Showing posts from June, 2008

The Unnecessary War

Churchill was a hero of my youth, based mainly on my reading of his autobiography and his history of WW II. I have since come to have a better appreciation of his flaws and errors, but I was still intrigued when I saw the sublead on the Christopher Hitchen's Review of Pat Buchanan's new book: Revisionists say that World War II was unnecessary. They're wrong . Buchanan's book, Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War , according to Hitchens, argues that: That Germany was faced with encirclement and injustice in both 1914 and 1939. Britain in both years ought to have stayed out of quarrels on the European mainland. That Winston Churchill was the principal British warmonger on both occasions. The United States was needlessly dragged into war on both occasions. That the principal beneficiaries of this were Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. That the Holocaust of European Jewry was as much the consequence of an avoidable war as it was of Nazi racism. I have no interest in Buchan

Weak Sisters

Saudi Arabia is fabulously wealthy, so why hasn't it used more of its wealth to provide itself with minimal self-defense? My answer is in multiple parts: Israel, the US, and the Monarchy. Israel clearly wants to keep the Saudis weak, and the US government is largely controlled by Israel in such matters. Still, the Saudis have had a few trillion in disposable income this past quarter century or so, so you would think they could find somebody who would sell them a decent Air Force. I suspect that the ultimate reason they have not is the Monarchy's fear that a strong military might prove fatally inconvenient to them. Ditto the mullahs. Consequently, Saudi Arabia remains flyover country for the Israeli Air Force. Iran has been hobbled by the sanctions imposed on it, but the role of the Russians is pivotal. They may not relish the idea of a nuclear armed Iran next door, but they have also got to be nervous about US force projection in Iraq. They have signalled this by selling

Israel and Its Enemies

The US has been talking up a big exercise , suposedly a dress rehearsal for an attack on Iran's nuclear capabilities. The fact that the US is talking about it suggests that this has more to do with bluster than operations. In the latest sign of escalating tension over Tehran's alleged nuclear program, Israel held a massive military exercise this month that involved the types of warplanes, distances and maneuvers required for airstrikes on Iran, according to senior U.S. officials. The mock operation reflected a growing policy schism over Iran among major international players at a time when U.S. politics may freeze major decisions until a new administration is in place, its officials are confirmed and a policy review is complete. More than 100 Israeli warplanes -- including F-15s and F-16s, refueling tankers and helicopters for pilot rescue -- were involved in the military exercise, which was first reported by the New York Times yesterday. Israeli warplanes flew as much as 900

Torture Incorporated

Wolfgang notes his surprise that there was not more resistance to the torture and murder of sometimes innocent suspects carried out by the Bush administration. I, unfortunately, was less surprised. Once you have convinced someone that killing people for a living is his or her profession, going beyond is not so difficult. We see this in many wars. In some, it's incidental violence, in others it is part of official policy. That's why we hung Nazi and Japanese military and officials after World War II. It is an unfortunate fact that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Haynes, et. al. are unlikely to end up at the end of a rope, or even in long term confinement, but they certainly deserve to.


I haven't posted much lately, and probably won't post at all after tomorrow for a week or so. I will be off the net on family business.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

The Universe is well populated with catastrophic hazards. Wandering black holes, supernovae, gamma-ray bursters, intergalactic collisions that spray a whole galaxy with radiation, not to mention the more prosaic collision with an asteroid. One thing these have in common is that there isn't anything we can do about them - though in a few decades we might be able to deal with a wandering comet or asteroid that has our number, if it announces itself well in advance. UPDATE: Bee has some thoughts. See link at Blogroll. On the other hand, there are the disaster we bring on ourselves. Most of the common epidemic diseases that plagued us for thousands of years - measeles, smallpox, etc., we got from the animals we domesticated. Even the modern scourge of AIDS was contracted from monkees. We also have a bad habit of devastating the ecosystem. The Native American immigrants to America of 13000 years ago promptly killed off a lot of the big game - elephants, camels, giant beaver, hors


