Friday, March 31, 2006

Write your Representative: Save New Orleans, Fund the Levee Repairs

This is a link to help to make it easy for you to write your

Please urge them to fund levee repairs, and to concentrate their efforts in a concerted application of thought, energy, and action, to rebuild New Orleans sensibly. It's time for them to think, speak, and act. Save the city.

Help New Orleans

Our government is trying to underfund the rebuilding of New Orleans' levees. I had written to my congresswoman and senators to encourage them not only to rebuild the levees, but to refurbish Louisiana's coastal wetlands, which acted as a natural hurricane break until they began to be destroyed. Now, not only are the wetlands a sacrifice (too Environmentally Squishy, I guess), but the administration says $10 billion is too much to spend here. If we can spend $80 billion for Iraq, we can spend $10 billion to save one of our own cities. Please, even if you don't usually do this, write your senators and congressmen or -women, and the White House, and respectfully tell them we want New Orleans protected. There isn't much time; there will be more hurricanes within only a few months. These are our people. They need our help. Save the city.

Monday, March 27, 2006

China and Taiwan

The Economist's latest number includes a survey on China. The Economist is a fine paper, so they must have meant the following sentence sardonically:

"Its secretive armed forces are reaching out to other countries by staging joint manoeuvres (though not yet with the Americans or the Japanese)..."

I would have written: "...though, significantly, not with the Americans or the Japanese." If they didn't mean it to be tongue-in-cheek, then not "yet?" Considering that the most likely eventual targets of Chinese weapons are likely to be India, Taiwan, and/or Japan, all three allies of America, I should think Not Soon. China have been conducting war games with Russia. They have also encouraged (also by the Economist's report) demonstrations against Taiwan and Japan both.

Apparently, Taiwan's Chiang Kai-shek had also made plans during the '60s to invade the mainland:

And this alarming report by mentions that China is overtaking Taiwan militarily:

The article states that China "has laid an 'advantageous' foundation for invading the island, according to a [Taiwanese] Ministry of National Defense (MND) report released Monday," and that according to Taiwanese Director Liang Kung-kai of the MND's Department of Strategic Planning, "the greatest menace China poses to Taiwan is a possible 'blitzkrieg attack' involving tactical and cruise missiles targeted at Taiwan's political, economic and military installations."

"China has deployed more than 800 tactical and cruise missiles targeting Taiwan and is developing more than 10 guided missiles and two surface-to-air cruise missiles, [Liang] noted.

Another threat to Taiwan is China's submarine fleet which could blockade sea traffic to and from the island, Liang said.

In addition to its 70-odd warships and nearly 80 submarines, China is also carrying out five programs to modernize its underwater fleet which could be used to blockade Taiwan's ports for an extended period of time, according to Liang.

He pointed out that China's air force has more than 400 new-generation fighter jets equipped with long-range and smart missiles that are capable of attacking air space over eastern Taiwan from a distance of 600 nautical miles.

His report was entitled 'The necessity of acquiring P-3C anti-submarine aircraft and submarines and the combat readiness of the ROC armed forces.'"

I think it's clear: with all the dangerous characters on its borders, like Kazakhstan, Pakistan, India, Korea, and Russia (all of which are nuclear-armed), China has pointed several hundred missiles at Taiwan. They clearly view Taiwan with extreme tension, still, despite one-step-forward-two-steps-back overtures toward reaching an accommodation with them.

Consider this, too: why so many submarines, for a nation that has never ranged far from its own shores? Why are they buying so many right now? India, Russia, the Koreas, and Indochina all have seas to patrol, but I strongly believe that most of those subs are pointed straight at Taiwan.

Got a smile, too, at the Economist's take on President Hu and Prime Minister Wen, who "appear far more concerned with maintaining stability than with the long-term challenge of moving to a more pluralist system," as if this censorial government has any intention of allowing a vigorous opposition party or parties to take shape.

Predictions and Parallels

This was once one post with the other Taiwan post today, but it was long, so I've split them into two:

I predict:

1. By 2010, China will be at war with Taiwan.

2. China will take special care to guard its relations with Iran. If the US goes into Iran before then, then China might not raise a huge fuss over it, but if we don't, then China will guard Iran as an important ally (oilfield) once their war begins.

3. Taiwan will call in the US, which made promises to help, all during the Cold War. However, by then, the US military will be exhausted because of the Iraq War, and any other conflagrations that occur betweentime. We will not be able to effectively put boots on the ground, though we will be able to send the Air Force.

4. China's practice of sending spies into the US by the dozen, which the US has been unable to curb, will have allowed China to scout out our industry and military (see articles in the Guardian,, re: Chinese spying).

5. India, the Koreas, and Japan may be drawn in.

The parallels with World War I:

1. A conservative empire (China today, Austria-Hungary in 1914) sees itself as taking a police action to rein in a renegade province, which it considers legally to belong to the empire, though the legality of the ownership is contested by the people of the province (Taiwan today, Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1914) itself.

2. A rival nation, equally large and strong, but equally aging (The USA in our day, Czarist Russia in 1914), is called upon by the people of the province to protect the like-minded freedom fighters there (Taiwan's fellow democracy now, Bosnia's fellow Slavs then).

3. The two large, very conservative empires are thus drawn into a war which neither of them wants, because of commitments of force in a confusing, unresolved issue of self-government vs. government by one of the empires.

4. Other allies are eventually drawn in, and by the end of the war, the original players, who seemed most important to begin with, are either tottering (modern China, 1918 Austria) or supplanted entirely as they were too exhausted from previous fighting (from the unnecessary Iraq War, and the necessary Afghan War, for today's US; or the Japanese war of 1905, for World War I Russia) to have begun a World War.

