Showing posts from August, 2007

Losing It

It's very hard to get out of a war, even a war that most know that you are losing. If you are a superpower, and your opponent is weak mini-state, the difficulty of extraction is greatly increased. An awful lot of people are certain to have a stake in continuing the war long after it becomes clear that the original goals can't be achieved, or can't be achieved at an acceptable cost. Foremost among those are the idiots who got you into the war in the first place, in our case, the President, the Congress, and the Neocon cabal. They aren't the only ones of course. For many, a war is a great moneymaking opportunity. For a partially outsourced war like Iraq, the opportunities are multiplied. All those who supply weapons, food, fuel, equipment, and contract mercenaries are making a killing, and they don't want the war to stop. The soldiers, though, are a key. In Vietnam, and in the Soviet disaster in Afghanistan, the soldiers were mostly draftees with little investm

Census Schmensus

Responding to a Debate in the Comments: A couple of years ago a Jewish relative of mine returned from a trip to Israel filled with enthusiasm for the country and its accomplishments. We fell to discussing the Palestinian question and she explained to me that the Arabs there were mostly immigrants, and that the country had been almost unoccupied when the Zionists started arriving. This seemed implausible to me - a fertile country, a stone's throw from the origins of early civilization, unoccupied and uncultivated. I started researching the question, and it quickly became clear that this had to be nonsense. In 1944, for example, the British survey found that 90% or more of the land was owned by Arabs, who produced an even larger proportion of the agricultural production. The notion that the land was unpopulated is also belied by the statistics; From census data: The Ottoman census of 1878 for Jerusalem, Acre, and Nablus showed 400,000 Muslims, 43,000 Christians, and 25,000 Jews, of w

Larry Craig's Explanation


Oddly Enough

I caught a bit of Scarborough Country on MSNBC, and they were discussing US Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and his bathroom exploits. The discussion mentioned Craig's actions as described by the arresting officer (repeatedly putting his eye up to the crack between door and stall to peek in, foot tapping and touching, etc.) At this point, Tucker Carlson mentioned that he had been bothered in a men's room. I suddenly remembered a road trip through Idaho a few decades ago. I was just trying to get comfortable on my seat in a restroom stall, when I noticed a small hole in the partition, and a creepy eye behind it. Being still a bit busy, I wadded up some toilet paper and stuffed it in the hole. This bought me only a little time, as the eye's finger poked it out - whereupon I fled and complained to the management, who allowed that they had indeed had a problem. Macho girl that he is, Tucker was more direct - at least in his account. He recruited a few friends and went b

Rules of the Game

Suffocating heat in the Southeastern US, floods in the midwest, calamitous fires in Europe and the drought stricken Western US, records broken every day in the disappearance of Arctic sea ice. Evidence of global warming? Except possibly for the sea ice, scientific caution suggests that it's too early to tell. Denialist nuts find proof for their doubt in one cool summer day in one city , but science can't afford to work that way. Cherry picking the evidence is a standard tactic of the dishonest in every endeavor, so the climate doubters are hardly an exception here. Extreme local weather events, taken in isolation, can't be evidence of global change, but they do serve a useful purpose in reminding us that reality can be ignored only at our peril. Some, of course, are notably slow learners.

Gay Deceivers

The Republican Party has been the stalwart defender of Christian virtue against the supposed evils of homosexuality, so why does it seem that the most conservative, anti-gay reactionaries keep turning out to be closeted Republican gays? Compulsive dishonesty about everything?

The Israel Lobby Again

From David Remnick's article The Lobby in The New Yorker : Last year, two distinguished political scientists, John J. Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard, published a thirty-four-thousand-word article online entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a shorter version of which appeared in The London Review of Books. Israel, they wrote, has become a “strategic liability” for the United States but retains its strong support because of a wealthy, well-organized, and bewitching lobby that has a “stranglehold” on Congress and American élites. Moreover, Israel and its lobby bear outsized responsibility for persuading the Bush Administration to invade Iraq and, perhaps one day soon, to attack the nuclear facilities of Iran. Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish a book-length version of Mearsheimer and Walt’s arguments on September 4th Remnick's short article is essentially an attack masqu


Michele Malkin is a right-wing crazy lady - hot but crazy. But she did sound positively shrill going through a list of the incompetent and unqualified cronies Bush has appointed to Homeland security positions. You know you are rotten if you're a Republican President and even Fox News is being driven shrill.

