Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Q&A with TSA Chairman John Pistole

Wil Shipley has an amusing fake Q&A with TSA Chairman John Pistole. This "question" sums it up pretty nicely:

"Which brings me to this question: If you hired a security guard to watch your house, and 10 years later your neighbors said, ‘Hey, several times now dudes have tried to steal your shit, but we came over and stopped them each time after your security guy let them through,’ would you continue to employ him? Especially if every time you tried to enter your house, he grabbed your nuts and took naked pictures of your wife?"

The Future of Social Security in One Graph

Ezra Klein wrote The future of Social Security in one graph "This comes from the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, and it lists the impact of all of the various deficit-reduction plans on a medium-income Social Security beneficiary (click for a larger version):"

Future of Social Security

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Waste of Money and Time

Bruce Schneier participated in article debate on body scanners and wrote they'reA Waste of Money and Time "Exactly two things have made airplane travel safer since 9/11: reinforcing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back. Everything else has been a waste of money. Add screening of checked bags and airport workers and we’re done. Take all the rest of the money and spend it on investigation and intelligence."

Foreign Policy wrote Death by a Thousand Cuts. It begins by quoting an article from Inspire, "Two Nokia phones, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. That is all what Operation Hemorrhage cost us… On the other hand this supposedly 'foiled plot', as some of our enemies would like to call [it], will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bed Bug Registry

No I don't have any but you might want to know abou this, Bed Bug Registry. Then again, you might not. I found it via this article saying they've arrived in the Boston area.

The World is His ... Kickstand?

Danny MacAskill - "Way Back Home"

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cassini Finds Ethereal Atmosphere at Rhea

Cassini Finds Ethereal Atmosphere at Rhea "NASA's Cassini spacecraft has detected a very tenuous atmosphere known as an exosphere, infused with oxygen and carbon dioxide around Saturn's icy moon Rhea. This is the first time a spacecraft has directly captured molecules of an oxygen atmosphere – albeit a very thin one -- at a world other than Earth."

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thinking Like an Octopus

Thinking like an octopus "Octopuses have large nervous systems, centered around relatively large brains. But more than half of their 500 million neurons are found in the arms themselves, Godfrey-Smith said. This raises the question of whether the arms have something like minds of their own. Though the question is controversial, there is some observational evidence indicating that it could be so, he said. When an octopus is in an unfamiliar tank with food in the middle, some arms seem to crowd into the corner seeking safety while others seem to pull the animal toward the food, Godfrey-Smith explained, as if the creature is literally of two minds about the situation."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Everything You Wanted to Know about the TSA Backlash

Next Wednesday will be the biggest travel day of the year. I'm not going anywhere. It's also National Opt-Out Day in protest of the new TSA procedures. I'm not sure how many will, but if a lot do, it will only make things even slower. Anyway, here's a collection of TSA articles I've seen in the last week or so.

This year's "Don't tase me bro" will probably be "You touch my junk and I'm going to have you arrested." It came from John Tyner who refused the backscatter screening and didn't want to be groped. It become well known because he recorded the encounter and blogged it, TSA encounter at SAN.

The TSA's response from its blog, Opting-out of Advanced Imaging Technology and the Pat-down Doesn’t Fly "AIT is optional for everybody. However, if you decide to opt-out of AIT screening, you must undergo alternative screening, which will include a pat-down. As I’ve said before, there is nothing punitive about it- it just makes good security sense. Obviously a passenger can’t completely opt out of all screening if they opt out of AIT. That would not make good security sense. AIT is deployed to help us find non-metallic threats, so if you’re selected for AIT and choose to opt-out, we still need to check you for non-metallic threats. That’s why a pat-down is required. If you refuse both, you can’t fly. It is important that all screening procedures are completed.  This ensures that terrorists do not have an opportunity to probe TSA’s procedures by electing not to fly just as TSA’s screening procedures are on the verge of detecting that the passenger is a terrorist. Also, it’s important to remember that TSA screens nearly 2 million passengers daily and that very few passengers are required to receive a pat-down."

Erin claims her pat down was sexual assault and her lawyer agrees. "I stood there, an American citizen, a mom traveling with a baby with special needs formula, sexually assaulted by a government official. I began shaking and felt completely violated, abused and assaulted by the TSA agent. I shook for several hours, and woke up the next day shaking. Here is why I was sexually assaulted. She never told me the new body search policy. She never told me that she was going to touch my private parts. She never told me when or where she was going to touch me. She did not inform me that a private screening was available. She did not inform me of my rights that were a part of these new enhanced patdown procedures. "

These stories don't make the TSA look good either, Cancer surviving flight attendant forced to remove prosthetic breast during pat-down and TSA confiscates heavily-armed soldiers' nail-clippers.

One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans "At the heart of the controversy over "body scanners" is a promise: The images of our naked bodies will never be public. U.S. Marshals in a Florida Federal courthouse saved 35,000 images on their scanner. These are those images." The TSA points out, this is the US Marshal Service not the TSA.

James Fallows has written a lot about this and covers a lot of points in Airport Security Reports: 'Where Are the Airlines?'. His Dear Sen. Klobuchar: Let's Rethink the TSA is also good. He keeps trying to stop himself but he finds more good stuff like this, Pigs Fly. Also, I Agree with Charles Krauthammer.

The TSA has some Myths & Facts about Pat-downs and AITs.

Bruce Scheiner also has a collection on the TSA Backscatter X-ray Backlash

Dave Barry wrote about his blurred groin and the ACLU followed up.

You can get a luggage tag with the fourth amendment on it.

A Departing Republican Warns About Climate Change

A Departing Republican Warns About Climate Change "An outgoing Republican congressman used a House science and environment subcommittee hearing this week as an opportunity to chide his party for its growing skepticism about the threat of global warming and to warn of missed economic opportunities in clean energy development if climate change is ignored."


National Geographic's Photography Contest 2010

This might be my favorite Big Picture ever. National Geographic's Photography Contest 2010 "National Geographic is once again holding their annual Photo Contest, with the deadline for submissions coming up on November 30th. For the past eight weeks, they have been gathering and presenting galleries of submissions, encouraging readers to rate them as well. National Geographic was again kind enough to let me choose some of their entries from 2010 for display here on The Big Picture. Collected below are 47 images from the three categories of People, Places and Nature. Captions were written by the individual photographers. (47 photos total)"

n02_sean-heavey 1.jpg

Thursday, November 18, 2010

PBS Edits Tina Fey Joke About Sarah Palin

Nice job PBS... PBS edits Tina Fey joke about Sarah Palin.

Fey was presented with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Fey spoke for 12 minutes and 40 seconds of the hour and half broadcast and this, just perchance, is the 30 seconds they cut out...

While accepting the prestigious comedy award, Fey said, "And, you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women -- except, of course, those who will end up, you know, like, paying for their own rape kit 'n' stuff. But for everybody else, it's a win-win. Unless you're a gay woman who wants to marry your partner of 20 years -- whatever. But for most women, the success of conservative women is good for all of us. Unless you believe in evolution. You know what? Actually, I take it back. The whole thing's a disaster."

An Airline Terroism Scenario...

Ask the Pilot wrote in Salon:

"Here's a scenario:

Middle Eastern terrorists hijack a U.S. jetliner bound for Italy. A two-week drama ensues in which the plane's occupants are split into groups and held hostage in secret locations in Lebanon and Syria.

While this drama is unfolding, another group of terrorists detonates a bomb in the luggage hold of a 747 over the North Atlantic, killing more than 300 people.

Not long afterward, terrorists kill 19 people and wound more than a hundred others in coordinated attacks at European airport ticket counters.

A few months later, a U.S. airliner is bombed over Greece, killing four passengers.

Five months after that, another U.S. airliner is stormed by heavily armed terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, killing at least 20 people and wounding 150 more.

Things are quiet for a while, until two years later when a 747 bound for New York is blown up over Europe killing 270 passengers and crew.

Nine months from then, a French airliner en route to Paris is bombed over Africa, killing 170 people from 17 countries.

That's a pretty macabre fantasy, no? A worst-case war-game scenario for the CIA? A script for the End Times? Except, of course, that everything above actually happened, in a four-year span between 1985 and 1989. The culprits were the al-Qaidas of their time: groups like the Abu Nidal Organization and the Arab Revolutionary Cells, and even the government of Libya."

