Through the fields the reaper goes
Piling sheaves on sheaves in rows;
Hills, not sheaves, are these.
Where he passes howls the earth,
Howl the echoing seas.
All the night the reaper reaps,
Never stays his hands nor sleeps,
Whets his blade and passes on...
Hush, and let him be.
Hush, he cares not how men writhe
With naked hands against the scythe.
Wouldst thou hide in field or town?
Where thou art, there he will come;
He will reap thee down.
Serf and landlord,
Great and small;
Friendless wandering singer, - all,
All shall swell the sheaves that grow to mountains;
Even the Tsar shall go.
And me too the scythe shall find
Cowering alone behind
Bars of iron; swift and blind,
Strike, and pass, and leave me, stark
And forgotten in the dark.
The Tsar was not nice to Shevchenko. Or to any of my Uke ancestors. Or, well, to anybody.
To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations; To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;
- Powers of Congress, US Constitution, Article I, Section 8
With all the bellicose stuff floating around, I've been thinking about myrmidons. Debate in Philadelphia about just who should be invested with war powers was wide ranging, but what's more interesting to me is later practical application of the Framers' ideas.
Fast forward twelve years to the Quasi War during Adams' administration. At the end of the Fifth Congress on March 3, 1799, he signed "An Act vesting the power of retaliation, in certain cases, in the President of the United States":
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That on information being given to the President of the United States, proving satisfactorily to him that any citizen of the United States, who shall have been or may be sound on board any vessel of war of either of the powers at war with the French Republic, and who shall have been impressed or forced by violence or threats to enter on board such vessel, hath suffered death, or hath received other corporal punishment, or shall be imprisoned with unusual severity by order of the Executive Directory of the French Republic, or of any officer or agent acting under their authority in pursuance of any decree of the said Directory, or law of the French Republic ; it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, and he is hereby empowered and required to cause the most rigorous retaliation to be executed on any such citizens of the French Republic, as have been or hereafter may be captured in pursuance of any of the laws of the United States.
Not a declaration of war, but something occupying that nether region between war and peace, not unlike a lot of post-WWII conflicts--it smells like Gulf of Tonkin Resolutions and AUMFs to me. It was obsoleted by a very similar act passed exactly fourteen years later during our first declared war (over a year before Washington burned).
Anyway, as the Supreme Court noted in 1800, there existed a state of war "of the imperfect kind." Congress had passed a good bit of legislation strengthening American defenses, which by the time of Adams signed the retaliatory act included commissioning 365 private armed vessels (BTW, following that linked tally submitted to Congress there is an account of how the USS Constellation fell in with La Vengeance a year later). Millions for defense, indeed.
I won't bother excerpting anything, but the House debate on the bill was rather lively and thoughtful. And I found a Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy article about what the Quasi War and related SCOTUS decisions might mean in our modern context that's worth a read. Bottom line is that military conflict has always been a political mess with Congress and the Executive feeling their way through the morass and opposition parties all up in arms over everything. Today's crap with Republicans, Obama and Ukraine ain't nothing new.
Хто спішить - той людей смішить
Putin’s aggression took Western leaders—especially Barack Obama and Angela Merkel—too much by surprise, but they have acted since with clarity and prudence. The decision to forgo martial threats and to concentrate on strong economic sanctions and diplomatic exertions is, in a world of radically limited options, wise. But not all those most directly involved in this crisis evince an understanding of the complicated politics of Ukraine. It is worth remembering that, in the back-and-forth of Ukrainian governments since 1991, both the pro-Russian leaders, like Viktor Yanukovych, and the pro-Europeans, like Yulia Tymoshenko, have been brazen thieves, enriching themselves at fantastical rates. Both sides have played one half of the country against the other.
And the fact that the protests in Kiev were not, as Moscow claims, dominated by fascists and ultra-nationalists does not mean that such elements are absent from the scene. Ukraine has yet to develop the politicians that its fragile condition and its dire economy demand. In December, when John McCain spoke to demonstrators in Kiev’s Independence Square, he stood side by side with Oleh Tyahnybok, who was once expelled from his parliamentary faction after demanding battle with “the Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Perhaps this was bad advance work from team McCain—much like the advance work on the Sarah Palin nomination—but it did manage to fuel Moscow’s bonfire of suspicion.
McCain’s allies in the Senate have shared his propensity for incautious grandstanding. Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, who is facing a Republican primary challenge from his right, says that the invasion of Crimea “started with Benghazi.” He tweeted, “When you kill Americans and nobody pays a price, you invite this type of aggression.” And McCain, who alternates with Graham as the voice of the G.O.P. in foreign affairs, told aipac that the invasion was “the ultimate result of a feckless foreign policy where nobody believes in America’s strength anymore.” Soon Hillary Clinton, who should know better, pitched in with an unhelpful analogy to Hitler.
Right now, Putin retains his familiar strut and disdain. His opposition at home is on tenterhooks, fearing a comprehensive crackdown, and the West, which dreams of his coöperation in Syria and Iran, is reluctant to press him too hard. But it may be that his adventure in Crimea—and not the American Embassy in Moscow—will undo him.
There ain't no simple solutions (sorry, Facebook), so I'm pretty pleased by the relatively cool-headed responses from Obama and allies. On the home front, I find it funny that people who condemned dissent as treason and terrorism not long ago are so willing to undermine America's strength by calling Obama a wimp ('cept when he's an overreaching dictator) whilst slavering over a real fascist who just invaded a sovereign nation.
Gag Me With A Rule
To Think Of Time
President Washington admonished Congress to do something about that in the very first SOTU ever:
Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to.
