Monday, October 31, 2005

Goodbye Griswold

My CCPSWAG is that there is a roughly 75% chance that "Little Nino" Alito will be confirmed as a Supreme, and that, in the event, a 90% chance that he and his model, together with "silent Bob" Thomas and the new CJ will roll back Roe vs. Wade, Griswold vs. Connecticut, the "right of privacy," and more or less anything standing between the American people and untrammeled Presidential and corporate power.

With luck, though, we will still have the vote, and hence a chance to extablish some of these things legislatively. Also, with abortion off the Supreme Court docket, the right-wing coalition of fundamentalists and the super-rich is likely to fall apart, or, better yet, spontaneously combust.

With that in mind, moderates and liberals should plan for the fire and the flood, and be prepared to come out fighting in 2006, 2008, and 2010.

"I grow old, I grow old,

I shall wear my trowsers rolled," said the poet. Maureen Dowd carries on somewhat similarly in her NYT essay What's a Modern Menopausal Woman to do?. OK, that's not really her title - her real title is something about a "Modern Girl." Ostensibly it's about the modern retreat from feminist ideals, but there is a lot of "poor me" in it, though done with her considerable style and wit.

A theme is the plight of the high-achieving woman, which seems to be the result of the apparently biological fact that women prefer higher status men, but men prefer younger subordinate women, thus dooming poor Mo to spinsterdom. Some pretty impressive women have managed to find themselves a man - a couple of Supreme Court Justices, Madame Curie, and the brilliant and very cute Tina Brown. No doubt they are exceptions.

Whatever one thinks of that, there is the fundamental problem that it's tough to have it all. Choices have to be made, and doors close with every choice. I expect it was a feminist mistake to think that overturning the social order once would be enough. A lot of what we are is in our genes, and they can be very insistent. I did like her essay though.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


It's official. My blogging inspiration and occasional opponent Lubos Motl's fame has spread far beyond the esoteric world of theoretical physics. Judy Woodruff's show on CNN cited his commentary earlier this year - and they even spelled his name right, except for that funky little curly thing over the s (that I don't know how to print either).

Congratulations Lubos!

The CNN transcript is here. and Lumo's post is somewhere in the archive here.

Spin Slime

William Safire and David Brooks were on the Timbot's Meet the Press today, spinning their slimy webs. The theme: since nobody has been charged with the original crime, nothing illegal could have happened. By that logic, of course, the mobster who murders all the witnesses to a crime, and is therefore not charged with it, didn't do anything wrong.

Never mind that all the dramatis personnae were defending a completely opposite logic when Clinton was covering up his non-criminal bad behavior.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

. . . And the Horse You Rode in On

Juan Cole has a link to an AP story that aides to Sistani are hinting that the Grand Ayatolla may be getting ready to show the US the door.

Cole says that if Sistani says go, we gotta go. I mainly agree. Not that he could force us out militarily (at least not quickly) but he could put us in a bubble where no one would cooperate with us and every moment out of our cantonments would be hostile.

What Did P and VP Tell Fitz?

Josh Marshall points out this NYT story that says Fitzgerald was spotted outside the offices of the President's personal lawyer. Which reminds me: what did George and Dick tell Fitz during their interviews?

Did they say that they had personally checked Rove and LIbby and had been assured that they wern't involved in the leak? Did they try to kick a little sand into the Umpire's eyes? One of many little things in Fitz's files I love to know more about.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Will Scooter Take a Bullet for the P?

Of course the question presumes that the President in question is part of the either the original plot to out Plame or the subsequent cover-up. Given the fact that W

  1. Denied WH involvement
  2. Promised to fire anyone involved
  3. Reneged on that promise

then either Rove and Libby lied to him or he was in on it all along. It's hard to imagine a President keeping someone on his staff who openly lied to him in a way that proved so highly embarrassing to that President, so I say he is in it.

Proving that will probably require that somebody on the inside talks. Libby might just be a tough enough guy to fight on and maybe go to the slammer, especially if he thinks he has reasonable prospects for a pardon three years from now. I suspect that we shall see.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dear Mr. President

I am so sorry I screwed by being such a nothing and ruining the day of the most bestest President ever. I hope you find another nominee who won't piss off George Will and James Dobson.


Dear Harriet,

F*** George Will and screw Dobson too. And that traitorous slime Frum is going down - we're taking him out.

These SOBs have got to learn that I'm President and I'm staying the course and I don't back down. We've already got guys working on outing Will as a bow tie wearing girlie man.

They think their pretty hot stuff since you pulled out, but wait till they see who I'm nominating next. I'd tell you but it's a secret.


Dear Mr. P.,

Pretty please, tell me oh bestest Prez ever!

Your Obedient Slave,

Dear H.,

(Snigger) This is hard work! Trying to keep a straight face!

(Giggle) I'm nominating Hillary


Pardon Me?

The Bush Family doesn't forget and it doesn't forgive, but it does pardon - at least those who put the family at hazard due to being indicted for crimes in which the President likely participated. Don't forget Christmas of 1992.

If GW is forced to do some pardons, he will probably want to put them off until after the 2006 elections. So lets hope the constitutional right to a speedy trial is enforced - just in case there should be any indictments.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Matters of Moment

Oh dear! Lubos doesn't believe in
conservation of momentum either! And he is a physics prof at Harvard.

If you describe a small piece of land where the surface is flat and translationally symmetric in 2 directions, the two horizontal components of the momentum will be conserved and the vertical component will not.
Welcome to Bizarro World, Professor. You will see many of your friends here.

Who done it?

I was planning to write a long post about one of the big mysteries of the swindle that got us into Iraq - the forged "Yellowcake" documents. But a Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum have it well covered in multiple posts. The Italian paper La Repubblica appears to be breaking this wide open, and lots of roaches are blinking in the sunlight.

