Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Photo

Here's another view from the boardwalk at Redondo Beach, Washington:

Image credit: Cujo359

It's a view toward the east, with Normandy Park in the far background on the left.

Click to enlarge. Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Health Insurance Safety - Don't Forget The Trigger Lock

Caption: A pistol with a trigger lock. Pour molten lead down that keyhole and you'll have the kind of "trigger" that Congress is talking about with regard to health insurance reform.

Image credit: University of Washington

Via Dana Hunter, I ran across this piece of Think Progress stupidity this morning:

A new report from the Urban Institute argues that a “strong” public option — one that is triggered in the event that overall growth in national health spending exceeds a pre-determined target — may do more to control health care spending than the public option proposals offered in existing legislation:

In the absence of enough political support to pass a strong public option at this time, a “trigger” for a strong public option should be considered for inclusion in health reform legislation whether or not a weak public option is included as a political compromise. Even the threat of such a plan being triggered offers the potential to affect market dynamics between insurers and providers.

The report says that the Senate and House’s public option provisions (which require the public plan to independently negotiate rates with providers) hold little hope of lowering costs in areas of the country with high provider concentration. In areas where hospitals have “too strong a market presence to be excluded from insurer networks,” hospitals could dictate prices, stripping the public plan of its ability to negotiate cheaper rates, the report warns. According to a 2006 study, 86% “of large metropolitan areas were considered to have highly concentrated hospital markets.”

New Report: Triggered Public Option Is Better Than The Existing Public Option Provisions

[emphasis and link from original]

I don't dispute the last paragraph - that's one of the valid objections to the current public option proposal. However, what people who think that a "triggered" public option will be better at controlling the insurance industry than any other public option need to keep in mind is this: This is a trigger that will never be pulled, no matter how bad the situation becomes. The insurance companies will make sure of that.

This is so obvious it hardly seems worth discussing, but the fact is that smart people have been gaming these systems for years. Food isn't part of the Consumer Price Index, our chief indicator of inflation. Everyone needs food. We can, depending on our situations, not worry about housing prices, or automobile-related expenses, but food is basic. We all pay for it somehow. Yet they leave it off the CPI. They don't tell you the real level of unemployment every month, just the number of people who are still actively looking for work. While there are certainly people who aren't employed who don't need or want to be, there's a big difference between the actual number of people who are unemployed by circumstances and not choice, and the number of people counted as unemployed.

The system will be gamed to benefit those who can afford to change it. Right now, that's the financial industry, including insurance.

I don't care if that option is "if this doesn't work, screw it - we're going to single-payer", it's not going to matter. It will never be taken. Now, go back and think about how useful an option is when it quite clearly will never be taken advantage of.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Caption: An inflatable turkey guards the entrance to Redondo Beach. He seems to let just about anyone in, though.

Image credit: Cujo359

It's the time of year when the rest of the world asks "What are the Americans celebrating?" For many Americans, it means lots of travel, lots of cooking, or both. It's also the last day before Christmas shopping.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, or a wonderful Thursday, whichever applies.

UPDATE: Just An Earthbound Misfit has an an interesting article on how turkeys got their name and why they became a part of European culinary culture.

UPDATE 2: A little while ago, the squirrel who often visits my back yard brought a friend over for Thanksgiving:

Image credit: Cujo359

Guess it's a day to be with friends. That's what I'll be doing, anyway.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I've Heard Enough, Thanks

One of the sillier assertions we see in the news and by Republican politicians these days is why they think the stimulus isn't working. Here's a sample from House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (VA-07), as quoted by The Hill:

The economic stimulus package was an “utter failure,” Cantor told reporters at the event, adding: “If we would instead focus half the stimulus dollars toward small businesses, I believe we would have seen many more jobs created than were created thus far.”

Rep. Eric Cantor Talks Jobs In Virginia

Never mind for a moment that Cantor insisted at the time that any stimulus money would have to be in the form of tax cuts to please him. Let's just look at this statement - the bill is an "utter failure", because, in Cantor's estimation, fewer jobs were created than could have been.

There's probably truth in that, but the main way that it could have created more jobs was by saving more jobs - the portion of the stimulus package that went to the states was nowhere near enough to stave off serious cuts in state and local spending. Yet this was one of the many things the GOP objected to. Moreover, while some Republicans criticized the paltry amount of money intended for infrastructure improvements, they didn't put their votes where their mouths were on that issue, either.

In the end, the stimulus was far smaller than it needed to be to reverse the economic decline. It was too small at least partly due to the Obama Administration's attempts to cater to both Republican and conservative Democratic congresspeople.

So, it was interesting to discover this New York Times graphic today:

What it shows is the opinion of three different financial companies of how the economy behaved this year and how it will behave in the next, with and without the stimulus that was passed:

“It was worth doing — it’s made a difference,” said Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group based in Lexington, Mass.

Mr. Gault added: “I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus.”

In interviews, a broad range of economists said the White House and Congress were right to structure the package as a mix of tax cuts and spending, rather than just tax cuts as Republicans prefer or just spending as many Democrats do. And it is fortuitous, many say, that the money gets doled out over two years — longer for major construction — considering the probable length of the “jobless recovery” under way as wary employers hold off on new hiring.

New Consensus Sees Stimulus Package as Worthy Step

The success or failure of any economic program has to be judged on the basis of what would have happened without it, or with alternatives. These charts clearly indicate that things would have been worse without the stimulus bill. Whether it would have been better had the stimulus bill been all tax cuts as Rep. Cantor and his posse believe might best be answered by this conservative economist:

While some conservatives remain as skeptical as ever that big increases in government spending give the economy a jolt that is worth the cost, Martin Feldstein, a conservative Harvard economist who served in the Reagan administration, said the problem with the package was that some of its tax cuts and spending programs were of a variety that did little to spur the economy.

“There should have been more direct federal spending that would have added to aggregate demand,” he said. “Temporary tax cuts and one-time transfers to seniors were largely saved and didn’t stimulate spending.”

Even the $787 billion price tag overstates the plan’s stimulus value given changes made in Congress, economists say. Nearly a tenth of the package, $70 billion, comes from a provision adjusting the alternative minimum tax so it does not hit middle-income taxpayers this year. That routine fix, which would do nothing to stimulate the economy, was added in part to seek Republican votes.

New Consensus Sees Stimulus Package as Worthy Step

I think we've heard enough from the gentleman from Virginia on the economy, and his party.

So what do real economists think about the stimulus? Here's one more quote from that NYT article:

Among Democrats in the White House and Congress, “there was a considerable amount of hand-wringing that it was too small, and I sympathized with that argument,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s and an occasional adviser to lawmakers.

