Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Only here for awhile

Gardening provides a needed break from "the world." Sometimes the continual onslaught of news, usually bad, just gets to be too much, and I have to turn it off. Yeah, yeah, boo hoo. I'm such a sensitive fuck.

Even though we are smack dab in the middle of Houston, it's better up on the roof. Sing it, Sweet Baby James. (If you click that link, look for the orange circle on the left to hear the tune.) (Or, look for the video bar on the right side of this blog).

Here we are in late November, and all four tomato plants growing on the deck have boucoups flowers on them. It's been getting chillier and it's hard to say how long they'll hang in there.

The shot below is the Brandywine. Finally, over the last few days, we have some fruit coming on it. We've been taking a small paintbrush and dusting all the flowers on all four plants, trying to pollinate/fertilize the flowers. It seems to be helping. We rarely see any bees around here. A few. Very few. Saw one just today though. Lots of flowers to get to, Mr. Bee, where you been?

As usual, click the pics to make it bigger.

We've counted seven fruits now on the far the slowest producer of the four.

Picked enough from the various plants on the deck to put together a couple of small salads recently. Four kinds of lettuce, endive, chard, bok choi, carrot top, kale, onion, and unfortunately, an unripe green sausage tomato. All are shaping up nicely...production should be picking up soon...Congress did what?!

The sunset lettuce has already contributed many leaves to salads... has the dark lollo rosa's loving the cooler weather.

....likewise the lau's pointed leaf lettuce....I wonder if I'm contributing to global warming, in reverse?

...and the little gem (head) "heads" yet, but plenty of leaves...

...we may still have to remove one of the two remaining green goliath broccoli....

...the mesclun mix (four more different types of lettuce) is coming along...

...and the yellow, pink and orange chard is/are perking up....snip snip

...the old grandfather swiss chard is still producing...

...and the New Zealand spinach continues to chug along and produce succulent little leaves....

Spiders produce silk?! Wow, how totally freaky...

...we thinned out the kale a bit recently...may still be a couple too many in this pot...

...and the bok choi is really turning on the gas...uh, growth, I mean....

....carrots! We're going to have some carrots this time!!

...and the endive has provided us with a lot of baby...endives? as well...

The green sausage tomato plant has gone insane. There must be 40+ fruits on this plant. We thought it was dead a few months ago and almost tossed it out, but it crawled back to life and then went nuts. So far, we've only taken one fruit off of it, and it was un-ripe, so at least now we have a better idea of what unripe looks like. Can't wait....

The Bradley Pink tomato plant (below) is second in production with about 30 fruits on it in various stages of ripening. Only one has ripened so far and it was most excellent. Tons of flowers all over it, still...

...coming in third in this slow-motion race is the Dr. Carolyn, a cherry-tomato-sized heirloom from Baker Creek. This is a super-dense plant, so different from the other three. We had some aphids on this plant a few weeks back, and they devoured a few fruits, but I sprinkled them with DE (diatomaceous earth) and they seemed to go away. The later fruits have not shown any sign of pests, but none have ripened enough to eat yet.

Oh, and the fennel is coming along nicely. If you can zoom in on the left third of the picture, you'll see a garlic poking its white stem out of the dirt. Garlic greens, here we come...

and finally, the Cabela's chairs have arrived! These chairs are awesome...perfect for laying back and watching the sky. Not that we can see all that many stars from our home in Houston, but the longer you are in the dark, the better you can see. And the moon has its cycles...

It may be time for some cold frames, to extend our growing season even into the coldest months. We'll see.

Good luck with your garden! Forget about the world for awhile. Chances are it will still be there. As long as we're on the way down, we might as well enjoy the ride.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Galloway: It's Hard

It's Hard to Get Into the Holiday Spirit

by: Joseph L. Galloway | McClatchy Newspapers

It's traditional to count our blessings at this time of year, but given the general state of affairs and Washington's whole lot of talk and no action, it's hard to get into the holiday spirit.

It's harder still if you're one of the many in the unemployment lines or one of the many who are cleaning out the shelves of the charity food pantries so their children don't go hungry.

The national treasury is pretty much empty, and our line of credit with our traditional allies, formerly known as Red China, is drying up. We still have plenty of paper and ink, though, and the Treasury's printing presses are running 24/7 with no sign of a respite. The dollars they crank out are sinking like the Titanic, and gold is at $1,300 an ounce and rising fast.

Our new president is either snake-bit or vampire-bit, and he hasn't managed to keep even a token number of his campaign promises. But that's about to change with next week's Decider act on Afghanistan, when he's expected to up the ante by another 34,000 or so U.S. troops, bringing our total investment in a losing situation to more than 100,000 if they all get there next year.

