Spring Forward

A savonette-type pocket watch

A savonette-type pocket watch. Image credit: Isabelle Grosjean/Wikimedia

Yes. Today. It’s time to put the clocks ahead one hour, and sleep one hour less if you’re doing anything on Sunday.

Why? Our politicians couldn’t do anything useful to curb our energy use without risking the wrath of their masters in the carbon-based energy business, so they did this instead.

On the bright side, Spring is only a couple of weeks away.


“I’ll Fight ‘Em As An Engineer”

Folk musician Pete Seeger died yesterday:

Pete Seeger, the man considered to be one of the pioneers of contemporary folk music who inspired legions of activist singer-songwriters, died Monday.

He was 94.

Seeger’s best known songs include “Where Have All the Flowers Gone,” “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season)” and “If I Had a Hammer (The Hammer Song).”

But his influence extended far beyond individual hits.

Legendary folk singer Pete Seeger dies at 94

He inspired an article last July Fourth, which featured a video where he and some other musicians sang Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Our Land“, including the more subversive verses that most people don’t get to hear. Thus, it’s perhaps not surprising that his passing inspired another one. Of the videos people have passed along to remember him by, this is the one I like best:

Can you guess why? Well, that, and many of the most important people in my life are women. They deserve the same breaks I got, if not more. Plus, anyone who has read what I’ve written about the economy in the last few years ought to know I appreciate the sad irony of the song’s author being hired because she would do the job for less than a man would. I think that one of the reasons, as that CNN article says, Seeger’s influence went far beyond his hit songs is that his humanity made him feel that way, too.

So long, Pete, we’ll miss ya.

Afterword/UPDATE: Maybe the most “influential” thing Pete Seeger ever did was to refuse to testify about his relationship (if any) to the Communist Party during the bad old days of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC):

MR. SEEGER: I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them.

When Pete Seeger Faced Down the House Un-American Activities Committee

Those words took real courage to speak, the kind where he had to decide who he was and defend what he believed in, despite the very real risk of prison, or worse. He was sentenced to as much as ten years for refusing to answer questions that shouldn’t have been asked of him in the first place (see the article link for details of the sentence). The only good thing he knew would result from his testifying is that he had a better chance of looking himself in the mirror. Contrast that with faux progressives who whine about how tough it all is or billionaires who express fear that protesting their wealth will lead to fascism, and you realize that our public discourse, bad as it could be back then, has devolved even further since.

There Are No Scientists At Time Magazine

People enjoy the view at the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon. I came. I saw. I photographed. I’m still an atheist. (Click to enlarge – it’s worth it.)

Image credit: Cujo359

Apparently, the only thing Time magazine can think to write about science these days is tripe like this from one Jeffrey Kluger:

[A]s generations of campers, sailors, hikers and explorers could attest, there’s nothing quite like nature — with its ability to elicit feelings of jaw-dropping awe — to make you contemplate the idea of a higher power. Now, a study published in Psychological Science applies the decidedly nonspiritual scientific method to that phenomenon and confirms that the awe-equals-religion equation is a very real and powerful experience — even among people who fancy themselves immune to such things.

Why There Are No Atheists at the Grand Canyon

He goes on to cite a bunch of nonsense about studies that are supposed to show that you can’t possibly gaze on a site like the Grand Canyon without feeling a little religious.

Well, Jeffrey, I have some news for you. You’re wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong if you were the most recent winner of the International “I Can’t Possibly Reach A Clear And Correct Conclusion On Any Subject More Complicated Than My Navel” Contest. In fact, you’re an idiot, and here’s some scientific proof:

Exhibit A
Exhibit B

All I felt was a bit of vertigo, plus some serious amazement that water could do that much damage. You see, all that about how people can’t see things like the Grand Canyon without being moved to spiritualism is supposition based on your own prejudices, without trying to find any evidence to the contrary. Kinda like how I’m assuming that Time doesn’t want to do anything more useful with its science section than let fools flog their religions there.

Now, go away and get an education. I’ve had enough conversations with half-wits already today.

A Peek At “First Look”

printing press of the Tombstone Epitaph

The first printing press of the Tombstone Epitaph, Tombstone, Arizona.

Image credit: Cujo359

Glenn Greenwald posted an article today at his blog that is a response to a reader who had e-mailed him about concerns regarding the NSA documents and the journalism venture he intends to become a part of, First Look. I had not heard the name of this organization before, so that’s either news or a refresher for those of us who didn’t catch it the first time around.

Besides the name of the new organization, he noted:

  • First Look will be a nonprofit organization, designed, in his words, to “encourage, support and empower – rather than undermine, dilute and neuter – independent, adversarial journalists”. “.

  • Neither Greenwald nor the other journalists with whom he was discussing new news ventures, Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, are partners in First Look, “in any legal or financial way”.

  • Laura Poitras has a complete copy of the NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden. In addition, other major news outlets have “tens of thousands” of those documents between them.

On the NSA documents, he wrote:

[I]n his Washington Post interview with Snowden last month, Bart Gellman noted “Snowden’s insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.” From the start, Snowden indeed repeatedly insisted on that.

