December 20, 2014

Obama: Cyberwarmonger against North Korea?

In the early days after the Sony data hack and breach was first announced, after giving some, but not full, credence to the originally proposed idea that North Korea was behind the hack, I backed off, and instead attributed it, as did some guesstimate reporting, to one or more disgruntled current or former Sony employees.

First, nobody connected to North Korea mentioned "The Interview" in the first few days, or even first couple of weeks, after the breach became public knowledge. Wired has also addressed this. And, the type of information that was being leaked seemed to fuel the angle of disgruntlement.

But now, the FBI says Kim Jong Un's minions, or minions by extension, did it.

And yet, I'm still not sure.

And I'm not alone. Here's an in-depth analysis refuting the FBI.

Points 1-2 there address the idea that it seems made to look like it came from North Korea by someone who didn't quite know the right imitation.

Points 3-4 cover the revenge factor.

Points 7-8 cover why Obama would want to blame North Korea, at least in part.

But I think this needs to be taken further.

First, let's say the US, specifically the NSA, has in the past 12 months created some shiny new cyberwarfare weaponry. It's been itching for a chance to try it out.

So, instead of "weapons of mass destruction" and "mushroom clouds," we drum up other slanted or false claims and voila!

Second, let's say Dear Leader ... OUR Dear Leader, not Kim Jong Un's dead daddy ... I gave OUR Dear Leader that name ... let's say our Dear Leader is actually playing, if not 10-dimensional chess (at which he sucks) but bank shot pool. Or bow shot diplomacy.

As in, "Hey, Beijing, watch us do this to Pyongyang."

So, while lives may not be lost, cyberwarmongering against North Korea leaves me about as ill at ease as warmongering against Iraq. That said, Democrats right-or-wrong types still refuse to recognize the foreign policy continuities between Dear Leader and Shrub Bush.

December 18, 2014

Pardon me if I don't cry too much for Tampa Bay Rays fans

So, despite city of St. Petersburg staff agreeing to let the low-attendance Tampa Bay Rays look across the bay to the city of Tampa and or Hillsborough County for a new stadium, the St. Pete City Council has voted it down and now, per Hardball Talk, fans are butt-hurt.

Is Tropicana Field ideal for baseball? Erm, no. Is it as horrible as some Rays fans claim? Well, because other Rays fans beg to differ.

And, the bottom line is that the Tampa Bay Lighting — HOCKEY! — outdrew 20 years ago, with a smaller population, what your current population draws for baseball in the same stadium. And did so more consistently. More below. At the same time, previous and current owners apparently thought it less of a white elephant than now. The turf's been upgraded twice since 2000, other changes have been made as well; the Wiki link indicates they've been done by owners, not the city.

See the bottom of this page for more details about that pull quote and why the stupidity issue is that real.

Is it located, as far as center of population, in the ideal part of metropolitan Tampa-St. Petersburg? No, but arguably neither are other stadiums like Busch in St. Louis.

Is its location geographically challenged? I've never been to Tampa-St. Pete, but I've been to the Bay Area plenty of times, and the Giants draw fans from the East Bay, San Jose, Marin County and more. Oh, while the Bay Area overall has good mass transit, BART does NOT go to either Marin County or San Jose. (It's headed to San Jose, but it's not there yet. And, it's not headed at all to Marin County/North Bay.) So, that's a bit of falsehood to claim that mass transit trumps all the Bay Area's geography issues, Rays fans.

If you're in San Jose and don't want to drive all the way to a Giants game, you still have to drive up to Daly City or wherever to catch BART. If you're in Napa or Sonoma, you have to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge into the city, and you probably figure you might as well drive to the game while you're at it.

And, Tampa Bay is no more convoluted than San Francisco Bay, and at 400 square miles, is no bigger than the smallest defined area of San Francisco Bay (excluding San Pablo and other sub-bays).

Otherwise? St. Louis and Cincinnati are both split by major rivers. St. Louis has light rail of moderate impact on the Missouri side only; I don't know if Cincy has light rail at all or just buses. Metro Seattle is made very vertical by Puget Sound, and I've not heard any special praises for its mass transit.

