Monday, May 31, 2010


Trust Israel to portray itself as the victim of a senseless attack for an incident in which its commandos slaughtered 10 to 16 peace activists in international waters.

Netanyahu claims, in asserting that his massacre was an act of self-defense, said there was “even a report of gunfire and our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed.” Interesting that Bibi, not known for his aversion to lying, is not claiming there was actual gunfire from the activists.

In Obama’s phone call with Netanyahu, he is said to have “expressed deep regret at the loss of life in today’s incident, and concern for the wounded, many of whom are being treated in Israeli hospitals.” Wow, treated in Israeli hospitals? Well, that makes it all okay. Did the White House really have to slip that in?

Another lucky recipient of that famed Israeli generosity: New York art student Emily Henochowicz (her website) was treated – and what a treat it was! – in an Israeli hospital, which removed her left eye after she was shot in the face with a tear gas cannister during a protest of the flotillacide.

Today -100: May 31, 1910: Run, Taft, run

Misleading Headline of the Day -100: “Taft Enjoys Fast Run.” Turns out to be his train.

Roosevelt gave a speech (full text) in London today. Reactions to it will fill the paper for days, including praise, vitriolic criticism, and death threats.

He said that his recent travels in Africa included four British colonies (Uganda, Kenya, the Sudan, Egypt). “Your men in Africa are doing a great work for your Empire, and they are also doing a great work for civilization. ... the great fact in world history during the last century has been the spread of civilization over the world’s waste spaces.” He suggested that imperialist nations (or as he called them, “The civilized nations who are conquering for civilization savage lands”) should “work together in a spirit of hearty mutual good-will”, whether it be in Africa or, ahem, the Philippines.

He praised Britain for beginning to make the highlands of Kenya “a true white man’s country.”

However, Uganda, he said, “cannot be made a white man’s country, and the prime need is to administer the land in the interest of the native races, and to help forward their development.” By which he means turning them into Christians.

The Sudan, he said, shows the wisdom “of disregarding the well-meaning but unwise sentimentalists who object to the spread of civilization at the expense of savagery.” Under their own rule, the Sudanese had showed “much what independence and self-government would have been in a wolf pack.” Britain should stay in the Sudan even if it doesn’t pay, just like the US built the Panama Canal.

Then he turned to the controversial part of the speech, about Egypt. “In Egypt you are not only the guardians of your own interests; you are also the guardians of the interests of civilization; and the present condition of affairs in Egypt is a grave menace to both your Empire and the entire civilized world. You have given Egypt the best government it has had for at least two thousand years—probably a better government than it has ever had before”. But there have been errors, resulting from trying to do too much for the Egyptians, “but unfortunately it is necessary for all of us who have to do with uncivilized peoples, and especially with fanatical peoples, to remember that in such a situation as yours in Egypt weakness, timidity, and sentimentality may cause even more far-reaching harm than violence and injustice. Of all broken reeds, sentimentality is the most broken reed on which righteousness can lean.” For example, they make a mistake in “treating all religions with studied fairness and impartiality,” which led to the assassination of Boutros Pasha in February. “Now, either you have the right to be in Egypt or you have not; either it is or it is not your duty to establish and keep order. If you feel that you have not the right to be in Egypt, if you do not wish to establish and to keep order there, why, then, by all means get out of Egypt. If, as I hope, you feel that your duty to civilized mankind and your fealty to your own great traditions alike bid you to stay, then make the fact and the name agree and show that you are ready to meet in very deed the responsibility which is yours. It is the thing, not the form, which is vital; if the present forms of government in Egypt, established by you in the hope that they would help the Egyptians upward, merely serve to provoke and permit disorder, then it is for you to alter the forms... When a people treats assassination as the corner-stone of self-government, it forfeits all right to be treated as worthy of self-government. ... Some nation must govern Egypt. I hope and believe that you will decide that it is your duty to be that nation.”

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Today -100: May 30, 1910: Of corruption and sending in the marines

Illinois State Senator John Broderick, one of the legislators in the corruption scandal (see yesterday), who paid $2,500 to a fellow senator, cannot be found. The suspicion is that Chicago authorities are trying to obstruct the grand jury investigation.

The Nicaraguan civil war has been hotting up again, and the US is sending some more marines to the area.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Trust issues

Quote of the Day, from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Military Moron: “inadvertently killing or injuring civilians is heartbreaking and undermines their trust and confidence in our mission.” Yup, that’ll do it. He added, “We will do all we can to regain that trust.” Regain? When does he think they had it?

Operators of a drone which attacked a civilian convoy in Afghanistan in February for no particular reason, killing 23 people, some of them children, have received letters of reprimand. Reached for comment, survivors of the drone attack said, “Wait, were they strongly worded letters of reprimand? Then let the healing begin.”

Unintended physical death is not the greatest of evils

The NYT prints a letter from Monsignor Daniel Hamilton defending the Catholic Church for excommunicating Sister Margaret McBride, a member of a hospital board, for supporting an abortion to save the life of the mother. “What, you say you would let the mother and the nonviable child die? Unintended physical death is not the greatest of evils, since we will all ultimately die. But directly killing an innocent person is a grave evil.”

So standing by, refusing her a life-saving medical procedure and just letting her die is okay because “we will all ultimately die.” Easy come, easy go, huh, monsignor?

Today -100: May 29, 1910: Of corruption in Illinois (I know!)

Several Illinois state senators are indicted for either paying or accepting bribes in the election to the US Senate of William Lorimer (R), including our Name of the Day -100, Stanton C. Pemberton. Lorimer, in a speech on the Senate floor delivered literally while the indictments were being handed down, denies this, blaming the Chicago Tribune and the “newspaper trust.” The Tribune last month published the confession of state sen. Charles White’s confession to having taken a $1,000 bribe; Lorimer says the confession was a forgery or White was paid by the Trib “to satisfy his instinct for debauchery”. It will take the Senate more than two years to expel Lorimer.

Headline of the Day -100: “Pope Not Impressed by Halley’s Comet.”

