Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Praise bravery, seek forgiveness

Throughout the weekend I had thoughts like these expressed in a Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial:
"In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.

The 'smoking gun,' as some call it, surfaced on May 1 in the London Times. It is a highly classified document containing the minutes of a July 23, 2002, meeting at 10 Downing Street in which Sir Richard Dearlove, head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, reported to Prime Minister Tony Blair on talks he'd just held in Washington. His mission was to determine the Bush administration's intentions toward Iraq.

At a time when the White House was saying it had 'no plans' for an invasion, the British document says Dearlove reported that there had been 'a perceptible shift in attitude' in Washington. 'Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The (National Security Council) had no patience with the U.N. route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime's record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.'

It turns out that former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill were right. Both have been pilloried for writing that by summer 2002 Bush had already decided to invade."
(emphasis added)

Fox News Admits Bias!

Timothy Noah reports. The money quote from the London bureau chief:
"Even we at Fox News manage to get some lefties on the air occasionally, and often let them finish their sentences before we club them to death and feed the scraps to Karl Rove and Bill O'Reilly. And those who hate us can take solace in the fact that they aren't subsidizing Bill's bombast; we payers of the BBC license fee don't enjoy that peace of mind.

Fox News is, after all, a private channel and our presenters are quite open about where they stand on particular stories. That's our appeal. People watch us because they know what they are getting. The Beeb's institutionalized leftism would be easier to tolerate if the corporation was a little more honest about it."

Romantic Love Under a Microscope

Or rather a brainscan. Randall has a hit list of the new insights.

Monday, May 30, 2005

More on Peak Oil

Kevin Drum has a good starting thread on the subject. As the realization of the fact of it begins to percolate through the public consciousness there will be more and more about it.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Why are we in Iraq?

A report in Britain's Sunday Times shows how Britain and the US prepared for a war that they knew was inevitable. Inevitable because they were determined to start it.
"During 2000, RAF aircraft patrolling the southern no-fly zone over Iraq dropped 20.5 tons of bombs from a total of 155 tons dropped by the coalition, a mere 13%. During 2001 that figure rose slightly to 25 tons out of 107, or 23%.

However, between May 2002 and the second week in November, when the UN Security Council passed resolution 1441, which Goldsmith said made the war legal, British aircraft dropped 46 tons of bombs a month out of a total of 126.1 tons, or 36%.

By October, with the UN vote still two weeks away, RAF aircraft were dropping 64% of bombs falling on the southern no-fly zone.

Tommy Franks, the allied commander, has since admitted this operation was designed to “degrade” Iraqi air defences in the same way as the air attacks that began the 1991 Gulf war.

It was not until November 8 that the UN security council passed resolution 1441, which threatened Iraq with “serious consequences” for failing to co-operate with the weapons inspectors."
And here's a link to a kos diary on the subject. Courtesy of Congressman John Conyers.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Friday, May 27, 2005

Auntie Pinko's Manifesto

Every once in a while Auntie Pinko catches the bigger picture and puts it into words.
"Public servants who really wish to address the problems and inequities in our tax structure would do better to undertake a thoughtful, long-term review of our entire national tax policy, with an eye to balancing the tax burden equally between assets and income, between earned and unearned wealth, and to making it appropriately progressive based on who benefits to the greatest extent (in terms of wealth accumulation) from the public infrastructure supported by the tax system. It would also be beneficial to examine our national priorities in terms of what our taxes should be funding. For example, we could increase the competitiveness of American businesses by creating and maintaining really effective transportation and communications infrastructures, and decreasing our dependence on power sources that require us to purchase fuels from foreign states.

More affordable housing, available and affordable health care, and an adequate retirement system for workers would decrease pressure on wages. Preserving the future of our children by assuring them of clean air to breathe and water to drink, healthy food to eat, and a quality education would create a highly productive, competitive workforce. Addressing issues of poverty, blight, and urban decay would reduce crime and make it more desirable for businesses to locate in population centers, preserving the environment and decreasing sprawl. By prioritizing these items, rather than trying to address the problems of business piecemeal with subsidies, corporate welfare, pork-laden military equipment contracts, and repealing or relaxing the enforcement of regulations, we could achieve real 'across-the-board' benefits to all taxpayers."

Ed. note: This was deleted by mistake so I reposted it.

GOP trial sham

Danny Westneat of The Seattle Times characterizes the GOP Washington Gubernatorial Voting Fraud case.
"GOP lawyer Dale Foreman told me earlier this week that when I saw the circumstantial evidence of fraud, there would be no doubt in my mind that 'somebody was messing with the ballots.'

