Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year, whenever yours arrives!

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New Dept. Rules -- pharmacist took away my benfotiamine (synth b1), will dispense it to me by dose. Ctl freak!

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Saw Harry Potter/Phoenix last night. Worthy effort; deserves big-scrn viewing.

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Never Been In Jail -- but being in-hospital seems likely similar.

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TX Heads 4 Drought - rd abt it in Hou Comical (no web 4 me) - even GOPers scared!

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Saturday, December 29, 2012

No censor- techno glitch, dammit. Wish i were @ home (sigh)...

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My latest post censrd by ma bell. Expl del.

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Rehab For Dummies! Ins co denied coverage for real rehab, even while admitting I qualify. Still, things to learn here.

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Rehab For Dummies! Ins co denied coverage for hardcore real rehab, even while admitting I qualify. Still, things to lea

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

BREAKING! — Ins co stiffs post-surgical patient on rehab! Shocking news! (not!)

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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Waiting — wait, wait, wait to be xferred to rehab, if ins co approves. Good news but long wait!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thanks all for yr kind wishes. Merry Christmas to u all!

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Foot Taller

Therapy today... Walked about 50 steps on walker. Foot + leg small but promising. Miles to go before I walk for real...

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Steve is a foot shorter

That is, he is short one foot.  He had surgery today, and he was back in his room doing well according to a message I received at 3:19 PM.  George

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Footloose Part 2

Reader: Steve asked me to fill in for him from time to time for a while – he expects to be unable to blog-post for about two weeks. The following is my less-than-perfect attempt to echo his words this evening. George Batten

A couple of weeks ago, perhaps a little less, I suddenly started feeling extreme pain in my right foot – the one that was already troublesome; i.e., the one with the boot. After some visits with physicians – my usual one and a DO – I was eventually sent to the clinic at Memorial Herman Hospital (MHH) to be diagnosed for something more severe. Ultimately, this led to my being admitted to MHH, and to a decision that I am reasonably happy with: the foot will be amputated on Thursday.

As you can imagine, this was not a simple decision, and I did not make it without a lot of discussion with professionals of the medical profession. It is possible to have reconstructive surgery done, but people with my condition that have had that generally have had more problems than those who have had the amputation. An amputation seems to terminate the infection. In my case, the surgery will take off the lower part of the limb starting about halfway up to the knee.

After surgery on Thursday, I will start rehabilitation with a clean start (perhaps I should say a clean “end”). I feel that I have about half the staff at MHH helping me, and it seems that I will be seeing them at MHH for a couple of weeks. While that is an exaggeration, the team helping me does have five members. One good thing is that, according to the team, after all of this I will be able to drive. One bad thing is that during the two weeks I probably will not be posting on this blog – George will do some for me.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

When Feet Go Bad

... they go really bad, in a hurry. Later today I am going to a hospital ER for some tests of the extent of the wound in my foot. This is a very recent episode, but initial impressions are not very good. I may be away from blogging for a few days if the hospital admits me. Apologies and thanks to all who have made me a part of your daily reading; I have no choice but to do this. I will show Stella how to post to the blog in case anything of note happens while I am incapacitated. With luck, this, too, shall pass, and I shall not.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Joe Lieberman Leaves - Few Notice

Joe Lieberman made his farewell speech to the Senate. People who knew him found reasons to be elsewhere. I'm sure they were good reasons...

What was Lieberman's worst flaw?

I could rail on about his party-hopping shenanigans to keep his Senate seat. I could complain of his sententiousness. I could gripe that he was really Joe Lieberman (Likud-CT). But no, his worst is none of those...


Now there's a "moral handicap" to send him to the deepest levels of Hell!

Good riddance to bad rubbish. I am sorry I ever voted for him even once.

Supreme Court: Possible Outcomes On Prop. 8

Sahil Kapur of TPM outlines the possibilities. There are some twists, e.g., lower courts unexpectedly granted the right to appeal the law to the originators of Prop. 8... not the California government, which declined to defend it... and the Supremes may decide they didn't have standing. So the article is worth a read.

I'll add only one observation. We say casually that the Supreme Court "decides" the constitutionality of a law. But at least two Supreme Court members, Scalia and Thomas (who almost always votes with Scalia), and possibly more, have already made up their minds, and Scalia is even talking about it. If that isn't questionable judicial ethics, I don't know what is... broadcasting one's pre-judgment of a case before even hearing it. But The Fat Over-aged Catholic Choirboy will push the limits, and apparently no one sees fit to try to stop him. So I am confident there are two votes on the Court to reinstate Prop. 8 before proceedings even begin.

This is the most politicized Supreme Court ever, and it was created that way by a succession of Republican presidents nominating Justices well right-of-center who lied their way through confirmation hearings to gain seats on the bench. If, over a long enough time period, Democrats nominate judicial moderates and Republicans nominate off-the-wall right-wing nut-jobs, the bench will tilt so far to the right that the building's stability will be endangered. That is where we stand today. No president ever nominates new Justices as far to the left as virtually all Republican nominees are to the right. So for a while we're stuck with a Court of wing-nuts appointed to serve an agenda.

Let me say for the record that ruling Prop. 8 constitutional would be an injustice on a massive scale affecting our most personal of rights: the right to formalize legal recognition of our most intimate partnerships. Tens of thousands of gay people have already gotten married in California alone: stating now that the law grants none of the legal benefits of marriage to gay couples legally married is reneging on a fundamental, once presumed irrevocable, promise. If we cannot depend on the government to keep its bargains, what can we depend on?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Foot Note

I am in a LOT of pain these days. I am barely mobile for things like getting to the kitchen for food and to the bathroom for necessities. I may not feel much like blogging the next day or two. Or ten. Or a hundred. This is the worst it's been so far. I'll be here when I can.

Ravi Shankar (1920-2012)

Master sitarist and improviser par excellence Ravi Shankar died yesterday at age 92. (See also the wiki.) The cause was announced by the Ravi Shankar Foundation:
Shankar had suffered from upper-respiratory and heart issues over the past year and underwent heart-valve replacement surgery last Thursday. Though the surgery was successful, recovery proved too difficult for the 92-year-old musician.

Quick, now... name another famous Indian musician. Still thinking? So was I! Shankar was far and away the most famous of India's virtuosi from my youth until his death. That kind of fame doesn't come without a reason or two. In his case, he was audibly virtuosic, reputedly personable, jammed with violinist Yehudi Menuhin, taught the Beatles for a while (and manifestly influenced their music), recorded a great deal, and continued to perform until last year... they don't make 'em any sturdier than that. He was also father of Norah Jones, a notable improviser in her own right (on piano, not sitar).

Shankar led me to seek out and hear Indian music, mostly live in restaurants until someone kicked the props out from under the global economy. I learned a few instrument names and sounds, the roles of the players and the structure of a typical Indian composition (if that's even quite the right word; much of what Indian musicians do is structured improvisation), etc. I would probably never have done any of that without Shankar's influence.

