Daily Archive: 08/20/2012

Aug 20 2012

Creativity

Aug 20 2012

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: An Unserious Man

Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate led to a wave of pundit accolades. Now, declared writer after writer, we’re going to have a real debate about the nation’s fiscal future. This was predictable: never mind the Tea Party, Mr. Ryan’s true constituency is the commentariat, which years ago decided that he was the Honest, Serious Conservative, whose proposals deserve respect even if you don’t like him.

But he isn’t and they don’t. Ryanomics is and always has been a con game, although to be fair, it has become even more of a con since Mr. Ryan joined the ticket.

Let’s talk about what’s actually in the Ryan plan, and let’s distinguish in particular between actual, specific policy proposals and unsupported assertions. To focus things a bit more, let’s talk – as most budget discussions do – about what’s supposed to happen over the next 10 years.

New York Times Editorial: Robo Redux

Each day in Civil Court in Brooklyn, Judge Noach Dear presides over as many as 100 credit card collection cases, a scene repeated day in and day out in courtrooms across the country.

The borrowers typically do not show up to defend themselves. Many do not know they are being sued, others are too poor or too intimidated to fight back. The result, in an estimated 95 percent of the cases, is a default judgment in favor of the bank or other debt collectors. [..]

According to Judge Dear, in roughly 90 percent of credit card lawsuits the plaintiffs cannot even prove that a person owes the debt. Which is another way of saying that the courts are often being used as de facto debt-collection mills, allowing banks and others to seize money in violation of basic protections.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.: Looking for terrorism in all the wrong places

Can we finally say the thing we have not said so far?

Last week, a white supremacist shot up a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, killing six people and wounding three. It is considered likely that the shooter mistook the Sikhs, whose men wear beards and turbans, for Muslims. The massacre came a few weeks after a characteristically baseless charge by Michele Bachmann and several other conservative legislators that a Muslim aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ties to Islamic extremism.

The juxtaposition of those two events is emphatically not meant to suggest Bachmann somehow “caused” the Wisconsin rampage. No, the point is that we are looking for terror in all the wrong places. Or, perhaps more accurately, that we are not looking for it in all the right places.

Peter J. Hotez: Tropical Diseases: The New Plague of Poverty

[..] Poverty takes many tolls, but in the United States, one of the most tragic has been its tight link with a group of infections known as the neglected tropical diseases, which we ordinarily think of as confined to developing countries.

While immigration is sometimes blamed for introducing neglected tropical diseases into the United States, the real issue is that they are now, to varying degrees, also being transmitted within our borders. Without new interventions, they are here to stay and destined to trap people in poverty for decades to come. Fifty years ago, Michael Harrington’s book “The Other America: Poverty in the United States” became a national best seller. Today more people than ever before live in poverty in this country. We must now turn our attention to the diseases of this Other America.

Baher Azmy: Obama turns back the clock on Guantanamo

New rules from the Obama Justice Department threaten to return Guantanamo Bay to the legal black hole it was in during the early days of the George W. Bush administration. The rules, which began trickling out in May, are to be reviewed Friday in a hearing before a federal judge in Washington. They restrict lawyers’ access to detainees who have lost their initial habeas corpus petitions. The effect would be to wrest control of attorney-client access away from the courts and give the military nearly complete discretion to dictate if and when attorneys can visit detainees, how many attorneys may work on a case, what information lawyers may obtain and use in representing their clients, and where and how this information can be used.

In other words, far from closing the prison camp as he promised, President Obama is steadily returning Guantanamo to the secretive and hopeless internment camp that he vilified as a candidate. […]

Torture was President Bush’s legacy at Guantanamo. I hope that President Obama’s legacy will not be that he legitimized indefinite detention without charge and made Guantanamo a place where the United States sends Muslim detainees to grow old and die.

Carl Gibson: What Do Stoners and Mitt Romney Have in Common?

