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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Headspace

April 17th, 2012 - 8:07 pm

Golden Age TV once had a show called People Are Funny. There was also a horse opera titled Wanted, Dead or Alive.  So what happens when you cross a comedy with an action show? You get a news reality show hit. The Telegraph reports that “a Taliban commander has been captured after marching up to a checkpoint brandishing a wanted poster with his own face and demanding the $100 reward for his own arrest.”

Since the Afghan security forces were apparently unable to catch him, instead of letting all that good reward money go to waste, Mohammed Ashan turned himself in to claim the dough. It’s not wholly irrational. A hunded bucks might be enough to enough money to buy his way out of jail and still leave some leftover for a kebab or two.

Mohammad Ashan was wanted for organising attacks on Afghan troops and so police were bemused when he voluntarily approached the checkpoint…. “We asked him, ‘Is this you?’ Mohammad Ashan answered with an incredible amount of enthusiasm, ‘Yes, yes, that’s me! Can I get my award now?’” one US soldier told the Washington Post.

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Failure in the First Degree

April 17th, 2012 - 12:57 pm

When is failure good? Usually when it signals a wrong turn. Negative feedback can save your life. It can also save your Life (with a capital letter) since possibly the worst thing that can happen to a college graduate is to gain a degree in a career that will doom him.  The higher education bubble has now cheapened the lower tiers of certain professions to the point where lawyers are on food stamps.

I went to Northeastern University School of Law. I worked my ass off at a school that did not give out real grades. The joke is/was on me. I took and passed [two state] bar exams. [I now work] 40-50 hours a week at a law firm that pays me a $1000/month stipend. I work a second job serving drinks at a comedy club on the weekends. And the icing: I’ve just qualified for food stamps. I’ve got over $200k in law school student loan debt. The career services office at my school has no advice for me. I network everyday, writing emails after work and making calls on my 30 minute lunch break.

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Nearer My Gaia, To Thee

April 16th, 2012 - 10:23 pm

When A Night to Remember was released in 1958 no one had to inform the audience that it was a fictional depiction of a real event. But on the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic tragedy there were fewer left to remember. The centenary produced a strange blizzard of messages on Twitter. One said: “I didn’t know Titanic actually happened, thought it was just a film.” Another added “holy s— im never gooing on a cruise.”  Of course, the Titanic’s voyage wasn’t actually a cruise in the modern sense. Lest people think: “that was so unnecessary — why didn’t they just take the plane?” the answer is back in the day ships were the only way people could travel over the ocean. Really.

If some things become real because they’re in the movies, as in “I know it’s true, oh so true, ’cause I saw it on TV,” or so the song goes, the rival point of view is that nothing is truly real. Everything’s a movie.

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Total Recall

April 16th, 2012 - 4:47 pm

When President Obama said that “Google, Facebook would not exist, had it not been for investments that we made as a country in basic science and research” he left something out.  The government money he refers to would not itself have existed had it not been for taxes collected on companies like Google and Facebook.  There would have been no chicken without the egg. So who takes credit for Google and Facebook? Its creators or government?

Wikipedia traces the provenance of a similar claim: that Al Gore invented the Internet.  During the 2000 Presidential campaign, Gore said:

During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

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The Outer Limits

April 16th, 2012 - 2:07 pm

A system of justice based on “due process” is often too slow for those with unlimited ambitions. And it does not cut deep enough. Take Lord Ahmed, a Labor-appointed member of the British House of Lords. Ahmed was recently suspended from the Labor party for offering a ten million pound bounty on the George Bush and Barack Obama. Ahmed denied having offered the bounty, saying only that he believed both men were guilty of war crimes.

The British peer reportedly said: “‘If the US can announce a reward of $10 million for the (capture) of Hafiz Saeed, I can announce a bounty of £10 million (for the capture of) President Obama and his predecessor, George Bush.”

Lord Ahmed reportedly said he would arrange the bounty at any cost, even if he had to sell his own personal assets including his house.

