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Stargazing

November 11, 2010

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  1. cometman permalink*
    November 11, 2010 10:00 am

    The photo above was taken by Keri Wilk and was part of this Guardian photo gallery of the best underwater photos of 2010.

    The Guardian got the photos from two underwater photo contests. More photos here and here.

  2. cometman permalink*
    November 11, 2010 10:19 am

    Barry claims the right to assassinate US citizens.

    Putin says two can play at that game.

    How long before the general public decides they can start shooting whomever they damn well please?

  3. cometman permalink*
    November 11, 2010 10:26 am

    Mentioned before that if anyone really wants to fix the economy, giving people who work for a living a raise would be a good start. So despite my objections with many of their other practices, kudos to Google for giving their employees a 10% across the board raise.

    Let’s see if any of these other huge corporations sitting on tons of cash right now will follow suit.

  4. cometman permalink*
    November 11, 2010 12:53 pm

    Well it looks like people are starting to get serious about finding a way off this pale blue dot. NASA and DARPA have provided preliminary funding for a 100 Year Starship Program.

    NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA.

    “You heard it here,” said Worden at “Long Conversation,” a Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco. “We also hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” Dr. Worden added. “I absolutely will be on board.” (No further details on this are available from NASA at this time.)

    “The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” he explained. “Twenty years ago you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.” (Worden was in fact fired by President George W. Bush, he also revealed.)

    More here, with some suggestions from Craig Ventner about the need to tweak our genes and the microbes inhabiting our bodies if such a project is to be successful.

    But even if this project does manage to eventually send a starship to interstellar space, it may only appear that human beings are being launched upward or outward if it turns out that we actually live in a 2-D universe and the three dimensions we see are just a holographic illusion. Right now Fermilab is designing an experimental holometer to find out if that is actually the case –

    It is conjectured that space is two dimensional, and the third dimension is inextricably linked with time. If so, our three-dimensional world is a kind of approximate illusion that emerges only on scales much larger than the Planck length.

    ~snip~

    The holometer attempts a direct experimental test of one form of this hypothesis. In a Michelson interferometer, a light beam is split into two parts that travel in different directions, then are brought back together. The vibrations of light in the two directions tend to drift apart by about Planck length per Planck time when they are traveling in different directions. When they are recombined, the difference in light phase can be measured. In the holometer, signals from two different interferometers — that is, two completely separate systems, each with its own pair of beam arms — are compared. If they are close enough to probe the same volume of spacetime — that is, if light in both systems is travelling in about the same direction, at about the same time — their signals should display the same, correlated jitter, sometimes called “holographic noise”.

    Measurement of holographic noise would be the first direct experimental access to the Planck scale, and provide fundamental insights into the fundamental nature of space and time. It would directly measure the Planck time, and the absolute natural bound on information transmission, about 10^43 bits per second.

    Bad ass.

  5. cometman permalink*
    November 11, 2010 1:06 pm

    This one is making the rounds all over the intertubes today – White House Gives In On Bush Tax Cuts. One of the sources is royal stenographer Howard Fineman – not sure how seriously to take anything he says but at least he’s quoting Axelrod and not just some pet “unnamed source”.

    President Barack Obama’s top adviser suggested to The Huffington Post late Wednesday that the administration is ready to accept an across-the-board, temporary continuation of steep Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest taxpayers.

    That appears to be the only way, said David Axelrod, that middle-class taxpayers can keep their tax cuts, given the legislative and political realities facing Obama in the aftermath of last week’s electoral defeat.

    So the rich get their cuits again but it’s only “temporary”. Riiiiiiiight. Temporary until the Dems lose the presidency and the Senate for their fecklessness and the republicans make the cuts permanent. And of course this ignores the fact the the Dems still do control Congress until the new one is sworn in and they could at least try to stop these tax breaks right now.

    Axelrod goes on to claim that Bushwa Barry in not extending the deadline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

    Meanwhile, on the war in Afghanistan — an expensive and increasingly unpopular conflict — Axelrod pushed back hard against the notion, floated in some recent stories quoting “senior administration sources,” that the deadline for beginning troop withdrawals had been pushed back from July 2011 to some time in 2014.

    “If it is being sourced to senior administration officials, then someone has bad administration sources,” Axelrod said. “There is no change in the president’s position. There is no change in that basic commitment.”

    However that isn’t what Dennis Kucinich seems to think – Kucinich to Kick Off Next Congress with Afghanistan Withdrawal Resolution .

    As soon as the new Congress is sworn in, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) intends to bring a privileged resolution to the floor forcing an early vote on creating a timeline to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of 2012. Kucinich intends articulate the Afghanistan issue in the new Congress from both fiscal and strategic perspectives. Today’s announcement comes after news reports indicate the White House may backpedal away from a commitment to begin troop withdrawal in July 2011.

    “When the new 112th Congress convenes in January, I will immediately enter a privileged resolution that will force Congress to vote on setting a withdrawal date. The withdrawal of our troops must be driven by Congress, not the corrupt president of Afghanistan,” said Kucinich.

    News reports today indicate that the White House will adopt a withdrawal plan that would coincide with Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s statements that Afghan troops would be ready to take over security in 2014. “Expanding the timeline constitutes a de facto expansion of the war without Congressional approval,” said Kucinich.

