with the secretary of state, a wide-eyed fellow named Ken Bennett. He is Arizona’s chief elections officer. He is a Republican. He is also co-chairman of Mitt Romney’s campaign in Arizona. Recently, a few hundred people who probably spend their lives searching the Internet looking for proof that the moon landing was fake asked Mr. Secretary of State to investigate the birth certificate of the president of the United States.

Bennett got right on it. He put the full force of his office to work on a nonissue that was resolved for all but the looniest of tunes months ago. And, at the height of his “investigation,” just last week, he threatened to keep Obama off the ballot if his questions were not answered to his satisfaction.

In response, more than 17,000 people this week put their names on an online petition asking the secretary of state to investigate whether Mitt Romney is a unicorn.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Insight Too Good Not to Share

From The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin, by Adam Hochschild:
At the end of our meeting, [a former Bolshevik who spent 20 years in Stalin's gulag] tells me a joke; like a haiku verse, it contains a hint of what went wrong in the Russian Revolution, and of what might have been, a path not taken.

"A descendant of the Decembrists (reformer aristocrats who rebelled against the Tsar in the 1820s), a woman, sees a crowd demonstrating in the street and she sends her daughter outside: 'Masha! Go and see what's going on.'

"Masha returns and says, 'Lots of people are out in the street.'

"'What do they want?'

"'They're demanding that no one should be rich.'

"'That's strange,' says the woman. 'My grandfather went out onto the street and demanded that no one should be poor....'"

Reverend Wright

You couldn't have missed the news stories last week about a proposed Republican ad campaign intended to bring back the "God damn America" speech of Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Andrew Tobias pointed his readers to this column by Pat Cunningham in the Rockford (Illinois) Register Star.
I ask you:  Whose words were worse?  Jeremiah Wright’s, for inviting God’s punishment of America for its racism? Or Jerry Falwell’s, for saying that God had punished America [on September 11, 2001] —  and rightly so — for its liberalism?
Last Saturday, Mitt Romney delivered a speech at Liberty University, a school founded by Falwell, and said this of the late reverend:
In his 73 years of life, Dr. Falwell left a big mark…The calling Jerry answered was not an easy one. Today we remember him as a courageous and big-hearted minister of the Gospel who never feared an argument, and never hated an adversary. Jerry deserves the tribute he would have treasured most, as a cheerful, confident champion for Christ.
I will always remember his cheerful good humor and selflessness.
There were no qualifications in Romney’s praise of Falwell, no hints of disapproval of Falwell having blamed America for Sept. 11, no effort to distance himself from the suggestion that God had punished America for not hewing to Falwell’s moral code.

 So, there you have it. Barack Obama has disowned the man who said “God damn America,” but Mitt Romney has praised the man who said God has rightly punished America with horrendous acts of terrorism.
And yet, some people want us to believe that Obama’s morality is the more questionable in all of this.
So why is Jeremiah Wright so much more upsetting than Jerry Falwell?

Oh, yeah. There's that race thing.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What They Didn't Tell You During the Kentucky Derby

According to this NY Times article, Doug O'Neill, the trainer of this year's Kentucky Derby winner, I'll Have Another, has been sanctioned 12 times in the last 14 years for doping his horses.

But the problem is bigger than that. Takeaway quote:
The racing industry has come to realize that lax regulation and the absence of meaningful punishment have fostered a culture where top trainers with multiple drug violations are more the rule than the exception. Of the top 20 trainers in the United States — measured by purses won in 2011 — only two, Christophe Clement and Graham Motion, were never cited for a medication violation, according to the Racing Commission International database.
Enjoy the Preakness.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Musical Interlude

Leonard Cohen in Helsinki.

Click on "Full Screen" in the lower right-hand corner of the video.

The full name of the song is "La Complainte du Partisan." It was a song of the French Resistance. Another version is here.

Nicholas Katzenbach 1922-2012

If you were around to see news coverage of Nicholas Katzenbach's 1964 confrontation with Governor George C. Wallace at the door of the University of Alabama's Foster Auditorium, you're not likely to have forgotten it.

