Monday, June 26, 2006
My Dad passed away Sunday morning after suffering from Lewy Body Dementia. It is a horrible disease especially when it hits someone whose life is so centered around the mind as was my Dad's. Here's his obituary to be published in the Bellingham Herald:
Edward Kaplan, age 70, passed away on Sunday, June 25, 2006 in Burlington, after
a life of learning and teaching. He was born January 9, 1936 in New York
City. Ed met Susan Blondell in 1956 and married her in 1958,
fathering two sons, Joe and Sam.
After gaining a B.S. in Languages at Georgetown University in 1960, Ed earned a Masters and Doctorate in History at the University of Iowa. He came to teach at Western Washington University in 1968, beginning a long career that ended with his retirement in 2001. His specialty was Chinese history—he was speaking, reading and teaching Chinese before it was fashionable. He also had an intense interest in economics which he also taught, including creating innovative online courses in the 1990s.
A political warrior, Ed could argue from an extensive catalogue of facts and philosophy in two languages. He unsuccessfully ran for Bellingham City
Council in 1987 but continued his long work on behalf of the ideals he believed
in throughout his life.
Ed is survived by his wife, Susan, who cared for him though his difficult health issues. He is also survived by his two sons, Joe and Sam; Joe’s wife, Kaoru, two granddaughters Jennifer and Ellen; Sam’s wife, Danielle; his sister, Linda Tritt and her husband Steve; their two children, Gavin and Rachel; and in-laws, nephews and nieces.
Friday, June 23, 2006
Surface Temperatures and Bad Summaries
As I'm sure you've seen, the National Academy of Sciences released their report on surface temperatures on earth over the last 2000 years. Depending on who you read, you'll get wildly different summaries of what's in the report. I actually read the executive summary
and here's what I got out of it. First, surface temperatures have been increasing over the last 400 years. Here's the end of the executive summary on this:
In summary, large-scale surface temperature reconstructions are proving to
be important tools in our understanding of global climate change. They
contribute evidence that allows us to say, with a high level of confi dence,
that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of
the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four
So, that's pretty straightforward. They also conclude that it is plausible that surface temperatures were higher "during the last 25 years than during any period of comparable length since AD 900." However, because temperature data is less accurate for more than 400 years ago, the report hedges its bets. The report does not say one way or another whether this warming is due to humans. But, they do say "Surface temperature reconstructions for periods prior to the industrial era are only one of multiple lines of evidence supporting the conclusion that climatic warming is occurring in response to human activities, and they are not the primary evidence."
The left is quick to say the debate is over on humans causing climate change and some on the right are just as quick to say the evidence is not there that humans are causing global climate change. We do not know definitively that humans are causing climate change but there is much supporting evidence to suggest it is so. And, prudence suggests that, until we have better data, we should work to a) figure out realistic ways to curb human influence; b) continue our efforts in understanding climates and climate change (it is a complex system and by "complex" I am referring to the mathematical use of the term. Complexity and chaos is something we are making remarkable gains in understanding); and c) figure out ways to adapt to climate change since we may not be able to control it whether from human or natural inputs. Unfortunately, as in too many things, the left and right are too busy beating each other up to stop and think about the problem logically.
One final note: The graph in the executive summary is very interesting. The graph "shows a compilation of large-scale surface temperature reconstructions from different research groups, each using its own methodology and selection of proxies, as well as the instrumental record (beginning in 1856) of global mean surface temperature." Interestingly, it was warmer than it is today at about 1000 AD. Or, to be more precise, some of the temperature reconstructions show it being warmer back then. For example, the tree rings study shows it being warmer 1000 years ago. Of course, the report notes that data more than 400 years ago is less reliable so this could be wrong, and, in fact, some climate scientists say their data shows that it is hotter now than 1000 AD (and more important, that the rate of increase is greater today than at any other time in the last 1000 years). Others say that warm period 1000 years ago was only localized for certain regions. Either way, it's obvious that even as we work to curb human impacts, more analysis and data is needed on historical climate records.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Popping the Realtors Bubble
There may or may not be a housing bubble but the protective bubble the realtors industry has surrounded themselves with is getting closer and closer to being popped. The Internet has started to breach the realtors defenses and now a growing awareness of what a rip off the real estate broker business is threatens them even more. Freakanomics.com reports:
The Consumer Federation of America has released a report about the real-estate “cartel,” a report claiming to show how “many traditional real estate brokers, and their associations, successfully stifle competition, what reforms are needed to protect home buyers and sellers, and how these consumers can protect themselves.” In the Washington Post’s rather entertaining summary, the C.F.A. boss called the current commission system “cockamamie” (a word you don’t hear enough these days), to which an N.A.R. official replied, “It’s clear and evident that they don’t understand the real estate business.”
