Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ethnic Wars: History Still in Operation

One egregious Neocon fantasy was the idea that the spread of democracy might bring "The End of History," with war being abandoned in favor of peaceful trade. Of course this is yet another example of the stupidities that come from ignoring the facts of history and biology.

Among our most intractable sources of conflict are ethnic tensions. Of course people of different ethnicities and cultures do manage to live peacefully with each other much of the time, but that other 20-50% causes a heck of a lot of carnage. The recent conflict over Georgia is only epsidode one zillion in this story. Much of the story of the human race is the story of ethnic conflict and reulting genocide.

Genocide is actually such a deeply embedded component of human nature that it didn't really even have a name until it was turned upon the most literate and accomplished culture in the Western world - the slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust. That disturbed the world enough that the laws of war got around to forbidding it.

There were plenty of other genocides in the twentieth century, the greatest probably being the slaughter of the Kulaks and others in the great terror in Soviet Russia. Millions died in the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians as well, and in Cambodia. Millions of Africans were murdered by various Europeans in Africa, and Africans have proved nearly as adept in murdering each other.

No doubt Arun will criticize me again for biologizing everything, but it seems to me that such a widespread behavior can only be explained by biology, and that any attempt to eradicate it is doomed without recognition of that fact. Competition for resources, I believe, is the underlying reality, that and the biological instincts that promote that competition.

These gloomy thoughts, and others, were prompted by reading from the Greg Mortenson book Three Cups of Tea.

The recent overthrow of Musharaf in Pakistan can be seen as an advance for democracy, but one of the key players in that was Naswar Sharif, who, if I recall, was the bozo who decided that it might be a good idea to restart the India - Pakistan war by infiltrating Indian Kashmir in the high mountains. India's reply resulted in indiscriminate slaughter of thousands of villagers as well as soldiers - the usual pattern in such events.

The trouble with ethnic conflicts is that every side winds up with plenty of real and justified complaints. Pakistan continues to infiltrate terrorists, and India has always refused to hold the elections it promised in Kashmir.

Pakistan is a relatively small and backward country, with a population and GDP dwarfed by the huge and rapidly growing Indian economy, but nuclear weapons mean that a major miscalculation by either side could lead to horrendous slaughter. Just a few years ago, it seems likely that the government of India, under the influence of Hindu nationalists, was on the brink of launching such a war in response to repeated Pakistani provocations before its economic class talked some sense into it.

The discouraging thing is that measures used to promote peace - promoting health and economic development - only increase the population pressure. Almost the only measure I have much hope for is educating girls - educated women have fewer children.

This has been a long and rambling post that hasn't gotten much of anywhere, but it beats thinking about the not insubstantial likelyhood that Americans will elect another unprincipled and reckless idiot as President.

OJT: At the Foot of the Master

Not to worry about Governor Palin's lack of national security expertise, says a top McCain advisor:

She’s going to learn national security at the foot of the master for the next four years, and most doctors think that he’ll be around at least that long,” said Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s top advisers, making light of concerns about Mr. McCain’s health, which Mr. McCain’s doctors reported as excellent in May.

Wait, wasn't that what Clinton got in trouble for? How about a little more respect for a forty-four year old grand?mother?

Let's hope that fan boys Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman are around to help keep the master straight. On those little details, I mean, like which countries border Iraq, and who those funky Sunni and Shia are.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Danger, Will Robinson!

Few things did more to cement the image of the Bush coterie as callous and feckless incompetents than Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. A major American city drowned while Bush played air guitar with McCain, and the subsequent response was agonizingly slow and misdirected. Was it mere incompetence, or was it Rovian strategy to tilt Louisiana to the right? With these SOBs you can never tell.

Now another large and extremely dangerous hurricane has New Orleans in its sights, and by all accounts, State, Local, and Federal government are working hard to prepare and trying to avoid the worst blunders of 1985. We must wish them well, but we should also note that they are very late.

Very little has been done to prevent the kind of catastrophe that happened last time, and by most accounts the levees are not yet fully repaired, much less adequately strengthened. The three years frittered away mean that flight is the only real option for those in the hurricane's path.

The measures needed to protect the coastline are well understood - flood control dams like those of London and Holland, rerouting the river water to allow the delta to rebuild instead of continue to sink, wetlands protection - but the necessary political leadership has been lacking.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Veepstakes Winner

Nobody ever thought that John McCain lacked boldness - he's a guy who crashed a bunch of planes and never saw a war he didn't like - but the choice of Sarah Palin as his Vice is another good example.

On the positive side, she's an attractive and popular governor and mother with sterling right wing credentials. She can hardly help but shore up McCain's campaign where it's weakest - among women.

Lefty bloggers have already launched an all-out, and in my opinion, highly premature assault on her. This, I think, is a big mistake - many women are likely to be offended. Check out, for example, the comments to this blog post by Brad DeLong.

Her most obvious weakness, the thinness of her resume, applies with only somewhat less force to Obama. She does appear to have some skeletons in her closet though, including a tendency to lie rather outrageously. Democrats need to take their time, master the details of the case to be made against her, and, if the evidence is there, present it at the proper time. Going off half-cocked will dull the effectiveness of any criticisms to be made. Let her have the next couple of weeks, stick to the facts, and then decide what to do.

Despicable, Contemptible, Racist

David Brooks comes through for the wingnut right with a suitably despicable, contemptible, and racist pre-action to Obama's acceptance speech. It should win him a spot on some prestigious Fox News expert panel.

Check that. Did I say contemptible? I think I meant beneath contempt.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

One Believer

Andrew Sullivan believes.