Iranians, Italians, ...

and what's that other "Iword" country? All seemingly involved in faking the US into war in Iraq. Complete with Michael "warlover" Ledeen, Larry "indicted and confessed" Franklyn, Doug "stupidest f****** man alive" Feith, and "Iran Contragate" Ghorbanifar, and a cast with more Italians than a Verdi opera. More from Josh Marshall here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Comedy Tonight!

Sealed indictments tomorrow.

Press conference Thursday.

Or so says Steve Clemons.

Monday, October 24, 2005

"I'm Melting! M-e-e-el-ting!"

Like the wicked witch, the Arctic is melting, says the Andrew C. Revkin in The NYT.

OK, so this probably won't surprise many readers, but I just thought I would post this to see if it produced the predictable stream of nonsense and invective from our favorite flat-earth climate skeptic.

Be Still My Heart

According to the NYT, Libby learned about Valerie Wilson from Dick Cheney, but the details here are less exciting.

The Italian Connection

Josh Marshall has been reporting some of the most tantalizing hints about some thing Fitzgerald might have up his sleeve. One of the unsolved mysteries of the phony justifications for the war is the origin of the forged "Yellowcake" memos turned up by Italian intelligence. The administration, Pat Roberts Senate committee, and the Italian government have always resisted any genuine investigation of this pivotal question, but some new smoke is now being emitted by the Italian government.See this and subsequent posts.

There are hints of an involvement by Larry Franklyn, the Defense analysts who has already pleaded guilty to passing secrets to Israel. More here.

That Old Time Religion

Ann Rice, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda and Madonna have all found religion, or maybe it was the other way around. I know I will sleep sounder for knowing it.

Big Lies

The right wing has mastered most of the levers of demagoguery, including that old reliable, the big lie, that told often enough, comes to be believed. One such is the myth that the mainstream media in the US is deeply liberal. Right wing billionaires like Richard Mellon Scaife and Rupert Murdoch have made a religion of promoting this idea, though, to be fair, Murdoch is probably motivated more by money than ideology. Juan Cole has a long post today on how this lie has corrupted the mainstream US press:

The wider context is that Rupert Murdoch, and Richard Mellon Scaife, and other far rightwing billionaires have deeply corrupted our information environment. They are in part responsible for what happened at the NYT.
Intimidated by the relentless attacks on the NYT (including threats from the likes of Ann Coulter), the NYT overcompensated by paying too little attention to where Judy Miller was getting her stories and let her play a cheerleader role for a war when they should have known better.
I spoke last year about the attack Andrew Sullivan launched in Murdoch's London Times on NYT editor Howell Raines for not cheerleading Bush's building Iraq War. Sullivan had been especially incensed that the NYT gave no credence to the Iraqi expatriates on the nuclear issue.

So in this polluted information environment, in which Howell Raines's view of reality, which was perfectly correct, was constantly pilloried by powerful rightwing media as nothing short of treason, there was every incentive to give Judith Miller her head. Remember that the NYT is a commercial publication. All major newspapers were seeing their subscription base shrink. After September 11, the country had moved substantially to the right on national security issues. The Times could easily go bankrupt if it loses touch with the sentiments of the American reading public. There is a lot at stake in the Murdoch et al. assault on the NYT. In its absence, the information environment in the US would be even more rightwing...
Unfortunately, this was another case where the big lie strategy paid off.
In essence, Murdoch, Scaife and other far rightwing super-rich propagandists succeeded in maligning the NYT and in pushing it off its liberal perch even further to the Right. In trying to defend themselves from the charge of treason, Raines and Keller fell into the trap of using Miller's shoddy reporting as a rampart. In the end, it was revealed to be not a rampart but a Trojan Horse for the Right.
Another egregious case is the intimidation of once relatively outspoken CBS news after the National Guard memo's fiasco. My own suspicion is that the whole thing was a Karl Rove disinformation scheme - maybe he will confess after a little water boarding in Gitmo.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I think I had better find some interesting physics or math topic to look into this week. The suspense of the Fitzgerald investigation is too much of a strain for me.

Of course I will be crushed if nothing comes of it, and the crooks walk.

Insider Dealings

Josh Marshall has a post up on the culture in which the Judy Miller affair went down. When the administration is the party spreading anonymously sourced information, when is a newspaper doing its job and when is it just becoming a propaganda arm of the party in power?

Leaks come in many flavors. But we can chart two broad categories. In one falls leaks rooted in individual motivations of conscience, cattiness or revenge, dogged reporting or long-standing relationships between sources and reporters. In another are those leaks best termed 'official', in which the government itself decides to put out a story, but does so through leaks rather than officially. The latter variety is fraught with danger.

The New York Times is one of an extraordinarily small number of news outlets (probably fewer than you have fingers on one hand) that gets those calls.


Atlantic Tropical Storms are named from alphabetical lists of 21 names. There are five such lists, so they repeat every five years. The most severe or destructive storms have their names retired, so there won't be another Camille, or Andrew, or from this years list: Dennis, Emily, Katrina, Rita, or Stan. Wilma also looks likely to be retired. No other year has seen so many retirements.

Having exhausted the list, for the first time ever, tropical storms get greek letter names, and Alpha is churning now in the Caribbean. Alpha is fairly weak and likely to remain so, but imagine what might happen if they had to retire Alpha. The impact on fraternities and sororities alone would be huge. Physicists and mathematicians would find a key notational element suddenly banned - the ripple effect through the economy could be huge.

UPDATE: Alpha remains small and weak, but because its trajectory looks to take it over Haiti and its treeless mountains, the rains it produces might still be rather catastrophic.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Josh Marshall has this hint that smart (or maybe not so smart) money thinks it's all over for WHW Miers' Supreme Court chances. It seems there is an online market in the chances of various political occurences and:

Miers confirmation contract drops in heavy morning trading

At approximately 8:30 EST this morning traders monitoring the Harriet Miers confirmation process becan selling aggressively contracts betting against her confirmation - probability drops from 62 to 20 in heavy trading.

