Thursday, May 31, 2012

Will America Ever Recover From The Housing Crisis

Nice infographic, Will America Ever Recover From The Housing Crisis. It's the graphic that's nice, the data is depressing.

The reality behind Obama and Bush’s ‘spending binge’

Last week I posted, An Obama Spending Spree? Hardly. Of course Ezra Klein had a great post on the topic (it even includes a good graphic). The reality behind Obama and Bush’s ‘spending binge’NewImage

"The key is fiscal year 2009 -- and who you blame for it. By any measure, spending popped that year. If you’re looking at raw dollars, it rose by $535 billion. And “the 2009 fiscal year,” writes Market Watch’s Rex Nutting, “which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House." That’s true: The federal fiscal year stretches, somewhat weirdly, from October to September. So fiscal year 2009 began in October 2008. And that’s the point of Nutting’s analysis: if you attribute most of fiscal year 2009 to George W. Bush then, after adjusting for inflation, federal spending under Obama has actually dropped by 0.1 percent. "

"But I’d point out that this entire conversation is nonsense. So far, we haven’t mentioned the only fact that really matters, which is that the economy began to collapse in late-2008, and continued to crater through much of 2009. Or, as Donald Marron, director of the Tax Policy Center, puts it, “the real issue is that 2009 is an anomaly driven by crisis." That there’s an implicit taunt in this debate just goes to show how blinkered our fiscal conversation has really become. It was proper that spending jumped in 2009. If the Ghost of Ronald Reagan had occupied the Oval Office, spending would have jumped in 2009. That’s just what happens when you hit a once-in-a-generation recession."

Jenny McCarthy Body Count

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"In June 2007 Jenny McCarthy began promoting anti-vaccination rhetoric. Because of her celebrity status she has appeared on several television shows and has published multiple books advising parents not to vaccinate their children. This has led to an increase in the number of vaccine preventable illnesses as well as an increase in the number of vaccine preventable deaths.

Jenny McCarthy has a body count attached to her name. This website will publish the total number of vaccine preventable illnesses and vaccine preventable deaths that have happened in the United States since June 2007 when she began publicly speaking out against vaccines." - Jenny McCarthy Body Count

Why is Spain now in crisis? And can it be fixed?

I know that the various European nations all have different reasons for being in financial crisis, but I have problems remembering all the details. For example, I know that Spain had a budget surplus before the crisis so it wasn't profligacy that caused their problems, in fact it was a housing bubble. But I had problems going from a housing bubble to 25% unemployment. Brad Plummer explains Why is Spain now in crisis? And can it be fixed?.

Why All Eyes Should Be on the Wisconsin Battlefield

Heather Digby Parton wrote in Mother Jones Why All Eyes Should Be on the Wisconsin Battlefield.

Among a few points this stuck out at me:

"Even though Walker is being recalled mostly because of a fight with workers and the state is dead-last in job creation, 50% of the voters think he'll be better at job creation than the other guy? Nobody in the country has done worse! This strikes me as yet another success of conservative talking points. I think many people have simply absorbed the oft-repeated notion that Republicans are the advocates for 'job-creators' with their low taxes and deregulation and even in the face of clear evidence otherwise they can't really see how anything else would work. And you can't really blame them all that much. Nobody's really telling them another story, at least not one that would make them think that Democrats would be better advocates for the 'job creators.' So they default to the conventional wisdom or plain old tribalism."

A Wireless Keyboard I'd Buy

Cult of Mac wrote The Logitech K760: Like Apple’s Wireless Keyboard, Only Better. It's like the Apple wireless bluetooth keyboard except it's solar powered and about $80. "The K760 will run for three months on a full charge with eight hours of use a day."

"The best thing about this keyboard is that it will pair with three devices simultaneously, meaning you can hook it up to your Mac, your iPad, and your iPhone without having to mess around with the settings each and every time you want to switch. Simply hit the F1, F2, or F3 keys to change between devices as and when you want to use them."

I'd buy this in a second if you could use this keyboard to cut and paste between devices.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Kyle Johnson has written a book, Inception and Philosophy. He's apparently watched Inception many many times and had several collaborators who watched it more. Here is a Google Talk he gave. It's about 40 minutes and as a presenter I find he yells at his audience too much but there's a lot of good stuff here.

Here are his slides .

He argues that all of Inception is a dream and the spinning top at the end is a distraction from the kids saying they're "building a house on a cliff" which echoes back to what Sato said at the beginning. Cobb is an unreliable narrator and many things that happen in the supposed real world are rather dreamlike (the chase in Mombasa, the characters have one name and are one dimension which isn't Nolan-like, Mal is across the street when leaping, etc.) and when you wake up from Limbo you merely pop back a level. So if Cobb was dreaming the "real world" then he'd pop back to it at the end. He does point out that Cobb's wedding ring (which appears and disappears) and a couple of other things could suggest the real world is real, but he things Cobb is still in a dream.

Nuclear Tuna Is Hot News, But Not Because It's Going To Make You Sick

NPR says Nuclear Tuna Is Hot News, But Not Because It's Going To Make You Sick.

"Really, it seems just plain daffy to ignore a new study that says some Pacific bluefin tuna picked up traces of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year and brought it across the Pacific Ocean."

"Yes, radiation in seafood seems scary. But here's the catch (if you pardon the expression). Tuna, like every other food on the planet, already contains naturally occurring radiation. It has potassium-40 and polonium-210. It always has and it always will. In addition, seafood in general contains a trace of cesium-137 left over from nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 1960s.

So the question is, how much more radiation did these particular tuna fish contain? The answer is: A trivial amount. In fact, radiation from the cesium is 30 times less than the radiation that's already in the fish naturally in the form of potassium-40, according to the research paper. And the natural polonium-210 packs a radiation dose 200 times larger than the dose from the cesium."

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reckoning with Torture

Reckoning with Torture "Doug Liman, director of the The Bourne Identity and Fair Game, teams up with the ACLU and Pen American Center on a collaborative film project to fight torture." You can participate.

How To Measure the Universe

This is a really nice 4 minute introduction to how we measure distances in the universe.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Best Ad Campaigns of All Time

top ad campaigns

I know my favorite.

Sen. Tom Coburn, part 2: Reforming Health Care

Ezra Klein finally posted Sen. Tom Coburn, part 2: Reforming health care and it's the most detailed health care policy interview you're likely to see. Read it.

Why So Many Climate Scientists Have Stopped Downplaying the Climate Threat

Climate Progress wrote 'Hug The Monster': Why So Many Climate Scientists Have Stopped Downplaying the Climate Threat. It's seriously depressing but should be required reading.

It points to two articles. An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces will scare you and ‘Hug the Monster’ for Realistic Hope in Global Warming (or How to Transform Your Fearful Inner Climate) will help you face the fear.

An Obama Spending Spree? Hardly

MarketWatch (from the conservative Wall Street Journal, owned by Fox News owner Rupert Murdock) reports Obama spending binge never happened.

"Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an ‘inferno’ of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true. But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s."

He cites the details from the OMB and CBO but TPM sums it up, An Obama Spending Spree? Hardly "The fact that the national debt has risen from $10.6 trillion to $15.6 trillion under Obama’s watch makes for easy partisan attacks. But the vast bulk of the increase was caused by a combination of revenue losses due to the 2008-09 economic downturn as well as Bush-era tax cuts and automatic increases in safety-net spending that were already written into law.

