Monday, April 30, 2012

Now For Something Really Amazing

Bashing Time magazine just never gets old. Nearly every month, there seems to be something that makes it worth taking a screenshot of and then laughing about. Here's this month's screenshot:

Image credit: Screenshot and annotations of this Time magazine page by Cujo359

There I was, gazing at this seemingly amazing sight of two 100,000 light year-wide objects colliding with each other at some ungodly speed (BTW, thanks, Mary), when I glance at the lower right corner of the screen and notice the headline that's part of the magazine's "While you're here, you might want to waste more time reading..." feature, which I circled in green to make sure that you, too, do not miss what's really amazing today:

Kate Middleton's Amazing Fashion Evolution

Now, I get the idea that not everyone is interested in astronomy, and I also get the idea that some people actually are interested in fashion. Yes, I'm not one of those people. However, even assuming I were interested in fashion, I suspect I'd be less than amazed by Kate Middleton's fashion evolution, whatever that might be.

If your interests run more along the lines mine usually do, you might need a bit of background here. Kate Middleton is married to some British prince or another (Andrew? No, it's the other one), and is thus very famous. I mainly find her recognizable because I'm a heterosexual male who isn't dead yet, and she's frequently featured on the magazine covers one sees in the checkout lines at the supermarket. Why others find her interesting, I'm less sure, but I suppose they have their reasons.

The reason I don't think it's terribly amazing that Ms. Middleton has changed her fashion sense is that she's a young woman, and she's now a member of one of the more visible families on the planet. Heck, I'd be amazed if she didn't change her wardrobe. Anyone who remembers how girls dress in high school and college should know what I'm talking about with the "she's a young woman" part.

So, why does Time magazine, who surely must understand these things better than I, think this is so amazing? I have no idea. I didn't check the link. If you do, please feel free to let me know.

To get full credit, though, be prepared to tell me why I should care.

For any U.K. readers who might have happened by, please understand that this isn't about some distaste or disinterest in your culture. I can name the last three Prime Ministers, although I keep having to remind myself that Mr. Blair's first name is not "Phony". This is about Time magazine's seeming desire to keep us entertained with trivia, when there are so many genuinely fascinating things to be interested in.

Where Priorities Lead: Spaceflight Edition

Caption: An artist's conception of the SKYLON space plane doing something that isn't possible with current aerospace technology - taking off from a runway and heading into orbit.

Image credit: Reaction Engines Limited publicity art.

The British Broadcasting Corporation featured an interesting article on a British technology effort last week:

UK engineers have begun critical tests on a new engine technology designed to lift a spaceplane into orbit.

The proposed Skylon vehicle would operate like an airliner, taking off and landing at a conventional runway.

Its major innovation is the Sabre engine, which can breathe air like a jet at lower speeds but switch to a rocket mode in the high atmosphere.

Reaction Engines Limited (REL) believes the test campaign will prove the readiness of Sabre's key elements.

Key Tests For Skylon Spaceplane project

The BBC article explains in some detail what the "key element" is, but essentially it's a means of using the space plane's own fuel to cool the air coming into the engines enough so that it doesn't melt them. At the speeds such a craft must travel, both entering and leaving the atmosphere, that's a big consideration.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cultural Idiocy

It's astonishing how foolish our political debates have become here in America. Bill O'Reilly is often a classic case in point, but he outdid himself this week. Robert Reich explains:

Bill O’Reilly, the tumescent personality of Fox News, said on his Friday show “Robert Reich is a communist who secretly adores Karl Marx.” (This came after Fox News’ Neil Cavoto called me a “sanctimonious twit” for suggesting the rich should pay more in taxes.)

O’Reilly’s accusation is odd, to say the least. If we were living in the 1950s, amid Senator Joe McCarthy’s communist witch-hunts, the claim might have some bite and cause me injury. But these days it’s hard to find a full-throated communist anywhere in the world.

Why Anyone Should Care that Bill O’Reilly Calls Me A Communist

Then he punctuated that response with this picture:

Reich challenges O'Reilly to debate him
Image credit: Robert Reich

O'Reilly would be foolish to do that in any forum where he didn't control the mike button. A couple of rather different perspectives on why that is, first from Mad As Hell And..., a blog that is decidedly conservative in its outlook:

Since several of us here at Mad As Hell And… have had the pleasure of seeing Robert Reich speak on many different occasions and we have met Reich a handful of times going back his days of working for Brother Bill Clinton as U.S. Labor Secretary we have to agree that Bill O’Reilly if off-his-rocker on this one because if Robert Reich is a “Communist” then the word “Communist” has lost all meaning and is no longer effective in identifying REAL Communists like Fidel Castro and the Nutcake now running Venezuela into the ground!

One thing that we know for sure about Robert Reich is that he is smart and he has the ability to see forward into the future which is always a nice attribute to have when you are working on a college campus which is often filled with Complete Morons that are often lucky to get their shoes tied in the morning.

Look no further than Robert Reich’s ability to see the future than his great book from 1992 The Work of Nations which very accurately identified what was actually going to happen over the past two decades which has been dominated in OUR country by large American corporations that no longer see the United States of America as [anything but] just another market to be dominated and most certainly in many cases not a “home country” that should receive any kind of special attention over say….Burma, Brazil, India or any other country where consumers and/or businesses buy products in the marketplace.

Bill O’Reilly Says Robert Reich Is A “Communist?” – Come on Bill….Robert Reich May Be A Wacko Liberal Nut But He Is NO Communist! – One Thing We Know That Robert Reich Is….Reich Is Smart – Robert Reich’s 1992 Book The Work of Nations Predicted Almost Exactly What Has Happened Over the Past Two Decades and Although We Wouldn’t Agree With Reich’s “Fixes” For the American Economy Then or Today….Reich Sure the Hell Know What He Is Talking About – Robert Reich A “Communist?” – Please, That Is Just Dumb!

Yes, that really is the title of the essay. Another perspective from James Ala completes the thought that maybe O'Reilly's view of the world is from a much different time:

You may have missed it, but Communism, dead and buried since 1989 is back. Well, at least it is back in the fevered imagination of TEA Party Politicians and Fox News commentators.

