Friday, June 24, 2011

Nobody Asked Me, But...

I'm going to depart from the usual "weekly whip-around of news you missed this week."
I'm tired. I'm not sleeping all that well. I ache.
"Yes, I expect continued impatience with me on occasion," Obama said. "But understand this ... I think of teenagers like the one who wrote me, and they remind me that there should be impatience when it comes to the fight for basic equality."
I'm impatient, too.
Not just about gay marriage, which I view as a right. About all progress.
I've reached the point in life where I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me, if longevity projections are accurate. Even if I make it to a hundred, I'm still cresting the hill.
I'm frustrated. The world in some ways is better than I imagined and in many ways, much worse.
When I was young, very young, the world was an oyster to be shucked, the flesh consumed and left a pearl. There was a real progressive movement that moved the yardsticks further down the field. The nation was awakening to the beauty of equality, the value of each person for who they are and the content of his or her character. We saw potential around every corner.
It seemed so easy. The right looked like it would go down in flames, despite Bill Buckley's vow to "stand athwart history, shouting 'Stop!'" The conservatives would be reduced to people who said "Yes, but..."
Just like in Europe. Just like in every goddamned civilized nation in the history of the fucking planet.
The past thirty years have proven me wrong. Well, maybe not wrong. Maybe "premature" is the better word.
As I sit here typing on a PC on the internet, where my words will reach thousands, and could reach millions, I'm reminded that the immediate future can change as quickly as me pushing an "Enter" key. The past thirty years appear to becoming more and more irrelevant as the challenges of today make people sit up and take notice.
No longer is greed an acceptable behavior. Slowly it's being replaced by a sense of shame.
Sooner rather than later, the abhorrent idea that a gay man who loves another gay man cannot marry him will be as repulsively quaint as separate water fountains for the races: indicative of a far greater evil in our society, and yet somehow almost laughable on its own merits.
Sooner rather than later, a palliative that has been handed down through human history for milennia will be accepted, even legalized.
Sooner rather than later, the notion that people who are worse off than you or I don't deserve anything more than a handshake and a "good luck with that" will be as common as petticoats or outhouses.
Sooner rather than later, we'll have actually health care, one where no one but my doctor can earn a profit off my body.
Sooner rather than later, Muslims will be accepted in American society as equal partners in the American dream, such as it is. It's happened before. Just look at Italians. Or Irish. Or Jews. Or Asians.
Perhaps we'll have a 20th century themed "Colonial Williamsburg," where conservatives of the future can put on goofy tri-cornered hats and stand on a soapbox and recite "Obama is a Muslim!" and then have a good laugh at themselves.
All of these are inevitable. The great march of time, the juggernaut of history, says so. It may not happen easily...history has a habit of being bloody...but these will happen.
I hope it will happen in my lifetime.
I'm just worried it won't. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm frustrated and tired this week.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Whistling Past The Graveyard

Karl Who?
Seriously, dude, have you looked at who your party is running?
If Obama loses this election, it would require the twin miracles of the return of Jesus and the Great Flood emptying BOTH coasts, leaving only Utah and maybe Arizona high and dry.
And even then, he'd make a fight of it.

Still...Ain't Nothin' Like The Real Thing

But the FDA has decreed silicone breast implants are safe.



Exchanging One Pain In The Ass For Another

Marriage increases colon cancer survival rates.

My Humbling Moment For The Day

A caveman could draw on a bone better than I can draw on paper.

Dive Site!



The cruel irony of the America criminal system as it pertains to drug offenses is this: cocaine, a far more dangerous and far more addictive drug, is classified Schedule II, which means with the proper prescription, your doctor (or dentist!) can prescribe cocaine for use during medical procedures like operations.
Marijuana, by Federal law, is Schedule I. It cannot...I stress, cannot ever, be used legally in the United States.
Now, you ask how medical marijuana laws manage to get around that simple fact.
They don't. It's up to the Feds to enforce Federal law (which always trumps state law on these things). That they don't does not make medical marijuana legal. They ignore it. It doesn't exist.

A Blueprint

Ahead of the debt ceiling debate fomenting between Congress and the President, we have a more immediate, smaller-scale confrontation brewing in Minnesota:

Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday proposed a broad government shutdown that would touch every corner of the state and reach deep into Minnesotans' homes.