The whole article is good but here's a main point:

"In the 1980s we did not overreact. We did not stage ill-fated invasions of distant countries. People did not cease traveling and the airline industry did not fall into chaos. We were lazy in enacting better security, perhaps, but as a country our psychological reaction, much to our credit, was calm, measured and not yet self-defeating."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Unusual Planetary Nebula

wise_ngc1514_web 1.jpg
If you're curious what that is, read this: Warm dusty rings glow around a weird binary star.

The Terrorists are Winning

Security Theater: The Ripples Spread to Japan "Short version: items weighing more than 1 pound can no longer be shipped to the U.S. by any means involving flight."

Where Did Our Debt Come From?

James Fallows wrote Where Did Our Debt Come From? with this great table


"To be clear: the middle column is how much overall federal debt grew, or shrank, as a share of gross domestic product during each administration, and the right-hand chart is the average annual rate of growth or reduction during that administration."

Ezra Klein followed upNewImage.jpg

And he points out "Basically, [big] deficits happen when recessions happen." The people whining about the deficit now don't seem to admit that the reason it's so large is that the economy has shrunk so tax revenues are down. Now we could cut spending to bring it in line, but during a recession is when you want the government to spend money to help the economy get out of recession sooner. The part Republicans since Reagan have forgotten is to pay down the debt during the good times.

Debunking David Brooks

David Brooks wrote The Two Cultures which is mostly about bashing liberal economists.

"The economic approach embraced by the most prominent liberals over the past few years is mostly mechanical. The economy is treated like a big machine; the people in it like rational, utility maximizing cogs. The performance of the economic machine can be predicted with quantitative macroeconomic models."

Paul Krugman protests on several grounds in A Mechanical Manifesto.

Karl Smith comments in Brooks on Economics in part on Brook's ending: "It all makes one doubt the wizardry of the economic surgeons and appreciate the old wisdom of common sense: simple regulations, low debt, high savings, hard work, few distortions. You don’t have to be a genius to come up with an economic policy like that."

Smith makes an interesting point, "Capitalism is sometimes described as the Art of Going into Debt. Usury laws once prevented the loaning of money for interest. This implied that all investment had to be financed with high personal savings. The breakdown of these laws and, with it the taking on of enormous debts, was instrumental in the formation of our entire economic system. Similarly, no one doubts the hard work of the Amish. I think few would want their economy. Again, capital – and the ability to borrow it and trade it – not labor is the key to capitalism."

GOP Legislator Frets Over 28 Days Without Insurance

Ezra Klein writes GOP legislator frets over 28 days without insurance -- but what about 30 million he'd leave uninsured? "It's worth dwelling for a moment on the reaction of Rep. Andy Harris, an incoming legislator who staunchly opposes the new health-care law and ran promising its repeal, to news that he'd had to wait a month for his government-funded health-care benefits to kick in."

"The point [is] Harris's fear at being uninsured. But whatever else you think of the health-care law, it really does keep people from being uninsured."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

17 Healthy Thanksgiving Sides

17 Healthy Thanksgiving Sides "Wow everyone at Thanksgiving dinner by bringing a healthy, flavorful side dish or dessert to share with friends or family. These nutrient-rich salads, side dishes, and desserts are twists on the rich, heavy choices traditionally offered. High-impact flavors like fresh herbs, prosciutto, ginger and seasonal fruit eliminate the need for gobs of butter, cream, and salt. With these healthy recipes you can eat well and enjoy all of the wonderful flavors of Thanksgiving."

Kent Conrad on Deficit Plans

Ezra Klein wrote Kent Conrad: 'That makes so much sense that it’s unlikely to happen' "Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, a member of the deficit commission and one of the party's leading voices on tax reform. Recently, he proposed a plan tying an extension of the Bush tax cuts to comprehensive tax reform. Earlier today, he walked me through the details of his proposal, A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows."

The Lion Tamer – Leonid Meteor Shower 2010

Universe Today writes about The Lion Tamer – Leonid Meteor Shower 2010 "In the pre-dawn hours on the mornings of November 17 and November 18, the offspring of Comet Temple/Tuttle will be flashing through our atmosphere and just taunting you to test your meteor watching skills against bright skies. Although the phat Moon will greatly interfere with fainter meteor trails, don’t let that stop you from enjoying your monring coffee with the sparkling ‘cubs’ that will be shooting out from the constellation of Leo."


Mortgage Securitization Graphic

zero hedge wrote Just When You Thought You Knew Something About Mortgage Securitizations "The following flow chart reverse engineers the mortgage on the Ekstrom family residence. It took Dan over one year to take it this far and it clearly demonstrates what happens when there are too many lawyers being manufactured. "

Staying on Message

Yesterday Reid Tasked Schumer With Top Dem Messaging Job.

Today I read, Feds Expected to Ban Alcoholic Energy Drinks. "The Food and Drug Administration is expected to find that caffeine is an unsafe food additive to alcoholic drinks, essentially banning them, and manufacturers will then be warned that marketing caffeinated alcoholic beverages could be illegal."

Now that doesn't seem that interesting, I've never heard of Four Loko and don't care too much about it. but the article also says: "The FDA ruling, which could come as soon as this week, "should be the nail in the coffin of these dangerous and toxic drinks," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who has pushed the Obama administration to ban the beverages, said Tuesday."

Really Chuck, this is the first message you want to give?

The TSA Was Unliked Before it was the TSA

I read though this whole blog post by Penn Jillette, Federal V.I.P. Penn about flying and complaining about being groped by the security guy at the airport. He complained and called the cops.

Then I looked at the date, 11/13/02. Yeah, 8 years ago.

Update: Here's the followup from 4 days later.

What's Wrong with Arkansas?

Arkansas Reporter writes about newly elected Congressman Loy Mauch, The South shall rise again.

"But there are Republicans and there is Republican Loy Mauch, elected to represent House District 26 near Hot Springs. A former head of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans post in Hot Springs, Mauch calls the Confederate flag 'a symbol of Jesus Christ,' and is a current member of The League of the South, a group which works toward the formation of an independent Southern nation."

"Asked about his involvement in the League of the South, which listed him as the chairman of their western Arkansas chapter as late as 2005, Mauch said that he's a dues paying member, but is too busy to be active in the organization and doesn't attend meetings. He said the chair position was "just a title." Contrary to the League website, Mauch said the group doesn't want the former Confederacy to stray from the Union again. "We don't think we should secede from the Union," Mauch said. "We just want constitutional government. Secession has never been unconstitutional.""

Read the rest of the article, it gets a lot worse.

Investigate the TSA, Not Tyner

It's getting entertaining watching all the outrage over the TSA, Investigate the TSA, Not Tyner.

"Tyner was now allowed board his flight after he refused to allow himself to be groped, and now he could face both prosecution and a fine of $11,000. But his real crime was making the ‘don’t touch my junk’ video showing exactly what happened during his encounter with the TSA, which sparked a public backlash."

The people I've heard support the new system all cite the underwear bomber, though they seem to forget that he boarded in Amsterdam and wouldn't have been subject to TSA screenings.

The new pat downs, as near as I can tell, would definitely get you arrested if you did them on the subway.

It's also good to point out that the maker of the scanners is a client of Michael Chertoff's consulting company.

Ethics Panel Convicts Rangel Of 11 Ethics Violations

I can't believe this is still going on. TPM reports Ethics Panel Convicts Rangel Of 11 Ethics Violations "The subcommittee which found that Rangel had violated ethics law will now forward their convictions to the full ethics committee. The full committee will then hold another hearing, during which it will vote on whether to recommend a punishment for Rangel. If they do, they will send that recommendation -- be it admonishment, censuring, expulsion or otherwise -- to the full House for a vote."

NPR had a story just before this summarizing the various editorials, The Reviews Are In For Rangel's Performance, And They're Not Good.

"Rangel, who has represented New York's Harlem for his 40 years in Congress, made a truncated and somewhat baffling appearance Monday before a panel of the ethics committee, which has been deliberating over charges that he violated House rules 13 times. The 80-year old Democrat said it was an outrage he was being judged even though he was without legal counsel and couldn't afford a new lawyer. But committee chair Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), her patience seemingly wearing thin, reminded Rangel several times that the case has been going on for two years, that Rangel had plenty of time to prepare his defense, and that while the law firm that had been representing him ended their relationship last month because he could no longer afford to pay him, the committee had long advised Rangel that he could set up a legal defense fund to pay for his lawyers but has never taken advantage of it."

