Every Picture on Display at MOMA on 10 April 2024

April 10 is Beth’s birthday. A belated “habir” Ms. Beth…

Thanks to Sheila Lennon and her source, Dermot Casey, for the link. (Click here for a full screen version.)

In the company of men

There’s a post today at Time Goes By that
hits me where I live. A reader named Bill writes asking: “Any thoughts on how men can find new groups of friends?”

Like Bill, I’m an older guy, comfortable in the company of women and generally uneasy with the superficial bullshit that seems to color men’s relationships. My social life these days has narrowed to occasional gatherings with my wife and her friends (“the ladies who lunch”), a little jibber-jabber at the Saturday farmers market, and infrequent chats with the few neighbors we have on this thinly settled stretch of country road, conversations that center on the weather, or the merits of concrete versus asphalt, or perhaps the irony of herbicide use in prairie restoration. Like Bill, the man who inspired Ronni’s post, “I am a man with an active and inquisitive mind, and don’t give a rip about sports, hunting, drinking or being an Elk, Moose, etc. I can talk business and politics but ultimately….” Ultimately, what? God save me from one more fantasy football general manager’s lame observation about Brent Favray or the Green Bay Pigskins. Ultimately there must be something meaningful nearby, but I guess I won’t find it if I don’t start looking.

My problem is complicated by my alienation. My patriotism isn’t of the common type. I see America’s class structure as an impediment to resolving some of the most horrible problems mankind has ever faced. A handful of mellow guys drinking a few beers wouldn’t necessarily welcome a strident SOB like me into their company, nor would I likely be comfortable among them. I’m not a fisherman or a bowler. I find most religion appalling at best, often a refuge of emotional cripples and existential cowards, and always a tool for creating division and invidious distinctions. (How about New York’s bishop Dolan’s unctuously prayerful posturing around helping the muslim community find a way to compromise their plans for construction in lower Manhattan? What a tea bagger. Maybe they could move the community center out to White Plains? Arrogant jerk. A real crusader. Well, as they say, opinions are like anal sphincters. Even the bishop has one.)

You see my problem.

The other day I was waiting for Beth to retrieve some books on hold at the library. I parked at an angle across three parking spaces in front of the local senior center, trying to find notice of the hours it’s open (and indeed the info wasn’t posted anywhere). Am I a senior center kind of guy? A buddhist nun with a shaved head and a great tan on her bare arms smiled at me from behind the steering wheel of her Toyota. I thought maybe a diet of brown rice and vegetables would take a few pounds off and restore me to a more youthful look. Maybe I could augment that organic diet with a quiet afternoon of bridge every week or two. Do they do that at the senior center? Maybe there are some guys who would be into that. Or euchre. We’re big on alternative card games here in Wisconsin. Sheepshead. I haven’t played sheepshead for a long time. Maybe poker?

Maybe I could find one guy who plays chess as poorly as Don Harvey, someone I could beat about half the the time. We have a nice little coffee shop downtown, perfect for sucking down a latte and talking smart.

Or maybe it’s time for me to crank up the engagement level and hang out with my peeps again, the socialists and greens and pacifists. More pragmatically maybe I should put some energy into assuring Senator Feingold’s re-election and lending a hand to the Tom Barrett campaign while I’m at it. None of these things is happening in my life right now, but I’m sure there are some men around here who share my interests and concerns. How about a woodworking class at some adult education venue? You’re never too old to amputate a thumb with a power tool.

The online world is wonderfully seductive. I can spend a lot of time virtually adjacent to guys I enjoy, guys who make me laugh and guys who catalyze the flames of righteous anger in opposition to the egregious nonsense that passes for politics these days. But there’s something missing in the virtual connection, something that cyber-singularity enthusiast and champion of immortality Ray Kurzweil denies. The nuances of facial expression, the spontaneity of laughter… these and so many other gestures are missing from cyberspace and the single-minded dedication to life extension, hell they’re missing from Facebook and twitter and the single-minded dedication to wasting time. I hope Ronni’s friend Bill finds his way toward developing some rewarding mature male friendships. For me, I think it all might start with the command from some internal cop: “Sir. Step away from the keyboard.”

