Monday, May 27, 2002

Three lessons for US intelligence are posted in the Christian Science Monitor by Adm. Stansfield Turner, former director of central intelligence. The good news is that we DID have clues. The bad news is we didn't handle them well. Turner says that it is not helpful for the administration to claim they did the best they could do. That just isn't true. But there are some things that can be done right away to make things better. I hope the Republicans can overlook the fact that they were originally put into place by Carter. I hope the Democrats can overlook the fact they were dismantled by Reagan.

Sunday, May 26, 2002

The Institute for American Values is a breath of fresh air in a subject area so heavily dominated by proponents of right-wing religious agendas. It's not that I don't think that traditional marriage and American values are bad but it seems that these good ideas get hijacked by people who have no compunctions about playing fast and loose with the facts. As a result the credibility of traditional values has suffered. The Institute counters this trend with solid sources and good logic. I'm going to be watching them. Thanks to a link by InstaPundit.Com to a site and blog by one of the principals, David Blankenhorn.
The New Republic Online: Analyze This "But the FBI can't fix itself entirely from the inside. And that's where the politicians come in. Daschle and other top Democrats are calling for a 14-member independent commission to investigate the government's counterterror efforts before 9/11. Republicans are resisting the idea, claiming the commission will produce an anti-Bush witch-hunt--a partisan slur unfortunately given some credence by the Democrats' recent behavior. Democrats should drop their efforts to pin blame for 9/11 on Bush; Republicans, in turn, should drop their opposition to an independent commission. And then, perhaps, 14 people can go to work determining just what went wrong before 9/11 and how the FBI and the rest of our government can better protect the United States the next time."
Ryan Lizza in The New Republic: What Democrats are really doing--and what the White House fears is working--is showing that no matter how much the country admires Bush, it needs a Democratic Congress to keep him in check.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

BILL DANVERS: "Kaplan is right about one thing, the Clinton administration's terrorism policy is a matter of public record, and that record is a good one." It's the misguided agenda of Bush and his appointees that allowed our agencies to take their eye off the ball and significantly improved the odds of success for the 9/11 attack.
InstaPundit has linked to a number of discussions about teen sex. But Eve Kayden finally gets a bead on the real issue, ie. when is one "ready" for sex?. Then she has some very thoughtful things to say about it.
Bush's memory of promises about the budget and the Social Security seems faulty and amazingly convenient

Thursday, May 23, 2002

Ashcroft knew that he and his people had thoroughly screwed up on the warnings leading up to September 11. He has been desperately trying to hide that fact ever since. Not only did his agenda put Al Qaida concerns on the back burner thereby allowing the tragedy to happen, but none of the infringements on our constitutional rights he has requested of Congress will make the next attack easier to detect and to stop. Justice already had all the tools it needed to interdict 9/11. It simply failed to do good mundane police work. If the existing laws had been properly enforced these guys would have been in custody instead of in cockpits. This is why this administration must be sent home. Their agenda has ignored pre-existing needs and those weaknesses have caught with them and the rest of us.
The left have real doubts that John Ashcroft is capable of investigating the screwed up voter purge lists in Florida used in the last election.
The oil tankers that cruise our seas are pretty rust buckets corroding away much faster than anyone thought possible. International shipping fleets are monitored not near as rigorously as an Enron audit. It seems that the forces of corrosion are much more aggressive than shipbuilders have anticipated. Multinational economics have made it impossible for anyone to properly maintain a fleet and stay in business. At some point these corroded tankers are going to start popping like soap bubbles spilling oil right and left. Maybe then someone will actually start to enforce the regulations that are now on the books.
After all these yearsthe old gender double standard is still very much with us . And that is pretty pathetic. But I think the real problem is that we haven't yet come up with a consistent paradigm to replace it. There are real gender-related differences in behavior. We need to honor those without placing an excessive emphasis on them. This is more difficult and nuanced than the old, straight-forward double standard and as thinkers we are more comfortable being lazy. We need a reasonably simple replacement framework that includes limits to gender-oriented generalizations.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The Republicans can't really complain about the restrained criticism that is coming from democrats like Hillary Clinton. Instead they have to invent things so they have something at which to take their customary cheap shots.
The press is beginning to notice a pattern with this administration. Everytime there is something potentially embarrassing the Bushies trot out the old we're-at-war excuse. It may have worked before but it is beginning to wear thin.
This may be the issue that sinks the Bush second term. Because of the inappropriate agenda of his administration our counter-terrorism efforts (such as they were) were cut back. The solid information we did have was not followed up on. It's clear that if counter-terrorism had had the same priority as before this administration, 9/11 would not have happened. These guys left plenty of tracks and we actually got one of them into custody. The blame for 9/11 should be placed squarely on the policies of the administration. According to Newsweek John Ashcroft didn't want to hear about terrorist threats. His budget had little in it for counter-terrorism. Rumsfield vetoed a request to divert $800 million from NMD to counter-terrorism. Condaleeza Rice's predecessor Sandy Berger told her that terrorist threats would take most of her time. Instead the new administration was more interested on the war on drugs and actually made positive overtures to the Taliban.

