Friday, July 30, 2010

Marijuana Madness

Jane Hamsher asks the obvious rhetorical question about marijuana and the problems along our southern border, which is "When we discuss immigration, why aren't we talking about marijuana?"

It's a good question. As Dave Anderson observed at Ian Welsh recently:

One of the options for managing violence in northern Mexico is for the government to embrace a most favored cartel (mfc). Since at least April of this year, the Sinaloa cartel has been rumored to be a contender for the spot of the most favored cartel. The argument is that there is a tacit agreement that the MFC and the Mexican government would cooperate with each other to suppress other cartels. The MFC would agree to divert some of its kickbacks to the relevant governmental elites as well as maintain urban security with a tolerable and much lower level of violence as its competitors would no longer be alive or competing with it.

Most Favored Cartels And Car Bombs

The Mexican government, in short, cannot stop all the cartels from operating, so they have picked one to back, and let it either absorb or kill off the rest. That's what all the money we've sent to Mexico for marijuana has helped create: a state that can't even fight its own criminal elements.

This violence threatens to spill over into our country, but our politicians mostly don't have the nerve to say this is true.

Our current drug policy, particularly regarding marijuana, is madness. All it does is make the domestic prison industry happy, and corrupt the governments of our neighbors and allies.

How Times Have Changed

Caption: A 2000 uF, 200V electrolytic capacitor. Four inches (10 cm) tall and almost two inches (5 cm) in diameter, these are sometimes referred to as a "can" or a "BFC" (the 'B' is for "big"). This sort of capacitor might have been used in large DC power supplies a few years ago. (In the age of universal power supplies, the voltage rating would have to be higher.) This particular example is clearly old. You know that because it was manufactured in the U.S.A.

Image credit: Cujo359

I've been researching computer power supplies - never mind why, it's a long story that's only interesting to computer geeks. What's interesting from a political or social perspective is the cache given to Japanese capacitors. Here's a quote on the Antec TPQ 850 power supply from Hardware Logic:

The primary capacitor in this unit is a Nippon Chemi-Con 450v/470uF monster rated for 105°C. Nippon Chemi-Con has a very good reputation in electrolytic capacitors. This is a premium grade component and the size and rating seem adequate.

Antec True Power Quattro 850 Watt Power Supply

And even more explicitly, a Hardware Secrets review of the Corsair CMPSU-750TX gushes:

This power supply uses only Japanese capacitors, all rated at 105º C. The active PFC capacitor is from Matushita (Panasonic) while the smaller ones are from Chemi-Con.

Corsair TX750W Power Supply Review

I don't disagree with either of these conclusions, and good capacitors in a power supply can make the difference between a steady, quiet power output and a variable, noisy one. They're really important.

What's interesting to me is that it's yet another indication of how well Japan has done in addressing its old reputation as the place that made lousy stuff. It spent a generation learning how to design and manufacture things well. In contrast, after being led for a generation by fast buck artists at both the corporate and government level, American products like the one in the picture are often considered second rate, if they are even made at all.

Progress marches on.

Quote Of The Day

Caption: The Bothell Park chicken. According to some economic experts, we should have killed it and eaten it, so we won't starve. Instead, we foolishly ate cheeseburgers.

Image credit: Cujo359

Dean Baker, on the bit of fluff masquerading as a report on the results of the Troubled Assets Rehabilitation Program (TARP), which was issued by Princeton University Professor Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics:

While the analysis of the stimulus is pretty standard and very much in keeping with other estimates, this is not the case with the analysis of the financial sector policies. The problem with the study is the implicit counterfactual. It effectively assumes that if we did not do the TARP and related policies, that we would have done nothing even as the financial sector melted down.

This is comparable to doing an analysis of the benefits of eating chicken where the counterfactual is that people eat nothing. Needless to say, we would find very large benefits to eating chicken in such a study.

New Economic Study: If People Don’t Eat Chicken, They Will Starve to Death

Fans of logic will recognize what Baker has identified as a variety of the rhetorical fallacy false dichotomy, which implies that there are only two possibilities for a particular situation.

I think that journalists and pundits need to take a refresher course in logic every few years. This thing shouldn't have lasted five minutes' examination by the press. You don't need to be an economist to recognize the basic problem with these conclusions. Plenty of other remedies were proposed at the time.

LOL Of The Day

Love this one:

funny pictures of cats with captions
Image credit: I Can Has Cheezburger

Every once in a while, the expressions and the body language of the animals work perfectly with the caption. It doesn't get much better than this one.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More Feckless Bastards Gone Phishing

Usually I have some semi-humorous take on these things, but I'm not feeling terribly creative today, and I've got lots else I'm trying to do. I received this at my Cujo359 email address the other day. It appears to be a new form of phishing scam, and it's a particularly aggravating one:

From: John Mathews
Subject: Part Time Employment Opportunities
Date: Jul 27, 2010 4:16 AM

Re: Employment Opportunities

Honeywell International Inc.
101 Columbia Road
Morristown, NJ 07962


Honeywell International is a diversified technology and manufacturing leader, serving customers worldwide with aerospace products and services; control technologies for buildings, homes and industry; automotive products; turbochargers; and specialty materials. With roots tracing back to 1885, Honeywell employs more than 100,000 people in 95 countries. Under the leadership of Chairman and CEO John Mathews, we focus on our Five Initiatives: Growth, Productivity, Cash, People and the Enablers, Honeywell Operating System and Functional Transformation.


We are currently seeking part or full time employees for our ever-growing Accounts Receivable Department. Through extensive demographic research, we have discovered a wealth of untapped human resources that, for one reason or another, need the freedom to work from home. If this sounds like you, please read on, and consider becoming part of our company family. as part of our ongoing Multi Level Marketing Network, we seek capable individuals to work for us as our representative. You can easily make $700-$2000 or more in a week by working for us as Sub-contractor in your geographical location, you will be in charge of collecting payment on behalf of our affiliates and Small business organizations that are registered under us. Does it sound like your dream job? Well, it certainly for 10,000+current members who are making $700- $2,000 weekly online with this system. Note that no form of investment of is needed from you and this job will take only 1-3 hours
of your time per week.


1. Get/receive payment from clients/Customers.
2. Process Payments at your Bank.
3. Deduct 10% which is your commission/Payment on check cashed.
4. Forward the remaining 90% to the information that will be provided later on.

I will need you to provide me with your basic personal info such as:
Full Name:
Contact Address:
Zip Code:
Phone Number:

Fill the above application so as to qualify you for the position.

John Mathews
Chairman and CEO
Honeywell International Inc.
101 Columbia Road
Morristown, NJ 07962

This is a bit different from the run-of-the-mill "Nigerian" scams. The English is good. It is at least somewhat like a request for employment applications that appear in newspapers and other want ads. Unfortunately, it's not to be trusted. My e-mail provider was able to recognize this as a spam e-mail. I don't know if everyone's would, hence the warning.