Obama’s policies, including the much-criticized stimulus package, have caused the slowest increase in federal spending of any president in almost 60 years, according to data compiled by the financial news service MarketWatch."

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As MarketWatch says, "What people forget (or never knew) is that the first year of every presidential term starts with a budget approved by the previous administration and Congress. The president only begins to shape the budget in his second year. It takes time to develop a budget and steer it through Congress — especially in these days of congressional gridlock."

"When Obama took the oath of office, the $789 billion bank bailout had already been approved. Federal spending on unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicare was already surging to meet the dire unemployment crisis that was well underway...Obama is not responsible for that increase, though he is responsible (along with the Congress) for about $140 billion in extra spending in the 2009 fiscal year from the stimulus bill, from the expansion of the children’s health-care program and from other appropriations bills passed in the spring of 2009."

"After adjusting for inflation, spending under Obama is falling at a 1.4% annual pace — the first decline in real spending since the early 1970s, when Richard Nixon was retreating from the quagmire in Vietnam."

UPDATE: The AP has an update to this chart questioning some of the assumptions. FACT CHECK: Obama off on thrifty spending claim. They cite that Obama signed several spending bills in 2009 so deserves some more credit for that year. Also the numbers assume for 2013 that the Bush tax credits will expire for everyone (doubtful), cuts in Medicare payments to physicians (we'll have another "doc fix") and the end of a tax credit (likely renewed). "All told, government spending now appears to be growing at an annual rate of roughly 3 percent over the 2010-2013 period, rather than the 0.4 percent claimed by Obama and the MarketWatch analysis." Still the lowest on the chart.

TPM has another chart that deserves study:

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But I'm not really happy about this. So the left is trying to use this to placate the right's concerns about the debt but that's not really important right now. We should be spending more (and borrowing at ridiculously low interest rates) to stimulate the economy. But no politician on the left is willing to say this. Brian Beutler of TPM had two charts in March that compare Obama with Reagan with respect to unemployment (recovery) and government spending...

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"Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis illustrates a key difference between Reagan’s first term and Obama’s: the pliancy of the Congresses they had to work with. Despite the fact that it was controlled by Democrats, Reagan’s Congress was ultimately accommodative, and the result was significant fiscal expansion, which likely helped bring down the unemployment rate.

Despite presiding over a Democratic Congress, Obama enjoyed no such co-operation. Serial GOP filibusters limited the extent to which he could use deficit spending and temporary tax cuts to hasten economic recovery. Republicans bucked historically bipartisan policies to thwart the president. And when they took over the House in 2011, Republicans pursued an austerity agenda, and, separately, spooked credit markets by taking the government to the brink of default. All of these factors, combined with contraction at the state and local levels, offset the stimulative policies Obama secured at the beginning of his term. And that prefigured a significantly slower labor market recovery than Reagan enjoyed."

And lest we forget... "As the chart below reveals, the main drivers of projected deficits over the next decade are the wars of the oughts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts and the so-called “automatic stabilizers” — unemployment insurance spending, lower tax burdens — built into existing policy to combat economic downturns. Recovery measures by Bush and Obama caused a short-term spike in deficits but have mostly phased out and thus represent only modest fractions of the national debt."

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"The numbers, which come from the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, assume national policy as of a year ago would be renewed. Thus, they don’t reflect expected peace dividends from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or revised economic growth projections, and it assumes the Bush tax cuts will be renewed in their entirety — something President Obama has vowed will not happen, after he accepted a two-year extension of all the rates late 2010. But they broadly demonstrate that existing debt and projected deficits aren’t largely a consequence of Obama initiatives."

The New York Times has more charts on the Shrinking Government.

Per Square Mile: Income inequality, as seen from space

Tim De Chant wrote Per Square Mile: Income inequality, as seen from space "Last week, I wrote about how urban trees—or the lack thereof—can reveal income inequality. After writing that article, I was curious, could I actually see income inequality from space? It turned out to be easier than I expected."

Koch Operative Steered $55 Million To Front Groups Airing Ads Against Democrats

Last week Republic Report documented howKoch Operative Steered $55 Million To Front Groups Airing Ads Against Democrats; Ads Assailed Candidates Over Abortion, 9/11, Medicare.

"Charles and David Koch, the billionaire owners of of Koch Industries, are known as big spenders when it comes to lobbying and influencing public policy. Now, a new document filed with the IRS reveals how the Koch political machine funneled over $54.5 million in previously undisclosed funds to a litany of front groups designed to smear Democrats.

The disclosure suggests that a very wide variety of Republican groups active in the last major election, from pro-life organizations that ran ads on abortion to shadowy fronts that aired partisan commercials with the infamous Ground Zero Mosque conspiracy, have been highly dependent on Koch money. The document also reveals that the Koch’s political network spent much more on electing the current Congress than previously known."

Most of the investigation seems to have been done by Viveca Novak and Robert Maguire in OpenSecretsBlog. Mystery Health Care Group Funneled Millions to Conservative Nonprofits. This is the seventh in a series of reports called The Shadow Money Trail.

EU Austerity Drive Country By Country

The BBC describes EU Austerity Drive Country By Country.

Ezra Klein posts a graph. "Some countries, like Italy, are trying to consolidate their budgets primarily through revenue increases. Others, like Spain and Greece, seem to be relying far more heavily on spending cuts:"

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He points out that austerity doesn't seem to be helping as these measures have been tried for a while and the economy hasn't improved. Krugman and others point out this should be proof that austerity isn't the solution, but rather more stimulus is. It seems pretty obvious that laying off tons of public employees isn't going to help unemployment. But of course the right is moving the goal posts yet again...

"Recently, by contrast, a few conservatives have started arguing that it’s not austerity per se that’s the problem — it’s just the type of austerity. In the National Review, Veronique de Rugy argues that many European countries are relying too heavily on tax increases to rein in their deficits. Per the OECD chart above, this especially describes Austria, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. She argues, instead, that spending cuts combined with more stimulus from the central bank is the way to go."

More here, Yes, there’s been austerity in Europe.

The Surface Of Sun As You’ve Never Seen It Before

The Surface Of Sun As You’ve Never Seen It Before "The video is actually a collection of still images of the Sun collected by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), an unmanned orbital spacecraft launched in February 2010 specifically to track the Sun’s activity and better understand its causes and effects on Earth. The video is made up of images of the Sun’s plasma activity captured by SDO’s instruments, activity that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye, as it is seen only in an ultraviolet wavelength (171 Angstrom)."

New Report Exposes Wrongful Convictions

Melissa Harris-Perry posted New report exposes wrongful convictions.

"The National Registry of Exonerations, a brand-new joint project between Northwestern University and the University of Michigan, released its first report on Monday. To date, it has examined nearly 900 individual cases of prisoners exonerated in the United States from January, 1989 through February, 2012. 

The findings thus far? Nearly half of those were wrongfully convicted of murder, and 101 were wrongfully sentenced to death:"

Transit of Venus

In a week and a half, at about 6pm Boston time there will be a Transit of Venus.

"On 5/6 June 2012 a celestial takes place that is so rare that it will not be seen again by anyone now living. On June 8, 2004 Venus crossed the face of the Sun for the first time since the 19th century. This spectacle will be repeated again this June for the last time until 2117. Astronomers Without Borders has some special plans for this rare event, which will be seen by most of the world's population."

