Sunday, June 27, 2004

Kaplan argues against the draft -- on pragmatic grounds

The False Promises of a Draft - Why conscription won't improve the military. By Fred Kaplan
Kaplan doesn't really argue whether a draft is right or wrong -- he argues that it's impractical and counterproductive. He makes a strong case, though he chooses his arguments carefully. We've got the material for a very good debate now.

Kaplan's position is that we should pay more to recruit our warriors -- possibly a LOT more. I gather he's talking about sizeable tax increases.

Either a draft or a big tax increase. Sounds like the choices are well defined.

Tim O'Reilly on open source, economics, and the future of software -- Various Things I've Written: Tim's Archive
A longish and complex talk, with a large helping of Net history. Tim needs to turn it over to one of his editors before it goes to print -- or, more likely, turn it into a book. For the moment, however, it's well worth the thinking work.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Google Gags the Left, but not the Right

Perrspectives: Articles: Google's Gag Order
Here's what I wrote Google's media contact:

Read this page:

This is a big deal. If Google is censoring liberal/left web sites targeted by right wing loons, but leaving far nastier right wing sites untouched, then Google is going to face a firestorm.

Time for me to uninstall the Google toolbar and try Vivisimo's instead.

Gore Attacks from the left: Democracy itself is in grave danger | "Democracy itself is in grave danger"
Even though we are now attuned to orange alerts and the potential for terrorist attacks, our founders would almost certainly caution us that the biggest threat to the future of the America we love is still the endemic challenge that democracies have always faced whenever they have appeared in history -- a challenge rooted in the inherent difficulty of self-governance and the vulnerability to fear that is part of human nature. Again, specifically, the biggest threat to America is that we Americans will acquiesce in the slow and steady accumulation of too much power in the hands of one person.

Having painstakingly created the intricate design of America, our founders knew intimately both its strengths and weaknesses, and during their debates they not only identified the accumulation of power in the hands of the executive as the long-term threat which they considered to be the most serious, but they also worried aloud about one specific scenario in which this threat might become particularly potent -- that is, when war transformed America's president into our commander in chief, they worried that his suddenly increased power might somehow spill over its normal constitutional boundaries and upset the delicate checks and balances they deemed so crucial to the maintenance of liberty.

There's been a trend in the Bush reign towards the idea that a war-time president is above the law, indeed, is the law. I wonder if Gore fears that Bush will stage something in October ...

Gore studies history. He knows democracy is not a certainty. Full democracy is only about 34 years old in the US. He's worried that we may lose our soul in the way we respond to terrorism.

I'd expect al Qaeda to launch an October attack with a chemical or radioactive weapon, with the intent to keep GWB in power. If they do, look for GWB to declare martial law ...

Bill Clinton, oh how we miss you ... News | The Salon Interview: Bill Clinton
.... If you're not going to have an employer mandate, then probably the only way to do it is some version of what Rep. Rahm Emanuel [D-Ill.] is now suggesting -- which is to allow all the uninsured people to buy into the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program. That's a private plan with a lot of different options and costs. And then subsidize the purchases for small businesses and those who can't afford it. That's the simplest way to do it, with low administrative costs.

I felt like crying reading Clinton's interview. We need him so badly now.

The good news is that he's fit, sharp, and ready to fight hard.

With Clinton right and center, and Gore covering his left flank with raking fire, Kerry might just win.

One thing you can be sure of, no-one will talk about gun control. The NRA has won a decade's respite.

Bush 2004 achievements Bush Remains Afloat Despite Bad News
- Bush delivers a State of the Union address, with his opposition to performance-enhancing drugs in sports standing out against a bleak roster of new policies.

- Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill writes a book claiming Bush was determined from the get-go to overthrow Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

- The president's shaky performance on NBC's "Meet the Press" fuels anxiety among GOP allies about Iraq and the fledgling re-election campaign.

- Richard Clarke, the top counterterrorism official for Presidents Clinton and Bush, undercuts the president's tough-on-terrorism claims during congressional testimony.

- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice at first refuses to testify before Congress about the Sept. 11 attacks, then bows to pressure.

- Bush's economic adviser, N. Gregory Mankiw, says the transfer of U.S. jobs overseas is sometimes a good thing.

- Bush scuttles plans to name Anthony Raimondo as manufacturing czar after Democrats point out that the businessman's company laid off 75 workers in 2002 while announcing the construction a $3 million plant in China.

- The death toll in Iraq mounts through the spring as Republican governors, busy attending funerals of slain servicemen and shipping National Guard troops overseas, warn the White House that voters are getting antsy.

- Four U.S. contractors are killed and mutilated near Baghdad.

- Train bombers strike Madrid. Voters throw the Bush-backing Spanish government out of power. Spain later withdraws its troops from Iraq.

- Vice President Dick Cheney comes under fire for past business ties, secretive deliberations on energy policy and unsubstantiated suggestions that his office might be behind the leak of a CIA operative's name.

- U.S. weapons inspector David Kay concludes that Iraq did not have stockpiles of forbidden weapons, undercutting Bush's main justification for war.

- Democrats unite behind Kerry after a short nomination fight, allowing him to raise record amounts of money and turn quickly against Bush.

- Democratic lawmakers call for an investigation into whether the Bush administration's Medicare chief pressured a subordinate to withhold estimates of the cost of last year's Medicare legislation.

- Clarke follows his testimony with a book claiming Bush was so preoccupied with Iraq both before and after the Sept. 11 attacks that he failed to effectively confront threats from al-Qaida.

- Gas prices top $2 per gallon.

- Revelations that U.S. soldiers abused prisoners in Iraq fuel anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world and raise questions at home about U.S. moral authority in Iraq.

- Militants linked to al-Qaida behead American Nicholas Berg.

- The leader of Iraqi's governing council is assassinated.

- A memo reveals plans for the Bush administration to slash domestic programs after the Nov. 2 presidential election.

- Al-Qaida militants in Saudi Arabia behead American helicopter technician Paul M. Johnson Jr.

- Militants in Iraq behead South Korean Kim Sun-il.

- Insurgents launched coordinated attacks that kills more than 100 people, including three U.S. soldiers.

My list would include some of these things, others were only tangentially the result of GWB's incompetence.

The Bush Terror Report: feeding the ignorant masses

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Errors on Terror
Among other things, the center took over the job of preparing the government's annual report on "Patterns of Global Terrorism." The latest report, released in April, claimed to document a sharp fall in terrorism. "You will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage declared. But this week the government admitted making major errors. In fact, in 2003 the number of significant terrorist attacks reached a 20-year peak.

How could they get it so wrong? The answer tells you a lot about the state of the "war on terror."

Credit for uncovering the report's errors goes to Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist, and David Laitin, a Stanford political scientist, who are studying patterns of terrorism. Mr. Krueger tells me that as soon as they looked at the latest report, they knew something was wrong.

All of the supposed decline in terrorism, they quickly saw, resulted from a fall in the number of "nonsignificant" events, which Mr. Krueger and Mr. Laitin say "are counted with a squishy definition." Even the original report showed significant attacks — a much less squishy category — rising to a 20-year high. And the list of significant attacks ended on Nov. 11, 2003, but there were several major terrorist incidents after that date. Sure enough, including these and other omitted attacks more than doubled the estimated 2003 death toll...

... Mr. Krueger, a forgiving soul, believes that the report was botched through simple incompetence. Maybe — though we can be sure that if the statistics had told the administration something it didn't want to hear, they would have been carefully checked. By the way, while the report's tables and charts have been fixed, the revised summary still gives little hint of how bad the data really are.