I did learn a new word from the New York Post editorial, "All that's certain is that a 40-year congressional career is ending in well-earned obloquy." Obloquy is "strong public criticism or verbal abuse".

Monday, November 15, 2010

Still the Torture Thing

Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate The baby steps that have taken the United States from decrying torture to celebrating it

"We keep waiting breathlessly for someone, somewhere, to have a day of reckoning over the prisoners we tortured in the wake of 9/11, without recognizing that there is no bag man to be found and that therefore we are all the bag man.

President Barack Obama decided long ago that he would 'turn the page' on prisoner abuse and other illegality connected to the Bush administration's war on terror. What he didn't seem to understand, what he still seems not to appreciate, is that what was on that page would bleed through onto the next page and the page after that."

Reid Tasks Schumer With Top Dem Messaging Job

TPM reports Reid Tasks Schumer With Top Dem Messaging Job "In a sign that Democrats hope to do a better job claiming credit for their accomplishments, and emphasizing the differences between themselves and the GOP, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has merged the Senate Dems' policy and communications shops, and tasked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) with chairing the new office as a member of party leadership. Schumer has developed a reputation among his colleagues, and across Washington, as a shrewd political strategist and a master of message control."

Really?!?! I know that Schumer likes to talk a lot and I generally like his policies, but he's the best the Democrats can come up with for messaging? I've never found him to be particularly effective in interviews. He can state his own position, but has he ever convinced anyone of anything they didn't already believe?

Update: After a little thought, I think Al Frankin would do much better.

Observing a Young Black Hole

Astronomers may have found youngest black hole isn't really a great title for the article. We witnessed a supernova in 1979 in a nearby galaxy and have been observing it since. "The star that exploded was right on the edge of being massive enough to create a black hole; the total mass of the star was about 20 times the mass of the Sun, with a core of just about 3 solar masses. The question is, was the star big enough to create a black hole, or would the core collapse to form an incredibly dense neutron star?"

"What astronomers have found is that the X-rays from SN1979c have been steady in brightness over observations from 1995 – 2007. This is very strong evidence that the star’s core did indeed collapse into a black hole."

"This is an important result for many reasons. One is that we’ve had the math to calculate the borderline mass between a neuron star and black hole for decades, but it’s nice to see the Universe agrees with our calculations. Whether it turns out to be a neutron star or a black hole, the numbers for the mass that astrophysicists have crunched are pretty close; the very fact that this is a borderline object means our math is solid!

Second, we know almost the precise moment this object was born. That helps nail down a lot of the physics. Black holes and neutron stars are objects of immense power, and when they are this young they can change rapidly on a cosmic scale; observations over just a few decades can show large differences in the brightness or energy of the emitted radiation. Knowing the date of birth to within a few days anchors the calculations and models used by scientists to explain the phenomena."

In Alaska, One Woman Is Counting All The Ballots

NPR writes, In Alaska, One Woman Is Counting All The Ballots : NPR "Her charge from legal counsel: to count for Murkowski's tally names phonetic to Murkowski or with slight misspellings. One recent day, she gets a 'Lisa Murcouski,' 'Lisa Murkowksi,' 'Lisa Murizowski' and 'Lisa Mikawski.' She counts the first two, which Miller's observer challenges, but not the final two, which the Murkowski observer challenges."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The 'Israelification' of Airports: High Security, Little Bother

There's been a lot of talk of new TSA procedures that now have agents groping you if you don't submit to the backscatter scanner (which basically takes a nude photo of you through your clothes). The agents are supposed to pat you down until they "feel resistance", meaning your junk.

There are alternatives, The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother "That's the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes."

Obama Without Tears

William Greider wrote in the Nation Obama Without Tears.

"What's missing with this president is power—a strong grasp of the powers he possesses and the willingness to govern the country with them. During the past two years, this missing quality has been consistently obvious in his rhetoric and substantive policy positions. There is a cloying Boy Scout quality in his style of leadership—the troop leader urging boys to work together on their merit badges—and none of the pigheaded stubbornness of his 'I am the decider' predecessor, nor the hard steel of Lyndon Johnson or the guile of Richard Nixon. Obama has patience and the self-confidence not to insist that his solution is the best and only one. On many vital questions, he went so far as to not even say what his solution was. Such a governing style is too nice for real-life politics, where Boy Scouts get their heads handed to them."

Do Deficits Matter?

Karl Smith walks through Do deficits matter?. "When the economy is strong, they lead the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, strengthen the dollar and increase imports. When the economy is weak they lead to falling unemployment and rising capacity utilization."

Will The GOP Support the New START Treaty

Graham Won’t Vote For The New START Treaty Because Of ‘Stumbling Blocks’ That Don’t Exist "Despite the overwhelming support, a ‘tiny fringe’ of right-wing ‘experts’ are ginning up myths about the treaty. One such mouthpiece is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Claiming to be ‘open-minded’ on the treaty, Graham told host Christine Amanpour on ABC’s This Week today that he could not support the treaty ‘in its current condition’ because of ‘two obstacles’ — nuclear modernization and missile defense"

The only problem with Graham’s “stumbling blocks” is that they don’t actually exist. While “security experts” like Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and former Bush administration Ambassador John Bolton insist that Obama is “risking our security” by supposedly not focusing on modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal, the actual rocket scientists of an independent defense advisory panel determined that not only are the weapons completely reliable, but that our current “nuclear warheads could be extended for decades, with no anticipated loss in effectiveness.” To make sure this remains the case, the Obama administration devoted $7 billion to maintain the nuclear-weapons stockpile — $600 million more than Congress approved last year and 10 percent more than what the Bush administration spent."

"As for START’s impact on missile defense, Director of the Missile Defense Agency Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly made it clear that the new treaty “has no constraints on current and future components of the Ballistic Missile Defense System,” and that it actually “reduces” several limitations on cost-effective testing. Thus, given Graham’s criteria for support, treaty proponents should expect his vote.

Indefinite Detention

Spencer Ackerman wrote Apoplexy, Abdication, And An Indefinite Detention Without Trial For Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

"So can the Obama administration manage to reach a decision more craven than this one? According to the Washington Post, the months-long internal administration deadlock over trying Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and the other 9/11 co-conspirators has resulted in a decision: apoplexy. No trying them in federal courts in New York; no trying them at Guantanamo Bay in a military commission. Just… nothing.

The Post story is something of a mixture between reporting a decision and inviting administration officials to opine on the predicament they’re in. There’s basically a no-decision here: administration officials feel buffeted between conservative opposition to a civilian trial and liberal opposition to military commissions. Aww, poor them!"

And here's the best sentence I've read in a while: "And that’s the maddening thing. The Obama team talks about a “different political environment” as if it has nothing to do with creating one."

I honestly never understood the fear mongering about a trial in NYC. This whole Greenwald piece is good, but the embedded video makes the case well.

The Web is 20 Years Old

Here's Tim Berners-Lee's original WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project from November 12, 1990.

Life aboard the International Space Station

November 2nd was the 10th anniversary of people on the International Space Station.

The Guardian wrote about Life aboard the International Space Station and it's really worth the read.

Universe Today wrote both Ten Years of the ISS in Pictures and Best of Earth from the ISS.

Mystery of Saturn’s Wonky B Ring: Solved

Universe Today wrote Mystery of Saturn’s Wonky B Ring: Solved.

"When the the Voyager spacecraft flew by Saturn in 1980 and 1981, scientists saw that the outer edge of the planet‘s B ring was shaped like a rotating, flattened football by the gravitational perturbations of Mimas. But it was clear, even in Voyager’s findings, that the outer B ring’s behavior was far more complex than anything Mimas alone might do. Through the analysis of thousands of Cassini images of the B ring taken over a four-year period, Porco and her team have found the source of most of the complexity: at least three additional, independently rotating wave patterns, or oscillations, that distort the B ring’s edge....These oscillations, with one, two or three lobes, are not created by any moons. They have instead spontaneously arisen, in part because the ring is dense enough, and the B ring edge is sharp enough, for waves to grow on their own and then reflect at the edge."

Steve Rattner on the GM Takeover

A month ago Ezra Klein posted a great two part interview with Steve Rattner.

