Saturday, January 13, 2007

French for impeachment

When high crimes and misdemeanors are committed, it's the thing to do.

Resetting the Doomsday Clock

Most Americans were not even born yet when the U.S. successfully detonated the first hydrogen bomb in the Ivy Mike test in 1952. That test, along with similar Soviet tests, haunted people's dreams like a nightmare for years afterward. The following year the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists set their "Doomsday Clock" the latest it's ever been -- 2 minutes to midnight. But over the years, a mass amnesia gradually set in.

This sense of denial is what the organization is trying to break through by resetting the clock next Wednesday.
The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The group did not say in which direction the hands would move. But in a news release previewing an event next Wednesday, they said the change was based on "worsening nuclear, climate threats" to the world.

"The major new step reflects growing concerns about a 'Second Nuclear Age' marked by grave threats, including: nuclear ambitions in Iran and North Korea, unsecured nuclear materials in Russia and elsewhere, the continuing 'launch-ready' status of 2,000 of the 25,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia, escalating terrorism, and new pressure from climate change for expanded civilian nuclear power that could increase proliferation risks," the release reads.
The proponents of using nuclear bunker busters against Iran's nuclear installations portray them as precision weapons that can be precisely targeted and set to explode deep underground, where most of the blast and radiation would be contained. Maybe. Maybe not -- Iraq was also going to be a "cakewalk." In any event, overcoming the nuclear first strike taboo for the first time since 1945 would greatly increase the probability that the first time would not be the last time. Nothing can justify that.

H/t to TRex.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Maybe this will help limit the damage from George Bush's latest Middle East adventure

Just in case it doesn't, call your representative and your senators and tell them you agree with John Murtha that we have better things to do with our tax dollars than to fund another troop surge in Iraq that accomplishes nothing except to kill and maim a lot more Americans and Iraqis. Tell them you don't want to widen the war to Syria and Iran, either. Tell them you will hold them personally accountable in the next election, and that you have a long memory. And above all, tell them it's way too early to rule out impeachment or take it off the table.

Getting a round tuit

We're doomed. Procrastination:
Something has to be done about it, sooner rather than later, University of Calgary professor Piers Steel concludes. His 30-page study is in this month's peer-reviewed Psychological Bulletin, published by the American Psychological Association.

In 1978, only about 5 percent of the American public thought of themselves as chronic procrastinators. Now it's 26 percent, Steel said.

And why not? There are so many fun ways to kill time -- TVs in every room, online video, Web-surfing, cell phones, video games, iPods and Blackberries.
Global warming? Oh, we'll get a round tuit eventually. Sure. That should take care of it.

Someday someone will build a better handheld computer, but it probably won't be Steve Jobs

For all his success, Steve Jobs has been pouting for nearly a decade. 1998 was the year he killed Apple's pioneering Newton, the first and in many ways the best handheld computer ever made. Except for one problem. The Newton lacked a keyboard and relied on a very sophisticated but relentlessly mocked handwriting recognition system for text entry. Jobs seemed to feel that a keyboard would be hopelessly klunky on a handheld device, and if people wanted keyboards, well, he would just walk away from the category.

Ever since, handheld computer fans and Apple users have hoped he would change his mind -- maybe even as soon as this week's announcement of what turned out to be the iPhone. Nope. As Jobs modestly explained to the New York Times, a lot more was at stake.
“I don’t want people to think of this as a computer,” he said. “I think of it as reinventing the phone.”
That's the problem. I was kind of hoping for a computer. I'll just have to keep using my Psion handheld Series 5, which ironically I bought the year the Newton was killed, after the Psion made its debut the year before. I still take it everywhere. It runs on two AA batteries for a month -- and boots up instantly. When's the last time you saw a computer do that? Very handy when you want to jot down a quick note.

I mainly rely on its excellent Word-compatible word processor, and have comfortably written stories on deadline in airplane seats while my seatmates contorted themselves around their laptops. But it has an amazing range of other software, including an Excel-compatible spreadsheet, as well as very slick organizer and address book functions. I originally used its ability to seamlessly synchronize and exchange files with a Windows PC. Now I just use a CF card reader to import text files into my iMac. Not quite as flexible -- but hey, I'm mainly capturing keystrokes.

Still, I wouldn't mind modernizing if the right computer came along. Apple could have built on the powerful iPod platform to produce the coolest handheld computer ever made. But Jobs was still pouting.

Instead, he jumped into the crowded cell phone marketplace, which is mainly driven by commodity pricing and carrier subsidies. He certainly created a very cool, luxury-priced gadget -- one that is priced too high for the average consumer, while lacking the functionality that the business user who could afford it needs. I don't think too many of them will be giving up their Blackberries and Treos.

Speaking of those business users, have you noticed how those power PDA users often have a little cell phone in the other hand? Makes sense. Hard to type into a Blackberry while you've got it at your ear.

