Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog
Wednesday 18 April 2012

The retiring congressman sat down with New York magazine in February:

The main reason for the increase in partisanship is Newt Gingrich and the success of his decision to demonize the opposition as a way to win. That was reinforced by the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party, And finally, modern communications. Twenty years ago, people had a common set of facts that they read. They read opinion journalists, but they got their information generally from newspapers and from broadcasts. Now the activists, left and right, live in parallel universes which are both separate and echo chambers for each. If you’re on the left, you listen to MSNBC, you go to the blogs, Huffington Post, etc., and others, and you basically hear only what you agree with. If you’re on the right, you watch Fox News and the talk shows and you hear only what you agree with. That’s greatly intensified it. You know, it’s the primaries: People who want to be moderate lose. And when we try to compromise, what you find is not people simply objecting to the specific terms of the compromise but the activists object even to your trying to compromise, because they say, “Look, everybody I know agrees with us, so why are you giving in?”

Mike Oxley was chairman of that committee in 2003 until 2007. I was able to work with him. When I was the ranking member and he was the chairman, and even the chairman before that—so I was able to work with the Republicans from ’95, when they first took power, through 2007, when I became the chairman. I was able to work with Jim Leach and Mike Oxley on a lot of things, so I’d say that’s when things really changed.

When we took power, they moved very far to the right, and from the time I became chairman in 2007, it became virtually impossible to work with them. Spencer Bachus, who was the senior Republican, tried to work with me, and he almost lost his position because of it. When 2007 came, they really imposed this rigid discipline, so from 2007 on, as chairman, I was an institutionalist, but I spent almost all of my time making sure I had a majority. As I said, in 2007 and 2008, and 2009 and 2010—well, in 2009, we were doing the financial-reform bill, there were 71 members of the committee, 42 Democrats and 29 Republicans, and as I said, the last thing I thought of every night when I went to sleep was 36. Thirty-six is one more than half of 71, and I just had to keep 36 Democrats, always Democrats, never once did I have a Republican in my four years as chairman who was critical to a majority.

He's forthright and lucid. And he's firmly in the reality-based community. He will be missed.

Wednesday 18 April 2012 15:53:29 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#

The word we would use in programming to describe this situation is: "FFFUUUUUUUUU—":

Someone parked by Braille. Someone has grey paint on his bumper. Someone is my sworn enemy.

Wednesday 18 April 2012 10:52:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Via Gulliver, one of the pilots on a Toronto to Zurich flight in January 2011 took evasive action to avoid...a planet:

The FO [first officer] had rested for 75 minutes but reported not feeling altogether well. Coincidentally, an opposite–direction United States Air Force Boeing C–17 at 34 000 feet appeared as a traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS) target on the navigational display (ND). The captain apprised the FO of this traffic.

Over the next minute or so, the captain adjusted the map scale on the ND in order to view the TCAS target 5 and occasionally looked out the forward windscreen to acquire the aircraft visually. The FO initially mistook the planet Venus for an aircraft but the captain advised again that the target was at the 12 o'clock position and 1000 feet below. The captain of ACA878 and the oncoming aircraft crew flashed their landing lights. The FO continued to scan visually for the aircraft. When the FO saw the oncoming aircraft, the FO interpreted its position as being above and descending towards them. The FO reacted to the perceived imminent collision by pushing forward on the control column. The captain, who was monitoring TCAS target on the ND, observed the control column moving forward and the altimeter beginning to show a decrease in altitude. The captain immediately disconnected the autopilot and pulled back on the control column to regain altitude. It was at this time the oncoming aircraft passed beneath ACA878. The TCAS did not produce a traffic or resolution advisory.

The airplane experienced -0.5 g to +2.0 g vertical accelerations, which caused several passengers sleeping across seats in Economy Class to smash into the overhead bins in one direction and into the armrests in another. (Always wear your seatbelts, folks.) In all, 14 passengers and two flight attendants got hurt.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board report continues, analyzing the pilot's home life (he recently had children, and now doesn't get as much sleep), and the effects of overnight North America to Europe flights, noting "these types of flights are characterized by long periods of darkness with few operational demands while mid–Atlantic, creating inherently soporific conditions."

For an incident in which no one was seriously injured, the CTSB has prepared a thorough report with multiple points of action. It's worth reading, especially if you wonder why I prefer taking American's 9am flight to London instead of the 11pm flight.

Wednesday 18 April 2012 10:42:44 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Aviation#
Tuesday 17 April 2012

NBC News has hired the 32-year-old Clinton as a feature reporter. Naturally, given her parents, there is some controversy:

Upon her arrival [at 30 Rockefeller Center], Chelsea was given a welcome bag, filled with NBC swag, 30 Rockers tell me. NBC’s David Gregory responded by jokingly asking: “Where’s my welcome bag?”