"America's auto industry seems healthy today. Sales are up, and so are profits. GM is readying an IPO. 'An apology is due to Barack Obama,' wrote the Economist, which opposed the government's intervention into the automobile market. 'His takeover of GM could have gone horribly wrong, but it has not.'

Some of the credit for that goes to Steve Rattner, the private-equity specialist whom President Obama tapped as 'auto czar.' Ratner's new book, 'Overhaul,' reconstructs those frenzied months and provides the first insider perspective on the administration's policymaking process. This transcript -- which focuses on how government was working amid the chaos of the financial crisis -- is Part 1 of a two-part interview. Part 2, which will come out tomorrow, focuses more specifically on the auto bailout and related policy decisions"

Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget

The New York Times has an interactive feature, Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget. Doesn't seem so hard :)

Can the President Kill a Citizen With No Due Process?

Anwar al-Awlaki who is by all accounts an active member of Al Qaeda in Yemen. "President Barack Obama approved the targeted killing of al-Awlaki by April 2010, making al-Awlaki the first U.S. citizen ever placed on the CIA target list." The problem is, the government has presented no evidence to authorize this and when questioned about it has claimed privileges based on state secrets. So can the president kill a citizen with no due process? Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan had a long blogsphere discussion of this about a month and half ago.

Glenn Greenwald wrote Obama argues his assassination program is a "state secret". " If the President has the power to order American citizens killed with no due process, and to do so in such complete secrecy that no courts can even review his decisions, then what doesn't he have the power to do? "

Alex Massie agreed in Obama's Hit Squad: Above and Beyond the Law

Andrew Sullivan jumped in with The Power To Kill American Citizens At War With The US. "But a single American al Qaeda terrorist in a foreign country actively waging war against us seems to me to be a pretty isolated example. And Obama always said he would fight a war against al Qaeda more ruthlessly than Bush. As he has. I agree that invoking state secrets so comprehensively as to prevent any scrutiny of this is a step way too far. But I do believe we are at war; and that killing those who wish to kill us before they can do so is not the equivalent of "assassination". My concern has always been with the power to detain without due process and torture, not the regrettable necessity of killing the enemy in a hot and dangerous war."

Greenwald then turned on his fire hose and wrote Questions for Andrew Sullivan

To which Sullivan replied Answers For Glenn Greenwald; Yes, We Are At War

And Greenwald pummeled back with Sullivan's defense of presidential assassinations

Barry Eisler also took Greenwald's side in This is Your Brain on War.

Scott Horton also chimed in on, The President’s Power to Order the Extra-Judicial Execution of an American Citizen. "But studying the Obama Administration’s statements over the last two months and reviewing the Justice Department’s response to a lawsuit filed by civil-liberties organizations acting on behalf of al-Awlaki’s father, I come away with a different impression: we’re looking at another power grab for the imperial president."

I think the conversation ended with Sullivan's Yes, We Are At War, Ctd. " I think it comes down to the notion that Glenn thinks this person is being accused of a crime in a non-military context whereas I think he is a self-described member of an enemy organization dedicated to waging war against us (which takes us back to square one)."

"I wish either of us had all the information the government has to resolve this question beyond a reasonable doubt - but am realistic enough to know that in wartime in these matters, some trust in a duly elected president of the United States at war and some secrecy in war operations is something we just have to live with."

Shadow Banking Dangers

A couple of months ago Mark Thoma wrote about Shadow Banking Dangers "The recent Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation takes important steps toward stabilizing the financial sector, but it may have created a false sense of security. There is a large and worrisome vulnerability to bank runs that the legislation did not address, and we are not as safe as we could be from another financial panic."

"One approach to solving this problem is to provide deposit insurance in the shadow banking system that mimics the insurance available to traditional banks. But regulators are reluctant to expand the explicit government commitments to the financial system to this degree. A more likely approach is to restrict the allowable collateral to ultra safe assets such as Treasuries, and there is good news along these lines. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York is working on a proposal to make shadow banking safer by tightening up collateral requirements."

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2010 Asian Games Opening Ceremony - The Big Picture

Yet again, The Big Picture has some stunning photos, 2010 Asian Games Opening Ceremony "Earlier today, in Guangzhou, China, the Opening Ceremony for the 16th Asian Games took place, with lavish stagecraft, costumes, fireworks and performers welcoming participants. Some 14,000 athletes from 45 countries and territories will compete in 42 sporting disciplines until November 27. Collected here are colorful scenes from Guangzhou, China. (29 photos total)".

When a Cartoon Aimed to Be Art

Edward Copeland on Film: When a Cartoon Aimed to Be Art "In honor of the 70th anniversary of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, film critic Matt Zoller Seitz watched and discussed the film with his daughter, Hannah, age 13. The format was somewhat less than ideal — an old VHS cassette that hadn’t been touched in more than a decade — but it was enough to jog dad’s memory"

George Bush Book 'Decision Points' Lifted From Advisers' Books

Ryan Grim writes in the Huffington Post George Bush Book 'Decision Points' Lifted From Advisers' Books "Crown also got a mash-up of worn-out anecdotes from previously published memoirs written by his subordinates, from which Bush lifts quotes word for word, passing them off as his own recollections. He took equal license in lifting from nonfiction books about his presidency or newspaper or magazine articles from the time. Far from shedding light on how the president approached the crucial 'decision points' of his presidency, the clip jobs illuminate something shallower and less surprising about Bush's character: He's too lazy to write his own memoir."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sonia Sotomayor's Last Laugh

A week ago Linda Greenhouse wrote Sonia Sotomayor's Last Laugh about her time on the court so far and specifically her dissent in denial of cetiorari in Pitre v. Cain.

"‘To be sure,’ she wrote, ‘Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain.’ But she noted that the Supreme Court’s precedents give people a constitutional right to refuse unwanted medical treatment. She added that while the court has never addressed whether this principle applies to prisoners with H.I.V., the prisoner’s behavior in this case ‘does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him.’

Justice Sotomayor wrote in conclusion that the prisoner had presented a substantial question of whether his treatment amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. ‘I cannot comprehend how a court could deem such allegations ‘frivolous,’’ she said."

The Supreme Court Reads the Fine Print on Your Cell Phone Contract

Dahlia Lithwick wrote The Supreme Court reads the fine print on your cell phone contract. "Every Supreme Court reporter waits—often in vain and for decades—for a case like AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. It is a case at the white-hot epicenter of three almost completely inexplicable doctrines: federal preemption, federal arbitration policy, and class action. (I can hear the clamor now from all of you who want me to skip right ahead to the juicy arbitration explanations.) Phrases like contracts of adhesion, exculpatory provisions, ex ante, nonclassable claims, and obstacle preemption fill up the Supreme Court chambers today, like some kind of hideous jargon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At some point the phrase post ante was uttered, which I don't think even makes sense. Indeed the only moment in the entire hourlong argument that might have happened in Technicolor came with Justice Stephen Breyer's baffling metaphor involving a '9,000-foot cow.' And even he seemed to be confused about what that had to do with preemption, arbitration, or cellular telephones."

"In plain English, the Supreme Court needs to decide whether Corporate America can make ordinary slobs like us, who sign take-it-or-leave-it contracts, give up our right to file class-action suits. And in case you're wondering why class-action suits matter to us ordinary slobs, consider this: Not a lot of lawyers are willing to take on AT&T for $30.32. Sometimes the only way to police misconduct—particularly small differentials in pay (based on, say, race or gender) or itsy bitsy fraudulent representations—is by pooling litigants together and suing together as a class."

FantasySCOTUS from the Harlan Institute

"FantasySCOTUS is the Internet’s Premier Supreme Court Fantasy League. Last year, over 5,000 attorneys, law students, and other avid Supreme Court followers made predictions about all cases that the Supreme Court decided. On average, members of the league correctly predicted the cases nearly 60% of the time, and accurately predicted that Elena Kagan would be nominated as the 100th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Justin Donoho, who received the highest score out of 5,000+ members, was nominated and confirmed as the inaugural Chief Justice of FantasySCOTUS."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A List of the Hardest Novels to Film

Paul Briggs writes The Unfilmables: A List of the Hardest Novels to Film "Below are what I consider to be the most difficult novels to adapt, and who, if any, is fit to do that job."

It's a good list, I'd only heard of about half of them but the descriptions, particularly who might be able to pull it off, were quite entertaining.

