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Sunday, April 27, 2008

I guess I had grown used to coverage of an election season being seasoned with comments to and from the Federal Election Commission. If not garnering whole articles in the media then references sprinkled throughout the political coverage. But mention of the FEC has been in the breach: Unlike most election seasons for the past thirty years there has been little reference to the FEC this season (FEC_Wikipedia). This is not a case of someone one with a web log having an original thought and turning that around. When I took my sense of absence to Google News to see what would return for question I saw that two recent two events were driving it back into the news now. Confirming a general view I have that there is nothing that is not agenda driven. There may be facts, raw information after a lesser manner, though not news and no opinion without PR agenda With the FEC Inactive, the Complaints Fly | The Trail | But I'll play along.

First there was the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Lawsuit against the McCain campaign for their dance macabre with public financing. Egregious especially for their ability to apparently use such cash flow as virtual collateral for loans that would render resorting to public finance an unnecessary move. Despite the seeming sanguinity involved, as a legal case it is apparently weak and of vague merit. I don't think the legal issue was precisely the point Marc Ambinder (April 14, 2008) - Does The DNC's Complain Against McCain Have Merit? The press coverage, the public comments tendered, the demonstration that resort to the courts was felt necessary because the FEC itself had not dealt with this was. The other event was the ex FEC chair Robert Lenhard withdrawing from renomination effort when it became evident the republican candidate he was twinned with was never going to be acceptable to the democratic leadership. Before disappearing into that good night of the private sector it was arranged for this to make a fat and visible federal diary page entry in the Washington Post FEC Nominee Withdraws Name After Long Impasse -

I imagine Sen. Reid's calculation about damage not done by non functioning FEC figured into this. The FEC currently has only two commissionors in place where six are mandated No FEC quorum means no FEC decisions - The republican nominee Hans von Spakovsky is the point man for ideologies whose political viability is tied to a general rollback of democratic franchise. Through all this the FEC will still operate at low level bureaucratic level all existing rules and requirements are still in place. Data collection on candidates activities will continue on autopilot. Any higher level decision making and rulings will be absent as this article in the Mother Jones details: Out of Commission .

This FEC is a creature of congressional stalemate FindLaw's Writ - Hasen: The Collapse of the Public Financing System for U.S. Presidential Campaigns Blame Congress, Not the Candidates, it represents the preferred bipartisan outcome of existing office holders. Many in Congresses are already the handpicked representatives of some regionally powerful home interest to which they owe their first allegiance. Hollowing out the FEC simply encourages more powerful interests to own the remainder of them.

Government by and large is the practice of balancing general vs. special interests. The former diffused in their needs and lacking formal organization except by the mechanisms of the vote. Most federal agencies dedicated formally to the general interest of all Americans have a dedicated constituency of particular organized institutional or corporate interests. It can only be hoped that in the competition of these special interests something approximating the public interest emerges. The FEC has politicians as its interested parties. They are mainly interested in consuming its services in the negative, in regulation that does affect them, but perhaps ties the hand of their opponents. There is little interest in a robust and empowered agency with ability to cast light into all their shadows.

For the general public its hard to feel ownership in something that doesn't appear to deliver concrete benefit or be yours at all. For myself I never gave the FEC much thought until it seemed that the private though publicly promulgated political conversation of web logs might either be onerously regulated or left unprotected to bitter partisanship attack both of which would serve to chill it out of existence The Free Press, Mankato, MN - Our View: Do not regulate political bloggers. It was easy for me to see any relationship with the FEC completed in that.

If the FEC is to survive and hold any relevancy at all it must do as some here have pointed out and develop a real constituency. This constituency must be broader than just the elected politicians who pick its members and set its budget. Ways must be found of breaking or placing at greater remove congresses control over the FEC's affairs

I don't think the FEC can operate like other federal commissions holding meetings setting out occasional notifications for public comment on rule-making, but otherwise sitting back and waiting for organized interests to encircle them. I do not think either that public interest groups attempting to operate in behalf of the broad public have sufficient gravity behind the to replace the public. FEC must get out and take their concerns to the American people and the concerns from the people. I know that the commission and bureaucratic set are disposed towards the attitude that you learn nothing sitting in high school auditoriums and listening to yahoos. They are neither congress nor the wealthy to create congressmen in such places only the people, fingers brushing the empty eddied air around an increasingly distant government.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008
Diesel Only

A commingling of a few of my favorite obsessions presents itself. A confluence of gulf stream and arctic waters. A virtual  nor' easter of fun.

