Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Court case lifts lid on secret post 9/11 flights

The Associated Press: Court case lifts lid on secret post 9/11 flights

"A hidden network of U.S. companies, coordinated by a prominent defense contractor, played a key role in the covert airlift that transported terrorism suspects and their American minders, according to newly disclosed documents in a New York business dispute between two aviation companies.

The court files of more than 1,700 pages shed new light on the U.S. government's reliance on private contractors for flights between Washington, foreign capitals, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and, at times, landing points near once-secret, CIA-run overseas prisons. The companies included DynCorp, a leading government contractor that secretly oversaw a fleet of luxury jets, and caterers that unwittingly stocked the planes with fruit platters and bottles of wine, according to the court files and testimony.

The business dispute stems from an obscure four-year fight between a New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc., which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp. Both sides cited the government's program of forced transport of detainees, or "extraordinary rendition," in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights."

Mistaken Fear of Measles Shot Has 'Devastating' Effect

Mayo Clinic physician: Mistaken fear of measles shot has 'devastating' effect "ROCHESTER, Minn. -- More than 150 cases of measles have been reported in the United States already this year and there have been similar outbreaks in Europe, a sign the disease is making an alarming comeback. The reappearance of the potentially deadly virus is the result of unfounded fears about a link between the measles shot and autism that have turned some parents against childhood vaccination, says Gregory Poland, M.D. (, of Mayo Clinic. In the September issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings (, Dr. Poland urges doctors to review extensive scientific research that has found no connection between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism."

Simply put, I blame Jenny McCarthy and Oprah.

Texas-Size Recovery

FActCheck looks at the Texas-Size Recovery "Texas job statistics are a mixed bag. Perry’s supporters and Perry’s detractors select the statistics that suit their spin. Here we'll just lay out a balanced look at the facts — good and bad alike — and leave the spin to others."

Earth – Moon Portrait

On August 5th Juno lifted off on it's way to Jupiter. It just took it's first photo. At center left, Earth; at center right, the Moon. "The spacecraft snapped the portrait with the onboard JunoCam camera on August 26 after journeying some 6 million miles (9.66 million km) from Earth and while traveling at a velocity of 77,600 miles per hour (124,900 kilometers per hour) relative to the sun."

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Universe Today has more about Juno, First Image Captured by NASAs Jupiter bound Juno; Earth – Moon Portrait.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

If Ginsburg Were Nominated Today...

Steve Benen wrote Political Animal - It’s amazing Ginsburg is even on the bench which is a title that's unfortunately easy to misinterpret.

"Ginsburg was the former director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, which would seem to make her a left-wing radical in the eyes of the Republican Party. And yet, in 1993, Ginsburg was confirmed by the Senate on a 96-to-3 vote."

"Indeed, let’s also not forget the historical context. In 1993, then-President Clinton reached out to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a leading senator on the Judiciary Committee, even though Republicans were in the minority. Clinton solicited suggested nominees for a Supreme Court vacancy, and Hatch recommended Ginsburg. Clinton agreed and Ginsburg sailed through.

This isn’t ancient history; it was just 18 years ago. The radicalization of Republican politics in the years since has been so successful, the scenario itself seems vaguely surreal, if not completely bizarre. I mean, really — a Republican senator, considered conservative by most standards, recommended a Democratic president nominate a liberal ACLU veteran for the Supreme Court? And nearly every Senate Republican went along with this, without any controversy?"

The Nisoor Square Shootings

The Nisoor Square Shootings is an interactive comic) by Dan Archer. It's a really interesting way to tell a story.

"Interactive timeline comic about the Blackwater shootings in Nisoor Square, Baghdad in 2007, where 17 Iraqi civilians were killed. The comic takes our slogan 'there is more than one truth' to the next level, by showing several different perspectives on the incident pieced together from news reports and eyewitness testimony. Dan Archer creates non-fictional, journalistic comics to offer a new perspective on US foreign and domestic policy and give voice to stories that wouldn’t otherwise be heard. Visit his website at and follow him on Twitter @archcomix."

FYI, here's another comic timeline, about music in the last few decades.

An Opportunity We Can’t Afford To Miss

Ezra Klein makes the case for more borrowing, An opportunity we can’t afford to miss. The real yield on Treasury debt is currently negative, the government can actually be paid to borrow money and we should do so.

"Let’s start by defining some terms: The “yield” on Treasury debt is how much the government pays to borrow money. The “real yield” is how much it pays to borrow money after accounting for inflation. When the “real yield” turns negative, it means the government isn’t paying to borrow money anymore. Rather, the situation has flipped, and the government is getting paid to keep money safe."

"Our infrastructure is crumbling, and we know we’ll have to rebuild it in the coming years. Why do it later, when it will cost us more and we very likely won’t have massive unemployment in the construction sector, as opposed to now, when the market will pay us to invest in our infrastructure and we have an unemployment crisis to address?"

"Everyone knows we have worthwhile investments to make. The real reason we won’t take advantage of this remarkable opportunity is ideology: Republicans argue that deficits are the only thing that matters for our recovery — unless anyone attempts to close them through tax increases, and then tax rates are the only thing that matters for our recovery. And Democrats have stopped even attempting to challenge them. As an economic theory, that’s just dead wrong. Deficits matter, but in the long and medium term. What matters now is getting the unemployment rate down. Need proof? Well, what’s worrisome about deficits? That high federal deficits will crowd out private borrowing. And how do we know if that’s happening? High interest rates. And where are interest rates now? They’re negative."

Independents Finally Getting Fed Up

Kevin Drum wrote Independents Finally Getting Fed Up "Take a look at the circled parts of the table: the entire middle of the political spectrum — liberal Republicans, independents, and conservative Democrats — is speaking pretty loudly here. They want Obama to fight back harder against the shouters in the tea party wing of the GOP."


Hurricane Irene Photos

Some great photos of Hurricane Irene from the usual sources, In Focus and The Big Picture.

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Louis C.K. Blogs USO Tour

Louis C.K. is a comedian and he has a show on FX. It's a half hour long and he basically plays himself (a divorced 40-something comedian with two kids living in NY) and it's described as a comedy. I can't say I laugh much. But I do watch every week because it's unlike anything on television and it's usually fascinating. I just think of it as a drama about slices of real life. He's really willing to go to awkward places and use whatever story telling techniques work to get there.

Last week, the show was an hour long and was about a USO tour to Iraq and Afghanistan. In spite of the fact that it included a bit of how his daughters hid one of the class ducklings in his bag it felt very genuine. It turns out Louis has a blog, is an accomplished photographer and went to Iraq on a USO tour a couple of years ago. It's told in several parts and it's easily one of the best things I've read in a couple of months. It starts here, just follow the links at the bottom of each post to the next one (there are some other posts in between to go through). Really, this is great stuff.

USO Tour weblog. Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan.

How the Banks Received $1.2 Trillion in Secret Loans during Financial Crisis

information aesthetics reports on a bloomberg infographic, How the Banks Received $1.2 Trillion in Secret Loans during Financial Crisis "The Fed's Secret Liquidity Lifelines reveals when and which banks and other companies (e.g. GE, Ford, Toyota) received over $1.2 trillion in public money between August 2007 and April 2010. Bloomberg News had to aggregate and analyze over 29,000 documents to discover over 21,000 different loans, which can know be analyzed and contrasted with each other."

Looks neat, though the link never loaded for me.

The GOP Position on Taxes Gets Worse

A week ago James Fallows wrote, The GOP Position on Taxes Gets Worse. "According to the AP and Business Insider, Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas (at right), the Republican co-chair of the all-powerful budget Super Committee, is dead set against letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for anyone, including millionaires. But he sees no problem in letting the current cut in payroll-tax rates -- you know, the main tax burden for most Americans -- run out."

