And we’re back!

Another few years, another promise to keep this blog updated. The truth is that I’ve taken a pretty long break from following politics. The reason is that while I followed politics for much of my life, I realized the politics began to follow me. And because the politics of the current age are dark, mean and angry, it affected me in a dark way.

So I had to take a break.

For the last two years, I’ve been interested in comedy podcasts, most especially podcasts on bad movies. Some of my favorites are “How did This Get Made?” “The Flophouse” and “We Hate Movies.” The last one is especially great and I highly recommend it to bad movie aficionados.

I still hope to find interesting things to write about, but I may talk about politics less than before.

Frontline’s “The Untouchables” Get’s Results

I just watched this great Frontline documentary called “The Untouchables” about the lack of indictments on Wall Street amongst top executives for their roll in the financial crisis of 2008. I highly recommend  watching it:

Frontline “The Untouchables”

I realize that these days there is a cottage industry of documentaries and books on this subject, but the difference in this one is that within 24 hours after the story aired, one of the stories main subjects, Justice Department criminal-division head Lanny Breuer, announced his resignation.

Gettin’ results. Nice job Frontline.




Looking at images of actual atoms!

77 pm resolution. Subatomic structures are visible within single tungsten atoms. Image size 500 × 500 pm2

Right now I’m going crazy over these images I found in which are actual images of atoms.

To capture the image of an atom, scientists use a Scanning-tunnelling microscope, which is explained thusly:

The STM is based on the concept of quantum tunneling. When a conducting tip is brought very near to the surface to be examined, a bias (voltage difference) applied between the two can allow electrons to tunnel through the vacuum between them. The resulting tunneling current is a function of tipposition, applied voltage, and the local density of states (LDOS) of the sample.[4] Information is acquired by monitoring the current as the tip’s position scans across the surface, and is usually displayed in image form. STM can be a challenging technique, as it requires extremely clean and stable surfaces, sharp tips, excellent vibration control, and sophisticated electronics.

OK, that parts not important. What is important is that the images taken  with the STM are at a resolution  considered to be 0.1 nanometers lateral resolution and 0.01 nm depth resolution. This is small enough so that atoms can be imaged and manipulated. It’s really incredible. You can find more by clicking here.

Graphite with AFM showing all atoms within the hexagonal graphite unit cells. Image size 2×2 nm2.

Conducting paths in a chip out of a phonecard. You can see intersecting conducting paths on different planes, which have a distance of vaguely one micrometer.

As he prepares to head the House Science Committee, Ralph Hall (R-TX) enthusiastically says the BP Gulf Oil Spill was “Tremendous to me…all that energy.”

As he prepares to head the House Science Committee, Ralph Hall (R-TX) enthusiastically recalls the BP Gulf Oil Spill:

“As we saw that thing bubbling out, blossoming out – all that energy, every minute of every hour of every day of every week – that was tremendous to me. That we could deliver that kind of energy out there – even on an explosion.”

11 rig workers were killed in the platform explosion  that set about the underwater oil spill that became one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S history and the second largest oil spill ever. An estimated 200,000 gallons of oil leaked into the gulf, the full longterm environmental impact of which has yet to be understood.

Not surprisingly, the Republican Congressman from Texas is a large beneficiary of financial support from the oil industry. According to the website

Ralph Hall has received $78,199 in oil contributions during the 110th congress. $53,999 of those dollars were from industry PACS. In total, Hall has accepted $307,930 from oil companies between 2000 and 2008, which makes him one of the largest recipients of oil money.

Hall’s bizarre comments on the eve of becoming chairman is just the latest of several committee chairs in the upcoming Republican controlled House who have expressed suspicious affection for the industries that they will nominally be charged with regulating.

On December 13th, incoming Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus infamously said that the government should serve big banks, not regulate them:

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”

I’d have to be pretty naive to think that past chairmen of important committees from both parties haven’t been this deferential to the industries they are tasked with overseeing. But I don’t think that these sorts of things were ever so openly admitted in public.

Perhaps gaffes like these circulate quicker and more widely because of the internet. But I suspect it’s because this class of Republican leadership is so much more conservative then we’ve seen before. I’m not judging here–well, maybe a little–but I think that Rep. Hall truly cares more about all that precious oil than he does about the suffering that the explosion and subsequent oil spill caused. And in his mind, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

In either case I’ll post an update when Hall inevitably tries to walk back his remarks.

How NOT to finance health care

Bob Herbert talks today in the New York Times about how the Senate Health Reform Bill finances reform in about the dumbest possible way i.e taxing generous health care plans instead of an overall tax increase on everybody.

It should be obvious, but a 40% tax on generous health care benefits will simply discourage employers from proving good health care, and will make health consumption fall without increasing quality in any way.

This compromised health care bill may make things better in some ways, but it should be a textbook lesson on how not to build a nation’s health care system.