Friday, April 30, 2010

Possible Clue To The Cause In A Halliburton Document

Scarecrow of FDL is a good interpreter of the document, a PowerPoint presentation from last November that has just come to light, for the nonspecialist reader. The presentation seems to indicate that Halliburton, which was responsible among other things for "'cementing' the drilling hole and the gaps between the hole and pipe" (as Scarecrow described it), was experienced at doing this in shallow water but was at the bleeding edge of the technology... had never attempted it before but was aware of some of the dangers... in deep water. I'll let Scarecrow tell you the rest.

If Halliburton was experimenting, and knew of the potential hazards upfront, and went forward despite possible consequences like... well, like what you've seen on your evening news lately, what degree of responsibility does Halliburton bear? Or is BP responsible for having given the go-ahead?

Worse And Worse: Spill Hits Land - UPDATED

This is so much worse than the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and the visible environmental damage so vast that I have yet to grasp the sheer scope of the problem. See the NY Times for details and pics; there is no need for me to repeat that stuff.

I have said it before, even back when I worked in the "awl bidness" for a while, and I'll say it again now: this must end. This is not an acceptable price to pay for energy. I hoped the Exxon Valdez would serve as a wake-up call; clearly I was naive even to hope that.

Last night I wrote President Obama a letter asking him to forgo the expanded offshore drilling he has proposed, and to put off all projected offshore drilling not already underway. Based on the article, his spokesman announced Obama is taking those necessary steps; please read the exact wording for yourself. The problem is that Obama so frequently makes grand announcements but does not follow through... sometimes by waving a hand at a solution without really exercising the leadership to make it happen; sometimes,,, regrettably... by simply forgetting about it. Apparently his administration feels no shame at simply not doing what Obama promised, and not just during the campaign.

I'll say it once more: offshore technology is unreliable, and no one seems to know a way of making it reliable. Things would be different if there weren't a number of other promising avenues for energy generation, other than burning oil. But given that there are options, we have no business continuing this activity that endangers our coastline.

This sort of incident is the primary reason I made a decision of conscience to stop working in the oil industry.

PRE-EMPTIVE STATEMENT: I am not so naive as to think offshore drilling is going to go away or be brought to a sudden halt. But perhaps we can pause it for long enough to approach it with something resembling sanity. Obama's current approach is as reckless as GeeDubya's ever was. We need to take a deep breath and actually solve some problems, even if some people lose some money in the process.

UPDATE: Sierra Club has issued a press release on the President's suspension of new offshore drilling. The PR also contains a list of basic facts about the spill, the rig and BP, the megacorporation that owns the problem rig.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Spill Five Times Worse Than Initially Estimated

And that's just what they're admitting to. NYT:
Size of Spill in Gulf of Mexico Is Much Larger Than Thought

Published: April 28, 2010

NEW ORLEANS — Government officials said late Wednesday night that oil might be leaking from a well in the Gulf of Mexico at a rate five times that suggested by initial estimates.

In a hastily called news conference, Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard said a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had concluded that oil is leaking at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day, not 1,000 as had been estimated. While emphasizing that the estimates are rough given that the leak is at 5,000 feet below the surface, Admiral Landry said the new estimate came from observations made in flights over the slick, studying the trajectory of the spill and other variables.

An explosion and fire on a drilling rig on April 20 left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. The rig sank two days later about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast.

If you ever wondered whether the oil industry is in business for your health, the answer is that it is... about to the same degree as the health insurance industry. We need to settle on and pursue an energy strategy that does not depend on offshore drilling, or even transport of oil in supertankers, before we have not only dead patches of ocean but also vast dead stretches of our beaches. Even viewed on a cost/benefit basis, offshore drilling is an exceptional risk for exceptionally little reward... perhaps another year's worth of oil, not enough to bet our coastal ecosystems on it.

Please ask President Obama to rescind his drill-baby-drill-offshore proposals and stop risking everything and everyone that lives along the coast... because that's exactly what he is proposing to do. The evidence is in the Gulf of Mexico right now.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

US Forest Service Campgrounds Run By Private Companies To Stick It To SENIORS

Yes, specifically to senior citizens. From the AARP News (listed online in the January issue, but it appeared in the March issue in my paper copy, by the same author, but with far less detail than online):
Forest Service Proposes Big Fee Increases for Older Campers
By: Chris Carroll  | Source: AARP Bulletin Today | January 25, 2010
Steep discounts that older Americans and people with disabilities have enjoyed for more than 40 years at national forest facilities would end soon under a proposal by the U.S. Forest Service.

Currently, holders of lifetime passes—known as Golden Age, Senior, Golden Access and Access passes—get 50 percent off camping fees. In 2008, the most recent year tallied, sales of the $10 lifetime passes to those 62 and over totaled 47,488—or 62 percent of all the passes sold. People with disabilities bought 11,991, or 15.7 percent of all the passes sold.

But private concession companies, which operate most National Forests campsites—including 82 percent of the reservable sites in 4,731 campgrounds nationwide—have told the government that with the proportion of older Americans growing, they can’t afford the discounts any longer.

I'm sorry... fuck that shit. Times are hard, and seniors typically need the discounts they have always had. Has Obama directed his USFS to balance the budget (which many seem downright obsessive on doing; read the news lately) on the backs of senior citizens? Or are USFS's private campground concession management companies just like the health insurance companies, indulging in sheer, unrestrained raking in of profits in the process of doing the taxpayers' business in hard times? I'm sorry; either way, it is a steaming pile of unacceptable bullshit.

AARP is not a political action group in the usual sense, so I'll have to dig further for an avenue for action. Clearly what is needed is some sort of relief from federal funds, say, a tiny sliver of the tax on income of the wealthiest 1% that always has vast wealth whatever the condition of the economy. If you find a proposal before I do, please post a comment here.

