Thursday, November 30, 2006

CO2 vs. the Supremes

Several States have sued the EPA to try to get it to regulate CO2 emissions under the clean air act. Now I firmly believe that CO2 emissions constitute an environmental threat and that they should be regulated, but I don't think this is the right approach.

The CAA 1990 runs to hundreds of pages and lists many pollutants with detailed regulations, but CO2 is not among them. Moreover, most of the pollutants addressed have a rather different mode of creating harm than excess CO2 does, and consequently it can make sense to set "safe" levels for them.

The sensible thing to do is to hold hearings, discuss and debate the science, and pass a new law intended specifically to deal with the question of greenhouse gases and global warming. That's the way it's supposed to work in a democratic republic. The Supreme Court has no expertise in the issue, and is not designed decide the kinds of tradeoffs required here.

Let's regulate CO2 emissions, but let's do it right.

Stop Picking on Lindsay Lohan!

Lindsay Lohan wrote a letter of condolence to Robert Altman's family, which for some reason was publicized. Since then, Matt "the serial slimeball" Drudge and a lot of others have been picking on her. OK, so it's not a masterpiece of grammar, spelling, or literary form, but it feels real and heartfelt. I'm sure her publicist could have written a better letter (assuming her publicist didn't write this one!), but what the hell is everybody picking on?

I don't know much about her, and have only seen a couple of movies of hers, but she's clearly a cute and talented kid. So back the hell off! That goes double for the super slimes of page six.

Six Tent Poles of Wisdom

Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance reports that New Scientist asked 70 noted scientists for pithy predictions of great discoveries in the next 50 years. Sean was among the 70, whilst the Pig, of course, was not, but I thought I would offer up a few of my own anyway.

  • Astrobiology: We make contact with intelligent life in the universe. It tells us to buzz off.

  • Astrophysics & Cosmology: The nature of dark matter is explained. It turns out to be responsible for that feeling of pressure you get with a bad headache.

  • Biology: Artificial life with a new DNA code is created from scratch in the laboratory. It quickly outcompetes and displaces all of the old-fashioned, natural kind.

  • Neuroscience: Consciousness is explained. Nobody can follow the explanation.

  • Mathematics: Further research into the foundations of mathematics reveals that 2+3 = 7. Fortunes are made revising textbooks.

  • Theology: After a long hiatus, God resumes conversations with mankind in a weekly radio show. He reveals that He, like George Allen, is only Jewish on his mother's side.

  • Gender Studies: Intellectual differences between men and women are proven, and traced to women's lack of the organ that men do most of their thinking with.

  • Economics: Rich people's volume in wealth space is found to be associated with positive Lyapunov exponents, while the poor get negative ones.

2+2=?

From Kevin Phillip's Wealth and Democracy:

In 1930, financier Bernard Baruch, an embarrassed Pollyanna, recalled that "In the lamentable era of the 'New Economics' culminating in 1929, even in the presence of dizzily spiraling prices, if we had all continuously repeated 'two and two still make four,' much of the evil might have been averted.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A(nother) Modest Proposal

Iraq's per capita GDP is about $1800. Since our invasion, we have expended a bit over $10,000 per capita, and even if we leave tomorrow, our total costs for the adventure will probably approach $20,000 per Iraqi.

The current sectarian struggle in Iraq is less about religion than it is about power and resources. Most of the oil is in Shia or Kurdish areas, and the Sunni's rightly fear getting locked out. Here is my proposed solution. It's intended to be Milton Friedman inspired and is guaranteed to be fair and balanced. Assign all of the proven Iraqi oil reserves to one (or a few) corporations, and then give one share of stock in each corporation to each Iraqi citizen.

A moratorium should be imposed on trading the stock for an interim period, and dividends would be paid starting immediately. Initially, the dividends would be financed by the US and based on the projected return at current market rates if it weren't for the war. Managers would have a couple of years in which to replace this subsidy with real revenue, and their compensation would consist of a small salary plus a share in the real part of profits paid to stockholders.

For a small fraction of the annual cost of our current fiasco we could put money in the hands of individual Iraqis, create the nucleus of a capitalist economy, and give everybody an incentive to stop fighting - except for the foreign jihadists - and all Iraqis would have an incentive to chase them out.

I'm jus sayin...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Getting So Much Better All the Time

Can't wait for global warming? Maybe it can be arranged a little sooner, rather than later. According to this BBC story, CO2 buildup in the atmosphere is accelerating.

The rise in humanity's emissions of carbon dioxide has accelerated sharply, according to a new analysis.

The Global Carbon Project says that emissions were rising by less than 1% annually up to the year 2000, but are now rising at 2.5% per year.

It says the acceleration comes mainly from a rise in charcoal consumption and a lack of new energy efficiency gains.

The global research network released its latest analysis at a scientific meeting in Australia.

Dr Mike Rapauch of the Australian government's research organisation CSIRO, who co-chairs the Global Carbon Project, told delegates that 7.9 billion tonnes (gigatonnes, Gt) of carbon passed into the atmosphere last year. In 2000, the figure was 6.8Gt.

"From 2000 to 2005, the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions was more than 2.5% per year, whereas in the 1990s it was less than 1% per year," he said.

The finding parallels figures released earlier this month by the World Meteorological Organization showing that the rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 had accelerated in the last few years.
(via Kevin Drum)

Meanwhile, Dr. James Lovelock says nevermind.
The earth has a fever that could boost temperatures by 8 degrees Celsius making large parts of the surface uninhabitable and threatening billions of peoples' lives, a controversial climate scientist said on Tuesday.

James Lovelock, who angered climate scientists with his Gaia theory of a living planet and then alienated environmentalists by backing nuclear power, said a traumatized earth might only be able to support less than a tenth of it's 6 billion people.

"We are not all doomed. An awful lot of people will die, but I don't see the species dying out," he told a news conference. "A hot earth couldn't support much over 500 million."

Almost all of the systems that have been looked at are in positive feedback ... and soon those effects will be larger than any of the effects of carbon dioxide emissions from industry and so on around the world," he added.

Scientists say that global warming due to carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels for power and transport could boost average temperatures by up to 6C by the end of the century causing floods, famines and violent storms.

But they also say that tough action now to cut carbon emissions could stop atmospheric concentrations of CO2 hitting 450 parts per million -- equivalent to a temperature rise of 2C from pre-industrial levels -- and save the planet.

Lovelock said temperature rises of up to 8C were already built in and while efforts to curb it were morally commendable, they were wasted.

