Thursday, November 25, 2010

It's Thanksgiving Again

Imagine a big inflatable turkey Caption: The inflatable turkey who guards Redondo from evil doers on Thanksgiving Day. Or something...

Image credit: All images by Cujo359

It's Thanksgiving again. Still, looking over the news the last few days, there doesn't seem to be a lot to be thankful for. Peterr tries to explain what this Thanksgiving is looking like to him:
One family in my son’s class was looking for a new home, and their realtor took them to a home offered as a short sale. “The bank is about to foreclose, unless the homeowners can sell it first,” the realtor told them. When the family arrived at the house, the sellers were still there, setting up for a garage sale, and out of the garage came another kid — another student in my son’s class.

That’s when economic carnage hits home — when one third grader realizes his/her classmate is being forced to move.

And yet, even in the midst of such national carnage — with no end in sight for most folks according to the Fed — there is still hope and reason for giving thanks.

Thoughts on Abraham Lincoln and the First Thanksgiving
That's about the size of it. Of course, the Democrats will insist we should have been thankful for all the good work they did for us, like screwing up health care even worse, and otherwise not doing a damn thing we sent them there to accomplish. And it's pretty clear that their supporters haven't learned their lesson. They still fear the Republicans will be much, much worse, when the plain fact is that when it comes to how they actually vote the only difference between them is that Democrats will eventually rouse themselves to keep the unemployment checks coming.

Nothing will change until progressives change. Progressives are all about voting against what they fear. When one side votes for what they want, and the other side votes against it, the latter will inevitably get what they fear anyway. Given human nature, the logic is both inescapable and obvious. People don't see this because they don't want to. In the end, they all got what they voted for. Until that changes somehow, nothing about our course as a nation will.

For now, though, fuck all that.

Whatever happens will happen. It's pretty clear that nothing I write is going to change all this, particularly today, so let's see some of the wonders that are out there...

Want to see some real turkeys? One Fly has a few at his place. Dana Hunter has some wildlife that lives near her place.

Imagine a cute little squirrel here
Speaking of wildlife, I caught this guy in my back yard a few days ago:

It's unlikely we'll see him today. It's still cold here, and any wildlife that can is going to be holed up in some warm burrow right now.

Speaking of which, things to do, places to see. Try to have a good Thanksgiving, or a good Thursday, whichever applies.

UPDATE: One thing I suppose we can be thankful for is that there are still people in this country who recognize our craziness for what it is, and some of them have a wicked sense of humor, Noting the similarity between the photo of the oft-shown photo of the underpants bomb and our national seal, Chris Martinez writes:
I then realized that it was my singular mission at this hour, at this moment, at this turning-point in history, to carry forth to my countrymen the divine providence I had been sent from the shimmering neo-seas of digital cable TV and the racing, hot solar wind of countless hyperventilating news sites: our mighty Bald Eagle is no more. In its place, our new national symbol: the terrible Underpants Eagle.

Mighty Underpants Eagle! May you forever cause us to soil our own underpants in wincing, national panic at the mere mention or thought of your name!

Mighty Underpants Eagle: Our New National Symbol
Happy Thanksgiving, and whatever it is you're afraid of, don't forget to be afraid of it.

UPDATE 2: Here I am, in cat form:

funny pictures-Wut  U means...VEGAN Tanksgibbin.???
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Whatever you're having, enjoy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Speak Of The Devil ...

Hardly had I finished writing about how fall usually ends the week of Thanksgiving, when, sure enough, this arrived:

Image credit: Cujo359

It's astonishing how quiet the Puget Sound region becomes when it snows. Lots of people don't drive, and those who do, generally speaking, drive far more cautiously. There's little in the way of snow removal equipment here. What there is exists mostly at the airports, I suspect.

This is all part of that longstanding taxpayer philosophy of "if it doesn't benefit me right now, it's a waste of money", which you can see evidence for every time there's a new anti-tax initiative. So, even though the economic cost is considerable when we have a storm like this, governments don't prepare.

You really do get what you pay for...

P.S., Oh, yes, and the wind picked up last night and the DSL went away. Good old Qwest - this is the second time this year a momentary power interruption during a windstorm has caused an outage.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

Yesterday, winter arrived in the Puget Sound region. You know it's here, because all of a sudden it's a bone-chilling cold outside. Yes, it's still almost a month until the winter solstice, the official start of winter, but in this part of the world, the really bad winter weather usually begins around Thanksgiving (late November for you foreign readers) and Valentines Day (mid-February). Yes, we sometimes have cold snaps and winter storms through March, but as we saw last year, spring usually starts before the vernal equinox, too. I suspect that's because this far north, there is a substantial difference between the length of the day in winter versus summer. Our temperatures tend to vary with the Sun a little more than most places in the U.S.

That means that fall here is usually rather brief. It comes between the last warm days of summer, which are usually in early October, and the middle of November. These photos were taken at Federal Way, Washington's Celebration Park toward the end of that time.

