Friday, June 30, 2006

MIT Open Courseware

Very nice. See here.

Singular Value Decomposition for Dummies...

I had no idea it was used in genetics...

Frank Zappa ought to be on our money...

Behold this bit from Crossfire 20 years ago...

HT: Ed Brayton.

I had forgotten how truly threatening these people were way back when.

The Myth of al Qaeda...

This story in Newsweek is worth remembering:

Abu Zubaydah, ... was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. As NEWSWEEK first reported in “The Debate Over Torture” more than 18 months ago, the CIA's difficult interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was resisting standard questioning methods, set in motion a long train of Justice Department and White House legal memos justifying harsh treatment of terror suspects. This legal discussion ultimately contributed to the tougher interrogation standards applied at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. Was all this effort at extracting information worth the blight to America's honor and reputation? Probably not when it comes to Abu Zubaydah. As former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind writes in his new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," the person whom George W. Bush characterized as a "top operative plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States" was discovered to be more of a low-level messenger man, and a slightly daft one as well. "It was like calling someone who runs a company's in-house travel department the COO," one CIA official said, according to Suskind.

...The more we learn about Al Qaeda, the more we have to conclude that the group contained a lot more Abu Zubaydah types than it did Muhammad Attas. In contrast to the truly terrifying Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, and 9/11 master strategist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—both of whom took terrorism to new levels of competence—most Al Qaeda operatives look more like life's losers, the kind who in a Western culture would join street gangs or become a petty criminals but who in the jihadi world could lose themselves in a "great cause," making some sense of their pinched, useless lives. Like Richard Reid, who tried to set his shoelace on fire. Or Ahmed Ressam, who bolted in a panic from his car at the U.S. border during an alleged mission to bomb the L.A. airport. Or Iyman Faris, who comically believed he could bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch. Or the crazed Zacarias Moussaoui, who was disowned even by bin Laden. Then you've got the hapless Lackawanna Six, and, more recently, the Toronto 17, who were thinking about pulling off an Oklahoma City-style attack with ammonium nitrate—or perhaps just beheading the prime minister—but hadn't quite gotten around to it.

Were these people potentially lethal? Yes. One doesn't have to graduate at the top of one's class to set off explosives in a satchel on a subway. Were most of them capable of hatching a minutely timed scheme to obtain and detonate a nuclear bomb in a city, or launch a biowarfare attack? No. "In an open system like a network, the bumbler level is always going to be high because of the ease of entry," says John Arquilla, an intelligence expert at the Naval Postgraduate School. "That's how someone like [American Taliban supporter] John Walker Lindh can walk into the high councils of Al Qaeda and meet bin Laden. And recently the bumbler factor has gone up considerably." Ironically the most competent "Al Qaeda" leader in recent years, at least since the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003, was Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, who came close to subverting the American project and creating a sectarian war in Iraq. But he did that largely on his own, facilitated by the fortuitous conjoining of Iraq with the war on terror. Before the Iraq war Zarqawi was a nobody, hiding out in northern Iraq, largely unconnected to Saddam's regime even though Colin Powell, in his infamous Feb. 5, 2003, United Nations Security Council speech, claimed that Saddam had given Zarqawi "harbor." And he was not part of bin Laden's group. Would he have attacked U.S. interests at some point, somewhere? Almost certainly. But the Iraq invasion gave Zarqawi a chance to blossom on his own as a jihadi.

Another figure named by Powell in that U.N. speech, Abu Atiya, was said to be the Zarqawi and Al Qaeda link to terror networks in Europe. But according to a French investigation documented in Le Figaro newspaper, he turned out to be a minor figure. "If he was so important, then why was he returned to his home country, Jordan, and released at one point?" says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, who has closely tracked the fate of high-level "ghost" detainees. "He does not fit the profile of high-level Al Qaeda terrorists. Neither do any of these supposed Al Qaeda operatives that were trumped up by administration officials in 2002 and 2003. Every single one of these stories, when subjected to the harsh light of public scrutiny, has collapsed." Those of us who have been on the war-on-terror beat since 9/11 have been reluctant to write about Al Qaeda this way, although some of us have suspected for a long time the group was never all that it was cracked up to be. Especially in the immediate wake of the horrific but brilliantly coordinated attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, it seemed absurdly risky—if not downright unpatriotic—to suggest that perhaps Muhammad Atta was the best bin Laden had, his Hail Mary pass, so to speak.

But there was substantial evidence showing that, up to 9/11, Al Qaeda could barely hold its act together, that it was a failing group, hounded from every country it tried to roost in (except for the equally lunatic Taliban-run Afghanistan). That it didn't represent the mainstream view even in the jihadi community, much less the rest of the Muslim world. This is the reality of the group that the Bush administration has said would engage us in a "long war" not unlike the cold war—the group that has led to the transformation of U.S. foreign policy and America's image in the world. The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list Al Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan. It is also fairly well established that bin Laden and his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were engaged in a fierce pre-9/11 struggle with their own meager band of followers over whether it was wise to take on the "far enemy"—the United States—when many jihadis really wanted to engage the "near enemy," their national regimes, like Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Much of this information, e.g., about al- Zarqawi, was reported elsewhere. It has always been odd to me that the Bush regime would claim that Saddam "harbored" al Zarqawi, when in fact he was in the Kurdish area, outside of Saddam's sphere of influence (at least until we toppled Saddam Hussein.)

This stuff needs to be remembered: although these clowns had lethal elements to them, they were generally not the threat to "freedom" that the Bush regime made them to be; they milked this essentially criminal problem for all they could to get whatever they thought they and their cronies wanted, without, of course, actually stamping out al Qaeda. They had no incentive to do that, because as long as they were around the gravy train would keep running.

It is a national shame and outrage. Even if al Qaeda were the threat that the Bush regime claims, it is manifestly evident that the Bush regime has not the intent and ability to crush them.

HT: "One Pissed off Liberal" at Kos.

Also worth reading: The scandal connected to the "terror" arrests in Florida.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The pension crisis and executive over-compensation:

David Sirota's post in Daily Kos is a must-read.

(More here.)

It's George Lakoff all over!

Here's a good Salon article:

June 29, 2006 | A recurring gag on "The Daily Show" involves a series of short clips of appearances by various advocates of the Bush administration on assorted news programs; the joke is that they all use the same buzzwords -- "cut-and-run" is the latest example -- with a robotic uniformity. The laughter this routine gets comes partly from the way it makes the conservatives seem like automatons, and partly from the sheer obviousness of the ploy. What makes them think we're so dumb? George Lakoff, a University of California at Berkeley linguistics professor who has lately taken to advising the left on how to better convey its political message, would probably reply, "What makes you think you're so smart?"

Lakoff's latest book, "Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea," doesn't offer a material advance on his earlier works on political culture, "Moral Politics" (1980) and the how-to manual "Don't Think of an Elephant," which became a bestseller in 2004. "Whose Freedom?" focuses on the one key concept in its title and elaborates on all the ways that progressives can reclaim the idea of freedom from the right and present their political approach as more true to traditional American ideals of liberty. Conservatives, Lakoff argues, have used the media to imprint their version of "freedom" in the public's mind -- literally in the circuits of our brains -- using a canny understanding of how political language shapes political beliefs and the very same numbing repetition that "The Daily Show" mocks...

The strength of "Whose Freedom?" is that it attributes the left's current foundering not just to a failure of strategy but to a failure of self-knowledge. Progressives, he argues, don't really understand what they believe or, just as important, how they believe it. "Freedom and liberty are progressive ideas -- our ideas," he writes. "It is time for progressives to fully integrate them into our everyday thinking and into our language." Furthermore, the progressive notion of freedom is identical to "traditional American freedom," which "still reigns in the American mind." Progressives really are in tune with what many average Americans believe, Lakoff insists, but conservatives are so good at hijacking the language to peddle their own radical redefinition of "freedom" that the other side can't get its message across.

Lakoff's political thinking turns on several ideas gleaned from his background in cognitive science. First, rooted in his early work in linguistics, is the idea that most thought is metaphorical. We understand abstract concepts by "mapping" them onto concrete, physical experiences. The language we use to describe freedom (or the lack of it) is grounded in metaphors of bodily movement and of coercion and restraint: groups are "held back," the press is "gagged," people gain "access" to higher office, etc. That's why, Lakoff writes, our feelings about freedom are "visceral," because they're based on our animal desire to move about as we please. These feelings, like most feelings, are essential to the judgments we make about what we do, but they aren't strictly rational.

