Friday, December 20, 2013

Duck Dynasty: Making Fun of Racists is Racist!

I was thinking this morning of writing a post about the whole Duck Dynasty controversy, for a couple of reasons.  And then I went through Facebook this morning, because its a slow day at work - next week is some kind of religious holiday, and so they give us a bunch of time off, because the dominant religion here in the US forces everyone to obey its wishes - and saw a ton of posts, some of them making genuinely stupid comments about how this poor Phil guy who was interviewed in GQ is being discriminated against for his Christian beliefs.  And that's from the the people who also believe the entire thing was cooked up by A&E to resuscitate declining ratings.

Not much left to say, I suppose, after that.

And then I saw this piece by Ben Collins, a new writer at Esquire who I'm quite impressed with, that walks a reasonably fine line for a blog post, and is my wont, because I'm a sucker, I read the comments.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Are you with Israel or Turkiyeh?

Will Israel Go Fascist?

Fascism is notoriously difficult to describe.  As a reviewer of the book of Robert Paxton's McConnell cites in this piece points out, when JFK said "ask not..." he said something that sounded fascist, but wasn't really fascist.

But McConnell quotes Blumenthal quoting a woman on a bus asking "Are you with Israel or Turkiyeh?" when discussing the Israeli commando raid on the Gaza flotilla.  I think this is one of the hallmarks of fascism: The treatment of one's political unit as a football team, which one supports no matter their behavior.  It drives me nuts, frankly, that questions of policy that must be hashed out and debated from multiple perspectives get reduced to "If the other side suggested it then its wrong."  That happens, to some degree, with people on the left, but so rarely its counts as a unicorn sighting.  Its common on the right, however.

The new hosers

Rob Ford and the triumph of the new hosers

Canadians spent much of the 70s and 80s trying to identify themselves.  What did it mean to be a Canadian?  What was Canadian behavior?  Why were Canadians in Canada as opposed to some other country, more specifically the US?  How could you create a country out of two groups of people who didn't really like each other, but were otherwise forced to live in the same space because it was so cold all the time?  And if Canada is a mosaic in contrast to the US melting pot, what kind of glue holds the pieces in place and does the mosaic actually make some kind of coherent sense?

Monday, November 04, 2013

Ender's Blues

The song above is from Miles Davis's performance at the Blackhawk in San Francisco, Friday and Saturday night at the end of April, 1961.  There's some performances on this album that stand with some of his best.  This particular version of "If I Were A Bell" hits all the highlights for Miles Davis: Its modal, a form he invented, which frankly turns jazz from a collection of major-scale solos - certainly beautiful, but limited nonetheless - into a new form of music; its indescribably cool; its a sentimental favorite that he does something new with; its both technically proficient and accessible; and its catchy.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Bag men

Two things of note happened in the Y axis of the above graph.

1. Earmarks disappeared from the Congressional toolbox.  The sole job of a congressman is to get good stuff for their district; its this correlation of self-interests among potential competitors that makes the American system work.  I know we all looked down on earmarks as a hallmark of the unacceptable corruption of a previously high-minded institution, but the institution was never that high-minded and it was never designed to be. 

2. Americans elected a black guy President, and he was promptly tagged as corrupt and likely to hand out money to poor people who were undeserving because they are poor.

So what you see in that graph is a successful takeover of infrastructure spending by people who have power not by virtue of their elections - the President, the House - but by virtue of their institutional longevity and ability to work the system from the inside, i.e. the Speaker of the House.  And of course the thorazine wing of the Republican party is what enabled Newt to gain and hold the power, and for some reason - not his race and your racist for suggesting it! - they hate Obama, and like Frankenstein's monster or Godzilla they've now decided to wreck everything in their path because that's all they were really designed to do.

(I think that might be the best way to understand the thorazine wing.  They're not there because they have ideas about government or the inclination to govern.  They're there because they smash things, or at least up until recently threaten to.  With strong leaders they feel warm and cozy because that is, after all, what they really want - a strong leader who is of the people but also above them, irreproachable in morals but not afraid to wield his disapproval like a sword, a kind of Jesus Christ via 1928 Munich.  With weak leaders like Boehner they run amok wrecking things, asking stupid and irrelevant questions, and generally doing the things the strong leader threatens they will do.  But its always a mystery when they do, because we're supposed to believe these people have rich inner lives and read Locke and Burke in their spare time when really they're not much more than Christian Dominionist robots.)