Even so, “the stimulus is doing what it was supposed to do — it is contributing to ending the recession,” he added, citing the economy’s third-quarter expansion by a 3.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate. “In my view, without the stimulus, G.D.P. would still be negative and unemployment would be firmly over 11 percent. And there are a little over 1.1 million more jobs out there as of October than would have been out there without the stimulus.”

New Consensus Sees Stimulus Package as Worthy Step

Economist Dean Baker observes:

Even if we assume that we are starting from zero spending at the moment, this is boost of just over 0.5 percent of GDP. By contrast, the collapse of housing construction trimmed $450 billion or 3.0 percentage points of GDP from annual demand. The decline in consumption due to the loss of bubble wealth is in the range of $600 billion to $800 billion a year.

In other words, the remaining stimulus is an order of magnitude too small to give much of a boost to the economy. Economists who know arithmetic would be aware of this fact.

The Timing of the Stimulus' Impact

Politicians who knew math would, too, I suppose. In an economy as large as ours, such a small stimulus was bound to have a relatively small effect. That's particularly true when some of the stimulus money, particularly the tax cuts, was more likely to go into savings than back into the economy.

UPDATE (Nov. 26): Fixed the link in the last article quote. It had originally pointed to the next (or previous) article on that site.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bring The Crazy, Al

After the MillionThousand Moron March this summer, and the ranting idiots' chorus that was the health care town halls, I think Al Gore may be on to something here:

Obviously, what America really wants is more politicians who can bring the 98 mile-an-hour crazy.

Update On Bill Sparkman

For all those who insisted that Bill Sparkman couldn't possibly have committed suicide, here's the result of the investigation into his death:

Census worker Bill Sparkman committed suicide and deliberately made it look like murder as part of an insurance scam, Kentucky state police have concluded.

State police, working with the FBI, said at a press conference moments ago that Sparkman had recently taken out two life insurance policies that would not pay out for suicide. It appears Sparkman hoped that the scheme would benefit his son, Josh Sparkman.

Police: Sparkman Committed Suicide, Made It Look Like Murder For Insurance Scam

Two things to take away from this are:

First, initial reports from a sensational story like this cannot always be trusted. The Ft. Hood murders should have taught us that, too.

Second, what appears likely, or even probable, isn't the only possible explanation. Anyone with good geometric reasoning skills can print backwards, as Sparkman apparently did with a magic marker to write "Fed" on his chest. I was just doing something like that yesterday, with a paint pencil no less (not on my chest, on some tools).

The important point before deciding that something is impossible is to make sure that it actually is.

Fox News Ready To Fire Somebody

Caption: Fox News identifies Gov. Mark Sanford and Rep. Mark Foley as Democrats. These weren't their first mistakes that worked to the benefit of the Republican Party, nor were they the last. Nope, not by a long shot ...

Image credit: Media Matters

There's a new sheriff in town at Faux News, or something:

After a few footage mishaps at Fox News like their recent slip-up: "Fox News Uses Old Palin Footage," the higher ups at the network have had enough.

In an email obtained by FishbowlDC, FNC management alerted the Newsroom that they were going to a "zero base" newscast production, defined in the memo...

"That means we will start by going to air with only the most essential, basic, and manageable elements. To share a key quote from today's meeting: "It is more important to get it right, than it is to get it on." We may then build up again slowly as deadlines and workloads allow so that we can be sure we can quality check everything before it makes air, and we never having to explain, retract, qualify or apologize again."

The memo warns that those involved in future "mistake chains" will receive "warning letters to personnel files, suspensions, and other possible actions up to and including termination."

Fox News Management Fed Up by Mistakes

Which is funny on many levels, not the least of which is that as long as people have been engaged in the business of journalism, there have been mistakes. This is also hardly the first time that Faux News has screwed up, as Talking Points Memo recalls:

Fox has had three much-noticed errors in the past few weeks. First, Sean Hannity used misleading footage to beef up attendance numbers at a Capitol Hill tea party rally -- an incident that caught the attention of the Daily Show's Jon Stewart, forcing Hannity to apologize on air.

Then, last week, one of the midday news shows aired footage of an old Sarah Palin campaign rally to show the "crowds" at her current book tour. An anchor apologized a day later, and Fox blamed a "production error."

Finally, in another segment about Palin's book, the network showed the cover of a satire book called "Going Rouge" instead of her actual memoir, "Going Rogue."

Fox News Threatens Pink Slips For On-Screen Errors

[links from original]

These are by no means the only mistakes. When Rep. Mark Foley was first accused of molesting congressional pages, the graphic Fox put up claimed that Foley was a Democrat. They did the same thing when South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford was caught in a scandal. These mistakes, of course, worked to the benefit of the Republican Party. I've often wondered if they made mistakes that benefit the GOP's opposition. Until I'd heard of the problem with Palin's book, my guess was that they hadn't.

Now that they've claimed Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, as one of their own, I'm pretty sure they're just incompetent. Who'd do that on purpose?

There was a time, of course, when journalists used a process known as "editing" to make sure that a story was accurate before it went to print or on the air. There was a person called an "editor" who would review stories, and who employed "fact checkers" and "researchers", to make sure that the facts mentioned in the stories were actually true, and that there was proof of the truth of the stories beyond that they fit the prejudices of the folks who ran the company.

So now the management has done what management always does in these situations - instead of owning up to the fact that their habit of not hiring researchers and fact-checkers has finally caught up to them, they are threatening to fire anyone who screws up. Certainly a fitting policy, given the Republicans' antipathy toward labor. You can bet that none of Fox's high priced "talent" will be let go the next time it has to apologize for a mistake.

Which clerical worker or video editor will get the axe next? Stay tuned.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Parlez Vous Canadien?

Regular readers may have noticed a lack of articles on the health care "reform" effort recently. That's largely because, to my way of thinking, things went south in this effort quite some time ago. Robert Reich explains:

So the compromise that ended up in the House bill is to have a mere public option, open only to the 6 million Americans not otherwise covered. The Congressional Budget Office warns this shrunken public option will have no real bargaining leverage and would attract mainly people who need lots of medical care to begin with. So it will actually cost more than it saves.

But even the House's shrunken and costly little public option is too much for private insurers, Big Pharma, Republicans, and "centrists" in the Senate. So Harry Reid has proposed an even tinier public option, which states can decide not to offer their citizens. According to the CBO, it would attract no more than 4 million Americans.

