Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Douglas Holtz-Eakin is a Very Glib Liar

Glib enough, perhaps, for a career in talk radio - or if McCain is elected, maybe Court Jester or Secretary of State.

I guess that once you are that far off the mass shell, up really is down.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Critical Opalescence

People will be looking at the financial breakdown through many lenses, but one that might be worthwhile is the theory of critical phenomena. One thing that the banking deregulation and invention of new financial instruments did was result in a financial system that was more strongly coupled. As long as banks were essentially local and worked with only their own money, weak coupling theory and the appropriate regulations were sufficient.

Many of the financial instruments enabled by the Clinton and Bush repeals of financial regulations made possible the exotic "weapons of mass financial destruction" (as Warren Buffett put it). The supposed benefits are greater mobility of capital and greater efficiency. What many of the banks, and their string theorist "quants" failed to take into account was the possible presence of a second order phase transition.

In such a transition the microscopic transitions from, say, liquid to gas, which are always present but normally energetically suppressed, can grow to arbitrary size. Under favorable conditions, this manifests itself as a sudden clouding of a previously clear sample, the so-called critical opalescence.

We have reached that state in the financial markets, and nobody can understand what anything is worth, because it's all obscured by the critical opalescence.

Maybe next time they should hire recycled condensed matter physicists.


Democrats +45
Republicans -65
Dow - 778

The War Spreads

On Big Bang Theory tonight, Leslie and Leonard were forced to end their relationship because they could not agree whether the children were to be raised in Loop Quantum Gravity or String Theory.

Oddly enough it was Leonard, the String Theorist, who thought it might be OK to let the children grow up and choose for themselves.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Theology vs. Technology

Listening to a discussion of the US anti-missile program on NPR the other day. The one remark that caught my ear was from a former head of the Department of Defence testing program:

We don't have an anti-missile technology, we have an anti-missile theology.

That's true of most of the Reagan era dogma that dominates the GOP. We have seen what happens when you rely on faith-based economics in the financial crash. We have seen what happens when you rely on faith-based foreign policy (we will be greeted as liberators!) in Iraq. We will probably find out how faith-based climate policy works out. Let's not really rely on a faith-based military plan.

Especially not now, with God having plenty of reason to be annoyed with us.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Buzz-Shock

Hmmm. McCain staffers assigned to brief Palin for debate/news conference pronounce her "clueless."

Right wing columnist Parker says she should drop out. Hmmm.

McC flies to Oxford with Rudy and Mrs. Rudy III. Hmmm? Hmmm!

I predict: In surprise announcement, Palin replaces her running mate with Giuliani, declaring McCain "too d*** old." A shocked Obama can't figure out how to counter Rudy's 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 and fumbles away the debate.


So are John McCain and the Republicans really planning to play this movie again?

"Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate"

"It will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up from less competent people.”
-Andrew W. Mellon

This is a Joke, Right? Right??

David Brooks tries to make the transition to comedy writing.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

McCain's Game

OK, a bipartisan consensus was reached on the bailout, John McCain flies in to play the poseur/hero, and the consensus falls apart. So what's McCain's game here? Was it all set up to give him something to save? Or does he really want to play the leader of resistance - to vote against the bailout and (perhaps) hope it passes. The last is my wild guess, but I wouldn't put any more money on it. So here are a few scenarios, to go with the new quiz I am putting up.

Scenario 1. McCain leads the principled conservative resistance, the bailout passes, and anything less than full fledged success he uses as his wedge issue.

Scenario 2. Same as one, but bailout fails, economy crashes, MacDaddy tries to blame it on Obama.

Scenario 3. Same as two, but economy limps along anyway. McCain is conquering hero.

Scenario 4. McCain talks to conservatives, Dems concede only a little, MaC leads a divided party in approving the bailout, which passes and tries to claim some of the credit.

Which do you think will appeal to the compulsive high-stakes Gambler?

If no deal tonight, I'm guessing the Dow breaks below 10 k tomorrow. If so, that whiff of grapeshot might change a few minds.

Obama Yard Signs

Where are they? Looking around how do we know anybody supports our guy?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Malice Aforethought?

Josh Marshall asks:

Why did Bush ruin the country

Was it simple stupidity or was there malice aforethought? In Bush's case, at least of some of it can be attributed to his intellectual and moral failings, but for Grover Norquist and friends, it is definitely malice aforethought. The true disciples of radical Reaganism really believe that government is the enemy, and the aim of the war is to destroy it, and if the economy and international status of the country go down too - well that's just collateral damage. For them, the debt and the deficit are their wedges to destroy the welfare state. Wars and bailouts are just a means to that end.

Their greatest accomplishment has been to persuade the American people that they and the country can live on borrowed money.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Unstable Disequilibrium

A plane was flying from Warsaw to Paris. As they approached their landing the pilot said: On the right you can see the Eiffel Tower. Everyone rushed to the right side, the plane was destabilized, and crashed.

The report of the accident investigation board: Crash due to instability. Too many poles in the right half plane.
...........Old control theory joke. If you got that one, you might be a control theorist, or at least an engineer.

The story of the attempt to stabilize the market: every fix seems to provoke a worse crisis. When Lehman Brothers was left to rot, the fallout started a run on money market funds, so the government intervened to gurantee money market deposits. Banks quickly panicked because customers could get a better deal from from now insured mmfs. Every adjustment seems to provoke another crisis.

So what about the 700 Giga $? Will it be equally futile - except for saving some Wall Street butts? Is the instability just in the toxic waste or is it more fundamental? I think it's more fundamental, originating in our entrenched habit of living on borrowed money. Since we plan to borrow the money to buy the toxic waste, what's the risk that the country's credit gets eroded?

Kid's Brains on RF

Another scary movie.

Texting is safer - unless you are driving.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Must Read Letters

Josh Marshall's readers write:

From TPM Reader CC ...

Considering as how the proposed Wall Street bailout will be one of the most intensely lobbied efforts in American history, will there be anyone left to manage John McCain's campaign?
TPM Reader JS makes another ...

