Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Treating hypochondria with cognitive therapy

A New Era in Treating Imaginary Ills
New treatment strategies are offering the first hope since the ancient Greeks recognized hypochondria 24 centuries ago. Cognitive therapy, researchers reported last week, helps hypochondriacal patients evaluate and change their distorted thoughts about illness. After six 90-minute therapy sessions, the study found, 55 percent of the 102 participants were better able to do errands, drive and engage in social activities. Antidepressant medications, other studies indicate, are also proving effective.

'The hope is that with effective treatments, a diagnosis of hypochondriasis will become a more acceptable diagnosis and less a laughing matter or a cause for embarrassment,' said Dr. Arthur J. Barsky, director of psychiatric research at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the lead author of the study on cognitive therapy, which appeared in the March 24 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The great challenge of treating patients with hypochondria is that just when you convince them their headache is harmless they start seizing from their brain tumor.

The patients in this study were seriously disabled by their fears. I can't tell from the NYT article how big an impact the intervention had and what the control group experienced. This may or may not be a meaningful therapy or a significant change. It was a lot of interventions. Similar work is being tried on chronic pain, which has some similarities to the disabling features of hypochondria. It is not the "reality" of the underlying problem that really matters, but how the mind responds to what it experiences.

Kristof does his part -- yet another genocide

Op-Ed Columnist: Starved for Safety:
... African and Western leaders should try much harder to stop civil wars as they start. The world is now facing a critical test of that principle in the Darfur region of Sudan, where Arab militias are killing and driving out darker-skinned African tribespeople. While the world now marks the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide and solemnly asserts that this must never happen again, it is.

Some 1,000 people are dying each week in Sudan, and 110,000 refugees, like Mr. Yodi, have poured into Chad. Worse off are the 600,000 refugees within Sudan, who face hunger and disease after being driven away from their villages by the Arab militias.

'They come with camels, with guns, and they ask for the men,' Mr. Yodi said. 'Then they kill the men and rape the women and steal everything.' One of their objectives, he added, 'is to wipe out blacks.'

This is not a case when we can claim, as the world did after the Armenian, Jewish and Cambodian genocides, that we didn't know how bad it was. Sudan's refugees tell of mass killings and rapes, of women branded, of children killed, of villages burned — yet Sudan's government just stiffed new peace talks that began last night in Chad.

No-one will be able to say we weren't warned. The black Sudanese should convert to evangelical Christianity immediately. (I assume they're not Christian, if they are then Kristok is not doing them any favors by failing to mention that.)

Save NPR's Bob Edwards (Morning Edition)

Save Bob Edwards Petition

NPR's senior management dumped Bob Edwards -- so the affiliates can better compete with commercial talk radio.

This is so insane. NPR has been sliding into the commercial space for years. Maybe they need to cut back on some executive salaries. Sign the petition!

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

My hobby site -- 3GB of monthly traffic?!

Faughnan's HomePage
I received a bit of a shock today. I recently "upgraded" my web site from a legacy account to their new system. It gave me more space, but also a bandwidth cap of 5GB/month. Since my personal site is made up of dry textual material with few images, I wasn't much concerned about the bandwidth.

Until today, when, by chance, I happened to visit at the end of the month. My creaky, old, dry, dull site saw almost 3GB of traffic in March. That's the entire site -- downloaded 75 times. My average web page is 4KB in size; 3GB is around 750,000 such page views.

I don't think there are that many people reading my old web pages. Is all that traffic just indexing robots, hitting my pages because they've been up for so long that the robots are "obliged" to visit? (One odd feature of my site -- all the URLs are static, and they've not changed for years.)


It does make me wonder, though, how many people read these blogs. I'd kind of assumed my readership consisted of my mother, my wife, and my wife's sisters. News | Creepier than Nixon - John Dean on Bush/Cheney News | Creepier than Nixon
The man who brought down Richard Nixon says Bush and 'co-president' Cheney are an even greater threat to the country.

John Dean writes about Bush/Cheney/Rove. It's clear he thinks they are the greatest threat to American democracy since at least the beginning of the 20th century, if not since the civil war (aka the revolt of the south).

He divides them up this way:

1. Bush: masterful and utterly ruthless political operator, but disinterested in policy.
2. Cheney: Hobbesian brutality, loves policy and power. Tutors Bush and serves him.
3. Roves: Viscious and ruthless, loves personal power. Serves Bush.

Dean doesn't like these guys.

My sense is that our democracy is pretty frail. Another 9/11 attack and the American people will trade democracy for security -- as Hobbes would have predicted. It won't even take a mass bioweapons attack or a true nuclear weapon detonation.

Sadly the professional's analysis favors Bush winning by a pretty good margin. Kerry knows that too, so I wonder what he's planning ...

Should the United Nations run the Internet? | Perspectives | CNET

Should the United Nations run the Internet? | Perspectives | CNET
I started out thinking this was incredibly silly, since by historical standards there's about a probability of 0% that the UN would ever have significant clout over the true Internet.

On second thought, alas, it's not like the US government, for tragically good reasons, will tolerate the freewheeling and open Internet of old. The age of open information has passed, we are entering the age of ever greater manacles upon knowledge. In this new world the US government shares a common interest with China, Cuba and North Korea in eliminating anonymity and restricting the flow of information.

Another gift to the world from al Qaeda et al.

Monday, March 29, 2004

What drove Clarke mad: the insane Clinton impeachment

The Washington Monthly:
... So what was it that seemingly turned him [Clarke] into a Democratic partisan? Oddly enough, it appears that the turning point came in August 1998 and was a combination of two things: the Monica Lewinsky scandal and al-Qaeda's attacks on two American embassies. It was only a couple of years earlier that the CIA had finally connected the dots and figured out that the al-Qaeda organization even existed, and the embassy bombings were their first major attack since then. Unfortunately, Republican opportunism made it hard to fight back. Although Clarke says he was 'beyond mad' at Clinton for failing to keep his zipper shut, he became flatly infuriated with the recklessness of his conservative opposition:

I was angrier, almost incredulous, that the bitterness of Clinton's enemies knew no bounds, that they intended to hurt not just Clinton but the country by turning the President's personal problem into a global, public circus for their own political ends. Now I feared that the timing of the President's interrogation about the scandal, August 17, would get in the way of our hitting the al Qaeda meeting.

....Our response to two deadly terroist attacks was an attempt to wipe out al Qaeda leadership, yet it quickly became grist for the right-wing talk radio mill and part of the Get Clinton campaign. That reaction made it more difficult to get approval for follow-up attacks on al Qaeda, such as my later attempts to persuade the Principals to forget about finding bin Laden and just bomb the training camps.

This is what is driving the Republican right berserk. The growing horror of realizing just what they did when they paralyzed the Clinton administration.

Bush is in no danger of impeachment, but despite my belief that he and his partisans are a very bad news for the US and the world, I would not want Bush hounded the way Clinton was. It will suffice to retire him calmly and completely.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Star Telegram | 03/28/2004 | Molly Ivins and the Hart-Rudman report of 1/31/2001

Molly Ivins - Star Telegram | 03/28/2004 | A brief, shining moment amid the mud storm
... This thesis is born out by the eerily prescient and tragically ignored Hart-Rudman report on terrorism, presented on Jan. 31, 2001. (And let me point out that the media deserve much blame here, as well: All the networks ignored it entirely save for CNN, which did it justice. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal never printed a line about it, though The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times both did thorough jobs.)

That commission concluded, "Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers." It recommended a series of practical and effective steps.

Of the various institutions, Congress deserves some credit for trying to pick up on the report, which clearly would have moved us ahead by six months on terrorism planning. Donald Rumsfeld, not one of my favorites, also deserves credit for vigorously backing the report.

Congress scheduled a hearing on the Hart-Rudman report for May 7, 2001, but according to reports at the time, the White House stifled the move because it did not want Congress out in front on the issue.

True, the report was initiated by Clinton, but the commission was bipartisan and included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republicans. On May 5, the White House announced that rather than adopt Hart-Rudman, it was forming its own committee on terrorism headed by Vice President Dick Cheney. That group never met.

Odd that Rumsfeld was an advocate, but Cheney dropped the ball. What was going on there?

It does seem like yet another validation of Clarke's thesis.

The CNN article Molly Ivins mentions is still online. That's good, because on reading it one can see the problems with it. The focus on science and engineering education as a crisis may have blunted its impact. This is in the good old days, when the now almost forgotten Oklahoma strike (remember when the nation thought it was an Iraqi attack?) was still on people's minds ... - Guarding against an attack - February 1, 2001

New steps needed to prevent terrorism in U.S., panel says

The guilty verdict in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the scheduled execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh have renewed awareness of the perils and possibilities of terrorism. An expert panel, convened by the U.S. Defense Department, said this week that America is vulnerable to a "catastrophic attack," recommending a reorganization of several government agencies to combat terrorism and increased investment in education and scientific research. While few officials doubt the group's research, some question whether these suggestions are possible and necessary.

WASHINGTON -- A "catastrophic attack" is likely to strike the United States in the next 25 years, and the National Guard should be retrained as America's main protector against such an assault, an advisory commission on national security said this week.

In its report issued Wednesday, the panel recommended a reorganization of the State and Defense departments and more investment in education and scientific research.

Additionally, the commission recommended the creation of an independent Cabinet-level National Homeland Security Agency to coordinate a national strategy against terrorism.

