Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cool Picture Of The Day

This is not what you probably think it is. What you probably think it is would be an aurora borealis. It's actually the aurora borealis's southern cousin, though, aurora australis. Click on the picture to enlarge:
Image credit: NASA/ISS
Here's the caption:

While aurora are generally only visible close to the poles, severe magnetic storms impacting the Earth’s magnetic field can shift them towards the equator. This striking aurora image was taken during a geomagnetic storm that was most likely caused by a coronal mass ejection from the Sun on May 24, 2010. The ISS was located over the Southern Indian Ocean at an altitude of 350 kilometers (220 miles), with the astronaut observer most likely looking towards Antarctica (not visible) and the South Pole.

Aurora Australis Observed from the International Space Station

(h/t to Astronomy Picture Of The Day)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trouble In Polling Land

There's been a very interesting development this week in the world of progressive polling, as Talking Points Memo reports:

Calling into question years worth of polls, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas said today his site will sue pollster Research 2000 after a statistical analysis showed that R2K allegedly "fabricated or manipulated" poll data commissioned by Kos.

Two weeks ago, after Kos dropped R2K for inaccuracy, a group of three of what Kos calls "statistics wizards" began looking at some of the firm's data and found a number of "extreme anomalies" that they claim may be the result of some kind of randomizer.

Kos Alleges Top Pollster Provided Bogus Data, Will Sue

[links from original]

I would not have used the term "randomizer" to describe what those statisticians found. In some cases, it looks like the results were not random at all. Their first case involves a weekly favorability rating poll for President Obama:

A combination of random sampling error and systematic difference should make the M results differ a bit from the F results, and in almost every case they do differ. In one respect, however, the numbers for M and F do not differ: if one is even, so is the other, and likewise for odd. Given that the M and F results usually differ, knowing that say 43% of M were favorable (Fav) to Obama gives essentially no clue as to whether say 59% or say 60% of F would be. Thus knowing whether M Fav is even or odd tells us essentially nothing about whether F Fav would be even or odd.

Thus the even-odd property should match about half the time, just like the odds of getting both heads or both tails if you tossed a penny and nickel. If you were to toss the penny and the nickel 18 times (like the 18 entries in the first two columns of the table) you would expect them to show about the same number of heads, but would rightly be shocked if they each showed exactly the same random-looking pattern of heads and tails.

Research 2000: Problems in plain sight

I take slight issue with this, in that there are some types of questions that would tend to be either both even or odd. Anything where there are only two possible answers, for instance, would be one. They'd have to add up to 100, so most of the time it would be either two odd or two even numbers. There were three choices in this poll, with "undecided" being the third, so more random odd-even pairings would be expected. Leaving that aside, though, the coincidences were way more than what can be explained away easily:

Were the results in our little table a fluke? The R2K weekly polls report 778 M-F pairs. For their favorable ratings (Fav), the even-odd property matched 776 times. For unfavorable (Unf) there were 777 matches.

Research 2000: Problems in plain sight

One might ask why, if Research 2000 were actually making up the data, they didn't pick less suspicious numbers. For that question, I have no answers. These are among the sorts of anomalies, though, that mathematicians look for when they are trying to find fudged or made up data.

The third case, comparing the randomness of Gallup's favorability poll with Research 2000's, strikes me as being even more compelling:

[L]et’s look at the same for the weekly changes in R2K's first 60 weeks. There are many changes of 1% or -1%, but very few of 0%. It's as if some coin seemed to want to change on each flip, rarely giving heads or tails twice in a row. That looks very peculiar, but with only 59 numbers it's not so extremely far outside the range of what could happen by accident, especially since any accidental change in week 2 shows up in both the change from week 1 and the change to week 3, complicating the statistics.
If we now look at all the top-line changes in favorability (or other first-answer of three answers) for the last 14 weeks, we see a similar pattern.

Research 2000: Problems in plain sight

One would expect that, in week to week polling, there would be times when there was no change in the results from one week to the next. In the case of Research 2000's poll, there were very few, compared to Gallup. That particular anomaly occurred over two different periods in the space of a year.

I urge anyone with questions to check out the article. I'm not any kind of mathematician, let alone an expert in statistics, but it looks to me like there is reason to be skeptical of these poll results.

The reason I found out about this was that I happened to see the title of this article by Nate Silver at Five Thirty-Eight:

About 15 minutes ago, I was sent a cease and desist demand by Howrey LLP, the lawfirm that Research 2000 has contracted with to defend it against Daily Kos, which is suing it for fraud based on evidence that its polling may have been fabricated.

The cease and desist letter, which is published below, attributes to FiveThrityEight statements that were made by others. It alleges that "you have engaged in a campaign to discredit and damage R2K by posting negative comments regarding Mr. Ali, the Company, and its work products on the "Daily Kos" blog. It further threatens a lawsuit, unless I "immediately cease and desist all such activities, and retract all previous publicly transmitted statements."

Research 2000 Issues Cease & Desist Letter to FiveThirtyEight

Nate had previously revised his ranking of political pollsters, in which Research 2000 scored below average (more correctly, below Nate's default rating for a new pollster) on both rating scales.

In searching my blog for articles related to Research 2000, this was the most notable:

After the Massachusetts special Senate election, Democracy For America commissioned a poll to find out what issues affected the outcome.
Note that overall, and among independents, the public option is favored more than 6 to 1. Even among Republicans, the margin is nearly 3 to 1. These are only the people who voted for Obama in 2008 and for Brown in 2010, but they represent the sort of folks who supported Obama, and in all likelihood had considered voting for other Democrats, as recently as 2008.

Health Care: The Lesson To Draw From The MA-Senate Race

I've mentioned that poll several times since. I'm not aware of any other similar polls, so, in contrast to issues like President Obama's favorability ratings, there is nothing to compare it to in order to validate it. It's difficult to trust the results of that poll, at least until the questions about Research 2000's methods are cleared up.

What we should probably take away from this, for now, is that whatever we think we know about public opinion due to Research 2000's polls must be validated against other polls. In the case where no similar polls have been done by other pollsters, as was true of the post-MA Senate special election poll, the results must be viewed skeptically.

UPDATE: Nate Silver had written another article earlier today saying that he felt there was something to the "three statistics wizards"' case.

In his article announcing his intention to sue Research 2000 today, Markos Moulitsas asserted that they had promised to release all the data from the polls they did for Daily Kos, but they later refused.

Meanwhile, Research 2000 contends that the real problem is that Daily Kos hasn't been paying its bills.