It's a token public option, an ersatz public option, a fleeting gesture toward the idea of a public option, so small and desiccated as to be barely worth mentioning except for the fact that it still (gasp) contains the word "public."

Harry Reid, and What Happened to the Public Option

This sort of thing has been a staple of Congressional politics for years. Call something what it is not, and then have a big, public struggle over the thing that is no longer what it was supposed to be, and then claim a great victory when it finally passes in a form that is completely useless for whatever purpose it was begun. I wrote the articles, wrote to Congress, and all we got was this piece of crap.

That's where we are now with health care reform. What's worse, this is probably the last time this group of ethical midgets will take up the issue. If we're very lucky, their successors will pick it up again in another twenty years or so. Unless they're a lot more progressive than the current bunch, it won't go any better.

My advice to anyone who is a young American who wants to have health care when he (or she) reaches his mid-forties is this: Learn a foreign language. Learn it well enough to make a living overseas. Then acquire another valuable skill to go with it. Unless you're one of the lucky few who get rich in this country, you won't be able to afford being ill here.

That's the future the jokers in Congress and the White House have left you.

Now, I think we're done with health care.

UPDATE: I neglected to point out that Reich's article is well worth reading in its entirety, to learn how the sad arc from health care reform to health care "reform" played out.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Photo

This is a panorama I stitched together of Redondo Beach, Washington a few days ago. Redondo Beach is just north of Federal Way, along the Puget Sound. As you can see, there's a boardwalk that runs the length of the town.
Image credit: Cujo359

Click on the picture to enlarge. Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The CRU Breakin

The recent break in of the e-mail server at the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia brings a couple of thoughts to mind. I'm in a hurry now, so I'll try to be brief, and will avoid using links for the most part.

First of all, stealing the contents of e-mail from a server is a criminal act, both in the United States, and in the United Kingdom, which is the jurisdiction where the computer apparently resides. I say "apparently", because it's at least theoretically possible that the data were also stored off-site in some foreign country. While it's a far-fetched possibility, it's not impossible as far as I know.

Given that the contents were obtained illegally, there has to be some doubt as to its authenticity. That's bad news for anyone trying to make a point using the supposed contents of this e-mail. Most conventional e-mail servers don't provide any means of discerning whether the contents have been changed. E-mail consists of a header portion and a main body that contains the actual message. Sometimes, as is the case with sendmail, those two parts are kept in separate files. There is no checksum, or other means, to ensure that the files have been preserved. Administrators are usually careful to ensure that hard disk problems don't make a mess of things.

In short, if I had access to this data, I could easily alter much of it to suit my fancy, and there would be no direct evidence I had done so beyond checking other copies of that information that were beyond my control.

Any point someone is trying to make using these e-mails should be viewed skeptically. The burden of proof is on them to show that the contents are genuine. If the people who wrote the e-mails confirm their contents are genuine, that can be counted as proof, and at least to a limited degree, they have. But if any new "revelations" occur in the next few days regarding the contents of that e-mail, the likelihood of fraud should be in everyone's mind.

Nate Silver has provided some perspective as a statistician on what is supposedly the most damning e-mail to emerge from this pile of data. It's worth looking at, I think, since this supposed e-mail has garnered so much attention.

What Bullshit Sounds Like

Caption: Jon Stewart interviews former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs on The Daily Show, Nov. 18, 2009.

Image credit: Screenshot of The Daily Show video by Cujo359

Lou Dobbs seems to be determined to unseat Glenn Beck as the current holder of the Dougie Award, A.K.A. the Stupidest Fucking Guy On The Planet Award. In yesterday's guest segment on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart asked Dobbs what fundamental change in governance the Obama Administration had implemented, and Dobbs replied:

"The fundamental change in governance is to take the country in a hard left direction."

Go watch the second part of the interview if you have any doubts. This exchange occurs about 5:45 into the video. Listen carefully, because this is what a bullshit answer sounds like.

Dobbs has been covering Washington, DC for years now. He should know what the Obama Administration is doing, and what the Bush Administration was doing before it. Yet, when he's asked what fundamental change the former have tried to foist on us that has him and all those centrists he's talking about up in arms, the only thing he can come up with is a nonsense term that any Republican propagandist would be able to recite in his sleep. If you're an analyst who can't come up with a better description of what you do or don't like about something, you're a lousy analyst.

Just as an aside, I'll add that I've provided plenty of criticism of both the Bush and Obama Administrations here, and I doubt you'll find any criticism as vague or meaningless as "he's taking this country in a hard [right|left|center] direction". If you find such a thing, please let me know. I'll update that article immediately.

I don't know if the changes that are going on at CNN will make it better or worse, but there's one thing I'm sure of - they're better off without Lou Dobbs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What Football Can Teach Us

President Obama demonstrates reasonably good form while catching a pass in this public service announcement:

Brought those hands together in a triangle shape, just like you're supposed to, and then he held on. I give it a B.

It's for a PSA that will run during Thanksgiving's football games. I couldn't find any deep meaning in this, but someone at Talking Points Memo did:

I half expected some NFLer to blow up the prez on his crossing route and jar the ball free. Just like the Repugs are going to criticize and crucify you know matter what you do....when going across the middle you are going to get whacked whether you catch it or not. So you might as well hang onto it.

Obama, NFL Players Star In Thanksgiving Day PSA: Comment by DickTat

The President was untouched after his mid-field catch. Maybe it was the quick lateral, or maybe it was all those Secret Service guys hovering nearby. Having the Secret Service around can sometimes be a bad thing - it shields you from experiencing some of life's basic truths.

Let's hope the President is an avid reader of TPM.

The Price Of Innumeracy

Jeebus H. Crispies:

I cannot believe this Rasmussen poll:

51 percent believe canceling the rest of the stimulus money would create more jobs.

That is insane.

It's one thing to say that canceling the rest of the stimulus money would help our deficit. That's arguable, even if I think it's dead wrong, since the best way to help our deficit is to put people back to work when demand is nonexistent so that they (1) receive taxable income and (2) spend that taxable income on products to help other people's taxable income. In our 2009 deficit, $300 billion came from lower tax receipts, $100 billion came from stimulus tax cuts and about $100 billion came from stimulus spending. One hundred billion. Blaming the January stimulus for the $1.4 trillion deficit like blaming a pack of Skittles for a cavity.

