NW Blogger enters Academy of Sciences

Max, 2008/04/30 

Perhaps not a prolific member of our community, but one of us none the same. High energy physicist Robert Palmer- AKA Igloo Bob- has been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious award capping a magnificent career. I couldn’t be happier for him.

72 New Members Chosen By Academy

Robert’s listing:

PALMER, ROBERT B.; senior scientist and group leader, advanced accelerator group, department of physics, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Upton, N.Y.

A couple of notable Igloo Bob posts:
What is a muon… and other non-trivial questions
Snow Report
We made it (featuring Igloo Bob)
Igloo pictures! (featuring Igloo Bob’s igloo, of course)

Seriously, Robert is one of the smartest, funniest, kindest gentlemen I’ve ever had the honor to call a friend. He’s also a terrific hiker and skier and I can usually count on sharing his company a couple of times a year for glorious Sierra adventures. Congratulations Robert!



In which I fall into the arms of Grace Slick and am carried away to the land of Further, whence I did not know and only read books or saw movies about, but miss it terribly nonetheless.


The Wave.


pew research young voter preferences

From Digby.

A fatal flaw?


As a major Obama supporter who’s been dwelling on the subject of the questionable value of religion, recent events regarding his relationship with Jeremiah Wright have me a little shaken. One question I ask myself is, how religious is Obama really? Did he choose to join this church as a typically political antidote to the taboo against being irreligious? Did he do it just for street cred in the black community? Maybe the guy is really, deeply religious as he claims? I’ve never been sure I wanted to believe this last possibility, but on the other hand, he’s always struck me as being authentic, so to be a true believer would be in line with that.

I just came across an intriguing read in TNR addressing this question, Why’d Obama Join Trinity in the First Place?

I’ve heard two basic theories since the Wright tapes first surfaced in March. The first is cynical: Obama was a black politician in Chicago with an exotic background and intimidating credentials. He needed a home in a black church to gain credibility with his less educated, less affluent, more parochial-minded constituents. Trinity offered him the requisite cred.

The second, not entirely unrelated, theory is psychoanalytical: Obama, as the product of a racially-mixed marriage, in which the black father was almost entirely absent, had spent his whole life groping for an authentic identity. Wright offered Obama both the father and the identity he never had.

The problem with both theories is that they don’t answer the question of why this particular church, this particular pastor. Yes, Wright was a prominent figure with a large congregation. But surely there were other pastors and churches that fit that profile. And, in retrospect, probably distinctly less controversial ones.

So what drew him to Wright in particular? Well, the one thing that is without doubt about Obama is that he is one smart cookie, and apparently- regardless of his passion and contentious approach- so is Wright.

…Trinity’s less doctrinal approach to the Bible intrigued and attracted Obama. “Faith to him is how he sees the human condition,” Wright said. “Faith to him is not . . . litmus test, mouth-spouting, quoting Scripture. It’s what you do with your life, how you live your life. That’s far more important than beating someone over the head with Scripture that says women shouldn’t wear pants or if you drink, you’re going to hell. That’s just not who Barack is.”

This makes me feel even better about Obama, personally. He’s not so much religious as that he has an affinity for spirituality and he could see that it could have a positive influence in people’s lives and in his own. In the black community where he saw an opportunity to make a difference and build a promising career, this church and this pastor were the appropriate choices to nurture that spiritual core and become integrated into the community he hoped to energize.

Obama’s decision to jettison Wright is a tough one that can be seen is multiple ways. Did his once dear friend and mentor become too politically dangerous so he ‘threw him under the bus’ to get the media off his back? Did he react in anger to Wright’s characterization of him as purely a politician in the things he said about him in his Philadelphia speech? Was it the final stage in a maturing process, where he realized the need to be his own man in spiritual matters, one of those ‘kill the Bhudda’ moments? Probably a mix of all these things.

I feel better than ever about Obama as a great potential president after this, but less confident in the American people and especially the media to bother to understand these complexities. They like politics and religion to be straightforward and simple. What brand of belief does he profess, is it close enough to the officially sanctioned Judeo-Christian tradition? Does he hang with terrorists and radicals? He has to be safely religious but not go Jim Jones or Koresh on us. I also doubt their ability to forgive his wavering commitment to someone he once respected and admired. Too much of the dreaded monstrous flip-flop. OTOH, MSNBC’s panel of pundits were almost unanimous in thinking it would rescue his campaign in a big way, Perhaps they’re ready to frame this as a transcendent moment in the campaign where Obama put his biggest issue to rest and moves on to decisively claim the nomination. Maybe this will be old news by November and McCain will be stumbling with his own pastor problems.

I have my doubts we’ve heard the last of it and it will most likely dog Obama all the way to November to some extent if not blow him out of the water completely. A lot might hinge on him winning North Carolina decisively and at least being competitive in Indiana.

Like I believe I said recently, the Godly are dangerous.


byronius, 2008/04/28 

…in two easy steps.


As of the end of March, 2008, there were …2.3M homes…homes that are empty and for sale. That adds up to a vacancy rate of 2.9 percent, which is the highest, reports Bloomberg, “since the bureau started keeping count in 1956.” 2.2 million homes were vacant and for sale one year ago.


