Friday, December 31, 2004

The Hearty Tribes of Andaman

Andaman & Nicobar Islands

The Paleolithic tribes inhabiting the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, situated on the eastern edge of the Indian Ocean, are a hearty lot. And, unlike the Tasaday of the early 70s, these little-known peoples are the real deal.

This semi-nomadic population of 1,000 hunters, fishermen, and fruit-gatherers have seemingly emerged unscathed from this week's direct hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Having been almost entirely cut off from the outside world since their ancestors first arrived on a now-submerged mountain chain south of Burma as much as 60,000 years ago, they also maintain an attitude:
"A coastguard helicopter pilot saw several groups of Sentinelese on their North Sentinel island yesterday. When the pilot tried to drop food parcels, the islanders reportedly threw stones at the helicopter. "
Like the mystery of the wild animals, these tribes seem to have a sixth sense when it comes to surviving in nature, skills that those of us in the "developed" world have bred out of our gene pool many generations past.

And they're going to need to remain at the top of their game. It seems that the earthquake has awakened these islands' last remaining volcano.

Earthquakes, tsunamis, helicopters, and now volcanoes. . . the only thing worse would be a visit from Clare Short. . .

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Kyoto, China, and the Lessons of Acid Rain

New Power Plant Capacity by 2012 - link:

As a grade-school kid in the late 60s/early 70s I recall being shown movies of vast stretches of America's forests being decimated by Acid Rain, a phenomenon through which SO2 and other noxious chemicals from fossil-fuel burning power plants would fall from the atmosphere during rain, snow, or fog.

A combination of new scrubber technology, national and local legislation, and American ingenuity has virtually eliminated this bleak scenario from our classrooms and our forests.

Enter the Kyoto Protocol. The definition of "pollution" has now been expanded to include CO2, a natural by-product of human activity. As noted here, humans account for a small fraction of total CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, yet Kyoto, which places caps on CO2 emissions, is supposed to have a positive effect on global climate by reducing those gases. Assuming that there is a causal link between human activity and an unnatural rise in temperatures (only for argument's sake - see this, this, and this), then, per the graph above, Kyoto is obsolete before it is even adopted.

Scheduled power plant construction, and their CO2 outputs, will, by 2012, simply dwarf any expected decrease of emissions (per above graphic). And the developing countries of China and India are primarily to "blame."

Adding political realism to this discussion, Victor Davis Hanson notes:

"We may still rant about the American rejection of Kyoto. But is anyone alarmed over the hundreds of coal plants sprouting up in India and China to ensure billions of people that there will be enough energy for a possible future lifestyle of the type we now take for granted in Santa Barbara and Nantucket? In short, we will soon enter an age in which China may well change the world's environment, affect the price of oil, and govern the world's trade as much as the United States — and will care almost nothing about what Western liberals say. . ."

And then the kicker:

"What will Earth First do when this socialist behemoth (China) sprouts its oil rigs in the Arctic tundra and pristine seas?"

China, India, and the developing world should be the focus of the Kyoto debate. Economic growth, technological progress, wealth creation, and liberal democracies lead to environmentally-sound practices, as in the conquest over acid rain. . . the question should be how we bring the developing world into living standards and technological capabilities that foster prudent environmental policies over the long term - that, it seems, is a function of economic growth, not regulation, intelligently applied.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Elephants, Tsunamis, and Etho-Geological Forecasting

Devastated Indonesian Province of Aceh

During one weekend in late August, 1883, a circus elephant in the Dutch Indies town of Batavia went uncharacteristically berserk, trumpeting, trampling, and smashing everything in its path. The circus had come to Indonesia, but this animal was going to have none of it.

On the following Monday, a giant explosion the likes of which the world had never heard occurred in the Sunda strait, unleashing a tsunami that killed tens of thousands. Yes, it was the tsunami that caused the devastation of Krakatoa in 1883, just like the Aceh seismic event unleashed this week's horror.

The pachyderm in Batavia may have just had a bad day, but evidence is mounting that there might be some substance to the here-to-fore unheard of science: Etho-Geological Forecasting.

There are now curious reports that this week's tsunami didn't seem to kill any animals in Sri Lanka - almost as if they had advance warning. Perhaps there is a low-tech way to anticipate such calamities? Why not channel a few more dollars towards getting in tune with the animal kingdom?

It sounds like we're going to need it. According to Simon Winchester, author of Krakatoa, the Day the World Exploded, seismic events like this week's earthquake can cause ripple effects throughout the world's precarious balance of plate tectonics.

So if you don't have a pet elephant handy, you might want to pay particularly close attention to your dog over the next few days. . .