This first photo is a sort of reverse-angle view of this photo from last fall:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Here's a nice contrast between the evergreen trees and the deciduous:

I'm not sure what kind of trees these are. Lockwood identified similar trees as being plum trees, and I suspect that's true here, too. Here's a closeup of their leaves:

Whatever they are, they turn from yellow to orange and then red in a couple of weeks. It makes for some interesting photographs if you get out on the right day:

Speaking of Lockwood, who did his best to be a geological spirit guide on a trip through Oregon this summer, he mentioned in that link above that he feels the need for some tie to geology in his photos. So, here you go, dude:

There's a rock for you. As I understand it, it's a kind of big, explody rock that's called a volcano. And you thought I wasn't paying attention ;).

That's Mt. Rainier, of course. It's not clear from this photo, but this is actually about the best time to see it around here. It's mid-afternoon, and the western face of the mountain is lit up beautifully. Unfortunately, most digital cameras don't seem to do well at contrasting white with pale blue. At least, that's true when the subject in question is back lit, which it's going to be when it's to the south this time of year. I wish the folks who make the things would work on that.

Meanwhile, as always, click on the photos to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quote Of The Day

PZ Myers on the "War On Christmas":
I suggest that everyone who is offended by being told either "happy holidays" or "merry christmas" should start wearing a little sign so we know not to hurt their delicate little feelings by using the wrong salutation. Instead, we'd greet them by thrusting a middle finger up at them and shouting, "Up yours!"

The War on Christmas will be waged on the field of internet polls
I'm basically in the "don't care" column on that issue. As far as I'm concerned, if people are saying either to be nice, it's OK by me. Sometimes the thought behind a phrase really is more meaningful than the phrase itself.

Just please don't make me choose between them until after Thanksgiving.

A Message The Democrats Should Embrace

Caption: The political party in power should deposit all messages here. Don't forget to flush.

Image credit: Wikipedia/Jeanot

Apparently, a particularly sad portion of the progressive and Democratic Party leadership still think the Democrats got their asses handed to them in November because they couldn't put out the right message:
Others said Democratic leaders need to clearly spell out what they believe are the motivations behind the Republicans' positions: that they are beholden to special interests, who bankroll their campaigns.

If Democrats keep losing the message war, they worry, they will be wiped out in 2012.

“There was a lot of passion in that room,” one senator said. “The reason is because the public is with us on our policies, but they’re not getting the message.”

Senate Democrats vent anger with Barack Obama
As you can see from the title, this particular group of wankers was the Senate Democrats, but it's not the first time I've felt the need to write about this. Clearly, that article was too long for all those folks who worry about messaging, so let me put the problem in simple, messaging terms:

When you’re not in power, messaging matters. When you’re in power, results are what matter.

You see, we got the message. The Democrats were useless at making the things happen that we needed them to make happen. It's that simple. Blaming messaging for their failure to do what needed to be done, because it's just so darned hard, isn't going to fly in this or any century. When sports teams and companies don't perform well, the leadership gets fired. That's why they get the big bucks. That's true even on those rare occasions when the leaders aren't the ones to blame.

Not that I don't blame our leaders, mind you. Did they punish Blanche Lincoln for holding up bank reform? No, they bankrolled her against a moderate challenger. Did they punish Ben Nelson for holding up health care? Not a chance. They punished progressives in the party. They got what they wanted, and in the end, they lost.

The Democrats lost because they were useless. There, that's another message.

(h/t Blue Texan, who also had some interesting things to say about messaging.)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

At The Air Force Academy, It's Not Just Cadets Who Get Hazed...

Caption: The U.S. Air Force Academy's most recognizable building is the Cadet Chapel. Too bad it wasn't the physics lab...

Image credit: U.S. Air Force/Wikimedia

One of the more pernicious problems that non-believers and other religious minorities have faced in the military is the high level of harassment that has been going on at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA). A year ago, the USAFA conducted a survey among its cadets:
USAFA has been the target of years of allegations of misconduct from cadets, faculty, graduates, and outside watchdog organizations. The 2009 biennial climate survey was kept from public release until October 2010, and Academy officials have attempted to minimize real problems especially in the area of religious respect. 41% of respondents indicated they had been targeted for discrimination and 33 cadets indicated they fear for their safety.

Nontheists to Contribute to Religious Respect Training Development at the Air Force Academy
As that article goes on to note, one of the groups that have brought this problem to the world's attention has been the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). This organization was also responsible for publicizing the faith based suicide-prevention program that the Air Force was trying to peddle in reaction to the high rate of suicides among active and reserve military since the start of the Iraq War. That particular bit of hokum could have cost many soldiers' lives, if it hadn't been exposed to the light of day.

Yet, now that the USAFA has decided to have a conference to try to change the attitudes of cadets toward religious diversity, they neglected to invite the MRFF. The Air Force Academy paper describes the objectives of the conference:
Caption: Rabbi Barry Baron and Jason Torpy talk during a break at the 2010 Religious Respect Conference at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Nov. 16, 2010.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force [from article]

Leaders from national Christian, Jewish, Freethinker, Earth-Centered and interfaith religious organizations met at the Air Force Academy Monday and Tuesday to discuss how the Academy can best train cadets to respect other faiths, and how to continue to foster an environment that encourages accommodation of religious practices.

