Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

It's the end of January, which is pretty much the dead of winter in the Pacific Northwest, as it is in much of the country. Aside from the occasional sports diversion, it's not a time of high excitement, what with the lack of sunshine. At the Winter Solstice, there's about seven hours of daylight in the Northwest, on a good day. There also aren't all that many good days, so we tend to appreciate the sun when we do see it.

As an antidote, I thought I'd put up a few panoramas I've taken in the American Southwest in the last few years. If you want sun in winter, that's probably the best place to go. In years past, they've often played the Super Bowl in that region, but this year, it's in Indianapolis.

Who knows, you might want to come back here next Sunday, too.

These photos are from El Paso, Texas. The first was taken from tramway station that you take to get to the observation tower on Ranger Peak. Ranger Peak is part of that ridge you feel like you're flying toward if you take off toward the west from El Paso International:

Image credit: All images by Cujo359

That's looking toward the east, with Ft. Bliss toward the left, and El Paso International Airport toward the right. Here's a view of the tram, incidentally:

Which in itself is quite a sight.

Once you're there, the view is pretty spectacular, particularly on a clear day. Here's what things look like toward the southwest, with downtown El Paso near the center, and Cuidad Jaurez, Mexico, in the distance. At one time, before the Mexican War, El Paso and Juarez were one city. You can still see that in this photo:

This view looks toward the northwest, in the general direction of Los Cruces, New Mexico:

I think that's enough sun for now. Don't want to overdo it, now, do we? There will be more next week. Promise. It's already cued up and ready to go next Sunday.

Click on the pictures to enlarge, and have a good Sunday.

Football's Almost Over: 2012 Edition

If you're one of those folks who were hoping to spend the afternoon watching grown men pushing each other around in the mud, you're probably going to have to wait until next week:

Image credit: Screenshot of NFL official Super Bowl site by Cujo359

On the plus side, I only had to scroll down to the second page at the NFL's official site to find that information. Last year when I looked, it was nowhere to be found.

So, next weekend, then. Over at, this week's Dash of Dan has what Dan describes as the perfect Super Bowl recipe, so you have a week to get ready. I'd recommend adding a half cup of chocolate chips to the brownies, by the way.

Heck, you can probably bake them during the opening ceremonies.

Meanwhile, about the game. Haven't we done this before? Yes, during the lifetime of this blog, in fact. In addition, at least one of these two teams seems to have been in this game quite often in the last decade. Technically, though, this year they aren't likely to be pushing each other around in the mud, since they're playing in an indoor stadium, which was named after the oil company that contributed about 1/6 of the cost of its construction. Not that you can tell by the name of the stadium, but they're playing in Indianapolis this year.

We've just about covered all the reasons I'm not much of a fan of the game anymore.

I'll probably tune in anyway, assuming I can get the brownies ready by then.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Entertainment

This Doctor Who fan video has been making the rounds. It's snippets of every Doctor Who episode in a ten minute YouTube video, right up to the last Matt Smith Christmas special:

I think my favorite quote from the video is Patrick Troughton as the second Doctor:

It's sad really, isn't it? People spend all their time making nice things, and other people come along and break them.

With so many people mostly capable of the latter, it amazes me sometimes that anything is still standing.

But there are lots more good quotes.

Enjoy, and have a good Saturday.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Regarding Twitter's master plan to censor messages that governments want them to censor, Ryan J. Davis writes:
It's great @Twitter is gonna start censoring. All those "let's bring down our brutal dictator" tweets were clogging up my Lady Gaga feed.

Twitter Message by @RyanNewYork
Yes, Twitter really is planning to do this. This is one of many reasons I mistrust large Internet services to do right by their users - they have to make a profit, and sometimes what users do with their services interfere with that.

For movements like Occupy to prosper, they are going to have to figure out how to provide their own communications, at least in certain instances. Any for-profit corporation can be gotten to, given enough time.

UPDATE: For a brief moment, this article identified the author of the Twitter message as "Ryan J. Adams". That mistake is now corrected.

Speaking of mistakes, though, what happened with this message? I wrote that article yesterday, but the announcement just appeared on Twitter half an hour ago.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Finally, Science Fiction Worthy Of The Name

I think I'm going to have to see this:

If you have to ask why, you'll never understand...

The IMDB entry for the movie is fairly sketchy at the moment, since it hasn't been officially released. About the only thing I've concluded from it is that Stephanie Paul looks way too young and perky to be playing the President. It's a comedy, though, so I'll withhold judgment.

Heck, the Nazis could barely get their rockets to land on London, let alone the Moon.

We're All Gonna ... Nevermind: Jan. 26, 2012 Edition

Caption: Not today, nor tomorrow.

