Periodical cicadas best known for their 17-year-long life cycle are emerging four years early in several Atlantic states, including North Caroline and Maryland.

The timing of the emergence is determined during the first five years of the underground development of the juvenile cicadas. Gene Kritsky of the College of Mount St. Joseph and his students have been digging up the insects each year to monitor their growth. They found many cicadas growing faster than expected and predicted their early emergence back in 2000.

The year's emergence is the fifth 17-year cicada brood arriving early. Kritsky described the early appearance of Brood I in 1995 in eastern Ohio, predicted the early appearance of Brood X. Brood XIII appeared early in Chicago in 2003 and Brood XIV accelerated in parts of Indiana and Ohio in 2004. This year's acceleration is overlapping with the distribution of Brood II.

Kritsky's paper to be published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science suggests that mild winters affect trees that young cicadas feed upon, messing with the insects' timekeeping.

In other words, this phenomenon might be another biological response to warming global temperatures.

Anyone witnessing cicadas this year is asked to report the sighting on this mapping website.

If Obama wants a way to talk about race without, you know, talking about race, here's a thought: criminal justice reform and mothers behind bars.

From CNN:

Exciting news today!  It's Inkblot's tenth birthday!

Sort of.  We don't really know when he was born, of course, but we brought him home from the Mission Viejo Animal Shelter on July 10, 1999.  He was about two months old at the time, so I figure he was born on May 10.  However, just as federal holidays all fall on a Monday, around here cat birthdays are observed on Friday.  So today we celebrate!

But how?  Good question.  I could buy him a trout or something, but Inkblot is such a doofus he'd just ignore it.  If it doesn't come out of a can or a bag, he's not interested.  I could dress him up, but that's a nonstarter too.  So instead, he gets Friday Catblogging all to himself this week.  His official portrait is below.  Marian says it makes him look fat.  I say: magnificent and visionary, gazing toward a prosperous future with a chicken in every pot and preheated blankets for all.

Bonus trivia: Inkblot shares his birthday with absurdly successful science fiction writer/blogger John Scalzi.  In fact, if you convert human to cat years at the approved ratio of 4:1, they'll be exactly the same age on Sunday.  I think this means John should write a book about him.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the growth in harsh sentencing and parole restrictions are filling the nation’s prisons with old and infirm prisoners. While these prisoners couldn’t do much damage if they  tried, they are rarely shown any mercy, and there is little interest in alternatives such as letting them out for monitored house arrest as they near death, so that they can spend their final moments in the “free world.”

The Shreveport Times earlier this year profiled one such prisoner, Douglas Dennis, 73, a severely ill, wheelchair bound inmate at the Lousiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Dennis had been convicted of killing an accountant in the Shreveport city jail in 1957 and killing another inmate at Angola in the 1960s, and was serving two life sentences. In January, he appeared before the parole board, asking for clemency on the basis of  his recent good record and good works at Angola, and his age and health problems, saying he wanted to be set free before he died. The request–which his lawyer called his “last chance,” since it only happens once every five years–was unanimously rejected by the board. 

As the paper reported, his case was far from unusual:

Louisiana’s prison system holds 5,023 adult offenders over age 50 — more than three times the number in 1997, when about 1,500 inmates over age 50 were in the system. Age 50 is considered geriatric by corrections standards. Hard lives of drug abuse and poor health can make a 50-year-old inmate appear 10 or 20 years older, experts say….

Nationally, fewer than 5 percent of older inmates who are released commit new crimes. In Louisiana, of all inmates who were released in 2003 and who later returned to prison, only 1.3 percent were age 50 or older. For inmates age 55 or older, that figure drops to 0.6 percent, according to Louisiana Department of Corrections data as of June 30, 2008. By comparison, the highest recidivism rate for inmates released in 2003 was 9.9 percent for two age groups — 21-24 and 25-29.