The problem for the realtors, of course, is that people understand the real estate business all too well. People understand brokers are not needed, or certainly not at the prices they are charging. They will soon become an endangered species.
All Robots All The Time
You can't get away from the robot stories nowadays. The Times of London reports on a code of ethics
for machines that a group of scientists plans to publish next month.
ÂScientists must startanalyzingg these kinds of questions and seeing if laws or
regulations are needed to protect the citizen,Â said Verruggio. ÂRobots will
develop strong intelligence, and in some ways it will be better than human
Of course, as is in everything that humans touch, people start worrying about sex:
Other dilemmas may arrive sooner than we think, says Christensen. "People are
going to be having sex with robots within five years," he said. So should limits
be set on the appearance, for example, of such robotic sex toys?
I'm not sure what limits Christensen (a perfect name for someone worried about robot sex, btw) is referring to. Does he mean the robots should not be made too beautiful so that we don't get carried away with having sex with machines or is he worried that the robots won't be pretty enough. In other words ,he doesn't want us having sex with ugly machines. Guess we'll have to wait for the code of ethics to find out.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Outkast's Hey Ya was an amazing song in that its popularity crossed all boundaries: black and white, R&B and hipster alternatives, old and young, everyone liked it. Now, the Charlie Brown set dances to it
One of my favorite fallacies I see people commit is taking a line on a graph that is going up (or down) and assuming it will continue on that trajectory forever and ever. Al Gore makes that mistake in his assumptions of fossil fuel use and what the impact will be on the environment and climate. Ray Kurzweil points this out in an online chat at the Washington Post.
None of the global warming discussions mention the word
"nanotechnology." Yet nanotechnology will eliminate the need for fossil fuels
within 20 years. If we captured 1% of 1% of the sunlight (1 part in 10,000) we
could meet 100% of our energy needs without ANY fossil fuels. We can't do that
today because the solar panels are too heavy, expensive, and inefficient. But
there are new nanoengineered designs that are much more effective. Within five
to six years, this technology will make a significant contribution. Within 20
years, it can provide all of our energy needs. The discussions talk about
current trends continuing for the next century as if nothing is going to change.
I think global warming is real but it has been modest thus far - 1 degree f. in
100 years. It would be concern if that continued or accelerated for a long
period of time, but that's not going to happen. And it's not just environmental
concern that will drive this, the $2 trillion we spend on energy is providing
plenty of economic incentive. I don't see any disasters occurring in the next 10
years from this. However, I AM concerned about other environment issues. There
are other reasons to want to move quickly away from fossil fuels including
environmental pollution at every step and the geopolitical instability it
Of course, some say Kurzweil makes the same mistake with his projections of accelerating technological change. At any rate, as Kurzweil notes, there are lots of reasons to curtail our use of fossil fuels with the risk of climate change being one of them.
Microsoft is readying robotics software
which is another sign of the dawning of the age of robots as I pointed out earlier
in the week. Soon, at least in your lifetime (if your healthy wealthy and wise), you'll experience cars that drive you, robots that mow your lawn, vacuum your house and a whole host of other activities. Of course, Dave Nelson might say
Microsoft's entry into robotics is a sign of the death of the age of robotics. Maybe there'll be Mac robots.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The military report, such as it is, by the Pentagon on certain allegations of torture by some units (the report did not investigate all the military units that are alleged to have used torture) was released yesterday. Spencer Ackerman at TNR's The Plank asks a good question
about the policy of keeping prisoners in cells too small to lay down in or stand fully:
Here are two such questions you can puzzle over from your home or office. Take
all the shelving out of a typical filing cabinet. (My own office cabinet happens
to be slightly smaller than the cell described here.) Now lock yourself in it
for two days. You may notice you can neither stand up straight nor lie down, and
crouching gets really uncomfortable extremely fast. Remember that as an Iraqi
detainee, the Geneva Conventions apply to you. Now ask yourself: Why would
Formica consider such treatment "reasonable" for two days? And if someone put an American soldier in such conditions for two days--or authorized doing so--what should happen to that person?
As Andrew Sullivan and others have pointed out, now that two U.S. soldiers have been taken by Al Quada, we are in a much more difficult position to complain when they torture our troops. This is not to excuse Al Quada's torture or to say that what the Bush Administration does is equal to what the Islamic Theocrats do. It is merely to point out that in the battle over minds around the world, when we complain about the treatment of Americans being tortured, the rest of the world will say "what about your use of torture?"
