Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Airliners Of The Future?

[The Sky Sailor (PDF) experimental solar-powered aircraft design. It's designed to operate autonomously in the Martian atmosphere. Image credit: Blazing Wings.]

There was an interesting bit of news in the New York Times today about biofuels:

Air New Zealand tested a jet fuel made from the jatropha plant on Tuesday as the airline searches for an affordable and environmentally friendly alternative to crude oil.

For two hours, pilots tested the oil, in a 50-50 blend with conventional jet fuel in one of the four Rolls-Royce engines powering a Boeing 747-400 aircraft — the first test flight by a commercial airline using jatropha oil.

Airline Flies a 747 on Fuel From a Plant

In contrast to other biofuel sources like corn, jatropha is easy to grow:

Unlike other biofuel crops like soybeans and corn, jatropha needs little water or fertilizer and can be grown almost anywhere — even in sandy, saline or otherwise infertile soil. Each seed produces 30 to 40 percent of its mass in oil, giving it a high per-acre yield, specialists said.

Airline Flies a 747 on Fuel From a Plant

There's a site called Jatropha World, which promotes the growing of jatropha for biofuels, among other uses. It even has a form page that has individual reports on how the plant can be grown in a number of countries. From the look of the list of countries, a tropical or subtropical climate is required. Nevertheless, that includes quite a few countries, including India and Australia, that can grow the stuff.

Maybe the most significant part of the NYT report is buried at the bottom of the article:

The International Air Transport Association, which represents 230 airlines, wants its members to use 10 percent alternative fuels by 2017. The association has the goal that airlines will be able to fly carbon-free in 50 years, with the help of technologies like fuel cells and solar energy.

Airline Flies a 747 on Fuel From a Plant

Since airliners typically have a useful life of thirty years or so, this would imply that the next generation of airliners will have to include at least some carbon-free designs. Whether that will be possible remains to be seen, since jet engines don't run on either solar energy or fuel cells. I'm not aware of any such designs now. The only things I'm aware of are experimental designs. These are low powered, and more like gliders with small engines than commercial airliners. It's quite an ambitious goal, given the circumstances.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards VIII Boldly Goes

Where only nonsense has gone before. Ames at Submitted To A Candid World has shoved the Carnival Of The Elitist Bastards out of spacedock and onto your computer screen. Yours truly has contributed a sensor sweep to the mission.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Resting Again

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Looks like hostilities ceased just in time. Imagine that.

For the next couple of weeks, this blog will be on a reduced schedule. I expect to be out of touch with the Internet for much of that time, so posting will be spotty at best. Be safe, and if I don't post before then, let me wish everyone a Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Art Happens

Image credit: Cujo359

Ever helpful, yesterday the city of Federal Way sent a plow through our neighborhood. It made a single pass, leaving a big pile of snow in the center of the street and several inches of slush in the road. Thanks to his efforts, cars were sliding up and down the street the rest of the evening. I wonder which city councilman's idiot nephew was at the controls of that one.

Not being one to miss a chance to make lemonade when someone leaves a pile of lemons in the street, I took some of the middling size snow balls the plow left and stacked them to make a snow sculpture. In honor of our recent alliance, I call it Bear and Puppy.

It could be worse, at least according to Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I could be living in Seattle:

I drove with a friend down to Kent early Saturday afternoon after the first substantial snowfall and just before the big one. It was slow, rutty and snowy all the way down Martin Luther King Jr. Way South. In Kent, however, not only the West Valley Highway, but secondary arterials were snow free as well.

"When you get out of Seattle, you can drive again," said my friend, who lives in Bothell.
Are we maybe too mellow and accommodating in the Emerald City? The political class keeps coming at us with pricey bond issues. With voters going along, property taxes have been hiked, a parking tax imposed, sales tax repeatedly increased, and a plastic bag fee in the offing.

It's Time To Get Angry About City's Response To Snow

The short answer is, hell, yes you're too mellow. There's been enough wasted money and nonsensical projects in Seattle to build a city with just since I've lived in the region. I'm increasingly glad I don't live there. Federal Way is bad enough.

If you're celebrating Christmas, have a good one. If you're celebrating something else, enjoy that. Or just have a good day, whichever applies.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Too Many Fronts

Only an idiot would fight a war on two fronts. - Londo Mollari

War on two fronts - bad idea. - Sun Tzu (loose translation)

It seems that the cats have finally overextended themselves. Just when they renewed their war with mice, they found out that we're way beyond them technologically. They tried to make it sound like good strategy, but dividing your resources never is. Just ask this guy. Well, ask him when he starts speaking coherently.

I think that we and the cats have been played:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Face it, who else benefits from a war between dogs and cats?

They've asked for a truce, and we've agreed. We canines love the Winter solstice. It's a time of renewal and hope. Who wants to fight a war now, of all times?

Maybe soon, households that have been divided:

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Can be re-united:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

We can hope, anyway. Dogs are optimists, after all.

UPDATE: For now, the truce is holding.

Here's Some Sweetness And Light

Image credit: MSNBC

No, the sweetness and light isn't the picture of the pretty lady. It's the fact that this pretty lady knows how to do journalism, which is a rare talent at her place of employment. Rachel Maddow showed the rest of NBC how journalism is done, as David Sirota explains:

Last night, Rachel Maddow did something I never thought I'd see a journalist do: In the name of transparency, she went back and clarified that a bailout-justifying guest of hers actually had a blatant conflict of interest. Watch the clip here.

On Monday, Maddow had on Berkley professor Laura Tyson to talk about the bailout. You can watch that clip here. As you'll see, Tyson defended the firms that have received bailout money, saying they are not at fault in either how they are using the money, or in how they are refusing to answer questions about their use of the money. She also insisted that companies that get bailout money should be able to keep paying dividends to their shareholders.

Yet, Tyson didn’t tell viewers that she sits on the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, a bank that has received $10 billion in bailout money. That’s right - according to Morgan Stanley’s SEC filings, Tyson makes about $350,000 a year from Morgan Stanley in total compensation from that position, and she now owns about 79,000 shares of the company.
Thankfully, when I pointed Tyson's conflict of interest out to Maddow and her show's staff, they did the responsible thing and made a big effort to inform viewers about what happened. Indeed, in doing this follow-up piece, the Rachel Maddow Show displayed the kind of integrity and respect for their audience that is almost unheard of in political journalism.

