Wednesday, February 29, 2012

What Geology Can Teach Us: The Work Endures

Over at one of those geo-blogger sites, they're having another Accretionary Wedge, a collection of geology articles with a theme. This month's theme is "My Favorite Geological Illustration". Not being either a geologist or someone who discusses the subject all that much, you'd probably wonder why I'd even have an opinion on the subject. If one merely went by the things I publish here, of course, one would probably assume my favorite illustration would be some big old explosion or another, but that wouldn't be the case.

You see, as someone who doesn't know all that much about geology, I haven't seen all that many fascinating geology illustrations. When I have, quite often I didn't understand them, at least not enough to appreciate them.

Another form of illustration has always fascinated me. Here is an example, courtesy of the early 19th Century surveyor turned geologist William Smith:

Image credit: LiveScience Image Gallery/Wikimedia version modified by Cujo359

I removed the large seams from the image of the map on Wikimedia, to better show what the map might look like hanging on a wall.

As the University of New Hampshire notes:
The map itself displayed in whole is an extraordinary sight. Its size alone - about 6 feet across by 9 feet high - is dramatic. The territory mapped in detail encompasses thousands of square miles. It is well over 500 miles from Lands End to the Firth of Tay. Smith had begun his efforts to publish such a grand map about 1802 and he was early encouraged by the enthusiastic support of Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society of London, who headed the subscription list with 50 pounds - a considerable sum at the time. It was equal to half of the Royal pension that was later awarded to Smith for his accomplishment.

William Smith’s Geological Map of England and Wales and Part of Scotland, 1815-1817: Explanatory Notes
Even in the faded form I've posted here, it's a beautiful piece of work, showing both the precise application of applied mathematics, and the artistic choice of subtle, but contrasting colors to show the extent of the various geological formations that were known or suspected in England at the time. UNH has a more colorful version online than the one on Wikimedia, but in some ways the Wikimedia one is more appropriate. Faded as it is, it evokes the passage of nearly two centuries since the completion of that map.

Maps are a form of art. Map making, like engineering, is an example of applied science, the use of scientific knowledge and principles to create something. In the 19th Century, the British were among the world's premiere map makers. They needed maps so they could navigate, defend, and build on a world wide empire. Not too long after this map was created, a British surveying team would map out the Himalayas, calculating the height of some of that range's major peaks to within a few feet. To accomplish that monumental feat, they used nothing more sophisticated than a transit. Given that, and the leadership Britain and the rest of Europe maintained in science at the time, it's none too surprising that they were the first to publish a geological map.

In the case of William Smith's map, the first of its kind anywhere, the motivation was to advance scientific knowledge - applied science used in the name of science. Smith's creation of the map, the subject of Simon Winchester's The Map That Changed The World, was especially remarkable:
To emphasize what Smith considered his greatest achievement--he was the first to discover that the strata of England were in a definite order and the first to show that their fossil contents were in the same order--he published an ordered column of colored tablets that he referred to as a geological column of organic (organized) fossils in 1816 while copies of the map were still printing. (see Contents, Part III). For all its complexity the map itself was incomplete without the concomitant ordering of the fossils. Smith was probably the first to understand that both the strata and their fossil contents were in such a natural order and that it was an order of indefinitely wide extension, i.e. from local quarries to the whole of England and beyond.

William Smith’s Geological Map of England and Wales and Part of Scotland, 1815-1817: Explanatory Notes
To anyone who is in the least familiar with the idea of biological evolution or plate tectonics, there is obvious significance here. Smith's map helped lead science down the road to both, if for no other reason than that it visually illustrated an important fact about where geological deposits are and when they arrived there.

Smith's work took more than a decade. As the UNH article notes, he began it in 1802, and didn't publish the map until 1815. Even then, it wasn't complete, of course. One could say that it's still being refined to this day.

As Winchester's book makes abundantly clear, Smith paid for his obsession with maps and rocks. His work was plagiarized by people with less talent but better connections, and he ended up spending years in debtors' prison. (Ironically, a copy of his map recently sold for more than $21,000.) It was only late in his life that he was recognized by his peers for his extraordinary accomplishments. Even then, it was only the intervention of better-connected scientists and officials who took it upon themselves to right a wrong that saved him from lifelong obscurity.

As I've noted over the years, geology has many things to teach us. Here, it's taught us that in science, often times the work itself must be its own reward. It's also taught us that sometimes, that work can be appreciated for centuries afterward, long after the people who profited from it are forgotten.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More On Captchas

What follows is a slight rewrite of an article I posted two months ago on captchas. I value comments from readers. It's part of what makes doing this worthwhile. Unfortunately, doing without captchas in comments means there will be spam comments to clean out, which is something I will not deal with, as I explained in that article. Unfortunately, Google has since found a way to make the comments captchas even more unreadable. I am reposting this article to remind readers of some ways of making the blasted things easier to deal with.

Because this subject came up on another blog, I thought I'd add a point about how I manage comments here.

The first thing I should say is that, thanks to the way I have things set up, I don't have to manage them all that much. I like it that way. I don't have to spend a lot of time, as I do for another blog I associate with in a different persona, cleaning out spam comments that people from around the world feel obliged to leave there.

I've written before about how I have comment moderation set up, and none of that has changed. What I have not done is noted that I also use captchas, which is that annoying graphic that looks vaguely like Roman alphabet letters that you have to type in so that you can comment here. Compared to that link in the last sentence, I think that the Blogspot captchas used to be easier to read. Sadly, they no longer are. They are deliberately made more difficult to read than standard print. That is supposed to make them more difficult to interpret using software, which in turn makes them more difficult to fool to put spam into blog comments and online forums.

Still, if someone has a bit of difficulty reading anyway, captchas can be an obstacle to posting. I suspect that people who are dyslexic, for instance, would have more trouble. People who have trouble reading the screen to begin with, of course, are also going to find it harder to interpret captchas.

I don't intend to change this policy. I'm sorry that it's harder to comment because of them, but the only alternative I see is either to put every comment into moderation, which can take time and (at least theoretically) limits commenters' ability to interact with each other, or to spend a lot more time watching comments. I don't want to do either.

So, what I will do is offer some advice on how to make them a little less irritating.

Most modern browsers, Firefox being the one I'm most familiar with, have had a way of enlarging whatever is on the web page the user is looking at for several years now. That feature, normally referred to as "zoom", enlarges both graphics and text. Using Firefox, a page can be zoomed larger by using the Ctrl-+ key, which means holding down that key in the lower corner of the keyboard marked Ctrl, and then hitting the plus (+) key (of course, you'll have to hold down the Shift key at the same time, if you're using a standard U.S. keyboard). The Ctrl-- key (the minus key with Ctrl) will zoom the page smaller. If you can't remember how many times you enlarged or reduced the screen, then just hit Ctrl-0 to reset it to what it would be normally.

