Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Anytime this administration tells us anything, it's a pretty safe bet that you can call Bullshit! Thus it was with Iraq's nukes, mobile chemical weapons labs, weapons of mass destruction, and ties to al Quaeda. Thus it seems to be with most of the data we supply the UN inspectors about Iran's nuclear program. And so too, it now appears, about those sophisticated IEDs that "had to come" from Iran. Paul Kiel has the story at TPM, based on Wall Street Journal and New York Times stories:

Two weeks ago, the Bush administration organized an intelligence briefing for journalists in Iraq to demonstrate that Iran was providing weapons to Iraqi insurgents. According to the anonymous briefers, the weapons -- particularly explosively formed penetrators or E.F.P.s -- were manufactured in Iran and provided to insurgents by the Quds Force -- a fact that meant direction for the operation was “coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government.”

Well. A raid in southern Iraq on Saturday seems to have complicated the case. There, The Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.), troops "uncovered a makeshift factory used to construct advanced roadside bombs that the U.S. had thought were made only in Iran." The main feature of the find were several copper liners that are the main component of EFPs. But, The New York Times reports, "while the find gave experts much more information on the makings of the E.F.P.’s, which the American military has repeatedly argued must originate in Iran, the cache also included items that appeared to cloud the issue."

So how is it you tell when (pick one)[Bush, Cheney, Rice] is lying?

&%#@ Washington Post/Nutbag Media

I'm no Romney fan, but why exactly is the number of wives his great-grandfather, or great-great-grandfather relevant? Slightly more relevant, I should think, is the number of wives Rudy Giuliani has had, or Newt Gingrich.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Controlling "The Decider"

Congress is struggling feebly to control Bush's reckless adventurism, but the challenge of reasonably controlling the commander in chief during warmtime is extremely difficult. Congress is not an institution that can manage anything - that's not its function.

The power of a dishonest executive to distort and blame is nearly unlimited, as exemplified by the antics of Rice and Cheney.

They can, and should, explicitly prohibit the President from attacking Iran without further approval from Congress.

Congress does have one other crucial power, and that is the power to remove the Officers of the Government. Congress should start assembling the evidence that Bush, Cheney, and Rice systematically lied to the American people and the Congress in order to start the war. It is still too soon for impeachment, but the investigation needs to begin, and if the evidence warrants it, articles of impeachment brought. That can only happen with substantial support from Republicans, so the evidence will need to be persuasive.

Finding Jesus

I am in no position to assess the credibility of this story, but if it holds together at all, it's better than The Da Vinci Code, though hardly orthogonal to it.

New scientific evidence, including DNA analysis conducted at one of the world's foremost molecular genetics laboratories, as well as studies by leading scholars, suggests a 2,000-year-old Jerusalem tomb could have once held the remains of Jesus of Nazareth and his family.

The findings also suggest that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have produced a son named Judah...

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Easterner: Part the Second

Guagina made her way elegantly across the hardwood floor. Even with her thong and pasties covered with the fawn and blue track suit, she was impressive, 5' 11" in bare feet, plus three inch heels topped by a cloud of flame red hair. She was on a delicate diplomatic mission.

The bar was empty, except for her, Lefty the one-armed barkeep, and Les. A few days in the humid atmosphere of the bar had allowed the cowpies to absorb water, beer, spit, and tobacco juice, and they were beginning to support ecosystems of their own. Lefty was losing his shirt, but at the moment was more concerned about his remaining limbs. Gaugina wasn't making any tips either.

"Hey Les, what's up with Britt?"

"She's still in El Paso. She's got the money to bail her Mom out, but Grandma wants to wait while Marjean detoxes a bit."

OK, Killer hadn't bitten her head off. She delicately broached the subject of Super Conformal field theories. Les responded immediately, almost eagerly. He was bored as hell and he thought Guagina might provide some ammo for use against the Easterner.

Guagina had spent eight months as a postdoc in the MIT theory group before deciding to seek a more financially and culturally rewarding career.

Les had more questions than usual, and even seemed to be on the verge of comprehending the connection between space-time and worldsheet supersymmetry, so she shifted right to the point.

"That goddamn cowshit is stinking up the place and driving off all the customers. It's not even good for throwing anymore - it's lost its structural integrity."

Les glowered a bit, then: "Lefty, get this goddamn cowshit out of here. And clean up the f****** pool table. Get some more, and stack it
outside this time, in the Sun."


Dusty had been in town for more than a week, and had yet to make a move.

In fact, he had hardly moved at all. The journey had been brutally hard, especially that last 800 miles through the howling sandstorm. He had been sand-blasted, wind-blasted, sun-blasted, gypsum-blasted, and hailstoned. He had been hit by tumbleweeds, windlofted goatheads, and even a couple of beer cans thrown by pickup truck passengers. Large chunks of flesh had been slashed by dried flying mesquite branches. A lesser man would have quit. A better bicyclist would have beaten the sandstorm.

Something might have snapped in Dusty when he passed that "Welcome to Las Cruces" sign. He was exhausted, dehydrated, starved, and largely deracinated. Somewhere inside, a "Mission Accomplished" banner had been slapped up, and he couldn't even remember what the mission had been.

We can only speculate as to what his fate might have been had he not been taken in by a kindly family of evangelical gun rights advocates. Among them, and among the congregation of the Natural Rights of Americans (or NRA) church he thought, at least for a while, that he had found ideological soulmates. Together, they prayed for President Cheney, Presidential Cheerleader Bush, and the unmoved mover (Exxon Mobile).

The NRA church encouraged audience participation, and Dusty soon became a popular figure with his fiery sermons against Communism, socialism, liberalism, climate doomsayers and Loop Quantum Gravity. OK, maybe nobody had any idea what the hell he was talking about most of the time, but he said what he said with God intoxicated passion.


(to be continued?)


Pointless, Incessant, Barking

Brad DeLong posts his favorite New Yorker cartoons.

The first, at least, should speak to every blogger.

I Can See Clearly Now

Americans might take comfort in seeing that we aren't the only nation whose leaders are easily baffled by simple Jedi mind tricks. Of course the fact that that nation is our closest ally in the most dangerous part of the world is not exactly reassuring.

via David Kurtz at TPM.


The new movie Amazing Grace has me thinking about the powers and limits of persuasion. Writing a blog is a good lesson in the limits. Ideas and ideologies have their own immune systems which fiercely resist the attacks of contrary notions. Persuading people who already largely agree with you is easier, of course. Trying to persuade those who don't is likely to result in anger, frustration, and insult.

And yet, the power is evident too. A tiny few have managed to transform the world with the persuasiveness of their ideas and examples - sometimes even for good. Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, Fredrick Douglass, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, as well as Wilberforce and Wesley are prominent examples.