Oh yes, the Legislative branch was Johnny-on-the-Spot and a mere 9 years later as part of a huge act regulating duties on imports, and establishing districts and ports, the office of 'surveyor' was created whose duties included:
[F]rom time to time, and particularly on the first Mondays In January and July, in each year, examin[ing] and try[ing] the weights, measures, and other instruments, used in ascertaining the duties on Imports, with standards to be provided by each collector, at the public expense, for that purpose; and where disagreements or errors are discovered, he shall report the same to the collector, and obey and execute such d Sections as he may receive for correcting thereof...
So yeah, standards would totally be uniform...within the demesne of each port's collector. Not quite what Washington had in mind. But such was the state of affairs for a few decades, until March of 1830 when Delaware's General Assembly instructed their Senators and begged their Representatives "fix an uniform standard of weights and measures throughout the United States."
The House appeared to ignore Delaware's entreaties, but the Senate did act on May 29:
On motion by Mr. Woodbury, and by unanimous consent,
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Treasury be directed to cause a comparison to be made of the standards of weight and measure now used at the principle custom houses in the United States, and report to the Senate at the next session of Congress.
How odd that the Senate got something done without a supermajority invoking cloture. Anyway, the Treasury made excuses on March 3, 1831:
The President communicated a letter from the Secretary of the Treasury, assigning the causes that have prevented a compliance with the resolution of the Senate of the 29th May, 1830, directing him to cause a comparison to be made of the standards of weight and measure now used at the principal custom-houses in the United States;" and
Ordered, That it be printed.
Did the Executive branch drop the ball? Nah, there were just a bunch of problems they had to contend with, to wit:
It was deemed essential to the accuracy of the operation to have the advantage of temperatures below as well as above the freezing point; and the undertaking was, therefore, necessarily postponed until the winter season. In the mean time, the apparatus had been provided in New York, and was shipped from thence to this city early in December. The vessel was unfortunately stranded in the Chesapeake, and part of the apparatus lost. The delay occasioned by this accident has prevented the completion of the comparison in time for a report to the Senate during the present session. The work, however, is far advanced, and it has exhibited such a remarkable disparity in the weights and measures used at different custom-houses, as to demonstrate the urgent necessity of providing standards for their regulation.
The man charged with all this work, Ferdinand Rudolph Hassler, who was also the Superintendent of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey was:
thereupon directed by the Secretary of the Treasury to secure apparatus and establish a shop, wherein copies of certain standards adopted by the Treasury Department could be made for distribution to the various custom houses. The avoirdupois pound adopted was derived from the troy pound of the mint and the distance between certain lines on a metal bar in the possession of the department and supposed to conform with the English yard was taken as the standard of length.
Long story short, Hassler did yeoman's work developing standards in what was ultimately called the Office of Standard Weights and Measures, and Congress tinkered and directed everything along the way. The Office's responsibilities necessarily grew beyond figuring out how much a pound was, including developing such things as electrical standards.
Exactly seventy years after the Senate received the letter explaining Hassler's delays, Congress changed the office's name to the National Bureau of Standards. A couple years later, it was moved from Treasury to Commerce & Labor, then just under Commerce (when Labor split off in 1913). Then it was renamed as the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 1988.
And NIST today has a wicked accurate atomic clock called NIST-F1 in Boulder, CO. You may have lost an hour of sleep this morning, but that sucker won't gain or lose a second in 100 million years!
Anyway, whatever it was called and whatever department it was in, this function is important and constitutionally mandated. So naturally people like Ron Paul have proposed axing it. Because in a free society everybody should keep their own time (and GPS satellites).
For Thine Is The Cosmos
The future ain’t what it used to be. Cosmologists were once confident they knew how the universe would end: it would just fade away. An ever colder, ever dimmer cosmos would slowly wind down until there were only cinders where the stars once shone. But that’s history.
Today’s science suggests many different possible futures. Cosmic cycles of death and rebirth might be on the cards, or a very peculiar end when the vacuum of space suddenly turns into something altogether different. The universe might collapse back in on itself in a big crunch. Or we could be in for an even more violent end called the big rip. Or a weird pixellation—the big snap. Or find our whole universe pouring down a wormhole (the big trip). The slow drift into darkness is still a contender, but fear not: that long night could be a lot more interesting than you might think—imagine the cosmos filled with giant diamonds.
Well, diamonds are also great and would suffice...
25 or 6 to 4
What Time Is It, Anyway?
As far as clocks—and it is time to think of them—I have one on my kitchen shelf and it isflat, with a machine-made flair, a perfectmachine from 1948, at the latest,and made of shining plastic with the numberssharp and clear and slightly magnified inthat heartbreaking post-war style, the cordtoo short, though what does it matter, since the mechanismis broken and it sits unplugged alongside acheap ceramic rooster, his head insanelysmall and yet his tiny brain alert forhe is the one who will crow and not that brokenbuzzing relic, though time is different nowand dawn is different too, you were up all nightand it is dark when he crows and you are waitingto see what direction you should face and ifyou were born in time or was it wasted and whatthe day looks like and is the rooster loyal.
Knowing when you are can help you know where you are, which just might save your life.
Rick Perry's Right, Government Can Only Do A Few Things
... not much, just a "few things," such as national defense, a postal service, the regulation of commerce, the levying of taxes and disbursement of revenue, civil rights, a promotion of the general welfare, "all" legislative powers and the right to declare war, the supervision of elections, the power to borrow money, the power of impeachment, the power to amend and enlarge the constitution, the regulation of immigration and naturalization, the establishment of bankruptcy laws, the coinage of money, the promotion of "Science and useful Arts," the formulation of a judicial system, the oversight of treaty approval, the creation of executive departments, the power of pardons, the protection of free speech and religion and assorted other rights, and a presidency to pursue "measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient," which pretty much means anything one wishes it to mean ...
