Thursday, March 31, 2011

It’s a very problematic situation

The US issues a warning that it will bomb anyone in Libya, government or rebel, who kills civilians. Or as a spokesmodel puts it, “whether pro-Qaddafi or pro-opposition.”

“Pro-opposition?” Don’t the positive and negative in that phrase cancel each other out?

And we will do so because UN Security Council Resolution 1973 applies to both sides. Of course so does Resolution 1970, the arms embargo on Libya, but we’re still planning to arm the rebels (I assume we actually already are).

But who counts as a civilian? In the past, ambassador to the UN Susan Rice refused to say whether rebels were civilians or combatants. And it’s not like there’s an official rebel army that people enlist in, put on a uniform, and serve in for the duration (when such un-uniformed irregulars fight American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, we call them “unlawful combatants”).

And on the other side, the Libyan government is handing out assault weapons to pro-Qaddafi civilians, further confusing the definition of “civilian,” which some might consider a problem, since the only stated rationale for Operation Turd Sandwich is the protection of civilians. Obama in his speech Monday said that our military activities (i.e., blowing shit up) have no broader goals. An anonymous “legal adviser to the military campaign” says that Libyans “are so intermixed that it is not feasible to discern where the boundary between the civilians and opposition forces lie”. “There are also those civilians entitled to protection that may be armed in order to protect their families, homes, businesses, and communities. Other civilians may join the rebels at certain stages, becoming armed combatants, and then decide to return home for whatever reason, thus transitioning back to civilian non-combatants.” General Carter Ham, proud possessor of the WASPiest name in all Christendom, said “it’s not a clear distinction, because we’re not talking about a regular military force — it’s a very problematic situation.” These are admissions that the just-protecting-civilians rationale is effectively meaningless.

And what does it mean for the Libyans? Basically, if civilians and combatants are mixed together, as they are everywhere, neither side can attack territory held by the other side without fouling afoul of Resolution 1973. So stalemate forever, and effective division of Libya, is that our policy?

(Update: IOZ notes the natural extension of threat to bomb anyone who kills civilians.) (Belgium has it coming; I’ve always said so.)

(Update updated: Glenn Greenwald comment on Twitter: “We sit in the sky, over Libya, threatening to shoot lighting bolts at anyone who sins.”)

Today -100: March 31, 1911: Of arbitration, funerals, Christian names

German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg says that universal arbitration and universal disarmament are impossible ideals.

NYC Mayor Gaynor decides that the city will bury any unclaimed Triangle fire bodies. The Women’s Trade Union League and the Waistmakers’ Union have each been trying to claim them. The union also wants a parade. Er, procession.

The mother of one of the dead girls claims that $1,600 was robbed from her daughter’s body (okay, that seems like a lot, but most of these immigrant girls had never heard of banks and did carry their savings hidden on their persons).

The Russian Orthodox Church issues a ban on Jews having Christian first names.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Obama energy speech: We were the leaders in wind

Obama gave a speech about energy policy today, at Georgetown.

Credit where credit is due: this is a good line, concerning the last time gas was $4 a gallon, in 2008: “And because we were at the height of political season, you had all kinds of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians -- they were waving their three-point plans for $2 a gallon gas. You remember that -- ‘drill, baby, drill.’”

BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO BE KILLING EACH OTHER FOR A GALLON OF GASOLINE, “ROAD WARRIOR” STYLE: “We’re going to have to think long term, which is why I came here, to talk to young people here at Georgetown, because you have more of a stake in us getting our energy policy right than just about anybody.”

Another good line, somewhat hurt because he beat it into the ground: “We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when they go back down -- we go back to doing the same things we’ve been doing until the next time there’s a price spike, and then we’re shocked again.”

He announced his grand objective: to reduce oil imports by 1/3 in ten years.

He said we should import oil from stable countries like Canada and Mexico (has he seen Mexico recently?) and maybe Brazil. “Part of the reason I went down there is to talk about energy with the Brazilians. They recently discovered significant new oil reserves, and we can share American technology and know-how with them as they develop these resources.” Our oil! Our oil! Our oil!

Of course the “hey, let’s only import oil from friendly, stable countries” idea is nonsense, since the oil market is global. Almost none of the oil used in the US is from Libya, but that didn’t shelter us from a price spike.

HARNESSES: “But our best opportunities to enhance our energy security can be found in our own backyard -- because we boast one critical, renewable resource that the rest of the world can’t match: American ingenuity. American ingenuity, American know-how. To make ourselves more secure, to control our energy future, we’re going to have to harness all of that ingenuity.” Like in “The Matrix.”

HE JUST TOTALLY GETS YOUNG PEOPLE, DOESN’T HE? “and I know how passionate young people are about issues like climate change”.

OBAMA TOTALLY MAKES FUN OF AMNESIA PATIENTS. AMNESIA IS A VERY SERIOUS CONDITION, MR. PRESIDENT: “And lately, we’ve been hearing folks saying, well, the Obama administration, they put restrictions on how oil companies operate offshore. Well, yes, because we just spent all that time, energy and money trying to clean up a big mess. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have amnesia.”

He says Energy Secretary Steven Chu is “the right guy” to ensure that natural gas is extracted safely. “He’s got a Nobel Prize in physics. He actually deserved his Nobel Prize.” Oh good, Obama is finally admitting that he didn’t deserve his.

NERD! NERRRRRD!!! “And this is the kind of thing that he likes to do for fun on the weekend. (Laughter.) He goes into his garage and he tinkers around and figures out how to extract natural gas.”

Oh lord, he mentions switchgrass. Mark down “switchgrass” as another word ruined forever by George Bush. I hear it and I get flashbacks. Not that it tends to come up in casual conversation.

“We’ve also made historic investments in high-speed rail and mass transit”. 3,815 words before he mentions mass transit. It really could be a George Bush speech on energy, except he doesn’t make any disparaging jokes about electric cars looking like golf carts.

THE NICE THING ABOUT ENERGY EFFICIENCY: “The nice thing about energy efficiency is we already have the technology.”

Another goal: “By 2035, 80 percent of our electricity needs to come from a wide range of clean energy sources”. Of course he counts nuclear power and “clean coal” as clean energy sources.

He deplores the loss of our leadership in green energy: “in the 1980s, America was home to more than 80 percent of the world’s wind capacity, 90 percent of the world’s solar capacity. We were the leaders in wind.” Those were the days.

He wants those days of wind leadership back because “I want America to win the future.”

HE DIDN’T REALLY TEST IT: “I’ve tested an electric vehicle fresh off the assembly line. I mean, I didn’t really test it -- I was able to drive like five feet before Secret Service said to stop.”