It's really amazing to me how the Republican party is all about getting the poor and middle class to support policies that coddle the rich and hurt themselves.

Judicial Confirmation Delays

The White House posted an infographic, Record Judicial Diversity, Record Judicial Delays

I've seen a bunch of things on delays with Obama's judicial nominees and I'm not sure how badly to read it. The News Hour had a good segment on it about a week ago. Yes, there are a lot of vacancies, but he's also delayed nominating them, in part because confirmation of the person who is in charge of doing so (I forget the office title) was remarkably delayed as well.

Still as Steve Benen says, "For many, especially in the media, there’s a sense that the obstructionism we’re seeing is just routine political wrangling — Dems do this to GOP presidents, Republicans do this to Democratic presidents. Nothing to see here. This perception is demonstrably wrong. Obama’s judicial nominees are being blocked at a level unseen in American history. This isn’t just denying an elected president an opportunity to leave his mark on the judiciary; these delays are literally undermining the nation’s system of justice."

See also this infographic on Lawsuits in the US.

White House disapproves of Cantor’s disaster ploy

Steven Benen wrote White House disapproves of Cantor’s disaster ploy.

"But their demands are a sham. The Majority Leader and his caucus said wars didn’t have to be paid for, tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires didn’t have to be paid for, Medicare expansion didn’t have to be paid for, No Child Left Behind didn’t have to be paid for, and the Wall Street bailout didn’t have to be paid for.

More to the point, GOP lawmakers didn’t even care about paying for responses to natural disasters. In 2005, Republicans didn’t pay for the response to Hurricane Katrina, and in 2004, after his area was hit by a tropical storm, Cantor personally pushed for immediate emergency aid from the Bush administration, without regard for comparable cuts.

But if hurricane victims in 2011 need emergency relief, all of a sudden Eric Cantor can’t possibly support aid without offsets? Please."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rep. Southerland Complaining About $174,000/Year

Southerland struggling to get by on $174k "Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) is not impressed with his $174,000 per year Congressional salary. Or the benefits package that comes with serving his constituents in the House."

"Second, members of Congress have got to start realizing that complaining about a $174,000 annual salary sounds ridiculous to the vast majority of Americans. Southerland went on to complain about all “the hours” that he works, but this tone-deaf whining hardly makes the complaints any better — he’s a member of Congress who is well compensated for his long hours. He knew that when he sought that job, and instead of whining, Southerland should thank his constituents for the privilege. If public service is proving to be too taxing, he can retire whenever he pleases."

When bad governors try bad ideas

Steve Benen wrote When bad governors try bad ideas. "Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) came up with an idea he considered pretty clever." Benen quoted an article as follows,

"Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows. Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free — leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests."

Sadly he left out the math in the article that said the savings on the 2% might balance out the $30 reimbursement for the 96%. Still it's a rude policy and as stated, there might well be legal challenges. It does disprove Scott's theory that welfare recipients are more likely to be drug addicts. And Benen did bring up that Scott cancelled the (federally funded) high speed rail project and there's 10.7% unemployment in Fla.

Wire Inspire

Wire Inspire is motivational posters inspired by The Wire.

If you're going to be staying in this weekend because of Irene, you could do a lot worse than watching a season or two of The Wire.


Brightest Supernova in 40 Years Appears

Brightest supernova in 40 years appears "Berkeley scientists this week discovered a new supernova, closer to Earth than any seen in the last 40 years, and believe they've spotted it within hours of its explosion."

"Within 12 hours of its discovery, PTF 11kly had been observed by other telescopes around the globe, and it was found tobelong to the Type Ia category. Indeed, this is the earliest spectrum ever taken of a Type Ia supernova."

It's in the Big Dipper. "The supernova is still getting brighter, and may even be visible with good binoculars in ten days' time. "The best time to see this exploding star will be just after evening twilight in the Northern hemisphere in a week or so," says Sullivan. "You'll need dark skies and a good pair of binoculars, although a small telescope would be even better.""

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Unique Approach to Government Transparency

Steve Benen writes A unique approach to government ‘transparency’ regarding Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH). "At a town hall meeting on Monday, a Chabot staffer directed a Cincinnati police officer to seize video cameras and cell phones from two Democratic activists who were attending the event. This is the first report of cameras being confiscated at Chabot’s town halls, although he has been banning them since at least June."

"Here we have a public official, whose salary is paid by public funds, holding a public event on public property. If a private citizen brings a camera to this event, a congressman can direct law enforcement to simply seize that camera?"

Why Are So Many Modern Action Movies Terrible?

Salon writes Why are so many modern action movies terrible? "A video essay blasts shaky camerawork and fast cutting, and urges filmmakers to get back to basics."

"Written and edited by a young German film student named Matthias Stork, the piece gathers together a lot of the complaints that I've heard and read about contemporary action films into a sort of manifesto. The piece debuted earlier this week at Press Play, a video essay-driven blog that I founded. Stork created it as way to explain how action film style has changed from the more stately type seen in such films as "Bullitt," "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Die Hard" into something much faster, more frenetic and -- Stork believes -- sloppier and stupider."

I thought the 20 minutes gave lots of good examples and I mostly agreed with it, with some differences. Michael Bay is certainly an example of crap action. Cloverfield pissed the shit of me. Not only did I hate the camerawork, I hated the characters and at the 8 minute mark (I checked) I wanted them all to die. I think this started with the Blair Witch Project and am surprised he didn't mention it.

I'm mostly ok with the Bourne films using this technique. I liked the films, could mostly follow what was going on and got a sense of the freneticism of the fights. I liked Casino Royale too. I thought Quantum of Solace went too far. He shows the opening car chase and I really hated that. There's a left turn out of nowhere that lets Bond escape a traffic jam. If he had enough time to see it and make the turn, I should have had the same.

He cites Inception as a bad example and I don't agree. I could mostly follow the action, but the point of the film was to be difficult to keep up, to get you into a dream state. Nolan I think walked the line perfectly. I think some scenes in his Batman films worked and some didn't. I couldn't follow the car chase in The Dark Knight the first time I saw it, but had a pretty easy time the second.

I agree with him that The Hurt Locker used it to good effect. I think he cited Black Hawk Down as a bad example, but I think it and Full Metal Jacket are perhaps the two best examples of orienting an audience with a space that's several square blocks large. I liked it in United 93 too.

I also completely agree that more films like Ronin should be made. It's amazing and under-recognized.

I think the essay could have done better on how technology shaped some of these technique. In the early days cameras couldn't move and a editing wasn't sophisticated enough to accomplish this stuff. Also, for a lot of action, the people were actually doing the crazy stunts the films suggested. Cuts were usually used to trick the audience when they weren't. He mentioned Singing in the Rain, but didn't mention explicitly how Gene Kelly didn't let his numbers be edited to show that he really was doing all the moves.

As cameras became more portable and people were more accustomed to the language of film, directors had more choices to exploit to show the action and excite the audience. Look at the evolution of the Bond films on how action sequences got less and less realistic. The sixties were using sped up film to convey excitement and it looks pretty weak now. The seventies were stretching just beyond the possible. Live and Let Die had a world record car jump but it wouldn't have worked in a real chase. The opening ski chase in The Spy Who Loved Me is great, but at each edit the villains get further away from where they were a moment before. Then it just got dumber and dumber. I think it was in the late nineties when Bond jumped out a window, grabbed the cord from the blinds and they somehow became three stories long. To do this you need stupid camera tricks, because if the camera lingers too long, you realize how dumb it is.