According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Second Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, released in March 2008, “the total number of homeless persons reported on a single night in January 2006 was 759,101.”

Assuming that number bears some reasonable relation to reality, that would mean there are 24 unoccupied homes for every homeless person in the United States.

If you have a more succinct summary, please share it with the class.

Blue Meme

Not to mention how many empty Dodge Tradesman 100’s there are.

Twenty four homes! No wonder the Fregans can move every night.

On Update: I did the math, and get three homes per homeless person. I commented to the Blue Meme. Perhaps I’m overlooking something.

Still! Holy Crap! Where’s the Jesus on this one? WWJD? Kick ASS, that’s what! This sucks! Wrong wrong wrong!

Flatirons in winter


The Flatirons in winter

The Flatirons. It was a blessing to have lived and worked within site of these babies for most of the ’80s. This frosted view was fairly rare, but I remember one morning arriving at my job in Gunbarrel, just north of Boulder- with a view not too dissimilar to this one- stepping out of my car and just being blown away at the beauty of the sight. The only other human anywhere near was the company janitor who happened to be walking close by on his morning rounds.

“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” I exclaimed.

He looked up at the object of my gaze with a bored expression, “Seen ’em a lot of times…” and trundled off to attend to his daily agenda of toilet scrubbing, etc. I remember thinking I hope I never for a moment get that dead to the world.

This was yesterday’s picture of the day on Wikipedia and I’m glad I caught it. Takes me back.

Hi-res version here.

Here It Comes.



“Gas at four dollars a gallon? I hadn’t heard that!”

Barack Obama’s Post On Kos.


Two years ago. This says a lot about him.

From Daily Kos — no link yet. Found on Democratic Underground.

I am not drawing a facile equivalence here between progressive advocacy groups and right-wing advocacy groups. The consequences of their ideas are vastly different. Fighting on behalf of the poor and the vulnerable is not the same as fighting for homophobia and Halliburton. But to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, “true” progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive “checklist,” then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.

Beyond that, by applying such tests, we are hamstringing our ability to build a majority. We won’t be able to transform the country with such a polarized electorate. Because the truth of the matter is this: Most of the issues this country faces are hard. They require tough choices, and they require sacrifice. The Bush Administration and the Republican Congress may have made the problems worse, but they won’t go away after President Bush is gone. Unless we are open to new ideas, and not just new packaging, we won’t change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy or fiscal policy that calls for serious sacrifice. We won’t have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism while avoiding isolationism and protecting civil liberties. We certainly won’t have a mandate to overhaul a health care policy that overcomes all the entrenched interests that are the legacy of a jerry-rigged health care system. And we won’t have the broad political support, or the effective strategies, required to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of numbing poverty.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job. After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart. It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that’s our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.


My dear friend Paul Simon used to consistently win the votes of much more conservative voters in Southern Illinois because he had mastered the art of “disagreeing without being disagreeable,” and they trusted him to tell the truth. Similarly, one of Paul Wellstone’s greatest strengths was his ability to deliver a scathing rebuke of the Republicans without ever losing his sense of humor and affability. In fact, I would argue that the most powerful voices of change in the country, from Lincoln to King, have been those who can speak with the utmost conviction about the great issues of the day without ever belittling those who opposed them, and without denying the limits of their own perspectives.

Damn his Presidential Hide! Demonize! Demonize!

Support Our Troops.

byronius, 2008/04/27 


None of this is surprising. The Bush administration has demonstrated a clear contempt for active-duty military. Halliburton and Blackwater employees are paid five times what these soldiers earn, and are busy lounging around in air-conditioned trailers drinking and raping drugged women, completely safe from all legal action (thanks to the Republican Party).

What is it, three trillion dollars now? No-bid contracts to campaign contributors, mountains of cash (tens of billions) mysteriously missing, all investigations blocked by the GOP. Benefit and combat-pay cuts finance tax cuts for billionaires. This is who we are. This is what we’ve become.

The GOP hates the troops. They despise them. And why not? They haven’t won. They keep getting killed. Sounds bad in the press, when it slips past the censors. Hard to keep up the rate of embezzlement of those precious public treasuries in such a limelight. Now, it seems likely that the GOP may lose the power to run interference for their corporate friends in the next election — such a shame. Prisons await. Damn the military!

We act like a third-world tinpot dictatorship. When did the GOP become the standard-bearer for public theft, election fraud, torture, and cronyism? When Republican Antonin Scalia made it so, in 2000. The old GOP is gone. The new GOP still swings a big bat, and they swing it only for the cause of obfuscation of legal process and dismantling and sale of the resources of the United States. They’ve abandoned all notions of honor and decency, except as useful words, and have redoubled their efforts to convert the Earth into the Planet Of The Apes, still locked in a maniacal certainty that They Are Right.

Barack Obama is now the largest recipient of campaign contributions from the active-duty military.

First Three Sheep.

byronius, 2008/04/26 


Only one of us had actual chest hair. The Sexy One.

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