Bogus Bogus

I have a lot of legitimate gripes about Michael Chertoff, but rather than talk about them, let me note one really bugus claim that has a lot of currency on the internet: that he holds dual US and Israeli citizenship. The slender thread upon which this claim rests is the fact that his mother, an immigrant, may have held Israeli citizenship - she lived in Israel for a while, and was El Al Airline's first stewardess. Children of Israeli citizens are entitled to Israeli citizenship, even if born abroad. Chertoff was born in the United States, at least if you consider New Jersey the United States, and has never apparently asserted Israeli citizenship. Thus the claim is bogus, and moreover has an anti-semitic tinge. We have plenty of real complaints to raise about Chertoff - lets stick to them.

This is the Way the World Ends

A blasted post-apocalytic world of environmental catastrophe is the theme of many an SF story. Right now, China is taking the lead in exploring this particular scenario in real life. JOSEPH KAHN and JIM YARDLEY, writing in The New York Times take a close look today in a long story. No country in history has emerged as a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage that can take decades and big dollops of public wealth to undo. Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China’s leading cause of death, the Ministry of Health says. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Nearly 500 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Chinese cities often seem wrapped in a toxic gray shroud. Only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Beijing is frantically searching for a magic formula, a meteorological deus ex machina, to clear its skies for t

Consensus and Denial

The best know denialist movements have had a common thread: some powerful interest has promoted skepticism to protect itself. The messages they promote (tobacco doesn't cause cancer, the Holocaust didn't happen, natural selection has not been proven, anthropogenic global warming doesn't exist) all serve to protect somebody's profit or image (big tobacco, antisemites everywhere, big religion, big energy). It's pretty clear, though, that they also tap into something fundamental in human nature. People want their cigarettes, national mythologies, faith, and SUVs. Three of the four cases mentioned each have powerful corporate sponsorship. Another interesting case, where such sponsorship is far from obvious, is that of those who deny the connection between human immunodeficiency virus HIV and AIDS. Tara C. Smith and Steven P. Novella have an article on the subject in PLOS Medicine: HIV Denial in the Internet Era . (via DarkSyde at Daily Kos ) It may seem remarkable that,

Pro Israel

M J Rosenberg takes a look at what American presidential candidates have to do to avoid being "wrong" on Israel. He traces the origins of the phenomenon to the 1967 war and the resulting occupation of the West Bank. ...[I]t was only after the Six Day War of 1967, that both parties began exploiting the Israel issue with anything like the vigor – not to mention the nastiness – we see today. There is a certain irony here. In the first two decades after the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel -- when there were millions of Holocaust survivors still among us and Israel was truly fighting for its life -- it did not occur to ideologues and partisans within the pro-Israel or Jewish communities to use either as wedge issues to score political gain. That all changed after ’67. At the very moment when Israel was at its strongest, suddenly it became acceptable, even necessary, to defend Israel as never before. Of course, at this point, it was no longer Israel itself that was bein

Where the Undead are Buried

Like many, I found the recent turmoil in the financial markets both fascinating and puzzling. What happened, why, and especially, since everybody and their brother saw this particular train coming from a million miles away, why did markets seemingly get caught unawares? It seems that asset price bubbles are not exactly new phenomena in the world of finance (dot com, 1929, South Seas, tulip mania), and that people always see them coming, and that most still get caught in the avalanche. Partly that is kind of a deer in the headlights effect - people can't figure out which way to run. I saw this (or something) coming, for example, and took much of my 401K out of the S&P index fund - and put it in Euro-Pacific indices. Doh! Part of it is greed, part is stupidity, and, I'm guessing, part of it is old-fashioned swindle. So why the panic? Gillian Tett, writing in the Financial Times had a pretty clear view back in May. Once upon a time, it was presumed that the actions of cen

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Harvard's endowment increased in value by $5.7 billion dollars last year - or not quite $1.5 million per undergraduate. Somehow that makes it seem quite nervy for them to actually charge tuition.

