Thursday, January 29, 2009

Yes, we can see what Republicans think about bipartisanship.

President Obama really wants to pass an economic stimulus bill and can do so just with the simple majority of Democrats in both houses. However, he would like some Republican votes while doing it. So, he talks with Republican members, waters down the bill, takes out many things that Democrats would like to see included (such as spending on the infrastructure), puts in more tax cuts (which seems to have been shown during the Bush years to not really help the economy or anyone not directly getting said tax cuts), and he STILL doesn’t get any Republican support. The bill passed the House easily but got ZERO Republican votes. Jesus.

These Republicans seem willing to marginalize themselves. Democrats don’t have to do it; Republicans will do it for them. They have absolutely no idea how to NOT play politics on any subject that comes up. That’s all they know how to do. John McCain was really criticizing a part of the original bill about making high-speed wireless internet access more available. Yet, what did Presidential Candidate John McCain support during his campaign? Investing in high-speed wireless internet access! Games! That’s all they are doing! Fiddling while Rome burns!

I guess I should not have expected the Republicans to have learned anything from being trounced in the last two elections. But I certainly hope that President Obama has learned something. You aren’t going to get help from the Republicans, so you might not as well even try.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I see Rush Limbaugh is STILL a big fat idiot.

Rush Limbaugh would rather have President Obama fail than have something good happen to the country, all in the name of ideology. That’s the only thing that matters to him, whether “his side” wins or loses. From HuffPo.

Saying he was "suspicious" of Obama, Limbaugh said the facial expressions of Obama supporters were "frightening" and slammed Republicans who've expressed hope that Obama succeeds:

"They're drinking the Kool-Aid... they're afraid of being called racists."

Limbaugh claims that Obama's race doesn't matter to him now that he's president, oddly comparing Obama's being black to being a Martian:

"He's not black. He's not from Mars."

Several things about Rush’s statements, besides the really, really strange Martian analogy… So, when have the Republicans ever been afraid of being called anything by Democrats? They have acted without a conscience for the better part of 8 years, they are going to be worried about being called names now? If Republicans were really worried about being called racists, then they probably should have done a better job after Hurricane Katrina. But the bigger issue here is that there are a huge amount of people out there in this country that are suffering real hardships. People are losing the jobs by the tens of thousands. Housing foreclosures are up all over the country. Food banks are seeing longer and longer lines while receiving less and less in the way of contributions. Families are still having their sons, daughters, husbands and wives come home from Iraq with traumatic injuries, if they are coming home alive at all, for absolutely no reason as far as I can see. And Rush wants Obama to fail for the next four years, so the Republicans can “win” future elections and (I suppose) do what they have been doing for the last eight years, which is to be total screwups all in the name of ideology.

Rush Limbaugh is a prick.

Photo from guntotingliberal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My thoughts about today’s inauguration of President Barack Obama.

Every blogger in the country must have a similar post up by now. I am certainly not going to add anything new or insightful. But this joyous and historic occasion really calls out for a post.

What I am thinking and feeling is no different than 75 to 80 percent of the rest of the country. I am extremely proud that this country has made one significant step beyond the overt racism that has dominated the cultural landscape since the country’s inception. Electing an African-American man to the highest office in the land is something truly amazing. I am old enough to remember the assassination of John and Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. I can remember, although comprehension on my part was not really there, the race riots, the civil rights movement. I also had a closer look, as my family (my protestations notwithstanding) moved to Alabama in 1970 when I was a freshman in high school. Rural Alabama... Extremely rural Alabama... My step-father, who was responsible for this abrupt move, bought a drive in restaurant that had walk up order windows. The one in front was prominently labeled “Whites Only.” The one around the side of the building was labeled “Blacks Only.” And what’s more, this was no anachronism, no holder from some bygone time. These were “here and now” signs of the time that were expected to be obeyed. The high school close to mine went through some upheavals when adults found out that some of the white cheerleaders were dating a couple of black kids on the basketball team. I don’t really know what happened, but it was made VERY clear to the girls that, under no circumstances, they were going to go to the prom with the black kids. This town was on the Alabama/Mississippi border, and was only about 70 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi. I don’t think I need remind people what happened there. In 1970, I was only 6 years removed from those horrible events.

I saw, for myself, the hatred and distrust from very hardened individuals. My step-father turned out to be a drunk, ignorant, racist bastard. To my everlasting shame, I even bought into some of the hateful rhetoric of the time. I remember once, probably just after I had moved there, the white kids in my school asking me if I was “a nigger lover.” I rapidly and strongly disagreed, as I was conscious of which way the river was flowing and I wanted to “fit in.” I don’t remember ever feeling any dislike or animosity toward any of the black kids. I think some of them treated me more fairly than did the white redneck kids. I think I just didn’t know how to relate to them and had no idea what to say.