One of the key memes Strauss taught the Neo-Cons was that the masses were ill-suited to the truth. Better to tell them what will best serve their true interests, interests that only their betters can know.

This meme runs deep in the Bush Administration. They communicate stories to reassure the masses, while preserving "truth" for those (all loyalists) best able to handle it.

Al Gore would say this isn't very democratic. He'd be right.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > U.S. Said to Overstate Value of Guantanamo Detainees

The New York Times > Washington > U.S. Said to Overstate Value of Guantanamo Detainees
... But as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on the legal status of the 595 men imprisoned here, an examination by The New York Times has found that government and military officials have repeatedly exaggerated both the danger the detainees posed and the intelligence they have provided.

A long article, well paired with a WaPo article on the failure of the mission in Iraq. The article is circumspect, but it becomes clear that we've had a plague of deception, some of it self-deception, much of it straightforward lying.

Now when Ashcroft yells "wolf", no-one who matters believes him. Problem is, there really is a wolf.

We need a new government.

Why Bush failed in Iraq: Loyalty first

Mistakes Loom Large as Handover Nears (
On the eve of its dissolution, the CPA has become a symbol of American failure in the eyes of most Iraqis. In a recent poll sponsored by the U.S. government, 85 percent of respondents said they lacked confidence in the CPA. The criticism is echoed by some Americans working in the occupation. They fault CPA staffers who were fervent backers of the invasion and of the Bush administration, but who lacked reconstruction skills and Middle East experience. Only a handful spoke Arabic.

This is the core of GWB's failings. He values loyalty to his cause above all else. The CPA was staffed by very bright and energetic people -- but their primary requirement was loyalty.

Wrong choice.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Private craft makes space history

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Private craft makes space history
SpaceShipOne has rocketed into the history books to become the first private manned spacecraft to fly to the edge of space and back.

The craft, built by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, went over space's 100km (62 mile) boundary, said mission control.

I never thought they'd be able to pull it off. This craft is going to the Air and Space Museum and the team is going down in history.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Bin Laden will seek to keep Bush in power -- probably win a pre-November attack

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands
Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands

Al-Qaida may 'reward' American president with strike aimed at keeping him in office, senior intelligence man says
Julian Borger in Washington
Saturday June 19, 2004
The Guardian

A senior US intelligence official is about to publish a bitter condemnation of America's counter-terrorism policy, arguing that the west is losing the war against al-Qaida and that an "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war in Iraq has played into Osama bin Laden's hands.

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror due out next month, dismisses two of the most frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida are "on the run" and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer.

In an interview with the Guardian the official, who writes as "Anonymous", described al-Qaida as a much more proficient and focused organisation than it was in 2001, and predicted that it would "inevitably" acquire weapons of mass destruction and try to use them.

He said Bin Laden was probably "comfortable" commanding his organisation from the mountainous tribal lands along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army claimed a big success in the "war against terror" yesterday with the killing of a tribal leader, Nek Mohammed, who was one of al-Qaida's protectors in Waziristan.

But Anonymous, who has been centrally involved in the hunt for Bin Laden, said: "Nek Mohammed is one guy in one small area. We sometimes forget how big the tribal areas are." He believes President Pervez Musharraf cannot advance much further into the tribal areas without endangering his rule by provoking a Pashtun revolt. "He walks a very fine line," he said yesterday.

Imperial Hubris is the latest in a relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism who is still part of the intelligence establishment.

The fact that he has been allowed to publish, albeit anonymously and without naming which agency he works for, may reflect the increasing frustration of senior intelligence officials at the course the administration has taken.

Anonymous does not try to veil his contempt for the Bush White House and its policies. His book describes the Iraq invasion as "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantage.

"Our choice of timing, moreover, shows an abject, even wilful failure to recognise the ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden, as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the US-led invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq."

In his view, the US missed its biggest chance to capture the al-Qaida leader at Tora Bora in the Afghan mountains in December 2001. Instead of sending large numbers of his own troops, General Tommy Franks relied on surrogates who proved to be unreliable.

"For my money, the game was over at Tora Bora," Anonymous said.

Yesterday President Bush repeated his assertion that Bin Laden was cornered and that there was "no hole or cave deep enough to hide from American justice".

Anonymous said: "I think we overestimate significantly the stress [Bin Laden's] under. Our media and sometimes our policymakers suggest he's hiding from rock to rock and hill to hill and cave to cave. My own hunch is that he's fairly comfortable where he is."

The death and arrest of experienced operatives might have set back Bin Laden's plans to some degree but when it came to his long-term capacity to threaten the US, he said, "I don't think we've laid a glove on him".

"What I think we're seeing in al-Qaida is a change of generation," he said."The people who are leading al-Qaida now seem a lot more professional group.

"They are more bureaucratic, more management competent, certainly more literate. Certainly, this generation is more computer literate, more comfortable with the tools of modernity. I also think they're much less prone to being the Errol Flynns of al-Qaida. They're just much more careful across the board in the way they operate."

As for weapons of mass destruction, he thinks that if al-Qaida does not have them already, it will inevitably acquire them.

The most likely source of a nuclear device would be the former Soviet Union, he believes. Dirty bombs, chemical and biological weapons, could be home-made by al-Qaida's own experts, many of them trained in the US and Britain.

Anonymous, who published an analysis of al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite possible that another devastating strike against the US could come during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping the same one in place.

"I'm very sure they can't have a better administration for them than the one they have now," he said.

"One way to keep the Republicans in power is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the president."

The White House has yet to comment publicly on Imperial Hubris, which is due to be published on July 4, but intelligence experts say it may try to portray him as a professionally embittered maverick.

The tone of Imperial Hubris is certainly angry and urgent, and the stridency of his warnings about al-Qaida led him to be moved from a highly sensitive job in the late 90s.

But Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief of operations at the CIA counter-terrorism centre, said he had been vindicated by events. "He is very well respected, and looked on as a serious student of the subject."

Anonymous believes Mr Bush is taking the US in exactly the direction Bin Laden wants, towards all-out confrontation with Islam under the banner of spreading democracy.

He said: "It's going to take 10,000-15,000 dead Americans before we say to ourselves: 'What is going on'?

Or 100,000.

This is one more in a series of continuing cries of desperation from the apolotical bureaucrats who keep the country running irregardless of the party in power. They cry out only in conditions of great desperation and extraordinary governmental incompetency.

This is one of those times.

Every American must call out as loudly as they can. We have to do everything possible to assemble competent leadership. The danger has been growing with every year; Bush is bin Laden's greatest ally.

The Financial Times gives up on GWB | Search | Article
Whether the Osama and Saddam thesis was more the result of self-delusion or cynical manipulation, it - along with Washington's mismanagement of the whole Iraqi adventure - has been enormously damaging.

The Bush administration has misled the American people. It has isolated the US, as American diplomats and commanders pointed out this week. And its bungling in Iraq has given new and terrifying life to the cult of death sponsored by Osama bin Laden. Above all, it inspires little confidence it is capable of defeating the spreading al-Qaeda franchise, which always was the clear and present danger.

One of the interesting aspects of the 9/11 report was that Usama believed a successful strike would help al Qaeda recruit members and facilitate his desire to take control of Saudi Arabia.

So far, he looks prescient. I don't think he's so smart, the problem is we're pretty stupid.

