Monthly Archives: February 2013

Return to Oz: In Australia, $7.75 an hour is for children

Return to Oz

In Australia, $7.75 an hour is for children

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 26th 2013

 

About 18 months ago, I wrote about Australia’s minimum wage laws, and with Congress poised to reject out of hand a presidential suggestion that the minimum wage should be raised to $9 an hour in the world’s richest country, it’s time to revisit Australia.

I wrote at the time, “Australia passed the Fair Work Act of 2009, which took effect in the form of the National Employment Standards on January 1, 2010. The act covers roughly 2/3rds of Australia’s workers (about 27% of the workforce are deemed “casual workers” defined by a tautology; they are called casual workers because they are paid as casual workers). Some of the provisions are, by American standards, utterly amazing.”

The minimum wage was $569.90 per week, then. Now it’s $606.40, based on a 38 hour work week, or $15.96 an hour. “Casual employees” (part timers) get a minimum of $21.66 an hour, which encourages employers to hire full-time workers and save money.

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Astrosmash – Space is out to get us

Astrosmash

Space is out to get us

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 15th, 2013

OK, it’s official. The ZNN news service has just announced that this morning’s meteoroid strike in Chelyabinsk, Russia, has knocked earth off its axis, with the result that the south pole will be constantly facing directly toward the sun. No more sunrises and sunsets.

But it’s a moot point, because it also knocked the earth out of orbit, and it is now receding from the sun. Folks are advised to exhale as much as they can in order to increase the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere so we can stay warm. It’s a little-understood factoid that CO2 actually warms the air. Radioactive chemical reactions or something.

But that’s not important. Earth may be spiraling out of control toward the stars, some of which are a surprisingly long way away, but it’s going to collide with Pluto. That will warm us up. That’s the good news. But it will kill anything left alive after the mutant space radiation sickness.

Oh, did I forget to mention the mutant space radiation sickness? The meteorite had radioactive space germs on it, some sort of space flu but with plutonium, and it’s going to drive us all insane. We will believe in Republican economic policies, with the result that 99% of us will starve before we hit Pluto. That’s the not-so-good news.

Be sure to pass this along to any NRA survivalists you know. They’ll immediately spend the next three months in caves and remote cabins shivering in fear until their food runs out, and be out of our hair for a while. By the time they reappear, naked, shivering, and no longer toilet trained, Chelyabinsk will have fixed up the damages done by the meteoroid (mostly broken windows) and hopefully all the injured will have made full recoveries.

 

What happened there isn’t really that uncommon. Earth gets hit by objects that size two or three times a century on average. Most hit in uninhabited regions, in the oceans or in the millions of square miles where humans are sparse or nonexistent, such as the polar regions or the Sahara. A bigger explosion, generally believed to be a meteor strike, hit in Siberia in 1908. We know about it because the sound traveled half-way around the world, and because we later discovered several hundred miles of forest that had been flattened by the blast. Nobody was hurt in that one.

Oh, darn. I just gave away the whole plot of my next novel. Oh, well. I did it for science.

This meteor will get far more attention (and panic) than that far bigger one just 105 years ago, because hundreds of video cameras caught it, and because people were hurt—about 1,000 people, mostly by flying broken glass—and because at least one building suffered major structural damage.

The strike did beat some pretty impressive odds anyway. Everyone was watching an asteroid that passed within 17,500 miles of earth this morning, at 1125 PST. By astronomical standards, that’s frighteningly close. Think of it being like having a 50-caliber round nick your earlobe. Disconcerting.

The odds of two such events at once have to be in the range of billions to one. Indeed, my immediate response was the belief that this had to be a preceding outrigger of 2012DA14, the asteroid in question. It’s not too unusual for asteroids to have clusters of other, smaller rocks around them. But Russia was on the wrong side of the planet at the time, and in the wrong hemisphere. Analysis of the meteoroid showed that it came from an entirely different direction. Completely unrelated.

What are the odds of such events in one day? Billions to one.

