Thursday, June 30, 2011


Björk Guðmundsdóttir has a new album, Biophilia, on the way, and the single "Crystalline" was released this week. As she explains it, the new work is the result of "a lot of research and reading" about structures in nature and in music – "where they are similar." This aligns with recent work by Oliver Sacks, for one. His 2007 book Musicophilia talks about they ways music interacts with our brain chemistry. I'm guessing the similarity in titles is no coincidence.

 Björk also commissioned some unique new musical instruments for the album, one of which is described in the video below. She kicks off the public introduction to this opus with a six-night stand at the Manchester International Festival tonight. To me, she's one of the most exciting, influential and original performers of the last few decades, and I hope the subsequent tour can land within a few hundred miles of here, at least.

The Gameleste - a custom instrument for Björk from Andy McCreeth on Vimeo.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Optimists and Pessimists

On the debt limit game of chicken, BooMan represents the optimists. He basically thinks the White House has John Boehner by the short-and-curlies:
On this whole debt limit deal, the White House seems to be supremely confident that they'll get something done and that it will be the Republicans who will blink. That's not to say that there won't be some ugly concessions made, but when it comes to facing their respective bases of political support, it's the Congressional Republican leadership who will be getting the worst beating.
This was reinforced today when Senator Schumer started rhetorically jabbing his finger in Boehner's chest. Reference also the sonorous tones of Brit Hume describing the nature of the bluff.

On the pessimist's side is Digby. She, too expects the deal to come through, but fears that the White House will be giving away far too much, and that Republicans will be high-fiving Boehner when it's over:
From his press conference today, it would appear that the president's negotiating strategy really is to give Republicans huge cuts in spending (and "make his base give him a hard time") and then shame them into "meeting him halfway" by agreeing to mildly raise taxes on some luxury items like corporate jet travel. (Luckily, he reassured the nervous CEOs by saying "you'll still be able to ride on your corporate jet, you'll just have to pay a little more" so hopefully they won't have a fit.)That's what constitutes shared sacrifice and fiscal responsibility. Good to know.
I dunno who's right, but it seems like Schumer knows something we don't know. Just wish this were over already.

Miyazakiesque Miss

I mentioned Rango and Fantastic Mr. Fox as examples of that rare commodity: kids' films that are equally satisfying for the adults. Another deeply satisfying entry in that category was the sublime Secret of Kells.

On the other hand, I had the great misfortune to see Hop at the second-run theater recently, and I had to physically remove myself from my wife and kids and take refuge in the theater next door (which was showing an idiosyncratic film called Hanna). Oh Gawd was Hop execrable; but the kids liked it.

Not as much as they (and we) liked the Secret of Kells, though, and so we set out Monday to take in Mia and the Migoo, secure in the knowledge that it was brought to us by "the same company" that brought us Kells. As it turns out, what that meant was not the same animation company, but the same distribution company.

That quibble aside, Migoo was far from a bad movie; we all enjoyed the experience. But here's the thing: it was meant as an hommage to the work of animation genius Hiyao Miyazaki. And if you do that, it's kind of like a barroom power trio covering the Jimi Hendrix Experience. You'd better be damn sure you're brilliant. And on that score, Migoo was a miss.

The story hits all the Miyazakiesque notes: unflappable girl protagonist; her plucky boy sidekick; endangered ecosystems; unusual aircraft; helpful supernatural beings; even a bad guy who turns out to be not so bad after all. But it's kind of like the Reader's Digest condensed version of a Miyazaki story. And if you've been spoiled by the master's attention to detail, subtlety, character development, and enigmatic sense of mystery, Mia and the Migoo can't help falling short.

That said, the film is wonderful visually, particularly in its use of color. There are many evocative moments, and the English-language release has some great voice talent. I don't have a problem recommending it. But if you haven't worked you way through Miyazaki's back catalogue – do that first.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Speaking of Spinning in Graves....

Seismologists report that William Strunk and E. B. White have commenced rotating on their respective axes.

Flight From Empiricism, Part 26,479

As discussed in earlier posts, the right wing in this country has a serious aversion to empiricism when it comes to climate science (not to mention the Theory of Evolution). And when it comes to the dismal science, well, opinions differ. But Moynihan's Law still prevails in economic debate.

Or it should, anyway. But I expect the following will have virtually no impact on our current deficit hysteria. Nevertheless, I'm honor-bound to pass on to you this data showing that the states who cut their budgets in the face of the recession made unemployment even worse, while the states that increased spending saw their unemployment rates go down.

If this seem counter-intuitive, you may be watching too much cable news.

Nevertheless, it was reported on HuffPo this morning, under the headline "States That Cut The Most Funding Lost The Most Jobs." The article cited research from ThinkProgress, but linked to a guest post from a Center for American Progress blogger, Adam Hersh. Mr. Hersh in turn linked up to his CAP colleagues, who provide a link-happy dissection of GOP economic policies.

Just for today, Lord Keynes has stopped spinning in his grave.

1990: Auto-Erotica?

Rummaging through the diminishing archives, I found another burning example of how climate change was a looming danger more than twenty years ago, and how little has been done since then. And according to a Scientific American article published today, we're literally reaping the whirlwind.

There is virtual unanimity among scientists that if present trends continue, the home planet is in for some serious warming. So what can you do about those present trends? The answer may be parked out in your driveway. If you own a car, it is one of 400 million such vehicles - with over a quarter of that total here in the United States - each of them spewing its weight in carbon dioxide every year.

While it may not be your intention to bake the old biosphere, you might be faced with precious few alternatives for getting from point A to point B. At the same time, our century-old exercise in "auto-erotica" may be reaching critical mass: for many of us, the damn things are getting to be more trouble than they're worth. No matter how many new roads and parking lots we build, we're still packed in like steel sardines. The average commuter’s traffic speed keeps slowing down, while the mean global temperature just keeps getting meaner.

How did we get into this mess, anyway? One person you may wish to thank is the late E. Roy Fitzgerald. In 1949, Fitzgerald was convicted for being pail of a criminal conspiracy to rid the nation's cities of their highly efficient electric trolley systems. Convicted in the case, along with Fitzgerald, were General Motors, Standard Oil, and Firestone Tires. .According to Russell Mokhiber 's "Corporate Crime and Violence" (Sierra Club Books, 1988), Fitzgerald headed a covertly funded front company which bought up municipal streetcar, systems and ripped up the tracks during the 1930s and '40s. Those tracks could have formed the core of urban mass transit systems for virtually every metropolitan area in the United States. Had efficient mass transit been developed, the fat cats involved in the conspiracy would not have sold as many cars, tires, and gasoline as they did.