More important to Lakoff's political influence is the idea of "frames," the underlying structures of abstract concepts. A concept like freedom has an "uncontested core" -- a central nugget of ideas that almost everyone can agree on -- while different people can harbor radically different notions about the form the concept takes in real life. For example, the left and right in America may both agree that freedom is good, but while the left sees poverty relief programs as offering the poor freedom from want and fear, the right usually sees them as fostering a dependency on the government that lessens their freedom...

In Lakoff's scheme, there are deep frames -- larger structures that define how someone understands a whole range of questions -- and surface frames, which determine how they view specific issues. Probably the most resonant of Lakoff's ideas contrasts conservative and progressive beliefs about how governments relate to their people. These frames are metaphors based on family models. Conservatives, as he sees it, subscribe to a "strict father" ideal, a model in which the leader leads with a moral authority that "must not be seriously challenged," protecting the family from the very real evils of the outside world...

Progressives, by contrast, subscribe to the "nurturant parent" model. This concept seems somewhat foggier, "authoritative without being authoritarian," based on mutual respect and the idea that discussion and explanation, rather than simple decree and force, are the best way to set rules.

I heard the late Allen Ginsberg talking about Bob Dylan on the PBS documentary last night; he mentioned that among Tibetan Buddhist teachers, it's considered a shame if the student does not surpass the teacher. I think Lakoff is wrong with his framing; it's not simply a nurturing parent, but an empowering parent that progressives, at least like myself, favor.

And, lest I forget about Lakoff, Bush is not incompetent:

The idea that Bush is incompetent is a curious one. Consider the following (incomplete) list of major initiatives the Bush administration, with a loyal conservative Congress, has accomplished:

  • Centralizing power within the executive branch to an unprecedented degree
  • Starting two major wars, one started with questionable intelligence and in a manner with which the military disagreed
  • Placing on the Supreme Court two far-right justices, and stacking the lower federal courts with many more
  • Cutting taxes during wartime, an unprecedented event
  • Passing a number of controversial bills such as the PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Medicare Drug bill, the Bankruptcy bill and a number of massive tax cuts
  • Rolling back and refusing to enforce a host of basic regulatory protections
  • Appointing industry officials to oversee regulatory agencies
  • Establishing a greater role for religion through faith-based initiatives
  • Passing Orwellian-titled legislation assaulting the environment — “The Healthy Forests Act” and the “Clear Skies Initiative” — to deforest public lands, and put more pollution in our skies
  • Winning re-election and solidifying his party’s grip on Congress
  • These aren’t signs of incompetence. As should be painfully clear, the Bush administration has been overwhelmingly competent in advancing its conservative vision. It has been all too effective in achieving its goals by determinedly pursuing a conservative philosophy.

    It’s not Bush the man who has been so harmful, it’s the conservative agenda.

    Yep, that dern liberal media...

    McGavick ought to be toast:

    Republican Senate candidate McGavick should be called on his support for the destruction of Social Security at every opportunity:

    The viability of the Social Security system must be protected for those who need it. The system was intended to help the elderly poor and the disabled. Not all of our elderly are poor. A voluntary system should be instituted allowing those who can afford to do so, to return their Social Security payments.

    I, like millions of other Americans paid into the system, and shouldn't be denied the money I put into it. (Not to mention the fact that children who lost parents deserve money too.)

    More lunatic nonsense from the NY Times re: Mexico

    What the heck is it with Latin American leftists, and the virulent reaction against them in the US media. Is it because ...gasp...we might get similar ideas around here?

    The latest from the NY Times:

    MEXICO CITY, June 28 — Mexico's polarizing presidential campaign ended officially on Wednesday and, with four days to go before the vote, it has come down to a contest between a gritty, charismatic advocate for the poor and a well-educated technocrat.

    Like many elections, this one is a struggle between promise and fear and remains too close to call. On one side is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City who has traveled little outside Mexico and says he is inspired by Gandhi and Franklin D. Roosevelt. On the other is Felipe Calderón, the former energy minister with a Harvard degree who talks of fitting Mexico into the globalized economy...

    "My fear is that with López Obrador we could end up very soon with an all-powerful president again," Enrique Krauze, an author and historian, said Monday at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, adding that Mr. López Obrador was "very ignorant" and "inward looking" and "dismisses the rule of law as something made by the bourgeoisie to oppress the poor."

    Such accusations and concerns — and many consider them nothing short of fearmongering — have defined the race for many voters.

    Mr. López Obrador has been hit with advertisements depicting him as a spendthrift populist with a tendency to foment violent protests. His opponents have compared him to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and have suggested that he is an autocrat. Many of Mr. Calderón's supporters acknowledge they are voting out of fear of what a maverick leftist like Mr. López Obrador might do, rather than enthusiasm for Mr. Calderón, a dapper man who speaks with all the fire of an economist.

    "It's more of a vote against López Obrador than for Calderón," explained Jorge Valenzuela, a cab driver in Mexico City. "López Obrador seems to me like a well-intentioned person, but he's very violent."

    Not a shred of fact is given against the charges made here. Not a bit. Krauze, of course, got to grace the Times op-ed pages the other day.

    What does Obrador say about this?

    "What are they afraid of?" he asked supporters in Toluca on Tuesday. "That they'll lose their privileges. I would tell them, 'Calm down, be serene, nothing's going to happen.' Vengeance is not my forte. I'm not going to invent crimes. We're not going to hunt down anyone. The only thing that will happen is that Mexico will not be a country of privileges, the government will not be at the service of a minority.'"

    And maybe that's really what the NY Times fears.

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006

    Good question...


    Bush administration officials have been lining up to condemn The New York Times for revealing a program to track financial transactions as part of the war on terrorism. But if the Times’ revelation about a program to monitor international exchanges is so damaging, why has the administration been chattering about efforts to monitor domestic transactions for nearly five years?

    Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, many journalists — including this one — were briefed by U.S. Customs officials on Operation Green Quest, an effort to roll up terrorist financiers by monitoring, among other things, "suspicious" bank transfers and ancient money lending programs favored by people of Middle Eastern descent.

    I interviewed Marcy Forman, director of Green Quest, at her Washington offices in December 2001, when I was a writer for Government Executive magazine. Our meeting was sanctioned by Customs' public affairs office, and came at a time when the White House was eager to talk about all the work federal agencies were doing to hunt down terrorists. Forman told me the kinds of people, transactions, even locations that the government was targeting. (These are details, it should be noted, that the recent Times piece did not reveal.) Among the potentially sensitive items Forman told me, which were published:

    “Operation Green Quest is focusing on the informal, largely paperless form of money exchange known as hawala, which is Arabic for ‘to change.’”

    “Few undercover agents can penetrate Middle Eastern communities and money laundering rings because they look like outsiders and don't speak the language…. As a result, Green Quest has to be more clever, by setting traps on the Internet and working to flush currency traffickers out of their hiding places.”

    “Treasury and FBI investigators have identified hawala as a means by which the alleged Sept. 11 terrorists may have received money from overseas.”

    “Green Quest investigators, who've spent their careers dismantling money laundering rackets, were blindsided by the existence of the system. ‘Most of us couldn't spell hawala’ before Sept. 11,’ Forman said.”

    “The agencies' [involved in Green Quest] cooperative efforts have recently culminated in raids of alleged money laundering operations that aid suspected terrorist networks.”

    “Green Quest also wants to lower the threshold at which bank deposits and electronic funds transfers must be documented. Dropping the ceiling from $10,000 to $750, Forman said, may force money traffickers to try to get their cash out of the country by hand. They would then be subject to capture by a beefed-up cadre of Customs Service officers at border crossings, airports and seaports.”

    Indeed. Why are they going after the NY Times? To throw red meat.

    Bush RAISED our taxes!

    Here in Washington State, the sales-tax deduction is set to expire. (We don't have an income tax, therefore tax fairness would insist on deductibility of the sales tax.) That's a tax increase. A Republican tax increase. Let's not forget it.

    Expats have a problem too:

    Globalization is sending tax rates tumbling across the world, as jobs and capital migrate across borders in search of lower and more equitable taxation regimes. That makes it all the more imperative not only to roll back the recent tax increases on U.S. expatriates, but to eliminate double-taxation of overseas Americans altogether. Thankfully, there's a new bill in front of the U.S. Congress to do just that.

