Monday, October 31, 2005

So Wise in the Ways of Science

So, the word on the street now is that Pluto has three moons, rather than the one that had previously (1978. This discovery that Pluto had a moon came as quite a blow to me, really shaking up my world view. All through grade school, junior high (no middle school for me), and high school, Pluto was one of three moonless planets. You come to count of such facts. Then, just a year out of high school, I find that, oh, what we've been telling you all these years about Pluto being moon-less just wasn't right. Suddenly I found myself having to question all of the truths I'd been taught, wondering just what value there is to all those years of education if they're going to start changing the facts as soon as you get out. You can just imagine how later finding that Neptune was sometimes beyond the orbit of Pluto affected me) been reported.

This discovery is cause for no small amount of excitement among Plutopian partisans, who have quite frankly been pretty aprehensive about the possibility that their beloved orb might be downgraded from its deservedly shaky planetary status. Though admittedly small as moons go, each estimated to be between 30 and 100 miles across, these additional satellites give the sometimes 8th and other times 9th farthest planet something of a leg up on old Earth which, as most of you probably know and many of the rest probably suspect, has but the one moon. For a little perspective, however, I have to point out that while other planets are compelled, whether by nature or law I couldn't say, to name their moons, earth's moon is known simply as "the moon." I don't think any other argument is needed to establish the primacy of our moon. And if we have the best moon, it stands to reason that we need have no worries about our status as a planet being challenged. Pluto, being about the size of Rhode Island (or something) needed something to reassure itself. Latching on to two new moons may be just what it needs to stay in the club.

There's your astronomy lesson for the night.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Well, It's Not Rove Being Frog-Marched, But I'll Take It

The most succinct rundown of the Libby indictments that I've found is here, by Kevin Drum.

Unless Scooter was acting on his own, which seems unlikely in as tightly controlled and Machiavellian a White House as this, where the simplest answer is the least likely, Libby's just the first domino to fall. Beyond that, I don't have anything else to say about this. After waiting for this for more than two years, I'm just pleased, and somewhat surprised, to have an indictment.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

On the Other Side of the Reality Divide

Further proof that while the world we live and work in is reality-based, theirs, well, isn't.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Grand Plan

I'm not sure why, but this entry by The Editors brings to mind what seems to have been plan for implementing the PNAC's vision for remaking the Mid-East:
1. Invade Iraq
2. ???
3. Flowering Democracy Throughout the Region

(with apologies and thanks to South Park and its progenitors)

Sunday, October 23, 2005

No on California's Prop 75

I have a post up over at NorCal Politics on Proposition 75. I thought about cross-posting it here, but that would just be silly, so just click, zoom through the ethernet, and read it there. Then you can come back here if you want.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Oh Christ; Not McCarver

I love baseball and I tried to watch the World Series game tonight between the White Sox and that National League Team, but I swear to God, Fox's coverage seems designed to make people find something else to do. My biggest problem is the noise. I can forgive them completely missing Joe Crede's home run while they showed a prerecorded interview with Houston's pitching coach, because lord knows when you expand the time between innings from 2 minutes to 3 minutes so you can sell more commercial time, you'd better use that time to sell commercials, so those fascinating prercorded bits have to be shown while the game is actually in progress. Those things happen, okay? But the noise; there's no excuse for that. Every time they show a replay, which they do for each pitch, it's preceded and followed by a whooshing sound. Every time a runner scores, the TV makes a little ping. On some pitches, but not on all, I don't think, they put in an artificial crescendo. On really fast pitches, they have this "cute" little flash of artificial flame at the top of the screen, to show us that that baby was really smoking. It's like they think baseball is a freaking pinball game.

And then there are the announcers. That Buck fellow (Jim? Jeff? Jerry?), he's not exceptionally offensive, but then I'm probably grading him on a curve, comparing him favorably to his companion in the booth, Tim McCarver. The big thing with McCarver is that there's nothing he says once that he doesn't see the need to say six more times. And there's nothing that pops into his little head that he doesn't think is worth saying, no matter how remotely related it might be to what's happening in the game, or even to baseball itself. He somehow managed to mention the Edsel tonight. I couldn't even try to tell you how that was relevant, even from his perspective. And then there's his voice. He talks as though every once in awhile somebody randomly steps on his left nut, placing emphasis on words and syllables that most of us normally wouldn't. That's on top of his already annoying high pitched voice and Jethro Bodine accent.

