Friday, May 23, 2014

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) He’s President of the U-fucking-nited States, you fascist asshole! FOX News and the right wing traitors ought to be hung along I-95 for how they’ve harmed the stature of our country.

2) Speaking of the right wing, it does me good knowing they may be forced to lick a gay man’s backside in perpetuity.

3) MEMO to Pam Geller: Why do you Zionists hate Christians so?

4) The final battle in the war on pot may happen in….California?

5) This week in CEOs On The Hot Seat: McDonalds

6) How about “He’s old and he just sucks now”? Personally, I think they ought to beg Eddie Johnson to come back.

7) Speaking of the World Cup, Brazilians seem to be taking to the street over the rather large bite in the ass their country is being asked to endure.

8) Hey, maybe if they spent that money on VA hospitals instead of weapons systems the Pentagon doesn’t even fucking want anymore, everyone would be happy!

9) …but it stains your dentures.

10) Finally….have you ever wondered what The Lord of the Rings was really about? World War I? II? The rise of the Soviet Union? Well…I’ve got something for you to listen  to…

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Exporting Our National Experience

This is going to be an interesting and intriguing visit to Cooperstown by President Obama today:

WASHINGTON (AP) - Promoting travel to the U.S. as a job creator, President Barack Obama is planning new steps to make it easier for people from other countries to visit the 50 states and spend money at their hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and other businesses.

Obama planned to discuss the economic benefits of tourism to the U.S. and the latest steps he is taking to boost it at the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, on Thursday.

Obama acted two years ago to speed the processing of tourist visas for visitors from China and Brazil, steps that have dramatically reduced the length of time people from those populous countries have to wait for approval to travel to the U.S., said administration officials who previewed the president's trip for reporters.

On Thursday he will tackle the flip side of the problem: long waits for processing at U.S. airports and other ports of entry once tourists arrive.

It’s an interesting location, not that the topic itself is that interesting. Not only is the President pushing for more tourists to visit the US, but it seems he wants them to include places not normally high on tourists’ lists of places to visit.

Think about it: apart from the United States, and perhaps the Caribbean and Australia, where else would the baseball Hall of Fame attract tourists from?

The actual attraction aside, it’s important for the economies of places like Cooperstown, or Canton, OH, or Springfield, MA, or our national parks, and other out of the way places around the country to get some of that foreign gelt. Small town America is hurting, to be sure, unless there’s a fortunate happenstance of a natural gas field waiting to be fracked or other resource to be exploited.

And really, is that what we want our ultimate legacy as a nation to be? We raped and pillaged our beautiful countryside to provide wealth to our citizens? It’s one thing to profit from our bounty, it’s another thing to make that the only way we can profit.

I think it’s important to the nation and to the world that places like Cooperstown engage with foreign visitors. It’s far too easy for citizens in remote areas to fear the strange, the difficult to grasp. The opportunities for our country to come together domestically can be greatly enhanced if we all have the common experience of meeting other people, people who don’t necessary share our views on things, and who can educate us (and we educate them in turn).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Used Teabags

I wrote a few weeks ago that the Tea Party was a drying wart on the American political landscape, a view cinched last night:

FORTUNE -- Tactically, the Republican establishment is routing the Tea Party. The insurgency's backslide has been apparent all year, as its handpicked challengers to GOP incumbents failed to gain traction, groups representing it in Washington overreached, and the deficit concerns stoking its base waned. But yesterday, the "backslide" slid right back off a cliff. Tea Party-backed candidates in three key primary races suffered decisive losses in Kentucky, Georgia, and Idaho.

With the handwriting on the wall, deep-pocketed conservative sponsors huddled last Thursday and stewed over how to force the GOP to double down on hard-right policy positions. Those include opposition to a big immigration deal, same-sex marriage, and abortion rights -- issues toxic to the imperative of broadening the party's demographic coalition. But the movement's electoral drubbing suggests its grip on the Republican agenda may finally be breaking.

The question is what will replace it. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the big victors in yesterday's contests, was explicit with Fortune earlier this year that Senate Republicans will not unify behind a governing vision before the November midterms. And even if a more moderate brand of Republicanism is ascendant, the term itself remains relative -- and murky.

McConnell himself ducked the Teabaggers, as Fortune points out, but he still has to deal with the herd of cats in the Senate (and the House) that have managed to survive the apocalypse.

The Teabaggers rose as a result of (ginned up) anger at escalating deficits and government debt, both of which President Obama has reined in. Indeed, the 2012 election showed that Teabaggers were desperately looking for good electoral news and find precious little to rally behind, Obama had done such a good job of mastering the economy and re-energizing the debt reduction machinery.

This left the Teabaggers with very little left to unite behind: you had economic stalwarts who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about social issues combined with social conservatives who saw debt as a moral problem consistent with what they saw as the moral fall of the nation. Pulling the economic rug out from underneath them actually left the factions at odds with each other: some wanting to rein in the corporatocracy as being directly in conflict with “morality,” while others wanting to let the free market run unfettered.

This leaves the GOP in a real pickle: they sacrificed long term relevance in choosing a sprinter of a horse to hitch their wagons to. Sure, they took the short game in 2010, and might possibly stagger across the line in 2014 in control of both houses of Congress, but they will still be left with two very ugly dilemmae.

They’ll still be trying to thwart a sitting President (shades of Bill Clinton) and still be running ugly smear campaigns against such things Americans take for granted now, like abortion and immigration reform, same-sex marriage and legalized marijuana. Indeed, they are pretty much in the same place they were 20 years ago, only much more badly wounded in the mainstream ideologic viewpoint.

