Polling the Troops

Zogby International will get a ton of publicity for its new poll on how members of the U.S. armed forces in Iraq feel about serving there. The headlines so far focus on the poll’s finding that 72 percent of those surveyed — 944 people serving with various branches, a survey size Zogby says gives a 3.5 percent margin of error for the full sample — think the U.S. should withdraw sometime in the next 12 months. Twenty-three percent go along with the commander-in-chief’s suggestion that the forces should stay in Iraq “as long as they are needed.” The Marines are most gung-ho on staying — only three in five think we should be out within a year; four out of five National Guard members and reservists think it’s time to be winding things up.

More interesting numbers, to me: Three in five say they know why they’re in Iraq; two in five say they’re unclear on the reason. Nine out of ten reject the presence of weapons of mass destruction as a reason for invading. So why did we go in? Five out of six say it’s payback for Saddam Hussein’s role in the 9/11 attacks. Three out of four also think we wanted to make sure Saddam didn’t protect al Qaida in Iraq.

It’s another black eye for the reality-based community, which has insisted for years that a) Saddam had no role in 9/11 (even Cheney, the promoter-in-chief of that myth, was eventually forced to concede the point) and b) Saddam had no substantive relationship with al Qaida. At the same time, though, the troops don’t seem to be buying one of the substitute rationales for the war: that it’s all about creating a model democracy for the Arab world. Only one in four respondents named that as a reason for the war.

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Women OK After Squirrel Attack

The sharp-eyed Lydell emails this bit of news with the note, “No Wonder Y’All Took It on the Arches”:

Our former semi-hometown — the town where my siblings and I all went to junior high and high school, Crete, Illinois — is in the news. The Daily Southtown has the story:

Women OK after squirrel attack

Two Crete women who were attacked by a squirrel are in good condition, Crete Police Chief Paul VanDeraa said.

The squirrel was caught in a trap and is being tested by the Will County Animal Control office, VanDeraa said.

A woman who lives in the 1400 block of Vincennes was scratched in the leg and bitten by a squirrel Feb. 16 as she walked from her porch to her car, VanDeraa said.

Three days later, a woman was scratched while she was in the area of Benton and Cass [several blocks away], VanDeraa said.

Too many straight lines in this story. You just hope that investigators didn’t imprison an innocent squirrel and let the real perp go free. And, apropos of nothing, here’s an opportunity to quote my favorite squirrel-related headline ever, from The Onion: “Road-kill Squirrel Remembered as Frantic, Indecisive.”

Posted in Berkeley: Down Tha Ship


On a newspaper box on Milvia Street, just north of University. I like the image and the caption and things being the way they are thought I was reading an anarcho-nihilist political slogan. Maybe that’s what it’s about, but Down That Ship is also the name of a local band that has on more than one occasion shared billing with a group called Jack Killed Jill. I don’t know their work.

Posted in Berkeley

Going to bed early so I can do a 300-kilometer ride tomorrow (that’s 188 miles in American). So I offer this, from February 1, posted on one light pole, downtown on Kittredge Street:


Trivial by Nature

When it comes to any subject, there’s good trivia and bad trivia; or maybe not bad, but ho-hum, something that fits too easily onto a Trivial Pursuit card An example of uninspiring trivia might be: Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977. An example of good (or at least better) trivia might involve where Elvis was when he was fatally stricken and what was he doing. (For the uninitiated, here’s the scatologist’s-eye view of the King’s passing.)

So I’ve been engaged in some bad and not-so-bad presidential trivia. It’s kind of a way to relax, I guess — or at least put part of my brain on idle (a big part, because I can’t claim any inspirations, related or unrelated, large or small, happened while I focused on this). It started with a simple question, now that Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays and Presidents Day have passed: In which month were the most presidents born (posted separately)?

When I start looking at a list of dates, all sorts of facts stick out and relationships suggest themselves. In presidential birth and death dates, perhaps the best-known and most striking is July 4, 1826, the day John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died; a less-mentioned coincidence is that a third president in first five, James Monroe, also died on the 4th of July, in 1831. That kind of coincidence doesn’t show up much in birth dates. Just two presidents — James K. Polk and Warren Harding — share a birthday, November 2 (start planning now).

Ronald Reagan lived longest of all the presidents, 93 years and 120 days. Gerald Ford, born July 14, 1913, could tie the record on Columbus Day this year. Herbert Hoover enjoyed — maybe endured is a better word — the longest retirement, 31 years and seven months. Ford’s in a solid second place in the retirement rankings, but two and a half years behind Hoover; Jimmy Carter, Ford’s successor is No. 4 in the retirement rankings; he’s not gaining on Ford, obviously, but he’ll move into the No. 3 spot, ahead of one-time dual longevity/retirement king John Adams, in early May. (And the shortest retirement? The aforementioned Polk, who outlived his single term by just three months.)

