Friday, December 28, 2012

Another Waste Of Tax Dollars

Your wasted tax dollars at work:

Caption: A photo from the APOD 2013 calendar, which was taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it orbited Jupiter a few years ago. That's Io in the foreground, a moon that is roughly the size of our own Moon and orbits at about the same distance.

Image credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

The 2013 [Astronomy Picture Of the Day (APOD)] calendar is available for download in PDF format (1.6 Mb).

Designed for 8.5" x 11" paper (landscape orientation), the calendar is easily printable. For best printed results, print it double-sided in color on bright white light card stock or 24-lb paper with a spiral or comb (GBC) binding and punch a hole for hanging; many local printing shops (Staples, Kinkos, etc.) offer binding services. Containing some of the best APOD images of 2012, the calendar makes a great inexpensive holiday present!

Since the calendar is in PDF, it can be viewed on devices such as the Kindle and many ereaders.

The last page of the PDF appears upside-down; this is deliberate. When printed, this page serves as the back cover of the calendar and allows one to see thumbnails of all the images in the calendar in the correct orientation (in relation to the front cover).

APOD's 2013 calendar

The calendar is free, of course. No, I don't consider this wasted tax dollars. It's a fringe benefit of one of the best uses we put tax dollars to - advancing human knowledge and exploring our universe.

This is a waste of our tax dollars. We spend far more on that than we do on NASA, and all we get for it is more blown up countries.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ho, Frickin Ho

It's December 25, and you know what that means - one more week before anyone with any sense goes near a shopping mall. Meanwhile, if you're celebrating Christmas, have a good one. Hey, look I even found a new photo:

Caption: A lonely snowman guards Redondo, Washington from an invasion by sea by anti-Christmas secular humanists.

Image credit: Photo by Cujo359

No recycled photos this year, no siree.

If you just got the day off because everyone else celebrates Christmas, hope you can find something to do while everything's closed.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

Since I needed to get out of the house today, there wasn't much time to put up the photos I'd intended to - all the airplanes I photographed after the world supposedly ended. Hopefully, I'll do that next week. Meantime, I was out at Redondo, Washington again today. I like seeing Puget Sound when it's cloudy and a bit stormy. It's rather picturesque, and there aren't as many people. Here's how the fishing pier looked today:

Image credit: All photos taken and processed by Cujo359

I'd noticed this statue on the top of the MAST building before, but couldn't tell what it was:

This time, though, I had a zoom lens worthy of the name. Here's a closeup from that photo:

Apparently, it's an owl. I suppose they were hoping this big owl statue would scare the seagulls away. Seagulls are a constant presence in the area. Speaking of gulls, I noticed one gliding along the boardwalk today, just to the left of the railing of this picture (no, the gull isn't in it, I didn't have the camera out at that moment):

Curious, I stuck my hand out over the water, just over the railing. Sure enough, there was an updraft. Crafty little buggers. Not only do they know where to find a free meal, they know how to avoid working too hard for it, too.

On the subject of zooms, here's a wide shot of Des Moines:

On the left of that photo is the Des Moines Marina. This shot is a zoomed image of it:

From several miles away, you can make out cars on the hill above the marina.

As luck would have it, a Hapag Lloyd container ship was sailing past just as I arrived. This the usual schedule - I seem to get there after a ship has almost sailed past:

Still, it wasn't a good day to be photographing a ship on the other side of the Sound. With all the mist, this is about as good an image as I could manage:

Still better than the old camera could manage, so I guess I'll be keeping this one.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Hope you had a good Sunday.

Ripped From The Headlines

Caption: 2012 Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He didn't want the job, but had to run anyway. Twice.

Image credit: Jessica Rinaldi/Wikimedia

The holiday season tends to be one of the slowest times of year in the news business. How else to explain this?

Tagg Romney told the Boston Globe that his father, Mitt Romney, only reluctantly ran for president.

Said Romney's eldest son: "He wanted to be president less than anyone I've met in my life. He had no desire to run."

He added: "If he could have found someone else to take his place... he would have been ecstatic to step aside. He is a very private person who loves his family deeply and wants to be with them, but he has deep faith in God and he loves his country, but he doesn't love the attention."

Son Says Romney Was a Reluctant Candidate

Beyond a sudden interest in the opinions of the rich and pointless, I can't see any reason why anyone would want to cover this. Well, maybe to generate lots of commentary, of which my favorite was this one by a commenter "nctodc":

Nothing says truly reluctant like doing something twice.

Son Says Romney Was a Reluctant Candidate

Yep. Comics just weren't getting enough chuckles, apparently.

(h/t Earthbound Misfit, I. I never would have seen this.)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Late Update: The World Did Not End

Curious to see whether the world had ended today, I went out and discovered that it hadn't. Turns out the BPA Trail is still there. Panther Lake is looking pretty full, in fact:

Image credit: All photos taken and processed by Cujo359

The BPA's transmission lines were still there:

Birds were still flying:

And so was the Air Force:

The place that makes the closest thing to a real Philly cheese steak in this part of the country was still grilling them:

So, you're probably wondering, what about other worlds? Maybe some other celestial body's number was up today, right? The next nearest one looked like it was doing just fine, too:

So, yes, yet another prediction of disaster based on some numerical coincidence turned out to be untrue. Go figure.