Maddow Busts Morgan Stanley Board Member for Lack of Transparency

[links from original]

Contrast this with NBC spokesmodel Brian Williams' behavior when he was questioned about the conflict of interest inherent in his good buddy Barry McCaffrey's working for the defense industry he was commenting on:

In fact, the only time NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams ever dealt with the subject publicly came in a brief mention in his blog, nine days after Barstow’s original piece. In that posting, McCaffrey was one of just two generals who Williams specifically defended, explaining that he had become a close friend of McCaffrey. “I can only account for the men I know best,” wrote Williams, but he was sure that at “no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers."

Above the Fold: Kaiser On NBC News And The Military-Industrial Complex

That quote came by way of an article I wrote at the beginning of this month, entitled "Only Those With A Conscience Can Feel Shame". Rachel Maddow's conscience, at least, seems to be working just fine.

(h/t Eli at Multi Medium.)

Fun With Sitemeter

Sitemeter showed me this interesting visit from someone this morning:

Click on the image if you find it hard to read. If you're still finding it hard to read, here's what it's saying:

Someone visited here via Lotus's funny post about Bacolicio, a site that superimposes a strip of bacon on top of a site. Umm, well, from the comments in this article, actually. Here's a sample using an appropriate site. That's what the "Referring URL" line is about. The "Entry Page" means that they first arrived here at the main page. The "Exit Page" line is the other interesting one. What it's saying is that someone did a search on the site for the phrase sweetness and light.

Ha, ha. If you want sweetness and light, Pal, you came to the wrong century.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It Never Ends ...

Today, I received an e-mail from the ACLU. Many charities ask for money at the end of the year, and pretty much any time of year. What makes this one particularly troubling is the reason they say they're coming up short:

In the last couple of weeks, however, we've been hit hard in a way that no one could forecast. You have, no doubt, heard about the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme in which investors have been horribly defrauded of up to $50 billion. What you may not know is that two foundations that have been incredibly generous and longstanding supporters of our national security and reproductive freedom work have been victimized by the Madoff scandal -- forced to close their doors and terminate their grants.

That means that $850,000 in support we were counting on from these foundations in 2009 simply won't exist. We're dealing with that reality and remain committed to continuing our critical work in these areas. But, as you can imagine, the year-end donations of you and other ACLU supporters are now more important than ever.

Please help the ACLU meet critical civil liberties needs in early 2009. Please make a year-end donation now.

I was not familiar with this particular fraud. I was aware that this is one of the many ways that the Bush Administration have been falling down on the job. Enron continued under their watch, and the banking crisis started on theirs. Both of these frauds, and others, were due to the deregulation and neglect of the agencies charged with enforcing regulation that the Republicans have been responsible for. Screwing the ACLU and other progressive nonprofits must be a real plus from their perspective.

A New York Times article on the Madoff scam explains:

Then, [Madoff] and his promoters set sights on Europe, again framing the investments as memberships in a select club. A Swiss hedge fund manager, Michel Dominic√©, still remembers the pitch he got a few years ago from a salesman in Geneva. “He told me the fund was closed, that it was something I couldn’t buy,” Mr. Dominic√© said. “But he told me he might have a way to get me in. It was weird.”

Mr. Madoff’s agents next cut a cash-gathering swath through the Persian Gulf, then Southeast Asia. Finally, they were hurtling with undignified speed toward China, with invitations to invest that were more desperate, less exclusive. One Beijing businessman who was approached said it seemed the Madoff funds were being pitched “to anyone who would listen.”

The juggernaut began to sputter this fall as investors, rattled by the financial crisis and reaching for cash, started taking money out faster than Mr. Madoff could bring fresh cash in the door. He was arrested on Dec. 11 at his Manhattan apartment and charged with securities fraud, turned in the night before by his sons after he told them his entire business was “a giant Ponzi scheme.”
Mr. Madoff’s game was ... [t]he first worldwide Ponzi scheme — a fraud that lasted longer, reached wider and cut deeper than any similar scheme in history, entirely eclipsing the puny regional ambitions of Charles Ponzi, the Boston swindler who gave his name to the scheme nearly a century ago.

“Absolutely — there has been nothing like this, nothing that we could call truly global,” said Mitchell Zuckoff, the author of “Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend” and a professor at Boston University. These classic schemes typically prey on local trust, he added. “So this says what we increasingly know to be true about the world: The barriers have come down; money knows no borders, no limits.”

Madoff Scheme Kept Rippling Outward, Across Borders

The magnitude of this scam is breathtaking. In an editorial, the Hartford Courant writes of this scheme:

Losses from financier Bernard L. Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme could total $50 billion, a number that could set a new record for fraud on Wall Street, and maybe in the world. At least as astonishing is the extent to which Mr. Madoff was able to exploit trust as an essential currency.
Mr. Madoff's client list included film director Steven Spielberg's charity; trusts tied to real estate magnate and New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman and DreamWorks partner Jeffrey Katzenberg; the foundation of Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; pension funds; and several European banks.

Mr. Madoff's Ponzi Scheme

What's a Ponzi scheme? Elizabeth Eng at Associated Content explains in context:

A Ponzi scheme, defined as a "fraudulent investment scheme that involves promising high returns to early investors out of the money paid in by later investors" (says Ignatius Reilly at Right Pundits), was named for Charles Ponzi, the infamous 1920s swindler. A modern day Ponzi scheme was apparently perpetrated by investor Bernard Madoff -- by his own admission -- as the head of a hedge fund off Wall Street was arrested today for allegations of the financial fraud.
To elaborate a bit more on the workings of a Ponzi scheme, it entails seeking a continuous flow of investors. The business makes money when you get more investors to sink their money into the Ponzi scheme, under the false pretense that they are investing in a business that will be generating profit, continuing to produce money for them in the long term.

Bernard Madoff: 'Ponzi Scheme' Defined

If this sounds a lot like how Amway works, you're close. Amway is typically described as a pyramid scheme, since the early investors need more investors to follow them in order to profit.

