October 31, 2005

No Excuses Or Omissions For Sulawesi's Muderous Jihadists

Three Christian Schoolgirls Decapitated: One Head Left At Church

While our family was trick-or-treating Saturday in the West Seattle Junction, killers who were doubtless Islamic jihadists were busy decapitating three Christian schoolgirls In Poso, Sulawesi Island, Indonesia as they took a short cut through a field on their way to school. Two of the heads were left at a police station, the third in front of a new church. Many mainstream media reports on the horrific incident, like this one from BBC highlight previous "sectarian violence" between Christians and Muslims near Poso in recent years, lazily imputing some sort of partial justification for the beheadings of innocents Saturday. All's fair in love and jihad, doncha'know? By the day after, BBC was not even able to mention until the seventh paragraph - although it is an undisputably central aspect of the story - that the victims were Christian schoolgirls. Then there is more of the "both sides are to blame" palaver.

Except, as the Financial Times reports today, the 1998 spark for violence around Poso came Islamic jihadists; the area has been a "jihadist training ground;" and as recently as May of this year, a bombing that killed 22 in the region was blamed on Islamic extremists.

Indonesian police have increased patrols in a region that has been the site of sectarian violence and a jihadi recruiting ground in recent years after the weekend beheading of three Christian school girls by mysterious killers dressed in black.

....The killings have again increased fears that extremist groups are trying to incite another round of violence in Poso, the scene of sectarian conflict between 1998 and 2002 that left more than 1,000 dead. Much of that violence, which began after a December 1998 brawl between Christian and Muslim youths, was fuelled by outsiders from Indonesian jihadi groups.

You see how easily that last sentence could have been excised by a foreign desk editor because of "space limitations," or more likely, never even included to begin with, in the AP or Reuters version of such a story. Baked-in news section bias is more and more prevalent in U.S. daily papers, and is often the tipping point in cancelled subscriptions.

Notice also the telling distinction between FT's assessment that the earlier violence was "fueled" by outsider jihadists, versus the BBC's assessment (in the first link, above) of that violence as having "drawn" jihadists from outside the region. Passive voice versus active. Such nuances matter.

Whenever you read something in your hometown rag about Iraq, Iran, Israel, Indonesia, Palestine, Pakistan, or Islamic extremists, get additional sources. You're rarely getting the whole story, or the straight story. That's why you need Google News, where, as bloggers know, a simple key word(s) search will provide varied versions of each new story, from different providers, and you can see which mainstream media sources are skewing left, and how. One of my hometown papers, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, did a fairly credible job, overall, on the Sulawesi beheadings, with a detailed AP story. The Seattle Times, on the other hand, gave it three scant grafs in an international news round-up.

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Tom Rekdal: Notice also that Indonesia is a democratic state (sort of), as are India, which was hit by more Islamic terrorism last week, Turkey, Spain, and Britain.

At the very least, such incidents should give some pause to the argument that the "root cause" of terrorism lies primarily in the absence of electoral democracy.

The kind of murderous fanaticism we are now witnessing is something we have not thought about since the seventeenth century, and it seems to me unlikely that its causation can be conveniently captured in the social science categories were are familiar with.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 08:04 PM | Comments (0)

The Ethics of i-Porn

The headline says, "Parents Have A New Problem: iPorn." But I'd suggest it's certain adults who will more often have a problem with iPorn, or pornography viewed on Apple Computer's snazzy new handheld video iPod. The audio iPod, of course, is already smashingly popular. It's an inestimably effective buffer against the vagaries of street noise, health club soundtracks and random interaction with other human beings. It boasts a lighter weight, smaller size and longer custom playlist than any previous portable audio device. Porn audio, or podcasts, are already widely available for the iPod. The video iPod shows TV and movie snippets, from a personally-customized menu of downloadable content, now including some very adult video podules from the ever-enterprising porn industry. Was there ever any doubt this was coming?

Just as with regard to video games, I'm not for any prohibitive laws here. Rather, I despair, ever so slightly, for our species. Because too many humanoids, even some of the brainy ones, are like lab rats being fed cocaine - whether the stimulus is professional sports, cell phones or iPorn. The upside: we can let social Darwinism work its magic one more way. For what is life, but a series of choices, and consequences? The very same people who consume pornography as a sad substitute for real intimacy with a significant other - meaning nearly all porn consumers - will now have one more tool in their hands. It may result in self-marginalization, or self-actualization.

Flash forward to a meeting of Pornaholics Anonymous. Guy steps up to the group. Says, "My name is Dakota. I'm a Systems Administrator and a recovering Pornaholic. I've been clean for three years, five months, and nine days. Engaged to a wonderful woman. We're planning to have children. I realized I was headed around the bend right around the time I began sneaking porn at work on my video iPod......."


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:15 PM | Comments (0)

Cry Me A River, For 5,000 Yen

Nakiya are professional criers, in Japan. You pay, they cry. At a funeral, a TV soap, whatever and wherever you need 'em. Aberrations of the modern age are evident everywhere, but Japan often strikes me as especially peculiar. On the one hand, you have beautiful, graceful, centuries-old artisitic traditions expressed in painting, drawing, ceramics, wood carving, gardening and theatre. Japanese cuisine is another expression of balance, harmony, grace and beauty. Then on the other hand you've English-language T-shirts with completely non-sensical word combinations; plus the commercialization of phony grief by nakiya and their clients; and clubs of men known as "chikan," devoted to the fine art of groping women on subways. Coming soon to the East and West: iPod porn.


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Nathan Azinger e-mails to say, "I should point out that mourning is an old profession in both Eastern and Western traditions." Good reminder, Nathan, thanks. Yet I wonder where else, now, besides Japan, is the tradition prevalent in the modern day?

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

October 30, 2005

Hugo Chavez Versus Halloween

It's not just those wacky Euros. Now Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez wants to ban observation of Halloween in his country, too. Like my friend Giordano Giardano (see first link), and a bunch of silly Austrian mayors, he claims it is an evil American custom.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 01:30 PM | Comments (0)

Chicago City Council Committee Approves Foie Gras Ban


Chicago has gone to the dogs, or make that, the geese. Egged on by former "M.A.S.H." star and animal rights activist Loretta "Hot Lips" Swit, the Chicago City Council's Health Committee has approved an ordinance banning the serving of foie gras, a pate made from the liver of ducks or geese, in Chicago restaurants. The fowl, said Swit, suffer no less than have prisoners at Abu Ghrab.

Swit quoted Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington as saying that creating the delicacy "may not be pretty, but it pales by comparison to problems like Abu Ghraib, police brutality and racial profiling."

"Are we ever going to forget the memory of that girl smiling, holding a tortured prisoner on a leash and enjoying it? . . . She grew up with the acceptance of this kind of behavior in whatever form it was, whether it was torturing a cat or a dog or seeing somebody doing it and looking the other way," Swit said.

"If we look the other way -- if we say, 'It's a guinea pig. It's a mouse. Who cares? It's a kitten. Whatever,' then why are we surprised at the existence of inhumane acts directed toward each other? Violence begets violence. Brutality begets brutality. Inhumanity is a disease."

Indeed, Hot Lips. The nexus between the manufacture of goose liver pate and rough treatment of war prisoners is - dare I say it - searingly evident.

A U.N. inquiry into the ethical ramifications of foie gras is rumored. And the day after committee hearing, the restaurant of a local chef who testified against the proposed foie gras ban was vandalized.

Such fowl play has occured previously, in San Francisco.

If you are in Chicago, you can show your support for the chef, and for freedom of the palate by dining at his fine establisment, Cyrano's Bistrot and Wine Bar.

If anti-foie gras activists are contemplating additional steps before the vote of the full city council on the ban, I'd advise they NOT bring in Bea Arthur.

What is it with washed-up sitcom actresses and foie gras, anyway?

Hat tip, on proposed Chicago foie gras ban: Rosenblog reader David Jackson.


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Michael McClellan: I'd swear that was an April Fools post if it wasn't dated October 30th.

The next time I'm in the Windy City, I'm definitely eating some foie gras at Cyrano's.

And by the way:

"Indeed, Hot Lips. The nexus between the manufacture of goose liver pate and rough treatment of war prisoners is - dare I say it - searingly evident."

Laughing. Out loud.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

October 28, 2005

Europe's Cultural Conservatives In A Dither About Halloween

A Roman Catholic theologian named Giordano Frosini, from near Florence, has denounced Halloween as a manifestation of neo-paganism and American cultural imperialism. He is not alone; several small-town Austrian mayors are trying to organize a boycott of what they see a a crude, boorish and entIrely American holiday. More from AP.

Although Halloween has become increasingly popular across Europe — complete with carved pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, makeshift houses of horror and costumed children rushing door to door for candy — it's begun to breed a backlash. Critics see it as the epitome of crass, U.S.-style commercialism. Clerics and conservatives contend it clashes with the spirit of traditional Nov. 1 All Saints' Day remembrances.

And it's got purists in countries struggling to retain a sense of uniqueness in Europe's ever-enlarging melting pot grimacing like jack-o'-lanterns. Halloween "undermines our cultural identity," complained the Rev. Giordano Frosini, a Roman Catholic theologian who serves as vicar-general in the Diocese of Pistoia near Florence, Italy. Frosini denounced the holiday as a "manifestation of neo-paganism" and an expression of American cultural supremacy. "Pumpkins show their emptiness," he said.

Giordano, Giordano. I'm not entirely in disagreement with you about how crass and commerical Halloween has become. I could almost do without it myself, but my kids, well they really like the costumes and trick-or-treating. No, where you skid off the tracks Giordano, Giordano, is in blaming America. Wikipedia tells us that Halloween's continental roots are considerable.

Halloween was formerly also sometimes called All Saints' Eve. The holiday was a day of religious festivities in various northern European pagan traditions, until it was appropriated by Christian missionaries and given a Christian reinterpretation....Halloween is also called Pooky Night in some parts of Ireland, presumably named after the púca, a mischievous spirit. In the United Kingdom in particular, the pagan Celts celebrated the Day of the Dead on Halloween. The spirits supposedly rose from the dead and, in order to attract them, food was left on the doors. To scare off the evil spirits, the Celts wore masks. When the Romans invaded Britain, they embellished the tradition with their own, which is the celebration of the harvest and honoring the dead.

These traditions were then passed on to the United States. Halloween is sometimes associated with the occult. Many European cultural traditions hold that Halloween is one of the "liminal" times of the year when the spirit world can make contact with the natural world and when magic is most potent.

Sounds like we were latecomers to the party. With such a historical connection, no wonder Europeans have gone mad for Halloween and spend, spend, spend for costumes, parties, candy, and more.

Germans alone spend nearly $170 million on Halloween costumes, sweets, decorations and parties. The holiday has become increasingly popular in Romania, home to the Dracula myth, where discothèques throw parties with bat and vampire themes. In Britain, where Halloween celebrations rival those in the United States, it's the most lucrative day of the year for costume and party retailers.

"Without Halloween, I don't think we could exist, to be honest," said Pendra Maisuria, owner of Escapade, a London costume shop that rakes in 30 percent of its annual sales in the run-up to Oct. 31. The Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, hasn't logged any significant increase in crime.

....In Austria, where many families get a government child allowance, "parents who abuse it to buy Halloween plunder for their kids should be forced to pay back the aid," grumbled Othmar Berbig, an Austrian who backs the small but strident boycott movement.

Wait, I've got it. We should have the EU issue a decree capping Halloween spending at one-third of annual consumer outlays for artisinal cheese in EU member countries. Yeh....that's the ticket.


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Wesley Taylor: Dear Matt, you wrote about Halloween:

"...several small-town Austrian mayors are trying to organize a boycott of what they see a a crude, boorish and entIrely American holiday."

Well, they're right about it being a crude, boorish, and - as currently practiced - entirely American, crassly commercialized excuse for retailers to tell consumers they really have to buy more stuff they wouldn't otherwise even consider, and has no practical use whatsoever (outside of the candy, which isn't too practical either). I don't consider it a holiday, really, either.

Yes, I remember going out to each and every house in my neighborhood in costume when I was a little kid; and I had no problem with my children doing it, as long as it was a quest for candy and nothing more. Over the age of about 12, they stop being very cute. And I won't go into how current teenage fashions look more like Halloween costumes than "fashion," so it seems like "trick or treat" every day of the year.

Gary L. Burk: Matt,

A newsletter from NASA this week taught me that Halloween is an astronomical holiday. In part the article said:

And that's funny, because Halloween is an astronomical holiday.

It has to do with seasons: Halloween is a "cross-quarter date," approximately midway between an equinox and a solstice. There are four cross-quarter dates throughout the year, and each is a minor holiday: Groundhog Day (Feb. 2nd), May Day (May 1st), Lammas Day (Aug. 1st), and Halloween (Oct. 31st).

Long ago, "the Celts of the British Isles used cross-quarter days to mark the beginnings of seasons," says John Mosley of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. "Winter began with Halloween, [or as they called it, 'Samhain']. Halloween marked the transition between summer and winter, light and dark -- and life and death."

"On that one night, according to folklore, those who had died during the previous year returned for a final visit to their former homes. People set out food and lit fires to aid them on their journey -- but remained on guard for mischief the spirits might do."

According to my Anchor Atlas of World History, the Celts came from Central Europe (Austria?) before they moved across most of Western Europe. I believe that Europe has a Ground Hog Day equivalent holiday also. In fact, Google reminds me:

The Emperor Justinian I in 542 AD declared February 2 the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin. In medieval Europe this date became Candlemas Day, the date when the candles to be used for the remainder of the year are blessed.

Are the Austrians, et al, going to cancel the other three cross-quarter holidays too? Maybe we should go back to the original version of May 1st? Wikipedia doesn’t mention any astronomical significance in my quick scan. Maybe those cycles were for the spring wheat harvests?

(Here's the link to) the full NASA article.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

October 27, 2005

Rosenblog's Road Map To Reduced Federal Spending

President Bush is encouraging Congress to "push the envelope" on spending cuts. Many, many billions (that's an official estimate) must be trimmed from the budget - given the Iraq War, relief and rebuilding stemming from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, and a whole lot of greenbacks being tossed about for all kinds of dubious things. Rolling back the Bush tax cuts that have benefitted individuals and households is not on the table for recission and justifiably so.

Knowing that the President, Congress and elite members of the punditocracy regularly turn to Rosenblog for a crucial Outside-The-Beltway perspective from a famous freelance journalist, blogger, and guitar-playing father of two from Seattle, I offer the following suggestions on reducing federal spending.

First off, Jorge - Luv Ya, big guy. Really, and truly. The way you clear brush down in Crawford is just plain impressive. But you and Congress don't know the first damn thing about clearing the brush in D.C., now do ya? Never mind about envelope-pushing.

Good news tho, amigos! Famous bloggers like Rosenblog are a real resource.

So...to start with: c-o-r-p-or-a-t-e w-e-l-f-a-r-e. End it. I'm just a huge, huge fan of free enterprise and small government, like a lot of Republicans. But tax breaks written into the tax code are evil, and generally not warranted to boot. A special commission of performance auditors with distemper should examine each and every corporate tax break granted by Congress. They should give beneficiaries, experts and the lay public a deadline to produce top-level documentation of proven benefits to the economy. Any corporate tax breaks which cannot be shown to produce a net benefit to the economy will have to be eliminated, under the Corporate Tax Break Performance Audit Act of 2005, which Congress should pass by Christmas recess.

Now, a few other easy steps to curtail federal spending. Mind you, these are just some Phase One ideas; we all need to put on our thinking caps and figure out some more good stuff. But this much is clear: We sure don't wanna leave it to Congress and turf-obsessed committee staff dweebs. No way, no how!

More brilliant ideas......

