Saturday, April 30, 2005


What is the American Beauty (Rose)?

Roses for $2000
It's not a rose's pelvis, it's a rose's fruit that's rich in vitamin C.

'90s Best-Sellers

Slip sliding away

That mantle of invincibility is not only slipping, it's damn near falling off. This is from Editor & Publisher's website for April 26, via a tip at
Half of all Americans, exactly 50%, now say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Gallup Organization reported this morning.
Gallup noted that the percentage has gradually increased over time: It was 33% in May 2003, 39% that July, 43% in January 2004, and 47% last October.
[M]ore than half of Americans, 54%, disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while 43% approve,
which is about a five percentage point shift toward disapproval since early February. Meanwhile, 53% in a Gallup poll last week said the invasion of Iraq was "not worth it."

We are the majority! We who say "Bush lied!" We who say "End the war!" We are the majority and we should never forget it. Never sit quietly when some winger tries to tell you that "the people" support Bush. It's bullshit, splattered around in an attempt to intimidate us into silence. You speak for the majority, not them.

Some historical perspective is revealing:
Frank Newport, editor in chief at Gallup, recalled today that although a majority of the public began to think the Vietnam war was a mistake in the summer of 1968, the United States did not pull out of Vietnam for more than five years....
So first, be neither shocked nor discouraged that being in the majority has not lead to immediate change - although we should be dismayed by the additional carnage we will see before reality sets in at the highest levels of government.

Second, it's worth noting that unlike Vietnam, this shift in public belief has not been driven by mass actions that kept the issue on the front pages and the reality of opposition in everyone's mind. It has developed on its own, from people's own experiences and perceptions. That should encourage us in public actions, knowing that we are speaking to a receptive audience.

Yes, demonstrations, especially dramatic ones, turn some people off, look too "radical" for some people. (I recall some years ago the town where I lived had done a wholly botched property revaluation that caused some homeowners' property tax bills to more than quadruple. While taking part in a quiet, peaceful picket line outside a City Council meeting, calling for a new revaluation, I overheard some of the participants shaking their heads and saying "It's come to this." For them, just walking a picket line was a very radical action which they previously would not have considered doing.) And yes, the experiences of the 60s left a handful permanently angry (the reactions to Jane Fonda and John Kerry being ample proof).

But the fact is, even as they embittered some on the other side and alienated a few potential allies, demonstrations - raucous, rowdy, enthusiastic, hairy, demonstrations - drove and legitimized the opposition to the war. And, except for the hairy part, they can do so again. Let the word go forth: We are the majority!


The filibuster of the Frist Center at Princeton University, which I mentioned on Thursday, is just about to hit 90 hours.

Friday, April 29, 2005


What is Portland?

Roses for $1200

Also the name of a Kevin Spacey film, this rose is the official flower of Washington, DC.

Help me out here

Okay, let me see if I understand this Social Security business correctly. Shrub says the system is headed for "bankruptcy" because "Congresses have made promises it cannot keep for a younger generation." So
Bush called Thursday night for cutting Social Security benefits for future retirees to put the system on sound financial footing....

The reductions would be on top of the cuts in the guaranteed benefit portion of the program that would be imposed on workers who opted to participate in Mr. Bush's proposed investment accounts....
So, okay. Social Security is in trouble because it won't be able to "keep its promises" of future benefits. And the way we're going to avoid that painful necessity of cutting benefits is to - cut benefits.

How am I doing?

Or, I suppose it might better be asked, how is he doing? Since
a steady stream of polls has shown support for his solution to be dissipating and approval ratings for his general handling of the issue falling
the Republican chairman of the finance committee, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, is struggling to write a bill that can command enough Republican support to pass the panel, much less win bipartisan support.
And to top off the indignity, not only did he have to reschedule the performance to satisfy the TV networks, three of the four networks cut off the end of his news conference to show regular programming. The mantle of invincibility is clearly slipping.

Footnote: If you want to know what I think about the Social Security "crisis," you can look at these:

February 26, 2004
March 28, 2004
December 16, 2004
December 20, 2004
January 01, 2005
January 19, 2005
February 01, 2005
February 03, 2005
February 03, 2005
February 05, 2005
February 08, 2005
February 10, 2005
March 03, 2005
March 06, 2005
March 12, 2005
March 24, 2005
March 31, 2005

Another good thing

The air of California promises to be a bit cleaner now that
[t]ruck drivers face tougher pollution regulations starting Saturday after diesel engine manufacturers lost a court battle to postpone the deadline.

Judge Loren McMaster refused to issue a preliminary injunction Thursday, saying he sympathizes with the manufacturers' complaint but has no power to intervene because the stricter regulations appear to be constitutionally valid.
The California Air Resources Board adopted the new standards, which apply to any diesel-powered vehicles driving in the state, after a voluntary program of the sort always being promoted and praised by manufacturers and other business interests proved to be a dismal failure: Trucks continued to employ so-called "smog defeat devices" which enabled them to dodge pollution controls by making the trucks appear to meet standards when they are inspected even as they exceed them when on the road.

Including the devices on new vehicles has been illegal since the 1990s and in fact in 1999 the companies involved in this suit were parties to a consent decree with the EPA acknowledging sale of a million heavy-duty diesel engines in violation of the law. (They almost immediately began lobbying to be released from the agreement, as a result of which in August 2000 - note the date, Bush-haters - the EPA put off imposition of tougher standards from 2004 to 2007, which is what pushed California to act on its own.)

The agreement California and the manufacturers reached called for 35% compliance - that is, 35% of trucks would have removed the devices and instead truly met the standards - by November, with 100% compliance by 2008. But when November came, the Board found that only 18% of California-licensed vehicles had been upgraded.

Caterpillar, Cummins Inc., Mack Trucks Inc. and Volvo Powertrain Corp. complained the new regulations would cost millions. But
[r]emoving the devices from California trucks alone would trim pollution equivalent to that created by 1 million cars, the air board said.
So tough.

It could be a good thing

At first glance, I'd say it is. A seed that might grow.
China's Communist Party chief and Taiwan's opposition Nationalist leader have agreed at historic talks to work to reduce cross-strait tension[, the BBC reported on Friday].

They made a commitment to "promote the reaching of an agreement to end the hostile situation", a spokesman said.

It was the first meeting between party leaders since the Nationalists lost the civil war and fled to Taiwan in 1949.
Taipei was not happy about the talks and criticized the delegation's supposed failure
to persuade Beijing to recognise Taiwan's sovereignty, or to reduce the number of missiles pointing towards Taiwan from the mainland.
But that strikes me as one hell of a lot to have demanded from a first meeting in well over 50 years. What I noticed more was that while China insists Taiwan is part of its territory and has repeatedly threatened to go to war if the island declares formal independence, Chinese leader Hu Jintao
described Mr Lien [Chan]'s trip as a great thing.

"This meeting today is a historic meeting between the leaders of our two parties," Mr Hu told his guest.
In the nature of diplomatic discussion, that can be taken as significant since they at least imply the recognition that there are "two sides," an expression Hu also used, who must reach an agreement - rather than Beijing on one side and a bunch of recalcitrant rebels on the other.

The joint statement slipped around the entire question of independence, but did Hu and Lien did say
they were committed to "seeking the peace and stability of Taiwan, pushing forward the development of cross-strait relations and safeguarding the interests of the compatriots on both sides of the strait".
Lien's Nationalist Party used to be adamantly opposed to discussions with the mainland, preferring to dream of a return to power there. But changes in Taiwan and business considerations have lead the Nationalists to change their tune and become open to the idea of improved relations. So long as there is no formal declaration of independence by Taiwan, the two sides may well be able not only to continue their diplomatic dance (with China pretending "everybody knows" Taiwan is part of China proper and Taiwan pretending "everybody knows" it isn't) but to increasingly ignore the whole question until it's no longer a source of conflict, pending a time when the idea of reunification can actually be a real consideration.


Eric at The Hamster provides the link to an April 28 AP story revealing that climate scientists have found a "smoking gun" validating computer models forecasting global warming trends and, to continue the image, shooting big holes in the dodges of the nanny-nanny nay-sayers.
The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, is the latest to report growing certainty about global-warming projections. ...

