Friday, September 30, 2011

So, Is It ETEV/Freethought or Freethought/ETEV?

Image credit: I Has A Hotdog

Well, will you look at that?

My friend, Lolwars opponent, and travel partner Dana Hunter is now joining the Freethought blog. Dana writes extensively and eloquently about geology, science, and related subjects. Plus, she writes a lot about writing, too.

Her writing has gotten the attention of more than a few folks in the scientific community, which I suspect is the main reason she's moving to Freethought.

Her new digs are now open. If for some reason it's not working for you, her old blog will still be operational, at least for a while.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Caption: Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Hunter Pence hits a single to drive in the game-winning run in the 13th inning of last night's ball game with the Atlanta Braves.

Image credit: Screenshot of Major League Baseball highlights video by Cujo359

After capturing their division by one of the widest margins they've ever managed, the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team set another new mark:
The Phillies ended the best regular season in franchise history Wednesday with a 4-3 victory over the Braves in 13 innings at Turner Field. It ended one the craziest nights in baseball with four teams fighting for their postseason lives, including the Braves. The Phillies not only eliminated Atlanta from the postseason, but they also set franchise records with their 102nd regular-season victory and Charlie Manuel's 646th regular-season victory as manager.

The victory set up the Phillies to play the Cardinals in the National League Division Series, which begins Saturday with Game 1 at Citizens Bank Park.

Phillies set club mark, turn focus to playoffs
That's also the best record in Major League Baseball this season, by a rather wide margin. The runners up, the New York Yankees, were five games behind.

Which, one would think, would make them the favorite in the playoffs. That just might be true, particularly since, with the addition of some right-handed power in the person of Hunter Pence, they don't really seem to have any weaknesses as a ball club. Still, as we learned last year, having a better record is no guarantee of winning. As we remember from two years ago, the Phillies always seem to find a way to lose to the Yankees, who are one of the more likely possible opponents in the World Series.

As a particularly wise sportscaster once said, they don't play the game on paper, they play it in funny hats. We'll just have to see what happens when the funny hats come out.

Meanwhile, it's nice to see them have the chance to finally beat the Yankees when it matters.

The GNU Atheists

I love this cartoon, but not because it's good by modern standards:

It was created by American atheist Watson Heston. Here's another, which I think richly captures the irony of Christ's teachings, not to mention his death (see update):

For more of his cartoons, I'd suggest visiting No Beliefs and Magellan's Blog.

Heston was one of many uppity atheists of the 19th Century. As this little detail of fellow 19th Century atheist C.C. Moore's life should illustrate, speaking one's mind had its hazards:
Moore, born in 1837, was the grandson of religious reformer Barton W. Stone, and was himself a minister in Versailles, Kentucky, before he left the church, passing through deism and agnosticism to eventually declare himself an atheist.

Moore founded the Blue Grass Blade newspaper in 1884 in Lexington. He was only able to publish sporadically due to financial and legal problems originating mostly because of the paper’s editorial content--- attacks on citizens that Moore considered to be bigots (including Bible-thumpers and whiskey distillers) and his advocacy of unpopular positions such as agnosticism and women's suffrage.

Moore’s belligerence and opposition to religion and the Bible eventually earned him time in prison for blasphemy. After five months behind bars and commutation of his sentence by president William McKinley, he returned to Lexington, now somewhat a celebrity. While incarcerated he wrote his autobiography, Behind the Bars.

Kentucky's Most Hated Man Charles Chilton Moore & The Bluegrass Blade
Blasphemy, of course, is a fancy way of saying "you insulted my beliefs by questioning them, therefore you [lose the argument|deserve to go to jail|deserve to die]". It's the label of people who have no rational argument to draw on. It was heard a lot in 19th Century America, and is still heard in modified form today.

To me, the obvious answer to that argument is that the idea that questioning, or even mocking, someone else's beliefs deserves some form of punishment is a mockery of rational thought. That offends me. Where do I go to have you thrown in jail?

According to Wikipedia, what Moore was actually accused of was discussing the concept of "free love":
Though he was indicted for mailing obscene literature, it was his blasphemy that led the jury to deliberate for five minutes before returning with a guilty verdict. Moore was tried, convicted, and sentenced in the span of one day. Before Moore's friends at the Ohio Liberal Society could file his appeal, he was whisked away that night to the Ohio State Penitentiary to serve two years. The Ohio Liberal Society continued to fight for Moore's freedom and was successful in getting him pardoned by Ohio's former governor, President William McKinley. Moore was released from prison in July of 1899.

Wikipedia: Charles Chilton Moore
People like C.C. Moore, Watson Heston, and Robert Ingersoll are the reason I chuckle whenever I see or hear the phrase "new (or GNU) atheists", as though people just started talking about it a couple of years ago. Atheists have been speaking their minds for a long time, and it used to be much more costly to speak out than it is today.

UPDATE: It's probably worth pointing out here that Christ was supposedly sentenced to death after causing a ruckus with moneychangers in a temple.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

‘I can’t believe he just fuckin’ maced her.’

That's a quote from an eyewitness report of the actions of New York City Police Department Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna. It was uttered, so the author of this article wrote, by another NYPD officer. It's emerging that there is some sort of divide among NYPD officers in uniform: those in the blue shirts apparently are still required to act like responsible police officers. Those in white shirts can behave like thugs. As the article continues:
At this point, the crowd of twenty or so caught in the orange fence is shouting “Shame! Shame! Who are you protecting?! YOU are the 99 percent! You’re fighting your own people!” A white-shirt, now known to be NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, comes from the left, walks straight up to the three young girls at the front of the crowd, and pepper-sprays them in the face for a few seconds, continuing as they scream “No! Why are you doing that?!” The rest of us in the crowd turn away from the spray, but it’s unavoidable. My left eye burns and goes blind and tears start streaming down my face. Frank grabs my arm and shoves us through the small gap between the orange fence and the brick wall while everyone stares in shock and horror at the two girls on the ground and two more doubled over screaming as their eyes ooze. In the street I shout for water to rinse my eyes or give to the girls on the ground, but no one responds. One of the blue-shirts, tall and bald, stares in disbelief and says, “I can’t believe he just fuckin’ maced her.” And it becomes clear that the white-shirts are a different species. We need to get out of there.

Why I Was Maced at the Wall Street Protests
As someone commented today at a place I can't remember, it appears that white is the new brown.

I've written this before, but it bears repeating - police who feel no constraints on their use of force are as much a danger to their communities as the criminals are. Thugs in uniform need to be called out and disciplined. My guess is that this won't happen, because it's pretty clear that Wall Street will be kept open at all costs, and the government of New York City will not tolerate even the most unlikely efforts to do that.

As I've also written before, they work for the people who matter, and neither I nor anyone likely to be reading here is among those people.

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Guess We'll Just See, Won't We?

Updated at 10:15 AM, Sept. 24

Updated at 1:20 AM, Sept. 24

Caption: The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), in a happier 3D orbital simulation time.

