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July 2005

Zoo Evening

We went to the Bronx Zoo last night for a special members evening.  My plan was that it would conveniently cool down after the day's record heat. It did cool down, but from about 97 to about 92, so it was still pretty hot. Here is Elizabeth in her first encounter with the new Bug Carousel. The  carousel itself is gorgeous, but the sound system needs some rethinking. Also the antennae on the bugs seem to be fragile. Several  bugs seemed to have broken a broken antenna even though the carousel has been open only about two months. 

We also went to the new butterfly house which was nice but seemed a bit short on actual butterflies, probably because of the heat.


if a journalist writes an article about genocide in Sudan and mentions neither the word "oil" nor the word "China," he's either naive or being deliberately obtuse.

This morning, Nicholas Kristoff chastises the media for writing so little about genocide and Sudan. He's right to do that, of course. But he also fails my Sudan Test: if a journalist writes an article about genocide in Sudan and mentions neither the word "oil" nor the word "China," he's either naive or being deliberately obtuse.

Sudan has oil. Lots of oil. How does Kristoff describe Rice's trip to Sudan:

Condi Rice finally showed up in Darfur a few days ago, and she went out of her way to talk to rape victims and spotlight the sexual violence used to terrorize civilians. Most American television networks and cable programs haven't done that much.

While I'm all for the world knowing more about the abundant use of sexual violence for political ends in Africa, does Kristoff believe that she was sent there to talk about rape?

Here's the problem: Sudan has all this oil. "We" (i. e. the Cheney energy commission) want it. But the local authorities have some very bad habits, one of which is genocide. When you do read about genocide in Sudan in the US media, it is usually framed in terms of Arab terror.  The reality is a lot more complex. I gather that the problem for a company doing business in Sudan is that the local authorities will slaughter people and raze villages for the convenience of oil companies. And there is no good way for squeamish companies to keep them from doing this. (See Madelaine Drohan's chapter "Talisman in Sudan" in her book Making a Killing: How and Why Corporations Use Armed Force to Do Business.) So companies from countries that make decisions based on human rights have been forced away from the trough.

Luckily for the Sudanese oiligarchy, the Chinese government doesn't care much about the human rights of Africans, and the Chinese oil companies are happy to take up the slack.  My impression of Cheney's secret energy plan is that it allows the US to have an ever-rising need for petroleum and that our two Humvees in every driveway will partially fueled by African oil. And so there is a conflict between our goals and there goals. (China has a really large population: what must China's energy goals look like?)

This does not stop some enterprising individual Western entrepreneurs such as Mark Thatcher from horning in on the action. More recently, British businessman, Friedhelm Eronat bought oil rights in Sudan. What is Eronat's real nationality?

The Guardian reports:

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest that Mr Eronat, who lives in a £20m house in Chelsea, swapped his US passport for a British one shortly before the deal was signed with the Sudan regime in October 2003.

US citizens are barred from dealing with Sudan under sanctions dating from 1997.

(Do read the whole article, plus the Sudan Watch discussion of Eronat.)

Memory Problems?

Does Roberts have memory problems?

Washington Post:

Over the weekend, The Post obtained a copy of the Federalist Society Lawyers' Division Leadership Directory, 1997-1998. It lists Roberts, then a partner at the law firm Hogan & Hartson, as a member of the steering committee of the organization's Washington chapter and includes his firm's address and telephone number.

Yesterday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Roberts "has no recollection of being a member of the Federalist Society, or its steering committee." Roberts has acknowledged taking part in some Federalist Society activities, Perino said.

He was a member of a steering committee and doesn't remember being a member of the organization? Can we have a neuopsych eval please?

(Via Atrios.)

Flying with Children

Finally, a David Brooks piece that leads me to believe I might enjoy encountering him at a cocktail party: Pain, Agony, Despair: Flying With Children. Clearly, he has observed plane-bound children and their parents in the wilds of airline travel. Some of his hypotheses are wrong, but they are based on actual data:

It is an iron rule of plane travel that the parents who are trying to hush their children are more annoying to their fellow passengers than the children who are being hushed. Accordingly, other fliers in the area begin to develop hostile feelings toward the desperately shushing parents.

