Saturday, December 08, 2007

John Lennon & Carlos "Tom" Jobim

In praise of great men ...

from a piece by Cris McGowan on HuffPo

December 8 marks the death anniversaries of two of the late 20th century's most influential musical figures: John Lennon, who died in 1980, and Antonio Carlos "Tom" Jobim, who passed away in 1994. In both cases, their songs were the soundtracks for generations who lived during days when it seemed as though anything were possible and a great leap forward was about to occur. The songs of the Beatles and Jobim remain remarkably popular decades after the respective heydays of the Fab Four and bossa nova, and their musical legacies will endure into the distant future.

Lennon and McCartney reinvented rock and pop, with the help of George Martin and George Harrison, and became mythic figures, objects of intense scrutiny by the press and closely identified with the cultural revolution sweeping North America and the U.K. in the 1960s. Meanwhile, in the other hemisphere, Jobim created some of the most sophisticated pop music the world has ever heard, stunning for its harmonic richness and deceptive simplicity. Along with singer-guitarist João Gilberto, Tom transmuted the venerable samba into light and breezy bossa nova, which was closely identified with a booming, optimistic, progressive Brazil of the early '60s. Alas, the country was thrown off track in 1964 when a military coup toppled Brazil's democratically elected government.

More after the click ...

My comment: They sure don't make music the way we used to.

Thought for the day

"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use."

-- Soren Kierkegaard

Friday, December 07, 2007

Darth Vader? Not really.

Paul Krugman / New York Times

Back when Hillary Clinton described Dick Cheney as Darth Vader, a number of people pointed out that this was an unfair comparison. For example, Darth Vader once served in the military.

Here’s another reason the comparison is invalid: the contractors Darth Vader hired to build the Death Star actually got the job done.

More after the click ...

Support for Republican policy among military families ...

Ain't what it used to be ...

Specifically, nearly 60% of military families disapprove of the president’s performance and his handling of the war in Iraq. Among those families with members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, six in 10 say the war has not been worth the cost. In both instances, the opinions of military families are in line with those of the U.S. civilian population.

Perhaps most importantly, a clear majority (58%) of these families “favor a withdrawal within the coming year or ‘right away.’”

Seems to me another shoe just dropped ... more after the click.

Risk-o-meter -or- what are the odds?

Americans are bombarded daily with warnings of dire threats to their health. Favorite scares include ones about traces of various chemicals in the environment, and about both synthetic and natural food constituents. But in reality, most if not all of these warnings have little to do with the real threats to our health and lives. The American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) has therefore constructed this website to give Americans a more accurate perspective on the exposures and diseases that have been proven to increase the risk of death for Americans.

If you're interested ... check out the Risk-0-meter.

My comment: For the last couple of years my cholesterol and triglycerides have been a little on the high side. I got the former back in line but seem to be unable to do much about the latter. I started with a new doctor recently ... a chap from India who seems to share my disdain for medications as a way to control all medical problems. We both seem to thin a little self discipline and a bunch of exercise can do the trick most of the time. (Disclosure: I seem to have been able to muster the former but the latter still seems to escape me.)

In any case, his comment that got me interested in "what are the odds" came from a brief conversation we had about my triglyceride count at our last meeting.

He: It's still a little high.

Me: How much should I be worried?

He: Something else will probably kill you first.

Now there's a man and a doctor that I can appreciate.

The bits Romney left out of his not-so JFK speech

Joseph Smith's Vision of Jesus
and the Angle Maroni.

Are a candidate's religious beliefs fair game?

or "My Inner-Frenchman on Why Mitt's Mormonism Matters"

Other than a few irresistible satirical pieces, I've stayed away from the question of whether voters should consider Mitt Romney's religion before casting their vote. I preferred to sit back and bathe myself in schadenfreude as I waited for the true-red Republicans of the Intermountain West to react to being blackballed by the most powerful faction of their party's base.

But my feelings changed a few weeks ago after I read a Burnt Orange Report post on why a candidate's religious beliefs should be off limits. I've been considering writing a response since then, and what better time to do that than now, on the day after Romney gave his so-called "JFK speech."

