Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Big Time

Thanks to Donna, Pixels at an Exhibition now has its own show. Ahab, Generik, and I have images on display at Copy Cop, at 601 Boylston Street in Boston. If you're in the neighborhood, drop in and check it out.

This is hugely exciting for me (and, I think, for Ahab and Generik). Many, many thanks to Donna for setting this up!

More pics below the fold.

Friday, January 30, 2009

New Rule

Anyone who supported both the Iraq War and the Bush tax cuts shifting doesn't get to use the phrase "generational theft".

Friday Random Ten

Cracker - 7 Days
Modern Lovers - The Government Center
Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire (live, Austin City Limits)
Iggy Pop - Nightclubbing
Dynamic Africana - Igbehin Lafayo Nta
Talking Heads - This Must Be the Place
Buttersprites - LuvLuvLuv
Telephone Jim Jesus - Did You Hear?
Monks - We Do, Wie Du
Wailers - Road Runner

Super Bowl Dissenting Views

A sports-level discussion of why Sunday's game will be the least-super Super Bowl ever is out of bounds for this space. But although I enjoy pro sports, my favorite sports reporting is done with the same healthy dose of skepticism as I try to approach everything that surrounds the actual competition. So it is that, in perfect synch, two of my favorite sports curmudgeons, Bill Littlefield, host of NPR's Only A Game, and Charlie (Charles P.) Pierce, who writes for the Boston Globe magazine and appears weekly on Only A Game and occasionally on the panel of NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, call the titans to task for the way they go about their business.

Only A Game has featured the issue of football head injuries on several occasions, calling for the NFL to own up to, and ultimately take responsibility for a problem that's only recently becoming well-understood, but is undeniably real. He levels his criticism of the NFL, advertisers, and everyone else associated with this overblown event in the form of Suggestions For The Super Bowl.

Fair warning -- Charlie Pierce's piece in Slate almost veers into actual sports analysis, but as he lets the air out of the Super Bowl glorification balloon, no victim is spared -- especially the sports media, the Arizona Cardinal team, and NFL management -- and nobody's funnier while excoriating entire industries than Charlie:

We're going to hear about how they magically transformed themselves at the end of the season. We're going to hear about the remarkable comeback of Kurt Warner. We're going to hear about how marvelous it is for the National Football League that a Super Bowl championship is within the grasp of a team so thickly dripping with obvious mediocrity that it's a wonder Charlie Sheen isn't playing left guard. We are going to hear all of this because the NFL and its broadcast partners operate on the very simple premise that everybody who reports—or follows—their sport on television is a paste-eating moron.

Oh, well, at least some of the commercials will be in 3-D.

Things From Which He Failed to Protect Us

This story got lost in the stimulus-bill shuffle Wednesday, but it deserves a lot more attention than it got:

The FBI was aware for years of "pervasive and growing" fraud in the mortgage industry that eventually contributed to America's financial meltdown, but did not take definitive action to stop it.
"It is clear that we had good intelligence on the mortgage-fraud schemes, the corrupt attorneys, the corrupt appraisers, the insider schemes," said a recently retired, high FBI official. Another retired top FBI official confirmed that such intelligence went back to 2002.

The problem, according to the two FBI retirees and several other current and former bureau colleagues, is that the bureau was stretched so thin that no one noticed when those lenders began packaging bad mortgages into bad securities....

The FBI not only lacked the resources, but also never got the tips it needed from the banking regulatory agencies. The Securities and Exchange Commission, the Office of Thrift Supervision and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also failed to detect the securities issue, said the first retired FBI official....

Both retired FBI officials asserted that the Bush administration was thoroughly briefed on the mortgage fraud crisis and its potential to cascade out of control with devastating financial consequences, but made the decision not to give back to the FBI the agents it needed to address the problem. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, about 2,400 agents were reassigned to counterterrorism duties.
How much did this cost us? A couple hundred billion? A trillion? More?

