January 10, 2006
Chuck Schumer at his fundraising best
From the transcript of today's Supreme Court nomination hearing:
Just to be clear, I have always supported Rowe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose, but that doesn't stop me from thinking Sen. Schumer is a tiresome blowhard who uses Judiciary Committee hearings almost exclusively as opportunity to preach to the choir and line his campaign war chest. [Unless he has a cognitive disorder.-ed. Well, that's always a possibility.]
A Saudi Profesor of Islamic Law has things to say about Christians on Saudi TV
"Sharon steps away from the precipice..."
... according to the Jerusalem Post. He's being stimulated by Mozart and shwarma - but they didn't say in which order.
Will She or Won't She?
According to the AP, Iran just did what most of us assumed she would all along:
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran plans to enrich uranium as part of its experiments with the nuclear fuel cycle. An IAEA statement issued in Vienna, Austria, said Iran told the agency the scale of its enrichment work would be limited.
U.S. officials denounced Iran's move, calling it a step toward creating material for nuclear bombs.
"If the regime in Iran continues on the current course and fails to abide by its international obligations, there is no other choice but to refer the matter to the Security Council," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
The U.N. council could impose sanctions on Tehran.
Or it won't. I could be my usual wiseacre self and say "Anybody taking bets?" But this is indeed going to be an interesting moment in United Nations history. Hiding will not be as easy as is normally the case - or necessarily as productive. Some of the key parties (Europe) have very conflicting INTERESTS - oil vs. their lives.
First the bad news, then the good news
From Timesonline: "Israeli burglars stay home to follow Sharon news" - Burglaries, car thefts and other crimes have more than halved since Israelis began gluing themselves to television sets for news on the health of Ariel Sharon, their ailing Prime Minister.
Talk about political clout!
Hath Thou Considered They Servant (Steve) Job(s)?
Macworld is about to begin.
CNET has live updates for the obsessed. [You talkin' to me?-ed.]
Send this man to Iraq!
He promised to bring his pajamas.
Sharon moving to the center
Yesterday, he moved his right hand, today he moved his left.
Q & A on Iranian nukes
Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor of The Times, has a simple Q & A on the Iranian nuclear situation as it stands today.
January 09, 2006
Back in August 2004 NetworkWorld wrote: The International Olympic Committee has barred athletes, coaches and nearly everyone associated with a team from writing about their experiences for a newspaper or Web site - blogs included.
Pajamas Media would like to know if anything has changed. We would like to offer a blogging platform to Olympic athletes to give internet readers an inside view of the Winter Games. Something like this might not be the full story. The athletes deserve the right to express their own views.
Now Russia ... now China ... on Donner, on Blitzen...
From the NYT: Defying its European partners and the United States, Iran plans to reopen its vast uranium-enrichment complex to resume sensitive nuclear activities that it suspended 14 months ago, officials involved in negotiations with Iran said today.
Iran told the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency last week that it was planning to restart nuclear research and development, without specifying what type of activities it would resume or where.
But in messages and letters to the agency in recent days, Iran said it planned to reopen the enrichment facility, in Natanz in central Iran, and perhaps an unspecified number of less sensitive sites, said the officials, who were granted anonymity because they lack authorization to discuss the matter for attribution.
The Iranian move came in defiance of unusual separate messages, similarly worded, that were delivered to the Tehran government over the weekend by Russia and China as well as the United States, Britain and France. The messages warned Iran not to embark on further uranium activities.
Britain, France and the United States tried to have one joint declaration submitted to Iran by the five countries, but China, not wanting such a move to look like an attempt to gang up on Tehran, insisted that five separate messages be delivered, all saying much the same thing.
Okay, les jeux sont faits... But what next? What fascinates me about the Mullahs is how open they are about their nuclear ambitions. Well, open to a point: The construction of the Natanz site was kept secret from the atomic energy agency and was only confirmed by its inspectors in February 2003. The inspectors found preparations for more than 50,000 centrifuges - tall, thin machines that spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium so that it can be used in nuclear reactors.