To GOPers, Nothing Is Sacred

They may be nominally the more religion-friendly of the two major parties, but in the real world, nothing is sacred to the GOP. Based on this, I believe they would steal their own mothers into poverty to gain themselves even a slight political advantage:
Report: CA Voters Tricked Into Registering As Republicans With Pot Petition
Justin Elliott | April 28, 2010, 8:39AM

Orange County authorities are launching an investigation into possible voter registration fraud after a local newspaper reported over a hundred cases of voters being tricked into registering as Republicans by petitioners who asked them to sign petitions for, among other causes, legalizing pot.

The Orange County Register reported last week that the Orange County District Attorney's office announced it would team up with the Secretary of State on the case, following a Register report that 99 written complaints were filed since March by voters who said they were registered as Republicans without their consent.

Another 74 voters reached by the Register said they, too, were unwillingly made members of the GOP.

In a lengthy investigation published earlier this month, the paper pointed to an $8 "bounty" offered by the California Republican Party for each new registration as a cause for the problems. It identified multiple petitioners who work for vendors "with ties to the California Republican Party." Back in 2006, a similar scandal led to the convictions of several petitioners.

You couldn't fine a Republican Party organization enough money to discourage them from doing the same thing again in a year or two. No, the only adequate punishment is the obvious one: Throw. Their. Butts. In. Jail. (But then they'd only be able to get better quality pot. Sigh!)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Quick Note - Sierra Club

I finally rejoined Sierra Club after several years away. Why? Well, they made me a really good offer, and threw a rucksack into the deal. Seriously, I've found myself reading their web publications more often as the environment goes to hell in a handbasket, and I know enough of the locals to know they are really quite good at both the field activities and legal actions an urban Sierra Club group must undertake.

Accordingly,  I've added SC president Carl Pope's blog to the blogroll. Regrettably it has no RSS feed, but it's worth a look anyway. I may as well make use of the online aspects of membership, as it is unlikely I could sit through a traditional meeting if my life depended on it.

Actually, I suppose all our lives depend on environmental activism now; Dog help us all. Sierra Club is letting people join for next-to-nothing now, so little, in fact, that even I can afford it... I'm afraid that's a sign of something very disturbing. Help them out if you can.

How To Cheer Yourself

It worked for me, at least, and I really needed it. It took a well-known blog with rather literary regulars, Making Light, for example, to start a series of "[x] walks into a bar" jokes on an open thread. There are almost a thousand such jokes there. What began as a really depressing evening has turned into an endless stream of merriment... even after only a hundred or so of the jokes. Of course, Kurt Vonnegut's legendary universal drink, gin and tonic, double strength, didn't hurt either, nor did Paul Simon's Graceland CD... but that thread had more effect than even the two-shot gin and tonic. Give it a try. (The thread, I mean; the thread...)

Note: keep a ROT13 decrypter handy. For the few of you who don't know what that is, search the web.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Afterthought On 'Ihre Papiere, Bitte'

This has appeared since my April 23 post in a few places, in this case, on TPM. If it weren't for the already awkward visual balance, I'd have placed this picture on the Right...

What Part Of 'Against The Law' Does Michael Steele Not Understand?

Zachary Roth of TPM shows us an RNC mailer that reminds us that there are really two kinds of Republicans... liars and goddamned liars:
Even After Law Aimed At Banning It, RNC Still Sending Misleading 'Census' Mailer
Zachary Roth | April 26, 2010, 9:38AM

The Republican National Committee is continuing to send out a misleading fundraising mailer labeled "Census Document," just weeks after Congress passed a law aimed at banning such mailers.


An RNC mailer obtained by TPMmuckraker bears the words "Census Document" and, in all caps, "DO NOT DESTROY/OFFICIAL DOCUMENT," on the outside of the envelope. In smaller letters, it says: "This is not a U.S. government document." The new law requires, among other things, that such mailers state the name and address of the sender on the outside of the envelope -- something the RNC's missive doesn't appear to do. Inside, a letter from RNC chair Michael Steele, dated April 12, asks recipients to fill out a questionnaire about their political views, and solicits donations of as much as $500 or more. (See the mailer here.)

Last month, in response to virtually identical RNC mailers, members of both parties cried foul, raising the concern that the mailers could reduce the response rate for the actual Census -- which was mailed to Americans last month -- by confusing some voters. ...

Indeed it does... still... look a lot like an official U.S. census document. And apparently it has caused some actual confusion in the field.

One can understand why the Republican Party would want the Census to fail: if everybody is counted, the denominator numbers for all kinds of allocations in the federal and state budgets are correct, people get their fair share, and Republicans are stuck with something resembling their fair representation in Congress. In politics, an accurate count is everything.

But fairness is not the Republican way. And if the RNC gets a few contributions in the process of disturbing the counts, that's just gravy for them. The RNC... this is not some anonymous 527 group sending bogus mailers before an election, this is the fucking Republican National Committee... first sends an illegal mailer resembling as closely as possible an official U.S. Census mailer (look at the damned thing; the link is in the TPM quote above), then, when caught and legally preempted from doing such a thing, promptly does it again.

This is so stupid it is beyond even my imagination of what Michael Steele would attempt... and I imagine him doing truly stupid things. Do they have him dead-to-rights enough this time at least to boot his butt out as party chair? or are we going to see the GOP managed... from jail? In many ways, the more appropriate punishment for the RNC would be a fine so large even they would notice.

The next question: was this crime the result of a conspiracy, i.e., did multiple members of the high Republican leadership know about this and authorize it? Now that would be really interesting to see the entire RNC run from prison like an organized crime gang in the heydey of RICO!


Reminder, to readers and to self: do not combine Alavert™ and alcohol. If you are at all like me, you will receive a hangover of a sort you have seldom seen in all your born days.

Yesterday we accomplished a real milestone: Stella and I took a "walk." Well, OK, Stella walked and pushed me in my wheelchair two blocks to the tiny pocket park (Helen's Park) that could have been a daily pleasure while we lived here had my old frame co-operated.