Its going to be an interesting 20 years, as bridges start to collapse, interstate highways crumble, and airports fall apart, all because Newt Gingrich wanted to rule the world and the Washington establishment felt uncomfortable calling out the racists in their midst.  These idiots have no problem using my tax dollars to air condition tents in the desert, but making sure my kids' schoolmates aren't hungry during the day and that their schools aren't falling apart is bleeding-heart liberalism.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things that are true, part I

A list of things that I believe we can all accept as true.  The implications of these truths often leads me to my political positions, but apparently that's just me.  I'm not sure why that is.

  1. Pipelines leak.  Really, what more is there here to say?  There's a lot of reasons why pipelines leak: from the general decline in quality control in the Chinese-produced steel used for most pipelines, through the hubris of pipeline designers and the greed of pipeline company management more concerned about bottom lines than wildlife habitat and drinkable water, all the way to the Godel Incompleteness Theorem.  We could come up with many many reasons why pipelines leak, but I think we're all in agreement that they do.
  2. The same people who think the US government can default on its debt without consequences are the same people who think the Confederate army included willing black soldiers fighting for slavery and that the Civil War was more about states rights than slavery; that the world would be a safer place if everyone had a concealed carry permit; that a large portion of the budget of the US government is spent on foreign aid; that the theory of evolution is a lie spread by Satan; global warming is a conspiracy by leftist climate scientists to raise taxes.  This set of shared beliefs is an anthropological fact.  We can do sociology all we want and survey people and try to understand the fact that the various Venn circles describing this belief are so tightly correlated, but that misses the point.  There is a tribe of people that believes all of these propositions.  Some tribes worship Sirius as their original home; some tribes believe God is an old man who slept with his daughter and her children were bison and human beings; and some tribes believe the Confederate flag is a symbol of freedom.
  3. One of the most dangerous places to be in North America is in a school zone outside an elementary school five minutes before the morning bell rings.  Pretty much everyone not in a minivan or an SUV can be crushed to death in minutes by someone who won't even realize they're there, and who is likely responding to work email anyway.  Its not as dangerous as East Oakland or certain neighborhoods in Chicago, but people are still killed in school zones daily.
More as they occur to me.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mary Shelley's Prophecy

We're all just characters in Frankenstein.  And Frankenstein isn't really fiction.  Its a treatise on how modern Capitalism works.

Friends and family plan

In surveying the newspaper this morning - my local paper stopped coming, apparently of its own accord, so I was stuck with the paper of record - I was struck by a recurring theme, and one that's recurred to me often over the last few months.  The continent's elites - economic, political, social and technological - are in the grip of a Dunning-Kruger effect so powerful they're willing to cut off everyone's noses to prove they're right.  Its not just that the general analytical skill of these elites is best represented in the XKCD cartoon about girls and math; its not just that the question "stupid or evil?" has no apparent answer when it comes to the continuous desire of the elites to push economic policy, birth control, energy policy, military solutions, and countless other arenas that have not just failed in the past but are failing with rank and odious consequences for everyone.  The stunning displays of obstinate ideologically-motivated incompetence we see in the news every morning are being modeled by everyday people, at work and at school.  People feel willing and justified in saying or doing stupid things every day to the people around them because in society as a whole there are no consequences at the top of the heap.  So its okay for people to say the President is a Nazi Stalinist who wants to force socialist medicine on all of us and enslave us to a life of indentured zombitude, and as a result people come into their places of work and make my life, and yours, a constant exercise in "what are they trying to do here?"

Monday, October 07, 2013

Historical parallels

Sometime after 9/11 I stopped being paranoid about what I thought was the ever-present possibility of a coup-d'etat in the United States.  There was no need, really, for something like that; the majority of Americans were only too happy to dive into an orgy of militarism and the various abdications of moral responsibility that followed the invasion of Afghanistan - from the PATRIOT Act, through torture and the invasion of Iraq and all the nonsense that followed - had agreement across a broad range of the political and social culture.  People who's political sensibilities I admire (even if I'm far more left wing) like Nancy Pelosi and Tom Dachle and Pat Leahy and Hillary Clinton couldn't see a problem with the direction things were going.  Once the narcissists and egomaniacal ideological fanatics had chased the sensible people out of the GOP after Bush pere lost, it was the D side of the aisle in the House of Representatives that had to be counted on for at least a modicum of caution, to try to avoid too much social experimentation and the wild-eyed douchebaggery that makes it hard to raise children, pay off your debts and rebuild your infrastructure.  If the Democrats and the Republicans thought you needed to do a bunch of stuff that was unlikely to have any positive impacts or sustainable outcomes, then reason dictates you have to argue to change things and hope for the best.  That is, after all, what its about in a democracy.  Especially a democracy that ends up trying all the wrong doors before it picks the right one, to paraphrase Churchill.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Big bang theory