For what it's worth to you, he was a vegetarian. He was born far too early to have influenced my decision, but I'm always glad to find another one.

It's a tough year for improvising musicians: first Dave Brubeck passes away, then Ravi Shankar. Doubtless new fine and virtuosic young musicians will take their places. But we will miss the departed just as much.

R.I.P., Ravi Shankar.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Richard Stoltzman, Bill Douglas: 'Begin Sweet World'

Well, OK, this YouTube lists it as "Beging Sweet World," but there's no begging whatsoever about it; rather a great deal of generosity of spirit. Some people have the art of being sweet without being cloying, and Stoltzman and Douglas certainly do. If this instrumental doesn't melt hearts of stone, there's something wrong with them!

Today I avoided a kind of pitfall. I was scheduled for a PET scan of my foot on Wednesday, which I was and am convinced is not necessary at all. Sometimes, though, one gets drawn into processes that have lives of their own, and this medical test became one such. I was fortunate in several ways to avoid following the matter to conclusion: I have a very sympathetic primary care doc; the hospital had a superbly competent scheduling clerk who has learned to listen past what old people say to what they mean; finally, I came to my senses about the budget issues that caused me such concern... it's not that the PET scan was a "wrong" test, but that it was expensive and not circumstance-appropriate. The money I saved by not having it will practically cover a new orthotic boot which presumably will actually fit my foot now as well as the first one fit my foot back then... and the money will go straight to the solution of the problem. Sometimes I am easily distracted, and so sometimes is my PCP; this time, I think we are both back on track... just in time.

Enjoy "Begin Sweet World." Listen to it twice, even if it has an internal repeat. Your insides will feel good if you do.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

My Contradictory Inspirations For The Day

As usual these days, I have been in quite a bit of pain today. To distract myself, I listened to this work, which is religiously quite foreign to me, but uplifting as a musical work, and a glorious carol of the season...

... and read an article from the Houston Press, Atheism Rising. Take your pick; it took both to help alleviate the pain in my foot (still not wholly gone, and the beginning of this week will be a rough one for related reasons). I am not a Christian. I am not quite, really, an atheist. But I'll take my inspiration where I find it now.

Aside: religious conversion attempts are UNwelcome. Proselytizers will be deleted and banned from the site. Happy Holidays to all of you!

I Missed This When It Happened...

... but D-Day (David Dayen, often at FDL) is retiring. I shall miss him... a lot. He had all the ingredients of a fine journalist, and a willingness to do the work it took to integrate them into a superb finished product... every day. Every damned day! Do you have any idea the strength of purpose that must take? Do you understand why he needs some time off?

Thanks, D-Day; you've done well by all of us. We miss you already.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

An American Woman's Right To Control Her Own Reproductive Status

I've written around and about this subject quite a lot, and would like to consolidate my outlook in one post, one place, unequivocally and with no hedging on any part of the subject. I hope this can be that post. Call it what you will:
  • the freedom to choose to reproduce or not;
  • the right to a safe delivery of a wanted child, economic status notwithstanding,
  • the right to a safe, legal abortion of an undesired pregnancy, for any reason she may decide;
  • the right of a woman to remain pregnant or not;
  • her right to bear a child or not;
  • her right to control her reproductive status...
    • pregnant or not,
    • vulnerable to pregnancy or not,
    independent of the wishes of literally any other person on the face of the Earth, including her spouse or domestic partner.
Reproductive freedom means no less than that: anything less is a form of control. Perhaps we all thought the issue was settled in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), a decision so controversial [/irony] that its wiki has to be locked to prevent vandalism by people unwilling to engage in rational discussion. (I probably qualify as one such person.) Please read the wiki; all in all, the discussion is not too bad, surely because it is locked down.

The main thing to notice is this:
Decided simultaneously with a companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the Court ruled 7-2 that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion, but that right must be balanced against the state's two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting prenatal life and protecting women's health. Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the trimester of pregnancy.

The Court later rejected Roe's trimester framework, while affirming Roe's central holding that a person has a right to abortion until viability.[1] The Roe decision defined "viable" as being "potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid", adding that viability "is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks."[2]
(Links may or may not work from here. [fixed])

Meanwhile, anti-choice factions have spent a great deal of energy attempting effectively to eliminate the effects of Roe by way of state laws; many of these state laws are now reaching state supreme courts and/or the federal court system... and not surviving the passage.

Here are topics selected from, one of my standard sites about the subject. (Don't expect any anti-abortion posts from
Misleading Poll Used to Support Michigan Super Bill
In a recent press release, the groups states that "85 percent of all respondents, including 76 percent of self-identified Democrat pro-choice women, support the abortion clinic licensing and inspecting policy."

Those are some pretty significant results. So what exactly did their poll ask?
“To maintain the health and safety of the public, the State of Michigan requires facilities, such as nursing homes, surgical centers and tattoo parlors to be licensed. However, Michigan law does not currently require most abortion facilities to be licensed. Without a license, state health officials are not able to inspect abortion facilities. Do you support or oppose legislation that would require all abortion facilities in Michigan to be licensed and inspected in order to protect the health and wellbeing of their patients?”

The posing of the question, with that specific wording, is grossly misleading. First of all, note how the question itself studiously avoids mentioning women at all, referring instead to the "public" and to "patients." The poll was conducted in mid-September during the lull after the national conventions but weeks before widespread coverage of agressive attacks on women's rights and healthcare turned off so many in the country. It therefore attempts to cash in on fabricated talking point of women in imminent danger without actually mentioning them at all.

Asking "do you want to protect people's health and well-being?" couldn't be anymore leading than asking "do you want people to be injured and die?" No doubt in the land of the Catholic Conference, they really do see that as the same question, but for the majority of the public, a portion of whom have likely sought care at these centers with no incidents, the two are not synonymous.
No, they are not. But Catholics fighting an anti-abortion battle feel no obligation to honesty. This is one of many examples of clerical dishonesty in the Catholic priesthood. Priests don't tell the truth if it doesn't suit them to do so.

Then there's this reversal in Oklahoma:
Oklahoma State Supreme Court Rules Two Anti-Choice Bills Unconstitutional

Court decisions are rolling in like waves. Today, the Oklahoma State Supreme Court upheld the ruling of two lower state courts blocking laws that would have effectively banned medication abortion in the state, and forced Oklahoma women seeking abortion to undergo medically unnecessary and intrustive ultrasounds.

Both laws are among the core of a strategy pursued by the anti-choice movement of passing model legislation in numerous states seeking to eliminate access to abortion care at the state level, and ultimately chipping further away at the access to safe abortion care ostensibly protected by Roe v. Wade.

State district court judges previously blocked both laws as violations of the Oklahoma state constitution. In response, the state officials responsible for enforcing those laws appealed to the state’s highest court.

