Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day, 2011

It's another Memorial Day in America. For the first time, we are involved in three separate wars. Here's an aerial view of the section of Arlington Cemetery that is set aside for casualties of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Image credit: Screenshot of TangoGPS display of Google satellite imagery by Cujo359

Click on the picture and look carefully, you can see the headstones. There are lots of them.

It's called Section 60, which some call the saddest acre in America. Ignore the great war of my formative years, Vietnam, and that would certainly be an accurate label. It might be even if one doesn't ignore our tragic misadventure in Indochina. At least back then the country cared that a war was going on. It sometimes seems we don't even remember these wars, and the victims of them who are buried here.

On this Memorial Day, like just about all the Memorial Days of the last decade, I find myself wishing we had real political leaders who kept us out of these useless tragedies, or were really willing to risk their careers to end them. Unfortunately, about all we're left with are the opportunists, crooks, and nonentities who run things now.

America's saddest acre won't be closing anytime soon.

UPDATE: Speaking of Vietnam, Dana Hunter wrote about some of her father's memories of Vietnam today:
My dad used to tell me stories.

He'd been in Vietnam. Infantry, United States Army. He'd gotten drafted while switching colleges (never let it be said grades aren't important: they can keep you from getting shot, for instance). And it was a hard year. That year changed his life. He went to war. He lost half his hearing when someone shot a .45 near his ear in a tunnel; he'd had his jaw broken by a bullet; he still has bits of shrapnel working their way out of his chest from a grenade wound he took to the ankle. He still won't sit with his back to a door. And for years, he could only allow bits and pieces of that year to surface. He'd talk about it, but only in fragments. Some of it he barely talked about at all.

Each of the dead has stories to tell, and each of them is missed by someone. That's the universal tragedy of war.

Speaking of stories, somehow this one by Army LTC Robert Bateman made the rounds back in 2007 and I missed it:
"10:36 hours: The clapping starts at the E-Ring. That is the outermost of the five rings of the Pentagon and it is closest to the entrance to the building. This clapping is low, sustained, hearty. It is applause with a deep emotion behind it as it moves forward in a wave down the length of the hallway.

"A steady rolling wave of sound it is, moving at the pace of the soldier in the wheelchair who marks the forward edge with his presence. He is the first. He is missing the greater part of one leg, and some of his wounds are still suppurating. By his age I expect that he is a private, or perhaps a private first class.

"Captains, majors, lieutenant colonels and colonels meet his gaze and nod as they applaud, soldier to soldier. Three years ago when I described one of these events, those lining the hallways were somewhat different. The applause a little wilder, perhaps in private guilt for not having shared in the burden ... yet.

Fridays at the Pentagon
I spent most of my adult life working with and around people like this. They are good people - maybe a little conservative for my tastes, but good people. Their sense of duty shows in this story, the duty of superiors to their people as much as the reverse. So does their sense of honor. You might think, based on things I've written before that this is an odd thing for me to write, but articles like that are more about the rare opportunists who excel in the civilian world.

So, if you wonder why, instead of extolling the exploits of Seal Team 6, I focus on the cost of the wars we wage, it's because I've seen that cost for far too long. I've seen it in broken minds, broken bodies, and amusing stories of comrades long gone. As I wrote in my first Memorial Day post:
To be a young soldier in a war is to learn the meaning of "choiceless". They are usually told what to do, where to go, and what not to do or where not to go. The consequences for not following those directions can be drastic. They are often even told when they can sleep and eat, in contradiction to what seems like the most basic human instincts. When they are sent to a war their only choices are to serve or face jail, or worse. That's their duty.

Our duty is to make sure that they aren't sent into a war for frivolous reasons, which as I've mentioned before, we have not done. The other part of our responsibility is to help the soldiers who are hurt in those wars as well as we are able. In that way we've also failed to do our duty.

I think the best way we can thank all these people for what they have done for us is to live up to our end of the bargain.

A Way To Say Thank You
We've done a really lousy job of that lately.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

My blogging friend Dana Hunter is hosting a geology blogging festival called "Accretionary Wedge" today. The subject is "weird geology", which is yet another one that I have neither the background nor the discretion to try to write about. It's all weird to me - sinkholes, eruptions, diamond and gold mines, why is all that stuff where it is? I have no idea, really, and doubt I ever will. As I've already noted, stuff like this is pretty weird, too, but geologists seem to take it in stride.

Still, in a spirit of solidarity I thought I'd put up a few pictures of one of the more unusual geological features I've ever seen. It's the Meteor Crater, in central Arizona.

The Meteor Crater was formed, as you might have guessed by now, by a meteor that hit the Earth. At the time I wrote this:
Image credit: NASA

This was not the only asteroid or comet to ever hit what is now the United States, only the biggest. This is a photo of the meteor crater near Winslow, Arizona. It was formed by a smaller impact 20,000 to 50,000 years ago. That's a very short time in geological history, and came at a time when human beings were starting to spread out over the planet. The first humans came to North America only a few millenia later than the end of that estimated impact period.

What Geology Can Teach Us
I hadn't actually seen the crater, but the following year Dana and I visited it while we were touring the area. It's hard to think of this as weird, because there are lots of impact craters on the Moon and Mercury. As I've noted before, meteors have had a major impact on how life evolved on Earth, even if the events are mercifully infrequent.

So, it's not weird.