"If we have a disaster, and we think it is quite probable in the next 20 to 25 years, we're not prepared to deal with it," former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman, R-New Hampshire, and co-chairman of the commission, told CNN.

The bipartisan U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century was headed by Rudman and former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart, D-Colorado, and includes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Georgia, among its 14 members.

The panel, commissioned by the Defense Department, spent more than two years making its evaluations, which included hundreds of interviews with national security experts.

The second-biggest threat is inadequate scientific research and education, something the panel said poses "a greater threat to U.S. national security ... than any potential conventional war that we might imagine."

The United States is presently not prepared to deal with terrorism on its home soil, says former U.S. Sen. Warren Rudman

The commission said the United States will lose its technical edge upon which national security is based if dramatic steps are not taken soon to increase the number of Americans studying advanced science, math and engineering.

As a result, the report recommends a "science and technical education act" offering loans to college students studying science, math and engineering, with the loans being forgiven if the student agrees to work for the government for a given number of years.

"We put science, and science and math education, second ... because we believe it's second only to the threat of a weapon of mass destruction (hitting) one of our cities," Gingrich said.

"The national security establishment has to look seriously at how much" is spent on such programs, Gingrich added.

The proposed security agency would take over the Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, the Coast Guard, the FBI counterterrorism center and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others. The proposed agency also would assume responsibility for cyber security from the Commerce Department and the FBI.

"Some serious gaps presently exist," said Hart, noting that more than 40 agencies currently respond to various threats or attacks. "They are not presently coordinated either to protect, prevent or respond to a major terrorist attack."

Added Rudman: "We're not talking about creating a new bureaucracy. We're talking about taking a number of bureaucracies and consolidating them into one streamlined organization."

Rudman said the nation needs to be able to respond adequately to potential terrorists who could use chemical, biological or even small nuclear devices to cause destruction in the United States.

State National Guard units would take on homeland security as their primary task under the commission's proposals. The commission also recommended a series of upgrades of U.S. intelligence gathering against potential terrorists.

Giving the Guard an elevated role is not a new idea. The Clinton administration, for instance, had planned for the Guard to operate a national missile defense system, should one be deployed.

While the commission does have strong backing, many of its recommendations are likely to face stiff opposition due to the magnitude of some of the changes.

The panel also advised higher pay and better benefits for military personnel, particularly captains and majors, where attrition rates are highest.

Federal agencies are poorly coordinated to respond to terrorism, says former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart

On another front, the report argues that the National Security Council at the White House has too much power and should be strictly limited to giving the president advice on policy.

"Ever since (former Secretary of State Henry) Kissinger, it has become more and more operational," said one commission member, "because they don't have any congressional oversight to speak of so they can do whatever the president wants them to do -- à la Oliver North."

The operational power should be returned to the State Department, the commission report argued.

Bush administration officials said they will look closely at the commission's recommendations. But the proposal for a National Homeland Security Agency is sure to stir controversy, because it will take resources away from some well-entrenched agencies.

And critics such as James Steinberg, who was former President Bill Clinton's deputy national security adviser, said agencies simply need better cooperation in the fight against terrorism, not another new agency.

The 2001 concern about science and engineering deficits as a threat to national security is interesting -- especially in light of today's outsourcing impact. US students are starting to avoid those domains; they may be right -- trade theory predicts outsourcing will have a devastating effect on many engineering and knowledge domains.

Jared Bernstein & Brad DeLong on "Outsourcing": a dialog with interesting discussions

Note: Jared Bernstein on "Outsourcing": Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

Very interesting posting from Bernstein. DeLong gives an uncharacteristically very weak response, but the comment threads are very interesting. Very much in line with what I've written about for years (mostly personal correspondences). Neo-feudalism beckons!

JK Galbraith junior has a related article in Salon pummeling the Economist. Alas, the Economist is not what it was 10 years ago. It's been infected by rejects from the WSJ.

It's good that we're starting on these topics. Again, I think we need to sever benefits from employment, have mandatory-contribution 529 like plans for use during periods of underemployment, subsidize education and retraining, initiate consumption taxation and estate taxes, etc. etc.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

How and why the Neocons missed 9/11, and why they may still be clueless

Peter R. Neumann, NYT OpEd: Why Nobody Saw 9/11 Coming

I love it when someone like this lays it all out in a way that's clear and convincing. The author is a research fellow in international terrorism at the Department of War Studies, King's College London. He combines a military with the tradition of clear minded UK thinking. I'm sure he didn't write the title however -- it's clearly untrue and contradicts his writing. Shame on the NYT headline writers!

The only criticism I'd make of this article is that he fails to fully emphasize the critical role of technologic progress and the dissemination of education in the growth of non-state terrorism.
LONDON — Did the Bush administration, before the 9/11 attacks, fail to take terrorism seriously enough? At first the contention seems unlikely. Isn't this the most hawkish administration in living memory?...

... there is something to these accusations — although perhaps not in the sense that the people making them intend. The administration's early failures on terrorism cannot be pinned down to individual instances of "neglect." To understand what really went wrong, we need to go back to the last decades of the cold war, when people like Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, and Vice President Dick Cheney first started to make sense of terrorism.

In the 1970's and 80's, the predominant view among Washington hawks was that none of the various terrorist groups that operated in Western Europe and the Middle East was truly independent. They were all connected through a vast terrorist network, which was created and supported by the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. The Communists' aim, the hawks believed, was to destabilize the Western societies without being directly linked to violence.

It all seemed to make perfect sense, and books like "The Terror Network" by Claire Sterling [1981, she later followed up with a 1994 book on organized crime], which argued the network hypothesis with considerable force and conviction, became essential reading for anyone who wanted to make his way in the Reagan White House.

...According to the classically "realist" mindset, only states can pose a significant threat to the national security of other states, because lesser actors simply do not have the capacity, sophistication and resources to do so... it was only by tackling the state sponsors (in this case, the Soviet bloc), that you could root out the terrorists.

With the end of the cold war, however, things changed. While there was no longer a prime state sponsor for any "terror network," there was also no longer any need for one. It became easy to travel from one country to another. Money could be collected and transferred around the globe. Cell phones and the Internet made it possible to maintain tight control of an elusive group that could move its "headquarters" across continents. In fact, by the end of the decade, it seemed as if the model of state-sponsored terrorism had effectively been reversed: Al Qaeda was now in charge of a state — Afghanistan under the Taliban — rather than vice versa.

But the Washington hawks failed to see what was happening. The world around them had changed, but their paradigm hadn't. For them, states continued to be the only real movers and shakers in the international system, and any serious "strategic" threat to America's security could only come from an established nation.

Consider an article in the January/February 2000 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine by Condoleezza Rice, titled "Campaign 2000 — Promoting the National Interest." Ms. Rice, spelling out the foreign policy priorities of a Bush White House, argued that after years of drift under the Clinton administration, United States foreign policy had to concentrate on the "real challenges" to American security. This included renewing "strong and intimate relationships" with allies, and focusing on "big powers, particularly Russia and China." In Ms. Rice's view, the threat of non-state terrorism was a secondary problem — in her to do list" it was under the category of "rogue regimes," to be tackled best by dealing "decisively with the threat of hostile powers."

...Sept. 11, 2001, brought about a quick re-orientation of foreign policy. What didn't change, however, was the state-centered mindset of the people who were in charge. According to Mr. Clarke, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld immediately suspected Saddam Hussein, and suggested military strikes against Iraq. While cooler heads prevailed at the time, and there was a real effort to track down and destroy the Qaeda network, there was also a reluctance to abandon the idea that terrorism had to be state-based. Hence the administration's insistence that there must be an "axis of evil" — a group of states critical in sustaining the terrorists. It was an attempt to reconcile the new, confusing reality with long-established paradigm of state sponsorship.

In the end, the 9/11 hearings are likely to find that the intelligence failure that led to the horrific attacks stemmed from the longstanding problems of wrongly placed agents, failed communications between government departments and lack of resources. But it was also a failure of vision — one for which the current administration must take responsibility.

There have been two consistent themes in analyses of the Bush administration thus far:

1. Bush likes simple answers. He's not stupid, but his reasoning is heavily faith-based. He has tremendous confidence in his intuition.

2. Rumsfeld, Cheney et al were mired in a world that had passed them by. Remember the missile defense initiative? Many editorials asked how this was supposed to protect us from backpack nukes.

The idea that only states could threaten states was true once. But the cost of weaponry falls much faster than the costs of defense. That trendline continues.

The Rice Foreign Affairs article validates Clarke's testimony. Rice is not stupid, but she was wrong. She knows better than to admit that, but she was simply wrong.

This isn't merely academic, or even about historical justice. The Bush administration STILL doesn't get it.

Friday, March 26, 2004

If Clinton had not been impeached, or if Gore had won ... would 9/11 have been prevented? The conclusion Bush is running from ...

Could We Have Prevented 9/11? - Slate tells you what Richard Clarke's book reveals about the Bush and Clinton administrations' war on terror. By Julia Turner
Although the book amounts to a chronicle of what many in the present Bush administration did wrong (and what Clarke and Clinton did right), it is neither shrill nor overly self-congratulatory. Unlike some of the books Slate has diced and julienned in this space, this one's worth reading, mostly for Clarke's informed account of al-Qaida's rise and the U.S. government's awareness of the threat. But since you may not have time to read the whole thing, Slate presents Clarke's most salient pieces of criticism and praise.