Well, actually, no.

Why, David, did you know that a two-year-old has the power to make a full-sized plane pirouette in the runway right before take off? All she has to do is take off her seat belt, stand up in her seat, and loudly proclaim her victory to the nearest flight attendant. Take-off aborted. Simple as that. FAA regulations.  (I got a whole lot less embarrassed at the prospect of appearing an evil controlling witch to the other passengers after that.)

And I don't imagine Brooks has sat in front of my son back when he flew strapped into a car seat that fit into an airline seat.  The car seat had the advantage of a five-point-harness, so Peter couldn't inadvertantly hijack the plane by unstrapping his seatbelt. But it had several disadvantages. Not only did it move him about four inches forward, but it made it so that when he kicked the seat in front of him, he had a perfect shot at the kidneys of the man in front of him. He wasn't even trying to kick the seat. The rows were packed so tight, that the target spot was only about an inch and a half from the furthest back position for his feet.

Now, kids are not truly to blame for these incidents, in that US airlines steadfastly insist that modifying restraint systems in planes to accommodate children is just not their problem. And there are many other ways that airlines in the US are in denial about the existence of child passengers. (What are the odds that there will be a changing table in an airplane restroom? And what's this new thing about denying passengers food?)

Some inexperienced parents do many of  the high-energy counter-productive things he describes. Me, I don't bring piles of toys on planes. I get out the safety brochure and interest them in the prospect of a sliding board. And I just cope. Sorry if I got on your nerves. (No, it almost certainly wasn't me.)  I actually sort of enjoy flying with kids.

Well Ladies, Let's Get to It

[9/12/05 UPDATE: I was completely wrong about a strong resonance between Roberts and the PLF: They've come out against him. -KC]

Read this morning on CNN:

So while the public fight generally will be over policy (privacy, abortion, etc), the only real chance for a Democratic block of the confirmation lies in efforts that take place behind the scenes and inside the blogosphere.

Continue reading "Well Ladies, Let's Get to It" »

The 3 Rs

There has been considerable discussion of whether the Roberts nomination was intended to distract us from the Rove scandal. Now, apparently, there has been a suggestion that  the distraction is the other way around: The Rove scandal is a supposed plot to distract us from Roberts' nomination.

I alone have penetrated the mystery and comprehended the true plot: The Roberts nomination is a plot by angry CIA Democrats to give us the best possible mnemonic. Why else would Bush have been guided to chose a nominee whose name starts withthe same first 2 letters?!?

Here is what is being implanted in your unconscious: Rove, Roberts, Wrong! Say it three times, and you'll never be able to forget it.

Garrison Keillor on Karl Rove

From the International Herald Tribune:

Karl Rove: the real story

As he spoke to Novak, Rove wrote on a notepad, "Rosebud knows" - "Rosebud" being Vice President Dick Cheney's code name - and winked at me.

This raised a question in my mind: Did Rove know Plame had taken the identity of Cheney during an arrhythmia episode at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and that a heavily sedated vice president had been flown by the CIA to Riyadh as Plame donned a latex-padded suit and took his place?

She quickly discovered that the uranium was stored at the Whitewater property once owned by the Clintons and then deeded to Kofi Annan and used as a supply depot for black helicopters.

She tried to warn Clinton and the next day he had that mysterious "bypass" operation after which he suddenly got chummy with ex-CIA chief George H.W. Bush and the two flew off to Southeast Asia like in an old Crosby/Hope "Road" picture.

New York Times columnist William Safire was the first to spot the womanly tenderness in the vice president's eyes, and he called Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, to ask if Rosebud had been infiltrated. She denied everything. She also said she had "never been happier."

Safire's discovery of the Cheney gambit made it necessary for the CIA to "retire" him from The Times. But not before he passed the word to me.

I called Senator John Kerry to alert him and he said he had heard that, too, and then switched over to French and said, "My wife is a suitcase," or words to that effect.

(It goes without saying that Keillor's tale cannot possibly be more convoluted than the GOP's own roving talking points.)

