Saturday, December 31, 2005

Advice from Josh Marshall

Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo was the first blog I regularly read, and it's still the very best. He has some end of the year advice for Democrats and liberals that I consider spot on.

First, he says, we have to attack and oppose. There is no point in being an opposition party if there is nothing to oppose, and I think all Dems and liberals find plenty to oppose in current policies and governance. He goes on to give some penetrating advice about writing, politics, and life in general.

Bad writing is usually imprecise writing -- and its badness usually stems from the bad writer not having taken the time to think through just what he or she means to say. The cobwebs and vagaries of their minds are revealed in bad prose.

Bad politics usually stems from people not having a clear idea of what they're trying to achieve, where they're trying to go. Once you know where you're trying to lead the country, strategy and tactics and optics and gutting the other side all tend to fall into place. If not perfectly, then a whole lot easier. Where do we want to take the country? Forget the rest and think about that. That's the guiding star.

Amen. The history of the last election might have been a lot different if he could have spent a few hours pounding that into Kerry and advisors, preferably with a baseball bat.

Is Iran Next?

Drudge links to this Jerusalem Post story that says the US is preparing for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

The United States government reportedly began coordinating with NATO its plans for a possible military attack against Iran.
Many rather similar stories have talked about a possible Israeli strike against these facilities, but most doubt that Israel can carry off such a strike in convincing fashion. Compared to the strike Israel carried out against the Iraqi reactor way back when, attacking a dispersed and possibly largely underground Iranian nuclear program is much harder and much farther away. No one doubts that the US could carry out such attacks, but whether they would succeed is a question, and so is the resulting backlash in Shiite Iraq.

My guess is that at the moment, we are just seeing more saber rattling, intended to pressure Iran into abandoning uranium enrichment. If and when the strike comes, and I guess it will if Iran doesn't blink, I suspect that it will be ostensibly done by the Israelis - or with US weapons wearing Israeli uniforms. A (covertly US supported) Israeli strike probably has a fair chance of success.

From Israel's point of view, the failure of the US-Israeli plan in Iraq makes the Iranian threat more acute. The virtual certainty that Iraq will be ruled by an Iran friendly Shiite religious party greatly magnifies the threat that both countries pose to Israel. Almost nobody wants to see Iran with nukes, and my guess is that it won't be permitted to get them. Whether the highly discredited US intelligence agencies know enough to cleanly destroy the Iran nukes is another question.

Selling America to the Highest Bidder

Via Josh Marshall.

R. Jeffrey Smith outlines how Tom Delay and the Republican Party sold out America to Russian oil interests, foreign sweatshop owners, and almost anybody else with cash in this Washington Post story. A key component of this Abramoff-Delay operation was a slush fund called the U.S. Family Network (take that, George Orwell).

The former president of the U.S. Family Network said Buckham told him that Russians contributed $1 million to the group in 1998 specifically to influence DeLay's vote on legislation the International Monetary Fund needed to finance a bailout of the collapsing Russian economy.
Now we know what Bush meant when he looked into Putin's eyes and saw "a good man."

There is a lot more in the story, all equally depressing. These swine have sold their country out at every turn. It makes me ashamed to call myself a pig.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Get Me a Bigger Alphabet!

Tropical Storm Zeta is now spinning out in the Atlantic. It won't live long, but it surely is a freak. I wonder if there has ever been a January Tropical Storm before?

(learned about this from Brad Delong )

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Predictions for 2005

Here are some predictions I made for 2005, but unfortunately neglected to publish in a timely manner.

(1) GW's Social Security plan will collapse in ignominious failure.

(2) The Iraq War, contrary to Bush's claims, will make little progress in 2005.

(3) The Endemic corruption of the Republican House will begin to stink up the courts as well as the country.

(4) The Senate will get tired of rubber stamping dubious Bush nominees.

(5) String Theory will continue to dominate the landscape of theoretical physics, crushing all rivals. Or have I mixed up the word order?

(6)The Pig will become a must read blog for the nation's movers and shakers.

More Predictions

William Safire has his multiple choice prediction for 2006 up here at the NYT. I found that my answer to most of his possibilities was "who cares," but his finale was:

14. As Bush approval rises, historians will begin to equate his era with that of: (a) Truman; (b) Eisenhower; (c) L.B.J.; (d) Reagan; (e) Clinton.
My pick was (f) Caligula, but Bill went with (a).

Jack and Tom Went up the Hill

Now that Jack has fallen down, and both crowns look dented, Jack's signature DC bar Signatures is looking for a new name. Josh Marshall and reader's have come up with some memorable suggestions: Licence Plates, Jack-in-the-Box, and The Pen, the last a play on the old Signatures name. I don't have any that can top these, but how about a brief eulogy:

They've gone away,
Our Jack, our Duke,
And good old Ney,
Cause they must pay,
Cause they must pay.

Bad times for
The mighty Hammer,
Lord of K
Mighty no more
Once in slammer

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Reading History

The Waco Tribune-Herald reports that:

The president is reading "When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt After the White House," but presidential spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush is not thinking about his post-Oval Office days.
It wasn't reported, but my informants claim that actually Karen Hughes is reading one paragraph chapter summaries to him at bedtime. He likes his books unfiltered by the media. Besides, it's a heavy book, and he doesn't want to risk another pretzel attack when he falls asleep.

If he really wants a glimpse of the post-presidential future he might want to check out Milosevic's forthcoming "My Life in The Hague."

History of the Great Conservative Revolution

Brad Delong keeps turning over rocks in the National Review Archive, and loathsome creatures keep wriggling out. Bill Buckley as a smarmy little racist shit:

Let me say at once, for the benefit of the wicked, fearful South, that Martin Luther King wil never rouse a rabble; in fact, I doubt very much if he could keep a rabble awake... past its bedtime... lecture... delivered with all the force and fervor of the five-year-old who nightly recites: "Our Father, Who art in New Haven, Harold be Thy name."...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Predictions for 2006

This is a pretty silly idea, since I have repeatedly been discredited as a prophet. Nonetheless, the courage born of folly will sustain us through the enterprise.

1) Five more Republican Congressmen will be indicted in 2006, together with two more members of the Bush inner circle.

2) A great black dog will haunt the Republican party through 2006, and his name won't be Snuffles or Sirius Black but something more like Abramoff, Jack.

3) The economy will sputter along, at least until Summer.

4) Television news will mutter on irrelevantly.

5) Lumo will not crack the Riemann Hypothesis (bearing in mind my track record, this prediction is actually a favorable omen, Lubos).

6) The American people will start getting upset about pensions, health care, and education.

7) 1) 3) and 6) will lead to the Republicans losing 35 House seats and 4 Senate seats in the mid-term elections, thus retaining a narrow majority in the Senate but decisively losing the House.

8) Usama bin Laden will die of natural causes.

I won't predict on Iraq, because there are a few hopeful signs (the pros seem to be running the store, the Army seems to be relearning the lessons of anti-insurgency, and there is still some hope of political compromise among the Iraqis), and I superstitiously don't want to risk disturbing these hopes.

9) 2006 will be the warmest year on record.

10) My stocks will prosper - yours - not so much;)

11) A bright young kid from the most unlikely spot imaginable will usher in the Fourth Superstring Revolution, leading to rapid progress but eventually bogging down in intractable mathematics.

13) The Pig's failing grasp on the ability to count will become more evident (added, based on a suggestion by Lumo)

12) Black holes will look slightly less so.

14) Something interesting will come out of Cosmic ray physics.

15) 5% of the population will be found to have IQs lower than those of their cell phones.