It is passing strange that the Red Menace has returned, I thought that the Sainted Reagan had single-handedly torn down Communism, and its Berlin Wall with his bare hands in a feat of super-human strength and will. After all, Don Reynaldo had told the evil Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and Gorby complied. How did the evil, rotten, feral, traitorous, soulless, and no-good Commies come back after the Gipper had stomped them flat?

But we have the word of Congressman Allen West that the nefarious Commies, those termites of liberty are at again. They have regrouped, they have reformed and true to character (or is that caricature?) have taken up false colors to fool the unwary. They have gained electoral office and become the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Commie, Pinko, Bedwetting Socialists

I've occasionally used the term "communist" here as sarcasm, trying to imply that the accusations someone is making are so wildly off the mark that they remind me of the days when people like Joe McCarthy made such accusations, because it was better than discussing their own failings as people, as intellectuals, or as leaders.

Now folks like O'Reilly and Allen West have willingly joined that class of politician, in an era when most of us, even the folks who might be inclined to agree with them, know better.

That's where we are in early Twenty-First Century America, when China is eating our lunch and our own population is slowly sliding into ignorance and poverty. We're debating nonsense as though we were idiots.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Bit About China's Economy

Caption: A Chengdu J-10 fighter airplane, designed and produced in China. This fighter, which looks like a cross between an American F-16 and a Swedish Gripen, is considered to be as advanced as Western and Russian designs.

Image credit: mxiong/Wikimedia

At his blog Beat The Press, economist Dean Baker made a point about China's economy that is especially interesting in light of my article on world military spending:

On a purchasing power parity basis, which assigns the same set of prices to goods and services produced in both countries, China is already almost 80 percent of the size of the U.S. economy. There is also some serious research suggesting that because of mis-measurement of prices in rural areas, China's economy is already larger than the U.S. economy.

Ruchir Sharma's Entry in the "Most Things Wrong in a Short Column" Contest
[inks from original]

It's possible that their GDP is already as big as ours. If it's not, it will be soon. Given that their economy has grown by actually manufacturing things, as opposed to passing increasingly complicated-sounding "financial instruments" back and forth to make a few people very rich, I think there's reason to think they will very quickly overtake us in the ability to produce military hardware, if they have not already.

Yet another reason why an arms race would be very bad. As if we don't have plenty already.

World Military Spending, 2011

Caption: Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) USS Essex, sailing the East China Sea in 2008. As large as her predecessor, the World War II fleet carrier USS Essex (CV-9), she can carry eight Harrier fighter bombers and two dozen helicopters, as well as several landing craft and a battalion of Marines. She would be the capital ship in just about any other navy in the world. The U.S. Navy operates eight LHDs, as well as a similar LHA amphibious assault ship, and 11 fleet carriers.

Image credit: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Joseph Pol Sebastian Gocong/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has once again published its 2011 Yearbook, which includes information about world military spending. I didn't publish this list last year, but I'd like to make this something of an annual tradition. Toward that end, there's not much commentary this year, just the facts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Couple Of Blue Dogs Go Down In Pennsylvania

Dusty covered the basics pretty well:

PA’s Rep. Tim Holden, a conservative by any standards, lost last night to a rich guy named Matt Cartwright, who spent nearly $400,000 of his own money in the race.

Alrighty then! A rich guy winning doesn’t warm the cockles of my little black heart, but a Blue Dog losing sure as hell does.

The other PA Blue Dog who became unemployed was Jason Altmire. He was defeated by Mark Critz. Critz isn’t very left of center by any stretch of my imagination, but the labor unions backed him over Altmire who also voted against the HCR Act and with the R’s on many other issues.

A few Blue Dogs lost last night! Yes indeedy!

As change goes, it's not much. I'm not sorry to see either Altmire or Holden gone, but whether their replacements will be anything besides more of the same remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, there was also some bad news from Pennsylvania:

Self-funded coal-mining millionaire Tom Smith won a five-way Republican primary to take on Sen. Bob Casey (D). While the moderate Casey isn’t considered vulnerable, Pennsylvania is a swing state and Smith could force Democrats to spend some money on this race.

Mark Critz defeats Jason Altmire, Matt Cartwright beats Tim Holden

Pennsylvania isn't the most progressive state on the East Coast. In fact, there's reason to think it doesn't get much more conservative north and east of the Mason-Dixon line. Nevertheless, Bob Casey, an anti-abortion, anti-pretty much anything progressive whose principal political asset seems to be the undying support of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party machine, is an example of progressive underachievement when it comes to electing people who represent our values.

Bob Casey is also a prime example of why the idea of mounting primary challenges enough to make Congress more progressive is a non-starter. As a symbolic gesture, it’s great, but as we’ve seen time and again, the machine protects its own. Pennsylvania and DC Democrats are both run by machine politics. The machine in PA loves it some Bob Casey, so Casey will get whatever he needs to get back in office. Any primary challenger, and Casey did have one this time, will be up against the full resources of the Democratic Party. Ask Joe Sestak what happens when the machine doesn’t get what it wants.

Unless progressives can be a somewhat united front that tells these machines that in order to get our support this and this and this will happen, then they will continue to treat us with the contempt we’ve earned by not doing the things we obviously have to do politically to get what we need.

And yes, I mean that progressives have to demand this, which means they'll have to sit out or find alternatives to Democrats when they don't play ball. Until we're as ruthless about this as the NRA or the TEA Party, we aren't going to see anything but more of the same crap we've been getting.

Of course, if you like that, keep voting for it, and keep letting all those "progressive" front groups continue to support it.

Another Cost Of War

Caption: An unexploded cluster bomb somewhere in Laos, another reminder of an industrial war gone by. It was dropped in the 1970s during the Vietnam War either by U.S. forces or those of one of our allies.

Image credit: Project Pineapple

There's been only one true industrial war in America - the Civil War. It was one of the first, and in many ways we were lucky we got it out of our systems when we did. In an industrial war, it's not fun being the home team. Most Americans, I suspect, have no idea what that means. They should ask Cambodia, or they can ask most of the countries of Europe.

