I did not think the possibilities for puns and jokes could get any better when former NY Representative Anthony D. Weiner tossed his 10-gallon hat in the ring as a candidate for mayor of New York City.
But now we have former NY Governor Eliot Spitzer deciding to run for comptroller.
Politics. You just have to love a profession where there’s more forgiveness and second acts than we see in the church!
Popocatepetl is a stratovolcano, or composite, volcano near Puebla, Mexico. These types of volvanos are built up of many layers and often have that cone-shaped mountain profile. They sometimes blow their tops in massive explosions that slump areas or crack off the cone and send debris flying, leaving a caldera (see a previous entry where I briefly describe Valles Caldera.)
Archaeological evidence shows that Popo (smoking mountain) has had many violent eruptions in the not-too-distant past, well… recent past if we are using geological time as our frame of reference. There have been major Plinian eruptions in the last 5000 years and an event 23,000 years ago where a whole flank of the mountain collapsed à la Mount St. Helens. (Plinian eruptions are named after the Roman historian and agriculturalist Pliny the Elder. He died in the famous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., probably of an asthma attack aggravated by his enormous bulk.) These eruptions, also called Vesuvian, eject columns of gas and ash high into the stratosphere. They also produce enormous amounts of cascading lava in pyroclastic flows. Their eruptions can resemble the photographs we have all seen of the cloud that develops from the detonation of an atomic bomb. The airborne ash may circle the globe for years, even affecting global weather. Depending on the season, Popo’s ash would first fall on the city of Puebla (winter, spring) or Mexico City (summer or autumn.)
Popo (5,426 meters/ 17,802 feet and 5th highest mountain in North America) is one of three mountains with year-round glaciers in Mexico. All three are popular destinations for mountaineers. Mexico’s third highest mountain is Iztaccíhuatl (in my day spelled Ixtaccíhuatl, 5,230 meters/ 17,160 feet) and is quite a slog as the mountain is more like a spine than a cone.
Pico de Orizaba, or Citlaltépetl (5,636 metres /18,491 feet), is Mexico’s tallest peak and the third highest in North America. It is very impressive as, like Kilimanjaro, it juts up from a plain and is visible long before one actually arrives at its base.
Above is a photo I took of our climbing team on a trip one December long ago. My then-girlfriend and I drove our khaki-tan 1979 Toyota Landcruiser all the way from Philadelphia and everywhere the Mexican police would stand around and marvel at the vehicle as it looked so militar. To get the above photo I exhausted myself scurrying across the glacier (ca. 16,500 feet) to get this perspective of the team we hooked up with on the mountain!
Where are the writers on the U.S. House of Reps hand-picked Copyright Principals Project?
On May 16th the House Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held their first hearing on reform of the 1976 U.S. copyright law. The 5-member panel known as the Copyright Principals Project were the only witnesses. The five members are lawyers, professors and a Microsoft entry, all important voices, of course, but I will be following to see if other speakers are scheduled in the coming months.
Current Events & Things You Should Have Learned in School
Last week, just after the June 25th Texas senate debate when Wendy Davis filibustered Bill 5 for some ten plus hours, I heard someone say, “See Democrats in the U.S. Senate are always trying to do away with the filibuster but when it’s something they care about they resort to doing it themselves.”Leaving aside the obvious apples & oranges comparison (Davis is a Texas state senator, not a U.S. Senator) it seemed to me that the person I overheard was conflating two separate, but connected, political processes: the filibuster and cloture.
What many U.S. Senate Democrats want to do is to require a senator who wishes to stop a bill to actually be present and talking, to filibuster by putting his body where his mouth is. Currently, senators do not even need to be present to stop movement on a bill. Most Americans still think of the filibuster as a senator holding the floor for hours talking and reading anything he/she can to take up time. That is not the case with the current U.S. Senate rules. Unless there is a call for cloture, and it passes, bills can be stalled, held in limbo with the objecting senator truly having no skin in the game.
Think back to the dim days of Mr. Moody’s 8th grade civics class. Civics, by and large, was a dull affair. It lacked the pizzazz of history and possessed all the charm of balancing a bank account. Like health class, it was always taught by the coaches of our sporting teams. But I do recall our discussions around the process of cloture (from the French for closure.)
According to the U.S. Senate Glossary, in an attempt to curtail unlimited debate whose purpose was to block voting and adoption of a bill, “in 1917, senators adopted a rule (Rule 22), at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson, that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote, a device known as ‘cloture.’” If cloture passed, an up or down vote on the bill in question could then be taken after an additional thirty hours of debate, thus breaking a bottleneck. Wilson had called for enacting a cloture provision because he saw the senate as,
“the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible.”