If there's anyone who accidentally ended up here who is actually surprised that the world didn't end because the Mayan calendar ran out yesterday, please try this thought experiment the next time you hear the world will end because some ancient civilization didn't bother to make a calendar that went more than a few hundred years into their future:

Remember desk calendars? You know, those old pads of paper that had a sheet for each day of the year that all had clever things that Snoopy or Opus or B.C. said on each sheet? Remember how you tear one off at the end of the day and there's the next day's date on it? When you got to the one labeled "Dec. 31", did the world end? No, it didn't.

You went out and got another calendar!

Same thing here.

Glad we could clear that up.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Solstice:2012

Caption: The Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza. The Maya stopped maintaining this at least five hundred years ago, yet it stubbornly refuses to stop existing.

Image credit: Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia

Once again, it's the Winter Solstice, or, as folks with a more worldly view might refer to it:

The December solstice occurs when the sun reaches its most southerly declination of -23.5 degrees. In other words, it is when the North Pole is tilted 23.5 degrees away from the sun. Depending on the Gregorian calendar, the December solstice occurs annually on a day between December 20 and December 23. On this date, all places above a latitude of 66.5 degrees north (Arctic Polar Circle) are now in darkness, while locations below a latitude of 66.5 degrees south (Antarctic Polar Circle) receive 24 hours of daylight.

December solstice 2012: 21 Dec 11:12 (UTC)

Which is really early in the morning on the West Coast. Of course, as most of you undoubtedly know, this is another day when the world was supposed to end:

A new Reuters survey found that one in 10 people believe the end of the world will occur in 2012, and one in seven believe the world will end in their lifetimes.

"Perhaps it is because of the media attention coming from one interpretation of the Mayan prophecy that states the world ‘ends’ in our calendar year 2012,” Keren Gottfried, research manager at Ipsos Global Public Affairs, told Reuters.

End Of The World 2012: Mayan Calendar Doomsday Prediction Held By 1 In 10

Maybe if you're reading this by now, that one person in ten will have figured out that when a civilization that basically ended five centuries ago didn't bother to update its calendar, that this doesn't mean the world will end.

Fat chance, right?

Anyway, for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere and yet aren't butt stupid, this day is a day of renewal. The days will start to get longer soon, and we can start thinking about springtime. Just about all the major religions have holidays this time of year, and that's why.

Over at, Joe Rao explains why the ancients were so interested in the winter solstice:

The ancient skywatchers had no understanding of the sun's migration; they thought this celestial machinery might break down someday, and the sun would continue southward, never to return. As such, the lowering of the sun was cause for fear and wonder.


When the ancients saw the sun stop and slowly climb to a higher midday location, people rejoiced; here was a promise that spring would return. Most cultures had winter solstice celebrations and some adapted it to other events. In Persia, the solstice marked the birthday of Mithra, the Sun King.

Dec. 21: The Winter Solstice Explained

Yep, Sun sticks around - good. Sun goes away - bad. Pretty smart, those ancients. Wish they could have made their calendars last longer, though. They would at least have spared us one more end of the world scenario.

So, assuming we survived the apocalypse, Happy Solstice!

Afterword: This article was written on Dec. 17. If the world ends before it appears at 4:00 AM PST (12:00 GMT), boy, will I feel silly.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out today's APOD. It's another photo of that Mayan pyramid, and it's gorgeous.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

But There's No Crying ...

Image credit: Hugo Fernandes/Wikimedia

Baseball isn't professional wrestling. It actually is a contest of skilled athletes trying to compete against each other in a game that doesn't have a predetermined outcome.

But, as MLB notes today, that doesn't mean that everything you see is on the up-and-up. For instance, the arguments managers supposedly have with umpires during the game sometimes go like this:

"I remember a manager yelling and screaming and coming out and saying, 'I have to get run,'" said umpire Ted Barrett, who has governed big league games for 19 years. "So I tossed him, and he starts ranting and raving about how bad his team is. 'My pitcher is terrible. My bullpen can't get anybody out. My hitters haven't hit a ball out of the infield in three days. My clubhouse guys serve crappy food.' And on and on.

"I started chuckling at him, and the guy gets up in my face and says, 'Don't you laugh. If you laugh, then they know this is all an act.' So I did everything I could just to bite my tongue."

“My Pitcher Is Terrible, My Bullpen Can’t Get Anybody Out”: What Managers Really Yell About While Arguing With Umpires

I think most fans who haven't played the game at that level have, at times, wondered just what these arguments could possibly be about. There you are, distracted by the lump of mustard that just dropped from your hot dog onto your lap, and you can tell the umpire made the right call. The fans know it, and even the sportscasters know it. Yet here's an argument. Now I know there's an alternative explanation for the stress having finally gotten to yet another big league manager.

Of course, like jumping from the top turnbuckle without hurting yourself, there is some skill involved:

One such circumstance arose when Terry Collins was leading the Angels in the late 1990s. After a questionable call, Collins sought out Scott and told the umpire, "You know what, Dale? I know that was the right call. But we [stink]. You have to run me."

Scott told Collins he needed him to display more emotion and conviction to warrant his dismissal, so the manager flung his hat and Scott pointed him to the exit.