The governor's proposal -- which must still be ruled on by a judge -- would maintain critical services but close all state parks, the Minnesota Zoo, the state lottery and most state road projects by July 1, when the current state budget runs out. K-12 schools, local governments and health providers would no longer receive state payments.

Despite what he said would be the vast and enormous impact of such a shutdown, Dayton said Wednesday that a short government closure "still pales in comparison" to the impact of a Republican "all cuts" budget.

Eyeball to eyeball confrontations rarely work out well for anyone, and here's a situation that is jampacked with peril for both sides, but particularly for Dayton. Shutting down a government is a difficult thing to pull off. Just ask Newt Gingrich.

What's interesting to me is the involvement of the state judiciary in the process. Not only does a judge have to affirm the closings, but both houses of the Republican-run legislature have asked for a "referee" from the judiciary. Dayton has countered with a request for mediation.

I can't imagine any judge with half a brain wants to be the one to decide "Your school closes, your street gets cleaned."

Right now, this is an issue of brinksmanship: they have an entire week still to hammer out a budget compromise to close a $5 billion budget gap. Dayton wants to raise taxes modestly. Republicans Kurt Zellers and Amy Koch want savage budget cuts. 

Sound familiar? Borrowing money is an option, but Dayton seems determined not to have to kick the can down the road too far.

Dayton has a few images he can trot out, such as the fact that 600,000 elderly residents would lose health care, but the state's bison herds would all be tended to. 

Right? I'm not sure that Zellers and Koch would be able to live down that kind of reputation in the re-election campaign. I'm fairly certain Dayton would not.

The backdrop to all this, of course, is the constitutional dilemma the state courts would find themselves in. It's clearly unconstitutional for a judge to decide which programs should be funded and which should be starved. And yet, both sides are turning to the courts to save them from themselves.

Keep an eye on this, folks. 


Such Souris To Minot!

Today could see record flooding in Minot, ND from the Souris River.
I know you know all that already. I just like writing Yiddish headlines.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Backpedaling, Governor?

I had an "Oh, oh!" moment Monday when Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature in New York announced they would create a GUB, a Grand Unified Bill that would cover all the outstanding issues facing the legislature prior to the end of its session (which was Monday. They are now in overtime.)
I'm still antsy, despite assurances in the media that same-sex marriage will be passed.
When a governor says he's "cautiously optimistic," you can bet your ass he's been twisting arms and grabbing short hairs but the bushel.
This, despite the fact that proponents of the measure have go to great lengths to write in assurances that no church will be forced to perform a same-sex marriage if it obviates their faith or teachings.
Which is only fair, in my opinion.
Meanwhile, if you live outside of New York, or even if you live here but were unaware of one of the main players in this story, I want to draw your attention to State Senator "Reverend" Ruben Diaz, Sr.
Disgraceful, hateful little man. One can only hope that whatever karma befalls him happens sooner rather than later.

Ummmmmmmmmmm, Oooooooooooooooooooookayyyyyyyyyyyy!

Seriously, find this guy, and get him some help.

Math Is Hard!

But hey! We should fire unionized teachers, cut school budgets and force teachers to teach to a test, because dumber is better, right?

It Turns Out I Really AM Attractive, After All!

Humans might be able to sense the earth's magnetic field.

Going Dutch

KLM announces it will start using biodiesel (technically, biokerosene) on short-hop flights
Kudos to KLM!

Three Years Of Photography Lessons For NOTHING????

A camera will soon let you change the depth of field and/or focal point in your photos after the fact.


Matt Taibbi probably needs a Xanax, but his profile of Michele Bachmann is a must-read.

The Sizzle Fizzles

The situation in Greece looks like it's stabilizing a little, and the Fed is about to announce that it's not making any sudden moves anytime soon.
It's conceivable that the Fed's decision to suspend purchasing American debt obligations could spike inflation, but that's rarely a concern of the markets (indeed, it kickstarts earnings and revenues).
For a casino based on "rationality," the stock market rarely makes sense.

Normally, I Wouldn't Bother Commenting

It's just that it seems to me Casey Anthony could have hired a better attorney.

Feathers Smoothed? Check!

President Obama has to restate the obvious
We live in a crazy country when settled policy of the American government can be warped into "OMG! The Muslim is trying to kill Israel!"

