Wednesday, December 28, 2011

How to argue with right-wing relatives

There comes a time at most large family gatherings when a heated political argument breaks out. And by “heated political argument” what I mean is “someone just repeats something they heard on Hannity’s radio show that you know to be completely untrue.” You may be the lone liberal in a conservative family, or you may have one right-wing uncle in your left-wing family, but this will happen. What to do?

If you have a “smart phone,” just bookmark Snopes now. That’ll take care of the really weird stuff. (Well, not this level of weird, but “I read that airlines don’t pair Christian pilots and co-pilots in case The Rapture happens” weird.)

But a right-wing myth generally lives on forever, no many how many times it is debunked. You are powerless to prevent its spread. All you can do is perhaps convince one person that one talk radio meme is completely bogus. But you will probably have better luck simply changing the subject. (Suggestions: Whether or not Peyton Manning will be a Colt next season, “American Horror Story,” Jay-Z and Beyonce’s baby.)

Lost Money: $41 Billion In Gift Cards Haven't Been Redeemed Since 2005

Long Overdue Shelf Cleanup

By Elvis, I am actually getting things done!

Just freed up room for another shelf, pulled most of my paperbacks out of storage, and finally alpha sorted the DVD collection. For the first time in two years, I am not sick over the holiday week, and things are getting done.

Now, I only have to totally clean up the upstairs, go through a hundred Rubbermaid tubs, and EBay off the excess that is salable. I had hoped to do this after my Mom's death, before moving back to my own house (I was doing home health care for her onsite). Things did not work out so well, and I had severe health issues as a result. Respiratory illnesses two years running. The start of osteoarthritis. Loss of endurance.

I'm in a much healthier workplace now, and doing much better. I even rode my bike this year. :)

Who knows? I might even have space for other people to sit down.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Ben Nelson's retirement leaves Dems with a bleak Senate outlook

The odds of Democrats clinging to control of the Senate just got that much steeper.

Sen. Ben Nelson’s retirement deals a mental and mathematical blow to a party already struggling to maintain its tenuous four-seat majority.

Iran threatens to close key Gulf oil route over nuclear sanctions

Iran threatened on Tuesday to stop the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz if foreign sanctions were imposed on its crude exports over its nuclear ambitions, a move that could trigger military conflict with economies dependent on Gulf oil.

U.S. nuclear sub nearly hit freighter near B.C.

A freighter captain's keen eye helped avert a run-in with a nuclear-powered American submarine in Juan de Fuca Strait, a body of water that splits Washington state and B.C. coasts, according to a U.S. periodical.

The incident, which saw the freighter and submarine come within 800 metres of each other, took place in early October but is only coming to light this week, says the Navy Times, which calls itself "an independent source for news and information for the navy community."

The Navy Times says that at around 8 a.m. PT on Oct. 12, the USS Kentucky ballistic-missile submarine had its periscope above water, but was otherwise hidden below the surface when it turned onto a new course that was blocked by a cargo ship.

The submarine's commanding officer, concerned about a trawler, ordered a change of course, but neither he nor the officer of the deck looked through the periscope to check if the course was clear.

The captain of the Totem Ocean ship Midnight Sun, which makes runs between Tacoma, Wash., and Anchorage, saw the periscope and began turning to avoid the collision.

After being informed via a radio call from the outside, the submarine's crew discovered their error and began manoeuvres to avoid hitting the ship.

The Navy Times, which filed a request for a report on the incident under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, wrote that Cmdr. Joseph Nosse, who was serving as commanding officer for the USS Kentucky, was fired on Oct. 19 for "inadequate leadership" stemming from a number of incidents.

The U.S. navy would not comment on the incident, and said it is policy not to discuss current submarine operations.

U.S. Prepares for a Curtailed Relationship With Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — With the United States facing the reality that its broad security partnership with Pakistan is over, American officials are seeking to salvage a more limited counterterrorism alliance that they acknowledge will complicate their ability to launch attacks against extremists and move supplies into Afghanistan.

Airfares With Less Fine Print

Advertisements that make airfares seem enticingly low will soon lose that asterisk pointing to a dense paragraph of additional taxes and fees that make a cheap ticket much more costly.

