Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Get Off It

My 3rd CSM story of the day, this one is a late-breaking entrant for the 2003 Most Nauseating Column Award that has jumped ahead of the pack and looks like a front-runner. How can a person be so completely wrong. I particularly like the part about the Osama bin Laden followers killing the 18 Americans in Mogadishu. Wrong. Try again. And Libya as a response to the Iraq war. That's a hell of stretch. Ugh....

Politics in the Era of the MTV Attention Span

I wanted to comment on this, because I've seen a number of similar stories to this one on CSM essentially predicting doom for the Democrats because the economy is doing so well and we got Saddam. These people clearly don't follow politics much. Or if they do, don't pay attention. If they had they would have realized that anything that happens right now is utterly irrelevant to the general election. This will be ancient, ancient history by November of next year. The political attention span of this country is about 3 months. And that is being really generous. What happens this December means nothing. What happens next September, on the other hand, is everything. If there is still fighting and bloodshed in Iraq by next fall, if we're still seeing domestic and international terrorist activity, it will be obvious that Saddam's capture didn't buy us much, and nobody will care. If there is peace and prosperity in Iraq and the new government is off to a roaring start, it wouldn't have mattered if we had never caught Saddam. Either way, whether things are good or bad, Saddam becomes irrelevant. The economy is no different. If the economy is headed south by the fall, this will look like a fool's rally in a long string of poor economic performances. If a strong recovery is taking hold by next fall, then Bush has a strong accomplishment to run on. In either case, voters will be thinking about the fall 2004 economy when they go to the polls, not the fall 2003 economy. It all comes down to what happens when the campaign for the general election is running.

The Triumph of Buddy Jesus

CSM has a story on the odd phenomenon of churches services transformed into large arena shows complete with rock music, flashy videos, and politically correct, easy to process McSermons. We've got a couple of these things around here. It's bizarre, on saturday nights you'll see this huge traffic jam, they'll have cops directing traffic, lanes blocked off by cones, the whole deal. I guess it's better than having people go to some Christian right, hellfire and brimstone church, but it's kind of sad to see one of the remaining strongholds of culture in this country wiped out by a repackaged version of itself stripped of all meaningful cultural elements.

Monday, December 29, 2003

A Beef with Ann Veneman

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today (online edition) that Federal investigators now estimate that 81 cattle across the US may have been exposed to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, otherwise known as BSE or Mad Cow Disease. Relatively little seems to be known about the first cow to test positive for BSE in the U.S. Discovered in Washington, the cow was 6.5 years old when slaughtered and may be from Canada. All beef slaughtered in the same plant as that cow on that day has been recalled.

The administration has been quick to downplay the health risks associated with this case. In an interview with CNN, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman goes so far as to say that "...I want to make sure that everyone understands that we have a safe beef supply and no one should hesitate. "

I realize that the federal government wants to avoid causing a panic in the American beef-eater and protect the American beef industry, but such statements are dangerous. The fact is, some 37 million cattle are slaughtered each year in the United States. Of these, an average of 20,000 are tested. How, then, can we possibly know the extent of BSE present in the population of American cattle? Until we do know, the government should not be so quick to dismiss the risk to our beef supply and therefore the beef consumer. Veneman also claims that because the brain and spinal cord were removed, there is little risk of contamination from this cow. Yet, studies (see Stanley Prusiner and others) are beginning to show that the muscle of infected animals contains prions (the infectious agent) as well, although it is still unclear whether muscle prions are as infectious as nervous system prions. Again, the government should not be so quick to dismiss potential health risks.

To their credit, the government has taken the good steps of banning ruminant-to-ruminant feed (1997) and the CDC has a national monitoring system for Creutzfeld Jakob Disease, the human equivalent of BSE (variant CJD is the result of "infection" from contaminated cattle). Unfortunatley for epidemiology, vCJD does not develop clinically until years, perhaps decades, after exposure to contaminated beef. This monitoring system will clearly be inadequate for preventing an outbreak of BSE/CJD.