Image credit: Screenshot of television series Faces Of Earth by Cujo359

There's another one that's not quite going to hit us, as explains:
A small asteroid will make an extremely close pass by Earth Friday (Jan. 27), coming much nearer than the moon, but the space rock poses no danger of impacting our planet, NASA scientists say.

The newfound asteroid 2012 BX34, which is about the size of a city bus, will pass within 36,750 miles (59,044 kilometers) of Earth at about 10:30 a.m. EST (1530 GMT) Friday, astronomers with NASA's Asteroid Watch program announced[.]
We dodged another one.

Caption: A screenshot of the video of asteroid 2012 BX34's path over the next few days. How far is 7.0E-4 astronomical units? Not far enough, that's for sure.

Image credit: Screenshot of the video by Cujo359

As with the last bus-sized bit of bad I wrote about, the experts think that even if this thing had been headed for a landing here on Earth, it would have burned up in the atmosphere.

So why write about it?

One day, one of these things won't be a near miss. If they're a little bigger, say a few times the mass of this one, it won't burn up in the atmosphere. It will put something like this in some part of the Earth's surface, or it will produce a lot of atmospheric disturbance and tidal waves on its way to the bottom of the ocean. Right now, there's not a damn thing we can do about that.

No, correct that last sentence - there's nothing we seem to want to do about that.

I'd say this is one of three more-or-less preventable things that could destroy life as we know it here, and about which we're not doing anywhere near enough. The other two are climate change and nuclear proliferation. Ironically, all three would kill us off in the same way - by altering our climate so radically that no human could survive.

Yes, I know, only little girlie men worry about stuff like this. Like for instance, Rusty Schweickart, who never did anything more courageous than riding a 360 foot-tall pile of explosives into Earth orbit and back. Here's what he has to say on the issue:
"We have the capability — physically, technically — to protect the Earth from asteroid impacts," said former astronaut Rusty Schweickart, chairman of the B612 Foundation, a group dedicated to predicting and preventing catastrophic asteroid strikes. "We are now able to very slightly and subtly reshape the solar system in order to enhance human survival."

Deflecting Killer Asteroids Away From Earth: How We Could Do It
Yes, we are able to, but as with so many other forms of disaster prevention or preparation, we just seem to come up with all sorts of excuses for not doing it. Technologically, moving asteroids the size of the one that made Meteor Crater is nothing but an expensive and time-consuming engineering problem. As that article states, there are ways of dealing with them. Given enough time, even far larger asteroids can be deflected.

But most people would rather trust their deities to prevent this, I suppose.

Perhaps it's just an evolutionary test. Any species smart enough to prevent something like this from happening, but too stupid to try, isn't smart enough to survive.

UPDATE: Oops. Forgot the link to the first article. It's there now.

Taylor Marsh: We Need Our Own Tea Party

Two Tea Party protesters with an odd sense of history
Caption: No, they're not terribly bright, but when it comes to understanding how politics works, they're way ahead of your average progressive.

Image credit: Look At This Teabagger

In what may become something of a trend, Taylor Marsh was given space at U.S. News And World Report to criticize the Obama Administration on progressive grounds, and she made good use of it:
The Democratic base has a passive-aggressive relationship with Obama that resembles a dysfunctional love affair. He has all the power and the base has absolutely none, unless you count the gay and lesbian contingent which was as good a model as the Tea Party on how to get it done. It's not that progressives couldn't have power; it's that they refuse to wield any.

So they cannot pressure Obama at election time because he knows his Democratic base will be there. After all, they're not the Tea Party. It doesn't matter if they're unhappy, all that matters is he's got their vote and he knows it.

Time for a Tea Party of the Left
The title of that article is telling. We don't have the equivalent of the Tea Party on the Left. I've been writing that so long that I don't even feel like finding any links for it. I wrote such an article three days ago. The fact is that the Democrats do what they do, which is to fail to live up to any of our expectations, because most progressives continue to vote for them anyway. There are many reasons for that, but when I have to summarize our current political situation in one sentence, that's it.

No, the Occupy movements are not a Tea Party of the Left. They are avowedly apolitical, and as I've discussed already at some length, there's no reason they should be. They're a hammer, not a scalpel. They're simply demanding that we do something about the problems facing us.

As someone commented over at Taylor's blog post on the article, this may be the start of a trend of right-wing news organizations giving progressives a chance to criticize the Obama Administration. I'm all for that, for two reasons.