A couple of recent articles in Der Spiegel help explain why:

After the end of World War II the Baltic became a dumping ground for unused munitions. After decades of rust and decay in its grey waters, old mines, bombs and torpedoes pose a threat to the sea and the people who cross it, fish in it and live on its shores. Fishermen inadvertently net up to 3 tons of ordnance each year, says environmental expert Stefan Nehring.

Earthquake measuring devices regularly detect explosions in the sea, environmental engineer Marc Koch told an international conference on munitions in the Baltic in Berlin last weekend.

Toxic munitions are expected to wash up on Germany's coast in increasing quantities, warned Robert Zellermann, formerly in charge of bomb disposal in the northern German state of Lower Saxony. Most bombs have rusted and been spread by currents he said, adding that around one-third of the Baltic seabed was now strewn with munitions.

A Rusting Timebomb in the Baltic

As the article goes on to emphasize, much of that explosive hazardous waste was dumped there after the war, including a substantial stockpile of nerve agent left there by the United States. A planned natural gas pipeline may be presented with additional dangers, thanks to various bombs strewn on the ocean floor. It looks as though that stuff will be washing up on Baltic shores for decades to come.

What happens when it washes ashore? Here's a recent example:

Two women combing a beach on the German Baltic coast were taken to the hospital with serious burns to their hands and legs after accidentally touching pieces of phosphorus that had washed ashore and are believed to have come from World War II incendiary bombs, police said.

Phosphorus ignites when exposed to oxygen and burns at a heat of 1,300 degrees Celsius. The flames can only be extinguished with sand. Running into the water accelerates the fire.

Two Hurt by WWII Phosphorus on German Shoreline

There are lots of hidden costs to modern war - broken minds, lost opportunity, and delayed karma being just some. This is another hazard - the near-certainty that long after the last shot is fired, people will still be engaged in the dangerous business of cleaning up the mess.

It's hard to believe that we need more reasons to not start wars, but there's another one.

RomneyCare: Par For The Course

Caption: No, that's not Mitt Romney, that's Micheal Moore. The rubber glove seems appropriate, though.

It's hard to believe, but if the Los Angeles Times analysis is correct, Mitt Romney may have come up with a worse health care plan than President Obama and the Democrats did. Talking Points Memo summarizes:

What the Times arrived at is a plan broadly similar to the widely derided blueprint John McCain ran on in 2008.

The underlying idea is to wipe out one of the main fiscal tent poles of the existing health care system [tax breaks for employer-provided health care], and use the resulting revenues to finance billions of dollars in subsidies to buy insurance on the existing private market. The result, according to experts, would likely be a significant increase in the number of uninsured Americans, in an economy where, for better or worse, employers would likely no longer provide their workers with health care coverage.

Romney Hints At Radical Health Care Reform Plan To Replace ‘Obamacare’

For those who don't have to buy their own health insurance, let me introduce you to the central idea of this situation:

It's you against the insurance companies. That means you will lose.

When a medium- or large-sized company buys health insurance from an insurance company, it has some power in that relationship. If it decides to change insurance plans, the insurance company will lose a significant amount of revenue. While the company is not as motivated as its employees, it still will want its insurance provider to actually provide coverage for its employees, so they aren't sick all the time or leaving for an employer with a better health plan. Individual buyers, on the other hand, have little to no power in that relationship.

Of course, as the LA Times notes, this is another case when the Free Market Pony will gallop to our rescue, according to the "experts":

Conservative healthcare experts offer several reasons for such a change. The main one is that the tax law needs to be revised to bring free-market competition to the healthcare system.

"It is absolutely essential if you are going to reform the health insurance market to change the tax treatment of health insurance," said Robert Moffit, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "It is the 800-pound gorilla in the healthcare debate."

Moreover, the current system effectively discriminates against Americans who do not get health benefits at work. They must buy coverage on their own and do not get the same tax break.

Romney's healthcare plan may be more revolutionary than Obama's

There are any number of things wrong with what these "experts" are saying, not the least of which is that health insurance is not, and will never be, a "free market". It is a risk pool, and that in itself says it's going to be rather less than free, because bigger risk pools are inherently safer. Since market forces are almost inevitably affected by costs, it pays to leave people out of those pools who actually need health care services. Leaving insurance companies to compete has gotten us where we are now - with people who need insurance not able to buy it or afford to use it.

Which is a long way of saying that the LA Times is right when it says this:

For example, if workers had the ability to shop anywhere for a health plan, and if companies no longer got tax breaks, some employers would likely stop providing health coverage. That might be fine for young, healthy workers who could buy plans on their own. But older or sicker workers would lose the protection they now receive by buying insurance within a group. If young adults opted to buy low-cost plans that provided limited benefits, prices could rise sharply for middle-aged workers who are more likely to have chronic health problems.

Under the [Presidential candidates John] McCain [health care reform] plan, more than 9 million fewer people would have received health benefits through their jobs, according to an estimate from the Lewin Group, a healthcare consulting firm.

Romney's healthcare plan may be more revolutionary than Obama's

There's little reason to doubt any of that analysis, assuming the Times is correct about Romney's intentions.

So, what about the individual mandate, perhaps the most unpopular notion in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and certainly one I've objected to often enough? Don't get your hopes up. The LA Times notes that Romney pooh-poohed the mandate during the primary campaign, but I remain skeptical. Obama and the Democrats gave the insurance companies the chance to put millions of uncovered Americans over the fence and bone the daylights out of us. They won't give that up without expecting something else in return. With our two current political parties, the insurance companies get what they expect.

Ergo, if you're expecting "RomneyCare" to be mandate-free, you're even dumber than the folks who expected Obama and the Democrats would hold out for a "public option". After all, when he was on the campaign trail, Obama's health care plan didn't have a mandate, either.

RomneyCare will, if implemented, be a fitting successor to ObamaCare. ObamaCare managed to make things worse than they were already, and RomneyCare will make them worse still. It's sad, when the GOP could have put forward a plan to change the ACA that would have followed their stated principles, and yet improved the system at least slightly, that they have chosen not to do so.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

OMG! Now They're Recruiting Kittehs!