The trip was rough, and I had no experience with the jolts and unexpected slopes of street and sidewalk pavement. But the day was beautiful, and the park was everything I remembered. The air was full of some sort of pollen or ragweed, and of course typical Sunday afternoon auto emissions (not too bad in our neighborhood, but still, this is Houston), so I took an over-the-counter med for my typical Houston allergies. Apart from my usual grunting at hitting bumps, the trip was uneventful.

Then I foolishly had a couple of beers afterward. No, it was really only a couple.

This morning I feel as if I've been drafted to play harpsichord in that old Jethro Tull marathon, "Thick as a Brick" (yes, there is a harpsichord in there).


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sign Of The Times: The Irrefutable Reason

I was chatting on the phone with my good friend Ms. M. She is an octogenarian in good health, and out of necessity (and fortunately with considerable ability) works full-time at a job she has had for quite some years. Ms. M. described a recent story that seems both a message about the economic times we live in and a tale of the worst of these times, with one of the most deplorable participants in the workplace today.

Ms. M. had failed to receive her latest paycheck. Indeed, it was about a month late.

"Why are you holding my paycheck?" asked Ms. M.

"Because I can," answered her mean mother of a boss.

I guess you can't argue with that in these times. Welcome to the Republican era of deficit management: "borrow" your employees' funds to underwrite your own deficit. Don't set any cash on the table; it may walk off...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Missing Chucho

I've been reminiscing about some of the concert-going experiences of my slightly younger days. Tonight I'm focusing on a concert by the famed Cuban jazz pianist Chucho Valdés, in Houston's Hermann Park Miller Theater in the late Nineties or early Naughties... a concert I awaited in the audience, a concert that never took place, due to the interference of... the government of Cuba, right? No, because it was cut off, after promotion and with an audience awaiting, by... The Almighty U.S. State Department. That's right. Thanks presumably to Hell's denizen Sen. Jesse Helms, several hundred of us were deprived of the opportunity to hear Valdés. And that is what Helms accomplished for me in his lifetime: he "protected" me from Chucho Valdés.

Chucho has been to the U.S. many times since then, and I am happy to note he is still living and performing, a spring chicken at just a shade under 70 years old. For unrelated reasons, I will not be able to see him... concert-going is not an option for me these days... but it gives me joy to know he's out there and occasionally visiting us.

Jesse Helms is fucking dead, of course... may he be damned to the part of Hell so deep there's no music there, the racist bastard.

Enough about Helms. I'm going to return to listening to recordings... that's what I have available... of Chucho Valdés. One could do worse things with an evening!


David Kurtz of TPM:

Remember our old buddy Scott Bloch, the guy who headed up the Office of Special Counsel and allegedly summoned Geeks on Call to wipe his hard drive clean to conceal evidence from an inspector general's investigation? Who can forget.

Well, he's now been charged by the feds with contempt of Congress for failing to reveal to congressional investigators the whole story about his use of Geeks on Call. 
It's not nice to conceal evidence from Congress...

Chinese Food... It's What's For Disaster*

ellroon undertakes the prodigious task of listing every toxic disaster China has shipped us in the past few years. The list is interminable... and it's increasingly clear the Chinese government doesn't care. Indeed, they seem ready to place restrictions on food imported from America in retaliation for American restrictions on Chinese food products and other products already demonstrated to be toxic to humans.

How far can they go before we stop importing and eating their dangerous foods, playing with their lead-painted toys, etc.? I don't know, but I am certain they will not stop until we make it unprofitable to slip poisons into the foods they supply us. I have cut back almost entirely on my consumption of Chinese food... canned or takeout or anything that likely was imported from China... and I recommend you do the same thing, for the sake of your health and survival... and that of your children. There is too great a pattern here for any of us to risk ignoring it.

(*And you thought beef was bad...)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Moyers Interviews FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps On Net Neutrality


Bill Moyers just gets better as he approaches the end of his on-air career.

And we should all be grateful that we have Michael J. Copps as FCC Commissioner: without him, we could well find the internet owned and effectively controlled by the telecom's.

Don't expect AT&T, Comcast etc. to look out for anything other than their profits... and if they succeed in stifling our wide-open network with their "tollbooths" and their ability to control what content gets what bandwidth, you can forget about this wonderful platform on which we all communicate.

And America will be alone in the world in allowing these restrictions for pure corporate profit; I've seen our internet services ranked 27th in the world. Do you want to watch the American economy throttled, not just within your lifetime but in the next few years?

Please watch Copps and Moyers, and advise Obama that you want him to instruct the FCC to reclassify the internet as "communications" (which it was since the beginning until George W. Bush) instead of "information services" (Bush's little stick-in-your-ear that removes the FCC from its regulatory role over the 'net). The comfort of your children's golden years may depend on it.

Ihre Papiere, Bitte!

Arizona's Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a bill allowing police to stop people whom they have reasonable suspicion of being in the country illegally, demand proof of citizenship on the spot, and arrest them for a criminal act... at the state level. Here's Huffpo's Paul Davenport and Jonathan J. Cooper with this summary:
The legislation, sent to the Republican governor by the GOP-led Legislature, makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. It also requires local police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are illegal immigrants, allows lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws, and make it illegal to hire illegal immigrants for day labor or knowingly transport them.
Well, that's interesting. Gov. Brewer, how recently are your people "off the boat"? A long time ago? Can you prove it? Do you carry papers with you everywhere to prove it? Oh, I forgot, you're white; no one will stop you on suspicion of being an alien...

I don't know the consequences of this law... perhaps none, because it is surely unconstitutional, and even if not, the ridicule thrown at the Governor will soon become unbearable to her... but I do know that if truly implemented, this law will cause civil unrest. And justly so.

The Tea Party, Aptly Depicted

... by labor cartoonist Mike Konopacki.