The first reason is that no one else gives us much of a voice to do such a thing. Beyond Glenn Greenwald, I have a hard time thinking of anyone who frequently criticizes the Obama Administration from a progressive perspective in the mainstream news. Most of the truly independent progressive voices are left to find their own outlets (like this one), or are confined to big blogs like FireDogLake or Daily Kos. There's Raw Story and Rolling Stone, of course, but neither is what I'd call mainstream news. So having a voice at all is a good thing, whatever the motivations.

Second, and this is the more important one, until progressives are seen as the roadblock to power in the Democratic Party, they will continue to be ignored. I've been saying that in one way or another since I wrote this regarding the Obama Administration back in March, 2009. The writing was clearly on the wall by then, just two months into Obama's first term. Anyone who can't see that by now either isn't looking or doesn't want to see it.

To progressives who are tired of being ignored, I'd say you should try first to explain to Democrats in the only language they will listen to that you've had enough. Don't support them, and if they don't vote the way you want, don't vote for them.

Maybe the most remarkable thing about this article is that Taylor Marsh wouldn't have written it two years ago. After a lot of haranguing from folks like me who understand this particular aspect of political power, and having watched what we've predicted unfold, Taylor figured it out. She used to call herself a "Democrat", now she uses the term "liberal", because, as she figured out, those two labels are no longer the same. Sadly, she's way ahead of most progressives on this front.

If progressives want real political power, they have to demand it. It's that simple. Until enough progressives do that, we will continue to be ignored, and I find it hard to blame Democrats, or any other politicians, for doing so.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: OWS/Tumblr

Alternet's Lynn Parramore, discussing Newt Gingrich's bona fides as a populist, in an article on the effect that Republican politics and the Occupy movements are having on each other:
The worst thing about Newt is what political economist Thomas Ferguson pointed out in a paper for the Institute for New Economic Thinking – namely that Newt was the key architect of the current pay-to-play system in Congress. More than anyone else, he is responsible for building the system in which members of Congress who bring in the most cash get the plum and powerful committee appointments. It was not always thus. Before Newt and his buddy Tom Delay saw the potential for pay-to-play, committee appointments came through seniority. But after Newt & Co. came to power, influence in Congress was nakedly up for sale. Today, both parties actually post prices for key positions, as Ferguson noted in the Financial Times.

Will the Mitt/Newt Slugfest Boost the Occupy Movement?
[links from original]

Not only has this system been a powerful source of corruption that now affects both parties, it has also been a hammer that party leaders can hold over the heads of dissenting members. It's a rare individual who can stand on his own and continue to win office without the support of his party, and the system virtually guarantees that those who don't play ball will be out on their ears.

I don't know if all this hypocritical, and largely fact-free, debating of populist economic concerns is likely to mean much to the Occupy movements. My own perception is that there are just as many people on the Right as on the Left who are looking for easy solutions, and aren't terribly interested in being told the ugly truth of things. It's far better to tell conservatives that it's the fault of immigrants, the Muslims, or the Mormons that we're in the state we're in. It's been far too easy to tell progressives that if we just find candidates who aren't "divisive", everything will be fine.

Still, Occupy movements are having an effect on the debates, and will continue to as long as they can find ways to get their message across. Changing the nature of the debate is a good first step. The next is to make sure it's at least somewhat honest.

If the recent Republican debates are any example, that's going to be a lot harder.

Thought For The Day

Caption: John B. Anderson, independent candidate for President in the 1980 election. In my first act of childish irresponsibility in presidential elections, I worked and voted for him.

Image credit: Warren K. Leffler/Wikimedia, converted to JPEG format by Cujo359

In answering a comment about yesterday's article, it occurred to me to wonder, all these years later, why I decided to vote for John Anderson for President in 1980. Wikipedia reminded me:
When questioned about which episode in their career they most regretted, none of the other candidates would answer the question, except Anderson, who cited his vote for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Unlike the others, he said lowering taxes, increasing defense spending, and balancing the budget was an impossible combination. In a stirring summation, Anderson invoked his father's emigration to the United States and said that we would have to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow. For the next week, Anderson's name and face were all over the national news programs, in newspapers, and in national news magazines.

Wikipedia: John B. Anderson
He was willing to speak uncomfortable truths. In retrospect, I don't think his desire to balance the budget at the time (we were in the middle of a recession caused by the oil embargo, among other things) was a wise idea, but he was the only one of the Republican candidates of the time who was willing to admit that increasing spending, lowering taxes, and balancing the budget were not possible to do all at the same time. He also said that gun owners should be licensed, a topic that wasn't popular with the GOP faithful.

Instead of nominating someone who was honest, the Republicans nominated someone who told them fairy tales about welfare queens and morning in America. That individual was then elected President. In fact, if you added up the votes that Anderson and Jimmy Carter, the other honest guy in that election, received together, they were still far fewer than Reagan received. This, I think, is when I lost all respect for the average American voter.

