Thursday, June 30, 2011

NewsCorp Spits Out What's Left Of Myspace

No sooner does xkcd release this cartoon:

Then this happens:
MySpace, the long-suffering Web site that the News Corporation bought six years ago for $580 million, was sold Wednesday to the advertising network Specific Media for roughly $35 million.

The News Corporation, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, had been trying since last winter to rid itself of the unprofitable unit, which was a casualty of changing tastes and may be a cautionary tale for social companies like Zynga and LinkedIn that are currently enjoying sky-high valuations.

News Corporation Sells MySpace for $35 Million
News Corporation, sporting one of those names that drip with Orwellian subtext, is the right-wing propaganda machine run by Rupert Murdoch. I've always thought that Internet businesses generally start out overvalued and then gradually come to earth, but that's clearly a minority opinion.

One could also blame this on the old-fashioned idea that maybe corporations shouldn't buy things that aren't in their core area, because the nearly inevitable result is that the new owners will try to make the business do something it can't, or try to run it in a way that won't work:
It is not clear whether MySpace itself was profitable for the company. The division that houses MySpace and other digital properties has turned a profit only once in the last six years. An advertising deal with Google helped the company to recoup what it spent on MySpace in the first place, but the site became a burden on the company’s earnings; by last year executives were calling the losses unacceptable. Mr. Nathanson called the site a “headache.”

News Corporation Sells MySpace for $35 Million
With a track record like that, you have to figure that they either paid too much for those businesses, or ran them badly. Of course, there's no reason to assume they didn't do both.

As the article goes on to say, Myspace tried to reinvent itself several times, with pretty much the result you expect. Despite what people might think about the Internet, when something we like and depend on keeps changing in a way that doesn't improve it, we users don't like that all that much.

Reuters adds:
At its peak in 2008, Myspace attracted nearly 80 million people in the United States, almost double that of Facebook.

The growth was too fast and Myspace had trouble scaling the number of users who were flocking to the site. Meanwhile Facebook had opened up its platform to third-party developers, such as Zynga and its popular FarmVille game. That attracted more people and kept them on the site.

News Corp Sells Myspace, Ending Six-year Saga
Now, there's not a big problem with "scaling up" if you're willing to find the network and software specialists who can make it happen, and then put money into the resources they need to solve the problem. Unfortunately, this is the sort of thing that the news business in America forgot how to do a long time ago. As I wrote regarding the trend in news back in 2009:
The same short-term, greedy behavior that's ruined much of our economy was at work on the news business, too. That reference to R & D was an apt one - reporters and their support staff represented the future of those papers. You don't just go to journalism school and know what it is to be a reporter on a beat, any more than you know how to be an engineer at a car company by getting a mechanical engineering degree. There's still an apprenticeship, followed by lots more acquisition of knowledge that makes future efforts easier or better. When the newspapers and broadcasters of America shed themselves of these people, they killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. How in the world could someone not be satisfied with a 37 percent profit? Only in America.

Why The News Is In Decline
That reference to R & D seems almost prescient right now, because what appears to have happened is that a "news" corporation bought out a technology company, then starved it of the R & D it needed to keep going.

It's hard to imagine a worse combination than a news corporation that cares more about spouting a particular point of view than providing news taking over a technology company.

In retrospect, that combination was bound to fail.

UPDATE: Since I mentioned the idea that one possible problem with the Myspace acquisition was that News Corp. paid too much for it, perhaps I should elaborate on why.

Basically, the problem is that $580 million dollars is a lot of money. Even Rupert Murdoch doesn't have that kind of cash just lying around. More than likely, he obtained some sort of financing to pay some or all of that sum. That means that the costs of that finance - the interest, points, whatever, would be considered part of the cost of the company thus acquired. The more money required, the higher the costs of that financing will be.

Since money is usually a limited commodity in business, it seems reasonable to assume that companies acquired in this way, particularly if the cost of acquiring them is more than they're really worth, will inevitably have to choose between paying off the finance costs or hiring people and acquiring resources to expand or continue the business. That could explain why Myspace didn't expand well, and its competitors like Facebook and Twitter did.

I haven't looked into how the Myspace acquisition happened, so that could all be nonsense. It's fairly typical of how things work, though, so I'd be very surprised if it wasn't at least part of the reason for Myspace's failure.

Given all that, I think I'm going to take it as a working assumption that any Internet company acquired for that kind of money is likely to be a shadow of its former self in a few years. That's another thing that seems almost inevitable in retrospect.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Teddy Partridge, at FireDogLake, comments on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's declaration that Bradley Manning being gay is somehow the reason he allegedly leaked all those diplomatic cables:
Clearly we need to go back to the days when gays were labeled security risks and drag queens ran the FBI.

Happy Pride, Secretary Clinton, STFU
Oh, those were the days, weren't they?

As Joyce Arnold points out, Sec. Clinton has used her office to advocate gay rights around the world, but her statement on Manning is pretty lowdown. Not only does it presume the guilt of someone who hasn't been put on trial yet, but it also replays old stereotypes that people in the military, and elsewhere in government, have had to deal with since J. Edgar's day.

So, not only is Partridge's statement loaded with lots of juicy irony, but that irony adds heft to a well-deserved smackdown.

Can I Be The "Rabid Faux St. Bernard of Freedom"?

A bit of whimsy on a day that could really use it, here's a video about a dog whose human has apparently been spending a lot of time protesting the ridiculous and dreadful measures the Greek government is taking to avoid offending its own rich and the bankers:

You go there, little buddy. Just don't drool and walk erratically in front of The Man. Take it from me, it makes him nervous.

(h/t: Lambert at Corrent)

UPDATE: David Dayen's article on the Greek Parliament passing the austerity package today contained an observation that is worth passing on:
Nobody is really saying that this privatization and austerity push will improve the economy in Greece. That’s not the issue at hand. They passed the bill because it was the stick-up demand made by their creditors. As a result, we can expect the economy to only get worse in Greece. The last round of austerity both harmed the economy and led to a LARGER budget deficit, as tax revenues fell. Tax collection is the major problem in Greece, not spending, incidentally. So you can increase as many taxes as you want, but unless you put together some credible measure to collect them (and instead, state agencies that do the tax collection have been gutted, so that’s not happening), they will be ineffective. So if this austerity follows the same track, we’ll be right back here next year, with Greek still at risk of default, and the country’s citizens materially worse off. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy’s ludicrous joint statement, which includes the line “The country has taken an important step forward along the necessary path of fiscal consolidation and growth-enhancing structural reform,” is just not credible.

Greek Parliament Passes Austerity Package
I added that emphasis, because as far as I'm concerned that's the smart bet. I see nothing to suggest otherwise. Why Greek's politicians are ignoring this rather obvious train of thought is difficult to say, but I suspect it has something to do with their leaders being like ours - people who will not be feeling the pain of the austerity no matter how bad it gets - and this is the path of least resistance for them.

Sometimes, Sports Can Work As A Metaphor

Caption: A night game at Ebbets Field, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, in 1950. They didn't know it yet, but the Sun was already setting on one of baseball's most famous teams.

