Tuesday, September 30, 2003

PNAC.info - Exposing the Project for the New American Century

PNAC.info - Exposing the Project for the New American Century

Maureen Down, writing in the NYT, claims that the "New American Century Manifesto" is Rumsfeld's game plan and that he's been following it religiously.

NYT Magazine: Vegetative states and the nature of consciousness

What if There Is Something Going On in There?
The results of the study offered hints about the nature of consciousness. High-level thought -- like language and memory -- occurs in networks of neurons located at the surface of the brain in a thin layer of tissue called the cortex. These networks also form loops, however, that dip deep within the brain, where they converge and then return to the surface. According to a theory proposed by Rodolfo Llinas of New York University, a special set of neurons deep in the brain synchronizes the activity of the loops of higher thought. The harmony of all the different thought processes gives rise to a coherence that we call consciousness. Schiff and his colleagues say they suspect that when a number of these loops or the region that synchronizes them is damaged, the brain slips into a vegetative state. Yet even after extensive brain damage, they argue, some of the loops may still function, though in isolation -- like fragments of mind.

I've long felt that consciousness was simpler than commonly assumed, and was as much illusion (and delusion) as it was a "real" state. So I find this fascinating ...

Monday, September 29, 2003

What Microsoft worries about: US Govt purchasing decisions mandating reliability and security.

To Fix Software Flaws, Microsoft Invites Attack
....By and large, vendors build what people are willing to pay for,' said Edward Lazowska, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington. 'People have historically been willing to pay for features -- not reliability or security.'

There is evidence, though, that corporations and the federal government are placing a greater emphasis on obtaining secure software. Within the last two years, the government has pushed security initiatives in its technology policy, especially in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Recent moves by the government include placing greater emphasis during the purchasing process on software design and reliability standards like the Common Criteria and the National Security Telecommunications and Information Systems Security Policy No. 11, a Pentagon directive that went into effect 14 months ago.
Such standards now apply mainly to the Department of Defense and national security agencies, but Congress is looking to extend similar standards to other federal agencies. The federal government is the world's largest buyer of information technology, spending nearly $60 billion a year.

'If the government made a serious commitment to buying better software, it would change the industry,' said Mary Ann Davidson, chief security officer of Oracle, the big database software company.

Two weeks ago, the House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census, which is under the Committee on Government Reform, held a hearing on the impact of the Pentagon's programs to link procurement to tighter security standards for software.

Representative Adam H. Putnam, the Florida Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee, said he saw great promise for adopting similar standards.

Buyers have traditionally not valued security or reliability, and vendors have met buyer's requests. I think this is a fundamental problem related to the inability of humans to make the "right" decisions in a world of fantastic complexity -- we need a wetware upgrade.

The changes in US Federal s/w purchase plans has been in the works for a while. "Change the industry" is a code-phrase for "displace Microsoft".

I suspect Microsoft was given early warning of this even before 9/11. Microsoft worries about only a few things:

1. European anti-trust legislation. Not so bad ... EU legislators can be bought.

2. Linux, in particular China or India mandating use of Linux solutions. A tough problem, but Microsoft may yet find a way to destroy Linux. (Consider their support of the SCO suit merely a minor skirmish.) Given Microsoft's cash reserves, they can buy a lot of key developers at $1-10 million apiece. OTOH, there are a lot of people in the world.

3. The US Federal government mandating security and reliability standards for government used software.

This last, I think, Microsoft's biggest fear. It's driving most of their current focus on security and their pending elimination of Symantec and the antivirus industry. I think they've already paid big money to US politicians to buy breathing time, but the price of a further delay may be getting a bit steep. Can they get their .NET/Palladium/Passport/Hailstorm solution set in place? What choice do the Feds have anyway?

Productivity and unemployment issues start to go mainstream ...

O'Reilly Network: Can computers help reverse falling employment? [Sep. 29, 2003]
Interesting not because the suggestions are useful or the analysis deep, but because the issues of structural unemployment in our "new world order" are starting to go mainstream. At least the dialog is beginning.

Saddam only THOUGHT he had WMDs?

TIME.com: Chasing a Mirage -- Oct. 06, 2003
Over the past three months, TIME has interviewed Iraqi weapons scientists, middlemen and former government officials. Saddam's henchmen all make essentially the same claim: that Iraq's once massive unconventional-weapons program was destroyed or dismantled in the 1990s and never rebuilt; that officials destroyed or never kept the documents that would prove it; that the shell games Saddam played with U.N. inspectors were designed to conceal his progress on conventional weapons systems—missiles, air defenses, radar—not biological or chemical programs; and that even Saddam, a sucker for a new gadget or invention or toxin, may not have known what he actually had or, more to the point, didn't have. It would be an irony almost too much to bear to consider that he doomed his country to war because he was intent on protecting weapons systems that didn't exist in the first place...

...The Iraqi dictator was crazy for weapons, fascinated by every new invention—and as a result was easily conned by salesmen and officials offering the latest device. Saddam apparently had high hopes for a bogus product called red mercury, touted as an ingredient for a handheld nuclear device. Large quantities of the gelatinous red liquid were looted from Iraqi stores after the war and are now being offered on the black market.

Saddam's underlings appear to have invented weapons programs and fabricated experiments to keep the funding coming. The Mukhabarat captain says the scamming went all the way to the top of the mic to its director, Huweish, who would appease Saddam with every report, never telling him the truth about failures or production levels and meanwhile siphoning money from projects. "He would tell the President he had invented a new missile for Stealth bombers but hadn't. So Saddam would say, 'Make 20 missiles.' He would make one and put the rest in his pocket," says the captain. Colonel Hussan al-Duri, who spent several years in the 1990s as an air-defense inspector, saw similar cons. "Some projects were just stealing money," he says. A scientist or officer would say he needed $10 million to build a special weapon. "They would produce great reports, but there was never anything behind them."

There's an aphorism somewhere along the lines of "Never assume conspiracy when incompetence will suffice". The newest theory on the disconnect between international intelligence and (apparent) Iraqi reality is that Saddam was delusional, and that his advisors were unwilling to contradict his delusions and were massively corrupt besides. He really did think he had something to hide.

Definitely a desperate and crazed sounding explanation, but we left the tracks of reason a while back ...

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Bush officials guilty of a federal crime? (Can you say ... impeach ...?)

Bush Administration Is Focus of Inquiry (washingtonpost.com)
At CIA Director George J. Tenet's request, the Justice Department is looking into an allegation that administration officials leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer to a journalist, government sources said yesterday.

The operative's identity was published in July after her husband, former U.S. ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly challenged President Bush's claim that Iraq had tried to buy 'yellowcake' uranium ore from Africa for possible use in nuclear weapons. Bush later backed away from the claim.

The intentional disclosure of a covert operative's identity is a violation of federal law.

A few interesting things about this:

1. This is not cheating on one's spouse. This is a federal crime of a high degree. More than one senior administration official is thought to be involved, with Karl Rove on the hot seat.

2. The media has been curiously slow to investigate. Don't look for much from Fox News or the WSJ.

3. Several journalists declined to use the leaked information, they thought it was a security risk and irrelevant to the story. Robert Novak was the administration shill. His credibility as a journalist may be shot.

4. If Bush was involved, this is an impeachable offense -- no doubt.

With the Washington Post weighing in, the blood is in the water. Now, loose the sharks of print!

Friday, September 26, 2003

No Iraqi WMDs.

The Failure to Find Iraqi Weapons
A draft of an interim report by David Kay, the American leading the hunt for banned arms in Iraq, says the team has not found any such weapons after nearly four months of intensively searching and interviewing top Iraqi scientists....