But what he doesn't address is that audiences have learned to read films differently over the decades. I doubt an audience from the 1910s could follow the action in Ronin. He cites trailers and music videos as influences but left out video games. I think if you're and avid first-person shooter player (I'm not) you have a much easier time following a Bourne film. There's something to be said for being able to follow the action, and I certainly prefer that; but a month ago I blogged about Set Design Impossibilities in The Shining. There's sometimes something to be said for movie magic affecting an audience rather than just documenting a stunt.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple though he'll still be Chairman of the Board and involved with products, though his letter suggests he's leaving because of health reasons, so it's hard to know how involved he'll be. Here are two tweets I found funny:

by Gareth Aveyard: "Steve Jobs' text was meant to say: "I reign as CEO of Apple" Damn you autocorrect!"

by Mike Spiegelman: "Steve Jobs Announces Retirement, All My Friends Pre-Order Retirement"

Here's a little article posted back in January when Jobs announced his leave of absence, Who Will Save Apple If Steve Leaves? Meet The Dream Team. Apple has a lot of talented people and as much as Jobs built amazing products he also built an amazing company that can make those products. I think they'll still be good at that. Pixar is doing great without Jobs' day-to-day involvement. I think the biggest loss will be with Jobs no longer negotiating with media companies (for sales in iTunes or whatever else Apple dreams up). I remember some article talking about underlings negotiating and saying something like, "Do I have to get Steve invovled? Do you want that? Does your boss want that?"

And I'm not sure anyone still cared (well there are 236 comments) but the other big news in tech (not) was Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda Resigns From Slashdot.

Violating relativity by breaking equivalence

Violating relativity by breaking equivalence "Numerous experiments, measuring all types of phenomena, have proven that the equivalence principle holds. However, a new thought experiment published in a recent version of Physical Review Letters demonstrates that, depending on how you measure temperature, a scientist in the sealed laboratory could tell where she is. On the surface, this result would seem to suggest that the equivalence principle it not valid under all conditions, but there is a wrinkle—the researchers here suggest making a local quantum mechanical measurement. The fact that quantum mechanics is an inherently non-local phenomenon may provide a way of cheating the prerequisites that Einstein put on his equivalence principle."

2011 Hugo Award Winners

The Hugos were given out last weekend. Sci-Fi Storm has the list of 2011 Hugo Award winners.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Steve Jobs’s Best Quotes

The WSJ lists some of Steve Jobs’s Best Quotes . "Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple, the company he founded and turned into the largest technology company in the world. Although his tenure as CEO will be remembered for ushering in fundamental changes in the way people interact with technology, he has also been known for his salesmanship, his ability to turn a phrase – and a knack for taking complicated ideas and making them easy to understand. Below, a compendium of some of the best Steve Jobs quotes."

What a Black Hole Eating a Star Looks Like

The title is misleading, this is most certainly a simulation, still cool.

Russian Cargo Shipment to the International Space Station Has Crashed

io9 reports, A Russian cargo shipment to the International Space Station has crashed.

"An uncrewed Russian cargo shipment to the International Space Station crashed into Siberia just minutes after blastoff this morning. The Russian space agency is reporting that the Progress M-12M cargo ship (pictured above) failed to detach from its launch vehicle at the correct stage of the launch, and was subsequently unable to enter the correct orbit.

While the Progress freighter was carrying 3 tons of cargo, Russian and US officials have both reported that the current crew of the ISS should have more than enough supplies on board to weather the effects of the lost shipment. Whether ISS crew members need to begin returning home will depend on how long Soyuz operations are put on hold."

Animated Sheet Music: "So What" by Miles Davis

This is a pretty cute idea. Others on youtube.

HBO Venn Diagram

Nice bit from College Humor:


Social Security Is Not the Problem

Jared Bernstein explains Social Security Is Not the Problem "Social Security has a funding shortfall too—about 0.8% of GDP over the 75-year horizon.  That’s just about equal to the revenue from the expiration of the high-end Bush tax cuts, and less than half from all the Bush cuts.  So please don’t tell me we can’t afford this guaranteed pension that provides more than half of their income to more than half of the elderly."

He has more, Social Security: Principles, Facts, and Fixes

What could Obama have done?

On Sunday the New York Times ran a piece If I Were President.... "Then I asked a range of Americans who don’t labor in politics or the media what they’d do if they were president." I thought it was particularly lame.

Jonathan Chait says, "If you looking for an anthropologically perfect sample of the cult of the presidency, check out the feature of the Sunday New York Times, entitled "If I Were President." The feature asks a series of leading lights to outline their vision for the country. But the entire concept makes no distinction between the notion of "if I were president" and "if I were king." If you were the president, of course, you would need a course of action that could be accomplished either through an executive order or that could be passed through both the House and Senate. The proposals generally make no allowance whatsoever for Congress."

Ezra Klein asked, What could Obama have done? "I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about ways in which the past few years could have gone differently. I’ve even come up with a few. But none of them lead to dramatically better outcomes today."

"Indeed, if you had taken me aside in 2008 and sketched out the first three years of Obama’s presidency, I would have thought you were being overoptimistic: an $800 billion stimulus package — recall that people were only talking in the $200-$300 billion range back then — followed by near-universal health-care reform, followed by financial regulation, followed by another stimulus (in the 2010 tax deal), followed by the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” followed by the killing of Osama bin Laden and the apparent ousting of Moammar Gaddafi? There was no way. And yet all that did get done. But the administration hasn’t able to get unemployment under control — perhaps it couldn’t have gotten unemployment under control — and so all of that has not been nearly enough."

Matthew Yglesias came up with Imagining Better Yesterdays. "For example, back on ARRA, would it have been impossible to negotiate a deal that featured a smaller headline stimulus number but contained a payroll tax cut “trigger” mechanism if unemployment shot over 8 percent? Maybe it would have been, but it’s not obviously an objectionable idea from the point of view of the pivotal stakeholders and it just wasn’t tried. Similarly, timely nominations for Federal Reserve Board vacancies would have made a difference. The administration could have moved swiftly to nominate someone to run the Federal Housing Finance Agency who was committed to using the powers of that office to move the economy...The original sin here was not thinking seriously enough about the question 'what will we wish we’d done if 30 months from now the BEA turns out to have been underestimating the recession?'"

Klein followed up, What Obama could have done, Part II. "So you could make the argument that Matt’s policy would have been marginally better or marginally worse — I’d prefer it, actually -- but it’s hard to make the argument that it would have been dramatically different." Even on housing he can't come up with much Obama could have done. Now what Congress could have done is another story.

Brad DeLong wrote, "I think Ezra is simply wrong. There were a large number of things that Obama could have done--there are even things he could do now, if he wanted to." He lists 10 things:
  1. Use Reconciliation to get a second stimulus through Congress in the fall of 2009.
  2. Expand the PPIP to do $3 trillion of quantitative easing through the Treasury Department.
  3. Have a real HAMP to refinance mortgages.
  4. Use Fannie and Freddie to (temporarily) nationalize mortgage finance, refinance mortgages, and rebalance the housing market.
  5. Announce that a weaker dollar is in America's interest.
  6. Nominate a Fed Chair who takes the Fed's dual mandate seriously and pursues policies to stabilize the growth of nominal GDP.
  7. Appoint Fed governors who take the Fed's dual mandate seriously and support policies to stabilize the growth of nominal GDP.
  8. Take equity in the banks in January-March of 2009 and keep them from lobbying against financial reform.
  9. Use Reconciliation to pass an infrastructure bank.
  10. Use TARP money as a mezzanine tranche to fund large-scale additional aid to states and localities to reduce their fiscal contractions.

  11. Kevin Drum followed that with Obama's Missed Chance. "My own guess is that #6 and #7, though desirable, probably wouldn't have made too much difference. And #1 and #9 both would have required reconciliation instructions to be written by April 2009. That was only a couple of months after the stimulus bill had passed, and at the time the House and Senate were willing to include reconciliation instructions in the budget resolution only for healthcare and education funding. Perhaps Obama should have pushed harder for open-ended instructions, but at the time the administration and Congress both thought the 2009 stimulus would be enough. Obviously that was a mistake, but broadly speaking, that was the mistake, not all the subsequent details that resulted from that original misjudgment. Still, even if my understanding of the reconciliation process is right — and I'll accept correction from anyone who's an expert — that leaves six strong ideas plus two more that would have been worthwhile even if their effect would have been modest. Not bad."