It looks as though Google's Chrome works this way, as does Internet Explorer.

Go ahead and try it by scrolling to the top of this page and using those keys. Note that both the image of the Stooges and the type get larger or smaller. That's what will happen to captcha images as well.

To sum up:
  • Zoom in (enlarge): Ctrl-+
  • Zoom out (reduce): Ctrl--
  • Reset to normal size: Ctrl-0
That should be true for just about any modern web browser on just about any operating system that doesn't include the syllable "Mac". For those afflicted with that particular OS, substitute the Command key (that key to the lower left of the keyboard that looks like a splat) anywhere you see Ctrl, and things should work the same.

Give it a try. It's possible that this won't be enough. In that case, please let me know, but it's something to try. It's also possible to comment via e-mail. I promise I'll read your comments, provided they aren't caught in the spam filter of my e-mail account.

Afterword: In a comment on that earlier post, James Ala explains how things work on Macs:
In OSX the Command key works almost like the control key in Windows. Thus command +/- to zoom in or out. Works in Firefox and in Chrome, plus in Opera. I won't test Safari because I can not stand that browser.
So, to sum up, substitute the Command key anywhere you see Ctrl in the article, and it should work on Macs, too, with the possible exception of Safari.

Thanks, James.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Progressive Idiocy: Did You Know That Mitt Romney's Really Rich?

Caption: Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. You may not have been aware of this, but he's way richer than I am.

Image credit: Jessica Rinaldi/Wikimedia

Can we talk? I mean, really. Put down that glass of whatever, and try to find something to lean on, because I don't want you to lose your equilibrium. There, that's better.

I don't give a crap how rich Mitt Romney is.

There, I said it. Pretty shocking, isn't it? But there it is. I don't care. Well, OK, I care a little. There are days when I think it would be just wonderful if the person in the White House had some earthly idea what most of us go through in our lives. Unfortunately, I don't think that's been the case for a long, long time. I think the last time there was a President who actually had some idea what it was like to be a working stiff was when Ulysses Grant was in office.

Presidents are rich people. If for no other reason, we know that because they can afford to take off two years or more from whatever they are supposedly doing to run for office. They have to know a lot of rich folks so they can start advertising and setting up a campaign. Every President of modern times has done this, including the current one.

So I don't care how rich Romney is. Every President is way richer than I am. They're all way richer than you are. Do you think it really matters that Romney is richer than Barack Obama? Until they moved to DC, the Obamas lived in a house that almost none of us could afford.

Being rich doesn't have to mean that you aren't concerned about how everyone else lives. Teddy Roosevelt was rich; so was his cousin Franklin. Jack Kennedy was rich. Somehow, they all acquired some idea what it was like for everyday people, at least enough to implement policies that made our lives better. Being rich, or even talking about it a lot, doesn't make you unable to put yourself in someone else's shoes.

It's just more difficult.

Once you're rich enough that you don't have to work ever again, there's really not much more that can separate you from the common man, except maybe being so rich that you can buy absolutely anything you want. I suppose Romney's that rich, but it really doesn't matter. His opponents, no matter if it's Mister "I'm From A Steel Town" or Mister "I'm From A Big City With A Corrupt Government", don't have any idea what it's like to have to worry about bills or whether the kids get those braces they need. They certainly have no idea what it's like to wonder what happens when you get sick and can't afford medical care.

Even Mister "Man From Hope" had to learn most of that from someone else.

So, I don't care how rich Mitt Romney is. I don't care how many times he talks about how many NASCAR team owners he knows, or why the Missuz needs two Cadillac SUVs, or why he can't seem to stop reminding us how rich he is. Because, folks, they're all rich. Most of them have absolutely no idea what it's like to be you or me. That's why they're where they are. At least there's one thing we can honestly tell ourselves that Mitt Romney has never lied about.

What I care about is that Romney's economic policies look an awful lot like President Obama's, as do his health care policies, his foreign policies, and his policies about just about anything else worth mentioning. That, and that they all suck at least as much as Obama's policies.

Now you know the dark secret of my soul. I hope you can forgive me someday, even if you'll never be able to respect me.

Quote Of The Day

Ian Welsh wrote this late last week, reminding me why I don't visit his site all that often:
I have nothing but contempt for most of the current generation of intellectuals, thinkers, and members of any elite. They have demonstrably failed their job, if their job is conceived as serving the truth and looking after the common weal: of telling people what they need to hear and finding a way to make them understand. Some have fought the yeoman’s good fight, and lost and there is honor in that, but most did not even fight. Instead the spewed lies and reaped the rewards. They were complicit with the political and economic elites, they took their share of the loot, a petty pence, and wrote what would please their masters. They will be exorciated by history, but in the current day, they have their silver gripped firmly in their hands, as they lope behind and before their masters, making the world safe for oligarchy, poverty and the new despotism of the modern security state.

Justified Pessimism
It would be one thing if I thought he was wrong. The only misgivings I'd have in that case would be for Ian's well-being, as in he needs a more positive outlook on life. What makes this article (all of it is worth a read, by the way) hard to read is that it is absolutely true. We have gotten here, as much as anything, because entirely too many of the people who should be explaining what has been happening these last few years are instead excusing it, or pretending it's not happening.

funny dog pictures-if I can't see it,  it's not there
Image credit: I Has A Hotdog

Glenn Greenwald recently provided an example:
Repulsive liberal hypocrisy extends far beyond the issue of Guantanamo. A core plank in the Democratic critique of the Bush/Cheney civil liberties assault was the notion that the President could do whatever he wants, in secret and with no checks, to anyone he accuses without trial of being a Terrorist – even including eavesdropping on their communications or detaining them without due process. But President Obama has not only done the same thing, but has gone much farther than mere eavesdropping or detention: he has asserted the power even to kill citizens without due process. As Bush’s own CIA and NSA chief Michael Hayden said this week about the Awlaki assassination: “We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him but we didn’t need a court order to kill him. Isn’t that something?” That is indeed “something,” as is the fact that Bush’s mere due-process-free eavesdropping on and detention of American citizens caused such liberal outrage, while Obama’s due-process-free execution of them has not.

Repulsive Progressive Hypocrisy
Beyond a few liberal blogs, and the very occasional progressive commentator on Current, it's really hard to find any progressives who criticize the Obama Administration's appalling record on human rights (appalling, at least, by any American government standard). Nor do most criticize his equally absurd protection of the very people who caused this economic crisis by refusing to prosecute the obvious control fraud they committed.

It's rare to find anyone, among public progressive intellectuals, who will note the irony that Bradley Manning is being kept in jail indefinitely without trial, while the war crimes he helped expose are not being prosecuted.

Of course, they seem to have no compunctions about reminding us how awful The Other Guys (tm) are.

So, yes, reading Ian's blog has been something of a downer lately. On the upside, he's one of those rare progressives willing to see things for what they are.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Where's The Work?