I, for one, will be avoiding beef products until the status of American cattle becomes clear. Perhaps we should require testing of every slaughtered cow as in Japan. While I agree that the health risk posed by BSE in the U.S. is probably low, we simply do not know enough to be sure one way or the other. Until we do know more, I'll be sticking to non-beef and soy meat. But if any of you out there must have your beef, you may want to consider organic. Organically fed cows are fed with diets that avoid all animal products.

Osama Bin-Krar

Kudos to CSM for finally highlighting an intended case of domestic terrorism that was glossed over earlier by the national media. William Krar had a sodium-cyanide bomb (among other things) that could have killed thousands according to the article. What may shock most Americans is that this man is a home-grown white supremacist that hates the government. Perhaps not so surprising, he is from Texas...

Going Down?

The dollar continues to sink..

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Tony Blair's Red Herring

Here's a bit of a bizarre story. Tony Blair claimed in an interview that the Iraq Survey Group had found "massive evidence of a huge system of clandestine laboratories, workings by scientists, plans to develop long range ballistic missiles". Paul Bremer, commenting on the quote, not knowing that it came from Blair, responded, "I don't know where those words come from but that is not what (ISG chief) David Kay has said. ... It sounds like a bit of a red herring to me. It sounds like someone who doesn't agree with the policy sets up a red herring then knocks it down." Doh! And can anyone explain why this WMD thing has apparently fizzled out? I always thought it put Blair at more risk than Bush, but it doesn't appear to have done any significant damage to either...

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Sometimes Satire Isn't Even Necessary

Today's poll on Fox News: On Guard. Question: "Are you taking a 'business as usual approach' now that the nation is on high alert?" Answers: "Yes, otherwise the terrorists would win", "No, I'm altering my plans", "I'm not sure". Results: 96% yes, 3% no, 1% not sure. You may have to scroll down past the ad for the George W. Bush Top Gun action figure to see the poll. You can't make this shit up...

Monday, December 22, 2003

The Inside Story

I've recently become aware of George Washington University's National Security Archive. The archive actively pursues government information through the Freedom of Information Act, analyzes the data and makes archives of FOIA material available to the public. It's really great to be able to cut through the bullshit and see what the government actually knew and thought about some of these issues. Their Saddam Hussein report is particularly popular these days. There are some fascinating things in this report. You can see where the US government learns about Iraq's use of chemical weapons. You can see how the US largely ignores this issue in subsequent communications with the Iraqi government. You can see the administration skirting policy rules that barred the export of military equipment to Iraq. You can see the DIA favoring the sale of dual-use nuclear materials to Iraq. You can see the US's efforts to keep the UN's actions on the matter under control. It's an impressive bit of journalism. It certainly calls into question W's claim in the interview with Diane Sawyer that the invasion of Iraq was justified by Iraq's use of chemical weapons.

"But the fact that he is not there is, means America's a more secure country."

I sure feel more secure. Orange is safer than yellow, right?

Friday, December 19, 2003

What's the Difference?

Here's a bit of an inverview transcript between our Commander In Chief and Diane Sawyer:

DIANE SAWYER: But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still —

PRESIDENT BUSH: So what's the difference?


Wow! But wait, there's more...

DIANE SAWYER: What would it take to convince you he didn't have weapons of mass destruction?

PRESIDENT BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a threat and the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.

DIANE SAWYER: And if he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction [inaudible] —

PRESIDENT BUSH: Diane, you can keep asking the question. I'm telling you — I made the right decision for America —

DIANE SAWYER: But-

PRESIDENT BUSH: — because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait. ... But the fact that he is not there is, means America's a more secure country.

Wow. Somebody ought to get this interview to those folks making the moveon.org ads. There's some good material there.

The Numbers Hurt

Look at the pretty, pretty graphs.

