Archive for 2008 February

Cash-rich Obama Buys Yahoo

Outbids Microsoft for Internet Giant


Flush with cash
after a deluge of online donations, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) stunned
the business world today by outbidding Microsoft for the Internet giant


The purchase of Yahoo! is believed to be the largest acquisition of
a multibillion-dollar company ever by a Democratic presidential
candidate, industry experts said.


A spokesman for Microsoft at the company’s Redmond, Washington
headquarters acknowledged that the company was “disappointed” to lose
Yahoo to Sen. Obama, but added, “We can’t really be mad at him, because
we love him so.”


The news of Sen. Obama’s $48 billion offer for Yahoo sent a shudder
through Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY)’s campaign, which for the past six
weeks has been subsisting on Ramen noodles.


From Andy Borowitz today. More here:



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Ralph Nader Takes Credit for Al Gore’s Nobel Prize

Believe it or don’t. Here’s the ever-charming Nader, in an interview with the BBC:

BBC: A lot of people blame you for allowing George Bush to come in in 2000, because you took a fair number of votes that would have gone to Al Gore for the Democrats.

NADER: No, actually the studies show that by pushing Gore to take more progressive stands, he actually ended up with a net vote. That’s Solon Simmons, who teaches at George Mason University. If you ask Al Gore, who’s now world famous, I don’t get credit for that, do I? If I’m going to get blamed for his defeat, why don’t I get credit for his making global climate change a major issue, making him a multi-millionaire, and for getting a Nobel Prize?

Wow. What can you say. By that logic, Nader should run for president. Who knows, maybe Obama will end the war, stop global warming, and restore prosperity — and we’ll have Ralph Nader to thank.

Mr. Fish feels differently. So does Tom Toles:


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There Will Be Blood: A Dramatization of Peak Oil?

In the realm of art, no interpretation of a work can be final, but intriguing hints from no less than the writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson suggest that the stunning movie There Will Be Blood is actually a story not about the rise and fall of a man so much as it is about the rise and fall of a commodity: oil.

Of course, even the intentions of the creators — and in the case of There Will Be Blood, that means principally the writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson, the star Daniel Day-Lewis, the cinematographer Robert Elswit, and the composer Jonny Greenwood — don’t necessarily prove anything. (After all, Anderson revealed in one interview that he "had no idea what we were doing" until he heard Greenwood’s revelatory score.)

But consider what Anderson said in an interview bout the movie with Terry Gross:

"We all know what has happened with oil, don’t we? We all know the
end of the story. It’s a bit like Titanic, we all know the boat sinks.
The fun of the story is watching how we get there."

Or what he said in an interview about with Charlie Rose, in reference to the oil industry’s recent fortunes:

"I haven’t been living in a bubble for the last six years."

Or what the great music critic Alex Ross said of the score in The New Yorker:

Greenwood, too, writes the music of an injured Earth; if the smeared
string glissandos on the soundtrack suggest liquid welling up from
underground, the accompanying dissonances communicate a kind of
interior, inanimate pain. The cellos cry out most wrenchingly when
Plainview scratches his name on a claim, preparing to bleed the land.

Too literal an interpretation of what Anderson described to Charlie Rose as "a great boxing match" between the two of the most powerful forces in recent American history — evangelical religion and the oil industry — would be pointless.

But when it comes to the controversial ending, we have to consider the possibility that this story is not about an individual, or even an industry.

We have no choice, really, because it’s only in this context that the finale makes sense.

For those who have seen the movie, or who have no intention seeing the movie but still want to consider the idea, please read on.


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An Incoming Democratic Tide — in Texas?

So Arnold Garcia, Jr., in a commentary for the Austin American-Statesman:

in the reddest counties in a deep red state, Texans are streaming to
vote in the Democratic primary at double and sometimes triple the
number voting in the Republican primary.

Early vote tallies compiled since Tuesday — the day early voting
opened for the March 4 primary — show huge numbers of suburban voters
turning up to vote Democrat. Texas suburbs have long been Republican
strongholds, but the numbers indicate a huge shift.