Attention Deficit

“Instead of thinking about ‘emptiness’ as a lack or something missing, think about it as space, as possibility, as your place to expand. And then welcome the emptiness around you.” — Karen Murphy

Nice distinction. here’s something tangential…

Instead of thinking of attention deficit as a disability or an inability to focus, we might think of it as a matter of not enough bandwidth to pay attention to everything. In kids, attention deficit may well mean a lack of parental attention leading to a disorder that presents as hyperactivity and thus brings the needed attention to the kid. I’ve long thought of attention deficit as an internal thing facing out, a personal flaw. This is the first inkling I’ve had that attention deficit works the other way too.

Another line of thinking relates to “coherence.” In this inter-webby world there are often so many tabs open in our browsers that we have difficulty pulling all our lines of attention together into something coherent. This lack of coherence can actually lead one to incoherence in the usual sense of the word. The disjointedness of the torrent of jumbled information that surrounds us, the many facets of our experience reflected at once through hyperlinks, can be the root of an inability to think or express one’s thoughts clearly.

To contextualize that comment a little bit… a lot of us don’t have to worry about emptiness because we fill it whenever things reach that scary level approaching empty. Some people fill up on hyperlinks, some people fill up on beer. There are kids who fill up on disorderly behavior, creating a mini-maelstrom in their surroundings, attracting negative attention which, to them, is better than no attention at all.

For people so affected, the challenge is to clear that space, to really empty it, and then expand into it in a positive way.

Windchime Time Lapse of Perseids Meteor Shower

Image by Nomad Art Works

I missed Perseid sky watching this week due to mosquitoes and humidity. Thanks to @NASA_GoddardPix on twitter I have a couple of great images available for my vicarious enjoyment.

Bonus! They have a link to a high def video of the recent solar activity, the coronal mass ejection or super-flare or whatever you call it.

Clonal moo juice

Savvy dairymen in Britain may be adulterating the nation’s milk supply with something that looks like milk, tastes like milk, and comes from an animal that moos like a milker, but leaves regulators and ethical arbiters unsure of whether or not to permit its consumption. Here and there around the world, cloned cows and their offspring have quietly found their way into dairy herds and regulators are quite twitchy about the situation. If it comes from a clone, is it milk that’s safe to drink?

It’s not exactly a fresh concern. Since Ben wrote about his gustatory experience with cloned milk and meat for Wired magazine three years ago, the United States Food and Drug Administration has approved meat and dairy products from cloned critters. The US Department of Agriculture, bureaucratic servant of the big ag biz, has called for farmers to voluntarily keep cloned food products out of the supply chain “so it can manage a smooth and orderly transition to market.” In other words, until the “greed is good” crowd can control cloning operations under the umbrella of amoral corporate agribusiness, the USDA wants to keep the market closed.

In the Eurozone, government approval hasn’t been this easily won. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), sensitive to citizens’ concerns regarding animal welfare, genetic diversity of farm animals, and market conditions in the face of pressure from the global agribusiness giants, maintain a cautious attitude about clone products and other “novel foods.” In July clone products were removed from the “novel foods” category and the European Parliament called for more specific regulation (see Amendment 14). A press release accompanying this action said:

“A clear majority in the European Parliament supports ethical objections to the industrial production of cloned meat for food. Cloned animals suffer disproportionately highly from illnesses, malformations and premature death. MEPs have been calling for proper regulation for years: it’s high time the Commission listened to the European Parliament and citizens on this issue.”