Fighting the scourge of prenatal discrimination in Arizona

Arizona has banned abortions motivated by the race or sex of the child.

Of course this is a non-problem, but reading the text of the act (pdf), I suspect that (beyond peacocking for the base), the key clauses are those empowering the father (if married to the pregnant woman) or her parents (if a minor), to bring a civil action on behalf of the fetus to stop such abortions, or to sue abortion-providers afterwards, allowing relatives to control their womenfolk by making false claims in court. Financing such an abortion is made a criminal act.

As is usual with anti-abortion measures, the woman is subject to no penalties, even though its her evil discriminatory motives that are the point of this bill. All the penalties (up to 7 years in jail, loss of medical license, lawsuits, fines) fall on medical professionals. This is not just a thought crime, but a someone-else’s-thought crime.

Abortion-providers must sign an affidavit that they have no knowledge that a pregnant woman wants the abortion because of the fetus’s sex or race. The patient must also sign. This will either 1) encourage doctors to pry into the motivations of their patients, 2) encourage them to talk as little as possible with their patients, in case the woman says something for which the doctor may later face legal jeopardy. Either way, the doctor-patient relationship is poisoned, with doctors trying to cover their own asses rather than deal with the needs of their patients. Doctors, nurses, counselors, etc must also report any “known or suspected” sex- or race-selection motivations.

The law states, “There is no place for such discrimination and inequality in human society.” Because if there’s one thing the state of Arizona is opposed to, it’s discrimination and inequality. It adds, “The purpose of this legislation is to protect unborn children from prenatal discrimination”.

Prenatal... discrimination!

See, it’s not about banning abortion, it’s about banning discrimination. And discrimination is bad, right?

The law states: “Sex-selection and race-selection abortions are elective procedures that do not in any way implicate a woman’s health.” You could say the same thing about abortions following rape or incest – so what?

By the way, the name of this thing: “The Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011.”

Today -100: March 30, 1911: Of suffrage, sacred wampum, income tax, and excessive rope jumping

Women’s suffrage fails in the Minnesota state senate 32-32.

Much of the NY state capitol burned down. It was uninsured. The State Library was destroyed, including many irreplaceable manuscripts, such as the correspondence of Gov. George Clinton. The sacred wampum of the Six Nations was (were? is wampum a singular or a plural noun?) also destroyed.

12 states have rejected the constitutional amendment for a federal income tax, meaning it can’t be ratified unless one of them retracts.

8-year-old Mary Tamplin dies “as a result of excessive rope jumping.” She was in a jump-roping contest with a friend. 698 times. Doesn’t say who won. Her classmates will be pallbearers. 8-year-old pallbearers?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today -100: March 29, 1911: Of retiring gracefully, and secret briefings

Gustavo Madero, the rebel leader’s brother, says that the resignation of the Mexican cabinet was part of a negotiated deal, which will culminate in Díaz being allowed to “retire” on the face-saving grounds of extreme old age. Meanwhile, Díaz’s people say that he may retire, but not while the revolution continues.

President Taft called four Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to the White House, giving each one a different false reason, then gave them a briefing on the reasons for the stationing of troops on the Mexican border. Astonishingly, those reasons – which have not been divulged, but which the senators evidently found convincing – have nothing to do with a need to practice “maneuvers,” as the public has been told.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Obama’s Libya speech: We are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges

Obama gave a televised speech about Libya at the National Defense University.

AND BY “ADVOCATE” HE MEANS, “DO AS WE SAY, NOT AS WE DO”: “For generations, the United States of America has played a unique role as an anchor of global security and advocate for human freedom.”

IT’S TRUE; WE’RE KNOWN FOR OUR NATURAL RELUCTANCE: “we are naturally reluctant to use force to solve the world’s many challenges.” Technically, this is half true: we haven’t been reluctant to use force, but it is true that we haven’t solved the world’s many challenges with that force.

“But when our interests and values are at stake, we have a responsibility to act.”

GOD CREATED WAR TO TEACH AMERICANS GEOGRAPHY: “Libya sits directly between Tunisia and Egypt”.

LEGITIMACY: “For more than four decades, the Libyan people have been ruled by a tyrant - Moammar Gaddafi. He has denied his people freedom, exploited their wealth, murdered opponents at home and abroad, and terrorized innocent people around the world...” And then there was the uprising and “I made it clear that Gaddafi had lost the confidence of his people and the legitimacy to lead, and I said that he needed to step down from power.” So he was a tyrant who denied his people freedom etc, but he lost the legitimacy to do so last month. Someone really has to ask Obama to define “legitimacy.” I’d also be curious about his methodology in determining that Qaddafi a) had the confidence of his people, and b) lost the confidence of his people.”

(From a White House statement statement on a video-conference earlier today between Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel and Cameron: “They agreed that Qadhafi had lost any legitimacy to rule and should leave power, and that the Libyan people should have the political space to determine their own future.”)

WAS THAT BEFORE OR AFTER HE LOST THE CONFIDENCE OF HIS PEOPLE AND THE LEGITIMACY TO LEAD: “In the past, we had seen him hang civilians in the streets, and kill over a thousand people in a single day.”

Benghazi – which is nearly the size of Charlotte, Obama helpfully informs us – was at risk of massacre. “It was not in our national interest to let that happen.” I must have missed where he specified what national interest that was.

PHEW: “And tonight, I can report that we have stopped Qaddafi’s deadly advance.”

He pronounces Qatar “Cutter.”

HE WANTS TO BE CLEAR: “So for those who doubted our capacity to carry out this operation, I want to be clear: The United States of America has done what we said we would do.”

THE BROADER GOAL: “while our military mission is narrowly focused on saving lives, we continue to pursue the broader goal of a Libya that belongs not to a dictator, but to its people.”

WELL, HE EXPLAINED THAT LIBYA IS BETWEEN TUNISIA AND EGYPT, SO THAT ANSWERS ONE OF THEM: “I know that some Americans continue to have questions about our efforts in Libya.”

NOW, IS THAT A LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT LIKE QADDAFI’S WAS UNTIL A MONTH AGO? “The transition to a legitimate government that is responsive to the Libyan people will be a difficult task.”

“In fact, much of the debate in Washington has put forward a false choice when it comes to Libya.” Oh, and we know how Obama hates false choices. That false choice is either 1) between doing nothing and intervening anywhere in the world bad things are happening, or 2) between doing nothing and “do[ing] whatever it takes to bring down Qaddafi.” Thanks to bad speech-writing, I can’t tell which is the false choice. It doesn’t really matter; Obama just likes saying there are false choices so he can portray himself as a reasonable non-ideologue.