Blow This, Congress

The LA Times reports that "House Speaker John Boehner faces the difficult task of balancing growing frustration over the war within his caucus with a less vocal but hawkish flank that does not want to halt funds." This isn't surprising. Some Republicans favored military action before Obama. At least some of the division in Congress, however, is attributable to legislators who would've voted against the mission, but deem it important to remove Muammar Qaddafi now that we've targeted him and killed his son.

Blow-back, anyone?
The ersatz "Pottery Barn Doctrine" is in play: you break it, you own it. Republicans hammered Obama for waffling on getting involved in the conflict. Obama has carefully tread a line between active engagement of American troops and offering active support to the NATO mission in Libya.
Yet, Freidersdorf notes some piece of lunacy in the proceedings:
For those House members too, the ideal resolution would be something different than what is actually before them. Here is the missing option: a grant of authority to continue the mission in Libya, accompanied by a formal censure of Obama for waging it illegally. That's the best a pro-war legislator can do.   
Yea. He's not waging it illegally. Sorry. Even if you can make some cogent claim that his deadline has passed, he still has thirty days to withdraw the troops.
Which he's already begun.
Not just that, but you'd be hard pressed to call the actions in Libya a "war." We're under a strict treaty with NATO to provide support for NATO operations.
More important, there's the small issue of a "bill of attainder." You can't just censure a President, under Article I, Section 9. You need to impeach him and hold a trial.
The frustration over the war is political, not jurisdictional. Imagine if Obama manages to somehow eliminate Moamar Qaddafi AND Osama bin Laden in his first term of office. Not only would this guarantee his re-election (the pain of Lockerbie lives with us to this day) but his coattails would suddenly grow longer and stronger.
A smart Republican would jump onto the bandwagon and grab a piece of that action before it happens, because Obama seems determined to see this operation through.
I don't support this action anymore than I supported the war in Iraq, but we're there and trying to score political points from hypocrisy is worse than the actual act itself. You want to make bona fides against this war? Then put up a resolution that says something meaningful about it. Don't hide behind technicalities. Say you oppose the war, full stop. Man up, already!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Boiled Fish

Stick a fork in us, we're done.

The Latest Conservative Butthurt

The White House solar panels.
Apparently, they missed a promised deadline of the start of summer to install them.

The Pyrrhic Huntsman

I suspect the candidacy of John Huntsman is one of those kind of lawyer techniques to get some point into the record without actually scoring any wins. You talk about an issue in a way that is absolutely designed to turn off the majority of the voters, and then reap the personal rewards of the few zealots you enlist.
Pat Buchanan was the master of this kind of campaigning. The beauty of it is, you don't have to lay out one dime of your own money, but you end up reaping all the benefits, book deals and TV contracts!

Are You Nearsighted?


Schooled In India

Fareed Zakaria blasts Conservativist Americans with both barrels.

I Don't Normally Comment On Twitwars But...

a) If you're drinking and driving, you've earned the contempt of everyone. Your friends ought to shut up about it.
By the way, Bam?
"Millions" crying? Really? Really?
You clearly have an overinflated sense of worth for your crappy films and your shitty crew. Thousands, probably. Tens of thousands, maybe, but above that? No way.

Blackberry Sacking In The Dead Of Night

Thus proving Apple's invincibility once more

Vice Squad

So many progressive social issues have come up for scrutiny across the nation in the past year or so, you'd find it hard to believe there's a Teabagger problem.
But here's an issue I'm not sure I can get behind: Massachussets is considering legalizing gambling.
I don't have a problem with gambling, per se (nor do I have a gambling problem.) I think the occasional foray into taking a chance with something hones our edges, makes us sit up and notice life a little bit.
I'm just not sure the state ought to be sanctioning it.

Trust Everyone, But Cut The Cards

I'm not much for flights of fantasy, except in a literal sense of fiction. I don't believe aliens have landed on our planet (or if they have, they have better things to do than to have sex with our women.) I don't buy into vampires or werewolves or zombies. I don't believe in astrology or most psychic powers (I do believe there's a scientific explanation for the latter but that's a different column.) I do believe there's a trilogy of books to be written about those, however.
The one mythology I do hold hopes could be proven real is "Bigfoot". His existence seems one step closer to reality.
Past DNA evidence has proven to be from bears or non-humanoid primates so I'm not getting my hopes too high.
But there's something comforting that, in a day and age when humans have encroached, demolished and paved over wilderness habitats all around the globe, an intelligent creature has managed to avoid detetction beyond the occasional "stumble on" finding. If Bigfoot can find privacy, my thinking goes, then maybe there's hope for you and I to carve out a sanctuary.
It is a tantalizing mythology, to say the least.
(go ahead, I know the comment you want to leave, so please do)

I Would Be Remiss...