Image credit: NASA

Apparently, a six ton piece of space junk is headed back to Earth this evening:
NASA has adjusted the prediction for when and where its defunct climate satellite will fall to earth, moving the potential window of re-entry from Friday afternoon to “late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24” ET.

Even more surprising: After noting on Thursday that the satellite wasn’t expected to be over North America at all during it’s re-entry window, NASA has since revised that call, now saying “There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent.”

NASA Satellite Changes Course, Re-Entry Could Occur Friday or Saturday Over U.S.
Some two dozen chunks of it are expected to hit the ground. The heaviest weighs about three hundred pounds:
But exactly where the UARS spacecraft will fall is still unknown.

NASA expects at least 26 large pieces of the massive satellite to survive the scorching temperatures of re-entry and reach Earth's surface. Titanium pieces and onboard tanks could be among that debris, but the UARS satellite carries no toxic propellant (NASA used up all the fuel in 2005).

Huge Defunct Satellite Falling to Earth Faster Than Expected, NASA Says
Well, that's good. I'd hate to think there would be pollution or something. Still NASA advises that anyone who encounters a piece of this satellite after it's fallen not to touch it. That's probably a good idea. Call local law enforcement, we're told.

NASA's latest prediction, as of 4:30 PM Pacific time, is that it will fall somewhere in Canada, Africa, Australia, or the oceans nearby.

It would be nice, I sometimes think, if maybe we had some way of stopping this sort of thing from happening, at least when it might hit populated areas. Here's just one reason I'm thinking that, which is the latest prediction graphic from the Aerospace Corporation:
Image credit Aerospace Corporation

Yes, NASA and a leading aerospace contractor are running competing predictions right now. That yellow satellite symbol is where the Aerospace Corporation expects it to crash. The tick marks on the yellow lines afterward are where it would be at five minute intervals thereafter if it kept flying. See where it's going to be fifteen minutes later?

I hope my roof can handle a three-hundred pound chunk of metal for a while.

So, we'll see whether it ends up in the North Pacific, in the Canadian wilderness, or some unmentioned place in between.

Did I mention I think it would be nice if we had the ability to prevent this sort of thing?

UPDATE (1:20 AM PDT, Sept. 24): As of about thirty minutes ago, NASA was sure the satellite had come down somewhere:
Update #15
Sat, 24 Sep 2011 12:46:42 AM PST

NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California said the satellite penetrated the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean. The precise re-entry time and location are not yet known with certainty.
I suspect this means it didn't hit any populated areas. Looks like maybe Aerospace Corp. won the bet. All I know for sure is that I haven't heard or seen anything crashing to Earth.

UPDATE 2 (Sept. 24): Looks like AC won the bet:
Update #16

Sat, 24 Sep 2011 08:37:25 AM PST

NASA’s decommissioned Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite fell back to Earth between 11:23 p.m. EDT Friday, Sept. 23 and 1:09 a.m. EDT Sept. 24. The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California said the satellite entered the atmosphere over the North Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of the United States. The precise re-entry time and location of any debris impacts are still being determined. NASA is not aware of any reports of injury or property damage.
I wonder what they won?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Poster Of The Day

Someone has finally encapsulated the fallacy of corporate personhood in a bumper sticker:

I don't know where this one got started. I found it at Comrade Earthbound Misfit's blog. She found it somewhere else, and so on.

Pass it on, at least until the original artist complains...

Afterword: Along the trail of trying to find the origin of this poster, I ran into this:
"I have yet to see a death case among the dozens coming to the Supreme Court on eve-of-execution stay applications in which the defendant was well represented at trial?People who are well represented at trial do not get the death penalty."

- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, April 9, 2001

Inadequate Representation
OK, let's stipulate, as they say in television courtroom dramas, that maybe, somewhere in Justice Ginsburg's lengthy career that someone actually was sentenced to death despite being able to afford competent lawyers. It's not the norm, though, as that American Civil Liberites Union (ACLU) article says:
Harsh reports about the abysmal quality of state-appointed legal representation for people accused of murder are common. A recent report on indigent defense by the Texas Defender Service found that judges often appointed defense attorneys not based on their competence or experience, but based on their reputation for rapidly moving cases through the system. The study concluded that death row prisoners "face a one-in-three chance of being executed without having the case properly investigated by a competent attorney or without having any claims of innocence or unfairness heard."

Inadequate Representation
That seems to be the norm in many places - a capital defendant is represented by lawyers who are overwhelmed, if not incompetent or feckless. The defendants are overwhelmingly poor and minorities. Their lawyers seem to be the ones unlucky or unwise enough to be in the vicinity when the court needs to appoint a lawyer.

Capital punishment is a travesty under any circumstances, but it is particularly so when it is dispensed so capriciously. It's hard to imagine why a truly civilized society would use it in any but the direst of circumstances.

A Stupid Waste Of Time And Money

Image credit: Wikipedia/Jeanot

Eli reminded me of this little gem today:
Liberal activists and academics displeased with the Obama administration’s handling of several issues popular with progressives say they are seeking candidates willing to mount a primary challenge against President Obama next year.

The group, led by consumer advocate Ralph Nader and scholar Cornel West, said it faults Obama for the escalation of military campaigns in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for extending tax cuts first enacted by George W. Bush and for his actions during the recent debt ceiling negotiations.

The group said Saturday it is seeking six “recognizable, articulate” candidates who would not mount serious challenges to Obama, but “rigorously debate his policy stands” on issues related to labor, poverty, foreign policy, civil rights and consumer protections.

Liberals seeking primary challengers to Obama
I added that emphasis, because that's why this is such an utterly daft waste of effort. What is it about progressives that makes them want to lose?

Did Ned Lamont's challenge to Joe Lieberman change Lieberman? Not one bit. He's still the same neoconservative toady he always was.

Did Bill Halter's challenge of Blanche Lincoln change the way the Democrats do things? Not one bit. After winning the primary, Lincoln went on to lose the general election, mostly because she was a corrupt and utterly useless Senator.

Primary challenges don't change the candidates who are challenged. If anything, they'll become more beholden to the wrong people, who will be the people who can bankroll their campaigns. The basic fallacy of this sort of effort is that the people you're challenging are philosophically opposed to what you want, or they're corrupt. Neither trait is going to change if they almost lose an election. They didn't get into politics to serve you.

If you want to send a message to the President, use this form. He won't find it any easier to ignore than a deliberately useless primary challenge.

Only defeating these people will change things. Any primary effort that isn't aimed at defeating them is a complete waste of time and energy. It will produce nothing, because nothing is all it's designed to produce. If you want to defeat Obama in favor of someone who is a liberal, sign me up. But don't ask people to waste their time and money in an obviously pointless endeavor.