Pass a special act making mandatory all cost-saving measures recommended in reports by The General Accounting Office, now known as the Government Accountability Office. Or abolish the agency altogether. But it's got to be one or the other, because nobody pays them no never mind, except a few members of Congress, and committee staffers looking to score P.R. points with the results of one or another GAO study. We need to give GAO a nine-iron to whack some sense into a lot of heads, ah, figuratively speaking.

U.S. Energy Department. Contract out - all the way - for hazardous materials clean-up; and for disposal and then, security of remaining nuclear-weapons-grade materials. After which, shut the whole stinkin' agency down. They can't do anything right anymore, anyhow. Besides, do we really need the government to give us energy? C'mon. That's one-a them-there free market thangs, now, ain't it?

Bury Foggy Bottom Six Leagues Under. What, really does the State Department do? Except muck up things for the Department of Defense? Useless bureaucrats at State, nearly all. Excise the entire department. Who'd really notice, or care, besides WaPo and NYT reporters, a few equally vestigial columnists, and card-carrying DNC members who comprise their sole readership? Huge savings in salary and bennies, not to mention real estate sales of former State building stock.

Another great idea: Offload as much marketable, non-utilized federal property as possible, across the entire nation. Be merciless.

And.....abolish the Federal Drug Administration. Drug testing and trials, feh! Let the market decide, and juries. I mean, talk about checks and balances!

Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, U.S. Civil Rights Commission.....both wholly obsolete. Abolish 'em. Power of the individual, and all that.

Nuke the National Endowment For The Arts. People can apprehend art on their own. Besides which: mission accomplished. Culture permeates our society.

Furthermore: this bi-cameral legislature stuff is getting old. Really old. The House of Representatives is an unruly, ill-mannered mob. With re-election every two years, all they do is pander to campaign contributors anyway. Even if their re-election cycle were less frequent, they nonetheless tend to be intellectually-challenged, in the most basic sense. And vastly too numerous. They'll always subtract, rather than add, to the national debate. Let's move with alacrity to a unicameral legislature; if it takes a constitutional amendment, well, so be it. And we'll call that sole chamber.....mmmmm....the U.S. Senate. Come to think of it, I'd be just perfectly peachy happy with Wyoming and Kansas having as many representatives as New York or California. Kind of a poetical justice there, actually.

NASA: enough useless romance already! S-u-n-s-e-t. Ballgame over.

DOD: Cut the Pentagon workforce by one-third within six months. And...within two years, finalize a plan for a re-purposed defense hardware and technology arsenal, one that's twice as effective and half as expensive as what we've got now. (George, buddy, be thinking failsafe "legacy" here, OK? Maybe even "visionary." Or, alternatively, enjoy all those speeches to defense firms at 50K a pop after your second term ends. Your call, Tex).

A final word of advice to all my power-broker friends.

Dimmocrats: it is not government's job to provide a social safety net. It is the federal government's job to protect our borders (ahem!) and our national security; and to fight vigilantly and intelligently against terrorist organizations who wish to destroy our infrastructure, populace and way of life. It is the federal government's job to help incentivize excellence in public education (no turning back from NCLB now, c'mon!); to protect the environment without becoming pawns of all the friends of Robert Kennedy Jr.; and to help fund transit, roads, highways, airports (especially new ones), dams, and reservoirs. Oh, disaster relief, that's fair enough, too, I suppose. I probably left out a few other things, but you get the idea. Health care? My tight, sweet a--. For veterans, yes (govt. health care, not my posterior). For the rest? It should be their own affair. It's a cost of living, like food and gasoline. Repeat after me: core competencies. Mission creep has gotten WAY out of hand.

Republicans: you say you're for fiscal restraint. Show me.

Everyone: Glad I could be of service. I'm only gettin' started, mind you.

More here - scroll down to "A Flight Of Fantasy." You'll quickly see that early on in my illustrious and internationally-celebrated blogging career, I was already on the case, federal deficit-wise.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:22 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2005

A Wobbly Concept

In Wales, at a government-funded exhibition, a performer methodically guzzles bottle after bottle of beer, and then tries to walk on a balance beam in high heels. Huh? It's art, y'see, with a chaser of deconstruction.

Critics of a state-funded art show in which the female performer consumes large quantities of beer have branded it a stupid display of binge drinking and have called for it to be banned.... Audiences at the government-funded Chapter arts centre in Canton, Cardiff, see (Japanese artist Tomoko) Takahashi arrive on stage in high heels and a smart black business suit. For the next three hours, they watch her drink bottle after bottle, periodically lurching towards her beam and seeing how much of it she can negotiate without falling off. Fortunately for her, it is only a couple of feet high, so she is unlikely to suffer more than a twisted ankle.

Unfortunately, some see her one-woman performance art show as less a comment "on the availability and use of mass-produced products", as she claims, and more an exhortation to binge drink.....David Davies, a Tory member of the Welsh Assembly, said: "If anyone is daft enough to want to see a young woman getting plastered and tottering around in high heels, they can do it in just about every city centre most nights of the week. The show is probably the biggest waste of money in the world. The worrying thing is people are deciding to hand out taxpayers' money like this when they are sober."

However, James Tyson, the theatre's programmer, defended the performance, staged as part of the centre's Experimentica 05 season. He said: "Miss Takahashi is an internationally renowned artist. Her work constantly questions the way products are marketed and the role of mass media in society." He added: "This wasn't just about a woman drinking a lot of beer. This was a powerful piece of art."

Powerfully dumb, yes, and even more so that government is sticking taxpayers with the bill. And if we want to explore the roots of alcohol overconsumption in the UK, we should look not to blame the problem on product marketers and the mass media, which is the typical liberal deconstructionist approach to figuring out anything - minus the "institutional racism, classism, and sexism" canards that are usually part of the package, that is. No it's the bleedin' yobs themselves who are to blame.


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Tom Rekdal: This is another one of those Catch-22 situations that just seems to be an inevitable part of the way we live now.

The public--certainly the Seattle public, anyway--seems to find nothing objectionable about taxpayer subsidies for anything that could be termed "culture" or "entertainment." The general argument is always cast at a fairly lofty level: Who could be against public libraries, symphonies, or art? Don't they elevate public taste?

Indeed, they do. Yet as soon as the general principle is conceded, anti-discrimination policies, which pervade the legal system, immediately come into play, and we are left supporting bizarre displays like the one you instance here. Neither the public acceptance of cultural subsidies nor the legal policy against "viewpoint" discrimination is likely to change anytime soon.

When the issue of taxpayer subsidies for the baseball stadium first came up, I wrote to my County Councilmember to protest the use of public money for the support of a purely private interest in sports. Her response--perfectly reasonable, under the circumstances--was that she had voted for libraries and could not now vote against baseball stadiums just because some people had no interest in baseball. Other people do, probably more than the number who go to libraries.

You can't win.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 09:52 PM | Comments (0)

Time For A Rant, OK?

Finally, somebody writes something that actually matters about the flap involving Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who went to jail to shield a source who - in an attempt at payback - told her a Bush Administration critic's wife (got that?) had once been a CIA operative. That the source, vice-presidential aide Scooter Libby, has now said he released Miller from the obligation to protect his identity with obfuscatory source labelling, kind of proves Patt Morrison's point in the L.A. Times today. Petty Inside-The-Beltway leakers such as Libby are NOT who should be shielded by reporters' rare, but sometimes necessary confidentiality pledges to sources.

It isn't Washington's gotcha gamesters who should get to hide behind reporters' shields and take anonymous potshots at their enemies. The people who deserve that protection are the men and women who honorably blow the whistle on fraud and corruption and then find themselves threatened or fired. People such as the two Border Patrol agents who pointed out security weaknesses, the Medicare actuary who wanted to tell Congress how much the new prescription drug law would really cost, and the Army's top contracting official, who criticized a huge, noncompetitive Halliburton contract.

Oh, and Miller never printed the information about the Bush critic's wife, but a columnist did. And the critic's wife hadn't been an CIA operative for quite some time, so revealing her past role was probably not a security breach or a very effective payback for her husband's criticism of Bush. And yet, whether the vice-presidential aide was ordered by certain higher-ups, such as V.P. Dick Cheney or presidential advisor Karl Rove to leak about the Bush critic's wife's past CIA role is a very, very, very big deal, and a grand jury is investigating who told who to do what when, and an indictment may be coming tommorow, or next week, or never; and while an indictment is not a conviction, there are people in Seattle who run a weekly alternative alternative (that's not a typo) newspaper full of sex ads and vituperative left-wing bile who are breathlessly hyping their "indictment party" in their wholly mediocre blog which lacks real, stand-alone permalinks (you'll have to scroll down to the Oct. 25 item titled "Indictment Night Party," here).

Now do you understand? Oh, and if I messed something up in the above, absurd-but-true fact parade, well sorry, it's because I just don't give a f*** about this whole f****** thing except to make clear how little I give a f*** about it. Oh, and that I agree with Patt Morrison, today.

P.S. Aspiring journalists, if you wish to work at an alternative alternative weekly, you'll need to be able to write white-hot screeds just like this, only no asteriks allowed when you cuss.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 02:40 PM | Comments (0)

One Of 1971's Finest: Savoy Brown's "Street Corner Talking"

Among my 1,500-some mostly mint condition, not wholly archaic, vinyl-format musical recordings - some folks still refer to them as LPs - are several by an old British blues-rock group callled Savoy Brown. They've been through umpteen personnel changes, and their prime is more than 30 years past. But they're still alive and kickin,' and still led by the Wales-born guitarist Kim Simmonds, who quite stingingly played a Gibson Flying V model, like the late great Albert King.

One of the finest Savoy Brown recordings, circa September 1971, is titled "Street Corner Talking." A partial group history, with - in the time-honored tradition of crappy rock music writing - way too much esoteric information about line-up changes, and then finally, some relevant stuff about this great LP - is here.

I've always loved the album's music. AND the cover art, seemingly channeled from Miles Davis' "On The Corner" LP, of the same vintage.

This is 60s Brit blues-rock the way it was meant to be - yet with a unique voice (vocalist Dave Walker's) and a unique feel (verging into jazz, with the long workout, including Paul Raymond's great electric piano solo, on "All I Can Do Is Cry"). You just have to hear it for yourself. It's not in any way reminiscent of the other purveyors of the genre then, great as they were - such as early (Peter Green-era) Fleetwood Mac, early LedZep, Clapton.

70s FM and "classic rock" radio listeners may recall the big hit from Street Corner Talking - still performed by discerning but overwieght bar bands to this day: "Tell Mama." There are also a bunch of fine originals - including the funky-chunky title tune, and wholly re-worked covers of Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon's classic, "Wang Dang Doodle," as well as The Temptations' bristling soul-rock gem, "Can't Get Next To You."

FYI, this is a 60s album, as the 60s didn't end until Dec. 31, 1971. I assume, perhaps blithely, that everyone knows that. If you wanna get back to your White Boy rock-blues roots, Savoy Brown's "Street Corner Talking" is a must-have. Naturally, amazon.com has it on CD, here.

The blog Rock And Roll Report has more on why Savoy Brown mattered.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2005

It's Official: Iraqi Constitution Passes

Not enough "no" votes in Nineveh Province, and the Iraqi constitution passes. And the "Egg On Face Award" for Iraqi constitution vote prognostication goes to.......TPM Cafe, which just yesterday was predicting a likely defeat, and calling it "good for democracy?" Bloomberg News has more on the actual outcome:

Iraqis approved a new constitution that will establish a federal government, the next step in the country's transition to democracy after two decades of rule by Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. "It is an accomplishment for all Iraqis," Independent Electoral Commission spokesman Farid Ayar said today at a news conference in the capital, Baghdad, aired live by international broadcasters. "It's a civilized step that puts Iraq on the path to democracy, to rebuilding our new Iraq."

Almost 79 percent of Iraqi voters approved the charter, the commission said after the news conference in a statement in which it gave specifics of the vote. The proposal was passed in an Oct. 15 national referendum after opponents failed to muster a two-thirds majority in three of the country's 18 provinces, as required to defeat the measure....The outcome of the referendum hinged on the mainly Sunni Muslim northern province of Nineveh, which today was among last of the provinces to announce results. Fifty-five percent of Nineveh's voters rejected the charter. Voters in Sunni-dominated al-Anbar, in the west, rejected it by almost 97 percent, as did about 82 percent of voters in the majority-Sunni central province of Salahdin.

About 99 percent of voters backed the constitution in the northern Kurdish province of Arbil. In the southern Shiite Muslim province of Basra, 96 percent of voters approved it.

The Bloomberg story, of course, includes all the usual hedging and brow-furrowing about whether the country can truly become unified. Of course, final success is not assured, but is that really the point, for Allah's sake? The to-do list sounds pretty inspiring to me. Or would it be better if these challenges had never arisen; and Sunnis stayed fat and happy while Saddam added more Shiite corpses to his mass graves? This was but one gruesome face of the great and now-lamented "stability" Iraq enjoyed in the Saddam era.

The constitution establishes the nation as a federal, parliamentary republic with Islam as its official religion. Iraqis will choose a new National Assembly, which will sit for four years, in elections to be held by Dec. 15, under the U.S.-backed March 2004 Transitional Authority Law. Lawmakers will then select a cabinet, which must take office by Dec. 31. Its main task will be to interpret and add enforce the charter by dealing with disputes over oil revenue and the right to tax, central versus local authority, the role of Islam in the state, and the protection of civil liberties. A parliamentary panel will propose amendments to the text after the December vote, under an Oct. 12 agreement reached by Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite politicians.

Lamestream media coverage of the constitutional vote has been pretty awful. L. Brent Bozell III summarizes a recent study by his Media Research Center, here, noting:

Until the last few years, the phrase "Arab constitutional democracy" sounded like a pipe dream or an oxymoron....(yet)...The news pattern from Iraq has that familiar gloom to it. The process of building a constitutional democracy has been a story made in sessions of boring political blather, in a language Americans can't understand. Bombs blowing people up -- now that's action, great television. It doesn't require an interpreter. That's news....the news from Iraq can be utterly factual, but, in the selection of facts, be utterly biased. The overwhelming picture TV viewers get day in and day out, through this selectivity, is that Iraq is packed with chaos, a "mess."

Viewers should sense a political mission in the gloom. Demoralization over the "mess" in Iraq drags down Bush's approval rating, drives the numbers up when the network pollsters ask constantly whether the war is "worth the cost," and seems to revise history toward the Howard Dean view that deposing Saddam Hussein was a colossal mistake. They are right to assume that when reporters watch the Iraqis stream to the polls, they see sad puppets of the American president trying to put a happy-faced Post-It note on a disaster scene.

Ross Mackenzie, editorial page editor of The Richmond Times-Dispatch, writes that progress in Iraq is THE big story:

The vote evidently ratifying a new constitution demonstrated that al-Zarqawi's strategy is failing. Iraq's freedom experiment could well use more enthusiasm from Arab and Islamic supporters on the outside, but it may be approaching success. And the regime in Sunni Syria, easing the tasks of Iraqi terrorists and itself playing terror games in Lebanon, may be going onto the rocks.

Not only are Iraqis voting; several hundred thousand Iraqis who fled Saddamite Iraq have returned. The Iraqi currency, the dinar, trades stably in international currency markets. Iraqi property values are skyrocketing.

Writes the American Enterprise Institute's Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly: "Beheadings and blood sell copy but do not accurately reflect Iraq. ... Bombings and body bags are tragic. But they do not reflect failure. Rather, they represent the sacrifice that both Iraqis and Americans have made for security and democracy. The referendum, refugee return, real estate and investment show much more accurately -- and objectively -- Iraq's slow but steady progress."So despite the nigglings of the naysaying "they," democracy in Iraq may be taking root. And certainly it's a dramatically more important story than who said what about someone named Valerie Plame.