Where was the Securities and Exchange Commission while this was going on? Fast asleep in its office, it would seem:

The Securities and Exchange Commission, however, dropped the ball. On Tuesday, Chairman Christopher Cox acknowledged that the SEC had credible, specific allegations about the scheme nine years ago, but "relied on information voluntarily produced by Mr. Madoff and his firm" rather than its subpoena powers.

Mr. Madoff's Ponzi Scheme

They waited nine years for the bottom to fall out.

It never ends, does it? In a way, it feels like the whole economy is one big Ponzi scheme right now - keep shoveling enough money into it and hope that it doesn't leak more through corruption and stupidity. How many more years will we have to pay for what these greedy little bastards and the corrupt politicians they sent to DC have done? The rest of our lives, probably.

Meanwhile, there are a whole bunch of charities and others who are going to be strapped for cash in the short term. So, since it's the holiday season, why not give a little to try to restore our freedoms. I hope my relatives will appreciate my giving on their behalf in lieu of presents they probably wouldn't have liked, anyway.

Good Karma Floats

Thanks to the Bush war on science, there has been a steady flow of refugee scientists and engineers to the Cujo Labs in the last few years. The humans' inability to deal with reality has benefited us enormously. One technology under development that has both military and civilian applications is anti-gravity:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Our courageous volunteers have paid a price for perfecting this technology. Often, the damage is both physical and psychological:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

So far, all the cats have been able to produce in this field are some rather obviously fake photos:

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Canine generosity and human ingenuity are keeping us ahead. While the horrid winter campaign continues, we can hope for an advantage in the future.

Is It White Enough Yet?

Image credit: Cujo359. This is what my back yard looked like yesterday. Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.

For all the people who live in the Pacific Northwest and complain about not having white Christmases, I hope you're satisfied now. Me, I'd just like to be able to drive to the grocery store. I'm shoveling the fracking street so I can get my car in the driveway.

Bah, humbug.

Generosity Has Its Rewards

Apparently, all that help I gave the Malaysians, the Japanese bankers, and the Indian widows has paid off. I will soon be the proud driver of a car that's even worse on snow than my current ride:

BMW Automobiles House.
22 Garden Close, Edmonton, Lincs,
PE9 2YP, London,
United Kingdom.

23rd December 2008


Attention:- "Winner No.6"

We look beyond the constraints of conventional thinking to create new possibilities World wide. We strive to live the brand, constantly learning and transferring knowledge and improving living standard across the Globe. We are pioneering and we set truly global benchmarks. In achieving these things, we endeavour to human progress.

As one of the world’s leading companies, we have a responsibility to set high standards: to be, and be seen to be, a business which is committed to integrity. In a complex global business environment like ours, that’s not always easy. Our code of conduct is designed to help us achieve this goal.

In veiw of this Bavarian Motor Works (Commonly reffered as BMW) is informing you that you have been selected for a cash prize of £150,000.00 (One hundred and fifty thousand Great British Pounds) from the BMW AUTOMOBILE GROUP 2008 XMAS BONANZER PROMO held today 23rd DECEMBER 2008 here in London United Kingdom.

The selection process was carried out through random selection in our computerized email selection system(ess) from a database of over 250,000 email addresses drawn from all the continents of the world which you were selected.

The BMW e-Lottery is approved by the British Gaming Board and also Licensed by the International Association of Gaming Regulators (IAGR). This promotional lottery is the 5th of its kind and we intend to sensitize the public.

To begin the processing of your prize you are to contact our fiduciary claims department for more information as regards procedures to claim your prize.
Mr.Phil D Smith.
Tel: +XXXXXXX XXXXX (You should not hesitate to call if you need any further clarification)

Contact him by providing him with your File No. DRT40098KY2008 and your Reference Number BMW570PLMK-4523.You are also advised to provide him with the under listed information's as soon as possible:

1.Name in full.---------------------------------
6.Mobile Telephone Number.--------------
7.Present Country.----------------------------
9.Fax [optional].--------------------------------
10.Email address. ----------------------------

Please you are advised in receipt of this NOTIFICATION to provide him with the above listed details of yours as soon as possible to speed up with the processing of your prize winnings.

Congratulations once again from all BMW staff and thank you for being part of our promotional program.


The Altimate Driving Machine

[Apologies to BMW for the image, but it was part of the e-mail.]

Yes, yet another scam e-mail sent to a clearly fictitious e-mail address wanting to know who that person is. (Funny how none of these ever reach my Earthlink address that contains my real name.) I've left the very official-looking address and name, but it's certain these aren't valid. I've removed the telephone number and e-mail address for obvious reasons.

I don't know who these folks really are, but they're not BMW. Once again, this is clearly written by someone for whom English is a challenge. The e-mail address is for some Spanish-language version of Yahoo, it appears.

Needless to say, don't be fooled if you get one of these. And like the e-mail says, Happy Holidays.

Dear Blogger, WTF, Over?

A spam production line. Seems like nowadays everything is made of spam.

Image credit HaYnCaNdi808 (See NOTE below).

For reasons that defy logic, Bustednuckles' blog Ornery Bastard has been (mis)identified as a spam blog by Blogger's googlebots:

What. The. Hell?

Not only do I not have any Idea of how to go about Spamming anyone, why the Hell would I want to do that in the first place?
I freaking HATE Spammers!!

Here is the message I just got, they are actually threatening to delete my fucking Blog.

Your blog is marked as spam

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What's a spam blog?) Since you're an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy, and we sincerely apologize for this false positive.

Google Says I am A Spammer

I think their "spam-prevention robots" need a little tuning. Does this sound like spam to you?

This morning, here we go again. Not as much ice, lots of snow.

Oh. and they never got around to plowing the highway. Fun Fun. 25-30 miles an hour but I got to work and boy howdy did I find a nightmare when I got here.
Feet of snow and inches of ice on all the Big Rigs.
My buddy drove fifty miles in that shit to get to work.

The first thing he did was pull his truck in and grab some tire chains that we have in a barrel for spares.
He wrapped one around his tire, measured it and cut off the excess. Did the other one and then it was my turn.

More Of The Same

or this?

Start packing yer shit Stupie and get the fuck out of my Whitehouse.