So, given my rather peculiar personal history, I can truly say how proud I am that Barack Obama is taking the Oath of Office today. In many ways, this country has come a very long way. Many parts of the country, however, still remain mired in the 1930’s. But there is progress. I can’t tell how many times I have choked up a little or gotten teary eyed when I see a picture or video of black people, young and old, cheering or overtly crying from sheer joy. I cannot imagine what these people must be feeling now. Maybe they are thinking that this country isn’t quite as bad as they thought and that maybe the deck isn’t so stacked against them that they can’t overcome the barriers that still exist. The celebration in Chicago during and after Obama’s Election Day victory still is one of the highlights in my memory.

But what is even more significant than the fact of the first African American president is the fact that his race, although vitally important, is not the biggest amazement to me. Barack Obama was not elected because of his race, nor was he elected in spite of his race. He was elected because he represents the best hope at this time when the nation is facing about five severe crises simultaneously. He truly wants to bring people together and work with people on all sides of politics. He is one of the first politicians I remember who really seems to believe that scoring political points off your opponent is nowhere near as important as actually solving the problems of this country. People are tired of the Bush years, and yes, of the Clinton years before that. The country, as a whole, wants to move beyond all that and really get problems worked. Couple this with the fact of his race and that’s where all the joy, hope and pride come from.

This really is an amazing thing to see. I truly hope that President Obama can follow through on his promises and inclinations, and that this country gets behind the hard solutions that will be proposed for very tough problems. I sincerely hope that the bad old days of playing political games to try to ensure a “permanent majority” for either party is over and that politicians will just shut the hell up and work together for once.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The End Times are Near!!

Ancient civilizations looked upon comets as harbingers of some future catastrophe. Our science and technology has advance considerably since those benighted times, so that comets (unless they are on a course to slam into the Earth and send us humans the way of the dinosaurs) are now just an interesting astronomical phenomenon. The upshot of this is that we must look elsewhere for our prophecies of doom. So, if the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl was a statistical long shot, what do you think the odds were of having the Cardinals reach the Super Bowl immediately after the Tampa Bay Rays were in the World Series?

I am very, very fearful for our civilization.

Friday, January 16, 2009

From the Department of Very Small Blessings.

I’m amazed that George Bush hasn’t pulled several hundred muscles in his stretching to find rationales for his actions and silver linings in a huge wall of black clouds. For instance, who could forget his hyping the “benefit” from global warming, that it will make ship traffic through the Artic easier?

Here’s one via Dan Froomkin:

And in yet another exit interview, Bush tells Tara Wall of the Washington Times about the upside to the current economic crisis: "One aspect of these recent times that has been overlooked is the fact that the price of gasoline has gone down from near $4 to under $2, which is stimulative, because people have got nearly $2,000 on an annualized basis in their pocket -- that's $2,000 per family -- as a result of gasoline going down," Bush said. "That's stimulative."

Is this really something to be bragging about? The economy of this country seems to be collapsing around us. There are numerous and varying reasons why this is occurring, but many of them seem to stem directly out of the free market (read, “no regulations”) economic policies that are the cornerstone of the modern Republican party. To scale that down a bit, you also might say that one positive aspect of having the engine in your 1987 Volvo blow up is that you won’t have to buy gas for it anymore. You aren’t able to actually, you know, GO anywhere. But you don’t have to pay those pesky gas bills. Lots more money in the pocket!

Sheesh. After next Tuesday, I am hoping we all hear very little from George W. Bush.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Could the future transportation needs of the U.S. be met with trains?

I just finished reading a really informative feature story on the Washington Monthly blog. It covers a lot of ground, but it is mostly advocating a radical increase in spending on railroad infrastructure. Transporting freight by rail is much more efficient than by a fleet of trucks. It has the additional benefit of being also much safer, as it takes a significant amount of truck traffic off our already congested and sometimes unsafe highway system.

The significant downside of increasing the use of rail traffic for our transportation needs is that the current system is pretty maxed out right now, and railroad infrastructure is very costly.

However, when all aspects are considered, it would appear that the United States ought to at least consider a large-scale jump in our railroad capacity. Expecting the railroads themselves to fund this expansion is not terribly realistic, although many are already laying new tracks with their own funds.

The feature in the Washington Monthly discussed one very interesting point that I had not really considered before. That is, what would power this next generation rail system? Diesel locomotives, although they are getting better all the time, are still based on internal combustion engines that consume petroleum products and emit pollutants. Because all industries should be considering how to “go green” in the 21st century where energy is going to become more and more precious, the railroad industry should stop and think a bit about this. The proposal laid out is to use wind power, especially in the central plain states, to power electric locomotives. Windfarms could be built alongside the tracks, which would have a couple of positive benefits. First, the transmission lines would not need to be very long. Electrical grids lose quite a lot power just by energizing the system. These losses can be rather substantial if the grid is not well maintained. The other benefit is that the trains themselves could just bring all the materials for windfarms and dump them by the side of the tracks. Modern windmills are very high-tech and rather massive. By having the windfarms set up shop in very close vicinity to railroad tracks, transporting the windmill components becomes less challenging than by trucking in large components to out-of-the-way locations.

