Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Unravelling

Gold above $800, crude looking to attack $100, and the Dollar dropping like a stone against Euro, Pound, and other Western currencies, while the stock market surges. What's going on here? My guess: the first hints of the long threatened unravelling.

The US is, and has been, living well beyond its means, borrowing to finance consumption. This year, for example, we will run a current account deficit of about a trillion dollars, or $3000 per American. Two factors have conspired to make this happen: the suicidally reckless economic policies of the Bush administration and China's determination not to let its own trade be balanced.

The US is the classic profligate, borrowing and spending like crazy, while China, Japan, and expecially the Gulf states play the role of the irresponsible banker willing to keep lending no matter what.

Bartender: That damn drunk keeps running up his tab and never paying.

Customer: Why don't you cut him off?

Bartender: I can't afford to. He's the best customer I've got!


By now, the Dollar is almost certainly undervalued against the Pound, the Euro, and the other Dollars. This is a big problem for the countries using those currencies, since their trade goods have lost a lot of competitiveness against the Dollar. The problem is that China, Japan, and the emerging economies are afraid to let their currencies appreciate against the dollar. As a result, they have saddled their own citizens with a vast quantity of a rapidly depreciating asset, the US Dollar. This leaves a lot of Dollars out there that everybody wants to unload - so they buy stocks, gold, oil, Euros, etc.

The big question in my mind is what price does China pay for its role in creating this mess? One price is obvious - they are buying a lot of Dollars dear and seeing their value evaporate, but this doesn't seem to bother them enough to change their ways. A second, less obvious (to me) price is inflation. They buy those Dollars with RMB, which puts a lot of them out there, which they try to control by "steriliztion" - don't ask me to explain it, I can't really.

Inflation is appearing in China. The price of oil is affecting the price controlled supply of diesel and gasoline, apparently causing considerable tension and dislocation. Will it become severe enough to threaten China's economic juggernaut? It's the only threat that I find likely to get them to mend their ways.

For the US, the pain is likely to be more severe.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hitler, Hitler, Hitler

Josh Marshall has a video of the debate on attacking Iran between arch-neocon Norman Podhoretz and disillusioned neocon Fareed Zakaria. NP's entire argument is "Hitler, Hitler, Hitler." As Josh points out, the comparison is utterly absurd, but neocons seem immune to logic.

It's almost an insult to what the world faced in the late 1930s. Germany, industrial powerhouse, with arguably the most powerful army in the world, at the forefront of technology, overawing and invading neighboring countries. Iran, minor economic power, second or third-rate military power, which may get a couple of small nuclear-weapons compared to the couple hundred high-end nuclear warheads in Israel's arsenal (plus, a robust second strike capacity, as Fareed notes) and the many thousands we have -- and our blue water navy, satellites, air force. Please. Time's running out for us? We're going to look back on this fifty years ago and see the non-podhoretz-loons as the Chamberlains of the day. I don't know what to say. Just watch ...


Remember too, that Iran has launched an aggressive war for what, centuries?

If Podhoretz wants to find Hitler, and he really, really does, he should look into his own heart. He and his fellow fanatics have already launched one unjust aggressive war that has killed a million people, but their blood lust is utterly unslaked. Like Hitler, they won't be content until their murder spree brings their own nation to destruction.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Ancestor's Tale

I've been reading Richard Dawkins's book The Ancestor's Tale and one particular message (so far) stands out. Because inheritance occurs in discrete genes and because genes get shuffled, the ancestral path for different bits of DNA is different. At a particular allele, (non-identical) siblings might each be more closely related to separate chimpanzee individuals and the common ancestors of both humans and chimpanzees than they are to each other. Blood types seem to be an example. I find this to profoundly non-intuitive, but quite undeniable.

Overall, of course, the siblings share many more genes with each other than with chimps, but that is in some sense an average effect. Because chimps and humans separated at least 6 million years ago, the separate blood types (and their genes) must have persisted simultaneously through all the 400,000 or so generations in between - there hasn't likely been gene flow in the interim.

Of the 2^400,000 ancestral slots from six-million years ago (all filled by at most a few million individuals), different genes are almost equally likely to come from any of them. Most of these ancestors probably don't contribute any DNA to the individual alive today, and most of the rest will contribute only one gene or a few. Of course those few million individuals were all genetically very much alike, so you still have nearly as much in common with those that provided you no DNA as those whod did provide your DNA.

The Boylan Affair

Glenn Greenwald has a series of posts on an email he received from General Pretraeus's chief spokesman, Colonel Steven Boylan. Or apparently received, since Boylan has since vacillated between denying that he sent the email and being evasive. Whoever sent it, if not Boylan, did a good job of fabricating the email headers, not to mention Boylan's literary style.

It seems to have started with Greenwald noting that the military seems to have become politized, with Petraeus in particular plugging into right wing blogs and news sources.

One rumor has it that Petraeus has expanded his horizons beyond Iraq, and is contemplating high political office - say the Vice Presidency.

Whether or no, politization of the military stinks. It might be time for Congress to take a look.

Read Glenn for the details.

That Ain't It, Kid

Obama has apparently decided to go after Hillary on Social Security. Josh Marshall catalogs a few of the reasons that's a pretty stupid idea:

If Obama is hoping for an issue to gain traction with vis a vis Hillary, he's really muffed it picking Social Security. In itself the idea of removing or significantly restructuring the 'cap' on payroll taxes is a good one, at least one with a lot to recommend it. The current approach (though one with a long history and embraced by many strong Social Security advocates) makes the funding structure of Social Security highly regressive. But what Obama is doing is buying into the false idea that Social Security is in some sort of crisis.

It's Iran, stupid!

In front of everyone's eyes we are creeping toward a catastrophic replay of the mistakes the country made half a decade ago in Iraq. You hear the same arguments -- 'time is not on our side,' etc. All nonsense. Even among the 'sensible' people on this issue the common assumption is that yes, eventually we may need to go to war. But we need to give more time to diplomacy, etc. This is all nonsense and it's a set of shared assumptions that now appears to unite Hillary with all the Republican candidates.

At a minimum, we need full and open debate and a declaration of war before we attack Iran. Of course Bush hasn't even tried diplomacy.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Socks and Shoes

I have to love a mathematician who explains transitivity of idempotents in term of socks and shoes.

Conceptual Mathematics: A First Introduction to Categories by F. William Lawvere and Stephen Hoel Schanuel, page 55. Now a dirt cheap $19.96 at Amazon.

The Terroriste

Francois Furstenberg, writing in The New York Times sees Bush and his allies as the new Jacobins. There are enough points of similarity to once again illustrate Mark Twain's principle that History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

. . . future historians examining Mr. Bush’s presidency within the longer sweep of political and intellectual history may find the French Revolution useful in understanding his curious brand of 21st- century conservatism.

Soon after the storming of the Bastille, pro-Revolutionary elements came together to form an association that would become known as the Jacobin Club, an umbrella group of politicians, journalists and citizens dedicated to advancing the principles of the Revolution.

The Jacobins shared a defining ideological feature. They divided the world between pro- and anti-Revolutionaries — the defenders of liberty versus its enemies.

The Jacobins saw themselves as missionaires of liberty with a global mission, and soon launched preventive wars all over. This provoked domestic dissent, but:

Among the Jacobins’ greatest triumphs was their ability to appropriate the rhetoric of patriotism — Le Patriote Fran├žais was the title of Brissot’s newspaper — and to promote their political program through a tightly coordinated network of newspapers, political hacks, pamphleteers and political clubs.

Even the Jacobins’ dress distinguished “true patriots”: those who wore badges of patriotism like the liberty cap on their heads, or the cocarde tricolore (a red, white and blue rosette) on their hats or even on their lapels.

