Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ineffable Sadness of Don Rumsfeld: America's Worst Defense Secretary

"Is it revisionism or an old man who speaks with the wisdom of age and hindsight?" asked historian Jen Rosenberg on the occasion of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's death in 2009. The fact that Donald Rumsfeld, another former defense secretary, speaks with neither in Known and Unknown makes his tour to promote the memoir ineffably sad.

Mind you that George W. Bush's defense secretary has his defenders,
typically Fox News talking heads and neocons. These are people who continue to justify a war launched for unsupportable reasons that has taken 4,400 American and many tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, replaced one ruling thug with another, further destabilized the Middle East and gave the upper hand to Iran, a country that was and remains dangerous.

History already has judged Rumsfeld's stewardship harshly, and he certainly was the worst defense secretary since McNamara, who served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. McNamara, in turn, was the worst since Jefferson Davis, who as secretary of war under Franklin Pierce worked tirelessly for Southern interests and was instrumental in helping push the U.S. toward civil war.

In fact, Rumsfeld was the worst hands down.

Like Rumsfeld, McNamara was a control freak who thought he had all the answers, lacked the crucial element of common sense and surrounded himself with sycophantic acolytes. Like Rumsfeld, he presided over an unpopular war built on a foundation of false assumptions and outright lies. Like Rumseld, there was an amorality to his actions. And like Rumsfeld, he squandered the respect of his generals and admirals.

But without McNamara, there still would have been a Vietnam War, while there would not have been an Iraq war without Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld already was pushing hard for the invasion of Iraq before the fires at the World Trade Center and Pentagon had been extinguished on 9/11 despite not having a shred of evidence that Saddam Hussein was responsible in any way for the terrorist attacks. He therefore is single-handedly responsible for turning the U.S. away from the course it should have taken in fighting the so-called War on Terror, as well as lowering the U.S.'s credibility on the world stage.

Known and Unknown is not, of course, a mea culpa.

McNamara had a catharsis some 15 years before he died. That personal accounting to
ok the form of In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, a candid reflection that exploded on the haunted members of my generation -- whether they be Vietnam era veterans like myself or antiwar activists -- like a long forgotten Claymore mine.

Rumsfeld may yet have his own catharsis, but that seems unlikely for a man who relishes combat and being combative for the sake of it, consequences be damned.

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

The World's First Hybrid Car


Edwin Donald "Duke" Snider (1926-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Steve Winter's photograph of this tiger in India's Kaziranga National Park was among the winners of the 2010 Pictures of the Year International sponsored by the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Science Sunday: And The Award Goes To

Jennifer Oulette is, as bloggers go, a bona fide brainiac, a physicist by profession and a writer by choice. And while my interest in the Oscars has faded with the years in large part because the telecast of the annual awards ceremony has become a parody of itself, I look forward to Jennifer's annual Physics Oscars at Cocktail Party Physics while I will skip tonight's primetime orgy of self congratulation.

Jennifer has outdone herself this year in awarding Physics Oscars to the movies Inception (Best Depiction of Equivalence Principle Award), Iron Man 2 (Best Scene With a Particle Accelerator), TRON Legacy (Best Nod to Conservation of Mass), The Black Swan (Best Sports Physics) and True Grit
(Best Equal and Opposite Reaction Award).

Here's a taste:
"There were a couple of cool 'found physics' moments in True Grit. One occurs when Rooster Cogburn makes an impressive shot from a cliff into the valley to save LeBoeuf's Texas Ranger hide: there is a slight delay from when we hear the shot (from our/Cogburn's vantage point) to when the bullet hits its mark. And a few scenes later, Mattie gets off her own rifle shot, except she's not big enough to absorb the recoil action and gets knocked backward something fierce. Rifle recoil is a classic example of conservation of momentum, also known as Newton's Third Law of Motion. If momentum is conserved, then for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. That is, if one object exerts a force on another for a given amount of time, the second object reacts by exerting an equal but opposite force for the same amount of time. (Rockets work on this principle, too.)"
More here.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Sarahcudda Is 'A Dangerous, Vindictive, Incompetent, Congenital Liar'

It's Saturday, a low-traffic day when we sometimes post about bottom feeding Sarah Palin, whose presidential ambitious are not matched by her in-the-toilet approval ratings and lousy book sales. (Okay, her reality TV show is another matter, although its ratings are probably buoyed by teenage male viewers' masturbation fantasies.)

