Friday, December 27, 2002


The following swipe at Jimmy Carter comes from a Dec. 27 AP hagiography of President Bush the Folksy by Jennifer Loven:

President Carter insisted on carrying his own luggage -- a garment bag later discovered to have been empty all along.

Anybody know the scoop on this? J.Lo asserts it as received wisdom, but it seems to carry the whiff of urban legend.

And somehow this article on Bush's "regular guy" style overlooked his $14,000 suits from the ultra-expensive, if-you-have-to-ask Oxxford Clothes. And nothing about his $550 cowboy boots.

posted by Fred Clark 10:39 PM


The two reactors nobody is talking about ...

Here's a brief timeline of the situation in North Korea:

1994 The Korean peninsula is on the brink of open war as North Korea moves closer to building a nuclear weapon. The crisis is averted through a deal brokered by future Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter. North Korea will abandon its nuclear weapons program and shut down its heavy water reactor. In exchange the U.S. and its allies will build two smaller reactors to generate electricity for North Korea.

1995 A year has passed, construction still has not begun on the two U.S. reactors. As a "temporary" measure, the U.S. instead ships 500,000 tons of oil to North Korea to assist with its energy needs (as stipulated in the agreement).

1996 No construction. U.S. sends oil instead.

1997 No construction. U.S. sends oil instead.

1998 No construction. U.S. sends oil instead.

1999 No construction. U.S. sends oil instead.

2000 No construction. U.S. sends oil instead.

2001 No construction. U.S. sends oil instead.

2002 Construction begins on the two reactors, which may take years to complete. North Korea announces that, by the way, it has resumed its nuclear weapons program. The U.S. refuses to send any more oil. North Korea prepares to fire up the heavy water reactor ...

= = = = = = = = = = = =

The point here is not that North Korea is in the right -- I don't believe they are. But, as I've argued previously, our failure to build the two reactors we promised may be at the heart of this crisis.

It is quite possible, of course, that we never intended to build these reactors. Once they were built, after all, we would lose the leverage we gain from annual shipments of oil -- shipments can be withheld, functional reactors cannot. And it may be that such duplicity was a prudent step in dealing with an evil, backwards and unpredictable regime like the one in North Korea.

But the fact still seems to be that because these reactors remain unbuilt, North Korea seems to regard us as in violation of the 1994 agreement, and is therefore ignoring that agreement. And if that is the case, then we'd damned well better get busy creating a new agreement to replace it, or we'll end up back where we were in 1994 -- with the peninsula on the verge of a nuclear confrontation.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

The Bush administration seems to be pretending that the 1994 agreement never mentioned our building any reactors.

And most reporters covering the crisis have accepted this position.

Here's an AP story from this afternoon:

Pyongyang said in its letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, that it decided to reactivate the complex after the United States canceled a fuel oil shipment promised in a 1994 agreement shutting down the facilities.

Peter S. Goodman in an article in today's Washington Post:

Today's developments further escalated a standoff that has produced echoes of the last major crisis on the Korean Peninsula, eight years ago. That confrontation was averted when North Korea promised to halt its plutonium-based weapons development program in exchange for shipments of fuel oil from the United States and its allies.

Barbara Slavin is a bit clearer in this piece in USA Today:

The United States and North Korea accuse each other of violating the 1994 accord, which was supposed to freeze North Korea's nuclear weapons development in return for aid, trade and diplomatic recognition. The North Koreans complain that the Bush administration abandoned the Clinton-era policy of engagement and raised new demands for North Korea to reduce conventional arms.

Here's what may be the crux of the conflict, from a Dec. 12 AP story by Christopher Torchia:

Under the 1994 pact, North Korea agreed to freeze the plutonium program in return for two modern, light-water reactors built by a U.S.-led consortium and 500,000 tons of heavy oil a year until the reactors are built. ...

North Korea has often used the threat of confrontation as a means of gaining leverage ahead of negotiations, though it was not immediately clear whether its latest announcement was part of such a strategy.

It also has often complained about delays in construction of the reactors, which are several years behind schedule.

posted by Fred Clark 6:23 PM


George W. Bush, arsonist-in-chief, is screwing the poor. Again.

That, of course, is nothing new -- but this time he's also screwing his energy industry buddies out of $300 million. And as a result people will die.

Malcolm Garcia of the Kansas City Star summarizes:

Area nonprofits are bracing for possible cuts in a federal program for home heating aid that helps needy families pay their utility bills.

The Bush administration has proposed a $300 million cut in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The White House has requested $1.4 billion for the program compared with $1.7 billion last year. Congress is expected to make a decision on the proposal by the end of January.

About 4.5 million households nationwide used the program last year. Should the cut be approved, more than 523,000 households could be affected, said Mark Wolfe, spokesman for the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which represents state officials who administer the assistance program funds.

Nothing remarkable about our "compassionate conservative" president slashing funding that helps America's working poor get through the winter, but it is decidedly out of character for him to deprive his oil-company buddies millions of dollars in subsidies. This program, LIHEAP, essentially functions as a transfer payment of tax dollars to energy companies, laundered through poor households.1 But unlike many government subsidies for big corporations, this one at least has the laudable side effect of keeping poor children warm during winter.

Cutting LIHEAP is miserly, mean and foolish. And it's no exaggeration to say that Mr. Bush's cuts will cost some people their lives this winter. Some elderly folks may succumb to the cold, but many, many more lives will be lost when space heaters ignite mobile homes and row houses.

Thanks to Mr. Bush, more families will be relying on space heaters this winter. Ask your local firefighters if they think this is a good thing.

This family in Delaware survived carbon monoxide poisoning from a back-up generator (their power was shut off by Conectiv2 -- at Christmas), but not every family will be so lucky.