You might think the conspirators would have learned a lesson from their conviction. However, Fitzgerald and the other principals were fined exactly one buck (that's $1) each for their premeditated murder of the nation's urban mass transit systems.

Another conspirator in creating our dependence on the automobile is the federal government. Through the power of subsidies, it kept the domestic price of oil artificially low, encouraged the use of trucks rather than freight I trains, and built up our now-crumbling and overcrowded highway system. It is those free- ways that encouraged land-use patterns enabling millions of Americans to settle great distances from their work places - though that is small comfort now that we sit in mind-numbing traffic jams on the way.

Michael Renner of the Worldwatch Institute estimates that current government subsidies to the automobile may reach as much as $300 billion a year. Factored into this equation are not only the costs of road building and maintenance, but also of municipal services, accidents, health care, and tax losses from paved-over land (which amounts to .15 acre for every child, woman, and man in America). "If all of these expenses were reflected in retail fuel prices," notes Renner, "gasoline could be $4.50 a gallon."

Aside from the monetary costs, there is the annual toll of 50,000 human lives lost in traffic accidents - roughly equal to the total number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War. Additionally, University of California researchers estimate that cancer and other diseases resulting from the production and use of gasoline and diesel fuel may account for up to 30,000 premature deaths every year, plus $40 billion in health care costs and lost productivity. None of the above takes into account the current or eventual costs of acid rain or ozone depletion.

What alternatives do we have to burning gasoline? The use of alcohol fuel will be man- dated in some status to help meet elusive clean air standards. But it would take 40 percent of the United States' corn harvest to supply just 10 percent of our automobile fuel demand. Also, from 30 to 40 percent of the potential energy content of alcohol fuel sources are lost during the refining process.

The use of natural gases is more efficient than alcohol fuel, but both methods, although cleaner than gasoline, emit unacceptable levels of greenhouse gases - especially when multiplied by 400 million vehicles.

Hydrogen - the most abundant element in the universe - may be the clean-burning fuel of the future. Widespread use is still a long way off, especially in this country, where hydrogen research lags far behind Japan, Canada and West Germany. In the 1970s, America led the world in research into advanced fuel efficiency, until the Reagan Revolution slashed funding by-S5 percent, while rolling back fuel efficiency standards at the same time. The recently proposed Bush budget cuts funds for energy conservation by 50 percent and aid to mass transit by 25 percent.

Until General Motors and Standard Oil decide to sell hydrogen-powered cars, the most viable alternative is the electric vehicle. Recent prototypes can go up to 110 miles on a. single charge, travel up to 70 miles per hour, and theoretically emit no pollution (depending on where you get your electricity from).

With the declining price of photovoltaic cells, solar-powered electric cars are a realistic possibility, and would represent the best of all possible worlds. You'll probably have to build it yourself if you want it soon. The folks at General Motors and Standard Oil are in no hurry to bring it to market. Perhaps someone should fine them another buck.

In the long term, we can wait for the powers that be to provide us with alternative transit systems or cleaner fuels. In the short term they may even mandate cleaner or more efficient internal combustion engines. In the meantime, the forests keep dying and the Fahrenheit creeps ever upward.

If you get tired of waiting, you might want to move to Europe or Japan, where efficient and convenient rail systems have never disappeared. Bike-and-ride systems are also quite popular. In Tokyo, there is a well-guarded 15-story bicycle garage. In the Netherlands, the entire country is connected by a bicycle freeway system, complete with over- and underpasses and on- and off-ramps.

If you'd rather stay where you are, there is a proposal on the table right now for a railbus system running from La Selva Beach to Felton on existing Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. Bruce Douglas, a Washington, D.C. consultant, estimated it could be built for some $24 to $70 million. Unfortunately, he also told the County Transportation Commission that most of the drivers clogging Highway 1 during rush hour would never use such a system, prompting Santa Cruz Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt to wonder aloud why they should bother building it.

One thing's certain: if it doesn't get built, nobody will use it. And if there isn't any public support for it, it's not going to get built.

To paraphrase Smokey the Bear, only you can save the planet. You can let your county supervisor know that you think a railbus system is a good idea. You can let your Congressional representative know that you disagree with Bush's budget priorities. You could even get angry, because if there's one thing that upsets the powers that be, it's an aroused citizenry.

But most of all, you could leave that car parked in your driveway, and hop on a bicycle or a bus as often as possible. Because if you think your friends at General Motors and Standard Oil are going to save the planet for you, you might also be interested in purchasing some prime oceanfront property, near Prince William Sound.

No, Our Side Sucks More!

I'm glad that I read right-wing commentary as often as I do, because it helps give me a sense of perspective on a number of matters. Over in Left Blogistan, we complain about Obama, a lot. And among the most irksome things about him, according to us, are his poor negotiating skills; the way he consistently caves in to Republican demands. Via RedState this morning, righty blogger Michael Hammond, a former Senate staffer, has the mirror opposite complaint: that Republicans are regularly getting their clocks cleaned by Obama's superior negotiating tactics.

Of course, this could just be a trick! But bear with me...

Last week, Matthew Yglesias made a persuasive case that this latest hostage-taking over the debt limit was eminently foreseeable, and therefore a huge blunder on the part of Obama (and Reid):
Back last December when Democrats had a much stronger hand in Congress, they reached a deal with the GOP over tax cut extension and some additional stimulus. Since those measures all increased the deficit, many of us thought at the time that including an increase in the debt ceiling would be a smart idea. For one thing, if Congress wills an increase in debt, it ought to also will an increase in the government’s borrowing authority. For another thing, such an increase would minimize the GOP’s ability to launch a new round of hostage-taking. 
It didn’t happen. Obama said he trusted John Boehner. Harry Reid said he didn’t want the debt limit to be raised by the 111th Congress because he wanted to force the incoming 112th Congress to take ownership over it. The results of these decisions have been a disaster.
But Kevin Drum demurred, in keeping with FDR's dictum that if it happens in politics, "You can bet that it was planned that way:"
For what it's worth, I continue to think that this probably wasn't a bungle. More likely, during his first two years in office Obama had gotten enough deficit religion from the likes of Peter Orszag and Tim Geithner that he actually welcomed the opportunity to put in place some long-term spending cuts. He couldn't very well admit that publicly, of course, since his base would go bananas, so instead he punted on the debt ceiling, knowing that Republicans would then use it to "force" spending concessions out of him. Mission accomplished: long-term spending is reduced, and Republicans get all the blame.
And for what it's worth, my reaction to that was that they could both be right.  It could be that the White House anticipated the GOP use of the hostage tactic, desired them to take the blame for a spending cut deal, and yet still underestimated the depth of their intransigence and capacity for brinksmanship. But here's where Mr. Hammond has his say:
Watching House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell negotiate with Barack Obama is like watching a drunk try to run across the Beltway. Whether it’s ObamaCare, the financial reform bill, the Kagan nomination, the disastrous Lame Duck agenda, the Senate rules battle, the pathetic “continuing resolution deal,” or the current debt limit fight, you know both of them will end up as a splotch on the road, marked by Barack Obama’s tiretracks.
Hammond seems to think that the Republicans will eventually agree to "big hidden tax increases, like a recomputation of the Consumer Price Index, a bunch of user fees, or an end to the ethanol tax credit." And in exchange they'll be getting "short-term defense cuts and a bunch of illusory domestic spending cuts that don’t kick in until 2018."