The big current news about the Killa From Wasilla is that even her inner circle sees her for what she is. Paraphrasing right-hand man Frank Bailey's tell-all account in the yet unpublished In Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan describes her as "a dangerous, vindictive, incompetent, congenital liar who has no business in any public office."

"Sarah Palin had God's blessing and people's love and faith," Bailey writes, but the reality is nasty as minor slights became obsessions, revenge was demanded and, if possible, destruction of the opponent's reputation.

"We set our sights and went after opponents in coordinated attacks, utilizing what we called 'Fox News surrogates,'" he writes. These included "friendly blogs, ghost-written op-eds, media opinion polls (that we often rigged), letters to editors, and carefully edited speeches."

Meanwhile, in one of her serial prevarications, Palin has created a Facebook account under the name of Lou Sarah in order to make positive comments on the official Palin Facebook page and tha tof daughter Bristol.

Cartoon by Peter Brooks/The Times of London

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

From Robot Nine

Friday, February 25, 2011

Nabokov: 'If I Were Careless Enough To Break The Hush Of Pure Memory . . . '

I finally got around to reading Vladimir Nabokov's Speak Memory: An Autobiography Revisited during my recent sojourn at the mountain retreat.

memoir, published in 1951 and in expanded form in 1966, is on most best nonfiction book lists and it is easy to see why: It is written with an elegance and depth befitting this great multilingual prose stylist and entomologist, who unfortunately is best known for the novel Lolita, the story of middle-aged Humbert Humbert, who becomes obsessed and sexually involved with a 12-year-old girl.

I say unfortunately only because his other work, while less accessible to the casual reader, take his word play and eye for sensory detail to extraordinary depths.

Herewith an excerpt from the concluding pages of Speak Memory in which addresses his wife. As you read it, let the words roll through your mind . . . and memory:
In the fall of 1939, we returned to Paris and around May 20 of the following year we were again near the sea, this time on the western coast of France, at St. Nazaire. There, one last little garden surrounded us, as you and I, and our child, by now six, between us, walked through it on our way to the docks, where behind the buildings facing us, the liner Champlain was waiting to take us to New York. That garden was what the French call, phonetically, skwarr, and the Russians skver, perhaps because it is the kind of thing usually found in or near public squares in England. Laid out on the last limit of the past and one the verge of the present, it remains in my memory merely as a geometrical design which no doubt I could easily fill in with the colors of plausible flowers, if I were careless enough to break the hush of pure memory (except, perhaps, for some chance tinnitus due to the pressure of my own tired blood) I have left undisturbed, and humbly listened to, from the beginning. What I really remember about this neutrally blooming design, is its clever thematic gardens and parks; for suddenly, as we came to the end of its path, you and I saw something that we did not immediately point out to our child, so as to enjoy in full the blissful shock, the enchantment and glee he would experience on discovering ahead the ungenuinely gigantic, unrealistically real prototype of the various toy vessels he had doddled about in his bath. There, in front of us, where a broken row of houses stood between us and the harbor, and where the eye encountered all sorts of stratagems, such as pale-blue and pink underwear cakewalking on a clothesline, or a lady's bicycle and a striped cat oddly sharing a rudimentary balcony of cast iron, it was most satisfying to make out among the jumbled angles of roofs and walls, a splendid ship's funnel, showing from behind the clothesline as something in a scrambled picture -- Find What the Sailor Has Hidden -- that the finder cannot unsee once it has been seen.
Image by Anton Uys

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

(New York -- 1958)
Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Calculus Of Warfare: Have Medevac Helicopters Become Valid Targets?

