Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Jacko Tapes

If anything, they seem to reveal that he really was that messed up:
The Michael Jackson Tapes, written by the star's former adviser Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, provides first-hand detail about the reclusive singer's life.

In one conversation, Jackson says: "I don't want to grow old. I never want to look in the mirror and see that."

The star died in June, aged 50. His death is being treated as homicide.

Speaking to US TV show Today on Friday, Rabbi Boteach said his overwhelming impression of the star had been one of "indescribable pain".

"He lost the will to live," he added. "I think he was just going through the motions of life toward the end."

....

In another conversation released by Rabbi Boteach, the star can be heard saying: "I don't want to be seen now, because I am like a lizard. It is horrible."

"I would like some way to disappear where people don't see me any more at some point."
Well...he's gone now...

Burger Heaven

In spite of PETA's best efforts, the burger is alive and well, and here's a handy guide to prove it.

Obama=Clinton?

Heather MacDonald wonders if the Republicans are repeating history with out-there attacks on Obama, or forgetting it:
Both parties seem to have forgotten the Clinton and the Bush eras. Democrats, in portraying right-wing hyperventilation over Obama as a manifestation of covert hostility to blacks, forget the insane Clinton conspiracy theories that grew like kudzu even in the highest reaches of Republican opinionizing. Only this year has the right-wing obsession with the Clintons appeared to have finally and thankfully petered out. But Republican pundits, in portraying Obama as an unprecedented danger to the country-on Wednesday, Mark Levin announced: "We've never been in this situation before at least in modern times . . . They intend to use the system against you"-forget their own dire warnings about the Clintons as the end of civilization.
Actually, they may not have forgotten-but some of the voices on the right seem to be hoping that hysteria will sell a second time around.

A Hanging In Kentucky

The Old South apparently isn't gone quite just yet:
A part-time census worker found hanging in a rural Kentucky cemetery was naked, gagged and had his hands and feet bound with duct tape, said an Ohio man who discovered the body two weeks ago.

The word ''fed'' was written in felt-tip pen on 51-year-old Bill Sparkman's chest, but authorities have released very few other details in the case, such as whether they think it was an accident, suicide or homicide.

Jerry Weaver of Fairfield, Ohio, told The Associated Press on Friday that he was certain from the gruesome scene that someone killed Sparkman.

''He was murdered,'' Weaver said. ''There's no doubt.''
Welcome to Kentucky.

Nukes, Nyet

Well, this is pretty surprising, considring that it's from Putin's Kremlin:
Iran's construction of a uranium enrichment plant violates decisions of the United Nations Security Council. The International Atomic Energy Agency must investigate this site immediately, and Iran must cooperate with this investigation. Russia will assist in this investigation by any available means. Russia remains committed to a dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue, and urges Iran to provide proof of its commitment to a peaceful nuclear program by the October 1 meeting of the P5-plus-1.
Of course, we'll have to see how serious they are, but it does seem to show that the rest of the world really is getting on board with Obama on Iran:
President Obama and leaders of Britain and France accused Iran on Friday of building a secret underground plant to manufacture nuclear fuel, saying the country has hidden the covert operation from international weapons inspectors for years.

...

The extraordinary and hastily arranged joint appearance by the three leaders — and Mr. Obama said that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had asked him to convey that she stood with them as well — adds urgency to the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its suspected ambition to build a nuclear weapons capacity. The three men demanded that Iran allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to conduct an immediate inspection of the facility, which is said to be 100 miles southwest of Tehran, near the holy city of Qum.
So, it looks like Ima Dinnerjacket is running out of friends fast. For all the mishandling he's done with healthcare reform, Obama is getting this one right.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Who Killed ACORN?

Byron York credits the sting that brought the organization down:
None of this would have happened had it not been for undercover videos, released on the new Web site BigGovernment, which caught ACORN employees in Baltimore, Washington, New York City and California in the act of encouraging tax fraud and prostitution, including prostitution involving underage girls. The videos, which were ignored by most big media organizations other than Fox News, had a huge effect on Capitol Hill.

"I was stunned by what I saw," says Johanns, who has had his eye on ACORN since joining the Senate in January. "I just could not believe that you could have a situation where people were so complacent, so complicit, in what was clearly activity that was not only illegal but just unbelievably wrong."

The BigGovernment videos came in the wake of news that arrest warrants had been issued for 11 former ACORN workers in Florida accused of forging hundreds of voter registration applications. In light of those revelations, lawmakers who once felt confident voting on ACORN's behalf were forced to reconsider; a vote for ACORN was no longer safe. In literally hours, years of Democratic sponsorship of ACORN virtually disappeared.
May the same thing soon happen to ACORN.

Missile Man

Tom Nichols says Obama made the right call:
It was the right thing to do. Those defenses were not going to work (or work well enough or soon enough to matter in any major crisis with Iran), and the diplomatic price we were paying for them was far out of proportion to any small gains we might have made by annoying the Russians or reassuring the Czechs and the Poles. (The stated reason for the cancellation — that we’re more worried about medium-range missile threats — is technically accurate, but only for the moment, and sounds more like a rationalization than a reason.)

What really remains to be seen is whether the Obama administration is now going to take the far more important next step of making the Russians and Iranians reciprocate with meaningful actions instead of empty applause. Specifically, we should make clear to Moscow that we’re done dithering over arms reduction, that we do not expect to hear any more protests from senior Russian military leaders about the crucial importance of massive nuclear warheads to Russian security, and that we want significant help in containing the Iranians. More important, we should send a clear warning to Tehran that the reason we do not need missile interceptors in Europe is that we will never, under any circumstances, allow Iran to develop nuclear arms or the long-range means to deliver them.
On this I agree, but it does show how some of the bloviating we've seen on the missile shield might have been misplaced.

Show Me the Progress

Afpak's Joanna Nathan is against bribery as nation-building:
Simply buying or bribing more commanders of whatever ilk will mean more instability in an environment where entrenched interests in a war economy are already playing the international community -- not the other way around. Money is leverage and the populations of both Afghanistan and the U.S. need to be involved in debating how it is spent, rather than grubby backhanders. This must include clearly agreed public standards and measures -- and sanctions if they are not met. I am not saying this is easy, but simply blindly backing individuals has already been tried and failed.
Ultimately, payoffs to local hired thugs comes with a price. What happens when we try and say no mas?

Shell Game

Speaking of Bush legacies, it seems his administration's ties to oil were never far away:
The Justice Department has launched an investigation into whether former Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton illegally used her position to steer lucrative oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company she works for now, officials with both departments confirmed to The Associated Press.

The criminal investigation is focused on a 2006 decision by the Interior Department to award three oil shale leases on federal land in Colorado to a Shell subsidiary. Oil from the leases could eventually earn the company hundreds of billions dollars.

Investigators are looking into whether Norton, named by President George W. Bush to run the agency in 2001, violated a law that bars federal employees from discussing employment with a company if they are involved in a decision that could benefit that company. Months after granting the leases to Shell, Norton left the agency. Shell later that year hired her as an in-house counsel for its unconventional fuels division, which includes oil shale.

Justice Department and Interior investigators also are trying to determine if Norton violated a broader federal "denial of honest services" law. Under the statute, government officials can be prosecuted for violating the public trust for directing government business to favored firms.

Officials spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

Norton could not be reached immediately for comment.
But I'm sure that at the time she was doing a heckuva job...

The Legacy

It's not one to be proud of:
Thursday’s annual Census Bureau report on income, poverty and access to health care-the Bureau’s principal report card on the well-being of average Americans-closes the books on the economic record of George W. Bush.

It’s not a record many Republicans are likely to point to with pride.

On every major measurement, the Census Bureau report shows that the country lost ground during Bush’s two terms. While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country’s condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton’s two terms, often substantially.
Bush was in many ways the definition of mediocrity, but apparently for some Republicans that's OK.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Snuggie Season

They're apparently now chic enough for fashion shows. Is there nothing they cannot do?

"I'm The Definer"

Former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer reveals how "Conservative" Bush really was:
Bush was preparing to give a speech to the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. The conference is the event of the year for conservative activists; Republican politicians are required to appear and offer their praise of the conservative movement.

Latimer got the assignment to write Bush's speech. Draft in hand, he and a few other writers met with the president in the Oval Office. Bush was decidedly unenthusiastic.

"What is this movement you keep talking about in the speech?" the president asked Latimer.

Latimer explained that he meant the conservative movement -- the movement that gave rise to groups like CPAC.

Bush seemed perplexed. Latimer elaborated a bit more. Then Bush leaned forward, with a point to make.

"Let me tell you something," the president said. "I whupped Gary Bauer's ass in 2000. So take out all this movement stuff. There is no movement."