...if I didn't make note of a fairly historic event: First Lady Michelle Obama is visiting Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

To No One's Surprise...

....certainly not to my readers, President Obama will announce troop cuts in Afghanistan.
Here's the thing: 30,000 sounds impressive until you realize that basically brings us back to twice the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan on January 21, 2009. This "surge" was enabled because Obama drew these troops down from Iraq and shuffled them over a country or two.
In fairness to Obama, Afghanistan was the forgotten war in the Bush administration, and so was wildly underresourced. It really deserved more focus in the early years, and many opportunities were lost. Obama had no choice but to double down.
And that's fine, for what it is. Strategic troop placements definitely have had an impact, but as the focus of attention turned from Iraq (the "wrong" war) to Afghanistan (the "right" one), it became clear that the situation in Afghanistan was untenable as status quo, even allowing for the surge. The goal of the mission, the defeat of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, was sort of successful, if you believe that Al Qaeda is crippled (it is) beyond repair (probably) and that the Taliban will behave themselves (probably not, but I'd be willing to be surprised.)
It was not by any means a rousing success, full stop. At best, we're looking at between 60-80% of our objective achieved, at a great cost to both Afghanis and American troops.
And if you define the mission as the one Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others have envisioned, a transformation of Afghanistan into a firewall against Islammic extremism, then we've failed miserably if we allow the Taliban to come to the table and define a role for themselves in Afghanistan's future. At the very most we could hope for in terms of that goal, we've established a point of attack should extremism rear its ugly head.
Indeed, the Arab Spring has made that goal somewhat moot and problematic: extremism has been rejected time and time again by nations who are actually behind that firewall, leaving basically Iran and Pakistan as the major players in shaping Islamism. Syria may shortly see itself an island amidst moderates who won't accept noisy neighbors.
Or, As Richard Holbrooke said before he died last year:

“The weak point in America’s strategy has always been this endless debate about whether we were just there to protect ourselves or had a grander vision for Afghanistan."

By drawing troops down now, instead of next summer, it's clear that Obama is walking back the Clintonian doctrine. I expect Secretary Clinton to resign in the next few months, ahead of the election cycle next year.
The other aspect of this withdrawal is a rebuff of Hamid Karzai and the Afghani government. The President was fairly clear when he said the surge would last onoly so long as Afghanistan proved it was able to self-govern regions that would be secured by American troops.
Karzai has apparently been too busy miscounting votes and lining his pockets to notice that he's failed to secure any region beyond Kabul. In the midst of all this, he then turns on the hand feeding him and complains about an occupation.
That's rather rude, if perhaps true, but Karzai has always played this game of complaining while dipping his beak and this is what worries me about the Taliban negotiations.

Want Healthcare To Be A Right?


It Takes Balls


If You're Stubborn Enough To Smoke

...then you're stubborn enough to make it past these warning labels and there really is no hope for you. This is to prevent kids from taking it up, and I have no problem with these labels.

Monday, June 20, 2011

But Hey!

Let's privatize Social Security and Medicare! Americans are thrifty enough to fend for themselves, right?

One Word, Mr. President


Our Own Private Fukushima

We came within a foot and a half of having a potential meltdown.
Mind you, the plant is 900 feet above sea level.

An Amusing Diversion

Not that I really care one way or the other. The Onion serves a purpose well-established in American culture of lampoon (much like Jon Stewart, only The Onion is answerable to itself and no one else.) Pulitzers are routinely handed out for literature and writing that is far removed from journalism like song-writing. I just note that it's an unusual request and one that challenges the boundaries of what has been considered in the past.
By the way, if any of you is considering submitting my blog for consideration, a Pulitzer in Explanatory Reporting would suffice. I don't need one them fancy pants ones. :-)

I'm thinking....

....Assad's days are numbered as Syrian president.

Out, FOX!

(except that idiots will be idiots, who will call a TKO a "split decision" in favor of the clear loser whenever they can)

Mark Your Calendars? Hourglass? Watch?

And this time, he can have fun with it.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Especially when it's Michelle Bachman.

Could Republicans Be Waking Up?

Why have so few signed on to a "no new taxes" pledge?

