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Showing posts from September, 2007

On Top of the Story

Despite having ended the subscription wall for its Op-Ed columnists last week or so, the NYT is still advertising them:

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Cliff Jumping

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

China and the US are the power couple of the modern economics, but there are some clouds on the marital horizon. Michael Pettis, filling in on Brad Setser's Blog takes a look at the immediate future of this co-dependent relationship:
It is hard to overestimate the importance to China's near-term and longer-term prospects of the 17th Plenum in two weeks. These meetings, held every five years, are the main events of China’s political cycles and it is during these meetings that the big promotions to senior positions within the Party and, juiciest of all, membership in the Standing Committee of the Politburo are made. The Standing Committee consists of the nine men (previously seven, and there are not completely credible rumors that it may be reduced to seven again – the decision has everything to do with factional fighting) who are the ultimate source of power in China today, and is headed by President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

Although the deliberations are secre…

Color of Despair

Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, has an update on Bush-Cheney plans for attack on Iran. There is a slow motion feel of inevitability about the whole thing, like watching the approach of a comet that will destroy the planet, looking on helplessly as this great disaster unfolds. Having utterly failed in Iraq, and having clearly strengthened both Iran and terrorism in the process, Bush and Cheney want only to dig faster and deeper.

A snippet:
At a White House meeting with Cheney this summer, according to a former senior intelligence official, it was agreed that, if limited strikes on Iran were carried out, the Administration could fend off criticism by arguing that they were a defensive action to save soldiers in Iraq. If Democrats objected, the Administration could say, “Bill Clinton did the same thing; he conducted limited strikes in Afghanistan, the Sudan, and in Baghdad to protect American lives.” The former intelligence official added, “There is a desperate effort by Chene…

Better Villains!

A good story need a some thoroughly despicable villains. Somebody like Bellatrix Lestrange who takes real delight from evil and cruelty.

George Bush hardly seems to fit the bill - he is evil, all right, but in such an addled and dimwitted way that it's hard to get any real satisfaction from our contempt.

Bill Kristol, though, shows some real promise. He looks the part with those vestiges of preppy good looks and that slithery smile. Steve Benen of TPM catches him in form on Fox News:
"[W]henever I hear anything described as a heartless assault on our children, I tend to think it's a good idea. I'm happy that the President's willing to do something bad for the kids."

The Inflaton

OK, I'm not talking about the string theory scalar here, but about the forces pushing up prices in the US. Daniel Gross says that its already here, but the Fed just won't admit it.

Imagine that a cardiologist told you that aside from the irregular heartbeat, the stratospheric cholesterol count, and a little blockage in your aorta, your core heart functions are just fine. That's precisely what the government's cardiologist—Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve—has just done. The central bank is supposed to make sure the economy grows fast enough to create jobs and make everybody richer, but not so fast that it produces inflation, which makes everybody poorer. "Readings on core inflation have improved modestly this year," the Federal Open Market Committee said in justifying its 50-basis-point interest-rate cut last month, while conceding that "some inflation risks remain."

Catch that bit about "core inflation"? That's Fedspeak for…

Resentment

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has written a memoir, and if this story by Robert Barnes, Michael A. Fletcher and Kevin Merida in the Washington Post is fair, he seems every bit the spiritually crippled bundle of resentments I have always imagined.

His character was shaped by his grandfather, a harsh and unbending man who hardly seems to deserve the devotion Thomas gives him:

Thomas writes of the hard lessons doled out by his grandfather, Myers Anderson, who raised him after his father abandoned the family and his mother was unable to care for her boys in Pin Point, Ga. "In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son," Thomas writes, hence the title of the memoir.

Thomas's depiction of his grandfather is of a man unsparingly tough. Anderson wouldn't let him play on sports teams or join the Cub Scouts.

When Thomas informed the family that he was dropping out of the seminary, against the wishes of his grandfather, he learned, to his surprise, that Anderson h…

Rendezvous with a Berliner*

While gazing lovingly at a jelly doughnut the other morning, I had a thought about the paradox of self-discipline.

One part of my brain is screaming: "Fat!" "Sugar!" "Fruit flavor elements traditionally diagnostic of vitamins!" "WTF are you waiting for!"

Meanwhile, a more dispassionate but immensely weaker voice is softly mumbling: "Like you need more fat?" "Or you think you have a sugar deficiency? That's really a an insulin excess, you dope!" "The flavor elements are a lie, a cunning, capitalist, bakeriest, confectionery lie. There are no essential nutrients here." and "Have the blankety-blank celery instead."

The higher intellectual functions are intended to mediate this type of dispute between immediate gratification and more sensible deferral, I suppose.

Relative prosperity means that more of us are faced with this kind of choice than were in our hunter-gatherer days. Libertarians, so I imagine, are…

Tragic Irony #43587

From Huffpost:

A recently-unearthed video from 1992 shows Vice President Dick Cheney predicting the mess that occupying Iraq would create:

If you get into the business of committing U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq, to occupy the place, my guess is I'd probably still have people there today instead of having been able to bring them home...The bottom line question for me was: How many additional American lives is Saddam Hussein worth? The answer: not very damn many.