More than 1,800 technology-packed floats, deployed in oceans worldwide beginning in 2000, are regularly diving as much as a mile undersea to take temperature and other readings. Their precise measurements are supplemented by better satellite gauging of ocean levels, which rise both from meltwater and as the sea warms and expands.

Researchers led by NASA's James Hansen used the improved data to calculate the oceans' heat content and the global "energy imbalance."
What they've found is that the Earth is absorbing more solar energy than it is radiating back to space as heat to a degree that is not only "historically large" but
corresponds well with the energy imbalance predicted by the researchers' modeling of climate change through a supercomputer, the report said. ...

"There can no longer be genuine doubt that human-made gases are the dominant cause of observed warming," said Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University's Earth Institute. "This energy imbalance is the 'smoking gun' that we have been looking for."
What's the significance? Well, global warming skeptics have harped on the fact that the predictions are based on computer models, which they say are subject to large uncertainties. "The predictions are only as good as the models," they say, a version of GIGO. But the models have now successfully predicted observations. That should serve to improve their credibility (and diminish that of the skeptics) by an order of magnitude or two - along with the level of concern about what those models are telling us.

And this isn't even the only example.
In February, scientists at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography said their research - not yet published - also showed a close correlation between climate models and the observed temperatures of oceans, further defusing skeptics' past criticism of uncertainties in modeling.
Current models predict an increase in mean global temperature of between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit (1.4o-5.8o C.) by 2100, depending on how well greenhouse-gas emissions are controlled. Ominously, the NASA-led study indicates that heat already stored in the ocean will generate a 1o F. rise over that time even if there were no further emissions. That, too, is in agreement with US government climate model predictions reported last month.

So take that, Michael Crichton!

The blunt fact is, global warming, global climate change, is real, it's happening now, and it will continue to worsen. All we can do now is control how much worse it gets: Will it be difficult or disastrous?

Unhappily, some, even a few environmentalists (including, notably, James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis) are looking to nuclear power as the answer to global warming. (That, because nuclear power does not use fossil fuels, the burning of which adds additional amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.)

That's a foolish course for any number of reasons. First, consider that to replace current fossil fuel (coal, gas, and oil) power plants with nukes would involve quintupling the number of nuclear power plants - which not only drastically increases the risk of plant-driven nuclear weapons proliferation (exactly the present concern about Iran) but also means five times as much nuclear waste produced annually, waste for which there is still no known method of disposal that is both safe and practical.

And as Dr. Helen Caldicott pointed out last year,
the enrichment of uranium produces 93% per year of the C.F.C. [chlorofluorocarbon] gas in this country, which is currently banned under the Montreal Protocol because it produces destruction of the ozone layer. In Australia, we've got an epidemic of skin cancer because the ozone is so thin. C.F.C. gas, which is the refrigerant gas banned, is up to 20 times more potent global warmer than carbon dioxide, which accounts for 15% of global warming.
That is, the very act of creating the enriched fuel for these "global warming preventing" behemoths actually increases the production of an even more potent greenhouse gas than the one it replaces! Indeed,
the nuclear sector's CO2 emissions are far from negligible when the whole production chain is looked at, not just the plants themselves.
And tell the truth: If there are more nuclear plants built, do you think - considering who holds the reins of energy policy - that would to be used as a basis to reduce carbon emissions? Or just to justify more consumption?

All this to achieve a reduction in carbon emissions than can be achieved more easily, cheaply, safely, and with greater environmental soundness by increasing fuel efficiency and use of commercially-viable alternative energies.

Nuclear power remains what I called it more than 20 years ago: unsafe, uneconomical, and unnecessary.

Footnote: I will always have a soft spot for The Hamster: It was the first site to link to mine.

And as an update to that, Eric announced this morning that he's going dark the end of May. Too bad. On the upside, he's quitting that in order to take up a (paid!) job as a researcher/editor with the Al Franken show on Air America Radio. Best of luck to him.

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Who is Kris Kristofferson?

Roses for $400

This Oregon city has held its annual Rose Festival since 1907.

The Senate vote was 99-0

In the UK, the Labour Party has treated opponents of the Iraq war with the same sort of disdain as the Dims have here: After all, they say, where else are they going to go?

Well, someone, the Beeb lets us know, came up with an answer.
Long-time Labour backbencher Brian Sedgemore has defected to the Lib Dems. [For those here in the US, that's the Liberal Democrats.]

Mr Sedgemore, who spent 27 years as a Labour MP, accused Tony Blair of "stomach turning lies".

He said he wanted to give the Labour leader a "bloody nose" at the polls but Mr Blair argued voters were interested in policies. ...

Mr Sedgemore, like the Lib Dems, voted against the government over the Iraq war, anti-terror laws, top-up fees and foundation hospitals. ...

Mr Sedgemore accused Mr Blair of ditching key liberal principles, saying plans to allow house arrest for terror suspects had been the final straw.
So a British MP has switched parties not as a tactical political maneuver but as a matter of political principle. Rare enough anywhere to be worthy of note.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 99-0 to give Shrub all the bucks he wanted to continue the killing in Iraq.

Footnote: The closest recent equivalent in the US would be Jim Jeffords, who quit the GOP to become an independent in 2001 because it had moved too far to the right for his brand of moderate conservatism. He apparently has found the experience liberating:
[H]is March 22 performance on Vermont Public Radio's "Switchboard" program raised a few eyebrows. ...

Jeffords, who opposes the war in Iraq, predicted the Bush administration would start a war in Iran to help elect a third member of the Bush clan to the White House.

"I think it was all done to get oil," Jeffords said of invading Iraq. "And the loss of life that we had, and the cost of it, was to me just a re-election move, and they're going to try to live off it. Probably start another war, wouldn't be surprised, next year. Probably in Iran."

"Do you think that's likely?" VPR host Bob Kinzel asked.

"I probably shouldn't even talk on it, I just feel so bitter about the thinking that's gone on behind them, and the reasons they go to war and went to war," Jeffords replied. "But I feel very strongly that they are looking ahead, and that there will be an opportunity to go into Iran and try to get their son elected president. I don't know, but you do it each time they (are) going to have a new president. I'm very, very (Jeffords chuckles). Oh, well, I better be quiet."

In an interview this week, Jeffords spokesman Erik Smulson didn't back away from his boss's comments....
On the other hand, while Jeffords talked the talk, he didn't walk the walk: He was among the Club 99. (Daniel Inouye [D-HI] was the one who didn't vote.)

Jeffords has announced he will retire at the end of his current term, in 2007. The current odds-on favorite to replace him: Rep. Bernie Sanders. That could be interesting.

Speaking of creative

Didn't I just say "the varieties of political actions are damn near endless?" Didn't I just say that?

How does "filibustering a building" strike you?
Princeton, NJ (AP) - Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's opposition to filibusters has prompted one against him on the campus of his alma mater, Princeton University.

Since Tuesday, students and local activists have been giving lengthy talks outside the university's Frist Campus Center protesting the Tennessee Republican's threat to change Senate rules to prevent Democrats from using the filibuster to block President Bush's judicial nominees. Frist Center was built with the help of a $25 million donation from the senator's family.
The students have been doing it, at the moment I type this, for not quite 61 hours. You can check out their webcam at this link.

Is there any point to the action? Well, it's creative enough to have gotten a good deal of local attention, provoked two attempts to shut it down, and now it's hit the AP wire. So I'd say the answer is clearly yes.

Thanks for Josh Marshall's site for alerting me to this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005


What is The Sting?

'70s Albums for $1000

The stars on the 1977 sound-track album A Star is Born are Barbra Streisand and this male lead in the movie.

Odd News of the Day Award

I keep thinking this must be a hoax or a joke, but so far it appears it's not. AP reported on Wednesday that
[m]ore than 1,000 toads have puffed up and exploded in a Hamburg pond in recent weeks, and scientists still have no explanation for what's causing the combustion, an official said Wednesday. ...

The toads at a pond in the upscale neighborhood of Altona have been blowing up since the beginning of the month, filling up like balloons until their stomachs suddenly burst.

"It looks like a scene from a science-fiction movie," Werner Schmolnik, the head of a local environment group, told the Hamburger Abendblatt daily. "The bloated animals suffer for several minutes before they finally die."
AFP quoted Schmolnik as saying
"You see the animals crawling on the ground, swelling and then exploding."

He said the bodies of the toads expanded to three and a half times their normal size.
AFP also added the quaint detail that "their entrails were propelled for up to a meter."