GOP = "Not" Racist?

On the one hand, give the Republicans credit for giving this douchenozzle the hook.
On the other, someone must have heard his act and said "Well, OK! Sign him up!"
Not a smart move, GOPpers.

Any Doubts About What Comes Next?

We've killed bin Laden. We've got the Taliban to the negotiating table. We're engaged in Libya, and threatening Pakistan.
Anybody want to bet against a troop withdrawal? The strongest evidence that Obama is leaning this way is the GOP scrambling to get ahead of the curve by demanding troop reductions.

Clearly, They've Never Been To Singapore

Well, so now China has so muddied the waters in its dispute with Vietnam that Sinapore has had to chime in:

Singapore has called on China to clarify its claims in the South China Sea following recent confrontations with Vietnam and the Philippines.

Singapore said China's "ambiguity" had caused international concern.

Singapore has no territorial claims in the area, but said it had an interest "in anything affecting freedom of navigation in international sea lanes".

Several Asian nations claim parts of the strategically important waters that may also contain oil and gas deposits.

Vietnam, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have competing claims to the Spratly Islands, while Beijing and Hanoi are in dispute over the Paracels.

And there you have the story in a nutshell (thanks, BBC!) Singapore has some vested interest in making sure it understands the boundaries that China is claiming, along with a handshake commitment with Brunei which occupies part of Borneo, a member of the Indonesian chain. Most important, I'm sure, is the freedom of Singapore's shipping to move through the South China Sea. That would be the prime gateway from Singapore to the world, including East Asia, but also the United States. The alternative is a more southerly route that would take ships thousands of miles off course.

This also means China can effectively choke off Singapore's vital import/export business. Along with Indonesia and Malaysia. Pretty important stuff to nations made up in large part of port cities.

We can assume that China's energy interests would quickly morph into other forms of dominance. Nations have a tendency to throw their weight around, as a cursory glance at 20th century American foreign policy would indicate. It would be no different for China, which has already shown signs of exerting imperialist tendencies.

For instance, Hong Kong is a direct competitor in shipping to Singapore. By restricting travel in the South China Sea, China would give Hong Kong a leg up in terms of pricing at the very least. Too, China could impose tariffs on boats passing through its territorial waters to access the open ocean. And there's not much anyone could do to stop them, since maritime treaties take a dim view of carving up sovereign waters. 

This seems to be coming to a head. I wonder when the US will step in and speak up? 

Idiots Are Idiots

I give you Jonathan Last, making the claim that abortion is a war on women.
In the guise of a book review (Mara Hvistendahl's Unnatural Selection), Last recites the ludicrous proposal that somehow, women's choice is creating a war on girl babies.
His evidence is rather compelling. As an example, for every 100 Chinese women born, 121 men are born. In India, the ratio is 112:100.
Except...Last (and to a slighter extent, Hvistendahl) lay the blame at the feet of the parents, when in point of fact, the blame should correctly be placed on the patriarchal societies that devalue women in the first place.
This devaluation creates a resonating frequency, an echo chamber. If (as in China) it's not a government mandate, then (as in India) it's a societal mandate: women simply aren't as valuable as men.
Ironically, in India, women have held offices at all political levels, which makes for an interesting phenomenon. There's a dichotomy between the family unit, in which women are second-class citizens, routinely belittled and physically and emotionally abused, and the plebian concerns of a nation, which view women as equals somehow.
In other words, it's not the family that is "aborting" these babies. This is like blaming a woman for getting in front of a punch from her husband. Shame on you, Jonathan Last. For shame.

RIP, Big Man

I was never a big fan of Bruce Springsteen, although I do believe his album The Rising, did an awful lot more to give us a poetic snapshot of the immediate aftermath of September 11 than any other event or creation.
It all stems back to freshman year of college and two girls I was interested in who were huge Springsteen groupies, but I digress...
The one thing I always found remarkable about the "E Street Band," as well as most of Springsteen's incarnations, was Clarence Clemons.
After the electric guitar and drums, I think the sax is the most important rock music instrument, and Clemons could play rock sax in his own universe. Others, like Michael Brecker or Tom Scott, tried and held their own, but they tended to bring a jazz sensuality to the instrument. Clemons got his start in funk. It made a difference. Brecker and Scott can get a woman's dress off. Clemons can get her underwear soaked through.
He was 69 when he died. A fitting age.