The Flinch

Democrats were elected on a tidal wave of opposition to the war, especially as conducted by GW. They have now been in office for eight months, and what have they done? Zero. Nada. Zilch. Supposedly they were waiting on the Petraeus report, but suddenly the air is full of intimations of surrender. I posted on a couple earlier. There are more here and here . Democratic leaders in Congress had planned to use August recess to raise the heat on Republicans to break with President Bush on the Iraq war. Instead, Democrats have been forced to recalibrate their own message in the face of recent positive signs on the security front, increasingly focusing their criticisms on what those military gains have not achieved: reconciliation among Iraq's diverse political factions. And now the Democrats, along with wavering Republicans, will face an advertising blitz from Bush supporters determined to remain on offense. A new pressure group, Freedom's Watch, will unveil a month-long, $15 millio

Tour Bus

I'm off. Got to catch the interstellar tour bus .

Valentine's Day

NPR went all out to hand Bush a double early Valentine today. First a story claiming that a growing consensus in Washington has concluded that "the surge is working." They hauled out Michael O'Hanlon of the "center-left" Brookings Institution for his usual line of crap (though they did concede that his billing as an anti-war Democrat might be "slightly misleading"). Next was US Representative Bryan Baird (D - Wash) who had voted against the war before he was for it. He thinks we need another Friedman Unit or two before we can start to pull back a little. It's like being the prosecuting attorney at one of those old Mafia trials. All your witnesses suddenly seem to have developed terrible memories. Hillary seems to be ramping up her pro-war rhetoric as well - is the fix really already in? Somebody at least seems to be working at giving the impression.

Today's Lesson in Human Relations

If you are paranoid enough, people will start plotting against you.


From u·su·fruct /ˈyuzʊˌfrʌkt, -sʊ-, ˈyuzyʊ-, ˈyus-/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[yoo-zoo-fruhkt, -soo-, yooz-yoo-, yoos-]–noun Roman and Civil Law. The right of enjoying all the advantages derivable from the use of something that belongs to another, as far as is compatible with the substance of the thing not being destroyed or injured. [Origin: 1620–30; I put up this definition, since usufruct is not a very common word for non-lawyers, and since my source for the subject misinterpreted the word to read the key text exactly backwards. Jefferson declares clearly that everything about these resources should be decided by the people who live at the particular moment. The Earth belongs to them in "usufruct". This misinterpretation was apparently intended to aid his attack against James Hansen's article: The Real Deal: Usufruct & the Gorilla , which discusses the tactics and objectives of the climate deniers and their paymasters. In part

Johnny Freedomseed

The preposterous new meme being pushed by the President and the clown show at the Washington Post is that Bush had a "vision of ending global tyranny" that stalled "in a bureaucratic and geopolitical morass." Give me a f****** break. This from a guy who has done his best to install and practice tyranny in the US and who never met a dictator he didn't like. Peter Baker's article begins with: By the time he arrived in Prague in June for a democracy conference, President Bush was frustrated. He had committed his presidency to working toward the goal of "ending tyranny in our world," yet the march of freedom seemed stalled. Just as aggravating was the sense that his own government was not committed to his vision. As he sat down with opposition leaders from authoritarian societies around the world, he gave voice to his exasperation. "You're not the only dissident," Bush told Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leader in the resistance to Egyptian Presi

Can't Dance

Hairspray , the movie. The music wasn't bad, and the Tracy actress could sing. The good news sort of ends there. I tried to overlook the movie's shallow racial pieties - it was a musical after all. John Travolta has been entertaining in a wide variety of movies. Unfortunately, his turn here as Jabba the Hut (or something) isn't one of them. Michelle Pfeiffer, luckily enough, was pretty much unrecognizable as the villainous villainess. Christopher Walken did what he could with what he had to work with. More serious was the lack of any discernable wit. This kind of movie really does need to be funny. Catastrophically for a movie about a dance contest, there was very little good dancing on display. Why not, I wonder? I suppose I was spoiled. I happened to catch a little bit of an old Gene Kelly movie the other day.