Various people online have accused me of being a "chickenhawk" and I usually pooh-pooh them (don't even respond). Hey, I was a pretty short-tempered dude on the schoolyard and ready to mix it up at the drop of the hat. But it's been more than a few decades since I've been in a school and, I have to admit, the news from Iran is starting to freak me out. I was always fairly cold about Bin Laden & Co. I got what they were about and was pretty certain we were going about snuffing them out in more or less the right way, with the usual screw-ups (still am). But Ahmadinejad & Co. are genuinely starting to get me nervous. These psychos could actually kill a lot of people (way beyond 9/11 levels). Even Mohammed ElBaradei is starting to get nervous:
The sticking point appears to be Iran's indecision about whether to merely test its equipment or go further and conduct experiments with nuclear fuel, which the international agency's director, Mohamed ElBaradei, called "a red line for the international community" in an interview today with the BBC.
Is he a "chickenhawk"? I don't know. But I'm not so sure I agree with the Timesonline that "Putin could put a stop to Tehran's game." I think it's going to take a bit more than that.
Big News in Argentina
Allison Kaplan Sommer speaks out for Jewish mothers.
Ledeen buries the lede
It takes Brother Michael two relatively lengthy paragraphs of his new NRO piece "One Moment in Time" to get to this: And, according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Iranians who reported this note that this year's message in conjunction with the Muslim Haj came from his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for the first time.
Of course, we've all heard this song before. But one day it's going to be true, right? Why not now?
Back to the Eighties at the LA Auto Show
Taking Madeleine with me, I braved the crowds on Sunday for opening day of the LA Auto Show. I knew something was up when I saw parking in one of the lots was a record (to me) $30! (I managed to snark a discount spot for $20.) Inside, I had been expecting a lot of displays of new environmentally-friendly cars, hybrids, etc. (My neighborhood is full of Priuses which my friend David calls "Sanctimonies.") There was some of that, but basically this auto show seemed to be a celebration of two hundred thousand dollar batmobiles of the Ferrari, Lamborghini, Spyder stripe as if everyone in the city were a zillionaire eighteen-year old. Well, we can dream, can't we? I liked the Lotus above and this little Bugatti number to the left, though frankly if I had 200K of disposable income, I don't think I'd blow it on a car.
Why doesn't he stick to his Hummer?
Things like this wouldn't happen.
January 08, 2006
Good news for Ang Lee!
No, I'm not talking about the seven Golden Globe nominations for the director's film "Brokeback Mountain." I'm talking about his good fortune that there is still someone running a theatre in the US in 2006 so troglodytic (yes, there is an adjectival form of troglodyte, I discovered) as to find his movie controversial enough to ban. The Salt Lake Tribune is having fun with the story, as is, I'm sure, Focus Features, the film's distributor, even though their officals claim to be "incensed." [Does Pat Robertson run that theatre?-ed. No, but he's trying to buy it.]
Next Year's Xmas Presents Today
The I/O Brush: The World as the Palette - scroll down for the Quick Time video. (ht: Frank Marder)
It's nervous time...
... as the late Chick Hearn would say... as doctors prepare to awaken Ariel Sharon on Monday. [How can you make a joke at a time like this?-ed. Shows how nervous I am.]
But worried as I am for Sharon, and as much as I admire him, I wonder if he is the indespensable man. I wonder if anyone is, really. History seems to make us, rather than the other way around. Of course, we have to be ready to respond. I hope Ehud Olmert will be. Even though the Prime Minster's chair has now been left open at the Israeli weekly cabinet meeting, I can't believe this is not largely symbolic - yet.
MEANWHILE: This from Amir Taheri: While the al-Jazeera satellite channel was airing the jubilant utterances of radical Arabs over Sharon's stroke, more moderate Arabs appearing on the rival channel al-Arabiyah acknowledged that the Israeli leader had become the Palestinians' "most serious partner for peace".
Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has described Sharon as "a man of peace", echoing his Tunisian counterpart Zin El Abidine Ben Ali's "esteem and admiration" for the Israeli leader. Sharon also has a surprising number of friends in other Arab countries, from Oman to Mauritania, Qatar, Jordan and Morocco. In the wider Muslim world, Sharon has fostered a "working dialogue" with leaders in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with a view to establishing diplomatic ties.
Taheri goes on to say Isreal "should claim its victory" over the Palestinians - that this is the essence of "Sharonism" (Taheri's phrase). Of course the columnist is an (apostate ... or should I say genuinely patriotic?) Iranian, not an Arab. Still, it seems Arab moderates, at least in Taheri's view, are ready to accept this and move on. Definitely worth a read.
January 07, 2006
The Hariri-ing Impaired
According to the AP, Bashar just says no:
Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied that he threatened assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and said in an interview published Saturday that he was "direct and frank" when the two men last met.
Assad also indirectly rejected the latest request from U.N. investigators to interview him about the Hariri assassination, saying he has "international immunity."
"It's not brain surgery!"
... the cliché goes ... but this time it is. José Cohen - a 39-year old Argentinian Jew only recently moved to Israel - was apparently one of the lead surgeons in the multiple brain operations on Israeli PM Ariel Sharon and he is optimistic about the prime minister! Young Dr. Cohen may emerge a great medical hero if his statements prove out. From the JPost:
Asked how he felt with the prime minister's life in his hands, the 39-year-old, Argentinian-born Cohen -- who moved to Israel only four years ago -- told reporters he had never met Sharon before he arrived at the Ein Kerem hospital. "If you give everything as a surgeon and realize that everything depends on you, you feel responsible.
I have seen him respirated in an induced coma, but he is still the prime minister. He is a true fighter. I admire him more every day."
As for how much of his cognitive and motor abilities would remain if Sharon survives, Cohen said it was impossible to predict, as each patient is different and the prognosis depends on what specific parts of the brain have been harmed and how much function can be recovered.
Other sources are less optimistic, but this story isn't over, folks.
I have seen the (Google) future and it works...
... or does it? Well, I'm not sure, but if I were the movie studios, I'd be afraid. I'd be very afraid. Google Video is here. From their "about" section: Our mission is to organize the world's information, and that includes video. Google Video offers viewers a way to see material from archived TV programs, educational videos, personal productions and more.
Like most "mission statements" this is crafted to make a mega-multinational sound like some pleasant global charity, but still it's clear a substantial portion of what Google is doing is revolutionary and positive, at least potentially.
As someone who has spent a fair number of years travailing at the center and at the edges of the film industry, I have seen that industry go into what is essentially a free fall. (Who cares who hosts the Academy Awards this year? In fact who cares about the Awards at all?)
Some of the reasons for that are related to the content, but the system is also moribund. Google is offering a new means of distribution. For what I gather is a thirty percent commission, they will distribute almost anything online. You set your own price. The math is simple, but the numbers are daunting. If you establish a cost of five dollars for your (let's suppose) independent feature film, you need a million downloads to earn back a 3.5 million dollar production budget. On the face of it, that seems a lot, a good business for them, but not for you. But the greatest hinderance to independent film production is distribution. And there will be other markets (although even DVDs already seem to be in decline). Still, as I write this, I sense my own ambivalence. I remain partly skeptical of this brave new world. The technology seems more interesting than the new artistic content it is providing. In a way it is overwhelming it. Some day people will perhaps be bored with the technology and the content will make a comeback. In the short run we may have a renaissance of the short film without much narrative and of inexpensivley made documentaries. As a lover of story-telling, something big is missing for me.
January 06, 2006
Imshin on Sharon
Among the online chatter about Ariel Sharon, Israeli blogger Imshin has some of the best I've seen.
The New Gates-Keeper - Internet Greed is Good
Time Magazine's Person of the Year Bill Gates may be great for charity but he is questionable when it comes to democracy. In depressing news from the AP:
Microsoft Corp. has shut down the Internet journal of a Chinese blogger that discussed politically sensitive issues, including a recent strike at a Beijing newspaper.