Bottom line, the Clinton administration did a good job and they'd have done an even better job if the hell-hounds of the Republican party had not been striving to destroy Clinton.

It's not so much that the Bush cronies did a bad job. Yes, they were arrogant and stupidly dismissive of the Clinton administration. Yes, they had severe misconceptions that caused critical delays. Yes, they were obsessed with Iraq and missed the bigger picture. Yes, Bush is not a strong thinker. BUT, despite their myriad failings, they were heading in the right direction. They're arrogant, foolish, irrational and often wrong -- but they're not dumb.

No, what really enrages Bush et al is how well the Clinton administration comes across. They are left with two terrible, unthinkable and thus far unspoken conclusions:

1. Gore might well have done better than Bush at preventing 9/11.
2. If Clinton had not been impeached, 9/11 might have been stopped.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

No, we really can't diagnose abuse by physical exam

BBC NEWS | Health | Doubt over shaken baby diagnosis: "Scientists have cast doubt over the theory that certain eye injuries are a sign a baby has been violently shaken.
This whole business is a much greater scandal than physician over-enthusiasm for estrogen replacement.

In the 80s we thought certain vaginal findings were proof of abuse. Until recently in the UK a second case of SIDS in a family was considered proof of murder. Some have thought that retinal bleeds were a sure sign of shaken baby syndrome. Before we understood von-willebrand's disorder I'm sure bruises in affected children led to abuse cases. At one time certain warts were felt to guarantee child abuse (that may still appear in textbooks, but I wonder how good the science is).

Crappy science, crappy logic. There's something about the horror of infant abuse that drives people to nutty conclusions, and drives thoughtful researchers far from the domain. There is no good, reliable, test for child abuse short of the most extreme findings. I doubt we'll ever have one -- unless we research in advanced "lie detection" actually works out. We'll either err towards removing children from loving and trustworthy homes, or err towards leaving them to be hurt and abused. There are no perfect solutions, which is why child-protective services is such a terribly hard business.

BBC NEWS | Health | Aids risk reduced SIX-FOLD by circumcision?!!

BBC NEWS | Health | Aids risk 'cut by circumcision'
en who have been circumcised may be six times less likely to contract the HIV virus than uncircumcised men, research carried out in India suggests.


If we had a vaccine that reduced infection 6-fold we'd be singing in the streets. This is damned amazing -- if true. It seems too great an effect to be real.

But if it is ...

Whack 'em off. (ouch!)

PS. I've circumcised lots of (male) babies. It's pretty barbaric, though nowadays we at least use anaesthetics. I hated it, but figured it was an American cultural tradition I just had to put up with. Now it looks like there might be an amazingly good reason to lose the foreskin. Circumcising adults is more challenging.

BBC NEWS | Europe | The EU has a terror plan. Now.

BBC NEWS | Europe | Key elements of EU terror action plan
The European Union's summit in Brussels is being dominated by the need to co-ordinate and co-operate in countering terrorism.

This was drawn up by EU interior ministers on 19 March - a week after the Madrid bombings - and then adopted by foreign ministers on 22 March.

In the days when I chaired a (small) hospital "quality assurance" committee, I was frustrated because I could only effect change in response to serious patient injury rather than before bad things happened.

I was young then. I figured it was just the group I was with; that a more forward thinking group would be proactive, not reactive.

It took me a surprisingly long time to realize that humans are hardly ever proactive. It's simply not in us. We can only react to what's happened, not what is likely to happen.

If some alien species writes our obituary, it will read -- "reactive, not proactive".

Clarke Humilitates his interrogators, GWB gets help from Fox/Pravda (WaPo

Clarke Stays Cool as Partisanship Heats Up (
The Sept. 11 commission shed its bipartisan spirit and turned a Senate hearing room into a courtroom yesterday for the testimony of Richard A. Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief-turned-Bush administration whistle-blower.

... Shortly before the hearing, the White House violated its long-standing rules by authorizing Fox News to air remarks favorable to Bush that Clarke had made anonymously at an administration briefing in 2002. The White House press secretary read passages from the 2002 remarks at his televised briefing...

Back at the hearing, former Illinois governor James R. Thompson, a Republican member of the commission, took up the cause, waving the Fox News transcript with one hand and Clarke's critical book in the other. "Which is true?" Thompson demanded, folding his arms and glowering down at the witness.

Clarke, appearing unfazed by the apparent contradiction between his current criticism and previous praise, spoke to Thompson as if addressing a slow student.

"I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done," he explained. "I've done it for several presidents."

With each effort by Thompson to highlight Clarke's inconsistency -- "the policy on Uzbekistan, was it changed?" -- Clarke tutored the commissioner about the obligations of a White House aide. Thompson, who had far exceeded his allotted time, frowned contemptuously. "I think a lot of things beyond the tenor and the tone bother me about this," he said. During a second round of questioning, Thompson returned to the subject, questioning Clarke's "standard of candor and morality."

"I don't think it's a question of morality at all; I think it's a question of politics," Clarke snapped.

Thompson had to wait for Sept. 11, 2001, victims' relatives in the gallery to stop applauding before he pleaded ignorance of the ways of Washington. "I'm from the Midwest, so I think I'll leave it there," he said. Moments later, Thompson left the hearing room and did not return.

... Republican commissioners labored to change that reputation. Fred F. Fielding implied that Clarke may have perjured himself when he spoke to a congressional investigation into the attacks but did not raise complaints about Bush's Iraq policy then. Clarke, though the back of his neck and head were a burning red, replied coolly: "I wasn't asked, sir."

The gallery drew quiet when Lehman questioned Clarke. "I have genuinely been a fan of yours," he began, and then he said how he had hoped Clarke would be "the Rosetta Stone" for the commission. "But now we have the book," Lehman said, suggesting it was a partisan tract.

Clarke was ready for that challenge. "Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raised it," he said, noting that he registered as a Republican in 2000 and served President Ronald Reagan. "The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high-level position in the Kerry campaign," Clarke said. "So let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one."

When Clarke finished his answer, there was a long pause, and the gallery was silent. Lehman smiled slightly and nodded. He had no further questions.

The gray bureaucrat outguns the pompous senators. Lovely. Washington veterans are tough bastards.

Fox once again plays its role as the American Pravda. In this case, however, they probably didn't do anything wrong. They did earn themselves some political favors, which they'll use wisely. Bush may be corrupt, but he keeps his promises -- to his donors.

In retrospect, even distracted by the insane assaults of the republican right, the Clinton administration comes out well head of the early GWB administration in defending the nation. That must so enrage Bush.

How nice that Kerry didn't have to spend money on attack ads this week.

Wapo is very confused about Microsoft

Regulators, Rivals React (
The European Union's decision yesterday to fine Microsoft Corp. and require it to make alternate versions of its Windows operating system is a tougher and more far-reaching approach than the one taken by the Justice Department in a similar U.S. case.

When that happens, legal experts said yesterday, it can be hard for companies to know how to behave, which is why regulators on both sides of the Atlantic work to minimize such disagreements.

Idiot. The US court that found Microsoft to be a monopoly, and in breach of antitrust law, advocated splitting the company in two. That's MUCH tougher and more appropriate than the relatively limp wristed EU judgment.

Gates made the appropriate donations every businessman has to make, and GWB accepted them. Being an honorable crook, GWB had his administration effectively drop the case.

There's a very intersting case playing out in the Minnesota courts, far from the limelight. This case is exposing how Gates and Co crushed the "Go Corporation" in the 1980s/90s. They were only then emerging into full power, and were relatively crude about destroying perceived threats.

The EU decision is to weak to really impact Microsoft. In any case it will be appealed and more donations will be made along the way. I don't expect much impact.

The only threat to Microsoft is China and India deciding they can't trust their inftrastructure to a US company and instead funding Linux development. I think that's rather a longshot.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Kaplan on Clarke: it's as bad as it looks

Dick Clarke Is Telling the Truth - Why he's right about Bush's negligence on terrorism. By Fred Kaplan

Interesting tidbit from Kaplan. After Clarke came another exit, this one voluntary.:
Most pertinent, Rand Beers, the official who succeeded Clarke after he left the White House in February 2003, resigned in protest just one month later—five days before the Iraqi war started—for precisely the same reason that Clarke quit. In June, he told the Washington Post, "The administration wasn't matching its deeds to its words in the war on terror. They're making us less secure, not more." And: "The difficult, long-term issues both at home and abroad have been avoided, neglected or shortchanged, and generally underfunded."
Kaplan's review is dead-on and devastating. I hadn't imagined the Bush situation was this bad. He concludes:
The Principals meeting, which Clarke urgently requested during Bush's first week in office, did not take place until one week before 9/11. In his 60 Minutes interview, Clarke spelled out the significance of this delay. He contrasted July 2001 with December 1999, when the Clinton White House got word of an impending al-Qaida attack on Los Angeles International Airport and Principals meetings were called instantly and repeatedly:

In December '99, every day or every other day, the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA, the Attorney General had to go to the White House and sit in a meeting and report on all the things that they personally had done to stop the al Qaeda attack, so they were going back every night to their departments and shaking the trees personally and finding out all the information. If that had happened in July of 2001, we might have found out in the White House, the Attorney General might have found out that there were al Qaeda operatives in the United States. FBI, at lower levels, knew [but] never told me, never told the highest levels in the FBI. ... We could have caught those guys and then we might have been able to pull that thread and get more of the conspiracy. I'm not saying we could have stopped 9/11, but we could have at least had a chance.
The consistent pattern is that Bush is confident in his own vision. He sees the world not as it is, but as he thinks it is.

