Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sunday Reading

The Republican Party Created This Monster — John Nichols in The Nation.

Republicans who for months put up with Donald Trump’s racism, xenophobia, and religious bigotry were finally giving up on their nominee Friday night, after the release of a tape that confirmed Trump’s reputation as a lewd and predatory sexist.

“I’m out,” declared Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “I can no longer in good conscience endorse this person for president. It is some of the most abhorrent and offensive comments that you can possibly imagine.”

Utah Senator Mike Lee, a hero to libertarian-leaning conservatives, went so far as to to tape a video addressed to the nominee, in which Lee said, “Mr. Trump, I respectfully ask you, with all due respect, to step aside. Step down. Allow someone else to carry the banner of these principles.”

Lee was not alone. Illinois Senator Mark Kirk, Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman, and Virginia Congresswoman Barbara Comstock—a trio of Republicans who were already facing reelection challenges—all called on Trump to stand down. They were joined by Rob Engstrom, the national political director of the US Chamber of Commerce, who tweeted late Friday: “Trump should step down immediately tonight, yielding to Governor Pence as the GOP nominee.”

But Trump is not going anywhere. On Saturday morning, the candidate told The Wall Street Journal there is “zero chance I’ll quit.” He told The Washington Post, “I’d never withdraw. I’ve never withdrawn in my life. No, I’m not quitting this race. I have tremendous support.”

The out-of-control nominee released a hastily produced video in which he threatened to make things worse for Republicans. “I’ve said some foolish things, but there’s a big difference between the words and actions of other people,” Trump ranted in the midnight statement. “Bill Clinton has actually abused women.… We will discuss this more in the coming days.”Trump then urged viewers to tune in to Sunday’s second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton.If Trump tries to slime his way out of the corner into which his own words and deeds have painted him, strategists from across the political spectrum say he is likely to doom not just his own candidacy but that of down-ballot Republicans in tough races. But, of course, Trump has never seen the Republican Party as anything more than a vehicle for his own ambitions. So he does not care. At issue now is the question of whether key Republican leaders—such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator majority leader Mitch McConnell, and Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus—care enough to finally reject Trump.

Ryan, McConnell and Priebus have been Trump’s chief enablers throughout a 2016 campaign in which the billionaire has turned the “Party of Lincoln” (or, at the least, the “Party of Reagan”) into the “Party of Trump.” Even as they have moaned about the chaotic candidate’s “textbook” racism and whined about “his seeming ambivalence about David Duke and the KKK,” the top leaders of the party have always signaled that they will back their nominee.

The refusal of Ryan, McConnell and Priebus to say they would not support Trump as the GOP’s fall contender helped to “legitimize” the billionaire during the primaries. And promises of support that Ryan, McConnell, and Priebus provided in the late spring and early summer assured that Trump would have smooth sailing at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Now, the political Frankensteins who created a party that was ripe for Trump (by condoning extremism, embracing obstruction, and practicing a win-at-any-cost politics), and then cleared the way for Trump’s nomination, are stuck with their monster. They cannot replace him as the GOP nominee unless Trump chooses to step down, and Trump is not so choosing.

So Ryan, McConnell and Priebus must decide whether they will continue to place rank partisanship ahead of anything akin to principle.

It is not enough to object once more to their nominee’s disgusting words and deeds. It is not enough to fantasize about shaking up the ticket and putting Mike Pence—Trump’s chief defender, and a political careerist who has proven himself to be every bit as cynical as his running mate—in the presidential slot.

It is time for Ryan, McConnell, and Priebus to recognize a crisis of their own creation. They need to say what should have been said months ago: that they cannot support as their nominee a man whose latest indiscretions are described by Ryan as “sickening.”

If they cannot echo Jason Chaffetz’s “I’m out!” announcement, if they cannot put principle ahead of partisanship, then they are every bit as destructive to their trashed party, to their conservative movement, and to their country, as is Donald Trump.

The Prize — Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker on the impact that the Nobel Peace Prize could have on Colombia’s peace talks with FARC.

In the hours after last Sunday’s plebiscite called by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos to ratify the peace deal he had struck with his country’s FARC guerrillas—which was rejected by a margin of sixty-three thousand ballots, out of thirteen million cast—memes appeared showing a cartoonish Santos lying prone on the ground, apparently kicked to death by Álvaro Uribe, his arch-adversary and right-wing predecessor. Uribe had launched and led the successful “No” campaign against Santos’s peace deal, opposing it on the grounds that it was too lenient to the FARC, and also exposed government soldiers to possible war-crimes prosecution. In the cartoon, Uribe was depicted as being forcibly led away from the scene by several supporters, with a caption reading, “Enough, leave him, he’s dead.” Another meme riffed on the expectation that Santos’s chances of winning a Nobel Peace Prize—a possibility that had been floating in the atmosphere in recent months—were now doomed.

