Friday, September 30, 2005

Have you evidence to the contrary?

“Also, the point of Dan Rather's story was that the President received favorable treatment and thus avoided serving in Vietnam. Have you evidence to the contrary?”

Bingo! Marvin Kalb inadvertently blurted out something extremely important in his response to John Hinderaker of the Power Line blog. He claims that it is the duty of those defending President Bush to prove that a charge is false. The exact opposite, of course, is the reality of the situation. An accuser is obligated to produce evidence of an alleged misdeed. Kalb has unwittingly revealed the disgusting mindset of his fellow MSM colleagues. I encourage everyone to focus on this one sentence. It explains a lot of the nonsense that has been going on for the last few years.

Enhanced Birth Certificates, Anyone?

Would anyone like to take a crack at modifying this disclaimer into something that can be attached to birth certificates? Then we could simplify death certificates and just stamp them, We told you so.

Oh, Here's A Great Idea...

By all means, let's turn this puppy over to the geniuses at the European Union and the United Nations:

BRUSSELS (AP) -- The European Union insisted Friday that governments and the private sector must share the responsibility of overseeing the Internet, setting the stage for a showdown with the United States on the future of Internet governance.

A senior U.S. official reiterated Thursday that the country wants to remain the Internet's ultimate authority, rejecting calls in a United Nations meeting in Geneva for a U.N. body to take over.

EU spokesman Martin Selmayr said a new cooperation model was important ''because the Internet is a global resource.''

Update (7:58 AM PST): Perhaps this, via InstaPundit, will serve as a sort of Quod Erat Demonstrandum...

Update (5:14 PM PST): Keeping in mind that eternal vigilance is the price of Internet liberty, one still is tempted to breathe a small sigh of relief on reading this...

Iran Defence Forum - Female Soldiers from around the world

Iran Defence Forum - Female Soldiers from around the world

The Gods alone know why the Iran Defense Forum has this section, but take a look.

A Mighty Wind...

Baron Bodissey at Gates of Vienna calls our attention to an AP story on an al Qaeda web site's mention of Hurricane Katrina as an ally of the Islamofascists, proving that Allah hates the United States:

NEW YORK — A purported Al Qaeda newscast that promises weekly updates made its online debut with a report read by a masked man that included video of Hurricane Katrina — subtitled “divine punishment”...

Two quick points, the first from a western point of view and the second from the point of view of these murderers themselves:

(1) Isn't it a rather embarrassing sign of weakness that one has to count as "victories" meteorological events?

(2) Does not this sort of thing cut both ways, and is one not risking that hearers sympathetic to the cause may at some point wonder whether the degradation and misery surrounding them may indicate that Allah does not favor them?

"You're asking me to believe in sentient meat?"

"You're asking me to believe in sentient meat."


Thursday, September 29, 2005

We the People

Is the indictment of Tom Delay political?

Of course it is.

Today when I got home there was a message on my answering machine.

I played it and lo and behold it was a group calling itself 'We the People'. Some slick voice had left a computer generated message on my machine demanding that I call my Republican Congressman and tell him that Delay has to go. It went on and on. My caller ID showed out of area. I though this to be sneaky, very sneaky.

So I google 'We the People' and a lot of interesting things come up, the most interesting was a group out of Oakland who has a picture of Jerry Brown on their website.

Is this the group? I don't know but I do intend to call my representative and ask his office to track these people down and tell them to stop harassing me.

Whoever they are, the phones were ringing in less than 24 hours after the indictment went out. I do not tend to be paranoid, nor do I see conspiracies everywhere.

But this strikes me as a bit of a concerted effort made by people who knew what to expect.

What is next?

Plame Game Dame Rolls Over

Judith Miller is no Susan McDougal. More like a Web Hubbell.

Let's hope Ms. Miller gets it all off her chest tomorrow for Patrick Fitzgerald and the grand jury. Pinch and Keller need her back on the political beat.

I'm still rooting for Fitzgerald to get an indictment on Wilson. Not for outing his own wife but for general meretricious buffoonery.

You can't make this stuff up.

FBI to get veto power over PC software? | | CNET

"The Federal Communications Commission thinks you have the right to use software on your computer only if the FBI approves.

No, really. In an obscure 'policy' document released around 9 p.m. ET last Friday, the FCC announced this remarkable decision.

According to the three-page document, to preserve the openness that characterizes today's Internet, 'consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.' Read the last seven words again."

"Government takes too much authority and not enough responsibility."

OpinionJournal - Peggy Noonan.

No one took responsibility, but there was plenty of authority. People in authority sent the lost to the Superdome and the Convention Center. People in authority blocked the bridges out of town. People in authority tried to confiscate guns after the looting was over.

And they did things like this: The day before hurricane Rita hit Texas, last Friday, I saw on TV something that disturbed me. It was not the usual scene of crashing waves and hardy reporters being blown sideways by wind gusts. It was a fat Texas guy swimming in the waves off Galveston. He'd apparently decided the high surf was a good thing to jump into, so he went for a prehurricane swim. Two cops saw him, waded into the surf and arrested him. When I saw it the guy was standing there in orange trunks being astonished as the cops put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

I thought: Oh no, this is isn't good. This is authority, not responsibility.

The Magic Words Are "Squeamish Ossifrage"...

Not really. Just trying to get your attention.

But a laurel, and hardy handshake, to anyone who can identify the provenance of this peculiar locution without using a search engine...

No, a more apt, and more felicitous, title for this post would have been "A Reverent Awareness of Human Folly."

That nice turn of phrase appears early on in a book I am enjoying right now, First Democracy, by Paul Woodruff. In spite of being a professor of philosophy, Mr. Woodruff writes with wonderful clarity, and explains his thinking in a way even I can follow. He contends that "...democracy was born out of a reverent awareness of human folly," in fifth century B.C.E. Athens. Not being an expert in either political science or history, I will take his word for it.

Now I know our republic is not a (pure) democracy, but it does embody important features of such a democracy, and the model the Athenians bequeathed us, as described in Professor Woodruff's book, can be usefully applied in the criticism of our republic's efforts to live up to the ideal of a government by and for the people.

Yesterday I was treated to a detailed description of the fruits of Congress's passage of the "prescription drug benefit." This will be implemented (at least for my workplace) as Medicare Part D.

For about two hours I sat through a PowerPoint presentation, given by a rather smart individual, about how this plan, Medicare Part D (see also), will enable (or should enable) elderly patients, and a subset of disabled patients, to afford the drugs that they need to keep alive or, more often in my psychiatric practice, the drugs that they need to keep out of the hospital.

During and after the presentation I was able to ask questions, and later at home I studied the sheaf of handouts I'd been given.

Now I do not hold myself up as a paragon of wisdom or insight, and I am almost disabled myself in my abilities to understand complicated bureaucratic programs, but I am probably about average, as a citizen, in my abilities to make political judgments, and to vote as a "reasonable person."

But even if I had been asked to vote (I wasn't) on the implementation of this plan, I would have been unable to do so in an intelligent way. I simply had trouble understanding how, if implemented, everything in this plan would shake out, both for the purported beneficiaries, and for the republic as a whole.

Let me confess at the outset that my work inclines me to support the idea of helping indigent and/or elderly patients get the medications they need, even when such an inclination is at variance with my general tendency to be a fiscal conservative. But I just cannot determine whether the outcome of this whole effort might be, among other possibilities, both that the needy patients don't get their drugs, and the country goes bankrupt in a failed effort to get them their drugs.

Furthermore it is my impression (as wretchard would say, speculation alert) that the solons who voted on this behemoth didn't have the faintest idea either.

Read here* about "The Doughnut Hole" and see if you don't agree.

*(Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate!)

Some good news

NY Governor Pataki, with the assistance of Senator Hillary Clinton, has apparently managed to prevent the odious International Freedom Center from placing their even more odious museum on the former site of the Twin Towers of the WTC. In a fit of pique the IFC claims to have disbanded since no other site would serve their purposes. (ht: Captain's Quarters)

Michael Yon : Online Magazine: Operation Rhma

If you're not reading Michael Yon yet, you should be. You could start with Michael Yon : Online Magazine: Operation Rhma: Final Mission.

Shall we lose all sense of proportion?

In today's Powerline, John Hinderaker writes:
Over the years, we have had a lot of fun with the Corrections section off the New York Times. That section constitutes a running commentary on the bias so often manifested in that newspaper; even more strikingly, it sometimes reveals a stunning lack of high school-level knowledge of history, science and literature on the part of Times reporters and editors. Today's Corrections include a mind-blowing example of this genre:
The About New York column yesterday, about an imagined conversation with God at a Manhattan diner, referred incorrectly to the Bible to which the thickness of the menu was likened. It is the King James Version, not St. James.

I'm speechless.
I'm the last to resist criticizing the New York Times over accuracy issues, but this seems ... well, petty. Not quite a typographical error, but I'm sure I've heard this error made even by quite devout Christians (maybe more so by Catholics.)

Trying to make a deep connection to the Times' "stunning lack of ... knowledge of history" based on this strikes me as an awful lot of soup from one shinbone.