Image credit: Shepard Fairey/The Village Voice

Whatever solution progressives come up with to our current situation, we are certainly up against the problem that liars make better Presidential candidates than honest people. You could see that in the primary in 2008, when Hillary Clinton, whose attitudes and faults were there for all to see, lost to someone who did his best to pretend he was something he wasn't, and that his opponent was something she wasn't. He's been lying ever since, and plenty of people have yet to catch on.

Far too many Americans want to be lied to, not because they enjoy being lied to, but because they don't want to face reality.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Found it here

From a few days ago, Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report on the idea of what constitutes a wasted vote in American politics:
This imposition of false and meaningless choices is how, in these United States, our voices are suppressed, our votes wasted and made irrelevant, with the black vote rendered most irrelevant of all.
This is how the game is played. This is how the legal and symbolic authority of millions of our wasted votes is hijacked every election cycle, making possible wars we do not endorse, ratifying policies we never wanted, and pretending to believe promises we know, or should know will never be kept. This is what Eugene Debs referred to a century ago, when he declared he would rather cast a meaningful vote for what did want, and not get it, than a fake and hollow one for what he didn't want, and get that.

And so, a hundred years later, the game is still the game. If we want our votes to have any meaning, it's time to reject the fake choices between the two corporate parties. It's time to wise up, to grow up and like adults, to take a view longer than dessert, or the next two or three elections.

How To Waste Your Vote In 2012
I find it hilarious that people who insist I need to vote for Democrats, because the Republicans are so much worse, consider themselves to be adults, or the responsible people. I have no such illusions about myself, but simply voting out of fear isn't an adult choice, nor do I think it particularly responsible. No candidate, and no party, is going to meet all my expectations. I am even happy to compromise a little if at least some of what I want can be passed done by a candidate or party who can win, even though someone else might do more.

However, I also believe that Eugene Debs is right. I think Ralph Nader was right when he said that when you choose the lesser of two evils, what you end up with is evil. That's what our choice was in 2008, and for the only time in my life, I voted for someone for President, Barack Obama, who I believed was unqualified for the post. Even at the time, I knew the man was a liar and unlikely to do much of anything that many voters thought they were sending him there to do.

I won't make that mistake again.

That's why I will vote for whoever best represents my attitudes about government policy, whether those people are from major parties or not. If none of the choices represent what I want in an elected official, I won't vote in that race. Simple as that. No more choosing evil. We have evil already. If the political parties want to succeed, they're going to have to do better.

When enough progressives vote that way, they will do better.

Politics is a market, and like all markets, it responds to what pays the bills. Being out of office doesn't pay the bills, regardless of what you want to accomplish.

You are welcome to disagree, but if you think that makes you the adult one, then you are also welcome to kiss my furry ass.

(h/t Joyce Arnold)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I Don't Like Ice

I don't know much about electric power utilities, but I do know that they hate ice storms. Ice storms break power lines that have weakened, and they break trees that are near power lines. What ends up happening is lots of little bits of damage that add up to no power.

All of which is a way of saying that I haven't been anywhere on the Internet the last few days.

Happily, there are some good pictures.

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Enjoy your weekend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

PIPA: A Change Of Heart

If you think that public pressure on an issue never has an effect on the minds of legislators, here's proof that you're wrong, courtesy of the Twitter feed of U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch:
After listening to the concerns on both sides of the debate over the PROTECT IP Act, it is simply not ready for prime time.

Twitter message from @OrrinHatch

That’s why I will not only vote against moving the bill forward next week but also remove my cosponsorship of the bill.

Twitter message from @OrrinHatch
Of course, there are a number of big players involved in this campaign, like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Those firms have far more influence than ordinary citizens. Still, part of any effective political strategy is to find allies, and this is no exception. Those companies' reasons for opposing the legislation are different from ours, but they benefit from a free Internet, too.

Strike!, Part Deux

The rest of the Internet is on strike, but this is what's going on in my back yard right now:

Image credit: Photo taken and processed by Cujo359

Yes, it's snowing here, and as is traditional in the Pacific Northwest, everything grinds to a halt. Going on strike from the Internet seems to be a colossal sacrifice at the moment.

I know you're not getting your fill of cute animal photos, so there you are.

Now, go sign the petition.


Image credit: Fight For The Future

While this blog will not be "on strike" today, I fully support the aims of these Internet organizations, which are taking the day off to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and its sister legislation, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). These two acts, the U.S. House and Senate version of the same bill, respectively, are supposedly designed to prevent copyright theft on the Internet.