Evidently, “In this particular country -– Libya - at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale.” So the Obama Doctrine is based on the horrificness scale (which is measured in tiananmens).

Speaking of bad speech-writing, note the colon in the official version of this sentence: “We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves.” When I watched the speech, I thought that colon was a comma, since he’s been talking about the US’s “unique abilities” in the military field from the start. But that colon, which obviously could not be heard when he was speaking, because he is not Victor Borge, changed the whole meaning of that phrase. Just bad writing.

THE UNITED STATES IS DIFFERENT: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different.” Because we’re usually causing them, or at least selling arms to the people who are.

Evidently we have “an important strategic interest in preventing Qaddafi from overrunning those who oppose him.” Can you guess what it is? Given that it took a month for him to bring it up, I guess neither could he, but “A massacre would have driven thousands of additional refugees across Libya’s borders, putting enormous strains on the peaceful –- yet fragile -– transitions in Egypt and Tunisia.” (Again I have to say, define “peaceful.”)

Another important strategic interest: “The writ of the United Nations Security Council would have been shown to be little more than empty words, crippling that institution’s future credibility to uphold global peace and security.” And crippling the UN’s credibility to uphold global peace and security is our job.

If we tried to overthrow Qaddafi militarily, the coalition would splinter and “We would likely have to put U.S. troops on the ground to accomplish that mission, or risk killing many civilians from the air.” And if there’s one thing Obama hates, it’s risking killing many civilians from the air. Just ask the people of... oh, you know the list.

OH NO YOU DINNT: “To be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq.”

OBAMA DOCTRINE! OBAMA DOCTRINE! OBAMA DOCTRINE! “Let me close by addressing what this action says about the use of America’s military power, and America’s broader leadership in the world, under my presidency.”

“There will be times... though, when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and our values are.” Our interests and values, that’s really specific. Earlier in the speech, he said we had a national interest in there not being a massacre in Benghazi.

And what’ll we do when our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are? “As we have in Libya, our task is instead to mobilize the international community for collective action.” I’m assuming Fox News is condemning this even as I speak.

WHAT AMERICAN LEADERSHIP IS: “Because contrary to the claims of some, American leadership is not simply a matter of going it alone and bearing all of the burden ourselves. Real leadership creates the conditions and coalitions for others to step up as well”. And “That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown in Libya.” If he does say so himself.

“Those risks were realized when one of our planes malfunctioned over Libya. Yet when one of our airmen parachuted to the ground, in a country whose leader has so often demonized the United States –- in a region that has such a difficult history with our country –- this American did not find enemies. Instead, he was met by people who embraced him. One young Libyan who came to his aid said, ‘We are your friends. We are so grateful to those men who are protecting the skies.’” A little less grateful that they shot up the Libyans who tried to embrace the pilot, but Obama left that party of the story out. Funny, that.

Really, if you kill a bunch of non-hostile, unarmed civilians, you don’t get to turn it into a heart-warming anecdote, especially without acknowledging how it went hideously wrong.

It’s a war speech, Biden, use the somber face, not the “Oh boy, ice cream!” face

They’ve got to hear a message that they don’t have any choice

Today Obama had a “town hall” for Univision at the Bell Multicultural High School in D.C.

A BUNCH OF LANGUAGES: “I want everybody here to be working hard to make sure that you don’t just speak one language, you speak a bunch of languages. That’s a priority.”

He got a little over-emphatic about how future jobs will require education and lots of it: “all of which means nobody -- nobody -- can drop out. We can’t afford to have anybody here at Bell drop out. We can’t have anybody drop out anywhere in the country.” Dude, it’s high school, not East Berlin. “Everybody -- businesses, philanthropies, churches, whoever these young people are interacting with, they’ve got to hear a message that they don’t have any choice, they’ve got to graduate”. So it’s all about making sure that young people don’t have any choice. Or something.

WE CAN NAME THEM: “there are about 2,000 schools in the country where the majority of dropouts take place. I mean, we can name them.” May I suggest you name them... George W. Bush High School.

On the controversy over how to teach non-English speakers, Obama, naturally, came down on both sides: “we’ve got to make sure that we continue to fund strong programs, both bilingual education programs but also immersion programs that ensure that young people are learning English but they’re not falling behind in their subjects even as they are learning English.”

He said that the educational system in California has fallen from its pre-eminent levels because of all the money spent on prisons.

The host read a letter from the mother of some kid who was bullied and committed suicide. She asked if he’d make bullying a federal crime. Obama failed to answer that one, but did say that people used to make fun of him for his big ears and how it’s harder now with Facebook and “Twitters.” “You can’t escape it,” he said. Later he said there should be lots of computers in schools. But “technology is not a magic bullet.” Although, to be fair, magic is not a technological bullet either.

He suggested that the students end bullying by “call[ing] them out on it. And that peer pressure could actually end up making as much of a difference as just about anything.” Great, peer pressure, that’s always such a force for good.

On standardized tests: “Too often what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools.” He didn’t say how often is the right amount.

Today -100: March 28, 1911: Of blame, corn syrup, and the race for the pole

The blame game over the Triangle fire is seriously underway between the city, borough, state, the Building Dept., the State Labour Commission, and the fire dept. The last seems the least to blame for the lack of fire escapes in the Asch Building: the fire chief has been screaming about this for years, only to be shot down on “aesthetic” – certainly not on cost, why would you even think that? – grounds. As to the direct cause of the fire, investigators are leaning towards a cigarette or match thrown into piles of fabric waste (smoking was banned in the factory, but it’s not like they could sneak out for a smoke – the exits were locked). To this day the cause is a matter of dispute. A spark from one of the machines might have done it.

The majority of female students at Cornell petition against having to share dorms with black students. There aren’t any now, but two have applied for rooms.

The Novelty Candy Plant has been taken over by the Corn Products Refining Company. Junk food made of corn syrup, what ever will they think of next?

The Scott-Amundsen race for the South Pole is on, baby!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More helpfulness from the NY Times

The Paper of Record helpfully explains sexting: “the primary reason teenagers sext is to look cool and sexy to someone they find attractive.”

