Friday, July 31, 2009

Among the Greatest Contradictions Ever

There is a Schlitz cycling shirt.

That's all.

Cleveland Indians Trade Victor Martinez (or, "Just Because It Makes Sense Doesn't Mean It Doesn't Hurt")

I'm not going to lie - this one hurt. Victor has not only been a vital part of the Indians' offensive lineup for years - he's been the emotional center, one of the most popular players the Tribe has had over the years. This is probably the toughest trade to deal with on an emotional level since the Indians surprised their fanbase and traded Kenny Lofton in the offseason of 1996-1997.

It also hurts because it confirms what I already suspected - the Indians are in full-blown rebuilding mode for the first time since the end of the 2001 season. This isn't just "wait 'til next year" - this is "wait 'til 2011," with next year basically being a season-long spring training. Sure, the AL Central is still kind of weak, even with Jake Peavy, Jarrod Washburn, and Orlando Cabrera, so they could not-surprise me and win the AL Central, but, barring any miracles (and there haven't been any miracles since 1948), they're not winning the World Series next year.

This isn't to say the move doesn't make sense. Just like Lee, it was hard to keep Victor - his club option for next year was $7 million, and this is a team that (sadly) has to cut its (already bare-bones) payroll. With Matt LaPorta coming up soon to play first base, and with Travis Hafner already locked in as our DH through 2011, and with Lou Marson and Carlos Santana (not that one) sitting in the farm system at catcher, as well as Kelly Shoppach, who's very good and who we may now try to sign to a long-term deal, well....there just wasn't a lot of room for Martinez and his expiring contract.

Certainly, part of this feels necessary. As Paul puts it, "it kind of feels like we’re tearing off a band-aid and we might as well get in all the pain all that we can at once to let that next stage begin as soon as possible." And he's right - the efforts of 2002-2008 failed, and so it's time to look ahead, start over, and move on to the next stage. Plus, we already have great players like Sizemore locked in for a few more years, along with good players like Hafner. Combined with the fact that, by trading Lee, Martinez, Mark DeRosa, and Rafael Betancourt, the Indians save $25 million for next year and can maybe re-sign Choo and Cabrera, this all seems like a necessary evil. The Indians simply do not have the payroll to be able to continue to "rebuild" while remaining in contention by hiring experienced, good players to come in and fill the holes while the young guys develop. At the end of the day, this trade makes sense - it frees up payroll, it (together with the Lee trade) gets us a lot of pitching prospects, of which we have very few. And while I don't like to root for the Red Sox, I'll root for Victor always (barring him facing the Tribe in the World Series), and if he helps the Sox take down the Yankees, I'll be more than OK with that.

Still, Victor was a guy who loved Cleveland, who gave his heart and soul to the Cleveland Indians, and who in many ways was the face of the team in the post-Ramirez/Belle/Lofton/Thome years - the fact that he cried when he learned of the trade says all you need to know about his feelings for the Cleveland Indians. And there aren't a lot of guys who love Cleveland like that, in baseball or any other sports. Not only that - he's still very good. So this is necessary. But right now, it sucks, and all we can do is hope that the new efforts work out and keep a special fond place in our hearts for El Capitan.

An Update on the Common Grave in Paraguay

At the beginning of this week, I mentioned that Paraguayan officials discovered a common grave that contained at least two bodies of suspected victims of the Stroessner regime's dictatorship at a police barracks. The bodies have been exhumed, and while they are only two (perhaps three) bodies, they are of major importance for a few reasons.

Firstly, as the head of a local NGO put it, "Until yesterday, the 'Stronistas' (as Stroessner's followers are referred to here) said there were no victims of forced disappearance, that it was all just our lies," and this is true. Allegations of disappearances are hard to prove without concrete physical evidence of the murders of individuals; this common grave provides physical proof of extrajudicial killings during the Stroessner regime.

It also adds physical evidence in the case against Augusto Montanaro, the minister charged with human rights violations for his role in ordering the repression of dissidents during the Stroessner regime. Finally, the discovery will allow at least two Paraguayan families to learn what happened to their loved ones who disappeared and were never seen again, offering closure to those families and the hope for others that perhaps they, too, will one day gain closure.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Top 5 Stage Names for Drummers

In totally random, pointless list-making, here are my five favorite stage names for drummers.

1. D.J. Bonebrake (X)
2. Tory Crimes (The Clash)
3. Ted (The Dead Kennedys)
4. Sreech Louder (The Long Blondes)
5. Brain (Tom Waits, Primus)

Is Any Report of Steroid Use between 1985 and 2004 Still "News"?

Shocking. Cue up very vocal sectors of Yankee fandom whining about how this latest "revelation" proves that the Sox had an unfair advantage in 2004 and beyond. And then remind them of this guy. And this guy. And how that 2003 post-season turned out. And remember - as unfortunate as it is, no power-hitter (or pitcher, or many other types of players) is exempt from suspicion anymore, that no era of baseball has ever been "pure" or untainted, and that, while this knowledge perhaps fills a public need to know, it's also in the past, and there's not much that can be done now except keep testing in place and watch baseball move on (as it inevitably will).

....*sigh* And the ridiculous declarations that the Sox should be stripped of their titles and the not-so-clever naming ("Boston Roid Sox") have begun. Yes - because Boston was the only champion during the Steroids Era, and the only team that had players that used steroids. If there's one problem with the internet, it's that it provides access to idiots from all over, regardless of whether they should be opining publicly or not.

Will Colombia's Congress Prevent Uribe from Seeking a Third Term?

Apparently, Alvaro Uribe's attempts to run for re-re-election may be hitting a snag. In order to run for re-re-election, Uribe would need Congress to pass a constitutional amendment making a third consecutive term legal. As this post puts it,

"the inter-cameral conference committee has failed to resolve differences in a bill that would have to pass before a referendum could be called on lifting the term limit. If the referendum is held, there is little doubt it will pass, and if Uribe then runs, there is little doubt he would win. The sticking point is thus congress, where Uribe has been backed by a large multiparty coalition since winning his first term in 2002."
However, that multiparty coalition may be falling apart. The Cambio Radical caucus has announced it will not support Uribe for a third term; in this, they join the Conservatives, who are also running their own (non-Uribe) candidate for president. As Steven points out, the Conservatives and the Cambio Radical coalition together hold 49 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 33 seats in the Senate (out of 102), and at least the Cambio Radical have been a part of Uribe's coalition up until this point. Steven also points out that, those 30 Senate seats plus the 28 that the anti-Uribe Liberals have adds up to 61, "more than enough to put an end to any chances" that Uribe could even be re-re-elected.

All of this is not to say that Uribe is dead in the water. In light of this development, I wouldn't be surprised if Uribe delayed his "decision" until September so that he can lobby some of these Senators behind the scenes and not end up with pie in his face if he decides to seek a third term and then have Congress not give it to him. And Congress may work out the kinks in such a bill, though it continues to be at a stalemate right now. Still, it looks like there may actually be some legitimate hope that this effort to seek a third term is thwarted, and that would be a good thing for Colombia and for democratic institutions there (and elsewhere).

Progress in Honduras?

After a month in which the Micheletti government showed that it was pretty inept, the titular president of Honduras appears to finally be backing down significantly:

The head of Honduras’s de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, has expressed support for a compromise that would allow the ousted president of his country to return to power, according to officials in the de facto government and diplomats from the region.

That doesn't mean this is a done deal. As both the article and Greg note, there could be other problems in getting other institutions (namely, the Supreme Court and the military) on board with this, and the Supreme Court's need to issue a ruling next week is a bit....odd. Still, the fact that the previously-intractible Micheletti is suddenly backing down indicates his realization (albeit delayed) that he has no standing in the international community and little chance of accomplishing anything in Honduras, that his previous position was fairly indefensible, and that a resolution needs to happen soon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cleveland Trades Cliff Lee to Philadelphia - Just Wait 'Til 2011?

Well, that knocks down one of the two possible big trades for Cleveland, as Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco head off to the Phillies in return for Triple-A pitcher Carlos Carrasco, Single-A pitcher Jason Knapp, SS Jason Donald and C Lou Marson.