UPDATE 2 (June 30): Nate Silver points out a problem with the data in the Research 2000 tracking poll for President in 2008:

A lot of pollsters would have been reluctant to do this because the sample sizes were quite small -- on average, about 360 persons for each daily sample -- and presumably would have revealed rather striking variation from day to day simply due to sampling error. The margin of error on a sample size of 360 is +/- 5.2 points, so it would be fairly normal for Barack Obama's numbers to careen (for example) from 54 points one day, to 48 points the next, to 52 the day afterward.

But in fact, this didn't happen. In fact, their daily samples showed barely any movement at all. In the 55 days of their tracking poll, Barack Obama's figure never increased by more than 2 points, nor declined by more than 2 points.

Nonrandomness in Research 2000's Presidential Tracking Polls

It looks to me like Research 2000 was either asking the same people the same question each time, or there is a problem with the poll. In fact, that's almost redundant; if they were asking the same people that question every time they published a poll, that's some seriously bad methodology.

Quote Of The Day

Words of wisdom from The Way Things Break:

In my experience, the amount of trust someone deserves is inversely proportional to the frequency with which they demand it while offering no corroborating evidence.

Roger Pielke Jr. crying wolf. Again.

In my experience, this is one of the signs of a person whose opinions you shouldn't trust. The more aggressive ones will get in your face and demand that you take them seriously, or find various clever ways of insulting you. The one thing they will inevitably try to avoid discussing is the merit of their opinions.

The other is that this individual is completely sure his opinions are right. I've written about that before. People who are too sure of themselves usually don't know how things really work. People who refuse to admit the limits of their knowledge or the uncertainty of it definitely don't.

Now, I Can Relax ...

Caption: All this hard work paid off! Time for my nap...

Image credit: St. Bernards Hotel, in Australia, who have absolutely nothing to do with this article, or with FireDogLake.

Congratulations, FireDogLake and Jane for meeting your fundraising goal. Keep up the good work.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Ian Welsh on the G-20 conference, and what it means for you:

It’s really, really simple. The rich crashed the world economy. They were bailed out, with their wealth having almost entirely recovered and corporate profits likewise have pretty much recovered. Now, at the G10, the world’s leaders are discussing how to make regular people pay for the rich’s follies.
You notice that somehow, no one is talking about going back to 1950’s levels of progressive taxation, with a top rate around 90%. No, what they’re talking about is making the middle class and the poor pay for the sins of the rich.

The key thing here to understand is this: there is no crisis for the rich or corporations any more, therefore as far as they are concerned, there is no crisis.

G20 Confers on how to make you pay for the rich’s blunders

[links from original] You've read that sentiment that I've italicized here a time or two.

In many of the countries of the G-20, conservative parties are in power right now. In contrast, in the U.S. this is being done by the Democratic Party, which is supposed to be the one that looks after ordinary Americans. As long as progressives blindly support the Democratic Party, without requiring that they actually fulfill that role, we will continue paying for the mistakes of the rich, and they will see no problem with making us do that.

Sunday Photo(s)

It's almost the end of June, and it's been one of the more gloomy Junes of late. While visiting the Seattle Asian Art Museum early this month, I took some exterior shots. Here are a couple of the tower that sits near the museum in Volunteer Park. The first is from the north:
Image credit: All images by Cujo359
from the east:

Then we arrived at the museum itself:

The entrance is guarded by a pair of stone camels, like this one:

By the time we got out, it was pouring rain, and so we didn't feel like staying long. I took an obligatory photo of the Space Needle through the funny statue:

And one of the resevoir:

I tried to take a picture of the carp pool, but it was caught in a space-time distortion:

The pool is actually circular, but for some reason the software I used to create this panorama didn't want to believe that. The carp seem to have survived the experience, though:

As did we. What's inside? I'll show some of that next weekend. Meantime, Dana Hunter has her own photos to share.

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge them.

Have a good Sunday.

Friday, June 25, 2010

iPhone 4? It's Next To The Tickle Me Elmos

Caption: The iPhone 4 running iBooks software. At least you'll have something to read while you're waiting for the phone to work.

Image credit: Apple Computer

Thinking about buying the new iPhone4? My advice would be to wait awhile. First of all, you have to battle the crowds, as the Miami Herald reports:

The long-awaited launch of the latest iPhone Thursday was welcomed with cops controlling crowds, short tempers, and complaints over disrupted signals and yellow spots on the screen.

"Apple did a terrible job," said Jalen James of North Bay Village. "They have an app for everything except how to organize a line."

James was at Aventura [Florida] Mall in the early hours, facing about 1,000 people outside the Apple Store before its doors opened at 7 a.m.

Some complaints, some quarrels as crowds grab up iPhone 4s

Things were like that lots of places, if PC Magazine is right:

Radio Shack had previously announced that some stores might not receive supplies of the new iPhone 4 on launch day, including units in black as well as white; Apple delayed the white iPhone because of an unexplained manufacturing issue. Radio Shack also said that it would extend its accessory bundle deals throughout July and work to obtain more iPhones as well.

Best Buy also announced that the company had begin filling "some" preorders, but @Coral_BestBuy, one of the members of its "twelp force," told one customer that "[I]deally we'd have had more than enough to fulfill all preorders and then some, unfortunately that was not the case."

Best Buy, Radio Shack, Wal-Mart Ship iPhone4

And what do you end up with if you do manage to find one? A phone with a troublesome new antenna:

Apple has finally acknowledged that the way you hold the iPhone 4 can hinder the device's cellular reception.

Complaints about weakening or disappearing signals when the iPhone 4 is gripped in a particular way--usually by touching two seams of the antenna band on the exterior of the phone simultaneously--began popping up late Wednesday night, and continued to appear Thursday.

Apple acknowledges antenna issue in iPhone 4

It also has newer, more complicated software:

Rule No. 1 when upgrading devices with new software is, "Your mileage may vary," and that seems to hold true for early adopters of iOS 4, the updated Apple operating system that became available for download on June 21. After experimenting with the new features for a couple of days, I'm ready to label my experience with iOS 4 as "relatively painless."
Apple is playing up the multitasking features of iOS 4, which only work on the iPhone 3GS and the latest iteration of the iPod Touch (and on the new iPhone 4, of course), but it's going to be the applications themselves that determine whether multitasking is useful.

iOS 4 Is an Upgrade Worth Having

So, first the application writers make their software compatible with the new features, then we find out if the new operating system's new features work properly. In my own experience, this seldom goes well.

Personally, I'd wait for the iPhone 4.1, or whatever the phone with a better antenna and a debugged OS will be called. If you can't wait that long, at least wait until they get more of them in the stores.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A War Of The Roses?

