Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Census Update
States that went for McCain made a net gain of 6 electoral votes.

Florida is more important than ever now (+2). Pennsylvania (-1), Ohio (-2), Michigan (-1), are less so. Other states gaining a House member (electoral vote): Utah, Washington, Nevada, South Carolina, Georgia and Arizona. Texas gained 4.

Other states losing ground: Louisiana, New York (-2), Illinois, Massachusetts,
Iowa, Missouri and New Jersey.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Article 19 Poll
Who would you rather be, this woman who is addicted to her hair-dryer? Or this woman who lacks the capacity to experience fear?

It would be easier to hide a hair-dryer addiction than an inability to be fearful, but it would be a more embarrassing problem, right? Plus, how cool would it be to go through life without being afraid?

On the other hand, placing yourself in imminent danger without concern probably has some kind of down side. And, presumably an addiction can be treated, whereas the rare no-fear brain disease apparently can't.

Stem-Cell Cure for HIV?
The good news is, scientists believe they have the cure for HIV - and leukemia for that matter. The bad news is, it might kill you or make you sick, and will cost a ton. And since they have learned to keep people alive for quite some time with HIV medication, they're not going to be trying it in all but the most extreme cases.
In the study, published last week online in the journal Blood, researchers at Charite-University Medicine Berlin treated an HIV-infected man who also had acute myeloid leukemia -- a cancer of the immune system -- by wiping out his own immune system with high-dose chemotherapy and radiation and giving him a stem-cell transplant. Stem cells are immature cells that can mature into blood cells.

At the time of the transplant, which occurred in February 2007, he stopped taking anti-HIV medications.
So, you have to find the right donor match, have to be healthy enough to withstand the treatment, sick enough to need it, and rich enough to afford it. Still, sounds like amazing progress. I have mixed feelings about this risk calculation issue. Would you rather go through a risky treatment of hell with the possibility of coming out of it with a healthy immune system, or choose HIV drugs for life and hope they work, with minimal side-effects?

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Judge Finally Finds Health Care Mandate Unconstitutional
A George W. Bush appointee has, surprise, found the health care mandate unconstitutional, claiming it overreaches Congress' power to regulate under the Commerce Clause. Of course, media will play this up as somehow a huge blow - and it's not good news to be sure. But they will probably not remind that more than one other judge has already found the provision to be perfectly legal.

This will all wind its way up the Appeals Court and ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, like it or not. But that was going to be true no matter what this conservative judge in Virginia decided. Here's the argument, in a nutshell:
The Supreme Court’s position on the Commerce Clause has evolved through four signature cases over the last 68 years, with three decided since 1995. Two of the opinions established broad powers to regulate even personal commercial decisions that may influence a broader economic scheme. But other cases have limited regulation to “activities that have a substantial effect on interstate commerce.”

A major question, therefore, has been whether the income tax penalties levied against those who do not obtain health insurance are designed to regulate “activity” or, as Virginia’s solicitor general, E. Duncan Getchell Jr., has argued, “inactivity” that is beyond Congress’ reach.

Justice Department lawyers have responded that individuals cannot opt out of the medical market, and that the act of not obtaining insurance is an active decision to pay for health care out of pocket. They say that such decisions, taken in the aggregate, shift billions of dollars in uncompensated care costs to governments, hospitals and the privately insured.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thanks Ralph
10 years ago yesterday, this happened.

How much different would the world be today if Ralph Nader had never run for President in 2000?
156 to 4
David Corn makes the case for Obama's tax compromise in a column today, and on the way he explains the deal in startling numbers:
Obama's desired provisions will provide about $214 billion in tax cuts and benefits to 156 million people, and the GOP's treats will dole out $133 billion to 4 million. You can do the math without a calculator and see that those poor rich folks will be handed oodles more than the rest. One comparison: On average, people with more than $1 million in income will end up with an extra $140,000. A taxpayer in the $40,000-to-$50,000 range will receive $1,679. You may ask yourself, why do millionaires and billionaires warrant more pocket money, particularly when it's generally accepted that spreading cash among the rich is not effective economic stimulation? The answer: That's what Republicans want. And Obama is right: They held the rest of America hostage -- no cuts and benefits for you, unless there's "relief" for the gazillionaires.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Less Than 1 Second
Wow, watch this amazing video of the end of overtime last night between the Sharks and the Flyers. Here's the setup. Philly blew a big lead and let San Jose come back to tie the game and send it in to overtime, but got to celebrate when Mike Richards won the game at the very end of the extra session - or at least he thought he did.
Will Believe It When I See It
Suddenly as of last night, Democratic hearts are aflutter over the prospect that Senator Collins (R-ME) just might be able to support Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal after all. Like a jilted lover coming back for more abuse, Democrats seem to think she just might mean it this time.

I'm guessing no. Anyone who would hold hostage something so fundamental as this to the demand that we get more and more time to debate - as if that's really necessary, or a Senate debate even means anything anymore - is just not a serious person. Republicans want to waste time, running out the clock on this lame duck session, and Collins was more than happy a few days ago to sell our her principles in furtherance of that cruel goal. I don't see any reason to believe that's changed just because Republicans might get 15 amendments and 30 hours of debate instead of 7 amendments and 10 hours, or whatever.

We went through this with Senator Snowe on Health Care Reform, as she went out of her way to pretend she supported reform in principle to keep her ass covered as she ultimately voted against it. Why should we believe anything different is happening here? This is CYA 101. Why do reporters continue to fall for it?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Quote of the Day
Rep. Peter Welch (D-CT):
...what the president is doing here is using tax policy to get more stimulus, to increase aggregate demand. And if you add up how much he gave and how much he got, he probably got a pretty good deal.
That's from a Democrat who is leading the charge *against* the deal. His argument? The President made it look too easy; should have spent more time tilting at windmills. Read the whole thing. If Obama had spent all of December going around arguing for his tax policies and trying harder, then Welch would be just fine with this deal on Dec. 31. He says so.
In Case You Missed It
The tax cut deal - if it's even a deal anymore - conceded to Republicans 2-year extension of the tax cuts at all income levels, as everyone knows. It also agreed to extend the estate tax exemption for estates smaller than $5 million.

But Obama *got* these things in return:

--A 2 point reduction in the payroll tax for a year. That will put additional money in your paycheck.
--An increase in the estate tax rate (to 35%) on estates larger than $5 million
--An extension of unemployment benefits through December of next year, a 13-month extension altogether.
Random Resolution
I will not take seriously the complaints of any pundit or columnist regarding the way Obama supposedly did not stand up on principle and take on Republicans in this tax cut compromise unless their rant includes some end-game description of what he could and should have done to achieve a different and better result.

I'm not saying there's no way the administration could have done better. But let's at least be honest about the real options he faced.

Mostly what they seem to have wanted was for him to play chicken and threaten the end of all the tax cuts, raising taxes on all of us in January - something he explicitly promised not to do in the campaign. Perhaps he should have been willing for that to happen, let the taxes go up, taking money out of the hands of middle class consumers while we are stumbling toward an economic recovery.