This week the Guardian ran a preview of Bruce Springsteen's upcoming album, Wrecking Ball, including an interview. What is Wrecking Ball about?
[I]t is as angry a cry from the belly of a wounded America as has been heard since the dustbowl and Woody Guthrie, a thundering blow of New Jersey pig iron down on the heads of Wall Street and all who have sold his country down the swanny. Springsteen has gone to the great American canon for ammunition, borrowing from folk, civil war anthems, Irish rebel songs and gospel. The result is a howl of pain and disbelief as visceral as anything he has ever produced, that segues into a search for redemption: "Hold tight to your anger/ And don't fall to your fears … Bring on your wrecking ball."

Bruce Springsteen: 'What was done to my country was un-American'
One of the songs the Guardian article featured was "We Take Care Of Our Own", in which Springsteen talks about the abandonment of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the Rust Belt after the steel industry evaporated, and rest of us generally as America slowly slides into decay, using an old motto of how people pull together to show how little that phrase means in America anymore:

In the middle stanza, he asks:
Where's the love that has not forsaken me?
Where's the work that will set my hands, my soul free?
If you're familiar with his music, Springsteen's career serves as a chronicle of the decline of the American economy. From the urgent plea to "get out while we're young" in "Born To Run" to the plaintive lament of "Gypsy Biker", his songs have told the story of how good jobs have left town, followed closely by the will to look after each other. For those who still don't understand the difference between the mean and the median in the American economy, Springsteen's stories of bitter decline are the perfect soundtrack for those graphs and charts.

Caption: The rusting steel plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the minor league baseball stadium authorities brought in for "economic renewal". From making pig iron to watching Iron Pigs, the Lehigh Valley's transformation is a microcosm of America's.

Image credit: Composite image by Cujo359 (See Note)

Maybe it was my own proximity to Springsteen's home town when I was growing up that gave me the ability to see things as he does. I grew up in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, which is about an hour's drive down I-78 from where Springsteen grew up. When I was a boy, we made things there. We made steel, trucks, and semiconductors. We mined limestone and turned it into cement. Perhaps I should point out that by "we", I mean my parents' and grandparents' generation did that. By the time I graduated from college in the late 1970s, most of that industry was already gone. Nowadays, the Lehigh Valley mostly profits from its location near the cities of New York and Philadelphia as an inexpensive place to live while working in those cities. Nowadays, they make the trucks down south somewhere, where the labor is cheap. They make the steel and semiconductors in Asia. Most of the cement plants are closed, too.

As a young engineering graduate, I realized there wasn't much work for me there. I moved to the Pacific Northwest, partly because there were still jobs out here. There was still a steel plant and a truck plant out here, and there were lots of aircraft factories and sawmills. Over the years, though, the same thing I'd seen in the Lehigh Valley has happened out here, too. The aircraft factory (NOTE 1) I worked in is mostly gone, replaced by shopping centers and apartments, the jobs either overtaken by automation, or moved to places where the labor is cheap. Someday soon, the rest of the plant will probably be moved. The steel plant and the sawmills are mostly gone, too. The truck plant is somewhere else.

We stopped being people who build things in America. We've become poorer as a result, both economically and spiritually. If you don't know that by now, I suggest you get caught up on your Springsteen.

Have a good Saturday.

NOTE 1: This is was a copyrighted image from the Renton History Museum. I've requested permission to use it, and feel fairly sure that this will be granted, since it's a small version of a print they're selling. Still, it may have to be taken down later.

UPDATE: Since then, I have heard from the Renton History Museum, and they do, in fact, charge for their pictures, even the small fuzzy ones like the one I had up here. I've taken it down, since I can't afford to spend $15 a picture. I've left the link, though. This was the original caption I had posted along with the link:
A photo of the Boeing Renton plant from the 1970s. Today, just about everything below the curving road in the middle of the photos is either apartment buildings or shopping centers.
Maybe when I'm making thousands of dollars a week from this blogging thing I'll be able to afford that kind of money and the time or money it would take to manage the copyright issues, but right now I can't.

In contrast to the case of WMG, I don't think of the Renton History Museum's policy as greedy. They're a nonprofit organization, not a government agency. Maintaining photos, and allowing even limited access to them for research purposes, costs money. This is how they make part of their money. I do some work with a nonprofit organization, so I understand this. Unfortunately, though, by charging even for images that are barely web-quality, they restrict the potential benefit of their photos to those who can pay the freight. Which, in the blogging world at least, is just about none of us.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Occupy Together

Rose Aguilar writes in a column at Al Jazeera, on the U.S. Catholic Bishops' determination to battle the recent decision by the Obama Administration to require health insurance policies to cover contraceptives with no co-pay charge:
Catholic bishops in the US want every single act of sexual intercourse to result in the birth of a child, but once that child is born, they are on their own, especially if their priest abuses them.

The birth control bishops
She also wrote something else in that column that I found impossible to believe - none of the witnesses called have any medical background. All were clergy of some sort. Of course, all were men.

Of course.

There was no one there to discuss the relative merits of contraception versus abortion, other than some people who have little or no personal experience with these things. There were no witnesses with a secular point of view, of any sort, like for instance, the cost and disadvantages of unwanted childbirth. Even in a hearing ostensibly about religious freedom in America, there's reason to ask the people who are most affected by those freedoms what their opinions might be. For instance, they might ask them if it's freedom of religion when it's not religious institutions that are affected, but, rather, the businesses those churches own.

At least, there would be in a democracy.

This is how things are decided, apparently. It's why there are Occupy movements. The people most profoundly affected by the decisions government makes are almost never the ones whose opinions matter.

Afterword: Why did I choose that particular Occupy poster to lead this article? Simply, it's because this is really about power. The Catholic church has the power to swing elections. If they were some little splinter sect out in the middle of nowhere and they held these views, there would be no one paying attention. The religions represented at that hearing have lots of money, and in the new post-Citizens United world, they can spend as much as they want making the faithful believe anyone who supports contraception is the anti-Christ.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I Get E-Mail: American Spectator Edition

Image credit: Cujo359

For some reason, I’m on the e-mail list for The American Spectator (as in, I’m on that list in this identity, not my Real World self). I received a beg letter the other day saying that we (conservatives) had to stop this civil war among ourselves:
As American Spectator contributor Jeffrey Lord recently wrote, we have been engaged in a "one hundred year war" for the heart, mind, and soul of the Republican Party.

You and I are fighters; and we must work together to defeat this Chicago-based political regime, which engages in crony capitalism while trampling upon religious liberty. This isn't about winning the 2012 elections. This is about defending American exceptionalism from its enemies.

The war started with a fight between the more progressive Republican Teddy Roosevelt and the more conservative William Taft, and battles have been waged for 100 years since. That war has now come to a crucial point in 2012—and we cannot let history repeat itself. We cannot allow this conservative family feud to keep another Democrat in the White House.
Of course, giving money to The American Spectator was part of that effort, but at least some conservatives seem to be worried.