Since my traveling partner Dana Hunter posted an article last night on the Portland Rose Garden, I thought I'd post a few of my pictures of it as well. From her article, you might get the feeling that there are only roses there. It's easy to think that, because this is what you see when you enter:
Image credit: all images by Cujo359

There are lots of different roses there. What I was amazed by was the range of colors in each rose. Here is one called the Shreveport:

This one is called "Dream Come True". It apparently won some sort of award a couple of years ago:

Here's one called Funkuhr, believe it or not:

But, there are plenty of other things to see there. For instance, there's Shakespeare's Garden, which has hedges and apparently makes visitors feel compelled to pick up litter:

Lady MacBeth would be proud.

There's a beautiful willow tree:

a fountain:

and every once in a while, you can catch a glimpse of the Portland skyline:

As Dana mentioned, there's also a gift shop, and there's a little snack bar nearby. Lots to do while someone is trying to decide which orange rose he likes best.

As always, click on the pictures to enlarge.

The Afghanistan Org Chart

I'm not very good at organization charts. As I explained some time ago, they don't always reflect the real relationships in an organization:

I've never been good at organization charts. Usually, the only things I'm really interested in when I'm part of an organization is whom I'm working for, who, if anyone, is working for me, and who's running the show. Beyond that, it's all pretty academic to me. That's what bosses have to know.

The USA Eight: Odds and Ends: Organization Charts

In my experience, it's actually just more useful to observe whose ideas and policies are implemented and whose aren't. Organization charts never show the networks of trust that exist within an organization - who trusts whose opinion, who has the dirt on whom, etc. They also don't usually reflect the real division of responsibilities that result from a particular person being in a place to affect the entire organization's success or failure. Sometimes, someone whose name is in the middle of that org chart in an inconsequential looking box can be the one who makes or breaks an operation.

That latter consideration is something to keep in mind when discussing the seeming demotion of General David Petraeus from CENTCOM commander to commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. In truth, Patraeus is now in a position to affect events more than he was at CENTCOM, and he will be doing the thing that just about any general wants to do - running a war effort. As the Marine Corps Times observed by publishing this Associated Press article:

The Afghanistan job is technically a demotion from Petraeus’ current post, where he oversees U.S. military involvement across the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan and several Central Asian nations.

Yet no one who has worked with him thinks that’s how he’ll see it. “He’s getting another opportunity to step into a war at a critical inflection point,” said [president of the Center for the New American Security John] Nagl, a retired Army officer who worked for Petraeus in drafting the Army’s counterinsurgency manual. “So this is by no means a step down.”

Petraeus readies for new Afghanistan duties

Command of NATO forces has been a position for a four-star general, which is what both Patraeus and McChrystal are. There is no loss of status here, and Patraeus is doing something that every general officer wants to do: run a war.

Thinking of this as a demotion is wrong-headed. I've seen at least a few statements to that effect, both in comments at progressive blogs and articles on some conservative ones, but it's just not so. Rather than assume it was, Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz called an expert for an opinion:

In returning to a battlefield command -- similar to the one he held in Iraq before being promoted to CENTCOM chief-- Petraeus may be the only combatant commander to have made such a move, and certainly the only one in the post-Cold War period when combatant commanders achieved their singular influence, says [Derek] Reveron, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College.

But replacing Stanley McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan probably should not be seen as a demotion of Petraeus, Reverson told me in a phone interview this morning. Rather the move underscores the signature importance of Afghanistan to U.S. policymakers and its operational significance to the military. "The job that Petraeus has is the most important job that any general or admiral could have," Reveron says.

The Petraeus 'Demotion'

In short, it's more like being transferred laterally to your dream job. At least, I can't imagine a flag officer thinking otherwise. It would be like a software engineer saying "No, I don't want to run that new DBMS design project. I'd rather repair this website." My guess is that President Obama had to do no more persuading than to ask Petraeus "Do you want the job?"

Afterword: Just for the record, I called for President Obama to fire General McChrystal. I have no feelings about the general one way or another, but as many folks have pointed out, we were in dangerous constitutional territory if his remarks and behavior were allowed to stand. McChrystal may have been right in his criticisms of various Obama Administration officials and their policy, but he was clearly wrong to express them publicly. Part of serving in the military is to give up the right to make such criticisms while staying on the job.

Had an infantry captain under McChrystal's command said such things about a superior in a public forum, he would have been lucky to be allowed to resign quietly.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

They Never Learn

Image credit: Kristian D.

My real world self received this e-mail today from our state's governor, who was trying to raise support for Suzan Delbene, the party's latest chosen candidate to run for the Eighth Congressional District:

Like me, Suzan supported the passage of the health care reform bill because she fundamentally understands the financial strain our current system is placing on both large and small businesses in our state and on so many of our families.

I responded:

Unlike me, she clearly isn't capable of adding up those costs and strains. The health care bill put us at the mercy of insurance companies for our health care, and to add insult to injury, makes us either pay money we can't afford for insurance we can't use, or pay a penalty to the IRS. That Ms. Delbene doesn't understand what a lousy bill this is would seem to demonstrate that she'll be a lousy advocate for ordinary Americans.

Let her be the latest to lose to Dave Reichert. I have to save up my money to buy worthless insurance.

If you ever want this system to be made right, Democrats need to hear this from you, too. They need to hear it a lot. They seem to think that this health care bill is some kind of selling point for them. They're sadly mistaken.

Much as I'd love for someone who is at least nominally progressive to replace former law enforcement spokesmodel Dave Reichert, it's not going to happen this time. The Democrats have screwed that pooch big time, and they continue to screw it over and over again while looking quite pleased with themselves.

Juan Cole On The McChrystal Fiasco

Caption: U.S. Army Spc. Marcelino Villarreal, from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 162nd Field Artillery Regiment, Puerto Rico National Guard, provides security while Soldiers from Charlie Company, 26th Field Artillery Regiment recover a humvee stuck on a muddy road in the Khost Province, Afghanistan, March 25, 2007. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Isaac A. Graham)

A suitable metaphor for our current condition in Afghanistan, I think.

Image credit: Staff Sgt. Isaac A. Graham, U.S. Army/Wikimedia

Juan Cole has an interesting analysis of the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the now former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. It concludes:

[Afghanistan President Hamid] Karzai appears to be attempting to strike a deal with the very Taliban and insurgents that Obama says he is pledged to uproot and destroy.

How can that make sense?