... Yesterday, Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Times editors. Asked whether Americans would have supported this war if weapons of mass destruction had not been at issue, Mr. Powell said the question was too hypothetical to answer. Asked if he, personally, would have supported it, he smiled, thrust his hand out and said, 'It was good to meet you.'.

What the heck was Sadaam thinking? I'd love to know what his strategy was. Even France and Hans Blix thought Iraq was hiding WMDs, the arguments were all about how to respond to Iraqi WMDs, what the real threat was, etc.

If I were running the US, I'd have every intelligence chief in the nation in front of me for 3 days of grueling interrogation.

Poverty in America

Number of People Living in Poverty in U.S. Increases Again
Poverty rose and income levels declined in 2002 for the second straight year as the nation's economy continued struggling after the first recession in a decade, the Census Bureau reported Friday.

The poverty rate was 12.1 percent last year, up from 11.7 percent in 2001. Nearly 34.6 million people lived in poverty, about 1.7 million more than the previous year....

... The poverty threshold differs by the size and makeup of a household. For instance, a person under 65 living alone in 2002 was considered in poverty if income was $9,359 or less; for a household of three including one child, it was $14,480.

So 12% of Americans are very, very poor. Another very large chunk lives pretty close to the edge. That's a lot of very poor people. The article didn't provide many references, but I suspect the poverty rate is still lower than in the early to mid 1990s. The problem is next year, and the fundamental causes of poverty in the United States.

First -- next year. Other administrations have targeted recessional fiscal stimuli to help low income families directly. The Bush administration fiscal stimuli is considered by most economists to be extremely inefficient in terms of near term support for low income Americans. I think we should all be worried about what next year's numbers will look like. Will we give up all the progress of the 90s?

Then there are the fundamentals. The world in which we live is increasingly demanding in a classically Darwinian fashion. Rewards go to the elite -- those gifted by genetics, environment, experience, and inheritance. The non-elite lose out. They become poor, and their children become poor. At the bottom of the heap are the 8-10% of all humans who have serious psychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder), low IQs (in theory half the population has an IQ < 100, but in practice I think it's about 30% are less than 100), or bad luck (such as parents with the above, or just plain bad luck).

In a real sense, a lot of humanity that was "able" in the 19th century would be, practically speaking, "disabled" today. Someone with a good temperament and an IQ of 90 could be a well regarded laborer or farm worker in 1942; in 2003 I think they'd be out of luck. That's a lot of people.

Of course the Bush administration, and many Republicans and religious conservatives, seem to consider prosperity as a sign of God's favor. So non-elite status is a mark of God's disfavor. Who's to argue with God? If that's what you believe, then you may believe that the poor are best left to fester in quiet. (Except eventually they join Al-Qaeda II, but that's another story.)

If, on the other hand, one has a wee bit more compassion and understanding (and a desire for self-preservation?), then it's time to rethink approaches to hard core poverty -- and all those folks who live on the edge of the precipice. Maybe the high disability rates in Nordic countries need to be examined with a slighly different perspective. If the market solution to 21st century disability is unpalatable, then maybe we need to consider other solutions.

The consequences of angering Microsoft ....

Company disowns author of critical MS report
Security vendor @stake Inc. has dissociated itself from a report critical of Microsoft Corp.'s OS dominance, and says that the report's instigator, former @stake Chief Technical Officer Dan Geer has left the company abruptly.

Geer and several other researchers wrote a report which argued that Microsoft's dominance of the desktop and server OS markets posed an inherent danger to security. The report was sponsored by the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

I hope Geer expected to be canned and had a good severance clause in his contract -- otherwise he was being rather naive.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

The Bush Administration lies about their Bible studies?

Is There Anything the Bush Administration Doesn't Lie About?: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Next we'll learn that Bush is actually a neo-Pagan. What a weird bunch.

Brad DeLong: Krugman's essay on income inequality

My Favorite Paul Krugman Essay: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

A coincidental f/u to one of today's postings, a 1998 essay on wealth concentration in America.

Marines in Liberia: 25% got malaria!

Malaria, the Terrorist's Friend
When the United States Marine Corps went ashore in Liberia in August, it discovered an enemy that had no ties to the various factions in the civil war there. More than 50 of the 225 service members, roughly a quarter, who landed in Liberia last month were hospitalized because of a longtime scourge of mankind: malaria.

That's an amazing attack rate. Some of those marines may suffer from malaria for the rest of their lives. Liberia has been far more dangerous, on a percentage basis, than Iraq.

Friedman: Bush war on terrorism is a hobby.

Connect the Dots
And one thing we know about this Bush war on terrorism: sacrifice is only for Army reservists and full-time soldiers. For the rest of us, it's guns and butter. When it comes to the police and military sides of the war on terrorism, the Bushies behave like Viking warriors. But when it comes to the political and economic sacrifices and strategies that are also required to fight this war successfully, they are cowardly wimps. That is why our war on terrorism is so one-dimensional and Pentagon-centric. It's more like a hobby -- something we do only until it runs into the Bush re-election agenda.

Friedman has tried hard to be kind to Bush. Looks like he's run out of patience. In this case it's the stupidity of US position on world trade that set him off.

How to eliminate a species

A Bug's Death
Specicide -- the deliberate extinction of an entire species -- could be engineered by exploiting the biology of selfish genetic elements. These are segments of genetic material found in the genomes of all organisms; they contribute nothing to the well-being of their hosts, but simply proliferate themselves. And proliferation is something they excel at. A feature of all selfish genetic elements is that they cheat at Mendel's rules of inheritance and so have better odds for getting into eggs and sperm than regular genes do. As a result, a selfish genetic element can spread through a population extremely fast -- far faster than a regular gene -- even if it is harmful to its host.

... (The risk to us from this technology is negligible. Even supposing an extinction gene appeared in humans — by accident or by malice — it would take thousands of years for extinction to be effected. During this time, it is inconceivable the gene's spread would go unnoticed; once noticed, it could easily be stopped.)

I really think the paragraph in parentheses should have appeared higher in the article! So this particular technique won't be used to wipe out humans. Phew.

Argentina North: The New America

U.S. Income Gap Widening, Study Says
...In 2000, the top 1 percent of American taxpayers had $862,700 each after taxes, on average, more than triple the $286,300 they had, adjusted for inflation, in 1979.

The bottom 40 percent in 2000 had $21,118 each, up 13 percent from their $18,695 average in 1979.

Mr. Shapiro also analyzed the budget office data in tandem with a recently updated study on income by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization in Cambridge, Mass. The bureau study found that in 2000, the top 1 percent income group had the largest share of before-tax income for any year since 1929...

... The center's analysis said the highest income Americans had grown richer from 1979 to 2000 both from gains in income because of economic prosperity and from tax cuts. Huge gains in executive pay were a significant factor, Mr. Shapiro said.

Federal tax burdens for most Americans had declined over the previous two decades, and not risen as some conservative policy experts have asserted, the center said. Congress enacted tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 that were heavily weighted to the top 1 percent, which supporters said would encourage them to invest more to the benefit of all Americans.

The Economist covered this as well. The US is heading towards a South American wealth distribution. Over 20 years the wealthiest Americans tripled their income, the poorest increased by 13%. Cuts in capital gains and estate taxes will accelerate this effect.

Eventually, people will start to notice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

War in Iraq is hell on headlines .. another story about reporting in Iraq

War in Iraq is hell on headlines and perspective: Reporters contrast what they see with what viewers see at home

An interesting read. It's very hard for even journalists on the spot to get a sense of what's happening in Iraq.

Iraq: not going as badly as the media reports?

Iraq: not going as badly as the media reports?
Journalists are giving a slanted and unduly negative account of events in Iraq, a bipartisan congressional group that has just returned from a three-day House Armed Services Committee visit to assess stabilization efforts and the condition of U.S. troops said.

