About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.







Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quote Of The Day

I deny that I am in denial.

-- John Yoo, Berkeley Law Professor, Author of the "Torture Memo" and primary legal mind behind the introduction of torture into US policy during the Bush administration.
Another winner of the Bullshite award from Yoo is this doozy: "It’s not easy for a conservative to get a job in the academy in any field." Unless, of course, you look at U Chicago, or Duke, or Harvard, or Stanford, or any other of the myriad mainstream universities that house conservative thinkers. The idea that he was forced in 1993 to take a job at UC Berkeley because of his views on Constitutional law (just a few years past the height of the Reagan years, remember), is not only borderline delusional, it is laughable.

Read the Q & A piece in the NYT for yourself, and see.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quote Of The Day

"The reason to pass reform, even inadequate reform, now isn’t to gain seats next year; it is to pass reform, which will do vast good, during the window that’s available. If it doesn’t pass now, it will probably be many nears before the next chance."
That's Paul Krugman, making a valuable point (the emphasis is mine). I think that one of the great ranklings for many people in the current debate has nothing to do with Health Care reform; it is that for the first time since the early 1990s we have legislative action going on which is being driven by...policy outcomes, rather than political maneuvering for power. Or, at the very least, includes the policy outcomes along with the maneuvering, to a significant extent.

Too many people have forgotten what this is like. It's rocking the boat of discourse, and we've all grown to comfortable and complacent about political wrangling solely for political power in and of itself.

A Lapse Of Quietude

The first of the 6 votes on HCR has passed with 60 votes, and thus set us on track for historic and monumental (albeit gradula) change in the way we care for our nation. At the same time, I have been very scant in my commentary; not because I am disengaged, but because I find that there is little of value to say at the moment that can further elucidate or convince those who are contra the realpolitik of the Obama administration. I do not ignore the clear errors that I have seen in this adminstration's action or approach, but I think that by and large we have now the moderate and rational leadership that for any and all its faults is what I have hoped for over the last decade. And I believe that with a bit of luck, it can set the stage for a turn toward more rational and respectful leadership for the country, and the world. But trying to debate in the current climate? I think Nate Silver says it best when describing the "kill the bill" anti-reform lefties and GOP tea partiers:
debating the kill-billers on the policy merits of their position has become a bit like debating the global warming denialists. The denalists operate by picking and choosing which evidence they cite and what arguments they respond to. Sometimes, they raise fairly good points or expose legitimately sloppy work on behalf of "consensus" scientists. Sometimes, they are being contrarian for contrarianism's sake. And sometimes, they're just throwing a bunch of sh*t at the wall and seeing what sticks, hoping that the underlying truth or lack thereof is lost in the fog of debate.
The hunger for process over product in the debate, and the glee seen on both sides in achieving obfuscation and winning points over the other side, as opposed to finding meaningful resolution, is too much a part of the dialogue right now.

Maybe it will be better next year. In the meantime, as the GOP try to block the bill they should have owned 8 years ago, I'll try not to raise my blood pressure. Instead, enjoy this:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Is This How They Appeal?

TPM brings us the latest commercial from the GOP courtesy of Michael Steele, RNC chair:
"The Democrats are accusing us Republicans of trying to delay and stonewall their government takeover of health care. You know what? They're finally right."
At least they aren't lying about it anymore, or hiding behind a curtain of false "fiscal responsibility".

Fiscal responsibility my ass. Who's the last fiscally responsible GOP pol we've seen in Washington? It's been a long time....

Teachers

In an rather muddy article on today's Status of the Teaching Profession 2009 report, it is stated that
"Those who do become teachers are well versed in their subject matter, but often lack other critical skills to succeed, the researchers said."
Which makes sense. But they seem to have missed the trend that this is the case with pretty much all fields, and all education.

Professionally and otherwise, I see a wealth of incoming talent full of focused specialized knowledge, but little or no ability to apply any breadth of understanding to that body of knowledge, and frequently a lack of more heterogeneous critical thinking skills. Lots of knowledge, little wisdom.

I don't think this is a new problem, just one that is exacerbated by both our ongoing re-factoring of higher education into vocational training, and the relentless devaluation of classical liberal arts style literacy.

Go ahead and read the article. It was apparently written by one of the types of folks I'm talking about.

The Answer





The basic reason for the economic meltdown and Great Recession?
Global Warming denialism?
War profiteering in Iraq, the Health Care debacle, and more?

It was articulated almost a century ago.

By a Socialist.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked. 1935

Lieberman Plans To Scuttle Health Care Reform


Bad Senator.

Bad Politician.

Bad Person.

Bad Jew.


On the first: His job is to represent the people, not his wife's business interests. On this he is contra.

On the second, a politician should always be looking to bolster support, not to burn bridges; Lieberman is like a walking talking grandstanding pack of matches.

On the third, to exacerbate the pain and suffering of millions is simply a nasty act, especially when driven (as his actions all too clearly seem to be) out of spite.

On the last: It is written that God has given the Jews a choice, between blessings and curse, between life and death, between sustenance and destruction; and therefore to choose life. Choose blessings. Choose sustenance.

Mr. Lieberman appears to have gone the other route.

Friday, December 11, 2009

No Escape

I heard this last night on NPR. I tried to wipe it from my mind. But apparently, the print media has picked it up as well. Orrin Hatch has given us a Hannukah song.

Talk about an unwanted gift.
At one point, Mr. Hatch unbuttons his white dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace he wears every day. Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah. Mr. Hatch keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” he said. “I feel sorry I’m not Jewish sometimes.”
Noooooooooooooooo!

Full music video disaster here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Restaurant Review Humor

If you are a foodie, and have ever scoured restaurant reviews in the NYT, or the Chronicle, or Zagat, or anywhere for that matter, yet at the same time are an avid magazine reader and lit-culture follower, I suspect that this little post by Justin Peters over at Slate will make you smile as much as it did me.
Fifty-One Gravies To Please Your Man
Now, if we could only get actual restaurant reviews which are as accurate as that, we'd be in good shape. And no, the latest solipsistic drunken screed at yelp does not qualify.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

It's Getting Warm Out There

The BBC tells it straight:

The WMO uses three temperature sets - one from the UK Met Office and the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU), and two from the US, maintained by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and the space agency Nasa.

Asked whether the controversy surrounding e-mails hacked from CRU could have any bearing on the results, Mr Jarraud replied that all three datasets showed the same result.

Vicky Pope from the UK Met Office made the same point: "The datasets are all independent, and they all show warming,"
I've added the empahsis, just to drive it home.

There is no "scandal", no "legitimate debate". The question is not whether it is occurring; the question is only how deep is our impact --- and what we can do about it.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Stupid Headline

The BBC, noting the strengthening of the dollar today on the report of jobs improvements here, has put up one of those marvelously misleading headlines that I love. This one?
Gold price slumps as dollar strengthens
It's true; gold fell about 5% today. But in perspective, the idea that the price is "slumping" is absurd. Gold is still at record highs --- about $1200/ounce --- and compared to one year ago, is up by a whopping 37%. And the dollar still looks like crap.

A far better headline might be "Gold eases up as dollar sees small gains".

I am really tired of news outlet needing to create a sense of crisis in even the most mundane announcements. It numbs us to the things that really do require urgency.

Travesty Of Justice

Imagine, if you will, that a murder is committed. Jumping to conclusions due to prejudice, sexual prudery, and chauvinism, the police arrest a convenient, but highly unlikely young woman as the suspect.

In the meanwhile, another man with a history of assault, sexual predation, and violence, has fled the country, been captured by police in another country, volunteered a confession to the above murder, is tried, and convicted.