Apropos of Madame Cheez Whiz...
Limbaugh's Favorite Tai-Chi Technique Is Riding The Bear's Back
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama's sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Obama's authoritarian, which is bad, but Putin is authoritarian, which is good. The dissonance is strong with these people...
"I do not like this kind of hope."
Former GOP vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) took full advantage of her CPAC platform on Saturday, rewriting Dr. Seuss' classic "Green Eggs And Ham" with her own version on the Obama presidency.
Palin also apparently doesn't get that Sam's friend eventually realizes he's being an asshole and comes around to Sam's way of thinking.
PS--Our 4yo loves this story (I read it to him a lot in the past, and they just did it in preschool this week).
An Episode In The Life Of An Artist
I Go Out At Night To Paint The Stars
The town does not existexcept where one black-haired tree slipsup like a drowned woman into the hot sky.The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.Oh starry starry night! This is howI want to die.It moves. They are all alive.Even the moon bulges in its orange ironsto push children, like a god, from its eye.The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.Oh starry starry night! This is howI want to die:into that rushing beast of the night,sucked up by that great dragon, to splitfrom my life with no flag,no belly,no cry.
Twins In Spaaaaaaaace-time!
On March 7, NASA announced the selection of 10 investigations for the study of identical twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly and, in doing so, launched human space life science research into a new era. Although NASA’s Human Research Program has been researching the effects of spaceflight on the human body for decades, these 10 investigations will provide NASA with broader insight into the subtle effects and changes that may occur in spaceflight as compared to Earth-based environments. NASA and the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) will jointly manage this ambitious new undertaking.
“We realized this is a unique opportunity to perform a class of novel studies because we had one twin flying aboard the International Space Station and one twin on the ground,” says Craig Kundrot, Ph.D. and deputy chief scientist of NASA’s Human Research Program. “We can study two individuals who have the same genetics, but are in different environments for one year.”
The investigations, which were picked from a pool of 40 proposals, introduce to space physiology the field of –omics, the integrated study of DNA, RNA, and the entire complement of biomolecules in the human body. Studying human physiology at this fundamental level will provide NASA and the broader spaceflight community with unique information. This is because these tiny components of the human body tell researchers volumes about an individual’s composition and their reaction to stressors like those associated with spaceflight. Investigating the subtle changes – or lack thereof – between the Kelly brothers at this level, after Scott’s year in space and Mark’s year on Earth, could shed light between the nature vs. nurture aspect of the effects of spaceflight on the human body.
I guess there's some value to spending our time in the shallows of LEO...
Obligatory DST Post
Can't Get Out There Without Math
Speaking of NASA and computers, longtime readers know I'm obsessed with many things, including space and technology. Whether it be Apollo or Gemini or (Kepler bless it) Mercury, I find the evolution of computing in spacecraft to be fascinating.
Human miscalculation caused all sorts of problems from the beginning--and don't get me started on that English-Metric conversion problem that lost us a Mars probe--but computers also failed:
IBM's 7090 mainframe computer was the heart of the Mercury control network. In 1959, the DOD issued a challenge to the computer industry in the form of specifications for a machine to handle data generated by the new Ballistic Missile Early Warning System (BMEWS). The 7090 was IBM's response. Essentially an improvement of the 700-series machines like the one being used as a development machine for Mercury, the 7090 adapted the new concept of I/O channels pioneered in the 709 and was so large that it needed up to three small 1410 computers just to control the input and output. The DOD's needs for BMEWS closely paralleled those of Mercury in terms of data handling and tracking. Thus, IBM was in a good position with its hardware.
To provide the reliability needed for manned flights, the primary Mercury configuration included 7090s operating in parallel, each receiving inputs, but with just one permitted to transmit output. Called the Mission Operational Computer and Dynamic Standby Computer, the names stuck through the Apollo program. This was NASA's first redundant computer system. Switching from the prime computer to the Dynamic Standby was by manual switch, so it was a human decision. During John Glenn's orbital mission, the prime computer failed for 3 minutes, proving the need for active standby.
Of course, Mercury capsules (sorry, Alan) didn't even have computers onboard. Amazing that any of this shit worked.
Anyway, you don't sail the breezes of heaven without accurately crunching numbers, whether people or machines do the computing.
When Computers Were People
Great flashback to the early days of NASA (well, NACA) when the agency relied on human beings ("girls"!) to do calculations with wind tunnel data. Brought to mind an old 1990 series called The Machine That Changed the World.
I used to show this episode in my corporate Intro to Computing class, which features women in a variety of computer-related roles. That includes Ada Lovelace, history's first programmer, the women who took care of all the wiring to make ENIAC change functions, and those who crunched numbers for artillery tables that spurred electronic computing's development in the first place.
So clearly you see that chicks really aren't good at math and technology...
When The Piper Is Gone And The Soup Is Cold On The Table
And Cheez Wiz At Its Core Is Real Cheese
In her remarks to the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told the assembled crowd that the Tea Party and conservative movements will triumph over progressivism because of the right’s unstoppable intellectual firepower.
“You see our movement at its core is an intellectual movement,” she said from the CPAC podium. “We are based on the greatest ideas ever conceived in the mind of man. And I would put those magnificent ideas up against any other idea for freedom in the world.”
Right Wing Watch reported that she continued by saying, “Because the Constitution, limited government and free enterprise and strong families, these are the principles that have passed the test of time.”
She went on to say that “nothing in our Constitution says that government is supposed to be a charity. Government is not the family, it is not the church and certainly it should never be our doctor’s office.”
Indeed, it isn't any of those things. But it can still do things, Congresswoman Cheez Whiz For Brains.
