Wednesday, February 28, 2007
I have long appreciated the fact that Los Angeles had a commercial classical music station, although I've met a few of the announcers over the years and I knew the owners had made a conscious decision to make less money than the full potential of the spot on the dial might have made possible. And it did seem to me that for the last year or so it had fewer commercials than was probably healthy. They have a right to change formats, of course, and I'm sure a country music station will be more lucrative, but it still makes me sad.
Incidentally, my chorus, the Temecula Vintage Singers, will be giving a concert April 7 at 2:00 p.m. at the new Community Theater in Old Town Temecula (www.temeculatheater.org for tickets). We'll be doing Vivaldi (the "Gloria), Bach and Handel. Classical isn't all we do but I'm glad to have the opportunity to do it at all.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
The Jennifer Hudson win was a nice story, but raises a question I think I saw addressed on the New Republic Oscar blog. Does singing constitute acting? Frank Sinatra could sell a song like nobody else, wrenching all possible emnotion from it, but let's face it, he was only an adequate actor. Jennifer Hudson certainly sold that crucial song in "Dreamgirls," and her story was inspiring. But I'm not sure she was given enough actual acting to do for us to know just how good an actor she is. I hope she proves to be terrific.
And good on Forrest Whittaker.
It's an interesting evolution in non-lethal weapons, from short-range (batons, pepper spray) to long-range. It's also more discriminate than gas and less dangerous than projectiles like rubber bullets.
The question: Will the ability to inflict pain without serious injury lead to a greater willingness to inflict pain, almost as if the pain isn't quite real? Does some of what these weapons and others -- a long-range acoustical device that can target narrow sound beams at an excruciating level but below that of real hearing damage -- amount to torture?
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The cozy "off the record" briefings and chats are bound to be a bit different, in that journalists will no longer be able to say with as much credibility as before that they will never reveal the name of a source. The government showed with Judith Miller that it's willing to play hardball in such cases (and in a case that in terms of national security was really quite inconsequential; the underlying crime of revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative has still not been charged on anyone).
There will be positive and negative effects. Using unidentified sources is one of the besetting sins of the Washington press corps. Sometimes it means readers can find out things they might not have known otherwise, but often enough anonymity is granted for trivial reasons. All too often using anonymous sources and getting cozy with them is a subsititute for good reporting rather than a supplement to it.
The relations won't be so cozy for a good long while.
Here's the Bushlet's quote: "George Washington's long struggle for freedom has also inspired generations of Americans to stand for freedom in their own time. Today, we're fighting a new war to defend our liberty and our people and our way of life." (Bush has also compared himself to Harry Truman, FDR and Teddy Roosevelt.)
There's one conceivably valid comparison. During the Revolutionary War General Washington was on the defensive most of the time and lost most of the battles until the very end, and the Bushlet seems convinced that he (or those he sends from his safe Oval Office) will win eventually in Iraq.
Otherwise, it's so unwarranted as to be laughable. Bush's forces aren't the "ragged Continental Army" but the mighty empire. And far from endorsing the idea of going to war to "spread freedom" around the world, Washington explicitly warned against such foolishness. The Iraq war, a war of choice, not necessity, was precisely the kind of war Washington would have hated. Here's some wisdom from his Farewell Address of 1796, which more politicians would do well to read and heed:
Washington urged Americans to avoid "overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty." He warned against "excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another" And his bottom-line advice was: "The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible."
Still good advice, on Washington's real birthday and any other day.
But now, it seems, there was more to it than pique for David Geffen. He's upset that when Bill Clinton was doing all that pardoning at the end of his second term, including fugitive financier Marc Rich (I was never all that sure what Rich was guilty of, but he does seem to have been a bad egg) he didn't pardon Indian activist Leonard Peltier, who is imprisoned for killing two FBI agents at Wounded Knee way back when.
I researched Peltier's case fairly extensively some 15 years ago and came to the conclusion that while he was no angel, his conviction in 1977 was more than a little suspect. I wrote at least a couple of columns on the case back then, but they seem to have dropped into the pool of public opinion and sunk without creating a ripple. I don't know how extensively Geffen researched Peltier (sympathizing with him seems to be automatic for left wingers), but he seems to have come to a similar conclusion. And that's why, after having raised millions for Clinton during the '90s, he's peeved with the family now.
He really should have figured out that the Clintons are preternaturally gifted liars a bit earlier in the game.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Ah, well, it was an experience and the kids did enjoy it. And we got a chance to see Joe and Alane later on, talk about the invention a little more. I suspect there will be several more prototypes before it is perfected.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
"American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had been steadily building an operation hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal areas of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahiri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda."