(P.S. Apologies for the momentary misspelling of Hinderaker's name, now corrected.)

Shifting Sands 2

What do you consider to be the most significant political bloc in the US? Conservatives? Liberals? Democrats? Independents? Republicans? What do you consider to be the largest single definable bloc? The most constant, both in size and durability?

I didn't list it but the largest bloc is always the non-voting, non-participating bloc. Since 1980 (and much further back, if one cares) the non-participating bloc has averaged 45% of the VEP (voting eligible population) in Presidential election years and 60% in the Congressional/State/Local election years. There have been occasional studies of this bloc from time to time but I have read none which are particularly insightful. The reason for the lack of insight may be that non-voters tend to be non-responders as well. It's difficult to accurately survey a group unwilling (in many cases unable) to answer questions. I surmise that antipathy (no one listens to me), ignorance and sloth account for the motivations of the overwhelming majority of those choosing not to participate. If that surmise is true, then we should be eternally grateful that voting is not mandatory for the ignorant and slothful who, if forced to vote, will vote themselves a larger share of the treasury whenever possible.

As to the antipathetic, the second largest turnout within the VEP occurred in '92 (surpassed only by the extraordinary turnout generated last year through intensive effort by both campaigns). Perot's demagogic performance elicited a very positive response in terms of turnout but the value of the final outcome is questionable. That outcome should raise serious questions among those who favor higher participation at the polls. It should also give some pause to those who think that a third party is necessary or desirable. 'New' parties (in the past hundred years) have tended to arise either around men with 'new' ideas or around 'new' ideas which have drawn the most ruthless men in history to try and impose said novel idea at any cost and by any means.

Let us celebrate the antipathy, ignorance and sloth of the largest single political bloc. It has proven a blessing to the Republic in the past and if its membership finds happiness in apathy, who are we to disparage them?

Why I don't care about Intelligent Design

Or why it doesn't matter which nail one hammers in

I am lazily using a comment I posted at Roger's Place to make a post here. If that is a violation of blog protocol or etiquette, please slap me.

I don't care the slightest hoot about Intelligent Design being taught in our schools, in science classes or otherwise. There a two basic reasons for that and I'll get to them, each in turn, momentarily.

But first I'd like to "draw" a couple lines. The first is a line representing the mean intelligence of all students in the US public education system. Use HS students if you'd like, that's probably better.

It is my opinion, but I believe it is a relatively safe opinion to hold, that nobody on the "lower" side of that mean is in any danger of becoming a scientist - they do not have the intellectual tools. In fact, some large portion of the population above the mean line does not have the requisite intellectual tools.

Which leads me to the second line I'd like to "draw". I don't pretend to know precisely where this line belongs. But let's draw it somewhere and I'll pick that somewhere to be the mean of the "upper" half of our population that I so neatly divided with the first line.

Which is to say that there is a percentile line above which lies our potential pool of future "scientists" and below which "science" will forever be, at best, some relatively harmless muddle of mediocrity, populism, theocracy, rejectionism, fiction, and whatever else. I place that line, probably too generously, at the 75th percentile.

If anyone has some serious disagreement with the placement of this line, please let me know. I'm not particularly interested, however, in whether it should be moved to the 80th, or 85th, or 90th percentile. I'd be surprised to learn there are many people who believe it should be lowered by any significant degree. But I digress.

Now, back to my two reasons for not caring the slightest about Intelligent Design. I'll even start by conceding the point that it is a terrible thing, junk science, the creationist pig with some lipstick slathered on it - pick how bad you believe it is and make it worse by whatever degree you choose.

My first reason for not caring about it I have previously tried to articulate using the tempest in a teapot tritism. It is that to some degree but that was a poor choice.

Let me try another tritism.

This time I'll use the ol' nails in the coffin lid analogy. It only requires a handful of nails to nail the coffin lid shut.

We've got a big ol' five gallon pail full to the brim with nails and legions of "educators" dilligently hammering home nails. There's already way too many nails in the lid. It doesn't matter if Intelligent Design is a brand new nail or a rusty old one. It doesn't matter who tossed it in the pail or whether anyone is trying to hammer it home. It doesn't matter if it is already hammered home or if someone is feverishly working to extract it or why they are doing so. It's just one nail in a big pail.

The lid is already long nailed down tighter than... well never mind.

Just for the heck of it, let me identify some of the other nails already hammered home: Whole Language, "fuzzy math" (I believe the good folks at Kitchen Table Math have identified this as "Constructivist Math"), various questionable "educational methodologies", tolerance for disruptiveness, gender politics, racial politics, environments hostile to academic excellence, and on and on and on.

We're teaching precious little "science" in our high schools now and far too much "junk" of all sorts. In case anyone hasn't noticed, the Scopes Monkey Trial, and the teaching of Darwinism, didn't save our schools from continuing down the crapper. Nor is Intelligent Design going to hasten their sloshing, slurping demise. The handle has already been pushed, the water is spinning and gurgling. Pouring in another cup or gallon won't change anything.

Which brings me to the point of trying to state my case for the second reason I don't care about Intelligent Design.

Here is a small sample of "good" HS's.

Schools such as these compete for and receive national level awards. Awards such as Schools of Distinction, Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, Star Schools, and various other state and corporate awards.

And therein lies the problem. These are extraordinary schools. They deserve their awards for somehow managing to swim upstream against the torrents of junk that are continuing to ruin the vast majority of our standard level public schools. But they should not be the least bit extraordinary. That level of education, frequently science education, should be par for our students above the 75th percentile.

Which brings me, at long last, to actually stating what my second reason for not giving a flying F at a rolling donut about Intelligent Design.

If our "best and brightest", the youngsters actually capable of doing "science" at some point in their futures, were getting the educational foundation we should be giving them they would be, in their schools, talking about issues like Intelligent Design. They are fully capable of, and need to be exposed to, separating the wheat from the chaff. Quality science education should, and often does, expose students to the "philosophy", "ethics", and controversies of "science". The caliber of students who can do "science" is fully capable of dealing with Intelligent Design and a ton of other "junk" thrown at them.

I've been exposed to these students. They are bright and if they are encouraged to do so they look at the world with a sophistication generally commensurate with their intellectual capabilities. They will discuss and argue with one another. They will have more deeply formed opinions about the controversies of the day than most adults do. They know nonsense when they see it.

Unfortunately the current condition of our public educational establishment is peeling these kids off by the droves and refusing to give them a chance to learn or think at anything approaching their capabilities. We've created an educational quagmire and we're pitching kids into it like there's no tomorrow to worry about.

And the rest? They're never going to be scientists. They're never going to impact the "scientific" portion of the economy. They're going to do other things and have other impacts. The fact that we can't seem to teach many of them to make change for a ten dollar bill is a matter for future discussion.

Beethoven: The 9 Symphonies / Gardiner Music: Beethoven: The 9 Symphonies / Gardiner

I've been a proponent of "ancient music" or "original instruments" for a long time, since I was a performer in an medieval and renaissance group, back when Thomas Tallis was a pop musician. So I'm naturally inclined toward these sorts of recordings.

John Eliot Gardiner's new recordings of the Symphonies is a lovely example of why original instrumentation is a good idea. So far I've only listened to part of the 2nd, the 6th (the Pastoral) and the 9th ( the famous Choral Symphony), and I've got to say it's thrilling to listen.

The fourth movement of the 9th Symphony (broken into two tracks, I assume to make it easy to find the beginning of the choral section of the IVth movement) is the example I like best. Basses, especially second basses, are used to music where they fill in the bottom and end up singing parts that, sung alone, sound like the tuba part in an ooom-pah band, so I have a soft spot for anything that gives a bass the lead. Plus, both the melody, and Schiller's words as rewritten by Beethoven, are among the most beautiful songs in the world. When Beethoven wrote the 9th, a "symphony orchestra" was perhaps 40 performers, and they were playing the somewhat "thinner", quieter, less robust instruments of the time. A single vocalist could hope to sing with an orchestra of that size, and a listener could confidently feel they were hearing the individual performers as they played. Modern orchestras are more than twice that size, modern instruments are much louder and fuller in tone. The result is a "wall of sound" that can be overwhelming, and that forces vocalists into amplification in order to compete.

In Gardiner's version, the "natural" size is restored. You can hear the individual instruments, and the balance of treble to low voiced instruments is noticably different: the half-dozen celli and basses saw along industriously, but they're not a separate voice as much as the foundation of the rest of the music; their low notes give a feeling of darkness and mystery. Gardiner makes another interesting choice, by playing the IVth movement, which is marked "presto", as presto --- quickly, lightly, not as a matter of deep import but as a "joyful noise", with the instrumental parts lively, staccato, almost pizzicato. It makes a marked constrast to the fluid, fugal complexity of the first part of the IVth movement, and to the dark bombast of the rest of the symphony, so that when the bass calls out "Freunde, nicht dieser Töne/Sondern laßt uns angenehmere/anstimmen und freudenvollere", ("Friends, not these sounds --- instead, let's sing something more cheerful and more joyful") you hear the bass's --- and Beethoven's --- answer to the darkness.