This is, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation explains, a ridiculously restrictive and dangerous bill:
The "Stop Online Piracy Act"/"E-PARASITE Act" (SOPA) and "The PROTECT IP Act" (PIPA) are the latest in a series of bills which would create a procedure for creating (and censoring) a blacklist of websites. These bills are updated versions of the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act" (COICA), which was previously blocked in the Senate. Although the bills are ostensibly aimed at reaching foreign websites dedicated to providing illegal content, their provisions would allow for removal of enormous amounts of non-infringing content including political and other speech from the Web.

The various bills define different techniques for blocking “blacklisted” sites. Each would interfere with the Internet's domain name system (DNS), which translates names like "" or "" into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. SOPA would also allow rightsholders to force payment processors to cut off payments and advertising networks to cut ties with a site simply by sending a notice.

These bills are targeted at "rogue" websites that allow indiscriminate piracy, but use vague definitions that could include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire, and Rapidshare; sites that discuss piracy such as, p2pnet, Torrent Freak,, and ZeroPaid; as well as a broad range of sites for user-generated content, such as SoundCloud, Etsy, and Deviant Art. Had these bills been passed five or ten years ago, even YouTube might not exist today — in other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.

Internet Blacklist Legislation
The potential for abuse is obvious to anyone familiar with how YouTube, for instance, has been gamed numerous times into blocking content that was wrongly alleged to be in violation of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act by people who simply wanted to make the content disappear. It would also give entertainment companies that also provide Internet presence the opportunity to censor sites that compete with it, at least on its own networks.

The Obama Administration has gone on record as being opposed to these bills:
Over the weekend, the Obama administration issued a potentially game-changing statement on the blacklist bills, saying it would oppose PIPA and SOPA as written, and drew an important line in the sand by emphasizing that it “will not support” any bill “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet."

How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation
Of course, counting on the Obama Administration to stand on principle is a good way to be disappointed, as we learned with the recent reverse course on the unlimited detention provisions added to the NDAA.

Intellectual property, the concept that includes ideas like patents and copyrights, is a deal that society strikes with people who have spent time and effort creating something of value. Most modern countries, including the U.S., make a deal with people who invent or create innovative work. That deal is that they have the exclusive right to sell that particular work or product for a set period. This makes the work of innovating monetarily valuable, because without it anyone could then steal the work and sell it as his own, usually at lower cost.

What has happened in recent years, though, is that these ideas have gotten out of hand. Partly thanks to the not terribly bright practice of shipping the designs of our products overseas to be manufactured by others, it is now far more difficult to control the use of the designs or works that U.S. intellectual property law is supposed to provide. Meanwhile, those protections have been extended for enormous periods, well beyond the lifetimes of the people who came up with the works in the first place. When movies that are so old that all the people who made them are dead can still be claimed as intellectual property by the corporations that own the rights, it seems to me that it's time those rights expired, too.

To try to enforce these increasingly unenforceable intellectual property rights, various corporations that own those rights and the congresspeople they've bought and paid for are determined to turn the Internet into a shopping mall. And it will be a shopping mall where the security guards can look in your bags, your purses, and your clothes any time they like, then can beat the crap out of you and throw you outside.

So, the Internet is going on strike. Not all of it, of course, but many of the things you're used to doing on the Internet today will be harder, and you'll be asked numerous times to do this:

Sign the petition to remind your congressmen that they work for all Americans, not just the ones who have enough money to hire lobbyists.

UPDATE: Here's what Raw Story has to say in support of the strike:
Raw Story is, as always, a small, privately-owned company, so we understand uniquely the problems caused by people who reprint our articles without permission or attribution, taking the intellectual property of our company and our employees without so much as a pageview in return. But our reporting has shown, time and again, that neither SOPA nor PIPA will help small companies like ours do much, if anything, to combat the theft of our intellectual property — heck, even the movie industry can’t say that its profits are actually down, despite rampant piracy. SOPA/PIPA is simply a cudgel supported by large, corporate interests who would rather spend money lobbying for outmoded legislation intended to stall the internet’s engine for change rather than learning a new way to operate in a modern world.

Announcement: Raw Story to go dark on January 18 to protest SOPA/PIPA
I'd have to agree, I don't see how this would help anyone legitimately reclaim or recover losses for stolen intellectual property. It can be used as a way for corporations that both provide content and Internet access to stifle competition, though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Economist Dean Baker on the Washington Post's recent whitewashing of our economic situation:
So there you have it. Don't worry about how much money Robert Rubin and Angelo Mozilo made off the housing bubble and the difficulty that you are having finding a job, paying for your health care or your kids' education. Just be thankful that you have an iPhone.

