Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oh, and... yes, Happy New Year!

From Karen at The Graphics Fairy

Care for some champagne?

A little more, perhaps?

A little too much?

Other singers may be admired for their mad scenes, but only Frederica von Stade can take a drunk scene from everyday clowning to highest comedy...

Green and bear it

While the strictly human stories may be more interesting, and easier to follow, we shouldn't forget that our planet is very sick. I've been waiting for somebody to put up a New Year's wrap-up of the environmental news; this, from Huffington Post, looks like the best we can do, and it isn't really enough.

What I wanted to say is that the horrors of war and want, the things that grab us the hardest, belong each to its own generation, and then it's over. Who really cares about the dead of Austerlitz or Shiloh or even Verdun today? But the planet is for many, very many generations, perhaps all the generations to come....

That's me on the right...
Update 1/1/2012

This by Joe Romm at ThinkProgress is the kind of story I had in mind, but I missed it when it came out December 21.

They sign, they make statements

This is a kind of scoop: The president has signed the defense bill, and issued a "signing statement"  (full text here) listing which parts he doesn't like. Some details below the fold:
(Click image to enlarge)

Just somehow unappealing

Some dispiriting New York City news is that the city is likely to forfeit $60 million in "Race to the Top" school funding, since the Department of Education and United Federation of Teachers have been unable to meet the deadline to come to an agreement on the subject of teacher evaluations. DOE officials refused the union's demand for an outside arbitrator for teachers with bad evaluations to appeal to; refused the union's offer to submit the issue itself to binding arbitration; and ultimately walked out on discussions. Don't tell me this is the union's fault!
Jackal-headed Anubis and ibis-headed Thoth weighing the heart of the deceased against the feather of Truth; a good result is when the two are in perfect balance.

It's symptomatic, too, of a pretty deplorable trend throughout our Republic in the way people look at the spirit, as opposed to the letter, of the law...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Something delicious...

...after a sour day. Music by the Spanish Baroque composer Antonio Literes, from his zarzuela Acis y Galatea, performed by Al Ayre Español with the soprano Marina Pardo. I've never heard it before--happened on it for some complicated but not very interesting reasons--and I immediately wanted to share it.

Post-partisan addendum

Wikipedia's article on the Independent voter treats as an unresolved controversy whether independents are more uninterested, poorly informed, and inactive, or to the contrary full of passionate conviction and highly knowledgeable. I thought this controversy had been more or less fully resolved in The Myth of the Independent Voter (Bruce Keith, David Magleby, Candice Nelson, Elizabeth Orr, Mark Westlye, and Raymond Wolfinger, 1992): there are two different kinds of independents, a high-information type who are leaners with one party or another, and a low-information type who are true independents, and who may be the people who decide our elections (like the groundhog of fable, depending on whether they see their shadows on the way to the polls). I just wanted to note that a retrospective analysis from 2010 by Magleby, Nelson, and Westlye updates the numbers and shows that the pattern persists--available here.
The Choice between Vice and Virtue, by Jan van den Hoecke (1611-51). The young man is Hercules, saying, "I'm voting for the blonde--I think she'll keep interest rates down."

Post-partisan depression

I wonder how often this story gets written? I don't think I've seen it with this much front-page splash:
Jonathan Gabhart, a 21-year-old college student from Spencer, Iowa, is leaning toward voting for Ron Paul because of the Texas lawmaker’s unpolished speaking style — a “high-pitched, squirrelly voice,” as he put it. “He seems like a real person because of his eccentricities.”
Nancy Weaver, a 60-year-old retiree in Grinnell, Iowa, favors Representative Michele Bachmann because the congresswoman raised 23 foster children. “That’s a huge endeavor for any man or woman,” she said.
Iowa and New Hampshire Republican voters interviewed by Michael Barbaro and Ashley Barker at the Times knew nothing or next to about candidates' policy positions and programs but lots about their families and personal quirks, and were making their decisions on that basis. But isn't this actually pervasive, among Republicans and Democrats and those crusty old independents alike?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

'Twas the day after Christmas...