You would never know it from watching the news, but one of the candidates in this race happens to have been previously implicated in a national scandal involving pressuring regulators to back off of a bank making risky moves with its assets, leading to disaster for investors and an expensive government bailout.
Is there a good reason why no one is mentioning John McCain's Keating Five membership in any of these arguments over who is on the side of regulating risky private banking practices? I know that McCain sort of asked for our forgiveness or something at some point during his "maverick period" around 2000-2003, but since he wants to engage in a debate about who is on the side of government regulation of risky banking practices, I think maybe we're allowed to call him out on this issue. Does anyone believe that if Barack Obama were one of the Keating Five that the Republicans would for some reason hold back from mentioning that fact?

Good Work, Guys

For their excellent contributions to the success of the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers, US staff will reap a modest recompense.

Up to 10,000 staff at the New York office of the bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers will share a bonus pool set aside for them that is worth $2.5bn (£1.4bn), Barclays Bank, which is buying the business, confirmed last night.

Of course not all employees are equally guilty, but we can be confident that those most responsible will get the lion's share of the average $250,000 apiece.

Republicans. Got to love them.

Market Justice

Fiat justitia, ruat coelum

A lot of economists and others have suggested that outsourcing the "Sheep Protection Act" to the former alpha wolf of alpha wolves (former Goldman-Sachs CEO Henry Paulson) might not be an entirely sane idea. So what are the options? Letting market justice be done though the heavens fall? Or is there a third way?

Red, the Blood of Angry Men

One More Day.

Warning: Adult Content!

Mike Bloomberg, slightly paraphrased: If the American people don't care about the future, they can have lower taxes. If they want a better future for themselves and their children, they will have to pay for it up front.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Just Say No!

Paulson's deal is starting to look Bush ugly. Here is Josh Marshall.

Also, according to the Journal, finance industry lobbyists are already giving orders to Republican hill staffers not to allow any meaningful reforms or protections for taxpayers. So, just the money. No strings attached.

Paul Krugman:

I hate to say this, but looking at the plan as leaked, I have to say no deal. Not unless Treasury explains, very clearly, why this is supposed to work, other than through having taxpayers pay premium prices for lousy assets.

Sebastian Mallaby:

The plan is being marketed under false pretenses. Supporters have invoked the shining success of the Resolution Trust Corporation as justification and precedent. But the RTC, which was created in 1989 to clean up the wreckage of the savings-and-loan crisis, bears little resemblance to what is being contemplated now. The RTC collected and eventually sold off loans made by thrifts that had gone bust. The administration proposes to buy up bad loans before the lenders go bust


Obviously the administration proposal, whatever the need for some sort of government intervention, is basically insane and no lawmakers should support it. The question is how do we do anything about it? Social Security was an easier battle because it was about making it radioactive for lawmakers to do anything but say "Hell no." This is a bit trickier.

And further:
The $700 Billion Underpants Gnomes

Step 1) Buy $700 billion of big shitpile at inflated prices

Step 2) ..

Step 3) Profit!!

Just Say No!

All Aboard!

You don't see many economists or others critiquing the Bush-Paulson bailout. Certainly not our lapdog Congress. Glenn Greenwald is an exception. He sees a repeat of the rush to judgement that led to Iraq.

Here is his summary of the plan as presented:

Put another way, this authorizes Hank Paulson to transfer $700 billion of taxpayer money to private industry in his sole discretion, and nobody has the right or ability to review or challenge any decision he makes.

Anybody else think that this might be a bad idea?

End of World Delayed for Repairs

Some bad news for the LHC.

Magnet failure likely to delay first collisions until next year.

Krugman Reads McCain on Health Care

Paul Krugman finds this gem in McCain's article: Better Health Care at Lower Cost for Every American.

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.

Hat tip Brad DeLong.

As Josh Marshall notes, this isn't a gaffe, it's how these people really think:

But among ourselves let's admit that you could only be surprised by this statement if you were willfully ignorant to what McCain and his key advisors believe. Remember, his top economics advisor is former Sen. Phil Gramm, the legislative architect of the banking and financial services deregulation that led to the current crisis. And his health care proposals are all off-the-rack Heritage Foundation-style initiatives based on the premise that people have too much, not too little insurance. The only thing jarring about the statement is the degree to which it has been overtaken by events as McCain now tries -- a la Palin the Earmark-Killer -- to rebrand himself as a Mr. Wall Street oversight and transparency when he's been pushing deregulation for 25 years.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Landsburg A-loose

In a lot of science fiction movies there is a robot or mad scientist who has logically deduced the necessity of some crime against humanity. Impeccable logic proves his case and it/he must act on it. Genocidal tyrants and their minions make similar claims at their war crimes trials, and so do terrorists.

Steven Landsburg is a mathematically educated economist who has written well on a variety of topics, including this nice (but hardly error free) note on the major twentieth century mathematician Andrei Weil. Weil, among other activities, was a founding member of Bourbaki, a coalition of French mathematicians dedicated to sucking the life out of mathematics.

On the web, Landsburg is probably most noted for his Slate articles, each of which seems to take a deeply counterintuitive notion and then defend it with rigid economic logic. His conclusions are often not only deeply counterintuitive but distinctly inhuman - remniscent of Bourbaki in their aridity and of the mad scientist/robot/Nazis in their detachment from any normal human feeling. This column, Do the Poor Deserve Life Support? illustrates style and method in starkest form.

Landsburg has written a short article in the Atlantic explaining how he signed on as a McCain supporter. I won't dissect it, but I will note one bit of his logic.

As that famously mad robot, HAL, used to say: "It's usually human error, Dave." And so it is with Prof Dave. An excerpt from his Atlantic suffices to demonstrate the point:

The reason poor Americans get too little health care is that rich Americans get too much. The reason rich Americans get too much is that they're overinsured, and therefore run to the doctor for minor problems. The reason they're overinsured is that employer-provided health benefits aren't taxed, so employers overprovide them.

It has been clear for decades that the single most effective way to control health care costs is to eliminate the tax break for employer-provided health care. According to one careful study by my colleague Charles Phelps (admittedly several years old, but I'm not sure anything relevant has changed), this single reform could reduce health care costs by 40% with essentially no effect on health care outcomes.

By the "It has been clear" remark he means that one economist made a model from which his improbable result emerged. Of course only a tiny minority of economists, mostly in the glue-sniffing libertarian branch of the profession, find that result persuasive, and there is zero empirical evidence to back it up, and a large amount of evidence to the contrary.

