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Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Sin Tax

An NPR story the other day focused on how federal highway funds are drying up because people are driving their cars less.

This is an issue that hasn't received a lot of public scrutiny: gasoline taxes are essentially highway user fees, and federal highway funds depend on people driving a certain number of miles on those highways each year.

It's a problem now, but nothing compared with what will happen when alternative-fuel vehicles start to comprise a significant percentage of cars on the road. After all, if you drive an electric car, or a hydrogen fuel-cell car, or even a car or truck fueled with red diesel, you're not paying into the highway-construction trust fund.

Assuming that gasoline-powered vehicles will be supplanted over time by other technologies, what's the fairest way to assess the user fee? Toll roads? A federal automobile licensing fee? Increased revenues from the general fund?

At what point to do you end gasoline taxes because they discriminate against people who own internal-combustion engines? Or do you keep them in place as a sin tax, in order to herd people into newer, cleaner technologies?

Al Gore Watch
Well, we all knew this was coming:

Former vice president Al Gore—who for the past three decades has unsuccessfully attempted to warn humanity of the coming destruction of our planet, only to be mocked and derided by the very people he has tried to save—launched his infant son into space Monday in the faint hope that his only child would reach the safety of another world.

"I tried to warn them, but the Elders of this planet would not listen," said Gore, who in 2000 was nearly banished to a featureless realm of nonexistence for promoting his unpopular message. "They called me foolish and laughed at my predictions. Yet even now, the Midwest is flooded, the ice caps are melting, and the cities are rocked with tremors, just as I foretold. Fools! Why didn't they heed me before it was too late?"

Al Gore—or, as he is known in his own language, Gore-Al—placed his son, Kal-Al, gently in the one-passenger rocket ship, his brow furrowed by the great weight he carried in preserving the sole survivor of humanity's hubristic folly.

Safe journey, little Kal-Al.

Sending The Wrong Message

Welcome to Saint Paul, you bunch of elderly, badly dressed, right-wing midgets!

Photo credit: Julia Schrenkler

Monday, July 28, 2008
There Are Plenty Of People Working At Taco Bell Who Would Love To Make $144,000 A Year
Frequent visitors to The Lost City know that my favorite right-wing nutcase, Andy Aplikowski, isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. But for pure, fact-free hyperventilating, you can't do better than this:

$144,000 is dang good money. It is well above the average salary for America and I bet everyone who is slaving away in a factory or at the mall working 50 hours just to scrape by would gleefully take a 6 figure salary. But the Strib is advocating changing a law so people can get rich off the taxpayer’s hard earned money....

Public service is public service. If you won’t do it unless you get private sector pay, then it isn’t public service.

What's got Andy's undies in such a bundle? Blame this editorial from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Ramsey County’s top manager will soon leave his job for a similar position in California, where he’ll get a $100,000 raise. And the No. 2 administrator of the state pension fund recently resigned to work for a county in Maryland, where he’ll earn $100,000 more than his boss here was paid.

When it comes to executive pay in government, Minnesota stands out — and not in a good way. Ours is the only state that ties top manager’s salaries to what the governor earns. Consequently, most city, county and state administrators earn no more than about $144,000, in some cases tens of thousands dollars less than their counterparts across the nation.

The salary restriction affects local governments’ ability to attract top talent. With an expected rash of baby boomer retirements and good managers leaving for better pay, officials need the flexibility to offer competitive salaries. That’s why the state-imposed salary cap should be repealed.

Now, Andy is right about one thing: $144,000 is more than made by your average factory worker or sales clerk. But factory workers and sales clerks don't manage 4,000 employees and oversee an annual budget of $580 million. The Ramsey County manager does.

While, as Andy notes, lots of people would "gleefully accept a six-figure salary", not many people have the qualifications to earn it. The pool of qualified applicants for such a job is quite small -- and, as the Star Tribune editorial indicates, the competition for qualified county managers is fierce. That's why counties in California are hiring away county managers from Minnesota. Andy can squawk all he wants about how the public sector shouldn't be competing with the private sector, but what happens when the public sector competes with the public sector?

In government, as anywhere else, you get what you pay for.

Friday, July 25, 2008
"Extensive Strategic Relationship": The Neocon Term For Date Rape
Charles Krauthammer can't believe Nouri al-Maliki's beastly betrayal of the United States. Maliki has adopted Obama's timeline for withdrawal of U.S. forces and left McCain gasping for political oxygen.