Elizabeth Warren On "Class Warfare"

This video has no doubt been making the rounds, but it's worth noting anyway. In a video taken by someone who attended this meetup, Senate candidate from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren said this about all the squealing about "class warfare" from the rich people who are the only ones who have benefited in the last few decades:

Talking Points Memo provides this transcript:
“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

Elizabeth Warren On ‘Class Warfare’: There Is Nobody Who Got Rich On His Own
Anyone who thinks of himself as a "self-made" person needs to understand this - few if any of them would have been successful had there not been an orderly and progressive society in which they could live. Anyone who thinks otherwise is earnestly advised to go set up shop in Iraq or Afghanistan, and see how they do there. Not having a functioning government will kill a society faster than just about anything short of a nationwide natural disaster.

The answer isn't to make government so small that its richest members can make it do what they want, as the Grover Norquists of the world seem to believe. Nor is it to make sure that one side always wins the game, as far too many progressives believe. It's to make sure that the government functions properly, and removing from it anyone who fails to remember why he's there.

I don't know whether Elizabeth Warren is for real or not. Anyone who served with the Obama Administration at the level she did has to be viewed with suspicion. But she is one of the few Democratic politicians who have the nerve to point out this basic truth nowadays. That in itself speaks well of her.

Calling It A Day

R.E.M., the band that perhaps most prominently represented what was once accurately called alternative music, is "calling it a day" after being together for 31 years. According to The Manila Paper, the official announcement reads:
“To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.”

REM Breaks Up: Band Announces Split After 31 Years Together
Bob Mould, of the band Husker Du, wrote a wonderful description of R.E.M.'s music today for Salon:
The music they created was often paradoxical -- literate, yet visceral; pioneering, yet reverential; commercially appealing, yet deeply personal.

Remembering R.E.M.
It's a description that applies to so much of their music, it's hard to choose an example, but for me it's this song:

You could spend weeks listening to that one, and not figure out what it all meant, and not even care. Yet the idea that change happens, and it is necessary, lies just beneath its raucous surface. In a time when positive change is resisted by so many, and frowned on by the people who ought to be bringing it about, the song's insidious call for it is a breath of fresh air.

If I ever tried to come up with a short list of greatest rock and roll albums of all time, the album that song came from, Life's Rich Pageant, would be among them. It kicks butt from beginning to end, without pausing for breath on the way.

Of course, scarcely a day goes by without their anthem, The End of The World As We Know It going through my head. That song, consisting of a mish-mash of references from pop culture and recent history, sounds like a bad night of channel surfing. It sometimes seems that these times are perfect for R.E.M., but when it's working right, art imitates life, not the other way 'round.

R.E.M. was perfect for their time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Composited by Cujo359 from official White House photo

Jon Walker, on the upcoming Presidential election:
Don’t be surprised if the 2012 Presidential election ends up being extremely negative. With low approval numbers, the Obama campaign may see its best option as doing whatever it takes to make the Republican candidate unacceptable, and the Republican candidate will have the same incentives. This is also a dynamic that could potentially encourage a Ross Perot like character to try to run.

Marist Poll: 49 Percent Definitely Plan to Vote Against Obama
That's how I see it. In fact, you can already see the signs. The Republicans have done their best to paint Obama as some out-there foreign-born socialist, absolutely none of which is even remotely true. Obamaworld, meanwhile, has done its level best to paint every possible GOP presidential candidate as a nutjob and/or a racist. In some cases, that's less of a stretch than painting Obama as a socialist, but where credulous belief is concerned, clearly anything is possible.

Yes, there might be a third party candidate. There's some precedent. As someone recently pointed out to me (I can't remember where I read this, sorry), third party candidates for President tend to emerge in circumstances like this. A sitting President who is unpopular, an opposition that can't seem to come up with a viable candidate, and economic hard times are all conditions that usually engender such a thing, and we have them all right now.

Sadly, that candidate is unlikely to be a progressive. Progressive solutions are the only thing that will get this country out of its current economic hole, and progressives aren't willing to stand up in sufficient numbers to make any politicians try them. So, what we'll get is something like Ross Perot.

Right now, though, I'd be a Perot voter. And it would be my first time.

No Kidding, Sherlock

As Lambert noted, gee, no kidding:
[Ron Suskind's new book Confidence Men] certainly does clear up any thought we might have had about whether or not the president is a real fiscal conservative or whether he was just flogging this deficit obsession for political effect. He's a true believer. And we know this because of his reliance on other deficit hawks and because when the political bloodbath the jobless recovery had predicted came true, his first move was to validate the Republicans' manufactured narrative about what had motivated their voters and launch his program of budget cuts and deficit reduction.

True Believer
Digby isn't on the blogroll here, and probably never will be. What in the world for? I saw this back in early 2009, as did quite a few other people. All we did was note the obvious fact that all Obama's advisors were of the "free market" Chicago School theology, and that his economic policies were of the "free market" Chicago School theology. Yet what the Obama lovers came up with in response was "haters gonna hate", assuming it was even that intellectual.

At least Digby is smart enough to figure things out when she's hit in the face with them. It's pretty clear that quite a few of Obama's supporters aren't. That's religion for you.

Oh, and I love that the title of Suskind's new book is Confidence Men. Why? Oh, no reason. Being ahead of the crowd isn't quite the advantage you might think.

Apparently, A Bit Of Exposition Is Required

Caption: A spam production line. It's been too efficient lately. ;-) Image credit HaYnCaNdi808 (See NOTE here for the standard disclaimer).

I'm away for a couple of days and someone spams my blog. No matter, it's gone now. The only reason I am bringing this up, though, is to make something clear about the comments policy that is perhaps not. A comment with a URL in it that isn't relevant to the discussion, which is an advertisement of some sort, is spam. It doesn't matter whether the comment itself is relevant or not. Like all spam, such comments will simply disappear.

If you have such a link in a signature block or some such that is automatically added to any comment you make, remember to remove it if you comment here.

As with all spam comments, there will be no discussion. My spam policies haven't changed, but I'm even less inclined to discuss things with people who are determined to remain morons than I was a few days ago. If you lost a comment because you forgot to remove the spam, re-submit it without the spam.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yet Another Blogspot Workaround

Blogspot recently decided to redo how an image is displayed when someone clicks on it to see the full size version. This used to work by displaying the picture by itself. I liked this just fine. I could middle-click on it and have it appear in a separate page, for instance.

Now, of course, they had to "improve" things by making the picture display over the page, instead of going to a new one. Try it, if you haven't, on this image:

Image credit: Cujo359


Anyway, it works on the new images, ones I've put into articles in the last few months. Earlier than that, though, they don't work. All you see is a red rectangle in the middle of the screen. Go to this article and click on a picture to see what I mean.

The workaround for this is to disable Javascript. If you have the NoScript extension in Firefox, just disable the domain. If you don't have NoScript, just disable Javascript globally, and you should be able to see the picture in the next page just like before.

Sometimes, middle-clicking on the picture works, too, at least if you're using a POSIX system like Linux or BSD Unix.