Anyway, no more World Series for me this year. That's bad enough, but we're already having another year without pro football here in the Bay Area and although the Warriors finished last season on a high note, filling us with hope for this coming year, I just know that they did this only to find a fresh way to disappoint us with what I'm sure they can turn into another dismal season. It can be tough to be a sports fan, you know it? It's almost enough to make one go out and get a life.

GM and Ford Losses; How Could This Have Happened?

Just days after General Motors announced that its catastrophic financial performance would result in massive restructuring of the company, Ford Motor Company earlier this week reported that its North American Division has suffered a $1.2 billion third quarter loss and Ford too would restructure beginning in January, resulting in job cuts and plant closings. What has brought about these tremendous financial losses for Ford and GM? The Washington Post reports that Ford attributes it to "the future arriving faster than the automaker had anticipated because of the sharp rise in fuel prices."

Yes, those sharply rising fuel prices must have really taken these auto execs by surprise. Who could ever have foreseen a sharp rise in fuel prices in a world where most of the petroleum extraction takes place in a region torn apart by war and acts of terrorism, in a world in which the nation with the largest population has undertaken a massive industrialization program resulting in a blossoming of its use of petroleum products, and where the nation that uses the largest share of the worlds petroleum has a large share of its refineries in a region beset by hurricanes? Yes, in a world like that, these auto execs have staked their companies futures over the last few years to the sale of gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks, displaying the kind of vision that up to now I had thought was reserved for the Bush Administration.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Bush in Free Fall

If you liked dancing skeletons, this is right up your alley. It's really kind of a lava lamp.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Another Toy

A dancing skeleton. To "That's Amore'," no less.

Politics and Sports; The Mexico City Protest

While we're on sports...

I was a student at San Jose State in the early eighties. Primarily a commuter college in the California State University system, SJSU is not noted for too many things. It spawned the Smothers Brothers. Over the years it has had impressive success in lesser sports, such as judo, women's golf, and fencing, and modest success at football, producing NFL players like Ken and Jewerl Thomas, Steve DeBerg, Kim Bokamper, Gil Byrd, Gerald Willhite, and a coach named Bill Walsh.

The two athletes it should be most famous for and proud of and the moment in its history that is most impressive were the Black Power salute at the medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Tommie Smith and John Carlos, sprinters from San Jose State who won the gold and silver medals in the 200-meter race, were expelled from the games for their protest against the status of minorities in America.

Smith and Carlos were honored last night with the unveiling of a statue at San Jose State honoring their October 16, 1968 protest.

There are many people who think that athletes and entertainers ought to just shut up and entertain us, that we don't and shouldn't care what they think about the issues that confront us. I don't feel that way and have never understood that attitude. Individual athletes or entertainers may be speaking from positions of ignorance and have nothing of value to contribute to our public dialogue. Others, though, care and know about the things they talk about. We may disagree with them, but they have as much right to talk about these things publicly as anybody else. And if they choose to exploit their celebrity to advance their political causes, actions which, by the way, rarely work to the economic benefit of the people who do this, more power to them.

Bill King

Last weekend, after listening on the radio to the Cal Bears' dreadful performance against Oregon, I got to thinking of the irony that the two most famous play-by-play calls in Bay Area sports, "The Catch", the Joe Montana to Dwight Clark TD pass in the 1981 49er play off game against Dallas, and "The Play", Cal's 1982 five-lateral kick-off return against Stanford in the closing moments of "The Big Game" were both called by Joe Starkey, the worst play-by-play announcer in the history of Broadcasting (though I've obviously not heard all play-by-play announcers, I say this with confidence; I've heard way too much Starkey). It's ironic too that fans who are familiar with him only from these two calls may think that his call on Montana-Clark play, "Montana rolls right...has Clark in the end zone...TOUCHDOWN 49ers!!!!" was typical of his performance on the radio. Not so. His identification of Clark's location on the field and of the outcome of the play were uncharacteristic of Starkey. His excitable incoherence during the Cal play is far more what we expect of him.

In contrast to Starkey, I got to thinking of the best play-by-play announcers. Although I think Lon Simmons' deep voice, laconic delivery, and deadpan humor are ideally suited to baseball announcing and by themselves almost made Giants' games worth listening to, Bill King is the best I ever heard. His clipped, precise delivery made him ideal for Basketball as the Warriors' play-by-play man, and his love for the game and the time and effort he put into research (once sitting down with Billy Martin after a 1981 A's game and going over the game, batter by batter,to learn what Martin had in mind as the game progressed) made him very good at baseball. It was at football, however, as the long-time announcer for the Raiders, that he truly shined. His "Old Man Willie" call of Willie Brown's 75 yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XI perfectly captured his affection for the players and his exhuberance. King also broadcast the "Heidi game," "the immaculate reception," the Warriors' 1974-1975 championship season, and the A's' World Series appearances from 1988-1990. He handled them all with wit, style, and class.