And you know what? They could all three be right – at least in part. I'm sure the cuts are going to kick in  sooner than that – against the advice of economists right and left – but Hammond is right that Obama managed to get Boehner and McConnell to agree to a bunch of illusory spending cuts in December. Drum is right that Obama leans towards a Geithnerian view of the deficit. And Yglesias is right that the result of all this 11-dimensional chess could still be a disaster – particularly if you or a family member rely on Medicaid.

But whether Obama walked into this clear-eyed or backed into it by mistake, the most nervous guy at the table has to be Boehner. BooMan points out:
As frustrating as this whole process is, it's really Boehner who has painted himself into a box. I don't know how he gets out of it with his leadership job, frankly. ... If he caves on taxes, even a little, he'll probably have to rely almost exclusively on Democratic votes to raise the ceiling. And if he does that, he probably won't be Speaker for very long. So, maybe he just lets us default?
Which brings us back to my point: they could all be right, and still Obama has underestimated just how crazy and desperate a position the GOP is in. So things could get a lot worse before they get better. Generally, I'm wrong about a lot of things, and I sure hope this is one of them.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein makes the case for keeping an eye on Mitch McConnell's poker skills.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Random Ten #15

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1. Los Lobos/ Volver, Volver/ Just Another Band From East LA

2. Pete Townshend/ Forever's No Time At All/ Who Came First

3. Suicidal Tendencies/ Institutionalized/ Repo Man soundtrack

4. Buck Owens/ Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms/ Very Best of Buck Owens

5. Parliament/ Star Children/Unfunky UFO/ Mothership Connection

6. Buraka Som Sistema/ ICI19 (L-Vis 1990 Remix)/ Mad Decent Remixes

7. Asha Bhosle/ Aaj Ki Raat/ The Rough Guide to the Music of India

8. Killa Kat featuring Gazelle/ Moloke Mbembe/ Moloke Mbembe

9. Elvis Presley/ Heartbreak Hotel/ Heartbreak Hotel single

10. Patty Griffin/ Poor Man's House/ Living With Ghosts

Look's like the pod's in kind of a world music mood this morning, and I have some 'splainin' to do.

First off, Mad Decent is the label run by producer/DJ Diplo, who, among other things is kind of an Alan Lomax for the 21st Century. He travels the globe looking for regional music scenes, only in this case it's not folk music but club music, hip-hop and various subgenres of electronica. His remix skills are always in demand, but he has also helped to bring many worthy artists to a wider audience, staring with the goddess M.I.A. I had the good fortune to witness one of his DJ performances at Club Congress here in Tucson. Among the goodies you can find at his home page today is a remix of the Coasters hit "Yakkity Yak," in tribute to the passing of Carl Gardner.

Buraka Som Sistema are a Portuguese electronica collective, heavily influenced by both the contemporary and traditional music of Angola. This is a remix of a track from their 2008 album Black Diamond.

Asha Bhosle, born in 1933, has been certified as the world's "Most Recorded Artist," having committed to tape (or hard drive) over 12,000 songs. Bollywood soundtracks, of course, are one of the major conduits for popular music in India, and she has contributed to over a thousand of them. Bhosle is also the subject of the tribute single "Brimful of Asha" by Cornershop.

Moleke Mbembe was recorded at Red Bull Studios in Cape Town, South Africa. The band is currently described as "unsigned" on their MySpace page.

Messrs. Presley, Owens & Townshend need no introductions. Would that were also the case with Ms. Griffin. You may know of her, but she doesn't get nearly the recognition she deserves, as either a performer or a songwriter. Downtown Church is her latest.

Suicidal Tendencies are still active, reforming recently after a 1995 break-up, and planning a new album for 2012. They are not to be confused with the seminal protopunk electronica band Suicide.

That was a great segue from Suicidal Tendencies to Buck Owens to P-Funk. That's the kind of thing I'd do back in my DJ days. Back then, I was my own iPod.....

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Random Lynx

I just attended a party celebrating the 25th anniversary of Tucson's own See Sharp Press. As the proprietor told me shortly after I moved here, radical publishers need to stick together. They do good work; check them out.

I came home to find dueling statements from Wisconsin jurists. Here David Prosser claims he never laid a hand on that woman, and here that woman says oh yes he did.

Here's a statement from the Ugandan ambassador to the UN, representing the African Union's stance on the Libya situation. You don't have to agree with every word to realize this is a perspective you're not being exposed to on a daily basis.

I'm working on the Afghanistan chapter for the update of my CIA book. This article makes a really important point that I have to cover in only a few words; it deserves a fuller explanation.

I just yesterday finished a multi-year project of reading all seven Harry Potter books aloud to my kids. But wait – there's more.

The new Buddy Holly tribute album is really really good and you can stream it at NPR. It's kind of amazing that so many of his songs sound so fresh and contemporary more than 50 years later. Also: it takes nothing away from the other performers – stalwarts like Cee-Lo, Black Keys and Fiona Apple – to say that Paul McCartney steals the show.

Dave Marsh offers a heartfelt obituary for Clarence Clemons in the context of the racial politics of Springsteen's oeuvre.

Believe me, I've seen a lot of bizarre conspiracy theories in my time, but this one takes the cake. And I am not quite sure what to make of it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Several Lifetimes Ago

Um, Andy Warhol's cinematography is a bit disorienting, but here you have the Velvet Underground, filmed at a rehearsal back in 1966. Several lifetimes ago.