The Average 12-Year-Old is Taller Than the Average 6-Year-Old: The Post Gets Desperate in Making the Case Against an Inequality Problem
Actually, that's just the punch line. Read the rest for a good explanation of how the press lie to us about this subject these days.

It's sad when economists and others can spend so much time telling us what our nation's premier news publications get wrong about the economy, the law, and foreign affairs. Then those publications wonder why they can't find subscribers. As a friend of mine often says, I don't need to pay people to lie to me. Plenty of folks will perform that service for free.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Candle Or The Dark?

Image credit: Occupy Wall Street

Apparently, today is a day to light candles:
January 15th, 2012 @ 7:00pm in Each Time Zone Globally

Via On his birthday and in the spirit of Dr. King’s vision for racial and economic equality, peace, and non-violence, we are holding candlelight vigils to unite our world in a global movement for systemic change.

The Vigil for Unity is followed by Occupy the Dream on January 16, and the first day of Occupy Congress actions, on January 17.

Wherever we may be, whether in our homes, in city squares, online, Occupies, or at work, we lift a beautiful message high above the political dialogue. We light the dream of a more equitable world in our hearts. We can overcome!

Dr. King said ‘A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and say: ‘This is not just.’

Occupy Wall Street announcement about Jan. 15 vigil
I'm not much into candle burning, but I love the expression "Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness", so consider this a virtual candle in our virtual world.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

For anyone who is active in politics, or wants to understand how activism works, one of Dr. King's most important legacies may have been the Letter From A Birmingham Jail (see UPDATE 2 below). While being held for his actions in a civil rights demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama, King used the time to compose a letter that explained the reasons he and his compatriots used demonstrations and civil disobedience to protest the injustices that African Americans faced in the South of those days. One of the paragraphs that stands out for me, as if it were calling directly from that time to this is:
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]
We, too, live in a time of monologue. Our press is largely controlled by the people who don't want things to change, who like them fine the way they are. Until the Occupy movements changed the discussion, we seldom even saw discussions of the widening gap between the upper few percent of our population and the rest of us. As first the poor and lower middle class, and now the rest of the middle class have lost ground, we have been told by the people who are pleased to call themselves our leaders, that everything is just fine, and we should just shut the hell up.

Caption: Where did all the economic growth end up? Into the hands of the richest people in the country, mostly.

Image credit: Economic Policy Institute

What Dr. King was saying, in essence, was what I was saying:
You don't arrange a protest to deliver a doctoral thesis. You arrange a protest to deliver one simple demand to your rulers: Get it done.

The Place Is The Message
Demonstrations happen because there is no talk, or nothing but talk. All we have gotten the last few years, when we haven't gotten screwed, is talk. And that talk has been a monologue.

Absolutely nothing has changed since I wrote this on MLK Day a year ago:
Caption: Soldiers from Company A, 3-187th Infantry watch from an observation post as bombs are dropped on insurgent positions during Operation Iron Blade II in Ghazni Province Nov. 28.

Image credit: Lt. Col. David Fivecoat/U.S. Army

In a time when we have no real enemies worthy of the name, we've become obsessed with defense, spending far more than any other advanced country and getting even less. We pay for these priorities in lost jobs and diminished prospects. After the Second World War, we were the world's leader in physics. Now, thanks to our neglect, coupled with Europe's interest, they appear to be regaining the lead they had in the early part of the Twentieth Century. From going to the Moon in a decade, our space program can't even service the space station it built. The next generation of boosters has been canceled. Our infrastructure inadequate and crumbling thanks to decades of neglect. We sacrificed all this, not to mention our health care and retirement, to be better at destroying someone else's country than anyone else is.

Dr. King's Nightmare
That's why there are demonstrations, because when we talk, we're not listened to. As another African American activist, Frederick Douglass, once wrote:
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

Until demands are made, until there's a clear implication that the next step will be even more unpleasant for those in power if things don't change, nothing will change. That's as clear now as when Douglass was trying to free his people from the slave owners, or when Dr. King was battling white racists and their enablers a century later.

As Jackson Browne would say, no one rides for free.

We're headed for a dark time. With income inequality getting worse, there is no way that the power shift can be halted without a lot of, to use Dr. King's word, "tension". How dark it will be, and how it ends, will be largely dependent on how insistently we demand what we need, and what we do when we don't get it.

That's what Dr. King taught us.

UPDATE: Slight edit to remove a sentence that I didn't complete...

UPDATE 2 (Jan. 16): The University of Stanford's Martin Luther King, Jr. Institute has an annotated version of MLK's Letter from a Birmingham Jail online. If you're not too aware of the history of the civil rights movement (and who below the age of 60 is these days?), it's a good way to read the letter.