Consider this to be yer eviction notice.

Thirty Days

Spam just naturally honks people off. Very little of it is likely to use Bustednuckles' narrative style to make a point.

Once you guys have fixed that, how about working on the "Links to this article" feature? It works about as well as your anti-spam robots these days.

NOTE: This site is in no way associated with the Hormel Foods Corporation, nor is the use of the image here intended to denigrate this product in any way. Its only intended use is humor.

Amazing And Insulting

Here I was trying to put myself to sleep by reading blogs, and I ran into this:

* Roseanne Barr, Roseanne World
* Gore Vidal, New York Times Magazine
* Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos
* PZ Myers, Pharyngula
* Baliyya, Daily Kos
* Gloria Steinem, The Observer
* Peter Nuhn, No God Blog
* Paul Waldman, American Prospect
* Chris Bowers, Open Left
* Revd Amy, No Quarter

The Daily Dish Voting Booth: Moore Award 2008

This is an "award" that The Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan for the "divisive, bitter and intemperate left-wing rhetoric". Yes, for some reason, Andrew Sullivan thinks Chris Bowers is divisive.

For crying out loud, Andrew, there must be a thousand bloggers who are more intemperate than Chris Bowers. Hell, I'm more divisive than Chris Bowers. I don't know whether to be amazed or insulted.

Having an opinion and stating it plainly doesn't make you divisive. Talking shit about people because they disagree with you is.

While we're at it, who cares if Rosanne Barr is intemperate, and what makes her left-wing, other than that she's one of those rare celebrities who are actually acquainted with people who work for a living?

I think maybe I should start a "World's Biggest Egotistical Git" award. If I do, you can bet Andrew Sullivan will be on the ballot.

(h/t P.Z. Myers, who's very pleased with his nomination.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Third Way?

Updated below on Dec. 23.

By now, if you read more than a couple of the blogs on my blog roll, you've read about this already:

This is Jennifer Palmieri, acting CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Most readers know that the views expressed on Matt’s blog are his own and don’t always reflect the views of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Such is the case with regard to Matt’s comments about Third Way. Our institution has partnered with Third Way on a number of important projects - including a homeland security transition project - and have a great deal of respect for their critical thinking and excellent work product. They are key leaders in the progressive movement and we look forward to working with them in the future.

A Special Note Re: Third Way

This article was put onto Matt Yglesias' blog by Palmieri. To my way of thinking, and to that of many of the commenters to that article, she was stating the blindingly obvious, which is that the articles on Yglesias' blog contain his opinions, which are not the official position of Think Progress or the Center For American Progress, which funds the site. Since most readers of the blog are smart enough to know this, the question that occured to many was why this needed to be said. This comment expressed a fairly typical sentiment, albeit in an atypically clear manner:

I don’t have a problem with clarifications like this per se, as long as they’re unaccompanied by pressure that Matt self-censor or moderate his statements. I read the blog because I trust him as an independent journalist, and any doubts I might have about his independence undermines the value of the Web site (not to mention my goodwill toward CAP.)

It’s hard for me to believe, after a late-night intrusion like this, that he’ll feel no pressure to self-censor.

A Special Note Re: Third Way

Which is basically how I feel about this. Matt Yglesias later wrote his own reaction to this post:

I wish the guest post from Jennifer Palmieri that I put up Sunday evening had been handled differently in a variety of ways since just sticking it on the blog and then going to bed seems to have given people a lot of misleading notions about the site being somehow “hijacked.” But when you get right down to it, all she was doing was reiterating what’s always been the case — I’m posting un-screened posts on an un-edited blog and covering every issue under the sun. Under the circumstances, it’s better for me, better for CAP and CAPAF, and better for everyone to understand that I’m writing as an individual not as the voice of the institution. Pointing that fact out isn’t contrary to me having an independent voice, it’s integral to having one. Nobody has deleted my post criticizing Third Way, or forced me to retract those criticisms, or prevented me from following up with a more substantive critique of something they wrote.

Teach the Controversy

This, plus the fact that the next article that Matt wrote on Third Way didn't strike me as different in tone or content from his previous ones, leads me to believe that this was just a rather foolish gesture on Palmieri's part.

This begs the question, though, of just what it is she was making that gesture for.

Third Way, if their website is any indication, appear to be another of those tiresome "message shaping" firms of which there are far too many of in DC. This particular one, despite calling itself progressive, has some views that don't strike me as very progressive. Here's what Yglesias originally wrote that started this furor:

Third Way is a neat organization — I used to work across the hall from them. And they do a lot of clever messaging stuff that a lot of candidates find very useful. But their domestic policy agenda is hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. There are a variety of issues that they have nothing whatsoever to say on, and what policy ideas they do have are laughable in comparison to the scale of the problems they allegedly address. Which is fine, because Third Way isn’t really a “public policy think tank” at all, it’s a messaging and political tactics outfit. But Barack Obama’s policy proposals aren’t like that. At all. Nor do personnel on his policy teams — including the more ideologically moderate members — stand for anything that’s remotely as weak a brew as the stuff Third Way puts out. And yet, Third Way loves Barack Obama and says he’s a moderate just like them. Which is great. But everyone needs to see that these things are moving in two directions simultaneously. At the very same time Obama is disappointing progressive supporters on a number of fronts, he’s also bringing moderates on board for things that are way more ambitious than anything they were endorsing two or three years ago.

The New Moderate

What does he mean by a "weak brew"? Let me give you an example. I've been reading what Third Way bills as a manual for the Homeland Security transition team. In a nutshell, it's thirty pages of wankery. Here are the basic steps it recommends:

➤ Make selection of the DHS Secretary a Tier 1 choice, announced along with the first wave of appointees (Treasury, Defense, etc.).
➤ Engage early and often with the Bush administration security team and transition council.
➤ Conduct a table-top exercise with the new leadership team prior to the inauguration to clarify roles and responsibilities in the event of a terrorist attack.
➤ Integrate the existing White House Homeland Security Council within the National Security and Domestic Policy Councils, but maintain an Assistant to the President (and Deputy National Security Advisor) to oversee homeland security policy functions.
➤ Organize a homeland security summit within the first 100 days, bringing together federal, state, local, and private sector leaders to review the state of intergovernmental cooperation and public-private partnership, particularly in light of the unfolding economic crisis.