TMI Headline of the Day -100: “Kaiser Unable to Write. Eruption on Right Hand Prevents Him from Signing Public Documents.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

Obama and the Tar Balls of Doom

Asked by, I believe, Jackie Calmes of the NYT at a photo op in the Gulf with Obama and Adm. Allen: “Can you be sure these oil tar balls are from the oil spill? Because when I used to swim on the Gulf in Texas, I’d get tar balls in my bathing suit all the time.” Obama: “at some point, Jackie, we’ll want to hear more about those tar balls and your bathing suit.”

More evidence that Obama may be turning into Bill Clinton: later in the day he declared, as Clinton so often did when contemplating putting the presidential tar balls in some sweet young gulf, “we’re going to keep on at it until we get it plugged.”

I’ll probably regret that joke when the antihistamines wear off.

Today -100: May 28, 1910: Lubricating the wheels of justice

Massachusetts Governor Ebenezer Draper vetoes a bill limiting the working day for public employees to 8 hours. He said it was an interference with the rights of those who want to work more than 8 hours.

You just don’t see that many people named Ebenezer these days.

A District Court judge in Salt Lake City dismisses the jury in a trial of a druggist for selling liquor without a license. To aid in their deliberations, they sent for Exhibit A, a flask of whisky. When they returned it, it was just an empty flask.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Obama press conference: And if you’re living on the coast and you see this sludge coming at you, you are going to be continually upset

Today Obama held a rare press conference.

He talked about BP trying to stop the oil leak in the Gulf with “top kill,” which only sounds like a lurid sex crime. “This involves plugging the well with densely packed mud to prevent any more oil from escaping. And given the complexity of this procedure and the depth of the leak, this procedure offers no guarantee of success.” I’m not, like, an engineer or something, but sticking mud in something doesn’t sound all that “complex” to me.

By the way, BP officials are claiming that the well is now gushing only mud. But then, BP officials have been gushing mud for a month, for all the good that’s done us.

WHAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW: “The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort.” But it’s all BP’s fault and “we will hold them fully accountable” and “we will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.” I’m sure there’s a contradiction in there somewhere.

OBAMA DOESN’T WANT YOU TO MAKE A MISTAKE: “But make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction.”

WHAT WE’RE ALSO RELYING ON: “As we devise strategies to try and stop this leak, we’re also relying on the brightest minds and most advanced technology in the world.”

“We’re relying on a team of scientists and engineers from our own national laboratories and from many other nations -– a team led by our Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Stephen Chu.” I didn’t watch the presser, but I’m betting he waggled his eyebrows or something when he mentioned the Nobel Prize.

SERIOUSLY, THE ALLITERATION AGAIN? “But so far we have about 20,000 people in the region who are working around the clock to contain and clean up this oil.”

WHAT WE’VE DEPLOYED: “We’ve deployed over 3 million feet of total boom to stop the oil from coming on shore”. That’s a lot of total boom. Boom. Totally.

Okay, I don’t know what “3 million feet of total boom” actually means, but I’m guessing it’s not nearly as cool as it sounds.

THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: “I’ve said before that producing oil here in America is an essential part of our overall energy strategy. But all drilling must be safe.”

COZY AND CORRUPT: “But in this instance, the oil industry’s cozy and sometimes corrupt relationship with government regulators meant little or no regulation at all.” They traced in pen over reports supplied to them by the oil companies in pencil. Literally traced!

YOU WOULDN’T LIKE HIM WHEN HE’S ANGRY: “Every day I see this leak continue I am angry and frustrated as well.”

CONTINUALLY UPSET: “And if you’re living on the coast and you see this sludge coming at you, you are going to be continually upset, and from your perspective, the response is going to be continually inadequate until it actually stops. And that’s entirely appropriate and understandable.”

THE UNDER-UNDER-UNDER SECRETARY OF NOAA IS TOTALLY THRILLED BY THE SHOUT-OUT: “But from Thad Allen, our National Incident Coordinator, through the most junior member of the Coast Guard, or the under-under-under secretary of NOAA, or any of the agencies under my charge, they understand this is the single most important thing that we have to get right.”

WHAT NOTION IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE: “So this notion that somehow the federal government is sitting on the sidelines and for the three or four or five weeks we’ve just been letting BP make a whole bunch of decisions is simply not true.”

A CONSTANT SENSE OF URGENCY: “But the point that I was addressing from Jennifer was, does this administration maintain a constant sense of urgency about this, and are we examining every recommendation, every idea that’s out there, and making our best judgment as to whether these are the right steps to take, based on the best experts that we know of. And on that answer, the answer is yes -- or on that question, the answer is yes.”

WHAT HE’S SPENDING HIS TIME THINKING ABOUT: Asked whether this was like Katrina: “I’ll leave it to you guys to make those comparisons, and make judgments on it, because what I’m spending my time thinking about is how do we solve the problem.”

WAIT, HOW DID SOUP AND NUTS CAUSE THE OIL SPILL? “And that’s why it’s so important that this commission moves forward and examines, from soup to nuts, why did this happen”.

WHERE HE WAS WRONG. WRONG WRONG WRONG: “Where I was wrong was in my belief that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios.”

Elizabeth Birnbaum, head of the spectacularly mismanaged Minerals Management Service, resigned today. Obama claimed he didn’t know why, didn’t even know if she actually resigned (“she would have submitted a letter to Mr. Salazar this morning, at a time when I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on”) or was fired by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who has been busy today testifying to Congress so Obama hasn’t talked to him, but evidently he might have fired her without talking to Obama first, and might have done so on the very day he knew Obama would be holding a press conference. Yes, that is totally believable.

HE’S BOYCOTTING BOYCOTT ENDORSEMENTS: Asked whether he supported the boycott of Arizona for its Papers Please law: “I’m President of the United States; I don’t endorse boycotts or not endorse boycotts.”