Monday, May 20, 2002

Jonathan Chaitt properly defends Bush on the 9/11 call. But it is going to be a big mistake for the Republicans to claim that Bush had a better understanding of terrorism than previous presidents or candidates. The business with the FBI proves that. We all wish that we had a different mindset about terrorism before 9/11 but wishing will not make it so.
It may almost be too late to stop the global warming juggernaut. The carbon absorption capability of our flora is near its limit.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

It's such a sad thing that Republicans have to let remarks like those of Wayne LaPierre stand without rebuttal. It seems they can not afford to alienate his constituency.
The latest news on cloning indicates that the optimism about reproductive cloning of humans could very well be premature. Tissue Cloning Is Easy; Reproductive Cloning Isn't
Man-made food crisis grips Southern Africa | I know that colonialism is a bad word but it sure seem that many developing countries are not doing very well on their own. It seems to me that some sort of international coalition could be put together to rid struggling nations of the thugs that run them and build lasting democratic institutions and effective rule of law. The misery experienced in these places today is only breeding trouble for tomorrow.
Chairman Harvey Pitt is as bold a Wall Street watchdog as Scooby Doo.
Being gay and conservative is not an easy thing. Conservatives really don't have place at the table for them.
Giles Kepels thinks that the Al-Qaeda snake may be dying but it may bite a few more times before its demise is final.
Israelis have had a practice of undertaking an occasional assassination with manned aircraft. It may not be long before the US considers use of unmanned aircraft for taking out characters that have always been hard to get to. Saddam, are you listening?

Saturday, May 18, 2002

Where I come from when you change the name of something just to hide what it is we call it lying. Why do the Republican's (mainly) keep doing this? Because it works, unfortunately. But if enough people ignore the Republican labels and tell it like it is it will stop working and maybe, just maybe they will stop.The New Republic Online: A Rose by Any Other Name
And here's something fair and constructive about the FBI counter-terrorism.The New Republic Online: Police Blotter
The long-overdue solution to the accumulating nuclear waste problem approaches. Now, if only Dick Gephardt can stop grand-standing something useful might get done. from The New Republic Online: Nuclear Waste
Republicans are special. They can tell what Democrats are thinking about pre-9/11 threats despite restrained Democratic rhetoric (see Politics | Hijacking the issue). They can tell because they know what they would do if the situation were reversed. This tells us much more about the real nature of Republicans than the imagined nature of the Democrats.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

THE PORKSTERS HAVE IT: In an act of supreme cajones-deficiency our Congress have decided to show the rest of the world how to do farm subsidies right. Never mind the cost to the concept of free markets and to the taxpayers

THE GENIUS OF GEORGE BUSH: Orrin Judd uses Bush's handling of the education legislation as an example of how W is being effective. It seems he may have actually learned something in his educational and business career.

