Saturday, January 29, 2005

 
I'm out for the rest of the weekend. Lovely is riding in a carnival parade with her sisters, which is always an interesting scene. The Big Event's family plus Medium Jim and Special K might all come to watch. Something will happen; I guarantee it.

But if you want to get serious, read Eric Martin or Simbaud. Or begin one of John M. Barry's books on the big flood (1927), or the big flu (1918-19).

Here's hoping the elections in Iraq are as trouble-free as possible.

Have a good weekend.
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Friday, January 28, 2005

 
Pew Research asked Americans whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:

1.) We should all be willing to fight for our country, whether it is right or wrong.

2.) It is acceptable for someone to decline to fight in a war one sees as morally wrong.

Then Pew breaks down the results:
Since 1999, an increasing number of Republicans express the view that a person has an obligation to fight, while Democrats have moved in the opposite direction. By 66% to 27%, Republicans said that people should fight for the country, right or wrong; Democrats, by a comparable margin said it is acceptable to refuse to fight in a war that one sees as morally wrong.

Methodology this, wording that... blah blah... We all know the limitations of polls. However, it still stuns me that two-thirds of Republicans polled think conscientious objection to war is unacceptable. Only 42% of Independents felt this way, along with 1/3 of Democrats.

With that troubling statistic in my head, I couldn't avoid having a Billmon moment this morning when I read Elie Wiesel's essay on Auschwitz.

One cannot conceive of Auschwitz with God or without God. Ever since, all certainties need to be re-examined, all theories re-evaluated.

All we know is that Auschwitz did not descend ready-made from heaven. Human beings imagined it, built it, served it, used it against other human beings. When all is said and done, it represents a grave theological challenge to Christianity, an immoral abdication on the part of humankind.

There's not a helluva lot I'm sure about. I don't like simplistic thought circles, and I'm not a Manichean or a neoconservative. That said, I can promise you this:
It's bloody well "acceptable" to not fight in a morally wrong war.
It's bloody well "acceptable" to not fight in a morally wrong war.
It's bloody well "acceptable" to not fight in a morally wrong war.

Our president weeps with Old Order Amish, decorates his inaugural speech with the "Sermon on the Mount", and speaks of compassion. He doesn't believe in these values, nor do most of his supporters. They do not believe in "turning the other cheek" like the Nazarene counsels. They do not believe in Martin King's pacifist opposition to Vietnam. They still apparently judge conscientious objectors like Muhammad Ali as "unacceptable". Put bluntly, their willingness to fight in a morally wrong war is a stance more in line with Goebbels than the Gospels.

The same Pew poll showed that 50% of Republicans agree with the statement "The poor have it easy", versus only 24% of Dems and 29% of Indies. Nearly two thirds of Democrats believed that the poor "have hard lives".

Since these numbers may express major differences between Republicans and Democrats, I see no reason not to highlight them. The GOP's hypocrisy should be confronted directly: You say you vote Christian values, and you vote morality? Ok, do you love your enemies? Do you turn the other cheek? Did you give your coat away? Did you go the extra mile? Did you judge or condemn? These are the "timeless truths" from the Sermon on the Mount, a sermon Bush cited by name in his inaugural. Do you agree with these truths? You are a literalist, aren't you?

As the Nazarene asks "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46, NIV).
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(H/T Demagogue)
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What ethnicity is your trash can? 

From BizNewOrleans (my emphs):

This week, Keep Louisiana Beautiful, Inc. (KLB) relaunched "Get Vocal. Stop Buggin'," a statewide anti-litter advertising campaign that encourages people to stop litter buggin', and to spread the message that litter is bad for Louisiana.
...
The campaign will be publicized on television and radio commercials and billboards throughout the state in advance of the heaviest litter season-- the spring and summer months.
...
"Get Vocal. Stop Buggin'" is a social marketing campaign targeted at the state's litter culprits. Seventy-seven percent of all U.S. litter is produced by men, and 68 percent of men who litter are between 18 and 34 years old... The KLB campaign updated the 30-plus year-old "Litterbug" reference with the use of its modern counterpart, "Buggin'."