"It is a bit like if your kidneys fail you can go on dialysis -- and who would refuse dialysis if death is the alternative. We should think of it in that context," he said.

Personally, I'd prefer to go down fighting. We need to plan to control emissions, counteract their effects, and adapt to the coming heat, whether it's 2 degrees C or 8 - thought 8 would be really tough.

PS: Want to know a good way to get a climate scientist to curse and pound his head against the wall? Introduce in evidence the fact that today was the coldest day ever in Calgary, Canberra, or wherever. It's also a good way to tattoo "clueless" on your own forehead.

Green House Gas (GHG) induced global warming doesn't predict that today will be the warmest day ever (or not be the coldest day ever)in any given location, or that every hurricane season in every ocean will be the worst ever, or that each year will be warmer than the last. It doesn't predict that GHC's are the only forcing affecting climate. It does predict that GHCs are a continually increasing forcing which will swamp most or all natural variability, and that, barring a change in our collective behavior or some unforeseen miracle intervening, GHC effects produce changes that are likely to be very painful.

UPDATE and RECANTATION: Molnar and Belette have slapped me around and kicked me to the curb on this one. See comments. Thank goodness somebody smart is trying to keep me honest.

UPDATE UPDATE (RECANTING the RECANTATION): ...eppur si muove

Perhaps I was very slightly too humble and contrite. The quoted article does indeed say that "...the rise in atmospheric concentrations of CO2 had accelerated in the last few years."

So did the WMO really say that? Well no. Figure 3 b. of this ghg bulletin (courtesy of Dr. Connolley) tells a rather different story. The rate of accumulation fluctuates - check it out.

Belette and Molnar are correct, of course.

Should I Have a Lubotomy?

Some of you may have heard much of this before. Lubos Motl was both the inspiration and the reason for my blogging career. I started commenting on his blog in reaction to his rather strident review of a book at Amazon, and I started a blog when he started deleting some of my comments. Since that time I have often posted on topics that he has initiated, and he has on a few occasions posted on topics I initiated. He even had a post purporting to reveal my semi-secret identity.

Television producer Roy Huggins once said that he and actor James Garner had a "love hate relationship. I love him and he hates me." I wouldn't exactly say that I love Lubos, but I do retain a certain affection for that irrepressible and ingenious Czech, and it grieves me that his outbursts seem to have damaged his reputation. Once upon a time, there seemed to be more light-heartedness to even his harsh critiques. Lately, he seems to be more bitter.

He continues to post clever, amusing, outrageous, and occasionally brilliant things, as well as some things evocatively poetic. Lubos in his analytic mode is a wonder to behold. In his dogmatic mode - well I won't go into that here. In any case he is the perfect prompt and cause for any number of posts.

I will say this directly to you Lubos. A lot of the people you hate, don't hate you, and even fewer of them wish you harm. A lot of the people you berate actually like you.

Cynthia, and less directly, Lubos, have taken me to task for harassing him. I don't want to harass anybody, and consequently I am thinking of giving him up, giving up posting about him or to him - having a Lubotomy, in effect. It would be difficult, but I would like to hear your opinions.

Cynthia?... Anybody?... Bueller?... Lubos?

Monday, November 27, 2006

String Theory Progress

The New York Times is reporting dramatic new progress by physicists working in string theory in this story by Andrew C. Revkin. Suprisingly enough, the keys to progress involved not Geometric Langlands but graphite and balsa wood.

Go figure.

Is it too Late to Pick a Winner?

Now that more or less everybody has admitted that Iraq is in a state of civil war, with the different factions inside and outside the government in open war with each other, does anybody have any idea what US troops are doing there now? They aren't preventing violence and they aren't holding the country together. Sunni's and Shiites are apparently both confident of winning the showdown once the US gets out of the way. Is it too late for the US to pick a winner in the upcoming war and try to mitigate the inevitable slaughter?

Probably so. More or less all Iraqi's are united in their hatred of the US, so if we pick a winner we will be blamed for all the crimes it commits in suppressing the opposition. If anyone consolidates power, they will turn all their efforts to expelling us. Moreover, anyone we side with will quickly lose most of their internal support.

Is it too late for a political deal? Probably. The Sunnis might still settle for a fair share of any oil revenues but it's hard to imagine the Shia or Kurds signing up. In any case, such a deal can hardly happen without Syria, Iran, and Turkey signing up, and they will want a big price. Iran, in particular, will likely want a US guarantee against attack by us or Israel. Syria will want the Golan and a free hand in Lebanon. Neither of these is likely to be acceptable to Israel, but Israel's maneuvering room is shrinking rapidly.

Olmert, probably under heavy pressure from the wiser heads in Israel, is now trying to restart the "peace process." I would guess that chances for success are slim.

The trouble with a quagmire is that it's easy to into it. It's getting out that's hard. Very bad things are likely to happen if we get out of Iraq either suddenly or gradually. Very bad things are likely to continue to happen if we stay. Whichever we choose, we need for our troops to have a legitimate mission. Supporting "the elected government" isn't a mission, because the government is a set of warring factions. We can't "stand up the police" to control the militias if the police are the militias.

The contradictions in our current posture were most evident in the abortive attempt we made to retrieve the kidnapped American soldier apparently held in Sadr city. Because the Iraqi government depends on al Sadr's support, they made us desist in our efforts. The government in Iraq - the freely elected Iraqi government - is the problem, not the solution.

If McCain or some other bozo wants to send 20,000 more US troops to Bagdad, he better be prepared to explain in detail what difference it's going to make and precisely how. Will the militias be suppressed? By whom? How? What will be the lines of authority between the US and the Iraqi government? What are they now?

So what's the least awful choice? My vote is for getting the heck out and sending the Iraqis a note to say:

We are sorry that our bull wrecked your china shop. If you get yourself back together we will provide modest help to repair the damage. We are sorry that we falsely accused you of helping the anti-US terrorists and building a nuke.

P.S. If you are thinking about actually sponsoring terrorists in revenge, we still have the bull.

Hot and Cold

Lubos Motl has another global warming critique posted. He imagines that he has found a contradiction:

“Also, just like the carbon dioxide increases the infrared absorption in the troposphere, its increased concentration in the higher layer, the stratosphere, is - on the contrary - expected to increase the ability of this layer to emit energy and to cool down. Maybe.

I hope that it is not difficult for the reader to understand that the global warming theory actually predicts cooling for most of the volume of the atmosphere. There's really no serious catch here. ;-. Maybe.