Beginning Jan. 24, the Transportation Department will enforce a rule requiring that any advertised price for air travel include all government taxes and fees. For the last 25 years, the department has allowed airlines and travel agencies to list government-imposed fees separately, resulting in a paragraph of fine print disclaimers about charges that can add 20 percent or more to a ticket’s price.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Observations 26 DEC 2011

A grey, rainy Boxing Day.

Got calls from friends, made a few calls, did laundry, unpacked books, took trash out. Tomorrow, I pay my personal property tax. Excitement. Maybe I should start Twittering each sneeze...

The House GOP may have just handed Obama the election.

Confession: I went back to the political board under a new name. Almost immediately, my old adversaries moved to have me banned, again. It is nice to be loved and wanted. :) It was fun to tweak them while it lasted.

Let them have their sandbox. I have mine. They are fre to visit and comment like everyone else.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

One Nation, Under Arms

The private papers of the late George F. Kennan, Cold War architect and diplomat extraordinaire, reveal his anguish over the way his famous 1947 warning about Soviet expansionism helped transform the America he loved into one he no longer recognized: a national-security state.

FAA to issue rules aimed at tired airline pilots

WASHINGTON – Nearly three years after the deadly crash of a regional airliner flown by two exhausted pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration is releasing rules aimed at preventing airline pilots from flying while dangerously fatigued.

What makes someone an angry drunk?

Impulsive, live-in-the-moment types are likely to become aggressive when they're intoxicated, according to a new study from Ohio State University's Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at the school. "We already know that alcohol increases aggression. And people who have aggressive personality traits also tend not to think about the consequences of their actions," Bushman says. "You put the two together, and it's really a toxic mix."

Tax System Seen as Unfair, in Need of Overhaul

Public dissatisfaction with the tax system has grown over the past decade, and the focus of the public’s frustration is not how much they themselves pay, but rather the impression that wealthy people are not paying their fair share.

'We The People': NPR Readers Would Ratify Four New Amendments

2. The Electoral College should be abolished and presidents should be elected by popular vote.

75 percent voted to ratify
25 percent voted against ratification

3. Campaign contributions to any candidate for office in the United States government from any entity shall not exceed those limits set for citizens. Corporations, companies, unions, PACs and other organizations shall not be considered citizens.

86 percent voted to ratify
14 percent voted against ratification

7. The rights enumerated in the Constitution are expressly for the benefit of living human beings. Corporations are expressly denied any claim of protection under the Bill of Rights.

82 percent voted to ratify
17 percent voted against ratification

10. No member of Congress shall become a lobbyist or a consultant for anyone or any company or business doing business with the United States government once they have completed their service in Congress, nor shall any member of their immediate family.

67 percent voted to ratify
32 percent voted against ratification

Split Religion For GOP.

The day of split Republican endorsements reflects a Republican religious base that is largely fractured just two weeks before the first-in-the-nation Republican caucuses.

The dynamic could portend trouble for the eventual Republican nominee, raising the prospect of a less than enthusiastic evangelical base in the general election, like Sen. John McCain faced in 2008. It could also mean a diluted evangelical role in choosing a nominee.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We're # 1!

Since too much inequality can foment revolt and instability, the CIA regularly updates statistics on income distribution for countries around the world, including the U.S. Between 1997 and 2007, inequality in the U.S. grew by almost 10 percent, making it more unequal than Russia, infamous for its powerful oligarchs. The U.S. is not faring well historically, either. Even the Roman Empire, a society built on conquest and slave labor, had a more equitable income distribution.

Minnesota State GOP staggered by debt, scandal

Party leaders and activists across the state spent Saturday searching for a path forward even as they were absorbing the shocking departures of the Senate majority leader and one of her top aides. Their resignations came just weeks after that of the state party chairman.

"Right now Republican activists are very upset, almost sad, depressed," said Pat Anderson, a former state auditor who serves on the Republican National Committee. "We are going to have that for awhile."