So how did he get so stupid in the meantime?

-- Crazy Frank

Dissin'

Since several of our more astute commenters took exception to the *D*I*S*R*E*S*P*E*C*T* post, I decided to take another look at the subject. Feynman's disrespect in two of his illustrations was fairly minor: he told the dancer in Albuquerque that since she wasn't going to his room with him, she should pay for the sandwich he bought her, and told the sex-workers in Las Vegas that they had to pay for their own drinks. Mystery, by contrast, made a point of telling the candidates that they could not disrespect the dancers they were trying to pick up.

I think that there might be more than one phenomenon going on here. The exotic dancers see the customers as marks and targets for their seductive charms, and the prospective pick up artist can't make progress without breaking through that barrier. That requires being unimpressed with the seduction (by negating or disrespecting the tactic) and connecting on personal level - while still appearing to be an attractive partner themselve…

Status Report

I visited CIP in the rubber room. Although apparently whacked out on whatever they use instead of thorazine these days, he seemed almost normal, except for incessant singing of snatches of "Welcome to the Hotel California." He also occassionally mumbled something about "Ertel Potential Vorticity." What's up with that? The nurses had warned me not to mention politics, so I brought out my chess stuff and played him a little five-minute. He couldn't handle either side of my Sicilian Defense, but had a bit better luck with the French.

Go was sorrier. He gave me 3 stones on a 13x13 board and still cleaned up.

He claims to be writing The Great American Novel, but refused to show me any of it.

-- Slow Eddie

Disgusted and Appalled

Clinton, Obama, Edwards - what a disgusting, spineless bunch. I'm not that big a fan of Richardson, but at least he is forthrightly against the war.

Clinton has managed to transform herself into the Stepford candidate. Obama looks like he spending too much time worrying about making a mistake - so far he been the biggest disappointment of the campaign for me.

I might be forced to vote for Nader - and I hate Nader.

-- Even Crazier Frank

Hum Ho

Another debate, another chance for leading dems to distance themselves from the war - and they didn't. Will the troops be home by 2013? Couldn't say.

Will you attack Iran? Umm, well, couldn't really say.

What are they afraid of? The mainstream press? Karl Rove? The IL?

CIP didn't do me any favors by letting me get caught in the blast of his exploding political brain.

-- Crazy Frank

*D*I*S*R*E*S*P*E*C*T

If you are a rockstar, NBA basketball player, or billionaire, getting girls is pretty much not a problem. For the average young guy, though, it can be a major life challenge. So what hope is there for such?

One popular story from Feynman's autobiographical Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman concerns what he learned about seduction in an Albuquerque night club. After repeatedly striking out, he asked for advice from the MC and his girlfriend. "You have to disrepect the girls," they said. Feynman tried it, so he said, and it worked like a charm.

I read this long ago and have never had any inclination to try it, but it always seemed a bit too simple. It turns out that there is a community of umm, whatever, who have turned the art of attraction and seduction into a technology. I learned about it from a reality series called "The Next Master Pick Up Artist." Mr. E., or Mystery as he styles himself, is the MC, mastermind, and central figure of the show. It turns out…

Arghhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!

CIP's politicial brain exploded today, after hearing of the latest Democratic treacheries. The most egregious was backing the Kyl-Lieberman amendment. Clinton and Biden joined in and Obama skipped the vote. What it involved was voting to declare Iran's Revolutionary Guard to be a terrorist organization, thus permitting Bush, under the Imperial powers against terrorism act, to commit any goddamn war crimes he likes. In other news, the Senate Dems also advanced the nomination of vote fraud Republican Hans von Spasovsky to the Federal Elections Commission. Spassovsky is recently resigned from the Justice Department and was otherwise destined to play stock villains in little theatre productions.

The fragments of CIP's PB somehow embedded themselves in the otherwise apolitical carcasses of a couple of characters named Crazy Frank (yours truly) and Slow Eddie. CF has a night job as a janitor at the local University, and SE spends his time frittering away his inheritance by losing…

More S&M with M&W

Mort Zuckerman is a billionaire real estate mogul and media magnate, and a strong supporter of Israeli and international Jewish causes. In this Huffpost article, he takes issue with Mearsheimer and Walt's new book about the Israel Lobby - of which Zuckerman, need it be said, is pretty much a charter member.

Unfortunately, like previous critics, he winds up long on accusation and short on facts. Let's consider just one paragraph:
Some of their policy allegations are nothing short of startling. Did you know for starters, that the Iraq War was not the work of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice, as we all thought but of "The Israel Lobby"?

Zuckerman doesn't address the substance of the claims M&S make, becuase he prefers the lest honest indirect attack. M&S say:
Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element.
I'm not sure I woul…

Decadent Perversity

Via Brad DeLong, Sidney Blumenthal has an answer of sorts for the question I tried to address a couple of posts ago: Does Bush understand that he is one of the "evil ones?"