So now the FT has given up on GWB. Next the Economist? But not the WSJ.

Friday, June 18, 2004

The deal Bush made -- with the devil | Torture's dark allure
Few things give a rush quite like having unlimited power over another human being. A sure sign the rush is coming is pasty saliva and a strange taste in one's mouth, according to a French soldier attached to a torture unit in Algeria. That powerful rush can be seen on the faces of some of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, a rush that undoubtedly changed them forever.

Primeval. The experience of being an unassailable alpha.

This story is George Bush's gift to America.

The New York Times had an excellent piece related to the 9/11 commission. They pointed out that most of the story the 9/11 commission related was the result of torturing two or three high level al Qaeda operatives. The real experts in intelligence are very skeptical about these stories. Ironically Bush evidently doesn't believe the 9/11 report -- even though the "confessions" are the product of policies his administration approved and advanced. He sold his soul to the devil, and he rightly distrusts the answers he's getting.

Goethe would have appreciated this.

The ancestry of Word -- there is no new software ...

DigiBarn: Re-visiting and revising the famous Bushy Tree diagram of the lineage of visual computing systems
Charles Simonyi and most of the BravoX team left Xerox for Microsoft as a group, around about 1982 or 1983. The first version of MS Word, which appeared maybe a year later, was essentially just a port of BravoX to MS-DOS. If you read the BravoX manual, you can see that it already has MS Word features such as Styles. MS Word also shows its ancestry in its native file format. Bravo and BravoX stored out files by essentially just dumping the memory heap. This made saving and loading documents very fast, but it also meant that a) the file format was not at all easy to decode, and b) some strange stuff, such as previously deleted text, is stored out along with live text. These idiosyncrasies of the file format are still present in the current version of MS Word.

Is there really any new software? Obviously there must be, but it's quite rare. All of the commercial and vertical market s/w I know of has strong roots in very old systems. Word's roots go back 22 years. It was a pretty decent application until about 1995/1997 -- not the best, but tolerable. After 1997 a bad design decision mixed up the original Styles model with a different inline formatting model. Since then Word has been fundamentally broken. (Not that most people care or notice.)

Lots of lessons here, including what happens to software when it diverts from the vision of its designers.

June 19th - celebrating the end of institutional American slavery

The New York Times > National > An Obscure Texas Celebration Makes Its Way Across the U.S.
With events including a small rap contest in Anchorage and a huge festival of African-American heritage in Baltimore, hundreds of thousands of Americans will celebrate Juneteenth, the day slavery in the United States effectively ended. With the arrival of an Army ship in Galveston on June 19, 1865, Texas was the last state to learn that the South had surrendered two months earlier. More than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on Jan. 1, 1863, the 250,000 slaves in Texas were finally freed.

A national holiday celebrating the end of slavery is way overdue. Maybe it would be the first step in America facing its history. National aboriginal genocide day is still in the future.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A serious article on where Microsoft is losing ...

Joel on Software - How Microsoft Lost the API War
However, there is a less understood phenomenon which is going largely unnoticed: Microsoft's crown strategic jewel, the Windows API, is lost. The cornerstone of Microsoft's monopoly power and incredibly profitable Windows and Office franchises, which account for virtually all of Microsoft's income and covers up a huge array of unprofitable or marginally profitable product lines, the Windows API is no longer of much interest to developers. The goose that lays the golden eggs is not quite dead, but it does have a terminal disease, one that nobody noticed yet.

Spossky is taking a rather unusual position. Fascinating reading. It has implications for Google's IPO.

As someone who spent hard years building a complex and responsive web based application, I'm very sensitive to latency and UI issues. Spossky has a good point that Microsoft had a good solution set that they abandoned (I remember when they lost interest!) -- but that those solutions are slowly emerging. I think he underestimates Microsoft's ability to use IE to destroy the web, however.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Leadership of the Iraqi terrorists and failure of targeted air strikes (0 for 50)

The New York Times > International > Middle East > Errors Are Seen in Early Attacks on Iraqi Leaders

There's more interesting material in this NYT article than the title suggests.
June 13, 2004
Errors Are Seen in Early Attacks on Iraqi Leaders

...The strikes, carried out against so-called high-value targets during a one-month period that began on March 19, 2003, used precision-guided munitions against at least 13 Iraqi leaders, including Gen. Izzat Ibrahim, Iraq's No. 2 official, the officials said.

General Ibrahim is still at large, along with at least one other top official who was a target of the failed raids. That official, Maj. Gen. Rafi Abd al-Latif Tilfah, the former head of the Directorate of General Security, and General Ibrahim are playing a leadership role in the anti-American insurgency, according to a briefing document prepared last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

... A report in December by Human Rights Watch, based on a review of four strikes, concluded that the singling out of Iraqi leadership had "resulted in dozens of civilian casualties that the United States could have prevented if it had taken additional precautions."

... In retrospect, the failures were an early warning sign about the thinness of American intelligence on Iraq and on Mr. Hussein's inner circle. Some of the officials who survived the raids, including General Ibrahim, have become leaders of what the Defense Intelligence Agency now believes has been a planned anti-American insurgency, several intelligence officials said.

... An explicit account of the zero for 50 record in strikes on high-value targets was provided by Marc Garlasco, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official who headed the joint staff's high-value targeting cell during the war. Mr. Garlasco is now a senior military analyst for Human Rights Watch, and he was a primary author of the December report, "Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq."...

... An unclassified analysis prepared last month by the Defense Intelligence Agency and obtained by The New York Times describes Mr. Ibrahim as having "assumed Saddam's duties" as the titular head of the insurgency after Mr. Hussein's capture. It lists General Tilfah, a cousin of Mr. Hussein's, as one of the leaders of former government leaders involved in the insurgency.

General Moseley, the top Air Force commander during the war who is now the Air Force vice chief of staff, said in the interview last summer that commanders were required to obtain advance approval from Mr. Rumsfeld if any planned airstrike was likely to result in the deaths of 30 more civilians. More than 50 such raids were proposed, and all were approved, General Moseley said.

But raids considered time-sensitive, which included all of those on the high-value targets, were not subject to that constraint, according to current and former military officials. In part for that reason, the report by Human Rights Watch concluded, "attacks on leadership likely resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from the air war."...

There were conflicting accounts about whether another Iraqi leader who is still at large, Col. Hani Abd al-Latif al-Tilfah, the director of the special security organization under Qusay Hussein, had been a target in the raids. The colonel, the brother of General Tilfah and another maternal cousin of Mr. Hussein, is listed by the D.I.A. as among the leaders of the insurgency.

...Another Iraqi leader from the top 55 list who is still at large and is identified in the D.I.A. report as a leader of the insurgency is Abd al-Baqi Abd al-Karim al Abdallah al-Sadun, chairman of the Baath Party regional command for Diyala...

A few interesting notes from this article.

1. Zero for 50 is a crummy record for leadership-target air strikes. I think the article is confused, however, as to whether the total includes all the leadership targets. The article seems to contradict itself.

2. Rumsfeld never declined when asked to authorize a raid that would likely kill over 30 civilians. Many would have been family members.

3. If Human Rights watch says only "dozens" of innocent civilians were killed then the air force did very well -- considering. Fifty times 30 is 1500.

4. The list of former government officials still at large and now running the insurgency is quite impressive. Are they in Falluja? Syria? One day we may know more. Ibrahim, General Tilfah, Colonel Tilfah, al-Sadun ...

