Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Amazing new product!

A friend has just alerted me to a must-have product for cleaning the inside of your computer screen, where a lot of dirt accumulates but is very hard to reach. Just click here for details. This is the kind of inventiveness that could get us out of the current financial crisis. (thanks to DG for this great product tip.)

What won't get us out of the financial crisis, obviously, is the Bush administration's bailout plan. Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz tells us why in The Nation.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Well, who would have thought that a director as cerebral as Woody Allen could have evoked such an earthy performance from Penelope Cruz? Or perhaps he just got out of the way and let her do her own thing, which she did particularly well. I have not read anything about this film, including any reviews, but I would imagine that others have taken note of the Truffaut-esque voiceover narration and the loose parallels with Truffaut's masterpiece "Jules et Jim."

Despite a somewhat simple and insipid plot, I enjoyed this film more than any other Woody Allen project I have seen over the past several years. The Barcelona setting helped a lot, and as for the acting--well, Javier Bardem and Scarlett Johansson pretty much played their usual sexy selves, leaving the complex acting to Cruz and also Rebecca Hall, who played Vicky. We should also acknowledge Chris Messina's performance as Vicky's nerdy, conventional husband. Messina gave the character some nuance and subtlety not normally seen in the guy we don't want to see the girl wind up with, which makes the ending--whoops, we don't want to spoil the ending, do we.

Anyway, Balter's Blog recommends that you see this film, if you haven't already.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, R.I.P.

This was the only clip I could find of my favorite Paul Newman movie, "The Long Hot Summer." The chemistry with Joanne Woodward was incredible.

My blogger friend Marc Cooper features his own tribute with more clips and links, and emphasizes--as I should have above--Newman's progressive politics.

Leave the bears out of it!

While McCain and Obama were sparring over the economy yesterday evening, McCain brought up the "millions" of dollars spent on "bear DNA" as an example of wasteful government spending. “I don’t know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue,” McCain joked lamely. And since it is unlikely that many people watching know much about why this money is being spent, it probably went over as a good example of taxpayer money going for silly projects. But believe it or not, sometimes there are good reasons for spending money in this way, despite McCain's deliberate and cynical appeal to the ignorance of his audience.

Earlier this year, Scientific American ran a piece explaining the grizzly bear project, which readers would do well to consult and then look for other areas to save taxpayer money--for example the $100 billion/year war in Iraq. A few excerpts from the SciAm article:

In fact, Congress over the past five years has forked over a total of $4.8 million to study the genetic material of Montana's grizzly bears, according to Katherine Kendall, a research biologist at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Kendall heads the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, which is aimed at obtaining the first accurate population estimate of grizzlies living in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem—eight million acres of land in northwestern Montana that encompasses Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

"This is not pork barrel at all," says Richard Mace, a research biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP). "We have a federal law called the Endangered Species Act and [under this law] the federal government is supposed to help identify and conserve threatened species."

The grizzly has been listed as a threatened species since 1975 and scientists say that it is essential to get a handle on the population to preserve it. But, according to Kendall, until the feds decided to invest in this grizzly bear DNA study, researchers lacked the funds to conduct research at the scale necessary to get a reliable measure.

Read the rest for more details. And you can find more important information here and here.

And then let's start hunting for pork, not bears.

"Let's suspend the whole election." Good news, Jon Swift is back blogging again, and he's as funny as ever. Oh, there he goes again!

Bail out, Palin, now! Liberals and conservatives agree.

And now more from Sarah herself:

Oh, and this from that other Sarah:

The Great Schlep from The Great Schlep on Vimeo.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Country first, billionaires!

My wife writes from Paris, where they are taking all this in with alarm, and suggests this idea for the bailout:

"How about sending round a petition for each billionaire in the US (maybe there are 700) to pitch in 1 billion to buy these rubbish assets? (like the election pledges) It would make a small dent on their fortunes, surely less than the 2000 dollars asked of the American taxpayer. After all they're the ones playing the poker game that got the country into the mess. I think they're already talking about capping the salaries - good move! What can an individual possibly need with so much personal wealth? How can a system which allows some people to accumulate massive amounts of wealth while others starve be the best in the world? I'm not advocating Communism again, but there must be a complete overhaul of the system... like you I hate all this hypocrisy about country first etc. There's so much personal greed and irresponsibility involved here. Also if they get away with it this time it will just happen again. Is there no Bill Gates out there to start off a movement?"

She includes a PS:

"John McCain could sell one of his houses. He wouldn't notice..."


Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain clown show

Okay, let's see if I have this right. John McCain suddenly realizes the financial crisis is an emergency and announces the suspension of his campaign and says he won't show up at the Friday night debate in Mississippi unless the bailout bill is finalized beforehand. But instead of jumping on a plane to Washington to lead Congress and show us all the way, he cancels a taping of the David Letterman show, lies to Letterman about the reason, and then gets made up for an interview with Katie Couric instead (I'm not bothering to provide links because you should know all this already.)

Then, he stays in New York this morning for various other events, and finally gets to Washington about noon today, just in time to, um--no, he's too late! Congressional leaders have already come to a deal with the Bush administration, and they did it without him! If only he had gotten there in time. Well, no worries, still time to meet with President Bush in the White House and smile presidentially for the cameras on the White House lawn or wherever.