The New Despotism

The founders of the American experiment were vary aware that the republic is a fragile form of government. The concensus of world intellectuals at the time was that it probably couldn't work, and would inevitably fail like so many republics past. The constitution and the rule of law were intended as guards against the usurpation of authority by a ruler and for the protection of minority interests.

The end of the twentieth century saw the collapse of the communist despotism in Europe and it vast weakening everywhere. Democracy asserted its appeal in South Africa, South American, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the new century has not seen the good news continue. A couple of bad omens in the news: The New York Times reports here that Putin's Senior Economic Advisor has resigned,

warning that Russia's nascent political freedoms have been lost and the Kremlin's economic choices have been poor. He also said that he had no more ability to influence the government's course.

The official, Andrei N. Illarionov, 44, had been an economic adviser to the Kremlin since shortly after Mr. Putin took office nearly six years ago. His tenure in recent years had turned publicly rocky, and he had become an occasional but memorable critic of Kremlin policy.
Meanwhile, United Press International has reported that:
Bush was denied wiretaps, bypassed them
In other words, Bush chose to continue with wiretaps despite the express decision of the court that they were not legally justified. Given the FISA court's history of approving almost all requested wiretaps, this strongly suggests that there was something fishy about the wiretaps requested. If this report is true, Bush quite deliberately chose to violate the law in defiance of the courts, rejecting the obvious legal options he had (Appealing to a higher court, or going to the Congress for a change in the law).

This is only a guess of course, but given this (assuming it's true), and the highly peculiar behavior surrounding the failure of the Congress to confirm Bolton as UN Ambassador because of wiretaps problems, I'm guessing that spying on political appointments was involved.

UPDATE: Just caught former Justice Department lawyer David Rivkin defending the wiretaps on CNN. His main argument was a familiar big lie: That the FISA law was designed for criminal cases not for intelligence. Hello! It's called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, moron! Naturally the CNN Bimbo doing the interview was too dumb to notice this or question it.

Monday, December 26, 2005

King Kong

Peter Jackson has made a nice little period comedy here. Unfortunately, he has appended two hours of retarded video game scenery and interspecies conflict, plus of course, the obligatory but still terminally lame interspecies love story. The chase/disaster through the streets of New York was OK though.

The whole movies was only a little over three hours, but it felt like so much more.

Decline of the West

A member of a software start-up explained to me about recruiting software talent in China. University X graduates 20,000 software engineers per year. You assemble 1000 of these in an auditorium, where they take a battery of tests. An IQ of 140 might be the minimum. The top 100 take more specialized tests, and twenty get interviewed. Maybe three get hired at $10,000/year.

At the same dinner, a software engineer for a major defense contractor explained how many of his colleagues had little real work to do, and most couldn't do it very well anyway, but stayed on the rolls because it was a cost plus contract.

I somehow doubt that the Chinese will be content to be high IQ cheap labor for long. Ditto their counterparts in India.

At some point, the government of China will decide to invest in all that highly-skilled (and soon, highly experienced) labor, and that immense flow of dollars financing the US spend and borrowing spree will vanish. I fear a pretty hard landing for the US economy.

John Derbyshire is not an Idiot?

My guess is that the conclusion of the title is not a surprise to anyone who has actually read him, but it's always a bit of a shock for me to conclude that about someone who writes for the National Review and the Washington Times. My conclusion is based on scant evidence, I admit, since I've now read exactly three things by him: Part of a book (Prime Obsession, a popular book about the Riemann Hypothesis, and two articles). Overall, the interesting to banal coefficient was one I can only dream of, and I didn't find anything egregious in any of the three.

Naturally, this conclusion is subject to revision, and further research may discover some reason why the idiots at NRO would employ him.

UPDATE: I have now learned that there are a large number of people who believe that Derbyshire is, if not an idiot, at least a villian. The reason for this is his anti-homosexual views. Having now read a bit of his writings on the subject, I think his two main objections are personal repugnance (the yech factor) and his apparent belief that teens are vulnerable to recruitment into homosexuality. I am pretty skeptical about reality of the latter, but don't know much about the evidence on the question.

In any case, Derbyshire the ideological demagogue is much less likeable than the math popularizer or religiosity analyst (He reported an apparently widespread anti-correlation between religiosity (committment to and practice of the forms of religion, like attending church) and crime and other social disfunction.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

The First Noel

Last minute Christmas shopping is a competitive sport.

Standing around, waiting as the guys in the blue vests unloaded the last pallet of X-Box 360's in town. In the country. In the Universe. I was psyched. I'd seen the mahem on TV on "Black Friday." I was well-positioned and thought I was ready. A sharp blow in the ribs sent me reeling. A thuggish looking fat guy steps into my spot, followed closely by a muscular looking man in one of those jackets with the big FBI on the back.

I knew this was a world where wimps lose out, a world where not having an X-Box competitive parent can scar a kid for life. As I struggled to regain my footing, part of that footing became fatso's shoe, and somehow the front of my knee made contact with the back of his. The big guy goes down like one of those helicopter dropped sandbags in New Orleans.

I jumped forward and as I bent to grab my X, FBI jacket inexplicably dives for the games. Bad timing. My knee, the same knee (ouch!) and his head try to share a space-time event. Somehow I grab my Box and lumber off.

Looking back, jacket is scrambling up. He doesn't look very happy. He looks like he might like to catch up to me and say something unpleasant. He probably could have too, if fats had been able to get up a little quicker - or if they hadn't been handcuffed together.

The National Review: Heritage

Brad Delong has been mining the National Review archive. It's a rich trove, loaded with William F. Buckley's praise of McCarthyism, defense of racism, and denunciation of integration. Here's a recently unearthered gem:

October 26, 1957: General Franco is an authentic national hero... [with the] talents, the perseverance, and the sense of the righteousness of his cause, that were required to wrest Spain from the hands of the visionaries, ideologues, Marxists, and nihilists that were imposing... a regime so grotesque as to do violence to the Spanish soul, to deny, even, Spain's historical destiny
And this great visionary has left his traces on the Spanish body as well as soul that endure today. If you look at members of the generation that grew up under Franco, they are about a foot shorter than modern (but still short) Spaniards.

Such is the sick and twisted vision of William F. Buckley, a "natural aristocrat" who pines for those days when you could recognize the aristocracy by their height.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Age of WalMart

CNBC did a nice long form story called "The Age of Walmart." It's a very even-handed but probably ultimately pro-WalMart story. No matter how you look at it, it's a pretty impressive phenomenon. Their logistical and management techniques are pehaps the most impressive ever developed.

There is still plenty there to offend anybody who loves liberty or human freedom. Part of WalMart's method is instilling a quazi-religious fervor and committment in the employees. Combine that with employing a large fraction of the working population of the country and their practice of closing an story that unionizes (almost certainly illegal), and you have an offensive degree of thought control.

"Must Restrain - Fist of Death"

Some years back, when I was a rather inept almost 50 in our over 30 soccer league, I was dribbling up the sideline while the opposing defender was trying to get the ball away. We continued in this fashion for twenty-five yards or so with him first charging shoulder to shoulder(legal), elbowing me in the ribs and chest(not), and finally grabbing my crotch. I manage to pass the ball to a teammate in the penalty area and turned back upfield with murder in my heart. The object of my rage was flat on his back, 10 yards upfield, where our last shoulder contact had left him, and I laughed, and the World was good. I was reminded of this by a story in today's sports page noting that English soccer star Vinnie Jones has this year been "immortalized in a statue depicting him reaching back and squeezing an opponents testicles." (Dave Kindred in The Sporting News).