Bush seemed to equate the conservative movement -- the astonishing growth of conservative political strength that took place in the decades after Barry Goldwater's disastrous defeat in 1964 -- with the fortunes of Bauer, the evangelical Christian activist and former head of the Family Research Council whose 2000 presidential campaign went nowhere.

Now it was Latimer who looked perplexed. Bush tried to explain.

"Look, I know this probably sounds arrogant to say," the president said, "but I redefined the Republican Party."
Well, if you mean as a train wreck, then you were right, Mr. President.

It's the End Of the World As they Knew It

It's an island Armageddon:
Mile after mile of breakwater built from boulders brought hundreds of miles by ship has been laid, but inside its man-made lagoon, work has completely stopped.

The expected map of the world of 300 islands is instead a disjointed and desolate collection of sandy blots -- a monumental folly just out of sight of Dubai's shore....

"The World has been cancelled. It doesn't even look like the world. Basically there is one island that is maintained that is said to be owned by the Sheikh [Dubai's ruler] and the rest looks like a pile of muck," said one local property agent.
A victim of hubris, bad planning, the recession...take your pick. If you want to own the World, at least make sure it's properly built next time.

Obama Don't Play That

Coates is glad that Obama's not falling for the race-baiting game (from either side):
Barack Obama, bourgeois in every way that bourgeois is right and just, will not dance. He tells kids to study--and they seethe. He accepts an apology for an immature act of rudeness--and they go hysterical. He takes his wife out for a date--and their veins bulge. His humanity, his ordinary blackness, is killing them. Dig the audio of his response to Kanye West--the way he says, "He's a jackass." He sounds like one of my brothers. And that's the point, because that's what he is. Barack Obama refuses to be their nigger. And it's driving them crazy.
To his credit, Obama is no Jesse Jackson. At the same time, Obama would do well do do more to distance himself from those in his party who are using race in his name, as he has done with Carter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Fox Investigates The Hen House

They just can't believe that there's gambling going on at their establishment:
An advocacy group under fire after employees were caught on camera appearing to advise a couple posing as a prostitute and pimp to lie about the woman's profession to get housing help said Wednesday it is ordering an independent investigation.

The group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, known as ACORN, said it is refusing new admissions into its service programs.

ACORN will work with its advisory council, which includes prominent supporters of President Barack Obama, such as John Podesta, president of the nonprofit Center for American Progress, and Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, to name an independent auditor and investigator, ACORN chief executive Bertha Lewis said in a written statement.

The investigation will examine all the systems and processes called into question by the video, Lewis said.

In addition, ACORN won't accept new admissions into its community service programs, effective immediately, and within the next few days will conduct staff training, she said.

Lewis said the steps were being taken in response to "the indefensible action of a handful of our employees."
And I'm sure it will be completely thorough and above-board, too. Meanwhile, The Governator isn't waiting:
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for an investigation into a community organization group that has recently been plagued by scandals and accusations.

Schwarzenegger urged California Attorney General Jerry Brown to "launch a full investigation" into ACORN -- the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now -- over recent reports of impropriety, including a hidden-camera video posted online that purports to show ACORN employees advising a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute how to launder their earnings.

"As you may be aware, the most recent report has come out of San Bernardino," Gov. Schwarzenegger said in a letter to Brown. "My administration stands ready to assist in any way necessary."

The video was the latest in a series that has already led to the firing of four ACORN employees in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. It was created by James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles and posted on BigGovernment.com, where O'Keefe identifies himself as an activist filmmaker.
Here's hoping Jerry Brown actually does his job, even if it does put him in a bit of a bind. We'll see what comes of this.

Let's Think Small

On the heels of the world's first image of a molecule, the age of subatomic photography now seems to be fully upon us.
For the first time, physicists have photographed the structure of an atom down to its electrons.

The pictures, soon to be published in the journal Physical Review B, show the detailed images of a single carbon atom's electron cloud, taken by Ukrainian researchers at the Kharkov Institute for Physics and Technology in Kharkov, Ukraine.

This is the first time scientists have been able to see an atom's internal structure directly. Since the early 1980s, researchers have been able to map out a material's atomic structure in a mathematical sense, using imaging techniques.

Quantum mechanics states that an electron doesn't exist as a single point, but spreads around the nucleus in a cloud known as an orbital. The soft blue spheres and split clouds seen in the images show two arrangements of the electrons in their orbitals in a carbon atom. The structures verify illustrations seen in thousands of chemistry books because they match established quantum mechanical predictions.

David Goldhaber-Gordon, a physics professor at Stanford University in California, called the research remarkable.

"One of the advantages [of this technique] is that it's visceral," he said. "As humans we're used to looking at images in real space, like photographs, and we can internalize things in real space more easily and quickly, especially people who are less deep in the physics."
Here's the photo:



Is it me, or is it mooning us?

"Racism" So Cried The Peanut Farmer

I was wondering how long it would take for Jimmah to play that card:
U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson's oldest son defended his father against a claim by former President Jimmy Carter that the congressman's outburst during a speech by President Barack Obama was ''based on racism.''

Responding to an audience question at a town hall at his presidential center in Atlanta, Carter said Tuesday that Wilson's outburst was also rooted in fears of a black president.

''I think it's based on racism,'' Carter said. ''There is an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.''

But Wilson's son disputed that.

''There is not a racist bone in my dad's body,'' said Alan Wilson, an Iraq veteran who is running for state attorney general in South Carolina. ''He doesn't even laugh at distasteful jokes. I won't comment on former President Carter, because I don't know President Carter. But I know my dad, and it's just not in him.''

''It's unfortunate people make that jump. People can disagree -- and appropriately disagree -- on issues of substance, but when they make the jump to race it's absolutely ludicrous. My brothers and I were raised by our parents to respect everyone regardless of background or race.''
There's been no doubt that some of the loonier attacks against Obama are borderline racist-the birther stuff especially. But I seem to remember it was Democrats in places like here in West Virginia who preferred Hillary because they wouldn't vote for a black man-and the Hillary campaign seemed willing to accept that. And it's the Democrats who have brought out the race card when there has been legitimate criticism of Obama from some on their own side.

Obama's election was a huge step forward for this country. But the Democrats are the ones who seem to want to stay stuck in the pre-post-racial America liberals like to say we've left behind.

Children Of The Debt

So, guess who's going to wind up paying for Obamacare-and possibly not even be able to afford it themselves?
Drafting young adults into any health-care reform package is crucial to paying for it. As low-cost additions to insurance pools, young adults would help dilute the expense of covering older, sicker people. Depending on how Congress requires insurers to price their policies, this group could even wind up paying disproportionately hefty premiums — effectively subsidizing coverage for their parents...

An early draft of the proposal set the penalty at $750 or $950 per year for single people, depending on income. But according to various insurance experts, even the least expensive plan under the bill could cost more than $100 per month, making it cheaper for people to pay the fine than to buy insurance.
Making the kids pay for Mom and Dad's health care? Quite frankly, I can't think of a better way to create a new generation of Republican voters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Coca-Commie?

The CEO of Coca Cola says things won't go better with a soda tax:

Coca-Cola Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent said the idea of a federal tax on soft drinks, under consideration by the U.S. Congress and President Barack Obama, is “outrageous.”

“I have never seen it work where a government tells people what to eat and what to drink,” Kent said today, responding to an audience question at the Rotary Club of Atlanta. “If it worked, the Soviet Union would still be around.

Lawmakers drafting legislation to revamp the U.S. health- care system have considered new taxes on sugar and sweetened soda to help pay the cost. Obama fanned the debate when he told a magazine he’s willing to consider taxes on soft drinks.

‘‘I actually think it’s an idea that we should be exploring,” Obama said in an interview with Men’s Health magazine going on sale this week. “There’s no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda.”
No one disagrees with this, but how does a sin tax really solve anything? Aside from the fact that they don't really work, the will doesn't seem to be there for them. So, while Obama might love the idea of taxing the sinner, politically it seems to be a no-go. So rest easy, soda sippers. Your sugary fizz is safe-at least for now.

Patriot Act Games

Who says we didn't get a third term for Bush? It seems that the Patriot Act is staying around:
The Obama administration supports extending three key provisions of the Patriot Act that are due to expire at the end of the year, the Justice Department told Congress in a letter made public Tuesday.

Lawmakers and civil rights groups had been pressing the Democratic administration to say whether it wants to preserve the post-Sept. 11 law's authority to access business records, as well as monitor so-called "lone wolf" terrorists and conduct roving wiretaps.

The provision on business records was long criticized by rights groups as giving the government access to citizens' library records, and a coalition of liberal and conservative groups complained that the Patriot Act gives the government too much authority to snoop into Americans' private lives.