My first reaction is mixed. This is a lost season, and Lee had made it clear that, after the club option on 2010, he intended to test free agency. Maybe the Indians could have signed him, but sinking a lot of money into a pitcher who's already 32 seems counterproductive for a team trying to keep to a relatively tight budget. Lee's been pitching very well, and with Philly needing the extra arm, I think the timing was right. They could have tried to make a push with Lee next year, but Lee may drop off, or the issue of being in a contract-year might have scared off some teams, so no time like the present.

The inclusion of Francisco surprises me. I hadn't really read much talk of him getting traded anywhere. A functional outfielder (LF or RF) with only one error on the year but with only .250 BA and .758 OPS (OPS+ of 97 this year) who's 27, Francisco was a starter (and the main reason we traded Franklin Gutierrez, who had never hit before this year, to Seattle).

The season for the Tribe was already a loss, but with the trade, they now have the chance to take on monumental levels of suck. Francisco was a starter in the outfield; now, we have an outfield of Choo, an injured Grady Sizemore, and Trevor Crowe. There's talk that the Indians are going to bring up Matt LaPorta to play outfield some, too, but that's just not where he's going to play ultimately (he'll be 1B), so it isn't exactly going to solve anything. And as for pitching.......yikes. As Paul has pointed out at the DiaTribe, the Indians' stats with Lee and without are terrifying this year:

Starters 2009 – Cliff Lee Division22 starts, 152 IP, 3.14 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 6.34 K/9, 1.95 BB/9, 3.25 K/BB
Starters 2009 – Non-Cliff Lee Division78 starts, 422 1/3 IP, 6.07 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 5.32 K/9, 3.62 K/BB, 1.46 K/BB

That makes things even grimmer for next year, as Cleveland is facing a starting lineup of Jake Westbrook (if he can stay healthy), Fausto Carmona (if he can ever get his control back), Aaron Laffey (if he can rebound from injuries this year), David Huff (if he can prove that he's as golden as Clay Bucholz), and Jeremy Sowers (if he can ever reach big-league ability consistently). Again.....Yikes.

Which is why I'm mixed on this trade. Cleveland had to make moves based on how things will play out beyond this year, and this trade could have immediate impact. Maybe Carrasco arrives next year and blows everybody away (though there's no reason right now to believe or to disbelieve that that is what will happen), Carmona gets his control back, Laffey stays healthy, and Westbrook looks like he did in 2004 or 2006. But that's a lot of "maybes," and it feels kind of like they're saying, "well, we're going to make a run in 2010, but don't hold your breath, and maybe it will be 2011....". Again, Shapiro made the trade he had to make, and lord knows, he's done some incredible trades in the past (like getting Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon, or Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard, or Hafner for Einar Diaz and Ryan Drese). It seems Marson is a good candidate to take Martinez's place as the Indians shift him to first/DH (unless they trade him too, which they may - Hafner's locked in for more years at DH, and LaPorta seems to be the first baseman of the future for the Tribe), and Donald was no doubt picked to perhaps one day replace Peralta, who, while functional, hasn't lived up to the hype.

So I like the prospects, I guess - we didn't clean Philly out, but they made it clear they weren't going to give up certain players when they were talking with Toronto about Halladay - that's why Cleveland was able to do the deal for Lee. And again, Shapiro knows much more than I do - that's why he's paid as the GM, and I'm a broke, unemployed graduate student. Still, this trade may end up leaving me saying "just wait till next year!" next year, too.

Your top three...

I'm leaving town in a few hours for rural Indiana, where I will not have the intertubes for a week or so. Before I take off, I want to leave the Alterdestiny community with a question pertaining to my First Year Seminar course that I posted about earlier.

If you had to select three songs that you could make sixteen 18-year-old first year college students listen to, what would they be?

Intensive work on this course prep will begin when I get back-- the last post generated so many great suggestions for readings, many of which I'm taking with me on my trip. I hope to see some interesting additions to the course playlist when I get back!

Howard Dean

So I was a Deanie back in '04. I liked his views on health care and of course, his opposition to the war in Iraq. I wrote letters, post-election, to DNC members asking them to support him as DNC chair, and I cheered when he got in--and as a former resident of two southern states, I applauded the 50-state strategy. I see Obama's victory as a clear vindication of what Dean started, and I'm ridiculously bitter that an apparent beef with Rahm Emanuel has kept Dean out of the administration posts he'd be perfect for--Health and Human Services, Surgeon General.

But right now, I'm cheering Dean for a different reason: his guest spot hosting Countdown while Keith Olbermann is off doing Keith Olbermann things. In his first show, last night, Dean took on pretty much every argument against a public option in health care reform, and dismantled them pretty damn thoroughly. Also, he's funny in a less annoying way than Olbermann is.

Check it out:

The Rorschach Test, Wikipedia, and Psychologists' Outrage

There was an interesting article regarding research and wikipedia in the Times today. Specifically, the 10 images of the Rorschach exam up on the entry's page, as well as the most common answers offered to each of the inkblots. This seemingly innocuous posting has led to outrage and the threat of lawsuits from psychologists, who fear that the publication of the most common answers may lead, among other things, to patients "gaming" the test in the future, as well as undoing decades of papers and conclusions based upon the Rorschach test (which, I did not realize, is "one of the oldest continually used psychological assessment tests"). Wikipedia's defenders argue that the images are public domain (the copyright expired years ago), and suggest that lawsuits from companies that charge $110 to $185 for the images should be clearly risible.

Admitting my knowledge of the field of psychology is limited to an undergrad course and some readings in grad school, I have to say that I side with the Wikipedia defenders on this. Even if it is a useful tool in helping determine patients' psychological states, it cannot be the only one. I also fail to see how the publication of the images now undoes the validity of the work of "tens of thousands" of papers that base their arguments, results, conclusions, etc., on the Rorschach test, as one of the opponents suggests will happen. Likewise, I don't buy that new images can't be created because there's no "normative data" about them. If that were the case, then psychology could never use any "new" methods and tests, because the "normative data" to legitimate them is always absent at the point of initiation. Finally, as a good historian, I don't really buy into the whole "scientific" arguments of the psychologists. One of my pet peeves is when history gets lumped in with the social sciences. You can easily say that the social sciences and history unquestionably influence and dialogue with each other frequently. Yet the whole notion that there can be some "scientific" "truth" behind a lot of the social sciences is....suspect, and psychology is one of the grosser offenders in this regard.

The one thing the article never really gets into is the answers, though. Both the psychologists wanting the images removed and the site's defenders really avoid the fact that "common" answers are included. It strikes me that putting the images up by themselves in no way substantively leads to patients being able to "game" the test, but including common answers could influence the outcome, I suppose. Yet this complaint doesn't really register in either the psychologists' attacks nor in the site's defenders' arguments, which would make me think it's really not so important after all, and that it really is more a matter of control than of damaging research.

I don't think this spells doom for people who are issuing new research (like, say, oh, I don't know, publications on universities in Brazil during the dictatorship...), primarily because newer publications remain in copyright, and if anybody really wanted to learn what somebody was saying without buying the book, they can easily use a library. Still, it raises some interesting questions and debates over the role of research ("scientific" or otherwise) and publications/summarizations/etc. on public sites.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Around Latin America

-Brazil is going to resume construction on its third nuclear power plant this September. Construction had originally halted on Angra 3 in 1986 after environmental groups and media reports led to the shutdown. In explaining the return to construction 23 years later, state-run Electronuclear president said "Our nuclear program will not be as spectacular as those of China or India, but we will have a moderate and constant growth from Angra 3 on." The timing of the decision is strange - Brazil has been facing growing power concerns, but it has found ways to address those (see the next story), and the option for wind energy remains undeveloped in Brazil. However, the "from Angra 3 on" suggests Electronuclear plans to continue developing nuclear power plants beyond Angra 3, and while it may be nothing, I find the reference to China and India interesting. There's nothing to say this is the case, but I wonder if the decision to return to Angra 3 after 23 years is in part based on fears of falling too far behind other emerging world powers in Brazil's own quest to become a global leader.

-I commented last time that Brazil and Paraguay had reached an agreement on the power supplied by the Itaipu dam. Apparently, that deal is based on the agreement that Brazil will be paying triple what it had been paying to Paraguay for Paraguay's excess energy, as well as helping Paraguay develop infrastructure for the smaller country's own needs. As for who wins in this, I agree with Boz: both Lula and Lugo come away winners, especially Lugo.