These "model" bills are dangerous. Depending on the path of the appeal through the state and/or federal court system... and I guarantee you there will be one... we could happen upon an elderly white male judge who just doesn't give a damn about abortion rights. One such judge would be a significant setback to a woman's right to choose abortion, though I believe by now the case would eventually come out right. How many women, for how many years, would be denied their fundamental reproductive rights while the battle is fought? That's what the priests are counting on. What a loving group of people they are!

Now here's something a little different... a "reality TV" show featuring the shaming of (or at least the attempt to shame) women who have had abortions:
Anti-Choice Reality TV Show Shames Women Who Don't Feel Guilty About Their Abortion

It's becoming an endless cycle: most of the women speaking out about abortions say they regret having them, so anti-choice activists get to say all women regret them. When women say they had abortions and it was the right decision for them, they get shamed and bullied and talked down in an attempt to silence them. Then, anti-choice activists once more claim that all woman regret abortions because every woman who talks about her abortion says she regrets it.

Now, it's coming to a television near you.
LiveAction announced a new reality tv show that will follow "post-abortive women" who are seeking "healing and self-forgiveness."
Continuing the lie that abortion is no big deal keeps women locked in their emotions, unable to move on and forgive themselves. Telling women to be proud of something that they truly regret, something that deeply wounded them, only perpetuates their pain. Once again, their raw feelings of failure, like those they felt when they sought the abortion, are being brought to the surface.


Post-abortive women do need to talk about their choice. However, they don’t need to be and shouldn’t pretend to be proud of it. What they need is understanding and acceptance, as well as the ability to heal and forgive themselves. “Surrender the Secret” is a step in that direction for America.
One in three women have had an abortion. Millions of women have abortions and do not feel "deeply wounded." But if a woman says that, she is told she should feel ashamed of herself.

No wonder abortion stigma is so rampant.
Y'know, some guys should be lined up against a wall and shot. The people who create these cruel shows should not. No, shooting is much too kind for them.

How's that for not hedging?

There are many more articles at Check it out.

Full disclosure: my first contract as a contract computer programmer was for the predecessor of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. I am very proud of the work I did there.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

'How To Save The Democratic Party' — Pseudonymous 'L. R. Runner' At The Nation

I am always reluctant to cede an author the privilege of anonymity or pseudonymity (and it is a privilege, not a right, for someone who wishes to be taken seriously). But I believe this powerful article by "L. R. Runner" at The Nation, 'How To Save The Democratic Party' makes the grade.

First, Runner convincingly argues that the Democratic Party, or something like it in historical political context, needs to be saved, i.e., that it is in danger of becoming irrelevant to people who need political action stemming not from its outreach to wealthy donors but from its populist roots. I consider this absolutely essential to anything viable that credibly calls itself "the Democratic Party" going forward. Remember the late great Paul Wellstone and call it "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" if you insist. But don't doubt that we need to wreak a shift in direction. Why? Given two words, I'd say "Rahm Emanuel," or maybe even "Barack Obama." Given more words, I'd point out that from the Reagan years forward, including unequivocally the Bill Clinton years, the Democratic Party has become a parody of its former self: all the forms are there, but the substance is sadly lacking. It needs to be reconstructed more or less from scratch... without losing the framework. Here's Runner:
The problem is not President Obama or any other individual leader but the Democratic Party itself. Much of its establishment, from Washington to most of the state capitals, has long since become a party of “bipartisan compromise” with an increasingly right-wing Republicanism, particularly on economic issues with great social consequences—as though America’s true course now lies midway between abolishing the achievements of the New Deal and Great Society and extending them fully in our times.
Precisely. The Democratic Party, now that it is back in power (to a degree), needs to remind itself of its mission (helping ordinary Americans), its means (progressive or even liberal social and economic policies), and its pursuit of these goals unapologetically on behalf of people who deeply believe in them (people like me, for example).

So... what's the problem? Runner again:
If more proof is needed, the Democratic Party has shown itself to be incapable of providing the moral imperatives, policy ideas, broad popular support or elected officials necessary to lead the nation out of its worst economic and social calamity in eighty years, now in its fifth year of millions of wrecked lives. Indeed, the party’s complicity in the crisis is only somewhat less than that of Republicans unconditionally devoted to only one human right: the unrestrained accumulation of corporate and private wealth.
Look at the wide support the public has afforded the Occupy movement, starting with Occupy Wall Street and continuing through Occupy Sandy. Why is it so broadly popular? Well, it isn't that it has a secure base of wealthy donors, that's for sure! The Democratic Party today, inextricably tied in to persons and institutions of great wealth, is hardly in a position to represent its traditional, natural base: the 99%, the lower and middle classes. And goodness knows that's who needs representing now. The Democratic Party, its partisan political nature (and Occupy's nonpartisan nature) aside, has a lesson to learn here. Will they learn it?

I haven't time (or strength) tonight to walk you through Runner's article tonight, but I strongly urge you to read it. If you are a Democratic (or formerly Democratic) lefty, you will find yourself nodding in agreement time and time again, and I believe you'll find your time well-spent. Give it a try!

Three Video Excerpts Of Elizabeth Warren By Michael Moore

Michael Moore has published three segments of his interviews of Elizabeth Warren:
Ms. Warren's election and appointment to the Senate Banking Committee actually give me some hope... a feeling I'm unaccustomed to these days. Watch her; maybe you'll catch some of the hope as well.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Brubeck smiles...
his usual expression!
Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck died today at age 91. Tomorrow would have been his 92nd birthday.

Brubeck was my hero when I was in my mid-to-late teens. His famous Quartet was active in those days... Paul Desmond (alto sax), Brubeck (piano), Joe Morello (drums) and Eugene Wright (bass)... and as a group they were creating the most rhythmically adventurous jazz ever heard.

Brubeck was more than just a great musician: he was a man with the courage of his convictions. Mixed-race ensembles were uncommon in those days, and Wright is African American. (I'm happy to note that Wright is still living!) Some club owners insisted Brubeck get a different (i.e., white) bass player. Brubeck always turned them down flat, no matter how famous the club or how much he wanted the gig. His terms were: "feature me; feature my bassist..." no compromise.

I could spend 10 screens full of prose and still not express why this man was in so many ways my musical hero. How many people, on the birth of their first child, write an oratorio for the occasion? But I'll let the pros write the obits, and just tell you how much I am going to miss Brubeck. There was no one else like him, and there never will be again.

R.I.P., Dave; enjoy that great jam session of the spirit!

Afterthought: In about 1965, I heard the Quartet live in concert in Houston, in the godawfulest hall ever built (and fortunately since demolished and replaced). It was my only encounter with Brubeck in person. One test of a truly great jazz ensemble is that they are often better live than in studio recordings. That was certainly true of the Brubeck Quartet. Those contrapuntal duets between Desmond and Brubeck, the ones that, while indisputably 20th-century jazz, evoke memories of music from centuries ago, are a marvel to behold in real life. They aren't memorized, because a given phrase comes out a bit different every time they play it. Some people are simply gifted at that sort of thing; the rest of us are fortunate to hear them even once.