A Dying Breed

Articles like this make me ever so happy to be getting out of the software industry. Forrester Research is predicting that the already hurting software development sector will lose another 25% of its jobs in the next 10 years. Ouch.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Watch Commercials, Defeat Bush

You guys may have already gotten an email from moveon regarding this, but moveon.org has a new initiative where they solicited fans and members to create their own 30 second anti-Bush TV add. They've now received over 1000 of them and so have requested moveon members view and rate the ads for them. What a great way to a) gather some data on the ads, b) give your members an easy way to participate and do something useful, c) expose them to your propaganda. Nicely done, moveon.

Civil Rights Make a Comeback

Thanks to our judiciary for slamming the brakes on the Guantanamo/Camp Xray/enemy combatant scheme to bypass Constitutional protections. The 2nd circuit decided that US citizen, Jose Padilla, cannot be held indefinitely without trial, which seems like a no-brainer, but I guess you never know these days... Meanwhile the 9th ruled that even the internationals held in Guantanamo must have access to lawyers and the courts. Hooray for the good guys!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Fun Things to Do At Return of the King

This is one of those things that just bounces around the internet. Best source I can attribute it to is here.

1 Stand up halfway through the movie and yell loudly, "Wait...where the hell is Harry Potter?"
2 Block the entrance to the theater while screaming, "YOU.....SHALL NOT..... PASS!" - After the movie, say "Lucas could have done it better."
3 Play a drinking game where you have to take a sip every time someone says, "the Ring."
4 Point and laugh whenever someone dies.
5 Ask everyone around you if they think Gandalf went to Hogwarts.
6 Finish off every one of Elrond's lines with "Mis..ter Ander-sonnn."
7 When Aragorn is crowned king, stand up and at the top of your lungs sing, "And I did it.... MY way...!"
8 Talk like Gollum all through the movie. At the end, bite off someone's finger and fall down the stairs.
9 Dress up as old ladies and reenact "The Battle of Helms Deep," Monty Python style.
10 When Denethor lights the fire, shout "Barbecue!"
11 In TTT when the Ents decide to march to war, stand up and shout, "RUN FOREST, RUN!"
12 Every time someone kills an Orc, yell: "That's what I'm Tolkien about!" See how long it takes before you get kicked out of the theatre.
13 During a wide shot of a battle, inquire, "Where's Waldo?"
14 Talk loudly about how you heard that there is a single frame of a nude Elf hidden somewhere in the movie.
15 Start an Orc sing-a-long.
16 Come to the premiere dressed as Frankenfurter and wander around looking terribly confused.
17 When they go in the paths of the dead, wait for a tense moment and shout, "I see dead people!"
18 Imitate what you think a conversation between Gollum, Dobby and Yoda would be like.
19 Release a jar of daddy-long-legs into the theater during the Shelob scene.
20 Wonder out loud if Aragorn is going to run for governor of California.
21 When Shelob comes on, exclaim, "Man! Charlotte's really let herself go!"

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Spreading Christmas Spirit

I particularly like the picture of the mosque...

Spreading Christmas Spirit

I know I'm getting carried away with the satire lately, but this was too good not to post.

Who's The Man!

We like satire...

Fulfilling the Promise of America

Flipping through channels while eating dinner I came across Howard Dean delivering a speech on his foreign policy to The Pacific Council on C-SPAN. I thought it was a pretty good speech, you can find the text here, though a bit more verbose than necessary in some spots. After the speech he took some questions from the audience, and they asked some very good questions, and I found him to be more impressive there than in the prepared material. I don't see it in the C-SPAN archives right now, but I'll check again tomorrow to see if it's added. He handled the questions on Iraq and Saddam very deftly, did ok on Israel (he's still a bit more conservative on that than I'd prefer), and had some very thoughtful and intelligent things to say about US relations with China. There is a lot in common in his remarks with the Wesley Clark article I posted earlier today.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Lieberman's Logic

Joe Lieberman has outdone himself in his statement regarding the capture of Saddam Hussein. Let's focus on two quotes by this Joe (who does a great disservice to our Joe's name):

"This evil man has to face the death penalty. The international tribunal in The Hague cannot order the death penalty, so my first question about where he's going to be tried will be answered by whether that tribunal can execute him."