Now that I've seen the evidence, there's no doubt in my mind Republicans ought to be ashamed of themselves.

They've shown plenty of evidence that this election was badly marred by mistakes. But they should retract their bogus fraud allegation, immediately and publicly.

The claim that the vote was stolen is no more than a conspiracy theory tarted up with statistics."

Running Out of Bubbles

Paul Krugman continues to fret about long-term economic prospects for the country when the housing bubble finally bursts.

Life Forms

Detecting the presence of life forms remotely may be possible. As long as the world happens to be covered in slime.

Unintended Consequences

Studies now suggest that birth control pills may permanently dull women's libidos. That may connect to this item in which another study indicates that half of women suffer some sort of sexual dysfunction. Randall Parker has some thoughts about this, too.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Boot Knows It

Even LeBoutillier knows we are screwed in Iraq.

Stem Cell News

While the Koreans consume media oxygen in pimping their recent success in embryonic cloning scientists in the States mark some success with producing cloned stems from the current Bush-authorized lines. For an excellent graphic that explains what the Koreans have done I refer you to uggabugga.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Meanwhile back at the front

The US is so screwed. Those in power in this country have an enormous interest in putting a good face on efforts in Iraq. And yet things don't seem to be getting any better. It is sounding more and more like Vietnam. According to official reports the enemy was beaten back time and again. While the returning soldiers told a different story. It's hard to tell where the truth lies from here. But to the degree that past experience is a guide I have to give the nod to Juan Cole.
The guerillas have enormous advantages, of knowing the local clans and terrain and urban quarters, of knowing Arabic, and of being local Muslims who are sympathetic figures for other Muslims. American audiences often forget that the US troops in Iraq are mostly clueless about what is going on around them, and do not have the knowledge base or skills to conduct effective counter-insurgency. Moreover, as foreign, largely Christian occupiers of an Arab, Muslim, country, they are widely disliked and mistrusted outside Kurdistan.

US military tactics, of replying to attacks with massive force, have alienated ever more Sunni Arabs as time has gone on. Fallujah was initially quiet, until the US military fired on a local demonstration against the stationing of US troops at a school (parents worried about their children being harmed if there was an attack). Mosul was held up as a model region under Gen. Petraeus, but exploded into long-term instability in reaction to the November Fallujah campaign. The Americans have lost effective control everywhere in the Sunni Arab areas. Even a West Baghdad quarter like Adhamiyah is essentially a Baath republic.
In an ideal world, the United States would relinquish Iraq to a United Nations military command, and the world would pony up the troops needed to establish order in the country in return for Iraqi good will in post-war contract bids. But that is not going to happen for many reasons. George W. Bush is a stubborn man and Iraq is his project, and he is not going to give up on it. And, by now the rest of the world knows what would await its troops in Iraq, and political leaders are not so stupid as to send their troops into a meat grinder.
It's difficult to see how there can be any solution to this that isn't costly in lives and dollars for a long time to come.

We need to remember that our current leadership got us into this mess by playing on our fears of trumped-up dangers. As a people we were too cowardly to take the risk of leaving Saddam alone. But it's too late now. We are on a slide from which there is no escape in the near term and only faint hope for the long term. Too many of our sons, daughters, wives, and husbands are going to be sacrificed on the altar of our cowardice and there is nothing we can do about it.

Blowout Scam

An Eschaton commenter points out that the current administration of our government is really nothing more than a common blowout scam. Read the details and I'm sure you'll agree.

Patriot Act

Someone wanted to talk about the Patriot Act.

As you may recall we were running scared when the law was enacted. We had just experienced a horribly successful terrorist attack. At the time we didn't know how many more might be coming. John Ashcroft certainly believed other attacks were coming. It was politically unpalatable to do nothing even if we didn't have a clue about what would be effective or not. We had no good plan. We didn't know the strength or weakness of the attackers. We didn’t know how many different attacking groups there might be. So we guessed. We cobbled together a bunch of measures from the intelligence and law enforcement wishlist with little regard for potential abuse or unintended consequences.

Now, of course, we have a better understanding of the threat as well as some experience under the provisions of the act. It turns out the Osama bin Ladin group were the only major players in the attack and there were no other players waiting in the wings. The anthrax attack is still a mystery but there has been no recurrence, only hoaxes. The perpetrator has been accidentally inhibited or no longer has the wherewithal to launch another attack. We may never know if he was a part of the OBL organization. But Ashcroft's fear of a series of attacks has proven to be typically overblown.

