Sunday, December 30, 2007

God Bless Andrew Williams

Remember when people used to do things based on principle?

Well, that hallowed but seemingly moribund concept has gotten a boost with the resignation of Lieutenant Commander Andrew Williams, a U.S. Naval Reserve lawyer, over the Bush administration's approval of the use of torture and the willful destruction of video tapes by the CIA that were said to show the torture of terrorism suspects.

Explaining his resignation in a letter to The Peninsula Gateway, a newspaper in Gig Harbor, Washington, where he lives, Williams said what finally prompted him to resign was the congressional testimony of Army Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, the legal advisor of the Guantánamo Bay branch of the Rumsfeld Gulag, who refused to call the hypothetical waterboarding of an American pilot by the Iranian military torture.

Wrote Williams:

"The final straw for me was listening to General Hartmann, the highest-ranking military lawyer in charge of the military commissions, testify that he refused to say that waterboarding captured U.S. soldiers by Iranian operatives would be torture.

"His testimony had just sold all the soldiers and sailors at risk of capture and subsequent torture down the river. Indeed, he would not rule out waterboarding as torture when done by the United States and indeed felt evidence obtained by such methods could be used in future trials.

"Thank you, General Hartmann, for finally admitting the United States is now part of a long tradition of torturers going back to the Inquisition."

And thank you Andrew Williams for standing up for what America is supposed to be all about.

More here.

Kiko (1997-2007)


No one knows exactly when Kiko, the namesake of this blog, came into the world in a hayloft above the stables where the Dear Friend & Conscience rode. Nor do we know when she left this mortal coil, although it has been a week since she ambled off into the woods for the last time.

The cats and dogs who populate our lives have an uncanny sense about when it is time to move on. If they are allowed outdoors and can break free from the clutches of owners who mean well but insist on sustaining them with endless vet's office visits, medications and therapies, they will try to settle up in their own way.

There is no question that is what Kiko has done.

She was "only" about 10 years old, but in my experience cats that spend a goodly amount of time in the wild move on sooner. Additionally, Kiko had a close encounter with a motor vehicle at some point, losing a fang and injuring her hind quarters. There may have been some undetected internal injury that trimmed a few years from her life.

Kiko was a hellion from the day she arrived home, and even as a wee kitty was ferocious and sweet – ferocious to any mousie or other rodent that mistakenly crossed her path during her explorations and sweet to the DF&C and I, as well as her mentor, a big goog of a cat by the name of Panda (with Kiko in top photo).

Los Lobos, the marvelous band from East L.A., had released its "Kiko" album about the time we got around to naming her.

I was playing the album and grooving on the great beat when she did something quite amazing – shooting up the underside of the open staircase in the living room backwards, then turning around and coming down the same way -- all to the beat.

"Let's call you Kiko," I said, and the name stuck.

Everyone thinks that their kitty is special, but there is no denying the Kiko was very special.

Cats are a lot smarter than people give them credit for; they just aren't inclined to let down their independent-minded guard and share that innate intelligence with the two-legged crowd. Kiko, however, was an exception.

She alerted the DF&C or I when Kimba (with Kiko in middle photo) wanted to come in the house. She had quite a selection of catnip toys-- stuffed Bill and Hillary Clintons, Dubya Bush, Bill Gates, Ahnold Schwarzenneger, and so on, that she would place in groupings, or in one case a "groping" when Bill ended up on top of Hill. She looked endlessly at doorknobs, latches and hooks, and I'm convinced that had she not been hindered by her tufted paws, she would have figured out how to open every door that stood between her and where she might want to be.

I would never think of a pet as an investment, but by that equation the time and expense put into Kiko in her decade on earth does not even begin to compare to the love and affection that she gave us, as well as all of the laughs. Besides which, Kiko never lied, did substandard work or overbilled for her services, which too many so-called humans do.

Then there is Kimba, whom Kiko in turn mentored.

He was one pitiful little critter when the DF&C rescued him from his feral mother -- malnourished, worm infested and his eyes nearly glued shut from infection.

Kiko had two choices: Kill Kimba, which she could have done in a heartbeat, having bagged prey as large as herself on many a hunting trip, or nurture him.

Today Kimba is robust and handsome, if a few cards short of a full deck. He misses Kiko very, very much. As do we.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Oh That George Bush! He Was For The Troops Before He Was Against Them


George Bush's misadventure in Iraq has had innumerable consequences, but what occurred on Friday evening while the rest of us were watching football bowl games may take the cake: Bowing to a corrupt Iraqi government that his administration keeps on life support, the president vetoed a sweeping defense authorization bill because it could expose the Baghdad government to billions of dollars in legal claims dating to Saddam Hussein's reign of terror.

