March 31, 2009

aaahh, what a day . . .

The filing deadline for a new-hire employee based on an H-1B visa petition is March 31 to reach the Immigration Service (USCIS) on April 1 for a start date of October 1, 2009. That deadline was today. It was not as hectic as yesteryear, but it had its moments.

This day, with its limited promises for tomorrow, is at at an end and with some luck and perseverance it may hold a kept promise for someone.

Any notion of open borders is probably gone for good (not just the terror or the politics, but count how many of us swarm the planet) . . . there may yet be some stardust left for a lucky few.

good morning

Sometimes the commute to the office is a pleasure: fresh black coffee at hand, with just a hint of cinnamon in it, my wife in the passenger seat (doesn't happen every morning) and Jascha Heifetz winging his way through Max Bruch's violin concerto ("Scottish Fantasy").

And now, to seize the day (before it seizes me).

Cross-posted from patter pensée.

March 30, 2009

asking questions . . .

Will children win with Obama?

When asked whether he would seek ratification of the CRC in the Presidential Youth Debate, Obama expressed, at least, some support for that goal: "It's important that the United States return to its position as a respected global leader and promoter of Human Rights. It's embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land. I will review this and other treaties and ensure that the United States resumes its global leadership in Human Rights."
Here is additional information about the CRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child).

immigration issues

A Houston Chronicle special report on immigration.

Immigration issues - Tracking how immigration, both legal and illegal, has affected Houston and Texas, and the debate over reform.

March 29, 2009

dogs are mostly people too

I'm cribbing most of a post . . . but I'd have said something similar if I had thought to and besides, this is for my two canine family members. What PeaceBang says: If you’ve wanted to adopt a dog and have been avoiding it because of the responsibility, let me urge you to seriously re-consider your dog-avoidance.

. . . whoever you are — let me just give you ten good reasons to consider (or re-consider) including a dog in your life.

1. You’ll have someone in your life who gets you outside every single day, rain or shine. And believe me, that’s a really good spiritual practice.

2. Dogs are psyched about EVERY meal, even though it’s the same meal twice a day. Keeps you in touch with gratitude.

3. Dogs are pack animals and they need you to be there on a simple physical level. You will feel this and respond to it,and begin to understand that you too are a pack animal. You just might find that the sweetness of this awareness makes you like other human beings more. It’s kind of hard to be a misanthrope when you’ve spent the night flanked by a golden retriever or started your day with a walk with your Boston Terrier or shaggy, grinning mutt.

4. Dogs are both incredibly needy and incredibly precious in their neediness. Pay close attention to how this works and how you respond to it (with love and attention, of course!) and voila, you make come to regard your own neediness from a place of compassion rather than judgment.

5. Dogs are healers. They are a constant lesson in authenticity and unconditional regard. Who doesn’t need that?

6. Being around dogs is a reminder that much of the deepest communication between living beings happens on the non-verbal level. Dogs will help you strengthen your intuition: that doesn’t smell right to me. That’s because it probably isn’t, sweetcakes. Doggies know.

7. Dogs have work to do. Their work may look like play to our eyes, but it’s their work and it matters to them. Watch them as they go about the work that their doggie instincts assign to them, and feel the sheer joy of seeing tail-wagging, snuffling evidence that yes, life does have meaning.

8. Dogs are indefatigably hopeful creatures. They hope you have a snack for them. They hope we’re going outside now. Are we going outside now? They hope they will catch the rabbit. They hope you will praise them when they come running to your whistle. They hope that other dog in the park will want to play with them. They hope you’ll drop some of your dinner on the floor. Spend enough time around that hope and you’re gonna catch some of it. I swear.

9. Your dog loves you. If you’re lucky, your dog loves your friends and their dogs and their kids and everyone you pass on the street, too, but when it comes down to it, YOU are the center of your dog’s universe. And you did absolutely nothing to deserve that amazing status but to provide some kibble and TLC. Let me tell you — especially in today’s economy — that is one sweet deal.

10. There is a dog living in a shelter right now who needs you. Volunteers may be caring for him or her with all the affection they can spare, but that doggie needs a home. Dogs are domesticated animals who need homes and hearthfires to protect, and “masters” to love. Thousands of years have brought their species to this point. Take your cats aside and have a little conversation (I had one with Ermengarde for years before I brought Max home) and tell them that you’re going to be bringing a dog into their home (it is their home, you understand). Tell them that quite to the contrary of their expectations, a dog will be great fun and best of all, will make them seem even more elegant, glamorous and exceptional than they already are.
. . .
Of course, don’t adopt a dog if you’ll just have to crate it for nine hours a day, every day — I think that’s cruel — but think about whether or not you could reasonably include a woofer in your home. I bet you can.

press think

I'll be in a Professor Jay Rosen seminar much of the morning. You can join us if and when you like. The schedule allows you to set your own time and pace at Rosen's Flying Seminar In The Future of News.

As the crisis in newspaper journalism grinds on, people watching it are trying to explain how we got here, and what we’re losing as part of the newspaper economy crashes. Some are trying to imagine a new news system. I try to follow this action, and have been sending around the best of these pieces via my Twitter feed. It’s part of my experiment in mindcasting, which you can read about here.

Lately, the pace has picked up. A trigger was the March 13 appearance of Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable. That essay went viral; it now has a phenomenal 686 trackbacks, making it an instant classic in the online literature about the fate of the press. As good as Shirky’s piece is (very very good, I think) “Thinking the Unthinkable” is only a piece of the puzzle, and mostly backward-pointing.

That’s why I’ve collected the following links. Together, they form a kind of flying seminar on the future of news, presented in real time. They are all from the month of March 2009. If you take the seminar, feel free to leave impressions in the comments. The “flying” part is simple: go ahead, steal these links. Spread the seminar. Get your people up to speed.

They are in the order I think you should read them.

March 28, 2009

gift that keeps giving

According to my reading of Marc Ambinder's "A Target-Rich Environment", Cheney and Limbaugh are part of the team keeping President Obama's numbers on the higher side:

One of the reasons why Barack Obama's political team is so confident . . . is that even while some of Obama's signature policies are viewed with healthy skepticism, Republicans are still splashing around in a fetid wading pool.

saving the planet one bulb at a time - maybe not?

We have these new compact fluorescent bulbs screwed into every spot in our house that we could find an orifice that would take the bulb. Most of this worked fairly well and most of the bulbs are still glowing on command and, our hope is, saving us some money and saving the planet to some small degree. Some errors in judgment were made. There are a variety of these bulbs and some of them give off a strange white light that doesn't seem to have existed in the natural world before the manufacture of the bulb. Some of the bulbs did not last anywhere as long as expected; a few died almost immediately. Now what do you do with a defective or dead bulb? You ruin the whole concept if you throw it away and pollute the hell out of the environment in the bargain (they are evidently packed with mercury).

Turns out that we aren't the only ones fumbling around with these sometimes defective products. There is this from the NYTimes:

Irritation seems to be rising as more consumers try compact fluorescent bulbs, which now occupy 11 percent of the nation’s eligible sockets, with 330 million bulbs sold every year. Consumers are posting vociferous complaints on the Internet after trying the bulbs and finding them lacking.

Bulb makers and promoters say the overall quality of today’s compact fluorescents is high. But they also concede that it is difficult to prevent some problem bulbs from slipping through.

Experts say the quality problems are compounded by poor package instructions. Using the bulbs incorrectly, like screwing low-end bulbs into fixtures where heat is prone to build up, can greatly shorten their lives.