First of all, shouldn't the Iraqi people be the primary decision makers in how and when Hussein goes to trial? Second, while Lieberman doesn't directly call for Hussein's execution, it comes close enough. Apparently Lieberman doesn't even want to go through the pretext of a trial before offing Hussein. Next:

"If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a more dangerous place. "

Let's look at this from another perspective: If Howard Dean had his way, Hussein would likely still be contained by sanctions and weapons inspections, he would still not represent an imminent threat to the United States, over 500 coalition troops would still be alive today (and how many innocent Iraqi citizens?), our international alliances would be strong, and our federal deficit wouldn't be exploding due to the tremendous costs of war and reconstruction in Iraq. It is good news for the entire world that Hussein is now detained, but let us not forget the grave costs of this endeavor.

Wesley Clark: Foreign Policy Guru

Someone on a forum I read pointed out this column Wesley Clark wrote for Washington Monthly. I continue to be very impressed by his foreign policy knowledge and analysis. I also greatly appreciate seeing something written on this intellectual level by a candidate, where you can actually tell that he wrote it, and it wasn't slopped together by some PR hack. If someone beats Dean, I sure hope it's Clark. Whichever one wins, it would be very cool to see them both on the same ticket.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Is This Progress?

The release of this year's trade figures exposes the dark, seamy underbelly of the recovery. We've set a new record trade deficit to go along with our record federal budget deficit. Personal debt levels are also setting records. And based on our previous conversations I think we are generally in agreement that the dollar is substantially overvalued, generally speaking. To top it off, our good friends at the Heritage Foundation point out that the federal government has generated these record deficits despite a $247 billion/year windfall of reduced interest payments on the national debt due to low interest rates. Now, I'm still not sure how much of the mises.org fiat currency doom and gloom to buy, but it is absolutely clear to me that these trends are unsustainable. Given the general tendencies of economic systems (read massive feedback loops), I suspect when they reach the limits of their sustainability they will not sort themselves out gently. Particularly given the dire circumstances of the impending baby boomer retirements. Even if the political establishment starts to recognize this problem, public inertia and the rapid onset of fiscal catastrophe will likely prevent them from having the necessary impact. It is becoming difficult for me to see a scenario where we do not suffer a major economic meltdown sometime in the next 15-20 years. Maybe buying gold is not such a bad idea...

Friday, December 12, 2003

Howard Dean and the Power of Infomation

Phenomenal column by Everett Ehrlich on the Washington Post today on the subject of the importance of information in organizations. Ehrlich hits points I have mentioned as to why I don't see Dean's outsider status as having the sort of impact that it did for McGovern or Goldwater, and also speaks cogently about the difference in Dean's relationship to the party as compared to the other candidates. I think much of this is equally applicable to MoveOn.org. A very worthwhile read.

US Calls Afghan Convention - Democracy Breaks Out

In June, 2002, the US called for a loya jirga in Afghanistan to rubber-stamp their decision to put Hamid Karzai in charge of the new government. They thought they would do the same to have their newly written constitution approved. Not so. The warlords that the US chose to leave governing the provinces have figured out how to play this democracy game and have their own ideas for the constitution. It seems nobody actually knows what is going to happen when this loya jirga assembles, but it does appear the warlords have a clear upper hand. If the mujahideen wrest control of the government and Karzai resigns it would be a disaster for American policy in Afghanistan. Lesson: driving a bunch of thugs out of a country by helping a different bunch of thugs defeat them.. not such a good idea, particularly when half of the first group of thugs just switches uniforms and joins the second group.

Beyond the EU

An article on CSM details the EU's struggle to pass a new constitution, and the possibility of France and Germany peeling off to form their own union. It's a very interesting idea, and I think more than a small possibility. I would look for increasingly close ties between France and Germany in any case.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Going for the Gold

Henry's not the only one worrying about the state of the dollar. Even Clinton labor secretary Bob Reich is concerned about the possibility of a run on the dollar. I still suspect that the Euro may not be the best place to hide from dollar instability. If the dollar collapses, the Euro may well come with it..

