Monday, January 31, 2011

Volcano Lightning Electrifies Japan Eruption

Pictures: Volcano Lightning Electrifies Japan Eruption "Lightning crackles over Japan on Friday as ash and lava erupt from Shinmoedake peak, one of the calderas of the Kirishima volcano complex. "

Japan volcano kirishima lightning

Bohemian Rhapsody

$3 Million Prize Offered to Solve Hospital Admissions Puzzle

$3 Million Prize Offered to Solve Hospital Admissions Puzzle "Attention, wizards, rocket scientists, game theorists and stats nerds:  There's a physician in Los Angeles who wants to give you $3 million. All you have to do is design an elegant math model that accurately identifies which of 100,000 patients from an actual 2009 database required an unplanned hospital admission in 2010."

The Best iPhone Apps

Gizmodo's The Best iPhone Apps is a pretty good list.

Fun With the TSA

Papers, Please! writes "A six-woman Bernalillo [NM] County Metropolitan Court jury has found Phil Mocek “NOT GUILTY” of all of the charges brought against him following his arrest in November 2009 at the TSA checkpoint at the Albuquerque airport."

Here's the video he made while going through a checkpoint and not showing id:

"Annoying the TSA is not a crime. Photography is not a crime. You have the right to fly without ID, and to photograph, film, and record what happens.  Your best defense is your own camera and microphone. "

So you too can be paparazzi and treat TSA officers like celebrities.

Photographing Federal Buildings

The ACLU confirms You Have Every Right to Snap That Picture of a federal building.

"The three-page document plainly states that ‘absent reasonable suspicion or probable cause’ security personnel must allow individuals to ‘photograph the exterior of federally owned or leased facilities from publicly accessible spaces.’ While we’re pleased that the federal government circulated the memo, there is no guarantee that all federal security personnel have memorized it. Therefore, we encourage anyone who is planning to photograph or film outside a federal building to carry a copy of the memo as a precaution. "

Debunking the GOP View of Europe

Paul Krugman last week on Paul Ryan's SOTU response, Their Own Private Europe. He keyed off of Ryan lumping Greece, Ireland and the UK together.

"The lesson of the Irish debacle, then, is very nearly the opposite of what Mr. Ryan would have us believe. It doesn’t say ‘cut spending now, or bad things will happen’; it says that balanced budgets won’t protect you from crisis if you don’t effectively regulate your banks — a point made in the newly released report of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which concludes that ‘30 years of deregulation and reliance on self-regulation’ helped create our own catastrophe. Have I mentioned that Republicans are doing everything they can to undermine financial reform?"

"The British economy, which seemed to be recovering earlier in 2010, turned down again in the fourth quarter. Yes, weather was a factor, and, no, you shouldn’t read too much into one quarter’s numbers. But there’s certainly no sign of the surging private-sector confidence that was supposed to offset the direct effects of eliminating half-a-million government jobs. And, as a result, there’s no comfort in the British experience for Republican claims that the United States needs spending cuts in the face of mass unemployment."

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Warriors of Qiugang

As loyal readers will know, I try to see all the oscar nominated films before the awards. Lately I come pretty close each year. Still the hardest to see are the Documentary Shorts, they just don't play anywhere (even the live action and animated shorts tends to make it to independent theaters like the Coolidge). Well this year you can see at least one nominated doc short online. Here's The Warriors of Qiugang: A Chinese Village Fights Back.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

George Washington Tweeted

Kinda. The Ten Miles Square wrote Tweeting in the 18th Century .

The natural curves of human movement

The natural curves of human movement is a little video piece by NPRs Robert Krulwich. "No one has been able to figure out why humans can't walk, swim, or even drive in straight lines without reference points. Instead, we go in circles"

State of the Union

I watched the State of the Union but didn't find it that interesting. Obama was fine but vague. He was trying to seem like he was reasonably appealing to the GOP and maybe he did. It will all come down to followup policy to see if they can compromise on any of the details.

Can bipartisanship work in DC? Well Ezra Klein calls Mitch McConnell: The most honest man in Washington. He was honest about the GOP mission, "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." and this is his definition of bipartisan, "If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we’re not going to say no"

Before the speech, pundits (and Republicans) were saying Obama needed to move to the center because of the midterm election. Firedoglake points out, there wasn't Even the Slightest Hint of a “Move to the Center” in George W. Bush’s 2007 State of the Union, so there's that.

Ezra Klein has a nice collection of links and comments on the speech. He was also bothered by the point that we won't always be the biggest and that's ok. "found no outright false factual claims in Obama’s State of the Union address, but we did note some that were arguable, and some promises that may prove unrealistic."

Kevin Drum had a nice point "And a note to John Boehner: dude, we know you're a Republican. Obama is the opposition. We get it. But your preposterously ostentatious boredom during the entire speech really needs to go. You should at least pretend you're not in junior high school anymore."

One of the better laugh lines was about regulation of Salmon. But Ezra Klein says: "Like many examples of governmental dysfunction, the way salmon are regulated makes more sense when you look at it closely than when you simplify it for a laugh line. The reason fishing for salmon in freshwater and fishing for salmon in saltwater get regulated by different agencies is that it's the water, not the salmon, being regulated."

Obama called for a Sputnik moment to work for green energy and infrastructure investment although he didn't clearly tie to the obvious benefits of saving the planet (oh yeah, the GOP thinks global warming is a lie) or making us less dependent on the middle east (but that would hurt oil companies!). Of course Sarah Palin completely misunderstands what "Sputnik Moment" means "To Palin, the Sputnik moment was a bad thing for America and the fact that President Obama "would aspire Americans to celebrate" it represents a "WTF moment." Why? Because, she says, Sputnik "resulted in the inevitable collapse of the Soviet Union.""

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gave the official GOP response. It was very partisan and while not as crazy as Ryan's roadmap, Krugman found it "as bad as you might expect". He went on to say "I’m reasonably sure that Ryan hasn’t thought any of this through."

Of course there was a lot of talk about Rep. Michele Bachman's (R-MN) additional response to the State of the Union. CNN was the only network to broadcast it and a lot of people made fun of the fact that she was staring into the other camera. This surprised me: Minneapolis Tea Party Slams Bachmann: ‘One Person Has No Right To Speak For The Whole Organization’. But what surprised me more was that I haven't seen anyone mention that she thinks Obama has been president for three years!

Bachmann's Graph shows Obama has been president for 3 years!

You can get the full graph from her website. The third line is for December 2010 while the others are all for October. So in a chart with years along the x axis, she felt the need to add another bar for 2 months after the last bar. And her data does show the unemployment rate going down during Obama's administration, but she isn't happy about that.

Putting a Lid on the Bloviators

Kevin Drum wrote Putting a Lid on the Bloviators. Darrell Issa chaired TARP hearings Wednesday and allowed no opening remarks to be read (though they could be placed into the record). Democrats were surprised and annoyed.

Drum says this and based on the few hearings I've watched I agree: "But let's face it: long rounds of opening statements are a scourge. They virtually never produce anything of note, and forcing witnesses and everyone else to sit through them is a waste of time. Overall, I expect Issa to run the oversight committee like the partisan attack dog he is, but on this particular issue I salute him."

What Is Your State the Worse At?

The Economist pointed to this map The Worst Lists: State of the states.

