Archive for April, 2010
30 Apr 2010

Inevitably

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When Republicans are doing bad things, you can count on democrats to offer to go them one better.

The Hill:

Democratic leaders have proposed requiring every worker in the nation to carry a national identification card with biometric information, such as a fingerprint, within the next six years, according to a draft of the measure.

The proposal is one of the biggest differences between the newest immigration reform proposal and legislation crafted by late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The national ID program would be titled the Believe System, an acronym for Biometric Enrollment, Locally stored Information and Electronic Verification of Employment.

It would require all workers across the nation to carry a card with a digital encryption key that would have to match work authorization databases.

“The cardholder’s identity will be verified by matching the biometric identifier stored within the microprocessing chip on the card to the identifier provided by the cardholder that shall be read by the scanner used by the employer,” states the Democratic legislative proposal. …

Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), who has worked on the proposal and helped unveil it at a press conference Thursday, predicted the public has become more comfortable with the idea of a national identification card.

“The biometric identification card is a critical element here,” Durbin said. “For a long time it was resisted by many groups, but now we live in a world where we take off our shoes at the airport and pull out our identification.

“People understand that in this vulnerable world, we have to be able to present identification,” Durbin added. “We want it to be reliable, and I think that’s going to help us in this debate on immigration.”

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Ezra Klein offers details of the democrat plan, and actually identifies the important irony. Note that all this does not give the ephebe Ezra any particular problem personally.

The Democrats’ immigration-reform proposal (pdf) is 26 pages long. Pages 8 through 18 are devoted to “ending illegal employment through biometric employment verification.” I don’t think the Democrats are going to like me calling this a biometric national ID card, as they go to great lengths to say that it is not a national ID card, and make it “unlawful for any person, corporation; organization local, state, or federal law enforcement officer; local or state government; or any other entity to require or even ask an individual cardholder to produce their social security card for any purpose other than electronic verification of employment eligibility and verification of identity for Social Security Administration purposes.”

But it’s still a biometric national ID card. It’s handed out by the Social Security Administration and employers are required to check it when hiring new employees. Essentially, if you want to participate in the American economy, you need this card. “Within five (5) years of the date of enactment, the fraud-proof social security card will serve as the sole acceptable document to be produced by an employee to an employer for employment verification purposes,” the bill says. “This requirement will exist even if the employer does not yet possess the capability to electronically verify the employee by scanning the card through a card reader.”

The theory here is simple: Illegal immigration is a problem because illegal immigrants can get jobs. As the bill says, “in order to prevent future waves of illegal immigration, this proposal recognizes that no matter what we do on the border, our ports of entry, and in the interior, we will not be completely effective unless we can prevent the hiring, recruitment, or referral of unauthorized aliens in America’s workplaces. Jobs are what draw illegal immigrants to the United States.” …

The oddity of this strategy, of course, is that anti-immigration sentiments run highest among the same communities that are most opposed to national ID cards. Now, it’s also the case that if you’re going to support citizenship searches for people with Hispanic-looking shoes, it’s a bit odd to worry about an ID card to verify employment. But even so, without Republicans on the bill to give this strategy cover, it’ll be interesting to see whether the anti-immigrant right embraces the ID card as a way of staunching the flow of illegal immigrants or assails Democrats for trying to create a biometric police state.

30 Apr 2010

“Decline is a Choice”

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Mark Steyn argues that it can happen here, that the ideology of the left can alter the national character and turn a nation of self reliant individualists into whining clients of a socialist nanny state in terminal decline, and Barack Obama is here to prove it.

[W]hat are we to make of the British? They were on the right side of all the great conflicts of the last century; and they have been, in the scales of history, a force for good in the world. Even as their colonies advanced to independence, they retained the English language and English legal system, not to mention cricket and all kinds of other cultural ties. And even in imperial retreat, there is no rational basis for late-20th-century Britain’s conclusion that it had no future other than as an outlying province of a centralized Euro nanny state dominated by nations whose political, legal, and cultural traditions are entirely alien to its own. The embrace of such a fate is a psychological condition, not an economic one.