No wonder McChrystal was so frustrated that he went around his line of command to the press. The real reason for this contretemps is that Obama does not have a realistic, sharply defined set of goals in Afghanistan, and he has not been good about cracking the whip and getting everyone in his administration on the same page on AfPak.

McChrystal Drama is Sideshow;
Can Obama define a realistic Goal?

All of which, I think, is basically true. There was clearly a great deal of dissension between McChrystal and his superiors about what to do in Afghanistan, and a lot of hostility between the major players. Hostility can work, provided there is reason to think the campaign is successful. In fact, hostility is most noticeable in situations where things aren't working out, because those differing opinions lead to different notions about what and who is to blame for the failure. There's little reason to think that hostility is working to our benefit here, and a whole lot of reason to suspect the opposite.

A Prediction That Didn't Work Out

I love it when I'm wrong. That may sound perverse, but in reality it means that, for once, someone didn't screw up on behalf of the country. From a FireDogLake live blog:

MSNBC’s Jim Miklaszewski is reporting that Pentagon sources confirm that President Barack Obama has relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his command of forces in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama has decided to relieve Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his command over all U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, sources tell NBC News.

Obama is scheduled to make an official 1:30 p.m. EDT announcement about the general.

MSNBC is also reporting (now confirmed by a CNN national seurity source) that Obama has tapped Gen. David Petraeus, current head of US Central COmmand, as McChrystal’s replacement.

McChrystal Relieved of Command; Obama Names Petraeus as Replacement in Afghanistan

As the title says, Gen. Petraeus will replace McChrystal. I'm not sure that the Surgin' General is the best choice as a replacement, but at least as CENTCOM commander he's familiar with the situation.

Just yesterday, I predicted that Obama wouldn't do this. I'm glad to see that at least he won't overlook the obvious when it's about to kick him in the gonads. I'm also glad because losing control of the military would be a very bad thing for America. Plenty of countries have learned what that means, and very few remain democracies today.

On Stating The Obvious

Ian Welsh remarks on how easy it is to make good predictions these days:

Most of my analytical and predictive successes have been of the “this is bloody obvious” variety. A commenter said the other day that predicting that Dems would take losses in 2010 was an obvious prediction, but in early 2009 most of the rest of the progressive blogosphere was busy telling themselves and everyone else that the Republicans were such a disaster that at worst losses would be mild and Dems might even make gains.

Likewise, the housing bubble was obvious way out. All you had to do was look at a chart. It didn’t take being a genius economist (which I’m not). It didn’t take fancy math. All it took was the ability to say “hey, that looks exactly like a bubble, and all bubbles burst”. All you had to do was listen for the fools saying “it’s different this time”.

It’s almost never different this time. Human nature does not change. Things which didn’t work in the past are unlikely to work now. Incompetent people, which is to say people with a track record of screwing up, are not likely to suddenly become competent. And if you can’t imagine what it’s like to be someone you despise, you can’t predict what they’ll do.

The Bloody Obviousness Of Most Good Predictions

And yes, it really is that simple sometimes. I added that italic emphasis, because in many cases that's what I hear when I state the obvious conclusion to whatever plan or action we're discussing: "This time isn't like the others." People usually think that they're special; they're smarter, better informed, or just plain cooler than the folks who screwed up the same way before. When I hear such talk, I usually have a Blowed Up moment. I have so many of those these days that I sometimes think I should get a cell phone.

I often refer to what I'm doing here as stating the obvious. The obvious often needs to be stated out loud, in my experience. People will ignore it otherwise. If you bring it up, people at least have to consider it, and the smarter ones actually will look at you and say "I hadn't thought of that."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm A Much Better Dancer...

.. after I've had a couple. At least, that seems like a good caption for this photo, courtesy of Yves Smith:
Image credit: Naked Capitalism

Got The Fire, Got The Dog ...

Caption: OK, I found a fire, I'm sure there's a lake around here somewhere. I'll look for it after my nap...

Image credit: St. Bernards Hotel, in Australia, who have absolutely nothing to do with this article, or with FireDogLake.

There are quite a few blogs out there. Some are good, some aren't. If you're a progressive, though, there's one blog that should stand out: FireDogLake.

Lots of folks think they know what it is: a shrill place where people are always finding stuff that's wrong with America. Actually, it's the place that tells you what's wrong with America when most news outlets, including a few other blogrollees, should be telling you. Marcy Wheeler, David Dayen, and Jon Walker provide reporting that often puts other news outlets to shame, and there are usually at least a few good user diaries on any given day.

Sure, there are days when FDL annoys me. On the other hand, more often than not, they annoy the right people. And if you want to see truly insane comments threads, you can do a lot better, um worse?, than FDL. So on the whole, I like them, and more importantly, I respect their work. It's valuable, useful work that might not get done if they aren't around to do it.

Until the end of this month, FireDogLake is running a pledge drive. They're trying to get enough contributions to keep the bytes flowing for the next six months. So if you have a few extra bucks that the government or the corporations that own it haven't screwed you out of yet, you'd do a lot worse than to head to their contributions page and leave them there.

Beware The Rubicon

Caption: U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, left, talks with a Czech soldier, right, during his visit to Forward Operating Base Shank, Afghanistan, Aug. 21, 2009. McChrystal is the commander of International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces Afghanistan. (DoD photo by Spc. Matthew Thompson, U.S. Army/Released)

Image credit: Spc. Matthew Thompson, U.S. Army

It's well past quitting time in Washington, DC, and it appears that General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. Army commander in Afghanistan, still has his job. This cannot be a good thing, even for Stanley McChrystal.

For those who aren't up on this story, Rolling Stone magazine published an article on McChrystal that included a number of quotes from McChrystal and anonymous aides, that in one way or another disparage President Obama's handling of the war in Afghanistan. In his response to the article, Gen. McChrystal did not indicate that he had been misquoted.

Reportedly, Gen. McChrystal has offered to resign, and President Obama is considering whether to accept.

This is a serious thing. It is what President Harry Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur as commander of U.N. forces in Korea during the Korean War. Publicly criticizing one's commander is insubordination, which is a court martial offense in the military. As former Army Colonel Patrick Lang explained today:

Our tradition is designed to prevent the emergence of "Caesarism" as a method of picking leaders or determining basic national policy. To maintain that principle Macarthur was fired on the advice of George Marshall. What McChrystal has done is to challenge President Obama. Everyone in the armed forces knows that. The notion has emerged in the COIN community that Obama is weak and can be bullied into removing the time restriction that he has placed on the Afghanistan COIN campaign plan that he adopted at their urging last year. Macarthur implicitly threatened both Roosevelt and Truman with the possibility that he would mobilize Republican politicos against them. The COIN crowd think that the same method can be used against this president. They have been willing to bet that he is no Truman and that Gates and Clinton do not have Marshall's strength. The effrontery of the deed in feeding this reporter all this material without placing it off the record is clearly a challenge to civilian control of policy.