5. The NYT is still calling the Iraqi bombers an "insurgency". I guess that's technically correct, but since terrorizing the Iraqi population is their primary modus operandi I'd say "terrorists" works too.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Why we can't extend the retirement age ...

BBC NEWS | Health | Gene loss linked to Alzheimer's
Compared with the gene patterns of young brains, those of people aged from 40 to 70 were much more variable.

Some middle-aged individuals had 'young' genes while others were old before their time.

By age 40 some brains are aging quickly. This aging process is disabling for many professions. For workers who's job requires ongoing learning and analysis the aging of their brains means they're struggling long before retirement. Unless we figure a way to slow this process, delaying retirement means years spent bagging groceries -- not working in their original positions.

Yeah, it was only a few bad apples ...

General Granted Latitude At Prison (
A photograph of the pyramid of naked Iraqi detainees -- one of the most notorious portraits of abuse -- was used as a screen saver on a computer in the isolation area where intelligence officers worked, according to Spencer's statement.
If Bush had had ANY credibility left, it would have been vaporized when he claimed the Abu Ghraib abuses were the indepenent work of a few low ranking soldiers.

He didn't though and never will again.

General Sanchez may walk the plank. Why? Because some senior army officials are furious about the degradation of the US army. It is they who are going to push this to the bitter end. The bitter end is the desk of GWB.

Peak Oil goes mainstream?

The New York Times > Business > An Oil Enigma: Production Falls Even as Reserves Rise
Combined with a survey from the International Energy Agency that shows rising demand, the drop in production at the supermajors offers more evidence that energy prices may stay high for the foreseeable future, said Steven Pfeifer, senior oil analyst at Merrill Lynch.

"The data is starting to say that underlying all this, the supply-demand balance is tighter than we thought," Mr. Pfeifer said. "The maturing geological base is starting to rear its ugly head.
This is an impressively researched article. I wonder how long it took the author to put all the data together, and whether there's a book to follow.

The writing is cautious, even tentative. Berenson builds his case in a lawyerly fashion; each time returning to a core theme. We can measure production, we can't really measure reserves. Nations and companies who estimate reserves have immense short term incentives to exaggerate. Production and reserves used to track one another, now they don't.

He's conservative in part because he's getting into "Peak Oil" territory. A google search will show that "Peak Oil" is a bit of lunatic fringe topic; but as is often the case the lunatics have a point. One of my former Caltech profs has written a book on this topic.

Sometime in the next 5-25 years we'll reach "peak oil production". After that demand must fall to track declining production. Barring world catastrophe or technological revolution, demand will be forced down by price increases. Again, barring technological transformation or world catastrophe, we will move into the post-petroleum world. Time to build those bicycle paths. Not, perhaps, a good time to live in a part of the US where water supplies are limited and air conditioning is a necessity.

This article is a sober accounting of a trend that might be the first preliminary signs of "Peak Oil". I'd expect that this will be a passing warning, that production will rise and reserves will be corrected to again track production. Not Peak Oil yet, but rather the first hint of what will come years from now. The Lunatic Frings is again going mainstream.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Legalizing Torture: Bush must go

Legalizing Torture (
...In a paper prepared last year under the direction of the Defense Department's chief counsel, and first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, the president of the United States was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners. Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal. All this was done as a prelude to the designation of 24 interrogation methods for foreign prisoners -- the same techniques, now in use, that President Bush says are humane but refuses to disclose.

There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security."...

... Before the Bush administration took office, the Army's interrogation procedures -- which were unclassified -- established this simple and sensible test: No technique should be used that, if used by an enemy on an American, would be regarded as a violation of U.S. or international law. Now, imagine that a hostile government were to force an American to take drugs or endure severe mental stress that fell just short of producing irreversible damage; or pain a little milder than that of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." What if the foreign interrogator of an American "knows that severe pain will result from his actions" but proceeds because causing such pain is not his main objective? What if a foreign leader were to decide that the torture of an American was needed to protect his country's security? Would Americans regard that as legal, or morally acceptable? According to the Bush administration, they should.

Emphases mine.

If oral sex in the white house inspired outrage, what ought this to inspire?

Bush is guilty of dishonoring and disgracing America.

On dogs and children

Good Dog, Better Man - How your pet can improve your morals. By Jon Katz
In theory, I understand that the proper training response to Orson's poop-eating is to ignore it. It's perfectly natural for a dog, especially a working breed with predatory instincts, to eat animal feces. To a dog, feces are aromatic and tasty and often stuffed with nutrients. Anyway, the more I yell, the more I reinforce the behavior, so the longer it continues. Dogs don't really differentiate between good attention and bad attention; they just like attention, perhaps more than anything except food. So I know—again in theory—that if I ignore Orson and move onto something else—like actually herding sheep—he will eventually lose interest and find some other way to annoy me and draw my notice. Yet I continued to yell.

And so true of some children ...

A future John Kerry? A convincing tale from a veteran returned from Iraq

The Agonist || thoughtful, global, timely
I am not angry with our President, but I am disappointed.

I don't expect an easy solution to the situation in Iraq, I do expect an admission that there are serious problems that need serious solutions.

I don't expect our leaders to be free of mistakes, I expect our leaders to own up to them.

In Iraq, I was responsible for the lives of 38 other Americans. We laughed together, we cried together, we won together, and we fought together. And when we failed, it was my job as their leader to take responsibility for the decisions I made -- no matter what the outcome.

My question for President Bush -- who led the planning of this war so long ago -- is this: When will you take responsibility for the decisions you've made in Iraq and realize that something is wrong with the way things are going?

Mr. President, our mission is not accomplished.

Our troops can accomplish it. We can build a stable Iraq, but we need some help. The soldiers I served with are men and women of extraordinary courage and incredible capability. But it's time we had leadership in Washington to match that courage and match that capability.

I worry for the future of Iraq and for my Iraqi friends. I worry for my fellow soldiers still fighting this battle. I worry for their families, and I worry for those families who will not be able to share another summer or another baseball game with the loved ones they've lost. And I pledge that I will do everything I can to make sure they have not died in vain and that the truth is heard.

Thank you for listening.

The making of a non-scandal, Kerry and the intern

The Agonist || thoughtful, global, timely
I started out as an ambitious young woman inspired by politics and the media. I have ended up disenchanted with both. I don't mean to dredge up old news by writing this, and I am not trying to create any now; I don't intend to discuss it again in public. But for me, this painful experience will be hard to forget. It may be only a minor footnote to the campaign, but it has changed my life completely.

The Kerry-intern fake scandal -- not a true conspiracy, more of an emergent phenomena. It was plausible -- Polier notes Kerry's flirtatious nature and Bostonians often intimate that's not a new thing. It was exciting. It was untrue.

Polier traces the roots of the story to a misquote of her father, an old friend who made a mistake, a sleazy UK Sun journalist, and the need to feed the news/entertainment machine.

War and youth

The New York Times > Books > Sparing No One, a Journalist's Account of War
... "The story in this war is: it's really ugly and chaotic, it's being fought by 18- to 24-year-olds who would otherwise be at some frat party hazing people," Mr. Wright said during a visit to this town (beside Camp Pendleton) that he arranged. He was interviewed with two marines with whom he had witnessed the war.

"Our country is so divided," he continued. "We swung after 9/11 from `those military guys are idiots' to `those guys are heroes.' Either way, you're not examining them as people. The fundamental thing I've tried to write about these guys is I was fascinated by what they thought of the world when they weren't shooting their guns."