Sunday Photo(s)

In the Midwest, and some parts of the basin and range region, there are days when the clouds provide their own amazing scenery. Being able to see long distances without obstructions like hills and mountains allows an observer to watch clouds pass by for hours as the weather changes.

When you live on either the East Coast or West Coast of the United States, such opportunities are more limited. There are always hills or mountains around to block your view, as well as the occasional building. One of the better vantage points out here for cloud watching is the shore itself.

This is the view from Lincoln Park, in southern Seattle, just west of the ferry docks:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

(More pictures after the break)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Another Look At Our Future

Isn't this a sign of the times?
Organised crime has tightened its grip on the Italian economy during the economic crisis, making the Mafia the country's biggest "bank" and squeezing the life out of thousands of small firms, according to a report on Tuesday.
Organised crime now generated annual turnover of about 140 billion euros ($178.89 billion) and profits of more than 100 billion euros, it added.

"With 65 billion euros in liquidity, the Mafia is Italy's number one bank," said a statement from the group, which was set up in Palermo a decade ago to oppose extortion rackets against small business.

Mafia now "Italy's No.1 bank" as crisis bites-report
Why would anyone, particularly someone as familiar with the Mafia as Italians must be, use their services? The article eventually gets around to answering that one:
Typical victims of extortionate lending were middle-aged shopkeepers and small businessmen who would struggle to find a new job and who were ready to try anything to avoid bankruptcy, it added.

"They are usually people in traditional retail sectors like food, greengrocers, clothes or shoe shops, florists or furniture shops. These are the categories which, more than any other, are paying the price of the (economic) crisis," it said.

According to a separate report this week from small business association CNA, 56 percent of companies had seen banks tighten their lending requirements in the past three months.

Mafia now "Italy's No.1 bank" as crisis bites-report
There's money to lend, of course, but the banks see no reason to lend it. Pretty much like things are over here. My guess is that Italy isn't the only country that's going to see its organized criminals profit from this thing.

Of course, it could be said that the main difference between the loan sharks and the real banks is who they ruin. Big banks seem to be content to ruin big businesses and small countries. The mob is more ambitious.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Real Question

Caption: Screenshot from Live Leak video of U.S. Marines about to urinate on dead Taliban.

Image credit: Screenshot of this video taken and reduced by Cujo359

The video is making the rounds, if you want to see it, it's here, among other places. You can see screenshots here. Personally, I've seen all I want.

There are people, like the sad excuse for a human being CNN hired as its Tea Party viewpoint who think that things like this are just dandy, and what's everyone's problem? Needless to say I disagree with this point of view.

On the other hand, I am neither shocked nor appalled by it. This sort of thing is going to happen in a war. Behavior like this, as disgusting as it is to us, isn't unknown in warfare. I've never been in combat, so I can't speak to what that's like. But I know my own personality well enough to know that if a group of people scared the hell out of me, making me fear for my life or the life of someone I cared about, and then I had a loaded weapon placed in my hands and the chance to deal with the problem, the results would not be pretty, nor would the aftermath.

John Edwards Diagnosed With Serious Heart Ailment

Caption: John Edwards in happier, and healthier days, speaks to reporters in New Orleans after announcing his candidacy for president, December 28, 2006.

Image credit: the Edwards campaign

According to multiple sources, former presidential candidate John Edwards has a heart condition that has delayed his trial on misuse of campaign funds:
A federal judge says she has two letters from a cardiologist saying ex-presidential candidate John Edwards has a life-threatening condition that will require surgery in February.

John Edwards Has Life-Threatening Condition: Doctor
Both CNN and CBS have similar news stories on file.

I see no word yet on what the condition is, but if it requires surgery it's bound to be serious. Edwards is 58 years old, and will go on trial soon. It's not a time for elective heart surgery.

According to CNN, Edwards faces up to thirty years in jail, and $1.5 million fine, if convicted. Those are the sorts of numbers I recall from earlier reports on Edwards' upcoming trial.

Edwards was the candidate I endorsed during the 2008 election.

UPDATE: From the Charlotte News Observer report concerning Edwards' condition:
Judge Catherine Eagles did not disclose the medical condition afflicting Edwards, but said she had received letters from his cardiologist.

In those letters, the judge said the doctors wrote that the condition was treatable and the former U.S. presidential candidate had a good chance of success if the course of treatment were followed.
She indicated that his condition has given him problems on three occasions since being diagnosed in December. She said his condition has affected his daily life and makes it difficult for him to drive.

Judge delays Edwards' trial, confirming medical condition
Which is probably as much as anyone can write on the matter without a statement from Edwards' attorneys.