So what do you do with the original suspect, after holding her for two years in prison?

You save face by convicting her of the murder and sentencing her to a quarter century in prison, all on circumstantial evidence and innuendo.

Yes, this is pretty much what has come to pass between Amanda Knox and the Italian courts. And yes, I believe, despite today's sentence, that she is innocent, and that it is a travesty of anything remotely like justice to carry a trial to this end without either a stronger case, or intercession by the US.

RIP Liam Clancy


The last member left of the Clancy Brothers, Liam, has died today. Beat the drum slowly; sound the fife lowly; a fine singer has left us.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Life Imitates Onion

BREAKING NEWS: School employee accused of advancing knowledge.

No. Really.
Schools officials say Brad Niesluchowski, who was Higley Unified School District's information technology director, downloaded free software on district computers in 2000.

The program, known as SETI(at)home, uses Internet-connected computers worldwide to analyze radio telescope data in an experiment to find extraterrestrial intelligence.
And now the guy has had to resign, and the claim is $1 million in damages. Granted, the dateline on this story is Mesa, Arizona, otherwise known as part of the American Hickbelt, but still....$1 million to uninstall the program? Seti@Home, a legitimate science experiment run out of UC Berkeley, says it can potentially overheat the CPUs on some machines; let's assume a worst case scenario where this guy's unauthorized install of the SETI software burned out, oh, 50 motherboards. At a generous estimate of $3,000 to replace the machines that would be $150,000 replacement cost. Add some additional overhead, and let's give a generous $200,000 bill. No small change to be sure, but I bet I could hire a local geek to uninstall the software for one helluva lot less than $800,000.

Sometimes the world we live in is just too much.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Extreme Generosity is Insane

I love, love, love the idea that the 21st wealthiest person in the world -- Liliane Bettencourt, heiress to the L'Oréal fortune --- is supposed to be declared non compos mentos because she chose to give away nearly a billion Euros to a friend, a man she considers her "adopted son". My hunch is that she is absolutely sane. She is old; she is obscenely rich, and she has (as do all wealthy folk) family who are hungry for her to die and pass them on her money. The idea that she would give 1/13th of her total wealth to someone she actually likes is probably hard for them, and particularly her daughter, to swallow. Then again, it is a marvelously nasty gesture for a woman to make who is not on speaking terms with her child. This is the action of a sane person; one saner and possibly stronger of will than most of us.

Honestly --- are we to be declared incompetent when we take actions that others disapprove of, simply because it enriches those we choose, as opposed to those who feel entitled to that enrichment whether we like it or no?

I can only hope that someday I too am befriended to the tune of a billion Euros. It would certainly be nice.

You'd Almost Think She's a Democrat

All or nothing has always been a stupid political game that in the end buys us not even nothing, but worse than nothing (cf. our current healthcare market)

TPM gets this from Olympia Snowe:
Yesterday, defying her party's own talking points, she told The Hill that a new CBO report, regarding the impact of the Senate legislation on insurance premiums, is encouraging news for reformers.

The CBO report, she says, indicates that the legislation "makes strides, without question" toward extending affordable coverage. On this score she sees room for improvement: "We have to be sure that we are providing the most affordable plans to Americans, and that's not abundantly clear at this point," she said. "That's what's of concern to me."

The "most" affordable? Right now we are providing crap. The CBO is showing a 14 - 20% decrease in premium costs with the propsed reforms. If she wants it much lower, I'd say we are back on the trail of single payer government managed plans...

The idea that this legislation will provide the "most" or "best" of anything is both absurd and obstructionist; this is a starting point, a mere beginning. I would project further work over the next ten years will continue before we have something that is really at its best.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Quote For The Day

As I keep saying, health claims are about marketing, not health. If it were up to me, I would remove all health claims from food packages. Foods are not drugs. Health claims cannot help but mislead.

- Marion Nestlé, discussing the 'immunity' claim on Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dubai: The Busted Flush

Nobody can beat the Brits at the game of gloriously hyperbolic opinion pieces---especially when the thesis is not only larger-than-life (the downfall of an Emirati economy), but true as well:
"Dubai is wrecked but, like an old tart with a kiss-and-tell contract from the red-tops, threatens to drag the rest of us down with it. In a sense it is merely Britain writ much larger: a despised, criminally underpaid and perpetually ill-treated underclass of imported foreign labourers on top of which squats a fat, indigenous population which cannot believe its luck, doing absolutely nothing other than spending money..."

"But you might have guessed even before 2008 that Dubai was heading for a fall, that its economy did not actually seem to be founded on anything tangible, aside from the exploitation of Bangladeshi labour."
Sweet.

Growin' 'Em Mean And Stupid

Ripped from today's headlines:
"Two teenage girls from Benicia were arrested Saturday evening after they assaulted a classmate, filmed the attack and posted the video on YouTube, according to police.

The girls, ages 12 and 14, were booked into Solano County Juvenile Hall for felony assault after luring a 13-year-old classmate to a field and attacking her on two separate occasions, police said."
Bullies were smarter in my day; if you wanted to be cruel, you did it in dark, secret places and left no trace. You didn't film it and post it to YouTube.

Sheesh.

UPDATE: There's more info here. And the motive (with my emphasis added)? "The basic motive appears to be that the suspects felt that the victim may have [been] talking about them."

Friday, November 27, 2009

The New Penny



I just got my first new 2009 penny in my change the other day.

I don't like them.

Normally, I am a big fan of new coinage; I was a collector as a child, and have a fondness for innovative design on our money. And change is always good. But the Mint failed on these. Not for the designs, which aren't too bad: the Lincoln scenes are evocative and certainly a refreshing change from the mausoleum image of the Memorial on the standard penny for the last 50 years. But....it's the font. The font.

They've used a computer font, fer cryin' out loud. They've gone from a rather pleasant engraved font with a moderate serif that for all appearances was designed for use on engraved coinage, to an essentially unmodified version of Arial, a screen font that is wildly inappropriate for use on a coin. It makes the penny look like a debased version of the worst Euro.

I understand the desire to look "modern"---but this just looks crappy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Down The Memory Hole?

"We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during president Bush's term. I hope they're not looking at this politically. I do think that we owe it to the American people to call it what it is."

Dana Perino, former press secretary for President Bush, last night on Fox.

Wow. Just...wow. You can watch the clip on TPM here.

After the last decade, and the radical shift in our culture to a permanent ideological war footing, based primarily on the events of 9/11/2001, it's a little much to take, even from a visit by Perino on Sean Hannity's show, to see these people letting a comment like that slide by in order to score political points over the bodies of our wounded and dead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quote For The Day

"Certainty is the enemy of good wine."

Eric Asimov, Wine Writer for the NY Times.
(And for good wine, I think we can substitute anything of complexity or substance or challenge or mystery.) Read his blog; it's worth the trouble.

Jedi Moves



Apparently, the Airline Industry (via the CEO of the ATA) doesn't think that its questionable anti-consumer practices need review, because in his opinion they aren't anti-consumer.

Isn't this sort of like taking the word of the fox that he didn't eat the chickens, even though he's got feathers stuck to his chin? Are we so complacent and weak-minded as to let this sort of thing become the norm?

This is a small example of a much larger problem: remember a year or so back, when AIG and Goldman Sachs and Lehman were all telling the government that they were in fine shape, and the market would solve all its own problems?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mygar be a purdy wine!