Insisting that their partisan views were identical to the national will, believing that only they could save France from apocalyptic destruction, Jacobins could not conceive of legitimate dissent. Political opponents were treasonous, stabbing France and the Revolution in the back.

The Jacobins instituted harsh domestic measures to quell dissent, including widespread warrantless searches and dententions and eventually, mass executions.

Compare and contrast Bush:

We must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty itself

Louis Saint-Juste:

“No liberty for the enemies of liberty.

I won't spoil Furstenberg's punchline by quoting it.

Schadenfreude Today

Is Holy Joe mobbed up? Edmund H. Mahoney and Jon Lender of The Courant report:

Contributions from associates and friends of now-indicted garbage executive James Galante to the 2004 presidential campaign of U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman have sparked the interest of federal investigators.

Into the Toilet

The dollar extends its plunge:

President for Life

Josh Marshall wonders:

Question I'm trying to think through: in US history, how many elected officials have ever tried to make arrangements to remain in office beyond their legally-sanctioned term of office?

Beside Rudy, that is.

Not to worry though. Rudy would be pretty much just another termlifetime of Bush.

Friday, October 26, 2007

You Are Getting Warmer

Arctic sea ice stopped declining about a month ago, after the Sun went below the horizon and the long winter night began. The sea ice anomaly, the amount by which the Arctic sea ice coverage differs from the mean for that day of the year has not recovered. It has, in fact, continued its dramatic decline, losing about another million km^2 in the last month.



Confession

NPR this morning: taken to see men who admitted to being paid agent of Iran in Iraq. They had clearly been tortured ("covered with blood, crying, unable to walk") - so what the hell does anything else in the story mean - they said what their interrogators told them to say, end of story.

The story, of course, was full of lurid details. Maybe they were true. We don't know, and can't know anything except what their interrogators wanted them to say.

At least NPR mentioned the torture bit. The rest of the story should never have been run. I'm ashamed that I sent NPR money.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Modest Proposal

It seems to be pretty hard for Congress to get Bushies to answer questions. How about they authorize themselves to use all measures short of torture to get answers - at least they might get Mukasey to figure out what he considers torture. Waterboarding is quick, so they say.

When The Lights Go Out

Bee has been reading The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity and the Renewal of Civilization By Thomas Homer-Dixon. The theme, I guess, is civilization's dependence on limited resources and its consequent fragility as we approach the our planet's limits. I haven't read the book, but the subject is a frequent theme of mine. In particular, energy is finite and critical. Bee notes:


Yet we are living in a society that disregards its limits. There is no doubt growth can't proceed forever, energy resources are not infinite, and more is not always better. Sure, one can debate exactly when and how a change will set in, but there is no way disregarding the fact that we have to address these problems, and we should do so rather sooner than later.

In his latest book "The Upside of Down" Thomas Homer-Dixon addresses the question of how crucial energy resources are for our societies to maintain their complexity. In a nutshell the argument is that it takes energy to keep our systems running at high performance. We are not prepared to cope with less energy, and our societies' networks lack resilience. Should energy supply dwindle, and one or two unfortunate events hit at the wrong time, the effect can be disastrous. The book is a warning, a call for caution and for action.

So what does happen when the lights go out, and the grid goes down? We haven't done this experiment on a global scale before, but smaller scale experiments are not comforting. I often flack here for Jared Diamond's book Collapse. He looks at several societies that pushed beyond the envelope of their ecologies limits. In the worst cases, like Norse Greenland and Chaco Canyon, the collapse was complete, leaving nothing behind but ruins. On Easter Island, society disintegrated, population collapsed, and society's key resources were lost, but some people survived - perhaps because they no longer had the means to leave.

The population carrying capacity of the planet without abundant and cheap energy is no doubt a lot smaller than at present, but the real threat is that we will devastate the Earth's remaining resources in our attempt to maintain our standard of living - that happened both in Chaco Canyon and Norse Greenland. That's the positive feedback that leads to catastrophe.

Diamond also points out some cultures that made the adjustments to adapt to their ecological limits. They made the choices - sometimes hard choices - that allowed survival. Bee's author apparently talks about a more democratic (and presumably, more egalitarian) society making better choices, but that's not enough. True, our resources would last a bit longer if Larry Ellison didn't need four yachts over 100 meters, but the real problem is that there are just too many of us. We really need to make the choice to reduce the human population. The easiest and most humane way to do that is to penalize excessive reproduction - for example with taxes. It is possible - parts of Europe have reduced their fertility rates to the replacement rate or lower.

The Calculation

Readers have seen me rage against the Dem's cowardice about confronting Bush, especially on the war and abuses of power. This, apparently, is due to the reluctance of swing State Dems to get off the fence for fear of being tarred with the anti-patriot brush. The calculation they seem to be making is that we, the anti-Bush party base, have nowhere else to go, so they can afford to ignore us.

Republicans don't make that particular choice. For them, the base is all - please the base no matter how nuts you have to be, and damn the torpedos. They fear their base with a holy fear born of painful experience. Democrats, it seems, don't.

Maybe it's time to get a bit scarier. Weak and cowardly Dems need to be punished, maybe even at the risk of the Republicans doing better than expected. Maybe targetting a few egregious cowards in the primaries is the secret. Give the rest a whiff of grape-shot.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Us and Them

Dividing the world up into us and them is clearly built into our genes. I suppose that when our ancestors were hunter gatherers it was crucial to draw that line between family and band, between band and others. I recently watched a movie (Freedom Writers) about a tough high school in Long Beach. Every kid knew who his ethnic homies were, and Blacks and Cambodians and Hispanics and Whites each had their tribe and territory - straying into the wrong territory would earn a beat down or death. A suburban high school might have its slightly less fierce jocks, geeks, goths and popular kids.

Family and close allies are not big enough to carry much weight in a complex society, so bigger groups often arise. They are social constructs, but we build such constructs so effortlessly that it has got to be built in. In many societies, one of those organizing principles is race, and few care about the details or reality of any biological underpinning.

Paul Krugman recently wrote a book demonstrating (if it still needed to be demonstrated) that the key political convulsion of the last 50 years in the US was the replacement of the Democratic Party by Republicans in the role of defenders of southern racism. After Kennedy and Johnson and their civil rights bills, the southern racists knew they had been abandoned by the Democratic party. Nixon and Reagan knew exactly how to court that racism in a slightly less obvious fashion. The N word was replaced by talk of "States Rights." Reagan made a carefully calculated speech on the theme in the same city where not so long previously civil rights workers had been murdered, and the murderers set free by Mississipi law.

In biology, races are portions of a species which don't interbreed because of some geographic or similar barrier which wind up with different gene frequencies but remain close enough to fruitfully interbreed. That description has fit portions of the human species from time to time, usually because of geographical factors.

When you put members of different races (in the biological sense) together, they can and do interbreed, with the result that the biological definition no longer applies. The social construct of race among people is something different, even though it's usually rooted in biological or ethnic differences. Most commonly, it's a tool used by one segment of a society to dominate another.

After the abolition of slavery in the Carribean and the US, race became the key token of status in many places. Since race is ostensibly about ancestry, the inevitable interbreeding is a direct challenge to it. For this reason, dominant groups erect legal, religious, and social bans on miscegenation. Attempts to defend endogamy can't work well, though, so these measures tend to be ineffective. So what is to be done with the resulting children? Usually, they get assigned to the dominated "race." In the Carribean, elaborated degrees of racial affinity were constructed: quadroons, octoroons and so on, each with its rank ordered place in society.

This phenomenon is hardly peculiar to the New World. Similar arrangements, I believe, have occurred on every continent. The artificial barriers to defend race are always porous, as I have mentioned, so gene flow takes place. In some cases, the concept of race survives even after almost all traces of difference between dominater and dominated have been extinguished.