I'll begin by saying that I fully support the "no religious test" clause of the Constitution. I am not advocating that anyone be barred from holding office on the basis of religion. I do believe, however, that it is proper for voters to consider a candidate's religious beliefs before casting a vote for him or her.

The weight one should give to this consideration is dependent on four variables. First, what is the candidate's level of religiosity? Is he or she unquestioningly committed to the church's doctrine or is the candidate more independent in his or her thinking?

Second, how dogmatic is the candidate's church? Is questioning allowed? How does it treat dissent? Do they believe their scriptures are literal or metaphorical?

Third, what does the candidate believe regarding the relationship between people and God? Does the candidate believe God speaks directly to him or her? If so, does the candidate believe he or she has special powers of Revelation that are unavailable to most people? Does the candidate believe that the God guided the hands of our founding fathers and continues to guide the hands of our leaders today?

Finally, how would the church's doctrine influence the candidate's presidency?

More after the click on Jesus' General ...

And still more here under the title "Mitt Romney's Jesus is Just as Good as the Leading Brand"

With a slightly different approach under the title "Mitt Romney's Ironic Speech on Religious Tolerance"

Former Evangelical Minister Has a New Message: Jesus Hearts Darwin

By Brandon Keim / Wired Magazine

The Rev. Michael Dowd is preaching a surprising message: Evolution is real and science points to the existence of God.

For the last five years, the author and former evangelical pastor has lived out of a van with his wife, crisscrossing the nation to deliver the good news.

His latest book, Thank God for Evolution, drew endorsements from five Nobel laureates and dozens of religious leaders. With the battle between science and religion at a fever pitch, it couldn't come at a better time. Just last week Texas papers reported that a curriculum director had been fired in October for forwarding information about an evolution lecture to friends and colleagues.

Dowd wasn't always an evolution proselytizer. Presented with an evolution textbook on his first day of biology classes at Evangel University, he stormed out and told his roommate that Satan had a foothold in the Christian school. But after encountering the teachings of Catholic eco-theologian Thomas Berry, Dowd embraced what's known as evolutionary theology.

Read the rest on Wired's web site ...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

... and on the Right we have ...

A great rundown of the Cast of Characters panting after the Republican nomination by SteveAudio ... in the style of Hunter S. Thompson. You get to guess which is who ... like that would be a real challenge ...


Let's read the vile scorecard, shall we?

A filthy rich second generation ward-heeler with the ethical firmness of a marshmallow who wants to buy the election before the others can steal it.

A filthy and richly shaded ex-mayor, equipped with hot and cold running accomplices who regards it as a droit de seigneur that his city's police force should act as his mistresses's personal limo service.

A religious zealot who beseeches God to vote Republican, on his prop cell phone ... That's a mockery. From a man of faith.

More on SteveAudio, if you like that sort of thing .. and I do.

Court orders cartoon characters to witness stand

ROME, Italy (AP) --

Tweety may get a chance to take the witness stand and sing like a canary.

An Italian court ordered the animated bird, along with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and his girlfriend Daisy, to testify in a counterfeiting case.

In what lawyers believe was a clerical error worthy of a Looney Tunes cartoon, a court in Naples sent a summons to the characters ordering them to appear Friday in a trial in the southern Italian city, officials said.

The court summons cites Titti, Paperino, Paperina, Topolino -- the Italian names for the characters -- as damaged parties in the criminal trial of a Chinese man accused of counterfeiting products of Disney and Warner Bros.

Instead of naming only the companies and their legal representatives, clerks also wrote in the witness list the names of the cartoons that decorated the toys and gadgets the man had reproduced, said Fiorenza Sorotto, vice president of Disney Company Italia.

"Unfortunately they cannot show up, as they are residents of Disneyland," Sorotto joked in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It certainly pleased us that the characters were considered real, because that's what we try to do."

More here ...

My comment: Makes as much sense to me as anything I've heard recently.

Would some one please explain the menaing of "BC"

... or catch it here.