Is America set for decline? It’s been a grand run. The country’s been the leading economic power since it overtook Britain in the 1880s. That’s impressive. Nevertheless, over the course of that century and a quarter, Detroit went from the world’s industrial powerhouse to an urban wasteland, and the once-golden state of California atrophied into a land of government run by the government for the government. What happens when the policies that brought ruin to Detroit and sclerosis to California become the basis for the nation at large? Strictly on the numbers, the United States is in the express lane to Declinistan: unsustainable entitlements, the remorseless governmentalization of the economy and individual liberty, and a centralization of power that will cripple a nation of this size. Decline is the way to bet. But what will ensure it is if the American people accept decline as a price worth paying for European social democracy.

Is that so hard to imagine? Every time I retail the latest indignity imposed upon the “citizen” by some or other Continental apparatchik, I receive e-mails from the heartland pointing out, with much reference to the Second Amendment, that it couldn’t happen here because Americans aren’t Euro-weenies. But nor were Euro-weenies once upon a time. Hayek’s greatest insight in The Road to Serfdom is psychological: “There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought,” he wrote with an immigrant’s eye on the Britain of 1944. “It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those on which the British people justly prided themselves and in which they were generally agreed to excel. The virtues possessed by Anglo-Saxons in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch, were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, noninterference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.” Two-thirds of a century on, almost every item on the list has been abandoned, from “independence and self-reliance” (40 percent of people receive state handouts) to “a healthy suspicion of power and authority” — the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government “do something,” the cost to individual liberty be damned. American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer a similar expansion of government and not witness, in enough of the populace, the same descent into dependency and fatalism. As Europe demonstrates, a determined state can change the character of a people in the space of a generation or two. Look at what the Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population: That’s what happened in Britain. …

In the modern era, the two halves of “the West” form a mirror image. “The Old World” has thousand-year-old churches and medieval street plans and ancient hedgerows but has been distressingly susceptible to every insane political fad, from Communism to Fascism to European Union. “The New World” has a superficial novelty — you can have your macchiato tweeted directly to your iPod — but underneath the surface noise it has remained truer to old political ideas than “the Old World” ever has. Economic dynamism and political continuity seem far more central to America’s sense of itself than they are to most nations’. Which is why it’s easier to contemplate Spain or Germany as a backwater than America. In a fundamental sense, an America in eclipse would no longer be America.

But, as Charles Krauthammer said recently, “decline is a choice.” The Democrats are offering it to the American people, and a certain proportion of them seem minded to accept. Enough to make decline inevitable? To return to the young schoolboy on his uncle’s shoulders watching the Queen-Empress’s jubilee, in the words of Arnold Toynbee: “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

29 Apr 2010

The Dodd Bill: HuffPo Gets It Right

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Frank Luntz debunks the democrats’ supposed financial “reform” at Huffington Post of all places. This editorial would fit just fine on any conservative blog site.

The New York Times’ headline said it all: “Off Wall St., Worries About Financial Bill”. The Democrats in Washington may think it’s a slam dunk, but the rest of America doesn’t agree.

Look, those who are on the side of significant financial reform are fighting on the side of the angels — and with broad public support. We are fed up with Wall Street abuses and arrogance that makes life for the rest of us on Main Street more difficult. Let’s hold people and businesses more accountable and responsible for what they do and how they do it.

But that doesn’t suddenly equate to support for the legislation now being considered by the Senate. In exactly the same way that the public wanted healthcare reform, just not Obama’s healthcare reform, they want something done to punish the perpetrators of the financial meltdown, but not at the expense of their own checking accounts — or American economic freedom.

The dirty secret of the Senate financial reform bill is that some of its biggest supporters work on Wall Street. Recipients of taxpayer bailout money have no concerns about the bill — in fact, the CEOs of Citi and Goldman Sachs have publicly endorsed it, and several of the other big banks have expressed support. It keeps the “too big to fail” guarantees in place for another generation of financial services companies.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. The Democrats supporting the current legislation have assured an anxious electorate that whatever funds are used to create whatever regulatory scheme created will come from the banks, not the taxpayers. Let me emphasize that so that even casual readers will catch it: the Democrats promise that you won’t pay for their legislation, banks will.

Really?

Since when have corporations ever paid taxes, fees or penalties? Employees end up paying in the form of lower salaries and benefits. Customers end up paying in the form of higher costs.

And in this case, every account holder will be forced to pay higher fees on their checking account and savings account. That’s you, my friendly reader. Can you say “checkbook tax”? I can, and I think lots of candidates will be saying it come November. Is that what you really want to do to your constituents, Senator Lincoln? Is that what you really want to explain on the campaign trail, Senator Bennett?