But his plan to send 1,200 “National Guardspersons” to the border isn’t a response to that at all, he’d been planning to do it for a year, really he was. But we need to create “an orderly, fair, humane immigration framework in which people are able to immigrate to this country in a legal fashion”. So what he’s saying is that he’s sending the National Guard to enforce an immigration policy that is not orderly, fair or humane.

Moron Fox reporter Major Garrett took him to task for Salazar’s comment that the government’s boot is on the neck of BP; “Is your boot on the neck of BP?” Well, is it? “And can you understand, sir, why some in the Gulf who feel besieged by this oil spill consider that a meaningless, possibly ludicrous, metaphor?” Because if there’s one thing Fox News cannot stand, it’s meaningless, possibly ludicrous metaphors. Obama meekly admitted that “we don’t need to use language like that.”

Garrett also asked whether the White House had offered Joe Sestak a job in exchange for not running against Arlen Specter. Obama said only that there would be an “official response” on “the Sestak issue.” But nothing improper took place.

WHAT HIS JOB RIGHT NOW IS: “And so my job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about.” That is how Bush used to answer every question about Iraq and/or terrorism.

THIS ANECDOTE IS EITHER ADORABLE OR VAGUELY CREEPY: “And it’s not just me, by the way. When I woke this morning and I’m shaving and Malia knocks on my bathroom door and she peeks in her head and she says, ‘Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?’”

ALSO, SPAM: “I grew up in Hawaii where the ocean is sacred.”

Verbally or in writing

Orrin Hatch wants to make it a criminal offense, punishable by six months in prison or a fine, to falsely claim “verbally or in writing” to have been in combat, just like Richard Blumenthal.

How about a law making it a criminal offense for someone who’s actually been to law school and chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee to falsely claim “verbally or in writing” that crap like this is permissible under the First Amendment?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


All the headlines say Obama is offering a “compromise” on gays in the military. So... bisexuals in the military?

Today -100: May 25, 1910: Of shacking up

There was a discussion of women’s rights at the National Arts Club. Nothing very interesting, but one speaker decided to attack Mary Wollstonecraft, discrediting her feminist ideas by reference to her personal life, which the NYT described thus: “formed a living alliance, not a marriage, with Gilbert Imlay”. What strikes me is the scrabbling around for words to describe such a relationship.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Don’t you hate it when everyone else shows up at work wearing the same color?


Today -100: May 24, 1910: Of successful duels and fouled shamrocks

Headline of the Day -100: “Third Duel Successful.” Between Count Ismael de Lesseps (son of the Panama Canal guy) and Count Just de Poligny. What constitutes a “successful” duel? Turns out, this time they managed to injure each other. The seconds stopped their first duel, with swords, on account of gross unfairness, de Poligny being lame; their second duel was with pistols, and they exchanged 6 shots without anyone being hit (does that mean 6 rounds, or 3 bullets each? I’m not up on my dueling terminology). This time, this successful time, de Lesseps was hit in the thigh near the femoral artery, while his bullet ricocheted off de Poligny’s pistol into his arm. So I guess everyone’s happy. Don’t know what the duel was about.

Other Headline of the Day -100: “Submarine Fouls Shamrock.” The Shamrock was a yacht.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

This is what success looks like

Yesterday Obama gave the commencement address at West Point.

IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE: He declared Mission, you know, Accomplished, in Iraq: “this is what success looks like: an Iraq that provides no haven to terrorists, a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant.” (Today’s speech-writer has a serious hard-on for alliteration: earlier, US troops demonstrated “competence and creativity and courage”.)

I KNEW THERE WAS A CATCH: “And as we end the war in Iraq, though, we are pressing forward in Afghanistan.”

AND YET, WE GOT KARZAI STEALING THE ELECTION. FUNNY, THAT. “We have supported the election of a sovereign government”.


I’M LOOKING AT YOU, GIRL SCOUTS: “And through a period when too many of our institutions have acted irresponsibly, the American military has set a standard of service and sacrifice” etc. There’s that alliteration again.

FUNNY YOUTUBE VIDEOS? “We cannot leave it to those in uniform to defend this country--we have to make sure that America is building on its strengths.”

HOW AMERICA HAS SUCCEEDED: “America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation--we have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don’t.” Steering the (alliterative) currents of cooperation? If only he had steered that out-of-control metaphor before it broke up on the rocks of rhetoric.

SIZE MATTERS: “let’s be clear: Al Qaeda and its affiliates are small men on the wrong side of history. They lead no nation. They lead no religion. We need not give in to fear every time a terrorist tries to scare us. We should not discard our freedoms because extremists try to exploit them.”

EXCEPT OF $4 BAGELS AND THE POSSIBILITY OF ANOTHER SEX AND THE CITY MOVIE: “Terrorists want to scare us. New Yorkers just go about their lives unafraid.”

EXCEPT AT BAGRAM, WHERE THE DC DISTRICT COURT SAID WE CAN DO WHATEVER WE LIKE: “And so a fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America’s support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them--through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it’s hard; even when we’re being attacked; even when we’re in the midst of war.”

I DO NOT THINK THAT WORD ABHOR MEANS WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS: “America does not fight for the sake of fighting. We abhor war.”

Today -100: May 23, 1910: Of comets and hair

Headline of the Day -100: “Two See Comet and Die.” In Alabama, “Miss Ruth Jordan, daughter of a farmer... was called to the door of her home to see the comet and immediately fell dead, physicians assigning heart failure as the cause. An unknown negro on the depot platform was shown the comet and instantly dropped dead.”

At yesterday’s suffrage demonstration, someone surreptitiously cut off 12 inches of a 16-year-old girl’s hair.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


The president of Ukraine, square-headed Mr. Y, at a World War II memorial ceremony.

The opposition party managed to steal the wreath and are auctioning it off.

But is it art?

Headline of the Day (NYT): “Obama Sketches Energy Plan in Oil.”

Today -100: May 22, 1910: Of parades, pogroms, corruption, arbitration, and marionettes

The Equality League of Self-Supporting Women holds a women’s suffrage parade/demonstration in NYC to protest the NY Legislature’s failure to vote a suffrage bill out of committee. It’s the largest suffrage demo ever held in the US. The New York Times reports it on p. 11.