Not that I just read the Times for the dirty bits, but on Friday it reviewed Kate Winslet’s pubic hair in HBO’s Mildred Pierce: “Both Ms. Winslet and Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Veda as a teenager, have full-frontal nude scenes. They are ‘tasteful,’ as the saying goes, but seem designed less to advance the story than to prove, once again, the filmmakers’ dedication to historical accuracy — in even the more remote areas of feminine grooming.” No waxing, is I believe the gist of what is being conveyed here. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Grow your own Mandelas for fun and profit

It might be amusing to tear apart the Steaming Bucket O’ Stupid that is Thomas Friedman’s Sunday column, “Hoping For Arab Mandelas,” sentence by malodorous sentence, but it would be as ultimately futile as attempting to diagram a Sarah Palin sentence.

We learn, for example, that democracy “requires what Michael Mandelbaum, author of ‘Democracy’s Good Name,’ calls ‘liberty.’” Thank you, Michael Mandelbaum (also evidently author of “The Meaning of Sports: Why Americans Watch Baseball, Basketball and Football and What They See When They Do”) for inventing the concept of liberty.

Evidently to understand how the Arab countries currently in turmoil might become democratic, we have to look at the one success story in the region... wait for it... Iraq.

From Iraq, Thomas Friedman learns that authoritarian Arab regimes are keeping sectarian tensions in check, so watch out for those, potentially democratic Arab nations! But people also have an “equally powerful yearning to live together as citizens,” so it’ll all be okay, just like in Iraq, where there wasn’t a civil war, no matter what you think you remember. “[I]t never happened,” Tom Friedman says. And the guy who won the most seats in the last election, Ayad Allawi, “ran on a multisectarian platform with Sunnis.” Wonder whatever happened to him?

Are you ready for the prototypical Thomas Friedman sentence from this column? “While these tribal identities are deeply embedded and can blow up at anytime, there are also powerful countertrends in today’s more urbanized, connected, Facebooked Middle East.”

What kept Iraq from exploding in a civil war, which NEVER HAPPENED? “[T]hey had a credible neutral arbiter throughout this transition: the U.S.” Thank God for that. We must really go out and invade every other Arab nation, so that we can act as a credible neutral arbiter in their transition to democracy. Oh wait, we are.

The army is Egypt’s neutral arbiter, Friedman says, so I guess we don’t have to invade them. “Who will play that role in Libya? In Syria? In Yemen?” Who indeed. At least he doesn’t suggest Israel.

See the problem is that some day these countries have to grow up and stand on their own. “They need to grow their own arbiters — their own Arab Nelson Mandelas.” Just plant a seed in a dank dungeon, grow for 27 years, and voila!

(Actually, the next sentence quotes “Invictus,” so he didn’t mean the real Nelson Mandela, he meant Morgan Freeman. Can Morgan Freeman do an Arab accent? Because then we’d be set.)

You have to read this thing for yourself, it is the Tom Friedmanist Tom Friedman column ever.

If you’ll excuse me, I have to read Maureen Dowd about “the Mormon moment” now.

Today -100: March 27, 1911: Of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, capitulations, and hypnotism

Families are crowding around the morgue, trying to claim their dead from the Triangle Waist Company fire, but a day later, only 86 of the 141 (so far) bodies have been identified (some never will be). “All day long the line tramped its way past one line of coffins, to turn and tramp back past another.”

After a while, the police realized that some of the crowd were just curious assholes and some were known pickpockets, and started excluding anyone who couldn’t name the Triangle employee whose body they were looking for.

It’s now coming out that the doors of the factory were locked (to prevent pilferage and tardiness), although one of the owners lies that this is “an absolute lie.” Someone should really go to jail for that (spoiler alert: no one will go to jail for that)(spoil-your-lunch alert: in fact, the factory was over-insured, so the owners will make a large profit from the fire)(it was common practice in the garment industry to over-insure, because you never knew when a little fire might be handy to dispose of excess merchandise, not that there was any hint of arson in this case, but the Triangle Waist Company did have a history of convenient end-of-season fires). Mary Dreier of the Women’s Trade Union League explains that the employees were working so late on a Saturday because they were non-union and were paid 60% of what unionized waistshirt-makers make.

The state labor commissioner keeps going on about the lack of fire drills, although what good fire drills do when there aren’t any proper fire escapes, I don’t know. And Gov. Dix blames the victims: “Very often carelessness on the part of employes is responsible in no small degree for horrors of this kind. Employes in many cases fail to familiarize themselves with the building in which they are employed, and sometimes don’t even know where the staircases or exits are.” Actually they did know where the staircases were – that’s why 40 or 50 charred bodies were found packed against the locked doors to the staircases, you tit.

Mexican secret police uncover a plot to release political prisoners in Mexico City.

Er, can’t say I’ve really been following this one, but China just capitulated to Russia’s demands, under threat of war.

Harold Heath is expelled from the Pennington Seminary for hypnotizing another student into thinking he had appendicitis.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Insert Wallace & Gromit reference here

The venerable Gloucestershire cheese rolling has been cancelled for the second year in a row, thanks to public outrage over a proposed £20 ticket price.

But the Wills-Kate royal wedding is still on.

I mean, which would you rather see: a bunch of idiots rolling down a hill chasing after a giant wheel of cheese... or the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling?

Today -100: March 26, 1911: The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

A fire broke out in the top three floors of a 10-story building housing the Triangle Waist Company. The Asch Building, which had had four recent fires, had one fire escape, and that was an interior one, capable of supporting one person at a time; it saved no one. The exits were locked. The two owners, however, made it out by elevator immediately after the fire started. The elevator operators worked at evacuating people for as long as they could. Law students at the taller NYU building next door lowered ladders, fortuitously left by some painters, to the Asch Building, from which 120 people climbed to safety (the fire spread to NYU Law School, which I hadn’t known, doing a bit of damage). The Asch Building is still standing and is now owned by NYU.

The building was, the Times notes, fireproof, and the next day shows hardly any sign of the fire: “The walls are as good as ever; so are the floors; nothing is the worse for the fire except the furniture and 141 of the 600 men and girls that were employed in its upper three stories.” Some burned, some suffocated, some leaped to their deaths.

The NYT caption: One hour after this picture was taken two of the victims were discovered to be alive. (The story explains that the firemen, dealing with the fire, ignored the “heap of corpses” for an hour, only then finding a girl still alive in the middle of the heap. She died two minutes later.)

The fire started at 4:50, the end of the work day. Five minutes later, and no one would have been killed. A proper weekend would have helped too (March 25 was a Saturday).

Most of the company’s employees, and thus most of the dead, were foreign girls – Russians, Germans, Italians, Hungarians – who replaced the mostly Jewish girls who had unionized and struck in 1909-10 (this search link displays my posts on the strike, in which the Triangle Waist Company was especially intransigent). Some of the remaining Jewish employees were taking the sabbath off, but not many because it was payday. 123 of the 146 dead were women. Their average age was 19, and some were quite a bit younger.