Every smart weed smoker knows that while you’re applying for jobs, it’s best to stay clean. While all smokers have unique remedies they swear to when it comes to getting THC out of your system in a hurry, we all know it’s best to just lay off until after passing that drug test when you’re looking for work. Mitt Romney should’ve kept his financial records clean in preparation for applying for the nation’s toughest job.

Mitt Romney has been eyeing the presidency for the better part of a decade. Knowing that his dad set a precedent with presidential candidates releasing multiple years of tax returns, one would think Romney would use the years in between presidential runs to be honest with his accounting and file clean tax returns if he really wants the nation’s highest office. There’s no test tougher than the arduous ones presidential candidates take, and a smart candidate would make sure he “pisses clean” when it comes to his own finances.

Aug 20 2012

On This Day In History August 20

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.

August 20 is the 232nd day of the year (233rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 133 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1911, the first around-the-world telegram sent, 66 years before Voyager II launch

On this day in 1911, a dispatcher in the New York Times office sends the first telegram around the world via commercial service. Exactly 66 years later, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sends a different kind of message–a phonograph record containing information about Earth for extraterrestrial beings–shooting into space aboard the unmanned spacecraft Voyager II.

The Times decided to send its 1911 telegram in order to determine how fast a commercial message could be sent around the world by telegraph cable. The message, reading simply “This message sent around the world,” left the dispatch room on the 17th floor of the Times building in New York at 7 p.m. on August 20. After it traveled more than 28,000 miles, being relayed by 16 different operators, through San Francisco, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore, Bombay, Malta, Lisbon and the Azores–among other locations–the reply was received by the same operator 16.5 minutes later. It was the fastest time achieved by a commercial cablegram since the opening of the Pacific cable in 1900 by the Commercial Cable Company.

The Voyager 2 spacecraft is an unmanned interplanetary space probe launched on August 20, 1977. Both the Voyager 2 and the Voyager 1 space probes were designed, developed, and built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California. Identical in form and instruments with its sister Voyager program craft Voyager 1, Voyager 2 was launched on a slower, more curved trajectory that allowed it to be kept in the plane of the Ecliptic (the plane of the Solar System) so that it could be sent on to Uranus and Neptune by means of utilizing gravity assists during its fly-by of Saturn in 1981 and of Uranus in 1986. Because of this chosen trajectory, Voyager 2 could not take a close-up look at the large Saturnian moon Titan as its sister space probe had. However, Voyager 2 did become the first and only spacecraft to make the spaceflight by Uranus and Neptune, and hence completing the Planetary Grand Tour. This is one that is made practical by a seldom-occurring geometric alignment of the outer planets (happening once every 175 years).

The Voyager 2 space probe has made the most productive unmanned space voyage so far, visiting all four of the Outer Planets and their systems of moons and rings, including the first two visits to previously unexplored Uranus and Neptune. Voyager 2 had two sensitive vidicon cameras and an assortment of other scientific instruments to make measurements in the ultraviolet, infrared, and radio wavelengths, as well as ones to measure subatomic particles in outer space, including cosmic rays. All of this was accomplished at a fraction of the amount of money that was later spent on more advanced and specialized space probes Galileo and Cassini-Huygens. Along with the earlier NASA Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, sister probe Voyager 1, and the more recent New Horizons, Voyager 2 is an interstellar probe in that all five of these are on one-way trajectories leaving the Solar System.

Aug 20 2012

The Tangled Web That Nations Weave: Part 1

Oh what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!

   Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.

   Scottish author & novelist (1771 – 1832)

Assange calls on US to end “witchhunt”

Speaking on Sunday from a balcony off a room in the embassy, Assange thanked Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa for the “courage he has shown” in granting him asylum.

Assange has said his extradition to Sweden is the first step in a process that will see him sent to the United States, where he believes he will be prosecuted for espionage in connection with the volumes of US government documents which WikiLeaks has released.