Unfortunately, it seems there no such thing as too dumb to breed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Intercepting Iran’s Take on America

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN / New York Times

There are two intelligence analyses that are relevant to the balance of power between the U.S. and Iran — one is the latest U.S. assessment of Iran, which certainly gave a much more complex view of what is happening there. The other is the Iranian National Intelligence Estimate of America, which — my guess — would read something like this:

To: President Ahmadinejad

From: The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence

Subject: America

As you’ll recall, in the wake of 9/11, we were extremely concerned that the U.S. would develop a covert program to end its addiction to oil, which would be the greatest threat to Iranian national security. In fact, after Bush’s 2006 State of the Union, in which he decried America’s oil addiction, we had “high confidence” that a comprehensive U.S. clean energy policy would emerge. We were wrong.

Our fears that the U.S. was engaged in a covert “Manhattan Project” to achieve energy independence have been “assuaged.” America’s Manhattan Project turns out to be largely confined to the production of corn ethanol in Iowa, which, our analysts have confirmed from cellphone intercepts between lobbyists and Congressmen, is nothing more than a multibillion-dollar payoff to big Iowa farmers and agro-businesses.


Yes, our last I.N.I.E. in 1990 concluded that after the collapse of communism, America was on track to become the world’s sole superpower and most compelling role model for Muslim youth — including our own. We were wrong. We now have “high confidence” that America is on a path of self-destruction, for three reasons:

First, 9/11 has made America afraid and therefore stupid. The “war on terrorism” is now so deeply imbedded in America’s psyche that we think it is “highly likely” that America will continue to export more fear than hope and will continue to defend things like torture and Guantánamo Bay prison and to favor politicians like Mr. Giuliani, who alienates the rest of the world.

Second, at a time when America’s bridges, roads, airports and Internet bandwidth have fallen behind other industrial powers, including China, we believe that the U.S. opposition to higher taxes — and the fact that the primary campaigns have focused largely on gay marriage, flag-burning and whether the Christian Bible is the literal truth — means it is “highly unlikely” that America will arrest its decline.

Third, all the U.S. presidential candidates are distancing themselves from the core values that made America such a great power and so different from us — in particular America’s long commitment to free trade, open immigration and a reverence for scientific enquiry wherever it leads. Our intel analysts are baffled that the leading Democrat, Mrs. Clinton, no longer believes in globalization and the leading Republican, Mr. Huckabee, never believed in evolution.

U.S. politicians seem determined to appeal either to the most nativist extremes in their respective parties — or to tell voters that something Americans call “the tooth fairy” will make their energy, budget, educational and Social Security deficits painlessly disappear.

Read it all in the Times ...

Bush Explains Why Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor Was Justified

They heard that we had a nuclear weapons program - and we did. And that we might be able to ramp it up any time - which was relatively true. And that if we had nuclear weapons, we might use them against Japan one day - which obviously proved to be true. So, they launched a pre-emptive strike against the United States because we had a nuclear weapons program they feared we might use against them at a later time.

There's more ...

My comment: Right wing logic at its finest. Not only that but it gives me a much clearer understanding of the Japanese code of "Bush-ido".

Just saying ...

Reporter: I don’t know to what extent you have been briefed or been able to take a look at the NIE report that came out yesterday …

Huckabee: I’m sorry?

Reporter: The NIE report, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Have you been briefed or been able to take a look at it —

Huckabee: No.

Reporter: Have you heard of the finding?

Huckabee: No.

My comment: Now ... just imagine it was a Democratic candidate who didn't know what the NIE was ... or, at this point, what was in it. Fortunately, god is on Mike's side.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bits and pieces from all over

Just a sampling of things I've been reading. Too much to comment on but worth passing along ...

Arming the Saudis ... big time.

Brown people want to kill you and rape your women.

Surprise! Christopher Hitchens thinks Hanukkah sucks.

Al Gore is Born Again.

Fred Thompson is a makes a joke.

God and I-35.

A rising tide floats all boats ... but what if you have a house? (Disclosure: Our McMansion is in a gated community. Our mortgage is not in jeopardy - but there are four foreclosures in the neighborhood that I know of ... maybe more.)

