Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sorry No Posty
I've been busy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

'Tis the Season
Nice to see the Christmas spirit is inspiring some brotherly love between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza.
Waves of Israeli airstrikes hit Hamas security facilities in Gaza on Saturday in a crushing response to the group’s rocket fire, killing more than 200 — the highest one-day toll in an Israeli military operation against Palestinians in decades.
Since Hamas took over Gaza, they've been launching rockets into southern Israel, and the Israelis have had enough. But not wanting to risk a repeat of the battle with Hezbelloh - when the survival of Lebanon's organization increased their stature - Israel is going with a Bush-style Shock and Awe approach. Of course, that means it's having Bush-style consequences: killing civilians (including children) and offending allies.
Governments that dislike Hamas, like Egypt’s, Jordan’s and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, are in a delicate position. They blame Hamas for having taken over Gaza by force 18 months ago and oppose its rocket fire on Israeli towns and communities. But the sight of scores of Palestinians killed by Israeli warplanes outraged their citizens, and anti-Israel demonstrations broke out across the region.
I'm no expert, obviously. But I blame Bush-Cheney for this. If not for the Iraq War, and the policy of isolating Arafat, angering Arab citizens across the region, would Hamas have still re-surged, and won legislative elections in Palestine? (The democracy we demanded at work...)

For 8 years, American foreign policy has been designed to demand cooperation by compelling either submission or conflict. I don't begrudge Israel, I suppose, deciding to use force to stop rockets flying into their country. They're in a tough spot. With each side accusing the other of breaking the cease-fire, who knows how to place blame for this newest wave of violence. But it seems to me that in the bigger picture, the fact of the conflict reaching this level of escalation at this time is all part of the plan. It's the Bush Doctrine in action. (as well as, it's worth saying, the Bin Laden plan...)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Rick Warren
Not that anyone's waiting for it, but I haven't weighed in yet on the controversy surrounding Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give an invocation at the inauguration. The simple reason is that I'm just not too worked up about it. I see the point the detractors make, and I see the point Obama makes in response. I find both to be kind of compelling and kind of irrelevant.

Everyone here knows I'm pro-gay-rights, and pro-gay-marriage, and I don't have lots of patience for the contrary view. It's worth noting that Obama himself claims to be against gay marriage, yet I still found a way to vote for him and support him strongly. So having Warren be one of 2 pastors chosen for the inauguration really doesn't bother me that much, at least not for his views on homosexuality. It's just a prayer, and the guy is no Pat Robertson, hate-wise. Choosing Robertson would have bothered me to no end. As I said at my other blog, if we must pray at inaugurations, I'm more concerned with what Warren says when he gets a chance to pray at a big, public, national event for all Americans.

You know what bugs me most about this? I think that for a pastor to pursue the kind of national notoriety and celebrity that Warren has achieved is unseemly, and demeaning to religion, given that it wasn't gained leading the fight for some just cause. The contrast between the careers of Rick Warren and Joseph Lowery (who's giving the benediction) is striking. It is the fact of his fame that unnerves me. That it obviously doesn't bother the President-elect is the part that I find unsettling about the selection. Either pick someone of personal significance, or someone whose overall career of public service in ministry is worth attention and support. Warren is neither.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading? I'm shopping, so not much time here. Hoping to get done in time to catch It's a Wonderful Life at the big screen before Thursday. Done any special xmas viewing? Or award-season moviegoing?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

December 21
Days start getting longer again tomorrow. Hang in there.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ya Don't Say
During a discussion at the American Enterprise Institute today, Bush said that though he came into office “with the idea of changing the tone in Washington,” he “didn’t do a very good job of it.”
What was that other thing he said he would do when he first ran in 2000? That he would "bring honor and dignity back to the Oval Office"? At least he did that, right?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Early Childhood Education Experts are Excited
Because of this:
[T]he $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965. Now, Head Start is a $7 billion federal program serving about 900,000 preschoolers.
Asked if the financial troubles might force him to scale back, Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the transition, said, “We simply cannot afford to sideline key priorities like education.”
Driving the movement is research by a Nobel Prize-winning economist, James J. Heckman, and others showing that each dollar devoted to the nurturing of young children can eliminate the need for far greater government spending on remedial education, teenage pregnancy and prisons.
I am a big fan of early child spending. Of course, it takes more than dollars for the "nurturing of young children", and there will eventually be diminishing returns on money invested here, right? But I'll try not to quibble. I would prefer to see what happens with an administration that values these programs for a change.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Link of the Day
Zamzar. Converts files for free from the crap you can't open to the stuff you can, without having to download some new program. Upload your crap file to their site, and they will email a shiny openable version to you. Probably - not sure - you agree to have your email address sent all over the place, so give them a spare one you only use for junk like that.