Homeland Security Presidential Transition Initiative (PDF)

See anything that isn't blindingly obvious there, assuming you think homeland security is a priority? I suppose the "table top exercise" might be a good idea, since it's nearly inevitable that when positions are actually filled with real people they have trouble figuring out who's doing what. The rest of it is just DC mumbo-jumbo. What follows these bullet points is twenty-seven more pages of such pap, consisting mainly of recommendations on when to hold meetings and visits. Occasionally, they'll address issues like what it is that people are supposed to talk about at these meetings, usually in the most general terms they can manage. Someone with half Obama's IQ, which is a group of people that almost certainly includes John McCain, would have known most of this already.

The only thing about this that I take seriously is that someone actually bothered to write it down. What a waste of time, money, and paper.

As Dana Hunter observed, Third Way was a big supporter of telecomm immunity. How do you solve the energy crisis? Why, nuclear power, of course. Matt's description of their ideas on retirement plans, which is basically that they're warmed over nonsense, strikes me as more restrained than is merited. While they look better on issues like abortion and gay rights, on the whole these guys aren't doing the progressive movement any favors.

In retrospect, Matt Yglesias having not explained why a post ended up on his blog that he didn't write has given me a glimpse into the machinations of what passes for our progressive infrastructure. It turns out to be as flimsy as a bridge that hasn't been maintained for decades. The next time someone asks me why progressives can't make any headway, even when they allegedly have the power, I'll point them to this site.

UPDATE (Dec. 23): Fixed the link to that Third Way "manual". Now you can be impressed by it as I was.

UPDATE 2: Ezra Klein adds some context to all this:

CAP is not a blog publisher. They are a think tank. They are the nerve center of the Democratic governing class. Their president has led Obama's transition effort. It's fairly uncharted territory for a think tank of that prestige -- indeed, of any prestige at all -- to hire a young progressive blogger and let him retain his voice on their site. Brookings doesn't do it, and nor does EPI, or Heritage, or the Urban Institute, or the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. But CAP is following a model in which they provide income support to promising progressives so their work isn't lost to law school or the commercial sector. That requires giving them a fair bit of editorial freedom, which will inevitably lead to conflicts and uncomfortable moments. As Ben Smith says, there are real consequences if Third Way is seen to be disfavored by CAP. And CAP has to balance that against their desire to support bloggers.

The fact that Palmieri's message was public is, I think, a good sign. It's transparent. They could have called Matt into the president's office, explained that he would never ever write anything like that ever again, and the editorial intervention would have been simultaneously invisible to readers -- no one would be criticizing CAP -- and much more pernicious. They did not do that.

Blogging And Independence

The truth is that there are times when employers find that publicly slapping down an employee is a useful technique, but I don't think that's what was going on here. My point about how this was handled was simply that it was handled clumsily. As a result, people rightly questioned why someone was stating the obvious on someone else's blog. Matt Yglesias and Jennifer Palmieri both made mistakes handling this, and hopefully they will learn from them.

The rest of us, meanwhile, learned a little something about how progressive institutions work these days.

As Winter Drags On

As the winter drags on, our morale remains high:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

While our adversaries' appears to be waning:

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Our success is not assured, however. Our most important allies in this campaign are taking the effort less seriously than we'd like:

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Every battle plan has its flaws.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On The Home Front

The winter campaign continues, albeit with setbacks. Meanwhile, we still look for allies. We've been trying to enlist the help of the humans. They have many qualities we need - resilience, ingenuity, opposable thumbs. So far, the results have been mixed. We gained the trust of the human scientists who were made refugees by the war on science by taking them in at the Cujo Labs, but that may not be enough.

The PR department has come up with a new poster:

Which Is Safer For Your Family?

Feline Domination,

Or Canine Friendship?

Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger, I Has A Hot Dog

It's not terribly subtle, but these days the humans don't seem to be into subtlety.

Meanwhile, thanks to the media blackout, many seem astonishingly unaware of the struggle in their midst:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

We long for the days when we weren't sure if cats were playing with our minds.

Happy Solstice 2008

This is Stonehenge, in weather that seems appropriate for this time of year. In at least one of its incarnations, Stonehenge pointed to the spot on the horizon where the Sun would rise on the winter solstice. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

It's been quite a year, hasn't it? The stock market crashed, followed by the banks. The only thing we can take heart in is that soon we'll have a leader who can speak in complete sentences. Still, that's something, I suppose.

In the northern hemisphere, today is the winter solstice. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year, so things will just be getting brighter from here on out. That's why just about every major religion celebrates the solstice, even though some won't admit it.

UPDATE: A number of druids, pagans, and others showed up at Stonehenge today to mark the winter solstice:

Hundreds of druids, pagans and tourists braved the gloomy weather to gather at Stonehenge on Sunday morning to celebrate the winter solstice.

The mystical stones attracted a crowd of 1,900 people, with some dressed in cloaks and robes, to see sunrise at the prehistoric site in Wiltshire.

The winter solstice is a pagan celebration held on the shortest day of the year.

Druids mark solstice at Stonehenge

(h/t Lotus at Folo)

UPDATE 2 (Dec. 22): Now that I have the time to search for a picture of Stonehenge in snow, here you are, Dana:

Snow even improves the look of a big set of stone blocks in the middle of a field.

Image credit: English Heritage

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Winter Campaign

While we try to compensate for our natural disadvantages in psychological warfare, the winter campaign has begun in earnest. Training is rigorous:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Despite our natural advantages, the campaign has been difficult:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

And the casualties mount:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Down To The Wire

The race for U.S. Senator in Minnesota is coming down to the wire, it would appear. Incumbent Senator Norm Coleman has been losing ground steadily, and now appears to be behind challenger Al Franken, Nate Silver of Five Thirty-Eight explains:

Minnesota's Canvassing Board this afternoon completed the bulk of its review of challenged ballots. The Canvassing Board ruled upon 1,325 challenges, according to numbers prepared by the Star Tribune, including 852 challenges brought by the Coleman campaign and 472 brought by the Franken campaign. Among these 1,325 ballots, 758 were allocated to Franken, 319 to Coleman, and 248 ballots were assigned to third-party candidates or deemed to be illegal. This resulted in a net gain of 439 votes for Franken, giving him a nominal lead of 251 ballots.