The notion that poor Americans get too little health care because the insured (not the rich, they don't need insurance) use too much is based on the very peculiar idea that health care is fixed quantity resource. Are Somalis starving because Americans are too fat? Probably so in Landsburg's world.

Economists need to believe in their models at least a little, of course, but those with sense don't trust them, especially when the evidence isn't there. Libertarian economics, though, is heavily into faith based reasoning. Their predictions, however, are wrong at least as often as anyone else's.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Contempt for the Rule of Law

McCain couldn't even wait to get elected to start displaying Bush like contempt for the rule of law.

If you liked Bush, you might love John McPalin.

New Narrative

It's the fault of the rocket scientists (they mean former string theorists)! They devised these complicated ways of lending money to people who couldn't afford to pay that nobody could understand!

What bullshit. The problem was conflict of interest. Guys were getting rich selling pigs with lipstick. The string theorists just applied the lipstick.

It's really just the usual story. Managers with a conflict of interest mismanaged other peoples money - managed to put a bunch of it in their own pockets.

Other People's Money

So how is it that the smartest guys in the room lost all those trillions? In the early days of the disaster, they told us that it was because of the creation of ever more exotic financial instruments, but a hard look says that it's really quite simple: they borrowed a lot of money and lent it out to people who couldn't afford to pay them back. This is actually the Zeroth Law of Banking - when you lend money, try to make sure that it gets paid back.

I'm pretty sure that the wizards of Wall Street had actually heard of that concept. A banker who lends out his own money is very likely to pay a lot of attention to this principle, but all modern banks like to play at least partly with other people's money, which brings us to the First Law of Banking: borrow money cheap and lend it dear.

This first law can exert of whole lot of force when there happens to be a lot of money to be borrowed cheaply - the pressure to lend it dear can become quite irresistable. Now if you are playing with your own money you aren't too likely to forget that Zeroth Law, but suppose you are an executive of a corporation that does investment banking. Here, even the capital stock is somebody else's money. If you make a big profit, you become fabulously wealthy. If you screw up, you get fired, get a nice golden parachute, and wind up slightly less fabulously wealthy. How do you think that incentivises your behavior?

Ah, but all those brokerages and investment banks have sophisticated risk management tools to prevent disaster, right? Well, yes they do - but. Saul Hansell takes a hard look at how theses guys gamed their computers: How Wall Street Lied to Its Computers.

The people who ran the financial firms chose to program their risk-management systems with overly optimistic assumptions and to feed them oversimplified data. This kept them from sounding the alarm early enough.

Top bankers couldn’t simply ignore the computer models, because after the last round of big financial losses, regulators now require them to monitor their risk positions. Indeed, if the models say a firm’s risk has increased, the firm must either reduce its bets or set aside more capital as a cushion in case things go wrong.

Well worth reading. Maybe the real targets of all those hypercomplex financial instruments were the weaknesses in the computer progams supposed to manage the risks.

The ultimate point, though, is that corporations aren't likely to do a good job of managing other peoples money without somebody looking over their shoulders. I don't see an adequate substitute for intelligent and aggressive government regulation.

Welcome to the People's Republic of Wall Street

Paul Krugman: Comrade Paulson seizes the economy’s commanding heights

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The McCain in Spain is Mainly Down the Drain

The Spanish press is getting all hysterical about Senator McCain not knowing who their Prime Minister is, or, apparently, where Spain is.

I mean come on, how big a deal is that? Spain has got to be one of the smallest Brazilian speaking countries in America anyway. It's probably not even on the Iraq - Afghanistan border.

Have You Had Your BPA Today?

Another great regulatory failure for Bush-Cheney-McCain style crony capitalism?

Summary. Independent laboratory tests found a toxic food-can lining ingredient associated with birth defects of the male and female reproductive systems in over half of 97 cans of name-brand fruit, vegetables, soda, and other commonly eaten canned goods. The study was spearheaded by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and targeted the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic and resin ingredient used to line metal food and drink cans. There are no government safety standards limiting the amount of BPA in canned food.

$1 - $2 Trillion

Ken Rogoff in the FT.


Were the financial crisis to end today, the costs would be painful but manageable, roughly equivalent to the cost of another year in Iraq. Unfortunately, however, the financial crisis is far from over, and it is hard to imagine how the US government is going to succeed in creating a firewall against further contagion without spending five to 10 times more than it has already, that is, an amount closer to $1,000bn to $2,000bn.


The shrinking financial system will also undermine another central foundation of the strength of the US economy. And it is hard to see how the central bank will be able to resist a period of allowing elevated levels of inflation, as this offers a convenient way for the US to deflate the mounting cost of its private and public debts.

It is a very good thing that the rest of the world retains such confidence in America’s ability to manage its problems, otherwise the financial crisis would be far worse.

Let us hope the US political and regulatory response continues to inspire this optimism. Otherwise, sharply rising interest rates and a rapidly declining dollar could put the US in a bind that many emerging markets are all too familiar with.

Well, I didn't really want to retire anyway. Course my job might disappear.

Chronicles of Doom Foretold XI

Sorry Cassandra I didn't believe
You really had the power
I only saw it as dreams you would weave
Until the final hour...


Government isn’t the solution to our problems; government is the problem
..........................Ronald Reagan

Obama needs to make very clear that the current financial crisis is not a natural event or a historical accident, but the predictable and predicted consequence of the reckless policies that the Republicans have pursued for the last 28 years. There are problems for which government is the only practical solution, otherwise there would be no governments. Since Reagan, many have been determined to make both ends of Reagan's dictum true. George Bush has been notably evident in doing his best to make the government incomptent in all its legal duties, and John McCain has been on boad for most of it.

It is hardly an accident that John McCain has been repeating almost verbatim what Hoover recited as the world crumbled into the Great Depression: "The fundamentals of our economy are strong." Then, as now, the Republicans believed that the role of government was merely to aid the corporations in plundering the nation.