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Metaphysics of Tsunamis

The horror and destruction of the tsunami that hit Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia is now becoming more fully known, with death estimates rising past 40,000.
Without trivializing the sorrow of those affected by the calamity, we are already seeing the agenda-mongers begin to whine and bleat, and it isn't pretty:
Environmentalists are casting this event as the natural outcome of global warming. If we had adopted Kyoto, the tsunami would have just been another radical wave good for a hang-ten.
The U.N. bureaucrats have decided that it's the U.S.' fault, given our stingy ways with foreign aid, and our over-investment in the military-industrial complex. Less tanks, more plate tectonic protection.
Bill Clinton is using the tsunami to campaign for Kofi Annan's job. If we get the U.N. out of the U.S., maybe we let him have it.
And the wankers over at the Guardian cite this natural phenomenon as de facto evidence of a godless universe. Ah yes, nature might be indifferent to my well-being, ergo God is dead. Didn't we address this in High School?
It all makes one want to vacation on a secluded island in the Indian ocean. . . . .

Monday, December 27, 2004

Honeymoon Tsunami

Marriage is going to be a piece of cake for William and Amanda Robins. I'm sure they expected the earth to move during their honeymoon, but in their case it was just the ocean. If they could survive this honeymoon, it will be all downhill from here on in:

The newlyweds were honeymooning on Phi Phi island -- made famous by the film "The Beach" starring Leonardo DiCaprio -- when a giant tsunami wave slammed into it Sunday.

The couple were strolling near the beach Sunday when they heard people screaming and saw tourists jumping off boats. "We thought it was a terrorist bomb, so we jumped over a hotel fence and hid in a storage room," Robins said. "We held hands and crouched in the corner. Then we heard a rumbling explosion that didn't end."

Moments later, their hiding place collapsed around them, Amanda said. "We were pushed through two layers of concrete and forced to let go of each other's hands," said the 27-year-old teacher. They were pulled underwater and swept 150 yards out to sea. "There were broken pieces of wood and bits of metal everywhere. It smelled of gasoline," Robins said.

Suddenly, they saw a hotel employee in a boat searching for lost family members. "We were screaming. We said if we don't get on this boat, we're dead," Robins said. The man tossed them a line and pulled them into the boat. By nightfall, they were in hospital on Phuket.

"We both came within 0.1 seconds of not seeing each other. There are going to be changes in our life from now on. We're going to take a lot of the bulls--- out," Robins said.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Thomas Friedman's Missed Opportunity

There's a commonly repeated phrase that has, up to Arafat's death, effectively captured the essence of the Palestinian's plight:

"they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

That same phrase can be accurately applied to Thomas Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, in his writings this past year about the Mideast - he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity to write a completely objective article without an obligatory Bush-bash.

And what's so maddening is that he so frequently gets most of his columns right. Referring to the recent pictures of Iraqi gunmen executing election workers in broad daylight in downtown Baghdad, Friedman accurately writes in his latest column:

Do not be fooled into thinking that the Iraqi gunmen in this
picture are really defending their country and have no alternative. The
Sunni-Baathist minority that ruled Iraq for so many years has been invited,
indeed begged, to join in this election and to share in the design and wealth of
post-Saddam Iraq. . .(this war is about) people who want to hold a free and fair
election to determine their own future, opposed by a virulent nihilistic
minority that wants to prevent that. That is all that the insurgents stand for.

Friedman continues:

They are murdering Iraqis every day for the sole purpose of
preventing them from exercising that thing so many on the political left and so
many Europeans have demanded for the Palestinians: "the right of

We may lose because most Europeans, having been made stupid by
their own weakness, would rather see America fail in Iraq than lift a finger for free and fair elections there.

All dead on, and worthy of our full reading. But he can't miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He has to race back to partisan politics:

We may lose because of the wrong way that Donald Rumsfeld has
managed this war and the cynical manner in which Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and
- with some honorable exceptions - the whole Republican right have tolerated it.
Many conservatives would rather fail in Iraq than give liberals the satisfaction
of seeing Rumsfeld sacked.

Now Bush and his administration are fair game for criticism as it relates to the War on Terror, but Friedman's obsessions with the past election always blunt the deeper truths within his writing.

Maybe next time he can just miss an opportunity.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Guilt-Free Christmas Feast

Just in time for the holidays. It seems that the low-carb craze has peaked. As one of the early proponents who gave it a good solid year, I can simultaneously say that it works and it doesn't work.

What I mean is that, yes, a protein-heavy, carb-less, sugar-less diet quickly sheds the pounds, evens out the blood sugar, and helps increase overall energy once you've adjusted to the diet.

I never got my cholesterol checked for fear of what I've done to my arteries, but that's beside the point. Sometimes you've got to shake things up, shock the system, and go cold-turkey on the Doritos.

But the real problem with staying on the diet is the monotony and inconvenience. Unless you've got fangs and howl at the moon, meat, cheese, and the occasional salad (without croutons) can get tiresome.

So, take some pleasure in the fact that you're not the only one falling off the low-carb bandwagon. Now, if I could only get rid of this uncontrollable urge to chase caribou. . .

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Greatest Tragedy?

What's the greatest tragedy of the last century? . . . Hitler's Third Reich, Stalin's Great Purge, Mao's collectivization, Michael Jackson's latest Kids' Day?