Note, also, the confluence of shiny-object distraction (marshalling the vast law-enforcement resources of the Federal government to make sure nobody attacks the Brooklyn Bridge with a jackhammer) with anti-regulatory ideology (well, of course the regulators weren't doing their jobs--that was their job) that makes this such a quintessential Bush story. It's great that we finally have a President who can walk and chew gum, and who thinks regulation means regulation...but we needed a President like that 8 years ago.

Mr. Freud Comes to Washington

Peggy on the Stimulus Bill:

What was needed? Not pork, not payoffs, not eccentric base-pleasing, group-greasing forays into birth control as stimulus, as the speaker of the House dizzily put it before being told to remove it.
I don't know who this Bill guy is, but his shtick appears to be working.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pyramid Reflection

Pyramid Reflection 02
Embarcadero 2, early in the morning.

Toddlers in Washington

So the Republicans demand changes from Obama in the economic stimulus plan, which he (unwisely) concedes on after reaching out to them, and then they vote 100% against. Because they want tax cuts for high-income Americans. A policy proven, proven I say, to work have contributed to causing a major recession. One hundred percent of House Republicans decided that saying no to economic recovery and standing by failed policies was the essence of party loyalty.

Meanwhile, the Ledbetter Bill passed the Senate, with only five Republicans voting for it, including the only four women Republicans in the Senate (in the House, only 3 of 169 voting Republicans voted yea). On the radio this morning, I learned that Ledbetter's campaign ad for Barack Obama polled as one of the most effective ads of the campaign, and the single most effective "negative" ad. Which means there 202 Republicans who are so utterly opposed to equal pay for women that they are willing to risk going on record, knowing for a fact that such record has had a strongly impact on campaign results.

They're toddlers. They're pouty, foot-stampy, hold-their-breaths-until-they-all-turn-blue toddlers. Our President says "Yes We Can" and they say "No We Won't!" (And add "So There!")

I know that the more-intelligent-than-me President Obama has a grand scheme about bipartisanship and outreach and a new era in Washington and all, but I don't see how an intelligent and fair-minded spirit of bipartisanship can work while the toddlers are having a tantrum. Possibly a time out chair is in order.

(Cross-posted because I said so!)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wednesday Wildflowerblogging

Sierra Crane Orchid?
Sierra Bog Orchid (Platanthera leuchostachys) along the Florence Lake Road, Sierra National Forest.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You Can Have My Answer Now, if You Like

There are some intriguing tidbits coming out of today's meeting between Obama and the Congressional Republicans. Happily, I was able to track down a partial transcript:

Congressional Republicans: We can get you a gaming license. The price is $250,000.
President Obama: Now, the price of a gaming license is less than $20,000. Is that correct?
Congressional Republicans: Yes.
President Obama: So why would I ever consider paying more than that?
Congressional Republicans: Because we intend to squeeze you.
Yeah, good luck with that, Senator.


I started a round robin trivia and forgot to tell you, but we need help, so come on over.

Informative and Factual, or Lazy and Misleading?

Yesterday's Chronicle had a front-page article titled Economic stimulus or just more pork?

Yes, it was as bad as you'd expect:

As Congress rushes toward what leaders of both parties predict will be a speedy passage of an $825 billion economic stimulus package, critics from GOP lawmakers to government watchdog groups are questioning whether key parts of the bill will spur economic growth or whether they're wasteful pork.
Included in the story:
  • Cherry-picked examples of items in the stimulus package that are most likely to seem dubious on first reading: "$200 million to rehabilitate the National Mall...$276 million to fix the computer systems at the State Department...$650 million to repair dilapidated Forest Service facilities", all in the first paragraph.
  • A quote from Representative Mike Pence about more money for the NEA ("This is stimulus?")
  • A quote from Representative Dick Boner John Boehner with the cash for condoms talking point.
  • A quote from "Citizens Against Government Waste" (representing the 'watchdog groups' in the first paragraph), a corporate-backed organization that has shilled for Microsoft and the tobacco industry and currently crusades against 'government-run healthcare' and the stimulus package.
  • A reference to the CBO report saying most of the money won't be spent in the next two years.