Shooter and Sh**er

John McCain promises that if elected, he will shoot bin Laden. **itt Romney, who has a bit of trouble with names, responded by saying that he wants to take out ObamaOsama too - with his small varMitt gun, no doubt.

Uh, John - WTF are you waiting for? Do it now and you might even get nominated.

Basics

OK, at last some signs that the screams of the base are being heard. Thanks to those screams, and the courage of Senator Dodd, some resistance to telecom immunity seems to be developing. Obama and maybev even HRC have signed on.

Now if only we could get something going against Mikey "Torture, what torture?" Mukasey, we might get somewhere.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Annoying Economist of the Week

An economist and a climate scientist were driving a mountain road at night when the economist made the mistake of talking while chewing gum and drove off the cliff. As they plummeted into the abyss -

Climate Scientist: I don't see this ending well.
Economist: What are you talking about? It has been nothing but smooth air so far!

Steven Landsberg is a professor and house economist to Slate. His column on the occasion of Al Gore's Nobel managed to provoke your always and ever mild-mannered correspondent.

Save the Earth in Six Hard Questions
What Al Gore doesn't understand about climate change.

This was enough to set off my bullshit detectors. Let me summarize his six "hard questions" and my reactions:

1) How much does human activity affect the climate?

........Well OK, Steevoh - Al and cowinners got you covered here.

2). How much harm (or good!) is likely to come from that climate change?

.......Roger that. A hard question but one people are working hard to quantify.

3. How much do we—or should we—care about future generations?


This question is the occasion of a long, lame riff by the Stevester. I personally feel an obligation to leave a habitable planet to my children and grandchildren. I also would like it to have some of the beauty of nature left, for them and those beyond. Landsberg likes to talk about 400 or 1000 years, but that's more bullshit. AGW is happening now. California is burning. Western ski resorts are starting their season late and ending them early. The arctic ice is in record retreat.

4. How likely are those future generations to be around, anyway? If you think life on Earth will be destroyed by an asteroid in 200 years, it makes little sense to worry about the climate 300 years from now.


At this point I am thinking stupidest man alive material. This is a hard question?

I will include the full text of the next one.

5. Just how rich are those future generations likely to be? If you expect economic growth to continue at the average annual rate of 2.3 percent, to which we've grown accustomed, then in 400 years, the average American will have an income of more than $1 million per day—and that's in the equivalent of today's dollars (i.e., after correcting for inflation). Does it really make sense for you and me to sacrifice for the benefit of those future gazillionaires?

Unlike the economist, I don't think free-fall or exponential growth can continue forever. The history of technology is mainly of short bursts of productivity increase followed by immizeration of the majority. There are lots of good reasons to think that the current growth cannot continue, expecially on a per capita basis - unless the number of people drastically declines.

6. How risk-averse are we?

How much do you want to roll the dice here? I have as strong impression that collectively, we are way too willing to sacrifice long term benefit for short term gain - Hello mortgage crisis!

If you get the impression that I think that two of his hard questions are exactly what the prize winners are addressing and four of them are borderline moronic, you've got me right.

A typical bit of his "wisdom" that drives me nuts is:

I'll make the extreme assumption that our environmental recklessness threatens to shave 1 percentage point off economic growth forever. Because of compounding, our disposable incomes will be reduced by 9.5 percent a decade from now and by 63 percent a century from now—perhaps because we'll spend 63 percent of our incomes relocating coastal cities.

Yes, Mr. Landsberg, if you make preposterously optimistic assumptions and think they are extreme, you might get a result that you like. If, on the other hand, you think that this ecological crisis is likely to be similar in effect to those of the past, you might make the slightly more extreme assumption that our environmental recklessness is likely to decrease the global GDP by 80%-100% (from the present value), and the risk looks a bit larger.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hillary's War

A large chunk of the American electorate voted Democratic in the last election in the hope and expectation that a Democratic Congress would act to roll back some of the Bush abuses of power and do something to end the war. This Congress has failed utterly at both and we are plenty bitter.

Chris Floyd, subbing for Glenn Greenwald, can safely be counted among the shrill.

Outrage follows outrage, surrender follows surrender: Every day the unreality of our political discourse worsens, even as the reality on the ground grows more bitter and uncontainable. As we approach the anniversary of the Democrats' recapture of Congress -- an event that was supposed to mark the repudiation of the Bush administration's lawless, blood-soaked enterprise -- it is undeniable that the situation is actually worse now than before.

The prospect of a Democratic victory in 2006 was for many people the last, flickering hope that the degradation of the republic could be arrested and reversed within the ordinary bounds of the political system. This was always a fantasy, given the strong bipartisan nature and decades-long cultivation of greed, arrogance and militarism that has now come to its fullest bloom in the Bush administration. But desperation can crack the shell of the most hardened cynic, and no doubt there were few who did not harbor somewhere deep inside at least a small grain of hope against hope that a slap-down at the polls would give the Bush gang pause and confound its worst depredations.

One year on, we can all see how the Democrats have made a mockery of those dreams. Their epic levels of unpopularity are richly deserved. At every step they evoke the remarks of the emperor Tiberius, who, after yet another round of groveling acquiescence from the once-powerful Roman Senate, dismissed them with muttered contempt: "Men fit to be slaves." The record of the present Congress provides copious and irrefutable evidence for this judgment.


No betrayal is more egregious than Hillary Clinton's. As the leading contender for President, she wields outsized influence, but motivated by triangulation or equally sinister political motive she seems bent on destroying every principle. Worst among her crimes, in my book, is repeatedly providing aid and cover for the Bush-Cheney plan to attack Iran.

Last week -- just a few days before Cheney's speech -- Hillary Clinton weighed in with a "major policy article" in Foreign Affairs that regurgitated the administration's unproven allegations against Iran as indisputable fact. This too is ominous stuff, coming from a strong front-runner who not only is leading in the opinion polls but is also way out in front among an elite constituency whose support is much more important and decisive than that of the hapless hoi polloi: arms dealers. Clinton has surpassed all candidates -- including the hyper-hawkish Republican hopefuls -- in garnering cash payments from the American weapons industry, the Independent reports. Obviously, these masters of war are not expecting any drop-off in profits if Clinton takes the helm.

And indeed, beyond her "all options" thundering at Iran, Clinton has vowed to do the one thing guaranteed to breed more war, more ruin, more suffering, more "collateral damage," more terrorist blowback: keeping American forces in Iraq, come hell or high water. Clinton's "withdrawal" plan calls for retaining an unspecified number of "specialized units" in Iraq to "fight terrorism," train Iraqi forces and protect other American troops carrying out unspecified activities. Is it any wonder that she's the apple of Lockheed Martin's eye?

If Cheney and Bush attack Iran just before or after the 2008 election, the war will truly be Hillary's. I don't expect her to be much change from Bush.

Lifestyles of the VRWC

Richard Mellon Scaife is a name more or less synonymous with the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. His money funded the American Spectator's relentless but mostly fruitless search for something to pin on the Clintons, and his money is a key underpining of a range of right-wing stink tanks. He's a billionaire, not one of the really big billionaires, but still comfortable, and he made his money the old fashioned way, by inheriting it.

It's nice to know, though, that even an old scoundrel like RMS knows how to have fun. A lot of the details are coming forth thanks to an angry divorce. David Segal's Washington Post story dishes some of the dirt. The tasteful headline reads:

Low Road to Splitsville:Right-Wing Publisher's Breakup Is Super-Rich In Tawdry Details

Segal can't resist some schadenfreude:

Remember him? The cantankerous, reclusive 75-year-old billionaire who's spent a sizable chunk of his inherited fortune bankrolling conservative causes and trying to kneecap Democrats? He's best known for funding efforts to smear then-President Bill Clinton, but more quietly he's given in excess of $300 million to right-leaning activists, watchdogs and think tanks. Atop his list of favorite donees: the family-values-focused Heritage Foundation, which has published papers with titles such as "Restoring a Culture of Marriage."