"Mercury and Venus are the only planets closer to the Sun than Earth, both moving faster in their orbits and passing us regularly. But rather than crossing directly between us and the Sun, these planets are usually slightly above or below the Sun as we see them. When they line up just right we see the round, black silhouette of the planet slowly crossing the Sun, an even referred to as a "transit." Mercury transits the Sun 13 or 14 times each century. But Venus transits happen in pairs - two transits eight years apart - with more than 100 years between each pair."

The transit of Venus has been used to determine the Earth's distance from the Sun. "The coming Venus transit offers a chance for modern-day stargazers to repeat the experiments conducted by expeditions around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries - with a modern twist. The free phone app created by the Transit of Venus Project allows every observer with a telescope to record timings of this rare event. Available for Apple and Android devices."

Here's a cheesy but informative 4 minute video about the transit of Venus.

The American West, 150 Years Ago

The pictures inThe American West, 150 Years Ago are stunning. "In the 1860s and 70s, photographer Timothy O'Sullivan created some of the best-known images in American History. After covering the U.S. Civil War, (many of his photos appear in this earlier series), O'Sullivan joined a number of expeditions organized by the federal government to help document the new frontiers in the American West. The teams were composed of soldiers, scientists, artists, and photographers, and tasked with discovering the best ways to take advantage of the region's untapped natural resources. O'Sullivan brought an amazing eye and work ethic, composing photographs that evoked the vastness of the West. He also documented the Native American population as well as the pioneers who were already altering the landscape. Above all, O'Sullivan captured -- for the first time on film -- the natural beauty of the American West in a way that would later influence Ansel Adams and thousands more photographers to come. [34 photos]"

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Was Greed Good?

In Was Greed Good? Paul Krugman points out the falsehood in standard conservative thinking.

"Before the Gekkos came along, they assert, American business was sluggish, unproductive, and uncompetitive. Then came the LBOs and all that, and our economic energy was unleashed. As I said, everyone on the right knows that this happened. Needless to say, none of it is at all true."

Productivity didn't increase, we were less competitive in world trade and "income distribution became radically more unequal".

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Damon Lindelof on Lost

I found this (video) interview with Damon Lindelof on Lost to be far more satisfying than the ending of Lost. It was exactly two years ago that finale aired so I don't remember it in detail. I do remember that I felt emotionally satisfied with where the characters ended up (and how we saw them all) but I found the resolution to the all the questions raised by the show to be very weak.

I really appreciated his comments and wish other creators would talk about their work (I wish Kubrick had). I'm glad he wanted to talk to someone who was engaging him about their disappointment.

I'm glad he's not haunted with how the ending went over and am glad he's at least conflicted about it.

I do challenge him to show the 10 interviews where he said we "if you are watching the show for the answers to your mysteries then you will not be satisfied with the ending". Certainly not before the month or two before the ending. And at the beginning they clearly said they knew what was going on and said that the two skeletons in the cave (in the pilot?) were there to prove that they had a plan from the beginning. The problem was all the other questions that they raised in between, or at least the big ones.

I also liked his explanation of answers about the FAQs he gets, do you have it planned out and does the audience input make a difference. "There is a plan and when the plan doesn't work we change the plan" and "yes we really listen to what you say but 98% of the time we agree with you before you ask it." Those always seemed like the right answers.

I emailed with some friends (obsessively) after each episode of Lost aired. I appreciate I can now go back and look at those messages. Here are some of my thoughts (*spoilers*) after watching the finale. This was my immediate reaction:

"I would claim that the finale was just like the series. I kept wanting it to be about plot and it tended to ignore plot and stick with characterization. And the characters were (usually) strong enough to keep me interested. This was all about the character moments and the montages and they were effective. There was some seemingly good plot development on the island but it still was very vague. Sean felt everything was resolved satisfactorily. The sideways turned out to be purgatory, everyone dies at some point and ends up there, in the church with the people from the most important time in your life (except Michael and Walt). I also think Ben might have switched sides a few times too many in this episode."

This was the next day after watching the episode a second time:

"It was an interesting episode, very well constructed. Most of it was emotional scenes between two characters where an epiphany happens. I'm sure the actors appreciated the writing as they each had scenes where they had to convey the story with their faces and not with lines. The acting was uniformly excellent by everyone (if pressed, I'd say Claire was the weakest and Hurley missed a couple of moments). The size of the cast I think made it a little overwhelming but since we've gotten to know all these characters so well, it needed to spend the time and they did it well. I very much agree with Alison's point, "So they don't actually all live happily ever after, they die happily ever after."

"I'm perfectly ok with the explanation of the island's powers being a glow-hole. I'm ok with Jacob having magic powers by virtue of the glow-hole or his mother giving them to him, same with MiB. I'm less ok with the weak explanation of the actions of the purely human characters. Who started Dharma, how they found the island, what it is Widmore wanted, what's with the special children, etc. These were very big questions raised again and again in the series and they did just punt on them."

"My other problem was that no one was ever right. It was weird that Jack and Flocke could walk together to the glow-hole with Desmond and the others, both thinking they would succeed and all instantly agreeing on sending Desmond down on a rope (which appeared from no where). After Desmond pulled the cork both Jack and Flocke thought they were right and it wasn't really possible to know if they were or weren't. It was going to destroy the island and it did seem to take Flocke's powers (though he stayed in Locke form). But it wasn't clear at all that it was going to end life all over the world as Mother (and Jacob?) said. And I'm not at all clear about why MiB goes down the hole and becomes smoke but Jack and Desmond do not. Desmond's magic powers I guess and Jack's protector status, but Mother made Jacob promise not to go down there.

Ben said it well, that Jacob ran it one way with his rules and perhaps there's a better way. Same for Mother it seems. And Widmore and Dharma and Ben and the others and Richard (he still wants to blow up the plane at the end and that doesn't seem important at all). The point seems to be that no one really knows the right answers and we should be suspicious of anyone who claims to. Though even this is unclear.

Jack said that (real) Locke was right about everything and I have no idea what that refers to or if it's at all true. In their last scene Ben says he wanted what Locke had and he asks what he had? Ben says he was special, but really he wasn't. Well he was "lost" so Jacob made him a candidate but he never understood anything and ended up killing himself (which Ben only slightly put off). Flocke said he was a loser. Locke was just special at times because others were sheep and followed him. Maybe there's a deeper message that we can all be special if we keep trying but it seems pretty weak."

Book Review: Back to Work

I just finished Bill Clinton's book Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy. I liked it a lot. It's in the same conversational tone that Clinton speaks in. He talks a bit about how the economy got into the state it's in but also practical things we could be doing to fix it. It's not too partisan, like his presidency a lot of it is practical compromises that both parties should be able to agree upon. Well he really doesn't like the tea party notions that government is the cause of all problems and should be eliminated and that the only solution (to every problem) is to lower taxes. Still he good and bad things to say about both parties policies and lots of ideas that meet in the middle. It's a quick read and well worth it. I kept thinking that if a Republican could get past the author and would actually read it, they might agree with some of the things in it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Fukushima Reactor 4: The Most Important Story Nobody's Talking About

Fukushima Reactor 4: The Most Important Story Nobody's Talking About "But in recent months, increasingly troubling reports from high-ranking Japanese and American politicians, diplomats and nuclear experts have been trickling into the blogosphere and alternate media like the irradiated water still seeping from the plant into the Pacific Ocean. They suggest, in a nutshell, that were another decent-sized earthquake to hit the stricken plant before thousands of highly radioactive spent fuel rods are properly secured, we could see the explosion and diffusion into the North Pacific's winds and ocean currents of 10 times the radioactive material emitted by the Chernobyl disaster - rendering much of Asia, North America and many other corners of the globe uninhabitable for centuries."