Wrong. According to Michael Crichton in his latest book State of Fear, it was the banning of the pesticide DDT:

"Since the ban, two million people a year have died
unnecessarily from malaria, mostly children. The ban has caused more than fifty million needless deaths. Banning DDT killed more people than Hitler."

(p. 487)
Crichton goes on to say that DDT was not a carcinogen, scientists knew it wasn't a carcinogen, and that its replacement, Parathion, was the real toxin, causing the death of hundreds of farm workers.

What's the point of this revelation? That public hysteria for fear-driven, emotional, and unscientific quick "fixes" can lead to unintended consequences that are much worse than any perceived crisis.

Science, like all other intellectual pursuits, is vulnerable to bias, political agendas, and the corruption of the flow of research monies - and Crichton makes a plea for double-blind experimentation, data gathering, analysis, and funding so that results can be evaluated in as pure a form as possible. The thesis of his book is that global warming is a manufactured fad that is unsupported by the data, and yet many scientists have fallen into the corruptive influence of those who stand to gain by global warming's institutionalization.

The Government of Uganda has just announced that it will begin using DDT again to help eradicate malaria outbreaks in its country, leading to the intended consequence of economic development:

"We are convinced that DDT will reduce the risk of malaria.
There is a strong relationship between malaria and poverty. Most communities affected by malaria have been economically retarded."
The governments of Africa have learned a lesson, and it remains to be seen whether the global warming lobby will learn theirs. As for Michael Jackson, it's hard to know whether these consequences are intended or unintended.

Oil for Food, Carbon for Cash

The E.U. bureaucracy cranks up for another round of graft and ineffectiveness, lustily reported yesterday by their co-conspirators Reuters:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions and meet its Kyoto targets but more needs to be done, an annual report by the EU's executive Commission said on Tuesday.

The European Commission gave a positive assessment of the fight against global warming as the bloc prepared to launch the world's first emissions trading scheme on Jan. 1, 2005.

Under the EU project, 12,000 plants including power stations, steel-makers and other energy-intensive industries will buy and sell carbon credits -- the right to emit carbon dioxide (CO2).

It is the linchpin of the 25-nation bloc's plan to reach its Kyoto Protocol target and cut greenhouse gas emissions by eight percent of 1990 levels over the period 2008-12.

"This progress report gives grounds for optimism that both the EU-15 and the new member states are well on course to meet their Kyoto targets," EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said in a statement.

But the Commission warned that a 22-percent rise in emissions in the transport sector over the period 1990-2002 could scupper progress. The transport sector is not part of the EU's CO2 trading scheme and has no caps on emissions.

Under the trading scheme, countries must submit plans to the Commission detailing or allocating the amount of emissions their installations are allowed to have.

The scheme will start on Jan. 1 in 21 EU states. Poland, Czech Republic and Italy have submitted plans but they will not be assessed in time. Greece has not yet sent a scheme to Brussels.

The Commission will approve five plans -- Lithuania, Spain, Malta, Cyprus and Hungary -- by the end of the year or at the beginning of 2005, an official added.

European commissions, trading schemes, favored industries, Kyoto targets, mandatory plans, selective enforcement, and unmeasureable goals, all in support of a manufactured environmental crisis. Oil for food, carbon for cash and graft. Nothing new here.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Turning Up the Heat on Global Warming

Ever heard of the "Heat Island Effect?" That refers to the rise of avg. mean temperatures in urban areas due to the effect of buildings, roads, and development on ambient local temperatures. It skews temperature data significantly for urban areas. Climatologists have to factor it out when trying to assess global warming.

The graph above helps isolate this effect by looking at the combination of satellite (atmosphere) and surface temperature readings over the last twenty years. Global warming apologists prefer surface data to atmospheric data (which doesn't need to be adjusted for the Heat Island Effect). This graph helps illustrate that any trace of a recent heating trend is isolated to the surface, and open to questions surrounding Heat Island and how it is accounted for.

Humans are vigorously adding to the CO2 content in the atmosphere, right? According to this chart, total human contributions to greenhouse gases account for only about 0.28% of total greenhouse gases.

Approximately 99.72% of the "greenhouse effect" is due to natural causes -- mostly water vapor and traces of other gases, which we can do nothing at all about. Eliminating human activity altogether would have little impact on the quantity of gases supposedly linked to climate change. - link

The period known as the Holocene Maximum is a good example of how the Earth's warming isn't a function of man-made pollution. The Holocene Maximum began 7,500 years ago and is named because it was the hottest period in human history. The interesting thing is this period occurred approximately 7500 to 4000 years B.P. (before present)-- long before humans invented the Ford Explorer.

Now, can we agree that there are many factors at play here that don't lend themselves to a quick diagnosis of U.S. = big polluter = huge amounts of CO2 = global warming = floods, hurricanes, droughts, planet-wide environmental catastrophe?