As times get worse, I suspect we'll be seeing more of these. There are several reasons to distrust this e-mail beyond that it was sent to the address of an Internet entity who has never demonstrated any talent for this sort of work. Those are:

  1. The email addresses of the sender and the reply-to address are not in the Honeywell domain. This letter purports to be from Honeywell.

  2. Neither Honeywell nor any other company is simply going to solicit such things via blind e-mails. They no doubt have plenty of applicants for every job of this sort. If they were looking for design engineers, or some equally rare specialty, this might be reasonable, but I wouldn't trust such a thing then if it weren't addressed specifically to me.

  3. The CEO of a company the size of Honeywell won't be soliciting low skill workers via e-mail under any circumstances I can think of.

As I said, this sort of thing will become more common as the world's economy gets worse, which thanks to the feckless assholes who are largely in charge of it, it certainly will. The sort of bastards who sent this letter will be trying to take advantage of people who need work. So don't be fooled. Often times, things that are too good to be true are really not true.

I assume, as should you, that no name on this letter is an actual name of the people responsible for this e-mail, including the supposed author of it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Krugman Rages Against The Wind

Paul Krugman on why the Obama Administration should appoint Elizabeth Warren to head the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau:

Leave aside the merits of appointing Warren, which are considerable, and think about the politics. At this point, not appointing Warren would be seen by the base as a slap in the face, and would seriously dampen enthusiasm going into the midterms. And Democrats need every bit of enthusiasm they can muster to avoid a Republican takeover of the House.

The Warren Mystery

He goes on to point out that a Republican-led House will probably behave like the last one we had while a Democrat was President - investigations of nonsense, shutting down the government for petty reasons, etc. It's not too tough to see that coming.

Don't get me wrong - I'd love to see some real opposition politics in DC again. There should be investigations of the way the Obama Administration has extended its powers even beyond what the Bush Administration did. They've escalated what is increasingly clear is a hopeless war in Afghanistan - one that doesn't seem to have a point. There are dozens of things that ought to be looked at, and really are scandalous. That's not what they'll investigate, of course. What they'll investigate will be like all the phony nonsense they've been trumpeting the last few years: ACORN, birtherism, phony charges of "reverse" racism, etc. It's what they do, and I always say go with your strengths.

It will tie the Obama Administration up in knots, much as it did the Clinton Administration. My opinion as a private citizen is that this still could be an improvement over what's happened the last couple of years, but I'm pretty sure that the Obama Administration wouldn't agree.

Surely, Krugman argues, the Obama Administration knows this and would want to avoid it, particularly if all they have to do to generate some enthusiasm on their side is throw liberals a bone like this. Unfortunately, there are two things that argue against his logic here:

  • I doubt liberals are going to be enthusiastic at this point over being thrown a bone. Anyone with the least bit of sense realizes what trouble we're in, and Elizabeth Warren in what will surely become a powerless position doesn't even start to address that.

  • Arrogance makes you stupid. Think "fucking retards".

So, while he has a point, I'm not sure Krugman's arguments are going to impress the Obama Administration this time any more than his generally sound advice has influenced them before.

And perhaps that's just as well.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Robert Reich on how the economy is likely to go in the near future:

The reality is this: Big American companies may never rehire large numbers of workers. And they won’t even begin to think about hiring until they know American consumers will buy their products. The problem is, American consumers won’t start buying against until they know they have reliable paychecks.

The Great Decoupling of Corporate Profits from Jobs

I have no argument with this. This is how things will be unless the government starts doing serious stimulus, with the idea that it will continue for quite some time. If they don't, you can expect twenty percent real unemployment, and a generation of slow or negative economic growth. Kids graduating from high school or college will be middle aged before this is over, if it even can be considered over by then.

I mentioned earlier that progressives are clueless about why they need to smack the Democrats down this election. You can add another thought to that list, not that any of them are inclined to think all that much: Would you rather have the Democrats defeated in 2010 or 2012? A Democratic defeat in this election means divided government. If the Democrats manage to hang on, and then continue as they have, they'll be turned out in 2012, when they probably will lose the White House, too.

So, if you're inclined to be scared of Republicans in power, you ought to think about when they can acquire it, and whether Democrats will have any credibility left by then.

That's What I'm Talking About

Sometimes I get the feeling that when I say things like "you only have power to make a good deal if you're willing to walk away from a bad one", people assume I don't know what I'm talking about.

So, this is what I'm talking about, from a Talking Points Memo reader from Colorado:

So, in 2006, you saw the Democratic-controlled state legislature (under pressure from a Republican governor to do something after the Colorado Supreme Court threw out an anti-immigrant ballot initiative being promoted by the Tancredo types) pass sweeping anti-immigration laws, including a law that requires everyone to prove lawful presence in the United States to access state services. It was touted at the time -- by the Democrats who passed it -- as the "toughest" state level anti-immigration law in the country. Although it is less draconian than Arizona's SB 1070, the Colorado laws also promote selective enforcement based on race, and the media has picked up on the problems with the law mostly when white people are inconvenienced, as when a long-time British resident was unable to get a subsidy for a water-efficient toilet because she couldn't produce her papers (yes, water is everything in Colorado) or when the daughter of one of the Republicans in the state legislature got held up applying for her driver's license because she couldn't produce her birth certificate. Less funny stories, as when an entire Latino family was thrown out of public housing in one of the mountain towns because one family member couldn't produce papers, have attracted less attention.

The long-term political dynamic is that as the Democrats feel more and more free to move to the right on immigration to chase what they perceive as "centrist" voters, the growing Latino population feels more and more that neither party represents us. So, voter participation drops, and then the same lack of voter participation is cited by the Dems as a reason not to take a harder line against Latino race-baiting.

Dems Using The Crazy For Cover?

[emphasis mine]

At the national level, substitute "progressives" for "latinos", and change the particular issues, and you have the same situation. As long as a group isn't willing to take its votes elsewhere, politicians won't care what that group wants. They'll chase after the folks who will take their votes elsewhere.

You can also draw the obvious parallels with the Democrats' amazement that we aren't ready to jump right out there and vote for them.

That's what I'm talking about.

This is why I have little hope for the future. That's why this government keeps drifting to the right. It's not because America is drifting to the right. Progressives are, to put none too fine a point on this, too stupid to understand this, or too cowardly to do what they obviously need to do to let Democrats know that they can't just do whatever they want and be assured of our votes. Conservatives, by contrast, know how to play this game. Until that changes, nothing else will.

UPDATE: Changed the initial quote to something I'd actually written, with a link. Paraphrasing is nice, but it's better when what's in quotes is an actual quote, unless it's obviously hypothetical.

UPDATE 2: And yes, I've pretty well given up hope of persuading anyone along these lines. We're just going to have to wait until things get so bad that the only way to go is up. That's probably going to be another decade, maybe longer.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

We Are Soooo Not Talking Like This

I think anyone who has cringed at hearing modern idioms or short-lived pop culture references used in science fiction or historical dramas will appreciate this one:

Image credit: xkcd

Ready to party like it's 1999, buckaroos?