(Mike has published six collections of labor cartoons, and worked with the late great Howard Zinn on an illustrated edition of A People's History. Gary Huck is the only full-time cartoonist employed by a union. Out of respect, I'm not violating their copyright. Go to their site; their cartoons are at once funny and exasperating.)

Greenwald's Assessment Of The Beltway Crowd

Wow. Does Greenwald nail it or what?
... Beltway denizens play various assigned roles -- this one reads from the Journalist script, that one poses as a legislator, this one's a Democrat and that one's a Republican, the one over there is a regulator, this one is a lobbyist, etc. -- but they all feed from the same trough, and their sole allegiance is to their decadent, insular, endlessly nepotistic, and deservedly dying pseudo-aristocratic culture, and to one another.  ...
Is journalism alive? is it independent of those it reports on? can we trust anyone to tell us the straight story on anything, when the media has that kind of relationship with the government officials on whom it allegedly reports?

Personally, I have to answer those questions "No, no and no." We live in parlous times, and the media is no help.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Canceling Insurance For Women Who Get Sick

WellPoint Targets Breast Cancer Patients For Recision
By: Jane Hamsher Thursday April 22, 2010 9:00 am

Federal investigators have told Reuters that WellPoint, the country’s largest insurance company, is using an algorithm to target women with breast cancer for the express purpose of dropping their coverage.

Murray Waas writes that WellPoint “specifically targeted women with breast cancer for aggressive investigation with the intent to cancel their policies”:


Traditionally, insurance is the assumption of risk, uncertain but statistically predictable across a population, for a fee. What WellPoint is doing is using more statistics on its customer population to remove the uncertainty for some individuals, take their money... and drop their coverage anyway.

Call it what you will, theft, fraud, etc., what WellPoint is committing is both unconscionable and criminal. Their executives should rot in jail for a long time. And former WellPoint VP Liz Fowler, who literally wrote Sen. Max Baucus's part of the healthcare "reform" legislation, should find herself banned from all contact with anyone in Washington for the rest of her life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hatfill And Ivins: FBI Intimidation And Willful Fraud On Americans Re: 9/11

Greenwald has the details, as he so often does. The short version: Bruce Ivins is being blamed because he committed suicide in the face of extreme FBI pressure; Steven Hatfill refused to give them his life like that, but has had his life effectively ruined for not "cooperating" (i.e., committing suicide). Apparently, that's how it is if you encounter the FBI: you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. And the case, in real life, remains unsolved, no matter what the Bureau says.

I've posted many civil liberties articles over the past few years, some having to do with 9/11 and a lot that don't. This is one of the single most important articles I've seen on the subject: please read it (it's too involved to summarize here) and vow to yourself never to let the matter drop, no matter what the Bushes and Cheney did, and no matter what Obama is still doing. This one is important to America's future: don't let go of it.

Review: Cat Of The Century

Rita Mae Brown.
I almost wrote "Rita Mae Down" because the latest effort by Rita Mae Brown is a depressing bit of work, laden with frequent sententious and pretentious right-wing rants delivered by several of the characters. The content is sufficiently and needlessly political that the politics is a real distraction from Ms. Brown's otherwise well-crafted mystery plot. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, Brown may as well have simply told us to join the Tea Party and be done with it. I, for one, don't see why there should be heavy political content in a cozy cat mystery; it's out of place, and there are cat-mystery lovers of every political stripe.

I dutifully read to the end because the "Fairchild Alumni Center" mentioned a few times in the book is named after the late mother of our friend Catherine Fairchild: her mother had much to do with William Woods University* in her lifetime, and Catherine loaned me the book. Thank goodness for that; I am relieved to have saved my $15.21 for the hardbound edition... or should that be "hidebound edition"? ... and I recommend you do the same.

To date, I have collected all of the Mrs. Murphy series. I shall not seek them out again. Let Ms. Brown draw her readership from the Tea Party set instead.

* Corrected per Catherine Fairchild's reminder: her mother was very active at and in behalf of William Woods University, not Mr. Woods himself. - SB

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Another Clarification

Once again, a clarification for those who may have confused these items:

Golden Sax

Goldman Sachs

This message has been a public service of the Yellow Something Something.

Krugman offers the best discussion I've seen online of the possibilities of What Allowed the Fraud and Where We Go From Here. I don't know. It seems to me that raw greed by Wall Street operators and egregious neglect of duty by the SEC (until now) are sufficient explanation, and the question in my mind is not so much how to fix what's broken, but rather whether it can be fixed.

I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach that reminds me of the S&L scandal in the 1980s and 1990s. Yes, I know: the wiki tells me I should call it the "S&L crisis" but believe me, it was a scandal. We got a recession out of that one, too, and many of us sat back in horror, watching financial institutions engaging in practices our mothers would have warned us against (and making out like bandits in doing so), and... then as now... endangering our retirements. In those days, retirement was, for me, a lot further off, and there seemed to be time to recover. But with enough government financial regulators winking at enough institutional bad behavior, we find ourselves back in the same position today. If the phrase "too big to fail" seems familiar to your ears, that's because it isn't new. Wall Street is still broken, and Wall Street has screwed us ordinary mortals again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Diane Wood: Why She Is Not Obama's Candidate For The Supreme Court

This is not an in-depth post on Wood and her many excellent qualifications to sit on the Court; for that, I recommend Glenn Greenwald's post. But one thing Greenwald wrote provoked a thought in me, and the more I pondered it, the more it bothered me.

Here's the line from Greenwald:
Wood's ability to craft legal opinions to induce conservative judges to join her opinions is renowned, as is the respect she commands from them through unparalleled diligence and force of intellect.
And here's my question:
Who would NOT want such a Justice on the Court, and why?
Here's a possibility: Forty-one members of the U.S. Senate... and the President of the United States... want the Court to stay "broken," dysfunctional, unable to render independent reasonable decisions or reach consensus, because such a state of the Court enhances the real power of the Congress and the presidency at the expense of the Court. In other words, are we witnessing the deliberate weakening of one of our essential three branches of government, brought about by the other two branches?

