Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Boy and His Felafel

As I mentioned in a previous post, Fox News Thug Bill O'Reilly decided to go after sponsors of The Daily Kos a bit ago. Kos returned the favor, provoking protests from the likes of our friend Lumo.

Since then, the battle has escalated a bit, provoking Atrios to proclaim it "felafel day." For those with short memories, this is a reference to a successful sexual harrassment suit by a female former Fox News producer against O'Reilly, who had the habit of calling her up and asking for phone sex while masturbating himself. O'Reilly blustered about extortion for a bit but shut up and payed quick when she filed transcripts which made it clear that she had a detailed record (recording) of the incidents. One incidental bit of comedy occurred when, according to the transcripts, he suggested sexual acts involving a felafel - most think he meant a loofah - I doubt that a felafel would stand up to a shower, much less hard use in a shower.

Brad DeLong extracts some excerpts from Atrios's extracts from the transcripts of the court filings.

Eschaton: Falafel Day

If any woman ever breathed a word I'll make her pay so dearly that she'll wish she'd never been born. I'll rake her through the mud, bring up things in her life and make her so miserable that she'll be destroyed. And besides, she wouldn't be able to afford the lawyers I can or endure it financially as long as I can. And nobody would believe her, it'd be her word against mine and who are they going to believe? Me or some unstable woman making outrageous accusations. They'd see her as some psycho, someone unstable. Besides, I'd never make the mistake of picking unstable crazy girls like that...

If you cross FOX NEWS CHANNEL, it's not just me, it's [FOX President] Roger Ailes who will go after you. I'm the street guy out front making loud noises about the issues, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM! The person gets what's coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he's going to get a knock on his door and life as he's known it will change forever. That day will happen, trust me...

Bully and Creep? I report, you decide.

Bow down and worship your hero, Lubos.

A Little Truthiness?

The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus has a column today in which she argues that:

In his Senate testimony last week, Gonzales once again dissembled and misled. He was too clever by seven-eighths. He employed his signature brand of inartful dodging -- linguistic evasion, poorly executed. The brutalizing he received from senators of both parties was abundantly deserved.

But I don't think he actually lied about his March 2004 hospital encounter with then-Attorney General John Ashcroft. I certainly don't think he could be charged with -- much less convicted of -- perjury.

Her argument is essentially that Gonzales was obliged to tell some of the truth, some of the time. She finds some support in that the Supreme's have apparently ruled that the perjury statutes should be very narrowly construed, in that the witness oblidged only to state the literal truth, even if that literal truth is misleading and only a partial answer - which of makes a mockery of the "truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Whether Fredo's evasions can be fitted into that narrow cell, I don't know, but if so it suggests that Bill C. might not have been committing perjury when he said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman." In any case, I think that Fredo's more likely lies are concerned with his pretended ignorance of how the list of fired attorneys was created.

In fact we don't have enough information to know for sure in which parts of his testimony Gonzales was lying - and we can't know without truthful testimony. In any case, Congress should not tolerate Gonzales deceptive behavior, whether or not it flunks the test of criminal perjury. Either a special counsel should be appointed to investigate or he should be impeached.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Arun has some of the bizarre details of the killing of Pat Tillman and the subsequent cover up. Most suspicious are:

The doctors ... said that the bullet holes [three bullet holes in Tillman's forehead] were so close together that it appeared the Army Ranger was cut down by an M-16 fired from a mere 10 yards or so away.


White House, Pentagon cite executive privilege to hold up documents on friendly fire victim Tillman

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan adds another sinister piece to the puzzle:

I keep thinking this incident is out of a movie. The heroism, the sacrifice, the tragedy, the lies, the cover-up, and the unthinkable. I should repeat I think it's almost certainly a friendly fire accident. But too much still doesn't add up. And then there's this: his diary was destroyed?

Holy coverup, Batman!

Southern Racism

...Seems to be alive and well in Jena, Louisiana. Of course racism is hardly a purely Southern phenomenon, but I find it hard to imagine the events in Jena transpiring in any town I've ever lived in. One version of the story is told by Amy Goodman:

Last week in Detroit, the NAACP held a mock funeral for the N-word. But a chilling case in Louisiana shows us how far we have to go to bury racism. This story begins in the small central Louisiana town of Jena. Last September, a black high school student requested the school’s permission to sit beneath a broad, leafy tree in the hot schoolyard. Until then, only white students sat there.

The next morning, three nooses were hanging from the tree. The black students responded en masse. Justin Purvis, the kid who first sat under the tree, told filmmaker Jacquie Soohen: “They [other black students] said, ‘Y’all want to go stand under the tree?’ We said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘If you go, I’ll go. If you go, I’ll go.’ One person went, the next person went, everybody else just went.”

Then the police and the district attorney showed up. Substitute teacher Michelle Rogers recounts: “District Attorney Reed Walters proceeded to tell those kids that ‘I could end your lives with the stroke of a pen.’ ”

It didn’t happen for a few more months, but that is exactly what the district attorney is trying to do.

Jena, a community of 4,000, is about 85 percent white. While the black community gathered at a church to respond, others didn’t see the significance. Soohen interviewed Jena town librarian Barbara Murphy, who reflected: “The nooses? I don’t even know why they were there, what they were supposed to mean. There’s pranks all the time, of one type or another, going on. And it just didn’t seem to be racist to me.” Tensions rose.

Robert Bailey, a black student, was beaten up at a white party. Then, a few nights later, Robert and two others were threatened by a white man with a sawed-off shotgun at a convenience store. They wrestled the gun away and fled. Robert’s mother, Caseptla Bailey, said: “I know they were in fear of their lives. They were afraid that this man was going to shoot them, you know, especially in the back, running away from the scene.”

The next day, Dec. 4, 2006, a fight broke out at the school. A white student was injured, taken to the hospital and released. Robert Bailey and five other black students were charged … with second-degree attempted murder. They each faced 100 years in prison. The black community was reeling.

Independent journalist Jordan Flaherty was the first to break the story nationally. He explained: “I’m sure it was a serious fight, and I’m sure it deserved real discipline within the school system, but he [the white student] was out later that day. He was smiling. He was with friends … it was a serious school problem that came on the heels of a long series of other events … as soon as black students were involved, that’s when the hammer came down.”

Various accounts (Dallas News, Bill Quigley, Broward Times, NPR ATC) make it pretty clear that the principal villain in the story, the guy who pushed routine school yard trouble making into a major conflict, was District Attorney Reed Walters.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Physicists as Lousy Husbands

Peter Woit has a nice review of and commentary on a recently published book by Stephen Hawking's ex-wife.

The Hawkings were married back in 1965, at a time when Stephen’s illness had already become apparent, and his prognosis for long-term survival was not good at all. For the next 25 years, Jane spent most of her time in the back-breaking labor of caring for an invalid husband while raising three children. While Stephen went from success to success, the center of attention due to his brilliant scientific work and triumph over his disability, Jane received little support, encouragement, or recognition for the sacrifices she was making, and one would have to be a saint to not develop some resentment for the situation and for the way it ended. She tells the whole story in some detail, and it’s in many ways a rather sad one.

Among the sources of conflict between them were: religion (she was a believer, he a fervent atheist), his family (described as definitely not nice to her), and his devotion to physics:

I sensed that there was yet another partner lurking in our already overcrowded marriage. The fourth partner first appeared in the form of a trusted and quiescent friend, signalling the way to success and fulfilment for those who followed her. In fact she proved to be a relentless rival, as exacting as any mistress, an inexorable Siren, luring her devotees into deep pools of obsession. She was none other than Physics, cited by Einstein’s first wife as the correspondent in divorce proceedings.

Hawking went on to live with and later marry one of his nurses (they are now apparently divorcing). His ex-wife Jane also re-married.

I seem to recall that Feynman's second wife divorced him for acts of mental cruelty, including working calculus problems in bed.

Jane also has a bit to say about the contrast between the general relativity centered physicists Hawking worked with in his early career versus the particle theorists he hung with later. First Peter, then Jane:

While Jane quite liked many of the relativist colleagues of Stephen’s that she was meeting, especially if they weren’t in a group talking about physics, she was much less impressed by the particle theorists that Stephen started spending his time with after the mid-seventies as his work concentrated on quantum gravity and unification:

Nor, I have to confess, did the set of scientists with whom Stephen was now associating attract me in the least. On the whole, particle physicists were a dry, obsessive bunch of boffins, little concerned with personal contact but very concerned with their own scientific reputations. They were much more aggressively competitive than the relaxed, friendly relativists with whom we had associated in the past.

