Saturday, October 14, 2006

NGC253 "silver dollar" galaxy Posted by Picasa

Captain Future's Log

Nobels for Nobility That Works

Any given year, there are dozens of people fully qualified to receive the Nobel Prize in their category. Especially of late, the prize committee has used the Nobel to make a point. It's that kind of extreme world. For example, writers whose work and life include political activism and the championing of human rights as well as free expression have been awarded the Literature prize in recent years. This year is no exception: it went to Orhan Pamuk, a novelist whose work chronicles real people confronting the clash of eastern and western civilizations. It comes a year after he was prosecuted for ‘denigrating the Turkish state.’ (A charge later dropped.)

(I picked up one funny item in this report in a Turkish newspaper prior to the award, which noted that Pamuk was the favorite but mentioned that last year's winner, British playwright Harold Pinter, was a surprise. They reported that judges are so secretive that they speak of contenders in code: the code words for Harold Pinter? Harry Potter.)

The Nobel Peace Prize this year is the most conspicuous example. First, the idea that the granting of seed money (sometimes literally) to poor people in Bangladesh is the supreme act of peace to be honored this year merits attention. Alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai Lama, there is now a former economics professor, Muhammad Yunus and the grandiose-sounding Grameen Bank, though he started it with loans of $27 to the very poor. This "microcredit" idea, still the work of this bank, has spread throughout the developing world.

These very small loans often make the difference to the families involved, from being barely subsistent and/or dependent on unscrupulous creditors who keep them in debt, to being autonomous. Here are some of the salient facts that have emerged: most of the loans go to women, and that alone has improved the status of women in the Third World. Most often the loans are promptly paid back. And the surplus money these families accrue goes most often into educating their children. (The PBS News Hour rebroadcast their excellent 2001 report on how this works.)

The message is crystal clear. Peace is about rising from imposed poverty, and being given a chance. Peace is about helping others, in creative, effective and very human ways. Social justice is the key to peace.
The Future of Iraq

As the savage killing continues in Baghdad, a new poll says that 75% of Americans want American troops to come home. The head of the British Army wants his troops to come home, echoing the thoughts of American generals revealed in Bob Woodward's book.

The situation in Iraq may be even worse than we know. Right now there is an American carrier group heading for the region, which some are interpreting as a sign that Bush intends to attack Iran as his October surprise. But could it be something else--like military support for a sudden withdrawl of American forces from Baghdad or other parts of Iraq, if the Iraqi government falls?

The spectre of a repeat of scenes from the fall of Saigon is just one of the resemblances of Iraqnam to Vietnam. The recent revelation that Henry Kissinger, a man whose existence proves the reality of zombies or perhaps vampires, has been a close advisor to Bush on Iraq only makes this even more surreal. The failure is being repeated-- once again the U.S. is prolonging a war it cannot win, with devastating political, geopoltical, economic and moral consequences.

As if to emphasize this, President Bush is going to Vietnam next month. Once (when young George Bush supported the war from the safe haven of a specially acquired National Guard spot), Vietnam was the place where our future was at stake, where good and evil were supposedly fighting to the death. If we lost Vietnam, the dominoes would fall and the zombie of Josef Stalin would be ruling over Indianopolis. We lost Vietnam. Nothing bad happened here as a direct consequence. The region did not become part of the Soviet bloc, or Chinese Communists, or anything else. Now the U.S. and Vietnam are major economic partners.

Some are beginning to look past the elections to the inevitable change needed in Iraq policy. The bipartisan commission chaired by James Baker, sometimes credited as the man who made Bush President for his management of the postelection Florida episode, is likely to be cover for a change.

What will happen? From an AP report that's mostly about how Bush's rationale for Iraqnam keeps changing:

Dan Benjamin, a former Middle East specialist with the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, said the administration is overemphasizing the nature of the threat in an effort to bolster support.