Julian Assange asylum: Ecuador is right to stand up to the US

by Mark Weibot

The United States would paint itself as a promoter of human rights, but any right to make that claim is long gone

..] Ecuador’s [decision to grant political asylum to Assange was both predictable and reasonable. But it is also a ground-breaking case that has considerable historic significance.

First, the merits of the case: Assange clearly has a well-founded fear of persecution if he were to be extradited to Sweden. It is pretty much acknowledged that he would be immediately thrown in jail. Since he is not charged with any crime, and the Swedish government has no legitimate reason to bring him to Sweden, this by itself is a form of persecution.

We can infer that the Swedes have no legitimate reason for the extradition, since they were repeatedly offered the opportunity to question him in the UK, but rejected it, and have also refused to even put forth a reason for this refusal. A few weeks ago the Ecuadorian government offered to allow Assange to be questioned in its London embassy, where Assange has been residing since 19 June, but the Swedish government refused – again without offering a reason. This was an act of bad faith in the negotiating process that has taken place between governments to resolve the situation.

Former Stockholm chief district prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem also made it clear that the Swedish government had no legitimate reason to seek Assange’s extradition when he testified that the decision of the Swedish government to extradite Assange is “unreasonable and unprofessional, as well as unfair and disproportionate“, because he could be easily questioned in the UK.

But, most importantly, the government of Ecuador agreed with Assange that he had a reasonable fear of a second extradition to the United States, and persecution here for his activities as a journalist. The evidence for this was strong. Some examples: an ongoing investigation of Assange and WikiLeaks in the US; evidence that an indictment had already been prepared; statements by important public officials such as Democratic senator Diane Feinstein that he should be prosecuted for espionage, which carries a potential death penalty or life imprisonment.

There is much more to this affair than the embarrassing release of documents revealing breaches of diplomatic protocol and targeted assassinations. It involves the questionable charges of sexual assault by two two women in Sweden involves consensual sex, who are good friends, deleted tweets, face books pages and changed their stories; the mishandled investigation by Sweden as well as, the CIA and a private security agency STRATFOR. Even more missed by the MSM is the underlying reason why Ecuador granted Assange asylum. It’s not as altruistic as it seems. Stayed tuned as we try to unravel this web of lies and international deception that was woven to hide the truth that Wikileaks would like you to know.  

Aug 20 2012

Pique the Geek 20120819: Nitrogen, without Life?

I took a week off from blogging last week for a number of reasons.  One was that I was having trouble getting my mind around topics.  Another was being in sort of a strange set of moods that have made concentration rather difficult.  Yet again, and probably the root cause of the other two is either spending large amounts of time with someone (no time to write) or no time at all (no motivation to write).  In any event, I think that I have some balance back.

I got tired of writing about carbon so we shall move on to nitrogen.  With an atomic number (Z) of 7, it is the element after carbon.  Nitrogen is another of the few elements that ordinary people encounter on a daily basis, because it comprises around 78% of the atmosphere of the earth.

There are two stable isotopes of nitrogen, the very common 14N (99.64%), the rest being 15N.  Both of these isotopes are formed in larger stars by stellar nucleosynthesis.  Nitrogen is peculiar in that it is one of only five nucleides that are stable with both an odd number of protons and neutrons.  It is really unusual in that 14N is by far the most common isotope of nitrogen.

Aug 20 2012

No Dancing III

And then you have songs that are just too damn fast.

Paint It Black

Aug 20 2012

Sunday Train: Southern Comfort ~ Upgrading Amtrak’s New York Sleepers

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

crossposted from Voices on the Square

Back in early June, in Putting Steel into the Amtrak Long Distance Backbone, I looked at the Amtrak “PRIIA Section 210” upgrade plans for the five Long Distance services with the lowest operating cost recovery, mandated for Fiscal Year 2010 by the PRIIA legislation.