Robert Reich: Three Cliffs, None Of Them Fiscal

Robert Reich lists three looming "cliffs" facing America, none of them the much-talked-about "fixcal cliff." They are these:
  • The child poverty cliff,
  • The baby-boomer healthcare cliff, and
  • The environmental cliff.
Each of them, says Reich, requires immediate attention, and each is being neglected by the powers-that-be in favor of an utterly ridiculous "crisis" fabricated by our wealthy leadership and more likely to harm than help the public at large. I don't know about you, but even in my heyday I never had an income of $250,000 in any one year. And that's who would be helped by any "grand bargain": it would help the very rich become even richer. Enough already!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Sen.-Elect Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)...

Senator-Elect Elizabeth Warren
... don't you love the sound of that? ... is said by several sources to be slated for appointment by Harry Reid to the Senate Banking Committee.

Warren, surely Wall Street's worst nightmare, is one of the most knowledgeable people in Washington about banking and finance, bar none, and is on our side, and to all appearances, not for sale.

If she is indeed seated on that committee, you'd better lay in extra popcorn; there will be plenty of action to watch!

GOP, Boehner Play 'Let's Fake A Counter-Offer'

Krugman is less than kind in his assessment of the GOP's "counter-offer" to Obama's proposal, and for good reason:
It goes without saying that the Republican “counteroffer” is basically fake. It calls for $800 billion in revenue from closing loopholes, but doesn’t specify a single loophole to be closed; it calls for huge spending cuts, but aside from raising the Medicare age and cutting the Social Security inflation adjustment — moves worth only around $300 billion — it doesn’t specify how these cuts are to be achieved. So it’s basically the Paul Ryan method: scribble down some numbers and pretend that you’re a budget wonk with a Serious plan.

Did you expect anything different from the GOP? But wait; there's more: look at his Figure 1, "Economic Downturn and Legacy of Bush Policies Drive Record Deficit" ... have you ever seen an uglier curve? Without two Bush wars, the Bush tax cuts (overwhelmingly and irresponsibly large and directed toward the well-off), and... last and pretty much least... the economic downturn, our deficit would have been tiny and recovery largely assured, if a bit slow. It's undeniably the Bush deficit, and if you ask me, the bastard did it intentionally, with political malice aforethought. But that's a Republican for you: anything for political advantage; nothing for the good of the nation.

Krugman again:
And the GOP says that because of that deficit we must raise the Medicare age and cut Social Security!
I don't know about that. How much would the GOP House "leadership" enjoy the sight of millions of angry seniors, supporters of BOTH major political parties, heading up their driveways and over their lawns to their front doors, metaphorical pitchforks and torches in hand, to prevent exactly those cuts? Right. I didn't think so!

Concert By An Amsterdam Group

Old friends and musicking colleagues Mimi Mitchell (baroque violin) and Christina Edelen (harpsichord), both of Amsterdam, joined Noel Martin (baroque violin, residence unknown, but I think he lives in Houston UST-Houston faculty member and performer in numerous local orchestras) for a lively concert of programmatic music from the 17th and 18th centuries from several countries including Netherlands Italy, England and Germany. (That's from memory; forgive me if it's incomplete or incorrect.)

The concert was presented three times, twice at Rienzi yesterday (where I wasn't) and once at University of St. Thomas in the Cullen music performance space tonight (where I was). All three performers are quite virtuosic, and the literature they chose showed their technical skills and music-making abilities to good advantage. The only piece on the concert that you are probably familiar with is Corelli's Christmas Concerto, still a great set of tunes even after years of (let's face it) abuse by players who might not have understood Corelli's music as well as these three.

Baroque Violin of Modern
Make, Dmitry Badiarov
Note Short Fingerboard,
Lower Bridge, Flatter Pegbox,
Built for Gut Strings,
Lower Tension, No Chin-rest
If anyone needed it, the performance was a reminder that in that period an Italian concerto of a certain construction is typically performed by an orchestra with a concertino (the concertizing strings, playing prominent, soloistic parts) and a ripieno (the rest of the band, maybe musicians drawn from household staff and of less virtuosic ability, playing accompanying parts)... but can be played to equally good effect by covering the three parts with only three or four instruments in the hands of sufficiently virtuosic performers. This last approach is what we heard tonight.

Forgive me if I brag on my friends/colleagues, but despite my aching foot, my evening was probably more fun than your evening!

NOTE: I know nothing of the violin-maker who made the instrument depicted above right, but his photo (found on Google Images) is a good example of the differences between baroque and modern violins.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Robert Reich On Understanding The Fiscal Curb, Ah, Cliff

The Fiscal Curb
Reich gives us eight principles for Democrats and other progressives in approaching the "fiscal curb." (I saw that term on a comment thread earlier today and ROTFLMAO, but couldn't find it again to give credit now.) The one I would emphasize most of all is #2: No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal.

The "cliff" is publicized by the wealthy architects of the economic situation that got us into this mess, and to put it bluntly, there is no cliff: allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire on 1/1, simultaneously allowing the expiration of many expenditures as agreed to by Congress in the last failed debt limit blackmail battle, will leave the wealthy paying their fair share and put strong pressure on Republicans to reinstate tax cuts for lower- and middle-income Americans (but ONLY for them) or else pay the political price in 2014.

The GOP came out of the 2012 elections a seriously damaged party. If, after the drubbing they took (despite spending unfathomable amounts of money to buy the election), they insist on continuing to argue for a society with a great gap between the obscenely rich and everyone else, maybe in a couple of years we can put them out of their misery. Wishful thinking on my part, I know, but I believe it's been renamed "the audacity of hope."

Despite Post-Election Promises, GOP War On Women Continues Unabated

They mouthed an insincere "we're very sorry" and went on pursuing the GOP war on women as if they hadn't taken a whipping in women's votes in Election 2012. Benjy Sarlin and Evan McMorris-Santoro of TPM spell it out.

Of all the foolish post-election behavior the GOP has indulged in, and there's been a lot of it, the war on women has to be the most damaging to party credibility... and individual candidates' chances of winning races. While (as some former Rmoney staffers pointed out) Rmoney won white women, they voted for him six points lower than white men... Republicans are fools to pretend there isn't a gender gap even within their own party. And as for all women, they voted for Obama over Rmoney, 55% to 44%... the dreaded double-digit difference.