Let me just note for the record, that string theory came out of particle physics, while loop quantum gravity has its origins in general relativity.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


The most damning information in Nixon's White House tapes has nothing to do with Watergate. It's the conversations that show that Nixon and Kissinger knew in 1971 that the war was lost. Kissinger advised him to wait until after the election, so as not to jeapodize his chances. Another 23,000 American soldiers died, as well as many times as many Vietnamese.

The scary part is that Nixon was brilliant compared to Bush.

Wack Jobs

The blotchy one, AKA Bill O'Reilly, has managed to build a career on his talents as a schoolyard bully. Like any schoolyard bully, he likes to pick on those smaller than himself. In his relentless quest to find more victims to satisfy the blood lust of his sychophantic devotees, he managed to find some some nasty comments about him among the tens of thousands that The Daily Kos gets every week. This provoked him to launch a jihad against Kos and Kos's sponsors, managing to intimidate Jet Blue into asking that its name be taken off some Kos function's sponsors list.

O'Reilly's charge against Kos: he was a "hater." Pretty funny, since hordes of mouth breathers proceeded to post venomous invective against Kos on the O'Leilly site. Kos retaliated by asking his readers to protest to Fox advertisers when Fox launched any of its usual lies and distortions.

This, in turn, provoked a scream of outrage from my favorite Czech Wack Job. His total lack of a sense of irony makes his post ironically hilarious. In a further irony, I find myself completely in agreement with his first two sentences:

In the past, we used to believe that because of various reasons, America was immune to a threat of totalitarian systems. I no longer think that these comments are valid.

I'm not sure whether he was unaware of O'Reilly's earlier campaign against Kos's sponsors or if this is just another manifestation of his pervasive mind blindness, but here he is:

They have collected signatures of thousands of nutcases all over America who vowed to annoy companies advertising on FoxNews (!!!) with intimidating telephone calls. Tolerating all political attitudes is very nice but if the society can't destroy these carcinogenic segments before it's too late, it will be too late and they will destroy the society. And if you have any doubts that the previous assertion is true, let me assure you that it is actually a tautology.

Is it really legal in America to organize a threatening campaign of hateful junk telephone calls?

Of course it was perfectly legitimate for O'Reilly to organize an earlier campaign against Kos's sponsors. The Lumonator concludes with one of those flights of paranoid fantasy that has made him a hero to right-wing nutcases everywhere:

These activists are fully analogous to the brownshirts in Germany of the 1930s.

Because complaining to a sponsor is just like the beatings, arsons and murders that were the tactics employed by Hitler's goons.

Guess Who?

From Garrison Keillor's Homegrown Democrat:

A man with almost nothing admirable in his resume. He has been cruelly exposed as incompetent, inarticulate, and dishonest. His innattention is remarkable. He sat and was briefed on the danger of a hurricane wiping out a major American city, and without asking a single question, he got up from the table and walked away and resumed his monthlong vacation. He played guitar as New Orleans was flooded. It took him four days to realize he ought to pay attention. When the tsunami killed a hundred thousand people in southeast Asia, he was on vacation and it took him seventy-two hours to issue a statement of sympathy. A small petulant man who keeps diminishing with time . . .

It's not a puzzle of course, just a reminder of why I really hate these SOBs.

One quibble: he didn't "realize" anything. The time lags were the time lags before his sychophants dared to interrupt his vacation to tell him that he had better pay attention.

When I was a kid, my father was active in Democratic politics, so I got to know many of the local and state politicos. I was always impressed by their humility, humor, and generosity of impulse. Later in life, a neighbor was elected to the legislature as a Republican. He invited us to his victory party, and I wondered if it would be like those parties of my youth. In fact, nearly everybody there was one of those superficial, snobbish, grasping, and nasty people who fill the upper reaches of fraternity and sorority houses.

It's not just prejudice that makes me hate Republicans - they really are bad people.

More Potter Bashing^2

Potter bashers have historically been a rather scarce commodity, which gave them a certain market value. Antonia S. Byatt, who evidently is a writer of some reputation (not quite sufficient to come to my attention, however) is probably the second most prominent such death eater. She reviewed HP 5 in the New York Times Harry Potter And The Childish Adult in 2003.

Like other infidels, she can't quite figure out what the fuss is about:

What is the secret of the explosive and worldwide success of the Harry Potter books? Why do they satisfy children and — a much harder question — why do so many adults read them? I think part of the answer to the first question is that they are written from inside a child's-eye view, with a sure instinct for childish psychology. But then how do we answer the second question? Surely one precludes the other.

Her title announces both her diagnosis and her critical strategy. The last sentence is another clue. It's a thought that would never occur to me. Many of my main interests (science, sports, and games) are essentially childish, and haven't changed much since I was ten. I find that children are often more interesting to talk to than adults.

Byatt then proceeds to launch into Freud, a rather tedious exercise but not utterly without explanatory power.

The easy question first. Freud described what he called the "family romance," in which a young child, dissatisfied with its ordinary home and parents, invents a fairy tale in which it is secretly of noble origin, and may even be marked out as a hero who is destined to save the world. In J. K. Rowling's books, Harry is the orphaned child of wizards who were murdered trying to save his life. He lives, for unconvincingly explained reasons, with his aunt and uncle, the truly dreadful Dursleys, who represent, I believe, his real "real" family, and are depicted with a relentless, gleeful, overdone venom.

It's hard for me to get beyond the "Well, duh!" reaction. It's hardly a revelation that all children's stories (or all stories) are built on certain plot elements that tap into our deepest fantasies. Fortunately, there are only a few such paragraphs.

Next we get to hear some sour sniping:

Harry's first date with a female wizard is unbelievably limp, filled with an 8-year-old's conversational maneuvers...

Derivative narrative clichés work with children because they are comfortingly recognizable and immediately available to the child's own power of fantasizing...

Much of the real evil in the later books is caused by newspaper gossip columnists who make Harry into a dubious celebrity, which is the modern word for the chosen hero. . .

None of this strikes me as either true or interesting, but YMMV.

Ms. Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, "only personal." Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.

The last sentence is absurd and the middle one is merely insulting, but what the heck is the "numinous?"

From Dictionary.com:

nu·mi·nous –adjective
1. of, pertaining to, or like a numen; spiritual or supernatural.
2. surpassing comprehension or understanding; mysterious: that element in artistic expression that remains numinous.
3. arousing one's elevated feelings of duty, honor, loyalty, etc.: a benevolent and numinous paternity.


[Origin: 1640–50; < L nūmin

A "numen" it seems, is a divine power or spirit occupying an object or a place. There are no divine powers in Harry Potter, but there are plenty of spirits occupying places and objects from portraits to Horcruxes. Perhaps Byatt had in mind definition two.

Comfort, I think, is part of the reason[that adults like Rowling]. Childhood reading remains potent for most of us. In a recent BBC survey of the top 100 "best reads," more than a quarter were children's books. We like to regress. I know that part of the reason I read Tolkien when I'm ill is that there is an almost total absence of sexuality in his world, which is restful.

Since she was 67 when she wrote this, I suspect she was boasting a bit.

She goes on to compare Rowling unfavorably with several fantasy authors that I haven't read: Susan Cooper, Alan Gardner, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Terry Pratchett.

For her finale, she wheels in some heavy artillery:

It's become respectable to read and discuss what Roland Barthes called "consumable" books. There is nothing wrong with this, but it has little to do with the shiver of awe we feel looking through Keats's "magic casements, opening on the foam/Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn."

This merely points up that Rowling's readers have a different opinion, and that Byatt has explained nothing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tour de Zaster

The implosion of the Tour de France is only the latest portent of the oncoming apocalypse. It's probably true that no other sport tests for doping as often and thoroughly as the TdF, but ongoing tide of revelations and disqualifications is highly unsettling. With Rassmussen's expulsion, the Yellow Jersey is again tainted.

Rassmussen's case is expecially bothersome, since it seems clear that he doped but had no positive test. Since the Italian dope doctors are implicated, that casts a dark shadow on many others, especially Armstong.

At least it's a distraction from the much worse corruption in the Presidency.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


In last night's debate, Clinton and Biden each claimed that pulling out of Iraq would take at least a year. I don't buy it. We occupied Iraq in weeks, against considerable opposition. Merely getting out, very likely with little opposition, is unlikely to take many times longer. That said, there might be very good reasons to avoid such precipitous withdrawal, but physical impossibility is a phony one.

Monday, July 23, 2007


When Kevin Drum confessed that he wasn't blogging much over the weekend on account of the arrival of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows he got a lot of grief from the usual suspects who couldn't resist the chance to say how much they despised the books and those who liked them.

Your mileage may vary, I suppose, and it would probably be a dull world if everybody had the same tastes, but I always suspect that those who despise such things are missing a piece of their souls - doubtless tucked into a Horcrux somewhere.