"I think the administration has oversold the case that Iraq could become a jihadist state," said Benjamin, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "If the U.S. were to leave Iraq tomorrow, the result would be a bloodbath in which Sunnis and Shiites fight it out. But the jihadists would not be able to seek power."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Morning Blog

A small item in the New Republic is likely to be making the news pundits head spin tonight. According to this, Karl Rove and the White House not only encouraged Mark Foley to run again for the House this year when he didn't want to, Rove told him his future career as a lobbyist depended on it.

This pops up as the House Ethics Committee and the media are circling around Dennis Hastert, with evidence that his key aide had a meeting about Foley's conduct three years ago.

Rove is also making news as excerpts from a new book become public, portraying him as being contemptuous of the religious right as he was nakedly using them for his political ends. I didn't see Keith's report last night, but I'm seeing Andy Griffith in my head.

The conservative South, with it many military bases and which likely bears more of the burden of war, has turned against the war in Iraq. According to a new poll specifically of Southern attitudes, Iraqnam is no longer has majority support. The numbers mirror the national disapprovals, and in some cases are strongly. Some 62% said they were "very sad" about the course of the war, most believe it was a mistake. But the real shock is the sentiment for total withdrawal from Iraq is slightly higher in the South than nationally.

This poll comes as American casualities are high, there is a controversial estimate that upwards of 600,000 Iraqis have died since the U.S. invasion, and the Army is planning on maintaining current troop levels through 2010.
The Hidden Threat to Democracy in America

Republican attempts to deny voters their vote, so important to their victories in this century, continue unabated by past exposure or present scandal. USA Today has a brief rundown of this year's new wrinkles in voter suppression. The article begins with a succinct statement of what's at stake: "Some of this year's elections could be decided by those who can't vote."

The problems range from official limits on registration efforts and laws that effectively deny the vote to minorities, to chaos in polling places because of disorganization, bleeding of resources, and poorly performing voting machines--all of which showed up in primary elections in September, setting off fresh alarms-- to outright fraud using electronic voting machines, which often enough seem expressly designed for that purpose.

Tests that show how easily some of these systems are to defraud, remotely and without a trace, as well as other machine difficulties have prompted a movement to pass a Let America Vote Act: Emergency Paper Ballot Mandate of 2006, so that a paper trail is mandated everywhere. Absent such a law, those voting in states with dubious machines and other problems are advised to vote by absentee ballot.

This stuff isn't making national headlines, though it is local news where it's happening, and national organizations are getting involved. How serious this all is to outcomes can be judged from the last paragraphs of an article about Senator John Kerry. The article's subject is whether he's going to run for President in 2008, but the last graphs are relevant to this election:

The Wall Street Journal notes the practical side of campaigning in so many states. Kerry "said he learned during his 2004 presidential bid the importance of having allies in state offices, particularly those that oversee elections."Said Kerry: "What's happening on the ground in those states can have a huge impact on the presidential races. It is fundamentally important in the case of the secretary of state offices as to whether votes will be counted and cast."

And there are candidates for secretary of state in some states who are running on this issue: to ensure the integrity of the vote and voting rights. Fortunately for me, one of the best--Debra Bowen--is running in my state of California.

There are elections still very close in the polls that could determine whether Congress remains Republican or not. It's in these elections that voter suppression and vote tampering can make a difference. If Republicans win when every poll shows immense voter discontent with them and their leadership and policies, this country may have to finally face the corruption of this basic system of democracy: voting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

sandhill cranes figure in Richard Powers' new
novel, The Echo Makers. Posted by Picasa

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Everything dances."

Richard Powers
We'll Take Apocalypse, if We Can Keep the Congress

With a new round of polls showing Bush and Republicans tanking-- 79% believe the Republicans valued political power over the welfare of young pages, only 13% believe Bush is telling the whole truth about Iraq, and all of 3% agree with Bush that the war is going well; Democrats now hold a whopping 23 point advantage in preference for Congress --it's not surprising that Bushites would seize on anything they could spin to their advantage. But North Korea exploding a nuclear bomb?

