Saturday, May 31, 2008

On my birthday I wish to blog about Patrick Swayze 

Ray alerted me to this glimpse into the abyss of Patrick Swayze fandom.

And I was reminded of this quote:

“Of all the cinematic cheese produced in the years between the end of World War II and the end of the millennium,” James Lipton proclaimed in a two-hour Inside the Actors Studio interview with Swayze, “perhaps none has aged so well or embodied so many piquant flavors and textures as Road House.”

and this one, which is probably my least favorite movie quote of all time:

[From Caryn James, New York Times movie review:] “The doctor learns from Dalton’s medical records that he is a graduate of New York University. She asks about his major. ‘Philosophy,’ he answers, ‘man’s search for faith.’

"Man's search for faith"? That's pretty much exactly what philosophy isn't. I know I shouldn't hold it against an actor for having to utter horribly written lines, but I do.

So, let me say: Get well, Patrick Swayze. I want to continue loathing your work in good conscience.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Bush wrong 

"I truly believe America is better off as a result of the influx of Texans who showed up [in Washington]"-- President Bush circa 2002, as reported in WSJ 7/26/05

No, President Bush. America is not better off as the result of your Texan influx. Quite simply, you are wrong. Your cronies and loyalists, many of whom happen to be Texan, presided over perhaps the worst administration in modern presidential history. No doubt you still believe America is better off because of you and your Texas posse-- you're great at believing stuff that isn't true-- but you are wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. It would be hard to describe exactly how wrong you are, but we'll give it a shot anyway:

Bush is so wrong that even if America became BizarroBushWorld, he'd still be 180 degrees wrong.

Bush is so wrong that even Condi once thought about telling him how wrong he was.

Bush is so wrong he karaokes to "Bang a Gong (Get it Wrong)".

Bush is so wrong he occasionally jumps out of a filing cabinet in his Wrong Kong Phooey costume.

At the Web site "Stuff Wrong People Like", Bush is number 1 thru 99. (Sadly, #100 involves Richard.)

Bush is so wrong that a serial Wrongdoer on a multi-state wrongdoing rampage couldn't have spread more wrongness.

Bush's porn star name is Wrong Dong Silver, that's how wrong he is.

If you stare into his eyes to get a sense of Bush's soul, all you see is infinite wrong.

Bush's wrong dial goes to eleven, which enables him to get that "little extra push over the cliff" when he needs it, so he can be more wrong than anyone else.

Reverend Wright on his wrongest day was never half as wrong as Bush and his Texan "influx".

Once, Bush tried to pull my liberal off with his neocon muscles, and that was wrong-- stankonia wrong, at that.

Bush is so wrong he makes Baghdad Bob look like a returning Jeopardy! champion.

Dick Cheney and Karl Rove's lovechild couldn't be more wrong than Bush.

Bush is so wrong, he's Michael "heckuva" Brownie wrong.

He's Osama still alive wrong.

He's Abu Ghraib wrong.

He's Katrina wrong.

He's Iraq War wrong.

He embodies the most extreme form of wrong: Bush wrong.

And he'll never know it.


Update: As if on cue, from right-winger David Frum's recent National Post article:

George W. Bush brought most of his White House team with him from Texas. Except for Karl Rove, these Texans were a strikingly inadequate bunch. Harriet Miers, Alberto Gonzalez, Karen Hughes, Al Hawkins, Andy Card (the last not a Texan, but a lifelong Bush family retainer) — they were more like characters from The Office than the sort of people one would expect to find at the supreme height of government in the world’s most powerful nation.


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Thursday, May 29, 2008

30 coins in the dry fountain 

Oh, swell. The ungrateful Iraqis are complaining about these Christian Crusader coins our troops are handing out. Whine whine whine. Someone should tell them to "sit down and shut up".