This looks like a Monty Python scene. (Nobody was badly hurt, so you might as well enjoy it.) Video from Al Jazeera, via Juan Cole.

I often think it's comical

How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That's born into this world alive
Is born a little Liberal
Or else a little Conserv--a--tive...

I heard some person-on-the-street reactions to this Pew survey on the radio this morning--to the question, more specifically, of why "progressive" is better than "liberal" in the public eye--and it was pretty interesting. Some of the respondents seemed to be where I would have expected a self-denominated progressive to be, with the view that liberalism is sort of wimpy and ineffective, where progressivism aims to get things done; but there were others....

Snake on a plain

Vervet monkeys call out when they see a member of an enemy species, with different calls for different predators, so that their friends know what to do--for a leopard, get as high up a tree as you can; for an eagle, dive for cover. It is an instinctive response, however, not something the monkey learns to do, a language that can be changed from generation to generation.

Chimpanzees, on the other hand, our very close relatives, apparently think about it before making an alarm call--think about what it is they've seen and who needs to know, according to this report in the Guardian of a field experiment conducted in the Budongo forest, Uganda.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

But what if it doesn't know it's dead?

Richard Eskow's history of austerity economics  over the past couple of years (read the whole thing!) claims that that zombie theory is dead, defunct, no longer with us:
The name of the deceased was "Austerity Economics," and it was first glimpsed in a 1921 paper by conservative economist Frank Wright. Austerity died of natural causes brought on by prolonged exposure to reality.
But the thing about zombies is--well, you know what the thing about zombies is. They're dead already. According to Wikipedia, what you need to do is feed them with salt. Any ideas?

Homs bit of a mess, claims Sudanese visitor

I'm pretty sure I haven't seen this in the Times: the chief of the Arab League delegation to Syria is the Sudanese general Mustafa al-Dabi, a former chief of military intelligence to president Omar al-Bashir. Amnesty International says this may not have been the most suitable choice, for some reason. The Guardian quotes the general's report from Homs:
"Some places looked a bit of a mess but there was nothing frightening," Dabi told Reuters on Wednesday/by telephone from Damascus. "The situation seemed reassuring so far … Yesterday was quiet and there were no clashes. We did not see tanks but we did see some armoured vehicles. But remember this was only the first day and it will need investigation. We have 20 people who will be there for a long time."
Others have seen a tank or two, and a rather big mess, as in this AP story from which the above image was taken:

And we don't export jobs any more, thanks to all those maquilas

Rick Perry may have entertained thoughts of secession for Texas, but he's gone and mentally conquered Alberta and annexed it to the U.S.:
“Every barrel of oil that comes out of those sands in Canada is a barrel of oil that we don’t have to buy from a foreign source,” Mr. Perry said in Clarinda, earning a loud round of enthusiastic applause.
John Gast's image ca. 1872 of American Progress, putting a continent online with the telegraph wires. Idea for this post stolen from Hunter at Daily Kos, whose own version was maybe a little too subtle for some.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Just say Noah

The previous post on the subject of homophobia--the pathological fear of gay cooties that might infect an otherwise sober-living person at any time--got me to thinking back on the subject of an earlier post concerning that strange version of Islamophobia in which the victim imagines that he or she is being somehow swallowed or enveloped by a foreign legal system, the so-called Sharia.

The trope of mental illness works here, too, as explanation for that sense of the code as not a code but something hideously physical, like a wave of slime lapping at your feet and then climbing, climbing, sort of itching and stinging and approaching your ankles, and you want to scream but.... Etc.

The nightmare quality, in which you can't be sure you won't find yourself suddenly in a Baghdad public square, strapped into a suicide vest whose detonation is under someone else's control, and it's all because of something Obama did, is why it is a waste of time to sit down and tell people that they don't have to worry. Nightmare is what it is all about, and it is not subject to rational discussion.