It was a deeply substantive speech, full of policy detail, full of people other than the candidate, centered overwhelmingly on domestic economic anxiety. It was a liberal speech, more unabashedly, unashamedly liberal than any Democratic acceptance speech since the great era of American liberalism. But it made the case for that liberalism - in the context of the decline of the American dream, and the rise of cynicism and the collapse of cultural unity. His ability to portray that liberalism as a patriotic, unifying, ennobling tradition makes him the most lethal and remarkable Democratic figure since John F Kennedy.

What he didn't do was give an airy, abstract, dreamy confection of rhetoric. The McCain campaign set Obama up as a celebrity airhead, a Paris Hilton of wealth and elitism. And he let them portray him that way, and let them over-reach, and let them punch him again and again ... and then he turned around and destroyed them. If the Rove Republicans thought they were playing with a patsy, they just got a reality check.

He took every assault on him and turned them around. He showed not just that he understood the experience of many middle class Americans, but that he understood how the Republicans have succeeded in smearing him. And he didn't shrink from the personal charges; he rebutted them. Whoever else this was, it was not Adlai Stevenson. It was not Jimmy Carter. And it was less afraid and less calculating than Bill Clinton.

Above all, he took on national security - face on, full-throttle, enraged, as we should all be, at how disastrously American power has been handled these past eight years. He owned this issue in a way that no Democrat has owned it since Kennedy. That's a transformative event. To my mind, it is vital that both parties get to own the war on Jihadist terror and that we escape this awful Rove-Morris trap that poisons the discourse into narrow and petty partisan abuse of patriotism. Obama did this tonight. We are in his debt.


The Speech

Home run.

Out of the park.

High Wind in Jamaica

The Atlantic hurricane season is on, and several menacing characters have made their appearance on the stage. Hurricane, now Tropical Storm, Gustav blew up suddenly just before impaling himself almost fatally on the high mountains of Hispanola. Having nearly recovered after a day or two in the warm soothing hurricane spa of the Carribean, he is now doing the same dance with Jamaica. If he survives that, he is likely to be a menace to LA or TX early next week.

Meanwhile, his bigger sister Hanna is having her own celebrity death match with an upper level low just to her left. Even if these poop out, a whole train of strong tropical waves is coming off Africa, each looking to be the next king of the hood.

Finally, another little rascal is cranking up in the Gulf of Mexico (Bay of Campeche), but with luck he will mainly irrigate Mexico.

In Command

Anybody notice the difference between the start of Clinton's speech last night and the start of Obama's informal remarks? Clinton kept starting, only to bee seemingly stopped by the continuing applause. I guess I really can't blame the old guy for wanting to milk the crowd a bit more, but contrast with Obama was striking. When he began speaking, a slight but commanding motion of his hand, and a very brief pause, bent the crowd to listen - they wanted to hear what he had to say. The man is a relaxed but masterful orator.

Morning Mourning

Jared Bernstein, via Kevin Drum:

Trickle-down economics died yesterday morning at 10AM. The cause of death was a data release from the US Census Bureau, but trickle-down had been ailing from lack of empirical support for decades. Also known as "supply-side economics," trickle-down was the love child of Ronald Reagan, Arthur Laffer, and Jude Wanniski. It is survived by Larry Kudlow and Co., and the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stone Age Minds

Recent polls show Obama slipping versus McCain. How can that be when we can all see how much smarter and better Obama is? The answer might be in the instincts that we inherited from our stone age ancestors.

When men choose a president, at least some part of our thinking is probably those stone age instincts we used in selecting the leader of the war party. Women probably didn’t do much of the stone age war, so they might have some other kind of default hardware—mate choosing, for example. It’s entire plausible that the criteria that served for those stone age war leaders was are less than perfectly applicable to modern circumstances, but aspiring politicos need to keep those old instincts in mind.

What did you want in your SA war guy? Courage, leadership, trustworthiness, initiative, pugnacity, vigor, celerity in judgment and action, decisiveness, and good judgment. Conversely, you didn’t want cowardice, meekness, passivity, lassitude, vacillation, or bad judgment. Looking at the list it’s easy to see places where McCain scores well. Obama is a listener and a consensus builder, and these can be mistaken for lack of initiative, leadership, and decisiveness. Similarly his thoughtfulness and nuance.

When McCain attacks his patriotism and Obama responds by complaining about it and praising McCain’s patriotism he looks weak and passive. If Obama wants to be president, he is going to need to project strength, decisiveness and leadership. Simultaneously, he will need to deploy some pugnacity in attacking McCain’s weaknesses. It’s a fallacy to try to run on abstract issues. The number one issue in a presidential campaign is always the character and judgment of the candidates.

McCain’s physical courage is unassailable, but his lack of moral courage in kowtowing to Bush and the wing nuts is an invitation to attack. And how can you trust a guy who changes his principles on everything from offshore drilling to torture every time Rush Limbaugh says “boo.” He is an old man, and he has trouble keeping track of what he is talking about—Obama needs to go after that like our survival and our children’s survival depends on it, because it does.

Talk to our better natures, yes. But don’t forget that stone age warrior/hunter inside.

(Cross posted to a Daily Kos Diary)

UPDATE: More ammo from Joe Klein and Greg Sargent at TPM Election Central:

Yesterday I noted that Joe Klein had sat in on a focus group of 21 undecided voters and had discovered that character questions were way more important than issues in determining their presidential pick.

It turns out the focus group also tested responses to the "celeb" ad. I emailed Klein to ask him for details on what it showed, and he got back to me with a really interesting response.

For these voters, at least, it was unclear whether the comparison to Paris and Britney was working -- but the focus group did show that the "celeb" hit is effective in setting up the negative message that followed.

"it was fascinating and really depressing," Klein emailed. "The images of Paris and Britney came up too quickly for people to really respond on their dials, but the rally in Berlin set them rolling and it prepped them for the negative message in the last 10 seconds of the ad -- I think it was about drilling."