Dennis Overbye reports in the New York Times today that the Large Hadron Collider won't destroy the Earth, at least according to a panel of expert physicists who did the study for CERN. A new particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider scheduled to go into operation this fall outside Geneva, is no threat to the Earth or the universe, according to a new safety review approved Friday by the governing council of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or Cern, which is building the collider. “There is no basis for any concerns about the consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be produced by the LHC,” five physicists who comprised the safety assessment group wrote in their report. Whatever the collider will do, they said, Nature has already done many times over. The report is here Of course as physicists, the panel members are hardly objective outsiders. Though there are some other things that we are doing that look more likely to me to destr

Hack Attack

Not so long ago, the not totally stupid 1/20th of David Brooks' split personality veered oddly into a critique of the sacred Republican creed of 'borrow and spend.' Perhaps he found the severed head of his pet gerbil in his bed the next morning, or something, because he is solidly back in the hackateria today, with a somewhat odd attack on somebody he calls "Fast Eddie Obama." It's a typical Faux/Newscorpse steaming pile, long on invective and short on facts. Brooks reserves his main criticism for Obama opting out of public financing, for reasons the Brooks, of course, is usually happy to embrace. Brooks pretends to think that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law was the "primary cause of his political life," and that Obama "sold it out" by declining public financing. This is an absurd interpretation of Obama, of course - he has been for public financing but has long been critical of McCain-Feingold. Brooks does have one good point:

Youth Movement

Republicans are talking about the need to put somebody like LA governor Bobby "The Exorcist" Jindal on the ticket to give McCain's ticket a more youthful look. I think that they are making a mistake. They don't need to pep up the ticket, they need to pep up their Presidential candidate. this guy is a proven conservative who could make McCain look, well, awake, by comparison.

Take From the Poor, Give to the Rich

The title, of course, is the McCain-Bush-Bush-Reagan-Greenspan Republicans always and forever tax policy. It has been an hugely successful policy - the past 28 years have seen an enormous transfer of wealth from the middle class and poor to the very rich. A perphaps unfortunate, but doubtless necessary, side effect has been an even larger transfer of wealth from the United States to Saudi Arabia, other oil exporters, and China. I was reminded of this as I watched CNN while on the treadmill at the gym. A panel was comparing the Obama and McCain tax proposals. Oddly enough, many of the panelists stuck to the facts, noting that McCains tax proposals consisted of tiny tax cuts for poor and middle class plus big tax cuts for the rich and very big tax cuts for the very rich, while those proposed by Obama had much larger tax cuts for the poor and middle class, small tax increases for the upper-upper middle class, and substantial tax increases for the rich and super rich. The ancient Repub

Tyranny 4, Constitution 5

The Supreme Court narrowly voted to uphold habeas corpus , the oldest civil liberty in English jurisprudence and a right specifically guaranteed in our Constitution. John McCain sided with Bush and the four fans of untrammeled executive power on the court against the Constitution, thus ensuring that the Republican Party continues to reject any genuinely conservative principle.

Where Were The Pitchforks?

Torches? .

Free Trade

Economists believe in free trade almost as much as physical scientists believe in the first and second laws of thermodynamics. Free trade, they believe, makes both partners in the trade better off. There is both theoretical and empirical support for this notion. The theoretical support, to the extent that I understand it, is based on Adam Smith’s idea of economy of scale and David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. It makes sense to produce capital intensive products in countries with abundant capital and labor intensive products in countries with abundant labor. The same notion underlies all trade – if I have more X than I need or want and less Y, and you have more Y than you want, but less X, we are each better off if I exchange my surplus X for your surplus Y. Tyler Cowen has a scorecard: More than 400 million Chinese climbed out of poverty between 1990 and 2004, according to the World Bank. India has become a rapidly growing economy, the middle class in Brazil and Mex

Religious Experience?

Jeff Dufour and Patrick Gavin report that Bush fired Rove in church . One is torn between "couldn't happen to a nicer guy" and "What an asshole."