Rick Perry and How is Texas Doing Economically

On Monday, Jon Stewart had Texas Governor Rick Perry on who was hawking his new book. I don't know as I've seen him before. His style makes me think George Bush's smirkiness is more environmental than genetic. Maybe it's something in the governor's mansion.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Rick Perry Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorRally to Restore Sanity

If only Stewart's staff had read Paul Krugman's blog the day before, Texas Two-Step "Hmm. Do you remember how Texas showed that conservative policies work — it was weathering the slump just fine, it had a balanced budget, and so on? Oops: Legislature likely to cut deep to meet possible $25 billion budget gap."

Definition of Scathing

Matthew Norman in The Independent reviews Bush's memoir, How did this wastrel ever find his way to the White House? A few choice exerts...

"His sadness over Hurricane Katrina is not for the victims in New Orleans, as Mr West understood, but for the damage done to his reputation by that snap of him staring blankly and aloofly down on the catastrophe from the window of Air Force One. His paramount distress over Iraq is not over the loss of life, civilian and military, but how that banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" on the aircraft carrier came to make him look naive and vainglorious. He reveals his shallowness and vapidity with these reflections in the most crystalline of clarity, and hasn't a notion he is doing so."

"It takes a certain minimal intelligence for the truly dim to have a notion of their own dimness, but this is denied him. Unlike Mr Tony Blair, who emerges from his well-calibrated if often chilling memoir as a man of colossal cleverness (though not intellect), W has the self-awareness of a bison. There seems even less to him than met the eye, and there was precious little of that. Astounding as it appears, we misoverestimated him."

"Almost every sentence in the Times extraction (and it does feel like having a tooth pulled) invokes a fatigued he-just-doesn't-get-it. Churchill is inevitably adduced, while W bangs on about his passion for reading history. Inevitably, he fails to make the connection. "Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft," urged Winston, and while Bush did little as president other than read history books, the stagecraft entirely eluded him. Some of those tomes must have dealt with the British and Soviet experiences of invading Afghanistan, and not a word sunk in."

This week I've seen Bush interviewed by Oprah and Matt Lauer. Both times he struck me as Alfred E. Neuman with his "What me worry?" smirk. Both interviewers pressed him only a little. When asked about regrets about going to war with Iraq he says the intelligence was wrong about WMD and everyone thought he had them, but the world is still better off without Saddam. Neither interviewer asked about how his administration cherry picked the intelligence, removing the caveats from the internal reports or about the fact that many people at the time thought he didn't have them. Also neither asked about the 4000+ US soldiers killed in that war or the many other wounded or let alone the 100,000+ Iraqis killed. They certainly aren't better off.

Lauer asked what he misses most about being President and Bush answered being Commander in Chief because he loved the troops. But no, there was no followup question about the burden of responsibility of that position during two wars or his failed policies that let those wars become some of the longest in US history.

Update: Oh yeah, there was another point. Lauer did ask him about the deficit and how he's the only president to not raise taxes during a war. Bush said the only fair way to compare presidents is by deficit as a percentage of GDP and that he was better than Reagan or his father and only Clinton in the modern presidents had done better. Lauer didn't follow up saying Reagan had the worst deficit before you. But if I have it right (click on the graph for details), here's a graph of Federal Deficits divided by GDP.

Deficit v GDP

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Exponential Growth Rate of US Stocks since 1871

Visualizing Economics has this great graph Exponential Growth Rate of US Stocks since 1871.

Long-term real growth in US Stocks

Here it is plotted logarithmically. Here's GDP.

What Alcohol Actually Does to Your Brain and Body

What Alcohol Actually Does to Your Brain and Body. "Everyone, it seems, takes their cues on how alcohol affects the mind and body from an eclectic mix of knowledge: personal experience, pop culture, tall tales of long nights, the latest studies to make the health news wires, and second-hand tips. You might have gathered that alcohol is a depressant, that it's dehydrating, that you can drink about one drink an hour and stay relatively sober. Some of that is true. But much of it depends on a large number of factors."

Nicaragua Mistakenly Invades Costa Rica, Blames Google Maps

Nicaragua Mistakenly Invades Costa Rica, Blames Google Maps "Last week, Nicaraguan troops crossed the border, took down a Costa Rican flag and defiantly raised their own flag on Costa Rican turf. But the troops’ commander, Eden Pastora, told a Costa Rican newspaper, Google Maps mistakenly said the territory belonged to Nicaragua. Government officials in Nicaragua have also blamed a ‘bug in Google’ for the error."

Backup Strategy

Sean wrote up his Backup Strategy.

Bill Bedard on “Little Nemo in Slumberland”

Bill Bedard on “Little Nemo in Slumberland” "This is the third in a series of essays written by the current Class of 2012 for Survey of the Drawn Story I, CCS’s comics history class."

An Evening with the Cast of The Wire

Last night I went to An Evening with the Cast of The Wire at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. Professor Charles Ogletree will be teaching a course on The Wire next spring and many criminal justice experts and Wire actors will be attending the class and special public sessions. Professor Bill Wilson is currently teaching an undergraduate class on The Wire and was also there. He wrote a recent article, Why we're teaching 'The Wire' at Harvard.

"Of course, our undergraduate students will read rigorous academic studies of the urban job market, education and the drug war. But the HBO series does what these texts can't. More than simply telling a gripping story, "The Wire" shows how the deep inequality in inner-city America results from the web of lost jobs, bad schools, drugs, imprisonment, and how the situation feeds on itself. Those kinds of connections are very difficult to illustrate in academic works. Though scholars know that deindustrialization, crime and prison, and the education system are deeply intertwined, they must often give focused attention to just one subject in relative isolation, at the expense of others. With the freedom of artistic expression, "The Wire" can be more creative. It can weave together the range of forces that shape the lives of the urban poor."

Attending last night were Donnie Andrews, the real-life inspiration for the Omar character, Jamie Hector, who played Marlo Stanfield, and Michael K. Williams who played Omar Little (who I learned was Obama's favorite character on the show). All three are now involved in programs to help inner city kids.

MarloOmar 1.jpg

Andrews said he still lives in Baltimore, though now in the county not the city. When The Wire premiered he was in federal prison. His wife watched the show and told him the Omar character must be based on him (he robbed drug dealers). He got out and ultimately had a small role on the show. He says The Wire is real depiction of the streets but it's watered down and of the course the characters are often composites. One of the best scenes was when Wallace was killed (in the first season) by his friends. These people don't value money as much as time, because death can come at any time. Andrews said he killed people but didn't know why and was disturbed when he found out in one case it was because someone stepped on his boss' foot.

He works in a law school now. When he asks academics "Why murder?" he gets the answers for money or power or territory. When he asks the kids he works with, their answer is "Why not murder?" There's all this crime but they can't call police; they only come later, to clean up. He said at 13 had $100,000 in a shoebox under his bed. I wondered if that wasn't enough to allow him to get out of the environment, what would have been.

Something that struck me was how both Hector and Williams really seemed like Marlo and Omar. Certainly not their actions, but their voices and walks and mannerisms. They put a lot of themselves into the roles. It's not easy being yourself on camera and both of these actors apparently did it very well.

Someone asked a question that really surprised me. He said a lot of the characters in the show had relationships with animals, one example being Marlo and the pigeons. It turns out it was deliberate and that many of these people have weak relationships with people and prefer animals because they don't want anything from them.

Both Jamie and Michael talked about how they approached their characters and how people talk to them about them. The general thing I took away is that most people seem to have a great deal of respect for these criminals. Jamie described Marlo as a sociopath though also disciplined. "He's kinda ruthless...kinda." He said his kids (which I think meant the kids he works with) thought of Marlo more as a successful businessman than a murderer. He's trying to teach them that we don't respect pedophiles even if they're good at it, we shouldn't respect drug dealers even if they pay the mortgage. As an actor, he worked with the writers to develop Marlo's background. in season 4, when they introduced Michael, it turns out that's basically the story Jamie had come up with for Marlo.

As a young actor, Omar required Williams to go to a really dark place. it was his first recurring role so he had to go there over and over again. He said after a few seasons he really got lost in the character of Omar and drugs and alcohol didn't help. He started answering more to Omar than to Michael. Finally he got sober and things are going better.

*Spoiler for season 3*

Michael Williams said there was only one scene in The Wire he had a problem filming, killing Stringer Bell. First the obvious thing was that his co-worker was losing his job. But also, he didn't want to be involved with this black-on-black crime. They were two smart black men, why do they have to kill each other? How does that help the black community? He tried to avoid Idris Elba that day, but ended up in hair and makeup together. Williams started to cry.