So far there is no explanation.
The pond's water quality is no better or worse than other bodies of water in Hamburg, the toads did not appear to have a disease, and a laboratory in Berlin has ruled out the possibility that it is a fungus that made its way from South America, [Janne Kloepper, of the Hamburg-based Institute for Hygiene and the Environment,] said.
Where are Mulder and Scully when you really need them?

There is no innocence here

As everyone knows, last week the US Senate approved Shrub's "request" (I love those diplomatic words) for an additional "emergency" $81 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(What a farce: Even before the budget was submitted the Shrub gang said they were going to make this "supplemental request." They didn't make it part of the budget because they wanted to keep the Grand Canyon deficit their favors to the rich have created from looking as big as it really is. And everybody - GOPpers, Dummycrats, and the media - closed their eyes and went along with the pretense.)

But something I hadn't realized until I got a mailing from United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ): The vote was 99-0.

Oh - my - word.
It's outrageous that Congress is still funding President Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even Senators who voted in 2002 against giving Bush the authority to go to war supported this appalling misuse of our tax dollars. ...

The fact is, without targeted pressure from a broad-based movement, elected officials will take the easy route. We heard repeated reports that lawmakers supported the $81 billion for fear of being portrayed as not supporting the troops. And several Senators told us they hardly heard from opponents of the war.
Hypocrites! Cowards! Scum-licking maggots! It should not have been necessary to "hear from opponents!" The war is wrong, you know it's wrong, some of you have openly condemned it - and still you vote to spend billions more on it! Have you no conscience? Have you no convictions? Have you no decency?

I will confess here a failing of my own: I did not contact my Senators on this. First because I knew it would pass no matter what they did but secondly and more importantly, because I thought I could count on them to vote against it. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I guarantee you that is a mistake I will not make again.

What's especially galling is that this came less than a week before
[t]he US chief weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, ... said inquiries into weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have "gone as far as feasible".

Mr Duelfer also said an official transfer of WMDs to Syria ahead of the Iraq war was not likely.

The CIA adviser reported last year that neither expected stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons, nor evidence of recent production had been found.
In other words, they found precisely squat. After 18 months of effort involving over 1200 experts from three countries, they found nothing. Nothing at all. Nothing of the primary justification for an invasion that has so far cost over 1500 American lives (and nearly 12,000 wounded) and as many as 100,000 Iraqi lives. Nothing of the primary justification for an invasion that has so far cost over $160 billion.

Nothing of the primary justification for an invasion of a country where the phrase "civil war" is "no longer taboo."
Several clashes between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in events apparently unrelated to the two-year-old anti-U.S. insurgency have highlighted the danger in recent months. ...

"[W]e are going the Lebanese route, and we know where that led," says Sabah Kadhim, an adviser to the Interior Ministry who spent years in exile before returning to Iraq after Saddam Hussein's overthrow.

"We are going to end up with certain areas that are controlled by certain warlords ... It's Sunni versus Shi'ite, that is the issue that is really in the ascendancy right now, and that wasn't the case right after the elections."
Nothing of the primary justification for an invasion of a country where, despite the sunny optimism of officialdom, the level of violence has not dropped.
Washington (AP, April 27) - After a postelection respite, the pace of insurgent attacks in Iraq has increased in recent weeks to approach last year's levels, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

"Where they are right now is where they were almost a year ago, and it's nowhere near the peak," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a Pentagon press conference.

That's about 400 attacks a week of all kinds: bombings, shootings, rocket and mortar attacks, Pentagon officials said. About half cause significant damage or injure or kill someone.
Nothing. Nothing. Zero. As clear, as strong, as stark as the zero in a 99-0 vote.

I am ashamed. At the US. At us. At my own foolish, misplaced confidence. Silence is no longer an option. I say it again: Do what you can. I don't care if it's only a little. Do it!

Footnote: Duelfer did say that while he apparently had no WMD program, Saddam Hussein had wanted to restart one. Hell, they could have saved a lot of time, energy, and money and just asked me:
1) Do I think it possible that Iraq has some small quantities of chemical and/or biological weapons stashed away in the hope that maybe sometime in the future the program could be restarted? Yeah, I certainly can buy that. - February 7, 2003

2) Before we go to war on Iraq, there’s a question about its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that needs to be answered:

What weapons of mass destruction?

Seriously. What weapons? Where? ...

By all available evidence, Iraq’s WMD program has been effectively dismantled. Unhappily, unwillingly, and grudgingly dismantled, but dismantled nonetheless. - March 6, 2003
Apparently, the only thing I was wrong about was that Saddam didn't even have the "small quantities" stashed away. He just had hopes.

He's guilty! Guilt - well, okay, maybe not

Something that's cropped up because of John Bolthead's nomination as ambassador to the UN is the US intelligence community's position on claims that Cuba is involved in developing biological weapons.

In 2002, Bolton gave a speech to the Heritage Foundation, attacking Cuba on the issue. Cuba had a "limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort," he said.

A couple of months earlier, Carl W. Ford, then-chief of the State Department's intelligence wing, had told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the same thing in just about exactly the same words. In June, the month after Bolton's speech, he admitted to the committee
that distinguishing between bioweapons and legitimate biotech work was "a difficult intelligence challenge" but stuck by his previous line.

"Clearly, we're suggesting that Cuba is working on biological weapons," he said.
He insisted the evidence was "substantial." Bolton echoed the claim, telling a House committee a year ago that the "case for the existence of a developmental Cuba BW R&D effort is strong."

That was then. This is now.
Last September, The New York Times reported that the U.S. intelligence community had concluded that it was no longer clear whether Cuba had an active biological weapons program.

It quoted an unidentified intelligence official as saying that the intelligence community "continues to believe that Cuba has the technical capability to pursue some aspects of an offensive biological weapons program."

Shortly afterward, an intelligence official tried to explain the new position to The Herald:

"We're not saying with absolute certainty that they don't" have a biological weapons program, the official said. "What we're saying is that we've lost some confidence in that judgment that they do."
I get it. Er... Yeah, I do. I think.

He's guilty! Guilty, I tell you!

To be filed under the heading "what sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander" comes the International Herald Tribune report that
the Bush administration is weighing a tougher approach [toward Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez], including funneling more money to foundations and business and political groups opposed to his leftist government, American officials say.
"Frustrated" by their inability to find allies in their attempts to isolate Chávez, the Shrub gangsters have
[a] multiagency task force in Washington ... working on shaping a new approach, one that high-ranking American policy makers say would most likely veer toward a harder line. U.S. backing for groups that Chávez supporters say oppose the government has been a source of tension in the past. American officials said that support may increase.
It's worth noting here that if the situation was reversed and Chávez was giving money to anti-Bush groups in the US, that would be enough to get them labeled "subversive," "anti-American," and probably "security risks." The bogeyman of "foreign money" is frequently raised in an attempt to discredit domestic opposition in the US. Even something as moderate as the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s was Red-baited with rumors and innuendo that it received money from the USSR. Apparently, the evils of "foreign money" and "outside influence" don't apply when we're the foreigners and the outsiders.

What especially galls the WHS* is that
Chávez's strength has grown. He won a recall election last August, and record high oil prices have left his government flush with money....
And he's expected to win a second 6-year term as president in elections next year. All of which has happened since he was briefly ousted in a military coup in 2002, with the US rushing to offer an endorsement of the "new government." Even worse,
Washington has little, if any, influence over Caracas. The high price of oil has left Venezuela with no need for the loans or other aid that the United States could use as leverage.
So there's this lefty who keeps winning elections despite the influx of US money (It's illegal for US political candidates to accept foreign donations - another goose/gander difference.) and who thumbs his nose at us - and, unlike, say Chile in 1973, there is no way for us to "make the economy scream." The Shrub team must be going out of their minds.

*WHS = White House Sociopaths

We're innocent! Innocent, I tell you!

Updated It's a shocking development, one that no one in the world would have predicted. But it's true. The International Herald Tribune for Monday had the news:
A high-level U.S. Army investigation has cleared four of the most senior army officers overseeing prison policies and operations in Iraq of responsibility for the abuses of prisoners there, congressional and administration officials said.
Gasp! The Army investigated its own top brass and found them not guilty! Can you believe it? Shocker!
An independent panel led by a former U.S. defense secretary, James Schlesinger, concluded in August that Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq at the time, failed to make sure that his staff was dealing with Abu Ghraib's problems. A separate army investigation, called the Kern-Fay-Jones report, found that at one point Sanchez approved the use of severe interrogation practices that led indirectly to some of the abuses.