Gregory’s joke hints at the unprecedented level of special treatment Chelsea receives: she didn’t do live shots on her Rock Center debut; she gets chauffeured everywhere in a town car while others her age strap hang with the suckers in Gotham’s sewers; she has her own personal spokesperson; and she has her own chief-of-staff, Bari Lurie. (Lurie is to Chelsea what Huma Abedin is to Hillary: a fiercely loyal female aide and confidante, who logged over 7,000 miles with her during the 2008 campaign.) Other top talent at the network noticed that luxury: Lester Holt, Hoda Kotb, Natalie Morales, and Savannah Guthrie all share a single assistant. (An NBC spokesperson says, however, that Chelsea pays for her own chief of staff.)

“Everyone needs to get a grip,” says [a] high level [NBC] executive. “She’s hardworking, she’s taking it very seriously. She really wants to genuinely do these Making a Difference pieces. She knows she’s a lightening rod. When people write nasty things, she takes the lumps.” After all the bad press during the roll out, there were fears Chelsea was going to pack it in. Instead, she decided to tough it out. “I respect that,” says the NBC insider. Clinton’s personal spokesperson, Matt McKenna, had strong words for her detractors: "When Chelsea's critics are ready to step forward and use their names, she'll be more than happy to answer them. In the meantime, she's enjoying working for NBC and NBC is glad she's a part of their team."

So how did she do in her first segment? Take a look:

I've seen a lot of TV, both amateur and professional. This is average professional work. It's a good package, maybe not that exciting, but one that tells a harmlessly good-feeling story.

Of course Clinton won't have the same treatment at NBC as other kids her age; she's already a public figure, with a view of history that even the top Medill grads probably won't have had. Of course this will cause resentment. I hope Clinton handles it with the same grace she's already handled the derision and ridicule people have heaped on her since she turned 13. The only question that matters in the present situation is: does this hire make sense for NBC? I think we'll see pretty soon.

Tuesday 17 April 2012 13:34:09 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Monday 16 April 2012

I'm reading Chris Mooney's latest, The Republican Brain, which attempts to explain the differences between conservatives and liberals based on their psychological makeups. For instance, conservatism correlates negatively with openness but positively with conscientiousness. He also talks about episetemic closure, which psychology predicts (and we can observe) is far more likely on the right than on the left.

I plowed half-way through the book yesterday, and I expect to finish it on the plane Wednesday. As Jon Stewart would say, buy it, read it, it's on shelves now.

Monday 16 April 2012 15:13:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Sunday 15 April 2012

Transport analyst and writer Tom Vanderbilt has a four-part series in Slate about the crisis in American walking:

The United States walks the least of any industrialized nation. ... Why do we walk so comparatively little? The first answer is one that applies virtually everywhere in the modern world: As with many forms of physical activity, walking has been engineered out of existence. With an eye toward the proverbial grandfather who regales us with tales of walking five miles to school in the snow, this makes instinctive sense. But how do we know how much people used to walk? There were no 18th-century pedometer studies.

[S]ince our uncommon commitment to the car is at least in part to blame for the new American inability to put one foot in front of the other, the transportation engineering profession’s historical disdain for the pedestrian is all that much more pernicious. In modern traffic engineering the word has become institutionalized, by engineers who shorten pedestrian to the somehow even more condescending “peds”; who for years have peppered their literature with phrases like “pedestrian impedance” (meaning people getting in the way of vehicle flow).

As Vanderbilt says, traffic engineers and our obsession with the car have driven most of the problems. Even though engineer Charles Mahron and people like him crusade against the worst urban designs (see, e.g., Brainerd, Minn.), I don't think anything will change without a disruptive and permanent external shift. I don't really want $10 gas, but wow would that focus people's attention on driving.

Sunday 15 April 2012 09:20:03 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Geography | US#
Friday 13 April 2012

At a client site all day, with about 10 minutes for lunch. Regular posting will resume Sunday.

Friday 13 April 2012 13:01:21 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#

Krugman explains:

Mr. Christie’s big move — the one that will define his record — was his unilateral decision back in 2010 to cancel work that was already under way on a new rail tunnel linking New Jersey with New York. At the time, Mr. Christie claimed that he was just being fiscally responsible, while critics said that he had canceled the project just so he could raid it for funds.

Now the independent Government Accountability Office has weighed in with a report on the controversy, and it confirms everything the critics were saying.

The governor asserted that the projected costs were rising sharply; the report tells us that this simply wasn’t true. The governor claimed that New Jersey was being asked to pay for 70 percent of a project that would shower benefits on residents of New York; in fact, the bulk of the financing would have come either from the federal government or from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which collects revenue from residents of both states.