The whole work is full of these little surprises: the way the cymbals crash in the finale of the 9th, bringing a little bit of the enthusiasm of a band box in a park to this work that's normally performed with the pomposity of a politician talking about his own modesty; the sense of an open echo in the first movement of the 6th Symphony; the sense of tension, anticipation, in the first bars of the 1st.

All in all, if you love Beethoven, listen to this: you'll hear it with new ears. And if you think you don't like Beethoven, then listen to these versions --- you'll get an idea of why Beethoven was so famous in his own time, and in ours.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Beginning of the End of Victimary Thinking in Canada?

Rick B. joked a while ago that I would be able to adapt myself nonviolently to an American annexation of Canada. Perhaps it looked to him as if my political values - an emphasis on freedom and decentralization - were closer to the American than Canadian mainstream. Yet what he may not have intuited is that loyalty to Canada is not at root a loyalty to any main or minor stream of political thought, but rather to the prepolitical idea that a constitutional monarchy may be better suited to a certain people's needs and culture than is a republic. Now is not the time to explore this question on which I have competing sympathies. But suffice to say that I am a proud subject of H.M Queen Elizabeth II (though when it comes to her heirs and successors there is some trepidation in my heart).

The oft-noted Canadian complaint that our head of state is not even a Canadian or resident here shows what is to my mind ignorance of a great strength of our system. A distant Queen leaves the centre largely vacant - a little like the Jewish proscription against representing G-D - beyond the grasp of mortals. It thus enforces a certain humility on politicians who might presume to embody the state.

While the brilliant Adam Katz recently had occasion to remind me that it is not the President, but rather the Constitution that occupies the sacred center of the American polity, it is nonetheless the case that the American President and First Lady must do more to embody the state than the Canadian Prime Minister. When Paul Martin, in the heat of the same-sex marriage debate that divided his party, recently made the statement that he must defend, as Prime Minister, the rights of all Canadians (i.e. he was asserting the right of homosexuals to marry), I was outraged when he also said that he was the person who had to stand for all Canadians, however divided his party. What he said was a lie, because according to our constitutional conventions, the Prime Minister represents only his government and his party. He does not represent all Canadians, especially not on the scenes of domestic politics. Only the Queen and her Canadian representative, the Governor General, represent all Canadians in all our diversity. I was not surprised when this constitutional issue was ignored by all and sundry. There are other such conventions that the Canadian MSM and the Liberal Party have chosen to ignore.

Anyway, the larger point is that the Canadian head of state is not a political figure but rather a representative of all Canadians, of society as a whole. She embodies the universal truth that there are universal truths that centre the human and that must have emerged prior to our political and social divides. Faith in this truth is an essential bulwark against postmodern nihilism. Diversity could only ever have emerged from an original human unity and is best understood and defended in this light.

Any satisfactory representation of this truth must make it seem a rather abstract and minimal truth; as such it is well served being represented by a distant head of state who visits us only occasionally. And every seven years or so, we get a new Governor General who attempts to communicate his or her personal synthesis or vision of Canada - the universal truth that all national high cultures, in their literature, music, etc., have claimed to articulate, through the lens of a distinctive national experience - as envisioned and represented through the individual's unique lived experience.

Yesterday, Canada was blessed with a new Governor General, Her Excellency, Michaelle Jean. I admit that when Jean, a CBC-Radio Canada personality was first designated as our future GG, I brooded that the last thing we needed was another (third in a a row) CBC type as our figurehead. I consider centralized national high cultural institutions to be largely an anachronism that need to give way to a more decentralized culture. The pro-Liberal, or at least anti-Conservative, party bias of the English CBC testifies to this point. That the taxes of hard-working Canadians should be used to pay the salaries of often smug broadcasting elites who think their politics is somehow more sophisticated and, well, liberal, than many of those hard workers, infuriates me; the CBC has never had high ratings.

However, Madame Jean was largely associated with the French-language Radio Canada (though she was one of those rare talents at ease hosting tv programs in both official languages) whose reputation is less pro-Liberal party as pro-Quebec separatism. Such a bias may now be fading along with interest in separatism among Quebec's elite, but it was nonetheless quickly revealed, once Jean had been designated the future GG, that her husband had made a documentary film in which both he and Jean made statements that, while not categorical, could well be read as sympathetic to separatism.

It had appeared that Paul Martin, in the heat of trying to find a GG - always a tough job - had fallen too easily for the appeal of a beautiful black immigrant woman to appeal to the many immigrant groups to whom the Liberal Party panders, and not least to the Haitians who are key swing voters in Montreal-area constituencies. He had not done his homework and had chosen a closet separatist (or maybe he had done it and was attempting some kind of cynical end-run around the separatists). This was quickly denied by all concerned. What also worried me was the further revelation that Jean's husband was a fan of Michel Foucault, and made him a frequent topic of dinner conversations at the Jean-Lafond household. It's not at all surprising, given the popularity of Foucault among our lefty elites. Still, the thought that the most talented conspiracy theorist and mystifier of the historical process in recent times was to be an influence on the conversation of those representing the apex of Canadian polite Society was a tad depressing. Furthermore, the Liberals' rhetorical positioning which implied that the Canadian experience was typified by the immigrant experience was a bit insulting to Canadian nationhood which is in various respects older than most nationstates on this planet.

So it was with great happiness that I read about Jean's inaugural speech today, a paean to our most important human value - freedom. It soon became apparent to me that Madame Jean's incredible radiating beauty is, as is all great beauty, not to be simply explained as genetic good luck. No, there is a great soul and spirit behind it, and it is giving every indication that it will not be pandering to the victimary thinking that has had a strong foothold in Canadian public discourse in recent decades. God save the Queen and bless Michaelle Jean.
See also...

Do we need a third party?

On another blog I called this a "dumbass" idea.

Maybe I was a little obnoxious [maybe] but I do have to admit that I am getting tired of this discussion coming about every ten years or so.

Other than Hillary Clinton who can benefit?

There are almost 300 million of us. There is no way two parties are ever going to please everybody and we do not have a Parliamentary system. That makes compromise inevitable.

So just because we can not all have what we want when we want it should we just keep dividing into more and more parties?

I mean if three parties is good, why not four?

Star Wars Meets Crouching Tiger and Everybody Gets Happy

When was the last time you sat in the dark amongst a crowd of complete strangers in the middle of a big city and when they turned the lights on everybody was happy? Legally?

It wasn't a rave, or even a rock concert.

It was the advance screening for the new movie Serenity, based on the aborted television series Firefly. In a new twist on marketing they invited bloggers, and your humble correspondent acceded to their importunate demands. Someone on Slashdot had mentioned en passant that Firefly was the best science fiction on television today, and so I poked around and was able to catch a few episodes here and there. Firefly was different. I like different. I like Firefly. Lexx was different. I like Lexx. But Lexx is different in a weird, twisted, life-is-all-screwed-up-and-hardly-worth-living kind of way that seems to be the inexorable if regrettable result of a German-Canadian confederation. No, Firefly is different in a life-affirming way. Kind of a Science Fiction-Western combo kind of way. Ok, it wasn't to everybody's taste. It got cancelled.

The movie suppressed the Western part. Must have been focus group testing. But it's still the same appealing folks in the same rust bucket spaceship.

There's something about Serenity. Like Mary, it's hard to put your finger on. Yes, it has really truly great special effects like the newest Star Wars thingy; yes, it keeps you riveted to your seat like the latest Batman vehicle; yes, it can do the de rigeur Hong Kong Cinema kung-fu dance like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the rest, but! It transcends all that. At least a little. Partly because it's funny. Funny all the way through. Funny at the height of dramatic tension. Partly because it's human, full of humanity. People die--yep, even good people--people make mistakes, things are dirty, you don't find out all the secrets.

No, it's not Ikiru or Lawrence of Arabia. Just a nice action flick with something about it. I liked it.

Here's the thing. When the lights came on, everybody in the theater started chatting with everybody else. The whole theater erupted like it was a high school reunion and only the good people had shown up, none of the nasty or snotty ones, just your friends, and you remember everybody. It was weird, really weird. Two high school girls in front of me turned around and started chatting with me and my marine buddy like we were their best girlfriends since third grade. And I'm a guy with a kid in high school. And one in college. The local radio movie critic behind me confessed out of the blue that he hates Science Fiction movies because they never have black people in them. And I felt like he was my long lost buddy from third grade. Yeah, he's a great big black guy. He liked Serenity. (Yeah, it has black people in it. Not that you notice. Oh, and did I mention that in the future everybody curses in Chinese?) On the way out a woman in her fifties started chatting up my buddy and me on all the reasons why she loves Serenity. No, she wasn't one of those crazies. She conversed for eight blocks in the middle of downtown Denver at 10 PM with two perfectly strange males while we strolled back to our cars. It seemed normal and reasonable, and it seemed like she was my long lost pal from third grade. Somehow, the movie induced everybody to let their hair down, to relax a little, to see some good in the people around them. Weird. Really weird.