Courtesy of Alder Yarrow over at Vinography, we have been pointed toward this brilliant tidbit of UK marketing: local dialect translations of the comments on the back of wine labels. If you think wine talk is difficult to decipher in plain English, try this:
"A totally stoatin bevvy. It's bricht an' foo o' flavur, wi plum, curranty fruit, mackin it taste awffy braw. A youngane's colour wi cherries an black fruit on the nose, it has a laldy kick tae it, tha runs fae the front tae the back ae' yer mooth."
Hmm. Perhaps they should stick to beer up in Scotland...Check out the whole thing on spitton.biz. It's pretty amusing.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Observation

At what point in recent times did people stop getting out of the way of ambulances when the sirens are blaring? It used to be that you heard / saw an ambulance, and you pulled your car over and waited until it passed, allowing it full and free right of way. I'm mean, we all had that back-of-the-mind nudge of "there but for the grace of God..."

Now, it's different. Just a few minutes ago, I watched an ambulance stuck behind four lanes of cars. All stopped at a red light. All remaining set in the middle of their lanes at the intersection. A few, rather than pulling over, tried to nose their way across the intersection, against the light, and keep moving forward. But none actually made way for the ambulance.

Either they are all fatalistic, or have never been seriously ill or injured nor loved someone who has been so, are so utterly arrogant and selfish that they sincerely feel that it doesn't matter, and whatever they might be doing and anywhere they might be going is far more important than another human's life; or they are just really, truly, utterly stupid.

We report. You decide.

A Modest Rant

Imagine, if you will, you are an employee. And you are asking for slightly more than a 30% raise. For this rate hike, you are promising your employer:

  1. 10% less time on the job;

  2. 25% less work product;

  3. A significant reduction in positive attitude
What do you think your employer's response would be to this offer?

"Clean out your desk, You're fired", maybe?

But that's pretty much the situation that the University of California has now presented, with the addition of a 32% hike in fees riding on top of the already implemented furloughs, as well as the current and expected additional cuts to classes and services. It's no wonder that the students are a little outraged.

California has a terrible budget crisis, but we also face a terrible educational crisis, and the current actions of the Regents and the University President are only set to exacerbate both.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Real Crisis

Apparently the nation is facing a massive Eggo waffle shortage:
It will take until the middle of 2010 before shelves around the country are stocked at pre-shutdown levels....."We have eight of them, and if we ration those — maybe have half an Eggo in one sitting — then it'll last longer," said Resciniti, who blogs about being a mother. "I told my husband that maybe I need to put them on eBay."
O the horror! The horror!

To Health!

The CBO released the numbers on its analysis of the reform bill today: as TPM reports (with my own added emphases):
The health care bill--which includes an opt-out public option--will require $849 billion over 10 years in new spending, to be paid for with cuts to Medicare, while reducing the deficit by $127 billion.

In that time it will extend coverage to 31 million Americans--94 percent of citizens will be covered by 2019.

Over the second 10 years, CBO projects even greater cost savings--up to $650 billion.
Keep in mind that the CBO tends to be conservativein its estimates. This is a major vindication for Democratic leadership. And while there are still some questions---Reid claims 98% coverage to the CBO 94%, no one is quite sure of the mechanisms in place for the still-in-place federal funding abortion restrictions, and whether they are any less punitive than what Stupak inserted earlier, the cuts to Medicare are still uncertain, and there is no guarantee that the opt-out plan laid out for the states will actually work. BUT---effectively universal coverage, cost containment, deficit reduction...this is another huge step toward the first goal in changing the way we maintain the health of our nation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Quote Of The Day

"[This is] yet another step that shows and proves Israel is not ready for peace".
Mahmoud Abbas, responding to the decision of the Israeli Ministry of the Interior to move ahead with the development of 900 new settler homes in East Jerusalem.

End Of The World Alert

Get ready. It's coming next week.

The Unspoken Logical Failure

In the debates on Health Care reform, there is a basic divide that no one is really addressing. It shows up though, in yet another poll, this one out today from AP and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (pdf). The gist of it is this: an overwhelming majority of Americans feel that we pay too much for our health insurance. And an almost equal number want to see reform. But just about half distrust the government's ability to do anything positive:
Overall, the poll found the public split on Congress' health care plans. In response to some questions, participants said the current system needed to be changed, but they also voiced concerns about the potential impact on their own pocketbooks, preferring to push any new costs onto wealthier Americans.

For example, 77 percent said the cost of health care in the United States was higher than it should be, and 74 percent favored the broad goal of reducing the amount of money paid by patients and their insurers. But 49 percent said any changes made by the government probably would cause them to pay more for health care. Thirty-two percent said it wouldn't change what they pay, and just 12 percent said they would end up paying less.
(SF Chron)
So what does that mean? It does not mean that Americans are against reform; quite the contrary, despite the word from the media. What it means is that Americans are scared of government getting it wrong. That's a very different kettle of fish. We approve of the goals, we just don't trust the ability of the actors. And this is where the divide in opinion falls; when we conflate the two (as has been happening), we wind up with both a false portrait of opinion, and a false sense of what options are available.

The anti-reform movement and the GOP have grasped at this disjuncture to argue against any action. This is not only wrongheaded, but goes against the will of the people. Until someone --- anyone --- provides a viable alternative to government action in the healthcare market to improve coverage and constrain cost, the government is the only organization capable of attempting change. Add to this the other major finding of the AP Poll --- that the clear popular choice on how to pay for better health coverage is to tax the rich. Take a look at pages 11-14 of the poll: 57% favor this approach. The next runner up is a distant 15 points lower, that of taxing the insurance companies on the profits which are identified elsewhere in the poll (by more than 75% of respondents) as egregiously high.

So in a nutshell: We want change. We want the wealthy to pay for it. And we think the government will screw it up.

I'd say this is a reasonable assessment. The question is: how close to not screwing up can the congress actually get? And if they come close enough, will we gain momentum to do even more?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Coming Trial

There's a lot of chatter right now about the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in civilian court in New York. Many think this is a good idea; many others seem to think it a sign of the end times. In reality it is neither; it is a complicated but fundamental shift in both the political viewpoint of the nation's approach to the post 9/11 world, and a significant change in the strategy toward counter-terrorism and global security.

At a very basic level, the conundrum of the Al Qaeda prisoners at Guantánamo defines a philosophy of governance. Under Bush and Cheney, a conscious decision was made to place those held as suspected terrorists, accomplices, and fellow travelers of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and the 9/11 plotters, somewhere between the lines of the law. Neither POWs nor civilian criminals, they were put in a grey zone that allowed the removal of impediments that were faced in the prosecution of the Global War On Terror (remember GWOT?) Despite what some might claim, this was clearly a choice made, not a corner backed into. And what it provided was an additional (albeit troublesome) tool in the toolbox for the War.

At the same time, as we progressed in Iraq and Afghanistan (and continued for some time to operate the web of clandestine extraordinary renditions), the Guantánamo situation was part of a greater vision of the world, and the US role within it. We declared that war could be fought against concepts, not just nations. And with that singular presumption, we stepped outside the bounds of what has been governed by international (and military) law. By declaring the challenge a military adventure, the US under the leadership of Bush and Cheney opened up---unilaterally, and without consensus---a whole new realm of activity which while appealing to authoritarian-minded leadership, has brought with it untold problems.