"So the `celebrity' ad wasn't about the celebrities, it was about the Berlin rally and gas prices," Klein says.

Interestingly, Obama's chief response ad didn't test anywhere near as well as the "celeb" ad itself, Klein says: "Since the focus groupers hadn't really picked up on Paris/Britney, they had no idea what Obama was actually responding to."

So for this handful of voters, at least, in the ads the "celeb" sneer is functioning as a softening up mechanism for the punch that follows. That's probably how the McCain team views the race more broadly, too: The celeb campaign is all about a long-term softening of Obama in advance of the ratcheted-up negative campaign that's coming this fall.

I have no idea whether it will work, but this strikes me as an interesting way of thinking about the McCain team's primary attack line.

Highbrow Music?

I don't attend opera very often, but one thing impressed me at Saturday's performance of Verdi's Falstaff. The patrons were tall, very tall.

I am a moderately tall American at about 6' 2.5" (perhaps an inch shorter than I used to be before back surgery and old age). In my generation that put me in maybe the 97th or 98th percentile, but at the Santa Fe Opera there were a lot of people taller than I, many of them much taller (6' 6" plus). There were even a lot of women nearly my height.

Kids today are somewhat taller, but many of these guys were of my generation. Usually if I see as many tall people, I have run across a college or pro basketball team.

So is there something about opera that attracts tall people? Or this this just a Santa Fe thing?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sue the Bastard's?

The courts have made it fairly difficult for politicians to sue for libel, even in egregious cases. The rational is that allowing such suits to succeed would chill political discourse.

The rise of the Swift Boat Liars, and this years incarnation, William Simmons' American Issues Project shows the power of a couple of Texas Billionaires to corrupt the political process, and suggests that it might be time for the courts to revist the issue.

Having to pay out a billion or so in damages, and facing some time in the clink, even a billionaire might think twice before deciding to publish outrageous lies.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Musicological Cred

Well mine just went down the toilet.

It turns out that my favorite ABBA song was actually recorded (covered) by Blondie and written (and originally performed) by John Holt.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Georgia: Another Narrative

Bernard-Henri Levy's first hand account of doings in Georgia is interesting on every account, but perhaps most interesting in the different account of the provocation that Saakashvili provides.

"Let me make one thing clear," he interrupts me, with a sudden gravity. "We cannot let them say that we started this war ... It was early August. My ministers were on vacation, as I was too, in Italy, at a weight-loss spa, getting ready to go to Beijing. Then in the Italian press I read, "War preparations are under way in Georgia." You understand me. Here I was just hanging out in Italy and I read in the paper that my own country is preparing for a war! Realizing that something was wrong, I rushed back to Tbilisi. And what did my intelligence services tell me?" He makes the face of someone who has posed a difficult riddle and is waiting for you to find the answer, "That the Russians at the exact moment they are showering the press corps with this garbage are also emptying Shrinvali of its inhabitants, they're massing troops and troop transports, positioning fuel trucks on Georgian soil, and finally, sending columns of tanks through the Roky tunnel which separates the two Ossetias. Now, suppose you are the leader of the country and you hear this, what do you do?" He gets up to answer two cell phones which are ringing at the same time on his desk, comes back, stretching out his long legs ... "After the hundred and fiftieth tank lines itself up facing your cities, you are forced to admit that the war has begun, and despite the disproportion in the forces opposing us, you no longer have a choice."

In this version, Georgia's leadership looks more like vain and dim victims than provocateurs.

The crucial questions remain. What next? Did Putin's appetite grow in the eating? What will the "whiff of appeasement" in Georgia mean for Ukraine or Poland?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


American people appear to be entering too stupid to survive territory. Four more years!

Mating Attack

Huffpost, Drudge, and other garbage dealers are running with this meme about Obama choosing "a mate." WTF?

Tarzan might choose a mate, but Presidential nominees choose a VP, or a "running mate."

Aside from the general lameness, it's hard to escape the feeling that there is a racist subtext at work here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Knee Bone Connected to theThigh Bone

It’s amazing how hard it is for a man to understand something when his paycheck depends on his not understanding it.
……………………………Upton Sinclair

Substitute “his cherished prejudice” for “paycheck” and the theorem still holds.

The latest meme at climate denial central seems to be the notion that all climate is local. To put it bluntly, this notion is laughable. In the first place, climatologists have looked at the statistics, and it just is not so. More importantly, it ignores the whole physics of weather and climate.

Everyone, except maybe those who choose not to know, knows that the equator absorbs a whole lot more heat than the poles. This circumstance and the second law of thermodynamics drive the engines of weather, climate, and ocean circulation. On average the mid-latitude flux of energy pole ward in midlatitudes is a few peta-Watts (say 3 x 10^15 Watts). This energy transport drives the associated transport of momentum and moisture, and hence essentially all weather and precipitation. Since it is weather and precipitation that make possible life on land, anything that significantly alters this balance can have global ecological consequences. Life in the ocean is also heavily dependent on the circulating currents that bring essential nutrients upwelling from the deep.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that warming the Polar Region by ten degrees C or so, while changing the equatorial temperature only a bit is going to make a large change in this transport. This effect is what anthropogenic global warming theory predicts, and what has already, in part, been observed.

The curious may ask: Why is the warming concentrated at the pole? The models tell us so, of course, but the idea is simple. There is a lot of water vapor in the atmosphere at the equator, and very little at pole. Water vapor is a very good greenhouse gas and dominates where there is a lot of it, so CO2, a less effective GHG, has a relatively small effect there. At the poles, there is little H2O, so every little extra bit of CO2 makes a big difference.