What is your state worst at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Kindle Singles

Amazon has come out with Kindle Singles "Each Kindle Single presents a compelling idea--well researched, well argued, and well illustrated--expressed at its natural length. From an elaborate bank heist in Lifted, to Congolese rebel camps in The Invisible Enemy, to Jodi Picoult’s moving portrayal of family in Leaving Home, they offer nuanced journeys of both fact and fiction."

Is this a new kind of publishing?

Apple's Attention to Detail

How the iPhone mail app decides when to show you new mail by The Invisible explains why people so enjoy using Apple products. I wish Echofon would get this right.

The Battlestar Galactica Series Bible

i09 writes The original Battlestar Galactica series bible is Ron Moore's rebuke to Star Trek "Ron Moore's original series bible for Battlestar Galactica is online, and it's full of critiques of 'bumpy-headed aliens,' 'techno-double-talk' and other Star Trek mainstays. The most important thing to remember about the Cylons? 'They are not the Borg.'"


Lubitsch on TCM Friday

If you're snowed in or even if you're not, TCM is showing some great Ernst Lubitsch films on Friday. Lubitsch should be a household name, he was Billy Wilder's idol. I just saw The Shop Around the Corner last week and loved it. To Be or Not to Be and Ninotchka are classics. Set your TiVos...

Boston in 1860

Bostonography posted "In 1860, from a balloon tethered on the Boston Common, James Wallace Black took the first aerial photograph of a city in the U.S."


The World in Dubai is Sinking

This post from almost five years ago, Dubai's Architectural Wonders, is still one of the most popular ones on this blog. Now inhabitat reports Dubai’s World of Islands is Sinking Into the Sea. "However as of late the emirate's blustery building pace has lost its muster, and the latest megaproject to go south is The World, an archipelago of manmade islands modeled after the seven continents that seems to have sprung a leak. We first covered the world-shaped chain of islands several years ago, and now the crumbling series of ill-fated isles is sinking like Atlantis into the sea."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Movie Reviews

The Way Back - I saw this today because it got a nomination for Best Makeup. Yeah, I do that. It was also on the inaugural episodes of Ebert's new At The Movies show. Peter Weir directed (Witness, Dead Poets Society, Master and Commander) this supposedly true story of 3 men who walked 4000 miles from a Siberian prison camp to India. It's a little long but it worked pretty well. Amazing scenery and challenges. This film does reinforce the rule, if you're ever in a life and death situation you want Ed Harris on your side. While you do get to know a little about the characters (apparently you learn in prison not to talk about yourself) by the end I found I could still only visually recognize the actors I knew (Harris, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan). Also, see this BBC article, How The Long Walk became The Way Back.

True Grit - The Coen brothers have remade True Grit. I'd never seen the John Wayne version until it was on TV this December. The two versions are similar but there are differences in the story telling. These differences make me want to read the book (amazon says the paperback will be out in May for $10 but you can download the Kindle version now for $13. Huh.) So it's a straight up Western about Mattie Ross, a precocious girl who hires Rooster Cogburn, a mean and drunk federal marshall to track down her dad's killer in the Indian Territories. They're joined by LaBoeuf, a Texas ranger also after the same man. Maddie in both versions is very good, though I think she's a little better in the original. Wayne won his only Oscar for Cogburn, Jeff Bridges is also nominated. Both pulled off the drunk part well, though I think only Wayne pulled off the mean part and even that mostly by reputation. Matt Damon is the better LaBoeuf, though Glenn Campbell's (!) version had a bigger role. It's the Coen's brother's most profitable film and it's good, but it's certainly not their best. It's a little plain with none of their weirdness (except for a guy wearing a bear's head) and very washed out color. Here's an article on True Grit and the Law.

The Town is an old school crime thriller set in Boston co-written, directed by and starring Ben Affleck. It's a lot of fun and has some of the best helicopter establishing shots I've ever seen. They're quick but they make the city look gorgeous and really help set the scene. The plot follows some local bank robbers mostly Ben Affleck and his hot head lifelong friend Jeremy Renner (nominated for a best supporting actor oscar). Rebecca Hall is a potential witness and Affleck while trying to figure out how much she knows, falls for her. Jon Hamm is the FBI agent after them and I think he's the weakest of them all. It's not the accent that's as much of the problem as his expression and tone, which just seem off a bit. The action set pieces are very good. There's even a car chase in the impossibly narrow streets of the North End that every Boston native I know found believable. In the end, the film didn't evoke all the sympathies that I think it wanted it to. I thought some of the characters didn't quite get what they deserved.

Helvetica - An 80 minute documentary about a font. And it's really fascinating. Really.

Le Mans - A 1971 Steve McQueen film about the car race. It probably has less dialog than 2001 A Space Odyssey. None of the characters talk for 37 minutes. The track announcer probably has more lines than all the characters combined. It's really just the car race and people waiting to race and getting in and out of the cars. I hated it, but if you like car racing, it's probably a must see.

The Kids Are All Right - This is a family drama. What's unique is the parents are lesbians and they had two now teenage children via an anonymous sperm donor. Now they want to track down their father and it turns out to be Mark Ruffalo playing a womanizing slacker who runs a successful restaurant. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are both quite good as the moms who's characters have some real depth. They've been together a long time and their relationship is complicated. I think the script added a few twists that were unnecessary. It's a solid drama though I don't understand the tremendous praise its gotten.

The American - George Clooney plays an assassin doing one last job in Italy. But this isn't a Bourne film and you shouldn't go in expecting one. It's more like a 70s thriller or a European one, think The Conversation. It follows one character who doesn't say much, who we don't know much about and who lives a solitary life suspicious of everyone he meets. A big plot point rests on one line that easy to miss, actually by a name said by one character. A lot of people found this really slow but I got very into it (maybe because I was expecting slow).

Go Vermont!

Truthdig writes Vermont Weighs Constitutional Amendment to Ban Corporate Personhood. "In Vermont, state Sen. Virginia Lyons on Friday presented an anti-corporate personhood resolution for passage in the Vermont Legislature. The resolution, the first of its kind, proposes ‘an amendment to the United States Constitution that provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States.’ Sources in the statehouse say it has a good chance of passing. This same body of lawmakers, after all, once voted to impeach George W. Bush, and is known for its anti-corporate legislation."

More Oscar Nomination Thoughts

The King's Speech got the most nominations with 12. True Grit got 10 and The Social Network and Inception got 8. That sounds about right except for Inception.

The biggest snub seems to be that Christopher Nolan was not nominated for directing Inception. I think he should have won which certainly requires a nomination. Of course you can't just say who you think should have been nominated, you also have to say who did get a nomination who shouldn't have. Richard Roeper has no qualms about this, he tweeted "No offense to Tom Hooper, but I'll bet Nolan could direct a pretty good 'King's Speech.' Could anyone else have directed 'Inception'?" I think I agree. Though it's not clear Nolan has ever coaxed such strong performances from his actors, though in this case I think it's mostly Firth's and Rush's accomplishments. Aronofsky still spent way too much time in Black Swan following the actors around, literally showing the back of their head. I'd say only half the film deserves a directing nomination. I think both David O. Russell on The Fighter and the Coen Brothers on True Grit were very good, but not as strong.

The other one that Inception should have gotten is a nomination for Best Editing. Definitely over The King's Speech and probably Black Swan as well. Inception balanced between several stories very effectively, letting some go just long enough so you almost forgot them, which was the whole point of the film. Also the action sequences were very well done.

