Lazy Saturday Reads

cherry blossoms dc

Happy Saturday!!

The cherry blossoms have reached their peak in Washington DC, just in time for today’s Cherry Blossom Parade, scheduled for 10AM-12PM today. WaPo:

The blossoms reached peak Thursday and should still be putting on a good show this weekend. Because of the variability of weather, they aren’t always this near peak at parade time.

The parade proceeds west along Constitution Avenue from Seventh to 17th streets.

Further south, in Augusta GA, the azaleas are in full bloom just in time for the Masters Tournament, which is going into its third day despite the loss of Tiger Woods to back surgery this year and Phil Mickelson’s failure to make the cut. Left-hander Bubba Watson was leading the pack by 3 strokes as of last night.

Masters azaleas

From the Augusta Chronicle: Bubba Watson storms to 3-stroke lead.

Bubba Watson never led during the first three rounds of the 2012 Masters Tournament but rallied on the final day and won in sudden death. The former Georgia Bulldog is on top now, halfway through the 78th Masters, with some breathing room.

Watson, 35, ripped apart the second nine at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday with five consecutive birdies en route to 4-under-par 68 – which included bogey on No. 18 – to build a three-shot lead over John Senden, of Australia. It matched the largest 36-hole lead since 2006.

Senden, who qualified for the Masters on March 16, when he won the Valspar Championship, also had a second-round 68 and is alone in second place.

Australian and defending champion Adam Scott made a spirited comeback to stay within shouting distance of Watson. Scott, who opened with 69, was 3-over after five holes Friday but played his final seven in 3-under, finishing with 72, tied for third place, four behind Watson.

Tiger’s absence has hit ESPN hard: ESPN’s Masters ratings plummet without Tiger Woods.

There was a feeling around the Masters that the absence of Tiger Woods might not hurt as much as expected. With Tiger having ceded some of the spotlight to younger golfers in recent years, the sport was healthy enough to survive without him in Augusta.

Television viewers apparently had a different opinion.

ESPN’s first-round telecast was down 800,000 viewers from last year to a record low of 2 million. That’s the lowest Thursday viewership in the seven years the network has been broadcasting the Masters.

Forsythia at Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain MA

Forsythia at Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain MA

Okay, I know it’s unlikely that anyone else here cares about professional golf; I just wanted an excuse to post some pretty photos of spring flowers.

Up here in southern New England we’re just beginning to see a little yellow showing up on the forsythia bushes, but it’s going to be warm for the next few days, and soon Arnold Arboretum will showing off acres of yellow blossoms like those in the photo to the right. And it won’t be long before our cherry trees and azaleas are in bloom too!

Spring has sprung!

Can you tell I’m trying to avoid the news?

In a little over a week, Boston will host its big spring event, the Boston Marathon, and between now and then we’ll be hearing endless talk about what happened here last year.

I’d like to avoid all the coverage, but I’ve decided instead to try to pay close attention to the coverage in corporate and alternative media and notice how the powers that be attempt to shape the narrative of last year’s dramatic events as well as the public process of dealing with them.

Yesterday, Boston NPR station WBUR had a very good discussion of Unanswered Questions Around The Marathon Bombing on the local program Radio Boston. It’s worth a listen.

I was quite surprised that one of the participants, Janet Reitman of Rolling Stone Magazine brought up the fact that nearly every breaking story on the events of last year came from CBS’ John Miller, who was obviously the designated target for FBI leaks. And Reitman was actually permitted to discuss this issue at some length.

JohnMiller-300x225

Miller began working for CBS in 2011; before that he worked for the Federal Government as “Associate Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analytic Transformation and Technology”; and before that he was “Assistant Director for Public Affairs for the FBI.”

Currently he is working with his old friend Bill Bratton as “Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence” for the NYPD. Is this guy a journalist or is he a tool of law enforcement? He did work for ABC News in the 1990s. As such, he got an interview with Osama bin Laden in 1998. I wonder how that happened?

Here’s a piece about Miller in Men’s Journal from March 2013–shortly before last year’s Boston Marathon.

