Posts

Showing posts from March, 2006

Pyramid Scheme

One of my commenters took exception to the description of the pyramids as an uber boondoggle, and suggested those who thought so must be "ignorant." Luckily, the meeting notes for the planning session for one of these monuments has survived, and a freedom of information act request to the Department of Antiquities pried them loose. Here they are as translated and edited by your humble correspondent. If I may coin a phrase - "I report, you decide." My comments in italics.

MEETING NOTES: Pyramid Planning (The Great Pyramid of Bushufu, here discussed, is widely considered to be one of the eleven wonders of the ancient world)

Dramatis Personae:
Bushufu, Pharaoh of Egypt
Cheneops, His Grand Vizier
Imhorove, Advisor
Khahren (Nefertits) Advisor

Kheneops: So the plan is we spend the next few decades piling up 4 million tons of rock to bury you in?

Bushufu: Huh?

Imhorove: He means build a giant pyramid for you to ascend to speak with the o…

IQ and Brain Growth

One of the most hyped stories of the past few days has been that of how high IQ children's brains grow differently that those of average children.
The brains of highly intelligent children develop in a different pattern from those with more average abilities, researchers have found after analyzing a series of imaging scans collected over 17 years.

I think this is interesting, but a high degree of skepticism is probably appropriate. Like the liberal vs. conservative preschooler story of a week or so ago, this one has a narrow base:
The finding is based on 307 children in Bethesda, Md., an affluent suburb of Washington. Starting in 1989, they were given regular brain scans using magnetic resonance imaging, a project initiated by Dr. Judith Rapoport of the National Institute of Mental Health.

So what did they find:
This set of scans has been analyzed by Philip Shaw, Dr. Jay Giedd and others at the institute and at McGill University in Montreal. They looked at changes in the thickness o…

Gregg Easterbrook Hits a Triple

I make fun of Gregg from time to time, so it's only fair that I offer praise when he says something right. He diagnoses NASA's disease pretty well in It's the Earth, Stupid.
At this point, the shuttle exists almost solely to service the space station, while the station exists almost solely to give the space shuttle a destination to fly to. Two space shuttles have exploded on national television. Yet the program drags on owing to the desire of aerospace contractors, and members of Congress who represent shuttle districts, for launches that cost nearly $1 billion each. The shuttle has operated just once since the Columbia loss in February 2003. It may or may not fly in 2006. Most experiments conducted aboard the space station could be done at far less expense by automated probes. "Life science" research on the astronauts themselves is the sole mission that requires people to be present, but even this boils down to billions of dollars spent for astronauts to take ea…

The Stalinist History of the Superconducting Supercollider

Lubos Motl had a reference to the current unfortunate state of particle physics in the US, and its origins in the demise of the Superconducting Supercollider, which was to have been a giant collider built in Texas. To refresh my memory, I looked up the Wikipedia article on the SSC. I was a member of the APS division of particles and fields in those days, an I had followed the SSC story closely, even participating in a very minor way in some of the debate. What I found in the Wikipedia article didn't match my memory of the events, so I looked a bit further. What I found was upsetting. The Wikipedia article was little more than an Stalinist version of the real SSC history.

The word Stalinist is a general derogatory epithet, so let me make explicit what I mean by it here: "making shit up to fit an ideological agenda."

Here are the most offensive sentences:
The project was eventually canceled by Congress in 1993 due to heavy pressure from President Bill Clinton.[citatio…

Stuplicity

A GOP Congressional candidate recently visited Bagdad, and posted a picture of a peaceful street scene to show how well the war was going. The only problem - the picture was evidently taken in Turkey.

Such a weird combination of stupidity and duplicity perfectly captures the combination of stupidity and duplicity characterizing today's GOP. This combination deserves its own name. How about "dupidity?" No, let's save that for those believing that crap - and go with Stuplicity.

Mexican Flags

Want to really mobilise anti-immigrant feelings in the US? Get up a big demonstration with tens of thousands of people shouting in Spanish and waving Mexican flags. Not only does that seem to demonstrate how many illegal immigrants are living among us, but it also shows how they fail to share our culture or loyalties. It's no coincidence that Drudge and the other right wing suspects emphasize exactly these points. It's a bit harder for me to figure out why immigrant rights people seem to think these demonstrations are a good thing.

