Saturday, March 31, 2007

Solid proof from the Brits. Or not.

AP/UK Ministry of Defence Photo

If you thought that this UK Ministry of Defence photo of a GPS device hovering over a ship -- purporting to prove that the British sailors were seized by Iran inside Iraqi waters -- looks a bit like something Colin Powell might have showed up with at the UN, you're not alone. Firedoglake deconstructs the evidence.
Boy is this confusing …. or should I say … was confusing until the British Ministry of Defense displayed that great photo. Now it's all completely clear to me … the upstanding young sailors, on the lookout for car smugglers and otherwise minding their own business … or Iraq's business or … well, someone's business … were kidnapped from Iraqi waters by those nefarious Iranians. After all, the UK MOD has shown us a "GPS device" showing the "location of the incident." Phew! Now we know all we need to know … we have, after all, seen the pictures.

Oh but wait, you say … Seems there's more to the story … Like that oh-so-convincing vial of something that Powell proudly displayed to the UN, our "evidence" is perhaps a bit less than it seems. In fact, there are a few problems with this photo.
Check out the FDL post and the associated links here. There's one question left unanswered, however. Why is FDL contributor TRex's name on the GPS device?

Sydney embraces 'thoughtful darkness'

Businesses and homeowners switched off the lights in Australia's largest city to draw attention to global warming. AP Photo/Paul Miller

It was the first Earth Hour , an event that organizers hope will spread throughout Australia and perhaps the world to promote awareness of global warming .
SYDNEY, Australia - Australia‘s largest city plunged itself into near-darkness for an hour on Saturday night when city officials, thousands of businesses and many more residents cut the lights for energy conservation.


"It‘s an hour of active, thoughtful darkness, a celebration of our awakening to climate change action," said Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, who attended a harborside function to watch the event.
Hope the idea catches on. It's about time we wake up and see the stars again.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Blackwater's well-connected, profitable, private war

Blackwater and Iraq -- a marriage made in heaven for Rumsfeld's merry band of neocons and corporate welfare bureaucrats in the Pentagon. Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, talked about the Bush administration's favorite private army on WPR's Kathleen Dunn show. Stream the program here, or check out the article in The Nation adapted from his book.
Occupying the hot seat through these deliberations is the shadowy mercenary company Blackwater USA. Unbeknownst to many Americans and largely off the Congressional radar, Blackwater has secured a position of remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus. This company's success represents the realization of the life's work of the conservative officials who formed the core of the Bush Administration's war team, for whom radical privatization has long been a cherished ideological mission. Blackwater has repeatedly cited Rumsfeld's statement that contractors are part of the "Total Force" as evidence that it is a legitimate part of the nation's "warfighting capability and capacity." Invoking Rumsfeld's designation, the company has in effect declared its forces above the law--entitled to the immunity from civilian lawsuits enjoyed by the military, but also not bound by the military's court martial system. While the initial inquiries into Blackwater have focused on the complex labyrinth of secretive subcontracts under which it operates in Iraq, a thorough investigation into the company reveals a frightening picture of a politically connected private army that has become the Bush Administration's Praetorian Guard.
More and more, the face of modern warfare is a mercenary face. Not good for military morale. Not good for accountability. Not good for the taxpayer. And not good for democracy.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

And a little barking poodle shall lead them?

The U.S. Navy has been carrying on its largest show of force in the Persian Gulf since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Blair is barking more loudly at Iran.
During the standoff, the British have been denied access to the captured sailors, and their whereabouts are not known. Britain renewed its demand on Wednesday for their release.

