Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bad Day For Environmentalists

Sierra Club:

U.S. House Votes Against Protecting Water Sources from Pesticides
292-130 Vote Allows Unchecked Use of Chemical Pesticides in Water Sources

Washington, D.C. – Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act” (H.R. 872) by a vote of 292-130.  The bill, introduced by Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), allows the use of chemical pesticides in water sources without any limits or protections – endangering the safety of Americans’ drinking water.

Statement by Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club:

“We are appalled and deeply disappointed by today’s passage of the so-called ‘Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act’ in the House.   

“Contrary to Rep. Gibbs’ claims that limits on pesticide levels in water would place unfair burdens on American farmers, this bill will risk the drinking water sources and health of all Americans, including farmers.

“Right now, the U.S. Geological Survey shows pesticides in 92 percent of streams around agricultural areas tested.  Another USGS study also found that 96 percent of all fish analyzed in major rivers and streams contained one or more pesticide.  That’s fish that we eat and water that we drink.

“The fact that this damaging and dangerous piece of legislation was able to pass with such a wide margin is alarming, and demonstrates the power of misinformation on Capitol Hill.  The worst of it, however, is that Americans will have to pay the price.” 

Anyone out there who voted Republan... are you maybe, just maybe, having second thoughts about your vote? Remember this feeling when you take a drink of water on Election Day 2012. That is, remember it if you aren't killed first by your drinking water.

More On Blogger Dynamic Views

I found the trick: it doesn't work with Advanced mode site feed. For Blogger users, you need to change your Site Feed from Advanced mode to Basic mode. Then you will have dynamic views available, e.g.,

(it will come up in Sidebar view) and select the desired view from the button bar. Personally I don't see anything that makes me dance in the streets, but then again, dancing was never easy for me even before The Boot.

If you subscribe to my site feed, you may need to unsubscribe and resubscribe; I don't know.

Obama Deciding Whether To Bargain Away EPA Pollution Controls

The man is fucking nuts. Sierra Club says the following:

Right now, the Obama Administration is considering a deal with Republicans to give up key EPA pollution safeguards in order to gain cooperation on passing a government funding bill.


Let's be clear: polluters refuse to be held accountable for the damage they do to our families and our communities. They've bought themselves a Republican Congress and are using it to obliterate the laws passed to protect our health from their pollution.

The EPA pollution safeguards they seek to destroy have avoided 160,000 cases of premature death, 130,000 heart attacks and 1.7 million asthma attacks in 2010 alone

And what's even more outrageous is that these EPA protections have nothing to do with the federal budget process. It's ridiculous that these riders to the budget would even be considered. This is Washington D.C. politics at its worst.

Call, write, do whatever you can. I am past the point of wishing I had never voted for Obama: by now, I wish I had never heard his name or seen his face. This behavior is just plain evil.

Better-Than-GMO Foods - UPDATED

Many of the foodies among you are uncomfortable with genetically modified organisms (GMO or sometimes just GM) in the food supply, and for good reason. But what if the genetic changes were done by nature? Well, of course, you say; that's nothing but selective breeding, something farmers have done for more than a millennium at least. And you would be right, except...

Now there's a scientific assist available, allowing farmers to compare the genome of two or more organisms, at least one the product of selective breeding, one with a desirable trait and the other without, in an attempt to identify the genes associated with the desirable trait. Farmers can leverage the intuition they have accumulated over centuries about selective breeding; the genetic comparison simply allows them to identify the likely plants much faster, eliminating many of the false steps inevitable in traditional methods. And no artificial GM is involved... at all. The only modifier of the genes is Nature.

At best, I've been able to sketch this for you in halting layman's terms. For a clearly written if somewhat technical explanation, I'll send you to my former employer, Dr. Ken Weiss of Penn State University. His current series on this subject is titled Learning the Lessons of the Land; here are Part I and Part II. (If there are additional parts, I will add links to this post.)

UPDATE: Part III, Part IV.

Blogger Dynamic Views: Not Ready For Prime Time

Many of you were informed when you logged in to your own blogs about Blogger Dynamic Views, an assortment of different views readers can use to view the same content. This blog meets all the specified criteria I can find, and all the settings are correct, but all I see when I try to use a view is the equivalent of "you can't do that." Maybe I'll try again in a month or so when they have the bugs worked out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eric Cantor: Kill Social Security

Cantor, quoted by Blue Texan at FDL:

50% of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? Listen, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.

 I do not know exactly who that "we" means. And I do not know what Cantor "want[s] America to be," though I can make a pretty good guess. But if he goes after Social Security, I will fight him with every ounce of strength left in my aging body. Enough is enough. I didn't pay the payroll tax all those years so the Masters of Wall Street could own another yacht. Fuck 'em if they think they're going to steal my retirement from me.

NYT Once Again Overestimates Its Own Value

... limiting access to nonsubscribers by number of articles per month. In their overwhelming magnanimity, their highnesses have granted us one boon: Links through blogs to NYT articles will still be free. If they expect many such links, they are once again inflating their own worth.

What is it with conservatives, anyway? Their arrogance is breathtaking. There are hundreds of thousands of news sources on the web, the vast majority supporting themselves on advertising revenue or (in the case of nonprofits) reader donations. Does NYT see itself as somehow unique? or is this just the beginning of a trend? Today, in the worst economy since the 1930s, the NYT suddenly decides to start charging people for what they can get for free from other sources. Good luck with that!

So be it. In our times, I can live without the Times.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bach, With And Without Tears

Tonight I got to thinking about the "old days," the time from about 1978 or thereabouts through perhaps 1999 or 2000 during which I was an active performing musician. A mailer for a local concert series started this train of thought. Some of the people on the series were familiar to me; a couple of them I had even worked with back in the day, performing 17th- and 18th-century music on period instruments or copies of such.

Pretty soon I simply had to hear some of that music. I settled on J. S. Bach's BWV 1039, a sonata for two transverse flutes (cross-blown wooden flutes, the ancestor of today's flutes) and continuo (a name not for a specific instrument but rather for an accompanying group, usually consisting of a chordal instrument, in this case harpsichord, and a bass-melody instrument such as baroque cello or perhaps viola da gamba).

Try as I might, I could not readily locate my sheet music, nor could I find my old vinyl disk of this work. (I never bought a CD of it.) Finally, I gave up and searched YouTube, finding an old recording of old music, possibly 1965 or so, by Frans Brüggen and Leopold Stasny (baroque flutes), Herbert Tachezi (harpsichord) and Nikolaus Harnoncourt (baroque cello). Any of these people still living today surely should have the word "venerable" before their names; those were the old days indeed, of wooden flutes and iron (wo)men.

