Photo of the day

From N&O’s gallery of yesterday’s best:

Fire rises over the Amuay refinery near Punto Fijo, Venezuela, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012. A huge explosion rocked Venezuela’s biggest oil refinery, killing at least 24 people and injuring dozens, an official said. (AP Photo/Daniela Primera)

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Stuff to read today

1) Nice piece by Timothy Egan about the crazies who are in charge of Congressional committees and subcommittees.  Here’s one example:

We’re currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept.  But to Republicans in Congress, it’s all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change,  Representative John Shimkus of Illinois is —  you guessed it  — a climate-change denier.

At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length.  It’s worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.

2) Yglesias on Apple’s patent “victory.”  That is victory for Apple, loss for consumers and common sense use of patents:

To look specifically at what I’m unhappy about, the jury upheld several Apple patents which amount to saying that if there are now-standard elements of touchscreen user interfaces that Apple did first in iOS now only iOS can use them. Another aspect of the case relates to the allegation that Samsung products have been violating Apple’s “trade dress” by basically looking too much like iPhones. That I’m less concerned about. What troubles me is the verdict upholding the US Patent and Trademark Office’s decision to say that, for example, Apple should have a legal monopoly on the pinch-to-zoom feature which I think is a great example of how the modern-day patent system has gone awry.

Think about cars and you’ll see that, of course, lots of different companies make cars. But they all have some very similar user interface elements. In particular, there’s a steering wheel that you turn left and right to shift the wheels and there’s a gas pedal and breaks that you hit with your right foot. Imagine if the way the automobile industry worked was that each car maker had to devise a unique user interface. So maybe GM cars would have a steering wheel, but Toyotas would have a joystick, and Honda you would steer with your feel and use your hands to control the gas and breaks.

In some sense there’d be “more innovation” in this world since there’d be this kind of arbitrary proliferation of user interfaces. But in a more important sense there’d be less competition, since there are only so many viable ways for a person to interact with a car and a lot of those ways suck.

3) Krugman wonderfully sticks it to Paul Ryan for his Ayn Rand fanboy-dom:

nd the Ryan fiscal program clearly reflects Randian notions. As I documented in my last column, Mr. Ryan’s reputation for being serious about the budget deficit is completely undeserved; his policies would actually increase the deficit. But he is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for “moochers.”

This last point is important. In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”

Somehow, I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.

4) Really nice guide to the five types of Republican voters (featuring nice images and video of cute elephants).  Do check it out.

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