The memory is also a useful sedative when I'm particularly annoyed at some Czech punk who has called me a "Commie" for the too many-eth time.

Speaking of Czechs, our friend Lubosh has provided
this link to a poll showing that most Americans approve of torture for those suspected of something dangerous, like terrorism. It's probably not coincidental that this other poll shows that roughly the same percentage are unaware that it takes the Earth a year to circle the Sun.

Meanwhile, Kevin Drum has up this very apropos quote from Benjamin Franklin.

"Those who would give up essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

God Speaks to the Israelites - and Everybody Else

Tim Berners-Lee now has his own blog, as I learned from reading this Lubos post. Since Tim invented the World Wide Web, this really is a case of a Giant walking among men, much more significant to me than if some relative non-entity, like some random Cabinet officer or maybe Madonna, were to start one. Of course he had to turn off comments to still the clamor of believers.

WaPo vs. Froomkin: Delong Score Again

Brad Delong has another one of those great long posts taking a deep look at the Froomkin Affair, which, we recall, involved WaPo Ombudsman Howell and political editor Harris dissing WaPo blogger Froomkin. Brad's article, in the form of a Platonic dialogue, manages to peel back many layers of this onion, and shows that more than just fear of the White House was probably involved. Everybody should read the whole dialogue, but here's a tiny excerpt:

Thrasymachus: You are naive.

Televisticus: Well, yes, I agree that I am naive. But in what way do you think I'm naive?

Thrasymachus: You said that Post corporate headquarters will transfer jobs from the Washington print newsroom to the Arlington web newsroom, in the process destroying the Newspaper Guild and halving journalists' salaries.

Televisticus: I did.

Thrasymachus: Why should they transfer jobs? Why shouldn't Post corporate headquarters wake up to the fact that its three White House print beat reporters spend a large chunk of the day trapped in the White House briefing room (or similar locales) on assassination watch, in the equivalent of a news isolation chamber where their only source of "information" is Scott McClellan?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Down the Slippery Slope

Joshua Micah Marshall:

William Kristol and Gary Schmitt have a column in today's Washington Post that advances a simple premise: the president "uniquely swears an oath -- prescribed in the Constitution -- to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution."

If you follow those gentlemen, you will not be surprised that their column is up to their usual standard of unprincipled duplicity:
A U.S. president has just received word that American counterterrorist operatives have captured a senior al Qaeda operative in Pakistan. Among his possessions are a couple of cell phones -- phones that contain several American phone numbers. In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, what's a president to do?

If the president were taking the advice offered by some politicians and pundits in recent days, he would order the attorney general to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The attorney general would ask that panel of federal judges for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to begin eavesdropping on those telephone numbers, to determine whether any individual associated with those numbers was involved in terrorist activities.

But the attorney general might have to tell the president he might well not be able to get that warrant. FISA requires the attorney general to convince the panel that there is "probable cause to believe" that the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power or a terrorist.
What nonsense. Consider that FISA allows wiretaps without prior approval, and that the FISA court has refused only 10 out of more than 10,000 requests during its history.

If the President were to believe he needed more authority than the statute allows, why should he not go to the Congress and ask for it - that's the way things are supposed to work in a republic. Kristol and Schmitt argue for an interpretation of presidential power so sweeping that the distinction from dictatorial power is almost insignificant.

It's even more telling that this so-called "war on terror," a war without declaration or any plausible end point, is in no sense an emergency for the nation in the sense that Pearl Harbor was. The number of people killed on 9/11 was large, and the economic consequences considerable, but there was no serious threat to our strategic or military power - nothing in any way comparable to the destruction of much of our fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Finally, let me return to the line Josh quoted about the Presidential oath. First, it seems a monstrous perversion of logic to assert that an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution could be construed to grant the power to violate it and the laws extablished under it. True, it's the only one specified in the Constitution, but it's very similar in language to the statuatory oath sworn by every clerk, typist, officer, and bureaucrat, which reads in part:
I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic ...
US Code, Title 5,...

Teaching Darwin as Cultural Imperialism

I understand that the US is one of perhaps only two holdouts against a UN treaty supporting cultural diversity. This prompted me to think about what cultural imperialism is.

Is it cultural imperialism when we try to stop cultures from some practices which spreads disease (e.g., funerary cannibalism among the Fore), or try to stop female genital mutilation? How about making people let girls go to school? How about showing the rest of the world Spiderman and Harry Potter. Or even making children of fundamentalists study evolution in school?

My answer is yes to all of the above, but I still think they are all good ideas. The values of cultural diversity have been highly touted, especially among liberals. United States Defence Department employees, for example, are now required to have cultural diversity awareness objectives in their annual performance plans. Such ideas would have been considered bizarre a hundred years ago, and the Europeans who conquered much of the World over the past centuries had entirely opposite opinions. Aside from their hardly incidental pursuit of wealth, much of the justification for those conquests came from the desire to convert the heathen and show them the right. Similar motives impelled the conquests of Islamic expansion 1200 years ago.

The high tide of Western imperialism has passed, and with it has come a certain loss of confidence in Western culture, even as it continues to sweep away most traces of anything else. Multiculturalism holds that all cultures were created equal, with an equal right to survival, but even if we concede some sort of moral parity, we need to note that all cultures are not equal in their ability to compete in the world or provide for their members.

So I say, let us face up to the fact that we are asking people to change their culture, and that there are good reasons for insisting that immigrants to America learn English, and that all children in our schools learn about Darwinian evolution, and that not all cultural practices are compatible with today's world.

Buying the Good News

I don't fully share the outrage about the fact that our military has been paying the Iraqi press to print good news stories. I'm more bothered by the fact that the Bushies were doing the same in the US. It does seem to have a little of the comic opera ineptitude about it that has characterized so much of the Bush war, though.

I was particularly impressed by the rationale somebody offered on NPR today.

It's the custom in that part of the world. Saddam did it.
Well, that's a precedent we wouldn't want to tamper with, huh?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Stupid, Ignorant, Evil, or Insane?

Brad Delong takes on Gregg Easterbrook, who wrote:

Don't take this personally, but if you are an American adult there is a one in two chance that Richard Dawkins, a renowned professor of science at Oxford, thinks you are "ignorant, stupid or insane," unless you are "wicked." These are the adjectives Dawkins chooses to describe the roughly 100 million Americans adults who, if public opinion polls are right, believe Homo sapiens was created directly by God, rather than gradually by evolution.

Actually Brad thinks that those four possibilities pretty much cover it:
...The important point, of course, is that contrary to Easterbrook's claim that there isn't much to choose from, that list actually covers the whole wide range of possibilities. Dawkins himself goes on to explain that the stupid, insane or wicked are the minority possibilities, but let's be honest and face the facts: if you are a creationist, you are almost certainly deeply ignorant of biology.

Well Brad, though I usually worship the magnetic domains you align, I've got to take exception to you and Richard here. Of course we are all at least a little stupid, ignorant, evil, and insane, so you may have a technical point, but I don't think that's how you guys mean it. My guess is that most creationists are mainly disbelievers less from ignorance than choice. You and Richard ought to be aware that evolution has provided us with brains that like to organize and discipline our knowledge, which requires disregarding a lot of things which don't fit our world view. The people who choose to disbelieve evolution in order to maintain their faith in their religion are not necessarily stupid for doing so - it's not likely to decrease their fitness by much - probably a lot less than calling half a country stupid, for example.