“My Pitcher Is Terrible, My Bullpen Can’t Get Anybody Out”: What Managers Really Yell About While Arguing With Umpires

There may not be any crying in baseball, but that doesn't mean you don't need The Method.

Freedom of the Press Foundation Debuts

Caption: The first printing press of the Tombstone Epitaph, Tombstone, Arizona.

Image credit: Cujo359

As Joyce Arnold reminded me today, yesterday's Glenn Greenwald column at The Guardian had this interesting announcement:

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the steps taken by the US government to pressure large corporations to choke off the finances and other means of support for WikiLeaks in retaliation for the group's exposure of substantial government deceit, wrongdoing and illegality. Because WikiLeaks has never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime, I wrote: "that the US government largely succeeded in using extra-legal and extra-judicial means to cripple an adverse journalistic outlet is a truly consequential episode." At the end of that column, I disclosed that I had been involved in discussions "regarding the formation of a new organization designed to support independent journalists and groups such as WikiLeaks under attack by the US and other governments."

That group has now been formed and, this morning, was formally launched. Its name is Freedom of the Press Foundation. Its website is here and its Twitter account, which will be quite active, is @FreedomOfPress.

I'm very excited to have participated in its formation and will serve as an unpaid member of the Board of Directors, along with the heroic whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, 2012 McArthur-fellowship-receipient and Oscar-nominated documentarian Laura Poitras, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation John Perry Barlow, the actor and civil liberties advocate John Cusack, BoingBoing co-founder Xeni Jardin, and several other passionate free press and transparency activists. Numerous articles have been written today about its launch, including from the New York Times' media reporter David Carr, the Guardian's Dan Gillmor, Forbes' Andy Greenberg, Huffington Post's media reporter Michael Calderone, FDL's Kevin Gosztola, and board member Josh Stearns.

New press freedom group is launched to block US government attacks

The links and other formatting are from the original article.

As Greenwald mentioned, the U.S. government and other governments have cooperated in trying to shut down Wikileaks and other groups that are dedicated to transparency. Whether they will try to do that to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, I don't know, but it will probably be more difficult. They have some pretty successful lawyers on their side.

How it works is described in their mission statement page:

The process is simple. On our website, you can donate to as many as four journalism and transparency organizations at once. We’ll feature a “bundle” of four organizations and provide a bit of background on each. Every two months we will release a new bundle of deserving organizations or individuals. Once you enter the total amount you wish to donate, you can use the sliders to determine the percentage you want each entity to get.

You can also donate directly to the Freedom of the Press Foundation to help further our mission. Twice a year, we will distribute a grant to projects our Board of Directors has vetted and selected.

Freedom of the Press Foundation takes 8% from each donation for operational costs. Criteria for choosing organizations:

  1. Record of engaging in transparency journalism or supporting it in a material way, including support for whistleblowers.
  2. Public interest agenda.
  3. Organizations or individuals under attack for engaging in transparency journalism.
  4. Need for support. The foundation’s goal is to prioritize support for organizations and individuals who are in need of funding or who face obstacles to gaining support on their own.
You can go here to see a description of the organizations we are currently crowd-funding donations for.

About Freedom of the Press Foundation
[Once again, the link is from original article.]

One thing is for certain, though, as this article at Corrente demonstrates today, you're more likely to get a free press out of contributing money to them than you are contributing to NPR.

Afterword: By the way, I love the message that appears on the Freedom of the Press Foundation's website if you don't have Javascript enabled:

Sorry, Javascript is required to donate. Otherwise we couldn't have fanciness like jQuery sliders that let you choose how much you want to give to each amazing organizations. Click here to learn how to enable Javascript.

Now, who could live in a world without jQuery sliders?

As usual, though, the software guys need some editing help: "each amazing organizations"? Plural, singular, why not have both?

Crossed Idiots

Caption: "Crossed idiot sticks" - the branch insignia of the U.S. Army's infantry.

Image credit: U.S. Dept. of Defense

If you read my rant from yesterday and wondered why I wrote what I did about how we've neglected all the other parts of the Bill of Rights except the Second Amendment, then perhaps this will help. Over at Corrente, Hugh wrote this as his conclusion:

All these rights, the very essence of who we are, what made us rightfully proud to be Americans, gone, done away with, without a fight, without a whimper. Yet the least of these, the 2nd Amendment, bent and twisted out of its original context, this is the one you embrace and hold on to? Guns do not make you safe. The law and the decency of your neighbors do. Guns are no protection against the state. What did your guns avail you when the government erased all your most basic human rights, the crown jewels of the Constitution? You. did. nothing. You are hollow men. Hold on to your metal sticks if you want. They can not protect you from your own moral vacuousness.

To Defenders of the Second Amendment

Go read the rest. It's worth it. I'm reminded that one of the slang expressions for the U.S. Army's infantry symbol is "crossed idiot sticks". That expression has never seemed as appropriate as it does to me today. Not for the infantry, but for people who cling to their weapons as being anything more than something you'd rather not be forced to use.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Lesson Not Learned

A lot has been written about the events in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday. Much of it probably shouldn't have been written, and I haven't had much urge to add to that volume of work. Nevertheless...

First, having lost a loved one when I wasn't a whole lot younger than the parents of those school children are now, I understand in some small way what that feels like. Since that loved one wasn't my child, I only understand in a small way. For them, and the other survivors of that day, there will be no forgetting what happened, and for many there will be a hole in their lives that will never again be filled. For them, I'm truly sorry.