Joining them were senior Air Force leaders and chaplains, including Lt. Gen. Richard Newton III, the Air Force director of manpower and personnel, Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, Chaplain (Col.) Jimmy Browning, deputy commandant of the Air Force Chaplain Corps College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and four members of the Academy's Cadet Interfaith Council.

Academy holds religious respect conference
Unfortunately, MRFF is one of the more important potential attendees. They represent people of all religious convictions in matters of discrimination in the service. MRFF claims, for instance, that 96% of their "clients" are Christians. As Truthout notes:
Among the current MRFF clients is a USAFA faculty member who has also remained anonymous for his safety. The conference is a "travesty," he said. "I'm very disappointed that they would, at this time, not invite [the MRFF] ... Why is it that a big supporter of religious freedom in the military is not here?"

The faculty member said he has experienced religious oppression during his time at USAFA, being subject to "commander-directed prayers before mandatory dining functions or mandatory military functions" such as briefings. The conference is "promoting respect, but I don't think they'll be discussing removal of religious influences from the military," he said. The MRFF are "the ones who get feedback from us. These people who are scared to speak to their leadership, they're not going to be the ones going to this respect conference. That's who they don't trust in the first place."

Air Force Academy Excludes Group That Exposed Proselytizing of Military Personnel From "Religious Respect" Conference
It's a bit like Major League Baseball deciding to have a conference about changing the rules of the game without inviting the umpires. The people most familiar with how things are working now won't be there.

Sadly, at this point nothing much can be done about this conference. It's important to keep in mind, though, that the USAFA will bear watching. I don't think the refusal to invite the MRFF is necessarily a sign that the leadership don't want to fix things. What I suspect is that the MRFF has been an irritant, and high-ranking military officers don't deal well with irritants.

Even so, the Freethinkers, who were invited to the conference, are hopeful:
The conference is focused specifically on "religious respect training" that MAAF has already reviewed presented back to the Academy for feedback. The training had consistent and inclusive references to nontheists and addressed the requirement that leaders express no religious bias in their discussions. Fundamental changes needed include a need to recognize the establishment clause as well as the free exercise clause of the 1st Amendment. Leaders cannot pick and choose from the Constitution. Secondly, the training currently includes situations for the cadets to discuss but limited guidance on the acceptable and unacceptable responses.

Without explicit guidance from Academy leadership to cadets, cadets are likely to leave training with reinforced bad behavior. These changes, presented publicly in advance of the conference at the MAAF website, should help jump-start the discussion to ensure the Conference itself provides the opportunity for substantive and detailed discussion.

Nontheists to Contribute to Religious Respect Training Development at the Air Force Academy
The military needs to get better on this issue. That's particularly true when it's involved in wars in countries that predominately have different religious beliefs from most servicemembers. Not inviting the MRFF to a conference like this lessens the chances that they will get it right.

Cat Box Maru

Since I sometimes have the chance to watch a particular cat play with boxes, this video caught my attention, thanks to Watertiger:

It seems this cat has his own Wikipedia entry. Of course, it's not as big as some, but he's just getting started.


Caption: The U.S. Navy version of the Congressional Medal of Honor. After reading this, you can sleep better at night knowing that there are people making sure it isn't being given to little wussy men who didn't actually kill people.

Image credit: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

If you ever needed proof that the American Family Association are a bunch of ignorant bigots, you can take this quote from Bryan Fischer, their "Director of Issues Analysis":
Fischer's take? "So the question is this: when are we going to start awarding the Medal of Honor once again for soldiers who kill people and break things so our families can sleep safely at night?"

"We have feminized the Medal of Honor," Fischer wrote.

Bryan Fischer: We've 'Feminized' Medal Of Honor By Not Giving It To Soldiers Who Kill More People
[italics mine]

It didn't take long to find a description of the criteria for awarding this medal, of course, and there's no mention of having to kill people to get it:
The Medal of Honor is awarded by the President, in the name of Congress, to a person who, while a member of the Army, distinguishes himself or herself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his or her life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in action against an enemy of the United States; while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force; or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party. The deed performed must have been one of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his or her comrades and must have involved risk of life. Incontestable proof of the performance of the service will be exacted and each recommendation for the award of this decoration will be considered on the standard of extraordinary merit.

Medal of Honor
Now, it's probably too much to ask someone whose title is "Director of Issues Analysis" to, oh, you know, do some research on how the medal has been awarded in the past, but I thought I'd bring a couple of examples to his attention:
9 August 1945. Citation 2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by 6 tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, 1 of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machinegun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from 3 sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver.

Audie Murphy
Yes, he shot at German soldiers, and even hit some of them, but the award was primarily for staying behind to cover his unit's retreat, at great personal peril.

All this fembo did was choose to go down with his ship to protect some lousy secrets:
While attacking a Japanese convoy on November 19, 1943, [submarine U.S.S.] Sculpin was forced to the surface, fatally damaged in a gun battle and abandoned by her surviving crew members. Captain Cromwell, who knew secret details of the impending operation to capture the Gilbert Islands, deliberately remained on board as she sank. For his sacrificial heroism in preventing the enemy from obtaining this information, he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

John P. Cromwell
He wasn't directly involved in killing anyone.

