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Sometimes it’s good to forget

In these times when we’re headed off a cliff, and no way of knowing whether we can fly, it’s good to see that sometimes troubles end.

A guard tower on the East German border is now a summer house. (From Paul Kaye’s series on the BBC about the Iron Curtain.)

A green and pleasant scene of shrubs and well-tended lawns on the banks of the Elbe

A happy New Year to all.

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Mr. Get-over-it Does It Again

(I’ve been out with swine flu. It was so peaceful, not knowing the news, I kept floating in blissful ignorance as long as I could. As far as I can tell, the Copenhagen climate summit hasn’t been discussed much in the US. Or maybe I’ve just been too out of it?)

First, a bit of backstory. For years, most of the world’s countries have been preparing for the UN summit on climate change at Copenhagen. They see climate change coming, they know they’ll suffer from it, and a majority of countries wanted a more inclusive and more binding agreement than Kyoto 1997. So far, not good enough, but better than nothing.

The summit itself was five days of meetings with all the usual wrangling of “You first” “No, you first” and negotiations going far into the night.

Okay, so you have the picture. The whole world, pretty much, has been working on this thing, and as the meeting goes on, the delegates are getting less and less sleep.

Enter the US. Obama decided that he’d come and give a speech at the close, but would eschew dealing with the sweaty, red-eyed delegates before that. High-handed, but par for the course.

And then what actually happened raised US arrogance to a whole new degree. He parachuted in on the last day. There was no agreement to his liking. So he acted as if the UN didn’t exist, and as if 183 countries hadn’t been talking since forever. He had his own private meeting with China, pulled in Brazil, India, and South Africa to make it a bit more multilateral, and announced that an agreement had been reached and the UN could now sign off on it.

The Obama White House mounted a surgical strike of astounding effectiveness (and astounding cynicism) that saw the president announcing a deal live on [US] TV before anyone – even most of the governments involved in the talks – knew a deal had been done.

Then he hopped on his plane and flew home so the snow wouldn’t mess up his schedule.

The “agreement” did not commit to anything binding and expressed a hope (now where have I heard that word before?) for minimal greenhouse gas reductions. The reductions are so minor that even if those targets were met, the data indicate that they would not keep average temperature from rising less than 2C, would not prevent drastic warming, droughts, migration, famine, disease, and, generally, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.

It does, however, allow China, the US, India, and so on, to keep polluting while making polite noises to places like Bangladesh and Florida when they drown.

The “agreement” has too little in it to stimulate green industries, so we won’t be getting that benefit either. It has a promise of $100 billion from a consortium of nations over ten years to help developing countries cope with climate change, but similar promises in the past haven’t led to much in the way of actual cash.

And the “agreement” was such a slap in the face to everyone who’d been negotiating that even reporters for the BBC, who’d rather die than lose their professional detachment, say things like:

The concept that global environmental issues can and should be tackled on a co-operative international basis has taken a massive, massive blow.

The UN climate convention is the flagship agreement, and its outcomes are supposed to be negotiated. This deal was presented to the greater body of countries on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by small group of powerful players.

It is now debatable whether the UN climate convention has a meaningful future, or whether powerful countries will just decide by themselves, or in a small group, by how much they are prepared to cut emissions.

That makes optional the established schemes for helping the poorest countries towards a clean energy and climate-protected future.

The implications for other global treaties that are not meeting their goals, such as the UN biodiversity convention, can only be guessed at.

The Europeans, like all good progressives thrown under the Obama bus, swallowed hard and went along with this thing. Half a loaf is supposed to be better than none. But at what point is that no longer true? How about when it’s down to a couple of dirty crumbs?

The delegates generally were mad enough that they came to no decision. They “took note” of the US agreement and went home. It’ll be a cold day in a globally warmed world before they slog for years so the US can step on them again.

Obama, meanwhile, is back and working the same magic on what’s left of health insurance reform. And the progressives here are also staring at a couple of dirty crumbs, swallowing hard, and preparing to go along with it.