The acting nominations were pretty good. For lead Actor I haven't seen Bardem but he's always good. I wasn't that thrilled with Bridges in True Grit or Eisenberg in The Social Network. Both performances seemed like things the actors had done before. I think DiCaprio was quite good in the otherwise forgotten Shutter Island. The surprise seems to be that Ryan Gosling didn't get nominated for Blue Valentine. I think George Clooney did a great job in The American with a very quiet but convincing performance.

For Supporting Actor I don't really get Mark Ruffalo or Jeremy Renner being nominated though both were favored. Ruffalo wasn't that interesting and Renner's character was pretty one note. Bill Murray should have been nominated for Get Low. Maybe Sam Rockwell for Conviction.

I haven't seen two of the Lead Actress nominations but I think it's right. Julianne Moore was also good in The Kids Are All Right and Hilary Swank was excellent in Conviction. For Supporting Actress Dale Dickey should have been nominated for Winter's Bone instead of Helena Bonham Carter.

For Best Documentaries I haven't seen Waste Land and I completely agree with Inside Job and Restrepo. Exit Through the Gift Shop was good though a little long. It's strange to see underground graffiti artist Banksy get an Oscar nomination. I wonder if he'll show up? I saw and mostly forgot about Gasland. My favorite doc of the year was Teenage Paparazzo and it definitely deserves it over Gasland. I also liked Hubble 3D. I'll try to see Waste Land but otherwise my fifth spot would be The Parking Lot Movie which I saw at IFF Boston. Two others I saw there that were quite good were Marwencol and 9500 Liberty. I don't think they deserved a nomination but there was a lot of buzz about Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and Waiting for Superman.

Ebert has more as does New York Magazine's Vulture.

I'm going out to see The Way Back.

Republican Asked Scalia About Constitutionality of Earmarks

TPM reports Oops! Republican Asks Scalia About Constitutionality Of Earmarks "'The question of earmarks came up, whether or not the constitutionality of earmarks would be considered constitutional [sic],' Bachmann told reporters after the seminar."

"It's up to Congress how you want to appropriate, basically," Scalia told the members, according to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). "He pointed out historically, like when Jefferson was president, [Congress] said here's a big pot of money, you decide where it goes, and Jefferson ended up paying up a big hunk of it to the Barbary Pirates."

Have these people read the constitution? Were they in the room or listening when it was read to them?

Oscar Nominations

I know I saw a lot of films last year but it seems I also saw a lot of good films. The Oscar Nominations were announced this morning and I've seen almost of them, way more than usual.

I've seen all ten of the Best Picture nominees. I've seen all of the Director, Cinematography, and Editing nominees. Of the four acting categories I've seen all but three: Javier Bardem in “Biutiful”, Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole”, Michelle Williams in “Blue Valentine”. In the two writing categories I've seen them all but "Another Year".

I've only seen one of the animated films, I have to see "The Illusionist" (which hasn't played here yet) and "How to Train Your Dragon" (which Netflix has on DVD).

On the basis of what I've seen the most surprising category is Documentary where I've seen four of the five nominees. I have to see "Waste Land". I've seen none of the Foreign Language Films and only one of the 15 short films ("Day & Night" which played before "Toy Story 3").

I've seen all the sound editing and mixing nominees and missed only one of the visual effects nominees, "Hereafter".

I've seen all of the Art Direction nominees and I have to see Two in both Costumes ("I Am Love" and "The Tempest") and Makeup ("Barney's Version" and "The Way Back")

"How to Train Your Dragon" is the only one I have to see for Musical Score and this year's annoying category to finish is Best Song. I have to see Country Strong and Tangled.

I think my favorite nomination is John Hawkes in “Winter's Bone”. He was great in it and totally different from his Lost character (Lennon).

Toy Story 3 is up for best Adapted Screenplay. What was it adapted from? Apparently the Writers Guild Association was even stricter for it's awards and found it ineligible (along with many others) for any category. I guess that won't be a useful predictor award.

So I have to see 14 shorts, 5 foreign films (one, Dogtooth is available on Netflix streaming though based on Ebert's review I'm not that interested), one documentary, two animated films and the following:

Rabbit Hole
Blue Valentine
I Am Love
The Tempest
Barney's Version
The Way Back
Country Strong
Another Year

Of the films I haven't seen, all have just one nomination except How to Train Your Dragon and Biutiful which have two.

Monday, January 24, 2011

This Sucks

Filibuster Reform is Dead.

A Better Way to Caramelize Onions

serious eats found A Better Way to Caramelize Onions (Plus, French Onion Dip!).

Canada's Record-Smashing Mildness

It's frigid here but then there's Canada's record-smashing mildness.

"Just how mild has it been?  The map at right shows departures from average surface temperatures for the period from 17 December 2010 to 15 January 2011, as calculated by NOAA’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory.  The blue blip along the southeast U.S. coast indicates readings between 3°C and 6°C (5.4–10.8°F) below average for the 30-day period as a whole. That’s noteworthy—and in fact, it was the coldest December in more than a century of record-keeping across south Florida (see PDF summary). Blue also shows up across the UK, where December averaged 5.2°C (9.4°F) below normal. What really jumps out, though, is a blob of green, yellow, orange, and red covering a major swath of northern and eastern Canada. The largest anomalies here exceed 21°C (37.8°F) above average, which are very large values to be sustained for an entire month."


What The Tea Party Could Learn From Justice Scalia Today

I really liked this post, What The Tea Party Could Learn From Justice Scalia Today.

Razzie Awards Nominations

Oscar Nominations are tomorrow which means the Razzie Awards Nominations came out today. I'm happy to say I've basically seen none of the nominated films. There are a few small exceptions:

Jessica Alba got a Worst Supporting Actress nomination for four films: The Killer Inside Me, Little Fockers, Machete and Valentine’s Day. I've seen all but Fockers. Machete was fun at first but I didn't think it sustained itself for the whole film, still you had to know what you were getting going into it. The Killer Inside Me was weak and so was Valentine's Day.

Clash of the Titans got nominated for Worst Eye-Gouging Mis-Use of 3-D and I caught it recently on cable (in case it got a visual effects Oscar) but only in 2D. It wasn't very good.

But in general I'm pretty happy that I managed to miss all of: The Bounty Hunter, The Last Airbender, Sex and the City 2, Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and Vampires Suck.

Justice Thomas reportedly failed to report wife's income

The LA Times reported Justice Thomas reportedly failed to report wife's income "Between 2003 and 2007, Virginia Thomas, a longtime conservative activist, earned $686,589 from the Heritage Foundation, according to a Common Cause review of the foundation's IRS records. Thomas failed to note the income in his Supreme Court financial disclosure forms for those years, instead checking a box labeled 'none' where 'spousal noninvestment income' would be disclosed."

Think Progress whines a little more about it and judicial conduct.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Corporate contributions have surged for new Republican leaders in House "The new Republican leaders in the House have received millions of dollars in contributions from banks, health insurers and other major business interests, which are pressing for broad reversals of Democratic policies that affect corporations, according to disclosure records and interviews."

"Major corporations and other interest groups often favor whichever party is in charge, as they did in 2006 when Democrats took control of Congress. But the surge in donations to Republicans underscores the extent of the business community's unhappiness with Democrats and Obama, who could face serious difficulties raising corporate donations for his 2012 reelection bid. The president has made efforts in recent months to improve relations with the business community, including hiring William M. Daley, a former commerce secretary and J.P. Morgan Chase executive, as his chief of staff."