I said that the present crisis was predictable, and that it was predicted (by, among many others, Nouriel Roubini and Paul Krugman). The ingredients are familiar: A buildup of debt, a bubble in equities and housing prices, and the failure of those in charge to attempt to do anything about these things. Bubbles are always popular when they are abuilding: too many people are making money for it too be popular to try to stop it. The increase in valuation always convinces some idiots in power that their economic follies are really brilliancies.

Reinhardt and Rogoff did a nice paper of some historical comparisons with past financial crises (got link from Brad Setser's site.)

Marx Bros

It's got to be ironic that the US takes it's most dramatic step toward socialism under the most right wing President since Hoover (or maybe ever).

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


You just bought yourself the world's biggest insurance company, for what it's worth.

Actually, that's the problem. It's probably worth quite a bit less than nothing, so you and I will have to pay up.

We really should have been more careful with our money - or at least had some insurance against a rainy day.

The problem, it seems, was that AIG needed $90 billion, but didn't have any collateral. Oddly enough, I have the same problem, though I might be able to make do with twenty.

More Gravitrons

A gravitron, for those not familiar with them, are exercise machines that allow one to kneel or stand on a support which is lifted by a weight that allows old, weak, and fat people to do pullups or dips without lifting their full weight. Thus assisted, I can do ten chinups, which is more than I have been able to do since -- ever. Of course I am only pulling up against the weight of an underage Chinese gymnast, but even so.

There are lots of other areas in life where I could use a gravitron though. With a bit of help I could do 100 pushups, leap up Mayan pyramids, or dunk like Lebron. Of course the physical is only a small part of life - what I really need is the intellectual equivalent of a gravitron.

If I was a bit smarter, I would invent one.

Why do Old People Dress Funny?

...I wondered this morning as I put on my white socks with my blue pants?

Well I like these bamboo socks, and I only have them in white, and I really couldn't be bothered trying to find light tan pants in my closet...

Maybe we don't really care.

Maybe that's what's up with McCain. All that honor stuff - he can't really be bothered - he wants to be President.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Basic Instinct: Math

Natalie Angier has an article in today's NYT linking advanced math skills to our gut feeling for approximating things. There may be such a correlation, but I'm not impressed by this example:

When mathematicians and physicists are left alone in a room, one of the games they’ll play is called a Fermi problem, in which they try to figure out the approximate answer to an arbitrary problem,” said Rebecca Saxe, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is married to a physicist. “They’ll ask, how many piano tuners are there in Chicago, or what contribution to the ocean’s temperature do fish make, and they’ll try to come up with a plausible answer.”

“What this suggests to me,” she added, “is that the people whom we think of as being the most involved in the symbolic part of math intuitively know that they have to practice those other, nonsymbolic, approximating skills

I'm pretty sure physicists don't use gut instinct to solve Fermi problems - at least I don't. What I, and I'm pretty sure other physicists use instead is a combination of analysis and calculation to come up with an approximation. Analysis breaks the problem in to pieces that you can relate to things you know.

One classic Fermi problem: how many snowflakes fall in a typical New England snowstorm?

How do you attack that? I would first try to come up with a volume estimate. I've never been in a New England snowstorm, but I will guess that it produces an average snow depth of say 8 inches, or 20 cm. How big is New England? It looks kind of small on the map in my head (looking at a real map would be cheating) - maybe 15% of the whole country, which I seem to recall is about 3 million square miles or roughly (quick calculation) 7.5 million sq km. 15 % of that (quick mental calculation) is about 1.1 million km^2 = (another qc) 1.1 x 10^16 cm^2 so total volume of our standard snowstorm is about 2 x 10^17 cm^3.

Snow varies between 10% and about 90% water, I think (the rest being air), but NE probably gets the heavy wet stuff, so lets say 50%, so the weight is about 10^17 gm.

Now all we have to do is figure out the weight of a typical snowflake and divide by that! I have seen a lot of snowflakes, and they vary over many orders of magnitude, but I will guess that a typical lands on my nose snowflake has a volume of about 0.1 cm^3 of which all but about 0.02 cm^3 is air.

So (dividing by 0.02, i.e. multiplying by 50) gives 5 x 10^18 snowflakes. If you've counted, please check my work. The part of the calculation in which I have the least confidence is the weight of the snowflake part. It doesn't snow much in southern New Mexico.

The point though, is that this is all analysis, memory, and calculation. The only gut estimates were the % NE forms of the US, and the size of the snowflake.

If anybody else does these problems a lot differently, I would like to hear about it.

Just as I Feared

Eat your veggies. Not.

The Smell of Money

Something about financial scandals attracts the Bush family like flies to ....

Atrios notes that Florida pensions funds are taking a bath in the Lehman debacle, and links to this story noting that former governor Jeb B. took a cushy consultancy with L. after completing his stint as Florida governor and chairman of the State Board:

A majority of this paper was sold to SBA by Lehman Brothers (nyse: LEH - news - people ). Bush, as the state's top elected official, served on a three-member board that oversaw the SBA until he retired as governor in January. In August, Bush was hired as a consultant to the bank. Lehman spokesperson Kerrie Cohen, speaking on behalf of Bush, said they had no comment and would not say when the bank had sold Florida the paper. SBA did not return calls.


As we await a grim financial dawn with sweaty palms, Hilzoy collects a few of Donald Luskin's famous financial predictions (all disastrously wrong) in Donald Luskin Reclaims His Title Some of it is based on his latest WaPo op-ed, including:

Things today just aren't that bad...

We shall see.

The punch line, though is a goody. Luskin's finale:

: "Full disclosure: I'm an adviser to John McCain's campaign".

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Shit, Meet Fan

The long running financial tsunami innundated a couple or three more longtime financial icons this weekend.

In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street’s history, Merrill Lynch agreed to sell itself to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion to avert a deepening financial crisis while another prominent securities firm, Lehman Brothers, hurtled toward liquidation after it failed to find a buyer, people briefed on the deals said.

What next?

I wonder if the Republic is going to last long enough for the American people to make another catastrophic blunder. They seem headed for it.

Rudy on MTP

Caught a little of Hizzoner on Meet the Press. Tom Brokaw was not exactly Mr. prosecuting attorney in his questioning but Rudy was very effective in response. Except for his public positions (totally out of touch with the Rovian Party), his record (mostly lousy), and his personal life, the perfect Republican Candidate.