Obama Cannot Be President Because Horace Greeley Died
Remember that the Electoral College in 1872 found that the death of a candidate
did not disqualify him from being elected to the office of President, although it probably would have interfered with his ability to serve – (Horace Greeley received numerous votes and was awarded electors in the 1872 election, Horace died in late November shortly after the election – during the proceedings of the Electoral College several Georgia electors chose to cast ballots for Greeley – there was a qualification challenge and while the House found that he was not qualified BECAUSE HE WAS DEAD, the Senate found that he was still qualified, in cases of a incongruity between the two the decision was to find him qualified!
Thankfully, Mr Paige is engaged in his usual flights of fancy, so I can milk more fun out of his suit:
- The Electoral College isn't, you know, a body that gets together making any findings about qualifications since the point is for Electors simply to cast votes
- Most Greeley Electors, making their own individual decisions, cast their votes for one of four other candidates, while three (not several) of Georgia's votes were cast for Greeley
- Greeley's votes were, in fact, NOT counted
How'd we arrive at that result? Congressman Hoar (R-MA) objected, then:
Resolved, That the votes reported by the tellers as having been cast by the electors of the State of Georgia for Horace Greeley, of New York, for President of the United States, ought not to be counted, the said Horace Greeley having died before said votes were cast;
And the question being put, Will the House agree thereto?
- It was decided in the affirmative,
- Yeas ... 102
- Nays ... 98
- Not voting ... 40
The Senate, having retired to its chamber, also voted on the question per the rules, but amended the resolution, so:
Resolved, That the electoral vote of Georgia east for Horace Greeley be counted.
On the question to agree thereto,
- It was determined in the affirmative,
- Yeas ... 44
- Nays ... 19
Points to Mr Paige for noting the House and Senate disagreed. But why did Congress not count Greeley's votes? Because rules [emph mine]:
The gentleman from Massachusetts [Mr. Hoar] having made the point which has been stated by him, the Chair will read from the twenty-second joint rale of the two Houses.
"If, upon the reading of any such certificate by the tellers, any question shall arise in regard to counting the votes therein certified, the same having been stated by the Presiding Officer, the Senate shall thereupon withdraw, and said question shall be submitted to that body for its decision; and the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall in like manner submit said question to the House of Representatives for its decision; and no question shall be decided affirmatively, and no vote objected to shall be counted, except by the concurrent votes of the two Houses, which being obtained, the two Houses shall immediately reassemble, and the Presiding Officer shall then announce the decision of the question submitted; and upon any such question there shall be no debate in either House. And any other question pertinent to the object for which the two Houses are assembled may be submitted and determined in like manner."
By rule there could be no debate on whether to count Greeley's votes, nor on anything else, which is why the Senate rejected motions like this:
Mr. SCOTT. I have drawn what I propose as an amendment to the amendment:
That the votes for Horace Greeley are entitled to be counted, postponing the question of the legal effect of votes cast for a man who shall appear to have been dead when they were cast, until the whole vote shall come to be counted.
The VICE PRESIDENT. That would be a substitute
Mr. EDMUNDS. I make the point of order that that does not comply with the joint rule, which requires us to decide whether the vote shall be counted or not.
Thus one can see that the question of legal qualification per se was never voted on, let alone discussed. One can also see Greeley's votes were omitted from the vote totals. So it's a puzzle as to how Paige can claim anybody determined that a dead guy was eligible for office. The relationship between Greeley's case and Obama's is also a bit opaque to me.
Anyway, Paige concludes:
I mention this to remind everyone that all outcomes are possible and to emphasize how productive it would be to have the issue settled by the Supreme Court of the United States – once and for all!
I'm sure when SCOTUS denies cert, Paige will finally accept reality. Because if I've learned anything about Birthers, they're really good at taking 'no' for an answer.
Time For Tea With The Queen
"Ours is a grimy bit of blue; And very small..."
A city of a thousand cells—
A thousand individual hells.
- Penitentiary B. 8266, A Tale Of A Walled Town
Digby finds David Brooks being reasonable:
This is the best column I've read by him in many a moon and it gives me a tiny bit of hope that the right will get on board with the idea that torture by solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment:We don’t flog people in our prison system, or put them in thumbscrews or stretch them on the rack. We do, however, lock prisoners away in social isolation for 23 hours a day, often for months, years or decades at a time.
We prohibit the former and permit the latter because we make a distinction between physical and social pain. But, at the level of the brain where pain really resides, this is a distinction without a difference. Matthew Lieberman of the University of California, Los Angeles, compared the brain activities of people suffering physical pain with people suffering from social pain. As he writes in his book, “Social,” “Looking at the screens side by side ... you wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.”
The brain processes both kinds of pain in similar ways. Moreover, at the level of human experience, social pain is, if anything, more traumatic, more destabilizing and inflicts more cruel and long-lasting effects than physical pain. What we’re doing to prisoners in extreme isolation, in other words, is arguably more inhumane than flogging.
This seems obvious to me. Simple human empathy should be enough to show that this is a form of torture. The anguish this causes in prisoners has been clear since ... forever. But having science back up what any decent person would already know, adds a layer to the moral argument that might convince at least a few people.
Amen. And as I've noted before, you can blame Friends for this one:
In 1790, Walnut Street Jail in Philadelphia (built in 1773, but expanded later under a state act) was built by the Quakers and was the first institution in the United States designed to punish and rehabilitate criminals. It is considered the birthplace of the modern prison system.