No realistic hope for a conviction---and Prosecutor Earle doesn't give a damn!

A prosecutor normally does not press charges if they think a conviction is unlikely. Ronnie Earle knows that he will not be able to put Tom Delay in jail. His actions are purely motivated by politics. The liberal establishment only cares about damaging DeLay’s effectiveness. We are going to see more of this in the future. The Democrats cannot win at the ballot box. They will instead opt to cripple Republicans in the court room. The GOP leadership naively passed a rule which compels them to remove their congressional leader if this individual is criminally indicted. It sounded good at the time. However, we are living in an entirely different era. The Democrats are desperate and have no hesitation to corrupt our criminal justice system in the pursuit of their goals.

Class Discussion

Prompted by a post at Roger Simon's blog:Roger L. Simon: What Should I Say? - A Pajamas Media Query

Conjecture: The immediate impact of the blogosphere is that it has brought to light how poorly informed and meretricious the existing professional media is, and has been.

Framing The Debate

In a sign that the Old Media monopoly on information is starting to crack, Eric Pfeiffer of The Buzz at National Review Online interviewed Senator John Cornyn and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Meanwhile MSNBC reports that Hillary Clinton has set up meetings with “key bloggers”, presumably on the left.

The typical political news story as found on the AP news wire or the pages of the New York Times features a quotation from some political figure, whom the reporter may or may not have interviewed. This is embedded in several paragraphs in which the reporter sets the statement in context. Very often there is also a comment from an “expert” at a think tank and a statement from a politician of the opposing party. Once public figures agree to be interviewed by members of the on-line media, there is no reason that these functions of the Old Media cannot be duplicated or improved on.

The crucial step of course is the willingness of public figures to be interviewed by people whose bona fides are unknown. National Review has sufficient prestige to get past this hurdle, regardless of the medium they use to get the message out. To my knowledge no prominent figure in the Republican party has agreed to answer questions from a pure blogger.

I suspect that many in the GOP are still stuck in the old paradigm and pine for the days when the media consisted of the three alphabet networks and a couple of major newspapers. Politicians as a group seem to be highly risk averse and are unlikely to sit down to discuss anything with an anonymous blogger. Those who manage to successfully leverage the strengths of the new medium will either have already established a reputation as a journalist or author, or they will be a new breed of reporters working for organizations fronted by people with an established record in the news business.

The policy decisions taken by any government are influenced by the news coverage they draw. In some sense the media does act as a “voice of the people”, pressuring government to act in some ways and not others. The problem at present is that the media represents the voice of a small and unrepresentative segment of the American people, and that the majority effectively has no “voice” to the government. The majority who voted for Bush last November do not hear their point of view expressed at White House press conferences, or on the evening news.

It makes an enormous difference to American foreign policy whether the question posed to the government, supposedly on behalf of the people, is “What are you doing to ensure that captured terrorists at Guantanamo are treated with sensitivity?” as opposed to “What steps are you taking to dissuade the Syrians and Iranians from aiding and abetting the terrorists in Iraq?”.

In the same vein, the course of domestic policy in America would be dramatically different if reporters asked the press secretary “Why does government cost so much money?” rather than “How much money will the President ask Congress to spend on hurricane recovery?”

From the standpoint of the Old Media the answers to their questions are largely irrelevant.The whole point is to pose the question and to effectively frame the debate in ways favorable to the policy outcomes favored by the Old Media themselves.

Much of the “New Media”, an idea still in embryonic form, is focusing on the other Old Media sins, and they are plentiful enough, to be sure. The lies of both commission and omission, the statements torn out of context to appear to mean the reverse of what was really said, the selective use of “expert” commentators to buttress the point the reporter wants to get across, these are all known problems and ones which the bloggers and others are intent on trying to overcome. But while a good and worthwhile project in its own right, this cannot address the underlying problem. It's not simply that the Old Media distort the answers to the questions they pose, it is that the questions they pose themselves introduce a distortion.

In the final analysis we don't need more and better fact checkers. We need the questions posed to accurately reflect the concerns of the majority of the American people. Once that happens we can finally begin to make better progress at addressing those concerns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Tour de Force

A brilliant rejoinder to the lawyer who was whining about how hard an engineering education is has been posted up at Kitchen Table Math.

NYT Propagandist Charged With Telepathy

Richard Weltz does a very nice job of dissecting another bit of NYT propaganda. David Cloud gets my vote for "Stuck on Stupid" player of the day.

Pinch's strategy of making the propaganda sheet more manageable by reducing the number of subscribers can only be helped by pieces such as Cloud's.

Update: I Best Stay Away from the Booze---before I Really Lose it!

Please take a look at my previous comments before Hurricane Rita hit Houston:
First Report

Second Report

I regret that I had responsibilities which prevented me from blogging during the storm. Oh well, it turns out that I was right---and now a number of other people are now starting to agree with me. Tom Kirkendall of Houston Clear Thinkers is coming to his senses:

“My thoughts are more with regard to the plan itself, which during implementation encouraged all Houston residents -- even those in non-mandatory evacuation areas -- to evacuate. The result was that, despite the fact that Houston has the most highway lane-miles per capita of America's large metro areas, dangerous gridlock and accidental deaths occurred, and the area experienced severe gasoline shortages as a result of the huge spike in demand.”

The Rita evacuation advice provided by Mayor Bill White was an act of gross irresponsibility. Simple math was all that’s required to realize that you can’t move millions of people out of a major city. Where are they going to go? Was there supposed to be a space ship to take them to Mars? Many small cities are overwhelmed when even a few thousand fans show up for a college football game. Millions of people? Let’s get serious. Only those who resided in the dangerous areas closer to Galveston should have been encouraged to leave. Those of us like myself living in the higher regions some sixty miles from the coast should have stayed put. A number of Houstonians who were truly in danger were unable to leave because so many others not in similar danger were turning the freeways into a major parking lot.

Little consideration was also given to the financial wherewithal of some who live in the lower areas. They barely have two nickels to rub together. How were they going to leave? Where could they possibly go? Things are bad enough if you are modestly affluent. Who is going to pick up the tab for those who do not possess a major credit card with at least a couple of thousand dollars of credit available?

Daily Howler: The New York Times plays its readers for fools about those Wake County test scores

Daily Howler: The New York Times plays its readers for fools about those Wake County test scores

The mind veritably reels again.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Thinking Ahead

Earth has been struck many times by meteorites in its long history, most recently at Tungsuka in 1908. The destructive power of that event is thought to have been between 10 and 40 megatons of TNT. Sooner or later, another wandering piece of rock will cross paths with Earth, and the potential exists for all human life to be snuffed out.

So it's reassuring to learn that somebody is making plans to deflect such objects if they are a potential threat. (Although it's a little disappointg to me that the Europeans are taking the lead in this.) The basic idea is to ram the wayward rock with a spacecraft, and so alter it's trajectory.

To Rebuild or not to Rebuild.

There is much discussion on the internet and elsewhere concerning the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans.

Instapundit thinks it is a bad idea.

I am not so sure.

Galveston rebuilt, as did San Francisco and Chicago and Oklahoma City and Grand Forks, ND.

But the real argument here is the role of the federal government and the responsibility we as tax payers have to one another.

The federal government is required to pay for 3/4 of the cost of rebuilding or repairing the infrastructure of the disaster area.

But what about the people, especially the poor who will not have the funds to rebuild?

If I were a libertarian I would say that was not my job.

But then again I live in rural America and I pay to help Los Angeles have new highway whether I like it or not.

I pay to send other's people children to school.

I pay to provide health care and social security benefits to people I don't know and have no relation to at all.

I do it for the common good, as do we all.

So is it in the interest of the common good to rebuild New Orleans?

Thomas Jefferson told the French that whomever controlled New Orleans was our natural enemy, so vital was the mouth of the mighty Mississipi. So the French sold it to the United States.

I say rebuild it, but require transparency and set limits.

Put someone like Giuliani in control of the money and keep it honest.

Build up the levees and storm walls to protect the city and consider letting some it become a park rather than residential areas.

But don't abandon it.

Can't Sit Still

One of the most debilitating side effects with which psychiatrists afflict their patients is akathisia, an uncontrollable restlessness which is a regular consequence of treatment with certain drugs, especially the classic neuroleptics like haloperidol, though it can be seen even with widely used antidepressants like fluoxetine (Prozac).

The word akathisia is derived from the Greek kathizdô, sit down, and if you append the "privative alpha" (Greek a implying negation) as a prefix and fiddle with the suffix you get something meaning can't sit down or can't sit still.

Since 9/11 I have been afflicted with a kind of mental akathisia.

Somehow within days of September 11, 2001 I stumbled on my first blog, Charles Johnson's amazing Little Green Footballs, and I was off and running.

Here were peers -- many of whom I disagreed with and some of whom I thought were deranged even compared with myself -- but some of whom seemed able to express thoughts I was beginning, in my inchoate and desultory way, to grapple with.

Thoughts like, Why don't we hate them?

(I know, I know: this is supposed to read, Why do they hate us? But you blog sophisticates know what I mean.)