The Afghanistan Chapter

Here's another chapter from my 2002 book Boomerang! Or, How Our Covert Wars Have Created Enemies Across the Middle East and Brought Terror to America. Since Afghan policy has been in the news of late, I thought this might be timely (previously posted chapters include Egypt, Pakistan and Libya). This is the chapter as originally written; my editor then requested I add a lengthy rebuttal to a magazine article belittling the idea that energy policy could have anything to do with our intervention in that part of the world. Perhaps I'll post that separately later on....

The history of Afghanistan and the U.S. involvement in it provide a stark example of the costs of using countries as pawns and of elevating control of resources such as oil over human rights. The consequences, as we have suddenly learned on September 11, have hit home.

The root of the terror inflicted on Afghanistan can be traced back to its very identity as a nation: its borders represent a clumsy imposition of colonial administration by the British Empire. Like those of so many other colonial remnants, its arbitrary boundaries are a recipe for tribal and ethnic conflict. About a dozen major ethnolinguistic groups have been forced under the umbrella called Afghanistan. Some are of Persian descent, like the Tajiks in the northeast and the Pashtuns in the southeast, who also spread across northwestern Pakistan. In the northwest are Turkic tribes, like the Uzbeks bordering Uzbekistan and the Turkmens of neighboring Turkmenistan. Then there are the Baluchs in the southwest, who are part of the theoretical country known as Baluchistan, which would also take up chunks of eastern Iran and western Pakistan if it were allowed to exist. Diversity can be a strength to any nation, but such advantage doesn’t accrue when mandated by the whim of an empire – nor when communities are intentionally divided by borders.

Wherever you draw the borders, this turf has been the stomping ground of imperial armies since the time of Alexander the Great – who was the last to successfully conquer it, in 329 BC. The British and Russian empires fought several wars there in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was known as the “great game,” a struggle to counter each other’s influence over various resources and land routes between Europe and Asia. But the locals weren’t keen on being occupied and repeatedly humbled the infidels. Afghanistan achieved full independence in 1919.

Not all empires are created equal, and US support for the fanatical Islamic guerrillas known as the mujahedin was, ostensibly, a benevolent response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. How could the world’s greatest democracy have stood by and not thwarted Soviet imperial ambitions? It’s a compelling appeal to principle. But one fact gets in the way of our lofty image of the US as crusader for freedom: our intervention predated the Soviets’ move and was designed with two objectives in mind: provoke the Soviets to invade, and squelch a popular move toward socialism.

RIP Peter Falk

When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was The Great Race. As an adult, one of my favorites is Wings of Desire. And what they have in common is the great Peter Falk. Here he is in the latter film, playing himself:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Maybe Somebody Should Do Something...

as Atrios keeps saying about the economy. But this stuff cuts even deeper. The environment is nature's capital – and without capital, forget capitalism. Unfortunately, we seem to be depleting our capital rather rapidly.

Exhibit A is this AP story entitled "Study reveals long-term rise in sea level:"
It will lead to land loss, more flooding, and saltwater invading bodies of fresh water, said lead researcher Benjamin Horton, whose team examined sediment from North Carolina’s Outer Banks. He directs the Sea Level Research Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania... 
“This is a very important contribution because it firmly establishes that the rise in sea level in the 20th century is unprecedented for the recent geologic past,’’ said Miller, who was not part of the research team. Miller said he recently advised Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey that the state needs to plan for a sea level rise of about 3 feet by the end of the century.
Yes, and I'm sure Governor Christie will get right on that. Much of the AP story seems to have been cribbed from this press release from the National Science Foundation. But unlike the AP reporter, the NSF didn't bury the lead:
The rate of sea level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast is greater now than at any time in the past 2,000 years--and has shown a consistent link between changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level.
Exhibit B comes from the legacy media in Anchorage, who pass on a report from the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program via their colleagues at Petroleum News, entitled "Arctic warming even faster than predicted, scientists say"
Overall loss of snow and ice cover will likely heighten the warming trend, mainly because the white snow and ice tend to reflect heat from sun, rather than allowing the heat to be absorbed by the darker land or ocean water. Scientists now think that Arctic sea-ice cover will all but disappear in the summer by mid-century... 
The warming of soils may increase the release of methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, with these greenhouse gases potentially further accelerating the global warming. 
The release of freshwater into the Arctic Ocean from melting ice could impact global ocean currents and climate systems, while the release of water from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland ice cap could raise global sea levels from between 3 feet and 5 feet by 2100, the report says.
If you squint, you might be able to discern a connection between those two stories. And just to be clear, even a three-foot rise would be absolutely devastating to humanity, and is well beyond what we were expecting even just a few years back.

Which brings us to Exhibit C, a report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean. I know you don't want to hear this, but please read on. The headline in this Guardian account is "Shocking state of seas threatens mass extinction, say marine experts:"
Fish, sharks, whales and other marine species are in imminent danger of an "unprecedented" and catastrophic extinction event at the hands of humankind, and are disappearing at a far faster rate than anyone had predicted, a study of the world's oceans has found. 
Mass extinction of species will be "inevitable" if current trends continue, researchers said.
The key words there are "if current trends continue." If you JGRTWT (or try this more detailed write-up in the Independent), it's pretty devastating. But for those of you who have just unstuck your foreheads from your keyboards, please note what one of the report's co-authors has to say:
The challenges for the future of the oceans are vast, but unlike previous generations we know what now needs to happen. The time to protect the blue heart of our planet is now, today and urgent.
So okay then, we know what needs to happen. Surely we're going to take the necessary steps to address this crisis, right? Welll... 
Spending caps proposed by Republicans would make it "virtually impossible" to enact climate legislation for a decade or longer, according to an analysis released yesterday.
You may now resume beating your head on your desk. Apparently the GOP thinks it's more important to save our grandchildren from taxation to cover George Bush's wars than to save them from mass extinctions and climate catastrophe.

