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Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
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I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
JUST SO YOU KNOW. Apologies for delays in setting up the new e-mail account. I stubbornly refuse to use Outlook Express, which, as I mentioned down below, I suddenly realized is the only e-mail program currently on this machine. (Before the temporary AOL interregunum, I used a shell account (my distinct preference), and it was via my other Pentium I, which only has a wireless card, no modem, and has starting only working intermittently as of three weeks ago, anyway; that shell account is no longer available, as well.)
I'm momentarily delayed in downloading a POP e-mail program by having tried out Internet Download Manager, which turned itself off after 60 days, and now is refusing to fully Get Out of my registry.
I'll work on fixing this over the course of this week, but it may be a couple of, or even a few, days before I get it taken care of. Humble apologies.
Meanwhile, many, many, many thanks to those six people who have contributed in the past few days, particularly to the gentleman who made three large donations, any one of which was generous (though not the single largest contribution ever made so far), which together, however, is far more than anyone else has given. You know who you are, and it's made a huge difference, make no mistake.
People can be good; it's always a joy to be reminded.
(April rent and expenses are coming up fast, alas; I'm not out of need, nor yet in permanent work, or close, so further donations from kind souls -- or any kinds of souls -- remain equally appreciated, alas.)
STRANGE DELUSIONS OF THE BUSH CAMPAIGN. Such as this.
"In 2000, the necessity was to demonstrate that he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do, that he had a plan of action that all fit together, that he could talk with assurance," said one of Bush's most senior advisers, who asked not to be identified. "This had to be a credible governing statement. [Today] we have a credible governing statement; it's called the budget."
This quote of the "most senior advisor" directly followed quotes from Karen Hughes, it should be noted. I'm sure that's just coincidence.
On January 15, 1992, during a gruesome New Hampshire "town meeting" at the dawn of his reelection campaign, the first President Bush struggled heroically, and in the end famously, to get a point across to an indifferent audience in Exeter. His political consultants in Washington had prepared him for a bad reception: Focus groups were united in seeing their president, in those recessionary days, as out of touch and uncaring. The political purpose of his trip to New Hampshire was to dispel the notion.
President Bush opened the town meeting like so: "One of the things that I'm pleased to be able to do here is to at least let the people of this state know that even though I am president and do have two or three other responsibilities, that when people are hurting, we care."
A moment later: "Of course, we care."
A moment more: "And of course, we care."
It wasn't working. The questions became increasingly hostile.
And so: "I'll take my share of the blame. I don't take it for not caring."
And again: "I do care about it. I just wanted to say that."
"Two things. One, I know you're hurting; two, I care about it."
Still nothing, until, in his frustration with yet another unfriendly question, he let go finally, desperately, deathlessly. "But," he said, "the message: I care."
"He blurted out his handlers' notes verbatim," said Newsweek, astonished.
Bush 41 always had a smooth way with voters. Let's fast forward, shall we?
Yet now, in the pomo primaries, the elision doesn't seem weird at all. In fact it's become customary for a presidential candidate to "get his message across" by simply announcing that he's getting his message across. Attending a rally for John Kerry, or watching one of his TV ads, or drifting through his website, a voter will hear the candidate say: "My message isn't for just part of America, it's for all of America--a message about how we're going to put Americans back to work." The voter will wait in vain for particulars, such as how this message is to be realized and Americans put back to work. (I do know it has something to do with raising taxes on rich people.) Nevertheless, when asked, the voter will tell an inquiring reporter that he "really likes Kerry's message about jobs." At a rally for John Edwards a few weeks ago, in South Carolina, I heard the comely Carolinian announce: "Let me tell you something. My message of hope and optimism is resonating all across America." And the crowd applauded! He might as well have hollered "applause line!" to receive the same reaction. "My message works," Edwards told an interviewer not long ago. "And it's going to continue to work." In South Carolina he said: "My message is optimism. My message is about hope." Marshall McLuhan was wrong. The medium isn't the message. The message is the message.
And our current dynastic incumbent's message is "Message: I will save you from the bad men" and "Message: my opponent is treasonous and he flip-flops. Those are bad, you know."
Read The Rest Message: 3.5 out of 5 on post-modern politics.
I've been reading this on and off throughout the past day. Compelling, fascinating, important. Read The Rest scale: 5 out of 5. This is a placeholder; I'll expand this post after I've gotten some sleep; meanwhile, go read the article for information both important and wacky, and see if you have any thoughts on the questions it raises as to what the best intersection of foreign policy and the courts should be.
Expansion? We ain't got no expansion. We don't need no expansion. I don't have to show you any stinking expansion!
You must trust master. Follow me, come on. Come. Come, réadergol. Nice réadergol. That’s it. Come on.
Réadergol, don’t struggle! Réadergol, listen to me!
SO: Leo, Toby, Josh, and C.J make $151,000 a year. Sam used to make $125,000. Will Bailey probably also makes that, though he likely started at $54,400. Donna makes $42,700. Ainsley made either $109,300, or $93,700, or $90,000; it's unclear; probably the lowest figure, though. Mrs. Landingham, and now Deborah Fiderer, only $65,300.
Did you know the White House has a "Senior Gift Analyst"? ($31,200) (Not much more than the mere "Gift Analyst" makes at $30,000.) Charlie makes $52,100.
ANKARA, Turkey — The country's powerful generals have ordered local officials to spy on individuals, a move seen as the latest step by the military to continue its watchdog role over civilian life.
The Land Forces Command demanded information on terrorist groups, but military leaders said officials should also monitor a host of unlikely troublemakers such as "pro-European Union and pro-Americans, rich kids, ethnic minorities, Satanists, magicians and people who practice meditation," according to a document published this week by the daily newspaper Hurriyet.
We at Amygdala beg your pardon. We mean on something.
But, believe it or not, this is deadly serious.
It has also created unease among Turkey's allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and raised fresh questions as to whether the military supports this predominantly Muslim nation's push to become a full member of the European Union.
The controversy grew Wednesday, when the Turkish general staff confirmed the accuracy of the reports about the document.
Is there a NATO Anti-Witch Task Force we should be told about?
By the way:
Last week, top generals, including Land Forces commander Aytac Yalman, were among those who applauded a Turkish academic's call to cut ties with "imperialist America and the EU" and instead forge alliances with Russia and China.
They're afraid of our Joint Meditation Task Force, which is a little known part of SOCOM.
Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5 for those interested.
CUTTING OFF YOUR WEBSITES TO SPITE THE PERSON UPSET BY PEOPLE WITH BIG NOSES. This is an absolutely idiotic solution to a problem involving one person. What would happen if every entity in a similar situation also banned all websites by their staff?
Read The Rest Scale if you're interested in either idiots, bureaucracies, educational institutes, or how not to deal with anti-Semites.
When the House of Representatives passed the controversial benefit by five votes last November, the White House was embracing an estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that it would cost $395 billion in the first 10 years. But for months the administration's own analysts in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had concluded repeatedly that the drug benefit could cost upward of $100 billion more than that.
Withholding the higher cost projections was important because the White House was facing a revolt from 13 conservative House Republicans who'd vowed to vote against the Medicare drug bill if it cost more than $400 billion.
Five months before the November House vote, the government's chief Medicare actuary had estimated that a similar plan the Senate was considering would cost $551 billion over 10 years. Two months after Congress approved the new benefit, White House Budget Director Joshua Bolten disclosed that he expected it to cost $534 billion.
Richard S. Foster, the chief actuary for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which produced the $551 billion estimate, told colleagues last June that he would be fired if he revealed numbers relating to the higher estimate to lawmakers.
"This whole episode which has now gone on for three weeks has been pretty nightmarish," Foster wrote in an e-mail to some of his colleagues June 26, just before the first congressional vote on the drug bill. "I'm perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons."
Foster didn't quit, but congressional staffers and lawmakers who worked on the bill said he no longer was permitted to answer important questions about the bill's cost.
Cybele Bjorklund, the Democratic staff director for the House Ways and Means health subcommittee, which worked on the drug benefit, said Thomas A. Scully - then the director of the Medicare office - told her he ordered Foster to withhold information and that Foster would be fired for insubordination if he disobeyed.
Health and Human Services Department officials turned down repeated requests to interview Foster. The Medicare office falls under the control of HHS.
Scully said Liz Fowler, the chief health lawyer for the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, could confirm the actuary's independence. Fowler didn't.
"He's a liar," she said of Scully.