Scary thought, eh?

Cause And Effect

Iranian clerics have an interesting perspective on that relationship, especially when it comes to immodest women and their link to... earthquakes???

Monday, Apr 19, 2010 11:06 EDT
Iranian cleric: Immodest women cause quakes

Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi issues a warning about seismically slutty dames

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Reuters/Eduardo Munoz//Salon

Amid all the recent speculation over what only feels like an unusual number of earthquakes around the world, an Iranian cleric has offered a novel explanation for the source of seismic activity: promiscuous women. Unless Iranians "take refuge in religion" and "adapt our lives to Islam's moral codes," they can expect to be "buried under the rubble," said Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, a senior cleric, during Friday prayers in Tehran. As usual, these moral responsibilities are projected onto women's bodies: "Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes," he said.

Just two weeks ago, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad predicted a devastating earthquake in the country's capital and called for "at least 5 million" to relocate. The thing is, Iran does sit on some major fault lines, and experts have long warned of a catastrophic quake in Tehran. ...


OK. Let's do some comparisons...

Here is a world map of earthquakes (NASA/GSFC), a very topographical-looking cylindrical projection (I think). For correspondence and so that I don't have to learn Google Maps better to create an overlay, here is a world political map ( Just for good measure, here is another world map of earthquakes (USGS), this one much more typically map-like and flat-looking, intended for use in explaining plate tectonics.

Had enough of world maps yet? We're almost done with them. Oh, I almost forgot: Here is an earthquake map of Iran, Google-simplified to point out only the big ones.

So, let's return to immodest women. (I am always happy to return to immodest women!)

Where are most of the earthquakes on those maps? Well, there's the West Coast of the United States... the East Coast, not so much, but I think we can agree that if Cleric Kazem (forgive me; his name is irrelevant, but I need something shorter to call him) is correct about the connection with earthquakes, that almost all the women on the West Coast must parade around 99 percent undressed at least half the time. Then there's the West Coast of South America: it must be similarly populated almost exclusively with gals perpetually unclad. Again, not so much the East Coast, though Rio has had more than a few earthquakes over the past century... hey, we wouldn't want the traditionally scantily clad Girl from Ipanema to be left out! (Calm down... Astrud Gilberto is anything but scantily clad in this video. Completely covered, and performing more stiffly than I remember ever seeing her, is what she is in this video.) let's look at Iran! (See links to maps at top of post.) Now answer the question, Mister Kazem: where are the women sluttier, more immodest, etc. than on the West Coast of the U.S.? Right. Good job you're doing over there!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

'Unlimited Energy' Promised, This Time Through Photosynthesis

Remember those Fifties movies on atomic power, "too cheap to meter," providing "unlimited energy" to all of us? At the time, only one teeny-tiny problem remained to be solved; remember how that has worked out? Well, here we go again:
Published on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 by The Independent/UK

Breakthrough as US Researchers Replicate Photosynthesis in Laboratory
GM viruses offer hope of future where energy is unlimited

by Steve Connor

Scientists have made a fundamental breakthrough in their attempts to replicate photosynthesis - the ability of plants to harvest the power of sunlight - in the hope of making unlimited amounts of "green" energy from water and sunlight alone.

The researchers have assembled genetically modified viruses into wire-like structures that are able to use the energy of the sun to split water molecules into their constitute parts of oxygen and hydrogen, which can then be used as a source of chemical energy.

If the process can be scaled up and made more efficient, it promises to produce unlimited quantities of hydrogen fuel, a clean source of energy that can be used to generate electricity as well as acting as a portable, carbon-free fuel for cars and other vehicles.

Replicating photosynthesis - in which plants convert sunlight into a store of chemical energy - has been a dream of the alternative energy business for decades. ...

Oh, indeed, it has. And... forgive me if I offer a prediction... it will remain so for decades, along with cold fusion, clean coal, and of course safely disposable waste from ordinary (fission) nuclear power plants. How many times must I say it: nothing... no political process, no scientific discovery and no feat of engineering is going to save us from ourselves. We must do it on our own, probably in small, incremental steps. I'd love to be proved wrong, but the only breakthrough in power generation I expect to see in my lifetime is when Uncle Stumblestep, attempting to put up solar panels, breaks through the weak patch on the roof.

I wish them luck. The process may provide unlimited energy, or it may not. (Where will all that energy go? how will it dissipate once it's released as heat after it drives a motor or a light for a while?) But it will not solve all our problems, and we need to rein in our media-driven expectations, focus our energies (so to speak), and institute some serious conservation measures.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Friday Goat Blogging

The people and goats of Polymeadows Farm:

If you live in Vermont, or at least in the Northeast, check out their products. You say you don't like goat's milk? Think again. Treat yourself to one of their maple smoothies... mmm! Ken and Anne (see post upstream) were kind enough to have some of the yogurt and a couple of smoothies shipped to me refrigerated (it's not yet regularly available in Texas), and I'm ready to move to Vermont (yes, winters and all) just for proximity to this wonderful dairy farm!

(Photo "borrowed" from Anji Johnston, to whom thanks... hey, it's free advertising. Click picture to enlarge. See web site for more info. And please, please, readers, treat yourselves to some of that Polymeadows Farm yogurt!)

GOP Plans Own Demise: Prepares To Filibuster Financial Reform

Heh. For Republicans, in an election year, this is nuts. If only Senate Dems don't screw this up...

Yet Another Reason...

... to avoid dealing with Apple if at all possible:

Apple App Store Bans Pulitzer-Winning Satirist for Satire
By Ryan Singel ... April 15, 2010  | 7:07 pm  | Categories: Media

Editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore may be good enough to win this year’s Pulitzer Prize, but he’s evidently too biting to get past the auditors who run Apple’s iPhone app store, who ruled that lampooning public figures violated its terms of service.