First off an enduring category of referrer hits to the web log remains pictures of Ra5c Vigilantes. This is the plane of one of my units when I was in the Navy, RVAH Seven, or Reconatkron Seven in that full Navy quasi acronym style. Until I run out pictures I'm happy to oblige. This is a picture of a RVAH 7 Vigilante in USS Forestal colors flying over what I have always believed to be Stone Mountain Georgia. The pictures I put up here on Atomized Jr. are compressed and resized images of old photo's I've scanned. Usually to around 4x3 inches and 30kb file size. For all these scans; though, I still have the original tiff image and often a larger jpeg already made. If any of these really strikes your fancy, you can always email me, or leave a comment, and ask for a higher resolution copy. A picture named Ra5c_StoneMountain .jpg

I should also point out also that while wandering through a hobby shop with my nephew I found a small book on the A5 which gives a nice history and description of the plane through its various incarnations and includes pictures of RVAH 7's planes even during the period I was in the squadron North American Rockwell A3J/A-5 Vigilante []. Regulated to history, but at least it's documented history.

This in turn presents an opportunity to mention that I've heard a lovely restrained cover of New Order's song "Love Vigilantes" recently. I mention this simply because it has the word Vigilante in the title and because it moves things off in a very different direction. It's sung by Laura Cantrell on her new lp Trains and Boats and Planes (Diesel only records). (That link is to apple's phobos server which when eaten by your browser will prompt it to open iTunes). She also does a nice version of Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Gordon Lightfoot song, on the same record. Laura Cantrell is a former Dj at WFMU in New Jersey Laura Cantrell - Wikipedia.

After hearing her version a couple of times I decide to revisit a mystery which has plagued me about that song. I have always associated the song Love Vigilantes with a short story I read once a long time ago. I've been trying to remember this story for twenty years. This time after an afternoon of intermittent thought I decided that the name of the story might be Night Flight and tried that against the Internet Speculative Fiction Database and came up with the name Josephine Johnson.

A short story called Night Flight by Josephine Johnson was published in 1944. From its reprint history I could see I probably read this in a Ray Bradbury edited collection of short stories which may still be among my sister Ann's books.

I went upstairs to the stacks to find the collection The sorcerer's son, and other stories [] which is what McKeldin (a library at the Univ. of Maryland) had that contained Night flight. It is an unassuming surreal and very short tale of soldiers flying from their barracks and camps back to their homes and loved ones at night. The New Order song has a few other things going on: a sharper sensibility. But this is the story I had read before and is what I've been trying to remember.

I was intrigued by some of the other stories. as I read through the whole collection over the next few days. In the "Story without End" a father starts an indifferent story to distract his two squabbling children. A hero is described traveling through a snow storm carrying a magic bag to save a village from a dragon. Eventually he simply ends the story perfunctorily. The dragon is vanquished the village saved. The bag never enters into it. The son is satisfied but the daughter, a little older, feels cheated and observes to herself later, ending the story: "He didn't know what was in the bag." A good observation for a story teller. I've read so much in my life written by people who didn't know what was in the bag. A near and common example, television shows like Lost. Three seasons in and I am no longer sure they know what's in the bag. Its only television I suppose, though saying "its only television" makes me feel ungrateful, and un-American.

Johnson's stories I realized after I had read a few of them were sly, craftier than I had first thought. I'd also recommend the Rented Room. It made me wonder what sort of writer she was The wikipedia bio has very little on her Josephine Winslow Johnson - Wikipedia. Not a fantasy or science fiction writer, not a home magazine writer. Not trafficked in the same circles as Peter Taylor, O'Conner or Welty though she published stories in the Virginia Quarterly Review. There is a clever and gothic undercurrent to the stories which keeps them safely out of the ordinary world which would forget them.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008
Tempest UCC

The United Church of Christ (UCC) the denomination I belong to recently decided to buy a full page ad in the New York Times. Which as you might guess not is not inexpensive. This idea came from one of the New York City Congregations, but was quickly embraced by many others. Doing what we can under the circumstances, a quick-whip around with the internet hat was necessary to raise the cash, which the head office does not have on it. This went smoothly, the thing was done and it ran I believe on 02 April Full-page UCC ad appears in The New York Times . Enough money was raised to even buy a second ad in USA Today a week later on 11 April. The text of this one was different from the first and continued the conversation UCC's full-page USA Today ad invites nation to 'sacred conversation on race'. The preceding links lead to the press release (with links) that accompanied each ad, here are direct links to pdfs of the ads: ny-times-ad.pdf (application/pdf Object) and usatodayad.pdf (application/pdf Object) for those who want to cut to the quick.

The need for this step came from the strident and imprecise press attention surrounding Sen. Obama's Trinity Church (UCC) in Chicago and its former paster, Jeremiah Wright. A few weeks ago this controversy gained an above-the-gatefold article in the Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section He's Preaching to A Choir I've Left. Which some quipped was more attention than the denomination has ever had before in its history. We felt the need to state clearly that we are not the church that hates America. Traditionally we lay claim to a greater legacy as a church that was one of the foundings of the nation.