Time to rationalize:

McCain, like George Bush, envisions the United States seizing the fruits of victory from a bloody and costly war by establishing an extensive strategic relationship that would not only make the new Iraq a strong ally in the war on terror but would also provide the U.S. with the infrastructure and freedom of action to project American power regionally, as do U.S. forces in Germany, Japan and South Korea.

For example, we might want to retain an air base to deter Iran, protect regional allies and relieve our naval forces, which today carry much of the burden of protecting the Persian Gulf region, thus allowing redeployment elsewhere.

Any Iraqi leader would prefer a more pliant American negotiator because all countries -- we've seen this in Germany, Japan and South Korea -- want to maximize their own sovereign freedom of action while still retaining American protection.

It is no mystery who would be the more pliant U.S. negotiator. The Democrats have long been protesting the Bush administration's hard bargaining for strategic assets in postwar Iraq. Maliki knows the Democrats are so sick of this war, so politically and psychologically committed to its liquidation, so intent on doing nothing to vindicate "Bush's war," that they simply want out with the least continued American involvement.

This is truly nutty stuff. Democrats aren't the only ones who don't want a prolonged U.S. involvement in Iraq -- the majority of Americans don't want it either. In the run-up to the war in 2002 and 2003, a permanent occupation of Iraq was never mentioned. Quite the opposite: it would be a cake-walk, the neocons bragged; we'd be greeted as liberators, then back home by Christmas.

That sort of talk was necessary, I suppose, in order to get the American people on board.

But now that we're there, Krauthammer argues, we should just accept that Iraq is the epicenter of the American hegemon in the Middle East.

Not so fast, pal. Americans know what the neocon's game is now; they shouldn't be fooled into believing that this is what they signed up for.

Thursday, July 24, 2008
Snark Hunt
The right wing is in full exasperation mode, as Obama addresses a crowd in Berlin. Kathryn Jean Lopez has a typical reaction:

He's too used to American young people who don't know their history. He's explaining German history to Germans ... among Westerners, the German people might be among those most acutely aware of their history.

What she misses, of course, is that the speech is really intended for American ears. Obama's outline of the last 60 years of German-American relations is perfectly appropriate in this context. And the pictures from Berlin -- with tens of thousands of cheering Germans waving American flags -- will be heartening to many Americans who still remember when our country was admired and respected around the world.

But it's an image that has to be galling for the National Review crowd, who prefer to see Americans despised abroad and terrified at home.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Out Of The Blue
It's July in a presidential election year, which means the media's quadrennial entrail-reading has begun:
....a Republican source who attended a small private meeting with John McCain Tuesday in New Hampshire tells CNN that the GOP candidate dropped a serious hint about Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.

The Republican source said "out of the blue" McCain told the gathering that he thinks they are "really going to like" Pawlenty.

Of course there are lots of reasons for McCain to choose Pawlenty as his running mate. He's from a swing state, he's a loyal McCain guy, he's reasonably well-liked by the right, and he's got a reputation as an anti-tax guy.

But Pawlenty has a lot of downsides, too. He was barely re-elected in 2006. He is unlikely to flip Minnesota, where Obama leads by a double-digit margin. His no-new-taxes pledge could only be kept by raising a host of "fees" which raised revenue to go into the general fund -- the dictionary definition of a tax. He's not well-known outside of Minnesota. He wears a mullet. And he's a pleasant but rather bland fellow.

While he may be a solid VP choice, he would also be an extraordinarily safe one.

I don't know if McCain has to swing for the fences in order to win this election. The polls seem to indicate it's still a close game. But I don't see Pawlenty as a guy who is going to give McCain a huge boost going into the fall.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008
What Not To Do When You're Falling

The cover of an allegedly inspirational book caught my eye today. It bore the title When You're Falling, Dive: Lessons In the Art of Living.

Even by the dubious standards of self-help book mummery, this struck me as idiotic advice.

I will concede that when falling from the roof of a fifty-story building, screaming will probably not be helpful. And perhaps the small amount of time you have left will not be enough to think of a way out of your predicament.

But I see no advantage in imagining that you're a Mexican cliff-diver and gaining satisfaction from your perfectly executed jackknife as you plow into the pavement below.

Also, witnesses will tell police that you were diving, not falling. Thus your death will become the ultimate I-meant-to-do-that moment.