They had a cow when atheists put up this billboard in Iowa:

They went medieval on our butts when atheists put this one up in New Jersey:

Image credit: American Atheists

So, do you think there's any chance that they'll finally see that atheists can be kind, thoughtful people when this billboard goes up in Springfield, Missouri next week?

Image credit: Skepticon

Not a chance. I can't wait to read an editorial decrying how militant atheists are enlisting kittens in their campaign of evil. Actually, it's even worse. There's been an active campaign to recruit 400 lbs mutant St. Bernard puppies:

Image credit: Cujo359

What depths will they sink to next? Stay tuned.

There's one unalloyed good religion has done for us - it's been a perfect laboratory experiment demonstrating just how oblivious and small people can be when they put their minds to it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Say Goodbye: Final Chapter

Space Shuttle Discovery was flown over Washington, DC one more time today on its way to the Smithsonian:

Image credit: NASA/Smithsonian Institution/Harold Dorwin

[Click on the image to enlarge. Go to image credit link to find more image size options.]

Say goodbye to that “vision thing”. This is a summary chart from NASA's FY-2012 budget (PDF):

It's a screenshot I took of that PDF document in the link, and then edited out all the sub-items. To see the full summary, check the first page of the PDF.

NASA’s entire budget, about $19 billion annually, is less than two months’ “supplemental appropriations” for the useless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for this fiscal year (FY2012). In its FY2013 slideshow the Defense Dept. thinks it can save almost a third of that with “better buying practices”:

This is page six of that slide show. Note the items I've highlighted in yellow. They are all savings the Pentagon thinks it can achieve by doing various things more efficiently. Add them up, and that's $16.2 billion, nearly NASA's entire budget. By its own estimates, the DoD wastes almost as much money as NASA has to work with in a given year.

Let's skip to page 13 of that slideshow for another interesting tidbit:

Once again, I've highlighted an item, the DoD space budget. It's about a third of NASA's entire budget. What does the DoD do? Mostly, it maintains a network of surveillance satellites, including its own weather satellites. It has its own communications satellites, too, as well as the Global Positioning System satellites. Still, it's rather a lot of money.

Speaking of a lot of money, let's skip to page 20:

Assuming things don't get much worse in Afghanistan, that number I circled is the billions of dollars we'll be spending to keep our army there for the next fiscal year. That's four and a half times NASA's budget. Perhaps some day we'll compare that to what we ought to be spending more on here in America, but for now I think the point that it dwarfs the budget of a major agency, and that as I've mentioned before, almost no Americans are employed by that money, it should be obvious that we could find better ways to spend it than making the rubble bounce halfway around the world.

Despite all the money we've spent on being better at destroying other peoples' countries than anyone else, we never seem to have the money to make the world a better place. Discovery and her sister ships may be the last of their kind, at least as far as the American aerospace industry is concerned. Somehow, in the almost thirty years the Shuttle was in use, we could never fund a replacement.

There was a time when America, when confronted with a daunting problem, would look on it as an opportunity to make things better. We lost that urge a long time ago. Now, if we're afraid of it, our urge as a nation seems to be to destroy something. I hardly recognize the fearful and small-hearted place we've become.

(h/t Taylor Marsh for the picture.)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Substitute Glenn Greenwald Article Of The Day

While Glenn Greenwald has been taking a break from blogging, Charles Davis and others have been filling in. DC political journalist Davis' article Friday describes one of those "aha!" moments that he experienced while covering congressional politics:
I thought I had done good. As a 22-year-old reporter just out of college, I had just gotten the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller, to admit right into my microphone that while he couldn’t deny the Bush administration was potentially funding covert – and illicit – acts of war against Iran, he wasn’t prepared to do a damn thing about it.
Heading back to my office, I thought I had reporting gold. One of the most powerful men in Washington had just accused the White House of being willing to fight another illegal war without even informing Congress. And he admitted he was – or at least claimed – powerless to stop it, all while being kind of a dick. Perfect for radio.

The reaction I got my from my editor was chilly. “No one really cares about this Pakistan stuff,” he told me. Maybe I could do some reporting about the upcoming Farm Bill instead?

Making politicians look bad: ‘A fireable offense’
Davis' employer at that time wasn't one of those mainstream news outlets we normally think of when we discuss the vacuous and useless coverage events in our nation's capital usually receive these days. Nevertheless, they thought that having "access" was more important than telling the truth.

Davis' article is worth a read, if only to experience an "aha moment" of your own. It's an entirely too common story in DC, and until we demand better, it will remain so.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE1)

Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York, on Barack Obama's "fierce advocacy" for reform of Wall Street:
"I'm not persuaded that this President has really been a voice for reform when it comes to Wall Street," he said [in an interview with Reuters]. "Wall Street has pretended that it has taken its hits, but it really hasn't."
"When it has come to actually putting in place the reform-based structure that would actually have changed the way the banking system works, he has really been on Wall Street's side since day one," Spitzer said.

Eliot Spitzer: Obama 'Has Been On Wall Street's Side Since Day One'
Spitzer isn't someone from the other side of the tracks. He grew up well off. He was friends with financial loudmouth Jim Cramer at Harvard Law School. Yet he spent his years as New York State Attorney General prosecuting some of the worst malefactors of Wall Street. They made him pay for that eventually, I suspect. Spitzer's words are not empty ones.

I've noted enough times that President Obama's choice of economic advisors, and his choice of Attorney General, leave little reason to be surprised at the fact that no one has yet paid for one of the worst financial crimes in history, and no one, in all likelihood, ever will. But whenever some Democratic partisan starts talking about how the Republicans are for the rich and the Obama Administration isn't, I really have to suppress an urge to gag.

President Obama wants to help the little guy about as much as I want to blog for Red State.

NOTE1: To the best of my knowledge, this is an original parody by Cujo359. It is the official poster for the Campaign To Keep America Sucking Somewhat Less, a not-quite-existent non-SuperPAC project of the North American Division, CONUS Operations Directorate, of the Cujo Labs.

Feel free to copy it and pass it on. Just don't forget to give credit where it's due.