But while it’s important to document Mr. Christie’s mendacity, it’s even more important to understand the utter folly of his decision. The new report drives home just how necessary, and very much overdue, the tunnel project was and is. Demand for public transit is rising across America, reflecting both population growth and shifting preferences in an era of high gas prices. Yet New Jersey is linked to New York by just two single-track tunnels built a century ago — tunnels that run at 100 percent of capacity during peak hours.

Someday—maybe five years from now, maybe ten—the Port Authority will have to resume the tunnel project. And then, it will be much more expensive, and much more dire.

Will people remember why?

Thursday 12 April 2012 21:40:46 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US#
Thursday 12 April 2012

Connecticut's house has voted to repeal the death penalty, which will make the state the 17th to abolish it:

Senate Bill 280 cleared the House 86-62, a vote that broke largely along party lines. The bill now goes to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who has pledged to sign it, ending a form of punishment in the state that dates back to Colonial times when those convicted of being witches were sent to the gallows.

[S]upporters of the repeal effort say the state's death penalty is irrevocably broken — just one man, serial killer Michael Ross, has been executed in the past 50 years, and that was after he waived his appeals. Rep. T.R. Rowe, a Republican from Trumbull who supported the repeal bill, called the current death penalty "a paper tiger."

Others pointed out that government is not infallible, and the chance, however slight, of an innocent person being executed is too grave a risk when the punishment is death.

And just a quick reminder, here are the jurisdictions that still have capital punishment: Belarus, China (PRC), Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan (ROC), Tonga, United States, Vietnam. We executed 46 people in 2010, putting us ahead of everyone in the world except China (over 4,000), Iran (252), North Korea (60), and Yemen (53). Great company to be in.

Oh, and thanks to a couple southern states, we're the only democracy that executes children.

Connecticut is making the right move. I hope the rest of the country follows suit.

Thursday 12 April 2012 09:55:59 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | World#
Wednesday 11 April 2012

Pauvre chat:

(Via Sullivan.)

Wednesday 11 April 2012 16:31:34 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Kitchen Sink#
Tuesday 10 April 2012

I'd say he's performing about as expected:

Tuesday 10 April 2012 12:22:52 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | Parker#

Theories also have predictive value; that is, in order for a hypothesis to graduate to theorydom, it has to fit all the available facts and predict future events. You know, like anthropogenic climate change, which gets closer to being a true theory every day. For example, via Fallows, a paper written in 1981 seems to have predicted it pretty well:

Sometimes it helps to take a step back from the everyday pressures of research (falling ill helps). It was in this way we stumbled across Hansen et al (1981) (pdf). In 1981 the first author of this post was in his first year at university and the other just entered the KNMI after finishing his masters. Global warming was not yet an issue at the KNMI where the focus was much more on climate variability, which explains why the article of Hansen et al. was unnoticed at that time by the second author. It turns out to be a very interesting read.

[T]hey attribute global mean temperature trend 1880-1980 to CO2, volcanic and solar forcing. Most interestingly, Fig.6 (below) gives a projection for the global mean temperature up to 2100. At a time when the northern hemisphere was cooling and the global mean temperature still below the values of the early 1940s, they confidently predicted a rise in temperature due to increasing CO2 emissions. They assume that no action will be taken before the global warming signal will be significant in the late 1990s, so the different energy-use scenarios only start diverging after that.

And the band played on...

Tuesday 10 April 2012 11:56:57 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Weather#

The FBI has put together a committee of university presidents to root out foreign spies who have infiltrated American colleges:

While overshadowed by espionage against corporations, efforts by foreign countries to penetrate universities have increased in the past five years, [Frank] Figliuzzi, [Federal Bureau of Investigation assistant director for counterintelligence] said. The FBI and academia, which have often been at loggerheads, are working together to combat the threat, he said.

Attempts by countries in East Asia, including China, to obtain classified or proprietary information by “academic solicitation,” such as requests to review academic papers or study with professors, jumped eightfold in 2010 from a year earlier, according to a 2011 U.S. Defense Department report. Such approaches from the Middle East doubled, it said.

The problem with this, as a number of people pointed out in the article, is that academics share information freely. That's their freaking job. And the U.S. has hundreds of thousands of foreign students—76,000 from China alone—because, for now anyway, we have the best schools in the world.

Of course the FBI should go after real spies, and discovering former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Tretyakov probably prevented Russia from stealing information that would have helped them catch up to where we'd gotten ten years earlier.

The university presidents on the FBI's committee need to remember their first duty. I hope some of them will remind the FBI that suspecting lots of foreigners of trying to spy on us will cost more than it will save.

This is a very old conversation. There are always people who see enemies everywhere. Sometimes they're right; but we need to make sure that when they're wrong, they don't cause more damage than they're trying to prevent.

Tuesday 10 April 2012 10:40:32 CDT (UTC-05:00)  |  | US | Security#
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