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Monday, April 05, 2004


On the home front, Eric Alterman has it right:  those of us who opposed this war were right about every single goddamn thing that matters.  We didn’t predict specific people, places, and atrocities, but we did say, as Eric reminds us, that

The invasion of Iraq will cause, not prevent, terrorism.

The Bush administration was not to be trusted when it warned of the WMD threat.

Going in without the U.N. is worse than not going in at all.

They were asleep at the switch pre-9/11 and have been trying to cover this up ever since.

And they manipulated 9/11 as a pretext for a long-planned invasion of Iraq.

Any occupation by a foreign power, particularly one as incompetently planned as this one, will likely create more enemies than friends and put the U.S. in a situation similar at times to Vietnam, and at other times, similar to Israel’s occupation of Lebanon; both were disasters.

An invasion of Iraq will draw resources and attention away from the genuine perpetrators of the attack on us, and allow them to regroup for further attacks.

Let’s see here . . . we were right on the first count.  We’re looking pretty good on the second count.  Third count, OK.  Fourth count, fifth count, take it away, Richard Clarke and Rand Beers.  Right on the sixth count.  Seventh count, hmmmm, yes, on this one we were right.

But this is one of those things about which it is no consolation to be right.  Check out Zayed’s chilling account of the latest from Baghdad (and here’s Zayed on Fallujah).  And thanks to Marianne Cotugno for the link to Zayed’s site.

Posted by Michael on 04/05 at 02:17 PM
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Thursday, April 01, 2004

Bush:  I will not run in ‘04

Stunning political analysts and millions of his own supporters, George W. Bush today announced that he would not seek re-election to the Presidency in 2004.  “I have concluded that I should not permit the Presidency to become involved in the partisan divisions that are developing in this political year,” he said in a hastily-convened press conference, only his twelfth since taking office.  “With America’s sons and daughters in the fields far away, with America’s future under challenge right here at home, with our hopes and the world’s hopes for peace in the balance every day, I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office-- the Presidency of your country.  Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.”

Bush’s opening announcement came as a surprise to many observers, but what followed left reporters and viewers utterly stupefied.  “I have been following recent reports in the Dallas Morning News,” Bush said, “and I have learned that many of my friends and supporters are also donating money to Ralph Nader’s campaign.  Today I want to ask them to redouble their efforts, and to join me in endorsing Mr. Nader for the office of President of the United States.”

The White House press corps sat in dazed silence as Mr. Bush proceeded to explain that he would donate his $250 million “war chest” of campaign funds to Amnesty International.  “Somebody’s got to clean up that whole situation we’ve got down there in Gitmo, and speak for human rights here and around the world-- in Uzbekistan, in Zimbabwe, in the Middle East, in Tibet,” noted Mr. Bush, adding that he looked forward to the day when he and his wife Laura could join peacekeeping forces in Iraq under United Nations supervision in 2005.  “Until then, I’ve got some work right here in Washington that should keep me busy, just trying to undo some of the incredible damage we’ve done over the past three years.  I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of the lying and the nonsense.  From here on in, I want to be remembered as the Social Justice President-- for fair taxation and remediation of poverty; for free health care and well-funded public schools for all Americans; for a healthy environment and clean energy; for judicial and regulatory agency appointments that break the cycle of Beltway cronyism and nepotism; and for scientific and social research uncontaminated by petty partisan interests.  I’m also going to dismantle my attack machine, and stop slandering good people like Dick Clarke, Paul O’Neill, and the families of those who died on September 11.  Let there be peace on Earth,” the President concluded, “and let it begin with me.”

Mr. Bush then waited a full five seconds before adding, “April Fool, y’all.  Fool me once, shame on you-- fool me twice, er . . . uh . . . fool me won’t get fooled again.”