It's the Stupid Economy

Also via Huffington, The Wall Street Journal explains why average Americans manage to contain their enthusiasm for the "Bush Boom":
Since the end of 2000, gross domestic product per person in the U.S. has expanded 8.4%, adjusted for inflation, but the average weekly wage has edged down 0.3%.

That contrast goes a long way in explaining why many Americans tell pollsters they don't believe the Bush administration when it trumpets the economy's strength. What is behind the divergence? And what will change it?

Some factors aren't in dispute. Since the end of the recession of 2001, a lot of the growth in GDP per person -- that is, productivity -- has gone to profits, not wages. This reflects workers' lack of bargaining power in the face of high unemployment and companies' use of cost-cutting technology. Since 2000, labor's share of GDP, or the total value of goods and services produced in the nation, has fallen to 57% from 58% while profits' share has rise…

Delta's Dubya Doubts

The LA Daily News has an interesting interview with Eric Haney, a founding member of the elite anti-terrorism Delta Force, author of "Inside Delta Force," a retired US Army command sergeant major, and currently a technical advisor to the TV show "The Unit." Some excerpts:
We recently spoke to Haney, an amiable, soft-spoken Southern gentleman, on the set of "The Unit."

Q: What's your assessment of the war in Iraq?

A: Utter debacle. But it had to be from the very first. The reasons were wrong. The reasons of this administration for taking this nation to war were not what they stated. (Army Gen.) Tommy Franks was brow-beaten and ... pursued warfare that he knew strategically was wrong in the long term. That's why he retired immediately afterward. His own staff could tell him what was going to happen afterward.

We have fomented civil war in Iraq. We have probably fomented internecine war in the Muslim world between the Shias and the Sunnis, and I think …

Holy Shit!

Anybody who still believes Bush's policies have made us safer should be forced to read this Sarah Chayez story linked by Arun. At gunpoint. 28 gauge shotgun point.

A couple of money paragraphs:

Taliban leaders strut openly around Quetta, Pakistan, where they are provided with offices and government-issued weapons authorization cards; Pakistani army officers are detailed to Taliban training camps; and Pakistani border guards constantly wave self-proclaimed Taliban through checkpoints into Afghanistan.

But beleaguered Afghans have a hard time getting U.S. political and military officials to focus on these two factors, which feed on each other. U.S. personnel cling to the fictions that Afghans are responsible for the local officials who rule over them--despite the overwhelming moral and material support the United States has provided these officials--and that the Pakistani government is cooperating in the war on terror. And so the Afghan villagers, frightened, vulnerable, and disillu…

Burn, Heretic!

Freeman Dyson is a famous physicist and futurist who has had a number of ideas in several fields. First William Connolley at stoat, and now Lubos Motl have posted on a commencement speech Dyson gave at the University of Michigan last December.

Aside from getting in a few digs at the Ph.D. system, he focussed on what he called his "three heresies." The first involves global warming, about which he says all the fluff about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Secondly, he thinks that biotechnology will become sufficiently domesticated that:
Genetic engineering, once it gets into the hands of housewives and children will give us an explosion of diversity of new living creatures, rather than the monoculture crops that the big corporations prefer. Designing genomes will be a personal thing?a new art form, as creative as painting or sculpture.

Finally, he says:
So lastly my third heresies, I say the United States has less than a century left as top nation. Since the modern nat…

Fantasy Fanatics

Twenty of the top twenty-one world wide box office movies are some form of fantasy. The situation doesn't change much until we get down into second fifty, where comedy, drama, and historical fiction (also the genre of Titanic, the all-time champ and single exception in the top twenty-one) offer some modest competition.

This doubtless says something important about the state of our civilization - probably that reality is too boring and unpleasant to be interesting. I'm a fantasy fan myself, but I like to keep my fantasy separate from reality, in contrast to those who prefer to conflate the two - Fox News fans and dittoheads, for example.