Someday, I'm sure this will be fixed, but for now, that's a workaround. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Help Save The New Deal

I'm not a big one for online petitions these days. They are nearly as easy to ignore as they are to sign. Still, this one has a message that I think both the President and Congress need to hear loud and clear:
Mr. President,

There’s no good reason to cut Social Security. Period. We’ve already been paying for it our entire working lives – and it doesn’t add a penny to the deficit. And touching Medicare and Medicaid, the safety net for our parents, grandparents, the working poor and people with disabilities? Inexcusable.

I am counting on you to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from cuts by the Super Congress. Stand for me – and I’ll stand for you.

[your name here]

Obama: Take The New Deal #OffTheTable
So, go on over and sign, assuming you agree. I don't know if it will do any good, but other people are doing far more this weekend to try to save the New Deal. Seems like this is an effort worth making for that reason alone.

Here's there expository video:

In case you're wondering, I don't quite agree with the last sentence. There are a few other things they need to do before I'll support them. It's not a sufficient condition, but it's a necessary one.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

More On The NY-09

Image credit:

If you want to understand more about the Democratic loss in the New York 9th Congressional district (NY-09) special election, I'd suggest you read this diary by MsExPat at Corrente:
NY-9 (I live in the adjacent NY-11), as you can see, is a bizarre gerrymander of a district. There's a reason for this: it was designed specifically as a foil for the two adjacent (and relatively contiguous) Brooklyn districts that are heavily African American and West Indian. NY-9 is 71 percent white . It's New York's Archie Bunker district, a concentrated segment of the old, waning white New York ethnic groups.

This is the New York City constituency that's the backbone support of socially conservative mayors like Koch (D), Giuliani (R) and corporatists like Bloomberg (R). Note the (R) in the last two instances--New Yorkers are not married to party labels, and this old-school white ethnic New York has been primed for some time to vote for (R)s, especially when the race card is being played--or in the case of the heavily Jewish districts, the Israel card.

NY-9, from the ground
My own philosophy about elections is that every one is different, and that every district, like every voter, is a law unto itself. I think drawing too much significance from one-off elections like this one is something of a pastime in America. My own guess is that Obama's performance probably had something to do with this loss, too, but how much is a good question.

For a bit more insight into that question, I'd check out Nate Silver's analysis at his New York Times blog:
Even if you include [the NY-26 special election, won by Democrat Kathy Hochul], however — as well as a July special election in California, where Democrats won but by an underwhelming margin — Republicans have overperformed the P.V.I.[a measure of the relative strength of the two parties in a district] baseline by an average of 7 percentage points across the four races. That squares with what we saw in 2010, when Republicans won the popular vote for the House by an aggregate of 7 percentage points.

In other words, the four special elections, taken as a whole, suggest that Democrats may still be locked in a 2010-type political environment. Democrats might not lose many more seats in the House if that were the case, since most of their vulnerable targets have already been picked off, but it would limit their potential for any gains. And it could produce dire results for the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, where they have twice as many seats up for re-election.

For Democrats, It’s 2010 All Over Again
[embedded image from article]

As Taylor Marsh reminds us, only in the NY-26, where the Democratic candidate did a good job of tying the Republicans' proposed changes to Medicare and Social Security to her opponent, did the Democrats exceed expectations. Everywhere else, they did worse.

For anyone who is in a position of power in the national Democratic Party, this should be a red flag that weakening these programs would be suicide for the national party, but I think I can safely predict they won't listen. They didn't do anything but what they had been back in early 2010, despite the evidence that the Democratic loss in the Massachusetts special Senate election back in early 2010 was a warning that they needed to get better on health care and the economy. Some habits are hard to break, and Democratic Party folly on economics issues appears to be one of them.

There should be a picture of a wolf here Caption: Just waiting for the sleigh to pass by again.

Image credit: Arrr!.

The 2012 election looks very bad for Democrats right now, and no party ever deserved it more.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The NY-09

Image credit:

The results are in for the special election in New York's 9th Congressional District, the one formerly occupied by Anthony Weiner until he was told to resign by the Democratic House "leadership". It's not good if you're a Democratic Party partisan:
[T]onight we have another body blow to [the] Democratic Party and it is a VERY bad one. Losing this seat, at the heart of New York City, home to so much party history, will be terrible. Weprin’s GOP opponent Turner effectively turned the race into a referendum on Obama, his weakness on the economy and smeared POTUS on being “weak” on Israel. And it appears to have worked.

Progressive Notes: Race Called for Turner in NY-09 in Disaster for Dems
The Associated Press page for the election shows at this time (11:50 PM PDT) that Turner is ahead by almost 5,000 votes, and that the percentages look to be 54-46. The Socialist Workers' Party candidate received only 277 votes, so he was not a factor.

If there's anything that says "I am a pathetic excuse for a political party leader", it's forcing out a member of your own party for an offense that's little more than a bad joke, begging the people whom he was doing a good job of representing for money to replace him with a party drone in what should have been a safe district, and then losing by eight points.

Well, maybe this does. If you look at who among the Democrats in Congress have been investigated for “ethics” problems lately, you notice that just about all of them were people who spoke badly of the leadership‘s work on health care "reform". Eric Massa was forced out over making inappropriate overtures to a congressional staffer. Maxine Waters was supposedly being investigated for some vague sort of conflict of interest that turned out (surprise!) to be nothing at all. Pete Stark was investigated for a similarly insubstantial thing. Weiner was forced out for e-mailing a photo of his penis to consenting adults. None of them did anything that really merited more than censure, and in Waters and Stark’s case there appears to have been nothing at all. Yet Weiner and Massa were both forced out, and in Massa's case it was only the appearance of a Tea Party candidate that saved that district from going Republican, too.

When those people were under investigation, and yet Pelosi took impeachment off the table for Bush (and Obama, too, effectively), I think it just showed how little accountability means to the Democrats in DC. It's nothing more than a hammer to use on people who get out of line. It also shows how little being in control of Congress means. They've decreased their chances by forcing out two congressmen, and trying to embarrass two others for petty political considerations.

I’m hoping that someone does an after-election poll similar to the one done by Democracy For America after the loss in the Massachusetts Senate race. In that one, the two things that turned off potential Democratic voters were:

1. the economy
2. the health care bill

I warned at the time that this was a portent, as did others. It didn’t do any good, though. They just passed the crappy health care "reform" bill that the MA voters didn’t like, then they punted on the economy. Jane Hamsher commissioned those polls on a few Blue Dog congressmen that said that they were in trouble because of the economy and the lousy health care reform bill, and all the “experts” could do was tell us how flawed those polls were. Then they lost big in 2010, and all the same people are still in positions of leadership. But to hear these guys talk about it, I and all those other people who saw all that coming are the idiots.

So, I’d like to see another of those polls. I hope someone has the nerve to commission one this time. I bet that the voters’ first problem will be with the economy. Health care might not be the second-biggest issue, but it will be in one of the principal areas where the Obama Administration has been such a huge failure – the wars, the perpetual state of fear, the failure to regulate the banks. They’ve given us voters plenty to choose from.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's The Demand, Stupid

Dean Baker on what's wrong with the economy,and what isn't:
The only way to get close to full employment in the short-term is through much higher levels of deficit spending. In the longer term we will have to lower the value of the dollar to get the trade deficit closer to balanced.