Still, it's a big honkin' hole in the ground, and so it's a good subject for a photo essay. The meteor that hit the area was a 150 foot (45 meter) wide ball of iron that struck the ground at more than 10,000 miles per hour (more than 15,000 kilometers per hour (NOTE1)), leaving a sizable hole in the ground. Go figure. Here's what's thought to be the largest piece of the meteor that survived the impact. It's less than three feet in its longest dimension. There wasn't much left of that 150 ft. meteor:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359 unless otherwise noted

I took a few panoramas of the crater that day. It's really hard to get a sense of scale from them, though. This one is taken from the trail that runs along the rim of the crater:

That thing off to the right that looks a bit like a chimney is, in fact, a chimney. It was part of the house built by one of the earliest explorers of the crater.

This is the view from the lower observation deck near the visitor center.

It shows a good view of the small settlement at the bottom of the crater. No one lives there now, but it was used during the 1960s as a training ground for astronauts who were training for moon walks. Here's a close up of that area. At least, it's as close as I could get with a 3.5X zoom:

This is another view from the rim as we were taking the tour:

The crater is almost a mile wide. Had it been formed today, the impact probably would have devastated half the state. This is yet another reason why I think people who think that we don't need to have the government prepare for disaster and study the things that could create them are crazy. Just imagine what would become of Flagstaff, which is only about thirty miles away, or any of the other towns in that area. Now imagine it hitting New York or southern California, instead.

So it may not be weird, but it's certainly important.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

NOTE 1 Yes, I know that a mile is 1.602 kilometers. I'm rounding to the same kind of precision in both units.

UPDATE: Here's a way to judge the scale of the place. It's an aerial view of the Meteor Crater that I put together using Google images:

In the top part of the image is the visitor center, which is a rather large building with a couple of auditoriums and a gift shop. In the lower left hand corner is a scale. For those of you stuck in the English measurement system, 200 meters is about the same as 200 yards (within ten percent). Ignore that arrow, it's just the cursor arrow.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Over at Multi Medium, Eli sums up the likely result of politics over the next couple of years:
The Democrats swept the Republicans out in 2006 and 2008 because the Republicans proved themselves to be incompetent and corrupt. The Republicans swept the Democrats out in 2010 because the Democrats proved themselves to be incompetent and corrupt. Now the Republicans are proving themselves to be downright malevolent, and could very well swing the backlash pendulum back to the Democrats, and in a presidential election cycle too.

I Got Your "Overreach" Right Here
He's by no means the first to make this observation, but it's a succinct and pointed formulation of it. Hell, I saw this coming back in 2008. The only thought I will add to it is that having the Democrats in power again won't mean a damn thing. They'll do what the Republicans have been trying to do this term, and the progressives who are wailing about the evil Republicans now will be talking about "pragmantism", and how racist Obama's critics are.

All you have to do is look at how things have gone since 2006 to realize that all this is true. I feel like I'm playing the Bill Murray role in Groundhog Day sometimes.

Another Potential Use For Random Numbers

I just finished watching the baseball game I recorded Saturday (yes, my life doesn't always happen in proper order). It was the Fox game of the week, of course, which as I've mentioned before, is probably not the ideal way to watch baseball. So when I saw this cartoon today at xkcd, I just had to share:

I'm reminded of a game a few weeks ago when Fox Sports designated moron Ken Rosenthal was lamenting that he couldn't ask some player who was having some legal difficulties what the player thought of them, as if he were actually going to get a meaningful or insightful answer.

These days, a random number generator that picked from a set of cliches would be more entertaining, and possibly more informative, than what passes for commentary on Fox.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Obscure Blogger Feature Of The Day

How do you get to your blogging dashboard in Blogger? The way I've been doing it these last few years was to click on "New Post", then click on the "Dashboard" link when the new article form came up. It turns out there's an easier way:

Image credit: Screenshot and alterations by Cujo359

Just click on the little Blogger logo, helpfully pointed out by the big, crude black arrow, and you will either be taken to:
  • The login screen, if you're not logged in
  • The dashboard, if you are
Once you know the secret, of course, it's easy.

How long have I been doing this, four years? Eventually I'll get the hang of it, I suppose.

Anyway, I pass this on in the hopes that it will save someone else years of extra effort.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Endeavour Heads Aloft

As a sort of postscript to this post, here's a shot of the Shuttle Endeavour rising above the clouds:

Image credit: NASA/APOD

It's amazing what people can accomplish when they put their minds to it. Click on the image credit link to be taken to the source.

UPDATE: You might be wondering what Endeavour is doing up there. Here's a sample:
Image credit: NASA/Wikimedia

That's the Endeavour's robotic arm transferring the Express Logistics Carrier (ELC-3), which might be described as a really sophisticated packing crate that doubles as a storage shed. It contains various experiments that the International Space Station will be running in space for the next few years, as well as spare parts and supplies for station operations.

Wikipedia has an entry for STS-134, the Endeavour's mission. Check it out if you want to see what's going on.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

NY-26 Special Election: What Does It Mean?

Updated twice on May 25

Congratulations are in order:
While votes are still being tallied, early polling data - and inside campaign sources close to both campaigns who have spoken to Buffalo Rising - have made it clear that Kathy Hochul will defeat Jane Corwin and Jack Davis in the special election to fill Chris Lee's vacant House of Representatives seat.

Kathy Hochul Defeats Jane Corwin in NY26 Special Election
Now, what does this mean? By my estimation, not a damn thing.