Right on.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

Don Diva: the Lifestyle Quarterly For the Discerning Gangsta

If rich white guys can subscribe to The Robb Report, why not a market-specific publication for all those bruthas with bling, babes and Berettas? The Washington Post reports today on the funky lifestyle quarterly for Gangbangers, Don Diva (free req. req.). The 23rd issue is out, and there are 150,000 subscribers, only 10 percent of them behind bars (versus about 90 percent earlier). Still, at first blush, it might appear the magazine glorifies gangsta culture.

Each issue has two covers, one in front, one in back. The "street cover" features a scene of gangster life: a staged shot of kids cooking up crack cocaine, for example, or an authentic photo of a dead Chicago dope dealer laid out in a coffin built to resemble his Cadillac El Dorado. The "entertainment cover" features a rapper and is used mainly by newsstands too squeamish to display the street cover. Inside, Don Diva has three main editorial features: stories about gangsters, stories about gangsta rappers and photos of scantily clad women, most of them shot from behind to emphasize their thong-clad posteriors.

...Don Diva...(also provides)...handy advice on where to hide your stash, how to beat money-laundering charges and where to get the latest gangsta accessories, such as diamond-studded gold teeth, portable money-counting machines and automobile tires that keep rolling even after they've been shot.

...this issue also contains....a piece on Luis "Money L" Santiago, a former New York rap producer who has gone into the custom-fur business. His first product was fur-lined sneakers. His latest project is customizing his clients' fur coats by adding "diamond encrusted zippers."

But the magazine packs a moral wallop, explains editor and publisher Tiffany Chiles:

"Most of the criminals we write about end up dead or in prison," she says. "To say that's glorifying is to say my readers are stupid. We have to shed light on things that are happening."

Um, excuse me, but. Isn't death part of the glorious gangsta legend? Like, ah, say, the one buried in the faux-Cadillac casket? Of course, young white males, and Asians, as well as blacks, appropriate gangsta shtick and gangsta chic. Don Diva is really just an edgier version of the other hip-hop magazines out there, which are crucial tools in marketing scuzzy rap personalities, hip-hop lifestyle apparel and accessories like diamond-encrusted zippers and gold teeth grills for "ghetto" arrivistes. Consumerism cuts across social mileus, but class remains the great divider. Plus ca change, plus la meme chose, n'est-ce-pas?


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

October 24, 2005

Alternative Weeklies Haven't Been Alternative For Thirty Years, Guys!

Poplicks.com bemoans the sale of the (NYC) Village Voice to the alternative weekly big fish New Times Media, and worries that truly "still independent" weeklies such as The San Francisco Bay Guardian may go the same way, eventually. The Guardian is hardly "alternative," though. Like many "alternative" weeklies, most definitely including The Village Voice, it has become a predictable purveyor of paint-by-the-numbers canned Leftist outrage and political intolerance - the kind of insufferable publication that, on a good day, equates Wal-Mart, urban condo developers, and George W. Bush with Hitler, while lauding graffiti "artists," Starbucks window-smashers, jihadists, slavery reparations hustlers, the Earth Liberation Front, and ESL-for-life curriculum designers.

"Alternative" weeklies such as the Voice and the Guardian are entirely status quo; carefully tailored to suit the sensibilities of the liberal urban gentry, whom are still sorting out the socio-political and moral ramifications of gentrificiation with their psychotherapists. Such orthodox "progressive" weeklies are a cheaper form of psychotherapy, actually - delivering appropriated virtue to the bohemian bourgeoisie, and saving them the trouble of actually thinking for themselves.

Here, in an online report, The Village Voice worries about whether its "inherent lefty bent" will be transformed by the pending sale to New Times, but holds out hope that since their bias is so marketable, all will remain unchanged. That would be a shame; for an "inherent lefty" or "inherent righty" bent serves readers of any publication poorly.

The best weekly in San Francisco, BTW, is The San Francisco Weekly, especially the sometimes-against-the-grain columnist and reporter Matt Smith, whose work I've blogged about here, and here. These days, the real alternative city media, especially in the Blue Cities where "alternative weeklies" thrive, is that which challenges the standard "progressive" dogma. It may take the form of the rarely aberrant cover story in an alternative weekly, or, more likely, urban conservative bloggage. The SF Weekly's Smith does a great job of upsetting the applecart, and other alternative weeklies should take notice.

Oh, and SF Weekly is owned by New Times.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 08:08 PM | Comments (0)

What Makes The Homeless Homeless?

I'd really like to know, because substance abuse is most often a symptom of poor choices and homelessness, not a root cause of homelessness. Stories like this beg the questions: what is really known about the most effective strategies for "conversion" of the homeless to self-sufficiency; and how can the media report on homelessness more insightfully?

SANTA CRUZ — Used hypodermic needles, human waste, drug paraphernalia and moldy mattresses were hauled away in dump trucks Friday from a well-established homeless camp known for its criminal activity. Protected with boots, long sleeves and two pairs of gloves, an 18-person crew with the Sheriff’s Office scoured the wooded area between Carbonera Creek and the county government’s Emeline Street complex for garbage generated by campers who made the area home.

Sheriff’s officials said the campers, who had set up makeshift toilets and a cabin, were damaging the environment, a steep hillside of redwood, bay and oak trees, as well as presenting a safety hazard to the public...."There have been a couple of stabbings and a number of people involved in criminal activities (here)," said Sgt. Todd Liberty, who oversaw the cleanup. "There have been a lot of drug sales, and a number of people under the influence of drugs."...Law enforcement officials had been warning campers for the past month that the sites would be dismantled....Liberty said Friday’s goal was not to displace the homeless but to encourage them to move to safer environments.

...According to the 2005 Homeless Survey Census released in August, there are at least 3,371 homeless individuals in the county, and 79 percent are without shelter. The lack of enough shelters forces people to camp, said Ken Cole, executive director of the Homeless Services Center...."Although the Police Department might have had good environmental and safety reasons (for dismantling the camp) the reality is there is no place for the homeless to go," he said. "There are not enough emergency shelters, not enough housing, not enough drug and alcohol treatment centers. What the police are doing is moving that problem onto another greenbelt area."

Once again, "treatment," "shelters," and unavailable, unaffordable housing in a tight and free market are proferred as answers by ClientStatists. I'm not buying it. I can't support local government spending that merely maintains the homeless at taxpayer expense. Nor can I sign-off on "programs" intended to get them back on their feet - even privately-funded efforts - if they are not performance-audited for long-term results. West Coast burgs with mild climes offer homeless services at their own risk, drawing a permanent indigent class. These guys should be working on a poultry farm in Arkansas, living cheap, saving money, and taking accounting classes at night. They are not entitled to "housing" in Santa Cruz, or Arcata, Seattle, San Francisco or Vancouver unless they can get it the same way as most others: with the fruits of their own labor. The existence of some government-subsidized housing doesn't justify taxpayers assuming, ad infinitum, the burden of those who won't help themselves

What I could support, however, would be a demonstration project, say, here in Seattle/King County, wherein trained interviewers surveyed non-intoxicated subjects to find out how they really became homless. What decisions did they make that led this way? It would also be useful if the media focused more accutely on translating for a lay audience the social science research done, to date, on exactly what methods of intervention work best for helping the homeless become, and stay, self-sufficient. The same approach is needed to heroin addiction treatment options.

The usual media coverage always seems to focus on symptoms of homelessness rather than the real, quantified causes; and solutions. We hear that alcohol and drug abuse are closely associated with homelessness, and so they are. But substance abuse often occurs after an individual has already made bad choices. Why are those choices made? Are there common threads among the homeless, in terms of their family histories? How do variables such as socio-economic status, edcuational attainment, two parents versus one, and receiving public assistance figure into the equation?

The media need to dig deeper than the latest pile of crap left by a creekside, and the latest plaint for more "treatment." They must explain how the homeless become homeless; and who is really responsible for making the homeless not-homeless. Could it be the homeless themselves, and their families?


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Ron Hebron: I know one cause of homelessness - child support. In some cases the level is very fair; in some it seems pretty high. But either way, some men choose to get out of paying it by becoming unable to pay it. They stop working, so they also can't pay for a place to stay. They go on the streets and live for nothing - in more than one way.

This doesn't directly fit. But we have been working with low-income people downtown for 20 months. We don't see many homeless people, except when we give stuff away. When we give away food and clothing they are there in minutes. But when week in and week out we give our time we don't see them.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:26 PM | Comments (0)

A Mite Gross

If this doesn't make you want to wash your linens and dust your bedroom, nothing will.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

Gun Sales Ban Nixed In Brazil

Brazil has the world's highest death rate from firearms. Someone is killed with a gun every 15 minutes. Of the country's estimated 17 million guns, 9 million are not registered. So naturally, the Brazilian government, the Catholic Church, and the United Nations all supported a gun sales ban referendum. Voters did not, defeating the measure with a 64 percent majority. The BBC has more.

The proposal to ban firearms initially had strong public support. But opinion polls in recent days showed this backing had weakened dramatically as campaigns against the ban got off the ground. Some opposition to the ban also came from shanty towns, or favelas, the scene of vicious turf wars between drug gangs. Maria, a shantytown resident whose sister was gunned down by an ex-boyfriend, said disarmament would make little difference.

"If I had the money, I would have a weapon to try to protect myself and my family," she told the BBC. "The police are never going to arrive in time and if they do, they may kill you."

I can't think of any place where I'd more want to have a gun than Brazil, especially Rio. Instead of trying to give predatory criminals a leg up, Brazil needs to continue conservative fiscal reforms, and stanch egregious government corruption.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

October 23, 2005

Rosenblog's Salsa Of The Gods

Meandering through the grocery store the other day, I was on the verge of buying one of those "fresh" designer salsas in the refrigerated section. I wasn't quite up to making my usual pico de gallo - lots of fresh, finely chopped tomatoes, sweet onion and seeded jalapeno, with lime juice, kosher salt and oregano. (It's good, BTW).

But due to budgetary constraints, and the often-middling quality, I held off on the pricey refrigerated salsas. And I just don't get salsa in a jar. It contravenes my culinary ethics. So - inspired by the vague memory of a photo-copied salsa recipe from a room parent at my kids' school, involving canned tomatoes, dry spices, a bit of vinegar, and a food processor - I blundered foward.

What I came up with in the end turned out smashingly; as good, or actually better than most any restaurant or refrigerated designer salsa I've ingested. I think the key is that salsa should be freshly made.

It had a medium-thin consistency; smoky, piquant flavor; and a deep, attractive red color. Here's the recipe.


--1 14.5-oz. can of S&W "Stewed Mexican Recipe" Tomatoes
--1 t white vinegar
--1/2 t EACH cumin, kosher salt, El Rey de la Vera Spanish Smoked Hot Paprika
--5 or 6 dashes of Mexican hot sauce, such as Castillo red Salsa Habanera

Combine all ingredients in food processor. (The smoked hot paprika is key, and is available in many grocery-store spice sections). Pulse for approximately 15 seconds. And you're set. It's probably nice to make this an hour in advance and refrigerate before serving. But I tucked into it pronto. Outstanding! Serve with chips and, if you like, guacamole. Or nachos. However, if you use guacamole-flavored chips, I'll have to call the police.

This salsa is also primo on roasted or grilled meats. It complements baked enchiladas, quesadillas, and Mexican-flavored pizza, as well.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 08:48 PM | Comments (0)

Equal Opportunity Abuser

...of the left and right, that's L.A. stand-up comic and blogger Tina Dupuy. Here's a fun post mocking the political belief systems of both sides. I'll cherry-pick the few of her potshots at conservatives that I think actually hit the mark:

The Right-Wing Agenda: Brain dead patients and the terminally ill will be kept alive as long as science can manage it;...A holy monument with the engraving, “Thou shalt not make any graven images” will be erected in front of all courthouses; say you’re for small government unless it’s a social issue - then dictate what people should do.

Now, for the other side - and yeah, her batting average is higher here. Is it me, or just The Way Things Really Are?

The Left-Wing Agenda: Tolerance for all - unless you disagree; Criminals should NOT be put to death; but there should be the option for fetuses;...Anybody should be able to live in the U.S. without learning its main language or having documentation; Health care and taxes for all!; Scientific funding and taxes for all!; Art funding and taxes for all!; Historical wrongdoings, conquered peoples and witch hunts - apologize, apologize, and apologize; Try to offend no one, but be offended by EVERYTHING....

As Dupuy demonstrates, sometimes a sardonical strategery is just the ticket. In case you missed the international - nay, inter-planetary - blogstorm surrounding my post, "Envisioning The '08 Democratic Agenda," here ya go.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

October 21, 2005

Puget Sound: Western Washington's Highway On The Water

Back-Easters who've never been to Seattle can be amusing. You see 'em struttin' around Pike Place Market in their $800 London Fog raincoats, getting in my way while I buy frisee and focaccia.

I want to swathe them all in fleece, and rip their vestigial umbrellas out of their hands.

But I chill. Because I am now - for the last 11 years in fact - from Seattle. I have left Chicago behind. Thank goodness.

Sporting chap that I am, I even forgive them for sometimes blurting out that here, we're on the "ocean," or the "coast."

Even our football team seems afflicted with this malady; they're called the Seahawks.

But if there are any Seahawks actually flying around here, somebody better tell me.

I see more eagles, and herons.

And the ocean is a good ways to the west.

What we DO have is a glorious inland waterway, running some 80 miles from south to north, called Puget Sound, or alternately, The Sound, or even The Puget Sound - which always sounded (there's that word again) a bit off, to me.

Via the Straits of Juan de Fuca, well north of Seattle, Puget Sound connects to the Pacific Ocean.

A map is good, but a picture is worth at least 425 words, and 575 pixels of width.

I took this one below, just a few hours ago after picking the kids up from school.

We were on our way to Alki Beach in West Seattle, a beautiful place despite some city property maintenance issues. But on the way, we sneaked out to a place where you should definitely park for a few mellow moments next time you're in Seattle.

It's the dead end of 55th Ave. S.W., a block south off Genesee St. S.W., looking south, a-way-on-down The Sound. Just 20 minutes from downtown. Dij:

You'll see large Washington State Ferries on The Sound; a few, smaller passenger-only ferries (I'd like to see LOTS more of those); kayaks; sailboats; tour boats; cargo ships; and varied work vessels like this one below, heading north past Alki.

A few of the many beach-y nooks and crannies to explore around The Sound are Key Pensinsula, west of Gig Harbor; and Tacoma's very own Dash Point Park. The Sound's treasures are revealed with just a bit of digging.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 07:05 PM | Comments (0)

October 20, 2005

"Lincoln, Calhoun And The U.N.'s Dilemma"

Fellow blogger Michael Brandon McClellan, a SoCal attorney and writer, had another piece in The Weekly Standard recently, and it's well worth reading: "Lincoln, Calhoun And The U.N.'s Dilemma: Why The Americans Reflexively Reject The Values Of The United Nations." He writes:

Prior to the American Civil War, John Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln articulated two very different ideas of equality. Each idea was powerful, and if followed, would lead to radically different outcomes. Calhoun's organizing principle can be boiled down to two words: state sovereignty. He believed in the equality of sovereign political states. In contrast, Lincoln's organizing principle of equality was the idea of individual natural rights. While Lincoln's idea of individual rights triumphed in the United States with the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments and the success of the civil rights movement a century later, the Calhoun/Lincoln debate is, in a sense, still blazing in the arena of international law and in the dilemma of the United Nations.....

Perhaps because Lincoln's ideas have prevailed so emphatically in the United States, it is difficult for Americans to embrace a U.N. system that is moored so securely to the "entity equality" logic of John Calhoun. Just as the moral bankruptcy of Calhoun's political philosophy is so apparent when placed in the natural rights framework of Lincoln, so too is the U.N. framework undermined when viewed in the context of individual human freedom.