Briefly put, I think Blumenthal's answer is no, not really. Reading Robert Draper's Bush Biography, Dead Certain, Blumenthal arrives at an analysis that I found both convincing and frightening. There is a lot there to reinforce an old stereotype: Bush the bully, and another I was less aware of - Bush the cultivator of servile flattery.
Bush is a classic insecure authoritarian who imposes humiliating tests of obedience on others in order to prove his superiority and their inferiority. In 1999, according to Draper, at a meeting of economic experts at the Texas governor's mansion, Bush interrupted Rove when he joined in the discussion, saying, "Karl, hang up my jacket."
. . .
When Colin Powell was several minutes late to a Cabinet meeting, Bush ordered that the door to the Cabinet Room b…

Mukasey Stinks

Well we now know what Bush likes about Michael Mukasey. He is a pro-torture, racist stinker with no judicial temperment. Which means he is probably the AG we will get:
The 21-year-old Jordanian immigrant was in shackles when he was brought into the courtroom of Judge Michael B. Mukasey in Federal District Court in Manhattan.

It was Oct. 2, 2001, and the prisoner, Osama Awadallah, then a college student in San Diego with no criminal record, was one of dozens of Arab men detained around the country in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks as potential witnesses in the terrorism investigation.

Before the hearing, Mr. Awadallah told his lawyer that he had been beaten in the federal detention center in Manhattan, producing bruises that were hidden beneath his orange prison jumpsuit. But when his lawyer told this to Judge Mukasey, the judge seemed little concerned. “As far as the claim that he was beaten, I will tell you that he looks fine to me,” said Judge Mukasey, who was nominated by Presi…

Bee Still My Heart

Don't miss Bee's latest contribution to the mathematical description of the universe.

Bad Boys

Intent is always hard to prove, but best-selling author (and lawyer) John Grisham figures the Bushies to be "bad people with evil intent." I agree.

There is plenty of evidence of this in all areas, even if we neglect the war. Most egregious were the Bushies role in the destruction of New Orleans and their deliberate corruption of the justice department.

War, though, is the ultimate evil, and those who start unjustified agressive wars deserve the harshest punishment. If the UN were more useful, it would automatically expel any country engaging in it, with the expulsion to last until the perpetrators were brought to justice in a neutral court.

Grisham had a comment on the war too:
The war is an immoral abomination that we'll pay for for decades to come...

Syriana

The Israeli attack on Syria, which reputedly offed a bunch of North Koreans as well as Syrians, has been mainly flying beneath my radar. As Kevin Drum noted Friday:
The whole thing is still murky, since everyone seems to agree that it doesn't really make sense, but it's now pretty hard to ignore. Either someone is dead serious about planting some disinformation about a Syria-North Korea nuclear connection in the press, or else there really is such a connection. I don't know what to think about it myself, but it's now officially a story to follow.
Today sees a new entry in the puzzle from The Sunday Times. Now I try never to venture in to Murdoch territory without some protection, so, having armed myself with a crucifix and some garlic, I ventured into the story.
Israeli commandos seized nuclear material of North Korean origin during a daring raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israel bombed it this month, according to informed sources in Washington and Jerusale…

The Wicked

Every wicked man is right in his own heart.So says the Russell Crowe character in 3:10 to Yuma, and he attributes it to the Bible. Well, maybe, but I can't find it. Still, it's an interesting idea, and who better to apply it to than G. W. Bush. Bush was recently asked how he can keep his spirits up in the face of all the adversity and criticism he receives. "Because I know I'm right."

It's relatively easy to be cocky when things go well, but it takes a true virtuoso of cockyness to maintain his spirits when the whole world has seen that he has been right less often than a stopped clock. Selective or drug addled memory can play a role: that C- in economics becomes a B. Even so, in his heart, if any, can he really have any doubt as to which team he is playing for?Hannah Arendt famously looked at the "banality of evil." Perpetrators of the most monstrous deeds learn to think of themselves as just doing a dirty job. We look into the heart of darkness and…

MoveOn Already

I've beaten this dead horse plenty already, but this bit is too dead on. I'm hardly a fan of Joe Scarborough, but he gets this one right:
This week's Moveon.org dust-up reminded me of that time when we Republicans led with our hearts and got pounded in our faces. We loved bathing in self-righteous indignation. Our base loved it too. But the practical results were always the same: we scared little children, household pets and crossover voters. It was a really great way to alienate the voters we needed the most.

Whoever dreamed up the ad questioning the loyalty of Iraq's top soldier would have fit in great with those of us who drove the political agenda in 1995 -- and guaranteed Bill Clinton's re-election in 1996. While I'm sure Move On's ad locked down the base in Manhattan and Madison, Democrats need to be more concerned with wooing voters in Tampa and Toledo. To quote Joe's post one more time:
How many times do we charge up the hill and run straight into …

Just wondering...

Ordinary Americans are pretty steamed about the Dem's humiliating September crumble on the war. I wonder what Congressional leaders were hearing from AIPAC?

Lame-ocrats

Chris Weigant asks Why are Democrats so lame on basic PR?.

My guesses: native stupidity - 35%, being in the pockets of the same crooks - 35%, waiting until next year - 30%.

Area 51

Some of our neo-con friends and now Rudy Giuliani endorse the idea of inducting Israel into NATO. Of course many NATO countries like this like they like a poke in the eye, but it would have the following putative advantages:

1)It would demo our committment to fight all of Israel's wars no matter what.