Those in favor of the act argue that the changes were incremental, not revolutionary. Such things as libary peeking were already allowed for grand juries. In some cases, government conduct came under regulation where previously there was no regulation whatsoever on the conduct. In support of their position they point out that the delayed-notification search warrants have been used 108 times resulting in the seizure of material 45 times. And there has been no evidence discovered yet of abuse under the act. There has been no need to invoke the libary peeking provision of the act.

Those on the other side point out that simple exercise of first amendment rights can be sufficient cause to bring you under surveillance. There is even less protection for those who are not native-born. They argue that even a grand jury was under the supervision of the court system if it where to authorize library peeking. In many of the cases where libraries and other entities voluntarily turned over information, the mere threat of invoking the act was sufficient to motivate the party. It seems to me that this is simply a form of abuse that can be denied. Law enforcement no longer needs probable cause to gain access to personal information. Where the delayed-notification warrants have been used, it was in the investigation of non-terrorist wrongdoing. The detractors point out that there is a bit of disconnect in saying that the changes were small and incremental and in saying that the changes have been highly effective. It's hard to believe that both aspects are objectively true. In any case the secrecy permitted by the act makes it very difficult to assess the actual effectiveness of the act. They also point out that the FISA powers may have expanded way too much. FISA cases were over-reaching before PATRIOT and under PATRIOT roving surveillance loosen the restrictions even further. Fishing expeditions are now possible (and probable). Perpetrators of violence get slapped with an additional crime of domestic terrorism if it can be shown that they hoped to influence government policy with the violence.

Part of PATRIOT has been ruled unconstitutional. It made a crime out of talking with terrorist groups regardless of the content of the talk. If you advised them to renounce terrorism and seek their goals by nonviolent means you were in violation of the act. Another feature of the act even prevented reporting about the constitutional challenge until the case was decided. A second part of PATRIOT was also ruled unconstitutional. NSL’s presented to ISP’s to get everything on a person without telling the person was ruled to be a prior restraint on speech. I have my suspicions whether the prior restraint argument is going to hold up.

Before PATRIOT, FISA only rejected 4 of 14,000 warrants. Many of those warrants were based on allegations that proved false. The bar for getting a FISA warrant is now much less. There will be even more warrants issued on false allegations. The NSL’s have been used a lot (At least a 5 page list).

My first conclusion is that in high stakes poker and national security it's dangerous to be a chicken. There's no way that running from inflated fears makes for good law. We have seen how a law for fighting terror allows itself to be used for fighting more ordinary crime. Maybe we have it backwards in that we need to have better laws for fighting ordinary crime and these will cover the terror problem as well. There is just not enough accountability for it to be good law. I suspect we will eventually be up in arms about abuses that have already happened but are still being kept under wraps. We’ll never hear about them until DOJ prosecutes. And almost by definition if DOJ doesn’t prosecute, they have abused their powers.

I think our country would be better served if we pierced the secrecy of actions taken under the act is such a way that the effectiveness and weaknesses of the act can be judged. We need to allow the act to die and put a law in place that avoids running afoul of the first and fifth amendments. I wonder if Ashcroft was replaced partially because PATRIOT was his baby. The act is going to get hammered by Congress, especialy if abuses show up when the veil of secrecy is lifted to them. With John gone the current Attorney-General is insulated from potential PATRIOT blowback.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Democrats back away from a double win

By going to the compromise the Democrats may have allowed the Republicans to sprinkle a little rose water on the stench coming from red state portion of the chamber. And perhaps some of them will have avoided the outraged they have earned for now. But more importantly I think the Democrats have missed an opportunity to lose a battle in order to win a war. When the thin Republican majority fades as it inevitably will as more of their chickens come home to roost, Democrats would have been in a far better position to get this country back on track that it will be now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

We Were Getting it Right, But Not Right Wing

An excerpt from Bill Moyers' response to Corporation for Public Broadcasting's new Bush (hswib) flunky Tomlinson on charges of liberal bias (emphasis is my own).
Judith Miller of The New York Times, among others, relied on that credibility, relied on that credibility of official but unnamed sources when she served essentially as the government stenographer for claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. So the rules of the game permit Washington officials to set the agenda for journalism, leaving the press all too simply to recount what officials say instead of subjecting their words and deeds to critical scrutiny. Instead of acting as filters for readers and viewers sifting the truth from the propaganda, reporters and anchors attentively transcribe both sides of the spin invariably failing to provide context, background or any sense of which claims hold up and which are misleading.

