Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Could the Filibuster Really Be Dead?

I'll believe it when I see it, but it seems that the filibuster as it is currently constructed could be dead by next week. That's shocking. There's no downside here. Even when Republicans control the Senate, they have the right to rule with a majority vote. And if this happens, freshman senators Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall will already have changed the nation in a way far more positive than the vast majority of people to have ever served in that body.

If this indeed happens, we can then argue whether the Republicans overplayed their hand in the last 2 years. In the short term, perhaps not. The stalling of Obama's agenda clearly helped them make major gains in the midterm elections. And I have no doubt the Republicans are planning new ways to stall legislation. But by obstructing everything under the sun, they may have hurt their long-term ability to stop legislation they really hate. Not in the next Congress of course because Republicans will control the House, but the next time Democrats control both houses of Congress.

National Film Registry

The National Film Registry named its new entrants yesterday. As usual, it's an interesting combination of popular favorites and unique or obscure films. It's a bit eye-rolling to see The Empire Strikes Back be named, but without it, a) no one would talk about the NFR and b) it would be harder to get Congressional funding. So I can live with it. Some really fascinating entries though:


I Am Joaquin (1969)
“I Am Joaquin” is a 20-minute short film based on an epic poem published by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales in 1967. Gonzales’ poem weaves together the long tangled roots of his Mexican, Spanish, Indian and American parentage and a past mythology of pre-Columbian cultures. The film is important to the history and culture of Chicanos in America, spotlighting the challenges they have endured because of discrimination. Luis Valdez, often described as the father of Chicano theater, produced and directed “I Am Joaquin” as a project of Teatro Campesino (the Farmworkers Theater), which he founded in 1965 to inform, encourage and entertain Chicano farm workers. Valdez later directed the Chicano-themed “Zoot Suit” in 1981, a retelling of the early 1940s Los Angeles race riots, and “La Bamba” in 1987.

Let There Be Light (1946)
Director John Huston directed three classic war documentaries for the U.S. Army Signal Corps during the period of 1943-46: “Report from the Aleutians,” “Battle of San Pietro” and “Let There Be Light.” “Let There Be Light” was blocked from public distribution by the War Department for 35 years because no effort was made during filming to disguise or mask the identities of combat veterans suffering from various forms of psychological trauma. The film provides important historical documentation of the efforts of psychiatric professionals during World War II to care for emotionally wounded veterans and prepare them to return to civilian life. “Let There Be Light” was filmed by cinematographer Stanley Cortez and its score was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin.

I've actually seen Battle of San Pietro and it is an incredibly compelling view of a completely non-descript battle in the Italian campaign of 1943. 

Study of a River (1996)
Experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton is best known for his thoughtful and beautifully photographed ruminations on the co-existence of urban areas and natural waterways. His most renowned films focused on the Hudson River. “Study of a River” is a meditative examination of the winter cycle of the Hudson River over a two-year period, showing its environment, ships plying its waterways, ice floes, and the interaction of nature and civilization. Some critics have described Hutton’s work as reminiscent of the 19th century artist Thomas Cole and other painters of the Hudson River School.

Mince Meat Pies

I've always found mince meat pies one of America's most disgusting culinary traditions. I'm not sure that Cliff Doerksen's article on mince pie's history and his attempt to make one in a traditional manner made me feel different, but it certainly was fascinating. Among the bizarre asides within:



Mince pie was brought to American shores by the British religious dissenters who settled New England, but it arrived under a cloud. English Puritans regarded the dish as inherently popish, and during the rule of Cromwell mince had been banned, along with such related pagan folderol as Christmas, maypoles, gambling, and musical instruments in church.

Several New England colonies likewise had laws against mince (and Christmas). Yet the dish somehow survived suppression, and as Puritan theocracy waned and a relative pluralism bloomed, it thrived.

...

When the 18th Amendment went into effect in 1919, the national liquor and catering interests began lobbying and lawyering hard to create a loophole in the Dry Law that would exempt the culinary arts. The campaign culminated in an October 1922 federal court case pitting Chicago's Old Victory Distillery against Prohibition enforcement officials. A 60-page brief submitted by the distillery's lawyers built the case for booze in the kitchen almost exclusively in terms of its implications for the future of mince. They won the case handily.


The presiding federal judge tipped his hand early as to the direction of his ruling, invoking a pro-mince chestnut by Indiana doggerel poet James Whitcomb Riley: "I haven't looked through the brief entirely," he said. "But the appeal certainly is seasonable as we approach the days 'when the frost is on the pumpkin and the corn is in the shock.'"

And mince itself could be retooled as a camouflaged liquor-delivery medium: In 1919 the Chicago Tribune reported that the average alcohol content of canned mince samples on display at a trade show for the hotel business had spiked to 14.12 percent, offering a far more efficient buzz than legal near beer, with its measly .5 percent. "I love pie," declared one attendee. "Here's how!" leered his companion, and they clinked their plates together like cocktail glasses.
...

In an age impressed by Darwinian science but still largely wedded to the fallacy that acquired traits could be inherited, mince pie appeared to some as a threat to the very survival of the American people. Thus, Dr. Fenton B. Turck of Chicago warned a conference of the Mississippi Valley Medical Association in 1910 that the "armor-plate mince pie diet indulged in by all America" was rapidly bringing about "race deterioration not only in Connecticut and Maine, but in other states." Turck's dire views were later echoed and amplified by Dr. Andre Tridon, a French immigrant and Manhattan's leading Freudian psychoanalyst, who in 1921 cautioned Caucasian America that the national diet, with its "atrocious corned beef and cabbage and horrible mince pie," would ultimately undermine white supremacy and put the rising black race in control.

I could go on. If this doesn't whet your appetite for reading (because it sure as hell isn't going to whet your appetite for eating), I don't know what will. 

Update: A friend finds an anti-mince meat pie rant from 1879. Remarkable.

Well, Someone's Cranky About Identity Politics.....

Edward Rothstein is in full old white man crank mode in his review of recent museum displays around the country. Rothstein evidently doesn't like the stories of non-white men getting told, as least in an exclusive fashion:

Me! Me! Me! That is the cry, now often heard, as history is retold. Tell my story, in my way! Give me the attention I deserve! Haven’t you neglected me, blinded by your own perspectives? Now let history be told not by the victors but by people over whom it has trampled.

And why, after all, should it be any different? Isn’t that the cry made by most of us? We want to be acknowledged, given credit for our unique experiences. We want to tell our stories. We want to convert you from your own narrow views to our more capacious perspective.

I am exaggerating slightly — but only slightly. In recent years, I have been chronicling the evolution of the “identity museum” or “identity exhibition,” designed to affirm a particular group’s claims, outline its accomplishments, boost its pride and proclaim, “We must tell our own story!”
And what specifically is getting Rothstein's undies so balled up?

First, the site of the president's house in Philadelphia (which was the nation's capitol before Washington, DC):


Instead, during eight years of controversy, protests and confrontations, the project (costing nearly $12 million) was turned into something else. Black advocacy groups pressed the National Park Service and the city to create an exhibition that focused on enslavement. Rosalyn McPherson, the site’s project manager, emphasized in an interview that the goal was to give voice to the enslaved. Community meetings stressed that slaves had to be portrayed as having “agency” and “dignity.” A memorial to all slaves was erected, inscribed with a roster of African tribes from which they were taken — a list that has no clear connection to either the site or the city.