This strikes me as but one of the inevitable negative results of choosing to confront a terrorist act by invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 (as everybody knew; I researched public statements to attack Bush once a few years ago and discovered he had carefully not directly claimed a direct Saddam-9/11 connection, even when he was implying and inferring one as hard as he could).
Add this to the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan (which bin Laden has undoubtedly assisted) and the fact that those U.S. forces that might be most effective against al Qaeda are tied down in Iraq, and you have the makings of a potential disaster.
And now that we've waited and pretended that bin Laden and his cohorts were effectively out of the fight, it will be tough to move effectively. Pakistani president Gen. Pervez Musharraf would no doubt prefer that al Qaeda disapper, but he's in a ticklish situation. There is considerable jihadist support -- including in the military and the government itself -- in Pakistan, and Musharraf has to battle the perception that he's a sellout American stooge. No Pakistani government has effectively controlled Waziristan, and if Musharraf tries too hard, or works too closely with the Yankees, he not only faces possible failure but possible overthrow of his government.
And Pakistan has nukes.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Iran, for example, has about 1,585 tanks, while Israel has 4,300, Egypt has 4,300, Syria has 4,600, and even Jordan has 1,217 of them. As for aircraft, Iran has 520 planes of 1958 or 1959 vintage in poor condition, and only a little more than 100 other planes, only a few well-maintained. Israel has 550 well-maintained, mostly modern planes. Not that Iran's air force is negligible, but if they were planning military expansion they probably would have beefed it up a little more. And bought a whole lot more tanks.
Yesterday we picked up the grandchildren, Jaedon, 7, and Griffin, 2, at the San Diego airport. Justin will have them for a week and I've taken a week off work to maximize time together. We'll see if that means that I blog more or don't get around to it at all.
At any rate, I wanted to call attention to this piece in the Atlantic by James Fallows. Written before last week's rather desultory congressional "debates" and House resolution on the way forward/backward/out/whatever in Iraq, it suggests something genuinely useful Congress could do. Iraq, after all, is a conundrum, a predicament (as those of us who opposed the war at the outset predicted, though we couldn't have anticipated the specific details) with no obvious clean way out.
"By comparison," Fallows writes, "Iran is easy: on the merits, in the politics. War with Iran would be a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconveniences of being bogged down in Iraq." So Fallows recommends that Congress "can do something useful, while it still matters, in mnaking clear that it will authorize no money and provide no endorsement for military action against Iran."
I made similar points in a piece I did about the same time for the Register.
I met Jim Fallows some 15 years ago when he was researching a book on American journalism and wanted to spend a few hours with some Register people. I don't think we made it into the book, but I was favorably impressed. Though he has the moderate's disinclination to declare fixed principles, he is intelligent, open-minded and I think grudgingly admiring of those who do declare such fixed principles. And he is a terrific writer.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
Credit where it's due
Why so much anger at Bank of America's offering cards to people without Social Security numbers?
We must confess to befuddlement over all the anger directed at Bank of America for its policy, revealed Feb. 13 in a Wall Street Journal story, that it will offer credit cards to Spanish-speaking people who do not have Social Security numbers. The implication, of course, is that the most-likely candidates for those credit cards would be illegal immigrants.
But consider the context. Like it or not, most authorities believe 10 million to 12 million immigrants are now in the country illegally.
Most of those people are working at some kind of job or another, even if it is day labor, or they wouldn't stay here. Unemployment among Americans is at historic lows, so they are not "stealing" jobs from native-born Americans or legal immigrants. While some illegal immigrants will probably return to Mexico some day, many intend to settle in the United States and would like to establish relative financial stability.
Although it merged with North Carolina-based NationsBank a few years ago, Bank of America is California's largest bank. The bank has marketed aggressively to Hispanics for many years. It is hardly out of line to offer a product that will allow people with little or no credit to start building a credit history.
The Bank of America is not an agency of the federal government. It has not been deputized to enforce the government's immigration laws. Although most banks routinely ask potential customers for a Social Security number (a practice many find dubious), there is no law requiring this.
Like any private business, the bank's most important mission is to increase its customer base and its profit. Knee-jerk opponents of a market economy may decry this, but increasing market share and profit are what businesses do – and in doing so they serve society more effectively than do critics of capitalism or politicians.
Bank of America's media person for credit cards told us the program is not marketed specifically to illegal immigrants but to people who lack solid credit histories. She said it complies with all applicable federal regulations and the Patriot Act.