Most importantly, the House of Representatives is still in Republican hands.

There are already folks predicting that this will mean the death of the Congress' austerity fetish or Ryan plan of Medicare and Medicaid cuts. I don't think these people have been paying attention - either to recent American political history, to what's been going on in Congress, or what's been happening at the polls.

First, the political history. The Massachusetts special Senate election of 2008 should have been a wakeup call for Democratic congressmen that the health care bill, and their complete lack of effective action on the economy were a problem. Yet, thanks partly to the usual crowd of sycophants, they managed to ignore the lessons, and were roundly defeated in 2010. Anyone who expects the Republicans will be more attuned to the political winds than the Democrats were has more faith in the Republican leadership's intelligence than I do.

Second, the two parties plans are not polar opposites. Most coverage I've seen on the Democratic caucus seems to indicate that they are bound and determined to make cuts to Medicare and Medicaid as part of a "deal" with House Republicans:
Is it possible that Democrats will squander the political advantage on Medicare that they just regained over Republicans? It could happen.

At his weekly Capitol briefing with reporters Tuesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) confirmed what aides in both parties have been telling reporters: Cuts to Medicare will be on the table in deficit and debt limit negotiations, led by Vice President Joe Biden.

Will Dems Give Up Their Political Advantage On Medicare In Debt Limit Fight?
And why not? The same idiots are in charge of the Democrats who lost that huge majority by not giving a crap about ordinary Americans in the first place. They even had to add a new post to keep one of them in authority. Anyone who thinks things are changing there has more faith in the Democratic leadership's intelligence than I do.

Finally, and I love being able to point this out, because there's nothing I love more than being able to say I told you so. Look at this table, courtesy of Talking Points Memo:

NY-29 District Special Election Results
Corwin (R)40,18842%
Davis (Tea)8,3009%
Hochul (D)45,29148%
Murphy (G)1,0301%
TPM Election Scoreboard: NY-26 House
[91% of precincts reporting]

See that number that's in red? That's what the Tea Party candidate tallied in that election. If the votes for the Tea Party had instead gone to the Republican candidate, she would have won. That's even true if you assume the Tea Party only managed to equal the Green Party's total, which is the number in green.

Now, who do you think is more likely to be taken seriously in the next election, the Tea Party or the Greens? If you said "Tea Party", you're smarter than a majority of the self-described liberals out there. This is why the Tea Party has power - it can decide elections. Progressives can't muster up the will to make the same true of their side, whether it's with the Greens or some other party. If the Republican leadership has even the brains I give them credit for, they will worry more about pleasing the Tea Party than about pleasing anyone else. Support that can't be counted on to stay is the support that's important in this game. Most progressives seem to be completely unaware of this truth, but Republicans clearly aren't.

So, while it's nice that the nice brunette lady won over the not-so-nice blonde lady, I really don't see much chance that anything important to us ordinary Americans will change as a result. It's going to take a lot more than the loss of one conservative district to change how the Republicans do business, and we've already observed that the Democratic leaders aren't inclined to learn much of anything.

I'd love to be proved wrong, but as I've observed many times before, that usually doesn't happen when I'm pessimistic.

UPDATE (May 25): National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Pete Sessions (TX-32), as quoted by TPM today:
"Republican Jane Corwin ran a hard-fought campaign against two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name," Sessions said. Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010."

Democrat Kathy Hochul Wins Upset In NY-26, Medicare Vote Key To Victory
Like I said, they aren't changing how they do business. No one learns anything from these elections, because they just don't want to. Any political tsunamis are 18 months down the road, and lots can happen between now and then. Anyone who can't rationalize away a setback when faced with that kind of timescale is probably far too timid to be a successful politician.

UPDATE 2: If you want more evidence that the Democrats still have Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in their cross hairs, here's an ABC video of a conversation between former President Bill Clinton and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan today:

In the context of that conversation, it's clear that what President Clinton means by "do nothing" is to not make some cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and/or Social Security. He was having that discussion at the Peter Peterson Foundation, run by the guy who has been leading the charge to have these programs eliminated. Many of his acolytes were on the Deficit Reduction Commission, also known as the catfood commission, which made the curious choice to not look at either defense spending or higher taxes on the rich as a cure for deficit spending.

The Democrats will learn nothing from this, because they won and that's what matters. If they'd lost, odds are they wouldn't have learned from it, either, but people are far more likely to learn from setbacks than from success.

(h/t Taylor Marsh)

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald, summarizing the vision of our political elites these days, as epitomized by David Brooks:
It has long been the supreme fantasy of establishment guardians in general, and David Brooks in particular, that American politics would be dominated by an incestuous, culturally homogeneous, superior elite "who live in [Washington] and who have often known each other since prep school." And while these establishment guardians love to endlessly masquerade as spokespeople for the Ordinary American, what they most loathe is the interference by the dirty rabble in what should be their exclusive, harmonious club of political stewardship, where conflicts are amicably resolved by ladies and gentlemen of the highest breeding without any messy public conflict.

David Brooks' Political Dream
Back during the days of President Clinton trashing the place, it became pretty clear to me that Washington, DC, was a tight, small minded little society that would make hillbillies look like world-traveling renaissance men in comparison. Little since then has done anything to dispel that notion. It doesn't matter whether it's Democratic politicians talking about their base, or Republicans talking about theirs, the overwhelming sense of the place is that when you're there, you're clued into what's going on, and everyone else are a bunch of hicks. You can't expect anything more of a place that could brand a narrow-minded clown like David Broder the "dean" of its journalism class.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Did Rapture Happen To You?