What they are doing is not different in principle from what I do when I start reading about a new perpetual motion machine - I assume it's crap because I really believe in the first and second laws of thermodynamics. I willing to bet that Dawkins and Delong have similar prejudices which permit them to dismiss out of hand all sorts of arguments without analyzing every detail.

Steven Jay Gould, a prominent evolution writer who often crossed swords with Dawkins, was neither stupid, ignorant, insane, or, so far as I know, especially evil, but he did have a bunch of wrongheaded ideas about evolution. This is probably true of lots of other evolutionary scientists also.

Evolution is very important to Dawkins, and to me, but not to most people. His assumption that anyone with different priorities fits in one of his four categories is merely an ignorant prejudice on his point.

So I say creationists are not necessarily evil, stupid, especially ignorant, or even insane. They are, however, quite wrong. So, in this case, are Dawkins and Delong.

Beat the Press

I really want to beat the Press after one of these idiotic press conferences. Or maybe just waterboard them a little. Some good questions did get asked, along with the moronic one like "so now what mistakes will you own up to?" What really really makes me mad is the obvious questions that go unasked. Two from me:

Mr President, you just described leaking classified information [about the NSA wiretaps] as shameful. Earlier you said you would fire anyone who had leaked the identity of the CIA agent. Given that Karl Rove has admitted leaking the CIA agent's name, why is he still your Deputy Chief of Staff?


Mr. President, Bob Novak says you know the identity of the other person who leaked the CIA agent's name? Who was it? Was it you?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Loco Control

We have a tradition of local control of the public schools in this country, but at this point almost all that's left is tradition - control is long gone. There is some logic to State or national control of education, but the system we have now, where school boards are nominally in charge but subject to all sorts of State and National mandates and incentives, is crazy.

The huge bureaucracies almost all school districts have today is driven in large part by the need to conform to mandates and compete for "grants." Because these mandates are driven by all sorts of special interests they are often mutually contradictory.

No child left behind is the latest and in many ways the most disruptive of these mandates. I think the country needs to make some choices about who controls what in the schools, and when they make those choices, make them in such a way that lines of control and responsibility are clear cut and obvious to all.

Humpty Dumpty

Bush's speech on Iraq tonight was more forthright than his usual, but it did reiterate one of his big lies - the conflation of Iraq and terrorism. He also failed to squarely confront the central problem in today's Iraq - the simmering three-way civil war among Kurds, Sunnis and Shia. He quite likely is correct that walking away right now might cause us more problems than it solves. Having broken the Iraqi state, can we put it back together?

The existing constitution is an almost certain recipe for continuing civil war. After the defeat of Japan, McArthur pretty much personally wrote the Japanese constitution, and took extensive steps to make sure that Japan developed the institutions to support it. In their weakness, folly and arrogance, the Bushies didn't even try to do the same in Iraq.

Many, like Republican Lindsay Graham and Democrat Joseph Biden, say that the next six months are critical for achieving a workable constitution in Iraq. I'm not sure we still have the leverage or even the will to push the Iraqi's into adopting a constitution less certain to cause civil war, but one can still hope.

The President's worst failure was failing to recognize the need for a political solution. If we don't face that fact, whatever success we have will be hollow indeed.

I am pretty confident that we will be leaving Iraq sometime in the next three years, and that however we leave, even if it's clinging to helicopter skids as we evacuate the Embassy, victory will be proclaimed.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Illegal Snooping

President Bush has admitted authorizing what appear to be clearly illegal wiretaps on US citizens. This David E Sanger New York Times Story has some of the details. Once again, the President claims a justification in the form of another John Woo special opinion - (remember him, the torture is not torture guy?) - holding again that the President is above the Law. Josh Marshall is all over this story. There is little doubt that the actions of the President and his subordinates constitute a felonious violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act but, naturally, little prospect that they will actually be prosecuted.

UPDATE: As commenter Levi pointed out, I should have said John Yoo, not John Woo.

Another Republicrook on the Ropes?

New York Republican gubernatorial candidate William Weld is perhaps the latest prominent Republican to be caught up in an ethics problem. New York Times reporters Sam Dillon and Patrick D. Healy lay out the story in this multipart article. It seems that Weld was CEO of the for profit Decker College, which collapsed amidst accusations of fraud victimizing the students, employees, and the Federal Student Loan program. Among other things, the school is accused of recruiting unqualified students with high pressure tactics, helping them cheat on exams, falsifying attendance records, and paying off former employees not to report these illegalities. At this point Weld has not been accused of personal criminal activity, but running a criminal enterprise isn't much of a recommendation for a governorship even if he was merely a dupe.

White Boys ...

According to Nicolas Wade in this NYT story, scientists at Penn State report that they have found the long sought "white boy" gene responsible for the light skin color of Europeans and the darker skin color of Africans.

The gene comes in two versions, one of which is found in 99 percent of Europeans and the other in 93 to 100 percent of Africans, the researchers report in today's issue of Science.

The gene is unusual because with most human genes, different versions are generally shared, though one version may be more common in one race than another.
We were all presumeably black from the time we lost our hair 1.5 million years ago or so until about 40,000 years ago when Europeans moved into the far less sunny climes of the North.
But when the modern humans who left Africa began to live in northern latitudes, they needed more sunlight to penetrate the skin, to permit the chemical reaction that produces vitamin D.
Oddly enough, the gene, and its varieties were not initially identified
... in humans but in a mutant zebra fish, a small striped fish common in aquariums. The mutant fish are known as golden, because their stripes, usually black, are much paler and their bodies more yellow.

Work continues apace on the search for the "can't jump" gene.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Lubos was apparently thrilled to find this rather shallow analysis of the concept of 'sustainability' by Roy Spencer on the Exxon funded propaganda site TCS Daily. Spencer's argument:

Even though it is fashionable for now, ‘sustainability’ is not a very useful concept. In the final analysis, only change is sustainable.
Much of his essay is devoted to a couple of lame jokes: the idea that New York had a critical environmental crisis in the form of too much horseshit, only to be saved by the internal combustion engine, and some ecological organization's budget having been determined to be "unsustainable."

Some hundreds of millions of years in the future, the accumulation of helium at the Sun's core will cause it to expand and fry the Earth, so in the long run, life on our planet cannot be sustained. At some point, your automobile engine, no matter how carefully maintained, will fail. Neither of these facts is justification for ignoring shorter term sustainability. Drain the oil out of your engine, and it will run for at most a few miles before failing catastrophically. Fail to change the oil, and it will go perhaps a few tens of thousands of miles before suffering the same fate - but properly maintained it may run a few hundred thousand miles.

The same kinds of arguments apply to the Earth. Spencer says:
Surely there is only so much oil left to be found, though, and so our use of petroleum is, ultimately, unsustainable. But does this mean we should worry about running out of oil?
And argues that it will run out whether we worry about it or not. Well, duh! Just maybe, planning for an event that is certain to be extremely disruptive might make sense.

His "what, me worry" attitude also extends to greenhouse warming, where he rather disingenuously says:
if indeed global warming turns out to be a real problem, no rate of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases is sustainable.
Of course if emissions are reduced enough, greenhouse gases won't increase at all, because there are processes that remove them from the atmosphere. Also, the speed with which climate changes occur is likely to play a big role in how well we can adapt to them.
He adds:
Second, the sustainability argument neglects the proven role of technological advances that, historically, make sustainability a moot point.
Actually, history has more examples of unsustainable resource use leading to catastrophe than it has of technology riding miraculously to the rescue - the Easter Islanders (previous post), the Maya, the Anazazi, the agricultural civilizations of the Middle East to name just a few.