Wilson’s sharp talk was in response to a twenty-three day filibuster against his placing arms on merchant ships in World War I.
Southern senators filibustered against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for sixty days, proving that two-thirds of the Senate, 67 votes, can be a difficult thing to get.Between 1917 and 1960 cloture was used only four times. In 1975 the number of senators needed for approval on a vote of cloture was reduced to 60 votes, with 16 members needed to bring the cloture question up for a vote. In the 110th Congress (2007-2008) cloture was enacted 61 times and then 63 times in the 2009-2010 congress. Yes, that’s correct, the 111th congress in one term voted cloture more than fifteen times the frequency it occurred in the first 43 years of its existence as a senate rule.
It is worth pointing out that the additional 30 hours of permitted debate after cloture is ruled, must be “on the measure, motion, or other matter pending before the Senate.” That is, you cannot read out your mother’s recipe for Derby pie or eloquently speechify on the entries in a dictionary (unless either of these is somehow relevant to the bill on the floor!)
Fortunately, the filibuster was eliminated from the U.S. House of Representatives’ rules as the assembly began to grow larger with the addition of new states. Could our already greatly deadlocked lower legislature be even less effective?
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court is out of session for several months legal eagles can pick apart their decisions decoding for anything that suits their fancy. When I wrote my blog commentary a few days ago about a couple of their decisions I started thinking about how little our presidents and justices represent the mainstream demographics of the country’s population anymore…. perhaps they never did.
No matter how egalitarian we call ourselves as a nation, attendance at Princeton, Harvard and Yale gives you a pole starting position. More accurately, it flings you like the Starship Enterprise using a planet’s gravitational force to rocket you into the stratosphere of our country’s infrastructure.
Look at the law schools represented by the current sitting court: Harvard/ 5, Yale/ 3, Columbia/ 1. Although graduation from law school has been the norm in the last 60 years, historically, of the 112 justices appointed to the Court, only 47 have had law degrees, an additional 18 attended some law school but did not receive a degree, and 47 received their legal education without any law school attendance, mostly apprenticing to the trade as was the norm in the early years of our country. (Henry Julian Abraham, Justices, Presidents, and Senators: A History of the U.S. Supreme Court Appointments from Washington to Bush II. 2007, p. 49.)
Supreme Court justices also no longer get their hands ‘dirty’ as criminal defense attorneys: Thurgood Marshall is said to be the last justice to have represented a death penalty client. (Sherrilyn Ifill, Commentary: Break the mold for Supreme Court picks. CNN, May 4, 2009.) All current justices but one were working on the East Coast upon their nomination. Nineteen states have never had a justice hailing from their confines (yes, I know, some states did not exist until the 20th century.) But we have had a justice from Vienna, Austria (F. Frankfurter), David Brewer (now Izmir, Turkey) and others from abroad. There is, unlike with the presidency, no requirement that a federal judge be an American citizen.
More importantly for our country, justices no longer seem to pull their law clerks from across the board as they did in past Courts. The mental associations we bring to the word clerk make it sound like a relatively unimportant job but they have a huge importance in setting up the arguments and reasoning in cases. Justices Thomas, in selecting clerks with prior federal clerkship experience, so far as I can ascertain, has only pulled ones who worked for a judge appointed by a Republican President.
Why is this bad? Because it sets up a situation where you do not get a good, frothy, debate on points of law. I won’t go so far as to say that such clerks are “yes” men and women but how are they able to provide searing, pointed debate mounted from other views on legal questions during the closed-door discussions that lead to written opinions? Here are scores for the other justices with regard to their hiring clerks (with prior federal clerkship experience) in adherence to the ‘think-alike’ syndrome (2005 – 2010): Scalia (100%); Alito (91.7%); Roberts (88%); Sotomayor (87.5%); Kennedy (83.3%); Ginsberg (83.3%); Kagan (75%) and Breyer (54.1%). (Data current as of 2010.) It was not always so, even taking into account that the ratio of Democratic to Republic-selected federal circuit court of appeals judges has not been close to even since the end of President Clinton’s administration (67 Democrat to 67 Republican appointed.) The ratio is now incredibly lop-sided as Republicans in congress consistently stall votes on Democratic president’s nominations to judgeships.