The best fantasy offers an alternate reality with a rationale, logic, and characters preferable to our own. These fantasies attract subcultures of fanatics who live more in that reality than our own. Lord of the Rings fans who learned Sindarin (an elvish language), Trekkies, and Potterheads can bring an incredible devotion to their subject. …

Psibr Zone

CIP: You catch Harvey C on ABC?

P0(psibr_nought): Y

CIP: And?

P0: can I use the g word?

CIP: I'd really rather you wouldn't. What did you think of his argument?

P0: he looks pretty good in a suit and overcoat. Very manly. I noticed they showed a picture of his book cover, minus the pink lettering for his name.

CIP: And what about Naomi?

P0: who?

CIP: The woman ABC rather absurdly claimed he was debating.

P0: o, right. yeah, her too.

CIP: And the debate?

P0: actually, I had the sound off. I put on the pod when george will starting reading some thirty year old nyt story about potential ice ages. did I miss anything?

CIP: I suppose not.

The Brink

We seem to have accomplished the feat of making the lives of the Iraqi people considerably more miserables than they were under an evil and sadistic dictator. Juan Cole reports some of the evidence that the Iraqi civil war is intensifying. Al Quaeda seems to have accomplished its strategic goal in Iraq - an ironic counterpart to George Bush, who similarly accomplished his strategic goal - his reelection.

But what about the elections? If nothing else, they demonstrate that elections aren't a substitute for the kind of social bargain that permits a nation to function.

Leaving aside the question of the wisdom of invading Iraq, every day provides fresh evidence of the incompetence of the occupation. Lacking the manpower and skill set needed to carry out a successful occupation, the Bush team based its strategy on slogans and the wishful thought that the Iraqis might figure out how to put their country back together on their own.

Is there still some hope that this might happen? There…

Immigration: Sense and Nonsense

The immigration problem is complex: it has real and imaginary parts. One of the imaginary parts is the idea that it is hard to stop illegal immigration. In fact, it would be pretty easy. The reason that it doesn't happen is that a lot of people want to keep immigration common, not too difficult, and illegal. Some of those people are illegal immigrants, but they don't really count, since they can't vote or afford large campaign contributions. The rest are the people who employ the illegals.

The NPR reporter put it something like this "Americans don't want to be overun by immigrants, but they also don't want to lose their nannys."

That, I suppose, is the perspective of the urban upper middle class, but most illegals work in businesses, including agriculture, restaurants, janitorial services, construction, etc. There are a lot of advantages to employing illegals. They work cheap and don't go to the police when they get cheated. Immigrants who ar…

Doubt and Redoubt

Another grim sign for the war in Iraq: the moron cheerleaders for the war are preparing their fallback redoubt. So far they have proved wrong in every particular of their predictions: about the threat posed by Iraq, about a connection to al Quaeda, about the cost of the war, about the length of the war, about the conditions we would face in Iraq, and about the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq. So whose fault will it be if this war ends in ignominious defeat?

Maybe the fault of the idiots who got us in there and made every conceivable strategic and tactical blunder? Or the corrupt dolts who ran the occupation like a PTA fund raiser for Republican campaign contributors? Nope! It will be the fault instead of those who noted those blunders and warned against them!

Brad Delong exhibits Mickey Kaus, Glenn Reynolds, and some other scumbag preparing for their retreat.

Great Moments in Theatre: The Rooftops of Paris

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago- never mind how long precisely- having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Lacking Ishmael's adventurous spirit and opportunities, I nevertheless like an occasional change of pace. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - I got interested in Theatre, got into a few plays, and took some acting classes.

My favorite teacher had a penchant for exercises intended to draw us out of our inhibitions and mannerisms. A particularly unpromising seeming one paired us up to interact with each other without speaking or touching. We started out on the stage of a medium sized theatre, seating perhaps 300. A notable feature was a sort of giant jungle gym, made of triangles about three feet on a side, built up from the sides of the theatre and extending over the audience and the apron of the stage, used for …

Embargo Flash!

Lubos has the hot new news from String Theory - or at least the alleged announcer is pretty hot.

I think he might have broken the embargo on this news by about one week plus two days.