Anyone who demands that we “release all documents” – or even release large numbers in bulk – is demanding that we violate our agreement with our source, disregard the framework we created when he gave us the documents, jeopardize his interests in multiple ways, and subject him to far greater legal (and other) dangers. I find that demand to be unconscionable, and we will never, ever violate our agreement with him no matter how many people want us to.

Email exchange with reader over First Look and NSA reporting

There is not likely to be a document dump similar to the Wikileaks dump of the documents Chelsea (formerly PFC Bradley) Manning provided them. Some folks will be upset about that, I suppose, but I don’t see much good that will result from such a thing. Certainly, there’s nothing that could outweigh the fallout from that alternative.

Of course, there’s plenty of time for disillusionment, but I think the idea of First Look is one of the most exciting things to come along in journalism in years. If that $250 million in funding Greenwald mentions is treated as an endowment, it can support several journalists plus a staff of editors and researchers. With added support from readers and advertising, it could be considerably more.

There’s lots more. It’s a Glenn Greenwald column, after all. So grab a cup of coffee and head on over.

Merry Frickin’ Christmas

On the eve of the day when Christians supposedly celebrate our innate generosity, my attention was drawn to the story of a young woman who, you might say, is a kindred spirit. This article was part of Occupy Wall Street’s “We Are The 99%” campaign, written back in April:

Female engineering student who can't afford college.

Image credit: Unknown/Occupy Wall Street

I am a female mechanical engineering student. Dean’s List student, even for Calc 3 and Dynamics. I have no co-signer for loans, so I am only eligible for enough to cover books and tuition. It’s taken me 5 years to complete 6 semesters because I run up my credit cards to pay for gas and food, and I can’t go back until I pay the balance down. My cards are currently completely maxed, and I fear that I am beginning to lose Calculus knowledge that I learned in 2005. My car is ready to break down at 130,000 miles, and my debt payments are $700 just for interest every month. I have been paying on and off between semesters and I still have $5000 to go before I even begin to pay the principal balance. I’m 25, live at home, and I bartend 50 hours a week. I want to design machines and energy systems that have a positive impact on our society, but I’m getting you HAMMERED and cleaning up after your party instead. I especially enjoy when people talk to me like an idiot because you got the wrong cheese on your burger. I know – I’m serving you dinner because I must be a stupid girl.

A Communique From The 99%

Let’s contrast this with my own experience. Back when I was an engineering student in the late 1970s, tuition was affordable at state schools. I made enough during most summers to cover it, plus part of my other expenses. There were also Pell Grants, or their equivalents (which, if memory serves, were called something else back then), and that plus some scholarships mostly paid for my education. I wasn’t stuck with a crushing debt, nor did I have to take a few courses at a time in order to be able to pay for them. Nor are state universities affordable any longer. The University of Washington and Washington State University cost more in a year than my entire bachelor’s degree. By the time I was this young woman’s age, I’d been working as an engineer for two years. You might say that by that time I was no longer an apprentice engineer, having learned how the process worked in a large engineering firm.

That last sentence should give you an idea of what’s wrong with our current system – “You might say that by that time I was no longer an apprentice engineer, having learned how the process worked in a large engineering firm”. The young woman in the photo, whose brain would seem to be every bit as capable as mine was, is still years away from working as an engineer. That is part of the opportunity cost we pay in the name of “fiscal responsibility“. By just about any measure that matters, we are as capable of giving this young woman an affordable education now as we were capable of giving me one back in the day. Yet we waste years of this young woman’s potential, and the potential of tens of thousands like her, perhaps hundreds of thousands, with economic policies that would have made Scrooge proud.

Based on my experience, her speculation about losing her ability to understand calculus and higher mathematics may be true, as well. Soon after I was taught those things, I was able to see them applied practically in various science and engineering courses. The knowledge stuck with me much longer as a result. While a lot of that knowledge is gone today from lack of use, I remember far more of it than I do the German I learned in high school, which I never used much at all.

Our society’s pathological lack of generosity is wasting the most precious resource we have – the minds of people like this young woman. They are the ones who will cure diseases, set policies, and design the machines we need in the future. They are the ones who will explore space, and find the knowledge necessary to do those other things. Wasting so many minds is worse than a sin – it’s dangerous. As I’ve explained before, our existence on this world is precarious at best. If we continue to ignore the latent talents of our people to deal with what the universe throws at us, we won’t be around much longer.

Merry Frickin’ Christmas.

Sometimes, They Ask The Wrong Questions

As a person who has had an e-mail address for more than a couple of years, I get lots of e-mail from politicians. Every once in a while, they make the mistake of asking my opinion on something. Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10) made that mistake yesterday:

Tomorrow the U.S. House will vote on the budget agreement negotiated by Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Paul Ryan. You can read more about it HERE. This agreement would last for two years, averting the chance of a government shutdown for at least that length of time.

I’m still evaluating the pros and the cons of this proposal, and I’d like to hear your opinion before I vote tomorrow. What do you think about this bipartisan budget agreement? Please reply to this email and share your thoughts with me.

Which was nice of him, since I’m not even in his district. I suspect it will be the last time, though. My reply:

Here’s what I think – we got screwed again by the Democrats. As usual, the rich will pay nothing to make up for the damage Wall Street has done to our economy. It will be the middle class and the poor who give up their pensions and their standard of living. Military and civilian employees of the government will lose more of their compensation, after having their benefits frozen for years.

And you’re doing all this in service to a wacko idea of “fiscal responsibility” that was proved wrong in the 1930s. I have yet to see or hear a Democratic congressperson tell the truth here, which is that the federal government not only can run a deficit in hard times, but it should run a deficit. I have yet to hear them say that equating balanced budgets with “fiscal responsibility” is a delusional concept, and that the government can make money when it needs to, simply by spending it. President Obama can erase the debt entirely using coin seigniorage, yet the one Democrat in congress who broached that idea was quickly told to shut up.

When I start to hear Democrats speaking the truth on this matter, I’ll start to reconsider my assumption that you’re just the more mendacious wing of the Wall Street Party. Until then, to me, you people are as useless as the Republicans.

At least I’ll be getting less junk e-mail…

UPDATE/Afterword: The House passed the budget 332 to 94. I await with breathless anticipation the usual clowns’ opinions about what ungrateful shitheels folks like me are for not celebrating this grand bipartisan acheivement.

The Mythical Mountain

When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, I had a co-worker who called Mt. Rainier the mythical mountain. He called it that because for the first few months he was here, he never saw it. That was during the winter, when the days are short and the clouds are usually low. It’s rare to see it like this, as I did today:

Mt. Rainier, partially obscured by clouds

Mt. Rainier, partially obscured by clouds, as seen over the Federal Way School District’s maintenance facility. Dec. 11, 2013. Image credit: Taken and processed by Cujo359

As someone once said about his nephew’s head, the thing is big enough to have its own weather system.

Dana Hunter wrote recently that in this part of the world we live with the reality of active volcanos all the time. We get to know their moods and try to live with their occasional outbursts. I’m sure Dana would explain that Mt. Rainier is a stratovolcano, which gets its lovely pointy peak from various violent eruptions that were recent enough that the peak hasn’t been eroded away. As with nearby Mt. St. Helens, it could one day erupt catastrophically, and if the eruption is in the wrong direction, it could devastate a good deal of the southern part of Puget Sound.

Like many beautiful things, it’s also very dangerous. Still, on days like today, it’s hard to think about the danger when you see that big mountain wrapped in its own clouds.

Falling Backward

Forerunner of the pocket watch from 16th Century Germany

A 16th Century watch from Nuremberg, Germany. Image credit: Pirkheimer/Wikimedia

It’s that time of year again, at least if you live in most of the United States:

Beginning in 2007, Daylight Saving Time was extended one month and the schedule for the states of the United States that adopt daylight saving time are:

2 a.m. on the Second Sunday in March to
2 a.m. on the First Sunday of November.

Daylight Saving Time – North America

Now you understand as much about why we do this as I do.

If you’ve updated your computer’s time zone data in the last six years, or you’ve checked your cell phone, you already know what time it is. Otherwise, it’s probably an hour earlier than you think it is, and you may want to set your clocks accordingly.

Priorities, In One Easy Sentence

Australia burns as seen from the NASA MODIS Aqua satellite

NASA Caption: October 17, 2013, will go down as one of the worst fire days New South Wales has seen in recent years. By 6:30 p.m. local time, 90 wildfires burned, 36 of them out of control and threatening communities near Sydney, Australia. Dry vegetation, high temperatures (above 34° Celsius or 93° Fahrenheit), and erratic winds gusting to 90 kilometers (56 miles) per hour combined to create extremely dangerous fire conditions. Image credit: Jeff Schmaltz, Holli Riebeek/NASA

Generally speaking, you don’t expect to hear a public official expressing his priorities in clear, concise, and easy to understand language. In times of stress and danger, though, that can change. Like Churchill before the Battle Of Britain, they can manage a clarity that we can all seek to emulate. So it was with the assistant police commissioner Alan Clarke for New South Wales, Australia yesterday, discussing the issues his emergency services face during this brush fire season:

“At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them.”

Australia declares emergency over bushfires

It might not rise to the level of Churchill at Whitehall, but it’s a lot clearer than I’m used to.

Afterword: The photo is from the NASA Earth Observatory, one of the many things our government does that are worth every penny we pay for them. To download the full size image, or read the rest of the text, follow the image credit link. Click on the image to see the reduced size image I embedded in this article at its full size.

While working in the federal government for more than twenty years has given me some sympathy for people who worry about government getting too large and too wasteful, what this recent shutdown should have reminded us is how much our government does, and how much of that it does pretty well.

Shine On, Harvest Moon

For once, there was an astronomical event that I could see from my home in the Pacific NW. Tonight’s harvest moon came out looking OK:

Harvest Moon, 2013

The Harvest Moon as seen from Federal Way, WA, Sept. 18, 2013. Image credit: Photo taken and processed by Cujo359

I couldn’t figure out how to get a sharp picture of the Moon with the horizon in view, unfortunately. There was just enough haze to make that too difficult for me.

It could have been worse, though. It could have been raining.