Awesome Image Of The Day

As Professor Brian Cox would say, we live in a world of wonders, and it's my mission to bring them to you whenever I can:

Image credit: Screenshot of this MLB video by Cujo359

If you want to see the tape, go to the image credit link. It might work, though I must warn you that I don't think Major League Baseball's website designers even understand the concept of a permalink. You should be able to get there from the Phillies home page for another day or two.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's In A Name?

Caption: A graphic from the web site of the German Pirate Party, which captures for me their "technischengeweltshaftlich" (see NOTE 1) take on things.

Image credit: Cropped by Cujo359 from German Pirate Party web site

I ran across this bit of European political news as I was checking in at a tech site I sometimes visit:
Germany's upstart Pirate Party has overtaken the Greens to become the third strongest political grouping in the country, according to a new poll.

The survey by Forsa for broadcaster RTL showed support for the Pirates, whose platform is based on internet freedom and more direct participation in politics, pushing up to 13 percent and outstripping the Greens for the first time.
At first dismissed as a passing fad by the established parties, the Pirates followed up their success in Berlin with a strong showing in the state of Saarland last month and now look on track to make it into regional assemblies in two other states -- North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig Holstein -- next month.
The Greens, who rose to prominence in the 1980s on a pacifist, anti-nuclear platform, are now struggling to differentiate themselves from the big established parties after CDU Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped her support for nuclear power last year following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

German Pirate Party overtakes Greens, survey by Forsa shows
In many European countries, it's possible for minor parties to achieve representation if they can capture a certain minimum percentage of the vote. It's been more than a few times I've wished we had that here.

What I found interesting about this was the Reuters article's description of this new party. It sounds like the sort of things the Occupy movements are after here. It also sounds like a better way to organize a society than the sort of top-down approach the major parties favor both there and here. It's also interesting that they have now overtaken the Greens, an established party that has an imitator here in America, too. In America, of course, the Greens have always been politically irrelevant, but there are times I think they don't mind that as much as they ought to.

A quick cruise of their website suggests that Reuter's description of the Pirate Party isn't too far off. Their position statements emphasize the importance of modern electronic communications and their use as a tool for political and other forms of collaboration. Their emphasis, if my rather bad german is to be trusted, is on making as many aspects of it as possible free to the general public, at least, to borrow from American open source software advocates, in the "libre" sense of the word "free".

Well, if that's true, then sign me up.

There was a discussion of this topic at that tech site, and one of the comments I found especially interesting was this one, which responded to the earlier comment about the name of the party:
Every time I see news about these "pirate" parties I keep thinking that using the word "pirate" in the name is not that good an idea.
Sure, we all know pirates (the swashbuckling kind) are cool but I'm pretty sure that's not the associating most people will make.
I agree, but I love the fact that names seem to become less important. It has always been one of the biggest flaws. Everyone associates different things with them and they are nothing more like a historical thing that has nearly nothing to do with reality.

OS News Comment thread
It's fair to say that this is true of our parties. Whatever the Democrats and Republicans once stood for, that distinction ended a long time ago. In a sense, both are republican, since they both run to be elected as our representatives in our various governments. At the same time, neither seem to be all that interested in representing us. Neither party strikes me as the least bit interested in more direct citizen involvement, either. Occupy Oakland's experiences are an excellent example of how Democrats deal with direct action these days. This cartoon sums up their attitude as well as it does Republicans'.

Names for organizations quickly become meaningless in most areas of human endeavor. A catchy name can grab peoples' attention, but after a while, once the instinct most organizations have for self-preservation kicks in, it means very little. Maybe American corporations' habit of changing names every few years isn't such a bad thing, after all.

NOTE 1 Badly mangled psuedo-German for "technician's view of the world".

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cartoon Of The Day

I'm a bit late to this bandwagon, but here's my favorite Texts From Hillary cartoon so far:

Image credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/Texts From Hillary

I'm not a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but my loathing for the Obama Administration's economics team knows no bounds. I'd guess you'd say the relative schadenfreude works about right for me. Mrs. Clinton hasn't completely screwed up at doing her job. In fact, I'd say she's done about as well as anyone could expect. In contrast, it's hard to imagine anyone doing a worse job than Tim Geithner.

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE1)

Charles Davis, subbing for Glenn Greenwald this week at Salon, on the general failure of progressives to stand up for Bradley Manning, who has been imprisoned in solitary confinement for three years without trial for allegedly releasing secret documents and other materials that document war crimes and other deceptive or criminal behavior by our government and its allies:
[T]hose on the right who condemn Manning do so in a manner repellent to the more refined liberal palette. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, for instance – in the midst of selling his children’s book, Can’t Wait Till Christmas! – declared that for Manning, “anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.”

How uncouth. How vulgar. On the center-left, the position is much more sensible: don’t outright murder the guy, at least not without a show trial, but don’t you dare let him see the light of day again. As Obama himself pronounced, “He broke the law,” which is something that must be obeyed by everyone but bankers and torturers and presidents. We can’t just expose the state-sanctioned torture and murder of innocents willy-nilly. We can’t just listen to our own consciences when confronted with institutional evil. That’d be anarchy. Which is bad.

The Liberal Betrayal of Bradley Manning
Of all the things that I have had to watch happening to America in the last few years, this has to rank as one of the most depressing and humiliating. I used to think that progressives were, or could be, better than this. Sadly, there seem to be as many authority-worshipping cowards and opportunists among us as there are among conservatives.

Read the rest of that article to see what I mean. Very few of the major liberal blogs have come out in support of Manning. FireDogLake is the only one I can think of that has been unequivocal since the beginning. Some of the smaller blogs, like Corrente, and Taylor Marsh, have been supportive as well, but even their numbers are depressingly few. Far too many are either supportive the President's extraordinary assault on whistleblowers in general, or Manning in particular, or just avoid the question altogether.

Not wanting to deal with the issue is something I can understand, given their perspective. After all, the next question after that one is why do you support an Administration that does this? After calling folks like me arsonists and racists for pointing these things out, the last thing those hypocrites and moral cowards are going to do is admit they were wrong.

So yes, I'd rather Obama lose than have this become the "progressive" position on human rights. Who else is going to fight for human rights in cases like these? Conservatives certainly won't. Libertarians might, assuming they're not running for office as Republicans. No one else is going to, that's for sure.

