Friday, October 31, 2008

Legacy of Dissent

I think the Bush administration did its best to create a vast [cultural] wasteland. At the same time, because of the perfidy and corruption and utter lawlessness it created a very interesting backlash of politically oriented materials that were inspiring. Unintentionally, the administration provoked a lot of political art that I think was very valuable.


- Alex Gibney, Film director |Link|

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fruitful


famtree_dees, originally uploaded by illuminating9_11.


I do like this photo and there's definitely some truth to it. I thought George H.W. Bush was a good president all things considered, but he was head of the CIA and the CIA does unpleasant things to people. Admittedly many of these people are unpleasant to begin with and opposed to the United States.

Sold down the river yet again

From yesterday's New York Times' editorial staff:


The problem is that the Treasury has refused to put conditions on the banks’ use of the bailout funds, allowing them, in effect, to make purchases of banks that are not on the verge of failure. That could help to maximize the banks’ profits — a worthy goal when the capital they are using is from private investors.

However, when they’re using taxpayer-provided capital, as they are now, Congress and the public have every right to require that the money be used to benefit the public directly, even if doing so crimps the banks’ profits. If Treasury won’t impose conditions, Congress must, including a requirement that banks accepting bailout money increase their loans to creditworthy borrowers and limit their acquisitions to failing banks, such as those listed as troubled by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The bailout should not be an occasion for banks to make a killing.

An even bigger problem is that the bailout was sold as a way to spur loans. If that never was — or no longer is — the primary aim, Congress and the public need to know that. Lawmakers should not release the second installment — $350 billion — until they have answers and guarantees that the bailout money will be spent in ways that put the public interest first. |Loans? Did We Say We’d Do Loans? - NYT|
This is what happens when you let a former Wall Street banker run Treasury and give him the ability to dole out taxpayer money to his buddies in the banking industry. I knew the Bush administration would screw the bailout up with its aversion to oversight and forethought.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Credit crunch hits oil investment

Interestingly enough, falling oil prices are setting up a situation which will lead to less oil in the future, not more.

Output from the world’s oilfields is declining faster than previously thought, the first authoritative public study of the biggest fields shows.

Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent, the International Energy Agency says in its annual report, the World Energy Outlook, a draft of which has been obtained by the Financial Times.

The findings suggest the world will struggle to produce enough oil to make up for steep declines in existing fields, such as those in the North Sea, Russia and Alaska, and meet long-term de­mand. The effort will become even more acute as prices fall and investment decisions are delayed.

The IEA, the oil watchdog, forecasts that China, India and other developing countries’ demand will require investments of $360bn each year until 2030.

The agency says even with investment, the annual rate of output decline is 6.4 per cent.

The decline will not necessarily be felt in the next few years because demand is slowing down, but with the expected slowdown in investment the eventual effect will be magnified, oil executives say.

“The future rate of decline in output from producing oilfields as they mature is the single most important determinant of the amount of new capacity that will need to be built globally to meet demand,” the IEA says. |World will struggle to meet oil demand - FT|


I'm not too worried, though. A little technological devolution might be good for the human race.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Domestic Terrorism


The skinheads plotting to rampage through a Memphis school killing African Americans starkly illuminates the threat of domestic terrorism in this country.

The fact that they targeted a school is telling. Schools are soft targets in many ways and these racist fuckheads were going to exploit that vulnerability.

The local Memphis news channel has an interesting article looking at the skinheads' MySpace pages.

I just happened to be looking at Title 18, Chapter 113B of the United States Code with respect to terrorism today. Section 2332 only refers to murder and conspiracy to commit murder outside the United States, so perhaps it isn't terrorism as defined by the US Code, but it's certainly terrorism as I use the term.

One odd thing about the Memphis news article, though, is its reference to a FASI .308 rifle. The rifle in the picture above is clearly a Heckler & Koch Model 91, with a 50mm scope. If anyone knows what FASI refers to, please add a comment.

Safety Tips: Conquer the Night

Conventional wisdom suggests that most crimes occur between dusk and dawn.