I'm surprised the article didn't connect the appointments with the one year anniversary of the Citizens United decision. Thomas Ferguson did. I got this from Rachel Maddow.


The source is here.

Landslides in Brazil

The Big Picture on Landslides in Brazil "Last week, a series of flash floods and mudslides struck the Serrana mountain region near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, destroying buildings roads and more. Nearly 14,000 people are now homeless, 759 are reported to have been killed and another 400 remain missing in this, Brazil's worst-ever natural disaster. As soldiers make their way to remote towns with aid and transportation, Brazil's government has said it would accelerate efforts to build up a nationwide disaster-prevention and early-warning system. Collected here are photos from the mountainous regions near Rio that were so hard-hit by these landslides."

Free Market Health Care

Mathew Yglesias in Free Market Health Care points out that Rep Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) singing the praises of US healthcare after it helped his mother, is probably singing the praises of Medicare.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Two Articles on WikiLeaks

Kevin Drum wrote WikiLeaks a Paper Tiger?. "For the most part, the leaked cables were interesting and in some cases embarrassing, but as a lot of people pointed out in real time, not really all that revelatory."

Glenn Greenwald wrote Obama officials caught deceiving about WikiLeaks.

Malaria Parasite's Brutal Blood Cell Invasion Finally Caught on Video

Malaria Parasite's Brutal Blood Cell Invasion Finally Caught on Video "The eerie video you're about to watch captures the moment when a malaria parasite invades a human red blood cell—this is the first time that such an event has been caught in moving pictures. The Plasmodium parasite responsible for malaria is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, and is thought to kill almost 1 million people worldwide each year."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fermi Bubbles

I went to Astronomy Night tonight and heard a good talk on Fermi Bubbles. A video will probably pop up in their archive soon.

Here's the press release from the discovery in November, Astronomers Find Giant, Previously Unseen Structure in our Galaxy. Doug Finkbeiner gave the talk. Basically they were using the Fermi space telescope to look at gamma rays across the sky in trying to understand dark matter. They took images of the whole sky and subtracted a model of known gamma ray sources and they were left with this:


He had a black and white image that was easier to see, but basically you're looking at the whole sky. the center of the galaxy is in the center and you see 180 degrees to either side and up/down. Notice the bright figure eight in the center, that's the discovery. Here's an artist's rendition by NASA


It turns out NASA always shades gamma rays as magenta and x-rays as blue. The picture shows the milky way galaxy edge on and picture us off to the right. The big pink blobs are the gamma rays and they're that big. We don't really know what made them but it's a good guess that it has something to do with the massive black hole at the center of the galaxy.

One obvious thing to do would be to look at other galaxies and see if we see these gamma-ray bubbles, but we're not very good at detecting gamma rays from other galaxies. We need more sensitive detectors for that.

Computing America’s Public School System

Wolfram|Alpha added some new data Computing America’s Public School System. "As kids start to return to classes after the holidays, we’re happy to announce that Wolfram|Alpha has the ability to compute some interesting information about their school districts. You can now use Wolfram|Alpha to analyze and compare data on student-teacher ratios, expenditures, revenues, and salaries in more than 18,000 public school districts in the United States."

Is There a Brighter Future for the Next Generation?

"Is There a Brighter Future for the Next Generation?" "American Talk Show Host Tavis Smiley moderated a panel discussion titled ‘America’s Next Chapter,’ in Washington D.C. [last Thursday].  The forum focused on the future challenges facing America, including energy independence, job creation, the economy as well as education and health care reform.

Notable speakers included Cornel West, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, Arianna Huffington, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, former presidential speech writer David Frum and others.  The George Washington University in Washington, DC hosted this event."

I caught this on C-SPAN and enjoyed it. It's three hours long but that meant they could talk in some detail and have an actual conversation. It wasn't ground breaking but it was like a really good dinner party conversation. The only part that annoyed me was at one point Dana Milbank admitted to how his reporting can distort the truth (if I'm at a rally and 99 people are quiet and there's one guy with a Dachau poster, that's who I'm going to talk to) and no one called him on it.

Anyway this site has the video embedded and c-span has an audio podcast.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Jared Diamond's Provocation: The Invention of Agriculture as a Big Mistake

Brad DeLong reprints IAS 107: Reading: Jared Diamond's Provocation: The Invention of Agriculture as a Big Mistake. KInda interesting.

More Photos

Alan Taylor started The Big Picture at He's now Moving on to start a new photo blog at The Atlantic called In Focus. The Big Picture will continue at

Civil Discourse

Last week Krugman wrote Two Speeches and an Editorial comparing quotes from Obama's Tucson speech, his comments on Souter's retirement, and the National Review shortly after.

To that colleciton, Brad DeLong says:

"And let me add Grover Norquist, May 26, 2003:

We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals—and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship. Bipartisanship is another name for date rape.

What's "Normal" Weather Is About to Officially Change

What's "Normal" Weather Is About to Officially Change - Environment - GOOD "While you've been freezing your tail off for the past few weeks, the National Climatic Data Center has been gearing up to announce new definitions of 'normal' weather conditions for 10,000 regions across the country. And these new 'normals' are going to be a lot warmer than the current definitions. "

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Cassini Delivers Again

Bad Astronomy wrote The more distant moon. "The gray moon to the upper right is Dione, and the blindingly white moon to the lower left is Enceladus (famed for its geysers of water erupting from its south pole)."


Monday, January 17, 2011

Continuity in Government

Continuity in Government "The Washington Post reports that Arizona law declares vacant a seat of any public official who is unable to discharge his/her duties for a period of three months, which might well apply to Rep. Gifford. As a matter of fact, the provision makes a great deal of sense, if one believes that the citizenry is entitled to 'full representation' (whatever exactly that might mean). What is interesting is whether the provision is constitutional, inasmuch as the Constitution, when listing the criteria for membership in the House or Senate, does not list 'capacity to function' as one of them. And the Court, in its infinite wisdom several years ago declared by a 5-4 vote that it was unconstitutional for a state to add to the criteria set out in the Constitution."

Food By State

Food By State.

food-by-state 1.jpg

We Are In A Golden Age Of Awful Television

We are in a golden age of awful television "The thing is, people spend so much time talking about how this new television paradigm has created amazing shows like Mad Men, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and Breaking Bad that they ignore the other side of this brave new world - namely, that we are in a golden age of awful television unlike anything we've ever seen, particularly in the realm of science fiction."

"So if that's the track record for a good example of this kind of show, how bad could things get with weaker examples of the form? Just look at shows like FlashForward, The Event, and to some extent V, which are all clearly indebted to Lost in their tone and approach. In their way, these shows are also the spiritual successors of Seinfeld, because they're all essentially shows about nothing. These are all shows without real characters, without real action, without...well, without pretty much anything. It's almost heroic how committed these shows are to never doing anything that might be considered interesting."

It goes on to critique each of those shows pretty accurately and then to talk about serialized story telling a la Lost. "We are indeed in a golden age of television, but there's another side to that story. The rise of more complicated, sophisticated types of storytelling have given TV shows an opportunity to screw up royally in ways we've never before imagined. "

How Much Privacy Does Apple's Steve Jobs Deserve?