I also looked at the side-effects of the freight-oriented Steel Interstate proposal, which would offer the opportunities for dramatic improvements in the performance of Long Distance sleeper trains ~ not simply the financial performance but also, and more importantly for addressing the Petroleum Addiction of our intercity transport system, dramatic improvement in the delivery of service to the customers.

This week I look at the “middle” five long distance routes that were reported on for Fiscal Year 2011:

  • The Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to Boston and Chicago to New York City via the Cleveland/Buffalo Erie Lakeshore route
  • The Crescent, from the “Crescent City” of New Orleans, Louisiana to New York City via Atlanta, and
  • the “Silver Services” ~ the Silver Meteor from Miami to New York via Charleston, SC, the Silver Star from Miami to New York via Tampa, Columbia, SC and Raleigh, NC, and the Palmetta from Savannah, Georgia to New York via Charleston, SC.

Aug 20 2012

U.S.S. Constitution

Today they’re taking the oldest commissioned warship in the U.S. Navy out for a little sail and turn around.

Navy’s oldest commissioned warship to sail again

By JAY LINDSAY, Associated Press

Fri, Aug 17, 2012

The USS Constitution, which was first launched in 1797, will be tugged from its berth in Boston Harbor on Sunday to the main deepwater pathway into the harbor. It will then set out to open seas for a 10-minute cruise.

The short trip marks the day two centuries ago when the Constitution bested the British frigate HMS Guerriere in a fierce battle during the War of 1812. It follows a three-year restoration project and is the first time the Constitution has been to sea on its own since its 200th birthday in 1997.

Now the truth is they turn it around every few years anyway for preservation and maintenance, but it’s usually shoved along by tugs.  This is a big deal for the Sailors who get to participate either as workers (who’ve been preparing for a couple of years with the rigging which is not trivial even for 4 sails) and the ‘honorary’ crew who are mostly senior enlisted personnel (NCOs).

Not to disparage the Constitution‘s victory, but as with most such it was hardly a fair fight.

The English had been fighting continuously at sea against one nation or another (Netherlands, Spain, France) for over 2 hundred years using refinements of the same technology and tactics and got quite highly organized about it.  They divided ships into various types based on firepower mostly.  Fifth raters were never used in a battle line, but instead in patrols and as messengers.  In colonial waters they’d often pursue pirates or act as commerce raiders (there’s a HUGE difference).  The captured French frigate, Guerriere was armed to suit the English practice of running right alongside close up and blasting your hull with heavy carronades (30 x 18pdr guns, 16 x 32pdr carronades, 2 x 12pdr guns, 1 x 18pdr carronade).

The United States Navy was nothing like that.

What we called a frigate was actually a Fourth Rate Ship of the Line.  The Constitution never sailed with less than 50 guns (thirty 24-pounders on the main deck, twenty-four 32-pounders and two bored out 18-pounders on the upper deck on this occasion).  It also had the advantage of a 2 x 6″ bias ply hull over a diagonally stiffened frame that improved the sailing performance.

The Battle against the Guerriere is actually kind of instructive of why you just couldn’t expect a Fifth Rate to stand up actually.

Because of it’s heavier build the English long range guns had limited effect (thus Old Ironsides) while Hull put on more sail (unknown why Dacres did not respond) and soon got in range.  They exchanged fire for about 15 minutes with the Guerriere sustaining tremendous damage, including losing the Mizzen Mast.  Dacres had been maneuvering for a clear shot and tangled with the Constitution’s rigging.  Both Captains sent boarding parties forward to the contact point but were unable to board.

During this time the ships basically continued blowing each other apart until the Guerriere’s Fore Mast fell too and the Constitution disengaged and made ready for another pass.  During this time Hull dispatched a boat to ask if Dacres wanted to strike his colors.

Well, Sir, I don’t know. Our mizzen mast is gone, our fore and main masts are gone – I think on the whole you might say we have struck our flag.

That and the Battle of New Orleans are the notable victories and we forget about Detroit and the Burning of Washington.