Friday, June 10, 2011

The Morning Blog

Good news! The governments case against NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake has collapsed. Unable to prove any significant wrongdoing, the government has offered a plea deal including no prison time. Drake was accused of revealing massive waste at the agency, including the decision to scrap a $3 million in house program in favor of a $1 billion contractor developed one. Bear in mind that prior to the Drake case, three of these sorts of cases had been pursued in American history. The current administration is currently juggling five of them. So much for government transparency:

Beyond the prosecutions, the Obama administration has been entangled in other perplexing disputes over classified information. Last September, the Defense Department spent $47,300 to buy and destroy the entire first printing of an intelligence officer’s Afghanistan war memoir, saying it contained secrets.

In April, the Justice Department warned lawyers for Guantánamo detainees that they could not read or discuss publicly military documents published by WikiLeaks describing their clients, even though the documents are freely available on the Web.

We've gone down the rabbit hole.

2012 Watch: Newt, we hardly knew ye! The Gingrich campaign has gone completely off the rails. How far off? Well, to Greece actually. As Gingrich was enjoying a cruise amongst the Grecian isles, his campaign manager and senior advisers were planning their resignations. The issue was that they felt that the Lizard King simply wasn't putting in enough time on the campaign trail following some spectacular gaffes and the disclosure of his curious jewelry bill. A two week holiday to Greece pretty much settled things for them and they've decided that they deserve a well needed vacation of their own.

In other 2012 news, I think that this might be the worst job ever: Combing through 24,000 pages of emails by Sarah Palin. It sounds like an English majors version of hell. Honestly, I have to say that a Palin fan puts it best:

When told of the e-mail release, one of those tourists, Stephanie Stein, said, “I love Sarah Palin.” She added: “But is it really going to be that exciting? Is it relevant?”

Your daily dose of the inevitable. Not surprisingly, Andrew Sullivan puts the brouhaha over the Iron Lady's snub of Palin into context:

"What he doesn't understand is that Palin's nutsiness is not a partisan matter in Britain, or anywhere else in the world. It is an obvious truth marvelled at by all. Palin's emergence as a serious figure in American politics has made the country a laughing stock across the world. The idea that a stateswoman like Thatcher, in advanced dementia, would be used by such a crackpot is simply unseemly."

I mentioned something about this before but it bears repeating: couldn't labor costs be controlled by expanding the labor pool through greater immigration? Granted, uncertainty about health care costs are critical. But I think that providing a large pool of labor (and this will hurt but it's just a fact), at a cheap price, is the only thing that's really going to get companies investing in personnel again.

Well, this is obviously a bad example, but still.

I see that Pittsburgh is having its gay pride festival this Sunday. What's notable is that so many large, local corporations have signed on as sponsors in a big way. PNC Bank for example, will be playing announcements from the festival on video screens at its branches. Why? Because it just makes sense. These corporations absolutely want to appear as inclusive and non-discriminatory when they're looking to hire new talent. They most certainly want to do the same when they're looking for new customers! It sort of warms my heart honestly. It's a nice example of capitalism defeating prejudice.

Ever said anything nasty about a job as you left? Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just did. He describes the future of the NATO alliance as "dim if not dismal" if other members don't carry their own weight. It's the sort of grim critique one can get away with when one is already headed out the door. It's also a pretty apt one. When countries like Germany are calling American troop draw-downs in Afghanistan hasty and excessive, one has to wonder why they aren't taking it upon themselves to fill the gaps. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Germany has been capable of fielding armies in the past.

Besides which, the arguments for the existence of NATO have changed...After all Happy Anniversary!

Anyways, here's a look at the new guy.

Not a problem. That's a couple of billion dollars we can certainly throw away elsewhere. At the very least, we can rest easy knowing we're not funding this sort of thing.

That said, we'll certainly miss being bff's.

Killing time. How illustrative. This is our government at work:

“It’s just a matter of keeping the store lights on when the customers aren’t there,” said Donald A. Ritchie, the Senate’s official historian.

I honestly don't know whether to be depressed or not that a third of the time that Senators could spend passing legislation or debating issues on the floor is consumed by a clerk reading a phone book. There certainly are arguments in favor of a do-nothing federal government. It's just astonishing to see what one looks like in (in)action.

Facebook fun for the dysfunctional family.

Interesting piece here about the faith of atheists. Is it hypocritical of atheists to have "faith" the the scientific method will unlock the secrets of the universe while deriding the faith of the religious? Well is it actually faith that atheists are expressing?

Faith at its broadest just means trust or confidence, and in that sense I have 'faith' in a lot of things; I have faith that the Sun will rise tomorrow, that my parents are decent people, faith in my own abilities and the abilities of my colleagues, and faith that train companies will conspire to make my life miserable from now until the day I die. In each case my faith comes from years of experience, learning and observation, and I'd argue that faith is a poor word for it - confidence might be better.

People earn my confidence, and I try to earn theirs. Gods take the lazier route; they get humans to issue aggressive demands, promising security but threatening retribution if we fail to play along, like a Mafia capodecina sending thugs out to collect protection money from the neighbourhood. This kind of faith demands that you believe in something when there's no empirical reason to; as Dawkins put it, "faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence."

I have confidence in science for the same reason I have confidence in many other tools: it reliably works, simple as. I don't really have faith in science any more than I have faith in the ability of my hammer to smash things.

The British and their fabled love of dogs...

...As the cats wait to get their due...

...And humans remain pretty awesome.

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