Or whatever. And these people call themselves patriots? Pulling one stunt after another on the American people with so much at stake, now and for the future? First Sarah Palin, and now trying to postpone the debate (and also the vice-presidential debate), but the plan didn't work. McCain has to slink back to Mississippi and face off with the next president of the United States, Barack Obama. Nice try, though.

Update: Well, I spoke too soon about Congress reaching an agreement, but I spoke correctly about McCain not contributing much to a resolution of the crisis. Read this analysis from the New York Times about McCain's failure to take any leadership role once he got to Washington, paralyzed between conservative and moderate factions of his own party.

War between the U.S. and Pakistan? Exchanges of fire, anyway. That's what the inept Bush administration strategy in Afghanistan has led to. Let's hope the Obama administration doesn't fall into the same trap.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Don't duck the debate, Barack!

McCain is trying to make a sucker out of you, call his bluff. This is a cheap political stunt, the country needs this debate badly and you should say so.

Photo: AP.

Update: Obama's response was brilliant, and even subtly but skillfully played the age card: “This is exactly the time when people need to hear from the candidates...Part of the president’s job is to deal with more than one thing at once. In my mind it’s more important than ever.”

No late papers accepted, McCain! So says my fellow journalism prof Marc Cooper.

Prosecutorial misconduct at Guantanamo... has led a prosecutor to quit, CNN reports. Read the whole story for yet more insights into the railroading of detainees.

And abuse at Bagram. The BBC interviews Afghan journalist Jawed Ahmad, who was held at the U.S. base for nearly a year and recently released.

Lies and lying liars update

Today's Salon features a story about the McCain campaign's alleged letter-to-the-editor ghostwriting operation, in two parts (click here and here.) Let's hope other reporters look into these incredible claims of bogus letters intended for publication in local newspapers, and confirm or debunk them. And if it is true, let's hope the word is spread far and wide. To their credit, most Americans don't like liars, nor campaigns based on lies--but the lies have to be exposed again and again for the message to sink in. Isn't strange how easy it is to make someone believe a lie, but how hard to make someone unbelieve it?

(With thanks to PK for alerting me to this story.)

Financial fiasco fallout. Seems to be falling Obama's way: Latest polls show him opening up a widening lead.

20,000 mark. This blog is also becoming increasingly popular, with another milestone reached today, 20,000 unique visitors since April. Thanks again to all readers, old and new.

Bailout satire. Dear American: I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude. I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you... (read the rest here.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A statement by Michael and Robert Meeropol about their parents Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

The Rosenbergs' two sons released a statement today in the wake of recent news stories about their parents, accused "atomic spies" Julius and Ethel. Please give it a read (with thanks to PG for bringing this to my attention):

September 23, 2008

On September 11th, the transcript covering testimony of 43 of the 46* witnesses who appeared in front of the Grand Jury investigating our parents in 1950-1951 was made public. (*Only a portion of the testimony of Harry Gold, a key prosecution witness, was made available, and legal efforts to date have failed to win the release of testimony of three other witnesses, including Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass, the most crucial witness in the case.)

This historic release of information coincided with an article that appeared on the same date in The New York Times interviewing Morton Sobell, our parents’ co-defendant. Ever since his arrest more than 50 years ago, Morton had maintained his innocence. But in last week’s interview he stated that he and Julius Rosenberg passed non-atomic military intelligence to the Soviets during World War II in an effort to help them defeat the Nazis. Morton has since written a letter to The New York Times clarifying the extent of his personal knowledge of our father’s activities.

We have received many inquiries seeking our reactions to these revelations. Now that we have read all 930 pages of Grand Jury testimony that have been released, and have had an opportunity to integrate this new information with the rest of the historical record, we are sharing the following reactions.

1) In 1975, we made our initial Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Government for all the materials in its possession pertaining to the investigation, arrests and executions of our parents, as well as all material related to Morton Sobell. In our press release announcing that FOIA request we stated, “The truth is more important than our personal political position.” We meant it. Though we believed then that this material would prove our parents’ and Morton’s innocence, we have always been willing to accept whatever the record showed.

2) Since the 1980’s we have maintained that it is possible that our father engaged in non-atomic espionage, but that there is no credible evidence that he participated in ANY activities that resulted in him obtaining or passing the “secret of the Atomic Bomb” to the Soviets. Morton’s statement, buttressed by his letter published in The New York Times on September 19th, 2008, moves us to acknowledge that Julius did, in fact, participate with others in passing along military information. But at the same time, we believe the still-evolving record makes it even clearer that Julius did not “steal” or transmit the “secret of the Atomic Bomb,” the crime for which he was executed.

3) The newly-released Grand Jury testimony provides several bombshells, three of which we outline below.

  • David and Ruth Greenglass, (our mother’s brother and sister-in-law), cooperated with the prosecution in exchange for no charges being brought against Ruth, and a comparatively light sentence for David. It was Ruth’s trial testimony that provided the one, key piece of evidence that led to our mother’s conviction and subsequent execution. In February 1951, months after the investigation began, Ruth made a new statement in which she reported (we say, “invented”), for the first time, the allegation that Ethel had typed David’s handwritten notes describing the Atomic Bomb. (Such an act would have made Ethel an active participant in the alleged spy ring.)

