3.31.2011

Worth Considering

Here is Rand Paul's take on the Libyan military actions from the floor of the Senate:



ht/OOTM

Peaking

3.29.2011

It's getting hard to keep track

Gov. Scott Walker's administration announced Tuesday that the state will seek at least $150 million to add equipment and facilities for Amtrak's Hiawatha line.

This train money comes from Florida turning down a project, part of the funding for which came from Walker's earlier rejection.

Hooray for trains now? At least it's a start.

3.22.2011

Good question, George

UW History Professor duel

Jeremi Suri:
Today, the Tea Party has revitalized McCarthy’s playbook. Based largely in small towns and rural areas of the United States, Tea Party supporters have broken most assumptions of civil discourse, attacking their opponents, often denying that their opponents are even “American.” They have exploited the modern media with simple catchy phrases, distorted images, and intentional distortions of the truth. Most of all, they have targeted vulnerable groups with weak local ties, groups that resemble those attacked by McCarthy: unions, mainstream celebrities, intellectuals, and civil servants. Sometimes they even lapse into their accusations against Jews and communists – such as when they attack Chicago mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel as un-American and condemn health care reform as socialism. The rhetorical extremism of the Tea Party is McCarthyite in tone and substance.

William Cronon:
Scott Walker is not Joe McCarthy. Their political convictions and the two moments in history are quite different. But there is something about the style of the two men — their aggressiveness, their self-certainty, their seeming indifference to contrary views — that may help explain the extreme partisan reactions they triggered. McCarthy helped create the modern Democratic Party in Wisconsin by infuriating progressive Republicans, imagining that he could build a national platform by cultivating an image as a sternly uncompromising leader willing to attack anyone who stood in his way. Mr. Walker appears to be provoking some of the same ire from adversaries and from advocates of good government by acting with a similar contempt for those who disagree with him.
I disagree, to various extents, with both of these men -- but with one, I feel I could at least have a decent and productive conversation. Can you guess which?

And for bonus points, what is the degree of irony for accusing the Tea Party of Jew-baiting while decrying rhetorical extremism?

3.21.2011

SCOTUS on Bloomberg's TARP inquiry

This is good news for transparency.

Electric




































Mardi Gras Indians, Uptown Tribes, Central City, New Orleans
Super Sunday/St. Joseph's Day, 2011

3.20.2011

Libya

Why, as of yesterday, are we getting involved militarily?

I am strongly opposed to the U.S. inserting itself into yet another conflict where, despite assurances of limited engagement, there is certainly a chance of escalation and a decade's worth of fighting and/or peacekeeping...when we haven't wrapped up two other major drawn-out conflicts/nation-building exercises.

There are so many questions: Why now and not earlier in the civil war?  Why this country and not many others where people are oppressed by their leaders?  Is this about our national interest in any way (even if this was about resources, 85% of Libya's oil is exported to Europe)?  Did the President request a declaration of war from Congress before authorizing U.S. engagement - when it was clearly possible?  And what other diplomatic efforts did the U.S. actually undertake before this step - since Obama said “I want the American people to know that the use of force is not our first choice, and it’s not a choice that I make lightly." - ?  How are we paying for the expenditures that accompany the many cruise missiles fired, etc.?

There is also the grim irony that Drudge points out rather effectively:

MARCH 19, 2011
OBAMA: 'Today we are part of a broad coalition. We are answering the calls of a threatened people. And we are acting in the interests of the United States and the world'...


MARCH 19, 2003
BUSH: 'American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger'...

Yes, there is support coming from various European quarters.  Yes, the UN Security Council authorized the action.  Yes, one could hope that this exercise will resemble the first Gulf War rather than the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Yes, a despot is acting brutally against his own people.

But I don't think this is a matter worth engaging in at this time, as far as the U.S. is concerned.

3.17.2011

Forgotten corner


Much of Manila is very new -- and most of Pasig City, where I live, tends to be on the newer end of new, being a recent, and mostly business, district. That tends to mean uninspiring skyscrapers or hulking dictator-cement bunkers. So it's always a pleasure to bump into something graceful and with perhaps a bit of history to it. I haven't been able to figure out what this little building is, sandwiched as it is between two gigantic malls and a couple of call centers. But I always like walking past it.

