This was taken in Belmont, New Jersey by a man named Mike Black during the big blizzard last weekend. He put a camera on a tripod, set it to take a picture every five minutes and produced this time lapse video.
Hat tip to Jason Kottke
This was taken in Belmont, New Jersey by a man named Mike Black during the big blizzard last weekend. He put a camera on a tripod, set it to take a picture every five minutes and produced this time lapse video.
Hat tip to Jason Kottke
The last time that the top 10 percent of the population got half the national income was right before the onset of the Great Depression. It is interesting, too, that, during the previous century, the period the top 10 percent had the least share of the national income was the period of greatest prosperity.
Yes, I know, correlation is not causation. No, I can’t prove cause-and-effect. What the chart shows is, at minimum, that redistributing income upwards does not guarantee national prosperty.
The Tennessean reported that State Sen. Bill Ketron is drafting a bill that would criminalize illegal immigration, but attorneys are working to make sure the bill conforms with the state constitution.
… when we speak of “criminalizing” that which already is a violation of U.S. law, it shows how confused and confusing the immigration debate is.
Recently the Globe posted 120 of its best photos as a three-part review of 2010. They show the good, the bad and the truly amazing. Click on the links below to see them. If you appreciate good photography, they are worth a few minutes of your time.
As some scholars are pointing out, the George W. Bush era was one of increasing government regulation, but, as this chart shows, it was narrowly focused.
Michael Mandel pointed this out in an article on his web log.
Yes, protecting us against terrorists, for sure, and doing a good job…but in the process making it more difficult for foreign business execs, scientists, and engineers to enter the country…and slowing down air travel…and forcing telecom companies to open up holes in their systems….and so forth.
I’m not arguing that these actions are or are not necessary. But many of the mandates created by Homeland Security are de facto regulations that have imposed an enormous economic burden on the country over the past ten years.
Mike Konzai responded on his Rortybomb web log with the above chart and more detailed analysis. As he noted, financial regulation was kept to a minimum. The number of employees of the Office of Thrift Supervision declined (you would expect a slight increase to keep up with population growth). The Commodity Futures Trading Commission had a mere 122 employees, the lowest level since 1984, attempting to track a financial services industry with thousands and thousands of employees. At the same time the Patent and Trademark Office beefed up its staff, as did the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Bush era brought you a regulatory state of militarized borders, drug wars, strategically weakened financial regulatory bodies for convenient regulatory shopping, and aggressive use of patents to shut down competition. This is not the regulatory state I fight for.
Here is an interview with Charles Ferguson, director of the documentary movie “Inside Job,” about the roots of the 2008 financial crash. It begins with pointed comments about conflicts of interest and Wall Street influence on the economics profession.
My friend Anne e-mailed me a link to an article about how President Richard Nixon ordered the FBI to investigate CBS reporter Daniel Schorr, who was on his “enemies list,” and how they were unable to dig up any dirt about him because he led such an exemplary life. Click on Nixon Era Probe to read it.
The story is a tribute not only to Schorr, but to the integrity of the FBI investigators. They knew what was wanted, and yet they declined to shade the truth. The most striking thing about President Nixon’s “enemies list” was how harmless his enmity was. The worst he could do was order tax audits. Being on the “enemies list” was more a badge of honor than something to fear.
Adlai Stevenson once defined a free society as a society in which it is safe to be unpopular. The Schorr episode shows what it means to live under the rule of law, in which nobody in power can do anything to you so long as you commit no crime.
The movie “X2: X-Men United” begins with the super-villain Magneto in solitary imprisonment in a clear plastic cell suspended in mid-air. His captors hope, in vain, that his conditions of captivity will prevent him from using super-powers to escape.
Pfc. Bradley Manning, awaiting trial on charges of disclosing thousands of confidential diplomatic files to Wikileaks, has no super-powers. Yet he is confined under these conditions.
At Quantico, Manning was placed in solitary confinement under “maximum custody” and a restrictive “Prevention of Injury” order while he awaits trial.
Those restrictions include:
* Detained in his cell for 23 hours a day
* Guards must check on Manning every 5 minutes, and he must reply
* Not allowed to have a pillow or a blanket.
* Not allowed to sleep between 5am and 8pm, with heavy restrictions when he is allowed to sleep.
* Not allowed any substantive exercise.
* No communication allowed beyond a limited list approved by the brig commander. All other letters must be destroyed.
