26 August 2006

Requiem for a Former Planet

If there’s anyone in the world truly happy about the
recent decision by the International Astronomical Union
to remove Pluto’s planetary status it must be Gustav Holst.

Or at least it would be, if he wasn’t busy being dead for
the past 72 years.

A popular favorite since its premiere in 1920, The Planets
is perhaps the best-known orchestral work of the 20th
Century. Along with Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and
Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, it has
become a classic work for children and a great
introduction to “serious” music. A recording by Leonard
Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic was one of the
first albums I ever owned and even sounded pretty
decent on my plastic Fisher Price turntable. These days
I’m more partial to the version by Holst’s friend and fellow
countryman, Sir Adrian Boult.

But as a kid, I was always disappointed that Pluto was
nowhere to be found in The Planets suite. The work ends
with the icy, siren voices of Neptune fading away into
the dark, silent void of outer space.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who felt like something
was missing

Although Pluto was discovered during Holst's
lifetime, in 1930, Holst expressed no interest in
writing a movement for it. In 2000, The Hallé
Orchestra commissioned composer Colin
Matthews, a Holst specialist, to write a new
eighth movement, which Matthews entitled
Pluto, the Renewer. Dedicated to Imogen Holst,
Gustav Holst's daughter, it was first performed
in Manchester on May 11, 2000, with Kent
Nagano conducting the Hallé Orchestra.
Matthews changed the ending of Neptune into a
transition to "Pluto". In August 2006 Pluto's
status was changed from a planet to a dwarf
planet by The International Astronomical Union
(IAU), a worldwide society of astronomers from
75 countries.

That’s what you get for tinkering with the classics.

24 August 2006


Further proof that you have to wake up pretty early in the afternoon
to pull a fast one over ol' Wolfie.

"CNN... the most trusted name in news."

21 August 2006

That Sinking Feeling

In October 2004, Ron Suskind wrote the following in the
NY Times Magazine:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an
article in Esquire that the White House didn't
like about Bush's former communications
director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a
senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the
White House's displeasure, and then he told
me something that at the time I didn't fully
comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to
the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what
we call the reality-based community,'' which
he defined as people who ''believe that
solutions emerge from your judicious study of
discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured
something about enlightenment principles and
empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way
the world really works anymore,'' he
continued. ''We're an empire now, and when
we act, we create our own reality. And while
you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as
you will -- we'll act again, creating other new
realities, which you can study too, and that's
how things will sort out. We're history's actors
. . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study
what we do.''

Charming, no? And no doubt historians will indeed study
what they’ve done for many years to come -- and it
won’t be pretty. After more than two years of
unrelenting tragedy and incompetence, it is quite clear
that reality cannot simply be extinguished because a
bunch of pencil-necked, chickenhawk neo-cons in the
White House say so.

Which is why their whole Middle East adventure has
turned into a world-class crapfest.

But you don’t have to take my word for it -- or the rest of
the 60% of Americans who agree that the Iraq War is a
fuck-up of monumental proportions. To really see just
how far the reality-based insurgency has penetrated the
Land of Oz, check out this article from Peter Baker in the
Washington Post.

"Conservatives for a long time were in
protective mode, wanting to emphasize the
progress in Iraq to contrast what they felt was
an unfair attack on the war by the Democrats
and media and other sources," Rich Lowry,
editor of the National Review, said in an
interview. "But there's more of a sense now that
things are on a downward trajectory, and more
of a willingness to acknowledge it and pressure
the administration to react to it."

Lowry's magazine offers a powerful example. "It
is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in
Iraq," Lowry wrote in April 2005, chastising
those who disagreed. This month, he published
an editorial that concluded that "success in Iraq
seems more out of reach than it has at any time
since the initial invasion three years ago" and
assailed "the administration's on-again-off-again
approach to Iraq."