Electric locomotives are not widely used in the U.S., except for the Northeast corridor (Boston, New York, D.C.) and other metro areas. However, at one time, electrified rail lines, such as the one shown in the picture above, were commonplace. They are able to generate a significantly larger percentage of pulling power over diesel-powered locomotives, since diesels must carry large reciprocating engines, electrical power generators and diesel fuel. Electrically powered locomotives pull power directly from the grid above and send it directly to the electric motors that drive the wheels. They also have one other added benefit. Train locomotives use a braking technique to slow down called dynamic braking. The electric motors that usually drive the wheels are used instead as brakes, which generate electric power. In diesel locomotives, this generated electricity just goes into big radiators and is lost as heat. With an electrified rail line, however, this electrical power can be put back into the electrical lines above for use by another train.

Here in Washington state, electric locomotives made quite a bit of sense. Both the Great Northern Railroad and The Milwaukee Road made heavy use of electric locomotives in the early and mid-20th Century. Hydroelectric power was cheap and plentiful. There was also the presence of an imposing tunnel through the Cascade Mountains at Stevens Pass. The Great Northern Railroad suffered a potentially catastrophic accident when one of its trains powered by a coal burning steam locomotive got caught in the tunnel. The crew and all the passengers could have easily asphyxiated. Luckily, the train was able to back out of the tunnel. This event caused Great Northern management to reconsider this approach. The Great Northern ended up installing an electrified rail line from Skykomish, on the western slopes of the Cascades, to Wenatchee, near the Columbia River in eastern Washington. The dam built by the Great Northern across the Wenatchee River up from Leavenworth, Washington, that was used to house the electrical generators that powered this section of GN track still remains today.

Electrically driven railroad locomotives are not some vast leap in technology. It is technology that was in use from the 1930’s, and is still in use to today. The building of such a transportation infrastructure would be costly, but it would generate a not insignificant number of new jobs and well as address the country’s growing transportation needs. I would hope that there are some forward looking people in this country would might consider this proposal as something more than just a pipedream. Given the looming shortages in fossil fuels and the need to develop more “green” industries, the U.S. could do a lot worse than spend some resources in this area.

(The picture above is of the Milwaukee Road electrified rail line through the town of Renton, Washington. The picture is from 1971, and comes from the website, This is from the collection of Martin Burwash. I hope that he won’t mind me using the picture, as I am providing a link. For train enthusiasts, this is a very cool web site and includes a great deal of historical railroad photos.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

There is so much that I don’t understand about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

My one huge reaction is this. Yeah, I understand why Israel must respond to rockets being dropped indiscriminately into their towns, killing civilians. But the Israeli response, to me, has been so unsymmetrical. We are talking about innocent men, women and children being killed that had nothing to do with the rocket attacks. Schools are being blown up. If indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians is unacceptable, how is the killing of many more Palestinian civilians acceptable?

And I will also add this. The Gaza Strip has been walled off from the rest of Israel, and the reports on the living conditions within Gaza paint a horrific picture, even before the latest round of Israeli attacks. To me, this sounds very much like a ghetto, where the undesirables have been banished. After what happened to the Jews in Poland in the 30’s and 40’s, I would think that Israel would be very careful of role reversals here.

I am not saying that I support, in any way, Hamas firing rockets at Israel. That is just flat out terrorism. There is no other word for it. Even if the rockets don’t kill anyone, the emotional and physical reaction still achieves the same goal as if it had killed someone. But I cannot get over the feeling that Israel has lost any moral superiority they may have once had in their conflict with the Palestinians. What they are currently doing in Gaza is nothing short of inhuman.

Here is an excerpt from a column in the Washington Post by President Carter on this issue.

After 12 days of "combat," the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed. During that time, Israel rejected international efforts to obtain a cease-fire, with full support from Washington. Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations, as the fortunate ones operate on the wounded by light from diesel-powered generators.

I am just so weary of the brain-dead stupidity of the human race. If we all go the way of the mastodon due to global climate change, I really believe that would be a just punishment for all the inhumanity our species exhibited in the last 4000 years or so. “Civilized peoples”, indeed.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Shih-Tzu blogging

Rough New Year's Day morning.

(Personally, I think Nina, with her pink nose and lips and white mustache and beard, sort of looks like an adolescent Yeti. Or maybe an Ewok.)