We've got a few weeks left to persuade Congress that cutting LIHEAP is a bad idea. Write your representatives, let them know that every time you see a fire this winter -- every time a child dies or a family is left homeless and the words "space heater" are mentioned anywhere in the news story -- you will hold them personally responsible.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

1. Almost all programs providing assistance to the poor work this way. Food stamps help low-income families feed themselves -- but at the retail level, where their buying power is minimized, but the subsidy for sellers is maximized. Housing subsidies help landlords more than renters. Etc. etc.

2. "We work with our customers to make payment arrangements and, as long as they continue to call us, we'll work with them," said Betty Kennedy, a Conectiv spokeswoman.

For "work with them," read: "shut off their power until payment is received." Since Ms. Kennedy works for "Conectiv," shouldn't she spell her name Kenedy?
posted by Fred Clark 5:37 PM


Thousands of gallons of liquid manure are seeping toward the Chesapeake.

Nice people avoid veal as a way to avoid being cruel to animals. Factory farmed veal calves are raised in wretched, unnatural conditions. I have many qualms about the animal rights agenda, but not on this issue.

But here's one aspect of industrialized veal production you may not have realized:

"Formula-fed" or milk-fed veal are raised on a liquid diet to produce a tender white meat.

That liquid diet produces liquid manure. This is useful as fertilizer, but unwieldy, and can pose a bit of a disposal problem. Near Woodside, Del., a one-acre lagoon of liquid manure from a defunct veal-calf factory has begun to overflow due to heavy rains this fall.

Here's the local account:

The state has ordered a New Jersey businessman to clean up a 1-acre storage lagoon of liquid manure that has been seeping into nearby drainage ditches at a recently closed veal farm west of Woodside in Kent County.

Thousands of gallons of liquid manure have overflowed from the lagoon since at least Monday, said John Hughes, Secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

The runoff eventually will end up in the Chesapeake Bay via the Choptank River. "It's a critical watershed, and this is potent stuff," Hughes said. ...

Although there are no calves at the site now, there were about 250 earlier this year. ... The calves were housed in two long sheds on the site, Hughes said. The liquid manure produced from the animals collected in the nearby lagoon. After the recent rains, the lagoon began to overflow.

Hughes said the state has paid a contractor $150 an hour to work on the site. "We've pumped down the lagoon enough so we have the ability to handle future rainfalls. We want to keep the stuff contained until spring."

In spring, he said, the manure can be sprayed on nearby crops as fertilizer.

So -- when you think of veal, think of thousands of gallons of liquid manure.

Eat smart. Eat well.

posted by Fred Clark 2:15 PM

Thursday, December 26, 2002



Googling, came across a couple of right-wing and not-very-funny "Worst Books of the Century" list.

We can do better.

I propose the "ProgBlog 100" -- a comprehensive compendium of some of the very worst books ever published, as submitted by the writers and readers of progressive blogs everywhere and compiled by yours truly.

Any suggestions?

posted by Fred Clark 2:12 PM



I own a copy of the book 78-187880 by Ira Einhorn. This rambling collection of drug-addled New Age blather -- written entirely in UPPERCASE, and lacking standard punctuation -- has for a long time stood unchallenged as the Worst Book I Have Ever Seen.

I've encountered many, many books that seem as though they were written to challenge Einhorn's reign. The "Business" and "Self-Help" sections of any bookstore are full of contenders. But as laughably awful as Mars and Venus in the Bedroom: a Defense of the Quickie is, it can't hold a candle to the obtuse, impenetrable prose of Ira Einhorn. (John Gray may insist on writing marriage advice after multiple divorces, but as far as I know he has never beaten his girlfriend to death, then kept her body in a trunk in his closet for months.)

Genres such as the instant-campaign-biography and it's shadow twin, the instant-campaign-attack-biography provide a reliable stream of very bad writing -- but rarely anything as epicly awful as 78-187880. Hackneyed, commercialized childrens' series like "Goosebumps" or the "Animorphs" or the Olsen-twin books earn bonus demerit for targeting innocent young readers. These books may be worse for kids than TV is. But as bad as they are, they aren't Ira Einhorn bad.

Einhorn's title seemed secure -- easily withstanding challenges from the pomposity of William Bennett, the Slander of Anne Coulter, the poetry of Jewel, the repeated failures of Hal Lindsay and Harold Camping, and even a book co-written by Britney Spears and her mother.

But ultimately, the twice-convicted hippy's book had little impact on the culture. It was never widely read, and today it's out of print, unsought and unread despite it's author's notoriety.

What if a book came along -- or a whole series of books -- that presented a similar mix of heretical nonsense and gnostic arrogance, and yet became a cultural phenomenon? What if such books were just as clumsily conceived and haphazardly written as Einhorn's groovy trip, and yet sold millions and millions of copies, spawning a whole cottage industry of copycats and even a movie starring Kirk Cameron?

Yes, you guessed it. We have a new champion, a new nadir in literature.

The Worst Book I Have Ever Seen is ...

Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

Left Behind is so pervasively, relentlessly awful that I need to take a deep breath before diving in with a fuller critique.

But watch this space.

Over the coming months, we will vivisect this wretched, diseased creature. We will examine the many ways this awful novel is harmful and hurtful for its readers, for their neighbors, for America and, especially, for the Christian church (the book presents an aggressive denial of the central Christian doctrine of resurrection).

I have never met Tim LaHaye or Jerry Jenkins, so I cannot judge their intent. But the book they have spawned is evil and dangerous, and clearly merits its place The Worst Book I Have Ever Seen.

posted by Fred Clark 2:00 PM

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

12/20 - 12/25

Family stuff. Away from computers.

Peace on earth, good will toward all.

posted by Fred Clark 4:41 PM

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