The article points out there isn't a lot of clear information so reports could be overblown or not.

Dr. Robert Alvarez, a former top advisor at the US Department of Energy, confirmed the fears of Wyden and Gundersen when asked by Japanese diplomat Akio Matsumura to review the situation at Fukushima. Alvarez responded: "The No. 4 pool is about 100 feet above ground, is structurally damaged and is exposed to the open elements. If an earthquake or other event were to cause this pool to drain this could result in a catastrophic radiological fire involving nearly 10 times the amount of Cesium-137 released by the Chernobyl accident."

"Another Japanese diplomat, former Ambassador to Switzerland and Senegal Mitsuhei Murata has also joined the chorus of concern over reactor 4, writing in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, "It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor."

Update: Ok, this is apparently all not true. Spent fuel at Fukushima Daiichi safer than asserted. "In fact, all three assertions, as we’ve seen, fall apart at every turn—there’s no basis to assertions of shaky buildings, or a structurally failed 1F-4 plant, or the chance of zircalloy cladding fire, or billowing of the released material to the entire earth. Realistic, practical analysis, performed by personnel on site (TEPCO/NISA), nuclear professionals here in the United States with decades of experience in both theory and practice, and official peer-reviewed studies and documents (e.g., NUREG /CR-4982) show that the predictions of apocalypse being spread now are just as unlikely to occur as those predictions of apocalypse that were made then at the time of the accident."

Ring of Fire Eclipse: 2012

The Big Picture posted about the Ring of Fire Eclipse: 2012. "A rare annular eclipse - a ring of sunlight as the new moon, passing between Earth and sun, blocks most, but not all, of the sun's disc. It is striking to see. Differing from a total solar eclipse, the moon in an annular eclipse appears too small to cover the sun completely, leaving a ring of fire effect around the moon. The eclipse cast its shallow path crossing the West from west Texas to Oregon then arcing across the northern Pacific Ocean to Tokyo, Japan. (Thanks to all Big Picture viewers for sending us your images of the eclipse.) -- Paula Nelson (49 photos total)"

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And I don't know what it is about animals watching this eclipse...

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Want to End Partisan Politics? Here’s What Won’t Work — and What Will

Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post, Want to end partisan politics? Here’s what won’t work — and what will. "We’ve all heard the laments — we’ve made some of them ourselves — that Washington is broken, that our political system can’t grapple with the nation’s big, long-term problems. So what can be done about it? Unfortunately, the cures that get tossed around are often misguided, sometimes even worse than the disease. Here are five much-praised solutions we should avoid, followed by four that have a chance to make a meaningful difference."

I hadn't heard of some of the suggestions and like them. It's worth a read.

Taking on the Filibuster

Joshua Green wrote in the Boston Globe about the filibuster, Taking on the F-word.

"Let’s take only the Obama presidency. Had the filibuster not applied, the United States would have a market-based system to control carbon emissions, which would limit the damage from global warming, vitalize the clean technology sector, and challenge other large polluters like China and India to do the same. The new health care law would have a public option. Children of undocumented immigrants who served two years in the military or went to college could become US citizens. Women paid less than their male colleagues because of their gender would have broader legal recourse against their employers. Billionaires would not be able to manipulate the political system from behind a veil of anonymity.

Dozens of vacant judgeships would have been filled. The Federal Reserve would have operated with a full slate of governors, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Peter Diamond. Elizabeth Warren would be director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, not a candidate for the Senate. And Mitt Romney would be paying a higher tax rate than the 13.9 percent he shelled out in 2010, since a provision to end the carried-interest tax break wouldn’t have died in the Senate. (By my math, that filibuster saved Romney $1,480,000 in 2010 alone, the difference between the 15 percent he paid on $7.4 million earned in carried interest and the top marginal rate of 35 percent.)

Each of these measures passed the House and received, or would have received, at least the 50 votes necessary to pass the Senate — but lacked the 60 votes to break a filibuster. (Nominations are handled — or not — solely by the Senate.) Since 2007, the GOP has filibustered legislation with majority support 78 times."

James Fallows adds, "For another time, we'll go into the ways in which the filibuster and overall government dysfunction are not really symmetrical "extremists on each side make both sides suffer" situations. The Democrats overall have a greater stake in effective use of public programs -- from GI Bill and Medicare of yesteryear through financial-regulation bodies today, and even the Census Bureau, as explained in an important NYT story today. Thus a bias toward a minority-veto, paralyzed Senate has an overall right-wing effect. But any administration is hamstrung if it cannot fill judicial seats, get ambassadors in place, staff up the executive branch, etc."

Presidential Race Ratings and Swing States

The New York Times has a nice interactive graphic The Electoral Map - Presidential Race Ratings and Swing States.

The 2012 Annular Eclipse

In Focus posts A Ring of Fire: The 2012 Annular Eclipse. "Yesterday, the Moon passed between the Sun and Earth, casting its shadow from China to North America. This was an annular eclipse, where the Moon's apparent diameter is slightly smaller than the Sun's, blocking all but a ring of sunlight. Skywatchers brought out special glasses, welder's masks, and telescopes to safely view this relatively rare event. Some were lucky enough to look down and see overlapping pinhole projections of the eclipse as the sunlight streamed through the leaves of nearby trees. Gathered here, for those who weren't able to see it in person, is a group of images of yesterday's annular eclipse. [26 photos]"

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Pretty cool, but this one, oddly, might be my favorite:

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The End of Fish, in One Chart

Brad Plumer wrote The end of fish, in one chart - The Washington Post "Between 1950 and 2006, the WWF report notes, the world’s annual fishing haul more than quadrupled, from 19 million tons to 87 million tons. New technology — from deep-sea trawling to long-lining — has helped the fishing industry harvest areas that were once inaccessible. But the growth of intensive fishing also means that larger and larger swaths of the ocean are in danger of being depleted."

Fishing WWF overfishing chart

"The big thing the WWF paper emphasizes, however, is that human consumption patterns are currently unsustainable. We’re essentially consuming the equivalent of one and a half Earths each year. This is possible because we borrow from the future, as is the case with fish — one day the world’s fish population may collapse, but there’s plenty for us now. WWF doesn’t quite call it a Ponzi scheme, but that’s the first metaphor that comes to mind."

2011 Nebula Award Winners

2011 Nebula Awards Announced.

Novel Winner: Among Others, Jo Walton
Novella Winner: ”The Man Who Bridged the Mist,” Kij Johnson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 2011)
Novelette Winner: ”What We Found,” Geoff Ryman (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2011)
Short Story Winner: ”The Paper Menagerie,” Ken Liu (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2011)
Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation Winner: Doctor Who: “The Doctor’s Wife,” Neil Gaiman (writer), Richard Clark (director) (BBC Wales)
Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Winner: The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman (Big Mouth House)

Here is The Man Who Bridged the Mist and here's a pdf of The Paper Menagerie.

Arctic Melt Releasing Ancient Methane

The BBC reports Arctic melt releasing ancient methane "Scientists have identified thousands of sites in the Arctic where methane that has been stored for many millennia is bubbling into the atmosphere."

"But the researchers on the new Arctic project, led by Katey Walter Anthony from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks (UAF), were able to identify long-stored gas by the ratio of different isotopes of carbon in the methane molecules."