Seaman Turney’s remarks directly contradicted insistence in London that the British sailors had been in Iraqi waters, where they patrol under Iraqi and United Nations auspices to interdict smugglers and protect oil installations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Blair told Parliament that the British sailors were acting legally and in Iraqi waters, and that Britain was running out of patience.
Is this the long-expected incident that escalates into war with Iran? Shouldn't we be paying more attention?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Kinda cute, sort of, for the New York Times

T points out that the NYT copy desk has been getting cute with their headlines again:
Spirits Are Angry. Bad Time to Bomb Their Volcano. It's a mud volcano, and they're being "bombed" with concrete balls to block the underground mud flow that has buried 12 villages. But locals fear that the spirits who live in the mud volcano will get angry about being hit on the head with concrete balls.

Elvish Impersonators. Not Elvish the proper noun, but Elvish the adjective. Think Tolkien.

All too often, subprime = minority

"Behind Foreclosures, Ruined Credit and Hopes,"the story in today's NYT about the foreclosure crisis in Newark, NJ, emphasizes something that hasn't been talked about often enough in stories about the collapsing subprime mortgage market. All too often, subprime mortgages are minority mortgages.
The tales of financially beleaguered Newark are not only about subprime loans. Unforeseen financial problems, misunderstandings about complex mortgage transactions and poor money management have been major factors in bringing some first-time homeowners to the brink of foreclosure.

And the situation mirrors conditions in large urban areas across the country and around the metropolitan region. Neighborhoods in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn also have large concentrations of subprime loans, which are at high risk of foreclosure, according to Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data examined by The New York Times. The study by the Center for Responsible Lending predicts that nearly 22 percent of the subprime loans in the New York area made in 2006 will go into foreclosure in the next few years, one of the highest rates in the nation. And in suburban counties like Nassau, Orange and Putnam, the percentage of households spending at least 50 percent of income on housing has been rising.

While the overall number of foreclosures nationwide remains low — in New Jersey, it is less than 2 percent of all outstanding mortgages — it masks the reality of conditions in lower-income, heavily minority neighborhoods like Mr. Abazie’s, where multicolored “Avoid Foreclosure” and “Sell Your House” signs seem to decorate most of the lampposts.
It's a story that actually takes on more force online. The accompanying slide show is in color and has more photos than the print edition has room for. The Interactive Graphic lets you click back and forth between three views of Newark Census tract maps. The overlap between the locations of foreclosures, concentrations of minority housing and subprime loans is persuasive and disturbing.

Looking at the maps, I was struck by the fact that this is almost a kind of redlining in reverse. It used to be that minorities in redlined areas couldn't get credit, no matter how qualified they were. Then the rules changed, and credit became freely available to anyone on easy terms, except that, hidden in the fine print, there were adjustable rates and draconian terms that would make a Mafia loan shark blush, waiting to blow up. And now we're seeing the explosion.

So far this hasn't really been a political issue. But if this continues for a few more months, as it seems sure to do, there's no way politicians can avoid taking a stand.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Condos after Dark: Weston Place

Not a lot going on after dark on the penthouse floor of the 12-story Weston Place, the only high rise condo in Madison that's not downtown. Not all that much is happening on other floors either, according to the Mar. 8 Capital Times:
Drive past the luxurious Weston Place condos at 625 Segoe Road after sunset and the 12-story tower is three-quarters dark. That's because just 35 of the 121 units have been sold since the project opened 15 months ago.

"It's pretty quiet over there but I had concerns from the beginning whether it was going to be economically feasible," said west side Ald. Noel Radomski.

Certainly, Weston Place isn't the only local condominium project facing a soft market. The number of condos for sale in Dane County is at an all-time high.
Letter from Here is planning to picture more of Madison's overbuilt condo units after dark. Do you have a favorite dark condo in Madison? Let me know in the comments, and I'll check it out with my camera.

To bring up all the posts in the series together, click the "Condos after Dark" label.