Image credit: Prelinger Archives/Wikimedia

From the utter morons who offer us tales of resurgent failed empires, we turn to a columnist who might actually be worth reading, Dave Zirin:
From their days in Brooklyn, the Dodgers were the franchise of the immigrants, the strivers, the ones who thought the American Dream was there for those willing to scratch and bleed for it. They were able to maintain this persona even when they broke Brooklyn's heart and absconded for the Left Coast.
Precisely because this team has always lived at the heart of the national Zeitgest, their bankruptcy should be seen as a brutal microcosm of the leveraged capital and dashed dreams that define the new century. As Harold Meyerson wrote in the Washington Post newspaper, the Dodgers now represent: "a particularly vicious form of capitalism that America has come to know too well the past few decades: a new owner takes over a venerable firm and extracts what he can for himself, decimating the company and damaging the community in the process."

Dodger's Bankruptcy Reveals Much About The US
It is, in many ways. It's almost inconceivable to me that the Dodgers could be bankrupt. They live in one of the biggest baseball markets in the country, which includes the second largest city in America. Since moving to the West Coast, they've been generally successful, being a dominant team in both the 1960s and 1980s, and generally being a contender until a few years ago.

That baseball's owners, not exactly the most philanthropic or competent group of billionaires on the planet, see the need to take over the team should tell you just how badly the Dodgers have been run lately. If that's not enough, how about this little snippet today from the Wall Street Journal blog:
The Los Angeles Dodgers received court approval Tuesday to tap part of a $150 million bankruptcy loan from a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.-owned hedge-fund manager that will fund the team’s operations while owner Frank McCourt scrambles to keep control of the team.

The Daily Docket: Dodgers Win OK To Tap Bankruptcy Loan
Or the Los Angeles Times from a couple of days ago:
The Dodgers have filed for bankruptcy protection, a bid by Frank McCourt to preserve his ownership of the team by prodding a judge to override the rules of Major League Baseball.

McCourt will ask a Delaware bankruptcy judge Tuesday to approve interim financing to meet this week's payroll. McCourt would then retain immediate control of the Dodgers, with the intention of negotiating a television rights deal that would satisfy the court by paying off all creditors in full.

In filing for bankruptcy, Dodgers will ask judge to override MLB rules
Doesn't it just inspire confidence, not to mention more thoughts about symbolic relationships to American decline, that McCourt has filed this petition in a state whose legal system and tax structure are designed to appeal to rich financial vampires like McCourt?

I've never been that sentimental about the Dodgers, primarily because since I've been a young pup they've always been that team who are out on the West Coast now, after having abandoned their loyal, if not exactly prosperous, fan base for more lucrative environs. But they were the team of working class New York, and they were the team of Jackie Robinson. They were the team their fans affectionately referred to as "Dem Bums", because for a long time they were the low team on the New York City sports totem pole. They mean something to even those of us who have a hard time getting past our cynical view of sports and the people who run it, because they were, at one time, very special. That is, they were special until they were taken over by self-centered egomaniacs who took everything from them they could steal.

Just like America.

And isn't it just symbolic of the decline of the American press that you can read the paranoid rantings of a clown like Niall Ferguson at one of the premier publications in American news, but you only seem to be able to read a thoughtful, but sad story like Zirin's on Al Jazeera?

UPDATE: If you're looking for a little more background information on Frank McCourt, I recommend Dan Shaughnessy's column in Sports Illustrated:
Selig needs to untangle himself from the McCourts as fast as possible, but he's dealing with folks who love litigation as much as Charles Barkley loves cookies. Bet Frank sues MLB any day now.

McCourt's ownership of Dodgers was a disaster from the start
McCourt probably could have sold the Dodgers if he'd wanted. That he didn't, and instead filed for bankruptcy, should be an indication of how screwed up things are in Chavez Ravine.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Niall And The Neo-Ottomans

Caption: The Ottoman Empire, where men were men and women were not so much in evidence. It's coming back Real Soon Now.

Image credit: Robert Mantran/Wikipedia

Speaking of how our news organizations cover world events, here's a lovely editorial from Niall Ferguson, which appeared in Newsweek last week:
The question no one wants to answer is what will come after the United States departs [Iraq and the Middle East]. The “happily ever after” scenario is that one country after another will embrace Western democracy. The nightmare scenario is either civil war or Islamist revolution. But a third possible outcome is a revived Ottoman Empire.

The Mideast’s Next Dilemma
He forgot to mention the one about the robots and the asthmatic guy who always wears a helmet:
But since 2003, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected prime minister, that has changed. The founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Erdogan is a seductive figure. To many, he is the personification of a moderate Islamism. He has presided over a period of unprecedented economic growth. He has sought to reduce the power of the military. It was no accident that one of President Obama’s first overseas trips was to Istanbul. It was no surprise when the AKP won a third consecutive general election earlier this month.

And yet we need to look more closely at Erdogan. For there is good reason to suspect he dreams of transforming Turkey in ways Suleiman the Magnificent would have admired.

In his early career as mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan was imprisoned for publicly reciting these lines by an early-20th-century Pan-Turkish poet: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers.” His ambition, it seems clear, is to return to the pre-Atatürk era, when Turkey was not only militantly Muslim but also a regional superpower.

The Mideast’s Next Dilemma

You know, I suppose it's just hard to break habits I've developed over the years, but I have to wonder how the Turks are going to do this. They have an economy that's about as small as any of the European countries they'd have to conquer to rebuild that part of the old empire. Not to mention that they share a border with Russia, still one of the biggest military powers on the planet, which has ties to most of those aforementioned countries Turkey, excuse me, the neo-Ottomans, would need to reconquer.

If I were the neo-Ottomans, I wouldn't want to have anything to do with trying to run Iraq. Syria doesn't sound like a piece of cake, either.

Let's face it, folks, the Ottoman Empire broke up because it was an untenable political unit. It had fallen further behind Europe, North America, and east Asia during the 19th Century thanks to the superstitious nonsense Attaturk tried to dispel from Turkish society after the breakup. If Erdogan really wants to bring back those heady days, I feel sorry for Turkey, but there are far more serious dangers out there than a Turkey that has once again decided to lock half its population in the kitchen and stop paying attention to what all those infidel scientists and engineers are up to.

Speaking of engineers and scientists, where will they get all the weapons from that they're going to need to build the Neo-Ottoman Empire? They don't have any aircraft manufacturers of their own, and I'm pretty sure that France, the U.S., and Israel aren't going to be too happy to sell them arms so they can invade southern Europe.

And I don't see any sign that they've rescinded their request for European Union (EU) membership. It's still active as far as the EU is concerned. I can't quote chapter and verse from the EU's constitution, but I'm pretty sure they'd look unkindly on any applicant that was trying to invade them.

You'd think these issues would bother Ferguson a bit, but they don't seem to.

As with so many commentators I've had the misfortune of reading lately, I have to wonder why anyone takes this guy seriously. Apparently, there's just not enough to be scared of already.