Let's get this straight: Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is now not only dictating to his former puppeteer in Washington as to what he can and cannot do, in this instance vetoing the president's own bill because it would expose Iraq to claims involving the man that provoked the Iraq war, but can suborn the needs of the military, as well as the will of Congress and the American people.

Shorter version: Iraq is not accountable to the U.S.

The provision to which the Iraqis objected would expand the ability of Americans to seek financial compensation from countries that supported or sponsored terrorist acts. They include Libya, Iran and Iraq under Saddam.

The administration was unable to explain why it had not acted earlier to object to the provision. Perhaps it's because Harriet Miers is no longer the president's legal counsel.

A deeply embarrassed White House promised that it will work quickly with Congress to restore the dozens of military and veterans provisions in the bill, which got overwhelming bipartisan support, once Congress returns to work in January. The new bill would not, of course, include the terrorist-act provision.

The provision was put into the bill by Senator Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat, without public debate, a not unusual occurrance on Capitol Hill. It would help U.S. plaintiffs in lawsuits against Iran and Libya, including relatives of Americans killed in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 and in the bombing of a Berlin disco in 1986.

"My language allows American victims of terror to hold perpetrators accountable - plain and simple," Lautenberg explained.

In a "statement of disapproval," or pocket veto that lets the bill expire on New Year’s Eve, Bush said the provision could result in injunctions freezing Iraqi assets in American banks - $20 billion to $30 billion, according to a senior administration official - and even affect commercial ventures with U.S. businesses. The horror!

"Only George Bush could be for supporting the troops before he was against it," said Senator John Kerry in a rephrasing of a familiar Republican attack during his unsuccessful presidential run in 2004 that he supported the war in Iraq before he turned against it.
And a perfect coda to yet another disastrous year in the Era of Bush.


Photograph by The Associated Press

A Most Beautiful Photograph of 2007

By Polimom

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Time to tighten the belt, Paris.

Hotel magnate Barron Hilton announced yesterday that he's leaving 97% of his wealth to charity, dramatically cutting the fortune his children and grandkids will get.

That means granddaughter Paris Hilton, who once stood to inherit $100 million or more by some accounts, could end up with a measly $5 million or so.

"The whole family will be devastated, particularly [Paris' mom] Kathy," a pal of the clan told the Daily News last night. . . .

Barron Hilton is worth an estimated $2.3 billion, including the $1.2 billion he made from the sale of the Hilton Hotels and Harrah's casino chains.

All but 3% of the money will go into a charitable trust to benefit the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which was started by his father.

The foundation funds clean water in Africa, education for blind children and housing for the mentally ill.

It doesn't buy jeweled collars for Chihuahuas named Tinkerbell.

There have been conflicting reports about the socialite's relationship with the 80-year-old.

Author Jerry Oppenheimer has said Barron Hilton is so embarrassed by Paris' antics - from her sex tape to her drunken-driving bust - that he cut her out of his will.

But other sources have reported that the businessman was so impressed by her money-making abilities that he forked over a big chunk of her inheritance last year.


As inured as we may be to the flow of bloody news from that part of the world, the death of Benazir Bhutto comes as a shocking reminder of how deeply involved we now are in places where murder is part of the political process.


When a mayor of New York leaves office, little goes out the door but memories — unless he’s Rudy Giuliani. Government rules discourage the city’s most powerful officeholder from departing with more than token gifts collected on the job.

Ed Koch, mayor from 1978 to 1989, recalls keeping some neckties. His successor, David Dinkins, walked away with knickknacks from his desk, including a crystal tennis ball and a collection of photographs documenting his meetings with celebrities and business icons.

When Giuliani stepped down, he needed a warehouse. Under an unprecedented agreement that didn’t become public until after he left office, Giuliani secreted out of City Hall the written, photographic and electronic record of his eight years in office — more than 2,000 boxes.


One of the more annoying qualities of the Bush White House’s policy on stem-cell research the last several years is its incoherence. It’s not just that the president has blocked potentially life-saving medical research, it’s that his rationale for doing so ends up contradicting itself.

As Bush sees it, embryos are human life, and should therefore not be subjected to medical testing. The White House, at one point last year, went so far as to argue that it’s literally "murder" to conduct research on these embryos.

At the same time, however, the same White House brags about the president’s support for privately-funded stem-cell research, and touts Bush’s support for IVF clinics, where "people" are stored and destroyed all the time. There’s just no consistency to the ideological approach, but that didn’t stop the president from vetoing a popular stem-cell research bill, twice.