Franken's lead is almost certain to diminish once the Canvassing Board reviews more than 5,000 withdrawn challenges, and defaults them to the rulings originally made at the county level.

Franken is Winning, and Coleman Knows It

There's still a lot of vote counting and arguing to go, however. At this point, it looks like Minnesota will have a Senator Al Franken soon.

One difference you'll notice between this process and the one that went on in Florida in 2000 following a close race for President is that it's being taken seriously by the state government. They're counting the votes, including a few that I'd have trouble deciding, and they're finding the ones they missed the first time around. Part of the reason for that is that the Democratic Party has learned to take the state offices that control elections seriously, as this e-mail from ActBlue explains:

As you read this, canvass boards in Minnesota are scrutinizing hundreds of ballots to make sure that every vote is counted. Why? Because Secretary of State Project candidate Mark Ritchie is making sure that the election for Minnesota's Senate seat is handled with the transparency and fairness Americans expect.

Despite a razor-thin margin of victory and hundreds of ballots missing or uncounted, Republican Norm Coleman declared victory in November and tried to rush back to Washington. Secretary Ritchie did the right thing for the people of Minnesota and pushed ahead with a recount. Ritchie has protected election officials from Republican harassment and ordered the examination of absentee ballots, searching for those that were wrongfully excluded from the count. So far, the process has turned up approximately 1600 ballots, many of which are expected to favor Democrat Al Franken.

In many states, including Washington, the Secretary of State is in charge of election management, in cooperation with the county boards of elections. Florida's SoS was political hack Katharine Harris. In Washington, we had a very close election for governor in 2004, which was initially won by the Republican candidate, Dino Rossi. After two recounts, it was determined that Christine Gregoire had won by less than 200 votes. Our state was lucky enough to have an honest Republican, Sam Reed, in charge of this process.

In at least three statewide elections in the last three years, the difference has turned out to be less than three hundred votes out of millions cast. I draw two conclusions from this. First, your vote really does count. It won't always matter, but sometimes it does. In each of these three elections, if five hundred of the loser's supporters had shown up that day instead of blowing the election off, the outcome would have been different. Second, all votes should be counted fairly, and the Democrats have been right to emphasize this. Let's hope that emphasis continues, and is embraced by more Republican Party politicians as well.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What's The Point?

Over at Brilliant At Breakfast, Jill sums up Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration:

I understand why the consultants at Camp Obama felt that this would be a way of reaching out to those who didn't vote for their guy -- a brief moment in time to say "We hear you" before working to enact policies that they might otherwise oppose. There's only one problem. It won't work. And what I don't understand is how you get from reaching out to a hatemonger like Rick Warren, who thinks gays are like child molesters and people like me are holding an express bus ticket to hell and that women cease to be human once they become vessels for embryos, constitutes "inclusiveness." I don't understand why "inclusiveness" means you get to throw one group who has actually supported you under the bus, embracing those who want to exclude that group from one of the fundamental institutions of American life, in the name of "changing the discourse."

Sorry, President-Elect Obama, you blew it big time with this one

It's simply amazing that almost every extended family knows that one of the things you try not to talk about at family gatherings is religion, and yet every politician seems to want to put it front and center these days. Did the state of Washington's little experience with religious diversity (and the resulting intolerance) teach us nothing?

Apparently not. In the interest of reaching out to people who wouldn't give him the time of day, the President-elect has piddled on some of his best supporters.

Couldn't we just listen to the new President's speech and then move on to the inevitable disappointment without all this nonsense?

UPDATE: Kathryn Kolbert, president of People For The American Way, had this to say about Rick Warren in an e-mail today:

We strongly agree with President-elect Obama that everyone should have a seat at the table, but only those who treat others with respect should get a seat of honor. We have high hopes for the change Obama has pledged to bring to Washington, but we also need to let him know when we think he's making a bad move. Please join me in signing an open letter to President-elect Obama to let him know that we are disappointed that he's giving Rev. Warren such a public position of honor in the inauguration, and we hope that we can use this as a teachable moment. It's not that Rick Warren simply disagrees with us -- and President-elect Obama for that matter -- on "issues." His views on basic equality, human rights and core constitutional values cannot be legitimized as reasonable.

I've added the link to the online open letter page.

Revelations And Adjustments

Intelligence reports indicate that, far from being a sudden misunderstanding, this war has been planned for some time by our adversaries. The ruthlessness of this plan has many taken aback. While I was remarking on the cats' use of genetic mutations, and lamenting the callousness of such a thing, my director of biology said "Umm. We've been meaning to tell you about this":

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Immediate directive to the biology department Stop using gamma radiation immediately!.

Meanwhile, two can play at the psychological warfare game:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

No, don't pity them. They've brought this torment on themselves.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Dreadful Burden

Last minute peace negotiations having been met with hostility and ridicule, the Cujo Labs slowly convert to a war footing. Advanced transportation projects:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

give way to advanced weapons projects. Most consider it a heavy burden, but some seem to enjoy the new priorities entirely too much:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

War's effects aren't limited to the dead and wounded. It affects all its survivors.

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like The Solstice

Image credit: Cujo359 [Click for a larger version.]

You can tell it's winter around here. It's cold, there's snow on the ground, and no one who doesn't have chains and four-wheel drive can get anywhere. Still, there's something lovely about new fallen snow, isn't there? If it can make my backyard look picturesque, it can beautify just about anything.

People who are out on the roads aren't finding it so picturesque, I'm sure. Dana Hunter's winter driving experience is a typical one:

It's late. I can 'splain. I just spent over a damned hour trying to get home. It is snowing in the northern 'burbs of Seattle, and this city has no idea what a plow looks like. Total fucking insanity. I counted at least three buses stuck, not to mention all of the optimistic folks who've never tried to drive in three inches of fresh, slick snow before but thought they'd make it.

A tremendous shout-out to the folks on the 522 overpass to the 405 who were pushing cars up the slope, mine among them, between the stuck bus and the stuck cars. Without them, I'd be spending my night waiting for a tow. I don't know who they were, but I love them dearly.