In the peripatetic manner of blog readers I drifted from Little Green Footballs to Roger L. Simon. (Perhaps this was inevitable: note the rhythmic similarity in the two titles, both two hexametric feet, dactyl spondee!) And at Roger's place I found the kind of community of virtual blogging entities among whom I could feel at home. That urbane and genial host seemed to attract a following of articulate, thoughtful and tough-minded types, many of whom suffered fools (myself), if not gladly, at least patiently.

And so this persistent restlessness of mine, this mental akathisia, found at least a partial point of repose. But I am mindful of a criticism often leveled at virtual communities, a criticism with merit, that we are in danger of becoming echo chambers, preachers to virtual choirs of a gospel we all accept. And I am worried about the political red-blue divide in our wonderful country. (A former blue, I am now red enough to be purple.) Helped along by a much better thinker, I have started to think about our democracy. A task for which I am ill-equipped.

A psychiatrist who thinks he can say anything useful about democracy is mad.

(Mad, I tell you.)

Did Winston Churchill really say, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter"?

If not, he really should have.

The Baghdad Museum -- What's the Real Story?

The short but honest answer is: we still don't know.

In a recent post by Roger Simon, he wrote "Remember all those reports of the mass looting of their national museum that turned out to be little more than some minor thefts (most returned), principally by the museum's own directors? Yet the media behaved as this were the mass destruction of antiquities from the cradle of civilization and the US was to blame." That's the story as I remembered it, but this was called into question by one of the commenters, which motivated me to try to do my own "truthing" here.

Here's what I found. Both The Guardian and a BBC reporter (of all people!) writing in the Times of London agree with the spirit of what Roger wrote, even if his numbers are not quite correct.

First, The Guardian.
On June 1, [Museum Director Dr. Donny] George was reported in the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag as reiterating that witnesses had seen US soldiers enter the museum on April 9, stay inside two hours and leave with some objects. When asked whether he believed that the US military and international art thieves had been acting in concert, George replied that a year earlier, at a meeting in a London restaurant, someone (unnamed) had told him that he couldn't wait till he could go inside the National Museum with US soldiers and give it a good pillage - ie, yes.

So, there's the picture: 100,000-plus priceless items looted either under the very noses of the Yanks, or by the Yanks themselves. And the only problem with it is that it's nonsense. It isn't true. It's made up. It's bollocks.Not all of it, of course. There was some looting and damage to a small number of galleries and storerooms, and that is grievous enough. But over the past six weeks it has gradually become clear that most of the objects which had been on display in the museum galleries were removed before the war. Some of the most valuable went into bank vaults, where they were discovered last week. Eight thousand more have been found in 179 boxes hidden "in a secret vault". And several of the larger and most remarked items seem to have been spirited away long before the Americans arrived in Baghdad.

George is now quoted as saying that that items lost could represent "a small percentage" of the collection and blamed shoddy reporting for the exaggeration. ...On Sunday night, in a remarkable programme on BBC2, the architectural historian Dan Cruikshank both sought and found. Cruikshank had been to the museum in Baghdad, had inspected the collection, the storerooms, the outbuildings, and had interviewed people who had been present around the time of the looting, including George and some US troops. And Cruikshank was present when, for the first time, US personnel along with Iraqi museum staff broke into the storerooms.

One, which had clearly been used as a sniper point by Ba'ath forces, had also been looted of its best items, although they had been stacked in a far corner. The room had been opened with a key. Another storeroom looked as though the looters had just departed with broken artefacts all over the floor. But this, Cruikshank learned, was the way it had been left by the museum staff. No wonder, he told the viewers - the staff hadn't wanted anyone inside this room. Overall, he concluded, most of the serious looting "was an inside job".

Next, The Times, written May 8, 2005.
I went to Baghdad with a BBC team at the end of April to discover the truth of what had really happened during those few key days from April 9-16. According to all accounts, fighting raged around the museum until April 9, and it was not until April 16 that the Americans placed it under full-time protection. From April 10-12 the building was open to all, and it was during these three days that the looting took place.

Like many journalists, I was drawn to Baghdad by alarming stories, circulated around the world by museum staff within hours of the US troops’ arrival. These suggested that 170,000 items had been stolen or destroyed, and implied that America was to blame for not immediately guarding the place....What rapidly became clear on my second visit was that the pillaging was a most complex event, with no obvious villains and with truth, as ever, being the first victim in conflict....By the time I left, in early May, it had been admitted that the claim of 170,000 items lost or destroyed was an exaggeration. Quite why such a sensational claim was ever made has never been satisfactorily explained....By June the number of important items missing had been scaled down to just 32, although tens of thousands of relatively minor pieces were still missing. In the following weeks other significant items were returned or discovered during swoops, including the hugely important 5,000-year-old Warka Vase. This was the one large and valuable item stolen by a well-prepared and mysterious team during April 10-12.

George’s account of events is most interesting. He is now museum director, and has written the foreword to this book. When I met him that April he was clearly exhausted, in a state of great distress and unsure about what exactly had been stolen. Now he states that although “the looters broke through the main galleries and the store rooms, stealing and destroying everything they could get their hands on”, the toll was around 15,000 items. George also states that, as a result of international efforts, around 6,000 objects have been returned, including many from abroad with “over 600 in the United States”. Material is, he says, being recovered “almost every day” although more than 50% of what was lost is still missing. (The British Museum’s more gloomy assessment is that the toll of missing items remains at 15,000.)

I for one remain confused by what really happened.

Read the whole thing (both of them!).

And that seems to be the most definitive word on the whole business. About 32 really valuable items missing in what appears to be an inside job by some of the Baathists on the staff, although several thousand minor pieces are missing, some of which are being returned daily.

But, for comparison's sake, let's recall a few headlines on the subject, all taken from 2003-4.

"Expert Discusses Looting of Baghdad's Museum"--American University in Cairo
"US government implicated in planned theft of Iraqi artistic treasures"--World Socialist Daily
The Ransacking of the Baghdad Museum Is a Disgrace--History News Network

And so forth. Do your own Google search.

Sic Transit Crankus

One thing I have to concede to those people at the NYT is that they are performing a necessary cultural function by writing obituaries about important but obscure intellectual figures. They're not doing it out of their love of mankind of course, but to bolster their self-image as smarter-than-thou. That's extremely important to their readers' egos as well as to their ultimate goal of having the power to tell the country what's what, because their apparent intellectual superiority implies (in their minds) the superiority of their opinions on all other subjects.

But good things can be done for the wrong reasons, and so yesterday they published an obituary of Serge Lang, an iconic mathematician who ended up at Yale after a tumultuous history. He died at the age of 78.

Serge Lang was a first rate mathematician who became famous outside the field for two things unrelated to his mathematical talents: textbooks and politics. He wrote brilliant but unusable textbooks on all the standard undergraduate mathematics topics at a furious pace, literally cranking a new one out in the span of three or four weeks. They were brilliant because they incisively cut to the quick in each particular hackneyed undergraduate subject, lending it a freshness which it had lacked for some fifty years. They were unusable because they were written for other research mathematicians just like him, paying no homage whatsoever to the difficulties encountered by actual undergraduates. For one undergraduate in a million it was probably a great success. I was obligated to teach out of one such textbook during one semester. The exposition was superlative; the class was fine until we came to the first problem set, at which point it was a disaster.

A political tyro who matured in the Sixties, he got caught up, as did many academics of his day, in the anti-Vietnam War movement. He became famous as a crank or a gadfly, depending on which side of an issue one believed to be the "right" one. He opposed the Vietnam War (side of the angels, according to NYT), opposed apartheid (ditto), but also became infamous for arguing that AIDS was not caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (big--and I mean big--no-no to the NYT).

There's a fine line between genius and crank. If you're going to go out on a limb and think for yourself, if you're going to go beyond the ordinary run of human thinking, you run the risk of going completely off the deep end. It requires a big ego, and ultimately you become accountable only to your own thoughts, which is dangerous. There's no in-built guidance mechanism. It is hard to tell the difference between genius and crank sometimes. When it was discovered in the late Nineteenth Century that the "principle of relativity" as stated by Galileo was inconsistent with Maxwell's laws, a solution was proposed: let's just say all the measuring rods get shorter when we move! It makes all the equations work out, but when it was proposed it was proposed at least half tongue-in-cheek. It was crazy; it was cranky. But Einstein took that idea and wove it into a magnificent theory which is now the single most accurate theory known to mankind. We celebrate Einstein as the acme of genius.

RIP Serge Lang, crank and genius.


Roger Simon had a post yesterday concerning the fact that women now outnumber men at colleges and universities by a significant margin. He later appended an observation concerning the fact that women are matriculating at some medical schools in numbers equal to or higher than men. When ever I see such an assertion I tend to look for underlying data that supports or weakens the assertion. Wrt med school I found this concerning application/matriculation information.

My query regards the availability of a single source for information concerning application/matriculation/graduation accross the full spectrum of higher eduction. Affirmative action was first promulgated per an executive order by LBJ in 1965. After forty years of contentious effort it seems that there should be some type of longitudinal study that records the efficacy of affirmative action policy. The Title IX policy appears to be functioning wrt to women and the medical profession (although graduation/licensing information is difficult to find).