(h/t stacy at

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Mitt Romney Media/Wikimedia

Scarecrow, at FireDogLake, on the latest economic prescription from aspiring Republican Presidential spokesmodel Mitt Romney:
I don’t follow what Mitt Romney says everyday, because sooner or later a policy chameleon will say everything once, mimic all positions, and then switch back in case you missed something.

Mitt Romney: Obama Failed Because We Needed a Larger, Longer Stimulus
Which I think captures the back-and-forth shuffle Republican candidates have had to do for a pretty long time now - all of my adult life at least. Of course, the Mittster is particularly adept at it, given how much practice he's had.

I'm not sure if I prefer this to the Democrats' simpler solution of simply lying about what they want to do, and then doing what Republicans probably would have in their place, but there's at least some potential entertainment value here that the Democrats just aren't providing.

Monday, June 27, 2011

We're All Gonna ... Nevermind

Caption: Not today.

Image credit: Screenshot of television series Faces Of Earth by Cujo359

Meanwhile, from the Department of We're All Going To Die, apparently a bus-sized blob of bad just narrowly missed us today:
An asteroid the size of a tour bus zipped by Earth today (June 27) in a flyby so close that the space rock was nearer to the planet than some satellites.

The space rock, called asteroid 2011 MD, reached its closest point to Earth just after 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT), when it crept within 7,500 miles (12,000 km) of Earth before whipping away again like a slingshot. The asteroid was flying over the southern Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Antarctica, at the time of its closest approach.

The asteroid was discovered just last week on June 22, but there was never any risk of it impacting Earth, NASA scientists said. Astronomers with the LINEAR near-Earth object survey in Socorro, N.M., made the find.

Asteroid Buzzes Earth in Close Shave
Satellites that are in geosynchronous orbit are a little more than 22,000 miles (35,800 kilometers) above Earth, so that was rather closer than usual. The Earth's diameter, though, is roughly 7,700 miles (12,800 km), so you could say it still missed us by a good distance.

According to the article, the asteroid would most likely have burned up completely in the atmosphere. The meteor that hit Meteor Crater was several times the size of this one.

Still, it would sure be nice to have had a real space program going the last thirty years or so. We might have systems in orbit that could spot these things well ahead of time, maybe even far enough away to make sure they don't hit us.

I guess blowing up other peoples' countries is more important.

Quote(s) Of The Day

The world of political commentary provides dueling quotes of the day.

The first is from commenter Romberry, responding to an earlier assertion that President Obama just gets his ass handed to him by the Republicans in negotiations:
Obama is not a weak negotiator. What you need to understand is that Obama is not negotiating for the Democratic position with Republicans but is negotiating for the Republican position with Democrats. And he’s succeeding. Wildly.

Romberry 27 June 2011 at 8:42 pm
Other people have made that observation, including me after a fashion, but I've not seen it put quite that elegantly before. This is Obama. He's not a liberal, nor is he a progressive. He's a conservative, and when he leans on people he leans on the progressives in his own party. Those progressives are the ones who can't negotiate jack.

The second quote is from Ian Welsh, on the subject of gay rights activists who are now sweet on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo after the passage of the gay marriage bill:
The fact still remains that the left doesn’t hang together well enough, and that that is going to cost a lot of people lives, jobs, health and so on. More and more as time goes on. There is only one cardinal rule to effective alliances, no separate peace. Those who are making a separate peace with Cuomo because they got what they care about more than anything else, are not allies of the rest of the left.

One more note on the New York Gay Marriage, Cuomo and the Gay Rights Movement
I don't think Ian has any particular problem with these gay rights activists - this is really a problem with most progressive pressure groups. They supposedly look after their own interests, but don't offer support for any other progressive causes. The Democratic Party is, or at least was, composed of people who have quite a few different goals. Once the Dixiecrats bolted from the party back in 1968, there really hasn't been any fundamental conflict between those groups, it's just that they have never gotten together and agreed on a set of principles that all will fight for, and that none will accept non-support for. Labor, environmentalists, minorities, human rights groups, and economic liberals have all gone their separate ways, and mostly have gotten their asses handed to them separately.

Often times, as commenters at that link have pointed out, those progressive organizations aren't particularly good about identifying Democratic politicians who aren't supporting progressive issues.

imagine a hungry wolf here Image credit: Arrr!.

I've referred several times to the Russian tale of the sleigh, where a woman in a sleigh is being pursued by wolves, and tosses her children out one by one until she doesn't have any more, and she has to face the wolves alone. Part of the reason Democrats can behave that way is because when one kid gets thrown over the side, all the other kids just sit there. If they banded together, they could make it much harder, or they could throw the woman over the side.

If you're one of the kids, either result is preferable.

If we're ever going to have any real effect on Democratic Party politicians again, these groups are going to have to do a better job of both cooperating, and pointing out when those politicians are failing to do what we sent them there to do.

On Links

I re-enabled the "Links To This Article" feature the other day to see if it has been fixed. I think it is now safe to say it hasn't.

The links that people have actually made to my site do not appear, or they only appear for a little while, then disappear. What remains, sometimes, is a long list of completely unrelated links from blogs that "follow" this one. For one article that I wrote a few days ago, there were almost two dozen supposed link backs, some dating from 2008.

Of course, I've left word in the "support" forums, with no acknowledgement or interest expressed by Blogspot. Several other people have reported this problem, with similar results.

I think it's safe to say this feature isn't going to be fixed anytime soon. So I've turned it off. Again.

So, please, if you write something that links back to an article of mine, and your site isn't on the blogroll (in other words, yours isn't a blog I read regularly), then either drop me a line or leave a comment if you want me to notice. I promise I'll see that either way.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

Caption: The south end of Monroe, Washington, and the parks along the Skykomish River.

Image credit: Screenshot of OpenStreetMaps data displayed in TangoGPS by Cujo359

Last week, I tagged along with my friend Dana to see Monroe, Washington, and the Skykomish River, which runs along the south part of the town. While Dana was busy photographing rocks, flowers, and the odd bit of fauna, I was finding interesting things to photograph:

Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

That little architectural wonder is part of the Lewis Street Park. There's a bit more to it, though, like this view of the WA 203 bridge over the Skykomish River:

Head to the neighboring Al Borlin Park, and go down to the river, and you can see this view:

The Skykomish is a fairly large river, as demonstrated here by these folks in a powerboat, who clearly aren't worried about hitting anything:

Since it's primarily fed by runoff from the Cascade Mountains, it floods rather frequently and ferociously. Here are a few recent victims of such flooding:

The park is a wonderful place to wander around for an hour or two, with quite a few places where you can see things like this:

Since we started this article with a view of a bridge, I suppose it's fitting to close with one that's at the other end of Al Brolin Park:

Yes, believe it or not, it's a bridge, or what remains of one, at least, but that's a story for another time.

Meanwhile, click on the pictures to enlarge, and have a good Sunday.