Russian expulsions of Jews, hitherto most notable in Kiev, have reached Moscow. Expulsion orders are being made against babies as a way of forcing parents with residence permits to leave. In Kiev, Jews have usually been ordered to leave within two days.

Congress is working on a bill to require transparency for campaign contributions and expenses, but the Senate is insisting that reports be released only after elections, in case they influence the election, which is rather, one would have thought, the point of the exercise.

Peru and Ecuador, which were threatening to go to war over a border dispute, have accepted offers of mediation from the US, Brazil and Argentina. Boooring!

Not 10 years after the Boer War, a new Union of South Africa is formed by the British, uniting the conquered Boer republics and the British colonies in a federal structure, paving the way for the leveling down of the rights of Africans. The new prime minister will be Louis Botha, a general on the losing side of the war.

Signor Parisi and his Italian marionettes, who went out of business six months ago after losing the economic battle with moving pictures, have returned for Sunday performances, now in English, of “Constantine and the Pagans” and the tale of Roland, which are the only marionette plays translated so far from the Venetian dialect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Today -100: May 20, 1910: Of big booms, wet in Denver, and no country for really old men

At a barracks in Cuba, a carpenter tried to repair a case of dynamite by hammering in a nail, resulting in 35 deaths and 145 wounded. The carpenter’s head was found a quarter mile away.

Headline of the Day -100: “Athletes to Form New Body.”

The chair of the press committee of the NY State Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, the impressively named Mrs. Barclay Hazard, writes a letter asking how suffragists explain the fact that Denver, despite having women’s suffrage, just voted itself wet.

I just looked at that sentence again, and it seems to have a double meaning I didn’t intend. “Wet” of course means that alcohol may be sold.

Denver also elected a woman election commissioner, Ellis Meredith, the first woman ever elected to a city office in Denver.

The Census Bureau investigated Noah Raby, who claimed at the time of his death to be 131 years old, and says he was actually 92 (Wikipedia says 81). It further doubts that anyone had ever reached 110 years of age.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Graham V. Florida: We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes

The Supreme Court ruled 6-3 against sentencing minors convicted of crimes other than murder to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The dissent was written by Clarence Thomas, joined by Scalia and Alito.

Thomas first rejected the idea that the Supreme Court is better able to judge whether such sentences are proportionate to the crime committed than are legislatures, judges or juries: “I am unwilling to assume that we, as members of this Court, are any more capable of making such moral judgments than our fellow citizens. Nothing in our training as judges qualifies us for that task”. Boy, ain’t it the truth.

Indeed, he rejects the notion that punishments which are grossly disproportionate are unconstitutional, that is, that they are cruel and unusual.

The majority argues that there is an evolving standard of public opinion which now opposes locking up minors and throwing away the key. Thomas disagrees, and we’ll get to that, but first he denies that the constitutionality of a punishment rests on what he dismissively calls a “snapshot” of public opinion. Worse, he says, the Court only allows for evolution away from draconian punishments: why, there might be a “pendulum swing in social attitudes” in favor of more drastic punishments.

In support of his contention that there is a consensus among the American people for imprisoning minors for life for crimes other than homicide, Thomas notes that such imprisonment is allowed under the laws of 37 states (the Supreme Court often uses laws, no matter when enacted, as a proxy for public opinion, which leads it to declare in effect that laws are constitutional because they are laws), while only 5 states ban it. He rejects as completely irrelevant to determining the current acceptability of such punishments that in 26 states these laws have fallen into disuse.

And hell, if you go back to the 18th century, “the common law set a rebuttable presumption of incapacity to commit any felony at the age of 14, and theoretically permitted [even] capital punishment to be imposed on a person as young as age 7.” Good times, good times. This is Thomas’s gold standard for moral acceptability: hanging little children for property crimes. Stevens, concurring with the majority, writes, “We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes.” It’s like he’s never even met Clarence Thomas.

Today -100: May 19, 1910: Of comets, duels, and cross-dressing

The Earth passes through the tail of Halley’s Comet, nothing in particular happens. Some astronomers sound kind of disappointed.

If you’re keeping track of the people the NYT claims were made hysterical by the comet, to previous stories about women, the French and Chicagoans, add Mexicans (“For ten days superstitious Mexicans have sought to avert the impending disaster with music, incantations, and weird ceremonies, and many have spent day and night in prayer”), Russians, the “poorer Dutch and colored people” in South Africa, Puerto Ricans, steerage passengers on the Germania, foreigners in NY (“The Italians yelled with fright, and several of them fell on their knees”), and Southern Negroes.

The president of the Russian Duma, Alexander Guchkoff, and Count Uvarof, a deputy, are imprisoned in Peter and Paul Fortress for 4 weeks and 3 weeks respectively for dueling.

Wellesley issues a rule that no photographs be taken of students wearing male garb (in college plays).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Specter exorcized

Somewhere, tonight, Anita Hill is doing the Nelson Muntz “ha ha.”

Today -100: May 18, 1910: Of comet terror

Headline of the Day -100: “Chicago is Terrified.” Halley’s Comet, of course. Especially, according to the Times, women, one of whom is interviewed by telephone from inside her apartment, whose windows and doors she has stopped up to keep out the deadly cyanogen believed to constitute the comet’s tail.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Today -100: May 17, 1910: Of parole and stuttering

The House passes a bill (which the Senate has already passed) to establish a parole system at the federal level. Some are suggesting this is because of the presence of several well-connected bankers convicted of embezzlement in federal pokies.

In Paterson, Mrs. Amelia Spinelli filed for divorce against her husband of four months on grounds of cruelty, specifically his stuttering, which is especially obnoxious in Italian. In court, John Spinelli answered one question, “Tu-tu-bu-tu-tu-bu-bu.” “What does he say?” asked Mrs Spinelli’s lawyer. “He hasn’t said it yet,” replied the judge.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Academic freedom

Israel barred Noam Chomsky from entering the West Bank (not Israel, Associated Press, the West Bank). Evidently the complaint was that he intended to lecture at Bir Zeit University in Palestine but not also in Israel. The Interior Ministry is now claiming it was just a big misunderstanding, but Chomsky was questioned by border police for hours, and they were relaying questions from the Interior Ministry, so I think not.