What else can they do? They couldn’t possibly walk out on him. They just have to do what he says. Get over it.

Obama, COP15, climate change, global warming, Copenhagen, UN

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Is it the Y chromosome?

Honestly, I know enough biology to know that it can’t be. It just can’t. And yet how else to explain the sudden ignorance of a guy as sharp as Bob Somerby? He’s talking about Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow beating up on Stupak for tribalistic, Village reasons.
Somerby finds that inappropriate.

For ourselves, we think pro-choice groups have every right to bail on the bill if they decide it ends up affecting choice in unacceptable ways. But then, we also think that anti-abortion groups have the right to make the same sort of decision. That is, to jump ahead just a bit: We assume that different people, acting in good faith, may judge the morality of a measure in different ways.

Leaving Olbermann and Maddow aside, this is the first time I’ve seen Somerby completely miss a question of right and wrong.

What if the amendment read, “Hair straightening is unnatural and immoral. No medical costs associated with complications can be paid for using any Federal tax dollars.” Would he be as tolerant of that viewpoint? Male circumcision is an unnecessary procedure whose only health benefit comes from compensating for poor hygiene (or, in the case of AIDS, from the unnaturally thickened skin of the glans). Would he be as quick to understand people with moral objections to the deformation of men? (Note to the humor-challenged: I’m paralleling anti-abortion attitudes, not actually arguing for a specific kind of anatomy.) If I felt it was immoral and harmful to everyone to overpopulate the planet, and attached an amendment saying that no Federal money should ever be spent on pregnancy, childbirth, or infants after the second child, would he sagely say my morality could become law if I had the votes?

I could have all the morals I want about these things. As soon as I tried to make anyone else live according to them, I would be wrong.

Stupak and Pitts deserve disgrace for trying to take away our rights. It has nothing to do with morals, Stupak’s, mine, or the man in the moon’s. Rights. The right to control our own medical procedures. The right to control our bodies. Rights. Get it?

So, no, “different people, acting in good faith” may not judge a law about rights in different ways. Not even when it’s a law about women’s medical rights.

What is so hard to understand about this? Even with the handicap of a Y chromosome?

Stupak, rights, human rights, politics

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Coakley for President

It’s about damn time this started being said. (h/t Suburban Guerrilla):

Coakley, in her boldest gamble of the campaign, said that fighting for women’s access to abortions was more important than passing the overall bill, despite its aim of providing coverage for 36 million people, establishing a public insurance option, and prohibiting insurers from discriminating against patients with preexisting conditions. [Ed. note: Coverage to some 2 million, varying assistance to the other 34 million. Guaranteed issue, yes, but the pricing of policies for people with pre-existing conditions is basically up to the insurers.]

“To pretend that now the House has passed this bill is real progress – it’s at the expense of women’s access to reproductive rights”

Women’s rights are human rights. Sexism kills.

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You have no rights

The Stupak amendment, the greatest rollback of rights for women in decades is now in that thing the House has been calling a “Health Care” bill. (Links from Reclusive Leftist, The Confluence, WiredLeft.)

But women are just, as always, the expendable canaries in the coal mine. Their rights are toast, which means so are everyone else’s.

I’m going to shout that: WOMEN’S RIGHTS ARE TOAST WHICH MEANS SO ARE EVERYONE ELSE’S.

Rights are for all. When only some people have them, they’re just privileges. And privileges can be taken away.

Think through the consequences of what equal rights for all really means, and you wind up with a system that doesn’t look much like what we have now. There’s lots more about it here, but this is the bit (paraphrased) that concerns us right now:

The right to control one’s own person is fundamental. Even the right not to be murdered is secondary, since killing is allowed in self-defence.

Abortion muddies the argument only because some people believe the fetus is a person with legal rights greater than those of the mother since it can require her life support. There is nothing to stop women from believing this and living accordingly because there is a right to control one’s own body. Depending on beliefs, an individual’s dilemma about abortion may be very complex.