As governor of Texas and now as President, George W. Bush has pursued a strategy that has been quite consistent : he proposes ideas; he lets the legislature shape them into bills, intervening only at the end of the process to make sure the final product becomes law; and then, as executive, he's administered the programs, to the greatest extent possible, along the lines he originally envisioned. And when he hasn't gotten everything he's wanted, he's not hesitated to go right back and start the process all over again. Thus, he got as much of his tax proposal passed as possible, then turned right around and asked for more (or, according to this story in The Hill, just used executive orders to create more). With everyone squawking about the need for a Security Czar, he acceded by appointing Tom Ridge, but then gave him no actual power. When everyone demanded he get involved in Middle East peace talks, he sent Colin Powell, knowing he'd fail miserably. Etc., etc., etc. And so, we get a horrible Education Bill, one that Democrats in the Senate thought they'd beaten him on, and he only orders his administration to push the parts of it he wanted. Why are folks still surprised?
I agree with Mr. Judd that the press needs to get up to speed on these tactics or all may be lost and no one will know how it happened. With this in mind we can now make much more sense out of the hidden Bush agenda and the tactics with which he has been successful so far.

JOHN BOLTON, JESSE HELMS MAN IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT: Salon's Ian Williams has a piece on the fox the conservatives have in the State henhouse. He has no use for the UN, no respect for the EU, believes treaties are to be broken if they make it difficult to pursue national interests, and does all he can to advance American unilateral foreign policy. I'm sure Colin Powell would fire him if the W White House would let him.

BUSH AND CALIFORNIA: Here's an idea. Let's let our friends in the energy business gouge California for tons of money for electricity and they can put a big chunk of that money into our campaign coffers. How sweet it is to get those Democrats to help the Republicans. And while we are at it we will stop helping hospitals and trauma rooms care for uninsured Californians and maybe there just will be fewer Democratic voters in the next election.

A DIRTY JOB: Nation building is not the kind of thing that is easy or fun to do. So it is understandable that the Bush administration and many Americans are reluctant to get involved. But the real problem is that all the alternatives are even worse. The question is whether in the end will Bush be man enough to do this right or will he look for someone to bail us out. How can we have a prayer of succeeding in Iraq if we fail in Afghanistan?

WHY JEB BUSH SHOULDN'T GET RE-ELECTED: Despite promises to the contrary, he has utterly failed to accomplish any significant reform of the Department of Children and Families. The poster child for this is a missing 5-year-old who has been missing for 15 months before anyone knew. This is not an unusual case. The department was in bad shape before Jeb and it has failed to improve.

BUSH'S JUDGES: There is a way out of the impasse. If the Democrats would approve a few of the least objectionable they could recover the high ground and force W to withdraw the names of the worst candidates.

DARWINISM: Michael Ruse thinks he can reconcile Darwinism and Conservative Christianity. I think any success he may have is coincidental because of one basic problem. The world-view of the conservative Christian is one in which God is quick to abrogate natural laws to show his power. To a conservative Christian religion is a method to get around inconvenient natural laws by joining up with a God that does that sort of thing all the time. In Darwinism the natural laws such as the principle of universality reign supreme and govern all interactions. The traditions and dogma of conservative Christianity arose over the millennia with little regard for the limitations of natural law so any system than reconciles the two has its work cut out.

On the other hand I think it imperative that some form of Christianity be reconciled with Darwinism in particular and natural law in general. A religion can not make a claim to embodying divine truth unless can also handle natural truth which itself is the most objective expression of divine truth we have.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

Here's an interesting idea. The reason we can't talk about our earliest memories is that accessing that memory is limited by the language skills we had when the memory was recorded. If this principle plays out it might prove useful in separating genuine early memories from constructed ones. It also points out how essential language is in the human psyche and the role it must play in intelligence and mental processing.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

I wonder if the time is indeed come to drop race as a way of identifying ethnicity. Genetically there is no real basis for it. Socially it is an imperfect method of classification. There is no reason that any given black or hispanic has necessarily suffered a social disadvantage and is in need of social redress. Surely there is a better way of identifying those individuals who have indeed suffered and for whom compensation is due. It is even reasonable to extend the compensation to maybe the third generation of those who may have suffered. A method like this would conserve resources for those who really need them. Perhaps California will be the first state to grapple with this.