There's a lot of discussion in various locations where hunters and shooters collect about the cause of the ammunition shortages that have plagued these very same hunters and shooters.  Some people have claimed Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States, the proverbial worst nightmare for many of those hunters and shooters, is buying up all that ammunition at the direction of his boss (this man) because they couldn't ram gun control down the, err, throats of all those people who don't like having stuff down their throats.  Others have speculated about the UN, or Nancy Pelosi, or the usual half-baked arguments about inconsistent state regulations.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

We could have nice things

Casual Cruelties

There was a time when the United States dreamed and did big things, as a nation.  Americans went to the moon.  They spent tens of billions of dollars to keep north Vietnam from overrunning south Vietnam, according to the wishes (at the time) of the south Vietnamese.  Lyndon Johnson announced a war on poverty that initiated a whole series of experiments designed to help the poor and disadvantaged succeed, and he signed civil rights legislation that aggressively rolled back an apartheid state.  His successor, a died-in-the-wool conservative as crooked as Lombard Street on a foggy Friday night, launched the EPA and the Clean Water Act and acknowledged that society can't live in a synthetic environment, that the natural world is a reality and we're part of it.  "American made" was a term of pride and American bridges, highways and railways were engineering marvels, safe both because of the quality of the work and because we, the people, who'd formed our more perfect union, tasked some of us with ensuring that standards were upheld.  Living standards and social engagement grew to the point where everyone wanted to be American, and Americans lived longer than anyone.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Sending a message

Making war in Syria

Gohmert's anti-American conspiracy theory

One fascinating aspect about American culture is how insular it is.  It'd be an adorable trait were it not held by a superpower.

Despite the fact that Americans generate enormous amounts of content - on average probably at least double what your average French citizen does, and more than 10X what they do per capita in China - and basically own the web - who's got the .gov domain?  Governments in general, or just the American government? - there's this apparent belief that they can have loud arguments amongst themselves that no one can hear, and when they finally do reach a conclusion, their representatives will be able to say things clearly to foreigners and have those foreigners understand unequivocally what that message consists of.  That position appears to be completely oblivious to the fact that people can, you know, read.  They can read comments.  The regime in Syria knows that Obama has to act; if they did commit war crimes, then they know they've got some retaliation coming, and if they didn't, they know they'll never break the blockade, or pierce the carefully cultivated story about capitalism and American power and the will of the people and so forth.  So all this back-and-forth about why he's acting and what he should try to convey and so on is just hilarious.  They're listening, people.

And so you see a guy like Louie Gohmert, a genuine idiot, operating under the misapprehension that the stupid things he says to rile up his local wingnuts will go no further than his local newspaper's website.  Which anyone can read - you can get news tailored for Louie Gohmert on your Android phone in the darkest slums of Manilla, or the plains of Africa, right this very moment.

There's probably a parable here, about a group of people that think they live in a bubble, but really don't.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Some of the poultry have figured out how to use GPS

Some recent discoveries.  But first, I'm morally obligated to link to this public service announcement:

1.  Charlie Stross points out that when, as a culture, you systematically destroy the notion of reciprocal loyalty in labor contracts you cannot expect much except that rest of us will use tit-for-tat.  My parents worked for the same organizations for multiple decades, whereas my record, which is perhaps a bit more extreme than my Generation X peers but not by much, is five employers per decade.  People born after 1980 and the glorious Reagan revolution will have similar or worse experiences.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

So What

There are not enough versions of So What.  Here's a good one, though.

This is also worth listening too:

Friday, June 21, 2013

Your own personal Watergate

Mr. Pierce points out that the President is being disingenuous. Obama does not do disingenuous well, and the whole "I used to disagree but then I saw what's really going on thing" is so ... naive I just don't know what to think about the man.

