Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Visual Semiotics

Yesterday I pointed out that I found the poster in a NYT photograph... well, odd.
Driftglass has a great post that illustrates in a most excellent manner exactly why that poster sets me on edge.

And by the way, my comment on the crazed look in Hillary's eye should be taken as a criticism of the photo editor. If you take enough photos of anybody, you'll get a few that make that person look a little strange. The photographer takes the shots, the editor chooses which will be used. If that photo of Hillary makes you uneasy, it's because the editor wants you to feel that way.

Thus Endeth the Primaries

Before I walked out my door a few minutes ago, I turned off the tube. At that time, the number of delegates Obama had clinched had brought him to within 11 of the magic number he needs to take the nomination. That was a drop from 16 less than an hour earlier. If that rate continues, he might cross the line before the ND polls close in a couple more hours. Once the ND and MT votes are tallied, I expect him to be decisively over the top. I would like to express my relief that we as a party can finally focus our energy on the real opponent: the failed (so-called) conservative policies of the last 30 years and the last seven and a half years particularly.

Unlike many that I've talked to, I had a difficult time making up my mind between the two. Both have some serious strengths and some serious weaknesses. My first choices had all been knocked off, and Hillary and Barack both seemed more establishment, more DNC, than I would have preferred. I didn't think Hillary's health care plan was perfect, but it seemed far more plausible and pragmatic than Obama's. Obama had the foresight and clarity to recognize, at the time of the fall '02 vote, where we were headed in Iraq, while I was torn and undecided until a few months later. HRC has seemingly never really resolved where she stands on the war, beyond wanting to say what people want to hear. Again, strengths and weaknesses on both sides.

Over the last few weeks particularly, Hillary's determination to fight on, and her repeated attempts to make last minute changes to the rules of the game have unnerved me; this behavior is what I associate with BushCo. This behavior is what we're trying to put behind us. The goal is not to win a political fight, but to find some way to govern this country the way it needs and deserves to be governed. As Molly Ivins (dear lord, how I miss her) pointed out repeatedly, Shrub isn't dumb. He's shrewd, cunning and very, very smart when it comes to doing the things he's interested in doing: winning political games. Unfortunately, once he wins, he has absolutely no interest in governance. John Dean has pointed out that if you put someone into office who tells you that government is the problem, you should be able to infer that that person doesn't believe that government can be useful to the citizenry. Taken together, these two insights suggest that whenever you vote for a Republican (at least in this day and age) you are voting for someone who, first, has no interest in serving We The People, and second, doesn't believe We The People can be served by wise governance.

Both Hillary and Obama believe that government can and should help its citizens. Both believe that they personally can implement wise government. Both have given evidence of the latter with compelling policy proposals, and arguments for how those proposals would be efficacious in solving the problems at which they're directed.

Why would anyone vote for a Republican?

Yesterday I wrote up a couple of posts that could be taken by some to be too critical, too insulting toward Hillary. As I tried to clarify above, there is much to be admired in Hillary, and I am supportive of many of her policy ideas. I have been uneasy with some of her recent decisions and actions, but these behaviors pale besides those of any Republican, most notably John McCain, whose off-the-cuff incorrect assertions, blunders, and miscellaneous nonsense (literally: non-sense) have been increasingly shocking and frightening to me.

The critical task now is that of bringing Democrats together in recognizing that these are the truly important issues. I have never bought into the media-blown wildfires of personality politics between the two Democratic contenders, and thus have some difficulty empathizing with the depth of commitment to either that I recognize in others. But I do recognize that depth of commitment. However, to reiterate and summarize, the central question that We The People must answer correctly, must answer wisely, for the sake of our collective future, is this: Would we rather be governed by someone who believes that knowledge and wisdom can benefit us through the process of governance, or someone who believes that governance is useless or worse, and that, therefore, knowledge and wisdom are simply irrelevant?

Many others have been saying much the same over the last couple of days. Here are a couple posts that I found very compelling

The Dean's Office

The Rude Pundit

There are lots of others out there, but these two moved me deeply and helped me see more clearly what we have at stake over the next five months. Neither will take more than a few minutes to read. Please. Go Read. People, we gots to do this, and we gots to do it right.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Martian Update

I made quite a fuss over the Phoenix lander a bit more than a week ago (See here and here), but I haven't updated at all. Things went good. Really, really good. It was a picture perfect descent:
(note: most of these pictures can be seen larger by clicking on them. Some have larger versions still on the pages linked)

This picture (from here) makes it look as if the lander is in or headed toward a crater; actually, as was intended, it landed well outside. From the perspective of the orbiting satellite that shot the image (I believe it was HiRise), Phoenix looks like it's in the crater but is well in front of it. This is one of those pictures that just dropped my jaw- it's the first time we've captured the sight of a lander from another planet. Below is an enlargement & enhancement of the inset from the picture above (from here)
This is the one that showed up on most of the news sources, though I think the first is more dramatic and stunning. The nice thing about this one is that you can clearly see the parachute, the tether and the lander below.

It was a picture-perfect landing. It was reported pretty quickly that the lander was almost perfectly level: only a half degree off horizontal. I presume the next picture was shot by the same satellite that shot the first two, but on a later pass (from here)

There was some glitch in the radio link a day or two after the landing, but they got that fixed quickly, and it ended up causing only a minor delay to the program. The operators got the arm unstowed from the protective film used to cover the arm during sterilization and transit. This is hoped to protect the planetary surface from contamination (or infection, really) by earthly microorganisms. A day or two ago, the arm performed a "practice scoop" to test its ability to scoop up soil samples and transfer them to a combined heater/gas spectrometer. By slowly heating up the sample, different gases will be driven off through time. The gas spec can for the most part identify what those gases are, giving scientists a profile of the material's composition.