Musical and Visual Feast

If you are a Bach fan, or even if you aren't, Wolfgang has posted a video of the late Karl Richter playing the Bach D-minor Toccata and Fugue on one of the World's most beautiful organs, at Ottobeuren Abbey. Musically and visually stunning.

Don't Miss

On the Daily Kos, DemFromCT rounds up the pundit talk. An excerpt:

Thomas Friedman:

Imagine for a minute that attending the Republican convention in St. Paul, sitting in a skybox overlooking the convention floor, were observers from Russia, Iran and Venezuela. And imagine for a minute what these observers would have been doing when Rudy Giuliani led the delegates in a chant of "drill, baby, drill!"

They'd weep for joy about how stupid Republicans are. And they'd be right.

Amen. And are Americans as a whole that stupid too? We shall see.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Cronies, Censorship, Vendettas, and Unbridled Ambition

The NYT looks at Governor Palin's career.

Gov. Sarah Palin lives by the maxim that all politics is local, not to mention personal.

So when there was a vacancy at the top of the State Division of Agriculture, she appointed a high school classmate, Franci Havemeister, to the $95,000-a-year directorship. A former real estate agent, Ms. Havemeister cited her childhood love of cows as a qualification for running the roughly $2 million agency.

Ms. Havemeister was one of at least five schoolmates Ms. Palin hired, often at salaries far exceeding their private sector wages...

Throughout her political career, she has pursued vendettas, fired officials who crossed her and sometimes blurred the line between government and personal grievance, according to a review of public records and interviews with 60 Republican and Democratic legislators and local officials.


“She is bright and has unfailing political instincts,” said Steve Haycox, a history professor at the University of Alaska. “She taps very directly into anxieties about the economic future.”

“But,” he added, “her governing style raises a lot of hard questions.”

Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.

Gee, where have we seen that one?

In 1997, Ms. Palin fired the longtime city attorney, Richard Deuser, after he issued the stop-work order on a home being built by Don Showers, another of her campaign supporters...

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book “Daddy’s Roommate” on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

“Sarah said she didn’t need to read that stuff,” Ms. Chase said. “It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn’t even read it.”
In the middle of the primary, a conservative columnist in the state, Paul Jenkins, unearthed e-mail messages showing that Ms. Palin had conducted campaign business from the mayor’s office. Ms. Palin handled the crisis with a street fighter’s guile.

“I told her it looks like she did the same thing that Randy Ruedrich did,” Mr. Jenkins recalled. “And she said, ‘Yeah, what I did was wrong.’ ”

Mr. Jenkins hung up and decided to forgo writing about it. His phone rang soon after.

Mr. Jenkins said a reporter from Fairbanks, reading from a Palin news release, demanded to know why he was “smearing” her. “Now I look at her and think: ‘Man, you’re slick,’ ” he said.

Dick Cheney in red peeptoe pumps, and, as one NYT commenter put it, a Gidget costume.

More on Disimulation

Josh Marshall talks about the McCain campaign.

From NBC's First Read ...

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said this to the Politico about the increased media scrutiny of the campaign's factual claims:
"We're running a campaign to win. And we're not too concerned about what the media filter tries to say about it."

Basing a campaign for high office on a strategy of deliberate lies is not an issue of tactics. It calls into question the character of the candidate and his fitness for office.

What kind of government will a campaign of lies lead to?

Those Darn Skeptics!

Peter Woit has a great Wall Street Journal catch.

Some wag at the Wall Street Journal put the headline Don’t Buy Into the Supercollider Hype on today’s Op-Ed piece by Michio Kaku about the LHC, which describes its significance as follows:

Of course what Kaku says is more along the lines of "the LHC will let us read the mind of God."

One of his commenters also notes that someone evidently bet $10K against Lumo on some LHC prediction. Wow!

Dumb Questions

I have been known to tell my students: "The only dumb question is the one I don't know the answer to."

In my first undergraduate physics class, as a student, I noticed that there was one kid who sat in front who asked a lot of stupid questions. After he got the best score on the first exam, I decided that I might need to revise my world view. Since that time, I've tried to become a dedicated asker of dumb questions - which is to say, when I can't follow the speaker's reasoning, I ask him to explain it. My adherence to this principle was greatly reinforced when I learned that Feynman espoused a similar notion.

Arun has discovered a quote from David Frum on a related topic:

A president does not need to know everything. In fact, it's certainly impossible for him (or her) to know everything that he might possibly need to know. That's what the White House staff - and beyond them the whole vast apparatus of the US government - is for. Collectively, the US government knows a lot. And all of that knowledge is at the service and disposal of the president. All the president has to do is - is ask.

But that's not as easy as it sounds.

Somebody who knew President Bush well once remarked to me. "You'll notice he never asks questions."

"Why not?" I said.

"Because he doesn't know what it's okay for him not to know."

Does this capture the essence of incurious George or what?


Emergency responders were summoned to some of the residences of GOP Presidential Candidate John McCain today. It seems that the senator's pants were on fire.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The New Adventures of Fibber McCain and Sally

McCain and Palin lie a lot:






And let's not leave out Cindy and her little bit of Gatsby, leaving a trail of destruction:


Get Pithy

Obama can't seem to express a simple thought without throwing in some rhetorical devices or qualifications. This is a serious fault in a politicial campaigner or a leader. He needs to make his point first and expand and develop context later.

He needs to get pithy. "Well, look" and similar temporizing devices need to be banished from his vocabulary.

It's a little late to change his conversational style, but he had better try.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Too Cool for School

Politics is the continuation of war by other means. . .
..................Not quite Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz

Barack Obama is Mr. Cool and Unruffled. The time has come, though, for some passion and anger. Not personal anger or sniping, but the genuine rage we feel about the bad things that the Republicans have done to us. There is more than enough to rail against. At some point you need to figure out that McCain and friends are not people you can reason with. Attack, Attack, Attack!

McCain, his fellow neocons, and Bush got us into a pointless war in Iraq that has cost us blood, treasure, strategic position, and prestige. McCain and the Republicans adopted runious economic and tax proposals, proposals McCain condemned at the time, that enriched the already rich and impoverished the nation. And on and on and on - attack damnit!