There are some very basic points that need to be watched here that most naive and/or well-intentioned defenders of the NSA ignore that are nicely highlighted in both Obama's quote and the Guardian pull:

1.  "Listening" or "reading" is usually analysis done by human being; "storage and metadata" are analyses done by machines, do not require human beings.

2.  Keyword summarization of content is metadata, and not content.  Knowing that there's an 87.4% chance the word "XYZ" occurs fifteen times in a communication doesn't tell you what someone is saying, in the same way that more traditional metadata like "calls between subject and his mom one Sunday afternoon a month that last for twenty minutes" tells you nothing about the content of those calls.  

So I put it to you, readers: does anyone know if (a) FISA disallows the distinction in (1), and (b) does FISA view keyword summarization as content or metadata?

Because if FISA disallows the distinction in (1) then there'd be no need for (2).  But I know, from personal experience, that a lot of time, money and talent has been put into technologies that can do (2) by the national security complex, and so I have to suppose (1).  It could be, and bear with me now, that NSA and CIA have wasted a ton of money on technologies they can't use!!  It wouldn't be the first time a large secretive government entity did something stupid.  Its hard to know whether that would be a good thing or not.

3.  Its very important to the NSA to know who's a US person and who isn't.  (A US person is a citizen or lawful resident, e.g. people on visas.)  This is an issue because the size of the firehose is so big - we know from previous whistleblowers that one of those hoses is the AT&T backbone down on Folsom in SF - and so you need to know who to exclude.  This is probably why the NSA needs Verizon's data, and also the PRISM data, because it uses that stuff to identify which signals belong to US persons and which don't.  The NSA already gathers communications from "US-based machines", and it can easily connect the dots across those communications, but packets don't have country codes attached to them, and so they need the data from e.g. Verizon and PRISM to attach a country code to those graphs.

(Note that contrary to some views, while there may be a strong legal distinction between the rules on tapping telephonic communications and the rules on email and web traffic, there is no operational difference in the handling.  Everything is transferred in packets, which come with a little tag that tells the various target devices whether they can read them or not.  I'm sitting at work listening to music on Spotify, listening to a conference call, typing a blog post, and all of it happens on my company's internal network and the same wires carry everything; there are not three kinds of data here, only one, with three different readers.  You can say there's a distinction legally, but from the standpoint of the data management people, that just tells me which folder I dump the packets into.)

There are some obvious conclusions you can draw from all of this about what the NSA does, especially if you consider that (a) phone calls take up considerably less space, data-wise, than web traffic and (b) even small companies (<$5 billion in market cap) now routinely compress, store and analyze 30+ Petabytes worth of data.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Post-Hoc Ergo Teleprompter Hoc

Exciting news for environmentalists trying to tie ecological catastrophe to the average person's baser instincts: In the same environments that suddenly experience an absence of trees, people get higher rates of heart disease and other nasty bad health outcomes.

Also did you hear that people who drink coffee appear to have lower rates of Alzheimers?  I ran across that this morning, even though its an older study, and that's good news for me, because I drink a lot of coffee.

Did you know that just wearing camouflage clothing, particularly if its a uniform, leads to a much higher-than-average likelihood of dying a violent death, particularly from traumatic lead poisoning?  Its true.

Someone in the comments on the NYTimes story about the "health benefits" of caffeine above speculated that because adenosine, which is contained in coffee, is similar chemically to some stuff in the DNA and all, that maybe there's like some kind of connection.  The genius researcher at the USFS notes something similar about trees:
“Imagine if you were trying to look at the effect of trees growing on someone's health and I got 100 people,” he said. “I put them in 100 identical houses, and I planted trees in front of 50 of those houses and then waited. It would take 40 or 50 years before you found anything because trees grow really slowly.”
Maybe there's something in the dyes they use in the camouflage uniforms that cause young people to engage in risky behaviors.  Maybe there's some kind of adrenalin trigger in that dye that messes up their brains and causes them to ingest lead in unsafe amounts.

What I like about all three of these observations is that not a one could be explained more simply and effectively by environmental factors.  It can't be that the trees and the people are weakened by the same thing and then killed by secondary factors, or that people drink coffee because they've got stuff to do and need to stay stimulated, and those people don't usually get Alzheimers.  Or that people wearing camouflage clothing get shot because the camouflage isn't as effective as it needs to be.