For the rest of us, though, there should be lessons to learn, but we progressives won't learn them. There will be folks who go on, for the most part rightly, about how violent a culture we can be, how little we do to treat the mentally ill in this country, or how easy it is for anyone, including the mentally ill, to obtain firearms here. What you probably won't read, anywhere but here, is this:

The Second Amendment is the only one that matters in America.

Theoretically, and by "theoretically", I mean, in my opinion, all the others are important, too. In fact, few arguments in favor of "Second Amendment rights", which often as not equate to unrestricted access to firearms for just about everybody, amuse me as much as the one that goes "it's the right that protects all the others." As the last few years have shown, as long as gun owners have that right, quite a few of them are ready to let all the rest go to hell.

That's probably not a new idea to many progressives. It is certainly not a new one to me. What ought to be interesting, and what is the thing that progressives absolutely will not learn, is that the reason it's the only one that matters is that there are people willing to punish politicians who don't respect it. The other nine amendments to the Bill of Rights have no such constituency. There was no mass expulsion of politicians when the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) began violating our Fourth Amendment rights every time we want to take a commercial airline flight somewhere. No politicians lost their jobs thanks to repeated, and overwhelmingly bipartisan, votes for the PATRIOT Act every time it's come up. Progressives didn't switch parties while the Democrats allowed the consolidation of our news and publishing services into a big six of owners to make a mockery of the idea of freedom of the press. No, they just shrugged and voted Democratic anyway, like they always did and they always will.

The lesson they don't want to see is that you only have the rights you're willing to punish your politicians for violating. Our politicians know that they can't mess with the Second Amendment, but all the others are, so to speak, fair game. That's so obvious that even the dimmest of them must know that by now. If they don't, they probably have consultants who can get them up to speed.

Which is why I think that much of what's written shouldn't be. There's no reason to think that this time people will do something about any of the real causes of this tragedy. They won't make sure that people who have guns are sane and know how and when to use them. They won't make sure that the mentally ill are taken care of in a humane way. If anything happens at all, it will to further erode all our other rights. I'm sure we'll be hearing momentarily that we need to have more metal detectors, security guards, and fences at schools. We'll have to have more thorough background checks of staff and faculty, because you just never know what sort of axe-murdering lunatic might show up with a teacher's license. Whatever it is, it will be both useless and invasive. There's a very simple reason for that. It's the same reason nothing of use gets done about anything anymore:

Progressives won't punish Democrats for failing to do what they sent them to DC to do.

Until that changes, nothing else will. At least, it won't change for the better.

Afterword: Consider this notice that I won't be visiting most other blogs for a while. I'll probably try to keep up with economic news, but the wailing and foolishness about this is really starting to drive me crazy.

UPDATE: Oops. Forgot to put paragraph macros in the text. Hopefully, things should be easier to read now. I also added the Afterword.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

Since I still haven't done all the research I wanted to for a follow-on article to the caboose story, I thought I'd just post a few test shots from the new camera. It's a Canon SX260 HS. Its work has debuted already, and last week's "Sunday Photo(s)" featured some early pictures I took with it. The main reason I bought it was that it's supposed to have good low-light performance, and I'd say that's true. It also has a 20X zoom, which I find incredible for a point-and-shoot camera. I almost didn't buy it because of that huge zoom, figuring that the mechanism would be so complicated and delicate that it would be broken in a few years. On that point, we'll see.

Still, as you can see, I've found uses for the zoom lens. I took these photos of aircraft flying overhead in Federal Way. The airport is a few miles north of here, so I'm not shooting them flying at high altitude. It's a lot more than my last camera could do, though. Both of these are cropped from the original photo image files. Neither is retouched.

This appears to be an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-400:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

[All photos that appear on this page are reduced-size from the originals. Click on the pictures to see the full-size images that I'm describing.]

This looks like a Lufthansa Airbus A330-300:

The images aren't retouched, so you can see what is possible straight from the camera. As you can see in the photo of the A330, there's a bit of ISO noise, but considering that it's a photo of a moving object at high zoom on a cloudy day, not too bad. It's good enough for the web, at least.

Speaking of which, this one is also cropped, but otherwise unprocessed:

I used the night scene mode, of course, and with full zoom. The trick to getting this photo, it turned out, was to make the camera use just the center of the picture as basis for setting the light level.

Here's another night scene, a bit more prosaic but still interesting:

This was also taken with the night scene mode, and it turned out well. Both the cup and the woman in the background (who was moving, of course) can be seen without difficulty. It's reduced in size, of course, but otherwise unaltered.

Finally, I took this of Mt. Rainier around dusk the other day:

Once again, that photo was reduced, since I'm limited to a maximum image width of 1600 pixels by Picassa. I also retouched it, using a contrast-enhancing overlay of GIMP. This, however, is an unretouched section of that image:

It's a medium zoom for this camera. Even with my not-so-steady hands, it managed to take a picture clear enough to see the steps on that water tower on one of our notoriously dim winter days. There's some ISO noise here as well. The EXIF data of the image says that it was taken at ISO 200 (I had that setting on automatic), which is a bit disappointing. But, given the circumstances, it's acceptable, particularly for the automatic mode in low light.