Ever heard of an "Interglacial Period?" We're in one. Glaciers began receding some 18,000 years ago due to an abrupt warming trend - it's called the end of the "Ice Age." The Earth has been under siege of ice for the last 160,000 years, briefly interrupted once before during the Earmian Interglacial Period. And the warming that began 18,000 years ago wasn't a result of my SUV.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Prince Charles Takes On Sharia

Prince Charles has embarked on a noble and Herculean task that could help change the course of history.

And I'm not talking about his giving Camilla an extreme makeover.

The Prince has taken it upon himself to broker a dialogue of understanding between peoples of Muslim and Christian faiths with the explicit goal of ending the Muslim death penalty on apostates who convert to other faiths.

"His intervention follows mounting anger at the treatment of Muslims who have converted to Christianity in a number of Islamic states. As an advocate of inter-faith dialogue, Prince Charles has come under pressure to criticise the religious law that, campaigners say, has resulted in hundreds of executions in countries from Iran to Sudan." - link.

The talks, apparently, didn't go so well. Islamic scholars who attended suggested that these matters should be dealt with internally within their faith, so as not to incite extremists who view certain interpretations of Sharia law as immutable.

Which brings us to an even bigger issue that stands between Islam and the West: the nature of God Himself.

In his book The Universal Hunger for Liberty, Michael Novak explains that in early Islamic thought,

"God is too great to be affected by this moment in time, this grain of sand, this changeable world. . . of Himself, God is concerned with necessary things, the things that are eternal. . . the greatest difference between Islamic thought and Jewish-Christian thought is that the former has no patience for 'secondary causes'. . . in the created world. Islam does not wish to see anything as an image of God. Allah is too great for that." p. 14.

Novak continues. In early Islam, "Muslims imagined liberty to be a zero-sum game. If humans have it, God doesn't. If God has it, humans don't." p. 15.

Heavy stuff. Novak goes on to make the case that both civilizations' concept of liberty can, in the end, be reconciled, but with the Christian traditions of the Trinity, man being made in God's image, and Jesus' suffering on the cross, you can see that huge chasms exist in each's fundamental relationship between God and man, and man and society.

So Prince Charles should be commended for making this effort, but his success is anything but assured. He'd have better odds taking on the insurmountable challenge of explaining his attraction to Ms. Bowles.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Osama, Meet Bernie

Arnaud de Borchgrave, Foreign Affairs Editor for the Washington Times, has spun a characteristically pessimistic view of the GWOT, explaining that all is going accordingly to Bin Laden's master plan:

"As Osama bin Laden surveys the international scene from his secret base in Pakistan, he has convinced himself the American empire can be defeated in Iraq and Saudi Arabia much the way his mujahideen guerrillas defeated the Soviet empire in Afghanistan. In his videotape released four days before the U.S. elections, bin Laden referred to the way the Afghan resistance had bankrupted the Soviet Union, which he used as a model for inflicting a similar fate on the United States."

De Borchgrave conveniently omits the history-shifting events of the Afghan elections (not to mention the rout of the Taliban), and conjures up the spectre of a newly trained and radicalized army infiltrating Europe:

"Osama bin Laden presumably knows why some 7,500 jihadis who fought against the United States in Iraq have been trickling back to their homes in the Muslim slums of Western Europe. They returned with new terrorist skills and the ability to form sleeper cells and/or encourage others to sign up for jihad."

And de Borchgrave adds polling data (!) to his thesis that Bin Ladin is poised to make a victorious return:

"In Pakistan as a whole, bin Laden scored a 66 percent approval rating. In the two provinces governed by the pro-al-Qaida, pro-Taliban coalition of six politico-religious parties, bin Laden's popularity rating as a freedom fighter climbs to above 80 percent."

Look, I'm as annoyed as anyone that this maniacal worm hasn't yet been thrown in Saddam's wood chipper, but de Borchgrave's got it all wrong. He finally betrays his real beef:

"The Bush administration's Israel-right-or-wrong policy has now been confirmed - for bin Laden to read in dozens of newspapers - by no less an authority than Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Bush 41."

Back to the canard that if we had just taken Arafat's side, all would be grand in the Muslim/West relationship. Arnaud, your credibility just went to zero.

Now back to Bin Laden. I hope we don't have Tom Ridge-types leading the effort to find him, but men who lead life just a little bit on the edge, like our illustrious former Homeland Security Chief nominee. I don't think Bernie would be too worried about the fine print in the Geneva convention. Osama, meet Bernie.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Moonbeam Shines Brightly

Ten years ago I was strolling down Broadway in Oakland, CA, when I crossed paths with one of the many street vagrants that inhabited the nooks and crannies of the rundown downtown area.

A man, sporting baggy pants, army jacket, high top Converse tennis shoes, and a week-old beard, stepped out of the shadows and caused me to alter my direction. Being a product of U.C. Berkeley, where street characters are the norm, I quickly categorized this man as a sixties drop-out and probable acid casualty, making his way to the food kitchen. If he had asked, I might have flipped him a quarter.

But there was an unexpected awareness in his eyes, and something vaguely familiar about him. Mentally replacing this man's face outside of his current dress, I realized that he was Jerry Brown, former Governor of California and Democratic Presidential candidate.