But it goes deeper than just taxation and regulation. Wall Street can pass it all onto consumers. Main Street cannot. And that’s because Wall Street firms have all those pesky well-connected, nicely dressed lobbyists to ensure that whatever is passed strengthens their hand at the expense of the little guy.

Regardless of what side you’re on, the financial reform bill is special interest heaven — a bill written by lobbyists, for lobbyists, and will probably be implemented by lobbyists. The Dodd bill has carve-outs right from the get-go. Real estate agents, title companies, the Farm Credit system, even Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae are exempt from its onerous and costly provisions. And for everyone else, it’s been a special interest feeding frenzy.

More than 130 companies have publicly hired lobbyists seeking their own loophole. Mars Candy wants to continue to use derivatives to hedge against price hikes in sugar and chocolate, so they’ve hired a lobbyist. Harley Davidson wants to protect dealer financing of their bikes, so they’ve hired a lobbyist. And eBay wants to not harm its subsidiary, PayPal, so they’ve hired … well … a team of lobbyists.

But most average Americans — the ones who bailed Wall Street out in the first place — cannot afford lobbyists, and won’t be exempted from the legislation.

There’s a reason why American trust in government is at an all-time low. Voters believe legislation like this is passed not for the public interest, but for special interests. And that is certainly the case with the Dodd bill.

28 Apr 2010

Pima County Sheriff Won’t Enforce Immigration Law

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Pima County


ABC15
:

An Arizona sheriff is the latest person to speak out about the state’s new immigration legislation, saying he does not plan to enforce the divisive law.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik calls Senate Bill 1070 a “stupid law” that will force officers to start profiling. He is one of the first local law enforcement officials to rebel against the law.

“We don’t need to enforce it. It would be irresponsible in my opinion to put people in the Pima County Jail at the taxpayers expense when i can give them to the Border Patrol,” Dupnik said.

The Sheriff admits he could get sued for failing to obey the law, but says that’s a risk he’s willing to take.

The controversial bill was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer last Friday.

Sheriff Dupnik’s stance is undoubtedly good politics in Tucson, the home of the state university and Arizona’s most prominent liberal community of fashion, but he is making a point that persons familiar with law enforcement already know.

Illegal immigration is just another victimless crime, a violation of arbitrary current regulations not an intrinsically evil act. Police always have real crimes involving genuine evil and victims who have sustained injury to deal with, and crimes with victims always have priority over victimless crimes. Only a cop with time on his hands and nothing useful to do is going to stop people looking for green cards.

In border locations like Pima County, a casual trans-border culture has existed since the time of the Gadsden Purchase. People cross the border casually all the time to visit relatives, to shop, or for recreational activities. Attempting to investigate everyone guilty of looking Hispanic in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood would be insanity.

27 Apr 2010

“Your Papers, Please!”

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Rassmussen finds that a comfortable majority of Americans think this kind of thing is just fine.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week signed a new law into effect that authorizes local police to stop and verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that 60% of voters nationwide favor such a law, while 31% are opposed.

It’s true that Arizona does have serious crime problems associated with illegal border activities.

In Arizona’s case, the public safety threat obviously comes from smuggling connected to the illegal drug trade. Arizona is the unhappy victim of the confluence of two forms of irrational law making, both of which Americans commonly support and both of which Americans also commonly ignore.

We have an unfortunate tendency toward statutory overreach, and are prone to pass laws expressing moral sentiments, wishes, and aspirations which, at the same time, we have every intention of personally ignoring. That is how we got Alcohol and Drug Prohibition. That is how we got a 55 mph speed limit. And that is why we have immigration quotas that make the existence on American soil of the large pool of cheap labor we require illegal.

No one wants to see Latino gang members on the streets, and no one wants day laborer flop housing anywhere near them, but everyone wants his produce picked, his meat processed, his table bused, his lawn mowed, and every other kind of low skill labor available and affordable.

If the 21st century equivalent of Ellis Island were open and in operation, and people desiring to come to America to do work Americans need done for wages Americans can afford to pay were able to enter freely and legally, you would not have coyotes leading desperate people across the Sonoran desert over the Arizona border.

If we had intelligence enough to end our futile policy of drug prohibition, we could eliminate the enormous profits associated with trafficking and smuggling and all the warfare over drug-sales turf. There would be no drug cartels, no drug gangs, and no smugglers murdering Arizona ranchers like Robert Krentz.

It was Mr. Krentz’s shooting last month that produced the wave of indignation that caused the controversial bill to pass the Arizona legislature.