Some experts who study the issue blame the government for the quality problems, saying an intensive federal push to lower the price essentially backfired by encouraging manufacturers to use cheap components.

“In the pursuit of the holy grail, we stepped on the consumer,” said Michael Siminovitch, director of a lighting center at the University of California, Davis.

March 27, 2009

recent Houston sunset . . .

From our backyard near Houston about 10 days ago.

What will you be doing tomorrow?

Here's a suggestion.


bunch of storm troopers

Dick DeGuerin, representing Allen Stanford, was interviewed at TPM by Zachary Roth.

In an interview with TPMmuckraker moments ago, DeGuerin denied that Stanford was running a Ponzi scheme. And, referring to federal investigators' raids on Stanford offices as the SEC prepared charges last month, DeGuerin played the Nazi card, declaring:

"The SEC came in like a bunch of Storm Troopers, which caused a panic, and caused the banks in Venezuela and elsewhere to nationalize his banks, just take them away."

This move, combined with the decline in the stock market, caused a severe diminution in the value of Stanford's assets, DeGuerin said. "It's a perfect storm of panic caused by the SEC's heavy-handed actions"
Read all of it.

March 26, 2009

prius vs. insight

Here's more from the frontlines in the growing battle between Toyota's Prius and Honda's Insight:

Toyota’s Prius, the long-reigning hybrid king, faces its toughest competition yet in the Insight, whose sales have already topped 21,000 in just a month and a half in Japan — more than triple Honda’s target.

take this stimulus and shove it

Houston Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg examines the logic, or lack of logic, in Gov. Rick Perry telling Washington "to take its stimulus and shove it."

March 25, 2009

early campaigning for EFCA

After our recent post on the EFCA (Employee Free Choice Act), we received an email from the David Canter campaign and even without the beard, his position on EFCA makes sense (keeping the beard may have been helpful, but not entirely necessary). Here's what he had to say regarding the EFCA:

I see it as taking a stand for America. We need to support America's businesses as we rebuild our economy. But we also need to support American workers and begin rebuilding a strong middle class. We can't continue the race to the bottom that drives high-paying jobs overseas and forces too many Americans to settle for jobs that pay less and offer fewer benefits.

EFCA will make it easier for American workers to organize. That's not a popular issue here in Colorado or in CD6, where I'm running. And I suspect we won't see a lot of new union activity in Colorado as a result of EFCA even if it becomes law. But I'm supporting it because it's a step toward strengthening workers' bargaining rights and saving our middle class.
Yes, we've heard that the EFCA may be history since the spectral butthole has jumped ship (after supporting it in 2007). But we need real people in Congress. The more real folks like David Canter we have in Congress, the more likely we are to have a chance to level the field between the folks writing the checks and the folks punching the time cards.

Okay, back to the EFCA. How serious is David Canter in his support for EFCA. Well, part of the answer is in this video:

We'll be checking into this from time to time . . .

If you are inclined to contribute to David Canter's campaign, you can do it via ActBlue.

what governor perry thinks . . .

Time for my morning coffee and the day's headline story from the Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration promised Tuesday to spend $700 million to eradicate Mexico’s drug cartels as it released details of a new offensive that would deploy hundreds of agents and intelligence operatives to fight narco-driven violence along the borders of Texas, Arizona and California.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the massive infusion of federal cash and personnel is designed to bring stability to northern Mexico, where drug cartels have killed about 500 law enforcement officials in an ongoing insurgency. Deputy Attorney General David Ogden said the U.S. government actions are part of a coordinated strategy by the American and Mexican governments “to destroy these criminal organizations.”

But the White House remained noncommittal about sending U.S. National Guard troops to patrol the border, as sought by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Napolitano said she would discuss the request with the Republican governor in Texas on Thursday before making a recommendation to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“The questions for Governor Perry are very logistical,” she said. “Why 1,000? Where did that number come from? Where in Texas? Texas has a huge border with Mexico. And what does he anticipate the Guard doing?”

March 24, 2009

evolution and all

In case you've been wondering where the world's first lie-berry is being built, let Mary tell you.

I almost feel sorry for people trying to keep up with politics in the rest of the country these days. They must be overwhelmed - having to analyze the complex maneuverings of the stock market, forced to pore over the arcane elements of Wall Street bonuses and buyouts, mesmerized into memorizing the details of derivatives.

Life in Texas is so much easier.

Down here, we're still fightin' over the stupid stuff.

Like evolution.

Now, I must confess that living in Texas for the past 20 years has led me, on occasion, to doubt Darwin. To wonder if I had moved to some sort of land-locked political Galapagos, a dry island where species no longer found in the rest of the world still roam free.

You'll really need to read more to learn about the lie-berry in Texas.

moving day

I've got to pack. Ma and I are loading up the carts and moving across the country. We're goin' to PA so we can qualify for residency in time to vote against that spectral butthole Arlen.


The so-called "third way" proposed by management at Costco, Starbucks and Whole Foods seems to be picking up steam. I think that I agree with Publius from a couple of days ago.

Anyway, in thinking about the Whole Foods/Starbucks/Costco proposal, it’s worth remembering that the EFCA incorporates several distinct issues under one banner. Specifically, there are at least three: (1) the manner of the union election (secret ballot v. card check); (2) penalties for employer retaliation; and (3) binding arbitration after a specified negotiating period. On some of these issues, I think compromise is fine. On others, not so much.

The three companies are opposed to the provision allowing workers to form a union if a majority sign pro-union cards, without also having to hold a secret-ballot election, and they're opposed to the provision imposing binding arbitration when employers and unions fail to reach a contract after 120 days.

The Employee Free Choice Act would change existing law so that an employer must recognize its employees’ union when a majority of its workers has authorized union representation using majority sign-up. If you need to review it, an argument laying out why majority sign up is needed is here.

The EFCA has majority support in both the House and Senate, but may not have the necessary 60 votes in the Senate to stop a so-called filibuster. Not sure this whole thing will fly with the bill's main supporters but it is worth following up on the story.

March 23, 2009

manifesto for peripatetic patter

It is my intention, for a foreseeable moment, to narrow my blogging focus on this site within the range of three primary (that is, primary to me) topics -- while simultaneously allowing myself the authorial authority to change directions -- god willing, with some explanation:

1. urban sprawl in the Houston area (I have no great expectations in tackling this);

2. Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA): (I do harbor some expectations)

3. the current economic crisis (with some initial emphasis on the payroll tax holiday idea) and all of its progeny (my expectations, based -- most probably -- on my comprehension, are limited).

A further caveat: while the above topics are to be my focus, I will, without hesitating and without any semblance of guilt (and by the way, why the hell is "unhesitantly" not accepted as an actual word in the English language?), speak my voice outside the focus as I deem appropriate. Within these bounds, such as they may be, you may, within the strictures set out above, hold me to my word, if you choose to hang around.

rail vs. urban sprawl

This from The New York Times:
Stimulus Ideals in Conflict on the Texas Prairie

WALLER, Tex. — Over the years the Katy Prairie has survived the cattle ranchers who tamed its fields, the rice farmers who cleared its wildflowers and tall grasses, and even the encroachment of Houston, some 30 miles to the east, whose spiraling outward growth turned most of the formerly lonesome prairie into subdivisions and strip malls.

Now the prairie is facing a new threat: the federal stimulus law.

Texas plans to spend $181 million of its federal stimulus money on building a 15-mile, four-lane toll road — from Interstate 10 to Highway 290 and right through the prairie — that will eventually form part of an outer beltway around greater Houston called the Grand Parkway.