Bork Roberts

Anyone making "Bork Roberts" buttons, t-shirts, or bumper stickers yet? I'd like some, please.

PS: I have an eps file of it, but Typepad didn't like my attempt to upload. If you'd like one so you can print stuff for yourself, email me and I'll send it to you.


Roberts: Partisan Hack or True Believer?

Nathan Newman makes some interesting points about Bush's Supreme Court nominee:

Don't Judge His Words, He Was a Partisan Hack

So why is he considered a blank slate?

Because we aren't supposed to judge what he said in those years, since he was working for other people.  Or so argues his defenders such as Juan at the Volokh Conspiracy, who says you can't ascribe any personal views to words Roberts wrote:
Attorneys have an ethical obligation to zealously advocate the position of their clients. An attorney in Roberts position had an express duty to advance his client’s – the federal government's – policy position as effectively as possible...The idea that the specific language used in a legal brief advancing his client’s position establishes Roberts' personal views is quite a stretch.

Of course, deciding to spend years working for this particular client, the Reagan administration, says a lot about Roberts' personal views, but Juan is right in one sense: Roberts has spent his career as a mind-for-hire on behalf of the rightwing Republican agenda.   Whatever he said was done to advance his career with no intellectual integrity, since according to his defenders, he didn't believe a word he said.
So if his career is one of years of political hack partisanship, sprinkled with a few years acting as a well-paid hack on behalf of corporate interests, why should we believe Roberts has the temperment to be an independent Justice?

He's been a hired gun for his whole adult career, save the last two years on the DC Circuit-- which now appears just to have been a chance to grease the wheels for his elevation to the Supreme Court as part of the Bush political team.

Also, I had some recollection of having seen Roberts' name while researching the Endangered Species Act opponents, the Pacific Legal Foundation. Sure enough. Here he is in a 1999 case (LLOYD A. GOOD, JR. v. UNITED STATES in the U.S. Fed Circuit Court of Appeals), concerning a proposed residential development in Lower Sugarloaf Key, Florida. If you've ever been to the Florida Keys, you know the area has a n extremely fragile ecosystem. As I understand it from a friend who lives there, the local governments  were so wholly in the thrall of local real estate developers that the Feds had to step in and severely restrict development. This case plays out against that background. The case seems to be about whether a landowner can dredge really a lot of salt marsh over the objection of the Federal Government.

Attorneys in the case arguing the side of the property owner are were: Richard R. Nageotte , Nageotte, Nageotte & Nageotte, of Stafford, Virginia, argued for plaintiff-appellant. Of counsel was John G. Roberts, Jr. , Hogan & Hartson, of Washington, DC,  and  James S. Burling , Pacific Legal Foundation, of Sacramento, California, for amicus curiae Pacific Legal Foundation. With him on the brief was Peter G. Gioia , Pacific Legal Foundation, of Stuart, Florida. (On the other side were the US Government, National Wildlife Federation, and the Florida Audubon Society.)

So there's our man, shoulder to shoulder with the most rabid opponents of the Endangered Species Act, presumably arguing that digging up the salt marshes is the right and only thing to do and that privileging the "rights" of species over property rights is unconstitutional. (That's the PLF's usual rap.)

I should add that this is not the kind of job you send a partisan hack for. This is a job for a true believer.

ANOTHER VIEW: The American Voter Project on Roberts:

The end of progress on environmental issues such as clean water and air, safe cars and safe food. All of these things are at risk if the laws that made them possible are struck down for economic reasons rather than moral common sense reasons. Judge John G. Roberts is the wrong person at this time for the court. He has already stated that the Roe decision was “wrong” and he has written opinions that question the validity of the Endangered Species Act. Judge Roberts sided with the District of Columbia on a law that was so distasteful it was changed. A 12 year old girl was arrested, had cuffed and taken away in a windowless police vehicle for eating a single French fry on the Metro which is the name of D.C. transit system including the subway. When the girls mother sued over the law on equal protection grounds that an adult would have been cited and not arrested, Judge Roberts held that arresting juveniles and not adults was rationally related to “the legitimate goal of promoting parental awareness and involvement with children who commit delinquent acts”.