It's been a stunning twist for a party that a year ago was savoring historic legislative victories and came within a whisker of winning the governor's office. Now it must try to bail itself out of debt, hold onto majorities in the state House and Senate, mount a credible challenge to popular Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and campaign for a proposed state constitutional amendment that would preclude gay marriage -- all with a new set of leaders.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Alabama Residents Furious Over Possible Rate Increases: ‘If They Let This Stuff Happen They Are Going to Get the Biggest Riot the South Has Ever Seen’

So how did this all start?

Sewage and water rates (on average) have increased faster than inflation because the federal government has demanded that cities replace their “worn-out” sewer facilities to meet federal clean-water standards.

When a federal judge forced Jefferson County to upgrade its outdated sewer system, officials decided to finance the project with bonds.

“Outside advisers suggested a series of complex deals with variable-rate interest . . . Loan payments rose quickly because of increasing interest rates as global credit markets struggled, and the county could no longer afford its payments,” Bloomberg reports. That’s why Jefferson County residents have seen a 329 percent increase in their rates over the past decade and a half–the county has been trying to finance these new facilities.

The sewage system was supposed to cost $300 million. However, since the project started in 1996, the costs have risen to $3.1 billion after various problems and a series of bond and derivatives deals fell through in 2008.

Not surprisingly, a large amount of corruption was involved.

JP Morgan Securities and two of its former directors have been fined for trying to bribe to Jefferson County employees and politicians in a bid to win business financing for the sewer project. Six former Jefferson County commissioners have been found guilty of accepting bribes, along with 15 other state officials.

As a result of the bad investments and government corruption, current county commissioners have been forced to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy (which gives the county the right to stop paying some bills temporarily so that it can organize its finances), the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history

Wager on elections? You bet

More Americans may soon be able to openly wager in the markets about whether President Barack Obama wins re-election or Republicans gain control of the Senate.

Political junkies have previously placed “bets” on the presidential race through the Iowa Electronic Markets and the Irish exchange Intrade. But the federally regulated market being set up by Chicago-based Nadex has a major difference – they could cash in.

Iraqis ask U.S.: Why so many mistakes?

In the moments after the last American convoy departed from Iraq, one of our Iraqi colleagues, echoing a thought we'd heard time and time again, said: "We thank the U.S. for getting rid of Saddam, but not for anything that happened afterwards."

Iraq Timeline

FBI considered a sting aimed at Newt Gingrich in 1997

It is a curious case in the annals of the FBI: The bureau considered a sting operation against then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich after sifting through allegations from a notorious arms dealer that a $10 million bribe might get Congress to lift the Iraqi arms embargo.

The FBI ended up calling off the operation in June 1997. It decided there was no evidence that Gingrich knew anything about the conversations the arms dealer was secretly recording with a man who said he was acting on behalf of Gingrich’s then-wife, Marianne, according to people with knowledge of the investigation.

Greg Davis, Mississippi Mayor, Reveals He Is Gay After Audit Reveals Visit To Adult Store

Davis, a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 on a conservative platform, has been under a criminal investigation for allegedly misusing $170,000 on both city-issued and personal credit cards -- $96,000 of which he has reportedly has repaid so far. "These expenses submitted by Mayor Davis as official events and purchases on behalf of the city are a betrayal of the public's trust, and I intend to pursue the recovery of this money to the fullest extent of the law," State Auditor Stacey Pickering told Fox News in November. "Clothing purchases, family counseling and personal meals and entertainment are in no way authorized expenses for the city and should not be paid for on the taxpayers' dime."

Gingrich: Capitol Police Could Arrest ‘Radical’ Judges

Newt Gingrich on Sunday hammered at the nation’s judiciary system, saying that if a court’s decision was out of step with American popular opinion, it should be ignored.

There’s “no reason the American people need to tolerate a judge that out of touch with American culture,” Gingrich said on CBS’ Face the Nation, referring to a case where a judge ruled that explicit references to religion were barred from a high school graduation ceremony. And Gingrich recently has said judges should have to explain some of their decisions before Congress.

Host Bob Schieffer asked Gingrich how he planned to enforce that. Would you call in the Capitol Police to apprehend a federal judge, he asked.

“If you had to,” Gingrich said. “Or you’d instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshall in.”

