Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What if Microsoft Designed iPod Packaging....

A parody full of wisdom.

Athens blogging...Day 3...

"All phenomena that arise do so as a result of causes. The Perfected One has shown what the causes are, and also how all phenomena may be brought to an end by eliminating those causes."

Many causes today. Many pheomena.

Just practice.

Speaking of classified (formerly) stuff...

The National Security Archive at GWU is fascinating reading.

Much more interesting than that horrid book I bought below.

For example, read all about Luis Posada...

Juicy conspiracy stuff...

Mmmmm...Where did Timothy McVeigh get his money? And other questions...it looks like the OK City bombing was a bigger conspiracy than we've been told...

We now know, from court records and official documents, that at least two undercover operatives were gathering information on Timothy McVeigh and a group of like-minded white supremacists in the early spring of 1995, one of whom gave her government handlers specific information about a plan to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

We know that, after the bombing, the government expended considerable energy trying to track down a John Doe 2 and other possible accomplices of McVeigh and Terry Nichols -- the "others unknown" cited in the federal indictment -- before abruptly changing tack nine months later and insisting that McVeigh was the lone mastermind behind the attack and, eventually, that no one else other than Nichols had been involved.

And we know that, as the lone-bomber theory has come under increasingly skeptical scrutiny in recent years, the FBI and other federal agencies have expended considerable energy blocking access to their investigative paper trail. When one of the government informants from the spring of 1995 went public about her role, she found herself prosecuted -- unsuccessfully -- for allegedly harboring her own bomb plots; she has since gone to ground, too afraid to say more. At least one key government official, the state medical examiner in Oklahoma City, has indicated he was not given key information he needed to do his job. And one of the senior FBI agents involved in the early stages of the bombing probe now believes that enough new evidence has come to the surface from the files of his own agency to warrant a new federal grand jury investigation.

Perhaps most unnerving is the trail of dead bodies that has turned up over the past decade under less than transparent circumstances. A neo-Nazi bank robber called Richard Guthrie, one of the leading John Doe 2 candidates -- though never publicly identified as such -- was found hanging in a prison cell in July 1996. Kenney Trentadue, a man who looked very much like Guthrie, right down to a snake-motif tattoo on one arm, and appears to have been mistaken for him when he was picked up on a parole violation on the Mexican border in the summer of 1995, wound up bloodied and traumatized from head to toe in his cell at a federal detention facility in Oklahoma City. The feds claimed he hanged himself. An inmate who later came forward and claimed he witnessed Trentadue being beaten to death by his interrogators was himself found hanging in a federal prison cell in 2000.

The person who has done most of the recent work in unmasking the mysteries of Oklahoma City is Kenney Trentadue's brother Jesse, a Salt Lake City lawyer who has not only fought to have his brother's death recognized as murder, not suicide, but is also suing the FBI to release a trove of documents that might shed light on the links among McVeigh, Guthrie and a group of Guthrie's associates widely suspected -- at least outside the confines of the Justice Department -- of being McVeigh's bombing accomplices.

Jesse Trentadue has been all over the federal government like a bad case of lice ever since the authorities at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City unsuccessfully tried to arrange for Kenney's battered body to be cremated before the family had had a chance to look at it or even learn what kind of injuries he had sustained. He not only insisted on the family taking receipt of the body, he has also raised question after question about the government's credibility. Jesse has gotten a prison guard to admit under oath that he lied when he testified about seeing Kenney hanging by a bedsheet, gotten the authorities to admit they never told the medical examiner's office that someone else's blood was found in Kenney's cell, and cast compelling doubt on the suicide note Kenney supposedly scrawled in pencil on his cell wall saying he had lost his mind.

Read the whole thing...

Yeah, it's OK to blame Janet Reno and John Ashcroft over this one...

Monday, February 27, 2006

China: back to the old days...and a ridiculous post by Carter...

This article from the International Herald Tribune is well worth reading; it portends a return to the eras when China was the preeminent power in the world, and didn't need anyone from anyone else, thank you...

hina has such a huge stash of other countries' money that it could, in theory, give bonuses equaling half a year's wages to all 770 million of its famously low-paid workers.

China will soon release statistics showing that it has passed Japan as the biggest holder of foreign currency the world has ever seen. Its reserves already exceed $800 billion and are on track to reach $1 trillion by the end of the year, up from just under $4 billion in 1989. But China has held a similar position before...

History offers parallels to the yawning U.S. trade deficit and the resulting accumulation of dollars in China. China sells to American companies almost six times as much as it buys from them, but this is not the first time China has been an export powerhouse. Ancient Rome, for example, found that it had little except glass that China wanted to buy. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Pliny complained about the eastward flow of Roman gold along the Silk Road in exchange for Chinese silk.

Long-distance trade collapsed during the early years of the Dark Ages. But through the next several periods of rapid growth in international commerce - from 600 to 750, from 1000 to 1300 and from 1500 to 1800 - China again tended to run very large trade surpluses. By 1700, Europe was paying with silver for as much as four-fifths of its imports from China because China was interested in little that Europe manufactured.

A longstanding mystery for economic historians lies in how so much silver and gold flowed to China for centuries for the purchase of Chinese goods yet caused little inflation in China. Many of China's manufactured goods remained much cheaper than those from other countries until the early 1800s, despite the rapidly growing supply of silver in the Chinese economy. One theory is that Chinese output was expanding as fast as the supply of precious metal. Another is that the Chinese were saving the silver and gold, not spending it.

The same phenomenon has appeared today, as dollars inundating China have resulted in practically no increase in prices for most goods and services - although real estate prices have jumped in most cities. China has an even easier time preventing domestic prices from rising now because modern banking techniques let its central bank buy up the dollars and take them out of everyday circulation. The central bank has accumulated the country's immense foreign-currency reserves in the process.

The British Empire in the 19th century worked out a way to maintain a large long-term trade surplus with China. So far, however, nobody has suggested that the United States also try getting millions of Chinese people addicted to imported opium.

Now that's all quite sensible, and backed by loads of historical evidence.

Meanwhile, Joe Carter jumps the shark again, by spinning a very odd "Jews=capitalists=therefore everyone will be pissed off at them" meme...

At the core of anti-Semitism lies a mistrust of capitalism and a fear of economic liberty. In studying anti-Semitism between the years 500 and 1306, Will Durant identified an undercurrent that parallels what we see today: “The main sources have ever been economic, but religious differences have given edge and cover to economic rivalries.” (Story of Civilization Vol. IV: The Age of Faith)

As America pushes to expand liberal democracy throughout the Middle East, we can expect resistance not only from the Arab monarchies but from our Old World neighbors as well. While they will wring their hands and agree that terrorism is a threat to security, the market-driven economy of the U.S. is what they truly fear. As the statist policies continue to degrade the EU economy, the "scapegoat" will continue to expand from the Jews as a people to the homelands of the Jews, Israel and the U.S.

The whole thing is breathtaking in its caricature of the Jewish people as well as a complete ignorance of just what kind of "democracy" we're "creating" in the Middle East.


And given the way the world really works, irrelevant...

Athens Blogging...

I'm glad I stayed in Japan an extra day.

Nara this ain't.

Nice ruins though, if you're into that sort of thing.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Geez, even in Japan CNN is pretty abhorrent...

Somebody's talking about a new movie being made called "The Road to Guantanamo...

Some English-accented woman on CNN, the anchor or whatever for CNN, is asking about the director "Should he be allowed" to make a movie with the intent to help shut down Guantanamo?

Sunday Morning Japan Blogging...

The Phillippines is getting nasty.

Dublin had riots. I was there last year around this time. Wonderful.

I can only imagine what Athens, the next stop on my itinerary will be like.

CNN has a story on right now about the wonders of...travelling by private jet.

Ye gads...conspicuous consumption porography is back...

Friday, February 24, 2006

Hidden in plain sight: Why there hasn't been a terrorist attack since 9/11

You know, there's things going on right in front of your nose, and you don't even sense that you're being distracted.

Let me give you an example: In yesterday's Daily Yomiuri, English edition (you read that don't you?) there was an article I think was reprinted from the Washington Post (which I now can't find), saying something to the effect of "Now that the Saudis are wealthy from the windfall in oil, they might not make the 'reforms' that will rid their society of a theocracy."

A common meme in the rightie blogsphere is, "Why hasn't there been an attack on our vulnerable ports?" that assumes that Bush is doing a heckuva job on the Global War on Terror.