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said he would take a close look at the law, based on his past expertise in constitutional law. Back in May, President Obama said legal institutions must be updated to deal with the threat of terrorism, but in a way that preserves the rule of law and accountability.

In a letter to lawmakers, Justice Department officials said the administration supports extending the three expiring provisions of the law, although they are willing to consider additional privacy protections as long as they don't weaken the effectiveness of the law.
It looks like those who were hoping for a completely clean break with Bush (and I was one of them) are going to have to wait a little longer...

Monday, September 14, 2009

No More Pimp Money For You

Acorn is going to have to go elsewhere for cash to help out struggling pimps:
A poverty-rights group that has drawn the ire of conservatives suffered another setback in Washington on Monday when the U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly to deny it access to federal housing funds.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which helps poor people fight foreclosures and fix tax problems, has received more than $53 million in U.S. funds since 1994, but conservatives' charges of widespread fraud have begun to impact its reputation in the capital.

Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau told the group it did not want its help boosting participation in next year's census.

The Senate measure, which passed 83 to 7 in the Democratic-led chamber, was included in a must-pass spending bill that funds housing and transportation programs for the fiscal year that starts October 1.

"This is an opportunity for the United States Senate to stand up and say 'Enough is enough' just as the Census Bureau did," said Republican Senator Mike Johanns, the measure's sponsor.
....

ACORN says less than 2 percent of its 1.3 million voter applications were fraudulent, stemming from canvassers who sought to boost the number of forms they turned in. Independent analysts say any actual impact on the election was negligible.

The group has also suffered an embezzlement scandal involving the founder's brother.

ACORN more recently has been embarrassed by conservative activists who secretly taped employees in several cities giving tax advice to a couple posing as a pimp and prostitute.

The group has fired several of those taped while denouncing the actions as a smear campaign.
Ah, yes. From little acorns do mighty crooks grow...

Bloggin' In The Years: 1901

It is a scene with which we as a country have already had to witness twice in our history. Now it has happened again, as a new President takes office.
Theodore Roosevelt to-day became President of the United States, with a solemn promise that he would follow out the policy laid down by President McKinley.

His exact words, which produced a most profound impression upon the small company of people to whom he spoke, were: "I wish to say that it shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace and prosperity and the honor of our beloved country."
History has thrust this enormous challenge upon Mr. Roosevelt. He deserves our support and prayers in the days ahead.

The Love Inside, You Take It With You

Remembering Patrick Swayze, who has died at 57:
Patrick Swayze did action movies and historical drama. He even hosted a well-regarded episode of “Saturday Night Live.” But he will be best remembered for being the leading man in two enormously popular romantic fantasies: one where he was the first-love fantasy, and one where he was the perfect-martyr fantasy.

His huge success as a romantic hero came after an early flirtation with pure Brat Pack success: his first major exposure came in “The Outsiders,” followed by “Red Dawn” and “Youngblood,” meaning that he’d been in something with practically every well-known young actor in Hollywood in the early ’80s before he took on much in the way of leading roles.
R.I.P. to a truly versatile actor. Here he is in Ghost:

White Man, Black President

Is race part of what's driving anti-Obama anger?
If we concede, as most reasonable people do, that racism is a factor--not the factor but a factor--in resistance to Obama, then in fact, what we've seen this year is, by the very nature of an Obama presidency, unprecedented. Put simply, we've seen the crazy-tax, of which race is a portion, before. But we've never seen the crazy-tax intensified by race. We have not seen it accompanied by watermelon jokes, by Congressmen referring to him as boy, by clucking heads claiming that the president "has exposed himself as someone with a deep-seated hated of white people."
There's no doubt that some of this has been going on, and it's dispicable. We saw it during the campaign, too. But it's also unfair to claim, as Maureen Dowd does, that all who oppose Obama are racists. There are crazy people on both sides. Whomever can ditch theirs first will win the debate-and prove that we really have moved forward as a country.

Michael And Me

If you saw the MTV Video Awards last night, you probably saw Madonna's tribute to herself:
Michael Jackson was born in August 1958. So was I. Michael Jackson grew up in the suburbs of the Midwest. So did I. Michael Jackson had eight brothers and sisters. So do I. When Michael Jackson was six, he became a superstar, and was perhaps the world’s most beloved child. When I was six, my mother died. I think he got the shorter end of the stick. I never had a mother, but he never had a childhood. And when you never get to have something, you become obsessed by it.
As she apparently was with herself.

Speaking of the awards, what was up with Kanye West? At least Beyonce had more class than he did.

We Are The Coolers

Call it Climate Aid:
British rock group Duran Duran and heavy metal band Scorpions are among 55 world celebrities who have joined in recording a song to draw attention to the global warming crisis, organisers said on Monday.

The song is part of a mass media campaign on the threats of climate change organised by the Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum, headed by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan.

The song entitled "Beds'r Burning", which was originally recorded by the Australian group Midnight Oil in the 1980s, can be downloaded from the Internet for free and will be presented to the public at a launch in Paris on October 1.

"If we do not stop the (greenhouse gas) emissions today, global warming will be still be with us in 40 to 50 years," warned Walter Fust, director of the Forum, at a press conference in Geneva.
Except that maybe it won't. At any rate, do we really need a ntoher group of know-nothings (particularly know-nothing has-beens from the Eighties) lecturing us again on global warming?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Basketball Obituaries

Well, here's Number Three: Jim Carroll has joined all the people who've died.
Punk-rock poet and musician Jim Carroll, who chronicled his wild teen years in "The Basketball Diaries," has died of a heart attack, his ex-wife told The New York Times.
Rosemary Klemfuss, who was married to Carroll in 1978 before they divorced in the mid-1980s, said he died on Friday at his Manhattan home. He was 60, the newspaper said on Sunday, although other biographical profiles listed his age as 59.

Carroll's most famous work, "The Basketball Diaries," was published in 1978. In it, he wrote of his wild youth as both a basketball star and a drug abuser during his teen years at Manhattan's private Trinity school, was made into a 1995 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Pioneering punk-rock singer Patti Smith told the newspaper "I met him in 1970, and already he was pretty much universally recognized as the best poet of his generation."

"The work was sophisticated and elegant," said Smith, who helped usher Carroll into a music career that included songs such as "People Who Died" and "Catholic Boy."

Carroll also worked with rockers from Lou Reed and The Doors to Pearl Jam and Rancid.

Carroll, a fixture on Manhattan's downtown punk-rock scene, saw his poetry lauded by Beat Generation icons including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. His work was published in The Paris Review, and he worked at Andy Warhol's Factory and on the pop artist's films.
A Renaissance punk to the end...R.I.P.

Speaking of the opening reference, here's his classic New Wave hit:

Visions Of The Things To Be

Talk about these things happening in threes. Now Larry Gelbart has left us:
Larry Gelbart, the award-winning comedy writer best known for developing the landmark TV series "MASH," co-writing the book for the hit Broadway musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and co-writing the classic movie comedy "Tootsie," died Friday morning. He was 81.

Gelbart, who was diagnosed with cancer in June, died at his home in Beverly Hills, said his wife, Pat.

Jack Lemmon once described the genial, quick-witted Gelbart as "one of the greatest writers of comedy to have graced the arts in this century."

"Larry Gelbart was among the very best comedy writers ever produced in America," said Mel Brooks, whose friendship with Gelbart dated to when they both wrote for Sid Caesar's comedy-variety show "Caesar's Hour" in the 1950s. Gelbart "had class, he had wit, he had style and grace. He was a marvelous writer who could do more with words than anybody I ever met," Brooks said.

In a statement Friday, Woody Allen called Gelbart "the best comedy writer that I ever knew and one of the best guys."

Said Carl Reiner, who had also known Gelbart since the "Caesar's Hour" days when Reiner was a cast member: "The main thing about Larry, he was a comedy prodigy who developed into a national treasure. The man was one of the most gifted satirists who ever lived."
"M.A.S.H." was a big part of my childhood. Mr. Gelbart, you will be missed.

The Politics Of Recession

How the economy became a political football:
Well before the financial crisis erupted, policy makers treated homeowners as a protected political class and gave mortgage-backed securities privileged regulatory treatment. Furthermore, they allowed and encouraged high leverage and the expectation of bailouts for creditors, which had been practiced numerous times, including the precedent of Long-Term Capital Management in 1998. Without these mistakes, the economy would not have been so invested in leverage and real estate and the financial crisis would have been much milder.