I had to listen to the entire work (4 movements) twice through, the first time with tears welling up in my eyes. I do not often waste time lamenting my crippled state, but the memory of exactly what it felt like to perform that work for the first time, the stage setting, the people I performed with, the lively audience and the formidable challenge for someone for whom baroque flute was undeniably a distant third instrument among those I played, truly made me regret being a cripple, losing altogether the ability to play that music. Still, it is a privilege to have done it at all. There is much joy in that music, particularly this work, and I am grateful to have participated in its performance several times in my career, sometimes on 2nd flute, sometimes on harpsichord.

(Search YouTube for "bach trio flutes" and look for those submitted by "japino11"; the four movements are in four separate tracks. Skip the various performances on modern flutes; those are mostly vanity tracks of student recitals.)

Joe Bageant 1946-2011

See various memorial posts on his site. He will be missed. Damn it, first Molly and now Joe... people shouldn't die so young!

Paul Krugman On William Cronon Vs. The American Thought Police


Reason #90,824 Why I Am No Longer A Democrat

Democrats are being totally suckered by the GOP on the budget. Here's how David Dayen of FDL puts it:

I feel like US fiscal policy is trapped on some kind of treadmill. Democrats offer some level of budget cuts for the current fiscal year, Republicans reject anything less than what they’ve proposed, and then they put together a short-term stopgap with all of the Democrats’ cuts. The Democrats wind up agreeing, and the whole negotiation starts over again, with Democrats moving closer to the Republican position by offering yet more cuts.

Now we have the third offer from the Democrats, with $10 billion in cuts already enacted. They plan to offer $20 billion more.

You could make a case that the first $10 billion didn’t have a huge impact, as they went to programs already scheduled to be cut (I don’t totally subscribe to that). But the low-hanging fruit is gone. This $20 billion will hurt.

So they're halfway toward the GOP's original figure of $61 billion. This must end. I don't know if today's GOP sees some advantage in provoking an actual public revolution, but by trying to cut cutting essential government services, that seems to be what they are aiming for. And Democrats seem clueless as to what is happening to them in budget negotiations.

Who in Washington represents us? At present, I'd have to say "no one does."

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Once And For All: Founders Intended First Amendment To Apply To ALL Religions

Crap floats, and there's a lot of crap about the First Amendment floating to the top lately, spewed by right-wing ranters who have no clue as to the intent of our nation's Founders.

For example, the excellent Steve Benen of Washington Monthly's Political Animal has a few things to say about Republan presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who appeared at the Conservative Principles Conference in Iowa. Cain said that he would not consider appointing a Muslim to his cabinet because a Muslim would try to "gradually ease Sharia law ... into our government."

So who cares? Cain is highly unlikely to become the GOP candidate anyway. But Mitt Romney may well be their candidate, and Benen points out that Romney has said virtually the same thing numerous times... that he would not appoint a Muslim. Such a policy would stand in violation of Article VI of the Constitution.

A discussion ensued on the thread of Benen's post about the nature of our Founders' intent in framing the First Amendment (and similar documents at the state level), along with the "no religious test" language of Article VI, to include religions other than Christianity. One fellow, who seemed not to be a nut-case, nonetheless stated that he could find no such argument in his Complete Works of Thomas Jefferson, which he claimed to have read in its entirety. His doing so was like waving a red flag in front of the bull that I admittedly am, and I had to resolve the issue. It was easier than I expected.

The excellent and ever-useful Barbara of Mahablog (see my blogroll) quoted from Jefferson's autobiography a passage he wrote regarding the debate he witnessed over the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason & right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that it’s protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word “Jesus Christ,” so that it should read “a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.” The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of it’s protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.

(Boldface original.)

Note that Jefferson speaks for more than just himself: "a great majority" of Virginians rejected the limitation of religious freedom to Christianity. No doubt there were Christian zealots in that day just as there are today... but they were unable to prevail either in Virginia or eventually when the Bill was ratified by the states after the Constitutional Convention. (Most of the opposition to the Bill of Rights seems to have been due to a fear that it would be interpreted as a limiting list, rather than a starting point, for individual rights.)

Returning to the issue of the First Amendment relationship of religion and government, in 1947, Justice Hugo Black put it this way:

The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between church and State."
The same wiki discusses the writing of James Madison, the co-drafter of the Bill of Rights, on the same subject:

... Madison himself often wrote of "perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters" (1822 letter to Livingston), "line of separation between the rights of religion and the civil authority... entire abstinence of the government" (1832 letter Rev. Adams), and "practical distinction between Religion and Civil Government as essential to the purity of both, and as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States" (1811 letter to Baptist Churches).

Now, literally two centuries later, we have Christian extremists claiming that the Bill of Rights does not extend to religions other than their own. But it's clear beyond all legitimate argument that they cannot rationally claim that the Founders shared their position.

I realize this will be of no help in arguing with utterly irrational self-proclaimed Christian right-wing nut-jobs, but at least you now have the basics presented in one place. Don't try to persuade the wing-nuts to read this blog post. Instead, print it out and stuff it in their mouths as a stopper against the crap coming out...

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wisconsin GOP: Fuck The Court Ruling, Law Goes Into Effect Now

This is the very model of modern Republan behavior... they ignore the law when it is inconvenient. TPM's Eric Kleefeld:


Last week, a judge in Dane County (Madison) blocked the law on procedural grounds, ruling that a key conference committee used to advance the bill -- and to get around the state Senate Dems' walkout from the state -- had violated the state open-meetings law by failing to give proper 24-hours notice. 

The judge's order "restrain[ed] and enjoin[ed] the further implementation" of the law, including the prevention of Secretary of State Doug LaFollette (D) from publishing the act in the Wisconsin State Journal, which acts as the state's official newspaper for the purpose of giving the public official notice of new laws -- the final step for the law to take effect. That decision is now going through an appeals process, which remains up in the air.

But now, state Republicans have had the bill published through a different office -- the Legislative Reference Bureau, which handles drafting and research for the legislature -- according to the LRB's statutory requirement to publish legislation within ten days of enactment. Interestingly, the LRB itself says that this publication does not constitute action that would put the law into effect. But the state's Republican leaders disagree. Senate Majority Scott Fitzgerald (R) says the LRB publication constitutes official publication and the insists the law will take effect Saturday.

Very clever. This action may or may not make the bill a law... I am no expert on Wisconsin law... but without any room for doubt it defies the clear intent of the judge's injunction, which contains the following words:

I do, therefore, restrain and enjoin the further implementation of 2011 Wisconsin Act 10. The next step in implementation of that law would be the publication of that law by the secretary of state. He is restrained and enjoined from such publication until further order of this court.