But fair social policies are simple. Either everyone can live according to their beliefs, or nobody can. And personhood is necessarily a belief, a social or religious category. It’s not possible for it to be a matter of objective fact. Biology can only determine who belongs in the species Homo sapiens, but no cellular marker lights up when someone is due to get legal rights.

I’ll repeat: personhood is necessarily a matter of belief, whether that’s based on religion or social consensus.

Therefore those who oppose abortion because they believe the fetus is a person with special status have to hope they are never successful in legislating how others handle their pregnancies. If they are, it means that exceptions could be made to the right to control one’s own person.

Once that principle is admitted, then there is nothing to stop a majority with different beliefs from legislating forced abortions.

Over-population is, after all, the source of the environmental problems killing the planet.

There is nothing to stop an aging population from requisitioning a kidney from healthy people walking around with a spare.

There is nothing to stop doctors from performing medical experiments on you for the public good.

There is nothing to stop the majority from deciding all those old folks are too expensive to live.

Really. Nothing. Once you take away the right to control your own body.

Extreme? Sure. So why is it okay when applied to women?

Stupak, abortion, Health Care Reform Act, HRCA

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Cheering news for a Saturday

You think you got problems? Hah.

Japanese Fishing Trawler Sunk By Giant Jellyfish
The trawler, the Diasan Shinsho-maru, capsized off Chiba`as its three-man crew was trying to haul in a net containing dozens of huge Nomura’s jellyfish. …

The crew of the fishing boat was thrown into the sea when the vessel capsized, but the three men were rescued by another trawler, according to the Mainichi newspaper. The local Coast Guard office reported that the weather was clear and the sea was calm at the time of the accident.

One of the largest jellyfish in the world, the species can grow up to 2 meters in diameter. The last time Japan was invaded on a similar scale, in the summer of 2005, the jellyfish damaged nets, rendered fish inedible with their toxic stings and even caused injuries to fishermen.

As you go through your day, remember, it could be worse.

This concludes our cheering message.

Carry on.

giant, jellyfish, Nomura’s, Nemopilema nomurai

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The color of night

Really. That would be the general color of the night sky if the universe wasn’t expanding. You’ve probably never wondered why the night sky is black. “No sun,” you point out. “Duh.” But it’s not that simple. Every single bit of sky is full of stars, all blazing away. The light may take a long time to get here, but it does get here. So, on that basis, the night sky ought to be a carpet of light from all those uncountable stars. But since the universe is expanding, they’re all moving away from us. Since they’re moving, there’s a Doppler effect and the light is shifted to other wavelengths. The further away they are, the more it’s shifted, until all their light shifts right out of the visible range. And that’s why the night sky is dark except for the few stars whose light is still visible.

So the next time you’re admiring the night, look at the dark, too, and remember that you’re watching the universe grow.

Technorati Tags: APOD, cosmiclatte, average color of the universe

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Obama told us so

There’s some amazement floating around (e.g. Digby, TPM) about this:

President Barack Obama is actively discouraging Senate Democrats in their effort to include a public insurance option with a state opt-out clause as part of health care reform. In its place, say multiple Democratic sources, Obama has indicated a preference for an alternative policy, favored by the insurance industry, which would see a public plan “triggered” into effect in the future by a failure of the industry to meet certain benchmarks.

I’m baffled that anyone is surprised. He told us loud and clear that helping the insurance companies was his priority. When he was an Illinois’ State Senator working on that state’s attempt at expanding coverage, this was the contribution he was proud of:

“We radically changed [the health care bill] in response to concerns that were raised by the insurance industry.” (Obama, 2004/05/19, report from Sep. 23, 2007)

When someone tells you who they are, listen.

health, reform, Obama, insurance

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Sartorial Malignancy

Blogland is abuzz over the latest fashion statement from the anonymous — always anonymous! — powers-that-be. This from Greenwald, but also for instance, Reclusive Leftist and Electric Blues:

John Harwood: “…one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.”