So much for that. Now, Holder has announced that instead of indefinite detention in a zone without legal status, KSM will be approached as a criminal, accused of criminal acts, and tried in a court of law. This means a couple of things. First, it is a rebuke against the entire worldview presented by the Bush administration, and still held by a significant minority in this country. Second, as a corollary to that, it throws into question the entire premise of both wars in which we are still embroiled. Think about it: if the acts of Al Qaeda are criminal, but not acts of war, then the response of taking a nation to war against them "wherever they might hide" is in and of itself a crime of war, and thus impermissible. Which gets me back to my original point: the choice to try KSM is a sea-change of philosophy in government. What the impact will be, and whether more movement will follow, remains to be seen. Most of the complaints and fears that are being expressed about the trial are not only specious, but stupid. And they show a stunning lack of faith in the very system that their expounders claim to be wanting to protect and defend. Josh Marshall has addressed this pretty well here. And Friedman while noting a number of salient issues, surprisingly misses the point entirely, and makes a determination that the fault lies not with the previous administration, nor with the current administration, but with the lack of international law to catch up with the radicalism of the Bush-Cheney axis of thought.

Is there risk? Of course. Is it greater than the what we have with the status quo? Absolutely not. Is it the right thing to do? Well, that all depends on your ideology. For myself, I am far more in alignment with this direction than with declaring war on the world. It was a moral, logical, and geopolitical failure on the aprt of the last administration to presume to be able to make war on a concept --- however hateful, and however dangerous --- without readily identifying an opposable entity with which to make war. The nature of war cannot unilaterally be changed by a single nation, without some sort of acceptance of terms by the rest of the world: it's like announcing to a playground that everyone is now going to play catch with you----and all the other kids are just going to stare at you sort of funny, and then go on playing on the swings and monkeybars. At least a few folks in power now are realizing this, and slowly but surely are trying to bring things back into alignment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

More Manure Exposed

Courtesy of The Dish, we direct your attention to this amusing Malcolm Gladwell parody in Vanity Fair. It nails oh, say 7/10 of what really irritates me about his flippant approach to reality, and does so with a happy holiday theme. In a nutshell:
"So what does this blsht metric tell you about your appeal, compared with the appeal of the baby Jesus?

It tells you this: he was special.

And—here’s another thing—you are not."
Happy holidays, one and all, eh?

Pre-Caffeine Snark

Perhaps Lindsey Graham was getting too mavericky for the party of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Eating Their Own Young


Who'd've thought we'd see the day when Lindsey Graham is identified as too liberal for the GOP?
Republican leaders in a South Carolina county have censured their own U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham for working with Democrats on a climate bill and other legislation.

Censured for bipartisanship. Wow. I guess the GOP wants to make absolutely certain the natin knows what direction they are heading these days.

More on this (and the full statement of censure) here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Quote Of The Day

"I owe 30 percent (of my good looks) to genes, 30 percent to good sex, 30 percent because of sports and healthy lifestyle and for the remaining 10 per cent, I have to thank my plastic surgeon. I'm 71, but I'm happier, the sex is better and I understand life better. I don't want to be young again."

-Jane Fonda
I can only hope to have the same 30 percents (and the same sentiments) when I reach her age. Here's to you, Ms. Fonda. Rock on.

Calling Horseshit For What It Is

A brilliant review by Elizabeth Kolbert of the populist idiocy "Superfreakonomics:"
“The problem wasn’t necessarily that you talked to the wrong experts or talked to too few of them,” he observes. “The problem was that you failed to do the most elementary thinking.” Pierrehumbert carefully dissects one of the arguments that Levitt and Dubner seem to subscribe to—that solar cells, because they are dark, actually contribute to global warming—and shows it to be fallacious. “Really simple arithmetic, which you could not be bothered to do, would have been enough to tell you,” he writes, that this claim “is complete and utter nonsense.”
If the mishmash un-science of Levitt and Dubner is where market capitalist thinking brings us too, then I may return to my socialist roots.

I've heard them speak, I've tried to read both their books, and frankly, I find their type of analysis significantly below that of Malcolm Gladwell, another populist thinker, whose inductive reasoning is about on par with the religio-scientific meanderings of snake handlers and christian apocalyptical criers of the Rapture. It disheartens me that so many of us are so eager to accept ideas that are so obviously wrong, self-destructive, and naive.

Who Is A Jew?

“having a ham sandwich on the afternoon of Yom Kippur doesn’t make you less Jewish,” Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, chairman of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue, said recently.
It seems that this question of what makes a body Jewish --- which caused turmoil in the US Jewish community some 30 years ago --- has reared up again, this time in a prestigious school in North London.

On the one side, you have a high-demand religious school looking for ways of selecting from a pool of candidates. On the other, you have Britain's Race Relations Act. And sitting in the middle, the question of the nature of Judaism as both a religion and a racial/national heritage. The nut of the case:
The case began when a 12-year-old boy, an observant Jew whose father is Jewish and whose mother is a Jewish convert, applied to the school, JFS. Founded in 1732 as the Jews’ Free School, it is a centerpiece of North London’s Jewish community. It has around 1,900 students, but it gets far more applicants than it accepts.

Britain has nearly 7,000 publicly financed religious schools, representing Judaism as well as the Church of England, Catholicism and Islam, among others. Under a 2006 law, the schools can in busy years give preference to applicants within their own faiths, using criteria laid down by a designated religious authority.

By many standards, the JFS applicant, identified in court papers as “M,” is Jewish. But not in the eyes of the school, which defines Judaism under the Orthodox definition set out by Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. Because M’s mother converted in a progressive, not an Orthodox, synagogue, the school said, she was not a Jew — nor was her son. It turned down his application.
And so the suit began. And so too the complications. For myself, while I see the reasoning behind both sides of the controversy, I don't see how the issue can be resolved easily: the battle is about sectarian power, and tradition, and not really religion at all. By forcing the question into the secular courts, it will now have an impact on all religious faiths, and pretty much certainly to their detriment. The question of matrilineal inheritance of faith in Judaism is problematic --- but only when in context of the conflict between Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and progressive movements (or sects) of the faith. The progressives want to see a more inclusive religion -- and to allow sincere practitioners of the faith to have access to spiritual validity. The Orthodox wish to see an excclusive faith, where they hold the power for access.

The problem is, as you might infer by the quote at the start of this rant, is that while there is great controversy over who can get into the club, there's very little one can do to get out, if you've been born into it. Here in the US, we've taken a more lenient approach, though there is still considerable conflict. In Britain, it will likely be more contentious.

And over it all hangs the pall of the Nazi laws for blood purity and impurity, and the slippery slope back to the ghettos, and cultural darkness.

Stupid Stupak

While I tied the GOP to the Stupak amendment's passage below, I should clarify: while the GOP is kvelling over this, it is not their doing. Stupak is of course a Democrat (hissss), and the primary mover of votes in this instance appears to have been the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

So a perfect storm of blue dogs, closeted protectors of child molestors, and anti-choice men of the Old School has brought this wedge to bear. And along with the President, I'd like to emphasize that this legislation has no place in the current bill: by adding this amendment those in favor show that the battle over health care has nothing to do with health care itself --- it is a battle for control and ideological power. The abortion ban in Stupak is a hail mary ideological pass for those who wish to see this as a democratic defeat and a condemnation of Obama. It is not about health, not about insurance, not about economics, and not even about women's rights. It's just a shameful tactic to derail what should be an historical win for both sides of the aisle and all their constituents.

It is this sort of action that makes me wonder if the Dems have the balls to actually move forward with any real change, or if they will just strangle themselves yet again with compromise, conflict, and debased indecision.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Reassessing The Rise Of Rapacity


On this anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and all that presaged, the BBC has published the results of a survey on world opinion of the outcomes of that momentous time twenty years ago. One of the major outcomes of the collapse of the Soviet Union was the rapid rise of the global market and the growth and spread of Western-style Capitalism. So now, after two decades, what does the world think of what we hath wrought?
More than 29,000 people in 27 countries were questioned. In only two countries, the United States and Pakistan, did more than one in five people feel that capitalism works well as it stands.