I was an initial skeptic, and not just about Jo Rowling. I was a young adult who had just graduated from college and been drafted into the army when I first encountered Tolkien, and as a science fiction fan, had a deep distrust of swords and sorcery fantasy. Still, it was already clear in 1966 that Tolkien was going to be big, so I consulted an expert, my old high school debate partner who had gone on to become president of the MIT science fiction society. When he assured me that JRRT was the real deal, I dared to buy the The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring - I didn't want to commit the resources needed to buy all four books.

I got to my first posting, to an isolated Fort in the SouthWest, I was already well into The Fellowship and well and truly hooked. The PX there didn't carry the books, but while I was in the transient barracks I ran into another soldier who had had book two and only book two in Vietnam. He was as anxious to find out how the story started as I was to find out how it continued, so we worked out a trade.

I have read the books many times since, including aloud to my wife and later to my children, and was grouchy about but not outraged by the Peter Jackson movies. I encountered many fantasy works in the meantime but none that drew me in. By the time I was an old guy, I was thoroughly skeptical that any fantasy beyond Tolkien could be any good. My wife taught grade school though, so she was tuned into kid culture, and by the time Potter started to become a phenomenon - book three? - she was assuring me that it wasn't bad. A few chapters later, I was hooked again.

I have since read and reread the first six books, and have now completed book seven. I think it's great and a fitting conclusion, though she cetainly laid on the carnage in book seven.

YouTube Debate

As a certifiable old codger, I didn't expect to be blown away by the YouTube debate, but it was actually pretty good. The questions asked were much better than the idiotic ones the reporters always ask.

The candidates answers - not so much.

I liked best two of the candidates I wouldn't vote for: Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. Gravel pretty much put out unvarnished truths, including many that people don't want to hear: taxation is the most and perhaps only effective way to constrain energy use, and, yes, all those soldiers who died in Vietnam, including my friends, neighbors and Army buddies, did die in vain. That last does not diminish their valor or sacrifice, but it does indict those who sent and led them.

I liked Kucinich, even though I think most of his ideas are nuts, because he reminds me of Dobby the house elf.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

How to Read and Why

... is the title of a book by Harold Bloom. By most accounts, it is a good book. I might even read it sometime, perhaps after I get through reading How to have Sex and Why. By which I mean that I've never had any doubts about why, and have acquired enough understanding of how that I feel no particular need for coaching from a 70 year old (his age when he wrote it) Yale professor of literature.

So what do I care about this self-styled "master critic" and his opinions? About seven years ago, on his seventieth birthday, the Wall Street Journal published his pompous and dismissive review of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone entitled Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes.

Popular literature that they don't get is common target for aging critics. Edmund Wilson set off against J R R Tolkien in similar fashion forty or so years earlier. Of course, I shouldn't dismiss his critique out of hand. So what does he have to say? He opens with:

Taking arms against Harry Potter, at this moment, is to emulate Hamlet taking arms against a sea of troubles. By opposing the sea, you won't end it.

The famous critic about to upbraid Rowling for cliches doesn't seem to miss many himself.

Though the book is not well written, that is not in itself a crucial liability. It is much better to see the movie, "The Wizard of Oz," than to read the book upon which it was based, but even the book possessed an authentic imaginative vision. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" does not, so that one needs to look elsewhere for the book's (and its sequels') remarkable success. Such speculation should follow an account of how and why Harry Potter asks to be read.

The ultimate model for Harry Potter is "Tom Brown's School Days" by Thomas Hughes, published in 1857. The book depicts the Rugby School presided over by the formidable Thomas Arnold, remembered now primarily as the father of Matthew Arnold, the Victorian critic-poet. But Hughes' book, still quite readable, was realism, not fantasy. Rowling has taken "Tom Brown's School Days" and re-seen it in the magical mirror of Tolkein. The resultant blend of a schoolboy ethos with a liberation from the constraints of reality-testing may read oddly to me, but is exactly what millions of children and their parents desire and welcome at this time.

In what follows, I may at times indicate some of the inadequacies of "Harry Potter." But I will keep in mind that a host are reading it who simply will not read superior fare, such as Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" or the "Alice" books of Lewis Carroll. Is it better that they read Rowling than not read at all? Will they advance from Rowling to more difficult pleasures?

I detect an acrid putrescence to the disdain dripping down his page, but where is the substance?

One can reasonably doubt that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" is going to prove a classic of children's literature, but Rowling, whatever the aesthetic weaknesses of her work, is at least a millennial index to our popular culture. So huge an audience gives her importance akin to rock stars, movie idols, TV anchors, and successful politicians. Her prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers. In an arbitrarily chosen single page--page 4--of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven cliches, all of the "stretch his legs" variety.

The "stretch his legs" cliche indeed occurs on pg. 4, but is ironically appropriate - it portrays the thought and intention of a character whose life is a total cliche.

Bloom can't resist any chance to demean Rowling's readers, nor can he resist the impulse to express himself in the most pretentious and supercilious way.

How to read"Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. is there any redeeming education use to Rowling? Is there any to Stephen King? Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality? For all I know, the actual wizards and witches of Britain, or America, may provide an alternative culture for more people than is commonly realized.

The tilter against windmills must express a vain hope:

And yet I feel a discomfort with the Harry Potter mania, and I hope that my discontent is not merely a highbrow snobbery, or a nostalgia for a more literate fantasy to beguile (shall we say) intelligent children of all ages.

Whatever the height of his brow, I think his discontent is mainly snobbery.

The core weakness of the review is his utter inability to guess the nature of Harry Potter's appeal. He doesn't comprehend it, so he can only blame the readers:

Perhaps Rowling appeals to millions of reader non-readers because they sense her wistful sincerity, and want to join her world, imaginary or not. She feeds a vast hunger for unreality; can that be bad? At least her fans are momentarily emancipated from their screens, and so may not forget wholly the sensation of turning the pages of a book, any book.

There is fear in that paragraph and incomprehension, and I feel a momentary pathos. These are the words of one who thinks the world has passed him by, and rages against it. His fear, though, is mainly misplaced. If he were slightly more attuned to the world that is, he would have realized that those legions of Potter maniacs he fears are mainly people who have read and admired Shakespear, Austin, Shelley, and Lewis Carroll.

He has one line that speaks to me:

Why read, if what you read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality?

Vladamir Nabakov told the story of teaching college literature and asking his students why they studied it. There were many answers he didn't like, but one that he did:

I like stories.

No Shirt, Shylock

Josh Marshall finds this quote in a Business Week interview with Sec. of State Condileeza Rice:

From Maria Bartiromo's interview of Condi Rice in the current issue of BusinessWeek:

MB: Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?
CR: I don't know what I'll do long-term. I'm a terrible long-term planner.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Sky Pilot

The President only seems to meet with reliably right-wing true believers, but those who meet with him are frequently impressed with his eerie serenity. With his policies and programs in ruins all about him, he seems untroubled by self-doubt or any other kind of doubt.

Glenn Greenwald reflects on that, and on NYT columnist David Brooks' recent membership in such a group:

As George Bush has become more and more isolated, and as his presidency has collapsed around him, he has increasingly arranged White House events where like-minded admirers come and gather around him and genuflect to his greatness. As The Washington Post's Peter Baker recently reported, these events are attended exclusively by small groups of right-wing pundits, "journalists" and neoconservative theorists and activists who sit around the President and both soak in and bolster the Rightness of his choices.

NYT columnist David Brooks was fortunate enough to have been invited to the most recent such gathering -- also attended by Event Regulars Rich Lowry and Kate O'Beirne of National Review -- and Brooks came away so impressed that he wrote a homage to Bush -- headlined "Heroes and History" -- that would even make Ultimate Bush worshipper John Hinderaker blush:

I left the 110-minute session thinking that far from being worn down by the past few years, Bush seems empowered. His self-confidence is the most remarkable feature of his presidency.

All this will be taken as evidence by many that Bush is delusional. He's living in a cocoon. He doesn't see or can't face how badly the war is going and how awfully he has performed.

But Bush is not blind to the realities in Iraq. After all, he lives through the events we're not supposed to report on: the trips to Walter Reed, the hours and hours spent weeping with or being rebuffed by the families of the dead. . . .

Self-confidence is a necessary trait in a leader, and, when combined with a certain genius, can lead to the remarkable accomplishments of an Alexander the Great. More frequently, of course, it is combined with the hubris of a nut like Jim Jones, David Koresh, or perhaps Osama bin Laden.

Greenwald, I guess, believes that Bush belongs with this latter group of sky pilots.