See a connection yet?...

Just prior to 9/11, Saudi Arabia was undergoing a severe economic crisis; I read a report that said there was a 31% unemployment rate...See where I'm going yet?

A year after 9/11, gasoline prices went way up, possibly due at least in part because of the very small amount of oil being taken off the market from Iraq following the war...

Do you get it yet?

Somebody above noted the UAE's "contribution" to the "War on Terror."

Folks, it was our contribution to the "War on Terror," paid at your local gas pump.

We're bribing them, or perhaps more to the point, paying them protection money. They'll crack down on terrorists stop funding terrorists as long as they keep getting an increasing share of the oil wealth.

And in return they'll spend money to "build their infrastructure" again like they did in the 80s.

Call me whatever you want, but people don't do these beneficial things for each other by accident.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

David Ignatius: Yet another apparatchik from the Washington POst

I don't know if this article was panned in the blogosphere, but it certainly deserves to be:

One of the baseline assumptions of U.S. foreign policy is that "connectedness" is a good thing. Linkage to the global economy fosters the growth of democracy and free markets, the theory goes, and that in turn creates the conditions for stability and security. But if that's true, why is an increasingly "connected" world such a mess?

This paradox of the 21st century is confounding the Bush administration's hopes for democratization in the Middle East. It turns out that in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and perhaps nations yet to come, the growth of democracy and technology has had the effect of enfranchising pre-modern political movements -- ones linked to religious sects, ethnic minorities and tribes. This trend astonishes Westerners who meet with Arab modernizers at events such as the World Economic Forum or see the skyscrapers of Dubai and think the world is coming our way...

Why is there a growing sense that, as Francis Fukuyama put it in a provocative essay in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine, "More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and -- yes, unfortunately -- terrorism"? I have been discussing this conundrum with friends, and I've heard two interesting theories worth sharing.

The first comes from Raja Sidawi, a Syrian businessman who owns Petroleum Intelligence Weekly and is one of the most astute analysts of the Arab world I know. He argues that Barnett misses the fact that as elites around the world become more connected with the global economy, they become more disconnected from their own cultures and political systems. The local elites "lose touch with what's going on around them," opening up a vacuum that is filled by religious parties and sectarian groups, Sidawi contends. The modernizers think they are plugging their nations into the global economy, but what's also happening is that they are unplugging themselves politically at home.

Sidawi's theory -- that connectedness produces a political disconnect -- helps explain some of what we see in the Middle East. Take the case of Iran: A visitor to Tehran in 1975 would have thought the country was rushing toward the First World. The Iranian elite looked and talked just like the Western bankers, business executives and political leaders who were embracing the shah's modernizing regime. And yet a few years later, that image of connectedness had been shattered by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution, whose aftershocks still rumble across the region. The Iranian modernizers had lost touch with the masses. That process has been repeated in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority -- where the secular elites who talked the West's line have proved to be politically weak...

McLean argues that the Internet is a "rage enabler." By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. "Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it," he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What's more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, "eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude." I think McLean is right. And you don't have to travel to Cairo to see how the Internet fuels rage and poisons reasoned debate. Just take a tour of the American blogosphere.

Wow. The blogosphere is like Savak, the Shah's secret police that tortured folks. That's what he's saying.

People are rightly aroused when they find they're getting screwed.

The folks in Hamas elected - as democraticcally as we can determine- a government that wasn't as corrupt or ineffective as the last one. They responded to events in their environmnet.

The arrogance of the Washington Post, after the Howell affair, to tut-tut the dissemination of information on the internet is to be expected; the more they publish stuff like this the more they lose credibility.

The Japan Crime Blotter...

You probably didn't read about any of this in US papers or see it on CNN:

Shigenobu remains defiant in the face of a long sentence...

Fusako Shigenobu simply smiled as the Tokyo District Court sentenced her to 20 years in prison Thursday for her activities with the Japanese Red Army, which was behind a number of terrorist attacks in the 1970s.

After reading aloud the main section of the ruling, presiding Judge Hironobu Murakami asked Shigenobu, who spent half her life in the Middle East as leader of the international terrorist group, "You understand the ruling, don't you?"

She nodded, but smiled to the gallery as if wanting to appear victorious. After the rest of the sentence was read aloud, she repeated to the gallery, "I'll continue to fight!"

After her sentencing, Shigenobu issued a statement through her lawyers, saying, "It was an unjust ruling that did not examine the facts as they are and only accommodated the wishes of those in power."

Shigenobu joined an extreme leftist group as a student at Meiji University.

In the 1970s, when the Japanese Red Army was formed and repeatedly committed terrorist acts, Shigenobu had members undergo military training at its base in Lebanon to increase the power of the group.

During her first hearing in April 2001, Shigenobu declared that the Japanese Red Army was dissolved and apologized to the victims of the terrorist acts.

Cult leader responsible for Sarin Gas Attack to learn fate

Japan's High Court is expected to rule soon on the fate of Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Aum Supreme Truth cult that carried out the attack which killed 12 people and injured thousands more.

In Tokyo, Shane McLeod reports.

SHANE MCLEOD: It was a calculated, deadly attack.

On the morning of the 20th of March 1995, at five locations on three of the subway lines below Tokyo, members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult released the nerve agent, sarin gas.

(sound of Japanese people panicking)

Twelve people died and thousands more were overcome by deadly gas, causing injuries for some that continue to this day.

At the time, the Aum cult boasted 10,000 members across Japan, led by a charismatic blind guru, Shoko Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.

In 2004 Asahara was found guilty as the mastermind of that attack and other incidents that claimed a total of 27 lives.

(sound of Japanese lawyers)

His lawyers lodged an appeal against the sentence, but have since claimed they can’t proceed, because they haven't been able to communicate with their client.

They say that Asahara is mentally ill and may be suffering from a brain condition.

They say he's incontinent, wears nappies, and requires a wheelchair to move around.

But a report from a psychiatrist appointed by the court has disputed that assessment. It found that while Asahara is not well, he does respond to the directions of guards at the detention centre in which he's been held for 10 years. And it found that he's mentally fit to stand trial.

Livedoor's new boss arrested

Prosecutors on Wednesday arrested Livedoor Representative Director Fumito Kumagai in connection with the alleged accounting fraud in which his former colleagues are embroiled, putting the firm one step closer to being delisted.

They also served fresh warrants on former Livedoor Co. President Takafumi Horie and three other ex-executives on suspicion of falsifying the company's financial figures for the business year through September 2004.

The new warrants allow Tokyo prosecutors to continue to hold for further questioning Horie and the other three, who have been in custody since Jan. 23 for alleged securities law violations.

The Tokyo Stock Exchange will begin procedures to delist Livedoor if the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission files a fresh criminal complaint with prosecutors against the firm over alleged accounting fraud or if the state presses charges, TSE officials said Wednesday.

Prosecutors believe the five inflated Livedoor earnings for the year through September 2004 by more than 5 billion yen.

Livedoor is suspected of claiming a pretax profit of 1.4 billion yen through fictitious sales to two companies that it was in the process of taking over, although it actually incurred a pretax loss for the year.

Kochi police abused funds, audit finds...

KOCHI (Kyodo) The Kochi Prefectural Police misspent 35 percent of its budget for investigations over the five-year period starting in fiscal 2000, a prefectural audit panel said Wednesday.

The panel checked the 13,800 outlays worth 51.4 million yen at the prefectural force and at Kochi Police Station, of which 18 million yen was found to have been spent inappropriately, it said in a report submitted to Gov. Daijiro Hashimoto and the prefectural assembly.

Police previously denied that money was spent inappropriately.

Of the 51.4 million yen, about 780,000 yen, or 1.5 percent, in 85 cases was found to have been fictitious payments made as supervisors had apparently instructed subordinates to falsify receipts.

Some 690,000 yen, or 1.3 percent, in 115 cases was considered inappropriate spending, where the handwriting on receipts closely resembled that of investigators' payment vouchers, 16.45 million yen, or 32 percent of the budget in 3,178 cases, was deemed to be suspicious, with paid informants' names blacked out on documents in some cases, and receipts not attached to accounting documents.

In other news, Taiwan's pissing off China again, Japan is pissing off Korea again, and as of this morning, Japan still hadn't medalled in the Olympics...