Beyond ideas is the problem of translating those ideas into actions. Washington and Jefferson knew that slavery was evil, but lacked to moral, political and personal courage to act against it. Nor can one deny that the time was not yet ripe in the United States for abolition. If Washington and Jefferson had spoken out for abolition, the US would never have come into being, and the incipient nation would likely have become divided into weak and warring states that would have been easy prey for recolonialization. One might also claim that they, in their wisdom, chose to accept a great evil in the name of a greater good.

Those who thus transform the world seem to need to be narrow, even fanatical, in their focus.

Friday, February 23, 2007


Andrew Sullivan takes the occasion of the opening of the new movie Amazing Grace to note the link between slavery and torture:

As Scott Horton explains more fully here, when Wilberforce and Wesley aimed to persuade the British elites that the slave trade was evil, they did not cite Biblical proscriptions against slavery. Why? Because the Bible is actually very ambiguous about slavery (the Southern Baptist Convention even used scripture to defend slavery in America). So Wilberforce stressed that the slave trade required unspeakable cruelty, abuse and torture of its victims. That was his rhetorical gambit. He framed his case against the slave trade as a case against inhumane treatment of prisoners of war.

He points out that torture is an essential ingredient of slavery.

Of course, Andy being Andy, he can't resist trying to make it an equivalence relation. That dodo, though, won't fly.

Not that Cheney or Bush is likely to have any more respect for the Bible than they have for the Constitution.

via Josh Marshall

The One Per Cent Solution

Sean Carroll looks at a new pitstop on the information highway.

Everyone is having their fun with Conservapedia, a rightward-tilting alternative to Wikipedia that aims to ensure that future generations of conservatives grow up really dumb...

Well, I guess you can't be too careful, but how much upside risk was there, anyway?

A sample via Sean:

Albert Einstein

Einstein’s work had nothing to do with the development of the atomic bomb. Nothing useful has even been built based on the theory of relativity. Only one Nobel Prize (in 1993 and not to Einstein) has ever been given that even remotely relates to the theory of relativity. Many things predicted by the theory of relativity, such as gravitons, have never been found despite much searching for them. Many observed phenomenon, such as the bending of light passing near the sun or the advance of the perihelion in the orbit of Mercury, can be also predicted by Newton’s theory.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Back Off Man, We're Scientists!

Suppose you saw a big old guy in a broad brimmed hat walking around in a small forest of odd looking objects on tripods, holding aloft a long, slim strip of toilet paper. Sometime standing here or there with the toilet paper directly overhead, sometimes moving about or rotating slowly, with the tp held at arms length, first to one side and then another.

You might well think you were looking at a wacko, but were you really?

Once upon a time (and sometimes even now), winds were measured with propeller anemometers. These instruments look a bit like a miniature airplane fuselage on a stick, with a propeller in front and a tail behind. The drag on the tail keeps the instrument pointed into the wind while an angle sensor records the wind direction. The rate of spin can be decoded to yield the wind speed. These instruments are slow of response and not terribly accurate.

A more modern technology is the sonic anemometer. It consists of two or three pairs of usually orthogonal tubes containing ultrasonic transducers pointed at each other across an air gap. It measures the wind speed by measuring the travel times of ultrasonic pulses back and forth across that air gap. They have much higher sampling rates than the propeller types, and are fairly easy to keep in calibration.

The propeller types do have an advantage though. By looking at one you can see the wind direction and get an idea of the speed. Sonics, on the other hand, just sit there, and if your real time readout isn’t operational, even a weatherman can’t tell which way the wind is blowing.

Unless, of course, he tears of a thin, lightweight strip of toilet paper and parades about watching which way the wind is blowing it. Smoke is even better, but who smokes nowadays?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Easterner

The slight, exhausted man steps off his bicycle on a dusty Las Cruces street.

His bike tires are flat and encrusted with goatheads. So is his hair.
He looks like he has ridden the last 800 miles through a duststorm.

He has.

No matter. He is on a mission of vengence.

He speaks to the first man he meets: "I'm looking for a pig."

"No hablo Ingles."

He tries again on the next guy, a wiry guy in a Stetson and cowboy boots.

"Sorry, this is cattle country. Cattle and goats."

"A Capitalist Pig."

Stetson: "We don't hold much with Communists here boy. You sound like one of them European Commies. Just what is your business here anyway, and do you have a green card? What's your name anyway?

The avenger tells him.

Boots and Stetson: "Shit! I can't pronounce that, much less spell it. How 'bout if I just call you Dusty. I think I know who you are looking for - a kinda tall, mean, lean customer? We usually just call him killer - not to his face of course. His real name is Leslie, but we don't call him that either. You might want to call him Les, or maybe just CIP - unless you're looking for a fight, that is."

Meanwhile, a couple of miles away in Mesilla, Leslie was sitting on a barstool at the Brass Balls Bistro and Tatoo Parlor. A small stack of empty rock glasses sat in front of him. He was pissed. He had been waiting for the Easterner for weeks. Didn't they know about airplanes in Cambridge? The bartender had run out of Marashino Cherries and was running low on Sasparilla.

Reflexively, he checked his backup weapons: .22 caliber shirtsleeve Derringer, check; shoulder holster, .40 caliber Glock 22, check; revolver, .357 Ruger 100, check; sniper rifle, Steyr-Mannlicher .50 caliber with armor penetrating incendiary rounds, check; automatic shotgun, Berreta AL 391 Urika Gold, check; automatic weapon, M249 SAW, check. The heavy weapons were in the Hummer.

The primary weapon was here, too, piled high on the nearby pool table. 12 dozen field-aged cow patties, neatly stacked and uniformly sized.

Britta, the pole dancer, comes over and starts to massage his muscular shoulders: "Killer Baby, you seem tense. You want to get some re - LAX - ation? Wanta show me your new tatoos?

"Not tonight honey. I must face a man who hates me, or lie a coward, a craven coward, in my grave."

"Whoa - is that from The Viginian?"

"Naw. I think it was High Noon."

Britta and Les had been students in the same film studies class.

(to be occluded)

Women of Chivalry

Now I admit to being one of those who thought that Chivalry died when we sent old Dobbin to the glue factory, but Grian Ruadh ingen Aed of the SCA has a slightly different view, which I think might be summarized as "suck it up, girls, and get with the program."

Shut The Hell Up.

Yes, I’m talking to YOU.

YOU are the reason that many male fighters (and not a few female fighters) still think that female fighters in general are whiny candyasses not worth training.


YOU are the attention-seeker who bellyaches the loudest about being hit too hard whenever someone lays anything more substantial than a tap on you.

YOU are the sinkhole of negativity who has a mile long list of gripes and complaints that you will reel off to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen but doesn’t seem interested in actually finding solutions.