When it comes to military spending, the public is far more enlightened than the media and the politicians

The Project on Defense Alternatives notes that for the first time since just after President Clinton took office, a Gallup Poll shows that a plurality of Americans think we are spending too much on defense.
On 1-4 February 2007, the Gallup polling organization asked a representative sample of US citizens if they thought the United States was spending too little, too much, or just the right amount on defense and the military.1 For the first time since the mid-1990s, a plurality of Americans said that the country was spending too much. The surprising result of the survey shows current public attitudes to approximate those that prevailed in March 1993, shortly after former President Bill Clinton took office. Today, 43 percent of Americans say that the country is spending "too much" on the military, while 20 percent say "too little". In 1993, the balance of opinion was 42 percent saying "too much" and 17 percent saying "too little."

What makes this result especially surprising is that few leaders in Congress and no one in the administration today argues that the United States can or should reduce military spending. Quite the contrary: leaders of both parties seem eager to add to the Pentagon's coffers, even as public anti-war sentiment builds. And Congress is not the only institution that appears insensitive to the shift in public opinion. The Gallup survey also drew little attention from the news media. Indeed, a Lexis-Nexis database search shows almost no coverage of the poll, which was released on 02 March 2007.
The public is clearly way ahead of the media and the politicans on this. But they're bound to catch up. "You can fool some of the people some of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. "

(H/t to Matt Yglesias.)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

What's with the condos above Trader Joe's?

Condos after Dark: The condo situation in Madison seems really weird. Everybody says things aren't all that bad, given the overall state of the local real estate market. But all I know is that every time I drive by Monroe Commons at night, the ground floor is bustling with activity at Trader Joe's. But above that, on the upper residential floors, most all the windows are dark -- unlike most of the apartments above other storefronts lining this residential thoroughfare.

It's a nicely designed building for its size, and with a trendy grocery downstairs, what's not to like? Also, if you download a sales status pdf, it says a lot of units are sold, including all but one on the top floor. Yet there's virtually no evidence of anyone actually living there -- unless they're never home or spend a lot of time creeping around in the dark with the lights out. Maybe they're just unusually energy conscious.

5/7/07 UPDATE:Soundproofing woes.

Woman who loved (and hated) too much

It has become a film convention to show the past in faded colors, perhaps because that's how we usually see old movies, given the propensity of color dyes to fade as they are repeatedly illuminated by bright projection lights. It's always a surprise and a bit of a shock to see the past with its true colors restored -- the way we saw a restored Technicolor film print of 1946 box office hit "Leave Her to Heaven" last night at the UW Cinematheque. Part of the fun is the simple pleasure of seeing that there was nothing faded or colorless about 1945, the year it was shot.

The restored DVD, a Fox Studio Classic, came out in 2005, but there's nothing like seeing a big screen film projection of a Hollywood spectacle like this -- which earned Gene Tierney her only Best Actress Oscar nomination and was the second most popular film of 1946. It's a completely over-the-top melodrama incorporating film noir elements about a femme fatale of whom her mother says "There's nothing wrong with Ellen, she just loves too much." And how. Especially her late father, on whom she has a very unhealthy Freudian fixation. One of the great scenes in the movie is her rampaging horseback ride across a mountaintop, scattering her father's ashes from a huge urn. It's worth seeing for that wild gallop alone.

"Leave Her to Heaven" won an Oscar for cinematography, and its amazing, expressionistic use of color is what makes it watchable now. It was shot in the heyday of Technicolor filmmaking, when highly coordinated color palettes were carefully designed to highlight character traits and advance the story. As we watch, the colors of passion turn cooler and then acrid with jealousy. It's a trip.

Archivists responsible for the restoration were on hand to discuss the restoration and answer questions: Schawn Belston, executive and former director of film preservation at 20th Century Fox, left, and Mike Pogorzelski, a UW alum and director of the Academy Film Archive, right. Pogorzelski was recently profiled in the Capital Times. I wasn't taking notes on their presentation, but here's an interview in Home Theater magazine story about digital film restoration that covers some of the same ground.

Ice on Lake Wingra breaking up

Lots of open water on Madison's lakes now. What remains frozen is a thick, icy soup, tinkling gently as it rises and falls with the waves and wind. Along the shore it piles up like shards of glass.