Thursday, November 29, 2012

Disaster Equivalence

Caption: Neoliberalism bursts onto the scene, metaphorically speaking at least. See this article for some background on this image.

Image credit: Screenshot of Faces Of Earth by Cujo359

Because I never get tired of using old image files, this quote from Lambert Strether over at Corrente tickled my metaphorical fancy:

Michigan got hit by Hurricane Neo-liberal, that over the last generation hollowed out Americans industrial base and destroyed the unions. And then when they were hanging onto the cliff with their fingers, the banksters stamped on them with the financial crash of 2008. And Obama bailed them out just enough to win enough swing voters in enough swing states like MI and OH to win in 2012.

How Would $36B Impact Your State's Economy?: Comment "Crabs in a bucket"

Calling neo-liberalism a hurricane strikes me as a bit like calling a nuclear strike a train wreck. Both are bad, but one is orders of magnitude worse in both extent and effect. As Lambert writes, it really has helped to hollow out the middle of our manufacturing base, and it's made us far poorer in any way I think of economic welfare.

To me, neoliberalism is like a slow-motion megavolcano, a disaster so big that it can ruin entire countries, and will take decades to recover from. It's like a big, honking, caldera of white hot stupid greed out there in the middle of America, and it started going off back in the 1970s. It burned out the heart of this country just like that Wyoming Caldera would have done had we been around back then. I'm hoping it gets plugged up some day, but so far I haven't noticed any sign of that happening.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Thought For Black Friday

Image credit: OURWalmart

Today, the day after Thanksgiving in America, is usually referred to by retail employees as "Black Friday", because it's the start of the Christmas holiday shopping season, and it's typically one of, if not the craziest day of the year. It's the beginning of that four week period when I try to avoid being near any retail space, particularly if it's a shopping mall or a big department store.

For Walmart employees, it's an especially important day, as the Lakewood [New Jersey] Local reports:

Walmart has been controversial for years. Supporters praise the company for offering low prices to consumers and employing large numbers of people. Detractors say most of those jobs come with low pay and bad working conditions. Now, Walmart workers are trying to organize a single massive strike on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, and the “official” start of Christmas shopping season). And they’re using social media to muster the troops.

Walmart workers might be reluctant to strike for fear of losing their jobs, especially the ones who live in states with “at-will” employment laws. But Facebook and other outlets make it easier for supporters to educate would-be strikers about what rights at-will workers do have.

Walmart Workers Plan Black Friday Strike

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

More Arrant Foreign Policy Nonsense

Caption: Artist's conception of me after seeing yet another debate between our "leaders" on foreign policy. Wake me up when they start to make sense.

Image credit: derbon/Flickr

Via Taylor Marsh, comes this little gem of a report describing how an enlightened democracy discusses foreign policy:

Senate Republicans signaled stiffening resistance Tuesday to the Obama administration's possible nomination of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to replace Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of State.

GOP strategists said lawmakers would use such a nomination as an opening for an extended examination of how the administration handled the Sept. 11 militant attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador. Although the Senate rarely rejects a president's Cabinet picks, the strategists said, the process could be so painful and lengthy that Obama might come to regret his choice.


Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, told reporters he considered Rice "tainted" by her role in the administration's handling of Benghazi, and recommended that the White House instead choose Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whom administration officials have also been considering for the diplomatic post.

GOP Senators Cool To Idea Of Susan Rice As Secretary of State

Don't get me wrong. Susan Rice was colossally wrong about what happened at Benghazi. Why she said all that, I don't know. Supposedly, that's what the CIA told her. But, that's the CIA that has been run until early this week by David Patraeus, whose long career of telling his bosses what they wanted to hear has led to two costly and useless "surges" in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that's the real point here. If being colossally wrong about foreign policy issues was a barrier to having authority over them, not only would Rice not have her job, but neither would most of the rest of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy team, nor Senator Kyl, nor John McCain or many of the members of his committee.

The debates conducted on foreign policy in DC these days usually would be justifiably subtitled “Which stupid nonsense do you want to believe?” Iran is a threat? Give me a break. Israel has the right to exist, and this means it can wall off and shell anyone it sees as a threat? Pretty obviously absurd, when you put it that way. But this is what we debate nowadays, as in “what should we do about the terrible danger posed by Iran?”, or “how awful are the Palestinians, and do they deserve to live?”