But we are now injecting politics ever more deeply into the American economy, whether it be in finance or in sectors like health care. Not only have we failed to learn from our mistakes, but also we’re repeating them on an ever-larger scale.
At best, it does seem like we apply bandaid solutions to real economic messes of our own making. If insanity is the definition of doing the same thing ove and over again and expecting a different result, our politicians (and, in some cases, our presidents) went around the bend a long time ago.

All The Propaganda That's Fit To Post?

Mark Bowden doesn't like what he sees in the blogosphere:
The blogger’s role is to help his side. Distortions and inaccuracies, lapses of judgment, the absence of context, all of these things matter only a little, because they are committed by both sides, and tend to come out a wash. Nobody is actually right about anything, no matter how certain they pretend to be. The truth is something that emerges from the cauldron of debate. No, not the truth: victory, because winning is way more important than being right. Power is the highest achievement. There is nothing new about this. But we never used to mistake it for journalism. Today it is rapidly replacing journalism, leading us toward a world where all information is spun, and where all “news” is unapologetically propaganda.
Just speaking for myself, I think some of this is a little unfiar, and sounds like sour grapes from a guy who is lamenting the death of traditional journalism-which has been dying a slow death by other means, including its own arrogance, for some time now. Yes, some bloggers are partisan hacks. But the best have actually contributed to journalism by keeping a healthy sense of skepticism of those in power alive. That, too, used to be a function of "Real" journalism.

Bubbling Under

The next boom-and-bust cycle will apparently happen abroad:
Parts of Asia and Latin America, a tiny fraction of the size of the U.S. economy, are experiencing large capital inflows, low interest rates, and the beginnings of a major boom. Countries with intact banking systems and access to global capital markets will lead the next speculative wave. The United States will be pulled in--probably soon enough that we will all be surprised by a supposedly robust recovery, fed by continued low interest rates and loose credit. We all know these episodes end in tears, but they can be spectacular while they last.
I'm not sure what this says about the future of America's economic influence, except that we are now more interconnected with the rest of the world than ever before, which is what makes Obama's current protectionism racket seem even more shortsighted.

Heckling Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry More Than Once

Make no mistake; I think what he did was dumb. But that doesn't mean he has to apologize ad nausuem for it. So I'm glad that he's sticking to his guns here:
One apology is enough, a digging-in-his heels Rep. Joe Wilson said Sunday, challenging Democratic leaders who want him to say on the House floor that he's sorry for yelling "You lie!" during President Barack Obama's health care speech to Congress.

The leadership plans to propose a resolution of disapproval this week if the South Carolina Republican doesn't publicly apologize to Congress. Such a measure would put lawmakers on the record as condemning those two words, uttered during last Wednesday's prime-time speech, that have become a fundraising boon for the defiant Wilson and his Democratic challenger.

Wilson said a resolution would show that Democrats simply wanted to play politics and divert attention from a health care overhaul that is lagging in Congress.

"I am not going to apologize again. I apologized to the president on Wednesday night. I was advised then that, 'Thank you, now let's get on to a civil discussion of the issues,'" Wilson said. "I've apologized one time. The apology was accepted by the president, by the vice president, who I know. I am not apologizing again."

Wilson spoke with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel after the outburst that drew immediate rebuke from lawmakers, including some fellow Republicans.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he wanted to "see this matter end."

"Joe's a good man. He made a mistake," Graham said. "Don't give up on fighting health care. But what he said was inappropriate. This needs to come to the end for the good of Joe, South Carolina and the country. I'll leave it up to his good counsel as to what to do next."
There was really only one person Joe needed to apologize to-President Obama. And he's done that. There was a time in our society when one sincere apology would have been enough for most people. Unfortunately, for some of today's Congresscritters, that's no longer the case.

The Man Who Saved India

I don't think that's an inaccurate description. Reason remembers Norman Borlaug, who has passed away at 95:
In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich also said, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." He insisted that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980."

But Borlaug and his team were already engaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn't work. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties. In 1965, they had begun a massive campaign to ship the miracle wheat to Pakistan and India and teach local farmers how to cultivate it properly. By 1968, when Ehrlich's book appeared, the U.S. Agency for International Development had already hailed Borlaug's achievement as a "Green Revolution."

In Pakistan, wheat yields rose from 4.6 million tons in 1965 to 8.4 million in 1970. In India, they rose from 12.3 million tons to 20 million. And the yields continue to increase. Last year, India harvested a record 73.5 million tons of wheat, up 11.5 percent from 1998. Since Ehrlich's dire predictions in 1968, India's population has more than doubled, its wheat production has more than tripled, and its economy has grown nine-fold. Soon after Borlaug's success with wheat, his colleagues at the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research developed high-yield rice varieties that quickly spread the Green Revolution through most of Asia.

Contrary to Ehrlich's bold pronouncements, hundreds of millions didn't die in massive famines. India fed far more than 200 million more people, and it was close enough to self-sufficiency in food production by 1971 that Ehrlich discreetly omitted his prediction about that from later editions of The Population Bomb. The last four decades have seen a "progress explosion" that has handily outmatched any "population explosion."

Borlaug, who unfortunately is far less well-known than doom-sayer Ehrlich, is responsible for much of the progress humanity has made against hunger. Despite occasional local famines caused by armed conflicts or political mischief, food is more abundant and cheaper today than ever before in history, due in large part to the work of Borlaug and his colleagues.
R.I.P. to a true pioneer, who was able to debunk the doomsayers of his day.

So Where Were The Swastikas?

Andrew Sullivan and John Cole might not like this, but Matt Welch notes how normal most of the Obama protesters actually were:
Of the people I ended up talking to, the general vibe was that they were conservative, and then either Republican, formerly Republican, or independent. Every single one had unkind words to say about George W. Bush's spending and governing record, though none had protested him. None expressed trust in Republicans, and most preferred a "throw-all-the-bums-out" strategy. All but one did not care about Obama's birth certificate controversy, and those I asked thought it was foolish to bring guns to political gatherings.
So the wingnuts were notable for their absence. So much for this still being a "Fringe" movement.

By The Numbers

There may be hope for lonely geeks after all:
For a long time, mathematicians believed that, given 100 choices (each of which has to be chosen or discarded after the interview) you should discard the first 50 and then choose the next best one. (The assumption also is that if you don't choose the first 99, you have to choose number 100, which, again, seems rather realistic to me. I know so many people who have chosen the last resort out of perceived necessity rather than, say, happiness.)

The "Discard 50 then Choose the Next Best" method apparently gives you a 25 percent chance of choosing the best candidate.

However, then along came John Gilbert and Frederick Mosteller of Harvard University. I do not believe they were married. However, they came upon the idea that the magic number is, in fact, 37. Yes, you should stop after 37 candidates and choose the next best one. This number was apparently derived by taking the number 100 and dividing by e, the base of the natural logarithms (around 2.72). And it apparently increases your chances of the best choice to 37 percent.

Here's the real beauty of this calculation, though. You don't have to limit yourself to 100. This optimization works for any population. So if you have a world of 26 potential life partners, simply divide by 2.72 and choose the next best one.
Of course, finding that many life partners is still problematic, but hey, at least you've still got a shot once you do!

War Stories

Why haven't we seen any?
No significant works of art have yet emerged from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If that seems like a trivial observation, consider the impact of "All Quiet on the Western Front" or WWII-era literature (Mailer, Heller, Vonnegut) on American society and culture, or Vietnam-era cinema (Deer Hunter, The Boys of Company C, Apocalypse Now, even Platoon) and TV (MASH).
It should be noted that, with the exception of "The Green Berets", no major Vietnam movies were made until long after the war was over. Perhaps the creative voices of the wars are still in waiting, like the "Lost Generation" of the 1920's. When they come home, they will have plenty of stories to tell, I'm sure.

Gray Wattage

Our brains as energy savers:
Computational efficiency is the single most astonishing fact of the mammalian brain. Here you are, reading these words, daydreaming about lunch, processing the richness of reality, thinking about tomorrow, and your brain requires less energy than a low wattage lightbulb. Evolution is an impressive engineer.
Of course, some would question whether or not that's really evolution, but if it is, then I must be pretty evolved...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Two Million Man March

It was a day of dissent, and liberals can't be too happy about the turnout:

Up to two million people marched to the U.S. Capitol today, carrying signs with slogans such as "Obamacare makes me sick" as they protested the president's health care plan and what they say is out-of-control spending.

The line of protesters spread across Pennsylvania Avenue for blocks, all the way to the capitol, according to the Washington Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

People were chanting "enough, enough" and "We the People." Others yelled "You lie, you lie!" and "Pelosi has to go," referring to California congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

....

Many protesters said they paid their own way to the event - an ethic they believe should be applied to the government.

They say unchecked spending on things like a government-run health insurance option could increase inflation and lead to economic ruin.