The camera has a bad habit or two. The worst is that it takes some effort to turn it on. I don't know what it is about the ON/OFF button yet, but it always seems to take multiple presses. I'm still learning the controls, which are more complicated than the old Kodak's were. I figure once I get the feel for that little knob/button combo control I'll be most of the way there. There's an automatic mode, of course, which takes reasonably good pictures in daylight and bright indoor settings. For other settings, there are modes that let you choose either shutter speed, F-stop, ISO level, or a combination. All of that takes some getting used to, before you'll have an idea what works for you in particular light conditions.

That's about it for now. Hopefully, I'll be displaying more of this camera's work in the future. For anyone wondering, I've been getting roughly 250 photos per battery charge. I'll also recommend that you look at Radio Shack for replacement/supplemental batteries. They sell a knock-off that's about half the price of the Canon battery.

Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fiscal Cliffs And Reality

This week's Moyers & Company features economics bloggers Bruce Bartlett and Yves Smith. I've embedded the video here:

Watch it to find out:

  • Why the so-called "fiscal cliff" is a whole lot of nothing masquerading as a crisis.
  • Why I will never vote for a Democratic Party candidate who has the values Barack Obama does.
  • Why I spend so much time trying to dispel progressive nonsense, even though I'm a progressive, and should thus be spending time criticizing and demonizing conservatives.

That latter point is made by Bruce Bartlett with this quote from the show:

BRUCE BARTLETT: There was a poll just the other day that you probably saw. Something like half of all Republicans believe that the 2012 election was stolen for Obama by a group called ACORN, which was-- which went out of business several years ago. It doesn't even exist. I mean, they just believe these conspiracy theories. And they circulate without barrier, because nobody will say anything to disagree with it. And if you hear the same propaganda over and over and over again, eventually you're going to start to believe it.

Transcript: Fiscal Cliffs and Fiscal Realities
[Go to that quote link to see the high definition version of the show, if you'd prefer. At either location, those who disable Javascript must allow it for the and domains at a minimum.]

ACORN folded its tents back in 2010, after Democrats joined Republicans in passing a nonsensical bill to deprive it of funds for crimes it didn't even commit.

Bartlett is correct in saying that conservatism these days is a big echo chamber. So is progressivism, though to a lesser extent, I think. It's always a great applause line to talk about how awful the other guys are. Talking about how foolish or awful your own side can be is going to get you ignored at best, and ostracized at worst, if you make the mistake of doing it somewhere like Daily Kos. Yet, it's at least as important, because considered self-criticism leads to self-correction. Without criticism, correction doesn't happen. No one on the conservative side tells people that ACORN is gone. It's far too convenient a bogey man, even when it's gone. People who insist that you don't say things that will upset the readers are people who want you to persist in error.

Right or wrong, that won't happen here.

As for the "fiscal cliff", yes, it's a sham. I haven't written about it much because, quite frankly, no one is listening. The Democrats are promoting this fantasy as much as the Republicans are, and I'm tired of making the point that there's no difference between them. There's no difference between them. They're lying. Democrats will continue to lie to you until you stop voting for them, and maybe even after, but certainly not until. If you think voting for them makes you the adult in the room, you're part of the problem, and if you ever get over yourself, you'll be able to figure out on your own why it's a sham.

Enjoy the video. Consider it your Saturday Entertainment.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What's Wrong With The Rice Nomination

A longish response to this article by Taylor Marsh concerning the Susan Rice debacle:

The sad truth is that in the U.S. career foreign policy establishment there are no diplomatic candidates that an elite politician as president could appoint that wouldn’t fall in line with more wars over more diplomacy.

John Kerry is a Better Choice for State Than Susan Rice

Well, yes, other than the thousands of former Foreign Service officers and thousands of former military officers whose careers included a lot of work with foreign militaries and the like. Surely, there are at least a few politically-savvy people among them.

Way back in 2008 I could already see the rough outlines of what Obama’s foreign policy was likely to be, thanks to who he listened to on the issues. Continuation of the “War on Terrorism” and rampant interventionism were likely goals, and most folks with a few functioning brain cells to call their own figured that out when they looked. Susan Rice was one of the reasons.

Leaders don’t appoint advisers who are likely to disagree with them. They don’t want to waste time listening to pitches and having discussions about things they’ve already decided. People who are likely to oppose a leader’s decisions are better off being part of the opposition. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself. When a smart leader realizes he’s been setting the wrong agenda, he can change, and find different advisers.

What makes that tendency a bad thing these days in America is that DC is full of people who are always willing to praise the leaders of their party no matter what. People dissenting on matters of fact or principle are rarely part of the conversation, and even when they are can be dismissed as either cranks or partisans. After all, how can you not be either a crank or a partisan and not recognize the wonder that is [Bush|Obama]? What amazes me about both George W. Bush and Barack Obama is how often and blatantly they disregarded the values of their base, and yet were praised to the heavens by many of the people who said they believed in those things. In an environment like this, I have to believe that leaders are even less likely to recognize their own failures and make adjustments.

To me, that’s the most basic problem that Susan Rice represents, even more basic than the particular problem of the nonsensical foreign policy priorities she represents. I don’t like her conflicts of interest, but just about anyone who is chosen from the inner circle of DC is likely to have at least a couple. It would be just lovely if people were chosen for cabinet positions based on their knowledge of the subject matter and willingness to speak out when they think the President is wrong, but that ain’t happening.