Besides, the sprawl and geographic convolution argument cuts both ways. There's surely St. Pete fans going to the Amalie, today's Lightning location, or the Raymond James for the Bucs. Yes, they may get more fans from the eastward, Lakeland all the way to Orlando, than the Rays. But, the Rays could potentially get more fans from Bradenton and points further south with their current location.

Is TSP a small baseball market? Noooooo.

It's not only a hair larger than mid-market metro St. Louis of my beloved Cardinals, per Wiki, it's larger than several other MLB sites.

Metro Tampa-St. Pete is bigger than:
1. Metro St. Louis
2. Metro Baltimore
3. Metro Denver
4. Metro Pittsburgh
5. Metro Cincinnati
6. Metro Cleveland
7. Metro Kansas City
8. Metro Milwaukee


As for attendance? It had about 2.5 million in its first year, according to Baseball-Reference. It fell a full million the next year, and has never broken 2 million since.  Even in good times and a growing population base, it hasn't broken 1.8 million since 2010, so you can't blame all the attendance woes on the previous ownership group of Vince Naimoli; the team's not drawn a lot better, despite having a better product, under Stuart Sternberg.

Given that the Tampa Bay Lightning also played there, before their current location, and drew well there, while part of the problems might be location, and part of the problems might be a stadium not well designed for baseball, I simply reject the idea that those two issues are the sum total of why baseball doesn't draw well there. 

Indeed, the Lightning drew about 20K a game there, and that's HOCKEY. And it was there in "poor sister" St. Pete. (The team draws even better in Tampa.) In other words, Rays fans, the hockey team outdrew most years of your baseball team, in the same location. And, year after year. Even when the expansion team didn't do that well right away.

As Rays fans getting more butt-hurt claim that I don't know what I'm talking about, or that I'm confusing the Lightning's current location and attendance with other things, you start to sound more and more like you're doing some special pleading.

No, I've never been there. But, I have plenty of statistics in hand. I've already covered attendance (and attendance vs. the Lightning), the reality of geography of Tampa Bay vs. San Francisco Bay, the reality of mass transit elsewhere and more.

And, to have some fans indicate I'm clueless, or that I'm getting things mixed up, or that I'm like George W. Bush invading Iraq and then clueless as to the fighting?

Sorry, but you're not winning your argument.

Meanwhile, back to that case at hand.

The Lightning draw even better now, in Tampa, with a better team, but that leads to something else.

This gets back to something I've said before. Some areas, while they support some sports well, don't others. And maybe, Rays fans, South Florida (TSP, on true lines of longitude, is as close or closer to Miami than it is to Jacksonville, so I'm calling it South Florida) just isn't major league baseball territory.

Accept it!

St. Louis hasn't had an NBA team since the Hawks, with Sweet Lou Hudson and Lenny Wilkins, left 45 years ago. After the ABA Spirits, with Bad News Marvin Barnes, Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas and M.L. Carr, failed to make the NBA cut, it's never gotten a whiff of mention as a possible NBA expansion or relocation site.

The Rams and Raiders have been gone from Los Angeles for 20 years, and even with the Rams winning one Super Bowl and making a second, don't seem to be too missed.

So, maybe Evan Longoria, David Price and other players don't draw fans that well, either. And, that may be true with the Miami Marlins and Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton.

That said, on the traffic and geography side, and why the Trop was built in St. Pete, I'm also beginning to suspect that part of this may be a unique regional issue, namely that Tampa-side people don't want to necessarily play so nice with St. Pete. To the degree that's involved, that's wholly your problem and stop blaming anybody or anything else.

Meanwhile, on to the business side.

Jeff Loria shook down Miami-Dade County taxpayers for big bucks for his shiny new stadium. Even if the Sternbergs, or new owners, could get out of the St. Pete side of the area, Tampa/Hillsborough County residents would surely crucify their elected officials for blowing taxpayer money on a stadium. That's especially true because Florida was one of the states hardest hit by the housing bubble. I don't think the Tampa or St. Petersburg economies are doing fantastic, either one.