The result is more than a little strange. One black advocacy group’s leader, Michael Coard, who was placed on the site’s oversight committee, wrote an angry, influential essay on the Web site of his organization, Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, that was just in its analysis of historical neglect, but distorting in its all-consuming strategy. It would allow no differentiation and qualification, treating the site almost as if it were the Slave Market of Charleston.

Second, an exhibition about Muslim science at the Hall of Science in Queens:


The exhibition also pays minimal attention to the very element that made Baghdad so important before its destruction in 1258: the cosmopolitan impact of interacting cultures. Influences are casually mentioned when they should be sharing center stage. Persian pre-Islamic breakthroughs, the confluence of innovations from China and India, the heritage of Christian scholarship from Syria, the importance of Byzantine Christianity with its links to ancient Rome, and the scholarly preoccupations of the region’s Jewish communities — these are scarcely noticed, minimized or ignored. The main point made about one of the few non-Muslim figures mentioned — Musa ibn Maymun (better known as the 12th-century Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides) — is that his work demonstrated the influence of “Muslim colleagues” and drew on “Muslim philosophy.”

The show’s mission, we are explicitly told, is to “promote” Muslim heritage internationally and to strengthen Muslim identity and pride. Nearly a million people are said to have seen it in London and Istanbul and in smaller touring shows. The avidity of the acclaim is embarrassing: a version was shown at the United Nations and in the British Parliament. Classrooms in Britain have embraced its curriculum materials. Yet much of it is politically motivated exaggeration.

While I doubt Rothstein is a self-avowed conservative, like Stanley Fish, he's clearly very uncomfortable with modern identity politics. I think Rothstein's real agenda is summed up in his discussion of the presidential space in Philadelphia:

Moreover, the scanty historical background presented in the exhibition’s annotated illustrations is almost mischievously diminishing. During the 10 years in which Philadelphia was the national capital and Washington and Adams were shaping the new country there, what we see of the “upstairs” world is this: unrest (riots opposing Adams’s policy regarding France), protest (against the Jay Treaty), fear (a yellow-fever epidemic) and hypocrisy (Washington is shown with a disdainful look as he awards a medal to a proud Seneca Indian leader). And the architecture of the site makes it seem as though we are standing in an open-air ruin.

The result: an important desire to reveal what was once hidden ends up pulling down nearly everything else, leaving a landscape as starkly unreal as the one in which Washington could never tell a lie. It is not really a reinterpretation of history; it overturns the idea of history, making it subservient to the claims of contemporary identity politics.

This suggests Rothstein thinks of history in the old consensus model of the 1950s. What Rothstein's uncomfortable with in the end is the idea of American history as conflict. Thus, key stories of the period, including the yellow-fever epidemic, protests over the Jay Treaty, and slavery are less important than the heroic George Washington pulling together the young nation. I haven't seen the exhibit (in fact, I've never even been to Philadelphia, much to my shame), but I'd be shocked if I didn't read the exhibit as partially about Washington's service to the country. That should be part of such an exhibit. However, this was a country built on slavery. George Washington was a slaveholder. That needs to be part of the story. That Rothstein is outraged that local African-American leaders want their stories told with "dignity" is probably the single worst line of his article.

What I'm reading about this exhibit suggests it presents the complexity of American history in a modern, multi-cultural, and complex way, with nods toward environmental history, American foreign policy, Native American history, African-American history, and political history. I really want to visit this exhibit. Rothstein's anti-multicultural rant reminds us of how contentious American history remains, particularly for an older generation weaned on a white male Euro-centric view of the past and present.

Kissinger

Maybe to correct for actually agreeing with Henry Kissinger a couple of days ago, I feel obliged to link to this excellent run-down of all the human rights abuses Kissinger approved of during his years working for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. We tend to focus on his actions in Chile here because we write a lot about Latin America.  But his actions in Asia were probably even worse, with direct responsibility for massive death in Bangladesh, East Timor, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Iraq.

Kissinger really is one of the worst people in American history.

If I Had a Hall of Fame Ballot

Baseball Hall of Fame voting is this week. If I had a ballot, I'd probably vote for the maximum 10 in order to make up for those who only vote for 1. Here's how I'd vote:

1. Bert Blyleven--this has been so obvious for so long, it's a shame that he isn't in the HOF as it is. He probably will make it this year, his final year of eligibility. The only reason Blyleven isn't in already is that he pitched for terrible teams throughout his career, meaning that he doesn't have 300 wins.

2. Roberto Alomar--one of the best 2B ever, I was really surprised he didn't make it last year, which was his first year of eligibility. Would be surprised if he was denied again. I know he was a jerk, but who cares. It isn't the Hall of Nice Guys.

3. Tim Raines--one of the greatest leadoff hitters ever. Once Blyleven gets in, Raines probably becomes the cause d'celebre for baseball geeks. As well he should.

4. Alan Trammell--a fantastic shortstop for a series of excellent teams. It's a travesty that his double play partner Lou Whitaker isn't even on the ballot, for he didn't get the requisite votes to stay on after his 1st year of eligibility. That's a joke and probably has more to do with Whitaker showing up for the negotiations in the 1994 strike in white limo than his play. Meanwhile, Trammell was only awesome for more than a decade.

5. Jeff Bagwell--I know there are steroid rumors about Bagwell. But there is no actual evidence of this. Bagwell is one of the 2 greatest players in Astros history. He deserves to be in.

6. Edgar Martinez--he should be the Mariners' first inductee. Hurt because his final numbers aren't up to the norm, but that's much more because the Mariners kept him in Edmonton for years because they were sure Jim Presley was their 3B of the future. In a related issue, many go against Martinez because he was a DH for most of his career. OK, although I don't think this should necessarily matter. But again, he would have had at least 1000 more ABs in the field if the Mariners call him up at a decent age.

7. Barry Larkin--one of the great shortstops of my era. One of the great Reds of all time. A clear choice.

At this point, things start getting a touch more sketchy for me. More borderline cases here.

8. Dave Parker--really a dominant OF for a long time

9. Fred McGriff--a classic borderline candidate, I suspect he will slowly gain support over the years, especially considering that there are zero steroid allegations against him, at least that I know of.

10. Dale Murphy--I'm not really sold here but he was the best player in the league for several years in the 80s.

As for the steroid candidates, my rule of thumb is to think about whether I'd vote them in without the steroids. Did their pre-steroid use days suggest they were probably HOF players? Bonds obviously yes. Clemens, probably. McGwire and Palmeiro, both eligible this year, no. McGwire was almost out of the league when he started in. Palmeiro was a solid 1B but clearly no better than that. I have no problem saying no to both.

Also, in an ideal world with more flexibility as to who can be on of off the ballot, I'd add Lou Whitaker and Bobby Grich in place of McGriff and Murphy.

Finally, I just can't go along with the idea that Jack Morris is a HOF pitcher. He's the choice of the uniformed voter who strictly looks at win totals and remembers single-game heroics. He was a very good but not great pitcher but benefited from playing on excellent teams throughout his career. How many 9-5 games did he win with Toronto? I remember an awful lot.