In war, it is widely accepted that helicopters, ambulances, hospital ships and other vehicles displaying red crosses are not to be fired on, and that usually is the case.

But just as warfare has changed, so has the ability to save the lives of the wounded and maimed, and the advances made in battlefield helicopter evacuations during the Vietnam War have reached the point that if a GI can be kept alive by battlefield medics, chances are excellent that he will be stabilized by the flight medics who speed him to a hospital in the rear except in cases of the most profound traumas.

This miracle, if you will, is brought to life in
Blood and Dust, an extraordinary 25-minute documentary by British filmmaker Vaughan Smith being broadcast on Al Jazeera television's
"People and Power" series. (Smith turned to the Arabic and English language network when no British broadcaster would air the documentary without cutting the stronger images.)

Smith spent two weeks embedded with the Army's 214th Aviation Regiment in Southern Afghanistan, and Blood and Dust shows both the shocking consequences of this war and the extraordinary skill, dedication and evenhandedness of men like flight medic Sergeant Tyrone Jordan provide to all comers -- Marines, Taliban and Afghan nationals caught in the crossfire.

"I have done a fair number of military embeds in Afghanistan over the last few years," Smith says, "but was concerned that I hadn't filmed the suffering of war, just its machinery."

Some of the images are indeed deeply disturbing, and I challenge you not to shed
tears as Jordan does everything he can to save a Marine grievously wounded by a Taliban rifle round that entered his chest and transited his heart before exiting through his back.

The frantic ministrations
continue when Jordan's Blackhawk returns to base, a medic straddling the Marine and continuing to pound his chest in a desperate effort to keep his heart beating as his comrades rush him through dust clouds on a bicycle-wheeled gurney to a hospital compound surrounded by tall concrete blast walls.

But beyond the heroism and tears, Smith poses a deeply troubling question.

Unlike past wars and given that virtually every GI who is carried aboard a 214th chopper alive stays alive,
might not these units be considered weapons in their own right?

Smith notes that there is only a certain amount that the public is prepared to lose in terms of human life, something that was borne out in Iraq as casualties rose and support eroded. But modern battlefield medicine
has become so advanced that it is able to maintain morale at home because it keeps the kill numbers down in such a way that a war like Afghanistan becomes more sustainable.

Smith asks: "Are somehow the rules of war, the Geneva Convention, a little bit out of date since they were designed for a period of time when a battle would be decided and the problem would become looking after the wounded, whereas now you can have a helicopter with a red cross which suggests that you shouldn't shoot at it?

"If that helicopter with the red cross and the medicine inside is a force multiplier, does that not make it a valid target?"

Photographs by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Cartoon du Jour

Ted Rall/Universal Press Syndicate

When Clueless Met Ruthless


Christian J. Lambertsen (1917-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

A capybara keeps warm under a warm shower of water during a cold day at a children's zoo near Tokyo.

Photograph by Koji Sasahara/The Associated Press

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Sobering Lesson For Union Busters

Wisconsin union members rally at the state capitol
Republicans have been gunning for labor unions since forever. Beholden to an anti-organized labor corporatocracy that, for all intents and purposes, has become a shadow government and arguably is more powerful than the real government, union busting has been an unwritten part of the Republican agenda to gut the middle class but is now on full view in Wisconsin.

While ostensibly an effort to balance the state budget, Governor Scott Walker, a conservative Republican, has ignored public employee and teachers unions' willingness to make wage concessions, so the standoff over taking away their collective bargaining rights is really about power, in this case exploiting the budget deficit for political gain.

As well as scratching the backs of the notorious Koch brothers, who not coincidentally were the largest contributors to Walker's gubernatorial campaign and for whom unions are anathema because without them these unscrupulous billionaires could make even more money.