A study published by the Vanderbilt University Law School Review (Nelson, et.al. The Liberal Tradition of the Supreme Court Clerkship: Its Rise, Fall, and Reincarnation? 2009) notes:
“Whatever the cause of this polarization, what seems significant – and arguably troubling – about the putative emergence of politically oriented practice groups is a tendency to reify the role of the Court as a super-legislature responding to ideological arguments rather than a legal institution responding to concerns grounded in the rule of law.” Justice Thomas has commented that selecting clerks is like “selecting mates in a foxhole.”
Small wonder our legislatures and courts make most Americans think we at war… with each other.
A view of the central interior plaza of the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.
As the public face of the Royal Tropical Institute, a foundation that sponsors the study of tropical cultures around the world, the Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum (Museum of the Tropics) is one of Europe’s leading ethnographic museums. Established in 1864, it’s beautiful brick building dates from 1926 and sits alongside the spacious greenery of Oosterpark. Between its rich permanent collection, which reflects Dutch colonial history, and its vivid temporary exhibitions, visitors can glimpse the past, present and future of non-Western cultures around the globe. A visit to the Tropenmuseum is a journey through old Asia, Oceania, Africa and Latin America via art, household and religious objects, photographs, music, film and interactive displays. The museum is also renowned for its efforts in child-friendly exhibitions. Tropenmuseum Junior offers an educational, inspiring and entertaining program for kids (6 to 13 year olds), aimed at introducing them to different cultures.
The Tropenmuseum is one of the most fascinating anthropological museums in the world, but is in danger of being closed with its collections dispersed – or so I wrote to colleagues a few weeks ago as the museum and the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT Research Library) was slated for closure. Over half of the staff was beginning to lose their jobs and the research library was closing (it is filled with one-of-a-kind publications from around the world from as early as 1400 A.D.)
The Dutch government promised to consider extending funding for the museum and library for two years if folks could get 40,000 signatures (Dutch and/or Worldwide) signaling that there was interest in keeping the museum and library alive. After this period the Tropenmuseum would have to merge with two other institutions.
Now for the good news!
The petition has actually helped: on June 20 the relevant Dutch ministers, in debate with the House of Parliament agreed to a transitional arrangement to fund the museum until 2017. The plan requires the Tropenmuseum, in the coming years, to merge its 175,000 objects into the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden and the small Afrikamuseum in Berg and Dal. The price to be paid by the museum is that it will be cut loose from the KIT archives & library and that the collections become the property of the state.
The bad news: Regrettably, those curators and others who recently were cut from the staff as a money saving measure will not be coming back, an example of “the wrong way to save money” by losing all their expertise. But perhaps the best to be expected in these times of universal budget cuts for cultural institutions.
The organization that spearheaded this massive outpouring for the museum is Petities.nl. Note that their website is, of course, mostly in Dutch.
This spring we have seen more Western Tanagers and Bullock’s orioles than ever — and longer than ever. According to local specialists this had to do with the weather north of us. Apparently these birds (as well as the large numbers of hummingbirds hanging around) subscribe to cable TV and keenly watch The Weather Channel. The cold spell northward and the heavy winds here had these birds stacked up in northern New Mexico much like jets circling an aviation control tower: they were just awaiting the word that conditions had improved so they could resume their remarkable journeys.
The trick to keeping the hummers happy is nectar. The secret for Bullock’s and Scott’s orioles is nectar in an appropriate feeder. They are also inordinately fond of oranges and grape jelly. I think most of us know about the set-ups for hummers. What many may not know is how to set up nectar for the orioles. If you take one of those hummingbird feeders with a flaring red plastic base and pop out the yellow fake florets surrounding the feeding holes this will allow the oriole’s larger bill to access the nectar. The Tanagers like suet and the gelatin binder in those solid seed columns. They also seem fond of cranberries. A birdbath, of course, is just the ticket for these and the numerous grosbeaks, lazuli buntings, sparrows and other songbirds coming your way if you live in the inter-mountain west.
A few Bullock’s, perhaps late comers, seem to have stayed this year. Alas, I can’t actually see any nests as they build up near the tippy-tops of tall trees. But, they are still coming to the re-purposed nectar feeder as I write this!
In the future I will write about some of the seventeen species of hummers that either pass thru or spend the summers here.
Late morning addition: “Scores of twitchers flocked to the Outer Hebrides to see a bird that has been recorded just eight times previously in the UK in nearly 170 years – only to see it slain by a wind turbine.”
A great series of five advertising posters are appearing in the New York City Subway system during the month of June. Entertainment Weekly carried a quote from a press release by Jeff Anderson, Executive Creative Director at CHI & Partners NY (the ad agency that created the campaign), “It’s pretty scary when you look out there and see what’s on television these days… If New Yorkers want an inspiring and educational option, they need to get behind a network that we sometimes take for granted.”