Claimed Republican post-election outreach to women seems to me to be more of a doubling down on their anti-woman dogma than an apologetic extended hand. “We don’t need to pander or change our principles, but at the same time, we can be respectful,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who apparently watches helplessly (really?) as the right wing of his party continues ceaselessly to bash Sandra Fluke. Fluke is the woman most visibly refused an opportunity to testify before a Republican-dominated House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (chair: Darrell Issa, whose name qualifies as "Queen Anne" in the old child's game), which heard only male clergymen on that occasion, and later vilified by Rush Limbaugh as a "slut" and a "prostitute." Fluke, then a Georgetown law student, may prove to be the wrong person to have aggravated; she appears to be inclined to political activism, and may even run for office... as a Democrat, of course.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

GOP Screams Like A Cranky Two-Year-Old

John Boehner, Age 2
GOPers don't take loss well. They especially don't like it when they know for certain they're right but the public just can't see reality... their reality, of course. Here's Krugman on the the likely course of the next two years:
Oh, boy. This isn’t going to end, even when or if a deal is reached on defusing the austerity bomb; John Boehner has just declared that he’s going to hold the full faith and credit of the United States hostage every time we hit the debt limit. Nor will it be a case of holding the nation at gunpoint until it meets GOP demands; Republicans are signaling that they don’t intend to make any specific proposals, they’re just going to yell and stamp their feet until Obama soothes them somehow.
John Boehner, Today
Is there any constitutional equivalent of a "time out" for a political party throwing a tantrum? I suppose not, since the Constitution doesn't mention political parties at all...

House GOP Appoints Token Woman Committee Chair

There was a time, perhaps 60 or more years ago, at which the Democratic Party was the party of tokenism, mostly racial in nature. Now the GOP is that party, but it's more: it is also the party of gender tokenism. About a week after John Boehner announced the appointment of 19 white male congressmen to 19 House committee chair posts, pressure from Democrats and Republicans alike has finally resulted in an appointment of a woman... Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI)... to chair the House administration committee, as TPM's Evan McMorris-Santoro tells us.

Rep Miller: how do your like your position as the GOP's token woman chairperson?

One thing a woman can be confident of in the GOP: she is secure in her role, and can depend on being reminded of her place if she should ever forget it. Certainty may not always be a good thing...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

North Dakota Is Fracked... Poisoning Farm Animals And People

Read about it in Elizabeth Royte's article at The Nation. Here's what happened at one ranch near a fracking site:

Ambient air testing by a certified environmental consultant detected elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene—compounds associated with drilling and fracking, and also with cancers, birth defects and organ damage. [Rancher Jacki Schilke's] well tested high for sulfates, chromium, chloride and strontium; her blood tested positive for acetone, plus the heavy metals arsenic (linked with skin lesions, cancers and cardiovascular disease) and germanium (linked with muscle weakness and skin rashes). Both she and her husband, who works in oilfield services, have recently lost crowns and fillings from their teeth; tooth loss is associated with radiation poisoning and high selenium levels, also found in the Schilkes’ water.

State health and agriculture officials acknowledged Schilke’s air and water tests but told her she had nothing to worry about. Her doctors, however, diagnosed her with neurotoxic damage and constricted airways. “I realized that this place is killing me and my cattle,” Schilke says. She began using inhalers and a nebulizer, switched to bottled water, and quit eating her own beef and the vegetables from her garden. (Schilke sells her cattle only to buyers who will finish raising them outside the shale area, where she presumes that any chemical contamination will clear after a few months.) “My health improved,” Schilke says, “but I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are we doing to this land?’”
What, indeed. So is it just in North Dakota?

Healthy Cows
In Louisiana, seventeen cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid. (Most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.) In north central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately seventy cows died; the remainder produced eleven calves, of which only three survived. In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing waste pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: half their calves were born dead. The following year’s animal births were sexually skewed, with ten females and two males, instead of the usual 50-50 or 60-40 split.

And in Ohio, which is IMHO full of good people, they're raising holy Hell about fracking.

So how much fracking fluid does it take, per well? And what do they do with it when it's done the job?

Fracking Waste Pond,
Wise Co., TX
Fracking a single well requires up to 7 million gallons of water, plus an additional 400,000 gallons of additives, including lubricants, biocides, scale and rust inhibitors, solvents, foaming and defoaming agents, emulsifiers and de-emulsifiers, stabilizers and breakers. About 70 percent of the liquid that goes down a borehole eventually comes up—now further tainted with such deep-earth compounds as sodium, chloride, bromide, arsenic, barium, uranium, radium and radon. (These substances occur naturally, but many of them can cause illness if ingested or inhaled over time.) This super-salty “produced” water, or brine, can be stored on-site for reuse. Depending on state regulations, it can also be held in plastic-lined pits until it evaporates, is injected back into the earth, or gets hauled to municipal wastewater treatment plants, which aren’t designed to neutralize or sequester fracking chemicals (in other words, they’re discharged with effluent into nearby streams).

I don't know how many ways I can say this: recovery of ever more challenging deposits of fossil fuels, in this case oil and gas, is killing the biosphere. We can have the remaining petroleum to burn in our inefficient cars, or we can have air safe to breathe, water safe to drink, and... yes... food safe to eat. We can't have both. Fracking has got to stop. Just say NO... frack NO!

Friday, November 30, 2012

‘Spooky Action At A Distance’

Google it, or better yet, just go to the wiki. That was Einstein's derogatory (dismissive) phrase for what is now usually called quantum entanglement. But the phenomenon is real, has been experimentally demonstrated and is as controversial as ever when physicists talk about possible mechanisms. I've been reading about it in a rather old book (1995, "old" by physics standards) by John Gribbin titled Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality, billed as a successor to his relatively famous In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, but advanced beyond the span of years between the books. Kittens is filling in some gaps in my eternally spotty understanding of quantum mechanics, and it may be the perfect book for the purpose.

Quantum entanglement aside, I've always wanted to form a band and name it Spooky Action at a Distance, but someone has already used the name for an album title. Another great idea meets the reality that Someone Else Thought of it First...

Adjacent Headlines

From TPMLiveWire, two headlines, adjacent at the moment:
Aw, c'mon, John, which is it?

Meanwhile, speaking of Jo[h]ns, Jon Stewart offers a segment on the "fiscal cliff," which he calls CLIFFPOCALYPSEMAGEDDONACAUST. His basic premise: “Let me put it another way. There’s an asteroid headed towards the Earth. We made it and fired it at ourselves, because otherwise we would never have done the hard work required to protect ourselves from asteroids.” John and Mary Gribbin, in Fire on Earth, couldn't have put it better, though I don't think that by "Fire on Earth" they meant that one of us would actually, like, you know, point a loaded asteroid and fire on Earth...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Mars And Mercury

Mars Curiosity Rover, despite recent rumors, has not yet found any organic molecules on Mars, while on the positive side, NASA's MESSENGER Mercury mission, the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, has found "three independent lines of evidence" that Mercury's perpetually shadowed polar craters contain large amounts of water ice.

H/T TPM for both news items.

DOMA: From The Capitol Dome To The West Façade

US Capitol Dome
Supreme Court
The inappropriately named Defense of Marriage Act... so many laws serving only right-wing Republican interests also have absurd or Orwellian names... has been found in part (Section 3) unconstitutional in eight federal courts including the First and Second Circuit Courts of Appeal. The Obama DoJ has been instructed not to defend the law in court, but the law is nonetheless still enforced. The House Republican leadership, which is permitted to practice before the Supreme Court, has taken it upon itself to defend the law in place of the DoJ. So we aren't rid of the law yet. It's done for under the Capitol Dome, but not yet under the Supreme Court's West Façade.