The road exemplifies an unintended effect of the stimulus law: an administration that opposes suburban sprawl is giving money to states for projects that are almost certain to exacerbate it.

A new master-planned community called Bridgeland is rising on the prairie along the proposed site of the road; once completed, the development is expected to have 21,000 new homes on 11,400 acres. Other developers are eagerly awaiting the new road so they can start building on their empty land, too.

And this from The Houston Chronicle:
Metro won’t be using stimulus money on rail

As county leaders press forward with Grand Parkway plans, Metro leaders are looking for a Plan B for two rail lines they had planned to use federal economic stimulus money to help fund.

Metro’s pitch to fund the North and Southeast lines with stimulus funds fell short of the feds’ scheduling mandate.

Metro proposed to “get the ball rolling,” within 90 days, according to its brochure requesting $410 million in stimulus dollars. The transit agency also said $70 million could be used to convert 83 miles of high-occupancy vehicle lanes into high-occupancy toll lanes.

Last week, Metro leaders said they learned that federal transit authorities preferred the $92 million it will receive in stimulus funds be used primarily on the HOV conversion.

The two rail lines are not at the appropriate stage to satisfy a requirement that 50 percent of the funds be obligated by Sept. 1.

All of the funds also must be spent in a year, and the projects must be complete in three years, according to the Federal Transit Administration’s Web site.
High hopes?

There are use-it-or-lose-it provisions in the stimulus package as the Obama administration has made clear these projects should get started sooner.

Did Metro aim too high?

“We don’t think we overshot the mark,” Metro spokeswoman Raequel Roberts said. “We submitted a project that we believed would qualify for stimulus funds.”

Metro remains several months from final federal approval for those lines.

Perhaps, Metro was simply too optimistic, as Alan Clark, of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, suggested.

“They might have been a little bit hopeful they could do something with stimulus money to advance the rail project,” said Clark, HGAC’s transportation planning manager. “I don’t blame them at all.”
Planning the Parkway

The default project to transform HOV lanes into toll lanes for solo drivers was tabled by Metro’s board of directors last week, but the proposal will be taken up again next month.

Meanwhile, county leaders are wasting no time on the Grand Parkway as the clock continues to tick on the $181 million in stimulus funding allocated for the project.

The 185-mile proposed outer loop around Houston that has been under consideration for more than two decades. Now that it has an infusion of stimulus funds, planners are in frenzy mode to meet pressing deadlines. Seventeen design and engineeringcontracts related to the Grand Parkway are on this week’s Commissioner’s Court agenda.

“A year ago, no one was expecting to implement this project quite on this time frame,” Clark said. “TxDOT and Harris County are working like crazy to get the pieces wrapped up so it can be let to contract within the 12-month period.”

Some of us appear to be more adept at redefining shovel-ready than others of us. It looks like big money out in those prairies. This damn thing is moving too fast to be smart.


But check out this from Houston Tomorrow:
The Sierra Club filed suit yesterday against the Federal Highway Administration in an effort to prevent construction of Segment E of the Grand Parkway.

(Austin)—The Sierra Club late Monday filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Houston against the Federal Highway Administration due to the failure of that federal agency to do an adequate assessment of the environmental impacts of the proposed Grand Parkway Segment E in western Harris County.

“The Grand Parkway is the poster child of bad transportation projects – an environmentally destructive project that’s not needed, not ready, and not cost-effective,” noted Brandt Mannchen, Air Quality Chair for the state chapter and Houston group of the Sierra Club. “In the rush to push Segment E of the Grand Parkway for the benefit of real estate developers, the Federal Highway Administration conducted a weak environmental review that ignores the project’s harm to the Katy Prairie, its potential impact on Houston air quality, and better transportation alternatives.”

In remarks to the Harris County Commissioners Court today informing them of the lawsuit Mannchen noted:
“The Sierra Club, over the past 25 years, has worked to protect the Katy Prairie and implement transportation alternatives to the proposed Grand Parkway, Segment E. We are now at a point where we did not want to be. Filing a lawsuit is a serious undertaking which requires money, time, and other resources. It is a strategy of last resort, not first resort. It is because the Sierra Club feels so strongly about protection of the Katy Prairie and the harmful effects the proposed Grand Parkway Segment E will have on the Katy Prairie, that we have filed this lawsuit.”

The Katy Prairie is a home for hundreds of thousands of geese, ducks, herons, egrets, songbirds, and other wildlife. The Sierra Club notes that it is also a giant sponge that soaks up flood waters and detains and keeps those waters from flooding down Buffalo Bayou causing havoc downstream. According to the Sierra Club, the proposed Grand Parkway project itself will pave over about 700 acres of the Katy Prairie. The environmental group points out that by facilitating the Bridgelands real estate development in its efforts to construct subdivisions in the area, the Grand Parkway indirectly will destroy another 12,000 acres of the Katy Prairie.


March 22, 2009

Day by day, years go by

The Iraq war was started on March 20, 2003. A Photo Essay by Johnny Barber at Yes! magazine"

As the economic crisis deepens and all eyes are on the new Obama administration, the dire situation of Iraqi refugees has been ignored in the media. The U.S. promises $2 billion to expand services in neighboring countries and ensure safety for those displaced within Iraq, but doesn’t say how or when. The U.N. High Commission on Refugees has identified only 50,000 people for resettlement. The U.S. will accept up to 17,000 Iraqi refugees in 2009. But the United Nations counts more than 4.5 million Iraqi refugees, with 2.5 million stuck in bordering countries. More than tales of bombs and battles, these are the real war stories. In the fall of 2008, I traveled to Jordan and Syria to speak with these people. These portraits represent people from across a wide economic, cultural, and political landscape who now share common harrowing stories of escape and survival.

desktop flotsam

Religion convinced the world that there's an invisible man in the sky who watches everything you do. And there's 10 things he doesn't want you to do or else you'll go to a burning place with a lake of fire until the end of eternity. But he loves you! ...And he needs money! He's all powerful, but he can't handle money! [...] I've begun worshiping the sun for a number of reasons. First of all, unlike some other gods I could mention, I can see the sun. It's there for me every day. And the things it brings me are quite apparent all the time: heat, light, food, a lovely day. There's no mystery, no one asks for money, I don't have to dress up, and there's no boring pageantry. And interestingly enough, I have found that the prayers I offer to the sun and the prayers I formerly offered to God are all answered at about the same 50-percent rate. [...] Religion is sort of like a lift in your shoes. If it makes you feel better, fine. Just don't ask me to wear your shoes. And let's not nail the lift to the natives' feet.
– George Carlin

George Carlin died last June; long live George Carlin.

So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.
-Molly Ivins

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Conclusion, 1854

Cross-posted from
patter pensée.

world’s first affordable hybrid?

That's the hype from Honda . . .

Costing just shy of $20,000, the Honda Insight promises to let drivers respond to both of the leading crises of our day: the environment and the recession.

If the Insight’s introduction in Japan is any indication, Toyota should be worried. The car went on sale here on Feb. 6, and orders have soared, reaching 18,000 in just the first three weeks — topping Prius’s current sales. In fact, the Insight pushed Prius out of the top-10-selling cars for February.

“I have people asking about hybrids that I never had before,” said Tsuguhito Tokita, a Honda dealer in Tokyo. “With this price, it’s easy to recommend to anyone.”