Anyone see a Rapture on Saturday? I sure didn't. There were these guys:
Caption: Roger Clyne And The Peacemakers in concert - Neumos, Seattle, WA, May 21, 2011.

Image credit: Cujo359

They made some jokes about the world coming to an end, but that didn't happen, either. And they didn't get sent to Hell or anything.

Go figure.

Unless the Rapture involves standing in a bar listening to country rock, then it didn't happen anywhere near me. Guess maybe someone was wrong about all that, huh?

UPDATE: If you want some more about how the concert was, Dana Hunter has some more pictures of the concert, with a promise of more later.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Did Anything Happen?

Did the Rapture happen today? Some nut said it would. Some other nut said it wouldn't. The worst part about it is that it might have happened and I just hadn't noticed, being that the people who disappear would, for the most part, be people I do my best to avoid noticing anyway. It's really tough to tell if something happens when you're not sure what is supposed to happen, and you're not sure you care anyway.

It's not the end of the world, after all. That's supposed to happen in October. I figure I'll notice if that happens. I scheduled this article to appear at 5PM Pacific Time, so I figure if it were going to happen by now it would have. Of course, if the world actually did end today, this article would have appeared and I wouldn't be around to read it.

So, if the Rapture happened, please drop a word in the comments. Assuming we're all still here, of course.

Otherwise, have a nice Saturday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Virtual Zombie Apocalypse

Caption: A CDC information systems administrator awaits the next Internet onslaught. Is she prepared?

Image credit: Centers for Disease Control

No doubt inspired by all the hoopla about the world ending, someone at the Centers for Diseases Control was inspired to write this cute little article about emergency preparedness:
There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this, and hey, maybe you’ll even learn a thing or two about how to prepare for a real emergency.

Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse
Given how things work on the Internet, you almost had to expect this:
WASHINGTON, May 19 (Reuters) - A blog post by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that mentions a "zombie apocalypse" as a lighthearted way to get Americans to read about preparing for hurricanes drove so much traffic that it crashed the website, the agency said on Thursday.
Daigle said that a typical CDC blog post might get between 1,000 and 3,000 hits. The most traffic on record had been a post that saw around 10,000 visits.

By the end of Wednesday, with servers down, the page had 60,000. By Thursday, it was a trending topic on Twitter.

'Zombie Apocalypse' Campaign Crashes CDC Website
A site that's probably used to having a few hundred people a day visit it all of a sudden gets tens of thousands, and things don't work so well. Hmmm. This might be one reason:
HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: Microsoft-IIS/6.0

If you're a website administrator who wants to survive the next zombie apocalypse, you might want to go here, and here's a checklist you might want to keep handy.

(h/t to Mary at The Left Coaster)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Quote Of The Day

P.Z. Myers for his properly skeptical view of this:
The Buffalo Beast has an interview with sadly delusional Harold Camping, the senile old man who is predicting the end of the world on the 21st. I say "Pshht!" and "Humbug!" — it's no big deal to get an interview with that loony attention hog on the 19th; I will be impressed with the fellow who gets the first interview on the 22nd.

Camping Meets The Beast
[link from original]

I'd be impressed, too, partly because it will probably take a lot of persistence.

It's perhaps emblematic of how our mainstream news has degenerated into the circus of competing scare stories and superstitious nonsense that it is today that we have even heard of Harold Camping. Richard Dawkins, a British scientist and former professor, asked the Washington Post recently why it would even bother covering such foolishness:
Why is a serious newspaper like the Washington Post giving space to a raving loon? I suppose the answer must be that, unlike the average loon, this one has managed to raise enough money to launch a radio station and pay for billboards.

Science explains the end Of The World
I think Dawkins' supposition is at least part of the explanation, but that's hardly the end of it. They also seem to be more interested in covering this sort of thing than they are interested in doing the kind of reporting we need them to do - actually investigating things, and then telling their readers what they find. This stuff is easy - just write down what the crazy guy says, or write down what's on his billboards, and print it.

It's pretty much how they cover politics, come to think of it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When Things Went Kabloowie

Caption: What Mt. St. Helens looked like in the summer of 1980.

Image credit: Rick Hobbit/USGS

Dana Hunter reminded us today that this is the 31st anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption in southwestern Washington. Following that link will take you to a good description of what happened there, and what it might means.

Still, I thought there was one image I ought to share of it:

That's a screenshot of a TangoGPS image of Mt. St. Helens, using Google's satellite photo data. There's a scale in the lower left hand corner. That mile-wide gash in the north side of the crater was made by that eruption, and much of the whitish scarring is from the hot pyroclastic flow that erupted out of it.

The scale of that eruption, compared to anything most of us have experienced, is mind boggling. Yet it was, by historical standards, a pretty minor eruption.

When people like Ron Paul pontificate about how disaster relief isn't a proper role of government, imagine if something like the Yellowstone Caldera were to erupt today. There is no place in America that is safe from all forms of disaster, and there is nearly always a potential danger that local citizens can't have the resources to prepare for.

Thinking otherwise demonstrates a profound ignorance about the world we live in.

Shifting The Burden

Caption: A chart of who has benefited from the expanded economy from 1950 to the present. As you can see, folks in the upper one percent or so of the population have reaped most of the benefits since President Reagan changed the tax burden in America. See this article for an explanation of that chart, and some others. [Click on the chart to enlarge.]