A judge should have to explain his or her radical decisions, Gingrich emphasized again. Gingrich’s tough words against the judiciary branch have drawn fire from even conservatives. Former attorney general under President George W. Bush, Michael Mukasey, told Fox News that Gingrich’s proposals were “dangerous” and “totally irresponsible.”

Gingrich claims his tough stance is part of a key question going into the 2012 elections: “Do you want to move towards American exceptionalism, reassert the Constitution, reassert the nature of America, or do you, in fact, want to become a secular, European, sort of bureaucratic socialist society?”

In U.S., Many More Dreading Than Anticipating 2012 Campaign

Why young evangelicals are leaving church

Republican conservatives should be worried. Evangelical churches that frequently support conservative candidates are finally admitting something the rest of us have known for some time: Their young adult members are abandoning church in significant numbers and taking their voting power with them.

David Kinnaman, the 38-year-old president of the Barna Group, an evangelical research firm, is the latest to sound the alarm. In his new book, "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith," he says that 18- to 29-year-olds have fallen down a "black hole" of church attendance. There is a 43% drop in Christian church attendance between the teen and early adult years, he says.

I'm not surprised. These young dropouts value the sense of community their churches provide but are tired of being told how they should live their lives. They don't appreciate being condemned for living with a partner, straight or gay, outside of marriage or opting for abortion to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.

This doesn't mean that they necessarily will vote for President Obama in 2012. Jobs and higher wages are their priority just as they are for everyone else; the nominee who convinces the millennials that they'll be better off financially will get their vote. But if neither party is persuasive, the former evangelicals may vote Democratic because of that party's more moderate stance on social issues. Or they could simply sit out the election.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

CEO pay jumps 36.5%

Damn those lazy Occupiers!

'A new chapter': US officially ends Iraq war

BAGHDAD -- Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta marked the end of the U.S. war in Iraq at a highly symbolic ceremony Thursday.

U.S. soldiers rolled up the flag for American forces in Iraq and slipped it into a camouflage-colored sleeve, formally "casing" it, according to Army tradition.

Panetta said veterans of the nearly nine-year conflict can be "secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani were invited to the ceremony but did not attend.

Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in a war that began with a "Shock and Awe" campaign of missiles pounding Baghdad, but later descended into a bloody sectarian struggle between long-oppressed majority Shiites and their former Sunni masters.

"After a lot of blood spilled by Iraqis and Americans, the mission of an Iraq that could govern and secure itself has become real," Panetta added.

Working-age poor population highest since '60s

Working-age America is the new face of poverty.

Counting adults 18-64 who were laid off in the recent recession as well as single twenty-somethings still looking for jobs, the new working-age poor represent nearly 3 out of 5 poor people — a switch from the early 1970s when children made up the main impoverished group.

While much of the shift in poverty is due to demographic changes — Americans are having fewer children than before — the now-weakened economy and limited government safety net for workers are heightening the effect.

Currently, the ranks of the working-age poor are at the highest level since the 1960s when the war on poverty was launched. When new census figures for 2010 are released next week, analysts expect a continued increase in the overall poverty rate due to persistently high unemployment last year.

If that holds true, it will mark the fourth year in a row of increases in the U.S. poverty rate, which now stands at 14.3 percent, or 43.6 million people.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Immigration crackdown also snares Americans

A growing number of United States citizens have been detained under Obama administration programs intended to detect illegal immigrants who are arrested by local police.

In a spate of recent cases across the country, American citizens have been confined in local jails after federal immigration agents, acting on flawed information from Department of Homeland Security databases, instructed the police to hold them for investigation and possible deportation.

Americans said their vehement protests that they were citizens went unheard by local police and jailers for days, with no communication with federal immigration agents to clarify the situation. Any case where an American is held, even briefly, for immigration investigation is a potential wrongful arrest because immigration agents lack legal authority to detain citizens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Household electricity bills skyrocket

Households paid a record $1,419 on average for electricity in 2010, the fifth consecutive yearly increase above the inflation rate, a USA TODAY analysis of government data found. The jump has added about $300 a year to what households pay for electricity. That's the largest sustained increase since a run-up in electricity prices during the 1970s.