If you haven't seen these "modern" ads yet, they're basically a variety of talking trash cans imploring people to properly dispose of their waste. Further, these vocal trash cans represent a cast of different characters. We have the sarcastic white voice near the downtown office buildings, the Indian who sounds like "Apu" outside the convenience store, the clipped Cajun accent by the dockside, and the intimidating Eye-talian voice from the dumpsters in the shady alleyway. What an interesting array that is. Oh, and I almost forgot, there's also two different trash cans slagging on guys who miss their "basketball style" shot attempts at trash disposal. One voice (who I'm visualizing is black) says "Nice shot, Kobe. My grandma coulda made that one", which is actually pretty funny. In another commercial, there's a similar situation. Another talking can (who I visualize as white) tries to disrupt a guy's jump shot by yelling "Loser!", and then, after he misses, the trash can moans "You shoot like a girl."

Uhmm... I think that last segment should be re-edited. I mean, who says girls can't shoot? Who would you rather have shooting free throws with the game on the line: a random NBA player or a WNBA player? Keep the basketball theme, but we don't need to slag on the ladies for something to be funny... right?

One "Stop Buggin" radio ad was pretty edgy and featured a comedic rant with bleeped profanity. I thought it was alright. Not bad, as these things go. Unfortunately, there was also a hideous "litter rap" ad which will make listeners of all colors cringe. Worse, somehow, is a litter folk song, complete with an Indigo girl-style melody. Effing heinous. Almost bad enough to make you start littering in protest. But remember, this is a $14 million/year problem for the "Gret Stet", and especially for New Orleans. So even if the campaign has its weak spots, the message is obviously worthy.

As the dreaded "litter season" kicks into high gear, I'm sure you'll see and hear these "Stop buggin'" ads, but if you want a preview, go here.
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C.B. Forgotston hails the Queen Bee for her latest effort in business recruitment:

Kudos to Governor Blanco!!! (Posted 01/27/05)

Shintech will build a BILLION DOLLAR manufacturing facility in LA that will create 150 permanent jobs earning an average of $55,000 per year each.
...
This latest economic development project is more proof that Governor Blanco has done more in one year than Big Daddy [former gov. Foster] did in eight years.
...
LA still has a poor public school system, political corruption, coastal erosion, bad roads and bridges, an untrained workforce, etc. etc. However, the plants are going to be built in LA. Why?

The reason these plants are being built here is simple. They are being given tax breaks and regulatory red tape is being expedited.

With all due respect to C.B.: if it's really as simple as that, why is he congratulating Blanco? For signing legislation? Seems Forgotston is, er, forgetting that the Governor's tireless efforts to court new business included far more than discussions of taxes and red tape. Indeed, as Ricky rightly points out, a holistic approach addressing labor, education, infrastructure... etc is critical. The Queen Bee agrees with this approach, and with good reason. In the recent survey on Business Relocation, 500 CEO's/VP/Dir were asked to prioritize the important factors in (re)location decision-making. Here's the results (with % of favorability) :

1. Labor Productivity (77%)
2. Availability of skilled Labor (76%)
3. Labor costs (69%)
4. Proximity to major markets (63%)
5. Crime rates/safety (61%)
6. Access to highways (60%)
7. Quality of health facilities (59%)
8. Red Tape (57%)
9. Public Schools (56%)
10. Corporate tax rate (55%)

One could reasonably conclude from this that corporate decision-makers would prefer labor issues, crime, roads, and healthcare to be improved before regulations and taxes.

Always beware the easy answers, folks.

And as far as the persistence of corruption goes, I must cite Ricky again, because he hit the nail on the head recently:

...Louisiana is at something of a crossroads in its political, social, and economic paths. Many of the corrupting influences of the last decades are finally being term-limited out of office, some have gone to jail, and the state is trying to find its footing as an entity that fosters business growth.

Absolutely. Things are changing, I can feel it. To be sure, the improvements are still in an early, nascent stage. I believe they're noticeable, though, and think we're drawing attention from outside the state because of it.

[There's a Williams quote on corruption that I might insert here at a later time.]

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Thursday, January 27, 2005

A good start for Vitter and Jindal  

WASHINGTON -- Two of Louisiana's Capitol Hill freshmen, Sen. David Vitter and Rep. Bobby Jindal, delivered on high-profile campaign promises Wednesday when Vitter filed a bill to allow reimportation of cheaper prescription drugs from 24 industrialized countries, and Jindal asked Congress to stop the IRS from taxing federal grants that help homeowners mitigate flood threats.

Vitter joined a bipartisan group from the House and Senate to push for passage of the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2005.
...
Jindal's bill is the latest attempt to reverse a June 2004 IRS ruling that treats disaster mitigation grants as income subject to federal tax. Jindal also had company on the issue.