In the meantime, though, I have run across some evidence that it is possible for our country to be secretly taken over by a religious legal code, and that it may have happened already--in 1991! And by something a lot more haimish than Sharia, too...[see below the jump]
Image (mis)appropriated from Yeshuist Rabbi Matt of Seattle, who may not appreciate Levitical levity. The dysperspective is probably just Photoshop, but doesn't it have a haunting Caligari quality?

Ron Paul is no sodomechthriac

Update below the fold

Poor Ron Paul has been taking a lot of heat because of the former campaign staffer who claims that the candidate is not homophobic, even though he is afraid to shake hands with gay men, or to use their bathrooms.

Of course he clearly is a homophobe by any etymologically rational definition of the term--composed out of homo- (ὁμο) (short for the modern Greco-Roman bastard term homosexual) and phobos (φόβος) (Ancient Greek for "fear"). That is, he is scared to death of gay people. He may love them all personally, as his Savior commands, and respect their right to Do It any way they like, as a true libertarian must, but he fears that something really bad will happen to him if he touches one of them, or something that one of them has sat upon. Not the same thing at all. Similarly [see below the jump]...

 If you are chiefly worried about homophobia, you might find this song pretty offensive, with its rank stereotyping and reference to old spouses' tales. If it's sodomechthria that concerns you, you may like it anyway.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


Yuletide is the period around the winter solstice when the Germanic peoples practiced their winter festival with animal sacrifices--blood for the gods and goddesses, sprinkled with twigs used as aspergilla around the idols and on the temple walls, and boiled meats for the humans--and copious amounts of ale, with its most sacred moment over the night from 24 to 25 December, on what the Catholic Encyclopedia refers to as "the extraordinary and obscene Modranicht", the feast of the Divine Mothers, a triple-goddess cult of Gaul and Germania.
Picture, along with most of the information, from Wikipedia. Hey, it's a holiday!

Below the fold, some musical propositions:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sharia lonesome tonight?

So Newt Gingrich, no doubt mainly to distract us from the increasing evidence of his complicity with a dark cabal of Belgian colonialist terrorists, has come out to say that he, like so many Americans,  is absolutely terrified that our great American legal system is about to be taken over by Islamic jurisprudence. So is that surprising, that a former Republican politician pretending to be running for president as a gimmick for his book tour/reality show projects, and suddenly finding that he is being taken seriously in certain gullible quarters in Iowa and the press box, should be tapping into our deepest irrational fears?

Um, no. It is not surprising at all. It is precisely what one would expect. What I have trouble wrapping my head around is the question of what, exactly, we are scared of. What is supposed to happen? When a group of those Stealth Jihadis sets about imposing Sharia law on an unsuspecting population, how does it work?

Scots, wha hae wi' Reagan bled: Last update!

Exult, the Musulman pride is buried at sea, the glory ours and Heaven's! Vanquished, after our weapons, by the hurricane!
[Esultate! L'orgoglio musulmano sepolto è in mar; nostra e del ciel è gloria! Dopo l'armi lo vinse l'uragano.]

Or not exactly, I guess. But at least Braveheart Boehner has caved. I was crazy to doubt it would happen (recall, I confidently predicted it before that). And while we may bow to wiser heads than ours with the feeling that the payroll tax holiday was always a bum, or as some have expressed it, a Republican, idea (looking like a deeply sneaky way of making it possible to defund Social Security by making everybody forget how we pay for it)--well, that's another battle. This one was really about the fix for Medicare payments and the fix for unemployment checks. And, of course, about making John Boehner cry.

And just because we've all been good...
 [Even lovelier if the YouTubist had spelled "notte" correctly.]