"The Miers confirmation contract was trading at 92, meaning a 92% probability of confirmation last week. Early this week the contract slid to 64 then this morning with no warning droped to 20 in heavy trading", says Mike Knesevitch Communication Director at Intrade.

He also has some hints at possibly corrupt deeds involving Miers
here and here

Girlie Man

George Bush is, so far as I know, unique among American Presidents in surrounding himself with a bodyguard of fawning synchophantic women: Karen Hughes, "White House Wife" (and now Supreme Court nominee) Harriet Miers, and of course, Condileeza Rice, who once famously referred to GW as "my husband."

Perhaps this odd fact will provide some grist for future historians, if any.

Contempt of Congress

Some would argue that Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers for the Suprem Court shows his contempt for Congress. In Congress's case, that contempt has been richly earned of late, but Bush's contempt is much broader. He has demonstrated a contempt for the institutions of democracy, for science and every other form of expertise, for the laws and traditions of the country, for the constitution, and for the soldiers he sends to die. He has been quite open in his distain for notions of human rights and "the opinions of mankind."

I'm not sure what makes such a person. Such types are hardly rare, especially among the more monstrous tyrants of history. Unlike most of them though, he is neither a charismatic leader nor a brilliant tactician. If anything, he seems more like the kind of idiot saint used by certain movements as a figurehead - a puppet now flailing purposelessly while his putative masters are distracted by their own peril.

Black Hole Forming?

Sure, astronomers have noticed lots of Supernovae that probably produce black holes - but those were all in distant galaxies. I'm talking about right here locally, or at least pretty close to the beltway. The x-rays you detect are being given off by an imploding presidency.

First former Powell aide Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson blasted them and now, apparently, loyal Bush retainer and former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft is weighing in. In less public remarks, Brad Delong quotes The Nelson Report:

. . . there is no question from private remarks and public grimaces, some reaching back to early 2001, neither Powell nor Armitage had or has much trust or respect for Rice, and they share with other senior Republican wisemen the conviction that Rumsfeld is quite literally mad, and Cheney a dangerous, vindictive monomaniac.

And Nelson on Wilkerson's statements:
Another topic of emotional importance in Wilkerson's talk, which clearly echoes Powell's personal concerns, was his denunciation of the "torture memo" and its effects, predicting "ten years from now, when we have the whole story, we are going to be ashamed."

What is he hinting? In some of the private chats noted above, Powell and Armitage have quoted President Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney as leading a collective round of ridicule when Powell, at Cabinet meetings, and Armitage, at Subcabinet, sought to put limits on mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo. . .

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Sure You're Paranoid

But are you paranoid enough?

Via Juan Cole, more grist for the Chalabi - Plamegate - Evil Bush family conspiracy mill.

No idea how real this is, but if true, Fitzgerald may be packing a pretty big gun.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

This One is for You, Lubos

From David Ruelle's Chance and Chaos

Mathematical talent often develops at an early age. This is a common observation, to which the great Russian Mathematician Andrei N. Kolmogorov added a curious suggestion. He claimed that the normal psychological development of a person is halted at precisely the time when mathematical talent sets in.

He credited himself with a mental age of 12.

OK Lubos, how old were you when your mathematical precocity showed up?

They Still Love George

in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, according to this Survey USA of Verona New Jersey 50 State Poll. They even kinda still like him in Alaska, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Another five states are equally divided, more or less, but the rest of us aren't fans. Even Texans disapprove by 54% to 42%. Twenty States that voted for him now disapprove.

There are a few details of methodology I'd like to take up with the pollsters. For example, their survey has Idaho blacks favoring Bush by a ratio of roughly 13 to 2. I've been to Idaho, and I'm not sure there *are* 15 black people there. In any case, the poll lists them as composing 0% of the Idaho population, which must have posed sampling problems.

Bizarro World: Physics of the Atmosphere

Sometimes I'm pretty sure that I really am living in Bizarro World. I've recently been having a debate, if you can call it that, with a full Professor of Atmospheric Science on another blog who seriously and for real doesn't believe in conservation of momentum. I haven't had the nerve to ask his opinion on whether or not the Earth is flat.

This is not my first bizarro world encounter with meteorologists. I happened to buy a book by a well known pollution modeller once upon a time, and noticed amoung other peculiarities, that he had incorrectly defined temperature, pressure, and even velocity - ok, the velocity thing was almost minor - he called the components of the velocity vector "scalar velocities". A rather famous book on Dynamic Meteorology still had, in its third edition, completely phony derivations of some elementary results - the sort of mistake that would get you a poor grade in Freshman thermodynamics.

I badgered a meteorologist friend about these last two, and his explanation was that meteorolgy was populated mainly by those who found physics too hard, but I think he was joking.

UPDATE: I have been reading some of the sections on energy and momentum transfer in Dr. Pielke's book on Mesoscale Modeling, and thought, incidentally, that the discussion was exceptionally clear. One point he makes is that except at the surface, forces due to molecular viscosity are negligible in the mesoscale. Those forces, though, are the very ones responsible for the ultimate dissipation and conversion of turbulent energy to thermal energy. When that occurs, any net momentum of the turbulent air will either persist in the once turbulent air or have been transferred to waves or the surface. If a model neglects viscous molecular forces though, it will lose track of that momentum and hence, in the model, this negligible amount of net momentum will be lost. With that interpretation, momentum is not conserved *in the model*. A modeler friend tells me most models are like that.

Since momentum is a vector quantity and since turbulence, by definition, has motion in many different directions, the net momentum will always be a lot smaller than the sum of the rms momenta of the parts.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Training the Iraqi Army

When Bush and his minions talk of Iraq, they always talk in platitudes and nonsense: freedom, democracy, the war on terruh. I occasionally wonder if they are as clueless about the real problems and issues as they appear.

