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»  October 30, 2007


What's It Got In Its Pocketses?: For some reason, this video didn't seem to make the rounds much.


»  October 26, 2007

What the...?  

Recoil: Just a little something to do on a Friday morning. Ice on the puddles in the background.


»  October 25, 2007


St. Crispin's Day: This is what happens when you don't pay enough attention to your calendar. I almost missed St. Crispin's Day.

And Crispine Crispian shall ne're goe by,
From this day to the ending of the World,
But we in it shall be remembred;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers:
For he to day that sheds his blood with me,
Shall be my brother: be he ne're so vile,
This day shall gentle his Condition.
And Gentlemen in England, now a bed,
Shall thinke themselues accurst they were not here;
And hold their Manhoods cheape, whiles any speakes,
That fought with vs vpon Saint Crispines day.

Henry V, William Shakespeare


»  October 24, 2007


Smoke 'Em If You Gotta: A quarter of a century ago, the state of Oregon was in an economic hole. It was the midst of what I've always throught of as the First Reagan Recession, areas of the state had unemployment rates unseen since the Great Depression (and some have never really recovered).

Gambling's always had its place in Oregon, but until the 1980s it was mostly conducted out of sight, as it was in much of the rest of the country. That all changed with the creation of the Oregon Lottery, which was pitched in those dark times as a way to capture money people would otherwise spend on gambling and funnel a portion of it to the state for economic development.

Since then the lottery has grown from scratch card games to sports betting to video poker and slots, making the state more than $600 million a year (with an equivalent amount being paid out in winnings). Far from being something that people did on the sly, the public benefits of gambling can now be celebrated on TV, billboards, at the counters of grocery stores, and on the front page of the paper. To paraphrase Gordon Gekko -- another '80s icon -- Gambling is Good.

I figure once Measure 50, the tobacco tax that's being promoted as a way to expand health care for uninsured children and something I think everyone in the state ought to be paying for, is approved by the electorate, the cigarette companies will just find a way around the restrictions on advertising tobacco products. The anticipated rise in cost is only expected to reduce overall smoking by a few percent.

A report from Tobacco Free Kids -- a supporter of Measure 50 -- has some of the rationale for what this tax is really about (my italics):

The New Revenues from Raising Oregon’s Cigarette Tax Rate will be Stable and Predictable for Years to Come

Year to year, state cigarette tax revenues are more predictable and less volatile than many other state revenue sources, such as state income tax or corporate tax revenues, which can vary considerably year to year because of nationwide recessions or state economic slowdowns. In sharp contrast, large drops in cigarette tax revenue from one year to the next are quite rare because of the addictive power of cigarettes – the heaviest smokers, who are the most addicted and most resistant to quitting, cause total state pack sales and revenues to decline by smaller amounts, proportionately. After a major cigarette tax increase, state tobacco tax revenues typically decline by only about two percent per year, on average, because of ongoing reductions in smoking levels.

Which is why I'm getting a jump on the next wave of sin tax promotion. Once the tobacco companies figure out they can team up with the state to promote tobacco use under the guise of advertising the economic benefit of Measure 50 to children's health, well, I should be able to put my natural cynicism to work doing the ads. And I don't even smoke!

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»  October 21, 2007

What the...?  

Competing Narratives: From the Oregonian's TV Click magazine, last night's AMC vs. Animal Planet avian matchup at 8!

The Birds vs. Winged Migration


»  October 19, 2007


Amnesty, Abortion, Acid, and Eagleton: I hadn't -- and still don't -- intend to pick up columnist Robert Novak's self-pitying autobiography The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington, but I was slightly intrigued by Russell Baker's description in The New York Review of Books, because Novak apparently names the names of some of his sources. Here was a tidbit of particular interest to me which Baker used to illustrate Novak's opinion on source confidentiality:

Novak does not dwell very seriously on this debate. The decisive test, he says, should be whether, after many years, exposure may still be damaging. In his view, death settles the matter. And so the privilege finally ended for former Senator Thomas Eagleton of Missouri. Thirty-five years ago in conversation with Novak about George McGovern's prospects for winning the Democratic presidential nomination, Eagleton said, "The people don't know McGovern is for amnesty, abortion and legalization of pot.... Once middle America—Catholic Middle America, in particular—find this out, he's dead."

