Reading Obama's Iraq Speech

I didn't watch the President's speech this evening (I don't have a tv at the moment, for one), but I did read through the entire text.

I was struck by a number of things.  I lay them out below.  I was also struck, though, by how much I managed to disagree with and question the President's take on what should have been a welcome, non-polarizing development, namely the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.

First, I noticed a healthy dose of overdramatization, something I've come to expect from Obama speeches.  The war in Iraq was and is a serious matter.  The American lives lost in hostilities are truly a grave loss.  But as with many issues (financial reform, healthcare, the stimulus, etc), Obama's rhetoric, designed to heighten the importance of his action, to shape the historical narrative, and get others to follow his lead, inflates the dire sense of the occasion and proves unhelpful for the national psyche as a result.  Specifically, Obama sets the stage as ominously as possible - the American Dream itself "may seem beyond our reach."  That dour Carter-esque tone tees up, yet again, the need for a messiah.  He sets the stakes too high too often, leading to needless anxiety.

And statistically, while I genuinely regret that any American soldiers had to die or get wounded in Iraq, I think it's somewhat amazing that the U.S. fought for so long and accomplished what it did...with so few casualties...compared to historical examples.

Second, was the President's pledge to end the combat mission in Iraq?  Or to end the War in Iraq?  The definition of an end...which nonetheless leaves thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in country raises a whole host of additional questions.  And it convinces me further that the U.S. is increasingly incapable of tailoring its application of force, in large part because it cannot extricate itself easily or swiftly from any given place on the globe once it's on the ground.  While it may have other advantages as a result, it is no hoplite force today.

We are done: "This completes a transition to Iraqi responsibility for their own security."

But we're not: "Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s Security Forces, supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our civilians."  

That's aircraft carrier banner material.

Third, while I agree with the President that the U.S. has paid a huge cost for the war, I disagree with his destiny-laced view of the war and the U.S. relationship with Iraq.  "Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility."  Did we ever have a responsibility to Iraq?  Even after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein, I don't believe the U.S. had an obligation of any kind to Iraq other than to itself, mainly to save face.  The continued U.S. actions, the surge chief amongst them, demonstrated our unique national goodwill to see through what we started.  But that was about it.

Fourth, as to Afghanistan, either Obama is watering things down for the viewing public or he's showing a lack of deftness in military matters.  His statement: "And because of our drawdown in Iraq, we are now able to apply the resources necessary to go on offense."  Now that sounds nice, a sort of broad logic that I like (and is true to some extent logistically) because we do need to minimize our military commitments overseas and stop overtaxing our troops.  But what in the world have we been doing there all along if not going on the offensive (not "on offense")?

The President sought to elucidate the notion that there are limits to U.S. military power projection...but then spoke of the "the limitless possibilities of our time."  It's a tad confusing.  The latter point seems naive and the former, while perhaps true, seems inadvisable to emphasize in a speech as the President of the United States because it has a deeper, implied Carter-esque undercurrent to it.

Fifth, Obama's focus on the "rebuilding at home," while it plays well given the recession, fails to mention how his own agenda has contributed mightily to the "record deficits" he cautions against.  It also confuses the purpose of the speech: it's a speech about ending a war.  Sure, various political points could be scored by additional tie-ins.  But a truly great orator wouldn't make such an overt detour on such an occasion - a single subtle line could have tied into the national mindset sufficiently.  The same applies even to the focus on jobs and the economy.  And there, not surprisingly, we see a focus couched in terms of "we must give..." as we're told "it must be our central mission as a people" - nevermind the President's own year-long distracting detour through the healthcare push.

Finally, I'm somewhat taken aback by the President's dark language - "And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters" etc. - in light of his numerous vacations over the past few months, as well as his repeated entertainer guests at the White House.  If these are in fact hard times, his actions really haven't jibed with what he recognizes rhetorically.  It's a small point, but a notable one.

Perhaps my own tone here comes off as a bit bitter.  But as I reached the fifth and final page of the speech, I couldn't help but wonder if this was yet another occasion...where it may have been wisest for the great speech-giver...to give no speech at all.



Lincoln the Lawyer

in Carle Park


Stormclouds on the Tea horizon?

I'm beginning to wonder wither the Tea Party movement. The Alaska split -- coming down tightly enough to already be raising specters of recounts -- suggests that the group, while certainly a groundswell, isn't entirely representative of the GOP's direction. The Beck rally was another sign: massive turnout from a group that doesn't exactly cohere with Tea Party goals, and certainly not with ur-Tea Party libertarianism.

Now another set of races might serve as spoilers -- if a far-right Tea Partier defeats a popular moderate, where does the party go? (We throw in as a matter of course the difference in Salon's definition of "moderate" and our own.)

But I think this report from Michigan's first district shows the real weakness of the movement -- with no defining leaders or core, the movement, when pushed, can find its own vicious civil wars and turn on itself. The movement has far too rigid an ideology, far too much stress on purity, and no mechanism for distinguishing outsiders from members.

Which leaves a very open question: where will they go in the general election? If a moderate Republican -- even a Paul Ryan, who hasn't directly associated himself with the Tea Party -- comes up against a Dem in November, will the Tea Party show up to the fight? Or will they stay home?

Post-K at 5

Last night, we returned to New Orleans after two weeks on the road...and five years after Hurricane Katrina.

I know the news networks have been covering the anniversary heavily.  But as someone who's been on the ground in the city since the summer of 2007, who's called it home for half of the recovery period, I'll reiterate what was already very much apparent when the Saints won the Super Bowl earlier this year: NOLA is back.  It's not going to die.  It's not in perfect shape (and it never will be by many people's standards), but it's doing well.  It really is coming back strong.

The city, in a way, is like one of the bristlecone pines (it's probably heresy to use a non-Louisiana metaphor here, but oh well) that I encountered high in the mountains of Nevada.  The ancient trees eke out an existence on the edge of adversity in an inhospitable zone near the treeline.  The twisted trunks seem strange and alien compared to average trees.  But even when parts of the tree die out, they don't rot, they are simply eroded away like stone, carved even as other parts of the tree continue to live, thrive, and show new greenery.  They're rare.  And they're beautiful.

That said, there's still a lot of work to do.  And I'm looking forward to being part of the overall effort this fall.