The Iraqi Branch of Hezbollah

Brad DeLong quotes Andrew Sullivan who quotes Michael Totten : One reason the surge is "working" in bringing some peace to some areas in Iraq: there's a truce between Shia soldiers who have infiltrated the Iraq military under US command and the Shia militias. Duh. Totten sees beneath the spin here: I went inside the Tactical Operations Center and spoke to the Public Affairs Officer. "What can I help you with, Mike?" he said. "I want an on-the-record interview with Military Intelligence," I said. "Why?" he said. I told him what I had heard. "I can print rumor or fact," I said. He got me the interview. Master Sergeant Jeffrey K. Tyler met with me privately. "It's true," he said. "Many of the Iraqi Army soldiers here are supporters of JAM.” JAM is military shorthand for Jaysh al Mahdi, or Moqtada al Sadr's radical Shia Mahdi Army militia. "They aren't in JAM cells necessarily, but they are sympathizers


Hurricane Dean is the first hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic season and it is already a very large and powerful category four storm with peak wind gusts of 180 miles per hour (145 sustained). It will likely be a category five tomorrow and Jamaica is squarely in the cross hairs for a direct hit. It is still too early to tell what it will look like in the Gulf - that will depend on the interaction with land in the Yucatan pennisula and other factors, with the worst case (for the Gulf and the US)likely to be passage of the eye through passage between Mexico and Cuba with little land interaction. Details here from Weather Underground.

Nothing to See Here Folks

So say our denier friends. Unless maybe you were hoping to be able to kayak to the North Pole this year. You might be able to come pretty close. With a good month still left in the melt season, Arctic sea ice reached a record low this week. Compare the white space with the median August ice line (pink). For a look at your kayaking prospects, check out the cool North Pole webcams. (via Jeff Master's Wunderblog )

Eat Like a Geek

Actually, I think that the original meaning of "geek" was the guy in the carnival who bit the head off a live chicken, but that's not our subject here. Julianne Dalcanton of Cosmic Variance has this post on how to eat like a geek : How do you eat your candy? Julianne at 7:45 am, August 14th, 2007 My temporary officemate runs down to the vending machine and buys a bag of gummi bears. He dumps them on the desk, sorts them by color, and then procedes to eat them in order of increasing bin size (i.e. the pile of 1 orange one, then the pile of 3 yellow ones, then the pile of 4 green ones, etc). If I buy a bag of M&M’s, I sort them by color, then figure out a division that lets me arrange them in a triangle, with one color per horizontal row, but allowing colors to be repeated (i.e. it’s ok for 9 red M&M’s to show up as a row of 7, and then further up, a row of 2). I then eat off each diagonal, producing a progressively smaller triangle, but one that maintains the ho

Conspiracy Theory

Before Bush, I was always one to pooh pooh conspiracy theories. The Bushies ability to transcend irony in self-caricature has made me a believer, though. Cheney is type cast as the sinister sociopath at the core. Gareth Porter, writing in The Huffington Post , has some new slants on Cheney's long time itch for a fight with Iran. Joe Lieberman figures in the story as well, playing the role of the amiable priest with a shiv up his sleeve. I was never one of those who believed the Bush administration was getting ready to attack Iran in 2006 or early 2007. But it is now clear that at least Vice President Dick Cheney is conspiring to push through a specific plan for war with Iran. And Senator Joe Lieberman is an active part of that conspiracy. We have known for a long time that Cheney wants a major air attack on Iranian nuclear sites and other military and economic targets. But an August 9 story published by McClatchy newspapers reveals that, instead of waiting for a decision to go a