In his column Novak attributed the remark only to a "liberal Senator," and McGovern's opponents used it to attack him as a "Triple-A" candidate, supporting "Amnesty, Abortion, and Acid." McGovern won the nomination anyhow, and for his vice-presidential running mate chose, of course—Eagleton, who was then dropped after it turned out he'd concealed his treatment, by electric shock, for nervous problems. Eagleton still insisted on his privilege thirty years later when Novak asked permission to use the story in his memoir. Eagleton replied that "it was off the record, and I still consider it that way." He died last March at the age of seventy-seven, Novak writes, "relieving me of the need to conceal his identity."

I'm still dithering about whether to go to the annual McGovern Conference in a couple of weeks. It should be aparticularly poignant event, on the 35th anniversary of the '72 election, with another senseless war going on, the death early this year of Eleanor McGovern, and a fine history of the campaign by Bruce Miroff just out this summer.

The conference is free. All you have to do is get to Mitchell, South Dakota for the day.



Flag Pin:

image via Flagline.com

With all of the hullabaloo about Barack Obama and his opinions on flag lapel pins a couple of weeks back (really, shouldn't running for president be enough to indicate that you might be patriotic?) I realized that I don't have a flag pin per se, apart from the "Friendship Pin" I've had for 20 years or so. Out of date, I know. Still, I wear it fairly regularly, if you count the number of times I weat a tie as "regularly", because it's my usual tie pin. '

That's more than I can say for the watch (the gunmetal grey version on the right) it came with, which Barbara bought for me at a time when the price was actually rather significant for our budget. For various reasons, I stopped wearing it (and its replacements when the original's case had sort of deteriorated) a number of years back and just never got back into the habit of putting it back on.

Gruen Soviet Watches / russianwatches.altervista.org
image via russianwatches.altervista.org



Michael Chertoff Sends Email to Osama bin Laden: Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff was in Portland yesterday to view the Topoff 4 terrorism simulation. But in the same way that your granny now has to take her orthopedic shoes off at the airport because she theoretically could be a mad plane bomber, the extreme sensitivity of our defenses threw a bone into the well-scripted machinery of the exercise.

Just before 1 p.m., as police ran a security sweep before Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's arrival at the DoubleTree Hotel near Lloyd Center, something about a car in the parking garage sent bomb-sniffing dogs into a frenzy.


"I can't tell you we have some kind of terrorist bomb," said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a Portland police spokesman, as the city's bomb squad arrived. But he added, "these highly trained dogs wouldn't be going berserk without there being something."

That something turned out to be the cops and soldiers gathered at the hotel for Topoff. It's likely, police said afterward, that one -- or several -- of the participants who train with explosives had inadvertently left residue on or in their car.


By the time authorities had figured out the source, Topoff activities at the hotel -- a news briefing and a paper exercise dealing with the aftermath of the mock "dirty bomb" -- had been long since canceled. Chertoff had bailed out.

Bravely Sir Michael ran away. There's no reason to believe that this kind of thing isn't going to happen in a real situation.

To me the best part of the article was where Chertoff discussed when -- or if -- the report on Topoff 4 would be completed.

As for an after-action report showing holes that showed up in responding to the fake catastrophe, he said an executive summary would be available for officials within three months but that a full report is years away -- and likely won't include every detail when it's publicly released.

"If I wanted to send him a list of targets," Chertoff said of Osama bin Laden, "I would send it to him directly. I wouldn't put it up on the Internet."

That sure sounds like he knows how to get hold of the guy. Hmmmm....

Michael Chertoff speaking after Hurricane KatrinaOsama bin Laden / AP Photo
Osama bin Chertoff / photocomposition by darrelplant.com


»  October 18, 2007


Where's Wyden? UPDATE I Eat Crow: The Senate version of the FISA bill -- the one providing legal immunity for telephone carriers involved in the Bush administration's domestic surveillance programs -- looks like it will get approval from the Intelligence Committee, according to the New York Times.