Sometimes, the Majority of Americans Are Really Stupid

Steve Benen blames the wrong form of stupidity for this one:

Chances are, it's not just one thing. Part of the confusion is likely the result of an electorate that doesn't quite understand the basics, and is therefore easily misled by the same people who got us in this mess. Part of it comes from a media that hasn't made much of an effort to explain the basics. And part of the problem has to be politicians -- one party believes Hoover was right about the Great Depression, and the other party is afraid to talk about how government spending and intervention prevented a wholesale economic collapse.

The Dangers Of Illiteracy

Yes, the Democrats are largely useless. I think there's a reason for that beyond corruption and spinelessness, though. I'll sum it up this way: if you don't know the difference between a million, a billion, and a trillion, you're part of the problem. This is about basic innumeracy - the inability to comprehend simple mathematics. America is really bad at it.

America, let me give you a crash course. See this chart?
Image credit: Afferent Input.

Yes, I've used it before. That's because it demonstrates one of the most profound economic truths of the last thirty years. Click on it to enlarge. It's a chart of real personal income in the United States from 1979 until 2006. Unless you're fabulously rich, you're not represented by either the purple or the turquoise lines. We're the lines that are going down. Going down is bad here. The people who are trying to sell you on the idea that a deficit is killing jobs are the ones who are responsible for the purple and turquoise lines going one way and all the other lines going the other.

If you don't understand what that means, or don't believe it, take a statistics course and get back to me.

And you'd better be able to tell me how many millions there are in a trillion.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dear Senator Dodd

Image credit: Kristian D. (I'd have made my own, but this is a lovely photo.)

I received one of those e-mails many of us get from congresspeople we've supported in the past. This e-mail was from Senator Chris Dodd's campaign today concerning health care. They seemed to be quite pleased with the results, in contrast to my feelings on the matter. Since this came to my Cujo359 e-mail, I thought I'd pass along my reply:

Sorry to sound ungrateful, but this is a sorry excuse for public health care reform. It consists of making Americans pay for their own health insurance, assuming they don't get it from their employers, which I think will continue to become increasingly unlikely.

It will not include a real public option - states can deny it to their populations, and it won't be offered to anyone who already has insurance and wants a better or more reliable choice. It will not compensate medical service providers at Medicare rates, meaning it will have little or no effect on the price of medical services and drugs, nor on the cost of private insurance.

In short, it's a thing resembling a public option, but without the substance that makes it useful for keeping health insurance companies honest and medical costs under control.

After witnessing the fiascoes that have occurred after Congress and the last four Presidents refused to properly regulate the banks and securities markets, and after seeing how much of an influence insurance has had over the legislation in this congress, I have absolutely no faith that the government will regulate private health insurance well enough to prevent another fiasco.

The Congress could have easily passed a plan that offered Medicare to whoever wanted it. At least, it could have done it easily if only broad public support were necessary. It refused to do this simple and ultimately far more effective thing, opting for a Rube Goldberg approach instead.

We gave you guys 60 votes and this is the best you can do? It's not good enough.


I don't know what they're expecting, but if they think this is good work they need to seriously think about what they're trying to accomplish.

Cool Image Of The Day

Caption: A composite image by NASA of water levels in the Pacific Ocean for early November, 2009. The water level is an indication of the temperature of the surface water, with higher levels indicating higher temperatures. The expanded El Nino is the big red blob that starts at the west coast of Mexico and stretches toward the equator.

Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory

According to a recent NASA Earth Observatory image of the day, the El Nino's going to be big and honkin' this winter:

El Niño is experiencing a late-fall resurgence. Recent measurements of sea level height from the Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 oceanography satellite showed that a strong wave of warm water, known as a Kelvin wave, had spread from the western to the central and eastern Pacific. This warm wave appears as the large area of higher-than-normal sea surface heights in the area between 170 degrees east and 100 degrees west longitude.

El Nino Resurging in November 2009

For those of us on the west coast of North America, this should mean a wetter and somewhat warmer winter than last year. For others, it will mean dryer weather:

Severe droughts in India have always occurred in El Niño years, yet every El Niño does not cause monsoon failure and drought — a mystery that researchers have been struggling to crack.

Accurate monsoon prediction is crucial to India's economy: nearly one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product comes from agriculture. Even moderate crop failures have severe economic and societal impacts.

Scientists Solve Riddle Of El Niño And Indian Monsoon

So, maybe bad for India, but good for California:

Although El Niño means drought in some parts of the world, in other places it can bring drought relief. “In the American West, where we are struggling under serious drought conditions, this late-fall charge by El Niño is a pleasant surprise, upping the odds for much needed rain and an above-normal winter snowpack,” said oceanographer Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

El Nino Resurging in November 2009

While it's sad that droughts will happen elsewhere, and we have all the rain we need up here in the Pacific Northwest, California can certainly use the change.

When In Tokyo

When in Tokyo, do as the Tokyoans do. That basic bit of folk wisdom seems to be obvious to just about everyone in America who isn't a conservative pundit or one of their dittoheads:

... according to the new Fox News poll.

Respondents were asked: "When the president of the United States is traveling overseas, do you think it is appropriate for him to bow to a foreign leader if that is the country's custom or is it never appropriate for the president to bow to another leader?"

The numbers: Appropriate 67%, Never appropriate 26%. Even a majority of Republican respondents were okay with the bow, by a 53%-40% margin. Democrats weigh in at 84%-9%, and independents 62%-30%.

Americans Overwhelmingly Say Obama Bowing To Japanese Emperor Was Appropriate -- Even In A Fox Poll

As the Talking Points Memo article went on to note, Fox News provided the background for the question, and Americans understood that this is just being polite. Having traveled quite a bit with Americans who are politically conservative, I don't find the Republican numbers all that surprising. The only thing remarkable about this is the source of the poll, but it's still nice to know that we have at least some understanding of how to behave with foreigners in their own countries. There are days I really wonder.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Looking Out My Back Door

No tambourines or elephants, but every once in a while something wild shows up in my back yard. This guy drops by rather often:
Image credit: Cujo359

Occasionally, seagulls venture the three or so miles inland to hang out. This one thought my yard would be a good place to sit out a rainstorm, but the neighbor's cat chased him away:
Image credit: Cujo359

As always, clicking on the pictures enlarges them. Have a good Sunday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where Women Glow, And Men Chunder

Yes, there hasn't been much posting around here lately. I did warn you, though. At least I can take satisfaction in that ...

Meanwhile, I heard this song in concert last night. It had been several years since last time, I think. That's quite a contrast to the frequency with which we heard it when it first came out.

Enjoy what's left of your Saturday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What History Can Teach Us: Veterans Day Edition

Caption: In memoriam. Tombe du soldat Henry J. Gollhardt mort au champ d'honneur le 11/11/1918, en France. Cimetière américain de Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. [Rough translation: Tomb of soldier Henry J. Gollhardt who died on Nov. 11, 1918. From the American cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. (Gollhardt died the day of the Armistice.)]