The U.N. framework is also undermined by the plain fact of a unipolar power (the U.S.) and the buffoonish anti-U.S. hyperbole at a U.N. world hunger forum Monday in Rome from Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. They drew applause with these remarks, which capture well the Calhoun ethos of insular moral relativity:

The leaders of Zimbabwe and Venezuela teamed up at a U.N. hunger forum Monday to blame the United States and other wealthy nations for famine, war and pollution, with the African leader calling President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair "unholy men." Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe described Blair and Bush as "two unholy men of our millennium," comparing their alliance in the Iraq war to that of Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in World War II.

"Countries such as the U.S. and Britain have taken it upon themselves to decide for us in the developing world, even to interfere in our domestic affairs and to bring about what they call regime change," Mugabe said. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy, accused "the North American empire" of threatening "all life on the planet."

Read the whole thing in The Weekly Standard, by McClellan and make sure you bookmark his excellent blog, Port McClellan. Some reactions to the piece there, too.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:51 PM | Comments (0)

McKinley Statue Under Siege In Arcata

A spiritual guidance and wellness counselor living nearby wants the town of Arcata, Ca. to get rid of its statue of President William McKinley, the noted imperialist, on whose watch the U.S. initiated the Spanish-American War; and also gained control of the Philippines, Guam, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the Wake Islands. As regular readers of Rosenblog know, Arcata is a town much concerned with shaping global policy, even as it struggles to get its population of Trustafarian vagrants under control and restore quality of life in the city's core.

The McKinley critic, named Michael Schleyer, has spearheaded a petition drive which collected about 1,300 signatures supporting the statue's removal. City staff estimate half of the signers actually live in Arcata.

What makes Arcata such a special place is that the city council and mayor are taking the request seriously. A public hearing was held last night and council deliberation has begun.

Staff has even worked up cost estimates for removing the statue.

Some called the statue a symbol of genocide and imperialism while others saw McKinley as part of the city’s history for better or worse -- a few musing that perhaps the city should ban nickels because President Thomas Jefferson owned slaves.....The discussion became boisterous at times with audience members booing and applauding the dozens of speakers who were almost evenly split on what direction the city should take. At one point, the mayor stopped the meeting to call for quiet.

...“Leave the statue where it is and clean up the city,” one man said. The nearly 100-year-old statue was given to the city by resident George Zehndner, who hired noted artist Haig Patigian to create the tribute to McKinley after he was assassinated in 1901. The bronze casting was dedicated during a celebration at the Plaza on July 4, 1906, after nearly being destroyed in the great San Francisco earthquake.

In order to remove the statue, the City Council would have to initiate a General Plan amendment, send the idea to the Design Review Committee, after which the issue would go to the Planning Commission before it would end up back before the council. There would likely have to be an Environmental Impact Report, which staff said could cost as much as the rough estimate for removing and relocating the 26-ton landmark -- $34,500. Staff time was estimated at $3,000 to $5,000. Ben Shepherd, director of the McKinleyville Chamber of Commerce, wrote a letter to the city saying he read about the effort to remove the statue in the Times-Standard and would like to see it placed in Pierson Park if the city decides to go ahead with the removal.

In The Arcata Eye, resident Rick Greene opines that if the council can't face down the ridiculous demands of the petitioners, there should at least be a public vote on whether to keep the statue or not.

I'll admit there's a particular statue I'd like to see removed from a public square in Seattle, but it has more to do with the propriety of honoring the spiritual godfather of 65 million-plus murders committed in the name of 20th Century communism. The McKinley statue represents, let's just agree for the sake of discussion, empire-building by an American president at the next-to-last turn of the century.

And what was so awful about that? Face it, expansionism was considered a political imperative in the latter half of the 1800s and into the 1900s, and countries such as France and England made the U.S. look like pikers. While we're at it, should we also insist that Mount McKinley only be referred to by its other name, Denali?

The latest sideshow in Arcata emphasizes yet again this loony little burg's aching pursuit of leftist orthodoxy, with the blessing of the city council and mayor. There was no need to even entertain the topic of the statue's political implications. To them, I say, Cripes: just provide water, police, fire, and sewer service, keep the parks clean, do something about the festering homeless problem, and trade your tin-pot political activism for a laser-like focus on economic development.

I'm expecting that a slate of Arcata City Council candidates from The Grown-Up Party will sweep to power. It won't be long now. Meanwhile, chew on this.


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P. Scott Cummins: I am proposing that Rosenblog be the headquarters of "Dump Fremont Vlad & Swap for Arcata Bill" - I will personally arrange for trucking and hoisting on this! Arcata needs their Lenin statue...

James J. Na of Guns and Butter has a value-added link to my post, here.

UPDATE, 10/23/05: The statue will stay for now, but a public vote could come in the future.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

Rachael Ray Don't Want No Veal Cheeks

So I'm standing in a corner at the health club doing some light weight reps, when on the TV above appears the now-famous TV chef and cookbook author Rachael Ray, on her Food Network show. Her big thing is 30-minute meals, and making cooking less intimidating for regular folks. Well, that's an admirable goal, and she's got a great, genuinely bubbly carefree manner.

Although, I have to admit, as she was putting together a pizza with pre-packaged dough, I thought, "hey, I just made homemade pizza dough from scratch the other day, again, with my son; it was fun and easy, and the pizza later was great. Anyone who cooks should learn to make it, even if just on weekends." Or something like that. But Rachael Ray - now a real franchise with her new magazine, cookbooks, TV cooking shows, kitchen implements, a line of olive oil and an OprahCo-produced TV talk show coming soon - has much fiercer critics than I, as evident in this profile from today's New York Times. It's titled, "Being Rachael Ray: How Cool Is That?"

Ms. Ray is regularly mocked by chefs and food bloggers, including one who started a crudely named Web site, at livejournal.com/community, created "for people that hate the untalented twit known as Rachael Ray." Her cutesy-pie catchphrases - sammies for sandwiches, stoups for soups that are as thick as stew - are so grating on certain people that they inspired a drinking game in which players take a sip when she uses one. If she creates a new and completely unnecessary abbreviation, they have to swallow the whole drink. "This is awesome," she said as she looked over the list for the first time last week. "But man, people are going to get hammered."

Her recipes are easy to mock. A paella burger, created as her homage to the Spanish dish, is built with a ground-chicken patty, grilled linguiça and butterflied shrimp stacked with shredded lettuce on a big Portuguese roll. On her show, Ms. Ray tried to lift the greasy behemoth to her mouth and declared: "Look at that. It's the size of my head!"

Her shows are brilliant in their lack of set design and in her wide-open, flub-filled delivery. She clanks pots around on the stove, drops things as she carries an impossible pile of food from the refrigerator and giggles mistakes away. A favorite slam is that her meals take more than 30 minutes, which, especially for people with little kitchen acumen, they often do. They say she is untrained and relies on too many shortcuts, like shredded cheese and frozen French fries.

To which Ms. Ray says, they're right. "I have no formal anything," she said. "I'm completely unqualified for any job I've ever had." But Ms. Ray's mission, and the thing that has driven her to become the most popular person cooking on television, is that she simply wants people who are tired and don't have much money to cook instead of spending their paychecks and time on bad takeout or microwavable dinners. "I never said I was the greatest thing ever," Ms. Ray said. "I just think people should be able to cook even if they don't have a bunch of time or money."

I'm with her in theory, and a little bit, at least, in practice. Frozen fries are a pander too far, but pre-shredded cheese, yeah, so? Have you tried Sargento's six cheese blend? Or those ready-to-bake Ronzoni lasagna sheets? You just have to draw the line somewhere. i.e. make your own tomato sauce, starting with some good canned Italian plum tomatoes. It's good to stay grounded. Listen to one of Rachael's fans:

"Of course it never takes you 30 minutes, but I like the idea of it," said Amie Baker, 40, a television producer in Brooklyn. Ms. Baker grew up eating at restaurants and ordering takeout. She discovered Rachael Ray through her teenage niece. "She's so not stressful at all," Ms. Baker said. "I love those other TV chefs, but I would never make what Mario Batali makes. I don't have veal cheeks."

Agreed, though a rolled veal roast is nice, or pot roast made from veal chuck. Gimme some homemade chili, some mac ' cheese, or a good roasted chicken. But, please, don't give me vertical food, especially with wafered jicama and herring roe aoli.

The trendy restaurant scene in Seattle cracks me up: it seems geared to childless thirty-somethings who flit from one au courant spot to the next. The failure rate is high. Anyplace that has a publicist hyping the chef is one I'm not patronizing.

I give Rachael some credit for preaching the gospel of home cooking, millenial-style. But what people, especially "busy" people, really need to do, is to simply get a little less busy, and get intimate with real food in the privacy of their own kitchens. Sautee a pounded, seasoned chicken breast or two, add some capers, lemon juice and dry sherry at the end; steam some brocolli, cut a fresh loaf of crusty bread. There! Dinner. Folks, it ain't brain surgery! Just promise me you'll never ever used canned gravy in a "stew" like a dear sweet redneck housemate of mine once did. I had to take him to the woodshed on that.


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Sam Castic: "I agree with you, Matt - I like Rachael Ray, and appreciate her effort to bring cooking to people that don't typically cook at home. I just made one of her recipes last night - it took closer to an hour, but I didn't use all of the shortcuts she recommended." At his blog Coffeehouse Soapbox, Sam has more.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

Personal Technology Carves Out More Private-Public Space

In the rush of daily news and other pressing affairs, you and I both have overlooked something terribly important. It is fairly essential when snarfing fast food at McDonalds, and lounging there afterward to enjoy the relaxing and attractive environment, that one be able to access a free wireless Internet gaming network on one's handheld Nintendo DS gaming device.

And now, thanks to a special agreement, Nintendo DS-toting patrons of the fast food chain's U.S. franchises can simultaneously snarf Chicken McNuggets and enjoy live online gaming with other players in Singapore, Sydney and Saigon. Only those poor saps will probably be paying to play. Ain't America great!

The growth and market penetration of online gaming communities is an important societal objective; and has been significantly hindered because fast-food emporiums have not, heretofore, offered free wireless Internet connections for gamers. Gamers seeking Wi-fi have by and large been forced to pay for it, and are often cruelly relegated to Internet access points, wireless or otherwise, in their homes. However, it is much less isolating to lock into an online gaming contest with invisible strangers halfway across the country or globe, if you are manipulating your handheld gaming device in a public, as opposed to private space. First off, there is the invigorating sense of being watched and envied, idealized as an avatar of the sleek and stylish wireless lifestyle. And for their part, spectators can subtly bask in the reflected glory of the moment, thinking to themselves, "Wow, I'm hanging out in a place where the guy at the next table is playing Donkey Kong RIGHT NOW with someone in...probably....Asia!"

The expansion here of personal technology's shielding function is also crucial, making it still easier to inhabit public spaces, with less of the risk normally tied to the actual interaction formerly common there. Such "private-public" spaces will continue to expand, until virtually nothing is left to chance in the public square. Faith Popcorn would probably call it "public cocooning." (Wait... ...sawwy 'bout 'dat. Actually it was, ah, me that coined the phrase).

Technology makes a lot of things less messy, not just navigating public spaces. Consider courtship, marriage and child-rearing, for example. All hopelessly fraught with complications, to the extent many are looking for something less, well, taxing. So, as birthrates in the West continue to drop, expect to see paid online porn and online quick-sex-hook-up sites continue rapid growth.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:08 PM | Comments (0)

An Iraqi Constitution? Feh!

Yes, the final tally isn't in yet, but all indications are that Iraqi voters this weekend approved a constitution. Yet this apparent historic step on the road to representative democracy in a huge, vitally-strategic, Middle East nation previously controlled by an ex-chicken thief and party assassin turned Supreme Despot and Chief Officer of Graft and Murder, was just so much ho-hum to many front page editors at major daily newspapers in the U.S. Kathleen Parker has more in her nationally-syndicated column for Tribune Media Services.

There...may be a lesson buried in the bold type as to why increasing numbers of Americans have been finding alternative news sources, principally among blogs. Often, traditional news sources and the blogs reflect different realities, as with the story I tracked.

The tone of a majority of newspapers I viewed both Sunday and Monday was restrained to tepid. With some exceptions, headlines conveyed that familiar "yes, but" qualification. As in, "Yeah, sure, Iraq got a new constitution and took a giant stride toward independent self-rule, but life is still hell and, by the way, six American soldiers died."....Here, for instance, is The Baltimore Sun's Monday headline: "Arguments begin over count of Iraq vote." The Augusta Chronicle and The Orlando Sentinel chimed in with: "Disputes surround early tally" and "Disputes erupt on Iraq vote results," respectively. The Louisville Courier-Journal took the fire- 'n' -brimstone path: "Passing constitution won’t end Iraq’s woes."

There indeed may be arguments over the vote count. We know something about that in this country. And there may be some Sunnis protesting. That seems inevitable. We can easily predict that Iraq’s woes will continue for a while longer. But do such sidebar notes really convey the gist of the day? While a majority of newspapers, including The New York Times and the Washington Post, highlighted likely passage of the constitution on their front pages, others buried the story inside. Neither the Detroit News nor the Detroit Free Press ran a story on their front pages. The Times-Picayune in New Orleans skipped the referendum in favor of continuing post-hurricane stories on its front page. Understandable, though arguably "Honk if you’re sick of traffic" might have held a couple of days. As a footnote, papers that serve smaller communities tended to play the referendum story more prominently and positively than did larger papers.

Yesterday The Seattle Times managed to run a huge, five column-wide photo in its local news section of yet another outdoor art installation cum Iraq War protest, on the lawn of our state capitol in Olympia. You know, lots of fake grave markers to represent the American war dead in Iraq. Headlined "Pointing out the fallen," with a neat little, outright editorial in the caption, quoting activists saying "I want the war to end and the human cost of the war to be visible;" and "This is above politics - this is here to memorialize our kids who have fallen." Funny, I don't recall any tribute on the Capitol lawn in Olympia to the 300,000 Iraqis now buried in mass graves thanks to Saddam. Well, I guess they're not "visible," not being "pointed out," and certainly not "beyond politics."

I'm so sick of this utterly selective "celebrate misfortune" Iraq "news" meme, propogated by the, yes, liberal media. The soldiers that died went willingly, knew the risks, and sacrificed for a noble cause: trying to help the Iraqi people achieve the freedoms we take for granted, such as the right to engage in political speech and even third-rate political theater, without fear of the consequences so often dispensed in Saddam's brutal kleptocracy. Such as losing their jobs, or access to college for their children. Not to mention beheading, deadly gassing, or being buried alive.

While I still have a healthy respect for the op-ed sections of both Seattle dailies, and the real political diversity of views expressed in each; the local and national news sections of both papers, every day in many ways, have become a slag-heap of left-biased editorializing masquerading as reporting. That has made it very, very easy to cancel our household's one remaining newspaper subscription, to The Seattle Times. I'll continue to read both papers online, and a great many other sources as well. With instantaneous search capabilities for free media content worldwide on any desired topic, Google News means that once-loyal and choice-deprived subscribers now no longer have to pay for locally packaged print news content that's assembled like a day-late leftist blog with no links.


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Tom Rekdal: Bertrand de Jouvenel once analogized politics to a game of poker from which no one may depart. No matter how high the stakes get--property, livelihood, religion, life itself--the game goes on. One may refuse to play, of course, as the Sunni Arabs did last January, but that only means losing bigger and faster; leaving the table is not an option.