Song of the Day: The Cat's Miaow, "Language of Flowers"

Historical Image of the Day


Interior of the Everleigh Club, Chicago's most exclusive brothel, circa 1900

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Decline and Fall of Marty Peretz

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Our Responsibility in Killing Animals

Lemieux points us to this moronic Aaron Sorkin piece attacking Sarah Palin for killing animals on her show. It's tempting to damn the Huffington Post for hosting editorials like this, but I'll leave my distaste for that site alone here.

Rather, it's worth mentioning because Sorkin represents the massive disconnect consumers of animal products have from their production.

"Unless you've never worn leather shoes, sat upon a leather chair or eaten meat, save your condemnation."

You're right, Sarah, we'll all just go fuck ourselves now.

The snotty quote was posted by Sarah Palin on (like all the great frontier women who've come before her) her Facebook page to respond to the criticism she knew and hoped would be coming after she hunted, killed and carved up a Caribou during a segment of her truly awful reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska, broadcast on The-Now-Hilariously-Titled Learning Channel.

I eat meat, chicken and fish, have shoes and furniture made of leather, and PETA is not ever going to put me on the cover of their brochure and for these reasons Palin thinks it's hypocritical of me to find what she did heart-stoppingly disgusting. I don't think it is, and here's why.

Like 95% of the people I know, I don't have a visceral (look it up) problem eating meat or wearing a belt. But like absolutely everybody I know, I don't relish the idea of torturing animals. I don't enjoy the fact that they're dead and I certainly don't want to volunteer to be the one to kill them and if I were picked to be the one to kill them in some kind of of Lottery-from-Hell, I wouldn't do a little dance of joy while I was slicing the animal apart.

The problems with this are legion, but I'll stick to the disconnect between production and consumption. Palin's show is disgusting. Watching her kill a halibut by bashing its face in with a bat is not something I ever want to watch.  But halibut are killed this way. And we eat halibut. As a consumer, you are partially responsible for the production methods of the product. In this case, if you don't want to see halibut bashed in the face with a bat, don't eat halibut.

Moreover, Sorkin's claim he doesn't like to torture animals may be true enough, but hardly exonerates him from the charge of some responsibility for doing so. There are libraries full of information on factory farms and slaughterhouses discussing the inhuman ways cows are killed, how chickens live in cages no bigger than bodies, etc. This is all animal torture too. You eat factory farmed meat, you have a measure of responsibility.

The difference is that Palin shows the torture of animal production for political reasons. Her animal snuff films/reality show are loathsome. But the response from Sorkin and many others says a lot about the blissful ignorance most of us remain in when it comes to our animal products.

Is Hungary Rejecting Democracy

While it's a cliche to talk of democracy's fragility, it really doesn't take much to instill an authoritarian state in a nation where democracy seemed firmly entrenched.

We may be seeing this happen in Hungary.


The right-wing Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban won 53 percent of the popular vote in an election this year but gained 66 percent of the seats in parliament - enough to change the constitution. It proceeded to take over or attack the authority of every institution it did not control, including the presidency, the Supreme Court and the state audit office; the central bank is now under its assault.


Meanwhile, Mr. Orban has overseen passage of two media laws that will put Hungary in a league with Russia and Belarus on press freedom. One puts Fidesz in control of state television channels and all other public media outlets. The second, approved by parliament on Tuesday, creates a powerful Media Council with the authority to regulate newspapers, television, radio and the Internet. The council may issue decrees and impose heavy fines - up to $950,000 - for news coverage it considers "unbalanced" or offensive to "human dignity." Journalists can be forced to reveal their sources, and the council can search editorial offices and require that publishers reveal confidential business information.
This is not good. I'm hardly convinced that a large minority of Americans wouldn't support something like this. That most  Hungarians grew up under a single-party dictatorship suggests that a lot probably wouldn't mind going back to that if it provided stability.

Moreover, Hungary is about to take over the rotating presidency of the EU. A few states have publicly stated that such a government is not fit for the post, but Germany, France, Britain, and Italy have remained silent. Given that all four currently have center-right governments, it's unlikely they will. This provides Orban silent acquiescence for his totalitarian tendencies.

I'm not going to go all apocalyptic and say that the future of democracy in Europe is at stake. However, I do worry that other marginal states in the EU could turn away from democracy as a response to the economic crisis. And that's good for no one.


Applebaum with more.

A Leftist Critique of Assange

While the cult of personality around Julian Assange is tiresome, to say the least, it's become important in its own right because the debate over Wikileaks has morphed into some disturbing displays of hero-worship, particularly around Assange's rape accusations.


Bill Weinberg provides one of the most interesting discussions of Assange, largely because he's an old-school doctrinaire leftist. While his post does contain some hard-left pablum, Weinberg's indictment of Assange and his left-leaning supporters can often be quite cutting. He attacks Assange and his supporters on a couple of important lines.

Demonizing "revolutionary feminism"

The most blatantly irritating thing is abject demonization of the women who have made the charges of sexual abuse against Assange. In any other context, the summary dismissal of a woman's rape accusations would be seen as utterly politically incorrect. But Assange gets away with anti-feminist rhetoric that would do Rush Limbaugh proud. In an interview now receiving widespread coverage in the British press (e.g. The Telegraph, Dec. 26), Assange says: "Sweden is the Saudi Arabia of feminism... I fell into a hornets' nest of revolutionary feminism." Assange added that one of the women who said she was assaulted took a "trophy photo" of him lying naked in her bed. (TMI, Julian.)

Especially sickening is Naomi Wolf, who sneers in Huffington Post at the international "Dating Police" that have snared Assange. Flaunting her supposed creds as a "longtime feminist activist" in the opening sentence, she writes that "Assange is accused of having consensual sex with two women, in one case using a condom that broke." A Dec. 17 account in The Guardian (based on Swedish police documents that were—ahem—leaked) paints a rather different picture. (E.g.: "She told police that she had tried a number of times to reach for a condom but Assange had stopped her by holding her arms and pinning her legs.") John Pilger, who presumably wasn't there when the putative leg-pinning took place, nonetheless told ABC Sydney on Dec. 8 the case against Assange is a "political stunt." Wolf's glib dismissal of the allegations is especially ironic in light of her own sexual harassment claims against Harold Bloom, which many had similarly dismissed as spurious (e.g. Meghan O'Rourke in Slate, Feb. 25, 2004).

While I'm not sure the term "revolutionary feminism" is all that useful here, there's no question that watching progressives turn into rape defenders has been the worst part of this whole incident. As many others have said, while it's quite possible that the enforcement of the charges against Assange could be politically motivated, that hardly means he didn't rape these women. Moreover, if that's true, it's an indictment of how lightly rape accusations are taken around the world, not that Assange is some kind of victim. Assange may well be right on his actions in terms of Wikileaks (though I'd qualify that statement), but a complete asshole when it comes to women. These are not mutually exclusive.

A far more important critique of Assange is, as Weinberg puts it, that he hung "dissidents out to dry."

