November 19th, 2008

Nuclear Power: Clean, Safe, Impotent

by Philip Baruth

What a difference a year makes. Time was when Vermont Yankee was a sexy environmental terror, a cocky corporate bad-boy that drew female activists from around the region, activists who would then undress on the banks of the Connecticut River to protest Entergy’s nuclear heat. These days? Apparently the plant has what are politely being referred to as “degraded members” in the only safety-related cooling tower on site. And these, we’re told, can very easily become “failed members.” Jesus, doesn’t VDB know it.

isabel v. yankee

We’d make a complex Bob Dole-related erectile dysfunction joke, but we’re still too torn up about this Lieberman debacle over in the Senate.

November 18th, 2008

Big Joe Skates Like Michelle Kwan (Now With New Japanese Tranquility Update!)

by Philip Baruth

Look, VDB voted for Hope and Change. Which we took to mean this: we Hoped that the Democrats would Change Joe Lieberman from a Senator to the guy who cleans the bathrooms on the Interstate. But now, apparently, our hopes are dashed. The world is dark, for Big Joe will continue blithely on as though nothing has changed, for all the world. Oh, except for one thing: no doubt he’ll begin to execute oversight on the Executive Branch starting, say, January 21st. Don’t talk to VDB, please. We need to be alone.

Late Update, Wednesday, 9:08 am:

VDB-reader Jim writes in with some calming words from Japan, where his sensei is helping him learn the intricacies of Eastern engraving:

Hello VDB,

If it’s any consolation, per Joe Lieberman, the Shoguns used to draw their rivals in close in order to limit their power and keep an eye on them. This was a tactic of Nelson Mandela as well.

Off to Osaka today to see my engraving sensei. Foliage just really getting going here in Kyoto. Here’s a shot at Kodaiji Temple. I really had to work at eliminating the throngs of sightseers.

Ja matta,


November 17th, 2008

VPR Commentary: A Tale of Two Races

by Philip Baruth

Announcer: The end of Election 2008 hit everyone a little bit differently. For various reasons, it took Commentator Philip Baruth back to a moment when he was twelve years old, running his first sled-dog race. Here’s Philip.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #222: A Tale of Two Races

When I was a kid, my family raised Siberian huskies, and we raced them with a local organization, the Mohawk Valley Sled Dog Club. I started my own short racing career as a basket boy, riding in the basket of my mother’s sled on training days — I was there to keep her company, to turn the dogs at the halfway point, and to untangle them if they were suddenly at one another’s throats.

But by the time I turned twelve, I’d managed to convince my mother that it was time I had a team of my own. Just a five-dog team, nothing elaborate. And my gang were the misfits, the dogs too slow or too old to make my parents’ teams.

But they were mine, and I trained with them all through the fall using a big metal rig with wheels to run them up and down our little country road. Come winter, the night before my first race, I was out of my mind with excitement.

And I asked my mother what seemed like only a logical question: how many trophies do they hand out for each race? Three? Or four?

My mother gave me a look, and she sat me down in the living room and gave me a little straight talk.

She said that I had to face the facts: it was my first race, and I’d be up against tough competition; that almost everyone running would be older, and bigger, and more experienced. Just finishing a ten-mile run would be an achievement for a twelve-year-old kid.

It was fine advice, and I took it like any twelve-year-old boy: I went into a snit, and refused to speak more than a syllable at a time all the way to the race venue the next morning. My mother helped me harness my dogs, but as I remember I was still too indignant to say thank you.

But as I took off, everything leading up to the race faded away, and when the dogs finally slowed from the initial burst of the take-off, I got off the runners and began to run behind the sled as fast as I could.

Now, typically, a sled dog racer runs behind the sled when the dogs bog down, and rides the runners when the speed picks up again. In between, drivers pump the sled like a scooter.

But as far as I can remember I didn’t pump at all that day, and I only rode the runners on downhill slopes when I had no choice. Otherwise I ran full-tilt, as hard as I could in my boots, for most of that ten miles.