Meanwhile, in order, Europe, China, and India are likely to become bigger economies than ours in the foreseeable future. We don’t talk about the implications of these things, and what they mean to our security. We don’t talk much about climate change, and the obvious effect that is going to have.

Alright, I’m making myself depressed again. I’ll stop now.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Armistice Day, 2012

It's November 11 again, which means it's Veterans' Day in America, and a day to remember or celebrate the end of the First World War in much of the Western world. What it's not, sadly, is a day when we can look back on the mistakes of the past and say we know better.

I'm in a hurry today, and neglected to write something about this yesterday so it would be up. So what? We just concluded an election in which people told me I'm a damn fool for not voting to re-elect a guy who has done his best to keep us involved in two useless wars, and who keeps committing war crimes in several other countries, and prosecutes whistleblowers, sometimes after imprisoning and torturing them for years. I really don't see how anything I can write or do is going to affect people that oblivious, nor do I any longer feel much interest in trying.

So, I'll just write what I always do on these holidays, which is that I wish we had leaders who were worthy of the people we send to war. It's clear at this point that neither conservatives nor progressives feel any need to elect one.

Hence the title of this article. It really feels more like Armistice Day, when the world just stopped fighting for a while because it had enough, not because it actually was going to make things better.

Now that I've done that, I'll recycle an old Veterans' Day post, because we still haven't learned the lessons it discusses, nor anything else of much importance, really. I wrote it near the beginning of the Obama Administration, and most progressives haven't learned a damn thing since.

Caption: In memoriam. Tombe du soldat Henry J. Gollhardt mort au champ d'honneur le 11/11/1918, en France. Cimetière américain de Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. [Rough translation: Tomb of soldier Henry J. Gollhardt who died on Nov. 11, 1918. From the American cemetery at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon. (Gollhardt died the day of the Armistice.)]

Image credit: PRA/Wikimedia

It's Veterans Day in the United States. In much of the world, this is Armistice Day, which commemorates the end of the First World War. Originally, it was Armistice Day in the U.S., too. Over time it became Veterans Day, because we've had so many wars, and so many more veterans, since.

In that spirit, I am republishing below an article I wrote back in August about the death of the last British WWI veteran. We clearly haven't learned the lessons of WWI, so I think this story is as fresh now as it was then.

Thanks to all our veterans. No matter what their wars were like, they were all terrible.

Caption: Australian infantry wearing Small Box Respirators (SBR). The soldiers are from the 45th Battalion, Australian 4th Division at Garter Point near Zonnebeke, Ypres sector, 27 September 1917.

Image credit: Capt. Frank Hurley/Wikimedia

The last British World War I veteran to die of old age was buried today:

The funeral service for Britain's last surviving World War I veteran Harry Patch who died aged 111 has taken place at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.

Thousands of people lined the streets of Wells as his coffin was taken to the cathedral where the service was relayed on big screens to crowds outside.
He was the last surviving soldier to have fought in the trenches during the Great War.

Last Post salute For WWI Veteran

I've written before that the lessons we learn tend to disappear with the generation that learned them. Harry Patch's memories of his youth involve scenes like the one in this picture, of waiting in filthy trenches to be ordered to charge across an empty space through artillery and machine gun fire. What lesson did he draw from them?

Pensioner Jim Ross, speaking on behalf of Mr Patch's friends, said: "He realised he was one of a dwindling band and that as that band decreased in numbers, he was becoming more and more significant.

"He had the choice of either creeping away into the background or making his message known.

"Harry knew that by speaking out, the memories would come back, the demons I call them, would come back to torment and torture him.

"I believe they did, but I believe Harry made the decision because he wanted to get his message broadcast.

"His prime message is that we should settle disputes by negotiation and compromise, not by war."

Last Post salute For WWI Veteran

It's a lesson that almost sounds trite, if you're not one of the ones whose lives were affected by their leaders' inability to do just that. Learning history is the way we keep experience alive. It's important. Our experience in Iraq, and our continuing, but largely pointless, hostility toward Iran show that we haven't learned this lesson yet.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Trading Spam Tips

Caption: Yes, I see spam a lot.