    “The Obama Administration must withdraw our troops now. Our presence there is counterproductive, it keeps our troops in harms way and it opens to the door for the expansion of the massive corruption of the Karzai regime,” added Kucinich.

  6. cometman permalink*
    November 12, 2010 2:00 pm

    Some links –

    Taibbi’s latest once again makes the financial meltdown and associated rampant fraud easy to understand – Courts Helping Banks Screw Over Homeowners.

    Juan Cole on how the rest of the world is increasingly giving Uncle Sugar the brush off – Obama in Asia Meeting American Decline Face to Face .

    Is there any way to escape Big Brother anymore? – Twitter joke trial: Paul Chambers loses appeal against conviction. The guy gets arrested, loses his job, and now has to pay a good-sized fione plus legal fees, all for a fucking tweet he sent as a joke.

    This guy explains why the verdict was bullshit – An Open Letter to Judge Jacqueline Davies.

    Plenty of other news of corruption, fraud, stupidity, and fecklessness today but I’m trying not to care for a few hours.

  7. cometman permalink*
    November 12, 2010 2:08 pm

    Something cheerful heading into the weekend. Normally I’m not a huge fan of the cute animal pics posted daily at naked capitalism, especially as some of them are just staged photos. But I really enjoyed the one today about a guy and his best friend, a half ton crocodile.

    Chito made friends with the croc after finding him with a gunshot wound on the banks of the Central American state’s Parismina river 20 years ago. He had been shot in the left eye by a cattle farmer and was close to death. But Chito enlisted the help of several pals to load the massive reptile into his boat. He says: “When I found Poncho in the river he was dying, so I brought him into my house. He was very skinny, weighing only around 150lb I gave him chicken and fish and medicine for six months to help him recover. I stayed by Poncho’s side while he was ill, sleeping next to him at night. I just wanted him to feel that somebody loved him, that not all humans are bad. It meant a lot of sacrifice. I had to be there every day. I love all animals – especially ones that have suffered.”

    It took years before Chito felt that Poncho had bonded with him enough to get closer to the animal. He says: “After a decade I started to work with him. At first it was slow, slow. I played with him a bit, slowly doing more. Then I found out that when I called his name he would come over to me.”

  8. cometman permalink*
    November 12, 2010 3:00 pm

    Somebody figured out what that “missile” over Cali actually was – a plane. Pretty convincing visual evidence here – It was US Airways flight 808.

    The guy went out 24 hours later and saw the same contrails in the same place. It was a flight from Hawaii. So why couldn’t the national media figure that out before blasting “mystery missile” stories all over the place? They fooled me – I figured that if it was being reported all over the place somebody had bothered to check that it wasn’t just regularly a scheduled commercial flight first. Silly me for thinking the national media couldn’t possibly be that dumb as to breathlessly report a complete non-story.

  9. artemis54 permalink
    November 12, 2010 10:02 pm

    Home: Conservation Northwest Quarterly, Fall 2010 – Pathways to protecting Northwest Grasslands

    See page 16 – and here – for the Columbia Highlands Initiative.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 15, 2010 9:45 am

      Looking through those links reminded me of some controversy in this neck of the woods. Any idea how the Conservation NW group views wind farms? Because out here people have been protesting against them. More here and here.

      I’m not well informed on exactly why Earth First and others are protesting but at first glance it seems a bit counterproductive. Wind farms aren’t perfect but they sure seem a lot better than ripping the top off a mountain or putting in a fossil fuel power plant to despoil both the air and the water. Here’s one complaint –

      “If anybody could see the devastation to the environment from the blasting and clear-cutting taking place on the ridges above the Lincoln Lakes, they would understand how horrendous the environmental impact is for this,” Blake said.

      OK, they have to do some blasting and cutting to get the turbines in but they aren’t ripping up the whole mountain and presumably once the turbines are installed at least some of the trees will be allowed to grow back. It doesn’t take that long – the ice storm in the late 90s ripped down all the trees at the top of a hill on my family’s property (and all over the NE) and the area is recovering quite nicely. The temporary clearing made for a nice blackberry harvest in recent years too.

      Other complaints are about bird kill, but i have a hard time believing that turbines in such a small area could really damage a population that much. Xrist, domestics cats do a fair bit of damage to bird populations too and nobody is suggesting a ban of Fluffy.

      The main concern seems to be, like with the Cape Wind project, people’s view being ruined.

      Seems to me these protesters could do a lot better by heading down to Appalachia rather than protesting more sustainable energy sources. Is there something I’m missing here?

      • artemis54 permalink
        November 15, 2010 11:39 am

        I don’t think CN has any official policy on wind farms. But I expect a rational approach.

        Much of the land area they are working on is a bit out of the way for siting wind.

        There are sites that just won’t work due to local distribution of birds. But when I hear people cranking that up, I wonder if they are on board with bird friendly policies in city lighting, for one thing, that would prevent millions of bird deaths each year.

        The horseshit in my county was all about views. Not even the view from their homes, in the case of one very obnoxious bunch, but the view they would suffer if they chose to drive down a certain road!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These assholes did not prevail, but the vp of RES told me they had had enough of this bullshit and would be locating any new projects in nearby communities not quite so full of idiots.