You may have eaten in Japanese restaurants, but I suspect that true washoku hasn't been consumed by most readers of this blog. There are places you can get this in America; but not anywhere near as affordable as Japan (and it's not cheap there by any means).

America simply does not have at a price for $40 (going sky high after that), a meal that relaxes you, that completely unstresses you, that is like a spiritual massage that you eat, that makes you feel so satisfied not in a gluttonous way, but in a way approaching the sacred (a "harmoniousness is next to godliness" esthetic).

If you get to Japan, eat in a Japanese restaurant in a Japanese hotel. Yes, it is not cheap. But it's not just a meal you will be eating...you're going to reset your brain. You're going to understand harmony. You are paying for a lesson in harmony.

And if you're just going to eat, and pay those kind of prices, it ought to change your life. And if you feel guilty about consuming so much remember: there's always the noodle shop and MacDonald's around the corner for tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Travel Reading: Playing and Working...and class...

In order to keep my sanity on long airplane trips, I read, and bring reading. I mentioned the book below, but I might as well put in a plug for the recent Harper's issue.

I hadn't read Harper's in a few months; it is long airplane trip reading. However, you never step into the same stream twice. This month's issue is less than I'd thought it would be. There is a fairly amusing article "God or Gorilla" on the Dover case, which tells little tidbits I hadn't picked up at Panda's Thumb or elsewhere; mainly that the folks pushing the "Intelligent" "Design" case were basically - from the Dover side- fundamentalists. Behe comes off as insincere.

But the article that crystallized my bad taste for this issue was the article "Crap Shoot," a long essay about "players" versus "workers." It is a false dichotomy; everybody plays, everybody who is devoted to their career and works hard at it does so because they played previously. I'm reminded of Sartre's description of a waiter in a restaurant playing the part of a waiter. You think too much about how sincere you are and all you do is wind up being more insincere. To play and to work - to me is to use the same mindset.

But it did raise a thought in my head: in America, we talk about the "rich," the "middle class," and the poor.

Now in America it is generally assumed -falsely- that the poor do not work. (I can hardly call being unemployed "playing.") It is also assumed that the rich don't, or that to the extent that they do they are over-compensated (which I think is generally true.)

Rather than splitting society in a false dichotomy of "players" versus "workers," it's probably better to say "working classes," versus "non-working classes."

I have to work for a living. Lee Scott of Wal-Mart most assuredly does not have to work for a living. Neither does George Soros, Alan Greenspan, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Maria Cantwell, and a whole host of other folks.

So when we talk about GDP, and booming economies, and government policies, I think it behooves us to ask, does it benefit those who work for a living? Even those for whom work is hard but playful? Heck, I have fun at work often, but without that fun I'd be consuming my savings, which aren't enough to do the things that need to be done, like educating my son.

That is the key difference. Those of us who work for a living could become poor or would be in even more dire poverty if we did not work for a living.

The "middle class" I think is a myth...

About the port brouhaha

As I mentioned below, I recently read the not really that impressive "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man," by John Perkins.

One wonders reading it if it itself might be part of a conspiracy; it's so inconclusive in its prescriptons, it does seem to misrepresent what I know to be the NSA's function (though with a name like "National Security Agency," one could imagine that it has black functions unknown to the rest of us, but you could say the same thing about the National Reconaissance Office), and the character who seduces Mr. Perkins seems drawn from fiction. (The New York Times said the same thing here, unbeknownst to me when I bought the book, because, well the article didn't come out when I bought it.)

But all that aside, it's a good frame with which to view the recent events in Iraq and now this port brouhaha.

That is to say, it's evident that there was some kind of quid pro quo going on between the UAE and the people in the Bush regime. But then you knew that, didn't you? Nothing- nothing- the Bush folks do is done without an eye to seeing that certain peole benefit who don't happen to be me or you.

High Speed Internet Access. Finally. But...

Japan's a wonderful country, but the lack of high speed internet access in this country, or should I say connectivity in general for foreigners, is pretty abysmal.

Luckily this hotel has high speed internet access. But it does not have calling card capability from the room.

Anyhow, I had to laugh quite a bit yesterday, regarding my flight to Kansai from Narita.

It stopped over in Fukuoka, which looks absolutely stunning from some places.

The connection was 20 minutes. The staff was very worried that I might not make the connection. But the plane landed on time, and even though nominally the plane was in another "terminal," it was only a 5 minute walk.

20 minutes? I've done that in O'Hare.

But you see these folks actually seem to care. Caring is good; it's important, and it makes the drudgery of flying in the style we know in the US to be just that more human.

I should resume regular blogging from later today... or tonight... whatever your time zone happens to be.

You don't really want to be up at the time zone I'm in at the moment.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You can`t make this up...

Maharishi Global Financing?

And you thought they were only in it for the TM...

Narita airport blogging...

Because of some freak arrangement in how "round the world" tickets are tarriffed, I am travelling from Tokyo to Osaka today by air. Which is silly; I will take about 2 hours longer to reach my destination than by shinkansen.

I understand that Bush has done some kind of a deal with a foreign government to manage port security.

At least I'm in Japan...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Travel Reading: Confessions of an Economic HIt Man, by John Perkins

The trade reviews at Amazon seem to be on the money, but miss a point...

This purports to be the "true" story of a guy who worked on economics for writing loans to 3rd world nations. As the reviews note, much of this is not credible, and Perkins doesn't exactly cut a sympathetic figure in the book, and his homilies about poverty sound just like homilies.

What cannot be doubted, though, despite the incredulity one has reading this story about how proxies are used to bankrupt 3rd world nations to keep them in thrall to the West, is that not only countries certainly may be doing what Perkins describes here, but they probably are. Why wouldn't they?

In fact, the mechanics of what Perkins describes is pretty well known. Our "aid" to Israel, is in dollars, and most of that comes with strings to spend it in the US.

And not only that...

Japan and China might be doing this too. To us. Think about our debt. Just as we did it in Iraq. And to ourselves.

Economic policy has to be implemented to help people, not simply the wealthy.

In doing this - and as somebody smack dab in Japan I can attest to this- we are violating the fundamental rule of being gracious in a foreign place, which, if you think about it, is anywhere you are; even at home. And what's that fundamental rule?

Don't fuck with the locals.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Give me Joe's Garage over Lee's Garage any day.

Read all about it (follow links to the pdfs.)

And in response to, JR Monsterfodder @ Kos, they may look like idiots, they may act like idiots, but don't let that fool you, Groucho would have said; they really are idiots.

Of course that was Groucho.

Next time I'll be in Japan.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Light posting, if at all, until Sunday morning...

I'm off on business.

But feel free to comment. There is the outside chance I'll be able to get something in at an airport somewhere...

Vicious Cycle, or, the problem of Wal-Mart...

Oh, before I forget...Dick Cheney shot someone in the face, and Bill Clinton...

OK, now back to our regular post...

From today's NY Times:

In a confidential, internal Web site for Wal-Mart's managers, the company's chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., seemed to have a rare, unscripted moment when one manager asked him why "the largest company on the planet cannot offer some type of medical retirement benefits?"

Mr. Scott first argues that the cost of such benefits would leave Wal-Mart at a competitive disadvantage but then, clearly annoyed, he suggests that the store manager is disloyal and should consider quitting.

The Web site, which Mr. Scott uses to communicate his tough standards to thousands of far-flung managers, gives a rare glimpse into the concerns that are roiling Wal-Mart's retailing empire, from the company's sagging stock price to how it treats its workers. Judging by the managers' questions, Mr. Scott has an internal public relations challenge that in some ways mirrors the challenge he faces from outside critics.

And while Mr. Scott's postings are usually written in a careful, even guarded manner, they can often be revealing — for example, showing a defensiveness and testiness with critics — that Mr. Scott normally keeps under wraps.

Copies of Mr. Scott's postings covering two years were made available to The New York Times by Wal-Mart Watch, a group backed by unions and foundations that is pressing Wal-Mart to improve its wages and benefits. Wal-Mart Watch said it received the postings from a disgruntled manager. While the existence of the Web site and Mr. Scott's participation in it have been known, transcripts have never been made public before.

The Web site has a folksy name — Lee's Garage, because Mr. Scott pumped gas at his father's Kansas service station while growing up.


Ah, that passed...after the setup to the Dick Cheney joke, I can't afford to offend too many people. Of course, nobody can afford to offend too many people, except for George W. Bush. But I digress...