The credit cards are not handed out like candy to people as they stumble across the border, but are offered to people who have been checking-account customers of the bank for at least three months without bouncing any checks. There's a fee of $99 (refundable after three months of satisfactory activity), the credit limit is only $500, and the interest rate is higher than average.
Some might even argue that this amounts to exploitation. But for many people with no credit history (whatever their legal status), it's worth it to begin to establish credit. There are risks to the bank, of course, but the notion that drug dealers or terrorists would flock to get such credit cards is ludicrous.
Can we calm down a little?
Friday, February 16, 2007
Right now there's a juicy potential scandal unfolding. About a year ago critics at Gramophone (the Rolling Stone of the classical world but with a longer pedigree?) started touting the recordings of one Joyce Hatto, a little-known English pianist who was battling cancer. Her recordings were released by her husband on the minuscule label Concert Artist, and critics were blown away by her proficiency with Liszt, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Dukas, and more -- a wide range. She died in June 2006, by which time she had achieved a certain notoriety.
Then a few days ago, as Gramophone reports, another critic listened to a Hatto recording of the Liszt Transcendental Etudes on his computer. As computers will, it identified the recording -- as the Transcendental Etudes, all right, but as a recording by the pianist Laszlo Simon. He got a copy of the Simon recording and listened to them side-by-side and they sounded exactly the same.
So he put in a Hatto recording of two Rachmaninov piano concertos, and the computer ID'd it as a recording by Yefim Bronfman. So Gramophone sent the discs to an audio expert who put instruments to the recordings and they looked identical.
Hatto's husband was contacted and he was simply mystified.
Could be a juicy scandal.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
If you knew there was a bomb planted that would go off in an hour and kill 10,000 (or 100,000) people, and you had the guy who you were sure knew the location, wouldn't you at least think of torturing him to squeeze the information out of him (or her) and save all those lives? Aside from the fact that nobody has ever described such a situation in real life, chances are it wouldn't work in real life the way it almost always conveniently works on "24." The dynamic would almost certainly be the opposite. If the guy knew he only had to hold out for an hour, he would almost certainly endure the torture that long, knowing he would win. If he "cracked," he would almost certainly deliver false information two or three times to give the bomb a better chance of actually going off.
I've known this for some time through talking to actual interrogators and reading. Now there's a 374-page report from the government's Science Intelligence Board that confirms, as this article summarizes, that "There is almost no scientific evidence to back up the U.S. intelligence community's use of controversial interrogation techniques in the fight against terrorism, and experts believe some painful and coercive approacjes could hinder the ability to get good information."
The writers of the book point out there has been almost no scentific research on interrogation techniques in 40 years, and especially since the fall of the Soviet Union. With no reliable information available, U.S. interrogators "make it up on the fly."
Not only can the use of torture undermine the legitimacy of the government and its cause, but, as Col. Steven Kleinman, who was the Pentagon's senior intelligence officer for special survival training, wrote: "The scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information." Subjects are more likely to tell the interrogator what he thinks he wants to hear, or anything to get the torture to stop, rather than the truth. Furthermore, Kleinman wrote, torture can confuse the perception of truth. Even isolation, a widely used tactic that some consider mild, causes "profound emotional psychological, and physical disconfort," and can "significantly and negatively inmpact the ability of the source to recall information accurately."
Given all this, the enthusiasm for torture among some Americans can most likely be chalked up to profound ignorance or, perhaps more troubling, a certain degree of sadism.
Comrade Zhang Guobiao, party secretary for Gangshan County (pop. 150,000), which surrounds the city of Gedong (pop. 20,000) banned Internet cafes last year. It was not only in line with the Chinese government's attempt to keep the Internet under tight government control -- filters that prevent access to impure political thought and porn and the like -- but reflected outrage that teenage boys were wasting their time playing computer games rather than doing their homework and preparing to be good little contributors to the Greater Good and all that rot.
But it turns out that the Internet cafes reopened clandestinely and the teenage boys all know where to go. Shucks, they'll guide a foreign reporter there. When he goes to get comments from the authorities, the authorities ask him for locations so they can close them again. But it won't stop the gaming.
Seems teenage boys resist authority all over the world. Good.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
It's a joke, of course. The backstory is that the Washington Supreme Court last July upheld the state's Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, in part because one of the purposes of marriage is procreation.
All right, if that's one of the purposes, organizers say, in their satirical way, let's get serious about it. It's nice to see a bit of humor surfacing in a discussion that is all too seldom leavened by anything but bitterness and anger.
Monday, February 12, 2007
"All across Washington, members are at this moment phoning budget officers at federal agencies -- Interior, Defense, HUD, you name it -- privately demanding that earmarks in previous legislation be fully renewed this year. There might not be a single official earmark in the 2007 spending bill, but thousands are in the works all the same," writes Ms. Strassel. If anything, she argues, the new process will receive less scrutiny than before, because the earmark requests will show up in the requested budgets of the agencies rather than being slipped in at the last minute by the congresscritter him or herself.
It may be a more labor-intensive process, but that's why the taxpayers give the congresscritters big staffs. When I worked in the House, back in the 1970s, it was strictly forbidden by law (and still is, I'm pretty sure) for in-house staffers to work on the re-election campaign. Yet the guy I worked for was the only one I knew about who actually enforced this rule on staffers(and his AA ignored it and worked full-time on the campaign from about July). He lost in 1974. You could walk down the halls of House office buildings and overhear phone conversations that were obviously campaign-related. Technically staffers were supposed to take a leave of absence if they did campaign work, but nobody even bothered to conceal the fact that staffers were doing campaign work. They probably do bother to conceal it now, but I'll bet it goes on.
We're seeing an increase in U.S. officials blaming Iran for how difficult things have been in Iraq. I hope this is a prelude to reducing our commitment or explaining our failures rather than the beginning of a drumbeat for war with Iran. Plenty of people suspect the latter, but I still hope the military can talk the Bushies who have never been in a war out of it.
Could Americans be manipulated into tolerating or even demanding a war with Iran? Based on the phone calls I got in response to this article, I'm afraid it's possible. I talked to one guy who is utterly eager to get this war with Iran on.
Americans are funny. We have the biggest, baddest military the world has even seen and the healthiest economy in the world, yet they see existential threats in any pipsqueak country with a noisy dictator -- and think it can be handled with enough bombs and rockets. Not all Americans, of course, but more than makes me comfortable.
Elvis, the 19-month-old Angus calf on the Web site of ViaGen, a cloning company, was cl0ned from a side of beef. ViaGen tells farmers that through cloning the properties of their best animals can be reproduced exactly.
The notion that we shouldn't mess with animal genetics is more than a little silly. Humans have been breeding animals and manipulating their genetic properties, with increasing levels of sophistication, for 15,000 years or so. As for safety, the main fear is that cloning, unlike normal reproduction, can fail to reprogram genes for normal embryonic development. But those safety fears haven't been borne out in extensive studies, because if the reprogramming error is serious enough, the animal dies too young to be milked or eaten.
This is not to say there can't be problems with cloning animals for food, or that it isn't legitimate to look very closely at potential problems. But knee-jerk Luddite opposition is just silly.
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
I think losing that lead and then the game at Stanford two weeks ago may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The Bruins have been pretty fired up since then. They didn't play their best game tonight (though you have to give the SC defense credit). But they did well enough to win.
I think it's great that both major LA universities have good teams this year, but I'm inordinately pleased that the Bruins found a way to win tonight.
She was wrong, of course, when she quipped "Good thing we've still got politics -- finest form of free entertainment ever invented." Politics is actually rather low-grade entertainment, even for some of us who are oddly obsessed with it, and it is far from free. Check the deductions on your paycheck. But she left journalists of all stripes an enduring piece of advice: "Raise more hell."
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
The unrelenting focus of so many evangelical/fundamentalist Christian groups -- those Andrew Sullivan calls "Christianist" as a play on "Islamist" -- on homosexuality is not only mean-spirited and geared to reinforcing bigotry, it's bound to come back and bite them some day, and soon. There may be exceptions, but while the scientific evidence is not definitive yet, it seems pretty clear that homosexuality is an affinity that is more inborn than learned or chosen. In other words, if you believe in God, you pretty much have to believe that God made a certain percentage of the population that way, since homosexuality seems to have occurred in almost every culture we know about, though it might be difficult to understand the reason.
Heaven only knows how much Ted Haggard has suffered inwardly as he has tried to deny something that he is convinced (I'll stipulate sincerely to give him that much credit) is a grave sin rather than a human variation. If he thinks he is "cured" now after three weeks of counseling, he has a lot more inward suffering to come. Whether he will ever be able to come clean with himself is a good question. Let's pray for a lot more understanding and tolerance all the way around.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
Michael, noting that the phenomenon is not confined to the U.S. (think Nehru and his daughter and grandson in India, Indonesia, Philippines) makes the point, however, that there might be some rationale. Given the size of the country and the fact that it is impossible to know as much as you might want to know about candidates (and that such ignorance is rational, given the odds that your vote will actually make the difference), "it helps if you know the family."
I still think it's a sign of an empire in decline.