"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Couple of Inconvenient Truths About Wisconsin

From David Cay Johnston at tax.com:

When it comes to improving public understanding of tax policy, nothing has been more troubling than the deeply flawed coverage of the Wisconsin state employees' fight over collective bargaining.

Economic nonsense is being reported as fact in most of the news reports on the Wisconsin dispute, the product of a breakdown of skepticism among journalists multiplied by their lack of understanding of basic economic principles.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to "contribute more" to their pension and health insurance plans.

Accepting Gov. Walker' s assertions as fact, and failing to check, created the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not.

Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin' s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can that be? Because the "contributions" consist of money that employees chose to take as deferred wages – as pensions when they retire – rather than take immediately in cash. The same is true with the health care plan.

So basically, Walker has been lying from the get-go about the "benefits" -- it's all about taking out the unions. We should have known that -- he's a "Conservative" and lying has become the default position among Conservatives because their real agenda is repellent to most Americans.

And Johnston is absolutely correct in faulting the media coverage. I mean, we expect crap from Fox (and catch this one, too), but take a look at this piece from Glenn Greenwald about the massive failure in ethics in journalism as a whole. Greenwald focuses on the pushback on the "psy-ops" reporting from Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, but it doesn't take much extrapolation to make the connections -- anyone notice the stories on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange?

I wonder how Walker feels about that now that the ones that supported him -- the police and firefighters -- have joined the opposition?

(And late item: it looks as though at least one Republican state senator has withdrawn his support for Walker's bill.)

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Reviews in Brief: Kou Yoneda's No Touching At All

I ran across Kou Yoneda's No Touching At All at YaoiRose, a BL-oriented blog that has proven to be a good place to find out what's new and whether it's worth it. Rose liked it, but her review, I think, didn't really do this one justice. (In her defense, her reviews are brief and to the point -- shorter even than these Reviews in Brief.)

Shima, on his first day at his new job, shares the elevator with a man who's desperately hung over and otherwise sort of rough around the edges. Togawa, of course, is his new boss. Their affair is one of the knottiest and most engaging I've run across in BL manga.

I get the impression that this one was very carefully thought out -- it's amazingly well constructed, fairly elliptical, with a lot going on under the surface. Yoneda does an excellent job of playing off assumptions against reality, on both sides colored by the men's own histories. It takes a major crisis for these guys to finally admit their feelings for each other, and yet it all makes perfect sense in the context of the characters and the story.

The drawing is free, confident, and very expressive. The character designs remind me somewhat of Yukimura's rendering of Nao in Love Song for the Miserable -- there's that same kind of openness to the faces. (And Yoneda manages to get character into her renderings as well.) This is one where the cover art is a good reflection of the interior. There's a lot of subtlety in the use of shading and tone that takes the drawing up a level, and the layouts, while fluid and intuitive, add another dimension to the narrative.

I'm busily trying to find more by Yoneda -- this one really impressed me in the best possible way.

From June.

Chicago Joins In

I managed to miss this one, but I wish I'd paid more attention to the time. Here's pictures of the Chicago rally in support of Wisconsin workers, from Democratic Underground.

The turnout's not so surprising -- Chicago's always been a strong union town.

About Wisconsin

Via Suburban Guerilla, this post from Democratic Underground:

I had a patient cry yesterday.

A tough-guy.
Young guy with several kids.
Working-class.Uninsured.No sick time.
Will need hospitalization for a week.
Will not make rent.

We collected to make his rent.

What the fuck have we come to,folks?

Go,unions.Make these bastards who have created this fiasco come to their knees.
Do it for the rest of us.

We get the leaders we deserve

Which, looking at what's going on in this country, annoys me -- I don't think I did anything to deserve this.

Leaving aside the insanity of Gov. Walker of Wisconsin (who sees himself as a harbinger of the future, but as Rachel Maddow asks, "Can you lead when no one is following?"), and the Teabaggers Go To Washington assault on just about everyone except the super rich, it's sort of astonishing to see what's going on in the states:

From Montana: Teabaggers in the legislature are unveiling their vision of the future:

Their state would be a place where officials can ignore U.S. laws, force FBI agents to get a sheriff's OK before arresting anyone, ban abortions, limit sex education in schools and create armed citizen militias.

Don't forget the declaration that global warming is good for business.

(Montana's not really that backward -- it only took them eight years to catch up with Lawrence vs. Texas and fourteen to catch up with their own supreme court. That's a hell of a lot better than the Catholic Church managed with Galileo.)

In Tennessee, always a reliable source of crazy, comes this:

A proposed bill in the Tennessee Legislature wants to spell out how schools can introduce sexuality - and only heterosexuality - to your child. It's sponsored by State Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Bill Dunn - both Republicans from Knoxville.

At the heart of the bill is a move to prevent children in elementary and middle schools to have classes that discuss sexual orientation other than heterosexuality.

The rationalization(s) provided are the usual fog of dumb and ignorant. (Please don't accuse me of being prejudiced against Tennessee -- some of my best friends are from Tennessee.)

In Iowa, which I always thought was a level-headed sort of place, we have a license to kill:

House File 7, which has been sponsored by 29 GOP House members, seeks to expand state law regarding use of reasonable force, including deadly force. Current state laws provide that citizens are not required to retreat from their dwelling or place of business if they or a third party are threatened. The proposal would significantly expand this to state that citizens are not required to retreat from “any place at which the person has a right to be present,” and that in such instances, the citizen has the right to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect himself or a third party from serious injury or death or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

Also included in the proposal is a new section to the Iowa Code that would provide automatic criminal and civil immunity to a person who uses deadly force, unless a police investigation proves that the person was not acting “reasonably.” Also key to the immunity clause is the fact that law enforcement would likely be barred from arresting a person at the scene of an incident “unless the law enforcement agency determines there is probable cause that the force was unlawful under this chapter.” If law enforcement does make an arrest, and if that person is later found to have used reasonable force by a court of law, taxpayers could be on the hook for the reimbursement of the person’s attorney fees, court costs, compensation from loss of income and other expenses.

Basically, not only would it be legal to kill an abortion provider, but also to kill a pharmacist dispensing the morning after pill.

There's also a bill to ban same-sex marriage and pretend the Iowa Supreme Court doesn't exist:

County recorders would be prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the Iowa Supreme Court would be unable to rule on the issue under a bill sponsored by six conservative House Republicans.

House File 330 specifically says that the Supreme Court would not be able to overturn or restrict the law if the bill were passed.

There were other things that I couldn't find when I went back for them, so this is just a tip of the iceberg sort of thing -- there's a lot happening, and blog posts are getting bumped down the line pretty fast.

But this gives you a good idea, I think. What really worries me is that some of these loons might be re-elected.

Update: I'd forgotten this one -- I knew Kansas had to be in the mix somewhere:

[O'Brien] spoke during the meeting of her son's difficulty paying for classes in 2010 at Kansas City (Kan.) Community College and a feeling of despair at waiting in line at the college with a female student who appeared to them to have been born outside the United States.

“My son, who’s a Kansas resident, born here, raised here, didn’t qualify for any financial aid,” according to a recording of her statement to the committee. “Yet this girl was going to get financial aid.”

"My son was kinda upset about it because he works and pays for his own schooling and his books and everything and he didn’t think that was fair. We didn’t ask the girl what nationality she was, we didn’t think that was proper. But we could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country," she says on the recording.

During the meeting, Rep. Sean Gatewood, D-Topeka, asked O'Brien to clarify her remark.

"Can you expand on how you could tell that they were illegal?" Gatewood asked.

"Well, she wasn't black," O'Brien said. "She wasn't Asian. And she had the olive complexion."

She insists she's not a racist -- her son has "the olive complexion" -- but no one asked her if she's just stupid.

Friday, February 25, 2011

More on DOMA

Dahlia Lithwick has an excellent commentary at Slate on the ramifications of AG Holder's statement and letter to Congress on DOMA.

Attorney General Eric Holder's letter to Congress said the Obama administration would no longer defend Section 3—and only Section 3—of DOMA in New York and Connecticut because it violates the equal-protection clause of the Fifth Amendment, as applied to same-sex couples. Last July, a federal judge in Massachusetts declared DOMA unconstitutional, because it denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples in the state. The Obama administration appealed that decision in January, much to the dismay of gay-marriage supporters, who argued that fighting to uphold a discriminatory law in the courts was proof of the administration's ongoing hostility to gay rights. References in government briefs to "uncles marrying nieces" weren't helping.

Section 3 provides that "in determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife." From now on, explained Holder, the administration will continue to enforce DOMA—but it won't defend it, because it doesn't pass the heightened standard of scrutiny it should receive in the courts.

I'd just like to add to this something that I haven't seen anyone else note: As a strategic move, this is brilliant. Obama has just moved the goalposts to a place where the Perkins/Gallagher crowd will never find them. Do I think this is evidence of a "grand strategy"? No. Obama is an opportunist as much as a long-range planner. I have no opinion on whether he ever intended to do anything about DOMA as things stood a year ago. Now, however, the cracks in the defense of that abomination are too big to ignore, and with one stroke he's taken the wind out of the sails of Gallagher, Perkins, and their ilk. Lithwick notes:

Virtually all of the arguments advanced to deny gay couples the right to marry are based on moral animus and junk science, rooted in discredited cases like Bowers v. Hardwick and in unfounded bias that is increasingly hard to defend in open court. As professor Suzanne Goldberg of Columbia Law School put it today: "This is a spectacular and long-awaited acknowledgment by the federal government that there is no good reason for treating gay and nongay people differently, especially when it comes to recognizing the relationships of same-sex couples." The main consequence of today's decision is that the people who actually believe in Bowers v. Hardwick, moral animus, and junk science will get to defend it in court, if they can. The president no longer has to.

We've seen how well that works in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger -- as David Boies pointed out to Tony Perkins, the witness stand is a lonely place to lie.

Yes, please, get Virginia Foxx and Steve King to defend DOMA and see how far you get. I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

About Face (Updated) (Update II)

And forward march. I think it goes without saying that Eric Holder's announcement about DOMA caught everyone by surprise. The reactions have been many and varied.

First, Holder's statement:

After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President’s determination.

Consequently, the Department will not defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA as applied to same-sex married couples in the two cases filed in the Second Circuit. We will, however, remain parties to the cases and continue to represent the interests of the United States throughout the litigation. I have informed Members of Congress of this decision, so Members who wish to defend the statute may pursue that option. The Department will also work closely with the courts to ensure that Congress has a full and fair opportunity to participate in pending litigation.

Furthermore, pursuant to the President’s instructions, and upon further notification to Congress, I will instruct Department attorneys to advise courts in other pending DOMA litigation of the President's and my conclusions that a heightened standard should apply, that Section 3 is unconstitutional under that standard and that the Department will cease defense of Section 3.

There's been a lot of sloppy commentary (not to mention reporting) on this, but it's very clear that the DoJ is not refusing to defend DOMA in all cases -- this is limited to two cases in the Second Circuit, where there's a good chance the court will use a heightened scrutiny standard anyway, under which DOMA is most likely toast.

DoJ is also inviting Congress to step in to defend the law. My own feeling is that this is a minefield for Boehner. There's going to be immense pressure from the usual suspects to join these cases, but any such defense has already been weakened by what amounts to the recommendation from the administration for heightened scrutiny, plus the flat-out admission that the law cannot pass constitutional muster under that standard. (There's also Judge Vaughn Walker's finding that such laws -- in that case, Prop 8 -- can't even pass muster under rational basis, if the Second Circuit wants to consider that.)

From the professionals, we have a comment by Jason Mazzone at Balkinization that essentially reinforces what I just noted above out the administration's commitment to defend the law. Jack Balkin has a comment on the political ramifications of this announcements -- in the broad sense of providing political cover to the courts.

Orin Kerr at Volokh betrays his right-wing bias by calling this announcement a "power grab," and to be quite honest, I don't see his rationale at all. Ilya Somin gives some strong push-back, and needless to say, I agree with Somin's reasoning. Kerr also notes a response by Walter Dellinger, who noted this piece on DADT that answers many of Kerr's arguments.

Ari Ezra Waldman has a very helpful analysis at Towleroad, somewhat more in layman's terms.

One thing that strikes me in these discussions -- not to mention the comments there and in any number of other reports and commentaries -- is the confusion between the administration's duty to enforce the law and its decision not to defend the law against constitutional challenge. John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay, both of whom are lawyers, pointed out long ago that the administration is under no formal requirement for the latter (remember that judicial review was not a Constitutional provision, but established by Marbury vs, Madison); the former is part of its duties under the Constitution, although on a reading of Article II, that requirement is nowhere specifically stated, but rather assumed as part of the duties of the "executive." And Holder has stated quite plainly that the administration will continue to enforce DOMA until it is either repealed or the courts make a final determination.

There's also a lot of speculation about Obama's personal position on same-sex marriage (see this piece from Greg Sargent) which I think it completely beside the point, and very revealing of how we've lost the ability to see the difference between an official's personal feelings and his responsibility to execute his responsibilities (something that all too many of our public officials have lost sight of, as well). This is simply a matter of Obama acting like an adult, and doing his job regardless of his personal feelings (although it's obvious in broad, theoretical terms that he supports gay civil rights).

At the other end of the spectrum, Box Turtle Bulletin has a summary of the professional homophobes' reactions to having been cut off at the knees -- you can practically see the foam flying). I'm not going to quote any of them -- even if you don't read them, you can probably guess the content pretty accurately -- but I will not that the hysteria is at unprecedented levels. John Boehner, who has been handed a poison pill, punts:

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the administration change of position. “While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation,” said spokesman Brendan Buck.

This from a Speaker whose party is concentrating very heavily on throwing more people out of work -- unless they can get jobs as womb police.

The WTF? moment comes from Mike "Aw, shucks!" Huckabee:

"I'm deeply disappointed," Huckabee said. "They are clearly out of sync with the public." Huckabee noted that 33 states have affirmed, via ballot initiatives, that marriage should be between a man and a woman. "When the voters are so overwhelmingly [supportive of DOMA] what does the president believe he knows that citizens in all these other states don't," Huckabee said. Huckabee opposes gay marriage on the grounds that, according to him, it destroys traditional families. "There is a quantified impact of broken families," Huckabee said. "[There is a] $300 billion dad deficit in America every year...that's the amount of money that we spend as taxpayers to pick up the pieces because dads are derelict in their duties."

Point one: the only thing that 33 states affirming Huckabee's definition of marriage proves is that a well-funded, religiously based scare campaign founded on lies and misrepresentations can frighten people enough to get them to the polls. Point two: what the hell do same-sex marriage and deadbeat dads have to do with each other? Can someone explain that? My grasp of wingnut psychology isn't strong enough to untangle that mess.

If you can stand it, here's a nice fact-free segment from Fox, complete with amazed outrage from the host -- is that Megyn Kelly? These Fox bimbos all look alike to me -- and a full load of bullshit from Maggie Gallagher.

The thought that so many people are getting their information from Fox is scary. It explains a lot, though -- like the current Congress.


As an antidote to the Megyn Kelly-Maggie Gallagher bitch-fest, here's Rachel Maddow with Tobias Wolff -- a nice, rational discussion of the ramifications of this announcement:

And here's Lawrence O'Donnell giving some air time to Glenn Greenwald:

I'm sure this will play out over time -- it's going to be interesting to see how the Second Circuit reacts.

Update II: Timothy Kincaid has very helpful summary and analysis at this point, which is much more complex than I had realized. Worth a read.

Sign of the Day

Maybe the month. Anything that gets a chuckle out of me while I'm wincing at the news in the morning deserves a plug:

Via Crooks and Liars.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Wisconsin: Required Reading

First, from Digby, a message of solidarity from Egypt, another call for solidarity, as a counterweight to Liar-in-Chief Andrew Breitbart, and a call to high-school students from Michael Moore to make their voices heard.

And check out this from Paul Krugman, who has no compunctions about telling it like it is:

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

I'm glad that someone with a voice can see that, since so many of the dolts who fill up the airwaves don't understand this country at all.

And Shoq Value has assembled a list of sources and resources.

I'm pretty much thrilled at the dimensions of the protests in Madison, and the fact that they are also going on in Ohio and other states that are trying to destroy the unions. And I'm gratified that Moore has enough sense to not only spot the involvement of students, but to encourage it. (If you lived through the '60s, you know how much energy young people can generate for a cause.) And Krugman's absolutely right -- we need something to counter the billionaires who have bought Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, from my morning surfing. There's lots more. Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Attention Wall Street

How many of those of you drawing down million dollar plus salaries are doing something like this with your money?

Hildreth, the son of an Irish immigrant and a descendant of the Puritans, put up half of the bail money for those arrested, roughly $100,000. To his surprise, Latino immigrants in New Bedford and across the state rallied to raise the other half.

Hildreth thought: Could Latino immigrant families also be inspired to raise money for college?

The result was the Boston-based group he founded: Families in Educational Leadership, or FUEL. For more than a year, his group has held "savings circles" in Chelsea, Lynn, and parts of Boston with the goal of training low-income immigrant families on financial literacy so they can put away money for college. The group promises that if families save $1,500 by the time a child graduates from high school, it will match that amount.

Instead of buying teabaggers, maybe you could put that money to a good use.

Stupid or Incompetent?

Or maybe just arrogant. This story makes you stop and think about what's going on in the minds of bankers these days. The set-up:

When a Philadelphia man became fed up with his bank for failing to respond to his mortgage questions, he took them to court and won. In a twist that will warm the hearts of millions with underwater loans, he moved to foreclose on Wells Fargo's local office.

The saga began in 2009, when Patrick Rodgers first wrote to Wells Fargo, requesting itemized information about the mortgage on his home in Philadelphia. His homeowners' insurance provider was forcing him to take out a $1 million policy on his home, which he maintains is worth far less than that.

Over the next year he sent at least four letters to Wells Fargo from June to September and got exactly no replies.

I guess they were just too busy to respond. Rodgers now has initiated a sheriff's sale on one of their offices. And their reaction?

Adams responded with an email to ABC News explaining that Wells Fargo "could have handled Mr. Rodgers' very unusual situation better."

"We're doing our best to resolve everything to everyone's satisfaction," she wrote.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Feel Better

I just wrote a letter to my Republican Senator, Mark Kirk, about his proposals for budget cuts.

It was polite, but brutal.

I feel much better now.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Remember Those Military Chaplains?

The ones whose freedom of religion was going to be violated by the repeal of DADT? Well, not so much:

Army Chaplain Lt. Col. Carleton Birch said Wednesday that chaplains already have experience in counseling homosexual soldiers and will likely be able to adjust easily to an openly homosexual military.

“I’ve counseled homosexual soldiers when if I told anyone else that, they would get kicked out,” shared Birch, an evangelical.

When asked if chaplains would be limited in their ability to serve soldiers following the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, he said that no changes were necessary to protect chaplains’ rights.

He maintained, “We’ve always been able to preach and teach” and anticipate little change in the future.

Lt. Col. Lisa H. Tice, a Reformed chaplain who serves in the personnel, budget and readiness division of the Air Force Office of the Chief of Chaplains, said that Tier 1, the first phase of the military training, is geared towards chaplains.

Tice said of counseling gays, “We don’t see this as a big deal.”

'Nuff said?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Force Unleashed

Arrogance is its own brand of stupidity. See this post from Matt Osborne at C&L. Aaron Barr is the CEO of HBGary Federal, one of the outfits retained, in a fully plausibly deniable manner, by Bank of America to trash those who were, it thought, about to unmask possibly criminal activities by its upper echelons. It didn't quite work out that way:

HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr thought he had unmasked the hacker hordes of Anonymous and was preparing to name and shame those responsible for co-ordinating the group's actions, including the denial-of-service attacks that hit MasterCard, Visa, and other perceived enemies of WikiLeaks late last year.

When Barr told one of those he believed to be an Anonymous ringleader about his forthcoming exposé, the Anonymous response was swift and humiliating. HBGary's servers were broken into, its e-mails pillaged and published to the world, its data destroyed, and its website defaced. As an added bonus, a second site owned and operated by Greg Hoglund, owner of HBGary, was taken offline and the user registration database published.

It gets worse -- a study in incompetence. This is the cherry on top:

Alas, two HBGary Federal employees—CEO Aaron Barr and COO Ted Vera—used passwords that were very simple; each was just six lower case letters and two numbers. Such simple combinations are likely to be found in any respectable rainbow table, and so it was that their passwords were trivially compromised.

This is a firm that specializes in Internet security.

Barr also completely misread the nature of Anonymous. Do follow the links -- there's some very interesting information there.

It would seem that the oligarchs' idea that they are above mere right and wrong has unintended consequences.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rob Tisinai on Marriage (Updated)

Rob Tisinai is doing a very nice dissection of an article by Robert George that claims to establish the basis of "real marriage" (i.e., the "traditional" patriarchal version). My only objection is that I think Tisinai is being way too nice, but then, I have small patience with fools.

Check it out.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V


Here's another comment on George's article from Jason Kuznicki that's quite cogent and pretty devastating. This comment from one of Kuznicki's readers echoes the comment I left at Tisinai's Part V:

The upshot was that “marriage” (in quotes now because there isn’t a truly universal definition) was a cultural construct and can’t be properly understood outside its cultural context. If you want to understand Nuer marriage, for instance, you need to get a grasp of the panoply of formal relationships in their culture, and if one of them more closely resembles our notion of marriage and you want to call it marriage, so be it.

The larger point I’m driving at is that if a culture wants to recognize gay marriage as marriage just say it is and it is. No need to talk about penises or vaginas or any other naughty bits, which don’t have any cosmic significance that I am aware of. If society says it is, it is.

The Farmer's Life

It struck me, as my mind was following its own little pathways this morning, that the structure of our days, even in our "post-industrial" society, is founded in the patterns and rhythms of agriculture. (This comes about because I was actually thinking about how my system just can't tolerate regular meals any more. All that food at once knocks me out.)

Think about it. Back in our hunter/forager days, we nibbled throughout the day. I mean, we had meals, but they were often as much ritual as anything else -- a community gathering, in part to socialize, in part maybe to make sure everyone was there. (Life was kind of risky in those days.) The idea of "three squares" rises with agrarian societies: you got up in the morning and had a hearty breakfast because you had to go out and work in the fields, and then broke for lunch so you could go out and work in the fields some more, and then had dinner because you had been working in the fields all day.

We still do that.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

One Can Only Hope

That this idea spreads.

Most office buildings are divorced, in a way, from their surroundings. Each day in the mechanical trenches of heating, cooling and data processing is much the same as another but for the cost of paying for the energy used.

The energy lab’s Research Support Facility building is more like a mirror, or perhaps a sponge, to its surroundings. From the light-bending window louvers that cast rays up into the interior office spaces, to the giant concrete maze in the sub-basement for holding and storing radiant heat, every day is completely different.

It sounds like some sort of high-tech utopia, but get this:

The answer at the research energy laboratory, a unit of the federal Department of Energy, is not gee-whiz science. There is no giant, expensive solar array that could mask a multitude of traditional design sins, but rather a rethinking of everything, down to the smallest elements, all aligned in a watt-by-watt march toward a new kind of building.

Managers even pride themselves on the fact that hardly anything in their building, at least in its individual component pieces, is really new.

Off-the-shelf technology, cost-efficient as well as energy-efficient, was the mantra to finding what designers repeatedly call the sweet spot — zero energy that doesn’t break a sweat, or the bank.

I work in downtown Chicago, just north of the Loop, and over the past couple of years I've watched several new buildings go up -- the climate control systems are massive, and there's obviously no thought given to energy conservation, or very little: there's a new hotel across the street that claims "green friendliness," but it doesn't seem to be on any large scale.

One thing the article doesn't touch on that would be workable, I think, someplace like my work neighorhood: wind generators to take advantage of the updrafts and downdrafts created by these high-rises.

This, though, is the sort of thing that should be getting a massive boost from the government -- forget the damned subsidies for oil exploration.


I haven't written anything about this for a while, and things have been moving. Let's see if I can pull something together.

First, from Pam's House Blend, this report from Washington state:

Lawmakers have chosen today - the day that millions across the country celebrate the bonds of affection shared between two people in love - as the day to introduce major legislation that would no longer restrict gays and lesbians from their right to marry.

Today is not the first time the issue of marriage equality for gays and lesbians and the Valentine's Day holiday have crossed paths.

In early February of 1998, in what has proven to be the darkest of Valentine's for gay and lesbian families in our state, the Legislature enshrined discrimination as the law of the land in Washington by overriding the veto of then-Gov. Gary Locke to approve the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act."

Let's not start cheering -- a marriage bill has been introduced in every session of the legislature for years; maybe this year it will finally make it out of committee. From The Stranger:

Murray acknowledges that the bill isn't going anywhere this year.

The legislature doesn't have the votes, and if it did, the law probably wouldn't survive the referendum that conservatives would gleefully run to put it on the ballot. Murray has introduced a marriage-equality bill in every legislative biennium since 1997 and none has ever even gotten out of committee, he says. But it's not about passing it this year. Murray insists it's about "raising the flag" to call for a better ground game outside Seattle; actually passing the bill is the "end game." Murray points out that, of the 14 Dem cosponsors, some have never signed on before (including Sens Eide and McAuliffe), and that's a sign the legislature will warm up—eventually.

In Maryland, the marriage bill needs 24 votes in the Senate to pass. It now has 23. Via AmericaBlog Gay:

This year changes in a key senate panel delivered advocates the best chance they've ever had to legalize same-sex marriage. They believe that they have the 29 votes needed to cut off debate in the chamber and vote. The bill is expected to be voted out of committee this Thursday.

Remember, Maggie Gallagher's testimony against SSM was crucial in changing some minds -- in our favor.

Rhode Island seem to have broad support for marriage, but there's the little matter of legislative politics. From the Boston Globe, a few days ago:

Hundreds of people turned out at the Statehouse Wednesday to testify or hear from advocates and opponents of a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island.

People on both sides rallied in the Statehouse rotunda ahead of the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. The legislation has been introduced several times over the years, but failed amid opposition from previous Republican Gov. Don Carcieri and former legislative leaders. This year, advocates are optimistic because it has the support of new independent Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Democratic House Speaker Gordon Fox, who is gay and is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Here's a more detailed discussion from The Rainbow Times.

In New Hampshire, the bid to repeal the state's marriage law is up for grabs. 62% of the electorate oppose repeal, and that's going to have an effect in the legislature. From Seacoastonline:

Predictions on both sides are that the repeal will pass in the House and Senate, will be vetoed by Gov. John Lynch, and the battle will come over the effort to overturn or sustain the veto. A two-thirds affirmative vote is needed in both houses to overturn. . . .

The UNH Survey Center's Smith said he believes a repeal effort will ultimately fail. "The Republican electorate in New Hampshire is a moderate to liberal electorate, as compared to their counterparts nationwide," he said. "And politicians want to get re-elected. Eventually, the people in Concord are going to say, 'If I want my job, I better not vote to repeal.'"

I think repeal will fail -- no one has any real stomach for it, and the NOM brigade has to pressure the legislature to get a bill to the floor, which I don't think they can do.

As a sidebar, Illinois' civil unions bill has been signed and is now law. The consensus is that the push for full marriage will happen within the next couple of years. And Colorado is now considering a civil unions bill.

I'm not going to get into the situation in New York -- it's still too murky (although Gov. Cuomo is insisting it's going to happen this year) -- and we can write New Jersey off, at least until Gov. Christie finishes trashing the state's finances and gets his ass canned.

And one thing that's not happening here, but that I think will have a lot of resonance: The UK is moving very fast on full marriage rights:

The government is expected to announce full marriage equality for gays and lesbians under reforms to marriage laws to be announced later this week. The reported move will end the final major legal discrimination against gays and lesbians in Britain.

According to the Sunday Times, a proposal to end the ban on same sex marriage will be announced by the Liberal Democrat equality minister Lynne Featherstone at the same time as the government announces the time table for civil partnerships to be held in religious buildings.

This is from a report two days ago.

Gone are the days when 70% majorities would put an anti-marriage amendment in state constitutions. (And those are all vulnerable to 14th Amendment challenges, and I can hardly wait.)

And that's all I have to say on the matter right now.

Yet Another Planet

And it's ours:

If you grew up thinking there were nine planets and were shocked when Pluto was demoted five years ago, get ready for another surprise. There may be nine after all, and Jupiter may not be the largest.

The hunt is on for a gas giant up to four times the mass of Jupiter thought to be lurking in the outer Oort Cloud, the most remote region of the solar system. The orbit of Tyche (pronounced ty-kee), would be 15,000 times farther from the Sun than the Earth's, and 375 times farther than Pluto's, which is why it hasn't been seen so far.

Here's the link showing Tyche's location (pdf).

And here's a jpeg:

So now we have nine planets again -- maybe.

I miss Pluto, though.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


From Bill Maher, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite commentators, right up there with Rachel Maddow.

With thanks to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

The Reality of Social Security

I've been seeing too much lately about how Social Security is broke, or nearly, and workers in their 40s are never going to see a dime of benefits, and on and on and one. Digby has done us the signal service of publishing a letter from Dean Baker, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, that lays it all out. It's to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Fantasyland), one of the quieter know-nothings in the Senate. I am taking the liberty of reposting it here:

February 9, 2011

The Honorable Richard Shelby
304 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Shelby:

During a recent breakfast at the Institute for Education, you said that Social Security is actuarially unsound, that the next generation of workers would receive little or nothing from Social Security and that there is no proof that your sons would get much at all. This is badly mistaken. You should know, both for your own personal finances, and more importantly for your actions as Senator, that under any plausible set of circumstances you and your sons can anticipate a substantial Social Security benefit.

You reached the national retirement age for Social Security in 1999. While I don’t know your precise earnings history, your pay as a senator made you eligible for the maximum benefit if it were sustained for 35 years. The Social Security Trustees Report and likely your own personal finances show that a maximum wage earner retiring in 1999 receives an annual benefit of $21,674 in 2010 dollars.

The trustees’ projections show that if nothing is ever done, then Social Security would pay full benefits through the year 2037. At this point, even if Congress does nothing there still would be substantial money flowing into the program, allowing the program to pay just under 80 percent of benefits. In the case of your youngest son, he would receive $29,700 from 2037 on (in today’s dollars), if his lifetime earnings path is similar to your own (i.e. he is a maximum wage earner).

As can be seen in Table V1.F2 of the Trustees Report, Social Security’s revenue in 2040 will be equal to 13.23 percent of covered payroll, while its outlays are projected at 16.64 percent. This would be sufficient to pay 79.5 percent of scheduled benefits.

Social Security’s finances are actually projected to improve slightly over the next decade so that the program would be able to pay 81.0 percent of scheduled benefits in 2050. For your son, this would be a benefit of slightly over $30,000. The situation is projected to change little in subsequent years. This means that your youngest son should be able to get a benefit of roughly this size for as long as he lives, even if Congress never does anything to eliminate the shortfall in the program. Again, these sums are all adjusted for inflation.

You also said that the normal retirement age for social security should be raised “every several years”. However, this would amount to a cut in benefits with each successive increase in the retirement age. If the normal age of retirement is phased in to reach 70 by 2036, it would result in a 4.0 percent reduction in benefits for workers between the ages of 50-54 in 2007 and a 10 percent reduction for workers between the ages of 40-44 in 2007.

Another point worth considering is that if the normal retirement age increased every few years, many workers would find it increasingly difficult to work until they are eligible for Social Security benefits. Forty five percent of workers over the age of 58 work in jobs that are physically demanding or have difficult work conditions. It is hard to imagine construction workers, firefighters, or nurses working well into their mid 60’s. Many would end up taking early retirement with a considerable reduction in benefits compared to currently scheduled levels.

Of course, it would be extremely unfortunate if Congress ever allowed Social Security to pay less than the full scheduled benefit. As a political matter it also seems unlikely in a context where beneficiaries are almost 50 percent larger as a share of the adult population than they are today. It is also worth noting that the necessary increases in funding are relatively small compared to items like the rise in defense spending over the last decade, so there certainly are not major economic obstacles to maintaining full funding.

I hope that you will take the time to review the program’s finances more carefully so that when you speak on it in the future you are better informed. I would be happy to assist you in providing additional background if it would be helpful.


Dean Baker
Co-Director, Center for Economic and Policy Research

Check out Digby's comments, as well -- they're short, but pungent.

Lucy's Foot

was pretty much like ours. That's what a new find indicates.

Lucy may be 3.2 million years old, but she still has the ability to surprise. Scientists recently reported that Lucy, aka Australopithecus afarensis, likely walked on two feet.

The findings came when researchers discovered a new foot bone belonging to Lucy. The bone's structure suggests that Lucy walked much like we do today. National Geographic explains that "until now it had been unclear just how upright -- in a sense, just how human -- Lucy really was."

The bone, which was found in Ethiopia, connected the toe to the base of Lucy's foot. It helped researchers confirm that Lucy's feet had "well-defined" arches, which likely helped the famous fossil to strut around on two feet and not via a grasping movement.

I had always thought that Lucy was entirely bipedal, but maybe I'm misremembering.

This undated handout combination photo provided by the journal Science shows four images of the fourth metatarsal, a long bone in the foot that shows Austraopithecus afarensis had an arched foot, indicating it was fully adapted to life on the ground rather than in the trees. Lucy's feet were made for walking. That's the word from a team of researchers that has gotten the first look at a foot bone from an human relative that lived three million or more years ago.… Read more »
(AP Photo/Science)

And here's a nice impression of her footprint:

The article is brief, but worth a read. The comments are distressing -- I'm continually amazed that there is so much ignorance in the world, all too often coupled with a large does of hostility.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You Have to Wonder

Whether Matt Drudge ever reads a freakin' newspaper.

Today's Must Read

This post by Glenn Greenwald, one of the targets of a campaign on behalf of Bank of America to cover its very wealthy ass against a potential leak of documents purportedly showing deep corruption and fraud at the highest levels of the corporation. (Gee -- why does this start to sound so familiar? I guess everybody's doing it.)

It's a thorough summary of events to date (and I'm happy to see that two of the security firms involved are feeling the heat) and being Greenwald, it's thoroughly documented and linked to other commentaries.

Welcome to the Banana Republic of America.

Republicans in a Nutshell

From this article at WaPo:

But across 18 areas of federal spending, a majority of Republicans support decreasing spending in just one: aid to the world's needy.

And this is the Jesus Party.

I think that says a lot.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Made My Day

Maggie Gallagher -- you gotta love 'er.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings committee heard 7 hours of testimony last night on whether or not to legalize gay marriage, including from NOM’s Maggie Gallagher. Now one Senator, who was previously a foe, has said her testimony convinced him to support marriage equality.

Senator James Brochin (D) was one of the few Democrat Senators who was opposed to gay marriage. But after listening to testimony from Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization For Marriage (NOM), he’s said that her “demonization” of gay families has convinced him that he should side with marriage equality.

Please, let her keep testifying.

Sunday, February 06, 2011


I haven't said anything about this, partly because I've been under the weather, which tends to fog my thinking just the least little bit, and partly because the reports are so diverse and so contradictory that it's hard to make sense of it. However, here's a couple of clips from C&L with Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy that explode some of the crap. The first is pretty substantial:

This one, much briefer, is choice: Eltahawy brings up the statistics that Maher left out:

The prevailing meme in the West is the threat of radical Islam, which Eltahawy quite neatly counters. And let's face it, it's a right-wing talking point that the press has quite obediently parroted until it has become the reigning truth. The reality seems to be that the U.S. has been propping up these dictators, the way it did for so long in Latin America, because dictators represent "stability" and we need "stability" in the Middle East. Why? Because of oil. I can't think of another reason.

What gets swept under the rug is one simple fact: what causes this unrest is not radical religious extremists but really basic things, like no jobs, high prices, and no opportunities. And instead of working to alleviate those basic, overriding concerns, we funnel money into the dictators' military establishments -- and their own pockets -- while ignoring the real needs of their people, when meeting those needs would much better serve our interests than another contract for Boeing.

So we've left those who want democracy no alternative but radical religious fundamentalists. We've seen how well that works.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

You May Have Noticed

I'm doing mostly not-politics the past few days, when I post at all. Partly, I'm still recuperating, in what I should expect to be the usual pattern at this point: feel great, get tired out, sleep and eat, feel even greater, get tired out. . . .

And as far as political commentary goes, I feel too much like I'm shouting into a bucket. I've pretty much had enough of that.

So, I'm going to post on whatever I feel like posting on, as always, and may take some time to rethink this whole blogging thing.

Which is, I guess, my way of saying that I'll be back, but it may not be the same snarky old Hunter you're used to.


Sam Tsui. I'd not heard of him, but ran across this video at Towleroad when I was in a mood to stop and watch. He's covering Britney Spears' new one, "Hold It Against Me."

Apparently that's pretty much what he does, covers and mashups -- so far, at least. Good singer.

Traveling in Time

We're doing it, but not the way you might expect. Get this.

Astronomers have pushed the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to its limits by finding what is plausibly the most distant and ancient object in the Universe [1] ever seen. Its light has travelled for 13.2 billion years to reach Hubble [2], which corresponds to a redshift around 10. The age of the Universe is 13.7 billion years.

The dim object, called UDFj-39546284, is likely to be a compact galaxy of blue stars that existed 480 million years after the Big Bang, only four percent of the Universe’s current age. It is tiny. Over one hundred such mini-galaxies would be needed to make up our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Remember, what they're seeing was happening 13.2 billion years ago. Our earth hasn't even been here that long.

Makes you think.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Gasbag Blowin' in the Wind

Wonderful commentary from Digby on that boil on the butt of American conservatism, Rush Limbaugh, and how confused he is by Egypt:

I don't know when I've seen a story that so confused the wingnut gasbags before. They honestly don't know what to do when they don't know who they're supposed to hate.

I guess even the head of the Republican party needs to get his talking points from someone.

Thursday, February 03, 2011


An artist's impression of the densely packed Kepler 11 system shows three planets transiting in front of their host star simultaneously. Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle

There's lots of planets out there:

Kepler is well on its way to vastly augmenting the roster of known exoplanets, of which there are now 500 or so, and may have already gotten a whiff of several potentially habitable worlds. "We have 54 planets in the habitable zone of their stars," Borucki says, referring to the temperate orbital zone around a star that would allow for the existence of liquid water on a planet. "One of them is 0.9 times the radius of the Earth, and four of them are less than two Earth radii." Any of those would be the most Earth-like world ever detected outside the solar system. What is more, some of the larger, more Jupiter-like planets Kepler is sniffing at in the habitable zone might have moons, and some of those satellites would themselves be potentially habitable. "It's sort of awesome," Borucki says of Kepler's haul. "The implications are that there are an awful lot of planets out there."

Must Read

I'm not sure I needed to be reminded of this right now, but maybe I did: we've been there, most of us.

What's important is that it not only reminds us of those we've lost, but who we became.