Psychotic schizophrenics have similar attributes -- delusions are all about confidence and decisiveness. Bush is more mystical than rational, more intuitive than logical, and maybe even a bit delusional. These are good traits in a religious leader, bad traits in a modern president. Bush should have been an evangelist.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

NOVA | The Elegant Universe -- Online

NOVA | The Elegant Universe | Watch the Program | PBS
You can pick segments of 10 or so minutes apiece to watch. Quicktime or RealVideo. Ahhh, PBS.

Phil Carter has some excellent commentary on Clarke and GWB

INTEL DUMPGreat overview.

Why your daughters should be roofers -- not architects

BW Online, Aaron Bernstein | March 22, 2004 | One Giant Global Labor Pool?
Americans have become increasingly worried over the past year about the lack of job growth in an otherwise strong economy, amid fears that the "offshoring" of white-collar work is a key culprit...

A number of economists are worried, too -- but, unlike the politicians, not about how many jobs the U.S. will create between now and November. They're concentrating instead on an aspect of international job competition that hasn't yet gotten much notice: The conceivably widespread impact, at some point, on U.S. incomes and living standards.

...It may sound premature to be concerned about that. For instance, no one has even been able to pinpoint precisely how many white-collar positions have moved overseas of late -- and many economists doubt that the number is high enough to make it a primary cause of sluggish employment gains. Even if a few hundred thousand jobs have departed for low-wage countries such as China and India in recent years, that number pales beside the routine job flux in the U.S., points out Harvard University trade economist Robert Z. Lawrence. In 2002, the latest year for which full data is available, 32.1 million jobs in the U.S. disappeared, while 31.7 million were created, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Even so, the recent transfer to other countries of so-called knowledge work -- jobs requiring lots of education and creative skills -- could be a signal of what lies ahead. For a precedent, look at what globalization has done to the pay of less-skilled U.S. factory workers over the past three decades or so. As low-wage countries developed the ability to produce things such as apparel, electronics, and textiles, Americans in those industries found themselves competing with people who'll work for a tenth of their pay. This has exerted downward pressure on U.S. factory wages that continues today.

True, the domestic economy usually plays a larger role in wage-setting than does foreign competition. That became clear during the boom of the late 1990s, when red-hot demand for employees who were in short supply more than offset the globalization effect and lifted pay of even the lowest-skilled Americans. Still, in non-boom times the downward tug from abroad is powerful. It's probably one reason average inflation-adjusted wages in the U.S. have slumped by 0.1% in the past year. Without the countervailing force of full employment in America, foreign competition rules.

... That's why the spread of global labor competition to the top of the skill ladder could be so significant. The ability of U.S. companies to find architects, engineers, programmers, and financial analysts in places like India for a fraction of what they cost at home almost certainly will create a dampening effect, sooner or later, on the pay of the 80% of U.S. employees who until now have been unaffected by such global job competition. "White-collar offshoring will make the wage outlook worse for high-skilled Americans, no question," says Brookings Institution economist William T. Dickens.

Indeed, trade theory suggests that the impact ultimately could be larger for high-skilled workers than it has been for the lesser-educated. As the world increasingly begins to look like one big labor pool, market forces should tend to move wages everywhere toward the same level for similar work, all else being equal. After all, employers won't pay more for labor in one country if they can easily get the same work done elsewhere for less. They wouldn't remain competitive for long if they did.

Problem is, all else isn't necessarily equal: Wages tend to move toward equilibrium only after productivity is factored into the equation. If American apparel workers earn $10 for making 10 shirts, their pay starts to come under pressure only when a Mexican worker can churn out the same quality shirts for less than $1 each. That has happened with apparel, so the U.S. has lost many clothes-making jobs. But U.S. skill and technology have made many factories at home more productive than their foreign counterparts -- one reason that all American factory jobs haven't shifted abroad.

"DIRECT COMPETITION." The question that white collar offshoring raises is whether American professionals are more productive than their Chinese or Indian rivals. If the answer is no, the result could be sobering. Many of the highest-skilled jobs that are fleeing offshore seem to depend more on brainpower than on capital or technology -- the last lines of defense in manufacturing. After all, a software programmer with sufficient smarts and education needs only an office, a computer, and plenty of caffeine to do a good job. So if an Indian programmer can produce as much high-quality code as an American one, wage equalization for programmers may occur at a faster pace than it has for apparel workers...

Not bad. Economists aren't yet concerned about the outsourcing effect, but there are strong theoretical reasons to expect huge impacts in the next decade.

The net effect is more wealth everywhere, but the distribution, as always, will be uneven. Architects, accountants, legal aides -- the losers will be widespread. The author calls for more education, etc. That's far from enough. We need to change the way we related to employment; we need to make it something we move in and out of with appropriate modifications to savings, benefits, etc. The impact will be strongest where a foreign worker can be "virtually" insourced. The enabling technology here is definitely the Internet.

Oh, and why roofers? Can't do virtual outsourcing.

George Bush's Resume

Google Bush's Resume

A friend forwarded an email spoof of GWB's resume. It came without attribution, so I tried a Google search to see who claimed it. I found 29,500 links, mostly to variations on the spoof. The email was better than most I scanned -- evidently it's gone through some evolutionary improvements. So here's yet another example of it, with my selected emphases. BTW, I don't consider GWB's substance abuse history all that relevant -- except that his acolytes felt Clinton's inhalations were somehow remarkable.
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, DC 20520


Law Enforcement:

I was arrested in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 1976 for driving under the
influence of alcohol. I pled guilty, paid a fine, and had my driver's
license suspended for 30 days. My Texas driving record has been "lost" and
is not available.


I joined the Texas Air National Guard and went AWOL. I refused to take a
drug test
or answer any questions about my drug use. By joining the Texas
Air National Guard, I was able to avoid combat duty in Vietnam.


I graduated from Yale University with a low C average. I was a cheerleader.


I ran for U.S. Congress and lost. I began my career in the oil business in
Midland,Texas, in 1975. I bought an oil company, but couldn't find any oil
in Texas. The company went bankrupt shortly after I sold all my stock.

I bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a sweetheart deal that took land
using taxpayer money.

With the help of my father and our friends in the oil industry (including
Enron CEO Ken Lay), I was elected governor of Texas.


I changed Texas pollution laws to favor power and oil companies, making
Texas the most polluted state in the Union. During my tenure, Houston
replaced Los Angeles as the most smog-ridden city in America.

I cut taxes and bankrupted the Texas treasury to the tune of billions in
borrowed money.

I set the record for the most executions by any governor in American

With the help of my brother, the governor of Florida, and my father's
appointments to the Supreme Court, I became President after losing by over
500,000 votes.


I am the first President in U.S. history to enter office with a criminal

I invaded and occupied two countries at a continuing cost of over one
billion dollars per week.

I spent the U.S. surplus and effectively bankrupted the U.S. Treasury.

I shattered the record for the largest annual deficit in U.S. history.

I set an economic record for most private bankruptcies filed in any 12-month

I set the all-time record for most foreclosures in a 12-month period.

I set the all-time record for the biggest drop in the history of U.S. stock

In my first year in office, over 2 million Americans lost their jobs and
that trend continues every month.

I'm proud that the members of my cabinet are the richest of any
administration in U.S. history. My "poorest millionaire," Condoleeza Rice,
has a Chevron oil tanker named after her.

I set the record for most campaign fund-raising trips by a U.S. President.

I am the all-time U.S. and world record-holder for receiving the most
corporate campaign donations.

My largest lifetime campaign contributor, and one of my best friends,
Kenneth Lay, presided over the largest corporate bankruptcy fraud in U.S.
history, Enron.

My political party used Enron private jets and corporate attorneys to assure
my success with the U.S. Supreme Court during my election decision.

I have protected my friends at Enron and Halliburton against investigation
or prosecution.

More time and money was spent investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair than
has been spent investigating one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in

I presided over the biggest energy crisis in U.S. history and refused to
intervene when corruption involving the oil industry was revealed.

I presided over the highest gasoline prices in U.S. history.

I changed the U.S. policy to allow convicted criminals to be awarded
government contracts.

I appointed more convicted criminals to administration than any President in
U.S. history.

I created the Ministry of Homeland Security, the largest bureaucracy in the
history of the United States government.

I've broken more international treaties than any President in U.S. history.

I am the first President in U.S. history to have the United Nations remove
the U.S. from the Human Rights Commission.

I withdrew the U.S. from the World Court of Law.

I refused to allow inspector's access to U.S. "prisoners of war" detainees
and thereby have refused to abide by the Geneva Convention.

I am the first President in history to refuse United Nations election
inspectors (during the 2002 U.S. election).

I set the record for fewest numbers of press conferences of any President
since the advent of television.

I set the all-time record for most days on vacation in any one-year period.

After taking off the entire month of August 2001, I presided over the worst
security failure in U.S. history.

I garnered the most sympathy for the U.S. after the World Trade Center
attacks and less than a year later made the U.S. the most hated country in
the world, the largest failure of diplomacy in world history.