I reckon so, dude.

Quote Of The Day

Eli on Democratic Party concerns that progressives just aren't enthusiastic enough about supporting them:

Earth to Democrats: Your voters are not engaged because you’ve been either ignoring them or disparaging them for the past year and a half. You used “healthcare reform” to deliver an enormous captive customer base to a rapacious health insurance industry while doing little to rein them in, you settled for a weak and ineffective stimulus bill, you pulled your punches on financial reform, you never lifted a finger for EFCA, you’re still foot-dragging on DADT, you’ve shown no more respect for the Constitution than the Bush administration, and you shamefully hung ACORN, Van Jones, Dawn Johnsen and Shirley Sherrod out to dry because you were afraid of conservative shriekers.

You called us “fucking retarded”, and complained that we threw money down the drain by supporting Bill Halter’s primary challenge against the anti-progressive Blanche Lincoln. Why on earth should we be enthusiastic about supporting you when you so clearly have no respect for us at all? Why should we care if you only have 52 seats in the Senate when you did so little when you had 59 and even 60? (Yes, I’m aware that you passed bills called healthcare reform and financial reform, but that doesn’t mean they were progressive.)

Democratic Party Still Thinks Progressives Are Fools

Frankly, the difference between DC Democrats and the GOP isn't worth the trouble of walking out to the mailbox to get the mail-in ballot these days. If they're surprised that we don't appreciate all their efforts, they need to go back and read what we all told them for the last eighteen months.

Reading the pathetic nonsense in that Washington Post article, it's pretty clear they haven't:

Jon Vogel, executive director of the Democratic House campaign organization, predicted Democratic voters would get energized when they focus on what Republican gains would mean for the Democratic agenda.

"You start to educate folks as to differences in candidates, the enthusiasm gap certainly will close," Vogel said.

Democrats Wary Of Motivation Problem With Liberals

Which isn't to say he's not right. The fact is, if progressives generally had ever shown any inclination to tell Democrats to pound sand when they ignore us, they would have told the little rat fucker to shut his mouth months ago. The plain fact is they know progressives will vote for them, just like they always do. There is, therefore, absolutely no reason to take their opinions seriously. Only people with the ability and the will to take power away from politicians matter. Progressives don't do that, so they don't matter.

End of story.

Afterword: At least, it's the end of the story until either someone figures out a way around that conundrum, or enough progressives finally buy a clue. I'm not betting on either of those things happening any time soon.

Sunday Photo(s)

A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Seattle Aquarium. I thought I'd start with a few exterior shots of the building, since my camera isn't so good at interior ones. This a the Aquarium from Pier 62, which is the next pier north:
Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Here's a photo of it from the Pike Place Market, where we stopped for lunch:

That's Elliot Bay and Alki Point in the background.

Before we entered the Aquarium, we passed by this "exhibit":

Yummy!. Like the sign says, this is what happens when people dispose of trash improperly too near the shoreline. It's good that the city leaves this reminder for people.

Just past that exhibit is the entrance, with a little bit of the midtown Seattle skyline in the background:

Once inside, this is the first exhibit that's visible in the lobby:

It's a picture window into one of the main tanks. There are dozens of different kinds of fish in there.

Which is probably a good place to leave it for now. Dana Hunter has lots of pictures at her blog of the inside of the Aquarium. I'll be posting more later, but for now, have a good Sunday.

Some Suggested Science Reading

Caption: A bulb tipped anemone at the Seattle Aquarium. (Click to enlarge)

Image credit: Cujo359

If you're interested in some science reading today, and hadn't stopped by Pharyngula recently, I'd suggest checking out an article that PZ Myers wrote yesterday. It starts out with this attempt at explaining what evolution is, which he quickly noted isn't an accurate one:

Evolution proceeds by mutation and selection. A novel mutation occurs in a gene that gives the individual inheriting it an advantage, and that person passes it on to their children who also gets the advantage and do better than their peers, and leave more offspring. Given time, the advantageous mutation spreads through the population so the entire species has it.

One example is the human brain. An ape man millions of years ago acquired a mutation that made his or her brain slightly larger, and since those individuals were slightly smarter than other ape men, it spread through the population. Then later, other mutations occured and were selected for and so human brains gradually got larger and larger.

It's More Than Genes, It's Networks And Systems

Not being a biologist, I wasn't too sure what to think. This explanation struck me as way oversimplified, which it turns out it is:

Just to make you even more queasy, the misunderstanding here is one that creationists have, too. If you've ever encountered the cryptic phrase "RM+NS" ("random mutation + natural selection") used as a pejorative on a creationist site, you've found someone with this affliction. They've got it completely wrong.

Here's the problem, and also a brief introduction to Evolutionary Biology 201.

First, it's not exactly wrong — it's more like taking one good explanation of certain kinds of evolution and making it a sweeping claim that that is how all evolution works. By reducing it to this one scheme, though, it makes evolution far too plodding and linear, and reduces it all to a sort of personal narrative.

It's More Than Genes, It's Networks And Systems

After reading The Waters Edge by Carl Zimmer, and Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin, I have a new appreciation for just how complicated the process of going from a genetic code to an organism is, and all of the things that go into that affect the evolution of organisms. For instance, there are both genes that actually determine how various tissues develop, and others that decide whether or not those traits are expressed, and how large they become.

What's more, a species is really a population of organisms. There's no one perfect gray wolf or perfect fern. There are populations of gray wolves and ferns that are each unique.

So, yes, it's much more complicated. In fact, it's a lot more complicated than I can hope to explain correctly. Read PZ's article for an idea of what evolution really is.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Subversive Act Of The Day

It's probably not going to be a regular feature, but every once in a while something happens that makes me just want to provide a link to spite someone. Today, that someone is a bunch of numskulls who go by the name Camera, a pro-Israel lobbying group. As Phil Weiss notes:

Another sign of despair, that the battle is now joined inside the castle gates: Israel lobby group Camera is taking on CNN senior Jerusalem correspondent Ben Wedeman, trying to do to him what was done to Octavia Nasr. Seham tells me, "Wedeman has great politics. His reporting on the war on Gaza was the only reporting by the western media that I could watch. I am sure he was expecting this."

Israel lobby targets another CNN correspondent

What was Wedeman guilty of, according to Camera? He linked to, and said something nice about, an article by Juan Cole about relations between Turkey and Israel after the Gaza Flotilla raid:

Whenever a journalist is attacked for referencing an academic, it is an attempt to make that scholar´s work taboo and to forbid its public mention. It would be perfectly all right for an advocacy group to say “In that blog posting, Cole gets the Turkish economy and its impact on relations with Israel wrong for reasons X, Y and Z.¨” But CAMERA did not engage with my substantive points. They simply propagandized.

The Israel Lobbies and Breitbartism: Dirty Tricks, Taboos and the threat to American Democracy

The people who do this sort of thing are despicable. They aren't adding to any discussion about our involvement with Israel and the Middle East; all they're trying to do is make sure that the only voice that's heard is theirs.