It really is that simple. The problem is not regulation, taxes, or uncertainty, the problem was that the stimulus was not big enough or long enough. As it is, we are sitting around watching our national leaders debate why the water that they heated to 160 degrees is not boiling. This is getting really painful.

Another Lesson on National Income Accounting for Robert Samuelson
I am beginning to despair that we will never see anyone in a position of leadership in this country acknowledge this basic fact.

Cue the idiots who want to blame this on Republicans. It's not the Republicans who are in power, and they aren't the ones making the President and Democratic members of Congress say the stupid things they are saying about the economy. No one who is in a position to make things change in DC is doing anything but what Baker describes. Anyone who actually does seem to see some relationship between the non-boiling of water and the temperature is basically saying that we need to lower the air pressure so it will boil at 160 degrees. If you don't know why that's funny, then check the link, and remember what happens to people who are at 29,000 feet when they don't have a supplemental oxygen supply.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Something To Rave About

Caption: Time traveler Amy Pond [Karen Gillan] gets a peak into her future in the Doctor Who episode "The Girl Who Waited".

Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359

One thing that science fiction television does that most other forms of video entertainment don't very often is provide opportunities for a series actor to step out of the role he is normally playing to do something very different. One of the more impressive such departures was this week's Doctor Who episode, "The Girl Who Waited".

I haven't been all that impressed with the latest Doctor (Matt Smith), nor with Karen Gillan, who plays Amy Pond. The character has been fairly one-dimensional, given to shouting and pounding on things, rather than thoughtfulness. It was only when she and Arthur Darvill, who plays her husband Rory, were playing together that I got much of a feeling of emotional depth in anything she was doing.

This week, though, she impressed me. In addition to playing the twenty-something version of Amy, she also played Amy after she'd been left to fend for herself for more than thirty years. So, she wasn't just playing an older version of her character, but a character shaped by hard experience and isolation for much of her life. She got it right - amazingly so. The older Amy was different in body language, speech patterns, and in her movements. She was more withdrawn, and far less comfortable with herself than young Amy. The bitterness that so much isolation would cause was clearly evident in her voice and her gestures when she was interacting with Rory, the Doctor, and particularly her younger self.

While most acting is something I find is difficult to do well, I'm really impressed when an actor can do such a good job of performing two roles simultaneously. That's particularly true when the differences in those roles are subtle things like the effects of aging and prolonged isolation on a single personality. Old Amy was a different character, and it was fun to watch an actress play each convincingly in the same scene.

There hasn't been much to appreciate in the genre lately, but if you appreciate strong acting performances, this episode is definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wake Me Up...

Yes, it's that time again. What's worse, its the tenth anniversary, and it's 9/11/11. All the way around, I'm sure this is a bad day to be on the Internet or watching TV news.

Last year at this time, I wrote that I would never write about this day again on this day. I suppose I kept that promise, because I'm writing this in March, having just listened to the song I featured last year on this day. Remember this?

Caption: Screenshot from the music video for "Life Is A Highway".

Image credit: Screenshot from this YouTube video by Cujo359

If you have, then good, you were paying attention. If not, and you feel some need to remind me to remember Sept. 11, 2001, please just answer the following questions:
  • How much of the world do we have to blow up before you forget about 9/11?
  • How many freedoms do we have to give up before you feel safe?
  • Do you really think I, or anyone else who was around at that time, is ever likely to forget? Just how forgetful are you?
So, just shut the fuck up and drive, and for crying out loud, let September end. Because goodness knows, I've heard enough obsessive nonsense about it to last a lifetime.

UPDATE: As One Fly pointed out in comments, that video has been blocked. You can see the same video here, where it's apparently OK as long as there's a commercial in front of it.

UPDATE 2: If you want to know what obsessing about an event like this can do to a society, read Riverdaughter.

UPDATE 3: To those who keep declaring that the world changed on 9/11 - no, it didn't. The world was like that already. Vietnam happened, so did Cambodia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sarajevo, Tianamen Square, Persian Gulf, and scores of other slaughters that I've simply forgotten about, and that's just since I was born. Some America had a hand in, many we didn't. There were terrorist attacks, too. It's like that because, often as not, it's run by cold-hearted selfish bastards who are perfectly willing to climb to the top of the heap by making a ramp of the bodies they've created.

If you think the world changed, it was because you finally noticed what was going on in the rest of the world, after it finally happened here.

What changed was us. We changed, because we obsessed about what happened when we should have been thinking about so many other things, and because we were afraid. We didn't change for the better. People who obsess about things never do.

Don't tell me to remember. Tell me when you're ready to move on.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More Tales Of The Utterly Expected

Remember how AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was going to be all independent and stuff?
The growing rift between labor and their Democratic allies was on full display Thursday, as AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters that labor groups are planning to scale back their involvement with the Democratic Party in advance of the 2012 elections.

Going forward, Trumka said, the labor movement will build up its own political structures and organizations rather than contribute to and depend on the Democratic Party’s political operation.

AFL-CIO head: Labor to ditch Democrats
Maybe you missed that because I didn't think it was worth mentioning. I'd love to see some real signs that the career progressives are telling Obama to take a hike, but as you can see from my comment here I was more than a little skeptical.

Well, here's Richard Trumka yesterday on President Fierce Advocate's latest history making, awe inspiring jobs speech:
The president took an important and necessary step tonight: He started a serious national conversation about how to solve our jobs crisis. He showed working people that he is willing to go to the mat to create new jobs on a substantial scale. Tonight's speech should energize the nation to come together, work hard and get serious about jobs. — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Quotes in response to Obama's jobs speech
I added that emphasis, because that sentence is just plain crazy. As I pointed out, this bill wouldn't be a tenth the size it needs to be to be effective, even if it was all aimed at saving or creating jobs. But, as I hinted at, and Hugh has discussed at length, not even half of this proposed bill will do that. It's a pitiful attempt by Obama to cover his ass for O-Twelve. Anyone in Trumka's position, if he has even half the brains I have (a pathetically low bar for a national labor leader, really) should know this, too.

Potential employers know this, as a recent New York Times article points out:
“You still need to have the business need to hire,” said Jeffery Braverman, owner of Nutsonline, an e-commerce company in Cranford, N.J., that sells nuts and dried fruit. While a $4,000 credit could offset the cost of the company’s lowest-cost health insurance plan, he said, it would not spur him to hire someone. “Business demand is what drives hiring,” he said.

Indeed, the industries that are hiring workers now — like technology and energy — are those where business is strong, in contrast to the overall economy.

Employers Say Jobs Plan Won’t Lead to Hiring Spur
Yet here Trumka is, just lovin' him some history makin'.