But those responsible for passing on incriminating information to diplomats may face repercussions on the ground. Reuters reports Dec. 25:
Zimbabwe's attorney general plans to set up a commission to investigate possible treason charges against locals over briefings with US diplomats reported in confidential State Department cables released by WikiLeaks.
The move appears to be targeting Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, following state media reports that hawks in President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party wanted an official probe into Tsvangirai's briefings with the US ambassador in Harare.
In comments cited in one US State Department cable obtained by WikiLeaks, Tsvangirai appeared to suggest that his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was not genuine in calling for the lifting of Western sanctions against ZANU-PF.
There is admittedly a certain irony in the fact that Robert Mugabe's regime may prosecute dissidents for talking to the US while the White House may prosecute Assange for revealing those conversations. But are Assange and his supporters going to loan any solidarity to the dissidents if they do face prosecution? Or they are all dupes of US imperialism, and we don't care about their rights?

In Belarus, WikiLeaks and Israel Shamir have been directly implicated in repression—reportedly passing on to the regime leaked evidence that opposition figures were in communication with Western governments. From The Guardian Dec. 23:
Assange defended one of WikiLeaks' collaborators, Israel Shamir, following claims Shamir passed sensitive cables to Belarus's dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. Lukashenko has arrested 600 opposition supporters and journalists since Sunday's presidential election. The whereabouts and fate of several of the president's high-profile opponents are unknown.
Of Shamir, Assange said: "WikiLeaks works with hundreds of journalists from different regions of the world. All are required to sign non-disclosure agreements and are generally only given limited review access to material relating to their region. We have no reason to believe these rumours in relation to Belarus are true."

While I'm as much for open information as anyone else and have by and large found the Wikileaks refreshing and even enlightening, Assange's utter indifference to dissidents on the ground who might die because of these leaks is revolting. Assange's moral consciousness seems simplistic and self-serving rather trying to achieve a greater humanistic aim. And that is very dangerous. 

Deforestation--Measuring Production or Consumption

Researchers Patrick Meyfroidt, Thomas Rubel, and Eric Lambin have an important new study on deforestation published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Summarized here, Meyfroidt, et al show that developing world nations that have cut domestic deforestation to acceptable levels end up relying on neighboring nations to make up the difference in their forest products consumption. It suggests that focusing on deforestation in individual countries matters little if nations like Burma, Brazil, and Indonesia are going to engage in massive legal and illegal timber trading.

"For every 100 acres of reforestation in these five countries, they imported the equivalent of 74 acres of forest products," said Meyfroidt, a postdoctoral researcher at Louvain and lead author of the study. "Taking into account their exports of agricultural products, the net balance amounted to 22 acres of land used in other countries."

During the past five years, the net land-use displacement increased to 52 acres of imported agricultural or forestry products for every 100 acres reforested, he added. That is, for every acre of reforested land, a half-acre was used elsewhere, including countries like Brazil and Indonesia, which together accounted for 61 percent of deforestation in the humid tropics between 2000 and 2005.

I'd go a step farther here. Measuring forest product production is far less helpful in determining forestation rates than measuring consumption. But we rarely measure consumption as a negative indicator in any sort of environmental issue. It doesn't much matter if Vietnam is saving its trees if it's desire for wood products continues to rise. That wood has to come from somewhere. And unless it is coming from some sort of sustainable forestry, something that has hardly been achieved in the United States, not to mention southeast Asia, does it really matter whether it is from Vietnam or Burma or Indonesia?

Another problem with measuring production over consumption is that it shifts blame from the world's rich nations to the developing world. It's really easy to talk about Brazil cutting down the Amazon. Meanwhile, let me go buy that new piece of tropical wood furniture. Where we do measure consumption, it's entirely in the goal of pushing for using more wood products. For example, housing starts remain a central indicator of economic growth. Houses are made of wood. Where do we think it comes from?

While valuable as it is, I'm not a study like Meyfroidt's does all it could. Without placing consumption over production as the point of analysis, we aren't going to get at the root causes of deforestation. Vietnam may have a growing demand for timber products that is supplied locally. But, like just about everything else short of betel nuts, its demand for wood falls eons short of that of the United States, Japan, and western Europe. These nations are the real despoilers of the planet. Until we start looking to reduce consumption rates, trees are going to be felled at unsustainable rates around the globe.

Song of the Day: Clyde McPhatter, "You're Movin' Me"

Monday, December 27, 2010

Historical Image of the Day


Sign warning U.S. soldiers of dangers of venereal disease, Camp Amirabad, Iran, 1943. More excellent images from the same World War II public health book here.

The British--Also Prown to Climate Lies

It is not only we Americans prone to climate denialism. The head in the sand groups have lobbied hard in Britain and their propaganda has proven effective. This moronic Christopher Booker piece in the Telegraph is a great example. Blaming the global warming crowd for making Britain unprepared to deal with snow, Booker writes:



The real question, however, is why has the Met Office become so astonishingly bad at doing the job for which it is paid nearly £200 million a year – in a way which has become so stupendously damaging to our country?

The answer is that in the past 20 years, as can be seen from its website, the Met Office has been hijacked from its proper role to become wholly subservient to its obsession with global warming. (At one time it even changed its name to the Met Office “for Weather and Climate Change”.) This all began when its then-director John Houghton became one of the world’s most influential promoters of the warmist gospel. He, more than anyone else, was responsible for setting up the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and remained at the top of it for 13 years. It was he who, in 1990, launched the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Change, closely linked to the Climatic Research Unit in East Anglia (CRU), at the centre of last year’s Climategate row, which showed how the little group of scientists at the heart of the IPCC had been prepared to bend their data and to suppress any dissent from warming orthodoxy.
So I guess scientific discussions of climate change are equivalent to doctrinaire Marxism for the climate change denial crowd.

To be more precise, the denialists are using every cold snap and every snow storm as propaganda tools for their anti-scientific agenda. Meanwhile, actual reality suggests that climate change will lead to more snow, at least in areas that remain below freezing. But climate science is complex and easily manipulated or ignored by denialist conservatives.

And here's actual and deeply depressing evidence about the effects of climate change on the forests of the Rocky Mountains:






Warmer climate leads to beetle infestations in these whitebark pine forests, not only killing the dominant tree species in high altitude forests but potentially endangering grizzly bears.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will revolve around prostitution.

Prostitutes, 1787

Song of the Day: The Decemberists, "Sixteen Military Wives"

Sunday, December 26, 2010

To The Gilded-Age Mobile Batman!!!

Good times ahead for the poor...

George Will on the incoming Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp:

Many conservatives, including Camp, believe that although most Americans should be paying lower taxes, more Americans should be paying taxes. The fact that 46.7 million earners pay no income tax creates moral hazard — incentives for perverse behavior: Free-riding people have scant incentive to restrain the growth of government they are not paying for with income taxes
"I believe," Camp says, "you've got to have some responsibility for the government you have." People have co-payments under Medicare, and everyone should similarly have some "skin in the game" under the income tax system.
In addition to the one-third of the 143 million tax returns filed by individual earners for 2007 that showed no tax liability, additional millions of households have incomes low enough to exempt them from filing tax returns. The bottom two quintiles of earners have negative income tax liabilities — they receive cash payments from the government via refundable tax credits.