MSNBC has a tape of it here.

Best line: "I'm not interested in this show."

Interesting stuff from the NY Times obit:
Mr. Katzenbach was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he played hockey, and Princeton, where he majored in international relations and public affairs. As a 19-year-old junior he drove to New York to enlist after the Pearl Harbor attack. A month later he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Air Forces and became a navigator on B-25 bombers. On a mission in 1943, he was captured when his plane was shot down. (He was awarded an Air Medal and three clusters.) As a prisoner of war in Germany he read, by his count, 400 books in 15 months. 

After the war Mr. Katzenbach convinced Princeton that his reading qualified him for an undergraduate degree. The university had him take nine examinations and write a thesis, and in two months he graduated cum laude, in 1945. Two years later he graduated from Yale Law School, where he was editor in chief of The Yale Law Journal. On a Rhodes scholarship, he studied at Balliol College at Oxford.
A pretty good start.

Beyond Redemption

Two comments on the Indiana Republican Senatorial race:

Senator Dick Lugar in a prepared statement
If Mr. Mourdock is elected, I want him to be a good Senator. But that will require him to revise his stated goal of bringing more partisanship to Washington. He and I share many positions, but his embrace of an unrelenting partisan mindset is irreconcilable with my philosophy of governance and my experience of what brings results for Hoosiers in the Senate. In effect, what he has promised in this campaign is reflexive votes for a rejectionist orthodoxy and rigid opposition to the actions and proposals of the other party. His answer to the inevitable roadblocks he will encounter in Congress is merely to campaign for more Republicans who embrace the same partisan outlook. He has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it.
This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will help delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve.
Former Senator John Danforth (Republican) speaking in December 2011
If Dick Lugar, having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

A New Definition of Crazy

This post is mostly directed to Chicagoans, but maybe it will be of interest to folks from other cities.

This, courtesy of a site called Crash Portal, is a map of bicycle crashes in my neighborhood of Chicago from 2007-2009:

Click on it for a clearer view of your neighborhood. The red circles with dots in them are fatalities. I presume most of these crashes are between bicycles and automobiles, as opposed to between bicycles and other bicycles or lamp posts.

As bicycling has become even more popular in the city since 2009, there is no reason to think the number of dots hasn't doubled since then. Search Google for "bicycle crashes Chicago" and you get a list of personal injury lawyers eager to hear from you.

Bicyclists are probably a lot like motorcyclists in that, while most are safety conscious, you see enough future organ donors on the road to think they're all crazy.

Drive a couple of miles on Addison Ave on any night, and you're going to see bicyclists wearing dark clothes, with no lights or reflectors. Or maybe you won't see them, and they'll turn into dots on the map. Chances are good.

I've seen families of bicyclists, with small children, riding down heavily trafficked Elston Ave. And more and more, you see bicyclists riding down the middle of a lane, instead of keeping as far to the right as they can. I guess they're exercising their rights.

Future dots.

I own a bicycle. I enjoy riding it. But these people are nuts.

Drinking English Wine

A few days ago the New York Times ran a long article presenting the view of the most (only?) respected climate change denier, Richard Lindzen of MIT. Lindzen believes clouds will have a mitigating impact on any human-caused temperature increases.

In a followup Q & A this morning the article's author, Justin Gillis, responded to questions from the original article's readers, including this question that apparently pops up from time to time in climate change denial arguments:
Can someone explain to me why vineyards used to exist in Britain when it was occupied by the ancient Romans and why the obviously warmer earth of the time was a bad thing?
Strictly speaking this is not a global warming denial question, of course – it's sort of a fellow traveler, a "What's so bad about global warming?" question.

The answer refers to an article that is interesting for anyone vaguely interested in the history of wine (it counts the number of vineyards listed in the Domesday Book) and includes the answer to the age-old question, "Why does drinking English wine require four people?"

Friday, May 04, 2012

Paul Ryan, Thomist

Uh-oh! Looks like Romney's giving Paul Ryan a serious look as a VP candidate.