The surprise No victory threw Colombian society into a tense limbo, and the past week has seen a suddenly weakened Santos government forced to enter into dialogue with Uribe over possible “adjustments” to the peace plan, and an increasingly anxious FARC, which still has an estimated six thousand fighters armed in the field.

Uribe—who evidently did not expect his No campaign to win—has reëmerged as Colombia’s top power broker. In several public pronouncements, the former President has sought to effect a magnanimous mien, apparently aware that if his demands are too high, he could doom any possibility of peace and be responsible for a return to war. But Uribe has also made it clear that he seeks something like surrender terms for the FARC, including prison sentences for its leaders (rather than “restorative sentences,” as called for under the current peace plan) and a ban on their participation in politics. Such terms give the FARC’s battle-hardened guerrillas—who have fought for fifty-two years for a Marxist society—little incentive to come in from the cold. While expressing their commitment to “continue to pursue the path of peace,” the FARC’s leaders, in Havana, have made it clear that they do not regard the current deal—which was formally signed by Santos and their leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri (known as Timochenko), in a public event on September 26th—as negotiable.

[Friday’s] announcement by the Nobel Committee seems to have reversed the situation once again, delivering Santos a helpful push from the international community, as well as a morale boost for closing the peace deal. The prize also puts pressure on Uribe to back off a bit. The former President congratulated Santos backhandedly on his award, saying in a tweet (Uribe is a prolific tweeter, with a following of four and a half million), “I congratulate President Santos on the Nobel but I want this to lead him to make the changes to the accord that are damaging to democracy.” Upon hearing the news, Timochenko, the FARC leader, tweeted, “The only award we aspire to is that of peace with social justice, and for a Colombia without paramilitaries, without retaliations or lies.”  It was a dig at Uribe, who is a mortal enemy of the FARC, and who was closely associated with the violent paramilitary campaign that decimated the ranks of the FARC’s civilian followers in the nineties and early two-thousands. (Uribe was recently investigated for his alleged paramilitary ties, but he was not charged.)

Uribe was Colombia’s President from 2002 to 2010, and during his time in office he established an amnesty program for the paramilitaries, but since leaving office and being succeeded by Santos, who served as his defense minister, Uribe has bitterly opposed giving the FARC any concessions in exchange for peace. Uribe’s father was killed in a botched kidnapping attempt by the FARC, and he has never forgiven its guerrillas. He regards Santos’s dialogue with the FARC as a betrayal.

Many Colombians I met over the past week expressed bitterness over what they regard as the country’s stability being subjugated to the Santos-Uribe duel—“a battle between the élites” that is deeply personal, even more than it is ideological, since both are politicians on the political right. A couple of days ago, in Bogotá, I watched as thousands of students gathered to conduct a silent, torchlit “march for peace” through the city’s streets to the iconic Plaza Bolívar, where they chanted slogans and sang songs, including the national anthem. One of the most popular catchphrases was “Los jovenes estamos mamados de la guerra”—“We, the youth, are fed up with war.” With the public demonstrations and today’s Peace Prize, the pendulum has swung back once more toward peace and away from war. Still, half the country’s electorate voted against the peace deal on Sunday. In an effort to help convince those doubters that it is serious about making peace, Pastor Alape, one of the FARC’s veteran leaders, said on a radio program tonight from Havana that, for him and his comrades, there was “no longer any alternative to peace.”

What A Character — Stephen Greenblatt on Shakespeare’s take on the 2016 election.

In the early 1590s, Shakespeare sat down to write a play that addressed a problem: How could a great country wind up being governed by a sociopath?

The problem was not England’s, where a woman of exceptional intelligence and stamina had been on the throne for more than 30 years, but it had long preoccupied thoughtful people. Why, the Bible brooded, was the kingdom of Judah governed by a succession of disastrous kings? How could the greatest empire in the world, ancient Roman historians asked themselves, have fallen into the hands of a Caligula?

