Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Chicken Hawk No More

I wonder if now that DepSecDef Paul Wolfowitz is a veteran of combat will his critics still keep calling him a Chicken Hawk?

Doubt it.
Who Will Be the First Dem to Go to Baghdad?

Kevin at Boots on the Ground makes an interesting observation from Iraq. How come none of the Democratic presidential candidates have come to Iraq to see for themselves what conditions are like?

If I were John Edwards' campaign manager I'd be arranging a visit to Baghdad right now. It would instantly differentiate one candidate from all the others, establish gravitas, courage, boldness, yada, yada.

It would also be a great photo-op: walking around town with a flak jacket to the crackle of gunfire, wounded women and children begging for an end to the occupation. Hordes of enraged Iraqis shouting "Death to Bush" in unison with occasional Toyota Landcruisers strafing the crowd before crashing through the plate glass windows at the local Cha'que al Cheeze restaurant and detonating in the midst of a children's birthday party.

Holy smokes . . . who wouldn't vote to cut and run after a death defying holiday in hell like that.

I guess the trouble is that the earnest candidate might look silly in the flak jacket in the middle of a bustling and working city. He might also be ignored by the local hot heads. Might even be dissed by the troops he (or she in the case of Carol Measly Brain) so passionately supports. Voters might get the wrong impression that things are under control.

Yeah, scratch that idea. Better to criticize from afar than actually see what's happening on the ground.

My guess is that one of the candidates will do it soon. And I bet it's either Clark or Lieberman. Edwards would be boyishly out of place. Dean would be unwelcome by everyone except the local Fedeyeen. Kerry the war hero is too cautious to put himself in actual danger. And the others so insignificant that they may already be there for all I know.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Death by the Numbers

In this complex world of ours its all too likely that each of us will one day end our lives as a statistic in some colossal database somewhere that will one day be studied by scholars for insights into our ancient civilization.

If this is the way I am to be remembered I can at least feel comfort knowing that opportunities for immortality exist even in this dry quantitative data wasteland.

The Centers for Disease Control spends an inordinate amount of time classifying the many ways people die. Wouldn’t it be great to stand out in the crowd and rather than be one of the hundreds of millions of people who will die of heart disease, be a singularity.

Oh to be one of the lucky few ever to expire because of unspecified cataclysmic earth surface movements and eruptions (E909.9) or battering by grandparent (E967.6) or how about death from unintentional human bite (E928.7) or perhaps suicide by paintball gun (E955.7) or fall from a toilet (E884.6). Death by terrorist depth charge (E979.0) sounds pretty cool. Or what about having the bad luck to be hit by a falling aircraft (E979.1) hit by an anvil while riding a funicular (E806c), die because you knocked yourself out while floating weightless in a spacecraft (E928.0)?

That’s a lot more manly than dying from a mosquito bite (915.4) or a splinter in the buttocks (911.4)

Interestingly, uncontrolled diarrhea is death cause number 007 as though James Bond would ever meet his end that way. I’d have figured he'd go as an E910.1, or an E843, E962.2 or maybe even an E979.5.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Building Toward a Greater Revolution

Herbert Muschamp, the New York Times’ uber-pretentious architecture critic is uber the moon today about the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall that opens tonight in Los Angeles.

In Muschamp the Magnificent’s opinion – as if any other mattered – Disney Hall is a wondrous, ecstatic success.

”Disney Hall must be assembled within the mind piece by piece as you approach and walk around it. A Surrealist ethos suffuses the design: the imagineering impulse of Disney as well as of Magritte. Pumpkin into carriage, cabbage into concert hall, bippidi-bobbidi-boo.”

How about concert hall into shapeless pile of debris at the stroke of midnight.

In actual fact, Disney Hall is just another one of Gehry’s signature titanium coprolites that litter the sidewalks of Bilbao, Seattle, and Cleveland with alarming frequency.

There is nothing new about this building that was not new the last time or the time before that.

It’s as if Frank Lloyd Wright built Fallingwater over and over again in different locations every few years to ever increasing praise.

The fact is these Gehry buildings are butt ugly, impossible to modify, and falling apart before our eyes. (For proof see this news item from the appropriately titled "Corrosion News.")

Of course, Muschamp is thrilled but such lousy design.

Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, is a French curve in a city of T squares. The T squares are loving it madly. Why shouldn't they? Disney Hall was designed for them. It's a home for everyone who's ever felt like a French curve in a T square world.

Translation: Disney Hall is elitist architecture so unusual and jarring that even mutants and just plain Joes (T square people) can appreciate what geniuses (French curve people) like Herb and Gehry have bestowed upon them. “Yes, my little dears, this was all designed for you . . . just for you . . . you’re welcome, oh yes, you are so very welcome.”

How fabulous is the building? It’s so fab that you can’t even find your way out of the lobby:

Serpentine lobbies surround the auditorium, which is set diagonally to the building site. The adjustment is initially disorienting, but you won't get lost if you let your intuition lead the way. That is the way to go anyhow inside Disney Hall. Ahead lies a gathering of hunches: let's try it this way. No, maybe this way. Make up your mind! I don't want to.

Sound like fun? Yes, especially as curtain time draws close . . . or perhaps a fire! A gathering of char-broiled hunches. What a delight that would be. Sort of like a deconstructionist Triangle Waistcoat Factory.

But what’s done is done and we can only hope that nature takes its course on this insta-ruin before too long.

More troubling is a disaster in the making in San Francisco where the lunatics are already ripping apart one of the more pleasing parts of their foggy asylum to construct was is surely the stupidest building of all time, the poetically named Federal Building.

When it opens its doors (or flaps, or airlocks, or orifices, or something) in 2006, the Federal Building will be the first terrorist target that even al Qaeda would have to admit could only be improved by explosive charges.

It’s as if the Feds decided that instead of risking the destruction of beautiful new office building, they’ll just blow it up themselves right now and get it over with.

Indeed the schematics of the Federal Building (click through the all the pesky Flash pyrotechnics) seem to be directly inspired by the Alfred Murrugh Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or perhaps the Khobar Towers in Infidelville, Saudi Arabia.

How bad will this building be? It’s hard to quantify but keep in mind that it will be an office tower tall enough to disrupt the skyline of the city yet its elevators will only stop on every third floor (to conserve precious energy). And after trudging up and down the stairs on a blazing summer afternoon the unfortunate tenants will soak in their own sweat because the building will have no air conditioning (again to save energy).

Who could have conceived of such a manifestly bad idea? Well, imagine a hip West Coast architect who surrounds himself with creative young things and calls his firm Morphosis and you have Thom Mayne.

Did I mention Thom Mayne wears Corbu glasses? Of course he does.

Corbu glasses are to pompous architects what Whaa Whaa guitar licks are to late 70s porno movie soundtracks. I’m beginning to think these glasses might actually be the root cause of bad architecture.

An article in today’s San Francisco Chronic includes this telling insight:

Mayne doesn't see his work as ugly, for starters. He also seems honestly baffled by the Bay Area notion that new buildings should mimic the architectural character of their surroundings -- or, as Mayne puts it, indulge in "the anachronistic illusion of some other time."

First of all, who starts a sentence about how ugly your work is not unless it is truly and demonstrably ugly? And secondly, if you are baffled by 3,000 years of esthetic wisdom you probably have no business designing real buildings that people might actually see.

Hopefully, the Mayne event in San Francisco will be so notoriously bad that it will do for lousy architecture what the Tweed Courthouse did for corrupt government . . . that is, give the odious offense unmistakable form that provokes people to corrective action.

Until then it’s safe to say that San Francisco will never again look as pretty as this.
Peaceful Non-Existence Watch

Peace in the Middle East is simply a matter of Israel withdrawing from the occupied territories, right?

Well, it depends on what you define as "occupied territories." Is it the West Bank and Gaza? The West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem? Or is it all those places and every other place too?

A new survey of Palestinian opinion reveals once again that Palestinians will not be satisfied until Israel withdraws from Israel itself.

In fact, 59% say that their murder-cult should continue even if Israel gives into all their demands for withdrawal from all the land captured from Jordan and Egypt after those countries invaded Israel in 1967 . . . even if an independent Palestinian state is created on this former Jordan and Egyptian real estate (which again was forfeited by those countries when they gambled on conquest and failed).

So what should Israel do? Negotiate? Negotiate what exactly? If the Palestinians want all of Israel ethnically cleansed what would be a reasonable compromise? Demi-genocide rather than full genocide?

The best possible outcome for the Israelis is peaceful coexistence. That's what most of the world wants, presumably. Why then are the Israelis criticized so frequently for not making progress on the "peace process?"