A Cost of Doing Business

Robert L. Borosage on HuffPo

Markets self-regulate, conservatives tell us. Just get government off our backs, companies tell us (after we pocket whatever subsidies we can grab).

The Washington Post reports today on the safety of theme parks that feature rides that can whirl kids at speeds reaching 100 miles an hour. Most parents think the government makes certain the rides are safe. Think again.

Under President Jimmy Carter, the Consumer Product Safety Commission probed ride accidents at Marriott theme parks. In 1981, with the election of Ronald Reagan, the industry carried the fight to the Congress, complaining that government policing was creating "economic hardship," and would "make the rides worthless." Legislators, awash in industry campaign contributions, exempted permanent parks from CPSC oversight. The only regulation comes at the state level which is scattershot at best. For the most part, the industry now polices itself.

So accidents are simply a cost of doing business. Last year, four people lost their lives in theme park rides; many more were injured and maimed. The companies make a simple calculation because markets do self-regulate. If the number of unnecessary deaths and injuries is small enough that it costs more to put in safety equipment than to pay the costs of litigation with the victims and lobbying the legislature, then the deaths of a few kids is simply written off as a cost of doing business.

More after the click ...

My comment:

The point isn't about theme park rides ... though its a graphic example. It's about the way corporations, directed toward profits, view actual people. In product liability discussions throughout corporations everywhere the costs of doing nothing are weighed against the costs of doing something. It's the same formula that drug companies use. It's the same formula that tobacco companies have used for years. It's the same formula that every corporation that ever existed used or uses when calculating how to deal with a given problem. It's called "Cost Benefit Analysis".

Now, I'd be among the first to say that "cost benefit analysis" is not in itself a bad thing. It's an extremely useful tool. However, it is limited because it only considers the dollars involved ... and not common human sense. If you believe that human life is precious and sacrosanct; that one cannot put a price on human life ... then you must demand that corporations consider more than just the dollars involved. That is where government regulation comes in (and remember, government in this country is We, the People). Without government regulation, We the People have no protection from corporations and their pursuit of profits.

In the example above, the corporations involved made the case that "government regulation" created an "economic hardship" for them. Let's look at that statement for a moment. It says that when We, the People, sought to protect ourselves from the consequences of corporate actions, the corporations claimed that our desire to protect ourselves (and our children) from their quest for buckaroos, we created a situation that made it difficult for them to maximize profits. In short, the claim was that profits were more important than people.

Whenever a corporation or group of corporations claim that "government regulation" creates "economic hardship", try changing the word "government" to "We, the People of the United States of America" and see if you still think government regulation is a bad thing.

The claim was that "government regulation" would make the rides worthless. Reading between the lines, you have to ask yourself if people need protection from a product and protecting people from the dangers associated with the product makes the product worthless ... is that really a bad thing? What's your priority? People or Profit?

The NIE Report: Solving a Geopolitical Problem with Iran

By George Friedman / Strategic Forecast

The United States released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Dec. 3. It said, "We judge with high confidence that in the fall of 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." It went on to say, "Tehran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005." It further said, "Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs."

With this announcement, the dynamics of the Middle Eastern region, Iraq and U.S.-Iranian relations shift dramatically. For one thing, the probability of a unilateral strike against Iranian nuclear targets is gone. Since there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program, there is no rationale for a strike. Moreover, if Iran is not engaged in weapons production, then a broader air campaign designed to destabilize the Iranian regime has no foundation either.

The NIE release represents a transformation of U.S. policy toward Iran. The Bush administration made Iran's nuclear weapons program the main reason for its attempt to create an international coalition against Iran, on the premise that a nuclear-armed Iran was unacceptable. If there is no Iranian nuclear program, then what is the rationale for the coalition? Moreover, what is the logic of resisting Iran's efforts in Iraq, rather than cooperating?

In looking at the report, a number of obvious questions come up. First, how did the intelligence community reach the wrong conclusion in the spring of 2005, when it last released an NIE on Iran, and what changed by 2007? Also, why did the United States reach the wrong conclusions on Iran three years after its program was halted? There are two possible answers. One is intelligence failure and the other is political redefinition. Both must be explored.