Terri Hall, 45, of Florida, said she felt compelled to become political for the first time this year because she was upset by government spending.

"Our government has lost sight of the powers they were granted," she said. She added that the deficit spending was out of control, and said she thought it was putting the country at risk.

Anna Hayes, 58, a nurse from Fairfax County, stood on the Mall in 1981 for Reagan's inauguration. "The same people were celebrating freedom," she said. "The president was fighting for the people then. I remember those years very well and fondly."

Saying she was worried about "Obamacare," Hayes explained: "This is the first rally I've been to that demonstrates against something, the first in my life. I just couldn't stay home anymore."

I know there are cranks and crackpots associated with these protests. But as they become more mainstream, the crackpots will be kicked out-and maybe the politicians will actually listen for once. "Dissent is patriotic," indeed.

Posthuman Love Machines

H Plus takes a look at sex after the singularity:
There will be exponentially more sex, with exponentially more interfaces, and with exponentially more measures of pleasure ... We will be installing bioports into our body, a la The Matrix or Sleep Dealer, each of which can stimulate our nervous system. In heterosex, men penetrate women, but with this, men and women will interpenetrate each other, multiply, and, as with USB 2.0 daisy-chaining, so will men, women, and androids be able to multiply-interpenetrate, locally or remotely. determine how many selves would be involved. The entire field of posthuman sex could give new meaning to sex freedom and gender differentiality — where a person could have different scenarios, depending on what form or type he/she is in.
"You got posthuman fever, boy, posthuman fever!"

Helping Out The Renters

Ezra Klein says favoritism towards home buyers disriminates against those who would rather rent:
The economics and emotional rewards of owning a house are compelling enough without the mortgage deduction. If you want to give low-income homebuyers additional help, that would make a lot of sense, particularly given the long-term importance of assets in bolstering financial security. But giving it to everyone who buys a home of any size is simply a regressive attack on renters. Ripping the deduction out right now would be too disruptive, but you could certainly phase in a cap on future home purchases.
In today's economy, renting simply makes more sense. Limiting the mortage deduction might actually encourage greater competition within the real estate market, and more people would be able to afford a place of their own. That would be a real step towards the kind of "Ownership society" touted by former President Bush.

What You Leave Behind

Obama likes to say that he inherited Bush's mess. That may not be far off:
While Bush was in office, the median household income declined, poverty increased, childhood poverty increased even more, and the number of Americans without health insurance spiked. By contrast, the country's condition improved on each of those measures during Bill Clinton's two terms, often substantially.
Having said that, it should be pointed out that Obama is no Bill Clinton. For all his faults, Clinton was in some ways a lot more pragmatic.

Friday, September 11, 2009

No War For Hermaphrodites

Are they serious?
Athlete Caster Semenya has pulled out of her return to competitive sport amid growing fears over the psychological impact of rumours about her sex.

The 18-year-old withdrew from a cross-country race in South Africa tomorrow after it was widely reported that a leaked sex test reveals she is a hermaphrodite. Her coach, Michael Seme, said she will not run because she is "not feeling well".

South Africa condemned the international media reports as an invasion of the teenager's privacy and threatened a "third world war" if the women's 800m champion is disqualified from athletics.

The process by which Semenya's most intimate physical details have become a public talking point intensified when Australia's Sydney Daily Telegraph said that she had no womb or ovaries, but internal male testes which were producing extraordinary amounts of testosterone.
So what's South Africa going to do, go nuclear on the tabloids? Not that they don't deserve it most of the time, but...

Hit Me Again, Please

These two deserve each other.
The last time Rodney King was beaten up by the police, Los Angeles experienced appalling race riots in which 53 people were killed, more than 2,000 injured, and a billion dollars-worth of damage caused by the city's outraged black community.

Seventeen years, a criminal trial and a $3m legal settlement later, King has put himself back in harm's way, agreeing to go toe-to-toe with a notoriously aggressive cop through the colourful medium of celebrity boxing.

America's most famous living victim of police brutality last night stepped into a ring with one Simon Aouad, who was thrown out of Philadelphia's police force because, in his own words, he "couldn't follow the rules".

Their fight, at a hotel near the city's airport, was broadcast across America on pay-per-view and watched by a live audience paying $25 a ticket. It marked the latest in a series of bizarre money-making projects that have allowed King to emerge as an unlikely star of reality television.

Now 43, King recently appeared in the cable TV shows, Sober House and Dr Drew's Celebrity Rehab, undergoing treatment for the alcoholism that led to his original arrest in 1991. He now claims to have been "clean" for 14 months.

Aouad, for his part, decided to fight under the nickname "The Renegade". The 31-year-old achieved fame in 2006 when he was thrown out of the police force for following a "shoot first, ask questions later" policy with regard to an intruder on his property.

During interviews to publicise the bout, the heavily tattoed Aouad has repeatedly referred to King's past, promising: "I'm going to beat you so bad, Rodney, you're going to wish you were back in LA. I broke bones for a living every day."
I'm guessing there won't be any riots this time around if King gets pummeled on a regular basis.

Season Of The Crazy

The kooks seem to be getting their crazy on these days. First, this:
A man fatally shot an anti-abortion activist near a Michigan high school Friday, drove to a gravel pit and shot its owner to death and planned to kill a third man, but was arrested before he could act, a prosecutor said.

Harlan James Drake, 33, was charged Friday with first-degree murder in the deaths of James Pouillon, 63, and Mike Fuoss, 61, said Shiawassee County Prosecutor Randy Colbry.

"The defendant had ill will toward these three individuals - not for the same reason necessarily, but had a grudge," Colbry said.
I'd say he had more than that. Then there's this:
A FreedomWorks staffer told ABC News that the organization's offices at 601 Pennsylvania Avenue were evacuated on Friday afternoon by DC Metro Police because of a bomb scare.

DC Metro police has confirmed to ABC News' Jason Ryan that the DC Metro police had, indeed, evacuated the organization's offices after being told by the organization that it had received a bomb threat.

The threat came when a man called the FreedomWorks main line and told the organization's female receptionist: "I put a bomb in your building, bitch."

The FreedomWorks staffer who spoke with ABC News said that the organization has received multiple threats but that for some reason, the DC Metro police thought that this one was credible enough to evacuate the building.
Add this to the lunacy from the right over birth certificates and the spectacle of a Congresscritter heckling the President during a joint session of Congress, and it makes me wonder if Pat Buchanan is having a "Broken clock" moment. It certainly doesn't bode well for the future state of discourse in this country, and we all know what happened the last time it deteriorated so badly.

How We Will Win

On this 9-11 anniversary, a reminder of how to really fight the ongoing battle:
As our leaders work to prevent terrorists from again striking on our soil, they should remember the fundamental precept of counterinsurgency we've relearned in Afghanistan and Iraq: Undermine the enemy's legitimacy while building our own. These wars will not be won on the battlefield. They will be won in the hearts of young men who decide not to sign up to be fighters and young women who decline to be suicide bombers. If Americans torture and it comes to light -- as it inevitably will -- it embitters and alienates the very people we need most.
Unfortunately, this is something many on the right still don't want to acknowledge.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eight Years On


Web Ed 101

Kevin Carey looks at the future of online education:
Most people are so invested in the idea of education-by-institution that it's hard to imagine another way. There's also a sense that for-profit schools are a little sleazy (and some of them are). Because Web-based higher education is still relatively new, and the market lacks information that allows students to compare introductory courses at one institution to another, consumers tend to see all online courses in the same bad light. "The public isn't good at discriminating," says [Fort Hays State University provost] Larry Gould. "They read 'online course' and they think 'low quality,' even when it's not true."

But neither the regulatory nor the psychological obstacles match the evolving new reality. Consumers will become more sophisticated, not less. The accreditation wall will crumble, as most artificial barriers do. All it takes is for one generation of college students to see online courses as no more or less legitimate than any other—and a whole lot cheaper in the bargain—for the consensus of consumer taste to rapidly change. The odds of this happening quickly are greatly enhanced by the endless spiral of steep annual tuition hikes, which are forcing more students to go deep into debt to pay for college while driving low-income students out altogether.
We'll see how "Liberal" universities react when they find themselves facing serious competition from the online crowd. Will "Diversity" still be their goal then?

Meet the Next Big Thing

Sad to say, this is probably accurate:
No doubt, right wing publishers like Regnery and Crown will be beating down Wilson’s door today to sign a book deal that will put him at the top of the New York Times bestseller list along with drivel from the likes of Michelle Malkin, who has probably already started writing her biography of Wilson, titled, “The Man Who Spoke the Truth.” By the end of the day a Wilson for President web site will be fully functioning if it isn’t already. Watch for the announcement on Glenn Beck’s show this afternoon.
Meanwhile, Joe Wilson seems to have forgotten that he already has government health care:
As a retired Army National Guard colonel, Wilson gets a lot of benefits (one of which, apparently, was not a full appreciation of the customs, traditions, and courtesies that mandate respect for one’s commander in chief). And with four sons in the armed services, the entire Wilson brood has enjoyed multiple generations of free military medical coverage, known as TRICARE.