He did promise to do something about that eight-year-old war, but he didn't promise that it would be the right something.

Health care reform — which was supposed to be passed and signed into law by last August — isn't even halfway done yet and will likely be pushed off to next year.

Our president left this badly needed fix to our broken-down health care system to the tender mercies of a Congress that's largely bought and paid for by the big health care and pharmaceutical and insurance corporations who are what's wrong with our health care system in the first place.

Predictably, they've neutered the bills of any real possibility of reform, turning even the thought of a public option alternative to the robber barons into an exercise in socialism, communism and Nazism.

As if nobody in America ever heard of Medicare or the Veterans Administration medical system — both very popular programs run by and paid for by the big bad Government.

What's the point in having a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress if they all act like Republicans?

The new president arrived in the middle of a very scary recession triggered by the unabashed greed and incompetence of a bunch of Wall Street bankers and brokers and insurers. A trillion dollars of taxpayer money was flung at them on the grounds that they were "too big to fail," and reforms were promised to restore some semblance of order and legality to what had become a nest of pirates and looters.

Now we approach end-of-the-year bonus time on Wall Street, and you can believe the bankers and brokers are already salivating as they wait for their millions in reward money to arrive. Nothing has been reformed.

Nothing has been done to keep the thieves from doing it all over again. They feel quite secure if no one else in America does. After all, the new president put some of Wall Street's favorite handmaidens in charge of the Treasury, the Securities and Exchange Commission and our very economy itself.

Happy days are here again. Or still.

Now, let's turn back to Afghanistan. There are several very good reasons why sending 34,000 more U.S. troops there is a very bad decision. The terrorist enemy they are supposedly going there to fight, al Qaida, isn't there at all. They are really going there to fight the Taliban, who are 100 percent Afghan, on behalf of one of the most corrupt governments we've ever installed anywhere.

We've politely asked President Hamid Karzai and his kleptomaniacs to stop stealing most of the millions we've sent to help rebuild a country torn apart by four decades of war. We've asked Karzai to counsel his family to get out of the opium and heroin trade. They've all promised to do much better, and no doubt they will.

So billions more of the money we can't afford will be poured down the Afghan rat hole, and hundreds more fine young American men and women will die and thousands more will be injured or wounded in pursuit of an impossible dream.

If this is the best the new president and his Congress can do, then God help us. We might just as well have kept George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for another four years. Those guys wouldn't have dashed anybody's hopes.

You can find the original here.

Yeah, yeah, we have a Republican minority intent on obstructing everything possible. And wayward Democrats. Considering the stalemate most major agenda items are in, it only goes to show that the Democrats are far too timid, and Obama is no leader. Damn shame.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

More cool globes

Trekked back to Discovery Green park in downtown Houston last weekend on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and looked over more of the Cool Globes, on display through Dec 31 at the park.

The city of Houston has finally "discovered" Discovery Green.

The picture below does not do the crowd justice; that park was absolutely jam-packed with people.

Parking is never a problem for us, as long as we're in the smart car.

Yeah, that pic is from last week.

One of these days we'll get some bicycles.

I think a lot of people discovered the "Cool Globes Challenge" that will give away a trip to Geneva, Switzerland to see the Globes when they arrive over there at some time in 2010. You fill out an entry after taking a scavenger hunt through the Globes in the park. Dammit, my chances just got a lot worse.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Gobble Gobble

South Sandwich Islands

Oh, I could use some peace and quiet. Away from the news and the noise.

Just give me some peace.
Just give us some truth.

Wave Clouds from South Sandwich Islands

(See pic at top of blog)

As they cross the ocean, ships make waves in the water. Even though they sit still, islands can make equally dramatic waves—in the air. This was the case in the southern Atlantic Ocean in late November 2009. The South Sandwich Islands conspired with air currents to make wave patterns in clouds.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color (photo-like) image on November 23, 2009. Saunders, Montagu, and Bristol Islands, part of the South Sandwich chain, all trigger V-shaped waves that fan out toward the east. The white clouds over the dark ocean water vaguely resemble zebra stripes.

The South Sandwich Islands are of volcanic origin—Bristol and Montagu have been active during recorded history—and all the islands poke rugged summits above the ocean surface. The islands disturb the smooth flow of air, creating waves that ripple through the atmosphere downwind of the obstacles.

  1. References

  2. CIA World Factbook. South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. Accessed November 24, 2009.

NASA image by Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Michon Scott, NASA Earth Observatory.

Terra - MODIS
If the pic on top of the blog is no longer the South Sandwich Islands, the pic can be found by visiting the Earth Observatory.