Not included: More...
  • Any analysis of the relative stimulus value of spending vs. tax cuts.
  • Any evaluation of whether any given item is, in fact, justified (by economic impact, by need, by future cost savings). To use examples cited in the article, arts spending is an effective economic stimulus; updating Federal agencies' computer systems will save a lot of money in the future; and upgrading low-income housing responds to a real need.
  • The fact that the 'CBO report' mentioned above doesn't exist
I don't think the reporter is ideologically opposed to the stimulus plan (there were, of course, 'balancing' quotes). I think he's lazy (or, more generously, overworked, on deadline, or whatever). The problem is one we'll always face: it's easier to mock than to defend--easier to show the cost of something than to demonstrate its value.

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Times They Are A-Changing, But Not That Much

Following up on Ahab's post...The New York Times may have shitcanned Bill Kristol, but that doesn't mean they've joined the Reality-Based Community. From Scott Horton:

The source makes clear that the decision not to renew Kristol’s contract is not related to his neoconservative ideology—Kristol’s proximity to key Washington players ranging from Bush and Cheney to John McCain (whom he supported in 2000) was considered a distinct plus. His leading advocacy of the Iraq War also added to his appeal.
Close to corrupt, dishonest ideologues? "A distinct plus." Egregiously, shamelessly, stupidly wrong about everything? That just "added to his appeal."

Noel Sheppard of NewsBusters is saying Kristol was fired for disloyalty rather than factual errors, and while he takes the obligatory dishonest swipes at Krugman, he isn't wholly wrong: if Kristol hadn't bashed the Times on the Daily Show, he would still be writing for them.

Monday Movie Review: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) 10/10
Sophie is a plain and serious young woman who runs a hat shop. Howl is a famous wizard who lives in a castle that walks about the countryside. After a chance meeting between them, Sophie is visited by the dreaded Witch of the Waste, who places Sophie under a curse, turning her into an old woman. Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

Howl’s Moving Castle is an extraordinary film experience. It is dense, surprising, and very human. The characters have a richness that belies their cartoony nature. The magical occurrences are wildly imaginative. My son and I would turn to each other while watching and say “I love this!” and “I can’t wait to see what happens next!”

The movie is not perfect. It is perhaps over-complicated, and definitely over-long. There is a war going on that both drives and is background to the real plot, which is the slowly burgeoning romance between Sophie and Howl, and more importantly, each character’s awakening. Sophie is brave and bold, but hates herself. She finds freedom as an old woman, no longer expected to be pretty or criticized for not fitting in. Howl is callow, his power and beauty let him get away with pretty much anything, and a moving home is the perfect avenue (and metaphor) for running away. Each must grow in order to find their love for the other.

Meanwhile, there’s this war. And a couple of different curses. And a talking fire voiced by Billy Crystal. Plus several other characters, some magical, some not, and demons and wizards and whoa, here comes the war again. So yeah, it’s a bit much.

But the delight in experiencing this rich and complex world is tremendous. The story is based on British fantasy novel, and overlaying it with a Japanese sensibility creates an otherworldly, magical blend. This is no place we know, in no time we’ve lived. It's sort of 1910, sort of Katzenjammer Kids, sort of steampunk, sort of Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang meets Lord of the Rings. Every person, every magical creature, and every object is part of a unique and startling aesthetic.

The American voice work is very good. Christian Bale sounds exactly right for a Japanese film. It's quite an all-star cast, including Jean Simmons as Old Sophie and Lauren Bacall as the Witch of the Waste.

As a comparison, I think Spirited Away is a better movie, but Howl's Moving Castle is, in many ways, more original (and isn't drawing from Japanese mythology and folk legends), and the character work is more interesting.

(Deborah's Moving Cross-Post)

QOTD: Into the Mystic Edition

Bill Kristol is in a reflective mood this morning at the Times:

Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to "work" in the real world.
Only Kristol could miss the ironies of scare-quoting "work" in the midst of the Great GOP/Economic Meltdown of '09. But speaking of irony, look who's out of "work" himself:
This is William Kristol's last column.
This'll have a painful multiplier effect around the blogs, believe you me.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday Sierrablogging

View West 03
Mokelumne Peak from the ridge west of Grouse Lake, Mokelumne Wilderness.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Follow the Motive

Besides What Steve Said about Said Ali al-Shihri, the former Guantanamo detainee who is now an al Qaeda leader, I want to highlight a portion of the story that isn't getting the emphasis it should.