Monday, June 10, 2013

They can have my phone when they pry it from my cold dead hands

Actually, just kidding about the "cold dead hands" part, because I rarely use my phone.  The NSA knows by now (I'm a Verizon customer) that my phone only calls out.  I'm sure Verizon could tell them a lot more about me than the NSA could ever discover on its own, though. 

Herewith a couple of links to help get our minds around this revelation from Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been tracking call metadata and likely a ton of other stuff.

Pinto Logic

I've had a couple of head injuries over the course of my lifetime.  Who hasn't?  As the author of this piece in Bicycling magazine puts it, in the old days you'd take a couple of days off because of dizziness, pop some aspirin and drink some ginger ale for the nausea.  There's a lot of research going into preventing concussions these days, though, and I highly recommend the piece if you or someone you love uses helmets. 

About a third of the way through though comes this stunning passage demonstrating just how safe we are from the whims of unelected, unaccountable government bureaucrats who've never worked in the private sector:

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Looking over your shoulder

Mr. Pierce's post about the Verizon-NSA collaboration makes some interesting points, but I'd like to bring up a couple more.  I'd have left this as a comment but someone mentioned something a while ago about how my comments often look more like blog posts, so here we are.

First, I think the Verizon-NSA collaboration is nowhere as interesting as the AT&T-NSA collaboration, which had far more musicality and really changed the genre.  I just think AT&T is cuter, too, and there's much more of a summertime feel to the joint, whereas the Verizon-NSA thing is pretty contrived, like Bruno Mars working with JLo.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Show of hands

OK, who here thinks the private sector is a ruthless arbiter of efficiency and that the civil service gets away with levels of ineptitude and incivility that would make Jack Welch and his acolytes cry?  Show your hands. 

No, Mr. Cruz, your hands

Thanks.  I want you to keep your hands up.

Now, of those people who think the private sector is all about efficiency, that there's feedback loops built into modern financial capitalism that ensure firms never go too far astray from the right way of doing things, that business is self-correcting whereas government is not: how many of you have ever worked in business?  Election campaigns don't count as businesses.  No, sorry, lobbying shops don't count as businesses either.  If you've never accepted government money, you can keep your hands up.

You want me to be more precise?

OK: How many of you have worked in a company that wasn't dependent in some way on public-sector largesse to make the business model work, whether it was in the university system (even "private" universities, as we know, are dependent on the government), or government lobbying - oops I mean think tanks, or some kind of election consulting?  Or I guess even legal work counts, because if you're suing the government you're still dependent on it.

Why am I asking?  Because I'm curious, based on the day I just had, how many of you anti-government people have any actual business experience, have ever actually worked inside a company for money trying to make something happen.

No, your dad's company doesn't count.

Please keep your hands up.

Alright that's what I thought. 

Monday, June 03, 2013


I don't plan on reading Mitch Joel's book, even though some smart people I know have recommended it.  You may never have heard of him, but he's considered something of a visionary.  I don't plan on reading the Jared Cohen/Eric Schmidt book either, about how important it is for the future of the species that everyone get online, as much as possible, and use a certain search engine, because peace.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In the land of the blind...

One of the NOAA's weather satellites, the one that covers the eastern seaboard, is broken and can't be fixed.  The NOAA is activating a backup satellite but if the other satellite fails, its going to be a long fall hurricane season.

In just another reminder that elections have consequences,
Experts say that America's weather and climate observing abilities have fallen into severe disrepair due to budget difficulties and poor management

Friday, May 24, 2013

You can't even have half of everything

A few items I've run across.  On Twitter, to be honest, which it turns out is an excellent way for the obsessive news-gatherer to find cool stuff that's happening, and which I wasn't even on until six months ago because I was an old guy who thought nothing good would happen when the expressive power of human language was artificially limited to 140 characters yadda yadda yadda...

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Your tax dollars at work

I don't begrudge the people of Oklahoma federal aid to help them recover from a huge swarm of super-destructive tornadoes.  Even though their representatives are pretty much the definition of "dumbasses," and we all, to be honest, have serious doubts Oklahomans would vote to do the same for me and my family out here in a California they frankly love to hate, given the people they've elected didn't want to help our cousins on the other coast.