I just found it, used it. It worked great.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading?

Book Bleg
For a fun class I'm teaching hopefully next fall (more on that later I'm sure), I'm in need of a good introductory text that covers modern British history through much of the 20th Century - especially post-war period, and something broader than just military/political history. Looking for economic, cultural, sociological framework as well. This would not be for students but to educate myself. Anybody know anything like that?

Aging Gracefully
If it wasn't for Paul, the Beatles would never have made a political statement for peace, and also, Bono and Bob Geldof would never have thought of being involved in combating world poverty. Or at least so he says.

Top 10 Books of the Year
The NYTimes has the list. I haven't read any of them of course, though I have started Julian Barnes' memoir on death and God and so far I hate it. Not sure why such a brilliant artist wants to use his beautiful sentences to reveal himself to be such an unattractive person. But I'm just 30 pages in. If I ever finish it (it's short), I'll get back to you.

AFI Top 10 Films of the Year
In alphabetical order: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Dark Knight, Frost/Nixon, Frozen River, Gran Torino, Iron Man, Milk, Wall-E, Wendy and Lucy, The Wrestler

Trailer of the Week: The Wrestler

Weekend Box Office

1. The Day the Earth Stood Still
2. Four Christmases
3. Twilight
4. Bolt
5. Australia

Sunday, December 14, 2008

By now, I'm assuming you've seen video of the Iraqi journalist who called President Bush a dog and threw his shoes at him during a press conference with Prime Minister Maliki (video at link below in case not). As you might suspect, this shoe-throwing is not a traditional Iraqi gesture of good will and respect between two men. I have to say that although I dislike the President, I disapprove of violent shoe-throwing no matter the situation. Bush has done the cause of global decorum no favors, but that doesn't mean we should just scrap it. Truth be told, I thought he handled it pretty gracefully.

Still, honestly, my first reaction was the same as Josh Marshall: where's the bleeping Secret Service? The guy had time to throw both shoes, one at a time, before anyone is even in the picture. What if his intentions had been more sinister?
Vote With Your Fork
I missed it at the time, but a few weeks ago, Michael Pollan was on Bill Moyers' Journal. Heard the podcast yesterday. You can listen, watch, or read the transcript here. This segment stuck out to me, a great, sensible, simple idea whose value is immediately apparent and will nonetheless, sadly, never happen.
MICHAEL POLLAN: Let's look at the school lunch program. This is where we're feeding a big part of our population. We are essentially feeding them fast food and teaching them how to eat it quickly. Well, let's look at school lunch. If we could spend a dollar or more per day per child and work on the nutritional quality of that food. And let's require that a certain percentage of that school lunch fund in every school district has to be spent within 100 miles to revive local agriculture, to create more jobs on farms, to, you know, rural redevelopment. You will achieve a great many goals through doing that. You will have a healthier population of kids who will perform better in the afternoon after that lunch. You will have, you know, the shot in the arm to local economies through helping local agriculture. And you will, you know, teach this generation habits that will last a lifetime about eating.

BILL MOYERS: But how do we do this when, as you said at the beginning of our conversation, the Agricultural Department is in the lock?

MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, the school lunch program probably has to get out of agriculture. Let's move it over to education. Lunch should be, lunch should be educational. Right now the school lunch program is a disposal scheme for surplus agricultural commodities. When they have too much meat, when they have too much cheese, they send it to the schools, and they dispose it through our kids' digestive systems. Let's look at it in a different way. This should be about improving the health of our children. So maybe it belongs in Health and Human Services. Maybe it belongs in Education. Don't, you know, get the Department of Agriculture's hands off of it.
The 100-mile idea especially is an elegant solution, but could we even get an entire state to implement this policy? Much less a federal law? Meanwhile, moving the program to the Education Department would take no consensus whatsoever, just reorganizing government with the stroke of a pen. And still I don't expect it to happen. The food industry won't let it. He offered some ideas for each of us to consider, ways to vote with the fork.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Franken Update
If you've been following the MN Senate recount at all, this may mean something to you; if not, move along...