The law raised such a furor it was changed yet this Judge felt it was ok. There will be other cases like this and if and when they make it to the Supreme Court with Judge Roberts as a member the nation will not be better off but less of a place of progress.

Certainly, Bush could have found a worse candidate, but Democrats should not let themselves be talked into the idea that the confirmation process is a remake of Sophie's Choice. Can Roberts be stopped?

John G. Roberts is the Nominee

So John G. Roberts is the nominee. Via comments on Talking Ponts Memo, here is the AP story on his politics:

(Update, AP-Washington, July 19, 2005, 7:52 p.m.) President Bush chose federal appeals court judge John G. Roberts Jr. on Tuesday as his first nominee for the Supreme Court, selecting a rock solid conservative whose nomination could trigger a tumultuous battle over the direction of the nation's highest court, a senior administration official said.

Bush offered the position to Roberts in a telephone call at 12:35 p.m. after a luncheon with the visiting prime minister of Australia, John Howard. He was to announce it later with a flourish in a nationally broadcast speech to the nation.

Roberts has been on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since June 2003 after being picked for that seat by Bush.

Advocacy groups on the right say that Roberts, a 50-year-old native of Buffalo, New York, who attended Harvard Law School, is a bright judge with strong conservative credentials he burnished in the administrations of former Presidents Bush and Reagan. While he has been a federal judge for just a little more than two years, legal experts say that whatever experience he lacks on the bench is offset by his many years arguing cases before the Supreme Court.

Liberal groups, however, say Roberts has taken positions in cases involving free speech and religious liberty that endanger those rights. Abortion rights groups allege that Roberts is hostile to women's reproductive freedom and cite a brief he co-wrote in 1990 that suggested the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 high court decision that legalized abortion.

So it's the dystopia option. Can the Democrats save us?

UPDATE: Here's Nathan Newman on Roberts.

Stealth Candidate or Harbinger of the Coming Dystopia?

With Edith Clement's name circulating as the rumored Bush nominee for Supreme Court, the question that occurs to me is whether the Rove scandal has cost Bush the opportunity to get through a rightwing ideologue, or whether she is just the kind of dystopian candidate we expected from the Bush administration.

Nathan Newman emailed his lowdown on Clement, which is up on his blog. Aparently, she's a known Endangered species act opponent. (Roe v. Wade is not the only t hing we need fear losing!) That puts her clearly into the dystopian realm for me.

UPDATE: ABC is reporting that Clement got a call saying she is NOT the one. We'll see.

Photos from the Pleasantville Music Festival

Img_0039At David's request, I've put up an album of photos from the Pleasantville Music Festival that took place this past weekend. Most of the photos are of David's son Geoff Hartwell and his band.

It was a NYRSF work weekend, so we had a houe full of people working on the magazine and so attended much less of the festival than we otherwie would have.

Local Preschool Politics

A couple of hand-painted signs I saw this morning prompted me to write the following note to the Town Planning Board. There is apparently a proposal to locate a small nursery school in a house up a long driveway off Bear Ridge Road, an arterial that leads from the village of Pleasantville to King Street (Rt 120). The guy acros the street seems to have blown his stack and stayed up all night painting signs. Here's my 2 cents:

Mt. Pleasant Planning Board
One Town Hall Plaza
Thornwood, NY

RE: Revised 2-Lot Subdivision App. #873 and Application for Site Plan Approval for Nursery School & Special Use Permit Application App. SP- 1016 for 235 Bear Ridge Road

This morning, when driving my husband to the train station, I saw several signs posted by an opponent of these applications asking people to turn out this evening and express opposition to the proposed day care facility. So I am moved to express my opinion, but instead wish to speak in support of these applications. I am unable to attend the meeting, so I am writing this letter instead.

I do not know either the applicant or the party posting the signs. But I gather the opponents are concerned about a potential increase in traffic. This opposition puzzles me, since a much larger day care facility at 600 Bear Ridge Road has caused no significant traffic problems that I can recall. (I live at [probably shouldn't post my home address on my blog, should I?] where I have resided for 10 years; my husband has owned our house since 1976.)