Lubos is correct to observe that melting ice in the Arctic ocean doesn’t raise sea level, but he is also completely beside the point. Arctic melting is important as a symptom of Arctic warming, but it’s also important for a couple of feedback effects. Open water absorbs far more solar radiation than ice or snow, so it tends to warm the Arctic directly. Also, open water increases evaporation and hence water vapor in the local atmosphere. That too increases temperature by means of its greenhouse effect.

The point is not that global warming will shutdown the weather any time soon - it is that it can affect it and that that could be bad. The other point is that it is a dangerous fantasy to pretend that the world climate is a bunch of isolated systems. It is an integrated thermodynamic system, and most life on Earth depends on the transports of energy and moisture through those dynamic mechanisms.

Denial, still not just a river in Egypt.

A History of Violence

(Promoted from comment discussion:


Only three types of creatures engage in warfare--humans, chimpanzees, and ants. Among humans, warfare is so ubiquitous and historically commonplace that we are often tempted to attribute it to some innate predisposition for slaughter--a gene, perhaps, manifested as a murderous hormone. The earliest archeological evidence of war is from 12,000 years ago, well before such innovations as capitalism and cities and at the very beginning of settled, agricultural life. Sweeping through recorded history, you can find a predilection for warfare among hunter-gatherers, herding and farming peoples, industrial and even post-industrial societies, democracies, and dictatorships.

A reasonable start, but at that point Erhenreich goes completely off the rails. She starts by noting that war occurs not only in virtually every human society, but also in our closest animal relations, from whom we separated six million years ago. Next she wants us to believe that an instinct that served to protect us from maurauding beasts somehow survived a million years of our role as an apex predator despite the obvious carnage it wreaks among its practitioners. This does not compute.

She hopes to uproot war by considering it something external to ourselves. This is the folly of self-delusion, the very folly which perpetuates war. If you want to eliminate war, murder, rape, whatever, you need to face it honestly. She advances some feeble arguments that war is not natural:

Contrary to the biological theories of war, it is not easy to get men to fight. In recent centuries, men have often gone to great lengths to avoid war--fleeing their homelands, shooting off their index fingers, feigning insanity. So unreliable was the rank and file of the famed eighteenth century Prussian army that military rules forbade camping near wooded areas: The troops would simply melt away into the trees.

This ignores the obvious fact that there are always those willing and eager to volunteer for war. It also ignores the fact that games that simulate war are among the most popular forms of children's (actually, boy's) play.

Determined to raise our children violence free, my wife refused to let them have toy weapons. Until she noticed our three-year old chewing his slice of bread into a gun shape and pretending to fire it.

Of course she is also wrong about only ants, chimps, and us being warlike. Animals from coral reefs to lions to wolves engage in something very much like warfare. The reasons are obvious: competition for resources.

Napoleon Chagnon, who carefully studied the Yanomamo Indians of South America, noted and documented that killers left more offspring than "wimps." There is plenty of independent research to indicate that this result is usual in hunter gather societies. It could hardly be otherwise. War is such a dangerous activity that any propensity toward it would have been quickly extinguished if it weren't profitable, genetically speaking.

Our violent history was adaptive in the primitive hunter gather societies that were universal until 15000 years or so ago. There is little reason to suppose it is still adaptive for individuals, though it may still be for nations. Among nations, the strong survive and the weak feed the crows.

If you would eliminate war, start with reality, not fantasy. The reality is that our history of violence is radically incompatible with the notion that it is some sort of abberation. What is needed is not some fantasy of wishing and hoping it away, what is needed is attention to the factors that produce it and its replacement by moral equivalents.

Monday, August 18, 2008

That's Rich

Kevin Drum decides to define rich.

....What is "rich"? I'm here to give you an answer with no shilly-shallying. I believe that Americans, for better or worse, believe that rich = millionaire. That is, someone with a million dollars in net worth.

But here's the catch: that's what Americans thought a century ago. In today's money, that's about $20 million or so. So today, "rich" is anyone with a net worth of $20 million.

His commenters comment, with most seeming to think $20M is a bit high. I have noticed, though, that rich people are remarkably unwilling to admit it. They always have some variation on so and so are rich, but I'm not. Some of it might be Jesus's "harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle." Even the unbeliever might fear the scorn of the religious. Part of it is comparison, of course. The cleverest definition I saw on Drum's site was "somebody who makes two or three times what I make."

American Conservatives, by whom I mean those whom Teddy Roosevelt called "malefactors of great wealth," their minions, hangers on, and dupes, like to talk about income quintiles. Thus George Will can get on TV on a Sunday and proclaim that wealthy, by whom he means the top twenty percent, are teachers and firemen. In the same vein, the New York Times defines the second, third and fourth quintiles as the lower middle class, middle class, and upper middle class. Make $18,000 a year dude? You are middle class. $80K annually puts you up there with George Soros and Bill Gates.

It still seems odd to me that Americans generally would think that today's million still made one rich in the way it did 100 years ago.

To help clear up the confusion, I hereby submit my own taxonomy.

  • $1 million - micro rich. You could live like a pauper without working, or if you had a good job, buy a nice house and car. If you have kids, get ready to go broke sending them to college.
  • $5 million - mini rich. OK, you can afford a nice house and don't really even have to work, if you are willing to forego most luxuries.
  • $20 million - rich. Go ahead goof off. Buy the house and vacation cottage. Forget the private jet, and try to think about a nice little 35 foot sail boat.
  • $100 million - very rich. Think Cindy McCain. You can afford a few houses and maybe one of those tinny little mini jets to fly around between them. Forget the G4, the mansion in London, and your own football team.
  • $500 million - super rich. A mansion, servants, maybe even your own G5.5 - but a time share would be more prudent. If you really want to splurge go for the football team or the almost mega yacht (70 meters, say), but not both.
  • $2.5 billion - mega rich. Mansions all over, your own private luxury 767, the mega yacht, and the baseball team. Stay away from Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, and Russian kleptocrats - those guys love to rub your nose in your poverty.
  • $12.5 billion - fabulously wealthy. Private islands are nice, and so is your own space program.
  • $50 billion - hors category. Get your own country, like Sheldon Adelson. I think Israel and Macao are already taken.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Global Climate?

