Saturday, January 30, 2010

Eagle Ray In Flight Over Bonaire

I've been editing video from my vacation all morning, and put this together quickly.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

In a public display of bipartisanship, President Obama ventured into the heart of Republican territory today where he told an intensely skeptical audience hostile to most of his policies that he's fed with business as usual in Washington.
I fully anticipate a similar lecture will be given, perhaps at this year's Netroots Nation gathering.
And it will be well-deserved.

Can't Have It Both Ways, Folks!

I'd bet good money that, over the past thirty or forty years, more deaths and destruction of the environment can be chalked up to fossil fuel power generation than to all the nuclear incidents, bombs included, since the atom was split.
We want to improve the environment and we can start now. I don't suggest nuclear be made part of a long term permanent solution but GODDAMMIT, folks! Get with the program! It's a start, and it's a good start and in the decade it will take to scale up renewable energy sources to emit the kind of power at a cheap cost, we can wean ourselves off oil, natural gas and especially coal.
Good grief, grow the fuck up already!

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) What to make of this: Osama bin Laden giving financial advice? Presumably, smarter people than me are taking note of this, and thinking what I'm thinking, that Al Qaeda's next target will strike right at the heart of the American financial system. Maybe he saw Die Hard With A Venegeance?
2) Nooooooooooooooooo! Really? Where the fuck were you when we were bankrupting the national treasury for this foolishness?
3) Legitimate complaints about the iPad are starting to roll in. And some criticism that is just silly, jealous, and bitter. One thing is undeniable: no other company on the planet could stop traffic with a product roll-out the way Apple did.
4) I'm surprised he didn't blame "sugar-titted Jews." 
5) Apparently, President Obama reads Simply Left Behind.
7) Recession? What recession? So corporate America is making money hand over fist, while 10%, maybe 20%, of Americans struggle for jobs.
But hey, let's blame the President and not the greedy fucking economic royalists who squeeze every last living dime out of a dying populace!
8) There's just something....uneasy making...about this headline: Anne Hathaway Collects Hasty Pudding
9) We're Number One! (Well, sort of...) USA! USA! USA!
10) That's not a shahk! This is a shahk!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Throw Away Your Tinfoil Hat!

Now if they can only find the car keys I left on the shuttle from Procyon.

Falling Off A Crazy Cliff

Any author who can so accurately describe a lost weekend deserves my respect.

Soak The Rich?

I'm all for it. So is Oregon.
Here's the interesting bit: the rich take far more advantage and have been rewarded to a far greater degree, than the rest of the country. I can say that as one of the fairly well off.
We don't have more lavish rest rooms than the average American, unless we, you know, buy them, stuff like that, but we do get treated really nicely in our really nice communities and by the really friendly merchants whom we frequent. We have really good police and fire protection. We have really good garbage pick up, and if we run into a problem like a pothole on the street, we pick up the phone and call our local representative, and it gets fixed.
Money will do that.
In turn, we are expected to plow our money back into the community, not stash it away. We're expected to employ people, spend money to create jobs, and pay a bit more in taxes than the average American.
I've never had a problem with that. After all, America's resources have been very good to me. I owe it to my country. It's my civic duty as a patriot.
So as I watch the uproar over higher taxes, both at the Federal as well as the state and local levels, and I hear others, many of whom stand no chance of being even as well-off as I am (and I'm not that rich, believe me) much less joining the ranks of the uberwealthy, I begin to get a sense of where this nation is headed.
When states like New York and Oregon stand up to the wealthy and say "Pony up, we need the money," most do it, some even gladly. A few, like certain morbidly obese talk-radio hosts, leave for greener pastures.
But here's the thing: those states will eventually have to either raise taxes or cut services. One reason Florida is a popular destination is its low tax rates. Another is, its former governor was the brother of the former President, and so landed an awful lot of earmark money from Congress and that administration.
That's going to stop. It's just a matter of time. So when Florida begins to decay in terms of services it can provide, what will it do?
And what will they do?
All it will prove is that I was right from the get-go.

I Know How Christ Matthews Feels

For a while there, I forgot he was a dick.