See the McChrystal post on 30 May, 2010

I added that link on "Ceasarism", since it's possible that not everyone understands the implication of that term. "COIN", incidentally, is a shortening of "counterinsurgency", the sort of military campaign we're waging in Afghanistan. McChrystal is supposed to be an expert at it. The article that post's title refers to provides an example of McChrystal attempting to influence policy through the press, a dubious practice, also. Iraq War veteran and Vote Vets blogger Jon Soltz wrote:

The open disdain and personal ridicule of the President and his advisors by General Stanley McChrystal and his subordinates in the new issue of Rolling Stone leaves only two acceptable options: Either General McChrystal resigns or is fired.

If he has any honor, he'll step down.

I know something about this. In 2006, I worked with two Generals, appearing in national television ads critical of President Bush and his strategy in Iraq. Or, should I say, retired Generals. Major Generals Paul D. Eaton and John Batiste each made the painful decision to leave the military they loved, so they could speak out. To that point, they had held their tongues.


Because the order and efficacy of our Armed Forces falls apart without respect for the chain of command. Whether it's a grunt respecting his company commander, or a General respecting the Commander in Chief, every single thing is predicated on the integrity of the chain of command. As soon as someone - especially someone as high up as General McChrystal - violates that respect, every single person under him begins to not only question the orders they've been given from above, but is given the signal that it's OK to openly disagree or mock his or her superior.

McChrystal Must Resign - or Be Fired

Being part of the United States military means that certain freedoms that most of us have, like speaking out or quitting when our bosses do something unethical or just plain stupid, is not always an option. There are acceptable ways of disagreeing with a decision, and it's usually OK for generals to resign if they're not in the middle of a battle or some other emergency. What is not OK is loudly and repeatedly criticizing one's commander in public.

I think it's unlikely you'll find many former U.S. military officers who agree with letting McChrystal stay on.

This could also be a problem for Gen. McChrystal, should he be kept on. He will not have the trust of his bosses, and has openly disparaged some of them. Will the President and his advisers trust McChrystal's advice or warnings in the future? That is something you don't need to be in the military to see how it could work out. That McChrystal is in the military, it seems to me, just makes the working relationship that much harder to maintain.

If President Obama lets this stand, which it appears to me he will, he will have set yet another dreadful precedent for official lawlessness. In addition, his position with the military will be weakened - they will be less likely to respect him than they do now. That cannot be a good thing. And Lang's warning about Ceasarism was not an idle one - what keeps the military under civilian authority is tradition and respect for the chain of command. If Obama ignores that, there is a real danger that this will be the first of many insubordinate acts by general officers. As Ceasar and many later generals since have demonstrated, that cannot be a good thing.

(h/t Taylor Marsh for a couple of those links.)

Afterword: Due to my past employment in the defense industry, I'm often reluctant to discuss issues related to the military. This is one of those times. There is a real danger here, though, both to the military and our form of government.

I have never met Gen. McChrystal, nor do I recall any discussions about him with former colleagues, so I have only the public record of his actions as a guide.

I should probably also explicitly point out that I've never been in the military, so I cannot be considered an expert on things like military law or discipline. That's one of the reasons I looked for those quotes. Thanks to my background, I just know what to look for.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

It's been a typical Northwest spring, which means you never know when you're going to see the sun. Just because it's May doesn't mean you can't go sailing on Lake Washington, as this guy was doing off Waverly Park:
Image credit: Cujo359

That was in mid-May, and the temperatures were in the seventies. I was sorry I hadn't brought my swimming trunks.

On the other hand, in mid-June it can still look like this, as it did at the Burien Strawberry Festival yesterday:

Image credit: Cujo359

This is two days before summer, and it's as chilly as it looks. I don't think we got above 60 degrees.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Krugman On Austerity

I have to admire Paul Krugman's tenacity. Once again, he tries to school the insane, who in this case would be Alan Greenspan and others who lament that there's been no inflation yet despite all that money we're supposedly spending in stimulus:

You know, some people might take the fact that what’s actually happening is exactly what people like me were saying would happen — namely, that deficits in the face of a liquidity trap don’t drive up interest rates and don’t cause inflation — lends credence to the Keynesian view. But no: Greenspan KNOWS that deficits do these terrible things, and finds it “regrettable” that they aren’t actually happening.

Of course, as I've pointed out Krugman could look a lot closer to home and find an economist who won't change his beliefs when confronted with contrary facts. I sometimes wonder if there is an economist anywhere who has changed any of his fundamental assumptions about the subject since he received his PhD.

Still, suggesting that somehow the bad results he expected to see not being there is a bad thing demonstrates how tenuous Greenspan's grasp of how our economy works really is, and how unlikely he, or his successor, is to learn anything.

Krugman also offered an explanation of why the idea that economies can grow despite austerity programs is mistaken. The short version - none of the examples offered up actually are like our situation. In fact, most are nothing like it, save that a national economy was in a recession. It's worth a read, I think.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Just Be Glad You Didn't Pay To Read ...

I'm so glad I didn't buy The Economist today to read this cover story:

Mr Obama deserves to be pegged back. This newspaper supported him in 2008 and backed his disappointing-but-necessary health-care plan. But he has done little to fix the deficit, shown a zeal for big government and all too often given the impression that capitalism is something unpleasant he found on the sole of his sneaker. America desperately needs a strong opposition. So it is sad to report that the American right is in a mess: fratricidal, increasingly extreme on many issues and woefully short of ideas, let alone solutions.

This matters far beyond America’s shores. For most of the past half-century, conservative America has been a wellspring of new ideas—especially about slimming government. At a time when redesigning the state is a priority around the world, the right’s dysfunctionality is especially unfortunate.

The Republicans: What's wrong with America's right

It just gets more insane from there. The article goes on to accuse President Obama of being a "statist", whatever that means in their context, which seems to have nothing to do with what I interpret the word to mean. The one thing that Obama has proved over and over is that he doesn't want to get the government involved in anything except gross overreaches for executive power - like suspending habeas corpus for both foreigners and Americans, and killing Americans overseas for being supportive of terrorists.

The article does manage to make a cogent point here and there, but to read it you'd think the main problem was the Republicans just can't get along.