Confronted with Ruth’s revised statement, David then contradicted his earlier statement to the FBI in which he had denied our mother’s participation in any espionage activities. This sudden appearance, late in the investigation, of what turned out to be the key testimony against Ethel, is why the future release of David Greenglass’ Grand Jury testimony is crucial. Until that information becomes available, we will be left to wonder: Did David corroborate to the Grand Jury what he first told the FBI (that Ethel was not a participant in espionage activities)? Or did he tell the Grand Jury something about Ethel’s alleged involvement?

Obtaining the full record is essential, because both David and Ruth testified about the typing at the trial. In fact, in his summation to the jury, the prosecutor drove home the case against our mother by referencing Ethel’s alleged typing when he declared, “Just so had she on countless other occasions sat at that typewriter and struck the keys, blow by blow, against her own country in the interests of the Soviets.”

  • We now know that despite being a cooperative witness trying to remain in the prosecutor’s good graces by providing as much evidence as possible, Ruth’s Grand Jury testimony included NOTHING about Ethel ever typing any notes or even being present at the meeting involving the notes. Also, in a damning contradiction to her later trial testimony, Ruth stated that SHE, HERSELF hand-wrote the only notes and they described the buildings at Los Alamos not the Atomic Bomb.
  • The alleged meeting where the so-called “secret of the Atom Bomb sketch” was drawn, (Exhibit 8 at the trial), is not mentioned in Ruth’s testimony. Exhibit 8 was the main evidence for the government’s claim that, to quote the trial judge, “The conspiracy was successful with respect to the Atom Bomb secret.” If it is also absent from David’s Grand Jury testimony that will deal a crippling blow to the core of the government’s case against Ethel AND Julius.

4) All that we have learned in the last two weeks, coupled with all that we have gleaned from the information already available, reinforces the biggest lesson of our parents’ case: The U.S. Government abused its power in truly dangerous ways that are still very relevant today.

Those in power who were involved in our parents’ case:

  • Created and fueled anti-communist hysteria, then capitalized on that political climate by targeting our parents, and making them the focus of the public’s Cold War-era fear and anger
  • Manufactured testimony and evidence
  • Arrested Ethel simply as leverage to get Julius to cooperate with the prosecution – (her arrest occurred at a time when a Justice Department official asserted that there was not enough evidence to indict her)
  • Used the ultimate weapon— the threat of death—to try to extort a confession from our parents and force them to name and testify against others
  • Created the myth that there was a key “secret” of the Atomic Bomb, and then devised a strategy to make it appear that Julius had sought out and passed on that “secret”
  • Executed Julius when he refused to cooperate, despite knowing that the “secret” used to justify the death penalty was a prosecution-created fallacy
  • Executed Ethel when she refused to cooperate, despite knowing that she was not guilty of the charges and was not an active participant in ANY espionage activities.

And finally, the agencies and individuals involved in our parents’ case, systematically and emphatically covered-up and denied all these abuses.

Photo: The Rosenbergs in happier times/Meeropol family archives

President Dick Cheney

If you did not listen to Terry Gross' "Fresh Air" interview with Barton Gellman on NPR last week, I would urge you to take the trouble to do so--and to eventually read his new book, "Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency," which was the subject of the interview.

In the interview, Gellman provides a wealth of detail to support a conclusion that many of us had already reached: During the past 8 years, Dick Cheney has in effect been President of the United States. In one episode that Gellman relates, regarding cuts in capital gains taxes, Cheney actually sabotaged a decision that Bush had already arrived at; and Gellman also provides fresh new interviews and sources on how Cheney misled both the public and members of his own Republican Party on the justification for the war in Iraq.

I don't know about you, but I find it important to have the maximum amount of information even when I think I already know something. I thought I knew that Cheney had really been the President, but I know it even more now.

A good review of the Gellman book: By Tim Rutten in the September 24 Los Angeles Times.

Troopergate Update: CNN reports that a leading Alaskan Republican legislator says the investigation should go on, discounts charges that it is some sort of Democratic Party witch hunt.

Afghanistan is the new Iraq which is the new Vietnam

The New York Times has been listing the names of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq for several years now, and has just recently begun including those killed in "Operation Enduring Freedom" in Afghanistan. Note that so far this month, the death toll in Afghanistan has begun to outpace that in Iraq. As I said earlier, Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam; Afghanistan could turn out to be Barack Obama's (or John McCain's) Iraq.

September 23, 2008

Names of the Dead

The Department of Defense has identified 4,163 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war and 595 who have died as a part of Operation Enduring Freedom, which is centered in Afghanistan. It confirmed the deaths of the following Americans this month:


EDWARDS, Corry A., 38, Chief Warrant Officer, Army National Guard; Kennedale, Tex.; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

ESHBAUGH, Daniel M., 43, Sgt., Army National Guard; Norman, Okla.; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

MASON, Anthony L., 37, Staff Sgt., Army National Guard; Springtown, Tex.; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

ORDONEZ, Julio C., 54, First Sgt., Army National Guard; San Antonio; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

RUDOLF, Brady J., 37, Chief Warrant Officer, Army National Guard; Oklahoma City; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

THOMPSON, Michael E., 23, Cpl., Army National Guard; Harrah, Okla.; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

VALLEJO, Robert II, 28, Capt., Army National Guard; Richland Hills, Tex.; 36th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Enduring Freedom:

BELL, Jerome C. Jr., 29, Sgt., Marines; Auburn, N.Y.; First Marine Expeditionary Force.