Oh well, if we have to go out, let's go out singing. Mr Ochs?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Random Ten #14

Dandelion GumHere are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1. David Bowie/ Debaser/ San Francisco 12/17/91

2. Abed Azrié/ Abou-Saadiyah/ Pour Enfants Seulement

3. Black Moth Super Rainbow/ Forever Henry/ Dandelion Gum

4. Daniel Lanois/ Rocky World/ For the Beauty of Wynona

5. John Hiatt/ Have a Little Faith in Me/ Greatest Hits: The A&M Years

6. Sam Phillips/ Sister Rosetta Goes Before Us/ Don't Do Anything

7. Muddy Waters/ Rollin' Stone/ The Best of Muddy Waters

8. My Morning Jacket/ Evelyn Is Not Real/ The Tennessee Fire

9. Map of Africa/ Bone/ Map of Africa

10. The Kills/ Crazy/ Live Kills

Well, I don't know if my iPod can read my mind, but apparently it's been reading my blog. After all, we were just discussing Mr. Lanois and the darkly-colored Moth Super Rainbow last week. We covered the Kills last month, and that sublime Sam Phillips song was one of our Friday Night Videos back in April.

That bootleg of Bowie covering the Pixies is ferocious; fully in the spirit of the original. Wish I'd been there.

Mr. Azrié, born in 1945, is a Syrian singer who performs ancient and modern poetry set to tradional instrumentation. This was recorded in 1999.

Map of Africa are packaged as a dance band, but keep looking over their shoulders at 70s rock.

My Morning Jacket have a new one out as of last month, but I haven't heard the whole thing yet. That track is from their 1999 debut.

That's the Patsy Cline "Crazy," not the Gnarls Barkley track, that the Kills are covering.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Day of the Dad

Here's a tip of the baseball cap to my dad, a great guy who helped make me what I am today. He gave me a love of reading and writing; taught me good manners and tried to teach me common sense; modeled civic engagement; demonstrated a disciplined commitment to his livelihood; and showed me by example how to be a father myself. Thanks forever, Dad; I love you!

Below is an illustration I completed today for a children's book my dad wrote recently to amuse his grandchildren. It's based in part on a summer we spent in the Black Forest when my siblings and I were kids. There will be more:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clarence Clemons 1942-2011

There are dozens of great jazz saxophonists. But when it comes to rock music, the true giants were King Curtis, Bobby Keys, and this guy. RIP Big Man.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Carl Gardner 1928-2011

Mr. Gardner, who died this week, was the leader and founder of the Coasters, 1987 inductees into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

All the Blacks

Prince, Jay-Z, Metallica, or Spinal Tap?
No matter how often somebody proclaims that ________ is the new black, the old black will always be.... black. Black is so suffused with symbolic meaning that it will always be a cultural mainstay, not just of fashion design, but for song titles, album titles, and, for our purposes today, band names. There are a boatload of band names using the word "black," and as part of a recurring feature here, we're going to try and sort them out.

So let's leave aside for the moment Frank Black and Clint Black; I don't think anybody's going to get those two mixed up. Likewise the suddenly ubiquitous Rebecca Black. Set aside also classic rockers Black Sabbath, and the Black Crowes, who are classic rockers born too late. Hardcore heroes Black Flag are  defunct since 1986. Reggae giants Black Uhuru dissolved their classic lineup about the same time. The Happy Mondays spinoff Black Grape is also out of business, as are several other succinctly named bands called Black.

And to simplify matters, let's briefly talk about the hip-hop bands first. The Black Eyed Peas are megastars now, and even if you didn't see the last Super Bowl, need no introduction. Highbrow rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli put out one 1998 album together as Black Star, titled, helpfully, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star. Another literate alt-rap duo, Blackalicious, picked up the mantle in 1999, and are about to release their fourth album.

For our purposes, we're trying to tell the difference between 21st century rock bands with confusingly similar names. And that still leaves us with, at a minimum, the Black Keys, Black Lips, Black Kids, Black Angels, Black Dub, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Black Moth Super Rainbow.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Libya: Oh Fer Gawd's Sake

Belgrade or Tripoli?
One week ago, the Great Kinetic Action of 2011 passed the 78-day mark, meaning it's lasted longer than the air campaign to drive Yugoslavia out of Kosovo. And yesterday we heard from "one senior offical" who, like the rest of us, has no idea how this ends:
Almost three months into the campaign of air strikes, Britain and its Nato allies no longer believe bombing alone will end the conflict in Libya, well-placed government officials have told the Guardian. 
Instead, they are pinning their hopes on the defection of Muammar Gaddafi's closest aides, or the Libyan leader's agreement to flee the country. 
"No one is envisaging a military victory," said one senior official who echoed Tuesday's warnings by Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, head of the navy, that the bombing cannot continue much beyond the summer.
Oh fer Gawd's sake. Is it just me, or are military and political strategists supposed to work out some sort of endgame before it starts?

Wealthfare Wednesday - On a Wednesday

In our last "Wealthfare Wednesday," two Saturdays ago, we took a look at farm subsidies, with the news hook being Jeff Flake's committee committing to some cuts in direct payments. This led commentators on the left and the right to expect some such cuts to be forthcoming. This WaPo piece primed the pump, following a freshman Republican around as he attempted to talk some sense:
"If every single member of Congress came in and said, ‘I’m going to defend my turf,’ you’d have the same [debt problem] — and the people here, they get that.”
Well, if by "the people here," he meant House Republicans,  then, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, that was optimistic to the point of foolishness.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Random Ten #13

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1. Clifford Brown/ Stardust/ Clifford Brown's Finest

2. Webb Pierce /Slowly/ Heartaches By the Number

3. Cornershop/ Chamchu/ Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast

4. Norah Jones/ Love Me Tender/ The Best of Norah Jones

5. Jay-Z/ U Don't Know/ Blueprint

6. The Faces/ Cindy Incidentally/ Good Boys (When They're Asleep)

7. The Carter Family/ Little Moses/ Anthology of American Folk Music, vol 2B: Social Music

8. The Gories/ Hey, Hey We're the Gories/ I Know You Fine, But How You Doin'

9. Elliott Smith/ Miss Misery/ New Moon

10. Arctic Monkeys/ Cornerstone/ Humbug

Sunday, June 12, 2011

1991: Commoner Sense

Preparing this old book review for posting was pretty depressing. We've wasted another twenty years, with obvious solutions sitting on the table, and no real prospect of dealing with them anytime soon. Read it and weep:

When environmentalist Barry Commoner ran for president in 1980 as the candidate of the now defunct Citizens Party, he made so much sense that he was roundly ignored. As one incredulous reporter put it, "Are you a serous candidate, or are you just running on the issues?" In desperation, Commoner generated the only headlines of his campaign by characterizing the stands of his major party opponents – accurately – as "bullshit." Now, after a decade of environmental backsliding spearheaded by the man who defeated him, Commoner is back with a dollop of much needed common sense.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Teacher Tuesday

Welcome back to the ZepBlog, where we don't let the nomenclature of arbitrarily-delineated time periods get in the way of a nice alliterative blog post title. Have a few edu-links for your Saturday morning...