I am certain that every Republan official... Gov. Walker and all the GOP legislators, including the Fitzgeralds... took an oath of office in which they swore to uphold the laws of the state of Wisconsin. They are now in violation of that oath. It's probably time for two actions: the judge should throw their lawbreaking asses in jail, and the Wisconsin public should initiate a general strike in an attempt to force their resignation.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Update On S. Dakota Abortion Law

Please see the update to my original post.

Reminder: Thom Hartmann's 'Unequal Protection'

Thom Hartmann is serializing online his book Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became "People" - and How You Can Fight Back.

I have now finished reading the library copy (it was due today, damn it), and I think that any reader who calls him- or herself progressive, liberal or for that matter conservative (a word not to be discarded just because the nut-cases insist on applying it to themselves) should acquire a working knowledge of this book.

Chapters 1 and 2 have been posted to date; the entire book of about 30 chapters should appear, about one chapter per week, in the course of the next few months.

Jonathan Schell

... always a brilliant man, dedicated to the practice of peace, crystal clear in his writing about even the most serious and difficult subjects, writes about nuclear power in the context of the ongoing Japanese failures. This may be the best philosophical article to date on the lessons of Fukushima.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

HuffPo Is In A Heap O' Trouble

If it wasn't bad enough that Huffington Post has not been paying some of its writers, as Pharyngula informed us, in many ways it's worse that they featured radical conservative, racist, and frequently caught liar Andrew Breitbart on their front page, as ColorOfChange reports.

About a year ago, I ended up with a virus on both my Windows machines, despite the presence of fully updated eSet NOD32 antivirus on both machines. That's the incident that led me to change to Linux. I cannot swear to it, but I believe the virus came from my accidentally clicking an ad on HuffPo. No, I wasn't chasing pr0n, though with some of their "articles," it's rather hard to tell the difference; I simply delivered a stray click, not uncommon given my neuropathy, and bad luck was with me that day. The virus was very effective; it soon traveled over my network to a laptop, and both my Windows boxes were practically useless. A site that is not careful about its advertisers is in and of itself a problem, and I did not visit there again for about six or eight months, until I was running Firefox on Ubuntu Linux, where I presume the risk of viruses is slightly lower.

Today's reports of nonpayment of writers (Arianna, f'crissake, surely has the money to pay them) and the placement of a racist wingnut on the front page combined in my mind with the incident described above to crystallize my decision: HuffPo is off my blogroll, at least for the moment. If anyone objects, I'll hear you out, but don't expect me to change my mind: enough is enough.

Hardball Ain't Just A TV Program

Here's what the Republans are up to in Indiana:

A deputy prosector in Johnson County, Indiana, has resigned his job after it was revealed that in February, during the large protests in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-public employee union bill, he e-mailed Walker's office and recommended that they conduct a "false flag operation" -- to fake an assault or assassination attempt on Walker in order to discredit the unions and protesters.

... Carlos Lam initially denied that he had sent the e-mail,...
However, Lam admitted late in the afternoon that he did send the e-mail, and resigned his job.

This is the kind of person who has come to typify the Grand Old Party lately. Do I even have to say any more?

Obama Distorts Miranda

Greenwald has the particulars. It's not that he has abolished the Miranda warning altogether... that would, after all, overturn a Supreme Court decision on the say-so of the executive only... but rather that he has given agents a great deal of discretion in how long they may hold terrorism suspects before reading them their Miranda rights.

Once again, Obama has abandoned his campaign promises to adhere to the rule of law in matters of due process. I'll say it again: from a civil liberties perspective, Obama is at least as bad as George W. Bush. Indeed, Bush did not commit this particular civil liberties violation. Even the WSJ said that "new rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades." (Emphasis mine. - SB)

Do our traditions mean anything? How about our laws, do they count for something? Or are we governed by one man, as he sees fit, case by case?

Mesothelioma Blog

Barbara of The Mahablog (see blogroll) has requested that I add the Mesothelioma Center News blog (again, see blogroll), on which she also writes. Mesothelioma ("asbestos cancer") is a worthy subject in itself, but the blog also has many good posts on related subjects with clear political content. For example, at the moment, there are several posts on the faux Social Security "crisis" contrived by GOPers and Obama Democrats trying to assert, falsely, that Social Security is going broke... so they can hand it to Wall Street, of course. Please take a look; it's well worth your time.

UPDATE: the Blogger blogroll tool and the Mesothelioma site apparently have agreed in a perverse way to make a forcible change of the blog URL, which is...
to a news page on the same site,
... a page with completely different and largely nonpolitical content.

I have encountered similar problems before. There is no manual way to force the Blogger blogroll tool to show the proper URL. I am contemplating removing the entry altogether. Damn, I hate technology sometimes.

UPDATE:  It's a good thing I was a programmer before I was forcibly retired. It means that I knew to look for a wholly different tool, a different widget, to accomplish more or less the same thing... without the overwhelming invasiveness and defectiveness of Blogger's "BlogList" widget. The blogroll now has correct URLs whenever they are known, because with the new widget, they can be pasted in manually. (There are still some broken links. Those are not my fault; some sites have disappeared, and I need to clean that up... separately.)

I found a conversation between some poor schmuck and an even more schmucky Blogger staffer, consisting of about a dozen exchanged posts, all giving useless advice on exactly the problem I was suffering. Of course there was no resolution: the damned original widget is fucking broken. Blogger is free, and definitely you get your money's worth.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New S. Dakota Law Forces Women Seeking Abortions To Undergo Anti-Abortion 'Counseling' - UPDATED



A law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday makes the state the first to require women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such “pregnancy help centers,” to learn what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.” 

The legislation, which passed easily in a state Legislature where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 3 to 1, also establishes the nation’s longest waiting period — three days — after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest. 

Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks. What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortion. 


So if a 14-year-old girl is pregnant because she is raped by a male family member, she must wait 3 days and undergo "counseling" by an abortion opponent about how she can care for the child. Great. Just great.

The president of the local Planned Parenthood said it better than I ever could:


Sarah Stoesz, president of the local Planned Parenthood chapter, said the clinic was careful to ensure that patients were making the decision themselves, sometimes turning away a woman who appeared to be making the decision under pressure. 

In contrast, she said, employees at the pregnancy help centers have a record of providing misinformation about the physical and psychological risks associated with the procedure and use tactics like displaying graphic photos or quoting scripture to influence a woman’s decision. 

“They’re not licensed, they’re not regulated, they’re not accredited and they’re openly ideological,” Ms. Stoesz said. 


Please note that in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court did not rule in favor of my position, nor did it rule in favor of an abortion opponent's position: it ruled in favor of a woman's right to control her own body. If a woman disapproves of abortion, no one can force her to have one. But it is her decision.