His observations draw a complex portrait of able young men raised on video games and trained as killers...

...Mr. Wright's admiration for the marines runs deep. "I really did fall in love them when I first met them," he said. "I didn't want to be friends during the writing process. A reporter's motto is `charm and betray.' But I didn't hide any of the warts. I was hard on them in the writing process. And I'm glad, because I like them."

Special forces warriors are usually in their late twenties to late thirties. These guys are young, teenagers sometimes. Young men are not known for their judgment, if they were then car insurance would be cheaper.

Reining in the Reagan Madness

The New York Times > Opinion > Krugman: An Economic Legend: "In the late 1970's most economists believed that eliminating the high inflation then prevailing in the United States would require inflicting a lot of pain: the economy would have to go through an extended period of high unemployment and depressed output. Once the inflation had been wrung out of the system, the unemployment rate could go back down. And that's exactly what happened. In fact, it's instructive to put a graph showing the actual track of unemployment and inflation during the 1980's next to a figure from a 1978-vintage textbook showing a hypothetical disinflation scenario; the two look almost identical.

Ronald Reagan didn't decide to inflict that pain. The architect of America's great disinflation was Paul Volcker, the Fed chairman. In fact, Mr. Volcker began the process in 1979, when he adopted the tight monetary policy that caused that record unemployment rate. He was also mainly responsible for the recovery that followed: it was his decision to loosen up on the money supply in the summer of 1982 that set the stage for the rebound a few months later.

There was, in short, nothing magical about the Reagan economy. The United States did, eventually, experience an economic miracle — but not until Bill Clinton's second term. Only then did the economy achieve a combination of rapid growth, low unemployment and quiescent inflation that confounded the conventional economic wisdom. (I'm aware, by the way, that this plain statement of fact will generate an avalanche of angry mail. Irrational Clinton hatred remains a powerful force in American life.)

It's a measure of how desperate the faithful are to believe in the Reagan legend that one often reads conservative commentators claiming that the Clinton-era miracle was the result of Mr. Reagan's policies, and indeed vindicated them. Think about it: Mr. Reagan passed his big tax cut right at the beginning of his presidency, and mainly raised taxes thereafter. So we're supposed to believe that a tax cut passed in 1981 was somehow responsible for an economic miracle that didn't materialize until around 1997. Apply the same timing to the good things that happened on Mr. Reagan's watch, and you'll discover that Lyndon Johnson deserves the credit for 'Morning in America.'

Emphases mine. "Faithful" is the right word, Reaganism has many of the features of a cult.

Yesterday I wrote about Reagan as Chaunce the Gardener; enabling Gorbachev was a real acheivement, albeit completely alien to the ways of the Reagan faithful. Reagan also somewhat simplified the tax code, though his successors destroyed those simplifications (I think that was pure Reagan and reflected well upon him.) Deregulation was important in America, and I think that had far reaching consequences both good and bad. (Perhaps, despite Krugman's words, even in the 1990s.)

But Reagan was no deity. It's too early to tell if he was even an above average president. Clinton may end up ahead a hundred years from now -- if the entities of that future care to study our entrails.

The stigma of lung cancer and the nature of human reason

BBC NEWS | Health | Lung cancer carries severe stigma
The stigma attached to lung cancer can have far reaching consequences for patients, research suggests.

Oxford University researchers found many patients felt people blamed them for their illness because it is so strongly associated with smoking.

Any campaign claiming a particular outcome is sometimes the consequence of a undesired behavior will cause most humans to reason that the converse is true -- that the outcome very strongly implies the undesired behavior. Humans do not understand correlation.

Lung cancer and smoking. HIV infection and unprotected anal intercourse. Adolescent misbehavior and neglectful parenting.

Having made this inference, humans will further infer that the person, having "caused" the bad outcome, is themself bad. Not only are they unworthy of comfort, they are deserving of shame.

This is how human cognition works. As noted in a prior post, our cognition is not so different from that of our fellow mammals (dogs). It evolved, it "suffices", it is profoundly imperfect. Logic and reason can adapt or modify our intuitive thinking, but that takes training and education. Reason and logic are often uncomfortable precisely because they contradict common human cognitive structures. Hence the strong preference for evangelical conservatives for teaching obedience, discipline, doctrine and memorization rather than reason and logic.

Dogs again -- not so far behind?

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Collie dog's word power impresses
A very smart collie dog named Rico has stunned German researchers by learning words with the apparent flare of a young child, Science magazine reports.

Rico understands more than 200 words and can work out the meaning of new ones, by a process of elimination.

What is more, Rico can often remember new words after a whole month - even though he has only heard them once before, the scientists claim.

This article quotes some who deprecate Rico's capabilities. They are unconvincing. Canine genius or not, he teaches us some fascinating things about the evolution of language and cognition.

A bit of breeding for puberty, longevity and language capabilities and we might produce a quite different dog. I wonder if the dog would thank us or not.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

DeLong on Seymour Hersh's U Chicago speech

Torture and Rumors of Torture: Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal
...If what it reports is true, then once again it looks like the Bush administration is worse than I had imagined--even though I thought I had taken account of the fact that the Bush administration is always worse than one imagines. Either Seymour Hersh is insane, or we have an administration that needs to be removed from office not later than the close of business today. The scariest part: "[Hersh] said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, 'You haven't begun to see evil...' then trailed off. He said, 'horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.' He looked frightened.

I think Hersh is quoting from another blogger, but forgot to link to the author. It's worth going to DeLong's site to read this.

Reagan - Chaunce the gardener

The New Republic Online: Unorthodox - Jonathan Chait
...The missile treaty was no fluke. Alongside Reagan's (justly) celebrated steely revulsion toward communism sat a wooly-headed, almost peacenik, sensibility. Washington Post reporter Lou Cannon's 1991 biography of Reagan--celebrated for its fairness by left and right alike--revealed Reagan's attachment to anti-cold war movies like The Day After and War Games, which inveighed against the horrors of nuclear war in the most syrupy way. He had a particular affinity for the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which an alien arrived and forced the United States and Soviet Union to make peace. Reagan invoked this trope so frequently that Colin Powell, his national security adviser, would tell his staff, 'Here come the little green men again.' Reagan even brought up the movie in his 1988 summit with Gorbachev--who, understandably, didn't know quite what to make of it--in the course of proposing a deal by which both sides would destroy their entire nuclear arsenals. All in all, his view toward the cold war was far different than the 'moral clarity' that is currently ascribed to him.

Peter Seller's 1979 movie "Being There" was a masterpiece about a very simple gardener who, by virtue of cryptic responses and a good suit, is elevated to the presidency. At the end of the movie Chaunce the Gardener strolls across a pond. Not around, across.

The movie was based on a book that preceded Reagan, but Reagan inspired the movie.

The movie may be the best possible guide to Reagan's contributions to history. I suspect, however, we really owe as much to Howard Baker and Mikhail Gorbachev as to Ronald "Chaunce" Reagan.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Terraforming - Polynesian style

The New York Times > Science > Tasty, and a Great Source of DNA
There is much evidence that the Lapita people took R. exulans along for food. Unlike European rats, Dr. Matisoo-Smith said, exulans do not swim and dislike wet conditions. So it is unlikely that they accidentally reached the islands through infested ships.

As a food source, the rats do not require much effort. The Lapita would have just had to release them on the islands they settled, and rats being rats, there would soon be plenty for eating.