Tulane Law to Host Deepwater Horizon Lecture Series

This looks worthwhile.

It's free and open to the public.

Additional details here.


Chances seized and missed: a Sunday roundup

+The Economist details Georgia's struggle with corruption -- "a mental revolution."

+Afghanistan rolls over in one fight with graft.

+The Philippines must seize this moment to clean up corruption.

+Does a road in Russia signal reform, or something much less?

+Are they building sustainability in New Orleans?

The same or different

So, was yesterday's Glenn Beck rally a Tea Party event or not? The New York Times doesn't seem to know:
The crowd was a mix of groups that have come together under the Tea Party umbrella. Some wore T-shirts from the Campaign for Liberty, the libertarian group that came out of the presidential campaign of Representative Ron Paul, while others wore the gear of their local Tea Party group, or of 9/12 groups, which were founded after a special broadcast Mr. Beck did in March 2009.

But the program was distinctly different from most Tea Party rallies. While Tea Party groups have said they want to focus on fiscal conservatism and not risk alienating people by talking about religion or social issues, the rally on Saturday was overtly religious, filled with gospel music and speeches that were more like sermons.
I am left hoping not.


A less spectacular rescue

Jimmy Carter emerges triumphant from North Korea, with a surreptitious border-crosser now safe. But things didn't quite go off without incident:
Park Han-sik, an international affairs professor at the University of Georgia who arranged Carter’s visit, said Wednesday, “Former President Carter has sought a North Korea visit since tension heightened on the Korean Peninsula due to the Cheonan sinking, and flew to Pyongyang under the condition of holding a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il,” indicating that such an encounter was assured.

If no meeting is held, this will probably perplex the Obama administration since it has repeatedly stressed that Carter made the visit for humanitarian purposes in his capacity as a private citizen. Since Washington permitted the trip despite the scheduled announcement of additional financial sanctions on Pyongyang, the U.S. probably feels dumbfounded over Kim’s unexpected trip.
Now, since the administration has stressed that this is not a diplomatic visit but a private one, there isn't exactly diplomatic protocol to breach, as some have suggested. But it seems to be a very pointed event that can only really be read as a snub -- and the context is quite interesting.

The importance of aid

Battlegrounds open fast -- and the Pakistan flood is a demonstration that the real battle against terrorism often lies not in combat, but in relief:
Alarm bells went off in Washington Thursday when the Pakistani media reported that USAID chief Rajiv Shah had visited a relief camp run by a group associated with terrorists. But according to the aid agency, that's simply not the case.


The incident highlights how the flood disaster has become a competition between Islamic charities and groups and the government of Pakistan, aided by the international community. Although the United States has been the largest international aid donor following the floods, there are few signs that Pakistanis' views of the United States have improved.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have their own "hearts and minds" campaign going, and seek to cement a monopoly:
The United Nations spokesman, Maurizio Giuliano, said that relief workers would continue their efforts and that the group would not be intimidated by “threats of insecurity, let alone rumors of such threats.”

“We are here for the people and will continue to deliver,” Mr. Giuliano said. “Any potential attack against us would be against the people of Pakistan, whom we are here to assist.”

Hard-line groups in Pakistan have tried to assert their influence amid the chaos created by the floods, with the Taliban urging people to reject aid from the United States, and Islamic groups stepping in to provide aid in the breach left by the government’s faltering response.
And the State Department has been calling for donations - remember that your $5 goes a long way.


Close ups of yellow flowers

These are a separate group of flowers from the previous flower picture.

As I was about to resume my amble down the sidewalk, a butterfly-moth type thing briefly alighted!

All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust

But not in brave Kazakhstan!
The band's diehard fans in Almaty are keeping the faith alive by planning a concert on August 30 to celebrate the Fab Four's formation 50 years ago. A motley crew of local musicians and politicians will take to the stage to belt out covers of some 30 Beatles' favorites.

The Beatles enjoyed huge popularity in the Soviet Union and their songs remain a regular feature in the clubs and bars of Kazakhstan's commercial hub, Almaty. Local covers bands Zhetygen and Fridays will be joined on stage by eco-warrior Mels Yeleusizov, the leader of the environmental campaign group Tabigat, and Gani Kasymov, the burly leader of the Patriots' Party.

Of mosques, migration, and boiling points

I've been meaning to mention the New York mosque for a little while now, and am finally getting around to it apropos Althouse yesterday. Hitchens raises the valid counterpoint to the Islamophobia charge:
As Western Europe has already found to its cost, local Muslim leaders have a habit, once they feel strong enough, of making demands of the most intolerant kind. Sometimes it will be calls for censorship of anything "offensive" to Islam. Sometimes it will be demands for sexual segregation in schools and swimming pools. The script is becoming a very familiar one. And those who make such demands are of course usually quite careful to avoid any association with violence. They merely hint that, if their demands are not taken seriously, there just might be a teeny smidgeon of violence from some other unnamed quarter …
It struck me from the beginning that the same Republican Party that frequently lambastes notions of "cultural sensitivity" should be crying out for such just now, especially in the particularly religious context of the current debate, which seems to suggest not so much an opposition to something being built, but simply to the religion associated with the thing being built.

But that isn't really my beef...


This is what happens when all you do is listen to talk radio...

I've long had a problem with Owen Robinson, the force behind Boots & Sabers and one of the most well-liked conservative bloggers in Wisconsin. It's nothing personal - I've never met him personally - it's a problem with his blog. Most of it is just copy-and-paste with a sarcastic word or two but very little depth. When he does have "original" posting on issues outside of local West Bend politics, it is often a regurgitation of what he's heard on Charlie Sykes or Mark Bellings' radio shows.

The latest is his column for the West Bend Daily News handicapping the Lt. Governor's race. He quickly dismisses Brett Davis and Dave Ross as RINO's. He doesn't come out and say it, but that's the implication. While I concede that Brett has taken some troubling votes, I wouldn't go so far as to think he's anything but conservative. He - along with most other Republicans in leadership positions - were put in a very difficult position during the 2007 budget process. While it's extremely easy to sit back and throw stones - and Brett needs to explain those votes - I think it's dangerous to paint with too broad a brush.

As for Dave Ross, the case Owen makes is even worse. He relies solely on hearsay and innuendo. "He says bad things behind other people's backs!" Oh, please. I've met Dave at numerous GOP events and found him to be extremely personable and straightforward. His record as Mayor of Superior is stellar. As for the Second Amendment "issue," Owen is wrong. I've been a Life Member of the NRA for 20 years - yes, and I'm only 27, best Christmas present ever - and I'm willing to give Dave the benefit of the doubt. I trust him. Owen, however, is a fanatic and demands 100% purity on this issue.

His preferred candidate has no record. Rebecca Kleefisch is only in the race because Charlie Sykes has been pushing her. She has played right into the TEA Party rhetoric and said all the right things. To me, it just seems a little too much. And, if we were to follow Owen's criteria - voting for someone who can step into the Governor's office - wouldn't you feel better with someone who has either served in the legislature or been a chief executive?

But hey, if you only get your opinions from the radio...

*Disclaimer: I'll get a few positive posts up soon and stop being so quite so ticked off.

I wish

I could be as unselfconscious as Rod. After being found guilty on one charge and 11-1 on most of the other 23 charges, leading to a re-trial, the state clown is making a victory lap on tv and yesterday he was on the Daily Show.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Rod Blagojevich Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

link to second half

Meanwhile, instead of solving real problems, Illinois continues to be number one state!




Bobby Gonzales - the "Elvis Presley of the Philippines."


A commentary on globalization

Victor Bout finally gets a ticket to the US:
Bout's importance was not just that he exploited the gaping holes in the new world economic order to reportedly move hundreds of thousands of weapons and millions of rounds of ammunition to obscure corners of the world to fan conflicts involving unspeakable human rights atrocities. Nor is it that he was simultaneously able to reap millions of dollars in profits by flying for the United States government, the United Nations, the British government, and other legal entities.

What made Bout unique was his ability to merge private profiteering with state interests in the new globalized world of unfettered weapons flows. Dubbed the "Merchant of Death," Bout, often under the protection of his Russian superiors in the military intelligence structure, created a one-stop shop for weapons that could be delivered virtually anywhere in the world. His access to former Soviet arsenals, aircraft, and crews would not have been possible without state protection.

It was this quantum leap in the ability to provide rag-tag and violent groups like the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor in Liberia that drew the attention of U.S. and European intelligence services in the mid-1990s.
If you haven't seen it, I'd really recommend Lord of War, which is based on the life of Comrade Bout -- Nicoals Cage does well in the lead role. And the opening sequence is really stunning.


Friday music album talk

Have you heard Arcade Fire's new album the Suburbs, released at the beginning of the month?

In the last year or more, I've become aware of the band and heard their music. Their previous two albums are definitely in the better tier of music. Their newest album snuck up on me and I heard about it after it had already reached #1 in several countries. Since I got it earlier this week I've played it through 4 or 5 times.

The first song is great. On the first listen, I thought if it keeps this up the album will be great. I like the piano and the developing mood as the song progresses and instruments rise and fall from the foreground.

Then the rest of the album is not particularly memorable. It's fine music, it just doesn't have that punch or is particularly interesting.


Is this really what we've come to?

I am fed up with the gubernatorial race in Wisconsin. Mark Neumann used up his goodwill long ago. Tom Barrett is an empty suit. Scott Walker has been a dismal disappointment as a candidate. Just for the record, Walker's latest gimmick - the "Bipartisan Action Team" to tackle the deficit - is pathetic.

We know what the budget is right now. If we do nothing, there is a $2.5 billion deficit, if you want to be governor, then act like one and propose your own cuts. Be a man and do it. Do not hide behind a bogus committee. Do it yourself. We want you to lead, please do it.

But my disgust with politics goes beyond politicians. It's actually a lot of pundits and bloggers. The idiotic attacks on Cindy Kilkenny for daring to question Scott Walker's record are nauseating and the stones are being thrown by residents of glass houses. Fred Dooley, proprietor of the ironically named Real Debate Wisconsin, is among the worst offenders. Fred loves to deride liberals when they go off the deep end, but his blog is little more than sarcastic comments, out-of-context attacks, and name calling that lower the quality of the debate to that of a drunken brawl. It is embarrassing.

Then there is the insistence of focusing on tiny, insignificant issues that again, make us on the right look petty. Yes, the Left does all this too, and they do it with great frequency. I am not, however, a liberal. I don't expect a heck of a lot more out of DPW. I do expect more from my side of the aisle.

All this means that I will not be volunteering for any candidate for governor - the first time I will sit out a top-ticket race since before I was able to vote. I will not be donating to any of them - something I am actually able to do - and I will not pay to be a member of RPW until they reform their convention endorsement rules and start to act like leaders. Yes, I will vote for the GOP nominee, but that's it. I don't even know that I'll vote for either in the primary. Sure, I will vote in the primary in other races, but I don't know yet about the top race.

It's really sad that it has come to this.

A shakeup

If you care about the European Union, Turkish accession, or the interplay of Islamic and European cultures, you should note the recent shakeup in the Turkish military:
Reducing the political influence of Turkey’s army, which has toppled four governments since 1960, is among the European Union’s hardest conditions for Turkey’s membership. A package of constitutional amendments that will further weaken the generals will be put to a referendum on September 12th. It includes a provision to allow coup-plotters to be tried by civilian rather than military courts, and a rule that says civilians can no longer be tried by the army, except in times of war.

Osman Can, a former rapporteur of the constitutional court, argues that the key to demilitarisation lies in measures that alter the structure of the judiciary. In particular he points to a proposed dilution of pro-army representation in a judicial watchdog, known by its initials HSYK and created by the generals following their last coup in 1980. Its decisions cannot be appealed—but this will change if the constitutional package is approved.
Certainly a welcome step, even if it probably won't increase the likelihood in the near term of Turkish accession to the EU: any move to extricate the military from the government will be a good one, and Gul's government has shown itself to be Islamist only on the fringes, bearing a resemblance, I'd argue, to the understanding of religion in the US.

In which we realize that privacy means nothing

Good news, kids! Spying is actually not illegal:
Federal prosecutors are showing uncommon sympathy for some Pennsylvania school officials who spied on students via webcams in their school-owned laptop computers: They've decided not to prosecute.

The reason? "For the government to prosecute a criminal case, it must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person charged acted with criminal intent," the U.S. Attorney's office said in a statement. "We have not found evidence that would establish beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone involved had criminal intent."
Just don't intend to spy.


When war ends

Tonight the last of the combat troops in Iraq crossed the border into Kuwait.

It is a moment I am glad has come, but it is also a moment of great uncertainty. Violence still ravages the country and 50,000 of my former comrades will remain in an advisory role; guiding the fledgling Iraqi army through what will undoubtedly be trying times. Iraqi leaders have yet to form a government.

The last seven years have been scarred by unspeakable violence, misjudgments, tactical errors, and political gridlock - both here and in Iraq. They have also seen incredible acts of heroism, charity and leadership - acts that we know far too little about. In time we will know what the sum of those actions is, but for now we wait for what will come.

I make no secret of my support for our involvement in Iraq. I firmly believe that deposing a brutal despot and creating the groundwork for democratic government in the Arab world is a good thing. The admittedly few Iraqis I talked to during my time there were thankful Saddam Hussein was gone and hopeful for the future.

The American military has done all it can. We cannot force democracy upon another nation and we cannot dictate its government and its laws. We have secured the nation to the best of our ability and given the Iraqi people a choice in their future. What happens next is up to the Iraqis. Their leaders must rise to the occasion or the people will lose all faith in democracy. Tyrants-in-waiting, such as Muqtada al-Sadr, will seize any opportunity to assert authority. The US can still exert tremendous pressure on the elected leaders in Iraq to form a government, but it is a fine line. We cannot be seen as overtly choosing a solution because the government will then be illegitimate in the eyes of many Iraqis. This requires a delicate diplomatic touch, and I hope that Secretary of State Clinton will finally live up to her high expectations.

The next few months will be incredibly important for the future of Iraq and the Middle East. For our part, the war has ended. For the Iraqis, it has just begun. In the balance hangs the fate of some 30 million people and the stability of an entire region.

I hope and pray that the Iraqis will succeed. Not to justify our decision to invade, or to give meaning to my own time in country. I hope that they succeed because they deserve it. The Iraqi people endured decades of tyranny and oppression, only to endure seven years of war after the tyrant was deposed. They deserve peace and freedom. I hope their leaders can deliver, and I hope that we will be there to help at every turn.

I will never forget being in Kuwait and Iraq during the first elections in January of 2005. I remember reading the accounts of that day in the Stars and Stripes. Later, a friend told me about guarding the polls southwest of Baghdad: Iraqis stood in line to vote for the first time in their lives. While in line, mortars began to fall. The people scattered and ran for cover, but after the attack was over - neutralized by the Marines in the area - the Iraqis immediately got back in line and more people continued to show. In all, more than 60% of eligible voters participated.

They signaled then and there that they wanted a chance to lead themselves. Five and a half years later, that chance is finally here.

Hoover Dam at Night

A look inside

Foreign Policy has an interview with an American economist who has taken two tours -- apparently you actually can do that sort of thing -- in North Korea:
FP: Did you encounter any other investors in the "special economic zone"?

PC: Matter of fact, we bumped into some Americans. They actually were missionaries, based just across the border in China. They can't preach in North Korea, of course, but they've come as "investors" to build and run an orphanage, a bread factory, and a soy-milk factory. These "businesses" don't make money; they're just there to help people. To this day, one of most popular themes in North Korean propaganda involves evil Christian missionaries who inject Korean children with deadly germs, before the revolution. They even put the story in comic books for kids. Officially, they're inhuman monsters. Unofficially, the government invites them in because they're the only people willing to extend a lifeline.
There are many, many other gems at the link -- check it out.


A day for the socialists

The last Communist in Georgia still believes:
Koko, a former KGB officer, said to know everything about everything, nevertheless puts Germany to the west of France...

"If Georgia is now a respected country, it is because it is the birthplace of Stalin. He is a powerful god for us, he was able to bring people together. He freed the world and now they want us to tear down the monuments to his glory! It is the shame of the whole nation! There are many monuments to Churchill or Roosevelt, and yet they have not liberated anyone!" cries the indignant Koko.

Meanwhile, Slate is running a profile of Jack London:
The richer London became, the more radical his politics were. He was soon praising the assassination of Russia's political leaders and saying socialism would inevitably come to America. Even as he employed small battalions of servants, he insisted he was a Robin Hood figure: They would be made to wait on the tramps and trade unionists he invited to his mansion.


The bottle stands alone!



Futura I/Design/Typefaces/Function

What can I say? I love Futura.

If I were a graphic designer, I'd probably be regarded as a crappy one since Futura would be my first choice for most title text (you'd want to use something with serifs for printed body copy).

It's kind of a bummer that things don't really have a 'look' anymore. I was thinking about what products or machinery as an engineer I might have a shot at designing if I wanted--maybe something like kitchen refrigerators. The style I like is basically art deco but art deco refrigerators have already been done and I'm a few generations too late. Everything's made of plastic nowadays and it's incredibly shapeable and unconstraining and yet things don't look one way or another in particular.

With modern technology we've been able to completely focus on function. In regards to buildings, like city buildings for example which seem to have traditionally been proud landmarks, I couldn't imagine people being willing to spend or justifying more money than the minimum they have to spend just to make a nice unique building. Or perhaps it's that only things that cost a lot are worth putting aesthetic design into. Since functional devices and objects have become very cheap to make, from buildings to consumer goods, they're inexpensive and not worth putting design into--that is if a city hall or police station building or cell phone cost a ton of money and only came along once in a while we'd be sure to make it whatever it is look really nice.

I have a love-hate relationship with Helvetica (and its knockoff ugly step-child Arial which definitely falls in the hate side). Helvetica is definitely a typeface that's pure function; the characters convey absolutely no meaning or character other than "generic corporation font."

Helvetica to me is the slightly musty 80's smell in the Sears at the mall from my childhood memories that as far as I know still lingers there--I think it was the old commercial carpeting and the JCPenny had a similar chemical staleness. When used appropriately, it does look good but it's really been beaten to a pulp.

If Helvetica has no character, then maybe that makes it a perfect typeface from the designer's POV--as a vehicle for conveying language it's 100% efficient. When you see a company's logo, you don't see the letters or what the shapes of the letters make you think of, whether it's old timey dependability like a lawyer's office or modern like Futura or the familiar comfort of a book you learned to read with, you only see the word or whatever meaning they've tried to associate with the company.

What is the endgame of design? If I design a kitchen refrigerator well, does that mean it does literally nothing other than refrigerate efficiently? If I design a city well, does that mean it is not anything more than a background grid for people to get from one place to another? (Whoa, did sprawl just become reasonable all of a sudden?) If we're not careful we'll build ourselves functionfull but formless lives full of vanilla objects amongst generic buildings and placeless cities covered in unmemorable looking words. How would people who live in that feel about each other and living? Function is but the means to reach the end.


Heading West

After a Wisconsin whirlwind of friends, family, golf, and soccer, I'm back in NOLA.  But not for long.

Tomorrow, I'm heading out West for a while with a friend. 

It's a vacation.  A roadtrip, lightly planned. 

But I'm going to pay close attention to the state of the country from my perspective on the highways and byways.  I hope I find some hope out there.


Missing the party

It's August, and I'm not in Hungary, sadly. Sziget (Island) Fest has been in full swing for a few days:
Well, now it really is the first day of Sziget, and finallly we found out that it's not just sunshine- and ideology filled ska which can be damn popular, but also cartoon-metal on the verge of surrealism, idiotic punk and a music-filled version of the Monty Python-world.
Rock out, kids.

Are you listening, Mr Walker?

They're saying:
Neumann’s focus on what he would do as governor also paid dividends [emphasis added] beyond the lead against Barrett. His favorables improved from 47% favorable/44% unfavorable/”Passion” Index of -7 to 50% favorable/35% unfavorable/”Passion” Index of -3, and he has the support of 81% of Republicans and over 50% of independents against Barrett.
Just another friendly reminder from your friends here at LiB.

Preparing for the Picnic

The trouble with (t)Ribble

So Reid Ribble's finally got at TV ad, and it's time to say something.

Zealotry is in the air these days. The Tea Party needs purity, needs rigid adherence to the line. The trenches have been dug. Hell, there's a billboard on Highway 41 in Oshkosh that proclaims Washington to be a "cesspool of corruption and liars" and demands that "all career politicians must be defeated."

And that's okay. Sometimes well all need to hold hands with Bakunin and sing, "The passion for destruction is a creative passion." It's a charming song with a catchy melody.

But it's a children's song. It's not fit for thinking adults who want to function in the world.

And that's where Reid Ribble comes in. See, it's easy for Ribble to take shots at "career politicians in Washington [who] have let us down." It's easy to go anarchist, to give in to the urge to burn everything to the ground and start again. That's good red meat -- it plays to the base. It's nice and easy, and then we can show a picture of an old man waving a flag, and a tow-headed little boy, and maybe a hard-working mom who just wants her kids to grow up right.

Those are the easy images of the demagogue, the man who has all the right platitudes, bought in bulk at the decaying warehouse in a bad part of town. They're skin deep. And they're easily tossed aside, because they mean nothing. They're tacky signifiers for a man with no real ideas, no path forward, no solutions beyond "burn it to the ground." That sweet apple pie is laced with the cyanide of cynicism -- being everything to everyone leaves no one with anything meaningful.

And the trouble is, Ribble hasn't done anything to prove he means a word of it.

Is this a cheap ad, or what?

The simple fact is that governing -- real governing, not just talking big and patting your constituents on their rhetorical backs -- is a dirty job. It demands sleeves rolled up, it demands attention, and it sometimes demands compromise. It certainly demands a basic familiarity with the way in which government is run, laws are passed, and policy is made. And red meat doesn't get you there.

And that, at the end of the day, is the trouble with Reid Ribble: the words are just right, but there's no demonstration, no action. Just talk.


"poured in an exuberant arc from a bottle held high above the shoulder into tumblers to create a burst of bubbles in the glass"

That would be Txakolina -- a white wine from Basque country:
"In San Sebasti├ín, you wouldn’t believe how much Txakolina is drunk in the month of August alone," said Ignacio Ameztoi Aranguren, whose family’s winery, Ameztoi, is a leading Txakolina producer. "Here in Basque country, they drink it year-round. They drink it with meat, too. That’s the culture."


the least messy part of the lab

Break out the "jugaad"

"an inspired kind of duct-taped ingenuity that employs only the tools at hand"

Here's more on the term, which seems to be the Indian expression for "Go MacGyver on it".


Exclamation points in band names can be dicey things. !!! has clearly gone to far, violating all norms of decency and decorum. Dogs Die in Hot Cars might not have gone far enough. The Go! Team gets it just right.

Geronimo! is another exclamation-mark band that hits the sweet spot.

Benjamin Grigg ("Keys, Vox, Horns, Luv" according to the website) emailed me when the album came out and shot me a copy of the band's debut, Fuzzy Dreams. It's a very solid debut -- nice dirty garage rock with a lot of good undercurrents.

The opening tracks carve out a comfortable niche about midway between Fugazi and pop-emo, descending into pauses reminiscent of Sonic Youth's fuzzier breakdowns, with a dollop of Flaming Lips trippiness, and that sets a pretty solid tone for the rest of the album. There are touches of Gomez here, alongside The Velvet Underground and perhaps even The Unicorns and A Sunny Day in Glasgow. But Geronimo! is always in the garage, and the good time they're having shows through on every track. This is clearly a band of friends who will rock out, audience or no -- and I hope they start to pull big audiences.

Overall, a very solid first full-length album, and very worth checking out live. Good stuff!


Grandpa and His Gimmicks

In addition to his 226 antique snowmobiles in the barn, Grandpa has quite a collection of homemade "gimmicks" for display on his lawn.  I particularly liked one I hadn't seen before, a U-Boat crafted from various tanks and fitted with a potato cannon, among other things, for armament.

As one visitor observed:

"The Francis Servais collection, I think that there is something in the water here..."

The Deeply Troubling Side of Wisconsin's New Mascot Law

This past weekend, I picked up a copy of the Green Bay Press-Gazette at my grandparents' house.  There was some Packers news, some local news.  And there was one story that struck me as worth investigating further - a piece on the decision by the Kewaunee School District to drop its mascot - the Indians - for fear of a twisted new state law.

I made my opposition to the proposed law known early on, but it's even more disturbing to see how the law is playing out as it's applied across Wisconsin.

Kewaunee's School Board quailed in the face of the mighty DPI and dropped its mascot without a fight.  School Districts shouldn't have to bear any burden to prove their mascots are politically correct, but unfortunately the new law changed all that.  Instead, as in Kewaunee, a lone heckler in the school district can cry out "I'm offended," file with the state, and force an entire school district to make an expensive bid to defend the mascot (and, as the bill stated, it's more than just mascots) - or an expensive makeover to change to a new mascot.

The Kewaunee District Administrator's logic, as an aside, baffles me: '"The move allows the district to maintain better local control over a new team name, as well as the history of the old nickname, Vogeltanz said.'

Yes, having absolutely no local control and failing to fight for it definitely enables better local control.  That makes perfect sense.

Vogeltanz's additional comments highlight the truly nefarious - and almost creepy - height of political correctness that the law has engendered:

"I'm respectful of the law," he said. "But I graduated as a Kewaunee Indian. It will be sad to see it go. But I think we all need to be respectful of people who feel differently."

What a craven thing to say.  Being respectful of people who feel differently is one thing.  But caving to the extreme sensitivity of a few simply because they are offended by an innocuous mascot and placing the burden on a school district to rebut a presumption against validity is likely a violation of the First Amendment.  Our society is more robust than one where everyone can go about free of any prospect of being offended.  Government entities can speak, too, and the intent behind this law (to end Native American mascots - and the DPI's administrative rules reinforce this notion), while it may diverge from its overbroad textual authorization, appeared to go to the content of the speech by school districts.

And that's why the Kewaunee district's failure to challenge the law vigorously is so shameful.  I don't think it's at all clear that the district would have lost if it had pursued a legal full court press (which would likely have garnered outside pro bono legal support from various quarters, too).  There's also the other arrow in Kewaunee's quiver in this specific case: it really did not appear to have adequate notice when it came to defending itself.  Fortunately, the District Administrator now seems to be under a bit of pressure to explain himself.

Some districts appear more willing to take a stand, and I encourage anyone out there who can bring resources, political influence, or legal talent to bear to assist the Mishicot School District in what will inevitably be a fight against the state.  Mishicot has permission, in a way, to use its "Indians" logo.  But permission wasn't enough to stave off state control in the first district to lose its mascot, Osseo:

However, Timm said the Osseo-Fairchild district also had permission from the family of the Native American depicted in its logo, but the DPI said it couldn't accept the premise that one family's approval was sufficient.

What's the most troubling side of this entire new legislative paradigm?  It's the arrogance of the state government stepping in and presuming to think for all local school districts as to what is or is not permissible for how that school district represents itself, how it expresses itself as a community institution.  That encroaches deeply on First Amendment rights, and even if it doesn't, under some analysis, it's still very dangerous territory for the state government to enter because it treads into the realm of ideas, symbols, and expression.  All it takes is one misanthrope in a community to flip a switch...and the mascot is PRESUMED to be discriminatory by law.  By default, if the district does not actively put up a fight, it is guilty - regardless of whether the mascot is something as vague, innocuous, and de-fanged as "Indians." 

I think counsel to the Kewaunee School District should have recalled that even when the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of cross burning, it required the justification of a true threat.  The justifications of the Wisconsin mascot law are far less compelling, far less clear, and directed at a certain type of speech (*I'm not making a full out legal analysis here, but using the law to inform a broader political/social/cultural discussion).  The harm the law seeks to prevent doesn't outweigh its imposition on expression.  In its explicit legislative purpose at least, it creates impermissible favored and "disfavored subjects."  And if this law is somehow meant to bar unprotected speech in the form of group libel, Beauharnais is a questionable foundation indeed.

The law is deeply flawed.  No school district in Wisconsin should feel bullied to accept the dictate of the state as conclusive in this field.  They should fight any impositions in this regard all the way up the chain.


Urbana by night

I went on my first photographic expedition last night to experiment with lights in the dark.

Conclusions: white balance is important and Urbana has too few cars to make interesting night photos.

For some reason, the neon sign just would not turn out unblurred.

Making Ixonia

"When it was decided to divide the town of Union, there was no argument over calling Town 7, Concord, but there was a great divergence of opinions as to what to call Town 8.

To satisfy all factions, it was agreed to put the letters of the alphabet on slips of paper and have young Mary Piper draw them until a word was formed that could be used as the town name. The result was Ixonia. This is the only town of that name in the United States. It was established as a town in the year 1846."

Via The Romance of Wisconsin Placenames


Summer night

Hot off the sensor: a late evening shot off a fire hydrant that turned out surprisingly well.

Also I love the look of black and white.

Return to the Marsh

The water stands unusually high this August, but the marsh remains a tranquil sanctuary away from it all - the perfect place to clear one's mind.

This is NOT the way to win in November

I had hoped that Sen. Lindsey Graham's idiotic suggestion to amend the 14th Amendment would die quickly and quietly, but apparently I was wrong. If John Boehner really believes this is something we should be seriously considering, then he has no business leading the GOP.

So, just so we're clear: Seriously address the coming fiscal disaster? Too risky. Seriously discuss ending birthright citizenship? Sure, why not.

This is idiotic. Illegal immigration, if we just focus on securing the borders, is a huge winning issue for the GOP. If we go too far and look like a bunch of reactionary isolationists, it becomes a huge liability. Not only is the idea of amending the Constitution wrong on its face, this would be long-term political suicide. I don't mean that we should pander to Latinos with talk of amnesty, but this is unnecessarily hostile.

For the record, I want the borders secured first and then, when tempers and passions have subsided, we can have a rational discussion of what to do with illegal immigrants already here. I think somewhere between John McCain's previous "comprehensive" reform and strict enforcement is required. But that is best left until after states like Arizona and Texas no longer feel "under assault" from drug and human traffickers.

My question is this: where the hell are the adults in the GOP right now? This is pure pandering stupidity. I really don't want to be right, but the Republicans never cease to amaze me in their ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


Entrepreneurship Uptick

"In 2009, 558,000 new businesses were started per month by new and repeat entrepreneurs, representing the highest year on record, including 1999 - 2000, the peak technology startup boom years."

Sure, the U.S. population has increased since the tech boom, but it's nonetheless encouraging to see that part of the nation's response to the recession has been an entrepreneurial one. 

Digging into some of the graphics from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, though, reveals a few interesting stats - like the disproportionate entrepreneurial kick by immigrants and the high number of construction-related start-ups.

Stopping Traffic

My aunt knows me far too well. 

You need a photographer for your wedding reception aboard a boat?  I'm there.

(Congrats, Aunt Ann and Uncle Bill!)

Krugman gets skewered

In his attempt to denigrate Paul Ryan, we see just how much of a partisan hack he can be.

Megan McArdle wades through Krugman's claims and finds them wanting.

The Tax Policy Center, while arguing the Ryan's plan needs tweaking, fends off Krugman's assertions.

The worst part of Krugman's piece - worse than his factual misunderstanding of the process for scoring tax-related legislation, worse than his idea that government spending is sacrosanct - is his tone.  He's flat out snooty, mean-spirited, ad hominem, and unhelpful. 

That sort of approach wasn't even necessary to make his point.  His numerical assertions alone had enough heft to lead a reader to investigate further and at least question one thrust of Ryan's effort.

Likewise, the Tax Policy Center's debt forecast numbers alone are enough to make me appreciate Ryan's efforts at a Roadmap, even if imperfect, all the more:

CBO estimates that his plan would result in a debt to gross domestic product ratio (GDP) of 69 percent in 2020, rising to 99 percent in 2040, and then decreasing to 77 percent in 2060.  This is in contrast to CBO's estimates for its alternative fiscal scenario (which assumes a continuation of current policy) where the debt-to-GDP ratio is 87 percent in 2020, and then rises sharply to 223 percent in 2040 and 433 (!) percent in 2060.

A greyer shade of gloomy

Times are getting tougher:
India’s legal outsourcing industry has grown in recent years from an experimental endeavor to a small but mainstream part of the global business of law. Cash-conscious Wall Street banks, mining giants, insurance firms and industrial conglomerates are hiring lawyers in India for document review, due diligence, contract management and more.


The number of legal outsourcing companies in India has mushroomed to more than 140 at the end of 2009, from 40 in 2005, according to Valuenotes, a consulting firm in Pune, India. Revenue at India’s legal outsourcing firms is expected to grow to $440 million this year, up 38 percent from 2008, and should surpass $1 billion by 2014, Valuenotes estimates.
I'm not impressed with outsourcing customer service -- I would suggest that the dollar savings are lost in bad customer experience. No matter how well trained, unless these outsourced representatives have spent significant amounts of time in the US, no matter how well they speak English, there are too many cultural queues that they miss, leading to a great deal more frustration on the customer's part. I wonder how that dynamic will work in the legal field. Indian lawyers cannot, by law, give legal advice to their American parent companies, and that's as it should be -- but I would expect that even due diligence would be impacted.

Lest it be forgotten

Althouse posted a plastic army man moment yesterday, which got me to reminiscing about Madison in the wintertime.

Built to withstand a siege of student protesters -- according to legend, anyhow -- this is the first real attack I know of on the place; not the last, but at least one it would survive.

I do wonder how many art students over the years used that idea of Humanities as a bunker. Such a wonderful juxtaposition...


The right call

It's interesting to see Arnold Schwarzenegger in action -- he seems to be quite strongly, though quietly, for gay marriage:
"The Administration believes the public interest is best served by permitting the court's judgment to go into effect, thereby restoring the right of same-sex couples to marry in California," the Republican governor's lawyers said on his behalf. "Doing so is consistent with California's long history of treating all people and their relationships with equal dignity and respect."
He has, of course, twice vetoed legislation that would have allowed for gay marriage -- which legislation would have been a much better way of going about instituting gay marriage legalization. Is it political cowardice that leads him to stand for the decision now that someone else has made it? Or is it sudden conviction? Which way are the political winds blowing in California?


Take the Goat Path Instead

"But in my view, the entire college degree industry is a scam, a self-perpetuating Ponzi scheme that needs to stop right now."

Angular Eagles in Steel

More photos of the high Art Deco edifice here.


The Republican Party is in a state right now. It is absolutely without rudder: witness the TEA Party. It's an inchoate mass -- some arguing intelligently for classical liberal economics and crying out for real solutions out of the spending hole the country is now in, while another large mass launches a frontal assault on the very idea of rationality, weeping alongside Glenn Beck and decrying socialism with an Obama Joker face. Witness the woes of Paul Ryan, the rising-star pragmatist who can't get a following in his own party. Witness Bob Inglis, the moderate who, despite my policy disagreements with him, recognizes the dangers of the obscurantist wing of the TEA Partiers. Witness the return of Newt Gingrich -- who had a fine idea in the mid-Nineties, but now has little more than opposition to mosques.

It is, I think, significant that Ryan refused to join the Tea Party caucus in Congress. And I think it's a wise move. The Republican Party should see the Tea Party as an ally, but not an internal part of itself. The two organizations must remain separate and distinct.

The real danger, I think, is getting too close to a movement that has no real, clear leader. Grassroots movements are fine things, but there needs to be a clear voice with which the group speaks. A group, like the Tea Party, that has no clear definition leaves itself open to too many attacks -- the "racist" smears have been simply that, but the nature of the party remains elusive nonetheless: is it socially conservative? Is it a group focused exclusively on fiscal issues? It is far from clear.

And until the Tea Party coalesces around a solid core, it must remain at arm's length.

Gag the bullies

Neenah, Wisconsin is under attack. The threat is, indeed, so basic, so existential, that the very Constitution needs must be violently shoved aside for our good citizens to be safe.

That danger, apparently, is bullying. Not even the old, in-school type -- no, the threat that is so great as to trump the Constitution is cyber-bullying. Now, granted, there is no indication that this grave threat has actually reared its head in out tranquil town. Sure, there have been "cases" -- nothing so definite as an actual problem, no clear cases where some clear line has been crossed, nothing that we'll actually point to as an example. But it might be a big problem, and that, clearly, should be enough:
Neenah has a policy against harassment, but a new state law requires school districts to adopt, by Aug. 15, a policy prohibiting bullying.

"This is all new ground," board member John Lehman said.

The Board of Education expressed support for the policy and will vote on it Aug. 17, two days after the deadline but within reason of state officials.

Neenah's policy goes further than a model state policy by specifically banning cyber bullying.
So this isn't even the state's fault -- this is all the city. And it's a very bad idea.

Near as I can tell, this isn't really a problem that Neenah is dealing with, but, as usual, the vogue worry for schools. Like how my Catholic school (my graduating class was 80 people) banned backpacks because someone might smuggle in a gun and shoot the place up in the wake of Columbine. Never mind that the truth is, necessarily, far more complicated than the initial news reports. This is a theoretical threat that must be headed off in the most draconian fashion.

Could we consider building better connections between the administration and parents in order to communicate when certain students are starting to bully or be bullied? Poppycock.

Could we suggest that parenting is an important part of raising a child? Nonsense.

Could we remind ourselves that a school's jurisdiction stops at, um, the school? Heresy!

Instead, we'll simply muzzle the students. We will police all their behavior. We will, of course, have to spy on the students. We will teach them that some thoughts cannot be thunk. That some words cannot be spoken. We will show them that the State is right, that they are helpless to stand up for themselves, that, ultimately, freedom of speech means nothing.

And that is wrong.


Choose your Justice

Or let the Justice choose you.

We Can't Not Talk About It

A federal judge's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage on U.S. Constitutional grounds invites chatter.  So chime in.

I spent most of the day traveling home yesterday for a family wedding here in Wisconsin, so I'm going to defer my full take on the matter until I've had time to take a look at the opinion itself.

My initial thoughts: 1) I'm not at all surprised, 2) I think there's enough in play for Justice Kennedy to affirm, ultimately, with a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court [although I still wonder how his Catholicism will feed into this matter], 3) the decision seems to be "maximalist" in that it reached more broadly than it had to, and 4) I fear that the ruling and any affirmations on appeal could lead to a major, regrettable backlash against gay people, especially given its high profile, its ambitious impact on the powers of state electorates, and its unmistakably antimajoritarian character [Dale Carpenter, the perfect person to comment on this, implies as much at Volokh and Orin Kerr speaks to the problem of the pace of change as it relates to the rational basis test].

Quite frankly, I have few qualms about permitting state recognition of gay marriages.  But it's difficult for me to make much of Judge Walker's ruling because I know that a judicial mandate, even if it protects individual rights, is a weak long-term foundation for significant societal change (as I drove into Sheboygan today, I caught one of the local Christian radio stations going full tilt against the ruling).  To paraphrase a wise professor, those who claim to be ending a morality-based policy are inevitably imposing a new morality whether they admit it or not.  And that's not a simple or insignificant thing.

Still, to the extent the state is going to be involved in recognizing relationships between two consenting adults, give us all the same basic legal rights when it comes to being in a committed relationship (a la equal protection) and be done with it.


Northern Lights!

If you're in the northern tier of the lower 48, look to the north, you might be able to see some auroras tonight!

A person in northern Wisconsin took a photo of them last night.

Here's a live map of where the energy is.

There's more energy than normal pushing them south because of a solar ejection on Sunday.

How Republicans must govern - if we win in November

Rich Lowry has an excellent piece on the adults in the Republican Party - and no, the list does not include Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell or John Boehner. While I think he oversells the case on Gov. Christie - I love the bluntness of his public comments, but think he overdoes it occasionally - the point Lowry makes is simple: we need serious people and serious solutions to lead the nation right now.

There is another key point to make as well: Gov. Daniels and Gov. Christie ran on the things they are doing right now. They offered solutions to their constituents and now they are delivering. It makes me a little nervous when national GOP leaders are so reluctant to offer a plan to the American people. They often talk of "repeal and replace" when it comes to health care, but replace with what? Paul Ryan's Roadmap isn't perfect, but it's at least a hell of a great place to start.

Same thing goes here in Wisconsin. The state party should be offering a consistent message, but we aren't. Yes, Gov. Doyle was a terrible governor and he certainly is going to leave his successor with a giant mess, but we might as well start proposing a way to fix it now.

Look, I know I say this a lot but at a certain point you've got to say what you are going to do. The number one question I got campaigning in '08 was "What are you going to do about it?" What "it" is does not really matter. Whether you were discussing jobs, health care, or the budget people respond to specifics, and I don't mean talking points like cutting taxes or cutting spending - give people specifics and they'll know you are serious. You phrase it in easy to understand language, but you offer specifics. If you don't want to offer specifics, at least put things into the perspective of how it impacts individuals.

If we do this right and deliver on the message we should have, we can transform Wisconsin. If we don't I'm afraid that at best it will be like the final scene in The Candidate, when Robert Redford - after having pulled off a David and Goliath upset in a US Senate race - asks his campaign manager, Peter Boyle, "What do we do now?"

That's not a question we should have to ask ourselves. If we are the adults, we'll know what to do.


The Rear Window

hidden behind my environmental chamber leads to the glycol chillers sitting on the roof

“I don’t think these things are third rails anymore. People are ready for this.”

Yeah, why aren't Congressional Republicans getting onboard when it comes to supporting the Roadmap of "Paul D. Ryan, the rangy Republican"?


Down the garden path

Image Zero

Today my new camera finally arrived. After I figured out the menus--I bought a higher end model than my last one--here's the first picture:

Since this photo, I've already set it to black and white to help coax out my inner Ansel. Just kidding.

But I am pumped since I haven't had photo capabilities since spring.

Farewell S. Liberty, Hello St. Roch

My old neighbor, Jack, advised me to get an AK-47.  An MIT-trained urbanist friend referred to the neighborhood by using the technical term "edgy."  And I had a color-changing lizard living on my bathroom window for these first few days of transition.

But, after two brutally hot days of moving, I'm excited to see a new side of New Orleans down in St. Roch.  My new place is just a ways behind the old St. Roch Market building on the classic live-oak lined neutral ground that's always had a sort of spellbinding effect on me ever since I encountered it. Here's a snapshot look at the neighborhood's history.

It was tough leaving the upper flat on S. Liberty Street - after three years and many memories, it took some work to extract myself (not to mention all of the accumulated furniture, each piece with its own colorful backstory).