        • cometman permalink*
          November 15, 2010 11:53 am

          Thanks. I’m just a little dumbfounded by these protests. Few years ago I argued that if banks were willing to fund a casino for First Nation people around here, they ought to be willing and able to fund windfarms or something more productive on native lands. You’d have thought “environmentalists” would agree…

  10. artemis54 permalink
    November 12, 2010 10:12 pm

    Re: UK forest giveaway

    Eco-Internet is on the case

    This is theft of the English cultural heritage with woodlands and natural landscapes. Instead the UK government should fully protect many of these woodlands, fund forest ecological restoration and native plantation establishment, and strive in haste to get to 25% forest cover and beyond for their own ecological sustainability.

    Petition and further info at link.

  11. cometman permalink*
    November 15, 2010 2:10 pm

    For later perusal – To Boldly Go: A One-Way Human Mission to Mars.

  12. cometman permalink*
    November 15, 2010 2:11 pm

    If you’ve been incessantly reading about financial malfeasance for the last few years, this is pretty funny – High Frequency Trading Explained by Cartoons.

    And the cartoon in this case is not Tim Geithner.

  13. cometman permalink*
    November 15, 2010 2:28 pm

    No let up with the war machine, about the only part of the “economy” still functioning.

    A little more detail here about Barry’s trip to India – While the Hegemon Caves From Within. As suspected, the cargo plane deal was just the tip of the iceberg –

    And while Obama was busily negotiating new arms deals which included securing a $3.5 billion contract for 10 Boeing C-17 cargo planes — the sixth biggest arms deal in US history — and lining up an additional $11 billion order for 126 combat fighter jets for the Indian air force, Clinton and Gates were meeting with Australian politicians and military planners in order to secure an increased US military presence in Australia.

    It was therefore both politic and pragmatic that Obama was met by Jim McNerney, CEO of Boeing, and Jeffrey Imelt, CEO of General Electric, when Air Force One touched down on the Tarmac of Mumbai airport on 7th November. General Electric was recently contracted to supply 107 F414 engines for the new Tejas lightweight jet fighter presently being constructed in India. And for the past 2 years, GE-Hitachi have been jockeying for the construction of new nuclear power stations in India.

    It would seem that the US presidency has more decidedly become an office to promote the sale of US arms in a world already ravaged by the effects of too many wars and too much deadly weaponry.

    Still lots of people left to bomb in Afghanistan and the US isn’t leaving any time soon – The Stimulus Package in Kabul .

    The Associated Press covered U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry’s announcement that a $511 million contract had been awarded to Caddell Construction, one of America’s “largest construction and engineering groups,” for a massive expansion of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. According to the ambassador, that embassy is already “the largest… in the world with more than 1,100 brave and dedicated civilians… from 16 agencies and working next to their military counterparts in 30 provinces,” and yet it seems it’s still not large enough.

    A few other things in his announcement caught my eye. Construction of the new “permanent offices and housing” for embassy personnel is not to be completed until sometime in 2014, approximately three years after President Obama’s July 2011 Afghan drawdown is set to begin, and that $511 million is part of a $790 million bill to U.S. taxpayers that will include expansion work on consular facilities in the Afghan cities of Mazar-i-Sharif and Herat. And then, if the ambassador’s announcement was meant to fly below the media radar screen in the U.S., it was clearly meant to be noticed in Afghanistan. After all, Eikenberry publicly insisted that the awarding of the contract should be considered “an indication… an action, a deed that you can take as a long-term commitment of the United States government to the government of Afghanistan.”

    And if not enough US citizens volunteer to be cannon fodder for the oligarchy, well there’s always other people’s children – White House Says Child Soldiers Are Ok, if They Fight Terrorists.

    And so what if the consequences of all this fly in the face of domestic and international law? Who cares when you can just fucking ignore it?

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 15, 2010 6:39 pm

      That child soldier article makess me want to vomit.

      Obama’s memorandum may look jarring on paper, but it’s grimly consistent with Washington’s agenda of waging war indefinitely, without boundaries, against an enemy we can no longer really define. The U.S. supports warfare that uses children as weapons, warfare that kills civilian children indiscriminately, warfare that ultimately sends our own children to perish on foreign soil. And so America marches on in a world of conflict where the first casualty is innocence itself.

      • cometman permalink*
        November 16, 2010 8:57 am

        I really don’t know how Obama can look his own kids in the face after signing such a memo. Absolutely despicable.

        And yet the pom pom girls can still come up for excuse after excuse for why Barry is really powerless and didn’t really want to do any of the bad things he’s done. I think I’ll write up a little post about it.

  14. cometman permalink*
    November 15, 2010 2:48 pm

    Good to see that people are finally trying to do something about being finger banged by the TSA every time they step on a plane. This firsthand account of a recent encounter is pretty good.

    And all it took was some googling to find out that W lifted a lot of his stupid fucking memoir from other writers.

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 15, 2010 6:37 pm

      I can solve the problem. Just allow passengers their choice of who on the staff gets to do the pat down.

  15. artemis54 permalink
    November 16, 2010 10:00 am

    It is tempting to think that the US is unique in ignoring science in favor of pandering. Alas, not so.

    The UK and Welsh governments are very close to launching a full scale war on badgers in an effort to control bovine tuberculosis. This in defiance of the only research done on the subject, which concluded that the program will be a disaster succeeding only in spreading tb further and faster.