NYT: “A thirteen-year-old girl hung for three minutes by her finger tips to the sill of a tenth floor window. A tongue of flame licked at her fingers, and she dropped to death.”
“At a ninth-floor window a man and a woman appeared. The man embraced the woman and kissed her. Then he hurled her to the street and jumped. Both were killed.”

“One girl jumped into a horse blanket held by firemen and policemen. The blanket ripped like cheesecloth, and her body was mangled almost beyond recognition.”

A NYT editorial begins: “The appalling disaster in this city last evening compels horror and pity rather than condemnation of any person or any system.” Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrongity wrong!

Cornell has a site on the fire. There are numerous books about the fire, including a surprising number of children’s and YA books, novels, and a graphic novel. I can recommend David Von Drehle’s Triangle: The Fire That Changed America (2003).

The Triangle fire was the biggest workplace disaster in New York City until 9/11.

Stories not getting as much attention today -100 as they might have on another day -100: a steamer goes down in a storm off Vancouver, killing 26; a train wreck in Georgia kills ten.

Former (and future) French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau has written a movie.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Today -100: March 25, 1911: Of Senator Buffalo Bill, resignations, pink eye, and major butts

Proclamation: “I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 25, 2011, as the 100th Anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.” Dude, it’s the 100th anniversary of the Triangle fire whether you proclaim it to be or not. “Hey, can you tell me the time?” “I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of...” “Uh, never mind.”

However, for the purposes of this blog, coverage begins 100 years after the newspaper coverage, so check back tomorrow.

Buffalo Bill Cody is indeed interested in being the first senator from Arizona, as some AZ businessmen have been suggesting. Cody says they “seemed to think that as I had assisted to drive out the Indians and make the country fit for them to live in, I ought to be its first representative.” He is in favor of women’s suffrage – “Count me in for the women every time” – but not the harem skirt. He was elected (without his knowledge) to the Nebraska legislature in 1870, but quickly resigned.

The Mexican cabinet resigns. They were all at least 65 years old, some much older.

President Taft has pink eye.

Headline of the Day -100: “President’s Aide Now Major Butt.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The plan was to kill people, sir

Spc. Jeremy Morlock of Wasilla, Alaska takes a plea for being part of a “kill team” (an unofficial one, I mean) that killed innocent Afghan civilians other than the innocent Afghan civilians they were supposed to be killing, for sport. As he said to his court-martial, “The plan was to kill people, sir.”

Morlock, and friend

Said David Petraeus, “These are unacceptable actions that are depicted in those photos.” Col. Comb-over doesn’t really do moral outrage very convincingly, does he?

According to Morlock’s prosecutor, “We don’t do this. ... This is not the Army.” I think I’ll just let that assertion sit there.

Elsewhere, prosecutors at Guantanamo used the Army’s invasion of one foreign country in a genocidal war, and subsequent execution of foreign citizens of another nation as a precedent. See, they’re prosecuting people for “providing material support for terror” for acts done before that was made a crime in 2006, and they’re saying it was always a crime, as seen by Andrew Jackson executing two Brits during the Seminole Wars. The prosecutor has seriously pissed off Seminoles by calling their resistance to the invasion of their lands an unlawful belligerency and basically comparing them to Al Qaida. The Pentagon has had to apologize, sort of, saying that the prosecutors’ brief “cites General Jackson’s campaign and the tribunals he convened not as an example of moral right but as legal precedent: the morality or propriety of General Jackson’s military operation in Florida is irrelevant.” Two wrongs may not make a right, but they do make a legal precedent, which is what the government cares about.

They must be around here somewhere

Michele Bachmann will form an exploratory committee.

To go looking for her marbles?

Daily Telegraphing: lucky bird shit, festering golliwogs, and madcap psychological warfare

Obama is killing me. He just spent days in Latin America, and not one funny picture. NOT ONE! Throw a blogger a bone, already. You could always count on Bush. Always.

From the always dependable Daily Telegraph, the Headline of the Day: “New Zealand Man Proves Being Hit by Bird Droppings Is Lucky.” Man was hit by bird droppings, was told it was lucky, bought scratch card, won NZ$100,000. Quod erat demonstrandum. He said, “I want to wipe my debts and just enjoy life.” I assume that’s not all he’s wiping.

BAD GOLLY, MISS MOLLY: In the UK, Bill and Star Etheridge, a couple who were both prospective candidates for the Dudley town council for the Conservative Party, have been dropped after posing with golliwogs, which were once highly popular with racist British children, and posting the pictures on Facebook.

They said the pictures were intended to promote a “healthy debate.” Says Bill, “I think it’s much better to discuss and debate issues of political correctness like golliwogs than to let them fester.” Because there’s nothing worse than a festering golliwog.

South Korean residents of Baengnyeong island are refusing to unload the 200,000 leaflets that the government plans to put in helium balloons and float over North Korea. The island is losing tourists because North Korea is threatening artillery fire against any sites from which balloons are launched, saying the military “keeps itself fully ready to make sighting firing and blow up those bases for ... madcap psychological warfare.”

Today -100: March 24, 1911: Of passports, suffrage and hatpins

Secretary of State Philander Knox refuses to abrogate the 1832 treaty with Russia over Russia’s refusal to recognize the passports of American Jews. He points out that other countries also put up with Russia discriminating against their Jews. For example, the British postmaster general was recently refused entry.

Madero issues a decree that any official in the Mexican government responsible for summary executions (as allowed by the recent suspension of constitutional guarantees) will be treated as a homicide.

The Illinois state senate passes a bill for a women’s suffrage referendum.

Headline of the Day -100: “Hatpin Rouses Legislator.” That’s Rhode Island State Rep. John B. Leclerc, whose nose was stuck by one on public transportation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

That doesn’t mean that we can solve every problem in the world

Yemen’s parliament gives the president emergency powers. Why is it never X-ray vision, the power to fly, invisibility, or super-speed, it’s always the ability to arrest people without charge, the power of censorship. Really crap super-powers, is what I’m saying: “I am Captain Scissors; I have the power to prevent the press publishing remarks critical of the government!” You’re not going to get Lois Lane’s panties wet that way, you’re just not. (By the way, who wants to start an internet campaign to get Sarah Silverman cast as Lois Lane in the next Superman movie?)

Obama was in El Salvador, where he visited the tomb of Oscar Romero. If he apologized for the US’s financing of the death squads that murdered the archbishop, I must have missed it.