In most democratic polities, the harshness of this struggle is mitigated by the fact that all of the players believe themselves to be, in some sense, one group. Without that sense of commonality, elections look more like civil war conducted by other means than like a method for deciding public issues. That seems to be where we still are in Iraq, and is likely to remain so as long as most voters are casting their ballots chiefly because opposing clerical leaders tell them they have a religious duty to do so.

The most hopeful aspect about the new Iraqi constitution is not the fact that it passed, nor that more Sunni Arabs voted, but that the American ambassador in Iraq and most of our senior military leaders seem to be keenly aware of the continuing political problem presented by Sunni Arab disaffection.

There will be new elections in December, and therefore more players at the bargaining table, so it is much too early to despair, but also far too late for happy talk about the inevitable march of democracy in the Middle East.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2005

No Indictment Of Karl Rove's Garage

I still remember many years ago, when I worked at community newspaper in suburban Chicago, and was covering lots of crime and courts stories. One day I was utterly appalled when another reporter revealed ignorance of what an indictment was. As you doubtless are aware, an indictment is a formal issuing of charges by a grand jury, after hearing evidence from a prosecutor. An indictment is followed by an arraignment (wherein the defendant makes a preliminary plea of guilty or, usually, not guilty). Then, pre-trial motions of all sorts may follow, and finally, lacking a pre-trial settlement or plea agreement, there's either a bench or jury trial. I go through all this now not to finally convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that I am indeed a pedant, but more as a refresher course for some of the national reporters breathlessly covering the story of the story (that's not a typo) of the grand jury testimony of presidential advisor Karl Rove. He has been questioned in connection with a suspected Bush Administration leak which revealed that the wife a Bush critic had been an undercover CIA operative quite some time before her husband got on the White House's nerves.

Apparently, among the D.C. press corps, the drama of tryng to find Karl on one of his grand jury testimony days, and the entirely distinct drama of waiting for Karl to decline comment while walking to his car after grand jury testimony, is getting to be a bit too much to bear. And so, we get this penetrating AP story by Darlene Superville about.......the inside of Karl Rove's garage. Yeh....seriously.

And this piece, about, well, pretty much nothing at all, by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. Unless you think news consists of writing about a bunch of jumpy reporters waiting for Rove outside the grand jury room, while three women from an anti-war group, and dressed as condoms, stage a protest about Rove "leaking."

Of course, these sort of "thumbsucker" pieces, long on worthless and self-indulgent pontification by the writer, and short on any real substance, are a forte of The Post's Milbank, who in one recent column wastes quite a few dead trees analyzing Bush's body language during TV interviews on Rove. When Milbank finally gets around to justifying his column's earth-shaking premise that Bush's on-camera movements signal unease, he cuts his own legs out from under himself.

Perhaps, too, the president's body language said nothing about his true state of mind. But the White House gave little other information that might shed light on this.

TRANSLATION: important newspersons such as Dana Milbank of The Washington Post have a constitutional entitlement to know The President's "true state of mind" on well, just about anything that important newspersons such as Dana Milbank of The Washington Post choose to write about. And if The President and his press apparatus refuse to make that clear, well, they will clearly suffer the consequences.

Career tip to Milbank: when people start mentioning the phrase "ankle-biter" next to your name, it's time to sharpen the 'ol scimitar a bit.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:08 AM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2005

What IS The Democratic Agenda?

"As Republicans stumble, Democrats bumble," is the hed on SF Chron D.C. Bureau Chief Marc Sandalow's Sunday analysis piece.

Republicans swept away half a century of Democratic domination of Congress in 1994 in large part by playing up their opponents' failings. But they also presented a "Contract with America," which provided sound-bite-sized themes -- from lowering taxes to diminishing the role of government -- to rally their supporters, and turn 435 House and 33 Senate elections into a national referendum on the status quo. Democrats are searching for their own unifying themes, with strategists voicing concern that roughly one year before the election, many people have little idea what the party stands for.

...."Democrats have found it difficult to articulate a compelling message or an alternative agenda," wrote former Clinton White House aides Elaine Kamarck, now on the faculty at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and William Galston, now a University of Maryland professor, in a recently released 68-page report titled The Politics of Polarization. "Whatever voters may think of the Republican mantra -- strong defense, lower taxes, traditional values -- at least they know where Republicans stand. They have no such conviction about the Democrats," concludes the report.

Or, put more bluntly by comedian Jay Leno as he marked the 33rd anniversary of the break-in at the Democratic Party's headquarters at the Watergate office complex: "You see, back in those days the Democrats actually had ideas worth stealing."

Not too many of these agenda issues proffered by Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emmanuel in a recent "Meet The Press appearance" are worth stealing: except for a nod to deficit reduction, it's more mandated entitlements and Big Government. Host Tim Russert had asked what are the D's big ideas now. Here's part of the exchange:

EMMANUEL: I'll give you five quick ideas. One, we make college education as universal for the 21st century that a high school education was in the 20th.

RUSSERT: And who pays for that?

EMANUEL: The American people, because it offers -- let me get to it. Second, we get a summit on the budget to deal with the $3 trillion of debt that's been added up in five years and structural deficits of $400 billion a year. Third, an energy policy that says in 10 years, we cut our dependence on foreign oil in half and make this a hybrid economy. Four, we create an institute on science and technology that builds for America like the National Institutes has done for health care; we maintain our edge. And five, we have a universal health-care system over the next 10 years where if you work, you have health care.

Somewhat better than this envisioned '08 Democratic agenda, but not by a whole lot. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) is leading renegade conservative House Republicans on the Republican Study Committee, in their attempt to fully detail $50 billion in fiscal '06 budget cuts.

Al From, founder and CEO of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council - where Bill Clinton honed his policy proposals before winning the presidency in 1992 - has some thoughts on the necessary Democratic agenda, as noted by Boston Post columnist Scot Lehigh. And From's cerrtainly got a better handle on things than former Clinton aide Emmanuel.

''There is no natural Democratic majority. You have to earn it." That, at least, should be a self-evident proposition for Democrats. But earn it how? At the thematic level, From says, that means persuading voters that Democrats are credible on national security, will provide economic opportunity, care about values of responsibility and family, and are committed to reform. Here, however, is a key question: Are Democrats still in the mood for moderation?

Howard Dean says yes, but his fingers are crossed behind his back.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

October 16, 2005

Surviving The Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Party

There are things somewhat more ersatz than finding yourself hard by a five-foot-nine mechanized rodent jerkily lip-synching Ben E. King's "Stand By Me." But not many. Chuck E. Cheese is, of course, a nationally-famed franchise, geared to kids and especially birthday parties.

There are games and contests galore.

Tickets won at games are exchanged for cheap prizes at the end.

Plus, kids get pizza, cake, participatory videos, the whole schmeer.

Everyone's a star - or can be, at least - in a karaoke parody of a birthday party. It's ill........

Some old-school parents host their kids' B-Day parties at the house, or in the park, or at the "Y." But if you want to leave Nothing to chance, it's C.E.C for you.

Amidst all the hoopla and "fun" is a fairly evident desparation - & the idea that fun = consumerism, fake celebrity-hood, and grade D trinkets.

C.E.C. is the epitome of anti-being, a shrine to kiddie consumerism and small "q" quality.

Things being what they are these days, if you're a parent in the U.S. of A., you're sadly destined to find yourself and your progeny at a C.E.C. affair.

Henry David Thoreau (below) and voluntary simplicity look wiser hourly. The Hot Librarian has more (scroll down to 2nd item):

"Hats off to my sister, who somehow managed to find a Chuck E. Cheese in the ghetto. I feared for my life three times in the parking lot alone. Apparently Chuck E. Cheese is THE place to go if you want to smoke pot outside with the other teenage parents/gang members while your kids are inside killing each other with mallets at the Whack-a-Mole game while their thirty-six year old grandmother yells at them from behind a large sausage pizza.

"The decibel level of Chuck E. Cheese is set somewhere in between jet engine and Korn concert. Like a Wal-Mart gone bad, there is a sea of stirrup pants covering cottage cheese-lumped asses as far as the eye can see, with snot-encrusted demon children climbing on every surface. Lots of 'babymamas,' very few 'babydaddies.' I could feel my ovaries shutting down in self-defense."

Yeh, the K-mart gene pool thing is a real downer.

But it's the intrinsic trashiness of the consumer experience - as opposed to the intrinsic trashiness of the clientele - that really bites. And so herewith, my parents' survival guide to the dreaded Chuck E. Cheese birthday party ordeal.

1. Arrive late, if at all possible. Thirty minutes late is good, as C.E.C. affairs are usually just 90 minutes (throughput is key for C.E.C. managers).

1.5. Quickly determine the party's end time, tell your kids to have thier tickets exchanged for trinkets before you return, and then, LEAVE. They'll be fine. Come back at the appointed time, or better yet, two minutes later (this is a bargaining point in your favor). Sweep your kids up, say quick, nice good-byes, and get the HELL out the door.

2. If somehow you feel you've got to stay.....well, suffer gracefully, decline the generic pizza, and make sure you prod the host to get the cake and then presents served RIGHT ON TIME, as that signals the merciful END. In the meantime, take your kids around, have fun with the games - they're not all bad. But watch out for broken machines that gobble tokens and give nothing back - we ran into that a lot today. Ask for replacement tokens when ripped off. Just as a matter of principle.

3. When - as occured today - a "party counsellor" comes to your table and asks your group to leave a bit early to open up seats for another party, and said counsellor offers lots of tickets (to be exchanged for still MORE trinkets) to compensate; definitely agree to leave early, but DON'T - under any circumstances - take the extra tickets. It keeps you there for another 15 to 30 minutes picking out more trinkets, and all the trinkets self-destruct five minutes out the door.

4. Cash in the tickets your kids HAVE earned RIGHT after the presents are opened, and BY ALL MEANS coach your kid through the ticket-trinket exchange phase. Don't let them dawdle. You've got a mission to escape; get in your car pronto; and resume normal life!

5. (This is "big picture" strategery). Whenever and wherever possible, espouse to other parents - especially ones who have previously hosted C.E.C. parties - the radical concept that kids' birthday parties, after age 5, should only be held every five years. And that outdoor foodfights really rock!


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Nathan Azinger: You know, I remember being awfully fond of Chuck E. Cheese when I was a kid, but having gone back once or twice since achieving adulthood, I’m puzzled as to why. I think perhaps it had something to do with video games. When I was younger, console systems were new and expensive. Chuck E. Cheese was one of the few places I ever got to play them. Now arcade games seem rather superfluous. If you ignore them, all Chuck E. Cheese has going for it is skeeball and the colored ball play pit, and they won’t let me in the ball pit anymore.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:00 PM | Comments (0)

October 15, 2005

Paperless Newspaper No Panacea

A business unit spun off from the MIT Media Lab is looking at ways to deliver newspaper content without paper, and beyond PCs and laptops. The Washington Post's Frank Ahrens reports, and - in a somewhat blog-like tone - commendably asks a few questions, which I'll answer, in the name of news consumer and blogosphere research.

Would you be reading this story if it were displayed on a 2-by-2-inch screen on your BlackBerry?

No. I can see using a handheld wired device for e-mail and scheduling, but that's about it. I don't want to squint that much, and would rather wait until I'm in front of a laptop or my iMac G5 to read online news. So I can blog about it if I want. Would I blog off a mobile device? I know there's stuff out there. Maybe one day, yeah. But right now - as a middle-stage adapter - I'm pretty damn tickled just to be adding digicam pix to my blog, employing iPhoto to process and crop the shots, and using code to wrap text around the pix.

How about if it were electronically printed on a video scroll that spooled a few inches out of the side of your cell phone? Could you tell what was in the tiny picture?

No. Again, I don't see news as something to be digested on the fly, and I want to be able to talk back. Devices such as these presume a hugely fickle, distracted readership that ingests newsbites like french fries or airport popcorn. This sort of pandering to ADD teens and Pod-centric 20-somethings raised on video and computer games will come around to bite the industry on its ass. When the young 'uns the industry is pandering to grow up a bit, they'll realize news and public discourse isn't something to be used as filler between trading IM text messages and picture phone images. They can engage, or bugger off.

Now. Would you read this story if it were electronically printed on a paper-thin video screen the size of a tabloid newspaper, or maybe something bigger, like The Washington Post, and resembling a vinyl placemat, like the image you see under these words?

No. My PC, or the laptop I hope to buy before too terribly long, is where I want to consume my news and - as mentioned above - respond to selective items via blogging. Oh, and with my wife's consent, I just cancelled our one newspaper subscription.

What if this new electronic paper could be folded under your arm like your dad's sports section or rolled up inside your yoga mat?

Doesn't sound like that would have keyboard functionality, so, uh, no.

The key for me, technology-wise, is not delivery systems, but ability to provide value-added bloggage, and being able to comfortably access a variety of sources. (BTW, kudos to The Post for providing Technorati "Who's Blogging" links to its stories. Shows you guys are really starting to get it). Squinting at a tiny screen is not comfort. I like to scan major dailies such as The Post, L.A. Times, NYT, ChiTrib, and even the SF Chron. I work off my own blogroll's newspaper and magazine sections, and now, RSS feeds delivered to my e-mail inbox early each morning by Blogarithm. Even the Moblogging thing is pretty damn esoteric - there's just not the urgency implied by the technology, unless you're in a war or natural disaster zone. And even then, you'd be scrambling for Wi-Fi. So you might as well just take your digicam, and then get to your laptop, plus an Internet connection of some sort. Is there WiFi in Phuket?

Content-wise, declining newspaper circulation is explained by online access to many sources (via Google News, for example) which boosts news consumer choice and allows working around the biases of the hometown rag or MSM titans. The train has left the station, and the Big Dogs understand they have to work with bloggers. Not only is circulation dropping and newsprint becoming more expensive, publishers are losing their grip on a key revenue source, classified ads, thanks to Craig's List. I think the real question is what business model is going to allow them to survive at all. I see scalable, participatory online community journalism filling a real void in coming decades - though that'll have to involve viable business models, too - and just a few national heavies left standing.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2005

ChiSox Fans Tuff; Cubs Fans Wusses?

So says the author of this letter to the editor in the Chicago Tribune (free reg. req.). I was raised on Chicago's South Side, albeit Hyde Park, then an academic enclave surrounded by tough neighborhoods (it has changed a lot since then). As a little kid, I saw the early, early Chicago Bulls, when they were still playing in the International Amphitheater - redolent with the smell of recent cattle auctions. Anyone remember original Bulls star Bob Boozer? My first MLB experience was a Sox-Twins game at old Comiskey in '67, a night game.

But I subsequently became a Cubs fan and North Sider. Suffered through all the big chokes: 69, 84, 89. It was brutal. Yet the letter writer claims Cubs fans blame historic curses for their team's inevitable choke act when showtime (i.e. league playoffs) comes, whereas the Sox make no excuses and take their post-season misfortunes like real men.

Ah.....beg to differ. It's just the media, hyping ghosts past. And fate itself. Besides which: who cares whether The Cubs win or not? Just going to a game at one of the two last real MLB stadiums, Wrigley Field, is enough. For a truly autentico experience, sit in the left field bleachers, quaff some frosty ballpark beer, and if you catch a homer by the visiting team, make sure to throw it back onto the field.

But if you're seated right on the sidelines, PLEASE don't try to catch a foul ball at the edge of the playing field, snatching the descending orb right out of the glove of a Cub; allowing the batter to walk; and starting an eight-run inning for the three-runs-down visiting team in a key playoff series, one that the Cubs subsequenly lost after holding a three-games-to-one lead.

Cursed? Hah! Just not HUNGRY enough!

So we're clear, my old hometown knows championships - in the not-so-distant past, even. The Bulls had their great run - six NBA titles, was it? - in the golden age of Michael Jordan (below). Nothing like it ever again. Dennis Rodman's best and highest use was with the Bulls, Scottie Pippen's, and Horace Grant's, too. A team for the ages. And I'm NOT a sports geek. But these guys were something to watch.