FARLEY, Brandon W., 30, Staff Sgt., Army; Haworth, Okla.; First Infantry Division.

HARRIS, Joshua W., 21, Sgt., Army National Guard; Romeoville, Ill.; 122nd Field Artillery.

HAYS, Bruce E., 42, Capt., Army National Guard; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Wyoming Joint Forces Headquarters.

NAQVI, Mohsin A., 26, First Lt., Army; Newburgh, N.Y.; 11th Infantry.

RODRIGUEZ, Rodolfo I., 34, Maj., Air Force; El Paso; 86th Construction and Training Squadron.

VAZQUEZ, Jason A., 24, Staff Sgt., Army National Guard; Chicago; 122nd Field Artillery.

WILEY, James L., 46, Lt. Col., Army National Guard; North Bend, Ore.; 27th Brigade Combat Team.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Day the Momentum Changed

Just back from Pittsburgh today and lots to catch up with, so I am directing my loyal readers to today's series of posts on The Huffington Post. The financial crisis has put Obama and the Democrats in a situation that must be handled, as the Wicked Witch of the East (or was it the West?) put it re the impending death of Dorothy, "del-i-cate-ly." At the same time the Republicans, in their exquisite dishonesty, are falsely accusing Obama and the Democrats of wanting to raise taxes on the middle class, the Bush administration wants Congress to unquestioningly and without conditions pass a bailout plan that will guarantee taxes will have to be raised on everyone sooner or later. And anyone who objects to being strong-armed into basically saving the capitalist class from its greed and errors will of course be accused of endangering the livelihoods and future of the average American. A time for leadership, to be sure.

The Huffington Post

The Daily Brief

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The Day the Momentum Changed



Drew Westen: With a four-point lead that means little, the game isn't over yet. The next potential game-changer is his first debate with John McCain, and what he needs to do in the debates is precisely what he has not done thus far in that format, and what no Democrat other than Bill Clinton has done effectively in decades: to connect with voters in a way that makes them feel like they know and share his values, feel confident that he will keep them and their families safe, and will do right by people like them. Click here to read more.

Jared Bernstein: Watching History Unfold

You hear that implosion reverberating through financial markets? It's the sound of decades of conservative ideology collapsing. Last week revealed the myth of market fundamentalism.

Robert L. Borosage: Financial Crisis: Time for a Citizens' Plan?

These demands will be met with howls of outrage, a renting of pinstripes. It will require a Congress, lathered with Wall Street contributions, to insist on a deal that makes sense.

Hale "Bonddad" Stewart: The Death of Republican Philosophy

Simply put, this week has demonstrated a key point -- when the going gets tough, the Republicans become socialists.

Sen. Bernie Sanders: The Middle Class Must Not Be Forced to Bail Out Wall Street Greed

This proposal is an unacceptable attempt to force middle income families to pick up the cost of fixing the horrendous economic mess that is the product of the Bush administration's deregulatory fever and Wall Street's insatiable greed.

Leonce Gaiter: Every Man For Himself, Said The Elephant Among The Chickens

Andrew Sullivan says he believes in "personal responsibility." But like most conservatives, he only believes in it for proles. Money buys morality in today's America--just like it buys administrations.

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McCain gets smart. I hate to say it, but he is making the right noises about the bailout, and taking a very different tack than George W. Bush. The economic crisis could end up being a wash for the Obama and McCain campaigns. If so, be worried, be very worried.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fire out of Africa

In this week's issue of Science, I report the latest evidence on the early use of fire:

Just when our ancestors began lighting their own fires rather than letting nature do it is one of archaeology's burning questions.

In 2004, Israeli archaeologists at the ancient hominid site of Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (GBY) in Israel, first occupied 790,000 years ago, convinced many experts that hominids living there had mastered fire, pushing back previously accepted dates by a half-million years. Now a member of that team has evidence that fire was controlled during the entire 100,000-year occupation of GBY.

Nira Alperson-Afil of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem analyzed the distribution of burned and unburned pieces of flint from eight occupational levels, looking for evidence of "phantom hearths": fireplaces obliterated by time but whose locations are indicated by debitage from the toolmakers who gathered around them.

Although only about 2% of the flint at the site is burned, Alperson-Afil found clusters where at least half the flint was burnt--revealed by pinhead-sized bubbles called "potlidding"--in each of the eight levels, she reports online this month in Quaternary Science Reviews.

The GBY hominids made tools belonging to the Acheulian cultural tradition, which arose in Africa about 1.6 million years ago. Ralph Rowlett, a prehistorian at the University of Missouri, Columbia, says that the study offers persuasive evidence that not only tools but mastery of fire was probably part of the "cultural package" of hominids who settled in the Near East after migrating from Africa.