All Things In Moderation

I confess I did not watch the State of the Union address last night, primarily because I could have written it myself.
SOTU speeches are usually full of vigorous promises and hopeful solutions which later get bogged down in the idiocy of groupthink. As someone famous once said, "A person is smart. People. Are. Dumb." That character when on to point out that people are terrified when in large groups.
It's true. It's something both sides of the political spectrum exploit, too, altho the Republicans seem to be past masters of it, while Democrats tend to be more obvious in their bloviating.
How we perceive something initially on our own becomes a very different story when we've shared that experience with a group of people. Alone, most of us get the facts straight right away, and keep them fairly straight in our heads because we haven't discussed them (this is why jurors are instructed not to discuss the facts of a case until they are in deliberations, by the way). Perception is an individual thing, and how I see something will be very different than how you see it.
We compare notes, and what usually ends up happening is, absent a convincing argument by the smarter party (usually involving his or her authority or experience), both sides end up tailoring the story to fit the lower common denominator.
Now multiply that by hundreds, thousands, millions.
Or Congress.
The general perception of last night's speech, while scanning the opinions of people on the Internet, is the left feels Obama has sold them out, throwing a crumb here or there, while the right is touting Obama as some wild-eyed angry savage (Yup. Subtle racism is still rampant on the right!)
It doesn't matter. What does matter is whether the follow through on the promises made is effective or not. You see, Americans are not opposed to left wing OR right wing solutions...that work. The only way they will work is if they are enacted which requirtes Congress to put aside the rancor, drub the minority as deep in the shit as possible, and start passing bills (or as with Bill Clinton, they can be enacted by fiat, but after eight years of George Bush, I can't imagine the American people will sit still for yet another childish cowboy throwing tantrums).
Read the promises. Read the speech. Then pick one topic, one promise, and get your Congresscritters attention on it.
It couldn't hurt, and activism may actually help save our democracy.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

There's A Lap For That

My biggest concern when apprising the rumours regarding the Apple iPad (formerly the iTablet) were how much flesh I'd have to give up to have it, and whether I'd have to cancel my iPhone contract prematurely in order to have one.
Turns out, not so much. I didn't think this would replace the iPhone, since a) it's too big to stick in a pocket and b) it would have cannibalized sales of the new 3GS just as that was hitting the markets in Asia.
But, it's a nifty little travel Mac. It's most like the Macbook Air, which means it's basically useless as anything other than a device you'd take to the beach to read a book or around town to upload photos with.
But the price might make that usefulness turn into downright utility. At $499 base price (without 3G, with 16G of memory, or the low-end iPhone current capacity), it's a Kindle on steroids, a portable television (HD, no less), and that alone make it comparable to buying two devices (a good DVD player and a Kindle).
The top end, 3G capable, 64G storage (flash memory only, which means this thing will zoom) will go for $849, absent a data plan (AT&T announced a $30 per month plan, no contract, but the iPad has already been cracked for use with any other network you can sign up with).
Still not bad, still in keeping with Apple's premium pricing policy, and yet, still not a netbook per se.
But not bad. Not bad at all even at the low end.

Where No Man Has Gone Before...

Reports say when the White House releases their budget proposal, there will be no money for the program that was supposed to return astronauts to the moon by 2020.

Reports say NASA will instead look at developing a new "heavy-lift" rocket that one day will take humans and robots to explore beyond low Earth orbit.

One year ago President Obama had backed a Moon return mission in the NASA budget.

There's an abounding irony in the fact that a Republican president, desperat to reverse his sagging polls numbers amidst the long-standing accusation of intellectual uninterest in the world around him, propsed not only a return to the moon, but an eventual manned landing on Mars, while the Democratic president whose intellectual curiousity teems across his life has proposed stifling that ambition.
The budget, you see, affects more than just our paychecks. It affects our humanity.
I grew up in the Space Age. The world had a future. Space had a future. Mankind had a future.
Forget colonizing other planets in our solar system! Yea, we'd establish outposts and such and do experiments. Maybe hippie communes might spring up, but space had a wealth of resources that we could use to improve the human condition.
Offshoring manufacturing would take on a whole new meaning as we'd head out to the asteroid belt, pick an appropriate rock and as we dragged it back to high earth orbit, begin to refine out metals and chemicals, processes that pollute our environment horribly. The dollar cost of the mission would be more than offset by the real savings to the environment, to the air, earth, and water, to Gaia.
We would beam back energy from solar panels floating at Lagrange points around the earth in stable orbits. No more war for oil. Sure, there'd be money to be made, but if someone tried to corner the market, someone else would fire up a rocket and deploy his or her own satellite.
And that's just the beginning. The technologies that grew out of the space program, everything from Tang to hazmat equipment to the modern computer, have served us well and one can only imagine what new technoloies could come from the needs of the astronauts.
A country is suffering a drought? It might be cheaper to drag a comet to low earth orbit and make it rain into that country's reservoirs than to bring it by the bottle or boatload across a sea. A nation needs a tourist attraction, a way to bring people to it? Well, if it has a nice climate and a lot of flat open space, it could offer to build a spaceport.
The cultural impact of space exploration cannot be ignored. Neither can it be put off. Eventually, someone is going to realize that we don't have a lot of time or space left on this planet, and if we start now, it will be cheaper in the long run. While I can appreciate the budgetary needs of the Federal government in this time of belt-tightening and counting pennies, this is something that needs to be kept on the table year after year, as a reminder of what it means to be human.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

President Mike?

Repetition is the sincerest form of mockery:

NEW YORK -- New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg insists that hiring Hillary Rodham Clinton's former media strategist is not a step toward a possible presidential run.

Howard Wolfson helped Bloomberg win a third term last year and is coming to work at City Hall as an adviser.

You may recall he said the same thing in 2008 before finally deciding to endorse Barack Obama for President against Hillary Clinton.
That's how early he gave up the ghost. Likely, Bloomberg calculated the economy's toll on a Presidency and decided that he'd rather someone else pick up the slack. If he runs in 2012, he'll have the benefit of four years of Obama's attempts (success or failure) to revitalize the economy.
Too, there are rumours running around that Obama is pondering just a one-term run. This is all probably just hedging his bets, freeing him to be Presidential, but you can do that and still win re-election. In fact, I've long maintained that the best Presidents are those who aren't guaranteed a second term by dint of a first term blowout election (like Bill Clinton, who won only a plurality in 1992).
Still, that Bloomberg has locked up Howard Wolfson, who did a pretty good job selling Hillary Clinton, altho he could have done better, and stowing away his billions to gear up for a run has got to be disconcerting to someone like Sarah Palin, who would find it very hard to argue with Bloomberg's skills as an administrator or a candidate.

Populism! If You Can Afford It...

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about "profiteering."

The convention's difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.

The convention, to be held in Nashville in early February, made a splash by attracting big-name politicians. (Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska is scheduled to deliver the keynote speech.) But some groups have criticized the cost — $549 per ticket and a $9.95 fee, plus hotel and airfare — as out of reach for the average tea partier. And they have balked at Ms. Palin's speaking fee, which news reports have put at $100,000, a figure that organizers will not confirm or deny.

There's a certain irony that a supposed "grass roots movement" would price itself out of hearing the voices of the people it supposedly represents, like working and middle class voters, afraid and angry at the targets of the rhetoric that the real voices represented, the coal and oil industries, the rich and powerful, have been waging.
Interestingly, they have taken a page out of American history: the original Sons of Liberty (you might recall them as the Boston Tea Partiers) were an elitist group of wealthy Northeastern landowners and middle class merchants who were tired of taxation by the British crown.
You know, the liberal coastal elite!
Indeed, the American Revolution, the spawning "Of the people, by the people and for the people", was in reality a movement of the artistocracy in this country, and the laws passed by the Continental Congresses reflected this, particularly when it came to human rights (votes were limited to white males who owned property, as an example).
The SoL did eventually expand their ranks because, let's face facts, a revolution goes nowhere unless it has popular support. Even at its height, the American Revolution had plenty of people, rich and poor, who really preferred to remain status quo. Chapters of the Sons opened in every colony, and recruited a fair number of men (and a few women) to their ranks.
But, I doubt they would have charged the equivalent of $450 to attend a Tea Party!

Republican Rape Of America

Well, here we go again! Eight years of Republican preznidentin' and...
Item I - Decade of Decline in U.S. Teen Pregnancies Ends.
Item II - Welfare rolls up in '09; more enroll in assistance programs
 But hey, the Republicans are the party of personal responsibility, while the Democrats are the socialists who want to see everyone on welfare!

Tenth Avenue Freezeout

 WASHINGTON — President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.
The officials said the proposal would be a major component both of Mr. Obama's State of the Union address on Wednesday and of the budget he will send to Congress on Monday for the fiscal year that begins in October.

The freeze would cover the agencies and programs for which Congress allocates specific budgets each year, including air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks.

On the face of it, this budget freeze makes a lot of sense, even if it has the liberal wing of the nation in a flutter.
Look, not to put too fine a point on this, and at the risk of my liberal cred, I think Obama might have a point here: there's only so much we can spend, and unfortunately, much of that stimulus spending, as Joe Klein points out, nearly $600 billion of the $787 billion package went directly to taxpayers and the services they count on day to day.
Much of the rest went to public works projects that will create jobs...once the money starts getting spent. The trouble is, it was left up to Congress to deal with which shovel-ready projects would be picked, a bad idea in the best of times, a worse idea in an era of absolute partian rancor.
We're facing trillion dollar budget deficits, of which some ten to twenty percent can be attributed to the legacy of the Bush administration...unless of course you want to lay blame for the current recession at his feet as well, in which case, well, 100% of the trillions in annual debt is his. I don't think he's as much to blame for causing this economic collapse as much as he facilitated it.
Economies collapse under all regimes and administrations...except, curiously, Democratic ones, but I digress. It doesn't matter if it's a democracy, monarchy, tyranny, what have you: economies are cyclic.
The budgets he's proposed to freeze amount to about a sixth of annual government spending, so will lower deficits a little. It would be nice, hell, it would be revolutionary, if Obama actually proposed cutting the military budget a little as an acknowledgement that we are no longer fighting two wars, but a war and a half. That would actually make a difference in the deficit.
I don't know how this plays out: what taxes Obama will be forced to raise after the November elections, what actual budget cuts will be made. But I do know that all he really has to play with right now are things on the fringe of the budget and with the budget as frayed as it is, the fringe is a lot closer to whole cloth than we'd like.
We have to have patience here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

This Is Why I Publish Books Under A Pseudonym

Um. Ewww? Now, he's a handsome man, alright, and I'm fairly sure there will be a market for this,'s not Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee. Nothing worse than a soft middle aged white guy doing the nasty on camera.
Like I said, this is why I won't publish under a known name.
Hell, it isn't even Rob Lowe and some faceless nameless hooker.

Joe Klein and Good Sense

Never thought I'd ever type that in the same line, but....

Absolutely amazing poll results from CNN today about the $787 stimulus package: nearly three out of four Americans think the money has been wasted. On second thought, they may be right: it's been wasted on them. Indeed, the largest single item in the package--$288 billion--is tax relief for 95% of the American public. This money is that magical $60 to $80 per month you've been finding in your paycheck since last spring. Not a life changing amount, but helpful in paying the bills.

The next highest amount was $275 billion in grants and loans to states. This is why your child's teacher wasn't laid off...and why the fire station has remained open, and why you're not paying even higher state and local taxes to close the local budget hole.

People are idiots, and American people doubly so. They swallow the garbage whole and then wonder why they keep crapping trash.

File Under "Things You Didn't Know"

Now, this might not surprise anyone under, say, 30, but bubblewrap as a popular shipping material was not widely used until the late 1990s when shipments of computer equipment and other sensitive technology items to which styrofoam might stick and damage became more and more regular.