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These Nagin days are yours and mine 

The media characterized Mayor Nagin's "State of the City" speech as being optimistic. However, they quote him as saying:

I have not stopped, New Orleans, and I will not stop until my last day, the last minute, the last second, in office -- 2010.

I don't know what to make of that. He won't "stop" doing what? Chasing Sarah Connor? Being Naturally Ray Nagin?

When Hizzoner reminds us that he will be in office in 2010... are we supposed to feel optimistic? I guess he did indicate that he won't run for Dollar Bill Jefferson's congressional seat in the fall, but still... whoop de freakin' doo.

Update: More opinions at Library Chronicles.


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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Charlie Black makes me laugh 

An old memory came back the other day while I sat by E at the Rue De La Course on Magazine. I was reading the Wall Street Journal, and enjoying an article describing Charlie Black's obvious frustration over the McCain campaign's ties to lobbyists:

Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Sen. McCain and a former registered lobbyist, said a new policy requiring paid staffers and top aides to terminate all lobbying contracts will put the issue to rest.

"This is complete inside-the-Beltway nonsense," Mr. Black told reporters traveling on Sen. McCain's campaign plane. "I do not believe that average voters out there care."

I read that and started laughing out loud. I couldn't help it. I just love it when an old pro like Black loses his cool and starts making mistakes. Excellent Straight Tawlk, Black! Way to stay on message.

Mr. Black ended his employment with the lobbying firm BKSH & Associates Worldwide just a few months ago. Sen. McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, still owns a stake in his consulting firm, Davis Manafort Inc., but isn't taking any pay from it.

"Ha ha ha!" I was still laughing hard-- couldn't stop. Those reporters and their pesky questions, always taking away income streams from professional politicos like Black.

The campaign's top foreign-policy staffer, Randy Scheunemann, said he had terminated all lobbying contracts as well. The clients of Mr. Scheunemann, who owns his own lobbying firm, had included the country of Georgia, the former Soviet republic.

One issue that isn't clear is the nature of Mr. Davis's private-sector work before he joined the McCain campaign. Mr. Black told reporters that neither Mr. Davis nor anyone else at his firm "has been a registered lobbyist in five years." The campaign later said it was three years.

Blunder after blunder. Sure enough, that night Obama pounced on Black's comments in his victory speech in Iowa:

The lobbyists who ruled George Bush’s Washington are now running John McCain’s campaign, and they actually had the nerve to say that the American people won’t care about this. Talk about out of touch!

Good stuff. (But let's not forget that cryptic sentence above about Mr Davis' private sector work. That might be something to follow up on.) But there's more on Black:

In addition to [Angola’s Jonas] Savimbi, Black and his partners were at times registered foreign agents for a remarkable collection of U.S.-backed foreign leaders whose human rights records were sometimes harshly criticized, even as their opposition to communism was embraced by American conservatives. They included Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, Nigerian Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Somali President Mohamed Siad Barre, and the countries of Kenya and Equatorial Guinea, among others.

Charlie Black must have quite a rolodex. Does it drip blood? Here's MoveOn's video that asks McCain to fire Black.

One last item on Black. This comes in the form of a paranthetical aside from Thomas Frank's opinion piece in today's WSJ:

Well, now the main events of the '60s are 40 years behind us, and still we can't shake them. In the last national election, we redebated the Vietnam War. In the one coming up, we will be forced to debate Barack Obama's not-even-tenuous connection to the Weathermen. (We will probably not be asked to judge the poisonous legacy of the Young Americans for Freedom, although McCain adviser Charlie Black was actually a leader of that group.)

This Kos diary does the googling on YAF, so you don't have to.

And if you thought McCain has his hands full with Black, now there's a big story on Phil Gramm, McCain's national co-chair and senior economic adviser. Quite simply:

[Gramm] was being paid by a Swiss bank to lobby Congress about the U.S. mortgage crisis at the same time he was advising McCain about his economic policy

News of Gramm’s involvement as a paid advocate for the banking industry, simultaneous with his unpaid work on McCain’s economic policies, comes as McCain’s campaign continues to reel from the purge of four other lobbyists.