    My own answer? Obama could have used the bully pulpit to to explain and support the progressive argument to the American people and to prevent virtually every policy from moving so far to the right. That might have resulted in a bigger stimulus, health care reform with a public option (though not a single payer system), Peter Diamond on the federal reserve board, Elizabeth Warren heading the CFPB, financial reform with some real teeth, and maybe less time devoted to such stupidity as deficit reduction in a recession. I'm not saying progressives would have gotten everything they wanted, but I do think that conservatives dominated the discourse, even while in the minority, and were much more effective in getting what they wanted. If Obama was making a stronger case instead of preemptively conceding, I think things could have been very different. Maybe the nation would have spent less time debating health care, birth certificates, and debt limits and maybe we could be talking about solutions to climate change that involved jobs modernizing our energy infrastructure.

    Update: Klein sums up some responses in What could Obama have done, Part III

Obama's Book Club

The Daily Beast wrote Obama's Book Club. "The Reader-in-Chief is heading for the beach. Here's every book he's read since the last campaign."

It may all be chart junk, but I kinda like it.

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Across The Board Spending Cuts Reduce Spending Across The Board

Matthew Yglesias wrote Across The Board Spending Cuts Reduce Spending Across The Board, Even On Newsworthy Programs.

After this tweet, "Currently waiting from a blog post by @mattyglesias or @ezraklein accusing the GOP of trying to gut funding for earthquake monitoring."

"I really don’t understand how people can be so blinkered as to think that it’s somehow unfair to point out that a political movement that supports across the board cuts in federal spending does, in fact, want to cut spending on each and every program. That includes programs that are currently newsworthy. "

In business, I always thought across the board cuts were lazy. If you need to cut something small like 5%, maybe they're fine. But if you need to cut something substantial, or if this is the third 5% cut you've done, then you're being lazy. It's demoralizing and difficult (and often impossible) to "do more with less". Instead, companies should re-examine their strategies to account for the lower budget. They should commit to eliminating something and concentrate on other things that are working or have promise. Significant revenue shortfalls mean your strategy isn't working, fix it.

I think the same thing applies to governments. Find what you're willing to stop doing and cut it. And if you can't, find ways to raise revenues. In Yglesias' example maybe earthquake monitoring does have some slack it can eliminate, but maybe the CDC is already dangerously underfunded.

Here's a possible example that I hadn't heard of but unlikely allies Paul Krugman and Robert J. Samuelson both like, Don’t kill America’s databook.

Is Welfare Reform Working?

Ezra Klein addresses a question I was just asking the other day, Is welfare reform working?. "Fifteen years ago today, President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform -- also known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program -- into law. The obvious post to write today is, “is it working?” But that raises the question: what do we mean by “working”?"

It's certainly reduced the rolls and costs, but it's also covering a lot fewer people.

Paradise Lost

The Guardian Eyewitness posted Paradise lost "The remains of Sir Richard Branson's Caribbean home on Necker Island. It burned down after being struck by lightning."

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They pointed out Branson's island on the Caribbean cruise I took. I think this is it:

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Movie Reviews

Project Nim - a documentary about a chimpanzee raised with a human family as a science experiment. Nim learned to sign and lived a pretty good life until the experiment ended. Then he went to a lab doing animal drug testing. This was the first time he was with other apes but his human handlers realized he was different and learned some signs from Nim! Then there were trials and a rescue farm that was a debatable rescue. Interesting story, well told, and crazy 70s science.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes - was pretty respectful of the original films. It delivered classic lines in new ways much as the latest Star Trek film did. But wow, did it fail on characterization. Andy Serkis as CGI Caesar and John Lithgow as an Alzheimer's addled father were the only good performances. Franco was less believable as a biologist than Portman was as an astrophysicist in Thor. Freida Pinto was gorgeous but empty. And as usual, the problem was with the script. There are some clever ideas here, but the people in this film are really stupid. See Project Nim instead. It's surprising how similar the two films are. An ape, raised from birth in a human house, by remarkably naive scientists, learns sign language, gets violent as he gets older, and is removed to an abusive caged environment, his first time with other apes. The only difference is one ends with a big battle on the Golden Gate bridge. The original is perhaps my favorite Sci-Fi film of all time, and I hated the Tim Burton remake, so I was going into this with low expectations. But characters really do help a film.

Buried - James Franco was good in last years 127 Hours about a man trapped for almost a week, alone, in a ravine. Buried was the other film from last year focusing on one trapped man. Ryan Reynolds is a contractor in Iraq who wakes up buried alive in a coffin. The whole film takes place in the coffin. That could be a very limited film but he does have a cell phone. At the time I heard critics saying this was better than 127 Hours but I don't think so. He's obviously legitimately panicked on the phone but he's still a little too much of an asshole. I blame the script more than the actor. It takes a few too many easy plot turns.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2 - I haven't read the books but I have seen all the films. I'm still surprised that part 1 hadn't be re-released in theaters or even on cable. It would have helped to refresh some things, particularly as this film has no summary of the first film (for no acceptable reason). It worked, there were big battles, the kids grew up. I still don't understand some motivations or plot points. It seems destroy a piece of Voldemort's has no effect on him other than making him yell for a moment. Shouldn't he get weaker? And he just stands on a hill for a long time while Harry goes through three different missions. Then it's get Harry, then wait for him and then go get him. I don't know why so many wizards were following evil Voldemort. At least in Lord of the Rings Saruman grew the Orcs. It was fine, but felt more like going through the scripted motions rather than an immediate danger (though I did wonder if Harry would live at a few points).

Captain America: The First Avenger - A pretty good superhero movie, set in the 1940s. The first half is the origin story and that works very well, particularly at making it clear that it's not the powers but the person that makes the hero. Chris Evans makes a good Cap (much better than his human torch) but the supporting cast, including Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci, and Hugo Weaving really help. The second half a war montage leading up to the fight with the big villain that ends Caps role in the war. If you're a comic book fan, they did a great job with making small changes but keeping the important elements there and including lots of easter eggs (the cover of Captain America #1 had him punching Hitler, the various costumes over the years, Bucky, the Howling Commandoes, even the Original Human Torch). It got the 40s set design, costumes and tone right. I think comic fans would like this more than Iron Man (I did) though non-fans would like Iron Man more (it's funnier).

Cowboys & Aliens - It had all the elements it wanted but it didn't come together. Daniel Craig was doing his Clint thing but he came off as aloof rather than cool. I had heard this was Harrison Ford's best role in a while, but he played the same cranky old guy he's played in everything in the last decade. Olivia Wilde was ironically more human than either of them but remained too mysterious to have much of an arc. Scenes went on too long so the two hours felt bloated. It did better on plot than I expected but I still got caught up in the details of the final battle. Why did the aliens give up on the range weapons (or even handheld ones) in favor of hand-to-hand combat. Would people in a castle stop shooting arrows to go out and fight invaders hand-to-hand?