At Angola, some 85 to 90 percent of those imprisoned die within its walls. Living death is such a matter of fact within Angola that the place has a hospice to ease the final passage, an elaborate funeral setup, and a large graveyard. Angola’s notorious warden, Burl Cain, has made it clear that he believes, quite literally, that the only way out of the place should be through the redempton found in embracing Christ; he has made it his mission to bring salvation to prisoners facing death by natural causes, as well as by lethal injection in Angola’s death house.  As a result of his ministry, Cain has become the subject of heroic profiles in evangelical publications, and Angola has become a popular stop for Christian fundamentalist groups, who are welcomed on tours.

Who's responsible for damaging AIG's brand? No, it's not a trick question. I ask because the insurance company's latest SEC filings (h/t Footnoted) suggest that the press, along with government officials and members of the public at large, is sullying the firm's good name, which is in turn impacting AIG's business prospects. Like me, you probably thought that AIG wrecked its own rep, by, you know, engaging in the irresponsible transactions that ultimately led to its near collapse and subsequent taxpayer funded rescue. Wrong. As the company explains in its latest 10-Q:

Adverse publicity and public reaction to events concerning AIG has had and may continue to have a material adverse effect on AIG. Since September 2008, AIG has been the subject of intense scrutiny and extensive comment by global news media, officials of governments and regulatory authorities around the world and segments of the public at large in the communities that AIG serves. At times, there has been strong criticism of actions taken by AIG, its management and its employees and of transactions in which AIG has engaged. In a few instances, such as the public reaction in March 2009 over the payment of retention awards to AIGFP employees, this criticism has included harassment of individual AIG employees or public protest affecting AIG facilities.

To date, this scrutiny and extensive commentary has adversely affected AIG by damaging AIG’s business, reputation and brand among current and potential customers, agents and other distributors of AIG products and services, thereby reducing sales of AIG products and services, and resulting in an increase in AIG policyholder surrenders and non-renewals of AIG policies. This scrutiny and commentary has also undermined employee morale and AIG’s ability to motivate and retain its employees. If this level of scrutiny and criticism continues or increases, AIG’s business may be further adversely affected and its ability to retain and motivate employees further harmed.

In January, Sandy Tsao, an army officer based in St. Louis, came out to her bosses as gay. She lost her job, of course—she's being discharged on May 19. But she's trying to take the discriminatory Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy down with her. Back in January, Tsao wrote a letter to President Barack Obama, asking him to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. On Tuesday, she received a personal, hand-written reply to her letter. "Although it will take some time to complete (partly because it needs Congressional action), I intend to fulfill my commitment!" Obama wrote. He was talking about his commitment to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. But gay soldiers like Dan Choi and Sandy Tsao are probably wondering how long "some time" will be. Choi, a West Point Graduate and Arabic linguist, received notice on Thursday that the Army National Guard is also about to fire him for being gay. He will be the first Arabic linguist fired during the Obama administration due to the DADT policy.

Muddling Through

Do we need to take drastic action to save the American banking system?  Or can we just let weak banks "muddle through," using their operating profits to slowly but steadily improve their solvency over time?  The latter was the Japanese approach, and Matt Yglesias points out today that there are some revisionist arguments going around that, actually, Japan didn't do all that badly.  So maybe muddling isn't so bad after all.

Along the same lines, John Hempton once pointed out to me that Thailand followed the same approach after their currency crisis in 1997, and it worked fine.

Then again, Sweden and Norway needed massive intervention to save their banking system in the early 90s.  Muddling wouldn't have worked for them.

So it all depends.  That's not a very exciting conclusion, is it?  But that's life in the world of high finance.  It's just like Hollywood: nobody knows anything.

From the Hollywood Reporter:

Executives at the Big Four broadcast networks are seething behind the scenes that President Obama has cost them about $30 million in cumulative ad revenue this year with his three primetime news conference pre-emptions.