Personality Above Substance
Two seemingly disparate articles in the Washington Post and in Salon are actually about the same thing--placing personality above substance. First, the Washington Post piece about the Internet:
"These days it is about the reporter, not the story; the actor, not the play;
the athlete, not the game. Leopold is a product of a narcissistic culture that
has not stopped at journalism's door, a culture facilitated and expanded by the
The same day, King Kaufmann (sports journalists by day, porn star name by night) in Salon writes about the travesty that was Game 5 of the NBA Championship:
...I think the Mavs have a case on the Nowitzki foul, though good luck not
having a foul called on a play where the biggest star still playing knifes
through three moving defenders on his way to the bucket.
Good luck, indeed. That's what bothers me the most about the NBA--the unfair advantage superstars are given by referees. Don't get me wrong--I love Dwayne Wade, but I don't like watching games that are decided by which team has the most popular player. It's nearly driven me away from watching the NBA, especially at playoff time (but not quite). The NBA theory of favoring the superstar at the detriment of all else, applies to much else in life.
Matt Stone Memo
South Park, The Movie, Bigger, Long, Uncut, was the best movie of 1999 and one of the funniest and most important movies of all time. Editing it so the flick would meet the approval of the MPAA was apparently an ongoing process. The Hot Blog has obtained a memo from Matt Stone to the MPAA Board itemizing the changes they would make so the film could be rated (hat tip to Jim Emerson
. It's hilarious. Because none of the memo is worksafe I'll only quote the PS at the end of the memo from Matt Stone: "PS: This is my favorite memo ever." Here's the full memo
Monday, June 19, 2006
I had the pleasure of seeing in person Barry Bond strike out three times in a game, twice to that strike out artist, Jamie Moyer.
Friday, June 16, 2006
I'm in and out of town again today and yesterday but with Iraq all the rage in Congress I'll just point to Iraq the Model for analysis
We heard nothing about what was accomplished yesterday but we sense a clear
atmosphere of cautious calm.
Well, that clears everything up, doesn't it. Actually, read his whole post. It's interesting.
Thursday, June 15, 2006
Build Your Own Robot
I was at the bookstore yesterday and there was a whole section of books on how to build your own robot. I bring this up both because I think it would be fun to build your own robot and also to point out that this is yet another sign of the coming big technological changes. If building robots is now a do-it-yourself project, then clearly we are entering a new age. Look, there's even a Robot for Dummies
The Rich and Technology
Meanwhile, although it is human nature for groups of people wanting to tell other people what they can and can't do, it's become more and more difficult to do so. Witness this story
about wealthy couples coming to the United States to select which gender their baby will be:
The Chinese want boys, and the Canadians want girls. If they have enough money, they come to the United States to choose the sex of their babies.Well-off
foreign couples are getting around laws banning sex selection in their home
countries by coming to American soil _ where it's legal _ for medical procedures
that can give them the boy, or girl, they want.
Of course, this article is also an argument against Kurzweil's utopian view of the future in The Singularity is Near. The wealthy will get access to the future's uber-powerful new technologies. The question is will they bring the rest of us with them, destroy us or abandon us?
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Something's Happening Here
Maybe it's the strange smell of thunderstorms in the Seattle air (an unusual occurrence here in the summer) or maybe it's the fact the U.S. stock market has gone down more than 10% in the last few weeks and that stock markets all over the world are falling like brokers on ledges from the 1930s. Or, maybe it's that unemployment jumped
to (the still low) level of 5.1% here in Washington State last month. Or perhaps it's that GlobalInsight has determined that houses in Seattle are overvalued by 34%. Or, maybe it's just that the world turns and night follows day and it sure seems like dusk is about to hit. Our only hope is that it's summer and the days are long.
The Future, Mr. Gittes, The Future
CNN.com is doing a series of articles on the coming technological changes. Here's the introductory piece
with the vision of Ray Kurzweil coming next, followed by those who take a more alarmist view of the coming technological transformation.
A new, wealthy elite of superhumans with access to self-enhancing technologies
could create a social divide that would make the eugenics and racial superiority
myths of the Nazis look like high school politics -- and exact their own
terrible Final Solution on the 'obsolete' poor. Or rogue nanotech could
endlessly self-replicate and smother the globe in 'grey goo'. Terrorists or
careless scientists could release genetically engineered plagues that could
annihilate the population of Earth.