[and elsewhere in the post:]
… people in the basement working in their underwear who write blogs ….

Well, I, for instance, fit the Administration’s requirements. I don’t work in the basement (because I don’t have one, but, hey, it’s results that count). I don’t work in my underwear. (That would be unpleasantly cool where I live.) Nor do I sleep in pyjamas, so I have to get dressed in the morning.

And yet nobody has offered me a Cabinet position yet. Why is that?

I know it has nothing to do with the content of my character or the logic of my thoughts. Who has time for that nonsense? Certainly not an Administration that thinks having the Presidency and filibuster-proof majorities in Congress indicates a “closely divided country.”

bloggers, pajamas, politics

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

History shows that . . .

[CO2] Levels similar to those now commonly regarded as adequate to tackle climate change were associated with sea levels 25-40m (80-130 ft) higher than today.

That’s meters. That’s enough to drown a 10-story building. That’s enough to make several billion people move to higher ground or die. Or both. It won’t be pleasant for the people they move in on either.

And that is not conjecture or a probability statement or an extrapolation.

The new research was able to look back to the Miocene period, which began a little over 20 million years ago.

At the start of the period, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere stood at about 400 parts per million (ppm) before beginning to decline about 14 million years ago – a trend that eventually led to formation of the Antarctic icecap and perennial sea ice cover in the Arctic.

The high concentrations were probably sustained by prolonged volcanic activity in what is now the Columbia River basin of North America, where rock formations called flood basalts relate a history of molten rock flowing routinely onto the planet’s surface.

In the intervening millennia, CO2 concentrations have been much lower; in the last few million years they cycled between 180ppm and 280ppm in rhythm with the sequence of ice ages and warmer interglacial periods.

Now, humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases are pushing towards the 400ppm range [c. 380ppm now], which will very likely be reached within a decade.

“What we have shown is that in the last period when CO2 levels were sustained at levels close to where they are today, there was no icecap on Antarctica and sea levels were 25-40m higher,” said research leader Aradhna Tripati from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

“At CO2 levels that are sustained at or near modern day values, you don’t need to have a major change in CO2 levels to get major changes in ice sheets,” she told BBC News.

The elevated CO2 and sea levels were associated with temperatures about 3-6C (5-11F) higher than today.

So, there you have it. The last time greenhouse gases were this high, there wasn’t a 2% chance of melting ice sheets. There was a 100% chance.

Does that mean it will happen again? We’ll probably see. Because the answer to, “Do you want to risk the whole planet to find out?” appears to be “Yes.”

global warming, Aradhna Tripati

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Vast right wing conspiracy

I just had a thought. Compare these two things:

When anyone named Clinton talks about a right wing conspiracy, they’re nuts.

But when Bush the Second talked about how we had to fight Them over there if we didn’t want to fight Them over here, he knew what he was talking about because he had access to secret information.

?

Just because you’re not paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

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What’s wrong with young people everybody now

I’ve been thinking about the failures of government recently (1, 2), and it turns out I’m in good company. Sachs points out that “Not only are Americans deeply divided on what to do about [everything], but government is also failing to execute settled policies effectively. Management systems linking government, business and civil society need urgent repair.”

He goes on to list examples. Failure to prevent 9/11, to prevent the human toll post-Katrina, to prevent or stop corruption in Iraq, in the US’ own military, the financial crisis, the dilapidated “health” care system, and the literally dilapidated infrastructure.

However, despite a clear view of the scope and details of the problem, he doesn’t make the obvious connections about its source. He identifies the factors as insufficiently regulated privatization, collapse of planning functions, underfunding, and the inability of separate agencies to fit their priorities into intelligent overall planning. These factors are all real and they’re all huge problems, but they don’t spring into being on their own.