But, like one of those excuses for why the economy isn’t jumping up and succeeding, it’s not because there aren’t qualified people out there. It’s because DC doesn’t want to pay for them. In this case, that price isn't in wages, but in the bad publicity and "confusion" open disagreement among government leaders supposedly causes the public.

That's the sad truth of Susan Rice. Personally, I don't think John Kerry would be a better Secretary of State. For one thing, I don't think he has the ability to charm people that Hillary Clinton clearly had. But, more importantly, there's little reason to believe that he'd either speak out or resign on principle if President Obama tried to involve us in another costly and ultimately fruitless foreign adventure. He wouldn't even stand on principle when he was thinking about being our country's leader. How likely is he to fall on his sword now?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

Continuing with my "walking around and taking pictures" theme, I took some of Mt. Rainier yesterday. I'm learning to use a new camera, but already I'm able to do lots of things I hadn't before. Here's a photo of the mountain that I took with the old camera. See how little contrast there is between the mountain, some its features, and the sky?

Image credit: Photos taken and processed by Cujo359

Here are a couple shots of the mountain that I took from the same location as these.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Senate Democrats Might Do Something About The Filibuster, Kinda...

Image credit: public domain/Wikimedia

Frustrated by years of "obstructionism", in which the Republicans have used the power of filibuster to block measures that the Democratic Senate caucus probably didn't want to pass anyway, the Democrats have finally focused their righteous anger and are, maybe, willing to so something thoroughly underwhelming about it. Yesterday, Talking Points Memo's Sahil Kapur writes:

Currently the minority party can mount “silent” filibusters, so long as the majority can’t muster 60 supportive votes. That means they can block a bill from moving to debate or to a final vote without necessarily occupying the floor and speaking, just like the iconic scene in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. If even a single member of the minority objects quietly to a simple-majority vote on a piece of legislation or a nominee, the majority must muster 60 votes to end debate.

The Democrats want to alter these incentives by implementing a “talking” filibuster that shifts some of the burden to the filibustering minority. The reforms under consideration would take away obstructing senators’ shortcuts in scuttling a bill, forcing them to occupy the floor and speak ceaselessly until one party or the other loses its will and gives up.

How Democrats’ Main Filibuster Reform Would Work

Don't get me wrong - this is not nothing. It does at least make the minority party earn its filibuster, making it somewhat more costly for them to block legislation, including making some poor schlub stand up and waste the Senate's time in a visible and very public manner. Sad to say, it does nothing to make it more costly for the majority party to counter.

To break a filibuster, the majority party needs to have at least 60 Senators ready to vote for it at the next opportunity. The minority party only needs to have the one speaking, and a couple of relief Senators at any time. As things stand now, that still gives the Republicans an advantage.

And that, I think, is the point. They still don't want to honk off their benefactors by doing what their supporters want.

As long as that's true, real change is worth about as much as a filibustering Senator's words.

Friday, December 7, 2012

What Pearl Harbor Should Teach Us

Caption: The mast of a United States Navy battleship near the end of the day on December 7, 1941. All the observation masts, and the radar, couldn't help America see the Japanese coming that day. That was because we didn't want to look.

Image credit: Screenshot of PBS' NOVA episode "Killer Subs In Pearl Harbor" by Cujo359 (see NOTE 1)

Once again, it's Pearl Harbor Day. Once again, I'm sure there will be people reminding us about how Pearl Harbor taught us that we should all be vigilant, and never forget, blah, blah. I've written before that there are other, perhaps more profound, lessons we can learn from our experience, and from those of the other major participants. I've also written that often times we make our judgments about history based on an incomplete or erroneous understanding of events.

Caption: Historians looked at grainy photos like this of the Pearl Harbor attack to see if a Japanese minisub managed to fire its torpedoes. Too bad we don't pay this kind of attention to the economic history of that time.

Image credit: Screenshot of PBS' NOVA episode "Killer Subs In Pearl Harbor" by Cujo359

I'm reminded of a NOVA program I saw a couple of years ago on a search some historians and World War II veterans undertook to find a missing Japanase miniature submarine that was involved in the Pearl Harbor operation. They used submersibles, computer simulations, and even a few explosions to try to figure out what might have happened to it.

Caption: Forensic engineers and explosives experts destroy a metal tube to determine how the Japanese minisub was destroyed. Nowadays, it's just not a proper television show unless you blow something up.

Image credit: Screenshot of PBS' NOVA episode "Killer Subs In Pearl Harbor" by Cujo359

You might wonder why they bothered. I think there are several reasons, but maybe the most important thing one has to do to learn the lessons of history is to understand what really went on. What that program ought to tell you is that the Japanese had some very courageous people - people who ended up serving in a cause that was based on some very bad assumptions, and that the many deaths that resulted were especially tragic in that light. There are also lessons to learn about military tactics - about how an attack that is pressed in different ways can often succeed where one based on a single approach might not. Had the Japanese only used their submarines that day, our war in the Pacific may have been much shorter, but possibly kinder to the Japanese.

Whatever lessons you try to draw, you're more likely to draw correct ones if you understand that time and the things that actually happened.