Image credit: PRA/Wikimedia

It's Veterans Day in the United States. In much of the world, this is Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of the First World War. Originally, it was Armistice Day in the U.S., too. Over time it became Veterans Day, because we've had so many wars, and so many more veterans, since.

In that spirit, I am republishing below an article I wrote back in August about the death of the last British WWI veteran. We clearly haven't learned the lessons of WWI, so I think this story is as fresh now as it was then.

Thanks to all our veterans. No matter what their wars were like, they were all terrible.

Caption: Australian infantry wearing Small Box Respirators (SBR). The soldiers are from the 45th Battalion, Australian 4th Division at Garter Point near Zonnebeke, Ypres sector, 27 September 1917.

Image credit: Capt. Frank Hurley/Wikimedia

The last British World War I veteran to die of old age was buried today:

The funeral service for Britain's last surviving World War I veteran Harry Patch who died aged 111 has taken place at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Wells as his coffin was taken to the cathedral where the service was relayed on big screens to crowds outside.
He was the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches during the Great War.

Last Post salute For WWI Veteran

I've written before that the lessons we learn tend to disappear with the generation that learned them. Harry Patch's memories of his youth involve scenes like the one in this picture, of waiting in filthy trenches to be ordered to charge across an empty space through artillery and machine gun fire. What lesson did he draw from them?

Pensioner Jim Ross, speaking on behalf of Mr Patch's friends, said: "He realised he was one of a dwindling band and that as that band decreased in numbers, he was becoming more and more significant.

"He had the choice of either creeping away into the background or making his message known.

"Harry knew that by speaking out, the memories would come back, the demons I call them, would come back to torment and torture him.

"I believe they did, but I believe Harry made the decision because he wanted to get his message broadcast.

"His prime message is that we should settle disputes by negotiation and compromise, not by war."

Last Post salute For WWI Veteran

It's a lesson that almost sounds trite, if you're not one of the ones whose lives were affected by their leaders' inability to do just that. Learning history is the way we keep experience alive. It's important. Our experience in Iraq, and our continuing, but largely pointless, hostility toward Iran show that we haven't learned this lesson yet.

The Secret To Politics

Today's xkcd had a funny take on modern politics. As usual, you'll have to go there to read the clever hidden message:

xkcd comic no. 661

Sometimes, you need to have more than one idea in your head at a time. For some reason, our founders thought it was important that citizens understand the issues the country is facing. That still seems like a good idea to me, because maybe then our politicians would have a better understanding, too.

Ehsan Fattahian Executed

According to this site, they killed Ehsan Fattahian this morning:

I never feared death. Even now, as I feel its odd and honest presence next to me, I still want to smell its aroma and rediscover it; Death, who has been the most ancient companion of this land. I don’t want to talk about death; I want to question the reasons behind it. Today, when punishment is the answer for those who seek freedom and justice, how can one fear his fate? Those of “us” who have been sentenced to death by “them” are only guilty of seeking an opening to a better and fair world. Are “they” also aware of their deeds?

Ehsan Fattahian was executed today morning by the Islamic Republic...

The New York Times confirmed the execution this morning:

Iran hanged a Kurdish activist on Wednesday morning in a prison in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj, his lawyer said.

The activist, Ehsan Fattahian, 28, had been sentenced to death after he was accused of “armed struggle against the regime.”

He was arrested more than a year ago in the Kurdish city of Kamyaran and received a 10-year prison term. But in an unusual move, an appeals court changed his sentence to death by hanging after the prosecutor general of Kamyaran demanded a tougher punishment against him.

Iran Executes Kurdish Activist

He was convicted of belonging to an organization that used violence to further its aims, but had not been convicted of participating in any violent actions.

The NYT article goes on to point out that there are thirteen other Kurds on death row in Iran. It offered no indication as to who among them was actually guilty of violent acts.

In the letter, which was reprinted in its entirety at the first link above, he said that just before his sentence he had been taken to "the Intelligence Ministry’s detention center" to make a confession. He refused. A few days later, he apparently was executed.

Thanks to any readers who signed the petition.

I hope that the other two political prisoners who have been sentenced can be saved, but I figure if they'll do this to one young man, they'll do it to others.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mmmmm. Flowers

Sitemeter tells me that, more than anything else, people come here to see cute pictures of doggies and kitties. So here's a cute doggie picture that's also topical:

funny pictures of dogs with captions
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

You see, the health care bill is just about worthless, it's going to be bad for cancer patients, and it discriminates against women. It's great for the drug and insurance companies, though. Everyone seems to be hoping it will be fixed in the Senate. I think this hope is a sign of how desperate things have become.

I've had enough for today. MythTV has a new version out and I'm going to see what works and what doesn't.

Posting may be light over the next couple of days.

Where Priorities Lead

Caption: Staff Sgt. Steven Atlas, a Chicago native, and a computer systems maintainer in Company C, 412th Aviation Support Battalion, works on his computer to check the status of the systems he must keep up and running.

You can't do this stuff without an education. This is an increasing concern to the nation's defense leaders.

Image credit: Sgt. Brandon Little/U.S. Army

An organization called Mission: Readiness formed recently to see what could be done to prepare the next generation of Americans for life in the military. This is a serious organization. Among others, it consists of Generals Hugh Shelton and John Shalikashivili, both former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS), General Wesley Clark, former NATO commander and Presidential candidate, several former top enlisted men and women of each of the services, and a whole busload of other former generals, admirals, and civilian DoD appointees. They released a report on Thursday that came to a very distressing conclusion:

[M]any young Americans who want to join cannot. Startling statistics released by the Pentagon show that 75 percent of young people ages 17 to 24 are currently unable to enlist in the United States military. Three of the most common barriers for potential recruits are failure to graduate high school, a criminal record, and physical fitness issues, including obesity.

Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve (PDF)

The number of potential recruits who cannot join due to each of these three barriers is distressing, for different reasons. What all point to is that we have done a lousy job of preparing the next generations for life in the modern world.

Education and fitness disqualify roughly the same number of applicants. Adding up the numbers, roughly half of the 17 to 24 population either do not have a high school diploma, or cannot pass the basic test the military administers to test educational attainment:

Inadequate education: Approximately one out of four young Americans lacks a high school diploma. Students who have received a general equivalency degree (GED) can sometimes receive a waiver if they score well enough on the military’s entrance exam. However, most of those who dropped out and obtained a GED instead of a regular degree do not possess sufficient math or reading skills to qualify.
Even with a high school diploma, many potential recruits still fail the Armed Forces Qualification Test (the AFQT) and cannot join. The test is used by the military to determine math and reading skills. About 30 percent of potential recruits with a
high school degree take the test and fail it.

Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve (PDF)

[emphasis from original]

While I can't claim to have taken the real test, I took this practice test in mathematics. I made things more difficult for myself by solving all the problems in my head. I still got 97 percent (58 out of 60) right. Then, I took this online practice exam for the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), and got a 95.5% grade. Here's the screenshot of the result:
Image credit: Screenshot of result page by Cujo359

The ASVAB is considered part of the AFQT. It contains what I'd call questions about specialized knowledge in auto maintenance and electronics. If you don't know much about those subjects, you can't expect to do as well. Still, that I could do that well when I was in a rush should show that a satisfactory grade is possible for someone who does a little studying. I graduated from college thirty years ago. If the real tests are similarly challenging, it's sad that anyone who graduates from high school can't pass it.

What's more, as the Raleigh-Durham News And Observer reports, the military is willing to give recruits all the help it can:

If they exceed the Army's weight standards, recruits can come to the station and run or do other exercises with Army personnel. If they don't score at least 31 out of 100 in a practice version of the Army's standardized aptitude test, they can use an online tutoring program to sharpen their math, language and science skills before testing again.

The military can issue waivers for almost any disqualification, but as the economy drives more people to consider military careers, waivers are harder to get.

Pool Of Military Recruits Increasingly Unfit

For those who get those waivers, opportunities will be limited. For those who can't cut it academically, most technical specialties will be off limits. For those whose health is not up to snuff, a career in combat specialties will be a non-starter.

The more important consideration, though, is that this is also an indication that these young people haven't been prepared for life outside of the military, either. The military needs people who understand science and mathematics for the same reason everyone else does - this is a world that requires knowledge of both. People who can't operate or understand computers, or who can't communicate well with their peers, are of little use in the civilian world, except in a few areas of employment. Poor health can limit employment opportunities as well.

What's more, the failure to prepare children for school in the first place has had a serious impact on the number of potential recruits who are disqualified by the third barrier, a criminal record:

“[S]chool readiness skills” are more than just learning the ABC’s or knowing how to count. Young children also need to learn to share, wait their turn, follow directions, and build relationships. This is when children begin to develop a conscience – differentiating right from wrong – and when they start learning to stick with a task until it is completed. Nobel-prize-winning economist James Heckman studies economic productivity and argues that these early social skills are crucial for future success in school and later in life. As Heckman explains, success builds on success. Unfortunately, failure also begets failure.
Evidence supporting pre-kindergarten for at-risk children comes from a randomized-controlled study following children in the High/Scope Perry Preschool Project in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Beginning in 1962, preschool teachers worked intensively with low-income children ages 3 and 4. The children attended preschool during the week and teachers came to their homes once a week to coach their parents on appropriate parenting skills. Researchers followed the children up to age 40, comparing their life experiences with the children who did not participate in the early education program. The contrast was stark.

Almost half of the preschool children were performing at grade level by the age of 14, compared with just 15 percent of the children in the control group; and 44 percent more of the children in the Perry program went on to graduate from high school.

By age 27, at-risk three- and four-year-olds left out of the Perry Preschool program were five times more likely to be chronic offenders than similar children who attended the program. Significant and meaningful differences in life outcomes continued through age 40.

Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve (PDF)

Yet, congresspeople looking to score cheap points often label such programs "pork barrel" projects. Anyone who has paid any attention to the problem of educating children today realizes that often times the first few years of a child's life aren't spent in an environment that provides such experience. A little money would go a long way toward fixing these problems, but it appears our politicians would rather continue to support the prison industry.

The report's conclusions about the health of young people should be equally alarming:

Nearly a third (32 percent) of all young people have health problems – other than their weight – that will keep them from serving. Many are disqualified from serving for asthma, eyesight or hearing problems, mental health issues, or recent treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

When weight problems are added in with the other health problems, over half of young adults cannot join because of health issues. Additional young people are not eligible to join because of drug or alcohol problems.

Ready, Willing, And Unable To Serve (PDF)

As I mentioned before, these are conditions that can make recruits for a civilian job less attractive, also, and can potentially disqualify them from many areas of employment. Many of these conditions can be treated, and in some cases ameliorated, by proper health care. This is yet another tragic consequence of our current health care situation.

It's a sad irony that while trying to build up our military strength over the last three decades, our government has often neglected to take care of the people and the institutions that make a modern military possible. We have allowed much of our manufacturing base to be exported to the rest of the world. We've neglected public education, and we've neglected our own health. Yet we've never failed to build weapons systems, and create new, complex directorates for building and testing these systems. Our weapons have become marvels of mobility and automation, at the same time that our children have become unprepared to handle them.

As a nation we seem to have lost the notion that the real strength of a country is in its people, not its weaponry. Our priorities have created a sadly ironic predicament.

By now, I'm used to the idea that our leaders really don't give a damn about the people they rule. That's readily apparent from the spectacle of this health care debate. But some day, they are going to have to wake up and realize that the next grand adventure they want to send the Army on probably isn't going to be feasible, because the Army can't find enough qualified applicants to fight it. You'd think that, if for no other reason than to save their own pathetic asses or spare their own children from fighting our wars, they'd take better care of the next generations.

Apparently, they aren't even capable of that sort of concern.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Injustice Lives On

Ehsan Fattahian

It sometimes seems that there will always be injustice in the world. On the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, three people have been sentenced to death in Iran for what are essentially political offenses.

Amnesty International explains the basics:

Three men, members of Iran’s Kurdish minority, are at risk of imminent execution. This may be in reprisal for a spate of assassinations and attempted assassinations of officials which took place during September 2009,in the northwestern province of Kordestan.

Habibollah Latifi, Ehsan (Esma’il) Fattahianand Sherko Moarefihave all been sentenced to death for “enmity against God” in unconnected cases overthe last two years. They are believed to be on death row in a prison in Sanandaj, the provincial capital of Kordestan.

According to the Sanandaj News website ( a judge in Sanandaj has received orders from the Judiciary, in the Iranian capital Tehran, to carry out the executions of these Kurdish prisoners. The Head of the Judiciary in Sanandaj is reported to have written to the Supreme Leader of Iran for permission to carry out the executions.