I had read this article within a day or two of its having appeared. I had not thought to pass along the link or comment on it, figuring that if people weren't already going to a place that has about a thousand times the traffic this blog does, it wasn't likely I was going to affect that very much. Plus, I really didn't have much to add. But now, I think it's time to quote the thing just to spite those little assholes at Camera. So here are the introductory paragraphs:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday in Toronto in the wake of the G20 conference that Turkey will no longer routinely give Israeli military aircraft permission to fly in Turkish airspace. The announcement came as Turkey forbade an Israeli military airplane (taking officers on a visit to the sites of Nazi death camps for Jews in Poland) to fly over its territory. The Turkish press denies that the destination of the plane influenced the decision.

Future Israeli military overflight permissions will be granted on an ad hoc basis.

From the Guardian: ‘Israel’s Ynet news website reported that other military flights had also been quietly cancelled. “Turkey is continuing to downgrade its relations with Israel,” an unnamed official told Ynet. “This is a long-term process and not something that began just after the flotilla incident. We are very concerned.” ‘

Turkey Forbids Israeli Military Overflights

Looks good already, doesn't it?

It goes into some detail about recent moves by Turkey to unthaw its relations with some of its neighbors, Iran and Syria in particular. As the quote mentions, relations between Turkey and Israel have been getting worse of late, thanks to the Israelis having boarded and killed some passengers on a Turkish ship that was trying to break through Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip. This is a problem for Israel, because besides the United States and a couple of countries so unimportant I can't even name them at the moment, Israel didn't have a better friend than Turkey. Thanks to their foolishness last month, they now find themselves more alone than ever.

Ultimately, discussing this issue either in the United States or anywhere else besides Turkey and Israel isn't going to make much difference to Israeli security. It does weigh on our decision to support Israel, though, and we need to be able to have knowledgeable, skeptical people like Prof. Cole in that discussion.

UPDATE: I hope other bloggers take up this idea. Letting people like Camera win is going to make our foreign policy decisions worse, not better.

UPDATE 2 (Jul. 25): Finally corrected the title of this article, thanks to Dana Hunter's keen eye. Those wanting to know what a "subsersive" act is will have to go elsewhere - possibly something with a XXX rating.

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Arrr!.

Quote of the day honors go to lawguy, for a comment he left here yesterday about the Obama Administration's handling of the Shirley Sherrod debacle:

I am nearly constantly reminded of the Russian folk tale of the woman in the sleigh being chased by wolves who threw out each member of her family one at a time in hopes that she could delay the wolves long enough to get away herself. She didn't succeed.

Heroes, And Goats: Comment #4

As Ian Welsh observed in another QOTD, the Democrats and the Obama Administration in particular have taken nearly every opportunity they could to screw their natural constituencies in exchange for campaign dollars. Before too long, those priorities will catch up with them, too.

And I won't feel the least bit sorry for those elitist sacks of excrement, either.

Some Of Us Aren't There Yet, But It's Way Past Time They Caught Up

Former United States Army Lt. Dan Choi was interviewed by Rachel Maddow yesterday about his recent discharge from the Army.

My favorite quote from this interview is Choi's description of what it felt like to be discharged:

First time I'm a civilian since I was eighteen years old. It's - You know, as much as you can prepare for this kind of consequence, and I knew what I was getting into when I appeared on your show the very first time, as much as you build up your armor and get ready for those words saying that you're fired, you can't deal with that pain and that emotion.

[my own transcription. Beware inadvertent misquotes]

Blindly rushing into a situation isn’t nearly as courageous as deliberately taking a step, knowing what you’ll pay to do it. Dan Choi did that last year. He was a West Point graduate, and he clearly wanted to be a soldier. He just didn’t want to lie about who he was to stay one.

That’s what makes what Choi did heroic, and I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more of him in the future.

This isn't the first time I've written about the wasteful and inhumane Don't Ask, Don't Tell law that has been causing the military to shed good people when it needs them most:

To say this makes no sense is a vast understatement. The Air Force and other U.S. military services actively seek out these folks and discharge them. At the same time, the Army, in particular, has been, at least until the economy tanked, recruiting criminals and people with health problems to fill its ranks. [USAF] LTC [Victor] Fehrenbach is by no means the first highly skilled person the military have dismissed, either[.]

Some Of Us Aren't There Yet, But It's Time They Caught Up

Nor will Dan Choi be the last, I'm sorry to say. As I noted in that article, the President Obama could have stopped Choi's discharge with a stroke of a pen, yet he didn't. He could have stopped the service from actively seeking out gay and lesbian service members. But he has not.

As I also wrote in that earlier article, we're ready for this change to happen:

[A]s part of the larger trend of acceptance of lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGBT) people on TV [the openly bisexual Torchwood character Captain Jack Harkness] is significant. Jack Harkness is a heroic character, and the series makes no bones about that. It's taken for granted. In many ways, Western society has learned to accept LGBT people. There are openly gay and lesbian entertainers. A couple have their own talk shows. Tens of millions of Americans watch these people every day and think nothing of it. Most of us, if we just forget how things have been in the past, think there's nothing terribly remarkable about that.

Some Of Us Aren't There Yet, But It's Time They Caught Up

The embedded video in this article features an openly lesbian television journalist interviewing an openly gay man. Most of the country, including a large share of the U.S. military, have caught up with this.

It's about time the President got caught up on some of his campaign promises. After the Shirley Sherrod debacle, you might think he would start noticing how few people are left in the sleigh.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Quote Of The Day

Caption: Mary delivers another opinion on the performance of DoJ.

Image credit: Screenshot of The Outlaw Josey Wales by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

Today's quote of the day is from Mary, whom I and others have publicly begged to do blogging somewhere. She's writing, at least occasionally, at FireDogLake's Emptywheel blog. She wrote this today about the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder, which basically said that it was OK for one of the USA Eight, David Iglesias, to have been fired for political reasons:

4. This, they say, is fine. Seriously. They say there’s nothing DOJ can do about it. It’s no problem for politicians to get DOJ lawyers fired for not being political lapdogs. But to be fair, they then finish up by saying both, “In closing, it is important to emphasize that Attorney General Holder is committed to ensuring that partisan political considerations play no role in the law enforcement decisions of the Department” and (bc that wasn’t really the closing after all) “The Attorney General remains deeply dismayed by the OIG/OPR findings related to politicization of the Department’s actions, and has taken steps to ensure those mistakes will not be repeated.”

HUH? They’ve just said it is perfectly legal for politicians to get USAs who won’t do their political bidding fired by covert contacts with the WH, but Holder is “committed” to ensuring partisan political considerations play no role at DOJ? WTH? I guess if you put those two concepts together and held them in your mind for long, you’d end up committed too.