You Are An Idiot!

is an expression directed at me from time to time. I have to admit that it occurs to me occasionally too. I try not to use it, though, partly because it seems childish, but mainly because it is a confession of abject intellectual failure. If I say "you are an idiot," I might just as well have said "I'm not smart enough, knowledgeable enough, persuasive enough, or charming enough to get you to see the merits of my position."

But what do I know. I'm an idiot.

Conservation versus Liberation

I really do wonder what all you conservatives are thinking (just in case any of you ever read this blog). Now I admit that I never cared for W. I didn't like the nasty slanders he spread about McCain, I didn't like the smirk, and I didn't like the way he spoke like an illiterate. These are matters of taste though, so I can certainly see why some of you might feel differently. It's the substance part that puzzles me. To me, W has launched a reckless war, mismanaged it corruptly and incredibly incompetently, and wrecked our finances.

A few possibilities have occurred to me:

A) You don't care about that.

B) You don't believe it and don't want to hear about it.

C) None of the above (please specify)

I would appreciate any responses from those who consider themselves conservative.

Cool in School

A long term study that looked at kids in nursery school and twenty years later found that:
Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals.

The study from the Journal of Research Into Personality isn't going to make the UC Berkeley professor who published it any friends on the right. Similar conclusions a few years ago from another academic saw him excoriated on right-wing blogs, and even led to a Congressional investigation into his research funding.It turns out that whiny insecurity only explains about 7% of the variance, but let's not let that discourage speculation.

I didn't attend preschool or kindergarten, and I d…

Throes, Last Throes, and True Believers

Every recent poll seems to show that disenchantment with Bush is growing. That's certainly a sentiment I can share and endorse, but the whole experience is also intensely frustrating. Bush certainly still has a hard core of true believers, and I find it frustrating that they can't be brought to see the light - at least the smarter ones. It's especially frustrating to me that the Democrats seem so inept at putting together a program and campaign.

One Senator said that Dems have the wind at their backs - now all they need is a sail. Indeed. Bush was beaten in 2000 and beatable in 2004, but somehow he is still President, and will be for three more years. It's hard to escape a kind of doomed feeling that once again the Dems will boot the election while the country sinks into disaster.

The corrupt, incompetent, and spendthrift Republican Party is clearly in its "last throes." Will it still be there one and three years from now?

Trust Me, I'm Your President

The founding fathers had a healthy suspicion of untrammeled executive power, which is why the constitution carefully divides the powers of government between three co-equal branches. Rae Ann, AKA Vicious Mama, has advanced a constitutional theory that would pretty much demolish the balance of powers. She begins by quoting the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

I think the key word there is "unreasonable."

Someone show me where in the Constitution that it says a wartime President cannot wiretap foreign terrorists' incoming calls without a warrant when taking the time to get that warrant might cost lives.The idea that searches and seizures require a warrant was n…

Brave New Stars Revisited

Well, Wolfgang has borrowed Jaques Distler's flaming spear to deflate my black hole heresies, and a darn good job they have done of it. Unfortunately, I seem to have forgotten a key lesson of the Penrose and Hawking results, that the special features of the global picture don't seem to depend on anything special about the local picture.

There is something infuriatingly obtuse and arrogant about a paper that starts with:

Event horizons and closed time-like curves cannot exist in the real world for the simple reason that they are inconsistent with
quantum mechanics.
As Chapline's "Dark Energy Star" paper (astro-ph/0503200) does.

You could just as well turn it around: "QM can't be right because it conflicts with GR." Most infuriatingly, he acts like this is some kind of revelation, as though that very point had not been the main preoccupation of many of the greatest physicists for the past half century.

Having said that, I still pine for a horizon that…

Atrocity Story

Every war produces atrocities. Usually the civilians who sent the soldiers to fight don't believe the stories. I know I didn't believe some of the stories my fellow soldiers brought back from Vietnam about killing women and children. They were true though - these guys had been at My Lai or similar, smaller scale versions.