At a Ways and Means Committee hearing last month, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson all but repudiated Scully's tactics.
"I may have been derelict in allowing my administrator, Tom Scully, to have more control over it than I should have. ... And maybe he micromanaged the actuary and the actuary services too much. ... I can assure you that from now (on), the remaining days that I am secretary you will have as much access as you want to anybody or anything in the department. All you have to do is call me."
Democrats asked Thompson on Feb. 3 and March 3 for a complete record of Foster's estimates. They've yet to get it.
THE BLAME FOR SPAIN. It's natural to ascribe this atrocity to al Queda. It's also too soon to know. One part of the discussion has revolved around the alleged claim by "the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades of Al-Qa'ida."
There's good reason to pay no attention to this claim, though an alternative explanation for its inconsistencies might be that it is from another part of the decentralized group than we are previously familiar with. There's strong reason to believe bin Laden did not write the claim, but, then, I wouldn't really expect him to have one available this quickly, anyway; that, too, would be inconsistent with his past style.
It should be noted that the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades claimed responsibility for the August 2003 blackout in the U.S. (which was a large-scale technical failure), calling it "Operation Quick Lightning in the Land of the Tyrant of This Generation."
They also claim credit for operating in Iraq.
By striking at the Italian forces in Nasiriyya [Iraq], we sent you and America's agents a warning....
I find it highly unlikely the same individuals would be involved, though the writers of this message could be taking a sweeping view of "we." Perhaps so sweeping that their main involvement is writing this note.
"Take your hands off us! Release our prisoners! Get out of our lands! Then we will leave you alone."
That's contra bin Laden's grievances, as well; he wants everyone to convert or die.
If anything can be funny in the midst of tragedy, one might draw humor from this:
"In another operation, the Al-Quds Army Brigades struck the Jewish Masonic temple in Istanbul, and this was the main Masonic temple, and three of the greatest Masons were killed… Had it not been for the technical failure, all the Masons would have been killed. But for reasons of divine wisdom, only three were killed. Allah be praised.
Allah be praised for that divine wisdom. And I never even knew I was a Mason.
MEMRI has other points leading them to believe this message is not authentic. If you take another view, the message has other semi-specific threats, against Yemen, and others, worth reading.
"We say to you that the Death-Smoke Squad will reach you soon, and then you will see [i.e. count] your dead by the thousands, Allah willing.... [...] We announce to the Abu Ali Al-Harithi Squad  that headquarters has decided that Yemen will be the third swamp  [in which] America the Tyrant of This Generation [will sink].... [...] and we promise the Muslims in the world that the strike of the Winds of Black Death (the anticipated strike on America) is now in its last phase [of preparation]. [It is] 90% [complete], Allah willing…
Bush is correct that Kerry on Sept. 29, 1995, proposed a five-year, $1.5 billion cut to the intelligence budget. But Bush appears to be wrong when he said the proposed Kerry cut -- about 1 percent of the overall intelligence budget for those years -- would have "gutted" intelligence. In fact, the Republican-led Congress that year approved legislation that resulted in $3.8 billion being cut over five years from the budget of the National Reconnaissance Office -- the same program Kerry said he was targeting.
The $1.5 billion cut Kerry proposed represented about the same amount Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), then chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told the Senate that same day he wanted cut from the intelligence spending bill based on unspent, secret funds that had been accumulated by one intelligence agency "without informing the Pentagon, CIA or Congress." The NRO, which designs, builds and operates spy satellites, had accumulated that amount of excess funds.
Bush's charge that Kerry's broader defense spending reduction bill had no co-sponsors is true, but not because it was seen as irresponsible, as the president suggested. Although Kerry's measure was never taken up, Specter's plan to reduce the NRO's funds, which Kerry co-sponsored with Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), did become law as part of a House-Senate package endorsed by the GOP leadership.
In his campaign speech Monday, Bush said that in 1995, "two years after the [first] attack on the World Trade Center, my opponent introduced a bill to cut the overall intelligence budget by one-and-a-half billion dollars. His bill was so deeply irresponsible that he didn't have a single co-sponsor in the United States Senate. Once again, Senator Kerry is trying to have it both ways. He's for good intelligence, yet he was willing to gut the intelligence services. And that is no way to lead a nation in a time of war."
Bush repeated the charge in New York last night, saying, "Intelligence spending is necessary, not wasteful."
Five days before Kerry introduced his legislation, The Washington Post reported that the NRO had hoarded $1 billion to $1.7 billion of unspent funds without informing the CIA or the Pentagon. Months earlier, the CIA had launched an inquiry into the NRO's funding after complaints by lawmakers that the agency had used more than $300 million of unspent classified funds to build a Virginia headquarters for the organization a year earlier.
IRAQ. An update on my position on the war, as written by Michael Ignatieff. I don't endorse everything Ignatieff says, nor is it the whole of my view, but it comes closer than any other position I've seen of late on what my own position remains at present.
I continue to believe that we won't know clearly whether the Iraq intervention was justified, or not, for another few years; between four and ten, probably.
It will rise or fall depending upon whether or not Iraq is a reasonably free democracy in ten years -- preferably three to five years, and, naturally, the sooner the better -- untorn by civil war.
But we don't have the luxury of complete suspension of judgment, of course, and this is pretty close to mine.
You've probably been reading about the film for months; here's the story.
But like the old serials it emulates, ''Sky Captain'' is mainly preoccupied with the strange promises of the future. The astonishing things you will see in the world of tomorrow include: an immense, silvery zeppelin docking at the Empire State Building; an elephant that fits in the palm of your hand; a troop of giant robots marching down Sixth Avenue and the carpet at Radio City Music Hall. None of these things actually exist, though. Conran has not constructed a single set or miniature. Rather, they are computer images, built and animated in a virtual 3-D environment, or stitched together from photographs, which are then draped around the flesh-and-blood actors, who have been shot separately on an empty set in front of a blank ''blue-screen'' background, along with those few minimal props with which they actually interact (a ray gun, a robot blueprint, a bottle of milk of magnesia). The film, in other words, is one long special effect with Jude-Law-size holes in it.
For Conran, the question, as he put it, was ''Could you be ambitious and make a film of some scope without ever leaving your room?'' And so 10 years ago, Kerry Conran went into a room in his apartment to make a movie. In some ways, he is just now beginning to come out of it.
Word of ''Sky Captain'' began to spread around the Internet only after Conran finished primary shooting in London last spring -- extraordinarily late for the Internet, which often seems invented specifically to track movies with giant robots in them.
WE'RE PRO-EDWIN. The fight to keep the Hubble alive continues.
Under Congressional pressure, NASA agreed on Thursday to have the National Academy of Sciences examine plans to cancel a space shuttle mission to repair and upgrade it.
Astronomers who scan the telescope's spectacular images of the universe for lessons on cosmic history were jubilant about the decision, with one of them calling it a "grand slam." But the NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, said that although he was willing to have outside experts analyze his decision against a shuttle repair mission, he saw little chance of any new evidence that would change his mind.
"We probably would not be able to mount a mission in time to meet those requirements," he added. "I'm still very much of the mind that unless the facts change substantially, my decision will stand."
Ms. Mikulski said if Mr. O'Keefe disregarded Congressional concerns and did not continue planning for the service flight while the study proceeded, she would work to have financing for the mission included in the NASA budget.
Would the Hubble gain more support if they pointed it at Earth now and again and took pictures of nekkid people? I hear Internet porn is very popular, though I personally would know nothing of this.
GOOD KNEES. Praise the Lord! At the National Association of Evangelicals yesterday:
One of the few discordant notes at the convention came from Robert Schuller, a televangelist and senior pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., who delivered an address gently criticizing some conservative evangelical Christians for acting as if they know the only possible route to salvation.
"What upsets me about religious leaders of all faiths is that they talk like they know it all, and anybody who doesn't agree with them is a heretic," he said later in an interview.
God bless you.
Read The Rest Scale: Bush swore to support the anti-gay-marriage amendment, and otherwise properly do the bidding of the convention (don't send in the clones), which represents, they say, thirty million Americans -- now the Scale is 1 out of 5.
HOUSEKEEPING. "Go away."
"But we have a message."
"AOL finally dropped our connection and disconnected us last night."
"After what, two weeks after telling you they would?"