There seems to be a lack of understanding on TAS's part, of course. Teddy Roosevelt would have been a liberal by most modern American definitions. He would have, like we modern progressives, been someone whose opinions were reflected by neither of the two major parties. TR was one of those aristocrats who rarely make themselves visible these days - the ones who want our society to become more fair. That wing of the Republican Party either became Democrats or independents a long time ago. What is going on now is a fight between the "small government, fiscal conservative" crowd, also known as "the rich", and the religious fanatics who want to see us believe the same nonsense that they do.

My attitude is normally that differences can be a good thing, particularly in politics. My guess is, though, that The Other Guys (tm) are feeling the same split we discuss on the Left, which is the one between their haves and their have-nots. Their haves want what the rich usually want when they don’t care what happens to society while they get it. Their have-nots want no abortions and the Ten Commandments on every toilet stall (OK, I exaggerated that last bit a little).

As that gap grows, I think their civil war will get worse, not better. Unlike our have-nots, theirs never seem to stay silent for long. Ironically, more generalized prosperity is probably what will ameliorate their civil war, too. Let's face it, when religious people aren't doing well, becoming less religious isn't their usual course of action.

I didn’t subscribe to The American Spectator for the same reason I don’t subscribe to most politically-oriented magazines – there are plenty of people who will lie to me without me having to pay them for that service. But I find it interesting that the growing gap between rich and poor seems to be affecting their political chances, too.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Math Puzzler Of The Day

Updated Feb. 21 - see UPDATE section at the end of the article

Image credit: TEXample

Paul Krugman provides an excellent example of the difference between a mean average and a median average:
The three economists on this panel are all doing very, very well. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure the panel’s mean wealth was three orders of magnitude larger than its median wealth.

Mean Versus Median, Illustrated
Mean average is the simple average of something. Add up the value of all the somethings, divide by the number of somethings, and that's the mean. Median average, on the other hand, is the value half of those somethings are lower than, and half greater than.

Here's an article that explains how to calculate these two values.

What's so important about these two concepts? People who are trying to tell you that the economy is just fine, and if you're not doing so well it must be your fault, often cite the fact that the mean average income in America, sometimes referred to as GDP per capita, is growing. The median average income, however, has shown little to no growth.

As differences go, it's like the difference between being comfortably well off, and being George Soros. Based on the discussions I'm occasionally unlucky enough to witness on this subject on television news shows, I'd say that not more than two Americans in ten understand this difference. This is both sad and another hint as to why our discussions of the economy are so nonsensical.

UPDATE (Feb. 21): Expat's comment on this article brought a couple of additional thoughts to mind. He wrote that he suspected that not more than two in ten Americans understand that there is a difference. He's probably right there, if only because if you understand there's a difference, you probably learned it at one time or another. That made me realize, though, that I hadn't done the obvious thing, which is to characterize what that difference actually means when it comes to describing the state of a national economy.

What that difference means is this:

* The mean income is how much income each of us would have on a yearly basis if that income were divided up evenly among all of us.

* The median income is the real measure of what the average person in an economy is making.

That's why understanding those two concepts is important.

For a great discussion of all of this, I'd recommend find a copy of Stephen Jay Gould's Full House: The Spread of Excellence From Plato to Darwin and read the chapter on baseball statistics, as well as the one on the modal bacter. The "modal" average is another concept in statistics - the particular type of something that has a particular value. Sometimes, it's a trivia question, like "what batting average, to a single percentage point, was most common among regular players in 1982?" Sometimes, though, it's important, as it is when one considers that bacteria are by far the most common life form on our planet. He also lectured on other implications of median averages.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Anthony Shadid

Caption: My copy of Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near. I can't think of a more fitting memorial to the man than his work.

Image credit: Photo by Cujo359

Having had my nose to an entirely different grindstone this week, I missed this bit of news from Thursday:
Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey.

At Work in Syria, Times Correspondent Dies
Shadid was the kind of foreign correspondent that I wish we had far more of here in America. He wasn't, like so many of his colleagues, content to read official press releases, go to parties and other functions put on by the elites of a country, then tell us what was supposedly happening there. He told the stories of the Middle Eastern countries he covered through the eyes of ordinary people he met there - folks like you and me, but in whatever country he was stationed. His book Night Draws Near, about Iraq just prior to and during the 2002 invasion, was both heartwarming and tragic. It was a reminder of what Iraqis had suffered under Saddam Hussein, and what they would suffer under the aftermath of his regime as well.

Reporters of his caliber are few and far between, whether in the Middle East or anywhere else in American journalism. He will be missed.

Saturday Entertainment: Point And Counterpoint

I only saw about the last three minutes of this year's Super Bowl. In the time I was watching, the New York Giants scored a touchdown to go ahead, yet the folks who were interpreting the game for us said that this was a dumb thing to do. I thought that scoring so you could be ahead at the end was the objective of this game, but apparently, as has been the trend, the game is getting more complicated.

Thus, I felt ill prepared to write the usual incisive post-game analysis Slobber And Spittle readers have come to rely on.

Still, even having missed most of the game, I heard about this commercial:

It's Clint Eastwood at his dramatic best, narrating what I suspect will be one of the more memorable Super Bowl commercials ever. True to his usual on-screen persona, he's that gritty tough guy who sometimes need reminding that he has a heart, telling us we're gritty, tough folks who sometimes need reminding we have a heart, and we're not going to let a little thing like an economic downturn get us down. It's for the Chrysler Corporation, whose products and economic outlook are both looking considerably better than they were three years ago, thanks partly to the actions of both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration to make sure Chrysler and the other U.S. automakers had financing when they needed it.

I've discussed before the fact that manufacturing firms will often need financing to keep going. Improvements to production facilities are expensive in many industries. There are also economic downturns and sales downturns, when a company might need financing to weather the storm.

The plain fact is that it wasn't the auto industry in America that failed, it was the finance industry. It caused the crash of 2008, and it refused, even after a huge bailout, to help American industry deal with its economic woes. I supported both the Bush and Obama Administrations on this issue, and that's part of the reason why.

Sadly, not everyone agrees. There seem to be quite a few folks who think that we can do without a manufacturing base in this country. Second City Television puts that notion in the perspective it deserves, with its own parody of the Eastwood Chrysler commercial:

In particular, it calls out a Mitt Romney op-ed that appeared in the New York Times back in 2008. In the grand tradition of sportscasters who think that scoring a go-ahead touchdown is a dumb idea, he wrote this:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.

Let Detroit Go Bankrupt
The idea that you can make a manufacturing company better by starving it of funds is insane, but it's one that people who have made their living by destroying companies, which is what Romney used to do, tell themselves and anyone else stupid enough to believe it. Romney appears to believe that instead of making things that people value here, we should instead become a nation of people who sell our "intellectual property" to each other. We should, in other words, become vampire capitalists like him, or work on the domestic staff of folks like him.