Both Jon Walker and Matt Yglesias highlight a study in Science magazine showing multiple cost-saving benefits from early childhood education. Walker titles his post "Universal Preschool: An Actually Smart Longterm Deficit Plan:"
The study found that the children who received preschool were more likely to finish high school, less likely to be arrested and make more money. 
In addition to preschool clearly making these individuals better, it must have had an impact on the federal and local budgets. Higher incomes means more tax revenue and less spending on social services/incarceration.
Kos diarist AlecMN highlights the same study in his post "The Education Theocracy of Michele Bachmann haunts Minnesota to this day." Counterintuitively, though not surprisingly, the theocrats backing Bachmann are arguing instead that pre-school is harmful to children, and are thus opposed to any state funding of same.

Meanwhile, there is continuing fallout from EdSec Duncan's condescending open letter to our nation's teachers. But the criticism that really got under his thin skin came from the righteous Diane Ravitch. Duncan dissed her, and Ravich responded calmly. Ravitch, by the way, blogs regularly at Education Week.

Finally, speaking of EW, they host a whole suite of blogs, and this post is a nice linky JGRTWT:
What if the reform vessel you invested a decade's worth of time and money into appeared to be ineffective, at best--or even downright useless in getting us where we wanted to go? Would you sail on, emphasizing the need to stay on schedule? Would you offer federal money to states who agree to sign on as passengers? Would you launch a slick advertising campaign to allay concerns? 
Or would you change course--even rebuild the ship?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Playing for Change: Gimme Shelter

The Old 97's: Impossible Velocity

(Cross-posted at the Thrillcall blog)

For me, well-crafted songwriting trumps instrumental acuity every day. Luckily, the Old 97's have got both, along with the cameraderie and devoted fan base borne of seventeen years of touring. They took the stage, already sweat-soaked before they began, on a hot June night in Tucson, delivering to 300 assembled fans a combustible set with commitment, passion and swagger. And asses were kicked.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three and a Half and Counting

I mentioned earlier that this country is currently fighting three and a half wars.

So in war #1, Afghanistan, we hear from outgoing War Secretary Bob Gates that what we really need is a "long-term military presence there," apparently by leasing bases from the government there. This, of course, requires that we help maintain a government there who's willing to keep leasing us military bases. That accounts for the long-term part. In the short term, "a debate is raging" over whether our impending troop withdrawal should be a token reduction or something more substantial. Do not hold your breath.

In war #2, Iraq, we hear from incoming War Secretary Leon Panetta that he expects that Iraq will be asking us to stay a little longer. And according to his testimony today, he's okay with that. As we discussed last month, support for extending such an invitation is far from universal in Iraq. But I'm going to assume Leon knows better than I do whether the invite is coming. So we'll keep the file open on wars 1 and 2 for now.

War #3 is the kinetic action in Libya, also in the news this week. The Financial Times is reporting that Gates' initial price tag estimate of $750 million for FY 2011 might have been low-balled a bit. According to a Pentagon memo obtained by FT, we're at $660m so far, with costs stacking up at around $60m a month. That'd be a billion, give or take, for our limited involvement, the end of which is not in sight.

Which brings us to war number three and a half, which we don't count as a full war because it's a secret. But according to an article in the New York Times – which I believe has a fairly extensive readership – we're going to be "intensifying" our involvement in the Yemeni civil war. Apparently we have just as much interest in who runs Yemen as the Yemeni people do. And why is that? Need you ask?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Random Ten #12

Here are the first ten songs to pop up on my iPod; Artist/Song/Album:

1. Creedence Clearwater Revival/Midnight Special/36 All-Time Greatest Hits

2. Arcade Fire/Keep the Car Running/Neon Bible

3. Bob Dylan & The Band/Clothes Line Saga/The Basement Tapes

4. Sea Snakes/Conception Bay South/Clear as Day, the Darkest Tools

5. Kékélé/Fungola Molema/Make the Most of Your Time on Earth

6. Silversun Pickups/Kissing Families/Pikul

7. Blind Lemon Jefferson/Prison Cell Blues/Anthology of American Folk Music, Vol. 3A: Songs

8. Van Morrison/He Ain't Give You None/The Complete Bang Sessions

9. Buddy Guy/I'm in the Mood/Slow Blues 1

10. Bill Frisell/Masters of War/Further East/Further West

First of all, my apologies to Mr. Frisell. In my BobFest post on Dylan covers, I mistakenly attributed this track to fellow jazzbo fretmaster John Scofield.

No idea who the Sea Snakes are or how their MP3 ended up on my pod. They sound like mellow neo-folk with a nice horn section. According to Wikipedia, that was their only album and they disbanded shortly after.

Kékélé are a Congolese supergroup with four discs under their belts; their sound is sublime.

Silversun Pickups are an indie quartet from LA with two albums and four EPs to their credit. They come from the guitar-distortion school of My Bloody Valentine, Smashing Pumpkins and Sonic Youth.

If you live in Tucson, the amazing Buddy Guy is playing this week at the Rialto. As I have seen him before, I'm opting for the Old 97s at Plush. But you would do well either way.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The T.A.M.I. Show

I watched this DVD with my kids last night, who got as big a kick out of the go-go dancers as the music. It was filmed in 1964 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Almost all of it was terrific - unsurprising with Chuck Berry, James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Marvin Gaye, the Beach Boys, the Miracles and the Supremes on the bill. Brown stole the show, of course; after the third iteration of the cape routine, my 7-year-old commented "they should call him the King of Rock 'n' Roll!" But this one just slayed me; I've always loved this song, and she completely transcends the studio version:

1991: Gates of Hell

Robert Gates will be retiring soon - again - but the mindset he represents is still going strong. It's unsurprising that Bush the Lesser would put this fellow back into a position of responsibility, and somewhat less so that Barack Obama would choose to keep him there. But very little surprises me anymore. Meanwhile, Bob is doing some kind of victory lap to close out his tenure. Lately he's pleaded for more "patience" from the American people after a decade of counterinsurgency failures in Afghanistan - nearly half of that under his watch. And he's telling our Asian allies that our "budget woes" back home won't stop us from expanding our empire of military bases. That's the bold thinking we've come to expect.