This little wussy man just saved peoples' lives at Iwo Jima:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Pharmacist's Mate Second Class George Edward Wahlen, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Medical Corpsman with Company F, Second Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, FIFTH Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima in the Volcano group on 3 March 1945. Painfully wounded in the bitter action on 26 February, Pharmacist's Mate Second Class Wahlen remained on the battlefield, advancing well forward of the frontlines to aid a wounded Marine and carrying him back to safety despite a terrific concentration of fire.

Valor Awards For George Edward Wahlen
Curiously enough, in the long citation for that award, with all that talk about him being wounded but staying with his unit and saving his comrades' lives, they never once mentioned him shooting, stabbing, or bludgeoning anyone. Must have been some kind of hippie or something. He probably wore pink underwear, don't you think?

You might recognize all of these battles and dates as being from World War II, the "good old days". You, know, that was back before the armed forces were "feminized" - when the little women were safely home, operating jack hammers and flying newly manufactured airplanes cross country. It is pretty clear that Bryan Fischer didn't spend much time learning about the history of the award, or anything else of consequence.

As if that weren't bad enough, there's the part of Fischer's opinion that I emphasized to ponder. This guy only feels safe when the military is killing people and destroying things. Personally, I'd be a lot more comfortable knowing that the people who are entrusted with the weapons of this country are smart and disciplined enough to do what's necessary. Our soldiers and marines have spent most of the last few decades doing counterinsurgency (COIN) and peacekeeping work. Neither is the place you want people whose only skills are killing people and destroying things. If saving the free world requires them to rescue puppies and attend sensitivity training, then that's what they should be rewarded for risking their lives (or sanity) to do.

Take this as yet another example of how little thought, and how little humanity, are required to work at a DC think tank these days.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Eliot Spitzer's Downfall

Taylor Marsh makes a point about the sadness of seeing Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, being a pundit on CNN:
At a time when Democrats need financial sheriffs, because Pres. Obama and the Democratic elites aren’t up to it, it’s infuriating Mr. Spitzer’s still benched.

Doesn’t anyone understand or remember this man saw the financial crisis coming, as well as the fundamental reasons it was about to occur, before anyone else? Not only that, but he was actually doing something about it before it hit.

In France he’d be made a hero, with his sexual proclivities ignored, his fighting instinct to go after Republican Fat Cats hailed.

In America, the disgraced “sheriff of Wall Street,” at a time when we could use someone with balls, is relegated to the punditocracy.

If he was a Republican he would have not only stayed in office, but the legislators would have supported him. Instead, because of his bull in a brothel styling, his colleagues in New York bailed on him.

Sacrificing Eliot
As Taylor notes, Spitzer is something of a jerk. He didn't have a lot of friends in politics, nor generally. He was guilty of something that was both illegal, and somewhat hypocritical given his own past campaigns against prostitution. Nevertheless, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Taylor's right about how the Democrats continually abandon their own.

ACORN did nothing wrong, yet Democrats in Congress felt the need to pass what amounted to a bill of attainder against them, an act extraordinary for both its cowardice and inattention to the Constitution.

Van Jones did nothing wrong, yet the Obama Administration panicked and abandoned him the moment the usual crowd of right wing loudmouths started making the usual stupid noises.

Shirley Sherrod did nothing wrong, yet the Obama Administration couldn't fire her fast enough when a known liar made an accusation against her.

Dawn Johnsen did nothing wrong, yet the Democrats abandoned her as well, rather than return to a constitutional government. They had no qualms about keeping her on a string for more than a year, though, when they had no intention of nominating her.

It's not the first time I've made the observation that the Democrats' tendency to abandon their friends when those friends need them is a prescription for disaster. Yet I continue to be amazed at that crowd of fools who will either imply or state outright that I must support and vote for these cowardly assclowns. Politicians who won't even do what's right when it's in their interests don't deserve anyone's support. They only deserve contempt.

The Democrats richly earned their demise this fall, not only by lacking the courage to do what's right, but by not being smart enough to understand the obvious consequences of their actions.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Economist Dean Baker, on a New York Times editorial concerning the federal budget deficit:
Obviously it is politically popular in Washington to be obsessed by the deficit, but we are supposed to have an independent press in this country. It is utterly loony to be focused on the projected deficit in 2030, when we have tens of millions of people who are seeing their lives ruined today by the downturn. This is like debating the colors to paint the classrooms when the school is on fire with the students still inside. Given economic reality, it would make far more sense to use the effort devoted to construct an elaborate game like this to designing a route toward restoring full employment.

It would also be worth pointing out to readers and participants in the NYT game that the long-term deficit is 100 percent a health care story. If the United States paid the same amount per person for health care as any of the 35 countries with longer life expectancies, we would be looking at huge budget surpluses for the indefinite future. Pointing out this simple fact would at least get people to focus on the real long-term problem facing the country: a broken health care system.