Final Jeopardy Answer: Something That Doesn’t Obstruct or Impede Justice

Providing yet another talking point on the differences between the Obama Administration and its predecessor, Mary adds:

And now Dannehy and Holder have made that chapter and verse – nothing wrong with firing some prosecutors if they aren’t playing politics. Poor Karl Rove – so much trouble could have been avoided if he had just known that a Democratic administration’s DOJ would take the position that it would be perfectly ok for him to get Bush to fire Fitzgerald (something that apparently made even Buscho lawyers Gonzales and Miers flinch) – no obstruction, no impeding – as long as Rove never tried to “influence” the prosecutor first.

Final Jeopardy Answer: Something That Doesn’t Obstruct or Impede Justice

You haven't experienced a verbal smackdown until you've appeared as the wrong color of blip on Mary's radar.

Hopefully, we'll be seeing more in the future.

NOTE: The Outlaw Josey Wales is a copyrighted work of Warner Bros., The Malpaso Company, and others too numerous to mention. None of these people approved, contributed to, or endorsed this article.

Scienceblogs Strike Over?

Image credit: Cujo359

It turns out that the Scienceblogs strike may be in abeyance. Principal blogger PZ Myers writes:

The strike is over. We had a productive discussion with the Seed Overlords, and I think we've clarified issues, got some ideas for further progress, and will be working for a Better World in the Future. Don't expect any sudden changes here, though — we've got a Plan, but it will take time to implement, and the most important thing is that we're going to be holding certain people's feet to the fire on a regular basis. We could still explode and send little fragments of Scienceblogs hurtling outward into the greater blogoverse…but we've also got ideas to keep it all together. Stay tuned.

Still Alive!

Greg Laden, one of the better known bloggers who was participating in the strike, wrote today:

However, by and large the paychecks arrive, only occasionally a bit late. Seed provided us with a brand new much more dedicated (and very highly qualified) technical support person several days ago, before most of the blogosphere had even heard of Pepsigate. The offending corporate blog was killed hours after it was born in an act of laudable responsiveness by the management. We have been promised better communication, and there has not been a period of over 20 hours or so when I've not received a communication of some kind from the management once I let them know that such a thing would be important to me. I've heard about the technical support in one memo, about paychecks in a different memo, about the Pepsi blog in two memos, and I've got a string of some 36 emails back and forth between various managerial individuals, including the owner, and myself.

The Scienceblogs Strike is Over

For more on the background, I'd suggest reading Bora Zivkovic's farewell post. It's a detailed discussion of the issue by the guy many SB bloggers considered to be the heart and soul of the place.

For my part, I hope that they can resolve this. There aren't that many places where one can go to read science articles from many disciplines. It's a valuable resource, and a seriously diminished one thanks to some recent problems.

Cool Factoid Of The Day

Caption: Bacteria swimming around on a piece of glass. They outnumber us, by a lot.

Image credit: kaibara87

Courtesy of UMN biology Professor P.Z. Myers, who is more reliably seen at The Panda's Thumb these days:

Let's begin with the most widely known factor: we're mostly bacterial in cell numbers, with about ten times as many bacterial cells as human cells. Most of these are nestled deep in our guts, where they are indispensible. In mammals, they help break down complex polysaccharides which we can then absorb through the wall of the digestive tract — these are compounds that would be simply lost without bacterial assistance.

No Metazoan Is An Island

No, I didn't check to see if this was true. I figure that if a biology professor doesn't know what he's talking about when he's talking about biology, then no one really knows anything.

It's a cool fact, though. We probably wouldn't be able to exist without bacteria in us. And they outnumber us, even in our own bodies.

Heroes, And Goats

Caption: Shirley Sherrod speaking at the NAACP meeting.

Image credit: Screenshot of NAACP YouTube video by Cujo359

It may be that the most tragic thing about the Shirley Sherrod firing is the true origin of that story she told at the NAACP, which until this evening I had not seen:

For all the over-warped speed in initially getting that bogus version of the Shirley Sherrod story out there and pushing her our the door at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other details in this story have been surprisingly slow to emerge. In particular, I'd been waiting to hear more about a comment from Sherrod on CNN that her father had been murdered by a white farmer in 1965.

Now we know a few details. Her dad was named Hosie Miller, and he was a deacon at Thankful Baptist Church in Newton, Ga., toward the southwest corner of the state. He was also a farmer who, according to CNN, grew corn, peanuts, cotton and cucumbers and raised hogs, cows and goats. Forty-five years ago, Hosie Miller was shot to death -- in the back, no less -- by a white farmer in what his daughter now describes as ostensibly a dispute over a few cows, although the exact circumstances were murky.

Hosie Miller: Shirley Sherrod's Dad, And A Casualty In A Forgotten War

Recall that in the speech that Andrew Breitbart published in edited form, Ms. Sherrod was telling the story of how, many years ago, she almost decided not to help a white farmer save his farm. As I'm sure many people did, I just assumed it was some attitude about whites that she'd acquired early in life that contributed to her initial desire to just do the minimum that was required. Of course, I didn't write about that, because I really had no idea what was actually going on.

If only Andrew Breitbart, the NAACP, and the Obama Administration had demonstrated a similar level of restraint.

The tragedy of all this is that what Shirley Sherrod was saying in that speech to the NAACP was that this was the wrong attitude:

That's when it was revealed to me that y'all, it's about poor versus those who have, and not so much about white -- it is about white and black, but it's not -- you know, it opened my eyes, 'cause I took him to one of his own and I put him in his hands, and said, OK, I've done my job. But, during that time, we would have these injunctions against the Department of Agriculture and -- so, they couldn't foreclose on him. And I want you to know that the county supervisor had done something to him that I have not seen yet that they've done to any other farmer, black or white. And what they did to him caused him to not be able to file Chapter 12 bankruptcy.

So, everything was going along fine -- I'm thinking he's being taken care of by the white lawyer, then they lift the injunction against USDA in May of '87 for two weeks and he was one of 13 farmers in Georgia who received a foreclosure notice. He called me. I said, well, go on and make an appointment at the lawyer. Let me know when it is and I'll meet you there.

So we met at the lawyer's office on the day they had given him. And this lawyer sat there -- he had been paying this lawyer, y'all. That's what got me. He had been paying the lawyer since November, and this was May. And the lawyer sat there and looked at him and said, "Well, y'all are getting old. Why don't you just let the farm go?" I could not believe he said that, so I said to the lawyer -- I told him, I can't believe you said that. I said: It's obvious to me that he cannot file a Chapter 12 bankruptcy to stop this foreclose, you have to file an 11. And the lawyer said to me, I'll do whatever you say -- whatever you think -- that's the way he put it. But he's paying him. He wasn't paying me any money. You know, so he said -- the lawyer said he would work on it.

Full Video Vindicates Sherrod, Destroys Breitbart's Accusations Of Racism

The farmer's lawyer, even though he was also white, wasn't helping his client. The poor white farmer was being screwed by the system much the same way she'd seen black farmers treated. To most white people, this isn't too terribly surprising. To the Shirley Sherrod of this story, twenty or more years ago, this apparently was something of a revelation.