The news this morning is Steve Jobs is taking another medical leave of absence from Apple and he didn't say much more than that. The Wall Street Journal (and a lot of others) wonder How Much Privacy Does Apple's Steve Jobs Deserve on His Medical Leave?.

My take is this. Some investors, or at least those reporters saying they are speaking for investors, deserve more info. But I don't think there's a good for that. The fact of the matter is that given his past medical history and the leave, it must be serious. So he'll either come back or he won't and the doctors probably don't know any more than that and the investors won't know either. So there isn't really more useful info to give.

My reaction is to usually tell people and be open be about it but not everyone feels that way and Jobs certainly doesn't. So you don't have to respect his wishes but I think you do have to live with them. I hope he gets better soon.


Last week Ezra Klein started Worrying about regulations with not much of a conclusion. Some are needed and some are not. A reader wrote in with an example of one that is not.

Kevin Drum followed up on The Problem With Regulations. "To a fair approximation, regulations on corporate behavior can only be enacted when a Democrat is president, so if you want any new regulations at all, they can only occur when a Democrat happens to be in office...The Republican Party these days is basically a ward of its corporate base, and this makes them dedicated to mindlessly declaring all regulations "job killers" and getting rid of everything they can, regardless of whether they're effective or not. That makes it pretty hard to come up with some kind of efficient, bipartisan approach to streamlining the regulatory state."

Again, I think reasonable regulations for safety and transparency reasons are necessary. I think the bigger problem in Washington is this. So much for Federalist Paper #10.

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Civil <em>and Honest</em>

Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times about the GOP's War on Logic when it comes to health care refore.

Brad DeLong adds some comments.

It's Cold Here But Not This Cold...

YouTube - Evaporating Water in -30C in Yellowknife, NWT

Ricky Gervais

I cant' say I liked Ricky Gervais' performance last night hosting the Golden Globes. Just the wrong tone. But I do really like this: A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais: Why I'm An Atheist.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

I'm Just Asking

Jared Loughner was taken into custody and read his Miranda Rights and hasn't answered any questions since. Why aren't conservatives complaining about Miranda Rights like they did with the Time Square Bomber and other terrorists?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

There's no 'job-killing health-care law'

Ezra Klein explains why There's no 'job-killing health-care law' "The GOP lifted the claim from this Congressional Budget Office report (pdf) -- but the report never says the bill will kill jobs. What it says, rather, is that the law will slightly reduce labor. It's not that employers will fire workers. It's that potential workers -- particularly older ones -- will retire somewhat earlier. 'The expansion of Medicaid and the availability of subsidies through the exchanges will effectively increase beneficiaries’ financial resources. Those additional resources will encourage some people to work fewer hours or to withdraw from the labor market.'"

"Another way the bill will reduce labor supply, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is through "provisions that prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people because of preexisting conditions and that restrict how much prices can vary with an individual’s age or health status, will increase the appeal of health insurance plans offered outside the workplace for older workers. As a result, some older workers will choose to retire earlier than they otherwise would.""

Presidential nominees stymied; Senate mulls change

The AP reports Presidential nominees stymied; Senate mulls change "Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in a rare moment of agreement, opened the new Congress this month by endorsing a bipartisan effort to find ways to improve an unwieldy, unproductive system."

"Reid noted that the slow-moving Senate is now responsible for confirming 1,215 executive branch nominees and the number keeps rising. Brookings Institution senior fellows E.J. Dionne Jr. and William Galston wrote in a study that the number of core policy positions the president must fill has risen from 295 when Ronald Reagan took office to 422 for Barack Obama."

"'Among the democracies, the United States has created - without intending to - what is almost certainly the most ungainly process of filling a government with qualified people,' Dionne and Galston wrote."

Meanwhile There Really Was a Revolution

FireDogLake writes "As of Friday evening (US Eastern time), the New York Times is reporting that the Tunisian President, Ben Ali, who’s been the country’s dictator for 23 years, has fled the country and been “temporarily replaced” by the Prime Minister with promises of major reforms, a new government and elections. All this comes after months of public protests and street demonstrations that reportedly included police killing scores and crowds ransacking one ministry and the palace of a member of Ben Ali’s family and further threats to the posh residences of the ruling elite."

A Tunisian youth wrote in The Guardian, Tunisia's youth finally has revolution on its mind "And then, WikiLeaks reveals what everyone was whispering. And then, a young man immolates himself. And then, 20 Tunisians are killed in one day. And for the first time, we see the opportunity to rebel, to take revenge on the "royal" family who has taken everything, to overturn the established order that has accompanied our youth. An educated youth, which is tired and ready to sacrifice all the symbols of the former autocratic Tunisia with a new revolution: the Jasmin Revolution – the true one."

The paradox of Tunisian water policy: "I've never been to Tunisia, but from readings I've found the country especially difficult to understand. They've had a corrupt autocracy for a long time, but some areas of policy they get (inexplicably?) right. And usually they are by far the least corrupt country in the Maghreb. Dani Rodrik called the place an unsung development miracle. Maybe that was exaggerating but for their neighborhood they still beat a lot of the averages and they've had a lot of upward gradients. They've also made good progress on education. And now this. Perhaps it is no accident this is "the first time that protests have overthrown an Arab leader." The lesson perhaps is that the path toward a much better world involves...small steps. Civil society there is relatively strong and has been so for a while. Democracy is probably not around the corner, but if you're studying social change it's worth spending a lot of time on why Tunisia and Jordan are often so much better run than the other Arab states."

Daniel Larison writes that's it's good that the US is Not Taking Sides. He has a number of other interesting posts on the topic.

A CNN correspondent writes Tunisia's military putting boot on 'Jasmine Revolution'. "The feel is very much that of a military takeover. It's hard to catch a whiff of what is being called the Jasmine Revolution."

Voice of America reports, "Parliamentary Speaker Fouad Mebazza was sworn in as interim president Saturday, a day after President Zine El Abdine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Mebazza said he had asked the country's prime minister to form a unity government. The country's constitutional council said the new leader has 60 days to hold new presidential elections."

The BBC has a kind of live blog of Saturday's events.

Shooting Victim Arrested for Death Threat

Death threat at ABC-TV Town Hall event Saturday "Toward the end of the town hall meeting Saturday morning, one of the shooting victims, J. Eric Fuller, took exception to comments by two of the speakers: Ariz. state Rep. Terri Proud, a Dist. 26 Republican, and Tucson Tea Party spokesman Trent Humphries. According to sheriff's deputies at the scene, Fuller took a photo of Humphries and said, 'You're Dead.'"

Maybe it's just Arizona?

Spectacular Eruptions of Mt. Etna in Sicily from Space and Earth

Spectacular Eruptions of Mt. Etna in Sicily from Space and Earth "Spectacular eruptions from Mt Etna are spewing massive quantities of lava, smoke and ash many hundreds of meters high into the skies above the island of Sicily. Mt Etna is the most active volcano in Europe and one of the most active on all of Earth. The volcano rumbled to life again this week on the evening of January 12, 2011 and lit up the night sky."


How Obama got conservatives to listen to him

Greg Sargent wrote How Obama got conservatives to listen to him. "It's true that Obama stated clearly there that rhetoric didn't cause the shooting. But these lines are best understood as a set up to the larger point that followed, which is that the shooting confers a moral obligation upon all of us to improve the tone and integrity of our discourse. If Obama had delivered this latter message in isolation, without the set up, conservatives would have rejected it as political, as criticism directed at them."