Bear Ridge Road is one of the major arterials leading into and out if the area in which I live. The child population in this area is experiencing a significant increase as is well documented by the school districts. The town need only consult its own public school enrollment statistics to verify this. Nursery school slots are in short supply. It is usually necessary to apply at least months in advance for a slot at a desirable school.

Parents residing in the Heritage Court/Old Farm Hill areas are already transporting their children to and from whatever nursery school they have been able to find via either Bear Ridge Road (either heading toward Pleasantville or toward King Street) or via Crestview to Deerfield N to Old Farm N to 117. If we assume each route has equal traffic, a third of the preschoolers in this area are already being transported by car past the site of the proposed day care center. It is my impression that Bear Ridge carries a majority of this traffic, so the figure is probably higher than one third.

It seems to me that a small day care center (the figure listed on the opponent’s signs is 40 children) is unlikely to draw much outside of a 1 mile radius since the existing need for nursery school slots is so high, and that its most likely effect on Bear Ridge Road would be a reduction in traffic: if parents stop at 235 Bear Ridge rather than driving the whole route to the centers of Pleasantville, Chappaqua, or Armonk, the total average traffic on Bear Ridge would be slightly reduced rather than increased.

Hence, I ask that you vote in favor of the two applications before you and in favor of a nursery school at 235 Bear Ridge. Area residents need the services it will provide and it has little potential to create traffic problems, and may even help with existing traffic.

(The family that owns the property in question owns the adjancent 16 acres of undeveloped woods, as far as I know. Although I would probably not send Elizabeth there, since we already have a preschool we're happy with, it might well be a nice spot for a preschool.)

Dear Fellow Republican

The Rove scandal has Jesus General in his element. He's on a roll:

Dear Fellow Republican,

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton and a mob of Senate Democrats came very close to emasculating our Commander in Chief when they attempted to take away one of his most powerful governing tools--the ability to destroy critics by betraying intelligence agents and leaking classified information. . . .

I don't think I'll send his form letter to my New York State Senators, though.

Bombers Target CNN Front Page

Whatever happened to the tactic I recall from Europe in the late 70s of discouraging terrorism by depriving at least some terrorists of their 15 minutes of fame?  (What is the name of that Wolf Biermann song from the 70s? "Der Very Big Raushole"? It's about European radicals who blow stuff up to get on TV. Or was it Franz Josef Deganhart?)  Looking at the CNN front page story Bomber targets Turkey beach bus, I can't help but think we could do with a little consideration that the media frenzy might just encourage terrorists.

Canadian Rockies Photo Album

Crsm60178We have put up more pictures of our trip through the Canadian Rockies than you can possibly want to see. No, we didn't put them all up, we have lots more, plus about 2 hours of video. The video includes some great footage of an avalanche off Angel Glacier, but I haven't figured out how to put it up without killing my bandwidth allotment.

Here are some of my favorites:


NYT Roadkill

This New York Times article on the Rove scandal appears to have been run over by several trucks. Apparently, it has gone through a couple of drafts online. It is so mangled in its current state that its first sentence seems to mean that Rove, not Novak, was working on an article:

Karl Rove, the White House senior adviser, spoke with the columnist Robert D. Novak as he was preparing an article in July 2003 that identified a C.I.A. officer who was undercover, someone who has been officially briefed on the matter said.

This piece would have gotten a failing grade in a freshman writing course. If the NYT is too entangled in the scandal to report clearly on the matter, why are they bothering?

Is there any good reason to believe their source isn't Rove himself?

(via Atrios.)

Teaching Perfect Squares with Legos

Lego_pyramidOne of my summer projects is to teach Peter his multiplication tables before school starts. Our exceptionally fine school district had an extremely difficult time teaching him his basic addition and subtraction facts in the first and second grade, and I have no reason to believe that they will have more success in the third grade with multiplication. Peter has David's amazing associative memory, and while associative memory is great for learning about, say, red efts, since calling to mind all the information you have about surrounding concepts such as salamanders and newts gives you context and allows you to interpolate information you don't know. But for recalling information about, say, the number seven it is a disaster (as my Google search link handily illustrates: nearly a billion results for the numeral 7; only a hundred and sixteen million for the word seven spelled out).