Let's begin with intelligence failure. Intelligence is not an easy task. Knowing what is going on inside of a building is harder than it might seem. Regardless of all the technical capabilities -- from imagery in all spectra to sensing radiation leakage at a distance -- huge uncertainties always remain. Failing to get a positive reading does not mean the facility is not up and running. It might just have been obscured, or the technical means to discover it are insufficient. The default setting in technical intelligence is that, while things can be ruled in, they cannot simply be ruled out by lack of evidence.

You need to go into the building. Indeed, you need to go into many buildings, look around, see what is happening and report back. Getting into highly secure buildings may be easy in the movies. It is not easy in real life. Getting someone into the building who knows what he is seeing is even harder. Getting him out alive to report back, and then repeating the process in other buildings, is even harder. It can be done -- though not easily or repeatedly.

Recruiting someone who works in the building is an option, but at the end of the day you have to rely on his word as to what he saw. That too, is a risk. He might well be a double agent who is inventing information to make money, or he could just be wrong. There is an endless number of ways that recruiting on-site sources can lead you to the wrong conclusion.

Source-based intelligence would appear to be the only way to go. Obviously, it is better to glean information from someone who knows what is going on, rather than to guess. But the problem with source-based intelligence is that, when all is said and done, you can still be just as confused -- or more confused -- than you were at the beginning. You could wind up with a mass of intelligence that can be read either way. It is altogether possible to have so many sources, human and technical, that you have no idea what the truth is. That is when an intelligence organization is most subject to political pressure. When the intelligence could go either way, politics can tilt the system. We do not know what caused the NIE to change its analysis. It could be the result of new, definitive intelligence, or existing intelligence could have been reread from a new political standpoint.

Consider the politics. The assumption was that Iran wanted to develop nuclear weapons -- though its motivations for wanting to do so were never clear to us. First, the Iranians had to assume that, well before they had an operational system, the United States or Israel would destroy it. In other words, it would be a huge effort for little profit. Second, assume that it developed one or two weapons and attacked Israel, for example. Israel might well have been destroyed, but Iran would probably be devastated by an Israeli or U.S. counterstrike. What would be the point?

For Iran to be developing nuclear weapons, it would have to have been prepared to take extraordinary risks. A madman theory, centered around the behavior of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was essential. But as the NIE points out, Iran was "guided by a cost-benefit approach." In simple terms, the Iranians weren't nuts. That is why they didn't build a nuclear program.

That is not to say Iran did not benefit from having the world believe it was building nuclear weapons. The United States is obsessed with nuclear weapons in the hands of states it regards as irrational. By appearing to be irrational and developing nuclear weapons, the Iranians created a valuable asset to use in negotiating with the Americans. The notion of a nuclear weapon in Iranian hands appeared so threatening that the United States might well negotiate away other things -- particularly in Iraq -- in exchange for a halt of the program. Or so the Iranians hoped. Therefore, while they halted development on their weapons program, they were not eager to let the Americans relax. They swung back and forth between asserting their right to operate the program and denying they had one. Moreover, they pushed hard for a civilian power program, which theoretically worried the world less. It drove the Americans up a wall -- precisely where the Iranians wanted them.

As we have argued, the central issue for Iran is not nuclear weapons. It is the future of Iraq. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 was the defining moment in modern Iranian history. It not only devastated Iran, but also weakened the revolution internally. Above all, Tehran never wants to face another Iraqi regime that has the means and motivation to wage war against Iran. That means the Iranians cannot tolerate a Sunni-dominated government that is heavily armed and backed by the United States. Nor, for that matter, does Tehran completely trust Iraq's fractured Shiite bloc with Iran's national security. Iran wants to play a critical role in defining the nature, policies and capabilities of the Iraqi regime.

The recent U.S. successes in Iraq, however limited and transitory they might be, may have caused the Iranians to rethink their view on dealing with the Americans on Iraq. The Americans, regardless of progress, cannot easily suppress all of the Shiite militias. The Iranians cannot impose a regime on Iraq, though they can destabilize the process. A successful outcome requires a degree of cooperation -- and recent indications suggest that Iran is prepared to provide that cooperation.