Almost a quarter - 23% of those who responded - feel it is fatally flawed.
If you take a look at the chart above, you'll note that even here in the US, significantly less than half the people polled (about 25%) consider deregulation and less government reform a reasonable route for the future.

If Obama can help guide this country (and its lawmakers and representatives) to a place more in tune with not only its people, but the other nations with whom we interact, then his presidency will be a great success. If he cannot, then I suspect that we will find ourselves on the losing side of history, guided by those who would rather bring the world down around them than let go of their own petty gains.

The Nature Of GOP Leadership

So on the one hand we have the tea partiers, and Michele Bachmann / Sarah Palin wingnuts. And the Glenn Beck crew. And it is foolish to belittle the potential power they wield to sway the politics of the nation through their weird divisive populism. But then there is the mainstream leadership, who have an equally unpleasant demeanor:
"Candidates who live in moderate to slightly liberal districts have got to walk a little bit carefully here, because you do not want to put yourself in a position where you're crossing that line...Because we'll come after you."
Mafia boss? Drug cartel leader? No: that's RNC Chairman Michael Steele, showing off the dark heart at the core of contemporary "conservatism."

Now I don't have a whole lot of good things to say about Democratic leaders either, but 'don't vote your conscience and don't vote for the benefit of your constituents, vote the party line or we will come after you' somehow, to me, crosses the philosophical line from party unity to Party Unity in jackboots and brownshirts.

Only one GOP representative voted for the House Health Care bill (Joseph Cao (R-LA)). Let's see how ugly it gets in the Senate.

House Passes Health Care Reform

Late last night, with 220 votes in favor, the house voted to pass the bill, along with the divisive and derogatory Stupak Abortion Amendment. Here are your representatives who voted to include the amendment, which supersedes the existing language in the bill to restrict government-financed abortion, and effectively dissalows abortions for any woman carrying coverage for her health --- whether the government pays or not.

But the omnibus is passed, and Pelosi can chalk this up as an historic moment. Now we will have to see just what the Senate can do with this, and if the more outrageous aspects of the House compromise can be whittled into reasonability.

In the meanwhile, ponder on those 215 reps who believe that health care reform is fascism, or the road to Dauchau, or a greater danger than terrorism (cf. Michele Bachmann), or that the status quo which is killing the nation is better than any non-perfect and entire solution, or who are too fearful and lacking in political courage to take a chance on being right, instead of merely being safe.

As for me, I look forward to the greatest period of innovation to open up in American health care management in generations.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

For Everything Else, There's Hard Drugs

Number of bank failures this year, due directly or indirectly to the legacy of GOP excesses and ideology-driven policies: 120.
Total cost of failures to the American people: $27 billion.
Current rate of underemployment for those of us trying to get by in the country we love: 17.5%.

Current GOP plan to stymie health care reform --- and thereby deny coverage to millions, increase the deficit, and drive the nation and its people to bankruptcy and debtor status --- by tying it to abortion funding bans?

Priceless.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Goobers and Gubernators

So it seems (according to NPR) that Diane [Everything's]Feinstein won't make a desicion whether or not to run until after she's heard the economic proposals of all the other candidates. To my way of thinking, this is wildly egotistical and selfish. If she thinks she has answers, she should tell the electorate. If we think her ideas are better, we'll elect her. But to wait until the race begins, and then at her whim deign to grace us with her presence as an option...it presumes that Feinstein is the heir apparent to the gubernatorial throne (she is not), and that whatever ideas she may have, they will of course be better than the alternatives presented by any other candidate---and she is most qualified to be the final arbiter of such.

That's crap.

If Diane Feinstein wants to be governor of this state, that's great: she should join the race. If she does not, fine --- let her continue on in her course. But she does not have the privilege of presumption.

At the same time, Carly has garnered endorsements from eight GOP stalwarts in her grab at Barbara Boxer's seat in the Senate:
  1. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
  2. Assistant Minority Leader Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
  3. John McCain, R-AZ.
  4. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
  5. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
  6. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
  7. Susan Collins, R-ME
  8. Olympia J. Snowe, R-ME
"All cited her experience as a business leader."

Maybe Diane will like the business approach Fiorina will bring to bear: I bet they both are in sync with that whole wiretapping, backstabbing, "létat c'est moi" approach to leadership.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Carly vs. Boxer

The executive who felt that wiretapping her own board members was a reasonable move is now planning to run for congress: Carly Fiorina, late of HP, will challenge Barbara Boxer for her senate seat.

I'm no fan of Boxer's: she irritates me and frankly I suspect she does, in the long run, more harm than good to the progressive agenda she promotes, but in comparison to a power freak who has not only left a very checkered past in the business world behind her, but attached herself to losing campaigns and the wrong side of history for the last few years, I'll take Boxer any day. From all the evidence, Fiorina has the moral scruple of a toad. And that's being unfair to the toad.

Gavin?

So in the wake of his withdrawal from the gubernatorial race, our mayor has scarpered off to Hawaii.

Unannounced.

He's skipping out on all planned engagements, and is playing some bad political shufflestuff, with his apparently hastily post-scripted assignation of authority to his ally on the board of supes, in order to avoid a hand off to his opponents (and the president of the board).

I'm not sure where he is going with this: not only does it look bad, it plays poorly for his political future. There's a lot going on in SF, and he's been taking heat as an absentee landlord mayor. I would think the first thing he would want to do is make a monstrous splash --- "I'm baa--aack!" --- and immediately begin to make noise about tackling such pressing issues as the collapsing Bay Bridge, The water bond that passed last night, the oil spill in the bay, and the like.

Instead, he vanishes to another state.

It would be one thing to choose family and personal well-being over politics if that is your determination: it's another to choose the politics, and then bail on your constituents when it gets rough (cf. Sarah Palin). I don't want to diminish how difficult this must be for the guy. But this is what he signed up for. And now he needs to do the damn job.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

R.I.P. Claude Levi-Strauss

Notice arrives of the passing of centenarian anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. It was his thinking, and his work, that first opened my mind to the convolutions of structuralism in the world of anthropology.

While not everything in his works like The Raw and the Cooked has stood the test of time, he remains a giant in the intellectual world of the 20th century.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Snap!

Harry Reid once again surprises: this time with a monumentally snarky letter to his GOP colleagues in the Senate regarding the upcoming heath care bill debate. TPM points us to this delightfully scathing note, and I have to say that, if it doesn't completely piss off the GOP Senators, then it has to be the most entertaining bit of paper to come out of the Senate in some time:
While the two health care reform plans that are serving as the main building blocks for the merged bill have been publicly available for quite some time, I would note that the Republican leadership’s health care plan remains a secret, unless perhaps it does not exist.

Needless to say, I fully understand if your plan is still under development, and would not presume to suggest that you publicly share draft legislative text for even an individual element of your plan, let alone an entire bill, before it is finalized.
Ouch, Harry. Ouch.

Read his full letter here (pdf).

Aside

Just thinking about an interview on the BBC this weekend with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Here she is known as either a wingnut (if you're on the left) or a bastion of speaking truth to power (if you're a wingnut). But as she explained why she prayed every night for the President to think rightly, and avoided explaining how that reconciled with asking her constituents to pray for his policy measures to fail, and became enthusiastic about the relationship between herself, god, and political action, the incredulity of the interviewer was palpable. Even over the radio.

It's a shame that the rest of the world see us a fanatical religious lunatics because of the outspoken idiocy of the darlings of the Right today.