Lawmakers charged that reporters rarely stray from Baghdad and have a “police-blotter” mindset that results in terror attacks, deaths and injuries displacing accounts of progress in other areas." ....

...Marshall also claimed that there now are only 27 reporters in Iraq, down from 779 at the height of the war. “The reporters that are there are all huddled in a hotel. They are not getting out and reporting,” he told The Hill.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Economist survey of Islam... And the salvation is women and children

“THE next war, they say.” That was the headline printed at the top of this page the last time The Economist published a survey of Islam, in August 1994. We concluded that conflict between Islam and the West was by no means impossible. But the writer of our survey was not convinced that it was inevitable. Another possibility was that the anger and disillusionment that seemed to be sweeping through the world of Islam in the 1990s might turn in a more benign direction. Was it not similar to the disillusionment that began to sweep through Christendom in the 16th century, which led via the Reformation to the development of modern democracy?

This is an Economist review of Islam, two years post 911. It's excellent even by the very high standards of their usual reviews, and I think it's available to non-subscribers.

There are no great surprises in this review. The key question is whether the potentially civilization ending "clash of civilizations" between Islam and "the west" (meaning some odd mix of Christian doctrine and technocentric secular humanism) is inevitable. The writers conclude that it is not inevitable, but quite possible. The invasion of Iraq has raised the stakes, and at this time seems to make a catastrophic clash more, not less, likely. The Economist is a bit too craven to lay accusations of incompetence at the foot of the Bush administration, but they are slowly growing a spine.

In my opinion, which no-one has requested, the primary focus of the West should be to align the prospects of Islamic children with the prosperity and health of the West. I say this based on a personal hypothesis, which goes like this:

1. Women always have great power and influence, even in cultural settings (Fundamentalist Mormonism, Fundamentalist Islam, Fundamentalist Christianity) where they seem powerless.

2. Men have allegiance to power and to cultural conditions that give them access to more mates and more personal power. Women have primary allegiance to their offspring and to cultural conditions that support them and their families. Women will sacrifice cultural doctrine to further the success of their children.

3. Women will support actions that improve the lifespan of their children.

Lastly, I point out that envy and hatred by both men and women comes about as much from relative distinctions (opportunity, health) as absolute distinctions.

The implications are obvious. If we want our western culture to survive, and if we secular humanists want to survive in that western shell, we need to make an unspoken "deal" with the women of the Islamic world. The deal goes like this:

1. You bias your culture, within the boundaries of the Koran (which are reasonably flexible), towards tolerance, forgiveness, and compassion.

2. We will give your children opportunities to grow up, to learn, and to have families of their own. We will give you prosperity.

The same discussion, by the way, applies within the United States. But that's an exercise for my non-existent readership! :-)

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Strib Article: Cheney lies about Clinton administration anti-terrorism plans

Editorial: Truth / Too little of it on Iraq
Cheney repeated the mantra that the nation ignored the terrorism threat before Sept. 11. In fact, President Bill Clinton and his counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, took the threat very seriously, especially after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000. By December, Clarke had prepared plans for a military operation to attack Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, go after terrorist financing and work with police officials around the world to take down the terrorist network.
Because Clinton was to leave office in a few weeks, he decided against handing Bush a war in progress as he worked to put a new administration together
Instead, Clarke briefed national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, Cheney and others. He emphasized that time was short and action was urgent. The Bush administration sat on the report for months and months. The first high-level discussion took place on Sept. 4, 2001, just a week before the attacks. The actions taken by the Bush administration following Sept. 11 closely parallel actions recommended in Clarke's nine-month-old plan. Who ignored the threat?

The truth about what Cheney, Rice et al were briefed on is coming out a bit at a time. I'm sure there's more to come.

The slow motion credit card/check fraud train wreck

I, Cringely | The Pulpit

I posted previously on Cringely's identity theft essay. This essay is even better than his first. He even mentions some vulnerabilities I didn't know about.

He really covers all the bases, and he lays out a methodical case. This train has been in the process of crashing for about fifteen years. It just seems so dramatic now because the problem has entered the steep phase of its exponential growth.

This needs legislation. It's needed legislation for over 10 years.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Brad DeLong: The Bush Administration lies --- compulsively?

Brad DeLong: The Bush Administration lies --- compulsively?
At long last, the anti-Bush forces seem to have finally settled on a single theme: He lies. His advisors lie. A lot. About everything.

And this is true. In some sense, the remarkable thing about the Bush administration is not what they do — after all, other administrations have cut taxes, busted unions, and gone to war — but the fact that they tell so many baldfaced lies about what they do. Thanks to yeoman work from the likes of Al Franken, Joe Conason, Paul Krugman, David Corn, and others, this storyline is starting to become conventional wisdom, and I think the Democratic candidates should start picking up on it and hammering it home. If they repeat it often enough, the Bushies are going to end up on the ropes. Americans don't like liars.

Oh, and one more thing: aside from plain old, ordinary, garden variety lies — of which they have plenty — I've noticed that the Bushies have a real specialty in one particular kind of lie. More on that some other time.

Sometimes I think they lie even when the truth would serve them better than a lie. I'm not as optimistic as DeLong about the American passion for honesty -- I think American's can live quite well with a comforting myth. The problem for the BA is that their stories aren't very comforting now ...

The Billionaires enter the campaing to retire GWB

NATIONAL POST: "George Soros ... is once again aiming high, declaring he wants to be known as the man who brought down the government of George W. Bush, or at least prevented the U.S. President from winning a second term in 2004.

To that end, Mr. Soros has personally committed an initial US$10-million to building an anti-Bush grassroots campaign in 17 states ..."

I posted on this earlier. Intelligence and insight is not closely related to wealth, but at the very high end I think there is somewhat more insight than average. Many of the ultra-rich may see GWB as a bit of a disaster, and will be worried about the future of their own families.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

How and why health care is broken in the US: Boca Raton

Patients in Florida Lining Up for All That Medicare Covers

This is a very well done article. Brief and very illustrative. This is why primary care physicians are all looking for new careers, and why the enrollment trend for family practice is heading towards 0% within six years.

The outcome data is as academics have long suspected. All the immensely fragmented specialized care, in which each piece is probably well done but with a bias towards interventions, is associated with worse outcomes.

How to learn that your news media parrots the Bush administration

The Agonist: In Need Of RepairThe Bush administration has distributed talking points to help with managing the fallout from the failure of their Iraq policy. You can test how independent your favored media is by comparing their language to the talking points.

Friday, September 12, 2003

87 Billion Apologies - Take your money, Mr. President, but at least say you're sorry. By Michael Kinsley

87 Billion Apologies - Take your money, Mr. President, but at least say you're sorry. By Michael Kinsley: "This $87 billion request is a minefield of embarrassments, through which a simple 'We got it wrong' would have been the safest route. After all, Bush either knew we'd be spending this kind of money for two or more years after declaring victory and didn't tell us, or he didn't realize it himself. Those are the only two options. He deceived us, or he wasn't clairvoyant in the fog of war. Apparently, Bush would rather be thought omniscient than honest, which is a pity, since appearing honest is a more realistic ambition. Especially for him."
Cruel and perfectly convincing. A lovely Kinsley essay in Slate.

Krugman explores the future consequences of the Bush tax cuts

The Tax-Cut Con
If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained. In particular, Social Security will have to become far less generous; Medicare will no longer be able to guarantee comprehensive medical care to older Americans; Medicaid will no longer provide basic medical care to the poor.

This is a long NYT Magazine article, probably worth keeping for future reference.