Should they take the Senate and maintain the House leadership – both looking iffy at this point – it will have been a Pyrrhic victory at best. In order to keep the House the GOP will have to tack hard right. To gain the Senate, they will have to slip into the middle somehow. While gerrymandering has made keeping the House the more plausible scenario, demographic changes make taking the Senate while half their campaigns whine about Latinos and liberals a really difficult challenge.

If the Teabagger immolation is any indication, people across the nation are tired of no solutions masking as the help the country needs.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Modern Alchemy

Well, now…

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Then a trio of physicists said, “We have a simple idea for turning that light into matter” – and they may set off a race to demonstrate an idea first proposed 80 years ago.

Albert Einstein’s most famous equation, E = mc2, showed that there is a direct relationship between the mass of an object and the amount of energy it contains. Then physicists Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler built on Einstein’s work by arguing that it ought to be possible to take two photons (pieces of light that are considered pure energy) and convert them into a pair of particles (an electron and its antimatter counterpart, a positron).

In their 1934 scientific article describing what came to be known as the Breit-Wheeler process, the pair weren’t exactly optimistic that their theoretical prediction would could ever be confirmed in practice. “It is hopeless to try to observe pair formation in laboratory experiments,” they wrote in the journal Physical Review.

Oh well, one out of two ain’t bad.

In a study published online Sunday in the journal Nature Photonics, three physicists from Imperial College London and the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany, propose a relatively straightforward method for witnessing the conversion of two photons into two particles. The trio came up with the idea and hammered out the key details in a single, coffee-fueled day, according to Imperial.

It’s easy to convert matter into energy, as anyone who’s ever lit a candle can attest. It’s a simple matter to destroy – err, no pun intended.

Turning energy into matter, however, has proved to be far more difficult. That would mean making E=mc² into M=e/c², or to put it in English, creation. Order out of relative chaos (again, no pun intended).

What these physicists have proposed to do is to shoot photons at a gold filter and into a vacuum tube. The gold excites the photons (considered energy, since at the speed of light, they do not gain mass like everything else does), the photons collide and at the other end of the tube, you should see particles like positrons and electrons emitted after an electromagnet separates them to keep them from recombining and creating energy again.

Needless to say, this will require an entirely new particle collider, one that makes CERN look like a merry-go-round.

I think we can bet on it not being built here in the States.

Do you miss science? I do.



Monday, May 19, 2014

Welcome to the World of Realpolitik, China

The dwindling world of Communism is getting more and more aggressive: towards each other.

Chinese authorities said Sunday that more than 3,000 Chinese had already been evacuated from Vietnam after protests over China's decision to move an oil rig into disputed waters of the South China Sea spiraled into riots last week in which foreign-owned factories were burned and looted.

Two Chinese citizens were killed in the violence and more than 100 were injured, authorities said.

The crisis has frayed ties between the two Communist-run Asian nations, and there is little sign of either side backing down over the increasingly bitter territorial dispute.

Vietnam has often played the part of pawn with respect to China. China, through Vietnam as proxy, fought two deadly wars with NATO allies, first France and then the United States (together known as the War in Vietnam in American history class). Of course, the Soviet Union also supplied materiel and advisors to the North Vietnamese factions, this may have aided in the Sino-Soviet split created by rival hegemonies in the region. Foolishly, Deng Xiaoping tried to bribe Vietnam to refuse all Soviet assistance.

This inflamed long-standing suspicions of Chinese imperialism over the Vietnamese. Indeed, Vietnam only received true independence as a result of some concatenations arising from the French-China war’s Treaty of Tientsin in 1884 (two World Wars and a 180 degree pivot by FDR on Vietnamese rule were later developments).

Finally, in 1979, tensions between Vietnam and China broke out into open warfare. Vietnam, still heavily influenced by the Soviet Union, engaged in a war with the Cambodian government, acting as China’s proxy. The Vietnamese eventually prevailed, ousting the Khmer Rouge – sort of. That didn’t completely unravel until 1990 – and forcing China’s hand.

At this point, Vietnam had become more and more reliant on Soviet assistance, creating closer ties between the two nations (indeed, any reasonable assessment of Soviet policy at the time would have revealed the Cold War was a sham). China, fearing a Soviet puppet in the region, decided it was time to act.

After the Vietnamese government was accused of oppressing the Hoa people – Vietnamese of Chinese extraction – China withdrew all of its assistance to Vietnam. On February 17, 1979, Chinese forces invaded Vietnam. The initial skirmishes were brutal and bloody, and China withdrew to the border, amassing troops in large numbers there until after 1990.

Tensions have never really been calm between both nations, but in 1991, after the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the two nations attempted to mend fences, and introduced Vietnam into what is known as the Bamboo Network, Chinese companies operating in Southeast Asian nations.

And then, in 2011, you may remember I pointed out that the Spratly Islands (and the Paracels) were becoming a growing point of contention between the two nations, as well as Singapore, Brunei, Taiwan, and the Philippines, all who claim a stake in the oil reserves there. Last year, Vietnam accused China of deliberately sinking a fishing vessel in the Paracels.

And so here we are. Do I imagine a full-scale war will break out between China and Vietnam? No. While both nations have become economic powerhouses, Vietnam would be foolish to challenge the Chinese in full-scale war. That doesn’t exclude skirmishes and even some long-term conflict, but it does rule out war economies on both sides.

What we are seeing is China flexing its muscles in a way that no nation has since America and the Soviets after World War II. That could spell trouble around the world and see the China-Vietnam conflict as a facet in a far larger conflagration, perhaps adding fuel to a fire that sparks someplace else.