YOU are the flutter of false earnestness constantly asking for advice but rarely taking any that doesn’t involve stroking your fragile little ego or garnering you more attention.

And don’t even start with me about how you’re “struggling with the lizard brain”. That analogy was first presented in The Armored Rose as a means of identifying problems that could then be circumvented and moved past. You and those like you have seized upon the “lizard brain” as some sort of rallying banner that you wave every time things get a little difficult or someone calls you on acting like a moron or you screw up in a big way. It’s your crutch, your favorite excuse for anything under the sun that doesn’t go right with regard to your fighting. Put down the lizard and back away slowly.

I’m not talking about having a problem and not being able to figure out why it’s happening or what’s causing it. That’s why we have a fighting community to help each other troubleshoot when needed. The next step after troubleshooting, however, is implementing the solution or the process that will lead to the solution.

It is most emphatically not bringing up the same set of gripes over and over again and refusing to do any of the things you know will result in those gripes going away.

It is not making “poor me” posts to your favorite email list every time you go home from practice with bruises because you haven’t been doing the skills work needed to not get hit so often or because you’ve been sitting on your ass for so long that all you can do at practice is hold up your shield with a shaking arm and suck wind while someone else uses you for a pell.

You know perfectly well why your defense is full of holes a truck could drive through. You also know what to do about it.

You know perfectly well why you suck wind at practice. You also know what to do about that.

It seems obvious, but you may actually not know, that the only way to become really good at fighting is to practice a lot and to fight a lot. If you don’t put in the work, don’t expect to improve, and don’t come crying to the rest of us over it. If you really want to change, shut your pie hole, get off your ass and take some action.

If you don’t actually mind that you’re not that good at fighting and you have other priorities right now that you are happily pursuing, groovy. At least you know where you are and what you want at the moment.

If your skill level bothers you, and you are actively working on changing it for the better, awesome. You also know where you are and what you want.

If you can’t stand not being lauded as a “good fighter”, but you’re too lazy or too distracted to put in the effort it takes to become one, as I said before, shut your mouth. You are not allowed to complain. Not One Word.

By “effort”, I do not mean going to fighter practice every once in while and then moaning about how it always feels like you’re never getting anywhere. I do not mean talking non-stop about your fighting problems while doing nothing about them. I do not mean acting like other fighters owe it to you to accommodate your whiny, unmotivated ass and give you rah-rah speeches every time you have a pity party over it.

I’ve been right in this spot myself, many moons ago before I figured out that the only “bad practices” are the ones I make bad. If I haven’t learned something even from having my ass handed to me, that’s my failure and no one else’s. If I’m not working to correct what I see as problems in my fighting, I forfeit the right to whinge. If I can’t see the source of a problem, it’s my responsibility to ask for help figuring that out. At no point does any of this become anyone else’s responsibility.

So if you really want to fight, take responsibility for yourself and do something about it. Make some forward progress. Analyze your trouble spots and work on fixing them. Ask intelligent questions. Go to fighter practice often enough that your muscles and brain don’t lose whatever they’ve gained from one to the next. Go to your fighting companions and mentors when you need help and listen up when they offer it. Don’t be a black hole; give something back in time, effort or materials.

Figure out what you want out of fighting before you ask anyone to give you their time and attention. If you can’t articulate a reasonable answer to the question “What are your fighting goals?”, you’re not even ready to start. No one should rightly waste a moment of their precious time on any newbie until they can come up with that answer. People who have no idea why they’re fighting and what they want out of it are almost always the ones who hang around for a little while and then disappear from the game.

So, find your bootstraps and grab on. No one, and I do mean no one, is going to make a fighter out of you except you.

Now, it’s time to put up or shut up.

Of course I think she is talking about sword fighting.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Stupid New Blogger Question

Ever since I switched to New Blogger, stupid Blogger refuses to remember my very long stupid New Blogger username. Any theories as to why? I usually check the remembe me box, but it never does.

Pig Out!

Happy New Year!

Today is the first day of the [Chinese]New Year, the year of the golden pig. Shoud be auspicious for wealth. I think I may buy a lottery ticket.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blood on the Moon

Although American rocket expertise predates German, the real foundation of America's space power was von Braun and the scientists he handpicked to be brought to the US after World War II. They built our first ICBMs and the rockets that carried Americans into space and to the moon.

The V-2's were a much feared terror weapon, but since much of the manufacture was done with slave labor grotesquely brutalized by the SS, von Braun's rockets killed more people in their manufacture than in their employment.

According to V2Rocket.com, at least 25,000 slave laborers perished at the Mittelbrau construction complex:

Over 25,000 of these were killed either by beatings, starvation, and sickness in the complex, or by the brutal efforts of the SS to relocate them before the Americans arrived in April, 1945. We now know that many of the most shocking “concentration camp pictures” that are seared into our common consciousness from this era were taken by U.S. troops as they entered the Mittelbau camps.

Trouble in Tennessee

It seems that Tennessee is not only the point of origin of the tainted peanut butter but also the home State and base of The Anti-Christ.

These, of course, are relatively minor faults compared to Nashville ;)

Friday, February 16, 2007

Down at Mary's Old Time Bar

A bar I once knew was frequented by, among others, loggers and college football players. Oddly enough, this occasionally led to strife. Usually one doesn't notice the precipitating event, but the denouement stuck in my mind.

Football guy:

...You're just a dumb truck driver.

The logger (or maybe logging truck driver), responded with a physical riposte, and football guy was soon on the floor, oozing blood.

Football guy:

You're still a dumb truck driver.


Maybe so, but if you're so smart, how come you are looking up at me from the floor bleeding?

Rhetoric isn't what it once was.

E pur si muove! Not!

From our conservative Republican friends we learn that this whole Copernican shit, just like evolution and global warming, is just another part of the vast Jewish conspiracy to destroy Christianity. Josh Marshall has the details and links here.

Some details of this bit of consensus science:

“Indisputable evidence — long hidden but now available to everyone — demonstrates conclusively that so-called ‘secular evolution science’ is the Big-Bang 15-billion-year alternate ‘creation scenario’ of the Pharisee Religion,” reads the letter that went out under Bridges' name. “This scenario is derived concept-for-concept from Rabbinic writings in the mystic ‘holy book’ Kabbala dating back at least two millennia.”

It seems that the actual author or analyst, I guess you might say, was a fellow named Marshall Hall, the husband of Bridges campaign manager, Bonnie Hall. Then they sent it out over Bridges' signature to state legislators in Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio. And they didn't stop by letting the cat out of the bag on evolution. They also blew the whistle on all this hokum about the earth revolving around the Sun.