"Yeah. Anyway, after a bit of struggling, our new donated dial-up is working. It will be slightly longer before I activate the new e-mail account; for one thing, I suddenly realized that, due to factors not worth boring you with, I have no e-mail programs on this machine, and the idea of having to use Outlook Express horrifies me. I'll download a program, but at 33k, it's a bit slow. I could post the expected e-mail address now, but it's probably best to make sure it works first. Anyway, just letting you know. And donations to help me make March rent (let alone April) still desperately appreciated."
3/12/2004 11:20:00 AM |permanent link | Main Page | Tweet |
We're going for a walk with Brian Greene, the physicist, at 5 in the afternoon, but this is a rough approximation, since spacetime has no absolutes, and even the familiar notion of "right now" has no meaning in a strict scientific sense. Also neither one of us has a watch.
We have departed from the canopied entrance of the Topaz Hotel and are moving west, following the sun. In this little slice of spacetime the day is coming to an end. Animate blobs of sentient matter rapidly stride toward their cars and the Metro.
"I don't think that the past is gone. I think the past feels gone," Greene says. "There you were at a party, New Year's Eve, you were experiencing that moment. I would say you are still experiencing that moment."
Greene isn't just saying that somewhere on some distant place in the universe, an astronomer can see the light finally arriving from some event in our past. That's not controversial. That's simply speed-of-light stuff. When we see the Andromeda galaxy, we're looking about 2 million years into the past, because it takes that long for the light to reach us across the enormous distances of space.
Greene's point is more radical: That there is no such thing as "now." That just as there is no center of the universe, there is no location in the "loaf" of spacetime that's more special than any other . This is an implication of Einstein's theory of relativity (his "special" theory, if you can stand the irony).
"This is really a question of what's real. You're saying what's real to me is 'now' " -- the former judo competitor is hacking at the air in a fashion that might alarm other pedestrians -- "but she" -- a woman walking by -- "would slice through the spacetime continuum at a different angle."
Her very motion alters the way she organizes spacetime. Time passes differently for people in motion relative to one another. Their watches, if initially perfectly synchronized and perfectly constructed to tick at the same pace (this is an imaginary scenario, so never mind the engineering issues), will cease to agree when they move apart. Their version of "now" will no longer match.
It's hard to fathom, but physicists say it's what the equations show, it's incontrovertible, it's just that kind of universe. This time-altering effect is so infinitesimally small that it has no impact on ordinary life, but over cosmic distances the effect can be significant. To Greene, the logical conclusion is that our sense of "now" is a psychological seduction. Sure, you might think that the moment you're in, at this very moment, is the true, correct, unassailable, authentic now, but for gosh sakes you thought the same thing 10 minutes ago and will think the same thing in 10 minutes.
The past is real, the future is real. "The whole thing is real," Greene says on the street corner.
CHINA AND JAPAN HAVE ALWAYS TREATED KOREA AS THEIR POODLE, sometimes fighting each other for rights of primacy. A contemporary situation results in Chinese abuse of North Korean women.
She recounted how, with few provisions, she made her way to a safe house described by a friend in North Korea. Rather than offering her shelter, however, the owners of the house presented her to a middle-age Chinese farmer for inspection. He gave her the once-over, examining her face and slim body before going off into a corner to haggle over a price for her as a concubine. The woman, who had already suffered years of beatings by her husband, said she fled in panic, seeking refuge in the home of a nearby Chinese couple. They later sold her into a humiliating and violent life inside a hostess bar, where men pay to be entertained by women.
"I was helpless; I had no money, I didn't speak Chinese, and I had my daughter to support," said Young, who agreed to an interview in Seoul on condition that only her first name be used. "If you are a North Korean woman crossing the border, it's almost impossible to survive without being abused or sold. It happens to almost all of us, because they know we are vulnerable."
Running from harsh conditions under the totalitarian government in Pyongyang, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 North Korean refugees are now living illegally in China, roughly half of them women, according to missionary and other religious-oriented groups working in the area. While many North Korean men end up finding jobs as cheap laborers, South Korean government officials and human rights groups say the vast majority of the North Korean women are sold into temporary or long-term service as sexual slaves or suffer other kinds of sexual or physical abuse, often inside entertainment clubs.
While female refugees across the world remain at high risk of abuse or exploitation, the North Korean women are extraordinarily vulnerable, aid groups say. The Chinese government has refused to grant the North Koreans official status as refugees, largely based on Beijing's traditional ties to Pyongyang, as well as fears that such a designation would dramatically boost the already steady influx over the border.
Without organized refugee camps or access to assistance from such international bodies as the United Nations, the North Korean women have no safety net. Though the primary targets are single women or unaccompanied wives, even married female refugees traveling with their husbands are occasionally forced into sexual servitude -- either with or without their spouse's consent, aid groups and the refugees say.
Roh's opponents -- who were thwarted Thursday as lawmakers loyal to Roh physically took over the speaker's podium at the National Assembly -- claimed to have secured more than the 181 votes needed to approve the first ever impeachment of a South Korean president. A Roh supporter, among hundreds in Seoul who demonstrated in favor of the president, set himself ablaze to protest the proceedings. They were ultimately suspended with opponents vowing to reconvene the 273-member National Assembly for a vote on Friday.
The longer-term upside is that it's a fine thing to see South Korea engaged in vigorous democratic politics, even considering the corruption, class war, and turmoil; not long ago in my lifetime, South Korea was an oppresive authoritarian dictatorship, busily engaged in mass shootings and repression of students and anyone else who objected. No matter the current problems, they're a vast improvement.
I PRAISE CONSERVATIVES NOW. William F. Buckley, profoundly Catholic, writes on Gibson's Passion:
The film depends, then, on the objectification of the victim as — Jesus of Nazareth; but even then, the story it tells is a gross elaboration of what the Bible yields.
Consider Matthew: "And when [Pilate] had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified." "Then they spat on Him and took the reed and struck Him on the head." Luke: "I will therefore chastise Him and release Him"-Luke records that the soldiers "mocked" him. And John: "So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him." "And they [the soldiers] struck him with their hands."
What Gibson gave us in his Passion is the most prolonged human torture ever seen on the screen. It is without reason, and by no means necessarily derivative from the grand hypothesis that, after all, the crucifixion was without reason, as Pontius Pilate kept on observing. One sees for dozens of minutes soldiers apparently determined to flog to death the man the irresolute procurator had consented merely to "chastise."
But, what the hell, make up your own Scripture; that's not, like, blasphemous or anything. Or so I hear.
I have been known to regard as, and call, former Republican Representative of Georgia Bob Barr a "loon." Because at times he has been. But.
Bob Barr doesn’t like the idea of a constitutional amendment. As the author of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which made federal recognition of same-sex marriages illegal and said states had the right not to recognize gay marriages performed in other states, the former Georgia congressman is one of gay marriage's most outspoken opponents. But Barr sees a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage as an affront to federalism and states' rights. He spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Jonathan Darman from Atlanta. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: You authored the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, but you’ve come out against an amendment to the constitution banning same-sex marriage. Why is that?
Bob Barr: Because I believe very strongly in federalism and that is that the federal government should not be stepping in and dictating social policy to the states. The Defense of Marriage Act was crafted very narrowly. Despite very strong pressure to make it a proactive piece of legislation, I crafted it very narrowly simply to define marriage for federal-law purposes and to make sure that states were protected to make up their own mind. And I continue to believe that that is the best policy.
President Bush apparently does not agree. He’s said that there should be a constitutional amendment on this issue because “even if the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld [by the Supreme Court], the law does not protect marriage within any state or city.” That sounds like he’s saying the federal government needs to amend the constitution so that no state or city can, at some point in the future, allow gay marriage, even within its own borders. Does that concern you?
It doesn’t concern me, but I don’t think it reflects my philosophy. My philosophy is that the people are the kind of protection that we need in this country, and for those in this country such as myself who are opposed to same-sex marriages, if we have failed to convince a majority of the population of that, to me, you don’t turn to the constitution and amend that sacred document simply to help buttress your argument.
Bob Barr has also spoken out frequently in recent years on doubtful and questionable aspects of the PATRIOT Act and other recent federal laws; he has often looked questionably at laws and decisions that lessen our constitutional rights; he is now a consultant to the watchdog of our constitutional rights, the American Civil Liberties Union.
He remains not just a staunch conservative -- and what is more conservative than guarding our Constitution? -- but an outspoken voice for conservative values, many of which I disagree with, such as those regarding homosexuality. Barr and I will continue to have many disagreements, but I applaud him, and I respect him, emphatically, for his principles, his adherence to constitutional values, and his work in defence of them.