The Israel Lobby

A major political storm is brewing over a new book. The New York Times has a review of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. A hint of the incendiary quality: “Now that the cold war is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States,” they write. “Yet no aspiring politician is going to say so in public or even raise the possibility” because the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful. They credit the lobby with shutting down talks with Syria and with moderates in Iran, preventing the United States from condemning Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon and with not pushing the Israelis hard enough to come to an agreement with the Palestinians. They also discuss Christian Zionists and the issue of dual loyalty. Opponents are prepared. Also being released on Sept. 4 is “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control” (Palgrave Macmillan) by Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. The notion that pro-Israel groups “have anything

Quant Mechanics

The Statistical Mechanic talks about hard times for Rocket Science , Wall Street style. It seems that the current financial turmoil has hit the "Quants" hard. Wolfgang: I would call it the "quant finance crisis" and there certainly is big trouble in several hedge funds and all kinds of quantitative strategies [*]. As somebody mentioned today, "the last 5 days have been the worst for statistical arbitrage strategies in the last 20 years". This is of course the area of finance where mathematicians, econo-physicists (= physicists who could not get a hep job 8-) and many other smart 'rocket scientists' operate. I wrote about them some time ago, "May the new theories and models of risk prevent us all from meeting the black swan...". Well, of course they did not and so we witness once again the well-known phase transition from investors interested in return on their money, to investors interested only in the return of their money. Brad DeLong

Karl Rove

The WSJ reports this morning that Karl Rove is resigning. If that story is behind the wall, The WaPo has the story here . Rove is alleged to own a dungeon and well-concealed coffin in an undisclosed region of Texas. He plans to write, teach, and wait for the next dark age.


The always insightful Bee asks a deep question : Our perception of beauty has developed with evolution. What reason do we have to believe it is good guidance to understand the fundamental laws of nature? The astounding thing is that, so far, it has been good guidance indeed. We can't be sure that that will continue - maybe the string theory landscape is all there is. Why should it be the case that there exists in the universe "the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in understanding the physical world," as Eugene Wigner put it? Nobody knows the answer, I suspect. But, as the leaper said after passing 90 stories of the 100 story building: So far, so good. PS: Bee's post was grossly distorted and criticized by You know Who, and a response by Bee earned her the coveted Deleted by LM award.


America's Physics Olympians scored a respectable tie for third at the World Physics Olympiad , winning two gold medals and three silvers in Iran recently. The WaPo has several nice stories on the US contestants.

Both Sides Now

Overdue for Newsweek to Lose the Egregiously Dishonest Robert Samuelson. Last week Newsweek ran a great news cover story on the continuing efforts of the global warming deniers to obscure, obfuscate, and lie about the evidence of anthropogenic global warming. This uncharacteristic feat of journalistic honesty must have rankled some of the dinosaurs lurking in the WaPo's icy journamalistic heart, because this week Robert Samuelson employs his column in the same magazine to attack the piece. The attack is striking mainly for the blatant dishonesty of its approach, though that's hardly a surprise to those who have watched Samuelson, bob, weave, and distort to the wing-nut tune these many years. Samuelson says: The story was a wonderful read, marred only by its being fundamentally misleading. So, exactly how was it "fundamentally misleading?" Samuelson next spends four paragraphs avoiding the question with a riff on an at best peripherally related but interesting ques

Rudy, Hero of 9/11

As Mayor, Rudy Giuliani insisted on locating the emergency control center in the World Trade Center, despite the fact that the WTC had already been the target of terrorist attacks. He wanted the poshly appointed center close to his office, it seems. For one thing, before he acknowledged his adultery during his second marriage, he used it for assignations with his then girlfriend, Judith Nathan. Rudy Giuliani got into a little hot water by claiming that he spent more time at ground zero than the rescue and recovery workers. Sometimes a clarifying follow-up question can help clarify things. Perhaps he was including the (pre 9/11) time spent screwing his mistress there.