Barnes' memo pointed fellow state legislators to the information at fixedearth.com which rails against the “a mystic, anti-Christ ‘holy book’ of the Pharisee Sect of Judaism” and claims that “the earth is not rotating … nor is it going around the sun.” They've even caught on to the "centuries-old conspiracy" on the part of Jewish physicists to destroy Christianity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


OK, I admit it. My name is C and I am an addict.

I can't stop myself. I keep going over to Lumo's Place for another fix of Les Horribles Cernettes

Monday, February 12, 2007

Taking Out the Trash

There is a nice moment in Ghostbusters where Bill Murray and his fellow charlatans suddenly start getting some actual results, only to have the long-suffering Dean burst in and triumphantly announce that they are getting the boot.

That moment has apparently arrived at Princeton. The PEAR's lab, it seems, is shutting its doors and Princeton is getting out of the paranormal psychology business. The lab's head did insist, though, that they are getting some really interesting results.

On a parallel, but rather less substantiated note, rumors indicate that PU will also be closing down its String Theory programs. The resources freed by these two closures will reputedly go into beefing up the climate science program.

Go Tigers!


Lumo has made the big time - Drudge no less. That's big time Climo-Denial in my book.

Better apply for the AEI $10,000, Luboš!

As an added, the president of Czechia might have some explaining to do, especially if Gore is the next president.

Iraq: the Next Act

Congress and the American people are now caught in a terrible dilemma. It is clear to the majority of each that the war in Iraq is being lost, and that the strategy with which it is being pursued is certain to get more American soldiers killed and likely to further destabilize this strategically critical region. The dilemma is occasioned by the fact that our President is determined to pursue his failed ideas and that their is no really appropriate provision in the Constitution for replacing him.

Lt. Gen William E Odom was an early and prophetic critic of the Iraq war. He also

was head of Army intelligence and director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan. He served on the National Security Council staff under Jimmy Carter. A West Point graduate with a PhD from Columbia, Odom teaches at Yale

He wrote a must-read op-ed column in the Washington Post today called Victory is Not an Option:

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.

Odom is impatient with Congress to get beyond hedging and symbolic gestures. For a start, he says, we need to aknowledge some basic facts:

First of all, it will require, from Congress at least, public acknowledgment that the president's policy is based on illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq. Most Americans need no further convincing, but two truths ought to put the matter beyond question:

First, the assumption that the United States could create a liberal, constitutional democracy in Iraq defies just about everything known by professional students of the topic. ...

Second, to expect any Iraqi leader who can hold his country together to be pro-American, or to share American goals, is to abandon common sense. It took the United States more than a century to get over its hostility toward British occupation. (In 1914, a majority of the public favored supporting Germany against Britain.) Every month of the U.S. occupation, polls have recorded Iraqis' rising animosity toward the United States.

He next lists what he calls several myths that are used to justify the continuation of the present hopeless policies - you should read them, but near the core of each is the notion that continuation of the policies that have produced this disaster can in any way ameliorate their consequences.

We need to abandon Bush's fantasies, he says, and concentrate on achieving order in the Middle East, something all the states and most parties, except al Quaeda and the other revolutionary ones, desire.

If Bush truly wanted to rescue something of his historical legacy, he would seize the initiative to implement this kind of strategy. He would eventually be held up as a leader capable of reversing direction by turning an imminent, tragic defeat into strategic recovery.

If he stays on his present course, he will leave Congress the opportunity to earn the credit for such a turnaround. It is already too late to wait for some presidential candidate for 2008 to retrieve the situation. If Congress cannot act, it, too, will live in infamy.

Bush will not do that, because he is triply a fool, pigheaded, uncomprehending, and messianic. Congress's ability to do anything is very limited, by institutional compostion, by politics, and by the Constitution.

Josh Marshall, who pointed out Odom's article, has some recent posts related to the topic explaining how hard it will be to get meaningful progress out of Congress - especially given the continuing right-wing domination of essentially all the national media. My own suspicion is that impeachment may be the only way, and that can't happen until many more Republicans see the light. Expect at least another year or more on this particular road to hellish disaster.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


I guess the psych department at my alma mater must have been on a recruiting binge when I entered school, because I remember being bombarded with recruiting stuff before I enrolled. It is, no doubt, a good thing that I ignored their blandishments, because it turns out that dealing with crazy people is bad for my health. Of course we all have to confront a certain number of nutjobs in our personal and professional lives, but I'm definitely going to try to [New Years Resolution] cut down on my interactions with Climo-Denial nutjobs.

Of course somebody still has to monitor a few of the more egregious bits of charlatanry and swindle spewing from the maw of Exxoth The Enemy and the various balrogs, blogs, demons, policy institutes and lesser slave creatures that it created or corrupted, not to mention keeping track of the fairly large number of indigenous loons and locos in the area. I will, however, reject and abjure that role and commend it to Eli Rabett and the saintly scientists of Real Climate, who are not only wiser but more energetic than your humble servant.

PS: From Eli, this Colbert bit:

As long as the administration can find one scientist that disagrees with the IPCC report then there is no global warming, and they are working very hard to find that scientist...

He has a link to the video.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More War Lies

Patrick Fitzgerald has turned over a big rock, and lots of ugly Bush/Cheney creatures are scurrying to get out of the light. In particular, the testimony of White House insiders has made it clear that Bush and company were deliberately lying to the country when they denied knowlege or responsibility for the leak campaign. Did they also lie to Fitzgerald? If so, that's obstruction of justice, even if they were not under oath.

Peter Yost of the Associate Press lays out some incriminating details:

David Addington, chief legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, says he was taken aback when the White House started making public pronouncements about the CIA leak investigation.

In the fall of 2003, President Bush's press secretary was categorically denying that either Karl Rove or I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was involved in exposing the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA employee married to a critic of the war in Iraq.

"Why are you making these statements?" Addington asked White House communications director Dan Bartlett.

"Your boss is the one who wanted" them, Bartlett replied, referring to Cheney.

With that, "I shut up," Addington recalled recently for jurors in Libby's CIA leak trial, which begins its fourth week on Monday with Libby's lawyers calling their first witnesses.

So far, the testimony of Addington and other administration aides, along with documents and Libby's audiotaped grand jury testimony, have provided a rare glimpse of how the Bush White House scrambled to respond to a political crisis as it intersected a criminal investigation.

At the intersection was Cheney, along with Rove and Libby, who were working in the summer of 2003 to rebut claims by Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, that Bush had misled the nation about prewar intelligence on Iraq.

The White House denials on behalf of Rove and Libby came just before Rove secretly began acknowledging to the FBI that he had confirmed Plame's identity for conservative columnist Bob Novak, who first published her name and relationship to Wilson...