What Shirley Sherrod did was recognize that there was someone who needed her help, despite the fact that he was a white farmer, who she believed had treated her with less respect because she was black. The prejudice she saw him demonstrating no doubt reminded her of the sort of men who killed her father. She had plenty of potential excuses to not lift a finger for this man. Yet she did something that is so rare in America that it's heroic - she got over her prejudices, and then got over herself, and then gave this man help because that was the right thing to do.

Then she told that story as a cautionary tale to others, and for her doing that her worthless jackass of a boss fired her without even taking the time to find out what really happened.

We sometimes lionize people in America for the strangest reasons. We treat some celebrities and athletes as if just being better looking or better at sports than most everyone else is a sign of heroism. People on the political right lionize Andrew Breitbart, when the man is clearly someone who doesn't give a crap who he hurts with his lies. Yet we so often treat the real heroes so shabbily. Whistle blowers are prosecuted. Activists are ridiculed, often mercilessly. And people who try to do the right thing are fired by people who just don't give a shit about anything but their own problems.

Whatever her flaws, Shirley Sherrod has more humanity, and far more integrity, than Andrew Breitbart and the people involved in her firing put together. It's too bad she can't find bosses who are worthy of her.

(h/t Thers at FireDogLake)

Afterword: Oh, and it looks like Glenn Greenwald scooped me on this one. Oh well, this thing just drives me crazy, and it's good to vent.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

At Long Last

At long last, people who want to contrast the Obama Administration with its predecessor have a talking point, thanks to Jane Hamsher:

If Obama had the least little bit of interest in protecting his staff, he too would have demanded that Breitbart release the entire video before making any decision regarding Shirley Sherrod.

How Many Democrats Does It Take To Stand Up To Andrew Breitbart?

George W. Bush, whatever his failings, didn't jettison his people when they became liabilities. He kept Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney on well after they became political liabilities. The thought of him doing what Obama has done to Sherrod, and Van Jones, ACORN, Dawn Johnsen is almost mind-boggling. These are all people Obama and the Democrats simply refused to stand up for, not to mention labor unions. Ian Welsh put that tendency in perspective a few days ago:

Democrats made a play for corporate money and in so doing, they sold out constituencies which were actually loyal to them, and could actually be counted on. Wall Street will never be reliably loyal to Democrats, neither will the very rich. At best they will play Democrats and Republicans off against each other, but realistically, they prefer Republicans whenever Republicans can win.

You reap what you sow. Sell out the interests of your core supporters, and they can’t help you as much as they could if you helped them. When will Democratic politicians learn this lesson?

Democrats Face 200 million Republican War Chest Without the Strong Allies They Should Have

In answer to Ian's question, my guess is about when a mythical underworld location freezes over. These are the same people who couldn't wait to call unions foolish for supporting a Democrat who was friendly to their interests in the Arkansas primary. The one thing this should teach us is that there is no such thing as being a friend to the DC Democrats. The best you can hope for is that they won't tell us it's raining as they're pissing on our backs.

If you think these Democrats can ever be trusted to support what we progressives want, then you're an even bigger fool than whoever fired Shirley Sherrod.

So yes, there's a difference between the last Administration and this one. Don't it make you proud?

Quote Of The Day: Cutting Through Nonsense

Caption: A kitchen knife. It has three edges, but it will still cut through vegetables.

Image credit: Yashima

Stephanie Zvan, over at Almost Diamonds wrote this a few days ago:

People who are talking about how being mean or angry doesn't teach people to think critically or evaluate evidence are missing half the point. Skepticism is only partly process. It's also a set of values. Good luck getting someone to put in the time and effort required for critical analysis if they don't understand why objective truth is worthwhile. Expect to be told to lighten up and go get some sunshine if the person you're talking to doesn't understand--viscerally--the harm done by relying on unworthy sources of "knowledge."

On The Utility Of Dicks

Truth, so the saying goes, is a three edged sword - your side, my side, and the reality. That might be true, at least in the sense that there will always be a bit of room between our understanding of the universe and how it actually works. That's no excuse for not learning what is known about the world, and it's no reason to avoid criticizing an opinion that differs from our knowledge of reality because someone really, truly believes it with all his heart.

I've written before on the frustration of trying to discuss with religious fanatics their complete lack of understanding of their world. The people I wrote about in that article aren't interested in a reasoned discussion of beliefs. They're just out to promote theirs. If you just tell them nicely that you disagree with them, they think they've found someone they can convert, or at least someone who is interested in discussing their nonsense. At least if you tell them forthrightly that they're lunatics and they should learn something about their own religion before insisting that we plaster its commandments all over our public buildings, they'll at least understand that you're not a pushover.

So, yes, when some fool comes along, hears the end of that discussion, and decides that I'm being unreasonable by explaining that I'm not going to "respect" beliefs that make no sense, I get a little uppity. If you'll notice, the knife in the illustration has three edges. Two of them are close together. The other one's the dangerous one.

There, that's a saying I can get behind.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We're Ruled By Lying Cowards

Caption: The White House confronts mendacious conservatives the only way it knows how.

We're ruled by lying cowards. I can't see any other possible conclusion from the events of this day regarding Shirley Sherrod, who was, until this morning, the head of the USDA's Rural Development Georgia office.

An employee of the Department of Agriculture has resigned, after conservative media outlets posted video Monday of her describing a time in the past when she hadn't used the "full force" of her abilities to help a farmer because he was white.

In the video, Shirley Sherrod, who is black, recounts having been asked to help a white farmer avoid foreclosure. She says she was torn over how much to help him because so many black farmers were also struggling, and decided to do just enough to be able to say she'd tried[.]

USDA Official Resigns Amid Race Controversy

That is, until she realized she was wrong:

The controversy over USDA official Shirley Sherrod has taken a surprising turn. Not only has the Georgia farmer she allegedly discriminated against come to her defense, but a few prominent conservative and liberal opinion leaders have united in saying she was unjustly ousted based on a selectively edited video.

RedState, NAACP Agree: Shirley Sherrod Got a Raw Deal

You read that right, a RedState blogger, Erick Erickson, was one of the people who came to Sherrod's defense. He did this, despite the fact that all this came to a head, because Andrew Breitbart posted a creatively edited version of the speech Ms. Sherrod gave on his blog:

Andrew Breitbart promised he would do to the left what the left has been doing to the right for years. He is gathering quite the collection of leftwing scalps and will forever warm the hearts of the right for the ACORN takedown alone. I’m glad he is on our side.

That said, I think Shirley Sherrod has been unfairly characterized as a racist.

In the Breitbart video, we hear Ms. Sherrod discuss meeting with a white farmer who clearly wanted to make sure she knew he was superior to her. And we hear her say she decided she’d help, but only do so much. And we clearly hear her say she decided to send him to his own kind — a white lawyer.

What we only start to hear before the video ends and where the conversation goes is Ms. Sherrod realizing the issue was not black vs. white, but a matter of the poor.

