Crooks and Liars found a heart-wrenching post from a social worker discussing the front-line effects of the recession on the most vulnerable among us. Although hard to read, we need more stories like this (e.g.) and less on how previously free-wheeling Wall Streeters are being mildly inconvenienced.

I have had a ringside seat to the economic downturn this year. It is not an abstraction to me. The folks at the bottom are always the first to feel the pinch, when it comes. Clients of the agency I work at come through our doors every day requesting assistance with basic necessities like food, clothing, shelter and medications. As the year has progressed and New York State has chosen to repeatedly victimize its most vulnerable citizens, it has become more difficult to help people meet these needs. I have visited food banks with empty shelves, been told clients were ineligible for help when I knew they were and had to challenge these decisions. I have sat with clients while their applications for public assistance were reviewed by fraud investigators at social services.

Our local social services department actually hired fraud investigators at the same time that it was laying off child protective workers demonstrating conclusively where our values lie and how genuinely mean spirited we are as a people. At the federal level Social Security routinely denies people eligible for benefits in the hopes that they will not reapply. Many people who receive benefits must hire a lawyer before social security will concede that they are indeed eligible. As the resources have become more limited, the level of scrutiny and inhumanity has risen accordingly.

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I came across this discovery a few months ago and am still absolutely fascinated. In essence, scientists have discovered a mass of galaxies at the edge of the observable universe* that all appear to be pulled in a particular direction by what they hypothesize may be some enormously massive object.

Patches of matter in the universe [i.e. galaxy clusters] seem to be moving at very high speeds and in a uniform direction that can’t be explained by any of the known gravitational forces in the observable universe. Astronomers are calling the phenomenon “dark flow.” The stuff that’s pulling this matter must be outside the observable universe, researchers conclude…

Scientists discovered the flow by studying some of the largest structures in the cosmos: giant clusters of galaxies. These clusters are conglomerations of about a thousand galaxies, as well as very hot gas which emits X-rays. By observing the interaction of the X-rays with the cosmic microwave background (CMB), which is leftover radiation from the Big Bang, scientists can study the movement of clusters.

The scientists deduced that whatever is driving the movements of the clusters must lie beyond the known universe.

A theory called inflation posits that the universe we see is just a small bubble of space-time that got rapidly expanded after the Big Bang. There could be other parts of the cosmos beyond this bubble that we cannot see.

In these regions, space-time might be very different, and likely doesn’t contain stars and galaxies (which only formed because of the particular density pattern of mass in our bubble). It could include giant, massive structures much larger than anything in our own observable universe. These structures are what researchers suspect are tugging on the galaxy clusters, causing the dark flow.

“The structures responsible for this motion have been pushed so far away by inflation, I would guesstimate they may be hundreds of billions of light years away, that we cannot see even with the deepest telescopes because the light emitted there could not have reached us in the age of the universe,” Kashlinsky said in a telephone interview. “Most likely to create such a coherent flow they would have to be some very strange structures, maybe some warped space time. But this is just pure speculation.”

While you’re on the topic, I suggest reading up on the Great Attractor.

* – Note the article’s description of the “observable universe”:

When scientists talk about the observable universe, they don’t just mean as far out as the eye, or even the most powerful telescope, can see. In fact there’s a fundamental limit to how much of the universe we could ever observe, no matter how advanced our visual instruments. The universe is thought to have formed about 13.7 billion years ago. So even if light started travelling toward us immediately after the Big Bang, the farthest it could ever get is 13.7 billion light-years in distance. There may be parts of the universe that are farther away (we can’t know how big the whole universe is), but we can’t see farther than light could travel over the entire age of the universe.

Just ponder that for a second. Even though I’m something of an armchair cosmography hobbyist, I still so rarely sit back and think deeply about the contours of our universe as such. Reflect on the fact that there is an entire portion of our universe that is impossible for us to ever observe (although technically in our past light cone) but yet still appears to be exerting influence on the parts of the universe we can see.

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It just sounds too good to be true:

In early December, in a highly unusual move, a federal court in New York agreed to rehear a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft brought by a Canadian citizen, Maher Arar. (Arar was a victim of the administration’s extraordinary rendition program: he was seized by U.S. officials in 2002 while in transit through Kennedy Airport and deported to Syria, where he was tortured.) Then, on Dec. 15, the Supreme Court revived a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld by four Guantánamo detainees alleging abuse there—a reminder that the court, unlike the White House, will extend Constitutional protections to foreigners at Gitmo.