It seems like only August that Senator Ron Wyden -- a member of the Intelligence Committee -- was promising at a town hall that come September he would be hot on the trail of rolling back the expansions of domestic surveillance approved by the Senate before they went on their summer break.

You'd think that someone who would say that the FISA bill passed two months ago was an example of "the continued erosion of civil liberties" of which the American people "are sickened and fearful" would have something to say about the fight going on to stifle any investigation into what actually is going on. I have no doubt he'll vote against the Senate bill and tut-tut over how he was unable to do (or apparently say, nothing in his news releases about FISA as of 18 October) anything about civil liberty erosion, but then maybe his opinion is that what we suspect but can't prove won't make us as sick or fearful.


Well, kudos where kudos belong. The FISA bill passed out of the Intelligence committee on a 13-2 vote with only Feingold and Wyden voting against it.

"If this program is so legal why does there have to be this special legal protection?" said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Wyden and Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis, opposed the eavesdropping bill because of the immunity provision and concerns that American's privacy would not be adequately protected.

Wyden and Feingold nevertheless succeeded in amending the bill to expand court oversight of government surveillance of Americans overseas. Under current rules, the government can tap Americans' phone and computer lines outside the country if the attorney general certifies that the American is believed to be an agent of a foreign power. The new bill would require the government to get a court order to eavesdrop on Americans wherever they are in the world.

But the measure may not stay in the bill: Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell objects to the requirement, according to Wyden.


»  October 17, 2007


Lauer, Lauer: First Draft's Athenae excerpts a Chicago Sun-Times article by Doug Elfman, who interviewed Today host Matt Lauer on the road after he sat down with Idaho Senator Larry Craig and his wife.

In between "Today" segments, I half-joked, "Did you ask him why he's a big liar?"

"That's not my job," Lauer said. "My job is to ask middle-of-the-road questions and let the audience judge for themselves."

What happened to this Matt Lauer?
Matt Lauer: "The White House communications director said of your film [Fahrenheit 9/11], it is so outrageously false it's not even worth commenting. The 41st President of the United States, the president's father, called you, I think you probably heard this, a slime ball."

Michael Moore: "Have they seen it? Have they seen the film? No. Of course they haven't. I will tell you they haven't seen it. These are un-credible reviews from people who haven't even seen the movie."



That Wacky Lou Dobbs: CNN's Lou Dobbs, writing about why Congress should reject the Law of the Sea Treaty just like Ronald Reagan's administration did, makes the argument today that President George W. Bush is a "one-world neo-liberal who drove budget and trade deficits to record heights while embracing faith-based economic policies".

"Neo-liberal"? I don't think so Mr. Dobbs. He's all yours. He's the same guy he always was.



The Best-Laid Plans: Richard Nixon usually gets whatever blame is usually assigned for Operation Menu, the secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the deaths of millions of Cambodians in the killing fields. The bombing itself is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians over a fourteen month timespan.

What's often forgotten, however, is that the Menu operation began less than two months after Nixon took office. Nixon did, indeed, give the authorization, but he did so within days of his inaguration. The plan itself had been drawn up at the Pentagon during the Johnson administration, but LBJ didn't authorize it.

Operation Menu came to mind last week when the reports that telecom companies had been approached to provide call records to the NSA by February 2001, just a month after the Bush administration took office. According to a filing by former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio, Qwest had declined the NSA's request by 27 February 2001, which means that the request had presumably been delivered sometime before that.

That leads to the fairly safe conclusion that the program was on the shelf somewhere before then, most likely inside of the government. It would be interesting to know who developed and proposed it, and who knew about it prior to its authorization.


»  October 16, 2007


Playing Nuclear Chicken With Bush and Putin: For the first time in nearly sixty-five years, the head of government in Moscow has gone to Tehran. The old Soviet Union and Iran used to share a border -- which was why the United States overthrew the government of the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and supported the dictatorial, anti-communist Shah for a quarter-century -- and it can't have been making anyone in the Kremlin happy to have a major US military presence involved in major operations within a few hundred miles of the Russian border.

I've been expecting Russia or China stepping in to put their foot down in Iran for a couple of years now. Russia completed an estimated $700 million sale to Iran of air defense systems capable of shooting down bombers and cruise missiles just last winter.