Beyond that, on the St. Pete side? The current city council isn't the problem.

The one dumb enough to build a "spec" stadium without a guaranteed tenant is the dumb one. The current owner, knowing he'd bought a team occupying a spec stadium is a close second. Economic development directors who have brains will tell you (as multiple ones have told me before) that building a facility for speculative purposes, whether a sports facility, a small office park, a logistics facility (I've seen both of those built as spec buildings and sit vacant for years too) is one of the "best" ways to get yourself fired.

They're often built into pre-conceived ideas that are pretty inflexible, and because economic development corporations are adjuncts of local governments, they're also built on the cheap. The Trop "pleads guilty" on both counts.

Only other business angle I can think of off the top of my head is maybe Naimoli figured he'd be able to find a sucker eager municipal government on the Tampa side of the metro after a couple of years. Well, he failed.

Oh, and baseball fans? Beyond traffic, and on viewing experience, this can't be as bad as old Tiger Stadium, or current Wrigley, for that matter.

To be somewhat charitable, and honor emotions and other things, while still focusing on the facts, I'll concede that as much as 50 percent of this may be due to location and/or stadium.

But no more than that.

Rays fans, will you concede that the other 50 percent may be baseball support struggles?

I expect crickets, but if you want to do differently, you can.

December 17, 2014

#Cuba — If the Havana Ham, Ted Cruz, hated Obama before ...

Fidel Castro, ready to be "recognized"
Wikipedia
Getcha popcorn! The New York Times is reporting that normalization of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba will happen as a sidebar of Cuba releasing Alan Gross plus a US spy arrested decades ago, in exchange for the US releasing some Cubans, and also, per details noted below, agreeing to start liberalizing some contacts between the two countries as soon as possible.

Here's the full deal on what's happening immediately:
In addition, the United States will ease restrictions on remittances, travel and banking relations, and Cuba will release 53 Cuban prisoners identified as political prisoners by the United States government. Although the decades-old American embargo on Cuba will remain in place for now, the administration signaled that it would welcome a move by Congress to ease or lift it should lawmakers choose to. 
Ted Cruz, the real "Havana Ham"
Wikipedia
While Obama cannot overturn the Helms-Burton Act, normalizing diplomatic relations is an executive prerogative. And, he can, by executive order, lighten some restrictions on trade. Havana Ted could try to cut the State Department's budget, but ain't nothing else he can do.
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba were severed in January 1961 after the rise of Fidel Castro and his Communist government. Mr. Obama has instructed Secretary of State John Kerry to immediately initiate discussions with Cuba about reestablishing diplomatic relations and to begin the process of removing Cuba from the list of states that sponsor terrorism, which it has been on since 1982, the White House said. 
And, here's non-diplomatic actions planned by executive order.
The United States will also ease travel restrictions across all 12 categories currently envisioned under limited circumstances under American law, including family visits, official visits and journalistic, professional, educational and religious activities, public performances, officials said. Ordinary tourism, however, will remain prohibited. 
Mr. Obama will also allow greater banking ties and raise the level of remittances allowed to be sent to Cuban nationals to $2,000 every three months from the current limit of $500. Intermediaries forwarding remittances will no longer require a specific license from the government. American travelers will also be allowed to import up to $400 worth of goods from Cuba, including up to $100 in tobacco and alcohol products. 
As for 2016 electoral fallout in Florida? Let's not forget that the revolution was 55 years ago. There are not just one, but two generations of adult Cuban-Americans born in the US of A. Many of them may not be tired of the trade embargo of Helms-Burton, but, they're not wingnuts living and dying over keeping Fidel in a small box. So, Marco Rubio can, along with Ted Cruz and the occasional Cuban-American older Democratic politician, foam at the mouth. But, many younger Cuban-Americans have moved on.

Besides, Cuban cigars! That said, since general tourism won't be allowed, people who do bring back Cuban cigars will be reselling them for a premium.