Via Brad Delong some gloomy but acute thoughts on Iraq - Vietnam parallels from Morton Haperin :

The debate over Iraq is at one level a debate about what the true lessons of Vietnam were. Former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird has weighed in with the Kissinger version of Vietnam -- by a combination of a carefully phased withdrawal, matched by training of the Vietnamese and threats of further escalation, we had won the war, only to see victory taken away by the American people who removed the threat of escalation and cut aid to our allies.

The fatal flaw in that argument is what I want to discuss, because it goes to the heart of the question of how well we are doing in training the Iraqi army and when that will enable us to leave. We tried to do the same in Vietnam and there is much that we should learn from that effort.

First we need to ask who we are recruiting. Those involved in the screening process admit that is is very hard to do. The question is not whether the person has a criminal background but rather to whom he (or she) gives loyalty. In Vietnam we learned after it was over that about one third of those we armed and trained were actually in the Viet Cong Army. This meant surprise operations were impossible and a significant part of our force was actually on the other side. There is every reason to believe that this is true now in Iraq. There is no foolproof way to screen for insurgents.

In Vietnam, another roughly one third of the trainees in the Republic of Vietnam's army (ARVN) would quickly take the weapons they were given and sell them on the black market. In Iraq we again see signs of the same thing with large desertion levels and US weapons showing up in insurgency hands. The remaining ARVN troops, neither secretly the enemy or ready to desert and sell what they had been given, were in it for the pay and for the prestige and the opportunity to plunder. It was no wonder that despite years of training and the provision of equipment far superior to the enemy the ARVN was never capable of winning either the guerrilla war or the full scale battles that marked the final stages of the conflict. This was not for lack of training but for lack of commitment. The military leaders were riddled with those who had fought on the side of the French and the Japanese and had their evacuation plans in better shape than those of the US military. The others lacked the incentive to fight since they lacked an allegiance which is the bedrock of campaign effectiveness.

So in Iraq we put much of our faith and our hope in the process of training the Iraqi Army. The unstated assumption is that Iraqi men do not know how to fight and if only exposed to western methods will be able to deal with the insurgency. Even sharp critics of the war call for better and more training as if it would provide a way out. The unexamined but false assumptions behind this policy are monumental.

Halperin goes on to mention that neither the insurgents nor the militias seem to have trouble learning to fignt. He suggest what he thinks can be done by way of negotiating a settlement, but the flaws in logic he has pointed out go to the heart of our strategic errors. My tendency is to not believe that Bush et. al. really think that they are Iraq promoting democracy and a pro-Western regime. The grimmer possibility is that they do.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Dangerous Notions

The genome of 1918 flu that killed tens or hundreds of millions has been published. Ray Kurzweil and Bill Joy think that was pretty stupid:

AFTER a decade of painstaking research, federal and university scientists have reconstructed the 1918 influenza virus that killed 50 million people worldwide. Like the flu viruses now raising alarm bells in Asia, the 1918 virus was a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, the scientists reported. To shed light on how the virus evolved, the United States Department of Health and Human Services published the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet in the GenBank database.
. . .
First, it would be easier to create and release this highly destructive virus from the genetic data than it would be to build and detonate an atomic bomb given only its design, as you don't need rare raw materials like plutonium or enriched uranium. Synthesizing the virus from scratch would be difficult, but far from impossible. An easier approach would be to modify a conventional flu virus with the eight unique and now published genes of the 1918 killer virus.
I'm not a big fan of secret science, but this looks like an exception. This genie is out of the bottle, but more are out there, waiting. It may well be time to think about the best ways to deal with yet another possible human induced catastrophe.

Impending mortality may be making Kurzweil a little nuts, but he and Joy are bright guys.

Legal Maxim

There is an old maxim of legal practice that says "if it becomes clear that someone on your side is going to jail, make sure it's your client." Some think I. Lewis Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate might have tiptoed past that line. This AP story says:

The Times reported that over a year ago Tate passed along to Miller lawyer Floyd Abrams information about Libby's grand jury testimony -- that the White House aide had not told Miller the name or undercover status of Plame.

Miller told the newspaper that Abrams gave her the following description of a conversation Abrams had with Tate: ''He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn't give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, 'Don't go there,' or, 'We don't want you there.'''
Tate denies that the conversation took place. An obstruction of justice conviction would be bad for one's legal career.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bush Pardons Six

A secretary of Defense, a national security advisor, an assistant Secretary of State, and four senior CIA officials were all pardoned by President George Bush on December 25 of 1992. All were either convicted or indicted for crimes committed in office - and all were in positions to have incriminating evidence about possible perjury by the President and his Predecessor, President Reagan.

Anbody who thinks Rove will see the inside of the slammer should contemplate this little bit of history.

Judy's Turn to Cry - Again?

Arianna Huffington keeps cranking the rumor mill, and she seems to have some sources at the NYT. Supposedly, the big story will be up tomorrow.

I'm hearing that the Times' big Judy-culpa is definitely coming on Sunday -- and also that Judy's camp is worried that it's going to be very hard on her.

"The team of reporters working on the story is absolutely top notch," a Times source told me. "Don Van Atta is one of the best investigative reporters in the country.
Miller apparently has a non-optional component to write:
In any case, I've been told that Miller has been "ordered" to write a first-person, what-I-told-the-grand-jury account.

UPDATE: The stories are now up here. My reaction is surprise at how uninformative they were. In particular, there is no insight that I could find into the question of her second appearance before the grand jury. By Miller's account, she gave the grand jury a bit of ammo against Libby, but not much. I really don't know what to make of them at this point.