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Joe Ricketts Rejects Plan to Finance Anti-Obama Ads

The New York Times follows up on Joe Ricketts Rejects Plan to Finance Anti-Obama Ads "The episode all but ensured that Republicans would remain under intense pressure not to invoke Mr. Wright’s provocative statements so directly for the balance of the campaign. And, in a year when the loosened system of campaign finance regulations is encouraging wealthy individuals to weigh in on behalf of candidates and causes, Mr. Ricketts became a case study in the risks of political neophytes with big checkbooks seeking to play at the highest and roughest levels of politics."

Matthew Zeitlin points out, "As the election lawyer Rick Hasen has argued, Joe Ricketts or any other conservative billionaire would have been able, before Citizens United, to independently fund election ads, but the ads would have to specify that “this message was paid for by Joe Ricketts.” Now, with the advent of unlimited donations to Super PACs, Ricketts would not face the same personal disclosure requirements that governed independent expenditures in the pre-Citizens United era."

Miles Davis to Nancy Reagan

The Guardian wrote Miles Davis: his wardrobe, his wit, his way with a basketball … . "It's 20 years since the jazz legend passed away. We remember a man who cooked well, dressed better and had some choice words for Nancy Reaga"

"Davis was a man of few words. When he did speak, his words often had a similar effect to a hand grenade being lobbed into the room. In 1987, he was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he'd done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: 'Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?'"

Saturday, May 19, 2012

NBC Messing with Community

I've been really enjoying Community on NBC. They do the most amazing spoofs of genres. One week they describe a "war" on the community college campus between the blanket and pillow forts in the style of Ken Burn's Civil War. Another week they cover a paintball battle by spoofing every action movie. Yet another they spoofed My Dinner With Andre and delivered actual character development. Last Thursday one of the episodes had all the characters in an 8 bit video game that was 30 years in development and had more depth than you could imagine. It was hilarious. This show regularly produces episodes that become my favorite sitcom episodes of all time.

Community's ratings weren't strong. Media Decoder wrote, "The show itself barely survived cancellation this season, finishing with an average of only about 3.3 million viewers, and limping to the finish last week, with a three-episode marathon Thursday night, which hit the lowest ratings ever for the comedy." They also document some of Harmon's less than perfect working relationships. I note that 30 Rock's ratings were worse this week.

I thank NBC for renewing it for a fourth season, though moving it to Friday night means they probably expect just one more season from it, if that. But if you do that, why do you fire the creator, Dan Harmon? That's what they did. The Hollywood Reporter wrote, "The NBC series, which was recently renewed for a fourth 13-episode season, has tapped TV scribes David Guarascio and Moses Port as co-showrunners and executive producers, sources confirm to The Hollywood Reporter." Their previous credits are Happy Endings, Aliens in America and Just Shoot Me.

Harmon isn't happy about it, he wrote, HEY, DID I MISS ANYTHING?.

"Why’d Sony want me gone? I can’t answer that because I’ve been in as much contact with them as you have. They literally haven’t called me since the season four pickup, so their reasons for replacing me are clearly none of my business. Community is their property, I only own ten percent of it, and I kind of don’t want to hear what their complaints are because I’m sure it would hurt my feelings even more now that I’d be listening for free."

"The important one is this quote from Bob Greenblatt in which he says he’s sure I’m going to be involved somehow, something like that. That’s a misquote. I think he meant to say he’s sure cookies are yummy, because he’s never called me once in the entire duration of his employment at NBC. He didn’t call me to say he was starting to work there, he didn’t call me to say I was no longer working there and he definitely didn’t call to ask if I was going to be involved. I’m not saying it’s wrong for him to have bigger fish to fry, I’m just saying, NBC is not a credible source of All News Dan Harmon."

"So do not believe anyone that tells you on Monday that I quit or diminished my role so I could spend more time with my loved ones, or that I negotiated and we couldn’t come to an agreement, etc. It couldn’t be less true because, just to make this clear, literally nobody called me."

Regardless of if you want to make a change, that's a crappy way to fire or demote someone.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Facebook Offering: How It Compares

The New York Times has a really nice interactive graphic The Facebook Offering: How It Compares. And yes, my old company is listed.

Spending-Driven Debt?

Ezra Klein rants against Boehner's use of a term, What do Republicans mean when they say ‘spending-driven debt’? Here's one of his two graphs:


and his ending: "So if you read the chart carefully, you would say we should reverse the tax cuts, stop launching so many deficit-financed wars, and make sure we regulate the financial sector so it doesn’t blow up again. But that’s not exactly the Republican agenda right now."

Four Charts

Jared Bernstein posted Four Charts.

The first notes how gas prices have come down a little. He points out how Obama (incorrectly) got blamed for the rise in gas prices and now isn't being (incorrectly) credited with the decrease.

He also includes a Goldman Sachs chart on the effects of Taxmageddon and Brad Plumer followed up a little.

Ezra Klein v Sen. Tom Coburn

Ezra Klein posted an interview with Sen. Tom Coburn, part one: Defusing the debt bomb. Part two isn't up yet but even the just the first part is great. Coburn is hawking a new book and Klein is knowledgable enough (and willing) to ask questions that challenge his opinions and facts.

Digby thinks, "Gosh, it sounds like ole Tom is getting ready to endorse somebody. If I read that right, he has more faith that Obama will compromise with the lunatic Republicans than Romney will. "

Coburn mentions Krugman and cites Sweden as a counter example. Krugman challenges that. "Ezra points out, rightly, that Sweden has actually benefited a lot from very aggressive monetary policy...But Ezra didn’t challenge Coburn on the claim about spending cuts". He charts that Sweden hasn't cut real government purchases but the US has.

051612krugman1 blog480

Digby pointed out that Obama tweeted "Federal spending, taxes, and the annual budget deficit are all lower now than when President Obama first took office."


I'm looking forward to part two of the interview.

The Future Military: Your Budget Strategy

The New York Times has an interactive feature, The Future Military: Your Budget Strategy. "The Pentagon has committed to $450 billion in reduced spending over the next 10 years, but may have to come up with a total of $1 trillion in cuts if Congress follows through with deeper reductions. Make your own plan to reduce the budget by choosing some of the most common, interesting or provocative cuts that have been proposed by various parties."

I cut $501 billion:

Scenes From Brazil

In Focus' Scenes From Brazil contains just insanely great photos.

"Brazil, a growing, multicultural nation of nearly 200 million people, is preparing to host two huge international events: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Brazilians face numerous challenges, building many new structures and the infrastructure to support them, while attending to existing challenges and 'cleaning up' before the world comes to visit. Brazil is also huge (the largest country in the southern hemisphere), and its ecological diversity ranges from dense urban spaces to forested mountains, vast plains to sparkling beaches. It's impossible to sum up a country in a single photo essay, so take this as just a sample of recent scenes from around Brazil. [45 photos]"

Spending and Growth

Paul Krugman on Spending and Growth. After looking at first quarter data he writes, "So Japan, which is spending heavily for post-tsunami reconstruction, is growing quite fast, while Italy, which is imposing austerity measures, is shrinking almost equally fast. There seems to be some kind of lesson here about macroeconomics, but I can’t quite put my finger on it …"

Bill Clinton: How to Tame the Debt Without Screwing the Poor and Middle Class

Jared Bernstein wrote in Rolling Stone, Bill Clinton: How to Tame the Debt Without Screwing the Poor and Middle Class. "The former president sat down for an interview with Tom Brokaw yesterday at a conference in Washington D.C., and was the voice of reasoned experience. I don’t agree with everything he said, but I agree with most of it. And I can’t think of anyone else who so deeply understands the intersection of policy, politics, world affairs, and human nature right now. Here are a few points I thought deserved elaboration:"

I'm most of the way through Clinton's latest book, Back to Work and think it makes a lot of sense. It's in his same conversational tone that you see in all his talks (like on The Daily Show). He cites lots of statistics and facts and is trying to bring in the conservatives and come up with policy proposals that are compromises and could make a difference. It's good stuff. Can we repeal the 22nd amendment?