If Honda makes inroads in the United States, the world’s largest market for hybrids, it could force the market leader, the Toyota Motor Corporation, to bring down its prices. Japanese news media have reported that Toyota, which controls 70 percent of the American hybrid market, will introduce a cheaper hybrid model with a smaller engine in 2011 — in part, reportedly, because of the Insight’s success.

. . .

Instead of the more complicated hybrid system used in the Prius, the Insight’s main source of power is a lightweight gasoline engine that is assisted by smaller batteries. That greatly reduces manufacturing costs, but gives the Insight lower fuel efficiency than the Prius — 43 miles per gallon on the highway compared with 45 miles per gallon for the Prius. The Insight also shares parts with other Honda models, which helps the carmaker keep costs to a minimum.

Honda has also struck a chord with an overhaul of the car’s shape. One reason its previous hybrids failed to take off, analysts say, was that they did not come in distinctive shapes.

“A lot of people who drive hybrids want to make the statement, ‘I am driving a hybrid,’ “ Mr. Richter said.

But Honda’s new Insight looks remarkably like — well, Toyota’s triangular Prius, which has become synonymous with hybrid technology. Analysts say that should help sales.

March 21, 2009

what an awful mess . . .

Okay, I've promised myself to give the President the benefit of the doubt for a full six months, and I will continue this course because I realize I am not in a position to fairly judge day by day decisions until either there is a pattern (as there was early with W - a pattern of deceit and incompetence for the most part) or enough decisions have been made that it appears there is no real overall goal. Economics is not my strong suit. But, here is the person whose judgment I've learned to trust saying that under President Obama the Treasury has decided that what we have is nothing but a confidence problem. This bothers me.

The Geithner plan has now been leaked in detail. It’s exactly the plan that was widely analyzed — and found wanting — a couple of weeks ago. The zombie ideas have won.

The Obama administration is now completely wedded to the idea that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the financial system — that what we’re facing is the equivalent of a run on an essentially sound bank. As Tim Duy put it, there are no bad assets, only misunderstood assets. And if we get investors to understand that toxic waste is really, truly worth much more than anyone is willing to pay for it, all our problems will be solved.

I'm not freaking out yet, but I must admit that I'm watching the calendar.

March 20, 2009

born again newt

Newt Gingrich to Mobilize Religious Conservatives

At a time when many religious conservatives say the Republican Party is ignoring their issues and taking their support for granted, former House speaker and GOP idea man Newt Gingrich is turning his attention to the concerns of conservative Christians like never before.

Gingrich has launched an organization devoted to bringing conservative evangelicals and Catholics into the political process and to strengthening the frayed alliance between economic and religious conservatives. Called Renewing American Leadership, the group is led by Gingrich's longtime communications director and includes some of the country's top conservative Christian activists on its board.

oranges in France, not the Netherlands . . .

Festival Citrusov

So where is this festival taking place? It is in the South of France where they actually grow citrus. It is from the Festival Citrusov. Sorry if you think this rains on your parade, but credit should be given where credit is due and these pictures are NOT from the Netherlands. Celebrate the French – they made some cool scenes and sculptures. I certainly would not have minded being in the South of France and seeing this festival. They really are creative.

March 19, 2009

prostate-specific antigen blood tests . . . safe?

This from The New York Times is eye-opening:

The PSA blood test, used to screen for prostate cancer, saves few lives and leads to risky and unnecessary treatments for large numbers of men, two large studies have found.

The findings, the first based on rigorous, randomized studies, confirm some longstanding concerns about the wisdom of widespread prostate cancer screening. Although the studies are continuing, results so far are considered significant and the most definitive to date.

The PSA test, which measures a protein released by prostate cells, does what it is supposed to do — indicates a cancer might be present, leading to biopsies to determine if there is a tumor. But it has been difficult to know whether finding prostate cancer early saves lives. Most of the cancers tend to grow very slowly and are never a threat and, with the faster-growing ones, even early diagnosis might be too late.

The studies — one in Europe and the other in the United States — are “some of the most important studies in the history of men’s health,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen. It is a protein found in prostate cells. It can be detected at a low level in the blood of all adult men.

Read the full story.

March 18, 2009

17 kids and counting . . .

Please read this "Newsweek Web Exclusive" by Kathryn Joyce:

If there is a wholesome counterpoint to the gossip-rich travails of single-mom Nadya Suleman and her 14 children, it might be Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who had their 18th child just weeks before the arrival of Suleman's octuplets in January. The Duggar birth was televised on the Arkansas couple's popular TLC reality show, "17 Kids and Counting" (now "18 Kids and Counting"). Unlike Suleman, who was vilified as the freakish, government-assistance-dependent "Octomom," the Duggars' abundant progeny often attract admiration. Their children play violin, their palatial home is immaculate and the family matriarch is a soft-spoken multitasker who gently keeps order in her immense household.

Watching Michelle Duggar manage her Herculean tasks is addictive. We like to marvel at the logistics of life in oversized reality-TV families like the Duggars or the participants of the series "Kids By the Dozen" (also on TLC), which features families with at least 12 children each. How do they do all that laundry every week? Afford all those gallons of milk or cope with a joint birthday party for 13?

But there's one big omission from the on-screen portrayal of many of these families: their motivation. Though the Duggars do describe themselves as conservative Christians, in reality, they follow a belief system that goes far beyond "Cheaper by the Dozen" high jinks. It is a pro-life-purist lifestyle known as Quiverfull, where women forgo all birth-control options, viewing contraception as a form of abortion and considering even natural family planning an attempt to control a realm—fertility—that should be entrusted to divine providence.


Quiverfull doesn't follow from any particular church's teachings but rather is a conviction shared by evangelical and fundamentalist Christians across denominational lines, often spread through the burgeoning conservative homeschooling community, which the U.S. Department of Education estimates has more than 1 million school-age children, and which homeschooling groups say easily has twice that number.

Quiverfull's pronatalist emphasis is linked to a companion doctrine of strident antifeminism among conservative Christians who see the women's liberation movement as the origin of a host of social ills, from abortion to divorce, women working and teen sex. "Feminism is a totally self-consistent system aimed at rejecting God's role for women," Pride wrote in 1985; since then, the movement she helped create has erected an opposite and equally self-consistent system of "biblical womanhood."


A glimpse of this reality is sometimes visible beneath TV's glossy treatment of Quiverfull families, but more often it's difficult to see the hard edges of ideology underlying yet another large family adventure.

Look, folks, I admit that I sometimes have an on-going difficulty with the concept of "tolerance" as we genetically talk about it in UU circles (I've more than once addressed this in Sunday services, given the opportunity), but this "takes the cake".

What?! Is this a native American tribal group espousing some esoteric path to full womanhood or family fulfillment? Nooo o o o, it's a bunch of literal keep-her-bare-foot-and-in-the-kitchen-cooking literal Bible thumpers espousing their narrow band of egregious anti-democratic bullshit.

Cross-posted from patter pensée.

Imam requests bail hearing

From this morning's Houston Chronicle is a follow-up story about a jailed Houston area Imam.

Sheikh Zoubir Bouchikhi put his palm to the glass separating him from his 18-month-old daughter at a Houston immigrant detention facility and blew her kiss after kiss, his eyes brimming with tears.

The bewildered toddler touched the window as her older sister picked up a telephone handset to talk to their father for the first time since his arrest at their home three months ago.

“Baba,” said 7-year-old Bushra, using the Arabic word for Daddy. “Are you ever going to come back?”