One lesson of blogging (and life) is that little imprecisions of language can lead to big misunderstandings. My earlier post on the so called "butterfly effect" links to some other blogs disputing the same points, especially Colorado State Professor Roger Pielke Sr's climate blog. Pielke says in one post:

Turbulent energy is composed of momentum! Since turbulent energy dissipates into heat, so will momentum. Turn the Sun off, even in a climate model, and watch the momentum go to zero after a period of time.
That's a big red flag to any physicist. Momentum conservation is just about as sacred a principle as you can find in physics.

After sleeping on it, I now think I see what he means (not that I accept the way he says it). Net momentum of the atmosphere with respect to the Earth is zero. We know that, because the atmosphere stays attached! Consequently, any local momentum of a parcel of air is matched by equal and opposite momentum other places. Turn off the Sun and the various momenta become well mixed, driving the local momentum to zero everywhere. Net momentum doesn't change, but any give parcel of air exchanges momentum with other parcels, which, on average are opposite in direction (because the net momentum is zero!) and the opposite vectors tend to cancel.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Accounts Receivable

In the climax of Lord of the Rings, when Frodo put on the Ring in the heart of Mount Doom,

The Dark Lord was suddenly aware of him ... the magnitude of his own folly was revealed to him ... he knew his deadly peril and the thread upon which his doom now hung.

From all his policies and webs of fear ... his mind shook free; and through his realm a tremor ran, his slaves quailed ... At his summons, wheeling with a rending cry, in a last desperate race there flew ... the Nazgul ...
So why does this remind me of Karl Rove? His own Nazgul have been summoned, and sometimes they wear an unlikely garb. Richard Cohen, yesterday in the Washington Post was explaining how tricking us into a war that has killed $100,000 and cost $300 billion is no big deal. Somewhere I heard Tom Oliphant saying somthing similar. What scumbags! What has Rove on them that they come wheeling and shrieking to the call?
...the Nazgul came, shooting like flaming bolts, as caught in the fiery ruin of hill and sky they crackled, withered, and went out.
Fantasy is so much more satisfying than reality.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Did I Mention that ...

...Iraq is screwed screwed screwed? Kevin Drum says:

The underappreciated Tom Lasseter has a chilling story today about the makeup and motivation of the new Iraqi army. Even the best trained units, he says, are largely looking forward to this year's elections as a way of cementing Shiite power in preparation for a bloody civil war.
Read Kevin and Lasseter for the gruesome details.

Iraq is Screwed

But you already knew that.

Juan Cole has lots of details here.

. . . Robert Fisk , according to the Independent, finds much of Iraq to have significantly deteriorated since his last visit and to be in a "state of anarchy" and found it bizarre for the Western press to focus on procedural matters like the referendum on the constitution.
' He said that the portrayal of Iraq by Western leaders ­ of efforts to introduce democracy, including Saturday's national vote on the country's proposed constitution ­ was "unreal" to most of its citizens. In Baghdad, children and women were kept at home to prevent them from being kidnapped for money or sold into slavery. They faced a desperate struggle to find the money to keep generators running to provide themselves with electricity. "They aren't sitting in their front rooms discussing the referendum on the constitution."

How to Survive the Coming Depression

I thought I would beat the rush by publishing my worthless ideas on this subject:

1) Be very rich, or, better, very, very rich.

2) Keep a few dozen kilos in gold

3) Get a residence in some nice, isolated, safe place where they like gold (Bermuda?, Switzerland?).

4) Guns and Ammo.

(Hmmm. Zero for four is not a great score).

Judy, Judy . . . Judy?

The lefty blogosphere is churning with theories of Judith Miller's second seance with Fitzgerald. Some favorite theories get the Mark Kleiman treatment. A favorite is: WSJ version

Apparently Miller didn't mention the June meeting with Libby in her earlier testimony. It's hardly conceivable that the questioning was so sloppy as to not have required her to disclose such a meeting. And this seems to rule out the idea that the sudden "discovery" of the notes of that meeting resulted from Miller's having mentioned it last week and being asked by the prosecutor to search for notes of it. That discovery might, of course, have been coincidental, but if it wasn't then the Mousetrap Theory -- that Fitzgerald caught Miller in a lie and was then in a position to demand cooperation beyond the scope of their agreement -- explains an otherwise puzzling fact.
There's lots more there for conspiracy theorists and those who fantasize about a Rove, Libby, Miller, Bolton indictment plus draft choices and unindicted co-conspirators to be named later. (via
Kevin Drum)

The Tube

Madonna says TV is trash and she was raised without it. That should boost set sales among fathers of daughters everywhere.

Sting Like a Butterfly

I’ve been following, and sometimes participating in, a debate over Lorentz’s celebrated “butterfly effect” – the notion that because chaotic systems exhibit sensitive dependence on initial conditions, a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo could cause a tornado in Texas. Blog participants in the debate include William Connolley of Stoat, Colorado State’s Roger Pielke Sr. , as well as Arun, an occasional commenter here(among many other places).

Let me start by stipulating that it’s extremely improbable that any given butterfly wing flap will cause, or even affect, any given tornado. No one is claiming that butterfly aerodynamics have any useful predictive value for tornadoes. On the contrary, what is claimed is that the details, and even large scale features, of weather phenomena have an inherent long term unpredictability driven by sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

After a ritual obeisance to what he calls the second "law" of thermodynamics (his quotes), Professor Pielke offers up the following:

As an additional illustration of the inability for a very small perturbation from making a large scale change, consider the following example. You lay a rope from your location to a town 10 km away. Jiggle the rope (or even vigorously shake it!). No matter now many times that you shake the rope, the rope will not move in the town. The energy that you impose will be dissipated into heat long before the motions influence the rope at that distance.

My first thought on reading this was that it seemed about as germane as those arguments fundamentalists offer up about evolution being wrong because they have never seen a “half-man, half-fish” creature. On second thought though, it does embody some central fallacies of the anti-Lorentzian argument. First, he is looking for a direct effect, and second, he is considering a highly damped system.