Motl thinks he has scored a debating point here, but in fact he has failed to understand some elementary physics. The warming of the surface (and lower troposphere) and the cooling of the stratosphere both naturally follow from the increased infrared absorption coefficient of the atmosphere. As every physics student should know, increasing the absorption coefficient leads to an exactly proportional increase in the emissivity.

To understand the different effect on stratosphere and troposphere one needs to look at the details of how each is warmed. The stratospheric case is simpler. It is heated by UV radiation from the sun, absorbed by oxygen. The stratosphere is a poor thermal radiator, since it lacks water vapor, and the combination of absorbed energy and inefficient radiation makes it warmer than the underlying troposphere. Adding CO2 has little effect on energy absorption, but makes a significant effect on energy emission. Ergo, adding CO2 cools the stratosphere.

Little of that UV reaches the troposphere. The troposphere is heated almost entirely by contact with the ground, which in turn is heated mainly by the visible light of the sun, which passes through all the atmospheric gases almost unhindered. The ground emits in the infrared. In the absence of absorbers, that infrared goes out into space, significantly cooling the ground, and hence the atmosphere in contact with it. Infrared absorbers (mainly water vapor and CO2) in the atmosphere absorb radiation, and emit it, some of which goes back to the ground to further warm it. Thus CO2 in the troposphere warms it warms the earth below by resending some outgoing CO2 back to it.

To summarize: CO2 in the stratosphere cools it by increasing its emissive capability while negligibly affecting the net absorption (since most of that is in the UV). CO2 in the troposphere warms the Earth below (and hence itself) by sending some of the outgoing radiation back to the Earth.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Secrets of Failure

I wasted an hour or two this morning listening to the Sunday AM talk. An array of politicians and generals seem (finally!) to have absorbed the lesson that things are going very badly. All, though, and especially the military guys, keep making the same idiotic mistake: thinking that some kind of "standing up" an Iraqi army is a solution, as if some amount of training and equipment is suddenly going to make these soldiers loyal to a government that doesn't really even exist. We don't even have a puppet government there, merely a figurehead, and a collection of interests pursuing their own mutually hostile agendas. Oddly enough, the two who came closest to understanding this were two of the right-wing crackheads who got us into this mess (George Will and Bill Kristol).

Nobody involved seems to have a clue as to what makes for a stable state, especially a stable state in a land bitterly divided. Let me just mention a few basics: a) a monopoly on the use of force, b) Unifying principles, c) A mutual bargain between the government and the citizenry, a quid pro quo, d) Clear lines of authority.

The US understood this in Germany and Japan after WW II, but failed miserably in this regard in Vietnam and Iraq.

The stupidity of Bush and Cheney is the American peoples fault. The ignorance of American Generals is an institutional fault. West Point, and the other service academies and schools, need to start serving up some history on the successful occupations of WW II and the catastrophic failures of Iraq and Vietnam.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hard Times Coming on the River

The river De Nial, I mean. Climate denial, as in denying the evidence of human caused global warming, in particular. Climate denial has been a minor industry for the past decade or two, funded by those with a big financial stake in continued unchecked emission of carbon dioxide - the fossil fuel energy industry. The way it works is simple: if your center, institute, or web site produces denialist reports and other propaganda, the oil and energy companies might funnel you some money. Junkscience.com is a prominent example, but other right wing "think" tanks like the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute do a bit of climate denial on the side.

This gravy train appears to be derailing though. The true believers of climate denial are psuedo-religious in their convictions, but Exxon Mobil is run by hard-headed realists. They can read the handwriting on the wall and will try to adapt. From Steve Mufson and Janet Eilperin's Washington Post story:

While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.

The Democratic takeover of Congress makes it more likely that the federal government will attempt to regulate emissions. The companies have been hiring new lobbyists who they hope can help fashion a national approach that would avert a patchwork of state plans now in the works. They are also working to change some company practices in anticipation of the regulation.

"We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"

Hofmeister and other top energy company leaders, such as Duke Energy Corp.'s chief executive, James E. Rogers, back a proposal that would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow firms to trade their quotas.

Paul M. Anderson, Duke Energy's chairman and a member of the president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, favors a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent greenhouse gas. His firm is the nation's third-largest burner of coal.

Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-profile corporate skeptic about global warming, said in September that it was considering ending its funding of a think tank that has sought to cast doubts on climate change. And on Nov. 2, the company announced that it will contribute more than $1.25 million to a European Union study on how to store carbon dioxide in natural gas fields in the Norwegian North Sea, Algeria and Germany.

The Exxon Mobil shift, however glacial, is huge, because they have been the biggest player and shrillest voice in the global warming denial racket.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Perils of Popularization

Leonard Mlodinow is a physicist turned writer who has written an autobiographical sketch called Feynman's Rainbow as well as some Star Trek screenplays. He has also written a math popularization called Euclid's Window : The Story of Geometry from Parallel Lines to Hyperspace about which a number of people, including Brian Greene and Edward Witten, have found nice things to say.

I read Feynman's Rainbow, and liked it, especially for it's evocation of the ambience of Caltech in the Feynman and Gell-Mann era, but I haven't read Euclid's Window. Robert Langlands has though and you might say his opening sentence telegraphs his opinion:

This is a shallow book on deep matters, about which the author knows next to nothing.

The review in the AMS Notices is long, erudite, passionate and boundlessly hostile. He clearly thinks Mlodinow gets almost everything wrong, but what really angers him is that (he claims):
...[the book] is certainly thoroughly dishonest, but not to any purpose, rather simply because the author shrinks from nothing in his desperation to be “readable and entertaining”.

He makes a gesture at even-handedness:
The book is wretched; there is no group of readers, young or old, lay or professional, to whom I would care to recommend it. Nonetheless, there are several encomiums on the dust-jacket: from Edward Witten, the dean of string theorists, and from a number of authors of what appear to be popularizations of mathematics. They are all of the contrary opinion; they find that it is “written with grace and charm”, “readable and entertaining”, and so on. Perhaps the book is a hoax, written to expose the vanity of physicists, the fatuity of vulgarizers, the illiteracy of publishers, and the pedantry of at least one priggish mathematician.

The review itself is a fascinating and fact-filled read for someone interested in the history of mathematics. It is almost the outline of the more serious and scholarly book on the "deep subject" that he wishes someone better had written - but says he is unqualified to write.

His viewpoint is the Olympian one that I suppose one should expect of a long-time inhabitant of what Einstein called a "quaint ceremonious village of tiny demigods on stilts." (The Institute for Advanced Study). I doubt that popularizations of mathematics or physics can exist in that thin air.