John Miller’s office at CBS News is filled with keepsakes from his two lives as top cop and leading reporter: badges from his tours with the New York and Los Angeles police departments; a photograph from his 1998 interview with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan; his FBI badge and ID; even an LAPD Beach Patrol cap. (“The one job I never got,” Miller jokes.) “When I was covering the cops, I wasn’t one of those guys who showed up to work everyday saying ‘I’ve gotta find the scandal in the police department,'” says Miller. “And when I was with the police department, I didn’t hate the press for doing its job, either. Which I think has made it easier to toggle back and forth.”

But is avoiding anti-cop stories really the best attitude for a “journalist?” And how can such a journalist be expected to critically analyze leaks handed to him by law enforcement sources? I think the answers to those questions are obvious. And yet Miller basically shaped the news narrative on last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.

Last night NBC aired an hour-long program on the Boston attack: 108 Hours: Inside the Hunt for the Boston Marathon Bombers, hosted by Brian Williams. It was interesting for me to watch the video of the events that took place in Watertown as police hunted for the accused bombers; but of course no hard questions were asked. Everything law enforcement officials had to say was taken at face value.

One tidbit I learned was that President Obama had been on the phone with Governor Patrick during the lockdown of much of the city, and Obama had expressed concerns about the notion of government officials shutting down a major American city. I found that fascinating considering that critics on both the left and right have portrayed Obama as a tyrant who was probably in control of those kinds of decisions.

The news event that I’ve really been avoiding is the deadly bus accident in California.

I find it so painful to read or hear about children being hurt that I generally avoid such stories, but today I feel I have to cover the terrible bus crash in California. You may recall that we had a terrible bus accident in Boston just about a year ago. In fact there have been bus crashes all over the country. What’s going on?

Despite new regulations mandating seat belts on recently built tour buses, passengers are still losing their lives in crashes.

A crash Thursday in Northern California killed 10 people and injured 34 when a tour bus carrying Los Angeles-area students collided with a FedEx truck. Eerily, the crash occurred almost exactly one year from the date of a tour bus crash in Irving that killed three people and injured dozens of senior citizens.

The history of serious crashes involving tour buses or motor coaches stretches back into the 1950s and highlights a pattern of danger that federal regulations have just begun to attempt to mitigate.

Congress wrapped bus safety improvements, including a provision for seat belts in recently built tour buses, into a larger transportation bill which was signed into law in 2012. Those regulations, however, only apply to buses produced in 2007 or later. The regulations do not order buses built before 2007 to be retrofit with safety belts.

The industry opposes requiring that existing buses be retrofitted with seat belts saying the seats are not designed for them and may not be strong enough to withstand the repeated pulling of straps. Retrofitting is also more expensive than adding belts to new buses.

Read more at the link. The story references numerous other articles about bus accidents.

Reuters on the latest incident: Investigators focus on cause of deadly California crash

Investigators were focusing on Saturday on what caused a FedEx tractor-trailer to collide with a bus in a fiery crash in northern California that killed 10 people, five of them teenage students en route to a college recruitment event.

It remained unclear whether the FedEx driver was somehow distracted or lost consciousness, or whether a mechanical failure occurred when his truck swerved across the median of Interstate 5 and slammed head-on into the motor coach full of students from the Los Angeles area on Thursday.

The California Highway Patrol also raised the possibility that a separate collision on the truck’s side of the highway might have been a factor in Thursday evening’s fatal crash.

According to early highway patrol accounts of the accident, the truck side-swiped a car after crossing the center divider but before hitting the bus. Two witnesses, Bonnie and Joe Duran, who were reported to be in the clipped car, told California media outlets that the truck was on fire before the collision. “I was heading along in the outside lane and I looked over and saw the FedEx truck coming straight for me and he was in flames already,” Bonnie Duran told a local CBS-affiliate.

More at the link.

I have a few more interesting reads for you today that I’ll just list briefly.

I highly recommend reading this op-ed at the WaPo by former SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens: The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment. It’s an excerpt from his new book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. 