But there's kids in that mess, and they don't get to vote, and there's lots of people in Oklahoma who don't vote Republican.  I suppose we could ask people who they voted for - whether it was the born-on-third-base guy who wanted to gut FEMA - and then help accordingly, but aside from that, collective punishment is a barbaric practice.     

If you judged people by the idiots they elected, you'd think Oklahomans and the GOP and conservatives in general were a bunch of myopic, entitled, self-absorbed, delusional children.

They're not all like that. 

But from my fellow high-tax-paying liberal immigrant Californians to you anti-tax, anti-gay marriage, anti-immigrant pro-global warming Oklahomans, you're welcome.

I hope that when 6 million of my neighbors are left wandering around in a daze, many of them without a familiar place to sit down, because the Hayward fault slips a few feet, you have the grace to return the favor.

China syndrome

Here's a startling statistic from the Financial Times this morning:

39 per cent of the water in China’s major rivers is too toxic to be fit for any contact with humans.
 (The FT is a notoriously bad source of links, but this one seems to go directly to the story.  Please let me know in comments, if you exist, whether the link works.)

We should all have some concerns about the food China grows, some of which is right this moment sitting on shelves in our local big-box discount retailer luring our friends and neighbors - and personally even my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly - into saving money.  And we should consider thoughtfully the possibility that the 39% number has been carefully vetted for Western consumption, so its likely much much higher.

And then we should try to calculate when possibility shades into probability.  If we just used our handy desktop calculators and assumed that all of the water in China was supposed to serve all of China's 1.3 billion people, ignoring the various animals, fish, insects and so forth that may be needed to stave off near-term ecological collapse on the regional landmass, it appears China only has enough water for about 780 million people.  The other 520 million people - which is like, what, the current population of North America? - have no water.  That's all of North America, from Alert to Oaxaca, with stops in between for Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, NYC, Washington DC, Fresno, Miami, Moore, Mexico City, none of whom have any water to drink or bathe in.

That's a lot of thirsty people.  That staggers the imagination.  And its all flowing into the oceans.

A lot of conclusions and implications jump to mind.  The one that first occurred to me was that the foundational principle of skepticism about global warming, that the Earth is just too big for us puny humans to make much of a dent in, is just clearly so much falsely rationalized humility.  Maybe the Earth is too big to make a noticeable dent, something you could spot from Mars, but that doesn't mean we can't scrape the paint off and destroy the resale value.

That metaphor really fails to capture what's been accomplished here. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Obama's scandals

Here's how you create an Obama Scandal summer.
  1. Force him to run an overworked organization - overworked even when its fully staffed - with half the people it needs, because the other half can't be confirmed or otherwise hired because the GOP doesn't want the organization to work
  2. Force 5-10% cuts across the board to make things even more random.
  3. Of the remaining half of the employees, make sure they're werewolves left over from what is generally recognized as the most ideological administration in history.
  4. Ask a bunch of easily threatened people for some basic documentation explaining {why they should be tax-exempt|why the attack happened|where the leak came from}.  For example, if they want tax-exempt status, you might ask them whether they plan to run for office, or who's on their donor list, because you don't want to grant tax-exempt status to con artists, after all.  If they're in the CIA, you might ask them what intelligence they have about a situation.  Ask the same questions of less conservative people, but because you can rely on them not to get freaked out, they get the questions reserved for adults. 
  5. Have your overworked middle-management layer surface and solve the issue.
  6. Get mad and explain that it shouldn't have happened.  Avoid blaming your predecessor for the problem even though most of it happened with, y'know, his people, and his party won't let you hire replacements.
  7. Alow Maureen Dowd and Dana Milbank to complain from the back seat that the President hasn't yet taken ownership, because after five years he's still wrestling with the drunk in the driver's seat for the car keys.  Dowd and Milbank also get to demand we pull over and stop for drive-through daiquiris, as long as the driver is buying.  
  8. Have a guy who self-identifies as a salesman lead the "investigation." 
I believe I've worked at that company.  It went bankrupt.

Update: Bob Schieffer at CBS asks of the Obama administration, "is anybody home?"  No Bob.  Actually, he hasn't been allowed to hire anyone yet, really, and even then some the reqs were just cancelled.  So no, no one is home.