Several abortion opponents over the years (by chance, all were Catholic) have argued with me that I simply have not thought out the moral issues involved. There is not much I can do to convince them that I have thought the matter over, very carefully and with serious attention to all issues including moral ones... and I have come to the opposite conclusion from theirs. This is America. For those people, it is a religious matter. There is no consensus on abortion in America... and there is no right to legislate other people's behavior in matters of religion. In a very real sense, the establishment clause of the First Amendment protects a woman's right to choose abortion or childbirth. Yes, it is that simple.

I cannot imagine this law will pass constitutional muster. But one wonders how many S. Dakota women will suffer and perhaps even die carrying their rapists' babies while a challenge works its way through the courts. Now that is a moral issue.

UPDATE:  Amanda Marcotte takes it a step further, and points out what should have been obvious to me but wasn't: the anti-abortion lectures women must listen to are delivered by religious organizations. Can you spell "separation of church and state," children? I knew you could! H/T ellroon.

Please Step Down Carefully As You Exit The Bus

I don't generally blog on Sister Sarah, but this is quite amazing. The wing-nuts are spinning Sarah Palin's decline in popularity this way:


"I think the presidency is beneath her," Breitbart told GQ. "There's more power in being Oprah Winfrey than in being Barack Obama. It would be my goal for Palin to become Oprah and be the ultimate kingmaker for twenty-odd years. Oprah anointed Barack Obama."


Ann Coulter is in on the act as well. Don't you love the smell of wingnuts burning in the morning?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Political Awakening Of...

... Glenn Greenwald, couched in the context of a speech about WikiLeaks. This transcript is 12 pages long. If you love your country... whether your country is the US or another Western democracy (in name, at least)... you will find yourself drawn to read all 12 pages.

We Win One, At Least For Now


VICTORY! Court Says Plaintiffs Can Challenge Bush Wiretapping Law

In a huge victory for privacy and the rule of law, a federal appeals court today reinstated our landmark lawsuit challenging the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), a statute that gives the executive branch virtually unchecked power to collect Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of a broad coalition of attorneys and human rights, labor, legal and media organizations whose work requires them to engage in sensitive and sometimes privileged telephone and e-mail communications with colleagues, clients, journalistic sources, witnesses, experts, foreign government officials and victims of human rights abuses located outside the United States.

A federal district court dismissed the case in August 2009, ruling that the plaintiffs did not have the right to challenge the new surveillance law because they could not prove that their own communications had been monitored under it.

But with the support of law professors, the NYC Bar Association, the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press and many others, we appealed that decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Today, the appeals court reversed the lower court decision, finding that the plaintiffs have standing to challenge the law even though they cannot show to a certainty that the government is acquiring their communications. According to today's ruling, "the FAA has put the plaintiffs in a lose-lose situation: either they can continue to communicate sensitive information electronically and bear a substantial risk of being monitored under a statute they allege to be unconstitutional, or they can incur financial and professional costs to avoid being monitored. Either way, the FAA directly affects them."

Follow the link to find links to more details.

Face it: without the ACLU, the rule of law in America would already be stone-cold dead. With the ACLU, that may happen anyway... I am not optimistic... but at least there is one organization whose full-time mission is precisely that: to assure that the government follows the law, particularly those laws that originate in the Bill of Rights.

In my less-than-wealthy state these days, I have dropped all but two of my organization memberships. The ACLU is one of the two that I've kept. Help them out if you can.

Mammy's Little Baby Loves Shorteners, Shorteners...

URL shorteners, that is, like tinyurl or . The U.S. government loves 'em so much that it is about to start its second URL shortener site,, specifically to shorten .gov URLs. When the whole world (or at least a Twitter tweeter or a text message writer) is forced to express itself in 140-character chomps, I suppose there's justification. But I already have trouble expressing two or three distinct thoughts in the considerably larger size permitted by AT&T text messages. Yes, I'll plead to "verbose," but nothing worse!

Monday, March 21, 2011

On The Corporate Ownership Of America

... I'll have a lot more to say about that subject when I've finished reading Thom Hartmann's 2002 book, Unequal Protection. And I thought I knew how bad it was, and for how long it had been bad, until I began reading this book. Un-effing-believable!

Hartmann is now serializing the book on TruthOut... see my blogroll, or read the Introduction here. If you're an impatient sort like me, you can probably find the book in any large-city public library system; HPL is where I found it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Live From Quantico: Follow Jane Hamsher

... on Twitter.

A sample from around 7:15pm CDT:

Quantico police will really teach 80 yr old @DanielEllsberg a lesson & keep him in jail over night. #CHANGE via web

It is clear the Marines at Quantico are doing what they have been ordered to do. How high up do the orders originate? Who knows... but I'd be willing to make a guess. SHAME on those issuing the orders!

I read somewhere that "80 yr old @DanielEllsberg" has been arrested over 80 times in his activist career. I suppose arrest #81 (or is it #82), for participating in a nonviolent protest, won't make much difference to him. But it certainly makes a difference to me. Totalitarian behavior can never be employed in defense of democracy, and when it rears its ugly head, it can be really, really ugly. Again... SHAME on those issuing the orders!

AFTERTHOUGHT: Whatever you think, don't blame the Virginia State Police who are providing crowd control at the demo. From Humanist on an FDL thread:

The line of Virginia State Police, wearing riot gear for crowd control at the protest rally, held their clear shields in front of them, and each shield had a round, orange sticker saying “Free Bradley Manning” with his profile in black. Wonderful.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

'Grand Bargain'? Yes... With The Devil

Sixty (or sixty-four) US senators, depending on whose count you believe, sent a letter to Obama urging that he take up tax "reform" and entitlement "reform" this year. This almost certainly means tax cuts for wealthy people and benefit cuts for Social Security recipients. And the senators are evenly divided by party, so this is not exclusively a Republan effort. Democrats out there: you are being completely abandoned by your party. It doesn't matter if there's no constituency for the recommendations of the Fiscal Commission: the bastards are going to do it anyway. Democrats will doubtless take the hit in the 2012 election... all except for Obama, who may well skate free.

Here's what Digby has to say about it. And here's David Dayen's take.

If my Social Security benefits are taken away or (even worse) privatized on me, while I may begin with nonviolent action, I shall renounce all my previous commitments to nonviolence. If at that time I have no reasonable income on which to live, after paying into that damned system all my working life on the promise of a "contract across generations," I shall commit mayhem. Against whom? well, that remains to be determined, doesn't it? But if I find myself with no motivation to live, and the reasonable prospect of starvation facing me, I can tell you I'm not going out alone.

This has been a public service announcement from the crippled old fart who refuses to take baldfaced theft lying down.

