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.