This is precisely America's problem--poor people simply don't share enough of the burden..... And of course, Camp is right--there is an enormous conspiracy of poor people in America who are scheming to grow government precisely because they don't pay income taxes. And here I thought we had turned back the evil hordes of slackers with welfare reform!!!

In all seriousness, people like Camp are leading the charge to return America to the Gilded Age, a time where the rich controlled all aspects of society while the poor lived like dogs, scrapping for survival, dying at early ages, suffering from disease, starvation, and all the symptoms of poverty. And while this is going on, the rich were blaming the poor for their own plight. That the stated goal of Karl Rove is to return America to late 19th century social policies should have alamred all of us a decade ago. That his goals have only gained credence within the Republican Party, including the official approval of supposedly serious Republican voice George Will, since them should make us all fight now.

Civil War Books

I've simply been too overwhelmingly busy this year to write many book reviews for the blog (or to blog much period). For this, I apologize. Luckily, there are great writers out there willing to do a lot of this work for me. If you are looking for the best in Civil War related books that came out in 2010, definitely check out Kevin Levin's suggestions. I wish I had time to do so.

Kissinger v. Gerson

I do love me some Republican infighting....

Michael Gerson claims that the foreign policy realism of Nixon and Kissinger failed to bring about effective results.  Using the issue of emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union, Gerson states that

Realists often hold a simplistic view of great-power relations, asserting that any humanitarian pressure on Russia or China will cause the whole edifice of global order to crumble. This precludes the possibility of a mature relationship with other nations in which America both stands for its values and pursues common interests.

Gerson then goes on to claim that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which linked normal trade relations between the US and USSR with the freedom of Soviet Jews to emigrate, helped lead to the end of the Cold War, showing the amorality of realism.

But Jackson-Vanik turned out to be a pivot point in the Cold War. After an initial drop in emigration, the legislation exerted two decades of pressure on Soviet leaders, eventually resulting in higher emigration levels. It pressed one of the West's most powerful ideological advantages against the Soviet Union by demonstrating the weakness of a system that must build walls to keep its people from fleeing. This emphasis on human rights inspired not only Jewish refuseniks but other groups and nationalities that inhabited the Soviet prison.
Jackson-Vanik was both a rejection of Kissinger's realism and a preview of Reaganism. It asserted that oppressive regimes are more likely to threaten their neighbors, placing human rights nearer the center of American interests. It elevated standards of human dignity that were direct threats to regimes premised on their denial.
This is, of course, absurd, as Kissinger points out in his rebuttal.

Gerson ascribes the collapse of the Soviet Union in part to the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. The amendment played no significant role in what resulted from imperial overstretch, incompetent economic management and the determined resistance of a succession of presidents from both parties, culminating in the Reagan period.
But then again, this debate sums up Republican foreign policy--the grown-ups of the 70s and 80s versus the immature children of the Bush administration who saw every foreign policy as the penultimate battle between good and evil.

I detest Kissinger with great passion, but he is certainly right here. Gerson presents his case wearing classic neoconservative clothing--the fetishization an idealized version of Israel and Jewish people, the overly simplistic argument, the claiming of Reagan as all things good and right in the world, and the idea that America working from a moralistic standpoint can use its power to magically force the world's bad guys to change.

Never mind the abject failures of Iraq, Afghanistan, and every other piece of Bush's foreign policy.

Meanwhile, Kissinger provides actual evidence and demonstrates the great complexity of early 70s foreign policy issues, of which Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union had to play a relatively minor part.

To put this in the context of a class, Kissinger is the student whose politics make me retch but who knows what he's talking about, writes a sophisticated paper, and gets an A before going on to a graduate program at Harvard or Georgetown. Gerson is the equivalent of the privileged but moronic freshman who writes a poorly written and naive power about how America rocks and the commies are evil. He gets a C, but it doesn't matter because Daddy is going to take care of him no matter what happens.

That the morons control the appartus of Republican foreign policy scares me far more than the competent but evil Republicans of years past.

Ending the Federal Career Intern Program

Obama's decision to end the Federal Career Intern Program is exactly the kind of in-house decision a Democratic president needs to make. Bush ruled by federal order throughout his presidency, eviscerating environmental and labor regulations. The Federal Career Intern Program was designed to get around federal hiring practices and public sector unions by bringing federal workers, particularly border and customs agents, in under what was essentially a temp worker program. Although originally proposed under Bill Clinton, Bush expanded its use throughout the government. In 2009, over 26,000 people were hired through the program.

One of Obama's greatest powers is to reverse the executive decisions Bush made. He hasn't done so nearly to the extent that one would like. Obviously, he has a lot on his plate. However, he could make having subordinates identify and reverse bad policies a top priority. In any case, this is a positive development.

Song of the Day: Eric Taylor and Nanci Griffith, "Two Fires"



This is in fact an Eric Taylor song, made more powerful here by the fact that he and Griffith were married for awhile in the 70s. "We used to burn like Atlanta, we used to burn like the lonesome in a young girl's eyes." Indeed.

Frank Rich's Boomer Nostalgia

Dear Frank Rich,

Boomer nostalgia in the service of liberalism is no less annoying and alienating for post-boomers than boomer nostalgia used for more nefarious ends. If you want me to take your columns even remotely seriously, please stop.

Thanks,
Erik

Required Climate Change Reading

For everyone who wonders why it is so cold and snowy during a period of global warming and for all the skeptics out there, Judah Cohen's Times editorial should be required reading.

Essentially, climate is really freaking complicated.

Historical Image of the Day


"New York City. - Our Indian allies. - Sioux warriors making purchases on Broadway for themselves and squaws, October 5th... (1877)"

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Historical Image of the Day


"Helping the Poor--Gratuitous Distribution of Coal by the City--Cherry Street," 1877

You have to love the generous and humane attitudes of the Gilded Age. Good thing we are heading back there. I can already see Republicans bemoaning giving free lumps of coal to the "undeserving poor."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Film Review--True Grit (2010)

The press for the Coen Brothers' adaptation of True Grit, of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis and not of the 1969 Henry Hathaway film, not surprisingly, has focused on Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn, the role that John Wayne played in the first film and the character with the titular grit. Fairly, Bridges is fantastic in the part, losing himself entirely in the surly alcoholic grime of the US Marshall, but this story isn't his and neither is the film. Those honors go to Mattie Ross, the steely young woman that hires Cogburn, and Hailee Steinfield, the brilliant young talent at the heart of True Grit.

There's good reason why John Wayne is the one remembered from Hathaway's picture, even though the essential structure of that film remains unchanged here. He's an icon for a reason, but he was always a dominating figure wherever he appeared. He needed costars of a certain strength to make up for his top heavy swagger, but Kim Darby was no Vera Miles and, the Rhinestone Cowboy himself, Glen Campbell (of all people), cast in the role of Ranger La Boeuf , is certainly no James Stewart, so it's Wayne's one-eyed marshall that we are left with forty years later. The film is good, not great, and not worth its reputation. It's certainly not necessary viewing to enjoy the Coens' effort, a much stronger and more complete film, most unlike what they've done in the past. Instead of a movie that has that “Coen Brothers feel,” a concept they so expertly parodied in Barton Fink, True Grit is just a damn fine Western.