The link is via Peter Woit at NEW. Peter is mainly concerned with the deep matters of Geometric Langlands, another one of the remarkable mathematical connections of String Theory.

Reality Nibbles?

The dollar has been plunging, hinting that the World may not be willing to let us run up our credit cards forever. Is this the long prophesied "major correction" taking hold, or just a financial jitter? There are certainly hints that some of our major creditors are getting less willing to let us run our tab:

These concerns were heightened by comments from Wu Xiaoling, deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China, indicating her unease at the rapid build-up of $1,000bn of reserves in China. She said Asian foreign exchange reserves were at risk from the dollar’s fall, although she stopped short of indicating that China was about to stop adding to its pile of reserves.

“The dollar is coming under real pressure and this looks like the beginning of a sustained move,” said Ian Stannard, strategist at BNP Paribas.

Every US War so far has produced a sharp inflationary spike. The most painful flavor is stagflation, when the economy flounders even as prices rise. The Captain has turned on your fasten seatbelts sign.

State Sponsored Terror

The recent assassinations of former KGB and FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko and crusading journalist Anna Politkovskayax were carried out with a contemptuous audacity that suggests the Putin's Russia now believes it can murder with impunity. In particular, the high-tech murder of Litvinenko was clearly the work of a sophisticated technological state. The obviousness of the crime suggests that Putin had in mind not merely terror, but a calculated gesture of contempt toward Bush and Blair.

When GW took office, Russia was still crippled by its weak economy. High oil prices, and Russia's control of much of the World's natural gas, have changed that. So has Bush's decision to fritter away American power, lives, and money in Iraq.

Polonium 210 looks like a good way of saying: "This message approved by the FSB." According to Wikipedia, Polonium 210 is about 250 billion times as toxic as cyanide per unit mass.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble...

A US and British team of scientists has found that we aren't all as much alike under the nuclear membrane as had previously been thought. It seems that we all have multiple copies of some genes, but not necessarily the same number of copies. From The Independent:

The findings mean that instead of humanity being 99.9 per cent identical, as previously believed, we are at least 10 times more different between one another than once thought - which could explain why some people are prone to serious diseases.

The studies published today have found that instead of having just two copies of each gene - one from each parent - people can carry many copies, but just how many can vary between one person and the next.

The studies suggest variations in the number of copies of genes is normal and healthy. But the scientists also believe many diseases may be triggered by an abnormal loss or gain in the copies of some key genes.

Some of the mutiply copied genes appear to be related to disease and resistance to disease:
One gene, called CCL3L1, which is copied many times in people of African descent, appears to confer resistance to HIV. Another gene involved in making a blood protein is copied many times in people from south-east Asia and seems to help against malaria. Other research has shown that variation in the number of copies of some genes is involved in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease

Not yet discovered, but sure to come, is the revelation that Lubos has a lot more copies of the "smart gene" than I do. Ditto the "lost causes gene*."

*Known locally as the "right wing nutjob gene."

Lords of Folly

Kevin Drum says:

FOLLY....Richard Clarke on Iraq:

In The March of Folly, Barbara Tuchman documented repeated instances when leaders persisted in disastrous policies well after they knew that success was no longer an available outcome. They did so because the personal consequences of admitting failure would be very high. So they postponed the disastrous end to their policy adventures, hoping for a deus ex machina or to eventually shift the blame. There is no need to do that now. Everyone already knows who is to blame. It is time to stop the adventure, lower our sights, and focus on America's core interests. And that means withdrawal of major combat units.

That is about as succinct a description of our current situation as I've read anywhere. Read the whole thing for the longer version of his argument for withdrawal.

The worst thing about Iraq is that the President continues to spin fairy tales about the situation. Scarier still is the possibility that he might believe them. Without recognition of reality, there is no hope of achieving even the least worst outcome.

Who to Blame?

OK, so this is a rhetorical question, for me anyway. Juan Cole explains GW's role in the ongoing Lebanese debacle. A lot is summarized by this bit:

So obviously there will be trouble about this. Everything Bush touches turns to ashes, bombings, assassinations. He doesn't know how to compromise and he doesn't know how to influence his neo-colonial possessions so that they can compromise.

The net result of Bush's blunders has been a vast increase in Syria and Iran's influence - ironically coming just at the time that most think we have no choice but to try and enlist their help to clean up the mess W made in Iraq. If they choose to cooperate, the price they will demand will be high. Israel quite probably already regrets its embrace of and by Bush.

Constituentcy

War profitteering has a long and not particularly honorable history in the US as well as elsewhere. The first American millionaires earned their money in the Revolutionary war by either privateering or selling supplies to Washington's Army. (See, e.g., Wealth and Democracy by Kevin Phillips) During the war, the Continental Congress and the 13 Colonies had contracted large debts, which having gone unpaid for a long time, lost a lot of value. Friends of Alexander Hamilton, our first Secretary of the Treasury, hired agents to scour the countryside, buying the instruments of debt for as little as ten cents on the dollar. Hamilton then managed to get the newly formed United States to assume and pay all these debts at full value. This led to a new crop of millionaires.

The taxes to pay these debts were excise taxes levied mainly on the whisky makers of Pennsylvania, which led to the first American governmental crisis, the so-called "Whisky Rebellion." The rebellion was suppressed, but the Federalist Party of Hamilton paid the price with extinction.

An acquaintenance's recent visit to Kuwait City prompted me to recall the above. His tale was of fabulous salary's to be earned there by Americans, and of military officers living in six thousand square foot homes. I know what American military officers make, and the cost of living is by no means cheap in Kuwait. If low level contract empoyees are earning $250 K per year, you can be sure that their employers are doing pretty well too. These people, recall, are not living in tents or cinder block barracks in Iraq, or routinely taking enemy fire.

More than most wars, Iraq has produced a culture of corruption and war profittering, mainly because the Bush administration not only tolerates it but actively enables it. Cheney's ties to Halliburton are near the heart of it, but far from the whole story. Recall that one of the current Republican Congress's last acts was firing the Inspector General who had uncovered a lot of corrupt dealing in Iraq.

I have not seen any evidence of direct Bush family involvement, but papa Bush's ties to both the region and the military procurement complex are well known (Bush Sr. and the bin Laden family were both players in the Carlyle group, the private equity group which then specialized in buying down at the heel defense contractors and selling them after they suddenly got lucky on some government contracts). 41 was on hand for a recent conference in Abu Dhabi at which he was apparently surprised by the hostility Junior evoked. From the Jim Krane story in The Associated Press:

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Former President George H.W. Bush took on Arab critics of his son Tuesday during a testy exchange at a leadership conference in the capital of this U.S. ally. "My son is an honest man," Bush told members of the audience harshly criticized the current U.S. leader's foreign policy.