Arianna Huffington contrasts the shortage of spending proposed on nuclear security with the ease with which Bush gives back tax dollars to rich people.

Darwin was most perplexed about how evolution could arrive at something as stunning as an eye. But
detailed cellular examination has begun to show that the eye is indeed within the realm of evolutionary principles. However, the evolution of the just the lens shows how complex evolution can be.

Bush seems especially determined to not only show that the
US can not be trusted to abide by its agreements but also that the US is not willing to really be a team player. I wonder how long it takes before the US loses all her friends. They will not take this kind of abuse forever.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

Faith and Miracles
Many people look to religion to escape the limitations imposed by the demands of the physical world. For many people the most convincing evidence for grace is in miracles that seem to violate natural laws. The more unbelievable the better. But what does this say about the nature of God? Does He need to violate His own laws to bring us blessings? I think not. This brings me to the seminal miracle of the Christian faith, the resurrection.

When examining history we really don't have very many tools available. One expert analysis is just as good as another. Each will make certain assumptions and build a tale around them. What tool do we have that can reach back into the past? The only tool that we have today that can make sense into the past is the principle of universality. The same forces we see at work today are the forces that were at work in the past. No more. No less. So what can this principle tell us about the resurrection?

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. In our own day we have seen how the early demise of a beloved figure can lead to stories about mysterious posthumous appearances. We can not prove or disprove that such is not the case with Jesus of Nazareth. In all accounts of the resurrected Christ he makes an encounter then disappears from the scene. In no account do we see an extended phenomena of continuing ministry after death. Nor do we have an independent historical confirmation of his resurrection as we do of portions of his life and of his death. The upshot of this is, like so many things religious, there is simply no objective proof either way. We must concede that the Resurrection is, in the final analysis, a matter of faith. Too often in our religious speech and in our zeal to be convincing, we get lazy and tend to speak as if things of faith were indeed things of fact.

In the long run this does more to hurt our cause in the world at large than help it. When we confuse faith and fact we are easily dismissed by the unfaithful as adle-pated fools. We need not fear to express things in terms of faith that merit that treatment. People have a need for faith and will often respond in those terms when there is no objective proof available.

There is a method to weigh the merits of one set of faith beliefs over another, believe it or not. For the purposes of discussion I consider something a "faith concept" if it defies both refutation and confirmation by objective methods. If a particular faith concept leads each of us to be a better person (however one chooses to measure that) then there is no harm in believing in it. On the other hand, if a faith concept leads to counter-productive behavior or meanness in any way it bears closer look to see if it is worth holding on to.

The objective world is a harsh taskmaster and we must give it its due. When matters of faith come into conflict with sound science, faith must give way even if we would prefer otherwise. Remember that nature is an expression of God more powerful than both scripture and tradition. It must always take precedence.

A Modest Proposal
I was watching a documentary about one of the many New Guinea primitive tribes. They had a custom where men could not take a wife until they had established themselves to some degree. When a man was ready for a wife he would typically choose a young girl in her early teens. Then he would work for the girl's family for a while to convince them that he would be a good husband for the girl. If all went well he would eventually take her for a wife and set up housekeeping.

What struck me about this was that here was a solution for the problem of young families being insecure. You have a proven provider for the children and a young mother that is at the peak of her fecundity. But what, you may ask, do you do with the feisty young males and the women that are past their childbearing years? It seems reasonable that you would put them together as well. The young men would be able to learn how to treat their future wife and family from those with a wealth of experience. And sexually it would be a match. The randy males could enjoy their education as freely as they wanted without producing children for whom they were not equipped to care. And the women would have companions that could keep them satisfied. Perhaps many of today's social ills could be addressed in this fashion. The need for birth control and STD protection would be reduced. The number of children in poverty would be reduced. The social training of the younger generation would be improved because each would sit under the intimate tutelage of a member of the older and wiser generation. I wonder if anything like this has been practiced on a large to medium scale.