Electricty is consuming a greater share of Americans' after-tax income than at any time since 1996 — about $1.50 of every $100 in income at a time when income growth has stagnated, a USA TODAY analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data found.

The man who predicted the European debt crisis

Europe’s politicians are making a hash out of the once-proud project of United Europe, and, in the process, making a prophet out of Martin Feldstein.

In 1997, before the first euro note had rolled off the presses, the Harvard economist surveyed Europe’s plans for a single currency and, in a lengthy essay in Foreign Affairs, predicted that they would come to grief.

Like many of his colleagues, Feldstein doubted the single currency’s economic viability absent political and fiscal union.

What Feldstein saw with special clarity, though, was the disaster that would ensue even — or perhaps especially — if Europe tried to increase political and fiscal union for the sake of monetary union.

As Feldstein wrote: “A political union of European nations is conceived of as a way of reducing the risk of another intra-European war among the individual nation-states. But the attempt to manage a monetary union and the subsequent development of a political union are more likely to have the opposite effect. Instead of increasing intra-European harmony and global peace, the shift to [monetary union] and the political integration that would follow it would be more likely to lead to increased conflicts within Europe and between Europe and the United States.”

Feldstein foresaw that the trigger for political tension would be a sharp economic downturn, imposing different levels of unemployment on different members of the monetary union, because high-unemployment countries could not recover their competitiveness through currency devaluation.

Wi-Fi beats cellular for tablet connections

Wireless carriers may be pricing themselves out of the tablet market; a new study shows that more tablet owners are choosing to use Wi-Fi only connections instead of cellular for their devices.

“There are multiple reasons for greater Wi-Fi reliance,” said Eddie Hold, vice president of Connected Intelligence, a part of The NPD Group. “Concern over the high cost of cellular data plans is certainly an issue, but more consumers are finding that Wi-Fi is available in the majority of locations where they use their tablets, providing them ‘good enough’ connectivity. In addition, the vast majority of tablet users already own a smartphone, which fulfills the ‘must have’ connectivity need.”

US halts $700 million in aid to Pakistan, demands action on Taliban bombs

ISLAMABAD - The United States has frozen $700 million in aid to Pakistan until it gets assurances that Islamabad is helping fight the spread of homemade bombs, a move likely to further strain ties between the countries.

A Congressional panel halted the payment to Pakistan, a nuclear-armed country that is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, late on Monday as part of a wider review of defense spending.

Calls are growing in the U.S. to penalize Islamabad for failing to act against militant groups and, at worst, helping them, after the secret U.S. raid on a Pakistan garrison town in which al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was killed in May.

Bill would permit robo-calls to your cell phone

James Murdoch warned over phone hacking, e-mail shows

Correspondence released Tuesday shows that James Murdoch was warned in writing of the seriousness of a threat to sue his News of the World newspaper over phone hacking in 2008.

"Unfortunately it is as bad as we feared," the editor of the tabloid e-mailed proprietor Murdoch about the case, according to a copy of the correspondence published by Parliament Tuesday.

The e-mail from Colin Myler appears to undercut Murdoch's repeated testimony that he did not know details about phone-hacking by his employees.

Murdoch concedes in a letter to lawmakers, also published Tuesday, that he replied to the e-mail, but he does not admit having read it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Albert Pujols is leaving St. Louis. Rejoice!

The liberation of St. Louis begins now.

Albert Pujols is leaving the city and you are free, dear people, to speak the truth. No longer do you have to cower. No longer do you have to worry about stern looks and furious retorts. No longer do you have to tiptoe around the mighty slugger and his Ruthian numbers, fearful that he might say to hell with riverboat casinos and go elsewhere, someplace warmer. No longer do you have to mindlessly utter the Cardinal company lines about all of Pujols' charity work and family life and what a wonderful person he is.

With Thursday's news that Pujols has agreed to a 10-year, $254 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Cardinals officials, players and fans are finally permitted say what has gone unsaid far too long -- that Albert Pujols is a pain in the rear.