Does Not Compute
Victor Davis Hanson has been watching Obama's tour of the Middle East, and he's been rolling his eyes so much it must be making his head ache:

[T]he more he dispenses his impromptu wisdom, the more he sounds like, well, a rookie senator whose collective experience derives from the utopianism of The Harvard Law Review, the gravy-train of Chicago entitlement politics, and the world view of Trinity Church.

Yet, the more his handlers treat him like fossilized amber, the less experience he gains, guaranteeing that on almost every rare ex tempore moment he will suggest something that doesn't compute—that he might be president for 10 years, or that we need a civilian version of the Pentagon with the same $500 billion annual budget, or that someone like a Centcom commander like Petraeus doesn't have his strategic comprehensive view, or that the Anbar awakening and the Surge were not, at least in part, connected

Except that McCain has managed to squander whatever advantage this might give to him. He is no "rookie senator" -- he's served in the House and Senate for most of Obama's lifetime -- yet still manages to function as a one-man gaffe machine: confusing Sunnis with Shiites, confusing Sudan with Somalia, confidently opining on the nonexistent Afghanistan-Iraq border, and identifying Vladimir Putin as the president of Germany. How well do those things, compute, Victor?

Since the main selling point of McCain's candidacy is his purported experience in foreign policy, such verbal flubs will inevitably hurt him more than they will Obama.

Monday, July 21, 2008
Here Comes The Moon
Now, this is really something.

It's a NASA video taken by the Deep Impact probe, currently 31 million miles from Earth. It shows the Moon transiting the Earth, and when I first saw it I felt certain it was a fake.

But no -- apparently that's how it really looks from Out There.

Check it out.

Where Is This Man's American Flag Lapel Pin?

Why does he hate America so?

Friday, July 18, 2008
On The Island

I had hoped to post at least once a day this week, but was overly optimistic about intenet access on the island.

Yes, it's vacation time for the Uncle Mike family, and we're on Block Island, which -- along with Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard -- is one of New England's biggest vacation spots.

To me the name Block Island suggests an 18th-century penal colony, but I am happy to report that it's actually a delightful place, with surprisingly intense sunshine and a surfeit of things to do and see.

During the course of the last week I have been devolving into the sort of man I would normally laugh at. I now own a straw hat and a muscle shirt that says BLOCK ISLAND and I wear my sunglasses indoors and I reek of suntan lotion. Whenever I pass by a mirror, or a storefront window, the man I see looking back at me is a ridiculous fellow, a clueless, sunburned, grasping tourist, determined to buy and jealously stockpile happy memories before the vacation days run out.

But of course there are worse things than being a tourist. Some twenty years ago, I read a jaw-dropping Ellen Goodman column in which she rhapsodized about the virtues of being on vacation: the time to sit and think without distraction, the ability to hear the whisper-soft sound of a turning page, etc. The column had the distressing feel of being filed very quickly, while on vacation, or perhaps at the end of it: the columnist wrote about the idea behind vacations as if her readers had never been on one before. Goodman's ability to write fifteen column inches about the completely fucking obvious was in a neck-and-neck race with her condescension. By the end of the column it was a photo finish, but I never waited around for the film to develop.

I'm all in favor of vacations, but no one needs to sell me on them; and as always I'll be ready, on the last day, to return home to Saint Paul -- the best city on Earth.

Thursday, July 10, 2008
Mental Recession At NRO

Today former Sen. Phil Gramm, who co-chairs John McCain's campaign and serves as his chief economic advisor, had this to say about our mythical so-called "recession":

"We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline. You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession."

I have to admit, this is just as smart as Phil's past economic pronouncements.

I was interested in seeing what the reaction would be over at The Corner. But from the hallowed halls of the National Review, only the sound of crickets.

Oh, but it wasn't always that way. The nutters at NRO usually can't say enough about the guy.

For instance, here's Larry Kudlow:

I’ve got two key words for a potential President McCain: Phil Gramm. Look for a President McCain to hand the economic policy reins over to the former Texas senator. Gramm would either be Treasury secretary or chief of staff in a McCain White House. This is good.

Phil Gramm remains a strong, zealous, free-market advocate. He has been sorely missed in the U.S. Senate following his retirement a few years back. Gramm has been working as an investment banker on Wall Street for the global firm UBS.

Gramm is a staunch free trader, tax cutter, budget cutter, and entitlement reformer. Most important, he’s tough as nails on policy issues.

The conservative Mr. Gramm would steer a possible McCain presidency in the right direction.