This has been the great unexamined issue of the Bush presidency -- the extent to which Bush's unwavering commitment to Middle East militarism is, as Bush himself has made clear, rooted in theological and religious convictions, not in pragmatic or geopolitical concerns. That Bush's foreign policy decision-making is grounded in absolute moral and theological convictions and therefore immune from re-examination or change is an argument I examine at length in A Tragic Legacy because it is one of the principal -- and most dangerous -- forces driving the Bush presidency.

This fact, thinks Greenwald, makes Bush immune to the usual considerations of political advantage, logic, and reality. That is why middle-way appeals like that of John Warner and Richard Lugar are completely wasted on Bush.

If you are doing God's work, how can you be bothered with the namby-pamby ditherings of some old men? Or, for that matter, little details like the law and the Constitution.

That is why -- even in the aftermath of a shattering midterm election defeat for his party and the wrist-slapping of the Wise, Bipartisan Consensus Baker-Hamilton Report -- Bush not only stayed in Iraq but announced we would escalate. And nothing stopped him. He could not have cared any less about those standard Washington influences or even the limits of reality.

And if Bush believes -- as he almost certainly does -- that a military confrontation with Iran is necessary, nothing will stop him there either, no matter how many solemn David Broder columns and Fred Hiatt editorials or public opinion polls oppose it. After all, as David Brooks quoted him:

"It's more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn't exist."

Bush told us back in January 2002 that he believes Iran is Evil, and just as was true for his identical statement about Iraq, he meant it. The religious views of our political leaders matter and ought to be open much more to examination and questioning. That is particularly true when they continuously tell us, even if we don't want to believe it, that their beliefs and decisions are grounded in theology and religion and moral absolutism, not politics or pragmatism.

Is this the reality? I'm not sure, but it seems like as plausible an explanation as any. If so, it's scary as hell.

It's also one more reason to believe that compromise and half-measures are hopeless. Impeachment looks like the only option.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Impeachment Now!

If this Ewen McGaskill and Julian Borger story in the Guardian has it right, impeachment is not only necessary, but urgent. It claims that Cheney has persuaded Bush to attack Iran. Such a course will probably be catastrophic for a generation or more.

The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.
The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo."


The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates.


"The red line is not in Iran. The red line is in Israel. If Israel is adamant it will attack, the US will have to take decisive action," Mr Cronin said. "The choices are: tell Israel no, let Israel do the job, or do the job yourself."

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Bombing Saudi Arabia

Joe Lieberman, John McCain and other nutcases want to bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran. The President will veto any legislation that crimps his ability to attack Iran. Granting that Iran may be providing some minimal support to Shia militias in Iran, what about Saudi Arabia? Most of the 9/11 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. Most of the al Quaeda in Mesopotania foreign fighters in Iraq are from Saudi Arabia.

So why are the Saudis immune?

Couldn't have anything to do with the close financial and personal links of certain Saudis and certain Bushs, could it?

WSJ: Premature Mourning

I admit joining with those who mourned the WSJ in advance of Murdoch's takeover. Fortunately, we can always count on the WSJ editorial board to do something to prove that there isn't really all that much to lose. Many in the blogosphere have been having fun with the following ludicrously misinterpreted graph.

The supposed point is a Laffer curve - showing that revenues decline with increasing tax rate beyond a certain point. The curve drawn is an absurd misfit to the data even with the odd outlier of Norway included. Brad DeLong points out the reason why the Norway outlier looks so odd:

One more point, with respect to "omitting Norway": Personally I see no need to omit Norway. I do see a need to plot the Norway point on the graph correctly. The revenues plotted on the vertical scale include oil excise taxes levied on corporations. The tax rates plotted on the horizontal scale do not--hence the Norway "tax rate" of 28% rather than the correct 52%. Move Norway out to its proper position--with the same tax concept on both axes--and everything is fine.

I will assume for a minute that the people who subscribe to the WSJ and The Economist aren't all total idiots - I been a subscriber myself - so how do they filter all this crap out? I personally just toss the editorial pages...

Schutz: GMoTP 2.0 - 2.3

Enter the main characters in his drama: Differential Manifolds and Tensors

We have seen that the possibility of defining continuous maps (or functions) is the key ingredient that makes topological spaces interesting. A differentiable manifold is a space on which differentiable functions can live. The physical space in which we live is thought to be such a space, and so are many other interesting mathematical objects, such as the space of solutions to differential equations. Fundamentally, a differentiable manifold is a space which looks locally like R^n. Each point in the manifold has an open neighborhood which has a continuous 1-1 map onto an open set of R^n for some n.

2.1 Definition of a Manifold

The key point here is that for a general manifold M, no single map from M->R^n will do. In general, multiple overlapping maps (an Atlas) will be needed, and for M to be a diffentiable manifold, those maps must overlap smoothly, permitting differentiable coordinate transformations in the overlap regions. The technical definition requires a bit of study for understanding. Helpful diagrams are provided.

2.2 The Sphere as a Manifold

The most familiar example of a manifold that isn't just R^n is the two Sphere S^2 - the set of points comprising the surface of a sphere. It is not possible to cover the surface of the sphere with a single map from S^2 -> R^2. Schutz notes that this fact follows from the topology of the 2-sphere, and is equally true topologically equivalent manifolds. Schutz looks at the sphere and illustrates some points about the nature of manifolds with diagrams and discussion.

2.3 Other Examples of Manifolds

Six examples of other manifolds: the set of rotations of a sphere, the Lorentz transformations of special relativity, the 6N positions and velocities of N particles (phase space), the space of dependent and independent variables of an equation, any vector space, a Lie Group - to be discussed in detail later.

Still no problem sets. Vacation is not quite over yet!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

High Crimes and Misdemeanors

The President, Vice President, and all civil officers of the United States shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.

.............................US Constitution, Article II Section 4.

The I word is gaining currency as the President's intransigence increases and his popularity plumbs the depths. I know of no evidence of either treason or bribery affecting the President directly, so an impeachment would hang on those last four words: "high crimes and misdemeanors." What do they mean?

The Wikipedia article of the same title includes British and American history, including this:

The 1450 impeachment of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, a descendant of Michael's, was next to allege charges under this title. He was charged with using his influence to obstruct justice, cronyism, and wasting public money...

The Wikipedia article and other sources that I have consulted agree that the "high" in the phrase refers to crimes against the state. From Wikipedia:

"High" in the legal parlance of the 18th century means "against the State". A high crime is one which seeks the overthrow of the country, which gives aid or comfort to its enemies, or which injures the country to the profit of an individual or group. In democracies and similar societies it also includes crimes which attempt to alter the outcome of elections.

Jon Roland of the Constitution Society makes a similar claim:

The question of impeachment turns on the meaning of the phrase in the Constitution at Art. II Sec. 4, "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors". I have carefully researched the origin of the phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" and its meaning to the Framers, and found that the key to understanding it is the word "high". It does not mean "more serious". It refers to those punishable offenses that only apply to high persons, that is, to public officials, those who, because of their official status, are under special obligations that ordinary persons are not under, and which could not be meaningfully applied or justly punished if committed by ordinary persons.

The impeachment Roland had in mind was that of Bill Clinton, as is shown by the original date, 1999, and the following context:

An executive official is ultimately responsible for any failures of his subordinates and for their violations of the oath he and they took, which means violations of the Constitution and the rights of persons. It is not necessary to be able to prove that such failures or violations occurred at his instigation or with his knowledge, to be able, in Starr's words, to "lay them at the feet" of the president. It is sufficient to show, on the preponderance of evidence, that the president was aware of misconduct on the part of his subordinates, or should have been, and failed to do all he could to remedy the misconduct, including termination and prosecution of the subordinates and compensation for the victims or their heirs. The president's subordinates include everyone in the executive branch, and their agents and contractors. It is not limited to those over whom he has direct supervision. He is not protected by "plausible deniability". He is legally responsible for everything that everyone in the executive branch is doing.

Therefore, the appropriate subject matter for an impeachment and removal proceeding is the full range of offenses against the Constitution and against the rights of persons committed by subordinate officials and their agents which have not been adequately investigated or remedied. The massacre at Waco, the assault at Ruby Ridge, and many, many other illegal or excessive assaults by federal agents, and the failure of the president to take action against the offenders, is more than enough to justify impeachment and removal from office on grounds of dereliction of duty. To these we could add the many suspicious incidents that indicate covered up crimes by federal agents, including the suspicious deaths of persons suspected of being knowledgeable of wrongdoing by the president or others in the executive branch, or its contractors.

The impeachment and removal process should be a debate on the entire field of proven and suspected misconduct by federal officials and agents under this president, and if judged to have been excessive by reasonable standards, to be grounds for removal, even if direct complicity cannot be shown.

So what did the founders think? Some bits are assembled here.