Despite the contention of one conservative pundit that the North Korean nuclear explosion is excellent news for Republicans, this enormously dangerous moment is all but entirely the responsibility of the Bush administration and its brain-dead policies. First of all, just as members of past and present Republican administrations, in their capacity as government officials and in the corporate sector, armed both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld helped North Korea acquire the nuclear technology that led to the bomb. As Heather Wokusch writes:

But for all the bluster, US punitive measures against North Korea have been less than consistent. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly threatened Pyongyang over developing its nuclear capabilities, yet failed to mention his own contribution: Rumsfeld was on the board of ABB, a company that sold hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment and services to North Korean nuclear plants. In another intriguing coincidence, despite his administration's slamming "axis of evil" nukes, in 2003 Bush requested $3.5 million for a consortium building nuclear reactors in North Korea.

From the start, the Bushites ignored the agreements and ended the ongoing successful negotiations conducted by the Clinton administration that had halted North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Bush invaded Iraq and named North Korea as one of the axis of evil nations. According to Selig Harrison, an expert on the region who has spoken at length with the most responsible North Korean officials, the regime concluded that the U.S. was a threat to try regime change there, and re-started an accelerated nukes program.

Harrison is among those who believe that North Korea would still give up its nukes if the U.S. would guarantee its security and offer badly needed economic help, but Bush has rejected direct negotiations, and he did so again Monday.

No one knows the real military capability of North Korea to launch nuclear weapons. Some say their test devices aren't suitable as weapons, and are too big for missiles. No one is quite sure how good their long-range missiles are, but if they work, they can reach the U.S.

The immediate threat is North Korea selling bombs or fissile material to terrorists, which would be nearly impossible to monitor, let alone stop, and has no known military solution. So by invading a nation that had no WMD, Bush has made a nuclear WMD attack on America much more possible.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has over 10,000 nuclear weapons and plans to build a new generation of them. We've apparently forgotten the hairtrigger that still separates us from thermonuclear annihilation. A study a few years ago found that the chances of accidental nuclear war between the U.S. and Russia is actually higher now than during the Cold War, and now experts warn that an American attack on Iraq with non-nuclear weapons could trigger an accidental nuclear war because Russia could easily misinterpret it as a nuclear strike on its homeland.

This is no academic exercise--war correspondent Chris Hedges is the latest observer to say that recent movements of American ships and forces strongly suggest that the Bushites are planning such an attack on Iran, possibly before the elections, and that the results will be apocalyptic.

But as long as Republicans retain power, it will all be worth it. And as Hedges and others allege, there are those within the Bush administration as well as among its most fervent supporters who might welcome such an apocalypse, as a scriptual fulfilment. Elected or the elect, it's all good. Delusional and powerful is not a safe combination.

The Daily Babble

Blogging and Writing: Little Ironies

On Monday, for the first time ever, this blog hosted more than 1,000 visitors. The total for two days is upwards of 1700. Wonderful news, huh? Not so much.

Almost all the hits were links from a post on This Modern World, and they were not to the current posts, not even to any of the hundreds of posts this year, the many thousands of words I've written here. They were to a photograph, posted about a year ago. According to what I can tell, few if any of these visitors stuck around to read anything other than the caption to that photo.

It remains to be seen if any of these visitors return. Probably not--I doubt that any even saw the name of the blog. It's an amusing little irony perhaps, but it's hard not to understand it as an odd way of emphasizing to me, after a year or so, how few readers this blog still has. This isn't the first time that it's occurred to me that I could be making better use of my time. I tell myself I do it mostly for my own purposes--for the fun of it sometimes, for the satisfaction of making something every day or so, to test and stretch, or even simply as an elaborate and time-consuming way of making notes and preserving links for future reference. And I know that over time, I am providing an online resource, that people can use for reference. Even if it's with a photograph.