The NYT Doesn't Know That We Have [25] Million People Unemployed
This quote also summarizes, at least to me, why so many of the people who were worried about the federal government "taking over" health care during the debate on health care reform are complete and utter morons. The government, at one level or another, already pays for taking care the most at-risk portion of the population - prisoners, service members and veterans (military health care and TriCare), senior citizens (Medicare), and the poor (Medicaid). That adds up to almost a third of us. As costs of medical care go up, an issue that the ridiculous, roughly 2,000 page long health care "reform" bill somehow managed not to address, so do some of the biggest items in the federal budget.

That's really a distraction from the larger issue, though, which is that the federal government is obsessing with the wrong issue right now, and the press is letting them. Having so many people out there who aren't paying taxes, and may soon lose their homes, is a crushing burden on both government budgets and the economy in general. That unemployment is caused by lack of demand, not lack of capital, which is what a federal deficit tends to cause. There's plenty of capital out there now. There's just no will to spend it. That's not going to change for the foreseeable future, because there isn't enough consumer demand. What affects consumer demand? Yes, that's right, employment.

Until someone at the national level figures this out, we're going to continue as we have been. They can crow all they want about the occasional uptick in the economy, but we're still deep in a hole with nothing but a shovel.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

Here are a few images from Ruby Beach, on the Washington coast. It's on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, north of Ocean Shores by an hour or so by care. Like much of the Northwest's coastline, this beach has rock outcroppings and sand. As this sign explains:

Image credit: All photos and renderings by Cujo359

The rocks here have been gradually eroded away by the ocean. Maybe some day The Devil's Churn will look like this. In a few million years, say.

Meanwhile, here's what Ruby Beach looks like from the trail that leads there:

When you get there, you are presented with numerous examples of rocks sticking out of the ocean:

In some places, the waves have carved a hole in the rocks:

Which provides the opportunity for artistic shots:

Look hard enough, and you might notice the odd bit of driftwood:

Believe it or not, these photos were taken just a couple of hours after I took these pictures of Lake Crescent, which is on the lee side of the Olympic Peninsula. This is an example of how different the weather can be on the ocean side of the Olympic Mountains, compared to the landward side. Drive a hundred miles or so, and you can go from sunny skies to this:

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Audacity Of Dopes, Revisited

Closed Amweld plant in Niles, Ohio, Oct., 2008 Caption: President Obama, and another shuttered factory. This time, the factory was the Amweld plant in Niles, Ohio, according to the photographer. There's another photo in that series asserting that 102 jobs were lost when it closed. Given the building's size, I suspect this is true.

Image credit: Official Presidential portrait (left), Bernard Pollack (aficio) (right)

If you want to understand why I think that the Democrats in DC are completely useless these days, you just have to look at these two stories.

The first, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:
The full details are not in yet. But it appears that Nancy Pelosi has come to an agreement with current Majority Whip James Clyburn that will have him taking a yet-to-be-named number three position in the Democratic House leadership in the 112th Congress.
In other words, the musical chairs crisis created by the fact that there are four leadership slots in the majority and three in the minority has been solved by creating a fourth slot in minority too. Ingenious. It sounds like Charlie Rangel gets his wish.

The Deal Is Cut
Rather than choose to remove at least one of their ineffectual leaders, the Democrats have instead decided to add another one. Anyone who doesn't recognize that this will end up diminishing all three of the original positions, and create more confusion among the ranks, hasn't been in an organization afflicted with too many "leaders".

My position on the whole "should Pelosi be Minority Leader, or Hoyer" question was, essentially, why choose? Get rid of both of them. The sad fact is that those two screwed the pooch every chance they had. Pelosi's taking impeachment off the table back in 2006 probably did more to diminish the constitutional role of Congress than any other single decision by a congressional leader in the last hundred years. If you're the leader of the legislature, you never take impeachment off the table. Impeachment is the only way Congress has of assuring that the President does what Congress tells him to via the laws they pass. That's the system, and Nancy Pelosi took a dump on it.

Hoyer, while on record supporting impeachment, sort of, hasn't done Democrats any favors, either. His conservative political philosophy is one of the things that have held Democrats back these last few years.

It was time for new blood in the leadership, in other words, and the Democrats didn't take the opportunity. Just take this as one more opportunity that the Democrats have squandered.

The second story is, if possible, even sadder, because it involves what's happened to the Executive Branch. Paul Krugman explains:
I’m not the first person to make this point, but those who are defending the deficit commission on the grounds that there are some potentially good ideas in there are missing what the purpose of the commission was supposed to be.
what on earth are people who say things like, “This proposal can be a starting point for discussion” thinking? We’ve been discussing and discussing, ad nauseam; the commission was supposed to provide a finishing point for discussion. Instead, it produced a PowerPoint that is one part stuff that has long been on the table, one part conservative wish-list, and one part just weirdly ill-considered.

The kindest thing we can do now is pretend the whole thing never happened.