You can probably chalk that up to the excitement generated by the
Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama race for the Democratic presidential
nomination. But if — capital "I," capital "F" — Texas Democrats hold
onto those votes in November, they have the best chance in years to
come back from the wilderness they’ve been mapping since the mid-’90s.
It’s IF because the party’s organization has been in tatters, its bench
isn’t deep — and if the party has a clear, coherent message, I haven’t
heard it.

Big Democratic turnouts in Travis County are to be expected, but the
early votes so far are record breaking — 23,132 as of Thursday — making
any number of local races difficult to handicap because the big
turnouts dilute the influence of the Democratic in crowd.

Where the Democratic surge is truly impressive is in the suburbs
that were once the exclusive property of Republicans. In Collin County,
at the heart of the Metroplex — a heavily Republican area — county
officials recorded the Democratic turnout at 5,021 early voters as of
Thursday. That represented an increase of 4,294 early votes in the 2006
Democratic primary.

A wow would be in order here.

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You Can’t Save the Earth by Buying #$@!

Lots of folks have made this point, but here’s a particularly good piece on the subject, called "Beware the EcoMoms," by Laura McKenna. She begins by caustically pointing out that New York Times reporters don’t get along well with moms, especially those of the suburban variety, which in my limited-but-personal experience is absolutely true, and can result in a lot of snarky prose. Such as:

The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that
includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green
building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally
grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up
children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about
the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

True enough, but more importantly, you can’t buy your way out of our mutual responsibility for climate change. As McKenna writes:

The greenest people are totally unhip and
unlikely to be photographed for the Times or a glossy magazine. They’re
still wearing their clothes from twenty years ago. They aren’t keeping
their home spa-worthy clean. No need to worry about polluting the air
with chemicals, if you aren’t dusting every five minutes. They aren’t
constantly renovating their kitchens and bathrooms, all of which uses
enormous amounts of energy and resources; they are still living with
the Formica numbers from the 70s. They aren’t jetting off to Europe to
browse the Paris markets; they go bowling in the next town over. They
aren’t constantly shopping for new things and tossing out the old

This is some poetry in all of this. Grandma with the Hummels has a
smaller carbon footprint by doing absolutely nothing than the wealthy
do-gooder in the Range Rover attending the NRDC fundraiser.

If you must have a hip home and global warming is a concern, then
there are other ways to go. Pick up end tables from a garage sale and
paint them. Buy an old house near the center of town. Don’t get your
nails done.

Finding "the poetry" in such a lifestyle: now there’s a worthy goal. Let’s hope we can.

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Obama Wins in Landslide over McCain and Hillary

Sometimes numbers tell the story far more clearly than words. Whatever it is about Obama that appeals to voters, the trend continues: in yesterday’s primary in Wisconsin, he came home with about 646,000     votes. Hillary garnered 453,000. McCain, by comparison, 224,000, and Huckabee about 151,000. All by himself, Obama came within range of defeating Hillary and McCain put together; all by herself, Hillary outpolled the GOP field.

If the trend continues, we’re talking a Democratic landslide in November.

Which raises the question: How will the GOP and presumptive candidate McCain attack Obama?

A couple of clues have emerged in the last couple of days. According to a document prepared for a top-level GOP gathering in Beverly Hills, featuring Karl Rove among others, they’re going to go after Obama for: "inexperience," "undisciplined messaging," and "a pattern of voting present" in the Illinois legislature.

Hmmm. "Undisciplined messaging." Is that code that only Republicans can hear? Because it doesn’t sound so scary to me.

Somewhat more ominously, the far-right outfit that calls itself Accuracy in Media is calling on the media to report on a relationship Obama had thirty years ago with Frank Marshall Davis, a black poet and member of the Communist Party (of the USA). Cliff Kincaid claims that this was a "secret" and that Davis was somehow associated with the Soviet Union, but has to admit that Davis was eighty years old when Obama knew him…and also a columnist for the local newspaper, the Honolulu Record.