And here's Lisa Schiffren:

I'd like to see [McCain] push campaign advisor and former Senator Phil Gramm front and center, as a surrogate. Gramm is more than capable of speaking intelligently, and reassuring voters and markets that McCain is thinking about the economy.

And Jonah Goldberg::

Is it too early to start the draft Phil Gramm campaign?


[M]y Draft Phil Gramm At The Brokered Convention idea is looking slightly less idiotic everyday.*


[in a loud stage whisper, say it with me] Gramm...Gramm...Gramm...Gramm!


Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Thomas Disch, R.I.P.
The iconoclastic author of the children's book The Brave Little Toaster as well as dark, cynical novels such as Camp Concentration and 334, died in New York; it was apparently a suicide. He was 68.

Conservatives Are Not Racists, And They Are Too Funny

Cracked.com has an amusing compilation of catchphrases coined by the TV show The Simpsons, including everyone's favorite, "Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys".

But this list has aroused the ire of the so-called Modern Conservative Movement because of a nasty (but admittedly funny) swipe at National Review's Jonah Goldberg:

Groundskeeper Willie coined this expression in "Round Springfield" (April 30, 1995). However, the origins of the phrase can't be separated from its appropriation by conservative writer Jonah Goldberg, who helped spread this slur for the French by using it in many of his National Review columns. Alas, Jonah Goldberg isn't funny-at least not intentionally-so we're giving this one to Willie and the Simpsons writers. Sorry, Jonah, you'll get your chance next week when CRACKED runs "14 Racist Things Jonah Goldberg Said That No One Cared About."

Now, the only thing Jonah hates more than being called a racist is being called not funny, so he cried foul; and a number of sympathetic posts appeared on the Cracked.com message board, like this very very thoughtful one from "Dirkbelig":

Nice job in perpetuating the impression that comedy writers are nothing but extreme liberals who can't resist smearing conservatives as racist/sexist/bigoted/homophobes like you did to Jonah Goldberg, who is NONE of those things and quite humorous to boot. It's so typical of liberals to slander anything they don't like as some sort of "-ist" as if everyone who reads this site shares in their abject hatred of conservatives. (Good luck keeping this site going under Sharia Law. Idiots.)
Nice job in perpetuating the impression that conservatives have no sense of humor, Dirkbelig!

(Good luck posting comments like that under Sharia law! Idiots.)

Deconstructing Wall-E
Over the holiday weekend I took my four-year-old daughter to see her first big-screen movie.

This first pilgrimage to the cinema has been something I've been looking forward to since she was born. I love movies dearly, and I think the first movie a child sees in a real honest-to-peaches movie theater is important.

I've always been a bit embarrassed that the first movie my parents took me to see was the wretched The Million Dollar Duck with Dean Jones and Sandy Duncan, a movie that encapsulated everything that went wrong with Disney during its nadir in the early 70's: it was cheap, slipshod, derivative, exhausted; the cinematic equivalent of the '81 Ford Thunderbird.

So Wall-E it was for my daughter. She seemed ready to sit through a real movie and all the reviews I read of Wall-E were raves.

Well, I can think of no higher praise for Pixar's latest effort than this:

The Million Dollar Duck it ain't.

Don't get me wrong. I was surprised, at times alarmed, at how somber a movie Wall-E was; and at several points I was concerned that the movie would simply leave my daughter behind. But she focused on the robots and their interaction; and when we were walking out of the movie theater she turned to me and said, "Daddy, I want to see another movie now."

Ah, that's my girl.

But while watching the movie it occured to me that the ecological theme and the anti-consumerist message would drive the right wing crazy, and I was right. Here's a typical bit of hyperventilating from The Corner:

From the first moment of the film, my kids were bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind. It's a shame, too, because the robot had promise. The story was just awful, however. Nice to see that Disney and Pixar can make mega-millions off of telling us just how greedy, lazy, and destructive we all are. There's no hope for mankind. Hand over your wallet.
But the always-thoughtful Rod Dreher seemed to grasp the real themes underlying the movie, which fall somewhat outside the usual liberal/conservative boxes:

"Wall-E" says that humans have within themselves the freedom to rebel, to overthrow that which dominates and alienates us from our true selves, and our own nature. But you have to question the prime directive; that is, you have to become conscious of how they way you're living is destroying your body and killing your soul, and choose to resist. "Wall-E" contends that real life is hard, real life is struggle, and that we live most meaningfully not by avoiding pain and struggle, but by engaging it creatively, and sharing that struggle in community. It argues that rampant consumerism, technopoly and the exaltation of comfort is causing us to weaken our souls and bodies, and sell out our birthright of political freedom. Nobody is doing this to us; we're doing it to ourselves. It is the endgame of modernity, which began in part with the idea that Nature is the enemy to be subdued -- that man stands outside of Nature, and has nothing to learn about himself from Nature's deep logic.