Finally, in the same week the Senate Armed Service Committee, led by Carl Levin and John McCain, released a blistering report specifically blaming key administration figures for prisoner mistreatment and interrogation techniques that broke the law. The bipartisan report reads like a brief for the prosecution—calling, for example, Rumsfeld’s behavior a “direct cause” of abuse. Analysts say it gives a green light to prosecutors, and supplies them with political cover and factual ammunition. Administration officials, with a few exceptions, deny wrongdoing. Vice President Dick Cheney says there was nothing improper with U.S. interrogation techniques—”we don’t do torture,” he repeated in an ABC interview on Dec. 15. The government blamed the worst abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, on a few bad apples…

A growing group of advocates are now instead calling for a South African-style truth and reconciliation commission. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that although “we know what went on,” “knowledge and a change in practices are not sufficient: there must be acknowledgment and repudiation as well.” He favors the creation of a nonpartisan commission of inquiry with a professional staff and subpoena power, calling it “the only way to definitively repudiate this ugly chapter in U.S. history.”

But for those interested in tougher sanctions, one other possibility looms. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and author of “The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld,” points out that over 20 countries now have universal jurisdiction laws that would allow them to indict U.S. officials for torture if America doesn’t do it itself.

I am of two minds on the issue of prosecuting Bush Administration officials for the war crimes that they so obviously committed. I believe that in specific instances where we have actionable evidence against a particular individual (e.g., Vice President Cheney brazenly admitting that he authorized and approved of torture), a prosecution should be untertaken.

However, in the more nebulous realm of who-authorized-what-when, I can understand the incoming Obama administration’s hesitancy to be seen as opening wide the floodgates of Democratic Prosecution Fiesta 2009. In the broader case against the wide-ranging illegality of Bush and his cronies, I agree with the approach of a South Africa-style truth and reconcilation commission. The biggest thing we need to do in this effort is bring sunshine to the darkest, dankest corners of criminality the Bush administration let loose upon the world. Although stringing all of the evildoers up by their toes for their crimes would be satisfying in the extreme, if we are somehow able to find out the full extent of America’s crimes in the War on Terror (TM), this would probably be enough for me.

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Still-President Bush can’t be bothered to cut his final vacation short by a few days to address the hundreds of people killed in the latest round of violence and attacks in Gaza (or even appear at a presser):

Even an emerging crisis in the Middle East, one he pledged to resolve just 13 months ago, has not drawn President George W. Bush from his final vacation before leaving office. Despite his personal pledge at Annapolis last year to broker a deal between Israel and the Palestinians before 2009, this weekend Bush sent his spokesmen to comment in his stead.

The spokesman’s statement, while blaming Hamas for the outbreak of violence, did not signal that the United States is prepared to step in to resolve the conflict, suggesting that this president is content to leave the matter for his successor.

Since departing Washington for Crawford on Friday, President Bush has made no attempt to be seen in public. In fact, he has yet to leave his ranch.

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ABOUT YOUR AUTHOR

Your author, who goes by the pen name Metavirus, started blogging in 2007 at Why We Need Obama, a moderately successful blog that followed the 2008 election cycle.

After the election, Metavirus lowered a more permanent anchor into the blogosphere. Library Grape covers a broad range of topics, including politics, atheism, religion, technology, physics, literature and other assorted themes that cross his mind.

If you’re interested in reading more about your author’s political evolution over the years, please check out the following posts: A Heartfelt Testament from Someone Who Lost Faith in the GOP and The Intellectual Bankruptcy of Today’s GOP.

ABOUT LIBRARY GRAPE

A “library grape” is a fictional fruit introduced in Neal Stephenson‘s latest epic novel Anathem. In essence, the library grape is a pure aggregation of the genetic codes of all naturally-occurring grape species that was perfected over time by the diligent efforts of a sect of cloistered monks.

Here’s how the library grape is described on Page 175 of Anathem (a few words of Stephenson’s argot are replaced with something more approachable):

The library grape had been sequenced by the [monks] of the [Monastery] of the Lower Vrone in the days before the Second Sack. Every cell carried in its nucleus the genetic sequences, not just of a single species, but of every naturally occurring species of grape that the Vrone [monks] had ever heard of — and if those people hadn’t heard of a grape, it wasn’t worth knowing about. In addition, it carried excerpts from the genetic sequences of thousands of different berries, fruits, flowers, and herbs: just those snatches of data that, when invoked by the biochemical messaging system of the host cell, produced flavorful molecules. Each nucleus was an archive, vaster than the Great Library of Baz, storing codes for shaping almost every molecule nature had ever produced that left an impression on the human olfactory system.