This Week in Denial

There was great joy along the river when indefatigable statistician (and denier) Steve McKintire discovered an anomaly in the GISS data. He reported it to NASA and recalculations were made. The result, hailed by denialist bloggers, talk show hosts, and the benighted everywhere, was that 1934, in the United States, which had previously been a statistically insignificant 0.01 C cooler than 1998, was now a still statistically insignificant 0.02 C warmer than 1998. This, according to the usual suspects, was proof that global warming was a myth, that James Hansen should be fired or worse, and that the Earth was indeed flat, as they had known all along. Now it is true that 1934, like 1998, was indeed very hot - it was the height of the dust bowl, and much of the Southcentral US was blowing away. It's also true that, as usual, our river dwelling friends don't seem to grasp the meaning of the word "global" in the phrase "global warming." The global trends were

The Kindness of Strangers

Like Blanche Dubois, the US has become financially dependent on the kindness of strangers. Brad Setser takes a look at this in The balance of financial terror, circa August 9, 2007 , quoting extensively from Former Treasury Secretary (and former Harvard President) Larry Summers: Back in early 2004, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers highlighted the emergence of what he termed the "balance of financial terror." China – and others – relied on the US for demand that their economies were not generating internally, and the US depended on China – and others – for financing. Summers defined the balance of financial terror as: "a situation where we [in the US] rely on the cost to others of not financing our current account deficit as assurance that financing will continue." China now holds about a trillion dollars in US debt - equivalent to 1/3 of its GDP. China's growing dollar holdings, in turn, finance much of the US current account deficit. Summers n

Amazing Money Secrets of the Super Rich!?

Buy low, sell high; get an effective monopoly on something in high demand; be lucky. So far, not too amazing, but these ideas explain a lot. The richest man in the world today, Mexico's Carlos Slim, built his fortune on monopolies. Some of these he acquired by shrewd business deals, some he acquired through sweetheart political deals, and others he got through various techniques of suppressing rivals. The sixty billion dollars or so he's worth is about 7% of Mexico's GDP - proportionately more of the economy than Rockefeller, Morgan, and Carnegie at their peak. His wealth has put him beyond any political power, save his own. Rockefeller, Carnegie, and others used similar tactics to achieve a similar result. Bill Gates had slightly different tactics, but the money machine was the same: an effective monopoly that allowed him to build millions of software products and sell them dear. The WalMart story looks different. The Waltons built their empire in a commodity marke

Coffee Anyone?

Memo to Self: Lose the Diet Soda Not a surprise, but still a disappointment: Do Diet Foods Lead to Weight Gain? Well yes, says this Time article: If you think you're cutting calories by eating diet or low-calorie versions of your favorite foods, think again. A new study by Canadian scientists published in the journal Obesity suggests that our bodies can't be fooled that easily. Other studies reported in the same article say: Two years ago, scientists at the University of Texas reported in an eight-year study that for every can of diet soda that a person drank, he raised his risk of being overweight by 41%, compared to a 30% increase in drinkers of regular, sugared drinks. Earlier this year, another study of diet-soda drinkers came to a similar conclusion, this time about metabolic syndrome, the dangerous constellation of risk factors, such as obesity, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, that increases the likelihood of heart disease. In this report, part of the 60-year-o

China's Other Nuclear Option

From the Standard: China threatens 'nuclear option' of dollar sales . The Chinese government has begun a concerted campaign of economic threats against the United States, hinting that it may liquidate its vast holding of US treasuries if Washington imposes trade sanctions to force a yuan revaluation. Two officials at leading Communist Party bodies have given interviews in recent days warning - for the first time - that Beijing may use its $1.33 trillion (£658bn) of foreign reserves as a political weapon to counter pressure from the US Congress. Shifts in Chinese policy are often announced through key think tanks and academies. Described as China's "nuclear option" in the state media, such action could trigger a dollar crash at a time when the US currency is already breaking down through historic support levels. I think this is less of a "nuclear option" than a mention of the obvious fact that China has a firm grip on one of our most vulnerable organs. U