Unfortunately, the economic history of that era, which is in some ways as interesting as the reasons we became involved in World War II, is not studied with enough intensity by nearly enough people. If it weren't for Pearl Harbor, it's possible we'd still be in the Great Depression, given the attitudes among our elites both then and now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Holiday Tradition

It's that time of year, when traditionally all those established progressive blogs beg for money so they can keep going for another year. This year is no different, but I thought I'd highlight one that both needs and deserves progressives' help, Corrente. As DC Blogger noted today:
If we are to take our country back we need a place to discuss what is being done and what needs to be done. lambert, at enormous personal cost, both in terms of money and opportunity cost, has built a public square where that discussion can take place. He has created a public square where everyone is a front pager; a place where each of us can post about those things we know and care about, thus creating a treasure trove of expert commentary. But there is a limit to what sweat equity can do for our movement. lambert needs your help, please donate.

Help lambert help the rest of us save America

In contrast to quite a few blogs I could link, Corrente has never had a policy of not telling people the stuff they shouldn't hear about. They have always been honest. In America, at least, the price of honesty is that you're on your own. You don't get the big corporate contracts or the big advertising dollars, and relatively few people visit you because they might read something upsetting or unpleasant.

Instead, to keep the lights on, you're forced to write things like this:

Corrente is not part of any political tribe or faction. That makes us unusually dependent on contributions from individual readers. Won’t you help?

Help the hamsters with their winter heating bill ...

… as they power the wheels that turn the servers at The Mighty Corrente Building. Please, won’t you help them keep their cages shiny?

To which all I can say is, Dude, fusion power! It's what powers the Cujo Labs (tm). Much less trouble than hamsters, who are always demanding lettuce or fresh kibble or clean cages. We stopped using them ages ago. All you need is lots of sea water and a big magnetic field. Once Reactor Seven is online, we'll have all the backup power we need, and maybe I can turn off Reactor Five and get the furniture unstuck from the ceiling.

So, if you can help out, please consider going over there and contributing. If you can't help out, go over anyway, and say hi.

UPDATE/Afterword: I figured that I could put the extra notice (thanks, Tengrain!) this blog was receiving today to good use.

In Praise Of Coffee

Caption: Go here for an explanation of this cup's artwork.

Image credit: Cujo359

Apparently, it's safe to drink coffee again:

"What I tell patients is, if you like coffee, go ahead and drink as much as you want and can," says Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University. He's even developed a metric for monitoring your dosage: If you are having trouble sleeping, cut back on your last cup of the day. From there, he says, "If you drink that much, it's not going to do you any harm, and it might actually help you. A lot."

Officially, the American Medical Association recommends conservatively that "moderate tea or coffee drinking likely has no negative effect on health, as long as you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle." That is a lackluster endorsement in light of so much recent glowing research.

The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like

Well, yes, next to that glowing review from the Institute for Coffee, that AMA endorsement seems downright noncommittal. Still, if you don't like what nutritionists are saying about something now, just wait a few years. It used to be that we had to be concerned about all sorts of things when we were ingesting our java. Now, apparently, folks think it does more good than harm. Must be all those extra ingredients besides caffeine:

[T]hat caffeine is [not the] only mechanism behind coffee's health effects is supported by a small study of 554 Japanese adults from October that looked at coffee and green tea drinking habits in relation to the bundle of risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes known together as metabolic syndrome. Only coffee -- not tea -- was associated with reduced risk, mostly because of dramatic reductions observed in serum triglyceride levels.

The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like

I usually stop at three, or is it six? If it's those little "cups" they mark on the sides of the coffee pots, I guess we mean six. Who knows? I'm just glad I don't have to worry about that anymore. Not that I did...

I'll caution that many of the studies quoted are small, or have a very select group of people in the sample. Correlation doesn't prove cause, particularly when the correlation is seen only in a small group of college students foolish enough to participate in a medical experiment.

As always, a healthy skepticism is in order.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald explains why we have rights:

[E]ven in most of the worst tyrannies, those who are content with the status quo and who refrain from meaningfully challenging prevailing power systems are free of punishment. Rights exist to protect dissidents and those who challenge orthodoxies, not those who acquiesce to those orthodoxies or support state power; the latter group rarely needs any such protections. The effect, and intent, of this climate of fear is to force as many citizens as possible into the latter group.

The true measure of how free a society is how its dissidents are treated, not those who refrain from meaningful anti-government activism and dissent. To apply that metric to the US, just look at what the American citizens quoted in this Times article this morning are saying and doing.

Laptop seizures by US government highlight 9/11-era climate of fear

I can't think of anything to add, other than that if I had ten dollars for every American who doesn't understand this, I could buy my own island, and not have to worry if there weren't enough who give a damn anymore.

I think the rest of the article is worth reading, by the way, because it shows how our government tries to intimidate dissenters into being quiet nowadays. It's an object lesson in why the Bill of Rights exists, and why when "the people" cannot "be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures", there really is no such thing as freedom any longer.

And I will note that the things Greenwald describes in that article have almost exclusively happened during the Obama Administration. This is yet another reason when people tell me what responsible adults they were for voting for Barack Obama this year, that I am not always successful in suppressing the urge to tell them to go screw themselves and the brain-dead horse they rode in on.