Change


It's been a year since we went to the polls and made history by electing Barack Obama president of the United States. Since that day, much has indeed changed, but not in the ways that I think many progressives were expecting. Change has been slower, and more subtle, and frankly, exposed some of the uglier rifts in our society, opening them up with even greater speed than we had seen previously.

So what has actually "changed"?

  1. First and foremost, the long reign of Bush and Cheney is done and gone. In itself, this was a massive shift in the plate tectonics of global politics and opinion. Just look at the Nobel Prize that Obama has been awarded, and consider the vast sea change that this represents to the rest of the world.

  2. We've seen the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. And we've apparently come through to the other side. For better or worse, this crisis--and the methods by which we dealt with it, or failed to do so--have altered the state of our nation for years to come.

  3. Iraq. We're actually not seeing Iraq on the top of the news each day, and we've been slowly untangling ourselves from that war. Slowly---too slowly for many.

  4. Guantánamo. Obama has ended the torture regime, and has spent good time trying to undo the gordian knot of our mess down in Cuba. In the process, we have mostly restored the rule of law.

  5. Health Care. We are watching yet again a grand battle in Congress for the future health of the country. If this legislation passes in any meaningful way, this will be the legacy of Obama's term.

  6. The Right. We have seen an exacerbation of the shift of the right wing toward ever more self-referential and distasteful secession from the common discourse. The admixture of religiosity, populism, and xenophobia has only grown in volume, and served to create an entertainment platform where once there was a political agenda.

  7. The Left. The progressives, having supported Obama on the rather baseless assumption that because he was inspiring, and because he was savvy, and because he was young, that he would also lead a radically progressive agenda for the left. All this despite his obvious tendency toward conservative centrism, which I and others noted early in his candidacy. Now that Obama has staked out a careful spot in the middle ground, the progressive grassroots have become ever more radicalized and reactionary.


And of course there's much more. On a policy level, we have actions for climate control, work toward better future financial regulation, foreign policy activity in europe and the middle east that looks brighter than it has recently, among others. Yet we are saddled with double digit unemployment, a bleak forecast for the coming year, a tendentious and obstructionist minority party in Congress, and the war in Afghanistan is looking bleaker every day.

After one year, I'd say results are mixed. But have we seen change?

Hell yes.

Afghanistan

It just doesn't get any easier: with Abdullah Abdullah dropping out of the runoff election, the election itself has been scrapped, and Hamid Karzai once again declared President. Only this time, a tarnished, severely weakened president with clear evidence of massive fraud and vote manipulation on his hands; a president that vast swaths of the country (and the world) consider illegitimate---and among those the most difficult and vital populations in the country of Afghanistan.

So what now for the US, and the war? As David Sanger puts it in the NYT:
How do you consider sending tens of thousands of additional American troops, they asked in meetings in the White House, to prop up an Afghan government regarded as illegitimate by many of its own people?
Indeed. This moves radically complicates the scene: furthering our efforts will be challenged by a questionable government which is now firmly ensconced in power; withdrawal will be messy as the government lacks both authority and control (and potentially interest) to take over keeping what peace is there. And on the political front here at home, no matter what move is made, I suspect it is a black eye for president Obama.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

More Big Food

Not to be outdone by the Lebanese, the French have addressed the Biggest Food Item issue with a 4,000 egg tiramisu. One wonders how the Italians must feel about this.

Weekend Aside

This is it: the great, dreamed-of rock ’n’ roll communion — between band member and band member, and band and audience. Say what you will about art versus commerce, integrity versus selling out — there are far more ignoble compromises than making this many people this happy, ever.
I'm too old to be a hip rock'n'roll guy, and I'm apparently never going to get married; but NYT has profiled what appears to be the best wedding band ever. These guys even know how to survive a bad wedding, one with annoying wedding planners, horrid in-laws, bridezillas, limited bar access, all the things that make, as they put it, a high L.O.B., "Level Of Brutality":
The crowd at a high-L.O.B. wedding may find themselves hearing songs from the DLCB’s alter ego — a band they call Selfish. Unlike DLCB, Selfish doesn’t care about wedding guests having a good time. Van Halen’s “Panama” is on the Selfish playlist, as is anything by Led Zeppelin.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Late Friday Breaking News

...And the most sensible report of the day: Gavin Newsom is dropping out of the CA gubernatorial race.

This is probably the smartest move Gavin has made politically in three years. I only wish he'd come to it sooner, and not wasted so much effort chasing phantoms. We could've used a mayor here in San Francisco the last year.

On the positive side, at least he now has a better chance of having a job next year to support little Montana.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Clement Street Traffic Explained

Now we know: bad driving really is genetic.
The driving test was taken by 29 people - 22 without the gene variant and seven with it. They were asked to drive 15 laps on a simulator that required them to learn the nuances of a track programmed to have difficult curves and turns. Researchers recorded how well they stayed on the course over time. Four days later, the test was repeated.

Results showed that people with the variant did worse on both tests than the other participants, and they remembered less the second time.
Now, if someone would just do the followup study to determine prevalence of the BDG (Bad Driving Gene) in various population groups, and break it down by gender, we'd have something to work with.

And who knows: maybe someday, a cure for the slow left turn from the right lane against the light and into oncoming vehicular and pedestrian traffic?

Light Reading

The House bill for health care reform was unveiled this morning by Nancy Pelosi, with a snarky nod to the insurance industry for all its help, and 1,990 pages of legislative ink. It's on time and under budget, as we say in the consulting world, and while I am already developing headaches trying to even glance over it, the initial reports look promising: strips the insurance industry of protection from anti-trust law, taxes the rich to pay for services, extends coverage to most of the uninsured, provides price control, 2:1 premium ratio caps, and negotiated exchanges, and lots more controversial goodies I'm sure.

Read the whole thing yourself right here (pdf).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NASA Can't Get It Up.

Their new rocket, that is. The Ares I-X launch has been delayed due to poor weather.

Whether or not they should even be bothering with this is still a question: the Ares is meant to replace the Shuttle in order to service the international space station; but there have been so many delays that by the time the Ares is ready for prime time, the ISS will be retired. So we will have a single major launch program serving no purpose, and no major initiatives drawing on new technology or methodology.

I suspect this will simply be yet another push forward for the private space launch industry; I only hope that we can still allow for true research, and don't wind up with nothing but a sky full of Branson - Disney party boats for the ultra-rich.

Powerful.

WaPo runs a piece today that, on the eve of our 8th year in Afghanistan (and in the midst of that war's deadliest month for US troops), looks at that war through the lens of the first US official to publicly resign in protest over the war.
A former Marine Corps captain with combat experience in Iraq, Hoh had also served in uniform at the Pentagon, and as a civilian in Iraq and at the State Department. By July, he was the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province, a Taliban hotbed.

But last month, in a move that has sent ripples all the way to the White House, Hoh, 36, became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan war, which he had come to believe simply fueled the insurgency.

"I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States' presence in Afghanistan," he wrote Sept. 10 in a four-page letter to the department's head of personnel. "I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end."
As the administration mulls over strategy, I think that it is both ominous and momentous that this resignation, so reminiscent of others from the past, is being heard. Matthew Hoh sounds like a good man, and an able officer. I can only hope that, as he speaks with Biden's office and others, that he is as able in communicating his moral vision as he is his tactical experience. If this is the realistic portrait of the war in it's 8th year, then this is a war we cannot endure any longer --- any more than the Soviets could.

You can read his moving and all too clear resignation letter here (pdf).

Monday, October 26, 2009

No Peace, Even At Mealtime

The Middle East continues to be a land where no one is content: Arabs hate Israelis as a matter of course, and Israelis despise Arabs as part of their birthright. So it comes as little surprise to see Lebanon and Israel butting heads over hummus. Not who has the best hummus, or even (as they have debated in the past) who really can lay claim to most authentic hummus. No, our hotheaded friends in the Levant are battling over who can make the biggest plate of hummus (check out the picture).