Only One Party’s to Blame? Don’t Tell the Sunday Shows

Greg Sargent wrote on Monday for the Washington Post, Only one party’s to blame? Don’t tell the Sunday shows.

"Last month, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein published an Op ed and a book making the extremely controversial argument that both parties aren’t equally to blame for what ails Washington. They argued that the GOP — by allowing extremists to roam free and by wielding the filibuster to achieve government dysfunction as a political end in itself — were demonstrably more culpable for creating what is approaching a crisis of governance.

It turns out neither man has been invited on to the Sunday shows even once to discuss this thesis. As Bob Somerby and Kevin Drum note, these are among the most quoted people in Washington — yet suddenly this latest topic is too hot for the talkers, or not deemed relevant at all. I ran this thesis by Ornstein himself, and he confirmed that the book’s publicity people had tried to get the authors booked on the Sunday shows, with no success."

I haven't seen them on anything yet, but it would seem ripe for Jon Stewart (on vacation this week), Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes or even Bill Maher. I would think Bill Moyers would be all over this.

Senate Confirms Two Fed Board Nominees

The New York Times reported yesterday Senate Confirms 2 Fed Board Nominees "The Senate on Thursday confirmed two nominees chosen by President Obama for the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, overcoming Republican objections and bringing the seven-member board to full strength for the first time since 2006, before the economic crisis."

"For months, Senator David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican and a member of the Banking Committee, held up the nominations, saying the two men would be “rubber stamps” for the policies of the Fed chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, and, by implication, the Obama administration. Mr. Bernanke has already done more to increase economic growth and reduce unemployment than many of his conservative critics favor, while other critics — predominantly liberal — argue that he has not done enough.

After JPMorgan Chase’s recently acknowledged trading losses, which raised questions about whether the Fed and other agencies had a tight enough hand on the regulatory reins, Senate Democratic leaders found enough votes to surmount objections from Mr. Vitter and others. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, explicitly linked the vote to the JPMorgan Chase matter, saying the bank had been behaving as if its business were a game of craps."

So something good came out of the JP Morgan Chase loss, though it's not clear yet where these two appointees fall policy-wise. There was also news that the Senate passed a bill the other day. Seriously, what's going on?

A Bogus Tax Attack Against Obama analyses A Bogus Tax Attack Against Obama from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS.

"The ad — titled ‘Obama’s Promise’ — lists several pledges that it claims the president has broken. The worst distortion it contains — one we haven’t addressed in this campaign — is an almost entirely groundless assertion that he broke his often-repeated promise not to raise taxes on persons making less than $200,000 a year, or couples making less than $250,000.

The ad shows Obama saying in a 2008 campaign speech, ‘If you are a family making less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes go up.’ Then, to the sound of shattering glass, the narrator says, ‘Broken! Obamacare raises 18 different taxes.’

But that’s dishonest nonsense. Only a few of the tax changes in the new health care law will fall on families making under $250,000 a year, or individuals making less than $200,000 for that matter. And they make up only a small part of the $503 billion figure that appears on screen. That 10-year total falls overwhelmingly on individuals who are above those income thresholds — just as Obama promised — or on corporations. Money to be collected from individuals regardless of income would come mostly from taxes (or penalties) that are not yet in effect."

So I haven't seen any of the ads (the benefits of living in MA), and I haven't followed much of the campaign online (it's too soon). I have some issues with Citizens United but agree with the conservatives that political speech needs to be protected. My question here is, when does libel law come into play? If an ad is just false (shocker!), what's the penalty? Is there time to sue? For an ad run in the weeks before a campaign, obviously not, but for an ad run 6 months before, I would think the obvious answer is to sue for libel or slander.

Update: Factcheck did more work on debunking the ad.

U.S. completes warmest 12-month period in 117 years

The Washington Post writes U.S. completes warmest 12-month period in 117 years.

"As far back as records go (1895), never has the U.S. strung together 12 straight months warmer than May 2011 to April 2012 according to new data released today by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) .

The record-setting 12-month period edged out November 1999-October 2000, the 2nd warmest 12-month period, by 0.1°F. The average temperature was 2.8 degrees F above the 20th century average.

In the last year, the U.S. has experienced its second hottest summer, fourth warmest winter (December through February) and warmest March on record. And NCDC announced April 2012 was third warmest on record."

But climate change is either a hoax or too expensive to do anything about...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

G.O.P. ‘Super PAC’ Weighs Hard-Line Attack on Obama

The New York Times reports today, G.O.P. ‘Super PAC’ Weighs Hard-Line Attack on Obama. "A group of high-profile Republican strategists is working with a conservative billionaire on a proposal to mount one of the most provocative campaigns of the ‘super PAC’ era and attack President Obama in ways that Republicans have so far shied away from."

"“The world is about to see Jeremiah Wright and understand his influence on Barack Obama for the first time in a big, attention-arresting way,” says the proposal, which was overseen by Fred Davis and commissioned by Joe Ricketts, the founder of the brokerage firm TD Ameritrade. Mr. Ricketts is increasingly putting his fortune to work in conservative politics.

The $10 million plan, one of several being studied by Mr. Ricketts, includes preparations for how to respond to the charges of race-baiting it envisions if it highlights Mr. Obama’s former ties to Mr. Wright, who espouses what is known as “black liberation theology.”

The group suggested hiring as a spokesman an “extremely literate conservative African-American” who can argue that Mr. Obama misled the nation by presenting himself as what the proposal calls a “metrosexual, black Abe Lincoln.”"

This seems to be the story of the day. Charles P. Pierce writes about it in Esquire, 'The Defeat of Barack Hussein Obama' Is Just Another Racist Sprocket in the New-Age Slime Slot Machine. "They used to meet in secret. When conservatives decided to go all-in on the remnants of white supremacy, they developed their own code for it. When Trent Lott got caught hob-nobbing with racists, people actually were shocked about it. They don't have to pretend anymore. There is no longer a need for code. There is practically nothing anyone can say about this president in public as long as he's rich enough not to give a damn."

I know this election is going to get ugly. Billionaires are for all intents and purposes trying to buy elections. I wonder if it will get ugly enough to encourage real campaign finance reform.

Update: Now this is fun. Ricketts is the head of the family that owns the Chicago Cubs and they want $100 million in city tax breaks to rebuild Wrigley field. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not amused.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

RNC Goes All In to Defend Wisconsin's Walker, but Where's the DNC?

John Nichols reports in The Nation, RNC Goes All In to Defend Wisconsin's Walker, but Where's the DNC?

"[RNC chair Reince] Priebus offers his “all in” commitment even though [Republican Governor Scott] Walker's campaign has a 25–1 financial advantage over [Democratic challenger Tom] Barrett. And that doesn't even count the millions coming in from the Koch Brothers and other national donors who are funding so-called “independent” expenditures on the governor's behalf.