He was said to have made the comments at a reception arranged in his honor by the business community of Haripur on Friday. A former Pakistani foreign minister and a provincial education minister were said to have been present at the reception.

Under a system of due process, if Ahmed had a beef, he should have filed war crimes charges against Bush and Obama in some venue. Then the two Presidents might have had the chance to ask whether Pakistan, in whose territory Osama Bin Laden was found sheltered, did not after all cause some of the belligerence that followed. But perhaps Ahmed was impatient for answers and thought that offering a bounty would be more dramatic.

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Burdened by Success

April 15th, 2012 - 4:03 pm

When MSNBC concluded that Team Obama “lost the week,” the pundits had not yet factored in the North Korean missile debacle, the ongoing Taliban offensive in Kabul, or the Secret Service scandal in Colombia. But they had seen enough to conclude: “It will be a close race” in 2012. David Axelrod was forced to admit the same thing after committing rhetorical suicide in front of Chris Wallace — Axelrod had achieved the remarkable feat of making his boss look bad while attempting to defend him.

What must be truly terrifying among the president’s supporters is the growing realization that he could actually lose to Mitt Romney. Yes: Mitt Romney. Not because Romney is a superlative candidate electrifying the American voter, but because the contest is clarifying as “anyone but Obama” in 2012.

The core problem is the extent of the president’s incompetence. It had always been thought that even if the president were poor at governance, he would be good at campaigning. They relied on that idea, and forgot what all track and field coaches know: the 100-meter man will not necessarily place well in the 42,195-meter marathon.

President Obama could find a second wind, yet clearly his key strength of futurism — the ability to act as a blank screen upon which people could project their aspirations — can no longer be useful in the face of his track record. Barack Obama in 2008 was a promise; Barack Obama in 2012 is a busted flush. The efforts by Axelrod to make the debate once again about the future of America have largely failed.

Such efforts will continue to fail, because many of Obama’s early blunders are now coming to term. He now has a past and and a present in addition to his ever-glittering future. And the present consists of bulletins from an economy poisoned by his largesse; a war in Southwest Asia run on a crazy strategic premise; a foreign policy whose centerpiece is “leading from behind”; and an environmental policy that has produced one bankrupt energy company after another. Nothing but bad news. His people are demoralized. They are losing it. Perhaps even the Secret Service has caught the air of dissipation in the White House.

Axelrod no longer controls the spin cycle, which will continue to be driven by all the bad smells emerging from the stuff swept under the carpet. Emergent events — not talking points — are going to drive things forward.

The main event going forward to November may not be Obama vs. Romney, but Obama vs. Obama’s blunders. His recent weight loss has been attributed to worry, but is he really worried about what Romney might say on the campaign trail? Or is he concerned about paying off his political debts now that he realizes he can’t or doesn’t know how to make good on them?

Former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy described how the White House works: it operates as a “quid pro quo” operation. You pay to play. The New York Times reported:

Those who donated the most to Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party since he started running for president were far more likely to visit the White House than others. Among donors who gave $30,000 or less, about 20 percent visited the White House, according to a New York Times analysis that matched names in the visitor logs with donor records. But among those who donated $100,000 or more, the figure rises to about 75 percent. Approximately two-thirds of the president’s top fund-raisers in the 2008 campaign visited the White House at least once, some of them numerous times.

In other words, the White House works like an internet cafe, where you buy a ticket at the door and get as many minutes of connect time as it entitles you. Maybe you get an extra 1% of connect time if you’re from the once-great Kennedy family. But as the Weekly Standard reports, you need more than that to get very far on Pennsylvania Avenue:

But the most explosive allegation in the news story comes from former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the late Ted Kennedy, who calls what the Obama White House is doing “quid pro quo.”

Patrick J. Kennedy, the former representative from Rhode Island, who donated $35,800 to an Obama re-election fund last fall while seeking administration support for a nonprofit venture, said contributions were simply a part of “how this business works.”

“If you want to call it ‘quid pro quo,’ fine,” he said. “At the end of the day, I want to make sure I do my part.”