Now top network execs quietly are hoping that Fox's well-publicized rejection of the president's April 29 presser will serve as precedent for denying future White House requests for prime airtime.

"We will continue to make our decisions on White House requests on a case-by-case basis, but the Fox decision gives us cover to reject a request if we feel that there is no urgent breaking news that is going to be discussed," said one network exec, who, like all, would not speak for attribution fearing repercussions from the administration.

....Even more irksome, the White House is bailing out bankers, insurers and carmakers, but nary a nickel has gone to the struggling media industry.

I'm actually on the networks' side here: it's really not clear to me why they should be obligated to blanket the airwaves with presidential press conferences these days.  Something like 90% of all households now get cable or satellite reception, which means they can watch this stuff on CNN or CSPAN regardless of what the nets do.  And very little news is made at these things.

So why not rotate?  Let cable cover prime time press conferences as part of their normal fare, and let the Big Four take turns.  The days are long gone when we could expect the entire nation to stop what it was doing and listen raptly whenever the president decides to take a few questions from the press corps.

At the same time, if the nets really are irked about not getting any bailout money — well, break out the tiny violins.  You know what to do with them.

Did the CIA tell Nancy Pelosi about waterboarding back in 2002, when she was the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee?  The chart on the right, provided by the CIA, is the sum total of the evidence at hand: on September 4, 2002, Pelosi and Porter Goss met with CIA briefers, who describe the meeting this way:

Briefing on EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] including EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities, and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed.

Pelosi says waterboarding was never mentioned.  And the CIA document, which specifically mentions waterboarding in a later briefing given to Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, doesn't say it was brought up in the Pelosi meeting, even though Zubaydah had been waterboarded dozens of times by then.

Greg Sargent seems to think this means Pelosi is probably telling the truth.  Waterboarding a guy 80 times isn't something that just slips your mind, after all, so the fact that it's not mentioned probably means Pelosi was never briefed about it.

Unfortunately, I suspect we'll simply never know for sure — although Sam Stein reports today that a senior aide to another member of Congress says that waterboarding was never mentioned at other briefings held around the same time.  So right now, all we can do is guess.  Here's mine: both sides are probably twisting the truth.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if the CIA was a little cagey during its briefings in 2002, but I also wouldn't be surprised if members of Congress are now being a little cagey about exactly what they were told at the time.  The motivations on both sides are just too strong to expect otherwise.

Yesterday, I wrote about Clifford Asness, a hedge fund manager who is upset with President Barack Obama's plan for the Chrysler reorganization. Asness is upset because he says that senior creditors (including many hedge funds, although not his own) are being screwed in the deal. Anyway, the post provoked a long, thoughtful response from commenter ObamaDonor, which I'd like to highlight here (I can't link to it directly because ObamaDonor isn't a registered user of the site):

"Like Rick Santelli, Asness doesn't seem to understand that super-rich finance guys are not exactly the most popular demographic right now."

Actually, if you read the letter, you'll see this is exactly Asness' point. The President singled out hedge funds because they are unpopular, not because they have any special obligation to fund UAW pension shortfalls. Most of the Chrysler secured lenders were not hedge funds, and most hedge funds were not Chrysler secured lenders. But attacking bondholders is not smart when millions of not-so-rich people have lost money they thought was safe in bonds. So attack the nearest unpopular surrogate.


The secured bondholders thought they would do better in bankruptcy, as is their legal right. That's not asking for a bailout, it's asking for enforcement of a contract. The President wanted them to give up that extra value and give it to the UAW. He can want that, maybe it's even good public policy, but it's wrong to shake down a specific small group to pay for it....


Obama is a good President, but this was stupid and wrong. He should be called on it by his supporters, even more than by his detractors. Yes, it's politics and usual, but I didn't vote for politics as usual. Yes, this is a tough time with a lot of hard decisions, I don't expect them all to be correct. But if he doesn't fix the mistakes, soon none of them will be correct.