UPDATE: Corrected the spelling of Al Borlin Park.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Something To Cheer About

Image credit: Think Progress

The state of New York passed a law today legalizing gay marriage:
State senators on Friday voted 33-29 to approve marriage equality legislation introduced by Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat in his first year of office. New York will become the sixth and most populous U.S. state to allow gay marriage.

New York marriage bill paves way for same-sex divorce
As the title of that article suggests, gay couples will now have the opportunity to enjoy all the benefits of marriage that straight people have.

The New York Senate is controlled by Republicans, yet the measure passed comfortably.

Congratulations, New York. Let's hope you're a trend setter.

Who Are We, Really?

In many ways, Jose Antonio Vargas' story is that of everyone who lives in the United States:

Except, through no fault of his own, he is an undocumented alien living in America. Brought here as a young man, he grew up here. He is a success here, and by just about any other criteria would be an American. Yet, he can't leave the country for fear of not being allowed to return. Going back to the place he was born would put him somewhere that, to him, would be a foreign land.

Every American, every last one of us, is descended from people who were from somewhere else. That's true of descendants of the Leni Lenape, who were in Pennsylvania when the first European settlers arrived, as it was of those Quaker and Dutch settlers, and the Hessian mercenaries who settled there after they served the British cause in the Revolutionary War. It is true of the Navajo, and of the Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers who came after them. It's true of the Chinese and Irish laborers who built the transcontinental railroad as it was of their white American bosses.

The first people who came to North America came here long after Europe, Asia, and even some of the Pacific Islands had been settled. We all came from somewhere else. We all came here, or our ancestors did, because this seemed like a better place to be than where we were, and we made this strange place our home.

Given that, it's hard to understand how anyone could talk about people like Vargas the way that undocumented workers are talked about in America - as though they were some kind of parasite or anomaly. The fact is, they just made the same journey we or our forebears did. They're as American as we are. They just got here a little later.

(h/t Mary at The Left Coaster.)

Libya: Lots Of Lying, Not Much Else From DC

Caption: A Spanish air force F/A-18 Hornet at an airfield in Italy, March, 2011. At the time, it was participating in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) military action against Libya.

Image credit: DVIDSHUB

There were a couple of events of note that occurred today in Washington, DC, concerning Libya. The first was a pair of votes in Congress on whether U.S. participation in the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone and "civilian protection" missions should continue:
In a confused message to President Obama, the House on Friday voted down both a bill to defund U.S. involvement in the Libya mission and a measure that would have granted the mission Congressional approval for one year.

All week, support had been building in the House for repudiating Obama's handling of the war with most concerns focused on his failure to consult Congress and gain its approval before authorizing airstrikes. But that movement fell short of sending the harshest rebuke at Congress' disposal -- cutting off funds -- although members registered their disapproval of the war and Obama's handling of it by failing to give it the Congressional seal of approval.

House Defeats Effort To Yank Funds For Libya War And To Authorize the Mission
If you, like me, wonder how Congress can vote down an authorization of military action, yet refuse to stop paying for it, you might be surprised to learn that there might actually be a logical explanation. It turns out the bill to withdraw funding was, shall we say, less than it was advertised to be. From a statement by Republican Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who has stated his opposition to our military action in Libya publicly:
Mr. Speaker I rise to oppose this legislation, which masquerades as a limitation of funds for the president’s war on Libya but is in fact an authorization for that very war. According to HR 2278, the US military cannot be involved in NATO’s actions in Libya, with four important exceptions. If this passes, for the first time the president would be authorized to use US Armed Forces to engage in search and rescue; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; aerial refueling; and operational planning against Libya. Currently, absent an authorization or declaration of war, these activities are illegal. So instead of ending the war against Libya, this bill would legalize nearly everything the president is currently doing there.

Rep. Ron Paul: Statement on HR 2278
Other than bombing missions that are not carried out in support of search and rescue missions, I don't see that this bill would forbid any of the actions U.S. NATO forces are performing now. As that photo of the Spanish F/A-18 shows, we don't need to be the ones dropping the bombs. We can just make sure those who do have the bombs and the fuel.

So, that's why it failed. One might ask why House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican Caucus leadership let this thing come to a vote. David Dayen has a theory:
I’m at a loss to explain why Boehner would hold this vote if he didn’t have the numbers to carry it. Now Congress looks impotent and useless, and the story becomes about vote-counting instead of war powers. The Senate wasn’t going to pass a defunding bill anyway, but now they really have no pressure to do so. And while Congress struggles to determine its role in Libya, the President will continue to authorize military involvement. More importantly, the doctrine that a President can unilaterally authorize war and go around Congress through claims that engagement that puts no American lives at risk does not constitute “hostilities” goes unchecked. This sets a dangerous precedent for the future, especially given the trajectory of reliance on drones and other robots and shadow wars.

I will entertain the notion that the House Speaker is fine with all that, and put up a vote on defunding that he knew would fail, to remove consequences from the executive in the future. It’s certainly a possibility.

Boehner Bungles Libya Vote, Defunding Defeated in House
Despite the title of his article, he thinks it was deliberate, or that Boehner just didn't care one way or the other. I think either of those is a viable explanation. Things will almost certainly not go well in Libya, and the failure there would be another campaign issue against Obama and the Democrats. I'm also sure that the GOP isn't any more interested in bucking the defense industry than the Democrats are. Failing to pass the refusal to fund Libya gives the GOP a ready-made campaign issue, and avoids honking off an important source of campaign funds.

Sadly, in our nation's capital, this is the way to win.

So, as in times past, having Congress in control of the other political party isn't preventing a President from committing us to an unnecessary and unpopular war. Go figure.

The other Libya-related development was this little bombshell from Foreign Policy:
The top U.S. admiral involved in the Libya war admitted to a U.S. congressman that NATO forces are trying to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The same admiral also said he anticipated the need for ground troops in Libya after Qaddafi falls, according to the lawmaker.

House Armed Services Committee member Mike Turner (R-OH) told [Foreign Policy Institute publication] The Cable that U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the NATO Joint Operations Command in Naples, Italy, told him last month that NATO forces are actively targeting and trying to kill Qaddafi, despite the fact that the Obama administration continues to insist that "regime change" is not the goal and is not authorized by the U.N. mandate authorizing the war.

Top U.S. admiral admits we are trying to kill Qaddafi
Just for the record, the most amazing thing about this was that a flag officer in the U.S. military admitted this. Given how often NATO has targeted Gaddafi's various quarters and compounds, it shouldn't be surprising that this was an objective. One could make the case that these were command and control centers, and thus legitimate military targets, but the sheer number of attacks would tend to disprove that notion.

Still, it's yet another example of our government lying to us and the rest of the world about its intentions. When you're used to hearing lies from a group of people, it's hard to take anything they say to justify their actions seriously.

Which is an observation that we can once again apply to both Congress and the President.

(h/t to commenter shekissesfrogs at FireDogLake for finding that statement by Rep. Paul.)