Image credit: Critter's Crap

Awhile back I wrote about one of the things that made the current fad for austerity in government budgets, and "balanced" budgets, a popular thing among the folks who really matter in politics:
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.

A Lesson In Idiot Savant Economics For Economics Professors
Right now U.S. government Treasury bills are paying somewhere in the neighborhood of three and a half percent interest, which is less than the Irish bonds are paying, but that's still a good rate. If you have the kind of money you can put into things like government bonds, they are a pretty sweet deal. That kind of interest isn't available from any of the consumer-level services banks offer in America - you might get a certificate of deposit that will pay half that, and regular savings accounts have little return to speak of.

What I hadn't really considered, though, was how federal government fiscal policy had shifted the burden from the rich to the rest of us. Robert Reich noted that yesterday in his column:
Forty years ago, wealthy Americans financed the U.S. government mainly through their tax payments. Today wealthy Americans finance the government mainly by lending it money. While foreigners own most of our national debt, over 40 percent is owned by Americans – mostly the very wealthy.

This great switch by the super rich – from paying the government taxes to lending the government money — has gone almost unnoticed. But it’s critical for understanding the budget predicament we’re now in. And for getting out of it.

The Great Switch By The Super Rich
It's obvious when you think about it, really. The way we finance government has changed from having the rich pay their share of taxes, to letting the rich make money from government financing, at the expense of the rest of us.

And no, that isn't just a Republican priority. It was an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress that renewed the Bush tax cuts last year. There are plenty of idiots among progressives who think that somehow this is all the work of Republicans, but it's not. If letting the tax cuts expire had been a Democratic Party priority, they would have expired. Parties have ways of making members who don't play ball on really important issues pay. We've been betrayed by Democrats here just as much as the GOP.

Whether progressives will ever do anything about that remains to be seen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

One Last Time

There's lots of symbolism in this picture:
Image credit: NASA

[click on the Image credit link for a full size picture]

Thirty-one seconds after launch, all that's visible is Space Shuttle Endeavour's condensation trail disappearing in the cloud layer.

This is Endeavour's last flight. Named after the HMS Endeavour, the ship Captain James Cook sailed around the world in the early 1770s, hers will be the second-last flight of the Shuttle program.

Soon, the shuttle Endeavour will be a museum piece, like her namesake just another part of the history of exploration. With nothing like it being developed, it may be one of the last flights of a space plane in our lifetimes.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Quote Of The Day

From Paul Krugman's New York Times editorial of a few days ago, summarizing the debate over austerity and deficit spending in a few sentences:
The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.

The Unwisdom Of Elites
I've been avoiding quoting the Times recently, because their on again/off again policy of requiring that we pay for articles after having read a certain number in a given month strikes me as nutty. Who keeps track of that stuff? Still, this one's probably worth reading all the way through.

I Get E-mail

Image credit: See NOTE 1

I received this bit of silliness in e-mail the other day:
From: Weston Rogers
To: undisclosed-recipients@null, null@null
Subject: God loves you.
Date: May 7, 2011 2:45 AM

A very important message for you.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only SON. So that anyone that believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
John 3:16

For more details about how to find salvation in God, kindly reply.
God bless.

Since I wrote about this idea awhile back, it amazes me that anyone would think that I'd be persuaded by it to write to someone who believed such nonsense. At least, I would be amazed by such a presumption if this e-mail wasn't so obviously part of a giant spam e-mail. The entity that supposedly created the universe and all the things in it couldn't figure out how to save the humans from wickedness, etc., except by sending its son here to be murdered by sadists?

Think about that one for a moment. The intelligence that parted the Red Sea and created an astonishingly specific plague to help Moses and Co. escape from Egypt couldn't just whip up something that would make us better? Couldn't have made the world a less Darwinian place so we all could be nicer to each other without having to compete for resources? He had to send someone here to explain it all to us, and then be murdered in a horrible manner so that we'd take what he said seriously, or something like that.

Oh, no, we had to choose freely so that we could all keep him company up there in wherever. Otherwise, we wouldn't be worthy, or some such.

Of course, if he didn't send his kids out to be murdered by sociopaths, he might not be so lonely.

Are you buying any of that idea, Jessie?

Yeah, me neither.

Any adult who believes something this crazy isn't likely to explain anything to me. I love the optimism in this quote from P.Z. Myers the other day, trying to explain how pointing out that taking some religious beliefs literally is obviously foolish can be a good thing:
At the very least, I hope that a few of them will realize, even if they don't change their mind about the god nonsense, that quoting the Bible at me has no effect, and maybe some years down the road I won't be hearing as many idiots telling me "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'" as if they've made a profound point.

We aren't angry, we're effective, which is even scarier
Good luck with that.

NOTE 1 These screenshots of the Mr. Deity episode "The Really Big Favor" were taken by Cujo359. Mr. Deity is a copyrighted work of Brian Keith Dalton and Lazy Eye Pictures, who are in no way responsible for this article, nor did they approve this article. It's funny. Check it out.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

2012: Dueling Cults Of Personality?

This article originally appeared here on Thursday, May 12, but disappeared thanks to a malfunction at Blogspot, the blog's host service. It has been restored with one minor change in the introductory sentence.