The Canvassing Board met this morning and 2 things happened:

1) They voted to certify the election night count of the precinct that can no longer find its 133 votes and so can't be re-counted. Al won there, so it's good news for him by 46 votes.

2) They urged all counties to sort rejected absentee ballots and count any that do not fall under the 4 prescribed reasons under law for rejecting them. They said that so far more than 600 have been found that fall in this "5th pile". Their position is that it is unlawful to reject them and their message to the counties is: find them and count them. This *should* be good news for Franken as well, as he beat Coleman in absentee ballots. The only problem will be if counties don't take the advice. The Board doesn't have the authority to order them to do so, apparently. Their message is, essentially, if you don't, you will probably be sued and we think you will lose.

Estimates are that anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 ballots will end up in this category and need to be counted and added to the total. In addition, some 6,000 ballots remain challenged and will have to be reviewed by the Board, starting Tuesday.

Things look better for a 59th Senator today than it did yesterday, but still never know how it will turn out.

I wonder how he would have voted on the auto bailout? Coleman voted No.
A Bad Plan Except for the Alternative
The NYTimes has it right I think: the auto bailout plan was a lousy deal, getting worse every day of negotiation. But all things considered, the only thing worse than passing it would be not passing it.
[A]llowing one or more of these companies to collapse into bankruptcy proceedings could potentially cause the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and even greater economic havoc.
The short-term bailout not only buys time, it uses the time to build a long-term restructuring plan. The incoming Obama administration can then decide whether to invest billions more to truly rebuild the industry.
Thank Republicans for killing it! And classy that the issue they were hung up on was insisting that car companies gut worker salaries, immediately.

Do Republicans actively seek the asshole position before taking it? Or are they just naturally drawn to it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

60th Anniversary
I almost let today get by without mentioning here that it is the 60th anniversary of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not only - as Ban Ki-moon says - the "first global statement of the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings," but also importantly the namesake of this blog, as you have all surely figured out. Article 19 of the Declaration says:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Indeed. And for some reason I especially like the "regardless of frontiers" assurance at the end.

If you've never read the entire list of rights, you should. It's a powerful statement of what the world really should try hard to be.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Crazy Times
In Illinois.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges.

Blagojevich and Harris were accused of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy that included Blagojevich conspiring to sell or trade the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for financial benefits for the governor and his wife. The governor was also accused of obtaining campaign contributions in exchange for other official actions.
Also, the Tribune Company is bankrupt. What will happen to the Cubs?

Monday, December 08, 2008

What have you been listening to, reading, watching?

Weekend Box Office
1. Four Christmases
2. Twilight
3. Bolt
4. Australia
5. Quantum of Solace

Friday, December 05, 2008

Palin Pregnancy
Andrew Sullivan is not giving up. Points for persistence I guess, if a little bit of a strange obsession. The things we know for sure about her are scary enough for me.
The report today was not good. Unemployment is at 6.7% and 533,000 jobs were lost in November - that's the most in any month since 1974.
“We have gone from recession into something that looks more like collapse,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief domestic economist at High Frequency Economics, referring to the accelerating job losses in recent months.

The job losses in November far exceeded the 350,000 figure that was the consensus expectation of economists.
I drew up a quick chart to reflect our economic status, for you visual learners:
Seriously, how does Bush live with himself. Why would he not simply resign in disgrace?