Beginners - After Ewan McGregor's mother dies his 75 year-old father, Christopher Plummer, tells him he's gay. He also finds out he has terminal cancer. The film alternates between Plummer's remaining years and shortly after his death. Plummer comes out and begins an affair with a much younger Goran Visnjic, though he still manages to keep secrets. McGregor in cleaning up his father's affairs meets foreign actress Mélanie Laurent who might be his first serious relationship. As the title suggests, this film is about people starting over. I left thinking I just shared some intimate moments with these characters but still don't know who they are. I'm sure that was deliberate and a commentary on relationships. It's not a great film but it manages to get the comedy/drama balance right. It's a fine summer anti-blockbuster.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. - The critics' reviews I first heard were mixed. Most said the main story between Steve Carell and Julianne Moore was unfocused and the secondary story between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was really good. Then a number of friends told me they saw this and really liked it. I mostly side with the critics. Gosling and Stone were very good (I've liked virtually all of their films). They felt like real people and shared some intimate moments and were very funny. Oddly it was Steve Carell that I thought was completely wrong in this film. The film opens with Moore saying she wants a divorce. Carell completely shuts down, not communicating at all. Instead he throws himself out of a moving car, moves out and hangs out in the local pickup bar acting like a pathetic loser. That's fine for a movie but I never bought the character. It's the same awkward out-of-place character he always plays (e.g., 40 Year-Old Virgin, Dinner With Schmucks, Evan Almighty) but without the charm (even worse than in Date Night). I don't see what Moore ever saw in him. This film is more drama than comedy and in that situation his awkward schtick really didn't fit for me. It was fine in Get Smart but not here.

The Trip - played at IFFBoston this year and while the reviews were good, it conflicted with other things and I skipped it. I'm glad I did. Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon play what I assume are fictionalized versions of themselves on a week long tour of Britain's finest (country) restaurants. So it's a road film and mostly about the two of them talking. That's fine, but I didn't find them funny. Rob does imitations and Steve thinks his are better. That's about all I know about Rob. Also Steve is a womanizer. We don't see him actually doing anything that would effectively seduce someone, but we see him meet them and see them leave in the morning. And Steve complains about things. There were a few scenes I smiled through (the first tasting dinner) but I only laughed out loud twice. If you've seen a comedy (or even a drama) with me, you know that's not good. I know others that really liked it, but I found it was all smug setup without punchlines.

The Help - I haven't read the book but understand the movie is a faithful adaptation. It must be a good book because I enjoyed the film a lot. It's long, 146 minutes, but it went by quickly. This is the story of African American maids in Mississippi in the 60s. Even though they are raising the children of the households they're working in, they are treated like second class citizens. They cook the food but can't use the same bathroom or even door. Emma Stone is Skeeter a young forward thinking journalist that decides to tell their story in a new book. The performances are all good, particularly Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer but also Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain. I've read a number of complaints from the African American community about the film (and book). The first is that it sugar coats the racism, things were much worse in real life. I agree a bit and thought it wrapped things up too neatly in the end, but it's still pretty effective in making it clear this was completely unfair to the maids and the white women were completely in the wrong. The other complaint is that the author was white woman and the community doesn't need her to tell their story. I'm less sympathetic to this. She grew up in this world and if someone else wants to tell the story, let them. Similarly there are complaints that the story involves a white woman, Skeeter, rescuing the black women, which is a stereotypical cliche. Again, I say get over it, it's fiction. And it's good fiction. In fact, I think it's the best drama of the year so far.

Jaws - I've seen Jaws several times, but this summer I saw it in a theater on a big screen I think for the first time. It's great. The story is great, the (lack of the) shark is scary, the characters are fully realized, the performances are great (particularly Robert Shaw), and the music fun. It's the best film I saw this summer and probably the second best film I saw this year (I watched Inception again in April).

The Tourist - This got horrible reviews last year and I waited until it was on cable. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie vehicle set in Venice (and like The Town it had some great helicopter shots). I had thought it was a spy film but it's more like a crime thriller-romance with a Hitchcockian mistaken identity. Maybe it was trying to be To Catch a Thief but it failed. While there were some good lines, there was too little dialog. I just didn't buy the romance between the two of them. I also saw the ending coming from a mile away.

How to Steal a Million - is an Audrey Hepburn film I hadn't heard of. Her father, Hugh Griffith is an art forger. He puts a copy of a statue in a museum and Hepburn and Peter O'Toole must steal it back before it's found out. It's just a fun little caper. This might have been the film The Tourist was trying to be. Rent this instead.

George Washington Slept Here - is a Jack Benny comedy similar to Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, though made 6 years prior and based on a play. Benny's wife, Ann Sheridan gets them evicted from their New York apartment because of her dog. She buys a country home where Washington is said to have slept. The problem is it's completely dilapidated and she did it without city boy Benny's knowledge. Bandings is better, but this was fun.

Departures - The 2009 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner from Japan. A somewhat unsuccessful violinist returns home and takes a job as a mortician. This is apparently not a respected position in Japan and his wife has issues with it. Nice small town drama as people realize what's important and what's not.

Good Neighbors - is a pretty fun dark comedic crime thriller. It follows three neighbors in an apartment building in a Montreal neighborhood. Louise is the single waitress on her way to becoming a crazy cat lady. Spencer is her friend recently confined to a wheelchair who doesn't leave his apartment. Victor is the new neighbor who talks too much and is annoying friendly. And there's a serial killer in the area. It's got that indie comedy vibe and maybe it tries to hard, but it worked for me.

Skidoo - I have a TiVo wishlist setup for Otto Preminger films. This one popped up from 1968, starring Jackie Gleason and Groucho Marx! Also in the cast were Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, and Cesar Romero. A Batman reunion! Add in Frankie Avalon, Mickey Rooney and Carol Channing and how could I not watch it? Well it's not very good. IMDb says "Ex-gangster Tony Banks is called out of retirement by mob kingpin God to carry out a hit on fellow mobster "Blue Chips" Packard". But that doesn't do it justice. Instead, this is a 60s hippie farce and everyone mentioned above trips on LSD. But, this film has the best credits of all time, sung by Nilsson:

Virginia quake seismic waves march across the US

Seismometers from the EarthScope project Transportable Array measured the up-and-down motion of the ground from the magnitude 5.9 earthquake that occurred in Virginia on August 23, 2011. You can see the waves move across the country! Red is upward motion; blue down. The height of the wave was only 22 microns!

The Secret History of Guns

The Atlantic wrote about The Secret History of Guns. Surprisingly a lot of it is about the Black Panthers. But this was my favorite part:

"Yet we’ve also always had gun control. The Founding Fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that, were they running for office today, the NRA would not endorse them. While they did not care to completely disarm the citizenry, the founding generation denied gun ownership to many people: not only slaves and free blacks, but law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.

For those men who were allowed to own guns, the Founders had their own version of the “individual mandate” that has proved so controversial in President Obama’s health-care-reform law: they required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls."

Monday, August 22, 2011

How "What What (In the Butt)" unintentionally bolstered "fair use"

Ars Technica wrote an interesting article, How "What What (In the Butt)" unintentionally bolstered "fair use". "Wisconsin, state of my birth, I salute you for turning out federal judges like J.P. Stadtmueller. Stadtmueller is the man who waded into the swampland of fair use, South Park, and "What What (In the Butt)" to deliver a July 6 order that may break new judicial territory by citing South Park episode "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants" in its footnotes. And Stadtmueller has the proper feel for the absurd needed in any judge about to rule on a case involving the phrase, "You want to do it in my butt, in my butt?""

It's a nice summary of the case and issues. At the end it quotes Professor Kevin Smith's An easy fair use ruling, but with a message.

"What is significant here is that the judge made the fair use decision before there had been a trial. He examined the pleadings and found that everything he needed to make this easy call was already before him. Then he ruled favorably on a motion to dismiss the case on the basis of those pleadings (technically a “motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim”) and dismissed the case with prejudice (which means plaintiff cannot re-file it).

Librarians and other academics are often afraid to rely on fair use, even when there arguments would be strong, because of the expense of defending a lawsuit even when you win. Content companies often encourage that fear, reminding academics that fair use is a defense that can only be decided with certainty at a trial. While this case is a little bit unusual, it invites us, I think, to look at this “chilling effect” and perhaps lend it less credence."

