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Jun. 18th, 2008

08:41 pm - Oily politician, you say?

Having heard a clip from the President's speech about offshore drilling, I wonder if the robotic tone he delivered it in has anything to do with even he realizing it's utter bullshit:



Hopefully that will work... sorry about the fuzzlement; this is the first time I've tried embedding a Youtube video.

Anyway. Dubya has access to the best minds in the oil industry... he must know, as the The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported last year, that opening additional areas on the outer continental shelf would have a negligible effect on short-term oil and gas prices:

The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. (From the EIA) Annual Energy Outlook 2007)

Why is that? There are basically two reasons. First, from initial exploration to the first delivery of crude it takes years to develop a new oil field. There is no chance that these proposed new offshore wells would provide new supplies within a year or two. And the new areas are far from shore, in very deep water, and so will be more expensive to develop than earlier oil fields. If the cost is great enough (and there's an excellent chance of that), oil prices might increase in the short term, as the oil companies have to cover their costs.

And after 2030? Well, if we're still as dependent on oil by then as we are at present, we're screwed anyway. It won't matter how much is coming out of the Gulf of Mexico; production declines in the rest of the world will have rendered it irrelevant.

In short, we're stuck with $100+ per barrel for the duration. We can adapt, or not. There is no way to drill ourselves out of this hole.

May. 7th, 2008

10:20 am - My new Internet crush

I once admitted, in a comment now deleted (a long, not terribly interesting story behind that) that I enjoyed checking in with my favorite Internet crazy people now and then just to see what they were up to. It's not the most noble of pursuits, but fairly harmless. Most of the ranting that goes on in blogs, forums and whatnot just goes off into the ether just like the signals carrying forgotten low-budget early 90's TV shows. (Renegade, starring Lorenzo Lamas, was one of my favorites.)

My favorite BtVS fandom ranters are no longer worth reading; the obsessions that drove them have faded with time, and their writing has turned innocuous and banal. No brilliant eccentrics among 'em, it turned out. But my new favorite crazy person is unlikely to run out of steam, because he has so darned many strange obsessions.

brightstar65, a regular commenter at Salon.com, has at last count made 3103 comments (or "letters" as Salon calls them) to various Salon articles. What they lack in coherence they certainly make up for in passion. Take this recent comment to an article from "How the World Works." The article is a discussion of Fermi's paradox and how it intersects with peak oil theory. Fermi's paradox is simple: Given the vastness of the universe and the large number of worlds, it is likely that many civilizations capable of space travel have arisen. So why haven't we been visited by any spacefaring ET's? A possible answer is that civilizations exhaust their resource base before they can develop interstellar travel.

A bit sad, but logical. But brightstar is having none of it:

I'm fed up with this BS about aliens... the left is chock full of self important egotistic idiots who constantly berate the concept that the universe is filled with life.

One might doubt his reading comprehension skills, as nowhere in the article or the other comments were there any overt political statements or denials of the possibility of other life in the universe. Well, you know what they say about facts getting in the way of a good tirade.

Better yet, he seems to have access to top-secret information:

People in the know-- you know, generals, presidents, scintists(sic) with top secret clearances-- report all the time that there are between 27-48 alien civilization CURRENTLY visiting this planet alone.

And then he goes on to assert that, of course there's a very effective cover-up but nonetheless "you imbecile, people write books and report on it all the time."
But he neglects to mention who wrote them and where they can be found (oddly enough).

Space and space travel are particular obsessions for him-- he's notorious among Salon readers for asserting that NASA is covering up evidence of trees growing on Mars-- but politics, feminism and Ron Paul (whom I place in a different category than "politics" for a reason) also get his juices flowing. And do I even need to mention that he's a 9-11 "Truther"? The letters are a joy or a horror to read, depending on how one looks at it, and there's also the occasional, fairly coherent one. Though the crazy-to-normal ratio is about ten to one.

This definitely sets him apart from the fandom "nuts" that I used to read, because with them it was usually the reverse... 80-90 percent of their writing was normal and unremarkable, until they hit on one of their hot-button topics. So I think that brightstar, unless he gets himself banned, will be worth reading for a long while.

Apr. 8th, 2008

09:08 am - What Pollak said!

He's reacting specifically to the news about the polygamist compound in Texas, but this bit of wisdom covers a lot of bases:

There's always this caveat when people make libertarian platitudes towards sexual culture, as if saying "as long as everyone wants to, it's great" means that it will actually happen. My point is, it doesn't... there's a huge difference between the left/libertarian idealism of sexual liberty in America and the reality of its actual application by people who do not exactly have sexual equality in mind.

Oh, hell yes. And to my mind this is one of the best arguments against legalization of prostitution and other kinds of commercial sexual exploitation: For it to really work, a level playing field is necessary. And of course, the playing field is not level... at present, men have more power than women, and adults will always have more power than children. To pretend that this will change if everyone just mellows out and follows the "do what you will" philosophy is to ignore the realities of human experience.