I felt a chill when I heard that it struck in Chelyabinsk. That was the locale of what at the time was the world’s worst nuclear accident (since exceeded by Chernobyl and Fukushima) at the top-secret Soviet plant at Mayak. It didn’t hit in any of the irradiated areas, and other nuclear plants in the region report no significant problems, so it’s ok to exhale again.

We’ve known for the better part of a century now that the solar system is something of a shooting gallery. We’ve come from disbelieving that stones could fall from the sky to realizing that not only are many features of the Moon and Mars the result of objects striking them, but that quite a few of our own planet’s features are the result of such strikes. Oh, and one big strike sixty-six million years ago is why we don’t have any dinosaurs about. We’ve had the strike in Siberia, and more recently, the spectacular collision between parts of the Shoemaker-Levy 9 comet and Jupiter which resulted in earth-sized explosions on the giant planet’s face. Something else hit Jupiter just six months ago with the force of a large nuclear weapon. We still don’t know what that was all about.

Most of the debris in space that might hit us lies between us and the sun. We know it’s there, and we track some of the bigger ones that we know about. Chances are for every one we know about, there’s thousands we haven’t spotted yet. Space is big. Even the space scopes—Hubble, Kepler, and this year’s Gaia—can only cover a tiny fraction of one percent of the sky at any given moment, so they aren’t likely to notice an object big enough to do damage, like this morning’s. Or even something bigger. The one that hit this morning was from inside our orbit. They are hard to predict over a long period of time because as they pass near Mercury, Venus, or Earth, that affects their orbits, and they affect one another in small but sometimes significant amounts.

What are the odds of something really big hitting us, say in the next ten years?

Millions to one against.

But the odds of the two events happening on the same day were even more stacked, more improbable. That should make anyone pause to consider.

We need to work on a more comprehensive way of tracking near earth objects. We might not be able to do anything about something really big that comes our way, but we can deflect smaller stuff that is big enough to cause significant damage.

And we need to keep working to get humans off earth and on other planets. As Heinlein said over half a century ago, we can’t keep on just keeping all our eggs in one basket.

Today’s events show that high odds don’t preclude the possibility that we may be the universe’s next omelet.

SOTU 2013 – Obama brings it

SOTU 2013

Obama brings it

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 12, 2013

I nearly skipped watching the State of the Union speech tonight. They are usually perfunctory affairs, filled with partisan bragging and dutiful applause, wherein a bored-looking president recites that the state of the union is good and we really need to solve some problems, and the members of his party applaud while those in the opposing party sit on their hands and look stern. Like far too many elements of the marketing-driven politics of America, it has become something of a kabuki dance, as formal and as scripted as an 8th century Japanese play. Meetings of the old Soviet politburo must have been like this.

Additionally, I’m still disgusted over the assassination memo. Not much in the way of decent human values there. Is Obama nothing more than a mirror reflection of Vladimir Putin or Wen Jiabao? A thug, posturing as a statesman?

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“Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation”

“Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation”

He looked at me funny. Kill him.

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 5th, 2013

 

Back on February 19. 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing police to round up and throw American citizens into concentration camps because one or more of their ancestors came from Japan.

Even the most fervent admirers of FDR regard this as a shameful blot on his record, a moment of weakness and cowardice from a man who assured the nation it had nothing to fear but fear itself. It was illegal, it was immoral, and it violated the very heart of the Bill of Rights.

There aren’t many apologists around these days for that action, but the few that remain argue that America was facing the greatest threat of her existence from Japan and Germany, and what’s more, those countries had concentration camps and things far worse than concentration camps. That’s true: Hitler and Japan were huge threats, they were utterly vile, and they represented a standard that America was expected to exceed. For the hundred thousand plus Americans who were locked up indefinitely without trial, their property seized and their lives ruined, “We’re not as bad as Hitler” must have seemed scant comfort. In 1943, in a photo-op that would have made Joseph Goebbels moan in envy (and probably did) Eleanor Roosevelt allowed herself to be photographed at the Gila River concentration camp, where she paid a “surprise” visit, surrounded by clean, well-dressed, beaming concentration camp inmates.