I imagine all of his advisors are telling him that raising taxes on the middle class not only directly violates a campaign pledge, it also threatens the economic recovery that is the most important issue, both for the country and for his re-election.

Monday, December 06, 2010

While You're Not Working at the Office Today
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the Proposition 8 challenge brought by Ted Olson and David Boies, and in a rare move, the court has agreed to televise the proceeding. Starts at 1 PM Eastern time, will be on C-Span, and lasts for two hours - the length afforded this hearing being another rarity.

Ultimately, this will be decided by the Supreme Court, and I'm not so convinced they will care one way or another how a panel of the 9th Circuit feels about it. Still, how these three decide the issue may at least frame the public debate in the interim. Either way, it is pretty much must-see TV for the C-Span nerds among us.
Kennedy v. Palin
In a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend, Kathleen Kennedy-Townsend takes down Sarah Palin's critique of a famous speech of President Kennedy's, in which he asserted his belief in the separation of church and state, and the principle of "no religious test for office." Read about it here.

Friday, December 03, 2010

One maddening thing about Democratic congressional strategies - say on this tax cut extension business - is they seem to think they can overturn long-held narratives with something as simple as facts.

It's true - Republicans in the House yesterday voted against extending tax cuts for all families on the first $250,000 of income. They did that, they say, because they will accept nothing less than extension of tax cuts for all income levels. Still, Democrats *pounce*: they voted against tax cuts for the middle class! They voted to raise your taxes! And, surely, they did. But this reality is not going to sink into a public consciousness that for generations has known that Republicans are for all tax cuts all the time. Which party wants to keep taxes low, you ask? Republicans, they will say, regardless of what just happened in the House on a Thursday afternoon in December.

That's frustrating, but it's reality.

Democrats should focus on the one honest truth that is also ingrained in the public's mind: Republicans care more about lowering taxes for rich people than they do anything else in the world. They will sell out the middle class, explode the deficit, and likely trample their own dear mothers in pursuit of this ignoble goal. Even that argument is unlikely to work though, as Republicans sell every effort to stand in their way as the desperate attempt by Democrats to raise taxes, thus exploiting the narrative.

Facts (Obama has lowered taxes for almost every single American), figures (continuing the tax cuts for upper incomes will explode the budget deficit) and earnest efforts to find compromise... none of these things matter.

What's a Democrat to do?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

NASA Discovery May "Rewrite a Lot of Chemistry"
I never took Biology in school, and didn't really pay attention in Chemistry, but apparently one of the principles that has defined "life as we know it" is that phosphorous is a required chemical element, essential to the structure of DNA molecules. But today NASA scientists announced the results of a test demonstrating arsenic can be used in its place in some bacteria.
It turns out that that [Mono Lake], 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, contains lots of arsenic as well as the usual phosphorus. Wolfe-Simon and her colleagues designed an experiment to take a particular type of salt-loving bacteria called GFAJ-1 from Mono Lake's mud sediments, wean it off phosphorus, and see if it could switch its diet to arsenic.

In the paper published today, the researchers report that some of the bacteria could survive on arsenic and incorporate it into their cellular biochemistry. Instead of the usual phosphate-rich DNA, they observed arsenate-rich DNA. Heightened levels of arsenic also showed up in the cell's proteins and fats. The scientists used mass spectroscopy, radioactive labeling and X-ray fluorescence to confirm that the arsenic was really being used in the biomolecules rather than merely contaminating the cells.
If that could happen in the laboratory, why couldn't it happen naturally? ASU astrobiologist Paul Davies, another one of the paper's co-authors, has long held that "weird life" -- based on chemical building blocks unlike our own -- could exist right under our noses on Earth, or in extraterrestrial environments.
Some scientists - particularly the ones who will have to rewrite the Chemistry books, I presume - are skeptical of these results, insisting that arsenic likely did not actually take the place of phosphorous, just became highly pronounced and accommodated by the bacteria in the experiment.
In Which I Miss the Point and Ask a Stupid Question
In a good post ("Bad Poker") capturing much of my frustration with the White House these days, Ezra Klein yesterday quoted Jonathan Alter in questioning the President's negotiation strategies now that he's once again seemingly caved on a Republican demand without extracting the slightest concession from their side.
On page 116 of “The Promise,” Jonathan Alter describes President Obama's approach to the stimulus as "bad poker." "Instead of holding his cards close, and then sweetening the pot for Republicans with tax cuts in the final negotiations, [Obama] offered nearly $300 billion in tax cuts at the front-end of the process. ... It was a big bargaining chip left off the table."
"You don't go out and say you're going to freeze federal pay on your own," says one angry Hill staffer. "You go sit across a table from someone, say, ‘I'm willing to do this, but this is what you’ve got to give me.’ That’s how this works."
I'm angry too! Republicans finally have a stake in accomplishing something - they own the House. This is the best time yet to use that to his advantage. Yet he keeps going with the olive branch route. Almost as if he believes in such things.

But seriously - and the real reason for this post - what does any of this stuff have to do with poker? There is no negotiation, bargaining, or give-and-take in poker. Have any of the people constantly using this metaphor ever actually played the game?

You don't "sweeten the pot" in hopes that both competitors will get something out of the hand. Both sides might add to the prize, but at the end of it, only one wins and the other one gets bubkus.  Poker is exactly the opposite of a negotiation process. Poker is the showdown game you play in the absence of negotiation.

If anything, I would accuse the President of playing poker when he should be bargaining. In poker, when you think you have the weaker hand, you simply fold and let your opponent take what you've thrown in. Clearly believing he is not in a strong position, that's exactly what Obama's doing. And if you believe your opponent has you beat, folding isn't "bad poker" at all, it's smart play. Still, why is it the game he's playing?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's Long Past Time
The Pentagon has released its much-anticipated report detailing the potential impact of repealing the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. So, how will it effect the military if gay and lesbian soldiers were allowed to serve openly? Not much at all.
The Pentagon has concluded that allowing gay men and women to serve openly in the United States armed forces presents a low risk to the military’s effectiveness, even at a time of war, and that 70 percent of service members believe that the impact of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law would be either positive, mixed or of no consequence at all.
The report also found that a majority — 69 percent — believed they had already worked with a gay man or woman, and of those the vast majority — 92 percent — reported that the unit’s ability to work together was very good, good or “neither good nor poor.”
“We are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war,” Mr. Johnson and General Ham wrote. “We do not underestimate the challenges in implementing a change in the law, but neither should we underestimate the ability of our extraordinarily dedicated service men and women to adapt to such change and continue to provide our nation with the military capability to accomplish any mission.”
Secretary Gates in a press conference this afternoon went a step further, urging Congress to act immediately to change the policy. There's no reason for Republicans to delay any longer. Military leadership is behind the move. Just do it, already. As the report states, much of the lingering opposition within the armed services is "driven by misperceptions and stereotypes...(that) were exaggerated and not consistent with the reported experiences of many service members."
One thing we can confirm from the leaked/dumped diplomatic cables: when it comes to Iran, after 8 years of bumbling bluster, we finally have leadership and a strategy, even if the end game is a bit unclear. Read the NYTimes article.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Wikileaks: Big News, or Big Pile of Nothing?
So, Wikileaks has unmasked U.S. diplomatic communications around the world. What incendiary things have we learned? The Afghan government is corrupt, the Chinese have exploited Google to spy on damned near everyone, Qaddafi is pretty much crazy, there is too much material for nuclear weaponry out there, and nobody really knows how to deal with Iran or North Korea, though lots of people have ideas, including the Saudis who see Iran as the biggest problem they face but are afraid to say that out loud.