Happy Hour Discurso (Dec. 17)

That's another of the things that makes this area livable in winter - people want to help out. Without such people, winters would really suck here.

Our local transportation agencies' ability to deal with these conditions is limited. We don't get much snow around here, although we do get lots of ice. Maybe all those tax-cutting initiatives have something to do with this? I can't be sure. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer elaborates:

King County road crews labored to keep main arterials clear, but trouble spots still snarled drivers.

The county had about 50 snow-removal trucks deployed and was busy dumping 25 tons of salt and about 8,000 cubic yards of sand on area roads to keep them passable.

'Thundersnow' Whites Out Seattle

That's fifty snowplows for a county that's the size of some states, with a population of two million people. Something tells me that they'll be behind for a while.

The problem is that the temperatures, as usual, are falling after the snow has fallen. The snow starts to melt, then turns to ice. Then you see stuff like this, courtesy of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

WSDOT has cleared the semi that was blocking I-405 north at Coal Creek Parkway. So 405 north is now open.

Earlier this post read:

The center lane of I-405 going north has been blocked at Coal Creek Parkway near Bellevue by a disabled semi for the past 25 minutes, WSDOT reports.

Snow update: Semi no longer blocking traffic on I-405

The PI has some lovely photos at its online edition.

The Everett Herald writes:

Many drivers heeded warnings to stay home and there were no major traffic problems in Snohomish County by mid afternoon, officials said.

Still, the Washington State Patrol responded to dozens of mostly minor accident throughout the day.

State Department of Transportation officials spent the day watching drivers spin out, spokeswoman Aurora Jones said.

While the snow is forecast to stop tonight, cold temperatures are expected to make the morning commute slippery.

“We will be trying to clear snow and ice off the road,” Jones said.

Roads crews are expected to work through the night spreading sand and deicer.

Snow Turning To Ice

Even so, they're not kidding. Tomorrow's commute is going to suck for the people who have to make it. Weren't we all supposed to be telecommuting by now?

UPDATE: Fixed the quote from the PI about the truck blocking I-405. Earlier, my sentence immediately following had been included in the quote, making it look as though the PI was congratulating itself on the artistry of its photos.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fragile Alliances

Negotiations having failed, and hostilities begun, both sides fear a long conflict. Attempts are made to form alliances. Hasty alliances often have their own hazards:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog.

UPDATE: A possibly less dangerous alliance forms here:

Just beware of the beak, Mr. Ambassador.

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog.

The Economist On Infrastructure

Image credit: Arizona D.O.T.

This week, the print edition of The Economist magazine had a couple of interesting articles regarding President-elect Obama's stated ideas about improving infrastructure and getting the economy going. On infrastructure, they opine:

The need is undeniable. Many old industrial cities have rich networks of roads and railways, dating from a time when they were much bigger. These are now crumbling. Last year a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people. A tunnel that brings water to New York sprang a leak in the 1980s and is currently losing about 20m gallons a day. Philadelphia has been flooded with sewage. The most recent infrastructure “report card” by the American Society of Civil Engineers contains nothing but Cs and Ds.

Matters are even worse in the desert West and lowland South, where population growth has been so rapid that basic infrastructure is often non-existent. Las Vegas (population 560,000) is linked to Phoenix (1.6m) by a rural road that trundles over the Hoover Dam. The West struggles with a water system, built by the federal government in the early 20th century, that serves farmers much better than city-dwellers. The scarcity of power lines is holding up efforts to generate electricity from sun and wind.

Roads To Nowhere

I'll just interject at this point and say that there are at least two reasons for this. One is the obvious one - for the last couple of decades, cutting taxes, particularly for the rich, has been the mantra of American politics. The failure of the bridge in Minnesota can be directly related to this movement. The state government had gradually shrunk the road maintenance budgets to the point where nothing was getting done.

The other reason is less obvious, which is that the manufacturing infrastructure for doing all these things has gradually been moved out of the country. When you aren't a market any longer, people stop trying to sell you stuff.

The Economist goes on:

The federal government’s failure to invest in infrastructure has had one good effect. It has pushed much of the burden on to states and cities, whose efforts are scrutinised much more closely by taxpayers and the media. California has set up a strategic growth council to co-ordinate infrastructure spending. Voters have responded by approving tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure bond issues in the past two years. The latest, last month, was $9 billion towards a high-speed railway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Roads To Nowhere

I'd view this as a mixed blessing. Quite a large segment of the voting public seems to believe that roads and other infrastructure should be built without spending any money to do it. What this will end up creating is a situation where the more affluent areas have their infrastructure, and the other areas don't. We're getting there already, in fact.

They certainly identified one problem, though, and it's one that the Obama Administration would do well to rectify before it starts pumping billions of dollars into infrastructure improvements:

The greater problem is the lack of a strategy. No federal office oversees spending on infrastructure. Congressmen appropriate money for individual projects, a few of which are ludicrous (Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere”) and most of which bear no relation to each other. Cash for roads is given to states with few strings attached. “It is as close to a blank cheque as the federal government comes to writing,” says Robert Puentes of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank.

Roads To Nowhere

The process we've seen in the last few decades has been that the Congress starts with a plan that has been sent to it by the executive, and then proceeds to add as much pork as it can. Ted Stevens' bridge to nowhere is just one example of this sort of thing, although it's one of the most egregious. In the other article I was referring to, TE notes:

The conundrum is that it is hard to spend both rapidly and wisely. America’s transport infrastructure is in need of overhaul (see article), and many worthy projects exist that could boost energy efficiency or alternative fuel sources. But there may not be enough of them to absorb large sums quickly. Often such projects are kept on the drawing board not by lack of money but by politics and planning. Adapting the electricity grid, for example, to use more alternative energy may require new transmission lines for which approval can take years. In September the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated it would take two years to spend just 60% of $37 billion in infrastructure funds in a stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives (but not yet acted on by the Senate).