Its becoming clear that from the DC insider culture point-of-view, Democratic Presidents rule over caretaker governments that better not do anything.  In the interim periods, the GOP goes to rehab, loses some weight and gets a new trophy wife.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Krugman's mistake

The case for austerity

Sharon linked to this and I wanted to mention something that I find hilarious about the argument Paul Krugman and Brad Delong and a few others are having with, well, with everyone who disagrees with them.

A long time ago I wanted to be a university professor.  Other kids wanted to be firemen or rock stars; I wanted to teach theoretical particle physics.  And then I went to graduate school - I decided later on against physics because it was too practical - on an affirmative action program for white trash and, to be honest, I was perhaps the worst graduate student* in the history of my program, or possibly at the very fine institute of higher learning I was paid to attend for four long years. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Locked and loaded

Cheney says there are units "chomping at the bit" for this sort of thing

This is the same man who, when he was Secretary of Defense during the first Iraq war, after watching the Dirty Dozen, suggested that the 101st Airborne be dropped somewhere at an airfield in the western deserts of Iraq, where they could commandeer a bunch of trucks and drive on into Baghdad, a whoopin' and a hollerin'.

This is the same man that decided he wanted to be the power behind the throne, and for the throne  picked a guy with daddy issues who'd made a career out of doing the opposite of what his daddy wanted.  And then filled his administration with people everyone else thought were dumb or ideological or assholes, who even the person he'd picked for the throne, famous for his ruthless loyalty, couldn't stomach.

This is a guy who under-reacted before 9/11, over-reacted during and after,and then decided to invade Iraq again because he thought a bunch of redneck kids from Texas and Alabama and rural California still hot from 9/11 and listening to gangster rap and thrash metal while they downed steroids and pumped iron waiting for the day when they could get revenge, would be just the people to demonstrate American goodwill to the Arab world.

This is a guy who thought it made sense to buy Dresser-Rand when he was head of Halliburton, when Dresser-Rand faced billions of dollars in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lawsuits.  And who told Joe Leiberman in the VP debates during the 2000 election that Leiberman had no business experience, that he'd never stretched to make payroll.  That comment makes you wonder just how incompetent the CEO of a multi-billion dollar oil-field services company has to be if he's worried he's not going to be able to make payroll this month.

If Dick Cheney was a square on a Rubik's cube and you rotated the cube this way and that until all the colors lined up right, you'd see that Cheney was actually Barney Fife.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

There is no such thing as a free brunch

Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK over atrocity settlements

I was forwarded this story because a (distant) friend of the family knew someone who'd been involved in these atrocities, as a mercenary in the Congo and in Kenya.  (There's an American angle: the President's grandfather, who likely wasn't a Mau Mau (or a terrorist) was picked up and tortured during the "rebellion.")  As much as I despair about the state of the world in its various forms, here's progress: People who were mistreated by out-of-control governments have been able to find, through countries with a long-standing and stable rule of law, a means for redress.   

The New York Times did a hatchet job last week on a similar redress, related to the historically unfair treatment of African-American, women and Hispanic farmers when it came to loans from the Department of Agriculture.  The story could have been inspired by a Townhall column; clearly the government is settling with these people because the President is, y'know, black.  Sadly for those mustering outrage at this immense counter-injustice the fraud rate, as a subsequent letter to the editor notes, is 0.3%.  You'd find more fraud just checking photocopier paper use at your average office.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Now where did I put that meme...

A couple of things.

  • What are the odds that the Dunning-Kruger effect is positively correlated with the Right-Wing Authoritarian personality?  Maybe someone should do a Gartner magic quadrant-type graph.
  • What's with people talking about Ted Cruz running for President?  Ted is so Calgary all he's missing is the rye-and-coke breath and the white cowboy hat.  If you look closely at the back of his head and his hands you can already see the clips Alberta-bred politicians come with, that make it handy to attach them to their control bar.  
  • Thomas Pynchon has a new novel coming out this fall.  I own almost everything Pynchon has written except Slow Learner and I've read all of it more than once, except the last 200 pages of Against the Day and most of Mason & Dixon because, c'mon, really?  What I fear is that Bleeding Edge reminds me of Turn of the Century.  No one wants that.