Oh, look, more wingnuts who can't spell!  © Alan Diaz/AP Anti-Castro
activists Osvaldo Hernandez, right, and Miguel Saavedra, second from right,
chant anti-Obama slogans in the Little Havana area of Miami.
Anyway, from a non-wingnut POV, especially here in Texas, just watching Ted Cruz shit bricks over this is fun enough, more than Marco Rubio.

And, not just Havana Ted. The Times notes that Francis the Talking Pope backed the US-Cuba talks, too. So, conservative Catholics who accuse liberal Catholics of being "cafeteria Catholics" over abortion, the shoe is once again, as with the death penalty and the invasion of Iraq, now on the other foot. So, more wingnuts can again wig out.

Speaking of that, Florida's top dog Cuban-American wingnut, Marco Rubio, has already attacked Pope Francis on this.

Both Obama and Raul Castro are supposed to speak at noon Eastern about the issue. I'll update this with major relevant new points as needed.

The main one seems to be that it's full speed ahead on working on normalization of diplomatic ties.

As for the trade embargo?

Chris Tomlinson notes that Cuba has a highly educated workforce. Who wouldn't want more trade? It has offshore oil reserves that could use the help of a country with major drilling expertise. Better the US than Vlad the Impaler Putin, isn't it?

And, as Craig Calcaterra notes, this could affect the signing of Cuban baseball players. The US is easing "professional ... activities" on travel.

===

Beyond the above, it's just not been a good week for Ted Cruz in general.

His Senate procedural stunt over immigration royally backfired. Havana Ted ultimately filled Obama's Christmas stocking with at least six dozen stalled nominees getting Senate confirmation or pledges thereof.

And, I "love" that when the likes of Faux News and beyond talk about "some Democrats" opposing the move, the only one they can ever name by name is New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez.

Is the world ready for some neo-Cynicism?

By using the capital-C word, I'm indicating the ancient philosophy, not the psychological attitude.

Is the world ready? More important, is the world needing this? My answer here, at Massimo Pigliucci's new philosophy webzine.

That answer is a "yes," with details of how I think we should update Cynicism for today. Click the link for more.

For people unfamiliar with the basics of the philosophy, beyond perhaps knowing that Diogenes masturbated in public and told Alexander the Great to get out of his light, the Wikipedia entry has a good summary of base points:

1. The goal of life is Eudaimonia and mental clarity or lucidity (τυφια) – freedom from τύφος (smoke) which signified ignorance, mindlessness, folly, and conceit.

2. Eudaimonia is achieved by living in accord with Nature as understood by human reason.

3. τύφος (Arrogance) is caused by false judgments of value, which cause negative emotions, unnatural desires, and a vicious character.

4. Eudaimonia or human flourishing, depends on self-sufficiency (ατάρκεια), equanimity, arete, love of humanity, parrhesia and indifference to the vicissitudes of life (διαφορία).

5. One progresses towards flourishing and clarity through ascetic practices (σκησις) which help one become free from influences – such as wealth, fame, or power – that have no value in Nature. Examples include Diogenes’ practice of living in a tub and walking barefoot in winter.

6. A Cynic practices shamelessness or impudence (Αναιδεια) and defaces the Nomos of society; the laws, customs, and social conventions which people take for granted.
The “flourishing” is of course a commonality with most other ancient Greek philosophies. Point 2 gets back to Massimo’s Stoicism essay on showing some commonality, and is my point of departure, with a different assessment of human nature, for neo-Cynicism.

Points 3-6 then spell out how to achieve this … and why — that the challenging of convention, asceticism and related practices are designed to produce mental and emotional clarity.

In my comments on the piece in response to others (at least to others who get the difference between the philosophy and the small-c psychology), I responded to one person who asked about what a neo-Cynicism might be for, and not just against, my one-word answer?

Authenticity. 

My version of neo-Cynicism should be seen, in part, as being a more pessmistic outgrowth of humanistic psychologies of the 1950s and 1960s.

==

And, for the second time, one of my essays for Massimo has been picked up by 3 Quarks Daily.


December 16, 2014

Fifth Circuit still says "nyet" to whooping cranes

Whooping crane in Texas in flight. John Noll/USDA
Refusing to give serious reconsideration to an earlier decision that that overthrew a federal district court ruling finding the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality liable in whooping crane deaths for not sending enough water down the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers during drought, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to rehear the three-judge panel's ruling en banc.