The Schlesinger inquiry last summer also determined that Sanchez's deputy, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, failed to act quickly enough to make urgent requests to higher headquarters for more troops at the understaffed prison.

But those inquiries were not empowered to recommend any punishments; that was left up to the army.
Which looked at the facts and said "eh."

The Miami Herald sagely editorialized on Tuesday that
[i]f the generals aren't responsible for the conduct of U.S. troops in a combat zone, pray tell, who is? ...

[T]he most senior persons who are in a position to implement and supervise U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't responsible for an embarrassing failure in the actual execution of policy. ... It would be as if the captain of a ship were not held liable for crew members who beat up detainees held in the brig.
On a related point, I can't but wonder if it's merely coincidence that of the top five officials whose roles the Senate Armed Services Committee asked the army to review, the only one who was punished was Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who is both the lowest ranking among the five and the only woman.

But by no means let it be said that the Army protects only the highest (male) brass, oh, no! After all, the BBC informed us,
US military investigators have cleared American soldiers of any wrongdoing over the killing of an Italian agent at a Baghdad checkpoint, an official says.

Nicola Calipari was killed by US forces as he travelled in a car near Baghdad airport after securing the release of Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena.
The US military says the soldiers were "not culpable," according to a US official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Significantly, the report has not yet been released because Italy has refused to endorse it, challenging both US claims that the car was "speeding" and how much communication there was between the car and the checkpoint guards. The US claims
[s]oldiers used "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots" to get the driver to stop
and fired into the engine block when it didn't.

But Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, quoting an Italian agent who was in the car, said
"[a] light was flashed at the vehicle from 10m away," Mr Berlusconi said. "The driver at this point stopped the car immediately and at the same time there was gunfire for about 10 or 15 seconds.

"A few shots reached the vehicle - one killed Mr Calipari and another bullet injured Ms Sgrena in the shoulder." ...

Italy had made all necessary contacts for safe passage, advising the US military at the airport as Sgrena was en route, Mr Berlusconi said.
Who to believe? Well, who has more to gain by giving a false version? And just how did Calipari and Sgrena get hit by shots to the engine block? Do our soldiers really have that bad an aim? Or did they just spray the car, figuring they'd hit the engine somewhere in there? (Ten to fifteen seconds of gunfire is a lot of bullets.)

Footnote, Maybe This Will Help Make Up Your Mind Div.: The White House, of course, was just full of scripted regrets.
Senior White House official Dan Bartlett called it "a horrific accident" and pledged a full investigation. ...

"People are making split-second decisions and it's critically important that we get the facts before we make judgements."
If it's "critically important" to get the facts, why, Mr. Bartlett, were you calling it an accident before the investigation began?

Updated to note that the car in which the Italians were traveling has finally been released by the US, seven weeks after the incident, so that Italian investigators can examine it.

Illustrating the point

One of the things I was pushing in that last post was not to feel discouraged if you feel you can't do a lot. I press that because there are a good number of people out there who will try to make you feel otherwise. A great illustration of that came up just the other day on Grist, an online environmental magazine that describes itself as "gloom and doom with a sense of humor." The issue involved environmental activism, but the point applies across the board.

What started it was a tongue-in-cheek article inviting people to confess their environmental sins, to cleanse their conscience of the ways they failed at being perfectly environmentally aware. Which people did, some seriously, some flippantly.

But one commenter soured on the whole idea.
So, while you are spending an hour agonizing whether or not you should by the chlorine free office paper, the 100% post-consumer content paper, the kenaf-based, hemp-based, or whatever based paper, consider instead spending that hour instead meeting with the store manager to ask why the store doesn't offer more green products; or, working with your office manager to institute a greener procurement policy at work; or, working with your city council member to adopt a greener purchasing policy for the city. Or, setting up a meeting with your state representative to discuss a sustainable forestry initiative in your state.
Another Grist columnist, Dave Roberts, applauded that response, saying "[m]y thoughts on the matter are captured by this excellent comment," which he punctuated with "Exactly." [Emphasis in original.]
Whether or not you recycle your plastic makes not one tiny iota of difference in the grand scheme of things - really, it doesn't.
Well, no, it doesn't, that's true - because the argument assumes it's only you doing it. But it's not only you, it's you and everyone else who is doing it, which again is one of the points I was trying to make. And in terms of solid waste disposal, energy consumption, and resource depletion, that joint effort does make a difference. Maybe not a lot, not as much as it could if even more people were doing it, but a difference.

The bigger point here, though, is the underlying attitude: Unless you're confronting the store manager, unless you're involved with procurement policy at work, unless you're a political activist lobbying state government, your efforts are a pointless waste of time that "make not one tiny iota of difference."

That is foolish, short-sighted, destructive, and, frankly, condescending; it's more likely to discourage further action than to encourage it. Yet the fact is, no matter what you do, no matter what your level of involvement, no matter what your intensity of commitment, there will be someone to tell you that unless you are more active, more involved, more intense, there is no point to doing anything at all. I've seen it innumerable times over the years and I shudder to think how many people have been discouraged by that kind of ego-tripping.

I said yesterday "the first question to ask isn't 'What are you doing?' but 'Are you doing something?'" The second question is "Are you doing what you can?" Not all of us, for whatever reasons, will be able to do as much, commit as much time or energy or money, as some of us. So don't judge the worth of what you do in comparison to others, judge it in comparison to what you are capable of.

It's certainly true for some of us (and likely true for all of us) that we actually can do more than we think we can; we are stronger than we know. But that's something we each have to discover for ourselves, it can't be just ordered up. Truthfully, just looking to what we think we can do is a standard by which most of us will find we are already failing - so it makes no sense to set an even higher standard for ourselves until we meet the other one first.

The bottom line here is strive to do what you can, whatever that is, and never, ever feel ashamed or let someone else make you feel ashamed of not doing more than you can. If you are able to challenge store managers, bosses, city or state officials, great! Do it! But even if all you can do, if all you can manage, is to "recycle your plastic," then do that. But, again, do it! True, it may not be much, but you will still be a rectangle under that curve.

Footnote: Roberts unintentionally indicates the weakness of the "you must be more to be worthwhile" argument, saying our "ecological situation" is a "collective responsibility."
What matters is that we, as a culture, make things more thoughtfully, distribute them more thoughtfully, and consume them more thoughtfully.
And just how are we "as a culture" to be differentiated from the sum total of what the individuals in that culture do?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005


What is Let it Be?

'70s Albums for $600

This 1973 Marvin Hamlisch sound-track LP contained such instrumentals as "Gladiolus Rag" and "Pineapple Rag."

The area under the curve

What you have above is a crudely drawn graph of the equation y=x2 marked at x=4, y=16, and with the area under the curve shaded. It's a representation of a very basic mathematical equation. It's also a representation of my, if you will, philosophy of political action.

The issue here is measuring the area under the curve. For a long time, no one knew how to do that. The problem is that all our basic geometric formulas for determining an area depend either on straight lines, regular curves (such as circles or ellipses), or a combination of them. But the line on this graph is neither straight nor regularly curved; instead, its slope - how steeply it rises - increases constantly.

The method that can be used to solve the problem was developed by Isaac Newton (and, about the same time and independently, by Gottfried Leibniz). Suppose we replace the curve with two rectangles, each two units wide on the X (horizontal) axis, with their upper right corners at 4 and 16 on the Y (vertical) axis. We know how to calculate the area of a rectangle. For convenience, let's say the graph is marked off in units of inches. So the rectangles would be 2x4=8 square inches and 2x16=32 square inches, for a total of 40 square inches. That gives you some very vague idea of the area under the curve. But no better than that - because those rectangles would also include a lot of space above the curve.

Suppose we then made it four rectangles, each one inch wide on the X axis. Their upper right corners would then be at 1, 4, 9, and 16, respectively, on the Y axis. Their areas would be 1, 4, 9, and 16 square inches, again respectively, for a total of 30 square inches. They still include space above the curve, but not as much, so that answer is closer to the area under the curve.