For the second time in less than a month, we have a prime example of the utter cynicism with which the US Senate shirks its constitutional duty to advise and consent to presidential appointments. By confirming Robert Gates, to be Director of Central Intelligence (DCI), the Senate has promoted a bald-faced liar, a man all too willing to pervert intelligence for political ends. This toadying little yes-man is arguably the worst possible choice for the job at this time. Indeed, at this juncture in history, Congress should be debating whether the job itself is still necessary.

Bob Gates is an unreconstructed Cold Warrior taking the helm of the CIA at a time when conventional wisdom holds that the Cold War is over. But the fact that Gates has been wrong about nearly every major intelligence question of the last decade –  from Gorbachev to Saddam to Noriega to Khomeini – does not disqualify him in the eyes of his masters. Nor do his transparent evasions before Congress render him unfit for duty. This is exactly what is required of a DCI to toe the official line and deceive the American people.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wealthfare Wednesday, Give or Take

This week's topic is farm subsidies. The 2004 edition of Take the Rich Off Welfare identified over $30 billion in annual handouts to agribusiness (a figure that includes price supports, ethanol handouts and water subsidies). In these lean budgetary times, pressure to trim these subsidies has been... pretty mild, so far. But there has been some movement.

Last week a House committee was pretty proud of themselves for voting to cut direct payments to farmers who make over a quarter million bucks a year. That would be Jeff Flake's Appropriations Committee. This puts them on record as agreeing with President Obama, who made such a proposal earlier this year. This also puts them at odds with their own party's Agriculture Committee. According to them, it would be a much better idea to cut funding stamp recipients. Who do you think will win this battle of ideas in today's GOP?

The system of direct payments, which go out whether you choose to farm your land or not, is a relatively recent development. It's a legacy, not of FDR's New Deal, but of Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution. The Environmental Working Group has a suite of pages on farm subsidies, and explains direct payments in their handy primer. As they point out, this program alone costs about $5 billion a year, and also has the perverse effect of inflating land prices. Matthew Yglesias hones in on this, noting that some 45% of agricultural land is not owned by the farmer. Inflated land prices benefit the landowners instead, making them "a highly regressive transfer."

The Washington Post put a team of reporters on the aggie welfare beat over the past year and links up to the results at this page. NYT food columnist Mark Bittman offered up a post full of links on his blog. Bittman also offers a contrarian view with ""Don's End Agricultural Subsidies, Fix Them." He argues that we've been subsidizing unhealthy food policy for so long, that some funding in the other direction would help undo the damage.

The Center for American Progress likewise looks to redirect some of the savings from their proposed cuts. Their report focuses only on the $5 billion direct payment system. They identify $35 billion in savings by FY 2020, and suggest that $650 million of that could be redirected into "existing rural-based programs to provide incentives for renewable clean energy, energy efficiency, and advanced dedicated biomass energy crops."

Worthy goals, but something tells me that if our nation's dedicated public servants do come up with some ag policy cuts in their looming budget deal, they won't be looking to "reinvest" them anytime soon.

Anyway, enjoy your "Wednesday." If this keeps up, I'll change the name of the feature to "Subsidy Saturdays."

Duke Ellington Trio

Here's some late-period Ellington for you:

Friday, June 3, 2011

Making Adjustments

Job loss/gains under Bush & Obama (via Steve Benen)
One of my favorite Al Franken stories concerns his confrontation with then-Rep (now-Gov.) John Kasich over whether or not the GOP were using constant dollars in claiming that they were increasing Medicare spending back in the Gingrich years. Failing to adjust for inflation, of course, is one of the easiest ways to lie with statistics. And people do it all the time.

As Kevin Drum has frequently pointed out, another statistic that needs to be adjusted is the number of jobs gained (or lost) in any given month. As he reminded us again yesterday, the economy needs to generate 150,000 jobs each month just to keep up with population growth. I remember Democrats pointing that out during the Bush years, but these days, not so much.

Today, Drum helpfully refigures Steve Benen's monthly jobs chart, reproduced above, into accounting for how far above or below 150,000 each month's figure is. Thus our economic recovery actually looks like this:

Job loss/gains above 150,000/month (via Kevin Drum)
So while the economy added 54,000 jobs, that's actually 96,000 below where we need to be just to stay in place. Meanwhile, as Matthew Yglesias points out every single month when the jobs data comes out, we have modest private sector growth offset by ongoing job losses in the public sector. Private employers added 83,000 jobs in May, he reports, but the 29,000 jobs cuts from public payrolls at the local, state and federal levels (mostly local, as it turns out), reduced that number to 54K, So we need to adjust for that, too. If we didn't have this ongoing right-wing mania for "reducing the size of government" when unemployment is stuck at 9%, we'd be enjoying this recovery quite a bit more.

I'd like to be able to complain that one party believes in cutting jobs during a recession, while the other believes in spending what it takes to restore full employment. But if you ask Jared Bernstein, who just left the White House, he'll tell you they've pretty much given up on any more stimulus to the economy.

So where does that leave us? I don't know about you, but this is really beginning to piss me off.

1997: The Defeat of Fast Track

I still have a few old rants from the 90s lying around, but just a few. This anti-"free trade" polemic referred to the plan for such agreements to be rushed through Congress on an up-or-down vote – no amendments allowed. An aroused public flooded the Capitol switchboard with calls and shot down that plan. There is a current news hook here, a JGRTWT from the UK paper The Independent. Johann Hari explains that the crimes of DSK, odious as they are, are really the least of the matter at the IMF. As he puts it: "Imagine a prominent figure was charged, not with raping a hotel maid, but with starving her, and her family, to death." The IMF's "free trade" agenda of global Reaganomics has led to mass suffering on a planetary scale. An aroused public would be helpful in this case as well. 

I've heard several commentators commentate to the effect that the defeat of fast track represents the beginning of Clinton's lame duck era (never mind that it was a defeat for Gingrich as well). The conventional wisdom also has it that this is a major blow to Al Gore in his race with Dick Gephardt for the Democratic nomination in '00. None of this exactly breaks my heart.

Of course it's too early to write off anybody with the political skills of Bill Clinton, but there are limits to what even he can do to finesse the differences between the Gingrich Republicans and the Gephardt Democrats. Some would argue that Clinton just had to kiss the Republicans' butts if he wanted to pass any of his agenda, such as it is. Others would argue that we might not have a Republican Congress in the first place if Clinton hadn't been such a weasel.