Unless you believe in the "voodoo economics", which has far fewer credible believers than in Reagan's days, the consequences of the Bush administration will be a greatly shrunken Federal government. Some services may be moved to the state level, but the problem is that people move between states without passports. So if a state chose to tax people to distribute revenue to the poor or poor elderly, they would loose young people and gain elderly people. Social service and poverty protection really needs to be done at the national level, with some potential state level extensions.

So what Bush is really doing is dismantling the federal social safety net, and there can be no state level replacement. I happen to think that, even excluding obvious things like boomer retirement, we're going to need that safety net far more in the next 20 years (beyond that the technology impact is so great estimation is impossible) than in the past 20 years. This is going to be very painful.

Paul Krugman, A BuzzFlash Interview

Paul Krugman, New York Times Columnist and Author of "The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century" - A BuzzFlash Interview
... a good part of the media are essentially part of the machine. If you work for any Murdoch publication or network, or if you work for the Rev. Moon's empire, you're really not a journalist in the way that we used to think. You're basically just part of a propaganda machine. And that's a pretty large segment of the media.

As for the rest, certainly being critical at the level I've been critical -- basically saying that these guys are lying, even if it's staring you in the face -- is a very unpleasant experience. You get a lot of heat from people who should be on your side, because they accuse you of being shrill, which is everybody's favorite word for me. And you become a personal target.

... A lot of good things happened in the 1920s, although there were a couple of really bad presidents. But all of that now, in historical memory, is colored by the realization of what followed afterwards.

I think that with the looming disasters of the budget on foreign policy - and the things that really scare me, which I know we're not going to get into but let's just mention the erosion of civil liberties at home - I think that, in retrospect, this will be seen in terms of how did the country head over this cliff. I hope I'm wrong. If there's regime change in 2004, and the new man actually manages to steer us away from the disasters I see in front of us, then we'll probably be talking a lot about the long boom that was begun during the Clinton years, and how it was resilient, even to an episode of incredibly bad management.

But I don't think that's the way it's going to play out, to be honest. Whatever happens in the election, I think that we've done an extraordinary amount of damage in the last three years.

BUZZFLASH: Looking just at the economic impact of Iraq, how much of a strain will that continue to be?

KRUGMAN: Well, there are levels and levels. I think Iraq is going to cost us $100 billion a year for the indefinite future. Now at one level, you can say, well, that's only about 20 percent of our budget deficit, and it's only about 5 percent of the federal budget. But on the other hand, it's being added onto a very nasty situation. It's a little unpredictable. I don't know how much collateral damage Iraq is going to inflict. At the rate we're going, it's clear that unless something happens soon, we're going to have a much bigger Army. It may seem like we have enough troops, but I've been talking to people, including officers, who are just crying about what they see as the degradation of the Army's quality because of all of this.

Right now, I'm trying to understand what a petroleum industry expert is telling me, when he says that some of the market futures suggest that the market is pricing in about a one-in-three chance that unrest in Iraq spreads to Saudi Arabia. And if that happens, of course, then we're talking about a mammoth disaster.

BUZZFLASH: I've got to say I don't know how you sleep at night.

KRUGMAN: I have a little trouble, to be honest. It's this funny thing: I lived this very comfortable life in a very placid college town, with nice people all around. And life is good. But some of us -– not just me, but a fair number of people, including my friends -- we've looked at the news, and we sort of extrapolate the lines forward. And there's this feeling of creeping dread.

Paul Krugman, a college professor for Pete's sake, has become the Right's favorite target. He's inherited the Clinton role. Thank heavens he's around.

The interview is excellent. I like the comment on propaganda. Contrary to common opinion, I think the American public is very naive about propaganda, and quite easy to manipulate. We were spoiled by at least 30-40 years of a dynamic free press; most Americans don't have the nose to spot propaganda. I suspect, but have no proof, that your average Russian does a better job.

Now, what media belongs to Reverend Moon? I wonder why we don't hear more about what he's up to. A big Bush donor ?

The futures market anticipation of a Saudi civil war fits in with a prior posting.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

More on Identity Theft -- Cringely: How to Steal $65 Billion

I, Cringely | The Pulpit

A good overview. Yep, this is a problem. No, it won't go away. Yes it needs serious study and legislation.

It's been brewing for over 10 years. Maybe this will be the year that identity theft makes it into the tabloids?

Unfortunately Microsoft is waiting with Palladium as the solution. It will work, but it's like inviting the Huns to patrol your borders. They'll do a great job of keeping the other bad guys away ...

Most life on earth lives in the crust and breathes iron?

Deep Under the Sea, Boiling Founts of Life Itself
... in 1977, when oceanographers working deep in the Pacific found bizarre ecosystems lush with clams, mussels and long tube worms.

When brought to the surface, the creatures smelled of rotten eggs, a sign of sulfur. It turned out that the ecosystem's main energy source was sulfur compounds emitted by the hot vents, in particular hydrogen sulfide. The primary producers (like plants on land) were tiny microbes thriving on volcanic heats and chemical energies rising from the earth's interior.

The dark ecosystems forced scientists to conclude that not all life on earth depends on the sun's energy or on photosynthesis.

As similar communities were found in the deep, intrigued scientists theorized that the vents were perhaps windows on a deep microbial world, a hidden biosphere extending for miles into the earth's crust, with a total mass rivaling or exceeding that of all surface life. Even stranger, they suggested that life on earth might have begun in such realms, nurtured by a steady diet of hot chemicals.

Since those frenetic early days, ocean scientists have found not only scores of such deep oases but strong evidence that they do in fact represent the tip of a very old, very large ecosystem.

It appears that the most primitive of these organisms, and perhaps the most common, metabolize iron. Next we'll learn that oil is a waste byroduct of the metabolism of a bizarre crustal organism. We live on an increasingly weird world in an increasingly weird universe.

Microsoft, file formats, and information rights management ...

BBC NEWS | Document controls vs net liberties
It is not too late for government action. There is no realistic prospect that the US administration will do anything which might upset or oppose Microsoft, but here in Europe we have a more robust attitude to the company and its activities.

If Microsoft is going to roll out digital rights management in software that will be used by many European companies, surely the European Commission or our MEPs should be taking an interest - before we find that we have given up any possibility of asserting proper democratic control over this important technology?

The author of this BBC article is complaining about Microsoft's "information Rights Management", a system that restricts access to Microsoft Office documents. IRM will sell very well in corporate settings.

Microsoft build their empire in several ways, many of them very shady. Their use of file format lock-in, however, was quite above board. APIs are nowhere near as important as file formats, and not nearly as effective a tool as file formats for locking in customers (data lock I call it). There's no mystery to this; I hope most corporate customers undersood the implications. Unfortunately it appears many experts didn't undersand this; despite my faint pleas the FTC never seriously considered mandating that Microsoft open their file formats.

Maybe the EU will have more luck, but I doubt it. At this point I usually say, "If you don't like it, buy a Mac" -- but at the moment there's NO acceptable OS X word processor other than Microsoft OS X Word! (BTW, I suspect "IRM" will not work on a Mac.)

The outsourcing of IT: one story ...

No Americans Need Apply - CIO Magazine Sep 1,2003

One developer's journey from the dot com boom to persistent unemployment. So goes manufacturing ...

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Canon i960 photo printer

Canon U.S.A., Consumer Products i960

I like the ability to replace ink one color at a time. Every year these ink jets seem substantially better, I wonder what I can do with our older model.

I didn't see any data on how the photos last before fading.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Fliers to Be Rated for Risk Level (washingtonpost.com)

Fliers to Be Rated for Risk Level (washingtonpost.com)
The federal government and the airlines will phase in a computer system next year to measure the risk posed by every passenger on every flight in the United States.

The article makes no mention of an appeal process. That's a really bad sign.

Brooks claims the Bushies adapt, but never admit it ...