Photo: Photodisc

It ain't over yet

A lot of Obama supporters are breathing sighs of relief that the polls, reflecting concerns about the bungled economy, are swinging back towards Obama after lurching heavily towards McCain-Palin in the weeks after the Republican convention. But I think we have to stop and think about what this really means. People who are clear in their heads about where they stand politically have known who they are supporting for many months now. The swings in poll numbers reflect the so-called "undecided" voters.

But who are the undecided voters in this election? I hate to say this, but I suspect that in large part they are the stupid, the confused, the gullible, and the ignorant. As I argued in an earlier post, entitled "It's the stupidity, stupid," stupidity is actually a choice in life rather than an inherent quality. Of course, that means it is a choice that can be changed, and the swing to Obama could reflect many people finally getting smart at last. But don't count on it. As Frank Rich points out in an important column in today's New York Times, there are still many ways that McCain-Palin could win. Obama needs a huge lead going into voting day; if the poll numbers are still very close the week before, I would be very worried indeed--not only because of the stupidity factor, but because there are still just too many voters looking for an excuse not to vote for a Black man (the so-called Bradley Effect.)

As I have said before, this election is about the economy, Iraq, women's rights, and a whole host of other issues, but most fundamentally it is about whether Americans are going to get in touch with their inner smart persons at long last.

Things turning frosty for Palin. In Alaska, that is, where many citizens are wondering why the McCain campaign is taking over the state, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The surge won't work in Afghanistan (it didn't work in Iraq either.) These issues are explored by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The McCain mutiny

Admit it, with the Obama-McCain debate coming up in less than a week, aren't you secretly hoping that McCain will have a meltdown? You know, lash out in anger, have a senior moment, get totally confused (like he did the other day when he thought Spain was in the Western Hemisphere)--sort of the way Captain Queeg did on the witness stand in "The Caine Mutiny"?

Well, I am. And there is plenty of precedent, one of the most famous episodes being his calling a high school student "a little jerk" for asking if he was too old to be president. And remember, this is the guy who will have his hair-trigger finger on the nuclear button.

It might be too much to hope that McCain will show us who he really is next Friday, but nevertheless I am hoping for it. I like suspense, but not during presidential elections--the sooner it's over the happier I will be.

Photo: Humphrey Bogart as Captain Queeg.

Pittsburgh pit stop

I've been pretty busy the past few days with teaching and laughing my head off over the Republican presidential candidate promising to clean up Wall Street, so little time for blogging. And now I am in Pittsburgh (one of America's most under-rated cities, with one of the world's greatest symphony orchestras--now in the talented hands of Manfred Honeck, who led a terrific debut concert yesterday evening) for a long weekend, seeing friends and colleagues.

But I will be back to blogging on Monday, if not sooner. A very pleasant weekend to everyone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Welcome to Catalhoyuk

I've just noticed that a video shown in the visitor's center at the 9500 year old early farming site of Catalhoyuk in Turkey--the subject of my book "The Goddess and the Bull" (available in both hardback and paperback)--is now available on YouTube. The beautifully-voiced narrator is Shahina Farid, the project's field director. (The music is nice too.)

Once you finish watching this video, click below the replay screen for a number of other videos about Catalhoyuk and related topics.

Archaeology in danger: According to this report, the proposed Rosemont copper mine near Tucson, Arizona could harm archaeological sites in the area.

It's the economy, stupid, but... (how the Democrats have blown this election, and how they might be able to get it back.)

Like most Obama supporters, I have been aghast to see the national polls swing from a comfortable lead for Obama to an undeniable lead for McCain in just a couple of weeks. And it is beginning to look like more than just a post-convention "bounce": While we should not take the polls too seriously, nor panic as a result of them, something serious is clearly going on--something that could lead to Obama's defeat in November.

Of course, many of us are hoping, or even assuming, that the current Wall Street crash will wake voters up to the fact that it is the Republicans who drove the economy into the ditch over the past 8 years; and McCain's gaffes about "strong fundamentals" should, or could, help. And it is hard to believe that the majority of Americans would prefer the aging, fumbling, uncharismatic and Bush-tainted McCain to the young, dynamic, and future-oriented Obama. While some think that race is a factor, I somehow doubt it is playing much of a role--certainly not enough to account for the major mood swings in the American electorate.

No, I think something else is behind this. This is just a theory, and I can't prove it, but I suspect that many Americans are having doubts not just about Obama himself, but about the Democratic Party and its ability to lead and take strong action in times of crisis--including economic crisis.

Why might they think this? Because despite polls showing that the economy is the number one concern of voters right now, the Democrats have failed to pass the test voters gave them in November 2006 when they became a majority in Congress: The test to see whether they would really end the war in Iraq and bring the troops home. The Democrats failed this test, and they failed it miserably. Oh, there were plenty of excuses. They didn't have a big enough majority to cut funding, Americans were against a precipitous pullout, etc. And yet the great majority of Americans were in favor of beginning to withdraw troops two years ago--but the troops are still there, in greater numbers than before.

