Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Baiji Is Gone

This is rather sad. The Baiji, also known as the Chinese or Yangtze River Dolphin, is extinct. This is the first known species of cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) to go extinct in recorded history, and its demise was directly caused by humans, and therefore completely avoidable.

The Baiji looked kind of like a small Bottlenose dolphin (think Flipper) with a longer snout. It lived in the Yangtze River system in China, which suffers from intense development pressure. I read somewhere that nearly fifteen percent of the world's population lives along the Yangtze. Dams and other changes to the natural river flow damaged the Baiji's habitat, overfishing reduced its food supplies, and poaching, pollution, and collisions with ships did the rest.

Losing any species is unfortunate, but losing a large and relatively intelligent mammal is particularly bad. There are three remaining species of river dolphins, and I hope that the extinction of the baiji will prompt more efforts to protect them.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Body Counts

There's a front-page DailyKos post about the apparent return of body counts as a metric of our success in Iraq. In a press conference a couple of days ago Bush said:
Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered. Offensive operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists and insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November, and the first week of December, we have killed or captured nearly 5,900 of the enemy.

I'm old enough to remember listening to the Vietnam war body count on the nightly TV news, and even as boy I knew enough to realize that if were really killing Viet Cong at that rate the war would have ended long before. So either we were killing civilians and counting them as enemy soldiers, or the government was just making shit up. Turns out both were true back then, and probably still are.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Another One Bites the Dust!

We won another one! Yesterday there was a special runoff election in Texas' 23rd Congressional District. The polls said that Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla was going to beat Democratic challenger Ciro Rodriguez by four or five points. Well, the polls were dead wrong, and Rodriguez won by nearly 9%!

To be fair, it looks like there was internal polling showing the race tilting in our favor, and the DCCC poured in money at the end while the NRCC didn't. But it's still a very nice early Christmas present for Democrats.

This odd runoff election was due to the redistricting mess started by Texas Republicans after they took over the state legislature in 2002. Earlier this year the US Supreme Court declared the 23rd Congressional District unconstitutional because it violated the Voting Rights Act, and the courts redrew it as a much more Democratic district. The courts also ordered a multiparty primary on November 7th, to be followed by a runoff on December 12th if no candidate received at least 50% in the primary.

Another Republican attempt to play dirty comes back to bite them.


If you're a Queen fan, here's an interesting tidbit. If you play the chorus to "Another One Bites the Dust" backwards it pretty clearly says "It's fun to smoke marijuana." This is an unintended case of backmasked vocals, but it's still kind of fun.

Milwaukee Median Family Income Only 56% of Madison's

This is kind of shocking. According to a press release from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance the median family income (which means that half of families earn more than this amount and half earn less) in Milwaukee is only $35,765, compared to $64,264 in Madison. Now, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance is essentially a bunch of corporate Republicans, so you have to make allowances for that, but if the numbers are anywhere close to the truth that's a mighty big difference. Here's a quote from a story about these findings in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Madison has some "built-in advantages," such as the major research center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and that it's the state capital, said Ryan Parsons, a research associate for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

"But I think what Milwaukee needs to do if it wants to regain some of that balance that was lost in the last 50 years is more of a focus on education and retaining good college graduates," Parsons said. "One of the reasons Madison has such an edge over Milwaukee is having people who can fill high-tech science research jobs. A lot of that work force is missing from a city like Milwaukee."
Nice that they recognize that education is a big piece of this puzzle, but as always the question is what are we going to do about it, and who's going to pay for it. Seems to me that if our corporate citizens are so concerned about education they should be more than willing to raise Wisconsin business taxes, which are among the lowest in the nation, so that we can improve things.

Somehow I suspect that's not the message Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance is trying to get across.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Is This a Problem?

WASHINGTON, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Among the 1,000 people who work in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, only 33 are Arabic speakers and only six speak the language fluently, according to the Iraq Study Group report released on Wednesday.


Reminds me of an old joke:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Huffington Post Gets It Wrong!

You've probably all seen the Huffington Post article claiming that none of the incoming Republicans members of Congress have served in the military. It's a great little article, but unfortunately it's also wrong.

The Huffington Post article lists twelve incoming Republican freshmen, and indeed none of them have served. But there are actually thirteen. One is missing. He's Vern Buchanan (FL-13), who served six years in the Michigan Air National Guard...

FL-13 is the seat previously held by Katherine Harris that is still in dispute because there were so many undervotes in areas that voted Democratic. So there's a reasonable chance that there'll be a new election in that district, and that Buchanan will never take office. But unless and until that happens it is incorrect to claim that none of the new Republicans have served.

It's important to me that we on the left are honest and truthful, even if the results aren't always to our liking.


Just in case you're wondering, five freshmen Dems out of a class of 41 have served in the military:

Phil Hare (IL-17)
Tim Walz (MN-01)
Joseph A. Sestak Jr. (PA-07)
Patrick Murphy (PA-08)
Chris Carney (PA-10)

And that's a lot better ratio than the Republicans, even if you do count Buchanan...