At Walnut Street, each cell block had 16 one-man cells. In the wing known as the "Penitentiary House," inmates spent all day every day in their cells. Felons would serve their entire sentences in isolation, not just as punishment, but as an opportunity to seek forgiveness from God. It was a revolutionary idea—no penal method had ever before considered that criminals might be reformed. In 1829, Quakers and Anglicans expanded on the idea born at Walnut Street, constructing a prison called Eastern State Penitentiary, which was made up entirely of solitary cells along corridors that radiated out from a central guard area. At Eastern State, every day of every sentence was carried out primarily in solitude, though the law required the warden to visit each prisoner daily and prisoners were able to see reverends and guards. The theory had it that the solitude would bring penitence; thus the prison—now abandoned—gave our language the term "penitentiary."
Ironically, solitary confinement had been conceived by the Quakers and Anglicans as humane reform of a penal system with overcrowded jails, squalid conditions, brutal labor chain gangs, stockades, public humiliation, and systemic hopelessness. Instead, it drove many men mad.
Revolutionary, indeed, and based on our typical naivety--excusable, perhaps, a little in this case since there was no science to guide us at this point, and now we work against the form of inhumanity we invented.
What we didn't understand back then was there are myriad factors contributing to crime. Certainly the offender is primarily to blame, there's no question. But there are also other forces at work--we must address root causes--and we have to realize that you can't force penitence on somebody through torture.
No Planet X
Well, that’s that then. There are no other big planets in our solar system, no other giant planets orbiting the Sun in the distant, cold reaches well past Neptune.
This news comes from a paper analyzing observations by WISE, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, a scrappy little mission that spent 13 months mapping the entire sky in infrared wavelengths. This is where warm objects are bright, things like dinky stars, asteroids, galactic dust, and more.
I’ll note that the limits on a smaller planet are a bit more open. A planet like Earth would cool far faster than a giant, and be difficult to detect if it were, say, 50 billion kilometers out or more. It would be an iceball, most likely, but it’s not entirely out of the question. But a planet much bigger than Earth is pretty much ruled out for quite some distance.
I’d love for there to be another planet in our solar system. How amazing, how exciting, how truly wonderful that would be! But thing about reality is, it’s real, and we must accept it for what it is.
In this case, it means we have to be satisfied with just the hundreds of moons, millions of asteroids, billions of comets, single star, and eight or nine major planets our solar system has now.
Geez. What a shame.
And we'll just have to be satisfied with 40 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy. Fie on you, O Tyranny of the Cosmos!
A Historical Mystery
Not that anybody's keeping score at home, but I still have no answers as to why Martin Chittenden voted against the slave trade ban in 1807. The State Archivist got back to me right away with some pointers to info and forwarded my question to staff, who also had some general resources but nothing specific since their holdings mostly contain documents from his time as governor.
They did note that the Vermont Historical Society had congressional and other records. Their librarian forwarded my query to a couple other people at VHS since he didn't have an answer immediately at hand. But it seems I am destined for a trip to the Leahy Library in Barre to solve the mystery.
The Archives folks did confirm that Chittenden was vehemently anti-Jefferson, so it might simply be a case of opposing the administration. Or perhaps it's because he believed violators should be subject to the death penalty, which was hotly debated but shot down. Whatever the case, I'm intrigued.
When You're Falling
Governor Jindal Doubles Down On Governor Wallace
Because unaccountable voucher programs are the new civil rights:
So after accusing Attorney General Holder of trying to stand in the way of poor black children from getting to go to private schools just the way old George Wallace stopped the then Vivian Malone from going to the University of Alabama*, Holder sends Jindal a copy of John Lewis's Walking with the Wind with a bookmark at the page where Lewis notes that that Vivian Malone, later Vivian Malone Jones, who passed away in 2005, was Holder's sister-in-law...
And you won't believe what happens next!
The Obamacare Glass Is Quarter Full
Ah, TPM does it right: It Looks Like Obamacare Is Finally Making Progress With The Uninsured.
Methinks the headline writers at The Hill should make a note.
It Seems Like Common Sense
Thomas Paine, March 8, 1775:
That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.
Certainly, one may, with as much reason and decency, plead for murder, robbery, lewdness and barbarity, as for this practice. They are not more contrary to the natural dictates of conscience, and feeling of humanity; nay, they are all comprehended in it.
But the chief design of this paper is not to disprove it, which many have sufficiently done; but to entreat Americans to consider....
With what consistency, or decency they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousands in slavery; and annually enslave many thousands more, without any pretence of authority, or claim upon them?
Slavery was bad. It was good that some people early on in our revolutionary days realized how it conflicted with our purported ideals.
Freedom is confusing.
My Favorite Vermont Birther Does Not Disappoint
Former Vermont Republican U.S. Senate hopeful H. Brooke Paige has appealed his “natural born citizen” case claiming Barack Obama is unqualified to be president to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“Obama is not a ‘natural born citizen’ because he was not born to two U.S. citizen parents,” Paige alleged in his appeal, filed Thursday. “Hence, he is not eligible to be president.”
The state Supreme Court based its decision on the fact that Obama had won re-election the year before and by law was prevented from seeking a third term.
Paige, in the filing with the nation’s highest court said it was important for the justices to intervene in the case because the same issue could come up in a future presidential election.
If only Kepler's dream of lunar travel were truly that easy:
The island of Levania is located fifty thousand German miles high up in the air. The journey to and from this island from our Earth is very seldom open; but when it is accessible, its easy for our people. However, the transportation of men, joined as it is to the greatest danger of life, is most difficult. We do not admit sedentary, corpulent or fastidious men into this retinue.
We choose rather those who spend their time persistently riding swift horses or who frequently sail to the Indies, accustomed to subsist on twice-baked bread, garlic, dried fish, and other unsavory dishes. There are dried up old women especially suited for our purpose. The reason for this is well known. From early childhood they are accustomed to riding goats, or on mantles, and to travel through narrow passes and through the immense expanse of the Earth. Although Germans are not suitable, we do not reject the dry bodies of Spaniards.
The whole journey, far though it may be, is completed in four hours at most. Our departure time happens when we are busiest, before the Moon begins its eclipse in its eastern section. If the Moon becomes full while we are still on our way, our return journey is impossible. The occasion becomes so brief that we have few humans and not any other beings except the most helpful toward us.
Forming a column we seize any man of this kind and all of us pushing upward raise him to the heights. The initial shock is the worst part of it for him, for he is spun upward as if by an explosion of gunpowder and he flies above mountains and seas. On that account he must be drugged with narcotics and opiates prior to his flight. His limbs must be carefully protected so that they are not torn from him, body from legs, head from body and so that the recoil may not spread over into every member of his body.
Then he will face new difficulties: intense cold and impaired respiration. These circumstances which are natural to spirits are applied force to man. We go on our way placing moistened sponges to our nostrils. With first section of the voyage complete, our conveyance becomes easier. Then we expose our bodies freely to the air and withdraw our hands. All these persons are gathered into a ball within themselves, by reason of pressure, a condition which we ourselves produce almost by a mere sign of the head.
Finally, on arrival at the moon, the body is directed into its intended place by its own accord. This critical point is of little use to us spirits because it is excessively slow. Therefore, as I said, we accelerate by gravity and go in front of the man's body, lest by a very strong impact into the Moon he might suffer any harm. When the man awakes, he usually complains that all his members suffer from an ineffable lassitude, from which, however, he completely recovers when the effect of the drugs wears off, so that he can walk.
On this date in 1969, Apollo 9 was engaged in the first separation of a CSM and LM in orbit as part of the long, tedious, dangerous process of actually going to the moon. No drugs, no spells, no breezes of heaven. Just the application of Kepler's laws and others' discoveries, all put together by human ingenuity and will power.
The Breezes Of Heaven
If there are globes in the heaven similar to our earth, do we vie with them over who occupies the better portion of the universe? For if their globes are nobler, we are not the noblest of rational creatures. Then how can all things be for man's sake? How can we be the masters of God's handiwork?
- Johannes Kepler, Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger (1610)
Sigh, we hardly knew ye:
The Delta II rocket carrying NASA's Kepler spacecraft lifted off March 6, 2009 [NB: other sources say March 7, according to UTC] from Launch Complex 17-B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Launch occurred at 10:49 p.m. EST, sending the agency's first planet-hunting spacecraft on a three-and-a-half-year mission to seek signs of other Earth-like planets.
The countdown proceeded smoothly throughout the day, and a perfect weather forecast held true, allowing an on-time liftoff on the first attempt.
The Kepler spacecraft will watch a patch of space for indications of Earth-sized planets moving around stars similar to the sun. The area that Kepler will watch contains about 100,000 stars like the sun. Using special detectors similar to those used in digital cameras, Kepler will look for a slight dimming in the stars as planets pass between the stars and Kepler. The observatory's place in space will allow it to watch the same stars constantly throughout its mission, something observatories such as NASA's Hubble Space Telescope cannot do.
The aptly named spacecraft, though now having serious operational issues, has helped us discover hundreds of exoplanets, with many more confirmations pouring in as the data already collected is analyzed. Potentially billions and billions of Earth-like planets might be out there in our galaxy alone, judging from what Kepler has taught us.
And he could just keep chugging along, helping us understand God's handiwork a little better...
Out of the blue, Sam wanted to watch Lion King today, which we haven't done in ages. He'd gotten to see it at Papa's while Sadie was being born, and he mentioned that memory, so some discussion might've triggered his renewed interest. Or maybe it's the hyenas since they make an appearance on Wild Kratts.
Whatever, the boy's King of the Non Sequitur.
And When Jesus Said To Turn The Other Cheek, He Meant Shoot First And Ask Questions Later
Paul Ryan really got what he deserved for suggesting that anyone whose kids get nutritional assistance at school doesn't care about their kids. Turns out, his story about a kid who wanted his lunch in a brown paper bag because it would prove that someone cared about him was lifted from a book written by an advocate of nutritional assistance. The story is actually true, but no one will care because Paul Ryan attributed the story to Eloise Anderson, who serves as the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. Sec. Anderson has testified falsely before Ryan's committee that she had been the one to meet this child. In fact, the real event happened a quarter century ago, and the child is now in his late 30's.
The whole point of the book is that children shouldn't go hungry. And it wound up being twisted into an argument for letting kids starve.
How shocking that these people who think pre-ghost Scrooge is a hero and twist Jesus' teachings would use a parable about not letting kids go hungry to show that we need to undermine their food security.
The Worship of Nature
The winds with hymns of praise are loud,Or low with sobs of pain,—The thunder-organ of the cloud,The dropping tears of rain.
With drooping head and branches crossedThe twilight forest grieves,Or speaks with tongues of PentecostFrom all its sunlit leaves.
The blue sky is the temple’s arch,Its transept earth and air,The music of its starry marchThe chorus of a prayer.
So Nature keeps the reverent frameWith which her years began,And all her signs and voices shameThe prayerless heart of man.
States Also Never Banned Sodomy
"There has never been a state in this country that has ever banned gay marriage," Medved said during a panel titled "Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?" after another panelist referenced historical discrimination against LGBT couples. "That is a liberal lie."
Glaring factual error aside, he's possibly not lying about or ignorant of state constitutions and statutes. Some of his ilk do think gays can get married: just to people of the opposite sex. So any definition of marriage as "one man and one woman" cannot possibly be a ban on gay marriage!
Lemieux writing at TAP:
The Republican rejection of Adegbile is of a piece with a broader anti-civil rights agenda, such as their ongoing efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities and the poor and a bare majority of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act based on incoherent arguments with no basis in the text of the Constitution.