The reason Republicans are in trouble is that they keep saying insane things like this, not because they can't pick a leader or choose an agenda. Doing those things requires at least a modicum of clear thinking, which is something that few Republicans in Congress have shown any talent for.

There were quite a few comments on this article that made more sense than the article itself, including a few that were clearly written by conservatives. Why should I pay to read something that foolish? In the future, I hope that The Economist learns to not make foolishness like this the week's feature.

I'm also glad I don't have to pay to read Talking Points Memo. Josh Marshall seemed positively convinced that we just had to read this mindless screed by some Obama supporter:

In this case, it is simple. If liberals do not support Obama and the Democrats for the next two election cycles, a rabid Right will be back in control, and America will devolve further into ineffective gridlock and rising inequality. Even the gains that have been made so far, a pretty good health reform, student loan reforms, improved financial regulations, and so forth, will quickly be weakened and reversed if the Republicans regain Congress and the presidency. Liberals right now should not be joining in Obama bashing on the oil spill. They should be focused on Republican blame and hypocrisy -- and should pressure the Senate to vote for good energy legislation.

Liberals and Obama on the Oil Spill -- continued

I don't even know where to begin. Anyone who thinks that's a "pretty good health reform" needs to have her head examined. Let's just start there. Then there's the increasing obviousness of the conclusion that there is precious little difference between this Administration and the last one, and that the Democrats in Congress have not done one of the things they should have done on the economy, the wars we're still involved in, or anything else of any real consequence. They're talking about gutting Social Security and Medicare for crying out loud.

That the Republicans might do worse than this doesn't seem humanly possible. Even if it is, they're the opposition. I can take having the opposition trying to screw us. What I can't take is having no party that won't, and that's where we are.

As for not criticizing Obama about his response to the oil spill, he failed to do the most basic first step of problem solving, which is to define the problem. It took a month for him to have an independent assessment of the oil spill's magnitude done. He left BP, a company with a miserable record of safety and environmental failures, in charge of the cleanup effort long after it was clear that they were screwing it up, if not phoning it in. He has not changed his mind about continuing deepwater drilling, and has not proposed any serious means of regulating it. If Obama had done everything I could have possibly wanted in all other areas of government, I'd still have to criticize his work here. His handling of this disaster has been profoundly flawed. Not only did Obama ignore common sense in this disaster, he ignored the progressive principles many of his supporters thought they were sending him to the White House to uphold. He should be criticized, and if we refuse to do that because he might not do something else for us, we're as dishonest as the most mendacious conservative in Congress.

One of the most basic progressive principles, in my opinion, is that with power comes responsibility. When people in power screw up, it matters. That's why I criticize Democrats more than Republicans these days - because their screwups are the ones that matter. If Republicans are in power, then their screwups will matter.

Anyone who thinks otherwise isn't much of a thinker, in my opinion.

In all likelihood, the only thing these two people have in common is that they are gibbering idiots. Why does anyone take them seriously? When did up become down, and black white? Solve those riddles, and I think we'll be on the way to curing what ails us.

Meanwhile, I'm just glad I can read what they write for free.

Quote Of The Day

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism wrote this one yesterday:

In the wake of the Great Depression, it took more than a decade of experimentation to construct a new architecture. Among its tenets was the recognition that successful markets depended on tough policing, and the importance of the prosperity of the middle class, which in turn meant workers should reap their fair share of productivity gains. But the amorphous and often contradictory “free markets” ideology has conditioned policymakers and the public to view unregulated commerce as virtuous, when unconstrained markets are, in fact, a brawl. In the Anglo-Saxon world where this model has been taken the furthest, we’ve seen shallow expansions, stagnant average worker wages and rising income disparity, with very big gains at the very top. That’s a particularly difficult model to dislodge. As former International Monetary Fund chief economist Simon Johnson has pointed out, reform programmes usually fail unless some members of the oligarchy break ranks. Unfortunately, it may take an unmanageable crisis to convince them.

Death Of An Economic Paradigm

It's from an op-ed Yves wrote yesterday in Mint, which Yves describes as India's second largest business paper. Mint appears to be associated with The Wall Street Journal somehow.

As with so much that Yves has written these days, this strikes me as both true and sad. The truly sad part about this is that at least part of the oligarchy, that part that makes its money in manufacturing or other industries, should welcome better regulation of the financial industries. Yet, it appears that they either don't, or that even their interest is not enough.

The Unnatural Disaster That Is Our Federal Government

Is there anyone in Congress who doesn't have his head up his ass? Talking Points Memo provides the full text of a statement by House Minority Leader John Boehner (OH-08), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (VA-07), and Rep. Mike Pence (IN-06) on the apology that fellow Republican Joe Barton (TX-06) made, then unmade yesterday:

The oil spill in the Gulf is this nation's largest natural disaster and stopping the leak and cleaning up the region is our top priority. Congressman Barton's statements this morning were wrong. BP itself has acknowledged that responsibility for the economic damages lies with them and has offered an initial pledge of $20 billion dollars for that purpose.

The families and businesspeople in the Gulf region want leadership, accountability and action from BP and the Administration. It is unacceptable that, 59 days after this crisis began, no solution is forthcoming. Simply put, the American people want all of our resources, time and focus to be directed toward stopping the spill and cleaning up the mess.

House GOP Leadership: Barton Was 'Wrong' On BP Apology -- And Spill Is A 'Natural Disaster'

The largest natural disaster? This oil spill is many things. It's a mess. It's just one more thing that's depressing the economy. It's an effective way to destroy the fishing in the region. It is a disaster. It is not, however, a natural disaster.

Hurricanes and tornados are natural disasters. Volcanoes and earthquakes are, too. That's because they weren't caused by people. This disaster was due to the failure of a man-made device, an oil well. It was caused by the stupidity of a great many people, including our governments at both the federal and state level, and, not incidentally, BP. An oil well failing is the fault of the people who designed or built it. The failure to have in place the equipment and people to contain the oil is a failure of the management of BP and its subcontractors.

I've been rough on the Democrats recently, because the stupid things they're doing right now actually matter. That's what it means to be in power. There's a reason they're in power, though, which I explained not all that long ago. It's because next to the Republicans, they look good.

Of course, that's the only circumstance where they look good these days. When these are our choices for governance, I fear for the future of my species.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

At Least He Wasn't Stroking A Cat

I think Barack Obama lost a fanboy yesterday:

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Jon Stewart was one of the smart ones. Yet it took a year and a half, with many people out here in the "crazysphere" warning that this was happening, before he caught on. For quite some time, as Glenn Greenwald noted, the fanboys were accusing us of being in too much of a hurry to see all those progressive goodies under the tree. In reality, we just wanted Obama to accomplish less harm than good. Even on that very modest basis, his Administration has so far been a dismal failure.