Sustainability Parable

1500 years ago Polynesian explorers reached and settled the most isolated piece of habitable land in the world - an island some of their descendants called Rapa Nui. Only sixty-four square miles, but extremely fertile, it was well forested, and the inhabitants were able to live quite well by fishing and farming, making use of the trees to make the excellent outrigger canoes with which their people had explored so much of the world. Their population grew to about 15,000 and they built a vigorous civilization, featuring elaborate stone statues, which they erected at great cost in labor and wood. Their religious enterprises began depleting the forests, but the high priest of the cult, who was called Exxon, assured the population that the only way to propitiate the gods was to continue to cut down trees in order to erect more stone statues, and that stopping would bring economic ruin. When the last tree was cut down, no more canoes could be built, and without the fish which had been the staple of their diet, starvation, war, and cannibalism ensued. The population collapsed as did the civilization, and the first arriving European explorers found a largely depopulated and almost completely deforested island, with only very primitive and decrepit boats fastened together from small pieces of wood.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Tammy Bruce is Not a Fan

Of current movies, including Brokeback Mountain, which she describes thusly:

A love story between two gay sheepherders (erroneously labeled 'cowboys' by the media, I suppose because they wear hats).

Gay sheepherders? The hell you say! I mean, like, gay cowboys has some novelty value, but gay shepherds is sort of like gay hairdressers.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

(Via Shakespeare's Sister, subbing for Kevin Drum at Political Animal.)

Repairing Environmental Damage

Global warming naysayers sometimes take the tack that even if were are screwing up the planet, trying to limit the damage would be too costly. There is one encouraging sign out now though. One of the first examples of global environmental destruction that nations cooperated to deal with was ozone destruction.

This year, we are seeing the first signs of recovery . It's an interesting historical fact that many of the same cast of characters who now deny global warming played the same role with ozone loss, denying and denying until the scientific evidence became overwhelming. Of course the stupidocracy, like Rush the junkie, are still deluded.

The case for anthropogenic climate warming, and its bad consequences, is not yet at that same level of certainty. We should remember, though, that it will take decades more for the ozone to fully recover, but with global warming we might be talking centuries.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Genesis 6:14 A

The Lord looked at that part of the Earth bounded by the Beltway, and was not well pleased.

He spoke to Noah Johnson, a hot dog vendor on Dupont Circle, and said.

I intend to flood this place, and so separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

So get some plywood and build and ark.

Make it 4 cubits long, two cubits wide, and 1 cubit high - that should be plenty for the righteous.

Take some canned goods, a flashlight, and a good bailing can.

And here's a FEMA credit card - try not to flash it on Meet the Press.

"Let the rains begin."

Neither a Borrower nor a Lender be?

My family and I borrowed about $1100 bucks last month. It seems like a lot, but we've been borrowing almost as much every month for a long time now, so it should be OK, right?

We aren't exactly borrowing it personally, our friendly Congressmen are doing it for us. You know, those guys who like to tell us "it's your money" as they chuckle and give another couple hundred million to Paul Allen so that he can buy another 600 foot boat. Who the f&*# do they think is going to have to pay it back?

The New York Times reports:

The United States trade deficit reached a new high for the second consecutive month, the Commerce Department reported today, widening to a record $68.9 billion in October as oil imports far outpaced exports of capital goods like airplanes.
That extrapolates to about $826 billion per year, or roughly $2700 per person ($10,800 for a family of four), but, since it has been setting a new record every month, constant extrapolation is probably an underestimate. Funny how rich you can feel while living on borrowed money.

Brad Delong isn't too happy either:
This is a much bigger piece of news than one usually gets with a monthly release--and it's not good news. Each month the trade deficit gets bigger makes it more and more likely that we will have serious macroeconomic trouble when America's savings and investment flows start to come back into balance:

John Harris, Twisting Slowly, Slowly, in the Wind


Dan Froomkin writes an online political blog for called White House Briefing. Deborah Howell, whose job title is Ombudman, but who appears to be more of a right-minder for the Republican Party wrote this column dissing Dan as a biased liberal. This provoked a storm of protest from readers, overwhelmingly Froomkin fans. This in turn led Washington Post Political Editor John Harris to write this rejoinder, provoking yet more reader outrage.

Jay Rosen of Press Think got this interview with John Harris, and it wasn't pretty. Who exactly, was confused or outraged about Froomkin's blog?

Q: What sort of complaints or reactions have the political writers received (and from whom) that would lead them to think that White House Briefing is harming their credibility?

John Harris: I don’t keep a running log, but I regularly run across people who think Dan is one of our White House reporters. One of them was a very news-saavy source of mine who actually runs campaigns. That tells me there is a large chunk of readers—I’m not saying most but a lot—who are not clear who he is and that he is writing as a commentator and not a White House reporter.

The ombudsman says she regularly gets comments on the theme of how can you pretend to objectivity when your White House reporter writes “insert Froomkin quote here.”
So what exactly has Froomkin written that is biased?
Without agreeing with the views of this conservative blogger who took on Froomkin, I would say his argument does not seem far-fetched to me.
So who is the "conservative blogger," some top 10, top 100, or top 400 blogger with an independent point of view? Not exactly. Let's check out his blog bio:
Until recently, Ruffini was webmaster for the Bush-Cheney '04 presidential campaign...
Moving right along now, Brad DeLong also manages to get Harris to return his phone call. This gets Harris a couple of courage points, but as Brad mentions, "It didn't go very well." You should read the whole thing, but here is a sample:
Q: Can you give any examples--other than Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Patrick Ruffini people who are seriously confused about Dan Froomkin's role at WPNI?

A: I cannot comment for the record because I've promised I won't comment on this.
At least nobody can say Harris hasn't learned anything from covering politicians.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Threnody for Strings

Peter Woit has this post up on David Gross's talk at Solvay. (Lubos weighed in earlier, but he mostly just plays defense). The most popular interpretation seems to be that String Theory has hit a bit of an impasse. This has happened before, and each time some new breakthrough has occurred to inspire the faithful. I found many of the comments on Peter's blog interesting, including some I could understand.

The most inexplicable thing in theoretical physics for me today is the fanatical and religious way so many in String Theory defend their idea as the "one true way." This is so foreign to the way physics was done in the first 70 years of the twentieth century that it seems bizarre to me. Einstein, Bohr and others seemingly fought their battles back them with a dignity and good humor that makes a lot of the ST crowd look like back alley thugs.

WaPo Tries to Kiss Some WH Butt

John Harris, WaPo's chief White House flunky (aka, the National Politics Editor), is afraid that Karl Rove may think that WaPo Kowtow is not quite low enough. He explains about Dan Froomkin and:

the concerns about "White House Briefing" in the Post newsroom.
I think he means Corporate cowardice headquarters.

The first issue is whether many readers believe Dan's column is written by one of the Washington Post's three White House reporters. . .

Given that there is such confusion, the question is whether this is a problem. For me it is a problem. I perceive a good bit of his commentary on the news as coming through a liberal prism--or at least not trying very hard to avoid such perceptions. Dan, as I understand his position, says that his commentary is not ideologically based, but he acknowledges it is written with a certain irreverence and adversarial purpose. Dan does not address the main question in his comments. He should. If he were a White House reporter for a major news organization, would it be okay for him to write in the fashion he does? If the answer is yes, we have a legitimate disagreement. If the answer is no, there is not really a debate: should change the name of his column to more accurately present the fact that this is Dan Froomkin's take on the news, not the observations of someone who is assigned by the paper to cover the news.
The phrase "cover the news" here should be understood to mean "kiss butt like Bobby W does."