So what's the "old memory" I referred to in the beginning of this post? Well, during the winter and spring of 2003, I would frequently have a beverage at the Rue de la Course on Carrollton at Oak, and read the newspapers previewing the upcoming war. It was pretty grim but fascinating reading. I continually wondered "are they really going to get away with this?", and if they do (somehow) get lucky, "how can I explain to others that the war was a strategically dumb decision regardless of the results"?

So, occasionally, I would see another gentleman reading the papers at Rue, and he would just bellow with unrestrained laughter. "Ha Ha Ha!!!" he'd roar. At the time, I thought he must be quite mad, reading section A of the NYT and carrying on like that. The country is about to go to war, and he's laughing his head off! What gives? In retrospect, though, this guy was probably just way ahead of his time-- kind of like a jolly "Prophet of Suspicion".

I don't know if he laughed at the administration's propaganda or the complaisant mainstream reporting-- both were hilarious, if you can laugh off hard truths.

Update: Then there's this.

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"These (undersized) pipes are clean!" 

Well, not quite yet. But they will be, hopefully, one day.

On 4/05/07, I linked to Matt McBride's Fix the Pumps site, where he had posted photos of undersized hydraulic flood pump pipes that were rusty, corroded and duct-taped. Matt asked: "Are we supposed to have confidence in a system that isn't even protected from the moisture in the air?".

For over a year, that seemed to be the expectation.

Until last Friday, when the USACoE finally admitted that Rusty Pipes are Bad. (The pipes will be made rust-free, but they'll still be undersized.)


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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scotty bites back 

The Politico has the scoop on Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book. Here's a taste:

McClellan was one of the president’s earliest and most loyal political aides, and most of his friends had expected him to take a few swipes at his former colleague in order to sell books but also to paint a largely affectionate portrait.

Instead, McClellan’s tone is often harsh. He writes, for example, that after Hurricane Katrina, the White House “spent most of the first week in a state of denial,” and he blames Rove for suggesting the photo of the president comfortably observing the disaster during an Air Force One flyover. McClellan says he and counselor to the president Dan Bartlett had opposed the idea and thought it had been scrapped.

But he writes that he later was told that “Karl was convinced we needed to do it — and the president agreed.”

“One of the worst disasters in our nation’s history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush’s presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush’s second term,” he writes. “And the perception of this catastrophe was made worse by previous decisions President Bush had made, including, first and foremost, the failure to be open and forthright on Iraq and rushing to war with inadequate planning and preparation for its aftermath.”

I don't know how someone can be "in a state of denial" if they mention Hurricane Katrina while delivering a speech on Medicare in Rancho Cucamonga*, or if they cut short their vacation and fly back to Washington, taking the time to descend to 8000 ft for a little window seat photo op, and then proclaiming "It must be twice as bad on ground."

Twice? You think? Twice?

Then again, a day and a half later, Bush's staff still thought it was necessary to force the President to watch a DVD compilation of news clips, so that he could come to grips with the "reality" of the situation in that part of the world: It was even worse than "TWICE as bad" there!

Evan Thomas wrote:

The reality, say several aides who did not wish to be quoted because it might displease the president, did not really sink in until Thursday night. Some White House staffers were watching the evening news and thought the president needed to see the horrific reports coming out of New Orleans. Counselor Bartlett made up a DVD of the newscasts so Bush could see them in their entirety as he flew down to the Gulf Coast the next morning on Air Force One.

How this could be-- how the president of the United States could have even less "situational awareness," as they say in the military, than the average American about the worst natural disaster in a century-- is one of the more perplexing and troubling chapters in a story that, despite moments of heroism and acts of great generosity, ranks as a national disgrace.

Ah well. It happens. An Iraq here, a Katrina there... what's the big deal, as long as we make time for cake?


