Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Competing values: When it comes to ethics and morality the toughest arena may be at work.
Kenny & Co.:
I spotted Kenny Lay, garbed in a spiffy jogging suit, getting in a little morning cardio not far from one of the two multimillion dollar vacation homes he keeps there. I guess that secondhand shop his wife opened to sell off some of their booty has been doing brisk business.
'Nuff said.
The morally bankrupt Congress:
No belt-tightening has been applied to Chapter 11, the portion of the bankruptcy law that large corporations employ. The end result is that a company like Enron gets to protect the wealth of its top people, while its fired workers and money-losing investors find it hard to obtain relief.

Should this really be the American way? Stick it to the little guys while the big guys get protected?
When Disorder Lurches Into Order: Another nail in the creationism coffin. The creationists often cite the Second Law of Thermodynamics as proof that ordered life could not have arisen naturally from a disordered system. They argue that some sort of supernatural intervention was required. This experiment demonstrates that the second law is somewhat flexible at the molecular level. It seems quite reasonable that ordered, self-replicating molecules could have arisen in such a process. Once present, these molecules could easily served as the molecular seeds upon which the self-replicating protein chemistry of life began to grow.

As a person of faith I believe that there is an interaction between the natural and the Divine. But I also believe that it is the nature of the Divine that no objective evidence will ever be found to prove God's existence. Creation and evolution are cases in point. Science belongs in schools and faith belongs in houses of worship. Schools should not mislead and say that one is the other.
Storm in a test-tube: There is something brain-dead about the British system of justice.
Dopamine levels and belief systems: Recent research has found a correlation in the levels of dopamine in the brain to pattern matching. People with high dopamine levels tend to find patterns that are not there and people with low levels tend to miss patterns that are there. One might suspect that those who overachieve in pattern matching may also be those who depend on intuition to a greater degree.

It seems to me that overacting pattern matching and intuition dependence must play a role in personal belief systems. High-dopamine folks should tend to be less skeptical about the objective evidence to support a given belief system and the reverse would hold true for the low-dopamine folks. To me this explains the effectiveness of mass missionary efforts of some sects. If one targets enough people one will find enough high-dopamine, non-skeptical individuals to reap a respectable harvest. The counter-reasoning of the skeptic will have little avail since the belief system is not based on reason but on an apparent pattern. To whatever degree innate dopamine levels are genetic one would expect that belief-system-susceptibility runs in families.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

(Krugman on) Banana Republics:
State governments turned into banana republics in part because voters didn't realize that a charming, personable chief executive can also be an irresponsible opportunist, seeking political advantage through policies that ensure a fiscal crisis on someone else's watch. Now the same governing style has moved to Washington. And this time there's no safety net.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Breaking the Muslim mindset: Once again Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks out as one of the few voices critical of the Saudi radical orthodoxy in the Muslim world. The shortage of internal voices like this that lead those outside of Islam to criticize Islam as a whole for fundamentalist excesses.
The Sept. 11 attacks and their aftermath have exposed the FBI's computers as a national laughingstock, a system so antiquated and inefficient that U.S. senators quip that their kids get more bang for their byte than the nation's vaunted G-men.
Whether we take any overt action in Iraq or not, the things brewing in Iran may put several countries in play. Imagine what it would be like if Saudi, Iraq, Iran, and Egypt all developed a chain reaction and erupted at once.
The kingdom is now a key battlefield in the conflict between America and its allies and the forces of extremist Islam. It is a conflict that is now threatening to tear Saudi Arabia apart.
Those who would charge the Israelis with indiscriminately targeting women and children have little evidence to back up their argument in these figures.
It looks more and more like national policy is being driven by fiction based on Revelations.
The seemingly wacky ideology promulgated in the Left Behind books is one that important people in America are quite comfortable with. The Left Behind series provides a narrative and a theological rationale for a whole host of perplexing conservative policies, from the White House's craven decision to cut off aid to the United Nations Family Planning Fund to America's surreally casual mobilization for an invasion of Baghdad -- a city that is, in the Left Behind books, Satan's headquarters.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