Posted by Michael on 04/01 at 11:26 AM
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Blinded with science

Today Jamie presented his science project to his fifth grade class.  Which means, of course, that Jamie presented the science project that he completed with the “help” of Janet.  I was pretty much out of the loop on this one, although I did have the presence of mind to point out that we could help Jamie construct a model volcano-- for that was his assignment-- out of the Volcano Kit he’d received as a birthday present from a classmate 18 months ago.  So last night he and Janet built this volcano out of concrete mix, ran the little plastic tube through its center, and painted the sides of the volcano green and brown (leaving the top white-- his model was supposed to be Mount Fuji).  This afternoon Janet and I showed up at his classroom at 1:30 to help him with the demonstration, which involved putting baking powder in the cone and then running vinegar, dish soap and food coloring through the tube-- Insta-Magma.  I spent half an hour this morning doing the lettering for his sign, “Jamie Berube Exploding Volcano,” realizing as I worked on the “lod” of “Exploding” (I remember from graphic design class that you do your lettering from the center outwards) that volcanos don’t explode, they erupt, and that this was in fact one of the lessons the science project was supposed to impart.  So I fixed the sign by taping one oaktag poster over another, and stencilling “Erupting Volcano” over “Exploding Volcano.” Janet brought examples of the three kinds of volcanic rock for Jamie to distribute to the class (pumice, basalt, obsidian, of course)-- all month long they’ve been doing plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanos, trenches, fault-block mountains, and varieties of igneous rock.  Thanks to the mysteries of the No Child Left Behind Act, Jamie’s fifth-grade class will be tested on their knowledge not only of the characteristics of the Earth’s core, mantle, and crust, but also of the names of all the plates shuffling around under our feet (we’ve been having Jamie decorate each plate with a different color-- we think the Juan de Fuca Plate looks best in turquoise).

Needless to say, Jamie needed help with his project not because he has Down syndrome but because the real purpose of “science projects” is to get parents to build volcanos and solar systems and working models of radioactive isotopes and so forth.  And needless to say, it was pouring rain this morning, so we had to stuff everything into plastic bags and bring it into school while hunching under our umbrellas.  When we got to school and brought Jamie’s volcano into his class, we realized that-- as we should have anticipated-- the other kids had produced enormous, gorgeous papier-mach? renditions of Mauna Loa and Mt. St. Helens, complete with villages, flora and fauna, and oaktags full of geological information (we’d managed to neglect the whole “provision of geological information” thing entirely, and will have to work with Jamie on putting this together over the weekend).

All of which reminds me of the story of Nick’s third-grade science project back in 1995.  Well before he’d heard of the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail routine, Nick decided that he would demonstrate What Floats in Water.  In part this was a response to the inconceivably bad science project I’d “designed” for him in second grade, involving a black piece of plywood with two “chutes” as a backdrop for the demonstration that objects of different size and weight fall at the same rate of speed.  Because Champaign, Illinois is a college town, of course, Nick’s classmates presented things like “Particle Accelerators You Can Build At Home” and “Controlled Nuclear Fission Can Be Fun.” The plywood eventually found some use as a golf bag holder in a deep recess of the garage.) His flotation project was just fine, and thanks to the wonders of pi, he managed to come up with the following data:

BEACH BALL:  weight 100 g, circumference 59.8 cm, radius 9.51744 cm, volume 3611.364 cc, density 0.027690.

COPPER CENSER:  weight 75 g, circumference 32.0 cm, radius 5.09295 cm, volume 553.373 cc, density 0.135532.

RUBBER BALL:  weight 70 g, circumference 27.6 cm, radius 4.39267 cm, volume 355.054 cc, density 0.197153.

TENNIS BALL:  weight 55 g, circumference 20.5 cm, radius 3.26267 cm, volume 145.489 cc, density 0.378035.

CROQUET BALL:  weight 250 g, circumference 26.4 cm, radius 4.20168 cm, volume 310.727 cc, density 0.804565.

GOLF BALL:  weight 45 g, circumference 13.4 cm, radius 2.13267 cm, volume 40.633 cc, density 1.107474.

BALL BEARING:  weight 5 g, circumference 3 cm, radius 0.47746 cm, volume .516 cc, density 9.689922.

TAE KWON DO BOARD:  weight 150 g, volume 438.672 cc, density 0.341941.

BOX OF PAPER CLIPS:  weight 50 g, volume 77.832 cc, density 0.642409.


All the objects with densities greater than 1.0 sank in 3000 ml of fresh water.  The golf ball sank slowly, and the ball bearing plummeted.  Of the objects that floated, the croquet ball was the only one that floated in the water more than half submerged (only a few cm of it were visible above the water line).

When 3000 ml of water was mixed with 100 ml of salt, all the objects were immersed a second time.  All the objects that sank in fresh water also sank in salt water, but the croquet ball floated visibly higher (.5 cm) in salt water.