I'm hoping that a reader or contributor here might know of a longitudinal study such as the one described. If one does not exist, one might wonder why not. It's not as if it's a minor policy with little cost or societal impact.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lawyer and Writer doesn't understand why Engineers need all that yucky math stuff.

Betsy's Page

The mind veritably reels.

Watched Terminator Lately?

The robotic soldier of the future is here. Er, in Korea, actually. Which brings up the interesting question: if Europe continues to decline and innovative technology, particularly military technology, continues to be developed solely in Asia, what are the implications for the next World War? If a little tip of a peninsula off the coast of China can do this, what will happen when the full sleeping giant awakes?

Presidents before polls

As I listen to the pundits claim Bush is finished, done for, dead as a door knob, etc based on his poll numbers I wonder how did presidents govern before polls?

What were the poll results after the Jay Treaty?

What were the numbers like during the war with Mexico?

Did Lincoln suffer a slump after Antietam?

In fact the tradition of governing by polls is a relatively recent one. Imagine a world in which a president governed based solely on the advice of his cabinet and trusted allies. Imagine an America without Gallup.

It is almost as difficult as imagining an America without mass media.

How did they run for office before televised debates?

I think Bush is a president who is aware of polls but does not govern entirely based on polls. Clinton was the latter kind of president. He went with the flow, he did not make it.

So he wrote the Iraqi Liberation Act but did not liberate Iraq.

He said Osama Bin Laden was a threat, but he felt it would be a political miscalculation to kill the bastard when he had the chance.

Which is the most effective leader? The one who governs without trying to please, or the one who lives for little else?

And is Bush really done for? I think not, but then what the hell do I know?

Avoid the Nano!

The brand-new Nano iPod from Apple looks very appealing. My son bought a regular iPod this summer for $400 and I was able to examine it first-hand. It's a clever attractive device, with good sound and the best interface to one's music I've seen, but the price exceeds my spending limit. The Nano, starting at $199, is a different story. It's small, it's convenient, it's cheaper, and it displays your digital photos. Turn on your TV and you're likely to see it: it's the subject of yet another Apple-generated, slick, hip marketing campaign. I could feel the urge to buy growing--the campaign was working--only to discover yesterday from early reports that the screen scratches easily if you look at it cross-eyed. Bummer. Oh well, I guess I'll have to keep my Scottish ancestors happy and save my money.

Even Geraldo Deserves a Fair Shake - New York Times

Well, now, this is interesting. Byron Calame, the new Public Editor for the New York Times, has about the sharpest criticism of the Times I've ever seen not in a right-wing blog:

The New York Times flunked such a test in rejecting a demand by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News for correction of a sentence about him in a column by the paper's chief television critic. ....

Based on the videotape and outtakes I saw, Ms. Stanley certainly would have been entitled to opine that Mr. Rivera's actions were showboating or pushy. But a "nudge" is a fact, not an opinion. And even critics need to keep facts distinct from opinions.

Meanwhile, in the opinion section of The Times, the corrections policy of Gail Collins, the editor of the editorial page, is not being fully enforced. As I have written on my Web journal, Paul Krugman has not been required to correct, in the paper, recent acknowledged factual errors in his column about the 2000 election in Florida.

The Times has long been a trailblazer in its commitment to correcting errors. This is no time to let those standards slip - even when well-known critics and columnists are involved.

I'd like to be a fly on the wall as the editorial offices open tomorrow.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Some Pics of the Rally and Counter Rally From Ed Ramsey

Check out this one shot blog that Ed Ramsey put together with pictures of the Anti War Rally and Counter Rally. Some great shots!!! The troop supporters win the attractiveness category hands down. Here's proof.

The Press Has Another Lapham Moment

Protein Wisdom has the latest scoop. No surprises here. "Thousands" exaggerated because account written and posted before the event. CSPAN comes through to expose reality. The kooks are out, but not in force!

The Protest Is All Lefties All The Time

Gateway Pundit has a great post on the speakers lineup and the attendance (or lack thereof) in the D.C. anti-war protest. No moderates need apply for space or speaking time. We'll see how the MSM handles this.

Schröder loses election, self-respect, democratic principles

Bizzyblog has an interesting article. Gerhardt Schröder, who lost the election narrowly to Andrea Merkel, is acting like he won.

It's a little known fact that "Gerhardt Schröder" is the German for "Al Gore." Link...

Idle chit-chat

Or Maybe the Mean Line of American Politics

I was out and about running some errands one of which was to procure a long overdue haircut (yes, I got both of them cut, now bite me).

Whilst in the chair chit-chat was started about how the guy who'd owned the place had recently sold out and moved his family to VA. Which prompted chit-chat about living in "other" places. The young women (most are, comparatively speaking) cutting my hair mentioned that she'd lived in NH (too cold) and continued on to mention that at least she'd gotten the opportunity to meet a president. Bush the Elder, during his successful campaign, had spoken at her HS and she'd gotten to listen to him and shake his hand. Her lasting impression, BTW, was how surprised she was by how soft his hand was.

Anyways, she said he seemed like a nice man which prompted the second barber to chime in that most people had liked the first Bush and how it was his son that "nobody likes".

Since I have some rules I live by (stuff like, think twice before you risk pissing off someone who has the opportunity to spit in your food) I figured I'd let that slide on by because, well, the proper time to determine whether somebody might be a BDS sufferer is not the time when they have a hank of cloth wrapped tight around your neck and are poised behind you with a scissor in their hand. Besides, both are good-natured sorts near as I can peg them.

And last, but not least, he didn't leave a gap for me to comment and quickly continued on to deliver his views about the role of a POTUS.

His immediate example was, paraphrasing, that when we got a POTUS from TX we might legitimately have expected fewer Mexicans streaming across the border and lower gasoline prices. More than interesting enough to put me, at least momentarily, further into listen mode.

He then continued on to give an example which, again paraphrasing, was that if he were POTUS, being from "around here", he'd "put a stop" to people driving big cars they don't need. He even went so far as to get specific about how people would need to "apply" to own pickup trucks and cars with V-8s. They'd have to "prove" they "needed" such a vehicle. Oh, and definitely no SUVs under any circumstances.

Well, anyway, me being me and he leaving a brief gap, I siezed upon opportunity to try and make a point while remaining with the limits of good-natured chit-chat. From previous visits to the barber shop I happen to know this guy is a motorcycle nut and owns one of those rip-roaring "ninja" sort of shrieking motorcycles.

So I chimed in that, "If I were president I'd make people apply to own pocket-rocket motorcycles. They'd have to prove why they needed a motorcycle that can do 140MPH. And I'd make it illegal for them to fire that sucker up between 10PM and 6AM."

Unfortunately my point apparently missed the mark because all I got in response was some information about how motorcycles are frugal with gasoline and quite safe to ride at, apparently, any speed - the faster the safer.

Fortunately my hair cut was coming to it's natural conclusion and I was able to exit stage left, paying up and leaving a tip along with instructions to my barberess that it was now in her hands to continue busting our good-natured friend's chops.

What gets the axe?

Fiscal conservatives like Glenn Reynolds are all excited at the notion of trimming fat, busting pork, etc from the budget..

What gets cut?

What if I said embryonic stem cell research and cost of living increase for social security or medicaid for that matter?

No doubt there are bridges that lead to no where and pet projects which are out right comical to most of us but these things are not going to cut tens of billions from the budget.

Farm subsidies are an easy call because so few people farm anymore.

Fine, but make it plain to people that they might seem the same volatility in food prices that they have seen in energy.

We forget, we are the government and it is not welfare if it helps us or our families or if we believe in it.

Like say NASA.

I am opting for an across the board cut for the sake of fairness.

What say you?

Friday, September 23, 2005

Political sin eater

I remember years ago hearing a folk tale about a sin eater. This poor unfortunate soul was doomed to consume the sins of others so that they might achieve salvation.

After watching the farsical and hysterical hurricane coverage and witnessing the inevitable finger pointing that followed I have come to think of Bush as a political sin eater.

It is his job to assume responsibility not only for the ineptitude of corrupt Louisiana politicians, but the weather itself it seems.

I was raised by people who survived the Dust Bowl. My mother's family lost their farm and went to California to live in the camps and pick fruit. There was no disaster relief or even unemployment insurance and so far as I know FDR was not blamed for the fact that their farm blew away along with the homesteads of tens of thousands of other poor Okies.

People did the best they could.

Of course there were no breathless media spokespeople standing in the midst of that blasted countryside asking indignantly who will pay for this, why are these people suffering?

No... the Okies just loaded up the jalopy and headed west.

But today we need to blame. Perhaps it is partisan politics out of control, or maybe it gives us some comfort to believe that we can avoid bad things if only our president would get it together.

Maybe we are the ones who need to take some responsibility for ourselves and accept the fact that bad things just happen. And maybe the media adds to the fear and the confusion in a sort of modern day witch hunt.