My friend Brainhell feels that it'll be over by Christmas of the year it's begun, because of our superior air technology. China's jets, though, are new too. Pray that I'm wrong. I certainly am.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Use the link now, as it'll be invalid in 3 weeks or so--love Tom Toles.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Well, here:

John Bolton is rattling sabres against Iran. This is inevitable, because Iran has definitely been intent on destabilizing Iraq (as others have suggested, their worst nightmare was that Iraq's democracy would bloom perfectly after the US invasion, thus freeing the US to say, "great! Who's next?"). I wonder if we're going in.

The president has also included North Korea in his recent list of despotates to watch, along with Iran, Syria, Cuba, Belarus, and a few others. I continue to be alarmed at the casual way in which we toss slaps at North Korea. It's like showing up at a paranoid schizophrenic's house with a film camera and a swat team. The paranoid is the one with the problem, but mind how you provoke him. North Korea continues to strike me as a very dangerous country. Their economy is in tatters, and their military hardware is supposedly largely obsolete, but there is damage they can do to us. I'm not saying we shouldn't be confident diplomatically, but we don't seem to handle them with the care we should. They are radioactive, after all.


Just reading about the Ukraine in National Geographic today, and snickering at the butt-awful Soviet apartment blocks that we rightly feared, and which made such effective advertisements for the West during the Cold War. Those, with pictures of smoking and vodka-drinking proletarians, some salt-of-the-earth and some scary, mostly living lives of close-to-the-bone desperation; and pictures of peasants pulling ploughs (no animals, the husband pulling and the wife pushing), in such magnificently green, wild countryside that you almost imagine it makes it worth it.

Made me think of the trip to the Czech Republic, which had the same buttplug-ugly newer Soviet-era buildings, against the gorgeous, sublime, evocative, lyrical and majestic edifices of the 900 years preceding the Communist interlude, and the same wild countryside, refreshing yet almost frighteningly stark despite the green, as you realize the income disparity between eastern/central and western Europe. Would love to go back to that beautiful country, and especially to Prague.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Tubes Project

This incredible band is now the subject of a film documentary, by their ex-synth player, genius Michael Cotten. Where the great Vince Welnick took the piano part of the keyboard tandem in the early days of the band, Michael Cotten devised all the delightfully squiggly, squirmy sorts of sounds that were a Tubes signature. In addition to the similar squiggly sounds Roger Steen's guitar used to make, these sounds always pleased me, because they evoked the image of toothpaste squirting out of a tube. Or... (well, it was the Tubes, after all)

Michael Cotten is taking us on a trip through the early, hazy, crazy days of this musically masterful, theatrical, dynamic band, from back when music was fucking Exciting. The Tubes, of course, still blow audiences out to this day. Much respect to everyone who's ever been in that band. Look forward to it, look for it, coming soon--come now!

Monday, March 06, 2006


There are people who should not attempt to whoop.

One such person is to be found whooping on the acoustic version of Eric Clapton's "Layla" (another song that WE'VE HEARD ENOUGH OF, ALREADY). I think it's at the first chorus, the first time he sings "Layla--" (Whoo!) "--you got me on my knees Layla." It's bad. It's a bad whoop. Actually, less a "Whoo!" than a "Whaow!" All his life, that poor fellow must hear himself whooping a bad whoop.

This shame was not necessary: while he was standing on line, waiting to get in, he should have tried out the whoop. Then he would have realized that he's one of those people who just shouldn't whoop. I am one of those people. It could have been me.

Oscar Almosts

Well, much-remarked-upon was Jennifer Garner's daring almost-dive, which if it had come to "fruition" would have caused the biggest Oscar uproar since David Niven's unannounced gentleman-not-in-waiting.

Unremarked upon, I hope, by anyone but me, was another close shave by the lady producer of "Crash"--upon receiving her Oscar, she called it the "motht--most breathtaking" moment of her life, or words to that effect. I don't remember the exact quote after "motht--most breathtaking," because I was concentrating on the fact that, if she hadn't caught the spoonerism, she would have said "motht breast-taking."

That is all.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More Americans Know the Simpsons than the Constitution

More Americans can name all the Simpsons than all the five freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution (freedom of speech, religion, peaceful assembly, the press, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances; the first two, we still have; the right to peaceably assemble is now contravened by riot police, when the subject of the peaceful assembly is not to the authorities' liking; the press is partially free, but mostly beholden to powerful, rich corporations; and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, well... I guess we can still petition, but I think the idea was that something should be done about it.)

My favorite bit was that 20% of Americans thought that the right to own a pet was enshrined in the Constitution.


D’oh! More know Simpsons than Constitution

Study: America more familiar with cartoon family than First Amendment

Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment, but more than half can name at least two family members of "The Simpsons" (... Lisa, Marge, Maggie, Homer and Bart).

Fox via AP file

Updated: 1:22 a.m. ET March 1, 2006
CHICAGO - Americans apparently know more about “The Simpsons” than they do about the First Amendment.

Only one in four Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment.

But more than half can name at least two members of the cartoon family, according to a survey.

The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just one in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.

Joe Madeira, director of exhibitions at the museum, said he was surprised by the results.

“Part of the survey really shows there are misconceptions, and part of our mission is to clear up these misconceptions,” said Madeira, whose museum will be dedicated to helping visitors understand the First Amendment when it opens in April. “It means we have our job cut out for us.”

The survey found more people could name the three “American Idol” judges than identify three First Amendment rights. They were also more likely to remember popular advertising slogans.

It also showed that people misidentified First Amendment rights. About one in five people thought the right to own a pet was protected, and 38 percent said they believed the right against self-incrimination contained in the Fifth Amendment was a First Amendment right, the survey found.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults was conducted Jan. 20-22 by the research firm Synovate and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.


Editor's note: The five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment are freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.