And of course, the Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl in '85.....I watched and rooted them them home, each and every game. My not-yet-wife and I were living then on the 49th floor of Park Tower, a soaring black triangular high-rise along Lake Shore Drive in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood; we had a view north to Wisconsin, and west to the Schaumburg skyline - be still, my heart - on clear days. Now, there's another, newer building by the exact same name, downtown. My then-editor called before the big Super Bowl blowout against the New England Patriots (44-7 it was) and asked to come over to our Park Tower haunts and watch the game, as for some reason his wife had booted him out of the house. We had a fine time.

Super Bowl and '85 season highlights came partly courtesy of coach Mike Ditka, author of the new '85 season memoir, "In Life, First You Kick Ass." Plus Jim McMahon, the miracle QB; wide receiver Willie Gault; and of course, the always-eating, lineman William "The Refrigerator" Perry - now available for meet 'n greets, autograph signings and special appearances (like, ah, lemmesee.....the IPO launch for your online barbeque futures firm?). You can still get the funky rap video the team cut, "The Super Bowl Shuffle," now available in DVD format. You don't want to miss this one, trust me.

Glory days aside, I just don't see any more Chicago pro sports championships in the cards, for a few more decades, at least. And if it were To Be...The Sox... this year, sorry, I couldn't get excited. The White Sox just never rocked my world. I guess for me their ineffable stolidity was no match for the Cubbies' flailing, brilliant unpredictability.

BONUS SUPER-TRIVIA QUESTION: What well-known Cubs 1969 third baseman hailed from Seattle? AND (the really hard part, which I know only because of an article I wrote a few years ago) what Seattle Black Panther chapter co-founder, as a kid, trampled this very same Chicago Cubs' dad's Seattle tomato patch, and got a friendly lecture plus some pan-fried veggies as a result? E-mail me at the address under "Contact," above, with the correct answer, and earn honorable mention on this blog, plus a copy of Rosenblog readers' favorite chicken recipes. (Hey...it's what I've got to offer now, OK?)


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:05 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2005

I Ain't Got No Big Itch For Greenlake

Green Lake Park in Seattle is where you'll experience the city's Bohemian Bourgeoisie in all their glory, especially walking and jogging on the three-mile path around the water. Here (below, left), we're looking southeast across Green Lake, with a crop and zoom in Apple iPhoto, at The Bank of America Building in downtown Seattle. Which, ahem, we would actually NOT be looking at - at all - if everything had gone as planned on Sept. 11, 2001. The surrounding Greenlake neighborhood (different spelling, yes) has many older, nice-looking homes, fairly notable in a city of determinedly mediocre architecture. But they're often quite small, and hideously expensive. Yet for some folks, like University of Washington professors and a certain breed of civil servant, it's tremendously important to live in Seattle neighborhoods such Greenlake, next to other Lexus and Subaru Liberals, all still piously sporting Kerry-Edwards and "War IS Terrorism" bumper stickers, and voting "yes" on tax levies for the financial and political swamp that is Seattle Public Schools, so as to assuage their white liberal guilt for sending their kids to private schools.

If you're really lucky, you might catch a Sunday afternoon "Greenlake Peace Vigil," although maybe they're back to protest art, or protest bowling again.

Still, Greenlake has its moments.

One came last Sunday, when after a lovely afternoon at the playground in park and then a nice walk around the lake, my wife and kids were getting some ice cream and I strolled into the neighborhood's country music dive, the Little Red Hen. Now, the main reason you want to go the Hen is The Buckaroos, and they were probably all working on their Ford pickups right about then. White guy, old country gentleman type, sitting by himself at a table with his beer, hair carefully sprayed into place, dress jeans, plaid shirt, boots. Only missing the bolo tie. Sippin' his Bud like a lil' ol sun-baked salamander from Bakersfield. Across the way in front of the TV, a bunch of black guys watching the game and talkin' loud, laughin'. White guy lurches forward suddenly, as if startled awake from a desert reverie. He says, "What the f***?" Not too loud, nothing happens. He morosely sips his beer some more. I think he needed a drinkin' pal.

Another great Greenlake moment came a short time earlier that same day, on the walk around the Lake. A kayaker came into view, through some tall, uh, lakegrass?

We also saw some really talented Ultimate Frisbee players. Last summer the Freestyle Frisbee World Championship and Alternative Sports Festival was held at Green Lake. Remarkably, hackey-sack seems not to have been on the agenda, meaning the executive committee must have been purged of Dead-heads.

Other Greenlake neighborhood highlights: the refurbished 1905-vintage Carnegie Library, the Zoka Roaster and Tea Company, the classy Green Lake Guest House, and this nice Greenlake townhouse rental. There's an attractive commercial district ringing the Lake on its north side, along E. Greenlake Dr. N. and W. Greenlake Dr. N. - handy map here, click on it to enlarge. Along and just off those thoroughfares, you'll find varied restaurants and coffeehouses, the library, and places to rent bicycles or roller blades. Even Segway scooters, if you want to be a real menace to society.

Watch out on the path around the lake, it's crowded. I mean downtown-Vancouver-sidewalks crowded.

People do swim at Green Lake in the summer. But let's just say the evidence of geese is everywhere. Also, if you do go in, beware of Green Lake Itch.

Which I always thought would be a great name for a Seattle rock band.

Greenlake's not a bad place to visit for a few hours, and would be definitely be a nice place to stay for a few days. It's a real slice of Seattle, that's for sure. I'm just glad I live in West Seattle.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2005

San Francisco's "Medical" Marijuana Obsession

Matt Smith of San Francisco Weekly about knocked me flat with some great stuff he wrote recently. He nails it again with his new column, out today. San Francisco's civic obsession with promulgating "medical" marijuana clubs in city's neighborhoods is lunacy of the worst kind, as far more pressing issues languish in the background.

Last Thursday, 140 San Franciscans packed a City Hall committee meeting to consider the greatest outcome puzzle of all: NIMBYs versus Potheads? The putative issue at hand: how might San Francisco regulate the three dozen or so marijuana dealerships that have sprung up around the city under the aegis of the 1996 Proposition 215, which permits toking on doctor's orders.

The clubs have pissed off neighbors with their riffraff, crime, stench, and filth, while pleasing the rest of San Francisco, which feeds off an image of itself in which long-haired waifs toke unperturbed in loose-fitting, colorful clothes. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi represents the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that's the setting for this collective historical fantasy, and he's spent the better part of this year working on legislation aimed at preserving the maximum number of dope stores while fending off neighbor complaints. He's enlisted his own staff; employees at the City Attorney's Office, the Health Department, and the Planning Commission; and the full-time services of a Harvard-trained city planner who wrote an inch-thick report, drafted reams of detailed maps and graphs, and otherwise playacted in a Mirkarimi-directed game in which sprinkling marijuana stores around San Francisco was the most significant city-management issue of our time.

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval represents a blue-collar district in southwest San Francisco with little patience for such nonsense. Residents have deluged his office with complaints about three crime-generating dope stores in a four-block stretch. Mindful that political ideas become sacred here when couched as efforts to preserve the city in an imagined previous form, Sandoval wrote up a bill of his own that said, in essence, you can have your precious pot stores anywhere you want, but keep them away from my constituents.

Reeferzilla, it seems, met NIMBY-Ra, and for the moment Reeferzilla has prevailed. Sandoval's measure died in committee Thursday. Mirkarimi's version, which sets minor limits on pot stores such as keeping them 500 feet from schools, will be heard by the full Board of Supervisors next week. Sandoval plans to reintroduce his no-pot-stores-in-my-backyard provision as a proposed amendment.

Whether or not Sandoval prevails, his maneuver to me seemed to be a brilliant bit of political jujitsu, offering a possible route out of our age-old malaise in which policy discourse consists of narcissistic fretting about an imagined version of what San Francisco was once like.....As we feed off images of an imagined past, real issues such as crime, housing, government spending, public safety, and the quality of schools languish in favor of nostalgia-driven topics such as "preservation of neighborhood character" or medical marijuana, a supposed health-care issue the legitimate medical profession won't touch.

Note Smith's use of the word "district" in his introduction of Supervior Sandoval. At least under San Francisco's district elections for the Board of Supervisors, a no-B.S. advocate of middle-class taxpayers can get elected from certain parts of the city. No such luck yet here in Seattle, where the City Council's "at large," or city-wide election scheme for all council members currently ensures that winning candidates must adhere to prevailing Liberal-Left dogma in every area of policy and priority-setting. I voiced support for a 2003 district elections vote in this Seattle Times column (free reg. req.). An excerpt:

Districts mean cheaper, local campaigns; doorbelling, not dollars. That notion likely has many Seattle political fixers and consultants quaffing Bombay Blue Sapphire martinis, or doing yoga, to cut stress....Districts will strengthen government oversight and accountability, and buttress solid — but overlooked — community support for law enforcement. Districts will better harness citizen input, ensuring fairer distribution of resources in times lean and flush.

But alas, my distilled wisdom wasn't quite enough. The measure missed by seven percentage points. With a few professionals assisting the effort next time around (it was a painfully sketchy "Yes" campaign), better funding, and turnout better than 34.7 percent of registered voters, a district elections bill could pass in Seattle. Say in 2007. The benefit: both council races and council members that are more focused on better delivery of core municipal services, economic growth and maintaining quality of life in the face of ever-increasing urban density in Seattle.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 06:33 PM | Comments (0)

It's Not About The Mega-Churches

Petaluma, Ca. writer Keith Thompson's widely-noted SF Chron op-ed earlier this year, ""Leaving The Left," led to an excellent follow-up blog post by Thompson on consumer awareness of the Republican agenda. That got under my skin, and I mean that in a good way. Commenting on Thompson's post "Free To Leap," and a Knight-Ridder piece on the importance of Republican moderates, I wrote:

If the filibuster shoe were on the other foot, and the GOP was in the minority, trying to block a Democratic president's appointees, conservatives would be howling to preserve the filibuster, and not sacrifice it even to let three detested nominees through the turnstile, as Senate Democrats did. The Schiavo thing was utter and total overkill, right-wing posturing run amok. As far as federal funding for (ed.-embryonic) stem-cell research, it may be tantamount to supporting abortion in the minds of some pro-lifers, but to many others it amounts to a legitimate investment in medical research that could eventually help cure diseases and save lives. The inflamed arguments from The Right on these issues may be heart-felt, but they are alienating to many swing voters.

Politics is the art of the possible; you have to leave a few things out of your shopping cart at check-out time. You've only got so much political capital to spend, even as a majority party. Republican moderates, willing to buck the party's intemperate, politically greedy right wing, are my kind of Republicans.

I will define whether I am a Republican or not; and I am one....Some party hack isn't going to tell me I don't make the team because I'm not outraged over federal funding for stem-cell research, because I'm pro-choice, or because I don't lie up nights plotting Arlen Specter's demise. I think Republicans need to reach out to those who simply call themselves "conservatives," and be ready to talk to self-declared, unaffiliated "moderates" as well. "Leaving The Left" doesn't necessarily mean Embracing The Right.

Yes. Well.

Today, in the Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius warns Republicans against pandering to the base. His advice is already well-understood in places such as Washington state, where Republicans nearly elected a moderate Republican governor last year, Dino Rossi, and where the formerly red suburbs have turned solidly purple. But to me, thousands of miles from the Beltway and from what I guess I'd call the "Back East" MSM, all the sturm and drang on social issues and party intrigue is marginal, to say the least.

Defending Terry Schiavo's right to life; defending Tom DeLay; and now the incessant caterwauling about Bush 43's SCOTUS nominee Harriet Miers not appearing to be sufficiently committed to overturning Roe v. Wade. The signal-to-noise ratio is declining precipitously.

Here's Ignatius:

The hard right, which is the soul of the modern GOP, would rather be ideologically pure than successful. Governing requires making compromises and getting your hands dirty, but the conservative purists disdain those qualities. They swim for that beach with a fiercely misguided determination, and they demand that the other whales accompany them....The awkward fact for conservatives is that the American public doesn't agree with them on abortion rights. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll in late August found 54 percent describing themselves as pro-choice and only 38 percent as pro-life, roughly the same percentages as a decade ago.

....Bush and the Republicans had a chance after 2004 to become the country's natural governing party. They controlled the White House and both houses of Congress. The Democrats were in utter disarray, leaderless and idea-less. When Bush took the podium in January to deliver his soaring second inaugural address, the future seemed to belong to the Republicans.

Bush squandered this opportunity by falling into the trap that has snared the modern GOP -- of playing to the base rather than to the nation. The Republicans behave as if the country agrees with them on issues, when that demonstrably isn't so. The country doesn't agree about Social Security, doesn't agree about the ethical issues that were dramatized by the torment of Terri Schiavo, doesn't agree about abortion. Yet, in a spirit of blind partisanship, House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced last year that bills would reach the floor only if "the majority of the majority" supported them. That notion of governing from the hard right was a recipe for failure.

....Principles are a fine thing, but a narrow, partisan definition of principle has led the Republicans to a dead end. Their inability to transcend their base and speak to the country as a whole is now painfully obvious. Like the Democrats in their years of decline, they are screaming at each other -- not realizing how far they have drifted from the mid-channel markers that have always led to open waters and defined success in American politics.

It's only on Social Security that I don't agree with Ignatiuis' prescription. Otherwise he's on the money.

Mobilizing the evangelicals was crucial to Bush's winning a second term, but the party can't go forward in chains. Rs of all stripes share concerns on fostering global liberty, fighting terrorism and boosting national securit. Other priorities include expanding school choice, and somehow - whew! - still vastly improving federal fiscal discipline.

A tall order, but right and good.

From where I sit in Central Puget Sound, I draw a line on the social conservative agenda. I endorse parental notificiation laws for minors seeking an abortion; and the right of any state's legislature, or now voters, to define marriage as between a man and woman. The Left risks continued marginalization by crying "coathangers and back-alleys" in the first instance, and "homophobe" in the second. But, beyond that, Rs should steer clear of the hot-button social issues.

The key policy concerns here - especially as the population of the three largest Seattle-area counties grows from 3 million now to 4 million by 2020 and 5 million by 2050 - are at once regional, local, and (one hopes) essentially non-partisan.

Transportation gridlock, and terrorism prevention (think Seattle and Tacoma's large ports and Washington State Ferries) are near the top of the list. So is maintaining quality of life as urban density is ratched up weekly, and that even includes - no, make that especially includes seemingly minor "broken windows" priorities. Also key: putting core government services ahead of social engineering; fostering economic development and finding a way back to school choice in Washington state. The national party must make a better effort: to speak to those issues (sometimes by example, as on belt-tightening); to steer party donors to urban and regional candidates who speak to those issues; and to help develop a better game plan for the suburbs and cities, with bottom-up input from the Republican moderates who are trying to carve out a decent life in America's cities and increasingly purple suburbs.

Because in the end, it's not about the mega-churches.


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Tom Rekdal: On policy issues, I think your assessment of where the GOP should be is about right. But I am still puzzled by the way in which both you and David Ignatius attribute the GOP's strategic weakness to its too close association with social conservatives. That alliance has always been a delicate balancing act, but never a fatal attraction.