To say I'm not surprised by this is an understatement, but somehow it still saddens me. Progressive solutions are what are needed here, and we're not going to get any as long as the folks who run the big "progressive" organizations like the AFL-CIO act like this, and the members of those organizations let them.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hey, I Don't Want To Brag Even More, But...

After reading the text of The Greatest Speech On Jobs Evah, I have a few observations:
  • He mentions the amount we'll be cutting spending and the deficit. He doesn't mention how much we'll be spending on jobs. I don't think this is an accident. It's a tell. He wants to cut spending, particularly on all those safety net programs that we can't afford. My guess is that he thinks any money not spent blowing up a foreign country is wasted.
  • As Taylor Marsh mentions in that link, he repeats the phrase "pass the bill" like it's a mantra. That's another thing that's important - pass something, anything. We learned that in the health care reform debacle.
  • Re: the $4,000 tax break for hiring someone who has been out of work for more than six months. Are you kidding me? That isn't going to persuade anyone to hire. Hiring anyone more skilled than a burger flipper for a year costs at least ten times that. Are you going to risk that kind of money to keep someone on for however long they have to be there to qualify for the tax break?

    Of course, there's also the little problem that, without demand, employers aren't going to hire anyone. As Obama himself has mentioned previously, U.S. corporations are reportedly sitting on $2 trillion in cash that they just aren't using right now. Cash isn't the problem. Demand is the problem. Demand is a problem because there are no fucking jobs.

    The people who think this is doing anything for the average worker are idiots.
  • He mentions all these things like infrastructure repair that we're supposed to be doing. The amount of money he mentioned the other day wouldn't cover a tenth of what's needed in the next few years. Plus, how are we going to do this, make it so none of us live long enough to qualify for Medicare?
Given how little we can expect on this issue, it's probably about time to try out some slogans for the Obama O-Twelve Campaign.
  • If you think he sucks, you should see the Other Guys
  • For when anything is better than nothing
  • Hey, you're not a racist, are you?
There's not much to work with.

UPDATE: In addition to some of the things I mentioned, Ian Welsh adds this thought:
There are no structural fixes for what is wrong with the economy here. There is nothing to deal with the fact that even if it did work (it won’t) it would cause a run up in commodity prices, especially oil, which would crush the recovery anyway. There is nothing to deal with the fact that most US banks are still bankrupt, except some incentives for Americans to buy houses so securitization can continue. There is nothing to stop employers from calculation the tax rebates as effective raises, and thus not offering raises themselves (which is what they will do.) There is nothing to make any corporation which already doesn’t pay taxes (more than you want to think about) to pay those taxes.

The Short on the President’s “Job Plan”
I'm too tired and disinterested to go back and find where I wrote this about the Obama Administration's past policies at the moment, but none of this is new. Ian's right, none of what the President mentioned will fix any of this., and it's part of the reason the economy needs all that stimulus that it isn't getting.

But that's nothing new.

What We've Lost

Thanks to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, we get to look down on what we've lost:

Image credit: NASA / GSFC / Arizona State Univ. / Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

The caption at Astronomy Picture Of The Day reads:
This view of the Apollo 17 landing site in the Taurus-Littrow valley was captured last month by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), the sharpest ever recorded from space. The high resolution image data was taken during a period when LRO's orbit was modified to create a close approach of about 22 kilometers as it passed over some of the Apollo landing sites. That altitude corresponds to only about twice the height of a commercial airline flight over planet Earth. Labeled in this image are Apollo 17 lunar lander Challenger's descent stage (inset), the lunar rover (LRV) at its final parking spot, and the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) left to monitor the Moon's environment and interior. Clear, dual lunar rover tracks and the foot trails left by astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt, the last to walk on the lunar surface, are also easily visible at the Apollo 17 site.

Astronomy Picture Of The Day, September 8, 2011
Go to the APOD page for explanatory links and the full size image.

Yes, this is something we've lost. We won't be back to the Moon. Not in my lifetime, and probably not in the lifetime of most of the people reading this. If humans do go back, they will probably be either Chinese, or there will be some form of international expedition. We don't have the vision to do this sort of thing anymore.

I've written before about what an extraordinary effort it was to get to the Moon. It was no easy decision to attempt such a thing at a time when our highest performance flying machines could barely break atmosphere. It was criticized. It was ridiculed. But President Kennedy, and then President Johnson, weathered the storm and saw things through.

When you contrast that with the ceaseless whining about how the current presidential "leadership" is criticized when it throws its supporters under the bus, you really get a sense of how far we've sunk as a nation. When I see seemingly intelligent human beings write that all we can expect are the pathetic achievements of these people, even going so far as to call them historic, it becomes clear why. That's all we expect. We don't expect that they'll even try to solve the problems.

Creating the Tennessee Valley Authority was historic.

Arming ourselves and much of the world by converting our manufacturing base to war production in the middle of a depression, then helping to win the bloodiest war in history was historic. So was converting that manufacturing base back to what it was doing, and helping to rebuild Europe and Japan.

Building the Interstate Highway System in a couple of decades was historic.

Winning civil rights in the Deep South was historic.

Ignoring a failing economy and a corrupt and incompetent financial sector while it delivered our health care into the hands of that same financial system isn't historic. It's corrupt, feckless, and typical of what our government has done for the last couple of decades. Accepting that this is the best it can do is pathetic.

We are getting exactly what we demand of our politicians.

I have no doubt that the engineers, scientists, and aviators of our time are up to the task of exploring other worlds as much as those of the 1960s were. For that matter, they're as up to the task of converting our economy to run on renewable energy, and limiting greenhouse gas emissions as their 1940s counterparts were up to turning our manufacturing base into a war machine. I have no doubt that our medical professionals can take care of us all as well as they take care of those who can afford to pay. I have occasional doubts that our current business leaders are up to the task of making the things and providing the services we need, but I am pretty sure that this is something the market actually can take care of, provided it really is an open market. They'll never be able to do that, though, if we don't ask it of them.

Image credit: Cujo359

If you want a better world, you have to demand it of the people who run it for us. If you're willing to accept nothing, whatever the reason, nothing is all you'll get.

We didn't lose the Moon. What we lost is the will that got us there.

Think about that the next time you look up at it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hey, I Don't Want To Brag, But...

The other day, when I wrote this:
Let's annualize that [U.S. economic output] gap, and say that, over the seven years the CBO optimistically expects this thing to last, that the target for one year's spending should be $700 billion or so. Does anyone reading this think that he will propose even half that ridiculously low sum for the next fiscal year? Not a chance.

Profiles In Fierce Advocacy: Sometimes, It's Really Frustrating
I figured it would be at least until The Greatest Speech On Jobs Evah before I knew for sure that prediction would hold. Never underestimate the tendency of a modern presidential administration to leak even the most pathetic details of a plan:
President Barack Obama plans to propose sparking job growth by injecting more than $300 billion into the economy next year, mostly through tax cuts, infrastructure spending and direct aid to state and local governments.