I was reminded of this as I drove home from work today and heard on the radio that King died last night, at perhaps age 78, of complications following surgery.

There are a lot of good announcers around today, but I can't imagine anybody filling King's shoes, handling as many assignments as superbly, as entertainingly, as he did.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Richard Cohen; a Classic Tool

In a February 3, 2004 column, Richard Cohen, looking back at the nation’s rush to war a year earlier, acknowledged that mistakes were made, not only by the administration, but by the press, as well. Trying hard not to take too big a helping of crow, he wrote, “I do not take myself off the hook. The mood got to me, too. And while I kept insisting that the Bush administration was exaggerating the case for war, was in too much of a hurry and was incapable of assembling a true coalition, I nevertheless went along with the program.”

Mr. Cohen is far too modest. Where in February 2004 he claims that he “kept insisting that the Bush administration was exaggerating the case for war,” on February 2, 2003, almost exactly a year before his luke warm “mea culpa” column, he was singing from a different score altogether. Reviewing Colin Powell’s symphony of lies before the UN, Cohen wrote,
“The evidence he presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.”
Strong words from a man who “kept insisting that Bush exaggerated,” but he was just warming up. Cohen was apparently breathing deeply and craving a cigarette by the time Powell finished his presentation.
“This time, for instance, when the by-now hoary charge was made that a link existed between al Qaeda and Baghdad, it was Powell who made it -- and it hit with force. This time, when it was said that Iraq had developed unmanned airplanes that could dispense chemical or biological agents, it was Powell who made the charge -- and showed a picture of one. This time, the finger-pointer was the man who, heretofore, had been accused of what in the Bush administration is a virtual slander: prudence. Here was a reasonable man making a reasonable case.”
As gullible as he has already made himself sound, it gets better. Turning to Powell’s spinning of the aluminum tubes, Cohen wrote,
“To my mind, Powell's most compelling statements came when he acknowledged doubt or differences of opinion. He did so when discussing Iraq's importation of aluminum tubes that Baghdad may -- or may not -- be using as centrifuges for enriching uranium.

“‘By now, just about everyone has heard of these tubes, and we all know that there are differences of opinion,’ he said. ‘There is controversy about what these tubes are for.’ You bet, and saying so enhanced his credibility.”
This controversy, we now know, is about as valid as the “controversy” over “intelligent design,” but Powell worked Cohen and his overmatched kind masterfully. Cohen concluded this column with,
“If anyone had any doubt, Powell proved that it has defied international law -- not to mention international norms concerning human rights -- and virtually dared the United Nations to put up or shut up. There is no other hand. There is no choice.”

So why bring this up now? In today’s WaPo, Cohen addresses Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name to the press by somebody in the Bush White House.

According to Cohen, there may have been no crime committed and if there was one, it was of no importance. “Not nice,” he writes, “but it was what Washington does day in and day out.” Let it go, Cohen says. There’s no crime here. He spends many paragraphs arguing that since he, Cohen, couldn’t uncover any serious crime, one must not have taken place. He then goes on to bow before Saint Judy, the queen of all Iraq, before finally dismissing once again the blown identity of a CIA agent as the type of thing that is known by “hairdressers, mistresses and dog walkers all over town.”

It may be good to remember what Plame was working on before her cover was blown. She worked on anti-proliferation. You remember that, right? It was one of the phony concerns that led us into this was in the first place, that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and was working on developing nuclear weapons and delivery systems. To people who really care about things like that, she was one of the good guys. She was one of the people trying to keep such things from spreading (unlike, say, our good allies the Pakistanis). This is all trivial to Cohen and his ilk. To him it's all about anonymous sources and the first amendment.

In a year or so, we can expect another Cohen column in which he admits that he may have been slightly snookered by the White House spin doctors while looking at the Plame case. We don’t need to wait a year to reach that conclusion, though. Using Lincoln’s old adage, Cohen is one of those people you can fool all the time.
Note: Links fixed.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Sensible David Brooks

Some people I know and respect who should know better think of David Brooks as a sensible moderate. Hmmm.

A recent Brooks column begins with, "after a while, you get sick of the DeLays of the right and the Deans of the Left."

Being rather dense myself, I guess, I fail to see the equivalence of a corrupt bugman and Dean. But I suppose I lack Brooks' equanimity.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More Rock Politics

While we're talking about rock and roll...