Bouchikhi, the popular spiritual leader of a southeast Houston mosque, has been held without bail at the facility since Dec. 17. In an interview this week, the 39-year-old imam of Houston’s Abu Bakr Siddqui mosque said he planned to start a hunger strike today to protest the government’s refusal to release him on bail while he awaits a deportation hearing.

“I feel that this is an injustice,” Bouchikhi said. “It’s absolutely outrageous what they are doing, so if they don’t release me I will bring the attention of the whole world to my case.”

The imam said he has faith in the American justice system, “but I think certain government agencies are not really doing justice to themselves, let alone to me.”

Bouchikhi is a native of Algeria who came to America 11 years ago as a student. He later obtained a religious worker visa and applied for permanent residency status for himself, his wife and oldest child. Bouchikhi’s other three children are American-born citizens.

A green card petition on the imam’s behalf by the Islamic Society of Greater Houston was accepted in 2003, but revoked in 2007.


Elliot Gershenson, president and CEO of Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston, wrote a letter on the imam’s behalf.

“Based on everything we know about this man he’s an honorable man, he’s a faith leader in his community,” Gershenson said. “He’s not a flight risk, and we recommended that he be able to stay with his family.”

Bouchikhi said he has written President Barack Obama about his plight.

“Criminals are being bonded, while a man of God, whose community needs him, whose wife and children need him, is being held without bond. It makes no sense,” the imam said.

March 17, 2009

60 minutes this sunday . . . no football game

According to Taegan Goddard's Political Wire President Obama will appear on 60 Minutes this coming Sunday>

it's spring time in Houston . . .

azaleas beneath the palm tree . . .

Texas Governor's Race

Perry trails Hutchison in UT poll

GOP Gov. Rick Perry trails potential gubernatorial challenger U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a University of Texas poll released Monday suggests.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents identified as Republican primary voters favored Hutchison, and 29 percent sided with Perry.

religion is driving people away from God

According to Leonard Pitts Jr., we are losing our religion:

We are losing our religion.

That, with apologies to R.E.M., is the startling conclusion of a new study, the American Religious Identification Survey, conducted by researchers at Trinity College of Hartford, Conn. The poll of over 54,000 American adults found a sharp erosion in the number of people claiming religious affiliation.

A few highlights: The number of people who call themselves Christian is 76 percent, down 10 percentage points since 1990.

Thirty percent of married couples did not have a religious ceremony.

Better than one in four Americans do not expect a religious funeral.

It is important to reiterate that we are talking about overall percentages. In raw numbers, there are actually about 22 million more Christians now than in 1990. Still, the trend is clear, particularly as illustrated in one telling statistic: In 1990, 8.2 percent (about 14 million) of us said ''none'' when asked to specify their religion. Last year, 15 percent (34 million) did.

Some have suggested our loss of faith is due to increased diversity, mobility and immigration. I'm sure there's something to that, but I tend to think the most important cause is simpler: Religion has become an ugly thing.

Keep reading.

March 16, 2009

commentary from the Houston Chronicle

Rick Casey notes a change from passive to active voice in pronouncements from the District Attorney's office:

There are places and institutions where what District Attorney Pat Lykos did last week would seem normal.

But this is Harris County, Texas. And the institution is the District Attorney’s Office.

So what Lykos did verged on the revolutionary.

She not only admitted mistakes, she used the active voice.

In a report detailing the sorry series of errors that led to the false child rape conviction of Ricardo Rachell and his more than five years in prison, she didn’t conclude by burrowing into the conventional refuge of bureaucrats, the passive voice. As in: “Mistakes were made.”

Instead, she detailed the specifics and named names of prosecutors, defense attorneys and police officers who ignored evidence supporting Rachell’s innocence.

And she apologized to Rachell and the public.

Granted, it’s easier to apologize for mistakes made during your predecessor’s tenure. Another test will come when inevitably, given the size the caseload of the Harris County District Attorney’s office, her own staff makes a mistake.

March 15, 2009


DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is
convening an unclassified meeting next week to discuss geoengineering, ScienceInsider has learned. DARPA is the latest in a number of official science funding agencies or top scientific societies that are exploring the controversial idea. But one leading advocate of the work opposes the military developing geoengineering techniques.
According to Wikipedia

Geoengineering is the idea of applying planetary engineering to Earth. Geoengineering would involve the deliberate modification of Earth's environment on a large scale "to suit human needs and promote habitability". Typically, the term is used to describe proposals to counter the effects of human-induced climate change. However, others define it more narrowly as focusing only on the mineralogy and hydrology of the Earth. The term geoengineering is distinct from environmental damage and accidental anthropogenic climate change, which are side-effects of human activity, rather than an intended consequence. Definitions of the term are not universally accepted.
Though I seem to have missed out on earlier discussions, this is evidently not a new topic of conversation as witness this article in Time magazine:

Geoengineering has long been the province of kooks, but as the difficulty of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions has become harder to ignore, it is slowly emerging as an option of last resort. The tipping point came in 2006, when the Nobel Prize—winning atmospheric scientist Paul Crutzen published an editorial examining the possibility of releasing vast amounts of sulfurous debris into the atmosphere to create a haze that would keep the planet cool. "Over the past couple of years, it's gone from an outsider thing to something that is increasingly discussed," says Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University.
Returning to our article in ScienceInsider we learn:

The 1-day meeting, to be held Wednesday at Stanford University, will be led by University of Illinois Urbana-Champlaign engineering professor Bill King under the auspices of the Defense Sciences Research Council, which advises DARPA. An agenda for the unpublicized event viewed by ScienceInsider listed top researchers who have studied geoengineering as speakers, including geochemist Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science and astrophysicist Gregory Benford of University of California-Irvine.

More and more prominent climate and energy scientists have expressed support for studies into various geoengineering approaches, such as sequestering carbon in the ocean by growing large swaths of algae.

And in the last 6 months top institutions have launched efforts to study the subject. The U.K. Royal Society has a study due out in the summer; the U.S. National Academies is hosting a workshop in the summer as well. The semi-secret JASONS group will be discussing the topic in a session in the coming months; the British Parliament has a commission examining whether the U.K. government should fund research into the matter.

No mainstream scientists are advocating using geoengineering techniques right now, but more and more researchers feel that a worsening picture of global climate change warrants studying such interventions in case of a climate emergency in the future. "We don't want to do geoengineering but we're in increasingly dire straits," says climate expert Michael MacCracken of the Climate Institute in Washington D.C., who has advocated publicly for research into geoengineering. He says that DARPA support for such work "could be good for the field."
Not sure, but I think this intrigues me more than it scares me (maybe I'm already about as scared as I can get about the coming impact of global warming on all of us (us=all living organisms). But it bears watching and all of us, to the extent that we can, need to be a part of the conversation.

conservative failure in South Carolina

If conservatives are right, South Carolina and its residents under Gov. Mark Sanford should be weathering the recession better than most. But they are not."In South Carolina, we're falling off a cliff."

Since 2003, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has turned the state into a petri dish for what hard-core conservatism —slashed taxes, shrunken government, cut regulations—would look like. With a Republican-controlled legislature, he's had pretty much free rein to enact the basic policies conservatives argue would make an economy thrive. If conservatives are right, South Carolina and its residents should be weathering the recession better than most.

But they are not. They are doing worse.

"In South Carolina, we're falling off a cliff," said Donna DeWitt, the president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO and co-chair of the South Carolina Progressive Network.

a recommendation . . .

Iddybud Journal.