Sounds like pretty heavy stuff, when Rod puts it that way. And considering all the plates that the movie has spinning simultaneously, it's a wonder that it works for four-year-olds as well as for adults. But it does work, and very well. If you haven't seen it, you ought to go.

Even if you don't have a four-year-old to take with you.

Monday, July 07, 2008
God Save The Queen (Not!)
Matthew Yglesias has caught some flak for expressing doubts about the wisdom of American independence:
[M]y diffidence about independence stems in part from the recognition that war and separation wasn't by any means the first option of most of the men who wound up leading the movement for independence. But their efforts at compromise weren't welcomed in London and the result was a costly war. If you think that mistakes were made exclusively on the English side, I think you're being a bit naive, as these sorts of things never happen without a mutual lack of trust and some errors on both sides. But I don't think that the founders were wrong, sitting in Philadelphia in 1776, to think that under the circumstances independence was their best option. I only think -- as they themselves did -- that it was unfortunate that the course of events had taken them to that position, rather than to some form of compromise.

I'm not sure what Matt's point is here. Is compromise, generally speaking, better than war? Sure, I guess so. But the British Empire wasn't big on compromise, was it? It's hard to imagine any circumstances where the British would have given the colonies a voice in Parliament and a measure of self-governance.

On top of that, the last 232 years have turned out pretty well for the American colonies, and I'm proud to be a citizen of a nation that doesn't swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth or any other member of her torpid, inbred family of professional buffoons and ne'er-do-wells.

I appreciate Matt's willingness to tip the occasional sacred cow, but I'm not buying his argument here. The decision to break from Britain and fight a war for independence must have been a difficult one for the founders of this country. It probably seemed like a lunatic idea to many at the time, but in retrospect it couldn't have turned out much better.

Jesse Helms: Confederate Patriot

The National Review's teary-eyed farewell to career bigot Jesse Helms ends on curious note:

Given his past, Helms may not have been the best advocate for a message of colorblind equal opportunity, but he was never one to shy away from a fight. Did Helms “oppose civil rights,” as the Times put it? Actually, the Senator No of 1990 merely opposed a certain vision of them.

Wow, what a concession! Jesse Helms "may not have been" the best person to fight for "colorblind equal opportunity"? You are really going out on a limb, National Review.

Why Helms ought to be given special consideration because he "was never one to shy away from a fight" is puzzling. History is full of sinister characters who never shied away from a fight; it's not in itself a virtue. I suppose they mean that he was true to his convictions -- but again, whether or not this is an admirable trait depends quite a lot on what, exactly, your convictions are.

And the strange assertion that Helms didn't oppose civil rights, "only a certain vision of them" is held until the final sentence, and left - deliberately, it seems -- without being expounded upon.

I suppose that if the authors were to explain what they meant, they would have to begin expressly defending what "civil rights" meant to Jesse Helms -- and here in the 21st century, that wouldn't do at all. If Helms could be said to believe in "civil rights" at all (a dodgy proposition), he believed in them for whites only -- and he believed that all the levers of the government and the legal system should protect whites from te indignities of black equality. Even the National Review won't openly advocate that agenda anymore.

Meanwhile, Jonah Goldberg now says that all the mean liberals are wagging their fingers about Jesse Helms because they think he's a racist. But of course, Jonah cries, he isn't:

Helms' career is more complicated than the mean-spirited and agenda driven mainstream media obits have suggested.

Ah! The mainstream media simply doesn't understand the nuanced positions Jesse Helms took over the years.

Presumably, his nuanced position on the definition of "civil rights" falls in there somewhere.

Sunday, July 06, 2008
Catch That Zeppelin

Anyone who knows Nemo knows all about his weird enthusiasm for reviving the dormant zeppelin industry. Zeppelins have had a dodgy reputation since a particularly nasty incident in Lakehurst, New Jersey some 70 years ago. But for Nemo, this is hardly a reason to give up a good thing.