It seems that Scaife's sixty year-old wife became suspicious and had him followed, to a very seedy motel - $28 for three hours - remember, RMS is worth about $1.3 billion. There he regularly met his mistress, a woman with a checkered legal past including an arrest for prostitution. The real fun ensued after his wife spotted the mistress entering Scaife's house. Hysteria, an arrest (of the wife), a dognapping (by Scaife), and two more arrests for the scorned wife followed.

The marriage was the second for each, but somehow Scaife neglected a rather essential ingredient of billionaire financial hygiene: a pre-nup. His loss, but lifestyle fans gain, I suppose.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Why We Fight

A MarketWatch lede from 2002 reminds us why Cheney, Halliburton, and Exxon Mobile wanted the war in Iraq:


Asia-Pacific stock markets fell across the board Monday, as renewed concerns that the U.S. could be moving closer to attacking Iraq helped to send crude prices surging above $30 a barrel.

Oil hit $90 last week.

It's not about oil - it's about oil prices and profits.

Is Race a Social Construct?

The notion that race is a social construct is one of those deeply counter-intuitive notions that on closer examination appears to be undeniable. It's non-intuitive because we can each look at a random sample of other people and have a pretty good idea what continent the majority of their ancestors came here from.

In favor of the social construct idea are the following: mixing occurs wherever peoples from different populations interact, in spite of often stringent social prohibitions; there is good biological evidence to believe that gene flow is not a "new" (last few hundred years) phenomenon; and finally, our intuitive classifications are often wrong or incomplete.

In the United States, for example, most people classed as "Black" have at least some European ancestry, and, according to wikipedia:

the majority of the persons with African ancestry are classified as white.



The fact that race is "social construct" doesn't imply (to me, at any rate) that there isn't an underlying biological substrate. That substrate is the different histories of human populations. Geographic and other barriers significantly obstructed gene flow, especially in the distant past. Traits adaptive for a geographic or other millieu have a selective advantage and increase in frequency in it.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Plateau Oil?

It seems that oil production plateaued in 2005 and hasn't increased since. Does that mean that the long rumored peak oil is at hand - or has already even occurred? The ever rising price of oil suggests that neither supply nor demand has a lot of ready elasticity. The long dreaded $100/bbl might be just around the corner and it makes everyone pretty darn nervous. Producers are nervous for fear that it might cause a world wide crash that destroys the price and destroys their ever increasing investments in the rest of the world. Consumers are nervous just because of the looming crash.

My own highly inexpert opinion is that the peak ain't here yet. It's possible that some Saudi and other fields have hit the wall, and that might mean that we really do hit $100, but I expect that the investment triggered by the record prices will kick in more production over the next few years.

Or not.

What is IQ?

Here is the funny thing: IQ is being used to rate, admit, qualify, and select us all the time, but nobody knows the answer to the title question. Nobody knows what the psycho-neural substrate that determines IQ is.

That fact leads some people (including some very high IQ people) to deny that IQ is a meaningful concept. That view is hard to defend in the face of conclusive evidence that whatever IQ is, (1)It can be measured, (2)It is reproducible and stable throughout adulthood, (3)It is highly predictive of accomplishment in a wide variety of skills, from engineer to manager to football quarterback to infantryman.

The concept was invented to determine degree of mental retardation in school children, but its use has spread throughout society. I am a bit embarrassed to admit that my own children were IQ tested before their fourth birthdays (an admission requirement for a certain preschool). Most American children are IQ tested in school, and employers from WalMart to Microsoft to the National Football League test prospective employees. The military pioneered this kind of testing, and it spread through the world because the military found that it worked - it allowed them to identify what recruits could be trained to do its various jobs.

I seem to recall that a certain blogger who has expressed doubts about the IQ concept was admitted to two of the most elite educational institutions in the world - quite likely the two very most elite such. I am quite certain that he had to pass difficult exams, exams with a high g-loading (IQ component) in order to be so admitted.

For reasons that I consider mainly political, the SAT and GRE no longer admit to being IQ tests, but in fact they are, at least in part. So what is it that IQ tests test anyway? The most popular IQ test today, the WAIS-III, has the following components, according to Wikipedia:

14 subtests of the WAIS-III

[edit] Verbal Subtests
Information
Degree of general information acquired from culture (e.g. Who is the president of Russia?)


Comprehension
Ability to deal with abstract social conventions, rules and expressions (e.g. What does "Kill 2 birds with 1 stone" metaphorically mean?)


Arithmetic
Concentration while manipulating mental mathematical problems (e.g. How many 45c. stamps can you buy for a dollar?)


Similarities
Abstract verbal reasoning (e.g. In what way are an apple and a pear alike?)


Vocabulary
The degree to which one has learned, been able to comprehend and verbally express vocabulary (e.g. What is a guitar?)


Digit span
attention/concentration (e.g. Digits forward: 123, Digits backward 321.)


Letter-Number Sequencing
attention and working memory (e.g. Given Q1B3J2, place the numbers in numerical order and then the letters in alphabetical order)

[edit] Performance Subtests


Picture Completion
Ability to quickly perceive visual details


Digit Symbol - Coding
Visual-motor coordination, motor and mental speed


Block Design
Spatial perception, visual abstract processing & problem solving


Matrix Reasoning
Nonverbal abstract problem solving, inductive reasoning, spatial reasoning


Picture Arrangement
Logical/sequential reasoning, social insight


Symbol Search
Visual perception, speed


Object Assembly
Visual analysis, synthesis, and construction


Optional post-tests include Digit Symbol - Incidental Learning and Digit Symbol - Free Recall.

Quite a variety of things seem to being tested, but there are several main subthemes: speed of mental processing, knowledge, memory, pattern recognition, and processing information held in memory. One of the striking things, the thing that really makes the concept of IQ meaningful, is that these rather different seeming skills are usually - but not invariably - highly correlated.

Interestingly enough, ageing affects them differently. Speed of mental processing declines markedly with age, and so do some kinds of memory, but other facets of reasoning seem more durable.

IQ test score are based on a normal (bell-shaped) curve, usually with 15 points equally 1 standard deviation (1 point = 1/15 standard deviation). Scores more than two standard deviations above or below the mean = 100 are probably not especially reliable.

Older forms of the IQ test were based on an age ratio - thus Marilyn vos Savant, who at ten tested at a mental age of 23, was judged to have a record IQ of 230 or so. While doubtless she was a very bright ten year old, such a score would be impossible on a normed, standard deviation based test.

Invading France

Hermann Goering on the need to invade France:

I think it [the invasion of France*] was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie.

...

We needed to go over there, basically, um, and um, uh, take out a very big state right in the heart of that world and burst that bubble, and there was only one way to do it.

...

What they needed to see was German boys and girls going house to house, from Lyon* to Paris*, um and basically saying, "Which part of this sentence don't you understand?"

You don't think, you know, we care about our open society, you think this bubble fantasy, we're just gonna to let it grow?

Well Suck. On. This.

Okay.

That Charlie was what this war was about. We could've hit Norway*, it was part of that bubble. We coulda hit Belgium*. We hit France* because we could.

Oops! My bad. I guess that wasn't really Goering.

It seems that that was really little Tommy Friedman on invading Iraq.

The survivors of 4000 dead Americans and a million dead Iraqis thank him. He now realizes that he screwed up - or at least that his boy GW did. Words fail.