Fast forward to this past weekend, where I caught part of an interview with Brown who is now serving his second term as Oakland mayor, rationally and pragmatically discussing the insufficiency of relying on taxes and increased school budgets to raise test scores. He had bravely taken on the moribund Oakland education establishment (an oxymoron) with limited success, and he was speaking freely and honestly about the economic and sociological challenges to improving urban areas.

Regardless of how flakey many of Brown's public policies are, and how quirky his personal life (he lives communally with a group of civic activists), he has put himself on the front lines in the urban battle to improve people's lives. And he has done some good.

Test scores and overall incidents of crime have shown some improvement during his tenure, despite a major jump in homicides in '02 and '03. Anecdotally, the downtown area has been revitalized, the Fruitvale retail and low-income housing developments have been a success, and I have witnessed school and athletic field construction projects flourish like oases in a desert of urban blight.

Brown will run for state Attorney General at the end of this term, and he already is squawking about Roe vs. Wade, which is a shame. At the mayoral level, politicians are judged by real-world results, instead of the political posturing that is endemic at the state and national level. For characters like Brown, mayoral politics can bring out their best as they are forced to deal with the street in reality vs the abstract.

Now if he'd only decide to move a few miles west across the Bay. There's always trouble brewing there. . .

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Full Concorde Report Obtained

PARIS (AFP) - The full report from a presidential commission appointed by President Jacques Chirac to investigate the July 2000 Concorde crash outside Paris that killed 113 people raises questions about the state of the Franco-American relationship.

Initial reports presented the inquiry's findings that part of the blame for the tragedy rested on Continental Airlines. When the Air France Concorde, speeding down the runway at Charles de Gaulle airport, hit a titanium strip reported to have come from a DC-10, it shredded one of its tires, causing chunks of rubber to be sent through a wing fuel tank.

With the tank ablaze and engine power failing, the supersonic plane plummeted into a hotel near the airport in a fireball.

Shaking Spears has obtained a copy of the full commission report which assigns additional blame in the air tragedy:

"(translation). . . the titanium strip's existence on the runway was an expression of the cultural hegemony of 'Continental,' a corporate robber baron whose name is itself a capitalist obscenity which flaunts its vulgar attitude of American exceptionalism and militaristic adventurism.

Continental has extracted its power through its feudal relationship between peasant and oligarch, demanding 40 hours of involuntary servitude each week in exchange for subsistence debt peonage, resulting in a recurring dialectic of the individual's existential pursuit of materialistic acquisition through which America's warrior-class and their military-industrial enablers are financed.

Continental's oppression extends out from its base in Houston, Texas, home of the first Imperialist Bush and aided by his fascist son who has twice conspired, with help from the Zionists, to thwart the natural progression of the working class towards the logic of collectivism.

This titanium strip-Continental-Bush axis of causality leads the commission to unanimously recommend compulsory multi-cultural re-education of all U.S. airline personnel who fly in and out of France. Allah be praised."

White House officials could not be reached for comment.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Scott Peterson Dies of Old Age

. . . that will be the headline coming out of San Quentin sometime in the distant future:

"California's death row has grown to house more than 640 condemned men and women since the state brought back capital punishment in 1978. Since then, only 10 executions have been carried out. It can take years for even the first phase of the appeals process to begin." - Fox News

You're more likely to see Jacques Chirac at a Monster Truck Tractor Pull than Scott Peterson executed.

And the irony of his capital sentence (as opposed to life without parole) is that he will be removed from the general prison population, sparing him certain indignities that better men wouldn't wish upon him.

But San Quentin is a bleak, grim dungeon, as dark and foreboding as the soul of the man who murdered his wife and unborn child.

As Johnny Cash once sang, "San Quentin, you've been livin' hell to me." Perhaps this is a fitting punishment after all.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Michael Crichton's Forgotten World

Michael Crichton has just released his latest techno-thriller, State of Fear, in which he reportedly skewers the conventional wisdom on global warming. As a semi-fan of Crichton's, I look forward to tearing through this new effort, particularly if it helps to bring some sanity to this debate, and it has to be better than his previous book Prey.

But the best of Michael Crichton's work isn't a novel.

Crichton's Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Terminal Man, Disclosure, Rising Sun, Travels, and Five Patients are, in that order, his best. And I've never been one of those literary-types who turn their noses up on a popular science thriller writer. Crichton is bright, clever, and at times fun to read, if you can overlook his dialogue. And he has a knack for identifying cutting edge technological issues and using them to spin a populist yarn. Some of his scenes are brilliant, like the closing scene in Jurassic Park where we see, through the eyes of the survivors, the Velociraptors engaging in intelligent social behavior and caring for their own.

But the Crichton work that stands out as his best is his forgotten 1973 TV movie Westworld.

Yul Brynner plays a futuristic theme park robot whose programming goes haywire and relentlessly stalks, like a Terminator, Richard Benjamin and James Brolin. These two middle-age stiffs think they're in for a carefree weekend of fantasy land wild-west gunplay and guilt-free cavorting with robot bar girls, but the Brynner android has other plans. Watching these two guys on vacation go from kid-in-the-candy-store ecstasy to sheer terror is great fun, especially with the camp humor and low-end budget.