What is the Democratic National Committee offering in return? Not as much. While the Democratic Governors Association and some other groups with party ties have been supportive of the electoral fight in Wisconsin, the DNC has been slow on the draw. Even now, after much discussion of the DNC's slow response, DNC chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz says only that she hopes to come to Wisconsin for a fundraising event. Translation: She will make an appearance in Wisconsin where Wisconsinites will be asked to give money to the DNC."

If they're not going to support this campaign with money, I'd like an explanation as to why.

An Economic Argument Worth Having

Gregory Koger wrote in the Washington Post, Understood properly, the Death Star is not worth it. Any article that contains the following quotes is worth a read:

"This debate picked up this year after some Lehigh University students estimated that just the steel for a Death Star would cost $852 quadrillion, or 13,000 times the current GDP of the Earth."

"While it may have some use as a deterrent against possible invaders, the DS is primarily a tool of domestic politics. Prior to its completion, the Emperor is compelled to keep the Imperial Senate around, presumably to maintain the semblance of popular consent. But the Senate imposes some inefficiency — meddling in military strategy, perhaps, or directing spending to some favored planets. Once the DS is operational, the Emperor can disband the Senate and, instead, empower Imperial governors to suppress the local population and extract revenue."

"Peasant 1: Did you hear the Empire blew up Alderaan? What kind of government blows up one of the richest planets in the galaxy because of one smack-talking teenager? It could be any of us next."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Avengers, Assembled (and Visualized)

Jer Thorp made some interesting graphs about Avengers appearances in the comics Avengers, Assembled (and Visualized) – Part .


Above are number of appearances and first appearances of characters, but he also charts women in the roster and robots and gods. If such things are interesting, you'll also want to check out part 2.

A Singularly Stunning Image of Earth

Universe Today wrote, From Russia With Love: A Singularly Stunning Image of Earth.

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"Unlike most satellite images of Earth, this one was not assembled from multiple swath scans or digitally projected onto a globe model — it’s the full disk of our planet in captured as a single, enormous 121 megapixel image, acquired by Russia’s Elektro-L weather-forecasting satellite.

Like NASA’s GOES satellites, Elektro-L is parked in a geostationary orbit approximately 36,000 km (22,300 miles) above our planet. Unlike NASA’s satellites, however, Elektro-L captures images in near-infrared as well as visible wavelengths, providing detail about not only cloud movement but also vegetation variations. Its wide-angle Multichannel Scanning Unit (MSU) takes images every 15-30 minutes, showing the same viewpoint of Earth across progressive times of the day."

And here's a video:

50 Years Ago: The World in 1962

In Focus shows us 50 Years Ago: The World in 1962. "A half-century ago, the space race was heating up and the Cold War was freezing over. Soviet missile bases discovered in Cuba triggered a crisis that brought the U.S. to the brink of war with the U.S.S.R. Civil rights activists won hard-earned victories against segregationists in the American South, and John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. Algeria gained independence from France and the U.S. slowly escalated its involvement in Vietnam. Meanwhile, Seattle held a World's Fair called the the Century 21 Exposition, celebrating the themes of space, science, and the future. Let me take you 50 years into the past now, for a look at the world as it was in 1962. [50 photos]"

It's the space age, war and civil rights with a little camelot thrown in. I really liked this collection.

Is The Filibuster Unconstitutional?

Ezra Klein has a really good post, Is the filibuster unconstitutional? that's worth a read.

"In 1806, the Senate, on the advice of Aaron Burr, tried to clean up its rule book, which was thought to be needlessly complicated and redundant. One change it made was to delete something called “the previous question” motion. That was the motion senators used to end debate on whatever they were talking about and move to the next topic. Burr recommended axing it because it was hardly ever used. Senators were gentlemen. They knew when to stop talking.

That was the moment the Senate created the filibuster. But nobody knew it at the time. It would be three more decades before the first filibuster was mounted — which meant it was five decades after the ratification of the Constitution. “Far from being a matter of high principle, the filibuster appears to be nothing more than an unforeseen and unintended consequence of the elimination of the previous question motion from the rules of the Senate,” Bondurant writes.

And even then, filibusters were a rare annoyance. Between 1840 and 1900, there were 16 filibusters. Between 2009 and 2010, there were more than 130. But that’s changed. Today, Majority Leader Harry Reid says that “60 votes are required for just about everything.”

At the core of Bondurant’s argument is a very simple claim: This isn’t what the Founders intended. The historical record is clear on that fact. The framers debated requiring a supermajority in Congress to pass anything. But they rejected that idea."

There's also this nice graphic:

Aviary  1

Toy Story 2 Was Accidentally Deleted and Almost Lost

Oren Jacobs tells the story.

Always make backups. I think at that point there is some good backup software so this should be easy. A remaining problem is that it's not always easy to check backups but that's just as important. It seems odd that the first time you do a restore, it's probably really critical that you get it right without having practiced.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Movie Review: Dark Shadows

I never watched the TV series but for some reason I gave the new Tim Burton Johnny Deep Dark Shadows film a shot. I'm sorry I did. I saw it with a group of eight and others did enjoy it, but if I had been seated at the end of the row instead of in the center, I would have walked out of boredom.

The trailer makes it out to be a comedy but while there were a few laughs, they were mostly in the trailer and were few and far between in a film just under two hours long. That might be ok if there had been something else to fill the time, but even with a good cast and lots of roles and even some soapy stuff going on, there was just nothing engaging. Notice I said roles, because there really aren't characters.

200 years ago, the witch Angelique (Eva Green) was spurned by Barnabas (Johnny Depp) so she kills his family, his love and turns him into a vampire and imprisons him. He escapes in 1972 to find his descendants living in his estate but not doing very well. We're introduced to the matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer), her teenage daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz), the useless wicked brother (Jonny Lee Miller), his troubled son (Gulliver McGrath), the live in shrink (Helena Bonham Carter), the new governess (Bella Heathcote) and the old groundskeeper (Jackie Earle Haley). Angelique is still around and basically owns the town. There you now know virtually everything there is to know about the characters. They're in scenes but we don't get to know any of them. Barnabas is the only one we kinda get to know, but his scenes are mostly about being a 200 year old fish out of water. That works for a bit, but not for two hours.

There were some songs from the early 70s I liked.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Political Hypocrisy on Auto Bailouts

John Stewart did a great bit Tuesday night of Republicans taking completely hypocritical positions in their need to hate everything Obama has done. He played up the cognitive dissonance angle...

Rachel Maddow concentrated on the Romney claiming credit for the auto bailout hypocrisy (this might require the Microsoft Silverlight plugin)...

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Here's the full interview Romney gave Monday in which he took credit for saving the auto industry:

So it's really not taken out of context. It's also not off the cuff. The Saturday before, a Romney campaign aide said essentially the same thing, Romney campaign aide claims auto bailout was Romney's idea. "'[Romney's] position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed. I know it infuriates them to hear that,' Eric Fehrnstrom, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said. 'The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney's advice.'"

And here's Romney's NY Times op-ed from Nov 18, 2008, Let Detroit Go Bankrupt. Note that this was while Bush was still president and he approved the first part of the auto bailout. Here's the substance of what Romney said:

"IF General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed. Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check."

He (as always) talks about his dad and then says the government should invest in basic research, not bailouts, ending with:

"But don’t ask Washington to give shareholders and bondholders a free pass — they bet on management and they lost. The American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. It would permit the companies to shed excess labor, pension and real estate costs. The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing and assure car buyers that their warranties are not at risk. In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check."