At The Mall

While I was at our city's local shopping mall last night, I was confronted with this scene:

Image credit: Photo taken and processed by Cujo359

Yes, it's a farmers' market inside a shopping mall. Yes, that's a Santa Claus in there. The Farmers' Market is open during winter for the first time this year. It's hard to imagine what local products would be available there, but I'm told they grow winter vegetables here. Not too surprising given that, but for someone who is used to thinking of farmers' markets as being something that go on when the local farmers can sell their crops, it's a bit strange.

It gets stranger, though. The shopping mall is named The Commons. Yes, it's privately owned, which would seem to me to be the antithesis of something called "The Commons". There was a time when this, too, might have seemed remarkable. Now, I seem to be the only resident in a city of 85,000 who finds this at all odd.

In addition, this used to be the Borders, one of two chain bookstores in town. In Federal Way, there are few retail businesses that aren't chains, which means, of course, that this was one of two bookstores in Federal Way, assuming you don't count the Christian bookstore, or the family Christian bookstore, which I don't. Now, there is just one. The other bookstore is a fairly disappointing one, particularly if you are looking for anything to do with science, computers, or politics. Well, progressive politics, at least, is underrepresented. They stock what looks to be just about every book by Glenn Beck ever written. Maybe if we had more bookstores, more people would know what a commons is, because there'd be something to read that wasn't written by religious fanatics or lunatics.

There's something quintessentially early Twenty-First Century American about a farmers' market operating in a shopping mall named The Commons in the middle of winter in place of one of the few bookstores that once existed here. It's almost as though cognitive dissonance is just another price you pay to live here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Quote Of The Day

"Lying is a skill like any other. And if you want to maintain a level of excellence, you have to practice constantly." - Garak

That classic line, uttered by "retired" spy Garak in an episode of Deep Space Nine, came to mind today as I was reading today's column by Glenn Greenwald. In that bit of dialogue, Worf, with whom Garak has been talking, doesn't believe a word he says, even though he sounds convincing. Why would anyone do otherwise, you'd wonder? In that context, Greenwald asks a very good question today, regarding the promise of some members of the so-called "progressive" press to start being harder on President Obama, now that he's not eligible for re-election any longer:

Over the past four years, they have justified their supine, obsequious posture toward the nation's most powerful political official by appealing to the imperatives of electoral politics: namely, it's vital to support rather than undermine Obama so as to not help Republicans win elections. Why won't that same mindset operate now to suppress criticisms of the Democratic leader?

Progressive media claims they'll be 'tougher' on Obama now

Why indeed? As Greenwald goes on to point out, these people still have plenty of motivation to continue ignoring these issues, and few to tackle them. If they really feel strongly about any of Obama's rather numerous failures to restrain the security state, help the nation recover from the 2008 crash and punish those guilty of causing it, renouncing torture and imprisonment without trial (in deed as well as words), or ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan any sooner than had already been negotiated, why in the world wouldn't they have said something before now?

Plus, quite frankly, the time to influence Barack Obama about anything is over. He has absolutely no motivation now to do anything beyond what will allow him to cash in on his influence after he's left, much as Bill Clinton has done. That means he's going to do what the rich want, not us. This is so obvious a point that, were I not addressing a progressive audience, it would almost seem superfluous.

But, I am addressing progressives, or at least I would if any were interested in reading about what idiots they've been the last few years. That means that I have to point out the obvious, which is that lying is both a skill and a habit, and these folks have been lying to us for years, so we don't go all stupid and do the wrong thing. Why in the world would we trust them now?

I don't know what's sadder - that people who are supposed to be informing us about what's going on in politics are so clueless that they think this change matters, and that they are capable of accomplishing it, or that so many progressives are clearly foolish enough to think that being treated this way makes sense.

UPDATE/Afterword: I forgot to add this bit of wisdom from that Greenwald article:

Once you vow unconditional, permanent loyalty to a politician and a party - once you demonstrate that you will support them no matter what they do - why would you possibly expect that they will do anything but ignore you? A rational politician, by definition, pays attention to those whose support is conditional and uncertain, not to those who loudly proclaim that it is a solemn duty to support that politician and his party under all circumstances. That's just the basic rules governing how power works, of negotiations and politics: those who eagerly renounce all their leverage make themselves inconsequential and impotent.

Progressive media claims they'll be 'tougher' on Obama now
I have written this countless times, and explained at length, and often, why it's true. Yet I have had arguments with progressives where they'd claim exactly the opposite - that only unfailing loyalty is rewarded. The phenomenon Greenwald refers to is as ubiquitous and self-evident as the relationship between mass and gravity, yet these people argue that it is not true. This is why I laugh and cry simultaneously when progressives talk about how stupid conservatives are. The sad truth is that, when it comes to politics at least, the average progressive makes the average sack of hammers look like an extra-large shipment of artificial intelligence.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday Photos

Caption: The "B", or rear end, of the former Great Northern caboose X294, now on exhibit at the Iron Goat Trail, in the Stevens Pass, Washington.

Image credit: All photos taken and processed by Cujo359

On the Iron Goat Trail, near Wellington, Washington is a park that gives 21st Century tourists a glimpse into the world and technology of a century ago. It is along this trail that an older version of the Great Northern railway, now part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, was once constructed, as this park sign illustrates:

[click to enlarge, and the image of the clumsy photographer will be less noticeable.]