Today -100: May 16, 1910: Of the ugliest woman in the world, the servant problem, and entering the comet’s tail (not a euphemism!)

Contractual issues have delayed the much-anticipated appearance in New York of the actress Polaire, billed as the ugliest woman in the world on account of her wide mouth, wacky hair, large hands and alleged 14-inch waist.

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs is holding a meeting in Cincinnati, and planning its next biennial convention. However, the Mississippi delegation has announced that no representatives of that state will be able to attend, “because of the servant problem.”

Halley’s Comet fever is gripping the NYT, with no fewer than 20 stories in today’s paper about whether it will mean the end of the world. The scientific consensus is that it won’t. The Earth will enter the comet’s tail... on Wednesday. If you don’t see one of these posts three days from now, you’ll know that the world came to an end in 1910.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Obama is angry, yes he is

The Iraqi Election Commission says that its recount found absolutely no fraud in the Iraqi election. Then the Iraqi Election Commission excused itself, stepped out of the room, and loud laughter was heard.

Yesterday Obama gave a speech about how he is angry about the big oil spill. Yesterday the White House announced that he was going to make a speech about how angry he is. That’s how disciplined Barack Obama is: he schedules his anger. Anyway, he said that he was tired of all the finger-pointing, and he’s looking at you, BP executives. Not pointing his finger, just looking.

Today -100: May 15, 1910: Mammy!

There is a plan to erect a monument in Galveston to “black mammies,” according to a repulsive article reproduced from the Houston Chronicle, which is full of praise for the mammies’ “simple and unselfish service,” her superstitious terror of ghosts and squeech owls, her “intense... pride in her ‘white folks’” etc. “Though her skin was black, her soul was white”.

Norway grants municipal suffrage to all women over 25 (since 1901 there has been a muni. franchise with property and tax-paying qualifications; a national suffrage with the same limitations has existed since 1907).

Friday, May 14, 2010

Caption contest

Today -100: May 14, 1910: Of smugglers

Former New Hampshire Governor Frank Rollins (in office 1899-1901), his wife and son are arrested for smuggling. They had returned to the US aboard the Lusitania and failed to declare expensive gowns and jewelry.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A lot of them were simply overstated

David Cameron made Theresa May home secretary rather than his shadow home secretary Chris Grayling, possibly because of the thing about gays and bed & breakfasts (May’s voting record is actually more anti-gay than Grayling’s), possibly because he suddenly realized that he had an almost all-male cabinet, something I thought went out with John Major.

Comedian Mark Steel on the Lib-Con coalition government.

Yesterday, Obama met “President” Karzai. They had a press conference.

Obama mentioned that he’d already called to congratulate David Cameron, who is already quite the well-trained poodle: “He reaffirmed -- without me bringing it up -- his commitment to our strategy in Afghanistan.”

PERCEIVED AND OVERSTATED? Obama denied reports that he thinks Karzai is an ineffective loser: “With respect to perceived tensions between the U.S. government and the Afghan government, let me begin by saying a lot of them were simply overstated.”

WHAT HE’S USED WHATEVER POLITICAL CAPITAL HE HAS FOR: “And I’ve used whatever political capital I have to make the case to the American people that this is in our national security interest, that it’s absolutely critical that we succeed on this mission.” Of course he wouldn’t have to utilize his “political capital” to make the case if there was actually a case to be made.

WHAT HIS JOB IS: “Our job is to be a good friend and to be frank with President Karzai in saying here’s where we think we’ve got to put more effort.”

WHAT KARZAI’S JOB IS: “President Karzai’s job is to represent his country and insist that its sovereignty is properly respected, even as he goes about the hard task of bringing about these changes in both his government and his economy.”

I BELIEVE ON THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY, THE TRADITIONAL GIFT IS QUAGMIRE: Karzai said, “the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States is now into its 10th year, in the form that it has since September 11, 2001.”

KARZAI IS TOTALLY NOT A STALKER: “It’s not an imaginary relationship; it’s a real relationship. It’s based on some very hard and difficult realities. We are in a campaign against terrorism together. There are days that we are happy; there are days that we are not happy.” Wait, go back to the part about days we are happy.

OBAMA IS TOTALLY NOT A STALKER: Obama said, “this is a long-term partnership that is not simply defined by our military presence.”

WHAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW: “Now, to the American people, I think what they should know is, is that we are steadily making progress.”

DID A LINE FROM A BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE SOMEHOW GET IN HERE BY MISTAKE? “The fact that we are engaging -- you look at a place like Marja -- the Taliban controlled that area. And when you move in and you say, you’re not controlling this area anymore, they’re going to fight back.”

DEFINE “ULTIMATELY ACCOUNTABLE”: “When there is a civilian casualty, that is not just a political problem for me. I am ultimately accountable, just as General McChrystal is accountable, for somebody who is not on the battlefield who got killed. And that something that I have to carry with me”.

WHY WE HAVE AN INTEREST IN REDUCING CIVILIAN CASUALTIES: “We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties not because it’s a problem for President Karzai; we have an interest in reducing civilian casualties because I don’t want civilians killed.”

WHAT HE TAKES NO PLEASURE IN: “But I want everybody to be clear, especially the Afghan people. I take no pleasure in hearing a report that a civilian has been killed.” La la la, I can’t hear you.

LET’S SAY THIS ONE MORE TIME: THEY DON’T ACTUALLY HAVE TIES TO AL QAIDA: “so long as they are willing to renounce violence and ties to al Qaeda and other extremist networks; that President Karzai should be able to work to reintegrate those individuals into Afghan society.”

Where can I get me one of those hats?