* Not allowed to watch national news.
What’s so terrible about that? It is not as if his tongue is being cut out, as happened to some Iraqis who spoke disrespectfully of Saddam Hussein or his sons. No, his body will not be mutilated, but he is being tortured nevertheless.
The U.S. State Department in its human rights reports on other countries describes solitary confinement as a form of torture. An article in The New Yorker magazine last year told how prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons destroys prisoners mentally; they either become passive, child-like and obedient, or uncontrollably violent. John McCain once said that when he was a prisoner of the North Vietnamese, solitary confinement was worse than physical abuse – which, given the physical abuse he suffered, is an extremely powerful statement.
Experiments with mice, rats and monkeys show that animals deprived of physical contact with other living things become incapable of functioning. Memoirs of American servicemen imprisoned by the North Vietnamese and of Soviet prisoners in the Gulag tell of tapping on the walls of their cells to make contact with other human beings, and of how this human contact enable them to survive mentally.
These ex-prisoners of the Communists tell of how they maintained their sanity through physical and mental exercise – working mathematical problems, recalling and mentally reciting poetry and Bible verses, playing old movies in their minds, prayer and meditation, mental baseball, anything that would give the mind a focus.
Manning is systematically prevented from doing this. He is forbidden to do push-ups or knee-bends; his only permitted exercise is walking (but not jogging) aimlessly in an empty room for one hour a day. Every five minutes, his captors interrupt any chain of thought he may have by asking him if he is okay and demanding he reply. The lights are on in his cell 24 hours a day, so that day or night are the same – except that he is allowed to sleep only between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m., in boxer shorts on a bed with no sheets, and subject to being waked up whenever his guards can’t see his face.
This is being done to someone who has not been convicted of anything, and who, by all accounts, has been a model prisoner. Why? I can think of three possible explanations, not mutually exclusive.
(1) Pure spite and sadistic cruelty.
(2) To instill fear in others who might be tempted to follow his example. What Manning is going through is more terrifying than any punishment prescribed by law.
(3) To induce Manning to testify, truly or falsely, against Julian Assange of Wikileaks. The U.S. government is in the embarrassing position of having declared Assange its Public Enemy No. One without first figuring out what, if any law, he has broken. Attorney-General Eric Holder is said to be thinking of charging Assange with “conspiracy,” which is the crime of helping somebody else plan or commit a crime. I don’t see how he could do that without showing that Assange and Manning had some kind of personal contact. Assange denies this, but maybe Manning can be induced to say otherwise.
The U.S. government need not come up with evidence sufficient to convict Assange in court, only evidence sufficient to take him into custody. The Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has claimed the authority to hold people indefinitely and put them on trial only when and if a guilty verdict is certain. Bradley Manning’s treatment is a only a taste of what Julian Assange would suffer if he fell into the hands of U.S. security agencies.
1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
I wish everyone a
Happy Hanukkah (retroactively).
Pleasant Pancha Ganapati
Beautiful Bodhi Day (belatedly)
Excellent Eid (very, very belatedly)
Happy New Year
or, if you’re not covered by any of the above, Season’s Greetings
or a Bah! Humbug! if you reject any expression of good will because it is politically or doctrinally incorrect.
The science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, who has been writing non-fiction about computer hackers for about 20 years, wrote a piece yesterday about Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Click on The Blast Shack to read it in full. Here are excerpts.
In theory, the NSA could create every kind of flaming scandalous mayhem with their giant Echelon spy system — but in practice, they would much would rather sit there gently reading other people’s email.
One minute’s thought would reveal that a vast, opaque electronic spy outfit like the National Security Agency is exceedingly dangerous to democracy. Really, it is. The NSA clearly violates all kinds of elementary principles of constitutional design. The NSA is the very antithesis of transparency, and accountability, and free elections, and free expression, and separation of powers — in other words, the NSA is a kind of giant, grown-up, anti-Wikileaks. And it always has been. And we’re used to that. We pay no mind. …
So Wikileaks is a manifestation of something that has been growing all around us, for decades, with volcanic inexorability. The NSA is the world’s most public unknown secret agency. And for four years now, its twisted sister Wikileaks has been the world’s most blatant, most publicly praised, encrypted underground site. …
The NSA is “discreet,” so, somehow, people tolerate it. Wikileaks is “transparent,” like a cardboard blast shack full of kitchen-sink nitroglycerin in a vacant lot. …
Despite all my disappointments in President Obama, I do give him credit for the ratification of the START treaty and the repeal of Don’t Act Don’t Tell.
