Saturday, January 13, 2007

Comet McNaught, visible last week in many parts of the world. This photo
from Italy by Menardi. At
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R.I.P. Tillie Olsen

Her book of linked short stores, Tell Me A Riddle, is an American classic. In his book, The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination, Robert Coles writes about how these stories touched so many of his students of all backgrounds, particularly women. Olsen's nonfiction book, Silences, dealt with the barriers she and others experienced to writing they couldn't complete or publish, which includes self-censorship, with particular attention to the barriers to women writers. Olsen finally did publish some of the work that caused her so much trouble, as Yonnodio: From the Thirties. She'd been a union activist then. She died on New Year's Day in Oakland, CA, a couple of weeks shy of her 95th birthday.Posted by Picasa

R.I.P. Carlo Ponti

Carlo Ponti produced classic Italian films, such as Fellini's La Strada, and later many international classics such as Blow-Up, Dr. Zhivago and The Verdict. His divorce to marry the young starlet he discovered, Sophia Loren, caused a 50s scandal. But when he died this week at age 94, he was still married to Loren.Posted by Picasa

R.I.P. Yvonne DeCarlo

Though many remember her only from the old TV sitcom The Munsters, this is the Yvonne DeCarlo of the 1940s--a World War II pin-up girl. She was a glamorous actress in not very good movies when I became aware of her in the 1950s. Probably what got my attention was her musical name.
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Friday, January 12, 2007

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From a protest Thursday in Eureka, CA, organized by local peace groups and the Democratic party, as part of the Moveon national protests, which numbered close to 500. Photo: Tyson Ritter, Eureka Reporter.
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Rebellion (and Why This is not the 1970s)

I'm not going to present a lot of tidbits with sources concerning the Bush plan for Iraq and the subsequent nearly unanimous disapproval, but some overall impressions. Even before antiwar protestors could begin mobilizing--and there are reports of demonstrations planned or accomplished in all fifty states--the reception given to the Bush plan, especially in the hearings featuring the new Defense Secretary and the old Sec. of State, Condi Rice, was nothing short of eviscerating.

Particularly striking were the Republicans and past Bush supporters, one of whom added that he not only was parting company with the Bushwar but was tired of being lied to. And he said this to Rice. While Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell talked with the confidence of old about using a fillibuster to stop the attempt to pass a resolution of (essentially) no confidence in the President's plan, it soon appeared that there were already the 60+ votes to stop that, and vote on the resolution, which at the moment seems all but certain to pass.

In other words, the Congress was in open rebellion. Tom Ricks of the Washington Post said on Charlie Rose that of all the armed forces officers who are either in Iraq or were, and who emailed him after the speech, not one thought the plan would work. The polls show overwhelming public skepticism if not outright opposition. And on and on.

There seem to be two main schools of thought about the why of this policy. The first is that Bush is sincerely messianic, and his reference to aggressive moves against Syria and Iran (which other administration figures minimized today) show a very dangerous intention to widen the conflict, perhaps to divert attention from Iraq, or simply to carry out a general attempt to impose American power in that part of the world.

The second possibility is that this is cover, a face-saving measure, for troop withdrawal by the end of the year, when the Iraqis and particularly the current government don't make good on their part of the bargain in the "pacification" of Baghdad.

The closest historical precedent for both of these possibilities is ironically the same event: Nixon's invasion of Cambodia in 1970. Nixon both widened the war (as he would several more times) and claimed it was in order to facilitate the withdrawal of American troops.

The 1970s also offer the precedent of Congress cutting off funds for a war that the President wouldn't end, though it took another five years after Cambodia. This and more led Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to say that the President's speech represents the worst foreign policy catastrophe since Vietnam.

There are plenty of other similarities, and we're likely to see more, like large scale protests. Keith Olbermann's charge in his special comment Thursday that Bush's approach is insane recalls the feeling that Nixon was nuts, and this was pre-Watergate. Firesign Theatre ran a fake candidate for president in 1972 (George Papoon) whose campaign slogan was "Not Insane."

But there are differences. One is the speed. Everything is accelerated--especially the response of establishment politicians. Only a handful of "radicals" in Congress were talking about Nixon the same way that virtually all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee talked about Bush today. No one in the news media was so openly, relentlessly and vociferously against the president's war as Keith Olbermann has been, or that Chris Matthews has become.
This speed may be reflected in the likelihood that Congress is going to search for and perhaps find a way to cut off money to conduct this war.