    The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that insists on applying an onerous system of "world-wide taxation." Since U.S. citizens living overseas are already, in most cases, paying local taxes in the countries where they work, that means they end up being taxed twice -- thus violating one of the most important principles of good tax policy. Most other countries, by contrast, have the good sense only to apply "territorial taxation," confining their taxation systems to income earned inside their national borders.

    America's policy makers have tried to mitigate the adverse impact of world-wide taxation by exempting Americans living overseas from paying U.S. taxation on up to $82,400 annually. This is the "foreign-earned income exclusion" in Section 911 of the U.S. tax code. Thanks to a last-minute amendment inserted into a recent comprehensive tax bill, the foreign income exclusion will be slightly raised, but other benefits, such as housing exclusions, will be cut -- resulting in a huge spike in tax payments for many American expatriates.

    The rest of the article is Heritage Foundation propaganda. And propaganda it is. If you have's stock screener, you can look at annualized capital investment and correlate it to profitability.

    It's not pretty if you do that.

    Not much to report on today... Mexico...

    The NY Times doesn't like leftists in Mexico.

    SHOULD Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the front-runner in Mexico's presidential race, emerge victorious on Sunday, it could usher in a form of Latin American leftism as yet unseen: messianic populism. Mexico's fragile democracy could become its first casualty.

    Outside of Mexico, people ask which Latin American leader Mr. López Obrador most resembles: Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia or Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. The truth is that he's not like any of them. He does not have the military stamp of Comandante Chávez or the indigenist roots of Mr. Morales. Nor is he a born compromiser like Mr. Lula who, as some Brazilians say, seems to "know the value of 10 percent." Mr. López Obrador is different: he always strives for 100 percent. And he has higher models to emulate.

    Earlier this year an interviewer asked him what religion he followed. "I'm Catholic, fundamentally Christian," Mr. López Obrador responded. "The life and work of Jesus fill me with passion. He, too, was persecuted in his time, spied on by the powerful of his era, and he was crucified."...

    His platform is full of unrealizable initiatives: a microcredit program (a very promising project) but for a whopping eight million people (consider that the successful Grameen Bank of Bangladesh has taken on fewer than six million borrowers since 1976); bullet trains from Mexico City to the northern border (which would not only be expensive, but also face competition from low-cost airlines).

    Yeah, microcredit won't work for 8 million people!

    That dern liberal media again...

    Here's what Tom Hayden says:

    Apocalyptic scenarios are never to be ruled out in Mexico. If Lopez Obrador wins by a close margin and sectors of the elite and armed forces refuse to accept defeat, much of Mexico might become like Oaxaca and San Salvador Atenco, with people pouring into the streets in a prolonged confrontation.

    An even darker projection, commonly if privately expressed by many Mexicans, is that Lopez Obrador will be assassinated if he comes close to the ring of power. Luis Donaldo Colosio, a presidential candidate in 1994, was assassinated in broad daylight. That election ushered in the NAFTA era and the simultaneous Zapatista uprising.

    If the supporters of Lopez Obrador sense that the election is stolen from them, they will not go quietly like Al Gore’s Democratic Party in 2000. It is accepted across Mexico that the 1988 presidential election was crudely stolen from the then-PRD candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, son of Lazaro Cardenas. At that time, the lack of popular organization and fears of a massacre led the PRD candidate to accept the fraudulent outcome. “Not this time,” I was told. “The people won’t let this election be stolen.” The street demand to defend the vote could bridge the differences, at least temporarily, with the Zapatistas.

    Indeed, a fusion of popular mobilization and electoral politics has saved Lopez Obrador before. In 1998, his campaigners blocked roads and oil fields after he lost a gubernatorial race in Tabasco described as “fraud-ridden” by the New York Times (March 16, 2005). Only last year, the major parties tried to force him off the ballot by indicting him on a spurious corruption charge involving the construction of a road to a private hospital. Presidential candidates are disqualified if they are indicted. So Lopez Obrador’s destiny was in doubt until hundreds of thousands of people rallied in the streets. Lopez Obrador announced he would go to jail rather than submit, leaving his enemies to ponder the prospect of 1 million Mexicans marching on his prison site. The charges went away.

    This fusion of direct action and constitutional politics makes this a unique campaign in a country long ruled from the top down by chicanery and fraud. It appears that mass mobilization is necessary to make electoral politics work at all, and to defend the vote even when politics succeed.

    Close supporters of Lopez Obrador dismiss these extreme scenarios, not wanting to increase tensions any further. They insist that their candidate will win decisively by peaceful means. They also are quick to reject any allegations that they are closet chavistas or fidelistas. Having an electoral strategy by itself separates them from the Zapatistas. While naturally part of the progressive trend now sweeping Latin America, they insist on a unique Mexican identity in the tradition of Morelos, Juarez, Zapata, Madero and, perhaps most of all, Cardenas. That tradition alone always has constituted a challenge to the United States.

    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    Water is the next oil...

    Unfortunately, other than GE, (yeah, GE) I haven't found anything worth looking at for investment purposes. And GE is vulnerable right now; it's P/E is too high.

    Meanwhile, look at this...

    "Vast and reasonably priced" for "you get what you pay for, otherwise free" spectrum?

    The NY Times provides no insight into what unlicensed networks are, do, and cost:

    TAIPEI, Taiwan — Peter Shyu, an engineer, spends most of his day out of the office, and when he needs an Internet connection he often pops into one of the many coffee shops in this city that offer free wireless access.

    He could use WiFly, the extensive wireless network commissioned by the city government that is the cornerstone of Taipei's ambitious plan to turn itself into an international technology hub. But that would cost him $12.50 a month...

    Despite WiFly's ubiquity — with 4,100 hot spot access points reaching 90 percent of the population — just 40,000 of Taipei's 2.6 million residents have agreed to pay for the service since January. Q-Ware, the local Internet provider that built and runs the network, once expected to have 250,000 subscribers by the end of the year, but it has lowered that target to 200,000.

    That such a vast and reasonably priced wireless network has attracted so few users in an otherwise tech-hungry metropolis should give pause to civic leaders in Chicago, Philadelphia and dozens of other American cities that are building wireless networks of their own.

    $12.50/month ain't cheap, and it certainly ain't cheap in Taiwan.

    And I can't imagine that phone service, or downloads of music is going to make much of a difference.

    Monday, June 26, 2006

    What Stirling Newberry said

    in this post on TPM cafe reflects sentiments I share:

    In short, I'm in favor of recessions hitting those hardest who are the most responsible for them, and that isn't the average working person, the average poor person, or even the average upper middle class person. It's the executive class.


    Mount St. Helens

    If you haven't been there in 5 years, you really ought to go see it again. It really, really really is becoming a different mountain.

    Sunday, June 25, 2006

    Ye gods, just how ignorant is the intended NY Times reader?

    Here's a typical bit from today; I've thought of about 3 or 4 of them from various parts of the on-line issue before in frustration I got to this one:

    INEQUALITY has always been part of the American economy, but the gap between the rich and the poor has recently been widening at an alarming rate. Today, more than 40 percent of total income is going to the wealthiest 10 percent, their biggest share of the nation's pie in at least 65 years. The social and political repercussions of this disparity have been widely debated, but what about the effects on the economy?

    Oddly, despite its position in the political debate, the question has received little attention from economists...

    Perhaps because the effects of inequality have been understood for quite some time?

    Sir Michael Marmot, a professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London and director of its International Institute for Society and Health, has spent most of his career studying the link between inequality and health around the world. In a much-publicized paper published in May in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Sir Michael and three colleagues studied health in the United States and in Britain. They found that at various points throughout the social hierarchy, there was more illness in the United States than in Britain.

    Sir Michael theorizes that a reason for the disparity was the greater inequalities in the United States and heavier stresses resulting from them.

    Yeah, yeah we knew that.

    Saturday, June 24, 2006

    What about the scientists and engineers?

    Alon Levy at UTI has a post that refers to a post by one that refers to by one Kristine Harley that is worth a link and a quote:

    We are being groomed by her and the other media sock puppets of rich creationist conservatives for a new American order, one in which the U.S. health care system is for shit! Okay? In lieu of basic health services we are going to be given prayer and preaching and personal guilt, and to accomplish this, these cretins need to rewrite the whole history of science--the most precious thing that we have--in order to push supernaturalism. They who control the past will control the future. Is that clear?