UPDATE (June 25): The lying continued into the night. The Foreign Policy Institute's The Cable writes:
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to put lipstick on the pig of today's admonishment of the administration by Congress, saying that she was "gratified that the House has decisively rejected efforts to limit funding" for the intervention. She was referring to the House's rejection of a bill put forth by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) that would have shut off the spigot of funds for most, but not all, U.S. military operations in Libya.

The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible. They voted "no" on the Rooney's bill because they thought it was too weak, did not cut off all funds, and implicitly authorized the intervention.

Despite vote, majority of Congressmen want to defund the Libya war
The article's title says it all: what this was about was that the bill that the House "leadership" decided to offer was too weak. The war would have continued, just with someone else dropping the bombs. We would have been there in every other sense.

That Obama Administration apologists suggest otherwise is utterly beside the point.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald, in the conclusion to an article on the Obama Administration's continued expansion of the security state:
Nobody wants to believe that they have been put in a state of fear, that they are intimidated, so rationalizations are often contrived: I don't perceive any violations of my rights because there's nothing I want to do that I'm not able to do. Inducing a fearful population to refrain from exercising rights -- as it convinces itself no such thing is happening -- is a far more effective, and far more pernicious, means of suppressing freedoms. That's what a Climate of Fear uniquely enables. The vast National Security and Surveillance State has for decades been compiling powers -- and eroding safeguards and checks -- devoted to the strengthening of this climate, and the past two-and-a-half years have seen as rapid and concerted intensification as any other period one can recall.

Climate of Fear: Jim Risen v. the Obama administration
Believe it or not, I've encountered this sort of rationalization, both at former places of employment and on various blogs and other discussion groups. It usually takes the form of "my rights haven't been violated, what's the problem?" It's hard to believe anyone in America would be foolish enough to say such a thing, but it's actually a very common reaction when there's a discussion of a possible overreach by the government. It's one thing to argue the merits of a particular case, but this isn't about that. This is just a variation of "I'm fine, what's the problem?" syndrome, and I suspect it's so common for the reasons Greenwald mentions - because if people admit there's a problem, then they might have to think about doing something, which is at least more work to do, and might be dangerous.

And the government has gotten pretty good at exploiting that tendency.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Quote Of The Day

PZ Myers on the presidential possibilities of Sarah Palin:
This is a woman with a very short attention span and a complete lack of discipline and focus; she couldn't complete her governorship, she can't finish a bus tour, there's no way she could cope with a grueling presidential campaign. And if, by some bizarre fluke, she were to actually get elected, I think she'd get bored halfway through the presidential oath of office and decide to go moose hunting, instead.

Don't worry about Sarah Palin, world
He's got it as right as anyone has.

There was a time when Sarah Palin seemed like a real possibility for the White House, albeit a frightening one. That was one abandoned elected office and one abandoned bus tour ago. She's shown that she doesn't want to do it, and it's hard to imagine anyone with serious monetary resources taking her seriously at this point.

Maybe This Is Why Americans Don't Understand Economics

Caption: To some economists, making 10 louder doesn't make any sense.

Image credit: Screenshot of this video by Cujo359

So, you might be asking after my latest spanking of Professor Krugman, why do I pick on guys like him and Robert Reich, both of whom are fairly progressive in their outlook? I think the rather obvious reply to that is that those guys aren't fools. They are actually worth reading, and so I read them and sometimes find fault with what they write.

In short, they're smart enough to know better.

For an example of someone who isn't, let's turn to a columnist for the Washington Post, Frank Ahrens. Here's what he wrote in a column a month or so ago about Greek labor, including both civil servants and the labor force at large:
* Greek government workers have received what are called "13th- and 14th-month salaries." That means they work for 12 months, but get paid for 14. Sweet deal, if it doesn't wreck your economy. Oh, wait. It does. So, Greece's back-breaking concession to get the European bailout is not to actually eliminate the 13th- and 14th-month salaries. Oh, no: These will not be Draconian cuts, despite the fact that Draco was Athens's original lawgiver -- they will merely be capped at a flat rate. Henceforth, government workers will get a flat 250 euro ($331) Easter bonus, a 500 euro ($662) Christmas bonus and an additional 250 euro "subsidy leave."

* Under the bailout, Greeks must now work until they are 67 years old. Up until now, they have been able to retire with pensions at -- take a guess -- 65? Nope. 62? Lower. 57? Keep going! 53? Bingo!

Greek debt: Bailout concessions not nearly Spartan enough
These are just the first two points among many, but what I like about them as a means of illustration is how easy they are to look up.

On the first point, let's see what CNN has to say about what the "13th and 14th month" thing really means:
The 14th salary works like this: Greek workers get their annual salary in roughly 14 installments. On top of 12 monthly payments, employees receive double their paychecks in December, right in time for Christmas consumerism. They also receive half of their monthly spending in the spring to shell out on goods for Easter. Then they get another half-salary boost in July, before their traditional summer vacation.

The snag in Greece's salary solution
In short, they're not getting extra money; the money these Greek workers are paid is simply distributed in a somewhat irregular manner. Ahren's assertion that this means Greek civil servants "get paid for 14 [months]" is obvious nonsense. It's like the musician in This Is Spinal Tap who says that an amplifier that has a setting of 11 is louder than one that only goes up to ten.

Which, of course, means that those Greek civil servants are getting a cut in pay, if their pay isn't otherwise redistributed.

If you want some confirmation of how this sort of thing works, then here's a website from the Philippines:
So you are about to receive your yearly bonus from your company and you don’t know how they compute how much 13th month pay you should receive based on how many months you have been working for them. Here is a guideline from Pinoy Lawyer on the what is the correct computation of 13th month pay or Christmas bonus.
13th Month Pay of Resigned or Separated Employee.

An employee who has resigned or whose services were terminated at any time before the time for payment of the 13th month pay is entitled to this monetary benefit in proportion to the length of time he worked during the year, reckoned from the time he started working during the calendar year up to the time of his resignation or termination from the service. Thus, if he worked only from January up to September his proportionate 13th month pay should be equivalent of 1/12 his total basic salary he earned during that period.
What is the correct computation of 13th month pay?
It's a well-known phenomenon, even in the U.S., that people tend to spend more at certain times of year, like Christmas. The 13th and 14th month payment schedule just distributes a worker's salary in a way that makes it less of a problem for people who aren't able or willing to save for those times of year. They don't get paid for two months they don't work, and you'd have to be some kind of moron to assume they did without checking, wouldn't you?

Looking that up took almost no time at all, even though I had absolutely no idea what Ahrens was talking about. In contrast to me, though, he still has no idea what he is talking about.

The second point requires a bit more work to confirm. Thankfully, someone did that already:
* Greeks retire early. The figure of 53 years old as an average retirement age is being bandied about. So much, in fact, that it is being seen as fact. The figure actually originates from a lazy comment on the NY Times website. It was then repeated by Fox News and printed on other publications. Greek civil servants have the option to retire after 17.5 years of service, but this is on half benefits. The figure of 53 is a misinformed conflation of the number of people who choose to do this (in most cases to go on to different careers) and those who stay in public service until their full entitlement becomes available. Looking at Eurostat’s data from 2005 the average age of exit from the labour force in Greece (indicated in the graph below as EL for Ellas) was 61.7; higher than Germany, France or Italy and higher than the EU27 average. Since then Greece have had to raise the minimum age of retirement twice under bail-out conditions and so this figure is likely to rise further.

