Idaho follies

Seven of Idaho’s finest GOP state legislators declined to attend the invocation at the state capitol Tuesday. Why? Because it was going to be given by a Hindu.

State Sen. Steve Vick (R) told the Spokesman-Review on Monday that he would walk out of the invocation, delivered by Hindu leader Rajan Zed. He explained that the U.S. was “built on the Judeo-Christian not only religion but work ethic,” and said he didn’t want to see that “undermined.”

Hindus “have a caste system,” he added. “They worship cows.”

Is there a special brand of stupidity that’s infected Republican state legislators nationwide, or is it just the same old bigotry the party has exhibited since the civil rights movement?

Spots in Space!

There’s a mystery out there. Ceres is a dwarf planet between Mars and Jupiter, the biggest object in the asteroid belt at 950km in diameter. Two bright spots have appeared in a 92km-wide crater on its surface.


The US space agency’s Dawn probe is bearing down on the dwarf planet and on Friday will be captured by its gravity.

That will allow the satellite to spiral down in altitude in the coming months, to take ever sharper images of the spots, which sit inside a wide crater.

The striking features could be where an impact has dug out surface deposits and exposed the dwarf’s interior layers.

But deputy project scientist Dr Carol Raymond cautioned that the resolution of Dawn’s imagery was not good enough at the moment to make any definitive statements.

“These spots were extremely surprising and they have been puzzling to everyone who has seen them,” the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher told reporters.

“They show up in a 92km-wide crater that’s about 19 degrees North latitude. The spot in the centre is about twice as bright as the spot on the side of the crater, and as yet it has not been resolved, meaning it is smaller than the 4km pixel size [of the images].

So how did Ceres and asteroid Vesta, which Dawn spent 2011 and 2012 studying, get to be dwarf planets?

“Both Vesta and Ceres were on their way to becoming planets, but their development was interrupted by the gravity of Jupiter,” said Carol Raymond, deputy project scientist at JPL. “These two bodies are like fossils from the dawn of the solar system, and they shed light on its origins.”

I freakin’ love space. There is so much we don’t know.

Governor Scott Walker is foolish

While at CPAC, the annual meeting of the faithful hard-right lunatics which form a large part of the base of the Republican Party, he was asked how he, a governor with no foreign policy experience, would deal with ISIS. He responded with this: “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

That set Twitter off. Here’s the best tweet I saw:

Charlie Pierce spared no vitriol:

Breathtaking, isn’t it? He didn’t “take on” anyone. He was the invisible man when 100,000 of his constituents came to call. He did everything he could to suppress the free speech rights of said constituents. And, with the abject cowardice and buck-passing that has marked his entire public career, Walker trotted out a sacrificial spokes-drone to “clarify” what he meant when he compared the chanting of middle-school teachers to bloodthirsty barbarism.

Walker aide Kirsten Kukowski issued a statement Thursday clarifying his earlier comments, saying: “Governor Walker believes our fight against ISIS is one of the most important issues our country faces. He was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.”

Anybody that was in and around Madison in those days knows how laughable Walker’s claim to “strength and leadership” during that time is on its face. He was the invisible man, using outside money and the Capitol Police as his shield and buckler.

Walker is a two-bit faker whose career is propped up by outside financiers who want a puppet in the White House. He’s an anti-union, anti-education anti-poor featureless little crook whose every campaign has had tinges of fraud about it. He shouldn’t be the nominee of a major party for County Executive again, much less for President of the United States.

ISIS and its attempts to provoke

The rest of the world has looked on in horror as these murderous bastards have beheaded innocents, murdered townsful of people, and kidnapped more. It’s pretty clear that it has a goal in mind: to draw its enemies into a war on turf of its choosing. It has escalated its atrocities in an unending effort to infuriate citizens around the world and persuade them to clamor for their governments to make them stop. These efforts are aided by the press, which covers each cruelty thoroughly and feeds it to us on our evening news.