Update 12/23:

 Steve Benen takes on the role of designated driver--a victory, yes, but someone has to stay sober on the way home from the parade.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We hear that former job creator-by-attrition--or is it creative destroyer of jobs? ("I am Shiva, destroyer of jobs!")--Willard Mitt Romney is now offering a stump speech that describes President Obama as an adherent of this truly lost historical crypto-anarchist clubhouse Communism:
"[Theodore] Roosevelt believed that government should level the playing field to create equal opportunities. President Obama believes that government should create equal outcomes.
"In an entitlement society, everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk. That which is earned by some is redistributed to the others. And the only people who truly enjoy any real rewards are those who do the redistributing—the government."
Holy cannoli, Emily, I just got used to having a socialist president, an' now it turns out he's the whole fracking Khmer Rouge?
The President in traditional Cambodian scarf or krama, in found art from the Siem Reap–resident bloggist and web designer Jinja, via Travel-Artist. Yes, it makes me happy too. Set me up for indefinite detention without charge, target me for execution by drone, I just can't stay mad at him. I'm sure we'll get an explanation sooner or later.

You know truth has a liberal bias? So they had to correct for it, right?

Apparently the famous fact checker thing Politifact has nominated a Lie of the Year and has selected the story spread by Democrats that Paul Ryan's plan to "reform" federal entitlements will End Medicare as we Know It, which is like totally untrue because all Representative Ryan wants to do is completely change it from top to bottom. It's not like we won't have Medicare to kick around any more, it's just that it won't do the same stuff, which is all Republicans are asking for, for Pete's sake.

Also, I'm going to start making my Mom's apple pie recipe, except I'm going to use a store-bought crust and fill it with spaghetti instead of apples. If you go around telling people it's not Mom's apple pie I'll sic Politifact on you.

Scots, wha hae wi' Reagan bled: Important update

Seems likely at this point that I am going to lose my bet on that payroll tax holiday extension bill: contemplating the possibility of some of them voting one way and some of them voting another, the Republican caucus shuddered and joined ranks to vote it down--sort of. Actually, knowing how the House likes to be positive, Boehner gave them something to vote for--half a committee which will negotiate with the other, senatorial half if it ever comes to exist (the senators are out of town until January) over the poisoned bill they did manage to pass some weeks ago. So you and I will be losing that 40 bucks or so from our next paychecks, doctors will be losing a lot more, to the point where they will have to send new Medicare patients away (to the emergency room? that should save the country tons of money!), and thousands of people who have no jobs because of John Boehner will lose the unemployment insurance checks (that's insurance, for which they, and we, have already paid the premiums) that they depend on to have any cash at all. But hey, Boehner has proven (to himself, I guess, not likely to anyone else), that he is a Real Leader.  Don't start thinking about Tomorrow!

One of the sheep in the video looks as if she is wearing a fabulous barrister's wig.

Update, later that morning:

From the once and future Speaker, Nancy Pelosi herself, via Jed Lewison at Daily Kos: Speaker Pro Tempore Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA) flees the room as if his chastity were being threatened when Steny Hoyer asks to speak about voting on the payroll tax holiday extension. These guys really don't want to vote.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Blue X-mas

by Bob Dorough with some assistance (seems to be controversial how much) from wicked old Miles. I heard a bit of it on the radio today and wanted to make sure I heard the rest.

A brief sidetrack into speculative Kim Jong-il

Little Jurka (Jurij Irsenovič Kim) with his lovely Soviet parents, Il-sung and Jong-suk. His Shirley Temple smile presaged a movie career. The picture is not dated; I can't believe how beautiful they are, it doesn't seem right. In the shot below they look more North Korean and not so pretty; note Jong-il's remarkable ears:

Photos pillaged from yesterday's Daily Mail.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Scots, wha hae wi' Reagan bled,

Scots*, wham Newt has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to Victorie!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour;
See approach Obama's power--
Chains and Slaverie!
*I wanted it to be Belgians, but it just didn't fit the meter.