I don't fault Romney particularly among our current crop of presidential candidates on economics policy. None of the likely candidates for either party betrays the slightest idea of what really makes a national economy function. Obama has surrounded himself with the same Wall Street pirates who made the economy crash in 2008. Romney is one. That's the main difference there. Ron Paul's views on economics are mostly either insanely foolish or foolishly insane, and neither Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich has a clue.

I think these politicians must get their economics advisors from the same school that produces the sportscasters who advise against scoring a go-ahead touchdown at the end of a game.

What people ought to remember is that Romney was writing that editorial about what George W. Bush did. Barack Obama supported that decision with more loans. Neither is a flaming liberal. Both realized that we couldn't afford to let an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Americans in high paying jobs go bankrupt. The loans have been repaid, and Detroit automakers are back to making useful products again. That's more than we can say for the finance industry, despite the massive bailout it received.

What I love about these two videos is that in a way they're both saying the same thing. A point is made in one using straight drama to make its point, and the other uses biting sarcasm as a counterpoint.

Enjoy your Saturday.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


For all the incurable romantics out there:

funny puppy pictures-i can has cuddlez nao?
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog

Have a great Valentines Day.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: The Who's Tommy

This song has been going through my head lately:

(see UPDATE below)

It's the British rock group The Who performing "Overture" from the rock opera Tommy. It's actually not a particularly good performance (this one sounds better, for instance - Pete Townsend's guitar playing is almost letter-perfect), but it's a good look at what a Who concert was like back then. It's from the 1970s, when The Who were hip, young, and, well, breathing. I think Keith Moon was gone five years after this concert. John Entwistle lasted much longer, but he's gone now, too.

In fact, Tommy is so old, it's now a musical, and two amateur theatres in the Puget Sound region will be putting it on in the next few months.

What has always amazed me about The Who's live performances of Tommy is that it was usually just the four of them playing and singing. If the theatres showing The Who's Tommy in our area follow the usual practice, they'll be performing in similar numbers. If they play this well, I'd say they'll be doing as much as can be expected of them.

Tommy is a story about personal enlightenment and the way that organized religions can sometimes get in the way of that process. In perhaps the most revealing lines in the song "I'm Free", once Tommy is finally freed of his handicaps, he says:
If I told you what it takes to reach the highest high,
You'd laugh and say nothing's that simple.
But you've been shown many times before,
Messiahs pointed to the door,
and no one had the guts to leave the temple.
Life, he was saying, is best understood by living it, not trying to find out what the rules were for happiness or enlightenment. As his own following grows, Tommy forgets this, and eventually his followers go elsewhere looking for "enlightenment".

Burien Little Theatre be showing it February 17 through March 25.

Centerstage, in Federal Way, will pick up the silver ball, and show their own production of it May 4 through May 27.

Check those links for showtimes and possible schedule changes.

If you live in this region, and you don't see it, you just aren't trying very hard. Treat yourself to one of the best works of popular music to come out of the 1960s.

UPDATE: I think from now on, when this message appears in a post I do about a show that was over forty years ago, I will just leave that graphic up with no link to the greedy asshats who think that they should make more money from something that was made by people who are now dead, and thus cost them next to nothing to put on the Internet. Whoever WMG is, they can kiss my furry butt.

Good Thing We Can Get Free Contraceptives Now...

Image credit: OWS/Tumblr

While young and poor women were finally given a chance to procure birth control devices this week, millions of homeowners took it up the ass. Thanks to a combination of the Obama Administration not being motivated to do anything to upset its most important supporters, and the relatively few state attorneys general who gave a crap finally giving up on trying to get the banks to pay for what they broke when they bought and then foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of fraudulent mortgages, a really crappy deal is about to be struck. As Yves Smith explains:
Why is it deeply troubling that the attorneys general have gone along with the Administration’s messaging and have all fallen in line with the “biggest Federal-state settlement ever” when no such settlement in fact exists? This isn’t just acceding to the Administration’s pet wish to build on its State of the Union PR. They’ve completely abandoned their negotiating leverage at a critical stage.

Let’s look at this equation. The Administration and the banks both want a pro-bank deal (the only minor point of difference is how much in populist gestures the banks have to submit to in order to get the much more valuable bennies they want). The only parties that cared to any degree about ordinary citizens were the dissident AGs. But they now have now given up any bargaining leverage over how this deal turns out.

The only power any party has in a negotiation is his threat to leave the bargaining table. The AGs can no longer do that. They’ve taken star turns, made ringing pronouncements of how great this pact is. They can’t possibly reverse themselves mere weeks down the road and say, whoops, this deal isn’t go great after all.

Mortgage Settlement as Attorney General Sellout: Deal is Not Done, and Final Version Guaranteed to be Worse Than Advertised
That means, as she goes on to say, that the deal will be no better than the one we see right now. How good is that deal? Here are a few numbers, courtesy Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Hiltzik:
Then there are the banks. The signatories to the deal are Bank of America, Citibank, Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase and Ally Financial (formerly GMAC), which handle payments on more than half the nation’s outstanding 27 million home loans and therefore have been at the center of the servicing and foreclosure abuses the settlement is supposed to end.

If you don’t listen too closely, it sounds as if they’re putting up the $25 billion. Not so. The only cold cash the banks are paying is a combined $5 billion, including $1.5 billion to compensate borrowers whose homes were foreclosed on from 2008 through the end of last year, with the rest going to the federal and state governments to pay for regulatory programs.

Most of the balance is in mortgage relief for stressed or underwater mortgage holders, including principal reductions, refinancings and other modifications.

How much of this will translate into an outlay of cash by the five banks? Not much, if any.
What about homeowners? They don't get much, especially in relation to the scale of the housing crisis. More than 2 million owners have lost their homes to foreclosure during the last four years; this deal will provide 750,000 with a payment of $2,000 each.

Some 11 million homeowners are underwater by about $700 billion combined, or an average of nearly $65,000 each. In a transport of optimism, federal officials are projecting that this deal will help 2 million of them, to the tune of perhaps $20,000 each. By the way, loans owned by the government-sponsored firms Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac aren't eligible for this relief. Since they own or control the majority of all outstanding mortgages, that's a rather large black hole.

Mortgage settlement is great — for politicians and banks
Based on the complete lack of action on this matter by the Obama Administration, I can pretty well imagine what the conversation was like between the dissident AGs and the federal government. I can boil it down to four words: "You're on your own." With their budgets already in the red, the states can't afford to pay for a long, drawn out battle that the U.S. Department of Justice should really be waging.

Image credit: Occupy Together/Twitpic

I've mentioned before the sorry record of this administration when it comes to defending us from the banks. Back during the George H.W. Bush Administration, they put hundreds of bankers behind bars for a far smaller fraud. This time, the Democrats are satisfied to not do a damn thing.