Yes, it’s true. As politicos and town-hall criers debate the finer points of the public option, employer mandates, coverage for undocumented immigrants, and who’s more Hitler-like, they seem to miss a larger point: the United States has single-payer health care. It covers 9.5 million active-duty servicemen and women, military retirees, and their dependents─including almost a 10th of all Californians and Floridians, and nearly a quarter of a million residents of Wilson’s home state.
Of course, there's still the legitimate argument that what works for some members of the population doesn't necessarily work for all, but it does seem odd that Joe didn't mention that point during his rant heard 'round the world.

Accelerating The Inevitable

Kevin Drum thinks Obama got what he wanted:
I'd say the speech probably helped. It won't affect Republican votes much, but it will probably move public opinon a few notches and make it easier for centrist Dems to stick together and overcome a GOP filibuster. Basically, I'd say the odds of healthcare passing this year have gone up from 65% to about 75%.
I don't think he was ever expecting Republican support, but he probably did win over some worried Blue Dogs. Of course, I'd still like to see how his $900 billion plan will really be "Paid for". But tone-wise, I think he got a win.

The Bastard Government

Andrew Exum is worried, long term:
When people look back on the Afghanistan war, this might be the moment when historians will judge we should have cut the cord on the Afghan government. If we believe Generals McChrystal and Petraeus, and we believe a counterinsurgency campaign to represent our best chance of success in Afghanistan, then we have a big problem. Because if we believe what we ourselves have learned about counterinsurgency campaigns, we understand that we cannot be successful in one if the host nation government is seen as increasingly illegitimate -- and that's what the Karzai government is.
I don't believe in a hasty exit a la Vietnam. (And I don't think that's what's happening in Iraq-which is part of a process that was started by the last administration). But eventually we will have to come to terms with what is achievable in Afghanistan, and when to cut our losses.

Foot In Mouth Syndrome Strikes Again

Joe Wilson was apparently the one who heckled Obama during his speech. He's now apologized:
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) apologized Wednesday night to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for shouting “You lie!” during President Obama’s healthcare speech before a joint session of Congress.

Emanuel accepted Wilson’s apology on behalf of the president, according to a Democratic source familiar with the call.

In addition to his phone call to Emanuel, Wilson also issued a statement separately, calling his comments “inappropriate and regrettable.”

The Republican’s outburst came after Obama, in laying out his views on healthcare, said: “The reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.”

"You lie!" Wilson shouted, pointing his finger at the rostrum. His statement prompted President Obama to quietly say, “It’s not true” and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to glare at the Republican side of the chamber.

The moment, captured by a telling photograph, prompted embarrassment among Republicans.

"Totally disrespectful, no place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately," McCain said on CNN’s “Larry King Live.”
It would have been better if this clown had never opened his mouth in the first place. A campaign rally or town hall might be one thing, but this was a joint session of Congress. A little respect for the office, if not the man, please.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sarah Palin Smackdown

In a few words, Obama demolishes Sarah Palin and her enablers:



While I have serious concerns about Obamacare, Sarah Palin and her ilk are probably the least qualified to speak out on it (as she is about pretty much anything else).

Georgia On Their Minds

It seems there may have been another cradle of civilization:
Scientists have found a handful of ancient human skulls at an archaeological site two hours from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, that suggest a Eurasian chapter in the long evolutionary story of man.

The skulls, jawbones and fragments of limb bones suggest that our ancient human ancestors migrated out of Africa far earlier than previously thought and spent a long evolutionary interlude in Eurasia – before moving back into Africa to complete the story of man.

Experts believe fossilised bones unearthed at the medieval village of Dmanisi in the foothills of the Caucuses, and dated to about 1.8 million years ago, are the oldest indisputable remains of humans discovered outside of Africa.

But what has really excited the researchers is the discovery that these early humans (or "hominins") are far more primitive-looking than the Homo erectus humans that were, until now, believed to be the first people to migrate out of Africa about 1 million years ago.

The Dmanisi people had brains that were about 40 per cent smaller than those of Homo erectus and they were much shorter in stature than classical H. erectus skeletons, according to Professor David Lordkipanidze, general director of the Georgia National Museum. "Before our findings, the prevailing view was that humans came out of Africa almost 1 million years ago, that they already had sophisticated stone tools, and that their body anatomy was quite advanced in terms of brain capacity and limb proportions. But what we are finding is quite different," Professor Lordkipanidze said.

"The Dmanisi hominins are the earliest representatives of our own genus – Homo – outside Africa, and they represent the most primitive population of the species Homo erectus to date. They might be ancestral to all later Homo erectus populations, which would suggest a Eurasian origin of Homo erectus."
Maybe the Colonials moved North? Or maybe the Devil is just messing with True Christians again...

The Question That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Enquiring minds want to know.
How much will reform cost, and how does he mean to pay for it?

That question takes on greater urgency now that Obama has asked Congress to raise the federal debt limit past its already-staggering current $12.1 trillion.

Unless it does so by the middle of next month, when the national debt is expected to exceed the existing limit, Washington faces default and a curtailment of government operations.

The ceiling already has been raised three times in the past two years. The House raised the limit to $13 trillion in April (with Democratic leaders using a disingenuous parliamentary maneuver to avoid a recorded roll call).

Now the Senate must take action.

But how high can debt be allowed to go — and how much higher will it go if ObamaCare, whose estimated costs could exceed $1 trillion, is enacted?
Does anyone in Team Obama or the Democratic Party have an answer? Your public is waiting...

For The Birds

According to Scientific American, laws meant to protect endangered species may actually be having the opposite effect:
In a study published earlier this year in Oryx, researchers from the University of Amsterdam's zoological museum concluded that ever since the Indonesian government officially labeled Javan hawk eagles as rare and precious, illegal poaching has removed the birds from the wild at an ever-escalating pace. Over the period from 1975 to 1991, just three were sighted for sale in Indonesian markets; in recent years 30 to 40 of the eagles have been spotted in markets annually.
....

Perceived rareness makes animals more appealing to collectors and the increasingly limited supply pushes their price up on the black market, making illegal trapping and hunting more lucrative. Wildlife that once existed under the radar suffers from sudden visibility and faddish appeal. In an ironic coup de grĂ¢ce, endangered species designation can sometimes escalate poaching to the point that it wipes out the species it was intended to protect.
Extinction through preservation? I wonder what PETA has to say about this?

I Didn't Leave The Jackasses, The Jackasses Left Me

Camille Paglia has joined the ranks of frutsrated liberals:
Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism.
Oh, my. What happened was the protesters graduated, left law school, became politicians, and are now pursuing "Authentic" (to them) leftism through the system. Did they sell out-or were they in fact always secretly authoritarians to begin with?

Stop, You're Killing 'Em

With the Democrats now apparently lacking the votes for the kind of healthcare "Reform" boondoggle they want, Obama is reduced to playing the fear card to get something, anything, passed:
President Barack Obama Wednesday demanded Congress act now on health reform, warning more Americans would die if Washington again did nothing to expand care and cut the costs of insurance.

In excerpts from a crucial speech the president was due to deliver to Congress at 8:00 pm (0000 GMT), the president also warned he would not waste time working with Republicans who had made a political decision to defeat his plan.

"I am not the first President to take up this cause, but I am determined to be the last," Obama said, in excerpts of his joint address to both chambers of Congress released by the White House.

After months of charge and counter-charge over the plan, and a fiery August of Republican attacks, Obama declared: "the time for bickering is over."

"The time for games has passed. Now is the season for action ... now is the time to deliver on health care."

He warned that if Washington did nothing to change a system that currently leaves up to 47 million Americans uninsured, the deficit would grow and more families would go bankrupt.

"More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most and more will die as a result."
Actually, if what the Democrats want comes to pass, more may actually die, if the health systems of Canada and Britain are any indication.