*Assumed names.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Watson's Folly

... science is not here to make us feel good.
...............James D. Watson

The ancient Greeks were said to have believed that the brain was fundamentally a cooling organ - a big old radiator.

There is no more poisoned subject for research or discussion than the question of race and IQ. I don't want to stick my head into that particular buzz saw, but let me mention a related, but perhaps slightly safer topic.

One of the first things we were taught back in ancient times when I studied physical anthropology, was the measurement of the cephalic index. If I remember correctly, it is the ratio of head length to head width. Students were ask to volunteer to be measured, and some were brachicephalic (round headed) some mesocephalic (medium) and others dolichocephalic (long headed.) I can't remember what my numbers were, but I do recall that the class (and prof) laughed when I volunteered. It seems that my head shape is more or less indistinguishable from that of a bowling ball.

There is a race component to cephalic index - Blacks tend to be long headed, Orientals round headed, and Caucasians intermediate. Round happens to be the shape that has the highest volume to surface ratio.

It's also a fact that animals living in colder climates tend to be rounder bodied than their southern relatives. People too. Having a squaty body is advantageous for heat conservation, but it carries some penalties as well. Big old thick round calfs don't run as fast or jump as high as their slender counterparts. It seems likely to me that in adapting to the cold climates of Northern Asia and Europe, the Asian and Caucasian branches of the human race gave up some speed and agility - very important abilities in pre-civilized times.

Europeans and Asians did, however, get rounder heads. Rounder heads hold, on average, slightly larger brains. Asian brain size is a bit larger than Caucasian which is a bit larger than African, on average. The real brain size champs, though, were those ultimate cold warriors, the Neanderthal. Their brains were lots bigger - A fat lot of good it did them.

Which takes us back to the Greek theory. Maybe it's really all about heat loss.

The Boot?

Michael Schwartz, writing in Huffpost, links to an Asia Times article by Pepe Escobar that claims that Iraqis may be deciding that they hate us and the Saudi Jihadis more than they hate each other. If true, this would be even more surprising than the Sun coming up tomorrow, but not by much.

From Escobar:

The ultimate nightmare for White House/Pentagon designs on Middle East energy resources is not Iran after all: it's a unified Iraqi resistance, comprising not only Sunnis but also Shi'ites.

"It's the resistance, stupid" - along with "it's the oil, stupid". The intimate connection means there's no way for Washington to control Iraq's oil without protecting it with a string of sprawling military "super-bases".

The ultimate, unspoken taboo of the Iraq tragedy is that the US will never leave Iraq, unless, of course, it is kicked out. And that's exactly what the makings of a unified Sunni-Shi'ite resistance is set to accomplish.

Schwartz:

Basically Escobar says recent meetings among and between Shia and Sunni groups have initiated a set of alliances that could result in a united resistance that will drastically reduce sectarian fighting (by suppressing the Sunni terrorist and the Shia death squads) and move in a coordinated way (using armed attacks and political maneuvering) toward expelling the U.S..

Here are the key elements:

First, there is a new nationalist bloc forming from those who have withdrawn from or always opposed the American backed government. It includes leaders of the Sunni resistance (including the groups that are supposed to have made an alliance with the US), Sunni parliamentary leaders (including the vice president of Iraq), Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army (the most powerful Shia faction which has always opposed the U.S. presence) and the Fadhila (the most powerful Shia group in Basra, which recently withdrew from the government). According to Escobar, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the most powerful Shia cleric, has blessed the new group.

Such an alliance would not have the power to "kick us out of Iraq," at least not militarily, but they could make the occupation far more costly in American lives. A unified opposition would also destroy any surviving pretenses of legitimacy for the occupation, and perhaps even force Bush to come up with a new set of lies. It might be very difficult to maintain much support even in the nutbag Republican right under those conditions.

On the other hand, it would unify the Iraqis to the extent of giving them a common enemy.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fit to Print?

Via Slate.

A new science fiction character is preparing to step off the printed page. Really.

The creation of implantable human organs with an ink-jet printer isn't as far-fetched as it might seem, a materials scientist said—at least in the future.

Scientists already use ink-jet cartridges to "print" stem cells into exacting patterns, and now engineers are taking the technology to a whole new dimension—quite literally—by exploring ways to print 3-D structures of cells.

"It's a milestone that we can print all types of cells onto a surface with an ink-jet printer without them dying, even stem cells," said Paul Calvert, a materials scientist at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. "Doing this successfully in three dimensions, however, is like going from a black-and-white to a full-color."

As if *that* could ever happen.

Print Spock out a new brain, could you Bones. The poor SOB has no head for figures whatsoever. Always with those ridiculously inaccurate but absurdly precise probability computations.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Honest Jim Steps in It

Nobel Prizewinner James Watson, one of the four people most responsible for the discovery of the role and structure of DNA, has stirred up another hornets nest. Watson is famously abrasive - he called himself honest Jim, while then Harvard colleague Ed Wilson called him "the most unpleasant person he had ever met." A difficult genius, but definitely a genius.

At 79, he is still willing to stir up trouble. The Independent reported on what he said in a newspaper interview:

One of the world's most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that "equal powers of reason" were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.


While many reacted with fury, another colleague:

Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University and a founder member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, said: "This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically."

Anti-racism campaigners called for Dr Watson's remarks to be looked at in the context of racial hatred laws. A spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black human rights group, said: "It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Iran Again

TPM has a nice video summary of the weekend's blather about attacking Iran. The usual idiots (McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol) are cheering it on, Zbignew Brezinski says some wise words about the folly involved, and even Charles Krauthammer has some objections - though not the most cogent ones.

Only ZB has any realistic apprehension of what the consequences would be.

If there is a case for war against Iran, let Congress debate the matter and declare war. If the President usurps that power he should be impeached for treason.

Nothing enrages me more against Hillary than her studied ambiguities on expanding the war and continuing torture. Please Democrats, don't nominate this woman!

Modest Proposal: Primarily Nuts

It's pretty obvious that the primary system is broken. States are elbowing each other to be first. At this rate, the 2012 primaries will be held in 08. The core problem is a historical pattern that gave two small States a hugely outsized role in deciding Presidential nominees. Clearly it's time for some kind of National Primary that gives the country a chance to look over the Candidates without having time to become utterly bored with the whole process.

The answer is America's Next President!, the television show. The idea would be a series of feats of political strength, perhaps including realistic dilemmas faced by actual Presidents, Commentary by pundits and historians, followed by rating and voting, sort of like Dancing with the Stars. After each show, one loser could be voted off, thus clearing the way for the front runners to show their stuff in more detail. In ten weeks or so, we could be down to the nominees, after which the campaign could continue as usual.

If the show became popular enough, regional qualifiers could precede the main event.

Eighty-Sixed

Oil at $86 and I can't believe I'm not yet screaming with pain every time I fill up. Seems like gasoline is still about 20 or 30 cents cheaper than it was when oil hit $72. Doesn't seem likely to last.

Serial Blogger

I've noticed that WB has a new blog, but I'm afraid to link to it for fear it will vanish like the others.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Dogma amgoD

Harold Bloom, whatever his critical successes in youth, seems lately to have doddered into the role of unlucky crank. Unlucky, I mention, since no sooner had he loosed a volley at this year's literature Nobelist, calling her award "political correctness," than the New York Times unearthed a 1992 Op-ed by Doris Lessing on PC and related linguistic abuses. Lessing is more interesting than Bloom, though, so I want to consider a bit more of what she said.

A primary theme was that Communism had loosed a catastrophic pollution into language, and that that pollution had spread far beyond the left. Eli Rabbett has pointed out that the language of the rightwing nutjobs protesting Al Gore's Nobel borrows from Stalinist racial rhetoric.