Keep going. Keep adding more and more, thinner and thinner, rectangles. You'll get closer and closer to the true area until you reach a point when you have an extremely large number of extremely thin rectangles whose sum total area is so close to the actual area under the curve as to be indistinguishable from it. Then you have the area under the curve.

And in case you're interested, you've just gotten a fundamental lesson in integral calculus. (The answer, by the way, is 211/3 square inches.)

The point here is that each of those rectangles, in and of itself, is so thin, has such a vanishingly small area, that for all practical purposes it does not exist. But add enough of them together and you get the area under the curve.

In 2004, George Bush got something approaching 61 million votes. But he didn't get them in one block, he got 61 million individual votes, each one of which, in and of itself, meant almost literally nothing. Each one, standing alone, was irrelevant, meaningless, pointless. But together they made the difference.

That, in a nutshell, expresses my understanding of, my conviction about, political activism: It is rare, exceedingly rare, that anything we do as individuals will make a damn bit of difference. Indeed, most of us will never be in a position even to have the chance to have a demonstrable impact on our own; opportunities to be a Daniel Ellsberg are to say the least unusual. But it is also exceedingly rare that it is just us. It not just our one vote, our one letter-to-the-editor, our one dollar contribution, our one participation in a demonstration, our one act of civil disobedience. It is that plus everyone else's votes, letters, dollars, demonstrations, and disobedience. It is the sum total of all that we all do that matters, not the effect of any act in isolation.

Everything you do is another rectangle under the curve, every action you take is another rectangle. No matter how unimportant it may seem, how small it may appear or even be, it is not nothing. It is another rectangle, another part of the whole.

Now, we can get sidetracked into one of those interminable and to my mind useless arguments about the "best" actions and the "most effective" tactics and the "highest priority" issues. You want to do that, fine, go ahead, just don't expect me to get involved except to scold you for wasting time and energy. Because I say the first question to ask isn't "What are you doing?" but "Are you doing something?"

This is not to say that I think that any particular type of action has the same impact as any other type of action under any given circumstances. Of course not. Rather, it's to say that none of us should ever feel guilty or despair because we can't do "enough." Whatever you do, however minor it is, it's more than doing nothing.

Rectangles. More and more rectangles. Vote: rectangle. Attend a demonstration: rectangle. Stage some guerrilla theater: rectangle. Refuse to pay the federal phone tax: rectangle. Throw a pie at Ann Coulter: rectangle.

The varieties of political actions are damn near endless. (Some, like pieing, should be used only occasionally on carefully-selected targets. The fact that such actions are uncommon is part of what gives them their power.) As an example of a particularly creative action that amounted to a form of guerrilla theater, I remember that in 1968, when George Wallace was running for president, he went to great lengths to tone down and gloss over his image as an extremist and a racist. But like all politicians, he had his standard stump speech with a string of guaranteed applause lines.

One time he went to a college campus to speak and seemed to be well received. Too well, in fact: The audience reaction was more enthusiastic that he could've expected.

After a while, he realized what was going on: Students had packed the hall and were actually heckling him, not by shouting at him but by cheering wildly at every cue he gave them. When he caught on, he became furious, departed from his prepared text, and wound up blowing his carefully cultivated image as a born-again moderate. The students wanted to remind people of what Wallace really was. They succeeded admirably. (In fairness, I'll note that some years later, Wallace did, apparently sincerely, recant his racist views.)

And everything can have an impact, even if you don't realize it at the time. Recently I had a back-and-forth about effective protest with Arvin over at A Carnival of Horrors. (It starts at the sixth comment to the linked post.) I won't recap the whole exchange; you can go read it if you want. I mention it here because one of the things I objected to was his statement about demonstrations, "provoke a response or go home." I called that "a recipe for despair and defeatism" because - other than being arrested or having your head cracked - you will rarely see a response to any given action and so would repeatedly feel like a failure.

But just because you don't see a response doesn't mean you're not getting one. From a review of The War Within, a book about the Vietnam antiwar movement:
On November 15, 1969, a half-million people gathered in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to the Vietnam War. This "Mobilization" was, at the time, the largest demonstration in American history. Earlier in the fall, President Richard Nixon had insisted that antiwar protest would change nothing. "Under no circumstances will I be affected whatever by it." The only college students he would acknowledge during the November "Mobe" were the ones playing football on the tube. His indifference was just pretense. In fact, the White House was in a state of emergency. Outside, a solid ring of buses, parked bumper-to-bumper, barricaded the Executive Mansion. Underneath and overhead, dozens of National Guardsmen and army troops filled the tunnels and catwalks. From his command post in the White House bomb shelter, "Field Marshall" John Ehrlichman was in direct communication with police, FBI agents, and intelligence officers throughout the city. And, as always, Nixon wanted a steady stream of dispatches from the antiwar front. ...

Nixon once demanded that a single picketer be removed from Lafayette Park because he was annoyed by the protester's sign. [His administration] concocted hundreds of plans, not always executed, to attack, spy on, infiltrate, sabotage, harass, imprison, smear, divide, counteract, provoke, and placate the antiwar movement.
(I recall saying to someone when this information came out about how "all that time we thought we were being ignored when actually we were driving them nuts. Kinda gives you strength to carry on.")

Sometimes, too, what you don't see is itself the effect. The story goes (I think this is from David Halberstam's book The Best and the Brightest, but don't hold me to that) that in late 1967 or early 1968, Pentagon planners told Lyndon Johnson that their computers projected that the Vietnam war could be won if he'd approve the commitment of 200,000 more troops. Johnson told them to go back and ask their computers how long it would take "100,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their president." The deployment didn't happen.

Moreover, even what may look like a small thing may turn out to not be so small: Last fall, a man in Ridgefield, NJ, put a coffin on his lawn.
Adorned with American flags held in place with staples and stone figures, the coffin bears numbers in big black letters reminding everyone how many soldiers have been killed and wounded since the start of the Iraq war.
That silent protest by one man, a 77-year-old World War II veteran, sparked debate and discussion in his town about the war and a possible return of the draft.

Action breeds further action, dissent legitimizes further dissent. The most debilitating feeling for any activist on any cause is the sense that you're alone. So dammit, do something. Show others that they are not alone and so encourage them to go a step beyond what they have already done. Don't pay war taxes. Resist the draft when it comes back. If you can't do that, take part in sit-in or refuse to be confined to a "free speech" zone. If you can't do that, join a march, a rally, a vigil. If even that seems to bold, write a letter to your local paper. Call Congress. Put a bumpersticker on your car! Wear a political button, dammit! But do it! Do what you can, as much as you can. Never worry that it's "too little." Do it anyway.

The thing I'm trying to drive home to you is that any action you take, anything you do politically, affects the body politic. It's impact may by tiny, it may in and of itself have no more impact than a single rectangle under that curve or a single Bush vote, but together with what others are doing or saying, the impact can be enormous. You very rarely will change anything yourself, but you can be part of a process of change, and anything you do towards that end can help move the body politic in that direction.

New ideas don't spring into existence with full-blown majority support. They begin as minority ideas, ignored, perhaps rejected if not openly reviled by the accepted standards of the time. And the idea of political activism isn't to instantly "win" some kind of up or down, yes or no, social decision - the idea is to make a difference. And even if you can't "win" right now, you still can make a difference that'll help someone else win later on.

When I was living in New Jersey, I used to regularly give a talk on "The Individual in Political Action" to political science classes at the local community college. As part of it, I ran down some of the ways an individual could take part in political actions - a somewhat truncated list since the instructor asked me to limit it to legal methods during the talk. (Not as big as restriction as it may seem since we both expected that civil disobedience would come up in the discussion afterwards - and it always did.) One thing I would do is describe some current campaign to show how various specific actions would combine in a broader effort. This is excerpted from one such speech from shortly before I moved out of state:
The campaign in question is one relating to the question of nuclear weapons at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Leonardo.

It began with a speech to an environmental rally by a single individual outlining the case for believing that nuclear weapons are stored on the base. That person followed up by writing a letter to Congress on behalf of a single group, which also wrote and distributed a flyer about it.

The response to the issue both in and out of the media lead to taking out a full-page ad in a local paper, arguing the case and urging more letters. Note that already on this single question we've had a speech, a letter to elected officials, leaflets, and a newspaper ad and the audiences addressed have been environmental and peace activists, Congress, and the general public.