It's out on DVD, and it still holds up today despite today's CGI, which just goes to show that it's always about the story, plot, and characters. As Yul Brynner ominously says, "DRAW. . . "

Dan's Scan

CAT Scan_Rather_NYMed
Doctors isolate the cause of Dan Rather's leftward bias.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Le Artiste

Michael Moore in happier times - Lest we forget

Friday, December 10, 2004

The End of History?

What if the geopolitical fallout of the Afghan elections, the coming Iraq elections, Ghadafy's WMD conversion, the Saud family's new sobriety, Assad's peace overtures, Egypt's "new spirit," the failure of the Intifada, Bush's re-election, and the death of Arafat created the conditions for the Palestinians and the Israelis to finally sign a true and lasting peace agreement?

Can disbelief be suspended for a moment long enough to contemplate such a miraculous and improbable event?

Can we envision a world in which homicidal teenage fanatics don't blow themselves up in corner pizza shops, Israeli armored personnel carriers sit idle, and the security fence decays due to lack of maintenance?

Would we finally see the "End of History," as Francis Fukuyama predicted in the late 90s, and which the events of 9/11 so dramatically interrupted, finally come to fruition? With the catalyst of the Jihadist casus belli dissipated, we could retreat back to our golden shores, pop the bubbly, and get on with our comfortably- insulated suburban lives, right?

Not so fast. Because deep down it's not about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It's about us. And Amir Taheri believes that those whose sole focus is on that conflict are missing the even bigger picture:

"Right now there are 22 active conflicts across the globe in which Muslims are involved. Most Muslims have not even heard of most of them because those conflicts do not provide excuses for fomenting hatred against the United States."

From Chechnya, to the Sudan, to Serbia, Kashmir, the Philippines, and to Thailand, similar Muslim/non-Muslim conflicts are raging without any of the same daily outrage and angry passion that inflames the Arab street over the Palestine issue.

"If Muslims hate the US because it backs Israel which, in turn, is oppressing Muslims in Palestine, then why don't other oppressed Muslims benefit from the same degree of solidarity from their co-religionists?"

The answer, as Taheri prompts, has to do with what the U.S. represents, its perceived cultural hegemony, its sole superpower status, and the Mideast elite's fear of U.S.-sponsored initiatives to promote liberty and democratic institutions. Added to that mix are traditional societies organized around social hierarchies and norms, averse to separate church/state structures, subject to the religious submission inherent in Islam, and you have a region that isn't going to yearn for the next episode of Desperate Housewives.

So, we can wish, hope, and pray for a political resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But it wouldn't be the End of History - only a welcome success in what will be a long and difficult struggle to reconcile two civilizations.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Whirled Peas

In the "Successful-French-Public-Sector-Business-Venture-is-an-Oxymoron" department:

Jacques Chirac commits public funds to launch a global news channel modeled after CNN. . . broadcasting in French and Arabic, the station will commit itself to "express the diversity to which our country is so deeply attached." . .
doesn't Al Jazeera already fill this space?

In the "Nevermind" department:

Tony Blair: "While we believe Kyoto is very important. . . what we have to do is push forward on the technological front. . . at the same time as not harming economic growth in the world," he added.

In the "All Beret, No Cheese" department:

Brussels ministers agree to send 240 more trainers to "share the burden" in Iraq.

And finally, in the "All Guts, Too Little Glory" department:

The Marines clean out a rats nest.

Visualize Whirled Peas.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mr. Bean Stumbles Onto The Truth

Mr. Bean is gravely serious. The British sitcom character who brushes his teeth using the spray from his windshield wipers while driving to work, took to Westminster yesterday to petition for the British Parliament's opposition to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill - a proposed British law to outlaw the "incitement to religious hatred."

And that's a real life setting that we're not accustomed to seeing the British Dean of the Daft and Prince of Pratfalls in.

But this time Rowan Atkinson acquits himself without incident and convincingly makes a case for the fundamental right of free speech and the dangers of censorship, arguing that a truly tolerant society is one that is

"open, and vigorous, not one that is closed and stifled in some contrived notion of correctness."

But the British Muslim community is supporting this legislation, citing a climate of "fear" in the wake of the Global War on Terror and the murder of Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands. And MPs representing inner city Muslim communities see this legislation as a way to win back support that has evaporated because of Blair's support of the Iraq war.

With a Labour government that also prefers to prosecute the victims of home invasion crimes rather than the perpetrators, Atkinson is right to be alarmed, but doesn't quite go far enough:

“Their dilemma must be understood and I appreciate that this measure is an attempt to provide comfort and protection to them but unfortunately it is a wholly inappropriate response far more likely to promote tension between communities than tolerance."

