2008 - %3, December

One (Really, Really) Cool Thing About Rick Warren

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 4:04 PM EST

I have serious disagreements with the man, but I respect Rick Warren for living out some values that he shares with me and that he likely shares with many readers of this blog. For example:

He reverse tithes, giving away 90% and keeping 10%.

Of course, when Warren publicly preaches against Prop 8, he's living out values that he doesn't share with me. But that little factoid is still pretty awesome. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't do the same if I made what he makes. That's from the Huffington Post, where you'll find a progressive defense of Warren.

Update: Man, this ruins the mood. Gays "unwilling to repent" are banned from Warren's church.

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The Coldest Town on Earth

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 3:51 PM EST

If you're miserable because your Friday afternoon is gray and frigid, be thankful you don't live in the Siberian town of Oymyakon (map), where -31 Celcius is the sort of day when kids are happy to go out and play. It is, officially, the coldest continuously inhabited place on Earth.

From A Welsh View, via Boing Boing.

*Friday Cat Blogging - 19 December 2008

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 2:53 PM EST

FRIDAY CRITTER BLOGGING....Since we're now living in the post-partisan Obama era, it's time for cats and dogs to live together. So today you get both. On the right we have Kona, my friend M's German Shepherd. (Right? Looks like a German Shepherd to me, anyway. But I'm not all that handy with dog breeds.) I told M I'd introduce Kona to the blogosphere if she sent me a picture, and this popped into my inbox a couple of days later. An impressive critter indeed.

And you get cats too! Inkblot and Domino are taking the week off again because I was over visiting my mother a few days ago and took lots of pictures of her new kittens. On the left is Lily, the shy one, catching some rays on the window sill. On the right are Ditto and Tillamook, curled up together in a little sibling pile of fur. Ditto is the black-and-white one who looks just like Lily (duh), and he's busily grooming a blissed out Tillamook in this picture. A few minutes later I went upstairs to bring down the Christmas tree, and shortly after that both cats were entranced. No breakable ornaments on the tree this year!

Quote of the Day - End of Year Edition

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 2:32 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY — END OF YEAR EDITION....Top 12 conservative insights of the year here, courtesy of Greg Anrig.

Chart of the Day - 12.19.2008

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 1:49 PM EST

CHART OF THE DAY....Via The Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life, here's the makeup of the 111th Congress. Note that the number of Americans who lack affiliation with any church is about 48 million or so. The number of members of Congress who are willing to admit lack of same is: zero one*. Apparently Rick Warren speaks for great big chunks of America when he says, "I could not vote for an atheist."

*Pete Stark came out of the closet earlier this year. Thanks, Rich C!

Lowbrow Poetry Bashing

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 1:21 PM EST

LOWBROW POETRY BASHING....Elizabeth Alexander has been selected to write a poem for Barack Obama's inauguration. In case you're wondering what we're all in for, here's an excerpt from "Autumn Passage":

On the miraculous dying body,
its greens and purples.
On the beauty of hair itself.

On the dazzling toddler:
"Like eggplant," he says,
when you say "Vegetable,"

"Chrysanthemum" to "Flower."
On his grandmother's suffering, larger
than vanished skyscrapers,

September zucchini,
other things too big.

Uh huh. Feel free to rip me several new holes in comments, but this reminds me of nothing so much as this. I sure hope Alexander keeps her inaugural poem short.

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Franken Leads Minnesota Senate Race

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 12:48 PM EST

FRANKEN LEADS MINNESOTA SENATE RACE....The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that, following a state Supreme Court ruling allowing the counting of contested ballots to go forward, Al Franken has opened up a large lead in Minnesota's senate race:

The intense scrutiny of "voter intent" resumed this morning by the five-member board charged with directing Minnesota's recount in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Norm Coleman and Democratic rival Al Franken, and the first 90 minutes of ballot rulings turned the challenger's slight deficit into a growing triple-digit lead.

....On Thursday, the board reviewed Coleman's challenges of hundreds of Election Day ballots, and the day's work saw the unofficial margin between the candidates dwindle to within a handful of votes. Then, as the board took up and rejected more Coleman challenges today, Franken pulled ahead in the opening minutes and steadily built his advantage beyond 150 within the first two hours.