Democracy vs Mythology: The Battle in Syntagma Square
[links and emphasis from original]

Going by the date on that comment that the quoted article flags, it would appear that it precedes the publication of Ahrens' article by about three hours.

By way of demonstrating how easy it is to look this stuff up, though, I'll just add that the United States Census puts the average retirement age in America at roughly 62 years, very close to the Greek average of 61.7. Complaining that the Greek economy is tanking because it's possible to retire at age 53 in Greece is no more valid than complaining that we're in a depression because it's possible to do that in America.

Which brings me to the other reason I criticize columnists like Reich and Krugman when they get it wrong - we expect them to be right. Most readers don't have time to look all the stuff up that they tell us, to see whether or not they're right. We assume, wrongly as it sometimes happens, that columnists will look that stuff up before they write nonsense in a major newspaper.

Keep that in mind whenever you read a newspaper column, particularly from the benighted assortment of clowns the Washington Post employs in that capacity. They can be wrong, and they quite often are, and they often don't see a problem with that. How else can you explain the nonsense in Ahrens' column?

The Value Of A Study

Image credit: Silver Star/Wikimedia

Quite some time ago, I wrote this about a member of the blogroll:
But after reading a post in which Pat wrote (in the comments):
I realized these guys weren't just [ideologues]. It's easy to recognize nonsense coming from the other side. When you recognize it from your own, you're a thinker.

One Proud Puppy, Part II
Which, for a blogger, is something that's always good to keep in mind.

The other day, I noted that the McKinsey And Company report on management attitudes about health insurance for their employees wasn't a terribly useful source of information, thanks to the fact that McKinsey had not disclosed the method they used to conduct the poll. I also wrote that I'd been tempted to believe its supposed conclusions, based on my own views. That this was a poll, however, seemed obvious from the descriptions. I suspected it was of rather limited value as a result, as Paul Krugman explained yesterday:
So what do we learn? It was basically a poll — which is a really bad way to assess how firms will make decisions about whether or not to maintain health coverage. Such a decision is, after all, a big issue, one that won’t be taken without careful study of the numbers and consequences. A relatively casual answer to a poll probably isn’t a very good predictor of that decision.

McKinsey Pulls Back the Curtain

Yesterday, McKinsey released that information, as Krugman notes. Here is an interesting quote from the introduction, to which I've added emphasis in a key passage:
The survey was not intended as a predictive economic analysis of the impact of the Affordable Care Act. Rather, it captured the attitudes of employers and provided an understanding of the factors that could influence decision making related to employee health benefits.

As such, our survey results are not comparable to the healthcare research and analysis conducted by others such as the Congressional Budget Office, RAND and the Urban Institute. Each of those studies employed economic modeling, not opinion surveys, and focused on the impact of healthcare reform on individuals, not employer attitudes.

Employer Survey on US Healthcare Reform: Details regarding the survey methodology
I didn't check what the RAND Corporation did, but the CBO and the Urban Institute both use economic models, at least partially, to justify their conclusions. RAND being the place that it is, I'd expect its predictions were based on lots of such analysis, too.

I'm not sure what the McKinsey report summary means by "predictive", though. I understand the word, but it seems to be used here in a way that is more designed to get McKinsey out of trouble than to explain something. What I get from the fact that it is a poll is that it can't be used to say accurately that X percent of companies that now carry health insurance for their employees will dump it starting in 2014. It can't be that precise.

What it does, however, is tell us something that's very important, and this is something that Prof. Krugman fails to note. What it's telling us is, if economic conditions are more or less the same as the CBO and others assumed, that there will almost certainly be more companies dropping health coverage than those other "predictive" estimates say.

Despite Krugman's assertion, management decisions are not made solely on the basis of some scientific analysis of the economic situation of the company. They are, to a great degree, value judgments. By "value judgments", I do not mean that they are sentimental. What I mean is that they are a product of managements' view of where the company is going, the relative value of its employees, its stock price, and its market, and other concerns that I might term "fashion", in other words, the management trend of the day. Businesses, particularly smaller ones or those that are engaged in manufacturing, that have employees who have developed either skills or professional knowledge that makes them more effective will tend to value their employees more highly. Retailers, on the other hand, are likely to be mostly about their markets.

Plus, as Krugman and others have noted, chief executive officers (CEOs) and other top management are becoming more important in the decision making processes of companies, thanks to the inflated value those companies put on their services. That makes decisions like this more subject to whim and intuition, not less.

What the McKinsey report is telling us is something that most American workers will not be surprised to hear, which is that if there's any doubt about the economics, the management will come down on the side of boning the workers and giving themselves celebratory bonuses.

Of course, anyone who has read my attitude about economics and economists (not to mention the mainstream press's coverage of economics) should recognize that I view economic modeling much more skeptically than Prof. Krugman. Such models are only as good as the assumptions they make, and the verification applied to those models. Plus, any report from a respected institution like the CBO or RAND is likely to affect decisions of business leaders and politicians, which in turn has an effect of its own on the economy. If, for instance, the CBO, et al, had predicted that no company would drop its health insurance based on changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), then I feel reasonably sure that some companies would not have bothered to think much about them. Even rather good economists seem to forget that human beings often do not make decisions based on economic principles.

This is not good news for anyone who thinks the ACA is a good idea, because it's a clear sign that things will not be even as good as what the CBO and others predicted, which wasn't all that great. It was predicted that somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen million workers would lose their employer-provided health insurance. The McKinsey report tells us it will probably be more.

One has to wonder if Paul Krugman looked at this report with a bit of skepticism for his own views.

Cartoon Of The Day

Sitemeter tells me that I need to drive up that traffic, so here are some, you know:

Image credit: So Much Pun

I know, even for me this is a cheep one.

(h/t Lockwood)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Alex Andreou explains why all those Greeks are demonstrating:
So, the case is not that Greeks are fighting cuts. There is nothing left to cut. The IMF filleting knife has gotten to pure, white, arthritis-afflicted bone. The Greeks understand that a second bail-out is simply “kicking the can down the road”. Greece’s primary budget deficit is, in fact, under 5bn Euros. The other 48bn Euros are servicing the debt, including that of the first bail-out, with one third being purely interest. The EU, ECB and IMF now wish to add another pile of debt on top of that, which will be used to satisfy interest payments for another year. And the Greeks have called their bluff. They have said “Enough is enough. Keep your money.”

Democracy vs Mythology: The Battle in Syntagma Square
Every time I've read about the terms being "negotiated" for another round of financing for Greece, this is just what it sounds like. It's as though someone were asking, as part of a package to finance our federal government's deficit, that we give them the Washington Monument and the Florida Keys, plus some more stuff to be named later.