The Bush legacy is going to include Superfund sites whose cleanups were put on hold for the duration of the regime.
The federal cash pipeline just keeps rolling for good ol' brother Jeb.
Paul O'Neill demonstrates why it is time for him to get his walking papers.
It seems to me that the only principle guiding this administration is political expediency. The only time they buck this trend is to pursue something stupid. You may not remember National Missile Defense but I'm afraid we will remember the crony-pay-back tax cut all too well.
Last summer the White House sold a tax cut that would mainly take effect years down the road as a short-term stimulus. Since then it has repeatedly abandoned the free-market principles it claims to cherish, courting Rust Belt voters with steel tariffs and lavishing farm subsidies on Midwestern swing states. The pattern hasn't gone unnoticed.
Easterbrook on foreign aid:
If the Bush administration spearheaded an ambitious new commitment to more accountable foreign aid, the cost to the United States would be small, but the benefits to humanity could be remarkable.
Reid Stott makes an excellent point. We should be comparing the number of unintentional civilian casualities caused by the US in Afghanistan to the number of intentional casualities that would have been the order of the day if the Taliban were still in power. By his reckoning 12,000 are alive today because of the US intervention.
The Bush camp never fails to disappoint. Never. When special funds were created to support the respective legal efforts to settle the election, the Gore campaign files its financial disclosure the very next day after the fund is set up. The Bush campaign..... Well, eighteen months later they finally file theirs just beating the IRS "amnesty" deadline by 9 hours.

You tell me. Who is showing a good stand-up sense of ethics here and who is taking things to the absolute limit of what the law allows?
The Saudi regime gets shakier while reports of internal dissent are suppressed. Meanwhile some Westerners sit in jail as scapegoats. Watch out! The times they are a-changin'.
The republican attack ads in the Florida gubernatorial race have begun. It's interesting to note that while the ad accuses the Dems of ducking questions on the issues, the truth is that the Dems have delivered specific answers on the issues. Who is doing the real song-and-dance?

Friday, July 26, 2002

While the WA Post posits that liberals see conservatives as mean and conservatives see liberals as stupid, my take on it is that conservatives are liars and liberals tend to be naive.
Even the Economist concedes that support has eroded for W.
Ubicomp: Joe Katzman quotes Bruce Sterling about how close we are to ubiquitous computing. When computing completely cuts the wires that tie it down. Wireless technologies plus new wireless power options plus grid computing shall shortly completely reinvent modern life in ways that we can not now even imagine.
Muslim non-integration: Bruce Bawer has an extensive exposition of the European/Muslim immigrant tensions. In some countries Muslims have "ghetto-ized" themselves in order avoid having to abide by Western ideas of civil behavior and individual human rights. The leaders of the Muslim communities make all kinds of rationalizations but the simple truth is they want to continue the same oppression of women, non-Muslims, and others that they enjoyed back in the old country. I have a couple of points I would like to make about that.

1) There is a limit to freedom of religion. In a pluralistic society the civil rights of society trump freedom of religion. In this regard all religious traditions are on an equal footing. I can't speak for other countries but in the American system the particulars of what conduct is allowed by law can be changed if enough people want to change them. If any sub-group within the society wants to change the rules they are free to compete in the arena of ideas. If the change can be justified to enough people it can become the law. But until that happens the sub-group is obliged to abide by the existing laws. Rapists can and should be criminally prosecuted. Men that imprison their wives and daughters should also be prosecuted. If they want to behave in these ways in the name of their religion they can emigrate to some other country where these things are not seen as criminal. I remember the adjustment a Mexican immigrant father had to make when he came to this country. We had to convince him that he couldn't beat his daughter in this country like he was free to do in Mexico. He had to decide whether to change his behavior so he could stay out of jail in the US or return to Mexico. In the end he decided that living in this country was worth making the change. Muslims must make similar decisions. Historically we have tended to err on the side of permissiveness when immigrants brought in practices that the mainstream found to be unappealing to say the least. I think the days of that permissiveness are numbered and more Americans are going to demand that religious minorities adhere to the law of the land or accept the consequences.

2) Having said that I think there is some profound international and cultural conflict on the horizon. The West will stand more and more in opposition to the denial of human rights that are exercised in countries with a Muslim culture. Granted that the economic and strategic considerations will color this conflict. This will be a major conflict which may involve a fair bit of armed conflict.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Chocolate! Does anyone else remember that Smothers Brothers bit where one asks "Why did you yell 'Fire!' when you fell into the vat of chocolate?" He answered, "Do you think people would have come running to help if I had yelled, 'Chocolate'?" I wonder what this guy yelled. And I wonder what they did with the chocolate.
Mining is dangerous: Whenever I hear of reports of another coal mining disaster I bridle again at those who prefer fossil fuels over safer alternatives. Nuclear power may be considered dangerous but it is fossil fuels that are killing people and trashing the planet. It is safer by far.
South Korean clone: I am looking forward to what Virginia has to say about this.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Rewarding 'Good Apples': John Balzar points out that there is something missing in our system of economics and government when all the incentives tend to push toward bad behavior. Stocks rise and fall on the almighty guarterly reports while solid, consistent performance by companies and individuals is ignored. The "good" people only seem to look good when there are rascals about. At other times they seem to be less than brilliant by not pushing at every angle possible.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

John Judis points out that current practices allow companies to hide the effect of stock options on profits while at the same time allowing companies to take a tax deduction for them. This is not bad corporate practice, it's bad law. If you can deduct an expense you had better be required to reflect the expense in the P&L. Valuing stock options is tricky but this balanced approach should restrict wild exaggerations of value.