Here's a candidate from Ishaqi. The US and Iraqi police accounts have some things in common. US Marines went there looking for an al Quaeda member and found him. The al Quaeda suspect was captured and the other people in the house wound up dead. In the Marine's version, a helicopter gunship fired on the house, they went in, found the rest of the people dead and took out the suspect. Neighbors and the US trained Iraqi police (those guys standing up as we stand down), say that the Americans went in, handcuffed everybody, brought the suspect out, shot everybody else, killed all the farm animals, and then called in the gunship to destroy the house.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Black Holes V

Following a suggestion of Lubos in the comments to the immediately preceding post, here is the link to New Scientist story on Chapline's idea. They present it quite nicely, I think. A key idea is that what we think of as black holes might really be "dark energy stars."
...[Chapline] and Laughlin realised that if a quantum critical phase transition happened on the surface of a star, it would slow down time and the surface would behave just like a black hole's event horizon. Quantum mechanics would not be violated because in this scenario time would never freeze entirely. "We start with effects actually seen in the lab, which I think gives it more credibility than black holes," says Chapline.

With this idea in mind, they - along with Emil Mottola at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Pawel Mazur of the University of South Carolina in Columbia and colleagues - analysed the collapse of massive stars in a way that did not allow any violation of qu…

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Black Holes IV

Lubos has a new post which links to a year old one on my favorite crackpot notion. I haven't yet read the Champline papers he references, so I don't know if his ideas fit into the ones I like or not, but it doesn't really look like it.

UPDATE: There are two interesting ideas in the Champline paper for me. One is the analogy to sound in a superfluid, and the second is a reference to a paper
D. Boulware, Phy. Rev. D11, 1404 (1975).that allegedly shows that QM Greens Functions are necessarily funky at a horizon. I don't know how to evaluate either of these ideas, but a lot of people, including 't Hooft have speculated on funky behavior near a horizon. Lumo suggests that Champline doesn't like Hawking radiation, but I feel sure [at the blind prejudice level] that it has to be involved at the fundamental level.

For a large mass, freely falling through a horizon is supposedly a pretty nothing experience. On the other hand, parking near one should be extremely ho…

Groundbreaking

Groundbreaking is a term usually used to describe some minor political, scientific, or artistic innovation, or, ocassionally, digging a basement. I prefer the more geological sense, like this:
Geologist Dereje Ayalew and his colleagues from Addis Ababa University were amazed -- and frightened. They had only just stepped out of their helicopter onto the desert plains of central Ethiopia when the ground began to shake under their feet. The pilot shouted for the scientists to get back to the helicopter. And then it happened: the Earth split open. Crevices began racing toward the researchers like a zipper opening up. After a few seconds, the ground stopped moving, and after they had recovered from their shock, Ayalew and his colleagues realized they had just witnessed history. For the first time ever, human beings were able to witness the first stages in the birth of an ocean.

It's too bad that the human lifespan is five or six orders of magnitude too short to see this kind of event u…

The Grudge

Perhaps I'm overgeneralizing, but I have the impression that a lot of conservative's motivation seems to stem from the feeling that the poor are getting away with something. I often try to engage conservatives in some dialog about what I perceive to be injusticies in our system (like the enormous tax subsidies given for private jets), but the conversation usually concludes with some rejoinder about how people are buying truffles and caviar with food stamps.

Is this response is the result of the very successful campaign of the ultra-rich and their minions (Cato, Heritage, Fox, Rush, et. al.) to divide Americans against each other, or is it just the natural human impulse to blame someone weaker than oneself? It certainly assorts oddly with the tendency of so many conservatives to call themselves Christians.

A teacher I know claims I'm oversimplifying. The kids on free lunch at school sometimes show up with expensive athletic shoes. It's natural, she claims, for a paren…

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

As an old guy, I'm naturally pretty out of touch with emerging cultural trends. Consequently, I was sort of interested when a new book by this lots older but much more famous guy started making some little waves in the infosphere. Out of touch as I am, I feel compelled to consult my cultural correspondent, who keeps in touch with this stuff from his spot glued to his keyboard. Psibr-nought, as he styles himself, or S0, as I shall call him, has his finger on the pulse of the Zeitgeist.

I reproduce a portion of our IM text conversation:

CIP: So have you seen this book, Manliness, by Harvey C. Mansfield?

(Pause)

S0: Ye

CIP: So do you have an opinion?

S0: Gay-aye!

CIP: I wish you wouldn't use that as a generic term of disapprobation. I've got a small but cool readership, and I can't afford to offend people.