When the clock runs out on 2007, Boston will quietly mark the end of one of the most tumultuous eras in the city’s history: The Big Dig, the nation’s most complex and costliest highway project, will officially come to an end. Don’t expect any champagne toasts. After a history marked by engineering triumphs, tunnels leaks, epic traffic jams, last year’s death of a motorist crushed by falling concrete panels and a price tag that soared from $2.6 billion to a staggering $14.8 billion, there’s little appetite for celebration.

I now find myself, for the first time in my life, hating Jews. I find myself hating the Jews on this site, both the Jews who have conducted their malicious campaign against me for so long and the Jews who have stood by in silent solidarity with them, never saying a word against their vile attacks, their cruelty and ugliness.

I find myself thinking that Proximity perhaps has the right idea, that Jews regard other human beings as objects, to be sacrificed to the interests of Jews. That Jews will always stand with other Jews no matter their guilt, and against non-Jews, no matter their innocence. The face of Jews has become unspeakably ugly in my sight, because of the ugliness of the Jewish haters here.


Friday, December 28, 2007

The Serial Failures of American Diplomacy

Having given President Bush a kick in the chops yesterday for being complicitous in the Benazir Bhutto assassination because of how he has coddled his favorite dictator and her implacable enemy, let's take a half a step back and address one of the administration's serial failures – its chronic inability to use diplomacy to advance America's interests abroad.

The White House has been at sea when it comes to talking to friends and foes alike and has drearily resorted to threats of using the stick over the carrot time and again, its embarrassingly ineffectual Iran policy being a signal example.

Or, in the case of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, it has dithered while pouring tens of billions of dollars down a rat hole that has become a safe haven for terrorists while claiming that great strides are being made in heartland of the Global War on Terror.

The White House's stroking of Musharraf aside, there isn't a whole lot it could have done short of invading Pakistan (not an option) or walking away and making a bad situation even worse (also not an option).

Which in fairness to the Bush administration points up the difficulties that the U.S. has faced all the way back to the administration of President Teddy "Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick" Roosevelt in balancing its interests – benign or too often otherwise -- with nations whose way of seeing things don't coincide with Washington's.

That noted, the Bush administration's hard-wired default to bellicosity, the preferred means of the thuggish Dick Cheney, paired with it being the only global superpower of the moment, has exacerbated those historic difficulties. As has being played the fool by Nouri Al-Maliki in Iraq and Musharraf in Pakistan, two leaders who know that the U.S. needs them more than they need the U.S. in an era where presidential politics reliably trumps national policy.

With the exception of North Korea, the U.S. has precious little to show by way of diplomacy over the last seven years, and it has not helped that the un-Cheney -- Condoleezza Rice -- is a resume without a woman and the most ineffectual secretary of state in recent memory.

Beyond its blowhard approach toward Tehran, which took an embarrassing turn earlier this month when it was revealed that Iran apparently had shuttered its nuclear weapons program four years ago, there has been no bigger diplomatic failure on Bush's watch than his quest to bring democracy to the Muslim world while forcing out the militants who are the gasoline of the jihad against the West.

As Helene Cooper and Steven Lee Meyers write today in The New York Times, the Bhutto assassination "highlighted in spectacular fashion" these twin failures.

An upshot of which is that in the wake of Bhutto's death the U.S. is now forced to reach out to allies of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who have close ties to the very militants that Islamabad and Washington have been so ineffectual in marginalizing. Ironically, that may turn out to be not a bad thing as unaccustomed as the U.S. is to entering into dialogue with its foes.

The Bush administration (including Rice) get props for trying to broker a power sharing agreement between Musharraf and Bhutto.

But with its regional and world standing at low ebb and Musharraf more interested into holding onto power than sharing it, the deal was stillborn from the moment the opposition leader returned home to face a series of assassination attempts that in retrospect inevitably would lead to her death. No matter who actually pulled the trigger (my supposition is militants aided by Musharraf's military), the Pakistani president bears responsibility for her death and, as I noted yesterday, Bush's hands are anything but clean.

Juan Cole sums up the sitch thusly at Salon:

"Pakistan's future is now murky, and to the extent that this nation of 160 million buttresses the eastern flank of American security in the greater Middle East, its fate is profoundly intertwined with America's own. . . . If Pakistani politics finds its footing, if a successor to Benazir Bhutto is elected in short order by the PPP and the party can remain united, and if elections are held soon, the crisis could pass. If there is substantial and ongoing turmoil, however, Muslim radicals will certainly take advantage of it."