I decided long ago that this wasn’t healthy for democracy. I came to see that news is what people want to keep hidden, and everything else is publicity. In my documentaries, whether on the Watergate scandal thirty years ago, or the Iran-Contra conspiracy twenty years ago, or Bill Clinton’s fundraising scandals ten years ago, or five years ago the chemical industry’s long and despicable cover up of its cynical and unspeakable withholding of critical data about its toxic products, I realized that investigative journalism could not be a collaboration between the journalist and the subject. Objectivity was not satisfied by two opposing people offering competing opinions, leaving the viewer to split the difference. I came to believe that objective journalism means describing the object being reported on, including the little fibs and fantasies, as well as the big lie of people in power.

In no way – in no way does this permit journalists to make accusations and allegations. It means, instead, making sure that your reporting and your conclusions can be nailed to the post with confirming evidence.

This is always hard to do, but it’s never been harder. Without a trace of irony, the powers that be have appropriated the Newspeak vernacular of George Orwell’s 1984. They give us a program vowing no child will be left behind, while cutting funds for educating disadvantaged children; they give us legislation cheerily calling for clear skies and healthy forests that give us neither, while turning over our public lands to the energy industry. In Orwell’s 1984 the character Syme, one of the writers of that totalitarian society’s dictionary, explains to the protagonist, Winston, “Don’t you see? Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050 at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we’re having right now. The whole climate of thought,” he said, “will be different. In fact, there will be no thought as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking, not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

Hear me: an unconscious people, an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda is less inclined to put up a fight, ask questions and be skeptical. And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too.

Torture's Dirty Secret: It Works

Naomi Klein deconstructs the reason torture is part of our current policy. It's a red herring that it actually provides any sort of useful information. The purpose it really serves is to intimidate social dissent. It's function is similar to the Soviet warning shot. You shoot the first guy over the fence and that acts as a warning to the second guy who is thinking about going over the fence. The prospect of torture for no good reason such as what we have going in Gitmo and other places is to make it easier for our forces to exercise control over fractious populations. It serves to keep the casual offenders in line which allow us to focus energy on the hardcore offenders who are undaunted by the prospect of torture.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Galloway's testimony takes no prisoners

George Galloway reams Coleman a new one. Great Stuff!
"Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.

"Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Halliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money, but the money of the American taxpayer.

"Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where? Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.

"Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government."
Where's the woad when you need it?

Appropriate High Technology

I finally got around to watching "Hotel Rwanda" last night. It's definitely a movie I want for my library. On the one hand it shows how helpless super-powers can be. But there was a scene that gave me an idea of how power might be projected even in difficult situations like that.

In one scene the protagonist is able to cow those who would do the hotels occupants harm by invoking the image of spies documenting the holocaust with satellite communications. It was a bluff of course, but what if it wasn't? The frustrating thing about the Rwandan situation then, the Darfur situation now, and other troubled spots around the globe is that without a risky presence on the ground by strong international forces, the perpetrators feel like they have no accountability for their actions. They can and do get away with anything. If we could beef up our surveillance capabilities as well as our unmanned combat capabilities we could stand a better chance of keeping gross atrocities from happening. If the bad guys know that someone is watching and that there will one day be a reckoning they will be much less likely to carry out wide ranging genocides. And governments with means will not be reduced to simply wringing their hands.

Environmentalists and Nuclear Power Living Together?

A potential disaster of biblical proportions! Some reports indicate that major environmental concerns are making their peace with the N-word.

Very Large Diamonds Produced Very Fast

Colorless 10 carat diamonds can now be artificially produced. I'm glad my DeBeers holdings are nil.

Update: Here's an
article with a picture of a crystal-clear 5 carat gem that was cut from one of these artificial single-crystal diamonds.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Hastings, Member of SS Wall of Shame

Our local Congressman is a proud occupant of the wall.
"On Social Security, Hastings said, 'personal accounts are the way to go to get a handle on mandatory spending,' and expressed optimism that Congress would see legislation to address the issue this year."

Pygmy Village Casts Doubt on 'Hobbit'

An unexpected turn of events with homo floreinsis. The remains that have been thought to be a new human species may actually have been a pygmy with a birth defect.

Replacement shuttle: Astronauts not included

This is an interesting approach. NASA is considering separating the cargo lifting from the people lifting function in a new space shuttle system. This means that the big ugly rocket does not have to be engineered as safely as it would need to be if it were carrying people. The crew would go up in a smaller, easier-to-engineer vehicle and transfer to the boxcar in space. The trickiest part of the flight is the launch when the most forces are being applied and do-overs are impossible. This is brilliant enough to actually work.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Anti-Midas Touch