See also Scott Lemieux’s review of Stevens’ book at The American Prospect: How John Paul Stevens Would Amend the Constitution.

Here’s a brief but encouraging story by WBUR (NPR)  about the three women running for governor of three New England states: Women’s Groups Target New England Gubernatorial Races.

I really liked this thoughtful post about the internet, privacy, and the NSA leak story at Haft of the Spear blog: You Were Promised Neither Security Nor Privacy.

Don’t miss this troubling story at the WaPo: Inside the FBI’s secret relationship with the military’s special operations. Can we all agree that the FBI (and CIA) are a lot scarier than NSA metadata storage?

Those are my offerings for today. What stories have you been following? Please share your links in the comment thread and have a nice Spring weekend!


23 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads”

  1. RalphB says:

    I particularly like the NSA leak post. The hysteria over metadata is largely just silly.

    • bostonboomer says:

      It really expressed my feelings about the hoopla very well.

      • RalphB says:

        I assume there are real problems with what the NSA is doing but they haven’t been found or reported yet. What’s more I don’t believe the current people looking will find them or would recognize them if they stumbled over them.

        One thing I would like to know is exactly what kind of information, and in what range of circumstances, is shared with the DEA, FBI, local law enforcement etc. There you have the potential for abuse of citizens on a real-time basis.

  2. NW Luna says:

    h/t to naked capitalism, which has the cutest photo I’ve yet seen to go with a donate button.

    Researchers find people with a ‘supersense’ for justice are swayed by reason rather than emotion.

    Some individuals react more strongly than others to situations that invoke a sense of justice. Examples given include seeing a person being treated unfairly or mercifully.

    Aha! I knew there had to be more of us around. But I’m annoyed they call it a “super” sense of justice.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That sounds like an interesting study. I wish the article had provided the results for empathy. I can’t believe empathy is not involved. Empathy does involve higher cognitive processes too–it’s a facet of theory of mind.

      • RalphB says:

        Without empathy, I don’t see how one would see another person as being treated unmercifully to the point of reacting strongly. Seems to me it’s one of the main traits which make us humans.

      • NW Luna says:

        I think I’ll hunt up and read the study itself. Synopses like this in the popular press often miss some of the important findings.

    • dakinikat says:

      http://www.nrl.navy.mil/media/news-releases/2014/scale-model-wwii-craft-takes-flight-with-fuel-from-the-sea-concept

      Navy researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Materials Science and Technology Division, demonstrate proof-of-concept of novel NRL technologies developed for the recovery of carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen (H2) from seawater and conversion to a liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

      Flying a radio-controlled replica of the historic WWII P-51 Mustang red-tail aircraft—of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen—NRL researchers (l to r) Dr. Jeffrey Baldwin, Dr. Dennis Hardy, Dr. Heather Willauer, and Dr. David Drab (crouched), successfully demonstrate a novel liquid hydrocarbon fuel to power the aircraft’s unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine. The test provides proof-of-concept for an NRL developed process to extract carbon dioxide (CO2) and produce hydrogen gas (H2) from seawater, subsequently catalytically converting the CO2 and H2 into fuel by a gas-to-liquids process.
      (Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)
      Fueled by a liquid hydrocarbon—a component of NRL’s novel gas-to-liquid (GTL) process that uses CO2 and H2 as feedstock—the research team demonstrated sustained flight of a radio-controlled (RC) P-51 replica of the legendary Red Tail Squadron, powered by an off-the-shelf (OTS) and unmodified two-stroke internal combustion engine.

      Using an innovative and proprietary NRL electrolytic cation exchange module (E-CEM), both dissolved and bound CO2 are removed from seawater at 92 percent efficiency by re-equilibrating carbonate and bicarbonate to CO2 and simultaneously producing H2. The gases are then converted to liquid hydrocarbons by a metal catalyst in a reactor system.

      “In close collaboration with the Office of Naval Research P38 Naval Reserve program, NRL has developed a game changing technology for extracting, simultaneously, CO2 and H2 from seawater,” said Dr. Heather Willauer, NRL research chemist. “This is the first time technology of this nature has been demonstrated with the potential for transition, from the laboratory, to full-scale commercial implementation.”