The Soft Bigotry of Low Deficit Commission Expectations
For my part, how anyone could have expected anything but uselessness out of this commission, after President Obama stacked it with a bunch of "free market" morons who, together, represent about zero ability to come up with either compromises or good solutions, is beyond me. And that's what happened. Obama deliberately chose these people. It wasn't a choice forced on him by anyone. I was thinking of writing an article about how Obama was a "free market" ideologue from way back in his days at the University of Chicago, only to be reminded that I wrote such an article a year and a half ago:
President Obama has clearly embraced these notions about free markets, as his continued support of [Treasury Secretary Timothy] Geithner demonstrates. He seems to think that there's nothing wrong that can't be fixed by a new coat of paint. As long as this continues to be his opinion, he will continue to rely on the same dopes who broke the economy in the first place to fix it. As a consequence, we will make little or no progress in fixing the economy.

And I'll be finding more closed factories to put next to Obama's picture.

The Audacity Of Dopes
Nothing has changed since then, except that Larry Summers has left for greener pastures, which I'd say was a good financial decision for someone with money tied up in the shadow banking industry these days. There certainly has been no purge of the free market dopes at the White House.

Yet, to this day it's not hard to read opinions by supposedly in-the-know people saying that President Obama should just buck up and resist the Republicans and their scary free market ideology. The sad fact is, this is who Obama is. He's not capitulating to the Republicans. He agrees with them on this, and that's not likely to change until someone makes him. That's why I wrote this a year and a half ago.

I'm not all that smart - at least, I'm not all that smart about politics or economics. Yet this is as plain as day to me, and I'm still waiting for these people to catch up. That people who ought to know better don't seem to is utterly astonishing. It makes you think that they don't want to see.

And until they catch up, I don't see why the DC Democrats will.

UPDATE: Speaking of leadership failures, Robert Reich pointed out another one yesterday, the G-20 Summit that concluded:
The three-page communique that also emerged from the session brims with bromides about the importance of “rebalancing” the global economy, “coordinating” policies, and refraining from “competitive devaluations.”

All nice, but not a single word of agreement from China about revaluating the yuan, or from the United States about refraining from further moves by the Fed to flood the U.S. economy with money (thereby reducing interest rates, causing global investors to look elsewhere for higher returns, and lowering the value of the dollar).

China and the U.S. are the only big players in the currency game. And with neither of them stepping up to bat, the game is in dangerous territory.

The Failure of the G-20 Summit
This one can't be blamed on Obama exclusively, nor even the federal government as a whole, but our own foolish economic policy hasn't inspired the rest of the world, either. As long as our country is run by self-centered elites who don't even care what happens to our economy in the long run, it's hard to expect the rest of the world to do otherwise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The New York Times Needs To Learn Algebra

Caption: An F-algebra commutative diagram. Not exactly relevant here, but it's a cool diagram nonetheless.

Image credit: Physis/Wikimedia

If you want proof that journalists need to study mathematics, at least at the level of algebra, consider this bit of nonsense from The New York Times:
A free-trade agreement between South Korea and the European Union goes into force next July, while Seoul is trying to reach a similar agreement with the United States. Staying out of a pan-Asian free-trade bloc would shave at least 1.5 percent, or 10.5 trillion yen ($128 billion), from the Japanese gross domestic product and eliminate eight million jobs, according to a recent estimate by Japan’s trade ministry.

Japan’s Farmers Oppose Pacific Free-Trade Talks
Just about anyone who has worked in the fields of engineering, business, or economics should recognize the problem here. Economics Professor Dean Baker speaks for the latter:
According to the OECD, employment in Japan is just over 62 million. This means that the estimates in the NYT imply that not taking part in this trade agreement would cost Japan a number of jobs approximately equal to 13 percent of its current employment the equivalent of roughly 18 million jobs in the United States.

NYT: Making Up Numbers to Push Trade Agreements
Dr. Baker goes on to mention that these countries do a pretty lively trade already, so nothing about failing to reach agreement is likely to be catastrophic.

What caught my eye was the direct relationship alleged between the $128 billion in GDP lost equating to eight million jobs. It turns out that the principles of idiot savant economics can be applied here, and should have been by the NYT staff. The reason these two numbers are questionable can be worked out by anyone with a rough idea of how budgets and desk calculators work.

A rule of thumb that I use to figure out how many jobs a big pile of money translates into is to divide it by $100,000. That's a rough idea of how much money a job costs per year in the United States. Of course, it could be more or less depending what type of job we're talking about, but if you know that a new plant that will have a budget of $100 million a year opens up in your town, you can guess pretty accurately that it will mean about a thousand new jobs in the area. From the CIA World Factbook page on per capita income (PCI), Japan's PCI is about 69% of ours ($32.6k vs. $46.0k). So, let's use $70k as the cost of a job in Japan. That means that $128B would cost about 1.83 million jobs.

Naturally, we can be a bit more scientific about this. We can take Japan's actual GDP (also from the CIA page), $4.15 trillion, and divide that by the size of Japan's work force (from this CIA page), 65.9 million, and discover that it takes about $63.0k of Japan's GDP to employ one average Japanese worker. Dividing that $128B by $62.9k$63.0k suggests that this much GDP loss translates to roughly 2.03 million jobs lost.