If Obama can't summon some genuine anger against these misdeeds, the case is hopeless. Don't play defense and don't play games with lipstick. Send surrogates out to expose the lies.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Doggone It

I was talking about McCain and Palin's disconnect from the truth at lunch today, and my conservative just grinned and said: "You can say what you like, but people like her." He grinned, because he knew he had me.

It's true of course. A lot a people do like her and her snippy, cocky, mean girl style. She might be the most charismatic Republican politician since Reagan.

She might even be smart enough. She sure as heck is dishonest enough. And, doggone it, people like her.

Monday, September 08, 2008

In the Beginning

The holy grail, or at least the last unconquered castle of evolutionary biology is the origin of life. Attempts to create an imitation of life have now been underway for more than a half century, but the latest attempts are pretty fancy. The trick has always been to get something that could replicate both itself and the instructions for doing so.

All the cells alive today have an intricate set of mechanisms for doing just that - essentially the *same* intricate set of mechanisms, but something that complex could hardly have arisen spontaneously. So the question is what might less complex but still functioning intermediate forms look like, and could they plausibly be that biggest missing link of all - the link between alive and not alive.

Jack Szostack of Harvard Med has a new model:

A team of biologists and chemists is closing in on bringing non-living matter to life.

It's not as Frankensteinian as it sounds. Instead, a lab led by Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building simple cell models that can almost be called life.

Szostak's protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system that satisfies the conditions of life, but isn't anything like life on earth now, but might represent life as it began or could exist elsewhere in the

Read the story for more details.


Human stupidity continues to amaze. From Bob Woodward's Sixty Minutes interview: Bush can't understand why the Iraqi's aren't more grateful to us for "liberating" them - i.e., invading their country, destroying their economy, blowing up their houses, and killing their children.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

More 'cuda Talk

I couldn't care less whose kid Palin is or is not the mother of. It doesn't bother me that her husband had a DUI a long time ago. I'm not worried that it took her six years and five schools to graduate from college, or that her major was cinchy. I don't care how many of her kids are pregnant. I don't like her stands on many issues, but that goes with the territory.

I am very unhappy with her propensity for lying about nearly everything.

I really hate that she has shown a propensity toward abuse of power.

She really is an extraordinarily unqualified pick. Being a good speech reader definitely helps, but not nearly enough. Ditto the good looks.

Operation Phoenix Too?

Bob Woodward was on CBS's Sixty Minutes tonight, flacking for his new book on the war. One point that caught my eye was his references to a secret new program to assassinate al Quaeda and insurgent leaders - a program he considered to have been the crucial one in the the big decrease in violence that we have seen in recent months - bigger than the surge.

We had a program in Vietnam called Operation Phoenix. It too was a targeted assassination program, and similar programs are not exactly a totally modern invention. Woodward, though, seems to consider the present program a breakthrough in military technolgy comparable to the tank or machine gun, and won't disclose how it works.

My first instinct is to scoff, but there has been rapid development of technologies, and some of them might even be relevant. It would be tempting to speculate, especially since the targeted organizations are already likely to have some clues. I won't do so, but I do worry that any technology of assassination that works well in a country like Iraq, might be even more effective in relatively open democracies. The President or senior military who talk to Woodward have clearly chosen to reveal a very important clue (or perhaps red herring). If the former I would prefer that they not reveal the rest - the world already has too many highly effective military technologies.

The danger of a partial revelation like this is that it will provide the additional clue our enemies need to copy or negate it, or even inspire them to develop something even more effective.

I Owe, I Owe

Congratulations fellow citizens of the US! You (and I) are the proud owners of 5.7 trillion bucks in new liabilities.

The Treasury Department seized control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the nation’s giant quasi-public mortgage finance companies, and announced a four-part rescue plan that includes an open-ended guarantee from the Treasury Department to provide as much capital as they need to stave off insolvency.

The extra $20,000 or so per capita debt we have taken on was made necessary by the imminent collapse of those institutions, which would have been a great annoyance to those owed the money (China, $600 billion or so, with the rest divided among other countries, banks, and rich people. This in turn would have brought the end of the financial world as we know it.

Another great triumph of crony capitalism, American style.

Not that it's likely, but if our new enterprises actually should turn a profit, we aren't likely to see any of it.

Friday, September 05, 2008

McCain's Platform (Again)

Bad economic news again today with a big increase in unemployment and big upward revisions of job losses for recent months. John McCain's prescriptions: railing against Washington and more tax cuts for the super rich. Republicans have controlled the Presidency for 20 of the last 28 years, and either the Congress or the Presidency for all but two of those 28. John McCain was in Washington, in Congress, for twenty-six of those years, and during that time the Republicans relentlessly pursued those policies of tax cuts for the rich (and railed against an imaginary establishment other than themselves).

The result: consistently poor economic and job growth. Reagan, Bush I and Bush II each had less economic growth per year than any of the last four Democratic Presidencies. The present Bush pursued those policies more fanatically than any of his predecessors and has had by far the worst economic performance - for everybody but the very rich.

If the American people fall for this crap again, they truly are hopeless.

Indications to date are not promising.

Our Hero

John McCain owes his political career to his status as a war hero. He used to like to say he didn't like to talk about it, but at this point it's practically the only thing left he seems to be able to do. Once upon a time, a war hero had to accomplish some great deeds. McCain's heroism involved bravely resisting his captors and surviving, and we should honor him for that, but the story is getting tiring after hearing it for all these years, and it seems less than precisely a qualification for the Presidency.

Kevin Drum takes a hard look at the war hero's character and isn't impressed.

McCain likes to present his past as past and his time in a prison camp as a transformative experience, but the fact is that his experience as a POW transformed nothing. In fact, it amplified his fundamental belief in his own self-righteousness, something he's used ever since as an unending justification for his worst impulses. He was 31 years old when he was captured by the North Vietnamese and 36 when he was released. When he was 43 he abandoned his injured wife for a younger woman and married into a fortune. When he was 51 he intervened with regulators on behalf of his pal Charles Keating and ended up enmeshed in the Keating Five scandal — a scandal he initially tried to blame on his wife when his role became public. When he was 61 he was amusing a partisan crowd with boorish jokes about Chelsea Clinton. When he was 64 he was pandering to Southern racism by refusing to condemn the confederate flag flying over South Carolina's statehouse.