It is Bush's fault. Get rid of him and the bad things go away, gas is cheap, the war is over, the sun shines and all is well.

If you believe that, I have got some swamp ground in east Texas to sell you.

MSM über Alles?

It looks like the Democrats and their allies in the activist courts may be able to rid themselves of the scourge of the new media before it even gets off the ground. "Amid the explosion of political activity on the Internet, a federal court has instructed the six-member Federal Election Commission to draw up regulations that would extend the nation's campaign finance and spending limits to the Web."

Good News for Mac Users

KDE is now running on OSX. That means you can have a choice in your graphical interface now.

Report from the New Orleans Evacuation

In the light of the current Houston evacuation, which is starting to look, well, ill-considered, I thought it would be good to post a report I got from a friend of mine on how the New Orleans evacuation went for that %80 of the population who obeyed the mandatory evacuation.

We evacuated the city of New Orleans the day before the storm hit. Thousands and thousands of people were trying to evacuate and our pace was averaging around 10 mph. After about 13 hours of driving we made it to our destination: a small town in Mississippi called ___. We got there with only 5 hours to spare before the storm hit. We escaped some of the storm's fury but it was still pretty bad where we stayed. I was so scared. Trees were dropping down all around us and panes on the roof made an awful banging noise. (The roof was made of long metallic panels.) We thought the roof was going to blow off but it did not. I prayed and prayed for safety. Maybe it was a miracle that we escaped serious harm.

Now we have rented a house in ____ for one month. We lost electricity and water in the house where we were staying earlier. The house we are renting has electricity and water. We are doing well under the circumstances. My father the doctor doesn't think he will have patients to see for as long as 6 months. He specializies in allergy and immunology which people don't necessarily have to be treated for. They may put up with the symptoms while they cannot afford to pay a doctor.

New Orleans is a ghost town. My father visited the city yesterday. We cannot move back yet. No stores are open. The police force was nowhere to be seen.

Shifting Sands - 1st Installment

I've written a few comments over at Roger's Place concerning politics and I intend to write a few posts here at YARGB on the same subject. Given the sad state of my own party in the years since Lord Rockingham's demise (and Fox's perfidy), I find it necessary to seek safe harbor with the Republicans pending the renaissance of a true conservative party. While the Republican Party offers only a ghostly simulacrum of conservatism, it does shine brightly in contrast to the dull statism of the opposition. I wouldn't wish to hide any potential bias from an unwary reader.

The question then becomes; "How fares the simulacrum at this point of the interregnum?" and to find an answer I often turn to surveys conducted by the Pew Foundation (yet another liberal trust posing as being "independent"). I do so because they tend to be a bit more honest in presenting the actual data from which their carefully shaded conclusions are drawn. They also provide a bit of humor from time to time as they seek to obfuscate glaringly apparent truths with smoke and mirrors rhetoric that extends even to the titles of the pieces. A fine example of this type of flummery is to be found here. The title of the piece, "GOP Makes Gains Among The Working Class, While Democrats Hold On To The Union Vote" implies an equivalence that does not exist. Union membership applies to about 13% of the gainfully employed population. That's 13%, down from a high of 33% and continuing to fall. Although union members tend to vote at a much higher rate than those who do not belong to unions, 40% of them vote Republican. The statement; "Democrats continue to hold a strong majority among a declining segment of the populace" would be a bit more accurate.

Pew also manages to bury the real import of the report by placing it further down in the summary. The shifts in favor of the Republicans in the 3rd and 4th income quintiles are astounding, the 4th more so than the 3rd. The Republican strategy of empowering the disadvantaged through ownership options and opportunities is paying very large dividends. The Democratic strategy of 'depending on dependents' is also reaping its just reward. It appears that the Democrats have yet to reach the absolute bottom of the hole being dug, given that even in the fifth quintile (also known as the non-productive section of the populace, or rent-seekers) there is a small increase in Republican support. Looking at the political situation today, it is entertaining to consider the fervor with which the Democrats continue to dig. It is as if there was an expectation that an exit will be found at the bottom of the hole.

Has Rove gone too far this time?

I could just be overreacting again but I wish Rove would have waited until he had the hurricane generator spooled down for a maintenence interval before he unleashed an avian flu in Asia.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

I Best Stay Away from the Booze---before I Really Lose it!

I am so angry that I don’t dare enjoy an alcoholic beverage. Jonah Goldberg at The Corner received these comments from a reader:

“The traffic situation in Houston is lapsing into incompetency on the part of local and state officials. First, they tell everyone to evacuate the city, especially in low lying areas, and then they ask them to sit on highways that do not move.

Case and point: My parents left at 6 a.m. this morning for Austin (regularly a 2 1/2 hour commute). I have not been able to reach them all day until just now 4:00 p.m. I learned from them that they are still in the city of Houston. This is ridiculous!!!”

I immediately realized that the public authorities were overreacting yesterday afternoon. The areas in Houston that are in possible danger are over thirty miles from my front door. Someone like me should swallow a chill pill. My family is in decent shape---even if a Category 5 hits! There are now people trapped on the highways who originally faced only a relatively minor risk from Rita. Some of them now may die from heat stroke. Many haven’t gone to the bathroom in hours and may be desperately hungry. This is absolutely insane.

Talk about stuck on stupid!

This is unadulterated stupidity. You can't make this stuff up. Legislation to require pets to be included in evacuations.

Have we all gone bark-raving mad?

Who in their right mind actually believes anyone, or any organization, government or otherwise, can evacuate large numbers of people, some of whom show up with dogs, cats, snakes, spiders, lizards, and probably freakin' fish tanks?

"Hi there, Sir. Does your snarling Rotwieller have a license indicating he's had his shots?"
"He never leaves the house. He doesn't need shots. Why are you bothering me with stupid bureaucratic BS? Just get me and my dog on the bus!"

"Ma'am, please, you need to stop screaming. Please, tell us what the problem is so we can help."
"I'm terrified of dogs, especially large dogs. I can't be on this bus with that Rot... ahhhhhhhhh!!!!"

"It's imperative that you control those cats, Sir. As you can see, we've got a lot of animals... Oh shit! George, hurry, get some of those NG troops in here, we've got cat and dog free-for-all going on! And bring a medic - that lady is bleeding pretty bad. At least she stopped screaming. Probably shock."

"Mommy, it smells like dog doo in here. I'm gonna throw up!"

Now we're supposed to send the 82nd Airborne in, have them shoot all the looters, then transition to dog-sitting. Yeah, I know, I'm overreacting. Now tell how this moronic lunacy is even remotely feasible.

While the legislation may draw attention to the issue, it doesn't "have any real meat in it," said Sara Spaulding, a spokeswoman for the American Humane Association. She said uniform protocols on rescuing and sheltering animals, for example, should be formulated at the federal level with consultation from animal welfare groups.
What! No meat? Howya gonna feed them? Where's the rats and crickets? Oh, yeah, sorry, they're on the bus.

Report From a Houston Citizen

It is virtually impossible to travel ten miles from my front door. I am compelled to restrict my driving to the immediate neighborhood. The freeways leading out of the city are a bumper to bumper, hair pulling out, torturous experience. I am hearing reports that it takes two hours minimum to drive one mile. How’s that for great gas milage? My family (comprising two adults and nine cats) lives in one of the safer areas of the city. The odds are that we will only endure some heavy rainfall. During the Allison disaster of 2001, our streets were mildly flooded. At the worst, we may not have any electricity for a few hours.

One for the haters, two for the slow...

Heh. Read this and this. Indeed. (ht, for the Whittle piece, to Daniel in Brookline via Roger's Place.)

YARGB - Flares into Darkness

Mickey Kaus:

In Defense of Good Policy: Matthew Yglesias charges that, by attacking the Davis-Bacon Act, I'm guilty of pursuing good policy. Instead, "progressive" Democrats should be pursuing not-so-good policies that nurture powerful pro-Democratic interests.

Really, isn't that the most honest and succinct description of politics you've ever seen?

What a difference a day (or 20) makes!

I have an unhealthy affinity for things trite. You know, "old sayings", adages, conventional wisdoms - that sort of thing. Stuff like never judge a book by its cover or you never get a second chance to make a first impression. I especially enjoy splatting things I've recently observed against them to see what sort of mess it makes.

Well, anyway, onward to first impressions, and second chances. I'll pick two examples, one national and the other very local.

The obvious national choice is Katrina. I spent a few minutes last night poking at a couple websites and sampling the commentary of Sep. 1, 2005. I'll leave any such effort to any readers who might drop by (in other words I'm too lazy to provide the steenking leenks and it couldn't be easier to find some for oneself). It was, for the most part, amazingly overwrought and/or inaccurate. The reality is few of us knew a darned thing about New Orleans, its levees, its floodwalls, its canals (which are canals and which are giant, openface drainpipes?). Even now, three weeks later, we know precious little. There is uncertainty (Captain's Quarters) about what actually happened to the levees... err... floodgates... err... floodwalls... err... canals... err.. Whatever! Was there topping, scouring, rampaging barges, bad design, bad construction?