If you think that's burning everything down, then you really, really need to reassess what you think of as everything.

NOTE1: To the best of my knowledge, this is an original parody by Cujo359. It is the official poster for the Campaign To Keep America Sucking Somewhat Less, a not-quite-existent non-SuperPAC project of the North American Division, CONUS Operations Directorate, of the Cujo Labs.

Feel free to copy it and pass it on. Just don't forget to give credit where it's due.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Birthday Wishes

Article promoted to remain on top the rest of today. New content, if any, is below until midnight, April 10.

Happy birthday to someone whose pet may be looking like this about now:

cute animals - Floppy Bun
see more Daily Squee

as he's wondering where the heck everything got to in his new home...

Cool Photo Of The Day

I've seen this photo before, but NASA's Astronomy Photo Of The Day featured it yesterday:

Image credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

It's a photo taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it orbited Jupiter a few years ago. That's Io in the foreground, a moon that is roughly the size of our own Moon and orbits at about the same distance.

Click on the image credit link to be taken to the APOD page and a more informative caption.

UPDATE: The April 10 APOD is pretty cool, too. It's copyrighted, so I won't reproduce it here, but it's worth checking out. (h/t Suzanne )

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Trying To Blog Against Theocracy Once More: Blog Against Theocracy 2012

Caption: Baal: "You dare mock me?" O'Neill: "Baal, you know me. Of course I dare mock you."

Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359 (see NOTE 1

Easter is upon us once more, and in one of those traditions that pass for a long standing one on the Internet, it's Blog Against Theocracy Weekend. Which, in itself, is all sorts of ironic to folks like me.

Yes, we're supposed to take seriously a holiday that is faithfully observed on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. Why in the world would anyone put a holiday on such a bizarre schedule? I miss it at least half the time because it happens earlier than I expect it should be. Just to make things even more fun, this is supposed to be the day when that religion's founder came back from the dead, wandered the Earth just long enough to be seen by all the cool people, and then ascended somewhere. Not that any of that is crazy, mind you.

Caption: Mortally insulted by this sign? Sadly, you're not alone, either. And yet, you're also an idiot.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Baseball Whiffs Online

I was almost tempted to buy Major League Baseball's Game Day service, until I read the fine print. The executive summary of the fine print is that, even though you're paying more than $100 to see baseball games on your computer, you won't be able to see the games your local team is playing. You won't be able to see the ones that conflict with the game of the week, either. Plus, there are some others you won't be able to see.

But that's not the best part of the MLB online experience, though. I went to check the schedule to see what might be available, and here's what the Philadelphia Phillies schedule looks like:

Image credit: Screenshots of MLB website pages by Cujo359

And here is the Seattle Mariners':

Of course, things have gotten worse since the last time I mentioned MLB's online presence. Now, not only can I usually not get to the GameDay page except by trial and error, but I can't read half the schedule.

And these guys think that I'm going to pay $110 or more for a season of this kind of online incompetence, on the off chance that there's a game on that I want to watch, that hasn't been blacked out.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Updated at noon, PDT, with more quotes and a new picture!

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE1)

If I'd written this, it would be part of the "Progressive Idiocy" series, but Ian Welsh thought it up first. Discussing career progressives' insane desire to fight for a bill that makes us pay for health insurance we won't be able to afford to use, he writes:
Still, watching “progressives” defending the individual mandate is just another reminder of why I don’t call myself a progressive.

Go and die on a hill, for forcing Americans to buy shitty insurance from evil companies which aren’t properly regulated.

I’ll just sit here on the sidelines laughing myself sick. With progressives like these, who needs right wingers?

Is the individual mandate really the hill progressives want to die on?
Yes, it's true. They've made the idea of economic stimulus anathema to a great many voters, thanks to having made no real progress toward rehiring all the people who lost their jobs during the 2008 crash. They've made the idea that our government can kill anyone it wants to a progressive value.

That's the legacy those idiots have left us.

I don't know what to do, other than call them out for the shameless hypocrites they are. That, and wish that there was some battlefield they could get themselves killed on. Unfortunately, people who won't really stand for something probably won't be the ones dying for an idea. They'll leave that to us, too.

If you ever wondered why I spend so much time bashing them, and so little criticizing Republicans, that's why. Because in modern America, there is really no place people who want to build a decent society can go any more, politically speaking.

Enjoy your birth control while it lasts.

UPDATE: A couple of other quotes that sum up my opinion of all this, the first is from VastLeft, whose blog I keep neglecting to add to the blogroll:
Despite recognizing Obama’s Reaganite tendencies, I voted for him as a statement against the GOP and for the first-black-president milestone. Seeing how he’s governed, dragging a country hungry for leftish reform back to the right as perhaps no one else could have, I sorely wish I’d voted for Cynthia McKinney instead.

“Please allow me to introduce myself…”
Ditto. This is one of those rare times when I actually listened to all those folks warning me about how awful the Republicans would be if they took power. Of course, many of those same folks are now making excuses for Obama's actions, none of which make sense unless you realize that this is what he was really about all along.

Why am I so appalled by Obama? Glenn Greenwald provides another hint, regarding the Supreme Court's decision yesterday to allow strip searches by police of anyone for any trivial reason:
In essence, the Florence ruling grants prison officials license to subject every single arrested individual entering the general prison population to humiliating and highly invasive strip searches (that’s 13 million people every year, with hugely disproportionately minority representation), based on the definitive police state mentality — one that has been applied over and over — that isolated risks justify the most sweeping security measures. This policy has been applied to those arrested for offenses such as dog leash laws, peaceful protests, and driving with an expired license.

What virtually none of this anti-Florence commentary mentioned, though, was that the Obama DOJ formally urged the Court to reach the conclusion it reached. While the Obama administration and court conservatives have been at odds in a handful of high-profile cases (most notably Citizens United and the health care law), this is yet another case, in a long line, where the Obama administration was able to have its preferred policies judicially endorsed by getting right-wing judges to embrace them[.]