The technical experts who electrified the rural US, ramped up a vast industrial juggernaut to help win the Second World War, built the interstate road system, got to the Moon, and invented Medicare did not belong to some strange species whose methods are inconceivable to us. They were, by and large (we’re talking about whole populations, so by and large is what matters) the same people as the ones now incapable of running a hamster in a cage without a kickback scheme to pay for its kibble.

So what is different?

Democracy is one large experiment in accountability, but nobody actually likes being accountable. Over time the people who can will try to get out from under it. Time has gone by, and accountability has been eroded to the point where scamming The System is not a sign of disgrace but of smarts. The legal penalties may be the same or even worse, but the real preventive force, the social penalties have evaporated. There is functionally no accountability. Now the only requirement is not to get caught.

Since, by and large, people do just what is required of them and not much more, the result is that scamming the system is now the norm, not the exception, and everything is falling apart accordingly.

The problem is that the powerful are less and less answerable to anyone. The problems Sachs lists in government, industry, finance, the military, everywhere, can be traced back to an escape from oversight and retribution. Incumbents who do a dreadful job are reelected. Bankers who crash the economy get bonuses. Generals who lie about troop requirements are promoted. News organizations that broadcast nonsense retain advertisers.

Sachs’ solutions to the problems are that changes are needed “not only to policy but also to basic public management systems.”

I don’t think so. People haven’t somehow lost the ability to manage or to plan. We have the same brains and hearts as fifty years ago. The problem is the lack of accountability. You can work on management and planning till you’re blue in the face, but if you have no hold over the people implementing the ideas, you can never make them do their jobs.

The solution is to take away power from the those who’ve grabbed too much of it. We don’t need a reorg. Or not just a reorg. We need to return to accountability. And not in some braindead, No Child Left Untested, cheap, easy, and ineffective way. Politicians who don’t represent their constituents need to lose elections. The media has to fulfill its role in creating that crucial component of democracy: an informed electorate. Corporations need to be responsible for their actions.

What’s more, none of that has to be pie in the sky. Ways of starting down that path aren’t hard to see. For instance:

  • Complete and exclusive public financing of political campaigns.
  • An overhaul of redistricting so that it’s on the basis of topography and population, and ceases to be a way for politicians to select their voters, instead of the other way around.
  • Significant non-profit, taxpayer-supported news.
  • A return to something like the Fairness Doctrine. It was far from perfect, but it was a damn sight better than an echo chamber of nonsense drowning out all other voices.
  • Ending the legal fiction of corporate personhood. Only flesh-and-blood people can be put in jail, and real people who sign off on a corporation’s decisions must be held responsible for them.

These are all legal matters. They don’t require any change in human nature or better behavior on anyone’s part. They require nothing more than a change in the laws.

I can hear you saying, “Yeah. Right. Good luck with that.”

And I can also tell you why you’re saying it. Because these things really would alter the balance of power, unlike an improved planning commission. You know and I know that powerful people will fight to the death against all of them because they’re no stupider than we are. They know that those seemingly small boring laws are the foundation of their might.

So, yes, getting any of those simple things actually done may well be impossible. But that doesn’t change the truth of where the real solution lies. If you’re trying to solve a problem, there’s no point looking for a solution in the wrong place. You will never find it there, no matter how much easier it might look. An understanding of the real solution has one advantage. It makes it simpler to see which courses of action are a waste of time.

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It’s enough to make anyone grumpy

I no longer remember to which kind blog I owe the enormous boon of finding Dr. Grumpy. At least once a day, sometimes oftener, his comments on life, neurology, and everything are laugh out loud funny. Today he’s on about insurance companies (go read the whole thing, it’s impossible to do it justice) and he manages to make even that funny. He needs to start a blog on death and taxes.

Doctor Grumpy in the House: Annie’s Song

If you don’t want bureaucrats between you and your doctor- TOO BAD. They’ve been there for years. THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE THIS PROBLEM ARE PAYING CASH FOR EVERYTHING! …

So what happens to you the way it works NOW, with your non-government insurance?

You come to me for some neurological issue, which requires further work-up. So I order, say, an MRI and MRA of your head.

Annie gets the order, and calls Bozo Insurance, Inc. (BII) to schedule it. BII refuses, saying they want more information. So they fax us a 5 page “pre-auth” form, which Annie spends 20 minutes filling out and faxes back. Then they say the form wasn’t enough, and they also want copies of your office notes, so we send those, too (yup, when you joined BII you agreed that they can read your medical records).

[A] few days go by. BII will claim they never got our fax. Or that we filled the form out wrong. Or that they don’t cover Capricorns when the moon is in Pisces. And we don’t know this until Annie calls back after a few days, because they’re hoping we forgot about it.

Eventually they’ll deny the whole thing, on the grounds that you don’t meet criteria for an MRI and MRA. …

[T]hey tell me I can appeal this via “peer-to-peer” review. Which means I need to personally call their “physician reviewer” to argue with them as to why I want the study.

So, during my insanely busy day at the office I have to call them. I’m promptly put on hold for 10 minutes, before finally reaching the reviewer. This person is a doctor- but NOT necessarily in my specialty. [And so it goes. Dr. Grumpy is an artist, so the story has an ending, but in the real world there is none. It just goes on and on.] …

So how did I get on this tangent? Because yesterday I was walking by Annie’s office, and heard her losing it over the speaker phone. And, as always, she was totally awesome.

Annie: “I’m calling because you people denied an MRI on a stroke patient?”

Pinhead: “Before we discuss this, I have to inform you that this is a recorded line.”

Annie: “Oh, good, hopefully someone will actually be listening to me then. Thus far it hasn’t happened.”

Pinhead: “Let me look up the tracking number… Okay. I have to inform you that we are unable to approve this study. Your doctor will need to make a peer-to-peer call.”

Annie: “Oh, now THAT’s a surprise.”

Pinhead: “What do you mean?”

Annie: “Is this line really being recorded?”

Pinhead: “Yes. It’s to improve customer satisfaction.”

Annie: “Oh, goody, because I’m sure not satisfied, and neither is the doctor, or the patient. Your company, and whoever is listening, never approves anything. In fact I can say that 100% of the time you require peer-to-peer review.”

Pinhead: “We do this to save our customers money on unnecessary testing.”

It goes downhill from there, but at least you’re laughing all the way. That’s also not like real life.

Dr. Grumpy, single payer, health, reform

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What’s wrong with Obama

This is a graph from pollster.com of Obama’s favorable vs unfavorable rating going back to Jan 2008. Anyone who’s read what I’ve written about him (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) knows I think he’s an empty suit. An empty, bigoted suit, pressed by the corporations who own him.

I’ve been wondering what’ll happen when people wake up to the depth of the con. Now I know. Nothing will happen. Waking up isn’t part of the plan. If they have to stop dreaming, they’ll just start hallucinating.

Look at those two converging lines.

That loss of rosy faith is not based on the fact that he’s broken every campaign promise he’s made, starting with not ending the war, the torture, the surveillance, the imperial Presidency, going on with not even trying to deliver on health care for all, and continuing through an endless list.

The pollsters say the loss comes from him being a Muslim Kenyan Socialist Nazi gun-hating terrorist-loving radical leftie.

Christ on a bike in a pancake hat.

A man who spent decades going to the most politically connected church in Chicago is not a Muslim. (Original article taken down from Chicago Tribune, May 2008)

A man who’s never since childhood spoken with an aunt, dearly beloved as per his book, an aunt who turns out to be barely scraping by in a Boston housing project, such a man knows less about the Kenyan concept of family than I do, to say nothing of actually having anything Kenyan about him.

A man who throws about a trillion taxpayer dollars (a trillion for God’s sake) at Wall Street without even trying to stop it from being used to pay obscene bonuses is not a socialist. (There was a feeble attempt after it hit the news, but the attempt was so weak, it died in the Senate without a word from him.)