There will be no peace until it can be finally settled as to whose is bigger.

The Economy, Stupid Stupid Economy

California unemployment for September 2009: 12.2%.

California underemployment: 21.9%.

One third of the workforce not able to work full time in the State that, were it an independent nation, would have an economy the size of Spain, or Brazil. And my mayor wants the job of Governor? He's dumber than I thought....

Health Care Reloaded:Harry Reid Grows A Pair

Today's compromise announcement and Senate leader Harry Reid's forwarding of the health care reform bill to the CBO for scoring was another huge step in the tortured path toward refomring the health care system in this country. And Reid did well: he left in the opt-in compromise (which I think is probably the sanest initial approach, and whcih Josh Marshall breaks down for us here), and didn't even bother to include Olympia Gold Snowe's so-called trigger option, which was both daft and a rather blatant stall attempt. As Reid said in his statement, that he can count the moderate Republican Senators "on two fingers" --- and I bet those fingers don't smell too nice.

This is the first truly strong performance from Reid since he took charge, and it is very refreshing to see it. I suddenly have some hope for getting a decent bill to the President to sign, without a great mass of pandering via weak-ass co-ops, triggers, insurance supports and the rest of the ideas which give the appearance of competitive improvement, but have the beating heart of a retrenched status quo.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Israel And Iran Talk Nukes In Egypt

This, if confirmed, could be the start of a game-changing dialogue. Israel and Iran have not had direct discussions since the revolution in 1979. The powerful dynamics of the two primary nuclear players in the Middle East --- who are profoundly antagonistic toward one another --- beginning talks regarding nuclear proliferation, against the backdrop of the US leading international pressure against the weaponization of Iran's nuclear program, could be very, very interesting.

Of course, nothing may come of this; or it might get shut down from Iranian backlash against the leak. Or it might not even be true, and just be a propaganda twist out of the convoluted realm of Israeli politics and intrigue. But still it's a potential bomb of a conversation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Muni Fail III

It's getting to be epidemic: First all this, then this, and now this: a dead body found on a bus in the yard at the end of the day, after the run is over, and nobody noticed him dying.

Once again, "It's not clear whether cameras on the bus were working."

And apparently, after serious investigation, they've discovered that yet again there is a culture of fare evasion on SF Muni. Is there any wonder why?

Sea Change

The Obama administration is easing up on the prosecution of medical marijuana use when it complies with State law.
The memo advises prosecutors they ''should not focus federal resources in your states on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.''
It's like a tsunami of rational common sense just swept across the law enforcement landscape of America.

Engage!


This is so cool. With a big helping hand from Canada, we now have the potential of reaching Mars in about 39 days --- instead of 6 months. NASA in conjunction with the Ad Astra Rocket Company and an international array of colleagues, has built an Ion Engine (think Star Trek "impulse engines") that will be tested off-planet in 2013.

My physics teacher used to fire a photon gun at us during class when we would get rambunctious. It looked like this, and was powered by Duracell:



I suspect that the Ad Astra engine will be somewhat more...futuristic.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Manbags On The High Seas

“The Tudors were bling merchants. They thought: if you’ve got it, flaunt it.”
That's Andy Elkerton, the collections manager of The Mary Rose Trust in Portsmouth. The Mary Rose is the only warship from its time --- the Tudor period of the 16th century --- on display. And they are expanding the display to show a vastly expanded measure of the material recovered from her wreck. Boots, compact mirrors, drinking tankards, cannon, and more, are on display. And a huge chunk of it fashion related.
A manicure set, a case for a vanity mirror, a “manbag” and a thigh boot are some of 18,000 objects that have remained in storage since they were recovered from the sea bed almost 30 years ago because the present museum in Portsmouth is too small.
As the Chief Executive of the Trust, Rear Admiral Lippiett says (and a rear admiral should know):
Vain lot, sailors.
You can see the new museum and more pictures here.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Unsurprising News

Apparently, the furlough plan implemented by the State of California to save money isn't actually doing much:
The furloughs, which amount to nearly a 14 percent pay cut for 193,000 state workers, are supposed to save the state $1.3 billion this fiscal year. But it will actually save a little more than half that and the savings will decline significantly - to $236 million - as the real costs of furloughs play out over the next few years
I wonder how long before the UC system furlough plan shows the same lack of ROI. This was an ill-conceived and punitive approach to a difficult problem. We could have --- and should have --- done much better.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Public Option

Mark Blumenthal of Pollster.com, in a stunning (and quite surprising) display of conflationary logic, questions the national desire for a "Public Option" in the health care reform being debated now. And Andrew Sullivan seems impressed.

I'm not. Here's why:

There are two issues at stake here, something which Blumenthal glosses over quickly and then studiously avoids. The first is the popular desire or "demand" for a government - managed health care option; the second is the public awareness of and understanding of current news and politics. Blumenthal takes the statistics of the second, and from them draws a conclusion about the first. This is a false syllogism.

  1. People can't identify "public option."
  2. "Public option" is media-politics speak for the creation of a universally available robust government-managed health insurance plan.
  3. Therefore, people don't want a "public option."


Look at it this way. In the Pew poll he quotes, a bit more than half the people were able to correctly identify the phrase "public option" as part of the health care debate. From this, he infers that people can't be demanding a public option because they don't even know what it is. And yet in every contextual poll, where the question is not whether you can identify a media term, but whether you desire a certain policy outcome in your life, the result is overwhelmingly in favor of a robust "public option" --- even if the respondent doesn't know that that is what it is called.

I'm all for a more informed population. But we aren't there. And deriding the desires of the many because of their Current Affairs / political illiteracy is not only disingenuous, it's demeaning and on the level of making fun of an immigrant who may have a Ph.D. or a Noble prize in physics, but has a thick accent and difficulty with English.

Unshocking News


News Flash! If your boss is a pointy-haired bully, it's likely he/she has issues, and is insecure about his/her own position! That's the outcome of a new report out in Psychological Science. It's hard to get excited about their findings. But what I find even more interesting than the report (or the SF Chron write-up, really) is this tidbit about their methodology:
The researchers did not actually observe workplaces but rather asked volunteers - mainly working people ranging from secretaries to managers - whether they were high or low in the pecking order and how secure they felt about their job performance, and ranked them with questionnaires and exercises designed to measure aggressive tendencies and behaviors.
So really, what they have is not a measure of bullying in the workplace and its relationship to insecurity; instead they have measured the perception of both bullying behavior and levels of confidence.

We used to call this inferential logic, and usually got low marks for it. But since the outcomes could be presumed anyway --- anyone who has ever worked in a corporate environment or hierarchical office organization could tell you --- it's still valuable. Here's their site if you are being bullied by your PHB.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cool Invention Watch


A fan without blades. I don't know how much more futuristic you can get than that. Of course, some folks want to poo-poo it, like this guy here on wizbang. But you know what? It doesn't really matter that it's based on the centuries' old Bernoulli Principle, or that it is basically a hair dryer with a large oscillating diffuser on top. The point is that no one else bothered to do it before. And it is undeniably cool. And that, folks, is the definition of a good invention. Thank you, Mr. Dyson.

Am I going to shell out $300 for it? I doubt it. But if I can get one on the cheap, I'm totally there.