Howard Fineman is closer to the mark, I believe, in attributing the "conservative crackup" to a growing sense among Right-wingers, and I imagine the country generally, that the Bush administration has collapsed into a puddle of cronyism and incompetence, while the congressional wing of the party continues to engage in the very pigs-at-the-trough behavior for which it was supposed to be the antidote.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

Ron Dellums For Berkeley Mayor

Under blogging Mayor Jerry Brown, Oakland has come a long way. Now with Brown termed-out, former U.S. Congressman Ron Dellums has decided to leave his Washington, D.C. lobbying firm and get in the race. He is quoted by The Berkeley Daily Planet thusly:

“The strength of Oakland is in its diversity,” he said. “Development is wonderful. Development is necessary. But when the dust settles and the smoke clears, we must embrace the principle that all of Oakland’s diverse community must move forward together. That’s the principle we must embrace. No portion of this community should be standing in line saying ‘I’m waiting for my turn.’ This will be a multi-cultural and multi-racial campaign and administration.”

He's right: no one should be standing line. The question is, why are they in the line to begin with, and how do they get out? People of different income levels, different levels of educational achievement, and benefitting (or not) from varying degrees of nuclear family cohesion and parental engagement, cannot always "move forward together," as Dellums wishes. Some move ahead while some lag behind, due largely to individual choices made by parents about what kinds of lives they and children will have. The "equalized outcomes" rhetoric proferred by Dellums is standard social engineering that outlived its usefulness about 35 years ago.

Worse still is Dellums' anti-Americanism, burnished to a fine gleam during his career in Congress. He'd better keep it in check on the campaign trail and in office, if he's elected. Dellums was no garden-variety liberal Democrat; he went far beyond the pale. Here's some of what you need to know, from ChronWatch.

On social policy, Dellums seems frozen in a Nanny State time capsule. His record in Congress of "peace activism," er, allying with strident foreign interests intent on vilifying U.S. foreign policy, has made him a cultural icon with the Bay Area Left and the Democratic Party's Kucinich wing. His former aide, the distinguished U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee succeeded him. Despite Lee's popularity in the Ninth Congressional District (which includes Oakland, Berkeley and Alameda) Oakland isn't the same place as when Dellums earned his spurs in Congress. That's thanks in large part to Jerry Brown's eight-year run (see second link from top). Oakland needs another pragmatic, pro-business, pro-charter schools, law-and-order Democrat, which believe it or not, Jerry Brown turned out to be. Dellums began his political career as a city council member in Berkeley, in 1967. Today, he'd make a better Mayor of Berkeley, than Oakland.

The race is on. Among Dellums' early endorsements is one from the Service Employees Union International, which recently embarked upon an interesting anti-public relations campaign across the Bay. Oakland City Council President Igancio De la Fuente will be Dellums' strongest competitor. A nuts-and-bolts local politician who's more pro-growth, De la Fuente has been endorsed by Jerry Brown, the city's police, firemen, and The Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. He's got at least one big detractor in the blogosphere, and doubtless a number more in Oakland who see him as an insufficiently "progressive" Brown ally. City Council member Nancy Nadel is also running. If no one gets more than 50 percent next June, the top two will face off in November '06. Stay tuned.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

October 11, 2005

Iraq Constitution Deal Could Foreshadow Passage

Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni negotiators have approved an important change in the new Iraqi constitution, a document that voters will approve or reject in an historic vote this weekend. The Guardian reports odds for passage are now seen as greatly enhanced. Sunni leaders had been urging a "No," vote and it only takes a two-thirds majority of voters in three of the country's provinces to defeat the constitution. Now, things are looking up.

The central addition allows the next parliament, which will be formed in Dec. 15 elections, to form (a) commission, which will have four months to consider changes to the constitution. The changes would be approved by the entire parliament, then a referendum would be held two months later.

That is no guarantee that Sunnis will be able to make the changes they seek. They are likely to have a stronger representation in the next parliament, but would still face a strong Shiite and Kurdish majority that would likely oppose major changes. Sunnis fear that the draft constitution as it stands will fragment Iraq, because it allows Shiites and Kurds to create mini-states in the oil-rich north and south, leaving Sunnis in a poor central zone.

Which sort of begs the question: can't Sunnis develop an economy that's not dependent on oil? And which begs other questions, legitimate ones, about some degree of shared revenues with central, Sunni Iraq from the Kurdish north and Shiite south. All this glorious policy haggling is what goes into the birth of real nation, along with the killing of many Iraqis (Shiites) by other Iraqis (Sunnis) and Islamist terrorists from abroad. It will continue to be a difficult slog, but passage of the constitution would be a huge step forward from the dystopia of Saddam's thug-ocracy. Maybe now the Iraqi "insurgents" (increasingly hardline Sunnis, and less often al Qaeda of Iraq) can even stop killing people before this weekend's vote on the constitution.

Wouldn't that be special?


TO COMMENT: The regular "comment" feature is not in operation. E-mail comments to address under "Contact" on main page masthead, and I'll add them, here.

Tom Rekdal: Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, isn't it time to start using our troops to influence the political outcome in Iraq? The constitution may be their choice, but whose side we are on and how we support it is our choice. And there are sides to be taken here, not just vague goals like "democracy in the Middle East."

In what I take to be the first sign of intelligence on the Democratic side of this argument, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan has suggested that we use our leverage over troop deployment to pressure the Shiite factions into more negotiations with the Sunni factions. Right on.

140,000 troops are obviously insufficient to pacify the entire country, but they are more than enough to piss off most Sunni Arabs and lull most Kurds and Shiites into the illusion that we will do their fighting for them. It is
long past time to change both perceptions. Our only objective should be an Iraqi government that is stable and does not suck the oil pipeline to fund terrorism. Whether such a government is run by Shiites, Kurds, or Sunni Arabs, in a democratic or undemocratic manner, is none of our business.

Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 05:51 PM | Comments (0)

Cruising For Produce On Vashon

There's nothing quite like stumbling upon a small island farm, selecting fresh, locally-grown vegetables and fruit, scoring some farm-fresh eggs, and then getting an impromptu tour from one of the growers. That's what our family did Sunday afternoon, on Vashon Island. Vashon is a place I've written about a few times recently (here and here) as part of my ongoing tourism blogging project. Our discovery Sunday was totally serendipitous. Along Dilworth Road, we spotted a sign by a driveway that said "GreenMan Farm," and then "potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, eggs." What are you gonna do? No resisting the siren call. Sweet little place, it turns out. Here's the farmstand itself.

In the typical Vashon fashion, you just weigh the stuff yourself, calculate the cost based on posted prices per pound, and leave your money in the jar on the counter. We met Will Forrester, a really friendly guy, who's a painter, and now a grower, too. He lived on Vashon in the 70s, then married into this quaint 1.75-acre spread less than two years ago.

His wife Jasper has been at it there for a good while, and they currently head the Vashon Island Growers Association (VIGA).

VIGA has 15 farms as members. Some operate onsite farmstands, and all sell from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, April to early October at the Vashon Farmers Market at the Village Green. That's on Vashon Highway north of Bank Road.

At GreenMan Farm, Will gave us a sample of a yellow-ish "lemon" cucumber (delicious, we bought a bunch), and we picked out some orange tomatoes, sweet peppers and sweet onions.

Then he took us on a tour. We met the dinosaur kale (right), the chickens, the goats, the dogs, and the broccoli (Will threw in a bunch of that free, and we helped him cut it right off the stalks). I asked him about whether some of the advocacy on pesticides that's used to market organic produce isn't a bit alarmist, and what's so important about organic, anyway. He replied the real issue is locally-grown versus not locally-grown. The former is usually going to taste a lot better because it doesn't have to be picked before its time to survive shipping. Good point.

So head on out to Vashon Island, and cruise the local farmstands for produce. For a map-guide with more information on all 15 VIGA farms, e-mail: viga@greenmanfarm.com, and ask them to snail mail you a copy of their pamphlet, "Vashon Fresh: A Guide to Island Farm Products." If you're visiting Puget Sound from elsewhere, places like GreenMan are just another reason to stay in a rental unit of some sort, with a kitchen. In fact, there are cottage and guest house rentals available on Vashon (poke around here); it's a great place to bike; and if you have a map, you'll find beaches and parks aplenty. There's the car ferry connection with West Seattle; the passenger-only ferry to downtown Seattle, and at the island's south end, the Tallequah car ferry to Point Defiance in Tacoma, an increasingly tourism-friendly city.

DETAILS: GreenMan Farm, 8800 S.W. Dilworth Rd., Vashon Island, Washington. Directions from Vashon ferry landing: follow main road off boat and keep going. That's Vashon Highway. Turn left, or east, at 156th St., then right, or south on 91st Ave. S.W., followed by left on Dilworth Rd., then a quick left into GreenMan's signed driveway. Phone: (206) 567-4548. There's another farm next door at 16530 91st Ave. S.W., Hogsback Farm. They also sell fresh farmstand produce and eggs; (206) 463-1896.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

October 10, 2005

Chinese Democracy Activist Savagely Beaten In China; Missing Or Dead

Lu Banglie, a Chinese provincial legislator who had helped villagers in Taishi, southern Guangdong Province, attempt to oust a local mayor involved in a land-deal corruption scandal, was dragged from a car by dozens of men, and severely beaten after attempting to enter the village Saturday. Described as one of China's most prominent Democracy activists, he is missing, and feared dead. The imagery of mass Chinese protests since Tiananmen Square in 1989 has permeated the hinterlands. The Taishi corruption case and related local protests are but one example of growing reform expectations among Chinese as economic liberalization in their nation continues to outpace social and political liberalization. BBC has more on that, and the savage attack against Lu, here.

Mr. Lu is a delegate to one of China's provincial legislatures. He had recently been involved in helping local people to try and remove the elected chief of the village of Taishi, in southern Guangdong province. The chief is accused of embezzling public funds in a deal involving the sale of a large tract of village land. Since the people of Taishi launched their campaign to remove their chief in July, the village has become a test case for local-level democracy in China.

...Earlier this month, Guo Feixiong, a lawyer who was helping villagers in the dispute, was arrested. Protests by villagers over issues such as land seizures, corruption and pollution are becoming increasingly common in China. Last year the government documented more than 70,000 demonstrations involving more than three million people, and according to the BBC Beijing correspondent, Daniel Griffiths, the authorities are worried that rising discontent might threaten their grip on power. The violence in Taishi coincided with a four-day meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee in Beijing, where one of the topics on the agenda is the social unrest fuelled by the growing gap between rich and poor.

The Chinese Communists and the BBC manage a condescending jab at the close there, intimating that all the unrest unrest is mainly fueled by the inequities of the capitalism which China has had to embrace for it's own global survival. They have it somewhat backwards, methinks. It's not so much about class divisions as modern notions of ethical governance among the great unwashed. Oh, sure, there've been the occasional mass killing campaigns by the Chinese Communists when the natives got uppity, so it's not as though the Chinese people could be described as passive. More just beaten down by circumstance.

But now, with economic liberalization in a post-Tiananmen Square political culture, Chinese have higher expectations than in recent decades. Give them land seizures, corruption and pollution, and they'll give you principled and persistent protest, and sacrifice their lives if need be. Some are rather stubborn that way, in fact. I wonder if a real "people's revolution" could be in the offing for China? Maybe I'm dreaming. But the Communists can't hold onto power indefinitely, can they? China is a very different nut for the Reds to crack, than, say, North Korea, or Cuba. There are just too many people to effectively surpress, and the cultural norm of political submission is sharply eroding.

The Guardian reports Lu was beaten by a hired mob, and seen lying unconscious afterward. Lu - whom the paper describes as "a leading Democracy activist" in China, and "one of the new breed of peasant reformers elected without the party's support" - may well be dead, according to the Guardian.

UPDATE, 10/12/05: He's alive, recovering, and vowing to press on. The Guardian has more.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

Prop. 75: The Pro-Choice Choice

If Gov. Arnold's Proposition 75 passes in California Nov. 8, gub'mint workers in that state will have a choice: they could withhold the portion of their union dues that would otherwise go for union political activity, namely, campaign contributions to Big Government Democrats. That no such right of refusal currently exists seems pretty Third World to me.

Prop. 75 has union leaders in a serious dither, as The L.A. Times reports today.

Labor strategists say workplace campaigning is the most effective tool for solidifying the union vote. The limited reach of such efforts was apparent last week at the Kaiser Permanente medical complex in Los Feliz. Deidre Brown, 43, a medical records clerk wheeling a metal cart of files through the corridors, said she had heard nothing about Proposition 75 from leaders of her union, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers-West. She said she trusted her union to spend her dues wisely but understood the appeal of getting members' consent for political spending. "It makes sense to ask permission," she said.

"It sounds like a good idea," added Malcolm Drake, 59, another medical records clerk who said he had heard nothing about Proposition 75 from the union. Both said they were undecided on Proposition 75. But their openness to voting for it illustrates the danger union leaders face: Their own members could defy them and nudge Proposition 75 into law.

Supporters of the measure are being advised to make it about freedom of political expression.

Ken Jacobs, deputy chairman of UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education, said the Yes on 75 campaign starts with an edge that could erode as voters learn more about the measure. "They win if people think this is a question of union democracy," he said. "I think they lose if people think this is about whether teachers, nurses or firefighters should be able to participate in politics or whether their voices should be silenced in the political arena."

What a yutz. Of course teachers, nurses or firefighters should be able to participate in politics. But how in the Holy Fires Of Hell are they being "silenced" if public employee unions must first get their permission to use part of their dues payments for partisan politics? There's far more "silencing" of the employees voice under the current arrangement.

Apparently, choice is good if a fetus is being aborted (I reluctantly agree); but bad when funneling money from government employees to candidates for payroll bloat at taxpayer expense.

Talk about situational ethics.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

October 08, 2005

Vashon Health Club Welcomes U

Vashon Island, Washington (hard by Seattle), is the size of Manhattan. But, it's home to only 10,000 or so folk. Vashon life, in so many respects, is very rural and casual.

Here's the local health club, photographed today. You'll be gazing NE toward West Seattle, just NE of Quartermaster Harbor, up the Puget Sound shipping lanes - map here. Bring your energy drink, a copy of the Utne Reader, and a head-mounted umbrella.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

There's A Bicycle In That Tree!

On Vashon Island, a short ferry ride from West Seattle, is the world famous Bicycle In A Tree, once featured in Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Basically, it's an old bike lodged in a tree, which grew around it. Fairly supernatural.

So. You take the ferry, drive right off the boat, down Vashon Highway, past downtown Vashon, to the restaurant Sound Food (known to locals as Slow Food). There, you turn left into the parking area, park, exit your vehicle, and walk just north and east from the very north end of the parking area. (This takes about 30 seconds). You'll pass one tree, and then see the bicycle in the (next) tree, right off.

Here it is, today. Some lamebrain stole the front wheel and handlebars a while back, which is a cryan' shame. But you get the idea.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:43 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2005

British Columbia Teachers Strike: No Sympathy Here

Teaching is hard work, no doubt. But no matter how pitched labor negotiations get, I just have a hard time with strikes that leave kids out of class.

Peak Talk blogger Pieter Dorsman and his family - who live near Vancouver - are living it. Here's Pieter's post from earlier today:

I’m home this morning with my five-year old as the teachers here have gone on strike....While in the entire western world unions are in retreat.....there are pockets of resistance in places such as California and in particular, British Columbia. The “closed shop” mandatory union membership here is protected by law and even if strikes like this one are ruled illegal as it concerns an "essential" service, unions feel comfortable enough to ignore the rule of law and proceed regardless.

As Pieter notes, the demands are several:

The teachers have asked for a 15-per-cent wage increase over three years while the government offered zero, in line with its public-sector wage policy. The union is also seeking strict caps on class sizes and a return to classroom conditions that were guaranteed in the teachers' contract until 2002, when they were removed by the Liberals.

All fair enough issues for discussion. But if you don't get what you want by a date certain, what? Shut down the schools with a strike? Lousy approach! One furthering alientation between ratepayers and public servants filling a most crucial function - more crucial, cleary, than even garbage or recycling pick-up.