Friday, July 19, 2002

It's one thing to loot a corporation with insider trading but they are also pulling the same scam with the taxpayers and the federal budget.
First, Bush and his cronies used deceptive accounting to make it look like the federal government could afford a massive tax cut and still pay off the national debt. It couldn't. Now they're using the same dishonest accounting methods to argue that our current budget deficit will be short-lived. It almost certainly won't.
In The New Republic Online article, He Ain't Heavy Ryan Lizza run through the long litany of special efforts W and his administration are making on behalf of his brother in Florida. And why shouldn't he? W got through his business days not on his skill as a business man but because of all the connections he brought with him. If Jeb retains his governorship it will clearly be because of his connections. I ask you. Is this any way to run a country?

The real surprise is that thus far national Democrats and the media have given so little scrutiny to the president's efforts to aid his brother's campaign--the kind of scrutiny, for example, that accompanied Bill and Hillary in 2000.

Thank you Mr. Bush and supporters. Not only did the tax cut put more money in the hands of your rich friends it also is going to make credit more costly for everybody. For those who voted for this: What were you smokin' ?
Speaking of judicial appointments, not only is Owens trouble for abortion rights, her past decisions show that she is a corporate stooge with, you guessed it, Enron as her biggest source of corporate donations. And she stayed bought, too.
Bush acts like he won an election and has a mandate. All his judicial appointments are profoundly pro-life. Maybe best thing to do might be to let him have his way. It sounds brutal but when women start dying again maybe the pro-life folks pause to think that their way is not the best way.
Who's Afraid of 1984?Truth wins anytime it meets falsehood on a level playing field. By making information ubiquitoius state-sponsored spin becomes less and less effective.
New Scientist fertility, breast-feeding, and breast cancer. study or nuns. How do we get this effect without over-populating or increasing childbirth mortality? Keeping population under control has more dangers than mere breast cancer.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

It would have just been too mature for him to say that as a sexuality-conservative it was just too embarrassing personally to have a bare breast floating over his head in every press-conference appearance. Instead we get the immaturity of lies and excuses for the new blue curtain. I guess that is indicative of his true nature.
I agree with Counterspin Central that "the Palestinians would have had a State 20 years ago had they adopted the tactics of Gandhi instead of Arafat." The problem is that the path of nonviolence demands a level of moral integrity that has so far eluded the Palestinians and their Muslim supporters.
Another indictment of the Bush energy plan.
Amid the recent hoopla over the EPA and Bush administration's plans to make it easy for power plants, oil refineries and chemical factories (major sources of acid rain nationwide) to expand without installing new pollution controls and the Senate's consideration of Clean Power Act, there's an important new wrinkle to the story.

A new study revealed that acid rain's damage to America's forests may be much more widespread than previously believed. It may actually create conditions in trees similar to compromised immune systems in humans, establishing a vulnerably with grave potential implications.
Here's some encouraging news. It seems the human brain appears to be hard-wired for cooperation.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Steven Den Beste has some intriguing comments about the value of religion
The WAPost sees that a skeptical press corps has "grown tired of constant fights over access to information and bored by the administration's sanitized version of events."
Paul Krugman reviews Dubya's past business practices. If we really want to judge the character of this man these things need a better explanation than we have heard so far.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

There is hope that this time the press will get to the real truth about how W conducts his business where he has been given a "bye" before.
This illustrates the real Bush acumen for business. He can't seem to do very well on straight deals but does just fine on the slimy ones.
Pay attention to the sequence. His accounts tell him that he needs to get some cash to cover his Rangers debt. Then he signs a letter stating he won't sell the stock for six months. Then the need for the letter goes away because the new stock offering falls through. And just before the news of the problems hit the street he dumps the stock. I sure would like to know who he sold it to. It almost looks like a favor was being called in.
While major corporations and their friends in the White House play fast and loose with the books another misguided and ineffective drug law is drawn up.
It's not that there seems to be an incident of cronyism or a potential conflict of interest. It just seems that there is so much of it.
Remember all those oozing news accounts of the early days of the presidency, which noted how the White House was being run like a tight corporate ship for the first time ever? Makes you a little nervous now, doesn't it?
These capitalists without a clue really don't earn that money they get or they are earning it by intentionally stealing it from investors.