The Obama DOJ And Strip Searches
I added that emphasis. The Obama Administration agrees with this ruling. How many professional progressives mentioned this? Very few. As VastLeft put it, we need to re-elect Obama so he'll continue to appoint judges who will rule against him.

This is why I think anyone who accepts the proposition that Obama will appoint progressive justices in his next term is someone who has not been paying attention these last three years. Obama does nothing on behalf of progressive issues that he doesn't absolutely have to do, and there's no reason to think he'd have to appoint progressive justices once he's re-elected.

NOTE1 As far as I know, no one else has come up with this idea yet. I'll claim authorship until someone demonstrates prior art.

False Choice

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE1)

Every once in a while, some crazy person hacks into Robert Reich's blog somehow, and writes insane things like this:
The returns aren’t all in yet on today’s Republican primaries but President Obama didn’t wait. He kicked off his 2012 campaign against Mitt Romney with a hard-hitting speech centered on the House Republicans’ budget plan – which Romney has enthusiastically endorsed.

The Choice in 2012: Social Darwinism or a Decent Society
Well, I don't really know if someone hacked into his site. After all, it's possible that on the occasional dull day, Prof. Reich just decides "Hey, why don't I write something that's batshit crazy, and see if anyone notices." Heck, there are days I want to do that.

But let's give him the benefit of the doubt. Whoever broke into his site is not entirely wrong there. The Paul Ryan plan for the end of America is a pretty grim piece of work, lacking as it does both a chance of working and any compassion for those who aren't rich contributors.

The problem is that Reichthis evil hacker seems to think there's something in there that the Democrats wouldn't do if they could.

Let's review briefly what the last three years have shown us about the priorities of the Democratic Party.

First up, in the face of the largest financial collapse since the Great Depression, they proposed, and then half-implemented, a stimulus program that wasn't a quarter of what was needed. At the same time, they declared that there was absolutely no reason to think there would ever have to be another one. If someone were deliberately trying to convince the American public that there was no way stimulus spending could work, they couldn't have done a better job than the Democrats did.

Next, they passed, after much deliberation and not much actual thought for their re-election chances, a health care "reform" bill that neither reformed health care, nor made it more accessible to most of the people who don't have access. It did, however, require that millions of Americans buy insurance that they will not be able to afford to use.

After that stirring success, they passed some bank regulations that will do nothing to prevent a repeat of the collapse of 2008, and passed a mortgage "relief" act that was vastly undersized and so badly administered that most of the few people who actually might have been helped have been able to get any help.

Of course, I've skipped over a few things, like the continued assault on civil liberties, the never-ending wars in places that most of us couldn't find on a map, and the nonstop giveaway of our natural resources to the oil companies.

Now, try to think back to 2008 and then tell me, if I had listed these "accomplishments" we would be talking about at the beginning of 2012, how many of you would have guessed that John McCain had been elected President, and that the GOP had a majority in Congress?

Here's how I see the great choice of 2012:
  • Social Darwinism
  • Social Darwinism, with birth control
Now, don't you just feel so special, living in a country where you can cast your vote for one of these competing visions of our future?

UPDATE (Apr. 4): I couldn't find that picture last night, so here it is now.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Interesting article by Kristin Rawls about various myths and misconceptions about the southeastern United States:
But more importantly, the tendency to dismiss Southerners as lazy is surely linked to the persistence of inequality and poverty in the region. As Guillory notes, “We have educational gaps that have not been fully closed. We have achievement gaps between young white people and young black people. We have gaps everywhere in the United States, but some of the Southern rates are a little deeper.”

Plus, he notes, we “have some of the highest dropout rates – and so we’re still dealing in many ways with the legacies of our history.” In other words, slavery and then Jim Crow created class distinctions between white and black Southerners that have proven very hard to eradicate. What’s more, the early suppression of the labor movement often meant the disenfranchisement of working-class whites and blacks. Ultimately, the region never fully recovered from its post-Civil War economic collapse.

Five Big Media Stereotypes About the South (And the Real Story Behind Them)
This is a myth that isn't just applied to Southerners, of course. Anyone who isn't financially successful, sooner or later, will find himself branded as "lazy" or "inefficient", or some other derogatory term. It's a comforting myth for folks who don't want to have to explain, let alone deal with, the real reasons that people end up poor or unemployed.

The rest of the article is worth a read, I think, because in many ways, it isn't just about the South. It's about how we form attitudes about particular people, and how they can persist even among the people they are about.

A Bit Of Virtual Housekeeping

Image credit: Emilian Robert Vicor/Flickr

There's a new links list at Slobber And Spittle called "Blogs Emeriti". It's a list of blogs that I didn't have the heart to remove from the blog roll for various sentimental reasons, but are now inactive or defunct.

If your blog happens to be on that list, and it's either still a going concern, or it's been replaced by a new blog, please let me know via comments or e-mail.

Otherwise, don't expect much if you click on those links.

Something Worth Celebrating

Caption: Aung San Suu Kyi gives speech to supporters at Hlaing Thar Yar Township in Yangon, Myanmar on 17 November 2011

Image credit: Htoo Tay Zar/Wikimedia

Every once in a while, somewhere on this planet, the good guys win one:
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi claimed on Monday a by-election landslide for her party, which she hoped would mark the beginning of a new era for Myanmar after a historic vote that could prompt the West to end sanctions.

The charismatic Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who led the struggle against military rule in the former Burma for two decades, was one of 44 candidates her National League for Democracy Party (NLD) said won all but one of the legislative seats being contested.

The by-elections followed a year of astonishing change for a country that was in the grip of military rule for decades: the government has freed hundreds of political prisoners, held talks with ethnic minority rebels, relaxed censorship, allowed trade unions and showed signs of pulling back from the economic and political orbit of giant neighbor China.

Suu Kyi's party claims landslide win in Myanmar vote
I don't know the specifics of Burma's relationship with China, but in other ways, things clearly have changed in what was once one of the most isolated and totalitarian countries in the world. Aung San Suu Kyi's struggle against her own government has been awe-inspiringly heroic:
Aung San Suu Kyi MP AC (Burmese: born 19 June 1945) is a Burmese opposition politician and the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy. In the 1990 general election, her National League for Democracy party won 59% of the national votes and 81% (392 of 485) of the seats in Parliament. She had, however, already been detained under house arrest before the elections. She remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from 20 July 1989 until her most recent release on 13 November 2010, becoming one of the world's most prominent (now former) political prisoners.