Quote Of The Day

From the ignominy of last month's smackdown, Robert Reich has recovered enough of that magic to be the quote of the day:
The Republican right thinks Paul’s views on the economy are responsible for this fire among the young. Yesterday evening, on Larry Kudlow’s CNBC program, I squared off with Larry and the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Moore. Both are convinced young people are attracted by Paul’s strict adherence to the views of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and Paul’s desire to move America back to the gold standard.

Baloney. The young are flocking to Ron Paul because he wants to slice military spending, bring our troops home, stop government from spying on American citizens, and legalize pot.

The Youthful Magic Of Ron Paul
Let me just break in here and point out the obvious - this isn't quite true. There are some people that age who have just read Atlas Shrugged and now think they should be selecting their luggage and travel kits for when they go Galt. In the meantime, they are no doubt fans of Milton Friedman and Ludwig von Whatsisname. Still, I'm pretty sure Reich's correct, if only because those were the things that mattered to me back in those days, and I don't think things have changed that much in the intervening years. In fact, if anything, civil liberties and ending the drug war are more of a priority now than they were back when I was part of the youth vote. Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore are almost certainly seeing what they want to see, and ignoring the fact that much of what is appealing about Ron Paul to anyone who doesn't have his head up his ass has nothing to do with his crackpot theories of economics.

Reich concludes:
[I]f Republicans — or Democrats, for that matter — want to win over much of the nation’s young next November, they’d do well to listen carefully to Paul’s positions on national defense and civil liberties.

The Youthful Magic Of Ron Paul
I think that if there's one sure thing about the 2012 election, aside from the futility of swapping Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, it's that damn few in either party will listen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Football Can Teach Us, Part II

Yes, American discourse is far too full of metaphors, similes, and references to sports. Given my attitude about sports, football in particular, it probably would have behooved me to avoid this discussion, but then I read this column by The Nation sports columnist Dave Zirin, concerning last weekend's playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos:
My central Xs and Os mistake in predicting a Pittsburgh blowout was ignoring the injuries that had ravaged the Steelers. Their quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, had one working leg, with his other ankle swollen to badly he had to wear a larger shoe. Their Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and starting running back Rashard Mendenhall were both out with injuries. Their safety Ryan Clark also couldn’t play with a serious blood disorder. It was certainly ignorant of me to ignore that long list. But I made an even bigger mistake than that.

I made the cardinal error of applying the laws of politics to sports. In the last two weeks, two Republican primary also-rans—Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—invoked the name of Tim “Focus on the Family” Tebow to inspire their flagging Christianist base. To put it mildly, the gambit failed to work for either candidate. I was over-eager to see Tebow then fail in their footsteps.

Tim Tebow: Praising the Player. Hating the Game
I've seen this tendency in people before, and not just regarding the case of self-righteous jerks like Tim Tebow. It's a fairly common mistake people make - mistaking their wishes for what they should know is actually true.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Happy, Happy. Joy, Joy. Oh, Wait, We're Still Unemployed?

There was, as usual with unemployment reports that sound positive, all sorts of hoopla from Democrats about how marvelous it is that we're finally on the right track economically. Their usual apologists in the press are taking a crack at making this pig look perfect for that shade of lipstick. I think all you have to do is read Paul Krugman's or Brad DeLong's frank assessments to realize that this is overblown, but maybe the best rebuttal came from Dean Baker yesterday:

Another Anniversary

In what is, perhaps, more of a milestone than others, the comic xkcd turned 1000 on Friday:

As usual, xkcd author Randall Munroe can't resist tossing in some geek humor. (For the uninitiated, 1024 is the next-nearest power of two. It's also the number of somethings we computer types are usually referring to when we refer to a 'K' of something, though we sometimes round off to 1000 to make it easy on you ten-based folks.)

Congratulations, and as long as you're happy about the idea, here's hoping for a thousand more.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Day

It's finally 2012. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but I'm glad to see the back of 2011.

Caption: The Oregonian Clock, or what's left of it, at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland. Here's part of what the sign next to it said:
The Oregonian Clock was originally purchased in 1892 for the old Oregonian building on SW Fifth and Yamhill. It is a model 4S tower clock, manufactured by the E. Howard & Co. of Boston. The model 4S is a heavy duty hour striker that could operate the hands of up to four dials from 8 to 30 feet in diameter.
Image credit: Photo by Cujo359

Now, I might have tried to find some New Year's-themed music, but Dana embedded "New Year's Day", which is quite likely the one I would have chosen. Suzanne went with ABBA, which I think I can honestly say I will never do.

So take your pick. And enjoy the fact that I managed to find a picture of a clock.

Hope yours is a happy 2012.