There are other differences on policy that reflect the experience of Vietnam, and not only on the part of Vietnam vets like Chuck Hagel. But there is yet another difference that I find striking. That's the often repeated reason for opposition to this temporary surge or anything short of taking troops out of Iraq: it's not worth the lives of American soldiers. The idea that troops would be committed as a face-saving gesture leading to withdrawal that didn't damage American power or prestige as much as a "retreat" would have been perfectly acceptable to most Washington officials, media and academics in the 1970s.

It is not acceptable now, and that I believe is a consequence of antiwar activity in the Vietnam era, especially by those of my generation. This was something we stressed from the beginning, even though it would be John Kerry's testimony in 1971 or so that remains the most memorable formulation of that belief--how do you ask a soldier to be the last one to die for a mistake?

This is some progress, though not yet to the level of another of our contentions--that the war was immoral because of the death and destruction it brought to Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. There are very few voices these days outside the peace movement that make this point about Iraq and Iraqis.

But these differences are not nothing. They are differences from the 1970s, caused in part by what we went through, and what we did, in the 1960s and 1970s.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

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Important Steps in Darfur

Save Darfur just issued a release about the agreement made in Darfur through the good offices of Governor Bill Richardson.

The promises from President Bashir in this agreement are encouraging. They include commitments to:

A 60-day ceasefire with an international peace summit to be held before March 15, 2007.
Sudan's cooperation to work with the African Union and United Nations on the deployment of a hybrid peacekeeping force in Darfur.
Ensuring "zero tolerance" policies for gender-based violence in Darfur.
Free access for humanitarian aid workers and journalists.

Like everything about Darfur, this is likely to be overlooked today. Many are apt to be skeptical because Bashir has made promises before. But if it is implemented, it marks significant change. Allowing aid workers and journalists into the area is in itself a significant step.

Here's the full Save Darfur release. The group adds in its email: We call urgently upon Sudan, the United Nations, the African Union, and the Bush Administration to make these promises become a reality for the long-suffering people of Darfur.
Shut It Down

"Few people would have imagined the U.S. government, even in the pursuit of national security, would ignore basic human rights principles by holding hundreds of men indefinitely without due process or the rule of law," a spokeswoman for Amnesty International said. "It is time to close Guantanamo and return America to leading the world on human rights again."

"The rules that were used to put them there have not been rescinded by the United States. They are still in place," Katherine Newell Bierman, Human Rights Watch counter-terrorism counsel, told Reuters. "I don't think any government should have that much power to act on a whim. They can make mistakes, they can do things that are flat out wrong," said Newell Bierman, who is writing a report on Guantanamo's operations.
The Real Iraq

When Americans first bombed and then invaded Iraq, a blog from inside Iraq began appearing, called Baghdad Burning, written by a blogger who called herself Riverbend. From the start it was eloquent and precise and authentic. It's since won all kinds of international praise.

There have been long stretches when "river" hasn't posted, long enough for people to become worried about her. But towards the end of the year she began a new series of posts. They are about the Iraq that Bush will be talking about in a few hours:

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted.

2006 has been, decidedly, the worst year yet. No- really. The magnitude of this war and occupation is only now hitting the country full force. It's like having a big piece of hard, dry earth you are determined to break apart. You drive in the first stake in the form of an infrastructure damaged with missiles and the newest in arms technology, the first cracks begin to form. Several smaller stakes come in the form of politicians like Chalabi, Al Hakim, Talbani, Pachachi, Allawi and Maliki. The cracks slowly begin to multiply and stretch across the once solid piece of earth, reaching out towards its edges like so many skeletal hands. And you apply pressure. You surround it from all sides and push and pull. Slowly, but surely, it begins coming apart- a chip here, a chunk there.

This last year especially has been a turning point. Nearly every Iraqi has lost so much. So much. There's no way to describe the loss we've experienced with this war and occupation. There are no words to relay the feelings that come with the knowledge that daily almost 40 corpses are found in different states of decay and mutilation. There is no compensation for the dense, black cloud of fear that hangs over the head of every Iraqi. Fear of things so out of ones hands, it borders on the ridiculous- like whether your name is 'too Sunni' or 'too Shia'. Fear of the larger things- like the Americans in the tank, the police patrolling your area in black bandanas and green banners, and the Iraqi soldiers wearing black masks at the checkpoint.