Beyond the Church's concern to reaffirm who we are, I began to think about the meaning of Rev. Wrights demonization by sectors of the media. In the first place removing voice, denying standing, delegitimizing feeling. In the second place decapitating leadership by misrepresenting what Rev. Wright was about. Portraying him as strident unrepresentative and extreme (the first to gain the second) Fox anchors O'Reilly, Hannity, fire back at Wright :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Barack Obama . He could not be called extreme, if in fact, many if not most felt as he does, if he spoke for others. I did see one commentator who took considerable chance in this debate by pointing out that many of Martin luther King's speeches particularly the earlier ones had levels of stridency that equaled or exceeded Rev. Wrights. He may be preaching to the choir, but the whole congregation is awake. Beyond a soon familiar bundle of pull quotes; rhetorical tub-thumping pinned to the line. They had little about the man. His entire life, the testimony of his work and those who know him Obama's Minister Problem - The notion that he was a hate filled radical did not connect with the fact that he made his living as a UCC Minister. Stylistically Rev. Wright seems different from the Congregationalist ministers I've known: Rev. Sangree, and John Mack. I have the feeling that this is mostly just style. I can recall Rev. Mack in a sermon speaking on how he came to doubt the effectiveness of the mass protest march particularly as we moved into the current era. This did not affect his appetite for social justice nor diminish his desire to speak towards it. His own style moved away from stridency and effusion, for quieter moments of more certain engagement. The real statement those that demand that Sen. Obama or the UCC cleave themselves from Reverend Wright are making is to say that that they have no right to their opinion, or no right to leadership at all if they have dis-comforting opinion.

Addendum 16 Apr 08...

Since again I haven't managed to kick a post out the door before additional events overtake it. I can take a moment to consider Sen. Obama's recent statements to the effect that small town Americans living in what has for 30 years now been referred to as the rust-belt seem to him bitter at the experience of several successive presidencies taking little or no interest whatsoever in their plight. Well it was not good to have said this. It can only seem like a comment on, not a comment with. It does not demonstrate solidarity Democrats must renew bond with working class - The Boston Globe. At the same time there is little point in others with their own distances to overcome stepping forward to tell small towners how they should feel about this. Further to connect this with the first part of this post. If it does not work to marginalize Sen. Obama as akin with angry common and extreme opinion, the process from there is to marginalize him by portraying as elite and condescending whatever he says. Both have the equal intent of locking him away from the American people.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008
Teflon Inc.

My sister, Susan, and brother-in-law, Douglas, were talking about teflon in cosmetics the other day. I had a tough time believing that this was a big problem, but apparently with certain cosmetics like lipstick it is. Toxic elements in cosmetics in general is more widespread than I would've believed. I figure the guys out there are thinking "Well I don't use lipstick, I don't see how that's my problem." Yeah, keep thinking that one through. PTFE is what teflon is Polytetrafluoroethylene - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. There are variants FEP and PFA. All are plastics or more formally polymers. The major difference between the former and latter two is that PTFE is hard, non malleable, requiring that it be milled into its final shape or application, FEP is mold ejectable, but has a much lower melting point. With both it is the presence of the compound PFOA (pentadecafluorooctanoic acid), a suspected carcinogen part of the manufacturing process, that is the problem. I can't imaging the attraction to cosmetic products, but teflon is supposed to be the only solid surface that a gecko can't stick to. It is uniquely slippery stuff.

This was something they had heard from the news shortly before. Nearly as I can figure it was probably this article which they had probably seen - Covering Delaware's Cape Region - Stacy Malkan book they were down at Cape Henelopen over my nephews' spring break. The article was a review of a book Not just a pretty face : the ugly side of the beauty industry [] by Stacey Malkan, there is also a web site for the book by the publisher and author Not Just A Pretty Face. The book came out of the work she does for a foundation Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

From the Safe Cosmetics web site there is a link to a further website: the Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Database itself part of something called the Environmental working Group. I point out to my sister here that this is the same web site we discovered while talking about this. This database concentrates on cosmetics but contains data across a wide spectrum of consumer and household products. It is limited by state and federal regulations covering covering ingredient disclosure. There is a fairly massive loophole there covering the "fragrance" category which is a proprietary catch-all. This explains why this db often lists fragrance as the most concerning ingredient. It's simply that the product is suspect, but the disclosed ingredients are compounds with known toxicity profiles that do not account for the concern.

In a similar vein I heard a NPR piece on another aspect of environment toxins, Consumer electronics. The problem of recycling batteries (particularly rechargeable batteries), cell phones, and computer parts which are neither biodegradable nor landfill friendly. The key here is to find a green way of dispossession.

The claim was made that if you piloted to the online version of the piece After the Techno Lust, There's Always E-Cycling (NPR is radio after all) they had a list of web database resources such as E-cycling Central: Find a Recycler or Rechargeable Battery Recycling that allow you to find standing recycle programs and special recycling events by local area. It didn't seem to list the recycling set-up at the Mom's organic grocery on Nicholson (or is it Parklawn?) that it know is there, but that's the point, really, many of these recycling efforts are small low key and hard to find.

11:58:49 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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