Today -100: May 13, 1910: Of naughty plays, naughty lawyers, and naughty comets

NY Mayor William Gaynor intends to enforce his version of decency on the theaters without recourse to the courts, by revoking the licenses of theaters performing plays he doesn’t like, as he has already done once against “The Girl with the Whooping Cough.”

The National Negro Committee held a conference in NY to organize a permanent body, the NAACP. But the NYT article on the conference focused, naturally, on a non-negro. The headline: “Socialist Advises Negroes to Strike.” That “socialist” was Clarence Darrow, known then as a labor attorney, and he was a bit off-message at a conference devoted to self-improvement and industrial schools and racial understanding. Darrow noted that that wouldn’t get them more wages from the whites. When he started suggesting that the clergy support the rich and that negroes should stop taking tips from white men, his speech was stopped.

French newspapers are speculating on whether the tail of Halley’s Comet, which the Earth will pass through, will extinguish all animal life on the planet (Spoiler alert: it didn’t).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Today -100: May 12, 1910: Of mourning and oaths

George Bernard Shaw writes to the London Times opposing the practice of wearing mourning for the late king, which is quite expensive – all those black dresses – and suggests instead wearing a violet ribbon. “Why our schools should be deliberately made hideous with black because an honourable public career has come to its natural close in all peace, fulfilment, and cheerful memory is not apparent to any healthy-minded person.”

There is a fight going on over the coronation oath of the next king; the Asquith government proposed dropping the explicitly anti-Catholic language.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Those who can, should

David Cameron is prime minister. Bleck. I’m tired of looking at his face already. His enormous plastic face.

Anyway, he gave a speech. “And I want to help try and build a more responsible society here in Britain. One where we don’t just ask what are my entitlements, but what are my responsibilities.” Anyway, if you ask “what are my entitlements,” the Tories will just laugh maniacally. Actually, if you ask “what are my responsibilities,” they’ll also laugh maniacally. I think it’s an Old Etonian thing.

“And a guide for that society - those who can, should, but those who can’t...” Teach? “...we will always help.”


I guess I’d have to put on the funny glasses to be sure

Subject line of a junk email from Experience 3-D.

I thought I already was in 3-D.

Today -100: May 11, 1910: Of girls with the whooping cough and the fight of the century

NYC Mayor Gaynor ordered the New York Theatre closed because it was showing an indecent play – the police commissioner sent in stenographers – a French farce called “The Girl with the Whooping Cough.”

E.L. Blackshear, principal of Prairie View State Normal and Industrial College in Texas, writes a letter to the Times calling for the alliterative boxing match between Jack Johnson and James Jeffries to be called off because of the racial strife it is causing and will cause, especially if (spoiler alert: when) Johnson wins. Blackshear declares himself to be of the same race as Johnson, which makes him the first black person whose voice I’ve seen in the Times in the 6 months I’ve been doing these posts.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Today -100: May 10, 1910: Of comets and crucifixions and circuses

In California, a “sheepman and prospector,” worried about the possible ill-effects of the earth passing through Halley’s Comet’s tail, crucifies himself. A century later, he’d have been one of Glenn Beck’s biggest fans.

The circus visited Washington D.C. Senators and congresscritters abandoned committee hearings to watch the parade. It was bi-partisan: there were elephants, and clowns riding donkeys.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Today -100: May 9, 1910: Of sad dogs, Sunday baseball, cruel and unusual punishment, and savages

In the latest King-Edward-is-still-dead news, the NYT reports (via special cable) that his dog misses him.

The Pittsburg D.A. bans baseball games – not just professional, but kids on back lots – on Sundays.

The Supreme Court orders the release of a prisoner on the grounds that he has been subjected to cruel and unusual punishment, the first time the Court has ever done this. Oddly enough, the cruel & unusual provision it is upholding is in the constitution of the Philippines, which was legally considered a colony. Paul Weems, an official in the lighthouse service in the Philippines, was convicted for defrauding the government and sentenced to 15 years in prison at “hard and painful labor” and to be chained wrist to ankle. The dissenting justices argued that they should be restricted to the 18th-century definition of cruel and unusual punishment, the Spanish-Inquisition-Dick-Cheney stuff, “cruel bodily punishments.” But the majority said that civilization had moved on, and so must the definition of cruel and unusual punishment.

Dr. Max Baff (amusing name), professor of psychology at Clark College in Massachusetts, says that women are no better than savages from the psychological standpoint, as shown by “her love of bird feathers, hanging ornaments to her ears, wearing bracelets, rings and necklaces, affecting gaudy colors. ... Like savages, she is color blind, prone to religious hysteria, and impressionable.” Dr. Baff considers the women’s suffrage movement a form of emotional insanity and, you will be surprised to hear, is a bachelor.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

They didn’t teach the 14th Amendment at Yale Law?

Hillary Clinton, pandering to the let’s-remove-citizenship-from-alleged-terrorists trend-let: “United States citizenship is a privilege. It is not a right.” Wrong.

Not kosher?

Quote of the Day: Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, on why Jews should hate Obama: “People are angry. Americans do not want peace shoved down the throats of the Israelis.”

Today -100: May 8, 1910: Of taciturn monarchs, primaries, anarchists, and swimming chickens

The NYT breaks the news that the new king, George V, is “taciturn.”

The plan for a Senate primary in Mississippi in November, proposed by Sen. Percy after it was discovered that at least one of the state legislators who elected him had been bribed, has been rescinded because the other candidate, former governor Vardaman, refused to agree to the terms.

An article in the NYT Sunday magazine section warns that there are anarchist Sunday schools in New York City. Worse, “there is no God in the Anarchist Sunday school,” and no 10 Commandments.

A justice of the peace in New Jersey will have to decide if chickens can swim. One neighbor accuses another neighbor’s chicken of crossing a stream and doing $250 worth of damage to his strawberry plants.

Friday, May 07, 2010

British election

Well, the Tories didn’t get a mandate, whatever Plastic Boy says. In fact, this election was a disappointment for the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. The LibDems failed to turn Nick Clegg’s alleged superstar status into an increase in the number of actual, you know, votes.