That this is such a straightforward revenge tale, it's a little surprising that the Coens decided to tackle Portis' novel. Plenty of genre stories have more moral ambiguity and less conventional plotting, but they saw something in the characters and the simplicity of the story, or maybe they just love the book. Either way, the result is a fantastic revisionist-style genre film that represents the the themes of the book in much darker fashion than its predecessor approaches. It's hard to tell if this is more or less violent than No Country for Old Men, but it's certainly less expected here than in their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel and much more gratuitous. Don't get me wrong; as a lifelong horror fan, I have high appreciation for smashed heads and blown chests, so I'm not exactly complaining. Seeing skulls crushed against stone here, however, does little to serve the story, but adds at least a certain measure of shock value, as evidenced by a number of disgusted noises in the dark. People can quibble with the necessity of it, but it punctuates the harshness of the world these characters inhabit without resorting to outright explanation.

True Grit is an unflinching and sometimes quite brutal film, which makes it all the more surprising that then 13-year-old Hailee Steinfield fits so naturally into the scene. Very few, if any, scenes in the film don't involve Mattie Ross and Steinfield stands up ridiculously well next to some heavyweight actors, often outshining some of their work. Mattie is a hard young woman, steeled by the ranch and smart from her effort. With her father dead and an obvious lack of regard for the effectiveness of either her family or the law, she has prepared herself to deal with issues well beyond her years. She built herself into as good a negotiator as a conman and at least as good a bounty hunter as the Texas Ranger she travels with. Steinfield inhabits the part completely; the utter joy that washes over her face when she gets the chance to shoot the man who killed her father offsets her sadness from his death which sits under the surface. She'll barely admit her sorrow, but she's out in the wilderness for mean and dark purposes and, despite any physical and experiential limitations she might have, she's out for blood. For somebody at the proper age to represent this is really an amazing thing. This wasn't the case when Kim Darby, at least seven years her senior at the time, played the part. Mattie Ross is the kind of role that an actress like Barbara Stanwyck would have excelled with, though I don't know that even her greatness would be better than what Steinfield shows here; her total conviction trumps most all child acting that I've ever seen.

Jeff Bridges is as good as you expect him to be and, while his grungy appearance contrasts starkly with his hairpiece sporting, corset wearing counterpart in John Wayne. Unlike Wayne, Bridges actually looks like he spends his days on the range and, when his nights can be spent indoors, they're muddled by a bath of whiskey. The thought of Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn was delicious, and he does not disappoint in the execution. I'm not as thrilled with the rest of the major casting, though I can't have too much trouble with it; they're up against some pretty tough lead competition. Matt Damon's playing Ranger La Boeuf and, while his performance is adequate and, at time, pretty funny, he never escapes being Matt Damon the way that Bridges and Steinfield get away from themselves. Josh Brolin makes a slightly better mark as Tom Chaney, the man who killed Mattie's father, but I can't help but feel like this role, as well as Damon's, may have been better suited in the hands of lesser-known actors. Part of it feels like the gang's all here—plus one girl—and the parts may have been better served by people outside their circle. There were clear parts for John Goodman and Michael Lerner, why not them? I shouldn't really quibble over such things, since I did like their performances, but I wish that the main supporting roles were filled by people without big name Hollywood baggage.

The important technical pieces are intact. Roger Deakins shoots the film and Carter Burwell scores it. Both aspects of the film are brilliant, though much discussion of their respective parts require too much explanation, so should just be experienced. True Grit is a fine film, a departure for the Coen Brothers for sure, but a welcome one. This is genre fiction played on a very high level that is worthy of whatever awards come its way. Mostly, I hope to see more from Hailee Steinfield and, even if she never does another film, her portrayal of Mattie Ross should go down as something all young actors should aspire to.

Historical Image of the Day


"City Enormities--Every Brute Can Beat His Beast," New York, 1874

This is one of the best images I've found in a long time.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Kind of Racial Progressivism Only Haley Barbour Could Support!

The descendants of Haley Barbour's beloved White Citizens' Councils, the re-named Council of Conservative Citizens, is continuing Barbour's moderate racial agenda. How?

By boycotting the upcoming film Thor because Stringer Bell plays a role they think a white dude should have:

"It seems that Marvel Studios believes that white people should have nothing that is unique to themselves," a post on the CCC's website reads. "An upcoming movie, based on the comic book Thor, will give Norse mythology an insulting multi-cultural make-over. One of the Gods will be played by Hip Hop DJ Idris Elba."

Marvel has a history of advocating for the left-wing. In early 2010 they even used their Captain America comic to attack the TEA Party movement. Marvel front man Stan "Lee" Lieber personally funds left-wing political candidates. Now Marvel has inserted left-wing social engineering into European mythology, casting a black man to play a Norse deity.
Boy, it sure is hard being white in this country. First, a black president, then a black actor playing a traditionally white role in what looks like an incredibly bad movie. Thank God we have racial moderate Haley Barbour there to protect our rights as white men or something.

Things Just Ain't What They Used To Be...

They are much, much safer.

The fear we have instilled in our society about bad men in cities, that a man near a playground is a pedophile, and that people on the streets at night maybe had some legitimacy at one point (although that's more than a little debatable), but it's really unnecessary now. We live in a very safe country and it'd be nice if we returned to public spaces in recognition of this.

Joe Manchin, A Senator for the 21st Century Democratic Party

Leadership we can all believe in:

New Sen. Joe Manchin, the Democrat elected to replace the late Robert C. Byrd, chose to attend a family event over a pair of key votes Saturday that are signature pieces of his party's agenda.

His absence didn't change the outcome of the votes to repeal the military's ban on openly gay personnel or the failure of a major immigration bill. But it raised eyebrows among senators who have seen ailing colleagues wheeled in just to raise a thumb for aye or point it down for nay.

"The senator and his wife had a commitment with his grandchildren that he felt that he could not break," said Manchin spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro, adding that Manchin's opposition to both bills have been added to the congressional record. "He regrets missing the votes."

...

Indeed, even Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden showed up Saturday - two days before he was scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer. And Byrd himself showed up for votes well after he couldn't walk on his own. Memorably, Sen. Pete Wilson, R-Calif., just hours after surgery, was wheeled into the Senate chamber in 1985 to cast his vote on President Ronald Reagan's budget. 
Much better to leave town than to take a stand on something! Robert Byrd rolls in his grave.

Treason in Defense of Slavery Day

150 years ago today, South Carolina declared treason to defend slavery, seceding from the Union in order to preserve its ability to own, sell, rape, and murder black people. 4 1/2 years later and 500,000 dead Americans later, this treason was crushed.

But of course, the South has contested the meanings of this event ever since they lost the war. Beginning in 1866, they reshaped the meanings of the war to be a noble cause in defense of an idealized agrarian past with contented slaves working in the fields and eating watermelon to the sound of banjos at the end of the day. The civil rights movement challenged that narrative, but hardly defeated it.

Doug Mataconis lays the hammer down on those who claim the Confederacy was about anything other than slavery. See, all you have to do in order to debunk these arguments in go to the sources and see what the architects of treason said about slavery. Here's Confederate Vice-President (and southern moderate) Alexander Stephens:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.