The oil-rich Persian Gulf used to be safe territory for former President Bush, who brought Arab leaders together in a coalition that drove Saddam Hussein's troops from Kuwait in 1991. But gratitude for the elder Bush, who served as president from 1989-93, was overshadowed at the conference by hostility toward his son, whose invasion of Iraq and support for Israel are deeply unpopular in the region.

"We do not respect your son. We do not respect what he's doing all over the world," a woman in the audience bluntly told Bush after his speech.

Bush, 82, appeared stunned as others in the audience whooped and whistled in approval.

The honest man comment was supposed to be a joke, right? About the guy who expressed full confidence in Rumsfeld and intent to keep him till 2008 a few days before the election and said he had been planning to fire him for weeks right after?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Cheapskates

While I was listening to NPR's Car Talk a week or so ago, the brothers got a call from a Sergeant in Bagdad, Iraq. His HMMWV's (Humvee's) were breaking down every week or so because their springs and ball joints weren't built to carry the 5000 lbs. of Armor they now carry. They weren't able to offer him much good advice, aside from more frequent preventive maintenance, but the story reminded me of why I hate these Republican SOB's.

During World War II, we designed the P-51 fighter in 117 days. It, when combined with the Rolls Royce engine, became the premier air superiority fighter of World War II. We have now been in Iraq longer than we were in Europe during WW II and we still haven't come up with new f****** ball joints and springs? And why don't our soldiers have the V-hulled combat vehicles that have proven to be very resistant to IED damage?

The answer is the same as the reason we never properly planned for Iraq, and never put in the number of troops required for an occupation. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were determined to fight this war on the cheap. Soldiers were expendable, but they thought they could fight the war for $40 billion. Even now, with projected price tag approaching a trillion dollars, and with the full scope of the disaster before us, Rumsfeld won't let the repair depots in the US work more than 40 hours per week - he won't pay overtime just to keep our soldiers alive.

What a bunch of sorry, miserable disgraces the American people put, and left in office.

Walking Home

It was a really nice evening tonight. Hence, after eating a pretty good Chinese meal at a restaurant with my wife and son, I handed the car keys to my son and decided to walk home.

Walking through a dark neighborhood a light in the sky caught my attention. Bright red orange, it was moving a little too fast for a high flying jet, maybe a helicopter or small plane, I thought for a moment. It brightened as it approached, coming from the general direction of Capella. Then it slowly went out, like a dying ember from a firework. I slowed, half expecting to hear a sonic boom - there was none of course.

A very nice bolide, maybe the best meteor I've seen.

90%?

Matt Drudge had a headline up saying that 90% of Europeans believe global warming is caused by humans. It didn't mention if they asked Lubosh. I'm not sure that influences my vote in any way, but:

I am pretty sure that in the long run, global warming has caused more than 90% of the European humans.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ohio State 60 - Michigan 50

No, that wasn't the score. (The Score was 41-38, Ohio State). The numbers in the title are the reputed annual budgets, in millions of dollars, for their respective football programs. It's good to know we have our priorities straight.

For $110 M/yr., I'm guessing you could hire a few hundred string theorists, a few dozen LQGer's and still have enough left over for a score or so each of several other theorists/crackpots.

UPDATE: I'm informed (via comment) that the actual score was 42-39. Doh!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Breaking News: Harvard Prof Refutes Global Warming!

It snowed somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere this month, thereby definitively disproving the global warming theory.

Now They F****** Tell Us

It seems that the recent electoral reverses have given at least a few members of cowardly press a testoserone injection. Dick Meyer of CBS News dares to raise his head and say what he now admits:

....I should have written 12 years ago when the "Contract with America" Republicans captured the House in 1994. I apologize.

Really, it's just a simple thesis: The men who ran the Republican Party in the House of Representatives for the past 12 years were a group of weirdos. Together, they comprised one of the oddest legislative power cliques in our history. And for 12 years, the media didn't call a duck a duck, because that's not something we're supposed to do.

I'm not talking about the policies of the Contract for America crowd, but the character. I'm confident that 99 percent of the population — if they could see these politicians up close, if they watched their speeches and looked at their biographies — would agree, no matter what their politics or predilections.

Politicians in this country get a bad rap. For the most part, they are like any high-achieving group in America, with roughly the same distribution of pathologies and virtues. But the leaders of the GOP House didn't fit the personality profile of American politicians, and they didn't deviate in a good way. It was the Chess Club on steroids.

I'm confident that if historians ever spend the time on it, they'll confirm my thesis. Same with forensic psychiatrists. I have discussed this with scores of politicians, staffers, consultants and reporters since 1994 and have found few dissenters.

The iconic figures of this era were Newt Gingrich, Richard Armey and Tom Delay. They were zealous advocates of free markets, low taxes and the pursuit of wealth; they were hawks and often bellicose; they were brutal critics of big government.

Yet none of these guys had success in capitalism. None made any real money before coming to Congress. None of them spent a day in uniform. And they all spent the bulk of their adult careers getting paychecks from the big government they claimed to despise. Two resigned in disgrace.

Having these guys in charge of a radical conservative agenda was like, well, putting Mark Foley in charge of the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. Indeed, Foley was elected in the Class of '94 and is not an inappropriate symbol of their regime.

More than the others, Newton Leroy Gingrich lived out a very special hypocrisy. In addition to the above biographical dissonance, Gingrich was one of the most sharp-tongued, articulate and persuasive attack dogs in modern politics. His favorite target was the supposed immorality and corruption of the Democratic Party. With soaring rhetoric, he condemned his opponents as anti-American and dangerous to our country's family values — "grotesque" was a favorite word.

Yet this was a man who was divorced twice — the first time when his wife was hospitalized for cancer treatment, the second time after an affair was revealed.

Gingrich made his bones in the party by relentlessly attacking Democratic corruption, yet he was hounded from office because of a series of serious ethics questions. He posed as a reformer of the House, yet championed a series of deforms that made the legislative process more closed, more conducive to hiding special interest favors and less a forum for genuine debate.

And he did it all with epic sanctimony...

Meyer proceeds to document the boundless hypocrisy of these bible thumping, moralizing, adulterous crooks.

Thanks Dick, for mentioning all this now. And s**** you for the gratuitous slam of the chess club. I was in the chess club. I might even have been president. While we might well have been wierdos, it was mostly not in an Ayn Rand kind of way. As far as I recall. Which is poorly.
(Via Kevin Drum)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Who's Our Daddy?