Lumo has some comments that illuminate his point of view of climate change.

There is no "global climate". When people talk about "global climate change", it is the whole "climate change" that is supposed to be supplemented by the adjective "global": we are surely not talking about the changes of the "global climate" because the latter doesn't exist. . .

As the logicians have noted, once you make one false assumption, you can proceed to deduce anything whatsoever. It's true, of course, that climate was originally a local concept. Different regions of the planet have different climates, so going to the idea of a global climate is a generalization, slightly remniscent of the generalization of the concept of kinetic energy to other forms of energy.

Global climate only makes sense if global climate trends and events exist. Fortunately, the evidence is uniquivocal on this account, even if the causes are less certain. There is ample geological evidence that climate can change on a global scale - ice ages, dramatic warming events, and associated mass extinctions. More recent global climate perturbations from volcanos have also been documented.

He continues, a bit later:

. . .
Even if you don't understand these words about the Hurst exponents, you should understand that the predictions of the climate models for any particular region in the world will be essentially uncorrelated with reality because the reality is dominated by effects that are not properly simulated by the models. Because every single person lives in a particular region of the world and every region of the world is more or less incorrectly predicted by the models, I think it means that no rationally thinking person should pay serious attention to the predictions of these models.
. . .

Observational and historic evidence clearly indicates the existence of global climatic events, but the case from theory is even more clearcut. We know that CO2 is fairly well mixed in the atmosphere, and that it has a long residence time. Thus, the forcing function is global rather than local. Moreover, we know that lateral transport of energy in the atmosphere is a big driver of local energy balances. Weather in the arctic affects the whole Northern Hemisphere, and on a longer time scale, the whole planet.

. . . When you average the known data over these very long scales, you are exactly at the moment when you lose all nontrivial climate information that could have been used to validate the model. It is exactly the moment when you are supposed to start to believe the models.

Similarly, if a theory highly incorrectly predicts the global climate trends for 10 or 20 years, which we already know to be the case from observations, it seems unreasonable to expect that the theory will be very accurate for 30-year, 50-year, or 100-year predictions. . .

If what Lumo's asserted in the last paragraph were true, then we would indeed have reason to doubt the models. It is not, however. The time and space averaged large scale features of climate change are actually in fairly good agreement with predictions, with the obvious and important proviso that the models are not yet good enough to predict small scale space and time fluctuations.

This year has been cooler than many past years, for example, even it is warmer than every single year before 1989. This sort of fluctuation is expected. If no year hotter than 2005 were to appear in the next ten, however, there would be ample reason to suspect that some crucial piece of the environment was being badly modeled. The models are known to be imperfect - that point is not in question. The evidence suggests, however, that they are broadly correct.

News Flash News Flash

In a surprise announcement this morning, CNN and Fox News announced mergers with Russian counterparts. In what is apparently a play on an old Soviet era joke, the new organizations will respectively be called Pravda and Isvestia. (roughly, "Truth" and "News"). The joint operating agreement specifies that there will continue to be no news on "Truth" and no truth on "News."

War and Human Nature

Genocide is God's way of resolving territorial disputes.

War is His method of population control.
...................Cynical Sayings for Cynical Times

Most people profess to hate war, but it's an undeniable and intrinsic aspect of human nature. Such an intrinsic characteristic has to have its roots in biology, and those roots aren't hard to find: population pressure and the competition for resources. The oddity is that so few, liberal or conservative, are willing to acknowledge this rather obvious, if bleak, feature of human nature.

Ever since humans became the top predator, probably a million years or so ago, the main threat to humans has been other humans. There is a lot of unpleasantness associated with war, of course, so biology had to supply some motivational tools, and in fact it is remarkably easy to stir groups to righteous anger and murderous fury when they are presented with real or imaginary threats to their group, be it family, tribe, gang or nation.

Once the nation state had been created, politicians and other leaders quickly found that the biological tools designed for organizing in self-defense were easily co-opted to ensure their own power and profit. Group fear and group anger work well inside a nation as well as out. Racism and religious prejudice may be intrinsic features of human behavior, but they rarely explode into mass violence until some politician sees the opportunity to turn a profit.

It's a long and sorry history at work in our earliest records from the Bible and other sources, and it's still at work today. In Sudan, Rwanda, Israel, Georgia, Iraq, India, and Pakistan, politicians pump up their popularity by beating the same old drums of race, religion, and genocide.

In the US, that despicable tactic has become a favorite of the Republican party and the so-called Conservatives. Bush ginned up a war to get re-elected and McCain did his best to start one to improve his own shot at the Presidency.

This long and deplorable story is worth mentioning mainly because now, for the first time in human history, we have the opportunity to do something about it. We can't change human nature, but we might just be able to stop reproducing at a rate that guarantees that we will have to kill a bunch of each other off in wars. Much of the world has already taken this step, the Chinese by government fiat and the Westernized peoples mainly through the education of women. The fact that our weapons of war have become so much more efficient should be an additional motivating factor.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Fan, Sh*t. H*t.

Putin and Bush are now playing that most dangerous of games, with Bush talking shit and Putin pushing tanks ever forward. What exactly Putin wants out of this is an open question, but it looks like he is not willing to settle for a defiant Georgian government backed by US rhetoric.

We have actually seen this movie before. The last couple of times it was called WWI and WWII.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brother, Can You Paradigm?