Of course, we pretty much realized this stuff all along. To me, the shocker here is not so much what we discovered but how little of substance is here. Reports from our embassies would seem to be primarily the stuff of gossip, speculation, and hypothetical wondering. I'm sure some officials are embarrassed and angry, but I'd say there's an even better chance that many world leaders are thrilled with this massive leak. Their biggest secrets are still under wraps. Of the 251,287 documents in this latest Wikileaks dump, not a single one was marked "Top Secret."

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

They're Sitting on Piles of Cash
The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or non-inflation-adjusted terms.
Start hiring already!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Crystal Ball Update
Let's review: I predicted NHL division champions before the season started: NJ, Washington, Toronto, Nashville, Vancouver, and San Jose.

Currently, the leaders are Philadelphia, Washington, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver, and Los Angeles. More to the point, 3 of my predicted champs are languishing in last place in their respective divisions. Indeed only half of my big predicted winners would even make the playoffs if they started right now.

Lots of season left! Still, caveat emptor.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Long-Range Planning
Looks like I need to plan a lengthy vacation for sometime in May of 2015.
The National Rifle Association is coming to Nashville in May 2015 in what is expected to be the largest single convention this city has ever hosted, Mayor Karl Dean announced today.
The city beat out Philadelphia, Dallas, Kansas City and Louisville for the gathering, which is expected to draw more than 50,000 convention-goers and fill between 5,000 and 6,000 hotel rooms, according to Butch Spyridon, president of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Do We Care?
That iTunes and The Beatles have finally, finally reached an agreement?

I was hoping that when it finally took place there would be something ground-breaking about the deal - a dramatic new pricing system, or maybe the inevitable move to cloud-based music storage. Instead, they are just kind of the last ones to jump on the iTunes ship.

My only real question is what happens to the tracks on, say Sgt. Pepper's or The White Album that segue one to another. If you buy "Dear Prudence", do you hear the jet plane from the end of "Back in the USSR" at the beginning? And, I haven't looked at the store yet to check this out, but do you have to pay separately for each track comprising the suite of songs on Side 2 of Abbey Road? "Her Majesty", as well? Would be nice if they sold the entire stretch together as one.

Monday, November 15, 2010

With Enough Quantity, You Generate Quality
Neuroscience on Metaphors:
Look at neurons from [a human and a fruitfly] under a microscope and they look the same. They have the same electrical properties, many of the same neurotransmitters, the same protein channels that allow ions to flow in and out, as well as a remarkably high number of genes in common. Neurons are the same basic building blocks in both species.

So where’s the difference? It’s numbers — humans have roughly one million neurons for each one in a fly. And out of a human’s 100 billion neurons emerge some pretty remarkable things.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More on the Deficit Commission
So how, exactly, did a deficit-cutting commission become a commission whose first priority is cutting tax rates, with deficit reduction literally at the bottom of the list?

Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases — tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans — the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest — and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.

It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More Serious, but Just as Unlikely to Become Reality
Economist Brad DeLong offers a 7-point economic plan "everybody centrist and deficit-hawkish in the reality-based community should be willing to commit to today." Sadly, as he notes, the centrists are somewhere in hiding.
Sikh and You Shall Find
A feel-good Veterans Day story, over at the other blog, as the US Army found a recruit with just the language skills they were looking for, but with one big barrier to his service. Fortunately, they found a way to make it work, making history in the process.
The Good and the Bad
I mentioned before that the Debt Commission's recommendations (actually it's the chairmen's recommendations) included some good and some (spectacularly) bad ideas. I'm not sure it's even worth going through them since none of this is going to happen in any comprehensive way anyway. Even if the entire Commission could reach a consensus on some of them (requiring 14 of the 18 members to agree), Congress as it is currently situated is not going to take up and vote for many of these reforms.

Still, for whatever it's worth, here are the ideas I like and those I loathe:

Good: Cutting defense spending. There are too many defense projects that are continually funded not because they are necessary but because of traditions and turf-protections that are inefficient. The Center for American Progress has an excellent report on ways to responsibly cut the defense budget, including a permanent reduction in overseas personnel not in Iraq or Afghanistan, reducing our redundant nuclear force, canceling, finally, the V-22 Osprey and other overpriced, underperforming congressional darlings.

Bad: Cutting military health benefits, by requiring co-pays for active personnel and raising co-pays for veterans. Frankly, they continue to have a hard enough time as it is getting the care they need. This is a petty and insulting way to cut costs. The best way to reduce health costs associated with military personnel is to stop putting so damned many of them in harm's way.

Good: Slight adjustments to Social Security. A very small increase in the retirement age doesn't much excite me, or seem fair, but we could get used to it and it would go a long way toward fixing the highly overstated shortfall coming as baby boomers retire. Raising the cap on income subject to the Social Security tax would go the rest of the way.

Bad: Changing the Social Security benefit index from being tied to wages to a formula that also weighs the Consumer Price Index. This sounds like a slight downturn in benefits, but is one that will head downward essentially forever, gradually decimating the program as a safety net as the gap between what one earned before age 60 and what one receives in benefits gets larger and larger.

Good: Cutting agriculture subsidies. We talk about it every election cycle. Yet somehow the interests of Iowans consistently wins out over the interests of the country. (I wonder why that is...?). Let's stop paying for the over-production of corn finally.

Bad: Picking on Public Broadcasting and the Smithsonian. Recommendations from the co-chairs include ending a subsidy for the Public Broadcasting Company and charging a fee for access to the Smithsonian Museums. These are both horribly petty ideas that would save very little money in comparison to the harm done. The Smithsonian, especially, should remain free and open to the public as a way of inviting all citizens to share in and appreciate our rich cultural history. An increased effort to solicit voluntary donations would help with the costs and still maintain the important message sent by universal access to these national treasures.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Financial Times political correspondent Alex Barker:
George W. Bush’s bombastic return to the world stage has reminded me of my favourite Bush anecdote, which for various reasons we couldn’t publish at the time. Some of the witnesses still dine out on it.

The venue was the Oval Office. A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor.

Naturally the election came up in conversation. Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate.

Not a chance. “I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present.I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”
I wonder if Obama's campaign could have survived a Bush endorsement?
Deficit Commission Recommendation
President Obama's "bipartisan" panel tasked with developing plans for attacking our budget deficit has returned with some recommendations. From the beginning, this panel sounded like a bullshit idea and indeed most of their suggestions are ludicrous and offensive. Here's hoping the White House is prepared to endorse the few good ideas and show some mettle by fighting the rest.

[UPDATE: Read Ezra Klein on the many reasons why these recommendations are pointless, and not what the Fiscal Commission was designed to do in the first place.]
For You Visual Learners
The FDA is ramping up anti-smoking initiatives, including a plan to add graphic warnings to smoking packages. The agency just released potential ads, including the one you see on the right. You can view all nine proposals here. Check them out.

The process before final implementation is still a lengthy one: a period of public comment before they decide on the few that will actually be used, then the Tobacco Control Act authorizing this regulation (passed, it should be noted, by a Democratic Congress and signed by President Obama) allows 15 months before such a rule could take effect. So, it will not be until late 2012 that we actually see these on the shelves.

I'm not crazy about all of the pictures they chose, but in general, this campaign is an excellent plan, making all the more real the dangers of smoking, and upgrading the warning from what is otherwise ignorable as small print. Smoking is a menace - not just to the public health system, but to the poor unfortunate souls - including children - that breathe it in without having the slightest interest in taking a puff. If we can keep someone from taking up the nasty addiction, or help give an extra incentive to someone trying to stop, all the better.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Great Moments in Dieting
Nutrition professor Mark Haub lost 27 pounds in 10 weeks to bring himself down to a healthy weight. His diet of choice? Twinkies and other delicious hostess cakes.
For 10 weeks, Mark Haub... ate one of these sugary cakelets every three hours, instead of meals. To add variety in his steady stream of Hostess and Little Debbie snacks, Haub munched on Doritos chips, sugary cereals and Oreos, too.

His premise: That in weight loss, pure calorie counting is what matters most -- not the nutritional value of the food.

This is not such a radical finding. I mean, yeah if you nearly starve yourself except for a daily protein shake and a few sugary snacks, you will probably lose weight. The surprising part is that his cholestorol, triglycerides and other overall health indicators improved also. Go figure.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Paradise Lost (Collector's Edition) (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills / Paradise Lost 2: Revelations)The West Memphis Three
Longtime readers have had to read my thoughts on this before, but no film has ever affected me quite as much or in the way that Paradise Lost did. It is a breathtaking documentary, lifting the veil on a depressingly inadequate justice system and some stupidly brash teenagers that got caught up in it.  16 or so years later, they still sit in prison, one on death row.

For the first time in years, though, they have some decent news on the legal front. The Arkansas Supreme Court has ruled that the judge in the case must hold a hearing to determine the legal ramifications of new DNA tests.

The Memphis Commercial-Appeal editorial board is not sure of the boys' innocence. Neither am I. But they recognize that a new inquiry is necessary:
It was an extraordinary ruling by the court, rightly delivered without fear that a horrible miscarriage of justice might be revealed 17 years after the defendants were first placed behind bars.
Evidence collected by both the defense and the prosecution will be presented. It won't be necessary for the defendants to prove their innocence, but they might get a chance to show that there is enough doubt about guilt to set them free.
Nature's Candy
The weekend news that caught my eye - and hits a little close to home: while the government wants to push a healthy lifestyle, they are also desperately pushing....cheese. A Department of Agriculture program called Dairy Management has been partnering with companies like Domino's Pizza to aggressively market cheese products.
Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.

The organization’s activities, revealed through interviews and records, provide a stark example of inherent conflicts in the Agriculture Department’s historical roles as both marketer of agriculture products and America’s nutrition police.
Cheese is a major contributor to America's saturated fat intake. In fact, a group of physicians disputing the government's remarkable (and unsupported) claim a few years ago that an increase in cheese consumption could help with weight loss said that the delicious treat is likely the biggest culprit in the obesity epidemic.

This is all tough for me to take. I love cheese. And eat way way too much of it. I understand the government's role in promoting American-made food products, but it's hard enough resisting the allure of nature's candy without millions of tax dollars going to help urge me to eat The Wisconsin.

On Oct. 13, Domino’s announced the latest in its Legends line of cheesier pizza, which Dairy Management is promoting with the $12 million marketing effort. Called the Wisconsin, the new pie has six cheeses on top and two more in the crust. “This is one way that we can support dairy farms across the country: by selling a pizza featuring an abundance of their products,” a Domino’s spokesman said in a news release. “We think that’s a good thing.”

A laboratory test of the Wisconsin that was commissioned by The Times found that one-quarter of a medium thin-crust pie had 12 grams of saturated fat, more than three-quarters of the recommended daily maximum. It also has 430 calories, double the calories in pizza formulations that the chain bills as its “lighter options.”
As the NYTimes graphic indicates, America's per capita cheese consumption has nearly tripled in the last 40 years. Budget-wise, this is by no means egregious. A few million Agriculture dollars is a drop in the bucket of federal spending, obviously. But the message programs like this send is a troubling one. We should be engaged in marketing tasty, healthy foods grown domestically. That would provide all the economic help the food industry needs without sacrificing the public health in the process.

The fat in cheese? It sells itself. As my daily intake attests.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Election Remainders
In case you missed it... in addition to the generally depressing election results Tuesday there were a few more interesting electoral decisions:

California decided against legalizing marijuana, 54%-46%.

Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment that will outlaw Islamic Sharia law from taking over the state's judicial system. Because you have to combat the pending Muslim revolution in the Sooner State, right?

6 candidates across the country remained on the ballot even after having passed away. 4 of them won.

95 candidates had signed a pledge to support Net Neutrality. All 95 were defeated.

32% of Tea Party candidates across the country won.

The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed a record 164 openly gay candidates for Tuesday's election. A record 106 won.

Meanwhile, 3 Iowa Supreme Court justices were defeated in retention elections. Their crime? All 3 had determined that denial of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The conservative Blue Dog Democrat coalition was cut in half after Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Predictions [UPDATED]
Sadly, this is an optimistic view. I'm saying the Democrats lose only 48 seats in the House and wind up with 52 Senate seats, counting Lieberman.

What say you?

[UPDATE: So, not a good not to be optimistic about the House. Democrats lost about 65 seats. In the Senate, Dems actually did a tiny bit better than I expected, and will have a 53-47 edge assuming we don't get any crazy ideas from Lieberman or Ben Nelson.

Where the night really feels bad is right here in Tennessee, which now has GOP control of the Governorship and both houses of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. There will be a lot of seriously crazy nut job bullshit coming out of our state now. What's that you say? It's already batshit insane? You ain't seen nothing yet.]

Monday, November 01, 2010

Social Security is an Easy Fix
Kevin Drum points to a chart that helps explain why, yes, there is a Social Security issue in the very long term, but no, it's not even close to the challenge that Medicare poses.
This is from page 15 of the latest trustees report. What's important is that, unlike Medicare, Social Security costs don't go upward to infinity. They go up through about 2030, as the baby boomers retire, and then level out forever. And the long-term difference between income and outgo is only about 1.5% of GDP.
This is why I keep saying that Social Security is a very manageable problem. It doesn't need root-and-branch reform. The trust fund makes up Social Security's income gap for the next 30 years, so all it needs is some modest, phased-in tweaks that cut payouts by a fraction of a point of GDP and increase income a fraction of a point.
I would say that even modest cuts in payouts could be quite problematic politically, but not likely to cause France-style riots in the streets over the plan. And small cuts would be far more palatable than  the draconian measures of privatization proposed by Republicans.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Krugman on a what a Republican-controlled House will mean for the country:
How worried should we be by that prospect?

Not very, say some pundits. After all, the last time Republicans controlled Congress while a Democrat lived in the White House was the period from the beginning of 1995 to the end of 2000. And people remember that era as a good time, a time of rapid job creation and responsible budgets. Can we hope for a similar experience now?

No, we can’t. This is going to be terrible.
Read the whole thing.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Playing With FirePlaying With Fire
Those of you not tuned in to hockey may have missed this story, and it's a pretty incredible, gut-wrenching tale.

Theo Fleury was all-star player for the Calgary Flames - a small-but-tough guy who could score (over 400 goals in his NHL career) but was even more notorious for being something of a trouble-maker on and off the ice. A suspension for failing drug tests - which he later admitted was part of a larger drug and alcohol addiction - effectively ended his career in 2003.

Fleury made news again a year ago, partly for an attempted comeback (he had a tryout with the Flames and played a few exhibition games, but didn't make the roster), but moreso for his autobiography. Playing With Fire detailed his hockey life and substance abuse problem but also dropped another bombshell: accusing his junior hockey coach of years of sexual molestation.

I post this now because of word that the coach, Graham James, who has already served prison time for abuse of young teenagers on his team, has been arrested again following 9 new complaints, including Fleury's.

Theo claims that his victimization was a direct cause of the substance abuse problems and bouts with rage that have plagued his adult life. Whether that's true or not, here's hoping he and all of James' victims can find some measure of peace and resolution. Failing that, hopefully this puts an end to his pattern of abuse, and saves some other kid or 2 the same torment.
All Non-Tea Party Protesters Must Stay in Their Homes
Shorter version of the Tea Party: "We need to return to an America where I can roam the streets and beat up anybody I damn well please who pisses me off."

First, a woman gets her head stomped; now a young woman protesting in silence gets slugged.
Mystery Quote
I’ve seen people like this, girls like this, and you just shake your head and go, how did it happen, so goddamn young, and it’s a bad path already at that age, 17, 18. That struck me. I hear people talk about, well, you know, I would never be in that position, and you’ve just got to do this or you’ve got to do that, and it’s your own fault. I go, no, not always. Some people get kicked in the teeth a lot, and sometimes we look down on that, and I don’t think it’s their fault a lot of the times. That’s what was interesting to me, that struggle of this is where I am now, how do I lift myself out of this and move on.
Guess who? It's from a too-short interview. Go read! Especially if you're one of the new elite.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm a little late to this, but still worth mentioning that President Obama's recent address directly to gay and lesbian teenagers is a remarkable moment.
I don’t know what it’s like to be picked on for being gay. But I do know what it’s like to grow up feeling that sometimes you don’t belong. It’s tough. And for a lot of kids, the sense of being alone or apart – I know can just wear on you. And when you’re teased or bullied, it can seem like somehow you brought it on yourself – for being different, or for not fitting in with everybody else.

But what I want to say is this. You are not alone. You didn’t do anything wrong. You didn’t do anything to deserve being bullied. And there is a whole world waiting for you, filled with possibilities. There are people out there who love you and care about you just the way you are. And so, if you ever feel like because of bullying, because of what people are saying, that you’re getting down on yourself, you’ve got to make sure to reach out to people you trust. Whether it’s your parents, teachers, folks that you know care about you just the way you are. You’ve got to reach out to them, don’t feel like you’re in this by yourself.

The other thing you need to know is, things will get better. And more than that, with time you’re going to see that your differences are a source of pride and a source of strength. You’ll look back on the struggles you’ve faced with compassion and wisdom. And that’s not just going to serve you, but it will help you get involved and make this country a better place.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kentucky Politics
Who among us has not joined together with a group of like-minded fellas to show support for our favorite political candidate and ended up surrounding, threatening and wrestling to the ground a woman who disagreed with us, before stomping on her head and sending her to the hospital? I mean, it's a natural progression really.
Numero Uno
Don't look now, but the Nashville Predators are on top of the NHL standings, with zero regulation losses so far, and 13 out of 16 possible points. But here's something that's even better news for the team: people are showing up. Through the first 5 home games, we have had 2 sellouts and attendance is up 19.4% over the first 5 home games last year.

Big road trip coming up after Thursday against St. Louis. 9 out of the next 10 away from home. Go Preds!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The New Elite?
Kevin is right. This Washington Post piece is ridiculous. Charles Murray tells us that a "new elite" in this country is "ignorant", "isolated" and "not of (America)". He starts off with all the usual elitist suspects: Harvard grads, etc. But then turns his fire toward a broader cultural (I guess) block.
Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows -- "Mad Men" now, "The Sopranos" a few years ago. But they haven't any idea who replaced Bob Barker on "The Price Is Right." They know who Oprah is, but they've never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

They can talk about books endlessly, but they've never read a "Left Behind" novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).

They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn't be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.
This is so tired and stupid. People are different and have different tastes, and yeah those tastes might reflect different sensibilities and sensitivities. Some like Nascar and Ultimate Fighting. Some of us prefer baseball (I guess loving America's game is now un-American?) and like our fights integrated into hockey games. And there are actually some Americans who prefer to actually participate in sports and exercise, as opposed to just watching millionaires on TV. Some like fiction that reinforces their evangelical outlook, and some like TV shows like The Sopranos. And there are plenty of people that cross these lines and like things from both sides.

Not so long ago, as Kevin points also describes, the elite went to the opera and played bridge, for example, and wouldn't have been caught dead at the local cinema for a weekly Western serial. If all it takes to exist in the new elite is HBO and biking trails, it's not so elite anymore is it?

The Tea Party needs to get this into their heads, somehow: If there is an elite in this country, it's not the 54% of us that voted for Obama. (Or the 48% or so that still approve of the job he's doing.) That's, you know, the opposite of an elite. It's called a majority.

If there is a troubling "elite" among us, it's the one-tenth of one percent of Americans that own more than 10 percent of the wealth in this country. If we could find a way to focus our political energies on understanding why we have let that happen at the expense of the middle class, instead of wondering why so many people opt for premium cable channels, our elections would make a lot more sense.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Water on the Moon
This is pretty cool, and amazing, and a good reminder that we really don't know what the hell is out there. With decades now to study the moon with super magnifying telescopes, the ability to send robot probes and even visiting the place in person a time or 2, we still couldn't definitively say whether there was water or not. Until now.
Last October, as it neared impact, the Lcross spacecraft released the empty second stage and slowed down slightly so that it could watch the stage’s 5,600-mile-per-hour crash into a 60-mile-wide, 2-mile-deep crater named Cabeus. A few minutes later, Lcross, quickly transmitting its gathered data to Earth, met a similar demise.

For people who watched the live Webcast video transmitted by Lcross, the event was a disappointment, with no visible plume from the impacts. But as they analyzed the data, scientists found everything they were looking for, and more. Last November, the team reported that the impact had kicked up at least 26 gallons of water, confirming suspicions of ice in the craters.
The water, scientists say, could conceivably be used for drinking or to be broken down and turned into fuel, perhaps for a trip to Mars.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anita Hill Testimony Greatest Hits, Part 4
Who could forget this gem?!
One of the oddest episodes I remember was an occasion in which Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table at which we were wording, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, "Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?"