Back to the current account deficit. Has anybody else noticed that we seem to be China's bitch lately?

North Korea misbehaves, so Condi huddles frantically with Beijing. "Won't you please make Kim behave, at least for a few months.

China lends us hundreds of billions of dollars each year, which we use to buy hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, at prices China keeps artificially low, thus driving American manufacturing out of existence, and tossing the employees out on the street.

Thanks GW. Thanks Republican Party.

Poisonflower Bush

The GW is a Bush that bears no fruit, but produces a profusion of poisonous flowers. The best known one right now is the Iraq War, but some less famous ones may trouble us even longer. The enormous current account deficit will continue to hang over our heads, and our children's heads. The loss of respect for the US in the world is incalculable. The systematic flouting of the law by this administration will either pose a long run threat to our own liberties or result in a congressional reaction that could cripple the presidency. Al Quaeda has been permitted to rebuild in Afghanistan. North Korea has been permitted to resume its nuclear program. 9/11. New Orleans.

Humans became the smartest animals because being stupid tends to be drastically punished in the real world. I suspect that we will pay for the stupidity of electing this stupidest president for a long time.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Old Math

It looks like the discovery method in mathematics is in headlong retreat. The theory was that children would work more like professional mathematicians, discovering the facts of mathematics and figuring out how to solve problems by whatever means they could muster. It's not hard to see why this method was less than a rousing success.

To be sure, there were some worthwhile ideas incorporated, especially the idea that children should try to understand the meaning of concepts like addition, subtraction, and place value. This brainchild of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics might have had some theoretical merit, but in practice it has failed miserably. Concerned teachers hid their old math books, and tried to teach from them.

This New York Times story is about how mainstream math teaching is headed back to the basics.

The changes are being driven by students’ lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians’ warnings that more than a decade of so-called reform math — critics call it fuzzy math — has crippled students with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems.

At the same time, parental unease has prompted ever more families to pay for tutoring, even for young children. Shalimar Backman, who put pressure on officials here by starting a parents group called Where’s the Math?, remembers the moment she became concerned.

One plan parents turned to was Japanese plan of Kumon math.

Slate's human guinea pig, Emily Yoffe, had her own encounter with Kumon. With her daughter reaching fifth grade, she feared that she would not only not be able to help her with her homework, but wouldn't even understand it. She tells the tale in I'm a Math Moron.
I can barely add and subtract. Can I learn enough math in five months to help my fifth-grader with her homework?

By Emily Yoffe
Posted Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2006, at 5:46 PM ET

Things weren't going well with my math placement test—things have never gone well for me on any math test. As I tried to solve 13 – 5, I lost track while counting on my fingers, and as I calculated 3,869 x 6, I couldn't remember the rules for carrying numbers. I decided to enroll in a math prep course when I realized I was unable to help my then fourth-grade daughter with her math homework. For this Human Guinea Pig—a column that requires a willingness to debase myself—I planned to go back to where numbers and I parted ways, to see if I could learn enough math to keep ahead of my daughter for a few more years.

The placement test put her at the 2A First Grade level. Kumon is based on intensive drill, repetition, and speed. The idea is to get students to the fully automatic mode of doing problems. Bad habits like Yoffe's finger counting have to be rigorously suppressed.

We tried Kumon with our kids, but they hated it passionately. They were quick learners, and the endless repetition was intensely frustrating for them. Correcting the papers was no fun for us either. Abandoning Kumon didn't seem to hurt their math skills though, and both progressed rapidly through the curriculum to Calculus and beyond.

Ms. Yoffe's five months of brutal drudgery paid off though, sort of. She did manage to become proficient in fifth grade math. Her daughter was transferred to the sixth grade math group though.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

More Trouble

Bert Schroer has posted a new ten-point critique of string theory (hep-th/0611132). It is more detailed and technical than some of the other critiques we have seen lately. I'm not prepared (or qualified) to address those issues in detail, but at the risk of gross oversimplification I will guess that his points can be reduced to "string theorists are ignoring the centrality of new insights into quantum field theory revealed by AQFT and other developments." I'm not sure how much weight to give such arguments.

Couldn't ST rejoin that "Non stringy physicists are ignoring the centrality of the emergence of a graviton in a term by term finite perturbation series." LQG, on the hand, just says: "those others ignore the centrality of manifest background independence."

I'm a bit uncomfortable with all these kinds of arguments. It's certainly reasonable to pick some fundamental idea or fact as a heuristic guide, but historically physics has needed more. I will borrow the Philip Anderson quote Bert used as an epigraph for a motto here:

...The history concludes with an unexpected and glorious success: the so-called standard model. The way in which this structural classification fell into place, and the great leaps of imagination involved, justifies a degree of hubris among the few dozens truly extraordinary individuals who discovered it. However both this hubris, and the complexity of the result, fed the temptation to go on leaping, and to forget that this earlier leaps, without exception, had taken off from some feature of the solid experimental facts laboriously gathered over the years....

Phil Anderson, in ”Loose ends and Gordian knots of the string cult”

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Morning in Bagdad

This morning, the news is reporting that dozens of SUVs with special interior police characteristics pulled up to an education ministry, overwhelmed the guards, and kinapped everyone inside - as many as 150 people. This is not the US vs. some insurgents, it's a civil war, with us financing and equipping both sides, and targetted by both sides.

If (the still Republican controlled) Congress were even half awake, top US military officials would be subpoenaed today, and asked:

1) Who did this?

2) Why couldn't you react to abort this?

3) What mechanism are you putting in place today to ensure this never happens again?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Overclocking Your Muscles, Overclocking Your Head

Dedicated overclockers like to run their CPUs and graphics engines at higher rates than the design speeds. This poses some risk to the hardware and usually requires special efforts to keep the machines from overheating.

NPR's Morning Edition had a supermouse story this morning about mice genetically engineered to be supermuscular. The most interesting aspect of the method is that it involves turning off a gene (now called myostatin) that limits muscle growth. It turns out that the defective gene is found naturally in a supermuscular breed of cattle as well as a certain German boy, none of which seem to be suffering grave consequences so far.

So why should mice, cattle, and people all have this gene which inhibits muscle growth? Wouldn't it be better to be muscled up a bit when you meet that nasty competitor or predator? I'm not sure that anyone knows the answer, but one plausible possibilty is that muscles just don't get the kind of mileage that fat does. Muscles consume energy and store it poorly. The rarity of the mutation argues that it must be subject to pretty heavy selective pressure, though, so quite likely there is more to the story.