Quite a few science fiction writers have based their "space faring cultures" on the Polynesian peoples. Using a bioform to prepare a habitat (thereby wiping out many local species) for colonization is a classic terraforming move.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Remembering Reagan - as he was | The Reagan legacy
As the eulogies come down the pike, don't let conservatives, once again, win the ideological struggle to determine mainstream discourse. Remember Reagan; respect him. But don't let them make you revere him. He was a divider, not a uniter.

A good article. Reagan was nastier than I'd remembered.

Apple - AirPort Express - Yes.

Apple - AirPort Express
Yes. As soon as the first set of disastrous bugs are fixed. I wish there were a firewire port too, but I think iPod firewire is passe. I'm betting the next generation will be all USB 2.0. I wonder if the USB connector on this device will allow one to eventually broadcast off an iPod ...

No kidding, GWB may really qualify as a war criminal

INTEL DUMP - Archives 2004-06-08 - 2004-06-14
Jess Bravin reports in Monday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about a classified legal memorandum prepared by the Pentagon's Office of General Counsel that appears designed to find every legal workaround possible to justify coercive interrogation and torture at Guantanamo Bay. This report comes in the wake of disclosures about other memoranda — one written in early 2002 by UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo while with the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and a second written by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales — justifying the White House's overall Guantanamo Bay plan. This latest memo, signed in April 2003, goes much further than those though — it specifically authorizes the use of torture tactics, up to and including those which may result in the death of a detainee...

...The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the "necessity" of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or "superior orders," sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no "moral choice was in fact possible."

If you want to be a Nazi, this DOJ document suggests how to get away with it. I rather doubt Bush is going to sign any international war crimes treaty -- he'd be convicting himself.

The term "war criminal" is used so carelessly that it's lost most of its meaning. The bombing of Cambodia may have been a war crime, and Kissinger might thus qualify as a war criminal, but I can't think of many other clearcut post-1980 examples (though I'm no historian). Except for this one. Even I'm a bit stunned.

Ashcroft should go now. Bush should not be reelected. If he is, no American with half a brain can claim they "didn't know".

On redistribution

The Atlantic | January/February 2004 | Are We Still a Middle-Class Nation? | Lind
The disparity between rapid productivity growth in mechanized sectors and slow productivity growth in human-service jobs produces Baumol's disease—named after the economist William J. Baumol. According to Baumol, in a technological economy falling prices for manufactured goods and automated services eventually increase the relative cost of labor-intensive services such as nursing and teaching. Baumol has predicted that the share of gross domestic product spent on health care will rise from 11.6 percent in 1990 to 35 percent in 2040, while the share spent on education will rise from 6.7 percent to 29 percent.

The shifting of relative costs need not in itself be a problem. If Americans in 2050 or 2100 pay far more (as a percentage of their spending) for health care and education than they did in 1900, they may still be better off—if they pay correspondingly less for other goods and services. The problem is that as the relative cost of services like education and health care rises, more and more Americans will find themselves in service-sector jobs that, unlike the professions, have historically been low-wage...

... In the absence of some system of private or public redistribution, then, there is no guarantee that rising national productivity will spontaneously and inevitably produce rising incomes and wealth for most Americans, rather than just windfalls for the fortunate few.

Since the 1970s inequality of both income and wealth in the United States has increased dramatically. As Paul Krugman has observed in The New York Times, a Congressional Budget Office report shows that from 1979 to 1997 the after-tax income of the top one percent of families climbed 157 percent, while middle-income Americans gained only 10 percent, and many of the poor actually lost ground. The share of after-tax income that goes to the top one percent of Americans has doubled in the past three decades; at 14 percent, it roughly equals the share of after-tax income that goes to the bottom 40 percent. The concentration of wealth at the upper levels of the population has been even more extreme....

... It is doubtful that in any society with universal suffrage the majority is going to sit on the sidelines and watch, generation after generation, while a handful of investors and corporate managers reap almost all the benefits of technological and economic progress.


This is a good complement to Reich's Book, except Reich backs away from redistribution. A bit of intellectual cowardice, as his text makes the case even more strongly than this article.

The Law of Preservation of Quality: The Atlantic and The Economist

The Atlantic Online | Back Issues

Ok, there's no such law. But is it entirely coincidental that as The Economist has gone into decline, The Atlantic has emerged from abyss?

UN Security Council Resolution on Iraq: Yes France, you were right

The New York Times > International > Middle East > United Nations: U.S. and Iraq Submit Plan to Security Council Session
Mr. Powell said the American military would still have the right to imprison Iraqis, though he said internment would be resorted to only 'where this is necessary for imperative reasons of security.' He pledged that members of the multinational force would always act 'consistently with their obligations under the law of armed conflict, including the Geneva Conventions.'
From what I can tell, the resolution is basically America's way of saying "Yeah, France, you were right. We screwed up. Now we will do it the way we should have done it from the beginning."

Bush will never admit to the screw-up or the reversal, but this is a good thing.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Bill Joy: A man after my own heart

The New York Times > Magazine > Encounter: Proceed With Caution
The other Bill Joy, however, would very much like to prevent the inevitable from happening. Four years ago in an article he wrote for Wired magazine, Joy declared that the headlong race in biotechnology and nanotechnology might prove catastrophic. In the time since, he has continued to explore and advance this concern. Joy says he thinks the probability of a ''civilization-changing event'' is most likely in the double digits, perhaps as high as 50 percent.

I'm not as smart as Joy (ok, very few people are), so it's nice to have someone like him with my cheerful perspective on life.

So what happened to journalism in the 90s?

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? : Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal
Time to ask why the media has fallen so far. Theories?

Here are mine:

1. The government developed a set of techniques and discipline for managing the media. The need for sources was always the achilles heal of the media -- it just took a while for government to discover how to use this lever.

2. Economics. Print media is stressed by net advertising and the decline in classifieds revenue. Broadcast is stressed by cable. Financial weakness means more advertising levers to pull, and less ability to defend.

3. Corruption. Journalists saw too many stupid people getting rich ripping the system off. No-one seemed to care. Finally they gave up and decided to get their piece.

Are there historical analogies?

Corrupt absolutely ...

The New York Times > Magazine > The Maestro Slips Out of Tune (Krugman)
... The less generous interpretation is that Greenspan simply abused his position to help his friends. Kenneth Thomas, a finance professor at the Wharton School, has calculated that Greenspan visits the White House about once a week, as The Christian Science Monitor reported last month, and that is almost four times as often as he did when Clinton was president.

Part of the genius of George Bush's political operatives is their ability to persuade people (Colin Powell, Tony Blair) to betray their principles, to say and do things they will later regret, in support of a presumed shared cause. Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary, falls into the same category: he was a moderate Republican who for a time played good soldier, defending the Bush tax cuts despite private qualms, to help the new president -- a man he thought shared his values -- by giving him an early political victory. And guess what: O'Neill was a close friend of Greenspan's.

What is the secret of Bush's capacity to corrupt those around him? Is it the combination of great power together with a cult of absolute loyalty and ruthless punishment?

Sherron (Enron) Watkins on Bush

The New York Times > Magazine > Questions for Sherron Watkins: Life After Whistle-Blowing
Are you a Democrat or a Republican?

I am not a registered anything. I vote both parties. I did vote for Bush. My husband did, too. Now we're A.B.B. -- Anyone but Bush. We have lost the moral high ground in this country.

