Saturday, June 28, 2003

Here's something for those looking for a real boost in brain power.
Hooked up to the machine, 40 percent of test subjects exhibited extraordinary, and newfound, mental skills. That Snyder was able to induce these remarkable feats in a controlled, repeatable experiment is more than just a great party trick; it's a breakthrough that may lead to a revolution in the way we understand the limits of our own intelligence -- and the functioning of the human brain in general.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Constantine's vision that changed the course of history was likely a meteor strike in Italy. Fascinating.
Thanks to Jody.
This modest proposal to break the deadlock on judicial nominations is ill-considered. Tim Noah proposes that the minority party give up the right to filibuster nominees in return for one, just one, acceptable appointment. Gives away the farm.
Fred Kaplan explains the inadequate thinking of the American Imperialists.

The larger point is that empire is a tough, bloody business. It is also a business requiring immersion. The British willingly took, and dealt, thousands of casualties for the sake of its preservation. They set up whole ministries devoted to the study of their holdings (the India desk, the Arabian desk, and so forth). And yet, as David Fromkin points out in A Peace to End All Peace—his ceaselessly fascinating (and, at this moment, vital) book about Britain's attempt to remake the map of the Middle East before and during the First World War—they still bungled the whole enterprise, badly misreading major events, and allowing themselves to be led disastrously down primrose paths by local, power-hungry charlatans. Sound familiar?
I'm falling behind. Tim Noah answers the question, Can Bush Be Both Ignorant and a Liar?
My company has sent me travelling this week. As I drove around central Virginia I became aware once again that it's not enough to be correct about public policy. Given the complexity of social problems and economic theory, having it right or even close to right is plenty difficult. But the real genius is being able to convince the man and woman on the street that the ideas have value.

The opposition has proven that it is absolutely without scruples. We should learn to expect that from them. The media is more interested in sales and ratings than truth. I guess that's to be expected, too. Unfortunately it seems that the combination of these two features make for a tough combination to beat. It's easier to generate a lie that is "sexy" in a journalist sense than it in to attract equivalent attention for the truth. In our short-attention-span world the counters to lies struggle to be noticed. By the time they are out there, the common attention has moved on. Basically it becomes a contest of who can tell the most instantly believable lies. If you are really good (Karl Rove is a Jedi Master at this) you can build the next set of lies on the last set while it still has some life. So what do you do.

First of all, be absolutely scrupulous about what you say and do. Don't provide the opposition with easy ammunition. And second, be very sensitive to what the opposition is saying. Counter quickly and directly. Don't let the lies have any oxygen to thrive on. One must not let the media off the hook either. As they try to slant their stories for mass appeal, be prepared to counter the slant with honesty and directness.

I don't know how long it is going to take to break through to the popular consciousness. But when it happens we all will win, both on the right and on the left.

I'll confess that I have been enjoying the quasi-reality TV show, "I'm a celebrity, get me out of here". It's been interesting to watch the interplay amongst these characters. It was nice to see Bruce Jenner comporting himself well. He has come a long way from that small church college in Iowa where we shared a year. (full disclosure: he was in the jock crowd and I wasn't, so I doubt he ever knew I existed.) It's only a coincidence that I share a name with his daughter.

It's been nice to see folks step up and face difficult situations in a constructive manner rather than go cut-throat as the survivor series encourages them to. It was nice to see some "get it" that cooperation was more useful than command. Furthermore, it was nice to see that those were the ones the voters saw as deserving.

One who particularly didn't get it was poor Tyson. It was clear that he saw the experience as a competition that he could game somehow. The contributions he made as a solid team member became over-shadowed by fairly lame efforts to distinguish himself. He ended up trying too hard. Not only that he began to display an unwillingness to be self-critical. Whenever he got crossways with anyone he could not genuinely accept his share of the responsibility for the problem. This lack of humility put me off and apparently put others off as well.
Microgrids: reliable power in a small package

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Giving Joshua Micah Marshall some well-deserved linkage.
"But when you begin to see people pushing the evidence that is almost certainly bogus and disputing the evidence that is almost certainly valid, you, at a certain point, just realize that you need move over into the vernacular and call things as they are. Those folks are lying. "

Monday, June 16, 2003

Some quotes from resigned White House counter-terrorism adviser Rand Beers. He's now working with the John Kerry campaign.