A man whose idea of withdrawing from Iraq is to escalate in Afghanistan doesn’t hate guns.

A man whose concept of breakthrough thinking is begging Republicans to approve of his every word is so far from being a radical I’d call him a milquetoast.

But none of this is why people are losing that warm fuzzy feeling about him. It’s not even that they’re put off, at last, by the way he’s conveniently oblivious to vile misogyny, his own and his followers’. Or his arrogant disregard of gays. Or the cynical use of racism to squelch a few more voices.

It’s that he’s a socialist radical dictator freak.

And judging by the skid marks, these people brake for hallucinations.

Obama, Socialist, notasocialist, !Socialist

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It’s Bilby Day!

Few things are more worth celebrating than bilbies, and the second Sunday in September is their day. It’s now nearly 7 AM on Sunday in Australia, so what are you waiting for?

The omniscient Wikipedia notes:

They are nocturnal omnivores that do not need to drink water, as they get all the moisture they need from their food, which includes [... let's just say "everything"]. Most food is found by digging or scratching in the soil, and using their very long tongues.

Unlike bandicoots, they are excellent burrowers and build extensive tunnel systems with their strong forelimbs and well-developed claws. A bilby typically makes a number of burrows within its home range, up to about a dozen, and moves between them, using them for shelter both from predators and the heat of the day. The female bilby’s pouch faces backwards, which prevents her pouch from getting filled with dirt while she is digging.

What more could you want?

bilby

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Mt. Wilson and the fire

The last couple of weeks, the world in all of Greater Los Angeles has looked like this:

I’m 70 miles further west. The skyscrapers would be too small to see (and they’d be hidden behind the curve of the Earth) but the cloud looked much the same. That’s how huge it was. (There are many more amazing fire pictures at the LATimes site, besides the one by Dan Bartletti above.)

Three weeks earlier, I’d been up in the mountains that are now black stumps and grey ash, visiting Mt. Wilson. This was the view from the place that was going to be in the bullseye under that cloud.

I’d gone up to visit the Hale telescope. There aren’t enough superlatives in the language for the Mt. Wilson telescopes. It was where people first discovered that our galaxy isn’t all there is, that some of those fuzzy blobs are other galaxies just like ours. The universe suddenly went from being unimaginably large to being trillions of times more unimaginably large. It was where people found out that the universe isn’t just sitting there, that it’s expanding at vast speeds. It was where, together with the Lick Observatory, they first measured the speed of light. It was where the sun’s magnetic field was first discovered. The list goes on and on and on. Now it has one of the premier interferometry facilities and an important solar telescope (which has the towercam providing views of the whole area).

There are much better pictures at the Mt. Wilson web site, but this is mine of the fabled 100-inch scope. It was so far out at the limits of the technology available in the first decade of the 1900s that it took three tries before they managed to make the mirror, and Edwin Hale had a nervous breakdown because of all the delays.

When the fire came, the authorities pulled out everything they had to save the mountain top, but the news barely reported on the massively significant observatory. The big concern seemed to be the TV antennas propagating dreck from the center of the TV universe.

The brave, sweaty, sleepless, Olympic-athlete firefighters saved the whole place. A few of the Helena Hotshots, from a photo by Mt. Wilson’s David Jurasevich.

When I went in early August, I also wanted to see what was out during our biological equivalent of winter. It’s so dry at this point that most plants have pretty much shut down. But not all of them.

A blazing star doing its thing.

A bumblebee robbing nectar from one of the few types of hummingbird flowers that’s still out.

The interesting thing about chaparral fires is that they jump around. That’s bad because they can really spread. But it’s good because it means many pockets of unburned areas remain. Those very plants, for all I know, are still there, and still being visited by thuggish bumblebees. It’ll be a long time before I can find out because the Angeles Crest Highway is closed indefinitely.

But here’s a couple of Susan McAlister’s photos showing how it looks now.

Station Fire, Mt. Wilson, Hale telescope

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