I wonder how long it will be before some of the other fanboys come around.

What's with the title? Watch the video and it will become clear.

The Choice

Every presidential election, the Public Broadcasting System's Frontline program does a dual profile of the major party's candidates called "The Choice". Let's do a short version of that show for the Senate elections coming up, shall we? At least, let's look at our choice of parties who might control the Senate. Here is the Republican spokesperson, Nevada U.S. Senate candidate Sharon Angle, as described by Talking Points Memo:

Then there is Angle (R-NV), who campaigned on wanting to "phase Medicare and Social Security out," far from a mainstream Republican message.

GOP Shields Angle And Paul To Avoid Making Them Face Of '10

The Republicans have been backing away from this position, which is strange to me, because it wasn't all that long ago that a Republican President was saying that they should do exactly that, and getting royally slapped down for it. Here's a Senate GOP spokesperson explaining their position:

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) told Politico that Angle's Social Security privatization push is not going to be part of the GOP's platform. "I'm not sure how she's going to develop her policy positions with regard to entitlement programs at this point," he said. "She's going to have to come out and define what it is she's for, what she's against - including probably some of her statements that she's made in the past and ... how she's them applying in the current economy."

GOP Shields Angle And Paul To Avoid Making Them Face Of '10

So, the GOP seems to want to avoid talking about this issue. One might think that was a good strategy on their part.

What do the Democrats have to say? You'd think that they would be against any cuts in Social Security, wouldn't you think? Think again:

[Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)] also admonished “bleeding heart liberals” to be open to program reductions to restore fiscal balance. An hour after the commission’s meeting, however, several liberal activists held a conference call with reporters to press for additional spending to create jobs, lower military spending, higher taxes for the wealthy and no cuts in Medicare or Social Security.

Obama Tells Debt Commission ‘Everything Has to Be on the Table’

Durbin's the Senate Majority Leader, which makes him the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate. The title of that New York Times article is also instructive - the President is on board with cutting Social Security or privatizing it. He's said so on multiple occasions, both during the election and afterwards.

What's that you say? Later, once he was the nominee, he pledged to protect Social Security? Yes, but he also promised not to create another Social Security Commission:

OBAMA: We’re going to have to capture some revenue in order to stabilize the Social Security system. You can’t get something for nothing. And if we care about Social Security, which I do, and if we are firm in our commitment to make sure that it’s going to be there for the next generation, and not just for our generation, then we have an obligation to figure out how to stabilize the system. I think we should be honest in presenting our ideas in terms of how we’re going to do that and not just say that we’re going to form a commission and try to solve the problem some other way.

Barack Obama on Social Security

How did that work out?

President Obama has packed the Debt Commission (also known as the cat food commission) with members who have an overwhelming history of support for both benefit cuts and privatization of Social Security.

The “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” is operating in secret over the objections of both parties. John Boehner and John Conyers have both raised concerns that the commission will make recommendations in December that could be passed by a lame duck Congress that doesn’t have to worry about being reelected. They requested that the commission report its findings prior to the election so that the public can have a chance to factor in the recommendations into their voting decisions in the election. The commission denied the request.

Obama Packs Debt Commission With Social Security Privatization & Benefit Cut Supporters

[links from original]

William Greider adds:

In setting up his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Barack Obama is again playing coy in public, but his intentions are widely understood among Washington insiders. The president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink.

Whacking The Old Folks

It looks to me like cutting Social Security and Medicare is something that both parties want to do, or at least some members of each party. The difference right now seems to be that on the Democratic side, it's the leaders who are saying that's what needs to be done, with a few lesser Senators objecting. On the Republican side it's the outsiders who say such things, and the leaders are trying to keep them quiet.

I don't see any other difference here. Yet, according to that TPM article, the Democrats seem to think that they can make this into a campaign issue that works for them. In America, where the average voter seems to have no idea who or what he's voting for, that might just be possible.

It's not working for me.

UPDATE: I struck the "or privatizing it" above, because I can't find a reference to Obama actually stating he supported the idea. He has, however, said "everything should be on the table", and then denied that privatization would be on the table. Apparently, in the Obama universe of that moment, privatization wasn't part of "everything". You figure it out:

Obama's "everything on the table" remark occurred in the course of an unintentionally amusing exchange with George Stephanopoulos:

Stephanopolous: You've also said that with Social Security everything should be on the table.

Obama: Yes.

Stephanopolous: Raising the retirement age?

Obama: Yes.

Stephanopolous: Raising payroll taxes?

Obama: Everything should be on the table.

Stephanopolous: Partial privatization?

Obama: Privatization is not something I would consider.

There are basically three choices with respect to Social Security, as the nation heads into the boomer retirement years with huge financial liabilities to future generations: (1) reduce benefits, (2) raise taxes, or (3) reform the system (aka partial privatization).

Clinton, Obama and the Social Security Table

This guy lies so well and so often, it's sometimes hard to tell what he's said. I'm still not sure I'm right or wrong. As the author said, privatization is one of very few possible solutions. It's hard to think that it wouldn't be part of "everything". Yet, to the Obama of that time, it seemingly wasn't.

Climate Change Update

Looks like global warming isn't happening this week:
Image credit: Screenshot of U.S. Weather Service forecast page by Cujo359

[Click to enlarge.]

I have a friend who moved here recently. The last couple of late Junes have been unusually dry and warm. I've had to explain that this sort of weather is more normal.

So, clearly climate change isn't happening this month.

Yes, this bad joke will continue until our nation's pundits get a clue about what "climate" means. What's hard to imagine is that in the nation's capital, where presumably people would be somewhat more attuned to what's going on in the rest of the country than normal, people actually seem to be just as provincial in their outlook as the most isolated villages in Appalachia.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Take A Low Ride With Me Girl

Image credit: Wikipedia/Fantailfan

As a friend and I were travelling home from vacation yesterday, I played Dire Straits' Making Movies. I hadn't heard it in a few years. At least, I don't remember having heard it, which probably means I just wasn't paying attention the last few times it played. It's always been a favorite of mine, perhaps Dire Straits' best. The album is mostly about loves won and lost, where those loves are both people and passions.

The first song on the album is "Tunnel Of Love", a song about a gambler who loses the love of his life to his addiction. The chorus puts the protagonist's situation in perspective:

Oh girl it looks so pretty to me,
just like it always did
Like the spanish city to me
when we were kids.