As usual, Dusty sums things up pretty well:
Still not addressed..accountability by the banks for what they did to homeowners, pension plan holders and the economy in general. None, nada, zilch. Add to that, this deal is really pure horeshit when it comes to what the lenders pay out…it’s pocket change to those fucks and you know you have a deal that stinks when it makes Wall St so fucking happy the Dow went batshit yesterday.

New Mortgage deal sucks but CA AG spins it as a win.
Enjoy your contraceptives, ladies, because we're all screwed, and none of us can really afford the consequences anymore.

Quote Of The Day

New York Times columnist Gail Collins, on the U.S. Catholic bishops' attempt to paint the Obama Administration's decision to provide access to free contraceptives to women who want it as the work of the devil:
[T]he bishops have totally failed to convince their own faithful that birth control is a moral evil and now appear to be trying to get the federal government to do the job for them.

The Battle Behind the Fight
I don't think anyone has put this quite so baldly, at least not in a dead-tree publication. Catholic women overwhelmingly use birth control. Catholic doctrine is clearly not important to them, let alone to the rest of us. All the pontificating about how religious rights of churches that own hospitals and other businesses will be violated if they're forced to pay for contraception ignores the fact that Catholics have freely chosen to tell their religion's leaders to take a hike on this issue. In summing up a recent poll on religious belief and contraception, the Guttmacher Institute wrote:
  • Among all women who have had sex, 99% have ever used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. This figure is virtually the same among Catholic women (98%).
  • Among sexually active women of all denominations who do not want to become pregnant, 69% are using a highly effective method (i.e., sterilization, the pill or another hormonal method, or the IUD).
  • Some 68% of Catholic women use a highly effective method, compared with 73% of Mainline Protestants and 74% of Evangelicals.
  • Only 2% of Catholic women rely on natural family planning; this is true even among Catholic women who attend church once a month or more.
Contraceptive Use Is The Norm Among Religious Women
As USA Today points out regarding a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute:
58% of all Catholics agree employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception. That slides down to 52% for Catholic voters, 50% for white Catholics.

New surveys: Catholics want birth control coverage
For those who aren't good at math, that 58 percent figure means that there are at least some Catholic men who believe birth control should be available for free, too.

And why not? When you get right down to it, this decision benefits most of us in some way or another. Preventing unwanted pregnancy leads to less expense later, from preventing birth-related health problems to lowering crime. Oh, and as Media Matters notes:
Catholic United's Executive Director: "There Is A Silver Lining In Today's Ruling. Increased Access To Contraceptive Services Will Dramatically Reduce The Abortion Rate In America." James Salt, executive director of the group Catholics United, issued this statement in response to the contraception ruling[.]

New Polls Showing Catholic Support For Contraception Coverage Further Undermine "War On Religion" Claim
It's a winning idea for anyone who isn't married to some baseless idea of when a human life starts.

For once, the Obama Administration confounded me by doing the right thing. Of course, he did it in such a way as to avoid directly confronting the religious fanatics, so at least in that regard he stayed in character. He won't make a habit of it, but this definitely is a good decision, and anyone who thinks it violates his religion needs to take a step back and ask himself whether enforcing his religion's point of view on an entire society makes sense when its leaders can't even convince their own adherents.

And frankly, I don't even care what they think about that question.

UPDATE/Afterword: Just to belabor the obvious for a moment, it seems pretty clear to me that a newly elected President Ron Paul or a newly elected President Santorum would make short work of this new insurance requirement on taking office. I'm not sure whether Mitt Romney would, and as Art Pronin points out at, neither is he, but there's enough reason to suspect he would to give anyone who valued this policy pause.

So this is a smart political move for the President, which is something I've mentioned before. What amazes me is that he did it anyway.

UPDATE 2: Fixed attribution of the quote about Mitt Romney in the previous update. I had said it was Taylor Marsh who wrote it, but it was an article by another writer at her site.

Friday, February 10, 2012

On Greece And The Euro

Image credit: Agni Travel

Yesterday, I wrote that I wouldn't want to be David Axelrod the day after Greece left the European Union. That statement might seem a bit cryptic to some readers, but Marshall Auerback has thankfully provided an update about how things are going there. His punchline is:
It is also worth pointing out that Greece’s pension payments on a per capita basis are amongst the lowest in Europe. Still, apparently, this plunder hasn’t gone far enough The Greek people must feel like Sabine Women right now.
Game, set and match to the Troika.

While we’re at it, let’s address this “Greeks as tax cheats” canard once and for all. Greece’s tax revenue from VAT collapsed by 18.7pc in January from a year earlier. As Ambrose Evans Pritchard noted:

Nobody can seriously blame tax evasion for this. It has happened because 60,000 small firms and family businesses have gone bankrupt since the summer.

The VAT rate for food and drink rose from 13pc to 23pc in September to comply with EU-IMF Troika demands. The revenue effect has been overwhelmed by the contraction of the economy.

Overall tax receipts fell 7pc year-on-year.
We’re one step closer to ensuring that the birthplace of democracy becomes a form of national indentured servitude. That is of course, unless Greece regains some modicum of self-respect and tells the Troika to take a hike and leaves the euro zone.

Greece and the Rape by the Rentiers
While there may be conditions under which a decline in gross domestic product (GDP) is an acceptable thing, this isn't one of them. Greece's population isn't shrinking, at least not yet, and it's certainly not a country that's living in the lap of luxury. Paying off a big foreign debt like the one they owe is somewhere between difficult and impossible under these conditions.

I keep expecting the Greeks to tell the EU to pound sand, but so far they haven't. If I had to make a bet, I think they'll do it before November. Last summer was pretty ugly, and I think this time around it's going to be even worse.

Best Wishes

Seems like a couple of blogging friends are having a tough go of it right now. It's always difficult to know what to do in such circumstances, because there's usually not a heck of a lot we can do in situations like these. So, I'll just pass on best wishes, and some pictures.

One friend loves geology. Here's an example of some geology I encountered last summer:

Image credit: Cujo359

That's the best view I could manage of the crater, with only a little bit of cloud in the way.

The other friend loves cats, so here's one of my neighbors who visited me last fall:

Image credit: Cujo359

He's a bit camera shy, so that one's almost as rare as the crater photo.

Hopefully, everyone is on the mend.

UPDATE: Need I remind people to click on the pictures to see them full size? The Mt. St. Helens crater in particular is worth that effort.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Quote Of The Day

[Pound notes, plus a few dollars, at the donations box of the British Museum. Image credit: Lawrence OP.]