I have set the all-time record for most people worldwide to simultaneously
protest me in public venues (15 million people), shattering the record for
protests against any person in the history of mankind.

I am the first President in U.S. history to order an unprovoked, pre-emptive
attack and the military occupation of a sovereign nation. I did so against
the will of the United Nations, the majority of U.S. citizens, and the
world community.

I have cut health care benefits for war veterans and support a cut in duty
benefits for active duty troops and their families in wartime.

In my State of the Union Address, I lied about our reasons for attacking
Iraq and then blamed the lies on our British friends.

I am the first President in history to have a majority of Europeans (71%)
view my presidency as the biggest threat to world peace and security.

I am supporting development of a nuclear "Tactical Bunker Buster," a WMD.

I have so far failed to fulfill my pledge to bring Osama bin Laden to


All records of my tenure as governor of Texas are now in my father's
library, sealed and unavailable for public view. All records of SEC
investigations into my insider trading and my bankrupt companies are
sealed in secrecy and unavailable for public view.

All records or minutes from meetings that I, or my Vice-President, attended
regarding public energypolicy are sealed in secrecy and unavailable for
public review.


Monday, March 22, 2004

Speech, Journalism, and American Pravda

Frank Rich (NYT): Après Janet, a Deluge
If we lived in Afghanistan under the Taliban, perhaps it might make sense that Janet Jackson's breast (not even the matched set!) would lead to one of the most hysterical outbreaks of Puritanism in recent, even not-so-recent, American history...

Not all of this can be pinned on Ms. Jackson's nipple ring. This story dates back to 9/11, or, more specifically, to two weeks after, when the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, condemned a historically astute Bill Maher wisecrack about America's "cowardly" pre-9/11 pursuit of Al Qaeda. Mr. Fleischer warned Americans that they should "watch what they say," and some Americans took heed. Mr. Maher's "Politically Incorrect" was dropped by a few network affiliates and advertisers and then canceled by ABC.

The message had been sent that governmental media management was in play, and we've seen its ramifications ever since — whether in the docility and self-censorship of the news media in the run-up to the Iraq war or in an episode as relatively trivial as CBS's dropping of "The Reagans." While the current uproar over broadcast indecency is ostensibly all about sex, it is still all about politics, especially in an election year when a culture war rages. Washington's latest crew of Puritan enforcers — in the administration, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission — are all pandering to a censorious Republican political base that is the closest thing America has to its own Taliban. The media giants, fearful of losing the deregulatory financial favors the federal government can bestow, will knuckle under accordingly until the coast is clear.

...Censorship is when the government suppresses speech, so, technically at least, Howard Stern, like Bill Maher before him, has not been censored. The only sanction applied to Mr. Stern's show so far has been the action taken by a corporation, Clear Channel Communications, which yanked him from six stations it owns, as it is freely entitled to do. (Mr. Stern's program, a product of Viacom, continues to air on roughly 35 other stations.)

But the story line is more subtle than that. Both Clear Channel's founder, Lowry Mays, and a director, Thomas Hicks, have long financial associations with George W. Bush, whether as recent campaign contributors or past business cronies (in the Texas Rangers, in Mr. Hicks's case). Clear Channel needs Washington's powers-that-be to protect its huge share of the radio market. It's only after Mr. Stern turned against Mr. Bush on the air that Clear Channel dropped his show, which is otherwise no more or less racy and politically incorrect than it always has been. A Clear Channel executive told Bill Carter of The New York Times this week that his company had "no political agenda," but those words seem like spin when weighed against the actions of its stations and personnel.

It was another of that company's talk show stars, Glenn Beck, who convened pro-war "Rallies for America," some paid for by Clear Channel stations, to counter antiwar dissent last year. Clear Channel stations were also prominent among those that dumped the Dixie Chicks from their playlists after Natalie Maines's dustup with Mr. Bush. If anything, the company's political affiliations are somewhat more consistent than its enforcement of good taste; last month the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable cited Clear Channel's penchant for "tolerating shock jocks so raw they'd make Howard Stern blush." Even as it dropped Mr. Stern and another long-running show, "Bubba the Love Sponge," for indecency, The Daily News reported that one of the company's New York outlets, Z-100, was promoting Eamon's "I Don't Want You Back," a fount of sexual innuendo that contains the four-letter version of the contraband Bono word in its full title.

Clear Channel's banishment of Mr. Stern has troubled even clear-cut Bush allies. In what must be a first, the conservative Sean Hannity and the liberal Alan Colmes on Fox were in agreement that, in Mr. Hannity's words, "this is chilling because I think at the end of the day, those people that have conservative viewpoints on the radio can similarly be targeted." Rush Limbaugh said, "I haven't ever heard the Howard Stern show, but when the federal government gets involved in this, I get a little frightened." He wondered what would happen if "John Kerry-John Edwards-Bill Clinton-Terry McAuliffe types end up running this country someday again" and decide that "conservative opinion is indecent" because it "causes violence." (Some days later, perhaps after realizing Mr. Stern's anti-Bush animus, he took to defending Clear Channel, with whom he is in partnership, in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed piece.)

... Entertainment built on violence and sex, in other words, isn't going away as long as Americans lap it up. Even now, two networks that missed out on CBS's Janet Jackson action on Super Bowl Sunday have booked her in the weeks to come — ABC for "Good Morning America" and NBC for "Saturday Night Live." Ms. Jackson's nipple ring, meanwhile, still peeks out of a CBS Web site even as the more insidious indecency, of callow media giants bedding down with cynical politicians, remains largely under wraps

Rich is hopeful that corporate interests will ensure a full package of sex and violence reaches all Americans, irregardless of government intent. No argument there -- Rome will have its circuses. Rome, however, was not known for its vibrant democracy. The real concern is not nipple exposure, it's political exposure. Aside from a few rabid bloggers and some veteran columnists, who's exposing what this administration is up to? Few younger journalists can afford loss of sources and/or loss of employment. Independent journalists can't afford major investigative works.

In an era of media consolidation and Rovian ruthlessness, Clear Channel is a greater threat to our freedom than the American Taliban. Our American Pravda will be profitable.

Bush's 9/11 Obsession: It had to be Iraq (

Aide's Book Faults Bush 9/11 Response (
... For Clarke, then in his 10th year as a top White House official, that day marked the transition from neglect to folly in the Bush administration's stewardship of war with Islamic extremists. His account -- in 'Against All Enemies,' which reaches bookstores today, and in interviews accompanying publication -- is the first detailed portrait of the Bush administration's wartime performance by a major participant. Acknowledged by foes and friends as a leading figure among career national security officials, Clarke served more than two years in the Bush White House after holding senior posts under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He resigned 13 months ago yesterday.

Although expressing points of disagreement with all four presidents, Clarke reserves by far his strongest language for George W. Bush. The president, he said, 'failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from al Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks.' The rapid shift of focus to Saddam Hussein, Clarke writes, 'launched an unnecessary and costly war in Iraq that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide.'

Among the motives for the war, Clarke argues, were the politics of the 2002 midterm election. 'The crisis was manufactured, and Bush political adviser Karl Rove was telling Republicans to 'run on the war,' ' Clarke writes.

Clarke describes his book, in the preface, as 'factual, not polemical,' and he said in an interview that he was a registered Republican in the 2000 election. But the book arrives amid a general election campaign in which Bush asks to be judged as a wartime president, and Clarke has thrust himself loudly among the critics. Publication also coincides with politically sensitive public testimony this week by Clinton and Bush administration officials -- including Clarke -- before an independent commission investigating the events of Sept. 11.

... "Any leader whom one can imagine as president on September 11 would have declared a 'war on terrorism' and would have ended the Afghan sanctuary [for al Qaeda] by invading," Clarke writes. "What was unique about George Bush's reaction" was the additional choice to invade "not a country that had been engaging in anti-U.S. terrorism but one that had not been, Iraq." In so doing, he estranged allies, enraged potential friends in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and produced "more terrorists than we jail or shoot."

"It was as if Osama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting 'invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq,' " Clarke writes.

Senior civil servants like Clarke are the people who truly govern our nation. When they resign things are very bad.

Note the reference to the 9/11 committee. It's easy to see why Hastert and Bush have wanted to kill the 9/11 committee -- including chairing it with someone who shares Bush's negligence.

It looks like Bush was wrong to believe Saddam was involved with 9/11. But right or wrong, it's very clear Bush had no particular evidence to justify his beliefs. He believed his intuition, and had no use for contrary facts or opinions.

Bush is certainly decisive. Decisively irrational.

Two comments on the last statements. Some particularly craven journalists give Bush credit for deciding to invade Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter, much criticised for an allegedly pacifist and indecisive nature, wouldn't have hesitated for a fraction of second to invade Afghanistan. That was a forgone conclusion. Bush gets no points for invading Afghanistan. Secondly some have claimed that Kerry is "bin Laden's candidate". I don't think so! No president could have done a better job of serving bin Laden's agenda than George W. Bush. If we can convince the terrorists that their actions will elect Kerry, we may yet avert an attack prior to November.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Worst buying decision this year: TaxCut Deluxe 2003 and the nature of market failures

What a waste. I should have spent the time and money on my accountant. TurboTax reviews on Amazon are hardly better. Looks like the tax law, and rampant product piracy, has finally broken the end-user software market.