Iran: Imminent Execution of Kurdish Prisoners Habibollah Latifi ; Ehsan Fattahian ; Sherko Moarefi

While this document anticipates that the executions will occur sometime after November 19, at least one, for Ehsan Fattahian, has been scheduled for November 11:

Ehsan Fattahian’s lawyer, Nassrollah Nasri, was notified on November 6 that his client will be executed on Wednesday morning, November 11, 2009, Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) reported today. Ehsan, 27, was arrested in July 2008 and first sentenced to 10 years in exile by Branch 1 of the Revolutionary Court in Sanandaj. During the appeals process his sentence was changed by Branch 4 of the Kordestan Appeal Court to execution for being an “enemy of God” (Mohareb), allegedly by being a member or PJAK (Kurdistan Independent Life Party). Despite undergoing torture, Ehsan refused to confess to carrying arms and participating in an armed struggle.

Iran Set to Execute Kurdish Political Prisoner Ehsan Fattahian on November 11

Fattahian was not convicted of either executing or planning any violence. He was only convicted of belonging to an illegal organization. There is an online petition to U.N. Secretary General Ben Ki-Moon, asking him to petition Iran to stop the execution of Ehsan Fattahian. The Amnesty International link is an urgent action bulletin asking people to request that all the sentences be commuted. If you decide to write to the people suggested by AI, please follow their guidelines.

Stewart Skewers Beck

Jon Stewart skewers Dougie awardee Glenn Beck in this segment of The Daily Show:

It's pitch perfect, from the mannerisms to the inane stream of consciousness dribbling that passes for logic in Beckworld.

The full episode is available online. It's worth a viewing, if only to know why the line ".. and that, Billy, is how the dinosaurs died" will be cracking me up for days.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Quote Of The Day

Blue Texan, discussing Frank Luntz's appearance on This Week In Washington:

You know you’ve really screwed the pooch when you get put in your place by…Cokie Roberts.

Here's the video. See if you agree.

I share Luntz's pessimism about America, but I agree that the last thing we need is pessimism from our political parties. That can too quickly translate into nihilism, a state we're headed for all too quickly already. In one sense Luntz is right, many of us think that the world we leave the next generation won't be as good as the one we inherited. That's a sad, pathetic thing. And frankly, it's been people like Luntz who have been trying to keep us afraid for all the wrong reasons for far too long.

One of the things I liked about John Edwards was he got that:

America lives because 20 generations have honored the one moral commandment that makes us Americans.

To give our children a better future than we received.

John Edwards' Speech Today

He said it's our responsibility not to do that. You don't have to sugar-coat the truth to make it clear. Just saying things suck and leaving the question of what to do about it isn't something we want to hear from our leaders. We also don't want to hear nonsense about Dachau when what we're really talking about, at worst, is a slightly different version of what we have already.

The fact is that many of the problems of this country have nothing to do with its capabilities, but with its ruling class, who are distinctly uninterested in doing anything for anyone but themselves. Our leaders need to see what needs to be done, understand how to get it done, and do it. If the Republicans can't figure out a way to do that, then they should continue pouting in the corner like they have been for the last ten months.

At least they'll be out of the way.

UPDATE: Added the John Edwards quote by way of example.

Sunday Photo(s)

Today's theme is leaves. Here are some leaves at Celebration Park, in Federal Way, Washington:
Image credit: Cujo359

And here are some leaves that were in my back yard:
Image credit: Cujo359

I like the way the sunlight hit them. This time of year you're very lucky to see sunlight at any angle, so it was especially fortuitous.

Larger versions of the pictures are available. Just click on the images.

Have a great Sunday.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Yet Another Number One

This site is the number one site on Swedish Google for the phrase "I just don't feel smart at all". Somehow, I expect there will be someone who doesn't believe this, so here's the proof:
Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359

Which just goes to show that when you don't feel smart, this is the place to be.

Molestus Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc

Updated Nov. 8

Every once in a while, I see someone use what I refer to as the molestus hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy. A play on the phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc (more or less literally "it follows, therefore it is caused by"), this variation uses the verb molestus, which means "annoy", or "anger". This version of the post hoc fallacy is a common one these days - people assume that events are caused by whatever it is that annoys, angers, or frightens them, whether there's actually any reason to or not.

Yesterdays shooting at Ft. Hood has yielded a treasure trove of such speculation. Blue Texan described some of it this morning at FireDogLake:

The Anchor Baby [Michelle Malkin]:

Political correctness is the handmaiden of terror.

Atlas Juggs [Atlas Shrugs]:

They knew this guy was a jihadi. They knew. But they sacrificed American lives at the alter [sic] political correctness.

Jihad Watch:

Yet there was, and what’s more, Major Hasan’s motive was perfectly clear — but it was one that the forces of political correctness and the Islamic advocacy groups in the United States have been working for years to obscure.

The Corner:

This is not the first time American soldiers have been victims of politically correct policies.

It takes a particularly demented type of crazy to blame the US military for a tragedy like this. Because that’s exactly what they’re doing here.

Right-Wingers: “Political Correctness” to Blame for Ft. Hood Shootings
I don't know what's more offensive, the notion that the Army would deliberately allow this sort of thing out of a spirit of political correctness, the idea that tolerance is killing people at a faster rate than intolerance, or the pathetic conceit that these assclowns are the only ones "courageous" enough to point this out. Whatever it is, they're wrong. The guy who did this, who is probably the only one who actually knows why he did it at this point, hasn't been talking publicly. And while these people are at turns deceitful, stupid, and feckless, they are not courageous.

They're frightened of a religion that's different from their own. Since it frightens them, to them it's obviously responsible for anything done by any Muslim, or anyone who is influenced in some way by Islam, or who advocates tolerance of it. They're ignorant cowards. Unfortunately, they have a lot of company.

Less pernicious, but equally misguided, is the attempt to explain this incident as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There has been a notable increase in the incidence of PSTD in the last few years, and a rise in both violence and suicide among service members. That is a problem, and it needs to be addressed. At the moment, though, there is no direct evidence that Maj. Hasan suffered from PTSD. He may have had some psychiatric problem, and he may not.