-For those who get worked up in a froth over the sheer fact that illegal immigration can happen, there is this tragic reminder that many times, illegal immigration happens to reunite families. Not that the "family values" party would ever stop to consider the irreconcilability of fierce anti-immigration and so-called family values (which, to be fair, they clearly only spout for Machiavellian purposes without ever practicing what they preach).

-Apparently, it has gotten increasingly difficult to find a movie theater in Guyana over the past couple of decades (though I doubt the inability to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster " has in some way resulted in the decay today of the current moral fibre" of Guyana, as the author ponders).

-Greg found some mystifying data suggesting that Bolivians and Hondurans feared military coups the most in 2008, with 36% and 29% respectively believing their countries were heading towards coups. Strangely, Chile came in with 11%, as did Costa Rica, which doesn't even have a military.

-Greg also does an excellent, concise job in pointing out the ridiculous-ness of the charges from the left and the right against Obama in dealing with the Honduras crisis. To quote Greg:

It has become almost a political game to determine who is influencing Barack Obama with regard to Honduras. It can be tough to keep track.

Heh. Indeed.

-An interesting new study says that climate change allowed the Incas to build Machu Picchu, as a receding treeline created more space for farming, cultivation, sculpting steppes, and building the roads that allowed them to reach Machu Picchu. I don't know if the science is accurate or not, but it's an interesting suggestion. (And I'd be worried about wingnuts in the U.S. pointing to this as evidence that the current environmental crisis we're facing is good, but that would require them to both look outside of the U.S. and acknowledge the genius of pre-Contact non-European civilizations, and that doesn't seem too likely).

-There's been a lot of hubbub and misunderstanding over Zelaya's stance on re-election (once again: he wasn't seeking it for himself, and it wasn't for this election; he was overthrown because he wanted a vote to determine whether the Honduran population could decide in the next election if they wanted to allow re-election or not). However, Alvaro Uribe continues to show far more anti-democratic tendencies than Zelaya. Uribe has postponed until September his decision on whether or not to run for re-re-election. No word yet on whether the military is planning on overthrowing him, too, or if the Republicans will be able to defend the coup in Colombia.

-Daniel Ortega could be taking the Uribe-path, too, as he is considering removing term limits in Nicaragua, conveniently enough so that he could possibly be re-elected. Sounds like it's time for another coup*.

-Speaking of Nicaragua, the total ban on abortion has had about all the effects one would expect, "endangering the lives of girls and women, denying them life-saving treatment, preventing health professionals from practicing effective medicine and contributing to an increase in maternal deaths across the country."

-While relatively under the radar, things are getting tense in the northern part of South America. FARC guerrillas were discovered having Swedish weapons, including surface-to-air missile launchers, weapons which Sweden said it sold to Venezuela. Sweden and Colombia are demanding an explanation, while Venezuela is saying that the allegations are lies meant to harm Venezuela and to justify Colombia's recent agreement to allow more U.S. troops in Colombia. And tonight Venezuela has cut diplomatic ties with Colombia over the allegations. While relations between Colombia and Venezuela are often full of bluster and posturing, this seems like it could become fairly serious.

-Finally, I've mentioned before the environmentally appalling conditions and devastating consequences of salmon farming in Chile. In spite of a claim that the Chilean government would try to reducethe use of antibiotics in salmon production, things continue to be depressingly grim, as a report has been issued that says that Chile uses more than 350 times the antibiotics in its fish that rival Norway uses in its salmon production. I fortunately don't eat salmon, but if I did, reports like this would convince me pretty quickly to abandon that habit.


Updated Pointless Maps

visited 43 states (86%)
Create your own visited map of The United States or vertaling nederlands duits?

visited 16 states (7.11%)
Create your own visited map of The World or Best time to visit Zurich

With my summer travels mostly over, I needed to update these pointless maps. I went to Florida for a conference in February, knocking that state off the list. And I hit three new countries this summer--Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. All three are tiny red blips on this map, but still. If I really want to make some impressions on this map, I need to start going to big countries. China, India, Russia, and the Stans--here I come!

There Is No "Golden Age" of Film (Or, "Why Movies Now Are As Good As They Ever Were")

Last week, Erik and I were discussing a set of posts we're planning for the end of the year that offer our top albums, movies, and other "bests" of the decade. As should always be the case with pointless list-making, I have given it way more thought than the subject should ever have merited, and, looking back at the last 10 years, there have been some remarkably great movies (but I'm not going to say which ones - that's what the year-end list will be for, so you'll just have to wait). And I was thinking, "you know, for all the proclamations of great film-making in other decades, this decade arguably has been as good as any previous decade."

Apparently, I'm not alone in thinking this. While I certainly wouldn't go so far as to call the 2000s a "golden age" of cinema, it's not because I think other decades have been "better," but rather because any notion of a "golden age," contemporarily or in the past, just reinforces false nostalgia that tends to lead to people overlooking what's great presently. And I certainly wouldn't call Joel Schumacher a "popmeister" - "shitmeister" seems far more appropriate for his dreck. Movies can be silly and fun and popular and Hollywood driven, but still be excellent - just ask Sam Raimi or Judd Apatow.

All that notwithstanding, though, this decade has just reminded me why I hate when people look back to the 60s or 70s (or 40s) as when cinema was "really good." The only reason we've forgotten the "Transformers 2" of those eras was because, like any lowest-common-denominator crap, it has been flushed away over time. And when people harken to movies by Scorcese, Altman, Kubrick, Coppola, etc., fine - yes, they directed amazing, artistic, all-time great movies. But look at the last 10 years - Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Fernando Meirelles, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron, Wes Anderson, Ang Lee, P.T. Anderson, Charlie Kaufman......and I'm undoubtedly forgetting many others, or haven't yet seen some movies that are almost certainly artistic masterpieces ("The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" springs immediately to mind).

All of this is to basically say, I wish people would acknowledge how great current cinema not only can be, but is. Among the many minor aggravations in life, the canonization of previous decades or eras at the expense of current artistic production, be it musical, film, photographic, literary, etc., is garbage. Thinking about how many all-time great films have come out of the last 10 years only reinforces that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Success of No

Lindsay points out that the Honduran coup leaders seem to be getting off on all the attention they are receiving and how they are facing down the United States, Europe, Venezuela, the OAS, and the UN.

No doubt this is true. David Rothkopf, who she links to, suggests they have learned petulance from Kim-Jong Il.

I think the Honduran coup leaders have learned broader lessons, as have a lot of politicians around the world in recent years. If you just say no, what is anyone going to do about it. David Vitter and Mark Sanford can have ridiculous sexual exploits but they just don't resign. Roland Burris can basically buy a Senate seat but he's serving out his term, hell or high water. Iran and North Korea basically give the finger to the international community. Is the U.S. going to invade Iran to protect election rights? No. Is the South Carolina legislature going to rally enough votes to get rid of Sanford? No. Is the Senate going to censor Vitter or Burris? Of course not. And is anyone really going to do anything to reinstate Zelaya to power in Honduras? Hell no.

Particularly on the international scene, I'm not sure there's anything that the world really can do about these problems. Certainly invasions aren't going to work. But if a nation has leadership that doesn't really care about the international community or about how sanctions will affect their poor, they can pretty much do whatever they want.

Eliot Spitzer's greatest error may have been resigning. What if he just said no? It's a bit of a different situation because it's New York and the media coverage is too intense. But maybe he could have survived.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will look at the Overland Trail (i.e. the Oregon and California Trails, though one might include the Mormon Trail in that as well) in history and memory.

Team of horses pulling machinery over the Overland Trail, 1900.

I think this is an interesting picture because it shows that these trails were still getting use a good 30 years after they stopped serving any real value for overland migrants. I also love the combination of industrial and pre-industrial America with the horse team pulling the giant Gilded Age machinery.

Wilderness Politics

Montana Senator Jon Tester has sponsored a new wilderness bill. Typically, it has caused those on the right to grouse about people being kicked off the public lands. But, as Jay Stevens summarizes, it's also causing some environmentalists to complain. Why? Because this land isn't unspoiled enough. Basically, it grandfathers grazing rights onto the land.