And then there's the second part of this pattern: McCain's famous remorse. As Dan Schnur put it, "He is the best apologizer in politics." And so he is. His treatment of his first wife, he told Rick Warren a few weeks ago, was his "greatest moral failing." Intervening for Charles Keating, he eventually admitted, was "the wrong thing to do." His Chelsea joke was "stupid and cruel and insensitive." His handling of the confederate flag controversy was a "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition."

This year he's 72 but things are no different. Instead of running a decent and honorable campaign, he and his surrogates are reigniting a culture war he doesn't even believe in; relentlessly belittling and trivializing instead of addressing serious issues; repeatedly accusing his opponent of not caring about his country; stubbornly refusing to condemn even the vilest character assassinations; and finally choosing a manifestly unprepared and unvetted running mate in order to gain a momentary political advantage with a Christian right base that has never trusted him but that he needs to win the election. He does all this because, as his convention speech made clear, he believes he's on a higher mission. His character is what this campaign is about — or rather his own image of his character — and it's this belief in his own self-righteousness that allows him to justify his every action with a clear conscience. He has to win, you see, for the good of the country. He's the only man who can do it.

Not such a pretty picture.

But he was a POW!

The 100 Best Books on String Theory

It seems that Amazon's search algorithms share Peter Woit's opinion of string theory - that it's not physics. At least I could not connect by searching the physics books for "string theory." They do, of course, carry a number of books on string theory, though, to be sure, many of these are about violins and cellos.

Perhaps some of you doubt that there are a hundred books on string theory. You would be wrong.

Others would doubt that I am qualified to properly evaluate string theory books. They, of course, would be entirely correct. But I won't let that bother me. My analysis will be a bit circumscribed, since I intend to stick to books that I have actually opened, i.e., mainly those I own.

There should really be two or three lists, since the levels of the books considered are very various, from popularizations to monographs and high level textbooks, but I will merge those too, but will include a letter designation - P for popular, I for intermediate level books, and H for the high level textbooks.

It's customary to arrange this sort of list from worst to first, but I'm too lazy to do that, so I will just start with number:

1. The Elegant Universe(P), by Brian Greene. Greene set out to explain string theory "to the stupid people," as an uncharitable colleague put it, and does a terrific job. This book is a masterpiece of science popularization and did a lot to make string theory famous. Recommended to almost everyone - even smart people.

2. A First Course in String Theory, by Barton Zwiebach (I) This is a technical book, but written so as to be accessible to bright undergraduates - all you really need is some quantum mechanics, relativity, and a slight familiarity with a Lagrangian. Also excellent for physicists who have forgotten a lot of quantum field theory. I really like this book.

3. String Theory and M-Theory (H) by the Becker Sisters and John Schwarz. Modern and up-to-date (2007). I like the cover.

4. Superstrings: A Theory of Everything? (P) by Davies and Brown. An oldie but a goodie from the vigorous adolescence of string theory. Some explanatory material plus short Q&A with some string gods (Witten, Schwarz, Green) and some Nobel Prize winning doubters (Glashow & Feynman) and a more nuanced appreciation from (NP winner) Abdus Salam and others. Recommended to all.

5. Superstring Theory by Green, Schwarz, and Witten. (two volumes) (H). The monograph documenting the first string revolution. Old (1988) but beautifully written.

6. String Theory (H) (two volumes) by Polchinski. Joe's big book of string (1998). Written by one of the guys involved in string revolution numero dos, but doesn't get into M-Theory. Currently available in dirt cheap paperback from Amazon ($74.88 for both).

7. Not Even Wrong (P) Peter Woit's anti-string book. Written at a much more popular level than his blog of the same name.

... (maybe I will add some others later)

McCain's Platform

OK, I knew he wanted to tax my health insurance, give more tax cuts for the super rich, and get rid of social security and public schools. His line about getting rid of unemployment insurance was a new one on me, though.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Josh Marshall Strikes

Josh on Rudy G:

With Rudy's speech, to riff on the brilliance of the immortal Molly Ivins, I think I preferred this speech in the original German.


I will admit he's got the Joseph Goebbels hand gestures down pat.

The Big Lie

The Republican party has learned well from Stalin, Hitler, and others. Tell a lie often enough, and people will believe it. Republican speakers tonight were very effective, at least if you didn't know that almost everything they said was a lie. Palin is a very dangerous opponent, because she is one of the glibbest liars I've ever seen. Even Bush and McCain have little verbal tics when they are lying, but not Palin.

She lies about stuff she probably does know, like her record in Alaska, and about stuff she might not know, like Obama's tax proposals. I think she is averaging about one lie per sentence. She probably even believes what she is saying.

It's only too clear why they called her Sarah Barracuda. It's also clear that the Republican campaign this time will be unconstrained by any attention to truth, reality, or decency. God help the American people if they fall for this crap again.

The addition of the booing/cheering claque to the Republican Convention is a nice touch. I'm not sure what they were chanting, but it sounded a bit like Sieg Heil! to me.

Hanna Karenina

Every happy hurricane is the same. Every unhappy hurricane is unhappy in its own way
.............. with apology to Leo Tolstoy

Despite its brutish nature, a tropical cyclone is a delicate creature, especially in its formative days. The seed can be a somewhat simple thing - a nice tropical wave, or perhaps a remnent low from a cold front - a bit of low pressure and a bit of spin. As with humans, conception is the fun and easy part, but managing growth and development is tougher.

A lot of things need to be just right. For nutrition, our baby needs nice warm ocean water, a whole lot of it, the warmer and deeper the better. A good latitude is also critical - too close to the equator and you are in the no spin zone. It needs at least ten degrees from the equator to get some good rotation on, and of course if it is too far from the equator, there just isn't any warm enough water.

Those basics are just the environment, though. Baby H also needs to fire up its own convection - some nice powerful thunderstorms. This is natural to it, but there are problems that can intervene. If the upper air is descending in the area, that suppresses thunderstorms.

Among the worst threats, though, are those arid twins, dry desert air and desert dust. Those guys suck the moisture right out of a budding cyclone's lungs. Even if it manages to get past those adolescent hurdles there is another huge hurdle awaiting - wind shear.