Monday, November 23, 2009

William Black redux

William Black seems to be one of the few people knowledgeable about the recent financial meltdown /recession that seems to consistently speak truth. He was instrumental in uncovering the S&L debacle in the 1980's, so he knows from where he speaks. So, naturally, he is ignored.

This country has its head so far up its ass, it's somewhat amazing that we have not destroyed the entire financial system. Yet.

Why is Obama Championing Bush's Financial Wrecking Crew?

by William K. Black, Assoc. Professor, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City; Sr. regulator during S&L debacle.

Tom Frank's book, The Wrecking Crew explains how the Bush administration destroyed effective government and damaged our social fabric and our economy. The Obama administration has chosen to reward two of the worst leaders of Bush's crew -- Geithner and Bernanke -- with promotion and reappointment. Embracing the Wrecking Crew's most destructive members has further damaged the economy and caused increasing political and moral injury to the administration.

Last week was a bad one for Geithner and Bernanke. Senator Dodd said that Bernanke's confirmation was no longer a done deal. The House Financial Services Committee revolted against the administration, the Fed, and Chairman Barney Frank. It voted for a strong bill to audit the Fed. Senate Banking Chairman Schumer went to a conference at Columbia University -- where a generation of students salivated at the prospects of Wall Street wealth -- and was overwhelmed by an audience denouncing the continuing stranglehold of the finance industry over successive administrations and the Congress. Neither Barney's blarney nor Schumer's schmooze was any avail before an outraged public.

The administration promptly secured a column in the Washington Post claiming that the effort to fire Geithner "buoy[ed]" him because, as the subtitle to the article explained: "Even ex-Bush aides sympathetic, sources say." The article didn't note that Geithner is an "ex-Bush" senior official who, with his fellow "ex-Bush aides" (particularly Bernanke and Paulson) produced a chain of disasters: the bubble, an "epidemic of mortgage fraud" by lenders, the Great Recession, and the scandalous TARP and AIG bailouts. Of course they're "sympathetic" to a fellow member of the Wrecking Crew that destroyed effective regulation and turned the nation over to Wall Street. The craziest part of the story is that the anonymous Obama administration flack that spread this anecdote believes that we should support Geithner because his fellow members of the Bush Wrecking Crew empathize with him because they, too, have been criticized for wrecking the economy.

The Washington Post article then offers a metaphor that serves as an apology for the Bush Wrecking Crew. The metaphor is driving over a cliff: "'Secretary Geithner has helped steer the American economy back from the brink, and is now leading the effort on financial reform,' White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said." Geithner pushed back against Republicans who questioned his performance, telling them, "you gave this president an economy falling off the cliff."

You? How about we? Bush's financial Wrecking Crew "gave this president an economy falling off the cliff." Geithner was President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from October 23, 2003 until President Obama chose him as his Treasury Secretary. He was supposed to be the lead regulator of many of the largest bank holding companies. His failures as a regulator were a major cause of the "economy falling off the cliff." Bernanke held prominent positions in the Bush administration from 2002 to the end of the administration and failed as a regulator and economist. Geithner and Bernanke failed to regulate even after the FBI publicly warned in September 2004 that (1) there was an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud and (2) it would lead to a financial crisis if it were not contained. Their refusal to take responsibility for the harm they inflicted on our nation as leaders of Bush's financial Wrecking Crew adds to their unsuitability. Rewarding their perennial failures with a promotion and reappointment represents a dereliction of duty by the Obama administration.

The administration apologists praise Geithner and Bernanke for "steer[ing] the American economy back from the brink." Greenspan, Paulson, Bernanke, and Geithner were the leaders of Bush's financial Wrecking Crew. They were the guys blinded by their pro-Wall Street ideology that drove the car 120 mph down an icy mountain road and lost control of it. They took us to the "brink" of running "off the cliff" and creating the Second Great Depression. The bizarre claim is that we should praise them because they, and Wall Street, only wrecked the economy -- they haven't (yet) utterly destroyed it. Under their metaphor, we're supposed to cheer Geithner and Bernanke because once they finally figured out that they were careening toward the cliff, they decided to sideswipe a row of trees in order to avoid going over the edge. They wrecked the car but they walked away from the crash without a scratch. If your teenager gets drunk, speeds, crashes into a school bus (injuring dozens of kids), and flips the Ford Focus -- but walks away from the crash -- you don't praise him, give him the keys to the family minivan, and have him drive the soccer team to practices. You take all the keys away from him and ground him.

The Obama administration promoted Bush's architects of the financial disaster and demands that we hail them as heroes. President Bush was ridiculed for saying: "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." FEMA administrator Michael Brown stood by while Hurricane Katrina reduced a single large city to ruin. Geithner and Bernanke stood by while scores of large cities were devastated.