    Already, a significant portion of Americans do not have health insurance, and the number of employers who don't offer this basic right are growing. One-fifth of all children live in poverty. Television is killing literacy in this country. And the same Americans who revile Bush for getting us into the Iraq War are the ones who will not step up to the plate and accept responsibility for pushing superstition into our nation's schools. These people have no right to whine about Bush while simultaneously siding with his minions who would teach little kids that the eye was intelligently designed and that people get sick because of "sin."

    Whether or not George W. Bush stole the (or both) election(s), we are all responsible for not stealing legitimate science from the next generation of schoolchildren. If we lose the next generation of scientists, it will be our tragedy and our fault, not Bush's. That means that American students must learn evolutionary theory, not the latest supernaturalist garbage. That means that you, dear reader, cannot in any way support the teaching of Intelligent Design or Biblical or Koranic or whatever-have-you creationism in public schools. Facts are facts.

    One thing I'd note though, as a scientist: These folks pushing this crap from the highest levels do not, cannot, really believe this crap. They need scientists and engineers to run the creative engines that give them an edge. They "know" the scientists and engineers produce theories and intellectual property and design for stuff that works.

    To me, that is one of the big neon signs that indicate that the fealty the ideas of Leo Strauss (or, by way of imitative flattery, Lenin) holds sway amongst the folks in power. The "inside party," in contrast to what Orwell wrote knows they're peddling a crock of shit. From the Wikipedia entry on Strauss:

    Strauss noted that thinkers of the first rank, going back to Plato, had raised the problem of whether good and effective politicians could be completely truthful and still achieve the necessary ends of their society. By implication, Strauss asks his readers to consider whether "noble lies" have any role at all to play in uniting and guiding the polis. Are "myths" needed to give people meaning and purpose and to ensure a stable society? Or can men and women dedicated to relentlessly examining, in Nietzsche's language, those "deadly truths", flourish freely? Thus, is there a limit to the political, and what can be known absolutely? In The City and Man, Strauss discusses the myths outlined in Plato's Republic that are required for all governments. These include a belief that the state's land belongs to it even though it was likely acquired illegitimately, and that citizenship is rooted in something more than the accidents of birth.

    According to Strauss, Karl Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies had mistaken the city-in-speech described in Plato's Republic for a blueprint for regime reform--which it was not. Strauss quotes Cicero, "The Republic does not bring to light the best possible regime but rather the nature of political things- the nature of the city." (History of Political Philosophy, p.68). Strauss himself argued in many publications that the city-in-speech was unnatural, percisely because "it is rendered possible by the abstraction from eros (Strauss' italics). (HPP, p.60). The city-in-speech abstracted from eros, or bodily needs, thus it could never guide politics in the manner Popper claimed.
    Now from the above quotes, I question whether much time should be spent on Strauss. I have to find a class of linear operators...which would inevitably be more beautiful and rewarding than to review the musings of some deceased crackpot whose noodle-headed ideas indirectly were implicated as a supporting cause of the deaths of thousands. But one quote at the bottom of the Wikipedia entry bears noting:

    …no bloody or unbloody change of society can eradicate the evil in man: as long as there will be men, there will be malice, envy and hatred, and hence there cannot be a society which does not have to employ coercive restraint.
    This quote should be singled out because of its interlocking falsities:
    • There are indeed changes of society that can mitigate evil in humanity.
    • There are indeed changes of society that can mitigate greed, hatred, and ignorance. Strauss doesn't mind not mitigating ignorance, I would suppose.
    • These changes start from within one's self, and is quintessentially self-evident.
    • Hence there can be societies in which coercive restraint is minimized. It inolves a disciplined citizenry contributing to the common good.
    No society of insiders focused only on their own short-term benefits can remain top dog for any extended period, because some folks who are within the unwashed masses will always discover disciplined awareness transmuted into action will have benefits that help all, to the detriment of the insiders, and these folks within the unwashed masses must exist precisely because at least some of the unwashed masses must always posses a degree of awareness and skepticism because it is necessary to keep the apparatus of the society running.

    Friday, June 23, 2006

    The new physics and Kos

    I can't imagine there's a reader of my blog who doesn't know aobut Kos, of course, but today's bit by Darksyde on the new physics includes this pretty addictive Power-Point like show.

    Thursday, June 22, 2006

    Weird NY Times story on Repubs:

    I had heard Greg Pallast last night on Mike Malloy as I couldn't get to sleeep...Pallast's words were a cliche to a guy who'd done nicely in oil: he said that the reason we invaded Iraq was to keep oil prices high, not to get oil.

    I kinda thought that, and so did the stock market,....which (Leo Strauss anyone?) brings me to today's story from the NY Times:

    But people who attended a series of high-level meetings this month between White House and Congressional officials say President Bush's aides argued that it could be a politically fatal mistake for Republicans to walk away from the war in an election year.

    White House officials including the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, outlined ways in which Republican lawmakers could speak more forcefully about the war. Participants also included Mr. Bush's top political and communications advisers: his deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove; his political director, Sara Taylor; and the White House counselor, Dan Bartlett. Mr. Rove is newly freed from the threat of indictment in the C.I.A. leak case, and leaders of both parties see his reinvigorated hand in the strategy.

    The meetings were followed by the distribution of a 74-page briefing book to Congressional offices from the Pentagon to provide ammunition for what White House officials say will be a central line of attack against Democrats from now through the midterm elections: that the withdrawal being advocated by Democrats would mean thousands of troops would have died for nothing, would give extremists a launching pad from which to build an Islamo-fascist empire and would hand the United States its must humiliating defeat since Vietnam.

    Republicans say the cumulative effect would be to send a message of weakness to the world at a time of new threats from Iran and North Korea and would leave enemies controlling Iraq's vast oil reserves, the third largest in the world. (The book, including a chapter entitled "Rapid Response" with answers to frequent Democratic charges, was sent via e-mail to Republican lawmakers but, in an apparent mistake, also to some Democrats.)

    Well, let's go see "Rapid Response." But first:

    ...the withdrawal being advocated by Democrats would mean thousands of troops would have died for nothing, would give extremists a launching pad from which to build an Islamo-fascist empire and would hand the United States its must humiliating defeat since Vietnam.

    Huh? Must humliate defeat? Why must? Must not? And, er,uh..."Islamo-fascist?"

    Thousands of troops died so that George Bush could do a devil's bargain with the Saudis so that they could sell non-cheap oil and in return they'd make a pretense of occasionally rounding up the usual suspects.

    This is projection of blame: thousands died because it was George W. Bush's fault and you want thousands more to die because?????

    About "Rapid Response." I haven't found it on line yet, but I'm looking. But it's evident that they've been ham-fisted about this whole thing, something the Times sort of airbrushed out.

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006

    This is so below the belt...

    I'm ashamed to do this, and please accept my apologies in advance, and yes, I agree if it was wrong to bash Chelsea Clinton, it's wrong to bash descendants of George H.W. Bush, ....but still, what Wonkette reports is just the sort of thing that Bush relatives ought not to do.

    Creationist chuckles...

    PZ Meyers reminds me, via this chortler at "Uncommon Descent" (into what? stupidity? ) that as I was trying to get my mind to turn off yesterday, I had found that wonderful program with cheesey graphics, "The Creation Network."

    And they were highlighting creationist Robert Gentry, who claimed there's polonium where there shouldn't be any in granite; polonium has a short 1/2 life, therefore, -POW!- instant creation. a geologist who knows better than I says, "there is no good evidence they are the result of polonium decay as opposed to any other radioactive isotope, or even that they are caused by radioactivity at all. "

    Gentry, as it turns out, has a website. He seems a bit peeved that his dogma is not taken seriously by scientists.

    Conservatism: still no ideas, "just irritable mental gestures."

    They NY Times helpfully tells us today that the righties have published their own Das Kaptial...

    "Feel the heft of it," said Lee Edwards, a former aide to Senator Barry Goldwater, who appears in the volume with a byline and an entry. "It's more than a book. It is, if you will, an estimate — it shows the maturation of the conservative movement."...

    "We've gone from history's adversary to destiny's child, but governing has brought a whole new level of challenge," said Jeffrey O. Nelson, publisher of ISI Books, the conservative press in Wilmington, Del., that produced the encyclopedia. Criticizing what he called the "big education, big spending, big war, big government" conservatism of Republican leaders, Mr. Nelson said he hoped that the book, whose list price is $35, would help the movement return to its small-government roots...