For his theatrical test case, Shakespeare chose an example closer to home: the brief, unhappy reign in 15th-century England of King Richard III. Richard, as Shakespeare conceived him, was inwardly tormented by insecurity and rage, the consequences of a miserable, unloved childhood and a twisted spine that made people recoil at the sight of him. Haunted by self-loathing and a sense of his own ugliness — he is repeatedly likened to a boar or rooting hog — he found refuge in a feeling of entitlement, blustering overconfidence, misogyny and a merciless penchant for bullying.

From this psychopathology, the play suggests, emerged the character’s weird, obsessive determination to reach a goal that looked impossibly far off, a position for which he had no reasonable expectation, no proper qualification and absolutely no aptitude.

“Richard III,” which proved to be one of Shakespeare’s first great hits, explores how this loathsome, perverse monster actually attained the English throne. As the play conceives it, Richard’s villainy was readily apparent to everyone. There was no secret about his fathomless cynicism, cruelty and treacherousness, no glimpse of anything redeemable in him and no reason to believe that he could govern the country effectively.

First, there are those who trust that everything will continue in a normal way, that promises will be kept, alliances honored and core institutions respected. Richard is so obviously and grotesquely unqualified for the supreme position of power that they dismiss him from their minds. Their focus is always on someone else, until it is too late. They do not realize quickly enough that what seemed impossible is actually happening. They have relied on a structure that proves unexpectedly fragile.

Second, there are those who cannot keep in focus that Richard is as bad as he seems to be. They see perfectly well that he has done this or that ghastly thing, but they have a strange penchant for forgetting, as if it were hard work to remember just how awful he is. They are drawn irresistibly to normalize what is not normal.

Third, there are those who feel frightened or impotent in the face of bullying and the menace of violence. “I’ll make a corpse of him that disobeys,” Richard threatens, and the opposition to his outrageous commands somehow shrivels away. It helps that he is an immensely wealthy and privileged man, accustomed to having his way, even when his way is in violation of every moral norm.

Fourth, there are those who persuade themselves that they can take advantage of Richard’s rise to power. They see perfectly well how destructive he is, but they are confident that they will stay safely ahead of the tide of evil or manage to seize some profit from it. These allies and followers help him ascend from step to step, collaborating in his dirty work and watching the casualties mount with cool indifference. They are, as Shakespeare imagines it, among the first to go under, once Richard has used them to obtain his end.

Fifth, and perhaps strangest of all, there are those who take vicarious pleasure in the release of pent-up aggression, in the black humor of it all, in the open speaking of the unspeakable. “Your eyes drop millstones when fools’ eyes fall tears,” Richard says to the murderers whom he has hired to kill his brother. “I like you, lads.” It is not necessary to look around to find people who embody this category of collaborators. They are we, the audience, charmed again and again by the villain’s jaunty outrageousness, by his indifference to the ordinary norms of human decency, by the lies that seem to be effective even though no one believes them, by the seductive power of sheer ugliness. Something in us enjoys every minute of his horrible ascent to power.

Shakespeare brilliantly shows all of these types of enablers working together in the climactic scene of this ascent. The scene — anomalously enough in a society that was a hereditary monarchy but oddly timely for ourselves — is an election. Unlike “Macbeth” (which introduced into the English language the word “assassination”), “Richard III” does not depict a violent seizure of power. Instead there is the soliciting of popular votes, complete with a fraudulent display of religious piety, the slandering of opponents and a grossly exaggerated threat to national security.

WHY an election? Shakespeare evidently wanted to emphasize the element of consent in Richard’s rise. He is not given a robust consent; only a municipal official and a few of the villain’s carefully planted henchmen shout their vote: “God save Richard, England’s royal king!”

But the others assembled in the crowd, whether from indifference or from fear or from the catastrophically mistaken belief that there is no real difference between Richard and the alternatives, are silent, “like dumb statues or breathing stones.” Not speaking out — simply not voting — is enough to bring the monster to power.

Shakespeare’s words have an uncanny ability to reach out beyond their original time and place and to speak directly to us. We have long looked to him, in times of perplexity and risk, for the most fundamental human truths. So it is now. Do not think it cannot happen, and do not stay silent or waste your vote.

 Doonesbury — A great disturbance in the waves.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

Peace Plan for Syria

Let us hope this works.

MUNICH — Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Lavrov, announced that they had agreed on the delivery over the next few days of desperately needed aid to besieged Syrian cities, to be followed by a “cessation of hostilities” within a week on the way to a more formal cease-fire.

“We have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities in one week’s time,” Mr. Kerry said early Friday morning, after all-day meetings. “That is ambitious.”