Seems to me the peace process is going to be a long and bloody affair unless the Palestinians agree to stop fighting.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Smoke on the Water

I'm just testing out the new "Blog This" button on my Google toolbar.

Here is an interesting satellite photo taken yesterday of Eastern China showing a thick haze of smoke that hangs over the coastline in part because a huge typhoon is approaching from the ocean but also because China uses sulfurous coal for energy.

China, by the way, would have been exempt from the air pollution mandates that developed countries like the United States would have had to adhere to under the Kyoto Protocol.EO Natural Hazards: Haze and Pollution over China

Friday, October 10, 2003

Let's Not the Facts Stand in the Way of a Good Sound Bite

Here’s a fascinating exchange from last night’s Democratic Debate.

A stroke victim on a fixed income tells of having to choose between medicine and food and asks Sen. Edwards what he would do about prescription drug costs.

As expected, former trial lawyer Edwards says he will stand up to the “price-gouging” monopolistic pharmaceutical giants.

But wait, when asked how much she pays per month, the woman says because of a Pfizer program she only pays $15. “I can afford it now,” she says.

So what exactly is the problem?

She has no supplemental insurance so she can’t afford her medicine, but she CAN afford her medicine because of a price-gouging monopolistic pharmaceutical company.

The solution is clear. “We need a president of the United States that will stand up for you and people like your family.”

WOODRUFF: All right, thank you.


I want to turn to Karen Dickinson. Karen, you are, you and I spoke a few minutes ago. Where are you? Right here. Please. Stand up, and do we have a microphone?

You are, I'm told, a stroke survivor ...


WOODRUFF: ... and you have concerns about health care, specifically about prescription drugs.

QUESTION: Yes. Forgive me for having to read this.

I am a stroke survivor, I am disabled and on a fixed income. For seven months I went without prescription medication because we cannot afford supplemental insurance to my Medicare.

I chose food over medicine. How can you assure me and the many other voters -- there's millions like me -- that you empathize with my hardship and as president you will make certain this won't happen to any other American? Thank you.

WOODRUFF: Who has -- Senator Edwards?

EDWARDS: Thank you.

Karen, how long have you been without any kind of coverage for your prescription drugs?

QUESTION: It's been over a year.

EDWARDS: Over a year. And how much do your prescription drugs cost?

QUESTION: I went on a Merck program, and that's why I can do it, I can afford it now. And they're $15 that I pay. Before that it was 400 and some dollars a month.

EDWARDS: Which is just crippling, crippling for you, isn't it?

QUESTION: I get $800 -- and I don't care who knows it -- I get $830 a month from my Social Security because I had to take it at such a young age.

EDWARDS: And you and your family are in the same situation that millions of families are...

QUESTION: Millions.

EDWARDS: ... around this country. Here's what I think we need to do. First, we need a real comprehensive prescription drug benefit for you and family, under Medicare, not the George Bush plan that's going the Congress right now. That's the last thing we need to do.

And second, we have to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for you and for all of those Americans who are struggling to pay the cost, which means having a president to do what I've done my whole life, which is have the backbone to stand up to these big drug companies, with their advertising, with their price gouging, not allowing drugs to come back in here out of Canada, stopping their abuse of the system to keep a monopoly and keep generics out of the market.

WOODRUFF: All right.

EDWARDS: We need a president of the United States that will stand up for you and people like your family. I will be that president.


The details of the Merck program can be found here. A hell of a lot less expensive and complicated then what Senator Edwards is proposing.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

European Observations

Just returned from a long weekend in Rome . . . a blur of rich colors, sweet smells, narcotic food and spectacular-looking people.

During one languid dinner with distant relatives by marriage the subjects of politics and religion briefly mixed in a perfect thunderclap of opinion that took me by surprise.

The three relatives included a retired executive of one of Italy’s largest banks and a communications director at a pharmaceutical company. They were educated and well traveled. They were also deeply involved in the Catholic Church through one of its semi-clandestine lay organizations.

During a friendly and wide-ranging conversation we found ourselves talking about the scandals that have shaken the American Church. The mood suddenly turned grave and the former banker explained in measured tones that the entire scandal was an initiative of the Bush Administration to undermine the moral authority of Pope John Paul II and the Vatican so that Bush could carry out his plans to invade Iraq.

