Saturday, January 31, 2009

The University of Vermont is a National Embarrassment

Well, Groovy UV (in honor of Peter Freyne) has made national headlines this week, only not in a good way.

PZ has a post about their boneheaded choice of commencement speaker. Have you heard already? It's Nixon chum and creationism apologist Ben Stein.

As PZ says, picture being a biology professor and sitting there while ths quizmaster and right-wing Republican gives the big sendoff to the graduates of Vermont's flagship institution of higher learning.

What are they failing to see? Wasn't anyone from the Flat Earth Society available?

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009

The image is of a man both curious and intelligent, yet with eyes that betray the sense of humor that was frequently present in his writing.

Sad news comes today, of the death of John Updike, perhaps the greatest American author of the second half of the twentieth century. A true man of letters, Updike's literary output includes not only short stories and novels, but also poetry, essays, criticism, and even sportswriting. He published his first story in the New Yorker in 1954, the year he graduated from Harvard, and published more than a hundred additional stories, essays, articles, and poems there in the next five years (more than eight hundred before he was done). News stories today typically referred to his output as "more than fifty" books: the actual count to date is sixty-one, but I think he has another coming out later this year. He did it the way one must: every day he went to the office and wrote, three pages a day.

I loved his writing. It was in reading Updike that I first saw how writing could be described as "lapidary": he is second to none as a prose stylist, although in an interview with the Times last fall he said that he didn't think of himself as a stylish writer, just one who wanted to get everything right, so that the reader would see the people and the world he was writing about exactly as he saw it. He could also make you love the unlikable character: I know of at least one person who couldn't bring herself to read the final scene in Rabbit at Rest, in which his greatest character, whom we have known since he was a young, not very good, husband, dies.

I also loved the fact that in his books he included a note about the typeface, Janson, although in his later books, instead of saying that it was set on the Linotype, it was a digitized version.

We still have his writings, and it is part of the measure of his greatness that we can feel that a writer with two Pulitzers and two National Book Awards was underappreciated. It may be that the anti-Americanism bred of Bush's presidency is what deprived him of the Nobel, but this oversight will not diminish the legacy of this great man.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Yo-yo Spears? Madonna Perlman?

Just a small comment here. If you watched the inauguration you probably enjoyed the piece played by Yo-yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, et al.

Or should I say, maybe you thought you enjoyed the piece they played. In fact, what you were watching was the musicians "string-synching" to a recording.

It's not the greatest of crimes, is it? And it was done with the best motives: to make sure that the audience who had waited for hours in the coldwould really hear a good performance.

But there's just one thing. Isn't that exactly the justification that Britney, Jamie-Lynn, Madonna, and all the rest of them use? So that it will sound better than it otherwise would?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

"The only tired I was, was tired of giving in." Rosa Parks
One thing that bothered me about the pre-inauguration concert last weekend was Samuel L. Jackson's speech, and how he characterized Rosa Parks's refusal to give up her seat. It's a comforting myth: the unobtrusive, non-troublemaker who was just too tired to get up and move to the back of the bus on her way home from work.

Today, On the Media carried a story that clearly contradicts the accepted myth. In fact, Rosa Parks is what we raise our children to be, and what we expect of ourselves: a committed, active citizen, organized with her fellow citizens to change what was wrong.

I don't know about you, but the truth enhances, and doesn't not diminish her, in my eyes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Now this is what I've been saying for years

Ratzinger: Holocaust Denier A-OK

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

No Senator Caroline Kennedy--UPDATED

From today's New York Post:

Caroline Kennedy last night withdrew her name from consideration to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate after learning that Gov. David Paterson wasn't going to choose her, The Post has learned.

I think this is a good thing. It's not just the question of whether she's paid her dues. She's done some charitable work, and that's been valuable, but from my reading it doesn't appear that she's really done anything political, which is kind of important if you aspire to be a politician.


The media are now reporting not only that Paterson had decided not to appoint Kennedy, but that she had a Kimba-Wood-style (I don't know the details) nanny problem in her background.

Despite the governor's public statement, a source close to Paterson told CNN that Kennedy did have potentially embarrassing issues including problems with her taxes and with her nanny. People who move in New York political circles were buzzing Thursday about the endless finger pointing between people loyal to Paterson and those loyal to Kennedy.

Contacted by CNN to address the allegations of problems with taxes and a nanny, Kennedy's spokesman Stefan Friedman said in a prepared statement: "Caroline Kennedy withdrew her name for consideration from the United States Senate for personal reasons. Any statements to the contrary are false. The governor set up a fair and deliberative selection process. This kind of mudslinging demeans that process and all those involved."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pardon Countdown

If you look over at the sidebar on the right you'll see the Bush Countdown Clock. For some reason it's a little optimistic, since right now it's saying Bush only has about ten hours and change left, whereas as I write this we're down to about 23 1/2 hours.

And you know what that means: 32 1/2 pardoning hours left! Any predictions on who will get the Golden Get Out of Jail Free Card? I've heard speculation that he won't do it because he doesn't think he did anything wrong. On the other hand, Nixon didn't think he did anything wrong, but that didn't stop him from making a deal with Ford to get the pardon on the way out the door (and if you don't think he made a deal, how fucking naive can you get?).