Friday, March 18, 2011

GOP Bill: IRS Must Audit All Abortions

... to verify that they were not paid for with tax money. Teddy Partridge of FDL, quoting Nick Baumann of Mother Jones:

Another step towards smaller, less intrusive government, courtesy of the libertarian-minded teabagger-dominated House majority: Internal Revenue Service agents will be required to determine whether your abortion was paid for with tax dollars. Even more horrifying, income tax return filing forms may need to ask if you’d had an abortion and how you paid for it.
Under a GOP-backed bill expected to sail through the House of Representatives, the Internal Revenue Service would be forced to police how Americans have paid for their abortions. To ensure that taxpayers complied with the law, IRS agents would have to investigate whether certain terminated pregnancies were the result of rape or incest. And one tax expert says that the measure could even lead to questions on tax forms: Have you had an abortion? Did you keep your receipt?
The absurdly redundant ‘forcible rape’ language since stripped from this bill, sure to pass the House, was a Trojan horse. The remaining legislation is the most sweeping assault on women’s reproductive health ever undertaken by Congress.
“Were this to become law, people could end up in an audit, the subject of which could be abortion, rape, and incest,” says Christopher Bergin, the head of Tax Analysts, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit tax policy group. “If you pass the law like this, the IRS would be required to enforce it.”
I am not sure what Boehner is attempting to do with this bill. It won't pass the Senate, although if it did, I couldn't tell you with confidence that Obama wouldn't sign it. And it can't possibly be good politics beyond the GOPer base, indeed, probably not even within the entire GOP base. So the only two things this bill can possibly be intended to do are

  • send a big FUCK YOU to all Democrats and sensibly disposed independents in the electorate, and
  • delay House action on anything that might positively affect the economy.
When this Congress started, and recognizing Obama's utter lack of cojones in facing down Republans on anything whatsoever, I was really depressed that things were going to be worse even than they were in the first two years of Obama's term. Now, I still can't say things look good, but I can find some slight cause for optimism that the GOP will manage to commit suicide, to off itself so effectively that even the Democrats can't turn victory into defeat. We'll just have to wait and see.

H/T ellroon for making me aware of this atrocious bill.

Another Day, Another Nut-Case In Texas


An Arlington lawmaker has filed a bill aimed at protecting Texas college professors and students from discrimination because they question evolution. 

The measure from Republican state Rep. Bill Zedler would block higher education institutions from discriminating against or penalizing teachers or students based on their research into intelligent design or other theories that disagree with evolution.

Zedler said he filed the bill because of cases in which colleges had been hostile to those who believe that certain features of life-forms are so complex that they must have originated from a higher power. 

"We can have the academic freedom to have all kinds of ideas and philosophies but, lo and behold, even mention intelligent design and there are people that want to run you out of town on a rail," Zedler said.

If the bastards try to cram antiscientific religious claptrap down my (hypothetical) kid's throat in a publicly funded school, soon enough they'll wish it was only a rail they were being run out of town on...

There are two obligations government-funded public schools must address:

  • From an ethical standpoint, they are obliged to teach any scientific matter on the basis of best available research in any specific subject. Otherwise, what they teach is either not science, or it's not honest. Creationism is religious dogma, pure and simple. It is an ethical violation to teach any flavor of it in the public schools, first and foremost because it isn't science, and second because it is dishonestly presented as science.

  • From a constitutional standpoint, public institutions must not serve as conduits for instruction in any religion (or no religion at all). You can't teach Christianity... or atheism... in the public schools in America. There are religion-based schools affiliated with most churches where one may do exactly that... but not on the taxpayers' dime.

I am unwilling to compromise either obligation of the public schools, and I wish my former political party would take a stand on the issue. There are occasionally difficult cases regarding church-and-state issues, but most of them aren't hard at all. And you know where our nation's founders stood on the matter.

H/T Blue Texan.

The New Old Me

The photo I've used for years as a Blogger icon, gravatar, etc. was taken when I was in my mid-40s. Two decades later, I decided I needed a more recent image. I may keep this change, or I may revert to my "youthful" self; I don't know yet.

This is what I look like today. (Photo by Stella.)
UPDATE 3/21: Decided to revert. Sigh. Allow me my vanity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Who Wants High-Speed Trains?

Paul Krugman, for one.

Sock Puppets Face(book)-To-Face(book)

Nick Fielding and Ian Cobain of the Guardian:

The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.

A Californian corporation has been awarded a contract with United States Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop what is described as an "online persona management service" that will allow one US serviceman or woman to control up to 10 separate identities based all over the world.

The project has been likened by web experts to China's attempts to control and restrict free speech on the internet. Critics are likely to complain that it will allow the US military to create a false consensus in online conversations, crowd out unwelcome opinions and smother commentaries or reports that do not correspond with its own objectives.

The discovery that the US military is developing false online personalities – known to users of social media as "sock puppets" – could also encourage other governments, private companies and non-government organisations to do the same.

Give me a break. Do they really think they can pass the Turing test against people using social networks? Bring it on, I say.

Maybe I Should Have Sold It

Two young Hispanic men just came to my front door, pointing to my driveway and asking if I would be willing to sell my 1994 teal-colored Chevy Cavalier. Fool that I am, I politely told them no. Then again, it's what I drive, what I am able to drive with one working foot and one hand control, and I'm not really ready to spend a pile of money on something newer. But who knows when I'll have another opportunity to unload it.

Get Rid Of Click and Clack, Snarks Rep. Anthony Weiner - UPDATED

This is a must-watch!

UPDATE an hour later:  they done done it: the House voted along party lines (no Dems voting For; seven GOPers voting Against) to defund NPR and PBS. This bill, which will be placed in the trash bin by the Senate, was rushed through the House after an emergency meeting of the Rules Committee yesterday. To GOPers, there is nothing... not jobs, not the economy, not nuclear safety, nothing... more important than axing NPR and PBS.

Bicyclists: More Power To Them, Ah, From Them

A Dutch town is building a bicycle path with embedded solar panels:

What could make bike riding even more efficient? How about a bike path embedded with solar panels to produce clean energy while encouraging people to get on their bikes? The town of Krommenie in the Netherlands, just north of Amsterdam, will be receiving the SolaRoad bike path, scheduled to open in 2012.

Developed by the Province of North Holland, the Ooms Avenhorn Group and Imtech, the solar bike path will be constructed with a concrete base, topped with a 1 cm thick layer of crystalline silicon solar cells. The solar cells will then be protected by a thick, heavy-duty glass surface strong enough to drive a truck over it. The SolaRoad is estimated to generate 50 kw hours of electricity per square meter per year which will be used to power street lights, traffic systems, and perhaps even households along the SolaRoad system.


Some would object that this is "low-hanging fruit," that 50 kwh/m^2 even if the entire bike path were covered just isn't that much power. But the point is that probably 99 percent of the time, street lights are simply wasted energy: if they can be run essentially for free, that's a saving that adds up over time.

