Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Supreme Court... And Retired Justice... Suffer Lingering Case Of O'Connorrhea

Sandra Day O'Connor is sorry the Supreme Court she served on took up the case of Bush v. Gore. Peachy. NOW she decides to exercise a conscience in the matter.

Sometimes "better late than never" simply doesn't apply.

The case and especially the decision tarnished the Court's reputation, and O'Connor's retirement led to the appointment of Samuel Alito, shifting for the long term the ideological balance of the Court.

Sorry, Justice O'Connor; "I'm sorry" doesn't cut it. You... yes, you... hold considerable responsibility for the reign of George W. Bush.

Monday, April 29, 2013

America, Election 2012: For The First Time, Blacks Voted At A Higher Rate Than Whites... But It's Not That Simple

Here's Hope Yen of AP at TPM:
WASHINGTON (AP) — America’s blacks voted at a higher rate than other minority groups in 2012 and by most measures surpassed the white turnout for the first time, reflecting a deeply polarized presidential election in which blacks strongly supported Barack Obama while many whites stayed home.

Had people voted last November at the same rates they did in 2004, when black turnout was below its current historic levels, Republican Mitt Romney would have won narrowly, according to an analysis conducted for The Associated Press.

This has been coming for a long time. No doubt having a Black at the top of the Democratic ticket brought out a lot more Black voters than in earlier presidential election years, and it's not clear to me whether this is repeatable, but it has now happened once, and an African American has now been elected president twice.

Why do I doubt the reproducibility of the result? because Blacks constitute only 13.1 percent of America's population. If that figure is believable, that's a steep hill to climb. Unless another African American heads the Democratic ticket (or the Republican ticket? gimme a break...) in 2016, this level of turnout seems unlikely to me.

But that African American at the head of the ticket is actually a person of mixed race. Growing numbers of Americans are of mixed race. Some of those are emphatic in their desire not to be pigeonholed in one race. Even those who are not may identify variously among individuals of the same mixture. A friend of mine, filling out a form, was confronted with a checkbox labeled "Person with Hispanic surname." WTF? Her surname is as Anglo as my own, her ethnicity is indisputably Hispanic, her parents are Colombian by birth, and her citizenship is American by birth. At some point, the whole classification scheme itself becomes a vehicle for misrepresentation of ethnicity.

State governments may nonetheless be in for some real changes. Texas, for example, has been "majority minority" (I do hate that phrase, but it's the standard term now) for some years, and if federal courts including the Supremes are ever of a composition to reverse the rampant gerrymander that Republicans in power here have perpetrated over at least the last two decades, we Texans may lose our status as the laughingstock of the nation.

Old white guys like me (actually, old white guys NOT like me) might want to start adjusting their mindsets right now...

Sleepers, Awake!

I awoke at about 5:30 AM with bits and pieces of Bach's Cantata 140, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Sleepers, Awake!) running through my mind's ear. Treat yourself to this glorious work this morning; forget the IMHO awkward theology ("bridegroom"? really? OK, Lutherans, it's all yours) and just bask in the music.

Above is a rather old but still marvelous performance by the Concentus Musicus Wien conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, with a scrolling score for those curious about the details... and who, hearing such beauty, wouldn't want to know what makes it work!

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Yesterday we went grocery shopping at Fiesta, the biggest local international food market. If you like Mexican food, or Indian/Pakistani or Middle Eastern or even British food, Fiesta is the source of choice. It's only a few miles from us, just across and down the road from Reliant Stadium. I try to shop there about every fifth shopping trip or so.

We went by METROLift. Stella rode on my ticket as my "attendant"; no, not a medical attendant but a grocery toter... the gal has strong arms. It also gave her a better chance than a shopping list to influence purchases.

The trip to Fiesta was uneventful. The shopping was pleasant. There was even some romancing in the aisles; we're not shy.

The trip back... almost didn't happen.

METROlift kept us standing for 2½ hours in front of Fiesta. Two and one-half hours. With a grocery cart full of melting frozens. Each time I phoned their automated tracker, our vehicle arrival time was pushed back another 15 or 30 minutes.

Finally the vehicle disappeared from the automated system. That did it for me: I phoned the dispatcher. She confirmed that the vehicle was still en route, 3.4 miles from us. Then 3.2 miles from us. Then 9 miles from us. WHAT??? I asked the dispatcher. Apparently the driver (the dispatcher repeatedly said "he"; many of the drivers are women) decided to take a break. Great.

Stella reached her limit. She phoned a cab. I phoned the METROLift dispatcher again and informed her that we would take whichever vehicle arrived first, the cost be damned. She said she didn't blame me.