I have arrived at this formulation: Memory is something I do; memory is something that happens to David and Peter. So in order to get Peter over certain academic hurdles, I need to teach him how to work at memory. Simple recitation does not do it for numbers. The public schools have a slightly more complex technique that boils down to repetition which has failed us utterly, so far.

So I have been looking for alternatives. One of the alternatives, has been assigning multiplication problems to particular places in a classically organized "memory palace" structured around the pool area and grounds of the hotel where the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts is held. Each memory place is a place where he found a memorable creature. (The iguana he spotted by the whirlpool is given the spot 7 X 7 and is names Fortunine to invoke 49; the place he found a favorite caterpillar is designated 8 X 8, and the caterpillar is named "Sticky Boy" to invoke 64.) This was succeeding up to a point, but lacked a structure that could be extrapolated upon.

So this afternoon, I hit upon the idea of building a Great Pyramid, complete with a Lego Pharaoh, to illustrate the concept of perfect squares in a way that could be generalized to other multiplication problems, and would also allow us to deduce the existence of prime numbers.

The hardest part was sorting his vast and diverse collection of Legos for the collection of 200-odd square Legos with four bumps on them. This allowed us the make the first 8 layers of the pyramid. Starting with one, I had him tell me what the product of each number was when multiplied by itself; then we collected the right number of square Legos,; then we built the next layer of the pyramid. (Because of the tightness of the fit needed for the Legos near the middle, I did the middle parts, and he did the perimeters.) Having verified that the square of each number indeed yielded a square, we moved on to rectangles; and then we demonstrated experimentally that there are some numbers of blocks that can't be made into rectangles (the example we tried was 19). Then I explained about prime numbers.

I am pleased with this Lego activity, but also think that it would not have worked if I had not first helped him memorize the perfect squares using the pool-side memory palace. I was taking things he had memorized as arbitrary concepts and giving them a more conceptually based architectural structure which can be extrapolated from.

PS: I must say I'm rather hardpressed to understand the intended mneumonics of the "Fact Triangles" in the Everyday Mathematics curriculum that Peter's school uses.

DO NOT CALL Offenders

Department of really weird connections: I googled on "Harte Hanks" and "Dove Foundation," two entities that have called us repeatedly despite our being on both the NY State and national DO NOT CALL lists and repeatedly being told  not to call us; I was looking for some commonality. The result was pretty weird. Both have listings with the Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy as wholesalers. Harte Hanks, whose callers want to know about all the computer equipment in the house (no thanks!), are in good standing. But the Dove Foundation, which apparently wants to talk to "the lady of the house" about family standards for TV and movies, lost its drug wholesaler license:

Dove Foundation #10-W-752 – Case 575. The respondent had
used a wholesale permit to obtain drugs for illegal dispensing,
administration, and personal use. Not a licensed pharmacist, the
respondent was fined $500 and the wholesale permit was perma-
nently revoked.

By the way . . .

In case you're wondering why we haven't posted more photos of our Canadian travels, and of Westercon in particular, David accidentally spilled orange juice on our Powerbook on our last day in Canada so it is being professionally cleaned. When  we get it back, I can play more with the treaures on its harddrive.

This photo was taken at the Edith Cavell Glacier near Jasper in Alberta.


Samuel Deinard Blasdell

While we've been off having adventures, back in Pleasantville, Caitlin Blasdell's had her baby:

Scott, Caitlin, Will, and James Blasdell happily welcome Samuel Deinard Blasdell.

"Sammy" was born at 8:00 am on July 1, weighing 7 pounds 15 ounces and measuring 20 inches, with excellent lungs.

He's a great looking baby judging by the picture she and Scott sent along. This is a matter of particular importance in this household, since my kids like to play with hers, and this adds one more to the pack, though it will be a while until he can tag along.