David Brooks' talent, or at least his shtick, is taking some common idea and turning it into a paradigm of universal significance. Not uncommonly, there is more than a bit of Procrustean adjustment of the facts required.

In yesterday's episode, our hero takes on the subject of individualism versus cooperation, or, as he prefers to style it, "collectivism." He asserts that the West in general, and the US in particular, is the bastion of individualism, while the East, epitomized by China, is collectivist.

Noting that Americans tend to prize individual accomplishment, while Chinese and Japanese tend to celebrate subordination of the self to the group is not exactly discovering America, so Brooks needs to conflate some likely independent notions.

Some say that Western cultures draw their values from ancient Greece, with its emphasis on individual heroism, while other cultures draw on more on tribal philosophies. Recently, some scientists have theorized that it all goes back to microbes. Collectivist societies tend to pop up in parts of the world, especially around the equator, with plenty of disease-causing microbes. In such an environment, you’d want to shun outsiders, who might bring strange diseases, and enforce a certain conformity over eating rituals and social behavior.

About 95% of this paragraph is bullshit. It's true Greeks had a freer society, but their military might was built on an immensely disciplined conformity. The Persians gave almost unlimited power to one individual, and little to anyone else. Humans are social animals, and heroes are universal, so both elements are present in every society.

Brooks wants to attribute collectivism to tribal societies, but that's absolutely backwards. Hunter gatherers are largely dependent on self and family, but everyone in a complex society depends on thousands or millions of others. China and Japan may be tropical in Brooks's imagination, but geographically, not so much. Tropical societies, by contrast, have until recently often been primitive, lawless and hence individualistic to an extreme.

Brooks does like to bring science into the mix, and he does so here with his usual cluelessness:

When the psychologist Richard Nisbett showed Americans individual pictures of a chicken, a cow and hay and asked the subjects to pick out the two that go together, the Americans would usually pick out the chicken and the cow. They’re both animals. Most Asian people, on the other hand, would pick out the cow and the hay, since cows depend on hay. Americans are more likely to see categories. Asians are more likely to see relationships.

Whether this is true or not, I won't guess. When I heard this story, it was civilizations who took the set theoretic approach and primitives who emphasized the functional. As it turns out, both these conceptualizations have proved central to mathematics - they reflect the fundamental operation of the human mind. The set theoretic (chicken + cow) approach was central to nineteenth and early twentieth century mathematics, and indeed it was very powerful, which might have translated to more societal prestige for such notions. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, it became clear that the functional approach was even deeper and more powerful. In the form of Category Theory, it has become a central and unifying principle of modern mathematics. (Confusingly, Brooks uses the notion of category in the opposite sense above). Both types of reasoning are integral to our thinking, and associating one or the other with individualism versus collectivism is a stretch too far.

Brooks being Brooks, a few factual errors are in order too.

Either way, individualistic societies have tended to do better economically. We in the West have a narrative that involves the development of individual reason and conscience during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and then the subsequent flourishing of capitalism. According to this narrative, societies get more individualistic as they develop.

Too bad the narrative is so at odds with the facts. For most of the last 2000 years, China (Brooks poster boy for collectivism) has been the most prosperous and advanced country in the world. The last 200 years or so have been an exception, but capitalism was neither a the whole show nor a Western invention. It was the combination of capitalism with stable governmental institutions and international competition that fueled the Western expansion and dominance.

Even that is far from the whole story, of course. China's current explosive growth shows that new chapters in economic development are still being written.

The aspect of individualism that I value most is freedom. Allowing individuals to be free is easy enough in a primitive society, but in a civilization there are all sorts of threats that need to guarded against, including tyranny, oligarchy, and peonage. Arranging a society so that the wealthy and connected are relatively free is fairly easy. Arranging so that most people are free is harder.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia Revisited

The cease-fire is signed, a few thousand Georgians and Ossetians are dead, wounded, or homeless, and John McCain has had a chance to strut, posture, and play the fool. The Georgians have learned a hard lesson Americans are just now grasping: Don't trust George Bush; and another one: don't bait the bear in his own den.

I predict that George W Bush Avenue will be renamed Martyrs to Treachery Avenue, or perhaps F George W Bush Avenue.

The rest of the states adjacent to Russia will be justifiably nervous.

Foreign Policy CS

Via Josh Marshall, Fred Kaplan takes a look at the ways the Bush clown shown precipitated the Georgian fiasco:

Regardless of what happens next, it is worth asking what the Bush people were thinking when they egged on Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's young, Western-educated president, to apply for NATO membership, send 2,000 of his troops to Iraq as a full-fledged U.S. ally, and receive tactical training and weapons from our military. Did they really think Putin would sit by and see another border state (and former province of the Russian empire) slip away to the West? If they thought that Putin might not, what did they plan to do about it, and how firmly did they warn Saakashvili not to get too brash or provoke an outburst?

It's heartbreaking, but even more infuriating, to read so many Georgians quoted in the New York Times—officials, soldiers, and citizens—wondering when the United States is coming to their rescue. It's infuriating because it's clear that Bush did everything to encourage them to believe that he would...

It would be paranoid to suspect that this is a Rovian tactic to get McCain a chance to play blowhard tough guy - but the Bushies keep proving that no matter how paranoid you are, it's probably not paranoid enough. There is even more evidence for the stupidity hypothesis, of course.

Conservative Policies Fail

Greg Anrig via Brad DeLong:

The belief system and finely crafted policy pitches that enabled the right to dominate the war of ideas for the past 30 years have produced a relentless succession of governing failures, from Iraq to Katrina to the economy to the environment.
The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution. It was a simple, elegant, politically attractive idea, and the right applied it to virtually every major domestic challenge -- retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and so on. Whatever the issue, conservatives proposed substituting market forces for government -- pushing the bureaucrats aside and letting private-sector competition work to everyone's benefit.