That's why the Greeks are in an uproar - they're being told to sell their country off, and accept a standard of living that's far lower, because their government and the banks it was supposed to be regulating couldn't get their shit together.

Sound like anyone else we know? Hell, it sounds like just about every Western country, including the U.S. The only difference I see is that the Greeks aren't going to take it anymore, and we're going to go right on electing the same people who have been screwing our economy up.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Photo

It's late June in the Pacific Northwest, which means that once again it's time for me to spend a few hours at the Burien Strawberry Festival. Just like last year, the weather will be anything but what you'd expect a couple of days before the start of summer.

At times like this, it pays for those of us who live here to remind ourselves that this is a beautiful place even when the sun isn't shining:

Image credit: Cujo359

That's Redondo, one of my favorite photo locations. I took that photo in March, but that's pretty much what it looks like today.

Meanwhile, if you want to see some photos that look like summer, check out James Ala's Sunday photos. They remind me a bit of Yakima in August.

So Long, Big Man

This is how we'll remember Clarence Clemmons:

It's a screenshot from this concert video, taken in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1978. They're playing "Jungleland", a song that featured Clemmons' saxophone playing a sad line in a song about the trials of life. His sax and his stage presence were so central to the E Street Band that it's hard to imagine it without him.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Study In Worthlessness

Paul Krugman writes at his blog today:
The story so far: McKinsey released the alleged results of a study showing that large numbers of firms will drop health insurance coverage once the Affordable Care Act goes fully into effect. This is very different from the results of other studies, notably the Congressional Budget Office assessment of the act.

So when the McKinsey alleged study made headlines, the firm was pressed to explain how the study was conducted. And it has refused to answer.

Krugman's take on the health care "reform" bill is radically different from mine. He thinks it's just peachy, well, there are a few problems, but it's a step in the right direction. My take is that not only was it a step in the wrong direction, but we are screwed in ways we previously weren't.

Nevertheless, I agree with him about this study. If the people who produced it won't explain where the data came from, then it's worthless. It doesn't matter what it says.

I am so glad that I didn't quote from this study. I hadn't looked at it, nor at the other studies, but still was tempted to write something about its apparent implications. That should be a cautionary tale for bloggers trying to form opinions faster than anyone else does. Just because you think something ought to be true doesn't mean it is. Being wrong is a whole lot easier than being right.

Quote Of The Day

Today's quote of the day is the title of this essay by Glenn Greenwald:
The Weiner resignation: our political system in a nutshell
The title is its own conclusion, but it's worth a read, I think. There is something seriously wrong with a place where an elected official can see his career end because he sent lewd pictures to consenting adults, but where war crimes, exposure of our own undercover agents, torture of both foreign fighters and our own citizens, corruption, and the coverup of those crimes barely register as a problem.

A Ray Of Sunshine

It's been quite a day in politics. Not a good day, mind you, but quite a day. It started with Anthony Weiner's resignation over something that shouldn't have done more than raise a few eyebrows.

Then Mitt Romney made what I took to be a self-effacing comment about his current employment status, and various and sundry progressives wanted me to think that this means he's the anti-Christ. To me, the troubling part of that article came near its end:
“We have all been distressed by the policies that this administration has put in place over the last two years,” Mr. Romney said. “We have seen the most anti-investment, antigrowth, antijob strategy in America since Jimmy Carter. The result has been it’s harder and harder for people to find work.”

Romney: ‘I’m Also Unemployed’
Not only is this tirade completely wrong from an economic perspective, it's wrong from a historical one as well. Jimmy Carter was the first proponent of "de-regulation", which was later referred to as "getting the government off our backs". Of course, it mostly got government off the backs of the folks who run the financial sector and other large businesses, allowing them to cause the unemployment Romney and the folks he was talking to were lamenting.

I don't remember any of the progressives who were castigating Romney mentioning this.

So, it was a bit of a relief to be pointed to this video this evening:

This reminds me of the Strange Bedfellows Campaign, in which progressive and libertarian bloggers and activists got together to try to make our government more accountable. In this regard, we're natural allies, even if we don't often agree on what the role of government should be. Government that isn't accountable to its people is nearly always going to be a failure.

Speaking of which, former Senator and Stand Your Ground Award winner Russ Feingold addressed the Netroots Nation today. One thing I get from this is that he still wants to work with the Democratic Party. He made the inevitable plug for supporting President Obama, which isn't going to happen unless something really fundamental changes pretty soon. But the interesting part of the address had to do with the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics.
The Super PAC Priorities USA, which was founded by former Obama White House aides to collect and spend the unlimited corporate funds allowed under the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, and other Democratic Super PACs are nothing short of a disaster for the party, Feingold said.

"It's dancing will the devil," he told hundreds of liberal activists gathered at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Russ Feingold: Democratic Super PACs Are ‘Dancing With The Devil’
The Nation adds:
His deeper message, however, was a call to action for progressives to practice a politics of principle rather than simple partisanship -- a theme that is central to the work of the national reform group he leads, Progressive United. Yes, he argued, Barack Obama should be reelected in 2012. Yes, he hopes that Democrats make a comeback after the devastating 2010 election cycle that cost him his Senate seat and cost his party control of the U.S. House and governorships across the country.

But, he warned, a victory-at-any-cost approach will cost the party the credibility it needs to attract Americans who are disgusted by political corruption – and it will yield little in the way of progress.

Decrying the failures of the Obama administration on issues ranging from bank regulation to tax policy to trade agreements, he urged progressives – especially progressive bloggers, who have become such a powerful influence in the party – “to call out Republicans and Democrats” who fail to stand for reform.

Feingold to Netroots Nation: Call Out Corporate Democrats
My views on this subject are pretty clear, I think, but I'll just restate them quickly here. You don't get the attention of a politician like President Obama by first saying you'll support him no matter what, then saying what you want him to do. You get absolutely nothing from a politician who doesn't have to give it to you.

Still, I like Feingold's spirit. What his career in the Senate tells me is that he is not going to let the Obama Administration dictate what he does, either.

Hopefully, I'll find a video later. It was quite a speech.

It would be such a pleasure to have a government that was composed of people like this, who disagree fundamentally on some issues, but who will take principled stands when they think they're right. One Ron Paul, Russ Feingold, or Ralph Nader is worth all the self-serving hypocrites who have been calling for Rep. Weiner's resignation this week put together.

There really are good people in politics; it's just that sometimes, you have to look really hard to find them.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

That's Gonna Leave a Mark...

Courtesy of NASA's Astronomy Picture Of The Day, here's an illustration of why I don't think of meteor strikes as being all that weird:

Explanation: The robotic MESSENGER spacecraft recently completed over 100 orbits of Mercury. Messenger's cameras have recorded detailed pictures utilizing eight different colors across visible and near infrared light, exploring the surface composition and looking for clues to the history and evolution of the solar system's innermost planet. This sharp image combines three of the MESSENGER wide angle camera's colors, but in exaggerated fashion. Otherwise, to the unaided human eye, Mercury's surface colors would appear comparatively muted. The image is about 1,000 kilometers across and features as small as a single kilometer are discernible at the original resolution. Today, the Messenger project will release new images and science findings from the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

APOD: June 16, 2011
The Meteor Crater, perhaps the most famous example of a recent meteor strike on the Earth, would be one of those craters that are barely visible if you look at the full size image. Mercury's a small planet, too. There's not all that much to aim at, really.