This stuff, if not a smoking gun, is at least a couple of smoking holsters. I think we will soon be hearing the R word with respect to Cheney, and maybe the I word too - especially if the Libby Jury fails to believe Scooter's "I forgot" defense.

Via Huffpost.

Bad Press

The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin has the definitive story on the way the press covered itself with ignominy in the Valerie Plame Wilson affair. While the press was busy wondering who the leakers were, and the White House was busy issuing pius lies, much of the Washington press, including, among others, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NBC knew exactly who was leaking, because they had been leaked to, too, and knew that the White House was lying.

So why didn't they tell us. Protecting their sources, they claim. Protecting their access, is what they really mean. The Washington press, it seems, has become an unofficial propaganda arm of the government.

Froomkin starts with the Tim Russert:

If you're a journalist, and a very senior White House official calls you up on the phone, what do you do? Do you try to get the official to address issues of urgent concern so that you can then relate that information to the public?

Not if you're NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert.

When then-vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby called Russert on July 10, 2003, to complain that his name was being unfairly bandied about by MSNBC host Chris Matthews, Russert apparently asked him nothing.

And get this: According to Russert's testimony yesterday at Libby's trial, when any senior government official calls him, they are presumptively off the record.

That's not reporting, that's enabling.

Many things are "on trial" at the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse right now. Libby is the only one facing a jail sentence -- and Russert's testimony, firmly contradicting the central claim of Libby's defense, may just end up putting him there.

But Libby's boss, along with the whole Bush White House, for that matter, is being held up to public scrutiny as well.

And the behavior of elite members of Washington's press corps -- sometimes appearing more interested in protecting themselves and their cozy "sources" than in informing the public -- is also being exposed for all the world to see...

There is more - lots more. Read the story.

Slimeball Watch

While you slept, Brad DeLong notices a slime trail, picks upThe Politico's Mike Allen, analyzes the same, dissects the perp and pickles him in formaldehyde. Mike, it seems, imagines in his dimwit mind that he has found an inconsistency in Barack Obama's name story.

Friday at sundown is a fitting moment to take note of a particularly pathetic piece of Journamalism from Mike Allen at the Politico.

You see, Mike Allen begins his trashing of Barack Obama. Understand: Mike Allen isn't doing the trashing--oh no no no. Mike Allen is just saying what the critics of Obama will say.

Let's give Mike the mike, and watch him take his dive:

The Politico: Barack Obama’s free ride is ending.... Obama’s about to endure a going-over that would make a proctologist blush. Why has he sometimes said his first name is Arabic, and other times Swahili?... [T]he long knives will be out for Obama.... Officials at the top of both parties calculate that Obama has risen too fast... “vapid platitudes” that could produce a “soufflé effect.”... “With a couple of pinpricks here and there, the whole thing could fall apart.”...

Even his name offers fodder for the critics. When he was growing up, his family, friends and teachers called him “Barry.” Then as a young man, he started insisting on “Barack,” explaining in a memoir published in 1995 that his grandfather was a Muslim and that it means “blessed” in Arabic. His dad, who was Kenyan, had gone by “Barry” -- probably trying to fit in when he came to the States, his son figured. On the campaign trail during his 2004 Senate race, Obama told reporters that “Barack” was Swahili for “blessed by God.” Whatever its origins, the exotic, multicultural name...

Two minutes of Googling would have told Mike Allen that "barack" is both a Swahili word meaning "blessed by God" and an Arabic word meaning "blessed." There's been lots of trade between Swahili-speaking East Africa and the Arabic-speaking Middle East for millennia. That "barack" is a word in both languages is part of the same process by which the largest Swahili-speaking port in the world has a pure Arabic name--Dar es Salaam, meaning "House of Peace."

But Allen doesn't tell his readers any of this, does he?

And this "exotic, multicultural name" business... "Barack" is so exotic and multicultural that five million Americans are supposed to say it at sundown every Friday night... the same word b•r•k in a Hebrew rather than an Arabic accent: "baruch":

"Baruch atah Adonai Elohenu melech ha'olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Shabbat." "Blessed are you, O Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has made us holy by your commandments and told us to light the Sabbath lights."

Five minutes' acquaintance with Judaism would have taught Mike Allen that b•r•k is about as exotic as the synagogue down the street, wouldn't it? About as unusual in America as the last name of Bernard Baruch, advisor to Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.

But Allen doesn't tell his readers any of this, does he?

And, of course, the same prayer beginning b•r•k is at the heart of most Christian services:

Blessed are you, Lord, God of all creation. Through your goodness we have this bread of offer, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life...

An hour's acquaintance with Christianity, and Mike Allen could have learned other things--for example, that Jesus Christ says b•r•k eight times in a row at the beginning of eight consecutive sentences at the start of the fifth chapter of Matthew when he begins his Sermon on the Mount...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Two Links

What's 20 miles long and costs about 550 tons of $100 bills?

It's the ILC, baby, and it's The next big thing. Dennis Overbye of the NYT has the story.

Lumo has a link to a nice video interview of his Harvard colleague Steven Pinker by Steven Colbert.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Health Insurance

Kevin Drum links to a story that shows how the times, they are a changing. Most Americans get health insurance through their employers, but this is a benefit that is rapidly being eroded. Union boss Andy Stern says:

She has worked every day of her life. Her 16 year old daughter Janelle was having respiratory problems, and the doctor sent her for an x-ray. But because Lisa still owed several hundred dollars from a previous illness, the x-ray was postponed and the doctor said they would just monitor her progress. Three days later—Janelle died. She died in the richest country on earth, even though her Mom worked every day, simply because she was still too poor to afford health care.

This is not the America any of us want.


It is time to admit that the employer-based health care system is dead—a relic of the industrial economy. America cannot compete in the new global economy when we are the only industrialized nation on earth that puts the price of healthcare on the cost of our products.

That is a major drag on American business competitiveness, and job creation—and it is a stupid 21st century economic plan as well.

American business by 2008 will pay more for health care than they will make in profits. That is untenable.

The good news is that the solution is no longer a matter of policy, but one politics and leadership.

Today the winds of change are blowing.

This kind of talk from a union leader is hardly news. The news is in the allies he now has. From Kevin's article:

One of the companies joining him is Wal-Mart. Others include Intel, AT&T, and Kelly Services. Details are a little sketchy, but all of these companies -- did I say Wal-Mart was one of them? -- have decided to work together with SEIU to push for universal healthcare (of an undefined nature) by around 2012.

A lot of big businesses are certain to want to shed their own healthcare plans, but their work forces will fight to the death on this issue - unless there is a good, universal plan to take its place.

I say, why wait. Pass a bill next year. Bush will veto it. Then the voters can have their say.

Isla de Pascua (again)

Wolfgang has a short, not quite harmless post on Easter Island, AIDS, the Fate of the World.