I suggest that we will build on the momentum we've achieved on the Fed audit by making the following issues our near term financial priorities:

1. Can the Wrecking Crew. Fire the senior leaders of Bush's and Clinton's financial Wrecking Crews and stop treating them as financial experts. President Obama should not reappoint Bernanke as Fed Chairman. He should dismiss Geithner and Summers and cease to take any advise from Rubin. Replace them with the Reconstruction Crew -- people with a track record of getting things right and being effective economists, regulators, and prosecutors. Members of Bush's financial Wrecking Crew run far too many regulatory agencies, often as "Actings." They can, and should, be replaced promptly.

2. End "too big to fail." These banks are "
systemically dangerous institutions" (SDIs). They should not be allowed to grow. They should be shrunk to the point that they no longer pose systemic risk, and they should be subject to vigorous regulation while shrinking. They are too big to manage and too big to regulate. They are ticking time bombs that will cause recurrent global crises as long as they are SDIs.

3. More white-collar watchdogs. Adopt Representative Kaptur's proposal to provide the FBI with at least 1000 additional white-collar specialists. Senator Durbin and (then) Senator Obama made a similar proposal several years ago.

4. No more executive compensation looting. End the perverse executive compensation systems that reward failure and fraud. The private sector has made compensation worse since the crisis. Modern executive compensation creates a virtually perfect crime -- "
accounting control fraud" (looting a company for personal profit). Until we fix the perverse incentives of executive compensation we will have recurrent epidemics of fraud and global financial crises.

5. Kill TARP and
PPIP. Use the funds to help honest homeowners that would otherwise lose their homes because of predatory loan terms.

6. Make the Federal Reserve System public. It is a largely private structure that creates intense conflicts of interest and ensures that it is controlled by the systemically dangerous institutions. We have already decided that such a structure is inherently improper. The
Federal Home Loan Bank System was set up along the same institutional lines and suffered from the same conflicts of interest. Congress ordered an end to these conflicts in the 1989 FIRREA legislation. It should end private control of the Fed.

7. Defeat any proposal to make the Fed the "Uberregulator." The Fed, for inherent institutional reasons, is unsuited to be the "systemic risk regulator." The Fed has never cared about regulation. The Fed cares about monetary policy and (theoclassical) economic theory and research. Regulation is, at best, a tertiary concern. Its economists wrote frequently about systemic risk -- but missed the obvious, massive systemic risk of the financial bubble and the epidemic of accounting control fraud. Its policies intensified rather than restricted systemic risk. Theoclassical economists have no effective theories (or policies) to deal with bubbles or epidemics of accounting control fraud. Greenspan, Bernanke, and Geithner epitomize the Fed's inability to recognize or reduce systemic risk. Their policies consistently increased systemic risk. Greenspan didn't believe that the Fed should act against fraud. Geithner testified before Congress that he had never been a regulator (a true statement - but one that should have gotten him fired rather than promoted). Bernanke praised the subprime loans that caused the crisis and were so often fraudulent.

8. Ensure a robust CFPA. Sever the Consumer Financial Product Agency portion from the broader (and deeply flawed) regulatory reform bills in the House and Senate and adopt it into law. Revise the broader bill to strip out its many anti-reform provisions.

9. End the waste of long-term unemployment. Anyone able and willing to work should be employed by the government as an employer of last resort and should help repair our crumbling infrastructure. Paying people to do nothing or allowing them to become homeless (the status quo) is an insane system.

10. Adopt a $250 billion revenue sharing program. American state and local governments are in economic crisis. They are slashing spending at the worst possible time when their services are most vital and when cutting spending is pro-cyclical and will delay our recovery from the Great Recession. Revenue sharing was a Republican initiative. Republicans and "Blue Dog" Democrats killed the revenue sharing provisions of the administration's proposed Stimulus bill. That was an enormous mistake. The federal government is not like a state government (or a household). It is a sovereign government with its own currency and a central bank. It can - and should - run large deficits during deep recessions, but the states and local governments cannot. Revenue sharing is the ideal answer to the crisis and it is an answer with an impeccable conservative pedigree. State and local governments should come together and demand a program to offset the state and local cutbacks - roughly $250 billion. The Obama administration's claim that reducing the deficit should be a priority - at a time when unemployment has reached tragic levels - is economically illiterate. It repeats the error that FDR made when he listened to conservative economic advisors and slashed the budget deficit during the Great Depression - causing a surge in unemployment and the extension of the depression. The large federal deficits of World War II reversed the policies of his conservative economic advisors and ended the Great Depression.

This piece originally appeared on New Deal 2.0.

Or find it here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chopra on Palin

Don't feed the shadow!!