Wikipedia details the auto-bailouts here. The problem was that the industry needed cash on hand to continue operations while it restructured. The problem was the financial crisis, caused a credit crisis and no one was lending money to GM or Chrysler. So the government stepped in to do so, took some ownership, and required changes. These weren't met. Obama created an overseeing task force (instead of a proposed car czar) and they put in a new CEO of GM and gave them more funds and another 60 days to make changes to avoid a chapter 11 bankruptcy even though they expected one to happen. It did in June.

So Romeny is saying they should have just gone into chapter 11 back in the fall of 2008 but again, no bank or private equity firm (including Bain Capital) would give them enough funds to remain operational during a restructuring. The government was the lender of last resort and essentially put them through restructuring. Something they could have done with the banks and TARP funds but didn't.

During his campaign this year, on Feb 14, 2012, Romney wrote an op-ed in The Detroit News reiterating his position, U.S. autos bailout 'was crony capitalism on a grand scale.

"Instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Obama rewarded them. A labor union that had contributed millions to Democrats and his election campaign was granted an ownership share of Chrysler and a major stake in GM, two flagships of the industry.The U.S. Department of Treasury — American taxpayers — was asked to become a majority stockholder of GM. And a politically connected and ethically challenged Obama-campaign contributor, the financier Steven Rattner, was asked to preside over all this as auto czar. This was crony capitalism on a grand scale. The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better."

He goes on, but the crux of his argument is this:

"[Chrysler and GM] were saddled with an accumulation of labor, pension, and real estate costs that made them unsustainable. Health and retirement benefits alone amounted to an extra $2,000 baked into the price of every car they produced. Shorn of those excess costs, and shorn of the bungling management that had driven them into a deep rut, they could re-emerge as vibrant and competitive companies. "

I don't really understand Romney's positions on corporate ownership. He doesn't want unions to have ownership in the company they work for. In his times editorial he says his dad cut his own pay and bought stock in the company, I assume because it would be an incentive to make the company profitable. But then he said "No more focus on quarterly earnings or the kind of short-term stock appreciation that means quick riches for executives with options." He also wants "profit sharing or stock grants to all employees." So stock ownership is good, except when it isn't and it should be for everyone but not unions. Got it.

He also talked a lot about how US companies have $2,000 more cost per car than foreign competitors like Toyota because of negotiated wages and benefits packages for workers and retirees. Now some of those did need to be restructures and the UAW was willing but it's not an easy thing to do. Romney doesn't mention that other nations have universal health care so that employers don't have the burden of paying for their workers (and retirees) health care. He's opposed to Obamacare, even though he's obviously for Romneycare. So I guess each state with auto manufacturing should come up with their own health care plan to alleviate the pressure of providing health care to workers so that GM can compete with Japan. Why not adopt the Japanese model of health care to better compete?

It's worth noting that Romney wasn't the only Republican saying the bailouts were a bad idea and couldn't possibly work.

Game Over for the Climate -

Jim Hansen wrote in the NY TImes Game Over for the Climate.

"Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels. If this sounds apocalyptic, it is."

"We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them. We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price."

If Waterworld wasn't bad enough to convince people, I don't know what will.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A New Translation of The One Russian Science Fiction Novel You Absolutely Must Read

i09 makes me want to read Roadside Picnic, A New Translation of The One Russian Science Fiction Novel You Absolutely Must Read.

Jon Stewart on Obama's Support For Gay Marriage

Leave it to Jon Stewart to explain to me why this is such a big deal in a way that no one else did.

"In like five years the prime talking point from Republicans about people who support gay marriage has gone from 'It will destroy society via turtle fucking' to 'Oh of course you're for it you'll say anything popular to get elected' and that is progress."

Grocery iQ Update Sucks

I really liked Grocery IQ as an iOS shopping list app. I use it on the iPhone and iPad adding items to my using whichever device is closer. It let you track multiple stores and sort items by aisles (with names you could assign) per store and kept track of things previously bought. I shop in a few different stores (Russo's, Shaws, Whole Foods, CVS, Trader Joe's) so this was particularly useful. It could also track prices between stores but I never bothered. Adding items was easy as their was an online database of items. Often just scanning the barcode was enough and you could put it in the store and aisle you wanted.

But then came update 2.6 and they broke things and people are unhappy. Grocery iQ Update Drags App Down, Causing Customers To Flee. I'm not sure what they did. There are still stores but I don't see aisles and there's a master list. I had worked out the aisles for my items over a couple months and had them right between the stores (after doing this you learn to hate store reorganizations). Now there's one master list of items and the aisles are are mixed up in one list that sorted alphabetically. Russo's doesn't have aisles so I had used and sorted names such as outside, left, dairy, cheese, back, bakery, front, etc. Now that's all mixed up in one master list. A mess.

Fortunately the reviews are so bad that it's obviously they're going to have to undo the changes. They've already backed out some (bringing back prices which doesn't help me). I hope they bring back the rest. I've seen some apps that just say if you don't like the changes don't update. That's weak but almost reasonable since the update is free. However it does break the App Store's Update All feature so it's completely unreasonable.

Does anyone else use a grocery list app to the extent I outlines that they like and can recommend?
Update: As they comment below, they have released a couple of updates since this post and Grocery IQ is back to being a very good application.

The Insidiousness of Conservative Talk Radio

I started following Best of MetaFilter which pointed to this post by gjc at 4:54 AM on May 9: Take a look at your foot, does it fit this shoe?

"I listen to a fair amount of talk radio, since I'm in and out of the car all day. My impression is that the talk radio listener likes to believe they think for themselves, but in the end, they just parrot what their favorite talker says.

But also, guys like Limbaugh and Hannity have absolutely MASTERED the long con, as they say. There are two games I've personally witnessed:

1- They have their one-off sound bites for the casual listener. But for the dedicated listener, they do these thematic long-arc stories that last weeks and months at a time, feeding dribs and drabs of the intended message on a limited basis so that by the end of the messaging period, listeners will have digested the full message. Hannity did this with evil aplomb as the Treyvon Martin case was ramping up. His first few shows on the issue were actually thoughtful meanders through the issues. 'Wow', I thought, 'this guy is actually treating something with respect and dignity.' But then, as days passed, the old conservative theme developed. Guests were chosen that telegraphed the message. He got two african american community leader types to debate whether this was more about race, or more about guns. But both of the guests were 'urban' sounding. Overt message: Hannity is gathering opinions from diverse sources. Subtext: black people don't talk like white people, and are also scary.

2- They conflate issues. I heard Mark Levin, I think, starting a segment with an anti-Obama rant. He was interviewing an author about a book or an article critical of Valerie Jarret. Oh heavens, she likes to shop and was mean to someone once. But the whole time, the host was asking leading questions 'so, these women, like Jarret and Michelle Obama, they really like to let power get to their heads, don't they?' And the author would answer something like 'well, I don't know anything about Obama, but these are the facts I found about Jarret.' And then Levin ended the segment with a full on rant about what dirtbags the Obamas are. The goal was plain: get the listeners to confuse the specifics about Jarret and assign them to the Obamas.

So it isn't nearly as simple as being told what to think. The best way to impregnate (pun intended) an idea into someone's mind is to tell them to think for themselves, and then offer 'facts' that lead them to what becomes an unavoidable conclusion. While also sowing mistrust in all other sources of information."