Unions have been in decline in recent decades in part because of overreaching and other self-inflicted wounds, although a substantial number of Americans support their right to collective bargaining. Yes, public employee unions can be an excuse for protecting lazy and incompetent workers, something that too often is on display at state motor vehicle and drivers licensing centers. Same for teachers' unions.
But Wisconsin should be a sobering lesson for anyone who values quality public education but wants to bust teachers unions.

Consider that only five states do not have collective bargaining for teachers. Those states' rankings on ACT/SAT scores are:
South Carolina -- 50th
North Carolina -- 49th
Georgia -- 48th
Texas 47th
Virginia -- 44th
Got that? Meanwhile, the states with the highest ACT/SAT rankings all allow collective bargaining:
Iowa -- 1st
Minnesota and Wisconsin -- 2nd
Kansas -- 4th
Nebraska -- 5th
Statistics can lie, but these are unambiguous. States that allow teachers to bargain produce better students, and by inference better teachers.

Does anyone really believe that Wisconsin's historically fine public school system will not suffer if its teachers are stripped of key aspects of collective bargaining?

Of course not.

Photograph by The Associated Press

Cartoon du Jour

Michael Ramirez/Investors Business Daily

What To Do As Qaddafi Fights Back?

One of the surprises, for me anyway, about the pro-democracy ferment spreading throughout the Middle East is the fragile hold on power many of the dictators running these countries turn out to have.

But the events unfolding in Libya, ruled with a iron fist for 40 years by Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi, the longest ruling autocrat in the world, reveal his grip to be especially tenuous, if still tenacious.

In the space of a mere 72 hours, the oil-rich country -- sandwiched between post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia -- has morphed from the mass murder of protesters by security forces to Benghazi, the second largest city, coming under the control of rebels, fires burning unchecked in the capital of Tripoli and elsewhere, those selfsame security forces waving green flags, , senior government officials defecting to the pro-democracy side, and renewed attacks on protesters by mercenaries and military aircraft.

It seems like only a matter of time before Qaddafi is gone and the interim Army-run government demanded by protesters is a reality. Or alternatively, a protracted civil war breaks out.

So the idea being floated by neocon war drummer Paul Wolfowitz, among others, to impose a U.S.-controlled no-fly zone over Libya should be a non-starter.
(Yes, the U.S. did impose a no-fly zone over Kosovo in 1999 without United Nations approval, and NATO soon joined it.)

A NATO-led no-fly zone would be far better when and if Qaddafi resists formal demands to cease and desist murdering his own people, but it would be awfully nice in the meantime with the Arab League stepped up to the plate with more than its usual empty rhetoric.

The New Worst Person In The World


Russell W. Peterson (1916-2011)

Everyone who enjoys tiny Delaware's outsized state beach system -- and that includes myself, the DF&C and our friends -- owes Russ Peterson an enormous debt. 
Peterson, who became governor in 1969 after 26 years as a Du Pont Co. research chemist, was an environmentalist well before environmentalism had caught on.  His signal achievement -- and arguably the greatest achievement of any governor of the First State -- was to ram through the Coastal Zone Act in 1971. 
The landmark law, which was repeatedly and unsuccessfully challenged in court, outlawed heavy industrial development on the state's coast, infuriating Big Oil and the Delaware's business and political communities. It spawned similar efforts around the world. 
The signal result of the act is that today Delaware has a largely pristine coastline from Lewes at the mouth of Delaware Bay south to Fenwick Island on the Atlantic Ocean, which except for a few mostly small incorporated communities is entirely state owned and open to the public. 
Peterson also was a civil rights activist in a state with a shameful civil rights record. 
His first official act as governor was to order the withdrawal of the Delaware National Guard from Wilmington after 10 months of occupying a black neighborhood.  The troops had been deployed by Peterson's racist predecessor after rioting that followed the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 
He also ordered the desegregation of the lily white Delaware State Police and appointed the first black to the University of Delaware Board of Trustees. 
Peterson went on to become president of the National Audubon Society, and attributed his passion for birds to son Peter, who as a youngster showed great interest in birds, observed them carefully on family hikes, and could identify them by their songs. 
Russ Peterson was 94 when he died on Monday night at his Wilmington home.  It is sadly ironic that as a moderate Republican he would have stood no chance of being nominated today in a state where Christine O'Donnell was the party's 2010 standard bearer, let alone become an environmental torchbearer for a party that eschews moderation and is an avowed enemy of the environment.