The action came amid criticism by free-speech activists of foreign technology companies that help the communist government enforce censorship or silence dissent in order to be allowed into China's market.
The article is referring to the other biggies Google and Yahoo who have also lately been caught putting profit over democratic freedoms and human rights. Yahoo was recently criticized by Reporters Without Borders for supplying information to the Chinese government which led to a journalist being sentenced to ten years in prison. Microsoft has been censoring the word "democracy" from their Chinese blogging software.
The problem we are dealing with is the borderless Internet mega-corporation responsible only to its stockholders (although one wonders what they would think about all this). But the situation is exceptionally tricky. China is bad enough, but consider Iran where bloggers pay an integral part in the struggle for freedom. Would Microsoft draw the line at cooperating with the Mullahs? I hate to say it, but I'm dubious.
NBC, NSA and Amanpour
From CNN: A senior U.S. intelligence official told CNN on Thursday that the National Security Agency did not target CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour or any other CNN journalist for surveillance.
NBC raised the question in an interview with The New York Times reporter James Risen, asking him whether he knew anything about possible surveillance of Amanpour by the NSA. Risen, author of a new book, "State of War: the Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," said he had not heard anything about it.
NBC posted a transcript of the interview on the MSNBC.com Web site Wednesday, then quickly removed the page. In a statement posted on the industry weblog TVNewser, the network said the transcript was "released prematurely," and that reporting would continue.
All things considered, it wouldn't be entirely amazing that the NSA targeted Amanpour, considering the inaccurate things a key CNN executive said about our troops and the network's coddling of dictators to gain access, although it would also be entirely wrong of the NSA to have done it (short of probable cause for espionage, etc.). But the interesting thing here is not just CNN or the NSA but also NBC. Where did this story come from and why was it so quickly withdrawn? Joe Gandleman has more.
Brave New Parental World
Stumbling to my computer this morning, I noticed on Pajamas a report on a cutesy (or not-so-cutesy) German kids' site called Helles Koepfchen. It's hard to say the age category this webpage is aimed at but, judging from the machine translation and my poor German, I'd guess 10, though younger kids could certainly log on and be "entertained and instructed." The site itself informs the kids of such things as Bush is an "unbeloved president of a beloved land" (which, I suppose, went bonkers for a day when electing him by several million votes) and that Austria "don't [machine translation] want Arnie anymore."
This is a form of intellectual/emotional child abuse. When I read it, I immediately thought of those Palestinian four-year olds running around with AKs - only this time it's the mind only that is being corrupted.
Ironically, only last night I loaded Bumpercar 2.0 - a child's browser - onto Sheryl's old iMac which we have given to Madeleine. Our daughter is seven-and-a-half now, reading pretty well and anxious to go online by herself. We set up Bumpercar together, a lovely father-daughter experience but with, on my part, a slight overtone of trepidation I tried not to let slip out. I was glad (more glad than Madeleine) that Bumpercar is heavily weighted toward educational sites (scientific ones, not progandistic ones), many of which seem quite interesting. You can add sites one-by-one after that, with a parental password. I was pleased Madeleine was rather blasé about my adding Barbie.com, an old favorite. Still, the firt site she clicked on was the Cartoon Network. I would have too, at her age (not that they had it.)
More about the German "kiddie" site at Davids Medienkritik.
January 05, 2006
Grim news from Jerusalem
According to Haaretz, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has probably suffered irreversible brain damage that would preclude his ever resuming office, Sharon's doctors acknowledged Thursday night. There's llittle more depressing than those three words with the initials i. b. d.
Meanwhile, the NYT has an editorial tomorrow that is suprisingly (and hearteningly) generous to Sharon, a man toward whom they were often unkind. It concludes:
It is possible that Kadima, with Mr. Sharon's deputy, Ehud Olmert, likely to be at the helm, can cast itself as a new centrist alternative to Labor and Likud. But Mr. Olmert, while a respected politician who helped formulate the Sharon doctrine of unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, has neither the stature nor the popularity of Ariel Sharon. So while Mr. Sharon would probably have been able to carry Israel on the back of his own charisma and appeal, Mr. Olmert is likely to have to rely instead on the appeal of Kadima's vision.