UPDATE: Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has more, as does Atrios, Kevin Drum, and Josh Marshall (where I, oops, forgot to mention, first read about it)

Gerhard Globocrook

This year's tense battle for the World Scumbag Championship has been broken wide open by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's deal with Russian energy company Gazprom. Just weeks ago, the Tom Delay-Jack Abramoff axis appeared to have the trophy wrapped up, but Schroeder's big move has turned the struggle upside down.

Even the scandal hardened Washington Post had a harsh word ("Sellout") for a Chancellor who:

leaves his job and goes to work for a company controlled by the Russian government that is helping to build a Baltic Sea gas pipeline that he championed while in office. To make the decision even more unpalatable, it turns out that the chief executive of the pipeline consortium is none other than a former East German secret police officer who was friendly with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, back when Mr. Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany. If nothing else, Mr. Schroeder deserves opprobrium for his bad taste.

But the announcement should also raise questions in German voters' minds about the real reasons Mr. Schroeder was so keen to see this pipeline project launched. The pipeline has cost Germany diplomatically by infuriating its Central European and Baltic neighbors. They point out that the Russian government chose to use the sea route rather than run a new pipeline alongside one that already exists on land, despite the far greater expense. The only possible reason for doing so was political: The Baltic Sea pipeline could allow Russia, a country that has made political use of its energy resources, to cut off gas to Central Europe and the Baltic states while still delivering gas to Germany. Many have wondered why Germany chose to go along with this project. Could it have been because the former chancellor realized that he was, in effect, creating his own future place of employment?

Damn. Aren't their laws against this sort of thing?

Oopprobrium hell. This requires and investigation of the facts. Some "not quite harsh enough to be torture" interrogation is called for. How do you say "waterboard" auf Deutsch?

Darwin vs. God

I've been reading over the Newsweek readers' responses to their article on Darwin. There are the usual people who find it hard to believe Darwin because the find it hard to believe Darwin, and also a bunch who find no incosistency between religion and Darwin.

The real problem that Darwin in particular and biology in general present for religion is not that they make it hard to believe in God, it's that they make it hard to believe in a God who cares. Darwin himself started as a believer, and even planned a carreer in the clergy. It was the cruelty of nature and of evolution that turned him against God. What kind of benevolent God would create an ichneumon wasp and the way it makes its living? Once you ask that question, it's easy to wonder the same about malaria, polio, and AIDS.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Bubble Boy Gets Out

I don't know any details, but Bush actually answered some questions after his speech today. About time. He might find it makes him a lot more popular. Expecially if he gives straightforward answers and not the usual Rovian mumbo-jumbo.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Emerging Economic Superpower

Harvard economist LM has observed the emergence of a new economic superpower. Some might think that one cold day in Cambridge does not exactly disprove global warming, or that one year's good economic growth might convince only the most credulous, but, stamped with the authority of Harvard, how can we doubt?

The CIA factbook has published some economic data for Iraq, which shows that the GDP grew by 52.3 percent in 2004. LM notes this and deduces:

The country has not only a terrific growth potential but also a big potential to become an extremely civilized territory, just like it was thousands of years ago when Europe was their barbarian borderland.
And any doubters are "immoral bastards."

The CIA factbook is a bit more cautious in its assessment.
The high percentage gain estimated for GDP in 2004 is the result of starting from a low base.
And notes that:
The military victory of the US-led coalition in March-April 2003 resulted in the shutdown of much of the central economic administrative structure.
The result was a 2003 GDP decline roughly equal to the increase in 2004.

Despite the robust estimated growth for 2004, the GDP for 2004 was still only a little more than half what it was two decades ago. Anyone who dwells on, or even acknowledges, these realities is an "immoral bastard" though. No doubt the same is true of those who wonder if the security situation in 2005 will even permit a reasonable estimate of the GDP.

UPDATE: If this topic interests you, be sure to check out Jaques Distler's comments over at Lubos's blog. He has some interesting numbers, including the (essentially non-existent) GDP growth so far this year. It seems obvious to me that Iraq is unlikely to have much growth unless the country is pacified. So far, we have not succeeded in doing that. We may hope the Iraqi's do.

Are Corporations Evil?

To me, the title is sort of a silly question, something like asking "Are volcanoes evil?" Of course there is the important difference that corporations are a human creation, unlike volcanoes. There is also the possibility of regulating corporations, unlike volcanoes (at least so far).

In a couple of previous posts I have mentioned the influence of the energy industry on the debate over anthropogenic global warming. Naturally I don't expect, say, Lubos, to understand any subtle distinctions, but I was a bit disappointed that Wolfgang seemed believe that meant I equated Exxon with evil. OK, maybe I might have referred to some of our corporations with endearing terms like "The Evil Empire," but that's just a little joke. Corporations are supposed to make money for their stockholders, and it seems likely to me that most of Exxon's efforts were directed towards that end, so in that sense proper.

I'm not so happy about the new ways corporations have found to wield political power. The vast network of foundations, think tanks, and web sites funded by Exxon and others has become the most powerful force in American politics. Much of the time, the sources of their funding are undisclosed when they make policy pronouncements, and the press treats what by any reasonable standard should be called propaganda as legitimate scholarly input.

I don't want Exxon to be prevented from presenting its point of view in public debates, but I think it should be required to do so openly, in its own name, not through a shadowy network of false-flag organizations. I am for full disclosure of funding sources for any organization engaging in public debate.

In the interests of full disclosure, I will mention that my direct blog related expenditures are fully funded by income from my Exxon and Walmart stock holdings. ;)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Energizing the Opposition

While checking up on Dr. Spencer (previous post) I found this web site. Essentially every anti-global warming organization you ever heard of is listed on Exxon's payroll. Ditto most of the usual right wing suspects: The American Enterprise Institute, The Cato Institute, The Federalist Society, The Heritage Society, The Hoover Institution, The Hudson Institute,, The Reason Foundation, and of course Tech Central Station. I didn't list the climate related ones, but check them out - and think twice before you trust anything from anybody on the payroll of the world's largest source of pollution.

Climatic Moment

Roy Spencer, a real scientist with some climate science chops, is a global warming skeptic. Oops, let me try that again: An anthropogenic global warming skeptic. I had to put in the qualifier because Roy, like Prof M (to whom I owe the link to Roy's article) is exercised by those who are ignorant enough or otherwise sufficiently imprecise as to ignore the vast spectrum of naturally occurring climate change. It's a legitimate point, unless it's used to try to obfuscate the increasing evidence for human induced climate change.

So what's bothering Dr. Spencer? It seems that he was one of the few scientists at the UN's 11th Conference of Parties meeting in Montreal, and he found that most of the delegates weren't interested in how certain or uncertain climate predictions were.

All these people know - or need to know - is that the "glaciers are melting," it's getting "hotter every year", and "climate change is killing people now" (all of these are direct quotes from presenters).

For example, I learned at a Pew Center briefing that anyone (like me) who is skeptical of climate change is a "Flat-Earther." While I thought that had a nice ring to it, it was pointed out to me the term wasn't intended as a compliment.

I also learned that the term "climate change" no longer needs the qualifier of "human-caused," because it has apparently been decided that all purported climate change is caused by the activity of mankind. (Attention: henceforth, all unusual weather events will be due to our burning of fossil fuels.) Natural climate variability has been relegated to the status of quaint myth. Mother Nature wouldn't cause a Category 4 hurricane to hit Louisiana unless mankind forced her hand.
He has a certain amount of my sympathy there. Zealotry and rationality assort badly, as we found out (once again!) in GW's excellent Iraq adventure.