Collecting Scalps At What Cost

Yes, it was so bad that someone who was inclined to take Breitbart's video as true spotted the problem. I think this shows just how obviously wrong what happened next actually was:

Shirley Sherrod, the former Georgia director of Rural Development, said she received a phone call from the USDA's deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook on Monday while she was in a car. Cook told her that the White House wanted her to call it quits.

"They called me twice," Sherrod told the Associated Press. "The last time they asked me to pull over the side of the road and submit my resignation on my Blackberry, and that's what I did."

Shirley Sherrod, Ex-USDA Worker: White House Forced Me To Resign Over Fabricated Racial Controversy

In the little bit of time I spent looking, I was not able to find out if Sherrod's post is a political appointment or not. It's hard to believe it's a civil service job. Assuming they hadn't been caught doing something unethical or illegal, the civil servants I've known would have had a short response to that request, which would have ended with the pronoun "you". So, let's assume for now it's a political appointment, and put off until later the question of why such an insignificant office isn't a civil service post.

The head of Sherrod's cabinet department, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, tried to defend the decision later, as quoted by The Upshot:

In a statement quoted by CNN, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said of Sherrod's actions:

There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person. ... We have been working hard through the past 18 months to reverse the checkered civil rights history at the department and take the issue of fairness and equality very seriously.

USDA Official Resigns Amid Race Controversy

To recap, Sherrod was fired for something she didn't say, because a news site known to fabricate things released a video purporting to show she was bragging about being a racist. In reality, she was trying to show that it was wrong to do such things. The Department of Agriculture's Deputy Undersecretary of something-or-other badgered the woman into resigning, saying the White House was applying pressure, and the SecAg accepted responsibility. So far, this episode just demonstrates the usual cravenness of the New Democrats when faced with conservatives lying their asses off to make a political point, as Scarecrow ably explained today so I don't have to:

So when Andrew Breitbart posted an incomplete, edited video purporting to show a government employee expressing bias against whites, everyone should have said, “you’ve been shown to be dishonest, so show us the full video.” Instead, they just ran with the story as though it were true, and Fox News featured it yesterday as a proof of the Obama Administration’s hatred of whites.

The NAACP overreacted and now claims they were conned by Fox News, as were senior officials at the Agriculture Department, which may or may not have consulted with the White House about what to do about the brewing scandal. The simple answer should have been, find out all the facts before you get conned again. But apparently no one in Secretary Vilsack’s Agriculture Department or the White House thought to do that.

Obama Administration Gets Ratf**d, Wrongly Fires Apparently Honest Person in Another Breitbart Fraud

But it gets better:

A White House official insists that the White House didn't pressure Shirley Sherrod to resign, or pressure USDA chief Tom Vilsack to fire her, over the Andrew Breitbart video allegedly showing her claiming she didn't help a white farmer 24 years ago because of racial reasons.

"We did not pressure USDA or Ms. Sherrod," the White House official emails me. Ben Smith was told something similar.

White House official: We Didn't Push For Sherrod's Firing

I may be overestimating Ms. Sherrod's chutzpah, but it's hard to imagine she just decided to quit today because she got some bad press, or because the Deputy Undersecretary of Nothing Important asked her to sternly. There had to have actually been some pressure from somewhere, and if Cheryl Cook isn't either fired or severely chastised in public for invoking the name of the White House when she had no business doing it, then you know that denial is worth even less than the hard disk space it's written on.

Now, who do you suppose that anonymous coward White House official was who made that denial? I think it rhymes with Hypocritical Wanker Of The Day and that little rat fucker. No one else would dare cross the White House Chief of Staff, or his boss, so once again we can invoke one of my favorite rules of guessing secret White House sources: Who Got Fired For Saying That. If no one was fired, you can pretty well assume it was Rahm or his boss.

Which is the reason for the title of this post. No one in his right mind would believe that the White House wasn't responsible for this. A cabinet secretary took it upon himself to respond to a possibly fake news item by firing someone running an office he might not have even heard of until today? Even if it's true, the better thing to do would have been for the White House to say it regretted the misunderstanding, and wished Shirley Sherrod well, or just say absolutely nothing. But, as in the past, the White House just couldn't help itself.

To make this episode even more lovely, two supposed journalists couldn't help but print an anonymously sourced bit of character assassination from an Administration official.

We're not only ruled by lying cowards, but it's becoming increasingly clear that they're not terribly bright, either. And thanks to what passes for journalism in DC, they don't have to be.

UPDATE (Jul. 21): As David Dayen points out, the USDA might, maybe, um, kinda reconsider its actions re: Ms. Sherrod:

Sometimes, if the facts are clear, if the people band together an yell loud enough, sometimes, just sometimes, you can get the powers that be to reconsider an unjust act. Not overturn, yet, but reconsider. Ain’t America grand?
Let me conduct your thorough review, Secretary Vilsack. Watch this tape. Or read the transcript. Or, if you want to throw in “additional facts,” this woman’s history. I think you could wrap up the review in about 45 minutes.

USDA Reportedly Reconsidering Shirley Sherrod Firing

Doesn't it just make you proud? They took, what, an hour? to fire her, but reconsidering could take some time...

Maybe Shirley Sherrod should find some more intelligent bosses.

UPDATE 2: Apparently, the White House has decided it should apologize:

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs today offered an apology to Shirley Sherrod on behalf of the Obama administration.

He said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is trying to reach Sherrod as well, to offer his own apology and to "talk about their next steps."

Gibbs Apologizes To Sherrod; She May Get Her Job Back (VIDEO)

If Vilsack and the Administration are lucky, the next steps won't require lawyers or groveling. (h/t Scarecrow)

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Really Scary People

Image credit: National Park Service

Incredible as it might seem, nearly ten years after the destruction of the World Trade Center at the hands of religious fanatics, we're still discussing what to do with the site. What's perhaps even more amazing is some of the people whose opinions are being taken seriously enough to print them:

Sarah Palin, never a stranger to controversy, decided to weigh in on the one raging over the plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero -- that is, a mosque and community center two blocks north of where the Twin Towers used to stand.
[quoting from Palin's Twitter post]

Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate.

Sarah Palin Calls On 'Peaceful Muslims' To 'Refudiate' Ground Zero Mosque

If anyone were to ask my opinion on what ought to be built near Ground Zero, which thankfully no one has, I'd have to respond that my most basic requirement is that it be what New Yorkers wanted. After all, it's their city. But assuming I had input on the idea, there are at least a couple of thoughts regarding religion.

The first is that I'd prefer there be no religious symbols there at all. I know that this is an almost impossible thought, given that what strikes me as the most important role of religion is to somehow ameliorate peoples' fear of death. Given that it was religious fanatics who did this, however, that strikes this atheist as the best idea.

The second is that, failing the first, everyone who wants to should have his religious beliefs represented. That includes atheism and agnosticism, by the way. The principles I've learned, both as a progressive and as an American, say that everyone's views on a subject must be accommodated as well as can be done. Certainly, the religious beliefs of the victims of 9/11, and their survivors, should be taken into account.