2)It would scare the bejeesus out of Iran and Syria.

3)It would piss off Muslims everywhere.
I fear this represents a failure of imagination on the neo-cons' part. Why not just go directly to proto-con William Safire's idea of annexing Israel as the fifty-first State? It would have all the above advantages plus:

4)We could save the three billion plus we send to Israel every year and tax them instead.

5)The Palestinians could be classed as Native Americans and receive all the privileges and perks consequent thereon - cushy reservations, trading post booze, the BIA to guard their money, tourist traps, National months, weeks or days, etc., etc.

6)Americans could go the the Holy Land…

Friendly Fire

We are now mostly through that big September where the surge results were to be evaluated and Republican support for the war was supposed to collapse. It didn't happen, and we will now get at least another Friedman Unit or so of war, regardless. A bunch of the blame goes to the ineptitude of the Democrat's and other's anti-war strategy. It would be hard to count all the ways that they sabotaged the case against the war, but let me mention two:

When the Democrats in the House and Senate questioned Petraeus and Crocker, they were long on oratory and short on tough questions. Barbara Boxer, the Britney Spears of politics, was a tragicomic exemplifier. After wasting her question time on idiotic oratory, she fumbled her chance at a question so ineptly that she rated feature play on The Daily Show.

More damaging was Moveon's idiotic ad equating Petraeus and "Betray us." As I predicted, that ad guaranteed that the conversation would be about Moveon rather than the war…

Oh Shit! Scary Movie II

As widely predicted, the cheerleading for a war against Iran is getting louder. Thomas B Edsall takes a look in this HuffPost article. The drumbeat for a military assault on Iran is getting louder at some conservative think tanks, in the offices of hawks on the Bush and Cheney staffs, and among ground forces in Iraq dealing with weapons and explosives constructed in Iran.

Administration calls for aggressive action to destroy Iran's nuclear program, and to cut off its funneling of arms and training to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East, have featured increasingly tough rhetoric.

In his September 13 televised speech, President Bush pointedly warned of the threat from Iran:

"If we were to be driven out of Iraq,...Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply."

There is unanimous agreement on both sides of the ideological a…

Senior Moments

Alan Greenspan is 81 years old, I think, so he's probably entitled to a senior moment or two. Which is good, since his recent claim that Saddam Hussein was a threat to close the Strait of Hormuz doesn't pass the geographic laugh test.

John McCain is a dozen years younger, but he had a whole flock of either "senior moments" or maybe just dishonesty moments on Meet the Press last Sunday. Josh Marshall has the video goods on those, too.

Confession for the Soul

Alan Greenspan, so far as I know, is not a Catholic, which is just as well, since his recent confessions are far too calculated and self-serving to earn the reward of sincere repentence. I'm thinking of his attempt to evade responsibility for his role in the Bush tax cuts and resulting deficits. Kevin Drum takes a look, here. Paul Krugman penetrates the sophistry and exposes the deception with a well placed shiv:
If anyone had doubts about Mr. Greenspan's determination not to inconvenience the Bush administration, those doubts were resolved two years later, when the administration proposed another round of tax cuts, even though the budget was now deep in deficit. And guess what? The former high priest of fiscal responsibility did not object. And in 2004 he expressed support for making the Bush tax cuts permanent — remember, these are the tax cuts he now says he didn't endorse — and argued that the budget should be balanced with cuts in entitlement spending, including Soc…

Weak Coupling

One of the puzzles of the recent liquidity crisis is whether it was the result of a scam or just a bubble. It's not quite clear where the dividing line is, I suppose, but some of those who assembled the various exotic SIV's made a lot of money from the suckers that bought them. On the other hand, much the same crowd seems to contain many of the victims. Meanwhile, economists wander around muttering imprecations like "fat tails" and "opacity" - or maybe it's really "lack of transparency."

Opacity, of course, is friend of the highwayman, the swindler, and every other thief in the night. Still, I wonder if there might not be more to the whole question.

The kinds of problems we know how to solve in physics are mostly characterized by locality and weak coupling to the external domain. If the Twentieth Century had any economic lesson it was that the command economy is clumsy and inefficient. One reason, I think, is that it violates weak coupling…

Badges, Stinking, We Don't Need No

Cheney's mercenaries shot up a bunch of Iraqis recently, and Iraq is not best pleased. The government responded by suspending Blackwater's license and ordering them out of the country. Larry Johnson is betting that Blackwater don't need no stinking license.

Depending on whether the Blackwater security firm stays in Iraq will inform us whether Prime Minister Maliki has any power or is just a U.S. puppet. My money is on the puppet. Over the weekend Blackwater contractors escorting a State Department/US Embassy Baghdad convoy got into a shoot out.

One problem is that if Blackwater and the Iraqi Army were to get busy, BW would probably kick ass:
The Iraqi government has zero power to enforce a decision to oust a firm like Blackwater. For starters, Blackwater has a bigger air force and more armored vehicles then the Iraqi Army and police put together. As Spencer Ackerman reported, Blackwater’s little bird helicopter (an aircraft normally used by U.S. special operations forces) t…

Madam Ambassador

Esther, the shiksa* also and formerly known as "Madonna," has proclaimed herself an "Ambassador for Judaism." No word yet on her first diplomatic posting.