Fiore irked Apple’s censorious staffers with his cartoons making fun of the Balloon Boy hoax and the pair that famously crashed a White House party, according to Laura McGann at the Neiman Journalism Lab.

So they can't take Fiore, the funniest political animator out there. Their new company slogan must be, "Apple... No Damn Sense of Humor."

J.K. Rowling Writes... Politics?!???

Yes, she does... a forthright, well-researched, well-supported treatment of the issue of the frequent poverty in which single parents must live. Rowling's first husband died divorced her, leaving her with a child, and she knows the worst of bleak, hopeless poverty... firsthand. Far from poor now, she responds as the whole world attends to what she says... and when she responds, she says it so very, very well. No surprise there, I suppose!

Did I mention she has proclaimed her intention to continue her unbroken record of never voting Tory? Does that sound anything like a certain YSS's long-ago proclamation that he will never, ever again vote for a Republican?

(Corrected after initial posting - SB)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Obama DOJ Prosecutes NSA Whistleblower

... but not the NSA crooks from the Bush administration themselves. Intimidating, no? Greenwald has details.

(Laptop display is holding up, but I'd better let it cool for a while now.)

Laptop Display Problems

Earlier this afternoon, my laptop display blanked and stayed blank. I think the computer overheated. It's working now, but I have no confidence I'll be able to surf and blog from this seat, and doing so from anywhere else (e.g., my desktop computer) is a bit of a physical challenge right now. If you don't see me for a few days, that's why. On the other hand, maybe I'll resolve one or another issue and continue posting as usual. I just don't know.

Is Liberalism Dead, Or Does It Just Smell Funny?

Sam Smith gives us a lot to agree with, a lot to disagree with, and in general a lot to think about in his essay, Liberalism is Dead. Time to Move On. It's long but definitely worth a read.

H/T Susie Madrak, who remarks, "This isn’t just about winning. What do you want to win for?"

(Lower) Tax Day - UPDATED

You wouldn't know it by the systematic lies perpetrated by the GOP, but you are probably in one of the 98% of working families who are paying lower taxes now that Democrats are in power. AP:
Tax Day rhetoric aside, Americans' bills are lower

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER (AP) – 11 hours ago

WASHINGTON — You wouldn't know it by the Tax Day rhetoric, but Americans are paying lower taxes this year, even with increases passed by many states to balance their budgets. Don't expect it to last.

Congress cut individuals' federal taxes for this year by about $173 billion shortly after President Barack Obama took office, dwarfing the $28.6 billion in increases by states.

Face it: all conventional wisdom to the contrary, the GOP is the party of higher taxes. They need the money to support their endless invasive wars, their no-bid sweet deals with their cronies, their so-called faith-based programs, their nonfunctional abstinence-only family planning proselytizing and their own personal greed. Oh, and they need it to service the debt on all the programs they instituted off-budget, leaving the cost to be borne by later administrations and later generations. Do not be deceived. The GOP is the party of higher taxes.

(Small editorial update inserted moments after initial posting. - SB)

Afterthought: I got to thinking about Ohlemacher's "[d]on't expect it to last." Put aside the obvious transformation of the AP into a conservative-leaning news organization that feels compelled to take GOP-style potshots at Obama on every possible occasion, and notice that no sane person would expect it to last, considering the eight years of profligate spending by the Cheney/Bush administration, truly adolescents on a spree with their parents' credit cards. At some point, higher taxes are inevitable; the real question, which AP would never address, is whether Barack Obama will follow through on his campaign promises to redistribute that inevitable tax burden away from working families and toward the wealthiest Americans. But the entity that was once merely "the wire" has become an opinion-news vendor, along with CNN and yes, Fox. It's a sad fact for those of us old enough to remember "the wire."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Primary Runoff Results (Yawn)

As the ever-useful Charles Kuffner notes, there were few if any surprises: election results mostly tracked early voting results. I was happy to note that Republicans managed to oust one of the State Board of Education's scariest right-wing nut-jobs (yes, there have been several) at the primary level.

Other than that, who knew that so many people in both parties actually want to be local judges!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Primary Runoff; Today's Good Grammar Award

Today is the day of the runoff election in Texas for the Democratic and Republican party primaries. All the basic information can be found at the personal web site of State Rep. Scott Hochberg (D-137). Please note that the polling place at which you usually vote may be closed: only some are open, because of the expected light turnout.

An aside: Hochberg was my state representative for about a decade and is himself the model of what an elected official can be if s/he is deeply committed to actual public service... and (in Rep. Hochberg's case) very, very bright.

Rep. Hochberg also wins today's good grammar award for the following excerpt from a broadcast email about the primary runoff:
If you voted in one party's primary last month, you can vote only in the same party's runoff. 

Nine of ten people would have said "only vote," leading one to think that one can only vote in it, not put up signs for it, follow returns for it, etc. Not Scott: he got it just right. In English, word order can make all the difference.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Why The Banner Quote?

Who is Ken Weiss? and what is he doing in my banner quote, offering a commentary on the evo/devo subject du jour? Ken Weiss is a department head at Penn State (anthropology, if I remember right). He and his equally brilliant and similarly credentialed spouse, Anne Buchanan Weiss, are two of the most astute commentators on the practice of biological science in the world today, and they blog together on The Mermaid's Tale,, which you may have noticed in the blogroll. The Mermaid's Tale is also the title of their latest book, The Mermaid's Tale: Four Billion Years of Cooperation in the Making of Living Things.

Did I mention that I'm proud to have worked for Ken and with Anne as one of his programmers for many years a couple of decades ago?

These people are the real deal, practicing scientists as well as philosophers and critics of science. Read and learn.

Creative Writing Award For The Day

From commenter antiprop1 on a thread at Huffington Post debating nuclear disarmament:
Once Oppenheimer opened Pandora's box, the cat was out of the bag.
Hmm... post-Schrödinger, I thought that... dead or alive... the cat was in the box...