So, Wal-Mart's Scott argues that "the cost of such benefits would leave Wal-Mart at a competitive disadvantage," because any potential competitors - if there are any- pay in the relgion of an oligopsony wage; and if there are no local competitors, we can assume it's because Wal-Mart's employees might actually use health benefits, probably in a way that is related to their economic status, which means they're not only poor but sick.

Hmmm...why not just cut your salary, Scott? Oh, yes, I am disloyal.

But his responses often serve to remind managers of the gap between them and their chief executive, who earned more than $17 million last year, including stock options, who hops around the globe on Wal-Mart's fleet of jets and who lives in a gated community called Pinnacle.

I'm sorry, but Wal-Mart's prices are too high if they're going to pay that clown more than 100 times what I make.

In one posting, he urges managers to set an example by doing more to comply with the company's 10-foot rule, requiring employees to smile and ask "Can I help you" when a shopper is less than 10 feet away.

I always mention "Organize a union" if I'm accosted by one of these folks, on the rare occasions that I've actually steeled myself to step inside the local Wal-Marts. The one near me, as I noted, is a depressive, cavernous place filled with junk and with food of which at least some is adulterated.

So without further adieu, here's my "suggestion and feedback" for 'em:

To Whom it May Concern:

Mr. Scott, as quoted in today's Times, as having written, "...General Motors now is that General Motors is no longer an automotive company. General Motors is a benefit company that sells cars to fund those benefits."

This for a guy who makes 100 times more than I do.

Really. What testicles.

Moreover, you've opened a monstrosity of a "supercenter" near my house, located in a neighborhood of 1/2 million dollar houses, and sure enough, it's now populated by customers I'd rather not have my young son around, it's staffed by people who look doomed because they know they're on the lowest rung of the economic ladder, and the stuff you stock is nothing but dreck.

Hint: idiot, you located the store in a neighborhood of upscale folks, of whom a large number are Asian. They just aren't going to scarf up Toby Keith, or Garth Brooks CDs.

They're not going to buy your adulterated pork products; the local Chinese butcher can beat your prices.

They might buy all that plastic crap you have, if they need plastic crap.

Give your employees real health benefits or get out of my neighborhood. I'm not shopping in your store, and frequently urge everyone I know to do the same.

Writing on the Wal has more...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Iranian Euro Oil Bourse, and the Fed...

Here's a good background on the problem, and why March 20 is going to be a strange day.

Factoid in the article I didn't know about: Surprise, surprise! On March 23, the Fed is going to stop telling us how many Eurodollars are out there.

United Airlines promised me 5 free songs...

'cause I'm such a frequent flyer.

But they didn't tell me I'd have to change my registry...

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Where to go for real information on climate change.


Here for example, is a good post that shows that consensus temperature measurements do indeed show an increase.

This is what Osborn and Briffa have done in their article "The Spatial Extent of 20th Century Warmth in the Context of the Past 1200 Years", which appears in the Feb 10 issue of the journal Science. The article uses a rigorous statistical methodology to re-examine the question of whether late 20th century warmth is anomalous in the context of the past 1200 years. This is done in a manner that does not require the explicit calibration of the proxy records. In essence, the authors have revisited a question posed earlier in a paper by Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas (2003: see our previous discussion here), investigating whether or not evidence from past proxy records of temperature support the existence of past intervals of warmth with the widespread global scale of 20th century warming. The Soon and Baliunas (2003) paper was heavily criticized in the scientific literature (e.g. Mann et al, 2003) for failing to distinguish between proxy evidence of temperature and drought or precipitation, and for not accounting for whether temperature anomalies in different regions were contemporaneous or not.

Osborn and Briffa, by contrast, have carefully taken these issues into account. They make use only of those proxy records which demonstrate a statistically significant relationship with modern instrumental temperature records, and which were dated accurately enough that records from different locations could be compared against each other in a chronologically consistent manner. They then standardize the records and look for evidence of simultaneous relative departures that point in the same direction (i.e. "warm" or "cold") using appropriate pre-set thresholds for defining a significant event (they try both one and two standard deviations). There is an important distinction between this careful statistical approach, and the selective cherry picking that is often used by contrarian commentators to misrepresent the available evidence. For example, it is possible to find evidence of significant warmth or significant coldness over literally any century-long interval in at least one of the 14 records used by Osborn and Briffa (see Figure 1 in the article). However, this alone tells us very little. What is of interest, instead, is whether centuries-long intervals can be found over which warm events or cold events tend to cluster.

Osborn and Briffa use Monte Carlo simulations to test the null hypothesis that a given number of simultaneous "warm" or "cold" events should simultaneously emerge among 14 such independent records from chance alone. Where they are able to reject this null hypothesis, they conclude that there is evidence of large-scale warmth or coldness, and they quantify its spatial extent. They also establish that their results are robust with respect to the elimination of any single record, and that the main conclusions are independent of the particular base period (e.g. whether they use the full interval AD 800-1995, or only the modern interval of 1856-1995 which overlaps with the instrumental record). While some of the caveats of some past studies are applicable in this study too (for example, the authors only use 14 proxy sites), the authors do attempt to address them. For example, they show that the modern instrumental record averaged only over their 14 sites captures the full Northern Hemisphere mean temperature variations remarkably well over the available (approximately 150 years) interval. The authors also examine the difference between the number of significant warm and cold events over time, and this tells a similar story.

Osborn and Briffa '06 Figure 2
Figure 2 (from Osborn and Briffa, '06). Fraction of the records available in each year that have normalized values > 0 (red line), > 1 (light red shading), > 2 (dark red shading), <> [source: AAAS] (click to enlarge)

In each case, the authors find that the most widespread warmth by far is evident during the mid and late 20th century. The conclusion is not especially surprising, as nearly all previous peer-reviewed studies over the past decade find that late 20th century warmth is anomalous in a millennial or longer context. Indeed, the curve they produce (Figure 2)--with a modest negative trend over most of the past millennium ending in a dramatic positive 20th century spike--might be likened in shape to a certain implement used in a popular North American winter sport. But we digress...

It is not so much the conclusion, but the approach that the authors use to reach their conclusion, that is most important about this latest study. The authors take advantage of a very straightforward analysis of climate proxy data, avoiding the highly technical and arcane issues of statistical calibration and methodology that are so frequently seized upon by those who dispute that recent large-scale warmth is anomalous in a long-term context. This paper adds to the mounting weight of evidence that such warmth is indeed anomalous in at least a millennial context. We doubt that this, or for that matter, any study will silence the increasingly small but persistently vocal minority of contrarians who continue to challenge this conclusion. But to them, we offer the reminder that paleoclimate evidence comprises only one of many independent lines of evidence indicating a primary role of human activity in modern climate change. If the only line of evidence that remains in dispute pertains to estimated millennial temperature histories, then the case for denialism appears extremely weak indeed.


These people are our employees - more on the Cheney shooting


WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 — When the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, came to the press room just before 10 a.m. Tuesday and suggested he was wearing an orange tie to avoid a stray shot from Vice President Dick Cheney, it seemed to signal an effort to defuse the accidental-shooting story with a laugh.

But by midday, it was clear that the staffs of the president and the vice president had failed to communicate. Just after arriving at work around 7:45 a.m., Mr. Cheney learned that the man he had shot, Harry M. Whittington, was about to undergo a medical procedure on his heart because his injuries were more serious than earlier believed, Mr. Cheney's spokeswoman said.

No one in Mr. Cheney's office passed the word to Mr. McClellan, senior officials at the White House said, adding that the press secretary would never have joked about the shooting accident if he had known about the turn of events involving Mr. Whittington.

It was the latest example of the degree to which Mr. Cheney's habit of living in his own world in the Bush White House — surrounded by his own staff, relying on his own instincts, saying as little as possible — had backfired since the accident in Texas on Saturday. Mr. Cheney's staff members have kept their comments to chronological details and to repeating the vice president's written statements.

Really, if they're not open, if they're not cooperating amongst themselves, if they're not working together, - and if they're lying to us- isn't it time we had a re-org?

But wait it gets better- there's actually apologists for Cheny on the right!

"What he did was not an irrational thing," said Mary Matalin, Mr. Cheney's former communications adviser, who spoke to him Sunday morning. "This was a very close friend this happened to. Everyone was shaken up about it. When I spoke to him, it was all about Harry, worrying about him," not whether he should get a statement out, or let his South Texas host tell a local newspaper.