There is so much going on in this quote from Talking Points Memo that I just think I'll just note it all in "bullet points":
Seeking to defuse his biggest vulnerability in the GOP primaries, Mitt Romney is set to deliver a speech outlining his position on health care on Thursday. The issue has been his glass jaw ever since 2009, when Democrats launched a successful push to pass health care reform modeled on a Massachusetts law widely considered Romney's signature achievement as governor.

The element of both laws that is most despised by those on the right is a requirement that people purchase insurance, leaving Romney in the awkward position of fiercely defending his own law's use of a mandate while labeling it an unconstitutional government takeover on a national level.

"Governor Romney has made it very clear over the last many years, including during the 2008 presidential cycle, that he opposes a federally imposed individual mandate," a Romney spox told NRO this week.

Mitt Romney's Epic Health Care Journey: How He Flip-Flopped On Mandates
* I believe "spox" means "spokesperson" in this context. This article could use some editing.

* It isn't just the right who think that individual mandates are a bad idea. I've criticized them repeatedly, particularly after any form of public option was dropped. Ian Welsh, Marcy Wheeler, and Lambert Strether, among others who have looked into the idea deeply, have criticized it as well, in some cases even if there was a public option. It's a bad idea, and most people on the left who are in any way acquainted with what it is to be living from paycheck to paycheck are well aware of that.

* But the final observation I have to make is this - Romney is the presumptive front runner among Republicans. Like Barack Obama, his likely Democratic opponent, Romney is against an individual mandate when he is talking to his supporters, and for it when it comes to actually drafting the legislation. And let's be honest here, Obama and his administration drafted that proposal, as I've explained repeatedly.

Read the quoted article through, and you will note that there's no mention that Obama was once against individual mandates, then "flip flopped". He was, you may remember, criticized for it at that time by folks like Paul Krugman. Krugman,et al, were woefully wrongheaded on this issue, thanks to their not bothering to check whether their assumptions about how economic forces worked in this area were actually true.

So, is this a great country, or what? Of all the politicians and would-be politicians in this country running for President, we will end up with these two con artists?

The only enduringly interesting thing about this issue is whether Romney's supporters will be as reality-challenged as Obama's are. Will they, too, insist that he just signed the Massachusetts health care plan because he was forced to by all those dark forces that run our government? My guess is that they probably will.

Cults of personality are like that.

Friday, May 13, 2011

While Blogger Is Down

Since we haven't had a photo article in a while, I thought I'd put up something that I don't mind losing while Blogger gets over its little owwy. Here's a picture of what's going on at the mighty Cujo Labs (tm). This will also give all the other Blogspot survivors who are checking in a sign that yes, I'm really OK. The rising floodwaters of bad computer karma didn't inundate me.

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Why the weird camera angle? Let's just say it's rather difficult to find an angle that doesn't reveal something embarrassing about my domestic hygiene.

Yes, I really do own that coffee cup. For those who are under thirty and might have wandered by here anyway, let me explain what it means. It's a representation of a sheet of old-style tractor feed computer paper. That was what I learned to do programming with, back when I was going to school. Here's a close up of the cup:

This paper was fed into a machine that was roughly the size of a modern computer desk, which would use the little holes in the sides of the paper to pull it through the printing mechanism. If there was enough ink in the mechanism, it would print out your computer program. That's what most first-year computer students used printers for back then. We'd take our printouts, go find a table in the computer center somewhere, and try to figure out which FORTRAN statement we'd misspelled when we created that stack of Hollerith cards.

If you happened to have not misspelled anything, your program would print out something ingenious like this at the bottom of the last page:

2 + 2 = 4.000000000167

Those numbers along the side represented the lines that would be printed out, so you could tell which line was which on that wide paper.

Anyway, things are so much better now that we can just read the broken software on a computer screen, aren't they?

Splat! Ow!

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Apparently, Blogger had some issues yesterday:
[D]uring scheduled maintenance work Wednesday night, we experienced some data corruption that impacted Blogger’s behavior. Since then, bloggers and readers may have experienced a variety of anomalies including intermittent outages, disappearing posts, and arriving at unintended blogs or error pages. A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts. Yesterday we returned Blogger to a pre-maintenance state and placed the service in read-only mode while we worked on restoring all content: that’s why you haven’t been able to publish. We rolled back to a version of Blogger as of Wednesday May 11th, so your posts since then were temporarily removed. Those are the posts that we’re in the progress of restoring.

Blogger Is Back
Having gone through a few of these personally, I can tell you that they are frustrating. It's also frustrating when something you've depended on is not available for a far longer time than normal. They're trying to sort things out, and that's really all I can tell anyone on the matter.

So, Slobber And Spittle, and any other blog that's on the Blogspot system, may be a bit under the weather for the next day or two. That's why readers haven't been able to comment, and why some of their comments may have mysteriously disappeared. That's also why it should not be too surprising to find articles disappearing and reappearing on those blogs. There's one article that I was able to restore, and one that has disappeared that I, quite frankly, don't even remember at this point.

Shows what depending on online services can get you, I guess.

UPDATE: It appears that changes I've made to the blog roll in the last few days have disappeared, as well. If they're not back soon, I'll try to remember what they were and make them again.

UPDATE 2: I finally remembered what that missing article was. It was "2012: Dueling Cults Of Personality?", about Mitt Romney's resemblance to Barack Obama on the question of health care insurance mandates, and Talking Points Memo's characteristic failure to notice that resemblance. If I can't find that article in the next day or two, and it doesn't magically reappear thanks to Blogger's finally loading the right tape, I'll try to resurrect it.