This is the kind of stuff they’re not teaching in our public schools.

After poring over some of the presidents’ biographical data, I did come up with a category that I’m sure someone out in the universe has happened upon but which hasn’t made it into the Wikipedia’s weirdly complete catalog of presidential trivia (see the very end of the entry President of the United States). The little seam I found to mine is represented by our current president and his predecessor: Of all the 42 men who have served as president, the two born closest together are Bush and Clinton. The list:

1. G.W. Bush (7/6/1946)-Clinton (8/19/1946): 44 days.

2. A. Johnson (12/29/1808)-Lincoln (2/12/1809): 45 days.

3. G.H.W. Bush (6/12/1924)-Carter (10/1/1924): 111 days.

4. Jackson (3/15/1767)-J.Q. Adams (7/11/1767): 118 days.

5. Grant (4/27/1822)-Hayes (10/4/1822): 160 days.

6. Nixon (1/9/1913)-Ford (7/14/1913): 186 days.

If you extend the concept to trios, here are the three closest groupings:

1. Wilson (12/28/1856)-Taft (9/15/1857)-T. Roosevelt (10/27/1858): 1 year, 9 months, 29 days.

2. Reagan (2/6/1911)-Nixon (1/9/1913)-Ford (7/14/1913): 2 years, 5 months, 11 days.

3. Arthur (10/5/1830)-Garfield (11/19/1831)-B. Harrison (8/20/1833): 2 years, 10 months, 15 days.

And at the other extreme, the chief executives born furthest apart — considering consecutive presidencies only — are:

Eisenhower (10/14/1890)-Kennedy (5/29/1917): 26 years, 5 months, 15 days.

2. G.H.W. Bush (6/12/1924)-Clinton (8/19/1946): 22 years, 2, months, 7 days.*

3. Buchanan (4/23/1791)-Lincoln (2/12/1809): 17 years, 9 months, 20 days.

4. Jackson (3/15/1767)-Van Buren (12/5/1782): 15 years, 9 months, 20 days.

5. McKinley (1/29/1843)-T. Roosevelt (10/27/1858): 15 years, 8 months, 29 days.

6. Taylor (11/29/1784)-Fillmore (1/7/1800): 15 years, 1 month, 9 days.

7. Reagan (2/6/1911)-Carter (10/1/24): 13 years, 7 months, 25 days.

No conclusions drawn from any of the above. The close birthdays show up some odd coincidences — Lincoln and Johnson, Nixon and Ford and their interrupted presidencies. The presidents born furthest apart might make a more interesting discussion. You might argue that in several cases, at least, the generational differences between the presidents played a role or reflected in some way a larger social and political upheaval that occurred at the same time (best cases for that: Buchanan-Lincoln, Kennedy-Eisenhower, McKinley-Roosevelt; worst case: Taylor-Fillmore).

That’s it. My brain’s very relaxed now.

*Added 3/5/2006 based on reader email that pointed out the difference in the first Bush’s and Clinton’s ages.

Polk-Harding Day: Early Warning

As explained elsewhere, I was noodling with White House birthdays. For your party-planning purpses — let’s get ready for Polk-Harding Day ’06! — here’s a calendar of sorts of the birthdays of the presidents:

January February March
Fillmore (7)
Nixon (9)
McKinley (29)
F.D. Roosevelt (30)
Reagan (6)
W.H. Harrison (9)
Lincoln (12)
Washington (22)
Jackson (15)
Madison (16)
Cleveland (18)
Tyler (29)
April May June
Jefferson (13)
Buchanan (23)
Grant (27)
Monroe (28)
Truman (8)
Kennedy (29)
G.H.W. Bush (12)
July August September
Coolidge (4)
G.W. Bush (6)
J. Q. Adams (11)
Ford (14)
Hoover (10)
Clinton (19)
B. Harrison (20)
L. B. Johnson (27)
Taft (15)
October November December
Carter (1)
Hayes (4)
Arthur (5)
Eisenhower (14)
T. Roosevelt (27)
J. Adams (30)
Polk (2)
Harding (2)
Garfield (19)
Pierce (23)
Taylor (24)
Van Buren (5)
Wilson (28)
A. Johnson (29)

I Knew I Knew I Knew I Knew

Our Daily Dead (and many others) have the story:

Billy Cowsill, 58; Lead Singer for 1960s Teen Pop Band the Cowsills

I admit it — I was in junior high when “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things” came out. I liked it. And I associated with a girl who seemed always to wear short floral-printed dresses. I won’t go any further down that particular memory alley.