“The real test is whether all the parties honor those commitments,” he said, sitting next to Mr. Lavrov, the two men doing their best to appear cooperative after weeks of trading accusations over the accelerated Russian air campaign that has given new support to the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.

If executed, the agreement, forged by the International Syria Support Group, would mark the first sustained and formally declared halt to fighting in Syria since the civil war began in 2011, early in the Arab uprisings. But even a formal cease-fire would be partial — it excludes the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, and the Nusra Front, both designated as terrorist organizations by the United Nations — and highly fragile.

Give peace a chance.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of State Kerry made an unannounced visit to Somalia.

Twitter Trail: Police follow the moves of the Texas shooters via social media.

Attorney General Lynch went to Baltimore.

President Obama is nominating Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. as the new head of the Joint Chiefs.

Hillary Clinton promises to go “even further” on immigration.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-2.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Another Appeaser

So if Barack Obama is selling us out to the Iranians for a peace deal, what about this guy?

Delivering his Easter message from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican Sunday, the pope gave his backing to the nuclear deal reached between Iran, the United States, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and Germany.

“In hope we entrust to the merciful Lord the framework recently agreed to in Lausanne, that it may be a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world,” the pope told the throngs of followers gathered in the rain.

Yeah, but he’s just another peacenik.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sunday Reading

The Iran Nuclear Deal by the Numbers — Graham Allison at The Atlantic explains it all for you.

To assess the impact of the accord that the United States and its partners reached with Iran on Thursday, it is useful to start with five bottom lines. To what questions are 15,000, 12,000, 10, 5, and 0 the answers?

  • 15,000 is the number of pounds of low-enriched uranium that would be neutralized.
  • 12,000 is the number of centrifuges that would be decommissioned.
  • 10 is the number of months by which Iran’s “breakout” timeline to a bomb would be extended.
  • 5 is the number of bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium that would be neutralized.
  • 0 is the number of bombs’ worth of plutonium that Iran would be able to produce.

Of course, the framework accord still has to be translated into a more specific, binding agreement. And even more important, assuming that is done, the agreement has to be implemented. But if this happens, a state that currently has seven bombs’ worth of enriched uranium and 19,000 centrifuges, and is six weeks away from breaking out to produce the core of a bomb, will have been pushed back materially on each of these fronts. Moreover, the route to a bomb using plutonium rather than uranium, which Iran has pursued for over a decade at its Arak facility, will have been abandoned.


By eliminating 12,000 centrifuges and five bombs’ worth of low-enriched uranium, the accord extends the breakout timeline for Iran to produce the highly enriched uranium core of a bomb to one year. By requiring the reconfiguration of Iran’s planned plutonium-producing reactor at Arak, the accord essentially closes this door to a bomb. And by agreeing to establish a new mechanism that will allow unprecedented access for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to suspicious nuclear sites anywhere in Iran, the accord makes it much more difficult for Iran to cheat.

Between this framework accord and a final agreement lie many difficult negotiations. On literally hundreds of specific items, there are countless devils in the details. From my personal analysis of the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, many of these details matter more than the announced constraints on Iran’s enrichment activity at its declared facilities. Most important for me will be requirements for transparency and verification that maximize the likelihood that if Iran attempts to develop nuclear weapons at a covert facility, intelligence communities in the United States and other nations will discover that fact before Iran reaches its goals.

In sum, the Obama administration and its indefatigable secretary of state deserve a hearty round of applause for what has been achieved at this point. What remains to be done will be even more difficult, and in the longer run more significant, in stopping Iran short of a nuclear bomb.

Pence Agonisties — Charlie Pierce on the loneliness of the governor of Indiana.

Suddenly, Mike Pence, the bag of hammers who is for the moment governor of Indiana, wakes on a lovely day in Indianapolis and discovers that he’s pretty much the sole occupant of the Bigot Archipelago.

Georgia’s version of this law likely has breathed its last. And, for a while, it looked like Arkansas was going to follow Indiana into the gorge of eternal peril. But then the CEO of Walmart announced that these religious liberty restoratives were inconsistent with Walmart’s social conscience. (Apparently, he owns an electron microscope.) Then, in what I am certain is purely coincidental, Governor Asa Hutchinson not only came out in opposition to the Arkansas law, he threw it back into the legislature whence it had come to his desk.