And wouldn't you know it? Google doesn't have a cached copy of the article:
Image credit: Cujo359

Thankfully, though, Yahoo did. I recommend Yahoo as an alternative search engine, by the way.

Blogger/Blogspot deserves every bit of ribbing they get over this, I think.

We Do This To Ourselves

In one of his many comic personas, the vain actor Fernando, Billy Crystal used to say in a Spanish accent "It's not how you feel, it's how you look." He could have been talking about politics, as Robert Reich points out:
Policy wonks like me want to believe the public pays most attention to candidates’ platforms and policy positions. Again and again we’re proven wrong. Unless a candidate is way out of the mainstream (Barry Goldwater and George McGovern come to mind), the public tends to vote for the person who makes them feel safest at a visceral level, who reassures them he’ll take best care of the country – not because of what he says but because of how he says it.

In this regard, looks matter. Taller candidates almost always win over shorter ones (meaning even if I’d whipped him in a debate, Romney would probably still have won the governorship). Good-looking ones with great smiles garner more votes than those who scowl or perspire (Kennedy versus Nixon), thin ones are elected over fat ones (William Howard Taft to the contrary notwithstanding), and the bald need not apply (would Eisenhower have made it if Stevenson had been blessed with a thick shock?).

Voices also matter. Deeper registers signal gravitas; higher and more nasal emanations don’t command nearly as much respect (think of Reagan versus Carter, or Obama versus McCain).

And behavior matters. Voters prefer candidates who appear even-tempered and comfortable with themselves (this was Obama’s strongest advantage over John McCain in 2008). They also favor the candidate who projects the most confidence and optimism (think FDR, Reagan, and Bill Clinton).

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Mitt
None of this is news to me. As Reich mentions by way of example, the Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate back in 1960 demonstrated this. People who listened to it on radio thought Nixon won. Folks who watched it on TV liked the more charismatic and attractive Kennedy. The public's reaction to those debates was something of a laboratory experiment in human voting behavior, because so many saw it on television, and so many others listened to it on radio.

As I was putting together this article yesterday, one of my unwritten thoughts about that screenshot of Ron Paul was "you know, the guy looks a little crazy." Of course, I'm not going by his looks. As with many political candidates, I'd heard about him long before I knew what he looked like. It's possible, and I think even likely, that some of the folks telling me about him were influenced by how he looks, but Paul's record speaks for itself. He's an iconoclast, but he's an iconoclast who often lets his prejudices and preconceptions influence his thinking more than he should. He's someone who has forgotten that, even though he's very smart and has a flexible intellect, he can still be colossally wrong about something.

Psychological study after psychological study has shown that what Reich is saying is absolutely true. It's not just how we choose our leaders - how people look often influences their job prospects, their likelihood of becoming management, and even their success in what ought to be intellectual settings. We are still hairless apes, and there is something in us that needs to judge people this way. That's not entirely a bad thing - how people look and act can tell us something about their health, and their psychological well-being. Nixon's paranoia and general discomfort with people is something that comes through in some videos of him. At least, it does in retrospect. I'm sure that some folks who watched him debate Kennedy on TV picked up on that.

As Reich admitted in that article, he tried to run against Mitt Romney for governor of Massachusetts back in 2002. Despite having been Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, Reich couldn't gather together enough money to make a go of it, and he dropped out before the primary. Reich is, as he often jokes, considerably shorter than average, which is nearly always a disadvantage in politics. Looks can be something of an acquired taste, but if one were to choose between Reich and Romney for a male modeling job, I don't think many people would choose Reich. So, even if he had the connections he needed to raise money, Reich would have had an uphill battle. He doesn't say so, but I'd bet that at least part of Reich's inability to raise money had to do with those potential contributors' perception of how electable he was, which is at least partly a function of how he looks. While it's only speculation, I'd have to think that Reich would have made at least as good a governor as Romney.

So, yes, to a great extent, we do this to ourselves. We pick the Mitt Romneys over the Robert Reichs at least as often as we pick the Jack Kennedys over the Richard Nixons. Many of us don't bother trying to figure out what the politicians involved even pretend to stand for, let alone what they really do. Until that changes, our voting choices are likely to be far more limited than they should be.

UPDATE/NOTE (May 13): This article originally appeared here on May 11. Thanks to problems Blogger was having, the version of this article I posted Wednesday is gone. I don't know why. Apparently, the needed to set the clock back or something. That's why the comments are gone, and that would possibly any differences between this article and the one that was here two days ago.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yet Another Sign Of The Fall, Republican Debate Edition

Caption: Ron Paul: Crazy as an outhouse rat, yet not half as crazy as every other potential candidate for President in 2012.

Image credit: Screenshot of The Daily Show broadcast by Cujo359

Here's another example of how screwed this country is...

Ron Paul is, by most measures I'd want to apply to human beings of his intellectual capacity, nuts. He thinks there is a war on Christmas. He thinks that we have a looming crisis due to "anchor babies". Oh, and that link goes on to say that the idea that the Founders thought church and state should be separate is just silly. He thinks the census is "invasive" for reasons I can't quite figure out. I'm as private as it gets without living in a shack in the mountains, and I didn't have a problem with it. Let's not even mention his views on the Civil War.