Monday, July 15, 2002

There appears to be an outbreak of sanity in some portions of the corporate world. Some CEO's are actually getting pay cuts.
I hope Bush gets a proper Whitewater treatment.
Ann Coulter is her own worst enemy. Her new book actually destroys the point she is trying to make.
At least the predecessors to the current Central Command recognized what the real problems with Iraq invasion plans where.
The general often compared the aftermath of a U.S. war in Iraq to a dog chasing after a car, said former Central Command officials. The most challenging part for the dog, Gen. Zinni mused, is figuring out "what to do with it once it catches it."

Sunday, July 14, 2002

My thoughts about flag-waving.
This flag does not fly for greed and empire building. This flag does not fly in support of Americans against the world. This flag does not fly for rights for one ethnic group over another. This flag does not fly to subject others to my religious preference. This flag does not fly to deny equal human rights to anyone. I fly this flag to support the vision of our founding fathers, that all humans are created with equal rights and that government is a social contract among a diverse set of people. This flag flies for a capitalist economy with appropriate regulation that encourages genuine competition. This flag flies in respect for peoples of other nations, yet it seeks to expand human rights wherever it can. But even flag-waving has its limits. I think it was Mark Twain who said, "Better to wrap up in the Constitution and burn a flag than to wrap up in a flag and burn the Constitution."

Saturday, July 13, 2002

Emissions spewed out by power stations and factories in North America and Europe may have sparked the severe droughts that have afflicted the Sahel region of Africa. The droughts have been among the worst the world has ever seen, and led to the infamous famines that crippled countries such as Ethiopia in the 1980s.
As we continue to pave over paradise we should remember that 'Rain Gardens' Help Replenish Dwindling Ground Water
Mind mapping has proven to be a useful tool for organizing one's thoughts. Now it can help dyslexics.
How long is it going to take to rid ourselves of creatonists that want to interfere with public and educational policy? In the meantime Scientific American has 15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense.
The power of napping may be valid but I don't think my boss would buy it. It also points to the importance of proper sleep for both mental and physical learning.

Friday, July 12, 2002

Have been delinquent in posting for a while. Time to catch up.
The Saudis are our friends, really they are.
Paul Krugman on The Insider Game
The crisis in American capitalism is about the way the game
has been rigged on behalf of insiders.
Arianna Huffington weighs in on the new born-again reformers. What big teeth you have!
Criminal Negligence: The Republicans want to get tough on corporate crooks. It's a little late for that.
the '90s moral tone that made Enron and WorldCom possible wasn't Clintonism; it was Gingrichism. And that's one moral tone George W. Bush hasn't changed at all.
The New Republic Online: Backward
Some people are shameless, absolutely shameless. Billy Tauzin is at it again. Accounting Gimmicks
Afghan democracy still has a long way to go. The Hiding Place
Gregg Easterbrook on how malfeasance at high levels can have major effect on investor confidence and eventually the economy. Greed Isn't Good
Citizen Muckraking Please check this out. The little people can make a difference.
From Lou Dobbs downgrades President Bush "When George W. Bush talks about the importance of honest business practices and corporate integrity, it's like listening to Bill Clinton lecture about chastity. "

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Criminal Negligence
Whether it's Hollywood or Wall Street, conservatives hate to admit that it is the cultural amorality of the profit motive itself that sometimes produces moral rot. So when movie moguls or corporate chieftains choose the bottom line over basic decency, conservatives are reduced to suggesting that the scoundrels lost their family values at Woodstock (or by watching Clinton) rather than admit that they are simply following the structural incentives of an inadequately regulated free market.
Accounting Gimmicks
Levitt was, by nearly all accounts, a vigilant regulator who was stymied at every turn by a hostile Congress. But the point of Tauzin's attacks isn't to generate important substantive findings or meaningful laws. It's to make Billy Tauzin look good.
From the New Republic Online
Pledge Class
There's no reason that the pledge must include an explicit reference to God. In fact, before 1954, it didn't. Schoolchildren simply pledged their allegiance to "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Congress added the reference to God in 1954 to distinguish the United States from the "godless" Soviet Union. This is precisely the kind of state endorsement of religion that the First Amendment was designed to prohibit. Critics of the decision keep talking about the religious faith of the founders, but the fact is that this country was founded in large part by religious dissenters. Our Bill of Rights was written against a backdrop of centuries of efforts by the British government to control religious beliefs.

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

I have been waiting so long for the karma to catch up with this guy. It looks like the wait may be over soon for the hypocrite in chief.

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Here's a idea for reducing taxes that provides clear benefits. Shift the tax burden to the polluters. There will be real incentives to reduce our impact on the environment while green practices get rewarded.
Time to get real. What are the chances our little planet is of interest to outsiders? Slim to none according to this astronomer. And he explains why.