I had never heard that one before. It’s sort of a unified field theory of geopolitics.

I tried to explain that Vatican opposition to Operation Desert Freedom was, at best, a factor footnoted in the appendix of any secret strategy to defend the honor of the Bush family. But that sort of reasoning only elicited a weary smile . . . oh you Americans are so brainwashed.

Keep in mind that this seems to be an acceptable point of view in a country where six of the seven national television networks and several of the newspapers are controlled by Italy’s most outspoken supporter of George Bush.

It occurred to me later that the Bushies are missing an opportunity in Europe.

I have no idea how many Italians believe Bush toppled Saddam Hussein to avenge his father’s disgrace but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a large number. And I would also not be surprised to learn that this would not be considered an invalid reason for acting.

After all, Rome is filled with monuments to powerful families motivated by honor and power – names like Barberini, Aldobrandini, Borgia, and Medici are plastered all over town if you look closely enough.

Indeed, defending one’s family honor by using the tools of state is a long and respectable tradition in Europe. Bush should strongly imply to Europeans that family honor is what motivated him to succeed Clinton and Saddam. I think they'd respect that.

My second thought is that Bush is making a mistake by characterizing the war on Islamofascism as a “War on Terror.”

Terror is not the enemy. You can’t wage war on a technique of war.

The Administration is still very careful to characterize the war as something other than a clash of civilizations. I’m not sure why.

Certainly Europeans take there civilization quite seriously (as they should) and can be downright jingoistic about it when their feathers are ruffled. And unlike us, they are surrounded by the physical manifestations of this civilization – in America all we have are the ideas and little of the art or architecture.

In addition, Europeans are increasingly living next to more and more unassimilatable Muslims . . . Muslims who make no apology for their unrelenting conflict with the West.

Here and there are the signs that Europeans are becoming fed up with Islamic chauvinism – head scarves, separate schools, removal of Christian symbols from the public realm. At some point resentment will turn to action in ways that Europeans know all too well.

George Bush could give outlet to this pressure and connect deeply with ordinary Europeans by saying clearly that our common Judeo/Christian civilization is under attack from an extremist political movement that is using Islam as cover for achieving it’s radical agenda.

It is a clash between the West and a violent, intolerant, uncompromising medieval civilization that refuses to peacefully coexist with us.

That’s the sort of a clash Europeans historically relish.

Forget WMD, shoe bombers, and torture chambers . . . Europe already has plenty of those. Make it about honor and Western Civ and George Bush would be the most popular man in Europe.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

What Makes Washington So Special

I read Washingtonian Magazine by mistake this afternoon.

The smug and clueless advertising vehicle is a near perfect reflection of its vacuous, self-important, suburbanized readership – pilot fish on the mighty ship of state.

Washingtonian usually contains howlers when the editorial staff strays too far from “family restaurant” reviews and touches on actual public policy issues.

Case in point, a syrupy puff “interview” with Jesse Jackson Jr., the Illinois Congressman who happened to grow up in Washington, D.C. where his philandering father ran a Chicago-based race consultancy shakedown operation.

Washingtonian asks Rep. Jackson its very most favorite question of all:

What makes Washington special?

"Only our central government has the power to grant new rights to the American people, and it is those rights that make us indivisible and guarantee liberty and justice for all. When we turn our back on the central government and seek solutions within the states, we remain a separate and unequal system."

Rights granted by the central government?

This guy is a Congressman. He works in the U.S. Capitol.

To get to his desk he needs to walk past pictures and statues of famous Americans such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison.

Has he ever wondered who those people are . . . why are they crowding up the hallways like this. . . perhaps even what did they think the role of government was?

Jackson believes he is in the business of creating new rights and granting them to Americans. Rights like the right to clear television reception, the right to corruption-free professional wrestling, the right to unedited inane magazine copy.

And these rights are what make us indivisible and liberty and justice for all and shit.

Seeking solutions within the states – which I believe Jefferson called the “great laboratory of democracy” -- makes us separate and unequal.

Seems to me Congressman Jackson is the one who is separate and unequal. After all, he went to an elite secondary school and was elected to Congress as a first job on the basis of his father’s accomplishments.

I don’t begrudge him that . . . it’s just a shame that he’s missing a great opportunity there in Congress to learn about the fundamentals of American political philosophy.