Now, the Grand Finale: The whole purpose of landing near a pole is to examine ice that we know is there. Based on past radar data, it was believed that this area was an ice sheet covered with a thin (2-6 inch) mantle of soil. A couple of days ago, there was an intriguing glint of white picked up on an image of the ground near the base of the lander. They maneuvered the camera around to look under the lander and saw: (from here)

The landing rockets excavated about two to six inches of soil, and look at all that white stuff! This isn't a huge surprise- as I said, it's basically what they were expecting. But to actually see it? WOW! As of this writing, scientists are hedging their bets and saying it might be salt, but their working hypothesis is that it is ice. I expect that will be confirmed before too long.

There's an article on ScienceDaily that provides a little more info on this last pic.

So all in all, it's been a picture perfect mission so far.

Double Talk Express

McCain is Scary, Scary, Scary. Unless of course you like what you've seen happen to and in this country over the last seven and a half years. I forgot where I found these clips, but the second ends with a request to post them. So I am.

part I

part II

Hillary again

Bill (Interzone Bill, not her husband) just asked me if I thought Hillary had lost all credibility and her political future, along with her marbles. I think that with the exception of the most rabid Hillariites, maybe she has. Which is too bad, because I think she has real promse in whatever future postion she might end up in. Some are still talking VP, though my own belief is that the likelyhood of that is nil to none. I'd kind of like to see her as Secretary of Health and Human Services, or she could simply remain as a US Senator. But this monomanical fixation that she has won, or must win, some way, any way, that the rules don't apply in her situation, makes me very uncomfortable. It reminds me of BushCo, and that's bad.

The picture above (from an article in today's NYT) is creepy. The crazed look in her left eye, the grasping, hunched posture. Then the bizarre poster to her right, which reminds me both of the Worker Power posters of Lenin's Soviet Union, and the Japanese Rising Sun Flag. Yeesh!
Ironically, the headline of the article where this picture originated is "Winning Again, Clinton Ponders Continuing."

Young Hillary

I've been hearing rumors and innuendo that she is at least considering acknowledging reality sometime after the counting tomorrow, but this clip sort of gets to the point:

From Sorghum Crow's General Store... good site. Check it out.

Along similar lines BadTux has a good post on CDS here

It's over Hillary. Wishin' don't change a thing.

The Queen and I

Shortly after I moved into my current apartment about three years ago, I realized that there was a group of feral cats living around. They seemed pretty young and healthy, but for some odd reason, each of their right ears had been clipped. I learned later this means they have been captured by some local group, gotten their shots and fixed. To avoid euthanizing them, they are released in the area they were caught.

So occasionally, at first, I would toss them some food. They would watch from the fence, or under the cars in the parking lot, or some other safe spot at a good distance, and not approach until I went in. As time went by, they came closer and closer, until finally they were running up to within a few feet in anticipation of food.

Next, I would sit down before I scattered the food, and they became accustomed to the fact I would sit and watch them eat. Then I started putting the food closer and closer to my feet, and they got used to being within reaching distance.

Then I started reaching.

I got a few good swats and scratches, and initially, they would dart off and snap their tails in irritation, but they eventually got used to the indignity of being touched by this odd creature with the food. I got some good laughs during the stage where they would swat at my hand in exasperation- not trying to hurt me, just trying to say "Would you for God's sake STOP that!" And finally one of them, I'll refer to her as "Queen" for now (I haven't actually chosen a name), realized that she really liked being petted. A while more, and she would come running as soon as she saw me, food or not.

So after nearly three years of courting, I now have a cat. Vice versa, actually. I brought her inside for the first time a couple of months ago. I was sort of expecting a panic phase, but she strutted around and inspected, then curled up between my feet and went to sleep, purring like a little lawn mower. I put her back out before I went to bed, but within a couple of days she made it very clear that she intended to stay inside.

As the weather got warmer, I started leaving the porch door open a bit, so she could leave when she chose. Now the porch is six feet off the ground, and she immediately realized which way the egress was. I considered, but never imagined it was possible, that she might be able to jump six vertical feet and come back in. She could, and did. She likes to sit in a sheltered spot and watch the world go by, so when she came back in the door after two hours, my first thought was that she'd found something to hide behind on the the porch. I don't have much on my porch so I got up to look. The sudden movement startled her, and she darted and jumped. If I hadn't seen her jump, I don't know how long it would have taken me to realize or believe that the egress was also the ingress.

Five minutes later, she trotted back in, gave me a cat wink (both eyes), and headed over to the food bowl.

Okay, so that's a long preface to the story I want to tell: a week or so ago, about 1:00 in the morning, I was listening to music and playing on my computer. Out of the corner of my eye, The Queen slips through the door. In the periphery of my vision, I could see that she was carrying something light tan. Uh-oh, time for a present; I'm going to have to deal with some messy dead rodent. So she scurries over to me, looks up, and drops her present. She looks up again, gives me that cat wink, and saunters on over to the food bowl.

I lean over and pick up.... a half-eaten cheeseburger. No cat bites, just curved people bites.

"Hey guy, caught you some people food."

I really like her.