In Federalist No. 65 [2], Alexander Hamilton described the subject of impeachment as:

"those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself"
James Iredell at the North Carolina Constitutional convention, argued that the President:

"Must certainly be punishable for giving false information to the Senate. He is to regulate all intercourse with foreign powers, and it is his duty to impart to the Senate every material intelligence he receives. If it should appear that he has not given them full information, but has concealed important intelligence which he ought to have communicated, and by that means induced them to enter into measures injurious to their country, and which they would not have consented to had the true state of things been disclosed to them,"

The ultimate interpretation of the phrase depends on Congress. In the end, they are the deciders.

Thucydides I.5

Chapter: I.5 ppg. 41-51

Maps: Maps of Bernard Suzanne.

This chapter is returns to the period at the end of the events of chapter 3. It is concerned mainly with the speech of the Corinthians to the Lacadaemonian Confederacy, advocating war with Athens, and the fate of Themistocles, Athenian hero of the struggle against Persia, and Pausanias, the Spartan King previously recalled for excessive ambition. In each case these latter betrayed the trust of their fellow citizens in their ambition for power and prestige. Themistocles made out slightly better of the two, escaping to Persia and finding some success there in the service of its king. Pausanias met a more macabre fate, after falling victim to his own treachery and a Spartan "sting" operation.

So how did the Corinthians argue? I think we can say that a core argument was that if we don't fight them "over there," we will have to fight them here:

If wise men remain quiet, while they are
not injured, brave men abandon peace for war when they
are injured, returning to an understanding on a favourable
opportunity: in fact, they are neither intoxicated by their
success in war, nor disposed to take an injury for the sake
of the delightful tranquillity of peace. Indeed, to falter
for the sake of such delights is, if you remain inactive,
the quickest way of losing the sweets of
repose to which you cling;

On the other hand, they did seem to be aware of certain hazards of excessive confidence:

to conceive extravagant pretensions
from success in war is to forget how hollow is the confidence by which you are elated. For if many ill-conceived plans have succeeded through the still greater fatuity of an opponent, many more, apparently well laid, have on the contrary ended in disgrace. The confidence with which we form our schemes is never completely justified in their execution;

So you pretty much have to concede that they had it all over Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfie, and Feith. Unlike our unfortunate contemporaries, they also set out a plausible strategy for victory.

The Ghosts of Hogwarts

The ghosts of Hogwarts pay a price for electing to continue a diaphanous and immaterial existence in this world rather than letting themselves be swept on to the next. That price is an existence without touch, taste, or flavor. The price of translation of Jo Rowling's books onto the screen is starting to look similar. I saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night and was rather disappointed.

To be sure, non-reader fans with me seemed to disagree. They found the movie more fast paced and interesting than most of the others. Director David Yates stripped away anything remotely superfluous in a long book, and that resulted in considerable violence to the story it told. Nuance, sublety and wit were among the victims. So was much of the flavor.

I thought the scenes in the book where the dreaming Harry sees through Voldemort's eyes were among the most vivid and memorable. For me, somehow, Daniel Radcliffe writhing in bed and grunting doesn't quite capture it. The movie also makes a total hash of the most arresting scene in the book - the one where Harry dips into the Pensieve and encounters Snape's memories of Harry's parents and Sirius. Unfortunately, the memories he encounters are of a conceited snot who grossly abuses Snape. The movie version makes no sense.

It's easy to find other targets for abuse in the movie. Rowling keeps the much ballyhooed kiss between Harry and Cho offscreen, but Yates brings it front and center. The result is oddly grating: a kiss lacking either erotic passion or adolescent angst - it was more like a clinical experiment with face-sucking robots.

The books are often described as progressively darker. Yates has interpreted that in the most literal way imaginable, by failing to light most of the scenes adequately. It doesn't look good for book six - it appears most of the scenes will be shot through a totally opaque lens.

Dolores Umbridge is suitably demonic and Luna Lovegood delightfully daffy, but neither quite measures up to the characters Rowling implanted in my imagination.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Failure is Not an Option

It's more aptly described as a feature when you:

  • Launch a war under blatantly false pretenses.
  • Fail to commit adequate troops and equipment to the task.
  • Greviously misunderstand the nature of the enemy and of the war you have launched.
  • Fail to plan for any of the likely contingencies.
  • Fritter away the moral high ground.
  • Refuse to accept or comprehend what is actually happening.
  • Refuse to change course when it becomes obvious that you have blundered.

The Moral of the Story: Stupidity has consequences. Reality will have its day. Facts sometimes catch up with lies.

Schutz: GMoTP

1.3 Real Analysis

Well he's not going to teach us much real analysis in 2 pages is he? Shutz has three topics here: definition of an analytic function, an operator on a function, and the commutator of two operators.

1.4 Group Theory

The basics: group axioms, abelian groups, continuous groups, subgroups, group isomorphisms and homomorphisms. Much more on Lie groups will follow in Chapter 3.

1.5 Linear Algebra

He really does expect us to know a bit about this - he mainly just reviews a few definitions.

1.6 Algebra of Square Matrices

There is some content for review here, and it and more will be needed in the work to come. Definitions and basics. Should be able to prove identities 1.41- 1.46. Stuff like Det(AB)=Det(A)Det(B).

1.7 BibliographyThe first nice bibliography section.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Schutz: Geometrical Methods of Theoretical Physics 1.1,2

Sections 1.1 and 1.2 are devoted to introducing some ideas of topology needed for the definition of a manifold. R^n is the prototypical manifold, and Schutz sets about defining its open sets with a Euclidean Metric and some variations.

Much or most of modern mathematics can trace its ancestry back to Decartes' marriage of geometry and algebra. The idea of identifying points in space with pairs (or triples, for 3-D) of numbers was the key element, and has a natural generalization to n-tuples of numbers representing points in n dimensional space.

Topology represents space stripped down to an essence - that essence that preserves continuity. What do we mean by continuity anyway, and how do we represent it? One key attribute is that we expect that there should be points arbitrarily close to any other point. Topologists found that they could boil that essence down to the notion of a set and the behavior of its open subsets - but I won't spoil any punchlines here - if you want to know you will have to read the book, or almost any other book on topology or real analysis - or Wikipedia.

Section 1.2 deals with mappings. Legend has it that the Inuit have 50 words for snow. Whether or no, mathematicians have a number of words for function, for reasons similar to the reasons the Inuit are supposed to have all those words for snow - it's that important. Function, map, mapping, transformation, functional, functor are all variations on this theme. A function is in its essence a machine for taking an input from one set and producing a unique corresponding output in another (possibly the same) set.

Geometricians like to use the word map, because the functions of most interest to them take points from one space and associate them to unique corresponding points in another space - just like an ordinary map associates points on a paper (or pixels on a display) with points in the real world.

Schutz takes us through some examples and notations and defines continuous maps and differentiable maps. Continuity makes sense in a topological space, but differentiability will require some more structure, reserved for chapter 2.

The fact that Chapter 1 contains no exercises is a hint that he isn't serious about introducing new ideas yet.

ADDENDUM: The take away from 1.2 is the definition of a continuous map between topological spaces: For topological space M and N, the map f: M->N is continuous at x in M if every open set in N containing
f(x) contains the image of an open set of M containing x.

The pig's mind finds it hard to contain a sentence containing so many instances of the word "contain." I suggest drawing a diagram. It's also useful to convince oneself that this definition is equivalent to the elementary calculus epsilon-delta definition - but doesn't depend on any notion of distance.

...A Tale Told by an Idiot

The President gave a speech on Iraq today. Rather than listen to my predictable reaction, why not listen to liberal hater, former Bush worshipper, and former war promoter Andrew Sullivan:

He's arguing he didn't decide to go to war; Saddam did. He's saying he agrees with his Republican critics. He's blaming the generals for all the combat decisions that have made this war a failure. His blaming Tommy Franks specifically for the troop levels was particularly piquant. So he gave him a Medal of Freedom anyway? Worse, the president conflated every single radical element in the Middle East into one amorphous anti-American entity. It appears that he sees Shiite militias, Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Hamas and the Sunni insurgents as indistinguishable. He has even said baldly that the people bombing and murdering in Iraq are the same people who attacked us on 9/11. The Shiite militias? The Baathist dead-enders?

What a friggin maroon - and I don't mean Andy - at least not at this particular moment.

It also seems to me, alas, that when the president speaks spontaneously about the war, he reveals vast amounts of ignorance, denial and deception, self and otherwise. The patronizing soundbites stick in the craw at this point. His formulation that we do not know whether the war can succeed but that it nonetheless must succeed is about as disorienting a leadership call as I have heard. The rank condescension toward the American people is also staggering. Look, Mr President, most Americans aren't as dim as you seem to be. Maybe it's time you realized that.