To get through the crisis, Cole says, Bush must insist that the Pakistani Supreme Court be reinstated by Musharraf, the PPP must be allowed to elect a successor to Bhutto without the interference of the military, early elections must be held, and the country must return to civilian rule.

Scarecrow at Firedoglake lowers the hammer, asserting that the Bush administration convinced Bhutto to return to Pakistan "to save a risky policy foolishly built on a despised, repressive military dictator."

"U.S. policy is in tatters. The administration was relying on Benazir Bhutto's participation in elections to legitimate Musharraf's continued power as president. Now Musharraf is finished," says Barnett R. Rubin of New York University.

Maybe so or maybe not.

But it will take a newfound appreciation of the powers of patient diplomacy to begin to salvage the mess that an administration, more or less led by a president so deficient in the qualities of leadership, has made of its Pakistan policy. A good start would be to lock the vice president in a closet and throw away the key.

The Best Blog Posts of 2007

A particularly bad blogstorm
A newspaper is a boat, a highly evolved mechanism designed and built to float in water. Blogs are bikes, built to cruise in another environment. Now, you can pull a bunch of planking off a boat and add wheels and pedals, but that won't make it as light and maneuverable as a bike.
-- Terry McDermott, L.A. Times staff writer
Jon Swift is the finest satirical blogger out there hands down in large part because he seriously takes nothing seriously while seeming to be utterly serious. (I think.)

He has done a terrific service and massaged a bunch of egos in in posting "Best Blog Posts of 2007 (Chosen by the Bloggers Themselves)" over at his place, a marvelous comendium that shows the breadth and the depth of the blogosphere in all its quirkiness.

There will be some familiar names, including Yours Truly. Take some time and check out Jon's roundup here.

The Fact or Fiction Challenge of 2007

The good burghers at Media Bloodhound have put together a roundup of quotes and headlines culled from this past year and challenge readers to distinguish fact from the fiction.

Some examples:
"The real danger here for Democrats is looking overly beholden to the rule of law." - NBC's Tim Russert

"Some will say Tom Vilsack never had a chance. But Tom Vilsack was the first to drop out of this race. Number one. And no one can ever take that milestone away from him." - Hillary Clinton

"The law’s no barrier to this patriot. And I have every confidence the attorney general will once again rise to the occasion." - George Bush on Alberto Gonzales

"In a sense, the media were victims of their own professionalism. Because there was little criticism of the war from prominent Democrats and foreign policy analysts, journalistic rules meant we shouldn't create a debate on our own." - Washington Post columnist David Ignatius
The answers and much more here.

The Best Blog Quotes of 2007

Here's a crude generalization: after the sixties, intellect and patriotism went separate ways, to the detriment of both. This mutual hostility made intellectuals less responsible and soldiers less thoughtful. We’ve come to think of this antagonism as natural and inevitable, as it is between cats and dogs, but in fact it was a product of recent political and cultural changes in American life. The estrangement was compounded by professionalization on both sides and the adoption of inward-looking and jargon-ridden specializations: the all-volunteer military and the social-theory crowd became equally isolated American subcultures.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have begun to close the divide.


All those terms that conservatives used to love to use, the proud, patriotic words like Honor, Decency, Honesty, Morality no longer apply to them. The right-wing relativists have faced their own ultimate test and they have failed it in every possible way.


I oppose impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney not as a matter of principle but of practicality. Both have more than made the case that they should be thrown out of office, but it is my belief that such proceedings would be enormously distracting and time consuming. History's judgment will be harsh enough.

I opposed approving Michael Mukasey for attorney general not as a matter of practicality but of principle. Mukasey seems to be capable of beginning to repair the damage that Alberto Gonzalez wrought, but I believed that the Senate should have taken a stand against the Bush administration's embrace of torture and rejected the nomination because of Mukasey's own equivocating.

-- ME

I think from now on the most important signs at any demonstration will be the ones saying, "No more stupid people in the Senate." I just can't believe how dumb these idiots are.

According to a national "pro-life" organization, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, who has pushed a series of anti-choice laws, has made his state "the safest place in America for an unborn child."

Too bad the same can’t be said for born children, as Mississippi now has the highest infant mortality rate in the country.

Why does God allow natural or manmade disasters to kill innocents? For Hindus, that's a multiple-choice question.

Over the last seven years, the racial situation has deteriorated even more. No child left behind, has left enough children behind that they could start a new country. The dumbing down of America is having serious consequences, not the least of which is an increase in racism. The elephant in the room is now breaking things in an effort to make itself known.

-- DEB

How has the New York Times managed to pick Bob Herbert out of the 75 million liberal adults in America? It is a mystery.