Finalist for the "Well, duh" award:

And they would know...

Pretty Much Fucked

The Onion has once again come through as the most canny and accurate news outlet with their recent report on the state of America's poor. On the bright side there are some new employment opportunities for immigrants.

AP: Iraq to Stop Counting Civilian Dead

Yahoo News has this story.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Supreme Court Upholds Campaign Finance Law

The 298-page opinion is available here, if anyone is interested (the first 19 pages provide a summary).

Collateral Damage

Geez, we're getting good at this. But then we're learning from the best.

No Contracts For You!

The Pentagon announces that businesses in countries that didn't support the war will be shut out of contracts in Iraq. I love the quote from Paul Wolfowitz in the article: "Limiting competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international co-operation in Iraq." Um, yeah, Paul, that's exactly what it will do. I'm sure the EU and NATO will be real excited to sign on with you now...

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Snus to the Rescue

BBC has a story about health researchers and anti-tobacco activists lobbying the EU to lift their ban on snus. There's a step in the right direction.

Monday, December 08, 2003

So much for all the "the Democratic establishment hates Dean and will never support him" stuff

I think it's hard to get more "establishment" than Al Gore. Hopefully his announcement will do two things: 1. narrow the field and get the naysayers to quit piling on Dean--at least on the charge that he is a fringe wacko (the stuff about him being too much of a centrist fiscal conservative actually helps, I think); and 2. on the other side, get the Dean camp to quit dumping on the party as out of touch and focus exclusively on the real opponents.

Declining Global Influence

CSM has a story about how shrewd foreign policy moves by China and policy mistakes on our part have allowed China to become the dominant political force in the Far East.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

GOP House Members Proposal to Replace FDR with Reagan on the dime

The AP issued this report on December 5 (as found in the San Francisco Gate). According to this story from the UPI (covered by the Washington Times on December 2), 80 Republican House members co-sponsored the bill. The text of the Ronald Reagan Dime Act (H.R. 3633) may be found here. Nancy Reagan is reportedly against the bill, according to this AP story (from San Francisco Gate). Rep. Souder (R, Ind.)--the chief sponsor of the legislation--has stated in this press release on his homepage that he maintains his support for the bill despite the former first lady's comments. According to this article on today's Chicago Tribune webpage, Rep. Souder is open to compromise, suggesting that they could put Reagan on one side and FDR on the other, or they could alternate the image each year.

Some excerpts from the bill:
President Ronald Wilson Reagan, through his efforts as the 40th President of the United States, created policies that renewed economic growth, strengthened the resolve of the free world together to oppose totalitarianism, and restored pride in the United States.

President Reagan, through his simple republican dignity and sense of personal responsibility to the United States of America, brought pride and honor to the Office of the President
.

(Thanks to Joe Conason's Journal on Salon.com for raising this issue.)

Friday, December 05, 2003

A Banking Intro

Henry has been delving deeply into the world of global banking systems. He has many interesting theories on the subject, which I'm sure he'll enlighten us with once he's through with finals. He has concerns regarding fiat currencies, particularly with the overextension of the US's fiat currency, and seems to be mostly in agreement with the "Austrian school" of economics as established by Ludwig Von Mises. He assures me that although mises.org has been hijacked by intellectually inbred libertarian lunatics, there is much merit in Mises's economic theory. So in order to better equip myself for these discussions I've dug through the Asia Times archive to find a large, multi-part banking system primer written by Henry C K Liu (if he ever wrote any sections beyond 4c, I haven't been able to find them). If anyone else wants to get a head start on this topic, there ya go...

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Long, Slow Slide

News from Iraq gets uglier and uglier. I think we are at the brink of a point of no return, after which point it will be impossible to repair our relationship with the Iraqi people and we will be powerless to help their new government succeed. We'll be left with no option but to pack up and go home and hope for the best. Or we may have already stepped off that precipice and started the long slide down, it's hard to say... And if we have gone over the edge, if past history is a guide, it may take us years to realize it..