So our friends on the right who love to decry about excluded middles would contend therefore it was rational for Cheney to shoot that guy?

Even at the most secure meetings in the White House situation room, Mr. Cheney tends to ask questions but leave the participants guessing about his own views — largely, his colleagues say they suspect, for fear of leaks. His movements, once hidden for security reasons, are now often cloaked out of habit. Several senior members of the administration said they were not told of the shooting accident until late Sunday.

The man appears to be paranoid, and clearly when armed, dangerous. And this guy's in power?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Word of the day: Monopsony


Wal-mart is a monopsony.

Dollar: up or down?...

Yeah, greed is bad; an economic system predicated on exponentially increasing rates of consumption is indeed a stupid. But what does that portend in the near to mid term?

Thomas Kostigen at Marketwatch says

If nothing else, the U.S. holds the secret elixir to safety. China can't claim to be a safe haven yet. And some European countries have even intimated they'd like to eliminate the euro; that doesn't send a strong signal.

The U.S. always has and is the place to be. People and money flock to our borders. That isn't going to change overnight, or even this year. As much as people want other countries to win, the U.S. is ranked No. 1 in the currency-of-choice game and can't be counted out of the competition yet.

Indeed, short-term bond yields have been rising lately. That means traders are less confident Bernanke will hold interest rates steady; he may initiate a rate hike or two. This would compel some overseas investors to buy more dollars.

You can bet Soros, Buffett, et al. will be cheering for every one else in this year's economic competition.
I'll be rooting for the top dog/underdog, which seems the most befitting way to describe the U.S. today. The U.S. dollar is still the gold-medal holder on this podium.

Well, that made my flag nice and ... insert appropriate disparaging remark about jingoism here.

Jerome a Paris provides the counter argument much better than Kostigen's straw-man; commenting on another article in the same vein:

But the core of [this] article, which basically repeats the current common wisdom, is that the bears (like me) have been spending the past year or more warning of impending doom and we see the exact opposite happening, so we are not credible. At the same time, our arguments (global imbalances are unsustainable, there is a housing bubble, even peak oil) are entering the mainstream and are at least being acknowledged and discussed, if only to refute them, and the above example is typical.

The logic is as follows:

  • your arguments are rational and make a lot of sense, it's worrying
  • but US growth and unemployment are doing great!
  • therefore all is fine, and your points are not valid

    and the kicker:

  • we're in a new kind of economy: financial markets are behaving differently, and the US economy is in a new kind of phase.

    sometimes accompanied by the grand finale

  • with your stagnant economies, high unemployment and Muslim rioting, you'd better be happy that the US economy is growing, we're pulling you and it would be even worse if it stopped (and you'd better be grateful that we are waging war on the infidels for you, also).

The most extravagant example of the above kind of thinking has been the new theory of "dark matter" to explain away the fact that the US still earned, until recently, net positive income on its international investments, despite having become a net debtor to the world.

The simple explanation is that US companies own factories, and other companies overseas, and tend to hide revenues over there to pay less tax, whereas foreigners invest mostly in low paying Treasuries. That was brushed aside to provide for "dark matter", a new, invisible class of US assets that supposedly brings income of the US as if by magic... You can read a summary by the authors here and, if you are brave, their full paper here (pdf), and some debunkings here by the Economist (which is still sane about these things) and here by Brad Setser.

Essentially, the arguments boil down to two things:

  • US growth is strong (of course, the last quarter was a temporary blip)
  • the US easily finances its external deficits

  • thus there is nothing to worry.

Your big theories are fine, but the facts on the ground say otherwise. Thus the bear fatigue of the mainstream press, who thought it had a good story with these big scary news and sees headlines that scream otherwise.

So, again, let me make the bearish case with the help of the FT and the Economist, which still provide nice graphs despite propagating the ideology of the kleptocracy:

  • the economy is only doing well because the rich are doing great and pulling the GDP number up, while the great unwashed masses stagnate. The graph below (from btower in my diary yesterday on inequality) shows that both the average and the median household have gone down in recent years

    in a context of increasing incomes for the rich, it means that the middle classes have actually gone a lot poorer;

  • that empoverishment has been hidden by the ability of many to go deeper in debt and/ot to borrow against the nicely inflated value of their house. Household debt has reached the record level of 124% of the average income (and, as you can see above, the average ('mean') is much higher than the median, which means that the average debt is something like 170% of median income (edited)- which is not such an invalid comparison as the poor are certainly more indebted than the very rich relative to their income)

    in other words, the debt situation has worsened in the past year, since that graph was made, and the corollary is what the top graph shows: no savings anymore;

  • these incredible levels of debt have been made possible by the absurdly low nominal interest rates, both for short term borrowings (used for variable rate loans) and long term borrowing (used for fixed rate loans). The rates have been pushed down by the Fed's incredibly lax interest rate policy in 2001-2004, which has literally flooded the planet with cheap money, which has been used to buy assets, whode prices have gone up. Gold has gone up. real estate has gone up, financial assets (like bonds) have gone up (and thus yields down), and some, like Stirling, say additionally that oil prices have gone up for the same reason (which makes sense, but is hard to "prove"). This is the mother of all bubbles, and we are all floating happily on the surface of that wave of money;

  • the problem, of course, is that this wave is now beginning to recede. The Fed, seeing "growth", has finally begun to tighten, oh so prudently, interest rates, so at least no new fuel is added to the fire. But so much money was added in previous years that lots of it is still sloshing around and keeping long term interest rates down. The Chinese buy Treasuries to keep the yuan weak and protect their exports and their growth, and oil exporters buy Treasuries because they have so many dollars from high oil prices that there is little else they can do than buy some.

  • the result is what is called an inversion of the yield curve, when long term rates become lower than short term rates. You get a better return by lending short term, because people want long term assets rather than short term ones, to "lock in" the current rates, expected to still go down because of fears of a recession.

    Historically, yield curve inversions have been followed by recessions most of the time:

As a trader quoted by the FT (from where I took some of the above graphs) says:

I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day," says David Rosenberg, North American economist at Merrill Lynch. "I remember all too well clients telling me in 2000 that it was different this time and asking how you could square the yield curve inversion with the Nasdaq over 5000."

The curve was inverted in March 2000 when the internet-fuelled boom propelled the Nasdaq stock market to its peak. At the time, the economy and the stock market seemed indomitable. But once the bubble in technology stocks burst, the economy slid into recession in 2001 as the Fed cut rates. Nasdaq investors had been wrong. The bond market had got it right.

And remember just one thing - if analysts and other finance types tell you that the economy is doing great, it's probably because they belong in the right hand column in this last graph (again from btower):

Meanwhile, the left hand column will feel the rocks first when the wave recedes (bankruptcies! evictions! unemployment!) But they're just losers, and probably un-American, right? Why should we care about them?

Looks to me like the exponentially increasing rates of consumption's got to slow down for a bit. We're broke.

That means the dollar's going down, the economy's going down, etc. etc.

To be fair, though, Paul B. Farrell provides counterpoint to Kostigen on Marketwatch:

Denial blinds us to many dangers. Like the coming Iranian Petro-Euro Bourse threatening the American dollar's position as the world's reserve currency, a threat potentially more catastrophic than a nuclear arsenal. We deny it.
And recently, we learned of an even bigger threat: about World War III. Seriously, a war is being provoked by loose cannons in America as well as abroad. Irrational, absurd and unwanted, fanatics on both sides are prophesizing an all-out war in the next couple years.
For years America has heard religious fundamentalists predict the "End of Days," Armageddon, an Apocalypse, The Rapture, Tribulation, a final battle prophesized for the Holy Land. Prominent evangelists believe it's coming soon. Many are so convinced their rhetoric may be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Until recently this was outside market and economic thinking. That is, until Iranian President Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations in October. His prophecies mirror those of America's evangelists. Ahmadinejad not only hopes for but is trying to provoke both the free world and Islam into war.
Iran's "End-of-Days:" Ahmadinejad passionately believes that in the next couple years the world will witness the "second coming" of the Mahdi, a messianic "hidden 12th imam" of Shiite Islam, prophesized to appear at the "End of Days." Ahmadinejad even embraces his "divine mission" to "pave the way" for the second coming.
Get it! We have ideological fanatics on both sides, like two alcoholics itching for a bar fight. Both sides want a global war, provoking enemies and allies alike. Both pray for an irrational first blow triggering the "End of Days," a WW III nuclear conflict between the world's greatest cultures. Both expect fulfillment of ancient prophecies. Both want a war to end all wars, and the end of the world as we know it.
Irrational? Probably. But remember, these high-risk variables are not programmed into America's economic models and market forecasting systems that Washington, Wall Street and Corporate America throw at you every day. Yet in the hands of fanatics these variables can trigger events that can easily overwhelm entire economies and markets.