That said, per the story, it looks like we're headed to the Supreme Court with this; Houston environmental attorney Jim Blackburn has already pledged an appeal.

As he well should. TCEQ doesn't even want to live up to the E in its name.

And, the Fifth Circuit in general is not known for being very enlightened, as dissenting judge Edward Prado pointed out:
The way the three-judge panel handled the case “sends a clear message to litigants: if you don’t like the factual findings of a district court, the doors of our Court are wide open to endless retrials on appeal,” Prado wrote. “This is the wrong message to send, and it evinces an alarming lack of trust in the work of our colleagues in the district courts.”
He continued: Given the eight-day bench trial in the original district court case, one involving ten expert witnesses, “The reweighing of facts in this case is particularly egregious.”

Indeed. Not surprising, though, is it?

The case was originally heard at the district level early last year.

Federal District Judge Janis Jack said the TCEQ failed to adequately manage Guadalupe River water flows, so that enough frewshwater reached the sea ot nourish crabs for the cranes' food.
“Inactions and refusal to act by the TCEQ defendants proximately caused an unlawful ‘take’ of at least twenty-three whooping cranes” in violation of the endangered species act, Jack held.
The biggie that she said drought was and is no excuse. 

And, the drought is likely, in at least some degree, to stick around for a while. And, unlike TCEQ, the Lower Colorado River Authority has, at least in the past, been cognizant of this.

When more national parks isn't necessarily good

I'm all in favor of new units of the National Park Service being created, with two caveats:
1. They're deserving;
2. They're adequately funded.

But new legislation, detailed here, fails the second test.

With a Congress that's unlikely to up the budget for the current NPS, expecting new units to be maintained, along with existing ones and their decade-plus backlog of maintenance, shortages of staff, and morale problems, this is ridiculous.

Sorry, but I'd rather have no more NPS units at all than an increased NPS fighting over the same budget pie.

Wilderness areas? That generally requires little extra money, whether they're within the NPS, or the Forest Service, or BLM, so that's different.

Tule Spring Fossil Bed, a proposed new national monument.
But, no, this is why I disagree with environmental organizations, especially Gang Green ones, touting and trumpeting this news.

In the new Congress, you will not get significant additional funding. You may get cuts, as far as I know.

I've even exchanges emails with a couple of the Gang Green groups, when they were first touting this. On the one group that responded, the answer was, "We'll worry about the money later."

Well, even when Dems held both houses of Congress the past six years, along with the presidency, the NPS hasn't gotten money to fully clean up its backlog, let alone enough to improve current operating needs. Why would you think this will change in the next two years, or maybe even beyond?

Per the National Parks Conservation Association, here's the skinny on the skinniness:
The budget to operate national parks has been cut nearly eight percent, or nearly $190 million in today’s dollars, compared to just four years ago; national parks also suffer from an annual operations shortfall of more than a half-billion dollars. Recent cuts have forced national park superintendents to delay the opening of parks or park roads; close visitor centers, picnic areas, and campgrounds; decrease the number of rangers to protect and maintain parks; and limit the number of educational programs. 

I agree that "no new parks" is a conservative talking point; nonetheless, if you asked me to choose one of two on "new parks" or "more money," I know which I'd want. 

Heck, as this story about Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area illustrates, we'd be better off cutting some Park Service sites. Give the NRAs to the BLM, as a starter, at least if the Park Service is treating them like weak sisters. (That said, ones that don't have non-recreational value, unlike Glen Canyon, should unilaterally be moved to BLM.)

Beyond that, many non-Gang Green groups, like Center for Biological Diversity, don't like the current bill. Too many giveaways, they say, as High Country News notes.

And, they're right. A permanent speed-up in BLM oil and gas permitting, and an extension from 10 to 20 years on grazing leases? Ugh.

Anyway, whether more good than bad, or more bad than good on the bill, what good is a post like this without a graphic? Especially if it's a big one?


Open and Shut? - NPCA Infographic