The focus on Iraq has robbed domestic security of manpower, brainpower and money, he said. The Iraq war created fissures in the United States' counterterrorism alliances, he said, and could breed a new generation of al Qaeda recruits. Many of his government colleagues, he said, thought Iraq was an "ill-conceived and poorly executed strategy."
He thinks the war in Afghanistan was a job begun, then abandoned. Rather than destroying al Qaeda terrorists, the fighting only dispersed them. The flow of aid has been slow and the U.S. military presence is too small, he said. "Terrorists move around the country with ease. We don't even know what's going on. Osama bin Laden could be almost anywhere in Afghanistan," he said.
Within U.S. borders, homeland security is suffering from "policy constipation. Nothing gets done," Beers said. "Fixing an agency management problem doesn't make headlines or produce voter support. So if you're looking at things from a political perspective, it's easier to go to war."

This guy knows where the bodies are buried and he's beginning to talk.

A word to my faithful but few readers. I shall be travelling quite a bit during the next couple of weeks so blog entries will be intermittent. But I hope to be back in force thereafter.
Finally, some useful research on cannabis. Some much of the drug debate is carried on by people that just want to outshout each other and get what they want. The public is better served when policy is based on facts.
The best weapon any military has, including our own, is the fog of war. To be effective one has to simply use it better than the other guy.

Friday, June 13, 2003

Over at the nearby Yakima Firing Range in Washington State the military boys are testing some new device that seems to kill the local cable TV from time to time. I wonder what it is.
Note to Howard Dean: We can do it!
In Memoriam
This is going to be interesting when it happens.
Within 10 years, an Earth-size planet — the size that scientists consider the most likely to contain oceans and therefore life — is expected to turn up in searches by two scheduled NASA probes. And astronomers hope to be able to detect life — or rule it out — in such places within 20 years.
Here's a paradox. Freedom of choice is only possible in a deterministic universe.
"I like to think that 's what brains are for they are for producing future. You extract information from the past and use it to produce future, and the more future you can produce the more freedom you have."
Linking this for jody.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Wouldn't be cool if they could detect tumors by running a wand-type device over your body? This thing could actually work.

Monday, June 09, 2003

Our problem isn't so much media bias as it is braindead media.
Even as journalists admit that Blumenthal has the goods to prove what a right-wing circus impeachment really was, they dismiss his revelations as score-settling, and worse -- as "history." The spectacle of the media, having gotten the story wrong in the first place, dismissing the book that gets it right is stunning, even to someone who lived through the actual impeachment.
Impeachment isn't just "history." Some of the key "right-wing fanatics" who peddled "tainted, planted, unfounded, retracted, distorted, misleading and plain nonexistent evidence" that led to a "Kafkaesque" political "show trial" have more power than ever in politics and the media -- and have, it seems, actually benefited, personally and politically, from their attacks on the Constitution. The current corrected revised accounts by journalists leave the misimpression that only a few marginal right-wing zanies of passing importance were involved in the illegitimate effort to bring Clinton down. As the now uncontested facts around impeachment show, that is hardly the case.
Kinsley summarizes the current state of union, Tyranny of the rich.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Josh outs the lunacy of Wolfowitz.
Ariana blasts the bastards
The last few years have shown us what happens when an entire subculture loses its moral compass: Enron, Tyco, Adelphia, WorldCom, et al. And it's becoming increasingly clear that the current administration has embraced the unethical ethos of the corporate oligarchy from which many of its members came, and which all of them continue to serve. The same inability to distinguish right from wrong that characterized the corporate scandals also dominates public policy. It's the Enronization of Washington.
Cool! A robot field hand (or as we used to prejudicially call them back in Texas, a robot "mescan").
Holy Cow! Raines is out!
Corporate America stifles creativity.

Copyright protection is necessary for inventors to invent and creators to create because they provide a monetary incentive to do so. But the Framers of the Constitution stressed that there should be copyright protection for "a limited time" only -- specifically 14 years, renewable for another 14 years, for a total of 28 years -- for good reason. They understood something about how inventors invent and artists create new work. That is, all creativity is built upon the past. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Today, Congress and the courts do not express this viewpoint. Rather, they are expressing the views of the major corporate interests. Since that initial constitutional clause was written, Congress has sought to extend copyright protection to an obscene number of years -- life plus 70 years for individual authors and 95 years from publication for corporate authors.

Under the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (also called the Mickey Mouse Act), Mickey Mouse, created in 1928, will not be released to the public domain until well into this century. In other words, Mickey's image is the property of Walt Disney Corporation. But the push by Disney to maintain its ownership of Mickey Mouse is ironic because Mickey was based on a Buster Keaton short film titled Steamboat Bill Jr.; a film that was part of the public domain.

But you knew that. But did you know that with the move to broadband, internet users are giving up their protected freedoms on a "common carrier" network and putting themselves under the whims of the corporate providers of broadband. Broadband does not have to follow the openness required of a "common carrier". They can begin to watch what is passing through their lines and steer it for their own corporate interests.
Watch Out! When the Bush so-called Clear Skies program stops putting soot into the atmosphere, expect global warming to really take off.