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Martina78

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oh That Silvio 'Bunga Bunga' Berlusconi

The Italian people kind of remind me of the French without the fries. In awe of the past and pissing all over the present. But when it comes to prime ministers, the Italians have the French beat by a parsec.

The latest guy to run Italy (and there have been sixty-freaking-three governments since World War II) is a chucklehead by the name of Silvio Berlusconi (say 'silvjo berlu'sko:ni) who made his nut by doing funny things with money. Berlusconi actually has been on his third victory lap, the first two having ended in . . . um, scandals involving lire and more recently euros, but the current scandal involving Il Cavaliere (The Knight), as he is known by his dwindling number of supporters, is so typically Italian that it could have been directed by Fellini. (Think City of Women, his film about a man bewildered by the advent of feminism.)

Berlusconi is charged with doing the bunga bunga with Karima El Mahrouga (above, right), a then 17-year-old belly dancer and prostitute.

It's not that prostitution is illegal in Italy, where the oldest profession has long thrived owing to the boundless hypocrisy of the Roman Catholic Church, but doing the bunga bunga with an underage prostitute is verbena.

Berlusconi has said that he is not concerned about his forthcoming trial, which could result in a 15-year prison sentence, and refuses to discuss it.

"For love of country I won't talk about it," he huffs, although he has previously said -- and I'm not making this up -- that he bailed Senora El Mahrouga out of jail on a theft charge because he thought she was the granddaughter of Hosni Mubarak and not because he had bunga bunga-ed her.

It turns out that Senora El Mahrouga and the deposed Egyptian president are not related, and for what it's worth she swears that she never bunga bunga-ed with the prime minister but did receive 7,000 euros ($9,400) from him as a gift after one of his notorious sex parties. She says that she returned for subsequent parties because she hoped that he would set her up with one of the rent-free apartments he gives to his favorite girl toys. (He did.)

In any event, the scandal has pissed off (typically younger) women all over Italy, some of whom have taken to the streets to demonstrate, and as if to emphasis the church's hypocrisy, Il Papa himself has weighed in on the need for leaders keeping their organo sessuale maschiles zipped, which apparently does extend to priests.

Injecting an element of pathos into this drama, 36-year-old German actress Sabina Began (above, left), says that she organized the sex parties for the 74-year-old prime minister because he is "a very lonely man."

The world community can be grateful, I suppose, that the 74-year-old prime minister would rather play with young senoras rather than, say, a nuclear arsenal or that that oil-laden supertankers bound from the Middle East for the U.S. don't have to transit Italian waters.

Oh, and don't try to look up bunga bunga in the OED. Or any other dictionary, for that matter. Bunga bunga is the password to get into the sex parties, as well as the name of a naughty after-dinner game that guests play.

Cartoon du Jour

Tom Toles/Universal Press Syndicate

Maria Altman (1917-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

A baby royal antelope is bottle fed at the San Diego Zoo.

Photo courtesy of the San Diego Zoo

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Science Sunday: Forget About Facebook. It's Physical Space That Really Matters

I do not text, tweet or use Facebook, having no earthly need to do so. Besides which, I find all three mediums vastly inferior to physical interactions with people, something that it is dramatically borne out in a new study.

University of Michigan researchers brought groups of people together face to face and asked them to play a difficult cooperation game. Then they organized other groups and had them communicate electronically. As anybody who predates the pandemic of impersonal communication devices would expect, the face-to-face groups thrived while the electronic groups struggled.