What’s more, this too turns out to be old news. Obama discussed the relationship in his first book, Dreams from My Father. Further, this potential issue has already been aired in a major campaign. When Obama ran for the Senate in 2004, his GOP opponent Alan Keyes  called Davis a "hard-core academic Marxist."

This accusation so frightened the Illinois electorate that they elected Obama by a 73-24% margin.

Translation: They got nothing. What will they make up?

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Why Republicans Like Bad Meat

Beats me. But — according to Eric Schlosser, author of the well-known "Fast Food Nation" — they do. It’s an agricultural policy insisted on by so-called "conservatives," in fact.

Scholosser said this to Warren Olney, of the interview program "Which Way L.A.?" this evening, on the subject of the recall of 143 million pounds of beef. The recall is mostly meaningless, because it covers meat from the last two years, the vast proportion of which has already been eaten. Here’s Schlosser:

“I think the Clinton administration was making a sincere effort to try and impose some tough rules on the meat-packing industry, and it was the right wing of the Republican party in Congress that was blocking these proposals, again and again. Once President Bush took office, the meat-packing industry was essentially empowered. And it’s very difficult to tell the difference between USDA policy and the policy of the American meat-packing industry. It’s tragic, because this should be a non-partisan issue. All Republicans and Democrats have to eat, but the right wing of the Republican industry has very close ties to the meat-packing industry and has prevented any kind of meaningful reform.”

As seems to be the rule these days, numerous print exposes had zero influence on the public, but once a Humane Society investigator snuck a pen camera into a California slaughterhouse, and recorded "downer" cattle being blasted with water-hoses, hit in the eye with sticks, and pushed around by forklifts; well, imagine the outrage! Those with strong stomachs can see the cattle being abused here.

It’s these sort of horrors that have driven my family towards vegetarianism, led by our teenage daughter Emily. I’ve been dragging my feet, I confess, but her firm insistence has pushed me to find some good veggie recipes. Here’s a winner I found this fall, from Alice Waters underappreciated "The Art of Simple Food." It’s inexpensive, healthy, satisfying, and requires zero meat. Even dairy (parmesan cheese) is optional, and although chicken broth is helpful, a good vegetable broth will work just fine.

Curly Kale and Potato Soup

(makes two quarts: 4 to 6 servings)

Remove the tough stems from the leaves of:

1 LARGE BUNCH OF KALE, curly or Russian

Wash, drain well, and coarsely chop.

Heat in a heavy soup pol:




Cook over medium heat, stirring occsionally, until soft, tender, and slightly browned, about twelve minutes. [The more burned the darker the soup — but some like it better that way.]

While the onions are cooking, peel, cut in haslf, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices:

1 POUND POTATOES    [pref. Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold]

When the onions are cooked, stir in:


Cook the garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the potatoes and chopped kale. Stir, then add:


Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add:


Raise the heat, bring to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the kale and potatoes are tender. Taste the soup and add more salt if necessary. Serve hot and garnish each service with:


Other variations: Add browned sausage, freshly-made croutons, or cooked white beans to soup shortly before serving.

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Homeless Man Convicted for Day Fire

In an attempt to control huge fires such as the Day Fire, which in 2006 burned through Ventura County for over a month, consuming over 160,000 acres of chaparral, Federal prosecutors took forest dweller Steven Emory Butcher to court.

On Friday he was convicted of starting the Day Fire. This gives prosecutors the option of assessing him for the costs of fighting the fire, estimated in the $70 million dollar range, but since he’s been homeless for years, the usefulness of that tactic looks limited.

The conviction was not a surprise: two years before he had confessed to starting another fire, the Ellis Fire, which burned 70 acres. Butcher is believed to be mentally ill, and prosecutors admitted that in past years, when fires were seemingly not as big a threat, they might not have prosecuted him.