Image credit Steve Fareham/UK Geo

Among other things, I spend my days monitoring and editing a blog for an amateur theatre. They use Wordpress, which is decent software for blogging. There are things I like about it better than Blogger, the software used by this site, but that's a story for another day. Like most modern computer software, it can be augmented with third-party add-ons, a few of which are designed to catch spam comments. Since we have one of those modules, and since it is designed to flag comments that look like spam for the blog's administrators to read, I get to see a lot of nonsense cleverly designed to look like actual comments.

Today, I saw what has to be the cleverest:

Hi, i read your blog from time to time and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam comments? If so how do you prevent it, any plugin or anything you can recommend? I get so much lately it’s driving me insane so any support is very much appreciated.

The "author"'s profile URL leads to a site that looks deceptively like a site about outdoor recreation, but actually contains links that lead to a website where you can buy products of a well-known line of outdoor clothing. Actually, it's more likely that they lead to a line of cheap knock-offs of that clothing line, given the dishonesty of the folks who send this stuff around.

I don't think we'll be trading spam-prevention tips any time soon. I'm a big fan of irony, though, so I'll give them credit for that.

UPDATE: The previous edition of this article used a photo that is now marked "all rights reserved", so I found a different photo.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Some Good News From The Election

Not much changed in DC thanks to the elections yesterday. Maybe I'll feel like commenting more on that later, but for now, I'll just say that if you liked the last twelve years, you're in for at least two more of them.

In some states, however, some exciting things happened. Maine, Maryland, and Washington appear to have passed referendums approving gay marriage.

Just as exciting is the passage in Washington of the initiative legalizing marijuana use and possession in small amounts:

Washington voters on Tuesday passed Initiative 502 to legalize, regulate and tax sales of small amounts of marijuana to adults, a measure that flies in the face of federal law and policy that still treats possession of cannabis as a crime.

A similar measure in Colorado was ahead, and Massachusetts became the 18th state to approve use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Washington Votes To Legalize, Tax Sales Of Marijuana

When I was in college back in the late 1970s, there were organizations dedicated to legalizing marijuana. It's taken that long for what was always a frivolous use of taxpayer money, and an expensive way to ruin the lives of citizens who have done nothing wrong, to be repealed to even this small degree. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer article I quoted goes on to point out that this state has been a locus for anti-marijuana law activity ever since. The campaign this time was endorsed by former state and city attorneys, and by the former head of the Seattle FBI office. Without their endorsement, I wonder if this would have passed even so.

Hopefully, this is the start of a trend.

One other interesting development is that Elizabeth Warren has won the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts, after what has been described as one of the most expensive Senate races in history. I don't get all that excited about Democrats being elected anymore, but she's an honest one. Let's hope she stays that way.

So, some good news in among all the bad. What's the bad news, you ask? Nothing has really changed. The Democrats had bigger majorities in 2008, and did nothing useful with them.

Afterword: I should mention that the Real Clear Politics House page indicates that the U.S. House of Representatives will likely remain in Republican hands. Not that it matters, really, because the House never stood up for progressive legislation back in 2008, when it clearly had the mandate. Democrats won't do that until their supporters show them they're willing to go elsewhere.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Almost Forgot...

Caption: The Shepherd gate clock at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, UK.

Image credit: Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia Commons

As the U.S. Naval Observatory page on the subject notes:

Starting in 2007, daylight time begins in the United States on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. On the second Sunday in March, clocks are set ahead one hour at 2:00 a.m. local standard time, which becomes 3:00 a.m. local daylight time. On the first Sunday in November, clocks are set back one hour at 2:00 a.m. local daylight time, which becomes 1:00 a.m. local standard time. These dates were established by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Pub. L. no. 109-58, 119 Stat 594 (2005).

Daylight Time

Did you remember to "fall backward" this morning? Or, like me, did you just notice that your computer's clock is an hour earlier than every other clock in your home? If you're an American, and you don't live in Arizona, then hopefully one of those things is true.

If not, consider this a reminder.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Henri Explains It All

Yes, I haven't been around much lately. Writing about politics seems pointless, because, let's face it, doing stupid, pointless things is what humans seem to be best at, unless one considers their capacity to rationalize it all away.

My buddy Henri here has a pretty good handle on why:

French truly is the language of the absurd.