Secret Agent Man On A Balcony


Wow. A fascinating tidbit via FP and the Guardian shows that, according to Cambridge historian Peter Martland, "Archived documents have revealed that Mussolini got his start in politics in 1917 with the help of a £100 weekly wage from MI5." It seems that the Brits recruited the 35 year old journalist to keep the war fervor alive in Italy, and this initial practice at loquacious grandstanding and sending gangs of thugs to brutally beat peace protestors and anti-war activists into submission proved so rewarding that he turned it into a lifelong career.

Prediction Review

I said here in May that I expected the call for a constitutional convention to be "deafening" by year's end; perhaps that was too hyperbolic. But I believe that the Field poll bears out the trend that more and more Californians are recognizing the need for structural, not just political, change.

It isn't about particular causes; it isn't gay marriage or balanced budgets or lower taxes. It is about our century-long experiment with direct democracy via the initiative process, and its shortcomings, failings, and destructive trends. We've seen it in the fight for gay rights, in the fallout over 30 years of prop. 13, over the oft-repeated cycle of populist delight passed into law but then strayed from its intentions due to lack of funding, lack of foresight, lack of proper authoring, a change in temperment, or some combination of all those and more.

We need a revamp, and it can't come soon enough.

We Want Change! (NIMBY Mix)

Apparently a majority of Californians are actually fed up enough now to see the benefit of holding a state constitutional convention---but not enough to actually make the structural changes which would benefit the state. Compare these tidbits from the Field Poll:
"75 percent said sponsors of ballot initiatives should be required to identify how the state would pay for the proposals"...and yet..."52 percent of state voters oppose lowering the two-thirds threshold to pass a budget in the state Legislature to a simple majority, and 69 percent oppose amending Prop. 13 to allow the Legislature to raise taxes with a majority vote."
So while we identify the problem, we absolutely, positively don't want anyone to take away the goodies we can't afford. Heh. Read the full Poll results Here (.pdf).

Let's hope that we can at least get to the convention, where progress through dialogue and compromise could potentially occur.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

He Hates These Cans! [updated to correct link]

In an unpublished essay, Dr. Nielson said of the theory, “Well, one could even almost say that we have a model for God.” It is their guess, he went on, “that He rather hates Higgs particles, and attempts to avoid them.”


What theory, you might ask? The one that says that the Large Hadron Collider is being sabotaged by the future. The LHC is intended to create Higgs bosons, in order to help prove (or disprove, or inform) The Standard Model of physics. But the LHC is cursed. And these guys are convinced it's an attack from the future---possibly to save the universe.

Cool, eh?

Or, maybe God is just after Navin Johnson.

Health Care Again



It's clear that Olympia Snowe (in this Newscom picture from TPM) is much, much happier about how she played her hand today than she was back when I wrote this last month. I suspect she's feeling a bit smug---as well she should. Despite the flak she will take from her party for this vote, it's clear that the power she will wield in the upcoming debates will be to her great advantage, not only in the health care discussion but for her prestige over all.

Leonardo Discovery


The BBC notes that the portrait above is now being attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, rather than an anonymous 19th century German hack. Apparently Leonardo left a fingerprint impressed in the canvas.

I had no idea that they were printing people back in the 15th century, let alone that Leonardo had a rap sheet.

Seriously though, it's pretty cool when things like this come to light.

Health Care Movement

So the Senate panel has just voted thumbs up on the Baucus bill, 14-9, with Olympia Snowe voting with the majority to add a sheen of bipartisanship to the deal.

This is good news.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Epigram

Alongside the janus sins of arrogance and ignorance, one of the most destructive facets of human nature is the mad desire for ideological purity, and its imposition on others.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Muni Fail II

This time, apparently, no one had a cellphone:
Police say Borgzinner suffered orbital bone fractures under both eyes and other injuries when four men beat him at about 5:45 p.m. Monday on the northbound bus near 11th and Howard streets...Police have made no arrests. A spokeswoman, Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, said the gang task force is waiting to see whether Muni can supply video from surveillance cameras on the bus.

Muni has not always been able to do so.
And all because he was wearing the wrong color shoes. I guess that's about as good as bogarting a seat, or being 11 years old.

SF Muni Fail


From Youtube, to Matier&Ross's local gossip column, straight to you: the fight of the week on the Muni 20 line through Chinatown. After last month's near fatal stabbing of an 11 year old child, and the inability to track down the perpetrator who walked off the bus observed by all passengers and the driver --- and Muni's admission after that not only was the camera on that bus non-functional, but that many if not most of the security cams on the coaches are DOA --- this cellphone movie of a much smaller altercation (call it Muni catfight Lite) should be the start of a trend. I hope we see more of this exposed in the coming months: there is no lack of available material. Some highlights to look for in the clip:

  • The total inaction by all other passengers to try and stop the fight (as opposed to the alte kockers who actually encourage it ---see translation below) until the young woman steps in at the end to break things up,
  • The Muni official in the yellow vest outside the bus doing absolutely nothing as the fight ends,
  • The fare jumper sneaking on the back of the bus past the Muni yellowjacket near the end of the clip.
And for your enjoyment, for those of you who don't speak Cantonese, here is the supposed translation of what is being said (thanks to commentor waaaahhh on Matier&Ross's blog)
Chinese Lady: (0:09): This bitch got the nerve to yell at me for me asking her politely if i may sit down. (0.48): If that bitch didn't want to let me sit down don't mean she got to bitch at me. (0:59): I didn't yell at you bitch why you going off on me. If I don't stand up for myself, she won't get scared. (1:44): Dare to pick on chinese people?
(2:05): This bitch hogging the seat and I asked nicely if I may sit and that bitch kept hogging the seat. She has no heart, always bullying chinese people.
Old Man#2(1:26): Hit that bitch.
Old Man#3(1:33): Beat that bitch ass.
Old Lady#2(1:37): Don't fight no more.
Old Man#2((1:59): Beat the f*@# out of her!
This sort of thing is all too common on the SF Muni system. And that the driver completely ignored the incident is all to common as well. If we are actually a "transit first" city, then the "first" thing we need to do is provide some level of efficiency in our transit options. We can probably endure expensive, and slow. But expensive, slow, unpleasant, and dangerous all at once is a bit much to take.

Are we mad as hell? Are we going to take it any more?

Quote For The Day II

“We’re already hearing from some high-ranking Republicans that we shouldn’t do that — that’s helping the president,” Mr. Dole said. He added that these included one “very prominent Republican, who happens to be the Republican leader of the Senate.”
That's Bob Dole (yes, that Bob Dole) regarding his issuing a joint statement with former Dem leader Tom Daschle in support of the Health Care Reform being put forward by the Democrats.

The gulf between Mitch McConnell (the aforementioned "very prominent Republican") and the GOP's general attitude of killing anything that's "helping the president", and that of Bob Dole, who apparently still believes that the GOP is operating or at least is intended to operate as an effective counterbalance to the Democratic majority, is wide and apparently un-navigable.

Cutting off your nose to spite your face has never been a good strategy. Apparently the Republican leaders have yet to get that memo.

Quote For The Day

When nearly 3,000 people were killed on 9/11, we began wars and were willing to devote more than $1 trillion in additional expenses. Yet about the same number of Americans die from our failed insurance system every three weeks.
Nicholas Kristof, commenting on Congressional obstinacy in the face of reality.

To this I would add yet again: for those who argue against a public option, saying that it would unfairly compete with the existing insurance market---how do you square that with a belief in free market viability? If the market is so anemic as to be incapable of competing against a single government entity in a whirlwind of actors, then it deserves to fail. And to have a better, more robust competitive market take its place. And if it is robust, and worthy of keeping (which is basically what the other side is arguing), then it should easily be able to absorb and adjust to the entry of a "public option". You can't have it both ways.