My friend Jim forwarded to me another Rock n Rap article that reports that the Dead Kennedys have announced that they have withdrawn from the October 29 "Waking the Dead" show scheduled for Los Angeles' Grand Olympic Auditorium. The show, which will still go on, featuring Suicidal Tendencies and Marky Ramone, among others, lost the Dead Kennedys when they found out it was being sponsored by the Coors Brewing Company. DK member East Bay Ray noted that "Dead Kennedys have always been wary of corporate sponsorship and steer clear of lending our name to promote a product," adding, "Because we were not alerted to the ultra conservative, right-wing sponsor for this event, we could not see a reason to go ahead and perform at this show in good conscience. Dead Kennedys want nothing to do with this event or Coors and I am disgusted that they are now sponsoring punk shows, something they are politically at odds with."

What is it about Coors in particular that Dead Kennedys find so odious? According to the R&R article,
A Google search of Coors will turn up information on a company that for years has funded right-wing groups such as the Nicaraguan Contras, the anti-gay Moral Majority, and the notoriously anti-punk Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC). Coors has also broken numerous unions, is anti-environment, and has funded lawsuits against affirmative action. More disturbing facts about the company can be found at

In the seventies and early eighties, Coors had a certain cachet. It was kind of a hip, western beer. It couldn't be found everywhere and people hoped it they could aquire some sense of being cool by drinking it.

Then Ronald Reagan became President and Coors, which until then had always been quietly one of the most politically reactionary companies in the country, suddenly became quite prominently politically reactionary. The company and the family were strongly financially supportive of the Mountain States Legal Foundation, which spawned the likes of James Watt, Secretary of the Interior under Reagan. Watt and the Reagan Administration, working off a blueprint provided by MSLF, set about undoing decades of progressive environmental safeguards in the western US, relaxing regulations and opening up more land for strip mining, logging, and cattle grazing. Ronald Reagan, who never heard of a mythical welfare queen he couldn't disparage, provided corporate welfare at levels previously undreamed of to those companies that could exploit the natural resources of the west's public lands, not only allowing them to reap what they could at ungodly cheap rates, but having the Interior Department build roads on the taxpayer's dime so they could more easily and quickly rob the larder.

That's when I stopped drinking Coors beer. As the Rock n Rap article and the website they site show, there are plenty of other reasons, even aside from taste, to avoid enriching the Coors family.

Friday, October 07, 2005

It's Only Rock and Roll...

A friend who subscribes to ”Rock & Rap Confidential" forwarded me an article about Doors drummer John Densmore’s quiet battle against exploitation of pop music.

To the chagrin of former bandmates Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek and the puzzlement of the marketing industry, Densmore refuses to accede to requests that Doors’ music be used to promote products. And it’s not just chump change he’s casting aside. Cadillac alone reportedly offered $15 million dollars for use of “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” to sell Escalades.

While noting that he doesn’t need the money (still, $15 million!), Densmore offers as his reason, "People lost their virginity to this music, got high for the first time to this music. I've had people say kids died in Vietnam listening to this music, other people say they know someone who didn't commit suicide because of this music…. On stage, when we played these songs, they felt mysterious and magic. That's not for rent."

Although that strikes me as a pretty good reason right there, needless to say, the common reaction to that is that he’s some kind of eccentric flower child, living in a summer of love fantasy world. I found Manzarek’s reaction peculiar. "Cadillac said we could all fly out to Detroit and give input as they start putting together their hybrid models and the way they would be presented to the public…. Artists and corporations working together, that's the 21st century. That's the true Age of Aquarius. But John's ego wouldn't let him see it was a good thing to do." That’s a nice utopian vision, but I think it ascribes to corporations sympathies they don’t hold, at least not that they’ve been demonstrated to support.

Amy Cavenaugh, a marketing executive, claims “Using your music in the modern landscape is not selling out; if it's done right, it's giving it new life." Pete Howard, editor in chief of “Ice” magazine, says "They get a gold star for integrity, but they are missing a train that is leaving the station. Advertising is no longer a dirty word to the Woodstock generation, and in fact, in this landscape, the band will find that if it relies on people who hear the music in films, on radio in prerecorded formats, that with each decade their niche among music fans will narrow. It's advertising — with its broad audience and ubiquity — that gets new ears." All artists want people to hear the music they record; that's why they record it. They also want to make some money out of it. It's nice to make a living at what you love to do (or so I've heard). For some, though, their music is created within a certain context and to the extent that they can, they want to control the context of how it is presented. That's part of the performance. You can't have that if the music is used to sell HP printers. Whatever you had in mind when you wrote the song, for most people, particularly those who never heard the song before, it's now the HP printer song.