He gave a press conference with President Funes, who tried to make him feel bad about cutting short his visit to the country: “President Obama asked me if this is the weather characteristic of this time of the year, and I was saying that, yes, and that it is a pity because if he had stayed a little bit longer we could have invited you to get to see the beaches of our country that are one of the best in the region.” So no beaches for you, Barack.

I’M SURE THEY’RE PLEASED TO HEAR IT: “We want El Salvador to be successful.”

He promised that he could pay for the Libyan operations out of the existing budget and that “it is not going to be our planes that are maintaining the no-fly zone.”

WHEREVER THERE’S A COP BEATING UP A GUY, WE’LL BE THERE: Asked to define the American national interest in Libya: “Now, with respect to our national interests, the American people and the United States have an interest, first of all, in making sure that where a brutal dictator is threatening his people and saying he will show no mercy and go door-to-door hunting people down, and we have the capacity under international sanction to do something about that, I think it’s in America’s international -- in America’s national interest to do something about it.” I must have missed the part where he said what America’s national interest is.

WHAT THAT DOESN’T MEAN: “That doesn’t mean that we can solve every problem in the world.” It doesn’t? I has a sad.

Ah, he circled back to the national interest thing: “It is in America’s national interest to participate in that because nobody has a bigger stake in making sure that there are basic rules of the road that are observed, that there is some semblance of order and justice -- particularly in a volatile region that’s going through great changes like the Middle East -- than does the United States of America.” Some semblance of order and justice in the Middle East, is that too much ask? I said, is that too much to ask? Hello, is this thing on?

DEFINE “PEACEFUL”: “Now, we’ve already seen what happened in Egypt and Tunisia -- peaceful transitions.”

Today -100: March 23, 1911: Of border skirmishes and the progress of the negro race

Mexican soldiers fire across the border at American soldiers who had stopped supplies crossing across the Rio Grande from the US to the garrison at Ojinaja, which is under siege by the rebels.

Booker T. Washington receives a letter from President Taft expressing sympathy about his having been beaten up a couple of days ago. Washington has recovered enough to give a scheduled lecture on “The Progress of the Negro Race.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Making good choices

South Dakota’s Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law the 72-hour waiting period for abortions, with the requirement that the patient go to a “pregnancy help center,” which I discussed last month. Said the governor, “I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.” He’s not pro-choice, he’s pro-good-choice.

Were there even more condescending remarks made about this law today? Why yes, yes there were. Rep. Roger Hunt, the main sponsor, said, “Women need to just be reminded of the fact there is a natural, legal relationship between them and their child.” See, he just wants them to be reminded, because they need to be reminded, preferably by an untrained anti-abortion activist, to “ensure that the woman would be able to have access to both sides of the story”. You can just picture a woman with an unwanted pregnancy smacking her head and saying, “I knew I was forgetting something, and it’s that there is a natural, legal relationship between me and my child. Thank you, Rep. Hunt, for ensuring that I am reminded of that. Also, what the hell does that actually mean, a ‘legal relationship’ between the woman and her child?”

I’d like to repeat my suggestion to women affected by this law in SD that they not go to a pregnancy health center if they don’t want to, and lie about it.

Update: The WaPo quotes (and misspells) Leslee Unruh, founder of the Alpha Center (“Clearing the confusion with a message of hope”), one of those so-called pregnancy health centers: “If we truly want to have less abortions, let’s give these women the 72 hours they need to make this decision on their own without being coerced.” Unruh, who in the past promoted legislation requiring doctors to tell patients that abortion causes depression and sterility, was once convicted of paying pregnant women not to have abortions, and then illegally arranging the adopting of those babies. So there’s coercion and coercion, I guess.

I think it’s very important for all of us to know our history

There’s never a no-fly zone when you need it, huh?

Frank Neuhauser, the winner of the first national spelling bee in 1925, dies at 97, of m—y-e-l-o-d-y-s-p-l-a-s-t-i-c syndrome.

Obama goes to Chile, totally fails to apologize for US support for the 1973 coup, much less send Henry Kissinger in chains. Asked if he would cooperate with the Chilean investigations into the death of Salvador Allende by opening up our secret files, Obama said that “is something that we will certainly consider and we would like to cooperate.” So that’s a no.

He added, “I think it’s very important for all of us to know our history. And obviously the history of relations between the United States and Latin America has at times been extremely rocky.” But it’s also important “that we’re not trapped by our history,” which I think means that Chile should forget about the US’s role in establishing a brutal military dictatorship, just like we have. “And the fact of the matter is, is that over the last two decades we’ve seen extraordinary progress here in Chile and that has not been impeded by the United States but, in fact, has been fully supported by the United States.” Wow, he wants brownie points for not overthrowing Chilean democracy yet again.

Today -100: March 22, 1911: Of suffrage, veterans, and un-American Arizonans

The NY State Senate’s Judiciary Committee kills women’s suffrage 8-3 (and they refuse to make public who voted for and against).

A Texas group of Confederate veterans offer their decrepit services for duty as US soldiers on the Mexican border. Secretary of War Dickinson responds that there is no need as “We are at peace with all the world” and it’s extremely unlikely that that will change; “there would have to be some unjustifiable wrong perpetrated upon us by another nation.”

Teddy Roosevelt recently said that Arizona should be allowed to become a state despite some people’s objections to its proposed constitutional provisions for the initiative, referendum and recall (including recall of judges), which he said were a matter for Arizonans to decide. The NYT disagrees, likening those provisions to polygamy in Utah. Indeed, “It is a pretty serious question whether polygamy or the principle of the recall of Judges is the more detestable and un-American.” The Times suggests leaving Arizona a territory until its people “come to their senses” and that Taft “advise the people of Arizona that they must become American before they can be admitted to the American Union.”

Monday, March 21, 2011

Conducting foreign relations

Obama sent a letter to the House and Senate about the war in Libya.

By the way, I sincerely hope this thing doesn’t bog down, because everyone will think it’s sooooo cute to spell “quagmire” in lots of different ways, you know, like Qaddafi’s name.

He described the bombing as “a series of strikes against air defense systems and military airfields for the purposes of preparing a no-fly zone”. In case you hadn’t noticed, a no-fly zone, with specific geographic parameters, has not been declared yet; we’re just blowing shit up.

He says several times that US action will be “limited” and “well-defined.” Unlike under Bush, when they were unlimited and not well defined, or well spelled if it comes to that.

And the, “We will seek a rapid, but responsible, transition of operations to coalition, regional, or international organizations”. Or? Maybe the question of who takes over from us is a detail that should have been nailed down first.