The ad was followed up by more letters to other public officials. A demonstration on a related issue by one group lead to a demonstration at Earle by an ad hoc coalition, which lead in turn to the formation of a statewide coalition which has held three large-scale demonstrations at the base in the last year and the decision by yet another local group to hold a monthly vigil at the base.

Meanwhile, the Navy announced it wants to put a base on Staten Island and the Port Authority [of New York and New Jersey] indicated it'd been told that there was no worry about nuclear weapons on the island because if they were removed from the ships they'd be stored at Earle. That lead to letters to both the Port Authority and the Navy, and pressure on local, state, and federal officials - and another demonstration - to make the Navy hold environmental impact hearings in Monmouth County [which is where Earle is] on the proposed base. They finally agreed, and the next step in the Earle campaign is to make public comments on the Navy's Draft Environmental Impact Statement at those hearings ... while at the same time a petition campaign regarding both Earle and the proposed Navy base is getting started.

So already on this single issue - nuclear weapons at Earle - we've addressed local, state, and federal government, environmentalists, peace activists, commercial fishers [who were targeted because of their concern about the effects of construction and waste disposal on fishing], and the general public through letters, speeches, ads, petitions, demonstrations and vigils, and public comments during official hearings. The campaign is no one of those audiences, no one of those tactics, but the sum total of all of them. And every one of those actions was ultimately done by individuals.
The ultimate result was that the Staten Island base was blocked. Earle remains a major facility but, it was believed, the nuclear weapons stored there (mostly old gravity-type bombs) were quietly removed - although of course the Navy would no more confirm the latter than it would admit they were there in the first place. (And, as a result of a ripple effect, the safety issues related to nuclear weapons pushed news about some earlier Broken Arrows - nuclear weapons accidents - in New Jersey back into public attention, which eventually resulted in some contaminated sites being cleaned up.)

Relevant quote #1: "First they ignore you, then they fight you, then you win." - Mohandes Gandhi

Relevant quote #2: "Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

(Sidebar: Mead's estate says the quote can't be found in any of her writings but does not doubt its authenticity since it so closely reflects her views, deeming it likely to have been an offhand remark during an interview or a post-speech discussion.)

The area under the curve. That's how you make a difference. Posted by Hello

Pardon my absence...

...but I'm having a love-hate relationship with my computer and of late it seems to be in a hating mood.

Yesterday's Jeopardy!

What is a seder?

'70s Albums for $200

Although recorded before Abbey Road, it was the last Beatles LP of all-new material to hit No. 1.

Sunday, April 24, 2005


What is fertilization? (Acceptable: pollination)

Foreign Words

The name of this ceremonial dinner is Hebrew for "order."

I hope you haven't just eaten

Because this could make you lose it in sheer disgust. The Chicago Tribune for April 18 reported on the emergence of so-called "no-fault" attendance policies at a growing number of businesses, under which
there are no excuses for missing work unless time off is scheduled in advance. Any unplanned absence, whether for illness, a flat tire or family emergency, is a black mark. ...

No-fault policies eliminate judgments about whether an absence could have been avoided. Instead, they draw a strict line between planned and unplanned time off. Typically, no more than six unscheduled absences are tolerated within a year, although multiday illnesses count as one "occurrence."

Employees with paid days off for illness or emergencies still get paid, but these unplanned absences count against their attendance records.
(Note: The link is to an abstract; the full article is now in a for-pay archive.)

That is, you get "benefits," but it's a black mark against you if you actually use them. Get enough such demerits and you're out on your ear. At Lawson Products, one company mentioned,
[p]unching in one minute to one hour late earns half a point. Missing one to two hours merits one point. A full day adds two points.

Six points results in a reprimand; 10 points, suspension without pay. Employees can be fired if they exceed 12 points within a year.
Calling this "no-fault" doesn't even rise to the standard of ridiculous. The proper name is "all-fault," that is, if you're the employee, any "unplanned absence" is all your fault, your failing, and you deserve whatever consequences arise because it's actually all your doing and we bosses have no control over anything.

And yes, some make precisely and I do mean precisely that argument.
"When management says, 'We're going to give you an opportunity to fire yourself,' people understand that," said Gene Levine, a California-based consultant. "You decide how many times you want to be absent and you begin to count down to termination."
The bosses make up the rules, set the standards, ignoring the vagaries of real life all the while, but still it's all your fault: You "fire yourself." You "decide" to get sick. You "decide" to have a sick child. (Susan Lambert, associate professor at University of Chicago's School of Social Service Administration, says kids get sick an average of 10 days a year.) You "decide" to have a family emergency. It's all your decision, your free choice, and oh, the poor, poor, beleaguered bosses do not have one blessed little thing to do with it, you miserable failure as a worker and as a human being.
Levine described his approach at a company that was unhappy about having to fire an employee after she missed work because of her grandmother's death.

"In each of the absences you had before, was there any one you could have avoided?" Levine recalled asking the woman.

She acknowledged one, he said.

"We're not firing you because of your grandmother but because of that date," he told her.
I mean, just how much more vile can this get? Not only is this a patent lie, it's not even a good lie: Since the decision to fire her was made before they knew of an "avoidable absence," it clearly was not because of that. He is a boldfaced liar.

But the point is, they don't care! The bosses don't care that they're liars, they don't care that they can be proved to be liars. Because this isn't about fairness or dealing honestly with employees or even about "clear standards."
Such "no-fault" attendance programs ... are migrating from factories and warehouses to white-collar environments as companies try to standardize discipline and wrest greater control over workers' schedules.
That's what it's about: Power. Control. Domination. The fact is, the bosses figure that they're back in the catbird seat, that unions have been tamed or crushed; they know that workers, lacking a common voice and a joint strength, have little negotiating room and so more and more the bosses can pretty much do as they damn please, impose whatever new soul-deadening but profit-protecting scheme enters their fetid little minds.

Just consider that
[s]uch policies are gaining sway in an unforgiving economy where staffing is lean and turnover and absenteeism are chronic problems in some lower-paying clerical, technical and service jobs, experts said.
According to classic economic notions, such conditions - tight staffing and high turnover - should push employers into being more flexible with employees, the better to obtain and retain them. But instead they're being used as excuses to do exactly the opposite.

Sooner or later, this will change; sooner or later, enough people will get fed up enough to reverse the trend back to a job being little more than a daily sojourn to a feudal estate. But the truth is, I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Footnote, Math Div.: One excuse offered is that "unexpected absences" cost large companies "millions of dollars," amounting to 4% of payroll costs. However, a survey of HR executives - not likely to be the most pro-employee group - said that only 10% of those absences arise from an "entitlement mentality," when employees take a day off just because they think they deserve one. Ignoring the pejorative phrasing and leaving aside the fact that employees do sometimes deserve just to take a day off (a friend used to call it "a mental health day"), that still means that amounts to just 0.4% of payroll. Put another way, 99.6% of payroll costs can be ascribed to work time, planned absences such as vacations, and unplanned absences for good and valid cause. But that doesn't sound quite so dramatic, does it?

Footnote, Unintentional Humor Div.: James Smith, vice president of human resources at Lawson Products, the outfit that gives gigs for tardiness, says the company "has always gone out of its way to be a very family-friendly place to work."

The Addams family, maybe.

Saturday, April 23, 2005


What are ants?

A Seedy Category for $2000

The rare production of a seed without this process taking place is called apomixis.

Foreign Words


Sorry. Bad headache. No can blog. Tomorrow.

Friday, April 22, 2005


What is a nut?

A Seedy Category for $1200

Among the duties of these hard-working insects is dispersing the seeds of plants like bloodroot.

Sense of balance

So, AP lets us know, Zacarias Moussaoui
pleaded guilty Friday to helping al-Qaida carry out the Sept. 11 hijackings and said he understood he could be put to death for his role in the deadliest terror attack in American history.