Pakistan says U.S. drones in its air space will be shot down

According to the new Pakistani defense policy, "Any object entering into our air space, including U.S. drones, will be treated as hostile and be shot down," a senior Pakistani military official told NBC News.

The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Compulsive gamblers place risky bets because they are 'superstitious'

Compulsive gamblers place risky bets because they are 'superstitious'

Read more:

Compulsive gamblers place risky bets because they suffer from flawed reasoning and superstition, according to scientists.

The more impulsive the gambler, then the more likely he is to carry a lucky charm and explain away recent losses on bad luck.

Read more:

Schools on military bases outdoing public schools

How to explain the difference?

It has become fashionable for American educators to fly off to Helsinki to investigate how schools there produce such high-achieving Finns. But for just $69.95 a night, they can stay at the Days Inn in Jacksonville, N.C., and investigate how the schools here on the Camp Lejeune Marine base produce such higher-achieving Americans — both black and white.

They would find that the schools on base are not subject to former President George W. Bush's signature education program, No Child Left Behind, or to President Barack Obama's Race to the Top. They would find that standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.

They would find Leigh Anne Kapiko, the principal at Tarawa Terrace Elementary, one of seven schools here.

Test preparation? "No," Kapiko said. "That's not done in Department of Defense schools. We don't even have test prep materials."

At schools here, standardized tests are used as originally intended, to identify a child's academic weaknesses and assess the effectiveness of the curriculum.

Kapiko has been a principal both inside and outside the gates, and believes that military base schools are more nurturing than public schools. "We don't have to be so regimented, since we're not worried about a child's ability to bubble on a test," she said.

Military children are not put through test prep drills. "For us," Kapiko said, "children are children; they're not little Marines."

Under Obama's education agenda, state governments can now dictate to principals how to run their schools. In Tennessee — which is ranked 41st in NAEP scores and has made no significant progress in closing the black-white achievement gap on those tests in 20 years — the state now requires four formal observations a year for all teachers, regardless of whether the principal thinks they are excellent or weak. The state has declared that half of a teacher's rating must be based on student test scores.

Kapiko, on the other hand, has discretion in how to evaluate her teachers. For the most effective, she does one observation a year. That gives her and her assistant principal time for walk-through visits in every classroom every day.

"We don't micromanage," said Marilee Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, the agency that supervises the military base schools and their 87,000 students. "Individual schools decide what to focus on."

A family's economic well-being has considerable impact on how students score on standardized tests, and it is hard to make exact comparisons between military and public school families. But by one indicator, families at military base schools and public schools have similar earnings: The portion of students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches is virtually identical at both, about 46 percent.

What is clear is that the base schools have made impressive progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

In the last decade, the gap in reading between black and white fourth-graders at base schools has dipped to 11 points this year (233 compared with 222), down from a 16-point difference in 2003 (230 compared with 214), a 31 percent reduction. In public schools, there has been a smaller decrease, to a 26-point gap this year (231 compared with 205) from 30 points in 2002 (227 compared with 197), a 13 percent reduction.

Engineers from St. Louis share top-secret work on Cold War spy satellite

We Need Globes

It’s hard not to wonder if the globe’s decline in prestige has anything to do with the dawn of geobrowser technologies like Google Earth. How can a spinning piece of cardboard stack up against a multi-terabyte virtual globe that includes 3-D buildings and trees, real-time weather and traffic, even underwater terrain complete with shipwrecks? I recently discovered that a bird’s-eye view of my Labrador retriever patrolling my backyard can now be glimpsed in the latest version of Google Earth. My office globe, by contrast, doesn’t even have room for Fresno, Calif.

But there may be hope for the humble globe. Bound atlases have stood up to digital encroachment much better than encyclopedias, because no screen can yet duplicate the tactile, immersive experience of exploring the Earth via paper maps. Globes have the same advantage, only in three dimensions. I’ve been typing these last few paragraphs amid constant interruptions from my 4-year-old daughter, who can’t keep her hands off the globe at my side. “Are these mountains?” she wants to know, rubbing her fingers over the relief of the Andes. “Why does this red line stay in the same place when I spin the world?” she asks about the equator.