    Some entries wear their conservatism on their sleeve. Goldwater's "loyalties were to duty, honor and country." Ronald Reagan had a "vigorous and principled agenda." Bill Clinton was "corrupt."

    Except for a few hare-brained schems about as sensible as the Stalin cow, I didn't find anything that resembed an "idea" in that story.

    There is a mention of "public choice theory" but it looks like Wikipedia's entry implies that the rational stuff can be divorced from the conservative spin that "this shows government is bad." No: it only shows conservatives will rip us off if allowed to go near government, because they will set up conditionsunder which the public has no power.

    And that reminds me: I have to take Leo Strauss apart someday. There's something broken there, a part has to be bought from Home Depot or something...

    Tuesday, June 20, 2006

    Dick Cheney and the Neyman-Pearson Lemma

    This video over at Crooks and Liars reminds me of something that everyone who knows the least bit squat about information theory knows. Cheney, according to Ron Suskind, wanted to treat 1% probability events as "certainties" in responses.

    Now the Neyman-Pearson, as outlined by Wikipedia says:

    when performing a hypothesis test between two point hypotheses H0: θ=θ0 and H1: θ=θ1, then the likelihood-ratio test which rejects H0 in favour of H1 when
    \Lambda(x)=\frac{ L( \theta _{0} \mid x)}{ L (\theta _{1} \mid x)} \leq k \mbox{ where } Pr(\Lambda(X)\leq k|H_0)=\alpha

    is the most powerful test of size α.

    Now for those of you who need further explanation without clicking over to Wikipedia:

    The power of a statistical test is the probability that the test will reject a false null hypothesis, or in other words that it will not make a Type II error. As power increases, the chances of a Type II error decrease, and vice versa. The probability of a Type II error is referred to as β. Therefore power is equal to 1 − β.

    What this means is that Dick Cheney guaranteed the consequences of making a Type I error (falsely calling the null hypothesis the alternative) would increase.

    Hence all the bullshit we've been seeing...

    No wonder

    Limbaugh hates progressive and centrist blogs, and the reason is quite simple they're huge.:

    Kos doesn't get it....QoS is good; "best effort" is what you get

    Kos has a bit of trouble distinguishing between a public internet and a private internet with more capabilities.

    Why not have the public internet include those capabilities with an infrastructure build out?

    Sunday, June 18, 2006

    Ab-so-lute-ly Totally True:

    Prices for spices in ethnic food enclaves can be far lower than in supermarkets.

    And not just spices.

    • Peanut Oil
    • Sesame Oil
    • Fish
    • Mushrooms (Never pay more than $5.00/lb for Shiitake mushrooms!)
    Szechuan pepper-corns? You gotta go ethnic. Seaweed? No-brainer: skip Nature's or Wild Oats or Whole whatever. If you're in the NW, Uwajimaya will work just fine, even though that's pretty upscale itself. They do have simply the best fruits and vegatables, bar none, and you pay for 'em.

    Oregonian bilge against the blogosphere

    Shorter version: Judge Edward Fadeley doesn't like Rick Ross, although it's not clear if Ross said anything manifestly flase and therefore we should have lawsuits against bloggers so that they have "journalistic standards."

    Sounds like Fadeley's idea would lead to SLAPP suits to me, frankly.

    I wrote them a letter. Let's see if they publish it.

    Saturday, June 17, 2006

    Still stuck in the research mode...

    I guess I like what I'm doing because I'm thinking about it night and day.

    Too bad I can't discuss it here yet. But it will be published.

    And that's cool.

    I got an elegant expression yesterday, and I need to massage it a bit to get another elegant expression that will be worth quite a bit in the industry.

    Friday, June 16, 2006

    Cheap fireworks...

    Coke + Mentos....

    Nothing much to blog about today...

    I'm in the middle of my research, and frankly, don't care about much else today; I've got something that is suddenly quite hot.

    Thursday, June 15, 2006


    Ed Brayton points to a piece about some clowns in my illustrious state of Washington who don't like a guy writing about internet gambling

    What a Bellingham man did on his site was write about online gambling. He reviewed Internet casinos. He had links to them, and ran ads by them. He fancied himself a guide to an uncharted frontier, even compiling a list of "rogue casinos" that had bilked gamblers.

    All that, says the state — the ads, the linking, even the discussing — violates a new state law barring online wagering or using the Internet to transmit "gambling information."

    "It's what the feds would call 'aiding and abetting,' " says the director of the state's gambling commission, Rick Day. "Telling people how to gamble online, where to do it, giving a link to it — that's all obviously enabling something that is illegal."

    Just for that...

    Uh oh, you better go after me!

    I advocate internet gambiling! Because I advocate free speech!

    Here's Google's search results on "on line casino!"

    And yes, I live in the state of Washington.

    You gotta love it...

    when you smell litigation in the air in response to Republican lies.


    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    Unintended consequences?

    If true, this about wraps it up for pro-lifers:

    A philosopher in Britain has ruffled feathers on both sides of the Atlantic by suggesting that the rhythm method of contraception may increase the risk of early embryonic death.

    Luc Bovens, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, argues in the Journal of Medical Ethics that couples who try to prevent pregnancy by avoiding sex during the woman's most fertile time of month may be more likely to produce embryos that do not develop or implant in the womb.

    If this is correct, he writes, then "millions of rhythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death."

    Those who worry about early embryonic death should be as concerned about the rhythm method as they are about other forms of contraception, like Plan B, and about embryonic stem cell research, he asserts.

    Dr. Bovens's article has drawn swift response from abortion opponents in the United States and the United Kingdom, many of whom are proponents of natural family planning, an outgrowth of what was once called the rhythm method...

    Fertility experts say that there is little evidence to support this assumption but that there are some indications it may be valid.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2006

    Quote of the day

    Evidently channeling Yogi Berra and his earlier incarnation, Lao Tzu, Alan Greenspan is reputed to have said, "If I seem unusually clear to you, you must have misunderstood what I said."

    Living Simply While Traveling.

    Stephen Roach's reading recommendation


    As I looked over my notes on the flight home, one over-arching impression of the mood of the assembled investors jumped off the page -- denial. As always, we start these seminars with a round of introductions, asking each of the assembled investors to pose the most serious issue that was on his or her mind. The state of the global liquidity cycle was at the top of the list. Fully 40% of the assembled cast of investors identified this as one of their biggest concerns. This was hardly shocking. I have found over the years that the mood of these conferences -- whether we hold them in America, Europe, or Asia -- is heavily conditioned by the latest wiggle in the markets. With this meeting coming in a week of tough anti-inflation talk and/ or outright tightening by at least seven central banks, there was an understandable fear of a significant policy-induced withdrawal of excess liquidity from world financial markets. Ironically, this fear did not drive the investment conclusions that were presented at the end of the gathering. Two of the big themes most in favor were commodities and emerging markets -- the same risky assets that have the most to lose in a liquidity-withdrawal scenario. In effect, the powerful risk-reduction trade that has battered these very assets over the past several weeks was treated as a long-overdue, but painfully healthy correction. There was still deep conviction in the potential of powerful "super-cycles" spawned by globalization and concomitant mismatches between aggregate supply and demand.

    I found the globalization debate to be the most stimulating aspect of this year’s conference -- in large part, because it shed considerable light on the denial that was to surface in the investment picks at the end of the conference. Of course, I’m letting my own biases come though here, having fixated over the past several years on the interplay between globalization, ever-mounting global imbalances, and world financial markets. We had the benefit of a great provocateur this year, historian Naill Ferguson of Harvard and Oxford, who has just completed his latest opus on contemporary global history, The War of the World: History’s Age of Hatred (Penguin, London, 2006 -- not available in the US until September 2006). Inasmuch as I only received my copy the night before the session, I will confess to only having read about half this 700-page tome. But I will also tell you it is as close to a page-turner in history as you will find -- I have a hard time putting it down. Ferguson treats the 1914 to 1953 era as a critical continuum in modern world history -- punctuated by two related World Wars but also involving brutal cross-border and internal conflicts in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. He dates the end of the world’s bloodiest era of conflict with the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953. But he leaves you with the gnawing sense of concern that this endpoint is still very much an open question.