So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to private contractors, and curtailing regulations on public health, safety, the environment and more. And, of course, they pushed to cut taxes to further weaken the public sector by "starving the beast." President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan, notwithstanding today's desperate efforts by the right to distance itself from the deeply unpopular chief executive.

But in practice, those ideas have all failed to deliver...

Monday, August 11, 2008


We do have the mystery of why the Georgians embarked on this folly. Did they think Bush had greenlighted it? McCain?

Militarily, the logistics are impossible, even if we weren't already fighting two wars. I doubt that our navy could dare the Black Sea even if the Turks permitted it. Still, the Russian Bear is hardly the monster of twenty-five years ago. It's Russian air power that is really killing the Georgians, and I expect that a relatively small chunk of our air power could sweep the skies pretty clean. If not, why the hell are we spending more on our military than the next thirty countries combined? Come to think of it, why are we anyway?

The real reason we can't fight the Russians, of course, is that they still have all those nukes and the means to deliver them. A tiny fraction of their nuclear missiles could wipe us off the map.

Unfortunately, our allies in Europe are terribly dependent on Russian oil and gas, so it's unlikely that they have much stomach for confrontation either.

The linguistic and ethnic tensions underlying this fight could likely have been dealt with if Bush were not so busy running a clown show and getting streets named after himself. Their is a history of ethnic expulsions and its possible that partition is the best deal for the greatest number.

The Ossetians, North and South, are a small and relatively isolated ethnic group. Their language, Ossetian, is an Iranian derivative and hence Indo European. Georgians, who have lived in the area since ancient times at least, number a few million and speak Georgian, a South Caucasian language. The South Caucasian languages are unrelated to any other known language groups, not even Northeast and Northwest Caucasian, which may or may not be related to each other. (The Abkhaz speak one of the latter).

How dangerous this is for the world now depends almost entirely on Russia and Putin. If he insists on conquering and subduing Georgia, we have little choice but to restart the cold war, and the Eastern European countries, especially Ukraine and the Baltics, will have a scary life with hard choices. If he backs off, content with absorbing South Ossetia and bloodying Georgia's nose, then we can breathe easier, at least for a moment.

Georgia on My Mind

What are Putin's ambitions in Georgia? Putin has stated his dismay at the disintegration of the old Soviet Union, and may have dreams of rebuilding the old Russian empire. If so, what can the US do about it?

It's not clear that we can do much. Even if the US military were not already tied down in Iraq, Georgia would seem to be beyond our reach. So what led Georgia to bait the bear? Perhaps they thought they had friends in high places.

Georgia's independence hangs by a thread, but the fact that Georgia was foolish enough to make the first move (by invading its breakaway province of South Ossetia), can be seen as yet another consequence of the drugstore cowboy presidency of George Bush. Bush looked into Putin's eyes and saw a "good soul." Putin looked Bush's eyes and saw a weakling and a fool.

If Putin has decided on conquest, then the Cold War is on again, and on again in a moment of maximum weakness for the West. The paranoid in me, thinking of the McCain - Georgia connection linked above, wonders if the original Georgian provocation isn't another attempt to promote his candidacy. McCain never saw a war he didn't like, and the Republican party has already proven that it is willing to start a war to gain a presidency.

The little countries on Russia's borders should tremble, and the US should ask itself if it can afford another fool like Bush.

Friday, August 08, 2008


Lubosh should be happy. Czechia scores the first gold medal.


... and more than a little scary.

I'm not normally a fan of opening ceremonies, but the Chinese have clearly moved into another galaxy with this one.

They went all out to impress and sure as heck succeeded. I didn't think that an opening ceremony could be an impressive demonstration of national power, but I'm convinced.


My mind on the Olympic opening ceremony.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


Envy is only number six among the deadly sins, but it's the key to Maureen Dowd's Grand Unified Theory of McCain: Invidia.

Dowd at her best, flailing away at the other guy for a change.

The Arizona senator who built his reputation on being a brave proponent of big solutions is running a schoolyard campaign about tire gauges and Paris Hilton, childishly accusing his opponent of being too serious, too popular and not patriotic enough.

Even his own mother, the magical 96-year-old Roberta McCain, let slip that she thought the Paris Hilton-Britney Spears ad was “kinda stupid.”

. . .

Some of McCain’s old pals in the Senate are cringing at what they see as his soulless transformation into what he once scorned.

“John’s eaten up with envy,” said one. “His image of himself was always the handsome, celebrity flyboy.

“Now somebody else is the celebrity,” the colleague continued, while John looks in the mirror and sees his face marred by skin cancer and looks at the TV and sees his dashing self-image replaced by visions of William Frawley, with Letterman jokes about his membership in the ham radio club and adventures with wagon trains.

. . .

McCain could dismiss W. as a lightweight, but he knows Obama’s smart. Obama wrote his own books, while McCain’s were written by Salter. McCain knows he’s the affirmative action scion of admirals who might not have gotten through Annapolis without being a legacy. Obama didn’t even tell Harvard Law School that he was black on his application.

. . .

Schmidt has turned Mr. Straight Talk into Mr. Desperate Straits. It’s not a good trade.

T. Boonedoggle

T boone Pickens, the bucks behind the Swift Boat Liars, is now starring as your Dutch Uncle in a series of ads designed to sell you on wind energy, Texas style. Kevin Drum takes a look and finds some reasons why you might want to cast a skeptical eye on this used air salesman.

If nothing else, another reason not to be afraid to tax the hell out of these guys - they probably stole the money from you in the first place.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Race Carding from a Less than Full Deck

Reporter ( asks McCain to specify why he accuses Obama of playing the race card. After very long period of inarticulate mumbling he can't answer. The second part of the two part question he answers - with lies.