Friday, August 19, 2011

Basic Macro

Dean Baker debunks some more supply side theories Casey Mulligan Unloads the Kitchen Sink. "Most of it has to do with the fact that even in the downturn employers will hire better qualified workers over less qualified workers and lower paid workers over higher paid workers. He infers from this fact that if all workers were better qualified and/or lower paid that we would not have an unemployment problem."

"Keynes' point is that changes that could increase any individual's chance of employment (e.g. improved education or accepting lower wages) would not necessarily lead to lower unemployment in general. In other words, if all workers could instantly get a college education then the main result would be that we would have more unemployed college grads.

This story would seem to be supported by two basic facts about the downturn. First, huge numbers of people who had the skills and desire to work before the collapse of the housing bubble, now do not have jobs. It seems difficult to explain the sudden loss of millions of jobs as a supply side phenomenon. The other basic fact is that unemployment has risen across the board in every major skills grouping and geographical location. This is very hard to explain as a supply side story."

Krugman calls it Lake Wobegon Economics. "The point, of course, is that all such arguments amount to committing the fallacy of composition...The essence of macroeconomics is understanding why such things are a fallacy, why what happens if one group does something is not at all what happens when everyone does it. And it’s a sad commentary on the state of economics when tenured professors at famous schools don’t get that distinction."

Daily Show on World of Class Warfare

Last night's Daily Show was brilliant.

How Big Is the Deficit, Anyway?

James Kwak answers How Big Is the Deficit, Anyway?. "The first question is this: How big is the deficit anyway? The answer is pretty complicated—complicated enough for S&P to mess up (although in my opinion they made a rookie mistake, as I’ll explain later). Warning: lots of numbers ahead, though the only math is addition and subtraction."

Hint, it's the Bush tax cuts that are the problem.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

TV Review: Breaking Bad Season 4 Episode 5: Shotgun

Salon has a review of the latest episode of AMC's "Breaking Bad" 4x5, "Shotgun". It culminates with: "Breaking Bad might need to come to grips with the fact that it's not the same show now that it was when it began. It has a different energy and different obsessions. This might call for a more compressed narrative composed mostly of very short scenes, with the occasional spaghetti-strand action sequence being saved for special occasions, plus a willingness to get the cleanups out of the way quickly, the better to indulge in the surprising and forward-looking action that made the show a phenomenon in the first place."

I don't agree. Yes the storytelling has changed a bit and this season is a bit slower, but I think that's fine. I think it helps to define this series as something different and it is still exploring the characters in interesting ways. The opening of the review is spot on, "Tonight's "Breaking Bad," titled "Shotgun," ended with a scene that did what TV drama does best: define characters so completely that you feel as if you know them as well as you know yourself." But what it fails to mention is how the episode (in fact the whole season) contrasted Walt with Gus.

Walt has always been the smart one in the series, most obviously paired against Jesse. But he's also been out of his depth working in the underworld. We've seen him face one complication after another, like how to get supplies, where to cook, how to get product out safely, and how to deal with competitors who were willing to kill. In all of these Walt figured something out, usually by being smarter than others, though usually not before first ending up in a life threatening and desperate situation.


Now we see him working for Gus and Gus is as smart or smarter than Walt. He's been in the business longer and is very good at what he does, and he doesn't get rattled, and Walt always has. This episode was filled with Walt taking chances. It opened with a crazy car race to a chicken shack to... sit and wait. That ride miraculously drew no police. Wouldn't one of the cars he almost hit call the police on a cell phone?

Meanwhile Gus was engaged in a long con to make Jesse less of a risk to his operation. Sure someone like Tucco would have just killed or threatened Jesse, but Gus scares him a little and then makes him feel like a hero to give him something to live for. This is why Gus is in the position he's in.

Walt can't keep his ego in check at dinner even though it means the feds will be searching for him again. Gus obviously spent a while figuring out how to deal with the Jesse situation, and here's Walt putting his operation in jeopardy in a whole new way for no good reason. At some point Gus will realize that Walt isn't worth it. He's the definition of problem employee.

I suspect the cameras are in the lab so some other cooker can learn all the details of the recipe so that Gus can replace Walt. Hank will start investigating the chicken shack but I'm sure Gus has made it the perfect front and will be able to control that. I'm guessing that future episodes will contrast how good a front Gus has vs how badly Walt and Skyler setup the car wash as a front.

When the season began the creators said in interviews that they were exploring how bad they could make Walk while still having the audience root for him. I think now I'm rooting for him to get caught. Oddly I'm also rooting against Hank and for Gus. That's all completely upside down and I'm enjoying that.

Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt

I really liked this graphic, Pay off your credit card debt "A simple example showing what happens when you only pay the minimum monthly payment on your credit card debt."

PayoffYourDebt 650x944 copy

Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space

Discovery wrote Astronaut Photographs Perseid Meteor... From Space "So, in a stunning photograph taken by NASA astronaut Ron Garan through a space station window, a single Perseid meteor was captured as the piece of comet dust slammed into the Earth's atmosphere."

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Stop Coddling the Super-Rich

By now you've probably seen this in other places but Warren Buffet's article in the Sunday New York Times, Stop Coddling the Super-Rich was quite good. You can pick just about any paragraph to quote, here's the one I'll take:

"Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent."

On Sunday the Times also published A Businessman in Congress Helps His District and Himself. A long article on Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) and his financial and lawmaking conflicts of interest.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

MA Choose Life Plates?

Huh, it turns out Massachusetts has a Choose Life License Plate. I saw it tonight for the first time. It seems at least 2,224 have been sold. Apparently there isn't a Pro-Choice one.

White House Debates Fight On Economy

Yesterday the New York Times published White House Debates Fight On Economy.

"Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want him to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors.

But others, including Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s chief economic adviser, say public anger over the debt ceiling debate has weakened Republicans and created an opening for bigger ideas like tax incentives for businesses that hire more workers, according to Congressional Democrats who share that view. Democrats are also pushing the White House to help homeowners facing foreclosure. Even if the ideas cannot pass Congress, they say, the president would gain a campaign issue by pushing for them."

Here's the problem: "So far, most signs point to a continuation of the nonconfrontational approach — better to do something than nothing — that has defined this administration. Mr. Obama and his aides are skeptical that voters will reward bold proposals if those ideas do not pass Congress. It is their judgment that moderate voters want tangible results rather than speeches."

If no one is speaking up the progressive pro-stimulus side of the debate, which I (and "a wide range of economists") think is the only one that will get the economy moving, then it's just moving deck chairs. Small tangible results won't do anything (and haven't for the last 2.5 years). It's how you end up having to tout yourself with "it would have been worse if we weren't here".

"But Christina Romer, who stepped down last year as the chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, said Mr. Obama should fight for short-term spending in combination with long-term deficit reduction. “Playing it safe is not going to cut it,” said Ms. Romer, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “Not proposing anything bold and not trying to do something to definitively deal with our problems would mean that we’re going to have another year and a half like the last year and a half — and then it’s awfully hard to get re-elected.”"

Not surprisingly the article got a lot of comments from the usual crowd, most with titles that read like The Onion.

CalculatedRisk wrote, White House Debates Doing Little or Nothing. "Tax incentives are the "bigger idea"? It sounds like the debate is between doing nothing and doing very little. If I arrived on the scene today - with a 9.1% unemployment rate and about 4.6 million homes with seriously delinquent mortgages or REO - I'd be arguing for an aggressive policy response. "

Paul Krugman wrote Little or Nothing. "And as for the political side, I guess I’m puzzled: you have an obstructionist GOP, and rather than point out that obstruction, you restrict yourself to calling for measures that this obstructionist opposition might actually accept. Doesn’t this mean that voters learn nothing about the extent to which the GOP is in fact blocking job creation?"