Next year I won't even bother.

I really miss the software quality I experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s. Nowadays the only quality software seems to come from small businesses (often shareware) and a few major open source projects. Neither are likely to provide home accounting or tax software. Guess it's back to spreadsheets.

Talk about market failures ...

BTW. As usual Amazon reviews are a much more reliable source of information than trade industry magazines.

[Addendum: it turns out some of the most glaring defects were actually fixed, but Tax Cut doesn't remind users to exit and restart after an update is downloaded. This doesn't change my net opinion though.

U.S. Senator John McCain on the Medicare Drug Benefit Bill: BEFORE the "scandal"

U.S. Senator John McCain

Mr. President, we have before us a conference report that represents one of the biggest expansions of the Medicare entitlement program, and offers enormous profits and protections for a few of the country’s most powerful interest groups, paid for with the borrowed money of American taxpayers for generations and generations to come. This legislation most reminds me of the ancient Medieval practice of leeching. Every special interest in Washington is attaching itself to this legislation and sucking Medicare dry. We do not need leeching, what we need is reform.

On top of the existing $7 trillion accumulated deficit -- which translates into $24,000 for every man, woman and child in the United States -- this year’s current deficit is quickly approaching a half trillion dollars. Adding a new unfunded entitlement to a system that is already financially insolvent, is so grossly irresponsible that it ought to outrage every fiscal conservative.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, this package is estimated to cost just under $400 billion over ten years. But if you believe that is the maximum we will spend over ten years, I’ve got some beach front property in Gila Bend to sell you. My friends, $400 billion is merely a down payment.
Four months later, the "shocking scandal".

No wonder McCain is said to be the most respected politician in America. As to the rumor of the Kerry-McCain ticket, note I wrote it first. (Though I don't believe it will happen.)

The Medicare scandal -- is it really so different from the WMD Scandal?

MSNBC - The Smell of a Real Scandal
... The whole world knows we "got taken for a ride," as the president of Poland says, on Iraq. But because Bush & Co. were as shocked as anyone at the absence of WMD, that's more in the category of grotesque hype than outright lie. The Medicare story is a clearer example of dishonesty and, yes, corruption at high levels. As former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill's statements make clear, the lying about budget numbers began early in the administration, when the White House falsely claimed that the government could not use the surplus to further draw down the debt. It continued after 9/11, when an assistant Treasury secretary complained that the administration was squandering the national consensus by insisting on tax-cut projections that weren't real. But the most shocking deception took place in the run-up to the signing of the Medicare prescription-drug benefit on Christmas Eve.

Recall how that bill squeaked through Congress only after some heads were cracked. A retiring Republican from Michigan, Rep. Nick Smith, even charges that supporters of the bill offered him a bribe in the form of financial support for the political campaign of his son. The bill was priced at the time at $400 billion over 10 years. After the deed was done (the specifics of which amounted to a huge giveaway to the pharmaceutical and health-care industries), it came out that the real cost will be at least $551.5 billion—a difference of $150-plus billion that will translate into trillions over time. Now we learn that the Bush administration knew the truth beforehand and squelched it. Rick Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare, says he was told he would be fired if he passed along the higher estimates to Congress. 'I'll fire him so fast his head will spin,' Thomas Scully, then head of Medicare, said last June, according to an aide who has now gone public.

This journalist is doing a backhand favor to Bush; he tries to claim the WMD affair was merely a misunderstanding, whereas the medicare affair is real foul play.

I think he's wrong about them being so dissimilar. A common theme is forcing others to provide the "right" answer, where "right" is whatever Bush defines "right" to be. (Maybe because God tells him what's "right"? Hard to argue with that one.) Bush deals with competing perspectives ruthlessly -- as his people dealt with Valerie Plame. He's no scientist, nor much of a rationalist. He's definitely decisive -- which is easy when you know the right answer to everything.

In the medicare affair Bush knew the right answer. It would be affordable. Sculley did the dirty work; he's since been richly rewarded by the pharmaceutical industry. (It's a measure of the decay of our press that the timing and nature of Sculley's transition passed with little comment.)

But is this really such a shocking scandal? It would only be shocking if the representatives and senators who voted for the medicare bill really believed Bush's numbers -- and were "shocked, shocked" to discover a true yearly cost 40% higher than they'd voted for. I rather doubt that. They knew what they were voting for; the HHS numbers were just political cover for some fiscally conservative republicans who needed an excuse while they betrayed their core values. Yes, the leadership of the AARP also needed these numbers. Their rewards await them.

The people who feel genuinely wronged are probably the career professionals in Health and Human Services who trusted Secretary Thompson. He's had a long and distinguished career, this does not reflect well on him.

What is it about the Bush administration that seems to corrupt so many good people so quickly? One day maybe we'll have a seminar on the topic with Thompson, Powell, O'Neill, Whitman and every economist and science advisor Bush has owned.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and the Iraq Obsession

CBS News | Sept. 11: Before And After | March 19, 2004 20:37:27
(CBS) Former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke tells Correspondent Lesley Stahl that on Sept. 11, 2001, and the day after - when it was clear al Qaeda had carried out the terrorist attacks - the Bush administration was considering bombing Iraq in retaliation.

Clarke's exclusive interview will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, March 21 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Clarke was surprised that the attention of administration officials was turning toward Iraq when he expected the focus to be on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

'They were talking about Iraq on 9/11. They were talking about it on 9/12,' says Clarke.

The top counter-terrorism advisor, Clarke was briefing the highest government officials, including President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

'Rumsfeld was saying we needed to bomb Iraq....We all said, 'but no, no. Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan,' recounts Clarke, 'and Rumsfeld said, 'There aren't any good targets in Afghanistan and there are lots of good targets in Iraq.' I said, 'Well, there are lots of good targets in lots of places, but Iraq had nothing to do with [the September 11 attacks].''

Clarke goes on to explain what he believes was the reason for the focus on Iraq.

'I think they wanted to believe that there was a connection [between Iraq and al Qaeda], but the CIA was sitting there, the FBI was sitting there, I was sitting there, saying, 'We've looked at this issue for years. For years we've looked and there's just no connection,'' says Clarke.

Clarke, who advised four presidents, reveals more about the current administration's reaction to terrorism in his new book, 'Against All Enemies.'

There was a case to be made for invading Iraq. Most intelligence services believed Sadaam had not "reformed", even Hans Blix felt he was probably concealing weapons. The sanctions regime had all but collapsed. The US military build-up had forced partial compliance, but it was not sustainable politically, economically, or militarily. Sadaam was (and is) profoundly evil. Iraq was a festering sore at the heart of one of the world's most volatile and fragile regions. Sadaam would gain increasing wealth and power fostering his megalomania. In time he'd arrange to have a nuke detonate in a van parked outside the White House. (The latter seems ever more feasible as we learn of the Khan nuclear trade.)

There were cases to be made for not invading too. The case against was of three sorts: 1) It will make things worse in the near-term and the long-run. 2) It is not right to slay even 10 innocents so that 1000 may be better off. 3) We did not raise our children to die for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

Strong cases either way, lots of room for reasoned and passionate argument.

In the end, though, the Bush administration was not really arguing either case. They argued a case that they invented and probably believed -- that Sadaam was behind al Qaeda and the attack of 9/11 and that he already had the capabilities others feared he was seeking. The Bushites were the tools of Chalabi, a brilliant schemer who many people seem to have underestimated. They lied to US senators when they provided them bone-chilling super-secret intelligence briefings -- so chilling that even Paul Wellstone considered voting for war. They lied to us (see Rumsfeld caught out, prior posting). They lied to themselves as well.

The last irony is the one yet to be played by history. Iraq is far more complex than the media usually reports. The governing council alone is a bewildering mix of plot and counter-plot. Some of the US military representatives in Iraq are people of astounding intellectual power, courage, and will. It is not inconceivable that Iraq will weather terrorist attacks, Baathist sabotage, Sunni-Shia conflict and the US/UK invasion (the last being by far the easiest to get through -- unless you're collateral damage).

There is a future, though not perhaps the most likely, wherein Iraq does become a shining example for the Arab world.

Where will high paying jobs be in a globalized world?
Here's the catch. Even if the globalizers are right, and outsourcing every manufacturing job in America is a terrific idea, what does it take to get the 'good, high-paying jobs' that Bush claims they're creating?

Reading tutors, in some parts of the US, are already very well compensated. It's a job that can't be outsourced. Interventional radiology can't be outsourced, diagnostic radiology can. Roofing can't be outsourced, some types of accounting can.

I think there will be enough high paying jobs, though they will increasingly reward people skills and service work. The trick is the painful transition. We can ease that transition by separating benefits from employment, mandatory contributions to 529 plans to support transitions, and enhanced and extended unemployment benefits.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Strategies for teaching reading to the cognitively disabled

This guy sounds like Heaven's Gift to children with reading disorders. He has a web site with lots of additional material...
Strategies for Teaching Reading to Students with Severe Disabilities

... Dr. Koppenhaver notes that, in his research (see the link below), he and his colleagues found that the cognitive processes of learning to read for students with severe disabilities are almost identical to those of typically developing students. The only difference is in their ability to demonstrate skills through standard assessment measures...
Updated 5/15/09: Reformatted and tagged. See also the UNC center for literacy and disability studies and Teaching reading to persons with cognitive disorders.

Pakistanis don't approve of Khan and Co's nuclear trade?