      CO2 in the air and in seawater is an abundant carbon resource, but the concentration in the ocean (100 milligrams per liter [mg/L]) is about 140 times greater than that in air, and 1/3 the concentration of CO2 from a stack gas (296 mg/L). Two to three percent of the CO2 in seawater is dissolved CO2 gas in the form of carbonic acid, one percent is carbonate, and the remaining 96 to 97 percent is bound in bicarbonate.

      NRL has made significant advances in the development of a gas-to-liquids (GTL) synthesis process to convert CO2 and H2 from seawater to a fuel-like fraction of C9-C16 molecules. In the first patented step, an iron-based catalyst has been developed that can achieve CO2 conversion levels up to 60 percent and decrease unwanted methane production in favor of longer-chain unsaturated hydrocarbons (olefins). These value-added hydrocarbons from this process serve as building blocks for the production of industrial chemicals and designer fuels.

      • RalphB says:

        The environmental impact of that could be fantastic. Not only in perhaps preventing further ocean acidification but maybe even rolling back damage already done, if we use this instead of normal fossil fuels.

        Koch Brothers must be steaming but no wonder they want more control of government.

      • NW Luna says:

        This could have phenomenal impact! The press release says 7-10 yrs to market viability. Will have to see if this substantially lowers pollution levels, since the end result is still running an internal combustion engine.

        Thought they meant a full-size Red-Tail, but it’s a little version. Still, very promising.

  3. RalphB says:

    Raw Story: Police: Florida man brought gun, shovel and duct tape while meeting 14-year-old for sex

    Authorities in Davie, Florida said a 36-year-old man arrested while trying to meet a 14-year-old girl for sex had duct tape, a loaded handgun, a hatchet, a machete, and a shovel in his car at the time of his arrest.

    WTVJ-TV reported on Friday that Antonio Seisdedos was arrested on Thursday in a parking lot after police posing as the girl agreed to meet with him.

    “My opinion is that we saved this girl’s life,” Capt. Dale Engle told WTVJ. …

    It’s just another “Florida man” story.

  4. RalphB says:

    Krugman: Offshore and Underground

    I had lunch with Gabriel Zucman today, co-author of the startling new paper (pdf) showing that the concentration of wealth at the very top — the 0.1% — is fully back to Gilded Age levels.And he pointed me to another paper that flew under my, and I suspect other peoples’, radar: his demonstration that a lot of wealth at the top is held in offshore tax havens (pdf).

    You might have suspected that already, but it’s one thing to rely on anecdotal evidence, another thing to find the clear footprint of underground money in official statistics. What Zucman points out is that we have international data on investment positions, with each country reporting its assets abroad and foreign-owned assets at home. But the numbers don’t add up: globally, liabilities are substantially larger than assets. That’s mathematically impossible, but Zucman shows that it’s what will appear in the statistics if a lot of money is run through offshore havens, so that the ownership doesn’t show up in anyone’s national statistics. And he uses other data and information to show that this is by far the most compelling explanation.

    At the commanding heights of the US economy, hiding a lot of one’s wealth offshore is probably the norm, not the exception.

    Paul Krugman blogs about the missing billions in the world economy.

    • NW Luna says:

      Would love to see the US gov put some of its IT development time into finding these free-loading fat cats and make ’em pay taxes.

      • RalphB says:

        If only we had a large massively funded security organization who could hack into banks etc ,,, oh wait 🙂

  5. Can you tell I’m trying to avoid the news?

    Oh hell yeah….bet your ass I am too…

    The news event that I’ve really been avoiding is the deadly bus accident in California.

    I find it so painful to read or hear about children being hurt that I generally avoid such stories, but today I feel I have to cover the terrible bus crash in California. You may recall that we had a terrible bus accident in Boston just about a year ago. In fact there have been bus crashes all over the country. What’s going on?

    I heard about that bus accident while Bebe was on a big bus heading to Chicago. It made my anxiety even worse. So much so that I have not been able to go online at all!

    Great post BB…now back to my worrying.