High powered lights (80 lumens or more) can function as an excellent self-defense tool at night. Shining a light in someone's eyes at night will cause them to turn away from you, it's that physically painful. It's difficult for someone to do you harm if they're incapable of looking at you.

The effect is only momentary, which is your cue to run like hell.

Also, put some reflective tape on the end of your flashlight. This way you can use it as a signal tool. Shining your light at drivers is not very effective, but reflective tape really makes one stand out, which is useful if your car breaks down at night.

Safety Neal does not approve of skydiving

I'm not saying skydiving should be illegal. People should be allowed to risk their fool lives any damned way they please, so long as it doesn't put others at risk.

But I personally think skydiving is risky to the point of foolhardy.

Roller coasters strike me as a much better trade-off between adrenaline rush and safety.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Make Believe

Global Unemployment projected to top 200 million

The financial meltdown is having many victims, but no one is likely to shed many tears for Russia's oligarchs.

Russia's rich are experiencing a moment of historical catharsis. After a giddy decade characterised by the acquisition of yachts, football teams, villas in Kensington, west London and the South of France, and even submarines, there is a distinct sense that Russia is moving into a different, more chastened, epoch....

Asked how Russia's oligarchs are bearing up, [Oligarch Alexander] Lebedev is almost puckishly cheerful. He says: "They are suffering." He adds: "I think material wealth for them is a highly emotional and spiritual thing. They spend a lot of money on their own personal consumption."

Lebedev is a patron of the arts and last week met Tom Stoppard, John Malkovich, and Kevin Spacey to discuss a new Chekhov festival in Crimea, Ukraine. In general, he is scathing of oligarchs as a class - describing them as a bunch of uncultured ignoramuses. "They don't read books. They don't have time. They don't go to exhibitions. They think the only way to impress anyone is to buy a yacht," he observes.|Twilight of the oligarchs - Guardian|


While it's hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude at the oligarch's woes, many people are losing their retirements in this country and there are bound to be lots of unemployed in the financial sector, not just the MBA's, but people at all economic levels.

The concentration of wealth in exotic securities and hedge funds is certainly a tragedy of the human imagination. Of all the things we could do with our wealth... and the rich just play games with it, chasing their own tail.

A new UN report indicates the global economic crisis will hit the world's poor the hardest.
Twenty million jobs will disappear by the end of next year as a result of the impact of the financial crisis on the global economy, a United Nations agency [the International Labour Organisation (ILO)]....

The ILO does not yet have a regional breakdown of projected job losses, which [ILO Director-General Juan Somavia] said would take global unemployment to 210 million in late 2009 from 190 million last year, the first time it has topped 200 million.

But countries with large domestic markets that do not depend heavily on exports would be able to weather the crisis better, he said, citing as an example China, where exports make up only 11 percent of the economy.

It was alarming that global unemployment had stayed at the same levels despite the strong economic growth seen between 2002 and 2007, said Somavia, who files to New York this week for talks with the heads of all U.N. agencies, chaired by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said resources should be pumped into the economy to stave off or mitigate recession, concentrating on employment-intensive sectors including small enterprises. The financial sector should also be steered back to its fundamental function of lending to entrepreneurs, according to the Chilean lawyer and diplomat.

Somavia said the financial sector's share in the profits of U.S. companies had risen to 41 percent last year from 5 percent in 1980. As a result, banks preferred to invest in financial transactions rather than lending to other productive sectors.

"So this system began to siphon off resources from the real economy process," he said.|U.N. says crisis to cost 20 million jobs - Reuters|
So, if there are 6.7 billion people on Earth and 200 million are unemployed, that's roughly 1 person in 35, approximately 3% of the global population. That doesn't seem to bad too me. Of course, this says nothing about the quality of those jobs, or whether they pay starvation wages.

Bush Mischief

I wonder if the military regularly violates Syria's borders, but it was considered newsworthy this time because of Syria's recent rapprochement with the West.

Joshua Landis, an American expert on Syria, commented last night: "The Bush administration must assume that an Obama victory will force Syria to behave nicely in order to win favour with the new administration. Thus White House analysts may assume that it can have a "freebee" - taking a bit of personal revenge on Syria without the US paying a price."

The attack comes as Syria takes another step in from the cold today when its foreign minister, Walid al-Mualim, visits London to hear praise for its newly conciliatory policies in Lebanon - and to be urged to distance itself from Iran.

In recent months Syria has established diplomatic relations with Lebanon and held several rounds of indirect talks with Israel, with Turkey acting as broker. In July, President Assad was invited to an EU summit in Paris.
|US forces kill eight in helicopter raid on Syria - Guardian|


As low as my opinion is of Bush... I find Mr. Landis' analysis questionable. If the Bush administration really wanted to punish Syria, surely they could do more than kill half a dozen individuals.

Say what you want about Bush, he knows how to give the order to raze a country.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Fighting Words

In some ways it is a relief to see the racist wing of the Republican party showing its true colors in public, even as it makes my blood boil.

Last Friday, in North Carolina, Sarah Palin told a rally that she was proud to be "with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation".

She means here of course that there are anti-American areas of America, and they are where the liberals live, and the people there are voting for Mr Anti-America.

|The Republicans have lifted the lid off their rightwing id - Guardian|


Obama effigy hung with noose in Ohio


Racism and Ignorance at Palin Rally

Saturday, October 18, 2008

US Child kidnapped by Mexican Mafia

The NYT recently had an article discussing whether a weak economy will lead to an increase in crime. The economy isn't the only factor, but certainly a significant one.

However, the kidnapping a of child because of a drug trafficking debt in Las Vegas is probably not related to the economy, but old-style capitalism.

Police believe [six year old Cole Puffinburger ] may have been [kidnapped] because his grandfather, Clemens Fred Tinnemeyer, 51, owed Latino methamphetamine dealers between $8m and $20m ....

The abduction happened when three men knocked on the door of the house where Cole Puffinburger lived. After tying up his mother and her boyfriend, they ransacked the house and then took Cole....

Investigators said traffickers usually seized cars and other assets to recoup money. But they also fear Cole's abduction is a sign that the grotesque violence that characterises the battle for control of Mexico's drug trade could be seeping across the border into the US.

An attempted crackdown by authorities since August appears to have triggered a dramatic escalation in violence, with 387 people killed in the first two weeks of October and gangs resorting to torture and beheadings. Even women and children are targets in the daily ritual of revenge killings.

Rugged


Poboktan Creek, originally uploaded by 21LTD.

Safety Propositions: Injured on a Mountain

My friend Dave sent me a link to this CNN article about a climber, Derek Mamoyac, who survived in freezing conditions with a broken ankle for five days until he was rescued.

According to the article he drank from streams and ate centipedes and bugs to stay alive which explains how he obtained food and water. I know centipedes are poisonous, but apparently most species are only mildly poisonous, according to this eMedicine entry.

While bugs don't sound very appetizing now, if you get hungry enough, they might be delicious. Captain Scott O'Grady survived for six days largely subsisting on ants while evading capture by Serbian forces.

The most important part of survival is the will to survive. When life shits on, you have to shrug it off and keep fighting back.

If you only carry 3 items for survival, I'd suggest:

  • a sturdy knife
  • a lighter and/or firestarter
  • several plastic bags


Small plastic bags can be used to collect snow and then put in between layers of clothing to melt, generating drinkable water. Never eat snow if you can avoid it, it consumes too much energy to melt it internally.

Large plastic bags can be emergency sleeping bags or ponchos and can be used to make solar stills in arid areas. I've seen recommendations to carry orange 55-gallon drum liners in your emergency kit, which seems like a good idea.

You should be carrying plastic bags when hiking anyway to collect your trash and pack it out.


I always recommend a first aid kit, and not just one that has band-aids. Get some 4 inch by 4 inch pads at the very least to control bleeding.

For broken bones, a Sam Splint is a great thing. They're a bit bulky, but just throw them in the bottom of your pack if you're going hiking. I've cut a large one up with a multi-tool before to make a smaller wrist splint before. They also come in small sizes for finger splints.

How to carry a first aid kit has been an issue that I've struggled with in the past. I try to pre-place them. So I've one in the car, one at work, one under my bed (in a fanny pack), one in my search & rescue kit, a small tub of sundry supplies, and I've recently added a Blackhawk Omega drop-leg medical pouch to my kit which I like to wear when I work with power tools or go hiking.

That may seem a bit obsessive, and it is. But I think it never hurts to have too much first aid gear... although Sarah has been grumbling about the overflowing disaster hutch recently, so I may have to re-think that opinion.

Haunted


Vampire Season, originally uploaded by Annadriel.

Love and Horror

Below is a trailer for the movie, Let the Right One In. Age assertion is required to watch the trailer... the preview makes me want to see this movie.

It is being released October 24th, according to the Wikipedia post.



Here's a review from IGN.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Consensual Mass Delusion

Volatility frequently occurs when everyone suddenly realizes that the stock market is just a consensual mass delusion based on fictitious valuing of abstract assets.

- Wyatt Cenac





The world is a strange place and sometimes I have to wonder if the inmates aren't running the asylum.

Kabul Ruins


Kabul Kids, originally uploaded by mknobil.

Where do we go from here in Afghanistan?

Robert Kaplan's recent Op-Ed in the New York Times asks some trenchant questions about the war in Afghanistan.

[A]fter seven years of war in [Afghanistan], it’s time to ask a very impolite set of questions:

If we did, by chance, capture or kill Osama bin Laden... would Afghanistan still matter?

Would there be public support for sending more American troops to stabilize a country that has rarely in its history enjoyed strong central government and that abuts a tribal area in Pakistan that neither the British nor the Pakistanis have ever been able to control?

Is the war in Afghanistan, deep down, anything more than a manhunt for a handful of individuals?

And if it is, how do we define victory there?...

So, here’s [Kaplan's] answer: In fact, Afghanistan is more than a manhunt, and it does matter, for reasons that have not been fully fleshed out by policy makers or the military. | A Manhunt or a Vital War? - NYT|


Kaplan makes a compelling strategic argument without offering any operation or tatical advice. He does outline the difficulty of the task...

We can only hope that the next President has a better grasp of the role of diplomacy and the limits of military power than Dubya possessed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Open Arms

Illini Campus Political Speech Ban Dubious

At the University of Illinois, an opinion has been issued by the Office of Executive Inspector General for the Agencies of the Illinois Governor ("OEIG"), indicating that students, faculty and staff at the University must refrain from all political speech while at work.

The University of Illinois has sparked outrage by telling faculty, staff and graduate students that a 5-year-old state law designed to prevent state workers from campaigning for candidates on state time or with state resources meant they could not express support for candidates or parties through pins, T-shirts or bumper stickers while on campus. Nor could they attend any political rally or event on campus, the administration said.|U. of I. debate arises over campaigning on campus - Chicago Tribune|


While I found some discussion of these events at the Workplace Prof Blog, I couldn't find the Illinois statute at issue listed anywhere, so I went perusing the OEIG's website, and I think this is the statute at issue.
(5 ILCS 430/5‑15)
Sec. 5‑15. Prohibited political activities.
(a) State employees shall not intentionally perform any prohibited political activity during any compensated time (other than vacation, personal, or compensatory time off). State employees shall not intentionally misappropriate any State property or resources by engaging in any prohibited political activity for the benefit of any campaign for elective office or any political organization.

(b) At no time shall any executive or legislative branch constitutional officer or any official, director, supervisor, or State employee intentionally misappropriate the services of any State employee by requiring that State employee to perform any prohibited political activity (i) as part of that employee's State duties, (ii) as a condition of State employment, or (iii) during any time off that is compensated by the State (such as vacation, personal, or compensatory time off).

(c) A State employee shall not be required at any time to participate in any prohibited political activity in consideration for that State employee being awarded any additional compensation or employee benefit, in the form of a salary adjustment, bonus, compensatory time off, continued employment, or otherwise.

(d) A State employee shall not be awarded any additional compensation or employee benefit, in the form of a salary adjustment, bonus, compensatory time off, continued employment, or otherwise, in consideration for the State employee's participation in any prohibited political activity.

(e) Nothing in this Section prohibits activities that are otherwise appropriate for a State employee to engage in as a part of his or her official State employment duties or activities that are undertaken by a State employee on a voluntary basis as permitted by law.

(f) No person either (i) in a position that is subject to recognized merit principles of public employment or (ii) in a position the salary for which is paid in whole or in part by federal funds and that is subject to the Federal Standards for a Merit System of Personnel Administration applicable to grant‑in‑aid programs, shall be denied or deprived of State employment or tenure solely because he or she is a member or an officer of a political committee, of a political party, or of a political organization or club.

(Source: P.A. 93‑615, eff. 11‑19‑03.) |Link (emphasis added)|
If this is indeed the statute in question then it strikes me that the interpretation given this statute is highly suspect.

The first four sub-sections prohibit campaigning while on duty or ordering subordinates to campaign while on duty, but doesn't reach mere symbolic political speech while on duty.

Indeed, subsection (e), which I've bolded above, carves out an exception for normal political speech such as wearing buttons and putting bumper stickers on cars.

I think someone in the OEIG's office has either misread the statute or taken a laughably conservative position on the legal implications of this statute.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Frozen


Gone!, originally uploaded by imapix.

Safety Tips: Winter Preparation

Put a snow shovel and ice scraper in your car now and that way you'll need it when we get the first freezing rain. I also carry cat litter in my car for providing traction, it's remarkable effective and much lighter than sand. Be sure to double bag it.

Having your car checked by a mechanic is good, buy new tires if you need them. Freeze resistant windshield washer fluid is also important for safe driving in winter. It's the only kind I buy, but I live in Minnesota.

I never needed a scraper when I lived in LA, but I carried a small one anyway in case I traveled to someplace further north on business or pleasure.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

I'll drink to that...


KGB Hipflask, originally uploaded by Stevie-B.

Fighting the Last War

In both debates McCain's stated that he looked into Putin's eyes and saw the letters KGB. I think this is supposed to differentiate him from Dubya, who claimed to see into Putin's soul after a 2001 meeting.

As a rhetorical move, I think the KGB reference falls flat... it isn't funny and it makes him look old and paranoid. The KGB is one for the history books, McCain may as well invoke the NKVD.

It does make me fear that McCain never laid down his arms and wants to fight the cold war all over again. I'm all for supporting democracy in Ukraine, but I think we have to realistic about their proximity to Russia and our ability to actually help them.

I worry that McCain hasn't really adjusted his worldview to accept the ambiguities of a new multi-polar world where America has many competitors/collaborators in the Chinese, Russians, EU, and Indians and we have to figure out how to work with them not practice brinkmanship with them.

Hear my cry, Apollo!


Sanctuary of Apollo, originally uploaded by Nick Wilson NZ.

What if the Gods don't play politics?

Every time I hear someone ask God to bless America, it makes the philosopher in me wonder if God (or Goddess) actually plays politics or has favorites among countries.

It seems more plausible to me that a Supreme Being or Beings would find our little human countries quaint and amusing, at least until the bloodshed begins and then our little geographic and ethnic fiefdoms must seem destructive and unnecessary.

Unless the Gods are vengeful and warlike and quarrel among themselves like the Gods of ancient Greece.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Jerusalem


Jerusalem, originally uploaded by N i c o_.

Civil War in the Holy Land?

Troubling news from Israel. I only vaguely understand Israeli politics, but there's always something interesting going on there.

A growing number of ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers in the Palestinian West Bank are threatening Israel's security, according to the military chief responsible for their protection in the occupied territory. Major-General Gadi Shamni, whose role includes stopping Palestinian attacks and protecting Jewish settlements in the West Bank, said the rising level of violence from militant settlers is 'impairing our ability to carry out missions in the territories'.

He said that the number of [Jewish] extremists who attack Palestinians, Israeli soldiers, police and left-wing activists had grown from a core of a 'few dozen' troublemakers to at least several hundred.

'We are forced to divert our attention elsewhere,' said Shamni in an interview published in Haaretz newspaper. 'These are fringe elements that are gaining support because of the tail wind they enjoy and the backing afforded by certain parts of the leadership, both rabbinical and public, whether in explicit statements or tacitly.'

His comments follow [a pipe bomb] attack on a high-profile critic of the settlements, Professor Zeev Sternhell, [Wikipedia] a Holocaust survivor and expert on fascism.... Police found posters in Sternhell's neighbourhood offering [a reward] to anyone who killed a member of Peace Now, an Israeli group that campaigns against settlements in the West Bank....

Last month, after a Palestinian entered a Jewish settlement, burnt a house and stabbed a boy, dozens of settlers raided a nearby Palestinian village, throwing stones, firing guns into the air, breaking windows, damaging property and daubing the Star of David on the walls of homes.

Tactics such as burning orchards, blocking roads, rioting and stoning have become a routine part of the settlers' arsenal in their attacks on Palestinians. Police and soldiers are also being targeted amid lingering bitterness after clashes between the settlers and security forces when Israel removed its settlements from Gaza in 2005.

The settlers' aim is to deter the government from dismantling settlements in the West Bank, which Israel could be required to give up if a peace deal is struck with the Palestinians.

Elyakim Haetzni, a founding father of the settler movement, warned of civil war if Israel attempted to remove more settlements from the West Bank. He said that about 100,000 Israelis were ready to fight for the land. 'Every clash between the settlers and the police, the police get a beating and the army doesn't want to be involved any more. A great number of them are religious,' he said.

|Israeli army chief slams settler attacks by Toni O'Loughlin- Guardian|

Garmin Nuvi: The Pedestrian GPS

Sarah and I just bought a Garmin Nuvi 200, we're impressed so far. It has three modes, automobile, bicycle and pedestrian, which is nice added value.

The voice is loud and clear and it doesn't wash out in the sun.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Mexican Drug Decriminalization Proposal

The proposal to decriminalize small quantities of cocaine in Mexico just might squeak through amid the election year hub-bub in the US.

The Mexican army currently has its hands full amidst an escalation of the drug war there and this strikes me as a sign of sanity by the Mexican government.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Purple Rain


Capitol Dawn, originally uploaded by andertho.

Professionalism and Politics

The current credit crunch and bailout bungle reminds me once again of the need for our country to be guided by educated people.

I've suggested previously that higher education ought to be required for political candidates.

Wouldn't it be refreshing to have some economists in Congress about now?

When the Constitution was written, over two hundred years ago, graduate degrees were uncommon. But now they are so common that many of the people working in restaurants in college towns either have a graduate degree or are working on one.

The system wouldn't be foolproof, (Dubya allegedly has an MBA, but is a total dumbass) but I think it would be a step in the right direction.

Ignorance: American Style

Read more about it here.

My friend Sean used to say that one of these days there would be war between the white supremacists and the "mud people".

I hope not, but if so, I'm on the side of the mud people.

Push Polling Smears Obama as a Muslim

Karl Rove's bag of dirty tricks are coming into play for McCain. As McCain falls farther behind these tactics are bound to become more widespread and I'm sure they will sway many low-information voters.

An Obama campaign organiser in one of the swing states said there had been lots of complaints about push polling in his patch. Callers said questions frequently included a reference to the widespread belief that Obama is a Muslim, even though he has repeatedly said he is a Christian.

The organiser said another question was: would you be less likely to vote for Obama if Israel had to give up all of Jerusalem? "They make this shit up. They are good at it. The unassuming listener will not realise it is untrue," he said.

Minden, a school psychologist, received a call on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of last month. Living in a swing state, she was not surprised to be polled. "It sounded like a normal poll. Was I voting? Demographics? Age? Where we live? Then a question about which party I supported, who I preferred on the economy, on foreign policy, questions like that.

"They said; 'Are you Jewish?' and I said 'Yeh'. Then they said 'if you knew Barack Obama was supported by Hamas, would it change your vote? Would it change your vote if you knew his church had made antisemitic statements?'. All the hot button issues on Israel." She said she will vote for Obama as planned.

In Key West, Florida, another swing state, Joelna Marcus, 71, a retired professor, had a similar experience. She was asked if she would be influenced if she learned that Obama had donated money to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

|Fake pollsters' scare tactics target Obama - Guardian|

The corrective subconscious

My friend Lindsay is a true librarian. She shushes people even in her dreams.