Friday, May 03, 2002

There is some evidence that poverty on a global scale is in fact diminishing. Only a few believers so far but the numbers can be defended.

I have been having an interesting discussion with the Islamic apologetics on the Beliefnet message boards. It has been pointed out on previous blog entries how the Honor-Shame structure of many Islamic societies makes dealing with them difficult.

Islamic Arabia is an honor-shame culture . In such cultures, the primary concern is what others believe about you. If others believe you are inferior, then you are humiliated and shamed, and you will hate not only those who perceive you in such a shameful way, but also the source of that perception.

This is the primary reason why the Israeli-Arab "problem" is insoluble at this point. Israel, by its very existence, is a humiliation to its neighbors, who, in all their hundreds of millions, lack the power to conquer a tiny state with seven million citizens. Worse, the quality of Israeli existence is a humiliation: Surrounded, constantly threatened with attack, vilified, dependent ultimately on the goodwill of the United States for survival, and yet Israel, at least in comparison to any other country in the Arab world, thrives. Its people live in freedom. It is incredibly productive. It is the only nation in the middle east to make the desert flower wholesale. Everything it accomplishes, every new height to which it rises, is a living rebuke to Arabia, which has done none of these things.

So far the responses of the apologetics are defensive is saying that the West runs on honor-shame as well with ludicrous and unrepresentative examples trumped up to illustrate their position. My position remains that as long as appearances of honor are more important in Islamic (or any other) countries than intrinsic integrity, not only will the Arab-Israeli problem remain intractable but those countries will fail to succeed in modernization. They will have a dearth of intellectual property with which to compete in the world of ideas and will only matter as source of natural resources and cheap labor in the legitimate arena. In other arenas we can expect them to be the source of asymmetrical violence.

This raises the question of how does one go about changing an honor-shame culture to one of intrinsic integrity. William Quick notes that were that has happened historically the nation has had to be so decisively defeated that the cultural assumptions are called into question. Who is going to undertake this task? In Japan the cultural conversion occurred after a stunning military defeat and a benign but progressive occupation by a Western power. Are there moderates in these countries that are working for change? Can they muster enough power to call the assumptions of their culture into question?

Recent debate about reproductive cloning and the idea of manufacturing babies with engineered characteristics has revived many of the old eugenics arguments. But it occurs to me that maybe we need to talk more about the de facto eugenics that is being practiced today by those segments of our society that encourage or sometimes compel their members to have as many children as possible. This rampant reproduction has the effect of increasing the prominence of these segments in society has a whole and over the long run can serve to advance the agenda of the high birthrate folks over the folks who choose a lower birthrate. Regulation of birthrate is distasteful. The best solution I can think of is for the low birthrate people to be sensitive to the existence of those high birthrate segments that tend to have political agendas. Using this sensitivity it would behoove the low birthrate folks to target a portion of their political arguments to the folks tending toward the other agenda. One hopes that in the world of competing ideas the default agenda for some can be modified.

Work is proceeding on the next thing after silicon for computing devices. When advanced optical or electron beam lithography finally run out of steam we will be able to use tailored viruses to construct computing devices that operate on the quantum level.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

It is encouraging to hear that there are methods for housing the homeless that actually work.

American farmers and quite possibly all international producers are caught in a cycle of subsidies that distorts the markets. Unfortunately it's a game that almost every country plays. It is going to take some real genius to end these distortions and return the markets to a sound footing.

Just read an old article from Slate that explains why Mormons are pro-embryonic stem-cell research and pro-life. In Mormon theology all spirits were created prior to the physical creation. Life begins when the spirit inhabits the body. How is that point defined? Current Mormon thinking is that that occurs at implantation but there is no explicit guidance in the Mormon scripture so there is room for some interpretation. It seems to me that the spirit is essentially a mental process and that at least a nervous system needs to be present to house it.

There is a real financial reason for eschewing the death penalty. Is it really worth it?