The bottom line: Since the iPhone won't even hit the market until June, I suspect the hype surrounding this week's big announcement probably was aimed mainly at getting stock analysts' minds off of the Apple stock option brouhaha. I wouldn't exactly call it a debacle, but once the fuss dies down, I suspect the iPhone will prove to be a significant speed bump for the Steve Jobs Mystique Mobile. The Cisco lawsuit seems like a bad omen, too.

Tentpole for new, larger antiwar tent?

I was struck by something Elizabeth Edwards wrote on a neighborhood blog in North Carolina in response to people criticizing her husband for changing his mind on the war.
If you want people to change their minds and agree with you, you ought to quit stoning them when they do. Just a thought.
Read the rest here. If we're ever going to turn this thing around, we're going to have to welcome lots of former war supporters who changed their minds -- some Democratic, many Republican -- into the antiwar tent. Edwards makes a lot of sense. Just a thought.

Bush's secret war almost turns into a shootout with "friendly" Kurdish peshmerga

The headlines were about the Iranian diplomats we captured in that little commando raid in Kurdistan. The fine print was about a second, related operation, in which U.S. forces almost got into a shootout with Kurdish peshmerga guarding the airport we were raiding.
Later Thursday, U.S. forces staged a second raid, attempting to enter Irbil airport and abduct a group of unidentified individuals, he said.

Members of a Kurdish paramilitary force known as peshmerga confronted the Americans when they refused to identify themselves, and a gun battle was narrowly averted "at the 11th hour," said Zebari.

He said U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told him that the first raid was aimed at people who were trying to harm U.S. troops. Khalilzad said he was unaware of the operation at the airport.
This is the secret war Steve Clemons warned about in the Washington Note?
Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.
Supposedly, the Kurds are our best allies in Iraq, and the peshmerga are the only Iraqi military we can trust not to shoot us in the back or set us up for IED attacks. So we can't even let them know when we're carrying out an operation on their turf? Really fills you with confidence that Bush and his neocon enablers know what they're doing, doesn't it?

Which is it: Are they planning to attack Iran, or are they just going to stumble in?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The undeclared war against Iran?

Is this how it starts?
U.S. troops raided an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq late Wednesday night and detained several people, Iran's main news agency reported today, prompting protests from Tehran just hours after President Bush pledged to crack down on the Islamic Republic's role in Iraqi violence.

Iran released news of the raid through its Islamic Republic News Agency in a dispatch that was broadly critical of Bush's plan to deploy about 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

The IRNA report said that U.S. forces entered the Iranian consulate in Irbil, in Iraq's Kurdish-dominated north, and seized computers, documents and other items. The report said five staff members were taken into custody.
Isn't attacking a diplomatic mission something that's usually considered, um, an act of war?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Would you buy a used war from this man?

What a weird performance: Bush's talk to the nation tonight was too long, too unfocused. Hard to follow. Where were the succinct bullet points designed to convince a skeptical nation that he knows what he's talking about? And Bush appeared nervous, his attention elsewhere. Iran, perhaps? What does he know he's not telling us?

Why did George Bush start the Iraq war? That's anyone's guess, but tonight's address to the nation makes it crystal clear that he is not only continuing it, but he is escalating it. Rejecting the input of old family retainers, the Iraq Study Group and even his generals -- let alone the will of the American people, as expressed in the November election -- Bush confirms that he is going to lurch forward with a plan that has absolutely no chance of success if judged by its supposed objectives.

But that's not really what it's all about, is it? Perhaps the rumors about an impending attack on Iran are true, and the troops are being positioned to help contain Iran's response. But just as likely, Bush just doesn't want to admit he lost the war -- and the longer he can extend the war, the more he and Karl Rove figure they'll be able to blame the Democrats instead. In short, with every passing day, Bush is sacrificing more American and Iraqi lives for a classic Rovian wedge issue.

For all the talk lately about how the Democrats don't have the constitutional power to stop Bush, the Constitution clearly provides a remedy. It's called impeachment. Members of Congress should read up on it. They could begin with The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism by John Nichols. They may need to consider it as a real option sooner, rather than later.

Lake Mendota: one wet canary

This came up earlier in the comments to my wintring post a few days ago. Tom Fiorillo wrote from New York to ask if Lake Mendota had frozen yet. "To me this is really like another canary in the coal mine," he said.

So far, Mendota looks like one wet canary. But the latest freeze date was Jan. 30 in 1932, so I suppose it can still freeze, but it's going to have to cool off some to do it. It's amazing how variable the ice cover has been. Check out this chart, which I'm reposting here to make it more accessible. The freeze and melt days are all over the map, and ice cover has ranged from nearly half a year (161 days) to less than a month (21 days). Guess which is more recent.