That vision cannot be one that relies solely on unilateral separation. For a centrist way to work, there has to be a vision that also encompasses the steps necessary to eventually end the seemingly never-ending conflict with the Palestinians, including a complete enough withdrawal from the West Bank to give the Palestinians a workable state. It would secure Mr. Sharon's place in history if the centrist party he founded somehow managed to turn his vision of separation into one of a just and lasting peace.
I'm rooting for Olmert and Kadima and the legacy of Sharon. I can't see how it's possible not to.
There's nothing sadder (or better) in the cinema than a DeSica movie
I have just linked over at Pajamas what I think is one of the more interesting - and, alas, depressing - blog posts I have read in a while: Do We Now Return to the Garden of the Finzi-Continis? from our esteemed ShrinkWrapped. The doctor is worried that, with the departure of Ariel Sharon, we (and when I say "we" I don't mean just Jews) may be be headed "back to the future," or should I say "future to the back"?, to the horrendous decades of the Thirties and Forties. The spectre on the horizon in all this is, of course, the Iran of the maniac Ahmadinejad, not to mention our friends in Al Qaeda said to be infiltrating Gaza with alacrity. As ShrinkWrapped puts it:
I have written before (in "Good Muslims" and "Good Germans" and again, in A Ticking Clock) that in our war on Islamic fascism, we are in the late 1930's. We can stop Hitler/al Qaeda/Islamic fascism/Iran now at some indeterminate, possibly terrible cost, or stop them later, at horrific cost.
Of course, the CW is that these people cannot possibly touch us. After all, we are so well-armed, so modern. And they are so primitive, so Third World. What a racist conception that is.
Pat Robertson just jumped the shark ...
Make that a hundred sharks. He told viewers of his "700 Club" that: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke could be God's punishment for giving up Israeli territory. He also said: Sharon was "dividing God's land," even though the Bible says doing so invites "God's enmity."
Robertson added, "I would say woe to any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course."
Meanwhile, from the world of the sane...The blood thinner given to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after his mini-stroke in December may have backfired. In Sharon's case, the medication might have contributed to the massive stroke he suffered on Wednesday, in what experts say is a classic illustration of this seeming paradox in stroke treatment.
Ariel Sharon - My Own Encounter
I have been to Israel several times and I am not sure when it was exactly that I encountered Ariel Sharon, although it was roughly in the mid-eighties. I do remember I despised the man in those days. Now, ironically, I think of all world figures I admire him most. Some of this has to do with my change, but not all. The image of the warrior morphed into the peace maker is something deeply moving to most people.
Anyway, I was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, I don't remember who was with me, when I came to a house deep in the Arab Quarter surrounded by Israeli soldiers. This, I was told, was Sharon's house. (As I recall, maybe I had even asked my guide to show me the place.) How awful General Sharon had pushed his way among the Arabs, I remember thinking - or something like that, when the soldiers started walking towards me and I realized the man himself was emerging from the building, flanked by more troops. They came walking briskly past me in the informal IDF manner (Sharon was in a short sleeve shirt - already a rather husky fellow) and then they were gone in a crowd of Arabs. I thought about that moment over the years, meaningless as it was, as my image of Sharon changed.
And speaking of irony, even the European image of Arik has undergone a sea change. From the AP, dateline Paris:
European leaders on Thursday fretted over the fate of Ariel Sharon, a man once seen in Europe as a danger for the Middle East but now viewed as a more complex, even crucial figure.
The concerns reflect a subtle shift in Europe - where there has been surprised admiration for Sharon's dismantling of settlements, satisfaction with the role now played by Europeans on the Gaza-Egypt border, and a growing wariness with the Islamic world.
Latest medical reports here.
More from Soxblog.