I don't disagree but I have two points. First , by writing this publicly you feed the right and make it less likely they'll listen.

Second, by writing this publicly you miss Obama's point. Writing "Obama's insistence that we improve the discourse for the sake of our children and our country was unmistakably aimed mostly at them." is not more civil or at least it's clearly not less partisan. It's not threatening violence, but it's not going to change anyone's mind. So what's the point other than to produce column inches?

It's like a child after he's been scolded: 'We both have to be nicer but you have to be even more nice.' The more and more I read the pundits write about this and miss the point, the more I'm reminded of a Monty Python skit like the Life of Brian.

The Future of the Health-Care Law

Ezra Klein writes Regulations, not repeal votes, will decide the future of the health-care law "The repeal vote on the floor of the House isn't even close to the most important thing happening to the health-care law right now. For that, you'd need to look across town, to where the Institute of Medicine is discussing how the secretary of Health and Human Services should define the term 'essential health benefits.'"

Comparing US States With Countries

The Economist has a nice infographic Comparing US states with countries: US equivalents "It has long been true that California on its own would rank as one of the biggest economies of the world. These days, it would rank eighth, falling between Italy and Brazil on a nominal exchange-rate basis. But how do other American states compare with other countries? Taking the nearest equivalent country from 2009 data reveals some surprises. Who would have thought that, despite years of auto-industry hardship, the economy of Michigan is still the same size as Taiwan's?"

Friday, January 14, 2011

The debt ceiling and default

Everything you wanted to know about The debt ceiling and default from The Economist. It's not surprisingly not long.

Car batteries powered by relativity

Car batteries powered by relativity "French physicist Gaston Plante invented the lead-acid battery in 1859 – almost 50 years before Einstein developed his theories of relativity. Now scientists have found that the lead-acid battery, which is commonly used in cars, strongly relies on the effects of relativity. Specifically, the scientists calculated that 1.7-1.8 volts of the lead-acid battery’s 2.1 volts (or about 80-85%) arise from relativistic effects."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Thoughts on Obama's Speech

I wasn't going to but I did end up watching Obama's speech in real time last night. I agree with most everyone that it was excellent, as good as his race speech and the 2004 DNC keynote address. I did think the cheering was a bit much but I got used to it and it felt good. There's no right way to grieve, so all the more power to them. I was just amazed there were that many people cheering Obama's words in red state Arizona.

I've been trying to figure out if I have anything worthwhile to say about it. Andrew Sullivan collects various reactions to Obama's speech and one of his readers put it very eloquently.

I wanted to ignore Palin's speech too but while reading my rss feeds I saw a lot about it. Obama made me feel bad for posting what I thought were the better comments about it.

I watched a fair amount of MSNBC afterwards and it seemed that some didn't know what to say, Maddow was rather factual about it all, practically doing just play-by-play. A few times people got to comparing Palin to Obama and pointing out that he rose to the occasion and showed true leadership and she didn't. Fair enough but it got me thinking even more about why the pundits spent the day talking about her. Because they're paid to be on the air talking and she's been deemed newsworthy because some people listen to her.

I'd like to go on about what I think about that, but then I keep thinking about Obama. He didn't do any of that. He led by example and spoke about the people who were injured, the heroes of the day and what we should be doing in the future. The thing he said that most resonated with me that I keep going back to was this:

"And in Christina -- in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic, so full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate -- as it should -- let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle."

"The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud."

"She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted. I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."

I really think that was brilliant. Without being specific about what we should do he phrased it in such a way that everyone can relate to and imagine that they aren't doing enough. He set an unachievable goal that we can all feel good about striving for.

I want to go on with how our politics have become polarized. Sure this week the Republicans kept saying both sides are too extreme but I still don't think that's true. I still don't think both sides are equally bad. Media Matters details three previous cases where Beck's Incendiary Rhetoric Has Motivated Threats, Assassination Attempts. Tell me the equivalent on the left? I have called Bush and Cheney war criminals for lying about reasons to go to war with Iraq. I think that's a logical conclusion. I wanted trials not insurrection which also seems pretty reasonable to me. But there I go again.

I honestly do think that Limbaugh and Beck are just playing characters and don't believe the lies they spew and don't care if their listeners do. I think Palin believes them. Sure the Republicans think their opinions are reasonable too. As Jon Stewart was trying to point out with Tim Pawlenty they do seem to react more extremely. You aren't just wrong you're treasonous. Kevin Drum thinks it's because the right takes things more personally. I don't know

But there I go again. I keep hearing Obama not talk about such things. We should instead talk about how to solve problems. But I don't see him doing that much either. I don't see him making a case that to get the economy moving forward and to cut our dependence on oil and to stop climate change we should build a new energy industry. He's mentioned it a little but he hasn't made the case, certainly not enough to convince anyone who wasn't already convinced. And how will he do that when the right thinks climate change is a hoax and apologizes to BP? Ok, the Republicans won the House, but did they have to appoint one of the biggest climate change deniers chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Economy? How do you get past that?

The health care bill passed via some horrendous back room deals and party line votes. The Democrats didn't convince anyone they were right. Instead lies about death panels won the debate. How do you beat that? Not with silence. Another Andrew Sullivan reader points out that last night Obama called for "civil and honest public discourse."

I hope we can have that. I hope both sides provide it. But what do we do if one side fails to do so? My instinct has been to call them out on it, to fight lies with the truth. The difference between the effectiveness of Obama's speech last night and all the pundits talking about Palin during the day makes me question that. I think the answer is that there's a difference between being effective in a speech and in governing and Obama's presidency up to now proves that point.

I have always welcomed a reasoned debate on policy. I keep hoping the right will present a reasonable conservative alternative and we can compromise. But I honestly (and civilly) haven't see it yet. Their numbers don't add up on healthcare or the economy. They don't list any significant program they'd cut while also cutting taxes to reduce the deficit. They say Democrats are cutting billions from Medicare but neglect to say to say it's from the inefficient Medicare Advantage program (which is a public subsidy of private outsourcing). We had 8 years of cutting taxes and it didn't produce jobs, why will it now? Trickle down is as discredited as Andrew Wakefield.

Sigh. Christina wouldn't like this very much. I wish I knew how to satisfy her.

Telescopes and Milky Way

NewImage.jpgTelescopes and Milky Way "The 10-meter South Pole Telescope and the BICEP Telescope at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, against the night sky with the Milky Way"

The Unspeakable, in Its Jammies

The Unspeakable, in Its Jammies is Michael Chabon explaining how he read Huck Finn to his kids.

The Best Documentaries of 2010

Ebert lists The best documentaries of 2010.

I've seen 6 of them:

Exit Through the Gift Shop - I reviewed it here.
Inside Job - I never reviewed it but I liked it a lot. A great summary of the causes of the economic collapse.
Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work - A friend and I concluded this was very good in spite of the creator. Rivers is a very interesting subject and the year they followed her was quite eventful in her life. When you set out to make a documentary like this you never quite know what you're going to get. But the film itself
Restrepo - This is probably the best doc I've seen on the Afghanistan war and one of the best war docs ever.
Waiting for Superman - Good doc on education. It played the heart strings a little too blatently
Winnebago Man - I saw this in 2009 at IFF Boston and reviewed it here.