Pay no attention to the fact, zeppelin enthusiasts insist, that even the largest zeppelins ever built could carry only 30 to 50 passengers; forget that they're filled with volatile, explosive gases; never mind that they're difficult to control and are allergic to bad weather and have a top speed of about 100 mph.

Nope, for zeppelin nuts, it's always the dawn of a new day, as this NY Times article reveals:

As the cost of fuel soars and the pressure mounts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, several schemes for a new generation of airship are being considered by governments and private companies. “It’s a romantic project,” said Mr. Massaud, 45, sitting amid furniture designs in his Paris studio, “but then look at Jules Verne.”

It has been more than 70 years since the giant Hindenburg zeppelin exploded in a spectacular fireball over Lakehurst, N.J., killing 36 crew members and passengers, abruptly ending an earlier age of airships. But because of new materials and sophisticated means of propulsion, a diverse cast of entrepreneurs is taking another look at the behemoths of the air.

The cost of fuel would have to be pretty high indeed to make zeppelins an attractive economic proposition in today's world. And I'd have to be pretty drunk to be convinced that a zeppelin is a safe vehicle to travel in. Maybe Nemo will get his wish of a transatlantic voyage on the Hindenberg II. But for me, thanks but no thanks.

Crazy Crazy Crazy!
K-Lo has finally outdone herself. She's broken the crazy meter!

A totally crazy Saturday-morning thought: Wouldn't George W. Bush make an awesome high-school government teacher? Wouldn't it be something if his post-presidential life would up being that kind of post-service service? How's that for a model? Who needs Harvard visiting chairs and high-end lectures? How about Crawford High? (Or wherever?) Reach out and touch the young before they are jaded, or break them of the cynicism pop culture and possibly their parents have passed down to them. Whatever you think of President Bush, he's a likable guy in love with his country with some history and experience to share.

Echidne suggests that if Bush wanted to serve the country after his presidency he could simply turn himself in to the nearest police station.

I suffered through my share of bad high school teachers, so believe me, I can almost see Dubya smirking and winking through a high-school civics class, confidently answering good questions about the Constitution and the separation of powers with wrong answers, filling young minds up with crap, arrogantly reminding the students what a privilege it is for them to be in his presence. While I think it'd be nice for a former President to retire to a quiet life of teaching, Bush is the last guy on Earth to do it. He's already outlined his post-presidential life: he's going to go on the lecture circuit and make a fortune.

That's the sort of post-service service you should expect from this clown.

Saturday, July 05, 2008
Right-Wing Anti-Science Mouth-Breather Watch
If you haven't been keeping up with the latest in right-wing anti-science buffoonery, you may want to check out the kerfuffle between Andy Schlafly, whose Conservapedia.com is helping to speed the so-called "conservative movement" into the dustbin of history, and Richard Lenski, one of those dreadful godless "scientists" you've probably read about.

Conservapedia, of course, claims to be a Wikipedia alternative, with a similar look but refreshingly free of the sinister liberal influence of "facts".

Thus Andy took it upon himself to attack the findings of a microbiologist who had published his findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This in spite of the fact that Andy has no training whatsoever in science.

Andy had written a starchy letter demanding more proof of Dr. Lenski's findings. Lenski politely wrote back to say that everything Schlafly was asking for was in the paper. Schlafly wrote again, telling Lenski that his work was supported by taxpayer funding and that he'd better turn over all of his files for examination -- by Shlafly himself, of course, who is in fact a lawyer, not a scientist.

But what really grated Lenski's cheese was the fact that Schlafly had clearly not read the actual paper that Lenski had published. He was going by newspaper reports and rumors on Schlafly's own web site. So Lenski wasn't exactly the Good Humor man when he responded:

First, it seems that reading might not be your strongest suit given your initial letter, which showed that you had not read our paper, and given subsequent conversations with your followers, in which you wrote that you still had not bothered to read our paper. You wrote: “I did skim Lenski’s paper …” If you have not even read the original paper, how do you have any basis of understanding from which to question, much less criticize, the data that are presented therein?

Second, your capacity to misinterpret and/or misrepresent facts is plain in the third request in your first letter, where you said: “In addition, there is skepticism that 3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000.” That statement was followed by a link to a news article from NewScientist that briefly reported on our work. I assumed you had simply misunderstood that article, because there is not even a mention of proteins anywhere in the news article. As I replied, “We make no such claim anywhere in our paper, nor do I think it is correct. Proteins do not ‘appear out of the blue’, in any case.” So where did your confused assertion come from?

