2006 - %3, July

There's no place like home, especially if it's Kansas

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 7:21 PM EDT

Almost every time I read a piece of news Pam Spaulding has dug up, my mouth, as the song goes, drops open like a country pond. Posting at Pandagon, Pam tells about a 12-year-old Kansas boy who visited the Oz Museum and bought a souvenir, a rainbow-colored flag. "Over the Rainbow" is, of course, from the film, The Wizard of Oz. Judy Garland is said to have once remarked to a woman in a nightclub ladies' room, "Lady, I've got rainbows up my ass," a sentiment that is being felt in Meade, Kansas right now, for all the wrong reasons.

The boy's father, J.R. Knight, who owns the Lakeway Hotel, a bed and breakfast, in Meade, hung the flag on the outside his b&b, next to the American flag. Everything went fine until the local newspaper reported that a gay flag was hanging outside the Lakeway.

The first problem with this tale is that the local people did not know that there was such a thing as a rainbow flag until they read about it in the newspaper. So much for diversity education. But once they found out about it, they got busy running their mouths off, and how.

It turns out that the newspaper reporter didn't bother to call Knight and ask him about the flag. So much for journalism. The local radio station called him, though, to tell him it was removing the hotel restaurant's commercial spots if the flag didn't come down. A local pastor told him that what he had done was equivalent to hanging a pair of women's panties on a flag pole, which just goes to show you, these people are thinking about sex a lot. Another man said: "To me it's just like running up a Nazi flag in a Jewish neighborhood. I can't walk into that establishment with that flag flying because to me that's saying that I support what the flag stands for and I don't." Right--because we all know there are no gay or bisexual people or people who support them in Kansas. And certainly not in Meade.

Knight says that he is glad for the flag to be seen as a gay pride symbol or anything else.

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Civil War in Iraq? Don't Ask Rumsfeld

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 6:47 PM EDT

Well, okay. In the post below I noted that it appeared that it's perhaps begun to dawn on the Bush administration that there's actually a very serious sectarian civil war going on in Iraq. Maybe I should take that back. Here was Donald Rumsfeld yesterday:

Q: Is the country closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different. There is -- there is a good deal of violence in Baghdad and two or three other provinces, and yet in 14 other provinces there's very little violence or numbers of incidents.

So it's a -- it's a highly concentrated thing. It clearly is being stimulated by people who would like to have what could be characterized as a civil war and win it, but I'm not going to be the one to decide if, when or at all.This is disgraceful. Obviously a civil war in Iraq won't look like the 19th-century American Civil War, with armies lining up on both sides with rifles and bayonets and cannons. Thanks for the clarification. But 14,000 Iraqis have died this year already due to violence, much of it sectarian. If Rumsfeld doesn't want to call it a "civil war"—although that's what many prominent Iraqis are calling it—he could at least acknowledge the problem. But no, instead we hear that the violence is "limited" to "Baghdad and two or three other provinces"? Okay, but over a fifth of the population lives in Baghdad. It's a huge problem. And the Secretary of Defense appears completely oblivious.

Meanwhile, the newest "new" plan to secure Baghdad looks a lot like the previous "new" plan to secure Baghdad. So that should inspire confidence.

Has Bush Acknowledged the Civil War in Iraq?

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 6:25 PM EDT

Dan Froomkin observes today that the Bush administration has finally realized that there's a very bloody and very frightening civil war going on in Iraq, and that U.S. troops need to change their strategy:

[I]t's a historic admission: That job one for many American troops in Iraq is no longer fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, or even insurgents. Rather, it is trying to quell an incipient -- if not already raging -- sectarian civil war, with Baghdad as ground zero.

Arguably, that's been the case for quite a while. But having the White House own up to it is a very big deal.No, kidding. The thing is: Can American troops actually "quell" the civil war? Can they stop Sunnis from killing Shiites and Shiites from killing Sunnis and all the rest? Is that even possible? They haven't been able to so far. At this point, it's looking more and more like 130,000 U.S. soldiers are going to be stuck in the middle of a bloodbath they're powerless to stop.