A Feature Documentary by Simon El Habre

Semaan is a farmer leading a quiet life, in the small village of Aïn El Halazoun, in the Lebanese mountains. He wakes up at the crack of dawn, tends to his cows and other animals and prepares the produce he will sell at the market

During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), Aïn el Halazoun was completely destroyed and eventually deserted. Its original inhabitants, all from the El Habre family, regularly go back to the village to visit their houses and cultivate their plots of land, but they always leave before sunset.

By observing life in a quasi ghost village, the film reflects upon collective and individual memory, in a country whose inhabitants seem unwilling to learn from their past, even while on the brink of a new civil war.

Cross-posted at Poetry Patter.

March 14, 2009

debate on extending unemployment coverage

From the Austin American-Statesman:

After more than eight years as governor, Rick Perry has at times come into conflict with some of the groups of supporters that lifted him to the state's highest office.

But as he faces his toughest re-election challenge yet in the form of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a fellow Republican, Perry has made several moves, deliberately or not, that could repair fractures in his political coalition — even if it means further alienating Democratic voters and independents who haven't previously supported him.

On Thursday, Perry announced his opposition to $555 million in federal economic stimulus money to expand the state's unemployment insurance program. Perry repeatedly pointed to the higher unemployment insurance costs that businesses would face as more Texans (including people who are looking for part-time work) became eligible for the benefit.

"The governor was very clear since Day One that he is opposed to any part of this bill that would have an undue burden on taxpayers, long after the federal funds have dried up," Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

Some background on the Unemployment Insurance (UI) joint federal-state program designed to provide temporary income support to workers who lose their jobs due to lay-offs or for other economic reasons, or who must leave their jobs through no fault of their own. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

An Overview of the UI System

The federal-state unemployment insurance system helps people who have lost their jobs by temporarily replacing part of their wages. Created in 1935, the system is a form of social insurance, with contributions being paid into the system on behalf of working people so they have income support if they lose their jobs. In addition, research has found that dollar for dollar, the income support from UI is a particularly effective “automatic stabilizer” for the economy as a whole, cushioning the impact of rising unemployment on consumer spending during economic downturns.

The basic unemployment insurance program is run by the states, although it is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor. States provide most of the funding and pay for the actual benefits provided to workers; the federal government pays only for the administrative costs that states incur in running the program. (UI tax receipts and expenditures are, however, recorded as federal revenues and expenditures in the federal budget.) Although subject to a few federal requirements, states are generally able to set their own eligibility criteria and benefit levels.

The basic state-funded program typically provides up to 26 weeks of benefits to unemployed workers, and most states’ benefit formulas specify a replacement rate of 50 percent or more of a worker’s previous wages, with a cap on the maximum benefit.b There is also an extended benefits (EB) program, which is funded half by the federal government and half by state governments and which “triggers on” under certain, very limited conditions. The extended benefits program provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits (and up to 20 weeks in some states) to jobless workers in states where the unemployment situation has worsened dramatically. In times of national recession, Congress also typically enacts a fully federally-funded, temporary extension of unemployment benefits.

In an update the Center discusses how State imposed cuts have hurt vulnerable residents, but the Federal Economic Recovery Package is actually reducing the harm.

While this is not a new debate, it is new in the sense that the Federal Economic Recovery Package attempts to provide laid-off workers a better chance to weather this current severe job-loss 'great recession.'

Of course, of the problems with this debate is many evidently see no need to stick to the truth. The facts are what fit their particular argument. Still, extending unemployment coverage will mean that States will need to spend more of their own money - not necessarily through a tax increase, but for many that may be the only way to accomplish the extension. The alternative, to have more and more people at risk to lose their homes or unable to pay rent, to meet basic needs for their families, could be costlier for the state.

More about this later . . .

benefits of burning don't outweigh the health risks

From The Oregonian:

Every summer for more than 50 years, the burning of grass seed fields has sent black and gray plumes high into the Willamette Valley sky. But the practice may be about to flame out, just over two decades after smoke from burning grass straw in Linn County caused seven traffic deaths on Interstate 5.

Farmers of Oregon's second most valuable crop have dramatically scaled back burning since the 1988 tragedy, burning just shy of 40,000 acres last summer from north of Salem to Eugene. Management of smoke has improved. Alternatives to burning include spraying more pesticides.

But the Democratic-run Legislature is considering two bills -- House Bill 2183 and Senate Bill 528 -- that would ban the field-sanitizing practice. Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who worries about the smoke's effects on hearts and lungs, is behind the House bill.

The 2008 burns drew 463 complaints to the Agriculture Department.

The lobbying in Salem has featured worried doctors, growers who say the summertime health effects of the billowing gray clouds in the Willamette Valley are overblown, and the strong views -- on both sides -- of rural moms with young kids who live in the heart of the smoke zone.
Having been on the road in the Willamette Valley during burn-off season, it can be disconcerting and uncomfortable. There is the farmers' side to this:

. . . burning sterilizes fields quickly, helping ensure high-quality seed for the next growing season and controlling weeds, slugs and voles. It reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizer; cuts tillage, dust and erosion; increases yields; and takes less of a farmer's time than tilling fields with a diesel-spewing tractor.
This is yet another example of producing commodities as cheaply as possible without factoring in all actual costs. When we buy cheap goods in WalMart (or any place where 'low consumer sticker cost' is the only aim) we end up with other costs, like health care, quality of life issues being borne by all of us. We all suffer.

March 13, 2009

daily show . . . the serious side of journalism

Maybe not surprisingly, Talking Points Memo has produced the most thorough and cogent wrap-up of Jim Cramer's guest appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart that I've seen.

An aside: is Jon Stewart one of the better journalists on the boob tube?
We're all talking a lot about CNBC today after the boffo drubbing Jim Cramer took last night on the Daily Show. As an aside, as big of a clown as Cramer has been and as wildly hyperbolic as many of his recent comments have were, I'll give the guy props for agreeing to go on the show where he certainly knew he was going to get sliced and diced, though perhaps not that sliced and diced. But back to CNBC.

Continue reading . . .

republican governors and the unemployed

I think that digby is one of the more astute of the folks writing political analysis on the web, but I think she may be wrong about the Texas lege overriding the governor's "refusal" - see her comments below (and, almost as always, I recommend that you go read the rest of the entry - as a matter of fact, you should be checking out what digby has to say as often as you have a chance. . .).

I'm pretty sure everyone gets this, but in case you don't, the reason that Governors Rick Perry and Mark Sanford are "refusing" to take the stimulus money is because they are running for president. They are making the bet that the economy will either be very bad, in which case they can run against Obama's socialistic policies which ruined the country --- or that the economy will be off the table as an issue and it won't make any difference. (I would guess they are thinking the first is the most likely.)And since their state legislatures will override their "principled" opposition, they know that they won't actually be responsible for denying people unemployment benefits in the worst recession since the great depression. That's what passes for integrity among Republicans.

It is true that Texas Democrats will try their damnedest to overturn Governor Hair's decision to put the screws to Texas the unemployed there's more at work here in Texas. We are changing in Texas, becoming bluer by the year, but the recent fairly easy reelection of Sen. Cronyn is a clear sign that we have some way to go.

farming for cheap food 2 . . .

The Houston Chronicle has details on a plan to turn feral hogs (probably no MRSA problems) into BLTs.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack has a problem with hungry hogs. Houston has a problem with hungry people.

If Radack gets his way, hundreds of pounds of pork soon could be hitting the needy’s tables.