About American presence, she writes that she can hardly remember or even believe the time when she agonized over the deaths of American soldiers. Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.
Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

About the actual number of dead in Iraq, she found the Lancet study estimate of 600,000 to be a credible figure.

About the current US backed government, she has nothing but scorn. They censor the press, and they turned Saddam into a martyr. She is also a persistent voice exposing how our media gets it wrong, as in this case. Saddam was executed during the holy time of Eid: Eid is a time of peace, of putting aside quarrels and anger- at least for the duration of Eid. It was a sacrilege, a religous scandal, compounded by Saddam's own last words (which she reports contrary to most American media summaries, though working from the very same tape) as affirmation of Muslim faith.

If you're tired of the numbers and the dueling experts, the pompous anchors and stream of unconsciousness pundits, look to the latest posts from Baghdad Burning for a little reality of life in Iraq as it is, and hear the voice of a real person in the midst of it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Horsehead Nebula.
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Bush's Address on Iraq--A Sneak Preview

My fellah Amuricans. I've been listening to a lot of people with ideas about what to do about Iraq. Lately I've been spending quality time talking to the portraits of LBJ and Nixon downstairs. So now I'm ready to announce my New World Order---I mean, New Way Forward.

I'm going to escalate--I mean surge--by sending 20,000 more soldiers to Iraq to take care of business and bring us to victory, so I can wear that flight suit again and land on the aircraft carrier out in the Gulf just before we start bombing Iran and the weapons of mass destruction they will be building in a decade or two.

Now everybody wants to know where am I going to get 20,000 more troops? Well, we had an election in November, and a lot of good Republicans lost their jobs. So I'm combining my surge with a jobs program, and I figure we can find 10,000 or so unemployed Republicans to send over there. Of course they'll all be officers, which right away ups the quality of our forces. The other ten thou I figure we can get from high school juniors--we'll give them an Ipod as a signing bonus, plus an Xbox or something for every year they survive--I mean, serve.

I look forward to working with Congress to get this done--the Democrats ought to like it, heh heh, heh heh. But it doesn't really matter cause I can do whatever the hell I want. It says right here in my signing statement to the bill making January 9 National Oil Your Squeaky Doorhinges Awareness Day. I like that part about the oil. May God bless the United States of America and the Republic for which it used to stand.
The Kind of War Cheney Likes

I fear for my family in western PA---Dick Cheney was cruising down Rt. 30 in a humvee, toting a gun. It's his "hunting" trip to Ligonier. (Note to CNN anchor: it's not "Ligon-e-a" like it's in France or something. It's Ligineer, jagoff.) But of course it's no ordinary hunting trip. The party included the exec vp of the National Rifle Association, big GOP moneybags Tom Hicks (of Hicks Holdings in Texas) who owns the Texas Rangers (Smirk's old team) and now Latrobe Steel (not far from the Rolling Rock Club where the party was held), a GOP finance chair, a banker, and a representative of of rabid right media, as well as the chairman of the President's Intelligence Advisory Board.

And as usual, the term "hunt" was grossly insulted. It was a fast-paced slaughter of farm-raised birds. In a few minutes, this brave group will kill 500 birds released in front of them, clipped so they're unable to fly very far. More details if you have the stomach at the excellent Pittsburgh blog, 2 Political Junkies.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Fogwoman" by Yukie Adams.
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Nuclear Alert(s)

From the Sunday Times in London:

ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons. Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.

From AP:

Iran's chief nuclear envoy Ali Larijani said on Friday that Iran is committed to the peaceful use of nuclear technology but warned the situation could change if his country is threatened. "We oppose obtaining nuclear weapons and we will peacefully use nuclear technology under the framework of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but if we are threatened, the situation may change," He told a news conference after two days of talks in Beijing.

From Ynet:

During summit with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian president hints that if Iran attains nukes, Egypt will have to also in order to defend itself. Up until now Egypt has claimed its nuclear program was for energy purposes only...“We don’t want nuclear weapons,” Mubarak stated, “But since they appear highly present in the area, we must defend ourselves."

From the Sunday New York Times:

The Bush administration is expected to announce next week a major step forward in the building of the country’s first new nuclear warhead in nearly two decades. It will propose combining elements of competing designs from two weapons laboratories in an approach that some experts argue is untested and risky.