There are now over 6 billion people to feed on the planet earth, and the way things are going there will be nine billion by 2024. Agricultural production on an industrial scale results in a degraded environment and ethical shortcuts that end up poisoning people. I’m thinking of mad cow disease, BSE prions spread through the mixture of brains, bones, and meat in cattle feed. USDA regulation is a sick and twisted example of government bureaucracy cross bred with corporate interests to the detriment of us all. In the case of mad cow disease, US beef producers have been restricted by the USDA from testing their own cattle. Whatever regulations emerge in the USA to control the market for clone sourced food, they will doubtless be as noisome and as ineffective as the regs surrounding animal feeding.

Cross posted at Class War.

What You Need to Know About the Gulf Oil Disaster

By Barbara O’Brien

Every day, news about the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gets worse. This week we learned that a large section of the Gulf could become a “dead zone” as oil-eating microorganisms proliferate and suck oxygen out of the water.

Whether anything positive could somehow come from this disaster remains to be seen. But ecologically conscious people should be aware of and involved in the political response to the spill. Because if you aren’t, the people whose greed, ignorance and negligence led to the disaster will be the ones creating the “solutions.”

For example, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is urging the federal government to allow offshore oil drilling to continue, in spite of the damage being done to Mississippi’s beaches. Note that Barbour was once a Washington lobbyist for the oil industry.

For years, conservatives have pushed issues that were and are central to the Deepwater Horizon spill. One is “drill, baby, drill,” or turning the planet inside out to suck up every last drop of oil before investing in alternative energies or conservation.

Another is deregulation, or the belief that industries must be freed from interference by government regulation, including environmental and consumer protections. For example, already a few politicians are calling for deregulation of the oil industry, as if government caused British Petroleum to mismanage its oil rig. Some pundits are saying the disaster proves government regulations “don’t work.”

The truth is that the federal agency responsible for inspecting offshore oil rigs did not do its job. The Minerals Management Service (MMS) was not conducting the monthly inspections at Deepwater Horizon that its own policies required. It appears BP was running the rig without adhering to all safety procedure.  Critics say the MMS is staffed by “industry friendly” people who don’t believe government regulations should get in the way of making money.

Regarding the cost of repairing the damage, there are two kinds of cost — environmental cleanup and economic damages. The environmental cleanup part is relatively straightforward, although there will be a fight to be sure it gets done. In 2024, a full 20 years after the Exxon Valdez disaster, 16,000 gallons of oil remained in the intertidal zones of Prince William Sound.

The more contentious issue will be paying for the economic damages. These include revenue lost to fishing and tourism businesses and income lost by their employees. The federal Oil Pollution Act written into law after the Exxon Valdez spill caps an oil company’s liability for economic damages at only $75 million in the case of an oil spill caused by accident.

And this brings us to another issue pushed hard by conservatives — “tort reform.” Tort “reformers” want to change personal liability law to protect industries from being sued by people they injure. This campaign was begun in the 1980s by big tobacco companies facing lawsuits from lung cancer sufferers. It was joined by asbestos manufacturers being sued to pay for employees’ mesothelioma treatments. More industries followed suit.

Democrats in Congress have proposed raising the oil spill liability cap to $10 billion, although this could probably only be applied to future spills. But Republicans, long the champions of “tort reform,” strongly oppose the change.

The cap issue may be moot if investigation shows criminal negligence on BP’s part. But already the conservative U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been calling for putting cleanup and damages costs on the backs of taxpayers. And this week House Minority Leader John Boehner concurred, although the subsequent uproar caused him to walk his comments back.

In November, the U.S. will be holding midterm elections. At the very least, find out where candidates in your state stand on these issues before you vote. And some faxes and phone calls to your congress critters wouldn’t hurt.


Barbara O’Brien is a long-time political blogger and activist who writes for several websites, including her own blog, The Mahablog, and Mesothelioma Law and Politics. She also is the Guide to Buddhism for About.com.

The French Fry and the Polluted Sky

Last month at bloomberg.com, Andy Grove offered his perspectives on innovation and job creation and America’s failure to link the two. (See “How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late.”) Grove led Intel to global dominance in the microprocessor market, and he’s uniquely qualified to talk about the conditions that have stunted American growth and driven job creation off-shore.