More tragic than the impoverishment of language is the associated impoverishment of mind. The totalitarian mind can't bear contradiction and so must villify criticism and suck all the life out of thought.

There is obviously something very attractive about telling other people what to do: I am putting it in this nursery way rather than in more intellectual language because I see it as nursery behavior. Art — the arts generally — are always unpredictable, maverick, and tend to be, at their best, uncomfortable. Literature, in particular, has always inspired the House committees, the Zhdanovs, the fits of moralizing, but, at worst, persecution. It troubles me that political correctness does not seem to know what its exemplars and predecessors are; it troubles me more that it may know and does not care.

Lessing also offers up a tentative diagnosis:

I am sure that millions of people, the rug of Communism pulled out from under them, are searching frantically, and perhaps not even knowing it, for another dogma.

In a pinch, any old dogmas may have to do: political correctness, Islamophobia, conservatism, anti-environmentalism, maybe even string theory.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Categorically Speaking

In one of those moments of moral weakness that seem to be becoming more common, I bought a copy of Saunders MacLane's Categories for the Working Mathematician. My excuse was that it was cheap, and that they seemed to be fresh out of Categories for the Loafing Physicist. I had heard that Category Theory was largely about arrows and diagrams, so this sort of metageometric stuff seemed attractive to me.

I also knew that category theory had its origins in homological algebra, and that I wouldn't recognize a homological algebra if it hit me on the head, and this should have been a warning to me. MacLane, of course, is a very clear writer, and he presents his material in a lucid and well organized fashion.

The problem, it seems, is that he is actually writing for an audience of mathematicians, so that the examples presented are often (usually) unfamiliar to me, and the arguments often a bit too abstract for the very limited space in my mathematical abstractions registers.

Fortunately, it turns out that there really is a Category Theory for the Barely Sentient book, and I even found an unread copy on my bookshelves - it's actually called Conceptual Mathematics: A First Introduction to Categories by F. William Lawvere and Stephen Hoel Schanuel. I turned to it when MacLane got a bit heavy, and it's really quite nice.

The authors claim to have used the material with classes ranging from high school to graduate seminars, and, oddly enough, I find that believable.

I was taught that the most primitive notion in mathematics was the set. Of course sets aren't too interesting until we start thinking about functions from a set to another (or to itself). Category theory, to the extremely limited extent I apprehend it, turns that around a bit. Functions, or mappings, come to the fore. They can be considered not just to be mappings between sets, but between more general objects, provided that the mappings obey some simple rules. Sets, and functions between them are one category, but there are many others: the objects may be topological spaces, groups, and so on.

My first reaction was - hey, those are just sets too, right - and so they often are, but sets with structure. If my intuition about Categories is correct, the idea is to abstract into Category theory some general types of structure that don't depend on the specifics of the objects and their mappings.

Looks interesting so far.

The arrows are functions, by the way, AKA mappings, morphisms, and functionals.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Schadenfreude

I couldn't resist touring a few wingnut sites to watch the wailing and gnashing of teeth over Gore's Nobel. It turned out not to be a total waste since K-Lo at The Corner linked to this Scrappleface bit:

Gore Wins Nobel Prize, High Court Gives It to Bush

by Scott Ott · 31 Comments


(2007-10-12) — Although former Vice President Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize this week for his work as a global-warming performance artist, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled early today that President George Bush would receive the gold medal, the diploma and the $750,000...

Genocide

Genocide is a new word but an old practice. A cynic once said that "genocide is God's way of settling territorial disputes." He had some Biblical evidence. The Bible is littered with cases where God either committed or commanded genocide - check out Joshua or Deuteronomy, for example.

The practice didn't die out in modern times. The three most catastrophic genocides of the twentieth century were notable for their scale: Stalin might have killed 30 million, Mao a comparable or greater number, and Hitler 11 million. Hitler's genocide was notable in that most of the victims were Jews, and that it took place in what had been considered one of the most advanced and civilized nations of Europe. Because the chief targets and victims were members of the most cultured and literate group in the world, and because they were widely dispersed and well placed to claim their grievance, the word and the concept became recognized in law and popular thought.

No such outcry greeted the earlier slaughter of the Amenians (the lack of outcry over their slaughter was noted by Hitler as a reason not to worry about an outcry over the murder of the Jews). Still less noted were the genocides in the Congo by Leopold II of Belgium, the extermination of the Tasmanians and other local slaughters in South America, Africa, Australia, and the Middle East.

Post World War II, the world developed a few hints of conscience. The slaughter in Cambodia was eventually stopped by Vietnamese intervention. Rwanda was bewailed but left to its fate - probably the greatest moral failure of the Clinton Presidency. Against die-hard Republican opposition, Clinton did finally intervene to stop the slaughter in Kosovo.

George Bush, of course, is tempermentally disposed to commit genocide rather than prevent it.

No discussion of genocide would be complete without mentioning the biggest one of all - the near extermination of the Native Americans (and extermination of many subgroups thereof). The only mitigating circumstance is that that genocide was in large part accidental - far more Native Americans were killed by European diseases than by European bullets and steel. Of course many horrifyingly deliberate examples exist as well.

Whatever its antecedents, genocide is an unmitigated evil. We ought to exterminate it.

Sanctions

Intenational sanctions are the world's favorite means of punishing people who happen to be oppressed by evil governments. Fareed Zakaria's latest Newsweek column talks about why this very blunt weapon is usually a bad idea.

The Burmese government's grotesque crackdown on pro-democracy protests will have one certain effect. The United States and the European Union will place more sanctions on the country. Its economy will suffer, its isolation will deepen. And what will this achieve? Sanctions are the Energizer Bunny of foreign policy. Despite a dismal record, they just keep on ticking. With countries like Burma, sanctions have become a substitute for an actual policy.

The problem is that the burden of sanctions falls on business and working people, while thugs and the government may well thrive.


By design, sanctions shrink a country's economy. But the parts of the economy they shrink most are those that aren't under total state control. The result, says Robert Pape, a University of Chicago professor who has authored a wide-ranging study on the topic, is that "the state gains greater control of a smaller pie. And it shifts resources in the country toward groups that support [the state] and away from those that oppose it." In other words, the government gets stronger. We can see this at work from Cuba to Iran. "Even in Iraq," says Pape, "there were far fewer coup attempts in the era of sanctions than in the previous decades."


The list of places where sanctions have failed is vast - Cuba, Iraq, Yugoslavia ... Where can the work? Maybe only in a country like South Africa, with democratic institutions and a lot of power in the hands of business men and a middle class.

Somebody needs a better idea - and invasion is probably better not a good one.

Congratulations!

Congratulations to Al and all the IGPCC members and a hearty nyahh, nyahh, nyahh-nyahh to apoplectic wing-nuts everywhere

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Planetary Temperature: Hurricane and Ice Question from Comments

Arun asks:

Facts
1. Polar ice melt this summer was unusual.
2. Atlantic hurricane season was very quiet.

Question - hurricanes are a byproduct of necessary energy transfer from the tropics to the higher latitudes; but some mechanism is already working better than expected, melting so much polar ice. Is that why the hurricane season has been so quiet? I'd expect the Pacific season also to have been quiet. If the Antarctica has not been seeing unusual melts, the southern ocean cyclones should have been the same or worse.


The Northern Hemisphere ice melt has been spectacular, but the South is pretty much trucking along as usual - peak ice was actually (barely) a record. See the charts at http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/ (Cryosphere Today).


This year's Atlantic hurricane season has been odd, but not actually especially quiet by long term standards.