State and local governments say they have thousands of “shovel-ready” projects that could be started as soon as federal money becomes available. The Conference of Mayors, seizing the moment, released an 803-page report this week listing 11,000 projects which, they claim, would create more than 800,000 jobs over the next two years. But the economic merit of many is dubious. Their list includes $1.5m to coax prostitutes off the streets of Dayton, Ohio, and $200,000 for a dog park in Hercules, California. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic adviser to John McCain, says many unfunded projects are “ready to go because they were drawn up, reviewed and rejected” by government. Mr Obama has promised not to spend money the “old Washington way” but those ways are hard to change.

Days of Open Wallet

They certainly are hard to change. One of the many reasons I was so skeptical of Obama's candidacy was because Washington, DC is a place that resists change to a degree that makes granite look ephemeral. Talking about change is easy. In DC, it's nearly impossible.

Nevertheless, we're now in one of those times when it is possible. Severe economic meltdowns of the sort we're looking at are rare, and whether it happens before or after, it will definitely happen. I hope that Obama and Congress can make that change as painless as possible.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Apparently, I've Been Called Out

For pointing out an obvious error, war seems to have been declared. Not surprisingly, given the irrational nature of the conflict, negotiations have broken down:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Monday, December 15, 2008

Another Senator Kennedy?

Image credit: Martyna Borkowski/Wikipedia. Converted to JPEG by Cujo359.

Looks like there may be another Senator Kennedy soon, according to the New York Times:

“[Caroline Kennedy] told me she was interested in the position,” [New York Governor David] Paterson said at a news conference outside Albany on Monday. He added, “She’d like at some point to sit down and tell me what she thinks her qualifications are.”

The governor, who has sole authority to fill the Senate vacancy, insisted that he had not yet chosen a successor to Mrs. Clinton and said that Monday’s conversation with Ms. Kennedy was the first he had had with her since an initial discussion almost two weeks ago.

But several people who have counseled the governor on the pending vacancy said that Ms. Kennedy has emerged as a clear front-runner, if she proves able to withstand the intense scrutiny and criticism that her decision to seek the seat is likely to provoke.

Caroline Kennedy Is Seeking Seat Held by Clinton

So, who is this woman, besides being the daughter of President John F. Kennedy? For the answer to that question, I started by checking in with my goto gal on the Kennedys, Taylor Marsh:

Again, I don't care one way or the other about this one, though I do have an interest in the story as a life long studied expert of J.F. K. There are obviously good arguments to be made for other candidates besides CKS. The ones against Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg) begin because she's a Kennedy, which is part of the "aristocracy" nonsense. Remember, our Founders were rich land owners. The other is that she's not experienced enough. Again, when our Founders created the country they hadn't a clue what they were doing.

Also let me say that I learned through my older big brother what politics is all about, which isn't a bad way to go. On a differently level entirely, to say that Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg) has learned quite a bit from her family isn't exactly a bad way to get to know about politics either.

Senator Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg)

She raises a good point. Another good point is that the Senate is composed of mostly rich and very rich people already. What's one more? I don't find that argument all that compelling. If there are going to be rich people in the Senate anyway, I'd rather that they were rich people who actually think they owe something to the country, and the citizens, that helped make them rich. The Kennedys are certainly that. As Taylor observes:

We don't penalize people in this country for coming from a famous family, especially one whose members have given their lives in public service, which certainly applies to the Kennedys. It's not like a black sheep Bush snuck in and dismantled the Constitution, you know. Something for which Jeb Bush should not be punished either, by the way, if he decides to run for the Senate in Florida.

Caroline Kennedy for Senate

What has Mrs. Schlossberg been doing in all her spare time? A commenter to the Wall Street Journal's blog sums it up:

Caroline has an undergraduate degree from Radcliffe College/Harvard University and a law degree from Columbia Univeristy. She passed the NY bar exam on the first try. She has written books on constitutional law. She has led an exemplary and inspiring life of community service. She has reared three children, who are now in college or prep school. How could anyone compare her edu[c]ation and life experiences to Sarah Palin? Caroline is as qualified as most Senate first-termers. Run, Caroline, run.

WSJ Blog: Comment by Mary - December 5, 2008 at 6:26 pm

A quick check of her Wiki bio shows that she's co-written two books on civil rights, and four others. She earned a law degree, and interned with her uncle Ted Kennedy. The bio mentions at least a half-dozen charities or foundations she works with. She's been busy. She's been doing things for the benefit of the country, and carrying on her family's traditions. In fact, she's been what I'd term a typical Kennedy.

There is something to be said for the idea that what we need less dynastic politics rather than more. Jane Hamsher's said that pretty well:

Her leadership could have been really helpful when we were trying to keep the progressive lights on and getting the stuffing beaten out of us by a very well-financed right wing for the past eight years. But when things were tough, she was nowhere to be found.
The woman has never run for office in her life. We have no idea how she'd fare on the campaign trail, or how well she could stand up to the electoral process. She simply picks up the phone and lets it be known that she just might be up for having one of the highest offices in the land handed to her because -- well, because why? Because her uncle once held the seat? Because she's a Kennedy? Because she took part as a child in the public's romantic dreams of Camelot? I'm not quite sure.

Caroline Kennedy? Thanks But No Thanks

Today, she wrote:

It appears Ms. Kennedy thinks that US Senate seats are something to lobbied for amongst political elites when one decides one wants them, and that the public should be happy to simply fall in line. The fact that one has a family political machine currently in the process of steamrolling David Paterson and a famous last name should be enough for the little people.

Caroline Kennedy Lets Political Elites Know She Expects a US Senate Seat

In this case, unfortunately, the seat is something to be lobbied for. As the New York Times article mentions, Gov. Paterson has the right to appoint a successor. There apparently are no alternative means for filling the vacancy at this point, which expires in 2010 anyway. There may be other deserving candidates out there, but they'll all go in through that same door.

Call it an early test of political skill.

For my part, I find it hard to agree with Jane and others who have expressed such sentiments. Caroline Kennedy has been around. She's raised children, who are now grown. She wants to do something with the rest of your life. Most of us would do something like join a charity or start a blog. When you're a Kennedy, though, you can do more.

I'd like to see what she does with the opportunity, should she get it.

UPDATE: (Dec. 16): Added what now appears as the first Jane Hamsher quote. It was the one I had in mind before, but hadn't remembered to do a search for it.