Granted, a couple hundred votes isn't usually considered a "large lead" in a senate race. But in this contest, that's about as large as it gets. Nate Silver projects that Franken's lead will grow to 430 after all the challenged ballots are counted, then shrink to about 40 after withdrawn challenges are processed. Shall we just start calling him "Landslide Al" now?

Good News, Bad News

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 12:33 PM EST

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS....Today brings yet another parting gift from George Bush: several thousand megawatts of new coal-fired power plants. Breathe deep, America. On the brighter side, Joe Romm is pretty excited over the appointment of John Holdren as the president's science advisor:

I have known Holdren for over a decade and have discussed energy/climate issues with him many times. He probably has more combined expertise on both climate science and clean energy technology than any other person who could plausibly have been named science adviser. You can see a video of an excellent talk he gave here (along with talks by Chu and me). For a more recent BBC interview, see "The Climate Quote of the Week."

I would say that if Holdren is named (on Saturday), it is an even stronger signal than the terrific choice of Steven Chu for Energy Secretary that Obama is dead serious about the strongest possible action on global warming....Holdren ain't in the "do something but not enough to avoid catastrophe" crowd.

If Holdren is OK with Joe Romm, he's OK with me. As I said yesterday, I think there's only just so much you can conclude based on appointments by themselves, but so far Obama's picks in the area of science and energy certainly suggest in the strongest possible terms that he plans to take a very serious, very activist approach to global warming.

Bush Administration to Oil and Gas Industry: Merry X-Mas

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 12:04 PM EST

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Here's a last minute reprieve sure to make oil and gas companies scream: the Bush administration's controversial auction of Utah's public lands is going forward as scheduled on Friday, but with a major hitch. Environmentalists mounted a last ditch legal and PR campaign to stop the administration from leasing more than 100,000 acres of land near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon—and on Thursday night they bought themselves a bit more time.

Under terms negotiated by environmental groups, sources tell me, the Bureau of Land Management can hold the auction but can't issue the leases for 30 days. That means the agency can collect the payments, but it can't cash the checks. In the meantime, a federal judge will hear a case filed by environmental groups, which are asking the leases to be invalidated.

Five environmental groups, including the National Resources Defense Council and the Wilderness Society, joined in the suit. Utah's most famous greenie, actor Robert Redford, also entered the fight, calling the Bush administration "morally criminal" for announcing the lease sale on Election Day and bypassing standard courtesies of public participation.

After putting out calls and emails to several sources, asking for comment on Friday's lease sale, I heard back from one irate BLM veteran who said in no uncertain terms that the Interior Department has placed the interests of industry firmly above those of the public. Dennis Willis, a BLM manager in Utah who has worked for the agency for 30 years, told me he plans to retire effective January 2. For this reason, he was especially forthcoming in an email, which is worth excerpting at length:

Yet More Bailout

| Fri Dec. 19, 2008 11:39 AM EST

YET MORE BAILOUT....As expected, President Bush today announced a bailout of Detroit's automakers. But it wasn't the prepackaged bankruptcy option that everyone was talking about yesterday. In fact, it was nearly identical to the congressional deal that collapsed last week but with one big difference:

The loan deal [] requires the companies to quickly reduce their debt by two-thirds, mostly through debt-for-equity swaps, and to reach an agreement with the United Auto Workers union to cut wages and benefits so they are competitive with those of employees of foreign-based automakers working in the United States.

The debt reduction and the cuts in wages were central components of proposal by Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who tried to salvage the bailout legislation.

Those talks had deadlocked on a demand by Republicans that the wage cuts take effect by a set date in 2009, while the union had pressed for a deadline in 2011 after its current contract expires.

The plan announced on Friday by Mr. Bush offered a compromise between those positions, by making the requirements non-binding, allowing the automakers to reach different arrangements with the union, provided that they explain how those alternative plans will keep them on a path toward financial viability.

Republican senators apparently had a chance last week to make binding requirements on the auto unions if they'd only been willing to compromise a bit on the date. But they wouldn't, so instead they supposedly got the date they wanted but only as part of a "non-binding" deal. Sounds like a bad tradeoff to me. They should have taken the binding offer when it was on the table.

UPDATE: More here from Jonathan Cohn.