*Flagged as some regard the word as perjorative, possibly due to the following putative entymology:
Shiksa (Yiddish: שיקסע) or "Shikse," is a Yiddish word that has moved into English usage, mostly in North American Jewish culture and is sometimes used as a pejorative or mock-pejorative term for a Gentile (or non-Jewish) woman. Discretion in use of the term is called for, as it is still regarded as offensive by some. However, as the many examples from popular culture below show, it is generally used in a humorous way.

The word could be derived from the Hebrew term sheketz, which means either "abomination"[1], "detestable", "loathed" or "blemish," depending on the translator. It can be used to refer to any female gentile.
Sorry Esther, and good luck in your diplomacy.

OIL

Prompted by Cynthia, let me just say a word about Greenspan's new memoir - which I haven't read, so I'm just going by press reports. Greenspan merely said what was obvious: that Iraq was about the oil. (He also said that Bush and the Republicrooks sold out their principles for politics and graft, but that's not news either.) Even though it's not news that Iraq was (at least in part) about oil, it's nice of him to note that. Even before the war was underway, though, some commentator claimed Iraq was about Oil, Israel, and Logistics - OK, the last one is lame, but he wanted the acronymn to be OIL, and the neo-cons did want a logistical platform from which to attack Iran. That's about oil (and Israel) too, so maybe we should just summarize - OI, as in oi vey.

I do think that oil and Israel were what caused Cheney and his neo-con allies to want the Iraq attack, and that those two factors are the reason they want to stay. Since the American people were not l…

Population Implosion

Daniel Engber writes in Slate about the putative environmental benefits of cutting the human population. He points out that bringing a child into the world is nearly as environmentally hostile an act as owning a private jet:

Our other green lifestyle choices can't even begin to offset the cost of adding a brand-new CO2-emitter to the population. When I ran my own numbers through Al Gore's carbon calculator, I discovered that a switch to 100 percent wind and solar power would reduce my emissions by just 1.3 tons per year. That's not even enough to account for one quarter of today's average American. Meanwhile, I'd have to do quite a bit of driving around in a Hummer H3 to mimic the environmental impact of creating another version of me. Not to mention the fact that my children might eventually decide to have their own children, who would emit even more carbon dioxide down the line.


Engber calls the Chinese experiment in radical population control a failure in both mo…

Bush Speech III

Dan Froomkin rounds up some commentary and adds his own in It Came From Planet Bush:
In the alternate universe that President Bush occupies, he gave a smashing speech last night.

Over there, the people of Iraq need our help to save them from the al Qaeda terrorists who intend to overthrow their brave and united government on the way to attacking America. It's a battle of good versus evil. We have 36 countries fighting alongside us. And the fight is going very well indeed. Ordinary life is returning to Baghdad.
There is much, much more, but a common theme is alternate reality. Bush and his Republican allies are now trapped in the web of lies they have woven. They can't face reality without enraging the deluded 30% who still support them.

Bush Speech II: No Tears from Me

Andrew Sullivan watched Bush and felt some pity:
He seemed almost broken to me. His voice raspy, his eyes watery, his affect exhausted, his facial expression almost bewildered. I thought I would feel angry; but I found myself verging toward pity. The case was so weak, the argument so thin, the evidence for optimism so obviously strained that one wondered whom he thought he was persuading. And the way he framed his case was still divorced from the reality we see in front of our nose . . .

One million dead - no tears from me for this crocodile.

The president's stunning detachment from this reality tragically endures - whether out of cynicism or delusion or, more worryingly, a simple intellectual inability to understand the country he is determined that the United States occupy for the rest of our lives.

The low-point was his almost desperate recitation of a poignant email that posited that this war is one between "good" and "evil".
There is enough evil to go around, b…

Bush War

Bush's war has now killed about one million Iraqis plus another four million driven from their homes. This puts him and his fellow thugs in a class with Idi Amin, Attaturk, and other major genocidal murderers, if still trailing a bit behind Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.

Bush Speech

Josh Marshall was less than impressed:

Let's start by stipulating that the arguments for our Iraq policy have been a pretty big crock for a really long time . . .

But as we saw in President Bush's speech last night things have gotten to a point where the White House spinmeisters hardly seem even to have their heart in it anymore. And the president just seems to be living in some sort of alternative universe populated by the failed gods of his narcissism and vainglory . . .

Anyone watching what's happening can see that what the president is talking about bears no relation to what's actually happening in Iraq -- a fact well confirmed by the fact that polls show no change in the public's take on what's happening in response to the president's speech. Primitive animals will sometimes keep chattering or twitching their muscles even after their heads have been cut off . . .
But best read the whole thing.

Bush Speak

I can't decide whether George W Bush is just a particularly inept liar or completely out of touch with reality. Maybe both.