Mark Thoma wrote White House Debates Giving Up on Helping the Economy. "The administration hasn't figured out that it's supposed to lead -- that sometimes it's supposed to move public opinion instead of following it."

"The best thing the administration can do is abandon support for struggling households now so Obama can get reelected and reduce social insurance programs that help struggling households? The administration should put its effort into job creation and talk of little else (though mortgage relief is also high on the list). If Republicans go along, great, households need jobs. If not, it's up to the administration to make sure it's their loss."

Jared Bernstein says Herein Lies the Problem in the print edition of the article it said “It would be political folly to make the argument that government spending equals jobs.” "Far be it from me—I mean this—to advise the politicals as to what works. But I simply don’t believe it is “political folly” to tell the truth on this critically important point."

Mark Thoma followed up, "I don't expect that the administration would be successful if they do pursue job creation vigorously. Any job creation program that is likely to work and large enough to matter would almost surely be blocked by the other side. But I agree with those who argue there's value in the fight because it makes it absolutely clear whose side you are on, and that fighting to help the unemployed will do more for reelection chances than the milquetoast centrism that has characterized the administration recently. They are worried they will lose more votes than they gain if they fight for job creation, that they will be pegged as tax and spend liberals instead of defenders of the working class. But they seem oblivious to the dangers of being viewed as caring more about the interests of wealthy supporters driving the deficit reduction bandwagon than households who need their help."

bobswern (who I've never heard of) on DailyKos wrote Sunday’s NYT Lead: “White House Debates Fight on Economy”…Not.. "Is the actual strategy of our Party in 2012 going to be one where hope is held out that the Republicans will just scare the crap out of the public so much, voters will feel so compelled to stop them that they’ll rush to the polls to re-elect the President? You know, I never thought I’d say this—given that I’ve always found that a candidate running for re-election or election had to concisely provide reasons to the voter as to why they should cast their vote for them--but that strategy just might work…at least it would in a world where one is not tacitly demoralizing part of their base while attempting to underwhelm voters, in general; and, where their opposition is not spending a billion dollars to kick their ass."

Blue Texan (who I have read before) wrote on firedoglake White House Trying to Win Independents with Economic Policies That Do Nothing. "Memo to Jay Carney: putting forth half-assed, small beer proposals that you know will accomplish little because you think, cynically, that’s what “independents” want is a stunt. It’s the definition of a stunt. It’s also craven and cowardly when we’ve still got over 9% of the country unemployed. Also, “leadership” doesn’t mean trying to guess in advance what the Teabillies in the House will agree to, which by the way — is nothing. These people are absolutely pathetic."

Jame Hamsher wrote on firedoglake, It's Okay to be Scared Now. "So the two jobs plans under consideration are put on a show and score a “win” by paying off the Chamber, arming North Korea and offshoring 159,000 jobs with another NAFTA deal, or put on a show and pretend to care about passing legislation that will never happen. You know at some point people might get wise to the fact that Obama is the most powerful political figure in the world, and he does have options beyond being a corporate tool who lets his campaign manager rearrange the national lawn furniture."

"The White House does not seem to be able to conceive of actual governance as a viable option, and appear to be counting on the fact that Republicans are so crazy that if they don’t piss off elites they can cruise to victory in 2012 by flim-flamming the public with a series of PR stunts, even in the midst of soaring unemployment. After watching the Iowa Republican debate devolve into an argument over whether aborting innocent fetuses conceived in rape means victimizing them twice, I’m afraid they might well be right."

The Other Russell Brand

I haven't loved Russell Brand's screen persona. He does his same drunk English celebrity guy in every role I've seen (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek, and I skipped Arthur). He also plays that role in all the interview shows I've seen him on. However, I saw him interviewed in the documentary series Monty Python: Almost the Truth and thought he was very clever and insightful. I wish that Russell Brand would show up more.

Well that Russell Brand wrote an article in The Guardian UK riots: Big Brother isn't watching you "Dismissing rioters as mindless is futile rhetoric. However unacceptable the UK riots, we need to ask why they are happening" I thought the bulk of it was interesting, though it falls apart at the end where he says he has no solutions and we should all just get along.

"As you have by now surely noticed, I don't know enough about politics to ponder a solution and my hands are sticky with blood money from representing corporate interests through film, television and commercials, venerating, through my endorsements and celebrity, products and a lifestyle that contributes to the alienation of an increasingly dissatisfied underclass. But I know, as we all intuitively know, the solution is all around us and it isn't political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said: 'Be the change you want to see in the world.'"

Still if you want to see another side of Russell Brand, it's worth a read.

Disney Shoots Down ‘The Lone Ranger’ Over $200 Million+ Budget

The Playlist wrote Disney Shoots Down ‘The Lone Ranger’ Over $200 Million+ Budget "Disney has pulled the plug on the long-gestating, top priority “The Lone Ranger.” Why? Apparently, for reasons we can’t fathom, the filmmakers couldn’t bring the budget down to $200 million, a price tag Disney was willing to live with. Instead, the costs started at $250 million and while brought down to $232 million, the budget wasn’t trimmed enough so Disney simply said, “No thanks.” But seriously, what the fuck were they spending that money on?"

I agree.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

GOP Candidates

Timothy Egan wrote a pretty scathing, Rick Perry's Unanswered Prayers. "A few months ago, with Texas aflame from more than 8,000 wildfires brought on by extreme drought, a man who hopes to be the next president took pen in hand and went to work: 'Now, therefore, I, Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas.'"

"In the four months since Perry’s request for divine intervention, his state has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Nearly all of Texas is now in “extreme or exceptional” drought, as classified by federal meteorologists, the worst in Texas history."

Glenn Kessler takes down Michele Bachmann’s inaccurate recounting of the debt-ceiling saga.

Depressing Climate Change News

The New York Times reported that July Was the Fourth-Warmest on Record.


The Times also wrote an editorial, Climate Change and the Plight of the Whitebark Pine. "Most of the whitebark pines in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks are dead. It has been declared an endangered species in Canada. And, last week, the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that the whitebark pine “warranted” listing as threatened or endangered, making it one of the very few species officially acknowledged as threatened by climate change."

"Historically, the pine’s defense against the beetle is living where conditions are too cold for it — at high altitude or at high latitudes. But as the climate warms, that defense has failed catastrophically."

"The cascading effects of the white bark’s decline are already apparent. Grizzly bears, which feed heavily on pine seeds, have begun to disperse from their core habitat. When the pines were healthy, they also slowed snowmelt and reduced erosion."

What Does the Moon Look Like from Space?


NASA After the Space Shuttle

NASA After the Space Shuttle has some great pics. "Now that the final space shuttle has landed, many thousands involved with it have lost their jobs, and budget cuts loom, I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the other projects NASA has been working on recently, and what will be keeping the agency busy in the coming years. There has been a flurry of discoveries and firsts just this year alone, as scientists have discovered a fourth moon around Pluto, and a spacecraft has entered orbit around the asteroid Vesta for the first time. Earlier this month the spacecraft Juno launched toward Jupiter, while workers prepared the next Mars rover, Curiosity, for launch by the end of this year. All of this on top of supporting existing missions to the sun, Mercury, Earth, Mars, Saturn and more. Collected here is just a small recent sampling of NASA's far-reaching projects and missions. [33 photos]"

How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans

"Mickey Edwards spent 16 years in Congress and 16 years teaching at Harvard and Princeton. He is a director of The Constitution Project and wrote Reclaiming Conservatism." He wrote in the last Atlantic, How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans.

"I am not calling for a magical political “center”: many of the most important steps forward in our history have not come from the center at all, including women’s suffrage and the civil-rights movement, and even our founding rebellion against the British crown. Nor am I pleading for consensus: consensus is not possible in a diverse nation of 300 million people (compromise is the essential ingredient in legislative decision-making). And I’m not pushing for harmony: democracy depends on vigorous debate among competing views. The problem is not division but partisanship—advantage-seeking by private clubs whose central goal is to win political power. There are different ways to conduct elections and manage our government—and strengthen the democratic process. Here are some suggestions designed to turn our political system on its head, so that people, not parties, control our government."