Read The Rest Scale on both pieces: 2.5 out of 5 as interested.
ARAB KNESSET MEMBERS, THE FIRST KNESSET, AND PATHS. as well as allied topics are addressed by Jonathan Edelstein. Hey, I could have written this post, but my head is occupied with more important matters! (Seriously, although I have written considerably on this topic over the years, Jonathan arguably does a better job than I, and it's an excellent, excellent post, and, as always, so is the rest of his excellent blog.)
What it also brings to mind, when considering the contribution of Arab Israelis to the Israeli state, are those bloggers who, in their enthusiastic defense of Israel, and zeal in that task, and utterly understandable rage at anti-semitism and over the Jews killed in the intifada, over-step legitimate fear and anger and slide into referring to Palestinian as "these people," or ask why "these people deserve a state?," and otherwise speak of Palestinians, too often, as "these people."
As if "Palestinians" were a monolithic, homogeneous (and all hateful) mass.
Generally we look askance at those who make characterizations of a group of people as "these people" or "those people" and who assert that "they're all alike."
There's a good reason for that.
I wish all bloggers would consider that before venting their understandable anger, fear, and resistance to Jews being attacked. It's the Jewish thing to do.
EVERYONE'S A DRAMA CRITIC. The Archbishop of Canterbury reviews the play of Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials at the National Theatre in Britain, and likes it very much.
In the interval of the second part of His Dark Materials, I found myself surrounded by a lively school party from Essex wanting to know what I thought of it so far. Was I shocked? No. But wasn't it about killing God? Yes - but which God is it who gets killed?
I read the books and the plays as a sort of thought experiment: this is, after all, an alternative world, or set of worlds. What would the Church look like, what would it inevitably be, if it believed only in a God who could be rendered powerless and killed, and needed unceasing protection?
Overall, the stage version is a near-miraculous triumph. It may well end up with Brook's Midsummer Night's Dream or Nicholas Nickleby as one of those theatrical experiences that justifies the whole enterprise of live theatre in our day.
This Archbishop bloke seems to be a bit of a thinker, actually.
The most frequent bones, accounting for more than one third of the total, belong to the largest animal available to Easter Islanders: the common dolphin, weighing up to 165 pounds. That's astonishing: nowhere else in Polynesia do dolphins account for even as much as one percent of the bones in middens. The dolphin generally lives out to sea, hence it could not have been hunted by line-fishing or spear-fishing from shore. Instead, it must have been harpooned far off shore, in big seaworthy canoes built from the now-extinct tall trees. Fish bones and shellfish occur in the middens but in only modest quantities, because Easter's rugged coastline and the steep drop-off of the ocean bottom provide few places to catch fish or shellfish in shallow water. To compensate, there were those abundant sea birds plus the land birds.
Comparison of early garbage deposits with late prehistoric ones or with conditions on modern Easter Island reveals big changes in those initially bountiful food sources. Porpoises, and open-ocean fish like tuna, virtually disappeared from the islanders' diet. The fish that continued to be caught were mainly inshore species. Land birds disappeared completely from the diet, for the simple reason that every species became extinct from some combination of overhunting, deforestation, and predation by rats introduced accidentally as stowaways in the colonists' canoes. This was the worst catastrophe to befall Pacific island birds, surpassing even the record on New Zealand and Hawaii, where, to be sure, the moas and most flightless geese became extinct, but many other species managed to survive. No Pacific island other than Easter ended up without any native land birds. Of the twenty-five or more formerly breeding sea bird populations, overharvesting and rat predation brought the result that only one now breeds on Easter itself. Even shellfish were overexploited, so that shell sizes in the middens decreased with time because of preferential overharvesting of larger individuals.
The giant palm and all the other now-extinct trees disappeared for half a dozen reasons that we can document or infer. Identified tree charcoal fragments from ovens prove directly that trees were being burned for firewood. Trees were being cleared for gardens, because most of Easter's land surface ended up being used to grow crops. From the early midden abundance of bones of open-ocean porpoises and tuna, we infer that big trees were being felled to make seaworthy canoes; the frail, leaky little watercraft seen by early European visitors would not have served for harpooning platforms or venturing far out to sea. Trees furnished the timber and rope not only for transporting and erecting statues, but undoubtedly for a multitude of other purposes. The introduced rats "used" the palm tree and doubtless other trees for their own purposes: every Easter palm nut that has been recovered shows tooth marks from rats gnawing on it and would have been incapable of germinating. From several types of archaeological evidence, we deduce that the clearing of forests began soon after human arrival, reached its peak around 1400, and was virtually complete by dates that varied locally between the early 1400s and the 1600s.
The overall picture for Easter is the most extreme example of forest destruction in the Pacific, and among the most extreme in the world: the whole forest gone, and all of its tree species extinct. Immediate consequences for the islanders were losses of raw materials, losses of wild-caught foods, and decreased crop yields.
Raw materials lost or else available only in greatly decreased amounts consisted of everything made from native plants and birds, including wood, rope, bark to manufacture bark cloth, and feathers. Lack of large timber and rope brought an end to the transport and erection of statues, stopped the construction of seagoing canoes, and left people without wood for fires to keep themselves warm during Easter's winter nights of wind and driving rain at a temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Instead, after 1650 the islanders were reduced to burning herbs, grasses, and crop wastes for fuel. There would have been fierce competition for the remaining woody shrubs, among people trying to obtain thatching and small pieces of wood for houses, implements, and bark cloth.
Most sources of wild food were lost. Without seagoing canoes, the bones of porpoises, tuna, and pelagic fish vanished from middens by 1500. The numbers of fishhooks and fish bones in general also declined, leaving mainly just fish species that could be caught in shallow water or from the shore. Land birds and wild fruits vanished from the list, sea birds were reduced to relict populations, and the shellfish consumed became fewer and smaller. The only wild food source whose availability remained unchanged was rats.
In addition to those drastic decreases in wild food sources, crop yields also decreased, for several reasons. Deforestation led locally to soil erosion by rain and wind, as shown by huge increases in the quantities of soil-derived metal ions carried into Flenley's swamp sediment cores. Other damages to soil that resulted from deforestation and caused lower crop yields included desiccation, nutrient leaching, and reduced rainfall. Farmers found themselves without most of the wild plant leaves, fruit, and twigs that they had been using as compost.
Those were the immediate consequences of deforestation and other human environmental impacts. The further consequences were starvation, a population crash, and a descent into cannibalism.
Oral traditions of the islanders are obsessed with cannibalism; the most inflammatory taunt that could be snarled at an enemy was "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth."
Myself, I blame environmentalists. They're wacky, you know.
Gotta remember that last quote, though.
Read The Rest Scale: 3.5 out of 5 if interested. The sociology of the islanders, the effect upon their politics, the military results, and their own destruction of their own clan-status-proving statutes, is actually what I find far and away most interesting.
WHERE'S WALDO? I find two things of particular interest in this layout of the West Wing.
One is the Vice-President's office, #8. While it's hardly surprising in this White House, I'm curious to confirm whether this is, indeed, the first time the Veep has had a first-floor West Wing office; Al Gore didn't, did he?
Two is this:
West Wing Basement
* Melissa Bennett, Special Assistant to the President for Appointments and Scheduling
* Brett Kavanaugh, Assistant to the President and Staff Secretary
* Karin Torgerson, Special Assistant to the President and Associate Staff Secretary
* Eric Draper, Director of Photography
* Paul Morse, Deputy Director of Photography
* Gen. John Gordon, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security
* Dr. Richard Falkenrath, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor
* Brian Montgomery, Deputy Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
* Colleen Litkenhaus, Special Assistant to the President for Management and Administration
That the President who is running almost on the single-issue of homeland-protection/national security (and tax cuts!) keeps the Homeland Security advisors down in the basement, along with the equally important White House Photography crew.
But I'm sure the Homeland Security folks have clout at least equal to the photographers, so this indication of their White House status shouldn't make anyone feel unsafe.
TASK FORCE 121, much discussed, gets more publicity here.
Task Force 121, which also helped to capture Saddam Hussein under McRaven's command, represents something brand-new in warfare, a pure hybrid of civilian intelligence and military striking power. It is the most ambitious melding yet of CIA assets, Special Forces (mainly the Army's Delta Force) and the Air Force. Formed late last year as part of Joint Special Operations Command—the secret "black ops" under Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who until recently was deputy operations director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—it is designed to produce a lightning-fast reaction should intel locate bin Laden or any other "high-value targets" anywhere for a few hours. It's a work in progress: CIA Director George Tenet meets frequently with Gen. John Abizaid, the head of Central Command, to nurture the marriage.