Rhyme Scheme Rhetoric

Jane Hamsher is usually a smart lady, but she has a ridiculous defense of the "betray us" fiasco.
The MoveOn ad said what Democrats could not and survive politically -- Petraeus is acting as a politician, doing a politician's job of spinning and his actions are not above criticism just because he's got a bunch of ribbons on his chest that George Bush would like to hide behind. And it traveled.
Well no, Jane, that's not what the Petraeus - betray us ad said. It said GEN Petraeus is a traitor. There is a pretty big difference in a lot of people's eyes.
One of her testoserone pumped commenters (carefulcautius) expressed it more precisely:
Anytime you can knock down a General a peg or two, we make the REAL America stronger.
These blustering morons think that just because most Americans have turned against the war they have become like them - fire breathing leftists. Nothing could be further from the truth. Polls show that the institution Americans trust is the mili…

Success in Iraq

Josh Marshall links to this New York Times article to discuss how Bush's corruption is torpedoing the war effort. The short version: A major factor in collapsing a deal on oil revenues has been a Kurdish deal with Dallas oilman and Bush buddy Ray L. Hunt.
Josh Marshall:
But remember, Hunt, in addition to being the son of legendary Texas John
Birch Society extremist H.L. Hunt, is also
a pal of the president's. Indeed, President Bush has twice appointed Hunt to his
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. So while the president is striving to get
the Iraqis to meet these benchmarks one of his own pals -- and more importantly,
political appointees -- is busy helping to tear the whole thing apart.

Congress really needs to investigate this. And begin impeachment hearings.

Takedown

John Stewart had a nice takedown of Petraeus's testimony last night. First he showed Petraeus talking about writing every little word himself - then he showed how many phrases were lifted only slightly changed from Bush talking points. Coincidence? Or just great military thinkers thinking alike?

We (John and I, that is) report, you decide.

Applications of Physical Cosmology

When I read this, I thought that the long sought transition of cosmology to an applied science might finally be happening:

Russia has tested the world's most powerful vacuum bomb, which unleashes a destructive shockwave with the power of a nuclear blast, the military said on Tuesday, dubbing it the "father of all bombs".Finally a practical use for all that vacuum energy cluttering up the universe, I thought.

The facts are a bit more mundane, though not a lot more cheerful.

Sanctimonious S***head Award

A very competitive award to be sure, even with Joe Lieberman retired for lifetime achievement. Today's nominee: Ted Koppel, for his crap spouted on NPR today about how we can't leave Iraq until "we clean up the mess we created."

I very much doubt that we have any hope of cleaning up the mess George Bush created as long as he remains President, nor has anyone come up with a good suggestion for how it might be done.I give Koppel props for sounding sactimonious even if he's just recommending a hamburger joint, but he really shows his world class chops when he spouts the pius bullshit that passes for conventional widom inside the beltway.

American Men's Number One Fear

A President who has to stop to ask directions.

Hell, GW wouldn't do that even if he was riding over a cliff. A manly man a man can respect. Presidential material.

More Stupid

Tuned into the radio on the way to work to listen to the Senate hearings. Instead of asking questions, some blowhard, AKA, Senator Blowhard Biden, was giving a stupid speech. What an idiot. Of course the representatives - I only heard Republicans yesterday - did the same thing. What a bunch of morons.

Stupid Stupid Stupid

My heart sank when I listened to Cokie Roberts describing the MoveOn.org ad in the NYT this morning. What adolescent stupidity inspired them to write the Petraeus - Betray us equation? I could hardly imagine a more perfectly timed Morgul knife thrust into the anti-war movement. When contacted, they defended their "facts." Too bad that they had already ensured that no one would read them.

I am tempted to suspect the work of some Rovian fifth columnist, but I suppose stupidity is the more economical explanation.

Thanks a lot guys - you just guaranteed us another 18 months of war. You also probably made yourselves poison to every potential Democratic candidate.

Recession?

Nouriel Roubini sees recession coming:
The probability of a US economic hard landing (either a likely outright recession and/or an almost certain “growth recession”) was already significant even before the severe turmoil and volatility in financial markets during this summer. But the recent financial turmoil - that has manifested itself as a severe liquidity and credit crunch - now makes the likelihood of such a hard landing even greater. There is now a vicious circle where a weakening US economy is making the financial markets’ crunch more severe and where the worsening financial markets and tightening of credit conditions will further weaken the economy via further falls of residential investment and further slowdowns of private consumption and of capital spending by the corporate sector.

Roubini isn't usually Mr. Sunshine, but he paints an interesting picture. I recommend reading the whole post.

Why Liberals Are Smarter

The LA Times has an article on a new study comparing the way liberal and conservative brains process information. Unsurprisingly, they concluded that liberals are more open to new experiences and more flexible in their thinking. OK, that's not quite the same as "smarter," but I'll take it. The current experiment compared what happened when students were presented with a very simple task: recognizing the letter M vs. W. Subjects were conditioned to expect a higher frequency of one letter than of the other, and when the frequency changed, conservatives made more mistakes and learned the new pattern more slowly.It certainly seems to fit a lot of conservatives I know - once they get an idea they become more or less impervious to fact.

WH Internal Debate

A large cast of Washington Post writers has a must-read story on the internal debate about "the surge" this morning. It has a good picture of the points of contention, apparently from the perspective of some of the minor figures involved. Cheney is all but invisible in the story, but I did notice my forehead scar hurting at some points.