There is no "pace of progress" with regards to political reconciliation in Iraq. There is, quite simply, no progress at all. And it might be an arguable point that Iraq is, in any sense of the word, a democracy – not when 15% of the population is frozen out of power sharing and hunted down like animals to be slaughtered.

The Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.

This bullshit about making Strom Thurmond happy has to end somewhere. If the point of Lott's remarks was to make an old man feel good on his birthday, banana pudding and a sponge bath would have done the trick. Lott was, and remains, an egregious racist. He'd made identical remarks numerous times over his career, including at a campaign appearance for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Lott argued over the years that racial discrimination was not necessarily unconstitutional, and he actively supported neo-Confederate organizations like the Council of Conservative Citizens -- a group that descends directly from the segregationist White Citizens' Councils of the 1950s. There was nothing innocent or naive about Lott's remarks. He clearly meant them.

-- D

Rudy: I voted for McGovern but I actually preferred Nixon.

I've written before that in both politics and romance, desperation does not act as an aphrodisiac. The Hillary Clinton campaign has gone past the stench of desperation to the reek of flop sweat as they see their inevitability collapse into incoherence. Hillary's New Hampshire co-chair warns that surging Barack Obama will get peppered with questions about his admitted high-school drug use.


It was not enough to elect him president. Now they’ve gone and crowned him king.

The bed-wetters aren't people who criticize the Iranian government. The bed-wetters are the hysterics who seem to think that the basic acts of diplomacy are a clear and present danger to the United States.

I deeply resent the way this administration makes me feel like a nutbar conspiracy theorist.


No wonder the Democratic Congress is saddled with a microscopic approval rating (11 percent, in the latest poll). Consider this week's misadventure:

At a time when the public is hungry for real solutions to a slew of contemporary crises - for starters, the war in Iraq - the House Democrats have been dithering for days about whether they should stand tall and make a courageous statement...about some atrocities that were perpetrated by a country that no longer exists, in an era long dead and gone.

The Ottoman Empire. In 1915.

Somebody screwed up, terribly, and someone should pay.


Could George W. Bush be the Iranian Candidate? Like Mrs. Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate, who spouted anti-communist rhetoric while secretly working for their agenda in the U.S., could Dubya really be an Iranian plant? Can you imagine anyone else who has done as much for Iran than he has?


Anyone have any idea why both the third world countries I just visited offered excellent airport baggage service, while JFK took over an hour to offload my bag?


Megan McArdle’s dog, Finnegan, contracted an infection and had to be put to sleep. She posted about it. I thought: soon, some gobshite will show up in the comments, deriding the way she felt at four in the morning the night her dog died. And sure enough. Gotta love the intertubes. Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell has died, too. In terms of net good brought into the world during their respective lives, Megan’s dog is probably ahead of Falwell.

History will judge Rove a colossal failure, a man who never understood how to govern and, for all his immense knowledge of polls and politics, never really understood the times he lived in. It was 9/11 that both made and broke the Bush presidency, not some kind of mystical McKinley-esque realignment. Rove was blind to that, and blind to the way Bush should have governed after 9/11. His one-track mind, in which every problem is solved by wielding the biggest, nastiest partisan club you can lift, just couldn't adapt.

Forget the friggin unemployment rate.

-- MAX

Whenever I find myself drifting into the kind of dreamy reverie that comes from reading too many poetic phrases on the backs of airplane seats, I remind myself that beauty and meaning are found at every scale of creation -- at the scale of centimeters (bees and flowers and tongues), yes, but also at the scales of microns and light-years. The beauty and meaning of the very small and the very large can only be perceived through the methods of science.

It's not one or the other, it seems to me, but both. Poetry and science. There are more kisses in this universe than merely those that remind the poet of bees sucking honey on a drowsy day.


It's not just that she's a private person. There are plenty of public servants who are zealous about guarding their personal lives and equally zealous about keeping their public lives - and public policies - transparent. But, like Bush and Cheney, [Hillary] Clinton seems devoted to secrecy for its own sake.

If convicted, Barry Bonds will serve more time than Scooter Libby.

It's great to be an old white man in A-merry-ca isn't it Mr. Imus? Here we are just eight months after your little, ahem, slip of the tongue, and you are back on the air with a new five year deal. And this after settling for millions with your former employer under the terms of your previous contract. So back to WABC radio you go. And you will even have a simulcast TV deal with RFD-TV, who is owned by the Rural Group. How fitting.

I would say something like I hope you learned your lesson, but why should you have? Hell, you made out better now than you were before Nappyheadedhogate. We should all be so lucky after being fired from our jobs.