On the local front My Little Neighborhood is undergoing some change. Apparently most folks prefer unending stability in matters of neighborhood. As always, not everyone is completely enamored of everyone else and old wounds fester long and deep and there are issues of "be careful what you wish for". To try and make what should be a short story less interminable - there have been changes in My Little Neighborhood recently. Specifically there have been a number of homes sold, some of which have become "rental properties" (gasp!).

To try and bring this local example toward some conclusion, the three nearest homes most directly involved in the non-stability have been lying fallow for a little while - unoccupied. This is not a case of flight or blight or obvious deterioration. As with many (most?) places real-estate prices, including rents, have risen rather dramatically and while they may be stabilizing they are well beyond the reach of those one might consider economically downtrodden.

One might imagine, I suppose, that unoccupied homes might add to the peaceful repose of a neighborhood. Nobody is amazingly quiet under normal circumstances. On the other hand Nobody is not at all good at keeping up with the yardwork and folks who move out to make way for Nobody seem remarkably prone to leaving behind large piles of stuff that doesn't seem to evaporate quickly.

Unkempt yards and non-evaporating piles of stuff have a remarkable ability to generate noise and attract visitors. They generate noise by winding up the normally peaceful neighbors to a tizzy. What's happening to our neighborhood?!? Who can pay that much money for a house and not live in it?!? Are we going to be pushed out by investors?!? As for the visitors, well, they are apparently some subset of the yard-sale aficianados and roving packs of "bored" teenagers. The first category is harmless (and provide a useful scavenging function IMHO). The second is potentially problematic.

Needless to say the tizzies were increasing in intensity.

Lo and behold, however, just yesterday a rising crescendo of whirring and rumbling and thumping and banging began. A quick, "what the heck is all this noise" recon discovered a yard crew working feverishly, a roofing gang working, well, diligently if not quite feverishly, and a moving van disgorging stuff. Oh, and yeah, some large, noisy municipal vehicles removing at least portions of the noise and visitor generating piles. The activity was well distributed among the fallow fields. One yard crew over there. One roofing crew over there. One moving van over there with the stuff removers working threading themselves among the lot.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Reason 5,375 to support Bush's SC nominations.

The Club For Growth is being sued by the FEC on the grounds that they were guilty of "express advocacy" for a candidate.

The campaign finance laws drafted by John McCain and Russ Feingold were upheld by the Supreme Court in 2003 in a 5-4 decision. Justice O'Connor joined with the liberal members of the court to produce the five member majority. Her replacement will be crucial in the outcome of this case.


Frank Martin (Varifrank) is a smart guy, but he's hit one of my pet peeves from people who don't understand probability.

When you have over 750,000 miles on just one of the big carriers, you are always aware that with each flight the odds get better of a problem occurring. Air travel is very safe, but the actuarial tables don’t lie. Fly often enough long enough and something will certainly happen and after awhile you wonder “ is this the one that does me in”?

This is what's known as the "Gambler's Fallacy" — the notion that if you've flipped tails five times in a row, the next flip is more likely to go heads.

In fact, each coin flip is independent: the coin doesn't know what has happened in the past.

Now, other than making fun of a common fallacy — certainly a worthy effort in itself — there's another reason to post this. As I was thinking about it, a way to point out the problem with this reasoning occurred to me that I had never thought of before. (Original? I doubt it. But new to me.)

Think about the whole population on the plane. In fact, assume that Frank, with his 750,000 miles, is sharing the plane with some five year old who has never been on a plane before in his life. If this reasoning were correct, the odds of the plane crashing have to be much higher for Frank ... but much lower for the five year old.

Since the plane can't both crash for Frank and not crash for the five year old, there has to be something wrong with the original reasoning.

The Many Disguises of Incompetence

or How Luck Makes Heroes of Goats

I have an expectation, and optimism, that information will emerge from New Orleans and be placed into sufficient context to grow into something like an updated, and useful, Conventional Wisdom.

I suffered a minor setback today.

Consider for a moment this WaPo article Backups Enabled Systems to Survive: Data Protection Paid Off After Katrina

Our Hero in this little vignette is:
"...interim technology manager Rajeev Jain [who] entered the building not knowing what to expect. The ground floor of the New Orleans school system headquarters was under three inches of water, and when he headed upstairs, he saw that the fourth-floor ceiling was damaged and leaking."
So far so, so good. Rajeev Jain, undoubtedly doing his job, was surveying the damage to the school system HQ. He then
"...hailed police to sledgehammer through a locked door."
and therein lies the fickle finger of fate pointed by Lady Luck who, on that day at least, was smiling favorably on Rajeev Jain.
"He found what he was looking for in a storage closet: 170 dry and apparently undamaged computer backup tapes storing recently updated payroll records and other critical financial information."
What possible "incompetence" could this happy scenario demonstrate?

Rajeev Jain should never have gone looking, nor needed to summon police to sledgehammer through a locked storeroom door, in the flooded, water dripping from the-damaged 4th-floor ceiling, school system HQ. Those computer backup tapes storing recently updated payroll records and other critical financial information should never have been in a storage closet in the school HQ. They should have been stored well outside the range of any disaster that might reasonably be expected to befall the school system HQ. Had this been a simple fire, or had the roof collapsed and wiped out Our Little Storeroom, Rajeev Jain would be sweating bullets and wondering how he was going to answer some very pointed questions from some irate people.

Lest you doubt my word for this:
"Government institutions and large companies generally had adequate backup systems in place and data-recovery contracts with firms such as IBM to help rescue damaged data tapes and rebuild software systems. The best-prepared had backup files stored on computers outside the hurricane zone." (emphasis mine)
Although storing backup files "on computer systems" is a function of how quickly one needs to achieve recovery. Storing backup files "in adequately protected facilities outside the hurricane zone" would be sufficient for some cases.

Perhaps I come across as a grump here, but I've lived through this and counting on the storage closet to protect irreplaceable assets, electronic or otherwise, is not a good idea.

Stuck on Stupid Affirmative Action Policies

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gen. Russel Honore are both black. That may be the only thing they have in common. Nagin is grossly incompetent and Honore is respected as a man of considerable skills and leadership. The latter has earned his way in life as a military officer. Nagin appears to have used his skin color to manipulate the private sector into awarding him millions of dollars in compensation. He was once a vice president with Cox Communications. Anyone involved in the communications industry can tell you that affirmative action “inclusionary policies” significantly influence the hiring and promotion process. Today Nagin is perhaps the worst mayor of a major American city. It is very fair to argue that affirmative action so-called remedies are responsible for much of the death and destruction in New Orleans. How much longer will this nonsense continue?

Supreme Court Nominees

Judge Roberts was a home run for the Bush Administration.

Listening to the hearings last week, I got the immediate impression that he was even more impressive than his press clippings which were impressive indeed. This impression never left me throughout the grueling sessions, all of which I watched with rapt attention.

What was not apparent from the hearings is the generally superior intelligence and training of the Senate Judiciary Commitee staffs and of the various interest group staffs trying to influence the Committee, all of whom are jockeying for the limelight in these rare events. Having worked in Washington, I can vouch for the generally high level of competence of Senate staffs.

Also keep in mind that the seating of a Chief Justice of the United States has happened before only 17 times in the nation's history. Only two of those were the subjects of nationally televised hearings: Burger in 1969, and Rehnquist in 1986 (Fortas was nominated by LBJ in 1968, but was not confirmed). That the Roberts hearing was indeed historic was no exaggeration. Moreover, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee had much to prove. They were showcasing their jurisprudential philosophy for all to see, and they wanted to demonstrate to everyone their concern for the "little fellow". The amount of preparation for this event cannot be overstated.

Being an old (or "senior" as I prefer to be labelled) lawyer, I have worked closely with big firm lawyers and law students since 1962. Most graduated high in their classes from first class law schools. Many clerked for federal judges. A few clerked for Justices of the Supreme Court. In the law business, these talented, hard working folks were the equivalent of major league professional sports team members. Even so, few were so far ahead of the crowd that one could say with certainty that they were truly superlative so that they really stood out.

But I can say without hesitation that for my money, Judge Roberts was the judicial equivalent of Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Jim Brown, Bobby Jones, Johnny Unitas, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. All rolled into one. He was that impressive.

Here's the proof: The ideologically liberal Washington Post and Los Angeles Times editorial pages supported this nominee of the often vilified GWB whom neither supports. When did another Republican nominee achieve that feat?

Now what?

It will be impossible to top Judge Roberts. But there are a number of exceedingly fine judges on the federal bench. I do not know any of them the way I now know Judge Roberts, but here's my advice: Nominate someone who impresses with a career marked with intelligence, integrity, fairness and modesty. Forget anyone who has demonstrated arrogance, certainty, cockiness and ideological narrowness. Make sure in the interview the nominee's personal qualities match the career reputation. Listen to what the nominee's past and present colleagues say about him or her to verify the presence of those good qualities and the absence of the bad ones. Then, hope such a nominee can perform 80% as well in the hearing as Judge Roberts. Lastly keep in mind a double ain't bad.