A cynic might say that "these high-risk variables" are programmed into some folks' economic models...which is why they want to trigger their existence.

Me? I've got to hedge into the possibility that "these high risk variables" kick in.

Wishful thinking on right-wing media domination

Perhaps I'm really, very, very left like Chris Bowers, though I don't think so.

But when Digby says,

The mainstream media are, for the first time in memory, being pulled by both sides of the ideological spectrum. And maybe, just maybe, we might just save them in spite of themselves.

I gotta say, Digby, you don't know your history.

Even in the salad days of liberalism, media never reported anything adverse to their owners' interests.

And it wasn't just since the 90s that the media bent over to the right side.

I remember the media being merciless against Jimmy Carter, whom they painted as "liberal" oftentimes, but who wound up being way to cautious and conservative.

No, we're going to be in this for a while. At least until somebody acquires the power to pull the plug.

Monday, February 13, 2006

More wacky Stalinist antics from the Bush folks...

These folks get stranger and stranger. I will be astounded if they are still in power in the legislative branch after the '06 elections...

REAT FALLS, Va. — What happens if you're a Republican commentator and you write a book critical of President Bush that gets you fired from your job at a conservative think tank?...

Nobody will touch me," said Bruce Bartlett, author of the forthcoming "Impostor: Why George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy." "I think I'm just kind of radioactive at the moment."

Mr. Bartlett, a domestic policy aide at the White House in the Reagan administration and a deputy assistant treasury secretary under the first President Bush, talked last week at his suburban Washington home about his dismissal, his book and a growing disquiet among conservatives about Mr. Bush.

Although "Impostor" is flamboyant in its anti-Bush sentiments — on the first page Mr. Bartlett calls Mr. Bush a "pretend conservative" and compares him to Richard Nixon, "a man who used the right to pursue his agenda" — its basic message reflects the frustration of many conservatives who say that Mr. Bush has been on a five-year federal spending binge. Like them, Mr. Bartlett is particularly upset about Mr. Bush's Medicare prescription drug plan, which is expected to cost more than $700 billion over the next decade.

He is unhappy, too, with the president's education and campaign finance bills and his proposal to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, which many Republicans call a dressed-up amnesty plan. The book, to be published by Doubleday on Feb. 28, also criticizes the White House for "an anti-intellectual distrust of facts and analysis" and an obsession with secrecy.

"The Clinton people were vastly more open and easier to deal with and, quite frankly, a lot better on the issues," Mr. Bartlett said in the interview, in the kitchen of his pared-down modern house on a street of big new homes in Great Falls. Mr. Bartlett hastened to add that although he admired Mr. Clinton's economic policies, that did not mean he had changed sides.

"I haven't switched to the Democratic Party," he said. "I wrote this for Republicans."...

"Bruce is really an exception, not the rule, in the degree and thoroughness of his discontent," said William Kristol, a conservative strategist and the editor of The Weekly Standard. "So I wouldn't make too much of it. On the other hand, one thing I've noticed giving speeches in the last couple of months is that conservatives remain pro-Bush, but the loyalty to the movement and the ideas is deeper than the personal loyalty now. Two years ago, Bush was the movement and the cause."

Maybe those John Birchers are onto something with tying neocons to Stalinists and Trotskyites.

They certainly is a similarity in behavior...


The title of this post refers to my reaction coming from Gopinik's rumination on the sublime-but-likely-dysfunctional Shakers, to this tidbit from Atrios, pointing to Pharyngula, which in turn points to Firedoglake, where it's mentioned that "Vice President Dick Cheney...reportedly shot more than 70 stocked pheasants and an unknown number of mallard ducks at an exclusive private club ... in which birds are pen-reared and released to be shot in large numbers by patrons."

Why don't they just let them butcher them? Or at least it could be like some Chinese poultry sales places; pick out your live one and they'll kill and feather them.

Seriously, does Cheney think he's a "hunter" for doing stuff like this?

I mean "hunting" should involve actually finding a wild animal, right?

There should be a term that is not "hunting" to describe this activity. Maybe "gun butchery?"

I'm not a vegetarian Buddhist, to be sure, and have gone fishing. But this is absurd. Mc-hunting?

Work practice...

Adam Gopnik's article on the Shakers in the New Yorker is well worth reading, as far as insights into work and spirituality...

What also distinguished the Shakers was their odd join between violent anti-worldliness and thoroughgoing commercial materialism. Monks and monkish communities have, of course, sold goods to the world for a long time, from medieval cheese to Moonie cappuccinos. But the Shakers, faced with the need to support large communities, worked particularly hard to manufacture things for money. Many of the objects that we think of as archetypally Shaker—the long oval boxes with their lovely triple folds, the clean brooms and chairs—were designed and made largely for outside sale. With most tribes and sects that we look to as artistic innovators, the line between cult object and commodity product—between the true African fetish and airport art—is, if often far from sharp, at least tenable. It wasn’t with the Shakers. Shaker style was a commodity almost as soon as Shakerism was a cult. Contrary to Thomas Merton’s romantic assertion that each Shaker chair was made as though no other chair had been made before, Shaker chairs and other wooden objects were made in semi-industrial conditions for a growing middle-class market.

It is here, ironically, in the need to make things to sell to other people, that the first stirrings of a distinct style begin. This is not to say that the objects were made insincerely, or that Shakerism in design was a scam. The built-in cupboards and chairs and ladders constructed only for other Shakers, in Shaker communities, are made in the same spirit as the things for sale. The point is that no line was drawn the other way around, either: what was made for sale looked like what was made for sacred. The urge to make consumer goods is, after all, one of the keenest spiritual disciplines that an ascetic can face: it forces spirit to take form. An ascetic drinking tea from a cup decides not to care what kind of cup he’s drinking from; an ascetic forced to make a cup has to ask what kind of cup he
ought to drink from. By the mid-nineteenth century, “Shaker” had become a brand name.

...but frankly, the celibacy thing concerns me.

What kind of work ought we to be doing? Whose lives are affected by our work? Even with families of the usual kind these are good questions.

One also wonders what Shakers would have done, other than say, bake pies, in a service economy. But I don't think they'd have gone the Thomas Kinkade route. Maybe the SF Zen center route (I have a problem with "underpaid" whoever, wherever; there ought to be, if the money's not there, a real quid pro quo).

Another bit worth quoting:

As [Michael Downing author of “Shoes Outside the Door: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center,”] documents, its latest incarnation has been the Zen experience—which is uncannily like the Shaker experience, and which also involved the implantation of a slightly misunderstood alien dogma, and an immense outpouring of American spiritual yearning, a taste for commercial prosperity on the part of its leaders, and an inability to figure out what the hell to do about sex. As the Shakers made a revolution in American objects, American Zen made a revolution in American cooking, giving vegetarian food dignity. And, when the communities went into crisis, first the plates, and then the food, were what was left.

Which isn't quite true; the Greyston Bakery's still quite alive and well, even if the San Francisco Zen Center's problems were quite severe for a while.

The folks at Tremper Mountain have been doing their thing, and some of us folks who are family people are integrating work into our own lives. And of course, everybody's always asking, "What the hell do we do about sex?"

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A great bit on the economy on Kos

One of my commenters mentioned the "booming" American economy. Hopefully this diary from Kos's Jerome a Paris will set him straight.

Yeah, who can believe Kos, especially with its reliance on university studies?

And the thing is, when you're talking about the top 0.25% of all earners (which isn't talked about in the above, I think), statistics on income inequality get even worse.

"They dissed me!" - Washington Post style...

The Washington Post's Jim Brady today shows, media style- the phenomenon I was just referring to- anger fueled by a perception of impotence.

Only, it isn't blogger impotence that fuels this, but the Washington Post's own impotence at a) being caught dissembling in to create false "balance," and b) being called out on it on their own website.