CSM has a great roundup of coverage on the newly infamous battle at Samarra. To cover some highlights:

A supposed US officer who fought in the battle wrote to an ex-military blogger:
"During the ambushes the tanks, brads and armored HUMVEES hosed down houses, buildings, and cars while using reflexive fire against the attackers. One of the precepts of "Iron Hammer" is to use an Iron Fist when dealing with the insurgents. As the division spokesman is telling the press, we are responding with overwhelming firepower and are taking the fight to the enemy. The response to these well coordinated ambushes was as a one would expect. The convoy continued to move, shooting at ANY target that appeared to be a threat. RPG fire from a house, the tank destroys the house with main gun fire and hoses the area down with 7.62 and 50cal MG fire. Rifle fire from an alley, the brads fire up the alley and fire up the surrounding buildings with 7.62mm and 25mm HE rounds. This was actually a rolling firefight through the entire town."

With typical understatement, the BBC wrote:
"The Americans were using enormously powerful weapons, including 50 mm cannons mounted on Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and 120 mm tank rounds from the Abrams. Used in a densely populated urban area, built with flimsy mud-bricks, it is almost inconceivable that people well out of sight of the gunners were not also injured in the battle. "

The US military take:
"We have been very aggressive in our convoy operations to ensure the maximum force protection is with each convoy, but it does send a clear message that if you attempt to attack one of our convoys, we're going to use our firepower to stop that attack."

Response of a Samarran emergency room worker:
"All the people in town today are asking for revenge. They want to kill the Americans like they killed our civilians. Give me a gun, and I will also fight."

Conclusion of our anonymous US combatant:
"Since we did not stick around to find out, I am very concerned in the coming days we will find we killed many civilians as well as Iraqi irregular fighters. I would feel great if all the people we killed were all enemy guerrillas, but I can't say that. We are probably turning many Iraqi against us and I am afraid instead of climbing out of the hole, we are digging ourselves in deeper."

< nelson > Ha Ha! < /nelson >

For an amusing diversion, go to google and run a search on "miserable failure".... :)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Ask the White House a science question

Dr. John H. Marburger, President Bush's Science Advisor, will be answering questions on the White House's webpage today at 3:30pm ET. You can submit a question here.

Cyber-Security

The Washington Post has this article on the failure of the Bush administration to fund its own National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace , which the administration released over a year ago. I have not yet had an opportunity to read the document (indeed, the article was the first time I had heard about it) but I expect it will be an interesting read.

Worms For You

BBC has a curious science article suggesting we may all be better off with a few hookworms in our guts. These guys leave no stone unturned..

The Anti-Rove

Christopher Lydon, a Harvard Law fellow, has a great interview with Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi on mp3. It's a very fun listen. I think this guy has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with Karl Rove. The secret? His habit of "dipping Skoal snuff and drinking Diet Pepsi non-stop". As I've said before, I'm voting for this guy and the campaign he's put together as much as I am for Dean. If you do nothing else intellectual-like for the next month, listen to this interview. We ought to send him a Boys' Weekend invite, he would fit right in.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Experiment In Community Building

Also covered on CSM today a story about an experiment on how to rebuild decaying communities. There are some very simple ideas here that appear to effectively promote active civic participation. I think sometimes the answers can be simpler than we imagine. A little leadership to open the lines of communication can go a long ways.

An End to Progressive Taxes

CSM is running an insightful story on how Bush's tax cuts are moving US policy towards a flat tax. I knew that the cuts were top-heavy, but I hadn't realized how far they went. If the Democratic candidates can't figure out how to make this play with the electorate they deserve what comes to them. They normally get scrared off by accusations of "class warfare". At some point they have to realize that, yes, it is class warfare, and they, along with 90% of the US population, are getting their asses kicked.

At Least We Impress Ourselves

I love the headline on this one. I guess Europe is not as familiar with the Bush Legislative Strategy, as highlighted by Dave, of taking a useless symbolic action then launching an expensive media blitz to promote it. They'll get used to it.