Similarly, and to the point of this post, density stimulates innovation, which is why cities arguably are more important than ever, something that was reinforced during several recent visits to New York City and has been quantified by physicist Geoffrey West and a Santa Fe Institute colleague, Luis Bettencourt.

After two years of analysis, West and Bettencourt discovered that urban variables ranging from the total amount of electrical wire, number of college graduates and gas stations, personal income, flu outbreaks, homicides, coffee shops and the walking speed of pedestrians could be described by "a few exquisitely simple equations," as Johan Lehrer puts in in a New York Times Magazine article.

"For example, if they know the population of a metropolitan area in a given country, they can estimate, with approximately 85 percent accuracy, its average income and the dimensions of its sewer system," he writes. "These are the laws, they say, that automatically emerge whenever people 'agglomerate,' cramming themselves into apartment buildings and subway cars. It doesn't matter if the place is Manhattan or Manhattan, Kan.: the urban patterns remain the same.

"West isn't shy about describing the magnitude of this accomplishment. 'What we found are the constants that describe every city,' he says. 'I can take these laws and make precise predictions about the number of violent crimes and the surface area of roads in a city in Japan with 200,000 people. I don't know anything about this city or even where it is or its history, but I can tell you all about it. And the reason I can do that is because every city is really the same.'

"'Look, we all know that every city is unique. That’s all we talk about when we talk about cities, those things that make New York different from L.A., or Tokyo different from Albuquerque. But focusing on those differences misses the point. Sure, there are differences, but different from what? We’ve found the what.'"
There is, of course, bad with the good. When West and Bettencourt analyzed the negative variables of urban life, like crime and disease, they discovered that the exact same simple equations applied. After a city doubles in size, it also experiences a 15 percent per capita increase in violent crimes, traffic and AIDS cases, although some cities are able to mitigate the increases with addition police officers or strict pollution regulations. "What this tells you is that you can't get the economic growth without a parallel growth in the spread of things we don't want," Bettencourt says. "When you double the population, everything that’s related to the social network goes up by the same percentage."

West and Bettencourt assert that cities are one of the single most important inventions in human history.

"They are the idea that enabled our economic potential and unleashed our ingenuity," West says. "When we started living in cities, we did something that had never happened before in the history of life. We broke away from the equations of biology . . . Every other creature gets slower as it gets bigger. That's why the elephant plods along. But in cities, the opposite happens. As cities get bigger, everything starts accelerating. There is no equivalent for this in nature. It would be like finding an elephant that’s proportionally faster than a mouse."

Photo illustration by Hubert Blanz

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chin Chin (ca. 1998-2011)

Most rescue cats come into the lives of their new owners in cat carriers or by meowing outside of doors until they are fed. Chin Chin, or Chin has she came to be known, arrived in a pillow case.

Chin had lived unhappily in a house dominated by thuggish owners and a big dog, and I would see her tiny black-and-white self peering at me through a lace-curtained window when I would pedal by the house on my mountain bike during morning rides. Then about three and a half years ago, the owners upped and moved, abandoning this indoor cat to the elements, or so said a next-door neighbor who alerted the Dear Friend & Conscience.

It took several days of leaving food on the side stoop of the house before this terrified kitty could be coaxed near enough to the DF&C that she was able to grab her and stuff her into a pillow case. Thus stuffed, the DF&C arrived back home where she dumped Chin onto the living room floor. We expected that she would flee underneath a sofa or bed, but instead she took one look at me, seemed to exclaim to herself, "Oh, you're the guy on the bike," trotted over, rubbed up against my legs and was soon purring in my lap.

* * * * *
A trip to the vets, Chin's first and last one under our care because of her profound fear of being poked and prodded, revealed that she probably was 10 years old, had but three teeth and confirmed that she was mute, in all likelihood because she had been abused.