Stunning New Images From Cassini’s Close Flyby of Rhea

Universe Today wrote Stunning New Images From Cassini’s Close Flyby of RheaNewImage.jpg

"Jia-Rui C. Cook from the Cassini team sent out an alert that raw images from Cassini’s closest flyby of Saturn’s moon Rhea have begun streaming to Cassini’s raw image page, and they are well worth a look. At closest approach, Cassini came within about 69 kilometers (43 miles) of Rhea’s surface on Jan. 11. But there’s also some interesting group photos from within the Saturn System. One of the best is this image, above. How many moons can you find? I probably wouldn’t have seen them all but Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Blog spied five moons and the rings in this one wide-angle shot. The large moon is Rhea; above Rhea and just below the rings, is Dione; above and to the left of Rhea is Tethys. Then there are two tiny moons: squint hard to see Prometheus as tiny lump on the rings to the left of Dione, and Epimetheus is hovering between Tethys and Rhea. See some more, including closeups of Rhea and Saturn’s storm, below."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Solving the Voorwerp Mystery

io9 wrote Solving the cosmic mystery of the green blob in space "As strange as Hanny's Voorwerp first appeared, it's actually part of something much larger and more bizarre. It looks like a giant green space blob, but it's actually just one part of a massive, 300,000 light-year long ring that stretches around the entirety of galaxy IC 2497, and we were only able to see any part of it because the quasar was pointed in the right direciton. The ring isn't just long, it's also unimaginably thick - astronomers estimate Hanny's Voorwerp covers all the sapce 44,000 to 136,000 light-years from the galaxy's core."

HubbleSite has more details and a great picture by Hubble.


Water Disputes

Apparently the Supreme Court deals frequently with water disputes among the states. Here are two articles about recent cases. The first has been settled, a bit unconventionally. The second case was argued on Monday but has not been decided.

The key to settling a big fight. "Some 11 months ago, the Supreme Court divided deeply as it decided a preliminary issue in a long-running spat between neighboring states over their competing needs for water. For the first time in the Court’s history of refereeing such interstate disputes, the majority allowed private claimants to something owned by sovereign states to assume a key role in the lawsuit. The 5-4 decision sparked a rousing dissent by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. It now turns out that the ruling may well have been the key to the settlement of the entire dispute, leading to the lawsuit’s dismissal earlier this month. "

Argument recap: The murky depths of water law "For most of the hour set aside on Monday to hear a major dispute over water, between two thirsty states, the Supreme Court waded to and fro among the phrases of a formal compact that supposedly defines each state’s rights — but, apparently, not carefully enough drafted to be clear. What the Court came to appreciate, before the hour was over, though, was that in the western states, life — as to water rights, at least — is not fair. Justice Stephen G. Breyer summed it up best: “There’s no way to read this compact so it’s share-and-share alike….There’s no fair way to decide this case.”"

Still My Favorite Sandwich

Beyond Salmon: Caramelized Onion, Apple, Walnut Grilled Cheese.

Insurrectionism Timeline

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence created this Insurrectionism Timeline. "On June 26, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court embraced the National Rifle Association's contention that the Second Amendment provides individuals with the right to take violent action against our government should it become 'tyrannical.' The following timeline catalogues incidents of insurrectionist violence (or the promotion of such violence) that have occurred since that decision was issued."

It's really pretty scary when laid out like this.

Haiti, one year later - The Big Picture

The Big Picture shows us Haiti, one year later "It's been one year since the earth shook so violently below Port-au-Prince, Haiti, destroying and damaging hundreds of thousands of buildings and lives in mere moments. Twelve months of struggle and heartache have followed, with very little progress to show so far. Only five percent of the rubble has been cleared as crippling 'indecision' has stalled reconstruction efforts, a recent report by humanitarian group Oxfam said. It's not clear when Haiti will be fully rebuilt, with five years needed just to rehouse the government, a top minister recently told an AFP reporter. On this somber anniversary, here are some photos of (and by) Haitians as they continue to cope with the aftermath of such a massive disaster. (45 photos total)"

TEDTalk: How I built a toaster -- from scratch

"It takes an entire civilization to build a toaster. Designer Thomas Thwaites found out the hard way, by attempting to build one from scratch: mining ore for steel, deriving plastic from oil ... it's frankly amazing he got as far as he got. A parable of our interconnected society, for designers and consumers alike."

Poor Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin released a video today in which she said: "But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

Maybe within hours you shouldn't remove a picture from your website that shows the victims district with a target over it. Maybe you shouldn't have too.

I'll admit, I had to lookup blood libel, "Blood libel refers to a false accusation or claim that religious minorities, almost always Jews, murder children to use their blood in certain aspects of their religious rituals and holidays. Historically, these claims have–alongside those of well poisoning and host desecration–been a major theme in European persecution of Jews."

Even Jonah Goldberg (of the National Review) thinks she went too far. "I agree entirely with Glenn’s, and now Palin’s, larger point. But I’m not sure either of them intended to redefine the phrase, or that they should have."

Mathew Yglesias had the funniest take "Indeed, Jews throughout America can join me in remembering when our ancestors fled Eastern Europe in order to live in a land where nobody would ever criticize us on television."

Josh Marshall put it well too: "Today has been set aside to honor the victims of the Tucson massacre. And Sarah Palin has apparently decided she's one of them."

Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-SC) said "You know, Sarah Palin just can't seem to get it, on any front. I think that she's an attractive person, she is articulate, but I think intellectually, she seems not to be able to understand what's going on here." He went on to compare some of the current things to his experiences during the civil rights era.

I also think he's wrong about her being articulate.

So let's turn it back to the victims. The New York Times had this nice interactive graphic about the 6 people killed in Tucson.

Update: Sarah Palin's missed opportunityMethinks Palin, Angle Doth Protest Too Much

I Am Jack's Calvin And Hobbes

I'm quite certain I won't see anything more entertaining than this for the rest of the day...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

California's Incandescent Bulb Ban Begins

California's Incandescent Bulb Ban Begins "It's equal bits amazing and confounding that in this time of rapid technological advancement, when a 3G mobile phone is outdated in under 12 months, that there are plenty of people griping about updating a tech product that has barely changed in 121 years."

Snowing Today in 49 States Including Hawaii

Snow in 49 states including Hawaii "According to national news sources, it is snowing in 49 states across the country including Hawaii where snow has fallen atop Mauna Kea on the Big Island. Florida is the only state without fresh snow."

If you read only one John Kerry speech today ...

Ezra Klein wrote If you read only one John Kerry speech today ... "Sen. John Kerry appeared at the Center for American Progress today to give a speech on 'gridlock and globalization.' The address should've been a snooze, but it's not. It's an ambitious and plausible diagnosis of our country's economic problems as partly political in nature, and it's a sensible and complete vision for how we could move forward. Frankly, it's the speech President Obama should be giving. I'm not going to summarize it here, because I think it's actually worth taking five minutes to read it in full."

I completely agree. It's a great speech and it's worth the time to read it and ask your representatives to support it.

Debunking Climate Science Attacks

Forbes wrote this article on climate change Hot Sensations Vs. Cold Facts.

RealClimate debunks it in Forbes’ rich list of nonsense. "While it is no longer surprising, it remains disheartening to see a blistering attack on climate science in the business press where thoughtful reviews of climate policy ought to be appearing. Of course, the underlying strategy is to pretend that no evidence that the climate is changing exists, so any effort to address climate change is a waste of resources."