Put Ron Paul in a group of ordinary people, and he'd stand out like a bright red megawatt beacon of pure crazy. He'd be the guy who always wants to tell you about his latest bright idea to solve the world's problems, and when you explain why he hasn't thought through that idea terribly well, is ready to believe you're out to make the world a living hell. He'd be the one you don't want to start talking to, because you know you'll never get to talk about anything that interests you or anyone else who isn't off his rocker.

Yet put him in a crowd of American Presidential candidates, and he sounds like the only guy in the room who is taking his medication.

Here are a few quotes from the Republican Presidential debate the other night. On Afghanistan:
[Bin Laden] wasn't caught in Afghanistan. Nation-building in Afghanistan and telling those people how to live and getting involved in running their country hardly had anything to do with finding the information where he was being held in a country that we give billions of dollars of foreign aid to, at the same time we are bombing that country.

So it's the policy that is at fault. Not having the troops in Afghanistan wouldn't have hurt. We went to Afghanistan to get him, and he hasn't been there. Now that he's killed, boy, it is a wonderful time for this country now to reassess it, get the troops out of Afghanistan and end that war that hasn't helped us and hasn't helped anybody in the Middle East.

Ron Paul's Call For Afghanistan Withdrawal Draws Cheers At Fox News GOP Debate
On the "War On Drugs":
What you're inferring is, you know what, if we legalize heroin tomorrow everybody's going to use heroin. How many people here would use heroin if it were legal. I bet nobody would put their hand - oh, yeah, I need the government to take care of me. I don't want to use heroin, so I need these laws.

Already? GOP Kicks Off Presidential Debates (Transcript)
On torture and prisons:
We do not need secret prisons, nor do we need the torture that goes on a secret military prison.

Daily Show May 9, 2011 (about 6:20)
Sadly, right now he'd sound like the sane person in a field of likely Democratic Presidential candidates, too, assuming that they didn't already know who their candidate was going to be. The Democrats have been in power for more than two years now, and haven't done anything but perpetuate these follies.

That's why we're screwed - it's the crazy guy who makes the most sense. Everyone else makes no sense at all.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What Mother's Day Is Really About

Thanks to a hint from Corrente, I did a bit of googling and found this:
Arise then...women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts!
Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
Say firmly:
"We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
For caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."

Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe
It was a reaction to the death and injury brought on by the Civil War. Something to think about in between celebrations of bin Laden's death, I think.

Of course, it has become a day to remember the wonderful people who brought us into this world:

Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Maybe we could remember Julia Howe's lament and apply a little of that kindness and generosity to the rest of it.

Happy Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Necessary, But Ugly

It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it. Gen. Robert E. Lee

A few days ago, John Stewart said just about everything that needed to be said about President Obama's decision not to release the photos taken of Osama Bin Laden's death:

He does a good job of explaining why no one with a functioning mind would think:
  • That the sight of the photos would somehow make Americans queasy
  • That release of these photos would somehow inflame the Muslim world
  • That watching CSI:Miami is a good way to spend an hour of one's life
We haven't been the home team in a major war in a long time. That perspective is something that the residents of France, Cambodia, and Iraq, among others, could provide, which is that the effects of war are often horrific, and they can last for a long, long time after the war is over. Thanks to several generations of not having to deal with that reality, we have developed a highly sanitized idea of what war is. I suspect it's one of the reasons we're too fond of it.

People in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are aware of the realities. As Stewart mentions, sometimes all they have to do to acquaint themselves with it is look out their windows.

The death of Osama Bin Laden, at least if it occurred in an effort to try to capture him, was a necessary thing, but it was also an ugly one. I don't feel the need to celebrate it. I respect and appreciate the courage and skill of the people who carried out that mission, but after ten years OBL's death seems almost anticlimactic. His movement will almost certainly survive him for a long time. And, as Ian Welsh points out eloquently, he has already won. We are the fearful and paranoid population of shut-ins he would have wanted us to be if he knew what would kill the American way of life most reliably.

The only thing the Obama Administration's refusal to release those photos shows is their disrespect for both the intelligence of people who live in the Muslim world, as well as that of its own citizens. That release is, like the act they chronicle, a necessary, but ugly thing.

Afterword: That quote of Robert E. Lee's, one of my favorites of the Civil War, is especially poignant, as he uttered it after the Battle of Fredericksburg. It was, as the Wikipedia article notes, a lopsided victory for Lee's army. Yet, almost 2,000 soldiers were killed that day, and considerably more carried wounds that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nail, Head, Etc.

Speaking of spaceflight, and headlong retreats from same, xkcd has a wonderful comic:

Click on the comic to be taken to xkcd, and then hover your mouse pointer over the comic there to see the clever hidden message.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sunday Photos

One month into Major League Baseball's season, things are pretty much as I expected. The Philadelphia Phillies are in first place in their division, and the Seattle Mariners are last in theirs. While it's possible the Phillies won't end up in the spot they're in now, the same can't be said of the Mariners.

To celebrate the fact that I can't watch either team on TV, here's a picture of a municipal ball field in Bothell, Washington, near the North Creek watershed:
Image credit: Photos by Cujo359

And just to prove that not everything is about sports in Bothell, here's a panorama of the North Creek Station of the Stillwater Water project, still under construction:

Click on the photos to enlarge. Have a good Sunday.

UPDATE (May 3): Welcome to readers. There are more photos of the North Creek area here, and more pictures of municipal ballfields here and here.