The Democrats could have ended the war by courageously refusing to introduce funding for it in the House of Representatives, where all spending bills must begin. They could have held firm, and explained their position to the American people; and then, when the Bush administration realized they were serious, the Democrats could have negotiated with the White House, from a position of strength, to provide enough money to support the troops with whatever they needed while the withdrawal took place. Why didn't they do this? Because Democrats got spooked by accusations that they would be willing to leave the troops abandoned in Iraq with no funds, a ridiculous idea with no foundation. And so what did they do? The Democrats abandoned the troops in Iraq to the whims of the Bush administration, and at the same time abandoned their own credibility. Let me repeat that: Because they were afraid of being accused of abandoning the troops, the Democrats abandoned the troops.

A Barack Obama and a Democratic Party that had successfully gotten us out of Iraq by the time of this election would have been a presidential candidate and a party that had proven it could take leadership at a time of crisis and get things done. Instead, we have a presidential candidate who is easily accused of being a great speechmaker, a talker rather than a doer. And it may sound crazy, and it may sound stupid, but John McCain, and even Sarah Palin, are successfully competing against that image and that reality--like it or not.

So what is to be done? It's time for Obama, and the Democrats, to talk about Iraq and the economy in the same breath--because the disastrous decision to go to war and the economic disaster we are facing are inextricably linked. Obama and the Democrats must stop avoiding the topic of Iraq, which they have been doing as much as possible during this campaign--perhaps realizing that their failure to end it is a strike against them--and make it an issue again. Starting with the presidential debate on September 26, if not sooner.

McCain's fundamentals: Michael Shear has a good history of his deregulation stance in the Washington Post, for those who want to be well-informed at the next dinner party. And the International Herald Tribune covers the international perspective on the AIG bailout; in essence, the U.S. is no longer in a position to preach to others about the free market.

Light relief department: Our gal Sarah (with thanks to PK for the link.)

Obama's new ad on the economy: It makes the link with Iraq very briefly at the end, and offers concrete proposals--but is too sedate and does not attack McCain head on for his Republican economic policies, which are directly responsible for the crisis.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

America's concentration camps

A note from Rick Pettigrew, head of The Archaeology Channel:

Friends and colleagues: Historical archaeology takes on special relevance and visibility when it covers times and events of unique importance to the public. The tragedy of Japanese-American internment camps in World War II still touches the nerves of Americans—especially Japanese-Americans—today, as you will note when you see Camp Amache, the latest video feature on our nonprofit streaming-media Web site, The Archaeology Channel (

Camp Amache in Southeastern Colorado was one of 10 War Relocation Authority, or internment, camps where US authorities forced Japanese-Americans to live after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II. Home to nearly 7,300 internees from 1942 to 1945, it now is a National Historic Landmark. In 2008, Dr. Bonnie Clark of the University of Denver led a field school at the site, which is threatened by bottle-collecting and cattle-grazing. One highlight of the season was a visit by a former internee who found there a poignant memento of his past.

This and other programs are available on TAC for your use and enjoyment. We urge you to support this public service by participating in our Membership ( and Underwriting ( programs. Only with your help can we continue and enhance our nonprofit public-education and visitor-supported programming. We also welcome new content partners as we reach out to the world community.

Please forward this message to others who may be interested and let us know if you wish to be removed from our mailing list.

Richard M. Pettigrew, Ph.D., RPA
President and Executive Director
Archaeological Legacy Institute

Photo: Camp Amache, Colorado/Dept of Defense

Troopergate Update: Some important insights into the transmogrification of the bipartisan investigation into an alleged Democratic Party witch hunt, by Les Gara on The Huffington Post.

Dog shit DNA: According to the BBC, authorities in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, are creating a DNA database so they can trace dog owners who don't clean up after their pets. Now that's putting science to work for the public good.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bette Davis goes postal

This particular event is for us in Boston, but the stamp will of course be launched nationwide.

Speaking of the film world, I saw the Coen brothers "Burn After Reading" yesterday. A few chuckles, but definitely not their best work--as many critics have pointed out. I think the brothers need to chuck most of the big stars out of their comedies (except for Frances McDormand, of course) and get a fresh start with fresh faces. You can almost see them yukking it up on the set in between takes. Otherwise they could end up going the way of Woody Allen--you've got to go see the films, but mostly for nostalgia's sake.

PS--Brad Pitt was great, of course.

Here's a better film: Of a talk by primatologist Jane Goodall.

More culture: Thanks to a post by Ken Blanchard on the superb blog Jazz Note SDP, I've just discovered the great alto sax player Sonny Criss. He sadly took his own life in 1977, a real loss, but his music lives on as they say. Criss Update: I left a comment on Ken's site thanking him for the Criss tip, and he responded with the following very interesting comment:

Thank you, Michael.

I just downloaded Saturday Morning, the fourth Criss recording I have added to my collection. It is another gem, in addition to the three that I mention on my post.

I had never heard of Criss until recently, either. You might check out my post on the Penguin Guide to Jazz. It is my jazz Bible. Also, eMusic has all four of the Criss discs I mention. If you don't know this service, it is a lot cheaper than iTunes. The catalog they have is awesome.