The cab didn't show in the promised 10 minutes. Or 20. Or 30.

One of Fiesta's managers noticed how long we had been there, and inquired. We told him our sad story. Bless him, he personally took our melted frozens and brought us replacements. Now there's an attitude that will keep long-term regular customers!

About that time, a METROLift bus (well, OK, not really a bus, but their biggest vehicle) showed up. We held it up (figuratively) while the manager came back with our frozens. The petite woman driving the bus proved to have more strength than both of us as she hefted our grocery bags aboard.

The cab? An inquiry with the cab company revealed that the driver decided to pick up another passenger instead. The company is so damned proud of the fact that their drivers are independent business people; well, there you see the consequences of that.
They say all's well that ends well... I'm afraid Stella would not agree. She has sworn off METROLift. No more accompanied grocery runs for me.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What If They Held A Congressional Committee Meeting On Unemployment And (Almost) Nobody Came?

Attaturk at FDL tells the story, as reported at McClatchy. It seem several big-name economists were going to testify that unemployment was a crisis (du-uh)... here's McClatchy's Kevin G. Hall:
Testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, the economists, who’ve served both Democratic and Republican presidents, said the elevated percentage of long-term unemployed people among those counted as jobless underscored deeper problems in the labor market.
So the congressional committee jumped right on it, did they? Attaturk found the answer at, of all places, National Journal, which also has a pic of the nearly-empty committee room:
When a hearing to explore how to get the long-term unemployed back to work kicked off on Wednesday morning, only one lawmaker was in attendance. That was Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was holding the hearing in her role as the vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee. The Joint Economic Commitee is one of a handful of committees whose members come from both parties and both houses of Congress. Klobuchar was eventually joined by three colleagues (in order of their appearance): Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings. All four are Democrats.
"All four are Democrats." What a surprise!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Will Obama's Version Of Chained CPI Be Even Worse For Seniors Than Rest Of Population? YES, Says CBO

Bookmark for bad fiction
Some call it Obama's "stealth" Social Security cut, and Brian Beutler of TPM, using Congressional Budget Office analyses, shows how that is true:

The report [.pdf] addressed and largely affirmed a key criticism of an inflation measure called Chained CPI, which among other things would reduce Social Security cost of living increases and kick people into higher income tax brackets, if adopted across the government.

The implicit finding: Chained CPI — which President Obama included as a compromise measure in his budget — will typically harm seniors more than the rest of the population.

(Bolds editorial.)

Just what we seniors need: another kick in the pocketbook. I don't know about you, but my carefully hoarded retirement savings are already draining pretty quickly. This is Obama's idea of a "compromise." Sounds pretty damned Republican to me; I don't see the compromise. But please read it yourself.

Choosing Amputation

Please read this well-written and very informative AP story (now there's something you don't see every day) on TPM about Heather Abbott, a woman who lost her left foot as a result of irreparable damage from one of the explosions in Boston. She seems very courageous to me. Though I had no traumatic incident... an infection led to the amputation of my already deformed foot... much of what she describes seems familiar to me; our decision processes were similar. With Mrs. Abbott's clear thinking and positive outlook, I expect to read another story about her return to reasonable health in, say, four months or so. And when I do, I shall stand up and applaud. Courage, Mrs. Abbott; courage and strength!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Has Its Day

Ever wonder why Earth is celebrated only one day of the year? Or why so many projection maps are not like this one?

I used to work with an Aussie (their own term, pronounced very much like Harriet's husband's name) at UT School of Public Health. She replaced the shared computer grad assistants' office world map (public health is very much an international study, and UTSPH had dozens of international students) with a south-on-top map. In every other respect, it was an ordinary Mercator projection world map... but the Land of Aus (again their term, pronounced just like the place the Wizard lived) was in the top hemisphere.

When I started to prepare an Earth Day post today, I went looking for such a map on Google Images. They are surprisingly scarce. Photos of Earth from space printed with the southern hemisphere on top are even scarcer, though those without labels may simply be turned over. You don't think we have a northern-hemisphere-centered cultural bias or something, do you? Surely not!

For a few years, a bit over a decade ago, I spent my Earth Days standing in the Houston Sierra Club tent in the Rice University stadium parking lot. We each used to stand three or four hours at a shift, chatting with passers-by about just what an urban Sierra Club does ("plenty!" is the answer; don't get me started). Now I wouldn't be able to stand on my own two feet (one natural; one being paid for on a time payment plan) for even one hour, and I've become a stay-at-home Sierran. But I do remember those days fondly, and the map above brings a smile to my face.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Res Miranda

Source: Wikipedia
The phrase usually means "a wondrous thing," and is familiar to me from its appearance in a glorious English Christmas carol from about 1420, There Is No Rose of Swich Vertu (i.e., in our English, Such Virtue). Apparently there are no musicologists or Mary-worshippers in the Obama administration's DoJ, and in cases of alleged terrorism, they have decided it is unnecessary to give Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda warning, apprising him of his rights before questioning him about his alleged crimes.