Wikipedia: Aung San Suu Kyi
I think it's fair to say that just about anyone who is interested in human rights issues recognizes her name. She has resisted the dictators in her country for so long that there are people graduating from college who were born after she was first placed under house arrest.

Hard to believe that it's been more than four years since I last wrote about Burma. Back then, it was not looking like anything good was going to happen there for a long time to come.

Congratulations to Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma.

(h/t Taylor Marsh)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Some Geology Wallpaper

Any budding geologists out there should be interested, as should just about anyone who likes good visuals. This one is fabulous. It's at the Astronomy Picture Of The Day, but it's really more about geology than astronomy. Take a look. Definitely wallpaper material there. The caption is here.

I'd bring the picture over and post a small version here, but this one's copyrighted by a photographer. Besides, trust me, this one's aw-worthy.

Another Sign Of The Fall: 2012 Election Edition

Caption: A screenshot of today's running average generic congressional poll at Real Clear Politics. Today, Republicans are on top. No one stays there for long these days, though. Click to enlarge.

Image credit: Screenshot of this RCP poll by Cujo359

It's an astounding record, when you think about it. Back in 2008, I wrote this:
They own the news. They get a pass nearly every time broadcast news looks at them. They've dominated talk radio for decades. It took all that to make the Democratic Party and liberalism labels that some Democratic politicians considered slanderous. Yet all we needed to do was let the Republicans run things for a while to make the Republicans ashamed of their own party affiliation[.]

Homer Simpson Is A Republican, For Now
Which, it turned out, were pretty prophetic words. The Republicans lost the White House, as well as quite a few seats in Congress. It didn't take long for the Democrats to screw up, though, as I noted early in 2010, right after the disaster of the Massachusetts special election:
[N]either the Democrats nor the left-wing punditocracy today seems to get it. Read Krugman, Silver, or Yglesias, and you come away thinking that Massachusetts voters must be the most insane people on the planet for not loving the Senate's idea of health care reform. I have news for these people - Massachusetts is the one state in this country that has experience with the sort of system the Senate bill is seeking to create, and they don't like it. That is the message - if that's the best you can do, take your broke shit and go home. We'll find someone who can fix it, or at least not make it worse. Anyone who looks at the history of the race and checks the exit poll should know that. Yet these people continue to believe in unicorns.

Of Senators And Sharpies
I spent the rest of 2010 warning that a big disaster was impending, which, of course, it turned out to be.

Now, we come to not-so-early 2012, and once again we see that one party only had to be in charge for a little while before they completely lost the plot:
While women typically are more likely to identify themselves as Democrats than men are, that difference widens to a chasm in the USA TODAY poll. By 41%-24%, women call themselves Democrats; men by 27%-25% say they’re Republicans. – A Widening Gender Gap Boosts Obama Over Romney
Republicans announcing forced procedures in state after state make women turn off their message, which clearly contains a strong vein of men telling women what we can or can’t do with our own bodies as a means of controlling us.

It’s the 21st century and women want answers about economics and financial equality, but we’re not likely to take from a political party who thinks it’s their job to design our life for us, butting in on private decisions that isn’t anyone’s decision but our own.

Republican War on Women Erases 2010 Midterm Gains
The only difference this time is that I didn't have to write those words. Taylor Marsh saved me the trouble. Taylor is referring to one particular poll, by the way. The Real Clear Politics chart that leads this article is an aggregate poll. It doesn't matter, really, it's pretty clear that there's been a shifting back and forth, just from what's on that RCP chart.

So, every two years, at least a part of America large enough to swing the popular vote becomes disenchanted with whatever party is in power, and votes for the other one. Or so it seems, at least. What this tells me is that we're either completely ungovernable as a country, a proposition I can't entirely dismiss, or we have really lousy taste in our political leaders.

As I've mentioned a time or two (NOTE 1), I'm not enchanted with any of what passes for "leadership" in modern day political America. Often as not, our leaders are self-involved hypocrites whose only real concern is holding onto power long enough to profit from it. The rare exceptions appear to be unable to have any useful effect on the process.

So, I don't find any of this surprising. Come 2014, it will undoubtedly be the GOP's time to shine again, because by then the economy will still be in the tank, and we will have finally seen the true "benefits" of ObamaCare. If it's not that, it will be some other excuse for the Democrats to trip over their shoelaces on the way to the race track.

NOTE 1 That's just what was on the front page. When have I not talked about this lately?

Well, What Do You Know?

Caption: Dana Hunter standing near the edge of the Grand Canyon, 2009. There are about two billion years of geological history exposed there, but I mainly remember the heart attack she almost gave me by standing near that drop.

Image credit: Cujo359

Despite a lifetime of avoiding such relationships, it appears I finally know someone famous:
I’m here, talking to you about talking to rocks, partly because a volcano blew out sideways, and fifteen years later, I turned to look at another volcano I’d known my whole life and saw the same lateral eruption rip it apart thousands of years in the past. “What happened to me,” St. Helens said, “is exactly what happened to them. Your San Francisco Peaks were a peak before that day. Oh, and it would’ve been a really bad idea to stand where you’re standing now, what with the lahar and all.”

Words With Rocks
Her new science blog, Rosetta Stones, is now operational at Scientific American. As the title implies, she'll be trying to write about geology in a way that the rest of us can understand. Having read much of what she's written on the subject at En Tequila Es Verdad, I'd say she'll do a good job of that.

Dana's one of those success stories of people who fall in love with a subject, and then become known and respected by people in that field, despite not having had training in the subject. She's earned that spot by being unfailingly interested in knowing what she's writing about, in contrast to at least half the people who write newspaper columns these days.

UPDATE (Apr. 3): I've replaced the picture with an improved one.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

National Skepticism Day, 2012

There I was, underneath that big rock with the big, red glowing 'A':

Image credit: Cujo359

Today, it may be even more important than usual to be skeptical of what you read on the Web.