Next question: Will this method work? Check back this September and maybe we’ll find out. Here’s a photo from drumsandwhistles of what the sky looked like during September 06 ’round these parts.


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City Limit: A Poet Takes the Measure of Portland on Foot

Starting early this century, poet and professor David Oates set out to walk the boundary line that Oregon drew around the city of Portland decades ago to concentrate its development and discourage sprawl. What is today called "the New Urbanism" is not new in Portland: it’s been part of the political process since l973.

As Oates writes in a forward to a book he recently published about his adopted state’s experiment in urban utopianism:

We hope to grow in, and in some places, up. To get richer in connections and cleverness — to get deeper — instead of wider, flatter, and shallower.

That simplicity of language and depth of thought is part of the charm of "City Limits: Walking Portland’s Boundary." Like Thoreau, to whom Oates alludes in his first chapter — titled "Where I walked, What I Walked For" — Oates has a knack for linking a bold action, such as walking over 250 miles around the city, to a self-deprecating description.

Oates lightly mocks himself for getting lost, for his fear of dog attacks in redneck neighborhoods, and even for his own occasional tendency to stereotype people. This willingness to reveal his flaws helps the reader trust Oates’ discussion of the issues raised by Portland’s boundary (known as the UGB, or Urban Growth Boundary). Oates also dares include in his book brief essays from others, including philosopher/writer such as Kathleen Deen Moore, winemaker Eric Lemelson, as well as a planner, a landscape architect, and even a developer — the sort of voices not usually heard in "environmental" books.

Most surprising of all, on his walks Oates occasionally encounters legendary figures — such as John Muir, Paul Shepherd, Italo Calvino — who just happen to have inspired Oates. These ghostly figures turn out to be quite chatty, and yet utterly themselves, giving the book a jolt of originality to match its open-mindedness. Every encounters with these ghosts has a wistful quality; one can tell that Oates hates to see them go.

Calvino especially inspires, with his discussion of the city of the labyrinthian spiral, the city of multiple desires, the city "that fades before your eyes," he tells Oates. "Like all of Portland’s inhabitants, you follow zigzag lines from one street to another…all the rest of the city is invisible. Your footsteps follow not what is outside the eyes, but what is within, buried, erased."

It’s a wonderful, original, eye-opening book. Although sometimes the multiple introductions and voices give it a patchwork quilt quality, in the end the book resembles the city Oates obviously adores: vibrantly alive, defiantly progressive, fearlessly contentious. Oates kindly agreed to answer a few questions about Portland and its attempts to control its development for me at Gristmill…for more, please follow the link.

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The Inconvenient Truth on the Campaign Trail

JohnnyRook for Daily Kos makes the unavoidable point:

No candidate, even if he or she truly understands the urgency of dealing with the climate crisis, is going to say what really needs to be said about global warming until after they are elected. The reason: if they do they won’t get elected. (FDR didn’t start talking about the New Deal until his inauguration speech.)

The simple truth is that the people who understand the magnitude of
the problem and the magnitude of the required solutions are a small
minority.  Why just from Mike Huckabee’s poll numbers one can
extrapolate that at least 30% of the US population still doesn’t even
believe that it’s real.

Talking bluntly about the true nature of the problem that we face
and the size of the commitment that it’s going to take to solve it
would be the kiss of death for any presidential candidate because the
expense, discomfort and dislocation involved in solving it are just too
big for most people to grasp and accept on their own without much
larger "natural" disasters than we’ve had so far.

Agreed, but please note that in every Obama speech I’ve heard in the last two or three weeks he has brought up "the planet in peril." Rook calls for the president elect to speak on climate change every week. Obama (in his poetic way) has been doing that on the campaign trail. Last night he said:

It’s a game where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns
record profits, while you pay the price at the pump, and our planet is
put at risk. That’s what happens when lobbyists set the agenda, and
that’s why they won’t drown out your voices anymore when I am President
of the United States of America.

"Our planet is put at risk." Maybe that’s not enough, but it’s a start, Mr. Rook.

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