He's just out of his depth, I'm afraid. And others are sinking - and dying - as a consequence.

Of course that was all obvious to many of us six years ago.

Crook, liar and fool filled with contempt for the Constitution and the American people. What part of "Impeach Now" is still too difficult?

Lovely New Tactic

Another dandy new denialist trick is in operation. Many of the usual climate denialist bozos have been popularizing the site of a fifteen year old from Portland Maine who has put up a web site attacking Al Gore's climate warnings. This is the denialist equivalent of those terrorists who load up a kid with nails and explosives and send him out on a suicide mission, the idea in each case being the notion that no-one would pick on a kid.

The kid in question, it seems, has a little problem with details and facts, though she has been clever enough to set up a mechanism for the (dis)believers to finance her.

Picking on a kid *is* a dirty job, and one that would certainly be beneath a worthy Rabett if it weren't for the fact that certain climate liars have taken to promoting her blog. Thus provoked, Eli looks at and refutes some of her claims here and here. Familiar themes links his stories. In each case, our teen critic has cited reports she failed to read and understand and misquoted the history of CO2 rise in our atmosphere.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Discounting the Future

Lumos has posted a speech by Czech President Vaclav Klaus on economists and climate. He (Klaus) manages to slip in some climate change minimization, but his real point is to discuss discounting the future.

Economists are adding other contexts - technological progress, human adaptability, increasing wealth (that moves the mankind further away from the subsistence level, allowing us to treat Nature ever more "generously"). Their main tool to acknowledge this context is to discount the future i.e. to give events the right weight that depends on the moment when they occur. A one-thousand-crown bill is "more" than what it will be in 2017 (even if it remains in the form of a banknote or a constant record in a certain bank account): this is a clear conclusion of theories in economics, any other theories about the real life, as well as common sense.

I don't think any economist would argue with his example applied to direct monetary questions. Once you start talking more generally about utility, you are talking about things that are less easy to quantify. It's probably even more important that these non monetary things are not fungible. The risks involved in a 100 or 200 year bond are different from those involved in calculating the utility of a species lost or saved. Your 100 year bond might not be cashable until 2107, but it probably will remain tradable. If you give up an island nation or two, you can't get them back.

You might notice that Klaus seems to think it might be a bigger deal if it were the Czech Republic in the drowning chair rather than Vanuatu and its ilk.

We could give a lot of examples of similar kinds. The magic of discounting, i.e. the appraisal of utility of some present acts for the future, plays a role in all of them. This principle is not an erroneous human myopia (that could be eliminated by better eyeglasses). Instead, it is an aspect of elementary human rationality that economics is based upon.

Economists thus agree - without exceptions - that the discount rate is a key parameter of any public i.e. political decision about the reaction of Man (or, hypothetically, the whole present mankind) to a potential climate change. There is not a slightest difference between them in this respect.

Gary Becker, an economics Nobel prize winner, shows that even if we used a discount rate as low as 3 percent, the consequences of global warming for the utility of mankind in 2057 would "weigh" only one quarter of the impact that the same warming would have on the present generation. For the generation in 2107, it would be one sixteenth. (An Economist Looks at Global Warming, Hoover Digest, 2007 vol. 2, page 51.) Slight changes of the discount rate in either direction are able to do total miracles with these calculations - and exactly these calculations appear in computer simulations of the current popularizers of global warming.

And finally:

What should we choose? Should we believe the market (and its ethics) or ethics of the prophets of global warming? I would prefer to believe the free market (and its interest rate) more than the elitists from the rich and developed world who want the discount rate to be zero (or almost zero).

The debate about this issue must continue. But this debate is unrelated to measurements of temperatures and it is only marginally related to the causes of these changes.

I find the last sentence incomprehensible. Surely the point is that our estimates of cost and benefits depends on all the costs - including Klaus's so-called opportunity costs, but especially upon the direct costs of major warming.

Let me make one point with respect to the question of discount "rate." The whole concept depends on replacing a function of the form 1-a(t) (the discount for a time t in the future) with a function of the form exp(- a0*t), where a0 is some constant discount rate). Any positive a0 will result in a very large discount for some time in the not too distant future. The very large net discounts assumed by Becker and Klaus are based on that, but aren't necessarily sensible.

Let's assume that an early Native American was using future discounting logic in her analysis of the marginal utility of trading with or exterminating newly arrived European settlers. She may have thought that she got a good deal in trading some turkeys and corn for some glass beads. That bet didn't work out.

The flaw, I think, is deeply embedded in economic thought. Because the history of the last three hundred years has largely been a history of exponential growth, economists have fallen prey to the fallacy of assuming that will always be the case. Biology and physics teem with example of exponential growth ending in catastrophe - but they don't have any of it continuing for a very long time. Economists who forget Darwin, Malthus, and the second law of thermodynamics are living in a bubble.

One peculiar element of the speech makes me wonder if their is some Czech national trait of equating their particular point at the momement with the proper alignment of the universe.

...this is a clear conclusion of theories in economics, any other theories about the real life, as well as common sense.

It has a quasi-theological, neo-Stalinist, or perhaps just Lumoesque cadence to it.

Another BRIC in the Wall

Brazil, Russia, India, and China (the BRIC countries) are piling up huge reserves of American currency. Brad DeLong links to Brad Setser and has some quotes:

As Felix notes, I am reserve-obsessed. For good reason, I would argue. Right now, central bank reserve accumulation is driving the global flow of capital. Private markets have been out-gunned.

We now know that the BRIe economies -- Brazil, Russia and India -- added $200b to their reserves in the first half of the year. Close to $199b to be exact. Russia accounted for $102b of the increase, Brazil chipped in $61.5 and India added another $36b. A tiny bit of that was valuation gains; most of it was real. $200b -- $400b annualized -- is a phenomenal sum.

We don't yet know how many reserves the BRICs added in the first half of the year because we don't yet know how much China added to its already very large stock of reserves. We do know it added $135b in q1 -- and reportedly another $45b in April, but that hasn't been confirmed.

He has a lot more interesting stuff, but the part that interests me the most is what happens when all these countries stop lending us money cheap.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Conspiracy Theory

From E.A. Torriero's Chicago Tribune article:

Fearing complacency among the American people over possible terror threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Chicago Tuesday that the nation faces a heightened chance of an attack this summer.

Combine that with the fact that I've now heard at least a couple of right wing talking heads speculate the Bush Presidency might be "rescued" by a major terrorist attack on American soil, and if you aren't nervous, then you haven't seen the Mel Gibson - Julia Roberts Conspiracy Theory recently enough. Or maybe Michael Moore's Farenheit 911.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Book Blogging: Geometrical Methods of Mathematical Physics

Another book, because reading one book at a time is not nearly enough.

Next on our menu: Geometrical Methods of Mathematical Physics, by Bernard Schutz, Cambridge University Press 1980. (Available from Amazon) for $32.

First, let me say a few words about the physical artifact. Most CUP paperbacks I own are excellently bound, with pages sewn in signatures. That is not the case for my copy of Schutz. After a bit of hard use the glued binding has cracked, and the first sixty-six pages have split from the rest and partially separated from the spine. I also have the impression that the printing is slightly muddy, or too small, or otherwise unsuited to a text very liberally festooned with subscripts and superscripts, some of which are themselves further decorated. There is a hardback version for about five times the cost.

So why bother? The book is a compact, lucid, and relatively elementary presentation of a bunch of geometric ideas which have become central to modern physics. After an introductory chapter, there are three mathematical chapters, devoted respectively to differentiable manifolds and tensors, Lie derivatives and Lie groups, and differential forms. The final two chapters are (5) Applications in physics and (6) Connections on Riemannian manifolds and gauge theories.

One strength of the book is a modest sprinkling (120 or so) of exercises which are embedded in the text, for which the author has provided hints and partial solutions in an appendix. These exercises form an integral part of the text and pretty much need to be done to fully understand the material. Schutz does a nice job of dividing up the material into bite size chunks, about 117 sections averaging a couple of pages each. Each chapter has a tersely annotated bibliography.

I have already started reading the book, but since I neglected to do the exercises in my start, I am now retracing, just in case anyone else wants to read along. I will post occasional comments and welcome questions or comments from others.

Prerequisites (from the back cover blurb): “

The reader is assumed to have some familiarity with advanced calculus, linear algebra, and a little elementary operator theory. The advanced physics undergraduate should therefore find the presentation quite accessible.”

I will post later on the first chapter, a quick review of “Some Basic Mathematics.”

Thudydides Book I Chapter 4

Recall that when we left Thucydides, Sparta (the Lacedaemonians) had just decided that they had to fight Athens. In this, they were motivated less by the entreaties of their Corinthian allies than by fear of Athen's growing power. Thucydides now turns to a flashback, recounting the events between the end of the war with the Medes, in which the two parties were allies, and the Congress of Lacedaemon, where the Spartans decided on war.

That period began with further joint action against the Medes, with Sparta still in the lead. The Spartan general Pausanias turned out to be such a jerk that the allies revolted and Athens took the lead:

Meanwhile Pausanias, son of Cleombrotus, was sent out
from Lacedaemon as commander-in-chief of the Hellenes,
with twenty ships from Peloponnese. With him sailed the
Athenians with thirty ships, and a number of the other
allies. They made an expedition against Cyprus and
subdued most of the island, and afterwards
against Byzantium, which was in the hands of the Medes,
and compelled it to surrender. This event took place
while the Spartans were still supreme. But the violence
of Pausanias had already begun to be disagreeable to the
Hellenes, particularly to the Ionians and the newly
liberated populations. These resorted to the Athenians
and requested them as their kinsmen to become their
leaders, and to stop any attempt at violence on the part
of Pausanias. The Athenians accepted their overtures,
and determined to put down any attempt of the kind and
to settle everything else as their interests might seem
to demand. In the meantime the Lacedaemonians recalled
Pausanias for an investigation of the reports which had
reached them. Manifold and grave accusations had been
brought against him by Hellenes arriving in Sparta;
and, to all appearance, there had been in him more of
the mimicry of a despot than of the attitude of a general.
As it happened, his recall came just at the time when the
hatred which he had inspired had induced the allies to
desert him, the soldiers from Peloponnese excepted,
and to range themselves by the side of the Athenians.

Might be time to recall GW.

After that, the Lacedaemonians went home and mostly minded their own business (whatever that may have been) while the Athenians built ships, fought wars, and endeavored to expand their empire. These enterprises were by no means uniformly successful. Egypt revolted against the Medean King, and Athens committed a large force of ships and men to the cause - ultimately, nearly all were lost. There were occasional conflicts between Athens and Sparta, but most stayed rather small scale, and there were long periods of truce.

If you want to follow the details of the battles, you will again need the very cool maps of Bernard Suzanne.

Never Mind: Some Very Bad Science

A new WSJ report by Tara Parker-Pope says that the NIH halted studies of hormone therapy in menopausal and post menopausal women based on a stunningly inaccurate reading of the data. The study showed that, overall, women in the study receiving hormone thearapy had higher rates of bad outcomes (cancer, heart disease) than women who didn't. This triggered a massive shift from such therapy by women and their doctors.

The new study of the same data shows that the adverse statistical effects were confined to women over sixty. For women in their fifties, the story was different:

WHI data published in April in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that women in their 50s who took a combination of estrogen and progestin or estrogen alone had a 30% lower risk of dying than women who didn't take hormones.

Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that 50-59-year-old women in the WHI who regularly used estrogen alone showed a 60% lower risk for severe coronary artery calcium, an important risk factor for heart attack.

The current, more nuanced interpretation of the data does not resolve all the issues.

Is it just coincidence that yet another huge blunder occurred on George Bush's watch? Maybe.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

PC Police on the Job at Tufts

It's almost amusing how much more power of censorship the neocon-Likudnik right wields in the US compared to in Israel. Sara Roy of Harvard made the mistake of writing a book review that didn't meet the AIPAC test. Tufts Fletcher Forum on World Affairs, which commissioned, approved, and then rejected the review learned the fear of powerful donors. A similar affair occurred at Yale last year, when powerful right wing donors with AIPAC connections were able to kill the appointment of Juan Cole to a professorship.

Getting the Lead Out

This probably won't be popular with the wingnut right, but new economic studies show that the most important anti-crime program might be getting rid of lead containing paint. Shankar Vedantam has the story in the Washington Post.

Rudy Giuliani never misses an opportunity to remind people about his track record in fighting crime as mayor of New York City from 1994 to 2001...

Although crime did fall dramatically in New York during Giuliani's tenure, a broad range of scientific research has emerged in recent years to show that the mayor deserves only a fraction of the credit that he claims. The most compelling information has come from an economist in Fairfax who has argued in a series of little-noticed papers that the "New York miracle" was caused by local and federal efforts decades earlier to reduce lead poisoning.

The theory offered by the economist, Rick Nevin, is that lead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. It offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

Lead poisoning from paint and gasoline fumes is also strongly correlated with lower IQ. Kevin Drum, who pointed out the WaPo story, notes that:

In the past, I've suggested that an aggressive lead abatement program could be "one of the most cost effective social programs in the history of the country." This is based mostly on the possibility that lead abatement could raise IQs in 6 million children by about 7 points for a cost of only $30 billion or so. If these numbers are even close to correct, a crash program to radically reduce blood levels of lead in children would be one of history's all-time no brainers.

The reality denying community will deny this because it doesn't fit their political program, and because they ate way too much lead along the way.

Experiment in Integration

Joel Achenbach has a meditation on being the nine-year-old Boy on The Bus in Gainesville Florida in 1970. It's more personal than political, but I think he is disappointed at how little was accomplished as a result. Segregation has returned to a significant extent and now the Roberts court has rejected much of the premise.

Every morning when I was in fifth grade, I walked a mile down the road to Stephen Foster Elementary, my neighborhood school. Then I got on a yellow school bus and rode across town. The Supreme Court had issued a desegregation order. It was 1970. Men had landed on the moon twice. Now white kids and black kids would go to the same schools.


It was, in retrospect, an ambitious social experiment. It was also clumsy, and at some level outrageous, reducing all of us to a single characteristic of white or black.

For me it was ultimately a good experience, a chance to

get outside the bubble of the white Southern Baptist neighborhood where my eccentric Unitarian, single-parent family had always lived.

Joel Achenbach's long feature articles are some of the best stuff that appears in the WaPo. I wish there were more of them.

Risky Business

Long airline flights, and maybe even short ones, present a significant risk of deep vein blood clots, a possibly life threatening condition. Key risk factors seem to be immobility and the low oxygen pressures found in planes. The old and unhealthy are most at risk.

Apparently the new Boeing 787 will fly with higher oxygen pressures, which is good, but I think it would be a good idea if long airline flights were required to have some sort of stand up bar or similar facility permitting people to get up and move around.

Roger Still the Man

Despite many moments of apparent mortality, Roger Federer still had too much for Rafael Nadal in the Wimbeldon final. They are both great players, but I'm a Federer fan, mostly because I hate all that stupid grunting.


The New York Times is not only the nations most influential newspaper, it's also long been a relatively liberal voice in one of the most liberal regions of the US. New York city was the principal victim on 9/11, so it's unsurprising that the thirst for revenge was strong there, and that might help explain why the NYT largely rolled over and played dead as the Bushies emitted their vast cloud of lies in support of an Iraq invasion. In the intervening six years, spurred by the Judith Miller fiasco and the increasingly threadbare texture of Bush deceptions, the paper has made some stumbling strides in the direction of journalism.

Today the NYT editorial board published a long, thoughtful editorial advocating that we get out of Iraq. It's very late in the game. Most of America is well ahead of it, but better late than never.

It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.

Like many Americans, we have put off that conclusion, waiting for a sign that President Bush was seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause, in the face of global opposition, and without a plan to stabilize the country afterward.

At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq’s government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.

While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs — after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush’s plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost.

In contrast to some of the facile stylings of presidential candidates, the NYT takes a hard look at the sequel.

Americans must be clear that Iraq, and the region around it, could be even bloodier and more chaotic after Americans leave. There could be reprisals against those who worked with American forces, further ethnic cleansing, even genocide. Potentially destabilizing refugee flows could hit Jordan and Syria. Iran and Turkey could be tempted to make power grabs. Perhaps most important, the invasion has created a new stronghold from which terrorist activity could proliferate.

The administration, the Democratic-controlled Congress, the United Nations and America’s allies must try to mitigate those outcomes — and they may fail. But Americans must be equally honest about the fact that keeping troops in Iraq will only make things worse. The nation needs a serious discussion, now, about how to accomplish a withdrawal and meet some of the big challenges that will arise.

One major subtext goes unmentioned. This war was always the project of the neocons and their right-wing Israeli allies. Its failure poses a real threat to Israel, which may explain Senator Lieberman's increasingly dishonest efforts to characterize the war as a success. I don't wish Israel ill, but this war isn't doing them any long term good, and most Israelis have been quicker to realize the bankruptcy of the Bush-Cheney-Olmert strategy than Americans have. In any case, we should not be spending more American lives and limbs on this failed project. Israel needs to decide what it can do to survive in a difficult world and not expect us to fight proxy wars for them. I suspect that the best chance is in compromise.

The NYT piece concludes:

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have used demagoguery and fear to quell Americans’ demands for an end to this war. They say withdrawing will create bloodshed and chaos and encourage terrorists. Actually, all of that has already happened — the result of this unnecessary invasion and the incompetent management of this war.

This country faces a choice. We can go on allowing Mr. Bush to drag out this war without end or purpose. Or we can insist that American troops are withdrawn as quickly and safely as we can manage — with as much effort as possible to stop the chaos from spreading.

We should not delude ourselves into thinking that ending our involvement in Iraq will end the challenge from radical Islam - it won't. The hole the Bushies have done so much to dig us into will still be there - but at least we will have stopped digging. Terrorism will remain a frustrating, painful problem creating inconveniences for all and catastrophe for a few. We probably cannot end it, but pursuit of rational policies can minimize the risks.

The US will face several very difficult problems in the future, and the reckless actions of these corrupt and foolish men have done much to exacerbate them. It's time to stop digging the hole deeper.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bleak Arithmetic

Kagro-X at The Daily Kos looks at the bleak arithmetic confronting any attempt to enforce congressional subpoenas against the White House.

I'll add this refresher on what typically happens when subpoenas are defied: The house that issued the subpoenas can vote to hold non-compliant subpoena targets in contempt of Congress, but those charges are prosecuted only at the discretion of... the US Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Imagine that. In the middle of an investigation of how it came to be that the US Attorneys were prosecuting political enemies and coddling political friends, it's up to the US Attorneys to decide whether or not to prosecute their political friends for refusing to answer questions about the scheme that started the investigation in the first place.

Sounds fair.

But has the US Attorney ever done that before? Declined to prosecute a political friend on orders from the White House? Absolutely. The case was that of Reagan administration EPA chief Anne Gorsuch Burford in 1982.

And who was the White House counsel who ran the strategy? Why, it was Fred Fielding himself:

In 1982, during current White House Counsel Fred Fielding’s first stint in the position, the U.S. attorney declined to bring a contempt charge against a Reagan administration official, instead seeking an injunction against the House.
Thinking this executive versus legislative branch showdown will have to be resolved in the courts? Maybe even the Supreme Court?

Know who helped direct Fielding's legal strategy on the Gorsuch case?

Guy by the name of John Roberts.

But I'm sure this time it'll work out great in the courts.

So the crooks own the press, the courts, the Department of InJustice, and 50% of the Senate. Fortunately, it is probably too late for GW to proclaim himself President for Life, but next up is Murdoch's girl Hillary - smarter, more ambitious, and quite likely equally untroubled by scruple.

Wall Street Boobs

If Rupert Murdoch, as widely rumored, has succeeded in buying Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, we will no doubt soon be seeing Murdoch's trademark soft porn on the news pages of the WSJ. Nowdays, if you want to find boobs in the WSJ, you need to go to the editorial pages.

A Mighty Wind

Hurricane season is underway and the National Hurricane Center is in considerable disarray. The problem is that the new director has lost the confidence of most of the senior staff.

Currently controversial questions of whether or not global warming will affect hurricane frequency or intensity are hardly central to NHC forecasters. Their key mission is predicting the behavior of tropical disturbances far enough in advance to minimimze the effect on life and property. We can't control hurricanes, but we usually can get out the their way, if we have sufficient warning.

Current methods have advanced to the point where forecasters have acquired considerable skill at predicting where a hurricane or tropical storm will go in the next 72 hours. They are somewhat less skillful at predicting storm intensity. Properly used, those 72 hours of warning can be very useful. Ships and planes can be re-routed, oil platforms can be battened down and evacuated, and people on shore can be warned to prepare for the storm, move inland, or adjust other plans.

I am sure that it was a bitter pill for forecasters when city, State, and Federal authorities all failed catastrophically to make use of thier warnings before the tragedies of Katrina and Rita. Bush, Chertoff, Brown, Blanco, and Nagin all deserved to be removed from office for their failures in that regard.

So how did Bill Proenza manage to get sideways with his staff? Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground, has been on the story today and previously. The key issue seems to be the QuikSCAT satellite. QuikSCAT is a valuable instrument that measures ocean surface wind speeds but it is ageing and failing. Proenza is a new guy, an outsider, and he started off by fueding with his NOAA bosses and by claiming that the imminent failure of QuikSCAT would seriously degrade the 72 hour hurricane forecast.

So why did this upset the senior forecasters so much? Firstly, the science behind the claim seemed shaky. Secondly, they don't want another quick fix QuikSCAT, they want the next generation new and improved model. Thirdly, Proenza has allegedly been somewhat duplicitous in the conduct of his campaign. Finally, they know that in Congress's rush to look like they are doing something about hurricanes, they will take the money for the new satellite from programs that they know are far more crucial - especially the hurricane hunter planes that can probe the interior of a hurricane far more thoroughly than the QuikSCAT.

Jeff's postings on this provide a good look at how a small but critical part of our government works.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Reality Rejection

Reality becoming entirely too tiresome, and a New HP movie coming out, I thought it might be a good time to review the bidding, so I recently watched HP and the Chamber of Secrets again.

I really like the first two movies, though critics don't seem to agree. I think that one key point might be that the first two are less crowded with plot, giving more time for all those fantastic British character actors to strut their stuff. There really isn't time for that in the latter two movies, and they suffer as a result. The creme de la creme of English acting winds up being little more than set dressing in HP four, and I fear that worse may come in five. It really was a mistake not to break four and five into a couple of movies each - though I suppose the prospect of a semi-geriatric boy wizard in the final movies wasn't a happy one either.

Since I am on the subject of reality rejection, I will be really pissed if Jo R decided to knock off our heroes in the final book. We could use a bit of comedy rather than more tragedy at this point.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

To I or Not to I

Big Tent Democrat at Talk Left says trying to impeach is a waste of time. He rolls out the usual garbage:

...17 Republican Senators will NEVER EVER vote to remove President Bush no matter what...

1) It will NEVER happen ...

2) It is likely to have negative political ramifications for Democrats in 2008...

3) Impeachment would preclude discussion of of all other issues, most notably Iraq...

Last, and probably least, the progressive base and the Netroots would be utterly defanged and treated as completely irrelevant if it chooses to waste its time on pushing for impeachment...

But my ultimate bottom line is that the essential role the progressive base and the Netroots can and should play on ending the war in Iraq will be completely squandered. That is the part that I will find hard to forgive.

1)This depends on whether there is a "fire" underneath all the smoke from the Bushies various criminal activities. If there is, then convincing evidence cannot be unearthed as long as the President continues to defy subpoenas and pardon perjurers. If there are substantial crimes, then the Senate may find them hard to overlook.

2)This is the bottom line for most political professionals, but not for me. I go back to my comment on 1). If the crimes are there, the President's party will pay.

3)This is the argument I detest. Congress, Netroots, Progressives, etc., have so far made not a millimeter of progress on Iraq. Weakening (better, replacing) the President is the best hope.

My fundamental argument for impeachment is two-fold: the guy needs to go, and our only chance of finding out the details of the Bush criminality probably depends on the subpoenas incident to the impeachment. If he is allowed to shuffle off the stage like his father after pardoning all his co-conspirators, this plague of executive criminality will only become worse and worse.

It was a mistake not to remove Clinton - his perjury was ample cause. It will be a far worse mistake not to remove Bush.

Why Scooter got to Scoot

A popular theory holds that Scooter's friends among the wealthy and powerful got him out of jail. This may have been a factor, but I think it's far more likely that he is the man who knew too much.

By springing him, Bush not only takes away Libby's motivation for talking, but sends a powerful message to all the other perjurers and justice obstructors in his administration. Stick with me and you walk - guilty or not.

Libertarian Collectivists

Andrew Sullivan has a note on the libertarian characteristics of ants.

It's not their image but new research is showing a Hayekian bent to the little buggers:

"One key to an ant colony, for example, is that no one's in charge. No generals command ant warriors. No managers boss ant workers. The queen plays no role except to lay eggs. Even with half a million ants, a colony functions just fine with no management at all—at least none that we would recognize. It relies instead upon countless interactions between individual ants, each of which is following simple rules of thumb. Scientists describe such a system as self-organizing."

The link is to a very interesting National Geographic article on Swarm Theory.

Sullivan is a libertarian, I think, which might account for his affection for this notion.

A closer look at the glue that makes this libertarian society work unveils the profoundly collectivist underpinning. The workers all share the queens DNA, and, having already sacrificed their own reproductive chances to the queen, all gladly sacrifice themselves for the colony. So apparently a libertarian society can work - if all the members are totally dedicated to the collective.