One cyclist commenter objected that glass can be slippery when wet. Having faced everything from sand filling in repairs to deliberately smashed fluorescent tubes tossed off the top of a nearby tall building to drivers of powered off-road vehicles, all on the local bicycle path, I doubt this is much of a problem, especially if the surface can be roughened a bit.

Obama Cutting Social Security Benefits?

Can you spell "political suicide"? I knew you could, children. From The Hill:


Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Sperling’s deputy, Jason Furman — leading figures in the president’s economic team — are pressing Obama to cut Social Security benefits if necessary, say sources familiar with their positions. 

But Obama’s political team, led by David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Jim Messina, are urging the president to understand that backing benefit cuts could prove disastrous to his 2012 reelection hopes, sources say.


Count on it: if Obama agrees to or actually initiates Social Security cuts, he will see me not only voting for someone else, but rounding up 10 voters who will do the same. Fuck this nonsense; I'm not having any!

H/T Avedon.

Obama Administration Displays Breathtaking Hubris Toward Japan - UPDATED

How unbelievably arrogant is this, reported by Scarecrow of FDL?

You would think that the US would be bending over backwards to provide whatever help the Japanese request or need but without presuming to suggest that we know better than they how to handle a situation that has gone well beyond previous events and experience and off the charts when one checks the “what should you do if” manual. 

Yet there was Chairman Jaczko, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission telling Congress with certainty that all the cooling water in Unit 4′s spent fuel storage pool was gone and that given the extreme levels of radiation, evacuations should expand to about 50 miles. [About 80km - ed.] That was bad enough.

The Chairman did not explain how the US had superior or different information from the information the Japanese officials have been providing. One can draw an inference from the fact that the temperature levels reported for the storage pool, while elevated on Tuesday were not available on Wednesday. Did that mean there was no water to measure? We don’t know. 

Far worse, however, was the anonymous statement given to ABC from an unnamed White House (or senior) official, presuming to tell the Japanese that they face a long and dire future:
“It would be hard to describe how alarming this is right now,” ABC quoted the anonymous official as saying. . . .
“They need to stop pulling out people — and step up with getting them back in the reactor to cool it. There is a recognition this is a suicide mission,” the unnamed U.S. official was quoted by ABC as saying.
Jeebus... and not even for attribution to a source.

"We are the United States of America, and we know more about everything in the world than everyone else in the world. Pay attention to what we say, and obey us when we tell you to send people to die," our government did not say, but may as well have said. Whatever happened to a simple, direct offer of whatever help we can offer? The Obama administration's response sounds so... Republican...

This is shameful behavior on the part of the U.S., contributing not one iota to the solution of a problem no one has ever had before. If Japan does not say in diplomatese, "Just STFU," we will be fortunate.

UPDATE (morning of 3/17): quite apart from the Obama administration's arrogance, there really does seem to be a problem of leadership in Japan, making a bad situation worse. David Dayen of FDL has ths story.

Sad, Sadder, Saddest Commentary

Jon Walker of FDL: on polls about the Afghanistan war:

I don’t know what is a sadder commentary on on the state of our democracy:

  • The fact that a majority of the country no longer expects their elected “representatives” to follow their wishes on such an important issue.
  • The fact that our “representatives” will very likely take actions in such direct opposition to the electorate.
  • Or the fact that the media isn’t treating this unbelievable disconnect and total failure of democracy as a huge national scandal.
Sad indeed.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Everything Is Connected To Everything

In this case, the connection is between WikiLeaks and the Japanese nuclear disasters. HuffPo:

Japan Earthquake 2011: WikiLeaks Reveals Government Warned About Nuclear Plant Safety In 2008

With fears of a possible nuclear meltdown in Japan continuing to escalate, evidence that the nation received warnings over the stability of its power plants from an international watchdog more than two years ago has emerged via a new round of diplomatic cables accessed by WikiLeaks. 

As the Telegraph is reporting, an official from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in December 2008 that safety rules were outdated, and strong earthquakes would pose a "serious problem" for the power stations.

A U.S. embassy cable quoted an unnamed expert who expressed concern that guidance on how to protect nuclear power stations from earthquakes had only been updated three times in the past 35 years. The document states: "He [the IAEA official] explained that safety guides for seismic safety have only been revised three times in the last 35 years and that the IAEA is now re-examining them. Also, the presenter noted recent earthquakes in some cases have exceeded the design basis for some nuclear plants, and that this is a serious problem that is now driving seismic safety work.


(Emphasis mine.)

What more is there to say. Like George W. Bush when he was confronted with warnings in the 8/6/2001 PDB about possible terrorist attacks, some Japanese official, possibly contemplating the money it would cost to do a real refit of the plants, probably responded with something like GeeDubya's infamous "All right, you've covered your ass, now." Barely more than two years later, those living near the Fukushima plant are paying the price for a likely purely political or financial decision.

Is it really true that in a democracy, people end up with the leaders they deserve?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

AMA Study: US 'Poorly Prepared' For Radiation Emergency

TPM's Eric Lach has some information on the American Medical Association study:

"[T]he nation remains poorly prepared to respond adequately to a major radiation emergency incident," the study, titled "State-Level Emergency Preparedness and Response Capabilities," says. "Capabilities are insufficient or inadequate throughout the functions assessing planning in state health departments, resources in the state health department and other state agencies, and relationships with federal and other partners. For some measures, as many as 85% of responding states reported insufficient capability to respond to a radiation incident."

38 state health departments participated in the survey, including 26 of the 31 states that have nuclear power plants. States with nuclear power plants were asked to consider their responses independent of plant-specific plans and resources.


Read the details; they're no more comforting than the summary.

One More Reason I Won't Buy An E-Book Reader

Publishers of e-books are involved in disputes with libraries. Some publishers refuse to sell e-books to libraries:

The ease with which e-books can be borrowed from libraries — potentially turning e-book buyers into e-book borrowers — makes some publishers uncomfortable. Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, two of the largest trade publishers in the United States, do not make their e-books available to libraries at all. 

Others sell only crippled versions that expire after a time, or after a specified number of checkouts.
Last week, that agreement was upended by HarperCollins Publishers when it began enforcing new restrictions on its e-books, requiring that books be checked out only 26 times before they expire. Assuming a two-week checkout period, that is long enough for a book to last at least one year. 
And as popular as the Kindle is, e-books available to libraries cannot be read on a Kindle.

