Archive for May, 2009

Making good on Kerouac’s promise

I remember as a teenager reading this account of a George Shearing concert , in Jack Kerouac’s classic “On the Road:”

Dean and I went to see Shearing at Birdland in the midst of the long, mad weekend. The place was deserted, we were the first customers, ten o’clock. Shearing came out, blind, led by the hand to his keyboard. He was a distinguished-looking Englishman with a stiff white collar, slightly beefy, blond, with a delicate English-summer’s-night air about him that came out in the first rippling sweet number he played as the bass-player leaned to him reverently and thrummed the beat. The drummer, Denzil Best, sat motionless except for his wrists snapping the brushes. And Shearing began to rock; a smile broke over his ecstatic face; he began to rock in the piano seat, back and forth, slowly at first, then the beat went up, and he began rocking fast, his left foot jumped up with every beat, his neck began to rock crookedly, he brought his face down to the keys, he pushed …

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Obama hosts a ‘Muslim summit’? Oh my!

I don’t know if Obama will be able to put this together; at this point the plans seem a little vague. But it’s a good idea, and it would really drive certain folks over the brink:

From the Washington Times:

“Obama, who will travel to Egypt next month to give a major speech to the Muslim world, told Wolffe he wants to convene a “Muslim summit.”

“If I had a Muslim summit, I think that I can speak credibly to them about the fact that I respect their culture,” Obama said, “that I understand their religion, that I have lived in a Muslim country, and as a consequence I know it is possible to reconcile Islam with modernity and respect for human rights and a rejection of violence. And I think I can speak with added credibility.”

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Here’s the data on global warming

The chart on the left — from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies — traces the annual mean global temperature from 1880 to 2008. The line marked “0″ represents the mean for the base years of 1951-80.
That’s pretty compelling evidence of what is happening to the Earth. Some individual years might be cooler than the previous year, just as some individual days each spring are cooler than the previous day, but as in spring, the overall trend is crystal clear.
However, I also want to use that data to make an additional point.
Given the extremely complex nature of climate, it is impossible to “prove” that a specific factor caused a specific climatic effect. Even if the climate changes exactly as the computer models now predict, scientists 100 years from now won’t be able to state beyond a shadow of a doubt that greenhouse gases caused that change. All they will be able to say with scientific honesty and certainty is that the change was consistent with greenhouse …

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A compelling account of U.S. soldiers under fire

A little more than a month ago, the New York Times ran a startling first-person account of an ambush of U.S. personnel in Afghanistan. It was probably the most compelling such account I’ve read of action in the post-9/11 fighting. It was reported by C.J. Shivers, with photography by Tyler Hicks. Both were traveling with the Army unit when it was attacked.

Hicks has since posted a narrated slide show of the attack, along with video and other material. A U.S. soldier, Pfc. Richard Dewater, was killed in the attack.

With Memorial Day weekend upon us, take a few moments and share, as much as possible, in what some of our folks in uniform are going through.

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Dick Cheney and torture

Here is the key paragraph from today’s speech by former Vice President Dick Cheney:

“I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.”

Let’s count the lies here, shall we?

“The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed.” By the sworn testimony of Ali Soufan, an FBI agent who conducted initial interrogations under normal interrogation techniques, that is wrong. Soufan told Congress that standard techniques were working very well until he was ordered by superiors to step aside to allow abusive techniques, which then failed.

“They were legal, essential, …

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Poythress calls the secessionists’ bluff

David Poythress, former Georgia labor commissioner and secretary of state and now Democratic candidate for governor, is trying to make an issue out of Republican support for the concept of secession. Good for him. If this video is any evidence, he may actually succeed.

I do have my problems with the video. Poythress also served as head of the Georgia National Guard, attaining the rank of major general, and he clearly intends to ride that service record hard. That’s smart politics, and it’s fine. But in the video Poythress uses that as a cudgel, belittling his opponents who did not wear the uniform and suggesting they somehow have less right to speak out and perform the duties of a citizen. That’s just wrong, and it’s as contradictory to American values as the secession talk he condemns.

On the matter of secession, however, Poythress has it exactly right. Four of the six GOP candidates for governor, including the three frontrunners, have voiced support for the concept. And …

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As California goes ….

California voters have managed to dodge reality for a long, long time. They insist on a lot of state services; they insist on artificially low taxes. And they have used the state’s overly lax voter-referendum system to get both.

Now it’s about to end. The state faces a $21 billion deficit, it has basically maxed out on its debt load and yesterday voters rejected a hodgepodge of ballot questions that would have allowed the charade to continue a little bit longer.

The Terminator says he has received his orders and is ready to act:

“Saying California voters delivered a message to “go all out” in cutting government spending, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday promised to whack $21.3 billion out of the state’s budget, making severe reductions in education, health care and law enforcement.

“We tried to not make those kind of cuts, but now we have to,” the Republican governor told reporters in Washington. “There’s no other choice. I think the message was clear from the people: …

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There’s more than one movie in the King family

I see where Steven Spielberg has signed a deal for movie rights to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And once again, the deal has touched off public feuding among King’s three surviving children. Dexter cut the deal on his own; Martin III and Bernice say it was arranged without their knowledge and consent, and they’re pledging to fight it.

On a commercial project like this, selling the rights to King’s words and stories strikes me as entirely appropriate. It’s not like charging for the right to use King’s words on a national memorial to the assassinated hero, which is an act of such chutzpah that it still boggles the mind.

But personally, I think this is the wrong movie, by the wrong moviemaker. I’m sure Spielberg will make a fine, respectful, very moving film about King’s life and contributions. There’s an awful lot there. But I’m thinking that a more commercial movie would focus on the three dysfunctional children of, say, a much-revered, almost saintly world-famous …

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Airline passengers are people, not cargo

I’ve been stuck in a plane for an hour or longer, waiting for takeoff, and it wasn’t any fun. The fact that airlines have the legal power to keep you on that plane, on the runway, within sight of the terminal, for four, five six or nine hours if it suits their needs is just ridiculous. If you complain too loudly, they have you arrested.

That has to change, but it seems unlikely anytime soon.

From a press release from

“Legislation scheduled to come before the House of Representatives this week would let commercial airlines themselves decide how long to force passengers to remain in their aircraft on the tarmac, according to Kate Hanni, Executive Director of, America’s largest consumer organization representing airline passengers.

“The Federal Aviation Administration bill is cleared for takeoff, but passengers have been left at the gate,” charged Hanni, who is concerned that “the bill gives the airlines the legal authority to keep us stranded …

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Somebody get Harry Reid a stiff drink

From AP:

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama’s allies in the Senate will not provide funds to close the Guantanamo Bay prison until the administration comes up with a satisfactory plan for transferring the detainees held there, top Democrats said Tuesday. And in a further break with Obama, the Senate’s top Democrat said he opposes transferring any Guantanamo prisoners to the United States for their trials or to serve their sentences. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said 50 to 100 Guantanamo detainees may be transferred to U.S. facilities.

“I can’t make it any more clear,” Reid said. “We will never allow terrorists to be released in the United States.”

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said Obama’s plan to close Guantanamo is not dead — only that the funding will have to wait until the administration devises an acceptable plan to handle the closure and transfer the detainees. Obama has promised to close the military prison by January.

“The administration has not come up …

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