Sherron is the world's most famous whistle blower. Like most who expose crimes, she pays an economic price for integrity. I hope the respect of a few of us counts for something.

One of the great ironies about Bush is that he speaks of integrity more than any president since Carter, while spreading abuse and corruption through his actions and policies. It's an astounding gap between speech and action, between image and reality. As to what Bush really believes, I don't know. It may well be that he believes what he says.

Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men - a lost article from The American Magazine, 1924

The New York Times > Business > Your Money > Digital Domain: What's Google's Secret Weapon? An Army of Ph.D.'s
Until recently, when computer science students completed their long Ph.D. training and stepped into daylight, they were treated warily by industry employers. American business has had to overcome its longtime suspicion of intellect. 'Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men,' an article published in the 1920's in the American magazine, is a typical specimen of an earlier era. In modern times, computer scientists are hired, but a doctorate can still be viewed as the sign of a character defect, its holder best isolated in an aerie.

The aversion of industry to the "over-educated" is a real phenomena. I can't comment on whether it's a wise prejudice, I've no data. (I'm an MD & MS, not a PhD. Hard to say which is a tougher slog -- the PhD depends very much on field and on advisor. An MD does not require any creativity, indeed creativity can be a disadvantage. Most PhD's need to have quite a bit of the creative inclination.)

I'd love to read that article however: "Why I Never Hire Brilliant Men", (The?) American Magazine, 1924?. Oddly enough, it's not on the net! In fact, the only reference to it comes from a "Joel on Software" discussion. I'll have to start looking into news repositories.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

NetGear access point is wide open ...

SecurityFocus HOME Mailing List: BugTraq
The Netgear WG602 Accesspoint contains an undocumented administrative account...

...Any user logging in with the username "super" and the password "5777364" is in complete control of the device.

NetGear has a patch out. This appears to have been put in by their Taiwanese OEM. This OEM makes other devices, I'd suggest reading the article and trying this on one's own router.

I have two routers in serial from two vendors. One can be controlled only via hardwired serial cable. I always thought I was being a bit overly cautious ...

This is worse than the usual Microsoft incompetence. The responsible OEM should be bankrupted. NetGear's web site doesn't say anything yet. That's probably the worse way to handle this. I don't think I'll be buying much from them in the future.

Incompetence at the FBI, CIA and ?

The New York Times > National > Spain and U.S. at Odds on Mistaken Terror Arrest
In pursuing what proved to be a flawed case against Mr. Mayfield, the F.B.I. was also beset by internal dissension between officials in Portland and Washington, a language barrier with the Spanish, and a fingerprint examination that the bureau now concedes was flawed from the start...

...t after conducting their own tests, Spanish law enforcement officials said they reported back to the F.B.I. in an April 13 memo that the match was "conclusively negative." Yet for for five weeks, F.B.I. officials insisted their analysis was correct.

In Portland, meanwhile, investigators were quickly building their case against Mr. Mayfield, 37, a Muslim convert, and arrested him on May 6 on a material witness warrant, a technique that civil liberties advocates charge that the Bush administration has abused in an effort to fight terrorism. Despite never being charged with an actual crime, court transcripts and interviews with Mr. Mayfield show he was told that he was being investigated in connection with crimes punishable by death and jailed for 14 days. On May 24, after the Spaniards had linked that same print from the plastic bag to the Algerian national, Mr. Mayfield's case was thrown out. The F.B.I. issued him a highly unusual official apology, and his ordeal became a stunning embarrassment to the United States government.

The FBI has a lot of problems. The CIA has a lot of problems.

So, what's going on? What's wrong with the way we build our security networks and we incent people and run them?

Maybe we do need an entirely new infrastructure, run by very different people. I'd recommend a balance of nerds, geeks and intellectuals with military and business sorts. I suspect the problems in the CIA and FBI have to do with the temperaments of the people who run them and, in turn, they people they like to hire. The fingerprint problems appear to be due to a lack understanding of basic science. Like all other tests, fingerprint matches have varying methodologies and intrinsic false positive and false negative rates. Matches are probabilistic. The FBI appears to be in denial about this. They need smarter people.

On the nature of warriors and the responsibility of protection

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Beating Specialist Baker
If the U.S. military treats one of its own soldiers this way — allowing him to be battered, and lying to cover it up — then imagine what happens to Afghans and Iraqis.

President Bush attributed the problems uncovered at Abu Ghraib to "a few American troops who dishonored our country." Mr. Bush, the problems go deeper than a few bad apples.

An ironic title for this article -- remember "Finding Private Ryan"?

Kristoff never mentions ethnicity, but a white soldier would have made an unconvincing terrorist in this exercise. I wonder about the ethnicity of the other soldiers in this training exercise.

This was an accident in training. There are a few lessons, none suprising. Our soldiers are young, strong, and as violent as most young, strong, males. The people who set up this training exercise showed poor judgment. The army covers up its mistakes. The survivors of mistakes get "blamed" for the mistake.

In such a world it is not surprising that Iraqi prisoners will be abused at least as badly as American prisoners in the worst US jails. The only protection is law, lawyers, an observant press and the power of shame.

American politicians have removed much of the protection of law from US prisons. The Bush regime has removed it from US POWs. Since this is the only protection from abuse that will otherwise occur, it is Bush and his leadership that bear full responsibility for these abuses -- not a handful of soldiers.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Structured Procrastination - a 1995 John Perry essay

Structured Procrastination

Written 10 years ago, but rediscovered. In my case, by reading DeLong. Now I understand what I do I can get better at it. A plan for a personal pyramid scheme ...

Faces of US dead - Iraq War Faces of the Fallen

A gallery of the fallen. Ages 18 and up. The site provides a picture and lists rank, age, home address and context of death.

Quantum Entanglement: what does it tell about the nature of reality?

Quantum Entanglement and Information
NPR's science show interviewed a Waterloo physicist on the implications of a recent announcement. Researchers were able to use quantum entanglement amongst three atoms to enhance clock accuracy.

This is one of those announcements that causes some people to nod off, some people to start figuring out investment angles, and others to look for very remote housing locations. The guest speaker pointed out that, in the long run, it was probably no more significant than the deployment of fire, agriculture and electricity. I believe him.

Most of all, however, the call forced me to listen to yet another description of quantum entanglement. Hearing it in the context of industrial applications (quantum encyrption is now a real application, clock enhancement, etc) finally caused me to crack.

Quantum entanglement is just too weird to "fit" a naturally occuring universe. I can see why it freaked Einstein out.

I don't think it even fits all that well with an accidental artifactual universe -- though I suppose it might suggest something about the intent of the designer.

I don't think it fits with an omniscient deity in a physical universe. Too quirky.

No, in all the bizarre scenarios for the nature of reality, it's the closest fit for a simulation. Not a designed part of the simulation, but rather an artifact of the underlying computational system. Were I writing science fiction, I'd say "we" uncovered an imperfection or flaw in the simulation, an artifact resulting from a limitation of the underlying system. Now, as we pull on this thread, we're revealing more and more of what lies ahead.

In the story when we start using quantum computers fully, we'll be starting to indirectly access the computation substrate underlying our so-called reality. Hmm. I wonder what happens then? A buffer overflow might have some interesting consequences. Or maybe, as we start to run "parasitic processes" against our computational framework, we'll merely slow everything down (not that we'd notice directly -- except we might be able to measure some anomalies in our quantum computers).