Has Scott McClellan ever commented on his (estranged) father's JFK conspiracy book? He refused to say anything when he was Press Secretary, but hinted that he might talk about it after he left the White House. I recommended Barr McClellan's "Blood, Money, Power", with some reservations, here.

* Bush actually did the Medicare speech with Scott's brother, Dr. Mark McClellan who was FDA commissioner at the time. Here's how Bush introduced him:

I put a good man in charge of this program, and that's Dr. Mark McClellan. He's from Texas -- (laughter) -- which means he knows how to get something done. He's got him a Ph.D. --

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Jindal: so fresh and so clean clean 

The Washington Times endorses Gov. Jindal for Veep, saying he is "Conservative" and "Youthful" and "Diverse." Jindal is "an exciting breath of fresh air", and the "great people of Louisiana will understand" if John McCain selects him.

I don't know about that.

But the conservative groundswell touting Jindal for Veep is undeniable. Compare it to the relative silence among Gooper pundits over Gov. Charlie Crist's prospects. Crist is a very decent man who isn't coy about wanting the Veep job, and whose endorsement was actually helpful for McCain.

Political pundit Sam Hanna says that a "McCain operative" told him that it's between Crist and Jindal:

[T]he attribute that most likely raises Jindal's stock in the McCain camp would concern Jindal's baggage, or lack thereof.

In laymen's terms, Jindal is clean, meaning there aren't any skeletons in his closet that we know about or suspect at this time.

That's more than we can say about Florida Gov. Charlie Crist Jr., who, according to one McCain operative, is the other candidate— besides Jindal— who McCain is seriously considering tapping as his running mate.

Unlike Jindal, Crist has baggage, including questions about his sexuality and allegations that he fathered a child out of wedlock. He denies both charges, of course.

Ouch. (Hadn't heard the "child out of wedlock" thing.) And there isn't much "question" about Crist's sexuality in my mind. In a perfect world, I could care less whether our leaders were breeders or benders or morrisseys in their private moments. It shouldn't bloody matter! But we have the religious moralists who get all hung up on the aesthetics of sexuality, and can't endure the thought of certain people of unapproved persuasions pleasuring themselves in unapproved ways. It's a horrifying thought, to them, and they think about it a lot. Thus, a gay Republican politician is forced to lie to these moralists, and stay in the closet, because if he or she were to come out, they'd be viewed as a debased, godless hurricane magnet... and could never win another election.

So we play the game, and these gay Republicans pretend to be straight, and they shamelessly court the homophobic elements of their party, and the fundagelicals pretend to be convinced, until it all blows up in a scandal and everyone acts surprised or horrified.

The Gambit's Clancy Dubos doesn't think Jindal will be named Veep, but he tries to imagine the upside in case he is wrong:

In some ways, McCain picking Jindal would be reminiscent of George H. W. Bush picking Dan Quayle as his running mate in 1988.

[Insert long maniacal laugh here. Man, now that's freakin' funny.]

Jindal reminds me of Quayle in several ways, in fact. He would provide a generational counterweight to McCain's 71 years. (McCain turns 72 on Aug. 29; Jindal turns 38 in two weeks.) Also like Quayle, Jindal will have enormous appeal to younger voters and to the party's hard-core right wing.
Actually, Jindal turns 37 in two weeks, not 38. And, actually, Quayle never had "enormous appeal to younger voters". Never, ever. But I still love the Quayle comparison, Clancy. Make it work!


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Cut the cake 

Remember when, in Godfather 2, the mob bosses divvied up the cake with a map of Cuba on it, and everyone got a piece? You don't? Well, I suppose there's always a dramatic re-enactment going on somewhere.

Via Singularity:

Officials from five Arctic coastal countries will meet in Greenland this week to discuss how to carve up the Arctic Ocean, which could hold up to one-quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States are squabbling over much of the Arctic seabed and Denmark has called them together for talks in its self-governing province to avert a free-for-all for the region's resources.