A given vine could not express all of those genes at once — it could not be a hundred different species of grape at the same time — so it “decided” which of those genes to express — what grape to be, and what flavors to borrow — based on some impossibly murky and ambiguous data-gathering and decision-making process that the Vrone [monks] had hand-coded into its proteins. No nuance of the sun, soil, weather, or wind was too subtle for the library grape to take into account. Nothing that the cultivator did, or failed to do, went undetected or failed to have consequences in the flavor of the juice. The library grape was legendary for its skill in penetrating the subterfuges of winemakers who were so arrogant as to believe they could trick it into being the same grape two seasons in a row.

In some small way, this blog will attempt to mimic the library grape by pulling together as many variegated strains of knowledge that your author, in his often-cloistered state, can manage. As a winemaker of sorts, he will try to take into account the nuances of the sun, soil, weather, and wind of our age and restrain himself from being so arrogant as to believe that this blog will be the same two seasons in a row.

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LIBRARY GRAPE

A “library grape” is a fictional fruit introduced in Neal Stephenson‘s latest epic novel Anathem. In essence, the library grape is a pure aggregation of the genetic codes of all naturally-occurring grape species that was perfected over time by the diligent efforts of a sect of cloistered monks.

Here’s how the library grape is described on Page 175 of Anathem (for the sake of clarity, a few words of Stephenson’s argot are replaced with something more approachable):

The library grape had been sequenced by the [monks] of the [Monastery] of the Lower Vrone in the days before the Second Sack. Every cell carried in its nucleus the genetic sequences, not just of a single species, but of every naturally occurring species of grape that the Vrone [monks] had ever heard of — and if those people hadn’t heard of a grape, it wasn’t worth knowing about. In addition, it carried excerpts from the genetic sequences of thousands of different berries, fruits, flowers, and herbs: just those snatches of data that, when invoked by the biochemical messaging system of the host cell, produced flavorful molecules. Each nucleus was an archive, vaster than the Great Library of Baz, storing codes for shaping almost every molecule nature had ever produced that left an impression on the human olfactory system.

A given vine could not express all of those genes at once — it could not be a hundred different species of grape at the same time — so it “decided” which of those genes to express — what grape to be, and what flavors to borrow — based on some impossibly murky and ambiguous data-gathering and decision-making process that the Vrone [monks] had hand-coded into its proteins. No nuance of the sun, soil, weather, or wind was too subtle for the library grape to take into account. Nothing that the cultivator did, or failed to do, went undetected or failed to have consequences in the flavor of the juice. The library grape was legendary for its skill in penetrating the subterfuges of winemakers who were so arrogant as to believe they could trick it into being the same grape two seasons in a row.

In some small way, this blog will attempt to mimic the library grape by pulling together as many variegated strains of knowledge that your author, in his often-cloistered state, can manage. As a winemaker of sorts, he will try to take into account the nuances of the sun, soil, weather, and wind of our age and restrain himself from being so arrogant as to believe that this blog will be the same two seasons in a row.

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The following is a list of interesting quotes that have either appeared on Library Grape or otherwise crossed your author’s mind (in no particular order).

Ignorance

“The second greatest trick the Devil ever played was to convince folks that being good, and having good intentions, means that you can’t do evil.” – von

“We live on an island surrounded by a sea of ignorance. As our island of knowledge grows, so does the shore of our ignorance.” – John Archibald Wheeler

Timeless Wisdom

“In all men is evil sleeping; the good man is he who will not awaken it, in himself or in other men.” – Mary Renault

Civil Rights

“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.” Tolstoy

“What Dr. King understood is that if just one person chose to walk instead of ride the bus, those walls of oppression would not be moved. But maybe if a few more walked, the foundation might start to shake. If a few more women were willing to do what Rosa Parks had done, maybe the cracks would start to show. If teenagers took freedom rides from North to South, maybe a few bricks would come loose. Maybe if white folks marched because they had come to understand that their freedom too was at stake in the impending battle, the wall would begin to sway. And if enough Americans were awakened to the injustice; if they joined together, North and South, rich and poor, Christian and Jew, then perhaps that wall would come tumbling down, and justice would flow like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” — Barack Obama

Rule of Law

“No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” – U.N. Convention Against Torture, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

“When poor and ordinary Americans who commit crimes are prosecuted and imprisoned, that is Justice. When the same thing is done to Washington elites, that is Ugly Retribution.” — Glenn Greenwald

“War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’.” — President George W. Bush, March 13, 2003

“If you were to present to me a hypothetical country where the government holds an official to account for perjury but refuses to hold another official to account for the willful violation of the country’s constitution, criminal laws and international treaties that prohibit torturing people, I wouldn’t find this hypothetical country very appealing.” — Monitor @ Library Grape