While the elusive terror chieftain hides in mountain caves and scurries along mule trails, Task Force 121 "bytes" away at him and his chief deputy, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, with the best the Information Age has to offer. Using powerful software called Analyst's Notebook, which helps to piece together data on criminal and terror networks—Special Forces command just ordered up more copies—military and intelligence officials are increasingly confident they are narrowing bin Laden's whereabouts.
Ghul also yielded intel on bin Laden's position. Key to the search is "accumulated humint," or human intelligence, says one insider. Other officials tell NEWSWEEK that an increasing number of "data points"—reports of sightings—have created an ever-clearer picture of bin Laden's area of operation as he appears to shuttle between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Now they've focused that picture to the point where they have been able to send in Predator unmanned aerial vehicles to search for him.
I've posted a lot about 121, and had a post about Analyst's Notebook, before.
It's these sort of consistent reports for months that make me wonder why people keep asserting that bin Laden is dead based on nothing more than, so far as I've yet seen cited, wishful thinking.
I've left out the lede and following stuff on how Rear Admiral William H. McRaven, chews through steel bars, can beat up the Hulk, and does particle physics in his spare time -- or something close -- but there's other interesting stuff here if you're interested in covert stuff (it's so covert, you can read about it here). SOCOM: it's not just a video game!
PHILADELPHIA, March 9 — Among teenagers who pledged not to have sex before marriage, a majority did not live up to their vows, according to a national study reported here on Tuesday. The teenagers also developed sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as adolescents who had not made such pledges.
But a pledge to refrain from premarital sex, the researchers found, did tend to delay the start of sexual intercourse by 18 months.
Of the 12,000 teenagers included in the federal study, 88 percent of those who pledged chastity reported having had sexual intercourse before they married, Dr. Bearman said at a scientific meeting in Philadelphia on preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
The researchers tested the participants for three common sexually transmitted infections — chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis — and found that the rates were almost identical for the teenagers who took pledges and those who did not.
Yet the teenagers who had taken pledges were less likely to know they had an infection, raising the risk of their transmitting it to other people, said Dr. Bearman and Hannah Brückner of Yale University, the other author of the report.
McCain said he would consider the unorthodox step of running for vice president on the Democratic ticket — in the unlikely event he received such an offer from the presidential candidate.
"John Kerry is a close friend of mine. We have been friends for years," McCain said Wednesday when pressed to squelch speculation about a Kerry-McCain ticket. "Obviously I would entertain it."
But McCain emphasized how unlikely the whole idea was.
"It's impossible to imagine the Democratic Party seeking a pro-life, free-trading, non-protectionist, deficit hawk," the Arizona senator told ABC's "Good Morning America" during an interview about illegal steroid use. "They'd have to be taking some steroids, I think, in order to let that happen.
Unlike some other Republican senators, he hasn't railed against Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran. McCain called the Kerry-Bush contest "the nastiest campaign so far that we have seen" and said he preferred campaigning for candidates instead of against their opponents.
I'd give so much to see this happen. I'm a "free-trading, non-protectionist, deficit hawk" more-or-less-Democrat, and since the President doesn't have the power to repeal Roe. V. Wade, and I wouldn't expect President McCain (assuming President Kerry dropped dead of a cold somewhere next February) to apply a litmus test to SCOTUS appointments -- certainly not more than President Bush would, at worst -- I'd be thrilled to see this team rocket to victory.
ON THE RECORD. Journey back with me, friends, to two years ago this week.
NEW YORKS OF THE MIND: Justin Slotman points out, with little comment, via Amy Wellborn, the Richard Roeper piece on the curious phenomenon of people leaving tributes to the dead at the "New York-New York" casino in Las Vegas.
For six months now, tourists have been leaving candles and shirts and greeting cards and flowers on the "shores" of New York-New York's ersatz harbor.
To me, this makes about as much sense as picketing the Aladdin because of its Middle Eastern theme.
My reaction is more mixed than Roeper's. It certainly strikes one as odd on first glance, and my immediate reaction, like Roeper's, is to feel that it is as faux a response as the model "city" is.
But, really, I doubt anyone made a trip from their home town to go to the casino just to pay homage to the victims of September 11th; rather, surely they happen to be in Las Vegas, and while there, they visit that casino, and can't help but think of the true New York.
And that's perfectly normal, and as real a reaction as any. So, while there, on that spot, why not make a gesture towards the tragedy? Nothing wrong, or even odd, about that, in my book.
Where I agree thoroughly with Roeper is in regard to the commercialization of responding to September 11th, as I've said before; I reject the sale of commercial objects of "tribute" to the victims.
I don't feel that buying a tee-shirt, or a cap, or a sticker, or a flag, or any other "commemorating" object is a meaningful response, and I do feel, strongly, that it in fact is a deeply cheapening response to the horror. And though I'm for capitalism, I don't think anyone should be making any sort of profit whatsoever in producing such items, and, as I've said before, I think they should be outright condemned and boycotted, and I wish this sentiment were more widespread.
Blood money is blood money, and it sickens me that people can persuade themselves that it's moral to profit from the deaths of others, just as it sickens me to see people profiteer over claiming an association of their product with patriotism.
Anyone who wants to tell me that my feelings that no one -- not car salesmen, tchochke sellers, or politicians -- should exploit the images -- mark my words, images, not issues -- of September 11th is a "manufactured" or "false" or "partisan" opinion is incorrect.
Here is what I said (typos corrected) in comments to Andrew Olmsted:
"... but none of us has the right to claim it as only ours."
That's the objection to Republicans using the day as a political issue.
I'm slightly of mixed-mind on the subject, actually. On the one hand, there's a valid point to be made that there are crucial policy issues revolving around September 11th (duh!), and that, of course, it's inevitable that some of the issues become political issues. I think that's inarguable and legitimate.
On the other hand, Bush initially took the (wise, and also politically astute) position that September 11th should be one of those issues that the parties don't use as a political football, that it was akin to the notion occasionally adhered to in American political history of certain politics stopping at the water's edge, that there are some things both parties can agree upon and choose to treat in a non-partisan way.
He and his party pretty quickly dropped that stance, and began milking the hell out of images and references to September 11th in fund-raising and other political support-raising.
I think it's utterly legitimate for he and his mates (and anyone else) to argue in a political way the virtues and faults of any policy issues related to September 11th.
What I feel pretty disgusted by -- and as best as I can tell, not, in this case, because I'm so negative about Bush or inclined to favor Democrats in many issues, though I agree I'm quite biased -- is the use of September 11th imagery in advertisements, be they political or for non-political tchochkes, or to sell cars or anything else. This applies to Democrats using images of the towers crashing down, or to real estate developers, or whomever.
That seems reasonable to me, but I'm open to having any blind spots on my part pointed out.
"Out of curiosity, Gary, would you object to the Democrats using the September 11 attacks as a political issue?"
As I tried to explain -- I feel precisely the same about how the Republicans, Democrats, or car salesmen choose to use September 11th.
I think it's completely legitimate for Bush and Kerry to run ads saying their post-9/11 policies are better, safer, wiser, will build strong children twelve ways, and has special brightening.
I don't want them to use pictures of the WTC or Pentagon, because I think that's different from discussing policy. Policy is legit, and self-touting is legit, and tearing down the other guy is legit. Using pictures of dead people to sell your policies is, in my book -- and I recognize this is a personal position, not some sort of Objective Law -- not legitimate. Whover does it, including the Democrats.
So, no, I don't want to see those pictures in a Democratic ad. Stress, pictures. (Or voice recordings.)
As a tangential, separable, point, I don't think it's helpful to political debate to emotionalize it in the intensified way that use of pictures or recordings of mass death powerfully does. That's not my reason for objecting, but it's a secondary benefit. I think it's obvious that getting further outraged, angered, horrified, whatever, by the issue doesn't make a policy discussion more, or less, correct on either side.
Sorry for the repetitions, but I'm taking the lazy way out. Anyway, I have spoken. Because I get ticked off when I read that no one can legitimately object to politicizing the imagery of dead people, that it's all "phony" and "partisan" and "manufactured." I'm such a phony I staged my opinion two years ago.
No. Don't do it, and you won't be accused of doing it. And don't confuse politicizing imagery with legimate debate on policy. Follow those rules and debate will be saner and fairer.