Now, I understand that Obama is frustrated-he has big plans, and is having problems with his own party in getting them passed. But fear is the last refuge of a scoundrel who can't convince people that his ideas are worth trying. The right has been guilty of fearmongering over healthcare, as well. But now Obama's desperation is showing. And that doesn't bode well for the rest of his firt term.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

It's A Sin

James Surowiecki isn't buying what appears to be "Moral" warnings against inflation:
In the past ninety years, the U.S. has had only one sustained bout with high inflation—in the seventies. That track record should engender some faith that central bankers are going to be responsible, and that a healthy industrial economy isn’t prone to regular inflationary spirals. It hasn’t. Instead, we’re always about to relive 1974 all over again, which is why last year, as oil prices rose, we were bombarded with references to “stagflation.” In a way, there’s something profoundly puritanical, in the original sense of that word, about the inflation hawks: we are always on the verge of sinning, always about to succumb to our worst impulses. Even the rhetoric of inflation—the “debasement” of the currency—carries a moralistic tinge.
It does seem that we're reliving a peculiar phase of economic populism, in which inflation, real or imagined, is the product of "Sinful" policies. Which makes me wonder why the moralizers seldom seem to give credit to "Godly" policies when the economy is doing well.

Stamp Of Stupidity

The birthers will probably love this guy:
Mayor Johnny Piper is being criticized by local and national Muslims for forwarding an anti-Islamic e-mail Friday morning.

The e-mail urges "patriotic Americans" to protest a U.S. Postal Service stamp commemorating two Islamic holidays.

Piper did not make any comments in his e-mail, the body of which has been circulating nationally.
....

The e-mail falsely claims that the stamp is new, and that its creation was ordered by President Barack Obama. In fact, the stamp was first issued in 2001, and was reissued in 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Piper defended his actions, saying the e-mail was neither anti-Muslim nor anti-Islamic.

"I don't see any reason why it would be inappropriate," Piper said.

He said he forwarded the e-mail to provide "information" that others could make up their own minds about.
You'll note that the text of the email in the article is HALF CAPS, which should give you some indication of hizzoner's THOUGHT PROCESSES! Like most wingnuts, he apparently FEELS THE NEED to SCREAM everything.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Don't Cry For Me, Barack Obama

Is Obama emulating Roosevelt more than he realizes?
There are "troubling similarities" between the US President's actions since taking office and those which in the 1930s sent the US and much of the world spiralling into the worst economic collapse in recorded history, says the new pamphlet, published by the Institute of Economic Affairs.

In particular, the authors, economists Charles Rowley of George Mason University and Nathanael Smith of the Locke Institute, claim that the White House's plans to pour hundreds of billions of dollars of cash into the economy will undermine it in the long run. They say that by employing deficit spending and increased state intervention President Obama will ultimately hamper the long-term growth potential of the US economy and may risk delaying full economic recovery by several years.

The study represents a challenge to the widely held view that Keynesian fiscal policies helped the US recover from the Depression which started in the early 1930s. The authors say: "[Franklin D Roosevelt's] interventionist policies and draconian tax increases delayed full economic recovery by several years by exacerbating a climate of pessimistic expectations that drove down private capital formation and household consumption to unprecedented lows."

Although the authors support the Federal Reserve's moves to slash interest rates to just above zero and embark on quantitative easing, pumping cash directly into the system, they warn that greater intervention could set the US back further. Rowley says: "It is also not impossible that the US will experience the kind of economic collapse from first to Third World status experienced by Argentina under the national-socialist governance of Juan Peron."
Some would say we've been on that path for years. But Keynesian policies borrowed from the 1930s-another moment in time when many were claiming, on both the right and the left, that capitalism was dead or dying-certainly won't help any.

Sometimes You Really Can Blame The Messenger

...For not doing their job:
With their decision to ignore the Jones story, they may have actually done Mr. Obama far more harm than good: Who vetted this guy? How did he get past the FBI? What did he say, and how did he answer the infamous seven-page questionnaire that all Obama appointees were required to fill out? Inquiring Freedom of Information Act minds want to know.

For most people in this country, the resignation was the first they had heard of Van Jones. For this sin of journalistic omission, there’s institutional media blame. Bias is too tame a word for the utter shamelessness on display: Only Republican scandals – real and imagined – matter.

And it’s not just those the Democratic-Media Complex dub as “mobs” or “tea baggers” that are taking notice. Diminishing audience and evaporating subscribership reflect widespread consumer dissatisfaction. Eventually, the money will run out. . . . All eyes are on the media. We are judging them by the standard they taught us during Watergate: “The cover-up is worse than the crime.”
Unfortunately, it has become left to the bloggers and the public to hold the media accountable, since they seem unable or unwilling to do it themselves.

Law Of The Living Dead

A look at property rights during the zombie apocalypse:
Libertarian theory tells us that zombies -- not being moral actors -- cannot own property. This means that any property held by a person becoming irreversibly zombified becomes unowned, and is therefore subject to immediate homesteading by the first comer. So long as no other non-zombified legitimate claimants exist, unlimited expropriation of formerly-just, now-unowned property from zombies is morally defensible. The same is of course true of the material of the zombie's body, leaving open the possibility of the assemblage of a zombie slave army by a sufficiently skilled and motivated propertarian anarchist.

However, what of the new zombie's heirs? As irreversible zombification is not typically provided for in wills (i.e., it's not really "death"), perhaps a variant of a living will could be used to ensure that the zombified's property passes to their regular heirs in the case of such an eventuality. We might call this new legal instrument an "undead will".
So, if a zombie eats you, or zombifies you, your heirs (if any survive the zombie plague) can still have your property. And they can presumably tell the zombie hordes to get off their lawn.

The Government Crusaders

Conor Friedersdorf comments on how they rise to the top:
The average American is deeply suspicious of career political activists and people who rise via both parties into low level administration posts. They’re right to be! A lot of true believers climb ideological ladders in this country and wind up in government, leaving the average citizen upset because they suspect there are plenty of folks who aren’t ideological extremists, but are nevertheless qualified to fill those posts — they just don’t happen work in circles with connections to a partisan political world where loyalty to the cause is prized above all else.
Unfortunately, the type of partisanship that Obama (and, for that matter, Bush, Clinton, and every other President who promised to "Change the tone" in Washington) is as old as the Republic itself (the election of 1800 being one notorious example). It's part of the peril and promise of democracy-everyone has a right to their opinion; the problems start when they can't see beyond those opinions.

Blind Man's Bluff

Call him the ultimate crank yanker:
By 14, Weigman was conning his way through AT&T and Verizon, tricking them into divulging insider information — like supervisor identification numbers and passwords — that gave him full run of the system. If he heard a supervisor's voice once, he could imitate it with eerie precision when calling one of the man's underlings. If he heard someone dialing a number, he could memorize the digits purely by tone. A favorite ploy was to get the name of a telephone technician visiting his house, then impersonate the man on the phone to extract codes and other data from unsuspecting co-workers. Once he called a phone company posing as a girl, saying he needed to verify the identity of a technician who was at "her" door. Convinced, the operator coughed up the technician's company ID number, direct phone line and supervisor — key information that Weigman could later put to nefarious use, like cutting off a rival's phone line.
More on prank calls here.

Live As I Say, Not As I Do

Michael Moore is back, hyping his new movie, but Gateway Pundit takes a look at Moore's own "Average guy" digs (hat tip: Althouse):

Torch Lake is among the two or three most desirable places to live in Northern Michigan. Normally Moore says that Traverse City is his adopted hometown, or lies and says that he lives in Bellaire, like he has some kind of log cabin in the woods.
Nope, his home is an expensive house on 150 ft of lake frontage.

Owner Name(s):MOORE MICHAEL & GLYNN KATHLEEN
Property Address:
*** * **** ***** **** **
CENTRAL LAKE, MI 49622

Property Information
Current Taxable Value:$390,976
School District:Bellaire

Current Assessment:$647,200
Current Homestead:100%
Current Property Class:40 - Residential

Last Year's Assessment:$647,200
Last Year's Homestead:100%
Last Year's Property Class:40 - Residential
Lake Frontage:Torch Lake
Waterfront Footage:150.48 ft. "17
So he lives on a lake in Michigan in a place with a taxable value $390,976? I don't get it. How is that by any stretch of the imagination rich? For that to be all a successful movie director claims for himself? It's downright humble.

Actually, by Hollyweird standards it probably is. But Moore's been doing this for years (remember his Manhattan penthouse)? Besides, the bulk of Moore's income goes for cheeseburgers and Twinkies anyway, so he has to cut down on living expenses.

Head Games

You are what you think:
I think, therefore I write.

My original plan was to write this article with nothing but the power of thought, but the technology of transforming ideas into characters is still crude and prone to error. The first word alone took a few minutes, and even after that the result was still "diz" instead of "this."

Still, that little sentence is like a little miracle. The old dream of mind-reading is slowly becoming reality -- though this time around it is the product of machines rather than the minds of fiction writers.