Lending libraries serve at least two purposes. One is as a provider of books available to people who for one reason or another cannot or do not buy those books. The societal argument for allowing this is simple: people's educations will be truncated (or worse) if they have to be wealthy to explore a variety of books, some of which will inevitably turn out not to be suitable for their purposes. The other is as an accessible archive of a society's store of knowledge: it is almost impossible to predict what nonfiction books will be of use a decade or a century from now. E-books that expire have the potential to thwart both purposes.

I depend on Houston Public Library for a portion of my reading material. At present I have three books checked out (do the names Krugman, Greenwald, Hartmann ring a bell?), each coming from a different branch of HPL and all brought to my "doorstep," i.e., my neighborhood library, for my convenience. What if libraries had to come up with the money to relicense those books, typically once a year? Of course I suppose they could have a special level of membership in which a patron would pay a yearly fee to be allowed to check out e-books, but that is awfully damned classist. No, the solution is to force publishers to provide libraries with e-books on the same basis as print books, but at a higher initial cost. Publishers need to remember that they exist for our benefit, not we for theirs.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan: All Hell Breaking Loose At Fukushima Plant

More explosions, high radiation readings near plant, evacuations of employees, evacuations of residents in radius of 20km around the plant, stay-indoors order in radius of 30km, fuel rods possibly exposed in one reactor, possible meltdown in one reactor. Here is an article. Here is a livestream from NHK Japan in English. H/T TPM.

Speak Truth To Power, Lose Your Job

P. J. Crowley of the State Department can tell you all about that. He was forced to "resign" by Obama after Crowley made negative public comments about Bradley Manning's imprisonment. Glenn Greenwald has details here and here.

Obama, contrary to his campaign promises, has been more vicious toward accused leakers than any president in history, including GeeDubya Bush. Manning is being made an example of, and all the rules of due process in the Constitution are being ignored in his detention. All you Obama enthusiasts out there: this is your wonderful president. Ah, the oh-dash-it-all of hope!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan: Another Explosion In A Different Reactor

A second explosion has taken place at the Fukushima nuclear plant, this one in reactor #3. Both reactors have been deliberately flooded with seawater in an attempt to bring the reactions under control. Neither of these explosions was nuclear; this one was apparently caused by a hydrogen buildup, and like the other explosion in reactor #1, left the reactor core intact. But there are observations of airborne radiation, presumably due to intentional release of steam from the units in attempts to cool the reactors. These releases could continue intermittently for months, as long as it takes to prevent total meltdowns:


But Pentagon officials reported Sunday that helicopters flying 60 miles from the plant picked up small amounts of radioactive particulates — still being analyzed, but presumed to include cesium-137 and iodine-121 — suggesting widening environmental contamination.


Japanese reactor operators now have little choice but to periodically release radioactive steam as part of an emergency cooling process for the fuel of the stricken reactors that may continue for a year or more even after fission has stopped. The plant’s operator must constantly try to flood the reactors with seawater, then release the resulting radioactive steam into the atmosphere, several experts familiar with the design of the Daiichi facility said.

This is yet more bad news. We can only hope and pray for better, but there are not really grounds to expect better.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  A reminder: these reactors, designed by GE, are 40 years old. Some of the backup pump power systems seem to have been designed with the thought that the seawall would protect them from floodwater, notwithstanding their low-lying locations. One's first instinct is to exclaim "what hubris," but I am inclined to believe that it is less a matter of hubris and more a matter of that same phrase used by Bush administration officials regarding events in the War on Terra: "No one could ever have predicted..." Well, maybe not; I don't know. But surely it passed through at least one engineer's mind, and out his or her mouth, at least once; that engineer was probably told in no uncertain terms to STFU.

The BBC article linked above points to the first of doubtless many monetary costs of not being able to predict: "The government announced it was pumping 15 trillion yen ($182bn; £113bn) into the economy to prop up the markets - which slumped on opening." At last... a crisis that is even bad for rich people!

Japan: Meltdown A Serious Danger In Three Reactors

Reuters at TPM, 10:10 EDT:

FUKUSHIMA, Japan, (Reuters) - Japan fought Sunday to avert a meltdown at three earthquake-crippled nuclear reactors, describing the massive quake and tsunami, which may have killed more than 10,000 people, as the nation's biggest crisis since World War Two.


As he spoke, officials worked desperately to stop fuel rods in the damaged reactors from overheating, which could in turn melt the container that houses the core, or even explode, releasing radioactive material into the wind.


The government said a building housing a second reactor at the same complex was at risk of exploding after a blast blew the roof off the first the day before. The complex is 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

Later it said it was pouring seawater into a third reactor to release a buildup of pressure.

The No. 1 reactor, where the roof blew off, is 40 years old and was originally scheduled to go out of commission in February but had its operating license extended another 10 years. But Kan said the crisis was not another Chernobyl, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster.

(Emphasis mine.) Oh no, of course not. That was in the old Soviet Union, after all. Modern Japan would never make such a mistake. [/snark]


Asked if fuel rods were partially melting in the No. 1 reactor, Edano said: "There is that possibility. We cannot confirm this because it is in the reactor. But we are dealing with it under that assumption."


Edano said there was a risk of an explosion at the building housing the No. 3 reactor, but that it was unlikely to affect the reactor core container.

So... one meltdown has occurred, and another is a possibility. Great.

You'd think this tragedy had nothing to do with U.S. fiscal policy, but I could not help noticing this:


The Bank of Japan is expected to pledge Monday to supply as much money as needed to prevent the disaster from destabilizing markets and its banking system. It is also expected to signal its readiness to ease monetary policy further if the damage from the worst quake since records began in Japan 140 years ago threatens a fragile economic recovery.

If this had happened in the U.S. ... rather, when it happens in the U.S. ... how likely is the Fed to make an honest effort to stabilize the economy and the banking system, given the likely effect on our wealthiest citizens? Don't expect an administration of either party to go there; policies that offend the rich are, um, radioactive.

Time Change

There is not a finer thing
Than to travel in the Spring!
As you tote your luggage doorward,
Set your clocks AN HOUR FORWARD!
- SB the YSS

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How Many Right-Wing Nut-Jobs Does It Take To Screw Up A Light Bulb?

I don't know the answer... but the nut-jobs are damned surely going to try:


A 2007 bill, passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress and signed into law by George W. Bush, will make the familiar incandescent bulb subject to strict efficiency standards next year. 

The effect will be to make current 100-watt bulbs obsolete — and that has sent conservative lawmakers, libertarians, some environmental activists and owners of Easy-Bake Ovens into a frenzy of activity to get the law repealed or, at least, to stockpile the bulbs before they disappear from store shelves. 


These are people who see evil in having their children vaccinated, or prefer burning leaves and lawn trimmings in the city instead of disposing of them in an environmentally sound, legally prescribed manner. I am not utterly unsympathetic... all of us hold irrational beliefs, or engage in unsound activities without justification... but it is very much a government's prerogative to take proactive legal measures to prevent harm to the public it serves.