Republican for President

The last bunch of Republicans turned out to be crooks. What can we hope for from the next? On the evidence, gross hypocrisy, with hints of lunacy. For today's consideration, John McCain of Arizona, Senator, former naval aviator, long time prisoner of war in Vietnam, former straight talker and current sell-out. After falling foul of the law and ethics through his involvement with Arizona's anti-pornography crusader and savings and loan swindler Charles Keating, McCain got religion and crusaded against lobbyists influence and pork barrel politics. Until he decided he needed the support of the Christian right and its devotion to lobbying. Standard politics so far. What qualifies McCain as a genuine lunatic are his pronouncements on war. This is a man whose fond vision is of war unending. Josh Marshall looked at his pronouncements in the Iowa debate: McCain said that the fight against militant Islam is the calling or fight of our generation, or something to that effect --

Ants in the Kitchen

I caught a little bit of Edward O Wilson being interviewed on CSPAN. He had evidently been talking about the ecological crisis of habitat destruction, but was now answering questions called or emailed in. Besides being an expert of ecology, Wilson is of course a pre-eminent expert on ants, so the last question came in by email: "What to do about ants in the kitchen." His reply (more or less): Watch where you step. Be careful of tiny lives. Feed them small bits of peanut butter and a little honey. Watch them carefully through a magnifying glass and see how they make their living. You will see a life as interesting and strange as you could expect to find on another planet.

Republicans vs. Islam

I caught a bit of the Republican Debate this morning - not much before my gag reflex took over - and one recurring theme was that we are "in a war with militant Islam" (Brownback) or a war against "Islamic extremism."(Tancredo) This strikes me as an extraordinary and dangerous propaganda line, one that even Bush has rarely crossed. There is a gigantic step between a war against terrorists who have attacked America and a war against "militant Islam," but there is only a tiny step between a war against militant Islam and a war against Islam in toto. Because it would be very easy for a war against militant Islam to become a war against Islam, and because it is highly unlikely that any other country except perhaps Israel would join us in such a war, it would be very perilous. The US is much stronger than all the Islamic countries in the world combined, so that isn't the problem. However, such a war would have to be a war of extermination or at least t

Franco's Labyrinth

This post by John Holbo of Crooked Timber inspired intense pangs of jealous envy. The comments are also very interesting. I too believe that Pan's Labyrinth had a happy ending.

Evolutionary Biology of Self-Deception

UPDATE: I have changed the title to the present one (from "Misinformation Theory") which I consider more appropriate. I have read a little bit on what others have had to say about this topic, but haven't seen my particular point in any readings. I followed the hint from Tom Paine's comment. Information is now more available than it has ever been before, so are we better informed than we used to be? Well maybe. There are some problems. For one thing, there are limits on the speed with which we can absorb information and the amount of information we can retain. For another, the same technology that permits rapid dissemination of information also permits rapid dissemination of misinformation. There is nothing new about deception, either. As a species we have always been good liars. One of the oddest forms of deception is self-deception. It's pretty easy to see the possible evolutionary advantages of being able to deceive others, but what could be the percent

String Terrorist?

The organization for which I work loves training. An occasional subject is the topic of work place and other threats. The typical wacko who shoots up a business, school, or workplace usually has a considerable history of hostile and threatening behavior before he (it's almost always a he)comes in with guns blazing. Consequently, they say, the death threat, even if made in in a casual or seemingly facetious manner, is a bright red line which should never be ignored. Obviously there are exceptions - a friend may say to another "I'll kill you if you do that," and usually it's no more than an expression of disapproval. When the threat comes from a hostile individual, especially one with a history of somewhat unbalanced behavior, the situation is quite different. Which brings me to the somewhat embarassing topic at hand. Our fellow blogger Lubos has gotten in trouble for threats before. When he rather indirectly threatened Peter Woit (I think the words were: &q