Brad DeLong, in his recent Senate testimony:
And let me end with point five: competence in implementation. A Social Security reform plan could clear hurdles one through four, and still fall flat on its face if incompetently implemented: the devil is in the details. And looking at the farm bill, the steel tariff, the return of deficits bigger than ever, the use of intelligence by the NSC, the absence of a real plan for post-invasion Iraq, the Medicare drug bill that ex-HHS Secretary Thompson now really wishes had been structured differently, et cetera, et cetera, it is hard to believe that any reform to be implemented by this administration will be implemented competently. It has the anti-Midas touch: whatever it grasps turns to mud.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Friday, May 13, 2005

No time like the present

We are a nation at war. Unfortunately we are at war with ourselves. There are those who prefer superstition,darkness and the apparent power it brings to truth and genuine enlightenment. One battlefield is Kansas.
If we, as a society, cannot respect and understand the science we have created out of our own imaginations and our rational thought processes, cannot transmit that rigorous spirit of inquiry and curiosity to our progeny, then we shall have no choice but to fall back into that chaos and misery and tyranny, political and literal, of the Dark Ages.
That is only one example among many. Does our nation really want to turn back that clock? Do we really want to see our young women dying because of bootleg abortions? Do we really want our leaders to think that they can lie to us at will? Do we really want our intelligence agencies to tell us the truth or what we find convenient to hear? Do we really want to discriminate against people because of their genetic circumstances? Do we really want to toss out geologic and biological science and the blessings it has brought us?

A Leak's Wider Ripples

Capone and income taxes and now it looks like it's a leaker and perjury. It won't be the handling of states' secrets that brings down the Plame leaker. It will be simple perjury.
Here's where it gets complicated: Fitzgerald's legal quest makes little sense to me as a leak investigation. The law is fuzzy, the evidence is ambiguous, and the case would be hard to prove. But every good prosecutor hates perjury above all. And on its face, this case raises the possibility that one of the senior administration officials who talked with Cooper or Miller has denied doing so, under oath. Otherwise, Fitzgerald would have been finished months ago.

For journalists, the case raises agonizing issues: Where is the dividing line between journalistic ethics, which demand that reporters protect their sources, and ordinary ethics, which say people should cooperate with law enforcement if they know about possible criminal activity? Do journalists have a special status that exempts them, in certain cases, from the normal responsibilities of citizenship? But this case should worry most of all any White House insider who may have talked with reporters about Valerie Plame and then lied about it under oath.

Marriage ruling sets stage for Senate debate

It had to happen eventually. A judge strikes a blow for equality.
As if the battle over federal judges and “judicial activism” were not superheated enough, a ruling Thursday by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon to scrap Nebraska’s constitutional definition of marriage has added new fuel.

Bataillon’s decision – the first time that a federal judge has struck down a state constitutional provision limiting marriage to heterosexual couples – comes just a few days before the Senate begins its long-awaited debate on filibusters of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Bataillon’s decision pits the life-tenured judiciary against direct democracy: who is more powerful, one federal judge, or the 477,571 Nebraskans, 70 percent of the voters, who cast ballots in favor of the constitutional provision back in 2000?

For now, the answer is Bataillon.
That pesky constitution. It just keeps standing in the way of the tyranny of the majority. Maybe we should just throw it out.

On a Bicycle in Beltsville, Blissfully Unaware

First there was My Pet Goat, now this.
When the state of red alert was declared yesterday, the vice president was evacuated from the White House and the first lady was whisked to a secure location. But no precautions were needed for President Bush.

He was out at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Beltsville, riding his bicycle -- at noon on a Wednesday -- blissfully unaware. "The decision was made to inform the president upon conclusion of his bike ride," Bush press secretary Scott McClellan said later.
One would almost think that the President's (hswib) handlers keep him in a cocoon.


Why is that cuts of social program go through but cuts of defense programs are charades? Short answer is that the little people have no power and defense contractors do. How much longer are the people of this country going to stand for this.So much for those Pentagon budget cuts.
Back in January, Defense Department chieftains announced that they were paring $30 billion from their ledgers over the next six years. But it became instantly apparent that few, if any, of those trims were going to stick -- not with all those Congressmen and all those lobbyists and all those Pentagon bureaucrats lined up to keep inertia rolling. Sure enough, within days, senators and generals were pushing to restore the cuts to one of deepest-gouged programs, Lockheed Martin's C-130J Hercules cargo plane.

Today, they got what they wanted. "Three months after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld submitted a budget to Congress that would have killed the C-130J program, he now believes purchases of the Hercules transport should continue," reports Air Force Times. Rumsfeld said ending the program could cost as much as $1.6 billion. So next to nothing would be saved by a cancellation, he argued.

Now, this wouldn't be so bad, if the plane worked. But it doesn't, according to Tom Christie, who heads the Pentagon's testing and evaluation office. He calls the C-130J "neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable." Sen. John McCain thinks the Hercules' is basically a giant hand-out to Lockheed. "We're going to have a C-130 in every schoolyard in America," he quipped during a 1999 presidential debate.