Eventually I ran past another team, and then another.

And before I knew it, I rounded a corner and came into sight of Heartbreak Hill, the long upward climb to the finish. I can’t say I ran the last hill, but I slogged it behind the sled, with the dogs dragging me up to the finish line.

And then I did the singlemost publicly embarrassing thing I’ve ever done in my entire life: I crossed the finish line, handed my team off to a total stranger, collapsed to my knees and — that’s right — vomited in a snowbank.

My mother finally helped me back to the cab of our truck, before unharnessing my dogs, and then harnessing her own. Because it was time for her own race, but she made sure I was all right first, and then left me there in the cab.

It was about 20 minutes later that someone rapped on the window. It was a race official, come to tell me that I’d won my class by just 28 seconds. “And I just wanted to be the first to shake your paw,” the official said.

And then he left, and I sat there in the cold cab of the truck, feeling this very particular mix of deep exhaustion and elation and vindication.

It was a peculiar feeling I was never to feel again, until Election Night last week, when a campaign longer and tougher than any in recent history finally came to a close.

Because even though I watched the final moments of this race in a hotel ballroom surrounded by hundreds of cheering people, I felt somehow like I was twelve again, back in the cab of our old dog truck, parked out in the middle of a frozen field somewhere, fingers numb, but with the sudden sense that the rest of my life was just beginning.

[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]

November 15th, 2008

OH BABY YEAH (Now with Bernie Update)

by Philip Baruth

What does it feel like when your longtime favorite superhero cold-cocks your longtime most despised super-villain? Something like this: Pat Leahy calls for Big Joe Lieberman to be stripped of his influential Chairmanship. “I’m one who does not feel that somebody should be rewarded with a major chairmanship after doing what he did.” VDB’s another one, Senator. To put it pretty mildly.

In a freak dog attack earlier this year, Big Joe lost the last remnants of his Democratic face-paint

Hopefully this throws a big pail of ice-cold water on the effort by Senators like Bahy and Dodd to have Lieberman’s sins forgiven without so much as a slap on the wrist. Some lines cannot be crossed, without paying the ferryman.

Kudos also to the news team at Vermont Public Radio. Another in a long line of major national gets.

Late Update, 5:51 pm:

Bernie’s in too. Officially tag-teaming Big Joe at this point.

November 13th, 2008

Entergy Moves to Change Name of Vermont Yankee Nuclear to “Gitmo By The River”

by Philip Baruth

Okay, apparently nuclear power plants have these things called “steam dryers.” And apparently sometimes these dryers get things called “cracks,” and these “cracks” are apparently not good. They’re not good because cracks are like long skinny holes in the side of your dryer. Turns out Vermont Yankee has sixteen of these cracks that went unreported to the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, and now, gosh darn it, it’s too late to amend the report.

vermont yankee

But according to corporate voice box Rob Williams none of this lack of reportage is the fault of Entergy, owners of Vermont Yankee. That Rob Williams denied risk and responsibility would hardly be worth reporting.

But the reasons Williams gave in this particular instance are surprisingly instructive.

Entergy had no responsibility to report these sixteen cracks because “they were not new and had been discovered using enhanced inspection techniques.” Now, you might think that it wouldn’t matter how long-standing the crack — a long skinny hole is a long skinny hole.

But you would be wrong. It seems these cracks were “old,” and therefore analagous to a pre-existing condition for the plant, relieving the corporation involved of all responsibility to report their existence.

But that’s only the half of it. More than anything else, it was the method of discovery that relieved Yankee of its obligation to report: the cracks were found using “enhanced inspection techniques.”


And we all know that any intel secured through enhanced techniques is classified for reasons of national security, and inadmissible in a court of law. And they said Donald Rumsfeld had balls.

Rob Williams, you make Rummy look like a eunuch.