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the plea, making the French citizen the lone person convicted in a U.S. court for the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
A legal victory in the War on Terrorism(c)(reg.)(pat.pend.), certainly. But a more significant such victory was won, with less fanfare but not, let it be noted, without press attention, the previous week when
[f]ormer fugitive Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty on Wednesday[, April 13,] to the bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and a string of subsequent blasts, citing a hatred of abortion, gay rights and the federal government as his motivation for the attacks.
Rudolph, who expressed no remorse and offered no apology, issued an 11-page statement justifying his bloody reign that killed two and wounded 150 more over the course of four blasts, a statement that
is at once an attempt to influence history and a thinly veiled call to arms.
So thinly veiled, in fact, that
federal officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are calling US clinics to make sure their security is up to date.
Unlike our political misleaders, law-enforcement authorities - by which I mean the people on the ground, doing the actual work, not the professional bigwigs in their plush offices - and others involved do take the threat of domestic terrorism seriously. The case of William Krar, after all, involved the biggest manhunt since Oklahoma City. What's more, they know that there are more McVeighs, more Rudolphs, more Krars out there.
Independent groups that monitor extremist activity inside the United States say that while the country has focused since 2001 on the threat from foreign terrorists, domestic operatives like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh have not gone away and, in some ways, are more dangerous than ever.

For officials at the National Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism, it is the sad fact inherent in work intended to honor the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. What happened here, they know, could happen again.

"It will happen," said Ken Thompson, the institute's external affairs director. Thompson's mother was killed in the blast at the Murrah building, and he now works in an office overlooking the memorial pool and the rows of sculptural chairs representing each victim.

"I don't know that anyone can expect that the federal government can stop 100 percent of the attacks," he said. "We know it will happen again, and the most important thing we can do is be better prepared to respond and bring the people to justice than we have in the past."
That's why Rudolph's case is the more significant of the two: He is part of, an expression of, an ideology of paranoid hatred and violence that simmers below the surface of our society. It bubbles up and cools down, but it never disappears. Yet it's an ideology that we usually ignore or downplay, perhaps because the perpetrators are Americans and so it's a step harder to define them as "other," leaving us xenophobically fixated on the threat from "foreigners." More to the point and for that same reason, there is less political gain to be had, especially for the right wing, in playing up those of Rudolph's ilk. No point in antagonizing the base, yes? (To make the point, it's sufficient to note that if Moussaoui had made a statement equivalent to Rudolph's, it would have been headline news for weeks. MSNBC would be running "America Under Threat: Day" whatever and Brit Hume would be wondering why Muhammad Ali is not in Gitmo.)

And so when - I say, when - it happens again, when the next Rudolph or McVeigh strikes, we will be just as politically unprepared as we were the last time, just as ready, even eager, to blame "outsiders." (In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, the New York Times intoned darkly that there are mosques in the city.) Fortunately, in the OKC case it almost immediately became obvious that it was a right-wing job. Next time, both Muslims and our civil liberties, already under assault, may not be so "lucky."

Footnote, A Sense of Priorities Div.: The FBI considers "ecological extremism" the top domestic terrorist threat, holding groups such as the Earth Liberation Front
responsible for more than 1,100 criminal acts and $110 million in damage since the mid-1970s.
On the other hand, this "extremism" has not resulted in a single death, while
in the decade since the Oklahoma City bombing, 15 law enforcement officers have been killed by anti-government extremists or white supremacists.
And of course there are the others killed or injured by Rudolph and like-minded fanatics. So I guess what makes something your "top threat" is a moral as well as a practical judgment.

Footnote, A Sense of Responsibility Div.: Commenting on Rudolph's guilty plea, Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, said
"I would concur with his opinion that abortion is murder. However, his frustration that leads to violence is never an acceptable way to accept this."
Of course. These are the people who declaim that abortion is "murder," call doctors "baby killers," shout about a "holocaust," scream in the faces of women entering abortion clinics - but when someone takes them at their word, when someone accepts their logic and acts on it, suddenly they turn into a cross between Martin Luther King and Gandhi, all horrified denunciations of exactly the response their own words clearly encourage. They are utterly shameless.

What's Arabic for chutzpah?

Despite finishing a distant and disappointing third in the January 30 elections, the party of outgoing prime minister Iyad Allawi
said that they would only join a new government if they were given five cabinet posts, including a deputy premiership[, AFP reported on Friday].

"These are our demands and, if they are not satisfied, we cannot participate in the government," the head of Allawi's negotiating team, Rasem Awady, told a Baghdad news conference.

"We demand the deputy prime minister post and four other ministries," he said,
adding that the party could not make any further "compromises."

And they don't want just any posts, they want central ones, including either defense or interior and trade or oil. Despite his poor showing at the polls, Allawi still has the favor of the US and he may be counting on that in his negotiations for power.

Meanwhile, Iraq still has no government and the effort of writing a new constitution still looms.

The Beast From 20,000 Geeks

Ongoing developments may force a revision of the venerable periodic table of the elements. Designed by Dmitri Mendeleev, it organizes chemical elements in groups based on their characteristics.

But now it may prove inadequate, New Scientist magazine tells us.
According to Mendeleev's roll call, an element's chemistry can be deduced from where it sits in the periodic table. Reactive metals like sodium and calcium occupy the two columns on the left. The inert "noble" gases make up the column on the far right, flanked by typical non-metals such as chlorine and sulphur.

Now this neat picture is being disrupted by superatoms - clusters of atoms of a particular chemical element that can take on the properties of entirely different elements. The chemical behaviour can be altered, sometimes drastically, by the addition of just one extra atom. "We can take one element and have it mimic several different elements in the periodic table," says Welford Castleman, an inorganic chemist at Pennsylvania State University who has studied the chemistry of aluminium superatoms.
Explained as briefly as I can, the electrons in atoms arrange themselves in "shells" around the nucleus. Each such shell has a certain maximum number of electrons it can hold; additional shells get occupied as lower shells get filled. The chemical reactivity of an element - how readily it reacts with others - is dependent on its ability to either take up, release, or "share" electrons. Those elements which have just the right number of electrons to exactly fill its outermost shell are the least likely to interact; those with just one electron too many or too few to do so are the most reactive.

What chemical researchers have been finding is that for at least some elements, clusters of atoms of certain numbers act like one giant atom - a superatom - that can react like a different element. For example, a cluster of 13 aluminum atoms, or Al13, plus one extra electron has the right number of elections to form a superatom with "closed," that is, filled, shells - with the result that it acts more like a noble gas than aluminum. What's more, without the extra electron, Al13, a metal, acts like bromine, a non-metal.
But curiosity aside, what's the point? What can be gained from making a compound with a superatom mimicking an element like bromine, rather than with bromine itself?

One answer is that superatoms could provide entirely new types of material, including "expanded" crystals. In a solid such as sodium chloride, the atoms are stacked together like oranges in a market display. In an expanded crystal, the atoms would be replaced by a stack of giant superatoms.
Such crystals could bring the vision of room-temperature superconductivity closer to realization. And some superatoms offer the promise of more powerful solid-fuel propellants. That's not an altogether good thing because the primary use for such propellants is in missiles, but they do also power things like the space shuttle and other vehicles for space exploration.

Some researchers even look forward to the possibility of creating new materials with tailor-made properties. Transparent aluminum, anyone?

Thursday, April 21, 2005


What is "my chinny-chin-chin?"

A Seedy Category for $400

Crazy as it sounds, technically an acorn is one of these, a one-seeded fruit with hard walls.

20,000 Geeks Beneath the Sea

During the first microseconds after the Big Bang, the entire universe was an incredibly dense, incredibly hot, ball of plasma-like gas. (Plasma is a fourth state of matter, a highly-ionized gas like substance consisting of free electrons and atomic nuclei.)

Well, that's what we thought, anyway.
New results from a particle collider suggest that the universe behaved like a liquid in its earliest moments, not the fiery gas that was thought to have pervaded the first microseconds of existence[, AP reported on Tuesday].

By revising physicists' concept of the early universe, the new discovery offers opportunities to better learn how subatomic particles interact at the most fundamental level. It may also reveal intriguing parallels between gravity and the force that holds atomic nuclei together....

Between 2000 and 2003 the [Brookhaven National Laboratory's] Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, known as RHIC, repeatedly smashed the nuclei of gold atoms together with such force that their energy briefly generated trillion-degree temperatures. Physicists think of the collider as a time machine, because those extreme temperature conditions last prevailed in the universe less than 100 millionths of a second after the big bang.

Everything was so hot then that quarks and gluons, which are now almost inextricably bound into the protons and neutrons inside atomic nuclei, were thought to have flown around like BBs in a blender.