  • Years ago Wynton Marsalis did a series on Jazz for kids that Sirius plays Saturday morning on its jazz station.  He mentioned one morning that Thelonious Monk really does the same chord progression in all his songs, something I'd noticed but wasn't really conscious of.  The genius of Thelonious Monk is that the progression uses a kind of dyslexic logic that plays out in dozens of different ways but that you'd never get to unless you heard it his way.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Sunday Afternoon

This is what I'm going to try to play this afternoon:

Is he in open G or standard tuning?  Does anyone even care? 

And I think I'll try a version of this:

Although sadly if that many black people showed up in my neighborhood we'd be under martial law. 

Red Dawn vs. Red Harvest

I've been thinking about guns a lot lately.  My eight-year-old daughter often sits and watches the news with me in the morning while I read the paper, and she's trying to understand why she needs to live in a world where any crazy person can bring guns into her school, and thus she has do these "run and hide" drills.  She doesn't personally think she'd feel a lot better if there were more guns around, but as that appears to be the only solution acceptable to the 30% of the country that feels we live in the end-times and doesn't feel safe unless its armed to the teeth, and we can't hurt their feelings because their feelings are more important than our safety and otherwise they'll kill us all, and she's only eight, we don't really get a say in the matter.  The saying "the constitution is not a suicide pact," which became very popular around the time we all collectively decided that fundamentalists with box cutters were scarier than a Bill of Rights without a Fourth Amendment, apparently doesn't apply to the Second amendment.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A few of my favorite things, III: Bromine and Lead and Lewis Powell

Hey did you know that if you add bromine to stuff the stuff gets thicker?  True.  This has come to the attention of many people recently because of a Facebook meme/ petition to get PepsiCo to remove brominated vegetable oil or BVO from soft drinks, where its used in Mountain Dew and Gatorade.  BVO is on a kind of permanent watch-list in the US, where it was dropped by the FDA at the high-water-mark of regulation achieved in US, before Lewis Powell's forces of darkness started the rollback; in Canada you can dump it wherever you want.  BVO in particular is added to soda - and the Times story at the link names a number of other sodas and sugary drinks - to "stabilize" the liquid, which is to say give it "mouth feel" or the feeling you're actually drinking something more substantial than water.  Most sodas use sugar or high-fructose corn syrup to accomplish mouth feel, but some use vegetable oil in solution.  And to keep the vegetable oil in solution, and from going bad, you add bromine to the oil.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

A solid right hook

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program[me(s)] for a breaking news bulletin.  The executive branch of the government of the United States of America has decided that, in the name of protecting citizens of that country from harm, it will henceforth (and retroactively) be allowed to kill citizens of that country, or any other country, when they participate in activities that may at some point in the future, where that point is to be determined, harm other citizens of the United States, when those activities occur as part of the organization known as Al Qaeda. 

To be clear, if you are a citizen of the United States, you are still allowed - and even encouraged, in some states - to own as many of these as you want:

If you own any of these the American national security establishment does not view you as a threat, so you are free to pursue your second amendment rights to, heh, safeguard American liberty.  However, you may not be perceived as advocating for the removal of the US from the Muslim world.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things, Part II: The Devil's Music

Robert Johnson is, according to Eric Clapton, the first and the mightiest bluesman.  I can't find that particular quote, but here's another from God himself:

“At first the music almost repelled me, it was so intense, and this man made no attempt to sugarcoat what he was trying to say, or play. It was hard-core, more than anything I had ever heard. After a few listenings I realized that, on some level, I had found the master, and that following this man's example would be my life's work.” (link)
 No less an authority on what makes popular American music popular than Bob Dylan said this:
"When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor." (link)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A few of my favorite things

There are assumptions and articles of faith that may be hundreds of years old, but they don't work anymore because people ask questions, on the internet, and discover that other people have the same questions.  And because its easy to do the research now, compared to even a hundred years ago, we can quickly discover that these assumptions are groundless, that the assumptions are in fact just coyotes frantically overextending their run off the cliff, high over the desert floor.  Our culture in this sense is a lot like an eight-year-old child: Lots of things happened to us when we were four, and while we were conscious and present through that growth our brains just weren't ready to store them, and so the events underlying our current behavior are a bit of a mystery, and a lot of them we just don't remember.  But we're finally starting to put things together.

For the next few posts I want to talk about a few I've recently come across.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year

I had a guitar teacher last year tell me that Wes Montgomery's switch to block chords halfway through any piece was notorious among modern players.  His comment was accompanied by much eye-rolling.

OK.  I guess.