Arizona Republicans took the politically expedient course and pandered to an angry public by passing the draconian immigration bill. Making illegal immigration into a crime, like all victimless crime laws, will produce only random and selective enforcement, accompanied by increased official corruption. The new law will not cure Arizona’s crime problems, but it will poison Arizona’s, and the nation’s, politics.

27 Apr 2010

The Empire Strikes Back

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Darth Jobs in mufti

Blogging is the kind of ivory tower intellectual activity resembling college that seems to take place at one level of remove from ordinary reality. Bloggers don’t really typically think of themselves as possible subjects of police raids and lawsuits by giant corporations.

And that is, doubtless, why Gizmodo thought that purchasing an iPhone prototype lost in a Redwood City bar and reviewing the prototype would not be a major problem as long as they offered to give the prototype back to Apple in the end.

Clearly, they did not reckon with the rather old-fashioned kind of influence large employer corporations have over certain California counties. (Who even knew that the San Mateo county sheriff’s office possessed a “Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team?”)

I recall thinking myself that, yes, Gizmodo can just give back the prototype, and Apple cannot really prove damages from Gizmodo’s story, so the whole incident will simply fade away, but that theory failed to take into account Apple’s corporate cult of secrecy and and the propensity of Apple management (Steve Jobs) to be vindictive.

CNET:

Police have seized computers and servers belonging to an editor of Gizmodo in an investigation that appears to stem from the gadget blog’s purchase of a lost Apple iPhone prototype.

Deputies from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office obtained a warrant on Friday and searched Jason Chen’s Fremont, Calif., home later that evening, Gizmodo acknowledged on Monday.

In an article on Friday, CNET was the first to report on the criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the iPhone prototype and Gizmodo’s acquisition of it, including that Apple had contacted local police. A San Mateo County judge signed the search warrant, which said a felony crime was being investigated, a few hours later.

“When I got home, I noticed the garage door was half-open,” according to an account by Chen. “And when I tried to open it, officers came out and said they had a warrant to search my house and any vehicles on the property ‘in my control.’ They then made me place my hands behind my head and searched me to make sure I had no weapons or sharp objects on me.”

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press told CNET on Monday: “This is such an incredibly clear violation of state and federal law it takes my breath away. The only thing left for the authorities to do is return everything immediately and issue one of hell of an apology.”

Dalglish said that the San Mateo County search warrant violated the federal Privacy Protection Act, which broadly immunizes news organizations from searches–unless, in some cases, the journalists themselves committed the crime. The 1980 federal law requires police to use subpoenas to obtain information instead of search warrants, she said.

Editors at Gizmodo, part of Gawker Media’s blog network, last week said they paid $5,000 for what they believed to be a prototype of a future iPhone 4G. The story said the phone was accidentally left at a bar in Redwood City, Calif., last month by an Apple software engineer and found by someone who contacted Gizmodo, which had previously indicated that it was willing to pay significant sums for unreleased Apple products.

CNET has not been able to confirm whether the investigation is targeting Gizmodo, the source who reportedly found the iPhone in a bar, or both. Apple has acknowledged that the lost device is its property. Calls to law enforcement sources on Monday were not immediately returned.

Gizmodo said on Monday:

    Last Friday night, California’s Rapid Enforcement Allied Computer Team entered editor Jason Chen’s home without him present, seizing four computers and two servers. They did so using a warrant by Judge of Superior Court of San Mateo. According to Gaby Darbyshire, COO of Gawker Media LLC, the search warrant to remove these computers was invalid under section 1524(g) of the California Penal Code.

Darbyshire was referring to the portion of California law that prevents judges from signing warrants that target writers for newspapers, magazines, or “other periodical publications.”

In 2006, a California appeals court ruled that the definition of “periodical publication” protects Web logs. “We can think of no reason to doubt that the operator of a public Web site is a ‘publisher’ for purposes of this language…News-oriented Web sites… are surely ‘like’ a newspaper or magazine for these purposes,” the court concluded.

The federal newsroom search law known as the Privacy Protection Act is broader. It says that even journalists suspected of committing a crime are immune from searches–if, that is, the crime they’re suspected of committing relates to the “receipt” or “possession” of illegal materials. (Two exceptions to this are national security and child pornography.)