Not that it's much better in the U.S., but Canada seems to have a real weakness for unions, and strikes, as Canadian refugee Jennifer Meeks observes. Long before our family met Pieter's - thanks to the blogosphere - and reconnected this summer past - we were in Nainamo, (in B.C., on wondrous Vancouver Island just after 9/11/01) and I couldn't help but notice two things: taxes at our hotel were absurdly high, and multi-layered; AND, there was a federal (or was it provincial?) employees union office occupying a huge, PRIME location in the hurting downtown, a spot some other, private entity clearly OUGHT to have been occupying.

Add in lots of notices on lamposts all about, there in Naniamo, regarding a pending strike action against the evil government employers, and the impression of the core downtown economy was......flaccid. Canada: land of great vacations, overbearing public employee unions, lots of taxes, and strikes. North America's Europe, you might say. Hopefully without the radical feminists.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 09:50 PM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2005

Beware Bush Agitprop On Iraq, Terrorism

An intercepted letter from al Qaeda's #2 says Iraq is the focal point of a hoped-for Middle Eastern Islamic state, and Israel must perish. Ah, sure. More Murdoch-Bush agitprop. Right? I mean, who'd ever ever suspect something like that? Al Qaeda in Iraq might be killing dozens of Iraqis every week, and funneling "insurgents" in through Syria, but hey, that's what the U.S. gets for trying to lay its colonialist, globalist, capitalist, hegemonic trip on the glorious free state of Iraq, where Saddam had only buried some 300,000 Iraqis in mass graves, and everything woulda been hunky-dory if only we hadn'ta been such imperious buttinskis, right? After all, the absolute moral authority of the aggrieved parents of a handful of the less than 2,000 dead American soldiers in Iraq trumps all.

More here from CNN on "the letter." Seems al Qaeda is on the ropes, but wait, that's not the preferred MSM meme, is it? Meanwhile, AP reports U.S. President George W. Bush says the U.S. foiled 10 planned terrorist attacks in the last four years, including plots involving airplanes directed against an unspecified West Coast city in 2002. Well, that has to be L.A., San Francisco, or Seattle. Portland just doesn't rank. Details, please? Just curious, here in Seattle. (UPDATE: reportedly it was The Library Tower, L.A.'s tallest building). Oh, and there's been "a credible terrorist threat" against the NYC subway system. Yeh, time to turn tail in Iraq, alright. Let 'em know how eager we are to please.


Alan Starr, Editor of the Web site News Blaze: Hi Matt. The "we are losing" MSM see defeat in everything and want us to pull out so they can say they were right. They don't care about the bad guys killing Iraqis who want peace and democracy and they have no concept of the bad guys becoming stronger and coming after us again. They also are ignoring the good things that are going on in other parts of Iraq. I just published a photo story of "Operation River Gate."

P. Scott Cummins: Matt, you are spot-on! Proving once again that Rosenblog is the not-too-be-trifled-with source of relief from MSM ennui!

Michael Brandon McClellan: "Fight on amigo (which is what SC Trojans say to each other, but I mean it in the common sense as well)".

Michael links to my post here.

Tom Rekdal (on my original post): Sorry, but I find this analysis too simple. Leaving aside the administration's rationale for the war in Iraq, which seems to change at least quarterly, and the jeremiads of the left, which are beyond stupid, the serious argument about our intervention in Iraq seems to me to revolve around four questions.

The first is whether Robert A. Pape ("Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Terrorism" (2005)) is right in believing that Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to what they perceive as Western intrusion into the Islamic homeland. In other words, whether a restored Caliphate would be the end or the beginning of a broader war. I am inclined to think that Pape is wrong, simply because success would be a powerful stimulus to extend the Caliphate. But, frankly, I see no knock-down evidence either way on this issue, as yet.

The second is whether Richard Clarke is right in believing that our invasion of Iraq has merely stimulated more recruits for Al Qaeda, as well as giving them a new training ground for terrorists who will eventually expand their activities into the West. There are certainly foreign fighters in Iraq, but our own military intelligence keeps insisting that they are a relatively small part of the Iraq insurgency. I find it hard to imagine that such fighters would still be calmly counting prayer-beads at the local mosque if only we had not invaded Iraq. But how can we know for sure? Clarke may ultimately be proven right in warning that terrorists trained in Iraq will eventually return to haunt us locally, but so far that has not happened.

Third, there is the whole question of our military strategy that Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr., has raised. It is pointless, he claims, to push insurgents out of places we cannot hold, and recommends an "oil stain" strategy instead, which would allow us to use our limited resources to actually protect certain regions in ways that would permit reconstruction to take place, and thus to gradually expand the "oil stain." Not being a military analyst, I am way beyond my depth here, but I find most of his criticisms persuasive.

Finally, there is the political problem. Whose side will we be on if the Sunni Arab population is not reconciled to the constitution? A government constantly at war with one-fifth of its own constituency is no democracy in my view, and the point where our role in Iraq becomes one of simply defending Shiite rule rather than Sunni rule is the point where I get off the boat. Bush loses me there.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

The Glory Of Daikon

A daikon, or Japanese white radish, is a fine, fine thing.

Get some soon.

Slice 'em vertically, then crosswise into thin half moons.

Plonk a whole mess of daikon slices, along with a large carrot similarly rendered, into a bowl with this special dressing.

Dressing: 6 T Canola, 4 T rice vinegar, 1 T sugar, a liberal dash or two of both chili-garlic sauce and soy (or Vietnamese fish sauce).

Mix well, cover and chill. Serve using large metal slotted spoon, leaving dressing in mixing bowl, and re-using later.

Mmm mmm.

Diamond Organics sez:

A sweet and pungent tonic, daikon tonifies the lung and liver meridians.

Fresh daikon contains diuretics, decongestants, and the digestive enzymes diastase, amylase, and esterase.

It is effective against many bacterial and fungal infections and it contains a substance that inhibits the formation of carcinogens in the body.

...It is not necessary to peel daikon.

Wash and grate it to use raw or cut into the desired shape and cook it as you would a carrot in soups or sautéed, simmered, baked, or braised dishes.

Or cut into a fanciful shape and add it to a grilled kabob. Organic daikon is also a tasty pickle ingredient and condiment.

Daikon has a crisp, clean, crunchy essence.

It's a perfect accompaniment to roasted meats, or vegetarian fare.

Combined with carrots in an Asian vinaigrette, as above, it works well with many dishes.

Tonight, our daikon salad nicely complemented these roasted baby back ribs, and an Asian frittata, made with leftover Singapore Noodles and bean sprouts.

Now thet's eatin'.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:04 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2005

Salmon In The Sky, Over Seattle

There's Flying Fish Records, founded in my hometown of Chicago in the 70s, and distributed by Rounder Records, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where, post-Brandeis, I lived next to a noisy bus-yard and worked in a cheese shop at Fresh Pond Mall before moving to Washington, D.C. and selling cheese of a different sort on Capitol Hill. And there's Flying Fish the restaurant, in Seattle, proffering sexed-up food for people with too much money and time on their hands. There's Alaska Airlines' flying salmon plane, (painted at taxpayer expense, no less). And Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky," a great 1970 AM radio hit (remember?). And finally this, the other night, spotted by my son. I'm calling it Salmon In The Sky, Over Seattle.

The real deal.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:12 PM | Comments (0)

Al Gore: Dark Days Nigh; Big Brother To Blame

The pedantic gasbag who is Al Gore gave a speech today. I read the whole transcript so you didn't have to. It went like this (and I'm only filling in between the lines the tiniest bit, OK?): Americans are uninformed, verging on stupid; they watch too much TV. Especially celebrity-oriented news and shows. TV is a really serious threat to democracy, and causes us to be insufficiently sensitive to global warming, Bush's heinous rationale for the Iraq War, and conservative talk radio. The Internet, on the other hand, is good. But there is a grave threat to The Internet: the same evil conglomerates that control television programming, and that have dumbed-down TV news will try to buy up Internet service provider companies, making it difficult for you to access Al Gore's spiffy network called "Current TV," featuring lots of 20-something viewer-generated videos with cool music in the background, that can viewed online. The imposition of barriers such as this would be truly tragic, on the order of too many people watching the O.J. car chase.

In short, the future portends a great and lasting darkness for the American People, unless we beat back the evil large entertainment companies that engender mental sloth and inattention to oligopolies, and seek to control our online access to information. These businesses, of course would not include the satellite TV company DirecTV, or Time-Warner's digital-cable unit, which both provide Gore's "Currrent TV" to subscribers.

Rosenblog's reaction? Well, since you asked: Albert, Albert, Albert. You say "corporate mind control," I say "individual choice." And enough with the long speeches, huh? I'm drumming my fingers dude. We all know you've read a lot of books, but....sheesh. You were hoping for a "pod" segment about your speech on Current TV, perhaps? Too much naked text doth a snooze make. Instead, start a blog, and for gosh sakes, weave in some links, and pix. Like this guy, maybe you know him. And, finally, by ALL means Al, listen to that groundswell and get IN, baby, for '08.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

Panofsky: Toughen Urban Nuclear Terrorism Security In U.S.

Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, physicist and retired director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, warns the United States must do much more to prevent the possiiblity of nuclear-grade material falling into the hands of terorrists who wish to detonate a nuclear device in an American city. Writing in the Sunday San Francisco Chronicle, Panofsky says:

It is estimated that if a nuclear device were detonated in a populous American city, it would kill hundreds of thousands of people, and the economic impact would approach $1 trillion...Experts' estimates of the imminence of such a horrific event are spread between a few years to many decades, But President Bush has acknowledged eloquently the extremity of the danger when modern technology and terrorism are combined.

...In the words of Graham Allison of Harvard University, nuclear terrorism is "a preventable threat.".....a series of barriers can be erected that, in combination, would drastically reduce the likelihood of a nuclear catastrophe. All nuclear explosives depend on the availability of either highly enriched uranium or plutonium. Manufacture of such materials is a large industrial enterprise well beyond the capability of terrorist groups.

So, for nuclear terrorism to become a reality, either a nuclear weapon would have to be stolen from national arsenals or nuclear weapons-usable materials would have to be diverted and fabricated into a deliverable bomb. The latter is a job of moderate difficulty, and the methods to produce a weapon sufficient to cause havoc are well known.

Weapons-usable materials have been produced in large quantities by the nuclear weapons states, in particular the United States and Russia, and today, these states combined still possess arsenals of about 30,000 nuclear weapons.
Highly enriched uranium and plutonium exist in quantities worldwide to make easily more than 100,000 nuclear weapons. These numbers are excessive to any national security need, and they feed the clear and present danger of nuclear terrorism.

What to do? Panofsky again.

Feasible multiple barriers to prevent a nuclear catastrophe include the following: major reductions of the enormous stockpiles of nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material; greatly improved guarding and security of these stockpiles against theft; improved and widespread use of methods of detecting weapons materials, followed by interception of the introduction of these materials, whether by shipping containers, trucks, cars or airplanes crossing national boundaries, or as far as that goes, by mules crossing the Rio Grande; improved intelligence collection covering the relevant moves of weapons-usable material.

Each of these steps is being implemented but in a manner hardly commensurate with the threat....The nuclear weapons stockpiles of Russia and the United States remain huge. Only about a quarter of Russian nuclear weapons-usable materials are protected sufficiently to meet the standards set by the U.S.-Russian agreement.

Nuclear detection devices are being introduced at a few overseas shipping points on a demonstration basis, but the effort is far from comprehensive. Pilot installations exist at ports of entry into the United States, but U.S. borders beyond the ports remain porous to the introduction of nuclear weapons or material. Nuclear terrorism exceeds any catastrophe that the United States has experienced. Yet the priority and thoroughness dedicated to avoid this "preventable catastrophe" remain inadequate. Must we wait for such a disaster before revising our priorities?

Seems to me that U.S. Congresspersons, U.S. Senators, constituents and media in major U.S. cities ought to be ratcheting up the pressure on the current administration to find the funding to begin doing better what needs to be done. For starters, Panofsky believes, that means doling out the military budget more sensibly - less on ballistic missile defense, and more on urban nuclear terrorism prevention.

The Washington, D.C.-based Arms Control Association is concerned as well, about "Preventing A Nuclear Katrina."

At a United Nations gathering last month, dozens of nations signed a Russian-initiated international convention which seeks to better define nuclear what constitutes materials trafficking. It also encourages nations to better guard nuclear stockpiles, and to pass appropriate laws strengthening nuclear security. The convention codifies the acceptability of peaceful uses of nuclear materials. While enriched urnanium is basically for bombs, plutonium has both weapons-related uses and legitimate uses, for example, producing nuclear power. Yet danger lurks especially within rogue regimes. Forbes points out that Russia is the chief private contractor for Iran's "peaceful" nuclear development program, and hints broadly at U.S. distrust of the mad mullahs. A well-placed mistrust, at that.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

October 04, 2005

Shiite-Lite: Recipe For Success In Iraq

There's a lot riding on the October 15 vote for a new constitution in Iraq, and the Washington Post's David Ignatius writes that crucial Sunni turnout is now actually being encouraged by clerics, with Sunni registration rising as a result. Happily, a justified change in Oct. 15 election rules - which naturally has caused much handwringing at the New York Times - seems likely to further undercut the push for a Sunni boycott due to the ongoing terrorist intimidation campaigns of Saddam loyalists, and the group which calls itself al Qaeda in Iraq. But Ignatius says that even if Iraqi voters approve the constitution, it would be the results of a December vote for a new Iraqi parliament that would be most essential. Give the U.S. six more months in Iraq, and remember that Shiite-Lite is the recipe for success, says Ignatius.

Every commander I talked with said Sunni registration is up. That signals a recognition that Iraq's future will be shaped by ballots, not suicide bombers. The real political milestone is the December balloting to elect a new, permanent government. The good news for people who want to see a secular Iraq is that the Sistani-backed clerical list is almost certain to get fewer votes than it did in the Jan. 30 balloting. And possibly, just possibly, enough Sunnis, Kurds and secular Shiites will vote for alternative lists to allow a new ruling coalition of secular parties, perhaps allied with religious ones, which might link arms across the Shiite-Sunni divide. Such a coalition might be headed by a secular Shiite politician, such as the wily Ahmed Chalabi or former prime minister Ayad Allawi.

Maybe I'm dreaming in imagining that a stable, secular government can still emerge. But the point is that we're finally approaching crunchtime. If the next six months don't produce something like the outcome I have described, there is every likelihood that Iraq will descend into the civil war that has been looming for two years....We may fail in Iraq, but let's not rush it.

Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Katrina. "A world spinning out of control?" asks Michael Barone. Hardly, he concludes.

UPDATE: The referendum rules change has been overturned by the national assembly.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

Throw Me Dinner, Wouldja?

A new survey finds that Americans are not only eating out more, getting more take-out meals, and eating in our cars more often. Nooooooo. On top of all that.....we're finding that actually leaving our cars to retrieve take-out meals from restaurants and supermarkets is a BIG hassle. Must be we're fatter and slower from all that greezy take-out. So, look for drive-through take-out meals at supermarkets, not just at fast-food emporiums, as today. Makes sense, right? Who wants to go home and WAIT for pizza or the Chinese restaurant delivery guy. That's almost as bad as having to shop and cook, fer cri-yi. We want it....AN HOUR AGO!

Supermarkets might have to follow the restaurant trend and offer curbside service, (NPD Group Vice President Harry) Balzer says. "At some point, they are going to have to knock a hole in the side of the wall and throw the rotisserie chicken out as you drive by."

Man, that'd be living, alright. Being the fusty traditionalist that I am, I'd need a drive-through daquiri to wash that down.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

Family Values In San Francisco

San Francisco: a great place to raise a family. As I've recently noted.


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Posted by Matt Rosenberg at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)