My first reaction on hearing about it was, 'who leaked this'? The timing struck me as a little too convenient, coming on the heels of Obama's executive order on Guantanamo. The answer is in the story:

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official. [emphasis added]
There it is: it comes from al Qaeda. They may or may not have posted it after Obama's executive order (none of the stories is any more specific than 'this week'), but at the very least it coincides with the arrival of a new President who has consistently said he plans to close Guantanamo.

'Coincides.' Right.

So it seems to me the big story here is not that one former Guantanamo detainee joined al Qaeda (whether because the administration blew it in the first place, or because he was radicalized by the Guantanamo experience, or maybe both); the big story is that al Qaeda is trying to sabotage efforts to close Guantanamo.

What does that tell you?

As Robert Gibbs said, Thursday's executive orders "made America safer, made America stronger." Guantanamo has made us less safe, not more; if you don't believe me, just ask al Qaeda.

Shorter Washington Press Corps

"Can't you see this really all about us?"

Friday Random Ten

Shriekback - Nemesis
Iggy Pop - Nightclubbing
Velvet Underground - All Tomorrow's Parties
Dead Moon - Two Fell Away
Mekons - Hole in the Ground
Talking Heads - The Lady Don't Mind
X - Burning House of Love
Pere Ubu - Guitars and One Girl
Byrne & Eno - Home
Cracker - My Life Is Totally Boring Without You

Heavy on the classics this morning, not that there's anything wrong with that. What's on your device today?

Thursday, January 22, 2009

CIA Welcomes End of Torture; Debra Saunders, Not So Much

This is interesting: according to an article by Spencer Ackerman, Obama's executive order prohibiting torture is likely to be welcomed by the CIA:

“It’s a great leap forward in terms of respect for human rights,” said John Kiriakou, the retired CIA official who supervised the early interrogation of Al Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah in 2002. “From the very beginning, the CIA should not have been in the business of enhanced interrogation techniques and detentions.” CIA interrogators waterboarded Abu Zubaydah, but not while Kiriakou supervised the interrogation....

Kiriakou said that the reaction to Obama’s harmonization of interrogations policy would get “a very positive reaction” inside the CIA.....“This should make people very happy. No one wants to be in harm’s way [legally]. Despite what the Bush White House and Bush Justice Department said was legal, I think people at the CIA understood that this was not legal and [the techniques] were torture.”
And if the name 'John Kiriakou' sounds familiar to IIRTZ readers, it may be because Debra Saunders quoted him in a column justifying torture. Once again, the guy who said the one thing on which her whole pro-torture rationalization rested Doesn't. Support. Torture.

Nor, in fact, does anyone else with an ounce of decency or honesty or integrity. Which, again, leaves out Debra Saunders.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday Wildflowerblogging

Showy Penstemon
Showy Penstemon (Penstemon speciosus) along the Kaiser Pass Road, Sierra National Forest.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Inauguration Day How We Got Here Random Flickr-Blogging Retrospective Extravaganza

The long election cycle that brought us to this historic day was observed here -- in true IIRTZ fashion -- with irreverent and sometimes tasteless derision. While one is tempted to entertain lofty and nostalgic daydreams and memories today, resist and indulge yourself in a retrospective of the political year just past, as seen through the slightly-distorted lens of Random Flickr-Blogging.

Originally uploaded by fabcom.
Random Flickr-blogging explained
We're winning in Iraq. The economy is fine. Voluntary restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions will solve the global climate change problem. John McCain is an independent, straight-shooting campaign-finance reformer. You can have the bridge pictured here for your very own for $29.95, but only if you call in the next ten minutes...
See more...


Crap, guys, sorry. I forgot to tell you. Trivia has been up for a while, but there are still unsolved questions.

Champagne 01

This Land is Our Land

Foggy Bottom Morning
Foggy Bottom Morning (Alternate Take)