Whatever It Takes

This is a positive Bush article. I rarely see a plausibly positive Bush article, so I had to throw this in. Brooks claims that the Bush group knows they've screwed up in Iraq and they're adjusting -- even while claiming everything is going as predicted.

So they're brutally cynical, but realistic. Hey, that's positive.

He also casually sinks another knife into Rumsfeld. It must be getting hard to find an un-knifed spot.

Brad DeLong channels Max Sawicky: GWB -- the American Argentinian

How Can I Be Out of Money? I Still Have More Checks: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Brad DeLong and Max Sawicky on the GWB deficit. See the article ...
... this fiscal year's (and next fiscal year's) deficit is fine: it's the deficit three, five, ten, twenty years down the pike that is really scary--and really damaging...

... the increase in debt as a share of GDP is bad fiscal policy. A feasible policy would restrict growth to the same rate as GDP, with a bump here and there to deal with recessions. With apologies to generalissimos and caudillos everywhere, George W. Bush is running a fiscal policy fit for a banana republic.

... AND ANOTHER THING: Last week I [DeLong] got a call from a reporter. The drift of her question was, does this defense increase bust the budget? No, not at all. The budget is already FUBAR.

... The astonishing thing is that Bush can so quickly have made the deficit so bad that you find yourself on the "hawk" side. As one prominent Washington figure has said, "It's amazing what this Bush administration has done to the budget. It's like being 8 runs up at the end of the eighth inning, yet finding yourself 12 runs behind in the middle of the ninth."

Inflation, Deflation: A door vs a P4

I've ordered a state of the art Windows machine for our home network. It's replacing an older machine that will be retired to running Windows 98 and children's games -- with no network connection.

The new machine has about as much memory and CPU power as serious mainframes did about 15 years ago. It will cost me about $850 US; you could buy a similar machine from Dell for about $1600 US (admittedly with lots of "extras" that are of little use to me).

My parents are buying a new back door; the old one expired. It will cost about $600 US.

Once upon a time, the door would have been fairly inexpensive, and the computer affordable only to a large corporation.

They need the door more than I need the PC.

So, is this insane deflation, or significant inflation? It all depends on what you need to buy.

In the world of the not-so-far away, it will cost you $15,000 to have your roof shingled, and the PC I just bought will be a children's toy.

Karin Spaink - The Fishman Affidavit: Scientology and its methods

Karin Spaink - The Fishman Affidavit: contents

Spaink is a compulsive communicator. It's a bit of an odd trait, but relatively harmless ;-). Spaink, however, decided to communicate about Scientology. They attempted to silence him through harassment, but it appears he's rather stubborn.

Fortunately he resides in the Netherlands, where speech is pretty well protected (more protected than in the US). He just won his third Dutch court victory. See the Slashdot story and Scientology Watch.

Saudi Arabia: how close to the edge?

TIME.com: Inside the Kingdom -- Sep. 15, 2003
This summer, however, hardly a week has gone by in which the kingdom's newspapers haven't carried sensational headlines about the latest police shoot-out with an al-Qaeda cell or the discovery of an illicit stash of arms and explosives. The streets are blocked by police checkpoints. In an unprecedented step, the Interior Ministry has published the names and photos of al-Qaeda suspects at large, appealing to the public to turn them in. Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler, has declared his own war on terrorism. The kingdom's highest religious authority has issued a declaration backing him. Saudi spokesmen claim they have fired hundreds of clerics for being too extreme and are re-educating thousands more in the ways of moderation.

This TIME magazine piece is quite interesting. The struggle in Saudi Arabia may be the most important front in the war on terrorism. It's probably not a coincidence that "Wahhabism" is replacing "Islamic Fundamentalism" in western media commentary. Wahhabism is the state religion of Saudi Arabia ...

Lots of questions ... Is Wahhabism really a more accurate definition of the core problem? I think it may be a better restatement, though doubtless still inaccurate. Can Wahabbism be reformed? I suspect so. Look at the history of Mormonism in the United States, and the transformations that religion has gone through (though also producing extreme Fundamentalist offshoots along the way) -- albeit over about 100 years.

Do we understand Wahhabism and its enemies? I don't think we do. I think Wahhabism is essentially a reaction to secular humanism, and that it shares with many fundamentalist faiths a visceral and powerful reaction to secular life. It is sadly ironic that the the US should be their primary target -- it is the least secular of wealth nations. History is funny that way.

Can Wahabbism be reformed in the next few years, and without a Saudi civil war? Has the way the Bush Administration carried out the Iraq war made it easier or harder to reform Wahhabism?

The last two are the hard questions. Maybe the Republican House shouldn't cut funding for bicycle paths just yet. If there's a Saudi civil war we'll need something besides automobiles.

Support Macintouch: use their Amazon referrer

If you want to support macintouch, a superb web site, use this link (referrer) for Amazon orders:


Sunday, September 07, 2003

Disposable email services ... Jetable and Mailinator

Jetable: Disposable email, for a single usage

Jetable gives you a relay address that work for 1-6 days. A French web site, it's free for now. Useful for many purposes, but since it expires it's not a great choice for site that wants an email address as a username (NewEgg, for example).

Mailinator needn't expire, but it's public, albeit hard to find. Not a great place to store data you want to keep private (credit card information, etc).

I actually do ok using a Yahoo account for this type of thing, but I think I'll try jetable.

Spamotomy lists a number of similar sites. This is an amazingly active anti-spam site. They list a lot of anti-spam tools, but I think they're emphasizing a failed approach.

A Better Blogger BlogThis! Button?

Blogger is the software I use to create these pages, which are currently hosted on Blogspot. (Two distinct services, both from the same company.)

One of the things that makes Blogger useful is the BlogThis! button. Either as implemented in the Google Toolbar 2.0, or as JavaScript that can be put in a browser bookmark, it is the key to making commentary on web pages very efficient.

Except I don't like the way it works. The window it creates is too small, and it puts quotes around the text one is going to comment on. I'd rather it used <:blockquote> markup.

This version saves me some keystrokes. I wish I could get rid of the quotes though. If anyone knows how to do that, or where people post better "BlogThis" scripts, please let me know.

PS. This has to be all one line to put in a URL:


A semi-useful JavaScript reference -- current to about IE 4

JavaScript Selections: Introduction - Doc JavaScript

JavaScript is a mess, a minor casualty of Microsoft's cruel and complete dismantling of Netscape [1]. It's surprisingly hard to find any useful web references, in part because the web is littered with years of JavaScript debris. Great hunks of abandoned documentation, debris across the battlefield, divert google searches.

This one is dated, but better than many.

[1] Microsoft's usual approach to destroying something is to first emulate it very well, then add extensions that take it in a different direction, then to lose interest and let entropy do its work. WebDav is a recent example of this procedure. If Microsoft were an animal, it would be a particularly calculating and effective feline. The ugly part is watching it play with its prey.

Quotes from the Bush administration: Saddam has weapons of mass destuction.

Molly Ivins - Quoets from the Bush Administration

An impressive list of confidently mistaken quotes. Worth reading.

Yes, Saddam could have hidden all the WMDs in Lebanon's Bekka valley. Seems unlikely, but it's not ruled out by the laws of physics. More likely, however, the Bush administration heard what they wanted to hear and believed what they wanted to believe.

Heck, I thought he had 'em too. I have no clue what was going on in Saddam's head. Even the UN's weapon inspector thought he'd find something.

It looks like we were all wrong, but Bush was wrong with the best data.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

22 months of job losses - a structural change?

Defying Forecast, Job Losses Mount for a 22nd Month
The economic recovery in the United States is now in its 22nd month, without reversing constant job losses. The unemployment rate declined to 6.1 percent from 6.2 percent in July, but economists said that was apparently because of a surge in the number of people who, having lost jobs, listed themselves as self-employed rather than unemployed....