How do I know? Looks like somebody got to Ryan and told him he's got to distance himself from the favorite philosopher of adolescents everywhere: Ayn Rand.

A recent article in the National Review tried to help Ryan rewrite history:
"You know you’ve arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine,” chuckles Representative Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee chairman, as we discuss his purported obsession with author and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, recently called Ryan “an Ayn Rand devotee” who wants to “slash benefits for the poor.” New York magazine once alleged that Ryan “requires staffers to read Atlas Shrugged,” Rand’s gospel of capitalism....

These Rand-related slams, Ryan says, are inaccurate and part of an effort on the left to paint him as a cold-hearted Objectivist.
 "I reject her philosophy," Ryan said, adding that he prefers Thomas Aquinas.

Well, gosh, if Paul Ryan isn't an Ayn Rand groupie, where on earth did we get that crazy idea?

Was it this?

Or his 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, in which he said:
I just want to speak to you a little bit about Ayn Rand and what she meant to me in my life and [in] the fight we’re engaged here in Congress. I grew up on Ayn Rand, that’s what I tell know everybody does their soul-searching, and trying to find out who they are and what they believe, and you learn about yourself.
I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are, and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff. We start with Atlas Shrugged. People tell me I need to start with The Fountainhead then go to Atlas Shrugged [laughter]. There’s a big debate about that. We go to Fountainhead, but then we move on, and we require Mises and Hayek as well.

But the reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.
In almost every fight we are involved in here, on Capitol Hill, whether it’s an amendment vote that I’ll take later on this afternoon, or a big piece of policy we’re putting through our Ways and Means Committee, it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism vs. collectivism.
And so when you take a look at where we are today, ah, some would say we’re on offense, some would say we’re on defense, I’d say it’s a little bit of both. And when you look at the twentieth-century experiment with collectivism—that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism—you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand.
It’s so important that we go back to our roots to look at Ayn Rand’s vision, her writings, to see what our girding, under-grounding [sic] principles are. I always go back to, you know, Francisco d’Anconia’s speech (at Bill Taggart’s wedding) on money when I think about monetary policy. And then I go to the 64-page John Galt speech, you know, on the radio at the end, and go back to a lot of other things that she did, to try and make sure that I can check my premises so that I know that what I’m believing and doing and advancing are square with the key principles of individualism…

Is this an easy fight? Absolutely not…But if we’re going to actually win this we need to make sure that we’re solid on premises, that our principles are well-defended, and if want to go and articulately defend these principles and what they mean to our society, what they mean for the trends that we set internationally, we have to go back to Ayn Rand. Because there is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works.  [Emphasis mine.]
"You know you've arrived in politics when you have an urban legend about you, and this one is mine."

He's got a few months to see if he can change the reporting on this and become a viable Veep candidate. My guess is that he will succeed, because – let's face it – the press ain't what it used to be.

Heartland Institute

These guys aren't worth my time, but if you're not aware of them, a couple of minutes spent reading this article in The Guardian will give you the gist.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

White House Correspondents' Dinner

Just in case you missed it, here's Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, with speech writing by staff from The Daily Show and The Simpsons.

Best line:

What's the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?

Pit bulls are delicious!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The One That Got Away

I'm working on a Rabbit Hole story right now. They take a while to write. But I wanted to share with you a story that will never be told.

I purchased the photo below a few weeks ago. It speaks for itself, I think. On the back, the woman's name had been written, but has been rubbed out and faded over the years. I've tried everything to bring it back – even bought a black light. But to no avail. So here she is, forever nameless.


E. L. Doctorow offers a primer on how make America unexceptional:
TO achieve unexceptionalism, the political ideal that would render the United States indistinguishable from the impoverished, traditionally undemocratic, brutal or catatonic countries of the world, do the following

If you’re a justice of the Supreme Court, ignore the first sacrament of a democracy and suspend the counting of ballots in a presidential election. Appoint the candidate of your choice as president.
There are four phases. The rest are here.

Whaddaya know! We're already there.