The police hauled away three Apple laptops, a Samsung digital camera, a Seagate 500 GB external hard drive, USB flash drives, a HP MediaSmart server, a 32GB Apple iPad, an 16GB iPhone, and an IBM ThinkPad, according to documents that Gizmodo posted.

26 Apr 2010

2010 Maryland Hunt Cup

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Photo by Brendan Cavanaugh

Weather turned this year’s steeplechase season upside down. The Maryland Hunt Cup was last weekend, and our own Blue Ridge Hunt races, normally second after Casanova’s, were postponed (because of all the snow) and are still coming up.

This year’s Maryland Hunt Cup was exceptionally eventful, full of dramatic refusals, and featured an unexpected ending, proving how much more unpredictable timber races can be.


Baltimore Messenger

9:59 video

26 Apr 2010

Financial Reform Bill To Be Voted on Today

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Arnold Kling on the democrats’ “financial reform” bill. Let’s hope they can’t get any Republican votes.

My instinct is to call the proposed legislation a “blame deflection bill” rather than financial reform. But I admit that I have not read the whole bill. Has anyone?…

I have to rant about the notion of a consumer financial protection agency. I know that it’s axiomatic that poor people are helpless victims. But in the case of these mortgages, that is a really hard sell. The banks did not take from poor people. They gave to poor people. If you were lucky enough to get one of these exotic mortgages when house prices were still going up, then you got to reap a nice profit on your house. If you were not so lucky, you lost…close to nothing. I’m sorry, but if you borrowed up to 100 percent of the value of the house or more, then all you really lost were your moving expenses.

What about predatory lending? As I understand it, the idea of predatory lending is to saddle the borrower with an expensive mortgage so that you can foreclose on the property and sell it at a profit. How many times did that happen? Have you read of a single instance in the past three years where the bank made a profit on a foreclosure?

I am always ready to feel sorry for poor people because of their poverty. But I cannot feel sorry for somebody who was given a basically free option on a house and the option didn’t happen to come into the money.

The reason that those of us on the right are left somewhat speechless by the financial reform bill is that it seems to us to be based on premises that strike us as preposterous.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.

26 Apr 2010

HHS Sat On Health Care Bill Cost Report

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Remember Barack Obama’s campaign promises about an open and complete public debate “on C-Span” when, after his election, he would proceed to try to enact health care reform?

Obama promised openness and “an honest process.” In reality, the bill was drafted by powerful democrat politicians behind closed doors, rammed into law via a series of shady political shortcuts around normal legislative rules, and the release of the results of an analysis by the government’s own economic experts deliberately delayed in order to conceal the truth from the public.

Washington Prowler:

The economic report released last week by Health and Human Services, which indicated that President Barack Obama’s health care “reform” law would actually increase the cost of health care and impose higher costs on consumers, had been submitted to the office of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius more than a week before the Congressional votes on the bill, according to career HHS sources, who added that Sebelius’s staff refused to review the document before the vote was taken.

“The reason we were given was that they did not want to influence the vote,” says an HHS source. “Which is actually the point of having a review like this, you would think.”

25 Apr 2010

Good Things Sometimes Come in Bad Packages

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Two of the three senators from New York.

Reality is strange. The draconian immigration law passed in Arizona is bad for Republicans in the long run, but even the worst blunders can sometimes have a silver lining.

Arizona’s passage of an anti-illegals bill is precipitating a democrat party Congressional response. Democrats want to defy current majority opinion one more time by taking up (with customary partisanship) immigration reform.

The democrat grab for the Hispanic bloc will anger many centrists, and it had incidentally the amusing effect of flushing Lindsey Graham out of a (shudder!) bipartisan environmentalist coalition with John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman that was getting ready to introduce tomorrow a major climate change bill.

Instead of reaching across the aisle to destroy further the American economy and empower the federal government to regulate and tax some more, Graham petulantly withdrew his support from the absolutely marvelous bill which he assures us would have gone a long way toward making America energy independent while preserving our environment pristine and unspoiled and instead he denounced the democrats change of priorities as “a cynical political ploy.”

I’d rather see the immigration debate conducted rationally and responsibly but, hey! what issue in American politics ever is?

If immigration is going to be a stupid and divisive issue, at least this time it seems to have put a spoke in a very deserving wheel, the looming “climate change bill.” Let’s fight over immigration some more instead.

25 Apr 2010

Larger Than Human Influence on Climate

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Mitali Saran: Eyjafjallajökull, which in the local language means “A hundred thousand canceled flights later you still won’t be able to pronounce this.”