November 11th, 2008

League of Women Voters Panel: Influence of the Media on the 2008 Election

by Philip Baruth

In the confusing transition from the Bush Era to something more closely resembling twenty-first-century Democracy, I forgot to pass on the video from an excellent discussion the League of Women Voters put together in the run-up to Election Night. Topic: the influence of the media, both new and traditional, on the 2008 election cycle.

Sue Allen spoke primarily to print media, Kristen Carlson covered broadcast television, and I yapped about the Internets. UVM political scientist Tony Gierzynski moderated, and the crowd was refreshingly engaged, to the extent that in the final moments we were pretty effectively challenged by the cameraman from Channel 17. Decent lunch time viewing; approved for general audiences. Click here for the video.

November 11th, 2008

Sarah Palin Announces Prayer For the Lord To Crack Up That Door, Just A Little Bit

by Philip Baruth

Sarah Palin, in a new and exclusive Fox interview concerning her hope that God will show her the way on a 2012 run for the Presidency, should such a thing so bless her:

sarah, failin

“I’m like, OK, God, if there is an open door for me somewhere, this is what I always pray, I’m like, don’t let me miss the open door. Show me where the open door is. Even if it’s cracked up a little bit, maybe I’ll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it, but don’t let me miss an open door.”

That’s right: even if that door’s only cracked up a little bit. Even then, she’s plowing. Even prematurely. Even with insufficient cracking up of that open door, she’s plowing.

November 11th, 2008

Bush Breaks Away From Presidential Pack

by Philip Baruth

George W. Bush is now officially the least popular President ever: CNN puts his disapproval rating at 76%, a good 10% higher than Richard Nixon’s numbers during Watergate. So apparently the sudden emphasis on diplomacy and the charm offensive at the Beijing Olympics turned out to be more offensive than charming. This is a Presidency that will not end well, folks. Expect another vague but unsettling pretzel-choking incident here in the not too distant future.

November 10th, 2008

Good News and Bad RE: Al Franken

by Philip Baruth

The good news in the ongoing saga of VDB’s man Al Franken is that the margin between Al and Norm Coleman is rapidly narrowing: currently their totals are separated by about 200 votes. This out of some 3 million votes total. Hardly a hopeless case, and almost 50% closer than when the process began. And experts seem to agree that the history of Minnesotan recounts favors the ex-funnyman.

But of course, as is always the case, there’s bad news as well: Franken’s political future would seem to rest squarely on the shoulders of this guy, Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

Sure, Ritchie’s a DFLer, which is to say a liberal politician with no love lost on a guy like Coleman. But apparently Ritchie rode into the office two years ago dinging the incumbent for politicizing the position, and that means he’ll be bending over backward to be scrupulously unbiased.

Which isn’t the problem: we should be so lucky that all Secretaries of State were scrupulously unbiased.

No, the problem is that 1) the guy’s a rookie, and the problem is that 2) he looks like a manic rooster just before sunrise.

Why problematic?

Because, as Florida 2000 taught us, this process will play out in the media every bit as much as in the counting rooms. Given that Ritchie is already being described by the Star Tribune as a “liberal DFLer,” and that the Coleman campaign is already describing Franken’s gains as “dubious,” VDB foresees a suddenly national snafu along the general lines of Paul Wellstone’s funeral.

But hey, Hope is the watchword of the month. So we’ll keep quiet and do so. Hang tough, Al.

Late Update, Tuesday, 11:59 am:

That didn’t take long: GOP now hitting Ritchie as an ACORN-friendly commie. Oy.

November 7th, 2008

Only Now Can These Things Be Told

by Philip Baruth

Just to get these things off our chest, to confess. First, we never really liked the “Fired Up/Ready To Go!” chant that found its way into the majority of Obama events. Call us jaded, but there it is. Second, while we were scared and embarrassed by the candidacy of Sarah Palin, we kind of sort of liked the First Dude. A man of few words, with a certain dull self-possession. Current odds that Sarah takes Alaska’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, and Todd slides into the still-warm Governor’s chair? Even money, baby.

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