Along with the Democratic leaders in Congress, he kept the Democrats united while attracting support from a sufficient number of reasonable Republicans. It was wise, too, to wait until the lame-duck session of Congress, after the 2010 elections but while the Democrats still had their pre-election majority, to bring these issues to a vote.
The START treaty is important to U.S. national security, and its ratification shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place. The Russian nuclear arsenal is the world’s only threat to the continued existence of the United States, and the treaty, while not ending that threat, brings to day closer when it will end.
I hope I’m not being overly cynical when I note that neither START ratification nor DADT repeal affect the income of any corporate CEO or investment banker, nor the power of any military, internal security or secret intelligence agency.
I do not see anybody else on the American political scene with a realistic chance of being elected President, whom I would prefer to President Obama. But ever since the Carter and Reagan administrations, the national trend in both Democratic and Republican administrations has been for greater unrestrained and unaccountable power for large corporations, Wall Street financiers, and secret governmental agencies, with government paying less and less heed to the middle class and the working class. If even someone with the political talents of a Barack Obama, supported initially by favorable public opinion and a huge Democratic majority in Congress, is unable to change the country’s direction, then I despair of the future.
I make too much of one individual’s personality. The President of the United States does not govern the country by himself. He is neither a dictator nor a magician. Whoever is in the White House will have to deal with the power of corporate wealth to influence the legislative process, the dysfunctional Senate and, if a Democrat, a united and uncompromising opposition party.
The great management scholar Peter Drucker said that if three people in a row fail in a job, the reason is in the design of the job and not the traits of the individuals who fill it. The lesson of the Obama administration so far is that we the people need to address the systemic reasons for government failure.
President Obama’s reasonableness and patience paid off when Congress repealed the legislative ban on gay men and women serving openly in the U.S. military. He held back until after the 2010 elections, then released the Department of Defense report and put the question before the lame-duck session of Congress, the time of minimum political risk. As a result he was able to sign the bill into law yesterday.
He did not of course accomplish this all by himself. A lot of people deserve credit, including Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was the floor leader for the bill in the Senate. We should remember all the people, starting with Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, the first gay serviceman to come out of the closet, whose tireless and courageous advocacy changed public opinion.
Anthony Trollope described this process of change in his political novel Phineas Finn (1867-1868)
“Many who before regarded legislation on the subject as chimerical, will now fancy that it is only dangerous, or perhaps not more than difficult. And so in time it will come to be looked on as among the things possible, then among the things probable;–and so at last it will be ranged in the list of those few measures which the country requires as being absolutely needed. That is the way in which public opinion is made.”
“It is no loss of time,” said Phineas, “to have taken the first great step in making it.”
“The first great step was taken long ago,” said Mr. Monk, – “taken by men who were looked upon as revolutionary demagogues, almost as traitors, because they took it. But it is a great thing to take any step that leads us onwards.”
It is obvious to me, now, that it is wrong to deny patriotic gay people the right to openly serve their country in uniform, or to discharge people who’ve served honorably in the armed services on the basis of their sexual orientation. Nor, if we re-institute the draft, should people be exempt from military service, as they were in the Vietnam era, on the basis of being gay.
The change seems much less momentous than the integration of women into combat forces. That is something I never thought would work, but the evidence shows I was wrong. Letting gay servicemen and women serve openly instead of covertly is much less of a change.
The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials.
The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.
But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.
The reason self-described conservatives have the support of so many white working people is that they are working for a coherent program in a committed, disciplined way. The reason self-described liberals are losing support is that very few of them have the same commitment, discipline and clarity.
The conservative message is that government as such is evil and counterproductive, except in regard to social order, national security and internal security, in which case its powers should be absolute. Also, liberals are cultural elitists whose aim is use the powers of government to impose their crazy ideas on ordinary people. People hear this day in and day out in talk radio and Fox News, with very little push-back in the so-called mainstream media.
I have to respect members of the conservative movement for keeping their eyes on the prize. The present makeup of the Supreme Court and federal courts, as an example, did not just happen. Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict (2007) reports, admiringly, on 40 years of effort, going back to the Nixon administration, to pack the court with judges who could be counted on to vote reliably conservative and yet get past the liberals in Congress.