To ensure that the state is “a place of tolerance,” Mr. Hutchinson said, he was considering using an executive order that would seek to balance the “competing constitutional obligations” if the legislature declined to make changes to the bill. “What is important from an Arkansas standpoint is one, we get the right balance,” he said, “and secondly, we make sure that we communicate we’re not going to be a state that fails to recognize the diversity of our workplace, our economy and our future.”

Translation from the original WeaselSpeak: Good god, Pence is an idiot. Bring yo’ bidness to Arkansas!

And, for those of you keeping score at home, the following is a partial list of the institutions that are more progressive and that make more sense on this issue than Mike Pence does.


Dan Quayle’s Old Family Newspaper



The state of Arkansas

But, to be entirely fair, Pence still does have some allies out there.

In the last twenty-four hours, much of the mainstream media has shown itself perfectly willing to serve as agents of Satan (or should I use Moloch to make you feel better?). Most of the news anchors, reporters, and opinion writers of the press are perfectly fine forcing you to violate your conscience as long as they do not have to. They have suddenly discovered Jesus dined with sinners. They just ignore that he said “go and sin no more.” There is no evidence Jesus baked a cake to celebrate sin, but the media wants you to think he did. Just pay no attention to the guy in the Bible who spoke the most about hell fire. Oh wait, that would be the very same Jesus.

…and the greatest of these is charity.

When even Walmart’s figured that out, it’s time to wonder where your soul went.

The New Ball Game — Jay Martel at The New Yorker has some suggestions on how to speed up the game.

Once a hitter enters the batter’s box, he will be required to keep at least one foot in the box until the end of his at-bat. The foot cannot be prosthetic; it must be attached by musculature to the hitter’s body. Hitters may leave the box under certain circumstances, including a wild pitch, a play on the bases, or catching on fire. In the event of an at-bat that lasts for more than three hours, the player can be brought water and snacks. If a hitter dies of natural causes, he may be removed, headfirst.

Three timers will be placed in all Major League stadiums. The first will count down the number of seconds that have elapsed between pitches; a second will track the minutes between innings; and a third will tally the hours of game-watching that the fans will never get back as they march inexorably toward death.

Relief pitchers will be encouraged to warm up at home.

Hitters may adjust their athletic cups only as they approach the batter’s box. Once in the box, they can touch themselves only to swat at an insect or to punctuate a sentence such as “You know who likes pizza? This guy!” Pitchers will be allowed to pick up the rosin bag only fifteen times between batters. They may, however, absolutely go to town on the bills of their caps, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Managers can no longer rush onto the field to challenge a call. Instead, robots with painted frowning faces loosely based on the managers’ actual faces will roll onto the field to confront umpires with angry whirring noises. These robots will all be programmed to return to the dugout within two minutes.

A batter who hits ten foul balls in a single at-bat is allowed to take first base. The team in the field will then have five minutes to chase him down and try to get first base back from him. If it fails, the batter’s team wins the game.

Only the Chipmunks’ version of “We Will Rock You” will be permitted at Major League stadiums. The organ music leading up to the crowd shouting “Charge!” will be scaled down from six notes to four. The lyrics to “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” will now be “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks/At a reasonable hour I’d like to get back.” There are no other lyrics.

The instant-replay system will be streamlined as follows: the manager will signal to the umpire that the play is being challenged. (A written form is no longer necessary.) The umpire will then relay the request to the replay booth by firing a track pistol three times into the air. The replay official will then rewind the game tape using state-of-the-art beta technology. Assuming that there are no snags or threading issues, the official will promptly watch the play and decide whether to uphold the call or change it. After a document is prepared verifying the official decision and this document is signed, sealed, and sent via pneumatic tubing to the office of the commissioner, a semaphore signal will be given to the umpire, who will make the appropriate call. If this process takes longer than thirty-five minutes, the challenge is automatically rescinded.

If a game lasts more than twelve innings, sabres will be supplied to twenty fans from each side. The team with the most surviving members after the ensuing melee wins. All feet must be cleared from the batter’s box before the next game.

The Tigers’ home opener is Tuesday.

 Doonesbury — Is the caller there?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hard To Be A Pacifist

After hearing about another execution of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS, the visceral reaction comes easily.  Even the most even-tempered and non-violent soul finds the gorge rising in their throat and the simple solutions easily form in the mind: “Find them, kill them, and make sure they know who did it and why.”

We have the forces; we have the means and the power to hunt down these wretched fanatics and grind them to powder.  There is no place on the planet they can hide.  We got bin Laden, so why can’t we marshal all the secret weapons and black ops teams like the ones we see on TV?  Why isn’t a bullet between the eyes the way to do it?