"The C-130J proves that pork flies. In the seven years that we, the taxpayers, have owned the planes, they have never been usable in combat," adds Project on Government Oversight executive director Danielle Brian. "This is Washington politics at its worst: when the legitimate needs of the troops are ignored by politicians pushing for pork."

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Atmosphere may cleanse itself better than previously thought

This is good news. We may be able to get out of the hole we have dug for ourselves. If only we stop digging.
A research team from Purdue University and the University of California, San Diego has found that the Earth’s atmosphere may be more effective at cleansing itself of smog and other damaging hydrocarbons than was once thought.

Scientists, including Joseph S. Francisco, have learned that some naturally occurring atmospheric chemicals react with sunlight more effectively than previously thought to produce substances that "scrub" the air of smog. This group of chemicals, after absorbing energy from sunlight, is able to break down smog and other pollutants into far less harmful components.

While many such chemicals have long been known to behave in this way – producing natural air cleaners called OH radicals – the chemicals the team studied have for the first time been observed to produce air-scrubbing OH radicals at low ultraviolet wavelengths. This observation has eluded science primarily because photochemistry at these wavelengths has been difficult to study.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Home from Iraq

As the war drags on, I suspect we will remain clueless about the motivations of those whom we fight. We do so at our peril.
"Recall Patrick Henry's famous speech encouraging the Second Virginia Convention, gathered on March 20, 1775, to fight the British, 'Give me liberty or give me death!' Why is it that we, as Americans, presume that any Iraqi would feel any differently? If the roles were reversed, do you think for a moment that our men wouldn't be stockpiling arms and attacking any foreign invader with the temerity to set foot on our soil, occupy our buildings of government and write us a new constitution?

Wouldn't we as women be joining with them in any way we could? Wouldn't the divisions between us -- how we feel about President Bush, whether we're Republican or Democrat -- be put aside as we resisted a common enemy?

Then why is it that this story of human effort for self-determination by violent means cannot be told in America? Are we so small, so confused by our own values that we cannot recognize when someone emulates our own struggle? Even if it is the U.S. that they are struggling against? I want to be careful to explain that I am not saying that the Iraqis fighting against us are necessarily fighting for democracy, but they are fighting for their right to decide for themselves what their nation looks like politically."
How many other American journalists, perhaps not as secure in their position as I, have thought to do a story and decided that it's too close to the bone, too questioning of the American government or its actions? How many times was the risk that our own government might come in and rifle through our apartment, our homes or take us away for questioning in front of our children a factor in our decision not to do a story? How many times did we as journalists decide not to do a story because we thought it might get us into trouble? Or, as likely, how often did the editor above us kill the story for the same reasons? Lots of column inches have been spent in the discussion of how our rights as Americans are being surreptitiously confiscated, but what about our complicity, as journalists, in that? It seems to me that the assault on free speech, while the fear and intimidation is in the air, comes as much from us -- as individuals and networks of journalists who censor ourselves -- as it does from any other source.

Fun with Quotes

It's really just too easy. Bush on Iraq: All Wrong, All the Time

Ridge reveals clashes on alerts

We only snarkily suspected that the terrorist risk level was a political tool. Now it turns out to be true.
The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though then-Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level, Ridge now says.

Ridge, who resigned Feb. 1, said Tuesday that he often disagreed with administration officials who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or "high" risk of terrorist attack, but was overruled.
It's getting really hard to exaggerate for effect anymore.

Stargate Replicators are here

I am beginning to find that the news articles I linked to a couple of years ago are no longer around. To preserve my record I guess I'm going to have to capture here the text I would like to keep. Please forgive me if my postings get to be too wordy.

For the Stargate fans out there we have this.
Scientists at the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York have created small robots that can build copies of themselves.

Each robot consists of several 4-inch (10-centimeter) cubes that have identical machinery, electromagnets to attach and detach to each other and a computer program for replication. The robots can bend and pick up and stack the cubes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

U.S. proposes 100 new nuclear power plants

Business appears to be looking up.
The United States needs to add about 100 nuclear power plants over the next two decades to meet burgeoning demand for electric power and maintain the current generating mix, Nils J. Diaz, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission told reporters Tuesday.

Creation of Black Hole Detected

Two neutron stars merged and set off a characteristic gamma ray burst. 2.2 billion years ago for us to see today.

Pheromone attracts straight women and gay men

Another indication that homosexuality is biological. The brain structure is different.