Pollak just keeps getting better and better...

Apr. 6th, 2008

10:55 am - 10 things you should know about John McCain

Nicked from twistedchick (who got it from Moveon.org):

10 things you should know about John McCain (but probably don't):

1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.

2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi."

3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.3
4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."

5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.

6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.

7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.

9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley, believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a "false cult."

10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.

John McCain is not who the Washington press corps make him out to be.


Sources:
1. "The Complicated History of John McCain and MLK Day," ABC News, April 3, 2008
http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/04/the-complicated.html

"McCain Facts," ColorOfChange.org, April 4, 2008
http://colorofchange.org/mccain_facts/

2. "McCain More Hawkish Than Bush on Russia, China, Iraq," Bloomberg News, March 12, 2008
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aF28rSCtk0ZM&refer=us

"Buchanan: John McCain 'Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi,'" ThinkProgress, February 6, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/02/06/buchanan-gandhi-mccain/

3. "McCain Sides With Bush On Torture Again, Supports Veto Of Anti-Waterboarding Bill," ThinkProgress, February 20, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/02/20/mccain-torture-veto/

4. "McCain says Roe v. Wade should be overturned," MSNBC, February 18, 2007
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17222147/

5. "2007 Children's Defense Fund Action Council® Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard," February 2008
http://www.childrensdefense.org/site/PageServer?pagename=act_learn_scorecard2007

"McCain: Bush right to veto kids health insurance expansion," CNN, October 3, 2007
http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/mccain.interview/

6. "Beer Executive Could Be Next First Lady," Associated Press, April 3, 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5h-S1sWHm0tchtdMP5LcLywg5ZtMgD8VQ86M80

"McCain Says Bank Bailout Should End `Systemic Risk,'" Bloomberg News, March 25, 2008
http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=aHMiDVYaXZFM&refer=home

7. "Will McCain's Temper Be a Liability?," Associated Press, February 16, 2008
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=4301022

"Famed McCain temper is tamed," Boston Globe, January 27, 2008
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2008/01/27/famed_mccain_temper_is_tamed/

8. "Black Claims McCain's Campaign Is Above Lobbyist Influence: 'I Don't Know What The Criticism Is,'" ThinkProgress, April 2, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/04/02/mccain-black-lobbyist/

"McCain's Lobbyist Friends Rally 'Round Their Man," ABC News, January 29, 2008
http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/story?id=4210251

9. "McCain's Spiritual Guide: Destroy Islam," Mother Jones Magazine, March 12, 2008
http://www.motherjones.com/washington_dispatch/2008/03/john-mccain-rod-parsley-spiritual-guide.html

"Will McCain Specifically 'Repudiate' Hagee's Anti-Gay Comments?," ThinkProgress, March 12, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/03/12/mccain-hagee-anti-gay/

"McCain 'Very Honored' By Support Of Pastor Preaching 'End-Time Confrontation With Iran,'" ThinkProgress, February 28, 2008
http://thinkprogress.org/2008/02/28/hagee-mccain-endorsement/

10. "John McCain Gets a Zero Rating for His Environmental Record," Sierra Club, February 28, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/blogs/environment

Feb. 28th, 2008

09:22 am - A small thing, but I'll take it...

So I've written all of four comments (or "letters") at Salon.com, and the most recent one was marked as "Editor's Choice." Very nice. It was in response to an article which pointed out similarities in the rhetoric between slavery apologists of the 19th century (including John C. Calhoun, whom, oddly enough, I'm related to by marriage) and the folks who today insist that we can't afford to fight global warming. The common thread, as I see it, is that in each case you have privileged people saying, "Well, it would cost us too much to change our economic system... so you have to suffer."

One commenter complained that this comparison was unfair because the impact of global warming were much more abstract than those of slavery, so I replied:

The impacts of climate change are not abstract. Global warming is causing drought, wildfires, and catastrophic weather right now. It will cause even more misery in the future. The people affected by these conditions are more likely to be poor and live in less affluent countries, but that doesn't make them abstractions.

Rather predictably, a number of commenters have said that the comparison is specious and inflammatory. To which I reply: too damn bad.

Speakin' of specious and inflammatory...

Well, first: A writer of my acquaintance told me once that he'd discovered that he was part of the same organization as the notorious reactionary anti-feminist, anti-evolution, generally anti-anything sensible blogger known as Vox Day. Yes, that nincompoop is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), the organization that gives out the Nebula awards. Not only that, Vox (whose real name is Theodore Beale) was on Nebula award juries in 2005 and 2007 at least.

Even in a field like science fiction authorship, which has its fair share of kooks and cranks, this is disconcerting. And I know rather how my friend feels, now and then, when I discover that some bozo I've encountered on the web is part of the same community that I am, or has a blogroll that includes sites that are favorites of mine.