To the increasing complaints about the clear unconstitutionality of taking military action without Congressional approval of any kind, he says:
I have directed these actions, which are in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.

“Conducting foreign relations,” is that what they’re calling bombing other countries these days. Well, the Constitution doesn’t actually assign the president sweeping powers to conduct foreign relations; the role of Commander in Chief, which he now invokes as a talisman, does not include the right to declare war; and yes, he’s “chief executive,” so what?

“I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.” In other words, he doesn’t actually feel bound by the War Powers Act any more than any other president has since 1973, but he’ll play along as it doesn’t inconvenience him too much.

“I appreciate the support of the Congress in this action.” What support? The whole point is that he hasn’t asked for a vote. Maybe he meant that ironically. Does Obama do irony?

Today -100: March 21, 1911: Of truces and soft-nosed bullets

Mexican rebel leader Francisco Madero says that he would be willing to accept an armed truce. There are strong rumors that there are peace negotiations going on.

Both sides in the Mexican Revolution are using soft-nosed bullets, which are outlawed under the international rules of war.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Today -100: March 20, 1911: Of mental photography

So this white dude beats up a black dude he sees looking at name plates in his apartment building near Central Park. He claims he beat up the black dude because his wife had told him that some black dude “loitering” near their house had “spoken” to her earlier that day. The white dude then chases the black dude through the streets. “In [the black dude’s] flight he fell several times and was kicked by others who had joined the pursuit without knowing who the fleeing man was.” Finally Booker T. Washington – for it was he – was rescued by a passing cop. He pressed charges.

Evidently Japanese scientists claim to have developed some method of photographing thoughts. I have no idea what this means, and I guess neither did the NYT, which asked Dr. Max Baff, Clark College professor of psychology and advanced misogyny, what it might mean. Baff suggests that it could be done by having the film developed in a vacuum tank and placing the people whose thoughts are to be photographed with their heads against the tank. “It is a matter for close investigation and demands a long series of carefully conducted experiments,” said Baff.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

We cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy

Obama made a statement about the “limited military action” (no nukes, yet) “in support of an international effort to protect Libyan civilians.” Unless they, you know, get in the way of our bombs. Run, Libyan civilians, run!

On McNeil-Lehrer yesterday, UN Ambassador Susan Rice was asked whether these “Libyan civilians” we’re supposedly protecting include rebels actively fighting Qaddafi’s forces:
RAY SUAREZ: As you say, the president declared that all attacks on civilians must stop. But do you read the word “civilians” to include those who have taken up arms against the government? Are they civilians or combatants?

SUSAN RICE: Well, they’re -- we’re about the business of protecting civilians. And there are civilians at extraordinary risk, 700,000 of them in the city of Benghazi. And civilians have been the victims towns in Misrata and Zawiyah and Ajdabiya, where Gadhafi forces continue to attack. So, that is the focus, that is the purpose of the Council resolution passed yesterday. And that’s, as the president said today, what we will be implementing.

Naturally, Ray just dropped it without getting an answer to his question. But without that answer, we literally don’t know what the scope of this mission actually is. Which of course is just the way Obama wants it.

Back to today’s statement.

BOOM? “That coalition met in Paris today to send a unified message”.

LIKE A WEDDING, OR A FUNERAL, OR AN ACCIDENTAL AIR STRIKE ON A WEDDING OR A FUNERAL: “...and it brings together many of our European and Arab partners.”

DEEPLY: “I am deeply aware of the risks of any military action”.

OUR FIRST CHOICE WAS EVERYBODY IN THE WORLD DOING WHATEVER WE TELL THEM TO DO WITH NO FUCKING BACK TALK: “I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice and it’s not a choice that I make lightly.”

EXCEPT IN YEMEN, BAHRAIN, SYRIA... “But we cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy”.

OUR UNIQUE CAPABILITIES: “As a part of this effort, the United States will contribute our unique capabilities at the front end of the mission to protect Libyan civilians”.

SO THAT’S OKAY, THEN: “And as I said yesterday, we will not -- I repeat -- we will not deploy any U.S. troops on the ground.”

OH DEAR, HE’S STARTING TO GRATUITOUSLY SLIP REFERENCES TO HIMSELF BEING “COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF” INTO EVERY SPEECH, THAT’S NEVER A GOOD SIGN: “As Commander-in-Chief, I have great confidence in the men and women of our military who will carry out this mission.”

PROUD: “I’m also proud that we are acting as part of a coalition that includes close allies and partners who are prepared to meet their responsibility to protect the people of Libya and uphold the mandate of the international community.” What “responsibility” to protect the people of Libya?

Qaddafi’s laughable announcement of a cease-fire yesterday, by the way, was never broadcast on state tv in Libya.

Also, “Operation Odyssey Dawn.” Really? Odyssey Dawn is a Carnival cruise ship, not a series of air strikes.

Today -100: March 19, 1911: The what now?

The Mexican insurrectos have been operating out of the Mormon district of Chihuahua.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Obama’s Libya address

Obama gave a speech about Libya today.

“Last month, protesters took to the streets across the country to demand their universal rights, and a government that is accountable to them and responsive to their aspirations. But they were met with an iron fist.” Well, if that isn’t responsive, I don’t know is. Some people just complain about anything, don’t they?

HAS HE CHECKED BEHIND THE SOFA? THAT’S WHERE I ALWAYS LOOK FIRST WHEN I LOSE STUFF. “Moammar Qaddafi clearly lost the confidence of his own people and the legitimacy to lead.” It’s interesting how many times Obama has talked about Qaddafi having lost his legitimacy. I have to wonder how he thought Q-Ball gained legitimacy in the first place, and how he maintained it, and whether he has had it for all the forty-some years of his reign – including when Reagan was trying to kill him? – because it seems Obama recognizes some other method of conferring legitimacy upon a regime than representative democracy. And evidently it takes some very concrete form because he says that Q-Boy “clearly” lost it.

(When I got to the end, I noticed there’d been no name-calling. Bush would have called Qaddafi a dictator about twenty times, Obama never did. Then I noticed he hadn’t called him anything, not even colonel. Just his name, sometimes with his first name, no title, twelve times.)

Then he details the violence in Libya for a bit, then says, “In the face of this injustice, the United States and the international community moved swiftly.” Define swiftly.

WHAT HE HAS DEMONSTRATED: “For decades, he has demonstrated a willingness to use brute force through his sponsorship of terrorism against the American people as well as others, and through the killings that he has carried out within his own borders.” But that was back in the days when he was legitimate, so it was all good.

