Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Posted Without Comment

Or to put it otherwise, 2.5 million Americans watch Fox News, which means that 297.5 million Americans don’t.
-John Scalzi

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Posted Without Comment

If you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough.
-Joe Paskoski (hat tip Heidi P.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Posted Without Comment

SF, at its best, is an exploration of the human condition under circumstances that we can conceive of existing, but which don't currently exist (either because the technology doesn't exist, or there are gaps in our scientific model of the universe, or just because we're short of big meteoroids on a collision course with the Sea of Japan — the situation is improbable but not implausible).
-Charles Stross (hat tip John Scalzi)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Starry Night

The Starry Night has been my favorite painting since college. I've always been a fan of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, and of Van Gogh in particular. Several years ago, when I finally got around to doing the backpacking through Europe thing, I visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, along with many many others, and got to see a fair sampling of his work in person. Then, on my way home, I stopped through New York to visit some friends and attended the opening of MOMA Queens, where I got to see The Starry Night.

I'd always loved Van Gogh's work, for many reasons, many of which are intuitive, even visceral, and thus very difficult to put into words, but the underlying fuzziness and feeling of motion and movement inherent in the techniques of the time and the particular school of which Van Gogh became something of an exemplar have always appealed to me greatly. The bright daylight colors of Vincent's Bedroom at Arles and the various Sunflower paintings feel like a sunny afternoon encapsulated on canvas, a moment in time made manifest for the ages in such a way as to transport the viewer not there so much as to a sort of higher, vaguely Platonic realm of there-ness. It's the same for his more nocturnal works, like The Cafe at Night, and especially The Starry Night. I have a poster of it in my room to this day, a bit worn around the edges, since I've had it since halfway through college, and it's one of the first things I see when I wake up there. Being a naturally nocturnal sort, I've always had a certain inherent sympathy with the night paintings, and The Starry Night, with its hazy stars and the sense of movement in the air, like the way the air moves when the pressure drops and a storm's coming in, never fails to transport me. And when I saw the thing itself, the actual painting rather than just a mechanical reproduction, it absolutely took my breath away. The thing about Van Gogh that fails to translate in prints and posters is the sheer texture of the work. The man really slapped on the paint. It's almost as if he painted with a putty knife instead of a brush. It was all I could do not to reach out and touch it, though I didn't, of course. But powerful as the poster in my room has always been to me, it pales in comparison to the real thing, in the way that a picture of the woman (or man) you love pales in comparison to her actual presence there with you in the room, her skin available to your touch, her scent on the air, all the tiny secrets of her body there for you to learn and to know.

Anyway, The Starry Night was today's Astronomy Picture of the Day, and so it was one of the first things I saw when I woke up this morning and turned on the computer, and it made me very happy, and made me think of that poster I've had so long, and the time I saw the original there on the wall in Queens, and I thought that I would share it with whoever might happen by the blog today. Enjoy. I know I do.

Alan Grayson Really is My New Hero

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Peace Prize

[I]n his 1895 will, Alfred Nobel stipulated that the peace prize should go "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses."
John Dickerson, writing in Slate
So, unless you've been hiding under a rock today, you've probably heard that Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. So far as I can tell, Mr. Obama and the White House staff were as surprised as anybody, and have handled the news in a perfectly reasonable and dignified fashion. This is not a surprise. Barack Obama is a classy guy, and I'd expect no less from him or the people who work for him. Also not surprisingly, the wingnut fringe has exploded in outrage, without even bothering with a moment of graciousness and congratulation to Mr. Obama and these United States. Glenn Beck even went so far as to say that the Prize should be awarded to the Teabaggers and the 9/12 protesters, which is a hoot, but not a surprise, since that guy has absolutely no shame at all and will say or do anything to get attention, much as a recalcitrant two-year-old will say or do anything to get attention, because to a two-year-old, attention is like publicity: there's no such thing as bad.

And before I go any further, let me just say that this a great honor, both for President Obama and for these United States, and that, as an American citizen and a patriot, I cannot help but be proud that such an honor has been bestowed on a serving American President for the first time since Woodrow Wilson received it for helping to set up the League of Nations, the precursor to the UN.

That said, I have real reservations about the award. And before anybody's panties get all bunched up, let me say that my reservations have way way way more to do with the Nobel committee and its decision than they do with Barack Obama, with whom I have my issues but in whom I am still willing to put a little faith.

First and foremost, I think the award is as much a repudiation of the policies and administration of George W. Bush as it is a positive affirmation of Mr. Obama. It may be that I'm too entrenched in following domestic politics to see just how wonderful the rest of the world thinks we are for electing Obama President, but even the Cairo speech hasn't really moved the favorable view of the US numbers in the Middle East, and while I think it was a good and even historically significant step in the right direction (along with the outreach to Iran, the attempt to reset things with the Russians, the scrapping of the Anti-Ballistic Missile installations in Eastern Europe, and the promise to draw down our troop deployment in Iraq), it's just a step, and bromides about the first step being the hardest or getting you halfway aside, there's a long slog ahead if we're going to make any real progress on any of those fronts.

And while I do understand that the Nobel Committee sometimes awards Peace Prizes as a way to encourage future actions (hat tip to Kim S.), I'm not sure they're really helping themselves or their agenda by taking this action, and, more importantly, I think, honestly, that they cheapen the prize by lowering the bar like that. Maybe I haven't been paying attention, but to me the Nobel Peace Prize should be an acknowledgement of actual accomplishments in the realm of world peace, not just steps in the right direction. And while I understand the way forward the Nobel Committee hopes to encourage, and even agree with it, I think that today's announcement is actually going to make it more difficult to continue taking steps in that direction because of the opposition it's going to engender. Yeah, the wingnuts and the Movementarians are already dead set against anything Obama says, does, or stands for, and maybe, in the end, this won't make a difference. It's hard to see how this puts anybody who was still on the fence over the edge, but it seems like the Nobel Committee could have accomplished nearly as much just by putting Obama on the short list and giving the prize to someone more deserving.

Because, really, I don't think Obama yet deserves the Peace Prize. He may someday, and he certainly deserves encouragement for some of the steps he's taken and some of the unwinding he's done of the previous Administration's encroachments on nearly every aspect of the American experiment that is good and righteous and just and true, but he's only been in office for nine months. That's just not enough time to have accomplished Nobel Peace Prize-grade world-saving.

Furthermore, need I remind everyone that Barack Obama is currently presiding over not one but two wars of aggression? Yeah, we might've had to go into Afghanistan to uproot Al Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden. I was and remain for that. We were attacked, and while we should've seen it coming and stopped it beforehand, it was justified and necessary to go get the motherfuckers what came and got us. But that was 2002. Now it's 2009, and nobody can say what we're doing there, aside from using southern Afghanistan as a base for our rightfully controversial and highly problematic (as well as apparently effective) program of targeted drone-based assassination of Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders in the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan. If that's the point, then maybe I'm willing to get behind that, but for right now we're just there because we're there, and our boys and girls in uniform are getting shot and blown up because of that, and that's not okay. As for Iraq, I recall there being some noise about drawing down forces and ending combat operations, but as far as I know we still have tens of thousand of troops stationed there, with equally murky mission parameters.

And yes, Obama did inherit those conflicts. He didn't start them. But the drone-based assassination program was his idea, floated in one of the Primary debates, as I recall, and picked up by the Bush Administration, who were floundering and in need of some good ideas since all of theirs were horribly misguided at best.

In the end, it may be that Obama will do the right thing regarding the wars he inherited from the Bush Administration. There's even a case to be made that the collateral damage and civilian deaths that are a direct result of the drone attacks in Af-Pak are justified and necessary. But war's war, and it just seems odd to me that a man in the middle of waging two of them would win a prize for peace. Yes, there are lots of hopeful signs, and it's a testament to how far and how fast we fell during the Bush years, both objectively and in the eyes of the world, that even just doing some basic diplomacy and not telling everyone else in the world to go suck it can seem like the dawn of a new day, and I hope that it is. I really do. But this is not kids' soccer. You shouldn't get a trophy just for showing up and trying your best. Trophies should be symbols and acknowledgments of accomplishment and not just effort. The Nobel Peace Prize should be the same.

I'd Say This is About Right

[T]he unmistakable message of the award is one of the consequences of a period in which the most powerful country in the world, the 'hyper-power' as the French have it, became the focus of destabilization and in real if limited ways lawlessness. A harsh judgment, yes. But a dark period. And Obama has begun, if fitfully and very imperfectly to many of his supporters, to steer the ship of state in a different direction. If that seems like a meager accomplishment to many of the usual Washington types it's a profound reflection of their own enablement of the Bush era and how compromised they are by it, how much they perpetuated the belief that it was 'normal history' rather than dark aberration.
Josh Marshall, at Talking Points Memo

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Posted Without Comment

“The salient fact of American politics is that there are fifty to seventy million voters each of who will volunteer to live, with his family, in a cardboard box under an overpass, and cook sparrows on an old curtain rod, if someone would only guarantee that the black, gay, Hispanic, liberal, whatever, in the next box over doesn’t even have a curtain rod, or a sparrow to put on it.”
-commenter Davis X. Machina, from Balloon-Juice

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

I May Have to Reassess this Twitter Thing

"Sometimes life leaves a hundred dollar bill on your dresser, and you don't realize until later that it's because it fucked you."

"The dog don't like you planting stuff there. It's his backyard. If you're the only one who shits in something, you own it. Remember that."

'You don't know shit, and you're not shit. Don't take that the wrong way, that was meant to cheer you up."

from Shit My Dad Says
I don't think there's really much I could add to that. I just hope that when I'm 73 I spout shit half as funny as this guy.