While I don't like grazing in the national forests or wilderness areas any better than any other environmentalist, there are several problems with this argument. First, it assumes that there is anywhere on earth that is not changed by humans. Second, it looks at wilderness designation as a zero sum game. It's either wilderness or it's not. Isn't reducing human impact on the forests a good goal in itself. The issue of grazing rights is a political problem. It could easily be mitigated by environmental organizations buying up their rights and retiring them. That idea has been floated around for some time and has caused an uproar among the cattle industry who has fought to make sure that those rights won't be retired (even by legal action). But the reality is that the economics of small-scale cattle grazing don't make sense for a lot of farmers. Beef overproduction has driven down prices while commodity prices have driven up costs. A lot of these cows could be moved off the range within the next decade.

Purity is not a positive trait for environmentalists, yet it has long been the default emotional state for the movement. Could Tester's bill be better? Certainly. Maybe it's not worth supporting. There is also some talk that it could be a front to open up non-designated land to the timber industry. But the issue of supposedly "untrammeled wilderness" shouldn't play a role here.

Brazilian Journalism Is Pretty Bad, But Not for Those Reasons

I've often decried the quality of Brazilian journalism, so I found this editorial fascinating. The author, Jorge Fernando dos Santos, is horrified by the decline of Brazilian newspapers, as the title ("Brazilian Newspapers Are Dying an Inglorious Death") makes clear. He writes:
Two growing trends in the media market have become apparent. On one hand, there is the increased number of tabloids destined to the less favored sectors of the population. On the other, magazines directed to those with greater buying power
treat pseudo-celebrities as news.
The first trend has the merit of attracting new readers who were not used to reading newspapers, but has the flaw of sensationalism and shallow news analysis. These tabloids are big sellers.
Nevertheless, they violate the national language with blatant mistakes and underestimate the mental capacity of its readers. The second trend magazines usually have good graphic quality, but stumble by adulating the rich who are not always newsworthy.
I think this is pretty spot-on. At least with my experiences in Rio, nearly every newsstand is littered with these sensationalist tabloids that emphasize violence, sex, and celebrity (and I don't mean that in a codger-y way - many actually put barely-clothed women on the front page of the "newspaper" to draw your attention). If you actually look for a newspaper (again, at least in Rio), your option is usually O Globo, which, as I've commented before, is far from the standard-bearer of journalism that one would generally want. Finding something like the much-better Folha de São Paulo in Rio is not so easy (though no doubt, it's probably simple to find it in São Paulo).

The popular magazines are about as bad. You go to any medical office, dentist, etc., and you're bombarded with magazines that highlight, literally from cover-to-cover, what various celebrities are doing, where they're being seen, with whom they're being seen, etc. I do not exaggerate when I say these popular magazines (which many people even subscribe to in their mail) make People look like a literary review.

And those magazines that are interesting and engaged, offering critical analysis of the news or valuable literary and cultural commentary and production, such as Carta Capital or Piauí, respectively, are usually priced too high for anybody outside of the upper-middle class to spend money on them.

So print-journalism in Brazil is in a sorry state of affairs, no question, and it has been for a long time (at least since the dictatorship, when O Globo owner Roberto Marinho hopped in bed with the military in order to eliminate his opposition via censorship and repression).However, dos Santos blames two peculiar and specific culprits for this decline: the federal government, and the internet. According to dos Santos,
The end of the diploma requirement to be a professional journalist in Brazil is yet another chapter in the bitter story of Brazilian printing press' decadence. Days before the fateful decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court (STF), the Press Law had been dismantled, an act which left the sector legally vulnerable.
It should be noted that in almost every country there are legal mechanisms which regulate mass media. Here, it seems barbarity rules.
Dos Santos also admits that the print media itself has been complicit in lowering standards, but leading the editorial by blaming the government seems lazy and ignorant of the previous 30-40 years of Brazilian journalism. I don't know if the diploma requirement to be a professional journalist really matters or not - dos Santos offers absolutely no argument as to why this is a bad thing, but rather assumes the horrible-ness of the ruling of the Supreme Court is self-evident. What is more, while more Brazilians are getting into university, it's still a very class-based system, where students from the middle- and upper-class stand a far better chance of getting into the top schools (all of which are state-run, rather than private schools, and all of which are free of tuition) than the poor. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the fact that one often has to attend an expensive private secondary school in order to gain the education required to enter the free, public universities; the poor quality of many public high schools, which the poor overwhelmingly attend while the middle- and upper-classes attend private schools; the difficulty of the exams requiring at least a year's worth of private preparation, something which costs a lot of money; and the lack of time many of the poor have to study for the entrance exams as they work to make ends meet. All of this does nothing to say how qualified somebody is as a journalist; as with any field, the simple possession of a degree does nothing to speak to your ability or knowledge. Dos Santos seems to be valorizing a diploma in a dangerous way for a society in which a majority still do not have access to a college education. And to be clear, the court's decision may ultimately be bad for Brazilian journalism, but there's nothing in dos Santos's argument to explain why that's the case, and he seems to be resting his opinion on a particularly class-based framework that excludes the possibility that many who do not have a college education in journalism could be and are still very capable journalists.

As for the internet, he blames its rapid pace for the fact that "daily newspapers got carried away by the speed of information, as if the radio had not been invented long before these new media. Cover page editors insist on publishing obvious and repetitive headlines which do not add to the facts." While I completely agree that the headlines are "repetitive" and lack facts, that isn't really the internet's fault - having looked at newspapers from the 80s and 90s (and earlier), it's been like that for a long time, honestly since at least O Globo's ascendance (though I'm not sure O Globo is to blame; it may be, but it may not, and it would be a worthwhile subject for a journalism or history dissertation unto itself).

At the end, I agree with dos Santos's specific complaints about Brazilian journalism. It is sensationalist; it is simplistic; it is celebrity-focused; it does lack critical analysis; it is focused on profits. However, the reasons are much more complicated and deeply rooted than dos Santos allows for in his blaming of the government and the internet. Even when he does say that journalism has taken steps itself to dumb itself down (particularly over the "profit" issue), he neglects other major factors, including (but not limited to) more than 10 years of censorship during the military dictatorship, which forced newspapers to reduce the complexity of reporting and analysis. Thus, while dos Santos's complaints are fully legitimate, I think he's more than a bit simplistic in diagnosing why Brazilian print media has arrived to the point it is at today.

Reward Joe Jackson, Not Pete Rose

I am well aware of the weaknesses of the Baseball Hall-of-Fame: some players in who probably shouldn't be there; others (hello, Andre Dawson?) who absolutely should be in but are not. It's a give-and-take, and while it demonstrates the problems with halls of fame in anything, it's still an institution that I overall respect and enjoy.

However, if Selig does go through with this, all of that will be out the window. I hate Pete Rose with the heat of a thousand suns. He sucked for years in an effort to get that hit record. Unlike P.E.D. use up until recently, gambling was actually against the rules. Rose blatantly violated the rules; he knew he was doing it, and didn't care. When called on it, he lied repeatedly. The crap he offered probably played no small part in the death of Bart Giamatti, who was a great Commissioner; as an added bonus, we were bridled with Selig, who's had as many horrible missteps as he's had good ideas. "Lowlife" only begins to scratch the surface in describing Rose. It's not that the Hall of Fame or reinstatement will suddenly give validity to Rose's records and stats - they're valid with or without that recognition. It's that readmission would say, "you may be an unpardonable, destructive, arrogant, egotistical ass who is one of the worst people to happen to baseball in recent memory, but it's ok - we'll still give you what you want, even though you have gone out of your way to not deserve it." In short, it would reward a man who deserves no more rewards than what he has received. It may open the road for Joe Jackson to get in (something that should have happened decades ago), but that's a small consolation compared to indulging Rose before he dies. And that would be a sad, sad day for baseball.

Will Rio de Janeiro Be Held Responsible for the Violent Acts of Its Own Police Force?

In a ruling that could have major consequences on police violence and urban violence in Brazil, a court ruled that Rio de Janeiro was responsible for the stray bullet that hit Ana Maria Mendonça while she waited for a bus, and that the city must pay her $15,000 in damages. Judge Marco Antonio Ibrahim commented in the ruling:

"The city of Rio de Janeiro is caught up in a whirlpool of violence," Judge Marco Antonio Ibrahim said in his summation. "People are being assassinated by stray bullets in their homes, at bus stops, in schools, on beaches, and at football stadiums. Saying the state is not responsible is, in practice, blaming the victim."