Today, the racists are well-represented by Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a likely Republican presidential candidate and a man would have fit in very well as a segregationist Southern senator in the pre-civil rights days. Yglesias has been hounding Barbour all day. Linking to Andrew Ferguson's profile of Barbour, we see that Barbour has actually defended White Citizens' Councils as keeping the peace during the civil rights movement, a laughable statement if it weren't so politically dangerous today. But as Yglesias notes, White Citizens' Councils were active in Barbour's own home town of Yazoo City, Mississippi, which very much makes me wonder what young Haley was up to on those very day. 

Lands Bill

Harry Reid is determined to push through a lands bill before this session of Congress ends next month. We can only hope it succeeds.

The America's Great Outdoors Act of 2010 would add units to the park system, expand others, and order studies of prospective units. It also would create wilderness areas, both within existing units of the system and elsewhere on the public lands empire.
One measure, for instance, would transfer Valles Caldera National Preserve from the U.S. Forest Service to the National Park Service, another would create Waco Mammoth National Monument, yet another would expand Oregon Caves National Monument. Plus there's a bill that would add Castle Nugent on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to the park system. And another would designated 32,577 acres of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as official wilderness.
“I want to get this package done before Congress adjourns,” the Senate Majority Leader said Friday night. “These are bipartisan bills. There is nothing divisive about protecting historic battlefields, improving our most critical water sources, or making sure that our best wildlife habitat remains wild and healthy.”

These are all very sensible proposals. However, conservatives are already lining up in opposition. Can a bill like this get 60 votes? Possible. Given the popularity of lands bills in the east, it's possible that the New England Republicans will vote for it.  The money isn't really that great; conservatives are attacking the Valles Caldera project for instance, but that's already government land that it is losing money on under its current designation.

The Senate has been pathetic the last two years, but it's trying to redeem itself a tiny bit before the crazies take over the House. This would be a nice addition to its accomplishments.

Climate Change as a Zero-Sum Game

I think the saddest thing about the debate over climate change is how conservatives see it as a zero-sum game. They think that liberals want the climate to change so we can enact some sort of radical environmental agenda. If any of the massive amount of science demonstrating the potential hazards of climate change goes unchallenged, conservatives believe they have lost something.

This is absurd. The last thing I want is to be right about climate change. That is just awful. I wish conservatives were right about global warming being a hoax.

But they are not. And when jokers like Hinderaker write posts like this every time it snows somewhere, we all lose:

It's fun to ridicule the warmists because they are so often wrong, but their errors are in fact significant: a scientific theory that implies predictions that turn out to be wrong, is false. A principal feature of climate hysteria is its proponents' unwillingness to be judged by the standards that govern real science.
The idea of John Hinderaker having some authority is proper uses of science is laughable, particularly that climate scientists have shown a strong likelihood of increased snowfall (and precipitation more generally) with a warming climate. But the more stories like this remain unchallenged by the media at large, the more we all lose when global warming becomes something we cannot stop.

Historical Image of the Day

I'm reading Sean Wilentz's classic Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850 as I revamp my U.S. Urban History course for the spring semester. So this week's images will consist of New York City and its residents in the 19th century. Plus I'm spending the holidays in New York and surrounding environs, so it works that way too.


Broadway & Canal Streets, New York City, 1834

Song of the Day: Rev. Gary Davis, "Death Don't Have No Mercy"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Least Essential Albums of the Year

Another edition of my very favorite end of the year list, the AV Club's Least Essential Albums. I was sure it would be Phil Collins' Motown cover album, but although it does get mentioned, it is not the winner. I think it's impact was diluted by Huey Lewis' equally pointless Stax cover album. So our winner:

Santana, Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All TimeAll that time people spent worrying about Y2K in 1999 should have been spent worrying about the precedent set by “Smooth.” That misguided, extremely popular Santana/Rob Thomas collaboration stormed the charts and made Santana commercially viable again, setting the stage for this year’s Guitar Heaven: The Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time. From the opening strains of the first cut, “Whole Lotta Love” as screeched by Chris Cornell, it’s an hour of dispassionate wailing that only gets worse and more grating as it goes along. The hits keep coming with an abysmal Rob Thomas take on “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” inexplicably featuring cellist Yo-Yo Ma, a woozily underwhelming Gavin Rossdale on “Bang A Gong,” and worst of all, a Scott Stapp assault on “Fortunate Son.” (Fans have to pony up extra for that last one, as it’s only on the “deluxe” release.) The whole record is set off with farty guitar, tons of absurd conga drumming, and an absolutely abhorrent absence of taste.

It's hard to argue with this. 

Historical Image of the Day


Aerial view of Levittown, NY, 1950s

Song of the Day: Booker T and the MGs, "Time is Tight"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Government Assault on Journalism

Greenwald has an interesting piece on how the Justice Department is looking to prosecute Julian Assange for publishing classified information and how this threatens the fundamental tenets of modern journalism. He makes some real good points:

Indeed, Bob Woodward's whole purpose in life at this point is to cajole, pressure and even manipulate government officials to disclose classified information to him for him to publish in his books, which he routinely does.  Does that make him a criminal "conspirator"?  Under the DOJ's theory, it would.  All of this underscores one unavoidable fact:  there is no way to prosecute Assange and WikiLeaks without criminalizing journalism because WikiLeaks is engaged in pure journalistic acts:  uncovering and publicizing the secret conduct of the world's most powerful factions.  It is that conduct -- and not any supposed crime -- which explains why the DOJ is so desperate to prosecute.
In fact, one wonders if Bob Woodward is the last of his kind--the last journalist able to use leaks without serving prison time. 

DADT and The Dream Act

Am I the only one who can't work up a ton of joy over repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell? Obviously, it's a great thing.  But I am so deeply frustrated that it took two years of a large Democratic majority to overturn such an incredibly stupid law. It's an important step in the history of American civil rights. Given how rarely these benchmarks happen, I should celebrate.

But my joy is severely tempered by the failure of the Dream Act to get 60 votes in the Senate. Although under any sane system, it passed by a decent majority, it couldn't achieve the supermajority numbers to pass under the laws that only exist when Democrats control the Senate. This was a basic piece of civil rights legislation that would assist millions of young Latinos. It may be that this kind of legislation motivates Latinos to the polls in 2012 to support politicians who will help them, but given the disappointments after they did so in 2008, I don't know. Moreover, the fact that Democrats would vote against the Dream Act is disgusting. Kos lays into Jon Tester for doing so; frankly, Tester has been incredibly disappointing given the role the Netroots played in getting him elected. I guess he feels he can't get reelected in Montana in 2012 if he supports brown people, but as so many have pointed out, Democrats pretending to be Republicans don't get reelected anyway.

Anyway, under any decent system, with a Majority Leader who knew how to rally his votes and a president who understood how partisanship worked, DADT would have been gone around February 2009 and immigration legislation far surpassing the Dream Act would have passed as well. Some claim that given the supermajority requirements, Republican intransigence, and the fear of Blue Dogs to support their own party, there's really nothing Reid and Obama could do. Me, I tend to believe in the power of strong leadership with some serious sticks and carrots to get senators to do what they need to do. After all, it's not as if that hadn't worked throughout the nation's history until the very recent past or anything.