The next step would be for Russia to send in military "advisors" and maybe a squadron of "training" jets based at sensitive Iranian target sites, so that the Bush administration's whole ramp up to an attack on Iran would be forced to provoke an incident with the Russians (something even Democrats in Congress who shpport an attack on Iran might have to think twice about) or ramp down from the current Iran war fervor, making the US look even more impotent. Heckuva job, Bushie (and all your buddies on both side of the aisle in the Capitol)!


»  October 12, 2007

What the...?  

The Friendly Skies: The oddest thing on the UK trip a couple of weeks back -- for me, anyway -- was as we were going through Heathrow passport control after an eleven-hour trip. The line was long, although it moved fairly rapidly, and we'd already filled out our entry forms hours before, but halfway through the maze there was a high table with blank forms on it.

On the table was a small box with flaps on either end that has been opened and you could see the contents matched with the exterior. The artwork on the cover was for a plastic airplane model of a Boeing 747. The box was labelled in both English and Arabic. The decals on the plane were for Iran Air.


»  October 9, 2007


Comcast Pulls MSNBC Off Analog Cable in Portland: In Portland, Oregon -- a city known to the Bush family for nearly two decades as "Little Beirut" -- we've got limited options for cable service (just like most other major metro areas). In our case, it's mega-giant Comcast.

We've been toodling along with our old non-digital cable hookup for years. An Expanded Basic program has given us more than enough crap to choose from, especially with a DVR to record anything we might want. News on the three main cable networks as well as the Northwest Cable News, the Travel Channel for Anthony Bourdain, Home & Garden TV to laugh at what people call decor, the Sci-Fi Channel for mindless entertainment.

But all of that's about to change at the end of the month. Along with Oxygen and Hallmark Channel and a couple of shopping channels, as we move into the final months of the primary season Comcast is making one of the cable news networks unavailable to non-digital subscribers. Would that be GOP house organ FOX News? CNN with their steady diet of celebrity gossip and Glenn Beck? Or did I give it away in the title?

There are a lot of possible reasons for this change. I don't really think that Comcast is moving the network that carries the likes of Keith Olbermann, David Schuster, and even Chris Matthews over to digital-only to restrict the number of viewers of their non-wingnut shows. People with digital set-top boxes won't be affected aside from the channel change from 47 to 128 (The Weather Channel is going in at 47 -- it was 50 -- and The History Channel is moving to 50 from 37; don't ask me why). I don't even know if this change is going to be duplicated outside of the Portland metro area.

But it irks me that as we're really getting into the meat of the political season that the most non-conservative national cable news outlet is -- even in a restricted area, if that's the case -- going to require me to pony up at least another $1 a month, after rates have already increased this year. It's like they know people who would watch Countdown and Hardball (even though I'm not a regular viewer of either one) will have to bite the bullet if they want to keep up on the news and not have it filtered through the likes of Brit Hume.


»  October 7, 2007


More On the Left: Historian Tony Judt, apropos of liberals like Michael Tomasky who are not part of the "left" and are definitely not "anti-militarist":

Liberal hawks have been quick to swoop down on dovish critics of the American military — condemning in particular MoveOn.org’s criticism of Gen. David Petraeus. Quickly, it has become conventional wisdom that liberals should never disparage the military.

But why not? Soldiers have to respect generals. Civilians don’t. In a free society, it is a sign of robust civic health when generals are pilloried for getting into policy issues. Liberal Democrats should ask themselves whether, amid today’s cult of military “heroes,” a president would dare cashier a Douglas MacArthur for insubordination, as Harry Truman did in 1951 — and what our liberal hawks would say if he did.


»  October 5, 2007


Not the Left: Jonah Goldberg via Sadly No!:

There is a difference between the "American left" and "liberals," after all. And usually when fringe leftists openly denounce imperialist America or express hope that she will be bloodied abroad or at home, self-described liberals are usually the first to respond, "Hey, liberals aren’t leftists."
Not that he gives any examples of leftists wanting America bloodied "abroad ort at home", but I give you the "liberal" Michael Tomasky, being among the "first to respond, 'Hey, liberals aren't leftists.'":
But Cohen completely ignores the fourth category of foreign-policy debate: liberals who are neither hawks nor on the left. People who, for example, supported the US invasion of Afghanistan. People who, for that matter, supported the interventions of the 1990s. People who would very much like to have seen the United States do something, earlier and more forcefully, about Darfur.