Spencer isn't interested in discussion of uncertainties here, though. What he wants to do is to make amusingly sarcastic remarks about the participants and to push the idea that any attempt to deal with with human caused climate change will have bad economic consequences. He *is* quite amusing, but you will have to read the article to see the funny parts.
The people at COP-11 are well-fed, well-dressed, have been transported half way around the world by fossil-fueled aircraft, and are totally dependent upon myriad goods and services that require access to affordable energy. But that hasn't seemed to cross their minds. If it has, they are under the illusion that the world can live on a whole lot less energy than it is right now. I look around and wonder how all of these people would contribute to life on Earth if they were not so busy trying to save it.

Once again he doesn't present any facts or arguments to back up this idea. I guess I would be a bit disappointed if I were to find out that his trip, or his research, were paid for by someone like Exxon Mobil*.

As it happens, I think that there is quite a lot of evidence for anthropogenic global warming, but it still doesn't even make my list of the three most pressing environmental problems. Here are some that do: 1)overpopulation, 2)habitat destruction, 3)pollution. All the rest, plus global warming, could be managed easily if 1) could be dealt with.

*UPDATE: Oops. Sorry Roy. Exxon's wallet is showing. I can't believe Roy's a sell-out though. I know I'd never sell-out for that kind of bucks. Merely a coincidental confluence of interests, I'm sure. The Exxon crack was just a stab in the dark for me. Funny what you can hit when you aren't aiming.

Hating Hillary

Susan Estrich, a liberal obnoxious and funny looking enough to rate frequent Fox News gigs, has written The Case for Hillary Clinton. I'm not likely to read it, but hearing about it prompted me to think about why I really hate the thought of her as a Democratic presidential candidate.

It's actually not personal - or at least mainly not personal. Though her voice does grate on my nerves.

a) She is Bill Clinton's wife. I like Bill Clinton. He is very charming and intelligent. He was even a good President until his philandering and perjury got him caught up in fighting stupid political charges. Those same misdeeds destroyed the Democratic party and cost them the next two elections. We would have been far better off if he had been convicted and removed from office. Too bad the Republicans were too stupid to charge him with his real crime.

But even if he had been a perfect, saintly, and universally beloved President, I would still find his Presidency disqualifying for Hillary. The US does not need dynasties. We are trying it now and it only took eight years and one generation to get to the idiot prince. The Adams' presidencies were about a quarter century apart. That should be the absolute minimum for one family.

b) Her public positions are models of unprincipled expediency. There is no there there.

c) The hint of corruption clings to her, starting from her Little Rock escapades.

d) Too many people hate her. She is unlikely to be elected. She is not a likeable person, so far as I can tell.

e) If it were personal, I'd put some stuff here. But it isn't, so I deleted a bunch of stuff that some might have so construed.

Three for the Show?

Unless events unfold a lot differently than I expect (and they usually do), the Republican Candidate in 2008 will likely face some uninviting odds - eight years of Bush rule having left the country more or less bankrupt, with the jails full of Republican officials, and the Iraq disaster either not yet gone or at least not forgotten. Not to worry - the Democrats are unlikely to field a reasonable candidate. At this point, the favorites are the unbearable Hillary Clinton, soon likely to be hated as much by the liberals as by the right, proven loser John Kerry, and the lighter-than-air John Edwards. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats have sat on their hands while Republicans have conducted the most corrupt Congress in recent memory. Despite ample evidence of misbehavior and even indictments, no ethics complaints have been filed in Congress.

All a third party needs at this point is a credible candidate with a reasonable platform. They could start with anti-corruption, fiscal responsibility, and open government. Universal health insurance would als be nice.

Shrill Nobel Playwright

Harold Pinter doesn't like us:

"The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them," Mr. Pinter said. "You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis."

Mr. Pinter attacked American foreign policy since World War II, saying that while the crimes of the Soviet Union had been well documented, those of the United States had not. "I put to you that the United States is without doubt the greatest show on the road," he said. "Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be, but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self-love."

He returned to the theme of language as an obscurer of reality, saying that American leaders use it to anesthetize the public. "It's a scintillating stratagem," Mr. Pinter said. "Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words 'the American people' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable."
He's not actually that thrilled with his own country either.
Accusing the United States of torturing terrorist suspects in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, Mr. Pinter called the invasion of Iraq - for which he said Britain was also responsible - "a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law." He called for Prime Minister Tony Blair to be tried before an international criminal court.

Mr. Pinter said it was the duty of the writer to hold an image up to scrutiny, and the duty of citizens "to define the real truth of our lives and our societies."

Remembering the SSC

No blogger intimidates me quite as much as Brad Delong. The guy is amazingly prolific and equally amazing in his breadth of knowledge. This short note inspired by Lisa Randall's Warped Passages asks us to:

Just think of what we would know if since 1970s we had diverted NASA's manned space flight budget into building bigger and bigger atom smashers...

The shuttle and space station were indeed tragic wastes. I'm a fan of manned space flight myself, but I think we have to say that NASA in the 70's wanted to pursue manned space flight in the worst possible way - and they did. Like George W and the invasion of Iraq.

We can't really know if completing the rather embarassingly named Superconducting Supercollider would have advanced our knowledge of physics, but if it hadn't, it would have put the whole subject to sleep for a century or so.

Of course it's pretty obvious now that the $5 billion saved by killing off the SSC is drarfed by all sorts of other government blunders: $300 billion (1960's dollars) for Vietnam, $100 billion for the shuttle - space station disaster, and somewhere between $500 billion to a $trillion for GW's Iraq adventure. And don't let me forget the $300 or so billion that went for the savings and loan bailout - essentially reimbursement of savings account holders for money stolen by Neil Bush and his many cohorts.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Educating America

I had some interesting conversations with current and former teachers and school administrators recently. There is a tremendous unhappiness with the No Child Left Behind education program passed by the Congress and the President. One common complaint is that the emphasis on standard tests has been a big boon for the testing companies, but not for the students. Typical elementary school children now spend ten percent or so of their total instructional time sitting for standardized tests.

The real source of bitterness, though, is the sense that the public schools are being held to an impossible standard. In particular, for a school to be successful, it has to succeed with every category of its students (race, sex, and some other distinctions). One example brought to my attention - in order to succeed, schools need to have 95% of the students in each category show up for the exam. In some categories, the absence of one or two students on test days could fail the school. This bitterness is compounded by the fact that private schools, home-schooled children, and some others (charter schools?) are not held to any such standards.

Many so-called conservatives, like former Reagan Education Secretary Bill "gambling man" Bennett, make no secret of the fact that they want public education to fail and be replaced by private education. The NCLB education bill is the not so secret weapon for implementing this radical plan. So why did liberals like Ted Kennedy sign off on and endorse this bill? I have two explanations, each of which can be summarized as stupidity. First, they saw a laudable goal, educating every child, and more money for education but failed to read the fine print carefully enough to see how destructive the program would become for public education. Second, they underestimated the malice and radical ideology behind the Bush agenda. They just couldn't bring themselves to believe that a President of the United States would set out to destroy public education.

There is a deep similarity here to the radical ideology that has made such a disastrous mess of the Iraqi economy. Apparently the neo-cons really believed that imposing a flat tax and opening up the Iraqi economy to outsiders was a program for rebuilding Iraq. Or maybe they just saw a chance to make a fast buck.