If you remained unmoved by scientists' excitement at the discovery of a "second Earth" 20 light years away from us then consider this: bookies have now slashed the odds of little green men appearing from 1,000/1 to 100/1.
We always find it funny that you can use sex to sell jewelry and cars, but you can't use sex to sell condoms.


The profoundly depressing fact is how little has changed in the Village over the past several years. I'm not simply referring to rather disappointing results of Democratic control of Congress, though that too is of course an issue, but rather the sentiments and conventional wisdom of the political media industrial complex. It shouldn't be a surprise, I suppose, that this static mob would be slow to change and slower still to acknowledge any failures of their own.


When Osama bin Laden resurfaced Friday in a 26-minute videotaped speech, his most important message was one left unsaid: We have survived.

The Washington Post has a simply lovely article on Jeri Thompson that paints her as a former cheerleader who lived in sin with a guy for years, didn't pay her bills (and I would be lying if I didn't admit that I wonder about the medical bills that went unpaid...cough*boobjob*cough) , and managed to move up the Republican food chain based upon her looks and who she was sleeping with at the time.

There is an axiom about movie plots: If a gun is seen in an early scene, it will be fired before the final credits.

So it is now in the international movie of our lives after the unreeling of more than half a century with weapons that could bring total devastation.


It's become pretty clear that the purpose of the American military presence in Iraq is having an American military presence in Iraq. There doesn't seem to be any consistent goal other than that any more. Which is why these days there's so much talk about staying and less talk about what staying is supposed to accomplish. Staying is the accomplishment; it's the end, not the means.

For all that some Christian Republicans claim Christ as one of their own, it's far more likely that he would vote Libertarian. Treat people with fairness and love; otherwise leave them alone.

It's not surprising that Joe "War is Always the Answer" Lieberman wants to start another war.

The Internet has not, as some predicted, brought about the demise of such great newspapers as the one you are holding in your hands. But it has gotten the hookers off the street.

We're not about to be pushed around by just anybody. Oh sure, we'll let the Chinese get away with economic, environmental and human rights violations (after all, what's shoddy merchandise, massive pollution and slave labor in exchange for ... I forget, what do we get out of this) without doing much more than chiding them from afar or meeting with the Dalai Lama. But when it comes to the dreaded presence of a Communist state that is smaller than China's pinky toe, and which has the international reach of a Tic-Tac, we stand firm!

So it's with relief I heard that Bush has reaffirmed our embargo against Cuba.

Knowing when to kiss a girl is kind of like surfing and being able to tell if a wave is going to close out and spear you into sand or keep barreling along nicely; you have to spend some time in the water to know the signs.

Image © Carlton Cards

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reality Overtakes Rhetoric: Why Benazir Bhutto’s Blood Is On George Bush’s Hands

Let's put a few things in perspective before we mourn the passing of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated by a gunman prior to a suicide bombing today that took 20 lives at a campaign rally in Rawalpindi. An earlier attempt on her life killed 140 people in October shortly after she returned from exile.

It speaks volumes that:

* Bhutto, who herself was duplicitous and corrupt as the leader of this troubled nation, nevertheless was seen as a vast improvement over President Pervez Musharaff.

* The Bush administration not only has thrown in its lot with Musharaff as its key regional ally, but has repeatedly helped prop up his repressive regime, pouring billions of dollars into a rat hole that has become a safe haven for the very terrorists both nations profess to want to eradicate, while claiming that great strides are being made in heartland of the Global War on Terror.

* Other than obligatory tut-tutting, the assassination will have no impact on the U.S. presidential race. Foreign policy generally and the U.S.'s deeply troubled relationship with Pakistan specifically are pretty much non starters in this topsy-turvy campaign season.

The immediate upshot of Bhutto's assassination will be that it gives Musharaff a convenient excuse to postpone parliamentary elections scheduled for next month.

Her death comes just days after Musharraf lifted a state of emergency that he had used to suspend the Constitution and arrest thousands of political opponents on the largely spurious claim that they were terrorist threats.

Bhutto, warts and all, was widely seen as an appealing alternative to Musharraf and eight years of military rule in a supposed democracy, but her tragic passing will have little effect.

It will continue to be business as usual in Islamabad and Washington. You can bet on it.

More here.

Photograph by T. Mughal/European Pressphoto Agency

Hoagie Carmichael: An Appreciation

Is there a more beautiful song than Hoagie Carmichael's "Stardust"? For me there is not. The hauntingly beautiful melody is a special part of the soundtrack of my life, from my humming it as I tried to fall asleep as a child on a hot summer night through to my 30s when my appreciation for the Great American Songbook blossomed to the present when I marvel at how it just sounds -- and feels -- better and better as it weaves itself through my mind and memories.