    Good rundown from George Monbiot.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 16, 2010 11:47 am

      This is what happens when the whole world is governed by mad cows.

      If they wanted too, I imagine the UK could just pay to have herds vaccinated for tb. I’d imagine that it would cost orders of magnitude less than sending thousands of troops to Iraq for years on end.

      But it’s always more fun to shoot something.

      • artemis54 permalink
        November 16, 2010 1:13 pm

        I am not familiar with what the technical problem is, but it seems likely they will be ready to vaccinate the badgers before the cattle. As pointed out somewhere in the above links, the real problem is cattle to cattle transmission and that is something much more easily controlled than the movements of wild animals, particularly after shooting up the countryside and causing them all to disperse far and wide.

  16. cometman permalink*
    November 16, 2010 12:52 pm

    Some links –

    Dan Choi takes yet another stand to get DADT repealed.

    Things are coming apart in Haiti as all that aid promised by Uncle Sugar and others fails to arrive and cholera spreads.

    The Scandinavians are pissed after uncovering rampant spying on their citizens by the US government. Sadly I suspect this guy’s assessment is correct –

    ‘There is nothing surprising here,’ Intelligence expert and author Alexander Kolpakidi told Pravda.ru.

    ‘U.S. intelligence services have always behaved that way around the globe.

    ‘Virtually all countries of the world, including the members of European Union and NATO, have secret CIA tracking stations.’

    Erin Brokovich steps to the front again as PG&E fails to control its cancerous pollution.

    And in case robosigners and other fraudulent mortgage practices weren’t bad enough, check out this asshole who despite owing huge amounts of money all over the place himself, was somehow allowed to use deceptive commercial loans to steal people’s homes – Lender seizes desperate borrowers’ homes.

  17. cometman permalink*
    November 16, 2010 12:53 pm

    Neat-o. Animated mitochondria.

  18. artemis54 permalink
    November 16, 2010 12:55 pm

    h/t to Conservation Northwest for this link: fantastic Nature episode on wolverines. This kind of footage on them is quite rare.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 17, 2010 12:05 pm

      Thanks for that. Adding it to my “to watch” list.

  19. cometman permalink*
    November 16, 2010 1:02 pm

    Hesitant to nominate this one for a Darwin Award because it’s so damned tragic despite the stupidity involved – Police warn of downed trees after boy’s death.

    Perhaps the Darwin should go to the cop who said –

    “Who would have thought this trunk would release that tension?” Joyce said.

    Oh, I don’t know, maybe anyone with a basic understanding of physics. Xrist almighty, this whole “Nobody could have foreseen” meme has become ubiquitous.

    Gonna go give the squidlette an extra hug myself.

  20. cometman permalink*
    November 17, 2010 12:26 pm

    Some news on the recent Senate foreclosure fraud hearings. One guy got pretty pissed off with all the equivocating –

    Zerohedge has the context – the enraged fellow was Bruce Marks, CEO of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.

    More on the hearings from Naked Capitalism – Senate Hearing on Foreclosure Mess Goes Badly for Banks.

  21. cometman permalink*
    November 17, 2010 12:37 pm

    Taibbi brings up a very good point regarding QE2 which I hadn’t seen mentioned before – the Fed could buy Treasuries directly from the Treasury but they use middlemen instead.

    QE is designed to buy Treasuries and other assets, but the Fed does not simply go out and buy Treasuries itself; it does it through its primary dealers, who include of course banks like Goldman, Sachs. The Fed all but announces when it’s going to be doing this buying and in what quantity, which allows the banks to buy up this stuff at lower prices ahead of time and then sell it to the Fed at inflated cost.

    Even forgetting about the obvious insider trading aspect to all of this, the official middleman status of the banks is a direct government subsidy and it is little remarked upon, even by the Tea Party crowd, which is otherwise so opposed to “welfare.” But these sorts of subsidies exist all throughout the financial services industry.

    And the video he highlights that has been making the rounds in the last few days is fucking hilarious (if you’re a nerd like myself who thinks jokes about economists are funny) –

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 17, 2010 1:00 pm

      Hilarious is right! I am falling in love with Xtranormal. I am giving myself two weeks to come up with any reason at all to still have a tv connection – other than Turner classic movies.

      • cometman permalink*
        November 17, 2010 1:37 pm

        Keep laughing every time I watch it. Loved The Ben Ber-nank compared to the plumber bit.

        I’ve been debating with the missus whether to get rid of the TV connection too. The only reason I’m keeping it now is for the Red Sox games. Been a fan since about ten years old and I listened to almost every game on the radio back in the day they either weren’t on TV at all or we didn’t get the channel. That’s the only thing keeping me from cutting it right now – everything else I want to see I can either get on DVD or watch on the interwebs.

  22. artemis54 permalink
    November 17, 2010 1:23 pm

    Help!

    Save the Stehekin River

    One of my favorite places.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 17, 2010 2:39 pm

      Think you have a bad link there. It goes to the yahoo mail sign in page.

      • artemis54 permalink
        November 17, 2010 7:13 pm

        Gaa!

        Here

        If that’s a screwup, from here

  23. cometman permalink*
    November 17, 2010 1:26 pm

    Some links –

    Dumbass Freshman GOPer who railed against government subsidized healthcare on the campaign trail gets to DC and wonders why he has to wait so long to get his government subsidized healthcare.

    And more on the assholes discussed here earlier who set up a company to sue websites for copyright infringement for using snippets of articles. Noting that a previous case was dismissed on fair use grounds, the assholes are now looking to have the case dismissed, likely so the EFF won’t take a piece out of them – Righthaven seeks to dismiss suit over posting of R-J story.

    The EFF in September hit Righthaven and the Review-Journal’s parent company, Stephens Media LLC, with an answer and counterclaim saying the post at issue was protected by the fair use doctrine of copyright law and accusing the Review-Journal and Righthaven of abusing copyright law by trying to intimidate defendants into settling what critics call frivolous, no-warning lawsuits.

    Thank you EFF! Now if somebody could just explain why such a company is allowed to exist in the first place…

  24. cometman permalink*
    November 17, 2010 2:07 pm

    Couple of op-eds that bring to mind part of an article I read in the new Harper’s last night, both regarding junk politics and what the notion of “The State” is becoming. Both worth reading in full.

    First, David Michael Green’s latest –The Religion of Politics.

    Fundamentally, it seems to me there are two basic ways in which we can seek to comprehend our world: the empirical or the assumptive. The scientific or the faith-based. The (roughly speaking) cognitive or the emotional.

    I know its fashionable in our time to try to reconcile the two, to say that science has its domain and religion has its. But that’s rubbish. The truth is that they are competing modalities for engaging life and the environment in which it dwells. On any given matter, one can make a judgement based on evidence and logic, or you can take a position based on what you prefer to believe. Those two approaches apply to every question ranging from the existence of god to whether the US should invade Iraq (and those who answered the latter affirmatively should count themselves lucky that the former answer is negative).

    Of course, there are rarely if ever fully ‘correct’ answers to any of these questions in any abstract sense. But there is an investigatory process that will get you as close to the ‘correct answer’ – or a best functioning approximation – as is humanly possible, and then there is an alternative approach, called ‘let’s all pretend’. The first path may not get you where you want to be, but the second one is almost sure not to. The first approach may not solve your problems, but the second is almost guaranteed to exacerbate them.

    ~snip~

    America faces so many huge problems in our time. But I see none as consequential as the fact that our body politic is indeed ill-equipped to make thoughtful decisions. We are fast losing the capacity for anything even approximating dispassionate empirical observation and rational analysis. Ultimately, this will mark the greatest of the many triumphs of the dark forces of regressivism – to regress us as a society to a pre-Enlightenment modality in our relationship with our world. To push us back three hundred or more years, to a time when ‘knowledge’ was given, fixed and dogmatically defended. Or worse – when even questioning such ideas would itself be considered heretical if not absurd.

    And then this one – The Political Slaughterhouse .

    At a time when the Obama administration is endorsing one horrendous Bush policy after another, from targeted killings to state secrets to indefinite detention to endless war, it is time to recognize how the “conventional wisdom” has led Americans to the political slaughterhouse time and again. Pervasive confusion over the nature of government and freedom has opened the gates to perhaps the most sweeping increase in political power in history. Changing the name of the president is almost pointless unless Americans radically change their attitude toward government.

    The State has been the largest recipient of intellectual charity during the past hundred years. The issue of government coercion has been taken off the radar screen of politically correct thought. The more government power has grown, the more unfashionable it becomes to discuss or recognize government abuses- as if it were bad form to count the dead brought about by government interventions. There seems to be a gentleman’s agreement among some contemporary political philosophers to pretend that government is something loftier than it actually is – to practice noblesse oblige and to wear white gloves when discussing the nature of the State.

    The great political issue of our time is not liberalism versus conservatism, or capitalism versus socialism, but Statism – the belief that government is inherently superior to the citizenry, that progress consists of extending the realm of compulsion, that vesting arbitrary power in government officials will make the people happy – eventually. This was the source of many of Bush’s worst abuses, and it is rapidly become Obama’s Pandora’s Box as well.

    The conventional wisdom is nearly impossible to escape unless you hole yourself up in a room and never leave, whether it’s trickle down economics, war makes peace, the poor are parasites looking for a handout, etc, etc. And people who don’t give these things much thought tend to believe them because they hear the mantras leaking through the white noise that surrounds us all. Go to the bank and get to watch bullshit cable news while waiting in line. Walk down the street and get inundated with political adds, most of which bear no resemblance to reality no matter which party is sponsoring them. As Green says, the first path using empirical reasoning and rational thought may not get you where you want, and it seems a lot of people have simply given up trying. Lots of good liberal people I know, some of whom make their living advocating for just causes, simply don’t want to hear how bad things are really. Try to have a conversation about how this country has been taken over and be told “It’s too depressing”. People I love who have their hearts in the right place are still going to go out and vote for the Democrats again just because they always have, no matter how many times they get shafted.

    Which brings me to the Harper’s article. It was on psychosis and people gradually losing their minds – Which Way Madness Lies. Here’s the part that stuck out –

    Although the psychiatric literature describes a premorbid personality common to those who later develop schizophrenia—withdrawn, self- conscious, alienated—few of the patients I spoke with at COPE or at the Aware Program in Bangor, Maine, another prodromal clinic where I interviewed patients, fit that description. The only commonalities were that nearly all of them had moved through childhood and adolescence feeling more thoughtful, intelligent, or probing than their family and peers and that there had been an existential tinge to their preoccupations years before their symptoms emerged. Aaron, a patient at Aware who had been the president of his high school class, said that he and the others in his therapy group had “all gotten caught up on the deep, fundamental questions —religion, morality, ethics —and sucked in by them.”

    Made me wonder who exactly are the crazy people here, those who continue to believe things that are patently untrue despite all the evidence against their pet beliefs, or those who wind up losing it because so many others around seem completely divorced from reality by hanging on to their childish, not well thought out views? We’ve got hundreds of millions of people in just this country who believe in invisible men in the sky for fuck sake. Try to point that out to most people and be prepared to get the stink -eye and be shunned, or worse yet they’ll pray for you.

    Perhaps the thoughtful people of this world need a movement like the one going around to help out gay teenagers, letting them know that there are actually others out there who share their view of the world. Obviously no two people are going to view the world exactly the same, but is definitely a lonely feeling when you eventually come to realize that the vast majority of people don’t look at the world anywhere close to the way you do and it’s almost as if they’re speaking a foreign language.

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 17, 2010 7:25 pm

      Bravo. I would only add that it gets worse. No one seems disturbed by the assertions that in the recent election “the people” said this or that, and that therefore anything contrary to the chosen this and that must be immediately renounced and jettisoned. Very questionable assumption, then a giant leap to a preordained conclusion. Toss in the notion that we are now ruled by polls. And you have a few new Know Nothings in congress who have no hesitation at all to appoint themselves Tribunes of the People with a positive duty to repeal the 17th amendment, kill the Start treaty, overturne Roe v Wade and the 14th amendment by defunding.

      I am beginning to suspect it is not a foreign language they are speaking. It is random noise.

      Exhibit A for the top piece there was the response to the Iraq war. “Well, he might have had wmd.” Yes, and I might wake up tomorrow looking like George Clooney, but it is not rational for me to act in the belief it will happen.

      • cometman permalink*
        November 18, 2010 9:32 am

        Reading your comment made me remember something I meant to post about a couple years ago and never got around to. Ever hear of “Doc” Humes? I hadn’t myself until I ran across this film on PBS about him.

        Looks like you can only see clips at the link but the entire film is well worth watching if you can find it. Check out the short video though where Norman Mailer talks about people who prefer to be “installed in congealed lard” so they don’t have to think too much.

        Humes was a very bright man who thought about all the big questions and went “crazy”. He was paranoid and convinced the CIA was following him. Turns out the CIA was following him for 30 fucking years and one of his good friends was secretly an agent and never told him. Again, who exactly is the crazy guy in this case? To me, it ain’t the guy who was just looking for a little peace, love, and understanding.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 18, 2010 1:10 pm

      Regarding the last part of my comment above about both gay and thoughtful people, how’s this for syzygy. Maybe Mark Morford is a surreptitious cephaloblog reader ;) – Your angry God will not save you now.

      Perhaps you’ve seen? How across thousands of species on every continent known to man, from lions to tigers, dolphins to monkeys, fish to fowl, insect to iguana, nearly every species has at least a few members getting it on with their same-sex brethren for all sorts of who-the-hell-knows reasons? We can be sure of one thing, however: God couldn’t care less that a cluster of clenched bipeds would be all confused by the phenom sometime in the late Cenozoic.? “Girlfriend,” said the Serpent to the Man, “get over your bi-curious self.”

      All well and blasphemous. But wait, what to make of the even more amazing, flipside news that, despite all the angelic wiring and sexual predetermination, science is also saying the exact opposite, that we are, in large part, far more a product of our surroundings than once thought?

      It’s true. When it comes to other kinds of not-so-tingly human torments — mental illnesses, depression, fondness for reality TV — these malicious phenom are largely not genetic, not due to predetermined biological factors or nefarious DNA sequences, but rather very, very much fueled and influenced by what swirls and churns, eats and burns all around us.

      ~snip~

      … Environmental and social factors are much more influential in terms of disturbing and damaging the human spirit than previously thought. Which means the liberals had it right all along — the only real way to address mental illness, depression and the like isn’t with drugs; it’s about improving the toxic social climate in which they fester and breed like Tea Partiers in a bathtub of Coors. Imagine that.

      ~snip~

      …it turns out we’ve had it all exactly backwards all along. You actually can’t choose your particular wiring for love, but you can choose to be a warlike, antagonistic force of cancerous doom. We cannot design our innate sexual chemistry, but we sure as hell can choose whether to celebrate it with wine and song and fearless abandon, or poison it at its heart with ignorance, panic, a violent misreading of God.

  25. cometman permalink*
    November 17, 2010 2:25 pm

    Ireland tells the oligarchs “we don’t need your stinking austerity” (for now at least) – Ireland gives thumbs down to EU bailout.

    Is it the straw that breaks the camel’s back? – The horrible truth starts to dawn on Europe’s leaders .

    The notion of the EU wasn’t exactly greeted with showers of rose petals to begin with. Tend to agree with the author’s take –

    My own view is that the EU became illegitimate when it refused to accept the rejection of the European Constitution by French and Dutch voters in 2005. There can be no justification for reviving the text as the Lisbon Treaty and ramming it through by parliamentary procedure without referenda, in what amounted to an authoritarian Putsch. (Yes, the national parliaments were themselves elected – so don’t write indignant comments pointing this out – but what was their motive for denying their own peoples a vote in this specific instance? Elected leaders can violate democracy as well. There was a corporal from Austria … but let’s not get into that).

    Ireland was the one country forced to hold a vote by its constitutional court. When this lonely electorate also voted no, the EU again disregarded the result and intimidated Ireland into voting a second time to get it “right”.

    This is the behaviour of a proto-Fascist organization, so if Ireland now – by historic irony, and in condign retribution – sets off the chain-reaction that destroys the eurozone and the European Union, it will be hard to resist the temptation of opening a bottle of Connemara whisky and enjoying the moment. But resist one must. The cataclysm will not be pretty.

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 17, 2010 7:29 pm

      I’ve never understood how you can have a single currency with multiple economic policies.

      I would not want to be the one trying to ram wildly unpopular policies down the throat of the Irish people. They have demonstrated remarkable powers of resistance before and no doubt could again.

      • cometman permalink*
        November 18, 2010 8:58 am

        Evidently there were a lot of people who didn’t understand that. Now they’re finding out you pretty much can’t have such a thing. Especially if you want your head still attached to your shoulders after all is said and done.

      • cometman permalink*
        November 18, 2010 1:13 pm

        Another opinion on the Irish financial mess – Ireland’s Suicide Pact with the EU .

        The financial crisis has stripped away much of the pretense surrounding the 16-country EU. No one is blabbing about ending wars and shared prosperity anymore. The focus has shifted to belt tightening for workers and golden parachutes for bankers and bondholders. In other words, elites are waging the same relentless class war they always have, only this time it’s behind the facade of European unity. Does Ireland really want to be a part of that charade?

        It’s time for Ireland to leave the EU and deliver a blow to the ill-conceived Uberstate. In fact, they should have left years ago.

  26. cometman permalink*
    November 17, 2010 2:37 pm

    One more (much more cheerful) piece from the new Harper’s that I thought you might like by Annie Proulx – A Year of Birds: At home on the North Platte River. The link may not work because the new issue is probably still behind the subscription wall but it’s a very nice article on all the different species of birds she was able to watch while living there.

  27. cometman permalink*
    November 18, 2010 1:23 pm

    Couple of science notes –

    CERN researchers have used the LHC to capture and store antimatter atoms for the first time.

    Japanese biology students use bacteria to “solve” sudoku puzzles.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 18, 2010 2:23 pm

      One more –

      Phil Plait answers my question about how long comets last.

      There is one thing we know for sure: every time this comet loops near the Sun on its orbit, it loses a lot of material. In fact, it may shrink in size by as much as a meter or so every 6.5-year orbit! In other words, we’re catching this comet near the end of its life: in a hundred or so more passes, the material in the waist will shrink to nothing, and the two lobes will fly free, their tether to each other severed. Then we’ll have two comets (plus a lot more debris), each slowly decaying as they spew matter into space. This whole object may only last a few thousand more years, after surviving for billions of years in the solar system.

      Lots of nice pics of the recent comet flyby at the link.

  28. cometman permalink*
    November 18, 2010 1:45 pm

    Various examples of the current zeitgeist –

    GE comes up with a novel way to attempt to extort the state of Massachusetts.

    General Electric Co. has made an unusual offer to the state: Give us $25 million in tax credits, and we won’t cut any more than 150 positions at our aircraft engine plant in Lynn.

    The conglomerate has already cut the Lynn plant’s workforce by 600 jobs and could cut 150 more. But General Electric said that if it receives the state aid to help fund a $75 million retooling of the plant, it would maintain the remaining 3,000 jobs for six years.

    Typically the state grants tax breaks to companies that create — not cut — jobs, making the General Electric request unusual. State officials said they cannot recall another case of a company asking for tax subsidies while warning it will continue to reduce employment.

    The article mentions that GE will cut some jobs no matter what but they have no intention of moving the plant (at least that they’ll admit to). There doesn’t seem to be any rational reason for the state to even consider this – they could simply NOT give the tax break and then use the tax revenue they didn’t lose to pay any unemployment costs for the laid off workers. And then there’s the fact that these companies often don’t keep their promises after getting their requested favors – I remember Intel using some extortion in the Pacific NW a few years back and then packing up their plant anyway a few years later. But when you’ve spread bribes throughout the Federal and state legislatures like GE has, elected officials rarely use rationality when making these decisions.

    Next up, the microloan programs that were so promising a few short years ago have fallen on hard times as banks have replaced non-profits as lenders and look to get their pound of flesh rather than simply trying to help. Now Indian banks may be in a bind caused by their own greed. Lots of parallels to the subprime mess in the US – India Microcredit Faces Collapse From Defaults.

    India’s rapidly growing private microcredit industry faces imminent collapse as almost all borrowers in one of India’s largest states have stopped repaying their loans, egged on by politicians who accuse the industry of earning outsize profits on the backs of the poor.

    And finally, the fraud committed with impunity by those at the top sends a message to the rest of the population and the cancerous rot spreads. Well worth reading in full – The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students’ papers tells his story. A snippet –

    You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.