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Nuclear scandal still begs questions
The proliferation controversy has shocked the country. Its demoralising effect on most Pakistanis can be compared to the country's defeat in the 1971 war with India, which led to the creation of Bangladesh.

Dr Khan's admission of responsibility has virtually shattered those who regarded him as a national hero.

How a people respond to events is rarely reported reliably. Journalists focus on a few crowd scenes for local reaction, then report at the government level. The most sensational and provocative statements are amplified.

So this is interesting -- if true. Not provocative, but actually surprising and hopeful. I'd kind of imagined that most Pakistanis were somewhat proud of Dr. Khan's democratic approach to nuclear annihilation. Instead, if one believes this single report, he may be seen as more Strangelove than Einstein. That's good.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Rumsfeld caught lying Democracy in Action
Lovely video. He's caught during an interview on "Face the Nation" lying about the "imminent danger" claims. It was beautiful, the interviewers had the quotes ready.

BBC NEWS | Health | How vCJD proteins trigger disease - deeply weird

BBC NEWS | Health | How vCJD proteins trigger disease
Researchers had assumed this must only be possible if these proteins - prions - had some form of genetic content.

But US researchers have shown that they are made up solely of protein, and that new 'strains' result simply from prions twisting into new shapes...

It suggests that the ability of prions to misfold into new formations - or strains - accounts for their ability to trigger different diseases...

The researchers, from the University of California at San Francisco and Florida State University, believe that once a prion has folded into a new shape, it acts as template for others.

This produces a chain reaction that allows infection to spread.

This is much weirder than it sounds. Information processing actions, including replication and mutation, are occurring based on the ability of proteins to create multiple conformations ... the resulting "code" is then executed in the cellular interpreter. Prions are the spam of the body.

How do creationists think students will be able to understand ANYTHING without understanding how natural selection and emergent complexity works? Complex adaptive systems tend towards self-sustaining information processing cycles because natural selection drives towards persistent signals. Again, the ancient pattern of recursive complexity.

Where does it all end?

(PS. Yes, I know the above doesn't quite make sense, but trust me that there's something big here ...)

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Center for Public Integrity: Corruption in America

The Center for Public Integrity

I heard a Cleveland Club address from Charles Lewis via NPR today. Per the NPR blurg:
Investigative journalist and author, Charles Lewis, speaking recently at the City Club of Cleveland. Lewis is the founder and executive director of the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, a non-profit, non-partisan watchdog group that tracks the links between monied interests and American elected leaders. His books include The Buying of the President 2000, and The Buying of the President 2004: Who's Really Bankrolling Bush and His Democratic Challengers--and What They Expect in Return.
The bit I heard was every bit as bad as I've long feared. The intense corruption is as expected, what surprises me is that Charles Lewis continues to struggle against this. There is far more idealism left out there than most of us would expect -- even in an era where people like Ralph Nader have trashed their reputation.

I will have to send them some money.

BBC Iraqi survey: it's good to have data, esp. positive data

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Survey finds hope in occupied Iraq
... of the 2,500 people questioned, 85% said the restoration of public security must be a major priority.

Opinion was split about who should be responsible, with an Iraqi government scoring highest.

Creating job opportunities was rated more likely to improve security effectively than hiring more police.

Seventy percent of people said that things were going well or quite well in their lives, while only 29% felt things were bad.

And 56% said that things were better now than they were before the war.

On a quick reading this BBC survey sounds like it might be better done than most surveys. It may actually say something useful. I don't think 70% of Americans feel things are going well or quite well in their lives, this fits with happiness research which emphasizes the effect of relativity. Prosperity is not as important to happiness as is exceeding expectations and feeling improvement. More than half thought their lives were getting better compared to before the start of the war (the sanctions period). Security was felt to be the responsibility of the Iraqi government.

This has to boost the morale of our soldiers.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Al Qaeda: retreat is an option for some

Following Attacks, Spain’s Governing Party Is Beaten: "26-year-old window frame maker, who identified himself only as David, said he had changed his vote from Popular Party to Socialist because of the bombings and the war in Iraq. 'Maybe the Socialists will get our troops out of Iraq, and Al Qaeda will forget about Spain, so we will be less frightened,' he said. 'A bit of us died in the train.'

The hope of this man is that al Qaeda will leave Spain alone if Spain appears to accede to its demands.

One problem is that one of al Qaeda's demands is for operating bases to attack their enemies. Since Spain is an ideal forward platform, al Qaeda won't be satisfied with retreat from Iraq, they will want an end to investigations and arrests. I doubt the new Spanish government will stop arresting al Qaeda operatives. On the other hand al Qaeda does have a lot to worry about right now, and they may now shift their focus from Spain.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Complex adaptive systems spawn al Qaeda as an agent of progress?

United Press International: Commentary: Al-Qaida in Africa
... a new insurgency erupted in the west -- the Chad-based Darfar rebellion.

Khartoum hit back ruthlessly with scorched-earth tactics and ethnic cleansing. About 100,000 refugees made it across the border into Chad. Another 600,000 were without shelter and the United Nations and Doctors Without Borders said they were now faced with "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world." No TV footage, no story.

The only sub-Saharan country with a professional army up to Western standards is South Africa, which keeps 75,000 under arms. Forty percent of the force is HIV positive. And only 3,000 men are deployable for peacekeeping duties. Nigeria, Africa's most populous country with 130 million, maintains a 17,000-strong air force, but only one troop transport can fly.

West Africa is a graveyard of failed nation-states. Government writs seldom extend much beyond capital-city shantytowns. In the countryside, bush and savanna, radicalized Islamist clerics and Christian missionaries battle it out in a war of words for desperate African souls.

The Christian missions offer rudimentary medical services, T-shirts and occasional staples. The Muslim clerics get stipends from the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi clergy and train youngsters to become "jihadis," meaning "holy warriors." Hunger stalks most west and equatorial African states. And the Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. James Jones is alarmed. He is responsible for 93 countries, including all of Africa, except the Horn -- Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti. And in a recent trip in SACEUR's G-5, from Algeria to South Africa, Jones -- who speaks flawless, unaccented French -- saw first-hand the emerging failed and failing states that contain huge ungoverned areas that now serve as breeding grounds or sanctuary for terrorists.

The 27 "least developed countries" are all African, says the United Nations Development Program. Half of the 25 "worst countries in the world" are West African. The average Sierra Leonean doesn't live beyond 39. Nigeria, supposedly comparatively well off, pumping 2.1 million barrels of oil per day, is now on the verge of becoming a failed state. It is breaking apart along ethnic and religious fault lines. The Muslim north is terra incognita for federal authorities.

Rwandan and Ugandan forces have reinfiltrated the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC, formerly Zaire, is the size of the United States east of the Mississippi. Some 11,000 ineffectual U.N. peacekeeping troops are lost in the vastness of Africa's answer to "Darkness at Noon" that is costing the world body $90,000 per blue helmet per year. It is the United Nations' most expensive operation.

DRC is only a country on a map. Nineteenth-century tribalism has displaced the Western notion of a nation state. Gone are a modern highway system, a network of airports with daily air service between major cities, guest houses in national parks, plantations, water and sewage treatment plants -- in short, all the components of the former Belgian colony's infrastructure.

There are 11,000 U.N. troops in Sierra Leone, 15,000 in Liberia, 6,200 in the Ivory Coast, all stovepipe operations with separate commands for each of these mini-states, and 4,200 in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The nations that contribute troops to the United Nations for blue-helmet assignments are now tapped out. So are contributions to peacekeeping from dues-paying U.N. member nations. U.N. stabilization has become unsustainable. No sooner are these troops withdrawn from the civil war they went in to stop than the fighting starts again.

Sierra Leone, Liberia and (former French) Guinea are states in name only. Two generations of young Africans in these countries, from the ages of 10 to their early 20s, have known no other life than shooting and being shot at.

Flat-earth Muslim clerics are quick to exploit opportunities by inculcating their jihadi creed. Northern Nigeria, where the Sharia law of Islam has been imposed in large swaths of the province, armed Islamist thugs descend on a village with the marabou, a sort of religious enforcer and his noisy tintinnabula. Some of the larger towns have been occupied by jihadi militants who demand more volunteers -- and government authorities kindly oblige by staying out of their way.

There has been sufficient al-Qaida input in the thousands of square miles of unpoliced territory in both West and Equatorial Africa for French and U.S. intelligence to draw the conclusion terrorist networks are alive throughout the region. But there is also ample evidence that little of this is controlled by al-Qaida Central.

Osama Bin Laden and his associates haven't been using satellite and cell phones for the past two years. They know the National Security Agency can intercept mobile phone signals in a nano-second and flash global positioning system information back to Special Forces looking for them in the mountain ranges that straddle Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida cells operate autonomously with sleeper agents among Muslim communities in most western, eastern and African countries. Bin Laden's capture -- dead or alive -- won't change the correlation of forces between terrorists and counter-terrorists. The growing wretchedness of West Africa's populations -- over a million a year die of malaria in Nigeria alone -- greatly facilitates the marabou's mission of recruiting Islamist desperadoes.

The toughest among them survive the desert trek to Morocco and Algeria and from there take small craft to Spain. Their bodies wash up on Spanish beaches every day. Those who make it alive into Spain have also made it into the European Union.