Rep. Richard Baker, R-Baton Rouge, joined Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., Wednesday in re-introducing similar legislation that stalled in the previous Congress.

The lawmakers are concerned that people in Louisiana and elsewhere who received grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make home improvements to protect against natural disasters weren't told they would have to pay taxes on them.
...
Vitter's prescription drug legislation, however, could be in for a fight.

It faces continued opposition from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, which is now headed by former Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-Chackbay, and resistance from the Bush administration, which recently released a report warning of safety concerns.
A bouquet to Vitter for standing up to the Bush administration and Big Pharma, and rejecting this ridiculous "safety" smokescreen.

Jindal deserves credit, too, but the real problem is that Louisiana hasn't been getting its share of FEMA grants in the first place, so their taxation is really a secondary concern. Tejas, of course, has been flush with Disaster Mitigation funding. I highlighted a Gambit article about this unfairness back in September.

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Close, but this isn't horseshoes... 

I was going to write a post inspired by this rant on suburbia (and cheap oil) by Kunstler, and contrast so-called Floridian "development" with my small-town birthplace, which in 1991 the AIA ranked behind only Chicago, NY, D.C., SF, Boston in architectural quality. And I was going to link that to the unlikelihood of chain store over-development on funky Magazine street due to the lack of parking (thank god) and how that will cap the rising rents at some point. Then Philip Johnson died, and I was going to connect all that to him, and remark on his youthful fascistic hero-worship, which led him to admire Huey Long, then Father Coughlin and Adolf Hitler for a brief period. Of course it took forever to live that down, but he did design the best downtown buildings in Houston (Pennzoil Place/BA) and Pittsburgh (PPG), plus Dallas' weird JFK memorial, and arguably this country's most impressive modern church-- the Crystal Cathedral near Hollywood-- which is the largest glass building in the world.

So I was going to write about all of that. And I almost did. Just like I almost minored in Urban studies; but not quite.

---
Update: The final anecdote at the end of this article amused the hell out of me. I wonder who found the signed book by Hitler's architect, Albert Speer, which Philip Johnson shoved under his seat at the Four Seasons in New York?
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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

"The most expensive wake-up call in history" 

When an eminently level-headed analyst like James Picerno uses phrases like the above, it's time to snap to attention. He's referring to Bush's request for more money for military operations in Iraq (along with the forgotten opium factory known as "free" Afghanistan).

Mull over the following inflation adjusted numbers. Let these approximate direct costs sink in:

World War I: $200 billion

Korean War: $335 billion

Vietnam War: $627 billion

Iraq: $280 billion, so far.

Projections of total costs in Iraq range from 1 to 1.5 trillion dollars! A trillion dollars!


Excluding WWII ($2.8 tril), Bush's Iraq War will almost certainly become the most expensive war in American History. I repeat, save for WWII, the war in Iraq will be the most expensive war in American history. In fact, this stupid misadventure in Iraq is projected to cost more than the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War I-- COMBINED!!

Don't you have a reaction to that?!

No Weapons of Mass Destruction.
No operative connection to Al-Qaeda.
No candy and flowers for our troops.
Thousands of casualties with no end in sight.

And, of course, the words "Freedom isn't free" repeated endlessly.

People get upset over a $40 million dollar inauguration, and aren't bothered that the new American Embassy in Iraq will cost about the same amount as the new Freedom Tower in Manhattan. What an unbelievable waste of taxpayer money!

Remember: We invaded Iraq in '91 at no net expense, and "liberated" the monarchy of Kuwait. If we wanted an example of freedom, why not just lean on them to reform? Don't the Kuwaitis owe us that? They wouldn't exist without us, yet we can't press them to change their government? No?!... I see.

Remember: Cheney tells Imus that Israel might bomb Iran, despite whatever diplomatic mess is created. So, the vice president claims Israel won't tolerate a hostile neighbor with WMD's...hmm. We can count on them to act unilaterally in their defense... what an interesting observation. I find it awfully compelling. My, Israel certainly played it so close to the vest during the run up to the Iraq War. To Ahmed Chalabi's delight, Bush decided to include faulty British intelligence (rather than something from Mossad) in his State of the Union... I see.

I wonder what else we could be doing had we kept Saddam Hussein in his "box"? What other threats could we have addressed? Osama? No, no, he's already become passe. What else, though? What's our country's number one priority?