So while I'm glad DADT is dead, my thoughts are that it's about damn time and a massive disappointment that it took this long to make it happen. Meanwhile, white America continues to support the white supremacist policies of the current Republican party, dooming equal rights for the children of migrant workers.

Song of the Day: Captain Beefheart, "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do," 1968

In honor of the late great Captain Beefheart:

Historical Image of the Day


Map of Sacramento's streetcar suburbs, circa 1900

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Roger Angell

Everyone is sad about Bob Feller's death. He was obviously one of the top 10 pitchers of all time. But I remember him as much as being a right-wing crank as a great pitcher, so I don't have a lot I want to say here.

However, Roger Angell's remembrance is a reminder of just what a wonderful writer Angell is on baseball and everything else.

I Love the Fresh Ideas Coming Out of Hollywood!!!!

Oh boy...

Miramax and the Weinstein Company already had an agreement to release new chapters in the “Scream” and “Spy Kids” movie series (watch for “Scream 4″ in April and “Spy Kids 4″ in August). The expanded partnership will include sequels to seemingly self-contained films like “Shakespeare in Love,” “Bad Santa” and “Rounders” – not to mention the possibility of follow-ups to “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Copland,” “From Dusk Till Dawn,” “Swingers,” “Clerks,” “Shall We Dance,” and “The Amityville Horror.”

I am so freaking stoked for a sequel to Shakespeare in Love, I just cannot tell you......

Weinstein once deserved respect. No longer.

Republican Hypocrisy Reigns Supreme

What a shock:

Dozens of senators who voted to ban the practice of earmarking nevertheless requested nearly $1 billion for pet projects in the spending bill released Tuesday.

The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, requested nearly $86.1 million for Kentucky, including $18 million for a railroad upgrade at Fort Knox, $1 million to build a Kentucky Blood Bank Center and $1 million for waterfront development in Paducah.

Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, one of seven Democrats who voted with Republicans to ban earmarks, had $30 million in requests, including $8 million to move the main gate of Patrick Air Force Base and $400,000 to create a research park in Sebring.

The spending bill also contained dozens of earmarks for projects in the home states of Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, and Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, who appeared at a news conference Wednesday to criticize Democrats for what they called a pork-laden spending bill.

I have nothing against earmarks. It's not the most effective way to legislate. But the universal love of earmarks demonstrates how effective government spending can be in stimulating local economies. So Republican senators have to bray about big government waste and fellate the private market while at the same time their states are dependent upon federal dollars for jobs. 

Also, my contempt for Democrats like Bill Nelson who ape the Republican line on everything has no boundaries.

Blake Edwards, RIP

Truthfully, I'm not a huge Blake Edwards fan. Even The Pink Panther doesn't age all that well. Still, his importance and ability to make amusing films should make us remember him.

Historical Image of the Day


Advertisement for new suburban development, Woodland Heights; Houston, Texas, 1907

Song of the Day: Roy Harvey, "The Great Reaping Day"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Declining Segregation

A rare piece of good news in today's world:

New Census figures from 2005 to 2009 (artfully mapped by The New York Times) show that black residential segregation has decreased since to a 100-year low. The average black person lives in a neighborhood that is 46 percent black (down from 49 percent in 2000). Residential segregation is by no means a thing of the past—it actually increased in 25 of the 100 largest metropolitan areas—but the numbers are encouraging.

Of course, these numbers are tempered by some increase in school segregation....

Environmental News Roundup

A few brief notes between grading essays:

1. The Southwest is so, so screwed when it comes to climate change. I am extremely skeptical of projections for massive population growth in the region over the next 50 years, more because of the already existing lack of water than problems with climate change. But the kinds of superdroughts (up to 60 years) that will likely afflict the region over the next 1000 years makes long-term intensive population seem unlikely. And I don't want to be around when Americans start becoming environmental refugees in their own land.

2. Although I generally oppose farming in the Mountain West due to its lack of water, often inefficient growth measures, and environmental sensitivity, I have no real problem with the government stepping into to assist farmers and ranchers in Wyoming devastated by a grasshopper infestation. What I do have a problem with is the knowledge that damn near every one of those ranchers cashing their government checks are bitching about big government while doing so.

3. It's sad, but hardly surprising, that efforts to restore the San Francisco Bay delta have faltered so badly. No one wants to give up water, no one wants to pay for restoration, no one wants to limit development. Everyone wants someone else to do it. This is what a powerful federal government is for, but of course, the Great Society-style liberalism that could do this job is dead and buried and having dirt kicked on it as we speak to make sure.

4. A real threat to our economy is the demand for so-called rare-earth metals. These are the rare but increasingly in demand minerals we need for a high-tech economy. China controls most of the supply right now, giving them even more power over the world's economy. What's concerning to me isn't the Chinese monopoly, though their recent, if brief, refusal to sell any of them to Japan is a sign of Chinese power, but the fact that we are so reliant on these materials for computers and for green technology. I have a hard time believing in the long-term feasibility of technologies that require rare materials. This includes computers. Do I believe computers will be as a publicly available in 50 years as today? No, because we are simply running out of the materials that go into computer chips. Similarly, this doesn't bode well for climate change if we can't create enough lithium batteries and other green technologies to end fossil fuel production permanently.

5. The government may be suing BP and other companies over the Gulf oil spill, but I'm rather unimpressed. While the suit will force the oil industry to pay for much of the clean-up, it hardly does anything to prevent future disasters. I'd much rather see the government institute stringent regulations that put the oil industry on the defensive. I'd also like a billion dollars deposited in my bank account tomorrow. Both scenarios are equally likely. 

Historical Image of the Day


Entrance to Lakewood Center, Lakewood, California, 1950s.

Song of the Day: Tom Waits, "Tom Traubert's Blues," 1977

In honor of The Great One's belated induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

Last night on the plane, I read D. J. Waldie's fascinating ode to his suburban neighborhood in Lakewood, California, Holy Land. Lakewood still sounds awful, but he does give his long-abused town and its residents a real dignity.

In honor of the book, this week images will focus on the history of the suburbs.


Political ad opposing the rezoning of El Camino Real, the major street through the San Francisco suburb of Burlingame, California, for business development, 1930s.

Song of the Day: Townes Van Zandt, "Tecumseh Valley"

One of the greatest songs by one of the greatest songwriters:

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Why Primarying Obama is a Terrible Idea

This about sums it up:

Black anger over a primary would quickly end their loyalty to the Democratic Party and doom the party in national elections for as long as they stay at arm's length. After all, without high African American turnout (roughly proportional to their share of the total population) and astronomical African American support (85 percent-plus), Democrats can't win the presidency. They can't win Florida, they can't win Ohio, they can't win Pennsylvania, and they certainly can't win newly competitive states like Virginia and North Carolina. What's more, they'd have a hard time winning the Senate, because without black voters in their camp, Democrats couldn't win seats in any of the mentioned states.

African-Americans wouldn't start voting Republican. But they may well just not vote. And that would kill the Democratic Party.