3.16.2011

A little bit on radiation

In grad school, we have to take a lab safety class. One of the topics is radiation. It's actually really simple.

Atomically unstable materials give off radiation as they decay. If you're close to some, the emitted radiation goes into you and starts to knock around your molecules. As soon as you move far enough away or turn off the source, as with an X-ray machine, you stop receiving radiation. Radioactivity is not contagious so just from being around radioactive material will never make you 'glow'. Even a huge, deadly dose of radiation won't turn you radioactive in the hours before you succumb.

What is bad is contamination. If one were to touch radioactive material or breathe in dust from radioactive materials exposed to air, then some of the dust gets embedded in one's body. Assuming you can't remove the individual atoms, those atoms continue to emit radiation from inside your body and whatever body part is then effectively radioactive. That's why people dealing with nuclear materials wear spacesuits and get scrub-downs.

With this in mind, nuclear bomb blasts aren't necessarily terrible--if you overlook the horrific burns and destruction due to high pressures, winds, and temperatures--but the fallout is. Similarly exhaust from burning coal can be an issue since burning it releases very small amounts of radioactive atoms into the air, in addition to chemicals like mercury. Lastly, you might have heard of dirty bombs. Those are normal bombs packed with radioactive dust so when it is exploded, the dust is scattered.

3.11.2011

With the most recent census

The first state capital of Illinois, and old French settlement, dropped from first to second smallest municipality in the state.

Kaskaskia is also the only city in Illinois on the far side of the Mississippi. A book I recently read about the history of steam engines mentioned that after steamboats became popular on the river, all the trees along the river were cut for wood. Without them, the banks eroded and the river became shallower and wider, enabling larger floods. In some spots the effects were so large the river eventually found a new course, as with this town.

3.10.2011

Check this out

There's video! It's like it's from a movie or something:



Peter Barca is from my corner of the state.

Update: here's another video. It's of the legislators then being evacuated by city bus:



Maximum irony?

A dilemma

In early December, my parents sent me a care package -- full of delicious Wisconsin cheese. This is a thing I most certainly cannot get here -- we're mostly relegated to Kraft Singles and suchlike. The package has yet to arrive.

So here is my dillema: should I hope that this package full of the one thing I'd hoped for as a Christmas present but still hasn't gotten here was intercepted and eaten, thus giving me hope that at least someone enjoyed it? Or should I hope that it is buried in a corner of the office of whatever crummy post office bureaucrat hasn't bothered delivering it, stinking to high hell, thus giving me the sweet feeling of revenge? Discuss, bearing in mind that I remain cheese-less.

What say ye?
Revenge cheese!
Eaten cheese!

  
pollcode.com free polls

3.09.2011

Wisconsin drama

Surprise! This afternoon the anti-collective bargaining bill was split off of the budget, passed through a new committee in a matter of hours, and approved by the Senate with a republican simple majority since by itself it is not a financial bill.

Apparently at least one democrat tried to rush back in time. There may also be an issue with passing the matter through a committee without 24 hours notice.

There was one dissenting vote in the senate, Dale Schultz. I remember him from when he spoke to us at the College Republicans. That has to be four or five years ago already. He seemed like a good guy. As far as I can tell through the most recent events, he seems to have continued being reasonable.

It's probably going to be crazy around the Capitol through tomorrow as the Assembly has to pass it. Then they go on recess for a month. I wonder if this was always going to happen today anyway because of that.

Death penalty: terminated

Illinois abolishes the death penalty.

Since the 1977 when death was reinstated the state has executed a dozen people with the last one being in 1999. In 2003 the then governor, who was a republican, put a moratorium on it and commuted sentences. The current governor seems to have been in support of capital punishment, but passed the ban in the end.

North of the border, capital punishment hasn't been available in Wisconsin since 1853.