Consider the following somewhat fanciful indirect scenario: You shake or jiggle your end of the rope and it disturbs a mouse which takes off running, is spotted by a hawk, and killed. An infected flea on the mouse transfers to the hawk, infecting and ultimately killing it after it has flown to somewhere near the other end of the rope (some days later). A coyote spots the dead bird, which perished entangled in the rope, and drags it away, thereby moving the other end of the rope. Hence, indirect effects can move the other end of the rope even with the purely damped system.

If we don’t want to depend on biological interventions, we need a dynamically unstable system. As Dr. Pielke very well knows, these are common in the atmosphere. On a calm sunny summer day a warm layer of air often forms in contact with the surface. If the surface is quite flat, such a layer might become quite a bit warmer than the overlying air before some slight perturbation, possibly even the flight of a butterfly, pushes a little bit of the warm air up into the cooler and denser air above. Once the bubble of air starts moving up, its buoyancy carries it on up, and more of the warm air on the surface drains into the upward moving bubble, forming a typical summer dust devil.

The big dynamic instability in the atmosphere is the differential heating of the equator and the poles. This generates a pole ward heat transfer, which, in combination with the rotation of the Earth and inhomogeneities in the Earth’s surface produce the Rossby waves that drive much of terrestrial weather. Because of the dynamical instability that drives the atmospheric circulation and Rossby waves, quite small disturbances can, in principle, be dramatically amplified. I'm not sure I want to stretch that amplification down to the butterfly scale, but it seems conceivable at least.

Dissipation (and the second law) always win in the end, but organized motions in the atmosphere are driven by the dynamic instabilities of the system.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Justice of God?

I had more or less convinced myself that God did not take much of a personal interest in the details of human injustice, and that was somewhat comforting, since otherwise America would be deep in his doghouse for what we have let Bush do in Iraq.

Whether this is so or no, there are plenty of dark clouds gathering to indicate that the US is heading into an economic shitstorm that will make Katrina look wimpy. Even a lot of hard core conservatives have joined the chorus who think Republican borrow and spend policies certain to end badly. Brad Delong finds one here. Josh Marshall finds another.

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Even while we all wait anxiously for the Nazghul to plummet shrieking into Orodruin, or at least the Potomac, we should remember that it probably won't go down like that, even if the scoundrels are indicted. Those who can remember 1991 may recall that Pappy Bush was in a spot of trouble, what with the Iran Contra Special Prosecutor having indicted a whole slew of Reagan-Bush captains and button men, and all of them with potential evidence of Reagan and Bush having committed perjury. Pappy neatly cut that Gordian knot by pardoning the lot of them, in advance of trial.

This family knows how to cover up, whether it's Gramp's and Great-Gramp's roles as Hitler's bankers, Pappy's prevarications, or W's many sins. It's in their DNA.


I'm going to take a little vacation from the blog. Should be back next Tuesday.

I considered taking a swipe at Lubos's latest tirade against climatology, but Stoat seems to be handling him pretty well, so . . .

Bush: God told me to invade Iraq

Or so claims (among others) this story in the Independent.


At least he had a good reason. I wonder if God gave him any specifics on the occupation.

Maybe that explains the box on his back in the debates.

Cost of Cronyism

The Civil Service was created to give the country a pool of trained professional administrators and circumvent the worst evils of the patronage system. Successive admininistrations have undermined these principles by creating an army of Presidential appointees at the top (now 3000 or so). No recent Presidency has been so dedicated to politization of the government that of Bush. Especially worrying has been his penchant for appointing unqualified political hacks and cronies to crucial policy and operational roles. FEMA's recent fumbles are a good example. NPR had a story is morning on how he has gutted and demoralized the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

The appointment of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is only the latest example of this trend. More worrisome to me is the dominance of unqualified political hacks in places like the Treasury Department and the parts of Homeland Security charged with responding to health crises like an Avian flu epidemic.

Part of this "C average" President's appeal to those who feel put upon and disoriented in the complex modern world is his distaste and contempt for the the professional elites. This mediocre and determindly provincial President likes to appoint toadies and cronies. The American people are paying the price for his blunders in Iraq and FEMA. Unfortunately, there is plenty more where that came from.
A dollar crisis or an epidemic of bird flu could be far more costly than any of Bush's previous blunders, and the people in place to try to deal with those crises are the same incompetent cronies who have failed again and again.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Another Plus

of winning a Nobel Prize is that your University and colleagues learn how to spell your name. Roy Glauber shared the Nobel Prize in physics this year, but this congratulatory post by a colleague and this Harvard Physics Department site were spelling his name Grauber this morning.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Science Court: Scientists, Hazards, and Politics

The role of Cassandra can be as doomed in real life as in Greek trajedy. Scientists, especially Earth scientists, now frequently find themselves in the position of having to deliver some bad news that a lot of people don't want to hear.

The encounter of Hurricane Katrina with New Orleans is a classic case in point. The vulnerability of NO to more or less precisely the catastrophe that occurred was long predicted. Despite the warnings, oft repeated, the sins of commission and omission by the respective governments continued unabated until the water rolled in - and beyond.

This is hardly an isolated case. Another classic case was presented by the Mount Saint Helens volcanic eruption. In that case, the volcano had been giving plenty of signs of imminent eruption for weeks before the explosion, and the State and Federal governments evacuated several areas at risk. After a short period, homeowners in the evacuated areas, and especially the Weyerhouser timber company and its workers operating (or not operating) in the affected forests brought intense political pressure to lift the evacuation. Washington Governor Dixie Lee Ray caved in to the pressure, allowing home owners to go into retrieve personal items and the lumber companies to resume operations. Nature was relatively kind in this case, though. The volcano erupted on a Sunday, so the hundreds of timbermen who would otherwise have been killed were mostly off the job and out of the forest.