MONEY WANTS TO BE FREE. There will be those who say that this means that McCain-Feingold was meaningless and pointless.
But at least in this regard, they'd be flat wrong. Because the primary ill of money in politics (which is otherwise, obviously, inextricable) is quid-pro-quo or its cousin, "I'll do you a favor, knowing you've contributed big to me."
Use of 527s in this manner cuts that down significantly. It won't make all fund-raising invisible; far from it. But it does make the verifiability, in many, though not all, cases murkier, and that lessens the corrupting effect of the inevitable money.
It seems to me. Today.
And people are still free to give money to get their political message out, lessening (though not eliminating) the objection of those who feel that the right to give money is the right to be free (er, a First Amendment violation).
Read The Rest Scale: 2.5 out of 5 for political junkies.
THE DRAMA CRITICISM OF MICHAEL PORTILLO. I'm late to the party, I only just noticed. If you're not British, and need an explanation of who Portillo is, oh, go use Google; do I have to do all your work for you? I think not!
An eerie silence of anticipation falls over the theatre. There's no throat-clearing, no sweet wrappers, I swear people have stopped breathing. It's bizarre. The audience is frozen in suspense, waiting for how Alyson Hannigan will fake her orgasm. It's the moment everyone remembers from the movie When Harry Met Sally. She's going to show Harry that a woman making love is perfectly capable of play-acting to protect the frail male ego, and she makes her point by producing a wholly synthetic full-blown crescendo in a crowded cafe. That done, she smiles sweetly and returns to her food.
For the record, Hannigan (star of the movie American Wedding and sidekick to Buffy the Vampire Slayer) plays the scene with all the gusto of Meg Ryan's memorable screen performance. She's just as funny. Maybe we laugh even more because of all that pent-up breath longing for release (the audience's, I mean).
Hannigan's goofy naivety fits the role splendidly. She's beautiful to watch, graceful and light around the stage, her trajectory traced by the sheen of her long red hair. Her clothes, which scene by scene transport us from 1987 to 2000, are superb. Perry is at least as good. It's not easy on stage to carry the part with hilarious facial expressions as Billy Crystal did on screen. But Perry is a fine comedian and commands the stage confidently. They look great together: she petite, he tall and strong. The audience wants things to work out for this attractive couple. In the bedroom scene, Perry gets his kit off (to gasps from the theatre), and that will do the audience figures no harm.
And in the "small world" department, what was a film Perry co-starred in? Yes, that's right, the quite mediocre film of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
This is hidden in the pay archive, which is a shame; it's Portillo on David Hare's anti-train-privatization play, which makes the combination of reviewer and reviewed just Too Strange. The first lines:
Before the curtain went up on David Hare's play about Britain's railways, a chatty lady in the next seat said to me, more playfully than aggressively: "You're brave coming here. Your government butchered the railways."
CIA MIND-CONTROL SATELLITES SPYING ON YOU?Sue them! Remember CIA station chief Janine Brooker? Possibly not, but I do. As the story says:
Brookner was a CIA spy for 23 years. Then, in the early 1990s, her superiors accused her of being a drunken "sexual provocateur." She denied the charges and sued the CIA for sex discrimination in a case that garnered widespread publicity. And she won: The agency paid her $410,000.
She used the money to go to law school. Now, she's a Washington lawyer who specializes in suing the government, particularly the CIA. And she has just published "Piercing the Veil of Secrecy," a book for folks who want to fight intelligence agencies.
"It basically tells people that they can sue the CIA -- and how to do it," she says
OH, DOLOROUS. Rebecca Lesses, professor of Jewish Studies, points out that THE DOLOROUS PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, by Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), the book from which Mel Gibson seems to have gotten most of his ideas about the Passion is online in its entirety.
From my brief glance at the book, it seems to me that a good deal of the horror film atmosphere comes from Emmerich's book (and certainly not from the Gospels).
IT'S AMAZING WATCHING A MASTER PRESS SECRETARY try, by dint of sheer repetition, to mislead and give the impression that he'd covered one issue ("will the President testify for over an hour?"), by repeating tangential points ("the President looks forward to meeting with the chairman and vice chairman and answering all the questions that they want to raise") for an hour).
THE LIBERTARIAN PURITY TEST has been linked to by many bloggers, and it exposes a different mindset from mine.
Not because it's libertarian. Because it's simple-minded.
Somewhere between a third and a half of the questions I find answerable. But the rest simply aren't, to my worldview, yes-or-no questions.
Are taxes too high?
Which taxes? For who?
Is government spending too high?
Some yes, some no.
Should we relax immigration laws?
Some, yes; I don't know enough about others.
Should the military budget be cut?
There are always items worth cutting, and others worth boosting.
If it has to fight a war, should the U.S. try harder to avoid civilian targets?
Try harder than when? By what means, up to what point?
Theoretically, one can always do better, but there actually also is a point of not just diminishing returns but unreasonable diminishing returns.
Should taxes be cut by 50% or more?
Which taxes? Some yes, some no.
You get the idea. I don't understand clearly how one can answer many of these questions as a simple "yes" or "no" without being extraordinarily, counter-productively, non-usefully, simple-minded. I mean no offense by this; if any who see things differently can explain your alien minds to me, I'd be grateful.
Since the test doesn't force answers, by not answering many questions, my result is 14:
6-15 points: You are starting to have libertarian leanings. Explore them.
With just two more points, I'd be:
16-30 points: You are a soft-core libertarian. With effort, you may harden and become pure.
STRAIGHT EYE FOR THE GAY AD FIGURE. It's past acceptable to use -- gasp -- gay people in general advertising to the mass culture.
"But for all the letters that said, 'You support gays,' we got tons saying, 'Thank you for making everyone welcome at Chili's,' " said Jill Beerman, vice president and account director at GSD&M, part of the Omnicom Group. "It was kind of a good thing."
GEORGIA ON MY MIND. Former Soviet Georgia, that is.
Quite interesting piece looking at the "revolution of roses," Georgian culture, Dmanisi hominids, Abkhazia, UNOMIG, and related odd topics.
You've probably read so much about the Georgian revolution you're sick to death of it.
Okay, maybe not. Maybe you're like most folk, and only paid passing attention, if that, to it. Even if you've read a fair amount, I'd recommend this (long -- because you know my favorite kinds of pieces are long and interesting -- but only if they're interesting) piece by Neal Ascherson.
'The table is full, the wall is painted, the space is filled with voices!' Zurab was talking. We were in a Mexican-Japanese restaurant in Tbilisi, ending a heavy night. Bottles and dishes crowded the table; the diners were even gaudier than the d?cor; over the blast of the band came the voice of Georgia's richest brewer yelling at his bodyguards. 'I'm talking about Georgia,' Zurab shouted. God, not more Kakheti red wine?
A thin young woman with an escort of men in black leather jackets came over to give him a kiss. 'Know who that was? Edward Shevardnadze's granddaughter. She's in TV news. And you know who directed that fantastic shot - the look on Shevy's face as Misha Saakashvili burst into the parliament chamber with the crowd: the disbelief, the fear, the sag? She did. Her own grandfather.'
Emptiness is what Georgians hate, whether in the form of darkness, hunger, isolation or silence. What is life worth if the table is too bare to feed strangers, or if the wall is blank white with no blaze of mad political posters and graffiti, or if women don't push away their empty plates and start singing, or if the world stops talking about Georgia? But this time is anything but empty. For one thing, the lights are on in Tbilisi and the heating works.
Mikheil Saakashvili is 36 years old, dark and already a bit joufflu, wildly talkative and often indiscreet. His own rhetoric is ebullient. He will break down Georgia's monstrous corruption, bring order to the chaos of state finances, set the nation on a course towards the European Union, get rid of the Russian military bases, deal (we don't yet know how) with the ten-year-old secession of Abkhazia. At the presidential election on 4 January (clean, barring irregularities described by foreign observers as 'frequent but not systematic'), he got 97 per cent of the votes on an 83 per cent turnout. Everybody wants to share his optimism, and to believe in their own vaulting expectations. But Georgians have seen a lot of false dawns. Their deepest expectation, currently repressed, is that their expectations will be disappointed. They talk lovingly about 'our baby president' and his pretty Dutch wife, Sandra, who has learned Georgian. But they want to see results as well as words.