Overall I think getting rid of it is a good thing. Out of the modern world, Japan and the US are the only countries to retain it. Eye for an eye and acting in revenge is something to rise above.

For that matter, I don't think it's much of a deterrent. If anything the death penalty is like an ejector seat sparing the person from being forced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

There's also the issue of justice and evidence and whether accidentally executing a single innocent person is worth putting to death a bunch of guilty people.

"From Cairo to Madison, political contention has motivated major public protests on a scale not seen since the late 1960s."

Professor Jeremi Suri dissects worldwide discontent:
We might call it the "representative gap." In each and every society experiencing major protests today there are political leaders in power who have strong claims to legitimacy based on established procedures of selection: tradition, elite consensus, party promotion, and popular election. All of the figures under public attack can claim that their authority is "normal," "constitutional," and "recognized" internationally. Citizens are not confronting usurpers, but entrenched political powers.

That is precisely the point. The diverse men and women who have taken to the streets in different societies comprise groups of educated, articulate, energetic, and mostly young citizens who feel locked out of power. Established political processes in nearly every major society are organized around interest groups that are corporate, backward-looking, and middle aged. They think in terms of factories, budgets, and public order. They are generally baby-boomers who came of age after the Second World War and are fearful that their present earnings and security are jeopardized.
He's arguing that this holds true for the unions protesting in Madison as much as the students in Egypt, which is an interesting, and I think very problematic, argument to make. I wonder how the Tea Party fits into this rubric, too.

Added: The more I think about this, the more it rankles. Are the anti-Walker union protesters not themselves "baby boomers who came of age after the Second World War and ... fearful that their present earnings and security are jeopardized"? The shoe seems to fit pretty well.

I think Suri here is unfortunately falling into a trap of taking a thesis that gorgeously explained one thing and applying it incorrectly to something else -- here, the idea that one underlying cause unites significant social upheaval across disparate countries. I'd be perfectly happy arguing something along the lines of "the global recession has brought simmering social tensions based on years of infrastructural imbalances to a head, forcing countries worldwide to undergo a difficult transition period to correct the same." But Suri overreaches when he attempts to paint the unions with the same brush as the student protesters across the Middle East, and is poorly served for it.

Edit: I'll retract my suggestion that Suri directly compares the North African autocrats and Governor Walker. But using phrases like "representative gap" and suggesting that all of these leaders derive claims of legitimacy from "party promotion, and popular election" still seems to conflate the leaders in problematic ways. A deeper discussion of the issue would have served him well here.

3.08.2011

A Spratlys spat, or: complications of a rise

A renewed spat in the South China Sea is highlighting hurdles China will have to overcome in order to truly be the regional leader it envisions itself as:
The Philippines last week lodged a complaint after two Chinese vessels ordered its oil exploration boat to leave waters near the disputed Spratly islands, and Vietnam has protested against Chinese military exercises nearby.

"China holds indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea islands and their adjacent waters," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters.
China has for some time been pushing claims further out into trade route waters, and tends toward a nationalist tack in pressing its claims. Its economy certainly exerts a great pull, and although its navy still doesn't come close to matching the force-projection of its American counterpart, its military is generally poised to back up Chinese claims.

But all of this serves to undercut the country's soft-power influence in the region, alienating those who might otherwise be more cooperative. India is expanding its influence exactly at the cost of China's lack of soft power:
As the Philippines protests the latest Chinese military action in disputed areas of the South China Sea, India is ramping up its charm offensive in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, pushing for close economic cooperation with the 10-member regional grouping.

"The shift of power to Asia in this century is almost a cliché now," Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said here last week at the two-day Delhi Dialogue III. "We are committed to deepening our engagement with the countries of ASEAN."

Krishna pushed for the construction of "an inter-connected economic bloc" between India and ASEAN. This would revive ancient economic and cultural ties.

"India and ASEAN are natural partners," said ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan. "Together we are a formidable force."

Your government is working hard for your benefit...

...grading tests.

...making commercials.

...tracking guns.

...deciding what you have to look at.

...keeping information safe.

3.02.2011