Because it’s what they want.  It is what they are counting on.  To ISIS and al-Qaeda, life is expendable and replaceable.  One more dead leader to them means they replace him with another; one more drone attack by us furthers their cause and draws new men to their cause.  We have been taking out their leaders since before we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and still they grow.  We took out the most hunted man in the world and that hasn’t stopped them from replacing him.

We are seeing the consequences of being goaded into war.  We are seeing the result of generations of exploitation and lorded-over exceptionalism and self-styled supremacy.  The attacks against the West are not because we are not Muslim; they attack people of their own faith.  They are using religion as a facade in the same way a bigot uses the bible to justify racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and they allow their visceral hatred of those that bullied them to control their actions as well.  Their only hope is that we will respond in kind.  And we have.

We have given them what they want: attention and aggression.  The difference is that we have our limits and they do not because they believe they have nothing left to lose.  They also know there are powerful voices in America and the West who counsel peace and standing down the war machinery.  They hope those voices will be drowned out by the chants for war and blood and vengeance.

It is hard to resist the urge to destroy those who hate us.  But one hundred years of war and tension and world-wide suffering have not brought the peace.  War breeds more war, and those of us who struggle to keep our rage in check must prevail so that a calculated act of unspeakable cruelty is not met with the same.  Because it only leads to more blood, more sorrow and another hundred years of human misery wrought by miserable humans.

No, I don’t know the answer.  Peace has never been easy or a bargain; you have to pay for it.  It means overcoming prejudice and tribalism, two of nature’s more powerful visceral instincts.  If we cannot overcome them, the least we can do is control them and not let the epitaph of humanity be “It all started when they hit us back.”

Friday, January 17, 2014

Short Takes

Syria — Secretary of State Kerry seeks to assure parties as peace talks near.

Thailand — 22 protestors injured in bomb blast.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) to leave office by the end of the year.

David Wildstein, N.J. bridge scandal figure, will sing in exchange for immunity.

R.I.P. Russell Johnson, 89, the professor of Gilligan’s Island; Dave Madden, 83, of The Partridge Family.

Coffee to go — Korean community in New York City to consider boycotting McDonald’s.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Short Takes

Experts say that chemical weapons use is plausible in Syria.

Soldier who commited Afghan massacre apologizes, but no explanation.

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner will quit amidst multiple accusations of sexual harassment.

President Obama calls woman who talked guman out of shooting up school.

The Tigers drop another to the Twins 7-6.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Casual Good Friday

The Southeastern Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) always coincides with Easter weekend.  It’s not that Quakers acknowledge or celebrate Easter (some do, some don’t), but it’s usually a time when families can gather at the retreat center in central Florida and have a good and meaningful time together.

My friend (and Friend) Steve took this picture on Wednesday as Friends gathered.

SEYM 03-29-13

Let this be the setting for the day.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Reading

Obama’s LBJ Moment — David Rohde on how Barack Obama’s war on inequality matches the efforts of the war on poverty.

He quoted Jack Kennedy but sounded more like Lyndon Johnson.

In an audacious State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama made sweeping proposals to reduce poverty, revive the middle class and increase taxes on the “well off.” While careful to not declare it outright, an emboldened second-term president laid out an agenda that could be called a “war on inequality.”

“There are communities in this country where no matter how hard you work, it is virtually impossible to get ahead,” Obama declared in a blunt attack one a core conservative credo. “And that’s why we need to build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class for all who are willing to climb them.”

In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson introduced the legislation that became known as the “War on Poverty.” Those laws – along with many others he shepherded – stand today as perhaps the greatest legislative achievement of any modern president. Whether or not one agrees with him, Johnson’s laws – from the Civil Rights Act, to Medicaid, Medicare and Head Start, to sweeping federal urban renewal and education programs – changed the face of American society.

Obama, of course, is very different from LBJ and governing in a vastly different time. While Johnson excelled at cajoling legislators, Obama reportedly finds it distasteful. Where Johnson could offer new federal programs, Obama must maneuver in an age where the federal government is distrusted. And while Johnson had full government coffers, Obama lives in an era of crushing fiscal constraint.

Those differences, though, make Obama’s second inaugural address and Tuesday’s State of the Union all the more remarkable. As Richard W. Stevenson noted in the New York Times, “he continued trying to define a 21st-century version of liberalism that could outlast his time in office and do for Democrats what Reagan did for Republicans.”

Torture vs. Drones — Jane Mayer at The New Yorker.