David Ng describes it: "To me, the picking apart of the various assertions that Bell presents is the best part. Not only does it show how easy it is to form such careless arguments, but it also provides a highly readable science primer on some of the more recent research in climatology, all in an effort to inform on the current trends in cyclonic activity, ocean cooling, sea levels, polar snow fall, ice melting, etc. The net effect is that it becomes clear that the Forbes article is largely nonsense from a scientific point of view (since Tobis and Mandia do point out the one assertion where Bell may have a valid argument), full of polemic where language is spun accordingly, and really a disheartening example of poor press."

Don't Screw Around with the Debt Limit

Not to be divisive, but "It is the most monumental insanity" "Conservative historian Bruce Bartlett explains why Tea Party thinking on national debt ceiling is 'idiotic'"

Yglesias says No Negotiations on the Debt Limit.

No The Two Sides Are Not Equally At Fault

I think the Sarah Palin target map is being blown out of proportion. Her other statements are bad (e.g., reload) and I think her relative silence and her aides claim that they weren't gunsights were lame. Fess up and move on. There were other acts that were far worse:

Here's a report from 2009, GOP Candidate Shoots At Target With Wasserman Schultz's Initials "Robert Lowry, a businessman running against Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), stopped by a local Republican event that was held at a shooting range. Lowry stepped up to show his marksmanship, and fired at a human silhouette target -- with the letters 'DWS' written next to the head."

Matt Taibbi wrote The Crying Shame of John Boehner and tells this story: "Another Ohio Democrat, Steve Driehaus, clashed repeatedly with Boehner before losing his seat in the midterm elections. After Boehner suggested that by voting for Obamacare, Driehaus "may be a dead man" and "can't go home to the west side of Cincinnati" because "the Catholics will run him out of town," Driehaus began receiving death threats, and a right-wing website published directions to his house.

Driehaus says he approached Boehner on the floor and confronted him. "I didn't think it was funny at all," Driehaus says. "I've got three little kids and a wife. I said to him, 'John, this is bullshit, and way out of bounds. For you to say something like that is wildly irresponsible.'" Driehaus is quick to point out that he doesn't think Boehner meant to urge anyone to violence. "But it's not about what he intended — it's about how the least rational person in my district takes it. We run into some crazy people in this line of work." Driehaus says Boehner was "taken aback" when confronted on the floor, but never actually said he was sorry: "He said something along the lines of, 'You know that's not what I meant.' But he didn't apologize."

Fox News President Roger Ailes said "I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that." That sounds more sensitive than the rest of the interview, and I'm not sure he's actually done it or that it will have an effect on Fox. And while Fox is big, they aren't the only leaders on the right and others don't seem to have gotten the memo:

Asked About AZ Shootings, Gingrich Pivots To Slamming Liberals For Ignoring Threat Of ‘American Islamists’

Michelle Malkin posted The progressive “climate of hate:” An illustrated primer, 2000-2010 as a demonstration to not "let the media whitewash the sins of the hypocritical Left in their naked attempt to suppress the law-abiding, constitutionally-protected, peaceful, vigorous political speech of the Right." Of course if you read it, it's all examples of random blogs and photos of crazy signs from rallies and something from comedian Sandra Bernhard.

The real difference between the left and right is that the leaders of the right endorse this behavior, explicitly or tacitly. Their VP candidate said these things not a random anonymous blogger.

David Corn put it well, When It Comes to the Rhetoric of Rage, the Right Has the Edge "The Republicans have institutionalized their side's craziness. Rep. Labrador, and others who equate left and right extremism, have it wrong. When it comes to such excess, there's not an even-steven trade-off between the right and the left."

George Packer in the New Yorker It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It. "This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We’ve all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk."

David Dayen writes Tea Party Leaders Strike Back at Left Over Giffords Incident. He points out that in claiming victimhood from the left they are reinforcing what the left is actually saying about them.

"'Revolting', 'disgusting,' 'scumbags,' and 'evil' are the modifiers used. And Jared Loughner is simply called a “leftist,” based on Sal Russo’s quick sketch of the evidence. I think these statements stand for themselves, and really indict the leaders on the right. There have been a lot of attempts at false equivalencies (the last Republican Vice Presidential candidate of the United States is exactly the same as a random Daily Kos diarist) and a lot of attempts to explain away incendiary political rhetoric with a wave of the hand and something like “both sides do it.” But the responses above on their own refute this. They resort to the pretty common rhetoric of demonization to make their points."

I do wonder if blogging this stuff is contributing to the divisiveness but I don't think so. I haven't said and don't think that the right's rhetoric had much to do with the shootings, but the shootings are certainly something that could be used to tone down the climate of debate so that progress could be made and this country needs that.

Taibbi Gets It Right

Matt Taibbi has an uncharacteristically calm and thoughtful post, The Giffords Tragedy: Is the Media Partly at Fault? "A good start, though, might be for all of us in the media business to admit that this might be on us, that the built-in professional incentives in our field are often wrong for society, and that we should at least start talking about what we need to do to change that."

It's worth a read.

Boston revamps ambulance for obese patients

The Boston Globe writes Boston revamps ambulance for obese patients "‘With a 300-pound patient, it’s not too bad, or even 400 pounds,’’ said Jose A. Archila, a Boston EMS captain. ‘But to be honest with you, with a 500-, 600-, 700-pound patient — it’s just too much for you.’’"

Monday, January 10, 2011

Various Science Stories

Earth + 0.4: smallest exoplanet spotted "Today at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, NASA's Kepler team announced the discovery of the smallest exoplanet yet identified. The planet, called Kepler-10b, is only 1.4 times the diameter of the Earth, but it's significantly more heavy and quite a bit hotter, since it orbits well inside the radius of Mercury."

Hide And Go Seek…. Supermassive Black Hole Peeks From Behind The Skirt Of A Dwarf Galaxy "According to the American Astronomical Society Press Release the surprising discovery of a supermassive black hole in a small nearby galaxy has given astronomers a tantalizing look at how black holes and galaxies may have grown in the early history of the Universe. Finding a black hole a million times more massive than the Sun in a star-forming dwarf galaxy isn’t exactly child’s play – but it is a strong indication that supermassive black holes formed before the buildup of galaxies."

Bacteria ate up all the methane that spilled from the Deepwater Horizon well "With the well unsealed, substantial amounts of the gas were released into the gulf. This plume of dissolved methane should have lurked in the water for years, hanging around like a massive planetary fart. But by August, it had disappeared. On three separate trips through the gulf, John Kessler from Texas A&M University couldn't find any traces of the gas above background levels. He thinks he knows why – the methane was eaten by bacteria."

It took a team of physicists all this time to figure out how DVDs work "In nature, of course, we see phase changes like this all the time. When water freezes, it goes from a disordered liquid to a crystalline solid. What makes AIST special is that it moves between two solid states: when you burn a DVD, you're turning its surface from an amorphous solid into a crystalline solid. Your DVD is frozen into a crystalline order with the heat of a laser."

A simple model could explain how the first cell came into being "ow two theoretical biophysicists at the University of Tokyo say they might have the answer. Their model holds that one of the two molecules reproduces much more slowly than the other, but this molecule would also last much longer than its counterpart before breaking apart. This means that a single working example of this molecule could sustain generations of the other molecule, providing some security for the system."