Such a potential dark future on earth may be why Stephen Hawking said in a speech yesterday, "The survival of the human race depends on its ability to find new homes elsewhere in the universe because there's an increasing risk that a disaster will destroy the Earth." This may be the most exciting or terrifying time to be alive in the history of man, depending on your point of view and the size of your pocketbook.
Have a Danish
I had the pleasure of attending a lunch yesterday where the Prime Minister of Denmark spoke and took questions. He said all the usual things about being a "staunch ally" of the United States, finding new ways to cooperate with the U.S. on climate change (25% of Denmark's energy is from windmills and 10% from biofuels) and how we're such great trade partners. The U.S. is Denmark's fourth-largest export market above such traditional partners as Norway. In fact, exports from from Denmark to the United States increased 35% over the last year proving that U.S. consumers continue their buying binge and that Muslims in the U.S. apparently didn't get the memo on boycotting Danish products. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the lunch is how open the Prime Minister was to taking questions from the audience and press. People didn't have to hand in written questions that were chosen by the moderator. He just took them as they came and answered them or said he didn't have a comment as he saw fit. Very refreshing.
Deficit Credit and Dark Linings
With all my harping about debt, I should be fair and point out that this year's deficit will again shrink
due to an expanding economy bringing in much higher tax revenue. Investor's Business Daily reports "The Congressional Budget Office said receipts have risen faster over the first eight months of fiscal '06 than in any other such period over the past 25 years Â except for last year's 15.5% jump." This, of course, leads to a smallerdeficitt, $233 billion year-to-year compared to $276 billion last year. The deficit would be even smaller if spending was under control. Although tax receipts are up from last year so too is spending, which is growing at a 7.9% clip over last year's expenditures. Because I can find a dark cloud in any silver lining, I'm compelled to report that increases in spending will only get worse in future years due to entitlement pressures inMedicaree, social security and all the rest.
Long-term growth in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid "threaten to
force either European-style tax increases, unprecedented spending cuts or
unprecedented debt," said Heritage Foundation budget expert Brian Riedl.
"There's no growing out of the long-term budget problems." Heritage sees
an $800 billion deficit in 2016, assuming tax cuts are extended and spending
stays on its present course. If the economy and tax receipts continue to
outperform, the deficit would still be at least $600 billion, Riedl said.
Morning in America, meet storm clouds.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Danish Prime Minister
The Danish Prime Minister is in town today. You may recall the Mohammed cartoon controversy. Journalist and provocutuer Christopher Hithchens reports: "... in the last quarter, Danish exports to the United States have increased by 17 percent and that, overall, the Danish economy has more than compensated for the results of the unjustified Muslim boycott." Just an fyi.
Ferguson's Reasons to Worry
Harvard economist Niall Ferguson wrote about reasons to worry
about America's debt problem in last weekend's NY Times. He notes what we've noted here many times (653 times if you are keeping count):
The trouble is that the officially stated borrowings of the federal government
are only one part of the U.S. debt problem. For it is not only the government's
debt that has grown large of late. Ordinary American households have also gone
on prodigious borrowing sprees.
Lots of folks believe that's why we're headed for inflation--because it's the only way out of our debt problem. With inflation, that debt isn't quite as big a problem since it won't be worth as much. Of course, Fed chief Bernanke is saying he won't allow inflation (whether he has the power to stop it is another question). Ferguson points out that the Fed is unlikely to sit on its hands while inflation runs amok and will raise interest rates to combat it (this is another related question--do high interest rates really stop inflation?). But, Ferguson points out that raising interest rates will make our federal debt problem worse (and hit lots of people with adjustable mortgages): "And that creates a new source of budgetary red ink: rising interest payments. It turns out that George Bush has the biggest A.R.M. in the world."
Last week in Newsweek Ferguson said:
The U.S. dollar is still the world's reserve currency of choice, and the
key institutions in global financial management are still headquartered in the
U.S. But this is conceivably going to change over time. It is hard to be a
hegemon if you are simultaneously the world's biggest debtor.
As the world turns, I believe is the name for the soap opera.
Browsing in 3D
This is cool: you can browse the web in 3D
. Shouldn't the web site be creatureoftheblacklagoon.com? Here's a sample 3D browser
. Jeez, I wonder which industry will take this technology and run with it? Rhymes with corn, I believe.
I hope Moulitsas doesn't let go of his snotty arrogance too easily. One of the
healthiest things about the left-wing blogosphere is its confrontational dislike
of the mainstream media. There's a distinction here with the media's critics on
the right. At some level, the right doesn't much like that the press exists.