There are some disturbing similarities between the Obama white paper and the Bush torture memos. Both use slippery legal language to parse dark government programs. Both have been deliberately hidden from public and even congressional oversight. And both involve the blurring of C.I.A. and military operations, and even include some of the same personnel. John Brennan, Obama’s nominee to direct the C.I.A., is a long-time veteran of the agency who, prior to joining the Obama Administration, served as chief of staff for former C.I.A. director George Tenet, under the Bush Administration during the depths of the torture scandal. Despite this, several human-rights experts have endorsed Brennan’s promotion, and Obama seems to respect him deeply. Whether that trust is well-placed remains to be seen; Brennan’s refusal, during his Senate confirmation hearings last week, to admit that waterboarding—the partial drowning of a prisoner—is a form of torture was a chilling display of institutional loyalty.

Clearly there are plenty of troubling questions surrounding the Obama Administration’s targeted-killing program. But, that said, are Obama’s drones comparable in terms of human-rights violations, to Bush’s Torture program?

Those who argue so miss an important distinction, one that David Cole also has brought up: torture under all our systems of law—including the laws of war—is illegal. This is true without exception, regardless of the circumstances, including national-security emergencies. Torture is also condemned by every major religion. Waterboarding was, and is, a form of torture. This has been established as far back as the Spanish Inquisition, and as recently as the Vietnam War. To argue otherwise is to legalize criminality. That was what the Bush Administration’s torture memos did.

Bark Bark Woof Woof — According to Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods, maybe dogs really can talk.

During the day, our dog Mystique is sweet and demure, but at night she becomes a different animal. She guards our house, barking ferociously every time someone comes within earshot. The only problem is that our house is on the main trail where the night staff walk back and forth after dark. Mystique dutifully barks at all passersby whether she has known them for a day or all her life. But if there was really a cause for concern, like a strange man with a gun, I wonder if Mystique would bark in a way that would alert me that there was something dangerous and different about the person approaching the house.

Dog vocalizations may not sound very sophisticated. Raymond Coppinger pointed out that most dog vocalizations consist of barking, and that barking seems to occur indiscriminately. Coppinger reported on a dog whose duty was to guard free-ranging livestock. The dog barked continuously for seven hours, even though no other dogs were within miles. If barking is communicative, dogs would not bark when no one could hear them. It seemed to Coppinger that the dog was simply relieving some inner state of arousal. The arousal model is that dogs do not have much control over their barking. They are not taking into account their audience, and their barks carry little information other than their emotional state.

Perhaps barking is another by-product of domestication. Unlike dogs, wolves rarely bark. Barks make up as little as 3 percent of wolf vocalizations. Meanwhile, the experimental foxes in Russia bark when they see people, while the control foxes do not. Frequent barking when aroused is probably another consequence of selecting against aggression.

However, more recent research indicates that there might be more to barking than we first thought. Dogs have fairly plastic vocal cords, or a “modifiable vocal tract.” Dogs might be able to subtly alter their voices to produce a wide variety of different sounds that could have different meanings. Dogs might even be altering their voices in ways that are clear to other dogs but not to humans. When scientists have taken spectrograms, or pictures, of dog barks, it turns out that not all barks are the same — even from the same dog. Depending on the context, a dog’s barks can vary in timing, pitch and amplitude. Perhaps they have different meanings.

Doonesbury — Anybody can do it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Short Takes

The Tigers clinched the AL Central division title by beating the Royals.  Onward!

The U.S. is abandoning hopes for peace deal with the Taliban.

The Al-Qaeda in North Africa threat is the focus of secret talks.

Senate leaders say they are trying to avoid the cliff.

Iran is facing currency issues.

A little late … A judge has ruled that arrests at the 2004 GOP convention were illegal.

Tropical Update:  Nadine is still alive, but now a TS.  The next disturbance will follow her path.

The Washington Nationals backed into their first-ever division win.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Short Takes

Egypt begins voting in the presidential run-off election.

You’re on your own — The Greeks are being left to fend for themselves in their financial crisis.

Better late than never — Aung San Suu Kyi is going to deliver her Nobel Peace Prize speech 21 years after winning.

Off the bus — As Romney stumps in Florida, where’s Gov. Scott?

Nik Wallenda completes a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Carlotta is ashore in Mexico.

The Tigers lost to the Rockies.

Short Takes

Egypt begins voting in the presidential run-off election.

You’re on your own — The Greeks are being left to fend for themselves in their financial crisis.