Which brings us to the core question surrounding this issue: Shouldn't we be promoting critical discussion of religiously-based intolerant practices, such as honor killings, suicide bombings, beating of wives, stoning of homosexuals, female circumcision, fatwa-sanctioned murder of heretics, say "divorce" three-times divorce, and other delights of radical Islamist culture?

Paul Cook, a British-based Christian activist, weighs in:

"there is a real danger that this law could be used by extremists to silence organizations like ourselves from highlighting the persecution of Christians and other human rights abuses which occur within some religious communities."

Bingo. The designation of "religion" and "tolerance" shouldn't be used as a protective shield against public scrutiny and criticism, especially when elements of that religious tradition are antithetical to the notion of tolerance and promote barbaric practices that contradict the underlying values and morals of the host society.

So Mr. Bean didn't trip over his words, but he helped us stumble into the truth.

Now, under the Labour government, if you're the victim of a home invasion burglary, you hand over the silverware. If the perpetrator is a religious terrorist, you hand over the jewelry as well.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Battle Is Brewing

Obviously Michael Moore didn't get the Peter Beinart memo:

"What 'Fahrenheit 9/11' and Bruce Springsteen and MoveOn and all the other people that were working during this election, what we did was we prevented a Bush landslide," Moore said. "We're all going to continue to do this in the near future. No one's giving up."
Besides providing lifetime material for the blogosphere, Moore's rigorous defense of his activism and worldview guarantees a bloody civil war within the Democratic party.

With leaders like Terry McAuliffe clumsily using Pearl Harbor to score cheap political points, Harry Reid revealing his racism (Scalia=smart/Thomas=dumb lackey. . . despite two other pairs of Justices who are more likely to vote together), and Howard Dean calling for "destination, not direction," (?) - one gets the feeling that this party is desperately avoiding the elephant in the room.

Ante-bellum, the elephant was slavery. In this intra-party political war, its the Global War on Terror and whether the U.S. is ordained to fight it. There's a battle brewing between the doves and hawks, and somebody in the Democratic party has to fire the first shot at Fort Sumter.

Hillary Clinton thinks she's on the attack by focusing on immigration reform, but that's a diversion. Unless the Democrats get in the GWOT game, the wreckage of their party will be as ugly as Sherman's march to Savannah.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Blogopoly Has Arrived

Shaking Spears' Blogopoly Piece
Shaking Spears has entered the Pantheon of Blogopoly, courtesy of Aaron's Rantblog, a creative genius.

Smooth in texture, but with the right amount of grit, Shaking Spears will make you Liberalism free - Daily Fiber for the Politically Irregular.

Remember: Delaying now may mean
straining later, so let it loose and give in to your urge to surf, comment, and link.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Monday Link-O-Mania

What do Vaclav Havel, Don Knotts, and Boz Skaggs have in common? Llama Butchers are setting the odds. . .

Beautiful Atrocities advises why Tom Wolfe may have been invited to his last Upper West Side dinner party. . .

Brian Williams can test drive the new blogger's gear at INDC Journal . . .

Not only does he put puppies in a blender, but BadExample notes that evil Glenn wears socks with his sandals. . .

Protein Wisdom goes toe-to-toe with our favorite foreign leader. . .

And make sure you don't bust a gut scrolling through these gems from Prof. Higgins. . .

A Link in Every Blogger's Pot

The 2004 Weblog Awards Nominations are in, and Shaking Spears has been nominated for Best Blog in the Top 500-1000 Category. Voting is now open HERE.

You can vote once every 24 hours. Please scroll down to Top 500-1000 Category and give us a plug!

We're just hitting our stride as we lull the competition into complacency, but with your help we can attain respectable mediocrity!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Tommy Thompson Mulls His Options

Dateline: Washington

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said in a speech Friday announcing his resignation that he worries "every single night" about a possible terror attack on the food supply.

"For the life of me, I cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply because it is so easy to do," Thompson said. "We are importing a lot of food from the Middle East, and it would be easy to tamper with that."

In an exclusive interview with Shaking Spears' Washington Correspondent, Thompson followed up on his resignation remarks:

"I don't know what I'll do next, but I've taken this assignment as far as it could go" Thompson said, further explaining that he had lobbied hard for the CIA Director post:

"After our Emergency Cabinet Meeting last month, I told President Bush that I was the most qualified to step in given the security breach in the CIA's Terrorist Watchlist System. After the database voided the names of all Al-Qaeda trained militants originating from Yemen, Oman, and Pakistan with birthdates post 1965, I felt that my budgetary management experience could help get the department back on its feet."

Thompson also considered other options: "I think I'd be a great fit to run Los Alamos," Thompson advised. He even consulted Dr. Wen Ho Lee about ways to improve the U.S.' premier weapons lab. "We have to rethink our obsession with security - we're now in a multi-polar world, and the free exchange of information is essential for better relations with other countries."