“Coercing the supposed state’s criminals into confessions and using such confessions so coerced from them against them in trials has been the curse of all countries. It was the chief iniquity, the crowning infamy of the Star Chamber, and the Inquisition, and other similar institutions. The Constitution recognized the evils that lay behind these practices and prohibited them in this country. . . . The duty of maintaining constitutional rights of a person on trial for his life rises above mere rules of procedure, and wherever the court is clearly satisfied that such violations exist, it will refuse to sanction such violations and will apply the corrective.” — U.S. Supreme Court, Fisher v. State, 145 Miss. 116, 134, 110 So. 361, 365 (1935)

Contemporary Politics

“Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect.” – Conservative Economic Historian Bruce Bartlett

“Trying to analyze the ‘birther’ phenomenon would mean taking it seriously, and taking it seriously would be like arguing about the color of unicorns.” – Eugene Robinson

“Hopefully, the next time the nation faces a grave national security crisis, we will listen to the people who were right, not the people who were wrong, and heed those who reported the truth, not those who served as stenographers to liars.” – Dan Froomkin

“My Republican friends keep asking me when I’ll take the GOP seriously again and why I’ve stopped writing about ticky-tak political gamesmanship and GOP consultant tricks. When they’re a serious party with serious ideas, then we can talk.” — Marc Ambinder

“It is important to remember that every defense dollar spent to over-insure against a remote or diminishing risk … is a dollar not available to take care of our people, reset the force, win the wars we are in, and improve capabilities in areas where we are underinvested and potentially vulnerable. That is a risk I will not take.” — Defense Secretary Robert Gates

“How weird is our world that Jim Cramer is on TV baking pie and Martha Stewart is the one who went to jail for securities fraud?” — John Stewart during his epic smackdown of Jim Cramer

“I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.” — John Cole

“Al Qaeda could never have destroyed our commitment to liberty, human rights, and the rule of law by itself. It could only hope that we would respond unthinkingly and do the dirty work ourselves. We obliged them, and in so doing did a lot more damage to ourselves than al Qaeda could ever have dreamed of doing.” — Hilzoy

“[Bush and his cronies] need to accept that the best they can hope for is to end up among history’s inept clowns instead of history’s villains. It’s not much, but it’s all they’ve got.” — Digby

“Sarah Palin is like that crazy relative who comes over and doesn’t want to leave. She just seemingly does not want to leave the limelight. You know, maybe a better way to put it, one of my friends said, ‘You know, she’s like Sanjayah from American Idol. When is the fifteen minutes gonna be up?'” — Democratic Strategist Chris Kofinas

“I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.” — Republican Margaret Chase Smith, 1950 Declaration of Conscience

“[T]he only public events that have so far featured his absurd choice of running mate have shown her to be a deceiving and unscrupulous woman utterly unversed in any of the needful political discourses but easily trained to utter preposterous lies and to appeal to the basest element of her audience.” — Christopher Hitchens on Sarah Palin

Timeless Politics

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” – H. L. Mencken

“In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.” — Michael McFaul

“Leading the populace to believe that its opinion matters is extraordinarily dangerous for a regime that has no intention of listening.” — Dish Reader

“The prince is like the boat, the people, like the water. Water can support the boat, but can also overturn it.” — a sentiment appropos to the public’s current recession-fueled unrest by Confucius.

“True patriotism exists where citizens love their country enough to hold it accountable.” — Minister Oliver Thomas

“All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side … The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” — George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism

Religion

“In his native state, man may be a brutish and bloodthirsty creature, but it is when man is imbued with the notion that he is doing God’s Work does he truly become a monster.” — Metavirus

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“Say what you will about the fundamentally ludicrous tenets of Christianity, the thing that really gets to me about all of this is the cafeteria approach to the beliefs Christians claim to hold (i.e. “Well, today I’ll have the anti-gay-marriage salad, stem-cell parfait and a diet coke, but please hold the deadly-sin-of-greed garnish, sex-before-marriage breadsticks and bearing-false-witness lemon squares.”).” — Library Grape

“Religion only happens because the human brain’s capacity for pattern recognition is slightly overdeveloped.” — Tim F. at Balloon Juice

“Religion is fundamentally opposed to everything I hold in veneration – courage, clear thinking, honesty, fairness, and above all, love of the truth.” — H.L. Mencken, “Autobiographical Notes” (1925)

“Fear prophets and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them, often before them, at times instead of them.” — Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

Science

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.” — Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, 1871

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