Monday, November 08, 2010

FCC Complaint Filed Against Top Level Position

In the last few weeks I've received four spam text messages from Top Level Position, some new network marketing company. I have no prior relationship with them and I pay (a small amount) for each text message I receive and they mask their phone number as 313-131 so I assume they're being sent from a website. Their domain name registration is hidden by DomainsByProxy.com

The last message was: "(TopLevelPos)Top Level Position is launching RIGHT NOW!! Log in to your back office, click the upgrade button and start getting paid! www.toplevelposition.com"

I've (rudely) posted to twitter about them and yesterday I posted to their facebook wall that they're spammers but of course, by today it was removed.

Today I filed a complaint with the FCC against them using this online form. I don't know if it will do anything but it felt good for a minute or two.

Anyone have any success in dealing with sms spam? I already don't give out my cell phone number unless I know the recipient.

The McGurk Effect

Sunday, November 07, 2010

iPhoto '11 Annoyances

I was playing with the new iPhoto, putting my pictures of my trip to the Kitt Peak Observatory on flickr. It worked reasonably well though I did run into a few annoyances with the new version.
I don't quite remember how it worked in the last version but now the editing controls are on a right-hand panel and divided into three tabs. There's still a lot of empty space below the control and I find I'm switching between tabs often which seem unnecessary. If I use the Enhance button, I have to the Adjust tab to fine tune things. I also have to go back to the first tab to crop or straighten the photo.

It's a little difficult reordering photos in an album. The drop zone is a little to small.

The last version had a nice full screen compare mode where you could see two photos, side-by-side as large as they would fit in the screen to compare them. I couldn't figure out how to do this in the new version and had to look in the Help, which isn't very Apple-like. It turns out you select them both and go into Edit mode. That's fine though it means the Edit panel is visible on the right so the photos are that much smaller.

If you right-click on a photo a little hud-like menu appears. I can't reproduce it now, but I was in a state where the photo was rated with stars but the menu didn't show them.

iPhoto supports two kinds of slideshows. One is instant, just select photos and click a button and a slideshow starts. For more control you can create a saved slideshow which lets you reorder photos and remembers theme and music settings. When creating a saved slideshow iPhoto crashed on me and I don't think you can edit slideshows in fullscreen mode. When you create a slideshow iPhoto chooses how many photos to show per slide, it seems to vary between one and four and iPhoto makes good choices about half the time. Which means I want to change this for the other half, but I can't figure out a way to do so.

They removed the Set Desktop button that used to be on the bottom toolbar. Now it's just a Menu item without a hotkey (I know I can add one in System Preferences). It would be nice if it was in the Share button popup.

Parking Issues

So it's Sunday and as I think I've said before, that means that people attending the Chinese Language School nearby come and park everywhere since there's no convenient lot. About every other weekend I'll find someone has parked a few feet into my driveway making it very difficult to get in and out (there are low stone walls on either side so there isn't a lot of room to maneuver. Apparently my town doesn't ticket on Sundays so all I can do is call to have cars towed, which does seem excessive to me and I haven't done so. I have posted a sign that says the town law is to leave five feet around a driveway but it hasn't helped. I now leave notes on windshields or confront people as they get back to their car. I've also start photographing the offending cars and their license plates so I can make a case and complain to the town.

So today when a car was a few feet into my driveway I went outside and took two photos. While doing so a woman returned and said she was very sorry. I explained she wasn't the first but it happens every weekend to me and the law is to leave 5 feet around a driveway and I'd be happy with you merely not being actually into my driveway. She drove a way.

IMG_0141 1.jpgA few hours later my doorbell rang and it was the woman who said she was very sorry and she handed me this plant she bought to make up for it. She said she felt really badly about it and had spoken to her husband. I explained that this happens most weekends and she's not the only one to have done it but she is the only one who's ever gotten me a gift to make up for it and I thanked her for it. It doesn't bother me when people park a few minutes just to drop people off as she had done but it's much worse when they come and park for 3 hours at a time. As I was saying this, while standing at my front door, another car had parked a few feet into my driveway and a woman got out and was walking away. I yelled "Excuse me, could you not park in my driveway!" She asked if she could just pull up and I said it's fine as long as you're not in my driveway.

I would have thought this would have made the point to the first woman who was still there. I thanked her again but she wasn't merely doing the "I'm sorry, here's a gift, let me not take anymore of your time" thing. She spoke with a strong accent and I wasn't sure if I was missing a cultural cue. We kept talking and I said that the town doesn't ticket on Sundays and the only option I have is to call to have cars towed but I don't really want to do that. I said I've been taking pictures to build a case just to demonstrate the problem and it occurred to me that she was concerned about the photo. She asked if I could send it to her and I said I would delete the one I took of her car and ended the conversation, thanking her again.

The woman was obviously concerned about possible repercussions of the photo though I don't know what she thinks they might have been. All I could possibly think of would be a later parking ticket (about $20) but that seems unlikely. Maybe she stole the car or had unregistered plates? Whatever. I've been fairly resigned to being annoyed on Sunday afternoons and today I had a pleasant surprise.

Americans are NOT stupid


well, it's not just us...

Friday, November 05, 2010

Mad Men: Don Draper Says "What?"

I saw references to this all week but finally watched it. It's a nice demonstration of acting...

Wave Gives GOP Upper Hand in Drawing Election Map

The worst thing about the election, Wave gives GOP upper hand in drawing election map "Once every decade, state legislators begin the process of redrawing congressional districts to reflect changes in population, a process that can serve to insulate representatives from future difficult re-elections. According to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans will now hold about 53 percent of the total state legislative seats across the country. Republicans gained at least 680 seats, the largest gain by either party since 1966, said NCSL."

The Fed's Plan

"Stocks rallied Thursday to their highest level since September 2008 as investors applauded the Federal Reserve's latest effort to stimulate the struggling economy."

"Investors pushed stocks higher as they digested the Fed's plans, announced on Wednesday, to purchase an additional $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities by June in a second round of quantitative easing, dubbed QE2. The central bank also will keep reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings. "I'm a little surprised that there wasn't a 'sell the news' reaction, but people are clearly relieved at the size of the quantitative easing package," said Ben Halliburton, chief investment officer at Tradition Capital Management."

Unfortunately economists like Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman aren't relieved. Two Years Late and Many Dollars Short and QE2: Meh. "So now the Fed is buying longer-term debt — but still only 5-year debt, with a current interest rate of slightly over 1 percent. How much more effective is that likely to be? And $600 billion really isn’t a lot when you’re trying to move a $15 trillion economy. One more thing: the Fed statement basically reaffirms the existing inflation target, it doesn’t raise it. So not much traction on the expectations side either."

Mark Thoma also agrees, Bernanke: What the Fed Did and Why. "The purchase should have been much larger, and it should have involved longer term Treasury securities (the plan is for 5 to 6 year bonds). The language in the Press Release about maintaining stable expectations was also disappointing to those who have ben advocating a higher inflation target. This is not, by any means, a bold plan. That's unlikely to change. Even if the economy continues to struggle, it's hard to imagine the Fed doing anything more than moving at a "measured pace," a pace too slow to do much except chip away at the margins. With fiscal policy out the window and a timid, tip-toeing Fed, we're likely headed for an agonizingly slow recovery."

Economist Karl Smith goes into a little more detail on what the Fed should do, Recovery is still job No. 1. "For a variety of reasons, I’ve argued that the Fed move to a permanently higher inflation target, something in the range of 4 percent -- a smidge above the inflation rate we had during the Clinton administration. There are many reasons for this. It would serve as a buffer against future economic crises, and because of the relationship between inflation and mortgage rates, it would mean that homeowners would naturally grow into their monthly payments and the inflation-adjusted principle on home loans would decline over time. However, the biggest reason to support an increase in the rate of inflation is that it would jolt the economy into growing again. Right now business and banks are holding tons of cash on their balance sheets. Part of the reason they do this is because, unlike in previous eras, there is little financial penalty for hoarding cash."

Krugman wrote, The Strange Death of Fiscal Policy. "So, it’s an amazing thing: Obama and company have managed to convince people that big government failed, without actually delivering big government." DeLong agrees. "This is an absolutely remarkable government that we have. And an absolutely remarkable political class."