Self-described liberals for 30 years have lacked a coherent message. As somebody said, a conservative will tell you how conservative he is, while a liberal will tell you he isn’t all that liberal. The so-called mainstream news media are not a counterbalance to the right-wing media. As an alternative to propaganda for an ideology, you have hip jaded cynicism. (That’s an overgeneralization; good reporting is still being done, but you have to look for it to find it.)
Are there any more beautiful songs, known and sung by almost everyone, than the traditional Christmas carols?
A wise friend of mine ignores charitable solicitations that come in the mail. Instead he gives exceptionally large tips to waiters and waitresses, hotel room cleaners and other hard-working poor people.
He says this has the advantage that his entire gift goes to the person to whom it is intended, without anything going to some organization’s administrative overhead or fund-raising expenses. It also respects the dignity of the person receiving the money. They don’t have to feel like objects of charity.
My wise friend gives generously to certain kinds of beggars – not the ones who come to you with some improbable tale of woe, but those who sell pencils or knickknacks, play a musical instrument or otherwise do something in return for what they receive.
When you stop and think about it, panhandling is hard work for low pay. It does not contribute much to society, but it is more useful and less well-compensated than, say, being a hedge fund manager.
Tyler Cowen is an economist on the faculty of George Mason University and the Center for the Study of Public Choice. He is an advocate of tax cuts and balanced budgets and a critic of Keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman.
He wrote a disturbing article recently for The American Interest recently in which he argued that (1) the financial sector is soaking up increasing an increasing share of the U.S. national income and is likely to continue to do so; (2) by so doing it will put the U.S. economy increasingly at risk; and (3) it is hard to see what can be done about it.
He cited statistics showing how the financial sector is growing in comparison to producers of tangible goods and services. From 1973 through 1985, the financial sector never accounted for more than 16 percent of U.S. corporate profits; by 2004, it had risen to 41 percent. From 1948 through 1982, compensation of employees in the financial sector was roughly equivalent to average compensation in U.S. industry as a whole; by the 2000s, it was 181 percent.
Cowen noted that in 2004, the top 25 hedge fund managers received combined compensation equal to all the CEOs of the Standard & Poor’s 500 largest corporations put together. And the number of Wall Street speculators taking in (I won’t say earning) $100 million a year was nine times as great as the number of public company executives taking in that amount.
How did they become so rich? Cowen said it is by means of what he calls “going short on volatility.”
By this he means betting against infrequent events, such as a collapse of house prices, as if they were never going to happen. They are able to get away with this because, when the day of reckoning comes, they are able to walk away from the situation Wall Street firms are public companies, and so the risk of collapse is handed off to the shareholders. And they are so large and so entangled with the rest of the economy that the government can’t allow them to fail. Wall Street executives get to keep gains for themselves, while spreading risk to stockholders and taxpayers (and also to customers who buy securities they don’t understand, an aspect Cowen doesn’t deal with.)
Cowen doesn’t think there is much that can be done. The problem is not so much that the banks are too big to fail as that the bankers are too clever to be regulated. Their financial instruments and activities can’t be controlled because they are too complicated to understand. Whatever regulatory system the government tries to impose, Cowen thinks the so-called financial engineers will find a way to get around it.
For now, he says, the big financial institutions are chastened by the recession, and are inclined to sit on their money rather than gamble with it. The Federal Reserve System facilitates this by lending trillions of dollars at near-zero interest rates, on which the banks can profit by re-lending in the form of short-term commercial paper (money market funds). But sooner or later, he says, there will be another financial bubble.
The underlying dynamic favors excess risk-taking, but banks at the current moment fear the scrutiny of regulators and the public and so are playing it fairly safe. They are sitting on money rather than lending it out. The biggest risk today is how few parties will take risks, and, in part, the caution of banks is driving our current protracted economic slowdown. According to this view, the long run will bring another financial crisis once moods pick up and external scrutiny weakens, but that day of reckoning is still some ways off.
Is the overall picture a shame? Yes. Is it distorting resource distribution and productivity in the meantime? Yes. Will it again bring our economy to its knees? Probably.
1. When the experts are agreed, the opposite opinion cannot be held to be certain.
2. When they are not agreed, no opinion can be regarded as certain by a non-expert.
3. When they all hold that no sufficient grounds for a positive opinion exist, the ordinary man would do well to suspend his judgment.
