Thursday, February 21, 2008


NPR's Morning Edition interviewed Congressman Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat, on the Protect America Act. There is a link to the story here - Here is a note I sent them about the interview.

There were a few points left out of your discussion with Congressman Reyes. Regarding the retroactive immunity - the issue is what do we want companies to do when asked to do something illegal by the governent, as the telecom companies were asked in this case. What we want them to do is say "no," as Qwest did back in 2001. They can say they need a warrant before they will act. If they can get immunity when they break the law, they will have no incentive to obey the law.

Second - Congressman Reyes said that Democrats and Republicans want the executive branch to have all the tools to prevent terrorism. I am sure what he meant to say was all the *constitutional* tools.

Finally - for telecom wiretaps, as for torture, a better solution than legalizing actions broadly, is to leave our legal protections in place, allow the courts to decide whether actions were legal or illegal, and then the President can pardon anyone who bent the rules while in hot pursuit of a terrorist. But we will probably find that there is not much hot pursuit actually happening.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

CBS News Sunday morning did a story about an artist named Martin Ramirez, who created ost of his art while in a mental instititution in Northern California between 1948 and 1963. His art would have remained unknown except for the fact that a Professor named Tarmo Pasto discovered Ramírez and began to save the large drawings he made.

But CBS left out some information - when Professor Pasto "started collecting" the art, did he compensate either the artist, or his family? Or did he just take them?

I suspect art is often taken without proper authority - witness all the news stories about museums in trouble for possessing stolen art. In the New York Times review in January of the Ramirez exhibition, it says that Professor Pasto sent 10 drawings to the Guggenheim museum in 1955, but never heard from them. In the 1990's, the museum found them and "accessioned" them in 1997. I realize this refers to the process of adding art to the museum's collection, but it also sounds like an official and polite term for "steal."

Similarly, the NY Times article says that Professor Pasto sold most of his Ramirez drawings to Jim Nutt and his art dealer - because he wanted to send his son to medical school. Did any of Martin Ramirez's family make it to medical school?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Global Warming, Bush, and Gloom and Doom

No, its not all George's fault. But he could have done more. I do think it was funny to hear Tony Snow saying "Prez Bush has spoken out about global warming from the very beginning of his presidency." Talk about rewriting history!

Everyone should read the transcript here of a discussion between Fareed Zakaria, who is Editor of Newsweek International, and a guy named Thomas Homer-Dixon, author of a book called "The Upside of Down--Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization." I don't know if you know Fareed Zakaria - I see him on some of the Sunday morning political talk shows - and he hosts a weekly TV show called Foreign Exchange. I really like him - he seems really knowledgeable, reasonable, etc.

Anyway - Homer-Dixon's premise is that world is going to hell. But they discuss the issues of global warming, China, India, etc. Here are a couple of points from their discussion:
  • The US, and other countries, are getting off oil for energy - but not for transportation. Unfortunately, we are replacing oil with coal, which generates a lot of CO2.
  • getting off oil for transportation will be hard - and our economies still depend on transportation.
  • they talk about tar sands in Canada (the transcript calls it "tarsans") - which hold a lot of oil - but it takes a lot of energy to get it out. The return on investment for getting at this energy is not very high.
  • they mention something called "sequestration" - which is basically taking CO2 OUT of the atmosphere - naturally (forests, etc) or artificially - and storing it.
  • China will exceed the US in CO2 output in 3 years. China and India are currently building 650 coal-fired power plants.
  • China needs to realize that THEY will be impacted by climate charge - water shortages, food shortages from agricultural problems, etc.
  • WE should be investing in the technologies to deal with this - such as sequestration - and then we can get rich selling these to the rest of the world.

I don't watch Fareed's TV show (altho I did just now set up Tivo to record it) but I do check the web site for transcripts periodically, and I happened to read this one just yesterday.

It seems to me the world should be doing a lot more about this - but we are distracted by problems in the middle east, terrorism, getting politicians re-elected, etc. People tend not to worry about things that are 25 or 50 or 100 years away.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Iraq government attitude on the surge

I can't overcome my 1960's upbringing, that told me that, generally, war is not the answer.

I do believe we should not leave it broken if we can avoid that. The question is whether more troops increase the chance of that, or not. I would trust the new General's opinion, if I can believe it is really his, and not one that was given to him, or a compromise between what he believes, and what his bosses believe.

There is an article in the NY Times Week in Review section today, from a reporter who is leaving Iraq. These paragraphs from the end are interesting. I highlighted a few sentences:

For those eager to write off Iraq as lost, one fact bears remembering. A great many Shiites and Kurds, who together make up 80 percent of the population, will tell you that in spite of all the mistakes the Americans have made here, the single act of removing Saddam Hussein was worth it. And the new American plan, despite all the obstacles, may have a chance to work. With an Iraqi colleague, I have been studying a neighborhood in northern Baghdad that has become a dumping ground for bodies. There, after American troops conducted sweeps, the number of corpses dropped by a third in September. The new plan is built around that kind of tactic. But the odds are stacked against the corps of bright young officers charged with making the plan work, particularly because their Iraqi partner — the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki — seems to be on an entirely different page. When American officials were debating whether to send more troops in December, I went to see an Iraqi government official. The prospect of more troops infuriated him. More Americans would simply prolong the war, he said. “If you don’t allow the minority to lose, you will carry on forever,” he said.