Meanwhile, the unemployment numbers came out.

MacBook Air Reviews

I haven't seen one of the new MacBook Air's in person yet, but I will soon. I still don't think there's one in my immediate future.

The future of notebooks: Ars reviews the 11" MacBook Air and here's Lucky 13: A 13" MacBook Air Review.

Bachmann Outraged Over Made Up Cost Of Obama's India Trip

TPM writes Bachmann Outraged Over Made Up Cost Of Obama's India Trip. "'Well I think we know that just within a day or so the President of the United States will be taking a trip over to India that is expected to cost the taxpayers $200 million a day,' Bachmann said. 'He's taking two thousand people with him. He'll be renting out over 870 rooms in India. And these are 5-star hotel rooms at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel. This is the kind of over-the-top spending, it's a very small example, Anderson.'"

At least Anderson Cooper pointed out the figure was made up, too bad it didn't matter to the Congresswoman from MN. Rachel Maddow covered this last night too, how the right-wing media is good at turning their own rumors into facts by saying "the media is talking about it". She even had John Hodgeman as an expert on making up facts.

Krugman reminds us this is just the beginning of the fake scandals.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What the fuck has Obama done so far?

What the fuck has Obama done so far?. Just keep reloading it. It's not unimpressive.

Anyone Want a Huge Bookstore?

New England Mobile Book Fair seeks a buyer "The Newton-based New England Mobile Book Fair, the largest independent bookstore in New England, is seeking a buyer."

More here. "We don’t have complete consensus among the three owners as to how to run the business in the current climate; there’s no clear succession in the family, and there are health issues among a family member that are important enough to affect business decisions, Gans said. “It’s still a very robust and high-volume store,” said Gans, adding that the owners put the store on the market now rather than January so people would not think the decision was made because business was poor."

Post Election Coverage

The 2010 FactCheck Awards "We present a look at funny, scary and just plain bizarre campaign ads."

MSNBC's blog wrote Just 32% of Tea Party candidates win, I guess that's good news. In the Senate 5/9 won with a tenth still undecided (Joe Miller in AK). In the House just 40/122 won, with 8 more undecided.

TPM writes All 95 Candidates Who Pledged Support For Net Neutrality Lost On Tuesday. I doubt that was a big issue on voters minds but they were all Democrats.

Ezra Klein wrote Democrats lost big because young voters stayed home and had this graph:


Kevin Drum in Pundit Alert commented on a few more and of course so did Glenn Greenwald in Pundit sloth: Blaming the left.

The New York Times says Democrats Outrun by a 2-Year G.O.P. Comeback Plan and describes it a bit. They used Rahm Emanuel's tactics of having a list and going after lots of weak and strong candidates (which just seems like common sense).

"They also tried to push Democrats into retirement, using what was described in the presentation as “guerilla tactics” like chasing Democratic members down with video cameras and pressing them to explain votes or positions. (One target, Representative Bob Etheridge of North Carolina, had to apologize for manhandling one of his inquisitors in a clip memorialized on YouTube. Only this week did Republican strategists acknowledge they were behind the episode.)"

They also talked about Rove's new group American Crossroads which fed a lot of money into advertising campaigns thanks to the Citizen's United ruling.

Marc Ambinder writes What Now? An Epic Election Meets the Future. "Amid all of the post-morterms, Republicans will be exceptionally busy. Many in the party will try to discredit the very idea of a rump session of Congress given the magnitude of the defeat. Watch for groups like American Crossroads to spend money on television advertising here -- they've got to spend at least 51% of it on things other than candidates, and they have plenty left over. Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and the Tea Party contingent of new House members will argue that a rump session is a chance for Democrats to ram unpopular policies through America's throats after they've made a decision to change direction. Will Speaker-elect Boehner face a challenge? Will the Republicans have to incorporate someone with Tea Party credentials into the leadership, especially if Rep. Mike Pence leaves the ranks to run for President? (Rep. Kevin McCarthy is a logical candidate for a promotion.)"

"Democrats are already playing down the notion that they'll get much done in a lame duck session. They'd rather punt to January particularly the big issues, like tax cuts. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"? Don't even bother. On taxes, the outline of a compromise is there, having been floated by Vice President Biden: the rates might stay in place for a larger number of wealthier Americans. The Estate Tax, which jumps up to 55% in January, will probably be restored at a lower rate. Capital gains taxes will also be higher, but not as high as they're slated to be. Supporters of the START treaty are very worried."

"According to Newsweek, the White House plans to aggressively enforce environmental regulations as they anticipate efforts from Republicans to strip authority from the EPA. Compromise on renewable energy standards is possible, but the posturing between Rep. Joe Barton[he was the one who apologized to BP for the congressional hearings after the spill], the chairman of the energy committee, and the administration, may make this terribly difficult. The GOP plans to hold high profile hearings examining the alleged "scientific fraud" behind global warming, a sleeper issue in this election that motivated the base quite a bit. "

Anti-Gay Groups Defeat Iowa Supreme Court Justices

TPM reported Anti-Gay Groups Defeat Iowa Supreme Court Justices.

"In Iowa, judges are not elected. But at the end of each term, they go up for retention, meaning Iowans can vote yes or no one whether to keep them around. If they kick the justices out, as they did last night, the governor appoints new ones."

This system started in 1962 and this is the first time any Justice has been kicked out. Tuesday, all three that were up lost because of a vote last year where the Iowa Supreme Court unanimously found that said same-sex marriage was legal.

"Groups spent more than $700,000 to convince voters to kick the judges out, funding a statewide "Judge Bus" tour, radio ads, TV ads, text messages and polling. Even Citizens United chipped in $18,000 at almost the last minute. The president of the Human Rights Campaign, which drew attention to the anti-gay groups' efforts, warned today that the victory was intended to intimidate judges nationwide."

This is why the founders appointed Supreme Court judges for life and why Justice O'Connor is pushing to remove elections for state judges.

Paul Ryan Is Not A Fiscal Conservative

Simon Johnson writes Paul Ryan Is Not A Fiscal Conservative "It is up to the Obama administration to explain clearly and widely why Mr. Ryan’s proposals do not deal with the first order problems that have increased government debt dramatically in the past decade and that threaten future fiscal stability.  Let us hope the White House has learned from the midterms that there are dire electoral consequences when the president shrinks from directly confronting misleading ideas."

Lessons learned from the 'low toner' terrorist attack

I like this list from Daniel W. Drezner, Lessons learned from the 'low toner' terrorist attack | . Here's the first of 5:

"1) Al Qaeda failed… again. Seriously, if al Qaeda is ostensibly the New York Yankees of terrorism, the Steinbrenners would have fired the GM and coach years ago."

What the Hell Happened to Nova

Seth asks What the Hell Happened to Nova?

"Then they spent the last twenty minutes talking about how the sizes and proportions of the cathedrals are all based on numbers from the bible. They had a couple of contributors who measured specific cathedrals and then declared that the measurements corresponded to a number they found in the bible. I’ll focus on one of those - Stephen Murray, Professor of Medieval Art History at Columbia University - because he does more inferring about numbers than the others in the episode. The first observation was about the dimensions of the central square at Amiens cathedral, which is fifty feet on a side:

STEPHEN MURRAY: Noah’s ark was 50 cubits. This is 50 feet. And this lies at the heart of the building.

So, out of the thousands of cathedrals in Europe, each with an infinite number of dimensions you could pick (height of towers, length of transepts, numbers of stones in the facade, number of gargoyles with four teeth, etc.) and thousands of numbers in the bible, you’ve managed to find one arbitrary number from one cathedral that is the same as an even more arbitrary number in the bible? And it’s not even the same units? And that’s evidence for what? I think you at home can probably come up with a couple of other reasons for designing something to be a fifty-foot square. Take two and a half seconds right now…"

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Real Prize in Tuesday's Elections

On Monday Nick Baumann pointed out The Real Prize in Tuesday's Elections. "Forget the Senate and House. That's short-term thinking. The real prize in Tuesday's midterm elections is the power to draw congressional seats and determine the country's balance of power for the next decade."

The Tip on the Printer Bombs

BBC News reported Bombs tip-off 'came from former al-Qaeda member' "The crucial tip-off that led to the discovery of parcel bombs on two cargo planes came from a repentant al-Qaeda member, UK officials say. Jabr al-Faifi handed himself in to authorities in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, the officials told the BBC."