"Stardust" is one of the most recorded songs of all time. The melody (although not the lyrics) was written by Hoagland Howard "Hoagy" Carmichael.

At first glance, it seems appropriate to say that Carmichael, who died at age 82 some 26 years ago today, was an unlikely virtuoso because most of his greatest work came not in a great artistic center like New York or Paris but on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. But that denies a couple of things: This college town was a racial and cultural crossroads thanks to all of the touring musicians. And given that Carmichael was self taught, he would have written great music anywhere.

As it is, Carmichael is considered the most talented, sophisticated and deeply jazz-oriented of the many writers composing pop songs in the first half of the 20th century.

Born in Bloomington, Carmichael attended Indiana University and the Indiana University School of Law, where he received his bachelor's degree in 1925 and a law degree in 1926. He played the piano to help pay for his studies. After graduating in 1926, he moved to Miami to join a law firm but returned to Indiana in 1927 to devote his energies to his true love -- music.

While still a student, he wrote the songs "Washboard Blues" and "Boneyard Shuffle" and made the acquaintance of Iowan and jazz cornet great Bix Beiderbecke, who recorded his "Riverboat Shuffle."

Shortly after his return to Indiana, Carmichael composed much of "Stardust" on an old upright piano in the Book Nook store across the street from the Indiana University School of Law.

He soon wrote "Rockin' Chair," "Heart & Soul," "New Orleans" and "Georgia on My Mind," all also great songs in their own right. He collaborated with Sidney Arodin on the standard "Up a Lazy River" and later with hugely popular composer-songwriter Johnny Mercer on "Lazybones," "Skylark" and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," which won the 1952 Oscar for Best Original Song.

Between 1944 and 1948, Carmichael was the host of three popular musical variety radio programs.

He appeared as an actor in 14 movies, most notably the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall classic To Have and Have Not, Young Man with a Horn with Bacall and Kirk Douglas, and The Best Years of Our Lives with Myrna Loy and Frederic March.

Carmichael also appeared in television roles. He was a regular on Laramie (1959-63), co-starred in "The Helen Morgan Story" on Playhouse 90 (1957) and provided the voice for a stone-age parody of himself, "Stoney Carmichael," on an episode of The Flintstones.

Like many a songwriter, Carmichael eventually was pushed aside by the next big thing – rock 'n' roll.

* * * * *

What makes “Stardust” such a great song?

Put at its most basic, it is because the verse is both highly melodic and musically sophisticated.

There are over 1,800 recordings of "Stardust." Carmichael’s 1927 version was a peppy jazz number. It was an immediate hit after he reworked it in 1929 as a slow ballad, while Mitchell Parrish added the lyrics in 1931:

And now the purple dust of twilight time
Steals across the meadows of my heart
Now the little stars, the little stars pine
Always reminding me that we're apart
You wander down the lane and far away
Leaving me a love that cannot die
Love is now the stardust of yesterday
The music of the years gone by.

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights
Dreaming of a song
That melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you
When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
Ah, but that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song.

Beside a garden wall
Where stars are bright
You are in my arms
That nightingale tells its fairy tale
of paradise where roses grew
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
my stardust melody
The memory of love's refrain.

Ah, but that was long ago
Now my consolation
Is in the stardust of a song
Beside a garden wall
Where stars are bright
You are in my arms
That nightingale tells its fairy tale
of paradise where roses grew
Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
my stardust melody
The memory of love's refrain.

For some years I couldn't listen to vocal versions of "Stardust," a reflection of my being far less musically mature and far more effite than I thought. While I still prefer "Stardust" straight up, there are innumerable lovely versions, including those sung by Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Mel Tormé, Harry Connick Jr. and Barry Manilow.

My two favorite versions with lyrics were performed by singers who could not be more different -- Ella Fitzgerald and Willie Nelson. If that doesn't speak powerfully to the lasting beauty of "Stardust" and Hoagie Carmichael's greatness what does?

* * * * *
This is another in a series of appreciations of the people who have moved and inspired me over the years. It is based in part on the Wikipedia entry on Carmichael. Previous appreciations have included Duane Allman, John Coltrane, Aaron Copland, Jerry Garcia, Stéphane Grappelli, Bob Marley, Laura Nyro and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Why China Is Ahead of Us In Math, Science

Hat tip to Deb at Deb's Web

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Is the Constitution a partisan, Republican document? GOP candidates sure seem to think so--they have been relentless in asserting that they would "follow the Constitution" in pursuing goals from overturning Roe v. Wade (Mitt Romney) to restoring the gold standard (Ron Paul). And for decades, conservative judges such as Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia have been backing these claims up, advocating for a version of constitutional "originalism" that lines up quite nicely with the Republican platform. This rhetorical onslaught seems even to have convinced Democrats, who have been skittish and uneasy about embracing the Constitution.