Sometime soon, a group of American corporate executives and military leaders will quietly sit down and divide Iraq into three parts. Their meeting will not have anything to do with Iraq’s national sovereignty, but instead will involve slicing up billions of dollars in work for the defense contractors that support the American military’s presence in the country.

At least KBR won't be doing it all.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

The Economics of Wreckage series 

The Dark Wraith presents the fourth and final installment of a series titled "The Economics of Wreckage". While I highly recommend it, this is not the sort of reading that you can profitably "skim". Nonetheless, if you set aside a handful of hours to truly learn and study the content in these posts, you would have a superior education to someone who took an entire semester of undergraduate macroeconomics at a nearby college.

These posts would be a required text on my "Get Smart Quick" reading list.


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The Nude Gay Bomb 

Since Hollywood is apparently out of new ideas, is it only a matter of time until we see a remake of "The Nude Bomb"?

Updated, of course, with a twist.


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What happened when the Roman Empire stopped building stuff? 

A-town brown at Fiyou on da Bayou has always had an acute fear of bridges. She writes:

Then I moved here, what with our four of the top ten longest bridges in the world, and had to either get over it, or never leave Orleans Parish.

The Louisiana bridges on the Wikipedia list she links to (Pontchartrain, Atchafalaya, Manchac) are all 30+ to 50+ years old. The other bridges (in the top ten) were all built in the 2000's. One is in Thailand, the rest are in China.

Pretend for a second that one of the Louisiana bridges didn't exist. Do you think the U.S. would have the money and desire to ever build another such bridge in the present day? Or would such a project be deemed prohibitively expensive, and unthinkable?-- Sort of like the prospects of Cat 4 or Cat 5 flood protection for South Louisiana.


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Foreign, wood 

Ricky comes out of his Timshel and alerts us to Mark Ballard's splendid opinion piece in the Baton Rouge Advocate. Got read the whole thing, and savor the final paragraph. I haven't been keeping close tabs on the quality of the Advocate's political reporting, but I sense that over the past year or so it has caught up to the Times Picayune, if not surpassed it.

Huck Upchuck has been doing incredible work on the immigration issue. So please review the following links if you are interested in the issue:

Talking Points for Opposing Louisiana Immigration Legislation

Immigration Bill Status Report

The Insidious Nature of the Immigration Bills

Where's the Nolablogosphere on the Immigration Bills?

Also, yesterday, We Could Be Famous linked to a must-read Wapo story on FEMA's formaldehyde trailers. Here are some quotes from it that I'd like to highlight and preserve:

Today, industry and government experts depict the rushed procurement and construction as key failures that may have triggered a public health catastrophe among the more than 300,000 people, many of them children, who lived in FEMA homes.
Weak government contracting, sloppy private construction, a surge of low-quality wood imports from China and inconsistent regulation all contributed to the crisis, a Washington Post review found. But each of the key players has pointed fingers at others, a chain of blame with a cost that will not be known for years.
... in 2005 and 2006, much of the nation's hardwood plywood came from Asia and was high in formaldehyde. China's share of the North American market has grown from 4 percent to nearly 40 percent since 2001, according to the Hardwood Plywood & Veneer Association, which represents North American producers.

"The most likely source of formaldehyde in the Katrina trailers and in all travel trailers are composite wood products . . . [and] the most likely source for those materials are imported products," primarily from China, said Elizabeth Whalen, director of corporate sustainability for Columbia Forest Products, of Portland, Ore., the association's largest U.S. plywood manufacturer.

Why did China's share of the North American market surge from 4 to 40 percent since 2001? One likely reason seems to be the tariffs the Bush administration imposed on Canadian lumber that year.