Looking at the relevant numbers, and assuming that the estimate of $128 billion GDP loss isn't fanciful, it would be reasonable to assume that roughly two million jobs would be lost in Japan. Yet the NYT didn't blink at a number four times as large. Just dividing the GDP loss by the estimated job loss would show that this translates to costs of $16k per job, which would be ridiculously low in any developed country.

So, yes, kids, algebra, the branch of mathematics that can be used to explore a relationship between two quantities, really is important. And by "kids", I mean the press.

UPDATE: Initially, I rounded off the GDP per worker figure in Japan to $62.9k, which was wrong. It should have been $63.0k. I didn't make that edit everywhere. I've left the old number in as a strike-through, so anyone who had read the article before would notice the correction.

Quote Of The Day

Ian Welsh, reacting to this quote from the Financial Times:
The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor… Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate… ‘I probably won’t even vote for the guy,’ Bush told the group, according to two people present. ‘I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.’
[Sorry, don't have a link. FT is a pay site.]

Ian's reaction:
And why not, it’s not hyperbole at all to say that Obama is Bush’s third term. He has embraced Bush’s wars, Bush’s approach to executive power, Bush’s civil liberties doctrines and Bush’s economic doctrines. The differences exist, but they are not significant. In almost every way that matters, Obama took Bush’s constitutional order and institutionalized it, giving it a bipartisan imprimatur.

Bush would have endorsed Obama if asked
Yep, that's it in a nutshell. McCain was just a crazy guy who wanted to be President. Anyone looked good next to him, except maybe his running mate.

It's both sad and hilarious that, at this point, there are still so many people who don't see this.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

These are a few pictures I took last month in St. Edwards Park, in Kenmore, Washington. St. Edwards was once a seminary, but the land was donated to the state a few years ago. It's along the eastern shore of Lake Washington. Follow one of the trails to the beach, and you can see this view to the south:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

And this toward the north:

Since we arrived there in the late afternoon, the Sun made an interesting view toward the west:

There were a couple of crews out on the lake, practicing for the upcoming rowing season:

Another crew rowed past a little later:

As we got back near the parking lot, we saw the old seminary in the late afternoon sun.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday. If you live in America, don't forget to set your clocks back.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention that Dana Hunter has more photos of St. Edwards from that day, and some observations about the geology of the place.

I've corrected the term I used to refer to St. Edwards' former function. I'd identified it as a monastery, but it was actually a seminary. The Wikipedia link I added provides a brief history of the seminary.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

About Time To Fall Backward

Caption: It's a clock works. I can't tell you more than that, really.

Image credit: Vassil/Wikimedia

As notes:
On Sunday, November 7, 2010 at 2 a.m., Daylight Saving Time ends in the United States. Daylight Savings Time
I like this time change. Basically we get an extra hour to sleep, or do something else, because what happens is that at 2AM is that we get to do the hour of 1AM over again.

So, make plans, and don't forget to set back your clocks Sunday morning.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Video Worth Watching

Cenk Uygur and Glenn Greenwald on The Dylan Ratigan Show after the electoral debacle:

If you haven't read what these guys were saying in the first five minutes at Slobber And Spittle, then I don't think you've been reading here very long. From there, though, they take on the next question, which is what should we do next. They have some good answers.

The segment is almost fifteen minutes long, so set aside a little time. It's definitely worth watching, though.

UPDATE: It looks like MSNBC's embed code doesn't work. Click here to be taken to the video at MSNBC's site.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It Surely Do

Inspirational poster of the day:
Image credit: amoeck/Flickr

It seems to be an idea lost on the last couple of generations, but knowing how to spell words and how to use them really are important.

(h/t John Pieret.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ACORN Goes Down, Taking Some Deserving Souls WIth It

Caption: He's just about reached the sleigh.

Image credit: Arrr!.

ACORN's CEO, Bertha Lewis, published this news release today:
The impact of ACORN's highly effective strategies spread throughout the country, catching the attention of right-wing media and its proponents. The barrage of unmitigated accusations certainly took its toll, but even as extremists increased their radicalism, we continued to make a difference for families in each and every corner of our nation. We fought bank redlining and predatory lending for decades, making the American dream of homeownership more universally available while protecting it against waves of abusive practices. We helped build a movement for a living wage, fought for stronger public schools, helped rebuild New Orleans after Katrina, and won countless improvements in neighborhoods. As recently as 2009, the organization saved affordable housing in New York, stood up to anti-immigrant racism in Arizona, and was fighting for real solutions to the foreclosure crisis, even as the right fought to stop this work in its tracks.

The ongoing political onslaught caused irreparable harm. This effort was a clear attempt to cast a shadow over the historic 2008 Presidential election, and set up a far right counter offense. Through those attacks we re-tooled and re-organized. Then again came the right-wing media blitz. This time of edited videos that misrepresented our mission, and consequently misled the public. The pressure and cost of defending ourselves in multiple investigations as a result of the falsified videos has eroded our organization. As a result we will be filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy by close of business today.