In some places it’s working. Sadly, one of those places is the US Congress. Take Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, for example. On “Face the Nation” a few Sundays ago he said this:

“Foreign fighters flow with passports that can penetrate the United States or our Western allies, so you’ll see Paris on steroids here pretty soon if you don’t disrupt this organization and take the fight to them on the ground.”


“You’re going to need boots on the ground, not only in Iraq, but Syria. And there’s got to be some regional force formed with an American component somewhere around 10,000 American soldiers to ally with Arab armies in the region and go in to Syria and take back territory from ISIL. That’s what will make it stop.”

Senator John McCain is equally bellicose. Back on February 19 he said:

“I’m talking about 10,000 in Iraq,” said McCain. “Then we need to say that our objective is to eliminate Bashar Assad as well as ISIS in Syria, and we recruit other Arab nations with Americans, but not too many, to fight against ISIS and Bashar Assad in Syria and coordinate those movements with air power guided by air controls.”

In my view these Senators and their colleagues who agree with them are being sucked in by ISIS/ISIL. I’m not sure whether they really see that outfit as an existential threat — if they do they’re fools. ISIS has roughly 20,000 fighters. No matter how well funded they’re not likely to defeat the US Army, the best and most elaborately-equipped army in the world, one which numbers over 550,000, if it really came to that. If they just feel that someone has to do something to stop the atrocities, I can agree that that’s a laudable goal, but I’m not convinced landing an expeditionary force in Iraq or Syria to take them on is the best way to achieve it. Also, Senator McCain’s idea of “eliminating” Syria’s Bashar Assad might not sit well with other potential allies in the region; is he suggesting that America should just go into countries willy-nilly and get rid of their leaders if those leaders aren’t performing up to John McCain’s exacting standards of behavior? That’s no way to win friends and allies, Senator.


House Republicans and Senate Republicans can’t agree: should the Department of Homeland Security be funded through the end of this fiscal year if it means President Obama’s executive orders which mandate that prosecutorial discretion should be used when deciding which undocumented immigrants should be deported are left as policy?

The House says no; the Senate says yes. The Senate says “we’ll strip the repeal of his executive orders out of the DHS funding bill and put that language into a separate bill which we’ll debate next week, but for Heaven’s sake let’s get the money problem solved.” The House says “screw that. We don’t like that immigration policy and we won’t let it sit another day, even if it means the DHS shuts down.”

This was entirely predictable back in December when Congress passed legislation to fund every other federal department and agency but DHS, but somehow the Republican party leaders thought they could finesse the differences between the ultra-conservative loonies in the House and the pseudo-moderate members of the Senate. The House members are mortally afraid of being primaried for not being conservative enough, while the Senators worry about that too but also know that in statewide elections they have to tack toward the middle in order to keep their jobs.

Now the Democrats are sitting back and saying “pass the popcorn.” They don’t want DHS to go unfunded, but they can’t do anything to fix that until the majority party proves it can negotiate with itself.

Meanwhile we have terror threats against shopping malls, teenagers trying to fly to Syria to join ISIS, right-wingers declaring themselves “sovereign citizens” and guys wanting to assassinate the President. There’s certainly no shortage of things for the Homeland Security department’s 230,000 employees to do. The Republicans like to call themselves the national security party, but they’re proving to be anything but so far this Congressional term.

Musical history

If you’re of a certain age and remember what’s now called The Great American Songbook with pleasure, you might enjoy a new book called “The B-Side: The Death of Tin Pan Alley and the Rebirth of the Great American Song.” Written by Ben Yagoda, it’s a brief history of the popular American song and the industry which grew to support its dissemination from sheet music to vinyl.

It’s newly published and has gotten several (Boston Globe) mixed (NPR) reviews (WaPo). I agree with the critics who say he’s too short with his praise for the music which followed that era in the 1950s and beyond, but he’s an enthusiast for the old stuff, so I’m not surprised. Had he gone on to discuss the later music and musicians with the same ardor he did for the earlier ones the book might have balanced out better. At 263 pages, there was room to expand.

Nonetheless it’s a good read if you want to know part of the history of 20th-century American popular culture and its musical underpinnings.

Here’s one of the era’s lesser-known songs, sung by its composer Harold Arlen.