The next verse goes on:

She took off a silver locket.
She said remember me by this.
She put her hand in my pocket.
I got a keepsake and a kiss,
and in the roar of the dust and diesel
I stood and watched her walk away.
I could have caught up with her easy enough,
but something must have made me stay.

The obvious subtext is that the woman in his life just got tired of his habit. The bracelet works as a symbol of his materialism winning out over his need for her.

Some readers may remember that I'm something of a Bruce Springsteen fan, and this song has always reminded me of him. Songwriter Mark Knopfler's protagonist is much like Springsteen's in "Meeting Across The River" - someone who feels trapped into making a difficult decision, which he will probably regret forever.

There's no deep meaning here, besides the obvious observation that who we are and what we value is really shown by our actions, and the choices we make. Just as obviously, caring about someone or something almost inevitably leads to some regret.

I suppose the trick in life is to know what you really care about.

A Lesson In Idiot Savant Economics For Economics Professors

Paul Krugman pauses in the middle of his vacation to make a point:

So, how’s it going? This article is typical of what you read: it describes the Irish as doing what has to be done, while the Spaniards dither. And it has good things to say about how the Irish response is working:

Much bitterness but also stoicism; markets impressed by Irish resolve to bite the austerity bullet.

Well, I guess that’s right — if by “markets impressed” you mean a CDS spread of 226 basis points, compared with 206 points for Spain; not to mention a 10-year bond rate of 5.11 percent, compared with 4.46 percent for Spain.

So, I’m glad to hear that Ireland’s stoic acceptance of austerity is reassuring markets; it must be true, because that’s what everyone says. Because if I didn’t know that, I might look at the data and conclude that markets actually have less confidence in Ireland than they do in Spain, and that austerity in the face of a deeply depressed economy doesn’t actually reassure markets at all.guess that’s right — if by “markets impressed” you mean a CDS spread of 226 basis points, compared with 206 points for Spain; not to mention a 10-year bond rate of 5.11 percent, compared with 4.46 percent for Spain.

Does Fiscal Austerity Reassure Markets?

All of which is more or less true. Now, you may be saying "But Cujo, as an Internet persona named after a rabid animal, surely you must be aware that this is an example of post hoc, ergo propter hoc reasoning." Yes, that's certainly true - Ireland and Spain are different countries, and at least based on what he wrote in that article, one might accuse Prof. Krugman of saying that all European countries are alike, which they naturally are not. (Read the article to see the quote in context, and follow the links I didn't bother to copy over.)

However, you'd be missing the larger point, which I think perhaps should be printed in bold letters:

The Irish are paying five percent interest!

I don't know about you, but nothing that I can get my hands on right now that is reasonably guaranteed to pay off pays five percent interest. Yet the Irish, and a good many other governments, are offering bonds at rates like this to "balance" their budgets. If I had a few million to throw around, I'd love to have a stable national government on the hook to pay me five percent interest.

That's what's really important about this, at least to me. It's the answer to the question "Who benefits from government austerity?" Usually, it's the folks who lend them the money.

That's something to keep in mind the next time you read or hear someone praising the fiscal austerity program of some government.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sunday Photo(s)

Since sunshine's been a rare thing in these parts of late, here are some pictures from a trip I took up to Kirkland, WA last month. This is the taken from the dock that's next to the boat launch downtown:
Image credit: All images taken and composited by Cujo359

The right side of the picture is due north, the left side is roughly southwest, with downtown Seattle visible under the lamp. Here's a look across Lake Washington toward north Seattle from that dock:

The park that boat launch is in has a lovely all-purpose shelter that looks like a big pagoda that's had a lighthouse grafted onto it:

Here's a view from the other side of that shelter, with downtown Seattle more visible. Once again, the lens smudges are featured here.

As you leave the park, this is the bit of downtown Kirkland you'll encounter. There's a brew pub here, some other sort of wine tasting place, and rock shop my friend is fascinated by:

This is the stairway that goes from that parking lot to 85th St., which is Kirkland's main drag:

If you look at that picture full size, you may be able to see that the tiles on those low walls are individually painted.

Well, that's enough of Kirkland, at least for now. Click on the pictures to enlarge, and have a good Sunday.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Glenn Greenwald wrote this today about the anonymous leak in which someone at the White House anonymously told the unions who supported Bill Halter in the Arkansas U.S. Senate race were wasting their members' money:

I suppose this shouldn't be particularly surprising. Washington is a culture of cowardice. It's filled with people who systematically suppress (or never develop) genuine convictions for the sake of career advancement, who continuously advocate wars which only other people fight and against countries which cannot defend themselves, who are secrecy-obsessed and whose most significant acts take place in the dark in order to avoid consequences and accountability. Still, the long-standing propensity of White House officials to cower behind anonymity even to spit the most trivial insults ... stands out as particularly weak and pathetic. There are obviously times when anonymity is justified and necessary -- when someone powerless is risking something substantial to reveal serious wrongdoing by those who wield power -- but these cases are the opposite. Just ponder the character of the "senior White House official" who was so angry about what labor leaders did in Arkansas that s/he just had to call Ben Smith in order to stoke divisions between unions and their members by criticizing their actions, but then pleaded: "don't use my name when you publish my comments." That's what Washington is filled with, and it's why Washington is what it is.

Don't forget about Beltway cowardice

I certainly agree, this was cowardly. What's worse, it was utterly stupid.

I never believed the idea that Obama and his people play "eleven dimensional chess", or anything else that requires thinking many moves ahead. I'm sure that they've sometimes made smart moves. They outmaneuvered Hillary Clinton and John Edwards during the presidential primaries. Every once in a while, it's clear they've taken a long view of things. But, like J.J. Abrams when he's writing television scripts, or most people who are really busy, I assumed they were doing much of it on the fly and justifying their decisions later with some imaginative rationalizations.

This, though, is pure bush league amateurism. There's no gain in publicly insulting potential supporters. It just makes them that much more motivated to find a way to defeat you, or let you swing when you're in trouble. It also makes it harder for them to work with you in the future, because they will look weak. This is plainly obvious. Yet the White House did this anyway.

And make no mistake, this was the White House talking. Robert Gibbs admitted as much the next day, not that he needed to in order to show that was so. No one was fired for doing this, which is exactly what would have happened if that anonymous official had not been speaking on behalf of the Obama Administration.

At least, no sensible Administration would have let that statement stand.

I have to conclude from this that, in addition to having little courage and no moral center, someone at the center of this White House doesn't have the sense Nature gave a rabid opossum.

That really is troubling.