The 'revolution of roses' on 22 November was a hybrid of spontaneity and careful preparation. Georgians remain furious about an article in the Guardian which described it as a Western-organised coup, 'a well-planned drama starring Saakashvili from American casting', in which the people of Georgia were no more than extras or guests at a gigantic street party. So was it no more than 'regime-change lite', a portable recipe for installing pro-Western governments which had been financed by George Soros and field-tested in Belgrade? That is a travesty. Most revolutions are just such a mix of well-trained activists and crowds joining street demonstrations, events which involve relatively few people in a capital city but which are then overwhelmingly endorsed by millions who were not present. The lessons of the storming of the Serbian parliament were closely studied by Saakashvili and his friends and advisers, and they counted on the diplomatic support of the West before and after they acted. But the revolutions of 1848, and some of those in 1989, were little different. First the handful in a city centre, then the hesitating masses. Wasn't it a Georgian peasant who told a pollster: 'Of course I support the opposition - from the moment they get into power'?
And the November rebels were taking real risks. Political change without violence is rare in Georgia. This was the first bloodless revolution in Tbilisi, a city which has been burned down forty times in its history. The demonstrations in April 1989 ended when 23 people, most of them women, were butchered on the parliament steps by Soviet special troops wielding sharpened spades (the horrible tool used to suppress revolts in the Gulag). The declaration of independence in 1991 was followed by a putsch and two weeks of heavy fighting in the city centre. When Saakashvili and his followers burst though the parliament doors in November he was wearing a flak jacket under his coat, but it was a red rose, not an AK-47, that he flourished in front of him.
Admittedly, to call the Dmanisi site 'the cradle of the Europeans' is pushing it. Politicians may rejoice at the phrase, especially in France, where President Chirac is said to be ardent about 'proto-European' Dmanisi, but palaeontologists turn slightly pale.
The UN helicopter swings out over the Black Sea on its journey to Sukhumi, to avoid flying over the troubled border region of Gali where there is still occasional gunfire. The Abkhaz coast appears, fringed with palms, oleanders and groves of eucalyptus trees planted long ago by the Russians to dry out the malarial marshes. Behind the coastline lies a bank of woolly cloud. And suddenly, halfway up the sky, emerge the dazzling silver peaks of the High Caucasus. Part of Abkhazia's problem is that too many people love it.
For Russians and for Georgians, this coast has been emotionally 'theirs', the place of long, delicious summers far from mud and snow and bureaucracy. Tsarist generals retired to build Palladian beach resorts at Gagra or Sukhumi; the Soviet nomenklatura built enormous white villas at Pitsunda or Gudauta; generations of Georgians came here to spend family holidays, fall in love, write books and discover the beauty of a land they regarded as an extension of Georgia. In the few towns and along the seaside, the languages heard were Russian or Georgian. If the visitors were aware of the Abkhazians at all, they thought of them as a picturesque race of free villagers, speaking a strange North Caucasian tongue and living up in the foothills.
He went on: 'We sometimes forget that the Abkhazians are afraid, just as we are afraid. They too see themselves as victims of greater powers. Some people there think that Georgia is backward and stagnant, and that a future with Russia is more promising. But others no longer believe that Georgia will exterminate them; they see how they have been manipulated by Russia, and there is a small group which has come to think that a new relationship with Georgia might maintain their identity whereas Russia would obliterate it. Unfortunately, there has been a stupid, irresponsible, chauvinistic elite in Georgia which has never grasped that the nation has genuine problems with minorities. If the Abkhazians are afraid of us, it is not without grounds.'
This is a problem repeated around the world and throughout history. The US has had, and still has, threads of its own variety. I don't mean just blindness regarding minorities, but more the general case of not recognizing that good intentions in many areas, particularly foreign policy, do not necessitate good results, and that the lacking result of gratitude is not always entirely unjustified.
'Let's drop in on my son-in-law after the theatre, and have a quick cup of tea,' a friend suggested. At three in the morning I was still receiving and proposing toasts over the remains of a colossal meal, while two ladies, leaning on their elbows and smiling into one another's eyes, sang in harmony about love and loss.
Next day we visited a bookshop, and then the little car suddenly spun across the road and began to head for the countryside. But in less than an hour I was supposed to be interviewing somebody in town. 'Where are we going?' The three women in the car burst into delighted laughter. 'We are going from authoritarianism towards democracy!' When we finally stopped, it was at a transport caf? near Mtskheta, where I was taught how to eat khinkali dumplings without squirting the juice over my trousers.
Enough of this book larnin'! I gotta get me some khinkali dumpling learning!
SNIFFLE. I can't say I was delighted to find that Matthew Yglesias' new look for his blog, whatever else its merits -- and I like it very much -- dropped me (and many others) from his blogroll.
Matthew's blogroll was always quite small (intimate), and I cherished my place on it for several reasons, not the least of which being that he at some point became the most prominent "liberal" blog linking to me.
At this point, the number of the Big Name Leftish blogs that have, having had me on their link list for some period of time or other, now dropped me, is starting to become a joke. Calpundit, Tom Tomorrow, Pandagon.net.... (One blog goes unmentioned because it's a personal situation, if one I still don't understand.)
And, of course, I thrill many of my more rightish readers by constantly knocking President Bush and the Republican leadership, and, while I'm rather all over the map in an eclectic way, depending upon the issue, I'm distinctly more on the lefty-liberal side than not.
Which makes it strange that I nonetheless seem a bit more tolerated by some of the more, um, emphatic rightish bloggers, shall we say, whereas much of the rest of the top lefty pantheon finds me either insufficiently pure or, perhaps, simply too uninteresting or irrelevant (I'm not mad at Matt for dropping me; I only post sporadically on politics, and I expect he finds my frequent streams of posts on pop-cultural stuff like science fiction, comics, and movies, boring at best).
Oh, well, I shall struggle on, manfully, just as I survived not getting a single vote in the Koufax Awards. Somehow. Because, tomorrow is another day!
HIS FANTASTIC MATERIALS. Michael Chabon writes a stirring defense of fantasy whilst examining the best-selling work of Philip Pullman, which, for no particular reason, I've yet to get around to reading.
Pity those—adventurers, adolescents, authors of young adult fiction—who make their way in the borderland between worlds. It is at worst an invisible and at best an inhospitable place. Build your literary house on the borderlands, as the English writer Philip Pullman has done, and you may find that your work is recommended by booksellers, as a stopgap between installments of Harry Potter, to children who cannot (one hopes) fully appreciate it, and to adults, disdainful or baffled, who "don't read fantasy." Yet all mystery resides there, in the margins, between life and death, childhood and adulthood, Newtonian and quantum, "serious" and "genre" literature. And it is from the confrontation with mystery that the truest stories have always drawn their power.
Like a house on the borderlands, epic fantasy is haunted: by a sense of lost purity and grandeur, deep wisdom that has been forgotten, Arcadia spoilt, the debased or diminished stature of modern humankind; by a sense that the world, to borrow a term from John Clute, the Canadian-born British critic of fantasy and science fiction, has "thinned." This sense of thinning—of there having passed a Golden Age, a Dreamtime, when animals spoke, magic worked, children honored their parents, and fish leapt filleted into the skillet—has haunted the telling of stories from the beginning. The words "Once upon a time" are in part a kind of magic formula for invoking the ache of this primordial nostalgia.
But serious literature, so called, regularly traffics in the same wistful stuff. One encounters the unassuageable ache of the imagined past, for example, at a more or less implicit level, in American writers from Cooper and Hawthorne through Faulkner and Chandler, right down to Steven Millhauser and Jonathan Franzen. Epic fantasy distills and abstracts the idea of thinning—maps it, so to speak; but at its best the genre is no less serious or literary than any other. Yet epic fantasies, whether explicitly written for children or not, tend to get sequestered in their own section of the bookstore or library, clearly labeled to protect the unsuspecting reader of naturalistic fiction from making an awkward mistake.
As someone who has only read bits and pieces about Pullman's work, I can't speak to the accuracy of Chabon's insights into it. An unfortunate majority of this piece is made up of plot summary -- elegant, and quite interesting to this reader who is largely unfamiliar with Pullman's work, plot summary, but plot summary nonetheless, and plot summary is the least valuable element of a book review (believing the opposite is the classic neophyte book reviewer mistake).
But I found the piece well worth reading, and so I commend it, both to those like me, lacking first-hand experience with Pullman, and to those who might want to enjoy or disagree with Chabon's conclusions.