Remember:
First Presidential Debate
LEHRER: If you are elected president, what will you take to that office thinking is the single most serious threat to the national security to the United States?

KERRY: Nuclear proliferation. Nuclear proliferation. There's some 600-plus tons of unsecured material still in the former Soviet Union and Russia. At the rate that the president is currently securing it, it'll take 13 years to get it.
...
LEHRER: Ninety seconds, Mr. President.

BUSH: Actually, we've increased funding for dealing with nuclear proliferation about 35 percent since I've been the president [oyster: what a filthy, misleading statement]... well, first of all, I agree with my opponent that the biggest threat facing this country is weapons of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist network.
...
LEHRER: Just for this one-minute discussion here, just for whatever seconds it takes: So it's correct to say, that if somebody is listening to this, that both of you agree, if you're reelected, Mr. President, and if you are elected, the single most serious threat you believe, both of you believe, is nuclear proliferation?

BUSH: In the hands of a terrorist enemy.

Total Defense spending next year will be about $500 billion. About $1 billion will be devoted to all forms of nuclear material control-- the number one issue facing the American people. And we're still barely on our thirteen year pace to secure loose nukes and vulnerable fissile materials... I see.

Sure hope that embassy in Iraq is worthwhile. Quite the synecdoche, though, if it isn't.

---
Source of war cost estimates: Professor Nordhaus' study cited in the WP. Iraq estimates include the operations in Afghanistan. Of course, the incalculable human costs have been excluded in all estimates. Note: this post has been edited several times (1/26).
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Tuesday, January 25, 2005

If you're idle... 

Fox delivers "Fat Tuesday, 'Idol' Style" tonight [insert cringe here].

Da Paper says the New Orleans episode is memorable, and that Baton Rouge's Randy "Hey Dawg" Jackson went out "on a limb" and declared it "the bomb". Hopefully some homegrown Louisiana talent like George Huff will shine, and stereotypes won't be played up.

Of course, there will be the obligatory snippets of performers who are unaware of how bad they really are . I'm just hopeful no embarrassing multiple personality disorders are put on display... That was some wild, scary, stuff the other week with Mary "I feel the earth mooove" Roach.

Update: There were some oddballs on tonight's show, but thankfully only lovable ones. I was concerned some disturbing nutcase would embarrass everyone. The New Orleans episode showcased some local talent but fewer were selected to move on than in previous weeks. Clearly, New Orleans' David Brown has the pipes to go a long way. Ponchatoula's Lindsey Cardinale was also judged well, and throwback Michael Liuzza (whose parents were Bourbon Street club singers) made the cut also. Congratulations. Hope y'all become famous.

Host Ryan Seacrest kept saying "Noh-awlenz" in a very bizarre and irritating way, that he perhaps thought was authentic. It wasn't. There was even a brief clip where a local contestant yelled into the camera that it's "Nu ORlenz" not "New OrLEENZ"-- which is true... for most. However, as my friend Medium Jim once told me, some New Orleanians can get away with calling the city "New Orleenz". As it so happened, that's exactly how Liuzza pronounced it after he won the judges' approval. I was shocked at first, but realized it was ok. He's a native, his parents were French Quarter singers, and his last name is Liuzza... so when he pronounces it "New Orleenz", it's acceptable. When a tourist does it, it's grating.

It can take years to learn how to mispronounce names correctly in this town.
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Monday, January 24, 2005

We are so up Dauphin's Creek without a paddle... 

From Dan Froomkin, we learn that:
The initial reaction to President Bush's second inaugural speech, in which he vowed to end tyranny everywhere, was that it sounded awfully ambitious. But now comes word from the White House that Bush wasn't actually setting out a new agenda at all. He was simply describing what his approach has been all along...

In hindsight, the White House is apparently suggesting, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq weren't so much about bringing Osama bin Laden to justice and destroying Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. They were about lighting the flame of freedom.

Well. I've been to one World's Fair, a picnic, and a rodeo, and that's the stupidest thing I've ever seen in print... Seriously.

In a few months some squirrel with a "Never Forget 9/11" bumper sticker will tell me that we sent troops to Afghanistan so that oppressed peasants could take a break from picking their local warlord's poppies so that they could vote and join Bush's world-historic march to Almighty Freedom. (Assuming a Taliban bomb doesn't kill them).