"If we don't see some job growth by Thanksgiving, then the spurt in economic activity that we are currently experiencing will fade," said Mark M. Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com, "and we will be right back to where we were early this year, in the economic soup."

The meager recovery, which began in November 2001, has now achieved historical significance. Not since World War II has employment failed to grow for so long after the gross domestic product, which measures the total output of goods and services, began rising again. Just more than a million jobs have disappeared over the last 22 months, on top of the 1.78 million lost in the preceding eight-month recession. All told, the national payroll has shrunk by almost three million jobs since March 2001.

..."We have been sitting on the bench waiting and waiting and waiting for some jobs to appear, and they still are nowhere in sight," Joel L. Naroff, a normally optimistic forecaster, advised subscribers to his newsletter...

What surprises many economists is that the job-shedding has continued despite what they describe as an extraordinary level of economic stimulus. Low interest rates, tax cuts and rebates, a rise in military spending, mortgage refinancings, growing corporate profits, even a long-awaited improvement in business spending on new equipment and software have all contributed to the rise in the economic growth rate.

But jobs are disappearing, and employers continue to resist adding hours for their existing workers. Economists warn that without payroll expansion and rising income from wages, sustaining the economic growth will be difficult once the stimulus weakens....

"If we go into next year without job growth, then the consumer's willingness to keep spending comes into question, and recovery is in danger of unwinding," said James W. Paulsen, chief investment strategist for Wells Capital Management.

..."Whenever you see a spike in self-employment in this kind of economy, you know that is involuntary entrepreneurship," said Jared Bernstein, a senior labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute.

Bradford DeLong had an extensive discussion on this. Productivity growth is sufficent to fuel our current economy, meaning no rise in employment. Whether it's the technocentric transformation of the "third world" (India, China -- a large fraction of humanity!) or the impact of automation, or both, the effect is the same. I doubt any Bush policy will make much difference.

We have only 1-2 months to turn this around, 3 at the outside. Beyond that we start to have to look at the kind of measures familiar to FDR.

Magical thinking about lie detectors

Government to Give Fewer Lie Detector Tests

Last October, in a report requested and paid for by the Energy Department, a panel convened by an arm of the National Academy of Sciences said polygraph testing was too flawed to use for security screening. The panel said lie detector tests did a poor job of identifying national security risks and were likely to produce accusations against innocent people.
No kidding. Lie detector tests are accepted in many circles, but Los Alamos physicists are a bit smarter than average. Evidently they can read. Being literate, they read that lie detector tests have poor sensitivity and poor specificity, it's a crummy, misleading test.

Maybe functional MRI scans will work better. In the meantime, magical thinking persists in government.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Witnesses aren't worth much ...

In Same Case, DNA Clears Convict and Finds Suspect:
.. in a meeting this morning at a Burger King, Ms. Brobst told Mr. Bloodsworth of the DNA evidence against Mr. Ruffner and apologized for wrongly prosecuting him. Mr. Bloodsworth, who has become an outspoken advocate for reforming federal death penalty laws, said he cried and then hugged Ms. Brobst.

In an interview, the state's attorney for Baltimore County, Sandra A. O'Connor, said that the police and prosecutors had acted responsibly in the case, but that DNA technology did not exist at the time of Mr. Bloodsworth's trial. What did exist were the statements of five witnesses who said they saw him with the girl on the day she was killed.

Many of the DNA exonerations involved convictions based on witness statements, often many witnesses. Some of the witnesses were suspect (got plea bargains, etc), but many were reputable. Some of the witnesses were victims.

These stories, and a lot of cognitive science research, lead towards one important conclusion. Witnesses are unreliable; human memory simply does not work very well. A lot of what we "remember" is a "simulation" or "recreation" based on mixture of memory and clever invention. In other words, most of us routinely confabulate (there are people with exceptionally good memories who do less confabulation). Many of us are extremely suggestible, we can invent a lot of memory with just a few hints.

We need to deprecate the testimony of witnesses and rely upon them less. (PS. The death penalty is unworkable in the United States. Maybe it would work in Sweden, but they consider it barbaric.)

When people realize unemployment may be here to stay ...

Fear of Bad Employment Reports: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal
What Doug fears [about the unemployment numbers] is that sometime soon households will change their states of mind: they will think that the risk of losing and then being without a job, or being unable to find anything other than a crappy job, is too high; and thus that they need to cut back on their spending significantly in order to build up their buffer stocks of savings as a way of insuring themselves against being ground into mush by the gears of the lousy job market.

If households' states of mind do shift in that direction, then we are in real, real trouble. The Bush Administration is incompetent at countercyclical policy. The Federal Reserve is out of ammunition, and cannot do much more to stimulate spending.

My wife compares this to the old adage that planes fly only because people believe they can. One day they realize a big heavy metal box can't possibly fly ...

Of course there's a historic solution to unemployment. Start a war that will need a lot of labor. Good think Bush thought about that ...

Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder both have shared pathophysiology?

BBC NEWS | Health | Mental illnesses share gene flaw
Sabine Bahn, who led the research, published in The Lancet, said: "We believe that our results provide strong evidence for oligodendrocyte and myelin dysfunction in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"The high degree of correlation between the expression changes in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder provide compelling evidence for common pathophysiological pathways that may govern the disease phenotypes of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder."

Fantastic results if they hold up. We've been so very much in the dark without a pathophysiologic mechanism. This is the kind of work that can lead towards a Nobel.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

A Fix for OS X mishandling of SMB shares?

Pudding Time!: A Crashintosh Fix"The problem seems to be related to some hidden level of complexity under the Mac surface. Sure, you can tell it to dismount a network share, but it doesn't seem to ever give up a belief that the server that share came from is out there lurking somewhere. So I created a network location entitled "Nowhere" that handles the job of shutting down all the network interfaces "officially," so the Mac gives up its belief that secretly it's supposed to still be connected to that Samba share somewhere. This beats dismounting shares one by one, because it will handle multiple shares at once, and it seems to be more thorough than a simple "drag to the garbage can."
I am very much going to test this. OS X 10.2.6 really sucks at handling SMB shares.

Credit Card Fraud explodes -- Yawn.

Identity Theft Victimizes Millions, Costs Billions

...About 3.3 million American consumers discovered within the last year that their personal information had been used to open fraudulent bank, credit card or utility accounts, or to commit other crimes, according to the Federal Trade Commission's first national survey on identity theft...
In 1998 I was among the victims of the NetFill scam; at the time it was among the biggest credit card scams in history. The perpetrators, some of whom have continued in the same business set up a bank. Turns out that's easy to do. As a bank they then bought credit card numbers and identify information. Turns out that's easy to do too. Then they ran small transactions on a routine basis, switching vendor names every few months. They raked in millions. Cases are hard to pursue and penalties are modest. The FTC has lots of smart people, but they're fighing a losing battle.

Sadly, the banks have known about the problems behind credit card authentication for about 20 years. Any fix they can come up with tends to lower transaction volume and increase transaction costs -- so it's more cost effective to ignore the problem. If customers notice the banks reimburse them -- though some banks are pretty rude about it. If they don't notice, there's no problem.

Hey, VISA/MasterCharge and their franchisee banks have to make money! Any bank that really pushed for a better system would lose business and have to abandon the credit card market.

Then there's the small detail of using Social Security Numbers as a global personal identifier. SSNs are on insurance cards and in just about every database you can imagine. We might as well tatoo them on our foreheads.