Central Command Chief Admiral William J. Fallon seems to be a principal sceptic:

Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders' intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. "He's been saying from Day One, 'This isn't working,' " said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term "long war" -- a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.

Iraqi leaders' intentions are the real point, aren't they? What reason is their to think that Maliki, or any other plausible Iraqi leader is interested in what …

Certainly Mr. Bush

Slate has a three part excerpt from Robert Draper's Dead Certain. Draper had unprecedented access to Bush and most of the excerpts consist of interview. I felt that there was a certain pathos to the Bush that emerged. The famously upbeat Bush who seems to be so out of touch with reality seems to be partly a pose put on to keep up others spirits and his own:

"And part of being a leader is: people watch you. I walk in that hall, I say to those commanders—well, guess what would happen if I walk in and say, 'Well, maybe it's not worth it.' When I'm out in the public"—and now he was fully animated, yanked out of his slouch and his eyes clenched like little blue fists—"I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch me.

"The other thing is that you can't fake it. You have to believe it. And I believe it. I believe we'll succeed."More upsetting, and more pathetic, is the man…

Their Boy Osama

Osama bin Laden's latest tape consists of the rantings of a mass murderer sworn to kill Americans, but it is calculated, in its lame way, to attempt to turn Americans against each other. Naturally, David Brooks and the usual morons are happy to cooperate. Steve Benen has the story at TPM.

What a piece of work these guys are - always ready to sell out America for partisan advantage.

Pointless

There is absolutely no point to a draw down of five thousand troops in January, or 25,000 next April. We have already seen this stupid movie in 2003 and 2004. What we need is a coherent strategy with a plausibly achievable goal. There are few options and they are all bad.

A. We can get the heck out as fast as possible and let the devil take the hindmost - or at least the Iraqis. This risks genocide, regional war, and facilitates Iranian dominance. It does get our troops out of harm's way as quickly as possible.

B. We can replace the dysfunctional government of Iraq and try to reconstruct it on a more rational basis. This will involve overthrowing a democratically elected government, provoke much greater Iraqi enmity, and require at least twice as many American troops - probably requiring doubling or tripling the size of the Army. Costs will be astronomical, the commitment multi-generational, and prospects dim.

C. We can pull most of our troops out, leaving strike forces in Kuw…

Seriously Pissed

Dan Froomkin titles his latest column Bush Wins Again. He cites the building consensus among the chattering classes of Washington that the Dems are about to fold, big time, on Iraq.
Despite everything, President Bush continues to be able to set the terms of the debate in Washington.

Consider how the talk now is mostly about when to end the "surge" -- not when to end the war. How did that happen?

...

Now, however, the big news is that Bush's commander in Iraq, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, is willing to contemplate a possible drawdown of one brigade early next year -- if the circumstances are right. That's one combat brigade out of the five that make up the surge; one out of 20 such brigades in country in total; or less than 5,000 of the 168,000 troops currently in Iraq.
I hope that Democratic leaders realize how seriously pissed off the most active Democratic voters will be if this kind of fold happens. Many of us will be convinced that it is more urgent to rid our Party o…

Two for the Road

One more visit with Mearsheimer and Walt, this one prompted by a new review linked by Arun: Walt-Mearsheimer's Best Seller: Why the Hysteria? by M J Rosenberg. Another important review is The New York Times review by William Grimes. Grimes (or his headline writer) calls the book a "A Prosecutorial Brief Against Israel and Its Supporters." I don't believe his review supports this title:
Slowly, deliberately and dispassionately Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt lay out the case for a ruthlessly realistic Middle East policy that would make Israel nothing more than one of many countries in the region. On those occasions when Israel’s interests coincide with America’s, it should count on American support, but otherwise not. What Americans fail to understand, the authors argue, is that most of the time the two countries’ interests are opposed...

The reason they do not realize this, Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt insist, can be explained quite simply: The Israel lobby makes sure of …

Climate Forcings

Stephen E. Schwartz of Brookhaven and co-authors have a Nature comment.
I got the link from Lubos Motl who explained that it had something to do with the GDP of Cuba and the relative length of Gavin's (Schmidt?) hands, but I had trouble following the advanced math, so I was forced to read the original article - which seemed rather clear.

Schwartz and co-authors note an oddity: The estimated uncertainty in anthropogenic forcing has a much larger range (0.6 to 2.4 W/m^2) than the uncertainty in the model predictions of temperature range as a result of anthropogenic forcings (0.5C to 1.0C). This, he says, looks strange.

First, how could this happen? Schwartz does not say so explicitly, but he seems to think that the forcings are an input parameter for the models. I’m no modeler, but I doubt that that is the case – the input parameters, I suspect, are the things that drive the forcings: CO2 concentration, aerosol, etc. Physically, the forcings *are* the things that drive the climate, bu…

Conversation with Thucydides

I had that green chile cheeseburger for dinner, very good, but sometimes a mistake anyway...

We were sitting on stone benches on a rocky hillside, with olive trees in the distance.

Me: So how could we bring peace, prosperity, and freedom to Iraq?

Thucydides: I don't do prosperity - I'm not an economist - might check with Brad DeLong on that . . .