Chin had been so named because . . . well, she didn't have a chin. She was so emaciated that she also didn't have fat pads on her feet, although she did have the correct number of ribs, which were all too visible. While it took a heartbeat for Chin to welcome herself into our lives, it was several months before she grew back a chin and her fat pads reappeared. She was never robust, mind you, but she did put on weight and her coat developed a glistening sheen that she spent hours grooming.

* * * * *
Like I said, Chin was an indoor cat and she only made two trips beyond the confines of the house in the time that she graced our lives: The aforementioned trip to the vets and when the DF&C didn't realize that Chin had slipped onto the back deck when she opened a sliding door in the dark of night. I was the first to notice that Chin wasn't on her usual perch atop a couch the next morning and found her crying piteously, if silently, on the other side of the slider. Fortunately, it had been a mild summer night.

Chin began to noticeably fail last September. She was down to a single tooth, was losing a lot of weight, seldom groomed and sometimes would slip and fall trying to get a drink of toilet water or jump onto her favorite kitchen stool. Her hind quarters began giving out, her purr became fainter and we had to nurse her several times a day on small feedings of Newman's Own Premium Organic Cat Food when she stopped eating the old reliables. (Thank you, Paul.)

Quality of life is relative, of course, but we were determined to not put Chin through a visit to the vets to confirm what was obvious: That she was dying. And so when she was unable to get up the other day we tried to make her as comfortable as possible. Chin drew her last breath yesterday morning lying on a towel in the dining room.

* * * * *
People ascribe great virtues to their pets and can be forgiven the hyperbole that usually accompanies their oohs and aahs.

But Chin did have a special virtue. She had been abused and neglected and then abandoned, yet she had great sense in her tiny head and great love in her big heart in adopting us. Believe me, it was not the other way around. And for a few short years she gave us a joy that we gladly reciprocated.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When It Comes To America's Future, GOP Govs Want To Eat Their Seed Corn

As is obvious when you look at Europe and Japan and more recently China, high-speed rail is a big winner. It creates thousands of jobs during the construction and operational phases, cuts down on wasteful commuting time and, to an extent, relieves congested highways. If there is a downside, it is the substantial start-up costs, but then no one said that investing in the future would be cheap.

But in yet another manifestation of the perversely stupid thinking of the burgeoning Republican right-wing, Republican governors in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin are turning down billions of dollars in federal money for their states to be part of a national high-speed rail network.

Like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who twice killed a badly needed Hudson River rail tunnel linking his state and Manhattan because of cost-overrun concerns, these governors are thinking small at a time when America is on the verge of undercutting its economic and technological future and giving the edge China and other countries, including those damned socialists in Sweden, who aren't stuck with myopic leaders.

"It's eating our seed corn," said Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, in using the colloquialism that when times are tough, and you are is hungry, you are supposed to plant seeds for crops, not eat them. But that is exactly what Florida Governor Rick Scott wants to do, and he has informed the White House that the $2.4 billion in stimulus money for the rail project will be used elsewhere in the Sunshine State.

The White House's appropriate response is that the dough will indeed be used elsewhere: By another state, possibly New York or California, for which upgrade its aging rail infrastructure is a top priority.

Many of Scott's fellow Repubs are not happy, and the state House has passed a resolution by a veto-proof majority requesting that the feds go forward with the appropriation.

They point out that the project is a low-risk investment (a measly $280 million which will be recoverable) for a state heavily reliant on tourists and has private sector backing, while it has been revealed that Scott broke a promise to read a feasibility study before making a decision that was based on the work of a notorious anti-rail opponent.

"Making this decision, at this point, on a project that could mean 12,000 to 14,000 jobs is very premature,’’ said State Representative Jack Latvala of St. Petersburg.

Florida's aversion to high-speed rail actually dates back to the early days of the Jeb Bush administration when he pulled out state financing for a high-speed network linking the state's three major metropolitan areas because the project, projected to cost $6.3 billion, was too risky for taxpayers.