So what's a poor fool to do?
  1. Lobby congress -- this needs legislation, voluntary fixes have failed for a generation. Of course banks make large donations to reelection campaigns. Maybe vote Democrat?
  2. Use American Express -- they do take security more seriously.
  3. Don't carry checks -- they're really bad news.
  4. Convince the credit reporting agencies to put a "fraud watch" marker in your file -- makes it harder to create a fraudulent account.
Update 9/24/09: Nothing has changed six years later, but this time AMEX is a victim of massive internal fraud.

Occult software parasitizes Microsoft Windows PCs

NYT 9/4: Heart of Darkness, on a Desktop: "More and more [Windows] PC owners are discovering software lurking on their computers that they had no idea was there - software that can snoop, destroy or simply reproduce itself in droves."
This is pretty much a Wintel problem; though I think there is some spyware for Linux the problem is much smaller. This is not a Mac OS problem.

As usual, buy a Mac.

Overall this is a fairly poor article. There are a number of programs that check for unexpected communication activity, the author should at least have mentioned them. The phenomena is interesting, however, because of inevitable analogy to ecosystems. This software is parasitizing the ecosystem of home computers. A form of natural selection is in action, with mutation arising from human intervention.

It's very, very, hard to avoid such spyware. I almost got caught on a Win2K box when downloading an update to the PalmOS from Palm Inc. If Palm is covertly installing spyware-like software, then Window users are truly doomed.

In our home we're moving to Macs for client and server machines, a non-connected (no network connection, no Internet connection, no floppy drive) Windows 98 machine for children's games and software, and a single WinXP workstation that is sealed to the max and accessed only by our most paranoid user -- me.

House to remove funding for walking and bicycle paths

Editorial: Healthier design / House should fund walking, biking
It's especially worrisome, then, that the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives proposes today to strip from the transportation appropriations bill all funding for pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths, and to severely curtail transit spending while adding more money for roads.

Sigh. Compared to everything else the House does I suppose this is a minor detail.

I've long suspected that few Republicans ride bicycles, but I haven't seen any real data. Bicycling just feels like an un-Republican pursuit; a tax on gasoline that funds bicycle paths must be quite annoying to the neoCons.

Beyond a job-loss recovery -- a job-loss future?

Economics 101b: Fall 2003: The Erosion of Okun's Law: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal
... The fact that falling hours have been accompanied by rapidly-rising productivity is what has given us not a jobless recovery but a massive job-loss recovery. The normal pattern we would expect from the past two years' output growth would be that employment and hours would have been nearly flat. Why the different pattern this time? We think that it is because firms are no longer "hoarding labor" when times are slack because the industries losing jobs no longer expect employment to bounce back.

This means that we no longer have any confidence that we understand the cyclical pattern of productivity growth--which means that we have little ability to translate the (high) productivity growth numbers we see into information about what the underlying long-run trend growth rate of the economy is. ...

This is part of a lengthy DeLong post; it looks like he did it for one of his undergraduate econ classes.

Economists are puzzled by why employment continues to fall even as both GDP and productivity rise. The concern is that something is different about our economy now; perhaps job losses reflect a permanent change in employment structures. For example (my example, not DeLong's), no further American manufacturing and a very much smaller American IT industry; accompanied by a burgeoning market for butlers, chefs, nannies, personal physicians, retained attorneys, personal pilots, etc to serve the new ultra-rich.

That would be fine, if people could switch from mechanical enginnering to pastry preparation with ease and comfort.

Look for socialism to make a comeback, probably with a different label. Bush is already setting up a special post concerned with the decline of American manufacturing ...

Rumsfeld may be on the way out?

Powell and Joint Chiefs Nudged Bush Toward U.N. (washingtonpost.com)
People close to the administration said the Joint Chiefs and Powell (a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs) did not win a bureaucratic battle as much as Rumsfeld lost one. 'Rumsfeld lost credibility with the White House because he screwed up the postwar planning,' said William Kristol, a conservative publisher with close ties to the administration. 'For five months they let Rumsfeld have his way, and for five months Rumsfeld said everything's fine. He wanted to do the postwar with fewer troops than a lot of people advised, and it turned out to be a mistake.'

The long knives are out. Rumsfeld may not make it to an honorable exit at the end of the Bush first term. I suspect Bush will dump Cheney, Ashcraft and Rumsfeld -- they've taken so much incoming fire they're all used up ...

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The Radical President

INTEL DUMP: The post-modern presidency of George W. Bush

I remember Bush's campaign rhetoric seemed pretty radical to me; it was the US media that insisted on portraying him as moderate. Josh Marshall captures something very important about the way Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the other neocons think (emphasis mine):
Almost all of Bush's deceptions have been deployed when he has tried to pass off his preexisting agenda items as solutions to particular problems with which, for the most part, they have no real connection. That's when the unverifiable assertion comes in handy. Many of the administration's policy arguments have amounted to predictions--tax cuts will promote job growth, Saddam is close to having nukes, Iraq can be occupied with a minimum of U.S. manpower--that most experts believed to be wrong, but which couldn't be definitely disproven until events played out in the future. In the midst of getting those policies passed, the administration's main obstacle has been the experts themselves--the economists who didn't trust the budget projections, the generals who didn't buy the troop estimates, intelligence analysts who questioned the existence of an active nuclear weapons program in Iraq. That has created a strong incentive to delegitimize the experts--a task that comes particularly easy to the revisionists who drive Bush administration policy. They tend to see experts as guardians of the status quo, who seek to block any and all change, no matter how necessary, and whose views are influenced and corrupted by the agendas and mindsets of their agencies. Like orthodox Marxists who pick apart mainstream economics and anthropology as the creations of 'bourgeois ideology' or Frenchified academic post-modernists who 'deconstruct' knowledge in a similar fashion, revisionist ideologues seek to expose "the facts" as nothing more than the spin of experts blinded by their own unacknowledged biases. The Bush administration's betes noir aren't patriarchy, racism, and homophobia, but establishmentarianism, big-government liberalism, and what they see as pervasive foreign policy namby-pambyism. For them, ignoring the experts and their 'facts' is not only necessary to advance their agenda, but a virtuous effort in the service of a higher cause.

Bush's central values are values of faith, not of reasoning. He is not stupid (unfortunately), but he is said to be very unimaginative. He believes what he believes, and empiricism is not a part of that. He's post-modern in that "facts" are very fluid things, yet also medieval in his rejection of empiricism. He reminds me of some advocates of alternative medicine; a movement that often rejects conventional methods of proof and disproof.

Experts are very often wrong and people who reject empiricism can be correct. So far, however, Bush has an impressive record of failure -- at least as far as anyone can match his promises to outcomes.

The US Military attacks the Bush administrations handling of Iraq


Read the above for Phil Carter's extracts and commentary. When the US military starts to attack the Bush administration it's time for Rove to start sweating. This may explain the sudden enthusiasm of the Bushies for UN assistance (which will go nowhere, no nation is going to bail the US out of Iraq.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The Genetics of IQ: Variance among the non-wealthy?

Genes' Sway Over IQ May Vary With Class (washingtonpost.com): ".. a groundbreaking study of the interaction among genes, environment and IQ finds that the influence of genes on intelligence is dependent on class. Genes do explain the vast majority of IQ differences among children in wealthier families, the new work shows. But environmental factors -- not genetic deficits -- explain IQ differences among poor minorities."
One might guess that genes determine potential IQ, and that environment impacts how well one reaches that potential. Wealthy children function near their potential, but poor children may fall below potential.

A few caveats:

1. Most research suggests that the most important environment is intrauterine. So the journalist is mistaken to think this necessarily strengthens the case for Head Start and other programs. It may strengthen the case for smoking prevention and smoking cessation, for alcohol and substance abstention, for dental care, prenatal vitamins, dietary counseling, etc.