Meanwhile back in Washington, it's getting hilarious:

The Persimmons of Memory

Kim Jong Il looking at persimmons; Kim Jong Il looking at a leaflet. From

The Dear Leader looked at things, as we know; looking at things was virtually his whole life as leader, his chief and almost only duty, the way he took care of his people. Indeed, you could say that his commitment to looking at things was what killed him in the end: according to state media he
died on a train due to a "great mental and physical strain" during a "high-intensity field inspection" Saturday
between looking-at-things stops, as it were. He had perhaps looked at last at all the things he could manage, and something snapped.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Do as I say--and next time try to let me know what I say in advance

Terrific example of the Thug Rule according to which if the Leader can't stop his thugs from doing what he wants them not to do, then he has to pretend he wants them to do it:

Yesterday, as soon as the payroll-tax holiday extension bill passed the Senate, Speaker Boehner was on a conference call begging Republican House members to vote for it, but they turned him down; so today on Meet the Press? He doesn't want them to vote for it at all, and I guess he never did!
"It's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill. It's only for two months," Boehner said, adding this was "kicking the can down the road."

Václav Havel

Among the things that really never make me cry: obituaries of famous people, even those I admire a lot, and sopranos, even great ones, singing rock songs. However during Havel's radio obituary this morning, I felt such a wave of grief, at around 1992 in Silvia Poggioli's potted biography (Czechs and Slovaks break up, Havel leaves office for the first time), and then again listening to this:

Look for Havel's face in the audience at around 2:38, so delighted!


Up to now, comments have been open only to members--apparently that is Blogger's default setting, and I never noticed. As of today, anyhow, make yourselves at home. I will delete any comments I feel like deleting, on any grounds whatever.

Bocca del Leone (aka complaints department), Venice

Saturday, December 17, 2011

And all because of the mandate got away...

Steve Benen, amusing himself at the expense of Belgian colonialist terror candidate Newt Gingrich, discusses Newt's former belief in the individual health care insurance mandate, now regarded by Republicans as only a little less evil than selling Jesus to the Romans for 30 denarii; and points out something we have been hearing lately, what a particularly Republican idea that individual mandate originally was:

Cesária Évora

The great Cape Verdean singer, who died today on her home island of São Vicente. She was 70.

Pace, pace

The war in Iraq passed away quietly last week, after a long wasting illness, surrounded by friends and family and fortified with the comforts of religion...

Actually it only ever had one friend worth having, and one relative. The friend was the great journalist Christopher Hitchens, who took to it early for reasons nobody could ever quite understand--a mocking whim or a genuine perverse passion--and remained loyal to it until the end, which came by some uncanny coincidence at the same time as his own (and no comforts of religion for him, but it seems worth saying RIP all the same); the relative was an older sister, a war in Afghanistan, more decorous and discreet--more legal, to put it bluntly--and more than a little resentful, it was said, at the younger one's careless, flashy, attention-grabbing ways.

Peace, peace, my God... suffering... a fatal crime... the curse! the curse!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

OK, but my teacher seems a little remote

 The Times report by Stephanie Saul on the cyber charter school movement yesterday morning has not roused a lot of online fury. I sure don't know why. Here is how it opens:
Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.
By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.
You should read the whole thing, especially if you believe the way to solve our education problems is by sprinkling a little market-fairy dust on them (no, it's really just a way for the rent seekers to expropriate more money from our children).  Then have a look at Jenny Anderson on Finland:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is America really Pakistan?

While our president was going around last May making nice about all those Arab revolutionaries bringing their governments down, guess what the Pentagon was up to? According to closely reasoned and evidenced reporting from Nick Turse at TomDispatch,
[a]s state security forces across the region cracked down on democratic dissent, the Pentagon also repeatedly dispatched American troops on training missions to allied militaries there.  During more than 40 such operations with names like Eager Lion and Friendship Two that sometimes lasted for weeks or months at a time, they taught Middle Eastern security forces the finer points of counterinsurgency, small unit tactics, intelligence gathering, and information operations -- skills crucial to defeating popular uprisings...
Now, what exactly is up with that? Should we be applying our standard left-paranoid analysis to this? I.e., (1) the interests of our ruling class, the 1% if you like, are aligned with those of the familiar dictators Ben Ali and Mubarak and so on; (2) the U.S. government, as the "management committee of the bourgeoisie" or agency for carrying out ruling class interests, inevitably opposes the democratic revolutions; and (3) Obama does his job of expressing the natural pro-revolutionary sentiments of the 99% to distract us from what is really happening.

