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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 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?


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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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Improving (?) Accessibility

[Update: Sep 4. Turns out I can’t get the php switcher to work at all on the actual site. Great. And aarrgh. Some stupid path problem, no doubt. Wish me luck.]

A housekeeping note here. I got a bee in my bonnet about making this site and the one on government more readable on handhelds. I’m firmly convinced that in the future we’ll all be using wristpads capable of projecting readable displays, and I thought I’d start adapting now.

The usual fractal complexity of questions arose when I followed what started as simple search paths. Before I knew it, I’d realized that the two sites also left a lot to be desired for color blind people and for those who might need large type or high contrast.

Thus started the adventure whose buggy result you see before you today. The selection box at the very top of the screen should allow you to choose between the graphics-two-columns version, a low graphics-one-column version suitable for handhelds, and a high contrast version that also allows background and text colors to be selected, as well as text sizes and a few fonts. Font & color selection in the high contrast version require javascript.

The main problem is that the cookie clearing process doesn’t seem to work very well, so you may have to manually select the format you want and change text sizes in your browser to return to a previously selected format. This is annoying. I can’t even say I’m working on it because getting this far has taken two weeks longer than I had and at this point I have to give it a rest. I’ll try to get back to it Real Soon Now.

The complexities involved in doing this stuff are mindboggling, at least to me, who’s never contended with this before.

For instance, it turns out that handhelds make up their own minds about whether to use a handheld version of a web site. Fighting with that is way too complex for an amateur like me, so I decided the simplest solution was to have user-switchable styles. After much searching I found something that sort-of seems to work, but, as I say, it doesn’t return to default at all well.

That struggle, however, paled in comparison to the one for accessibility. Despite days of searching, I have yet to find a site that can render a web page as it would be seen by people with different kinds of color blindness or different kinds of vision problems. (Hint, hint! to some bright programmer out there!) Also very nice would be a “cross-compiler” as it were: something that could take your style sheet and generate others that preserved aesthetic appeal while improving readability.

That “compiler” also needs an option that helps in designing for the blind. I’d hadn’t given thought to the obvious point that organization is critical when using a site with a screenreader. But then when I did try to think about it, I’m completely ignorant of the habits of mind one needs to apply. Something that could streamline the process beyond the basic “jump to navigation” would really help.

The thing is, if there were — in a totally ideal world — easy, one-click ways of making web sites accessible, a lot more people would do it and we could reverse the slide into opacity that the internet browser revolution has wrought.

Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of saying I hope the changes are useful to somebody.

accessibility, web site design, handheld, low vision, impaired vision, color blindness, blind

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