I'll Drink To That

HOJE-TAASTRUP, Denmark—Michael Christiansen, a truck driver turned union representative, is fighting hard to preserve one of the last, best perks of the beer industry: the right to drink on the job.

Mr. Christiansen's union brethren are wort boilers, bottlers, packers and drivers at Carlsberg A/S, Denmark's largest brewer. For a century, they've had the right to cool off during a hard day's work with a crisp lager.

But on April 1, the refrigerators were idled and daily beer spoils were capped at three pint-sized plastic cups from a dining hall during lunch hour.

"This is a right workers have had for 100 years," Mr. Christiansen says. "Carlsberg has taken it away without any negotiating at all."

Of course, it's the union aspect of this story that attracts me. It has nothing to do with what it must be like to live in a country in which such a dispute is even possible... oh, no, not at all. Nothing to do with three cold ones a day while I work. Nothing... [/snark]

H/T Susie Madrak.

The Last Laugh

This sign must have been in place since before the days of the internet:

Friday, April 9, 2010

Basketball Team Drinks, Gets Thoroughly Pissed

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
Saginaw High cheerleaders disciplined for giving teammates sodas with urine

12:00 AM CDT on Friday, April 9, 2010

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Several Saginaw High School cheerleaders have been disciplined for giving teammates sodas mixed with urine.

Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD officials declined to specify how many students were involved but said at least two girls were given in-school suspensions and others lesser punishments. They will not be allowed to participate in cheerleading events through the end of the school year but will be allowed to participate next school year.

The incident occurred during a basketball game last winter, according to a parent of one of the students who drank the soda. He said at least one cheerleader urinated into a cup and mixed the urine into drinks. Other cheerleaders encouraged her to give the tainted sodas to teammates.


Best hed comes from Jonathan Turley, who begins his headline,


CROSS-CULTURAL NOTE:  "pissed" (American English) means 'really angry'; "pissed" (British English) means 'really drunk'.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

American Tune

"We can't be forever blessed." - Paul Simon, "American Tune"

(NOTE: earlier references to IE8 problems were resolved when I replaced a more than five-year-old Adobe Flash player with the current one. I had long since done that in Firefox, but apparently not in IE.)

Gitmo In America

Yes, specifically in Illinois. The Obama administration appears to intend to reconstruct the essence of Guantanamo in the Thomson Correction Center facility, and is looking into purchasing (already has purchased?) that facility for the purpose. [UPDATE: the Pentagon is seeking $350 million as part of its Afghanistan funding to use in purchasing the facility.] As Spencer Ackerman says in the linked article,
According to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the plan to close Guantanamo in December, the facility will house detainees either convicted by military commissions or held in some form of indefinite detention without charge. To civil libertarians, that would entrench some of the most intolerable legal abuses of Guantanamo Bay in the name of ending it, rendering the shutdown of the facility Pyrrhic at best and misleading at worst. 
 Wonderful. Our own little due-process-free black hole, right in the middle of America. It gives you a warm feeling, doesn't it, thinking of all those people held indefinitely without charge or trial, without an opportunity to show their innocence... right here in the middle of what used to be America. Such a black hole would, I am certain, eventually suck all our liberties into it, no matter who we are, American citizens included (see downstream post here).

As a free and just society... we are done for. Welcome to the end of our era.

Obama Targets American Citizen For Assassination - UPDATED

Earlier, the Obama administration claimed the right to target American citizens abroad for assassination, without charge, without trial, without formal evidence of criminal acts... in other words, without due process as required by the Constitution. Now they've actually ordered an assassination under this policy:

Reports: US OKs radical US-born cleric for death

The Associated Press
Wednesday, April 7, 2010; 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration has authorized the killing of a radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen believed to be hiding in Yemen and thought to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the U.S. to participating in them, according to published reports.

Al-Awlaki has emerged as a prominent al-Qaida recruiter and has been tied by U.S. intelligence to the 9/11 hijackers, along with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, as well as Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people in November at Fort Hood, Texas.

Somebody has to say it: to the best of our knowledge, even George Bush and Dick Cheney never did this.

Now, if you're an American citizen abroad, and Obama says you're a terrorist, you're a terrorist, and may be assassinated on sight, no matter what you have or have not done, and no matter if you are or are not engaging in hostilities against the United States when you are assassinated. Your Fifth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and arguably Eighth Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution are utterly forfeit. Perhaps the most sacred aspect of your American citizenship... your right to due process under law... is stripped from you by presidential decree alone.

America is no longer America. How long will it be before this purported presidential power will be used in response to Americans abroad who are merely critical of this President or a future President? ComposeLet me re-emphasize: it does not matter what a citizen has done. Even an American citizen accused of treason gets a trial.

Until now.

God save the United States of America. It seems no one else will.

UPDATE: It's all confirmed. Heaven help us all.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

'The Dog Ate It' - UPDATED

How many times do they expect the so-called journalists covering this war to believe and publish this kind of crap?
Military can't find its copy of Iraq killing video

AP News
Apr 06, 2010 20:37 EDT

The U.S. military said Tuesday it can't find its copy of a video that shows two employees of the Reuters news agency being killed by Army helicopters in 2007, after a leaked version circulated the Internet and renewed questions about the attack.

Capt. Jack Hanzlik, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said that the military has not been able to locate the video within its files after being asked to authenticate the version available online.


What's that? one more time? Oh, well, OK then; I'll believe it... I haven't renewed my Journalist's Utter Wuss  License this month yet; I need a few more toady credits with the military...

Dog-DAMN, where do our so-called journalists come from these days? Why didn't they call "bullshit" the moment the brass made their dog-ate-my-homework statement?