Rumors that WB is a roadie for an obscure rock band are likely false.

How Much is 363 Tons?

Well, if it's all in $100 bills, that would be about four billion dollars. That's just a guess - maybe there were some $20's.

The Federal Reserve sent record payouts of more than $4 billion in cash to Baghdad on giant pallets aboard military planes shortly before the United States gave control back to Iraqis, lawmakers said Tuesday.
Bills weighing a total of 363 tons were loaded onto military aircraft in the largest cash shipments ever made by the Federal Reserve, said Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

I guess Halliburton, or somebody, didn't want to take a check.

Uh Oh

I get really, really nervous when I find myself agreeing with Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson about anything, but I'm afraid he hit the mark with Global Warming and Hot Air. His point is that despite the talk, prospects for meaningful action against global warming are slight.

Don't be fooled. The dirty secret about global warming is this: We have no solution. About 80 percent of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), the main sources of man-made greenhouse gases. Energy use sustains economic growth, which -- in all modern societies -- buttresses political and social stability. Until we can replace fossil fuels or find practical ways to capture their emissions, governments will not sanction the deep energy cuts that would truly affect global warming.

It's no secret that the worst offender of today, the US, and the worst offenders to come (China and India) are exactly those not really offering even lip service to emissions control. Samuelson is pretty much saying: "Hey, if we don't cut down that last giant palm to erect more stone statues, the next tribe will."

He does suggest a meaningful half-measure:

What we really need is a more urgent program of research and development, focusing on nuclear power, electric batteries, alternative fuels and the capture of carbon dioxide. Naturally, there's no guarantee that socially acceptable and cost-competitive technologies will result. But without them, global warming is more or less on automatic pilot. Only new technologies would enable countries -- rich and poor -- to reconcile the immediate imperative of economic growth with the potential hazards of climate change.

Meanwhile, we could temper our energy appetite. I've argued before for a high oil tax to prod Americans to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles. The main aim would be to limit insecure oil imports, but it would also check CO2emissions. Similarly, we might be better off shifting some of the tax burden from wages and profits to a broader tax on energy or carbon. That would favor more fuel-efficient light bulbs, appliances and industrial processes.

It's a debate we ought to have -- but probably won't. Any realistic response would be costly, uncertain and no doubt unpopular. That's one truth too inconvenient for almost anyone to admit.

I would add that we should pursue other measures that will make it easier to adapt to the coming events: habitat preservation, especially in the rain forests, promotion of population control, preparation for the consequences.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

How do You Know...?

How do you know that Easter Island wasn't wiped out by a tsunami?
asks Rae Ann in this comment.

There are many similar questions. How do we know that the Universe is expanding? How do we know that the Earth is more than four billion years old? How do we know that Finland was covered with ice 25,000 years ago? How do we know that human activity is increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere? How do we know that Africa and South America were joined two hundred million years or so ago? How do we know what the sea level was 500 years ago or how much CO2 was in the atmosphere 200,000 years ago. How do we know, for that matter, that the Earth is round and that the Moon isn't made of green cheese?

In each case, even the last, there is a chain of evidence that leads to the deduction. In the case of Easter Island, and Rae Ann's question, the answer is easy. The great part of Easter Island is more than 50 meters above sea level. Portions are more than 400 meters above sea level. A tsunami on a scale to destroy all the trees of the island would have left a huge amount of evidence, and not just on that one island. The occasional giant tsunamis produced by the volcanic Hawaiian islands are of that scale, and they have left profound evidence hundreds of thousands of years later. A tsunami of that scale in the last 800 or so years could not have escaped leaving much more obvious evidence.

This kind of evidentiary chain is the basis of everything we know about the past. Some deductions about the past are easy, like the one above. Others, less so.

It must be fifty years since I last read Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, but I still pretty clearly remember the high-priestess saying to Tarzan: "the more you know, the less you believe." She was talking about her religion (which demanded Tarzan as a human sacrifice), but so too it is with geology - if you know nothing, you are free to believe any damn fool thing you like. More knowledge constrains your options. That is the burden of those of us who would live in the reality based community.

In the case of Rapa Nui, AKA Easter Island, there is solid evidence of forests of large palms when humans arrived, and quite solid evidence that they were all gone when the first Europeans arrived.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Egyptian River Roundup

I don't want Lumo to feel neglected, so let me just mention that he has a roundup of denialist stuff up right now - or at least a few tidbits. Pride of place goes to Timothy Ball, who touts himself as the first Canadian Ph.D. in Climatology - apparently having gotten his degree sometime in the first half of the last century. A quick check of Google Scholar seems to show that he, or some similar named fellow, has written a bit about CO2 uptake by pine trees. Perhaps fittingly, his rant (follow the link to Lumo), is full of sound and fury but utterly devoid of relevant criticism. He complains, but never explains. No piece of logic or experimental information flows from his keyboard.

Getting a lower billing, but with slightly more content, is a ten-part newspaper (if I may so dignify a Murdoch propaganda sheet) series on great living climate deniers. This series was put together by Lawrence Solomon, and energy industry flack, and has the advantage of variety. His list of deniers has a statistician who knows nothing about climate, and economist who knows nothing about climate, assorted astrophysicists who don't know much and even one genuine physical climate guy - remove the blindfold please - yep, it is indeed our old buddy, the Ryan Seacrest of climatology, Prof. Richard Lindzen of MIT - suck on that Techies.

Those who care should consult the article, via Lumo. Some are kind enough to provide predictions (cooling on the way!), others just claim GW is good for you.

We *Are* All Doomed

From the Orlando Sentinel, the latest sign of the impending apocalypse:

A NASA astronaut is charged with attacking her rival for another astronaut's attention early Monday at Orlando International Airport, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

Lisa Marie Nowak drove from Texas to meet the 1 a.m. flight of a younger woman who had also been seeing the male astronaut Nowak pined for, according to Orlando police.

Nowak -- who was a mission specialist on a Discovery launch last summer -- was wearing a trench coat and wig and had a knife, BB pistol, rubber tubing and plastic bags, reports show. Once U.S. Air Force Capt. Colleen Shipman arrived, Nowak followed her to the airport's Blue Lot for long-term parking, tried to get into Shipman's car and doused her with pepper spray, according to reports.

The alleged perps NASA biography describes her as:

Married and a mother of three children, her interests include running, playing the piano and collecting African violets...

The flowers made me do it.

via Drudge

Doctor Brainiac's War

Thomas Ricks has a Washington Post Story on the brain trust General David Petraeus has assembled to advise his Iraq strategy:

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals -- including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders -- in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.

Army officers tend to refer to the group as "Petraeus guys." They are smart colonels who have been noticed by Petraeus, and who make up one of the most selective clubs in the world: military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq.