    Ferguson’s gift is not to describe -- although he does plenty of that -- but to analyze. In a provocative introduction to The War of the World, he suggests that this lethal period in contemporary history is an outgrowth of a combination of several powerful forces -- namely, ethnic conflict, extreme volatility in economic conditions, and declining empires. He tied it to our debate by noting two obvious bookends to this devastating conflict -- the globalization of 1880 to 1914 and the new era of globalization we are living through and investing in today. This led to the burning question of the hour: Do the apparent self-destructive tendencies of that earlier era of globalization offer important lessons as to what to expect this time around? For those fully invested in the great secular stories of this globalization -- China, India, commodities, and big-cap multinationals -- this is the question. The overlay with the debate on the global liquidity cycle makes it all the more relevant in the current financial market debate.

    Ferguson offered four hypotheses as to why the first globalization met its demise: The failure of central banking; financial crises due to defective market structures; populist backlashes against globalization; and geopolitical crises. He leaves you with the uncomfortable feeling that he fears a similar outcome this time around. In his view, central banks are fighting the old war (i.e., inflation) and are in danger of being blindsided by a new war. He fears the current protectionist backlash against globalization -- not just Washington-led China bashing but also a gathering sense of European nationalism -- is strikingly reminiscent of that earlier period. And the Middle East is his prime candidate for a destabilizing geopolitical crisis. He had little to say on the financial risk issue, but he raised his eyebrows a bit when presented with arguments that the advent of derivatives makes the world a safer place by diffusing the distribution of risks. He asked if any of us had heard of an incident not all that long ago (1998) involving Long-Term Capital Management.

    Monday, June 12, 2006

    Respect and rights....

    I am somewhat skeptical of this NY Times article on protests of the Iraq War near funerals of American soldiers:

    1. It doesn't point out that Fred Phelps, whose group was protesting at funerals is a conservative.

    2. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing anyone I know who's against the war would do.

    3. The author's callous disregard for the legitimate first amendment rights of people.

    That said, I think there are respectful ways for anti-war protestors to honor the dead, and not be silent. The author of the Times piece, Karen Spears Zacharias, seems to be saying "We want to mourn, but don't remind us of the origin of our mourning." People need to mourn in all kinds of ways, and that needs to be respected. I can imagine that the families of some soldiers would indeed demand that protests be carried out at a funeral; the idea that there's a blanket law against this is a first amendment challenge waiting to happen; after all what is a protest?

    Isn't "Bearing Witness," the mindfulness practice of simply being present and aware and silent a protest, respectful though it may be?

    In a situation where members of the government lack any accountability and responsiveness to people, how else can one exercise their rights to confront public servants who are - the public's servants?

    It turns out that Ms. Spears Zacharias has a blog, and evidently accepts comments. I'd love to hear from her as far as details of specifics where anti-war protesters have actually done and said.

    Sunday, June 11, 2006

    What kind of values do these corporations have?

    This bit by the NY Times has the flavor of "those naive kids think they can blog with impunity" but read the following exerpt:

    When a small consulting company in Chicago was looking to hire a summer intern this month, the company's president went online to check on a promising candidate who had just graduated from the University of Illinois...

    "A lot of it makes me think, what kind of judgment does this person have?" said the company's president, Brad Karsh. "Why are you allowing this to be viewed publicly, effectively, or semipublicly?"

    Many companies that recruit on college campuses have been using search engines like Google and Yahoo to conduct background checks on seniors looking for their first job. But now, college career counselors and other experts say, some recruiters are looking up applicants on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Xanga and Friendster, where college students often post risqué or teasing photographs and provocative comments about drinking, recreational drug use and sexual exploits in what some mistakenly believe is relative privacy...

    At New York University, recruiters from about 30 companies told career counselors that they were looking at the sites, said Trudy G. Steinfeld, executive director of the center for career development.

    "The term they've used over and over is red flags," Ms. Steinfeld said. "Is there something about their lifestyle that we might find questionable or that we might find goes against the core values of our corporation?"...

    On MySpace and similar sites, personal pages are generally available to anyone who registers, with few restrictions on who can register. Facebook, though, has separate requirements for different categories of users; college students must have a college e-mail address to register. Personal pages on Facebook are restricted to friends and others on the user's campus, leading many students to assume that they are relatively private.

    But companies can gain access to the information in several ways. Employees who are recent graduates often retain their college e-mail addresses, which enables them to see pages. Sometimes, too, companies ask college students working as interns to perform online background checks, said Patricia Rose, the director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania.

    So, let's recap: essentially these employers are encouraging their interns or recent graduates to use what are essentially false pretenses to gain access to information about prospective employees, who are merely exercising in many case their right of free speech.

    What kind of judgment would such a management exercise?

    Who'd want to work for them?

    Saturday, June 10, 2006

    Ken Wilber loses it...

    Over at Blogmandu, there's a good post pointing to the continuing weirdness of Ken Wilber.

    Now yeah, I admit that I knew I wouldn't find an actual idea there, and so it's kind of a guilty pleasure to read it. But still...

    • What the hell is a "mean green meme?" Can't he say anything without lapsing into jargon that reasonably intelligent folks like me can understand?
    • Wilber writes, "Derrida is dead, the adolescent rebellion of tearing things down and spray-painting your name on the ruins is over, and the adults are now in the process of, as usual, contributing something constructive and creative for the advancement of humanity in general." He can start by doing something constructive like, you know, figuring out what Derrida actually said, which wasn't just about "tearing things down." See Nagarjuna, too.
    • "They stole my ideas!" As Blogmandu points out, this comes in response likely to this post here.
    • Here's a beaut:
      But in general, good criticism shows me new areas that I can include. I FUCKING LIVE FOR GREAT CRITICISM, IT MEANS MORE TRUTH FOR A MORE INTEGRAL MODEL.

      Er, ummm... then why not have comments on your blog?

    • I have neither the time nor patience to go through the rest of this bilge, but I will comment on this bit:

      In other words, blue will continue to believe that evolution does not exist, no matter how much evidence you produce to the contrary. Blue will actually produce a ton of what it considers to be facts; it will quote the Bible chapter and verse, bringing forth what are indeed actual phenomena and actual facts at that blue level, facts that are absolutely true at that level. So these types of arguments are futile as regards their core claims (although you can always learn something from both sides, simply because they are both producing interesting truths and facts and evidence at their own levels.) But when it comes to cross-level truth-claims, neither side will reach a happy resolution to their core disputes. Orange will not be happy because blue does not accept evolution; blue will not be happy because orange does not accept the Bible. Nor will they be happy until blue evolves to orange (or orange regresses to blue)…. But absent that, both of these less-than-integral levels violate, among other things, the principles of integrative epistemology (see excerpt B).

      Thus, it is a completely valid argument for a developmentalist to point out that fact (i.e., the cross-level or paradigm-clash intractability). There is nothing that turquoise or indigo can ever say to green that will make it happy. Thus, the idea that, for example, turquoise is supposed to enter a “dialogue” with green is nonsensical, and nothing in that dialogue will change green’s mind fundamentally (unless green transforms to turquoise). Turquoise can see green and its facts, but green cannot see turquoise and its facts, and thus this cross-level altitude problem jams any real dialogue in that capacity—and yet all that green does is scream for dialogue, dialogue, dialogue…. which in these cases are empty, empty, empty.

      I have the secret of the universe for you Ken Wilber: when confronted with situations like this, where you are dealing with an opponent, who in the words of Penn and Teller is peddling bullshit, is

      • a) yes, point out that when an opponent is indeed, in the reality based world, phenomeonlogically, epistemologically, honest-to-goodness full of shit, it is OK to do so (with compassion and wisdom and wit hopefully, and not using potty mouth words like I just as I do not as I say!), but also

      • b) to change the focus on the discussion to something productive, "where the differences are not a source of conflict" to either quote or paraphrase Thomas Merton.

      The latter really works. In between a) and b) right now I just had an encounter with a Jehovah's Witness, who rang my doorbell. He declined to visit our temple.

    Either Black Ops or the Virgins Came Early...

    Or both.

    Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was accompanied by women who wore skimpy clothes and read magazines on current affairs and militant propaganda, an inspection of the house he was killed in showed on Saturday.

    The remains of Zarqawi's isolated "safe house" also suggested that the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq and his companions - which an Iraqi army officer said included two women and an eight-year-old girl - lived with few luxuries.