How is it that he has veto power over the use of Doors’ music for advertising? In 1970, the then four band members agreed in writing that any licensing agreement would require a unanimous vote. This followed an earlier incident in which Densmore, Krieger, and Manzarek, in singer Jim Morrison’s absence, had agreed to the use of “Light my Fire” for a Buick Opel commercial. When Morrison found out he was furious and threatened to destroy an Opel on stage at every concert if the commercial ever aired. That ad campaign was stillborn.

Once more, in the seventies, Densmore gave in, agreeing to use of “Riders on the Storm” to sell Pirelli tires in Great Britain. Once he saw the ad, though, he felt sick and gave all the proceeds to charity. His opposition to licensing is not just personal; he feels he is standing up for the spirit of Jim Morrison, as well.

Other musicians mentioned in the article who also refuse to license their songs for commercial use include Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles and Bay Area musicians Carlos Santana, Tom Waits, and Neil Young. Santana and Waits, at least, have not only resisted the use of their music but sued to prevent “sound alike” music in ads by companies whose overtures they had resisted.

It’s hard to fault artists who succumb to the allure of the big pay day to allow their tunes to be used to sell soap. I can’t respect that, though. I’m with Densmore on this. Music takes on meaning separate from what is written into it by what people experience when they hear it. It degrades that aspect of the music to cut it into 30 second bites to sell Cadillacs.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Draw Your Own Conclusions

At a news conference last week at which firefighters may have been compelled to stand around as props, the Goobernator said, "I'm a big friend of the firefighters. As a matter of fact, in one of my movies, I played a firefighter." Yes, in one of his movies, he played a firefighter. How Reaganesque. In real life, however, his policies haven't shown him to be a big friend of firefighters, or any other public employees.

On the other hand, in another of his movies, he more famously played a cold, heartless, mechanized assassin, so some of his role choices may reflect his politics and sympathies.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"...he was an avid collector of Archie comics"

Some stories about the University of Oklahoma student, Joel Hinrichs III, who blew himself up outside the football stadium during Saturday's game, mentioned, quoting anonymous sources, that "jihadist literature" was found in his room. Now I don't know if this is true or not, but even assuming that it is, so what? The literature found in the room/home/computer of people in the news strikes me as a variation of and as relevant as the interviews with neighbors who had no idea that Joe Smith was a wife beater/child molestor/concert pianist. In the home of most college students or reasonably well-read adults you will find something that might link them with whoever the bogeyman of the moment is. What gets aired in the news as having been found is probably more of a Rorschach test of the people revealing what is found than it is a reflection of the views of the person the literature belonged to.

If I did something newsworthy (hey, it could happen) and people looked through my home, they might link me with Communists ("The Communist Manifesto"), Nazis ("Mein Kampf"), revolutionaries in general ("The Declaration of Independence), right-wing exremists ("The Turner Diaries"), or religious fanatics ("The Holy Bible"). Or they might just naturally conclude that I'm a pervert. It all comes down to what advances the story they want to write.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Harriet Miers? She's Hackalicious!

All over the internet, people are scratching their heads over Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to replace O'Connor on the Supreme Court, kind of a collective WTF, mate? Everybody has their own theory. For what it's worth (and my guess is, it's worth less than the traditional 2 cents), here's mine.

From what little I know of her, and I know precious little, never having even heard of her before this morning, Miers is non-exceptional in everything but her devotion to and admiration of George Bush (she thinks he's brilliant). There's nothing, in other words, to distinguish her from most Bush appointees. She is not exceptional in her field, she is not exceptionally (perhaps not even marginally) qualified for the job she's been appointed to, but she loves da man. From all that Bush has shown us over the years, there is nothing he values more than blind unquestioning loyalty to his royal self. Nothing else matters. Not even the relative importance of the job the person is being appointed to. It's all the same to George. Aside from that, having that Aunt-Selma-from-the-Trailer-Park look, Miers may appeal to the same kind of people who think Bush would be a good guy to have a drink with (if he weren't such a pious prick, that is).

Update: Via Qubit, there's already a Harriet Miers blog. Teh funny.

Saturday, October 01, 2005


Wow, who knew the "#1 team in the country" could be so easily flustered? One cheap shot on their QB and now it's all they can do to get a snap off without getting flagged for delay of game or a falst start. Leinart now has all the poise of Kerry Collins. It's early (first quarter), I know, but these guys really look bad.
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