The concept cannot be faulted. The dumb guys have screwed this up, so maybe it's time to let the smart guys try. There are two huge potential problems, however. The first is that the smart guys won't really get to run the show. The split command structure, where independent Iraqi and American generals will be calling the shots, looks like a recipe for disaster. If the Iraqi government isn't backing this effort, failure seems assured. The second problem is the pervasive feeling that whatever Petraeus can do, it will be too little and too late.

But there is widespread skepticism that even this unusual group, with its specialized knowledge of counterinsurgency methods, will be able to win the battle of Baghdad.

"Petraeus's 'brain trust' is an impressive bunch, but I think it's too late to salvage success in Iraq," said a professor at a military war college, who said he thinks that the general will still not have sufficient troops to implement a genuine counterinsurgency strategy and that the United States really has no solution for the sectarian violence tearing apart Iraq.

"It's too late to make a difference in Iraq," agreed Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University expert on terrorism who has advised the U.S. government on the war effort.

Read the story though. These guys are an impressive bunch. Maybe they can do something. We can still hope.

In the meantime, a Republican filibuster has blocked debate in the Senate, so no action to slow or shutdown "the surge" is imminent.

On the downside, the dumbest guy of them all is still "the decider."

Too Dumb to Live?

If you put certain simple organisms on a plate of nutrient material, they will multiply until they poison themselves with their own waste. Humans, too, have often demonstrated a rather similar behavior - Easter Island and Chaco Canyon for two examples.

Why so? In each case, the easy answer is to say that they were too dumb to know any better. It's not quite that simple, though. Other organisms demonstrate complex adaptive and cooperative behavior with a better long term prognosis. Our cousins the slime molds are a favourite of mine. People too have often proven capable of adapting.

A slightly more sophisticated answer is that the environment that humans (and the simple organisms of our first example) evolved for was an environment in which resources and predation limited the self-poisoning factor. The biologists agar plate, and our technological society, are just different versions of temporary release from that constraint.

Our technology has allowed us to multiply like those organisms on the agar plate, and also multiplied the rate at which we can poison our environment.

Many won't see it though. As Obi-Wan demonstrated, the weak-minded are easily influenced by the force - in this case the force of ideology, religion, and propaganda. Collectively speaking, our species just might be too dumb to live.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Fear and Loathing in Godric's Hollow

There is a lot of fear and loathing in HP fandom about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and last volume in Jo Rowling's series. Loathing, because we (readers, publishers, bookstores) hate to see the end of the series, and fear, because we know she will kill off some of our heroes, possibly including Harry. Fear too, because we love her now but fear that she may just be the kind of sadist who might do that murder most foul, thereby earning our undying bitterness - or so we fear.

Of course there is also the fear that, whatever happens, the seventh book won't be as good as the others. Sequels are never supposed to be as good as the originals, but of course she has now written five of them without a clinker. Yet.

For some books, the author is part of the story, and Jo's is one of the more dramatic. We love Harry and we loved the story of the single mother writing her books in longhand in Cafes. Thus, it was a bit of downer to learn that HP 7 was finished in a posh suite of the Balmoral Hotel, though we appreciate that the world's most famous author might no longer be able to write the world's most anticipated book in public venues.

I can't say I cared much for the fact that she celebrated the completion by noting the fact in some graffiti on a hotel vase - which no doubt gained immensely in value as a result. Has success and becoming a billionaire spoiled JKR? We certainly hope not, but such things happen.

Moral Hazard

Insurance - especially insurance via the government - is a favorite bugaboo of libertarians and various other wingnuts. To the extent that they have an intellectual argument, it is based on the concept of "moral hazard." As an economist I know explained the concept to his mother, the moral hazard argument is that you are "less likely to step in front of a bus if you know you aren't insured for the expected medical expenses." Thus, the argument goes, you are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors - smoke, drink excessively, become obese, or step in front of a bus - if you have medical insurance, so such insurance actually encourages unhealthy behaviors.

I find it hard to believe than anybody takes this argument very seriously, though economists apparently do.

See Wikipedia for more plausible applications of the principle of moral hazard.

A Modest Proposal

The changes in the world since 1790 have mostly tended to strengthen the executive branch of the government. The founders did not envision a large standing army, so, for them, the power of Congress to raise Armies was a crucial part of the war powers of the constitution. It easy to believe that they also could not have foreseen the complexity of global commerce and other factors which have made our national government (every government) so large and intrusive.

There have been complaints lately about another recent Bush power grab - an executive order he signed to make all regulations pass through and be approved by an agency political officer.

There is a simple and useful measure Congress could take which would minimize politization, tend to restore the constitutional balance of power, and lead to better government in many ways. Right now, the President - each President - appoints about three-thousand political appointees to senior agency jobs. Those appointees include a few top aides of the President, ideally, a few senior leaders, and inevitably, about 2950 political hacks whose previous experience was assistant campaign advance man. Which is how a failed horse lawyer like Michael Brown winds up running FEMA. Presidents love these appointments because it allows them to reward their flunkys. It's quite striking how many of these appointees are responsible for the catastrophic failures of various administrations.

Congress could very easily replace, say, all but 30 or 50 of these with civil servants. Because the senior civil servants got to their positions by demonstrated expertise and have long experience in their agencies, they have a good idea how their agency works. Because they can expect to serve not just the present administration but future ones, they tend to be more conscious of the laws and the interests of the country than the political concerns of whomever happens to be President. Most other democracies make do with 10 or so political appointees - we could do with about 2900 fewer.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Strongly Recommended

I strongly recommend today's Huffington Post article by James Fallows. Forget Iraq, he says to Congress, worry about drawing the line on Iran:

Deciding what to do next about Iraq is hard -- on the merits, and in the politics. It's hard on the merits because whatever comes next, from "surge" to "get out now" and everything in between, will involve suffering, misery, and dishonor...

By comparison, Iran is easy: on the merits, in the politics. War with Iran would be a catastrophe that would make us look back fondly on the minor inconvenience of being bogged down in Iraq. While the Congress flounders about what, exactly, it can do about Iraq, it can do something useful, while it still matters, in making clear that it will authorize no money and provide no endorsement for military action against Iran.

He runs through the plausible scenarios, all of which Bush appears to be angling toward. The difficulty is that Congress's leverage in practice is somewhat limited. As Arun's Comment emphasizes, if the President tells the military to attack, they will, and Congress be damned (that might change if Congress specifically prohibited such an attack.

Back to Fallows:

If we could trust the Administration's ability to judge America's rational self-interest, there would be no need to constrain its threatening gestures toward Iran. Everyone would understand that this was part of the negotiation process; no one would worry that the Administration would finally take a step as self-destructive as beginning or inviting a war.