2. The study methodology sounds pretty tortured. This study really only suggest the need for directed research.

3. Rich people are smarter than the rest of us (on average). So they might be seeing an effect that says that high range IQ is highly gene determined, but mid-range IQ is less gene determined.

A NYT summary of the state of string theory -- explaining the universe

One Cosmic Question, Too Many Answers

In a series of conceptual and technical breakthroughs, a group of theorists at Stanford showed this year that string theory could describe a universe whose expansion was accelerating -- something that many experts thought impossible.... The new calculations suggest that this dark energy cannot last forever, that it will disappear sometime in the far future, according to the researchers ...

...When the variations are taken into account, the number of solutions and the number of possible universes can easily exceed 10^100.

1. In an infinitely expanding universe immortality is theoretically impossible. OTOH if the dark energy is exhaustible, that might allow a way out -- for something :-)!

2. 10^100 universes is roughly a billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion, billion universes, and that's a minimum. Some of these are thought be potentially infinite in scope.

I love this stuff. It's so bizarre. It's numbers like these that make it mathematically conceivable that you have a twin somewhere in the megaverse.

Microsoft's next step: DRM for Word

New Office locks down documents | CNET News.com: "Office 2003, the upcoming update of the company's market-dominating productivity package, for the first time will include tools for restricting access to documents created with the software. Office workers can specify who can read or alter a spreadsheet, block it from copying or printing, and set an expiration date."
No surprises here, this has inevitable for years. Once one takes this step leased software is a small next step. This has huge "face appeal" for corporate customers. There are so many, many interesting implications of this technology.

If you don't like it, buy a Mac.

BBC NEWS: Asteroid danger in 2014 downplayed. (Inappropriately?)

BBC NEWS | UK | Asteroid danger in 2014 downplayed
... there is a one in 909,000 chance of asteroid 2003 QQ47 impacting our planet...The rock is said to measure approximately 1.2 kilometres (less than a mile) across - only one tenth of the size of the impactor thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago... "In theory such an asteroid could cause devastation across an entire continent," Christine McGourty says.

This is not necessarily a sterilizing event, but wiping out a continent would pretty much end our civilization.

So there's a 1 in one million probability of losing our civilization from this one rock. There are, however, many more of them. Based on what we've seen in the past few years, and applying some very rough and ready stats, the odds of a civilization ending impact in the next 100 years is probably on the order of 1/100,000.

The Economist had a good discussion on this statistic several years ago. Based on what we spend on prevention of typical risks (pesticide management, food poisoning, head injury, airplane crashes) we should be spending several billion dollars a year to develop a strategy to monitor asteroids and develop an avoidance strategy.

Human brains don't work well with managing this kind of risk though ...

iPod foam earbud covers

Apple - Discussions - Replacement foam earbud covers

It took weeks of moderately persistent research to find this data, but now that it's known it will be everywhere :-).

iPod replacement foam earbud covers: Radio Shack part # 33-376

Here's the RadioShack page for ordering the replacement earpads (http://tinyurl.com/m0qu). A set of 4 is $2.00. I think they're a bit cheaper at some retail outlets.

http://headwize2.powerpill.org/faqs.htm covers getting replacement foam covers for other earsets.

[meta: earpad, earset, earphone, earbud, in-ear, headset, micro, iPod, earphone, foam pad, foam cover, jfaughnan, jgfaughnan]

Jimmy Carter on a US North Korean war (USA Today 9/1/03)

Jimmy Carter:U.S. - North Korea war seems 'strong possibility'
North Korea is an isolated country, poverty stricken, paranoid, apparently self-sacrificial and amazingly persistent in international confrontations, as is now being demonstrated. It is a cultural and almost sacred commitment for its leaders not to back down, even in the face of international condemnation and the most severe political and economic pressure.

... As the [1994] crisis escalated, The Carter Center was finally given reluctant permission from President Clinton for me to visit Pyongyang. A satisfactory agreement was concluded and later confirmed by both governments, with participation by South Korea, Japan and others. But neither side honored all the commitments...

... There are other issues, but the basic North Korean demand is a firm non-aggression commitment from the United States, which U.S. officials continue to reject. The U.S. insists first on a complete end to the North Koreans' nuclear program, which they have refused to accept. If neither side will yield or compromise, then an eventual military confrontation seems likely. The United States can prevail, but with terrible human casualties in both North and South Korea.

There must be verifiable assurances that prevent North Korea from becoming a threatening nuclear power, with a firm commitment that the U.S. will not attack a peaceful North Korea...

I'd forgotten that Carter negotiated the 1994 accord; it rarely gets mentioned in the US media. Even the Bush administration, when they used to criticize that deal, omitted Carter's name. (They've stopped criticizing it.)

The Bush administration, as has been routine for them, has been incompetent in their management of North Korea. They seem to have a fundamental problem with seeing the world as others see it.

That said, even for a competent administration, North Korea would have been a hard problem to tackle. Now, with the failures of the Bush policies, it's much harder.

I can fully understand why NK wants a nuclear weapon; even before the crazed rhetoric of the neocons they knew the proven value of a nuclear deterrent. So even if they didn't have a very weird culture and a near-insane leader they'd want a nuclear weapon. What Carter doesn't address is that they also want to sell nuclear weapons; that would solve their cash flow needs.

Given their incentives to possess nuclear weapons, and their desire to sell them, I do have a hard time understanding why they'd give all that up. A promise not too invade can't be worth all that much. For one thing they'd never trust the US (who would?), for another that doesn't address their fundamental problem. They need much more than we can give them.

China is the key to North Korea, and China's export market is the key to China. It's time to offer China a deal -- either you deal with North Korea, or we withdraw from the WTO and put tariffs on Chinese goods. Sure, that would cause our economy to crater, but China would do down with us. As ugly as a world recession would be, it beats nuclear war on the Korean penninsula -- not to mention a nuclear strike on a US port. On the other hand, if China cooperates, we keep the spigots running, and spend our resources (aid, unemployment extensions, tax cuts, education credits, etc.) helping the US manufacturing sector fade gently into the night.

Monday, September 01, 2003

In need of adult supervision -- so what are the ultra-rich doing?

Home Alone - Bob Herbert
We are at a stage now where mature, responsible leadership is more essential than ever. All of the problems that we have ignored until now remain with us. But the money that might have started us on the road to solutions is gone. We are mired in Iraq, and not properly prepared at home.

We could use some adult supervision.

The "Adult Supervision" phrase is often used to refer to the current administration -- it was also used by the Bush campaign to refer to the needs of the Clinton administration. So, there's an ironic touch.

Irony aside, where would this adult supervision come from? I wonder what the ultra-rich are up to, people like Gates and company. Their are a lot of dumb moderately rich people, but Gates, Buffet et al are not dumb. They worry about where things are going, and they're unlikely to vent by writing unread blogs. So what are they doing?

Rumsfeld and Condi invent an alternative German history

Condi's Phony History - Sorry, Dr. Rice, postwar Germany was nothing like Iraq.

Rumsfeld and Condi Rice make up stories about post-occupation Germany, trying to make it sound like Iraq. The "werewolf" stories are fanciful. What does this ploy reveal about their mental status? Do they think there's no-one left who can read?

As Daniel Benjamin writes:
So, how did this fanciful version of the American experience in postwar Germany get into the remarks of a Princeton graduate and former trustee of Stanford's Hoover Institute (Rumsfeld) and the former provost of Stanford and co-author of an acclaimed book on German unification (Rice)? Perhaps the British have some intelligence on the matter that still has not been made public. Of course, as the president himself has noted, there is a lot of revisionist history going around.
It is disturbing that both Condi and Rumsfeld seem to have crossed over into the twilight zone.

Maybe their mental state is related to rumors that Rumsfeld will leave after Bush's first term.