Of course, the city has appealed the ruling, saying that "it cannot be held responsible for the 'omissions' of police officers." I have no idea how the appeal may play out, but it already seems that the judge's ruling is already on much stronger legal ground than the city's. If the police force is a part of the city's state apparatus, claiming that the city is not responsible for its own mechanisms is pretty ridiculous.

This may be one of the best ways to combat police impunity in Rio de Janeiro. While the state of Rio de Janeiro has recently taken several small steps in the effort to combat police violence, the city government has generally done little on its part to combat police violence; indeed mayors often win by appealing to the basest political rhetoric and policy that simplistically paints the favelas and the poor of Rio as the culprits of Rio's poverty and violence, rather than as victims. However, if the city is constantly having to defend itself against lawsuits alleging injury due to police carelessness, it could quickly force the city to start actively taking on a greater role in combatting police abuses, too.

With the appeal, the case could be overturned; again, it's hard to explain how the city is not responsible for its own security apparatus, but the ruling could also open the city to numerous lawsuits that it doesn't always deserve (after all, it isn't just the police who are armed in the favelas). Nonetheless, I think a member of Brazil's Lawyer's Association (the OAB, Organização dos Advogados do Brasil), Margarida Pressburger, hit the ruling's importance on the head:

Ms. Pressburger notes that the case ins [sic] not closed, and could well go all the way to the Supreme Court. But at the least, she says, authorities have been given a wakeup call."Finally, there is justice," she says. "We pay taxes so the state can guarantee our security. In the past, everyone has avoided taking responsibility. Now, someone has to pay."

Indeed - the innocent poor in the favelas and innocent bystanders nearby have paid enough. It's time for the city to start facing the consequences for its actions, too.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

If California Legalizes Marijuana for Taxation, What Will the Environmental Effects Be?

California has gotten plenty of attention lately for its budget woes and the prospect of legalizing and taxing marijuana to address those woes. The debate raises some fascinating questions over the effects of drugs; the stigmas (fair or unfair) of marijuana; the role of the state in dealing with marijuana; the prospect certain drugs offer the state; and a broader social re-imagining of marijuana's place in society.

With all the possible effects the legalization of marijuana may have, this article raises some questions that most aren't considering, namely: what will the environmental impact of pot production be if it's legalized and becomes a more lucrative (and easier) business proposition?
Marijuana plantations in remote forests cause severe environmental damage. Indoor grow houses in some towns put rentals beyond the reach of students and young families. Rural counties with declining economies cannot attract new businesses because the available work force is caught up in the pot industry. Authorities link the drug to violent crime in otherwise quiet small towns.

"For those of us who are on the front lines, it's not about pot is bad in itself or drugs are bad," said Meredith Lintott, district attorney in Mendocino County, one of the country's top marijuana-producing regions.

"It's about the negative consequences on children. It's about the negative consequences on the environment."

I don't know if Ms. Lintott is being particularly naive or close-minded here, but I don't know if she isn't, either. At least personally, of all the aspects of this question I've thought about, the environment hasn't been at the forefront. But maybe it should be. What are the environmental consequences on pot production? It's pretty well known that monocrop agricultural production is generally devastating on the environment and the soil - is marijuana any different? Has this even been studied? Will California provide the first case to (legally) study these effects of the market and environment consequences of weed?

To be clear, I am in no way trying to fearmonger or to raise questions designed to undo the legalization efforts. If it works for California, then fine - While I have my own opinion on how drug use should be dealt with and where marijuana fits in that debate, I don't live in California, so if it decides to go through with this, fine, and if not, fine. Still, I think these are interesting questions, and questions that, to my knowledge at least, nobody seems prepared to answer, but that are well worth stopping to think about.

Herbicides and Their Effects on Vietnam Vets

I'm less than surprised to find that the herbicides, such as Agent Orange, used in Vietnam may be linked to Parkinson's disease, in addition to heart disease and cancer. Obviously, a further study into this connection should be a must, but I would be equally unsurprised to learn the government will do little about it. After all, it didn't seem to bother the government too much when we put troops way too close to atomic tests, and our recent treatment of veterans in the hospitals is just the most recent reminder that while many rhetorically "support our troops," in practice our treatment of veterans is one of the United States' biggest sources of shame.

Reminders of Human Rights Violations in Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay

It's been a kind of busy week for the history of human rights in Latin America this week. Thursday (the 23rd) marked the 16th anniversary of the Candelária massacre in Rio de Janeiro. Candelária is a massive cathedral in the heart of Rio de Janeiro's downtown area. While home to weddings, ceremonies, masses, concerts, and tourist visits, Candelária was also a place where street children who had no home would gather at night to sleep safely and semi-sheltered. In 1993, however, one of the more gruesome crimes in recent history in Brazil occurred, when five unidentified individuals pulled up in a car, got out, and opened fire on the sleeping children, killing 8.

Survivors of the shooting reported that two cars pulled up to the front of the church entrance early on the morning of July 23, letting out at least five men, some of whom were later identified as police officers. The men opened fire on the sleeping children.
Although their apparel did not immediately indicate that they were police or military officers, one key witness, Wagner dos Santos, recognized the men as military police and later testified against them in court.
It is well known among Brazilians that the country's death squads, whose objectives are to "cleanse" the streets, are primarily comprised of off-duty officers. Lamentably, street children often, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the middle of this "cleansing" process.

The event was atrocious, and led to a heightened awareness and fight for children's rights not just in Brazil, but globally, as Unicef and Amnesty International became involved. Ultimately, some officers were convicted, while others were acquitted; one officer who had died in 1994 was accused of having masterminded the massacre, offering a convenient scapegoat unable to defend himself. Today, outside of the cathedral, the figures of the eight victims are represented in red paint on the sidewalk, a constant reminder of the horrible events of July 23rd, 1993.

Unfortunately, the events of that night continue in Brazil. One of the survivors of the Candelária massacre was Sandro Rosa do Nascimento, who in 2001 would take a bus in Rio hostage, leading to what can only be categorized as an absolute disaster as the police, crowds, and television cameras all gathered around the hostage situation. On camera, Nascimento repeatedly emphasized that he was one of the Candelária survivors, making clear the effects of that night in 1993 had not faded away from the minds of the victims. Ultimately, the hostage situation ended as horribly as one could imagine: the cops, trying to kill Nascimento (who had exited the bus with a hostage), mistakenly killed the hostage. Crowds, thinking Nascimento had killed the girl, rushed in to lynch him. The police took him to the back of a police car, where they suffocated him to death on live television. It was a horrible, horrible event that cut to many of the social, economic, and justice problems facing Brazil, and it was documented in the film Bus 174 (and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough: everybody should see this film).

Nor was dos Santos the only one. Of the 62 children who survived that night, 44 were dead by 2000 (and dos Santos was added to that total a year later). And a recent study has found that 5000 youths between the ages of 12 and 18 are killed in Brazil every year, offering a depressing reminder that, while the Candelária massacre happened 16 years ago, Brazilian youths, especially the poor and homeless, continue to face appalling conditions and chances of survival in Brazil today.

For better news, alleged Argentine torturer Jorge Alberto Souza was arrested in Spain this past week. Souza "is wanted in Argentina in connection with 18 cases of kidnapping and torture between 1975 and 1977." Although Argentina's "Dirty War" only began in 1976, paramilitary and police repression existed well before that, and it's good to see Argentina going after Souza for that, as well. He's being held in Spain, but will be transferred to Argentina, where he will hopefully join others who are known torturers and killers in prison. (h/t)

And in a painful but important reminder of Paraguay's history, authorities in Asunción uncovered a common grave containing at least two of the 900 "disappeared" and killed victims of the Stroessner regime, in addition to the thousands who were tortured and the nearly one million exiles.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Facial Hair of the Weekend

ZZ Top. I once saw Billy Gibbons in person, and the beard is even more epic in real life.

Foreign Women and Male Domination

Lisa has a really interesting post on the marketing of Asian women to white men because of their supposed submissiveness.