    The US military took reporters to the site in the village of Hibhib, near the town of Baquba north of Baghdad, three days after the death of Zarqawi, blamed for beheading hostages and killings hundreds of people in suicide bombings...

    There were few clues on Zarqawi's extreme ideology or the militant groups he was linked to in the rubble of the building that was pulverised by two 227kg bombs in a US air strike on Wednesday.

    One leaflet identified a radio station in Latifiya south of the capital as an apparent target.

    A few feet away was a magazine picture of former US president Franklin D Roosevelt.

    Also beside the slabs of concrete was a woman's leopard skin nightgown and other skimpy women's clothes.

    FDR? What a radical.

    There may have outrageous prices at the pump, but...

    when your kid asks, "Daddy, where does gasoline come from?" You can tell him about Edwin Drake, and other interesting facts as well, courtesy of...arrrgghhh.. the Petroleum Institute.

    The geology stuff is good...why there's no oil in Japan or the Pacific Northwest...

    Friday, June 09, 2006


    I was mildly amused last night by Penn and Teller's bit on the bible, although after, it seemed a bit derivative. This morning, again with a dearth of items on which to post, and the work muses going strong, I came across this bit at the Evangelical Outpost:

    Not So Crazy -- Recently I stumbled across a post by liberal blogger Ezra Klein that gives me hope for the future of blogospheric political discourse:

    We in the blogs experience the Religious Right as a political force, waxing crazy on abortion and gays and modernity. But the believers powering that force don't experience it as a political venture at all. They experience it through community, or sermons on forgiveness, or charity, or neighbors. We look at the Christian Right and see crazy because, when we see them on Crooks and Liars or Kos or The Daily Show, they're acting nuts. But we're not watching the world's most representative snippets. The excesses exist, but were the bulk of these ministries not palatable and relevant to the everyday experiences of lower middle-class Americans, they wouldn't have the political relevancy that's forced us to perk up and notice. Darksyde says his theistic acquaintances seem normal. It's a pretty good bet that, to them, the Christian Right seems normal too.

    Read the rest. If only the world had more Ezra Kleins and fewer Ann Coulters.

    In this instance Carter - & Klein- are largely right, although I'm not sure if Carter would have put the link from Ezra in if he saw the update:

    They offer community, guidance, advice, charity, social capital, entertainment, and even the occasional shot at transcendence. And in return, their member's trust their politics. That's the conveyor at work -- but since we see only the politics, we just end up bewildered by how so many could support such a vicious movement. The movement, mostly, is not vicious, and the politics are a tiny part of the whole. And that's why it's dangerous -- because the politics gain legitimacy through primarily non-political ends, they're thus almost invulnerable to attacks coming from the political sphere. Pat Robertson can say something crazy and then move onto the recipe, and if the recipe is sound, the craziness of a moment before is legitimated, or at least forgotten.

    It would be condemned as outragous simply to point out that the Nazi Party, the Communist Party, the Nation of Islam, and quite a few other groups function the same way.

    Notice in the above I said Klein and Carter largely right. I have to point out how these groups go about recruiting: their first priority is to actively seek out impressionable people (children, even children who are not their own - see "Good News Clubs," ), people who are under stress (students at colleges and universities, especially immigrant students, people who are at the business end of the legal system, homeless people), etc.

    And the first thing they do do to the stressed out is help them.

    But is this normal? Is it normal to do so when there's a quid pro quo of enduring a religious conversion pitch? Is it moral?

    I became a Buddhist because the bromides of Christianity led me to abandon them, and because the methods of Buddhism were more immediately useful. (As an example, consider this, and compare and contrast with whatever equivalent you can find in the Christian bible. )

    I agree with Ezra Klein that to the right wing Christians, the charity, the love, the forgiveness and community seems very attractive, but that is precisely because charity, love, forgiveness, and community are so rare in the community at large, because we are all divided into us and them. The mirror-image problem for conservative Christians is that they do not grasp that outside of their circles, there can be community, love, forgiveness, and this is aided and abetted by their doctrine.

    The key to that is to transcend the bounds of self and other, us and them. But inherently dualistic (or rigidly monistic) doctrines will not be of much benefit in that mission.

    Until then, I cannot say that I find such extreme dualism on the conservative Christian side in any way "normal," except as yet another instance of the abundance of delusion that comes to our existence.

    Thursday, June 08, 2006

    Somewhat light posting today...

    It's a very busy day, lots of meetings.

    Plus, my muse returned my phone call, metaphorically speaking.

    When you're inspired to do something really cool that is really fundamental that you can put on your resume & evangelize it, you gotta go with the muse.

    Zarqawi doesn't matter

    • There's a lot more Arabs than Sioux, and Zarqawi sure as hell was no Crazy Horse.
    • Did they think they'd stamp out Christianity by crucifying Jesus?
    • No doubt the insurgents took this possibility into account and made contingencies. The former Baathist Iraqi Army can't be all that incompetent.
    • And last, but not least, June is a looong way before November.

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006

    Diagnosis: Economic Malaise

    Prognosis: Markets will continue their downward drift.

    I still think this analysis from "Daily Reckoning" nails it:

    1. In the past four years, the U.S. economy has received the most prodigious monetary and fiscal stimulus in history. Yet by any measure, its rebound from the 2001 recession is by far the weakest on record in the post-World War II period.

    2. Record-low interest rates boosted asset prices and, in their wake, an unprecedented debt-and-spending binge on the part of the consumer.

    3. What resulted was a badly structured economic recovery, which - due to grossly lacking growth in capital investment, employment and wage and salary income - never gained the necessary traction to become self-sustainable.

    4. Sustained and sufficiently strong economic growth implicitly requires a return to strong business fixed capital spending. We see no chance of this happening. Above all, the outlook for business profits is dismal from the macro perspective.

    This takes us to the enormous structural changes that the Fed's new monetary "bubble policy" has imparted to the U.S. economy over the years. While consumption, residential building and government spending soared, unprecedented imbalances developed in the economy - record-low saving; a record-high trade deficit; a vertical surge of household indebtedness; anemic employment and income growth from wages and salaries; outsized government deficits; and protracted, unusual weakness in business fixed investment.

    None of these shortfalls is a typical feature of the business cycle. Instead, they are all of unusual structural nature. Yet the bullish U.S. consensus simply ignores them, bragging instead about the U.S. economy's resilience and its ability to outperform most industrialized countries.

    To be sure, all these structural deformations tend to impede economic growth. Some, like the trade deficit and slumping investment, do so with immediate effect; others become repressive only gradually and in the longer run. Budget deficits stimulate demand as long as they rise. An existing budget deficit, however large, loses this effect. Rather, it tends to become a drag on the economy. In the past few years, clearly, the massive monetary and fiscal pump-priming policies have more than offset all these growth-impairing influences.

    Or, as Stephen Roach says:

    The American consumer is now a prime candidate for the weakest link in the global growth chain. The income side of the equation remains decidedly subpar. Despite a falling unemployment rate, labor income generation has suffered from chronic and, more recently, downwardly-revised weakness, as America has lurched from a jobless to an increasingly "wageless" recovery. By our calculations, over the first 53 months of the current cyclical upturn, the cumulative increase in private sector compensation amounted to only about 14% in real terms -- fully $365 billion below the trajectory implied by a more normal expansion. The weak employment report for May points to a further deterioration of this comparison in the 54th month of this recovery.

    No bubbles, no wealth effect.

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006

    Does this mean he likes to wear furry hats and has a predilection for axes?

    From today's NY Times...

    The first American to be able to claim descent from Genghis Khan has been discovered. He is Thomas R. Robinson, an associate professor of accounting at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla.

    Dr. Robinson's descent from Genghis Khan emerged in a roundabout way. The Y chromosome of that Mongol emperor was identified in 2003 by geneticists at the University of Oxford in England. Surveying the chromosomes of Asian men, they noticed a distinctive genetic signature in populations from Mongolia to Central Asia. Their common feature was that all but one lay within the borders of the former Mongol empire.

    The geneticists concluded that the far-flung Y chromosome must have belonged to Genghis Khan and had become so widespread because of the vigor with which he and his sons labored in their harems, a fact noted by contemporary historians...

    Recently, Bryan Sykes, the geneticist who founded Oxford Ancestors, decided to look through his database of some 50,000 people to see if there were any anomalous matches with Genghis Khan's Y chromosome. "We get people wanting to know if they are related to Genghis Khan and they never are unless they come from China or Mongolia," he said yesterday in an interview from England.