Official Article 19 Advice to Readers: Don't quit your job and don't do anything that makes you look expendable. Be quick to claim your successes, but not in a way that alienates your colleagues and makes them want to get rid of you. Keep your head down amid any failures. And maybe don't look at the Internet so much while you're on the job.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is Your Emergency Room Cool?
If you have a heart attack and go into cardiac arrest, you want to go to a hospital with a cooling treatment capability. If you suffer such a fate and are in New York, after Jan 1, ambulances will take you only to hospitals that can perform the relatively new and expensive procedure, even if another hospital is closer.
Most patients who suffer total cardiac arrest outside hospitals die because their brains have been starved of oxygen. But studies show that if the pulse of patients can be restarted and the body temperature cooled to about 8 degrees Fahrenheit below normal, brain damage can be reduced or minimized.
“It was a very slow process in terms of really getting it to take hold,” Dr. Mayer said of the cooling treatment. “One reason is that cardiac arrest patients have just been surrounded by this shroud of therapeutic nihilism. They come in after cardiac arrest, they’re intubated, in a coma, everybody’s reflex thought process in terms of caregivers is ‘Oh God, there’s nothing you can do for these people.’”
Read about the case of Dr. Naqvi. Pretty amazing. I wonder how to find out if any hospital in my town can do this?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Nothing to it, Brother
This is a good story. In one of the Democratic debates, Bill Richardson and Obama were talking while the moderator interacted with another candidate. If you've ever been in a classroom and not paid attention, you can identify with Richardson as he describes what happened next:
"As I'm chatting with Obama, the moderator says, 'Governor Richardson, what do you think of that?' And I look at him like a deer in the headlights. I was about to say that I hadn't heard, when Obama puts his hand over his mouth and says, 'Katrina.' So I gave my four-point plan on Katrina. When I was done and the debate moved on, I looked over and said, 'Thanks, you're okay.' He said, 'Nothing to it, brother.'"
How Bombay Became Mumbai
Christopher Hitchens has become generally pretty loathsome, but this piece is a good read, and informative.
Michael Moore has a DKos diary up giving his thoughts on bailing out the auto companies. As usual he makes sense, and it's worth a read. He points something out I didn't know: though they are asking for tens of billions in loans, you could buy all the common stock of GM right now for just $3 billion. So, he says, we shouldn't give them the loans, the government should just buy the companies, and convert them to building for the public works projects we need to construct a green infrastructure.

This lets him oppose the loans and be for the auto workers and their millions of jobs. The problem of course is that back here on planet Earth we're not going to do that - buy the companies, no matter what we did with Amtrak in the 70s. So, the question remains: what to do about the loans for the auto industry?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Continuity vs Change
Yeah, Republican Bob Gates is staying on as Secretary of Defense under Obama, but the good news is that many of those under him will be moving on.
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Gates's right-hand man in running the Pentagon day to day, is widely expected to leave his post...
The anticipated turnover of many key positions suggests that although Gates will help provide some continuity, the status quo will not necessarily endure at the Pentagon.
The four undersecretaries of defense are also expected to leave, Pentagon and transition officials said.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What have you been watching, listening to, reading? (Keep refreshing. Post updated at the top through the day as I find arts-related items)

Because the People Yearn for More Yow
Jesus Lizard reunites.

Myoung Ho Lee doesn't place an object on a canvas, he puts a canvas behind an object, in this case, trees.

Synechdoche, New York
If you have been reading this blog long enough to follow my love of Charlie Kaufmann's last film - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind - you will understand my anticipation of his newest has been intense, even knowing that I wouldn't (couldn't?) like it as much. I finally saw it last week. Without giving anything away plot-wise, here are my initial thoughts:

It is a much more difficult film to sit through than his others, for many reasons. Uncompromising is the word I would use. I don't know if any recommendation is warranted here or not - if you're a fan of his other work, you will already consider it essential viewing; if you're not, then you surely won't enjoy this one either. I'm still sifting through the process of watching, let alone dealing with the emotional issues it brings to the fore (which, thankfully for me, are more easily swept aside here than in Eternal Sunshine... maybe they're too big?)

At its core, Synechdoche is about the quest to live an authentic life, to be present - real, honest, in the moment, alive to the world. And, it's about art's capacity to both reveal and cover up the personal truths that goal requires. But which kind of events enable that discovery? The mundane or the momentous? Which are more real? In which are we truer to ourselves? In which just playing to type? What if there's no difference between being and acting? And what compels us to navigate these waters anyway? Is it death? is it love? Are we ever more alive than when aware that we're dying? More in love than when aware it is fading? Is a house most a home when it is on fire?

I will probably need to see it again.

The NYTimes seasonal blog devoted to the Oscars is back up and running. Early buzz? Slumdog Millionaire. I saw the trailer last week - looks fun. In a good way. Other recent trailers include...the new (old) Star Trek movie.

What's on your Christmas List and what should be on mine?
Let's hear it in the comments: books, CDs, DVDs. Also, bonus question: If you could give and receive one box set (either CDs or DVDs), what would it be?

Elvis Costello's new TV show debuts Wednesday on the Sundance Channel. Elton John is the first guest. Next week is Lou Reed. Bill Clinton is on Dec. 17. Rufus Wainright, Herbie Hancock, Smokey Robinson, The Police, among others, are on the calendar.

Weekend Box Office
1. Four Christmases
2. Bolt
3. Twilight
4. Quantum of Solace
5. Australia