But no one can any longer trust the Administration to recognize and defend America's rational self-interest -- not when the President says he will carry out a policy even if opposed by everyone except his wife and dog, not when the Vice President refuses to concede any mistake or misjudgment in the handling of Iraq. According to the constitutional chain of command, those two men literally have the power to order a strike that would be disastrous for their nation. The Congress has no official way to prevent them from doing so -- it is interesting, and alarming, to think that in practice the safety valve might be the professional military, trained to revere the chain of command but faced with what its members would recognize as ruinous instructions.

What the Congress can do is draw the line. It can say that war with Iran is anathema to the interests of the United States and contrary to the will of its elected representatives. And it should do that now.


Friday, February 02, 2007


Have I mentioned lately that I don't like Hillary? I believe she's smart, I believe her policies are likely to be somewhat reasonable, and I believe that she is one of the 150 million or so Americans who would be much better Presidents than George W Bush. She might even be in the top 100.

Her personality grates, grates, grates, grates, grates, however. Almost every word she says seems to ooze insincerity. I mean, what kind of politician is that? How can you be a politician if you haven't even learned to fake sincerity?

So much for the minor problems. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton sounds like a real dynastic horror show. I don't want that kind of a country.

Maybe I'm a hopelessly sexist anti-dynastic nutbag, but I don't want her.

I didn't want Bill, either, of course, and he turned out to be a halfway-good President. Too bad that he, the vast RW conspiracy, and our worthless press (epithet deleted you, Michael Isikoff) screwed up the other half.

This is the Way the World Ends

Sabrina Tavernise has spent twenty-two months in Iraq. Her New York Times today captures much of the ongoing catastrophe George Bush has unleashed there.

A PAINFUL measure of just how much Iraq has changed in the four years since I started coming here is contained in my cellphone. Many numbers in the address book are for Iraqis who have either fled the country or been killed. One of the first Sunni politicians: gunned down. A Shiite baker: missing. A Sunni family: moved to Syria.

I first came to Iraq in April 2003, at the end of the looting several weeks after the American invasion. In all, I have spent 22 months here, time enough for the place, its people and their ever-evolving tragedy to fix itself firmly in my heart.

Now, as I am leaving Iraq, a new American plan is unfolding in the capital. It feels as if we have come back to the beginning. Boots are on the ground again. Boxy Humvees move in the streets. Baghdad fell in 2003 and we are still trying to pick it back up. But Iraq is a different country now.

The moderates are mostly gone. My phone includes at least a dozen entries for middle-class families who have given up and moved away. They were supposed to build democracy here. Instead they work odd jobs in Syria and Jordan. Even the moderate political leaders have left. I have three numbers for Adnan Pachachi, the distinguished Iraqi statesman; none have Iraqi country codes.

Neighborhoods I used to visit a year ago with my armed guards and my black abaya are off limits. Most were Sunni and had been merely dangerous. Now they are dead. A neighborhood that used to be Baghdad’s Upper East Side has the dilapidated, broken feel of a city just hit by a hurricane...

An interesting metaphor. Why is it that when a catastrophe unfolds, the American President always seems to be playing air guitar or reading My Pet Goat.

Her story, It Has Unraveled So Quickly, is a compelling read, but not for those who prefer their news filtered through the Fox Propaganda Network.

One more paragraph:

I learned how much violence changes people, and how trust is chipped away, leaving society a thin layer of moth-eaten fabric that tears easily. It has unraveled so quickly. A year ago, my interviews were peppered with phrases like “Iraqis are all brothers.” The subjects would get angry when you asked their sect.

Now that is never heard. A functioning society is hard to build but easy to destroy. That's a familiar lesson of history, but fool, of course, have never heard it.

Unlike many, she does not think that the President's new plan is hopeless. American troops on the ground do make a difference, but there is little hint that the Iraqi government will cooperate in any meaninful way. Does Bush have the will or credibility to force meaningful change? History isn't encouraging.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Good Reviews

I recently ordered Michael Dine's new book Supersymmetry and String Theory: Beyond the Standard Model, partly on the strength of Lumo's endorsement.

What really won my heart, though, was this five star review by Big Tuna on Amazon:

This volume will serve as a Rosetta Stone for future historians trying to make sense of the pre-LHC era of speculative physics literature. The author has accomplished a heroic task, preserving these elegant yet soon to be forgotten theories for future generations.

Conservative Science

The Guardian reports:

Scientists and economists have been offered $10,000 each by a lobby group funded by one of the world's largest oil companies to undermine a major climate change report due to be published today.

Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Travel expenses and additional payments were also offered.
The UN report was written by international experts and is widely regarded as the most comprehensive review yet of climate change science. It will underpin international negotiations on new emissions targets to succeed the Kyoto agreement, the first phase of which expires in 2012. World governments were given a draft last year and invited to comment.

The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.

On a possibly related note, Luboš posts on scientific purity and Alexandre Groethendieck.

The Edge of the Abyss

Speak up. We're on the edge of the abyss.

So says Josh Marshall, and I agree. All the augeries indicated that Bush is angling for a war with Iran. Never mind that this this makes sense only in the minds of those who think that protecting Israel is more important than protecting the United States - or that even they are clearly deluded.

This is the preeminent, really the only question in American politics today: Do we want to go to war with Iran or not? With the escalating chaos in Iraq and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, is it in our interests or not to get into a shooting war with Iran? The debate over the 'surge' of US troops into Baghdad is significant in its own way, but it pales in comparison to this one.

I've always viewed the fears that the White House would try expand the war into Iran with a mix of deep skepticism, fascination and latent foreboding. Logically, it makes no sense on any number of counts. But the last half dozen years has taught us all that that's simply not a significant obstacle. There are any number of ridiculous gambits I was sure these guys wouldn't try before they did try them.


I've said this before. But perhaps it seems like hyperbole. So I'll say it again. The president's interests are now radically disjoined from the country's. We can handle a setback like Iraq. It really is a big disaster. But America will certainly sur[v]ive it. President Bush -- in the sense of his legacy and historical record -- won't. It's all Iraq for him. And Iraq is all disaster. So, from his perspective (that is to say, through the prism of his interests rather than the country's -- which he probably can't separate) reckless gambits aimed at breaking out of this ever-tightening box make sense.

Think of it like this. He's a death row prisoner concocting a thousand-to-one plan to break out of prison. For him, those are good odds. The rest of us are doing three months for disorderly conduct. And he's trying to rope us into his harebrained scheme. Like I said, his interests are very different from ours.

Congress is now facing one of the great constitutional crises of our history. They had better have the impeachment option handy, and make it clear to the President that launching such a war on his own will result in a speedy impeachment.