[I notice that his English is flawless - hardly unexpected in one who mastered Classical Greek as an infant, I suppose.]

Thu: . . . Peace and freedom, though, are simpler, though intrinsically temporary at best. Kill all the Iraqi men, sell the women and children into slavery, then import colonists from some freedom loving people - from Athens, for example.

Me: I don't think we want to get into genocide...

Thu: Well, there are other means. You've pretty well blown your chance to play Alexander or Caesar - bright lads they were. Maybe you should imitate Coronado and Pizarro.

Me: I'm not sure that smallpox and measles would dev…

Transition

How a conservative think tank became a right-wing stink tank.

Shorter version: Assume supine position, extend hand, palm up, spread [wallet].

Straight Talk

John McCain has brought back his old bus, AKA The Straight Talk Express. In its new incarnation it will be called The Demagogic Lies Express.

Dimming

Neutrino tipped me to a nice NOVA program on global dimming. There is now pretty solid evidence that dimming due to pollutants has substantially ameliorated warming due to greenhouse gases. So far, so good, right?

Not exactly. The pollution has become severe enough to kill as many as millions every year in India and China, so that they are now preparing aggressive steps to curb pollution, just as the advanced countries did decades ago. The likely result: less pollution, healthier air, and less dimming - and considerably more warming.

The show suggested that we might see three or more degrees C by mid-century, a temperature which produced sea levels 25 meters higher the last time it happened, 2 million years or so ago. Say goodbye to most coastal cities, Florida and Louisiana, Holland, and Bangladesh.

Not out of the question over the next century or two are the truly catastrophic temperatures last seen 50 million years ago - think mass extinction event.None of this will impress the legion…

Oh Goody!

Iran's president Ahmadinejad has proof that the US won't attack Iran.God, and his calculations told him so.

"I tell them: 'I am an engineer and I am a master in calculation and tabulation.

"I draw up tables. For hours, I write out different hypotheses. I reject, I reason. I reason with planning and I make a conclusion. They cannot make problems for Iran.'"

Ahmadinejad has long expressed pride in his academic prowess. He holds a PhD on transport engineering and planning from Tehran's Science and Technology University and is the author several of scientific papers.

The deeply religious president said his second reason was: "I believe in what God says."

"God says that those who walk in the path of righteousness will be victorious. What reason can you have for believing God will not keep this promise."Two religious nuts getting ready to start the slaughter. Just what we need.

He's the One

OK, this seals it. I'm voting Obama.

Rock Stars We have Known

Lumo hints that he may be featured in Physics World next month. If so, I hope they mention what he's up to these days - he has been a bit closed mouthed on the subject - either that or I missed it.

He also has a note on nuking the landscape - seems like a good idea.

Rove-ing with the Press

There is a small cadre of Americans who, despite ample evidence of Karl Rove's general incompetence, despicable character and disastrous effect on the nation and the Republican Party, still worship him. The most visible element of that cadre consists mainly of the Washington punditocracy. That tale is the theme of Glenn Greenwald's riff on Gloria Borger's assession to the Faux News liar's club - AKA their Sunday news panel. I suspect that he may not be a fan:
Gloria Borger of U.S. News and World Report is perfectly representative of the establishment media pundit. She possesses in great abundance the most common attribute which defines them -- namely, there is never an original thought that comes out of her mouth. Instead, she never does anything other than recite Beltway conventional wisdom and GOP talking points (typically the same thing) with complete fealty. For that reason, Borger last week made her exciting debut as a panelist on Fox News' Sunday Show.Also wor…

This and That

Wolfgang has up an eclectic bunch of interesting new posts. It's pretty hard to pick out a favorite, but this one wins the prize in the exotic humor category.

The others range from the War to Groethendieck and Category theory linked from Aaron Bergmann's temporary post impersonating Chad Orzel.
I think I first started reading Aaron's stuff when he was like a college freshman. He seems to have learned quite a lot in the intervening decade or so.

Felix

We are at what is very near the peak of the normal Atlantic Hurricane season, and so far, the ocean has been relatively quiet, with only one hurricane, although that was a powerful category five. Tropical storm Felix has entered the Carribean and looks to become a hurricane later tonight. As of now, it is projected to take a path very much like that of Hurricane Dean, only slightly farther south. That more southerly track, and less time to intensify will probably keep it to lower intensities, but it is too early to say that we are off the hook.

Where the Boys Are

Sister Mary Loretta was my third grade teacher, and I expect that if there was anything to that theology she taught me, she is now ensconced as a principal lieutenant to Satan himself, joyfully dishing out punishment to the deserving. At least that's the way I remember third grade, with Leon H., Judy B., and me at the head of the list of the then deserving. In those days, her punishments consisted mainly of chalk and eraser throwing, hair pulling, ear twisting, and shoulder shaking intended to separate the brain stem from the spinal column. I am reminded of those good old days by a new study that shows that student accomplishment appears to vary inversely with the number of boys in the classroom. There have been previous studies showing that girls in single sex schools do better than those in co-ed schools, but this one looked at random assortment producing different proportions of students in various classrooms. Not only girls but also boys did better in the mostly girl classroom…