But brain structure is not static and permanently fixed. Psychological trauma such as combat can alter brain structure sufficiently that PTSD can be diagnosed from a CAT scan.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Another Statistical Oddity

From Kevin Drum.
The results are simple: Democratic presidents have consistently higher economic growth and consistently lower unemployment than Republican presidents. If you add in a time lag, you get the same result. If you eliminate the best and worst presidents, you get the same result. If you take a look at other economic indicators, you get the same result. There's just no way around it: Democratic administrations are better for the economy than Republican administrations.

Webby Awards

Guess who's receiving a Webby Award!
Setting the record straight on one of recent history's most persistent political myths, The Webby Awards will present Former Vice President Al Gore with The Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of the pivotal role he has played in the development of the internet over the past three decades. Vint Cerf, widely credited as one of the "fathers of the internet," will present Vice President Gore with the award.
Not much of a consolation for all the distortions in the political campaign, though. Makes one wonder how much better off we might all be today if that particular distortion had been omitted and replaced by the truth.

Here's a transcript of the remarks that started it all.

Plan B: Ignore the Science?

As with most things in public debate today, the facts about Plan B get short shrift. The western Taliban describe it as an abortion pill. Actually it is nothing more than emergency contraception. The distinction is real.

The hidden oil demand in China

It's not the new cars in China that are driving the growing demand for petroleum demand and the pollution problem. It's the diesel mules. China fields three of these little beasties to every car it makes.

Spontaneous Ignition

This could be one of those seminal breakthroughs that will someday change everything. Catalysts at a nano-scale can start and sustain combustion at near room temperature with an efficiency better than a fuel cell.

Room temperature combustion is not unknown since that is how life forms get their energy. It's pretty efficient, too. Just think about how hard it is to work off the energy one derives from a single doughnut.

Friday, May 06, 2005

FDA uses bad science

Only the conservative homophobes and other genuinely misinformed folks still believe that HIV is a gay disease. So why is the FDA setting rules that prohibit gays from donating sperm for fear of HIV contamination? What kind of people are running that outfit?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

We are really going to miss the unions...

after they are destroyed.:
"But the right wing never rests, and for any of my liberal readers who harbor suspicion of labor unions as an 'old' liberal cause — just another one of those special interest groups that Democrats are always pandering to — ask yourself this: why are conservatives so hellbent on breaking them? Why did Ronald Reagan fire those air traffic controllers in 1981? Why did George Bush make union busting a key issue in the 2002 midterm election? Why the relentless opposition to using card checks to organize workers in new industries? Why the continuing demonization of unions from a party that's otherwise so conscientious about building its appeal to the working and middle classes?

It's because unions are the only truly effective check on the sine qua non of modern conservatism: corporate power. For all their faults — and they have plenty, just as corporations do — unions are the only organizations that have the power to bargain effectively for the interests of the middle class. Union power in the private sector began to wane in the 1970s, and it's not a coincidence that this was exactly the same time that middle class wages began to stagnate, CEO pay began to skyrocket, and income inequality began increasing inexorably."

Some Religions are less equal than others

If you are not Judaeo-Christian don't expect equal treatment in America's courts. This time the other side looks like it is playing fast and loose with the Constitution.

Interest-Group Conservatism

Jacob Weisberg:
"Today the dominant conservative interests form a rival constellation: corporations, especially in the energy and military contracting sectors, evangelical Christians, wealthy investors, gun owners, and the conservative media. In the daily business of Washington, the old pattern remains in place, only with the substitution of these new supplicants and their new benefactors in the GOP. As in the old days, lobbyists work the halls of Congress and the regulatory agencies, functioning like carpenter ants to build a federal government ever bigger in size and more intrusive in scope.

True, the clients, patrons, and causes are different. Instead of the Children's Defense Fund pushing to fully fund Head Start, we now have church-affiliated social service agencies lobbying to have faith-based drug treatment funded by HHS. Instead of Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts promoting a hate-crimes bill endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, it's Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado introducing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on behalf of James Dobson's Focus on the Family. Instead of the Environmental Protection Agency proposing higher air-quality standards, it's the Federal Communications Commission levying fines and threatening broadcast licenses on the basis of profanity and indecency."

DeLay's shadow fades

The Hammer used to cast such a shadow in Congress than none dare cross him. But Republican Congressmen are recovering their spines and showing that they CAN do the right thing from time to time. Maybe there's reason to hope that there will be some integrity in the DeLay ethics investigation. Homeboy Doc Hastings is pleased to see 2 Ethics Committee congressmen who are close to DeLay recuse themselves. They are recent appointees to the committee who replaced congressmen who have been critical of the Hammer.