The Tablet Comes Down From The Mountain

Anyone who's known me a long time knows I'm a buttboy for Apple products.
I've long admired Apple computers, but until fifteen years ago, my income was insufficient to justify purchasing one. Yes, I know the ramble: Apple comes preloaded, no viruses, lower costs to maintain, yadayadayada, so the cost to own is comparable to a cheap PC. I know this because I bought into it eventually. It didn't matter in 1988. I bought a PS-1 for $800. I ended up plowing another couple of hundred on RAM and a hard drive, so yes, eventually it cost as much as a good Mac.
Maybe if Apple had introduced a lay-away plan back then, its market share would be healthier, but I digress.
When I bought my first Mac, a Performa 6360CD, despite that particular model's deep design flaws and the absolutely inscrutable nature of the Apple product line at the time, I fell in love. Here was a computer that actually thought one step ahead of me. Instead of responding to demand, it anticipated my needs. You could tell it had been created by a design team, not a bunch of marketers (altho the Performa, later models would prove, had a lot of input from the Marketeers).
It's gotten so bad that I recently traded in my iPhone 3G for an iPhone 3GS, and now I have cause to re-evaluate even that upgrade. The iTablet (or iSlate, as it's rumored to be called).
Now, the iSlate sounds like it will be an impressive product: a reader to compete with the Kindle, a gaming console that will take on at least the Wii in terms of sophistication, graphics and oh yes, motion control, and a netbook (my real reason for coveting it), if all this can come in at a price point closer to $500 than $1,000, Apple will have yet again redefined an entire market.
Or four. the reader, the gaming console (especially on the tail end of a disappointing holiday season which saw no real upgrades to the big three systems) and the netbook. And the desktop PC.
The desktop PC is starting to get long in the tooth as a way for the average person to be connected. The smart phone revolution, particularly after the iPhone, saw to that. Apps that basically take advantage of the concept of cloud computing that you can download to your phone allow you to be mobile and in touch.
The only area that Apple will struggle with here, I think, is the netbook. You see, netbooks are cheap pieces of PC crap that are cobbled together with little thought to anything except being able to get data and information from here to there.
Apple doesn't do cheap. They've said so in the past that the netbook is a market they'll concede. At least that was true.
Too, AT&T, the iPhone's only authorized US service, has refused to unlock tethering, or using your iPhone (or data account) to access the Internet from a laptop or 3G modem (a development which simultaneously pissed me off and intiated my sole attempt to hack the AT&T network).
My suspicion is, the iSlate is the reason why. I imagine that AT&T will allow tethering only if you have an existing iPhone account, or buy a data plan when you purchase the iSlate.
If AT&T is clumsy enough to insist that you have a separate account for the iSlate if you already have a contract for the iPhone, it will likely kill the iSlate. If Verizon is the carrier of choice for the iSlate, that will piss off the installed base of iPhone users (something like 8 million in the US, with a predicted jump to 23 million by year's end) who are contractually obligated to stay with AT&T. The logical choice is to offer the iSlate on both networks and force AT&T's hand.
Steve Jobs is probably pissed as hell that he's had to genuflect to AT&T's core incompetence. We've seen a woefully slow rollout of the 3G network, serious outages and blind spots where it actually does exist, and a trickle of improvements (waiting two years for picture messaging? Are you kidding?) over the years. Verizon refused the offer of the original iPhone, likely because it had just rolled out its V-Cast services, including music, video and TV shows, and would have been in direct competition with the iTunes store.
You don't see many Verizon commercials for the V-Cast service anymore.
Anyway, I'll probably grab one when it hits the shelves in June, even if I have to limit it to WiFi use only. It will be a game changer.

Putting His Long Pants On

One of the reasons I endorsed Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the primaries two years ago was my concern that Obama might not have the ability to put up a tough enough fight, whereas Clinton was battle-tested.
Apparently, Obama himself has come to that realization:

WASHINGTON—Coming off one of the most difficult weeks of his presidency, Barack Obama has beefed up his political staff and is expected to deliver an uncompromising State of the Union address. Aides said Sunday that the White House wasn't making any abrupt policy shifts, even as the message was retooled to focus more sharply on job creation.

If anything, an unfinished agenda from 2009 will grow larger as, in addition to tackling health care and unemployment, the president presses for a bipartisan commission to tackle the budget deficit against resistance from Republicans.

White House officials said Obama campaign manager David Plouffe would be brought on as a political consultant as the White House gears up for the midterm elections.

The president's party is facing a stiff headwind from an electorate angry about high unemployment and what they see as ineffectual government, White House officials said. Republican Scott Brown's capture of the Massachusetts Senate seat Tuesday was a first shot in what Democrats worried would be hard-fought contests in November.

Now, I can't really argue much with Obama's decision to try to be bipartisan and conciliatory. After all, we just spent sixteen years dealing with an uberhostile Republican party that was soundly and thoroughly drubbed for two straight election cycles. You'd think they learned their lesson.
Too, he use a euphemism, so his entire administration was going to be viewed thru a lens different than any other president's would be. He had to grab hold of the same courage that Jackie Robinson did, and be above reproach.
But circumstances changed as the economy dropped into the toilet, and the political dialogue of this nation was shaped by a relatively small band of extremists known as Teabaggers. An astute politician would have sniffed the change and changed his strategy. Obama did not, but it might not be too late.
And that whole "above reproach" theme, while noble, was shattered as the Teabaggers became more noxious, uglier and more strident in their approach, particularly after lifting Glenn Beck up on their shoulders and carrying him around.
Barack Obama came out of the Chicago school of politics, which might actually be nastier and more brutal than its school of economics. I have little doubt that when he decides to roll up his sleeves and stop playing nice in the sandbox, mudpies will be flung. Bringing in David Plouffe, who managed Bob Toricelli's Senate campaign. Toricelli, who came up thru the New Jersey political machine, was a tough-as-nails politician who had no problem in playing dirty.
The sense I get from the Plouffe return is President Obama, who has been willing to let things hatch out, looking longer term, needs someone in place to get him to the next step in his vision. Plouffe is a plain-spoken, bare-knuckles, no nonsense type of guy who can do that.