Update: Be sure to read this post titled "Blame" at Suspect Device.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

"Showing unusual interest" 


Showing unusual interest in the selection of private contractors at the Sewerage & Water Board, Mayor Ray Nagin asked board members this week to put off for a month hiring engineering management firms to oversee $113 million in federally financed hurricane repairs.


...Nagin said he is worried about the capacity and ability of the vendors to coordinate and plan dozens of projects already approved by FEMA.

"I'm a little bit concerned that we're overtaxing a couple of firms," the mayor said during Wednesday's board meeting.


The mayor added: "You've gotten me into this a little bit further than I wanted to go, but let's just delay it a meeting."

Water board members agreed to postpone voting on the committee's choices of MWH to oversee $76 million in sewer repair projects, CH2MHill to manage $33 million in water system repairs and Chester Engineers to direct $3.8 million in drainage work.

The mayor did not specify which of his concerns apply to which firms, and Nagin's press office on Friday would not answer questions on the matter. Nagin did allude during the meeting, however, to unspecified difficulties in the city's ability to funnel more than 150 infrastructure recovery projects through the design-and-construction pipeline.

"At City Hall right now, we are pushing forward probably close to $1 billion worth of projects, and I'm seeing some strains as it relates to that, and I would not want to see that happen here," he said.

The Nagin administration in January hired MWH, formerly known as Montgomery Watson Harza, to coordinate the work of architects, engineers and building contractors hired by the city to fix flood-damaged police and fire stations, streets, recreation centers, court buildings, museums, libraries and parks.

I'm wondering if any of the "strains" or "unspecified difficulties" Nagin mentioned relate to the alleged "onerous" legal requirements involved in MWH's expert handling of the city's construction projects.

A trusted YRHT source informed me that the City is attempting to insert a nonstandard indemnification clause in the design contracts which basically makes the professional designers responsible for any lawsuit against the city related to the project. I do not know if this was indeed done at the behest of MWH, or due to Blakely or Nagin or someone else. Below is a copy of a portion of the city contract. The highlighted, struck through part is the original "offending clause" of the contract, in the view of some attorneys with the American Institute of Architects:

11. INDEMNIFICATION The Designer agrees, to the fullest extent permitted by law, to indemnify and hold harmless the City, its officers, directors and employees against all damages, liabilities or costs, including reasonable attorneys’ fees and defense costs, to the extent caused by the Designer’s negligent performance of professional services under this Agreement and that of its subconsultants or anyone for whom the Designer is legally liable. The Designer shall not be obligated to indemnify the City in any manner whatsoever for the City’s own negligence or for the negligence of others. shall indemnify and save the City harmless against any and all claims, demands, suits, judgments of sums of money to any party accruing against the City for loss of life or injury or damage to persons or property growing out of, resulting from, or by reasons of any act or omission or the operation of the Designer, its agents, servants or employees while engaged in or about or in connection with the discharge or performances of the services to be done or performed by the Designer hereunder and shall also hold the City harmless from any and all claims and/or liens for labor, services, or materials furnished to the Designer in connection with the performance of its obligation under this Agreement.
As my trusted YRHT source notes, "the original language could require the designer to defend the City in the event of any lawsuit, whether or not the Designer was in any way at fault, all that would be necessary is that someone allege that the Designer was in some way involved".

My source also points out that "in addition the contract calls for the Designer to be liable for conformance to laws covering things the Designer would not normally have control over. Including":

C. Sections 103 and 107 of the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act (40 U.S.C. 327-330) as supplemented by Department of Labor regulations (29 CFR Part 5);

D. Standards, orders, or requirements issued under section 306 of the Clean Air Act (42 U.S.C. 1857(h)), section 508 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1368), Executive Order 11738, and Environmental Protection Agency regulations (40 CFR Part 5);

My source concludes that the "biggest problem with all of this is that none of this stuff would be covered by industry standard insurance policies. Government contracts often result in lawsuits because the City has little control over which contractor is awarded the work and the Contractors are often incompetent, litigious or both."

More at Moldy City.

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