This last chapter of Kerry Sieh and Simon Levay's excellent The Earth in Turmoil: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Their Impact on Humankind is devoted to the economic and political dimensions of hazard mitigation. Any attempt to mitigate hazards will confront ignorance, stupidity, economic interests in the status quo, and the natural human tendency to value present savings over future benefits.

Some cases are genuinely difficult. At some time in the next hundred thousand years or so, one of the flanks of Mauna Loa in Hawaii will collapse, producing a tidal wave with runups of more than 1000 to 2000 feet, killing most of the people and destroying all the cities of the islands. One hundred thousand years is a long time though, so people will take their chances, but still it seems reasonable to try to sense any precursors there might be.

Another hard case is global warming. Here the time scale is more like 100 years, but the problem is what can be done and how much will it cost. Once again, powerful economic interests, namely the fossil fuel companies, very much don't want anything to happen that will decrease their near term profits. Consequently, they have invested a lot of money in sponsoring "scientists" and whole fake science institutes whose job is to try to discredit or at least cast doubt on any science endangering their client's profits. This technique was perfected by the tobacco companies, and seems to have been, at least in part, the brain child of neocon founding father Irving Kristol. The essential operating principle is also the basis of the whole Republican noise machine - don't try to confront or argue the facts, just put out enough noise to confuse everybody.

A long time ago, Edward Teller tried to popularize the idea of a science court, before which scientific controversies would be argued with strict rules of evidence, cross examination, and rules of procedure. In true scientific fashion, though, verdicts would only be in the minds of the listeners - the idea is to achieve clear presentation of the evidence, not a decision - that would have to be left to the political institutions.

This is still a good idea, and the web is probably a very good venue. Evidence could be presented in written format, questioners and cross examiners could have hours or days to prepare their material, and a permanent record, available to all, would be preserved.

Anybody else like this idea?

More Nobels for Oz

A lightly populated former prison colony has turned out to be remarkably productive of Nobel Prize winners. Two more Australians won today. From the NYT.

Australians Barry J. Marshall and Robin Warren won the 2005 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine on Monday for showing that bacterial infection, not stress, was to blame for painful ulcers in the stomach and intestine.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Does Physics Still Matter?

I’m not talking pedagogically of course – it’s pretty obvious that engineers, chemists, geologists and even biologists are going to have to keep studying a little physics for the foreseeable future. Certain areas of applied physics, including materials science, plasma physics, atmospheric physics, and optics are pretty solid too. But what about fundamental physics, does any of it still matter?

Legend has it that Prime Minister Gladstone once asked Michael Faraday what the good was of one of Faraday’s inventions. In the legend, Faraday replied: “Well sir, someday you can tax it.” Though the story is probably apocryphal, the technology of electromagnetism that came out of Faraday’s and others’ researches has dominated the world of the twentieth century to the present.

The influence of fundamental physics culminated in the Second World War, where radar (mainly 19th century electromagnetism) and the bomb (mainly 20th century nuclear physics) played key roles in the victory. After the war, funding fundamental physics research was considered necessary for national security and military power, and this rational was dominant for 50 years or more.

Eventually the question was bound to come up – “but what have you done for us lately?” The triumphant climax of twentieth century physics, in some ways as satisfying as Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory, was the development of the standard model of elementary particles about a quarter century ago. If we ask about its technological implications though, it’s hard to come up with any. As far as I can tell, it shows us little or nothing new about how to control matter and energy and put them to work for us.

Physicists don’t do fundamental physics for the technology of course – they do it for the fun of it. On the other hand, very few physicists finance their own research. The money to finance physics research comes mainly from the taxes paid by what some Harvard string theorists (a bit ungratefully) have referred to as “the stupid people.” There are certainly many aspects of science well deserving of taxpayer support, but the time may be coming when fundamental physics will have to make its case – and the entertainment of physicists is unlikely to be a clinching argument.

So, what if any aspects of fundamental physics are likely to have technological implications? I’m eager to hear.

Happy Fingers

Kevin Drum has some conjectures, quotes, and links on what Fitzgerald may be up to in the Plame investigation today. Most interesting to me was:

Conspiracy. Hmmm. Lot of that going around in Republican circles these days. And George Stephanopoulos said this morning that "a source close to this told me this week, that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were actually involved in some of these discussions."

That would be a helluva thing if Bush and Cheney were named as unindicted co-conspirators, wouldn't it? I doubt it's going to happen, but it makes my fingers happy just to type the words.
I too felt those happy fingers of schadenfreude, but the clever phrase is of course Kevin's.

As long as we are dreaming, maybe it could unfold something like this: various baddies tried, outraged public tosses out Republican congress, Bush and Cheney are impeached, and Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House, becomes President.

Alas, "Dreams like that cannot come true" (Phantom of the Opera)

Mission Accomplished

Juan Cole has a long series of posts today about the situation in Iraq. There is a lot of important stuff there, none of it encouraging, but I picked out one excerpt that seems to capture some of the utter fecklessness of Bush's efforts there:

Let me now risk some more flack and say that given that it is two weeks before the referendum and no ordinary Iraqis have seen the text of the new constitution, and given that the Sunni Arabs reject it to a person even just from the little they know of it, this constitution is another sick joke played by the Bush administration, which keeps forcing Iraq to jump through hoops made in Washington as "milestones" and "tipping points" to which the Republican Party can point as progress. Not to mention that the draft we have all seen of the constitution is riddled with fatal contradictions ...