Monday, October 05, 2009

You Have Got to See This

Seriously. You just can't make shit like this up. Apparently, the Bible (yeah, you read that right) suffers from a liberal bias (not unlike reality and the media), at least according to the adorable folks over at Conservapedia, so they've started translating the Bible into Wingnuttese (I guess that's what you'd call it).

It's called the Conservative Bible Project. And it's only just begun. Check it out here.

Wonder how long before they chuck that Jesus guy under the bus? He had some pretty progressive ideas, as I recall. And with that long hair and beard, why, he's practically a DFH.

(hat tip to John Cole at Balloon-Juice)

Heartwarming Coming Out Story

Here, at Daily Kos. Worth a read, and a real reminder that the Culture War the reactionaries on the right are waging is a war they're bound to lose, because they're wrong.

The lesson is it's easy to hate on folks you never have to see, or talk to, or get to know, but once they become people, and not just a category, then that knee-jerk hatred is a lot harder to maintain. It's just a lot harder to be a dick to real people than it is to hate on somebody you never met for something they can't help. Sure, it's easy enough to be a dick to someone in person if they're a dick to you first, or just by nature, but if you really hate on someone for something they have no control over (sexual orientation, color of skin, gender, ethnicity), then it's you there's something wrong with, not them.

(hat tip to Glenn Greenwald)

Posted Without Comment

Trusting the GOP on job growth is like trusting an arsonist on fire safety.
-Steve Benen, at the Washington Monthly

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I'm Probably Not the First One to Ask, But

Why do Republicans hate America?

Used to was, politics stopped at the water's edge, and everybody remembered that we're all on the same side. Anymore, not so much.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

It's Like He Stuck His Head So Far Up There It Actually Popped Back Out

Erick Erickson, the managing editor of and a city councilor in Macon, Georgia, has called for the abolition of Macon's police force if it votes to unionize.
-Daniel Tencer, at
You read that right. Radical Republican and Professional Know-Nothing Erick Erickson, founder of and city councilor in scenic Macon, GA would rather go without police entirely than see the force unionize.

Didn't Republicans used to be the Daddy party, all into law enforcement and making sure the boys in blue had all the toys they needed to make the streets safe for women and children (the white ones, anyway)?

Then again, he's probably thinking that if everyone in Macon just had a gun, they wouldn't need no stinking cops anymore, cuz an armed citizenry can police itself and everyone else just fine. That's in the Bible somewhere, I'm pretty sure.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Invisible Man

Can you spot him? He's there, painted in to the background.

There's no photoshop here. No trick photography. Liu Bolin does it all with paint, painstakingly planned and applied, blending himself into the background like a very still chameleon.

Amazing stuff. More here.

(hat tip to Michael S.)

Alan Grayson is My New Hero

Nice to see one of the good guys not pulling his punches for once.

Credit Where Credit is Due

Let's not kid ourselves. Anyone with the bare minimum requirement of one honest bone in their body knows that Snowbilly Virginia Woolfkiller did not spend the past four months holed up in an igloo of her own furiously typing up her memoirs.
Virginia Woolfkiller. Can't fuck with the master.

"I call do-over!"

So, props to Kevin Drum for letting us know. The same people who threw the shit and the shinola into a blender a few years ago to make those mortgage-backed securities that worked out so well for everybody are at it again, with the very same scam, except this time they're being really careful (pinkie swear!) to include only solvent, performing mortgages in the AAA-rated stuff. They're called -get this- Re-Remics, and they are, so far as I (a non-specialist) can tell, pretty much the same as the Collateralized Debt Obligations that nearly took down the American economy just one short year ago.

Here's how it works: Banks all over are currently stuck with whatever toxic crap they had on the books when the music stopped and the last chair was pulled. Because the crap is toxic, they're required to keep money on hand to cover it in case it goes even further south. The worse the rating, the more money the bank has to keep on hand. So, say you've got a CDO that's seventy-five percent non-crap and twenty-five percent crap. The twenty-five percent that's crap drags the rating of the whole thing down, say to a C, which means the bank has to keep 100% of the value of the CDO on hand, which means they can't use that money to refurbish the offices or buy a politician. Enter the magical masters of the universe, with scissors and calculators and a lovely assistant who draws your attention over here to her lovely boobs while the magician goes to work with the scissors and some glue and -voila!- you've suddenly got two CDOs, one good, one crap. Get the good one rated back to AAA, and suddenly the capital requirement is only 100% on the lesser share; for the newly-minted AAA investment vehicle, the capital requirement goes down, which means the bank can go ahead and call the interior decorator and fire up the corporate jet for some serious fact-finding. And hey, with any luck, maybe they can sell the good paper. There is a sucker born every minute, and nobody ever lost money underestimating the intelligence of the American people.

On paper, it makes sense. The problem is that the people doing the Re-Remicing are the very same magical masters of the universe that nearly took the whole house of cards down last year, and the same ratings agencies that dropped the ball last time (and have suffered, inexplicably to me, no consequences at all) are still in charge of saying what's shit and what's shinola.

How do you suppose that's gonna work out?