In the case of light bulbs, electric usage is a major contributor to global climate change, and saving electricity by a factor of 2 or 3 is well within the mandate to delay that climate change. The traditional incandescent bulb is not being made illegal for use, merely unavailable for purchase under most circumstances. I do hope the crazies enjoy their electric bills, and I especially hope they enjoy the climate they bring on when the waters begin to rise regularly around their homes.

In other words, if what they do puts them out of commission sooner, (ahem) more power to them.

Explosion - UPDATED 4x

There has been an explosion at the Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant in Japan. Reuters:


Jiji news agency said there had been an explosion at the stricken 40-year-old Daichi 1 reactor and TV footage showed vapor rising from the plant, which lies 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo.

Japanese media said an explosion blew the roof off the reactor, raising fears of a disastrous meltdown at a nuclear plant damaged in the massive earthquake that hit Japan.


 This is really, really not good news.

MORE INFO:  CNN has this:

(CNN) -- People across Japan and the world watched nervously Saturday as crews at a nuclear plant struck by an earthquake, a tsunami and then an explosion in the span of 36 hours resorted to drowning a feverish nuclear reactor in sea water in hopes of preventing a meltdown with potentially catastrophic implications.


Although government officials painted a hopeful picture, saying crews had begun implementing a backup plan to flood the reactor containment structure with sea water, a nuclear expert said the situation is dire even if it is already under control.

"If this accident stops right now it will already be one of the three worst accidents we have ever had at a nuclear power plant in the history of nuclear power," said Joseph Cirincione, an expert on nuclear materials and president of the U.S.-based Ploughshares Fund, a firm involved in security and peace funding.

If the effort to cool the nuclear fuel inside the reactor fails completely -- a scenario experts who have spoken to CNN say is unlikely -- the resulting release of radiation could cause enormous damage to the plant or release radiation into the atmosphere or water. That could lead to widespread cancer and other health problems, experts say.

People who think nuclear power is a viable solution to our future energy problems, please take note: along with Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, this is the third catastrophic failure of a nuclear plant... by "catastrophic" I mean causing irreparable hazard to the public for miles around and for many years... in only 25 years. When will the MOTU come to their senses and abandon this intrinsically dangerous technology?

UPDATE: Bill Egnor of FDL provides a simple explanation of nuclear reactor technology and how a meltdown can occur. If I understand what Japanese officials have announced, the problems are contained, and the likelihood of a meltdown is very low at this point. That doesn't change my opinion of the danger of nuclear power generation in general: basically, they may have gotten lucky this time. But considering that a nuclear plant is forever, what is the likelihood that there will be no catastrophic failures, century after century?

UPDATE Sat. 1:50pm CST:  Scarecrow of FDL, a professional in the area of power grids but not a nuclear power expert, explains the sequence of events at the two Japanese plants and informs us that a total of five reactor units (including the original #1) are at risk. Apparently the failsafes initially worked, but the pumps providing cooling water were dependent on a connection to the general power grid, which was lost during the earthquake. Emergency generators, possibly diesel-powered, were hooked up and were successfully powering the pumps... until the tsunami hit. A final failsafe was activated, one that uses batteries to power the control system of a steam-driven facility that can continue to push cooling water through the core... for as long as the batteries last. Best available info is that the batteries are good for about 8 hours. Operators are trying to obtain and install replacement batteries, but the status of that process is unknown. Failure would probably mean meltdown and radiation releases. Stay tuned.

UPDATE Sat. about 4:00pm CST: The New York Times is reporting that officials have announced that the reactor has been flooded with seawater, averting the danger of an imminent meltdown. Time will tell.

Tragedy In Japan

My heart goes out to the people of Japan. An earthquake and the resulting tsunami, the earthquake magnitude an unfathomable 8.9, hit a center 80 miles off the coast, raising a tsunami 10 meters (about 30 feet) high, which swept through areas north of Tokyo, sweeping away everything... homes, boats, buildings and of course people... and leaving in its wake many people trapped in rubble. Fires are burning in a number of areas.

There is conflicting information at this point about the degree of damage to, and danger from, nuclear power plants which sustained damage; apparently radioactive gas was released, and an area of about 10km radius about one of the plants is being evacuated. Another plant threatened to overheat its rods, but apparently that has been contained.

The photos on the web are heartbreaking. The devastation in some places is total in a way that most Americans can only imagine. (I am reminded of the photos in New York after 9/11/2001, or the photos of the Galveston Beach area after Hurricane Ike. To be honest, the photos of Hiroshima from 8/6/1945 also came to mind; the devastation is that great.) At least 1,000 people were killed, and the actual toll is nowhere nearly complete.

At this point we can only hope for the best. As avenues appear for sending help, I'll post them on this blog.

UPDATE:  PBS has a map of live recent seismic data.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday Recycled Cat Blogging

Long, tall Lily...

She's slightly more massive these days, but a lot less cooperative in being photographed... or just about anything else.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Overnight In Madison

A couple of commenters on this post on FDL about questions of legality of the Republan-passed bill in Wisconsin had insights on what might be going on.

First, commenter Margaret:

Okay, here’s a possibility that occurred to me last night. What if the Republicans knew that there was no way this would stand up to legal scrutiny? What if this is a ruse to get the Democrats back in Madison so they can declare a quorum and pass the original bill?
That thought had occurred to me as well. At this point, though, it is not clear that state police or capitol police would obey an order from King Gov. Walker to arrest Democratic senators and bring them to the chamber. Here is a comment from Phoenix Woman in response to Margaret's:

That’s what the Senate Dems are suspecting, which is why they’re not coming back just yet.

Either that, or the Republicans are scrambling so hard and fast that they’re not bothering to check to make sure what they do can’t be immediately shot down. Their whole schtick has been to do nothing but blitzkrieg: Hit the Dems so fast that nobody knows what happened until afterwards. But the Dems’ denying them a quorum has slowed things down and built tremendous opposition to the GOP’s plans.

And another from Phoenix Woman:

There’s a reason that the current and former mayors of Madison joined the cops and firefighters at the Capitol to protest last night. The whole friggin’ town is against Walker and the state GOP. 

Walker tried to force the Madison police to clear the building last night – they refused. He then turned to the Dane County sheriff – and he refused. He was going to call out the national guard, but somebody on his staff must have told him that it would look really bad if he had national guard troops firing on cops and firefighters and mayors, so that ended up not happening.

(Emphasis mine.)

I'd like to think that this is the response of a free people to illegal antidemocratic (as well as anti-Democratic) actions: even the police refuse to take part in such actions. But I've been around long enough to know that this is not over yet.

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes