Monday, March 2, 2015

Quote of the Day

Marco Rubio on what he wants to be when he grows up.

I don’t want to be in politics my whole life. I want to serve our country and I’d like to do some other things. Like maybe own an NFL team or something.

Or maybe an astronaut or a fireman.

A Matter of Trust

Josh Marshall takes a skeptical view of the visit by Israel’s prime minister to Washington this week.

We’re about to see a mountain of writing and hoopla this week about Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to the United States and speech before Congress. A guy on twitter asked me if a comment I made was meant to be ironic. My thought was to tell him that irony simply doesn’t have the muscle mass to handle what’s coming down the pike this week. Only snark and absurdism can manage it. But with all this one of the most significant developments has gone all but unmentioned. We now have dramatic new evidence of Netanyahu’s willingness to distort or simply falsify what his own intelligence agencies are telling him about the state of Iran’s nuclear program when he speaks to the US and the world.

J.J. Goldberg goes into depth about it here in The Forward. But the gist is this: You probably remember that Netanyahu speech a couple years ago before the United Nations – the one where he used the bomb cartoon to illustrate his points about the Iranian nuclear program. In that speech Netanyahu made a series of specific claims about the status of the Iranian nuclear program. (Again, read J.J.’s piece for the details.) It turns out several of those claims were specifically contradicted by the current intelligence from the Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. We know this because of a major leak of hundreds of documents from South African intelligence. One of those is a report from the South Africans’ Israeli counterparts – detailing their current evaluation of the status of the program. It’s dated only a few weeks after Netanyahu’s speech.

[…]

Unfortunately for Israel, unfortunately for America, unfortunately for everyone, Netanyahu can’t be trusted – not his judgment or his honesty. And no amount of deterrence will stop the onslaught of weaponized grandiosity he plans to unleash on America this coming week.

Also, did I mention, you can’t trust him to tell the truth?

I’m not sure what offends more: that the Republicans in Congress decided to undermine the foreign policy of the country just because they wanted to show that uppity black guy occupying the White House that they really hate him, or that the leader of a country that has been supported since its inception by the United States would exploit that for his own political agenda and re-election.

Profession of Faith

Ana Marie Cox, the columnist for the Daily Beast and known for her liberal punditry, has come out as a Christian.

Not that it’s any of my business — or anyone else’s, for that matter — to render judgment on her personal beliefs, but I think it says something about our discourse today that people feel they either have to hide their faith or their lack of it for fear of being held up to someone else’s standard of just how holy they are.

My hesitancy to flaunt my faith has nothing to do with fear of judgment by non-believers. My mother was an angry, agnostic ex-Baptist; my father is a casual atheist. (I asked him once why he didn’t believe in God, and he replied easily, “Because He doesn’t exist.”)

I am not smart enough to argue with those that cling to disbelief. Centuries of philosophers have made better arguments than I could, and I am comfortable with just pointing in their direction if an acquaintance insists, “If there is a God, then why [insert atrocity]?” For me, belief didn’t come after I had the answer to that question. Belief came when I stopped needing the answer.

No, I’m nervous to come out as a Christian because I worry I’m not good enough of one. I’m not scared that non-believers will make me feel an outcast. I’m scared that Christians will.

That’s because a large segment of our political world has decided that being “Christian” is different than being a Christian.  Barack Obama says he’s a Christian, but he’s not “Christian” enough for those who need another reason to hate him because of, oh, some other reason.  Those are the professional “Christians” who have trouble with those Christians who accept marriage equality in their churches or meeting houses, who believe women have the right to control their bodies, who welcome strangers to a strange land, and who believe that taking care of the planet is part of the life we have going here.

I have a feeling Ms. Cox will be welcomed in liberal circles a lot more than she will in the ones that demand she prove she’s really a “Christian.”

Peace out.

Florida Fun Times

The Florida legislature begins its 60-day session tomorrow, so by May 1 we’ll find out just how much the geniuses will screw over the public education system, give land and money to Big Sugar, not expand Medicaid, cut taxes for the rich, and add to the collection of specialty license plates because having over 100 already is never enough.

Ddyhea buchedda Cymru!

[This post was slated to go up yesterday morning — Sunday, March 1 — but somehow it ended up in draft mode until I noticed it this morning.  Better late than never, I suppose.]

March 1 is St. David’s (Dewi Sant) Day, the patron saint of Wales (“Cymru”). Notable people of Welsh descent include Richard Burton, poet Dylan Thomas, and me on one side of the family.

The title is a literal translation of “Long live Wales!” courtesy of an on-line English to Welsh translation service.

Here’s the national anthem, and a phonetic version of the lyrics so you can sing along:

My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree
Glad farts and centurions throw dogs in the sea
I could stew a hare here, and brandish Don’s flan.
Don’s ruddy bog’s blocked up with sand.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.
Dad! Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?
When whores appear on beer bottle pies,
Oh butter the hens as they fly.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Reading

Assassination in Moscow — Matt Schiavenza in The Atlantic on the murder of a Putin opponent.

Hours after Boris Nemtsov was slain on Friday night near the Kremlin, Russian president Vladimir Putin vowed to seek justice: “Everything will be done so that the organizers and perpetrators of a vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve,” he said in a condolence message to the 55-year-old Nemtsov’s mother. Whether Putin is being sincere is something only he and his closest advisors know. But Russia’s recent history inspires little confidence that Nemtsov’s killers, whomever they are, will be brought to justice.

Nemtsov was a high-profile politician, having served as a deputy prime minister and, more recently, as a regional legislator. He was such an outspoken critic of Putin in those roles that he openly feared for his life. Along with his colleague Leonid Martynyuk, Nemtsov published a report detailing the immense corruption surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics, which were hosted in the Russian resort town of Sochi. Nemtsov also spoke out about Russia’s seizure of Crimea last February and subsequent support for pro-Kremlin rebels in eastern Ukraine. But Nemtsov is hardly the first critic of Putin to lose his life to premeditated murder. Dozens of journalists have been killed since the Russian president first assumed office in 2000. Few of those responsible have been brought to justice—a point Nemtsov himself was well aware of. “The murderers understand that killing journalists is not a problem,” he told Foreign Policy‘s Christian Caryl in a 2010 interview.

The assassination of a well-known politician, however, is somewhat more unusual. In an attempt to preempt public outrage, the Kremlin has already formed a committee to investigate the causes of Nemtsov’s death. One possibility they cited was that Nemtsov’s commentary about the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, whose offices suffered a murderous assault in January, made him a target of Islamists. The committee also mentioned Nemtsov’s controversial position on Ukraine, and, most spectacularly, suggested that he was killed by fellow opponents of Putin in an attempt to rally opposition to the Russian president.

Putin’s critics have not had it easy in Russia. A major economic slowdown triggered by falling oil prices has not diminished the president’s popularity. The country’s liberal opposition—epitomized by Nemtsov and the jailed politician Alexei Navalny—is weak and marginalized, and their positions on Ukraine, Putin, and the Sochi Olympics are not widely shared among ordinary Russians.

Nevertheless, the Kremlin appears wary of turning Nemtsov into a martyr. On Sunday, he was scheduled to appear at an anti-Putin rally in Moscow. But when the organizers asked to turn the rally into a memorial for Nemtsov, Russian authorities denied the request. Even still, protests have done little to challenge Putin’s grip on power—something that Nemtsov himself acknowledged in a recent interview published in Newsweek‘s Polish edition:

[The liberals’] idea is the one of a democratic and open Russia. A country which is not applying bandit methods to its own citizens and neighbors. But, as I mentioned, Russian fascism is a hybrid. And hybrids are extremely resistant.

As the world mourns his death, Nemtsov’s vision seems very far from being realized.

Early Bird vs. Night Owl — Maria Konnikova in The New Yorker on the morals dictated by our sleep pattern.

The idea of the virtuous early bird goes back at least to Aristotle, who wrote, in his Economics, that “Rising before daylight is … to be commended; it is a healthy habit.” Benjamin Franklin, of course, framed the same sentiment in catchier terms: “Early to Bed, and early to rise, makes a Man healthy, wealthy and wise.” More recently, there has been a push for ever earlier work starts, conference calls, and breakfast meetings, and a steady stream of advice to leave Twitter and Facebook to the afternoon and spend the morning getting real things done. And there may be some truth to the idea: a 1998 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that we become more passive as the day wears on. You should do the most important thing first, the theory goes, because, well, you won’t be able to do it quite as well later on.

In last January’s issue of Psychological Science, Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac Smith took that theory even further, proposing what they called the morning morality effect, which posits that people behave better earlier in the day. Their research caught the attention of Sunita Sah, a behavioral scientist at Georgetown University and a professed night owl. For the previous five years, Sah had been studying how different situations influence ethical behavior. “You always hear these sweeping statements: morning is saintly, evening is bad; early to bed, early to rise,” she told me recently. A former physician, she found it plausible that something with such profound health consequences as time of day might also have a moral dimension. But she wondered how strong the effect really was. Were people like her—principled late risers—the exception to the rule? To test the limits of Kouchaki and Smith’s findings, Sah and her colleagues began by looking at the underlying biology.

Our sleep patterns are governed by circadian rhythms, our bodies’ response to changes in light and dark in a typical day. The rhythms are slightly different for every person, which is why our energy levels ebb and flow in ways that are unique to us. This internal clock determines what is called our chronotype—whether we are morning people, night people, or somewhere in between. Chronotypes are relatively stable, though they have been known to shift with age. Children and older adults generally prefer mornings; adolescents and young adults prefer evenings. Figuring out where you fall is simple: spend a few weeks going to bed when you feel tired and waking up without an alarm clock. A quicker alternative is the Horne-Ostberg questionnaire, which presents various scenarios—a difficult exam, twice-weekly exercise with a friend—and determines your chronotype on the basis of what time of day you’d feel most up to confronting them.

Chronotype, of course, doesn’t control wakefulness all on its own. There is also what is known as homeostatic sleep drive. The longer we are awake, irrespective of where we are in our established circadian rhythms, the more fatigue exerts its pressure on us. In morning people, sleep drive and chronotype tend to be aligned. Their internal clocks are pretty well synchronized with their over-all energy levels. For night owls, however, things get complicated. When the sun comes up, the light resets their circadian clocks, telling them to wake up. But, because of their chronotypes, they don’t have much energy and they want to go back to sleep. At night, the reverse happens: one system is telling them to sleep and another is telling them to remain awake. About forty per cent of people fall into this latter category.

The Right to Get Weird — Marin Cogan reports in New York magazine on the sideshows at CPAC.

“It’s hard to punch through here,” Travis Brown, a writer for the anti-tax website How Money Walks, is saying. Standing in front of us, a towering silver robot with glowing red LED lights in his eyes and chest plate takes a clunky step forward. “We need to be creative. There’s so much going on.” The robot takes another step forward. A college-aged girl walks by asking who he is.

“Govtron is a robot built and fueled by government inefficiency,” one of the robot’s handlers says. “So he’s armored with pages of the Obamacare bill, he’s got a red tape cannon, he’s stomping on some Gadsden snakes as we speak, stomping on your freedom. We’re pitting this super villain against the How Money Walks Reformers, which includes Captain America and Iron Man, as well as Iron Patriot.” Behind him, a man in a Captain America costume gives a halfhearted wave. “That is so funny!” the girl says. “And what is his name? Goovtron?”

Govtron is the subject of a short comic book Brown authored specially for CPAC, the annual confab hosted by the American Conservative Union. He’s there to direct attention to their website, and right now even he’s struggling to stand out. A few booths away, a limited government youth group called Turning Point USA is blasting Sia while students mill about, tagging their “Big Government Sucks” signing wall. “We’re working around this theme, big government sucks,” says Marko Sukovic, the group’s Midwest field director. “It’s probably the most relevant phrase any young person can relate to on college campuses.”

Behind the wall, on which someone has scrawled, “I love our freedom and dislike big politics,” a man in a “Muhammad is a homo” T-shirt is giving an interview in front of an audience of empty chairs. Three aisles down, at the end of the Gaylord Hotel’s massive expo center, the American Atheists are posted up at a booth with the banner “Conservative Atheists Matter!”

“There are millions and millions of atheists who would be voting Republican if the Republicans would just let them!” David Silverman, the group’s president, says, eyes as big as saucers. “Just ask for our vote! Tell us that we count! Tell us that we matter, once! It’s never happened. Not in my lifetime.” The fresh-faced youth manning the World Congress of Families booth beside them does not know how to deal with the atheists next door. “It’s urrrgh … ” he mumbles until an adult steps in to cut him off.

In a big ballroom upstairs, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio will practice their nascent stump speeches to adoring crowds, and Jeb Bush and Chris Christie — the more moderate and less favored potential candidates in the CPAC straw poll — will get grilled by conservative luminaries like Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity. With the exception of some awkward jokes, and Scott Walker’s awkward reply to a question about how he would take on ISIS (“We need a leader with that kind of confidence. If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world,” he tells a questioner), most of the conference’s events are too scripted to be memorable.

Doonesbury — Planned disruption.  (You may have to scroll down the page to actually see the comic.)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Wagon Train

Fifth in the series…

1971 Ford Country Squire1971 Ford Country Squire. Ours was pewter grey with a camel-brown interior and came from Kistler Ford in Toledo. It had the 429 CID engine, all the bells and whistles, and went through gas like crazy. It was also the family’s last fake-wood-grain wagon until I got the Pontiac. After all the kids were off to college or boarding school, Mom traded it for a 1974 Volvo 164 sedan from Kahn Motors.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy — 1931-2015

From the New York Times:

Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

His artistic pursuits — poetry, photography and music in addition to acting — ranged far beyond the United Federation of Planets, but it was as Mr. Spock that Mr. Nimoy became a folk hero, bringing to life one of the most indelible characters of the last half century: a cerebral, unflappable, pointy-eared Vulcan with a signature salute and blessing: “Live long and prosper” (from the Vulcan “Dif-tor heh smusma”).

I met Mr. Nimoy in 1974 when he was a guest at a cocktail party at the summer cottage of the producer the Cherry County Playhouse of Traverse City, Michigan, where he was appearing in a summer stock production of 6 RMS RIV VU.  It was a very brief conversation and I avoided any talk about Star Trek, which at the time I understood he didn’t like to talk about.  So we talked about sailboats.

“Live long and prosper,” indeed.  He did both.

Net Gain

KellogCandlestick2The F.C.C. voted yesterday to approve net neutrality, basically making the internet a public utility, not unlike the rest of telecommunications in the United States.  Upyernoz has a concise explanation of what net neutrality is, how it works, and why there’s any controversy about it.

A phrase that I remember from a class I took a long time ago on the history of broadcasting was that a utility such as the telephone company and broadcast networks must operate in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”  The internet is no longer a luxury or a curiosity.  Just about everything we do in our daily lives has some element of connectivity to it, and we’ve become as dependent on it was we have of the electric power grid or water system.

That means that the people who provide the service need to remember they have a duty to operate in the public interest, convenience, and necessity, and if it makes their profit margin a little tighter or they can’t screw over someone for wanting to watch House of Cards instead of something they own a stake in, that’s what comes with being indispensable.

History reminds us that the phone companies fought the designation of their service as a utility back in their infancy, as did the radio broadcasting networks, who were fighting with the newspapers over their right to broadcast the news.  Somehow American Telephone & Telegraph survived, as did the National Broadcasting Company and the Columbia Broadcasting System, and so will Comcast and Time Warner.

Snowball In Hell

The title sounds like something Dante would come up with for Friday Catblogging, but in reality it’s just what struck me when I read that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) brought a snowball to the Senate floor to prove that climate change is a hoax because it snowed in Washington, D.C. and he hates President Obama.

“It’s just another illustration that the president and his administration are detached from the realities that we are facing today and into the future,” he said. “His repeated failure to understand the real threat to our national security and his inability to establish a coherent national security strategy has put this nation at a level of risk that has been unknown for decades.”

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) hurls the snowball back.

Every major American scientific society has put itself on record — many of them a decade ago — that climate change is deadly real. They measure it, they see it, they know why it happens, the predictions correlate with what we see as they increasingly come true.

And the fundamental principle is that it is derived from carbon pollution, which comes from burning fossil fuels, are beyond legitimate dispute to the point where every leading scientific organization on the planet calls them unequivocal.

So, you can believe every major American scientific society, or you can believe the Senator With The Snowball.

Thwack.

Short Takes

The House is trying to come up with a plan to fund DHS without messing with immigration and pissing off the right wing.

The guy known as Jihad John, the English-speaking executioner of ISIS, has been identified as a Briton.

You’re welcome — Liberia’s president thanked the U.S. for helping them with the Ebola crisis.

The F.C.C. votes in favor of net neutrality.

The Klown Kar is in town.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

High Court Humor

One of the reasons I would not make a good lawyer is because case histories and rulings do not strike me as page-turning can’t-put-it-down reading.  Judges have to be restrained and very detailed in what they put in their opinions because the law and precedent demand it.  But every now and then there comes a judge who can plant a kernel of humor.  For example, Justice Elena Kagan in a Supreme Court ruling yesterday:

As the plurality must acknowledge, the ordinary meaning of “tangible object” is “a discrete thing that possesses physical form.” A fish is, of course, a discrete thing that possesses physical form. See generally Dr. Seuss, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish (1960).

Permission to gigglesnort, your honor.