As a recent example, there's "ballgame", a contributor to Feminist Critics, a site so packed with dysfunctional people it might as well be called trainwreck.org. And what do I see on his blogroll but many sites that I regularly read... some feminist ones such as Majikthise; not surprising, but The Oil Drum and Jim Kunstler's Clusterfuck Nation? These are both blogs that discuss economics and energy issues.

To be more specific, they're both run by advocates of "Peak Oil" theory. I don't want to get too far into explanations, so briefly: Peak Oil theory holds that we are at or near the peak of global crude oil production. It's still pretty controversial, but it's getting more mainstream attention lately. Recently, for example, Paul Krugman mentioned it in a New York Times column.

What might ballgame's interest in this topic be? Well, controversial or "fringe" ideas tend to attract people with extreme ideas of one kind or another. And it could be that an anti-feminist would like the peak oil concept because the economic/social dislocations it predicts may undermine social justice movements and cause regression toward a more traditional, patriarchal society.

And he may be genuinely concerned about energy issues, too. People aren't simple, and we have amazing powers of compartmentalization. For better or worse.

Perhaps I should go with Groucho's advice to never join a club that would have me as a member. Later, folks...

Current Mood: tiredtired

Jan. 8th, 2008

05:51 pm - Are you outraged by the current Expanded Universe?

Huh. Me neither.

These Star Wars fans in this entry who are upset because slapdash media tie-ins are unsatisfying... well, what did they expect?

Seems to me that a significant chunk of SW fans just will not accept this very obvious point about their fandom: The movies were great fun (or at least the first 2-4 were), but the universe they're set in is about as deep as a dime. And was intended that way. Star Wars and its sequels were a wacky collage of bits from other genres (samurai flicks, WW2 aviation movies, sword and sorcery, martial arts, etc.) thinly overlaid with a layer of science fiction trappings. They were not, and were never meant to be, real science fiction. So take this already thin stuff and spread it out over dozen of tie-in novels, what do you get? 

It's akin to complaining about the blandness of Cheese Whiz, and then consuming more of it. Sheesh. There's a whole world of good cheese out there. Go out and sample it, kids, there's no one stopping you but you.

(Grouchiness over. Later, folks...)

Dec. 10th, 2007

12:33 pm - Delusional real estate prices?

Hmm... the two-flat a couple of doors down from our place is still on the market. The price has been reduced by $50,000, but I don't know if that will help it sell. The real estate market has changed dramatically over the past year.

Meanwhile another two-flat on the next block east of us is for sale for... $849,000. Are they delusional? This is a modest, blocky building from the 50's or early 60's. It was sold last summer and presumably rehabbed. But they didn't have time to do a total gut job... most likely the new owner added some granite countertops, refinished the floors and thought that would do it.

Calling it delusional thinking is perhaps unkind. The new owner would've bought it at a fairly high price (considering the general prices in the neighborhood), and then had to come up with the money for labor and materials for the rehab... just as building material costs were shooting up. The current price for the two-flat may reflect necessity as much as greed.  (ETA: I think I saw this property listed for something like 450K before the rehab.)

Still. I'd be amazed if (s)he actually gets that price for it.

The decline in housing prices may seem like good news to those of us who haven't been able to afford to buy property up to now. Not to mention home owners who've been hurt by the rising property tax burdens that accompanied the run-up in property values. But. There are many downsides. First of all, the rise in real estate was one of the few sources of growth that our economy has had in this decade. With values now declining, there's little incentive to build new housing. So the construction industry, a major employer in this country, suffers and there goes a lot of people's incomes. At the same time, the demand for building materials will decline and the companies that make, distribute and sell the materials will suffer gravely. We may see outfits like Lowes and Home Depot going bankrupt in the next few years.

Likewise, our financial system will be experiencing a lot of sand in its gears as the economy slows down. Bloated and overextended after years of economic growth that (arguably) was largely illusory, the banks and financial systems are ill-prepared to go into reverse. Mortgage lenders like Countryside are in the worst shape now, but the trouble will spread far beyond them. Already there's a serious liquidity problem in the higher levels of the economy, and before too long this will affect the ordinary consumer. Credit card companies, no angels before now, are resorting to increasingly absurd excuses to soak their customers. If this continues, credit will be harder and harder to get, and many people who were counting on being able to finance education, cars and homes will be out of luck.

Which of course will exacerbate the housing crisis, as mortgages are hard to get... so home prices fall... so mortgages become even harder to get... and so on.

You get the picture. I think I'm going to go make a snow angel and not think about this for a while.

Nov. 28th, 2007

10:13 am - RIP, Dr. J. Robert Cade...