Culture in mourning: A second founding member of Pink Floyd, keyboardist Richard Wright, has died, CNN and other news outlets report. Syd Barrett also died, in 2006. Wright co-wrote one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs, "Us and Them," from the "Dark Side of the Moon" album. Here it is:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Palin punditry

Please give me a break. A number of pundits are now saying that Sarah Palin was confused by Charlie Gibson's question asking her to define the "Bush Doctrine" because actually there have been four different Bush doctrines over the years (the link given is just one of many such efforts to leap to Palin's defense.) If that had been true, her response would have been "Which one of the four Bush doctrines do you mean, Charlie?" rather than what she really said, which was "In what respect, Charlie?" and then a moment later asking if he meant Bush's "worldview."

As Bob Herbert pointed out in his column today, she couldn't answer the question because she didn't understand the question. You know, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig--and you can take an inexperienced, ignorant Republican ideologue and make her a vice-presidential candidate, but she's still an inexperienced, ignorant Republican ideologue. But as the New York Times editorialized today, this is really about McCain and his judgement:

If he seriously thought this first-term governor — with less than two years in office — was qualified to be president, if necessary, at such a dangerous time, it raises profound questions about his judgment. If the choice was, as we suspect, a tactical move, then it was shockingly irresponsible.

I would go further and say that this is also about McCain's patriotism. If you really loved your country as much as he claims to, wouldn't you choose someone unquestionably qualified to be president as your running mate--rather than leave the nation in the hands of an unqualified individual in case you died in office, which the actuarial tables say McCain has an excellent chance of doing? What kind of patriot would resort to political gimmickry to get elected, when so much is at stake?

Fortunately, Palin's lack of experience, and the ongoing ethics investigation in Alaska (which is not going away any time soon), will keep both McCain and Palin on the hot seat for the rest of the campaign--no matter how much they try to lie their way out of it.

Punditry that's more to the point: From James Fallows at the Atlantic, about why it matters whether Palin knows what the Bush Doctrine is or not. And from Glenn Greenwald, a Bush Doctrine primer.

More thoughts: A lot has been made about the relative "inexperience" of both Palin and Obama, the latter being, of course, only a first-term Senator and the former being only a first-term governor. But in Obama's case, it is not just his experience that counts, it is his experiences--the kind of life he has lived and the influences he has been exposed to, which have made him wiser about the world than pretty much any other potential president in my lifetime. If you have not yet read "Dreams From My Father", don't read it; get the audio CD and listen to Obama read it aloud, an experience that will give you greater insight into the man than any of the nonsense we are hearing during this campaign, including what we hear from the Obama campaign itself.

Palin line of the day, from Dick Cavett: "I wince and feel for her over the reports of how she is being tutored, guided and taught in marathon cram sessions of what might be called a crash course in Instant Experience 101. There’s something almost funny in the idea that she is being speedily stuffed, Strasbourg-goose-style, with knowledge she should have had before she was selected."

Nervous Nellies: Historian Andrew Hunt posts a very clear-headed piece about panic in Democratic ranks and how to deal with it--the Obama way.

The Masters of War: According to a front-page article in Sunday's (Sept 14) New York Times, U.S. arms sales are up, way up--"the Department of Defense has agreed so far this fiscal year to sell or transfer more than $32 billion in weapons and other military equipment to foreign governments, compared with $12 billion in 2005." Read the article to get the list of buyers, including a number of new clients such as Argentina, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, India, Iraq, Morocco and Pakistan--places to watch for the world's future wars. And then listen to the Bob Dylan song again.

More lies: CNN reports today (Sept 14) that the McCain campaign is planning to run another dishonest ad, this time about Obama's record on immigration reform. As the CNN story points out, the voting record of both candidates on the most recent immigration reform legislation is identical.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

O Jerusalem!

"Enough of the Jerusalem Mantra." That's the title of a guest commentary on the Washington Post/Newsweek "PostGlobal" site by Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem attorney and founder of the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, which works for "an equitable and stable Jerusalem with an agreed political future." Seidemann, an American who took Israeli citizenship 35 years ago, writes that he has a unique stake in the American presidential election:

Because like in past elections, the candidates and their surrogates are trying to use me - my life, my city - to score points with voters, bolster their pro-Israel credentials, and attack their opponent.

How? By insisting, in both party platforms, that Jerusalem is the "undivided" capital of Israel, even if the Democratic Party platform adds in a contradictory way that its final status is subject to peace negotiations. But, says Seidemann,

Almost eight years ago, at Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Barak put Jerusalem on the negotiating table, decisively shattering the Jerusalem mantra. And all the "armchair-Zionists" in the American Jewish community, hunkered down in the bunkers of previous wars, and all the self-proclaimed "Christian Zionists," who secretly aspire to turn Jerusalem into an Armageddon theme park, can't put it back together. This game-changing move led to the recognition that the only path to resolving this conflict is a two-state solution involving the political division of Jerusalem, with Jewish neighborhoods becoming the capital of Israel, and Arab neighborhoods becoming the capital of Palestine.

And he concludes:

Israelis appreciate the Democratic and Republican parties' support for Jerusalem as our capital. But this support is hollow. Only with the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital will Israelis enjoy the crowning achievement of Zionism: universal recognition of West Jerusalem, Yerushalayim, as our capital, emblematic of the unconditional acceptance of the Jewish State among the family of nations.