1/20 UPDATE: According to Isthmus, the manager of the state climatology office determined that Lake Monona (not Mendota) froze over Thursday, Jan. 18 -- its second-latest freeze date. Extrapolating from its smaller cousin, Mendota probably has about a week to go.

1/22 UPDATE: Not that long. Again according to Isthmus, Lake Mendota froze over on Jan 20, two days after Monona -- and like the Monona freeze date, the second-latest ever.

If you don't know what you're looking for, but are sure you'll know it when you see it

I was going through some of my Big Sur photos from 2003 for an upcoming post on Henry Miller when I came across this photo of a butterfly I shot on the path down to Partington Cove, which is directly below the ridge where Miller lived for nearly two decades in a shack perched 1,000 feet above the sea. The butterfly looked familiar. I thought it was a Painted Lady but wasn't sure. Better look it up. The question was, how? Somewhere we have a butterfly book, but I didn't know where it was, or whether it even included butterflies you might find in Big Sur. I turned to Google, but my searches were ineffectual -- other than quickly establishing that it was not a Painted lady. Not even close, really.

How do you search for something when you don’t even know how to ask the question? How are butterflies classified, anyhow? Should you search by geography? Color? Size? Eyespots? I was about give up when I thought of searching Google Images. Just type in "butterfly" and scroll through the pictures. It worked. A picture similar to this came up on the sixth screen, along with the caption Buckeye Butterfly.

Google Image -- the search tool for people who don't know what they're looking for, but are sure they'll know it when they see it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Should drug cocktails be prescribed for children?

The New York Times / Medco Health Solutions

The New York Times published this story about psychiatric medication for children some time ago. I've been meaning to post it before the story and the chart (click to enlarge) disappear into the Times pay-per-view archives. The graphic vividly illustrates the rapidly growing practice of prescribing multiple-drug combinations of psychiatric medications to children.
But a growing number of children and teenagers in the United States are taking not just a single drug for discrete psychiatric difficulties but combinations of powerful and even life-threatening medications to treat a dizzying array of problems.

Last year in the United States, about 1.6 million children and teenagers — 280,000 of them under age 10 — were given at least two psychiatric drugs in combination, according to an analysis performed by Medco Health Solutions at the request of The New York Times. More than 500,000 were prescribed at least three psychiatric drugs. More than 160,000 got at least four medications together, the analysis found.
The article throws some additional light on the issue, but doesn’t provide any conclusive answers. Are we too quick to classify behavior problems in the schools as medical problems requiring drugs? Can we really trust drug companies to care as much about our children as about their own profits? Do we really know enough about the effects of long-term use of these powerful drugs on young, developing brains, especially in combinations that sometimes seem to be tried almost at random?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Copyright and the law of unintended consequences

In theory, copyright law is designed to promote the public interest by encouraging creativity, innovation and the free exchange of ideas by protecting creators' rights to profit from their work. So far, so good.

That's the theory. The reality is that the new extended copyright terms well beyond the lifetime of the author mainly benefit corporate interests, and that's even before the law of unintended consequences kicks in. One of those consequences is that the new law makes it more and more difficult to reprint or adapt the work of deceased authors -- the rights situation is too complicated to make it worth the effort, given the modest returns such projects generate. Increasingly, work that goes out of print is pretty much guaranteed to stay out of print.

This is summed up in this definition by blogger and veteran editor Teresa Nielsen Hayden:
Copyright: During the author’s lifetime, the author’s nearly inalienable legal right to ownership of his or her own work. Thanks to the new extended terms of copyright (brought into law via means that would make a sausage-maker turn pale), the legal right of the author’s second ex-wife’s grandchildren by her third marriage to display their ignorance, exercise their greed, and gratify their egos to such an extent that they make the author’s work impossible to publish, adapt for theatrical performance, or excerpt in works of literary criticism, thus guaranteeing its permanent posthumous obscurity.
Books die, and their life expectancy is getting shorter. Copyright law is one factor, but not the only one. You'll find an eye-opening discussion of this literary life expectancy shrinkage in Teresa's earlier post "The life expectancies of books," along with the extended comments.

President Queeg and his inability to admit a mistake

Paul Krugman draws on "The Caine Mutiny" for an analogy:
I began writing about the Bush administration’s infallibility complex, the president’s Captain Queeg-like inability to own up to mistakes, almost a year before the invasion of Iraq. When you put a man like that in a position of power — the kind of position where he can punish people who tell him what he doesn’t want to hear, and base policy decisions on the advice of people who play to his vanity — it’s a recipe for disaster.

Consider, on one side, the case of the C.I.A.’s Baghdad station chief during 2004, who provided accurate assessments of the deteriorating situation in Iraq. “What is he, some kind of defeatist?” asked the president — and according to The Washington Post, at the end of his tour, the station chief “was punished with a poor assignment.”
So, what's going on with the strawberries? And what do you call a mutiny when it takes place on a storm-tossed ship of state? Impeachment?