I guess the Reagan Presidency was such a success that the R's decided this time to nominate a guy who already has Alzheimers.

Either that, or he's just not that skillful a liar.

Curiouser . . .

NPR on Bruce Ivins this morning:

  • Dina Temple-Rastin - breathless NPR reporter has clearly drunk any Kool-Aid FBI is serving, but has no details except "smoking gun" is some kind of DNA test. Credulous but hardly credible.
  • Brother who thought he was guilty hasn't spoken with him for decades, knows nothing specific or general that would incriminate brother, sounds like dimwitted braggart.
  • People who actually know Ivins don't believe it.

We have known for seven years that the Anthrax strain matched Fort D, so what is the magic DNA test linking to Ivins? If test is any good, lets hear what it is.

What's the deal with the "heroic" therapist who has now morphed into a social worker who filed the restraining order? Where is the evidence of the life long homicidal tendencies, and why didn't they come to light earlier?

Is there a suicide note?

UPDATE: Some details have now been released, and their "smoking gun" seems plausible. See this LA Times article,0,3024133,full.story and for the other circumstantial evidence this NYT story: and

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Uppity Negro

One is a low achieving son of privilege who pulled family connections to get a prized (but dangerous) assignment despite his bottom of the barrel academics, parlayed prisoner of war celebrity into a series of adulterous affairs with flashy women, culminating in marriage to a wealth heiress, and has spent the last quarter of a century in Washington DC mainly in celebrity movie and TV appearances. The other is the mixed race son of an economically disadvantaged single mother who went from academic excellence to a political career starting near the bottom but ascending quickly.

So which one gets labelled elitist? The McCain ads and Republican talking heads pushing this line are so preposterous that it's tempting to assume they are as McCain's mother called them, merely "stupid." This neglects the fact that the products of the Atwater, Rove, Schmidt Republican smear machine are always written in code, a code that is not so obvious to the intellectually sophisticated, but calculated to appeal to America's darker natures. If you translate the word "elitist" into "uppity negro," and remember that the Paris, Britney, Obama ad is intended to suggest the image of the sexually threatening black man, you can see McCain's true and racist face - not the naked old style racism of the 1950's, but Lee Atwater's coded dog whistles of the 60's.

George Will and Donna Brazile were on ABC's Sunday Morning talking heads, and when Will went into the elitist thing, Brazile just looked stunned and mumbled something about it now being bad to get a good education. I wish she had had the guts to call Will out and ask why Bush and McCain, who used family connections to get into (and barely graduate from)elite prep schools and top colleges, are not elitists, while Obama, who got to the top of similar schools on the basis of academic achievement, somehow is. She should have also asked him to stop speaking in code: if he wanted to call Obama an "uppity negro" he should do so out loud like a man instead of peddling nasty insinuations like the lying, weasel wording scum he is. (Was I too subtle there?)

The advantage of the code word attack is (im)plausible deniability. If Obama complains, he projects an image of the agrieved black man. The ABC heads agreed that he needed a junkyard dog to respond to these ads. Dovid Gergen liked Hillary. I'm no fan but he does need somebody, and if Hillary can do it, she might be necessary. He can't afford a vapid Lieberman - Edwards type of VP.

UPDATE: A TPM reader who saw more of the show than I notes that David Gergen had the identical observation:

The good news this morning? God Bless David Gergen! Really--he was on This Week and said (check the video or transcript for exact wording), "When McCain's camp calls Obama "The Messiah" and "The One", he's really calling him "upitty." I'm from the South, and we understand what that means. That's code." Jake Tapper looked like he had been pole axed. Donna Brazille knew what he was talking about, of course. But GS, George Will, and Tapper had to be bluntly told the the way the world works by Mr. Blandly Bi-partisan...

TPM has the video at the link.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Whistling Up The Apocalypse

Over at the Daily Kos,Larry Madill and others explain what the hell McCain is up to with the goofy ads calling Obama "the One" with fleeting images of Brit and Paris. It comes down to the dark Rovian art of "dog whistling." The dogs being summoned, in this case are the wackjob millenialists of the Tim Lehaye and Hal Lindsey stripe.

John McCain's latest web attack ad is really a not too subtle code to the Christian Right Wing that Barack Obama is the literal Anti-Christ as foretold in the Book of Revelations and popularized in "non-fiction" books like "The Late Great Planet Earth" and Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" novels.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Conspiracy Theory

In the pre-Bush days, I scoffed at conspiracy theories, but by now I'm more than a bit paranoid. A bizarre crime goes unsolved for seven years, and all the evidence oddly points toward the chief germ warfare lab of the United States. The sophisticated nature of the agent demonstrates a technical mastery implausible in an amateur operation. The strain is one favored by US investigators. A peripheral figure is persecuted and hounded out of job and friends on the thinnest of evidence - after the story has been leaked to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, back at Fort Detrick, a prominent Anthrax investigator is having red signs painted all over his back - psychiatric and counselor testimony paints him as a lifelong psychopath with homicidal fantasies and tendencies. Not, however, till the Bush administration winds down, does anybody find this strange enough to remove him from contact with our most deadly agents.

Shortly thereafter, just as the FBI is getting ready to move in, he commits suicide. Is the FBI in the habit of announcing to homicidal multiple murderers that it's planning to arrest them?

This case stinks to the heavens.

UPDATE: As usual Glenn Greenwald is there first, and he has lots of incriminating details. Like the way the language was phrased to sound like it came from Islamic terrorists, and the confidential info give to Richard Cohen before the attacks, and the multiple high government sources telling ABC news identifying the Anthrax as coming from Iraq.

UPDATE II: For a less strident but informative version, check out this in the NYT