I think I agree with all of his suggestions.

The Brain on Trial

The Atlantic had an interesting article last month, The Brain on Trial "Advances in brain science are calling into question the volition behind many criminal acts. A leading neuroscientist describes how the foundations of our criminal-justice system are beginning to crumble, and proposes a new way forward for law and order."

He talks about a couple of specific cases where crimes were caused by brain tumors and then goes on to other things. "The lesson from all these stories is the same: human behavior cannot be separated from human biology. If we like to believe that people make free choices about their behavior (as in, “I don’t gamble, because I’m strong-willed”), cases like Alex the pedophile, the frontotemporal shoplifters, and the gambling Parkinson’s patients may encourage us to examine our views more carefully. Perhaps not everyone is equally “free” to make socially appropriate choices."

"If I seem to be heading in an uncomfortable direction—toward letting criminals off the hook—please read on, because I’m going to show the logic of a new argument, piece by piece. The upshot is that we can build a legal system more deeply informed by science, in which we will continue to take criminals off the streets, but we will customize sentencing, leverage new opportunities for rehabilitation, and structure better incentives for good behavior. Discoveries in neuroscience suggest a new way forward for law and order—one that will lead to a more cost-effective, humane, and flexible system than the one we have today. When modern brain science is laid out clearly, it is difficult to justify how our legal system can continue to function without taking what we’ve learned into account."

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Republican’s dissent

Steve Benen walks through The Republican’s dissent.

"Today, at the 11th Circuit, a conservative Clinton nominee, Judge Frank Hull, agreed that the individual mandate is unconstitutional, while a Reagan nominee, Judge Stanley Marcus, wrote a stinging, bordering on furious, dissent (pdf). Court rulings don’t generally make for easy reading, but Marcus’ blistering response to today’s ruling is pretty entertaining. Note how he accuses his colleagues of judicial activism in ruling against the ACA’s mandate provision:"

It Looks Like the Stimulus Worked After All

Kevin Drum says It Looks Like the Stimulus Worked After All "But as you may recall, the BEA recently revised its GDP estimates from late 2008 and 2009, and it turns out the economy was doing much worse than we thought. And if you don't recall this, Michael Linden wants to remind you about it today. He also wants to remind Douglas Holtz-Eakin about it. Because it turns out that when you redo Holtz-Eakin's favorite chart using the corrected data, it suggests that the stimulus bill produced about $544 billion in extra GDP. In other words, a multiplier effect of about 2x."


Geography of Jobs

The Geography of Job Loss (Updated) is a nice animated infographic showing job gains and losses by area from 2004 to now.

Entitlements vs Civilized Society

I really liked this bit on The Daily Show last night. "Megyn Kelly has either inadvertently exposed the hypocrisy at the heart of conservative demonization of unions and the working class or ... oh, my god, it's worse than we thought: Megyn Kelly is suffering from postpartum compassion."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Why S.&P.'s Ratings Are Substandard and Porous

Nate Silver has a great post on Why S.&P.'s Ratings Are Substandard and Porous. Lots of graphs and statistics and stuff. :)

Supercommittee Ideology

Matthew Yglesias writes about the Supercommittee Ideology.


I haven't given the supercommittee much thought, though my gut feel is that it won't agree on anything and the alternative plan will be enacted. This graphic doesn't change my mind on that.

I guess Jared Bernstein agrees.

Two on Bachmann

I can't bring myself to watch the Republican Presidential candidates debate. Here are two recent articles on Bachmann's craziness.

Michele Bachmann is worried about the Renaissance - "Tea party queen and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is convinced that America is sinking into tyranny. Why? In a remarkable profile of the candidate appearing in the Aug. 15 issue of the New Yorker magazine, the artistic flowering of the Italian Renaissance takes a beating for having done away with the god-fearing Dark Ages."

Michele Bachmann’s inaccurate recounting of the debt-ceiling saga "It is simply wrong to say S&P lowered the rating on U.S. bonds because the debt limit was increased; the agency wanted the debt limit increased, in direct opposition to Bachmann’s views. And while S&P’s downgrade appears to have played some role in the market turmoil, broader economic concerns in the United States and abroad have been a much more important factor.


How About A Bachmann-Inspired Stimulus?

Steve Benen came up with an interesting idea, How about a Bachmann-inspired stimulus?

"In public, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann spends much of her time railing against government spending. In private, Bachmann spends quite a bit of time requesting government spending."

"What’s more, the phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to Bachmann — all kinds of right-wing lawmakers who swear public investments are fundamentally evil, including plenty of this year’s radical freshman class, have spent a fair amount of time pleading for more public investment in their states and districts, insisting the spending would be good for the economy. Rachel Maddow did a segment on this last year that still stands out as devastating.

The easy observation is to mock the GOP hypocrisy, but Bachmann gave me a new idea: how about a new stimulus package focused on granting Republicans’ requests for public investments?"

Rachel Maddow had Benen on her show last night:

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Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books

NPR wrote Your Picks: Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books "More than 5,000 of you nominated. More than 60,000 of you voted. And now the results are in. The winners of NPR's Top 100 Science-Fiction and Fantasy survey are an intriguing mix of classic and contemporary titles. "

I've read 39 of them (and own a few more).

Blaming the tools: Britain proposes a social-media ban

Blaming the tools: Britain proposes a social-media ban "In the wake of the riots in London, the British government says it’s considering shutting down access to social networks — as well as Research In Motion’s BlackBerry messenger service — and is asking the companies involved to help. Prime Minister David Cameron said not only is his government considering banning individuals from social media if they are suspected of causing disorder, but it has asked Twitter and other providers to take down posts that are contributing to “unrest.”"

I wonder if they will shut down telephone service? But what I really think is that all those surveillance cameras that London is famous for, aren't really useful in preventing crime.

The Turkey Recall: Another Sign Our Food System Is Broken

The Turkey Recall: Another Sign Our Food System Is Broken is pretty staggering.

"But CDC investigations show that turkey-related illnesses have been reported for months.  Despite the reports, the USDA took its own sweet time insisting on a recall. The rationale for the delay is--get this--the USDA believes it does not have the authority to order recalls for any contaminant except E. coli O157:H7. It has no authority to recall meat contaminated with Salmonella or other toxic forms of E. coli."

This is the kind of crap I expected under the Bush administration.

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'

A few days before George W Bush took office, The Onion wrote a remarkably prescient article, Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'. Here's just one bit: "During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years."

The Republican War on Voting

I don't usually link to my town paper, but Shawn Fitzbiggons has a good article Fitzgibbons: The Republican war on voting with some nice examples.

Hard Drive Issues

I run SMARTReporter on my mac and it started reporting some disk i/o errors yesterday. I've got good backups and am going to the genius bar today to see if I need a new drive. Then of course the question is, if I do, do I spend $500 on a 256GB SSD? My current (3.5 year old mac) drive is only 200GB so it would be a size increase. Though I could get a 750GB HD for about $120.

My plan was also to switch to an iMac with a 27" screen and good graphics card to be ready for Diablo III (and use the iPad for portability). Then I realized this is a tax free weekend in MA... But because Quicken doesn't run on 10.7 yet, I was going to keep the macbook pro on 10.6 and use it for Quicken, so I have to keep it running. Is it worth an SSD for that?

Anyway, blogging will be light, but I'll probably still update the HowardLikedThis Twitter feed (on the right) as that's easy from the iPad.

FYI, my backup strategy is basically the same as grahams', though I don't (yet?) do the offsite stuff.