But the Republican hammerlock on the document was weakened in three minutes in Iowa on December 13, three minutes that could change constitutional debate in America. Spurred by the tremendous unpopularity and dubious legality of the Bush Administration's efforts to enhance its own power at the expense of both Congress and individual rights, the Democratic presidential candidates made an explicit promise to America: In their first year in office, they will give the United States its Constitution back.


Why hasn't Joseph Biden gotten more of a hearing?


After the longest shopping season in history, Americans are not ready to buy. The oscillating poll numbers seem to reflect not changing enthusiasms but unease over their choices in both parties.

As Clinton and Giuliani slide, Obama and Huckabee gain traction, Edwards and McCain come back from oblivion, and Mitt Romney keeps barely running in place, voters are vacillating in the face of campaigns that stress opponents' weaknesses and gaffes rather than their own visions for the future.

It's noteworthy that the front runners are being overtaken by doubts about their character and temperament and that Obama and Huckabee have both benefited by being newer faces in their fields.

As residents of Iowa and New Hampshire get ready to make their choices, the most excitement is being generated by "none of the above."


If you’re sympathetic to Clinton, her eight years in the White House offer her the kind of experience and insights that few presidential candidates can even hope to match. If you’re unsympathetic, Clinton shouldn’t count her eight years in a ceremonial position in which she made practically no substantive decisions relating to foreign policy or national security, did not receive intelligence briefings, and did not, as some former officials put it, "feel or process the weight of responsibility."

It’s the same background, but it’s up to you which version to prefer.

I find it both offensive and crippling when both career people and political people are worried about getting subpoenaed, it’s hard to get a lot accomplished.


If the 2008 presidential candidates are forced, kicking and screaming, to debate science, what questions should they be asked?

An impressive array of scientists, academics, politicians and journalists have joined Science Debate 2008, the grass-roots group urging the candidates to have a debate on science and technology. I can’t imagine the candidates’ handlers are happy with this prospect, given how much extra work it would mean for them in bringing the candidates up to speed. Politics attracts lawyers and liberal-arts majors, not science whizzes. And I imagine Republicans might be especially leery — to conservatives, the “scientific community” doesn’t sound like a welcoming crowd. But it might actually be a smart political move. Given how often the GOP is criticized for scientific ignorance, expectations would be so low that a Republican wouldn’t have to do much to exceed them.


If a nuclear war between Israel and Iran were to break out 16-20 million Iranians would lose their lives - as opposed to 200,000-800,000 Israelis.


Circulation, the medical journal for the American Heart Association, created a stir when it reported a study of 22 heart transplant patients who were given a dose of dark chocolate or fake chocolate. Just two hours after eating the real thing, patients had measurable improvements in blood flow and vascular function and less clotting, compared to placebo chocolate eaters, who experienced no changes.


Cartoon by Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Notable Quotes, Some Pearls of Wisdom (And Back to Full Blogging Tomorrow)

Every few days (or weeks if I'm not feeling inspired) I change the quote beneath the Kiko's House banner.

I've accumulated a pretty good stash of them, and in keeping with the contemplative nature of the ending of one year and beginning of another, here are some of the best. We'll start with the very first quote that I posted way back when and work forward to the here and now in no particular order:
The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue it. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will take down the scenery, pull back the curtains, move the tables and chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre.


In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes an act of rebellion.


Life Is Not a Dress Rehearsal.


These bloody shamans tell the people anything, no matter how insane, and the people believe them, it's like Americans, only different.


In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.


Only a catastrophe gets our attention. We want them, we need them, we depend on them, as long as they happen somewhere else.


The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.


It doesn't matter what you do, so long as you don't frighten the horses.


Mother’s milk leads to everything.


It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. That ripple builds others. Those ripples -- crossing from each other from a million different centers of energy -- build a current than can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice.


If you're white, you're alright.
If you're brown, stick around.
but if you're black, oh baby.
Get back, Get back, Get back.


Each party steals so many articles of faith from the other, and the candidates spend so much time making each other’s speeches, that by the time election day is past there is nothing much to do save turn the sitting rascals out and let a new gang in.


You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.


Well, Watson, we seem to have fallen upon evil days.


Portrait of Frank Zappa by Anthony Hare

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Roman Loranc