Obama will call on Congress to offset the cost of the short-term jobs measures by raising tax revenue in later years. This would be part of a long-term deficit reduction package, including spending and entitlement cuts as well as revenue increases, that he will present next week to the congressional panel charged with finding ways to reduce the nation’s debt.

Obama Said to Seek $300 Billion Jobs Package
Yep, not even half. No, it doesn't count that it was close. I wrote at the time that the $700 billion was way smaller than what they should really have been trying for, and it looks like about a third of that $300 billion is going to be useless tax breaks. They don't count.

If they had been serious about getting the economy kick-started, they would have proposed at least $2 trillion - the amount of the output gap to date, minus the $800 billion of the stimulus bill. They're off by almost an order of magnitude.

"Go big or go home" definitely isn't their motto.

UPDATE: Well, it's not their motto when it comes to helping ordinary Americans. Ezra Klein reports:
The bulk of what will be in President Obama’s jobs speech Thursday will not be new stimulus. The big-ticket items will be a slightly expanded version of the payroll tax cut and an extension of unemployment insurance. Together, these two pieces cost about $200 billion a year, which accounts for most of the $300-$400 billion in jobs spending that the White House is set to announce. But since they are already in effect, extending them will not, from an economic point of view, add much new demand into the economy. It will simply prevent demand from being sucked out. The rest of the proposal is likely to be an infrastructure plan — I would expect the price tag here to be in the $50-$100 billion range for 2012 — and more state and local aid. There will also be a call for Fannie and Freddie to extend refinancing help to more underwater homeowners.

The White House’s two priorities
So, maybe not even as much as the $200 billion in stimulus I was thinking was the plan. Figures. It gets even better, though:
Getting less attention in the media is the follow-up speech the White House is planning, which will lay out a specific deficit-reduction agenda that not only meets the $1.5 trillion goal of the “supercommittee,” but exceeds it and pays for the new jobs spending. These proposals will look quite similar to the grand bargain the White House offered Speaker John Boehner, and liberal groups are grimly preparing for the administration to call for raising the Medicare eligibility age.

The White House’s two priorities
[italic emphasis added]

That one just never gets old, does it? One of these days, we're clearly going to have to give up Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security so that President Fierce Advocate can look good for the people who matter.

In case you're wondering, the people who matter probably aren't anyone you or I know.

(h/t Lambert @ Corrente)

Quote Of The Day

Brendan, from Suburban Guerrilla, responding to an e-mail he received from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on contributing to the campaign of a career machine politician to replace Anthony Weiner in a special election:
I remind you, Joe, 56% of Weiner’s constituents wanted him to STAY ON. You didn’t listen, and now you are scrambling to save what was a safe seat and you are hoping to play progressives and democrats like me for a bunch of suckers.

This is YOUR baby, guys. You’re the ones who threw out Mr. Weiner and replaced him with a quiet, wonky, personality-free, machine politician. But you want people like me, struggling to keep my head above water while unemployed in the shittiest job market in years, to contribute a couple of bucks to what’s clearly a losing campaign.

Tough shit. Dig yourself out of your own hole, genius. Please share with the other Mensa members down at 430 S. Capitol Street, S.E.

The DCCC Sends Me a Letter
As I noted at the time, the outrage of the Democrats' congressional "leadership" at the personal foibles of their caucus's members is remarkably selective. It's exclusively directed toward people who, for one reason or another, have become political opponents or rivals. They have all, as far as I can tell, been more progressive than the average congressional Democrat. Does anyone think that these are the only people who have personal foibles that make them a potential source of embarrassment or a disruptive presence at the office?

In effect, Joe Crowley, the DCCC's financial chair, is asking progressives to finance the Democratic "leadership"'s purges of progressives.

Since I no longer receive e-mails from this list, I miss out on things like this occasionally, but I suspect my bile level is lower as a result. It's better to find out things this way, accompanied by a response that clearly notes the irony.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jonathon Chait: Useful Idiot

If you want to know why so many Democrats and liberals are still satisfied with President Obama's performance, I think you need look no further than numskull "progressive" pundits like Jonathan Chait:
It's worth recalling that several weeks before Obama proposed an $800 billion stimulus, House Democrats had floated a $500 billion stimulus. (Oddly, this never resulted in liberals portraying Nancy Pelosi as a congenitally timid right-wing enabler.) At the time, Obama's $800 billion stimulus was seen by Congress, pundits and business leaders - that is to say, just about everybody who mattered - as mind-bogglingly large. News reports invariably described it as "huge," "massive" or other terms suggesting it was unrealistically large, even kind of pornographic. The favored cliché used to describe the reaction in Congress was "sticker shock."

What the Left Doesn't Understand About Obama
There's a whole lot of stupidity in Chait's article, which I daresay Scarecrow did a fine job of rebutting over at FireDogLake today. But this bit irritates the crap out of me, because not only is it abominably stupid, it's stupid because it fails to understand the things that critics of the stimulus was saying.

First, the $500 billion stimulus that no one supposedly complained about. That was being talked about, as this article notes, at the time that Goerge W. Bush was still cleaning out the closets at the White House. No one at that time was pitching it as the one and only stimulus, either. That was something else Obama managed to screw up once he took office.

As for all those people who matter who didn't think the stimulus was too small when just about everyone who understood how economics works knew otherwise, why in the world would Chait think this is something that justifies Obama's decisions? If anything, what it tells me is that The Audacity of Dopes was an inspired title for his economics policies. Anyone who couldn't tell that this stimulus wasn't nearly large enough wasn't paying attention.

And as for Nancy Pelosi, right here is proof that liberals didn't think too much of her either then, or later. She got progressive legislation passed, but she never stood up for it when the Senate or the President decided they wanted something different. She should have known she'd lose the House by doing that, but she did it anyway.

So, yes, yet another reason that we are screwed. Nearly anyone who doesn't want to believe that Barack Obama is either a con artist or an incompetent can find asshats like Chait who are willing to make excuses for him. All these people who keep telling me how stupid the Republicans are seem to forget one thing - they're getting what they want. The reason they're getting what they want is that they demand it of their politicians. We progressives, on the other hand, are apparently supposed to accept naked opportunism or outright incompetence as the best we can expect of our leaders.

As I've written many times before, progressives who refuse to vote out Democrats who have failed to do what we sent them there to do have only themselves to blame for this state of affairs.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Photo(s)

The area around Mt. Mazama, Oregon, better known as Crater Lake National Park is a fascinating one for anyone who is even mildly interested in the geological history of the Pacific Northwest. In the not-too distant past, this area was the site of awesome geological happenings.

This is the north entrance to the park. Note all the trees around it. This entrance is about seven miles (11 km) from the crater.

Image credit: All images by Cujo359

One of the first stops for us along the way was the Pumice Desert. This is the vista there. Remember that this is only a few miles from the park's entrance, where there are lots of trees:

What happened to the trees? Let's read the sign, shall we?