For the record, combat isn't the only way to contract a case of PTSD. Insisting that Hasan couldn't have it because he wasn't in combat is wrong. Many forms of stress can cause it, as Medicinet notes:

Virtually any trauma, defined as an event that is life-threatening or that severely compromises the emotional well-being of an individual or causes intense fear, may cause PTSD. Such events often include either experiencing or witnessing a severe accident or physical injury, receiving a life-threatening medical diagnosis, being the victim of kidnapping or torture, exposure to war combat or to a natural disaster, exposure to other disaster (for example, plane crash) or terrorist attack, being the victim of rape, mugging, robbery, or assault, enduring physical, sexual, emotional, or other forms of abuse, as well as involvement in civil conflict. Although the diagnosis of PTSD currently requires that the sufferer has a history of experiencing a traumatic event as defined here, people may develop PTSD in reaction to events that may not qualify as traumatic but can be devastating life events like divorce or unemployment.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: What Causes PTSD?
Here's a story of someone who contracted PTSD doing mortuary work for the Army. It can happen, even to people who only experience the pain of war through others.

People saddened by the stress our soldiers are experiencing in Iraq and Afghanistan might see this as another example, but as yet there isn't proof.

My own conclusion about what's happened is that it is apparently the work of a single individual. Given that, its origins probably lie in the mind of that individual. Certainly, whatever the motivations are will be something we'll have to learn through interviews by law enforcement and mental health professionals. Until such interviews are done, speculating about what caused this is both pointless and potentially dangerous.

Hasan was wounded four times during his rampage. He is most likely not yet in a condition to give a coherent account of his reasons for doing this. I feel safe in asserting that no one has yet determined why this event occurred, beyond the obvious fact that Hasan felt the need to shoot people. I could come up with alternative explanations to PTSD or Muslim rage that fit the facts, but that doesn't mean it would be any closer to the truth. Speculation isn't fact.

I’d like for some serious investigation into Maj. Hasan’s state of mind to have taken place before I decide who, or what, is to blame. By the time that happens, of course, some white woman will have gone missing, or some big explosion will have happened somewhere other than Iraq or Afghanistan, and the TV news will have forgotten all about this. That's sad, because there may be important lessons we can draw from this.

It's just clear that as of yet, we don't know what those are.

UPDATE: Over at Political Animal, Steve Benen adds a postscript:

A tragic part of American life is that, from time to time, we learn of horrific shootings like the one at Fort Hood yesterday. There was, apparently, another shooting this morning, this time in Orlando, in which one was killed and seven were critically wounded. The gunman wasn't a Muslim.

Likewise, last year, 32 people were shot down in Virginia Tech. In March, 10 were killed in a shooting rampage in Alabama. In April, 13 were killed in upstate New York. In each instance, the gunmen weren't Muslim.

Bringing Out The Worst In Small, Sad Minds
The fact that some of these people were Christians, and may have said something like "God help me", or whatever, won't be taken by the Islamophobes as proof that Christians are a source of danger.

UPDATE 2 (Nov. 8): I didn't see this until today, but Greg Marx at the Columbia Journalism Review seems to have been thinking along the same lines I am:

It’s been just over twenty-four hours since Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood—more than enough time, clearly, for our pundits to begin opining on what it all means. And though those interpretations are varied, there is one headline that could apply to nearly all of them: Tragic Massacre Vindicates My Pre-existing Political Convictions.

Jumping To Confusion
He then goes on to detail how confused the initial reporting of this event has been, as well as how many folks were willing to jump to the conclusion that this has something to do with islamofascism or PTSD. Worth a read, I think.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ft. Hood On My Mind

Caption: One of the large post exchanges (PX) at Ft. Hood, Texas. I've been there a few times.

Image credit: Michael Oh

The incident today at Ft. Hood in which twelve people lost their lives has had an unusually big impact on me. I use the word "unusually", because it involves no one I actually knew. Ft. Hood was a place I frequently visited on business during the '80s and '90s, and even as recently as three years ago, so it's hard to avoid feeling affected. Seeing pictures of the place in the CNN broadcast today was especially jarring - one picture showed barracks similar to the ones near the offices I often worked in. I saw a similar view daily for weeks at a time.

The incident occurred within half a mile of two places I sometimes worked. It's likely that some of the people I worked with were within earshot of it. Most were no doubt kept at their work sites for many hours extra due to the lockdown.

From reports, this appears to be an act of a single disturbed individual. We can mull over the lessons and implications later, but for now I just want to say that the people who work and live on Ft. Hood are in my thoughts, and to express condolences to the victims, their friends, and their families.

Update On Gay Partnership Referendum

Caption: County by county vote results for 2009 referendum R-71. Green represents a majority "Yes" vote.

Image credit: Washington Secretary of State

Looks like there's been a projected winner in the R-71 referendum in the state of Washington:

After Thursday's vote count in Washington, Referendum 71 was being approved 52 percent to 48 percent. The measure approval rate has been expanding since Election Day Tuesday. About 69 percent of the vote has so far been tallied.

The measure asked people to approve or reject the latest expansion of the new state law that Gov. Chris Gregoire signed in May granting same sex domestic partners all the rights of married couples. That same month conservative interests announced they would attempt to overturn the new law and enough signatures were collected enough to place R-71 on the November ballot.

Washington Voters Approve Expanded Gay Rights

It's the first time that gay marriage opponents have failed on a referendum or initiative. Maine, of course, approved a referendum banning same-sex marriage in that state. As I wrote yesterday, this referendum didn't call it same-sex marriage, but rather "partnership". Still, it affirms that gay couples can have most of the rights accorded married couples.

It remains to be seen if the usual crowd of geniuses will decide that this means gay marriage is not yet approved by Americans, but partnership is. I think trying to deduce that from two data points in an off-year election is pretty silly. The bigots in this state fought this just as hard as they would have if it was gay marriage, probably because they know that for all practical purposes it is. That won't stop the usual fools who are always trying to find some imaginary political center from doing it this time, but it's clearly foolish this time. What I think you can take from both this vote and what occurred in Maine is that there are some wheel-heeled interests that will do whatever they can to stop gay rights from expanding.

They don't care what those rights are called.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Now, That's Boring

Caption: A gamer to the end, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada fields yet another question from Fox News designated moron Ken Rosenthal.

Image credit: Photo of MLB/Fox Sports broadcast by Cujo359

Yep, the Yankees won again. Wow. As if that wasn't boring enough, baseball genius Ken Rosenthal, who last year was bored to tears in a playoff series that was mostly decided by a run or two a game, asked Yankees catcher Jorge Posada this fascinating question in a post-game interview:

How gratifying is it to win for the first time since 2000?

As if the Yankees winning for the millionth time wasn't boring enough.

Baseball commentator and former first baseman Ron Fairly used to say that baseball is really a simple game. It's certainly possible to over-intellectualize what's happening on the field. I'd have to say that this is one sin Fox Sports will never be guilty of.

Congratulations to the Yankees, and their fans, and my sympathies to the Phillies and Jorge Posada.