Fries, by Karin Hearn

Earlier this year, in a typical exercise in editorial bloviation, the pompous Thomas Friedman, a high priest in the cult of the entrepreneur, belittled the bail-outs and by inference any proto-Keynesian impulses from the left. Bail-out money would have been better spent on start-ups, Friedman suggests. Grove destroys the nonsensical position that the government should back start-ups while commodity manufacturing should be allowed to die. No matter what Mr. Friedman says, our faith in start-ups as little job creation engines is misplaced. Long experience in Silicon Valley informs Grove’s argument that shipping jobs overseas to avoid rising costs stateside is a chump’s game.

As time passed, wages and health-care costs rose in the U.S., and China opened up. American companies discovered they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done cheaper overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering.

Back in the day, Intel converted its intellectual capital to manufacturing muscle by scaling up for production and creating jobs. These jobs cost Intel about $650 each–$3,600 in today’s dollars adjusted for inflation. Today, while the money invested in companies has grown enormously, far fewer jobs are produced. Grove estimates Silicon valley job creation costs now at about $100,000 per job. The reason is that over ninety percent of the jobs are farmed out to offshore manufacturing plants. Apple, for example, has 25,000 US employees (including, I assume, the nimrods behind the “Genius Bar” at your local Apple retail outlet). Meanwhile, in southern China, 250,000 Foxconn employees are busy manufacturing Apple products.

The US undervalues manufacturing. Ideologues like Friedman have been touting the “service (would you like fries with that?) economy” for years, placing a premium on “knowledge work” and ignoring the fate of factory workers and their jobs. The social costs of deteriorating infrastructure are ignored. The decisions to build new plants are based on financial statements.

Photo by Lawrence Sinclair

The profit motive has forced jobs offshore for a lot of reasons. Grove is less than forthcoming about Silicon Valley’s open secret, the environmental costs associated with making chips and circuit boards. The point isn’t central to his concern; but, by the eighties it was clear that the San Jose area would soon be awash in a sea of heavy metals and carcinogenic compounds if something wasn’t done. One of the quick and dirty solutions was to send our pollution offshore with our jobs.

Grove dares to question the conventional wisdom that the free market is “the best economic system.” He says, “Long term, we need a job-centric economic theory–and job-centric political leadership–to guide our plans and actions.” He’s lobbying for the country to “rebuild our industrial commons.” How can we get that done?

* * *

cross posted at Classwar

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (aka “the FBI,” an agency with a confusing dual reporting relationship, working for both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, partnering with–but not responsible to–the Department of Homeland Security, and for 48 years the exclusive fiefdom of J. Edgar Hoover, whose notorious use of files on everyone to imply guilt regarding everything, and to guide the government with threats of scandal if not prosecution, lives on as a hallowed tradition, has been lightly chastised by Mike Godwin, General Counsel of the Wikimedia Foundation. Here–transcribed from a pdf file accompanying a New York Times article–is a letter that made me giggle…

To: David Larson, Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Cc: Brian Binney, Asst. General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

July 30, 2024

Dear Deputy Director Larson,

First, thank you for taking my call Thursday, and congratulations on your imminent retirement after so many years of service. It’s unfortunate that on such an otherwise happy occasion I must inform you that the Bureau’s reading of 18 U.S.C. 701 is both idiosyncratic (made especially so by your strategic redaction of important language) and, more importantly, incorrect.

I’m writing you, of course, regarding your recent letter reiterating the Bureau’s invocation of 18 U.S.C. 701 and your demand for removal of the image of the FBI Seal on Wikipedia (images of which are widely available elsewhere, including on the Encyclopedia Britannica website, last I checked). You may recall that in my initial email response to your estimable Assistant General Counsel, Mr. Binney, I pointed to cases construing Section 701 and that, in a subsequent email, I broadly hinted that ejusdem generis, a standard accepted canon of statutory construction, demonstrates that this statute is inapposite to the use of an image of the seal on an encyclopedia.