But I'd like to sketch out an alternative way of looking at it that might be a little less boring and a little smarter, and still "of the left"--and indeed the seeds of a whole bigfat theory of democracy and power.

Benevolent dictator Wotan figures it out: God can't give people free will, they have to take it. But won't that make trouble for the government? Hey, kid, why do you think they call it Götterdämmerung?

I call the round things "wheels"

Woke up to hear an echo of a Marketplace story I missed yesterday morning, about a new fear of European economists: It seems somebody is worried that all that austerity might inhibit growth. Golly, whoever imagined such an idea?*

In other news, I've figured out how to make sleds that work in the summer. Instead of mounting them on runners, you mount them on axles, one in the front and one in the back, and then each axle is propped up in turn on these round things, so that when you pull it it just rolls.

*I mean, other than most economists over the past 80 years or so.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Not only that, but then it would be true

Mitt Romney's "Look first upon this picture, then on this" tirade--
Newt Gingrich comes from the world where politicians are paid millions after they retire to influence their friends in Washington. Mitt Romney comes from the private sector, where the economy is built by hard work and entrepreneurial drive.
The first sentence is fine, but for classical parallel structure, the second one needs revision to something like, "Mitt Romney comes from the world where businessmen pay millions after they retire to become politicians under the influence of--their friends in Washington."

Wanker of the forever!

I think it was Atrios who pioneered the idea of nominating a metaphorical "wanker of the day", or week, or month. But do liberals ever give a thought to the wanker-for-real? Well, here's to Bill Johnson (link picked up from Daily Kos), once known as a Republican politician and foe of same-sex marriage, lately turned to good works in disaster recovery in Haiti and New Zealand, and now revealed as a wanker with a cause, supplying some good old Republican, Mensa-member sperm to a (fairly large) number of Kiwi ladies who want babies, including members of same-sex couples. I don't care if he's a Republican--well done, that man!

Update 12/13

A story in Gawker suggests that there may in fact have been no wanking involved: that he was donating that first-class pakeha* sperm in a more up-close and personal fashion, if you know what I mean; I mean, bluntly, that he was schtupping the clients in person, even the lesbians. This could explain, for one thing, why Mrs. Johnson objected to the procedures (she herself was not in New Zealand at the time). I refuse to believe it, though.

*Pakeha is Kiwi for "white", in the sense of "Belgian", or "colonialist".

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Muslim traditional values voters?

Nicholas Kristof in today's Times, on the success of the Islamist parties in the Egyptian elections, brings up a supremely important point that we Americans seem utterly unaware of: a big part of the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups is in the way they provide real political value to the public long before they even consider getting elected:
[their] offices are social service agencies. Citizens dropped in to ask for blankets for the winter, and the party handed them out — along with campaign brochures. Several people asked for help paying medical bills, and they got it. In the evening, women arrived to take a free class about science.
But then he misinterprets his observations in a way that makes them less useful: 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

¿Cuomo lo quieres?

Some have asked--actually, they haven't, but it's always good to be prepared--why I should display such hostility toward Governor Cuomo, given how skillful he has proven at getting our dreadful legislature to do things of which, as an unreconstructed liberal, I must approve. Well, here's why.

Newt Gingrich, plucky little imperialist

Image from

It all goes back to grad school. The most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Newt Gingrich. What if he is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Belgian, pro-colonialist behavior can you begin to piece together what he does? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.... This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now, umm.... What exactly is he?

Just another radical Belgian activist? Tintin, after the mussels and frites begin to take their toll, and with a Congressional hairdresser? The supremely evil twin of that other Tintin? Sadly, it seems unlikely.


The Times coverage of the horrible hospital fire in Kolkata (olim Calcutta) suggests that one of its causes was the fact that the Advanced Medical Research Institute is a private hospital, which means apparently less heavily regulated than the public ones:

The blaze is sure to raise fresh questions about safety in India’s booming private hospital business, which, like much else in India, is poorly regulated.
The hospital had recently been named one of the city’s best by The Week, an Indian magazine that regularly ranks hospitals. Like many such hospitals in India, the Advanced Medical Research Institute offered expensive Western-style facilities to middle- and upper-middle-class Indians who have shunned government hospitals, which are crowded and less well equipped.
A great hospital in the aspects seen by its wealthy clientele, in other words, but not so much so in those seen by India's famously onerous, nitpicking regulators--like what are they storing in the basement (diesel fuel and motor oil), is the fire detection system regularly tested and the staff drilled,

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ectomorphic government

Also from NPR this morning, an example germane to the spurious debate of big government vs. small government and what makes it spurious, in a report (only the sound file, no text, available online so far) on the MSHA report on the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. As the radio report (from Howard Berkes) makes clear, the agency report makes it clear that the agency shares reponsibility in a major way for the disaster with the company that ran the mine, but the agency never actually says it. That is, they knew all about the mine's problems with ventilation and gas buildup and danger of explosions well in advance of the explosion that killed 29 people, but they didn't succeed in doing anything about it. This is a case of government that is neither too big nor too little but too fat (apologies to anybody who feels that this line of metaphor is prejudicial to the plump, but I really need it). MSHA was clearly big enough, but it wasn't effective:

War is the immoral equivalent of...

...whatever you want to market as the moral equivalent of war. That's clearly what William James meant in 1906 in the first place, when he was talking about a "war against war" (the idea Woodrow Wilson would later blow up into the Thanksgiving parade balloon of a war to end war). If that isn't what you mean--if you don't mean to suggest that war is immoral, but something like "my idea is the equivalent of war in the moral, as opposed to practical or political or aesthetic, sense", you should stay away from the phrase altogether. So consider yourself warned. Incidentally, note (I saw it in the URL for James's essay) that it has a very cute algorithm* acronym: MEOW.

*Whoever looked at this today (October 2 2012), thanks, I never would have found this bit of aphasia without you.

Morning addition

A cool example of properly sourced evidence that the postulates of Republican geometry just don't correspond to reality surfaced on NPR this morning: the theory says a 2% surtax on personal income over a million dollars will prevent small businesspersons from hiring workers, but in fact you can't find a small businessperson who will be so prevented. Tamara Keith, the reporter, asked numerous senators and representatives and multiple business organizations for an appropriate example, then went on Facebook to look for themselves, but nobody could come up with a single one. NPR did find a couple of qualified millionaires, but they didn't think the tax would have any effect on hiring, and in fact they turned out to be Democrats. Okay, just because you don't know any black swans doesn't prove all swans are white, and this informal inquiry doesn't prove that no such millionaires exist, but I think we know where the burden of proof just went. The Republican theory applies basically to proprietors who report company profits as personal income, and I'm guessing that there really aren't any such people paying themselves a million-dollar salary--if you're picking up that kind of profit you'll surely prefer paying corporate taxes on it.

[edited to note the reporter by name, and then messed with some more because I can't keep my hands off it]

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Very good evidence that your Republican brother-in-law is wrong

It often seems as if there isn't any public evidence for the dangerousness of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, like all those farmers whose kitchen sinks turned into torches got gagged as part of their settlement agreements.

One of the things I'd like to do with this blog is to use it as a kind of night depository for the carefully sourced demonstration that things your Republican brother-in-law "knows" to be the case actually aren't, like this story about polluted ground water in a heavily fracked district of Wyoming (a version published today in Bloomberg was picked up by Daily Kos, but it turns out Pro Publica put out a more detailed story three weeks ago):

EPA finds Fracking Fluid Chemicals in Wyoming drinking water

I mean, not for the coherent body of things one is "working on", that you'd want to keep in a properly bibliographical storage system like Zotero, but for those isolated facts of which you may suddenly wish you could remember where they came from.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Upon reconsideration...

I'm afraid I may have sounded a little snarky on the subject of Obama's speech yesterday, especially to anybody who knew that kickin' the gong around is smoking opium--as I certainly did not until I learned it from the inestimable Ricky Riccardi. So, to make up for it...