I first became aware of this in 1996 when I spent a year teaching English in South Korea. I had a middle-aged Australian roommate who I am sure was a virgin. He combined the lovely characteristics of hating women combined with Victorian beliefs about courtship to make himself perennially sexless. He came to Korea in part because he hoped to finally meet someone, which of course didn't happen. He then turned to mail-order catalogs of Russian women. I'm not sure how that turned out. Another guy I knew was an ex-G.I. who married a Korean woman. He extolled the virtues--submissiveness, knowing how to take care of a man, sex when you want it instead of only when she wants it, etc. It was kind of nauseating.

So I've been interested to see the growth of mail-order brides ever since. Many of the men who purchase these women treat them horribly. They often hate American women, resent feminism, and not surprisingly, treat their new wives as objects. Domestic violence is a pandemic in these relationships.

About Asian women, supposedly the most subservient, Lisa writes:

The idea, specifically, that Asian women are more passive and deferential than white women, has been used to explain white men’s fetish for Asian women, Western men’s sex tourism in Asian countries, and Western men’s use of Asian mail-order bride services. Some of these men, it is argued, want a subordinate partner and they find it difficult to meet a white/American woman who is willing to play that role. You can actually hear a male sex tourist make this argument in this post.

She doesn't really seem to buy this argument, but I mostly do. This is what these men want. But the real point of her post is to link to this absurd website, explaining the "condition" leading women to hate men. Warning: This is really reprehensible stuff. But it's worth flipping through if you are interested in the levels of woman hating among certain segments of the male population.


With the college football season approaching, I want to ask one simple question. Is it too much to wish that Tim Tebow suffer a career ending injury?

I'm not wishing this because I am an alumni of the University of Tennessee. Rather, it's because Tebow is such a self-promoting blowhard, with the right mix of conservative values that make sportscasters go ga-ga. He writes bible versus on his eye black patches so that we can all see what a Christian he is. He is tough and shows up every day. He talks about God constantly. In the championship game last January, play by play man Thom Brennanman went over the top, proclaiming (in a slight paraphrase since I'm not going to spend time searching for the actual quote) "If you spend 5 minutes with Tim Tebow, you will be a better person." That disgusting statement of actual love (rather than, oh I don't know, impartiality) rivals Joe Buck and Tim McCarver's decade long fellation of Derek Jeter, Dan Dierdorf proclaiming that he wished he could be Jerry Rice for one day, and Buck's own moral outrage with Randy Moss fake mooned the Green Bay Packers crowd after scoring a touchdown as the worst moments of sportscasting I have ever seen.
Now, Tebow claims he is a virgin. Why should I care about this? I don't care what his sexual history is. But of course, everyone else does. He's living his faith! He's a prime example of white American manhood! He's a model for our children to follow!

Man, I can't wait for the allegations that he got someone pregnant. That's going to be awesome, on the level of Sarah Palin's daughter getting pregnant after Palin pushed abstinence-only education level of awesome.

As for rooting for the career ending injury, since Tebow has taken out a $2 million insurance policy on his own body, I don't see who loses here. Truth be told, I'm not sure I've ever loathed a college football player as much as Tebow. Maybe former Washington QB Chris Chandler, who said that losing to Oregon was the most embarrassing moment of his life. But that's about it.

Historical Image of the Day

1911 basketball team, Independence High School, Independence, Missouri.

Dancing into 1639

Ireland pretends we are in the 17th century, passes a law outlawing blasphemy.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Around Latin America

-It's been a really busy week. For starters, Manuel Zelaya has apparently returned to Honduras, but what's going to happen next is anybody's guess.

...UPDATE: Apparently he entered briefly, but has returned to Nicaragua to avoid arrest. We'll see what follows...

-Brazil has agreed to allow Paraguay to sell its surplus energy from the Itaipu dam to Brazilian companies other than the state-run Eletrobras. The Itaipu issue has been a stickler for years - Brazil needs more energy as it grows, and Paraguay has had a surplus thanks to the agreement to share power from the dam between the two countries when it was built back in the 1970s. Although Lula had originally said he would not review the contract from the 1970s when Lugo won election, he has since taken a more diplomatic stance (as is characteristic of his administration), and it now seems I was correct in suggesting that this would not be nearly the diplomatic crisis between the two countries that some scholars thought it would be.

-There's also great news on how Brazil has stemmed the spread of AIDS:

Two decades ago, it would have been hard to imagine finding an upside to an HIV crisis of the scope that Brazil had on its hands. The World Bank estimated that 1.2 million Brazilians would be infected by the turn of the century — by far the highest number of any country in the region. But today, there is plenty of good news to go around. Thanks to aggressive intervention, Brazil has only about half as many HIV cases as predicted. And the country's popular President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or Lula for short, has taken the show on the road: HIV/AIDS assistance is becoming a powerful tool in the president's growing diplomatic chest.
The article traces how Brazil's government offered free antiretroviral medicine to victims beginning in 1996 and aggressively launching both treatment and prevention programs (in what is simultaneously a reminder that government health programs can and do work, and that even Fernando Henrique Cardoso got some things right in his administration). It also links those efforts to Brazil's broader diplomatic accomplishments since Lula took office in 2002, and is well worth reading in its (relatively brief) entirety.

-I've commented before on Brazil's efforts to build alliances with African countries. Those efforts have not gone unnoticed, as Mozambique President Armando Guebuza this week called Lula's government "a true ally and partner in the fight against poverty." I've said it before, and I'll say it again: when discussing Brazil's ascendance as a global economic and political actor, one cannot overstate the strides made via Lula's insistence on negotiating with any legitimate government, regardless of ideology, if the other governments had things to offer Brazil and vice versa. By refusing to exclude countries like Venezuela or China or the U.S. over ideological issues, Brazil has greatly strengthened its presence globally, and has made many friends where other countries and regions like the U.S., the EU, and others have been alienating countries. And Lula's focus on Africa has seemed genuine and useful for both Brazil and Africa, and I can only hope (though with baited breath) that the next Brazilian president will continue this trend.

-While things are goign smoothly between Brazil and Paraguay, the same cannot be said for Brazil and Budweiser's owning company, AmBev - the anti-trust organs in Brazil are hitting AmBev with a record-setting fine of $150 million reais ($79 million dollars US) for "anti-competitive practices" dating back to 2004 in Brazil. Although the fine only marked 1% of AmBev's 2003 income, the announcement was enough to make stocks drop in Brazil Wednesday.

-In broader economic terms, Latin America may have gotten some good news this week, as Nouriel Roubini, known as "Dr. Doom" for his depressing-but-ultimately-accurate prediction of the economic crisis the world began to face last year, offered some rare optimism in discussing Latin America's outlook:
Major emerging powers such as China, India and Brazil are among nations that may recover fastest once the global economy picks up, Roubini told reporters at the conference. He also mentioned Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Peru as countries better- positioned to grow. Countries facing the biggest challenges include emerging markets in Eastern Europe, such as Hungary, Bulgaria and Ukraine, he said.
-In a stomach-churning story of despicable actions, a jury is considering a lawsuit against a Florida hospital that deported a brain-injured illegal immigrant back to Guatemala in 2003.

The lawsuit seeks nearly $1 million to cover the estimated lifetime costs of his care in Guatemala, as well as damages for the hospital's alleged "false imprisonment" and punitive damages to discourage other medical centers from taking similar action.

Jimenez was a Mayan Indian who was sending money home to his wife and young sons when in 2000, a drunken driver plowed into a van he was riding in, leaving him a paraplegic with the mental capability of a fourth grader. Because of his brain injury, his cousin Montejo Gaspar was made his legal guardian.

Jimenez spent nearly three years at Martin Memorial before the hospital, backed by a letter from the Guatemalan government, got a Florida judge to OK the transfer to a facility in that country. Gaspar appealed.

But without telling Jimenez's family - and the day after Gaspar filed an emergency request to stop the hospital's plan - Martin Memorial put Jimenez on a $30,000 charter flight home early on July 10, 2003.

The outcome of the case could play a major role in how hospitals deal with illegal immigrants in the future, making the case of major importance not just to health-care, but to immigration issues, as well as the basic decency of treating any person, regardless of nation, race, or creed, respectfully and tenderly.