The University of Florida researcher who invented Gatorade in 1965 has died at the age of 80, according to this article in The Statesman. The article doesn't mention the first occasion when football players dumped a huge cooler of the stuff over their coach's head, but I'm sure someone out there remembers it.

The funny thing about the taste of the drink, especially the original eerie-green lemon-lime flavor (which remains my favorite): It only tasted good when I needed it, which is interesting.

Always liked this story which I read in Bicycling magazine: A reporter covering a professional race in the US wondered what this thing called "Got-o-rod" was... he finally realized that this was the European's pronounciation of you-know-what.

In other news, I see that my former home state is still making weird headlines: Apparently Phil Kline, the wacko former state attorney of Kansas, now the Johnson County DA, has been only pretending to live in Johnson County.

Law requires that Phil Kline reside in Johnson County, where he serves as DA. If he doesn't he must "resign or be removed from office."

After weeks of staking out a crummy apartment--located on top of a storage facility owned by Phil Kline supporters where he pays $400 per month--KCTV5 never once saw Mr. Kline or his wife come home to the apartment.

Then after following Mr. Kline and his wife on camera numerous times from work they found both Phil Kline and his wife driving to Topeka and staying at a residence they own there. His wife also regularly picks up his daughter from a Topeka school and she too stays at the Topeka home with her parents.


This case is deeply weird, especially because, well, who would choose to stay in Topeka who didn't have to? Maybe Mr. Kline wishes to stay close to the Phelps clan. *sigh*

Speakin' of, just at random last night Sharon and I happened upon a TV show called "America's Most Hated Family" in which Louis Theroux spends three weeks with the Phelps family and is rather perplexed by the experience. As I think I would be.

Coming back from a few days in Kansas myself... well, that's another story.

Nov. 6th, 2007

04:20 pm - Denialism is the same all over

Jeff Fecke at Shakesville has noticed something that I've also noticed: The language and tone of denialists is remarkably similar, whatever the subject is: The Tune's the Same.... He notes that deniers of climate change, evolution/natural selection and domestic violence use similar arguments even though their areas of interest seem to be far apart.

Denialism is basically what happens when a controversial idea becomes the conventional wisdom... there are always some people who, for whatever reason, will not accept it and so they seek excuses for denying the idea.

They tend to refer to themselves as "skeptics" rather than deniers, but this is misleading. True scepticism involves healthy doubt, an open mind, and respect for the truth. Skeptics seek knowledge and will change their minds when they encounter convincing evidence. Denialism, on the other hand, is less concerned about truth than about "winning", and denialists, when faced with evidence that disproves their convictions, will ignore it, attempt to explain it away, or try to suppress it. And then, in an impressive bit of projection, they will often claim that their opponents are the ones suppressing the truth.

Holocaust denial is probably the best-known (and arguably the worst) example of denialism, but I've seen some people make a case for climate change denialism being worse, on the grounds that it has more potential for increasing human suffering. In the short term, at least, this will probably be a "fringe" opinion, as many respected institutions, including the US government, have not recognized the threat of climate change until recently, and some (such as the Wall Street Journal editorial section) still have not. What is clear though, is that denialism is more immediately dangerous when people with wealth and influence embrace it... and in the case of climate change, it's definitely happening.

12:09 pm - And you thought that Charitygate was bad...

Via Sadly, No! I learned of this story that makes the harassment of Christina Hall by Heidi8, MsScribe and assorted minions look like a Unitarian Church potluck: In 2005, Democratic Underground member Andy Stephenson was ill with pancreatic cancer, and uninsured. So his friends organized an effort to pay for his treatment with, as I've once heard it described, "acts of paypal"*, and well...

What followed was a coordinated effort to block Andy’s medical care or his benefit from the medical care we could secure for him. In specific, the Bush right had its agents make small donations so they could then call Paypal with allegations of fraud that froze Andy’s account. They also called Paypal, misrepresenting themselves as the hospital to “verify” that this effort was a scam.

And it got more vicious from there. Due to the frozen funds and the confusion it caused us all, Andy’s surgery date was canceled by Johns Hopkins. It was with great difficulty that we were able to persuade the doctor to be put Andy back into the surgical rotation. That cost him two weeks while he suffered from the most aggressive, invasive form of cancer.


The whole post at Democratic Underground can be read here.

There's also a concise write-up of the story in this Seattle Weekly article.

This is coming to light now because one of the former ringleaders of this campaign, "PJ Comix", is now trying very hard to get fellow bloggers to vote for his site as "funniest" in an online contest, and these efforts got the attention of Sadly, No.

Well, the resulting mockery couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. I had thought the evilness of Charitygate was unusual, but no one attempted (that I know of) to actually interfere with Christina's treatment for cancer. Here, the actions of the online mob not only caused mental anguish, but probably hastened someone's death.

If you're also hearing echos of the recent Graeme Frost affair, y'aint the only one.

*H/T to Allyson B, aka paperdol.

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