Hat tip to Brad DeLong who says, "I'll stop calling the Bush administration 'Orwellian' when they stop using 1984 as an operations manual." And down in the comments, astute observer Paul points out that Bush's inaugural speech was actually a dramatic scaling back of America's goals, since Bush had vowed to "rid the world of evildoers" in 2001. As you know, tyrants comprise only a small subgroup within the vast "evildoer" big tent.

When publications screech that W is the "worst piece of [excrement] ever to run this country, including King George III", it is horrifying to wonder if such descriptions will one day be viewed as quaint understatements.

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"God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective." 

A bracing piece titled "Our Blindness" is available for free at the Wall Street Journal online. It touches on several different timely worries for America, and is worth reading in its entirety. Here's one brutal quote that reminded me of the prudence and sobriety conservatism is supposed to provide. (My emphases):

God help the army that must fight for an idea rather than an objective. After somehow failing to argue competently on behalf of a patently justifiable invasion, and as its more specious arguments were collapsing, the Bush administration then pivoted with breathtaking enthusiasm to nation building, something so Clinton-tinged that it had previously been held in contempt. The more that nation building in Iraq is in doubt, the more the mission creeps into a doubling of bets in hope of covering those that are lost. Now the goal is to reforge the politics, and perforce the culture, not merely of Iraq but of the billion-strong Islamic world from Morocco to the South Seas. That--evangelical democracy writ overwhelmingly large--is the manic idea for which the army must fight.

But no law of nature says a democracy is incapable of supporting terrorism, so even if every Islamic capital were to become a kind of Westminster with curlicues, the objective of suppressing terrorism might still find its death in the inadequacy of the premise. Even if all the Islamic states became democracies, the kind of democracies they might become might not be the kind of democracies wrongly presumed to be incapable of supporting terrorism. And if Iraq were to become the kind of democracy that is the kind wrongly presumed (and for more than a short period), there is no evidence whatsoever that other Arab or Islamic states, without benefit of occupying armies, would follow. And if they did, how long might it last? They do not need Iraq as an example, they have Britain and Denmark, and their problem is not that they require a demonstration, but rather their culture, history, and secret police.

As Professor Bainbridge put it about the author (a WSJ contributing editor): "[Mark] Helprin has been something of a Cassandra of late; but remember that Cassandra was right."

I love Helprin's "doubling of bets" metaphor. And I'll add that even in a best case scenario, a "free" Iraq will work industriously to build or acquire WMD's. Just as Saddam cultivated the illusion of a WMD arsenal to make his "boxed in" country appear stronger, no Iraqi president will want to remain relatively defenseless between two nuclear neighbors, Israel and Iran-- both longtime enemies.

---
Counterpoint, courtesy of William Safire's "How to Read a Column":
1. Beware the pundit's device of using a quotation from a liberal opposition figure to make a conservative case, and vice versa. Righties love to quote John F. Kennedy on life's unfairness; lefties love to quote Ronald Reagan. Don't fall for gilding by association.
Ouchers. But today, I'll let the old wordsmith have that one.
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Sunday, January 23, 2005

 
I grew up in Daytona Beach where you'd see pelicans flying in lines every day along the coast. Pelicans are great, noble birds and must be the best fisherman around. I love that the Louisiana seal is a pelican, and am pleased to see the return of the bird on the new license plates.


New State Plate

Though I rarely point out blogroll updates, today I'll mention some new "pelicans" from Louisiana: Greg at suspect-device, Richard at sturtle, and Dr. Vinturella at the new NO Bull. I recommend them all.

National Pelican news.
Local Pelican news.
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Speaking of links, a couple weeks back the Key Monk and I set aside our political differences and met up in person when he came to New Orleans. We broke bread (pudding) together at Mother's, and had a fun time. Regrettably, I'd already supped, so I couldn't indulge in a "Ferdi". Afterwards we had drinks at Restaurant August. He writes about it here, and considers me his liberal "ombudsman". I don't know what the word "ombudsman" means, but for the record, I stopped selling wacky tobacky decades ago. Anyhoo, joking aside, the compulsively consistent Monk puts together a good conservative digest, and he's a perceptive Yankees fan to boot. That's why he's linked under "squirrels" (the category formerly known as Nutria). Like many of my links, the Key Monk originates in the land I love to hate: Tejas.

Wizbang! on the other hand is one of the big boys, and I think contributor Paul is from the New Orleans area. Oftentimes I totally disagree with the analysis over there, but Jay Tea has been gracious with the bet we have going so... we'll see what transpires.
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