In a related development, Thompson's wife Samantha denied that she eats a quart of Haagen-Dazs each night and gets a bikini-wax twice a month, contradicting her husband's revelations during his weekly press conference.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Deconstructing McEnroe

In the early 80s I remember watching a locally televised indoor tennis tournament - a corporate sponsored event - that had John McEnroe as its star attraction. And he was in fine form. Screaming at the top of his lungs at the hapless chair umpire about some disputed line call, McEnroe finally stalked off the court in mid-game and slouched on the sideline chairs, draping a towel over his head. He was losing, and was convinced that the umpires were incompetently keeping his tennis brilliance from registering another victory.

As the delay became lengthy, and the whole match teetered on the brink of farce, the chair umpire finally began to deduct points from McEnroe. The corporate sponsors scurried along the courtside, trying to coax the star back into the match.

Meanwhile the lowly-seeded opponent cooled his heals politely behind the service line, not sure of what to do. He finally wandered over to McEnroe to beg him to return to the match. McEnroe didn't budge.

With the crowd getting boisterous and, through the logic of celebrity, beginning to back McEnroe, he finally stormed back onto the court, receiving ovations and encouragement. He was returning to the match as the wronged competitor.

With the psychology of the match and the crowd now turned around to his favor, he proceeded to dismantle his opponent and dig his way out of his deficit, gaining the approval of the crowd who was now invested in his "comeback."

His shell-shocked opponent proceeded to fold on cue, and McEnroe stormed back to a great come-from-behind victory.

It was during this match that I came to the conclusion that this man had no redeeming qualities. And I used to place myself in his opponents shoes, fantasizing about firing blistering serves at McEnroe's head as he pouted in his sideline chair.

But I won't resort to McEnroe's tactics given his talkshow failure. And to those who think he is an interesting celebrity worthy of our attention, I can only say: You cannot be serious.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Beefing Up the Democrats

Peter Beinart, editor of the influential progressive magazine The New Republic, has written an impassioned essay that identifies the root cause of the Democrats' election defeat and lays out a roadmap for their re-emergence. Entitled "A Fighting Faith," he reaches back to the legacies of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy to bolster his thesis.

His prescription? Political steroids. And at doses that would make Jason Giambi blush.

Beinart argues that the new Democratic party must, like the post-WWII labor unions, purge those elements that don't subscribe to an aggressive foreign policy on behalf of those oppressed by totalitarianism in all of its forms, especially Islamic terror. Fighting jihadists should be as central to the party as supporting an increased minimum wage. Those "softs" within the party that reject the War on Terror, like, and Michael Moore, are his principle targets:

"When Moore opposes the war against the Taliban, he casts doubt upon the sincerity of liberals who say they opposed the Iraq war because they wanted to win in Afghanistan first."

Of MoveOn, Beinart explains that it "sees threats to liberalism only on the right. And thus, it makes common cause with the most deeply illiberal elements on the international left."

What Beinart effectively says is that the Democratic left is entirely opposed to the U.S. projecting its power on behalf of liberal values, freedom, and democracy. They don't want us to win.

So Beinart sums up: "The recognition that liberals face an external enemy (Islamic terrorism) more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left."

It will take a serious cocktail of steroids to develop a muscular approach within today's Democratic party. And when you're starting with physiques like Moore's, the dosage may kill the patient.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Iraq Tectonics

In 1915, Alfred Wegener, a German Arctic explorer and meteorologist, published a radical new scientific theory that caused him ridicule and derision throughout the course of his life.

Only later in the 20th century, well past his death, was Wegener's theory finally accepted and taught throughout schoolrooms the world over.

Wegener never got to see his grand model of Plate Tectonics and Continental Drift be adopted as a scientific fact. But the ground is shifting under the feet of the Middle East, and we soon might be witnessing an event as earth-shattering as Wegener's hypothesis.

And I'm not referring to Michael Moore's shave and bath.

The promise of representative government is rumbling within the Middle East. The molten lava of free elections is bubbling up to the surface. And some in the region want to know why it's only in Iraq:

"It is outrageous, and amazing, that the first free and general elections in the history of the Arab nation are to take place in January: in Iraq, under the auspices of American occupation, and in Palestine, under the auspices of the Israeli occupation. "

The remaining challenge is this: Can independent and sovereign Arab countries give their peoples something better than what the occupation is giving today to Iraq and Palestine?" Al-Hayat, 11/25 (HT: Andrew Sullivan)

And the naysayers and cynics (read NYTimes editorial page) have tried their best to delay the upcoming vote on January 30, but their call for postponements on the grounds of the need for more security and the inclusion of more Sunnis in the Triangle has been exposed as a sham.

My sense is that the continental plates of Middle-Eastern dictatorships and the allure of free elections are slipping and sliding at a pace much faster than our continents. Nobody's suggesting that Damascus will become a beacon of the Enlightenment, but look from whence we start.

Can a Tehran-spring be far behind? One can dream. But at the very least these forces could focus the angry energies of the ballooning Arab-male population inwards towards reform, instead of outwards towards our skyscrapers.

Unlike Wegener, we might live long enough to see that the radicalization of Islam has been tamed by democratic forces. But I don't expect to see Michael Moore take another bath in this lifetime.