It was the Icelandic economy’s last wish that its ashes be scattered over the EU.
–Fred McCutcheon.

The eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull which has produced major disruptions in European air traffic demonstrates effectively the point that the limits of observational potential of the human lifetime and the very limited store of accumulated human knowledge leave plenty of room for the natural world to surprise us.

In the weekend section of the Wall Street Journal, James P. Sterba notes that the age of jet air travel has been too short for the necessity for aviation technology to have yet adapted to coping with the effects of with major eruptions. We are going to have to adapt. Sterba demonstrates that vulcanism has had a much greater impact on human history than is generally recognized.

In 1982, Mount Galunggung (VEI 4) in West Java, Indonesia, almost shot down a British Airways 747 cruising at 37,000 feet from Kuala Lumpur to Perth through its ash cloud. The plane’s four engines died, it glided out of the ash down to 13,000 feet, where Engine No. 4 was restarted, then the others, and an emergency landing at Jakarta saved 248 passengers and a crew of 15.

That was a spectacular wake-up call, but that same year a volcano 10 times more powerful, El Chichón (VEI 5) on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, would usher in the return of stratospheric calamity. It punched so much sulfurous gas into the stratosphere that airlines world-wide were flying through acid mists.

Except for the windows pilots look ahead through, airplane windows are made out of plastic. Sulfuric acid eats plastic. You can see little reflective stars in them. It’s called “star crazing.” After El Chichón, airlines found that windows were crazing up in months instead of years—especially on routes that flew over the poles through the stratosphere where the acid cloud hung on and on, seemingly defying gravity. Every flight from New York to Tokyo, for example, went through it. Repolishing the windows cost tens of millions. …

In the summer following Tambora’s 1815 eruption, crop failures dotted the northern hemisphere—rice failed in parts of China, wheat and corn in Europe, potatoes in Ireland (where it rained nonstop for eight weeks and triggered a typhus epidemic that killed 65,000 and spread to England and Europe). At Lake Geneva in Switzerland, vacationers from England sat out gloomy June storms reading ghost stories and composing their own. Lord Byron wrote a narrative poem, “Darkness,” in which there was no sun, “no day.” His personal physician, Dr. John Polidori, wrote “The Vampyre,” and Mary Shelley began “Frankenstein.” Famine spread across Switzerland. Food riots and insurrections swept France, which had already been caught up in the chaos following Napoleon’s 1815 defeat at Waterloo. …

In New England, 1816 was called “the year without a summer” because there were crop-killing frosts every month, including the normally frost-free months of summer, across the region. It snowed in Virginia in June and again on the Fourth of July. At Monticello, Thomas Jefferson, the retired president, had such a poor corn harvest that he had to borrow $1,000 to make up for lost income. In New Haven, Conn., the last frost of spring was on June 11, and the first frost of autumn on Aug. 22—shortening the normal growing season by 55 days. Corn, the staple crop of New England, couldn’t mature under such conditions. Crop failures were widespread. In Connecticut, three-quarters of the state’s corn crop was too unripe, soft or moldy to make corn meal.

While New Englanders faced food shortages and higher prices, they did not experience famine. But the hardship was a tipping point that helped propel Yankee farmers off the land. In their elegant 1983 book, “Volcano Weather: The Story of the Year Without a Summer,” Woods Hole oceanographer Henry Stommel and his wife, Elizabeth, wrote: “The summer of 1816 marked the point at which many New England farmers who had weighed the advantages of going west made up their minds to do so.”

The great migration westward had already begun, but Tambora gave it a boost. The year without a summer, for example, helped convince the New York State legislature to support a proposed canal from the Hudson River to the Great Lakes, which would help farmers along it market their produce. Funds were authorized in April 1817, and construction began on the Fourth of July. The Erie Canal, built without federal money, opened in 1825. The federal government at the time was preoccupied with finding a way west that started closer to the capital; that is, building an interstate road threading through the mountains from Cumberland, Md., to Wheeling, then in the state of Virginia on the Ohio River. This so-called National Road, built on a foundation of stones, opened in 1818.

Access to the Ohio Valley and beyond through the Erie Canal and the National Road set the stage for the transformation of the Midwest from forests to farms that would last through the 19th century and well into the 20th.

The real effects of volcanic eruptions certainly put the supposititious hazards of AGW into perspective, don’t they?