The remarks struck me as a powerful insight into the Shiites’ thinking. Abused under Mr. Hussein, they still act like an oppressed class. That means Iraqis are looking into a future of war, at least in the near term. As one young Shiite in Sadr City said to me: “This just has to burn itself out.”

Hazim al-Aaraji, a disciple of the renegade Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, understands this. A cleric himself, he is looking for foot soldiers for the war. On a warm October afternoon, as he bustled around his mosque in western Baghdad, he said the ideal disciples would have “an empty mind,” and a weapon. Surprised by the word choice, an Iraqi friend I was with stopped him, to clarify his intent. Once again, he used the word “empty.”

And it seems like even if we stay until there is a stable govt, that govt will work with Iran. The only difference if we leave while there is instability is that Iran may send in troops - but the end result is probably the same - other than how bloody it is.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Iran, Iraq, Shiites, Sunnis ...

Here is an interesting article from the Pew Forum on Religion, about Iran, Shiites, Sunnis, Iraq, the middle east, etc. The first half is transcript of a speech, and the second half is a transcript of questions and answers.

The speech is kind of dense. A couple of things I found interesting:
- Iran, and Shiite's generally, were supportive of the US invasion, because they wanted a democratic, one-man-one-vote election, because they knew it would bring the Shiites to power in Iraq.
- removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan also was good for Iran - Afghanistan and Iraq were Sunni walls around Shiite Iran.
- Al Qaeda really comes from radical Sunni groups - Wahabis supported in Saudi Arabia, for example. So Iran could have been our natural ally against Al Qaeda.
- On the other hand, the Shiites, particularly when Ahmadinejad became President of Iran, decided to broaden their appeal to Arab citizens by attacking Israel's right to exist, etc.
- Here's something from his answer to the second question:

"The Iranians do not want to talk about single issues. They want a broader structure of agreement that commits the two countries to normalization of relations, kind of like Kissinger going to China. For Iranians, normalization would mean that regime change is off the table and Iran’s interests are recognized. I am not saying this is something that the U.S. necessarily can or should do, but I’m saying that’s what they want."

Iran figures if they concede on nukes at the start, they are losing one of the best bargaining chips. He doesn't say whether they would be willing to recognize Israel as part of a larger package.

I wonder if anyone in our govt understood Sunnis and Shiites before we invaded Iraq?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Weird Religious Attitudes

The LA Times published a story on Sunday that just strikes me as the most absurd situation. Some time ago, the pope decided that it was not necessary to kneel at the point in the mass where the priest consecrates the wine and the wafers. Instead, the choice would be left to the local bishop. Well, in several US churches, the bishop decided parishioners should NOT kneel. And some of them are disobeying that order, and sticking with their traditional act of what they consider to be adoration. And the bishop has told them it is a MORTAL SIN to disobey his order! They must stop, or they must leave the congragation. Now it's not clear that anyone will actually BAR them from attending services. But this just seems to me like an exercise in RAW POWER - "I have made a decision, and you MUST OBEY, at the risk to your MORTAL SOUL."

Never mind that the bishop in the next diocese may have made a decision that it was OK to kneel. And its not the kneeling that is the sin - it's disobeying the bishop! This just seems like an exercise in RAW POWER. Or maybe it's simply an attempt by bishops to exercise control in a place that they can - in church - when they find that have so little ability to exercise control over congregants in other, more important areas - birth control, abortion, etc.

My Letter in the LA Times

A couple of weeks ago, the food column in the LA Times' West Magazine had an article about making tamales. I wrote a letter about this, and about Angel and Tootie and the family, and was fortunate enough to have it published:,1,5872166,print.story?coll=la-headlines-west

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush's plan

Well, based on all the talking heads on the news yesterday, it does not seem like Bush has convinced any of the conservatives to change their positions on "border control before anything else." He probably doesn't have the troops or the $'s - but I wonder what would have happened if he had been bold and said he was going to send 20,000 or 25,000 troops - would that have broken the stalemate?

The other thing that was interesting was they said he had originally consider 10,000 troops - then talked to Vincente Fox - and settled on 6,000. Was he really concerned that Fox would say "you are militarizing the border"? Now, I can believe he was concerned that Latino voters would feel that way.

After the speech, Larry King had a group of people - including Edward James Olmos and the guy who founded the Minute Men - and BOTH said "this immigration won't stop until these people have jobs in Mexico."