Three of the five spoof TV show posters appearing in the NYC Subway system until June 30.
Grapes were first grown in the New World near the middle Rio Grande River of New Mexico. Initially, Franciscan monks’ only access to sacramental and drinking wine was from casks shipped from their home country, Spain. And, it had to enter through the ports in Mexico and thenceforth northward to Nuevo Mexico – a journey of several months. As wine exports provided one fourth of Spain’s foreign revenue, a 1595 law forbade export of vines to the New World. Around 1629, the Franciscan padres, tired of the logistics and expense, smuggled vines from Spain to New Mexico, a classic example of our New Mexican do-for-self ingenuity. A Franciscan and a Capuchin planted those first vines near what is now the city of Socorro. Appropriately, the variety was the Mission grape, a vitas vinifera and it is still going strong in the state.
There are now twenty plus wineries in New Mexico producing about 350,000 gallons of quality wine on 1200 acres (circa 5 square kilometers.) While substantial, this is still less than was produced during the heyday of New Mexican wine making. Production rose from 16,000 gallons in 1870 to 908,000 gallons in 1880 with twice the acreage of the vineyards in present-day New York state. Alas, floods, then Prohibition, then more floods put paid to the industry. The historic 1943 flood kicked the final leg from under the state’s wine makers. It is only in the last score of years that wine-making has enjoyed a renaissance, especially with cold-hardy French-Hybrid varieties pushed by European investors.
What’s good for the goose is NOT good for the gander?
Rapid Response Teams in Arizona, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Virginia
This yesterday from U.S. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia in United States v. Windsor, … et.al. [DOMA]:
“We have no power to decide this case and even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America… It is an assertion of judicial supremacy over the people’s Representatives in Congress and the Executive….”
However, the day before, he voted with the majority (Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, et.al.) in invalidating Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that had been passed by both houses of the U.S. legislature (reauthorized three times, most recently in 2006 with voting 390 – 33 in the House and 98 – 0 in the Senate.) Section 4 contains the formula used by Congress to determine which states and local governments must receive federal pre-approval before changing their voting laws. The majority opinion argued that progress in voter registrations and turnout erased the need for Section 4, with Chief Justice Roberts, long a foe of the Act, referring specifically to gains in minority voting in the U.S. southern states
It would appear that Scalia is saying, “We, the conservative members of the Court, can overturn democratically adopted legislation if it goes against our principles and we can find a spurious reason, but we don’t believe the liberals on the Court ought to be able to do the same thing.”
Interestingly, 6 of the states that Title 4 was enacted for have, in the last 24 hours, enacted new Voter ID laws. Talk about quick reaction time! One, Arizona, had just had it’s previous law struck down by the Supreme Court (7 to 2) LAST WEEK! The state of Texas took only a few hours to pass a law REQUIRING a U.S. passport in hand as well as proof of state residency to vote.
In answer to these states reasoning that this will stop voter fraud (when the real reason for these laws is to hinder minority voting, and now, with Texas and its passport requirement, the elderly) several studies have found “that voter fraud is very rare, voter impersonation is nearly non-existent and much of the problems associated with alleged fraud in elections relates to unintentional mistakes by voters or election administrators.” – Brennan Center for Justice study (www.brennancenter.org/issues/voter-fraud). What has happened, in much more substantial numbers of cases, is election officials ‘misplacing’ ballots, voting machine irregularities, and other such incidents.
I read somewhere last week that Edward Snowden, the flighty ex-NSA contractor, asked visitors to his Hong Kong apartment to put their mobile phones in his refrigerator. He was attempting to block the GPS signature of their devices in case they were being monitored to determine his whereabouts. What he was trying to do, in effect, was use his fridge as a Faraday cage*.
As is my nature, I was skeptical whether this would actually work. A fridge, it seemed to me, could just as easily be an enhancer of cell signals – a giant antenna what with all that metal and significant gaps for the rubber gaskets. So, being of a scientific bent of mind I tried an experiment. I placed my Samsung mobile in a large Samsung metal-clad refrigerator and dialed it. Voila! The in-coming ring could heard, connecting quicker than it normally does! So much for the rocket-science of a former NSA guy. (Could there be communication channels between all Samsung products? I’ll test another fridge when I get a chance.)
Not content to stop there I then put my mobile in the microwave. This common household appliance is manufactured with one of its express purposes being the blocking of … yes, yes, you’re getting warmer: microwaves! Try as I might, I could not receive a cell signal in this most useful of modern fixtures.