It’s clear that you and Mr. Binney took the hint, although perhaps not in the way I would have preferred. Entertainingly, in support for your argument, you included a version of 701 in which you removed the very phrases that subject the statute to ejusdem generis analysis. While we appreciate your desire to revise the statute to reflect your expansive vision of it, the fact is that we must work with the actual language of the statute, not the aspirational version of Section 701 that you forwarded to us.

In your letter, you assert that an image of an FBI seal included in a Wikipedia article is “problematic” because “it facilitates both deliberate and unwitting violations” of 18 U.S.C. 701. I hope you will agree that the adjective “problematic,” even if it were truly applicable here, is not semantically identical to “unlawful.” Even if it could be proved that someone, somewhere, found a way to use a Wikipedia article illustration to facilitate a fraudulent representation, that would not render the illustration itself unlawful under the statute. As the leading case interpreting Section 701 points out, “The enactment of § 701 was intended to protect the public against the use of a recognizable assertion of authority with intent to deceive.” United States v. Goeltz, 513 F.2d 193 (1975). Our inclusion of an image of the FBI Seal is in no way evidence of any “intent to deceive,” nor is it an “assertion of authority,” recognizable or otherwise. If you read the cases construing Section 701, you find they center on situations in which defendants represented themselves as federal authorities. I think you will be compelled to agree that the Wikimedia Foundation has never done this.

May we talk a little bit further about ejusdem generis and your creative editing of the statute? I have reproduced the full statute below. (It is helpfully titled “§ 701. Official badges, identification cards, other insignia” – I note that your idealized version of the statute omitted the section title.)

Certain words that you redacted, which are central to the interpretation, are bolded and underlined for your convenience:

Whoever manufactures, sells, or possesses any badge,
identification card, or other
insignia, of the design prescribed by
the head of any department or agency of the United States for use
by any officer or employee thereof, or any colorable imitation
thereof, or photographs, prints, or in any other manner makes or
executes any engraving, photograph, print, or impression in the
likeness of any such badge, identification card, or other insignia,
or any colorable imitation thereof, except as authorized under
regulations made pursuant to law, shall be fined under this title or
imprisoned not more than six months, or both.

The underlined words are conclusive proof that the canon of statutory construction ejusdem generis applies. Under that principle, “where general words follow specific words in a statutory enumeration, the general words are construed to embrace only objects similar in nature to those objects enumerated by the preceding specific words.” Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105, 114-15 (2001). Courts use ejusdem generis in conjunction with common sense and legislative history to discern the legislature’s intent in writing a statute.

You will note that the phrase “or other” precedes the word “insignia”, both of which follow the enumerated items “badges” and “identification cards.” This constrains the definition of insignia to those objects which are similar in nature to badges and identification cards. This definition comports with case law interpreting 701. As I have noted above (I’m requoting this passage because I truly love it), “the enactment of section 701 was intended to protect the public against the use of a recognizable assertion of authority with intent to deceive.” United States v. Goeltz, 513 F.2d 193, 197 (10th Cir. 1975) (contrasting political use of insignia with defendants’ conduct, which “was of the dirty-trick variety and was for the purpose of enraging its victims”). Badges and identification cards are physical manifestations that may be used by a possessor to invoke the authority of the federal government. An encyclopedia article is not. The use of the image on Wikipedia is not for the purpose of deception or falsely to represent anyone as an agent of the federal government. Using both ejusdem generis and common sense, we can see that 701 does not apply to the use of an image on an online encyclopedia.

Finally, while I sympathize with your footnoted desire to claim that “the plain meaning” of the statute supports your broad view of Section 701’s scope, we note that you specifically removed the language that communicates the plain meaning of “other insignia.” In context, this seems an ironic stroke.

In short, then, we are compelled as a matter of law and principle to deny your demand for removal of the FBI Seal from Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons. We are in contact with outside counsel in this matter, and we are prepared to argue our view in court.

With all appropriate respect,

Mike Godwin
General Counsel
Wikimedia Foundation