Since Cameron isn’t willing to give the LibDems electoral reform, just a time-wasting all-party commission, there will be no Tory-LibDem coalition. And the Tories did badly enough that the worst of all possible worlds, a Tory-Ulster Unionist coalition, wouldn’t give them a majority. So the likely outcome is a minority Tory government loosely supported by the LibDems and not able to do too much damage, with another general election some time fairly soon. Cameron will go into that one as the head of a weak government that won’t have accomplished much, but made clear just how harmful its budget cuts will be (combined with tax cuts for the rich). Labour will go into it with a new leader, presumably David Miliband, assuming Labour reacts to the loss with a coup instead of a civil war.

Michael White says Brown has snatched defeat from the jaws of disaster.

Other results: former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith loses her seat in Redditch to the expenses scandal and her husband’s porn habit. The Greens get their first MP ever, Caroline Lucas. Labour retained Rochdale, the constituency where Brown called Gillian Duffy a bigoted woman. The balance in Scotland remains almost exactly the same as in the 2005 elections, with the Tories coming in 4th in the popular vote and retaining a single solitary seat, and Labour actually increasing its vote slightly over 2005. Glenda Jackson, the only MP I’ve seen 1) naked, and 2) acting in a play (though not at the same time), narrowly retains her seat.

Today -100: May 7, 1910: The king is dead etcetera

King Edward VIII has died. Was it... murder?


At a meeting of the New York City Federation of Women’s Clubs, the novelist Amelia Barr gave a speech. After it, the audience was told that she had 15 children, news which was greeted with an enthusiasm that for some reason proved to the NYT that the clubwomen “show they care more for babies than the ballot.” Incidentally, Wikipedia says Barr had only 6 children, 3 of whom died in childhood.

There is a strike of bakers in Harlem. The union hired a band, which played behind a bakery. But it was a trap! When non-union bakers came out to listen, they were set upon by strikers.

Tufts College gives its reasons for abolishing co-education and establishing a separate women’s college: 1) the “delicacy” of certain subjects, 2) the different viewpoints from which men and women approach nearly all subjects, 3) a reluctance of both sexes to argue with each other, 4) women get better grades and thus a disproportionate share of awards and prizes. The college carefully explains that this is only because women are especially concerned with getting good grades and so take the classes they’re better at.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Why I like British elections

Because there David Cameron is giving his victory speech (for winning his own seat in Witney), but who are you looking at?

That would be Howling Hope, of the Monster Raving Looney William Hill Party (234 votes to Cameron’s 33,973). Here are some of the parliamentary candidates for Witney.

Campsfield House is a particularly nasty, privately run detention center for immigrants, and the guy with the sign is independent candidate/“comedy terrorist” Aaron Barschak, who got 53 votes. According to the Oxford Mail, “Security staff found a rubber lobster among Mr Barschak's possessions when they searched him.”

Today -100: May 6, 1910: What bakers need

Headline of the Day -100: “Bakers Admit They Need Hands.”

Turns out to be about a strike.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A few pawns short of a chess set

Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of Kalmykia, a Russian republic, pop. 300,000, on the Caspian Sea (and also head of the International Chess Federation) said in an interview that he has talked with aliens and been on a spaceship in 1997. They wore yellow spacesuits. An MP in the Russian Duma has demanded an investigation. He wants to know if Ilyumzhinov revealed any state secrets to the aliens. And is there a procedure for officials who know state secrets and come into contact with aliens to report them to the Kremlin?

Today -100: May 5, 1910: Taft’s non-jobs

In a speech in St Louis, President Taft comments that he was probably the only man in public life who would admit never having had any farming experience.

Taft may be expelled from the steam shovelers’ union (an honorary membership, he didn’t have any experience, um, shoveling steam I guess, either) for attending a baseball game which was under boycott because the new Cleveland ball park was built with non-union labor.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Today -100: May 4, 1910: Of hopples and secret dirigibles

Headline of the Day -100: “Trotting Men Eliminating Hopples.” I almost didn’t click on the story, in order to leave the meaning of those words a complete mystery. However I did read the story, and it’s still a complete mystery.

Other Headline of the Day -100: “Secret French Dirigible.” The French War Dept is building a balloon capable of traveling 50 miles per hour. The Germans must be terrified.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Today -100: May 3, 1910: Of judges, trusts, telephone-stethoscopes, and women’s hats

Charles Evans Hughes is confirmed by the Senate as a Supreme Court justice in a single day, without a debate. He will continue as governor of NY until Oct. 1.

The Supreme Court upholds state laws against trusts, including Tennessee’s decision to kick Standard Oil of Kentucky out of the state.

A medical device has been demonstrated in Britain that could (but won’t) revolutionize the practice of medicine: a telephone-stethoscope, which can transmit the sound of a heartbeat to a doctor over the phone. A doctor suggested it would be useful for tracking the development of pneumonia and typhoid patients.

I must have missed a letter to the NYT which asserted that women were unfit to wield the ballot because many of them wore hats with birds on them, but Alice Stone Blackwell responds that all those birds were killed by men. So there.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

June 2010 California proposition recommendations

Updated with election results in purple.

Prop. 13. Seismic retrofitting won’t trigger increased property taxes. YES, why are they bothering us with obvious shit?
Wins with 84.5%. Which suggests why PG&E and Mercury failed to buy their initiatives: 15.5% of us will vote against absolutely everything, even if it's uncontroversial and unopposed.

Prop. 14. Open primaries, with the top two candidates from primary on the ballot in November. For all state and federal offices except president.

This system would not just favor the moderate center, as proponents say, but is designed to eliminate other views from political life, limiting the number of perspectives heard in the public sphere to exactly two (if that: Californians tend to live in one-party enclaves, which means that in one-third of California the choice in November would between two Democrats). In the past when the major parties presented us with a choice between two unappetizing hacks (Gray Davis v. Bill Simon for governor 2002, for example), at least we had the option of voting for a Green or Libertarian or Peace and Freedom candidate. This option would be removed by Prop. 14. Personally, I won’t vote for a death penalty supporter for governor or attorney general, and for more than 30 years the D and R candidates for these offices have all been deathers. Without a third-party option on the ballot, I would have to give up either my principles or my franchise (anti-abortion voters might well find themselves in the same boat).