Unless of course we actually manage to do something about greenhouse gases in the meantime. In a worst-case scenario I can just imagine the building of sooty fossil fuel plants to counteract the effects of the CO2 they are spilling into the air.

GT-MHR's anyone?

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

It seems that many in the conservative camp are getting a little twitchy about the Bush tax policy and trumped up justifications for war. It would be a good thing if Dr. Dean could bring to the fore some aspects of his policies that have genuine appeal with them.
Bush and his numbers. Krugman does the math. With a $726 billion tax cut to provide 1.4 million jobs, each job is worth $500,000. Wouldn't it be simpler for the government just to give the money directly to the unemployed? Talk about making a big dent on poverty.
Without women in the military desert postings would be much less bearable, but not for the reasons you might think.
Just like WMD's the arguments for tax cuts continue to evaporate. Daniel Gross in Slate

What’s more, recent history seems to argue against a link between tweaking top marginal tax rates and income growth. The marginal tax increases on high earners by President George H.W. Bush (1990) and President Clinton (1993) didn’t hamper economic or income growth. And the marginal tax reductions of the past few years haven’t lit a fire under the economy.

Now can you tell me again why poor people and families get no benefit from this tax cut? When the money for them that you cut out makes little if any difference to the rich people that got it? This administration is sick! Sick I tell you!

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

This is probably too complicated for a guy with a C-average.

economic analysis suggests that tax increases would not in general be more harmful to the economy than spending reductions. Indeed, in the short run (which is the period of concern during a downturn), the adverse impact of a tax increase on the economy may, if anything, be smaller than the adverse impact of a spending reduction, because some of the tax increase would result in reduced saving rather than reduced consumption. For example, if taxes increase by $1, consumption may fall by 90 cents and saving may fall by 10 cents. Since a tax increase does not reduce consumption on a dollar-for-dollar basis, its negative impact on the economy is attenuated in the short run. Some types of spending reductions, however, would reduce demand in the economy on a dollar-for-dollar basis and therefore would be more harmful to the economy than a tax increase.
Wish I'd said this.

the GOP and the administration would not lift a finger to help 12 million kids and their families in a way that would also boost the economy. They are careless about working families, and truly clueless about the economy.
I sure hope this guy gets a job in the coming Dean administration. He has been faithful to truth and the American people while others were cowed by the lying right.
And now some gems from Reason Online:

The current state of gays and the law.

A modest proposal to keep trial lawyers reined in and still keep consumers protected from corporate incompetence and predation.

And a start on some fresh thinking about providing healthcare. The problem I see in this idea is that for some people healthcare may not be affordable at any but the most modest level. There still will have to be a mechanism for providing efficient care for those at the bottom of the ladder. In the case of communicable diseases at least we all have a stake in keeping poor people healthy.
Salam Pax Is Real.
After catching the administration in four lies, Timothy Noah can tell what the truth is.

Lie number one:
"My jobs and growth plan would reduce tax rates for everyone who pays income tax."
Some low- and middle-income families are excluded from the child-care tax credit.

Lie number two:
$30 billion in tax cuts had to be taken out of the bill to suit Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican deficit hawk.
could have been handled by going to a top rate of 35.3% instead of 35%. Those guys wouldn't even have noticed the difference.

Lie number three:
all taxpayers would receive tax cuts, because the people affected by the exclusion weren't taxpayers.
8.1 million tax filers would receive no cuts.

Lie number four:
"People in the 10 percent bracket, they benefit the most from" the Bush tax cut
89 percent of all single taxpayers in the 10 percent bracket would receive no tax relief.

When people give many different explanations about why they did something, and all of them turn out not to be true, chances are they don't want to talk about the real explanation.
Perhaps what Fleischer and others in the Bush administration long to say, and yet can't, is that taxing the poor, far from being a regrettable byproduct of lowering taxes on the rich, is a good in and of itself.

Despicable. Simply Despicable.
This has interesting implications for the health physics arm of my industry. It looks like we may eventually be able to accurately measure lifetime radiation doses from a blood test. It would be a great tool to monitor and protect radiation workers. It would also be quite useful in determining true base lines for background exposures versus occupational exposures.

Monday, June 02, 2003

I am becoming more and more strongly convinced that the accusations levelled at liberals by conservatives are simply nothing more than projections. If a conservative characterizes a liberal as humorless and politically correct, you can bet that said conservative will be display his own humorlessness and peculiar brand of political correctness within a few sentences.
Lifted from a discussion at Dean's World

I just had to put this in the blog to save it for future reference. The issue is the contention between fundamental Christians and homosexuals.