S0: So why do you consider it disapprobative? You have something against gay people?

CIP: No! No! Of course not. It just doesn't seem polite. Can't you use som…

1/3

From the Pew Poll (via Kevin Drum and Laura Rozen).

...Until now, the most frequently offered word to describe the president was "honest," but this comes up far less often today than in the past. Other positive traits such as "integrity" are also cited less, and virtually no respondent used superlatives such as "excellent" or "great" ­ terms that came up fairly often in previous surveys.

The single word most frequently associated with George W. Bush today is "incompetent,"and close behind are two other increasingly mentioned descriptors: "idiot" and "liar." All three are mentioned far more often today than a year ago

The Prez can, however, still fool 33% of the people, including 73% of Republicans.

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Black Holes III

Regular readers, if any, might recall that I have an affection for the somewhat crackpot notion that black holes might not really exist by virtue of evaporating before they form. Abhas Mitra has a new paper gr-qc/0603055 with a new approach to a similar idea:
Even when we consider Newtonian stars, i.e., stars with surface gravitational redshift, z << 1, it is well known that, theoretically, it is possible to have stars, supported against self-gravity, almost entirely by radiation pressure. However, such Newtonian stars must necessarily be supermassive. We point out that this requirement for excessive large M, in Newtonian case, is a consequence of the occurrence of low z<< 1. On the other hand, if we remove such restrictions, and allow for possible occurrence of highly general relativistic regime, z >> 1, we show that, it is possible to have radiation pressure supported stars at arbitrary value of M. Since radiation pressure supported stars necessarily radiate at th…

First Mistake

I went to a lecture by Edward O. Wilson last night about the future of life. The lecture was quite good, and I intend to mine it for a few posts (hey, so my life *is* pretty boring) but what really impressed me was his answers to questions. The questioners were young people, probably students at the U, and their questions were somewhat unfocussed or even a bit incoherent, but he always managed to turn the question into a good question, and give a better answer in a way that was both flattering and encouraging to the questioner.

The first questioner asked if it was inevitable that scientists who got involved in policy debates lose their scientific credibility, and how could that be avoided?

His answer: Do the science first, and concentrate on that. When you have the scientific credibility, you can take on policy. His involvement, he said, was like that of an astronomer who had detected the track of a ten mile wide asteroid headed for Earth.

Do the science first! Darn! That's wh…

RIP JC

Great Ceasar dead and turned to clay
could stop a hole to keep the wind away

Julius Caesar was stabbed to death today, 2050 years ago, and it seems that Chem Profs all over (according to the MIT Chem Prof on NPR this morning) like to tell their students that right now, each of them and each of us has about one molecule of Caesar's last breath (et tu, Brute) in our lungs. I'm not convinced.

Molecules get recycled. They get broken down, combined into other compounds, and regenerated - except for Argon and a tiny bit of Helium. Besides, it's not clear that an individual molecule really has a long term identity. Indistinguishable quantum systems inevitably lose their separate identities over time.

The clay is complex and individual enough to have a longer term quantum identity though.

Global Warming: The Sky is Falling

Lubos is flacking for an improbable sounding global warming scenario propounded by Vladimir Shaidurov here.

His theory, posited with no quantitative content and only the vaguest suggestion of a mechanism, is that the comet that exploded about six miles above Tunguska Russia in 1908 started the current period of global warming. This, supposedly, triggered unspecified changes in the mesosphere leading to global warming. This trend was temporarily interrupted by water vapor injected into the stratosphere by nuclear and thermonuclear tests in the period 1945 - 1970 or so. He also suggests an ameliorative mechanism based on combustion of Hydrogen in the Mesosphere.

Such an idea is not entirely nuts, but it doesn't seem very likely either, especially in the absence of a mechanism for comet induced mesospheric changes. The effects of water vapor injected into the stratosphere by nuclear tests should be readily calculable though, and I would be surprised if they rival the effect of a med…

Flowers for Slobo

Slobodan Milosevich, by all accounts, was corrupt, incompetent, and, thanks the series of wars he started to maintain his grip on power, a vicious war criminal who brought ruin to Yugoslavia and ruin and shame to Serbia.

