07/16/2012 archive

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Paul Krugman: Policy and the Personal

A lot of people inside the Beltway are tut-tutting about the recent campaign focus on Mitt Romney’s personal history – his record of profiting even as workers suffered, his mysterious was-he-or-wasn’t-he role at Bain Capital after 1999, his equally mysterious refusal to release any tax returns from before 2010. Some of the tut-tutters are upset at any suggestion that this election is about the rich versus the rest. Others decry the personalization: why can’t we just discuss policy?

And neither group is living in the real world.

First of all, this election really is – in substantive, policy terms – about the rich versus the rest.

Tim Karr: Freedom = Censorship?

Think you have the right to speak freely via cellphones, websites and social media? Well, the companies that provide you with access to the Internet don’t.

The framers drafted the First Amendment as a check on government authority – not corporate power. But whether we’re texting friends, sharing photos on Facebook, or posting updates on Twitter, we’re connecting with each other and the Internet via privately controlled networks.

And the owners of these networks are now twisting the intent of the First Amendment to claim the right to control everyone’s online information.

Naomi Wolf: This Global Financial Fraud and Its Gatekeepers

The media’s ‘bad apple’ thesis no longer works. We’re seeing systemic corruption in banking – and systemic collusion

Last fall, I argued that the violent reaction to Occupy and other protests around the world had to do with the 1%ers’ fear of the rank and file exposing massive fraud if they ever managed get their hands on the books. At that time, I had no evidence of this motivation beyond the fact that financial system reform and increased transparency were at the top of many protesters’ list of demands.

But this week presents a sick-making trove of new data that abundantly fills in this hypothesis and confirms this picture. The notion that the entire global financial system is riddled with systemic fraud – and that key players in the gatekeeper roles, both in finance and in government, including regulatory bodies, know it and choose to quietly sustain this reality – is one that would have only recently seemed like the frenzied hypothesis of tinhat-wearers, but this week’s headlines make such a conclusion, sadly, inevitable.

Robert Kuttner: An Eminently Bad Idea

You may have noticed news items that a company called Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP) is proposing to have strapped localities use the public power of eminent domain to deal with the problem of underwater mortgages.

Officials of San Bernardino County, California, where one home in two is worth less than the value of the mortgage on it, are very interested in the idea. (San Bernardino has just voted to file for bankruptcy). The New York Times’ Joe Nocera wrote a favorable column on the proposal, calling it the “last chance” to resolve the mortgage mess. [..]

But if using eminent domain as a way to address crisis in underwater mortgages is a promising idea, this particular scheme is not. For starters, MRP, a for-profit company, is not proposing to acquire vacant homes or even homes where residents have stopped paying on their mortgages. It wants localities to use eminent domain so that it can acquire performing mortgages.

Tom Engelhardt: Who Decided? How Did the U.S. Military Get Into Africa

Here’s an odd question: Is it possible that the U.S. military is present in more countries and more places now than at the height of the Cold War?

It’s true that the U.S. is reducing its forces and giant bases in Europe and that its troops are out of Iraq (except for that huge, militarized embassy in Baghdad).  On the other hand, there’s that massive ground, air, and naval build-up in the Persian Gulf, the Obama administration’s widely publicized “pivot” to Asia (including troops and ships), those new drone bases in the eastern Indian Ocean region, some movement back into Latin America (including a new base in Chile), and don’t forget Africa, where less than a decade ago, the U.S. had almost no military presence at all.  Now, as Nick Turse writes in “Obama’s Scramble for Africa,” U.S. special operations forces, regular troops, private contractors, and drones are spreading across the continent with remarkable (if little noticed) rapidity.

On This Day In History July 16

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

July 16 is the 197th day of the year (198th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 168 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1945, at 5:29:45 a.m., the Manhattan Project comes to an explosive end as the first atom bomb is successfully tested in Alamogordo, New Mexico.


If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one…

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Bhagavad Gita

J. Robert Oppenheimer

Plans for the creation of a uranium bomb by the Allies were established as early as 1939, when Italian emigre physicist Enrico Fermi met with U.S. Navy department officials at Columbia University to discuss the use of fissionable materials for military purposes. That same year, Albert Einstein wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt supporting the theory that an uncontrolled nuclear chain reaction had great potential as a basis for a weapon of mass destruction. In February 1940, the federal government granted a total of $6,000 for research. But in early 1942, with the United States now at war with the Axis powers, and fear mounting that Germany was working on its own uranium bomb, the War Department took a more active interest, and limits on resources for the project were removed.

Brigadier-General Leslie R. Groves, himself an engineer, was now in complete charge of a project to assemble the greatest minds in science and discover how to harness the power of the atom as a means of bringing the war to a decisive end. The Manhattan Project (so-called because of where the research began) would wind its way through many locations during the early period of theoretical exploration, most importantly, the University of Chicago, where Enrico Fermi successfully set off the first fission chain reaction. But the Project took final form in the desert of New Mexico, where, in 1943, Robert J. Oppenheimer began directing Project Y at a laboratory at Los Alamos, along with such minds as Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, and Fermi. Here theory and practice came together, as the problems of achieving critical mass-a nuclear explosion-and the construction of a deliverable bomb were worked out.

The World’s Biggest Starbucks

Among other useless skills and trivia picked up in my misspent youth, I know how to use a Research Library.

What lies behind the battle over the New York Public Library

Jason Farago, The Guardian

Saturday 7 July 2012

Libraries across America are facing swingeing budget cuts and uncertain futures. But here in New York, home to the second-largest library in the country, the future is now.

The hottest cultural controversy of this already hot summer concerns the New York Public Library (NYPL), and a plan to disembowel its main building – a plan that will slice open the stacks and “replace books with people”, in the words of the NYPL system’s CEO, Tony Marx. It’s enraged writers and professors, demoralized a staff already coping with layoffs, and called the entire purpose of the system into question.

Unlike the borough branches, the central library does not lend books. It’s a research institution, and compared to establishments of the same caliber – the Library of Congress, say, or the collections of Harvard and Yale – it is exceptionally open. You don’t need an academic affiliation. You don’t need to pay for a reader’s ticket. You don’t even need to come up with a convincing excuse to call up Walt Whitman’s manuscripts if you want to have a rifle through. Just fill out a call slip and you can have it in about an hour.

The new Central Library Plan, though, will move 3m books (about 60% of what’s now on site) out of the central facility, to be immured in some bunker in New Jersey. Researchers have been promised that they can summon these books with a day’s notice. But the library already promises that for books currently off-site, and it doesn’t really work that way; in practice, it takes closer to two or three days.

What will take the place of the books? Well, the closed stacks will be smashed open to make way for a smaller lending library, to supersede the large one across the street from the main facility which the NYPL plans to sell off. That worries not just researchers but architectural preservationists. The library, designed by Carrère and Hastings, is a masterpiece of engineering; unusually, the grand reading room sits at the top of the building, perched on stacks that were state of the art in their day.

A research library has a different mission from a lending library; it’s there to put everything, not just the most popular volumes, at our disposal. If you hit an intriguing footnote that references another publication, or if you find an irregularity in a text and want to check it against another source, all you have to do now is grab one of the library’s stubby golf pencils, write down the title, and it’s yours. That will soon be gone, and its effect on research will be brutal if not mortal.

The central library plan might not be irredeemable. Several advocates have proposed a sensible alternative that would keep most of the books in town. But the NYPL has shown no inclination to listen to its own users, or even to make its deliberations public, and that is the truly worrying thing. Replacing books with people may look accessible and anti-elitist. But the real popular gesture is to keep research free for all.

Instead, on the advice of some of the world’s most profitable consultancies and a board full of oligarchs, we are being told that what we really deserve is not a world-class library, but comfy chairs and blueberry muffins.

2012 Le Tour – Stage 15

Samatan / Pau (98.5 miles)

Le.  Tour.  De.  France.

Perhaps you have wondered what would happen if you ran out into the middle of the course and dumped a box of tacks.

Well now you know.

Everyone stops as soon as they can’t pretend not to have heard about it anymore and waits around until they fix all the flats and clean up the tacks.

Sportsmanship of the misplaced sort you get in contests where you’re packing your bag for the quick get away.

The breakway was 18 minutes ahead and made no difference in the standings.

Today is short and bumpy with the possibility of a Sprint finish.  Two category 3s and a category 4 stand between the Award point and the finish which could screw that up.

Robert Kiserlovski was forced to withdraw yesterday.  Luis León Sánchez won the stage.

General Classification

Place Rider Team Time/Delta
1 WIGGINS Bradley SKY PROCYCLING 64h 41:16
2 FROOME Christopher SKY PROCYCLING +02:05
10 PINOT Thibaut FDJ-BIGMAT +08:51

Coverage is customarily on Vs. (NBC Sports) starting at 8 am with repeats at noon, 2:30 pm, 8 pm, midnight, 8 am, 11:30 am, and 3 pm.  There will be some streaming evidently, but not all of it is free.

Tomorrow is a rest day in Pau which accounts for the extended repeats.  My Rest Day 2 piece will be up some time before the Rest Day Recap on Vs. (NBC Sports) at 8 pm.

Getting right to those tables, ayup.

Sites of Interest-

The Stars Hollow Gazette Tags-

Pique the Geek 20120715: Carbon, the Stuff of Life Part I

There are only a handful of elements that are absolutely essential to all known lifeforms, and carbon is easily the most important.  Certainly hydrogen and oxygen in the form of water and other compounds are also essential, but without carbon there simply would not be life as we know it.  There are many reasons for that, but that discussion is not for tonight.

This time we shall start at the basics and next time we shall work our way into more complex topics.  Since carbon is so essential and important, this will be a multipart series.  I expect three or so, but that depends on how motivated I am to root around for things that will be interested.

Unlike beryllium and boron, carbon, at least 12C, is more common than it should be.  The reason is fascinating, and we shall talk about that tonight.

Sunday Train: NEC High Speed Rail for Under $20b

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

One of the transit bloggers that I enjoy reading is Alon Levy who blogs his observations on a variety of transit topics at Pedestrian Observations . Following the important California HSR funding vote in the California State Senate and the excitement leading up to it, I thought I’d like to take a look at the proposed Express HSR system for the states of the Northeast Corridor.

Of the $53b cost of the proposed San Francisco to Los Angeles Express HSR corridor seems hefty ~ and it seems even heftier when it shows the Year of Expenditure headline value of $68b ~ then the proposed Northeast Corridor states Express HSR will seem massive.

However, Alon claims:

Northeast Corridor HSR, 90% Cheaper

In contrast with this extravaganza, it is possible to achieve comparable travel times for about one tenth the cost. The important thing is to build the projects with the most benefit measured in travel time reduced or reliability gained per unit of cost, and also share tracks heavily with commuter rail, using timed overtakes to reduce the required amount of multi-tracking.

This sounds like an intriguing possibility … but is it realistic? Or is it wishful thinking? Follow me below the fold, and then let’s discuss it.