Deepak Chopra: Sarah Palin: Fooling None of the People All of the Time

Last fall it seemed as if Sarah Palin would light a fuse and cause a social explosion. Behind her beauty-pageant smile lurked the shadow, the dark side of human nature. Her tactic of appealing to the worst impulses of the electorate had a long history in the Republican Party. Indeed, Palin inherited the selfish, mean-spirited values of another politician with a gleaming smile, Ronald Reagan.

When it first dawned in American politics, the shadow was shocking. Values were turned upside down. The AIDS crisis? Ignore it. They deserve what they got. The deficit? Doesn't matter as long as the rich get what they want. Huge unemployment and falling incomes among the working class? Feed them crank social issues so they have someone to hate. Palin breathes this noxious atmosphere like the clear air of Alaska and thrives on it.

Now, however, Palin brings a smile. When she quit her job as governor, it was obvious that someone had whispered in her ear, "You're fading. Soon you'll be a nobody. Grab the money while you can." And so she did, earning a hefty advance, much of which, fittingly, goes to paying off lawsuits related to her ethical violations while in office. The shadow that seemed so dangerous a year ago has been defanged, reduced to spiteful backbiting against the McCain campaign, the very people who gave Pain her spot in the limelight to begin with.

I hope the left will take a deep breath and stop treating Palin like a diabolical force. The American character has always had a large dose of orneriness in it, and the more ornery you were, the farther west you moved. Alaska has a reputation for being an icebox for malcontents. Palin came straight from the source, and countless Americans root for her. In hard times, being the bellyacher-in-chief is a valid role. Hence the rise of Glenn Beck.

But nobody is being fooled. A recent Gallup poll showed that 67% of responders don't want Palin to run for President. Fear of Palin is ill-advised on two counts. First, fear is what the shadow wants. Without it, the shadow has no power. Second, the left needs to learn how to win graciously. The current upheaval in American society, which has been an enormous threat on many fronts, called forth a president and a constituency that knows how to handle crisis. The voices of sanity are prevailing. The solutions that have emerged on all fronts -- economic, social, and international -- represent the best in the American character.

But you can't expect everyone to join the party. As long as we know that Palin is fooling nobody all of the time, the darker side can be tolerated. The shadow is always with us. Today it's on a book tour.

Published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Friday, November 20, 2009

Don't Diss Darwin

Don't make me get Biblical on yo' ass.

Creationism is coming to a campus near you.

On November 19th, Los Angeles-based creationist Ray Comfort plans to distribute thousands of free copies of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to students at the "100 top U.S. universities." The catch? This edition of Origin includes a 54-page "special" introduction written by Comfort.

What makes this introduction special? Darwin biographer and science writer David Quammen puts it best:

Comfort's confused polemic, disguised as an informational Introduction but full of mistakes, half truths, untruths, muddled logic, old creationist arguments, misleadingly excerpted quotations, and ill-framed analogies — plus a good dose of fire and brimstone at the end — will do a severe disservice to anyone who takes it for an entryway to Darwin's great book.

In response to the Comfort Origin, the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) is launching a campaign at colleges across the U.S. to put the record straight. On this site, you'll find a number of useful resources, including a blow-by-blow analysis of the Comfort introduction, a one page flier ("Why Ray Comfort is Wrong"), the NCSE Safety Bookmark (for use with Comfort's edition of Origin), details on the best web sites and books devoted to evolutionary science, and a Public Service film about the dangers of certain book introductions.

Or check out the site by clicking here.

Conason: Patriotic Hysteria?

Joe Conason is, fortunately, yet another voice of reason on the American scene. Is it a coincidence that he can be found "leftward" of the dial? No.

Is a "reasonable conservative" an oxymoron today in America? Looks like it. About as much as "compassionate conservative" was under Bush and still is today. With all the flashy raucous clamor from the media and the growing stupidity and short-sighted religious insanity in this country, Joe provides a little more faith that this country will indeed survive.

What is so Patriotic about Hysteria?

By Joe Conason

The loudest voices on the right never tire of telling us that they are the truest patriots. They claim to be the deepest believers in our system, the strongest defenders of our Constitution, the most upbeat, bold and courageous Americans anywhere. But now that the government is finally prepared to put the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on trial, these same patriots are the first to spread doubt, instigate anxiety and abandon constitutional principles.

When did fear-mongering in a time of war become an act of patriotism?

Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to try al-Qaida strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other residents of the Guantanamo prison in American civilian courts has provoked angry criticism from all the usual sources, from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to the Fox News airwaves. While some of the complaints are thoughtful, many are nothing more than demagogic appeals that seek to undermine the foundations of justice in a democratic society.

When Holder’s critics say that Mohammed doesn’t “deserve” an open and adversarial trial, they are misunderstanding the spirit of our laws. The right to a trial—indeed, all the rights afforded to criminal defendants under the Constitution—is not apportioned according to what the defendants supposedly deserve. What they deserve is, in fact, precisely what a fair trial is designed to determine.

The nation’s founders despised the passions of the lynch mob and the arbitrary penalties handed down by kings and despots. They were particularly appalled by the tortures and abuse inflicted on American Revolutionary soldiers by the British oppressor—and vowed never to do the same to America’s enemies.

When Holder’s critics say that we don’t dare try a criminal like Mohammed on the soil of the United States, in a New York City federal courthouse, that is a terrible concession to the terrorists. The same is true when those critics protest against incarcerating a figure such as Mohammed in an American prison, rather than Gitmo. Essentially, those arguments exaggerate the power of al-Qaida—which conservatives usually claim has been profoundly weakened over the past several years—and underestimates the strength of the American justice system.

In fact, we have been trying dangerous terrorists in American courts for many years, and then incarcerating them in American prisons. According to a new study by the Center for Law and Security at New York University, the U.S. government has indicted 828 defendants on terrorism-related charges since 2001. Of those indictments, trials are still pending against 235 defendants—and of the remaining 539 defendants, 523 were convicted either at trial or via plea.

The single-largest venue for terrorism trials is New York City, where 145 terrorism indictments have been filed. The center found in a previous study that the conviction rate in New York is higher than in the rest of the nation and that sentencing in New York is also tougher. That is understandable—and may help to explain why the attorney general chose the Southern District of New York for the Mohammed prosecution. In the city’s federal courts, the conviction rate of individuals charged with terrorism involving a U.S. target is 100 percent.

When Mohammed is convicted (or pleads guilty, as he has previously vowed to do), the U.S. federal prison system is ideally equipped to inflict suitable punishment on him and his cohort. Better than providing him with martyrdom via execution, he should be buried in a “supermax” prison, from which nobody has ever escaped, and left to rot.

The most basic challenge of the terror campaign waged by jihadi extremists is to preserve the differences between us and them—a challenge that the American government has failed at in far too many instances over the past eight years, through the use of torture, extrajudicial detentions, renditions to other countries, and various other violations of U.S. law and treaty obligations. Our own courts found that these acts by the previous administration were lawless and required them to be reversed.

As a nation, we should have the confidence to make the case against these murderers according to our laws and Constitution, without fear of their propaganda or violence. Every precaution should be taken to protect national security and public safety—and then our system will prevail over their perverse ideology.

Joe Conason writes for The New York Observer.

You can find this article, posted at Truthdig, by clicking here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pitt: Not So Funny

Not So Funny After All

by: William Rivers Pitt, t r u t h o u t | Column

I've been writing roughly once a week for months now about the insane circus that is today's Republican Party, mostly to make fun of them. It's difficult to do otherwise; how does one write seriously about people like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and GOP Chairman Michael Steele? Try it sometime: failure is all but guaranteed.

Our most recent example of this phenomenon: Sarah Palin, again. The former Alaska governor and terminal dead weight around Campaign McCain went on with Barbara Walters to push her new book and covered herself in whatever the opposite of glory is. One topic she addressed was the recent cover of Newsweek featuring her wearing a tight red shirt and short-shorts that showed lots of leg. "I found it a wee bit degrading," she said of the cover, which makes you wonder why she chose to pose for it looking like something out of a James Bond scuba-diving scene. You'd also wonder why she had more trouble with the picture than with the giant block-lettered headline that read, "HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE SARAH? SHE'S BAD NEWS FOR THE GOP - AND FOR EVERYBODY ELSE, TOO," but then you'd remember that logic does not apply on Planet Teabag, and move on down the road.

See what I mean? Making fun of these people is like shooting very large fish in a very small barrel. You just can't miss.

The problem, however, is that people like Palin stopped being funny a while ago. The prominence they enjoy in our political discourse is so far out of whack with their abilities and intentions that it vastly exaggerates their influence over a variety of very serious matters that affect each and every one of us. The British have the Monster Raving Loony Party, who are a joke and exert no real influence, and we have the Republican Party, filled with monster raving loonies who exert a tremendous amount of influence because the news media thinks we are a nation of people who like to look at car accidents on the highway, which, by and large, we are. We've been well-trained by 20 years of shock television to mistake clowns and jesters for serious people, and because of that mistake, these people's deranged opinions and deformed ideas get taken seriously.