Olmert convenes a meeting
Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is trying to show that his country is not facing a power vacuum, according to Ynetnews. Replacing Ariel Sharon will not be simple. Olmert deserves some space and I think will get some.
January 04, 2006
The French Social Model is a new photo-blog with candid shots showing us a view of that country quite different from the travel posters.
Bad news - Sharon in 'significant stroke'
Sharon reportedly alive after six hours of surgery!... But the surgery is continuing, alas.
IMPORTANT: Statement on Sharon's condition be released 6:45AM Israel time.
Ariel Sharon, a man I have come to admire greatly, has suffered a 'significant stroke' according to doctors at Hadassah University Hospital.
UPDATE: Haaretz (probably the best place to follow this) is now reporting Sharon in serious condition with paralysis in lower body. Operation imminent.
From the AP: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon suffered a cerebral hemorrhage Wednesday and was receiving breathing assistance while under general anesthetic, a hospital official said. Power was transferred to his deputy.
He's in surgery.
Sky News is reporting 'political sources' saying Sharon might not recover.
UPDATE: The extraodinary poltical power of Arik Sharon is underscored in this article by Yossi Verter:
Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu and Labor Chairman Amir Peretz, who until Wednesday night weren't viable candidates for the premiership, became just that overnight. The third candidate, who will be chosen as chairman of Kadima (Olmert looks like he has the best chances) will need to try to recreate Sharon's success.
This will be an extremely difficult task, because there hasn't been an experienced, seasoned and talented politician for a long time now among leaders such as the ones we're left with - not like Ariel Sharon. (via Vital Perspectives)
New format at Pajamas Media
Today we are starting a more blog-like format on Pajamas Media (designed to keep more content scrolling down the homepage). Look for more changes in the weeks to come as we evolve this.
I don't usually agree with Howard Fineman, but I do here - the Abramoff scandal (with its big numbers) is bad news for the Republicans (and for politicians in general). If you haven't already seen it, Gaypatriot has a very good poast.
Going to sleep and waking up....
As many of us did on the West Coast, I went to sleep with a smile of relief on my face for the families of the supposedly-saved West Virginia miners and awoke to found nearly all of them dead. Is there a moral to this tragic story? I don't know. That we should always be suspicious of what we see and hear? But we knew that, didn't we? We all grieve for those families and the missing men.
January 03, 2006
Et tu, Nancita?
From the AP:
Congressional intelligence committees had at least a hint in October 2001 that the National Security Agency was expanding its surveillance activities after the 9/11 attacks, according to a letter released Tuesday by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The California Democrat had raised questions to Gen. Michael Hayden, then the NSA director, about the legal authority to conduct the eavesdropping work.
In the October 2001 letter, Pelosi said she was told in a briefing that month that the agency "had been operating since the Sept. 11 attacks with an expansive view" of its authorities "to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations and guidelines."
The subsequent crucial sentences of the letter, released Tuesday, were blocked out for security reasons.
Key parts of Pelosi's letter were also withheld. For instance, one sentence indicates that the NSA was forwarding intercepts and other undisclosed information to the FBI without first getting a request.
And Nancy let this happen? I'm shocked. Next thing we know we'll find out she had even heard of the Echelon program. What will Moveon.org say? Perhaps they'll have to disown her.
No more beluga!
From the Guardian - Ban on trade in wild caviar as sturgeon stocks plunge
Chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as the growing involvement of the Russian mafia and pollution, have been blamed for a massive rise in poaching and a precipitous decline in stocks. Numbers in the Caspian Sea are thought to have fallen 90% in 30 years and slightly less in the Black Sea and major rivers. The fish are also found in smaller quantities in Bulgaria, China, Iran, Romania and North America.
I blame Reagan. Without glasnost this never would have happened!
Some kind words about
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wisdom exposing crime and
the movie industry to the respect it deserves and proving that Roger
Simon is better than ever.”
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this sendup of Hollywood greed and bad taste wins the jury prize."
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offers insight into the world of filmmaking that readers will find hilarious."
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First mass market reprint from iBooks, May 2003:
The Lost Coast: