Friday, January 30, 2009

Random chart...

Per-capita oil consumption... speaks for itself.

Huh? DNA determinism?

Earlier this week this blogger turned on the radio and was listening to NPR's Talk of the Nation. The Jan 27th episode, "'African American Lives 2' searches for roots," happened to be on, in which the host Lynn Neary was interviewing Henry Louis Gates Jr. and discussing how he (Gates) was using DNA testing and genealogy research to unravel the family histories of people (including a number of African-american celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Chris Rock, Tom Joyner, and others...)

Well, in this particular episode they discussed a number of people for whom Gates had performed this service, uncovering some amazing stories in peoples' backgrounds. For example, for Tom Joyner you can follow the link below. However, it's not this that struck this blogger, it was the interview with Tom Joyner. The dialogue went like this:

NEARY: All right. Well, joining us now by phone from Dallas is Tom Joyner, host of the nationally syndicated radio program "The Tom Joyner Morning Show." Good to have you with us.
Mr. TOM JOYNER: And Skip Gates changed my life.
NEARY: Yeah. How did he change your life? Explain that - what you mean by that.
Mr. JOYNER: OK. "African American Lives 2" - I'm one of the celebrities that he does the genealogy.
NEARY: Right.
Mr. JOYNER: And I didn't know where all this success and all this philanthropy came from. You know, I thought it came from my environment because I come from a rich town in Alabama, deep in the heart of Dixie, rich with black history. I am a Tuskegean.
Prof. GATES: Yeah.
Mr. JOYNER: And not only am I from Tuskegee, but my parents - both parents - came to Tuskegee to be a part of the Tuskegee Airmen program.
NEARY: Mm hmm.
Mr. JOYNER: So, I thought it all came from this environment of a can-do attitude, you know. But when I did the genealogy with Skip and the people that he had out in Utah - oh, man. It let me know where everything - I admit, I didn't know a whole lot about DNA. As much as I knew about DNA, I got from the O.J. trial.
NEARY: Well, you're…
Mr. JOYNER: But you do the DNA - you know, what he was just talking about, you know, you put "Roots" in a test tube. I mean, it is amazing. And he took me all the way back - he took me all the way back to Africa. And…

At this point the conversation went into some of what they found out about Tom Joyner's background, that he got his eyes from his maternal third great-grandfather (a Supreme Court Justice from North Carolina); and that his great-uncles had been executed after being falsely accused of murder... The conversation then continued as follows:

NEARY: Would you say - I mean, you said at the very beginning, Tom - and we only have a couple of minutes left - but you said this changed your life. I mean, literally changed your life? Do you really think differently about yourself now?
Mr. JOYNER: Yes. Yes. I've often, you know, stopped and wondered where all this came from. I used to be ashamed to admit it, but I'm very successful.
Mr. JOYNER: And not for reasons that most people are successful. And I have found that, through doing my genealogy, where it all comes from, that it's - the DNA is some kind of map, and I happened to fall at this place, at this time on that map. I am truly the right place at the right time. I have been blessed to have been put here through a series of, you know, these ancestors over here and the ancestors over there, and it all came together.
NEARY: All right, Tom Joyner. Thanks so much for joining.
Mr. JOYNER: And I feel I'm living the perfect storm.
NEARY: Thanks so much for joining us today, Tom.
Mr. JOYNER: Thank you.

OK, so maybe this blogger has misunderstood what Joyner really meant, especially since he didn't come out and say it, but it really sounded like he was saying that he now believes that it is his DNA which has determined the path of his life, and that his success is not due to his environment, his family, and his upbringing, but due to his DNA! Sounds like genetic determinism, or biological determinism... DNA is cool and such, but this is really over the top!

African American Lives 2 - Tom Joyner
Nature vs. Nurture

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Misc. updates...

1. The March 6th blog entry, Bipartisan Buffoonery, noted the political circus surrounding the DoD's decision re the next aerial tanker contract pitting Boeing against EADS... Then in September 2008 DefSec Gates canceled the RFP, punting the decision to the new administration (see the September 18th entry Ouch!) Well, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee DefSec Gates, yup the same one, said that the RFP process would recommence in spring leading to a contract award in early 2010. The circus will be back!

2. "A new report from the Noblis Center for Health Innovation has found that hospitals and health systems across the United States are cutting back on both capital spending and unprofitable healthcare services as a result of the economic crisis..., " see Profitability a Concern But Hospitals Expect Increased Utilization in 2009.

3. An issue with Twitter, from December 28th, noted that Twitter and many of the apps in the Twitterverse had a poor security model. Well they are apparently working on this, see Why Twitter's New Security Solution Could Pave the Way to a Future Web of Mashups

Pompous, vainglorious, puffed up?

In the September 25th entry, All about Smith Dodd, this blogger observed that the web site of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs seemed to be all about the chair Chris Dodd, almost to the exclusion of all the other committee members. Wondering if this was unusual or the norm this blogger checked out the home pages of all the Senate and House committees. Some of the Senate committee pages were truly bi-partisan and equally divided among the majority and the minority, while others were less even but still featured both. And then there was Dodd!

On the House side none of the committee pages featured the minority, but most did not exclusively feature the chair... However, a few were similar to Dodd, in that the committee web page appeared to be a pean to the wisdom of the chair, who made statements, reviewed legislation, protested decisions, urged action, passed bills, etc., etc., apparently all on their own without any help from the rest of their committee. The worst offenders were (as per the screen captures above; click for a larger picture) Berman (Foreign Affairs), Markey (Energy Independence & Global Warming), and Towns (Oversight & Government Reform). This blogger wonders what they are compensating for...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Random chart...

State of the States; Importance of Religion - 2008 Gallup poll, state-by-state breakdown of Americans' answers to the question "Is religion an important part of your daily life?"

Stimulus update...

The previous blog entry, Some recovery info, talked about the economic stimulus, and provided a view of the proposed expenditures in a spreadsheet format. This link, The Stimulus Plan: Where the Money Would Go, shows the information in a graphical manner...

This afternoon the House passed its version by a margin of 244 to 188, with 11 Democrats joining all Republicans to vote against the measure. (H.R.1 The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009). The Senate will be considering its version S.1 next week, after which the two version will have to be reconciled...

Some recovery info

This blogger printed out the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" (258-page PDF) and was perusing it. It's quite something seeing the sums listed, e.g. USD 350 million (for watershed and flood prevention operations); USD 2.825 billion (for wireless and broadband deployment grant programs), USD 18.5 billion (for energy efficiency and renewable energy); etc. As Everett McKinley Dirksen famously is supposed to have said, "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." This is real money!! A few things that interested this blogger:
  • There is a lot of language around the need for speed. For example, from Sec 1102 Preference for quick start activities: "In using funds made available in this act for infrastructure investment, recipients shall give preference to activities that can be started and completed expeditiously, including a goal of using at least 50 percent of the funds for activities that can be initiated not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act." Section 1103 sets very tight time frames for grant funding e.g. competitive grants to be awarded in 90 days. However, responsibly spending hundreds of billions in a very short time frame is not as easy as one might think, and there is a lot of discussion and even controversy about how soon the expenditures will take place and when the economic effects of the stimulus will be felt...
  • Further to getting the funds spent so that the nation will derive the hoped for economic benefits, all the funds to be appropriated will be "good" until September 30th, 2010 (unless otherwise specified within the Act), per Sec 1105 Period of Availability.

  • Understanding that spending these huge amounts in a short time frame could be problematic, the Act provides USD 240.5 million (available to be used until 2013) to a number of Offices of Inspectors General for oversight and audit:

    • Agriculture USD $22.5 million; Commerce $10 million; Defense $15 million; Education $14 million; Energy $15 million; Health & Human Services $19 million; Homeland Security $19 million; Housing & Urban Development $15 million; Interior $15 million; Justice $2 million; Labor $6 million; Transportation $20 million; Veterans Affairs $1 million, EPA $20 million; General Services Administration $15 million; NASA $2 million; National Science Foundation $2 million; Small Business Administration $10 million; Social Security Administration $2 million; and the Corporation for National and Community Service $1 million. Add another $25 million for the GAO.
    • Per Sec 1109 Prohibited Uses none of the funds are to be spent for "any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool." One wonders where this list came from, and if other things not specified on this list would be 'appropriate uses' of the funds e.g. hot tubs, ski slopes, beaches, etc.

  • All of the amounts for expenditure are designated as emergency requirements and necessary to meet emergency needs.
  • Every agency that receives funds will be obliged to meet multiple transparency requirements, including posting information re their spending plans, grants available, grant awards, operational funding, etc., etc. on the government website.
  • As the money is spent various government entities will periodically review and report on them e.g. the Council of Economic Advisers will report quarterly re their estimated economic impact on the country.
  • A 7-member Presidential-appointed "Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board" will be established to further coordinate and conduct oversight of spending under the Act. This board receives $14 million in funding.
  • The Act contains employee whistleblower protections (including non-Federal employees.

The above takes up 31 pages, which are followed by the lists of amounts for various areas, broadly divided into the following groups:

  • Agriculture, Nutrition, and Rural Development
  • Commerce, Justice, and Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor, Health & Human Services, Education
  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
  • Department of State
  • Transportation, Housing & Urban Development

This spreadsheet lists many of the proposed expenditures (divided into the groups above). Some general observations:

  • Some of these expenditures are further broken down and subject to numerous "provided" and "provided further" conditions, while others are not e.g. USD 3.75 billion for the construction of veterans' affairs hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

  • Some portions of this Act amend past legislation e.g. "technical corrections to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007"; other portions contain entirely new legislation e.g. related to healthcare effectiveness research and health information technology, presumably in furtherance of some of the healthcare reforms suggested by Tom Daschle...

  • Given the sums being bandied about, the suggestion that the Act contains no pet projects is risible. When the time comes to decide where to spend the various monies e.g. the USD 3.75 billion for veterans' hospitals and clinics, is there any doubt in ones mind that members of the administration, every elected representative, and the general public in every state will have definite ideas re the best place to build those facilities (i.e. in their communities)?
  • Finally, with the amounts of money under consideration, as well as the complexity, it would beehove our elected representatives to do this right. If that means taking some extra time to tweak this, in fact them even taking the time to actually read the Act (this would seem a given, but based on history it is not!) then that would be vastly better than ramming through the legislation because it is "an emergency."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nuclear Iran

This blogger saw the following headline, 'Uranium For Iran Nuke In 2009,' and quickly checked out the link. The article started: "Iran will have enough enriched uranium to make a single nuclear weapon later this year, the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) predicts." This was a bit of a shocker given that most reputable estimates of Iran's progress were that this was still several years off (ignoring a few outliers from folks interested in, let's say, "encouraging" a bombing campaign...).

A closer perusal of the (Sky News) article showed that the "enriched uranium" was actually low-enriched uranium and "being able to enrich uranium is not the same as having a nuclear weapon." Following the article's link to the source document from the IISS you get a slightly different take: "Iran nears the point – probably sometime in 2009 – of producing enough low enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon if it is further enriched, the question of how Iran can be stopped from having the Bomb will become increasingly urgent."

OK, so they have a sufficient quantity of LEU that IF/WHEN enriched to HEU and weapons grade (85% +) and IF/WHEN made into a bomb, then Iran would have a nuclear device. Not quite as compelling as "Iran will have a nuke this year", which is what the casual reader would take away after reading this "reporting." This blogger is not sure if this is just a piss-poor article by a "journalist" with zero knowledge on the subject, or if a deliberate attempt to inflate the actuality and "prime the pump" for an attack on Iran...

Weird note: There is a 50-picture gallery titled "Nuclear Iran" that accompanies the article. Looking through the gallery, the pictures don't have much to do with nukes, let alone Iranian nukes. Of the 50 pictures, 10 are of a PMOI/MEK rally - the Mujahedin e-Khalq organization (just delisted by the EU as a terrorist organization over the protestations of the French & still listed as such by the United States). 13 are of Israeli PM Olmert meeting with Gordon Brown, and a further 8 are of Israeli military assets (i.e. strangely enough 42% of the pictures are of the real nuclear power in the Middle East.)

This link at the CATO Institute extracts (from a book by Anthony Cordesman and Khalid al-Rodhan) some historical intelligence estimates re how soon Iran will "have the bomb" going back a decade and a half e.g. from 1992: "A February 1992 report by the U.S. House of Representatives suggests that these two or three nuclear weapons will be operational between February and April 1992.

Financial crisis & hospitals - II

The November 14th blog entry, Financial crisis and hospitals, listed out all the different ways that the economic downturn is negatively impacting most not-for-profit hospitals. In January the American Hospital Association published the results of a survey done in December 2008, that showed the extent of the problem. An extract:

"Hospitals primarily rely on borrowed money, philanthropy and reserves to fund capital projects to improve their ability to meet communities' health care needs, but many now find it difficult to obtain funds from these sources. The vast majority of hospitals report that borrowing funds through tax-exempt bonds - the main source of borrowing for most hospitals - is difficult or impossible. In addition, loans from banks or other financial institutions are similarly difficult to obtain. Hospitals' reserves, or savings, also have taken a hit due to falling stock prices, net income is down and philanthropic donations have slowed, leaving hospitals with less of their own funds to rely on to make needed improvements. Nearly half of hospitals surveyed have postponed projects that were to begin within the next six months and many have stopped projects that were already in progress."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Random chart...

Great explanation how hospital chargemasters work, and how different parties pay significantly different amounts for the same items (Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, etc)

The Pricing of U.S. Hospital Services: Chaos Behind a Veil of Secrecy

Friday, January 23, 2009

Random chart

"Direct-to-consumer" advertisement spending by pharmaceutical companies (Source) A second consecutive year of decline, and 2009 is projected to fall further... Bad news for the various media companies that depend on this revenue...

Misc small oddities...

1. The Daily Dish takes Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) to task for his feeble arguments against closing Guantanamo (and potentially moving the detainees into the U.S.) in 'Brownback's Lamest Reason Ever,' and then turns round and trumps him by coming up with an even lamer reason in 'A Good Reason Against the Transfer.' Hmm, one of the pitfalls of having two different people subbing for you...

2. The EU apparently is on track to delist the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK, aka PMOI People's Mujahideen of Iran) from its list of terrorist organizations. It remains a proscribed organization in the United States...

3. As the economy declines it is also hitting the Gulf states... As these governments dial back their grandiose construction projects, the hired help from South Asia is returning home, abandoning their cars at the airports as they leave... Quote: "... Local police have found at least 3,000 automobiles -- sedans, SUVs, regulars -- abandoned outside Dubai International Airport in the last four months. Police say most of the vehicles had keys in the ignition, a clear sign they were left behind by owners in a hurry to take flight. The global economic crisis has brought Dubai's economic progress, mirrored by its soaring towers and luxurious resorts, to a stuttering halt. Several people have been laid off in the past months after the realty boom started unraveling..."

4. Under the tarmac of Berlin's busiest airport are unexploded munitions left over from World War II. The government will be cleaning these up as they widen the runways to bring them up to international specifications...

5. Per The Washington Note Caroline Kennedy's interest in the Senate seat from New York, held until recently by Hilary Clinton, was to position herself as a successor to Obama in 2016... (theory further developed here...). Mind-boggling!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blog of the day

Blog Awards Winner

Woo! Apparently selected as 'The Blog of the Day' yesterday, January 20th!


You never know what Walid Jumblatt is going to come up with... His latest gem: “I say one more time that a humble job in New York is better than leadership in Lebanon”

With Arslan as host, Jumblatt and Hezbollah MP meet to follow up on truce

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Good stories? (updated)

Picture: The Triumph of Death (Pieter Breugel, Museo del Prado, Madrid)

This blogger read the following article in "Homeland Security News" at the "National Terror Alert Response System," Report - Al Qaeda Unconventional Weapons Experiment Kills 40 Operatives.

An al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria closed a base earlier this month after an experiment with unconventional weapons went awry, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Monday. The official, who spoke on the condition he not be named because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said he could not confirm press reports that the accident killed at least 40 al Qaeda operatives, but he said the mishap led the militant group to shut down a base in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou province in eastern Algeria.

He said authorities in the first week of January intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The communication suggested that an area sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached, according to the official. “We don’t know if this is biological or chemical,” the official said. The story was first reported by the British tabloid the Sun, which said the al Qaeda operatives died after being infected with a strain of bubonic plague, the disease that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century. But the intelligence official dismissed that claim. Source WP.

The Sun - Terrorists Killed By Own Black Death Experiment: The terrorists planned to wreak havoc on Western targets but fell victims to their own weapon, a leading expert on chemical warfare believes. The Sun revealed yesterday that Black Death, also called the Plague, killed at least 40 fanatics at a terror training camp in Algeria earlier this month.

It was thought they caught the disease through poor living conditions in their forest hideouts. But Dr Igor Khrupinov, of Georgia University, said: “Al-Qaeda is known to experiment with biological weapons. And this group has direct communication with other cells around the world. “Contagious diseases, like ebola and anthrax, occur in northern Africa. It makes sense that people are trying to use them against Western governments.” Dr Khrupinov, once arms adviser to Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, added: “Instead of using bombs, people with infectious diseases could be walking through cities.” Black Death has been researched as a biological weapon before. Source, The Sun.

Oh, the horror (sarcasm alert). Well, this article sources to two very similar reports in the Washington Times and The Sun. The former is a serious newspaper (although founded in 1982 by Unification Church founder Sun Myung Moon), while the latter is a British tabloid better known for its "Page 3" topless models. OK, so on reading the article this blogger wasn't very impressed at all. The article seems rather fantastical; mostly anonymously sourced; contradictory - the "intelligence official" said that some mishap closed down the terrorist camp, but also dismissed the claim of plague; the terrorists may have caught the plague "through poor living conditions in their forest hideout" (doesn't quite match up to the accompanying photo of a cave in treeless terrain) or by developing a biological warfare agent; and generally rather foolish.

In sum, the article would have us believe that although the terrorists could have acted as human vectors by walking through cities to infect others (pace Dr. Khrupinov) , they chose to stay and die in their camp rather than hopping a bus to the nearest city. And having developed the plague and having successfully demonstrated its lethality (albeit inadvertently on some of their own members) the terrorists abandoned their weapon and closed their base! Sounds like 'The gang who couldn't shoot straight." And, final note, why would The Sun talk to "a leading expert on chemical warfare" about biological agents?

A second article, "UK Cyber Attack reported" from also bears many of the same hallmarks as the story above i.e somewhat vague on the details, anonymously sourced, a breathless "danger, danger" quality, "unconfirmed reports implied", etc. OK, so this is a reputable organization and their articles generally are top-notch, but this blogger is still a little skeptical on this one.

Do the British really have the fire control and other systems on their naval vessels connected to e-mail and the Internet? Was this really "an attack" vs. an infection. The article references a recent "cyber-attack" on the Pentagon and implies this bug was "similar" though experts were "not willing to say they were identical." Note: the Pentagon response was " to ban the use of USB memory sticks or flash drives", which would seem to be a counter-measure to inadvertent infection and not to "an attack" (unless there was someone that intentionally used a USB memory stick to infect the Pentagon machines, something a tad more serious...).

Next up, JeffreyLockwood, a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, who has just published a book, "Six-Legged Soldiers," purporting to explore the history of man's attempts to use insects for military purposes... While promoting his book (which has been reviewed as not very rigorous, e.g. see here, here and here) , he seems to have hit upon the idea of emphasizing how easy it would be for terrorist to use insects (perhaps to 'goose' sales of his book).

From 'Terrorists could use 'insect-based' biological weapon:' "... Jeffrey Lockwood... said such Rift Valley Fever or other diseases could be transported into a country by a terrorist with a suitcase. He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think a small terrorist cell could very easily develop an insect-based weapon. "He said it would "probably be much easier" than developing a nuclear or chemical weapon, arguing: "The raw material is in the back yard. "He continued: "It would be a relatively easy and simple process. "A few hundred dollars and a plane ticket and you could have a pretty good stab at it."

OK, if this really so easy and so cheap it begs the question as to why this hasn't happened yet... Perhaps the answer is that it is not!

Bottom line, there are many, many stories that appear in the media that on first read appear scary... terrorists, bubonic plague, cyber-attacks, bombs, weapons of mass destruction, etc., etc. While all of these are real things, fantastical stories with little basis in reality are not very useful - they cause unnecessary fear, and simply muddy the water and detract from the real threats (of which there are enough without making more up out of whole cloth...)

Updated Jan 22nd 1700:

The first (plague) story, make that this pile of sludge, was picked up and featured at The Counterterrorism Blog and then at The Daily Dish. The Counterterrorism Blog bills itself as "The first multi-expert blog dedicated solely to counterterrorism issues, serving as a gateway to the community for policymakers and serious researchers. Designed to provide realtime information about terrorism cases and policy developments." Ouch, makes one wonder about the rest of their "analysis"... The Daily Dish subsequently notes that there are questions re this story, referencing "WMD blogger Armchair Generalist." Phew!

Self-congratulatory note: The Armchair Generalist (or at least a "J", who links to The Armchair Generalist in his 'Contact me') came by, read this blog entry and agreed in the comments, prior to penning his excellent take-down...

Monday, January 19, 2009


The March 29th blog entry, Medellin, discussed the SCOTUS decision on Medellin v. Texas, while the August 10th entry, Updates, noted that José E. Medellín had subsequently been executed by lethal injection. Today, January 19th, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States violated the court's March 2004 order when this was done. However, the court refused to interpret the order or to grant a Mexican government request that the U.S. provide guarantees that this would not occur again, stating that these were "issues between the Parties."

ICJ rules US violated court order by executing Mexican national

Iraq update (DoD)

Friday, January 16, 2009


"Those who download movies and music for free would not necessarily purchase those movies and music at the full purchase price..."
- District Judge James P. Jones, Western District of Virginia, in denying a RIAA request for restitution. Finally, some sense applied.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A taxing issue

President-elect Barack Obama nominated Timothy Geithner, current president of the New York Federal reserve, for Treasury Secretary. A minor kerfuffle ensued when it came out that Geithner had not done a very good job paying his taxes for many years...

While working at the IMF from 2001 to 2004 he was supposed to, but did not, pay his own Social Security and Medicare taxes, in addition a several smaller issues (e.g. inappropriate deductions, avoidance of early withdrawal penalties, etc.). This has led to some questioning his fitness to be Treasury Secretary, especially given that this post is responsible for running the IRS.

Geithner advocates point out that he recently paid off the unpaid taxes and arrears, and dismiss the failure to pay as "common mistake," emphasizing the complexity of the nation's tax code. Others fault him more for the failure, pointing out that the IMF informs its employees of their obligation (and several times at that). Additionally, they question why he only paid the back taxes from 2003 and 2004 when a 2006 audit found the error, and not the shortage from 2001/2002. These were only paid shortly before his nomination, leading some to conclude that they were paid now because of the nomination (and that back in 2006 he had taken advantage of a statute of limitations to avoid paying for the two years.)

OK, so this blogger doesn't necessarily feel that Geithner's nomination should be rejected because of this. However, he would prefer a simple apology by the nominee rather than a passel of excuses. It seems to this blogger that the President-elect and his staff are being very dishonest in characterizing this as a "common" tax pay error, and by playing on most Americans' fear/hate of/at the complexity of the tax code.

After all, it would be blindingly obvious to the overwhelming majority of Americans if FICA taxes were not withheld from their paychecks, not something that would be easy to miss! So, Geithner had 26 reminders a year (assuming he was paid bi-weekly) for 4 years, in addition to the official reminders provided by the IMF.

Geithner's Tax History Muddles Confirmation

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Random chart...

Graphs showing increasing US manufacturing productivity and output, with fewer employees as a result of productivity increases...

Monday, January 12, 2009


"If they don't stop after we kill 100, then we must kill a thousand. And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don't stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop."

- Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, speaking re Gaza. He was being interviewed re a ruling made by his father, former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, who wrote a letter to Prime Minister Olmert stating that all civilians living in Gaza are collectively guilty for Kassam attacks on Sderot and that there was absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


“We have to acknowledge that at the present moment planned measures are being fulfilled more slowly than expected and, most important, more slowly than the current situation demands."

- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, today, in a possible swipe at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Hmm, perhaps small indicator that May 9th 'Musical chairs' entry may not be totally off base.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Random chart...

Filibusters from the 101st to the 110th Congress...One wonders how many there will be in the 111th Congress (session which has just started), and over the next four years of a President Obama...

Serious comics

The Underground War in Gaza - "As the peace process lurches forward (and backward), towns like Rafah are still at war. A comic-book journalist reports on the battle over Palestinian tunnels and Israeli bulldozers" (Note: 4-page PDF)

Trauma on Loan - 8-page PDF comic on Iraqi prisoner abuse... Both works by Joe Sacco.

The Art of War - Mother Jones interview
Joe Sacco on Palestine - Al Jazeera interview

Friday, January 9, 2009


President-elect Obama recently chose Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon better known as CNN's chief health correspondent, for the post of Surgeon General of the United States. In response Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) circulated a "Dear Colleague" letter criticizing the pick and inviting others to join him in signing a letter of protest.

The web site Wonkette takes down Conyers, tongue firmly planted in cheek!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Irony alert!

There's usually a rich vein of irony running through politics, generally not very far from the surface, and gems surface (or may be mined) on a fairly regular basis.... Some examples:

Today, Senators McCain, Feingold, McCaskill (D-MO), and Coburn (R-OK) unveiled "... a landmark bill they will try to add as an amendment to the economic stimulus legislation..." The goal of this legislation is to add transparency requirements for earmarks in fiscal appropriations' bills, in an effort to reduce or eliminate these "pet projects". OK, these Senators want to end the practice of adding pet projects as amendments to must-have legislation by... adding this legislation as an amendment to must-have legislation! Priceless!

In an article Maura Moynihan defends Caroline Kennedy's credentials to be Senator from New York and disagrees with the criticism that Kennedy is just trading on her family name. Moynihan's credentials on the subject? Her father was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Senator from New York from 1976 to 2000! So, Caroline Kennedy defended against charges of trading on her family name by someone trading on her family name! Priceless!

In the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, senior BJP politicians (the principal opposition party) called for the ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to be lifted. They also criticized the Sri Lankan government for insisting that the insurgents lay down their arms as a precondition for any talks! OK, this from the politicians denouncing the Indian government for not acting more forcefully in the wake of the recent Mumbai attacks, and agitating for attacks on Pakistan. One wonders how well they would take an admonition from the Sri Lankan government to parley with Laskkar-e-Taiba!

Back to the United states. In Congress there is a lot of reaction to the news that the nation's deficit is projected at over USD 1 trillion. The Republicans, those paragons of virtue who fiercely defend the people's money from the government's depredations (though somehow nly when the Democrats are in power!) are shocked, shocked. “This morning’s announcement by the Congressional Budget Office that the deficit now stands at nearly $1.2 trillion is a stunning and sobering reminder that Congress must strengthen its efforts to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) chimed in, “... with Congress set to consider what may be the largest spending bill ever, we hope Democratic leaders in Congress will join us in protecting taxpayers by ensuring the appropriate committees review the bill to avoid waste..."

And from a non-political sphere... Recent research shows that melting icebergs in the ocean around Antarctica may actually slow global warming. How? Apparently the iron particles they carry feed algae blooms that suck up CO2. Could man-made algae blooms in the frigid waters help combat climate change?

Pet peeve

Picture credit: AFP / Getty Images

This blogger gets extremely annoyed by Senators (past and present) acting as if they own their seats, as opposed to filling them 'temporarily' per the OK of the electorate. And this is abetted by journalists and political commentators. Thus, all references are to "Obama's seat," "Clinton's seat," etc. Granted, it's just the press being lazy (it is true that it is easier and 'shorthand' to refer to "Obama's seat" than to specify "the Illinois Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama").

However, this blogger would argue that anything that makes these politicians feel that they have any "ownership" of "their" seats be strongly discouraged. This only adds to their feeling that they can decide or have a large say in who gets the seat once they leave, and contributes to the nepotism, etc. that occurs. Once the electorate speaks (e.g. Norm Coleman), they move to another position (Ken Salazar, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, etc.), retire, or die it should be "thanks for your service" and no more.

Oh, and what is vice-president elect Joe Biden up to? Why exactly did he run for re-election, get sworn in, and now is going on a Senate fact-finding mission to Southwest Asia??

Saturday, January 3, 2009

2012 science

OK, so the movie 2012 is set to debut in July. The trailer is sort of cool, but is there really enough water in the world to swamp the Himalayas (with a hundred peaks higher than 7,200 m i.e. 23,600 feet) or even, say, Lhasa at 12,000 feet above sea level?? Oh, and the ocean's fairly far away!