The recent victories in Virginia and New Jersey cannot mask the fact that the Republican Party is in deep distress. The so-called "Teabaggers," organized by the likes of Glenn Beck around spurious claims that Obama is a noncitizen socialist who wants to kill your grandmother - and really, that's it for them, in a nutshell ... plus, he's black, but don't tell them that, because it gets them upset - are now the most muscular and active bloc of the GOP. They just made a run at the NY-23 House seat and managed to derail a Republican candidate they deemed too liberal. They are preparing to make a run at Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's 2010 Senate campaign, because he accepted Obama's stimulus money to keep his state from sliding into the sea, and has been tagged by the 'Baggers as not being enough of a true conservative. Smart money says the 'Baggers won't limit themselves to Florida and New York, either; they smell blood in the water, and are swimming straight for it.

In the short run, this kind of intra-party warfare does nothing but help the Democrats in 2010, especially if the 'Baggers keep knocking off viable Republicans in the primaries and handing victories to Democrats, which is precisely what happened in the NY-23 race. But then what happens? If the far right manages to completely take over the GOP, then the lunatics will finally be in complete control of the asylum. They will get coverage on every major news network, and they will be mistaken for serious people who should be listened to because, well, they're on television, right?

Internet society, as it grew, spawned something that came to be known as Godwin'sLaw. Basically, the Law dictates that the longer a discussion grows, the more likely it is that someone will make some sort of comparison or association to Hitler, the Nazis and fascism. It also states that whoever uses these to buttress an argument automatically loses that argument. Ergo, caution must be taken when discussing the Teabagger phenomenon, because they absolutely beg to be compared to Brownshirts and angry, brainwashed crowds with arms extended in grainy pre-war film footage. We aren't there yet, not by a long chalk, but there are far too many examples in history of groups once considered comical becoming powerful over time, and the results have never been pretty. We are not even a year removed from two presidential terms where these exact people represented the ideological core of the government, and the damage they wreaked will take generations to undo.

As digby recently noted on the excellent Hullabaloo blog, "I'm not saying that we should panic. These people are politically weak in their own right. But when I see the liberal gasbags on TV blithely dismissing this as if it's impossible that Americans could ever fall for such lunacy, I feel a little frisson of alarm. I've read too many accounts of people who, 80 or so years ago, complacently made the same assumption. And the whole world found out that under the right circumstances even the most civilized nations can throw in with the crazies."

These people have been dangerous before, all too often, and have the capacity to be dangerous again. If any additional evidence of this is required, look no further than the rally in Washington, DC, being planned by Gary Cass of something called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission against the new legislation President Obama recently signed to bolster anti-gay hate crime laws. The rally organizers intend to denounce the new law, and then protest it ... by inciting the crowd to commit hate crimes against gay people.

Beyond that are the bumper stickers that have become all the rage, pardon the pun, on the Teabagger circuit. They seem harmless enough; a two-tiered message reads "Pray for Obama" on top, with "Psalm 109:8" below.

Psalm 109:8 reads:

May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

Psalm 109:9 reads:

May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

No, not so funny after all.

Hey, Truthout needs your help. Contribute if you can.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Today's word: obtuse





1 a : not pointed or acute b : exceeding 90 but less than 180 degrees
*2 : lacking sharpness or quickness of sensibility or intellect
3 : difficult to comprehend : not clear or precise in thought or expression

Example Sentence
The child was so stubborn in her refusal to understand that I began to suspect she was being deliberately obtuse.

See a map of "obtuse" in the Visual Thesaurus.

Did you know?
"Obtuse," which comes to us from the Latin word "obtusus," meaning "dull" or "blunt," can describe an angle that is not acute or a person who has a "dull" or insensitive mind. The word has also developed a somewhat controversial third sense of "hard to comprehend," probably as a result of confusion with "abstruse." It is now possible to speak of "obtuse language" and "obtuse explanations," as well as "obtuse angles" and "obtuse readers." This sense of "obtuse" is well established, but it may attract some criticism. If you're hesitant about using new meanings of words, you should probably stick with "abstruse" when you want a word meaning "difficult to understand."

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.

El Nino resurgence

Good news for the western U.S.?

El Niño is experiencing a late-fall resurgence. Recent measurements of sea level height from the Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 oceanography satellite showed that a strong wave of warm water, known as a Kelvin wave, had spread from the western to the central and eastern Pacific. This warm wave appears as the large area of higher-than-normal sea surface heights in the area between 170 degrees east and 100 degrees west longitude.

This image (at top of blog) was created with data collected OSTM/Jason 2 during a 10-day period centered on November 1, 2009. Red and white areas in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific were 100 to 180 millimeters (4 to 7 inches) above normal. In the western equatorial Pacific, blue and purple areas show where sea levels were between 80 and 150 millimeters (3 and 6 inches) below normal.

Sea surface height is an indication of temperature because water expands slightly as it warms and contracts as it cools. The elevated sea levels in the central and eastern Pacific are equivalent to sea surface temperatures more than one to two degrees Celsius above normal (two to four degrees Fahrenheit).