Click on The Big Picture to see this and 36 other great Christmas photos from the Boston Globe’s web site
There are two aspects to the Julian Assange rape case. One is his actual guilt or innocence. On that I think all reasonable people have to reserve judgment. The other is whether the case was exploited for political purposes. On that I think the evidence is clear.
For Aaron Bady’s well-reasoned argument for withholding judgment on guilt or innocence, click on If You’ll Pardon the Presumption.
For Nate Silver’s well-reasoned analysis of the political motivations behind the handling of the case, click on A Bayesian Take on Julian Assange.
For more information about exactly what Julian Assange is accused of, click on 10 days in Sweden: the full allegations against Julian Assange [Added 12/20/10]
Ishmael Reed, the African-American novelist, wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times taking white liberals to task for failing to appreciate President Obama’s situation as a black man.
Reed recalled all the times he got a “D” in deportment from white school teachers, for doing nothing at all except attending class while black. He wrote that white liberals who criticize President Obama for not acting tough don’t appreciate the problems of a black man trying to make it in a predominantly white society.
Progressives have been urging the president to “man up” in the face of the Republicans. Some want him to be like John Wayne. On horseback. Slapping people left and right.
One progressive commentator played an excerpt from a Harry Truman speech during which Truman screamed about the Republican Party to great applause. He recommended this style to Mr. Obama. If President Obama behaved that way, he’d be dismissed as an angry black militant with a deep hatred of white people. …
When these progressives refer to themselves as Mr. Obama’s base, all they see is themselves. They ignore polls showing steadfast support for the president among blacks and Latinos. And now they are whispering about a primary challenge against the president. Brilliant! The kind of suicidal gesture that destroyed Jimmy Carter — and a way to lose the black vote forever.
Unlike white progressives, blacks and Latinos are not used to getting it all. They know how it feels to be unemployed and unable to buy your children Christmas presents. They know when not to shout. The president, the coolest man in the room, who worked among the unemployed in Chicago, knows too.
A black blogger named Sheria had this to say.
See, as a black person I’m so sick and tired of white liberals who have still enjoyed the privilege of being white trying to tell a black man how to navigate in a white world.
You don’t get it and you lack the humility to simply accept that you do not. Instead you attack the President as being weak, without balls, a sellout and any other demeaning, emasculating terminology that you can devise. You don’t understand what it is to be black and walk in his shoes and you’re too damned arrogant to listen to those of us who try and tell you.
By now, you’re all upset because I’ve offended you. Hey, don’t you want us to show our anger? Don’t you have problems with me being so nice and reasonable all the time?
Don’t get hung up on the mistaken notice that I’m taking the position that the president is off limits for criticism. I don’t think he’s perfect and I certainly have problems with some of his decisions. He and I part company when it comes to the continuation of either of our wars.
Read carefully and understand me, I’m talking about the continued hammering at his character. I’m talking about the insulting and demeaning allegations that he is less than a man, some namby- pamby smart guy who doesn’t know how to be tough. What colossal ignorance and arrogance to believe that any black person could achieve what President Obama has achieved and be weak. Until you have walked in our shoes, until you have been marginalized based on the color of your skin in a culture that continues to not only openly express racism but defend its right to do so under cockeyed readings of the 1st amendment, then don’t talk to me about how you think that any black person should behave.
I think that everything they say is perfectly true, and also beside the point.
When the Roman Empire was born, the Roman Republic had to die. A government that aspires to dominate the world cannot be restrained by the checks and balances of an ancient constitution.
We Americans must choose whether to be a constitutional republic or a global empire. Or we can choose not to choose, which means we will continue our drift from republic to empire. We will retain the forms of democracy. Elected representatives will decide such issues as health insurance mandates, green energy subsidies or inheritance tax rates, but they will not interfere with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security or the many intelligence agencies.
Secrecy and power without accountability are incompatible with a constitutional republic based on representative democracy and the rule of law. But they are essential to a global empire on a perpetual war footing.
Wikileaks is a litmus test for republic vs. empire. If the United States is a constitutional republic, concerned only with the well-being of American citizens as individuals, then Wikileaks is possibly a useful gadfly and at worst a minor nuisance. But if the United States is an empire with “national interests” that transcend the welfare of the individual citizen, then Wikileaks is a real threat that has to be crushed at all costs.