“Now, here is why this matters to us.” There are layers of obnoxiousness in that sentence I just don’t feel like unpacking.

JEEZ, WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CLUE? “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people.”

Atrocities, the region destabilized, blah blah, “Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.” Anyone else hear an echo of Bush here? – “our words gotta mean somethin’.”

“The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately.” And the opinion of France is important because why now?

LET ME BE CLEAR IS THE NEW “IN OTHER WORDS”: “Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation.”

UNIQUE CAPABILITIES, IS THAT WHAT WE’RE CALLING BOMBING WEDDING PARTIES AND CHILDREN GATHERING FIREWOOD NOW? “We will provide the unique capabilities that we can bring to bear to stop the violence against civilians”.

HE WANTS TO BE CLEAR: “I also want to be clear about what we will not be doing. The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya. And we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal -- specifically, the protection of civilians in Libya.” Keep in mind that “well-defined goal” in the days ahead.

WHAT THE US DID NOT SEEK: “Now, the United States did not seek this outcome.” And yet somehow it’s where we always wind up. Funny, that.

“It is not an action that we will pursue alone. Indeed, our British and French allies, and members of the Arab League, have already committed to take a leadership role in the enforcement of this resolution, just as they were instrumental in pursuing it.” Because when you think leadership role in a fight, you think France. (Oh, and Oman, just so no one claims I keep picking on France.) (But.... Sarkozy... just saying.)

HE HAS A NOBEL PRIZE IN PEACE, YOU KNOW: “From the beginning of these protests, we have made it clear that we are opposed to violence.”

HE WANTS TO BE CLEAR: “But I want to be clear: the change in the region will not and cannot be imposed by the United States or any foreign power; ultimately, it will be driven by the people of the Arab World. It is their right and their responsibility to determine their own destiny.” But we still get to blow shit up, right?

ALTHOUGH HE DID TAKE LIKE SIX MONTHS TO PICK A STUPID DOG: “there is no decision I face as your Commander in Chief that I consider as carefully as the decision to ask our men and women to use military force.” Oh, and he is not “your Commander in Chief” unless you’re in the military. This is a democracy, we do not have a commander in chief.

BIG FINISH: “Our goal is focused, our cause is just, and our coalition is strong.”

What’s a little hostage-taking between friends?

Today the House of Representatives voted 231 to 91 against ending the war in Afghanistan and 228 to 192 to end funding for National Public Radio. Okay then.

Obama actually called South African President Jacob Zuma to ask him to prohibit Jean-Bertrand Aristide returning to Haiti. Obama also imparted “his belief that the Haitian people deserve the chance to choose their government in a peaceful, free and fair election scheduled for Sunday.” Yeah, his support for freely elected Haitian presidents is just so very strong. (Also, the first round of voting way back in November was so fraudulent and so violent – and Aristide’s party was simply barred from the ballot – that the chance for the Haitian people to choose their government in a peaceful, free and fair election has already been lost.)

At any rate, Zuma chose not to place under house arrest, and SA Cabinet Minister Collins Chabane said, “we can’t hold [Aristide] hostage if he wants to go.”

The Haitian government has refused Aristide’s request for police protection. But Aristide will be traveling with Danny Glover, who used to work with Mel Gibson, so if there’s an attack by hordes of Haiti’s indigenous mindless, brain-eating zombie population, he’s had experience.

By the way, in my post Monday about a State Dept statement on Aristide, I failed to notice the line, “Mr. Aristide has chosen to remain outside of Haiti for seven years,” intended to imply that there is something sinister about his decision to return now, while pretending that there was something voluntary about Aristide’s exile and ignoring the US’s role in it.

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny gave Obama a bowl of weeds for St Patrick’s Day. CAPTION CONTEST:

Nothing can go wrong can go wrong can go wrong...

Mitch Benn (British political comedian) on Twitter: “Oh good, we’re part of an international coalition squaring off against a Middle Eastern dictator. That NEVER goes tits up.”

And the UN Security Council giving the US carte blanche to use “all necessary means,” that never goes tits up either.

I’ll admit I don’t understand what the strategy is here. Obama (and lame-duck Secretary of War Robert Gates) seem so unenthused about the whole thing, the implementation of a no-fly zone and an “all necessary means” seem too little, too late to save the Libyan rebels, which just leaves a shaky, pissed-off Qaddafi. I do love the idea that the US is arm-twisting Arab dictators to put their militaries into the fight so that it doesn’t look like another imperialist war-for-oil, because if you really want to fight in defense of freedom and democracy, you call in the Saudis. Just ask Bahrain.

Today -100: March 18, 1911: Of conspiracy theories and easy divorces

Robert LaFollette’s eponymous magazine asks what Taft is really up to in massing troops on the Mexican border, pointing out that Taft’s brother Henry is the president of the British firm Pearson & Sons, the largest financial interest in Mexico. “Is it possible,” the magazine asks, “that the army and navy of the United States are being used as a side show of a gigantic Wall Street gamble?” That’s a trick question, right?

The Nevada legislature passes a bill for easy divorces, without having to prove adultery or desertion or anything, the only requirement being six months residence in Nevada (with provision for leaving the state “when necessary”).

NOTE: On March 28, the NY Times is going to a paywall system, with a max of 20 articles per month unless you subscribe to the print edition or pay them $15 a month. However, it looks like you can exceed the 20-article limit if you click through from search engines, Twitter, Facebook or links in blogs like this one. (I guess the people they most want to inconvenience are those who use their own website, because that makes all sorts of sense). So continue to click through.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Today -100: March 17, 1911: Of the magical pituitary gland, fire trucks, and universal alphabets

The Mexican insurrectos issue their demands (have they really not done this before now?): the 1910 presidential election must be nullified and a new election held, in which Madero is allowed to participate; no mediation by the United States; mayors and state governors to be elected rather than appointed; land reform; free ballots, preservation of individual rights; extension of the school system. Damn hippies.

Headline of the Day -100: “Science May Make Men Taller.” Because they’ve figured out the pituitary gland, or think they have. Prof. Arthur Keith of the Royal College of Surgeons believes that not only might the pituitary be manipulated to control height but also regulate the growth of various parts of the body, er, like the shape of the nose.

The NY Fire Dept is testing the first automotive fire truck. It can pump 700 gallons a minute and travel 30 or 40 MPH, compared to a max of 12 MPH for the horse-drawn ones. Oh, and it’s red.

A Thomas Wheeler proposes the abolition of war through the simple expedient of adopting a universal alphabet, followed by a gradual consolidation of existing languages into just a few.