That said, his trial, and the manner of his death are a great blot on the International War Crimes Tribunal. The length of the trial was preposterous. It had been going on for more than four years when he died of what are probably not completely natural causes. The Tribunal and the prosecutors need to be told in no uncertain terms that if their case cannot be presented in four weeks, they don't have a case.

The comic opera trial of Saddam Hussain is a similar cock-up. If they were determined to hang this guy, they should have gotten around to it before Bush had created more mass graves than Saddam.

Throttling Dissent

Stoat, AKA Belette, AKA that guy whose name I usually manage to misspell, takes Keyes Institute's Fred Hutchison by the throat over a column he wrote called Common sense on global warming. To be sure, Belette does manage to point out a few minor defects in Fred's understanding of the relevant science:
Although neither nitrogen or oxygen has an influence on the greenhouse effect, for some reason CO2 is assumed by environmentalists to influence the greenhouse effect so as to cause global warming. We are all waiting for an explanation of how CO2 differs from nitrogen and oxygen in its influence on the greenhouse effect. Until such explanation is forthcoming, it seems reasonable to suspect that the theorists are failing to differentiate between wholesome CO2 and poisonous CO1 (carbon monoxide) and other toxic gases that accompany CO2 in industrial pollution. (says Fred)

Belette points him to the explanation, but also puts it in a capsule:
The answer is given right up front at wik…

Reputation

Among the many things I blame Bush for is giving capitalism a bad name. The Bush style of corrupt government manipulating corporate cronyism probably bears some of the blame for the resurgence of socialism in Latin America and elsewhere.

Chile, supposedly South America's model for free market ideas, has just elected a Socialist President. Meanwhile, Argentina's President has suspended beef exports in a lame attempt to quell inflation in domestic prices.

Is it fair to blame Bush? Who cares, he deserves it anyway!

Poster Boy

Claude Allen could be a sort of poster boy for the Bush administration. As a White House policy aid making $160,000/yr. his job was coordinating abstinence education, faith based initiatives, and anti-abortion policy. I guess these must have left him a bit of free time, since he also got the job of coordinating the WH response to Hurricane Katrina, says Josh Marshall, though he notes that:
Maybe he was too busy waiting in the return line at Hecht's to focus on the hurricane stuff.
Allen was arrested for more than twenty-five counts of felony theft for ripping off Hecht's and Target. Details here.

Josh also observes that:
People have a lot of meta-theories for the decline in the White House's poll numbers and management effectiveness. But perhaps the more straightforward explanation is that with so many senior officials being arrested, it just leads to a breakdown in command and control.

Prosperity! W Style

The US will run a current account deficit of roughly $900 billion this year, or about $3000 per man, woman, and child. That is more or less how much more we are buying than producing. Live it up Americans! You've mortgaged your house, country, and children and everything they can hope to own, so enjoy it while you can. Not to worry though - at this rate it will still take foreigners fifteen or twenty years before they own everything of value here.

Oops, There Goes Another One

Brad Delong is impressed with the honor and dignity Bush brought to the White House.

Especially the dignity. From Rachel Shteir at Slate:
When Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime domestic-policy adviser, resigned suddenly on Feb. 9, it baffled administration critics and fans. The White House claimed that Allen was leaving to spend more time with his family, while the Washington Times speculated that the 45-year-old aide, a noted social conservative, might have quit to protest a new Pentagon policy about military chaplains. Allen himself never publicly explained the reason for his departure.

News today may shed light on the mystery of Allen's resignation. According to the Montgomery County Police Department, Allen was arrested yesterday and charged in a felony theft and a felony theft scheme. According to a department press release, Allen conducted approximately 25 fraudulent "refunds" in Target and Hecht's stores in Maryland. On Jan. 2, a Target employee appreh…

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

My post on trackbackgate below drew a plaintive comment from Matti Pitkanen who is, he says, blacklisted from the ArXiv. I won't pretend to have any opinion on the merits of his work or of his particular case, but it is clear that the existence of the ArXiv has radically changed the landscape of scientific publication. If, as I expect, it gradually supercedes all paper journals, as it largely already has in some fields of physics, those who control the ArXiv will have more or less exclusive control of the dissemination of new results.