Indeed, yesterday, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of a major Shiite party, called on Shiite citizens to start attacking Sunnis. The entire country is rapidly disintegrating, and if U.S. troops can't do anything about it, then keeping them in Iraq serves no purpose except putting them in extremely grave danger.

Americans Not Pleased With Bush's Stem Cell Veto

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 3:51 PM EDT

In a USA Today/Gallup Poll taken two days after Bush vetoed HR 810, a bill that would have opened up federal funding for embryonic stemcell research, the President's approval rating dropped to 37 percent (down 3 points from two weeks earlier).

It also found that just 36 percent agreed with Bush's decision to veto the bill, while 58 percent disapproved.

Confronted with these numbers, White House Deputy Press Secretary Ken Lisaius yesterday responded thusly:

"The president does not make policy decisions based on polling numbers. ... He vetoed the legislation because it would provide federal tax dollars to fund the present and future destruction of human life for research."

A third of those polled said Bush vetoed the bill for for political gain, by the way. But what of the inestimable gain to those suffering from diseases that stem cell research has the potential to mitigate or cure? Bush's decision limits stem cell research to only the 22 lines in existence before Bush's ban five years ago. To put this in perspective, just 3 percent of the half million embryos currently in storage could create up to 275 new lines, keeping research labs busy for decades to come.

Several states have taken matters into their own hands — Maryland, Massachusetts and Connecticut have all allocated funds. However, New Jersey and Illinois are currently the only states doing actual research on new embryonic stem cell lines. In California, where voters approved $3 billion in 2004 for funding of ESCR, not a penny has gone to research -- thanks to James Dobson's Focus on the Family, an affiliate of which has the state locked in a court battle. Last year, Dobson likened embryonic stem cell research to Nazi eugenics experiments conducted on live humans.

Bush Administration's "Lethal Mistakes" at the Heart of the Middle East Crisis

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 3:24 PM EDT

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian lays the blame for the current "mess" in the Middle East squarely at the feet of the Bush administration.

...It's fashionable to blame the US for all the world's ills, but in this case the sins, both of omission and commission, of the Bush administration genuinely belong at the heart of the trouble.

Diplomacy has had a difficult task from the start, in part because the US is not seen as an honest broker, but as too closely aligned with Israel. Washington has long been pro-Israel, but under President Clinton and the first President Bush there was an effort to be seen as a plausible mediator. Not under George W. Far from keeping lines of communication open with Hizbullah's two key patrons - Syria and Iran - they have been cast into outer darkness, branded as spokes, or satellites, of the axis of evil. As a result there has been no mechanism to restrain Hizbullah. Now, when the US needs Syria's help, it may be too late. Damascus will extract a high price, no doubt demanding the right to re-enter, in some form, Lebanon. The White House can't grant that - not when it considers Syria's ejection from Lebanon in 2005 one of its few foreign-policy successes.

But the record of failure goes deeper than that. It began in the president's first week, when Bush decided he would not repeat what he perceived as his predecessor's mistake by allowing his presidency to be mired in the fruitless search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Even though Clinton had got tantalisingly close, Bush decided to drop it. While Henry Kissinger once racked up 24,230 miles in just 34 days of shuttle diplomacy, Bush's envoys have been sparing in their visits to the region.

The result is that the core conflict has been allowed to fester. Had it been solved, or even if there had been a serious effort to solve it, the current crisis would have been unimaginable. Instead, Bush's animating idea has been that the peoples of the Middle East can be bombed into democracy and terrorised into moderation. It has proved one of the great lethal mistakes of his abominable presidency - and the peoples of Israel and Lebanon are paying the price.

Read the full article here.

Cow-Killing Heat

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 2:02 PM EDT

California's record heat isn't only killing people, as Clara notes; it's also doing a number on livestock. Cows are dying by the dozens - so many, in fact, that local rendering plants can't even keep up, leaving carcasses rotting in farmers' fields. That'll make for a nice visual in the sequel to "An Inconvenient Truth".