But back to Billy Cowsill. The money quote from the nicely done Los Angeles Times obit:

“At the time of his death, Billy Cowsill’s Co-Dependents album ‘Live at the Cafe Mecca Vol. 2′ was the top-selling independent album in the Canadian province of Alberta.”

That says it all. On the other hand, Billy was still singing. His brother Barry was living in New Orleans and went missing after Hurricane Katrina hit last August. His body was found four months later — “on a wharf,” the L.A. Times says — just after Christmas (there’s a
memorial page on the Cowsills site).

Equal Time

It wouldn’t be Presidents Day without “Equal Time.” But before I get to that, a piece of melancholy: We have a paperback on our shelf — actually we have books on more than one shelf, and I mean to say this book is on a shelf — called “Love Trouble.” The author is Veronica Geng, and she’s pictured on the cover. In pajamas, girlish, smiling in a way that looks like she’s ready to share some mischief. The book, which came out in 1999, was published posthumously; Ms. Geng, an editor and writer for The New Yorker, had died of a brain tumor a couple years earlier. No more mischievous fun except in the writing she left behind.

When Ronald Reagan was still president, and we all know how long ago that was, The New Yorker ran a very, very short piece — no more than six column inches I’d guess — called “Equal Time.” It was Ms. Geng’s work, but I didn’t make anything of that. What Kate and I loved about it was the off-the-wall take on — well, you’ll see. The piece was clipped and stuck on a series of refrigerators. It was copied and sent to friends. Kate just came across the little blow up she made of it nearly 20 years ago.

Equal Time

“You know recently one of our most distinguished Americans, Clare Boothe Luce, had this to say about the coming vote [on aid to the Contras]. “… My mind goes back to a similar moment in our history–back to the first years after Cuba had falledn to Fidel. One day during those years, I had lunch at the White House with a man I had known since he was a boy–John F. Kennedy. ‘Mr. President,’ I said, ‘no matter how exalted or great a man may be, history will have time to give him no more than one sentence. George Washington–he founded our country. Abraham Lincoln–he freed the slaves and preserved the union.’ “–Ronald Reagan, address to the nation March 16, 1986.

William Henry Harrison: He was the first occupant of the White House to eat with a knife and fork.

Millard Fillmore: He had his own likeness secretly engraved in the folds of Miss Liberty’s dress on the 1851 Silver Dollar.

Franklin Pierce: He earned the sobriquets Old Tongue-in-Groove and The Gabardine Gangplank.

Ulysses S. Grant: He translated the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner” into thirteen different languages, including mirror writing.

Benjamin Harrison: He predicted the birth of the Dionne Quintuplets over forty years before it happened.

William McKinley: He was his own grandfather.

Warren G. Harding: He campaigned on a bicycle carved from a single giant bar of soap.

Calvin Coolidge: He coined the catchphrase of the era–“Do you simply want a cigarette, or do you want a Murad?”

Herbert Hoover: He reorganized the National Christmas Card Cemetery.

Gerald Ford: He had the idea for “Shampoo” long before the movie came out.

Ronald Reagan: He popularized the political theories of Clare Boothe Luce.

[Copyright 1999, The Estate of Veronica Geng]

Lincoln Again

I should probably wait until I finish the Lincoln book I’m in the middle of now — “Team of Rivals” — before embarking on another one. But The New York Times Book Review today writes up a volume by British historian Richard Carwardine, “Lincoln: A Life of Purpose and Power.” The review, by novelist Kevin Baker, is worth a read (it’s available on the Times site for a week):

“In dissecting Lincoln’s triumph, Carwardine has provided us with a democratic version of Machiavelli’s ‘Prince,’ a primer on how power can and should be won and used in a free society. Lincoln, he shows us, expertly employed both the machinery of his new party and the authority of his office. He preferred peaceful and lawful means to his ends, but he did not hesitate to press constitutional bounds to the breaking point — for instance, suspending habeas corpus, shutting down the occasional newspaper and detaining thousands of Southern sympathizers — in the desperate struggle to keep the nation together.”

Today’s Best Idea

The New York Times’s daily wrap-up on Global Cartoon Rage (15 killed today in Nigeria, praise god) includes this summary of a meeting between Egyptian and Danish clerics:

“In Cairo, Bishop Karsten Nissen, of Denmark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, met with Grand Imam Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi of al-Azhar University, the world’s highest Sunni Muslim seat of learning.

“Tantawi said the Danish prime minister must apologize for the drawings and further demanded that the world’s religious leaders, including him and Pope Benedict XVI, should meet to write a law that ‘condemns insulting any religion, including the Holy Scriptures and the prophets.’ He said the United Nations should then impose the law on all countries.”

I nominate Pat Robertson and Jerry “The Hutt” Falwell to represent me at this law-writing confab.