That shameful time brings us to 2011, and a 16-page memo entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen Who Is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaeda or An Associated Force.” Basically, this document lays out an Obama policy that anyone accused by the administration of being a member of or supporting al-Qaeda or any other group that scares the administration can be assassinated.

The government can kill anyone they accuse of being involved with the wrong people. They don’t need proof. They don’t need evidence. Just an accusation by any high administration official will do. The order goes out, and the accused dies. In fact, in Yemen, Obama has taken up killing off children of the accused, just in case. They killed an American in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, and then they targeted and killed his 16 year old boy, because a teenage orphan four thousand miles away has to be at least as big a threat to America as the Japanese Navy, or the Nazi U-boats.

That the administration had been targeting and killing people based on gossip, who may or may not be members of outfits that don’t like America, has been pretty well known. Some were Americans. But the administration had always denied that any formal decision to do this had ever been made, and that the deaths were more or less incidental to larger, more legal policies.

They claimed there was no memo. They lied. NBC published it yesterday. http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/020413_DOJ_White_Paper.pdf

The paper is a frightening document, at least as terrifying as the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. It simply states that based on the unsupported opinion of any senior member of Obama’s administration, they have the right to murder you without warning, let alone without due process. And they can kill your family, too. There’s no “minimum requirement.” That’s explicitly stated right at the beginning. The administration needs NO threshold to decide that you must die. If they feel like it, you’re dead, your house blown up by a drone. Just like that. Just by writing this, I might meet that fate.

In amazing verbiage, the memo calmly states that it does not violate international or American law, including laws against assassination. It asserts that the administration has a constitutional mandate to protect Americans by murdering some of them. Just enough to set an example, you understand.

It uses “imminence” as a rationale, the same ruling that permits a police officer to use lethal force if a suspect presents an immediate and real threat to bystanders. It’s a well known fact, of course, that police never overstep this directive and exceed their authority. And politicians are even more moral and circumspect than police. Therefore abuse is inconceivable.

You did know that, right?

The document attempts to figleaf itself by iterating that it must be on foreign soil that these assassinations are carried out. It’s hard to understand how some clown with a bazooka can be an imminent threat to the security of the United States when he’s four thousand miles away. “Foreign soil” – wink, wink, nod, nod, a wink’s as good as a nod to a blind drone, eh?

The document goes on to justify itself by citing Supreme Court decisions, Geneva Convention rules, international and national laws, almost as if any of these things did justify this policy. In fact, none of them do. Not even the ones that deal with treatment of foreign soldiers and other adversaries during conditions of declared war.

This document lays bare the utter moral, ethical and legal depravity behind the so-called “war on terror.” It shows the cowardice and fear that informs US efforts to deal with people who don’t like America and might throw rocks. It is shameful, as shameful as the incarcerations in World War II, as shameful as My Lai or Andersonville.

It’s a disgrace to America, and it’s a disgrace to Obama.

Obama must renounce and abjure this document and the policy it represents, and he must do it now.

If he cannot, he doesn’t belong in the White House. He belongs in prison as a war criminal.

 

Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall

Some nations do it better than others

 

© Bryan Zepp Jamieson

February 3rd 2013

 

One of the huge advantages of the Internet is that you can, with little effort, read foreign media and talk directly to people abroad and get opinions that are often much franker than you would get if you were speaking to the person face to face. (The downside to that is obvious and well-known. But many people don’t realize there’s some good things in that, too.)

An amazing number of people in America still believe that America remains a shining beacon of liberty to the world, an amazing experiment in self-governance that made America the richest and freest country on Earth. You hear this especially in the immigration debate, where it’s assumed that millions stream across the border each year in order to take advantage of the good life that America offers to all.

Seen from the outside, the vision of what 21st century America is is entirely different.

For starters, it isn’t even called “America.” It’s “The US”, “The States” or sometimes, “The USA”. Even people kindly deposed towards this country see it without the filter of decades of propaganda and flag-waving, and they certainly don’t see it as an expression of God’s will. (No sensible American does either, but that’s another story.)

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