Do you even need to ask, egghead? Andy's confused assertions come straight out of his ass; that's where he gets most of his beliefs.

But of course, Andy felt he had his opponent on the ropes, so now he's threatening a lawsuit, in spite of the fact that he has (still) never read the actual paper he is challenging.

A Candid World is following this one closely. Check it out.

Friday, July 04, 2008
Jesse Helms
The old bigot dies at 86. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Bush Vs. Nixon
Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias are having a lively discussion on their respective blogs about whether Bush's crimes are as bad as those of RIchard Nixon. Drum says no:

[T]here's no evidence that George Bush has done anything wrong for purely venal purposes. He approved torture of prisoners and violated FISA because he genuinely thought it was necessary for national security reasons after 9/11 — and unfortunately, lots of people agreed with him at the time and continue to agree with him today. I too wish there were a broader consensus that Bush has acted illegally and ought to be held accountable, but the fact that he hasn't met Nixon's fate doesn't really say all that much about how tolerant we are of executive lawbreaking. Ideological disputes are simply a different kettle of fish than personal vendettas.

But Nixon's defenders always claimed that Tricky Dick was doing what he had to do in order to save the Republic from the hippies and the anarchists and the pot-smoking slackers wearing Che Guevara shirts. Nixon believed that since the nation was obviously best served with Richard Nixon in office, committing crimes in order to keep Richard Nixon in office was in the best interests of the nation. Now, I don't know if Nixon, in his heart of hearts, believed that but it sounds like the sort of idea he'd get into.

I think the American people are understandably squeamish about impeachment: it's a terrible process to drag the country through, and if the kooks on the political fringes had their way, I suppose we would have impeached every president who ever held office. But I do think that if we are indeed a nation "governed by laws and not men", we must hold law-breaking presidents accountable -- if not while they hold office, then after they leave.

Happy Independence Day
Growing up, we hear the preamble of the Declaration of Independence so many times the words lose some of their impact. But if you sit down and read Jefferson's words you really do get a sense of the audacity of what the Founders were planning, as well as their uniquely American fearlessness about breaking the crockery:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States....

One of the great ironies of American history is that John Adams died on the 4th of July -- fifty years after the signing of the Declaration. Adams' last words were "Jefferson still lives". He didn't know that his old collaborator and rival had died only a few hours before.

Thursday, July 03, 2008
Che Is As Che Does

So there was a detail in the Colombian hostage rescue story that involved Colombian government operatives fooling the guerillas by wearing Che Guevara T-shirts. Mark Hemingway at The Corner opines:

Of course, now I can ask the next nimrod who I see with a Che shirt on if he is expressing solidarity with the Colombian Army.

Yeah, Einstein, I'm sure the guy wearing the Che Guevara T-shirt would understand what you meant.

Actually, that quote reminded me of the time I spent living across the street from Macalester College in Saint Paul. Macalester always had a strong International Relations program -- former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan graduated from there -- and perhaps for that reason a bunch of yahoos took to protesting the UN near the campus.

They would set themselves up right at the corner of Grand and Snelling, the busiest intersection adjacent to campus, and hold up vaguely anti-UN protest signs. One guy hoisted a UN flag that he'd decorated with a red circle-and-slash, so I guess the message was supposed to be No UN -- or something.

Anyway, these guys always annoyed me, and walking by them one day, I turned to the guy with the flag and yelled, "Hey, go back to Russia!"

He looked at me and his eyes bugged out. His mouth started working. He clearly wanted to say, no, you got it wrong, see, it's a UN flag but it's got a red slash through it....

Then it hit him that I was yanking his chain and he yelled back, "Fuck you, man! FUCK YOU!"

"No," I yelled back, resourcefully, "fuck YOU!" Not the snappiest come-back, but I felt better.

That Nick Punto Play To Second
Just to be clear, if I was going to start blogging obsessively about the Twins, Nick Punto's amazing play last night would be a good place to start.

Now that's playing to win.

I Coulda Been A Contender

It occurs to me that if I really want to break into the major leagues of blogging, I should obsessively cover a minor topic of great interest to me.