As it was, things got pretty ugly, and it's worth figuring out why. In her Jan. 15 column, Howell erred in saying that Abramoff gave campaign donations to Democrats as well as Republicans. In fact, Abramoff directed clients to give to members of both parties, but he had donated his own personal funds only to Republicans.

Howell's inadvertent error prompted a handful of bloggers to urge their readers to go to post.blog to vent their discontent, and in the subsequent four days we received more than a thousand comments in our public forum. Only, the word "comments" doesn't convey the obscene, vituperative tone of a lot of the postings, which were the sort of things you might find carved on the door of a public toilet stall. About a hundred of them had to be removed for violating the Post site's standards, which don't allow profanity or personal attacks.

You can go to Atrios or Kos to find the instances where Howell had no problem with profanity coming from her mouth.

But Brady still ignores the central issue here: the Post was selling a defective product, and refused to admit the defect.

To my dismay, matters only got worse on Jan. 19 after Howell posted a clarification on washingtonpost.com. Instead of mollifying angry readers, the clarification prompted more than 400 additional comments over the next five hours, many of them so crude as to be unprintable in a family newspaper. Soon the number of comments that violated our standards of Web civility overwhelmed our ability to get rid of them; only then did we decide to shut down comments on the blog.

"Clarification?" What was -and is still- needed is first a retraction, and then an examination of the entire ethics of the newspaper.

This all raises a question: Why are people so angry? It was a mistake, it was corrected.

The big issue with every single American media outlet is its conflicts of interest, its desire to please a marketplace that it simultaneously "informs" (but doesn't enlighten) by creating content that serves those media outlets and those in power.

Unlike righties, this isn't a question of left-right "bias." It's a simple question of honesty and ethics.

The bloggers get it, even if they use potty-words some time.

For all the good things it has brought our society, the Web has also fostered ideological hermits, who only talk to folks who believe exactly what they do. This creates an echo chamber that only further convinces people that they are right, and everyone else is not only wrong, but an idiot or worse. So when an incident like this one arises, it's not enough to point out an error; they must prove that the error had nefarious origins. In some places on the Web, everything happens on a grassy knoll.

It is hardly a "conspiracy" to say that the motives of a Judith Miller, whoever puts on Wolf Blitzer at Time Warner, or the folks who give us the WaPo editorial pages have systematically downplayed certain aspects of what has happened, and have shaded other aspects to make it appear as if something else has happened.

Now I know this is "Jim Brady's feelings," and not fact we're talking about but you know what? When you, Jim Brady, and the WaPo stop behaving as the last stop on a right-wing echo chamber, you might just get some more respect.

The poision of anger....

Petty disputes are why homicide rates are rising in this "conservative era."

MILWAUKEE — One woman here killed a friend after they argued over a brown silk dress. A man killed a neighbor whose 10-year-old son had mistakenly used his dish soap. Two men argued over a cellphone, and pulling out their guns, the police say, killed a 13-year-old girl in the crossfire.

While violent crime has been at historic lows nationwide and in cities like New York, Miami and Los Angeles, it is rising sharply here and in many other places across the country.

And while such crime in the 1990's was characterized by battles over gangs and drug turf, the police say the current rise in homicides has been set off by something more bewildering: petty disputes that hardly seem the stuff of fistfights, much less gunfire or stabbings.

Suspects tell the police they killed someone who "disrespected" them or a family member, or someone who was "mean mugging" them, which the police loosely translate as giving a dirty look. And more weapons are on the streets, giving people a way to act on their anger.

Police Chief Nannette H. Hegerty of Milwaukee calls it "the rage thing."

"We're seeing a very angry population, and they don't go to fists anymore, they go right to guns," she said. "A police department can have an effect on drugs or gangs. But two people arguing in a home, how does the police department go in and stop that?"

Here in Milwaukee, where homicides jumped from 88 in 2004 to 122 last year, the number classified as arguments rose to 45 from 17, making up by far the largest category of killings, as gang and drug murders declined.

How to stop it?

Turn off Fox News.

Turn off George W. Bush.

And those religious right shows; D. James Kennedy seethes with anger and resentment.

James Dobson too.

But there's another issue in play here too: these people don't seem to matter to themselves or others. You shoot someone because they show disrespect? What could that mean other than the killer somehow thinks it important that others show him respect. It is literally a life or death thing with the killer.

How could this "Christian" nation imbue its citizens with such a sense of meaninglessness that they believe their existence is threatened by the disrespect of others? Well, part of the reason is the fact that so much respect seems to be demanded of people today, and people aren't trained to experience the wonder of their own existence, and the environment where these killings happen- inner cities in the Midwest- doesn't exactly encourage the kind of existence needed to exist "meaningfully."

Finally, yeah, no doubt there's a political aspect to it.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

"Faith" from a Buddhist perspective

In my discussions with those who call themselves "conservative Christians" often the question comes up "What do you believe?" They are often unsatisfied or suspicious by my answer, which is usually "not much."

The level of "faith" required to step out of the street when there's an oncoming car of course is not very much. The level of faith required to subscribe to some byzantine theology is naturally much higher, and from a Buddhist perspective, irrelevant. There are from a Buddhist perspective, questions that are, from their irrelevancy, harmful, because they distract from what needs to be done. There is the parable told of the poisoned arrow:

"It's just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends & companions, kinsmen & relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know the given name & clan name of the man who wounded me... until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short... until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored... until I know his home village, town, or city... until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow... until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated... until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird... until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.' He would say, 'I won't have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.' The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

"In the same way, if anyone were to say, 'I won't live the holy life under the Blessed One as long as he does not declare to me that 'The cosmos is eternal,'... or that 'After death a Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist,' the man would die and those things would still remain undeclared by the Tathagata.

So rather than attempting to divert one's attention to what one "believes," actually helping - acting- brings results. The level of faith required is simply that one can help, through one's actions informed by perception and experience.

And the proof is in the pudding; acting this way will indeed help, if done sincerely and with wisdom, generosity and compassion in mind.

No recourse to a detailed metaphysics is necessary.

So my rejoinder to those who would say, "What do you believe?" is: "What do you perceive? What have you experienced? How can you help?"

It often doesn't satisfy the "believers," but it is where I can help.

Saturday Forgotten Book Highlight: The Axemaker's Gift

Here at Notes in Samsara, I have decided to start a new feature- a review of books that I have around, in no particular order, because, well, there's huge numbers of books published every year, and therefore huge numbers of books get forgotten every year.

At least a few of 'em are worth remembering.

One such book is The Axemaker's Gift, by James Burke and Robert Ornstein.

It is a fascinating account of human technological and scientific history, meant to be read by a fire. Here's what came into my head as I pondered the book, which I recently found unread after an office move:

  • Lysenkoism in science has been present since its very beginnings. In China, science had to serve society in such a way that it could not develop much meaningful after, say, gunpowder. In Europe, - and this is a key point that our "intelligent" "design" Lysenkoists don't want to talk about- scientific philosophy evolved as a reaction to new discoveries. Though this is not in the book, it is curious to look at how "intelligent" "design" differs from this, and why it will therefore fail: "intelligent" "design" is an attempt to bottle up science by creating a religious philosophy to constrain it. What has happened intead throughout history is that religious philosophy has gradually given ground to science.

  • I'll expand on the above point in a bit, but it's useful to note the following (also not in the book): in Asia, Confucian constrained Buddhism did not prevent the decay of that civilization. In Europe, Augustinian and Thomistic and Calvinistic Christianity did not prevent the destruction of the Roman Empire, the campaigns against the Jews, the Thirty Years' War, the Black Death, and a host of other maladies.

  • However, it was essentially an accident of fate that allowed Nestorian "heretical" monks in the Middle East to preserve much of classical learning enough so that it could be studied by Muslims, so that it could be translated into Latin. The rediscory of Aristotle caused Thomism as a reaction. Bacon's and Descarte's contributions to the scientific method stem from the division in Christendom, coupled with the discovery of the unseen, coupled with the discovery of the Americas.

  • Here is a point that Burke and Ornstein hammer home time and time again: the very nature of specialized knowledge, such as science and technology creates, historically fosters a reaction to alleged elitism. This is exactly the gambit that the "intelligent" "design" crowd, and the "global warming" crowd and the "stem cell" crowd play with abandon. It is invariably an attempt by those playing the gambit (usually in the name of "religion") to maintain their political position in societies. The telescope, the microscope, the printing press, and a host of other inventions have all upset the political power of the clergy and other sectors of society.