The End Of An Era: ACORN Files Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
What Ms. Lewis failed to mention, of course, was the cowardly way that Democratic politicians ran and hid from this issue, rather than speaking out on ACORN's behalf. As Ian Welsh notes:
Dems abandoned Acorn, an organization which had relentlessly registered new voters, based on accusations which were outright lies. Now Dems lose an election as an organization which had helped them for forty years goes under.
You reap what you sow, folks.

How Appropriate That Acorn Should File For Bankruptcy As Dems Take A Bath
ACORN is part of a long list of people and organizations who have helped the Democrats over the years, including gays, minorities, unions, and progressives whom they then turned their backs on when they needed help.

The new motto of the Democratic Party should be Sic semper rectumi. People who are too stupid to realize that the way to hold onto power is to support your friends aren't going to be much use, anyway. The last four years have proved that pretty conclusively.

Almost Forgot ...

Oh, yes, it's that day, too. Here's a wonderful video that Lawguy found to remind us of what we're voting for today:

Yep, narcissistic sociopaths who want to be in charge. At least, that's what far too many seem to be these days. Still, if you don't vote, you don't get to choose the one who might conceivably do something on your behalf, or vote for one of the politicians who don't fit that description.

Meanwhile, you know the excuses and punditry about why the Democrats are losing is coming. Taylor Marsh put it in perspective today, I think:
The outcome of today’s elections will be about a lot of things, but it won’t be about Obama’s “overreach” as will be cited, or a vote against liberal policies in favor of conservative answers. It will be about political incompetence and the inability to craft legislation that actually works instead of conservative compromise that produces legislative mush on the altar of getting something done even if what it manifests doesn’t do the job.

People don’t care about liberal or conservative as much as they do about effectiveness. Democrats have always known the purpose of government and how to use it to its maximum effectiveness on the people’s behalf, especially when times are tough. So, if you want to talk about the epic fail being voted on today, this is it, because Pres. Obama simply doesn’t know what he’s doing.

Bright Spot Among Carnage
Except maybe for that last line. If you take as a given that President Obama is just a political grifter, then he might know exactly what he's doing. That's not a terribly reassuring thought, of course.

This election isn't about wanting the Republicans back in power. Any look at a poll on confidence in the two major parties would prove that. What it is about is that the Democrats screwed their base repeatedly and unapologetically, and then wondered why we weren't smiling after the experience. I wrote more than a year ago that what the Democrats needed to do was give people hope that things would get better, by making at least some changes that would help us. They resolutely refused to do that, and now they're paying the price.

That's what this day's results are about, regardless of what people who say shit like this will tell you.

Baseball's Over, 2010 Edition

Caption: San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum displays his unique pitching style as he delivers to Texas Rangers batter Michael Young in the first inning of Game Five of the 2010 World Series. Young is one of the best hitters in the league, but Lincecum's control and "hide the ball" delivery seemed to keep him and the rest of the Rangers off balance all night. [Click on the picture to enlarge.]

Image credit: Screenshot of the Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359

Only one day into November, the October Classic is over. It was quite a show, even if a bit one-sided. The San Francisco Giants won in impressive style, with only the Ranger's one victory, a 4 - 2 game, and last night's game being close.

A few random observations:
  • It was lucky the game was in Texas. Seventy degrees at game time, especially when game time is after dark, is a lot nicer than 2008's Game Five conditions. If Major League Baseball is going to insist on making the season this long, maybe they should just agree to play all the games in the South, or in domed stadiums.
  • The Giants' pitching staff is impressive, to say the least. They shut out what was supposed to be the Major Leagues' best offense twice, and one of those shutouts was a 9 - 0 blowout. You couldn't blame that one on bad hitting conditions.
  • I suspect that the Giants will be playing winning baseball for a while longer. Not only was their pitching impressive, but some of the moves they made to acquire players, and manager Bruce Bochy's on-field judgment show that the management knows the game pretty well. As he demonstrated by asking Aubry Huff to bunt late in the game, he knows what his players can do. That's what a manager is supposed to know. Effective management usually makes for effective organizations.
  • The Phillies' hitting problems don't look quite so bad in hindsight. I assumed that the Phillies' big hitters were just doing what they'd been doing all year. Shutting down the Rangers, though, was a very impressive performance.
Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants. Their last World Series win was a long time ago, and they weren't even the San Francisco Giants back then.

Do You Know Why He Wore Black?

Caption: Johnny Cash singing "Man In Black".

Image credit: Screenshot from this YouTube video by Cujo359

I have one thing to say to John Boehner:
I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who is long paid for his crime
But is there because he's a victim of the times

I wear the black for those who've never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Johnny Cash: Man In Black Lyrics
Quite frankly, any DC politician who invokes the name of someone like Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp, or Bruce Springsteen has summoned up imagery he has no hope of living up to. There isn't a politician there these days who seems likely to manage it.

I'm not much of a fan of Johnny Cash, yet I know about this song. That should tell you just how silly Boehner's reference to the man actually was.

Take this as another example of how divorced our leaders are from the world the rest of us live in, and how little respect they have for us.