But by reproducing the conditions of the early universe, RHIC has shown that unconstrained quarks and gluons don't fly away in all directions so much as squirt out in streams.
In fact, the matter created acts like an almost "perfect" liquid, that is, one with zero viscosity, or resistance to flow. Truly zero viscosity is impossible in the physical world but one researcher said this may be as close to it as anything can be.

It gives a different aspect to what the very early universe was like and, through the intermediary of the impossibly complex and often arcane mathematics of string theory, offers once again the tantalizing possibility - just the possibility - of reaching the Holy Grail of physics: a grand unified theory that would successfully unite the laws of the universe on the smallest scale (where quantum physics reigns supreme) and the largest scale (where gravity runs the show) into one theoretical structure.

A bit of bad news

When the Department for the Security of the Fatherland was set up, there was a lot of ballyhooing about how no one could have any concern about their privacy rights because, gol dang it, there's a "privacy officer" to keep tabs on all that stuff to make sure there are no abuses.

Sounds great. Is bull. As Declan McCullagh, CNET's Washington, DC correspondent noted early last week,
[t]he Department of Homeland Security's privacy officer can't do her job. You can thank Congress for that strange state of affairs.

When politicians were concocting the massive bureaucracy a few years ago, they handed the privacy officer impressive-sounding tasks such as "assuring" that new technologies do not erode privacy and "evaluating" the impact of new government programs.

But Congress also neglected to give the job holder the power to twist arms and actually investigate privacy violations.
Nuala O'Connor Kelly, currently in the post, is required by law to investigate complaints about violations of privacy - but she has no subpoena power, so no way to actually get the answers she's required to seek. Internal DHS documents have shown cases where she was flat-out stonewalled by her own department, with no recourse.
The Department of Homeland Security's privacy officer doesn't even have the clear ability to report abuses to Congress directly. Because the law is ambiguous, Kelly provided her last annual privacy report to then-Secretary Tom Ridge for his office to review before it became public.
Besides the obvious changes to the law (grant subpoena power and have reports go directly to Congress without agency review), McCullagh has an interesting suggestion:
[R]eward the privacy officer for blowing the whistle on official malfeasance. If Kelly or her successors expose privacy violations and the program were terminated, the offending departmental agency would see its budget shrink, while the privacy office's budget would increase proportionately.
Given the natural bureaucratic tendency to seek maximum budgets, that would seem to give both investigator and investigated incentives to do their jobs properly. Some nice competition going there. So the Shrub team should be all over his idea - isn't competition what they say is the source of all good things?

Another bit of good news

Well, for some of us, anyway. Courtesy of Wednesday's New York Times.
People who are overweight but not obese have a lower risk of death than those of normal weight, federal researchers are reporting today.

The researchers - statisticians and epidemiologists from the National Cancer Institute and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - also found that increased risk of death from obesity was seen for the most part in the extremely obese, a group constituting only 8 percent of Americans. ...

The new study, considered by many independent scientists to be the most rigorous yet on the effects of weight, controlled for factors like smoking, age, race and alcohol consumption in a sophisticated analysis derived from a well-known method that has been used to predict cancer risk. ...

Some saw the report as a long-needed reality check on what they consider the nation's near-hysteria over fat. ...

Others simply did not believe the findings. ...

In fact, the new study addressed the risk only of death and not of disability or disease. There has long been conclusive evidence that as people move from overweight to obese to extremely obese, they are more and more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

But the investigators said it was possible that being fat was less of a health risk than it used to be.
Or maybe it was never as much of a risk as it was made out to be and the risks are truly relevant only to that most obese 8% of Americans, whose results distort the picture for the rest of the folks on that side of "normal."
Dr. Barry Glassner, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California, had another perspective.

"The take-home message from this study, it seems to me, is unambiguous," Dr. Glassner said. "What is officially deemed overweight these days is actually the optimal weight."
Personally, I think Dr. Glassner has nailed it.

A bit of good news

A few times over the last year - most extensively last August - I have mentioned MATRIX, the Multistate Antiterrorism Information Exchange, a privately-run program to link local, state, federal, and private information into one huge, searchable database available to police across the nation.
Information included in MATRIX, gathered from public and private sources, includes individuals current and past addresses and phone numbers, arrest records, real estate information, photographs of neighbors and business associates, car make, model and color, marriage and divorce records and voter registration records, hunting and fishing licenses.
And a lot more, even if you just consider that many such records will include pictures and physical descriptions.

Early on, MATRIX ran afoul of privacy concerns and most of the states that initially signed up, pulled out. Now, it's pretty much been shut down for lack of funding. The ACLU "applauded" the development.
"Another major assault on privacy has been turned back, thanks to the thousands of Americans around the country who helped us to fight this program," said Barry Steinhardt, Director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project. "In state capitols across the nation, in police headquarters, and in media newsrooms, the message was heard loud and clear: the Matrix program is not consistent with the American tradition that innocent citizens be ‘left alone’ by their government."

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which spearheaded the program, announced the program’s shutdown. ...

"We’re under no illusions that the long and hard fight against the growing surveillance society has been won," said Steinhardt. "Even here, part of the Matrix program will apparently continue to be available to individual states. But it is worth pausing to celebrate an important victory in that battle."

Justice delayed is justice denied -

- usually. But not always. Sometimes the more accurate saying is better late than never. And even if it's true that there can be no true justice in a case like this, there can at least be a sort of closure. From the BBC for Tuesday:
An Argentine ex-naval officer has been convicted in Spain of crimes against humanity and given 640 years in prison.

Adolfo Scilingo, 58, bowed his head in court after being found to have been on board planes from which 30 people were thrown to their deaths.

The offences were committed during Argentina's "dirty war" - the period of military rule between 1976 and 1983.
That was also the period in which the generals succeeded in turning "disappear" into a transitive verb. Relatives of the disappeared hugged each other when they heard the verdict.

Just curious

Guantanamo Bay prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, better known as Osama bin Laden's driver, was to be the first person tried by a military commission. But last November, his trial was stopped as soon as it began when a federal judge ruled the proceedings are unlawful because they include a provision "that permits the exclusion of the accused from his trial."

The matter is now before a panel of a federal appeals court. The Shrub gang, which made up the previously non-existent category of "enemy combatant" for the prisoners, insists they can't be allowed the same legal protections as Americans because evidence would include classified information to which the accused should not have access. The argument, which in essence assumes guilt, leads to the conclusion that defendants can be barred from their own trials.

With that background, this is what I'm curious about:
During the appeals court arguments, Judge A. Raymond Randolph noted that other countries' legal systems don't allow a defendant to be present for all parts of a trial. And some countries don't allow cross-examination of witnesses, Judge John Roberts added.
So when do you think Tom DeLay is going to threaten these judges with consequences? When is he going to rant and rave about these "out of control" justices? I mean, after all, they did refer to the laws of other countries in indicating support of the government's position.

And that is what he was so upset about in the Terri Schiavo case - wasn't it?

Footnote: Navy Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, one of Hamdan's Pentagon-appointed lawyers, says Hamdan is innocent.
"Driving Osama bin Laden around didn't kill anybody; driving Osama bin Laden around didn't further the plot against the United States," he said. "A driver, whether he's Hitler's driver, Martha Stewart's driver or any other driver, doesn't necessarily have any knowledge of what's going on."
I don't know if that's a terribly convincing argument, but give him this, he's trying.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


What is Aladdin?

Children's Lit for $1000

The three little pigs told the Big Bad Wolf, "Oh, no! I won't let you in. Not by the hair of" this.

Just for the record

You probably know this already but I wanted to mention in passing that Benedict XVI, the Pope formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the one who
intervened in the 2004 US election campaign [by] ordering bishops to deny communion to abortion rights supporters including presidential candidate John Kerry. ...

Ratzinger specified that strong and open supporters of abortion should be denied the Catholic sacrament, for being guilty of a "grave sin."

He specifically mentioned "the case of a Catholic politician consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws," a reference widely understood to mean Democratic candidate Kerry....

A footnote to the letter also condemned any Catholic who votes specifically for a candidate because the candidate holds a pro-abortion position. Such a voter "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for holy communion," the letter read.
And in case anyone missed the point, the June 2004 letter, while supposedly "enunciating principles of worthiness for communion recipients," was sent only to US bishops - nowhere else.
// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');