On other occasions he referred to the size of his own penis as being larger
than normal and he also spoke on some occasions of the pleasures he had
given to women with oral sex. At this point, Late 1982, I began to feel
severe stress on the job. I began to be concerned that Clarence Thomas
might take out his anger with me by degrading me or not giving me
important assignments. I also thought that he might find an excuse for
dismissing me.
Thanks, Ginny for bringing this all back up! See all of the Anita Hill Greatest Hits posts.
We Need to Get Off Our Butts
A new study confirms, Americans take fewer steps:
The study tracked the steps of 1,136 adults around the United States who wore pedometers for two days in 2003. The results were compared to similar pedometer studies in Switzerland, Australia and Japan. The data collected showed that Americans, on average, took 5,117 steps a day, far short of the averages in western Australia (9,695 steps), Switzerland (9,650 steps) and Japan (7,168 steps)....

The fitness gap detected by the pedometer studies is equal to about 30 to 40 minutes of walking each day. One mile of walking covers about 2,000 steps, researchers say. The health community typically urges people to take at least 10,000 steps a day to maintain good health, which is equal to about five miles of walking.
Memo to America: Your Taxes Have Been Cut
The NYTimes notes that most Americans wrongly believe their federal taxes have gone up. In fact, taxes have been cut for 95% of the country. One reason why Democrats have failed to capitalize on this fact - apart from our general inability to hammer away at politically popular talking points the way Republicans do - is that the tax cut was meant to go mostly unnoticed. Why? Because it would be more effective that way. That's right: faced with the choice of instituting a tax cut that would be obvious and celebrated, or hidden and more effective, President Obama chose against political expedience and took the route that had the better chance of helping the economy.
Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.

They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.

Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly. In a recent interview, President Obama said that structuring the tax cuts so that a little more money showed up regularly in people’s paychecks “was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Anita Hill Greatest Hits, Part 3
On several occasions Thomas told me graphically of his own sexual
prowess. Because I was extremely uncomfortable talking about sex with
him at all, and particularly in such a graphic way, I told him that I did not
want to talk about these subjects. I would also try to change the subject
to education matters or to nonsexual personal matters, such as his
background or his beliefs. My efforts to change the subject were rarely
Parts 1 and 2 and the weird news that started this walk down memory lane are below.
Anita Hill Testimony Greatest Hits, Part 2
Having a great time revisiting Anita Hill's 1991 Judiciary Committee testimony during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Here's another great moment from the transcript:
My working relationship became even more strained when Judge Thomas began to use work situations to discuss sex. On these occasions, he would call me into his office for reports on education issues and projects or he might suggest that because of the time pressures of his schedule, we go to lunch to a government cafeteria. After a brief discussion of work, he would turn the conversation to a discussion of sexual matters. His conversations were very vivid.

He spoke about acts that he had seen in pornographic films involving such matters as women having sex with animals, and films showing group sex or rape scenes. He talked about pornographic materials depicting individuals with large penises, or large breasts individuals in various sex acts.
See an earlier great moment below. I have no idea why Mrs. Thomas would want to bring all of this back up (drunk dialing? off her meds? honestly delusional?), but I'm glad she did!
Anita Hill Testimony
I had hoped to wait until a proper 20th anniversary to relive these glory days, but with the WTF news-of-the-day, it seems as good a time as any to revisit Anita Hill's time before the Judiciary Committee, testifying about her former boss, Clarence Thomas, and his excellent workplace manners.
After approximately 3 months of working there, he asked me to go out
socially with him. . . .

I declined the invitation to go out socially with him, and explained to him
that I thought it would jeopardize what at the time I considered to be a
very good working relationship. I had a normal social life with other men
outside of the office. I believed then, as now, that having a social
relationship with a person who was supervizing my work would be ill
advised. I was very uncomfortable with the idea and told him so.

I thought that by saying "no" and explaining my reasons, my employer
would abandon his social suggestions. However, to my regret, in the
following few weeks he continued to ask me out on several occasions. He
pressed me to justify my reasons for saying "no" to him. These incidents
took place in his office or mine.
Apparently the only person who to this day believes she just made the whole thing up out of nothing is Mrs. Clarence Thomas.
Weirdest News Ever?
Nearly 20 years after Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Justice Thomas’s wife has called Ms. Hill, seeking an apology. 
“Good morning Anita Hill, it’s Ginni Thomas,” it said. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something. I would love you to consider an apology sometime and some full explanation of why you did what you did with my husband.”
So Long, Teevee Mom and Dad
Over the weekend, Barbara Billingsley passed away. Now comes news that Tom Bosley has died.
June Cleaver and Mr. Cunningham dying in the same week? Coincidence?

Thinking about Leave it to Beaver and Happy Days makes me wonder: which was more unrealistic, TV show families from the 1950s? Or families in TV shows set in the 1950s?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Great News From the Department of Obvious
As I point out over at the other blog, the Justice Department agrees: Islam is a religion. Using dictionaries, congressional statutes, court decisions, and official statements of Presidents from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush, our fabulous Middle TN US Attorney, Jerry Martin filed a painstaking brief to make the rather indisputable case in the Murfreesboro Mosque case. That's the suit in which crackpot Frank Gaffney argued as an expert for plaintiffs that somehow Islam is not a religion... 1300 or so years of evidence to the contrary.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Hockey Update
Don't look now, but the Nashville Predators are 3-0 and sitting on top of the Western Conference, despite having to go with a rookie in goal the last 2. 79 games to go, obviously, but the team looks great heading into tonight's showdown with maybe the best team in the NHL, the Capitals. Former comeback player of the year Steve Sullivan already has 4 goals, the powerplay is producing, the offense looks more creative than it has in years, and the defense is solid with the best pair in the league: Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.

Stay tuned!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Minority Children Test Scores: Going Up? Maybe.
No time to say much about this, but it addresses a common Article 19 theme: what the hell do we do about education? Is anything we are trying working? Are public education outcomes as bad as everyone says?

Bob Somerby points to research that is hopeful, and has a generally glass-half-full attitude about it. Kevin Drum, reluctantly, pours a bit of cold water on the news. Read both.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Distressing, Indeed
Today's NYTimes editorial
The Obama administration professes to oppose the odious and misguided policy of banning gay soldiers from serving openly in the military. So it was distressing to hear that the Justice Department plans to appeal a federal court order that the military immediately stop enforcing the law that is used to drum out gay service members once their sexual orientation becomes known.
Meanwhile Secretary Gates announced that the military will abide by the judge's order pending further legal outcomes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rubber Soul (Remastered)Beatles Class Questions
So, tomorrow we start in on Rubber Soul. Here are my two questions for the class to answer: which track is the greatest departure from their previous material? Which sounds the most original/creative/experimental generally?

What do you think?

Got any predictions about their favorite and least favorite songs? Will they think differently about "Drive My Car" after they hear Otis Redding's version of "Respect", released just a few months before The Beatles recorded their opening track? Will they like "If I Needed Someone" better or worse when they find out the intro is an homage to The Byrds' "Bells of Rhymney"? Do these direct influences make the songs less original?

Do I even want to get into "Run For Your Life", which opens: "I'd rather see you dead little girl than to be with another man"? Is the song defensible? Is he just kidding? Using hyperbole? Revealing his character? Just playing a role? Are hints of this side of John already evident in "No Reply"? ("If I were you, I'd realize that I loved you more than any other guy..."). Obviously the sentiment is not unprecedented. Still, how should we hear it?

Should we just not take seriously the words?
Let's Hope it Sticks
The country would be better served by Congress properly rectifying this mistake, but now that they have proven themselves not up to that task, I'm glad a Judge has done what Democrats wouldn't: put a stop to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

A federal judge issued a worldwide injunction Tuesday stopping enforcement of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, ending the military's 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops.

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips' landmark ruling was widely cheered by gay rights organizations that credited her with getting accomplished what President Obama and Washington politics could not.
U.S. Department of Justice attorneys have 60 days to appeal. Legal experts say the department is under no legal obligation to do so and could let Phillips' ruling stand.
I don't see the Justice Department just letting it stand, but the administration is in a tough spot arguing for the injunction to be lifted, aren't they?
Superman Meets His Match?
The NYTimes profiles the charter schools celebrated (I think "celebrated" is the right word, haven't seen it) in the new documentary film Waiting For Superman. The schools are the vision of a man - Geoffrey Canada - with a broad, societal view of the things that need to change to turn around public schools. Most dauntingly, he argues, changes will be expensive and results may take a generation to show up.
Mr. Canada, 58, who began putting his ideas into practice on a single block, on West 119th Street, in the mid-1990s, does not apologize for the cost of his model, saying his goals are wider than just fixing a school or two. His hope is to prove that if money is spent in a concentrated way to give poor children the things middle-class children take for granted — like high-quality schooling, a safe neighborhood, parents who read to them, and good medical care — they will not pass on the patterns of poverty to another generation.

“You could, in theory, figure out a less costly way of working with a small number of kids, and providing them with an education,” Mr. Canada said. “But that is not what we are attempting to do. We are attempting to save a community and its kids all at the same time.”
As uplifting as his efforts are, though, the reality is staggeringly depressing about the challenges we face in education. These are schools that are heavily, heavily funded with private money from Wall Street philanthropists who believe in the project. Students have incentives, teachers have incentives, class sizes are low, the school year is long, college is emphasized, there are after-school programs, mentors and tutors, guidance counselors, social workers, a chef to prepare fresh nutritious meals and lots more, the kinds of assets we would want all public schools to have but know realistically we would and maybe could never pay for on a national scale.

And yet, achievement gaps remain. What's next? What's left?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Big Myth
There never was a big expansion of government spending. In fact, that has been the key problem with economic policy in the Obama years: we never had the kind of fiscal expansion that might have created the millions of jobs we need.
[T]he administration has had a messaging problem on economic policy ever since its first months in office, when it went for a stimulus plan that many of us warned from the beginning was inadequate given the size of the economy’s troubles. You can argue that Mr. Obama got all he could — that a larger plan wouldn’t have made it through Congress (which is questionable), and that an inadequate stimulus was much better than none at all (which it was). But that’s not an argument the administration ever made. Instead, it has insisted throughout that its original plan was just right, a position that has become increasingly awkward as the recovery stalls.
Banksy Does The Simpsons
In care you missed it (I did), yesterday's episode of The Simpsons included an extended opening theme sequence (if you're not a show watcher, the intro always concludes with a unique ending for each episode. Watch every couch gag here, if you're interested). Apparently the segment was created/directed by underground British graffiti artist Banksy, who I've only heard of because of a pretty good documentary I caught earlier this year.

His opening depicts the animation of The Simpsons and its extensive merchandising being produced by overseas sweatshops. BBC reports the show's animation department threatened to walk out over it. Watch below; I'm kinda surprised they aired it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Local Governments Pulling the Plug on Job Growth
David Leonhart looks at the new job growth numbers - which show a flat 9.6% unemployment rate and an ominous 95,000 jobs lost in September, despite 64,000 jobs being added in the private sector. The culprit? Local governments, which are shedding jobs faster than any time since 1982.
They cut 76,000 jobs last month and over the last three months have cut 143,000 jobs, many in education... That’s 1 percent of total local-government employment across the country...

The federal government has been cutting jobs too in recent months — partly because of the end of Census taking — and state government governments have made small cuts in employment.
Combined, these government layoffs have more than outweighed a modestly improving situation — or at least a stabilizing one — in the private sector. In the last three months, the private sector has added an average of 91,000 jobs a month. That’s down from of an average of 150,000 early this year, but up from about 75,000 in the middle of this year.
States and local governments think they are being responsible by cutting back to balance budgets in the face of lower tax receipts, but they're contributing mightily to the problem (an anti-stimulus, as Ezra Klein says) by helping to drive up unemployment numbers at a time the economy can least afford it.

Most annoying of all, Republicans who are crowing about this flat job growth are counting on some serious amnesia in the country. This year, the private sector has added more jobs (863,000) than in any year during the Bush Administration.

Is it enough to put the unemployed back to work and account for population growth? No. But enough to stop the bleeding. American voters don't like to play the blame game I know, when it requires looking back more than a year or so, but would do well to remember that Republican control is what caused the bleeding.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Opening Night
Drop the puck! The Predators don't hit the ice for 2 more nights, but it's still an exciting night! I've always been a basketball fan, but there really is no better sport than hockey.

My division champion predictions:
Atlantic: New Jersey (edging out Pittsburgh)
Northeast: Toronto (call me crazy!)
Southeast: Washington (in a walk)

Central: Nashville (gotta believe!)
Northwest: Vancouver
Pacific: San Jose

Stanley Cup Conference Finals:
New Jersey disappoints Washington in 5.
Vancouver's home ice is too much for Nashville, in 7.

Vancouver beats New Jersey in 5 to bring the cup back to Canada.
The Beatles Mono Box SetRandom Beatles Thought
I'm not much of an audiophile, and get mildly annoyed when people tell me I really need to hear something on vinyl, or pay attention to this subtly different mix over that one. It's just not the kind of thing that makes that much difference to me. So while I at the time I thought it was a bit silly (money-grubbers) for them to release it, I have to say that Help! sounds really awesome in mono.
Man's Incessant Networking, Refusal to Throw Away Crap From His Wallet - Ever - Leads to Revolutionary Breakthrough in Devastating Biological Mystery
Well, ok, it's not quite like that, but still a really good story. Researchers may have finally, finally discovered the cause of the honeybee "colony collapse" that has threatened the pollination needs of farmers all around the world. Starting in 2006, beekeepers began finding completely empty hives. Bees not only died mysteriously, but abandoned the hive and spread out in every direction to die on their own. Highly un-beelike behavior.