Thoughts on monarchy and the queen who lost her head, as well as the one who didn't

This, of course, is the queen who didn't lose her head, the same one I was so close to on July 9, 1976, that I could photograph her with only a medium telephoto (105mm F2.5 Nikkor) on a Nikon FTn. We were in New York for the Bicentennial festivities and lined up early to watch her procession up Wall Street to Trinity Church, to collect the back rent from the church, which was set up in 1697 by a royal charter and is still governed by it. The outstanding balance was a quaint and symbolic 279 peppercorns.
Trinity Parish was established in 1697 by a royal charter from King William III and remains today one of a handful of institutions in this country that are still governed by such an instrument. The charter called for an annual quittent to the king of “one Pepper Corne as desired,” but the crown, it seems, never desired it. (Nonetheless, in 1976, when Queen Elizabeth II visited the church during the bicentennial celebrations, the church voluntarily coughed up the back rent: 279 peppercorns.)
I had never been much of a fan of the British royal family, but when Elizabeth and her entourage -- Prince Philip not alongside her, but several steps behind, as protocol dictates -- passed within ten feet of where we stood I was just stunned. Diana Spencer had not yet entered her life, and the fairy tale turned nightmare that was to be the story of their relationship still lay in the future. She was radiant. The word "regal" didn't begin to do her justice. There was an aura about her, and her face seemed to glow with its own pearly light. Partly, it was a trick of makeup and the hazy light of a New York morning. Mostly, though, the aura came from within, illuminated by 1,000 years of British history. Briefly, I was seized by the desire to fall to my knees and pledge eternal fealty. The divine right of kings started to make sense, and ever so briefly, before the moment passed, I became an instant royalist.

I couldn't help but think about the old encounter this weekend, when we saw two movies about two different queens, Stephen Frears' "The Queen" and Sofia Coppola's "Marie Antoinette." Helen Mirren is astonishing in the title role of the former. They should just give her the Oscar now and be done with it. They are two very different films, and while it may be unfair to compare them directly, the intensity, nuance and complexity of Frears' movie about Elizabeth II and the death of Diana underscores what seems to be missing in Sophia Coppola's light-as-air confection -- to me and to most critics other than the NYT's A.O. Scott.
It may be tempting to greet “Marie Antoinette” with a Jacobin snarl or a self-righteous sneer, since it is after all the story of the silly teenager who embodied a corrupt, absolutist state in its terminal decadence. But where’s the fun in such indignation? And, more seriously, where is the justice? To say that this movie is historically irresponsible or politically suspect is both to state the obvious and to miss the point.
A bit much, that. If Coppola had filmed Greek tragedy the way she filmed the tragic events of the French revolution, she might have filmed "Oedipus Rex" as a bittersweet love story that ended before the protagonist found out the woman he was sleeping with was his mother.

For a more perceptive, savvy and rounded work of fiction about monarchy and revolution in the same era, you might want to check out Susan Sontag's novel, The Volcano Lover. One of the central characters is Marie Antoinette's sister, Marie Caroline, the Queen of Naples. Like her sister, she and her husband, King Ferdinand, flee for their lives from a revolution. Unlike her sister, they escape and later return to preside over a bloody restoration in which thousands are massacred with the aid of the British fleet, Admiral Nelson and his mistress, Lady Hamilton, wife of the British ambassador. Like Coppola's film, Sontag's book is also about an elite social class that lives at a total remove from the lives of everyday people. But unlike Coppola, she includes shadows and undertones, and some sense of life outside the court.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Has U.S. given tacit approval for an Israeli nuclear strike against Iran?

Here's something for Congressional committees to ask the White House about: Do the U.S. and Israel have a tacit understanding that Israel will hit Iran with nuclear bunker busters? That seems to be the gist of a report in London's Sunday Times today headlined "Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran."
ISRAEL has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear “bunker-busters”, according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open “tunnels” into the targets. “Mini-nukes” would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

“As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished,” said one of the sources.

[.. .]

Israeli and American officials have met several times to consider military action. Military analysts said the disclosure of the plans could be intended to put pressure on Tehran to halt enrichment, cajole America into action or soften up world opinion in advance of an Israeli attack.
The whole thing sounds like one of those classic wink-wink, nudge-nudge understandings.
Sources close to the Pentagon said the United States was highly unlikely to give approval for tactical nuclear weapons to be used. One source said Israel would have to seek approval “after the event”, as it did when it crippled Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak with airstrikes in 1981.
Read the rest here. Kind of puts a whole new spin on the Iraq escalation thing. At the least, I'd like to hear more about those meetings between U.S. and Israeli officials in Congressional hearings. Wonder if we will?