James Ala, at Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Oscar, for this gem describing the upcoming Presidential election:
Peel back the petty theatrics and the General still looks the same: two fundamentally weak and compromised candidates who talk past the very public that they are supposed to represent. The president is one of those fundamentally weak and compromised candidates. On the Republican side the choice appears to be the fundamentally weak Romney or the disastrously weak Gingrich or Santorum. This is the best a billion dollar campaign can achieve. That is the state of play; pretty damn pathetic, don’t you think?

The Wheels Fall Off The Bus ... Again.
Image credit: Occupy Together

On the plus side, it will employ lots of otherwise useless people.

Answering the question of whether it's better than digging holes and filling them up again would be an interesting exercise in the economics of the absurd...

Progressive Idiocy: All Economics Is Local

Two updates at the end of the article (4:20 PM PST).

Caption: When it comes to economics, these are the bumpy lines that really matter to most of us. That red one is unemployment for the current depression, which far exceeds all other economic downturns of the last fifty years in both magnitude and duration. In short, many more of us have been unemployed for far longer.

Lots of us know that already, with or without a chart.

Image credit: Calculated Risk

There's a fundamental difference between how economics professors view the economy and the way the rest of us do. Let me illustrate that assertion with a recent quote by Paul Krugman:
But there are reasons to think that we’re finally on the (slow) road to better times. And we wouldn’t be on that road if Mr. Obama had given in to Republican demands that he slash spending, or the Federal Reserve had given in to Republican demands that it tighten money.

Why am I letting a bit of optimism break through the clouds? Recent economic data have been a bit better, but we’ve already had several false dawns on that front. More important, there’s evidence that the two great problems at the root of our slump — the housing bust and excessive private debt — are finally easing.
But the bubble began deflating almost six years ago; house prices are back to 2003 levels. And after a protracted slump in housing starts, America now looks seriously underprovided with houses, at least by historical standards.

Is Our Economy Healing?
I have little doubt that the home real estate market is showing some improvement. I'd guess that this means the housing bust has bottomed out, and people are at least buying or renting houses to replace the ones they lost to foreclosure. That's a good thing. It's no doubt also a good thing that private debt is decreasing. Unfortunately, there are at least a few signs the economy isn't going well, too. Bulk shipping is down. Orders are down. On the plus side, hiring is up a bit. It's not looking all that cheery yet, even if all you do is look at the bumpy lines and try to figure out what they mean.

Of course, there are some other things to worry about on the macroeconomic front. Every day, it seems, Europe finds another way to trip over its financial shoelaces. Partly due to the incompetence and corruption of Greek and Irish governments, and partly due to the greed and fecklessness of the people who run the world's financial institutions, not to mention the politicians who are enabling them, the European Union looks to be on the verge of financial meltdown. If that happens, they'll take our "recovery" with them.

To Prof. Krugman's credit, he's written more recent columns that amply demonstrate that we're nowhere near being out of the woods yet. He's a real economist, and as new information comes in, he thinks about it and revises or elaborates his opinions.

When you get right down to it, though, that red line in the chart at the top of this article is the bumpy line that really matters. We've been suffering the effects of this depression for quite some time, and out here in the real world, most of us know it.

I coined the term idiot savant economics as a way of describing how I look at the economy based on my own experiences. Of course, everyone's experience differs, but the important point here is who is having the most common experiences. When I walk or drive around my city, I see signs like this on lots of largely empty office buildings:

Image credit: Cujo359

I took that photo two years ago. The building was largely empty then, and had been for some time. It's relatively new, so it probably never had lots of tenants. It was still pretty empty the last time I passed it, a few months ago. There are lots of such office buildings in Federal Way, buildings that are partly to largely empty. There are no factories here, so offices are where many folks make their livings, and there are rather a lot of empty ones.

Retail space is another indicator, and there are lots of these signs in the strip malls and retail spaces of my town:

Image credit: Cujo359

That particular store was photographed early last year. It had been empty for at least a year before that, and except for a couple of months when a seasonal store rented it out, it's been empty ever since. That particular mini-mall has a lot of empty store space in it, maybe a third, all of it empty for at least that long. There are lots more empty spaces just like it. In fact, see that Blockbuster sign reflected in the window? It closed down a few months later.

Retail's a tough business. Even in good times, lots of stores go under due to mismanagement or just being on the wrong end of a buying trend. It's also true that Federal Way is a bit overbuilt. The population was growing here more than some places, and when the economy started to go south, there were a lot of retail spaces under construction. But these spaces remaining empty is another indication that things aren't getting better around here.

That's the important point in all this - most of us don't look at those bumpy charts to try to figure out how the economy is going. We're all idiot savant economists. We know how our economies are going, and when you add up all those personal assessments, you have a sort of joint assessment of how things are doing at the moment. I don't know all that much about how things are going in Atlanta or Detroit, but people there know pretty well. If their experience is something like mine, they're not too happy with the economy right now, either.

And that may not be what the bumpy lines are telling the economists.

Things have been bad for a long time. What's worse, if the economy does get going again, it will be the most recently fired who are the first rehired somewhere. Anyone who has been out of work for a long time, and anyone who is under 25 or over 50, will have to wait a lot longer. (see UPDATE 2)

Which leads us to the other important point here. All those progressive pundits who think the recent jobs report and a slight uptick in some other economic trends means that President Obama is a shoe-in for reelection are morons. Just on the level of how things look right now, there should be very few people changing their minds about how the economy is going. Maybe, given half a year of solid growth, things will look better in the eyes of enough Americans to matter. Or maybe there won't be enough growth to make a noticeable difference.

Unfortunately, the economy's performance is about all that Obama has to go on. There haven't been any fireside chats. We haven't seen our unemployed friends working in Civilian Conservation Corps projects, nor have we seen new safety net programs enacted. All we hear from Obama on the latter front is how much he needs to screw us out of our current benefits to help his supporters in the finance industry. That is, of course, when he's not calling us whiners for expecting him to actually accomplish something useful.

Image credit: Art by Shepard Fairey

There's a word that describes what's needed right now: Hope. Yep, that word. Irony abounds in American politics, doesn't it? If people have reason to hope that the economy will improve, Obama's chances are much better. In many parts of this country, that's going to take continued growth, thanks to our government's general commitment to inaction on the economy. There's really nothing else to inspire hope right now.

As our collective impression of the economy goes, so goes Obama's chance for reelection. Genuine hope, or real improvement, would definitely help that impression.

I wouldn't want to be David Axelrod the day after Greece leaves the EU.

I wrote all this at the beginning of 2010, by way of warning the Democrats that if they didn't do something soon to inspire hope that things would be better soon, they'd lose big at the polls. People who wrote what I did were routinely called alarmists, whiners, and so on. Yet somehow the Democrats got their asses handed to them anyway. Did that teach the folks who called us alarmists anything? Apparently not.

As I wrote at the time, stupid dies hard in DC. That's another thing that hasn't changed for the better in the last few years.