"The advances are tremendous," says Christoph Guger, the developer of a brain-reading system. "In the past, you would have had to train for days. Today, entering text takes only a few minutes."
Talk about stream-of-consciousness writing. Science marches on...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

A Little Humility Goes A Long Way

In case you hadn't already heard, Van Jones called it quits. Dan Riehl wonders if this isn't part of the bigger problem of how Obama views his job title:
What we are seeing is a combination of two different things - inexperience combined with a hubris that has prevented Obama from figuring out there's a certain humility required to be an effective president. It is as much a job defined to serve, as it is to lead. And that service is owed to all of America, whatever their particular political stripe, or leaning. Perhaps it's his arrogance and youth and fawning press, whatever the reasons, Obama hasn't yet figured it out.

To a degree unobserved in any other recent WH, this one seems to believe its positive press and particular vision as somehow truly better, or more informed than that of anyone with an opposing view. He's in for an even ruder awakening if this keeps up.

[....]

This czar Van Jones fiasco was initiated by a blatant attempt to end run Congress. Don't think there aren't those on the Hill in both parties who haven't figured that out. At the rate he's going, Obama may continue to get those flappy ears boxed in for a while before he figures out the house he's living in today is far larger than any president, or particular vision of and for America they might enjoy.
The White House is indeed the Peoples' House, not the President's. He just happens to live there for a time. And, if he becomes too arrogant or out of touch, the people can kick him out of it.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Dude, Where's My 21st Century Fireside Chat?

Obama is finding it tougher to get an audience these days:
President Obama's televised primetime addresses are becoming a tougher sell to the broadcast networks than his sweeping health care reform has been to Middle America.

A day after news broke of the president's plan to address a joint session of Congress on health care issues in primetime Wednesday, none of the Big Four networks have said it would carry the address live.

Among other things, the nets have been waiting to hear when the address will start, with sources indicating Thursday night that the White House was leaning toward 8 p.m.

After a brief honeymoon after Obama's January inauguration, the broadcast networks have become increasingly frustrated by the frequency of his requests for primetime coverage. The pre-emptions wreak havoc on the networks' schedules and cost millions of dollars in lost ad revenue.
Darn that free market, for suppressing The One's agenda!

Stern Warning

Will Howard Stern make the leap to the Internets?
We could listen to him – and watch him – on the internet, on our iPods, and even now on our web-enabled phones. There’s no longer a need for a distribution network. [...] Marketing? Stern doesn’t need it because his audience is his agency. And Stern doesn’t need to share any of that with Sirius XM. His only cost is his staff and bandwidth. Ah, but you say, he made a reported $500 million for his five-year Sirius contract. But I believe some of that came in equity and as a shareholder, I can tell you that isn’t doing so well. The point is, who’s going to sniff at tens of millions of dollars a year? If it doesn’t work, the risk is minimal. So why not? [...T]he internet enables Stern to have complete freedom, control, and ownership, which is ideal for a control freak like Stern.
Regardless of what you might think of Stern, the implications for the traditional radio industry could be huge if more jocks-like, say, Rush Limbaugh-make the complete transition.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Cheap Passage To India

Aruna Viswanatha has an article which sounds oddly critical of India's health-care system, despite the benefits of its free-market approach:
Almost 25,000 doctors graduate from India's medical schools every year. Because there is so much competition, doctors and hospitals are forced to keep their prices low to get patients. Residents, who go to medical school straight from high school, only make the equivalent of a few hundred dollars a month. An average surgeon's salary would be around $8,000 per month. The take-home pay to fix a hip fracture, for example, might run between $100 to $300, out of the $1,000 fee to the patient, says orthopedic surgeon M.S. Phaneesha. At his hospital in Bangalore, he says, there are 20 orthopedic surgeons alone on staff. For 1,600 beds, the hospitals employs around 700 doctors full-time; 300 of them are surgeons. In the U.S., by comparison, a first-year resident might take home around $2,500 each month, and the average surgeon more than $20,000 per month. A hip fracture would cost a patient around $30,000, of which the surgeon's charge is $5,000. Even general practitioners in America earn on average more than $100,000 a year.
So, is Viswanatha saying that America shouldn't learn anything from India, only from quasi-socialist systems in wealthier counries like Canada and the UK? After all, even Viswanatha notes the positive attributes of India's system during a hospital visit:
We drove to the hospital, a mile away. It looked brand-new; the floors were shiny and everything glistened. The staff was courteous and the whole place was quiet. The doctor called me in at 10:02. He diagnosed the problem as a bacterial one, gave me a list of what to eat and prescribed a course of antibiotics. The pharmacy counter where I could pick up the drugs was just outside his office. The cost to see the doctor? $6. The pharmacy bill was about $1. Total cost, $7, with no insurance company involvement whatsoever.

Before I left New York, I had spent $20 just on a copay to visit a doctor and get a blood test done, another $20 copay to pick up the test results, and a third $20 installment for a tetanus shot. That was $60, plus whatever my insurance company paid, just so I could get a clean bill of health....

Even emergency care in India seems to work along the same lines. The same friend who first called a doctor for me had been in a horrific car accident about eight months before I arrived. He was taking a right turn at 2 in the morning when a truck came from the opposite side, ran into his car and just kept going. His femur was broken like a twig, as were his collarbone and wrist. His lip was split and his nose was hanging off his face. Two months and a few surgeries later, he walked out of the hospital. He walks now without any aid and has had no major complications. The total bill, paid by his Indian insurance company, was less than $10,000. A similar accident in the U.S. would run up a $200,000 bill and bankrupt almost anyone who didn't have health insurance.
So, while India's system is far from perfect, it seems to have a more consumer-friendly and cost-effective approach than either our own or those in Europe and Canada that Western liberals are so enamored of. Apparently, in their eyes, the only Third World system we should be adopting is Cuba's. We have the means to introduce this style of competition here, and people would be able to afford it, so why don't we?

Fidel Jr.'s Non-Fans

While Obama battles accusations of socialism, protests against an actual socialist seem to be growing, much to Baby Hugo's chagrin:
Thousands of opponents of Hugo Chavez marched against the Venezuelan president across Latin America on Friday, accusing him of everything from authoritarianism to international meddling.

The protests, coordinated through Twitter and Facebook, drew more than 5,000 people in Bogota, and thousands more in the capitals of Venezuela and Honduras. Smaller demonstrations were held in other Latin American capitals, as well as New York and Madrid.

The Honduras march was led by Roberto Micheletti, who became president when Chavez ally Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a June coup.

"Any politician who tries to stay in power by hitching up with a dictator like Hugo Chavez, he won't achieve it," Micheletti said. "We'll stop him."
Well, that's what elections are for. At least the ones that aren't rigged...

Thursday, September 03, 2009

One Man's Libertarian Society Is Another Man's Lab Experiment

Jim Manzi wonders whether some libertarians really want liberty, or social engineering at the local level:
What the liberty-as-means libertarian calls for is the freedom to experiment: let different localities try different things, and learn from this experience. In the best case this is literally consciousness learning from structured experiments, and in the weaker case it is only metaphorical learning, in that the localities with more adaptive sets of such rules will tend to win out in evolutionary competition over time.

This leads then to a call for “states as laboratories of democracy” federalism in matters of social policy; or in a more formal sense, a call for subsidiarity – the principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority. After all, a typical American lives in a state that is a huge political entity governing millions of people. As many decisions as possible ought to be made by counties, towns, neighborhoods and families (in which parents have significant coercive rights over children). In this way, not only can different preferences be met, but we can learn from experience how various social arrangements perform.

The characteristic error of contemporary conservatives in this regard has been a want of prudential judgment in trying to enforce too many social norms on a national basis. The characteristic error of liberty-as-goal libertarianism has been the parallel failure to appreciate that a national rule of “no restrictions on non-coercive behavior” (which, admittedly, is something of a cartoon) contravenes a primary rationale for libertarianism. What if social conservatives are right and the wheels really will come off society in the long run if we don’t legally restrict various sexual behaviors? What if left-wing economists are right and it is better to have aggressive zoning laws that prohibit big-box retailers? I think both are mistaken, but I might be wrong. What if I’m right for some people at this moment in time, but wrong for others, or wrong the same people ten years from now? The freedom to experiment needs to include freedom to experiment with different governmental (i.e., coercive) rules. So here we have the paradox: a liberty-as-means libertarian ought to argue, in some cases, for local autonomy to restrict some personal freedoms.
Speaking as someone who considers himself a libertarian, I can see where the traditional libertarian argument runs into trouble when it starts to sound more like anarchy rather than liberty. Freedom is something earned; it does come with responsibilities to others. Extreme libertarians, like extreme conservatives and liberals, do seem to veer between being social scientists in anarchists' clothing on the one hand and ivory-tower theorists on the other.