The Kelvin wave was triggered by a large-scale, sustained weakening of trade winds in the western and central equatorial Pacific during October. The change in winds disturbs not only the surface currents but also the deeper ocean circulation. The disturbances reverberate along the thermocline—the boundary between warm, surface water and cold, deep water—as large, slow-moving waves. Similar, weaker events that began in June 2009 initially triggered and have sustained the present El Niño.

Although El Niño means drought in some parts of the world, in other places it can bring drought relief. “In the American West, where we are struggling under serious drought conditions, this late-fall charge by El Niño is a pleasant surprise, upping the odds for much needed rain and an above-normal winter snowpack,” said oceanographer Bill Patzert of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

NASA image by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Ocean Surface Topography Team. Caption adapted from the Planetary Photojournal.
Instrument: JASON-2

God Hates Shrimp

....and a thanks to Mr. D, and the man upstairs.


Swine Flu in a Blender


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

William Black

I think we need to add another item to the list. It should now be called "the military industrial financial Congressional complex." They all seem to be working against the regular citizen.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Saturday in the Park

No, it wasn't the 4th of July.... It was the 14th of November, and a wonderful cool day in Houston. A great day for ... just about anything. Three stops today: the Midtown Farmer's Market; Coffee Groundz; and Discovery Green Park.

Restaurant T'afia creator, chef, and native Texan, Monica Pope has created a nice niche in Midtown: a top-notch restaurant, a catering outfit, a Cooking School, and a weekly Midtown Farmer's Market. This woman is seriously involved in her community.

Monica insists on using seasonal, locally-grown foods at her restaurant.

The Farmer's Market is not huge by any means, but in addition to several food booths, there are several others featuring locally-made clothing, bakery goods, jewelry, origami, macarons (not macaroons), and a lot more. I had a palpable sense of being surrounded by Democrats of all stripes. It's a nice feeling, especially in this often-reactionary state.

Today we picked up a basket of cherry tomatoes and a bunch of mizuna, along with some coffee and a scone.

And a taste of locally-produced wines from an outfit called "Water 2 Wine." Surprisingly good, but then again, none of the grapes are grown in Texas. I don't normally drink wine at 10:30am, but I don't normally get free wine either.

Another new club has sprouted in the area. Like mushrooms I'm tellin' ya. This one is the "Pachinko Hut" smack dab inbetween T'afia and The Continental Club.

It's just a hole in the wall icehouse, a patio deck out back, but I do wonder what ELVIS looks like all lit up. Can you find ELVIS in this picture?

I tellya, the wife's smart car sure is adorable. It can fit into the smallest parking spaces. People still smile and wave at us when they see us in the car. It's wierd. Still no art on the car, though, hun, let's get on the stick.

Just a short jog up the street to The Coffee Groundz for another cup of coffee and a muffin. These guys created Rev Houston, which runs a Chrysler Gem electric car as a free shuttle between downtown and Midtown.

They deserve our support.

It feels like vacation today....

And then it was just a bit further north to Discovery Green Park. The main reason to visit the park today was to see some of the 50 "Cool Globes" that have landed throughout the park, and will be on display until the end of December. Cool and thought-provoking (and guilt-inducing) art.

There was another free kids program on the main stage at the park. Man, these kids sounded awful, and looked even sillier. But, hey, they're puttin' it out there.

We only got to maybe 15 of the 50 Cool Globes scattered around the park.

It is a little satisfying to consider how many energy-saving activities that the wife and I are already practicing. We ain't perfect, but we're doing our part too. Yet, there is always more to do.

This one represents Houston and San Antonio. Notice the construction crane in the background? Lots of those all over Houston

Oh, and there's another one...

Humanity? Come in, humanity! Can you read me?!

Irony? Irony is dead.

Green your home ... we do ...

Very well done.

Houston Electric Cars had some rather cool-looking NEV's (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) on display at the Park. Only $12,000? Hey....

The fountains are a favorite. It's entertaining to watch the kids out there in their swimsuits, or clothes, playing in the fountains.

My gosh! It's 1:00pm! Time to get home for some lunch. We hit the Midtown Farmer's Market, Coffee Groundz and Discovery Green, all before 1:00pm. What a fine And all those positive vibes: locally-grown foods, local artists and craftspeople, bakers, gardeners, environmentalists. Sure is nice to get outside, away from the boob tube now and then.

Before leaving we chatted up a young woman at the Urban Harvest booth. We're pretty unique in Houston, what with our massive rooftop deck growing all those veggies and such. Maybe we should lead a class? Haha.

And finally, a word from Bill Clinton. He was a Democrat, right?