If I were a progressive pundit, instead of just playing one on the Internet, I'd be telling people what Krugman told them here, which is that this is no time for our "leaders" to be thinking about what their next Stupid Austerity Trick (tm) will be. It's time for the President and any other Democratic politician who wants his job in DC to make sure that we are feeling like they're on our side, and that they make sure that any and all useful stimulus they can apply to the economy is applied. It's time for him to change course and protect women's rights for once in his political career. It's time, in short, to remember who got him where he is.

Sadly for the President, given the chorus of sycophants and morons he's surrounded himself with, he isn't likely to listen.

UPDATE: In a blog post Tuesday, economist Dean Baker wrote this about the change in the unemployment rate since Obama took office:
[A]lmost two-thirds of the drop in the unemployment rate has been due to people dropping out of the workforce (and therefore not being counted as unemployed), not people getting jobs. Measured in terms of employment, the economy has improved very little from its trough, therefore it is not surprising that less-educated workers, like more educated workers, are still having difficulty finding jobs.

The Post Is Confused About Unemployment
Which, in one way or another, is something I've been writing around here for quite some time. The long term unemployment problem is not going away. Until it does, there is a very real drag on our economy, and until the economy starts growing a lot faster than it is now, no sane economist would expect that problem to go away.

UPDATE 2: Let's conduct a little thought experiment. Assume that last week's report on employment is the norm for the next few years. That's quite an assumption, by the way, given it is easily the best report we've seen since 2008. Using Dean Baker's assumption that we need to add 90,000 jobs each month just to keep up with increased population (which is the most conservative figure I am aware of), that means that we had a net increase of 150,000 jobs among those who were unemployed previously. There are roughly 1012.9 million people unemployed right now, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Here's your reading algebra problem: At that rate, how long will it take for all 10 million of the unemployed to find jobs?

The answer, of course, is about 6786 months, just a little more than eight years. That's assuming a very optimistic scenario. Now, imagine that you're fifty years old. How long will it be before you find work? I'm betting at least four years. A similar case could be made for someone who is twenty. In the old guy's case, that means four prime work years of idleness, or trying to get by in some other way. For the youngster, it means the time he spends learning how to work for a real enterprise will be instead spent doing whatever is available, assuming he's lucky enough to find jobs. Or, he'll live with his parents.

Neither case is a hopeful one, but that's what this economy means for a lot of people.

UPDATE 3: Fixed the numbers in UPDATE 2 to reflect this table, which states the unemployment numbers far more clearly than the report itself. That correction adds about two and a half years to the time it will take to employ all of the currently unemployed.

Of course, it's not unreasonable to assume that the really long-term unemployed are undercounted anyway.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Progressive Idiocy: Chickens Coming Home To Roost

Seems like only a couple of months ago, I wrote this:
No doubt the Illinois branch of Planned Parenthood (IPP) likes to remember things that way. I have a different theory about what happened - they thought that Obama was going to vote against their interests, and they worked out a deal for him to vote "present", instead. The stated explanation is nothing but a lie that both parties to the agreement found politically palatable; Obama didn't have to explain away votes against abortion rights to a fairly liberal constituency, and IPP didn't have to deal with the embarrassment of one of the rising stars of the Illinois Democratic Party voting against them. For Obama this deal was clearly a win, because "Mr. Present" probably would have voted that way anyhow. What IPP got was screwed, at least in the long run. Look at the vote totals cited in Dobbs' article. There was no way they were going to win those votes, with or without Obama and all those other prospective fence sitters.

Whatever happened behind the scenes, in the end what IPP earned was a string of legislative losses, and they ended up covering for a guy who would thank them by screwing them again later.

In contrast, Illinois NOW called Obama out. Unfortunately, IPP covering for him helped obscure the issue, since abortion is something a voter would expect PP to be more protective of than NOW. NOW has lots of concerns besides abortion rights, and it could have more credibly claimed that it covered for Obama here so it would get better support on other issues. To their credit, they chose not to.

Progressive Idiocy: Repeat After Me - "Power Concedes Nothing..."
Yes, it was two months ago, almost to the day. It was about progressive groups covering for then Illinois Senator Barack Obama when he ducked various votes on abortion. Now, I think those rationalizations are coming home to roost:
The White House may be open to compromising on a new rule that requires religious schools and hospitals to provide employees with access to free birth control, a senior strategist for President Obama said on Tuesday morning.

David Axelrod, who serves as a top adviser to Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that the president would “look for a way” to address the vocal opposition from Catholic groups who say the rule forces them to violate their religious beliefs against contraception.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventative care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” Mr. Axelrod said.

White House May Look to Compromise on Contraception Decision
President Obama has ducked abortion votes from the time he started his political career. In contrast to his obvious prejudices on economic policy, I don't know enough about his advisors on this subject to know what his own views might be. What's clear, though, is that the right to an abortion has never been something he's been willing to go out on a political limb for, even when that limb is as strong as support within his own constituency for that right.

If past is prologue, then he won't be fighting for it this time, either. I'd love to be proved wrong on this, but I think we can expect some sort of peace offering from the White House to the religious fanatics in the next few days.

This should be a lesson in the hazards of allowing Democratic politicians to get away with things like Obama's behavior in the Illinois Senate. Unfortunately, I don't think it will. There's plenty of rationalization left where the excuses offered for Barack Obama came from.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

It's the beginning of February. While in some years you can already see hints of spring up here in the Pacific Northwest, most years it's still dull and dreary. Once in a great while, the Sun makes itself visible for a few hours, but most of us are working when it does. This time of year, any hint of sun is something of a break. In that spirit, I'm going to publish a few more sunny panoramas from years past in the Southwest.

Continuing with our theme last week, here's one more picture from the El Paso region, although this one is from Carlsbad Caverns, in New Mexico:

Image credit: All images by Cujo359

As I recall, that was looking toward the southeast, but I'm certainly prepared to be corrected on that.

On the way there from El Paso, you'll pass this mountain:

It's El Capitan, in a photo I recycled from an article on the El Paso Salt War. It has to be one of the more recognizable peaks on the planet.

This one is from Arizona, at the Sunset Point rest stop on the stretch of I-17 somewhere Phoenix and Flagstaff. The view is looking west toward the Bradshaw Mountains:

(Thanks to Dana Hunter for reminding me of the name of the rest stop.)

This is another panorama from Meteor Crater, in Arizona. It shows what's outside the crater, looking more-or-less toward the east. Near the center is the road that leads to the crater:

If you recall from a past article, I mentioned that these regions are part of the America's basin and range country. In much of the Southwest, you can get an incredible view from a high point on a ridge, sometimes for a hundred miles or so. I think these photos, and some from last Sunday certainly illustrate that pretty well.

Finally, a recycled picture from Meteor Crater. This is of the crater itself, with lots of blue sky overhead:

Well, that's enough sun for now. Click on the pictures to enlarge. Enjoy celebrating the end of football season if you're inclined to, and have a good Sunday.