UPDATE: The Wikileaks site Collateral Murder contains the full-length documentary. Ugh.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Federal Court Ruling: Comcast 1, Net Neutrality 0 - UPDATED

Net neutrality lost big-time in the federal appeals court for DC. This is the worst possible news for... well, for you, who obviously spend time viewing Web content.

Net neutrality is the short name for the tradition, reinforced until now by FCC policy and/or regulation, that internet providers and carriers must serve all material to end users at the same rate. Simply put, content from the Yellow Something Something must be served to you upon request at the same transmission rate as Google and the New York Times.

Now, under this ruling, Comcast, a major carrier of internet data, may set up a schedule of fees and say to Web content providers, "pay up, or we'll put your content to the end of the line." Comcast sued with the intention of doing just that if it won in court.

It did. It will.

Google and the NYT will have to pay up, but they'll manage, passing on their costs to us. Bloggers and similar ne'er-do-wells... well, they'll probably lose readership as people discover that they have time to go get coffee while the Yellow Something Something loads in their browser.

Congress can, of course, pass a net neutrality law, fixing in statute what was merely policy and FCC tradition before. But the telecom industry (e.g. Comcast) is a veritable gravy train of campaign contributions to members of Congress and presidential candidates. I wouldn't hold my breath.

Please view the hypothetical end-user internet service pricing ad at the end of the linked article. It's an eye-popping vision of what we are likely to see if this issue is unaddressed.

(Minor changes made moments after posting.)

UPDATE: there may be another way to protect net neutrality other than a new statute... but regrettably it will require (ulp) courage on the part of Obama's FCC chair. Stay tuned.
UPDATE: more on this approach, from Free Press's Save the Internet program.


For anyone who may have confused these items:

Egg Roll

Egg Roll

This message has been a public service of the Yellow Something Something.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Typo Of The Week

From Jonathan Turley's blog (new to the blogroll here), a truly monumental typo in a headline:

Monumental Failure? Senegal Trades Land to North Korea For Massive Statute Designed By President — Jesse Jackson Applauds Result

In Turley's defense, I assume he writes a lot more about statutes than statues.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Another Obama-Driven Environmental Nightmare

You've read about Obama's relaxing of the offshore drilling regulations, but did you know about the Obama administration's decision to defend in court the Bush administration's regulation allowing unlimited dumping of hard rock mining waste on public land?

The hits just keep coming.

Little Fricassees For Your Cat

Catherine sends a link; BoingBoing provides the YouTube video of this very Sixties-looking Little Friskies commercial. And if you really want to take yourself back, there's a psychedelic remix. (Peter Max, what are you doing these days?)
Catherine says her cats don't get this cat food. I remarked that she should be grateful... all those turkeys and fish are bound to leave an awful mess!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Happy Spring Holiday Of Your Choice

For many (not for me), that's Easter. Happy Easter, if this Sunday is when your calendar places Easter.

If you're devout, celebrate secure in the knowledge that you have the approval and sometimes admiration of one whose religion, unlike yours, posits no concept of Hell, no damnation, universal salvation (that's for everyone, no exceptions) and one deity in one part who's just not all that mean. Enjoy your salvation; I see everyone as pre-saved. I'll stay out of the way for Your Day. I do identify with the notion of someone (Jesus) who cared so much about his people that he was willing to sacrifice his life to save them (as he saw it); now that's true commitment.

If you are not devout, or simply areligious, go easy on the chocolate eggs and bunnies...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blog Wars, Nothin' But Blog Wars...

Avedon  expresses about as compactly as possible the elements of the latest Blog Wars between the Greenwald/Hamsher faction, which has established a PAC, and the dKos faction, which seems determined to use innuendo to cast aspersions on any liberal blogger who either (a) earns part of his or her living from the blog, (b) gets paid anything at all for work done in behalf of "the cause," or (most significantly) criticizes Obama in any way. The whole business is regrettable, and is certain to reduce the total effectiveness of both the Democratic and the Progressive blogosphere in the political arena. It seems that does not matter to some people.

Mine has never been more than a tiny individual blog, nor have I sought anything grander; in theory, I don't have a doggerel in this race. But I have a stake in political outcomes and inevitably in the means employed to bring them about. I cannot help having feelings about it when the suggestion is made that people either contribute their usually paid skills for free or sacrifice time in which they otherwise could be doing paid work to work pro bono instead for progressive causes, or else be accused of not being dedicated to "the cause." Avedon names writers and artists as targets of this (usually but not always well-intended) expectation; to that short list I would add IT professionals and sometimes musicians (there are doubtless others I have inadvertently omitted). If you're not on that list, you may be amazed at what people will ask you to do for free, and how indistinguishable it is from what you do for a living. In my experience, most people who ask are not on the list themselves... why am I not surprised.

Let's face it: blogging will not save the world, or even the nation. If you want to save our collapsing political system, you have really only two choices:
  • Phone-bank, block-walk and (if appropriate and possible) contribute money to individual candidates you think might help. It's all very labor-intensive, but I did my share of it before my feet went south, and it's the only thing an ordinary American can do that has an actual effect on outcomes. The effectiveness of shoe leather is only marginally greater than that of spitting in the wind, but people do notice who's at their front door or on their phone... and they truly do not give a damn what you post on your individual blog.
  • Support someone like Hamsher and Greenwald (through their Accountability Now PAC) to do some of your homework for you. The results of doing this are even dicier than of helping individual candidates yourself, but it gives some sense (rightly or wrongly) of extending one's reach nationally in a way that few of us can manage on our own. 
Here ends the sermon for the day. I suppose it is futile to ask the big players to put away their light sabers, but I hope that in this blog war, as in all that have gone before it, something resembling sanity prevails before the combatants (yes, particularly the dKos crowd) look around and see nothing but spited faces and cut-off noses.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Court: Bush Wiretapping Illegal - UPDATED

No fooling! Keith Olbermann interviews James Risen:
H/T Blue Texan.

UPDATE: Greenwald has a worthwhile analysis and many useful links to related commentary.

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