25 Apr 2010

Archie Comics to Debut Gay Character

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Poor Veronica will be initially infatuated with Kevin Keller, but he’ll eventually become her walker.

John L. Goldwater (1916-1999), an orphan and distant relative of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, was a strong admirer of small town America and an arch champion of family values, who played a key role in establishing the Comics Code Authority in 1954.

Goldwater invented Archie, his teenage associates, and their paradigmatically American hometown Riverdale in 1941, modeling the new series on the popular “Andy Hardy” films. He deliberately created Archie as a rival to Superman.

Goldwater “thought of Superman as an abnormal individual and concluded that the antithesis, a normal person, could be just as popular.”

Superman performed extraordinary feats, averting cataclysmic perils to humanity and thwarting the plans of evil geniuses, while Archie just blundered along happily through high school, facing no problem larger than choosing between the romantic possibilities presented by the blond and wholesome Betty and the wealthy brunette Veronica. Goldwater believed that Archie was successful precisely because he was “basically a square, but in my opinion the squares are the backbone of America… [and] strong families.”

I expect a loud spinning sound can be heard in the vicinity of the late John L. Goldwater’s grave. His grandson made a announcement this week that the old man would probably not very much have liked.

Free Press:

Archie Comics announced Wednesday that it’s introducing the strip’s first openly gay character. His name is Kevin Keller, and rumor has it that he’s a strapping, blond hottie who draws the immediate attention of Veronica and who wrestles with how to gently rebuff her flirtations.

Co-CEO Jon Goldwater says the move is “just about keeping the world of Archie Comics current and inclusive,” adding that the new character makes sense because “Riverdale has always been a safe world for everyone.”

Kevin is slated to make his first appearance in September.

Fan reaction has been mixed.

At Animation Magazine, Ralph comments:

The majority of the Archie comic audience are kids and sexual orientation has no place in this comic. Archie has been a pillar of honest, genuine content for many successful years so why change that?

The San Francisco Examiner brings up the often-voiced suspicion that the Archie series already had a gay character, the rebellious and misogynistic Jughead.

Archie comics is debuting its first gay character, although that should be ‘out’ gay character, since obviously Jughead, that woman hating anti-social with the dry sass, has always been the main gay of Riverdale High.

The late John L. Goldwater ruled that Stan Lee Spiderman strips written in response Federal Department of HEW requests featuring anti-drug use advocacy were a comics code violation.

25 Apr 2010

Queens Hasn’t Changed Much in 46 Years

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When Kitty Genovese‘s rape and murder in Kew Gardens was ignored by 38 neighbors (none of whom bothered to summon the police) in Queens, New York in 1964, the entire country was appalled.

This time, in Jamaica, 25 people walked passed, or even actually examined, an injured man bleeding on the sidewalk, and again, no one called for help.

Kew Gardens and Jamaica are practically contiguous. map

New York Post:

A heroic homeless man, stabbed after saving a Queens woman from a knife-wielding attacker, lay dying in a pool of blood for more than an hour as nearly 25 people indifferently strolled past him, a shocking surveillance video obtained by The Post reveals.

Some of the passers-by paused to stare at Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax last Sunday morning and others leaned down to look at his face.

He had jumped to the aid of a woman attacked on 144th Street at 88th Road in Jamaica at 5:40 a.m., was stabbed several times in the chest and collapsed as he chased his assailant.

In the wake of the bloodshed, a man came out of a nearby building and chillingly took a cellphone photo of the victim before leaving. And in several instances, pairs of people gawked at Tale-Yax without doing anything.

Later, another man stopped, leaned over and vigorously shook Tale-Yax’s body. After lifting the victim’s head and body to reveal a pool of blood, he also walked off.

Not until some 15 minutes after he was shaken by the pedestrian — more than an hour and 20 minutes after the victim collapsed — did firefighters finally arrive and discover that Tale-Yax, 31, had died.

Firefighters were responding to a 911 call of a non-life-threatening injury at 7:23 a.m. when they found his body.

Cops said they received four 911 calls at around the time of the attack reporting a woman screaming, but found nothing. They received no other 911 calls.

1:23 video

24 Apr 2010

Georgia Honors Polish President

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Former captive nations feel a certain solidarity. The Republic of Georgia has responded to the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski in a plane crash by declaring him a Georgian National Hero and their vocal ensemble Lashari performed in his honor a traditional folk song customarily sung to honor Georgians killed in war.

3:24 video

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