-Many people are aware that the Atacama Desert is the driest place on earth; some parts of the desert in Northern Chile have never seen recorded rainfall. It is, suffice to say, extremely dry, and any rainfall can cause major problems. And I mean any rainfall, as this week, .001 inches of rain led to a state of emergency that led to power outages and school closings.

-In the "politically-charged pension awards" category, Argentina is giving a "special pension" to 18 individuals who hijacked a plane with the hopes of gaining control of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands back in 1966. "will grant a special pension to the nationalist group of 18 civilians who in 1966 took command of a commercial flight to Rio Gallegos and had it re-routed to the Falkland Islands with the purpose of taking over the Malvinas for Argentina."

-In the "racial stereotype? or just not funny?" department, apparently the "Yo quiero Taco Bell" chihuaha died this week at the age of 15. And in the funniest pet-news I've heard since learning that the lady-magnet Spuds Mackenzie was female, it turns out that that male-voiced symbol was "Gidget".

-Extinction of any species sucks. Here's hoping that the 90-something year old Galapagos giant tortoise "Lonesome George" is rescuing his breed from the brink of extinction.

-Finally, in touching and sad news, a woman has been arrested for killing twin Mexican midget wrestlers. El Espectrito II and La Parkita, 35, were found dead in a hotel room. Prosecutors suspect the anonymous, 65-year-old suspect and a friend posed as prostitutes and planned to poison the wrestlers to unconsciousness and rob them as part of a broader wave of female gangs robbing men. Unfortunately, the normal dosage of drugs to knock a man unconscious was enough to kill the two wrestlers. The memorials (fans showing up at the funeral in masks) have been touching, and for all the senselessness in so many violent acts, this one seems particularly senseless.

Perry Doubles Down

My question from earlier this week is proven to be true; yes, Rick Perry is currently America's stupidest governor.

Perry wants to nullify Obama's health care plan:

Gov. Rick Perry, raising the specter of a showdown with the Obama administration, suggested Thursday that he would consider invoking states’ rights protections under the 10th Amendment to resist the president’s healthcare plan, which he said would be “disastrous” for Texas. [...]

“I think you’ll hear states and governors standing up and saying ‘no’ to this type of encroachment on the states with their healthcare,” Perry said. “So my hope is that we never have to have that stand-up. But I’m certainly willing and ready for the fight if this administration continues to try to force their very expansive government philosophy down our collective throats.”

As commenters have claimed in previous discussions of Perry's nullifying and secessionist rhetoric, he is pandering to the extreme right to stave off Kay Bailey Hutchinson's primary challenge for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010. He's getting increasingly desperate--Perry was booed at the last Texas teabagger event because he's not crazy enough, showing that there is no limit to what Texas extremists are hoping for. This is probably all bluster. But it's still incredibly irresponsible.

Greatest Baseball Matchup Ever--Jews v. KKK

I like old-timey baseball weirdness because it so wonderfully reflects the weirdness of American at large during that time. Jeffrey Goldberg at the Atlantic wrote of this 1926 baseball game between a Ku Klux Klan team and a Jewish team. He then followed it with a more substantial post, demonstrating that these kind of weird racially charged matchups were pretty common.

Historical Image of the Day

Time to bring back the historical images since I am more or less off vacation. No theme through the weekend; will start back with that on Monday.

1868 version of an Aladdin story, published in New York.

Summer Reading

With summer nearing an end, I thought I would mention my recent reading. Summer is just about the only time I can read fiction. Occasionally, I assign a novel. And maybe I slowly move through 1 or 2 a semester. But not much. In fact, I would say that the only negative I can think of to being a professor is the lack of time to read what I want.

I've started to pick an American author to catch up on each summer. Last year, it was Raymond Chandler. This year, I went with Mark Twain. But I haven't done much with him. Maybe I'll sneak another one before school starts.

Anyway, here's my summer reading list thus far:

Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain, Puddinhead Wilson
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays
David Malouf, The Great World
Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

All have been good. I've read the Twain and Didion before; all three impressed me again upon rereading. Diaz was great and Murakami pretty amazing. The Malouf book is also very good, though I would put it in the category of respect rather than love.

Still, I'm not done. Today, I hope to read Antonio Tabucchi's Pereira Declares, a novel about Salazarist Lisbon. It's short and I have to fly from New York to Texas tonight. So I should get through it. After that, I still hope to get through:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi
Alice Munro, Love of a Good Woman
Ann Enright, The Gathering
Tomas Eloy Martinez, Santa Evita

I've read the Marquez and Twain before. I'm trying to prioritize re-reading novels of late. Even though I don't have time to read much of anything, I still think it's important to remember what you do read by occasional re-readings.

Public Enemies

I originally avoided reading Trend and Sarah's discussion of Michael Mann's "Public Enemies." I was in Central America and I didn't want to be influenced.

After seeing it, I basically agree with Sarah up and down the board. I thought it was a totally soulless movie. I didn't care about any of the characters at all. I talked to Trend about it the day before I saw it and he told me about the great shootout scene in the forest. I agree, it is very well done. The movie looks great. But do I have to sit through 2 hours of horrible dialogue, half-drawn characters, and indifferent acting to witness a good shootout scene. It's like Michael Mann thought it would be cool to have a great action scene in a forest with guys wearing 1930s outfits and then created a shell of a movie to construct around that.

Think about "Public Enemies" in comparison to "The Untouchables." I'm hardly one to use a Brian DePalma movie as a positive comparison, but in this case it's apt. "The Untouchables" was a collage of ripoffs from the gangster movies of the past. But it was fun. You cared about all the characters. DeNiro was truly evil as Capone, Connery was fantastic, the plot was great. Even Costner was decent for Christ's sake. The tension during the baby carriage on the stair scene was intense. I don't care that DePalma ripped it straight from Battleship Potemkin, it worked.

What in "Public Enemies worked as well as The Untouchables?" Nothing, except perhaps the craft in the shootout scenes. Christian Bale is completely wasted. I feel bad for Marion Cotillard. She learned English for this role and this was to be her big coming out in America. But she is also completely wasted. Depp is always good, even if I usually don't care for his movies too much. But he can't carry this terrible script.

Trend defended the movie to me by basically saying that it was a Michael Mann movie and that's what you were getting, love it or hate it. I really liked "Heat" when it first came out. But I was a much younger person then. Would I like it now? Or would I also think it is a poorly put together production that looked good and had some well-done action scenes? I really think it would probably be the latter. I always respected Michael Mann for his earlier work but "Public Enemies" has made me reconsider that in the face of overwhelming evidence of poor direction.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Idiocy of Ayn Rand Combined with the Vapidity of TV? Oh, Joy....

The good news: we may be spared a film adaptation of Atlas Shurgged.

The bad news: it may end up being a mini-series instead, so that we could enjoy all of the nuances of such subtlties like speeches that never end and the occasional rape without being limited by the 3-hour movie time.

Hopefully this is just talk, and somebody takes Charlize Theron aside and explains the manifold ways why this is a bad idea, from philosophical to practical. If the mini-series does ever see the light of day, though......well, hopefully, the television will reveal to many just how stupid Rand's words are when they actually spoken aloud, rather than eliminating that 1000-page obstacle that kept an insufferable book out of the hands of so many unthinking-and-easily-swayed people and leading to a new army of idiots walking around asking "who is John Galt?" and sincerely insisting that government is bad.

I don't really watch TV now, but if this thing ever sees the light of day, it will be a guarantee that I don't watch TV ever again.

Honduras Crisis Talks Dead - Now What?

Talks on Honduras have broken down, and Zelaya and Micheletti seem about as far apart as they ever have been. While the term "postponed" provides a sense of optimism, I suspect it's false optimism. Oscar Arias has failed to negotiate an end to the presidential crisis, and the OAS failed before Arias stepped in. The fact that some within Micheletti's negotiating team were willing to make concessions that Micheletti was not indicated earlier that there may be some cracks forming in the pro-coup faction, but those cracks did not result in any concrete agreements, and Micheletti remains as intransigent as ever.