This is a radical change from the system of fifteen years ago, when a fringe scientist rejected by mainstream journals could usually find some journal that would publish his results. The history of science shows that although new ideas often arise from the scientific consensus, it is far from rare for them to originate on the fringes, e.g., Wegner, Boltzmann, Margulies, Alvarez.

Trackbackgate illustrates how a few individuals with authority arising…

Health Care

Arun has a nice table comparing some US health care with the health insurance systems of Canada, Britain, and France. Notice that all three are much cheaper than ours and that all three nations beat us on almost all key measures of health.

No country is completely satisfied with its health care system, but Americans are among the most dissatisfied. Nobody I know thinks that the British or Canadian systems are the model we should shoot for - to many restrictions on doctors and patients, the French system performs very well, is much cheaper than ours, and has high satisfaction among doctors and patients.

Resignation

Interior Secretary Gale Norton resigned today. Rumor has it that she wants to spend more time with her lawyers.

Party Time

"I'm not a member of any organized political party," Will Rogers famously said, "I'm a Democrat." Lately Democrats have been sensing some blood in the water, as the President's poll numbers hover near historic lows and half the Republican Congressional leadership has either been indicted or seems in danger of it. Naturally, being Democrats, they are busy booting opportunity out the window.

They adopted a fatuous and widely derided slogan ("Together, we can do better") that was previously slightly used by the Kerry campaign and the guy with the funky eyebrows, and then proceeded to squabble about the syntax. They do this because they can't agree on the major substantive issues (War, deficit, lobbying reform, health care) and are paralyzed by the fear that whatever they say, Karl Rove will find some band of loonies to advertise it as proof of treason.

They need to start by forgetting any fantasies of impeachment - yes, I too have that dre…

Statesmanship

Brad Delong has a long post from C. V. Wedgwood's William the Silent, and it's a reminder that selfless statemanship has occasionally existed:
It was a strange, almost a unique, thing to be the idol of a nation and remain uncorrupted, to be yourself the guardian of the people's rights sometimes against the emotional impulse of the people themselves. In times of emergency and war, in political crisis and national danger it is often expedient to sacrifice the forms--even the spirit--of popular government. Was not this one of the chief reasons why popular governments [have] withered in so many lands during this stormy [twentieth] century?

There lies his greatest claim to recognition: he sought not to impose his own will on the embryo nation, but to let the nation create and form itself. He belonged in spirit to an earlier, a more generous and more cultured age than this [late sixteeth century] of narrowness and authority, and thin, sectarian hatred. But he belonge also to a lat…

Isn't it Ironic?

Fifteen years ago, just about the same time that Tim Berners-Lee was inventing the World Wide Web, a young string theorist in Los Alamos, New Mexico came up with another really good idea - making string theory preprints available over the net. Physicists had long circulated their important papers to colleagues as typescript papers rather than force everybody to wait through the long months to publication. With Paul Ginsparg's innovation, they could submit their papers as electronic files which could be downloaded the next day by anyone in the world with access to a computer and an internet connection. Subsequent implementation on the World Wide Web made it even simpler.

It was both the fastest and most democratic medium of scientific interchange ever invented. Initially, anyone could submit a paper. An early paper from an obscure Eastern really old Central European university caught the attention of leading researchers, an attention that turned to awe when they learned that th…

RTS: The Gated Way

The institution of serfdom has arisen, or at least perpetuated itself in a variety of societies, though not, as far as I can recall, through quite the mechanisms suggested by Hayek. More generally, the partial or total enslavement of much of the population has occurred in many societies that had more egalitarian origins.

The American founding fathers were quite aware that republican governments had historically proven rather fragile, and John Adams wrote about his analytic study of the mechanisms of failure in the Roman, Florentine, and Greek Republics. One of the key factors he found was the rise of an oligarchy that concentrated wealth and power and became increasingly isolated from and distinct from the rest of the citizenry. He and others in our government considered that possibility a major threat to our own republic, and consequently passed laws intended to prevent that eventuality from occurring here.

Nonetheless, an American aristocracy of wealth and birth did arise, and by …