Better late than never — Aung San Suu Kyi is going to deliver her Nobel Peace Prize speech 21 years after winning.

Off the bus — As Romney stumps in Florida, where’s Gov. Scott?

Nik Wallenda completes a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls.

Tropical Update: Hurricane Carlotta is ashore in Mexico.

The Tigers lost to the Rockies.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Short Takes

The Nobel Peace Prize went to an empty chair to represent the place where Chinese literary critic Liu Xiaobo would have sat.

Deja Vu:
Bill Clinton met with President Obama yesterday, then spoke to the press.

Joe Miller loses a round in his legal battle to win the Senate election in Alaska.

WikiLeaks says the Pope impeded investigations into sexual abuse by priests.

Things are calming down in Haiti.

South Florida will get another cold front next week.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi


Myanmar’s detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi greeted cheering crowds at the gate of her house, NBC News reported, after a release order was read to her by the authorities. However it was still unclear if she would accept any conditions of her release and whether she would talk to media, NBC News said.

Suu Kyi, whose latest term of detention was due to expire Saturday, could refuse to sign the release order, depending on whether conditions have been imposed.

Amid jubilant scenes, she told her supporters “we must work together in unison to achieve our goals,” according to a report by the U.K.’s Sky News.

The official, who demanded anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, spoke shortly after three official cars entered her compound.

Hundreds of supporters of the Nobel peace prize laureate had gathered outside her home and party office on Saturday, chanting for her freedom after seven years of detention by the country’s military junta.

Before her appearance, the crowd of about 1,000 people who were waiting near her lakeside house chanted “Release Aung San Suu Kyi” and “Long live Aung San Suu Kyi”. Some wore T-shirts emblazoned with messages pledging to stand with her.

Every time I see a bunch of people running around in silly hats carrying misspelled signs screaming about “Fascism” and threats to democracy because gay people want to get married in America, I think of this woman who has been held prisoner in Burma. It puts it all in perspective.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Peace Prize

Speaking of putting things in perspective

From the New York Times:

Liu Xiaobo, an impassioned literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate repeatedly jailed by the Chinese government for his writings, won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of “his long and nonviolent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”

Mr. Liu, 54, perhaps China’s best known dissident, is currently serving an 11-year term on subversion charges.

China lashed out at the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision, calling it a blasphemy.

“Liu Xiaobo is a criminal who has been sentenced by Chinese judicial departments for violating Chinese law,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by The Associated Press. The committee’s decision “runs completely counter to the principle of the prize and is also a blasphemy to the peace prize.” It said the decision would damage relations between China and Norway.

Mr. Liu is the first Chinese citizen to win the Peace Prize and one of three laureates to have received it while in prison.

In awarding the prize to Mr. Liu, the Norwegian Nobel Committee delivered an unmistakable rebuke to Beijing’s authoritarian leaders at a time of growing intolerance for domestic dissent and spreading unease internationally over the muscular diplomacy that has accompanied China’s economic rise.

In a move that in retrospect may have been counterproductive, a senior Chinese official recently warned the Norwegian committee’s chairman that giving the prize to Mr. Liu would adversely affect relations between the two countries.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leaving Iraq


NEAR THE IRAQ-KUWAIT BORDER — The last U.S. combat troops were crossing the border into Kuwait on Thursday morning, bringing to a close the active combat phase of a 7½-year war that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein, forever defined the presidency of George W. Bush and left more than 4,400 American service members and tens of thousands of Iraqis dead.

The final convoy of the Army’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., began entering Kuwait about 1:30 a.m. (6:30 p.m. Wednesday ET), carrying the last of the 14,000 U.S. combat forces in Iraq, said NBC’s Richard Engel, who has been traveling with the brigade as it moved out this week.

The departure marks the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the State Department, told msnbc [sic] TV. But while it is “an historic moment,” he said, it is not the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

“We are ending the war … but we are not ending our work in Iraq,” he said. “We have a long-term commitment to Iraq.”

We should never have gone there in the first place. That said, the men and women who did their duty as they were ordered to do served with honor, and we owe them the respect they have earned and deserve. Welcome home.

We have paid a huge price in their blood and our treasure. It will be years before the toll is finally counted and we may never know how many lives were lost or destroyed. I hold them all — everyone, from every country and the civilians who were trapped in this misbegotten folly — in the Light and hope they find peace and quiet. For those thousands of Americans who died and the countless more who were lost in the crossfire, I mourn them for the lives and the loved ones they left behind.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

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