    Among his non-Asian customers was one hit: Dr. Robinson. "Someone rang him up and I think it came as a nice surprise," Dr. Sykes said.

    So, .... this reminds me of a man named Prosser...

    Mr. L. Prosser was, as they say, only human. In other words he was a carbon-based life form descended from an ape. More specifically he was forty, fat and shabby and worked for the local council. Curiously enough, though he didn't know it, he was also a direct male-line descendant of Genghis Khan, though intervening generations and racial mixing had so juggled his genes that he had no discernible Mongoloid characteristics, and the only vestiges left in Mr. L Prosser of his mighty ancestry were a pronounced stoutness about the tum and a predilection for little fur hats

    Not much news today, so here's a bit of Dembski nonsense...

    I'll let others worry about Francine Busby... I want to draw your attention to an early bit of Dembski bilge about randomness:

    Randomness, properly to be randomness, must leave nothing to chance. It must look like chance, like a child of the primeval chaos. But underneath a keen intelligence must be manipulating and calculating, taking advantage of this and that expedient so as systematically to concoct confusion.

    If it looked like a duck, walked like a duck, and quacked like a duck, one would conclude, that phenomenologically, it was a duck.

    Probability is silent as to mechanisms.

    Let us now repudiate all pretensions to chance and probability, and require
    but one thing of randomness: the systematic violation of a fixed set of patterns.

    But Dembski, the absence of a pattern itself would be a pattern.

    And the question you've never been able to answer is still unanswered: who gets to define a pattern, under what criteria?

    Moreover, as spaces become more "dense" (in a loose term,) things that look like "patterns" as arbitrarily defined become too close to "non-patterns" to tell the difference.

    Again, if you "know" what was sent in a communication system originally, you can claim it's a "pattern," but only because you know something a priori. And even then, you will make an error a certain percentage of the time.

    Odd that this original article ever got published, but of course it was not in a mathematical journal.

    Monday, June 05, 2006

    Claude Shannon - an appreciation....

    I would bet that most of my regular readers have never known of Claude Shannon (or if they do they know of him it is through this blog).

    Because of certain aspects of my recent work, I've had the opportunity to peruse some of his writings that seem "obvious" to most engineers doing research in communication theory today, and certainly to most engineers who, like me, studied the analysis and probability because we "knew" that it was needed. But if read properly, with the realization that in 1949 most engineers had never heard of a Hilbert space, one can appreciate the true brilliance of Shannon's work. Even today, come to think of it, I suspect most engineers never heard of Hilbert Spaces or mappings into different dimensions, or understood the connection between the Law of Large Numbers and their Wi-Fi connection.

    In invite you to read Shannon's paper Communication in the Presence of Noise. In this paper, Shannon throws out the concept of his famous WT Theorem, the sphere hardening argument for error-free communication, provides an explanation of the threshold effect in FM based on topology - at a level that a good freshman today could understand, and hints at the topological reasoning behind why digital transmission is superior to analog transmission. And he does this all in one paper.

    Sure, the math is very sloppy; one gets the feeling that Shannon was afraid of losing his audience if the words "almost everywhere" were almost everywhere. One cannot help but wince at the math in places, but one also understands that the arguments he makes can easily be rigorously formatted. Moreover the clarity of exposition, the forcefulness of his ideas, and the impression that "This guy is actually smarter than this; he's holding pointing towards something even better than what I'm reading here" seem to pervade the work.

    When you understand and can extend these ideas, it is like looking into the Orignal Face of the Absolute, the mind of God, Sunyata, whatever you want to call it.

    And when you figure out that people will actually pay you money to do this - good money- as long as you can extend the ideas in a way that makes money for the company, you realize you've got a pretty good racket going.

    Ah, but I cannot explain William Dembski...

    Sunday, June 04, 2006

    Wen Ho Lee gets a bit of compensation...

    I didn't see this widely reported where I usually look...

    (AP) Wen Ho Lee, the former nuclear weapons scientist once suspected of being a spy, settled his privacy lawsuit Friday and will receive $1.6 million from the U.S. government and five news organizations in a case that turned into a fight over reporters' confidential sources.

    Lee, a Taiwanese-American, will receive $895,000 from the government for legal fees and associated taxes in the 6 1/2-year-old lawsuit in which he accused the Energy and Justice departments of violating his privacy rights by leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for China.

    The Associated Press and four other news organizations have agreed to pay Lee $750,000 as part of the settlement, which ends contempt of court proceedings against five reporters who refused to disclose the sources of their stories about the espionage investigation.

    The payment by AP, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and ABC is the only one of its kind in recent memory, and perhaps ever, legal and media experts said.

    Freedom of press can never be construed as freedom to libel, and one ongoing feature of this case has been a tendency of the press to go along with whatever right-wing crap came out.

    This just follows in the wake of similar suits by Richard Jewell and Gary Condit.

    The damages ought to include that news orgs that libel people or report slanders of people as fact should be forced to devote twice as much space, on their front pages or equivalents, to reporting about successful libel suits against them.

    Here's a strange correlation...

    Thanks to an economic piece about what can go wrong at, I became aware of Google Trends.

    Here's a strange correlation: Buddhism and Christianity compared.

    Despite the relative dearth of news about Buddhism relative to Christianity, the number of searches about Buddhism is evidently close to that of Christianity, and moreover, correlated with it.


    The average guy just isn't prospering...

    It is amazing that the NY Times should "report" with obfuscation what is plain as the nose on anybody's face:

    This strange and unlikely combination — strong and healthy aggregate macroeconomic indicators and a grumpy populace — has been a source of befuddlement to the administration and its allies. It's not unreasonable to assume that Mr. Snow is being replaced as Treasury secretary in part because he couldn't make Americans appreciate just how well the economy is performing. And it's possible to detect among Bush partisans an element of frustration at the public for what they see as its failure to do so. In Iowa last month, Rudolph W. Giuliani bluntly dismissed concerns about the economy and higher gas prices by saying, "I don't know what we're all so upset about."

    Gas prices and the Iraq war have surely contributed to this disconnect. But a lesser-known factor is also at work: the misleading aggregates.

    Aggregates — big-picture figures like the unemployment rate, productivity and growth in the gross domestic product — are highly useful to economists. But to most people, they're abstractions. You can't use a low unemployment rate to pay a mortgage.

    As a result, large aggregates "are something that people may hear about in the news, but don't have a direct impact on how people feel," said Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Survey at the Conference Board.

    Aside from being abstract, many of the most popular aggregates are simply misleading. Dean Baker, a director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington,puts the Consumer Price Index — the main gauge of inflation — at the top of the list.

    "It has no direct relationship to what people perceive as inflation," he said. Mr. Baker notes that the index doesn't take account of rapidly rising co-payments and higher insurance deductibles when it calculates health and medical costs. And to gauge inflation in housing, the index approximates a measure of rent instead of looking at home purchase prices.

    "We've had a huge run-up in the price of housing, and that doesn't show up in the C.P.I.," he said. So while the index shows that inflation is elevated but still under control — up 3.5 percent from April 2005 to April 2006 — many Americans find themselves paying sharply higher prices for essential goods and services.

    In addition, aggregates generally are averages, which are of declining utility in an economy characterized by greater inequality of income and assets. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in March, Mr. Snow took pains to point out that there had been substantial gains in per-capita income (8.2 percent, after inflation) and net worth (24 percent, before inflation) from the beginning of 2001 to the end of 2005.

    The data he cited were averages, or means, and that can be misleading. "The average wage is a useful indicator if you want to know what's happening to the tax base, but it might not tell you what's going on for the individual worker," said Alan B. Krueger, an economics professor at Princeton and a former chief economist at the Labor Department. Consider a hypothetical country with 300 million workers. Say the chief executive of an investment bank gets a $300 million raise this year, while the other 299,999,999 workers don't get a raise. In the aggregate, the average per-capita salary has risen by $1, but only one person has more money in his pocket.

    To see how typical workers are doing, it's better to look at median wages and incomes — the midpoint that separates the top 50 percent from the lower 50 percent. And median income, which was stagnant during President Bush's first term, is struggling to keep pace with inflation. "Median household income has gone nowhere since the turn of the decade," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's

    Yep. Nowhere.

    Here's some fair and balanced reporting on the economy over at Kos