Everything from cell phone towers to pesticides have been suspected, but the answer finally came when bee researchers teamed up with the military, whose new systems for identifying microscopic life forms turns out to be exactly suited for this problem they weren't even thinking about. How did they get together? That's where the man who keeps business cards comes into play.
The Army software system — an advance itself in the growing field of protein research, or proteomics — is designed to test and identify biological agents in circumstances where commanders might have no idea what sort of threat they face. The system searches out the unique proteins in a sample, then identifies a virus or other microscopic life form based on the proteins it is known to contain. The power of that idea in military or bee defense is immense, researchers say, in that it allows them to use what they already know to find something they did not even know they were looking for.

But it took a family connection — through David Wick, Charles’s brother — to really connect the dots. When colony collapse became news a few years ago, Mr. Wick, a tech entrepreneur who moved to Montana in the 1990s for the outdoor lifestyle, saw a television interview with Dr. Bromenshenk about bees.

Mr. Wick knew of his brother’s work in Maryland, and remembered meeting Dr. Bromenshenk at a business conference. A retained business card and a telephone call put the Army and the Bee Alert team buzzing around the same blossom.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

At the Other Blog
In which I defend the right of witches to run for office, because I couldn't resist.
So Easy a Second-Grader Could Do It?
Is the NYTimes' mathematician blogger (yes they have one) a bit out of touch? Here he is reveling in the thought that, if the material is presented in a certain way, a 2nd grader could perform certain basic principles of calculus.
If you are at all familiar with calculus, you may know that the vertical velocity is the first derivative of the height, and the acceleration is the second. If you didn’t, don’t worry about it: the simple procedure for second graders that we just did will give us the answers. They are as follows:

1. The gravitational acceleration (g) at the planetoid surface is the number in the last row. This comes out to be -14 meters/sec/sec.(Error corrected) (The minus sign indicates that it is downward in direction). For future reference, remember half this number (-7).
2. The vertical velocity of the cannonball is the first number in the second row minus half the g that we just determined. It is therefore 28 – (-7) = 35 meters/sec.
3. The vertical height of the cannon (obviously) is the first number in the first row. That’s 20 meters.

Now look what else we’ve accomplished! Given a sequence of numbers, we have, easy as pie, found the polynomial formula for it: it is the sum of the three numbers above: -7x2 + 35x +20. You can substitute the numbers 0 through 5 for x and confirm that you get the original series.

Easily done, using simple arithmetic that a second grader could do!
Um, yeah. Note the error that had to be corrected. But also, subtracting negative numbers? Variables? Do kids even divide double-digit numbers in half in 2nd grade, let alone negative numbers?
Fire Subscription Service Deep Thought [UPDATED]
After seeing news reports of Gene Cranick's home burning to the ground while firefighters watched, I am guessing the number of Fire Department subscribers in Obion County, TN has rapidly increased in the last 24 hours, dontcha think? So, letting house burn = windfall for city government? Maybe next year, if residents start getting behind in payments, the city can just secretly start the fire themselves? Teach those delinquents a lesson? Put Tony Soprano in charge?

[UPDATE: Funny, I see that in comments to yesterday's post, Stevie T and Doug were a step ahead of me, suggesting both of these ideas in comments last night. Great minds!]

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Conservative Government in Action
We wouldn't seriously think of letting essential services like police and fire protection be handled by the market would we? If government has any purpose we can all agree on, it's something like that, right? I mean, privatizing the Fire Department, would be some kind of stupid. And yet...
A local neighborhood is furious after firefighters watched as an Obion County, Tennessee, home burned to the ground.

The homeowner, Gene Cranick, said he offered to pay whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames, but was told it was too late. They wouldn’t do anything to stop his house from burning. Each year, Obion County residents must pay $75 if they want fire protection from the city of South Fulton. But the Cranicks did not pay. The mayor said if homeowners don’t pay, they’re out of luck.
Come on, people. Have fee for service arrangements for your county recycling program, maybe. But fire? How about we just use taxes for that?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Monday's Good News
The DNC has a record $16 million haul in September to help prepare for this last month of the campaign.

A new generic congressional poll actually puts Democrats in the lead, 46%-44%.

The NYTimes reports that "the resilience of vulnerable Democrats is complicating Republican efforts to lock down enough seats to capture the House and take control of the unsettled electoral battleground."

Home sales in August rose 4.3%

So, there should be really high turnout of voters ready to vote for Democrats and keep The Crazy at bay, right? Right? 

Friday, October 01, 2010

Beatles For Sale (Remastered)
Beatles Class Today
The topic is Beatles For Sale, their Christmas gift LP for 1964. We're looking especially for Bob Dylan influence in their original tracks of this album. What else is noteworthy?
Rest in Peace, Neil Alan Smith
And, though I wasn't exactly looking for a Friday morning cry, thanks to the St. Petersburg Times for telling me about him.

Every time I hear some conservative ass railing about the tyranny of the minimum wage, defending the insane wealth gap in this country, always blaming the poor for their poverty, I think of people like Neil who are all around us: men and women of quiet dignity, who do essential jobs most of us wouldn't like to do (or couldn't do), who are dependable and try to make do with what they have, who appreciate the modesty of their life and cherish its simple pleasures, who keep their troubles to themselves, and care for the troubles of their few closest friends, usually the only kind they have.  They don't ask for much and they deserve better, both in life and in death.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Deep (Freeze) Thought

Wow, if you split the Republican vote in half in Alaska, you still can't get a Democrat elected there this year. How did Begich ever win??

How Well Do You Know Religion?
Most Americans didn't do so well on this survey from the folks at the Pew Forum. Here's the results. I was 15 for 15, but got lucky. Flipped a coin for the last one. How about you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

School Improvement: What's the Answer?
If only there was a single answer, right? Every year we get new approaches that seem to yield promising results, but that ultimately don't last, or don't translate from school school. Even more importantly, we don't have much agreement on the basics, like: What's the purpose of public education? and How do we measure progress and achievement?

The truth is, if there were *one simple structural thing* that need only be implemented to create a nation full of eager, well-educated, well-adjusted high school graduates, we would have figured it out, and everyone would be doing it. As it is, even trying to learn from the apparent successes of others seems difficult.

Still, I can't resist the occasional feel-good success story of a down-and-out school that, at the very least, experiences vast improvement. Yesterday's NYTimes tells of Brockton High School in Mass. At 4,100 students, Brockton is not only the largest in the state, it's one of the largest in the nation. With a high drop-out rate, and only a quarter of students passing the statewide exams 10 years ago, teachers and administrators - motivated mostly by shame - devised a new approach: reading and writing would be emphasized in each and every class.
The committee put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.

Writing exercises took many forms, but encouraged students to think methodically. A science teacher, for example, had her students write out, step by step, how to make a sandwich, starting with opening the cupboard to fetch the peanut butter, through washing the knife once the sandwich was made. Other writing exercises, of course, were much more sophisticated.

Some teachers dragged their feet. Michael Thomas, now the district’s operations director but who led the school’s physical education department at the time, recalled that several of his teachers told him, “This is gym; we shouldn’t have to teach writing.” Mr. Thomas said he replied, “If you want to work at Brockton High, it’s your job.”
Read the whole thing. Gains sound substantial there (though they had a long way to go), and the pride taken in improvement seems to have propelled the entire school even further. Anything here that can be used by other struggling schools, or entire school systems?  Who knows.