A mature tropical cyclone is a complex and sophisticated heat engine, and like any heat engine it needs a hot reservoir and a cold. Here the warm ocean serves as the heat reservoir and the the upper atmosphere as the cold. Once it gets going, the hurricane sucks heat and moisture out of the ocean like crazy by means of whipping it into a churning froth with its powerful winds. The winds in turn are powered by the ascent of that warm, moist air, and the heat released by condensing moisture as that air ascends. Hurricanes are the tallest structures in the troposphere, and that height means they have a very cold reservoir at the top, colder than -80 degrees. That cold reservoir can only function if the pipeline all the way up works, and that's where wind shear does its evil work.

If upper level winds are blowing crosswise to the lower atmosphere, the tops of thunderstorms get blown off, and the heat engine loses its cold reservoir, and the machine stops. This, in fact, is the story of our plucky heroine, the once and future Hurricane Hanna.

We have followed Hanna from modest but promising beginnings as a young but vigorous tropical wave. The sharp eyes at the NHC spotted her as a comer from the get go, and gave her her first number (91L, or maybe 92L - it's complicated) way back when. She proceeded through many vicissitudes, falling off the charts at times, and eventually, just as she was growing up into a tropical storm, being overshadowed by her older brother Gustav.

It was her own fault, of course. She got into a little dance with an unscrupulous upper level low (ULL) who kept blowing her away with his shear. Later, mighty Gus did the same.

Now she has mostly rid herself of both, only to have upstart younger brother Ike jump from TS to major hurricane right behind her. She may yet become a respectable category one or two on her own, but these things always end tragically - usually for all concerned.

In a few days, she will fatally throw herself upon Florida, Georgia, or the Carolinas and end it all. We won't mourn her though. She already is a killer, and likely to do more damage before she's through.


It seems that a correspondent and a couple of political hacks didn't notice that the microphone was live. TPM reports, and recorded, the tale.

What was said was interesting - roughly a thousand times as interesting as what the same people were saying when they thought the mic was on - because they weren't lying, I suppose. The obvious deduction, that political coverage is so crappy because everybody is always lying - political analysts, supposed reporters - and of course the pols. Maybe people would watch that garbage if just a few people, say just the reporters, would stop lying for ten minutes of each hour.

Excerpt from TPM's transcript: (PN = Peggy Noonan, Rep hack/analyst; CT = Chuck Todd, network person; MM = Mike Murphy, hack, former McC campaign guy)

CT: I also think the Palin pick is insulting to Kay Bailey Hutchinson, too.

PN: Saw Kay this morning.

CT: Yeah, she's never looked comfortable about this --

MM: They're all bummed out.

CT: Yeah, I mean is she really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?

PN: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this -- excuse me-- political bullshit about narratives --

CT: Yeah they went to a narrative.

MM: I totally agree.

PN: Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.

MM: You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical.

CT: This is cynical, and as you called it, gimmicky.

MM: Yeah.

"If the Hanoi Hilton Couldn't Break John McCain..."

Said actor Fred Thompson.

The only problem with this narrative is that the Hanoi Hilton did break John McCain. He did sign the anti-American statements.

I don't hold that against him, because humans, not even brave and feisty humans like McCain, are not designed to resist prolonged torture.

I do hold it against him that Karl Rove and his own ambition broke any semblance of principle he retained.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Bite My Tongue

A colleague volunteered at lunch that he thought Palin was "really interesting." A bit later, he noted that he didn't believe in evolution.

I didn't ask him how he felt about that curvature of the Earth thing.


I watched as much of the Republican convention as I could stand - OK, it was only about thirty minutes, so I need to distract myself with a bit of frivolity.

If you recognize the address, 10096 Sunset Boulevard, chances are that you are an over the top Billy Wilder or Andrew Lloyd Webber fan. If you have gone to Google Earth to check it out, or actually driven out to check it out, you are definitely a wacko.

OK, so Sunset Boulevard is one of my favorite Lloyd Webber musicals as well as a great Billy Wilder picture. I have been impatiently waiting for its "return" to film for a decade or two now.

I happen to think that Madonna made a great Evita in the movie of the same name, and it occurred to me that she has just recently reached to appropriate age to play Norma. Isn't going to happen, I guess. Instead, Glenn Close, who did an excellent job in the theatrical production, has the role - for which she is now clearly too old - only about a decade younger than John McCain.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Vetting the Veep

It's becoming clear that vetting Sarah Palin is a story that didn't happen. McCain, quite typically, pulled this one out of his backside. How much evidence do we need that this man lacks the judgement to be President?

Greg Sargent of TPM has the story:

On the same day that the Republicans were forced to dramatically cut back their convention activities, the Palin Meltdown unfolded with extraordinary speed. It's worth pondering the totality of what happened today, in a mere half day...

* The news that Palin once backed the Bridge to Nowhere went national.

* It emerged that Palin has links to the bizarro Alaska Independence Party, which harbors the goal of seceding from the union that McCain and Palin seek to lead.

* The news broke that as governor, Palin relied on an earmark system she now opposes. Taken along with the Bridge to Nowhere stuff, this threatens to undercut her reformist image, something that was key to her selection as McCain's Veep candidate.

* The news broke that Palin's 17-year-old daughter became pregnant out of wedlock at a time when the conservative base had finally started rallying behind McCain's candidacy.

* Barely moments after McCain advisers put out word that McCain had known of Bristol Palin's pregnancy, the Anchorage Daily News revealed that Palin's own spokesperson hadn't known about it only two days ago.

* A senior McCain adviser at the Republican convention was forced into the rather embarrassing position of arguing that McCain had known about the pregnancy "last week" -- without saying what day last week he knew about it.

* It came out that Republican lawyers are up in Alaska vetting Palin -- now, more than 72 hours after it was announced that she'd been picked.

* Palin lawyered up in relation to the trooper-gate probe in Alaska -- a move that ensures far more serious attention to the story from the major news orgs.

What else will come out today? After all, there are still six hours left until September 2nd...

John McCain

The latest twist in the Sarah Palin story helps cement our image of McCain as a politician likely to go off half-cocked. Bristol P., not so much.