Individual relationships are unproblematical. This issues revolve around the law, civil rights and the position of the state. Christian leaders and activists are hypocritical because they campaign selectively against homosexuality but ignore the role of the state in other conduct that affects the long-term future of the family. Their position on homosexuality is therefore not an expression of genuine concern about the family, but derives from personal prejudice dressed up as principle.


In my experience the main objection that gay people have to some Christian denominations is the way in which their leaders and activists translate their religious convictions about homosexuality into a strenuously pursued public policy/political campaign. This is in partly reactive (a response to gay rights campaigning) and partly an element of a general response to changes in legal and social practice. I myself don't much care (and nor do most non-religious gay people care) what Christians as individuals think about us as individuals. If relations are good that is so much the better. If they are poor or non-existent, we can live with it, as long as nobody commits crimes like murder and assault on us (and then that is a criminal matter anyway).

The difficulty comes in the perception (with ample confirmation) that some Christian activists oppose equal civil status for gay people (that prejudiced treatment and exclusion of gay people because they are gay should be legally permissible), oppose repeal of criminal sanctions affecting gay conduct (where they exist), and oppose civil equality for gay people (e.g. age of consent laws, gay civil marriage, adoption rights). They also oppose any government action (e.g. the content of state-funded education) that states or implies gay “lifestyle” and domestic arrangements are “as good as”, “on a par with” or “comparable” to heterosexual counterparts.

Such arguments are usually pursued in terms that offend gay people. But even when stated in moderate language, the principal claim remains unacceptable to gay people, namely that, on the basis of religious convictions about sin and/or biblical/theological authority (a) gay people and their conduct are inferior and unwanted in civil society; (b) that homosexuality is wrong and should be discouraged by the state; (c) gay people, going about their lives in a perfectly ordinary fashion, but not concealing or disguising their homosexuality, should be treated differently by the state, and should not be able to look to the state for the protection they would be afforded if they were not openly gay.

Sooner or later these Christian demands on the state are justified in terms of “the family”, and on the Biblical injunctions against sexual conduct outside marriage: adultery and fornication (of which homosexuality is an example). The family is the point of intersection between religious-biblical belief and social-civil preference and need. The family of the Bible is also the family of the welfare state. It is claimed that the rational basis of Christian opposition to homosexual equality is the need for the state to support the institution of the family, or at least not to undermine it. The nature and purpose of the family are understood by Christians to depend on monogamous heterosexual marriage; and it is claimed that if social and economic policies adopted by the state treat other “family” arrangements in the same way as those based on heterosexual marriage, heterosexual marriage will be undermined, devalued and degraded, and will cease to be the preferred institutional choice for reproduction, with disastrous consequences.

There are several points at which I do not necessarily agree with this argument, but for the purposes of this discussion, let the general argument stand: that equal treatment by the state in legal and economic matters of family arrangements other than those based on heterosexual marriage could have negative consequences for the future viability of heterosexual marriage. If that is the case, then there are infinitely more important government practices which undermine marriage than any aspect of the treatment of homosexuality, in particular the legal status of couples who live together and raise children, but do not marry. Should the biological father of children in such an arrangement have any legal status with respect to his offspring, or they with respect to him? (a return to a law of bastardy?) Should schools teach social studies and sex education in such a way that such informal “families” are presented as legitimate choices, on a par with marriage, or should they show them as inferior and lacking essential qualities? Or divorce – should civil divorce be made much harder to obtain? Should divorce be presented in social-sexual instruction as a failure and a last resort, not as a right and a legitimate choice. In particular, should there not be civil sanctions against adultery, and should schools not teach that adultery is a destructive and pernicious practice?

Do Christians who would wish to see the state take a different view of homosexuality to heterosexuality think that it matters whether heterosexuals who are raising children are married or not? Does it matter if they commit adultery? If so, shouldn’t their comments about the role of the state and the family emphasise the things that pose the greatest “threat” to marriage first, and only subsequently and subordinately address the issue of homosexuality? Should any condemnation of homosexuality always be accompanied by an equally strong condemnation of adultery? If Christians agree and amend their practice, then their views on homosexuality might be accorded grudging respect. But if “practical” or other arguments permit them to ignore some “threats” to marriage and the family, and invent others, then their views on homosexuality will be seen to rest not on a genuine concern for the family, but on prejudice, dressed up as principle.

Posted by charlie b. at May 30, 2003 06:00 AM

You tell 'em, Al!
Until we regain control of our own country, resistance is futile.

If Dwight Eisenhower were alive today he'd be warning us about the dangers of the military-industrial-media complex.
I can remember when crack babies were seen as a real problem. Now it appears that nicotine babies are similar to crack babies. What does that say about prior generations in which smoking by pregnant women was much more common? Or in other countries in which almost everyone smokes?
Isn't science wonderful? It seems that there has been significant progress on the prion disease front. Mad-Cow, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, kuru, etc.