But it's hard not to doubt my own judgment when it isn't shared. I don't usually follow news stories day to day, but I have recently, and I think my posts here compare favorably to other sites, both in timeliness, the quick selection of the important items and stories, and in the writing. I could be wrong about this, and the extent of my readership suggests that I am. But my problem isn't admitting the possibility of being wrong. It's that I don't know how to not be wrong--that is, what else I can rely on besides my own judgment.

Another story: I write a lot, and a lot of different kinds of writing for different purposes; although I always do my best, I usually have a strong idea of what turns out okay, what's not so great, and what's really good. The last two times I've written something for publication that I thought was really good--and naturally then had fantasies about it being recognized as such--editors made changes that led me to feel my work had been made much less good: from exceptional to pedestrian.

The effect of the first of those two was a surprise: an editor who failed to get to a long piece in a timely way caught me off guard with serious last minute changes that I couldn't focus on dealing with in the little time I had. Thinking that it wouldn't really matter that much to me, I complained but let it go. I was wrong. The changes did screw up the piece--in my judgment, but not only mine; and although not a lot of people compliment me on anything I publish these days, exactly nobody did for that piece. But what really surprised me was my own reaction. I felt mortified and ashamed. I did everything but hide in the house for the week it was still on the stands.

The second instance was this past Sunday--the same day as those many meaningless blog hits--when my review of Richard Powers' new novel appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. I'd felt that the last review I published there didn't turn out well . So I was determined to work harder on this one. Plus I really admire Powers and this novel, and I seldom get to review high-powered literary novelists anymore. When I finished it and sent it in, I was pretty happy with it. I thought I'd nailed it.

But when I read it in the paper I thought I must have been wrong. It didn't read as well. There are certain age related issues I worry about, such as declining vision which lets errors slip by that wouldn't have before, and I thought that once again I'd let awkward constructions and unmelodious sentences get by. But then I went back to the text as I wrote it and sent it, and I saw that the newspaper had made changes, small ones mostly, that screwed up the music, the flow, the precision and even the meaning. In one case, the change led to an inaccuracy. The changes didn't seem to all be for space (one added words), and there wasn't incorrect grammar to fix. I'm guessing that it was a young copy editor out to appear useful. But I don't know. (I wrote to my editor there--I've been doing reviews for him for years--and he said that I should have been sent the revised copy for my approval, and that in future I certainly would be. That used to be standard, and it's all I ask.)

In a way it was good to see that by my standards, my writing hadn't slipped. But in the judgment of somebody, my standards weren't correct. And now nobody (except those who find the review here on my book blog) will read what I actually wrote, but something deformed that neverthless appears under my name. (Actually, for the book blog appearance I restored a cut and moved a paragraph from the version I sent to the Chronicle.)

I probably shouldn't care about any of this, and on some Buddha level I don't. I did have the pleasures of reading this book, and two earlier Powers' novels over this lovely summer, just as I enjoy moments and people I meet covering stories, however they come out in print. And I realize that these little ironies point up more than the delusion of judgment, but the basic delusion that for good, bad and indifferent, rules this part of my life. It may even be alarming: Writing isn't about reality. Writing is my reality. But the basic and persistent problem is a basic and persistent problem of life and living--my function in the world, my place in any kind of community, the opportunities to explore potential, and share what I consider to be the best I have to give.

This opens the door to a plethora, a panoply, a Pandora's Box of related issues, which are better left. Which is where little ironies aren't so little anymore, although I have to admit, they remain ironic.


An essay on the first three episodes of the new Doctor Who second season...

and some reflections on these strange times in This North Coast Place

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ronni Moffit

While I was out and about, this blog got several hundred hits on Sunday directed from the This Modern World blog (which I read regularly, by the way.) The link was to a photo of Ronnie K. Moffit and a caption indicating that she was killed by a terrorist bomb on the streets of Washington D.C. in the fall of 1976.

For those who may have linked to the photo, and then hit "home" to arrive here, welcome to the Dreaming Up Daily--and here's the link to the writing that accompanied the photo. Just scroll on down past the photos.