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In Beirut: Baby Carrots a Little Spongy

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 1:34 PM EDT

carrot.jpeg

I get it that when peoples fight each other part of what they're often fighting for -- in addition to basic survival, dignity, justice, territory etc. -- is the opportunity, eventually, to prosper, partaking of the finer things in life. And that when a grand and cosmopolitan city like Beirut gets pulverized from a great height, bourgeois amenities will be among the casualties. But the first paragraph in this otherwise pretty good Beirut dispatch from the Washington Post had me squirming.

The baby carrots at Beirut's tony Duo Café restaurant were a little spongy. But the sauce normande was right on the beam and the loup de mer tasted reasonably briny against an astringent rosé from Chateau Kefraya.

The waiter asks if fruit salad will do for dessert, "since Duo's more elaborate creations were not available in these trying times." And the writer later reports the breath-stopping arrival at Duo of "a lithe woman with stylishly unkempt hair, her tank top revealing a lot of gloriously tanned skin, [who] used Arabic, French and English in a single sentence to greet a friend who had arrived for lunch." Yes, Beirut is a sophisticated city. Life goes on there, as it must, people making the best of a dreadful situation. But...I'm still squirming. Is that wrong?

Israeli Bombing Results in Massive Lebanon Oil Spill

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 1:00 PM EDT

It looks like an eco-nightmare is taking place on the beaches of Lebanon. Reports coming in say beaches are being clogged with oil because five out of six oil tanks at the electricity plant in Jiyeh were destroyed by Israeli bombs.

The Lebanese Embassy in Washington confirmed the spill. Marwan Francis, second secretary, told Mother Jones, "It is definitely the worst oil spill we [Lebanon] have ever faced.''

One report says 15,000 tons of fuel oil is spreading into the water and along the coasts. The spill has spread along the northern coasts for some 100 kilometers from the electric plant, according to an email from the Tayyar Organization, a political party. The Lebanese government can't control the spill. Many Lebanese live along the coast which has numerous resorts. Story (in Arabic) here.

Big Dig safety manager warned contractor that tunnel ceiling would not hold

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 12:42 PM EDT

In 1999, a Big Dig highway tunnel on-site safety manager, John Keaveney, wrote a two-page memo to a senior project manager for Big Dig contractor Modern Continental Construction Co. In the memo, Keaveney said that he could not "comprehend how this structure can withhold the test of time."

Should any innocent state worker or member of the public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect mentally and emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality project.

Keaveney was then told by both the contractor and Big Dig project manager Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff that the system had been adequately tested and would hold up. A woman was recently killed when concrete fell from the tunnel ceiling and crushed her. Keaveney's specific warning--that the bolts could not hold the ceiling panels--proved to be true.

Bolts in the ceiling were inserted with epoxy, which caused Keaveney to doubt whether the ceiling would hold together. He also expressed doubts that--once the state took control of the project--there would be adequate vigilance. The state of Massachusetts, he wrote in his memo, had "a record of poor maintenance."

Out of the Frying Pan and into the Car

| Wed Jul. 26, 2006 11:51 AM EDT

Jim Norman of the New York Times has written a nice article about his own campaign to go green by converting a used diesel Jetta to run on vegetable oil. The piece covers the costs of converting, the hassles, which seem pretty minimal, and the head-in-the-sand attitude of the federal government, noting that "the Environmental Protection Agency recently issued a statement stating flatly that using vegetable oil as fuel is a violation of the Clean Air Act and that modifying a car for vegetable oil subjects the owner to a $2,750 fine."

What we need is for the government and car companies to figure out if large-scale production of veggie cars would help our environment and dependency on oil, foreign and otherwise, or whether if the mass amounts of soy needed would, in the end, rely on mass application of petroleum-based fertilizers, and whether the grease emissions, though they might be free of sulfur and low on carbon dioxide, would contain unacceptable particulate matter.

As it stands now the leading proponent of biodiesel is Willie Nelson, and what with his touring schedule, he can only do so much.

Norman's piece ends up noting that Rudolf Diesel originally intended his engine to run on vegetable oil, saying in 1912 that: "The use of vegetable oils for engine fuels may seem insignificant today. But such oils may become in the course of time as important as the petroleum and coal tar products of the present time."