Saturday, October 01, 2005

BB and the Rosetta Stone

Bill Bennett, the former secretary of Education, current conservative tetse fly, and pompous nuisance always, stuck his foot in it recently. Talk radio is not that nuanced a medium, so it probably wasn't a good place to claim, as he did, that aborting all black babies would reduce the crime rate. Oddly enough, most people weren't mollified by his adding that it would be wrong to do so. A lot of people are beating Bill up on this, and I certainly don't want to claim he doesn't deserve it, but I personally owe him a small debt. He gave me the Rosetta stone which allows me to decode what the heck the Republicans really think they are doing.

From Reed Hundt at the TPM Cafe.

When I was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (1993-97), I asked Bill Bennett to visit my office so that I could ask him for help in seeking legislation that would pay for internet access in all classrooms and libraries in the country. ... At any rate, since Mr. Bennett had been Secretary of Education I asked him to support the bill in the crucial stage when we needed Republican allies. He told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers,charter schools, religious schools, and other forms of private education.

Once you understand paradigm embodied here, a lot of things start to make sense. Reagan's Secretary of Education saw his mission as destroying public education. Similarly, Bush set his Social Security adminsitration chiefs to destroying Social Security, his Energy department works tirelessly to make Energy more expensive and unavailable, and, of course, his FEMA and Homeland Security Department are programmed to fail, so that Americans will hate the government. This principle is applied to the IRS also, which concentrates on auditing ordinary people without much money, both to make it easier for the rich to steal but more importantly, to make Americans hate their government. Spending the country into bankruptcy? Another triumph for those who would "starve the beast."

Now we know why the ex-CIA chief got the Medal of Freedom for screwing up the intelligence on Iraq. Every government failure is a triump for those like Grover Nordquist whose announced ambition is destroying the United States government. No doubt he hopes to make a lot of money in the process.

Like Bill Bennett, Bush and his minions see their mission as undermining the law instead of upholding it, destroying the Constitution instead of protecting it. Still, it surprises even me that conservatives decided to apply the same principle to the military. Maybe the behavior has just become so ingrained they can't help themselves.

I just hope that the American people will wake up before they succeed. Remember who it is that really hates America.

Eighteen Quadrillion Dollars

$1.8 x 10^16 is quite a few. Enough to, say, give everybody in the world a million dollars and still have enough left to build a palace the size of France, with enough more to buy every Republican politician, and still be able to afford to stock your palace with a trophy wife for every day of the century. I think there would still be enough cash to build a particle accelerator around the circumference of the Earth.

It's also the projected cost of controlling carbon emissions until 2100, according to this article cited by Lubos Motl, which in turn was linked by Lubos in a recent comment to me.

Let's neglect for a moment a small matter of a factor of a thousand - some of us may recall how Lumo feels about errors of this sort in climate debate. How can someone come up with a number like that? The answer is that you assume an exponential rate of growth of the Net World Product (NWP), come up with some percentage by which you expect emissions controls to decrement that rate, and take the difference over 100 years of those two conjectural numbers.

If I could buy into this methodology, then I might find Bjorn Lomborg's reasoning more persuasive. Economics has existed for two and a half centuries, and that whole period has been characterized by essentially exponential economic growth. Economists tend to regard this as a law of the universe, but a longer view, and many more fundamental considerations, suggest that exponential growth always terminates, and often rather badly, as in the Maya, Anazazi, and Easter Island cultures.

Catastrophists, like myself, aren't worried about the minor effects of environmental degradation, or even the extinction of the polar bears, but about catastrophic breakdown of the ecosystem. More rapid growth, in the absence of the ability to control population and other environmental impacts, just means we get to the apocalypse faster. More immediately, it seems possible that we may start running low on oil before we loose the worst genies of global warming - or not.

Get Out!

Lieutenant General William E. Odom, U.S. Army (Ret.), a Senior Fellow with Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University makes the case for getting the heck out of Iraq here. He was head of the National Security Agency during the Reagan administration, and know all the issues very well. The whole article is very good, but one political excerpt is striking:

Look at John Kerry's utterly absurd position during the presidential campaign. He said “It’s the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time," but then went on to explain how he expected to win it anyway. Even the voter with no interest in foreign affairs was able to recognize it as an absurdity. If it was the wrong war at the wrong place and time, then it was never in our interest to fight. If that is true, what has changed to make it in our interest? Nothing, absolutely nothing.
That's a very good example of why Kerry now provokes such a strong aversive refles in me. Hillary has been only slightly less obviously incoherent on the issue - either that, or just less visible.

(I found the link to this article in this reader comment at the TPM Cafe )

Mr. Popularity

One of the enduring mysteries for me has been how Bush retains his still considerable popularity. I now have a theory - a crackpot, 4 AM theory - but a theory nonetheless.

GW has a certain genius for choosing the popular but stupid option on almost every kind of question. A lot of us find adulthood means deferred gratification, choosing to work instead of party, saving instead of spending and planning for the future instead of the moment. For GW, life has never been that way. Go ahead, party 'til your forty, Daddy's friends can fix it.

Tax cuts are always popular, though they can be pretty stupid if they lead to future catastrophe. GW's choice - go ahead, party! God, Daddy, or somebody will fix it later. Prescription drug coverage popular for Medicare, paying for it unpopular, restricting profits for phamaceuticals unpopular? Go ahead, party on! Send the bill to China! Wars against bad guys - popular. Paying for wars with blood, taxes, and a draft unpopular? Solution to this dilemma - Party on! Taxes unpopular, spending popular - Party, Party, Party!

Many people have denounced the follies from the beginning, but the other genius of GW is ensuring that fixing the problems he has created will be unpopular. Big deficits will eventually destroy the economy, but cutting spending and raising taxes are both unpopular. Starting a war was popular, but committing the resources to win was unpopular. Admitting that we have lost will be even more unpopular. Driving big trucks is popular, but paying high gasoline prices is unpopular. Preparing for the future by taxing gasoline more now is certain to be extremely unpopular.

On almost every issue, Rove and Bush have convinced Americans to make the grasshopper's choice - but winter is coming.