"Jabr al-Faifi is reportedly one of several former detainees at the US detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who were returned to Saudi Arabia for rehabilitation in December 2006. After leaving Guantanamo he went through a rehabilitation programme in Saudi Arabia and then rejoined al-Qaeda in Yemen before turning himself in to Saudi authorities, AFP news agency reports."

"BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says most of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's more dangerous operatives are Saudis, driven out of their own country by a highly effective counter-terrorism campaign that has not yet been matched in Yemen."

MSNBC added, "Some U.S. officials, however, told NBC News they doubt that al-Faifi provided the key tip, saying he had left a Yemen terror group too early to have specific knowledge of the plot. The White House and CIA refused to discuss what role, if any at all, al-Faifi played in discovering it."

"The Yemeni security officials said they suspect that the Saudis planted al-Faifi in al-Qaida in Yemen as a double agent. Al-Faifi's surrender may have revealed other plots as well. In mid-October, Saudi Arabia warned European authorities of a new terror threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, saying the group's operatives were active on the continent, particularly in France."

"Al-Asiri and his brother abruptly left their Mecca home three years ago, their father, a four-decade veteran of the Saudi military, said. Aside from a brief phone call to say they had left the country, he never heard from them again. With the bomb hidden in a body cavity, Abdullah approached the prince and blew himself up. The prince was only wounded. "That was the thing that infuriated the Saudis and made them step up their intelligence operations in Yemen and almost completely sidestep the Yemenis," said a Yemeni security official familiar with the kingdom's activity in his country."

A few days earlier the New York Times pointed out, "“This latest role is one in a series of Saudi intelligence contributions,” said Thomas Hegghammer, a research fellow at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment. “They can be helpful because so much is going on in their backyard, and because they have a limitless budget to develop their abilities.”...The Qaeda group’s main goal is to topple the Saudi monarchy, which they consider illegitimate and a slave to the West."

"Saudi Arabia’s counterterrorism program differs from its Western counterparts in striking ways. It includes a familiar “hard” element of commando teams that kill terrorists, along with vastly expanded surveillance. The streets of major Saudi cities are continuously watched by cameras, and most Internet traffic goes through a central point that facilitates monitoring. But the program also has a softer side aimed at re-educating jihadists and weaving them back into Saudi society. The government runs a rehabilitation program for terrorists, including art therapy and efforts to find jobs and wives for the former convicts. The program suffered an embarrassment last year when two of its graduates, who had also been in Guantánamo, fled the country and became leading figures in Al Qaeda’s Arabian branch. But Saudi officials defend their overall record, noting that the program now has 349 graduates, of whom fewer than 20 have returned to terrorism."

The Christian Science Monitor points out, Who saved the day in Yemen bomb plot? Once again, a Muslim. "A report released last month by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a US-based lobbying group, found that 1 in 3 Al Qaeda plots targeting America since 9/11 have been exposed by Muslim Americans. The report argues 'this highlights the importance of law enforcement partnering with citizens through community-oriented policing.'"

Why Obama Should Learn the Lesson of 1936, not 1996

Robert Reich wrote, Why Obama Should Learn the Lesson of 1936, not 1996 "Which lesson will the President learn — that of Clinton in 1996, or FDR in 1936? The choice will determine his strategy over the next two years. Hopefully, he’ll find 1936 more relevant. Obama shouldn’t be fooled into thinking Bill Clinton was reelected in 1996 because he moved to the center. I was there. Clinton was reelected because by then the economy had come roaring back to life."

Now This Would Restore Sanity

Greg Mankiw's Blog: From Saturday's DC RallyNewImage.jpg

Forgotten SF Books

New Scientist writes Brilliant SF books that got away "From The War of the Worlds to Nineteen Eighty-Four, some science fiction goes down in history. But what about the brilliant books that got away? We asked scientists and writers to nominate their lost sci-fi classics, and we've set a competition for flash fiction inspired by them – read on to find out more."

Pumpkin Contest Winners

Duarte Blog posted their Pumpkin Contest Winners.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

TV Review: The Walking Dead

AMC's fourth original series premiered Sunday night and I finally watched it. The Walking Dead is a zombie show based on a comic series written by Robert Kirkman that's been running since 2003. I'm not a fan of zombie movies though I have some friends that are. I'm a fan of Kirkman's other work and the comic has gotten lots of praise so I tried it. I've been reading it as it's collected in trade paperbacks (of six issues each) and have gotten very caught up in it. It's suspenseful and puts the characters through some very dramatic situations. Anything can happen and any character can be killed at any time. The TV series did well in casting unknowns (at least to me) in the roles. I reread the first trade before watching the pilot. The pilot was very faithful while making a few successful changes.

The rest of this review is all spoilers.

I liked the opening scene, with Rick, post-apocalypse wandering through a scene that started looking like a traffic accident and opened up to be a camp near a gas station and leading up to him finding a girl. It played well with the opening of the comic (the car shootout with police shown next) and brought you into a creepy mood. I didn't love the handheld camera, the scene was a deliberate cinematic reveal, not a you-are-there perspective. Also it should have been clearer that the rest was a flashback.

The next scene of the conversation between Rick and Shane in the car and the opening shootout was very well done. I got a distinct Tarantino feel of a character driven scene all leading up to something that you knew was coming and yet still surprised you. Well I knew it was coming because it's how the comic opened.

Then the hospital scene. It was done before in 28 Days Later and the original comic telling of this was simultaneous to that. Still it worked. There were some details I really liked. There was a gurney in front of his door which might explain how he was left in there. I'm not sure about the big "Don't Open Dead Inside" sign, where would they have gotten the paint to do that? Most lights and power was out, but in one hallway was a flickering light. Still, it all led up to the descent down a pitch black stairway that really had me on the edge of my seat and compelled to me get up and take notes for this review. I was hooked.

His journey to his house was good. I kept thinking he should have gotten clothes but the point was to show how shocked he was and it accomplished that. The few bodies we saw were probably the most disgusting things ever shown on TV so it was simultaneously bringing us slowly into this world and telling us how far in we were going to go.

I also liked the intro of the father and son. The "walker" down the street catching Rick's eye and then the son appearing to us behind him and the surprise of the shovel hitting Rick. The night in the house gave us some explanations while showing us the terror of their current situation, locked in a closed house while a swarm of zombies are outside and might come in at any moment, and worse, could be someone you knew.

Rick was good in his house, realizing his family were alive when they left by the missing photo albums. The father saying his wife took photos too while he was packing survival gear was a nice touch. The bit about people going to Atlanta seemed a bit contrived (though from the source material). Why didn't the father and son go? Also the transition to the police station was too abrupt, I bet there was a short scene cut out. Still the joy of a hot shower in the station said a lot about their condition. Then we get an explanation for why the father and son (Duane) didn't go to Atlanta and Rick and they load up on weapons. Rick and the father both try to put someone out of their misery and only Rick succeeds. The scene struck me as a bit overdone but still reasonably effective.

That was the one hour mark and was a practical episode break, the next half hour was bonus. The opening bit with the radio call and seeing the camp wasn't in the comic but did okay as foreshadowing. The lack of names was conspicuous but we recognized Shane. I knew it was Lori and Carl from the comic but someone new had to pick it up from the quickly photo that Rick had. Nice visual storytelling.

Rick starts walking and from the gas can he's carrying I think we're supposed to assume the opening scene fits here. He comes across a farm house and gets a horse. I liked that he hadn't rode in years and wasn't good at it. He arrives in Atlanta and I thought it was too empty. Shouldn't there have been some zombies wandering around? Still the swarm he comes across is large and scary. That must have been expensive for a TV show to do, but now we know they are capable of pulling it off.

Rick getting surrounded and trapped under the tank was nicely claustrophobic. I also liked the disorientation from the shot inside the tank. Little things like that keep me surprised and show me the creators are trying to be realistic. They stayed on a closeup of Rick long enough to let the gravity of the situation really set in. Then we hear the voice on the radio and know he'll get out of there with help. It's a perfect way to end the pilot of this series, a slight bit of hope while the camera pans back from an inescapable nightmare.

The Walking Dead isn't the kind of thing I'm normally attracted to, but found the pilot as compelling as the comic, perhaps moreso. I'm definitely looking forward to the next episode, but I'm also bit a repulsed by the thought. I suspect the producers are happy with that reaction.