So Republican opposition to Adegbile was, while reprehensible, easily explicable. But Democrats control the Senate, and nominees like Adegbile can no longer be filibustered—he lost on a straight up-or-down vote. So it's worth directing particular ire at the 7 Democratic senators who joined the Republican war on civil rights. Five of these votes at least came from senators from states that voted for Romney, an explanation if not an excuse. Particularly worthy of scorn are the two blue-state senators, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey Jr. and Delaware's Chris Coons. Casey's stated justification for his nay vote was frankly embarrassing:
I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime. At the same time, it is important that we ensure that Pennsylvanians and citizens across the country have full confidence in their public representatives — both elected and appointed. The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia.
So defendants have a right to a defense, but a lawyer participating in this defense cannot have the "full confidence" of the public? If a teacher was trying to explain the concept of a "non-sequitur" to their students I'm not sure they could come up with a better example. And worse, it's a non-sequitur that's subversive of the rule of law.
The Greatest Deliberative Body in the world, folks. Defender of liberty. Unless it becomes inconvenient, scary, or potentially harmful to re-election.
Oh Yes, Bernie Really Needs Ralph's Advice
Sanders won’t return his calls, won’t combine forces with other progressives, and as a result, he isn’t getting as much done as he could, the frequent independent presidential candidate and consumer advocate says.
Nader detailed his grievances Thursday in a blunt two-page letter to the Vermont independent senator with the heading, “Bernie, we thought we knew ye!” Then Nader called the Burlington Free Press and shared the letter, which accuses Sanders of “speechifying” but getting nowhere, because he is a “Lone Ranger.”
“In the past year, I have called you many times at your Washington office. Your staff dutifully takes my messages, forwards them to you and you do not call back. Never,” Nader said in his letter.
Nader can sod off. For a more thoughtful analysis of Bernie's potential run--which I don't entirely disagree with--see pm carpenter.
We've Come A Long Way
It was a long walk home from school today, which made me think of how far we've come since Sam was born.
A Masquerade Full Of Harlots And Leeches
"Liberty! Liberty!" Pho! Let Mr. Webster, for decency's sake shut his lips for once and forever on this word. The word 'liberty' in the mouth of Mr. Webster sounds like the word 'love' in the mouth of a courtezan.
Daniel Webster, a fierce defender of union and liberty, gave his famous Seventh of March speech in 1850, supporting the compromise brokered by Henry Clay (Whig-KY) and Stephen Douglas (Dem-IL):
Mr. President, - I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that there is a Senate of the United States; a body not yet moved from its propriety, not lost to a just sense of its own dignity and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the country looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels. It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and our government.
The imprisoned winds are let loose. The East, the North, and the stormy South combine to throw the whole sea into commotion, to toss its billows to the skies, and disclose its profoundest depths. I do not affect to regard myself, Mr. President, as holding, or as fit to hold, the helm in this combat with the political elements; but I have a duty to perform, and I mean to perform it with fidelity, not without a sense of existing dangers, but not without hope. I have a part to act, not for my own security or safety, for I am looking out for no fragment upon which to float away from the wreck, if wreck there must be, but for the good of the whole, and the preservation of all; and there is that which will keep me to my duty during this struggle, whether the sun and the stars shall appear, or shall not appear for many days.
I speak to-day for the preservation of the Union. "Hear me for my cause." I speak to-day, out of a solicitous and anxious heart for the restoration to the country of that quiet and harmonious harmony which make the blessings of this Union so rich, and so dear to us all.
Started out nicely, but in the end his three-and-a-half hour speech cost him a lot of support:
Webster immediately earned the praise of moderates throughout the country, while reaping the scorn of northern abolitionists who believed he had sold his soul to advocates of the South's "peculiar institution" in return for their support of his presidential candidacy. John Greenleaf Whittier captured the abolitionists' anger and disillusionment:
Of all we loved and honored, naught
Save power remains;
A fallen angel's pride of thought,
Still strong in chains
All else is gone; from those great eyes
The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies,
The man is dead!
So bitter was the reaction expressed in the New England press, that none of Webster's congressional colleagues from that region was willing publicly to support the speech. Yet members of the Massachusetts legislature rejected a resolution condemning his actions, and several hundred New York businessmen sent him a letter of thanks and a gold watch. In the South, Webster's moderate tone made it easier for senators to support compromise measures.
A couple specific passages that caught my modern eye:
Mr. President, in the excited times in which we live, there is found to exist a state of crimination and recrimination between the North and South. There are lists of grievances produced by each; and those grievances, real or supposed, alienate the minds of one portion of the country from the other, exasperate the feelings, and subdue the sense of fraternal affection, patriotic love, and mutual regard.
Oh yes, both sides do it. An American tradition! And:
Then, Sir, there are the Abolition societies, of which I am unwilling to speak, but in regard to which I have very clear notions and opinions. I do not think them useful. I think their operations for the last twenty years have produced nothing good or valuable. At the same time, I believe thousands of their members to be honest and good men, perfectly well-meaning men. They have excited feelings; they think they must do something for the cause of liberty; and, in their sphere of action, they do not see what else they can do than to contribute to an Abolition press, or an Abolition society, or to pay an Abolition lecturer. I do not mean to impute gross motives even to the leaders of these societies, but I am not blind to the consequences of their proceedings. I cannot but see what mischiefs their interference with the South has produced.
Amazing that a Northerner dedicated to liberty would echo the Slavers' refrains about "outside agitators" who try to free other human beings. Small wonder that some people felt Webster threw them under the bus, particularly with regard to the Fugitive Slave Act that offended anti-slavery states like Vermont. But here's another perspective:
Possibly Southern secessionists and Northern abolitionists had some basis for thinking that the North would let the "erring sisters depart in peace " in 1850. Within the next ten years, however, there came a decisive change. The North, exasperated liy the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the high-handed acts of Southerners in Kansas in 1856, and the Dred Scott dictum of the Supreme Court in 1857, felt that these things amounted to a repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the opening up of the territory to slavery.
In 1860 Northern conviction, backed by an effective, thorough party platform on a Union basis, swept the free states. In 1850, it was a "Constitutional Union " party that accepted the Compromise and arrested secession in the South ; and Webster, foreseeing a "remodelling of parties", had prophesied that "there must be a Union party"."'
Webster's spirit and speeches and his strengthening of federal power through — Supreme Court cases won by his arguments had helped to furnish — the conviction which underlay the Union Party of 1860 and 1864. His consistent opposition to nullification and secession, and his appeal to the Union and to the Constitution during twentv years preceding the Civil War — from his reply to Hayne to his seventh of March speech — had developed a spirit capable of making economic and political power effective.
Men inclined to sneer at Webster for his interest in manufacturing, farming, and material prosperity, may well rememljer that in his mind, and more slowly in the minds of the
North, economic progress went hand in liand with the development of union and of liberty secured by law.
Whether we look to the material progress of the North from 1850 to 1860 or to its development in "imponderables", Webster's policy and his power over men's thoughts and deeds were essential factors in the ultimate triumph of the Union, which would have been at least dubious had secession been attempted in 1850.
History is as history does, so who knows what this continent and nation would've looked like had the Compromise of 1850 not been hammered out. Webster was a significant part of that, through his force of personality, but so were other unpredictable things like the death of Zachary Taylor, and yeah, the work of those hated abolitionists, etc.
Today some people compare Obamacare to slavery, whilst liberal purists condemn it as not being good enough. I wonder what history will be written about that imperfect compromise and the people who shepherded it through.
The Lost Treasure Of The Fraggles
So much rage. So much anger. So much disappointment. Newsweek’s Leah McGrath Goodman stunned the Internet on Thursday with a report that, for the first time, identified the man who created Bitcoin, the world’s most successful, and infamous, crypto-currency. In a twist worthy of Thomas Pynchon, the pseudonymous mastermind “Satoshi Nakamoto” turned out to be a 64-year-old Japanese American named — incredibly — Satoshi Nakamoto.
This bombshell caused enthusiasts to explode in fury.
Goodman was attacked as a bad journalist: All her evidence — declared scores of angry tweetsand posts on Reddit – was circumstantial. (And it is true, Goodman’s case, while persuasive and fascinating, is not definitive. After the Newsweek story, in which he seemed to tacitly acknowledge involvement with Bitcoin, Nakamoto would go on to deny to an AP reporter that he was actually its creator.) Goodman was also flagellated for invading Nakamoto’s privacy, for“doxxing” him by publishing photos of his house and license plate that betrayed his anonymity. She was put on notice that she would be responsible if anything untoward happened to Nakamoto, who is believed to own a fortune in Bitcoin, and could now be the target of violent thieves.
To people who live in the real world, the sound and fury seems mostly absurd (although the horde of media chasing Nakamoto through L.A. on Thursday afternoon definitely wasn’tjournalism’s finest hour). If you invent a multibillion-dollar digital currency explicitly designed to remake the global financial system that gains serious traction, people will want to know who you are. If you mastermind an anarcho-libertarian project to break the hold of governments over money, history will demand answers — and good reporters will find them.
These people condemn the Fed for not being transparent, yet melt down when transparency's brought to their little playground? Typical libertarian childishness.
Death By Powerpoint
I fucking hate Powerpoint, especially in an academic setting. That's why I'll tend to chalk talk and speak extemporaneously in class rather than rely on slides, even if they exist. I try to get my students to do other, more creative and educational things for presentations rather than falling back on that Microsoft crutch--slide animations and sound effects in particular are banned, under penalty of failure.
Because it's stultifying. Horrifically stultifying.
"After this, what is left for us to write?"
O Lord! Ooh, you are so big! So absolutely huge.
Gosh, we're all really impressed down here, I can tell you. Even if the moon were only 1 pixel...
Who Lost Crimea?
Although really when you get down to it, we should blame John Quincy Adams. He coddled Russia when he was Ambassador, and showed Americans have no resolve by signing the Treaty of Ghent, which returned everything to status quo ante even though the British burned Washington.
WASHINGTON WAS BURNED! And we got NOTHING!
From then on, nobody respected America. Fucking Whigs, man.
Freedom From Fear
By the power of Greyskull!
This is the Best Gun Industry ad EVAH:
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre on Thursday told a group of conservatives that the “greatest freedom” was the ability to have “all the rifles, shotguns and handguns we want.”
LaPierre took the stage at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference late in the afternoon to give what was the most fearful speech of the day.
“I’ve never been worried about his country until now,” he said. “We fear for the safety of our families. It’s why neighborhood streets that were once filled with bicycles and skateboards and laughter in the air, now sit empty and silent.”
“That’s why more Americans are buying firearms and ammunition,” LaPierre asserted. “Not to cause trouble, but because that America is already in trouble.”
I'm not sure more Americans are buying that stuff. I think the same ones are buying more. And I'm really not sure that's freedom, so much as consumerism fueled by fear, which is the opposite of freedom.
But hey, I like Red Dawn and Hot Fuzz fantasies as much as the next NRA member...
Somebody Emboldened Putin
Putin knew that Republicans and Conservatives will side with America's Enemies against President Obama everytime. Listening to the 18 months worth of lies, which Republicans continue to spew forth about Benghazi, emboldened Putin. He knew that his actions would be defended by Republicans who would seek to blame Putin's actions on President Obama.
Because siding with America's Enemies is what Republicans and conservatives do.