Who are these people? Mainstream liberals who aren't the anti-militarist left but who also opposed the Iraq war (or, in a small number of cases, supported it originally but quickly recognized the horror of the situation and withdrew their support).

Like who? Well, like me, for starters. And, off the top of my head: Mark Danner, Todd Gitlin, Eric Alterman, Joshua Micah-Marshall, Fred Kaplan, Paul Krugman, Paul Starr, Robert Kuttner, Harold Meyerson, Jo-Ann Mort, John Judis and the aforementioned Yglesias. And a thousand others.

They aren't the left, of course, they're serious. And everyone knows leftists aren't serious.


What the...?  

The Plants of Ellsworth Hall: Barbara and I just got back at midnight Wednesday from a week in England. We headed over there with Mom and Dad to see London for a couple of days and then went to Chester, where Dad and his sisters had all been before at various times (with the sisters having done some genealogical research in the Cheshire area). Mom made the accommodations, and after striking out at a couple of locations, she found a home stay with a couple in Sandbach (pronounced sand-BATCH), a former market town about twenty miles from Chester (that's a whole other story).

St. Mary's Church, Sandbach, Cheshire, United Kingdom

Sandbach is like a lot of other towns with an outsized church on a site dating back a thousand years, but built and rebuilt over the years. Our host led us around the town the first day we were there but only skirted the outside of the church grounds.

The next morning we went exploring on our own and stopped in at the church to look at the graveyard's old stones. We just happened on the sexton as he was returning from feeding his cows. He let us into the very mildewy old building which was quite pretty otherwise. We looked around at the windows, listened hard to the old gaffer -- who had a brogue very unlike the middle-class folks we were staying with -- and then Barbara spotted this on the wall:

Plant family plaque at St. Mary's Church, Sandbach

It says:

Sacred to the Memory of ELIZABETH, Wife of
THOMAS PLANT of Ellsworth Hall, who died
May 26th. 1804, aged 57 years.

Manchester, and Daughter of the above THOs. & ELIZth. PLANT,
who departed this Life the 19th. Octr. 1849, aged 56 years.

"Precious in the Sight of the Lord is the Death of his Saints"
Psalm 116th. V. 15th.

Also of the said THOMAS PLANT, who died
February 26th. 1828, aged 76 Years.

Also of SARAH, Wife of JOHN, Son of the above
THOMAS & ELIZABETH PLANT, who died May 29th. 1832, aged 34 Years.

Also of the said JOHN PLANT, who died
January 13th. 1849, aged 58 Years.

No idea if there's any actual relation, but it's a heck of a coincidence.



The Left : Michael Tomasky joins in piling onto Roger Cohen's latest column whining about how "the left" has demonized the neocons.

Tomasky is quick, however, to label himself as a "liberal", not a member of "the anti-militarist left". Now, the definition of "militarism" depends on which dictionary you look at, but Merriam Webster has a couple of them:

1 a : predominance of the military class or its ideals b : exaltation of military virtues and ideals
2 : a policy of aggressive military preparedness
As a leftist, I, quite frankly, am more than willing to say that I don't believe that society ought to place military ideals above any others. The military in this country is supposed to be subordinate to the civilian authority.

Likewise, the armed forces are supposed to be used for the defense of the country. Aggression isn't about defense, it's related to domination, provocation, and destruction.

Tomasky's playing the same game as Cohen. Cohen doesn't want to be lumped in as a neocon so he calls himself a "liberal hawk" and dumps on the leftists. Tomasky doesn't want to be called a leftist, so he appropriates the badge of "liberal" for himself and his buddies who supported invading Afghanistan and (mostly) invading Iraq, and dumps on the leftists. Ten, fifteen, twenty years from now, Tomasky's going to be writing a column whining about people confusing him with the neo-neo-cons.