An alternative narrative would be that the universe is indeed "god's computer" (hey, that dark matter has to do something, right? :-) -- but we're not an intended part of the computation. So it might be running simulation, but we're a side-effect. Or maybe the universe is simply a peripheral.

In this story we're parasitic processes, a sort of common side-effect. The universe was designed for optimum computation, with as few parasites as possible, but these things happen. Maybe it's a fundamental design flaw. As long as we don't consume too much CPU power we're not worth squashing. But once we crank up those quanta ... This also explains why the univese seems so quiet. Other "parasitic processes" occur, but shortly after they develop advanced technologies they start consuming a lot of "CPU" power. So they get squashed.

I think that house in the wilderness, without electricity, is starting to sound better all the time.

I'm sure Vernor Vinge is writing a story about this even now.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

The well oiled white house ...

Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: May 30, 2004 - June 05, 2004 Archives
Having said all that, beside the possibility that the White House's favored Iraqi exile was an Iranian agent, that the spy chief just got canned, that the OSD is wired to polygraphs, and that the president has had to retain outside counsel in the investigation into which members of his staff burned one of the country's own spies, I'd say the place is being run like a pretty well-oiled machine.

The way the Tenet Termination was executed, as a strange afterthought by GWB as he boarded a helicopter, is worrisome. I want to see Bush retired in November for the creation of bad policy and incompetent execution of his stated policies. In addition, if he's committed illegal acts then he should be prosecuted or impeached -- though that should be done with care and only for dire need. I think the persecutory impeachment of Clinton distracted the nation from the threats we faced then and now.

What worries me more is GWB's psychic health. Anyone who's taken the Presidency is a dozen times tougher, nastier, more ruthless and driven than anyone most of us ever know -- but GWB is beginning to worry me.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Media Must Be Stopped! We must destroy freedom in order to save it ...

Fafblog! the whole worlds only source for Fafblog.
Recently a few distressed voices in the wilderness have been raised in alarm at the newest, darkest, and most dangerous threat to America's success in the war on terror: the media. Morton Kondracke recently pointed out that the media 'is in danger of talking the United States into defeat in Iraq. And the results would be catastrophic.' He goes on to pin the West's Iraq problems squarely where they belong: on the media's fixation with the Abu Ghraib scandal. How astute, Mr Kondracke! For it was in fact the press's obsession with military torture that allowed the the Shiite and Sunni insurgencies to claim whole cities from the American occupation.

But what to do about this pernicious enemy within? Analytical wunderkind and concerned lover of law Glenn Reynolds muses, 'Freedom of the press, as it exists today (and didn't exist, really, until the 1960s) is unlikely to survive if a majority -- or even a large and angry minority -- of Americans comes to conclude that the press is untrustworthy and unpatriotic.' Quite true, Professor Reynolds. And America will likely need that angry minority if we're to inforce patriotism on our press, and end the nightmarish salvo of information and journalism that threatens to cripple the war effort. For this is not merely a war for freedom. Indeed, it is also a war against freedom - specifically, that freedom which seeks to destroy freedom.

These concepts may be too complex and nuanced for the unsophisticated or Democrats to fully grasp, but the Medium Lobster will endeavor to explain. A free-loving society must protect not only its freedoms, but the society which enables those freedoms to be protected, for if that society was to be destroyed, then all freedoms would disappear. In order for freedom to persist, we must outlaw the freedom to destroy or damage society. Thus, freedom cries out for us to destroy those freedoms which would destroy freedom, such as murder, genocide, violent revolution, sedition, criticism of good wars, publication of disheartening news regarding those wars, criticism of the Commander In Chief during wartime, the teaching of seditious literature, obscenity ...

I can't complain about the great job the Bush regime is doing boosting the readership for satirists. Satire had been in decline for some time.

Good complement to The Onion's article on winning by terror (see posting of a week ago or so).

Chalabi and Iranian codebreaking: old rumors in blogworld

The New York Times > Washington > Chalabi Reportedly Told Iran That U.S. Had Code
WASHINGTON, June 1 — Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi leader and former ally of the Bush administration, disclosed to an Iranian official that the United States had broken the secret communications code of Iran's intelligence service, betraying one of Washington's most valuable sources of information about Iran, according to United States intelligence officials...

The Bush administration, citing national security concerns, asked The New York Times and other news organizations not to publish details of the case... The administration withdrew its request on Tuesday, saying information about the code-breaking was starting to appear in news accounts.

American officials said that about six weeks ago, Mr. Chalabi told the Baghdad station chief of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security that the United States was reading the communications traffic of the Iranian spy service, one of the most sophisticated in the Middle East.

According to American officials, the Iranian official in Baghdad, possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account, sent a cable to Tehran detailing his conversation with Mr. Chalabi, using the broken code. That encrypted cable, intercepted and read by the United States, tipped off American officials to the fact that Mr. Chalabi had betrayed the code-breaking operation, the American officials said...

The inquiry, still in an early phase, is focused on a very small number of people who were close to Mr. Chalabi and also had access to the highly restricted information about the Iran code.

Some of the people the F.B.I. expects to interview are civilians at the Pentagon who were among Mr. Chalabi's strongest supporters and served as his main point of contact with the government, the officials said.

I read this in the "blogosphere" a couple of weeks ago. I can't remember where. Lately the blog-world has been about 1-2 weeks ahead of the mainstream media, and not obviously less accurate. Some sort of peculiar gestalt effect?

Chalabi claimed to have gotten the news from a "drunken official". The focus is on Cheney and Rumsfeld's offices, presumably starting with the heavy drinkers there.

I wonder what Ann "Treason" Coulter will say if the "official" turns out to be a very senior member of the Bush administration. Oh well, no-one got too upset about Cheney's organization leaking names of our CIA agents ...

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Economist isn't doing much better than the NYT | The threat from al-Qaeda
According to Mr Bush's officials, the period of increased threat will continue at least until the American presidential elections in November, whose outcome al-Qaeda is believed to be seeking to influence...

I am more than fed up with the pusillanimous pomposity of the Economist's reporting on GWB. The above sentence, taken from 'Still plotting, still recruiting', is typical. Let's deconstruct it at a Journalism 101 level. Who believes al-Qaeda is seeking to influence the election? Based on what? What outcome would al-Qaeda favor? Would they support a familiar facilitator like GWB, or risk a more effective opponent? Assuming they prefer to reelect Bush, would al-Qaeda favor a cruel attack to strengthen Bush's base -- or feign weakness so that Bush could claim to protected America?

Intellectual laziness meets a craven lust for access to Bush insiders -- and delivers vapid stupidity. The Economist needs a serious kick in the proverbial pants.

Abu Ghraib was made in America

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: America's Abu Ghraibs
Herbert makes a good case -- the treatment of prisoners in many states is not so different from the treatment of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib. I recall an NPR show on this topic -- mercifully Minnesota was well above average. In the south things were pretty bad.

Compared to other wealth nations, America is a relatively harsh, violent, and brutal place.

Kerry and policy

John Kerry for President - 100 Days to Change America
By chance, waiting for an airplane in late May, I heard Kerry speak about national security. This was one of a series, which I believe is referenced on this page.

I say "believe" because:

1. The Kerry web site is large and complex, and the "serious" material is not preeminent.
2. The mainstream press ignored the speech.

It was a good speech. Despite the gravity of the topic, I felt like cheering. It seemed miraculous to hear intelligent dialogue from a President -- an office that GWB has degraded.

In a similar vein, DeLong reviews Kerry's healthcare plan -- and likes it.