John Boehner's Crocodile Tears

Ohio Republican John Boehner had a sure-fire way to get crowds on their feet during the 2010 campaign. Citing his deep care and concern for struggling American workers, he would intone "Where are the jobs?!"

That was then and now is now, and the only thing surprising about Boehner's remarks this week about those struggling workers is that now that he has been elevated to House majority leader he would come right out and say what anyone who is conversant with what passes for Republican economic policy well knows.

"In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs," Boehner said, calling this wasteful spending. "If some of those jobs are lost so be it. We're broke."

In another non surprise, Boehner grossly misstated the number of federal jobs added. Most were temporary Census Bureau positions, and the real net gain was 46,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, Boehner's loss of empathy for the jobless even extends to his own family. Three of his brothers lost jobs during the Bush Recession, but he doesn't even know if they've found work.

Meanwhile meanwhile, Boehner continues to relentlessly lobby to save a fighter jet engine project that the Pentagon has said is wasteful spending and has been trying to kill for years. The project is, of course, headquartered in Ohio.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Len 'Uncle Leo' Lesser (1923-2011)


Beautiful Photograph du Jour

By Adriana K.H.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hypocrisy Akimbo As Republicans Step On Their Willies In Defending Rape

Rick Perry, the governor of my state, is really upset about how big government has gotten. Evidently it's not big enough, however, because 'ole Ricky seems to think its small enough to crawl up my vagina with a sonogram machine and a recorder so that Ricky can tell me how to think based on what God whispers in his ear.
In politics, it is axiomatic that if you let the fringe define you then you risk becoming the fringe and hurting your overall cause. The gains in the mid-term elections notwithstanding, the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party, including the deep inroads made by Tea Party candidates, is as pungent an example as I've seen of this since forever.

This axiom has been strutting its stuff in the current congressional session because of Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey, who even by pro-life terms is extreme, and his leadership role on legislation that could accurately be called The Defense of Rape Law.

The bill would make permanent the 35-year-old Hyde Amendment, which prohibits health-care programs like Medicaid from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother's life. It also would prohibit employers and self-insured Americans from using tax breaks to buy private health insurance that covers abortion.

Where H.R. 3 goes -- or rather went -- completely off the rails was in exempting abortions involving pregnancies by redefining what constitutes forcible rape, and allowing an exemption to the law only in the case of incest involving minors. Women who are forced to having sex against their wishes were screwed. Women who were drugged before sex were screwed. Women whose health was in danger were screwed. Women who were mentally retarded were screwed.

(Not dissimilar initiatives are making their way through legislatures in Texas, Ohio and South Dakota, among other states, and the South Dakota law would consider murdering an abortion provider as justifiable homicide. One pundit refers to this beauty as The George Tiller Had It Coming Justifiable Homicide Act, which dovetails nicely with another South Dakota law-in-the-making that would require residents to purchase firearms. UPDATE: The bill has been tabled.)

But a funny thing happened on the way to passage of The Defense of Rape Law.

Republican bigs and Republican women's groups like the conservative Susan B. Anthony List remained largely silent on the firestorm that the bill ignited. They realized that codifying the right-wing belief that some rapes are less important than others because, you know, some women ask for it, would not be embraced by many if most women, and the GOP already has a huge problem in attracting woman voters for whom Phyllis Schlafly is not a goddess. Besides which, at this juncture the GOP's 2012 president field is weak, and a nominee doesn't need the additional burden of The Defense of Rape Law albatross around his neck.

And so Smith, while not publicly fessing up to reality, quietly dropped the language redefining rape.

To return to the Tea Partiers, there also is an element of hypocrisy.
One of the party's chief plaints is the intrusiveness of big government, yet under The Defense of Rape Law government would decide whether women had really been raped or not.

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Images courtesy of Laura Siegel Larson (left) and Joe Shuster