Third parties have pioneered on issues the two bigs were unready even to discuss – the Peace and Freedom Party, for example, put gay marriage in its platform back in 1988. Prop. 14, while purporting to be non-partisan, would wipe out the third parties.

The ballot pamphlet argument against 14 infuriates me, saying that because candidates don’t have to declare a party, “Voters won’t know whether they are choosing a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Green Party candidate.” This is an appeal to the laziest of voters, who are worried that they might actually have to read up on the candidates’ positions, when it’s so much easier to look at their party (for those voters, a helpful hint: Meg Whitman is actually a Republican).

But Prop. 14 itself is an appeal to the laziest voters. The “problem” this prop. is trying to solve, that the “extreme” candidates are increasingly winning D & R primaries, is not caused by the current primary system, it’s caused by apathy: the “moderate” voters Prop. 14 wants to favor simply haven’t been bothering to vote on primary election day, or work for moderate candidates, or run themselves.

Prop. 14 would apply to statewide races as well, so one could conceivably face a gubernatorial election where there are two Republicans on the November ballot, especially if there are several Democrats dividing the Dem vote in June. This happened in France, which has this system, in its presidential election in 2002, where the middle-left candidates split the first-round vote, leaving the second round was a distasteful choice between a corrupt center-right incumbent (Jacques Chirac) and an actual fascist (Jean-Marie Le Pen).

Vote NO.

Wins with 54.2%.

Prop. 15. Public funding for election campaigns for the office of secretary of state for candidates who voluntarily agree to restrict their campaign spending and private contributions. This is both a test case (applying to just one office, and only in the 2014 and 2018 elections) to demonstrate how public funding would work, and a trojan horse for the provision lifting the ban on public funding of all state candidates, allowing the Legislature to expand this program to all state offices without a further referendum.

The ballot pamphlet’s No argument is especially dishonest, saying that the funds would come from taxpayers, which is only true if you think of a fee paid only by lobbyists as “new taxes.” Why are they allowed to lie to us? They imply corruption, talking darkly about lobbyists funding the very office that regulates them, but a mandatory fee paid into a fund for all candidates is not a bribe. They say that if the fee didn’t bring in enough money for the program, tax money would have to be used, which is another lie: Prop. 15 specifically says that if the fee wasn’t enough, funding would be reduced.

However, on this one I’ve changed my mind while writing this. While I support public financing as a means of reducing the cost of elections to make it possible for people to run without having to either be multi-millionaires themselves or spend all their time sucking up to multi-millionaires and corporations for donations. But Prop. 15 just feels sneaky. It allows the Legislature to design public financing for every other state office at some future date behind closed doors without another initiative, which is the sort of blank check I’m not willing to entrust to them. They should have to come back to the voters before such a fundamental alteration of our electoral system. Vote NO.

Loses 57.4% to 42.6%.

Prop. 16. The anti-public power initiative. The PG&E ads all talk about the “taxpayers’ right to vote,” which is an attempt to obscure reality, at least for people who aren’t paying very close attention – they’re depending on people not paying very close attention – in two ways: 1) the word “taxpayers” is intended to scare people who aren’t paying very close attention into thinking this measure has something to do with taxes, 2) the phrase “right to vote” is intended to get people who aren’t paying very close attention to overlook that the 2/3 provision means their vote might not actually count: yes you had a right to vote, but only 66% of your neighbors agreed with you, so hard cheese.

What PG&E is counting on is that all they would have to do is mislead or scare 1/3 of the voters. If you’re wondering how they plan to do that, you’ve got a perfect preview in the lopsided campaign you’re seeing now around Prop. 16: a large private corporation, and a monopoly at that, spending millions of dollars on ads and the other side not heard because municipalities are prohibited from spending public money to rebut them.

Aside from the undemocratic 2/3 provision, you have to admire the audacity of PG&E talking about the “right to vote” when the choice on offer in a local referendum would be between a public utility run by elected officials and a private one run by an unaccountable, unelected corporation responsible only to its stockholders. Did you have a “right to vote” on PG&E CEO Peter Darbee’s $9.4 million compensation last year? Or on whether you wanted a “smart meter”? Or nuclear power plants? Or on whether PG&E could spend the money they charge you to bankroll a proposition to protect their monopoly and fill your mailbox with propaganda?

PG&E is not spending $35+ million because they’re concerned about the “taxpayers’ right to vote.” They’re concerned about protecting their ability to continue charging some of the highest rates in the country.

Vote NO. That said, when do I get a vote on getting rid of Comcast?

No, 52.%, but not before every remaining tree in Washington was cut down for pro-16 mailers. When you pay your next PG&E bill, write "Ha ha" on your check.

Prop. 17. Allows auto insurance companies to jack up rates for people who haven’t had continuous insurance.

Another corporate-sponsored initiative (sigh). Can we assume that Mercury Insurance did not pay millions to put this on the ballot out of a philanthropic impulse to reduce everyone’s rates?

This is another one where the arguments in the voter booklet disagree fundamentally on the facts, which means someone is lying. I had to read the text of the prop. to find out, for example, whether there really was an exemption for lapse in coverage due to military service (only if service is outside the US). The Yes argument claims there is protection for people who drop coverage for economic or medical reasons, but what Prop. 17 actually says is that “Continuity of coverage shall be deemed to exist even if... coverage has lapsed for up to 90 days in the last five years for any reason other than nonpayment of premium.” But if that nonpayment was because you lost your job, what then? There is nothing in the text of the initiative that says how that would be resolved, so, you know, good luck with that. If this passes, I foresee plenty of frustrating phone conversations with insurance company reps.

Vote NO to frustrating phone conversations with insurance company reps.

No, 52.1%. It's almost like people don't think insurance companies are on their side and just want to charge them less.