So: Scooter Libby? Gonzo? Schlozman? A pardon for any of these guys might restore or protect their right to practice law.

I'm not making any predictions, myself, but I'm prepared to have my pleasure at the end of the Bush regime tempered with a fresh slug of outrage.

Images of the Inauguration

The Times has posted photos that readers have been sending in of their inauguration activities. As inspirational as this event is, it's worth going over to take a look at some of these pictures.

Here you go.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Did you hear this?

I refused to watch Bush's speech last night, but I just heard the NPR story about it. According to NPR, Bush delivered his speech to "200 friends and supporters".

If you're like me I'm sure you had the same reaction I did: "Bush has 200 friends and supporters?"

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Eric Holder: Waterboarding is Torture

People have been speculating about whether Eric Holder would try to equivocate, keep his options open, or otherwise do something to duck the question when he was asked the inevitable, but he did not.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Smithsonian agrees to stop lying about Iraq

The conflict about the Bush portrait that boiled up over the weekend has been resolved.

You may recall that last week Bernie Sanders sent a letter to the National Portrait Gallery, objecting to the text that was to accompany Bush's official portrait.

As originally written, the text was to refer to “the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." Since, as we know, the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the 2001 terrorist attacks, to post such a claim on a portrait that would be viewed by thousands of visitors to the capital every year would help Bush and his supporters in their false claims, claims that have been proven to be effective in deceiving millions of Americans.

Bernie Sanders wasted no time in responding, pointing out in a letter that although Bush and Cheney had misled the country into war, their claim that Iraq had anything to do with the terrorist attacks had been completely debunked.

The Smithsonian has caved, agreeing to change the label to remove any suggestion of a link between Iraq and the 2001 terrorist attacks. “Our label was not intended to imply that there was a casual connection between the attacks that occurred on 9/11 and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Iraq,” Director Martin Sullivan wrote to Sanders.

Given that Bush and his people are already trying to clean up his image for history, it's important that this kind of thing never go unchallenged.

Barney Frank in The New Yorker

I first heard of Barney Frank when I was a relatively new Legal Services lawyer back in 1981. It was the first year of Reagan's presidency, and also the first year Reagan tried to implement his war on the poor by killing off the Legal Services Corporation. We heard that the appropriation for Legal Services was going to be taken up, so a few of us went to watch the debate on the floor of the house on C-SPAN, which was also brand new at the time.

Although Frank was a new congressman (it was his first term), he was the floor manager for the Legal Services appropriation. I was completely impressed. He was pretty much everything you see when you see him today: smart, prepared, funny, and completely unwilling to back down from a fight.

We won the funding debate, and even in a year when Reagan was getting Congress, under Tip O'Neill, to give him just about everything he wanted, he never succeeded in destroying legal services for the poor.

Last week's New Yorker had a profile of Frank, much older (aren't we all) but otherwise unchanged. In a 2006 poll of Capitol Hill staffers by Washingtonian, published shortly before the elections that gave Democrats control of the House for the first time in twelve years, Frank was voted the brainiest, funniest, and most eloquent congressman—a notable achievement, since he often speaks in a barely comprehensible mumble. With the Democratic victory he is now a powerful committee chair, he's an expert on affordable housing, and I think the profile is definitely worth reading. The article suggests that because of his committee chair he isn't likely to be interested in a Senate seat, but I can't think of anyone who would be a better successor to Ted Kennedy when he leaves office.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Israeli operation in Gaza

I haven't written anything about this, but I have been thinking about it. I generally leave Middle East issues to people who know more about them than I do, but I thought I'd set down a few thoughts.

First, you may have noticed that I didn't call it a "war". At most, it's an operation in a war that has been going on for years or decades. What happens at the end of this operation won't end the war, but the outcome can make the war easier or harder to end.

Second, I'm not willing to condemn Israel's "murder" of innocent Palestinians. I don't think Israel should be killing innocent civilians, but to call it murder carries with it the judgment that Israel is intentionally killing the civilians, regardless of any military targets or military goals of its operations, and I don't think that this is the case. (I have read one report of Israeli use of cluster bombs in Gaza, which I would characterize as being directly targeted at civilians, but I'm not sure what to make of that; if it were routine I think we'd be hearing a lot more about it.)

I do think it's clear that no country could be expected to sit back while a neighboring force sends antipersonnel missiles into it's territory, and not respond with force.

I also think it's ironic that the people clamoring most loudly to condemn Israeli "murder" of Palestinians don't seem to be saying much about Hamas murder of Israeli civilians. For instance, this post on "Ten Myths About Gaza" says that one of the myths is that "Hamas rockets were targeting Israeli civilians without provocation" (emphasis supplied). Note: the author doesn't deny that Hamas was targeting Israeli civilians, just that it was done without provocation. I don't have a lot of taste for targeting civilians, Israeli or Palestinian, provoked or not.