Here are the primary provisions according to Wikipedia:
Section 2. Powers reserved to the states
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
Section 3. Definition of marriage
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
From its passage in 1996, this has been a law looking for a reason to exist. While there may be some legitimate federal interest in restricting marriage, say, to two people, there is none whatsoever in restricting it to opposite-sex couples: indeed, the law seems to me (note IANAL) to violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. But Republicans seem determined to defend it come hell or high water (you'd think they would have had enough of both hell and high water during the last election), and so the court battle may well proceed no matter how few rank-and-file Americans support the law today.

So the Supreme Court will meet tomorrow (Friday 11/30) to decide whether to take a DOMA case, and if so, which case(s)... there are about eight possibilities. According to "experts," current odds are in favor of their taking such a case, and if so, actually rendering a decision rather than declining to decide (which would have the unfortunate consequence of allowing the law to apply in some jurisdictions and not in others).

And now for a brief sermon. How long, and how many times, is it going to take the United States of America to learn that ultimately it cannot reserve to itself the privilege of discriminating against some of its citizens? How long was it before slavery was ended, and at what cost? How long before women received the franchise? (And make no mistake: women are not yet equal before the law, and the GOP is determined to keep the law that way.) How long before LGBTQ individuals and their families can engage in normal life activities such as insuring a spouse or visiting a spouse in the hospital (possibly making life-or-death decisions for one another) or receiving federal benefits already long since available to straight married couples?

How many years will the bigots run our country? Must we repeat this absurd exercise every few decades with a different cohort of our citizens, straining to discriminate unjustly against each group in turn, until finally there's no one left to discriminate against? Is that who we are? Are we bigots to the core?

One could never predict how this particular Supreme Court will rule on anything... how could one, considering leftover relics like Scalia still tyrannizing the process. But I think we have to be glad if the Court decides to go for it, to take a case, to rule on the matter for the entire nation. Before I die, I'd really like to live in a country "with liberty and justice for ALL."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mr. President, About That Alleged 'Fiscal Cliff'...

Over the Fiscal Cliff
... here's some advice from Robert Reich: let the automatic tax restorations take effect, then pressure Congress to restore ONLY the lower- and middle-class tax cuts, allowing pre-Bush-era taxes to settle again on the very wealthy. The mechanism is already in place; indeed, it's automatic if Congress does nothing before 1/1. It's true that Repub's could refuse to restore any tax cuts unless they can restore those for the wealthy, but that's bound to be a politically untenable position for them.

Will it work? Reich calls it "bungee-jumping over the fiscal cliff," and describes it as follows:

Obama’s only real bargaining leverage comes from the fact that when the Bush tax cuts expire at the end of December, America’s wealthiest will take the biggest hit. The highest marginal income tax rate will rise from 35 to 39.6 percent (for joint filers), and the capital gains rate from 15 to 20 percent.

This will happen automatically if nothing is done between now and then to change course. It’s the default if Republicans won’t agree to anything else. It’s Obama’s trump card.

So rather than stoking middle-class fears about the cliff, the White House ought to be doing the opposite – reassuring most Americans they can survive the fall. To utilize his trump card effectively, Obama needs to convince Republicans that the middle class is willing to jump.

It's time Obama took advantage of a manifestly strong position. Next year will be too late. Do it now, Mr. President!

New House GOP Committee Chairs Are All...

... Yep. Right (far Right!) on the first try: they're all white and male. As I've said before, the GOP may be evil, but they're painfully predictable. At least now you know exactly what you're getting. Click through to Kos if you want (ugh) pictures. Those pics are so white you'd better wear snow goggles to view 'em.

I suppose there will always be enough white male GOPers elected to the House to chair all committees if the GOP is in the majority. It seems to me there's a straightforward solution to that...

LHC Makes New Type Of Matter... So Let's Discuss Religion!

If you're interested in the new type of matter, here's the post by Carl Franzen of TPM; it's not a bad job, and Carl has finally learned not to say "Dog particle" or whatever he used to say. Read it for the basics if you're interested in the physics.

Read the comments if you're interested in religion as a force for opposing science. By no means are all the commenters radical, but even the ones who are not, irritated me today. Here's an excerpt from a comment; I'll show mercy and not identify the commenter:

... 2. There does seem to be a major issue in the world today of a lack of ethics and morals. Where do those come from lacking religion? (recognizing that religious people are pretty bad as well) ...

Oh, yeah, I know what s/he means. Like the other day, there was this woman in Ireland, not Irish and not Catholic but Hindu, pregnant, who had the misfortune to miscarry while in Ireland. Any Irish woman would have known that miscarrying while in Ireland is both a sin and a crime. Fortunately, the doctors at the hospital were trained in "ethics and morals" because they were not "lacking religion"; they knew the fetus was beyond any hope of survival, so they stood watching, waiting for the fetal heartbeat to stop, while the mother, in agony, begged them to terminate the pregnancy, only to be told "This is a Catholic hospital" by the docs, who stood there watching the fetal heartbeat monitor as the mother... slowly... horribly... excruciatingly*... died of septicemia. It was a good thing those docs had "ethics and morals" and weren't "lacking religion"; otherwise, that 31-year-old woman might have lived a long, possibly happy, possibly productive life. And that would have been a tragedy.

Here ends today's lesson in "ethics and morals" from people not "lacking religion." Please be generous with your offering when the plate comes your way...

* Word chosen quite deliberately.

Fire The Motherfucking Mother

I realize that CNBC might as well be Fox News as far as its blatant political bias is concerned, but this is outside the pale. Here's Evan McMorris-Santoro at TPM:
At around 3:30 PM Eastern Tuesday, CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera noted a sell-off in the stock market, an entirely unremarkable occurrence in the course of the financial network’s daily coverage. But what separated this particular sell-off from others, according to Caruso-Cabrera, was that it could be traced directly to the appearance of one of the House’s top progressives on her show.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) tanked the market, she said, by refusing to budge on his contention that Medicare cuts should be off the table in negotiations surrounding the so-called fiscal cliff. Democrats accused the anchor of trying to “shame” them into cutting entitlement cuts by directly blaming Grijalva’s words for the market’s decline.

Grijalva, co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus, appeared on CNBC to talk about the debt talks and his view that it was unfair to talk about Medicare and other entitlement programs when Republicans remain publicly unwilling to significantly increase government revenues.

Caruso-Cabrera said Grijalva’s words were literally hurting the economy in real time. It’s something that’s happened before when members of Congress appear on the air, she added.

If she is capable of explaining the deep cause of a sudden market movement in real-time, Caruso-Cabrera's talents are sorely wasted as a mere news anchor. She should be an obscenely highly paid market analyst. Or maybe she should be provided with a crystal ball and a Gypsy scarf...

Seriously: a remark like that is completely unprofessional for a news anchor. Fire her fucking ass.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Florida GOP Indeed Passed Voter Law With Explicit Purpose Of Suppressing Democratic Vote

Via Mustang Bobby, we have the news from the Palm Beach Post:
A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.

Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.


(Read much of the rest at Bobby's place. There are no major surprises.)

So: after the great GOP election theft attempt failed, intraparty recriminations are proving to be their undoing.

GOOD! Damn them all to a Hell of their own making!

Missing Molly

At random intervals I read the ACLU Blog of Rights just to see what un-American absurdities the evil-doers are up to lately, and what the ACLU is doing about it. Frequently enough, I whip out my checkbook and send them a small token of my appreciation... never very much at a time, because I haven't got money to spend freely, but maybe as much as, say, two movie tickets at a downtown cinema in a real city (yes, Houston counts).

This time, I didn't reach for my checkbook because I've done that recently. But as always, I learned some things. Take a look at this post called Hamas, Twitter and the First Amendment: I learned something from that, something about how our draconian post-9/11 laws end up criminalizing speech for its content, and how that provides opportunities for an org like "Christians United for Israel" (sorry, no link from here) an opportunity to attempt to sue Twitter off the face of the Earth. Did you know Twitter is not considered a "common carrier" under law? And they are being accused of furnishing "communications equipment" (i.e., some unspecified servers and comm links half a planet away) to Hamas... along with much of the rest of the planet, too, mostly uncontroversially. The case is still underway. The post's author, ACLU's Gabe Rottman, sheds light on why this should make the hairs on the back of our necks stand on end. I admit it... I scratched the back of my neck. It's scary stuff. There's other scary stuff on the ACLU blog; there always is, and none of it is exaggerated; I'm always scared when I read it.

Molly Ivins in Good Times
But an old man's mind wanders, and mine wandered to the late great Molly Ivins. If Molly ever wrote a column or spoke a sentence I didn't like (and often enough laugh at), I never saw that column or heard that sentence. Molly was one of my genuine heroes. She still is, almost six years after her passing away.

One of her funniest moments was her appearance in a movie called The Dildo Diaries, from which someone has kindly excerpted the interview with Molly about an episode in the Texas Legislature... why am I wasting your time tapping this, when I can just show you the video (NSFW!)...

Aside: Rep. Danburg, in the video, was my State Representative at one time. I wish her well, whatever she's up to now!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Foot Note

The Boot
Lots of pain today. Thunderstorm front is coming through today into tonight; I'm a living, breathing, hurting barometer. Hardly slept last night. I'm maxed out on aspirin and somehow managing to make it through. When this happens... and sometimes it does just happen... my foot feels as if the boot doesn't fit at all. The boot does some damage to the side of the heel, aggravating the wounds; I'd leave the boot off but then I cannot walk at all, and there are limits to what I can avoid doing... and it's far from easy to get the boot off and on again. My foot has changed shape noticeably since the boot was made; on the whole, the foot looks healthier this way, but I have a feeling I may be having a new $kiloboot made before long. So far I have been free of infection (hardly a surprise given the horse pills I've been taking), but my doc says there is no guarantee of that going forward, and we're trying to find other options (no, thank you, we have plenty of ideas; we just haven't decided which would be best). Meanwhile, I'm going in sometime today for an unscheduled visit and a repacking of the wounds.
Eubie Blake

What was it Eubie Blake said? "If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." Yeah, that.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

How Does Obama Really Feel About His Drone 'Kill List'? And Will It Pass To The Next President?

Kevin Gosztola of FDL's The Dissenter reveals that "an unnamed official with the Obama administration" told Scott Shane of the New York Times that in seeking to answer that question, the Obama administration contemplated the very real possibility that the levers of power might pass from Obama's to Rmoney's hands, and sought to codify and restrict the targeted assassination powers. From Shane's article:

... With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.

Gosztola's concerns are much like my own:

The revelation is remarkable in that it shows GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney—not the fact that the power to extrajudicially kill people suspected of committing or having ties to terrorism was being claimed—was why the administration began to have increased concerns over drone warfare.

Clearly there needs to be a formal policy in place regarding targeted assassinations using drones: they are sloppy weapons liable to kill far more people than the intended target, and in those few cases where the targeted person has been an American citizen, that citizen had no opportunity for a trial, a proof of his/her guilt before a court of law, and a formal sentence by such a court. In other words, if drone use were not bad enough on the grounds that America is murdering babies, it is still worse because it is used unapologetically to violate the Fourth Amendment. All of this needs to be thought out, debated and decided by a team of advisors not given to thinking in lock-step with the president.

That said, drone warfare is liable to continue and even increase into the indefinite future, including, yes, into a Republican presidency, if indeed that would be any worse. (I always said Obama is the lesser evil, not that he is not capable of evil.) If this haphazard, cowboy-shoot-first attitude continues, it will not be long before America has no friends among the nations and leaders of the world... and who can blame them. We need three things: real rules in place and implemented in the field, clear accountability for every drone strike, and... most of all... transparency. These acts are being committed in my name, and in yours if you're an American citizen: you deserve to know as specifically as possible who is being killed and why, what their nationality is, if they are noncombatants, whether their due process rights were preserved, and who dies as "collateral damage" from this most indiscriminate of weapons.

And Mr. Obama... well, he needs to pull out the book from which he used to teach Review of Constitutional Law (or whatever it's called), and spend some time with his nose in it. Apparently he's forgotten some things. Apparently, many of the rest of us have forgotten those same things. It's time for a serious review of the rightful limits on presidential power.



Armando at Daily Kos, faced with the same frustration, wrote a well-reasoned position paper, "The Lessons of 1937"; his post is probably less damaging to our cause than all that face-slapping would be, though I don't know that it will have any more positive effect on Obama's Wall Street gang...

Do you suppose there's any way, perhaps through the work of a stage hypnotist, to implant a suggestion in all of Obama's advisors that "austerity" is equivalent to, say, "obscenity," or perhaps "marijuana," or maybe "WikiLeaks"?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Steampunk Economics!

MONIAC, Bill Phillips
(via Timothy Taylor)
Via Paul Krugman, we have Timothy Taylor talking about an hydraulic analog computer, MONIAC, built in or before 1949 by Bill Phillips (of "Phillips curve" renown), intended to model an economy in the presence of user-specified changes to fiscal and monetary variables. Taylor in turn points us to information about an even earlier economic hydraulic analog computer built by Irving Fisher in 1891. (No, I did not transpose a digit: I mean 1891.)

Technophiles and lovers of steampunk will appreciate these devices for their own sake; I, at least, am reminded once again, not for the first time, that there was effective practical mechanical computing of very complex functions of many variables long before there were digital computers of any sort. Economists and similar researchers may learn from the existence of these machines that, as Krugman emphasizes, it is important always to have a model, in the broadest definition of the word, of any system about which one proposes to argue: the lack of a model inevitably leads to certain types of errors that the very process of building a model (physical or mathematical) forces one to deal with a priori. I don't know economics very well, but I can attest to the truth of Prof. Krugman's statement in other contexts: modeling is essential to larger problem-solving.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Krugman, Rubio And The Age Of The Earth

Paul Krugman points out that Marco Rubio's evasiveness when asked how old the Earth is is more than just a gesture to appeal to religious fundamentalists in the GOP's base: it is a direct, full-fledged abnegation of science in pursuit of the truth... and an indirect rejection of the economic prosperity that can only be based on Americans' widespread knowledge of the sciences. Krugman is right; indeed, he could scarcely be more right. Conservative biblio-babble notwithstanding, in these days, without science, the American economy... any human economy... is nothing.