"It is time for the Bush administration to
acknowledge that its approach of assuring
people that progress is being made and
operating on that optimistic basis in Iraq isn't
working," the editorial said. Lowry followed up
days later in his own column, suggesting that the
United States is "losing, or at least not obviously
winning, a major war" and asking whether Iraq
is "Bush's Vietnam."

Reality sure is a bitch, ain't it? Better hurry, guys.
Those lifeboats are filling up pretty fast.

17 August 2006


The law strikes back...

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17 — A federal judge in
Detroit ruled today that the Bush administration’s
eavesdropping program is illegal and
unconstitutional, and she ordered that it cease at

District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor found that
President Bush exceeded his proper authority
and that the eavesdropping without warrants
violated the First and Fourth Amendment
protections of free speech and privacy.


“It’s another nail in the coffin of executive
unilateralism,” said Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for
the plaintiffs with the A.C.L.U. And Anthony
Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., said
Judge Taylor’s ruling “confirms that the
government has been acting illegally, in
contravention of the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment.’’

The surveillance act was passed by Congress in
1978 in response to disclosures of previous
government improprieties in eavesdropping. The
act established a secret court to handle
applications for surveillance operations, and set
up procedures for them to take place while
applications for warrants are pending in some
limited circumstances and for limited times.

Judge Taylor said “the president has acted,
undisputedly, as F.I.S.A. forbids,” thus defying
the express will of Congress, and she was
unpersuaded by the government’s stance that it
could not defend itself in the lawsuit without
doing the country harm.

“Consequently, the court finds defendants’
arguments that they cannot defend this case
without the use of classified information to be
disingenuous and without merit,” she wrote.

15 August 2006

This Doesn't Work

Even George Will understands that the Bush
Administration’s approach to fighting terrorism (invading
countries that pose no serious threat to our security,
destroying their entire infrastructure, torturing and killing
their civilians, and pissing off the entire world community)
doesn’t work.

As the latest foiled terrorist plot in London shows, the key
to beating terrorists is better, smarter law enforcement.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law
enforcement (the British draw upon useful
experience combating IRA terrorism) has
validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased
by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10,
2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that
cripple drug lords, including governments
working jointly to share intelligence, patrol
borders and force banks to identify suspicious
customers, can also be some of the most useful
tools in the war on terror." In a candidates'
debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry
said that although the war on terror will be
"occasionally military," it is "primarily an
intelligence and law enforcement operation that
requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was
disrupted, a "senior administration official,"
insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic
words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a
point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be
peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it
weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a
valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the
understanding or the commitment to take on
these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law
enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur
makes the administration seem eager to repel
all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric
reflects the intellectual contortions required to
sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central
to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike
"the law enforcement approach," does "work."

The official is correct that it is wrong "to think
that somehow we are responsible -- that the
actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S.
policies." But few outside the fog of paranoia
that is the blogosphere think like that. It is more
dismaying that someone at the center of
government considers it clever to talk like that.
It is the language of foreign policy -- and
domestic politics -- unrealism.

Also, Glenn Greenwald sets the record straight with this
must-read post about the surveillance techniques used to
bring down this latest batch of alleged terrorists.
Contrary to to the shrill cries of the Bush Administration
and its supporters, authorities were able to stop the bad
guys without having to resort to illegal, warrantless

And yet, here was a major plot foiled because
the terrorist plotters were using telephones to
communicate about their plans -- and using
banking systems to wire money -- all of which
law enforcement could track within the law.
This whole episode potently illustrates just how
inane are the claims that the Times' NSA story
(and its SWIFT disclosures) would endanger
national security. Terrorists already knew full
well that we monitor their telephone
conversations and banking transactions, and
they knew that before the New York Times
"told" them so. But in order to plan terrorist
attacks, terrorists must communicate with one
another and send money to each other.
Somehow, the Times' story did not prevent us
from eavesdropping on all of these
conversations. That's because the Times stories
-- as has been evident from the beginning -- told
terrorists nothing which they could use to avoid

Only Bush followers could point to a successful
law enforcement operation which, by all
appearances, complied with the law, and try to
use it to argue how necessary it is that the law
be broken. That is the central myth at the heart
of the Bush desire for increased authoritarian
measures -- that there is a forced choice
between protection from terrorist threats and
the rule of law.

That is a false choice. We can be a country
which lives under the rule of law and which
effectively battles terrorism -- just as we were
a country which lived under the rule of law
(including FISA) as we battled communism and
a whole array of other external threats. Despite
the bizarre effort by Bush followers to use this
U.K. plot to argue for the need for the President
to break the law, it actually demonstrates
precisely the opposite.

11 August 2006



WASHINGTON - The Bush administration posted
an unprecedented code-red alert for passenger
flights from Britain to the United States and
banned liquids from all carry-on bags Thursday,
clamping down quickly after British authorities
disrupted a frightening terror plot.

But seriously, what about ice cream?

Technically, ice cream is not a liquid unless it melts
or you make a milkshake. (mmmm... milkshake.)

If I showed up with a few pints of Häagen-Dazs and a
carry-on bag that could keep it cold
, would they let me
through the gate?

Could someone please ask Chertoff? I really need to
know this shit.


09 August 2006

The Cheese Stands Alone

Congratulations to Ned Lamont and all the passionate
supporters that helped him knock Holy Joe off the
Democratic ticket in Connecticut. It was a well run
campaign and hopefully a sign of better days to come
for the Democratic party.

But now is when it really gets interesting.

Mr. Lieberman conceded defeat in the primary
in a phone call to Mr. Lamont shortly before 11
p.m. Tuesday. But then, in a combative speech
to supporters in Hartford that was carried live
on television news broadcasts, the senator
declared that he was not dropping out of the

“As I see it, in this campaign, we’ve just
finished the first half, and the Lamont team is
ahead, but in the second half, our team, Team
Connecticut, is going to surge forward to victory
in November,” Mr. Lieberman told cheering
supporters last night.

This morning, Mr. Lieberman said on NBC’s
“Today” program that no one could persuade
him to drop his bid, saying his mind was “made

A survey of Democratic primary voters leaving
polling places in Connecticut, conducted by The
New York Times and CBS News, found little
support for the idea. Sixty-one percent of
respondents said Mr. Lieberman should not run
as an independent in November, including 21
percent of Mr. Lieberman’s supporters, while 39
percent of all respondents said he should.

Of course numbers like those don’t matter at all to a
self-righteous egomaniac like Joe Lieberman, who actually
has the nerve to say this with a straight face:

For the sake of our state, our country and my
party, I cannot and will not let that result stand.

See folks, what appears to be a weasel-like attempt to
maintain a position of power and prestige at all costs, is
actually a selfless act of sacrifice -- a bit of tough love
for the poor, deluded voters of Connecticut who were
somehow fooled into voting for the guy who wasn’t
Joe Lieberman.

Now that’s what I call leadership.

02 August 2006

You say you want some evolution?

Another crucial victory for Team Darwin.

TOPEKA, Kan. - Conservative Republicans who
pushed anti-evolution standards back into
Kansas schools last year have lost control of the
state Board of Education once again.

The most closely watched race was in western
Kansas, where incumbent conservative Connie
Morris lost her GOP primary Tuesday. The
former teacher had described evolution as "an
age-old fairy tale" and "a nice bedtime story"
unsupported by science.

As a result of Tuesday's vote, board members
and candidates who believe evolution is well-
supported by evidence will have a 6-4 majority.
Evolution skeptics had entered the election with
a 6-4 majority.

I suppose if one believes the Earth was created 6,000
years ago then a book published in 1859 probably does
seem like an “age-old fairy tale.” At any rate, on behalf
of the reality-based world community I’d like to welcome
the great state of Kansas back to the Age of Reason.
We hope you’ll stay a while.