A convergence of phenomena

Fashion, fads, tipping points, and magnetism may all be explanable and quantifiable by similar equations. Fascinating.

Flying circles around the helicopter

This is pretty cool. It seems that if an airplane pays out a tether and flies in a tight circle the tether will assume a vertical configuration allowing it to be raised and lowered just like a helicopter.
"The system could find many uses. As well as rescue and military operations, a commercial cable system would allow light planes or even pilotless aircraft to retrieve or deliver packages almost anywhere. Remote settlements and scientific bases could receive vital supplies without the need for an airstrip or the risks associated with parachute drops. Payloads could include fragile items such as scientific specimens, medical supplies or living creatures.

Trivailo believes the technology has a more urgent application in firefighting. Wildfires have become more severe in recent years but many of the US fire service's water tankers are due for retirement. Trivailo's cable system could help take the pressure off, since it would allow almost any large aircraft to collect water and spray it from the air or deliver it to remote sites without the need to land."

New Prospects for High Sulfur Coal

Advances in combustion methods permit the burning of nasty coal with dramatically fewer emissions.
"Circulating fluidized bed combustors are relatively new to the electric power industry. They promise lower capital costs, lower pollution-control costs, better pollution control, fuel flexibility and higher combustion efficiency. Those qualities translate into moderate electricity costs for consumers.

While conventional coal-fired plants required expensive add-ons to clean pollutants from flue gases after combustion, fluidized-bed technology captures most of them inside the boiler during combustion."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What the Pre-War Intelligence Reports Do Tell Us

Ken Sanders compares what the President (hswib) knew from the (imperfect) intelligence and what he actually said.
"On no fewer than four separate occasions, Bush flat-out lied about Iraq's nuclear capabilities. Bush took already exaggerated estimations about Iraq's alleged nuclear threat to the U.S. and stretched them even further. The intelligence community, as wrong and as biased as it might have been, told Bush that as of 2002 Iraq was at least five to seven years away from developing a nuclear weapon. Bush looked at that information, deemed it insufficient to scare the nation into supporting his war, and then knowingly and deliberately lied about America's vulnerability to Iraq's nuclear terror."

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

To The Troops

I have been noting to myself the many parallels between the Vietnam and Iraq wars and wondering how to express it in a blog entry. In the news all the tough news about the fighting was mixed with batches of official optimism, just as we see today. We have come far enough from that experience that these nuances are now lost on a population that is too young to remember. Bernard Weiner expresses some of what I have been thinking.
"In this, and in so many other ways, Iraq resembles Vietnam. It took a good share of a decade until the citizenry at home and the troops on the ground in 'Nam came to realize and admit that their government had taken them into an immoral and unwinnable war. They began to organize to oppose that war and negotiate a face-saving way out. In the end, the guerrillas won and the U.S. exited hastily, a much embarrassed superpower.

There are signs that the opposition to this war is developing further, faster, both inside the U.S. and in Iraq. Desertion rates are way up, fewer troops (especially among the overused and abused Reserves and National Guard forces sent to Iraq) are re-upping, military recruitment is way down, support for the war is falling rapidly in the polls, even many conservatives and military personnel think we're engaged in the wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place.

Nobody wants to die for a mistake (or for a bad policy decision), but until the U.S. finds a quick way out of Iraq, that's the position you and your buddies are placed in over there. Granted, you signed up for the military and thus have even less leverage than draftees in terms of opposing the war. But know that your fellow citizens at home pay great attention to what the troops on the ground say and do. (Just one soldier asking Rumsfeld why the grunts weren't receiving proper body armor had a great impact.)"
Update: The party line on the right is that soldiers by and large are content with or even support the actions of the current administration (hswib). As a counter to that hypothesis Yahoo! News reports that recruitment targets are not being met across the board. It could be that the targets are not realistic or it could be... that the unpopularity of the Iraq War is showing in diminished recruitments.

Monday, May 02, 2005

It's Official

They went in on false causes and ignored planning for the aftermath. In the minutes of a confidential briefing Tim Dunlop sees what the Bush (hswib) is still trying to put the lie to today.
"Overall, though, I think the most revealing aspects are the fact that 'the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy' and that 'There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.' Combine these two factors and you end up with a recipe for precisely the sort of instability and insurgency that even in the last few days, two years after the invasion, has been responsible for coordinated attacks and three-figure death tolls."

A New and Effective Secret Weapon

As an administration that has often come off sounding clueless and mean-spirited, they may have found a new media tactic in the form of Laura Bush. She stole the show in a sendup of her husband and family at a recent dinner. By deflating the pomposity around her she has the potential to put a likeable face on this presidency (hswib).