Radack plans to allow a few select bowhunters to begin targeting the thousands of feral pigs that live in George Bush Park and hopes to donate the meat to food banks, churches, homeless shelters or even needy individuals.

“If you could harness this, it could feed so many people it’s unbelievable,” Radack said.

The hogs have wreaked havoc in the west Harris County park for years and now are ambling into neighboring subdivisions where manicured yards and flower beds make for a tempting swine buffet.

Their numbers have grown so large that it is not unusual to see groups of the normally reclusive beasts foraging for roots and grubs in open fields early in the morning or late in the evening, Precinct 3 special activities coordinator Mike McMahan said.

Off-duty county employees have been allowed to trap hogs at the park for more than a decade, and they typically remove about 300 to 400 every year, McMahan said. The trappers are responsible for removing the hogs and have been allowed to keep the meat.

But those efforts barely have made a dent in a population that swells so quickly that 50 sows could replace all the hogs that were harvested with just one litter each.

While Radack estimated there are between 10,000 and 15,000 hogs living in the park, McMahan said it would be difficult to provide an accurate count.

There's more via the above link.

family anecdote

It's drizzly, dark and cool outside but at the insistence of our canine ladies we walk the bayou complaining but content. The ladies are Blondie and Thelma - names they had when they came to live with us - I call them Bombshell and Telma Lou (you may or may not remember Tony Orlando and Dawn . . . well
Telma Louise Hopkins was a member of that trio).

And Bombshell? That name comes from Blondie's very distant resemblance to Marilyn Monroe.

So anyway, our own little trio, Telma Lou, Bombshell and Popsy, walked the walk this morning and took care of business.

farming for cheap food . . .

Another reason to be glad that I don't eat bacon is laid out in Nicholas Kristof's column in The New York Times:

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) sometimes arouses terrifying headlines as a “superbug” or “flesh-eating bacteria.” The best-known strain is found in hospitals, where it has been seen regularly since the 1990s, but more recently different strains also have been passed among high school and college athletes. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that by 2005, MRSA was killing more than 18,000 Americans a year, more than AIDS.

Dr. Anderson at first couldn’t figure out why he was seeing patient after patient with MRSA in a small Indiana town. And then he began to wonder about all the hog farms outside of town. Could the pigs be incubating and spreading the disease?

If you eat bacon, maybe you want to read this column and the one to follow this coming Sunday. Just saying . . .

Islam and women's rights . . .

Via Pharyngula comes this article from The Independent:

Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the student journalist sentenced to death for blasphemy in Afghanistan, has been told he will spend the next 20 years in jail after the country's highest court ruled against him – without even hearing his defence.

The 23-year-old, brought to worldwide attention after an Independent campaign, was praying that Afghanistan's top judges would quash his conviction for lack of evidence, or because he was tried in secret and convicted without a defence lawyer. Instead, almost 18 months after he was arrested for allegedly circulating an article about women's rights, any hope of justice and due process evaporated amid gross irregularities, allegations of corruption and coercion at the Supreme Court. Justices issued their decision in secret, without letting Mr Kambaksh's lawyer submit so much as a word in his defence.

March 12, 2009

irony, as a building material

Okay, look, I know that not everyone, not even everyone I happen to like and respect, shares, or even appreciates, my political junkie-ness (stop groaning, you know what it means even if you don't think it's a "real" word) - where was I?, oh yes - even if "everyone" is not on board this boat (and its floating, not sinking....); however, if you've been paying attention at all, this bit of inspired editing is as funny as, oh, I don't know, say Jon Stewart (my first choice is actually Richard Pryor but some in my small circle of acquaintances pretend not to remember any of his bits - or worse, omigawd, don't really know if he was at all), or whoever you may think is politically acute and witty (witty in the Shakespearean sense as well as the "funny" sense). This is from today's Abbreviated Pundit Round-Up by Barbara Morrill aka BarbinMD from Daily Kos wherein she redacts, with wit, a quote from today's Karl Rove column in the journal (you are on your own to look for the link to the column) - I don't don't link to Karl Rove columns (at least not in this post).

Anyway, the witty bit:

Team Obama Bush -- aided by Clintonistas Bushites Paul Begala, James Carville and Stanley Greenberg Dick Cheney and Bob Novak -- decided to attack Rush Limbaugh Joe Wilson after poring over opinion research Wilson's report on Niger. White House senior adviser David Axelrod Karl Rove explicitly authorized the assault. Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel Scooter Libby assigned a White House official to coordinate the push. And Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Ari Fleischer gleefully punched the launch button at his podium, suckering the White House press corps into dropping what they were doing to get Mr. Limbaugh Joe Wilson.

executive assassination ring . . .

Assassination ring?

At a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an “executive assassination ring.”

sad commentary

As reported in the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Texas picks up the pace on its executions.

As more states debate whether to stop executing criminals, Texas — long the nationwide leader in executions — has geared up and is on pace to execute perhaps more than twice as many Death Row inmates this year as in 2008.

March 11, 2009

advice from a reputable source

Okay, nephews, (and maybe grandchildren - who knows? it's still early...) pay attention to the professor's advice. It's never too early to learn not to be a yahoo (one of a race of brutes, having the form and all the vices of humans, who are subject to the Houyhnhnms).

Perhaps nephew, you can look it up.

signing statement

The White House today issued the first signing statement by President Barack Obama.

future farming

Mother Jones is often the source for the real news of the times. This Paul Roberts story is such an example:

A couple years back, in a wheat field outside the town of Reardan, Washington, Fred Fleming spent an afternoon showing me just how hard it's gotten to save the world. After decades as an unrepentant industrial farmer, the tall 59-year-old realized that his standard practices were promoting erosion so severe that it was robbing him of several tons of soil per acre per year—his most important asset. So in 2000, he began to experiment with a gentler planting method known as no-till. While traditional farmers plow their fields after each harvest, exposing the soil for easy replanting, Fleming leaves his soil and crop residue intact and uses a special machine to poke the seeds through the residue and into the soil.

The results aren't pretty: In winter, when his neighbors' fields are neat brown squares, Fleming's looks like a bedraggled lawn. But by leaving the stalks and chaff on the field, Fleming has dramatically reduced erosion without hurting his wheat yields. He has, in other words, figured out how to cut one of the more egregious external costs of farming while maintaining the high output necessary to feed a growing world—thus providing a glimpse of what a new, more sustainable food system might look like.

coming evangelical collapse

From The Christian Science Monitor we learn that

We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Something worth waiting for. . .

March 10, 2009

despicable, learned men of god . . .

Yes, sometimes I am accused of getting mad about something but outrage is not something I often feel nor stand accused of; however, I am feeling some of that outrage now. The Vatican (yes, the same Vatican where I was able to stare awestruck and moved and touch Michaelangelo's pietà because it was in the 1960s and still near the main entrance to St. Peter's) is evidently backing excommunication of the Brazilian doctors who performed an abortion on a nine-year-old girl:

A Vatican cleric is defending a Brazilian archbishop's decision to excommunicate several doctors who performed an abortion last week on a nine-year-old girl who became pregnant with twins after alleged sexual abuse by her step-father.

"It is a sad case, but the real problem is that the twins conceived were two innocent persons, who had the right to live and could not be eliminated,'' Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told the Italian daily La Stampa.

"Life must always be protected. The attack on the Brazilian church is unjustified," Re was quoted as saying. He also heads the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

The controversy erupted when media reported that a nine-year-old girl from the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco had had an abortion to remove twin fetuses. The girl and her family learned she was 15 weeks pregnant when she went to hospital complaining of pains.