Lockwood, our geological spirit guide, told me that he also thought that the soil was having some trouble retaining water, thanks to all the pumice. In any event, we're still quite a few years away from having a forest here.

How did all that pumice, as well as a somewhat heavier volcanic rock called scoria, get there?

Not all the stones were small ones. This bit of pumice was a few feet from the road. Despite its size, it was light enough to tip easily.

It turns out there was a sign that explained that, too. Around 7,700 years ago, this area was an extremely active volcano. It poured out all sorts of rocks for a few centuries, before things really went sideways. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Go toward the rim, and then halfway around it, then continue south, and you eventually reach an area called The Pinnacles:

As the sign says, about the same time all that pumice and scoria was being tossed onto the north side of the volcano, these little spikes of magma, called fumaroles, were being formed to the south. In the intervening 7,500 years or so, the river washed away the volcanic debris that was covering them, leaving them exposed.

Here's a zoomed shot of one fumarole, showing that these columns were created from a lot of heat.

They're also on both sides of the river. No, these aren't tree stumps:

It's hard to get a sense of scale here, but some of these towers are over ten feet (3 meters) tall.

Some even look a bit like smokestacks, which is essentially what they were:

Follow along the trail, and you can see quite a number of these towers of volcanic rock. At the end of the trail is a different kind of tower:

It appears to be a stone tower that was once used to mark the edge of the park. So, we'll head back toward the crater, and see that next week.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Profiles In Fierce Advocacy: Sometimes, It's Really Frustrating

Image credit: Brandon Baunach/Flickr

There was a time when I was on the Obama campaign mailing list. Then this happened. Or maybe it was something else. Whatever the reason, e-mail from that particular list is no longer cluttering up my inbox.

Sometimes, that means I miss gems like this one:

That lone word on the subject line of the e-mail President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign sent to supporters late Wednesday night said it all.

How the president was feeling after two months of near-constant fighting with Congress. How the White House felt after a day when it capitulated in a high-stakes contest of political gamesmanship with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“I know that you’re frustrated by that. I am, too,” Obama wrote in the e-mail, which arrived in hundreds of thousands of inboxes between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Obama’s 2012 campaign ‘frustrated’ over fight with Republicans
The "high-stakes contest of political gamesmanship" the article refers to, of course, is the upcoming Greatest Speech On Jobs Evah, which the White House tried to schedule for the same evening as a Republican Presidential candidates' debate, so he wouldn't bump against what is, apparently, a crucially important football game. (Does Green Bay have a team? When did that happen?). John Boehner, the Speaker of the House thanks to the Democrats' past incompetence at dealing with the economy, suggested he try to squeeze it in before the Big Game.

So, gosh, the guy's frustrated. That's understandable, I suppose. What's amazing, though, is that he assumes anyone else would be.

To understand why, let's remind ourselves that this speech is supposed to address what President Obama wants to do about our sucky economy. Taking the CBO's ridiculously optimistic forecast that this depression will result in an output gap of $ 5 trillion, you'd think that any President who was really worried about unemployment would try to spend at least a significant chunk of that output gap on putting people to work. Let's annualize that gap, and say that, over the seven years the CBO optimistically expects this thing to last, that the target for one year's spending should be $700 billion or so. Does anyone reading this think that he will propose even half that ridiculously low sum for the next fiscal year? Not a chance.

As Robert Reich predicted, this speech will be about half-assed spending projects and useless tax breaks.

Why would I want to miss a football game (hey, they're playing New Orleans. Have they pumped all the water out of their stadium yet?), when there will clearly be nothing in this speech worth paying attention to?

That's what I find frustrating.

Afterword: For anyone tempted to write to explain to me about the glorious history of the Green Bay Packers or the New Orleans Saints, just remember that this is the sort of thing I write about the Super Bowl every year...

What Geology Can Teach Us, Part 2

There are quite a few things that these two formations have in common:

Image credit: All images by Cujo359

Both of them are roughly circular craters more than a kilometer in diameter. Both are in the western United States. They are relatively near in age, only a few tens of thousands of years old. Each appears to have been cut through a relatively hard layer of rock near the surface, with some weaker rock underneath (note the undercutting visible on the far side of both craters). Yet this is where the similarities end.

The first picture is of Meteor Crater, which I wrote about a few months ago. It was formed by this:

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that's what's left of what formed it, a 150 foot wide piece of iron ore that struck Earth 20,000 to 50,000 years ago.

The second photo is of a crater called Hole In The Ground, which is in eastern Oregon. It was formed between 13,500 and 18,000 years ago. Just looking at its similarity to Meteor Crater, you might suspect that it too, was formed by a big rock hitting the Earth. You'd be wrong, though. It was formed by something like this:

That sign shows how Mt. Mazama was turned into what became Crater Lake, but it's the same idea. Big, giant, kabloowie, forming a crater.

In fact, the first geologists to encounter Meteor Crater thought that it, too, was a volcano. It wasn't until they explored under it that they realized this wasn't the case. At the time I was visiting it, I was wondering how anyone could think this hadn't been done by a meteor, because it looked so much like a huge bomb crater.

Then someone showed me Hole In The Ground.

What can geology teach us here? It teaches us that things that look the same aren't necessarily the same. Even when you think about it really hard, you can still be wrong. It's only through forming a hypothesis, and then testing it against what that hypothesis means that you can figure out if you're right or not.

That's how science works. It's why we know that these similar-looking things actually have very different stories.

A recent stupid conversation with someone at another blog brought this example to mind again, so I figured it was time to put this up here. The nature of the argument isn't important - in fact, I'm willing to bet that the individual I was having it with will never figure this out. Still, it's one of those lessons that everyone should try to remember when they're telling me what a naive or stupid person I am for not believing what they've concluded because what they've seen is sorta, kinda like something else they sorta, kinda know about.

UPDATE/Afterword (Mar. 19, 2013): For anyone interested in visiting Hole In The Ground, Lockwood Dewitt provides a reference:

The reason I chose this photo as an introduction to Hole-in-the-Ground can be seen above that little tree past and to the left of the central playa, on the opposite wall. The offset in that layer of basalt marks a fault which bisects this crater, and it's thought that this was the weak feature that allowed the basaltic magma to migrate upwards at this spot. More detailed information on HIG can be found in USGS Circular 838, at mile 25.1 in this road log.

Geo 365: March 19, Day 78: Hole-In-The-Ground

I reckon that Lockwood will be writing more about this crater in the days ahead.

It's a bit out of the way, to say the least, but at least it's not a tourist trap.

UPDATE 2 (Mar. 19, 2013): At the previous link, Lockwood Dewitt provides this correction:

The mode of formation is different from Crater Lake- that is a collapse feature, a caldera, while this is an explosive feature, a true crater. (Though looking at the cross-section in that road log, it definitely looks like subsidence was involved.)

Geo 365: March 19, Day 78: Hole-In-The-Ground: Comment by Lockwood

I've corrected that part of the narrative about Hole In The Ground's formation to no longer say " followed by a collapse".