Now to the point: If we look at net Northward heat transport (ocean plus atmosphere) as a function of latitude, it is nearly a sine wave, with the zero at the equator. At peak (45 degrees latitude), the transport is about 6 x 10^15 Watts (annual average). By comparison, a hurricane in action extracts energy at about 1/10 that rate from a tropical ocean (6 x 10^14 Watts), and most of that energy is given up in the tropical or mid latitudes. As a result, hurricane heat transport is a small fraction of the total, especially of the total reaching the far North.


Remember also that Summer is the season of minimum transport of atmospheric and oceanic heat into the Arctic - only about 80% of the winter values. Arctic melting is poorly understood - at least by me - but involves import of warm air and ocean water, export of ice (80 cal/gm), and, especially, heat absorbed from the Sun and radiated to space. Wind plays a key role in the first three, but the heat absorbed is mainly a function of albedo (high for clean ice, very low for open water), and heat radiated from the top of the atmosphere depends significantly on CO2 concentration - more important in the polar regions because the atmosphere is so dry that H2O is less important as a greenhouse gas than it is in the tropics or mid latitudes.


If Eli reads this, maybe he can critique my analysis.


UPDATE/RESPONSE TO WILLIAM CONNOLLEY:


I neglected to discuss the actual mechanisms of heat transport in the midlatitudes. William points out that midlatitude storms pack a punch energetically, but I tend to think of them as symptom rather than cause. If you look at our planet's large scale cloud patterns, or better still, some water vapor loops, you can see that the atmosphere continually writhes and spins in an ever changing pattern of waves, loops, and vortices. It is these waves and vortices that transport heat, moisture and momentum north in exchange for colder, dryer air. They give rise to the mid latitude cyclones that produce most of our weather. They, in turn, are driven by the baroclinicity of our atmosphere - the tilting of atmospheric pressure surfaces due to differential heating at equator and pole.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Flat Tax

Kevin Drum has a couple of charts showing just how flat our tax system is right now. When all taxes are considered, the top fifth pay about 19%, the bottom quintile 18%, and the middle three quintiles from 14% to 17%.

The truly rich probably pay quite a bit less, since much or most of their income is hidden from taxation.

Nobelesse

Kevin Drum knows whom he is cheering for in Friday's Nobel Peace Prize competition. Al Gore. And not because he thinks this will kick off a Presidential run - he thinks it won't.

If Gore does win, I expect it to cause a massive collective seizure among the
conservative crackpot brigade, and that would do more to advance the cause of
world peace than anything else I can think of. So I'm rooting for you, Al.

Sounds good enough for me!

Dark Knights

Chess and scandal aren't exactly strangers, so I wasn't astonished to read of trouble in the United States Chess Federation(Disclosure: I'm a life member and have been for decades).

Dylan Loeb McClain, writing in The New York Times reports:

A lawsuit filed in federal court last week accuses two officers of the nation’s leading chess organization of posting inflammatory remarks on the Internet under false names in order to win election to the group’s board.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, says that Susan Polgar and Paul Truong, who are married and who were elected to the board of the United States Chess Federation in July, posted thousands of remarks, many obscene or defamatory, over the last two years on two public Internet bulletin boards.

Polgar is a former Women's World Champion - though not nearly as strong a player as younger sister Judit, and Truong also a strong player.

The accuser's case apparently rests on the fact that the defamatory messages were traced to an IP address used by Polgar and Truong. He has some legal history, including prison time:

In 1992, he was convicted of attempted kidnapping in a case involving his daughter, Shamema, who was living with guardians. Mr. Sloan spent 18 months in a Virginia prison.

How the GOP Went Bad

Andrew Sullivan links to John Cole's Balloon Juice. Cole takes issue with David Brooks' lame Op-Ed which meandered on about offending "conservatism’s Burkean roots." Yeah, whatever.

Cole's take is more pungent:

[He starts by talking about Jonah Goldberg's deranged attack on Obama's remarks on lapel pin flags, then goes on to:]

For starters, people got tired of being associated with these drooling retards. Then, when they realized that these drooling retards had ideological allies running the show in the Bush administration and then began to experience their idiotic policies, they moved from disgusted to outright hostile.

Like me. It had nothing to do with Burke, and everything to do with what the party had become. A bunch of bedwetting, loudmouth, corrupt, hypocritical, and incompetent boobs with a mean streak a mile long and no sense of fair play or proportion.

Seriously- what does the current Republican party stand for? Permanent war, fear, the nanny state, big spending, torture, execution on demand, complete paranoia regarding the media, control over your body, denial of evolution and outright rejection of science, AND ZOMG THEY ARE GONNA MAKE US WEAR BURKHAS, all the while demanding that in order to be a good American I have to spend most of every damned day condemning half my fellow Americans as terrorist appeasers.

And that isn’t even getting into the COMPLETE and TOTAL corruption of our political processes at every level. The shit is really going to hit the fan after we vote these jackasses out of power in 2008.

All true, but for my money, the Republicans irrevocably committed to the dark side when Lee Atwater and Ronald Reagan turned the party of Lincoln into the party of Southern racism.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Always Wrong, Never in Doubt

Andrew Sullivan examines the entrepreneurial George Bush:

A quote to ponder:
"I made my arguments and went down in flames. History
will prove me right," - Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush after voting against
realignment and a new wild-card system during a Major League Baseball owners
meeting in September 1993. Bush was the lone dissenter in a 27-1 vote.
I haven't a clue about these things, but apparently history has proven
him wrong

Now there's a shock.

Benefits of Privatization

Robert Pear, writing in The New York Times, looks at Bush's privatized Medicare insurance benefit and finds the predictable problems:

Tens of thousands of Medicare recipients have been victims of deceptive sales tactics and had claims improperly denied by private insurers that run the system’s huge new drug benefit program and offer other private insurance options encouraged by the Bush administration, a review of scores of federal audits has found

Probably the worst problem is the systematic denial of claims and obstruction of patient attempts to correct errors. One does not need to be a genius economist to understand the intrinsic problem of this type of privatization: it places the patient and the service provider in adversarial positions. The more effective the insurance company is in denying claims, the more money it makes - thus it has positive incentives to give poor service. This tactic is most effective with the sickest patients who are least able to defend themselves.

A good article. Read it if you are old, expect to be sometime, or have an elderly relative.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Clarence Thomas

Two NYT columns on Clarence Thomas show what we who were shut out by the subscription wall have been missing. Frank Rich looks at Thomas sixteen years later and at the kid glove treatment he got from CBS's Sixty Minutes. Rich's treatment is a pretty critical look at a man still consumed by his resentments, and still lacking any redeeming quality of judicial temperment, but a frequently interesting read.

Maureen Dowd, writing on the same topic, serves up another dreary helping of that patented bitchiness that seems long past its sell by date.

This Week's Headlines

Inuit Holy Man Walks on Water: Fears Meltdown Due to Followers' Loss of Faith

Fifty Year-old Woman Gives Birth to Own Grandmother

Leading Republican Candidates No-Shows in Battle of Wits

Scientists: Success in Search for Magnetic Dipole

Dear Dr. C.

Dear Dr. C.,

I just got out of rehab, but I'm afraid that as soon as I meet my friends I
will start drinking and all those other behaviors that get me in trouble.

I can't stand to sit at home and I can't sleep alone.

.............................Lindsay

Dear Lindsay,

Start a blog. It can be almost as much fun as having a life - except for the sex, drugs, and alcohol, of course.

Also, get yourself a cat.

I care.


Yours always (or at least since Mean Girls),

C, PhD

PS - Don't forget to use spell-check.

Dr C's Celebrity Help Column

Lede of the Year

Josh Marshall gets my nomination for this gem:

It's been weeks since a prominent conservative institution has been rocked by scandal, so I suppose we were due for a story like this one.