It's all part of establishing your own bloggish personality. For instance, Matt Yglesias' gimlet-eyed political observations are tempered with frequent ruminations about the state of the incredibly boring world of pro basketball, in which freakishly tall people run back and forth on a wood floor throwing a ball through a hoop.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I have my pet obsessions: B-movies from the 1950s, for instance, and old radios and robots. But those aren't broad enough topics for the great untapped masses of potential readers of The Lost City. No. I need to find something with mass appeal.

For a few minutes this morning it occured to me that I should write obsessively about the Minnesota Twins. Perhaps I could post anxious missives about right fielder Michael Cuddyer's injured finger, or wonder aloud and repeatedly about how Franciso Liriano is doing back in the minors, or marvel at shortstop Nick Punto's amazing out in last night's 7-0 victory over Detroit.

Unfortunately, I've never been as big a baseball fan as I sometimes think I ought to be. It seems like a deficiency of some sort; I'll go to the games and read the recap in the paper and listen to the play-by-play on the radio on warm summer nights. But I can't seem to obsess on the details like the real fans do.

So I guess I'm doomed to flail away in the minors for the rest of my blogging career. Not a bad thing, I guess. Life is too short to waste worrying over the box scores anyway, if you ask me.

The Rescue
Yesterday the Colombian government staged a daring raid on a rebel FARC hideout, freeing Ingrid Betancourt and eleven other hostages -- including three Americans.

They'd been held captive in the jungle for five years by a bunch of dirty, gun-toting thugs, so this has got to be the best day of their lives, and it's wonderful that they are back with their families again and that the effort to free them went so well.

The background details of the operation haven't been made public yet. But since the raid was spectacularly successful, we can assume that no one from the Bush administration was involved with its planning or execution.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Torturing Christopher Hitchens
Hitch undergoes waterboarding for an article in Vanity Fair. Why? Well, to see whether or not it's really torture, of course.

Spoiler alert: Hitchens says it is!

Mind you, if they really wanted to torture Hitchens, they should have kept him away from alcohol for 24 hours.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Throwing America Under The Bus
Jonah Goldberg argues, with a sort of dreary predictability, that history will be kind to the Bush administration because, well, his predecessors did things that were just as awful:

Many of its supposedly radical features fit neatly in the mainstream of American presidential history. Extraordinary rendition? That practice (in which we send terrorists to foreign countries to be interrogated under laxer rules) began under President Clinton. Aggressive interrogations, for good or ill, surely predate 2001. Holding prisoners indefinitely at Guantanamo without benefit of a trial? As terrorism expert Andrew C. McCarthy notes in National Review, we were doing that under the first President Bush and under Clinton to innocent Haitian refugees, who got even less due process than we give captured enemy combatants.

Even the invasion of Iraq will probably seem to historians, in part, as a continuation of trends begun in the Persian Gulf War and extended by Clinton's (and Britain's) attacks in 1998.

Jonah, allow me to paraphrase your mentor William F. Buckley: I won't insult your intelligence by pretending that you actually believe what you just said.

Goldberg's gentle euphemisms about torture simply demonstrate how squeamish he is on the subject. "Interrogated under laxer rules" -- that means torture, doesn't it? Why can't a straight-talking conservative tough guy like Goldberg suck it up and actually use the word?

And what to make of Goldberg's next sentence? "Aggressive interrogations, for good or ill, surely predate 2001"?

What does that mean -- aside from the fact that Goldberg again flinches when confronted with the actual word, like a vampire confronted with a crucifix?

There's no question that torture predated 2001. Torture, alas, is a sin that has dogged the human species since pretty much the beginning. But it wasn't standard operating procedure for our military, and it wasn't protected by our courts, and it wasn't defended by our government, and it wasn't glorified in the mainstream media. Not until the Bush administration and its torture-porn-addled enablers got into town.

And when prisoners are sent to countries for the specific purpose of having them tortured, that's quite a different thing than what happened during the Clinton administration -- or any other administration. The same goes with the detention of Haitians at Guantanamo Bay -- Camp X-Ray didn't exist, and they weren't there to be tortured -- as Goldberg knows full well.

And to equate the first Gulf war and the war against Serbia with our current occupation of Iraq is to be deliberately obtuse. The case for war with Iraq consisted of a tissue of lies. It was deliberately framed as necessary to forestall an attack on us by the Iraqis; a claim that would have struck the sensible people in Congress as absurd on its face, had there actually been any sensible people in Washington during the run-up to the war.

It's sad, but certainly not surprising, that Goldberg sees trashing the reputation of the United States, throughout its history, as the only way to redeem his precious President.

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