Rand Beers says he has taken two big risks in his life. The first was in Vietnam in May 1967 when, as a desk officer at a Marine command post, he extended his tour of duty on the condition he be given a frontline rifle company to lead. "I thought I was immortal," says Beers, now 61. He survived the experience and returned to Washington in the early 1970s to settle into a long, safe career as a national-security bureaucrat.
It was political cross fire, not real bullets, into which Beers stepped when he took his second big risk, nearly 40 years later. Last spring he quit his job as President Bush's senior assistant for counterterrorism and went to work as the top foreign policy and national-security adviser for John Kerry's presidential campaign. "I wanted to defeat George Bush," Beers says. He was convinced Bush had gone to war in Iraq too soon and had taken his eye off the global war on terrorism.
Such high-level side switching is almost unheard of in Washington and was an uncharacteristic gamble for Beers, whom colleagues describe as cautious and discreet. But he knew his value to the untested Kerry campaign, which rolled him out for high-profile interviews in which he detailed his criticisms of Bush. Beers also brought organizational skills to the Kerry team, creating a shadow national-security council that holds conference calls nearly every Monday at 4:30 p.m. to discuss everything from Iraq to North Korea, scrubbing campaign positions against Kerry's past Senate votes and clearing them for speechwriters and spokespeople.
Beers' Harvard faculty web page is here, but is minimally informative. I'm the opposite of a fan of Counterpunch, but it's worth noting that there is controversy about Beers' role as Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs from 1998 to 2002.
Read The Rest on any of this: 2 out of 5; but I'll be keeping an eye out for more clues to Beers' current policy stances.
Although director Peter Jackson wants to helm "The Hobbit," the prequel to the Oscar-winning "Rings" trilogy, legal issues are causing a delay. New Line Cinema has rights to make the movie, but MGM has the rights to distribute it, reports the AP.
"I guess MGM's lawyers and New Line's lawyers are going to have a huge amount of fun over the next few years trying to work it all out," says Jackson. "I'm obviously busy for a couple of years on 'King Kong' so those lawyers can just go at it for a long time."
"The Hobbit" centers on Bilbo Baggins, who finds the One Ring and has an uncomfortable, un-hobbitlike adventure across Middle Earth. Through his travels he comes across younger versions of "Rings" characters Gollum and Gandalf the Grey. An older Bilbo, played by Ian Holm, appears briefly in two of the "Rings" films.
Jackson says that he will want to maintain the same feel in "Hobbit" as in his award-winning trilogy.
"I'd want Ian McKellen to be back as Gandalf. I'd want it to feel like it was part of the same mythology that we've done with 'Lord of the Rings,'" Jackson says.
I don't mind waiting a couple of years. I just hope Ian McKellen stays well.
STUFF I'VE LIVED WITH SUCH A LONG TIME, it's hard to think of it as news, or worth blogging about, or anything but, sigh, again, there it is, Orson Scott Card, whose good (or mediocre or excellent; he's done it all) science fiction doesn't disappear because of his opinions on this, spilling said without being begged, on them thar homo-sexyuals.
In the first place, no law in any state in the United States now or ever has forbidden homosexuals to marry. The law has never asked that a man prove his heterosexuality in order to marry a woman, or a woman hers in order to marry a man.
Any homosexual man who can persuade a woman to take him as her husband can avail himself of all the rights of husbandhood under the law. And, in fact, many homosexual men have done precisely that, without any legal prejudice at all.
Ditto with lesbian women. Many have married men and borne children. And while a fair number of such marriages in recent years have ended in divorce, there are many that have not.
So it is a flat lie to say that homosexuals are deprived of any civil right pertaining to marriage. To get those civil rights, all homosexuals have to do is find someone of the opposite sex willing to join them in marriage.
That settles that, and also all those cases of people violating those older "miscegenation" laws.
Read The Rest Scale: as much as you have stomach for it, sigh. If you're not repelled by homosexuality, it is, alas, as ugly as Card's opinions on the topic always are, much as he has the language to dress it up.
Who hasn't noted a lot of damn smart people with, yet, damn fool, even disgusting, opinions? Friends, even.
If you answer "no," you're not me, and have had a very different life. And OSC has never been my friend.
Scott Card makes, along the way, some good points. I suppose one isn't suppose to say that in a Great Debate. But the fact that he's a damn smart guy, who has some correct points, doesn't dismiss the point that he's ultimately wrong.
For instance, this is, shall we say, up for debate:
The dark secret of homosexual society -- the one that dares not speak its name -- is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.
ARNOLD. I'm not a booster of the Govern-ator. He'll likely propose deep cuts in social services I won't agree with. I'm quite sure we'll have other serious policy disagreements.
But I well recall the disdain European friends of mine cast on the notion that he could run for office, and be taken seriously. One good British friend of mine expressed astonishment that millions of Americans could "be as thick as pigshit...." There was more of the same.
Schwarzenegger's triumph at the polls Tuesday after a come-from-behind campaign that persuaded a wary electorate to back his financial recovery plan is the clearest sign yet of how his first months in office as a Republican in the awkward position of leading the nation's biggest Democratic bastion have become a political show of force.
Last fall, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California's Democratic eminence, denounced the recall vote that led to Schwarzenegger's election as a grave threat to democracy. A few days ago, she stood beside the governor at a campaign rally and lavished praise on him, saying that he "has brought a very strong breath of fresh air to this state."
Former governor Gray Davis (D), who was thrown out of office in the recall, once derided Schwarzenegger as a shallow actor campaigning only with "snappy one-liners," not substantive ideas. On Monday night, Davis made a chummy joint appearance alongside his successor on NBC's "Tonight Show With Jay Leno," and told the talk show host, "I think Arnold is off to a good start."
California voters, who have been in a bad mood ever since the state's giant economy went bust three years ago, sound no less enthusiastic about him. A survey by the Los Angeles Times last month showed the new governor with approval ratings topping 65 percent -- and even 50 percent of political liberals liking the job he's doing. He is the most popular politician in the state.
Schwarzenegger continually quotes his old movie lines and invokes images from his days as a champion bodybuilder -- "You're the greatest power lifters in the world," he told voters in his victory speech Tuesday night -- but that's about as outrageous as he gets.
He is governing with a pragmatic, bipartisan spirit, with relentless optimism, and in a dogged daily style that bears little resemblance to his former life as a pampered movie star, except that he jets between Sacramento and his Los Angeles mansion in his own plane.
"I think he's surprised people with his substance," said Mark Baldassare, the director of research for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. "He has surrounded himself with people who have solid credentials, he's reached out to the Democrats in power in the legislature, and the bipartisan coalition that he put together for the measures on the ballot Tuesday was very, very unusual in California."
Both measures, Propositions 57 and 58, won with landslide support. One will allow Schwarzenegger to borrow as much as $15 billion to refinance and repay California's staggering debts. The other will put new constitutional limits on state spending and impose a ban on precisely the kind of borrowing that Schwarzenegger intends to do now to spare the state from the looming threat of bankruptcy this summer.
Only a few weeks ago, passages of the measures appeared unlikely. Polls showed that only about one-third of voters were comfortable with such huge borrowing to escape the state's financial predicament -- a step that Schwarzenegger also had criticized when he campaigned for governor.
But he waged an intensive $10 million campaign that relied on his enormous celebrity, which draws crowds to every public appearance he makes, and the fervent support he cultivated from most of the state's top Democratic leaders. Feinstein went so far as to appear in television ads on behalf of Schwarzenegger's financial recovery plan.
"I give the governor huge credit," said Steve Westly, the Democratic state controller whom Schwarzenegger asked to help lead his campaign for the ballot measures. "Nothing gets done in Sacramento unless you bring coalitions together. He is incredibly easy to work with and very gracious."
Since he became governor, Schwarzenegger has brokered a billion-dollar budget compromise on school spending with the powerful California teachers union, which avidly backs many Democratic causes, but has also delighted GOP conservatives by refusing to raise taxes.
When he traveled to Wall Street last week to tout his financial plans and ask that California's rock-bottom credit rating be upgraded, he brought along one of the world's richest men, billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett -- who told the executives that Schwarzenegger's "bold" leadership reminded him of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
As I said, I expect to disagree with him on many issues. And, like all politicians, he'll inevitably come down in popularity and public estimation; it's just a question of how much, over what, and when.
But meanwhile the pigshit hypothesis, or the idea that Americans voting for him were stupidly blinded by reality tv shows, or duped into voting for him because of terminal stupidity, doesn't seem any better borne out today than in early October of 2003.