This is an astounding cry of warning. An anonymous UPI scribe calls out to the empty dark. Well written.

I've written earlier about "emergent intelligence"-- a fundamental property of complex adaptives systems -- such as humanity.

Perhaps we can think of al Qaeda, the avowed enemy of modernity, as the mechanism by which a complex adaptive system maintains itself. We rich nations can, and have, ignored the misery and poverty of much of the world. Now, however, that misery is a threat to our lives and wealth, and the lives and wealth of our children.

We are now forced to pay attention -- not by virtue of any nobility of character, but rather from the far more reliable incentive of base survival. The attention of the Pentagon, and belatedly of the fools of the Bush regime, now turns to Africa. Complex adaptive systems, as in the ecosystems that drive evolution, are not kind or compassionate. They merely perpetuate themselves by virtue of that famous pseudo-tautology: them that do not perpetuate do not long exist. In this case, they spawn a foul spot of evil -- al Qaeda. The system cares not a whit, but we will be forced to act.

As I wrote 3 years ago, al Qaeda may yet be a gift to humanity.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Better brains born on choline (this is your brain on drugs ..)

Science Blog - Prenatal choline supplements make baby's brain cells bigger, faster
From Duke University:

Prenatal Choline Supplements Make Brain Cells Larger, Faster

The important nutrient choline "super-charged" the brains of animals that received supplements in utero, making their cells larger and faster at firing electrical "signals" that release memory-forming chemicals, according to a new study.

These marked brain changes could explain earlier behavioral studies in which choline improved learning and memory in animals, say the researchers from the departments of pharmacology and psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center and from the Durham VA Medical Center.

The implications for humans are profound, said the researchers, because the collective data on choline suggests that simply augmenting the diets of pregnant women with this one nutrient could affect their children's lifelong learning and memory. In theory, choline could boost cognitive function, diminish age-related memory decline, and reduce the brain's vulnerability toxic insults.

The Duke group is part of a national team of scientists who are exploring the benefits of prenatal choline supplementation on learning and memory. This ongoing research has been instrumental in the Institute of Medicine's decision to elevate choline to the status of an essential nutrient for humans -- particularly pregnant and nursing women, the scientists said.

Results of their study, led by Qiang Li, M.D., of Duke and the Durham VAMC, will be published in the April issue of Journal of Neurophysiology.

"Previous studies at Duke have shown that choline-supplemented animals are smarter and have a greater learning capacity, but we hadn't known until now whether the cells that make up memory-relevant brain circuits are changed by choline" said Li. "Choline didn't just change the general environment of the brain, it changed the fundamental building blocks of brain circuits -- the cells themselves."

Choline is a naturally occurring nutrient found in egg yolks, milk, nuts, fish, liver and other meats as well as in human breast milk. It is the essential building block for a memory-forming brain chemical called acetylcholine, and it plays a vital role in the formation of cell membranes throughout the body.

In the current study, the researchers explored the effects of choline on neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region that is critical for learning and memory. They fed pregnant rats extra amounts of choline during a brief but critical window of pregnancy, then studied how their hippocampal neurons differed from those of control rats.

The researchers found that hippocampal neurons were larger, and they possessed more tentacle-like "dendrites" that reach out and receive signals from neighboring neurons.

"Having more dendrites means that a neuron has more surface area to receive incoming signals," said Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., senior author of the study and a neuropsychologist at Duke and the Durham VA Medical Center. "This could make it easier to push the neuron to the threshold for firing its signal to another neuron." When a neuron fires a signal, it releases brain chemicals called "neurotransmitters" that trigger neighboring neurons to react. As neurons successively fire, one to the next, they create a neural circuit that can process new information, he said.

Not only were neurons structured with more dendrites, they also "fired" electrical signals more rapidly and sustained their firing for longer periods of time, the study showed. The neurons also rebounded more easily from their resting phase in between firing signals. These findings complement a previous study by this group showing that neurons from supplemented animals were less susceptible to insults from toxic drugs that are known to kill neurons.

Collectively, these behaviors should heighten the neurons' capacity to accept, transmit and integrate incoming information, said Swartzwelder.

"We've seen before that the brains of choline-supplemented rats have a greater plasticity -- or an ability to change and react to stimuli more readily than normal rats -- and now we are beginning to understand why," he said...

"Overall, we found that neurons in choline-exposed rats were more excitable, more robust in their physiologic response," said Wilkie Wilson, Ph.D., a Duke pharmacologist and member of the team at the Durham VAMC. "We've demonstrated a measurable change in brain cells prompted by moderate amounts of choline given during a narrow window of prenatal development."

Biochemical studies on the brain effects of choline at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Boston University have complemented the Duke findings, Wilson said.

Steven Zeisel, M.D.,at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has demonstrated that choline alters a gene called CDKN-3 by adding a "methyl group" of atoms to the gene. The methyl group switches off the gene and, in doing so, uninhibits the cell division process in the memory centers of the brain.

Tiffany Mellott and Jan Krzysztof Blusztajn, Ph.D., at Boston University -- in collaboration with Christina Williams, Ph.D., and Warren Meck, Ph.D., at Duke, -- recently found that two hippocampal proteins known to participate in learning and memory, called MAPK and CREB, are activated to a greater extent in the animals prenatally supplemented with choline. These studies provide biochemical correlates to the new data reported by the Swartzwelder group.

More fascinating and disturbing information from the neuroscience world. One near term implication may be a focus on maternal vitamins and nutritional supplement in low income groups and low income nations. There are usually unforseen consequences though. Since schizophrenia seems to be associated at some stage in its evolution with excessive and inappropriate neuronal interconnections, would choline supplementation predispose to schizophrenia in vulnerable groups?

It's a long way from rats to humans.

The story of the Bush drug benefit package -- standard operating procedure

KR Washington Bureau
The Bush drug benefits bill is quite an interesting tale. This is one take on it.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Structural causes of healthcare inflation

The cost of healthcare is rising much faster than general inflation. In the US a chunk of that is the collapse of managed care. There are fundamental structural causes however; aging population, new technology, etc.

Today I ran into a structural example I'd not thought of for a while. My son needed an antibiotic for a strep throat and co-occurring ear infection. Ten years ago that would have cost about $10. Instead today it's $120. A tenfold cost increase, because of antimicrobial resistance.

We expect antimicrobial resistance to worsen. Eventually many old favorites, such as augmentin, will bite the dust. Their replacements will cost even more.

Will a strep infection eventually cost $1000 to treat with antibiotics? Talk about health care inflation ...

Productivity and Demographics: Was the boom from the boomers?

In the past decade we've had nice year on year productivity increases. Productivity increases grow the pie -- they're generally a good thing. I'm hoping much of it comes from the application of IT, globalization, etc.

I wonder about demographics though. Over past 10 years the number of workers between the ages of 32 and 47 must have peaked, following the boomer's age path. Now the oldest boomers are almost 60. For knowledge workers productivity probably peaks, for most people, between the ages of 36 and 50. As we boomers move out of that range, will productivity decline?

Unintended consequences: DVRs & the death of broadcast tv, HDTV and massive hard drives

Mercury News | 03/10/2004 | Hitachi unveils massive drive for digital media
Digital media hogs can celebrate.

A new, whopping 400-gigabyte hard drive from Hitachi Global Storage Technologies can store up to 400 hours of standard television programming, 45 hours of high-definition programming or more than 6,500 hours of digital music...

San Jose-based Hitachi said it designed the monster drive, the Deskstar 7K400, for audio/video products such as digital video recorders.

So many fascinating aspects it's hard to figure where to start. Quickly:

1. The storage industry has moved to Hitachi and Toshiba. Quite a shift from a few years ago. I think the movement of mass storage from dedicated computers to consumer devices has transformed that industry. The iPod and the DVR are the leading edge. Massive hard drives in cellphones, video cameras and still cameras are obvious additions, but where else will they appear. Ten years ago we thought ubiquitious networking would make hard drives less important -- but we were way wrong. Weird. I remember when CDs first came out, and Bill Gates had his name an a MASSIVE tome about the glorious age of cheaply replicated mass read-only devices. I wrote a letter to a Canadian aid agency waxing enthusiastic about the potential of cheaply distributing educational and reference materials via CD. Then came Gopher came along and that "fork in history" was forgotten with some embarrassment. (Yes, Gopher came before the web -- and it alone demoted the CD as a reference source.)

Now storage is back, as limits to network traffic have become apparent. The world now seems to be converging on a combination of local storage, network traffic, and the critical new world of local caching of massive amounts of data.

Very neat.

2. We thought HDTV would drive the creation of cheap hi resolution display technology. It will, but the conjunction of HDTV and DVRs is driving the creation of massive storage. Unexpected.

3. DVRs, even though they are used by relatively few people, have destroyed broadcast tv. We watched the Simpsons the other day, for the first time in 10 years (we don't watch much tv). The density of commercials was stunning for one unaccustomed to commercial tv. It was unwatchable without a DVR to zip past the commercials. DVRs make standard commercials less effective, also mortal. The natural reaction of a dying industry is to redouble their efforts. But that makes tv less watchable, so it accelerates the move to DVRs (and cable). End result -- an accelerated technology transition. This feedback phenomenon also hit with pay phones and mobile phones. As mobile phone use grew pay phones became worth less and were less reliable and less available. That meant one could not rely on a pay phone, so one needed a cell phone. Feedback is interesting.