The girl, who has not been identified, told authorities her step-father had sexually abused her since age six. The 23-year-old step-father is currently in police custody.

Doctors performed the abortion Wednesday, saying they feared the pregnancy could kill her because of her slim frame.

Upon learning of the abortion, the regional archbishop excommunicated the doctors, as well as the girl's mother. He did not excommunicate the step-father, saying the crime he is alleged to have committed, although deplorable, was not as bad as ending a fetus's life.

It's hard to muster words used in normal discourse to speak about these ass-holes: the step-father, the regional archbishop, and Vatican clerics. This is, at the least, religious morality run amok.

My god this is outrageous...the step-father, like the priests molesting altar boys, are slapped on the wrists, little more, while their victims, the children of the world are left with no one able to defend them without invoking the moral wrath of the cloaked and fraternal brotherhood.

planning ahead . . .

Another instance where our human-centric view of the world is at odds with reality. This story by David Brown in the Washington Post gives us another chance to view the world more as it is and not as we suppose.

Santino evidently knows he's going to get upset, so he plans ahead.

The 30-year-old chimpanzee, who has lived in a Swedish zoo most of his life, sometimes gets agitated when zoo visitors begin to gather on the other side of the moat that surrounds his enclosure, where he is the dominant -- and only -- male in a group that includes half a dozen females.

He shows his displeasure by flinging stones or bits of concrete at the human intruders, but finding a suitable weapon on the spur of the moment perhaps isn't so easy. To prepare, Santino often begins his day by roaming the enclosure, finding stones and stacking them in handy piles.

Read the whole story...there's a great picture of Santino.

economic crisis

I don't often quote this quy but this column by David Brooks in The New York Times is a must read in the on-going saga of will the real conservatives please stand up . . .
The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.
The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.
If the Republicans wanted to do the country some good, they’d embrace an entirely different approach.
First, they’d take the current economic crisis more seriously than the Democrats. The Obama budget projects that the recession will be mild this year and the economy will come surging back in 2010. Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things. Democrats are counting on a quick recovery to help pay for these long-term projects.
Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It’s a bloomin’ emergency. Robert Barro of Harvard estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a depression. Warren Buffett says economic activity “has fallen off a cliff” and is not coming back soon.

Read the rest of the column here.

March 09, 2009

recommendation . . .

Something well worth reading over at Talking Points Memo. You'll need to follow a couple of links there to get the full story.
I do not think this issue has been raised anywhere in our news coverage or here at my blog. But I wanted to briefly enter into this debate about President Obama's decision to make Chas Freeman chair of the National Intelligence Council, a somewhat out of the way Intelligence Community panel which has the key role of overseeing the production of National Intelligence Estimates.
Indulge me for a moment for a bit of background for those not familiar with this controversy; because it's important. Freeman is firmly in the Realist school of foreign policy. He was a former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and is close to the Saudis. The real rub, the basis of the whole controversy, however, is that he has been far more critical of Israeli policy than is generally allowed within acceptable debate in Washington. That is the crux of it. And because of that he's become the target of a spirited campaign to get his appointment rescinded.

March 08, 2009

yes they do, otto, they just don't understand it . . .

Okay, you're going Galt? So go Galt. Just go already.

They don't know where they're going. I think Blue Girl is right.

Spring and All

by William Carlos Williams

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf

One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted they
grip down and begin to awaken

Walking today, this poem refrained in my mind over and over . . . not in its entirety, I struggle to remember some of its wonderful imagery, but in its essence, its sense of sound. Or, perhaps more, in its "concentrated mind."

Here, in the beginning of March, with winds on the bayou, already signs of sluggish, dazed spring approaching..." The signs of spring are not now flamboyant as they shortly will be, but all the same, the news of this new dawning is as certain as any clarion call from past years.

Cross-posted from Poetry Patter.

slouching (or rushing) towards what?

Boggles the mind but David Frum almost makes sense except for the stupidity of his comment about Jesse Jackson):

Rush knows what he is doing. The worse conservatives do, the more important Rush becomes as leader of the ardent remnant. The better conservatives succeed, the more we become a broad national governing coalition, the more Rush will be sidelined.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise—and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

March 07, 2009

governor hypocrisy

Via digby a bit of insight into California's words vs. actual intentions in this
piece from d-day.

Arnold Schwarzenegger got a lot of good press from going on ABC and saying that he would take the stimulus money of any GOP governor who refused a portion of it.

I recommend that you check out d-day's entire entry.

March 06, 2009

my vote counts . . .

WASHINGTON — President Obama will announce Monday that he is reversing Bush administration limits on federal financing for embryonic stem cell research as part of a pledge to separate science and politics, White House officials said Friday.

March birthday poet

To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

international women's day

For International Women’s Day, we should get paid parental leave and paid sick leave
By Sangita Nayak, March 6, 2009

March 8 is International Women’s Day, and it’s shameful that women in the United States are lagging behind in some crucial areas, like work policies.

Women here have a much harder time working and caring for their family members at the same time.

Even something so basic as getting paid time off to raise a baby is denied to most women in the United States. We rank last out of 21 industrialized countries in our parental leave policies, according to a recent study by the Center for Economic Policy Research. The United States mandates no paid maternity leave, virtually alone in this group of nations.

Equally as shocking, paid sick leave is not required in the United States, either. Almost half of women working in the private sector have no sick time. In the largest industry that employs women, accommodations and food service, 78 percent go without paid sick time.

We need to get paid parental leave and paid sick leave if we, as a society, are going to be as fair and just, as we view ourselves as being.

We can make some of these gains locally or statewide.

The entire story should be read . . .

bad idea . . . giving away carbon permits

Via Kevin Drum, bad news, and hilzoy from Sen. Jeff Bingaman:

"Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat who chairs the energy panel, said earlier that any climate bill that passes the Senate is unlikely to adhere to the administration's plan that the government auction all the permits to emit greenhouse gases because such a plan would be too harsh on big industry.

Instead, Bingaman said any Congressionally developed system capping and trading emissions probably will include carbon allowances given to polluters like cement factories and coal-burning power plants, along with permits that are sold."

Tell me it ain't so . . . just say "no!" Read Kevin Drum (above).

new kid still popular . . .

President Obama's personal ratings remain high.

New York, March 5, 2008 – With the recent announcement of President Obama’s plans for a home foreclosure relief plan and proposed plans to increase taxes on affluent individuals and to spend money on health care, education and energy, the Diageo/Hotline Poll of 803 registered voters conducted by FD from February 28 – March 2, 2009, finds that majorities of voters support his proposals.

time to change parties?

If Sen. Arlen Specter has a real challenge in the Republican primary when he stands for re-election it could be a real bonus for whatever Democrat runs in the general election.

March 05, 2009

flecks of grey

President Obama, according to The New York Times is going gray after just 44 days in office.

homeland security and local law enforcement

WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department has failed to ensure that local and state law enforcement partners pursue serious criminals and don't misuse their authority while enforcing immigration law, government investigators say.

Dozens of state and local agencies have partnered with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carry out immigration laws, the domain of the federal government. But ICE, a Homeland Security agency, has not clearly explained that serious criminal offenders, such as drug smugglers, are the target, the Government Accountability Office said in a report obtained by The Associated Press.

The GAO also found that ICE is not properly supervising its local and state partners nor collecting data needed to assess the program, according to the report GAO was to release Wednesday.

I'll repeat - local police should not be charged with Federal responsibilities for which they have inadequate training and funding.