  • Science is not therefore conservative. And we can say it's not Communist either, thanks to Lysenko.

  • Almost useless factoid: The Royal Society is the oldest scientific professional organization in the world, and "invented" the professional journal and its excruciatingly exacting requirements on publishing. Now I know why the IEEE is so sadistic. I am also a bit humbled, as I have handled and read publications from the Royal Soceity from the 19th century when I was poking around in the University Library doing research for my Ph.D. I had no idea of the provenance of the ideas therein.

  • The axemakers - that is scientists and engineers- create a double edged sword- just like religion. But one would hope that the scientific method can be used in pursuit of human survival, which is becoming increasingly precarious as the population of the world continues to grow exponentially.

Burke is doing a thing called the Knowledge Web; its blog is here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

If they don't the terror distraction...

I think by this time it might be stale though - anyway the Washington Post says a Senate take-over is a possibility.

Hope so.

.Krauthammer;s side-show oddity...

Krauthammer should have started his column today with "I'm going to bash a straw-man."

As much of the Islamic world erupts in a studied frenzy over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, there are voices of reason being heard on both sides. Some Islamic leaders and organizations, while endorsing the demonstrators' sense of grievance and sharing their outrage, speak out against using violence as a vehicle of expression. Their Western counterparts -- intellectuals, including most of the major newspapers in the United States -- are similarly balanced: While, of course, endorsing the principle of free expression, they criticize the Danish newspaper for abusing that right by publishing offensive cartoons, and they declare themselves opposed, in the name of religious sensitivity, to doing the same.

It's quite apparent as to why a CNN - or a Washington Post- might not publish "those cartoons." They've got potential hostages in places of the world, and it's bad PR for them to say "We're not going to publish those cartoons, because of our potential hostages.
Krauthammer acknowledges this at the end of his column (although he couldn't help slip in the lie "collaborators"). They've got a B-U-S-I-N-E-S-S to run, Charlie, and that's why they're not going to say what I just said (but they will publish nonsense from him, because to them, he's so far off the deep end...)

Yeah, I know there's virulent anti-semitism in non-Israeli media, and I also know there is extreme anti-Arab racism in Israel. Nobody there gets the truth, and I don't think anybody here does either.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

I know that righties will start parroting

The thing about Harry Reid and Abramoff. In fact, some folks are already lying about it.

But Josh Marshall's got the real deal

Now, do you notice what gets left unsaid in all this?


What did Reid do in response? That's really the key issue.

Did he intervene on behalf of Abramoff's Marianas clients? The gist of the whole narrative is that Reid was Team Abramoff's go-to guy to kill the bill that would have hurt the Marianas sweatshop owners.

But did he actually rise to the bait?

I rung up Reid spokesman Jim Manley. He said Reid was a "cosponsor of Sen. Kennedy's bill; he spoke in favor of the bill on the Senate; he was a strong supporter of the bill." When I pressed Manley on whether Sen. Reid took any action adverse to the bill or made changes in timing that lead to the bill's demise, he said, "No."

Then I got hold of Ron Platt, the lobbyist referenced in the passage above, on his cell phone while he was down at a conference in Florida. I asked him whether, to the best of his recollection, Reid had taken any action against the Kennedy bill. "I'm sure he didn't," Platt told me.

According to Platt, the purpose of his contacts was to see what information he could get about the timing and status of the legislation. Reid's position on the minimum wage issue was well known and there would have been no point trying to get his help blocking it. That's what Platt says. "I didn't ask Reid to intervene," said Platt. "I wouldn't have asked him to intervene. I don't think anyone else would have asked. And I'm sure he didn't."

Now, obviously, both Reid's office and Platt are interested parties on this question. If there were evidence to the contrary you wouldn't necessarily want to take their statements at face value. But as far as I can tell there is no evidence to the contrary. And that's after speaking with supporters of the legislation who would probably know. They don't seem to think Reid had anything to do with tanking the minimum wage bill. Nothing.

In this case, despite the AP story's narrative of lobbyist contacts, there doesn't seem to be any evidence whatsoever that Reid ever took any action on behalf of Abramoff's Marianas clients.

Wasn't that worth a mention?

Now evidently Reid did get money from Indian tribes, which I guess was Abramoff's way of getting somebody who was going to support them anyway appear, you know, to do what they wanted. ("See? Reid did what you wanted because you gave me money for my services!" the fraudster Abramoff no doubt said.)

But clearly the Marianas thing shows that Reid was - unlike the Bush folks- not being a lapdog for Abramoff.


Evidently there's a big bullshit spin-dry cycle over the fact that it's being report that Bush met with Abramoff many times, and attempting to drag Reid into it is an attempt at a "balance" that obscures the truth.

Our media is contemptible.

Treasongate's heating up again...

Yes, Valerie Plame was a NOC.

Feb. 13, 2006 issue - Newly released court papers could put holes in the defense of Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, in the Valerie Plame leak case. Lawyers for Libby, and White House allies, have repeatedly questioned whether Plame, the wife of White House critic Joe Wilson, really had covert status when she was outed to the media in July 2003. But special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame had indeed done "covert work overseas" on counterproliferation matters in the past five years, and the CIA "was making specific efforts to conceal" her identity, according to newly released portions of a judge's opinion. (A CIA spokesman at the time is quoted as saying Plame was "unlikely" to take further trips overseas, though.)

Libby is singing like a canary. And he's singing about Dick Cheney.

This could get good.

Sideshows, Evangelicals and Republicans.

I think I owe DarkSyde an apology; I had thought he'd over-reacted a bit on the Evangelical Outpost comment section after Katrina, but now, after seeing what Joe Carter thinks about global warming, I believe that DarkSyde was spot on when he said:

When is this much vaunted 'world view' of yours going to actually produce results beside Joe Carter missing the most obvious disaster in 100 years and blabbering on about his superior 'methodology'? Because while you carp and whine and bitch and moan about the evil scientific 'establishment, I and those same materialists were saving lives, predicting the disaster down to the time, place, and details, and putting people up in our homes house and organizing the first online center for evacuees to fund refuge; before you had a clue, before it even happened! How? Why using science!

Yes, if you visit Carter's blog today, you'll find more of the same science bashing- by trying to claim that those evangelicals who recently signed a statement against global warming were somehow snookered into following the wrong problem. Or something like that.

Which brings me to my main point...

I have a suspicion that many folks who refer to themselves as "Evangelicals" or "conservative Christians" - at least many of those with megaphones- are, like those famous "independents" like Bill O'Reilly or Larry Elder- merely shills for the Republican Party.

And I mean that literally; as Wikipedia says:

A shill is an associate of a person selling goods or services, who pretends no association to the seller and assumes the air of an enthusiastic customer. The intention of the shill is, using crowd psychology, to encourage other potential customers, unaware of the set-up, to purchase said goods or services. Shills are often employed by confidence artists.

The term shill of course was first associated with the sideshow, that curiously American institution where people would pay money to see freaks and oddities, and it didn't matter at all if the freaks and oddities were real or not.

I think the sideshow is a good metaphor for the right-wing media these days. The Rev. Lowery "offensiveness" at "THE PRESIDNET" is to the right. The Muslim cartoon oddity's over there. Here's George Bush saying "Mission Accomplished!"

And step right up, folks, come see the brain dead flatliner whose eyes actually follow a balloon! Come see Terri Schiavo! Yesiree, and in that jar over there we have the world's smallest human being -don't leave without catching a glimpse of the zygote!

Of course it all diverts, it's all strangely compelling to watch, and we're poorer afterwards; it's intended that way.

Now I will state flat out that I have never been paid a dime to do anything for any political party- in fact, I've paid money...

And I know that in the big scheme of things, that Joe Carter's audience is nothing compared to Chris Matthews.

But when I see something like Carter wrote today; when I see James Dobson coming down where he did on the issue, and when I see both of them silent as church mice on the issues of Republican corruption, I have to say, can this all be coincidence?

Is James Dobson real or is he merely a shill for the Republican party, with a quid pro quo of cashgivers being sent to and fro?

Hugh Hewitt, I think is an even more obvious example. Can he really be that stupid as to be drawn in by the Terri Schiavo mess? The Harriet Miers mess?

And Carter? Is he a mark or a shill?

The Powerline folks?

You decide.