Medical potential seems obvious. Perhaps administration of myostatin blockers could promote muscle growth in those with muscle wasting diseases, the elderly, and the obese. Body builders and atheletes will want it just for the fun of overclocking.

A lot of this kind of genetic manipulation is likely to become possible in the near future. Future parents may be able to elect to help their children to be a few inches taller (this is already being done in a modest way with HGH), or a bit stronger.

As the genetic component of intelligence comes into focus, this too will become a target of parents eager to overclock junior's CPU. More reasonably, it may make possible prevention of many types of mental retardation and other intellectual deficits.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Goyishe Kop

Lubos has a new post up about some new articles on racial differences in IQ. Following the links into the weeds I found Rushton and Jensen's extensive list of IQ correlated (and anti-correlated) traits. Perhaps unsurprisingly, brain size, caution, and economic success are all correlated with IQ. Anti-correlated, say Rushton and Jensen, are rate of physical development, self-concept, aggressiveness, and dick size. By choosing to post on the topic, Lumo (and I) are clearly making a statement about caution and aggressiveness - follow that where you may.

Steven Pinker has also weighed in on race and IQ. Smartest of all, it seems, are Ashkenazi Jews.

My grandparents were immigrants from Eastern Europe who owned a small necktie factory on the outskirts of Montreal. While visiting them one weekend, I found my grandfather on the factory floor, cutting shapes out of irregular stacks of cloth with a fabric saw. He explained that by carving up the remnants that were left over when the neckties had been cut out and stitching them together in places that didn't show, he could get a few extra ties out of each sheet of cloth. I asked him why he was doing this himself rather than leaving it to his employees. He shrugged, tapped his forehead, and said, "Goyishe kop," a term of condescension that literally means "gentile head."

He wasn't exactly serious, but he wasn't exactly not serious either. Jews have long had an ambivalent attitude toward their own intelligence, and toward their reputation for intelligence. There is an ethnic pride at the prevalence of Jews in occupations that reward brainpower. A droll e-mail called "New Words to Add to Your Jewish Vocabulary" includes "jewbiliation, N: pride in finding out that one's favorite celebrity is Jewish" and "meinstein, N: My son, the genius." ...

I have posted before about the University of Utah study that correlates high Ashkenazi IQ's with some double-edged recessive genetic mutations that both affect intellectual development and lead to devastating disease.

Senator (soon to be ex-Senator) Allen's Jewish ancestry is apparently Sephardic, not Ashkenazi.

Market Prophecy

Wolfgang's Statistical Mechanic started me looking at the Iowa Electronic Market political predictions. I don't think any investor will be suprised to notice that this market was not an expecially good political predictor - probably slightly worse than the pundit consensus.

The "I" Word

MSNBC has a Do you believe President Bush's actions justify impeachment? online quiz up. Naturally, in my heart of hearts, I believe that he really ought to be, just as I believe that if Jesus returned to Earth today, his first action would be to scourge Robertson, Dobson, and all their religion as a capitalist enterprise cohorts out of their respective temples.

Of course it would be really stupid for Democrats to try to impeach. Even if Bush is found to be cooking and eating babies in the WH kitchen, they should probably let Republicans introduce the motion to impeach. The Constitution provides impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors, and Clinton helped proved that low crimes don't quite qualify. (Oddly, the arguably "high crime" he committed, perjury, was not included in the bill against him). Neither does incompetence and stupidity qualify.

I strongly expect Bush to shuffle off the political stage and into history's toilet under his own power, at the end of his term.

Hello The Hague

Time is reporting that some victims of American torture are pursuing War Crimes accusations against Donald Rumsfeld and some of his fellow perps.

Just days after his resignation, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is about to face more repercussions for his involvement in the troubled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. New legal documents, to be filed next week with Germany's top prosecutor, will seek a criminal investigation and prosecution of Rumsfeld, along with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former CIA director George Tenet and other senior U.S. civilian and military officers, for their alleged roles in abuses committed at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The plaintiffs in the case include 11 Iraqis who were prisoners at Abu Ghraib, as well as Mohammad al-Qahtani, a Saudi held at Guantanamo, whom the U.S. has identified as the so-called "20th hijacker" and a would-be participant in the 9/11 hijackings. As TIME first reported in June 2005, Qahtani underwent a "special interrogation plan," personally approved by Rumsfeld, which the U.S. says produced valuable intelligence. But to obtain it, according to the log of his interrogation and government reports, Qahtani was subjected to forced nudity, sexual humiliation, religious humiliation, prolonged stress positions, sleep deprivation and other controversial interrogation techniques.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that one of the witnesses who will testify on their behalf is former Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the one-time commander of all U.S. military prisons in Iraq. Karpinski — who the lawyers say will be in Germany next week to publicly address her accusations in the case — has issued a written statement to accompany the legal filing, which says, in part: "It was clear the knowledge and responsibility [for what happened at Abu Ghraib] goes all the way to the top of the chain of command to the Secretary of Defense...

Not that he doesn't deserve it, but it ain't gonna happen - not, at least, in this age of the World. Germany, no doubt, will find some excuse not to prosecute, and even if it doesn't, there is no chance that the US will permit such a case to be prosecuted. There are a few countries, like Germany, where war crimes cases can be brought regardless of where the crime occurred, so there is at least a chance that Rummy and friends might find their vacation travel options limited in their declining years, but I doubt it.

If any of these guys were to be prosecuted, it ought to happen here. Not that that will happen either. Meanwhile, a few of the junior military will continue to rot in jail for Bush and Rumsfeld's crimes.

What to Do

...during that interminable and terminally boring meeting that you really have to attend.

1) Sleep. Negative - Tends to be conspicuous. Especially if you snore, or tend to fall out of your chair

2) Read Book. Neg. - Also conspicuous, not to mention overtly disrespectful.

3) Listen attentively to presentation. Take notes.

4) Derive Navier-Stokes Equations in solenoidal form (while pretending to take notes).

ma = F

Du/Dt = ? ...


5) Read interesting paper, while pretending to take notes. Neg. Excellent idea. Too bad I forgot to bring paper.

6) Write Novel:

It was a Dark and Stormy Night. The gloom was only slightly relieved by the dull red glow of lava bombs, but was sporadically abolished by lightning.

The rain and ash combined with the mud to make a crunchy ooze of black cornflake razorblades. A lightning flash revealed a girl with dirty blond hair, sprawled in the muck. She appeared to be dead.