The Earth? It is 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years old. Some Bible-bangers... Rubio, perhaps? will tell you figures in the vicinity of 6000 to 7500 years; others give longer spans from 12000 to 20000 years. A mere 6000 years? I had a great‑grandmother who was older than that... [/snark]

The point is this: science is not necessarily always right, but it is always rooted in physical reality as best researchers can determine that reality. Religion may occasionally be factually right, but it is always mythology, with no obligation to factual accuracy. As mythology, it may have some moral instructive value (or not); but as myth rather than fact, it is a poor basis for formulating public policy... let alone teaching science.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy T-Day!

'T' can stand for turkey...

Not Suitable for Our House,
but maybe for Yours

... or tofu...

Fried Tofu with Lemon Grass
Kim Son is a Good Source in Houston

... or Tofurky™, a roastable... thing... shaped vaguely like a turkey, made mostly of tofu and intended to be roasted. We did one of those one year; it was a royal bother, but it was a convincing substitute for a dead bird (and the stuff in the middle is a fairly persuasive... um... stuffing):

Whole Paycheck carries them,
but you'd better get there early...
They're long gone by now!

Whatever you're... ah... stuffing yourself with, have a wonderful T-day, with family and friends! What are we doing? Well... with Catherine (see blogroll), we're going out to an utterly traditional Thanksgiving day meal (for us, at least): the buffet at India's, on Richmond, one of the best Indian restaurants in town, and always open on American holidays. Mmmmm, I can just taste the sag paneer now...

(Catherine is mere days back from more than two weeks in Morocco, where she tells us she took 7,000 pictures. I hope we're home before she starts showing them. :-) )

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sen. Bernie Says It Like It Is

... on

Most important, in the coming weeks and months, the Democrats must demand that deficit reduction is done in a way that is fair — and not on the backs of the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor. At a time when real unemployment remains close to 15 percent, we must also focus on creating the millions of jobs that our people need.

In America today, we have the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of any major country on Earth. Incredibly, the top 1 percent owns 42 percent of the nation’s wealth while the bottom 60 percent owns just 2.3 percent. In the last study done on income distribution, we learned that 93 percent of all new income generated between 2009 and 2010 went to the top 1 percent while the bottom 99 percent split the remaining 7 percent. This extraordinary unfairness is not only morally reprehensible, it is bad economics. It will be very difficult to create the jobs that our people need when so many Americans have little or no money to spend.

Please read the whole post.

Antarctica Unable To Say No To Crack

Carl Franzen at TPM:
NASA really rocked the boat around the world in February when it announced the discovery of a 19-mile-long crack off the Western side of Antarctica, a crack poised to calve off an iceberg the size of New York City.

On Monday, NASA released a new video of the latest aerial observations of the crack — located on Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier. What NASA discovered was not only has the crack widened and lengthened, but it’s also led to a smaller, secondary crack.

NASA Goddard Flight Center calving specialist Kelly Brunt explained in the video that although the cracks in the glacier are evidence that the ice in region is thinning and the flow accelerating, and in turn, adding to a rise in sea level, it’s still within what can be considered “normal” annual fluctuations in the ice levels.

“Even calving when we use small states of the island or Manhattan as a unit of measure, this is generally normal, it’s part of the process,” Brunt said.
That said, the new calving site is the furthest inland that’s been observed in the past 40 years.


NASA expects the New York City-sized glacier to calve off any day now.
TPM has a photo and a video.

Do I even need to comment on this?

Monday, November 19, 2012

I Got It From Tom Lehrer

... who made it from whole cloth. Until today, this may have been the only significant Tom Lehrer song that I had never heard, though I had heard of it. Walt at BlondeSense remedied my ignorance. For your listening pleasure... "I Got It from Agnes":

Sunday, November 18, 2012

‘Once... I Had A Secret Law,’ Part 148257

Obama has issued a secret directive regarding cyber security which may, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), enable "military deployment within the United States." EPIC has filed a FOIA request for the text of the heretofore secret law. Here's Stephen C. Webster at Raw Story:

Bill of Rights
The FOIA was filed in response to an article that appeared in The Washington Post this week, claiming that Obama issued a secret directive shortly before the elections that empowers the military to “vet any operations outside government and defense networks” for cyber security purposes.

However, because the exact text of the directive remains a secret, nobody can really say exactly what it does. That was somewhat disconcerting to American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson, who told Raw Story on Wednesday that without the text, “it’s hard to see what they mean.”

In their FOIA, EPIC attorneys Amie Stepanovich and Ginger McCall go even further, arguing that the directive is tantamount to the president issuing a “secret law” that may enable “military deployment within the United States” in order to vet network security at companies like AT&T, Facebook, Google and others. And indeed, the Post‘s article seems to substantiate that concern, explaining that the order will help “finalize new rules of engagement that would guide commanders when and how the military can go outside government networks to prevent a cyberattack that could cause significant destruction or casualties.”

But that’s literally all anyone outside of the chain of command knows about this order, McCall told Raw Story Thursday afternoon. “We don’t know what’s in this policy directive and we feel the American public has the right to know.”

Indeed we do. "AT&T, Facebook, [and] Google" are companies with substantial involvement in civilian communications of several types. Yet the NSA is first and foremost a military agency. While it is difficult from the wiki to ferret out all the interrelationships among intelligence-related agencies, there is a clear, unambiguous statement that "[b]y law, NSA's intelligence gathering is limited to foreign communications, although domestic incidents such as the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy have occurred." So which is this secret law: military or civilian? If it is civilian, why is it secret?

One of the aspects of the "war on terror[ism]" that most upsets me is the apparent use of the "war," which has no end and no limits to its scope, as a means to involve our most powerful, capable government intelligence-gathering agencies in the process of spying on American civilians... a practice hard to justify in any case and surely unconstitutional.

I don't want to know military secrets; they are for the most part none of my affair. But I damned surely want to know when my "person[], house[], papers and effects" (and implicitly, emails including encrypted business emails, and other electronic communications) are being spied upon without benefit of a warrant. The Fourth Amendment, at least in theory, guarantees us all no less than the security of those things. I want my security, or I want to know a damned good reason why I don't have it.

Correction (?): apparently I mistakenly assumed the NSA was involved. Well, OK, it was to have been, but apparently, facing considerable pushback, Obama has moved the most draconian information-sharing parts of the mystery program under the control of the DHS, which is a civilian agency. See this Raw Story article.

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