 This is how I really feel.

Produced by The Contemporary Classical Composers' Bullshit Generator:

The fact that tones tend to (at least in their unified state), tonally influence, even in the presence of a strong perception, is, you will agree, patently absurd. It has been said that those who premiere a device are unable to reject or layer dyads, at least not percussively, but I fundamentally disagree. I have found that extended systems, in combination with unaccompanied aesthetics enable me to fragmentarily perceive brand-new visions in a highly intra-transdisiplinary and extremely Expressionist way. The fact that developments tend to (at least in their microtonal state), semantically abandon, even in the presence of a strong piece, is, you will agree, patently absurd. My fanfare is the only one of its kind, due in part to the inclusion of highly-microtonal orchestration-oscillations, with a hint of so-called 'perception-sources'.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Land's sake, Edwina, you think it's something in the water?

And now Our Andrew appears to have discovered progressive taxation too! Though if you trust him, you might want to have yourself checked out for Williams Syndrome.

Cut off my legs and call me Shorty!

Or maybe "Hey la hey la, your boyfriend's back". I read through the Daily Kos prepared text of Obama's speech looking for the wing-to-wing equivalence part, like, "Nor will it help our nation to have seniors hogging all the health care before they turn 67," but it just wasn't there. I wanted to put up the 1940 Louis Armstrong Cut off my legs and call me Shorty, but YouTube doesn't have it, so I hope this communicates appropriate joy as well:

Monday, December 5, 2011

I say, Pickering, what do you suppose liberals really want?

This, by John Harwood, from back before Thanksgiving, clarified for me something I have never understood about self-denominated "centrists". It is about the meeting held at Tulane to game through the process of creating a deficit reduction plan under the guidance of Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici, representing the bourbon-drinking Ronald-Reagan-and-Tip-O'Neil wings of their respective parties, but it is printed in the ragged right style the Times adopts for things that are not intended to be a factual statement. Anyway, the setup is like this:
Democratic members, whose forebears created the entitlement programs that senior citizens cherish, really don’t want to cut them. But they fear that fiscal sanity requires it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Han dynasty death trip

Playing chicken.
As it happens, the willingness of the rich to defend their wealth from taxation to the point of national ruin is nothing new in world history, as Francis Fukuyama recounts in his magisterial new book The Origins of Political Order. The Han dynasty in China fell in the third century AD after aristocratic families with government connections became increasingly able to shield their ever-larger land holdings from taxation, which helped precipitate the bloody Yellow Turban peasant revolt. Nearly a millennium and a half later, the great Ming dynasty went into protracted decline in part for similar reasons: unable or unwilling to raise taxes on the landed gentry, the government couldn’t pay its soldiers and was overrun by Manchu invaders.


Except then they'd have to admit that spending is exactly what government is for.

Piece of (constituent) work

Matt Yglesias points out, quite correctly, on the subject of Republican House freshmen scrambling for just the kind of earmarks or lettermarks or fingermarks they have been denouncing with such Robespierrean fervor, that the projects they are trying to fund in their districts are mostly pretty decent ideas that deserve to be funded. Indeed, and let us go a tiny bit further and say that this is what your congresscritter is supposed to be doing for a living. I have never understood the horror expressed by a certain kind of reformist at your congressional earmark. I do understand why it is bad to fund the Bridge to Nowhere, or the project of the person who funds your campaign, with money that your voters are not going to see. But if your voters are going to see it, why not?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lots of people are quoting Texas governor Rick Perry on how the Great Recession is part of God's plan for America--
I think in America from time to time we have to go through some difficult times — and I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles of you know, you don’t spend all the money. You work hard for those six years and you put up that seventh year in the warehouse to take you through the hard times. And not spending all of our money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it’s slavery. We become slaves to government.
But hardly anybody seems to have noticed how deeply Perry has garbled the story from Genesis 41, and how the story is about God explicitly endorsing a high-tax welfare state.