There's a whole lot of bad out there.

Profiles In Hypocrisy

Updated Thursday, June 16

Caption: Another Democratic congressional leader expresses outrage about Anthony Weiner.

Image credit: Brandon Baunach

You know, some things just never get old, do they? One of those things seems to be hypocritical nonsense Democratic members of Congress feel the need to bless us with whenever they feel like shanking one of their own after he's gotten himself in trouble:
Many Democrats rallied around Clinton during that scandal. This time around, Wasserman Schultz, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the chair of the DCCC have all called on Weiner to resign immediately.

"Has there been maybe an unrealistic too harsh standard applied in this case?" [Politico's Mike] Allen asked.

"I don't think so," Wasserman Schultz said, before laying out her case that the Weiner scandal's ability to effectively drown out anything else in Congress for the past couple weeks is reason enough for Weiner to leave.
I think that particularly because there was an effort to not tell the truth, I think that because he has engaged in some what I think is some very inappropriate conduct that has distracted his ability to do his job and distracted from almost all of our ability to do our jobs and make sure that we can effectively serve our constituents, I think that the best conclusion is that he should focus on addressing his problems and resign from the House.
Asked if she expects Weiner to step down, Wasserman Schultz said, "I don't know ultimately what his decision will be."

DNC Chair Explains Why Clinton Got To Stay But Weiner Has To Go
By that standard, I can't think of a single Democratic congressman right now who can afford to send pictures of his crotch around the Internet.

But this statement probably does have a grain of truth in it. What's becoming increasingly clear is that Weiner wasn't all that well liked among Democrats in Congress. He is ambitious, and he's outspoken. His colleagues must find all that annoying, particularly since he made quite a show of speaking out for the health care reforms they eventually removed from sight, and the 9/11 responders bill they would just as soon not have had to deal with. Unfortunately, as Alex Pareene wrote a few days ago at Salon:
I tend to find it pretty silly when pundits, columnists and bloggers "call for" the resignations of any public officials guilty of having embarrassing things reported about them. (As opposed to the ones who are caught on wiretaps accepting bribes or something.) This time is no different. I have never been much of a fan of Anthony Weiner ... but I never called on him to resign because I thought he was a tool of reactionary anti-Muslim bigots, so why bother calling for his head now that I know he's a tool of reactionary bigots who also enjoys sexting porn stars?

Who are we to tell Anthony Weiner to quit?
What seems to be utterly lost on the political "professionals" in the Democratic Party is that those of us who don't live in DC actually expect our congressmen to do something useful, as in, something that either benefits us or at least makes the country a better place. The Democrats have a sad record of non-achievement in that area, and blaming Weiner for their unpopularity, however emotionally satisfying it might be, is not going to change that. Two weeks from now, most of us will probably have forgotten who he is, and the election is still more than a year away.

Well, maybe we'll forget, if they ever give us a chance. Josh Marshall made what is perhaps the most economically pithy observation of the day:
Best way to make Weiner story go away is for [a] new prominent Democrat to tell him to resign each day. Ideally early in each news cycle.

Best Practices
The Democrats should just shut up about this, and move on. Yet, ironically given that what started this was Weiner's self-indulgent activity, they seem unable to resist the urge to re-connect with their inner infants on this issue.

Tell me again why this crew of clowns is so much better than The Other Guys?

UPDATE (Jun. 16): Well, they got what they wanted:
TPM has confirmed that after weeks of increasingly embarrassing revelations and building pressure from within his own party, Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) will on Thursday resign his seat in Congress. He told Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of his decision on Wednesday evening.

Anthony Weiner Resigning
This has to be a new low for the Democratic House "leadership". I think I will be putting that word in quotes for quite some time, thanks to their performance these last few years. The only people who seem to be really upset about this are they.

I'll let Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, who has made business out of covering DC scandals and an establishment progressive if ever there was one, have the last word:
I get that it's icky and makes people cringe. But c'mon. I've been following congressional scandals for 15 years. And my God in the grand scheme of things this is pretty silly compared to the levels of wrongdoing, thievery and vicious behavior we've all seen. And that disconnect -- the most insistent and open demands for resignation ever compared to one of the silliest scandals ever -- just doesn't sit right with me. Especially when, last time we checked at least, his constituents did not want him to resign.

Weiner Gives Up The Ghost
Makes you proud to watch our leaders in action, doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Total Eclipse Today

There was a total lunar eclipse today. We didn't see it here in North America, although nearly everyone else in the world had a chance to. Thankfully, some folks from the rest of the world were thoughtful enough to share their photos:
Image credit: Gestrgangleri/Wikipedia

This one was taken in Hungary, where it appears the eclipse was never quite total. It's still a lovely picture, though. Click on the image credit link to be taken to the page where the full size image is.

Something I Overlooked

Caption: How the Apache National Forest looks like when it's not on fire. This is the eastern entrance.

Image credit: Geographer/Wikipedia

There are lots of good things about not watching television news, but one of the bad things about it is that there will be times when a large portion of the country is on fire, and you're not aware of it. Apparently, this has been going on in eastern Arizona for the last week or so:

Note the map scale in the lower left. Twenty-five kilometers is about 15 miles.

Caption: On June 13, the Wallow Fire became the largest in Arizona’s history, surpassing the Rodeo Chediski Fire by about 1,000 acres. By the end of the day, the Wallow Fire had burned 469,407 acres (1,900 square kilometers or 733 square miles) and destroyed 32 homes, 4 commercial buildings, and 36 outbuildings. The Rodeo-Chediski Fire in 2002 burned 468,638 acres (1,897 square kilometers or 732 square miles), but destroyed 491 buildings, including 465 homes.

[For a larger version of this image, visit the Image credit link.]

Image credit: NASA/MODIS

The park website is full of warnings about closures, and instructions for evacuations. There's a lot of forest on fire down there, and there doesn't seem to be much stopping it right now:
Residents of the eastern Arizona communities of Nutrioso and White Mountain Acres were allowed to return home Wednesday as fire crews continued to wrestle control of the Wallow Fire.

Officials said they are reluctant to describe the blaze as controlled but noted that more and more houses and communities are in less danger. And while Greer and Alpine remain in evacuation in cases winds reignite fires in those areas, authorities said that they're hopeful that folks with homes there could return in as few as three days.

Wallow Fire: 20 percent contained, Nutrioso residents allowed back home
The Wikipedia entry for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest says that there are about 2.63 million acres in it, so it seems logical to conclude that a little more than a sixth of it is either burned or on fire.

I used to visit southern Arizona quite often on business, so my heart goes out to the folks there.