Arias's claim that the OAS now hasto negotiate a deal is odd, since, as Greg also commented, the OAS already tried and failed, and it's pretty unclear why the OAS will suddenly be able to resolve things quickly. Boz maps out how the reports of what the sticking points in the talks remain unclear (whether Zelaya also rejected the 12-point plan on limiting his powers upon his return, or whether it was just Micheletti who refused the plan due to the return of Zelaya). RAJ believes it was Micheletti, and offers some fair criticisms of Arias's approach:

Arias also made the mistake of getting involved in "negotiating" issues that are
strictly internal-- such as including a requirement that the budget passed by
the de facto regime would be left stand for the remainder of Zelaya's
presidency. This was a red herring thrown in by the Micheletti crowd, and adding
it to the plan simply showed them that Arias would include anything they wanted.
And then they held a press conference and used him rhetorically as a prop.

From the non-Honduras standpoint, Arias's reputation for diplomacy seems to have taken a hit a bit in this whole ordeal. Between the strange comment that the OAS can now take up the issue and his insistence on getting involved purely domestic Honduran affairs as part of the negotiation, he seems to be a bit out of touch with how to have tried to solve this crisis and other alternatives. This isn't to suggest he's inept or that the failure is all his (Micheletti and Zelaya no doubt played major roles as well, to put it lightly), but certainly hopes were riding high that he could bring the situation to a resolution, and not just his failure, but some of his approaches as well, certainly have put a dint his reputation.

More important than Arias's reputation, though, is Honduras itself. It seems fairly likely now that Zelaya will at least try a return to Honduras, saying "only God can stop me," though, as Greg pointed out, there is the small question about the Honduran military, too. The EU has already slashed $90 million in aid, and Hillary Clinton has told Micheletti that, if Zelaya is not returned, the U.S. will also impose severe sanctions. That could theoretically change the playing field a bit, but given Micheletti's intransigence, I find this unlikely. This could end up quietly, or it could end up violently; one can hope it's not the latter, but that possibility is looking increasingly likely, as anti- and pro-Zelaya supporters are already planning public demonstrations that could lead to further conflict.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Absolutely Unnecessary Things that Albuquerque Spends Money On: Hovercrafts

Talking with a friend in Albuquerque last night, I learned something that boggled my mind: the Albuquerque police department has a hovercraft.

Let me repeat that. Albuquerque has a hovercraft.

A city. In the desert. With a shrinking river. And they got.....a hovercraft.

There's so much one can say here: another of Marty Chavez's ridiculous and stupid self-promotion efforts? The worst waste of taxpayer dollars in Albuquerque? The complete futility of this hovercraft beyond the issue of river rescue on a body of water that's disappearing? The fact that a lifeboat, which would have been much cheaper, could have been used instead to the same effect? Does the hovercraft get used more in parades than in police work?

I think my favorite part of this is the hovercraft-manufacturer's website, which puts the "balloon fiesta water rescue" images up all over, as if to show the hovercraft's utility, yet in every picture, the hovercraft is either A) unoccupied, clearly to be photographed for publicity, or B) sitting there while there are no balloons in the water. The smile on the officer in the first picture says it all, just screaming, "I cannot believe we convinced them to buy this thing for us!"

To be clear, hovercrafts can have their uses, as the company's page shows. There are some much more compelling pictures of a "Mud/Ice/Water rescue" at Anchorage airport. That is a circumstance in which a hovercraft seems like a defensible purchase. But Albuquerque, with its one shrinking river?

And for those who still can't believe it, you just have to see the police report from June 30th of this year: "APD deployed the hovercraft and ATVs manned by Open Space personnel and APD divers" when a boy fell into the river. And in a sad turn, the boy was not recovered, and while his presumed death is indeed tragic, it prompts the question: if the hovercraft cannot do the one thing it was ostensibly purchased for, why get it?

Oh, right - so you can show it during parades and take pictures of it with balloons in the sky (not the water) behind you.

Get out your sulfur pumps: Geo-engineering is going mainstream

If the Obama administration’s steadfastness in putting geo-engineering on the table as a valid solution to combat global warming and DARPA’s diving into it are not disconcerting enough, the once far-fetched theory has now received a nod from the American Meteorological Society, which is endorsing research in the area. In addition to working toward reducing emissions, and adapting to climate change, the organization is promoting studies that would look into ways of “manipulating physical, chemical, or biological aspects of the Earth system.”

Geo-engineering has, of course, remained a marginal theory among some environmental experts for decades. But the concept has increasingly crept into the conversation in recent months as a real solution warranting debate and discussion. I certainly do like the idea of scientifically credible entities exploring all possible options as opposed to radical individuals spouting their viewpoints, but the evidence available for this concept as a valid answer is less than encouraging.

This article in the Atlantic is one of the most comprehensive ones I’ve read to date on the subject. Graeme Wood examines close to every geo-engineering strategy so far proffered – from pumping sulfate aerosols which would absorb and reflect sunlight back to space, to growing more CO2-consuming plankton in the sea.

Volcanoes are known to cause noticeable cooling of the earth by spewing sulfur dioxide, why can’t we? Valid point. Except that excessive sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere has the potential to cause acid rain upon reaction with other substances in the sky. The terrifying effects of acid rain formed by too much sulfur in the air are easy enough to comprehend. But what could possibly happen by growing too much plankton? A lot. The dead algae could generate methane, a gas much more harmful than carbon dioxide.

There are more moderate ideas like infusing clouds with seawater to induce them to reflect more sunlight (this, according to Stephen Salter, a Scottish engineer, would entail 1,500 ships spraying seawater into clouds with the help of wind currents), and even constructing a gigantic visor (electromagnetic guns would shoot ceramic disks into the air using a hitherto unknown technology), which would block out the sun. Less drastic methods, like Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s recent suggestion to paint roofs white – or spraying seawater into clouds are both insufficient and economically unfeasible, according to Ken Caldeira, a scientist at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, who recently co-published a study finding that geo-engineering options would merely cause acidification of the ocean without any real reduction in CO2 levels.

Besides the problems of sulfur potentially coming down as acid rain and huge plankton blooms emitting too much methane, geo-engineering would also cause uneven distribution of its effects on different parts of the world; perhaps, Africa might get much warmer and more arid than before, and India would suffer from severely reduced rainfall.

I’m no environmental expert, but that seems like common sense. Reversing the effects of mankind’s engineering of the earth by further engineering not only seems counterproductive but also has the potential to go horribly wrong. But maybe that is all the more reason why any discussion is good, especially if it is based on scientific experimentation and analysis. As Chris Mooney points out, the fact that geo-engineering can have grave consequences if the technology were to reach the wrong hands is important enough to warrant a discussion.

Many of the geo-engineering solutions – especially the sulfur-pumping strategy - are incredibly cheap compared to the money and resource investment needed for regulations that curb global warming at its source. The advantage is that these methods would not involve hundreds of nations getting together to decide on a common law. The disadvantage is that these methods would not involve hundreds of nations getting together to decide on a common law.

Sure, they might go perfectly well, but the effects of such changes are not predictable to any reasonable degree because nothing of the sort has ever been implemented before. And we wouldn’t know until we are actually suffering the consequences of it. Ezra Klein offers a good analogy. A decade ago we thought using hydrofluorocarbons instead of chloroflurocarbons would save the ozone layer. And we were right, but we later found out that HFCs in the atmosphere can act as a super-greenhouse gas, with heat-warming effects over 4000 times that of CO2.

Reliance on an emergency geo-engineering solution, of course, has other consequences. Governments, not to mention big businesses, will have further excuses to do nothing about global warming. As Greame writes, "If you promise that in a future emergency you can chill the Earth in a matter of months, cutting emissions today will seem far less urgent."

Many environmental experts do agree that all the strategies so far suggested to merely reduce global warming may be too little too late. So, possibly a multidimensional plan that would tap into a variety of these methods to offset climate change in addition to a reasonable level of curbing emissions would probably be the best approach.

Or we could all follow James Lovelock's advice and move to the poles because according to him, humankind simply cannot combat global warming at the pace it is happening at. Lovelock writes in the The Vanishing Face of Gaia:

"Simply cutting back fossil-fuel burning, energy use, and the destruction of natural forests will not be a sufficient answer to global heating, not least because it seems that climate change can happen faster than we can respond to it. . . . Because of the rapidity of the Earth's change, we will need to respond more like the inhabitants of a city threatened by a flood. When they see the unstoppable rise of water, their only option is to escape to higher ground."

Apparently, this isn’t outlandish anymore either.