From the Justin Juozapavicius Associated Press story:
...Oral Roberts University President Richard Roberts, says God is speaking again, telling him to deny lurid allegations in a lawsuit that threatens to engulf this 44-year-old Bible Belt college in scandal.

Richard Roberts is accused of illegal involvement in a local political campaign and lavish spending at donors' expense, including numerous home remodeling projects, use of the university jet for his daughter's senior trip to the Bahamas, and a red Mercedes convertible and a Lexus SUV for his wife, Lindsay.

She is accused of dropping tens of thousands of dollars on clothes, awarding nonacademic scholarships to friends of her children and sending scores of text messages on university-issued cell phones to people described in the lawsuit as "underage males."

Modern right-wing Christianity is a lot more entrepreneurial than evangelical, I think, and Roberts, Dobson, Robertson and their ilk who have made fortunes peddling it owe a lot more to indulgence peddling medieval bishops than to the Man from Galilee.

I think God might be speaking to me too:

Past due time to scourge the money changers from the Temple.

Levy on Mearsheimer and Walt

Israeli policy analyst Daniel Levy has written a long and insightful review of M&W for Haaretz and Talking Points Memo. He previews his article:

To briefly set out my stall: while I certainly take issue with the specific recent policy examples in the book (Iraq and Syria in particular), I would argue that the relationship between the US, Israel and the lobby that speaks in its name needs to change for everyone’s sake, that this book contributes to a re-think and that the authors are not driven by prejudice.

His main criticisms of M&W (to me) are the following: M&W underestimate the role, influence and relative power of Christian Fundamentalists in the Israel Lobby, they overly conflate the IL with the neocons, and they exaggerate the continuity from pre-Bush to Bush.

As to the first, he notes the oddity of House Speaker Richard Armey (a Christian fundamentalist) declaring: "my number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel." How odd is it that a leading official in the government of one country could make such a declaration about another? One can imagine the outcry if Nancy Pelosi were to make such a statement about Mexico, Canada, or France. Levy also notes:

The main Christian pro-Israel lobby group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has grown exponentially in recent years. It is fanatical in its devotion and politically way over to the right, channeling millions annually to support settlements.


I was equally impressed by his comments on the neocons:

The neocons are a tight-knit group of ultra-hawks, favoring unilateral projection of U.S. power as a benign hegemon. They are predominantly, though not exclusively, Jewish, congregate around certain think tanks and publications (notably the American Enterprise Institute and The Weekly Standard, respectively) and are most associated with the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), which set out their goals in the 1990s. After 2000, neocons took up key positions in the Bush administration. Walt and Mearsheimer place them four-square inside the Israel lobby. The reality seems more complicated than that. Many leading neocons, by their own admission, care greatly about Israel, but they want to impose their policy, not follow Jerusalem's. Unlike, for instance, AIPAC, which takes its lead from the Israeli government, and then tends to give it an extra twist to the right, the neocons adhere to a rigid ideological dogma and are not afraid to confront a government in Jerusalem they view as too "soft."

The view that sees neocons as spearheading the Israel lobby position under Bush has serious flaws. It is more likely that the neocons co-opted the Israel lobby, and Israel itself, to their own vision of regional transformation. This is more PNAC than AIPAC.

His view that things took a rightward (if nonetheless sinister) turn with the accession of Bush naturally finds a ready audience in me.

In the world of the ultra-plutocrat, one or a few super-rich individuals can steer the policy of a huge nation, especially a nation whose politicians are forced to spend most of their lives hustling campaign contributions. He mentions the role of Sheldon Adelson, gambling and real estate mega-billionaire - the third richest American.

Freedom’s Watch and the push for a military attack on Iran has an eerie familiarity about it. Just look at who the prime donor and mover behind Freedom’s Watch is – Sheldon Adelson – close ally of Bibi Netanyahu who has poured millions into a pro-Bibi daily paper in Israel...

The whole article is well worth a read. It gave me a more balanced view of M&W's subject.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Softly and Silently...

A favorite but mercurial blogger has given some signals that he is yet again giving up blogging. The estimable, amusing, insightful and frequently idiosyncratic Dr. Beirl has left a couple of posts that seem to have that implication. Each is a bit hard to decipher, at least for me. This one seems especially obscure to me, partly because it is in German, but mainly, I suspect, because I don't know the reference. The other has some mordant humor, but seems a bit more direct - and it is in English.

I will miss him, and hope he reconsiders if he can.

Heh, Heh, Heh

Paul Krugman goes looking for the soul of conservatism:


In 1960, John F. Kennedy, who had been shocked by the hunger he saw in West Virginia, made the fight against hunger a theme of his presidential campaign. After his election he created the modern food stamp program, which today helps millions of Americans get enough to eat.

But Ronald Reagan thought the issue of hunger in the world’s richest nation was nothing but a big joke. Here’s what Reagan said in his famous 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing,” which made him a national political figure: “We were told four years ago that 17 million people went to bed hungry each night. Well, that was probably true. They were all on a diet.”

He notes:

Of course, minimizing and mocking the suffering of others is a natural strategy for political figures who advocate lower taxes on the rich and less help for the poor and unlucky. But I believe that the lack of empathy shown by Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Kristol, and, yes, Mr. Bush is genuine, not feigned.

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of “The Bush Dyslexicon,” once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms — “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family,” and so on — have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people . . .

I guess that George is just being punished for not listening to his inner scumbag.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Beyond Disgust

So why won't Hillary and Obama condemn the war and move to prevent Bush from bombing Iran? Jon Wiener of HuffPost talks to Seymour Hersh:

I recently spoke with Hersh, whose new piece, "Target Iran," is featured in The New Yorker this week.

When I asked Hersh who wants to bomb Iran, he said, "Ironically there is a lot of pressure coming from Democrats. Hillary Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have all said we cannot have a nuclear-armed Iran. Clearly the pressure from Democrats is a reflection of - we might as well say it - Israeli and Jewish input." He added the obvious: "a lot of money comes to the Democratic campaigns" from Jewish contributors

So the Democrats "oh we are just too weak to stop the bad Bushies" is just a pose? No wonder Americans hate Congress as much as they hate Bush.

Dear Diary

Arthur Schlesinger Jr. asked two of his sons to publish his diaries posthumously, and, according to Newsweek, they have some good gossip from the old guy.

My personal favorites are from Henry Kissinger:

On Bush senior: "a very petty man"

On Rumsfeld: "the rottenest person he had known in government."

I knew that, and I never met either of them.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hersh on Iran

Listened to Sy Hersh talking about the Bush Administration plans to start a war with Iran The intel and military people talk to him, he says, because they figure Bush is nuts, and they want to try to stop the ensuing catastrophe. That, I guess, is the only ray of hope here.

So who is for war? Cheney, of course, maybe Bush, the usual neocon Nazis (Norman Podhoretz, Bill Kristol, etc.), most Republican Candidates, and, of course, Freedom's Watch, the conglomerate of megarich Cheney friends and names they won't disclose).

Put the heat on Obama and Hillary to denounce these "Swift Boaters for War."

Monday, October 01, 2007

Litmus Test

Be it resolved that any initiation of hostilities against Iran or Syria without explicit authorization by Congress is an illegal usurpation of a power constitutionally reserved to the Congress, and further, that any such order to our military is an unlawful order which must not be obeyed.


How about it Dems? If you are against war with Iran, put your vote where your mouth is.

Go ahead, put in a few carefully structured exceptions - specifically excluding the kind of BS we have been hearing about Iran supplying IEDs to Iraqi insurgents - if that is the case, let the President show it in open Congressional debate. Make it clear that starting a war on your own is treason against the Constitution.