I leaned to check her pulse, but she groaned slightly and whispered: "Is he still talking about the software delivery timeline?"

I looked up at the screen. It was maybe 20 meters on the diagonal. The words on the slide appeared to be in 3-point Voronian Gothic. I could extract semantic content neither from them nor the speaker.

I turned back to the blond, but her wide, wet, staring eyes were already filling up with tiny black cornflakes...

The Priesthood

The human race - or maybe it's just the male half thereof - has a deep affection for secret societies protecting supposedly secret wisdom. Opus Dei, Scientology, the Masons, and Dan Brown's spectacular literary career are all testimony.

Even subjects like literature, which intrinsically is accessible to all, feel compelled to conjour up some kind of arcanum acanorum just to be like the bigger kids on the block. Thus postmodernism. And thus a brilliant but mainly unsuccessful literary experiment, Ullyses, is regularly voted greatest novel by English majors and just as regularly left unread by almost everyone else.

There is a real arcanum arcanorum, though, and its name is String Theory. Neither money, power, nor fame is much help for the candidate in that society. Persistence, or rather a nearly fanatical determination is necessary but hardly sufficient. Only talent, and a very high degree of that, can close the deal.

All of which is prefactory to my usual lament that so many prominent voices of ST are - well, nevermind. But I am pretty annoyed that the string theory Brown Shirts have claimed Christine Dantas's very nice blog as their latest victim.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Too Soon to Celebrate

OK, maybe not too soon for a little celebration. But we still have a now seemingly hopeless war in Iraq, Bush is still Commander in Chief for the next 26 months, and our current account deficit is a real threat to our long term economic health.

The right wing wind machine and the idiot press (that is to say, between them, almost all of it) are saying that now the Democrats need to come up with a plan for Iraq. Well no. The Constitution makes the President commander-in-chief, and he couldn't delgate that power and duty to the Congress even if he wanted to. Nor can 535 people - any 535 people - come up with a plan.

What the Democrats can and must do is exercise their Constitutionally mandated oversight. For three years, Bush and Rumsfeld have said that they gave the commanders on the ground just what they asked for. For three years, everybody who talks to those commanders privately hears that Bush and Rummy have been lying. Now we can get them before Congress under oath and find out what they do think is needed, and what the real problems and possibilities are.

Bush's precipitate firing of Rumsfeld, only days after saying that he never would, shows that he is determined to at least pretend to have heard the voters. Congress's power to force him to do anything is very limited, but they can hope to penetrate the steady stream of lies and try to make the administration face reality.

The admministration and the military need to start answering the hard questions that the GOP Congress didn't bother to interrupt its stealing to ask. A few sample questions:

a) Who is committing the sectarian murders, and what are their political aims?

b) What are the links between the militias and the government?

c) What is likely to happen if we just leave? Really, I mean, not the propaganda version.

d) If we were to abandon the farce that we are just there to help Iraqi Democracy get on its feet and fight terrorists, what kind of force and committment would it take to occupy Iraq and restore order? I'm talking about a real occupation, the way we occupied Japan and Germany. One where we hire and fire the police, military, school teachers and garbagemen, decide what subjects are taught in school, and what side of the street everybody drives on.

These kinds of questions need to be asked of the military, the intelligence services, the civilian leadership, and especially of independent scholars. I'm not under the illusion that these questions are likely to elicit any attractive options, but it is important that we try to figure out what the least bad option is. "Stay the course" can't be it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dear W, Thanks for the Directions, Yours Always, b.

In his zeal to pretend that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, George W. Bush insisted on posting on the public web what Saddam did have: Detailed directions on how to make a nuclear bomb, including diagrams, dimensions, amounts and types of explosives. Despite warnings from US and international nuclear experts, much of the critical information was left up, available for public viewing, until the New York Times wrote about it.

The first known protest about the site came last April, when United Nations weapons inspectors lodged an objection with the United States mission to the United Nations over a chemical weapons document, diplomats said. It was removed. After the site started posting nuclear documents in September, concern arose among United Nations weapons inspectors in Vienna and New York.

Earlier this week, two European diplomats said that weapons experts at the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that they should warn the United States government of the dangers of posting the documents. They said that Olli J. Heinonen, head of safeguards at the agency, conveyed those concerns last week to the American ambassador to the agency, Gregory L. Schulte.

A previous NYT story noted that the boy genius himself had insisted on the posting after prodding by GOP congressmen, including Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI).

Osama, no doubt, is gratefull.

Can we please, please, just vote these incompetent crooks out of office Tuesday?

Thanks, and So Long to All the Fish

Nope. The Oceans are not an infinite, inexhaustible resource.

Seafood stocks, like many other natural resources, are under heavy pressure from the relentless overproliferation and associated environmental depredations of our species.

Oversight of commercial fishing must be strengthened or there may eventually be no more seafood.

That's the conclusion of a report in today's Science journal that predicts 90% of the fish and shellfish species that are hauled from the ocean to feed people worldwide may be gone by 2048.

Even now, 29% of those species have "collapsed," meaning a 90% decline in the amount being fished from the sea, said Boris Worm, lead author and a professor of marine conservation biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.

Hope you like farmed Salmon. And Soylent Green.

It is a familiar paradigm for human civilizations: technology advance + cultural advance -> population explosion -> ecological collapse -> cultural collapse -> war, and, frequently, cannibalism. Managing this on a global scale would be a first though.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

In the Name of God

Andrew Sullivan is a conservative, supported Bush, and supported the war in Iraq (and mercilessly pilloried those who warned it was a blunder), but has been driven into the ranks of the shrill by the mendacity, corruption, incompetence, and sheer Satanic evil of the Bush regime. The shrillness has not affected his acuity though, but sharpened it.

A Christian Against Christianism
01 Nov 2006 10:35 am

C.S. Lewis again:

"Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant, a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations...

The nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right."

Four words: We. Do. Not. Torture.

The trouble is not that the president is evil. It is that he is utterly, absolutely convinced he is doing good. It's a "no-brainer".

Maybe. Probably. Either that or he glories in his work for the Devil.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Master Diagnostician

After a few days of aching pain on the right side of my chest, I consulted the usual web resources and my neighbor who had recently had gall bladder surgery. The evidence was persuasive - I needed to make that appointment and prepare myself for that gall bladder surgery my gastroenterologist had been threating me with for a couple of decades.

Then I noticed the small dark bruise a few inches dorsolateral of my right boob.

And remembered how much it had hurt when the point of the Camry's door had hit it last Sunday.