As an addenda, if you are the James Bond type, I have heard that an all-steel martini shaker works to block signals, too. My phone is too large to fit in the shaker at hand to test this hypothesis. And besides, it’s filled with mojitos!
* A Faraday cage, or shield, is named for the English scientist Michael Faraday (1791 -1867). It is a solid or mesh enclosure that blocks most external electro-magnetic fields. Mesh will work as long as its openings are smaller than the radiating wavelength.
Edward Snowden flies to Moscow (probably) but not beyond (yet).
About 30 journalists rushed to book seats this morning, 24 June 2013, on the daily 12 hour Aeroflot #SU150 / CU6150 Moscow to Havana flight in anticipation of interviewing recently fired U.S. National Security Agency technical contractor Edward Joseph Snowden (b. 21 June 1983). Unfortunately, he was not on the flight, at least in the Business (34 seats) or Economy classes (207 seats). (No one sprung for the First Class!)
The Airbus A330/200 departed Sheremetyevo International at 14:23 hours (UTC +4:00), 18 minutes late, and is scheduled to arrive at Havana’s Jose Marti International at 18:45 local time. (UTC -4:00)
To add insult to injury, this flight does not serve ANY alcohol, a state of emergency for the Fourth Estate!
Edward Snowden, although he never completed high school, worked most recently for Booz Allen Hamilton as an IT contractor in a National Security Agency (NSA) office in Hawaii. He is accused, based on his own admission, of leaking to the press details of top-secret American and British government mass surveillance including the interception of U.S. and European telephone metadata and the PRISM and Tempora internet surveillance programs.
Matthew M. Aid, an intelligence historian in Washington, said disclosures linked to Snowden have “confirmed longstanding suspicions that NSA’s surveillance in this country is far more intrusive than we knew.” U.S. federal prosecutors made public their sealed charges against Snowden on June 21st, his 30th birthday.
Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) employ’s around 25,000 people of whom about half possess a “Top Secret” clearance. Three-quarters of its employees have government clearances at various levels. 99% of BAH’s $5.76 billion 2013 revenue is derived from government contracts. “About 70 percent of the 2013 U.S. intelligence budget is contracted out, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis….” (Bennett and Riley, “Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization”, Business Week magazine, 20 June 2013.)
Ten dead at 15,000 foot camp in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan.
Back in my younger days I was a mountain climber. I still have all the stuff: the insulated boots; parkas; big-wall hardware; ice axes, hammers and screws; tents; down bags; metal-edged telemark skis, etc. But, as my life became more sedentary, with most days spent in front of the computer or at my gallery, I got soft. Now I just read about climbing.
Perhaps that’s a good thing. I came of age, as they say, in a time when I could trek almost anywhere and get out of most any trouble by flashing that all-important U.S. passport. There were hardly any mountains off limits except the Tibetan side of the Himalayas and some of the Soviet peaks. Sometimes even these were available for the right money.
The days of unfettered access have long been gone and highlighting this was today’s Taliban attack on an international climbing camp on Nanga Parbat, Pakistan’s second and the world’s ninth highest mountain. Locals call the mountain Diamir: “King of the Mountains”. It is located in Pakistan’s northwest Gilgit-Baltistan region and has resisted all attempts at a winter ascent. The area has had a lot of violence directed at the Shia minority but none toward foreigners as has occurred in more accessible regions. (The base camp, at a mountain elevation of 4200 feet, is roadless and difficult of access, requiring a two-day hike-in. The camp itself sits at 15,000 feet above sea level.)
“Spokesperson for the proscribed Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Ehsanullah Ehsan, talking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location claimed that the Janud-e-Hafsa faction of the [Taliban] had carried out the attack… dressed as Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary police unit.” (The Muslim News, Middlesex, UK.) The reason given for the murders was to avenge recent U.S. drone attacks that killed the Taliban’s deputy leader on May 29.
One Chinese climber was wounded and escaped. The dead include an American of Chinese origin, the Pakistani guide, two Chinese, a Nepalese, two Slovakians, a Lithuanian and two Ukranians.
So far this season there have been four forest fires in the area, all of them still burning fiercely out of control or mostly contained. Two are to the east in the Pecos Mountain area, one to the northwest and one west, just past Los Alamos in the Jemez Mountains at Valles Caldera National Preserve.
Valles Caldera is a 13.7 mile wide bowl, the remains of a small supervolcano that last blew its top about 50,000 years ago. Fragments of the explosion have been found as far away as Lubbock, Texas. Today the area serves as a magnificent location for cross-country skiing, fishing, horse riding and Hollywood movie-making.