But apparently some Democrats have reached the limits of their tolerance for GOP butt-kissing by Mr. Clinton (and Mr. Gore). I consider this all to the good. And apparently a good many of them were insulted by Clinton's characterization of this issue as a "no-brainer." I saw Nancy Pelosi on TV declaring against fast track right after that, saying, "Mr. President, I would have hoped you could see why those of us who support human rights, the environment and labor rights couldn't vote with the Republicans on this one." According to the New York Times, Rep. DeFazio of Oregon confronted Erskine Bowles by calling the President's comments "outrageous and insulting," and indicating that it was "tantamount to saying that Bowles favored fast track not on its merits, but simply to increase the size of his stock portfolio."

So I guess it was a brainer after all. But that wasn't the only instance of arrogance and incompetence from Clinton on this one. The very closeness of the margin indicates that he might have been able to pull it off, but word is that he got started awfully late, and failed to coordinate his lobbying efforts with those of interested corporate poobahs. But what finally killed fast track was that Clinton had loaded it with far too many Republican goodies for the Democrats to swallow.

Those who commentate for a living seem somewhat bewildered by all of this. A few days prior to the scheduled vote, the San Jose Mercury News pulled out all the stops in echoing the President's no-brainer stance. In both a regular editorial and a "news analysis" in the front section, the Merc implied that opponents of fast track were just naive fools, motivated by nothing other than knee-jerk protectionism. And in a front-page, above-the-fold news headline, no less, the Merc officially pronounced fast track a "net plus" for Silicon Valley. So much for balanced journalism.

Afterwards, the New Yawk Times, in its own "news analysis," struggled to come to terms with "The Impact." Since the Times had led the media cheering squads for NAFTA (or Nafta, as they prefer to call it), burying opponents in an avalanche of think-tank op-eds, this was no small task. But, as it turns out, the defeat of fast track will probably have very little effect, or subtle effects at worst. You see, we're the largest market in the world, and other countries will ignore us at their peril. And anyway, Mr. Clinton has negotiated well over a hundred trade agreements without fast track.

Of course, these are the exact same arguments that fast track opponents advanced in arguing that we needn't accept the Gingrich/Armey/Archer version of fast track. Fast track opponents aren't opposed to trade; they're opposed to trade policies that ignore human rights. But you'd have to look long and hard to find such subtle arguments in the Times before fast track went down in flames.

Both the media and the GOP are now attributing their defeat to a sneaky power play by "big labor bosses." But while labor did make a massive effort to derail the legislation, they were by no means alone. Environmental, human rights and consumer advocacy groups also worked hard to keep this from being crammed down our throats. And plenty of us ordinary citizens are fed up with the broken promises of NAFTA, and weren't shy about saying so. Believe it or not, I have never called my congressional representative for any reason in my life. But I called Rep. Pastor's office to urge him to vote no on fast track. An aide cheerfully told me that the Congressman hadn't made up his mind, but was leaning to no.

This time enough of us leaned to no to hand Gingrich and Clinton a major defeat. If that means Mr. Clinton's webbed foot is limping, so be it. This is a victory for the little folks and will make it considerably more difficult for the investing classes to sneak in the MAI without public debate, as they had hoped to do with NAFTA. Just to remind you, the MAI, coming up next spring, will allow multinational corporations to sue governments to nullify laws they don't like, and will remove all barriers to international capital taking over Third World countries. Let's all make a big stink over that one too, shall we?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Other Mark Zepezauer

Over the course of the Information Age, and especially from being on Facebook the last year or so, I've become aware that there are a lot more people named "Zepezauer" than I ever thought possible. As a kid I always thought that it was such an exotic name that there were probably only a few such specimens. In 1970, we visited the ancestral home of the Zepezauers in Bad Ischl, Austria, where the phone books and cemeteries were full of Zepezauers, but here in the USA I figured that my father's lineage was pretty much it.

More recently I've become aware of odd scatterings of Zepezauers here and there, but never in a million years would I have thought there was another "Mark Zepezauer" anywhere. Well, I just got off the phone with him.

I got wind of his existence a few years back when I received the odd email or two asking if I had gone to high school with them in some midwestern state, or interned with them on the east coast. Since I had not done those things, I eventually figured out that there was another guy with the same name. So finally I dug up a contact number and called him and we had a lot of laughs.

The other Mark Zepezauer has ancestors from the same village in the Carpathians, is almost exactly my age, and spells his name the same way, but with a different middle initial. I'll keep it at that to respect his privacy. Thankfully, he's never been contacted by any fans of my books trying to track me down. With all due respect, I'm sure you're perfectly nice people, but I have had some fan mail over the years that was, er, less than fully hinged, shall we say.

Also along those lines, I stumbled across another Zep Blog on the internet; it seems to consist of only one test post from seven years ago, but it's still out there in cyberspace. That one, though, has a space between the P and the B, unlike your humble corespondent's site. So if you do happen to be googling around trying to get back here, be sure and ask for the ZepBlog by name.

By the way, if your name also happens to be Zepezauer, and google has led you here for some reason, contact me through "mzepezauer at cox dot net" and we'll do some genealogy.

The High Cost of Low Cost Meals

Speaking of education, this is why I skim a few political blogs in the morning before going out to the driveway and unfolding the legacy media:
Eating healthy food isn't always cheap, and some conservatives in Congress are concerned that the Obama administration's effort to make school lunches more nutritious is a luxury the nation can't afford. 
Many schools, especially the poorest ones, agree. They say new rules issued by the Agriculture Department in January will require them to buy pricier foods and more equipment at a time when federal and state budgets are tight and food costs are rising.
The AP story goes on to tell us that these odious requirements could cost as mush as fourteen cents a meal, or $7 billion over five years. So the annual cost is less than one-twentieth of one percent of the federal budget for 2011. Put another way, the giant hole in the deficit blasted through by the extension of the Bush tax cuts costs more than 300 times as much per year as the boost to the school nutrition program.

And why am I glad I woke up my computer first? Because annie em, one of the many helpful diarists at DailyKos, posted this piece: "NYC schools feed students good food, test scores rise 16%." The study she references is an old one, but similar results have obtained elsewhere.

This is one of the many reasons why the current mania for cutting "the size of government" is penny wise and pound foolish - or maybe penny dumb and pound dumber. The savings and gains to be realized by investments in education are legion – not least the amounts to be deducted from future prison costs. The diarist also references some of the outrages flowing from private-sector contractors skimming profits out of our children's nutritional needs.

Free market fundamentalists are ruining this country. Perhaps they were malnourished as children?