Islam is one of the world's major religions. It has adherents all over New York City, and all over the United States as well. That anyone would think they should be deliberately excluded strikes me as so un-American that it's appalling. Yet here is a pig-ignorant bigot given a national forum to rage against the construction of a place that clearly isn't meant to promote radicalism:

The effort is being spearheaded by a longtime local imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has said the center would "bridge and heal a divide" and has said it's his mission to fight radicalism. A local community board voted this week by 29-1 to support the project.

Planned Muslim Cultural Center Near Ground Zero Prompts Massive Right-Wing Freakout

There you have it. It's intended by local Muslims to be a place to promote peace. It was approved overwhelmingly by a local community board. That ought to be the end of it.

Yet it's not. Clearly, there are more people than just Sarah Palin who believe the ungrammatical nonsense she writes. That's what's really frightening.

Compared to those people, Islamic terrorism doesn't seem terribly frightening at all. Terrorists can never take from us what we are. Americans are the only ones who can do that. What we need to remember from this is that there are clearly a group of Americans who want to do exactly that.

They're the really scary people.

Sunday Photo

It's not really Sunday anymore, but so what? This was what sunset looked like on Saturday at a friend's house. That's Puget Sound out there, of course:
Image credit: Cujo359

We do have some beautiful days here.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Another Use For Duct Tape

Fans of Mythbusters or The Red Green Show probably won't be surprised, but duct tape, the normally silvery tape with the strong threads and tenacious adhesive, has many uses. Consumer Reports has apparently discovered a new one, fixing the iPhone4:

Image credit: Consumer Reports

We did, however, find an affordable solution for suffering iPhone 4 users: Cover the antenna gap with a piece of duct tape or another thick, non-conductive material. It may not be pretty, but it works. We also expect that using a case would remedy the problem.

Lab tests: Why Consumer Reports can't recommend the iPhone 4

I'm sure Red would be proud.

The basic problem, as I've written previously, is that the new iPhone4 has a problem receiving cell phone signals. Many critics, who apparently didn't look too carefully, have blamed AT&T's cell phone network for the problem. Consumer Reports, however, did some checking:

We reached this conclusion after testing all three of our iPhone 4s (purchased at three separate retailers in the New York area) in the controlled environment of CU's radio frequency (RF) isolation chamber. In this room, which is impervious to outside radio signals, our test engineers connected the phones to our base-station emulator, a device that simulates carrier cell towers (see video: IPhone 4 Design Defect Confirmed). We also tested several other AT&T phones the same way, including the iPhone 3G S and the Palm Pre. None of those phones had the signal-loss problems of the iPhone 4.

Lab tests: Why Consumer Reports can't recommend the iPhone 4

Comparing the performance of more conventional cell phones to that of the iPhone is a logical way to examine whether a problem is related to the communications medium (the cell tower network in this case), or the device. If all behave badly, it's probably the network. In this case, it appears that only the iPhone has problems under the circumstances tested.

Incidentally, Consumer Reports later confirmed that Apple's new iPhone4 case cures the problem. They also are on record that Apple should be offering a fix for free, not charging their customers the extra $29 for a case that makes the iPhone4 operate properly. I heartily agree.

Salon's Dan Gillmor summarizes:

I'm more inclined to cut Apple a bit of slack on the second point [that bad reception is an widespread problem]. There is clearly an industrywide issue with reception, but I'm not persuaded at all -- especially after the Consumer Reports testing -- that the iPhone4 experience is typical. I'd like to see a much broader research effort by Consumer Reports and other unbiased testing agencies on this, so we really understand what's happening.

Apple's iPhone non-apology apology

It appears that Apple has taken Consumer Reports' advice. While doing an Internet search for the Apple bumper case, I turned up this bit of news from Reuters:

Apple Inc will give iPhone 4 users a free phone case to address a slew of complaints about reception problems that have hurt the company's image and shares.

Apple offers free iPhone 4 cases to appease users

According to the article, Apple expects to make this offer through September 30, by which time they expect the problem will somehow be fixed. They will also be refunding the money of people who have already bought the bumper case.

I thought this quote from that article was particularly rich:

"Apple is held to a much higher standard. You don't want to compare yourself to the competition," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst with Rodman & Renshaw. "He did a disservice by comparing the Apple quality to Motorola and HTC."

Apple offers free iPhone 4 cases to appease users

Possibly because those other products actually function reliably as phones...

Meanwhile, if you are in a hurry to fix your iPhone4, you have your choice of styles: free techno-geek in your choice of attractive colors, or posh.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cool Picture Of The Day

I suppose I've never mentioned my bizarre fascination for Patagonia before. It's the name mostly, though the place is pretty interesting. They have cowboys there, and penguins. Apparently, it was a good place to photograph the most recent solar eclipse. That was the subject of this Astronomy Picture of The Day:
Image credit: Janne Pyykkö/Astronomy Picture Of The Day

Caption: On July 11, after a long trek eastward across the southern Pacific Ocean, the Moon's shadow reached landfall in South America. In a total solar eclipse close to sunset, silhouetted Moon and Sun hugged the western horizon, seen here above the Andes mountains near the continent's southern tip. To enjoy a good vantage point, the photographer hiked to a windy spot about 400 meters above a lake, Lago Argentino, climbing into the picture after setting up his camera on a tripod. At left, the sky outside the shadow cone is still bright. Below, the lights of El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina, shine by the lake shore.

Normally, if the camera photographs your ass you've screwed up somehow. There are times, though, when it actually works.

That's how art is sometimes. At least he wasn't being mauled by a penguin or a cowboy.

Quote Of The Day

Jon Walker on the Democrats' feeble excuse that the Republican's ability to block cloture has brought the government to its knees:

Nothing is stopping 51 Senate Democrats from taking to the floor and in 20 minutes using Senate procedure to eliminate the filibuster. Republicans even threatened to do just that back in 2005. This excuse of the filibuster and Republican obstructionism is merely a self-constructed fantasy that the Senate has impressively convinced the rest of Washington to believe. A political tooth fairy, if you will. But this means Democrats are 100 percent to blame for not passing the laws they promised to and for failing to govern. They actually are fully capable of passing any law if they really want to.

Democrats Blame Senate GOP for Failure to Govern; Voters Still Blame Democrats

I don't know all the minutia of Senate rules, but this much is obvious: anyone who remembers the phrase "nuclear option" should remember that when the Democrats threatened to filibuster, the Republican threat to eliminate the filibuster was taken seriously. It doesn't really matter why it was taken seriously - for the most part, the same people who were in or discussing that situation then are discussing it now. Harry Reid, for instance, was the Democratic leader in the Senate. Why is it suddenly not an option, eh?

It doesn't matter whether they were wrong then or now, we clearly were being lied to at one time or another by Democrats trying to justify their lack of action. That's a lesson to take from this.