That puts the United States in an incredibly difficult position. On the one hand, it needs Iran for the endgame in Iraq. On the other, negotiating with Iran while it is developing nuclear weapons runs counter to fundamental U.S. policies and the coalition it was trying to construct. As long as Iran was building nuclear weapons, working with Iran on Iraq was impossible.

The NIE solves a geopolitical problem for the United States. Washington cannot impose a unilateral settlement on Iraq, nor can it sustain forever the level of military commitment it has made to Iraq. There are other fires starting to burn around the world. At the same time, Washington cannot work with Tehran while it is building nuclear weapons. Hence, the NIE: While Iran does have a nuclear power program, it is not building nuclear weapons.

Perhaps there was a spectacular and definitive intelligence breakthrough that demonstrated categorically that the prior assessments were wrong. Proving a negative is tough, and getting a definitive piece of intelligence is hard. Certainly, no matter how definitive the latest intelligence might have been, a lot of people want Iran to be building a nuclear weapon, so the debate over the meaning of this intelligence would have roared throughout the intelligence community and the White House. Keeping such debate this quiet and orderly is not Washington's style.

Perhaps the Iranians are ready to deal, and so decided to open up their facility for the Americans to see. Still, regardless of what the Iranians opened up, some would have argued that the United States was given a tour only of what the Iranians wanted them to see. There is a mention in the report that any Iranian program would be covert rather than overt, and that might reflect such concerns. However, all serious nuclear programs are always covert until they succeed. Nothing is more vulnerable than an incomplete nuclear program.

We are struck by the suddenness of the NIE report. Explosive new intelligence would have been more hotly contested. We suspect two things. First, the intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program consisted of a great number of pieces, many of which were inherently ambiguous and could be interpreted in multiple ways. Second, the weight of evidence for there being an Iranian nuclear program was shaded by the political proclivities of the administration, which saw the threat of a U.S. strike as intimidating Iran, and the weapons program discussion as justifying it. Third, the change in political requirements on both sides made a new assessment useful. This last has certainly been the case in all things Middle Eastern these past few days on issues ranging from the Palestinians to Syria to U.S. forces in Iraq -- so why should this issue be any different?

If this thesis is correct, then we should start seeing some movement on Iraq between the United States and Iran. Certainly the major blocker from the U.S. side has been removed and the success of U.S. policies of late should motivate the Iranians. In any case, the entire framework for U.S.-Iranian relations would appear to have shifted, and with it the structure of geopolitical relations throughout the region.

Intelligence is rarely as important as when it is proven wrong.

My comment:

All decisions are made on the basis of insufficient information. If the information were sufficient, one would not have to make a decision. The answer and the direction would be obvious.

Some decisions are made on the basis of false information, wishful thinking and "cooked books". The run up to the war in Iraq demonstrates the fact that we don't have a fact based administration. All the saber-rattling aimed at Iran, with the release of this NIE, is history repeating itself. This is underscored by consistent reports that, on numerous occasions, various reports ranging from scientific to intelligence, have been doctored to reflect ideological positions when the facts would not support the ideology.

Its one thing to have a rich fantasy life where one is all powerful, a superman, all knowing and always right. It's quite another thing to inflict that fantasy life on a nation. When you inflict your fantasies on a nation, that's criminal. Ask any of the defendants at Nuremberg.

But, there's more. When you live in a fantasy world and it becomes apparent that you're living in a fantasy world, anyone who figures it out is in a position to push your buttons by feeding the fantasy. That appears to be what Iran has done ... it pushed our fantasy buttons as a lever in negotiations.

It's dangerous to live in any world other than a fact based world. In the end, all the woulds become self inflicted. Following Bush, the "Neocons" and the so-called Conservative ideology (that isn't particularly conservative) have resulted in a litany of self inflicted wounds that range from loss of stature and credibility on the world stage (and therefore our ability to influence events) to economic disaster on the domestic front.

The facts will eventually win the day, but after eight years of living in unreality, we've lost a lot and it will take a generation to recover. I hope the world waits while we get our act together, but I suspect it won't.