In their way, these radicals are the flip side of the Islamic fundamentalism of bin Laden and company. Having rejected science and given free reign to magical thinking, they are undeterred by the reality they don't even see. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy Secretary of Defense who had no clue as to how many American casualties Iraq had cost is but the shadow of his leader, a man who lives in a bubble so profound that he never needs to face an honest opinion.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


This paper (gr-qc/0512018) up on the ArXiv today has an abstract with a great punchline:

Starting from a perfect cosmolgical fluid, one class of frequency metrics that satisfies both Einstein's General Relativitic equation and the perfect fluid condition is: g_uv = e^iwt N_uv. Such a metric indicates spacetime behaves locally like a simple harmonic oscillator. During spacetime compressions and rarefactions particles are exuded with a mass equal to the compressive work that produced them. They comprise the cosmic dark matter that makes up this perfect fluid. By treating spacetime as a classical thermodynamic problem, the mass of these particles is determined to be in the range of an axion particle sought by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. When axion particles collide they give off a photon having a microwave frequency inversely equal to that of the frequency of the spacetime compression that produced them. These microwave photons make up the 2.7K cosmic background radiation.

Unfortunately, the rest of the paper seems less amusing to me. Maybe Lubos would like it.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Pro-Torture Lobby

Oddly enough, our Stalinist friend, L. Motl, has a pro-torture post up right now.

His justification, like those of torture justifiers always and everywhere, is that the victims (in this case terrorists) of the torture are so bad and undeserving of human treatment, that they deserve this treatment, and, moreover torture is needed to combat them. Others against whom this rationale has been used include "reactionaries" and "counter-revolutionaries" in Communist nations, enemies of the ruler, practically everywhere, Jews, and heretics like scientists.

Those who founded this country incorporated some provisions against torture into the constitution. They knew that torture victims are all guilty, because the tortured will confess to anything. That is how Bush got his phony evidence of a collaboration between al Quaeda and Iraq - they tortured an al Quaeda operative until he figured out what it was they wanted him to confess to. For the torturer, this nicety is a small one, since because they get pleasure by inflicting pain, that proves to their twisted minds that the victims deserved their fates.

I find LM's comment interesting not for any intrinsic merit, but for the insight it gives into the mind of the would be perpetrators. Psychologists claim that we all have sadistic tendencies. Those who act out their sadistic thoughts rarely like to admit their motivations though. Narcissistic personalities like Motl and Bush who enjoy causing pain to others usually claim some reason or justification for the cruelty they enjoy. Their enemies (and almost everybody is an enemy to them) don't deserve to be treated as human beings, and hence anything inflicted on them is excusable. Someone diagrees with you - call them a "dog" and then any behavior of yours can be considered permissable.

It's a discouraging fact of human nature that the sadistic personality - Hitler, Stalin, Tony Soprano, ex-Specialist Charles Graner, Bush - often finds it easy to attract accolytes. Our best weapons against them are probably courage and our contempt - they tend to fear both.


George "mpos" Stephanopolis interviewed National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley on ABC's this week. Skipping over the important details (Hadley's admission that Bush is planning to cut and run from Iraq), George also very gently probed Hadley about whether Bush would accept the McCain anti-torture amendment. Hadley bobbed and weaved, and went on his way, but Stephanopolis came back to the subject in the "round table" discussion.

Gee, opined the mpos, if they won't compromise on this that must mean the military really thinks they need it. What a crock of shit! The military neither needs nor wants it. The guy who wants it is the smirking sadist who went from blowing up frogs as a kid to branding pledges with a red hot coat hanger as a young man. The guy who wants it is the one who could never cover his glee at putting to death prison inmates and was amused by the prospect that some of them had had very feeble legal defenses. The guy who wants it is that lying, smirking, bully who would rather American soldiers were, as he put it

sacrificing on the battlefield than, you know, endless hours of testimony on congressional hill
He also the same guy who has consistently cut benefits for wounded soldiers and and the survivors of our soldiers killed.

Am I shrill yet?

Bush on the Couch

I've already had some fun here at the expense of Justin Frank's book, title as above, but having read more of it, I think that beneath all the Freudian mumbo-jumbo, there is some truth. However silly their theories may be, shrinks have had a lot of experience with psychopathologies, and I'm not sure Frank is so wrong about Bush.

The ADHD President As governor, while holding a press conference on a fatal heat wave and forest fire, after he called the forestry official up to speak:

Bush looked toward the journalists, stuck out his tongue, and made a funny face by puffing out his cheeks like a blowfish.

Bush the Alky, twenty years of heavy drinking takes a toll:
All one has to do to observe Bush's innattention is watch him listening to a speech given by someone else, watch his behavior on the campaign trail, or consider the obviously desperate attempts he makes to retain focus in every speech he gives.

The Religious Fanatic:
God told me to strike at al Quaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did

Grandiosity and Magical Thinking
Mission Accomplished...
Wanted, dead or alive...
The flight suit, the posturing, etc.

The Coward The man afraid to address the British House of Commons, or any but handpicked captive audiences. The man afraid to talk to the 9/11 commission without Cheney there to hold his hand.

Friday, December 02, 2005

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Black Holes I.

Black holes again. Some of you may recall that I am something of a fan of the allegedly crackpot theories that black holes don't really form because they evaporate first.

There are a few recent relevant papers up on the ArXiv.

My first candidate is Sean A. Hayward's Formation and evaporation of regular black holes (gr-qc/0506126). A regular black hole, as I learned, is a black hole without a singularity at the center. From the abstract:

Regular (non-singular) space-times are given which describe the formation of a black hole from an initial vacuum region, its quiescence as a static region, and its subsequent evaporation to a vacuum region. The static region is Bardeen-like, supported by finite density and pressures, vanishing rapidly at large radius and behaving as a cosmological constant at small radius. The dynamic regions are Vaidya-like, with ingoing radiation of positive energy flux during collapse and negative energy flux during evaporation, the latter balanced by outgoing radiation of positive energy flux.
In Hayward's model, an hypothesized equation of state for matter at extreme densities provides an effective cosmological constant which, in his words:
...which seems to act as a charm against singularities.
His conclusion mentions a further virtue:
Most discussions of black-hole evaporation mention a certain I-word, as a paradox, problem or puzzle. The above space-times, regular and with the causal structure of flat space-time, show that this word need not be mentioned.

To paraphrase an old gravitational adage: what goes in, must come out.

It's important to note that in this model there are things that, from the outside, look just like black holes, and can last arbitrarily long, which is handy, since objects of that sort seem common in our Universe. Of course this model only works if the equation of state at extreme densities has the desired form.


After Bush's Annapolis speech, Senate Democrats apparently had John Kerry (?!) give a response. John Stewart excerpted a few of the more preposterous elements from Kerry's speech and later told Nancy Pelosi "He's not good at that."

What in the hell are Democrats thinking? All of Kerry's verbal and intellectual sins, or at least a surfeit of the mortal ones, were on display: Pomposity, wandering syntax, incoherence, the congenital inability to get to the point, all culminating in and illustrating the fact that the man seemingly has nothing to say. John Murtha would have been a far better choice.

Underneath the ugly surface, the real cause of Democratic confusion is all too apparent: abject cowardice. Anybody thinking of running for President is petrified of saying anything that might be used against him or her=Hillary. Now that Bush's little foreign adventure seems to be turning out badly, everybody is afraid of the old "stab in the back" ploy used so effectively by Hitler and the Reaganites.

The only good answer is to do what John Murtha did. Gather the facts, form a plan, and defend it intelligently. And take the consequences, putting the good of the country first. Is that really such a strange notion?