What I do think should be condemned is the disproportionate infliction of casualties on Gaza civilians. Even if you grant that a military force is permitted to inflict civilian casualties in the course of its military operations, this is not a blank check. The ratio of civilian to military casualties seems to be so high that it is impossible to justify the civilian casualties by reference to legitimate military aims.

Another thing that seems obvious to me, and should be obvious to Israel, is that they can't win. For every Hamas fighter they kill, they must be creating ten more; for every civilian, maybe a hundred? If they have any long-term goal they're keeping it a good secret, but I don't think they do.

Eventually this operation will end, probably by January 20. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza will have gotten much worse than it was before; the battle for the hearts and minds of the people will have been lost; and they will be no closer to moving toward a negotiated, peaceful settlement.

So I condemn Hamas, I condemn Israel, and I hope that the Obama administration will be better equipped than the Bushies to have some effect on the situation.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Living Like a Republican

You know what Harry Truman said: If you want to live like a Republican, vote Democratic.

He was obviously right. Time and time again, we see that Democrats are good for the economy, including rich people and the business environment, and Republicans are bad. Or, as Howard Dean said, Republicans can't be trusted with your money.

Still, getting back to living like a Republican. On their way out, the Bushes are doing it again. I don't quite get the Republican fascination with fancy china, maybe it makes them think they're back at the country club, but the news today is that Laura Bush has ordered up a half a million bucks' worth of fancy china for the White House.

Remember when Nancy Reagan did the same thing? And it was under very similar circumstances: the economy was in the tank, people were homeless (although his henchman Meese called homelessness a "lifestyle choice"), Reagan was slashing public benefits, but they just had to spend a couple of hundred thousand on new china.

Taxpayer money, until they got called on it.

And then there was Nixon and his Ruritanian Guard uniforms for the White House.

This time it isn't taxpayer money, but I just don't get it. We decided we didn't want royalty, but don't bother trying to tell that to the Bushes, Reagans, and other right-wing potentates.

Not even two weeks left.

Monday, January 05, 2009

What to do about Burris?

As you know, the lamest of lame duck governors has appointed Roland Burris to take Obama's seat in the U.S. Senate. Burris seems to be a decent guy, although my impression is that he's decidedly a second-stringer in Illinois politics, having tried to move from lower-profile statewide offices (Controller, AG) to higher offices
and failed.

Blago is still the governor until he's removed. I doubt that there has
been a big push to invalidate any other official actions he's taken
during this period (bill signings, executive branch appointments, etc.),
and it's hard to say that the investigation denudes him of his
constitutional powers. Thus, on the face of it, it appears that he has
the authority to make the appointment. I also don't think that the
Secretary of State has the legal authority to reject the appointment, as
the certification seems to be a ministerial duty and the law doesn't
accord the Secretary of State any role in the [i]selection[i] of the
next senator.

On the other hand, the case law seems to suggest that the Senate does
have the authority to evaluate the eligibility of its members to serve
in the Senate. I haven't gone back and read Powell v. McCormack, in which Adam Clayton Powell (D., Bimini) was expelled from the House, but it has been suggested that it would apply to this situation.

I think the most persuasive argument for not seating him is not a
dislike for either him or Blago, but the fact that Blago's apparent
attempts to sell Obama's seat has corrupted the entire process, and has
prevented people who would have been viable candidates from obtaining
the appointment (as, for instance, by their refusal to pay bribes). In
that case, the only way to be confident that the appointment will be an
honest one is to wipe the slate clean by impeaching Blago, removing him,
and then having the Lt. Gov. succeed him and make the appointment.

As for a special election, I have two problems with it. First, it isn't
what the statutes call for. Second, and this is related, it seems to be
an ad hoc solution to a political problem; I think we're better off if
we adhere to established procedures, especially when we're talking about
the structure or composition of government.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Bill Richardson dropping out as Commerce Secretary

Breaking news from NBC, AP, and the Times: Bill Richardson has informed Barack Obama that he's withdrawing his name as the nominee to be Obama's Secretary of Commerce.

It seems almost inevitable that issues will crop up with at least one nominee, as well vetted as they seem to be. Up to now the consensus has been that Obama's been handling the transition perfectly, or pretty close. Now this comes up.

I'm sorry to hear this. I've always liked Bill Richardson, and I disagreed with people who were ridiculing him as the "resume candidate" during his brief presidential run. Maybe it's just me, but I didn't see anything wrong with running on the basis of a record as strong as Richardson's. Not that I ever thought he had a chance.

Apparently it has to do with a pay to play investigation into the business dealings between some company and the state of New Mexico. Naturally Richardson says there has been no wrongdoing.

I hope he's right.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Which is uglier?

I was away last week when this news broke, but I still think it's something that we need to keep our attention on.

I'm talking about the perennial question of where we're going to get our energy, and specifically electricity.

We have a somewhat robust renewable energy community here in Vermont, comprising a lot of effort in efficiency, small hydro, and wind.

Wind, of course, has been the most controversial, largely because people driving around the countryside don't have to look at compact fluorescent light bulbs, or small dams, but they are very concerned that they will have to look at giant wind turbines.

So even if you accept the claim that wind turbines are ugly (I don't, but let's go with it for the sake of discussion), tell me which you think is uglier.


Or this: