9.29.2010

Laptop

Infrared again. Top/bottom. It had been sitting idle for a while. 40 C - 15 C, less scary colors.

Don't worry: Social Security won't go bankrupt until after you die

Jay Bullock is getting exercised. He's upset, you see, because PolitiFact had the audacity to accuse Dems of being untruthful about Social Security claims.

Oh noes!

And so our fine friend on the left goes to great lengths to prove that all of our checks are just fine: good ol' Papa Government is always going to have us benevolently on his jolly, well-financed knee. How does he do this? Thusly: It is not going to disappear before you or I or your grandkids retire unless Republicans destroy it [italics original, bold added].

That's a funny timeframe, isn't it? Don't worry: you'll be juuuuust fine. Your great-grandkids are boned, but hey: so what? It doesn't affect you!

And that's using the most optimistic of Democratic forecasts -- which always work out perfectly. Why not wear the rosy glasses?

Maybe we can stop worrying about global warming now, too -- after all, it'll only sink your great-grandkids' islands!

9.28.2010

I don't know if I buy it.

But this is certainly an original and different perspective on the status of China and the U.S. as competing world powers.

Pasig, Manila

Metro Manila is gigantic, and the most densely populated city on earth. Comprised of a number of difference "cities," I live in Pasig City for now. I've been strolling through my neighborhood for the last few days -- mostly malls, which have been oddly interesting.




The last shot is an excellent little park sandwiched between the skyscrapers. There's a coffee shop just beside it, too, that plays very good music where I sit and read and watch people go by when I'm too hot from walking around.

9.27.2010

Significance in NoKo

So Kim Jong-un, third son of Kim Jong-il, has been made a general at the tender age of probably 27:
But analysts said it was still uncertain whether the younger Kim would lead the country following his father's death, and if so how independent he would be. They portrayed his current situation as effectively a probation period.

In its first ever mention of Kim Jong-un, state news agency KCNA said the 26- or 27-year-old had been given the rank of general.

"He will be the crown prince. That's it. There is no doubt," said Dr Kongdan Oh of the Brookings Institute. But she added: "The father provides a halo effect – the question is what happens when Kim Jong-il dies. That will be an interesting time."
There are a few important things going on here. The first is that young Kim was appointed to the military. I most certainly do not know the internal workings of North Korea, but in most similar countries, there are real cleavages between party and military. Reformists seemed to have been taking up leadership roles in advance of this Party meeting. It may have been necessary to win over the military, or at least exert more control over them, by giving Kim Jong-un a military position. On the other hand, the military is undoubtedly a major focus for North Korea, and every generation of Kim has come up through that institution.

But there is speculation that the new Kim may ultimately remain a figurehead, while some of the reformists form a ruling coalition. This would present major difficulties for the country, as it would really allow factions to come into play and compete perhaps more openly than they had until now. If his father dies soon -- as seems to be expected, given numerous reports of ill health -- the son will have had little time to build a power base and loyalty of his own. That leaves him in a position in which he could have to concede some power to other groups -- and possibly creating a vacuum of power into which other interests may step. Such a precarious position may make the North more defensive in the short term (it's no coincidence that the country will hold its largest military parade to date at the close of this conference).

Chinese support will remain a major factor for the country, of course, and how Beijing handles its relations with Pyongyang will continue to be a test.

Drip line

Probably the right call

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally.
I understand the privacy concerns here, but I think they're overstated. This isn't an expansion of what can be tapped -- just bringing into compliance things that already. So while I opposed the Bush wiretapping extensions, I don't think that bringing ISPs into compliance.

Moreover, the US government can't be responsible for setting a precedent that more dictatorial regimes might use for more nefarious purposes later: there is a degree of lawfulness that those regimes do not possess that makes invalid arguments for the need to wiretap dissidents, just in the same way that laws requiring a permit to march, when used overly strictly in Russia, are not the equivalent of similar laws in the US. Precedents are not necessarily equivalent, even using very similar laws.

9.25.2010

Kewl


Yesterday the thermal camera was borrowed. Here I was standing in front of the evaporator. Dark is 19 C and white was the high end at 31 C, so at 37 C I'd mostly be beyond the upper limit of the scale. I was smiling by the way. Also I noticed that reflections make a huge difference. I think that's because the camera works by assuming everything has one particular emissivity.

Would you like a pair...

...of hand-painted shoes? They're hip in the Phils!

Readiness

A new virus appears to have been state-sponsored, and aimed at Iran:
There was speculation among experts yesterday that the target could have been the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran — which was loaded with Russian uranium fuel last month – and that Israeli hackers were behind the sophisticated operation. But security analysts said it may be impossible to identify the perpetrators.

The computer security firm, Symantec, which has been charting Stuxnet's spread, estimates that the group behind it would have been well funded, comprising between five and 10 people, and that it would have taken six months to prepare.
Meanwhile, American cyber-defense is lacking:
Experts say that questions of legal authority in the unique environment of cyberspace -- where the networks critical to government and even military operations are owned and operated by the private sector -- are a problem for U.S. cybersecurity efforts across the government.

Gen. Alexander said the administration is still grappling, as its predecessors had, with the exact role military, civilian and private sector entities would play in cybersecurity.

Since we're talking about the fishing incident

I notice that Steve Levine is thinking about it as well:
Call it the Georgia lesson. In 2008, Russia informed the United States and the rest of the West that the former Soviet Caucasus and Central Asia were no longer their playland, but rather Moscow's sovereign sphere of influence. How did it do so? By going to war with Georgia.

Now we have China informing Japan -- and the rest of Asia -- that the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea are its territory in which to fish and whatever else it wishes. Like Russia, Beijing did so by demonstrating that it was prepared to go to almost any extreme -- in this case short of war, but including the crippling of several Japanese industries -- to press its territorial claim. This includes rights over the big oil and gas reserves in the islands. Today Japan blinked. After this, will Japan continue the presumption that it is in charge of what it calls the Senkaku islands? Not if it wishes to continue to manufacture the Prius, as Andrew Leonard notes at Salon.

The difference of course is that, with all due respect to Russia and Georgia, this case concerns truly serious players. The breathtaking part is China's readiness to dismissively take on Japan, the world's third-largest economy.

9.24.2010

Haven't heard about it in the US

But there's a big thing going down between China and Japan right now over a few small islands.

The Chinese people I work with have been mentioning it from time to time. It's something like a non-military Chinese ship landed people on the islands to occupy them and the Japanese, who claim the islands, ended up arresting the captain of that boat.

My Chinese co-worker and I were discussing American foreign policy the other day and I mentioned about how China should stop maintaining North Korea since if SK were able to absorb the north to form a modern country, then I don't see how we could justify being there and in Japan, and getting some breathing room is probably what China'd want.

She made the point that the Chinese view is hyper-defensive 'because they've had many wars and much destruction in their country' and apparently they see a potentially united Korea as a big enough of a threat. China is still pretty sour at Japan.

Personally I think that's silly talk since SK is one of China's biggest trading partners and even an enhanced SK would be tiny in comparison, only 75 million people or so at present. Not to mention having an active economic land border has to be better for the border region than having an economic black hole on the other side, but perhaps they fear Korea would start spilling over into that region of China. On top of this, there are thousands of years of history and relations between the different groups in Asia that as non-Asians we're completely oblivious to.

9.23.2010

Not Just Rasmussen

Even polls by Daily Kos, CNN, and Time are showing Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold in statistically significant trouble as he faces Ron Johnson.

9.22.2010

Shouldn't everyone be concerned about the Constitution?

Dahlia Lithwick makes a pretty, well, stupid statement in Slate (ironically, while trying to make Christine O'Donnell look stupid):
O’Donnell [in a debate with Chris Coons] explained that “when I go to Washington, D.C., the litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional.” How weird is that, I thought. Isn’t it a court’s job to determine whether or not something is, in fact, constitutional? And isn’t that sort of provided for in, well, the Constitution?
And David Bernstein, writing at Volokh Conspiracy, explains just how dumb of a statement it was:
Short answer: Senators swear an oath to uphold the Constitution. Of course they are obligated to determine whether a bill they are considering is constitutional. Where did Lithwick get the idea that courts, and only courts, should be concerned with the constitutionality of legislation?
The long answer is even better.

Midweek Quick Hits

  • Calumet County DA Ken Kratz is an idiot. And a sleazebag. (You don't need a link do you?)
  • I don't think Ron Johnson is ahead by quite this much, but if I were Sen. Feingold, I'd be really, really worried.
  • Finally - and I'll have more on this later - is that if the tone and substance of what is being reported on the new Bob Woodward book is true, then President Obama is a guaranteed one term President. There are a lot of reasons, but putting politics above actually winning the war he told us was the "good" war is inexcusable.

'Till next time



Wheels up at 6.46 tonight -- touchdown around 11 am Manila time tomorrow. See you then!

Landslide!

9.20.2010

“It is an erroneous argument that since the smuggling ...cannot be stopped, the government might just as well legalize the importation”

Guess which product.

Peggy Noonan Nails It

I think she gets at what's driving the Tea Party in its broadest sense.

Her metaphors of the yardstick and the clock certainly speak to deep, central concerns of mine.  Here's the yardstick aspect of the anxiety she pinpoints:

First, the yardstick. Imagine that over at the 36-inch end you've got pure liberal thinking—more and larger government programs, a bigger government that costs more in the many ways that cost can be calculated. Over at the other end you've got conservative thinking—a government that is growing smaller and less demanding and is less expensive. You assume that when the two major parties are negotiating bills in Washington, they sort of lay down the yardstick and begin negotiations at the 18-inch line. Each party pulls in the direction it wants, and the dominant party moves the government a few inches in their direction.

But if you look at the past half century or so you have to think: How come even when Republicans are in charge, even when they're dominant, government has always gotten larger and more expensive?

Flowers


"There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it."

Barack Obama loses Colin Powell.

9.19.2010

H'm.

Interesting, if true:
Observation #2 gives fuel to my theory that those who think the Tea Party is driven by some other demographic besides white evangelicals are misguided. Of course, there is no doubt that everyone in the room on Saturday, including Mike Pence, is against same-sex marriage. But the whole structure of his speech indicated that he knows what evangelicals—a huge number of whom I would bet serious money are also Tea Partiers—are angry about a lot of other things right this minute. Not just abortion and gay marriage, but trying detainees in civilian courts, health care reform, the stimulus, everything. With that much ammunition, there’s no need to pander too explicitly about same-sex marriage.

Russ Feingold's Mythic Campaign

Throughout the election, Senator Feingold has attacked Ron Johnson for just about everything you can think of, but one of the ones that is most obnoxious is the notion that Russ Feingold - perhaps the most popular Progressive in the nation - is an underdog and an outsider. The notion that Feingold has to endure lonely lunches in DC is laughable. He's a 3-term Senator with his name on one of the most substantive and controversial pieces of legislation in this century. Sen. Feingold is a lot of things, but a pariah in Washington is not one of them.

Another one of the Feingold campaign's favorite myths - and one that his supporters love to repeat - is that he is the underdog and a Quixotic crusader against the special interests. Feingold himself has said that he's been outspent in every election and he will be again.

But here's the problem: it's a lie.

In Feingold's first election in 1992, he really was outspent. Incumbent Sen. Kasten spent nearly three times as Feingold - $5.9 million to $2 million.

In 1998, Feingold spent $3.846 million on the race and Mark Neumann spent $4.373 million. Feingold was outspent in the calendar year, but he finished the race with nearly three-quarters of a million on hand. He could have easily matched Neumann's total had he wanted. This was also the last time anyone would outspend Feingold in a head to head race.

In 2004, businessman Tim Michels spent a whopping $5.527 million, including $2.43 million of his own money. For a state like Wisconsin, that's a huge sum and not surprising given the bruising primary battle that year. Even so, Sen. Feingold made Michels look like a pauper. The man who gave us campaign finance reform doubled his opponent's spending and dropped $11.23 million to keep his seat in Washington. That's a lot of money to keep on eating alone.

Fast forward to this year and the story is much the same. Again, Feingold faces a wealthy challenger who helped build a successful business, and again, Feingold is outspending him by more than a million dollars. The most recent figures show that Feingold has spent more than $6.196 million and holds a staggering $3.087 million on hand. Johnson has spent a lot of money too, $4.55 million, but he holds only $1.614 million in reserves. That cash advantage is not easy to dismiss, and though it won't be as lopsided as 2004, I find it hard to believe that Feingold will be outspent by Johnson - remember, most of Johnson's spending has been to introduce himself to voters. After 18 years, there's not a lot to introduce for Feingold.

Which brings us to a final point. One of the biggest Feingold talking points has been to label Johnson a tool of the "special interests." Well, let's look at that, shall we? Most people would consider PACs to be special interests, as they are often the political arm of unions and advocacy groups. This year, Sen. Feingold has raised more than $600,000 of PAC money. Ron Johnson? $92,750. Over the course of his 18 years in the Senate, Feingold has received more than $2.55 million in PAC contributions. Not exactly chump change.

I guess my point is that if you accept the argument that where a politician gets his money defines him, what special interest does Ron Johnson serve? Is he just so narcissistic that he wants to buy an election because he thinks he deserves it? Being a businessman, I'm sure he could find better uses for $4.55 million, but maybe he actually thinks that the country really is in financial peril and Russ Feingold is part of the problem. No, that can't be it. He's just another evil Republican, right? Of course, because in Russ Feingold's world, only he and his fellow Progressives care about the country...

9.18.2010

What a great sight!

Today, at last, for the first time, I got my system running at full capacity! And smoothly, too.

Never has a trickle of water looked so good:


The view in the opposite direction:


It almost worked right yesterday afternoon, except there was only an occasional drop. I checked inside the chamber and the trough under the evaporator was full. The culprit: an aquatic dust bunny plugging the drain.

By the way, this is where the condensation that drips off the evaporator goes. The bucket is held by a load cell which the computer reads for the weight of the water. Today it averaged 1.75 g/s, or about 2 gallons per hour. Of course, I have to add that much steam on the other side to keep things going.

It seems like I should have opinions about the topics of the day

It also seems like I should be packing. But I've spent the last few days throwing balls with the dog and reading and drinking coffee, and have been generally detached. Things will pick up again after the 23rd, from Manila. But here are some things that I've noticed in the recent past:

+"Going ghost" in the face of death threats from Islamic radicals.

+Should we call a halt to the game?

+Speaking out?

+The START treaty is out of committee - it should be passed.

+Still rocking out in Iran.

+It appears a coalition will run against Putin; mayoral elections will tell us more.

+Constitutional changes in Turkey signal a shift.

+If I was Palin, I'd keep playing the power behind the throne.

"Wow! We can go fast."

"Train go fast. Student not think about who pay for cool fast train. Ride train. Train cool"

Brings back memories of campus politics at UW-Madison.

9.16.2010

Hackmatack?

Hackmatack! The US Fish and Wildlife Service has begun studying how to turn the natural areas in my home area into a national wildlife refuge on the same level as Horicon, or a satellite of. By home area I mean along the Wisconsin-Illinois state line 20 miles west of Lake Michigan. It's uncanny how closely the study area overlays it.

I think this is a great idea. I like the parks in my area; we've got some interesting glacial landscapes and water features and it seems like in both states, they've managed to pick the best parts to save. Not only that, the big parks in my area are basically natural land with occasional paths through them. Another thing is that already in my lifetime, I've seen the northern edge of Chicago's suburbs creep ever closer. It's no Yosemite, but I like the rolling prairies more than another neighborhood of cheap houses.

If someone connected to the project happens to read this, I'd recommend using land along the Fox River as a park axis to connect north to south. In Wisconsin it floods so it's undeveloped near the river. In Illinois, I would also connect Glacial Park, between Ringwood and Spring Grove, to the Fox River. It's undeveloped to the E, NW, and W of that park. Additional space and parks south of McHenry could also be added.

Art Deco meets Aztec Revival



 















The General Laundry Cleaners and Dyers Building, 1929, Mid-City, New Orleans.

9.14.2010

Moonwalk Beach























At the moment, the water is lower in the Mississippi River off the French Quarter than I've ever seen it.  A sizable beachfront has emerged down below the Moonwalk.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Primary Today

As I've laid out before, I think Brett Davis brings the most to the GOP ticket of any of the candidates.

Having worked with him closely in the past, I trust his judgment and I truly believe he represents the best option when asking "Which candidate would I actually find capable of taking the reins of state government in the place of the governor?"

I also know he's extremely hard-working, and I think his campaigning schedule proved it.  Unlike a few of his opponents, his success comes not simply from his identity, but from his tireless effort, whether in the political realm or the private sector.

Brett also balances out the GOP ticket by providing a figure from outside of southeast Wisconsin, and his record of re-election three times in a tough, tough district shows his ability to reach out to independents and others.

9.13.2010

Island endorsements: Johnson and Walker

On the eve of the primaries, we here at LiB have been mulling our options in the major races across the state. We've been critical of some candidates, curious about others, and supportive of a few. But now it is time to make choices, and pick those fine few we think would be most effective in moving our state and country in the right direction.

At the state level, we like Scott Walker. Although we've found room for criticism, Walker has the knowledge and skill to lead the state back from the tax hell it's become and start to right an economy that's been largely in the doldrums lately. Neumann's questionable understandings of the Constitution and weird stunts are indications of problems that run more deeply than a poorly-run insurgent campaign and point to real problems of judgment. Nor have we been entirely able to get past his weak ideas -- hand-waving about technology is not enough to close the massive budget gap that Wisconsin is currently facing.

Scott Walker has successfully led Milwaukee County. We believe that he understands what it will take to bring more jobs to Wisconsin and create an atmosphere in which these businesses can thrive. He has proven to be a reformer, not an empty suit who has the right phrases. Combined with a depth of experience that has been earned through years in government, Scott Walker is what Wisconsin -- and the Republican Party -- need for the years to come.

On the opposite side of the coin, LiB also endorses Ron Johnson.  Experience is crucial, but it can slide into complacency.  Russ Feingold has grown too comfortable in his seat, and has made the wrong choice too many times to be considered for a further term in the Senate.

Johnson echoes the better facets of the Tea Party -- focusing on less spending and more responsibility, and a government that knows its place and will not step beyond its proper boundaries. He appears willing to part ways even with Bush-era Republicans who spent hand over fist before the economic meltdown. Although I personally disagree with some of his foreign policy positions, his views on trade and domestic spending are rightly the focus of his campaign. His knowledge of what is really needed by the private sector trumps any legislative experience that Feingold may carry.

A chat with Ron Johnson, pt III: the domestic agenda and the campaign

"We have to out-organize community organizers."

My interview with Ron Johnson on foreign and economic policy left me wanting to know more about his domestic agenda -- facets we unfortunately ran out of time to discuss.

So I was glad to have a few minutes this evening, on the eve of the election, to speak with the candidate again. I wasn't able to record this conversation, but was able to look somewhat more at where his campaign has been in recent months.

He is quick to deny that he is "the Tea Party candidate," although he does suggest that his campaign intersects with the interests of the grassroots conservative organization. "They are concerned about current levels of spending and debt... and concerned about our country being in peril," Johnson said, continuing, "The federal government has way overstepped its bounds; they're [the Tea Party] looking to scale back."

The Tea Party also seems to have drawn Johnson into politics this season: he cites a Tea Party speech he gave in Oshkosh as the time he began to be asked to run; the passage of the health care bill spurred him to "seriously consider" candidacy. It's unclear where Johnson draws the line between the Tea Party and himself, but their interests certainly lie along the same trajectory.

And he rejects labels. I asked if one could set up a Republican spectrum, with Sarah Palin as populist rabble-rouser on one end and Paul Ryan as policy-wonk technocrat on the other -- where would Johnson fall? "I can't categorize myself with anybody," Johnson replied. He claims to be his own man, running on his own biography and "31 years' experience" in the private sector. These experiences, he says, will allow him to be effective as soon as he gets to Washington: he rejected the idea that legislative experience, or being a "career politician," would make one more able to fully represent his constituents. Indeed, Johnson said, "I think that kind of experience is vastly overrated. I have people who will help me navigate... I'm a pretty good problem solver."

Those problems are largely fiscal. Throughout our conversation, he came back to two major ideas: reducing spending and repealing the health care bill. These two points were the major themes that seem to inform all of Johnson's positions. He was certainly set against any further stimulus package, and suggested using the unspent money of the first package to pay down debt rather than for further spending. Asked about any decisions over which he might disagree with other Republican colleagues, he mentioned spending again: "I certainly was not happy when Republicans were spending more than they were taking in."

Restraining federal oversteps also inform his judicial outlook: he would not vote to confirm Elena Kagan. "She disqualified herself" over her stance on Army recruiting at Harvard; "It's clear she will be a judicial activist."

Johnson's final message was one that seems central, also, to the Tea Party: "Do voters want to send to Washington a career politician... or a citizen legislator?"

Urbana High School

9.12.2010

Ten days

Two years is a long time to go without a trip, once you get used to moving around. And my feet have been getting increasingly itchy lately.

So it's time to move on again. On September 22, I'm flying out of Appleton to the Philippines. My job here has an opening in their Manila office; I'll be there for about a year if things go as planned.

I expect to keep blogging -- this time from a rather different island!

Mass Move of Historic Homes in New Orleans























For almost a year now, I've been chronicling - and participating in - the fight to stop the destruction of the Lower Mid-City neighborhood in New Orleans.  Home to hundreds of historic houses and located in a National Register Historic District, the 70-acre site is absolutely the wrong place to be building two new hospitals - especially when it's unclear whether the necessary funding will materialize for the entire project and when there are clear alternatives.  The staggering number of bad ideas rolled into the project compelled me, at last, to jump off the sidelines and into the fray.  I saw a place that represented the very essence of what attracted me to New Orleans being needlessly destroyed.

While it's now too late to avoid the hardships and wrongs that have already been imposed on the residents of the neighborhood - many of whom returned after Katrina to rebuild, some of whom have now had their properties expropriated by the state - there is a fallback approach underway that serves as some consolation.

Back in March, a few concerned citizens realized that we needed another line of action in the event we could not convince those in power to site the hospitals more appropriately.  Spurred on by a lawyer I would call the conscience of Post-Katrina New Orleans, I spent most of my spring break working feverishly with a few others trying to come up with a booklet that documented one of the hospital footprints photographically, historically, and architecturally.  We needed a factual basis to make a claim, and we began to plan for a possible mass house moving if all the other political and legal avenues of approach failed.

The booklet and the initial planning meetings got enough momentum going and got enough local officials and non-profits interested to make that fallback line of approach a reality.  Recently, a national non-profit has begun moving what may ultimately amount to 100 historic homes out of one of the hospital footprints to other vacant lots in the city where they will be refurbished (some were vacant and some were occupied up until recently) and then sold.  The moves provide affordable housing, provide infill in scarred neighborhoods, maintain the tax base, and ultimately preserve a sense of the unique architectural heritage of New Orleans.  The photos on this post give a brief overview of the move of one house, a double shotgun formerly located at 2426 Palmyra Street and now located on St. Louis Street along the future Lafitte Greenway.  Its roof had to come off to make it under some wires, but it will be refurbished.

While I'm still working to stop the needless destruction of an historic neighborhood, I'm very glad to have been a part of the effort to move the houses out of Lower Mid-City.  Contractors involved in the project note that this is likely the largest mass moving of historic homes in the nation's history, and all but a handful would have been demolished (as about a dozen were before we got the Mayor to intervene and redirect grant money) were it not for this effort.

You can read about and see the developments "Inside the Footprint" here at my blog devoted to the topic.  Like my postings at Letters in Bottles, any posts at that blog represent my personal views alone and not the views of any other person or organization.




Book Review: Mao - The Unknown Story

He sent Nasser a battle plan for a Mao-style 'people's war,' telling him to 'lure the enemy in deep,' by withdrawing into the Sinai Peninsula, even to Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.  Nasser declined to follow the Maoist road, explaining to his distant adviser that Sinai 'is a desert and we cannot conduct a people's liberation war in Sinai because there are no people there.'

This is typical fare on the 616-page long march through Mao-The Unknown Story, by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday.  The excerpt quickly reveals one of the chief things that becomes apparent in an assessment of Mao: he stood on the knife's edge between delusional insanity and a sort of dark brilliance that was frightening for its sheer ruthlessness and heartlessness. 

Well researched, but very much biased in its outlook, the book incorporates extensive interviews and research.  This makes it difficult for the reader to disagree with the underlying premise: Mao, ultimately responsible for hundreds of millions of deaths - was one of the most evil and totalitarian human beings ever to have lived.  It's a disturbing, literally stomach-churning book, recounting repeated stories of an all-powerful communist government starving, terrorizing, brainwashing, and dehumanizing its own people and its own high officials in mass events like the absurd, Kafkaesque nightmare of the Cultural Revolution.

The authors also make another point rather convincingly: no matter how much instability came to China at any point following the Communist takeover in 1949, Mao had his hand on the controls - he was the ultimate agent of chaos.  Chaos provided him with avenues to power.

One additional aspect of the book proved quite insightful.  The authors, even as they stretch to conclusions at times, assess Mao's involvement in and impact on various global crises.  It made me re-think several major historical events.  The Korean Conflict, the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War, Nixon going to China - all of these looked slightly different in my mind's eye when I put down the tome.

And it is a tome.  One full of intrigue, historical data, strange supporting characters like Madam Mao, and the endless scheming of the man at the center of all the spider webs.

It's not a book for everyone.  It requires a keen interest in political machinations and geopolitics for sure.  But, for the right reader, it provides revelation after revelation about both Mao and modern China.  If you're looking to get behind the myths and propaganda, it's an engaging read.

9.09.2010

Roundup: Notable Quotable edition

+Fidel Castro: The Cuban model doesn't even work for us anymore.

+President Ma Ying-Jeou: By contrast, the Republic of China (Taiwan) is a sovereign, democratic nation. So the mainland-Hong Kong model can’t apply to cross-strait relations.

+Judge Virginia A. Phillips: The don’t ask, don’t tell act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways.

+Rev Terry Jones: Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision.

+Ayatolla Khamenei: Another management point [that should be observed] by the cabinet is that duplication in various fields, including in the foreign-policy arena, must be avoided and ministers should be trusted within the framework of their authorities and responsibilities.

+Ron Paul: Our foreign policy is based on an illusion: that we are actually paying for it.

Let the Whodatery begin!




















* This sign appeared suddenly in the last day or so on the wall of Outer Banks Bar.

An interesting parallel

"People have a constitutional right to burn a Quran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at ground zero," Palin wrote on Facebook.

Lake Michigan history

Did you know Lake Michigan had its own Titanic-esque disaster in 1860? It was the Lady Elgin.

The boat was returning to Milwaukee from a Steven Douglas rally in Chicago and sank 10 miles offshore about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago, about where I-94 splits off and does that short east jog before going into the city.

9.07.2010

The lack of a contract says more about the GOP than Frum lets on

David Frum has an interesting article in today's CNN. He begins by asking:
Party strategists may have decided they don't need a manifesto: they are winning without one. They may also find it too difficult to agree on the manifesto's content: how do you appeal to Tea Party radicals and swing voters at the same time?
Well, I'd suggest that you'd do this by heavily emphasizing fiscal responsibility and prudence. You'd de-emphasize religious issues, and would make sure to not use this manifesto as a hanger for red-meat social issues. The Tea Party was, it bears repeating, originally based around taxation issues exclusively, and was in no way a social conservative movement. It still is that largely, which is why there seems to be a real overlap between swing voters and Tea Partiers. And in fact, Frum's manifesto goes directly to this reality, staying away from religious right issues entirely.

He also makes another fine point about the long-term wisdom of winning without a goal, one that has been made at LiB frequently in the recent past:
Post-election, though, Republicans will be sorry. The Contract with America helped to discipline the new Republican majority of 1994, enabling Republicans to help achieve important things: welfare reform, a cut in the capital gains tax, a balanced budget.

If Republican majorities arrive in Washington in 2011 without a program, the risk is very real they will fall into trouble: pick the wrong fights with the administration, fail to deliver results, share the blame if employment continues to lag.

Petraeus and the Book Burners

Thoughts?

I see echoes of the "Cartoon Controversy" - but there are many different factors at play in this instance, many competing values locking horns.

St. Roch Revival























Mr. Larry and another worker repaint the abandoned building at St. Roch and St. Claude in anticipation of a new ceramic studio and store.

9.06.2010

"the witch from fix our ferals went behind me and got all of them and brought them back."

Read a few of the comments.  I laughed out loud.

Restrepo

Last night, I had a chance to see Restrepo, the documentary film that Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington cut from 10 visits to a U.S. unit in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley.

I had a variety of reactions, both emotional and intellectual, across the span of the showing.

But my first reaction may have frightened me the most: why did it take 9 years of conflict before I saw a movie about the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan?  That realization hammered home just how disconnected the U.S. populace has been from the conflict, and I most certainly do not exempt myself from blame for such negligence.  The New York Times articles simply do not do it justice.

Interspersed with truly beautiful shots - like mountain birds wheeling overhead or a soldier smoking in the sun on a cold morning - Restrepo was largely unvarnished, which gave it heft.  The makers established a minimalist narrative at the outset, but it was not always clear what, if any, message was intended.  Overall, the subtle hint seemed to be, very simply: war is senseless and hellish, and it should be avoided because nobody involved gets by unscathed.

The language is coarse, the conditions are harsh, and some of the missteps and less-than-perfect decisions by the U.S. forces might make you squirm or groan a bit.  The platoon, in its attempt to relieve stress, also seems goofy at times.  But that's another part of the strength of the work in its attempt to convey the frontlines to the citizenry back home (and perhaps one of its weaknesses as a film): it's a bit jumbled as it traces the multiple facets of conflict, and it evokes a corresponding variety of emotions. 

The troops are young, they are very human - and sometimes the odds stacked against them, such as terrain, locals intermingling with the enemy, and non-military duties, seem almost absurd (and they unavoidably raise the question: why are we even here?).  In that sense, I think Junger brilliantly used his embedded position to create what may be, at root, an anti-war film that nevertheless passes entirely under the radar because it does not overtly question the bravery or efforts of the troops as individuals.

I'm reading General Petraeus' Counterinsurgency Field Manual right now as well, and it was interesting to synthesize the points and lessons of the written work with the realities shown in the movie.  It also made me wonder, as a friend suggested, if COIN, even if ultimately successful in a given country or region (I do think it's a brilliant development for U.S. forces), is actually worth the major outlay required in terms of finances, manpower, and time.  Or if it should be done by U.S. troops.

Overall, especially given the dearth of decent movies out there right now, I'd recommend seeing Restrepo if you happen to find it playing in a theater near you.

7th Ward

9.04.2010

A little jazz for your weekend

If you're in the Fox Valley, you'd be doing yourself a favor to stop by the Fox Jazz Fest this weekend. The lineup is very good:
12:00 pm Seton Catholic Middle School Jazz Band
12:30 pm Neenah High School Jazz Band
1:00 pm Greg Gatien
2:00 pm Reggie and Mardra Thomas
3:00 pm High School Improv Competition Winners
3:30 pm Howard Levy Trio
4:30 pm Geoff Keezer

9:00 pm After hours Jam Session featuring Noah Harmon Trio,
@ Holiday Inn Riverwalk

Sunday, September 5th

12:00 pm Kaukauna High School Jazz Strings
12:30 pm Ashwaubenon High School Jazz Band
1:00 pm John Schwerbel & Patrick Kelly
1:30 pm The Mohawk Avenue Jazz Band
2:30 pm Ethan Uslan
3:30 pm Dan Trudell
4:30 pm Janet Planet

Of course, I'd strongly recommend you be there for the 1 o'clock show on Sunday, but that may be personal bias. Also, tonight's after-hours show with the Noah Harmon Trio should be killer.

After the jump, video of some of the highlights.

Edit: I'd thought it was John Harmon playing, but will instead be his son Noah -- my understanding is that it's an extended jam session, and anyone can sit in.

9.02.2010

Ron Johnson's Gaffes

Ron Johnson is not a politician. It is painfully obvious that he is not used to media scrutiny. He has the unfortunate habit of saying some slightly sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek comments that liberals and those in the media find horribly offensive.

First it was the comment about Greenland actually having been green. The liberals in the Blogosphere O' Cheese went nuts about it. How dare someone be so cavalier in their opinions of global warming. The problem is that part of it was sarcasm - as Cindy rightly points out. The thing is that Johnson is right. A thousand years ago Vikings were able to raise significant amounts of livestock and support many settlements on the island, though the climate today makes that nearly impossible.

Now there's his comments about the business climate being more predictable in communist China than the United States. Here's the thing, though, if you listen to the interview it is pretty clear that Johnson is again showing some sarcasm in his comments. If you take his comments in full, it seems that he is pointing out that with the new 2,000 plus page health care bill and the 2,000 plus page financial reform bill - together with the prospect of cap and trade and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts - the business climate in the US is far less predictable than a repressive communist nation.

I believe it's called irony.

True, Johnson said it a bit clumsily. No, it wasn't the best analogy he could offer. But he makes a good point. When we pass legislation that is thousands of pages long without reading them - like Russ Feingold did with both the health care and financial reform bills - we create incredible amounts of uncertainty. Right now, business owners have no idea what is going to happen. If the Republicans pull off a complete sweep, they might make huge rollbacks in the implementation of the current reforms. If the Democrats hold on to even slim majorities they may feel that they have received a vindication of their policies and double down.

One of the biggest problems right now is that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress have gone so far, so fast, that no one knows for certain what is going to happen when the new laws are fully implemented. For crying out loud, we have to wait until 2013 or 2014 to find out what the health care bill will do.

That makes it pretty darn hard to make decisions about business investment. Ron Johnson was pointing that out, and I guess I can't blame liberals for jumping on him - it is their policies that got us here after all.

SAY WHAT?!?

There's new Sufjan Stevens?!

I just found out he released an EP within the last two weeks and there's an album to be released in October!

The EP at least is online here! I haven't heard any of it yet, but if he's still on a roll from the last one, these should be great (even though it's not a state)!

A Final Chance for Inside the Footprint

Today.

If you're in NOLA, I invite you to come down and join in this evening.  The Treme Brass Band recently joined the lineup, and it's sure to be a good time.

I also think it makes sense to make one final push because I think Mayor Landrieu is not Mayor Nagin.

9.01.2010

Mr Goldberg should drop the caveat

The Economist weighs in on Glenn Beck's supposed libertarianism:
Mr Beck offered the placid throng an insipid stew of mildly uplifting flag-swaddled God-talk, Bob Hope troop fluffing, "America is the promised land" crypto-Mormonism, and weird "only you can prevent the Eschaton" civic exhortation. This certainly does not strike me as the sort of production one would mount to promote across-the-board legalisation of capitalist acts between consenting adults. Of course, no one ever suggested Mr Beck is the second coming of Murray Rothbard. Still, Saturday's patriotic pray-in strikes me as precisely the sort of production one would mount to summon and inspire the most staunchly conservative of the nation's strangely aggrieved religious, white, middle class whilst trying hard not to arouse alarm.


Head for the hills, Jonah. Maybe take some beer with you.

No Idea

what kind of tree this is

Reading

A review:
What emerge are essentially three stories. Armenia is trapped in time, unable to capture the true potential of its entrepreneurial population until it can re-engage with neighbors like Turkey -- where rapprochement has finally, if haltingly, begun -- and Azerbaijan, where animosities remain fresh. Azerbaijan, which, as few know, became the world's first Muslim democracy just after the First World War and again, ephemerally, after the Soviet Union's collapse, is close to tapping out its oil wealth and is sliding toward autocracy with apparent increasing intensity. Georgia, meanwhile, has come the closest to embracing democracy -- albeit with passionate lurches in the wrong direction from time to time. It has made strides to enact key reforms and lift its 4 million citizens from poverty, though the effect of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on its dream of territorial integrity remains searing and, as Russia's recent invasion points out, persistent hot zones.
De Waal is fantastic, and this book will certainly be worth your while.