Sunday Morning Gripe

Every once in a while I sample the Sunday Morning talking heads, just to reassure myself that there is nothing there. Today I tried CBS. Bob Schieffer is an amiable gnome who looks a bit older than his 110 years. Unfortunately, he is also an idiot. His first question to Hillary Capo Wolfson: "Hillary looked much more relaxed yesterday. Why do you think that is?" I didn't hear the answer, or any further questions.

OTG and the World

OK, I go off the grid for a lousy two days and the stock and oil markets go crazy. It does tend to feed my solipsist fantansies - not that the world is doing much better when I am plugged in. We took the Cumbres and Toltec narrow gauge railroad out of Chama, New Mexico yesterday and it was remarkably pleasant. This old style steam train is more Old West than Hogwart's Express and its pace up the four per cent grade to the 10,015 ft. summit (or cumbres) is slow enough to give mounted bandits plenty of time to catch up and jump aboard. After a week of mostly 100+ temperatures in the low lands, it was nice to see snow on the ground, a patchy inch or so from the previous day's snowfall with occasional two and three foot drifts still melting from last winter (when they were ten times that depth). Elk and deer were a common sight but scenic pride of place went to the mountain meadows and valleys where spring was busy with all its burgeoning greenery and trickling streamlets. In


You lost. Now get off the stage! If Obama ever considered putting her on the ticket, last night's display of deranged narcissism should be the clinching evidence that the Clintons cannot be trusted anywhere near power. Where are those bouncers who used to work for Jerry Springer?

What If?

When I was but a wee lad of five or six, so my mother has said, I liked to ask questions of the following sort: What would happen if a 300 mm cannon shell hit an elephant right smack in the tail? While researching another matter recently, I ran across an interesting parallel question: What would happen if a mini-black hole , say with a marble sized horizon, collided with the Earth at say 100, 000 mph? An awful lot of people who didn’t have a clue ventured answers. As it happens, a marble sized black hole (MSBH) ( 8 mm to 9.5 mm) is not particularly mini, though it is quite a bit smaller than those likely to be formed by astrophysical processes. Our MSBH would have a mass nearly the same as that of the Earth, so the gravitational forces would be roughly as disastrous for the Earth as an (exploding) 300 mm projectile would have been for my hypothetical elephant. How about a smaller mini, though, say one with a mass 1/10000 that of the Earth? The Schwarzschild Radius (SR) for Earth is ab

Darktown: The Color of Despair

Dennis Overbye has a nice "State of the Universe" report in today's NYT. Dark energy: it's a puzlement. “The discovery of dark energy has greatly changed how we think about the laws of nature,” said Edward Witten, a theorist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. This fall, NASA and the Department of Energy plan to invite proposals for a $600 million satellite mission devoted to dark energy. But some scientists fear that might not be enough. When astronomers and physicists gathered at the Space Telescope Science Institute recently to take stock of the revolution, their despair of getting to the bottom of the dark energy mystery anytime soon, if ever, was palpable, even as they anticipate a flood of new data from the sky in coming years. When it came time for one physicist to discuss new ideas about dark energy, he showed a blank screen. The institute’s director, Matt Mountain, said that dark energy had given this generation of astronomers a rare oppo

MoDo Reads McClellan

Maureen Dowd tries using her powers against the Dark Side. I'm impressed. It turns out that our president is a one-man refutation of Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “Blink,” about the value of trusting your gut. Every gut instinct he had was wildly off the mark and hideously damaging to all concerned. It seems that if you trust your gut without ever feeding your gut any facts or news or contrary opinions, if you keep your gut on a steady diet of grandiosity, ignorance, sycophants, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, those snap decisions can be ruinous. We already know What Happened, but it feels good to hear Scott say it. His conscience was spurred by hurt feelings. Author and subjects both get the MoDo treatment. You will not be surprised that Powell and Tenet get thumped. McClellan portrays himself as more the dupe.