I have argued before on this blog that many Israeli leaders have made suckers out of American Jews and other American supporters of Israel over the question of Jerusalem, a city that has grown over the past decades by annexation after annexation and now spreads far, far beyond the boundaries of the ancient capital of Israel. And yet too many Jews act as if every square inch of the modern city were somehow sacred, Biblical ground. The very notion that East Jerusalem should be part of Israel is meant to obscure and obfuscate the theft of Palestinian lands by the Israelis. That is why I and many others were so disappointed when Barack Obama went before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and repeated this mantra, one of his first (but not last) acts of blatant pandering to a particular consistuency. One can only hope that a President Obama would see things more clearly once he is in office.

There's a big world out there department: While we have been worrying about lipsticks on pigs, the people of Haiti are struggling to survive the effects of Hurricane Ike. On yesterday's edition of the progressive radio/TV show "Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman devoted a great deal of the program to the relief efforts there, which are not very impressive. Please give the show a listen.

You can fool half of the people all of the time: An interesting read from Bob Cesca at The Huffington Post about the current state of electoral affairs.

Lying liars update: New York Times reporter Larry Rohter does a nice job of debunking the McCain sex education attack ad against Obama in today's paper ("Ad on Sex Education Distorts Obama Policy.") As I said in the previous post, the news media does seem to be taking the attitude that lying is itself a news story--giving hope that McCain will not be able to get away with it in the end.

End of the world department: With the Large Hadron Collider up and running, we journalists are closely monitoring the danger it might be posing to our planet and the universe at large. For regular updates, please click on this link:

Photo: RomKri

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Lies, lies, lies, and more lies--the media's responsibilities

As I don't need to tell many readers of this blog, the level of dishonesty of the McCain-Palin campaign has already reached heights previously unscaled by even the sleaziest of politicians past. The latest example, a McCain-approved ad declaring that Obama wants to provide sex education to kids before they can read, is nicely taken apart by Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo.

There are also indications that at least some mainstream media outlets are seeing the dissemination of lies as itself a news story in which "objective" or "fair and balanced" reporting requires them to actually point out the contradictions (and the Obama campaign has begun to rise to the occasion as well.) For example, both CNN and MSNBC ran repeated stories throughout the day yesterday pointing out that Palin was for the "bridge to nowhere" before she was against it, and today Washington Post writer Jonathan Weisman pens a story examining the "outright lies" spread by the campaign. Readers of this blog have no doubt seen many other examples which I hope they will share with us.

As the lies are exposed, the McCain-Palin campaign will increasingly make the allegedly "liberal media" into a campaign issue as well. Let them do it. When a presidential candidate and his running mate try to lie their way into office, that's news--big news.

(With thanks to Marc Cooper for alerting us to the Talking Points Memo link.)

Addendum: Paul Begala raises similar points on The Huffington Post. And John Neffinger says this is Obama's "Dukakis Moment": He must respond to the sex education ad or lose the respect of the American people.

"Troopergate" Update: Newsweek reports that a judge had to warn Sarah Palin and her family about publicly disparaging her former brother-in-law during the ongoing custody battle because of the possible effect on the children involved, calling it a form of "child abuse."

Lipstick Update: If the lipstick sticks, wear it. And great to hear Obama calling the McCain-Palin people liars to their faces, in an excellent--and I hope widely reported--response today.

Perils of Palin Panic: The Los Angeles Times reports today that "some Democrats" are worried about the possible negative effects of attacking Palin too strongly, fearing that this will engender sympathy for her. The biggest worriers tend to be the kind of Democrats who thought that self-effacement was somehow a good campaign strategy for Gore and Kerry--in other words, the Democrats whose wisdom lost both of those elections. Stay the course!

A new, more feisty Obama: I like what I am reading in this article in today's (ie Sep 11) Los Angeles Times, particularly the news that Obama is making the Supreme Court's habeas corpus decision a campaign issue.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Killer brownies!

As regular readers know, yours truly is a former regular contributor to Bon Appetit magazine, and I still keep in touch with the old gang. Here is the latest news you can really use.


1/ cook: new for fall
The days are getting cooler, and here at we're celebrating with a new batch of hearty main courses like Texas Beef Brisket Chili, Cornbread-Stuffed Cornish Game Hens, and Cheesy Baked Penne with Cauliflower and Crème Fraîche.

2/ blog:
bridget's brownies

According to Project Recipe blogger Bridget Moloney, even jaded brownie devotees will swoon when they take a bite of the Chocolate Brownies with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting from The Bon Appétit Top 100. Find out how to make them—and read Bridget's suggestions for tweaking the recipe.
3/ watch:
cooking with apples

Got apples? It's that time of year again, and we have all the recipes you'll need in our Sweet and Savory Apple slide show—from Apple, Potato, and Onion Gratin to Apple and Pomegranate Tarte Tatin.
4/ buy:
green cleaning

The Parsley Plus spray cleaner by Earth Friendly Products uses chemical-free cleaning agents to make your kitchen smell like an herb garden—and it actually works! Now you can enjoy fresh scented, squeaky-clean surfaces without all those harmful ingredients.
by kids, for kids

Quirky stationery company Bob's Your Uncle has just released Dinosaur Soup, an adorable notebook-sized collection of "recipes" written by children. With dishes like Triple Bipple Muffins and Special Strawberry Pie, what aspiring cook could say no?

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