This refusal violates even the Obama administration's own policy, first put forward in 2009 or 2010 in two cases of alleged terrorism, that such refusal to Miranda-ize (yes, "Miranda" has been verbed; no, I didn't do it first, because "verbing weirds language") is valid only if authorities are confronted with an ongoing threat to public safety. However horrific the Boston bombings were, it is difficult to make the case that the danger to the public is ongoing: one suspect is dead, the other is in custody, and no more bombs have been found.

For a presidential administration or its Justice Department, there is no more effective way to involve the ACLU promptly in a legal case than to violate, deliberately and publicly, the findings of the US Supreme Court. In this instance, the reference is to the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona, and the issue at stake is a defendant's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination:
... The person in custody must, prior to interrogation, be clearly informed that they have the right to remain silent, and that anything the person says will be used against that person in court; the person must be clearly informed that they have the right to consult with an attorney and to have that attorney present during questioning, and that, if they are indigent, an attorney will be provided at no cost to represent them.
And indeed the ACLU is jumping right in. From the above-linked TPM article:
The American Civil Liberties Union said the public safety exemption is invalid in this case. “Every criminal defendant is entitled to be read Miranda rights,” said ACLU director Anthony Romero. “The public safety exception should be read narrowly. It applies only when there is a continued threat to public safety and is not an open-ended exception to the Miranda rule.”
It doesn't get much more straightforward than that.

We'll see what happens, but I have a bad feeling that this could well jeopardize the prosecution of a defendant who might otherwise be nailed to the wall without much trouble.

(Damn. The man still looks like a child to me. I know; I know: children don't build and deploy bombs...)

Friday, April 19, 2013


It is with real sadness that I remove the Occupy banner from the upper left corner of this blog. What is left of the Occupy movement seems at once more distributed around the world and more focused on effecting change in America by means not so much designed to obstruct "the system" as to use it effectively in pursuit of things that really need to be done. The Wikipedia post concludes as follows:
The Occupy movement is now more a global collection of groups working toward similar goals under the Occupy name than an effort to occupy physical spaces. These groups include Occupy Sandy which has provided needed relief to the New York Area since Hurricane Sandy hit,[175] Occupy London's Occupy Economics group that hosted, and was praised by the Bank of England's Executive Director for Financial Stability,[176] Occupy the SEC which monitors US financial regulatory matters [177] and Strike Debt [178] which is raising money to retire defaulted debt.[179] There are numerous non-listed groups and actions.

In the words of a Forbes Magazine blog: "But this is a protest movement of techno-competent, administratively well-informed, thinkers, do-ers and creators who know the system well and have levers in it. The changes that we need to see happen will come about because of them and what they are capable of, not because of what they object to."[180]
(See the wiki for footnotes.)

We owe our thanks to the Occupy Movement for shaking things up for a while, using mostly nonviolent means that stood in stark contrast to violent responses by many local governments, especially New York City. If I were in one of those city governments, I wouldn't be too self-satisfied at having "put down" the protests: what is left behind may prove of greater long-term importance than what was dispersed by police with rubber bullets, tasers, pepper spray, handcuffs, billy clubs and portable fences. Only time will tell.

Boston Violence Continues In Watertown - Two Suspects, Brothers, One Dead In Firefight

... as is an MIT campus policeman. But the firefight was at a home in Watertown, and the dead suspect, in an FBI photo taken while he was alive, looks like a child... a child who tossed explosives at the police cars involved in the chase.

I must be getting old. This all feels very, very wrong.

I don't know if any of you were fans of s/f writer John Brunner and his most famous novel Stand on Zanzibar, but it seems to me we are beginning to see muckers. Dog help us all.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Four Branches Of American Government

Soon enough, every American schoolchild will be able to recite the list:
  • Executive: the President, his or her cabinet, etc.
  • Legislative: Congress
  • Judiciary: the Supreme Court and other courts, and...
  • Gun Lobby: the NRA
Got it, kids? The list above is not necessarily in order of the power with which each branch is invested. We all know whom the three constitutionally mentioned branches really fear...

You have a constitutionally protected right to speak. But the government, as a matter of public safety, may legally prevent you from shouting "Fire!" in a crowded room.

You have an implied right to drive an auto. But the government may require you to obtain a license by proving that you actually have the basic skills necessary to take your car on the road without wreaking havoc there.

You have a constitutionally protected right to own a firearm. But... oh, never mind. Apparently, you have an unmitigated NRA-protected right to carry a gun at all times, in all circumstances, no matter how many crimes you have committed in the past using a gun.

Calm down: nobody wants to take your guns away from you, or prevent you from acquiring more guns, unless you have a demonstrable history of using your guns for criminal purposes. A background check is not too much to ask. Your waiting a very short time to purchase a weapon is a very small price to pay compared to the price paid by the victims at Sandy Hook.

Shame on the cowards in the Senate. This should have been an easy call. Shame, especially, on the leadership too cowardly to address the problems of the filibuster.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

House May Vote On CISPA Today

Zombie Bill
(far right)
It's the Return of the Undead: CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, passed in one version by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives about a year ago, is up for a vote in another version (at least no better than the original).

The House Rules Committee, chaired by Republican Rep. Pete Sessions (Asshole-TX), voted along party lines to remove an amendment with bipartisan support (but not in the committee) that would have allowed companies to make, and to be obligated to keep, privacy promises, including terms-of-use agreements and privacy agreements.

Even President Obama is sufficiently exercised about this bill to threaten to veto it. According to Declan McCullagh of CNET (see above link), the House will nonetheless debate the bill today, but thanks to Sessions and other Republicans on the Rules Committee, the aforementioned amendment will not even get a vote by the full House. Now that's freedum-'n'-duhmocracy for you, Republican style.

All of this Republican fearmongering is in the Holy Name of National Security. Here is a good summary of last year's bill; here's an excerpt from that summary:

CISPA would "waive every single privacy law ever enacted in the name of cybersecurity," Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat and onetime Web entrepreneur, said during the debate. "Allowing the military and NSA to spy on Americans on American soil goes against every principle this country was founded on."

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and author of CISPA, responded by telling his colleagues to ignore "all the things they're saying about the bill that are not true." He pleaded: "Stand for America! Support this bill!"

While CISPA initially wasn't an especially partisan bill -- it cleared the House Intelligence Committee by a vote of 17 to 1 last December -- it gradually moved in that direction. The final tally was 206 Republicans voting for it, and 28 opposed. Of the Democrats, 42 voted for CISPA and 140 were opposed. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said afterward on Twitter that CISPA "didn't strike the right balance" and Republicans "didn't allow amendments to strengthen privacy protections."

The ACLU, on the other hand, told CNET that the amendments -- even if they had been allowed -- would not have been effective. "They just put the veneer of privacy protections on the bill, and will garner more support for the bill even without making substantial changes," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel for the ACLU.


That was last year, and not much has changed. The zombie bill is back. Your
privacy is at risk. CISPA underlines the government's "right" to engage in online surveillance against its own citizens, without a warrant and (IMHO) in defiance of the Fourth Amendment.

Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican sponsor of the bill, alleged that its typical opponent is a "14-year-old tweeter in the basement." In adapting a form letter to my Representative offered by Demand Progress, I added the following paragraph:
Far from being a 14-year-old in my basement, as the bill's sponsor characterizes those of us who oppose it, I recently retired from a successful career as an IT professional; the last 20 years of that career were as an independent contractor. As professionals like me retire, America sorely needs bright young people to enter the field; we need the best if we are to continue to be the best. I can think of nothing more powerful than CISPA to discourage recent college graduates from entering the profession. Please oppose CISPA.
You can either depend on Obama's threatened veto alone... depending on Obama to do any specific thing seems chancy to me... or you can at least try to raise hell with your Representative. I choose the latter.

UPDATE: CISPA passed the House. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Nation Gets Good At Amputation... And Rehab

Please read Chloe Angyal of The Nation as she begins to place, After Boston, One Foot in Front of the Other. This inspiring essay examines the runners, the fans, and... less noticed but constantly with us in this era of perpetual war... the American troops. many of whom lost one or more limbs, yesterday in Boston or during a decade of war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of these people, now members of a regrettably nonexclusive club of amputees, are determined, through rehab, to run, to stand and cheer, or to take a significant place in society once again, a place comparable in its value to the one they occupied prior to losing a limb.

Paralympic basketball, US vs UK, 2012

Trust me on this: it ain't easy. Every day, many of these people get out of bed, grab their walker or wheelchair, hop or roll to wherever they keep their prosthesis, and engage in a ritual that renders them in some sense whole again. Every day they do what they must to strengthen their remaining muscles so they can walk, climb stairs, carry stuff, do jobs (my prosthetist has one client who is a construction worker) and... for an admirable few... run races, play contact sports, etc. Those are the real iron (wo)men. Never underestimate them; never discount their strength of spirit.

That said, and my admiration of these hardy souls notwithstanding, we've got to stop generating such an endless supply of amputees. Not one of them, even the soldier who expects injury as part of the job, wanted to lose a limb, and those who lost a limb yesterday certainly had no expectation of doing so. Like terrorism, war is a waste: it is a waste of time, of money, of material resources, and most of all, of human potential. Can America find some path to self-respect that does not involve murdering and maiming so many people, including so many of our own?

War is hell. Let us not send America to hell!

Public And Private Misfortunes

While America's most recent tragedy plays out in Boston, our friend, photographer, medical editor and jazz flutist Catherine (see blogroll), is experiencing misery of her own: sometime before or during her trip home from Ireland yesterday, she fractured a vertebra. Though I did not know about it until now, she spent much of the night in the ER, and is now home, sleeping, strongly medicated. Hope for the best...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Kitty Proverb

The "facilities," both human and feline, in Our House are in the same small room. I've noticed that when Stella excuses herself, both Esther and Lily often go with her, sometimes speeding up and running ahead of her, so entangled in her feet that I worry she will trip over them. After all, as the proverb says...

The pride goeth before a fall.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Warren Buffett: 'If There Was A Class War, My Class Won'

Thus quotes the incomparable Bill Moyers in "We are Living in the United States of Inequality," a gut-wrenching summary of the extremes of economic inequality now permitted... no, encouraged... in America.

Today's gap between rich and poor is arguably the worst ever in America. Goodness knows it's bad enough... and the number of people experiencing that gap is vast. Let Moyers tell you about it in under 15 minutes.

(Link points to a transcript and a Vimeo video of the summary. Moyers packs a powerful message in a very short segment. Found by several indirections beginning at Avedon's Sideshow.)

Carville: Obama Likes Annoying Liberals

TPM's Tom Kludt:
Gollum -- Carville
Democratic strategist James Carville said Friday that he doesn't think President Barack Obama is sweating the criticisim he's taken from his liberal base over a budget proposal that includes cuts to Social Security.

Appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Carville said he thinks Obama relishes the commendation he's received from deficit hawks like New York Times columnist David Brooks and host Joe Scarborough. Asked by co-host Mike Barnicle how the President will respond to the outrage from the left-wing of the Democratic Party, Carville was blunt.

"I think he likes that," Carville said. "I don't think he's upset. He got a very favorable Washington Post editorial. 'Morning Joe,' very favorable commentary right here. I guarantee you if he's up watching this right now. Got a good David Brooks column. He's kind of excited this morning. This is kind of important to him."

But Carville added that the White House is not "totally out of bounds" with its budget, arguing that the proposal will "throw the Republicans off" and that Obama is desperate to strike a grand bargain with the GOP.

Some commenters on this TPM thread remarked that Obama is not sweating the opinions of liberals, because the latter have no place else to go. If that's really what Obama thinks, he is sadly mistaken: we liberals very much have another place to go, and that place is "away."

In the span of Obama's presidency, I have dropped my formal membership in the Democratic Party, stopped giving money to the party, and stopped giving money to Democratic candidates. There's only one step more that I could take: I could stop voting Democratic. A lot depends on the next two years, if I live through them. If I perceive that not only Obama but also congressional Democrats have sold out, if I see no substantial difference, if I feel, one more election cycle, that the Democratic Party does not have my interests at heart... the interests of seniors, women, children, LGBTs, the unemployed and the poor... I'll stay home on Election Day. Let them win elections without me, if they're able.

You don't believe me, Mr. Carville? Try me. Are you willing to bet the farm on the assumption that I have no place else to go?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


No, not multiple vitamins... appointments this week. Yesterday was physical therapy. Today I have a doctor's appointment. Thursday I see my prosthetist for some adjustments requested by my physical therapist. Friday I have PT again. Every day, Stella has health-related issues for which she needs my genuine support.

If I'm scarce here this week, you'll know why. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, April 8, 2013

'There's Got To Be A Morning After...'

... pill, that is, with all due respect to Maureen McGovern's song. Pam Belluck at New York Times:
A federal judge on Friday ordered that the most common morning-after pill be made available over the counter for all ages, instead of requiring a prescription for girls 16 and younger. But his acidly worded decision raises a broader question about whether a cabinet secretary can decide on a drug’s availability for reasons other than its safety and effectiveness.

In his ruling, Judge Edward R. Korman of the Eastern District of New York accused the Obama administration of putting politics ahead of science. He concluded that the administration had not made its decisions based on scientific guidelines, and that its refusal to lift restrictions on access to the pill, Plan B One-Step, was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

He said that when the Health and Human Services secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, countermanded a move by the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 to make the pill, which helps prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse, universally available, “the secretary’s action was politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent.”

I am willing to admit that there are different meanings wrapped up in the concept of "adult," but there is really only one significant physical meaning for a woman, and it should be the meaning reflected in all American law: if a female human being can become pregnant, she is an adult, regardless of her age, no ifs, ands or buts. And every adult human female should have unrestricted access to contraceptives, including morning-after pills of all sorts.

If you believe otherwise, ask yourself two questions: 1) am I an adult human female under that criterion? and 2) am I deciding for myself and only myself whether to avoid pregnancy? If you answered YES to both questions, fine: it's your decision. If you answered NO to either question, you may hold an opinion, but you may not compel a decision on the part of another person. Got it? Good.

(H/T ellroon.)


Have you wondered why I haven't yet gone after President Obama for his budget attacks on Social Security and Medicare? Is it because I support Obama's position in those matters? No. Is it because those positions have any sort of merit as policy? Hell, no. Why is it nowhere on the main page of TPM? I don't know. But I suspect one thing...

Priorities. This article is of overwhelmingly greater importance...

Thieves Make Off With Five Tons Of Nutella In Germany

OK. I ate a lot of that stuff 35 years ago when I spent a summer in Austria. (Nutella, I mean.) I don't believe I've had any since then. I can't imagine why!

Lawrence Lessig's Inspiring TED Talk

You can see it over at Kos. Transcript is at the same link. It made even cynical old me feel more optimistic.

(H/T Fallenmonk.)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

METROLift Assumptions And My Disability

Christina Edelen, Harpsichord
Ann Fairbanks, Flute
I hope to attend a recital tomorrow. It's at University of St. Thomas, where I used to teach an ensemble and also my official instrument in that context (recorder). Two old friends and colleagues, Dr. Ann K. Fairbanks (faculty flutist, in this case, baroque flute) and Christina Edelen (harpsichord; she now lives in Amsterdam), are offering an assortment of baroque music at noon, in the Cullen music building, which is at 4001 Mt. Vernon, if you care to attend... hey, it's free, and worth much more than that.

At present, the only listed METROLift stop for UST is the old administration building, the Kirby mansion, at the corner of Alabama and Montrose. From Google Maps, I learn that the distance if you walk to the Cullen building is 3½ blocks, two of them quite long blocks. Cripples like me do not voluntarily walk 3½ blocks, but I may have to do that if I want to attend.

So why is the music performance space not listed on METROLift? I'm not sure. It could be as simple as  the fact that "no one has asked for it." Or it could be because it's on campus, and UST is a private university; many streets which once cut through campus in my younger days have since been blocked off. That is not in and of itself a bad thing; the campus is surely safer for pedestrians in the UST community. But it surely is a pain for people with disabilities.

I'll phone METROLift tomorrow to see what the deal is. Maybe I'll go to the recital; maybe I won't... can't. If you get the chance, it's surely worth hearing. Tell the performers I sent you.

UPDATE: I canceled for logistical reasons (see comments), but you can still go. I guarantee you you'll enjoy it; these two are among the best of the best.

UPDATE: I couldn't resist... I emailed the performers to wish them "break a leg" ...

Friday, April 5, 2013

As If There Were Not Enough Of Them Already...

I believe Memorial Hermann Hospital already has nine (9) general hospital locations in the Houston area, plus two women's hospitals, a children's hospital, six medical institutes, two specialty centers and at least two rehab facilities. But apparently that's not enough...

From ABC13 News Houston, HealthCheck, reporter Christi Myers, on April 4:
HOUSTON (KTRK) -- People in Pearland will soon have a new place to go for medical care. Memorial Hermann is building a new hospital on Highway 288 near Farm Road 518.

Pearland is one of the fastest growing communities in Texas and it will soon have a new medical complex. Memorial Herman met with architects this afternoon to start designing and drawing up plans.

The Memorial Hermann Imaging Center is on the corner of what will become a mini-medical center in Pearland.

"Within the next 10 years, it's going to grow 100,000 people so that's why we want to put a hospital in Pearland -- the growth," Memorial Hermann Pearland CEO Erin Asprec said.

A 64-bed hospital will be built on a 40-acre field. It's expected to open in 2015 and will have operating rooms, and women's and neonatology services. And the hospital is set up to double its size when needed.

And I had heard a rumor earlier that the Memorial Hermann system was feeling budget constraints. So much for rumors. Or maybe they're true, and the board is going forward anyway. It's the modern way, after all.

Seriously: I had my surgery done at the Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, and I have no complaints other than the cost, so I suppose it is no bad thing to have more of them. I only hope the mice and bugs that live in that 40-acre field are duly appreciative of what their sacrifice means...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

US No Longer #1 In Science Since The Year 2000

Let's see, what else happened in that year? A religious nut-job from Texas won stole the presidency, instituted a surely unconstitutional Office of Faith-Based Programs (aside: at first I misunderstood, thinking Bush had appointed Tammy Faye Bakker to a new Office of Face-Paste Programs), and de-emphasized science to the point that serious young science students began thinking of careers elsewhere in the world. Note this is the judgment of the students, not of a commercial publication trying to sell newspapers or magazines, who often saturate their top 10 lists of colleges in the physical sciences with American universities. And it is the judgment of talented American students, who must at least consider moving elsewhere, and non-American students, who are less likely to come here for their education than they were a couple of decades ago.

How much of this is GeeDubya Bush's fault? It's hard to tell. As far as I can see, a GOP tradition of dismissing higher education in science began approximately in Ronald Reagan's presidency, and has worsened in every Republican administration since then. In many fields, the best students know not to come here. And America was once so secure in that #1 spot! It seems a crying shame to have let it slip away.

Large Hadron Collider, CERN, Tunnel Interior, Switzerland and France
But slip away it has. Prof. Matt Strassler, a theoretical physicist on the Rutgers faculty, is currently happy to be on loan to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). currently the world's most powerful particle accelerator, built... sorry, Americans; not in America... built by CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research, headquartered in Geneva), in a tunnel spanning parts of Switzerland and France. A comparable American project, the Superconducting Super Collider, was envisioned and debated, but fell victim to political greed when it lost the support of every Senator whose state was not its proposed location. Strassler, who blogs at "Of Particular Significance" (it's on the blogroll), has this to say, pointing to the words of Bruce Alberts, Editor-in-Chief of the major journal Science as a basis for Strassler's own thoughts:
A mere twenty years ago, this nation was clearly the best place in the world to do scientific research. Since 2000 the decline has been precipitous, and though the U.S. still surely ranks in the top ten, few would say it clearly is the best anymore. In general, the country remains a relatively great place to live and work. But any excellent young scientist from abroad has to think carefully about coming to or staying in the U.S. for a career, because there might not be enough money to support even first-rate research. Similarly, any young U.S. scientist, no matter how devoted to this country and no matter how skilled, may face the tough choice of either going abroad or abandoning his or her career. (It’s not just young people either, as I can personally attest.)

Whereas before the year 2000 it was easy for U.S. universities to attract the best in the world to teach and do research at their institutions, and to train the next generation of American scientists, the brain drain since that time has been awful. (I see this up close, as more and more often I fail to hire talented individuals specifically because they see a better scientific and personal future outside the United States.) And it is getting worse. All of this affects our economy’s future, our society’s health, and even our ability to defend ourselves, especially since some of the most active spending on science is being done by countries that are hostile or potentially hostile to the free world.

It’s easy to blame this on the recession. “Oh, these are bad times and we all have to share the pain.” That’s true, but this problem started long before 2008. The system became threadbare during the Bush administration, and now, in the ensuing recession and political chaos, it’s at risk of falling apart.

So there you have it, from a respected theoretical physicist, one who himself had to move to Switzerland to pursue his high-powered career (pun intended): America once had it, but America lost it, its system of scientific research collapsing in a heap during the Bush administration. One man's opinion, you say? I'm afraid a lot of other physicists concur. America has plenty to spend maintaining a war machine well-suited to fighting the nuclear war we never had (thank goodness), but we can't afford to support first-rate scientific research. This scarcity of research funds (for any research not of military consequence) has unfortunate implications: most American scientists, even eminent figures in their fields, inevitably spend large portions of their workdays not on science but on spinning the research they wish to do, to Congress of course, but also to the public; to hear them tell their story, every forthcoming breakthrough is new, radical, of overarching significance, etc.

It's a helluva way to run a nation's science programs.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Record Unemployment Now, Record Child Poverty Now, Record Senior Poverty Approaching

DSWright of FDL has some details. In America, if you are a person of ordinary means... formerly of ordinary means... your prospects have literally never been worse.

Unemployment, nominally 7.7%, is actually 23% by the old metrics. It's an old game: if you don't like the numbers, change the metric.

According to Yahoo News, "nearly 50 million Americans — one in six — were living below the income line that defines poverty, according to the [US Census] bureau." Fifty million Americans suffer in poverty. Those "lucky duckies"!

From the same Yahoo News article, again according to the Census bureau, "20 percent of the country’s children are poor." Twenty percent. Of children. Some things are just plain wrong: child poverty is one of them.

Meanwhile, banks are bailed out, the wealthiest 1% pay taxes at the lowest rates, and the poor and middle class pick up the tab. All of this appears to be fine with President Obama and a bipartisan majority in Congress. And if you're poor in America, and dream of emigrating to western Europe, don't bother: European governments are pursuing austerity as surely as our own.

According to Laura Clawson at Daily Kos Labor, writing this January, having a moderately high income may not save you if you lose that income:
If you suddenly lost your income, how long would you be able to live on your savings? For 43.9 percent of American households, the answer is less than three months, even if they keep their spending to the most basic needs. That's not just true of families that know they're close to poverty, either—one in four households earning between $55,465 and $90,000 are in the same boat, according to the 2013 Assets & Opportunities Scorecard.
If you live in the South, there's a greater chance you're in poverty or headed there. There are dozens of maps; here's one from panhandlepost.com, chosen more or less at random and because it subdivides at state boundaries and is hence easier to view:

Poverty in America, 2010, percentages by state

This cannot stand. How soon will we begin seeing people in the streets, occupying public spaces, etc.? Oh, wait; we've already seen some of that, and it was met with police repression. How long before we start seeing scenes like this?

Great Depression bread line

Gawd bless America, land that I love[d].

Monday, April 1, 2013

Shaun Downey (d. 2013) - R.I.P., Jams O'Donnell

Self-portrait, 2011
(Too late to obtain permission)
Bryan has a brief obit, with comments by many of Jams's American friends. Jams, a resident of Romford, UK (near London) was author of The Poor Mouth: excellent photographer, amateur historian, deep thinker, perpetrator of occasional truly awful puns, ^vegetarian^ (thanks, Bryan, for reminding me), Jams/Shaun was one of my favorite people on the web. I am truly saddened that he is gone. One knows little enough about one's web friends, but Jams was someone I always felt I would get along splendidly with in real life. Now we've all missed that chance. I have no details on his passing, except that it was sudden, and his site has no information that I could find. If anyone knows anything, please...

My condolences to Jams's loved ones, and to his cats, whom he rightly treated like gods.

Holy (Bleep)ing (Bleep)! Could Banks Simply Take Your Deposits?

Read Lawrence E. Rafferty at Jonathan Turley's blog and Ellen Brown at Nation Of Change... but have a change of underwear handy before you read them.

Were you appalled at what happened to the bank depositors in Cyprus? Most of us were; one doesn't expect depositors to have their money confiscated... let's be blunt: stolen... to bail out failing banks. But it could happen in the US and the UK. Ah, you say, but the FDIC will save you? Uh-uh. It's the FDIC that is cooking up plans to raid the depositors' accounts. Your money would be at risk for all the shaky derivatives and such that the bank might have unwisely invested in. How do you like them rotten apples?

As a depositor, you already cede your money to banks in exchange for a promise to repay it to you in cash on request; that's the basic arrangement of ordinary banking. The threat now is to the second part of that. Under the proposed new arrangement, you would still cede your money to a bank, and in exchange receive not a promise to pay, but a sort of equity in the bank. If the bank went belly-up, you would be a "stockholder" in the failed bank, with all the losses... and responsibilities... that holding equity entails. And you would have no choice in the matter: you would have no option to retrieve your money in cash.

My mattress is beginning to look better all the time...

For Me, All Fools' Day Is Also Tax Day

I don't want to contemplate the symbolism of that fact too intensely, but today was the day I dealt with my income taxes. I didn't plan it that way; it just happened to be the day it was most expedient to do it. My accountant (old habits die hard; for many years, I hired an accountant to do my business taxes, and now I still do so for my personal taxes) will e-file for me if he has the proper paperwork from me, which is a great advantage to a cripple who can't easily leave home without at least a day's planning, and who isn't very steady on his feet standing in long lines. I recently received my completed return from him, so today I sent him the e-file authorization that lets him sign the return for me and file it online. Hey, it worked last year.

As for American taxpayers in general, we... at least those of us who work or worked for a living, who don't own a member of Congress or two of our own... we are indeed All Fools. No one in Washington represents us anymore... no one. Welcome to the era of pointless bipartisanship. Enjoy your taxes!

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