    ~snip~

    I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it’s hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I’d say education is the worst. I’ve written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I’ve written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I’ve synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I’ve written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I’ve completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents. (Future educators of America, I know who you are.)

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 18, 2010 2:06 pm

      I once worked for a research paper company. I was the secretary to the owner. He had a whole stable of people scattered that he farmed out jobs to.

      Together we sat and went through the mail every day, answering each letter in high style. On occasion when we were backed up against the wall we had to put a few together ourselves. He farmed a couple papers on Edward Albee out to me, also a couple sermons (!)- a committed atheist, he could toss off sermons himself like nobody’s business.

      He was an odd duck. The business, done entirely by mail, suited him very well as he was a bundle of phobias and tics and went to incredible lengths to avoid any human contact. Postal inspectors were the great bane of his existence. A letter that seemed suspect – perhaps from an inspector – would send us into this whole DefCon mode.

      It was a great job and endless fun. I was surprised how many of our customers were not people you would expect: prisoners, pastors, desperate housewives.

      • cometman permalink*
        November 19, 2010 9:04 am

        Have to say that does sound like a fun job. Any idea why housewives and prisoners would want research papers?

    • artemis54 permalink
      November 18, 2010 3:41 pm

      Will have to see what my old bud Lori has to say about this. She was born in Lynn and now represents part of it in the state leg.

  29. artemis54 permalink
    November 18, 2010 2:14 pm

    There was an attempted coup in Madagascar yesterday, on the very day of voting on the new constitutional reforms. The situation is unclear, but the coup seems stalled out. “President” Rajoelina is talking to them and at the same time demanding respect for the rule of law – prett rich from the group that toppled the legitimate authority 18 months ago.

    You want to know how I heard about this? It caused a drop in Canadian mining co Sherritt’s stock – due to uncertainty about their ecocidal nickel project in the north of the country. That drop led to an article in the Financial Times. Other than that no media outlets seem to have even noticed.

    The crown jewel of global biodiversity has been pillaged for 18 months straight and the closest thing to any media discussing it is Mongabay – which has done a wonderful job.

    • cometman permalink*
      November 18, 2010 2:25 pm

      I did see a brief article about the coup somewhere yesterday although I can’t remember where right now. But that was the only mention I saw – it definitely wasn’t widely reported.

  30. artemis54 permalink
    November 19, 2010 4:32 am

    Who am I?

    The first look for evidence of non-retroviruses in animal genomes finds those genomes littered with absorbed viral gene fragments, inactive and active, from ten different virus families. These include fragments of filoviridae – think Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers – buried in the dna of opposums, wallabies, guinea pigs, and bats, as well as fragments from viruses that typically infect birds in the genome of the bottlenose dolphin.

    Endogenous Viral Elements in Animal Genomes

    The presence of retrovirus sequences in animal genomes has been recognized since the 1970s, but is readily explained by the fact that these viruses integrate into chromosomal DNA as part of their normal replication cycle. Unexpectedly, however, we identified a large and diverse population of sequences in animal genomes that are derived from non-retroviral viruses. Analysis of these sequences—which represent all known virus genome types and replication strategies—reveals new information about the evolutionary history of viruses, in many cases providing the first and only direct evidence for their ancient origins. Additionally, we provide evidence that the functionality of one of these sequences has been maintained in the host genome over many millions of years, raising the possibility that captured viral sequences may have played a larger than expected role in host evolution.

    We don’t even know what we are.

  31. artemis54 permalink
    November 19, 2010 4:46 am

    Senate kills climate bill, leaving country with no policy at all.

    A familiar headline, but this time it’s from Ottawa.

    It’s hard to be a climate scientist when dinosaurs are making the calls

    At question is a global-warming bill that passed through the House of Commons with the support of the NDP, Liberals and Bloc Québécois, only to be abruptly killed by the Conservatives with a snap vote in the Senate on Tuesday.

    It ticks off Weaver that Harper, having been voted in on a promise to do away with the unelected Senate, instead packed the institution with ill-informed patronage appointments (“Mike Duffy, climate scientist extraordinaire”) who waited until 15 opposition members were absent before defeating, without debate, a bill that had already been OK’d by the elected arm of Parliament.

    The UVic climatologist, sputtering words like “unbelievable” and “dictator” and “shocking affront to democracy,” says he hopes the opposition will force Harper’s minority government to fall. “He’s got to get kicked out. This is Canada, not Zimbabwe . . . or maybe it is.

    “It’s all about not wanting to do anything about the issue,” Weaver says of the Senate sabotage. It’s about pandering to the oil industry, to the Conservatives’ Alberta power base.

    NDP head: Abolish the Senate

    • cometman permalink*
      November 19, 2010 9:15 am

      My American ignorance is showing – hadn’t realized the Canadian Senate was unelected. Maybe if the Canucks get rid of theirs the US could follow suit – the Senate here isn’t doing anybody any favors either.

      So sick of the argument that Harper used that regulating business in any way would “cost jobs”. Why in the hell is it prohibited for the government to do anything that might “cost a job” but when industry decides for themselves that they’d like to shed a few tens of thousands of workers, that’s AOK? Rhetorical question, but one that I really wish someone with a bigger platform than me would ask publicly once in a while.

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