A globe may be just an inexpensive cardboard sphere, but, more than 2,000 years after its invention, it’s still the real-life artifact that most closely resembles Jorge Luis Borges’ fictional “Aleph”—the object that makes all points of the universe visible at once. Google Earth may have the whole world, but to have the whole world in your hands, like the old spiritual says, you need a globe.

A few hacker teams do most China-based data theft

As few as 12 different Chinese groups, largely backed or directed by the government there, commit the bulk of the China-based cyberattacks stealing critical data from U.S. companies and government agencies, according to U.S. cybersecurity analysts and experts.

The aggressive but stealthy attacks, which have stolen billions of dollars in intellectual property and data, often carry distinct signatures allowing U.S. officials to link them to certain hacker teams. Analysts say the U.S. often gives the attackers unique names or numbers, and at times can tell where the hackers are and even who they may be.

Sketched out by analysts who have worked with U.S. companies and the government on computer intrusions, the details illuminate recent claims by American intelligence officials about the escalating cyber threat emanating from China. And the widening expanse of targets, coupled with the expensive and sensitive technologies they are losing, is putting increased pressure on the U.S. to take a much harder stand against the communist giant.

It is largely impossible for the U.S. to prosecute hackers in China, since it requires reciprocal agreements between the two countries, and it is always difficult to provide ironclad proof that the hacking came from specific people.

Several analysts described the Chinese attacks, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigations and to protect the privacy of clients. China has routinely rejected allegations of cyberspying and says it also is a target.

"Industry is already feeling that they are at war," said James Cartwright, a retired Marine general and former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Doggies 2, Hunters 0.

Police employ Predator drone spy planes on home front,0,324348.story

Armed with a search warrant, Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke went looking for six missing cows on the Brossart family farm in the early evening of June 23. Three men brandishing rifles chased him off, he said.

Janke knew the gunmen could be anywhere on the 3,000-acre spread in eastern North Dakota. Fearful of an armed standoff, he called in reinforcements from the state Highway Patrol, a regional SWAT team, a bomb squad, ambulances and deputy sheriffs from three other counties.

He also called in a Predator B drone.

As the unmanned aircraft circled 2 miles overhead the next morning, sophisticated sensors under the nose helped pinpoint the three suspects and showed they were unarmed. Police rushed in and made the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare.

But that was just the start. Local police say they have used two unarmed Predators based at Grand Forks Air Force Base to fly at least two dozen surveillance flights since June. The FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration have used Predators for other domestic investigations, officials said.

Alabama Can't Find Anyone to Fill Illegal Immigrants' Old Jobs

Alabama agriculture officials are stumped over how to keep farms operating now that the state's draconian new immigration law chased away all of the low paid (however illegal) labor.

As waistlines expand, boat capacity sinks

Think Kids With Lasers, But Worse

No stopping this, if some of these weapons go on the market

Police test for riot laser that can temporarily blind

A new laser designed to temporarily blind people is going to be trialled by police.

Called the SMU 100 it costs £25,000 and sends out a three-metre "wall of light" that leaves anyone caught in it briefly unable to see.

Designed by a former Royal Marine Commando, it was originally developed for use against pirates in Somalia.

It's makers claim an unnamed police force is set to trial the device which could be used against rioters.

Since the riots in several English towns and cities over the summer there has been extensive examination of the tools and tactics police use for large-scale crowd trouble.

While tasers and CS gas work well over short distances the laser is said to be effective at up to 500 metres (1,640ft).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

After The Smoke Clears- The Next America

This is a speculation on what might be the condition of the continental US, post 2050-60. I'll have been dead for at least a generation by then.


Borderer/Scots-Irish culture remains the deciding factor in American politics.

Natural resources will be even more precious, and shorter in supply. Energy is easier to obtain than petroleum, or more tellingly, water. Food depends on all three.

The US will be forced willy-nilly back to the Northern and Western Hemispheres, with perhaps Japan and the English speaking countries as exceptions. Economics, and more effective enemies will force this.

This cycle will follow the pattern of the Civil War, with much less bloodshed.

Currently, the US is geographically purple, with large urban centers surrounded by large rural zones. This year, migration to the Sun Belt effectively stopped- a portent. The South and West are very energy intensive places to live, and dominated by Borderer culture. The West knows all too well about the coming water war. Note what happened in Texas this year with the drought.

When the curtain raises, there may, or may not be a "United States" as an official government. The country will have, de facto, split into four regions. State boundaries may, or may not be retained (see "How the States Got Thier Shapes"). The Rio Grande, and Red/Arkansas Rivers, along with the Ohio and Missouri rivers may well be the new borders for many of the new regions. Water is key. Access to the sea is also key.

The first "American"region, loosely, is Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Coast north of, say Oxnard, and mostly west of the Sierras and Cascades. This region depends on trade with Asia, natural resources, and ample fresh water. BC, and Alberta may effectively join them. LA and San Diego become effectively part of the Mexamerica complex that forms from the end of Mexico's Civil War. Mexamerica divides the Pacific region from the second "American" region- The Old West. This area is bounded by the Rio Grande to Santa Fe, and then irregularly northwestwards towards Montana and Idaho. It halts on the eastern and northern sides by the TX/LA border, and the Missouri river. Water is worth more than human life, as are extractable resources. A plutocracy rules over a very restive, thirsty, and desperate population.

The third region is The South. It shares the shape of the Old Confederacy closely. The real border is where air conditioning is needed for survival. Economically and morally humbled by history, the South has reverted into the Celtic Wars written large. The Borderers know that they are the guilty parties, but, like Reconstruction, will never admit it.

No responsible party pretends that this region is more than a banana republic. Contracts are hard to enforce, and the population is poor, tribal and hostile to any outside influence. There is a constant outflow of refugees fleeing the South. Florida has trade ties to the outside world (and it's own weird culture), and there is some industry, plus the mouth of the Mississippi River for trade. The region is energy intensive, and subject to natural disasters on a regular basis. Only the coasts are relatively safe, for tourism, and trade.

The last region is the North. It has finally divorced it's alcoholic, abusive spouse. It is attending a Twelve Step Program. The North is poorer than the Old Golden Age America, but better adjusted and healthier. It has close ties to Canada (sans Quebec), and the other Anglo countries. There is more than enough water. The North retained the nukes, and is still a major air, space, and naval power. (The North rents Florida's Space Coast, much to the chagrin of the South) The standard of living is below the UK, EU, and Canada, but far superior to the South and Old West. Shorter distances, large amounts of hydro and nuclear power, and the restoration of the northern tier states agriculture system without oil have made the North self supporting. Trade with Africa and Europe is also strong. cheap electric heating makes winter barely bearable.

It is as if the North had given up on the South in 1865. Recovery from the destructive relationship more than makes up for the loss of world prestige. The rest of the world has it's own problems. The destruction of Israel merely resulted in an exodus of it's best citizens to the US, UK, and EU. The Middle East is in constant war. China, Russia, and India are fighting out "The Great Game". The Brits get to mock all of them with Kipling quotes. Japan has long since gone nuclear, and is actively trying to get into space, and away from China.

It's a great era to relax in front of the TV, drink cheap beer, and watch the Cardinals. All it took was forty years of sheer hell...

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Politics of Economics in the Age of Shouting

In the Internet age, anyone can be an expert, and anyone who says otherwise is an elitist.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Britain expels Iranian diplomats after torching of embassy in Tehran

LONDON • Britain ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the U.K. within 48 hours and shuttered its ransacked embassy in Tehran on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tension between Iran and the West.

The ouster of the entire Iranian diplomatic corps deepens Iran's international isolation amid growing suspicions over its nuclear program. At least four other European countries also moved to reduce diplomatic contacts with Iran.

The British measures were announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said Britain had withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff after mobs stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran, hauling down Union Jack flags, torching a vehicle and tossing looted documents through windows.

Read more:

Internet Rage

"It is possible, though, that there is just more bitterness out there than we realized before the Internet brought us closer to people’s rawest, quickest, uncensored thoughts. (That rooting around for a stamp, the walk to the mailbox through the fresh air, the name at the bottom of the letter, did seem to have a mitigating effect on expressions of blind hatred.)"