Now at this point you should be asking, how come you still have this data set on your hard drive after all these years, Michael? Well, I’ll tell you.

The night before the project was due, I stayed up until about 3 am typing and formatting his poster material, including those data.  At the time, Janet was out of town.  And weirdly enough, I had to host a lecture by Tricia Rose the next day; her book Black Noise:  Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America had just been published, and I was scheduled to pick Tricia up at the airport, drive her to her hotel, pick her up at 3 pm for an interview at Champaign’s only black-owned radio station (WBCP-AM), then drop her off for a book signing at the university bookstore, take her to dinner, and then introduce her lecture. 

The Tricia Rose part of the day was great.  She was the Hardest Working Woman in Academe for her visit, and the lecture, which was terrific, drew about a hundred faculty and students.  She was also much fun to talk to.  But the entire day was almost derailed by the croquet ball.

You see, after Nick had conducted his experiments, he had to bring a fish tank to school so that he could conduct them again.  Of course we wouldn’t bring in a fish tank full of water; Nick would fill the tank at school.  So while I was dropping off then-three-year-old Jamie at day care, Nick dumped the contents of the tank into the kitchen sink-- including all those balls, the golf ball, the tennis ball, the ball bearing, the beach ball, the rubber ball, and the croquet ball.

The croquet ball, it turned out, was exactly the diameter of our kitchen sink’s drain (I guess that would make it 8.40336 cm).  When I returned from First United Methodist Day Care, therefore, I found a sink full of water and a drain clogged with a croquet ball that simply would not budge.  Cursing in a colorful but family-friendly fashion all the way, I drove Nick to school and assured him that I would get the croquet ball to him in time for his presentation.

But this proved to be more difficult than I’d imagined.  The ball was almost perfectly, completely wedged into the drain-- it was allowing water to drain slowly, but I could not get enough traction on it to pry it loose by hand or with a butter knife.  And to make matters worse, it wasn’t even our croquet ball.  It had been loaned to us by friends, who let me know-- when I called them and asked if I had their permission to drill through the ball so that I could pull it out with a small metal rod-- that they were quite fond of their rather expensive croquet set and were very much looking forward to my returning the ball in the same condition in which it had left their house a few days earlier.

Fortunately, thanks to my personal history as a struggling musician, I hit upon a solution: duct tape.  Duct tape fixes everything, you know.  Attaching little ovals of duct tape (sticky side out) to each of my fingers, I managed to wiggle the ball loose and pluck it out of the drain.

Unfortunately, I did this before removing the golf ball and the ball bearing from the sink.  Sure enough, the moment the croquet ball popped out of the drain, the ball bearing and the golf ball disappeared, rolling briskly right into the goddamn garbage disposal.

I had to teach a class at 10 am that morning, and by now it was 9:30, so I gave up and dashed off to school.  Rushing back home for a band practice at noon, I tried scooping the balls out of the garbage disposal; I got the golf ball but had no luck with the ball bearing.  So in desperation I hauled out the vacuum cleaner from the basement, thinking that I could suck the ball bearing out of the drain and buy Nick another one for his demonstration.  My bandmates, Jonathan Sterne and Kevin Carollo (currently findable at Rain Taxi), showed up as this hare-brained scheme was getting under way, and assured me that they would tell everyone, for years to come, that I spend part of my day fishing for ball bearings in my sink with a vacuum cleaner.  After a few obligatory minutes of mocking and deriding me, they pitched in to help, persuading me that if duct tape saved me once, it could save me again.  We attached more little sticky-side-out ovals to various kitchen implements, and after about ten or fifteen minutes managed to get a hold of the ball bearing and-- more amazingly, and after only a few heartbreaking failures-- thread it carefully through the rubber flaps of the drain, using the manual skills we each had developed by playing the board game Operation as children.

So Nick’s demonstration came off all right, we retained our croquet-playing friends, and I was able to fulfill my duties as Host of Tricia Rose for the rest of the day.  Thank goodness it wasn’t raining.

Anyway, today might just be the very last time we have to help a child of ours with a science project.  I will implore all known deities, yea, even unto Moloch and Ba’al, to make it so.

Posted by Michael on 04/01 at 10:43 AM
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