Patrick Kennedy had visited the White House to win support for One Mind for Research, aimed at developing treatments for brain disorders. He knew that his Kennedy name and connections could only get him so far. What they were looking for was cash on the nail, or preferably payment in advance:

As a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said he was keenly aware of the political realities they face. And Kennedy admits that folks in the White House are checking out the donor records:

“I know that they look at the reports,” he said, referring to records of campaign donations. “They’re my friends anyway, but it won’t hurt when I ask them for a favor if they don’t see me as a slouch.”

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The Watchmen

April 14th, 2012 - 4:05 pm

One of the ironies of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman story is that while America has become obsessed with the evilness of neighborhood watches, the neighborhood watchman idea has gone global — in Africa, of all places. “Samsung, in partnership with Tracker, announced the Shout app today (15 March 2012) – an Android smartphone application that offers an SOS feature, crime search and hotspot notification.” The system effectively turns everyone into a neighborhood watchman.

The idea is simple. Since your smartphone knows where you are and can be programmed to summon help instantly, why not write an application that will report trouble and/or broadcast an SOS?  Smartphones can be programmed not only to summon emergency services but to send periodic updates on your safety status to authorized subscribers, such as your relatives, at selected waypoints or intervals.

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Dino Might

April 13th, 2012 - 12:03 pm

Speculation that intelligent dinosaurs may rule other planets may yet provide a convincing rationale for keeping the Second Amendment.  Ronald Breslow, Ph.D in the Journal of the American Chemical Society said “an implication from this work is that elsewhere in the universe there could be life forms based on D-amino acids and L-sugars. Such life forms could well be advanced versions of dinosaurs, if mammals did not have the good fortune to have the dinosaurs wiped out by an asteroidal collision, as on Earth. We would be better off not meeting them.”

Unless that is, one were equipped with the armaments described in this classic thread on Field and Stream.  Steven Templar by a careful study of the effect of real world big game weapons has actually worked out a reasonably scientific way of measuring the dinosaur stopping power of a firearm. In his book Rexgun, Templar:

examines the history, use, and terminal ballistics of bullets, cartridges, and rifles suitable for use hunting T. rex. It offers advice and unique formulae that can aid a hunter in the selection of appropriate cartridges and bullets. And, it explores T. rex in ways never before seen in print. Included are numerous photographs and detailed tables. And, to aid with shot placement, a Target Areas Diagram of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Hunters, gun enthusiasts, and dinosaur fans will all find rexGun intriguing, exciting, and hard to put down.

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The Oopsa Cycle

April 13th, 2012 - 11:02 am

The Guardian quotes North Korea policy specialists associated with both the Bush and Clinton administrations as saying that “policy of engagement with North Korea lies ‘in tatters’ after it was effectively shot down by Pynongyang’s defiant but failed attempt to launch a long-range rocket.”

In February, the Washington and Pyongyang reached an agreement under which the communist regime would halt its missile testing and uranium enrichment, and agree to the resumption of international monitoring of its nuclear sites, in return for Washington providing 240,000 tonnes of food to the North Korea which has faced widespread shortages and famine.

By March, U.S. envoys in China were putting the finishing touches on arrangements to deliver the food. Then Pyongyang announced a missile test, “which the Obama administration claimed was a ballistic missile test – would violate the agreement.”

They now expect North Korea to try and overcome the embarrassment caused at the rocket breaking into pieces over the Yellow Sea by carrying out a third nuclear test in the near future.

If that goes ahead, it will represent a significant foreign policy failure for Obama and prove a severe political embarrassment in an election year.

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Big Trouble in Big China

April 12th, 2012 - 11:55 am

The World Bank report on China’s prospects stresses several key challenges facing its economy which are perfect background material for the current political crisis gripping the country. The executive summary says China must reform to keep growing: remove government distortions in resource allocation; fix the growing income gap between the bosses and the peons; start innovating as opposed to copying; rein in the unsustainable pollution and stop playing a zero-sum economic game with the rest of the world. It concludes that China can continue to grow very rapidly, but the easy days are over.  The hard slog has begun. In a fine, it is a case of “reform” or implode.

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