Perhaps it's time to review our Duck & Cover drill. At the first sign of nuclear madness, get under your desk, bend over, put your hands over your head, and kiss your ass goodbye.

"I'm part of you. You can take the people out of Pittsburgh, but you can't take Pittsburgh out of me. Yinz know what I mean."

Bill Cowher, coach of the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, announcing his resignation last week. (The photo is from the sidelines after the Super Bowl victory.) In the years Cowher has coached the Steelers, he has won more games than anyone else in the NFL.
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The Coney Island Polar Bears club protesting global heating. Photo: New York Times.
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Weather (But Not Whether) News

The US Northeast in the midst of a January heatwave.

The National Weather Service' reported record or near-record temperatures across the region Saturday after a long warm spell. Albany International Airport hit 71 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature at Boston's Logan International Airport was 69 degrees at about 2:30 p.m. In New Jersey, records set in 1950 were broken in Newark, Trenton and Atlantic City. And in New York City's Central Park, the thermometer hit 72, tying January's all-time high. The city, and much of the region, has seen no snow this winter.

Eight of the 12 warmest years on record have happened since 1990, and the big culprit for the overall trend has been global warming, said David Robinson, the New Jersey state climatologist at Rutgers University. "You can't explain this without including the enhancement of greenhouse gases," Robinson said.

The balmy winter, which has sap running, tree buds sprouting and dogs shedding their winter coats, has been unlike any other in Goff's memory, and she's 83.

New York Times added:

And so the make-believe winter collided with reality: People wore T-shirts as they ice-skated on the wet and slushy rink at Rockefeller Center, and the [Coney Island] Polar Bears [club] held a moment of silence, turned their backs on the Atlantic and headed toward the boardwalk, a protest, albeit an underdressed one, against global warming, they said.

There's a certain humor as well as poignance in the Polar Bears' protest, but check out the temperature graphs in this story. There's nothing funny about them.

Meanwhile, in Washington, DC

springlike temperatures have faked out flora, causing dogwoods and daffodils to bloom.

That's the sort of thing that may seem even a little cute right now, but over the long term, can affect everything from agriculture to water and soil. Even in a society that seems to think that it is protected forever by pipes and cement, and oil company-funded right wingers telling them convenient lies.

And in

A huge avalanche knocked two cars off a mountain pass Saturday on the main highway to one of the state's largest ski areas, shortly after crowds headed through on the way to the lifts, authorities said...Our crews said it was the largest they have ever seen. It took three paths," Stacey Stegman of the transportation department said of the massive slide on U.S. 40 near 11,307-foot Berthoud Pass, about 50 miles west of Denver on the way to Winter Park Resort.

Three snow storms in as many weeks have dumped more than 4 feet of snow on parts of Colorado and authorities haven't had time to test all slide areas, Spencer said. "This is a tremendous amount of snow to come down the mountain for us," Stegman said.

But perhaps most tellingly, in

To the untrained eye, Bonanza Creek forest is breathtaking, a vibrant place alive with butterflies and birds, with evidence of moose and bear at every turn. But look through forest ecologist Glenn Juday's eyes, and you see a dying landscape.

Since the 1970s, climate change has doubled the growing season in some places. Since 1950, the overall state temperature has risen by 3.5°F, while wintertime temperatures have risen by 6°F, says Juday, a professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Drought is stressing and killing spruce, aspen and birch trees.

Alaska has emerged as the poster state for global warming...

And if you still think this is simply inconvenient even if true, there's this from Italy:

Sandwiched between temperate Europe and African heat, Italy is on the front line of climate change and is witnessing a rise in tropical diseases such as malaria and tick-borne encephalitis, a new report says.

Italy was declared free of malaria in 1970, but it is making a comeback, said the Italian environmental organisation Legambiente. Tick-borne encephalitis, a virus which attacks the nerve system, is also on the way back. While only 18 cases had been reported before 1993, 100 have been since, mostly around Venice.

As to whether this weather has anything to do with global heating...Let's consider this statement issued recently via Newsweek:

“It is clear today that greenhouse gas emissions are one of the factors that contribute to climate change, and that the use of fossil fuels is a major source of these emissions.”

The statement was responding to the Union of Concerned Scientists study stating that Exxon-Mobil had secretly been funding a disinformation campaign against research showing precisely what the statement asserts.

Oh, by the way, the statement is part of the official response...of Exxon Mobil.