They don't want to fix it, they want to drive a stake through its heart. The
left, on the other hand, just wishes the establishment press would do a better
job. The Kos-type critique of the media is intertwined with its passion about
politics. When the press gets it wrong, left-wing bloggers believe, the people
are ill-informed and democracy suffers.
I'm always amused when someone on the left or right thinks the other side is full of ill-intent and the side, even if somehow flawed, has only the best of intentions. They view the political opposition as Lex Luther--evil incarnate--rather than as people with differing views. Dickerson offers no proof for his assertion that the right wing wishes the press didn't exist. He writes this paragraph as if it's accepted science, like gravity or evolution, er, uh, maybe that's the wrong example But, anyway, as someone who reads blogs and journals of both the left and right, I can tell you that the right wing media critiques I read are just like the left--they want a press which will better inform people. Now, we might not agree on what it is people should be informed about, but like Markos Moulitsas, the right wing bloggers intent is to make the country better. John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent. He needs to be demoted.
Monday, June 12, 2006
According to the Shanghai News, in May, China banks, " extended 209.4 billion yuan in loans during May alone, nearly double that of the same month in 2005." So the Chinese economy is still going strong. On the other hand, word is that a significant percentage of bank loans in China are non-performing. Will the emerging economic power of the 21st Century have a hiccup soon. Hold your breath.
Friday, June 09, 2006
Mrs. Wade, Meet Reality
With Thursday's Food and Drug Administration's approval of the first vaccine
designed to protect against cervical cancer, parents like Wade must now decide
whether to vaccinate their adolescent daughters against the STD. "I would
hope that my daughters would remain virgins until they’re married, but the
reality is, that with four daughters, at least one probably would not," says
Um, Mrs. Wade, that’s right, only one of your daughters will abstain from sex until she is married, just like you did. Apparently despite approval of the vaccine lots of people may not use it:
Even though the shots could prevent up to 70 percent of cervical cancer cases,
it's expected to be an uphill battle convincing parents to get yet another
vaccine for their preteens, especially one that's connected to sex. That's
how Rosemary Owens of New Freedom, Pa. feels. The mother of two daughters, ages 23 and 13, is already leery of vaccines. She probably won't have the younger
girl vaccinated, even though she understands that if she waits, it might be too
late to protect her daughter against the STD.
These kinds of attitudes will be a big issue in the coming years with all the new technologies coming out. It’s something that Ray Kurzweil didn’t address deeply enough in his book The Singularity is Near. Ludditeism and fundamentalism (two sides of the same coin) will play retarding and unpredictable roles in the use and acceptance of new technologies coming down the pike.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Help, I'm Broke and...
The American consumer is determined
not to outdone by state and local governments in racking up debts like Charles Barkley in Vegas. The increase in consumer borrowing reached its highest level in nearly a year last month and total consumer credit is also at a record $2..17 trillion. These loans don’t include mortgages or other real estate associated loans. Hey Americans, buy yourself another drink and hit the craps tables.
What would you think if you were the parent of one of those dead Iraqi children?
You would want the United States, the nation that broke the fragile bonds that
once held Iraq together, to act more effectively to control this violence. And
you would want Iraq's so-called government of national unity to behave like one
and stop the killers who are devouring the decent people of Iraq. And if neither
the Americans nor the Iraqi government could protect your children, you would
turn to the militias…The American project in Iraq is unraveling. The president
continues to talk about staying the course, and the White House still issues
upbeat predictions of victory, but the course we are on is not working.
The rose tinted wearers are forever telling us the media are only showing the bad and not all the good that is happening in Iraq. And while I don’t doubt this is true, there is no disputing there’s more than enough bad to show. Further, the Iraqis themselves know it and so does the U.S. military. According to Ignatius:
A devastating summary of America's mistakes is contained in the latest
installment of the Pentagon's quarterly report to Congress, "Measuring Stability
and Security in Iraq." In every part of the country, fewer people than a year
ago think the situation is better now than before the war. In the Baghdad area,
pollsters found the percentage of optimists had fallen by half since March 2005,
to about 30 percent.
So what to do? Pulling out is still only a move of selfishness. At best, it would lead to even more short-term mayhem and at worst to a Khmer Rouge Cambodia scenario. Ignatius suggests getting the new Iraq government out of the Green Zone and into public Baghdad. I don’t know the answer but the current administration is unlikely to find one unless they come to terms with what is really going on in Iraq.
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Self Driving Cars
I mentioned these a while back and said they were coming sooner than you thought, perhaps within 10 years. At the recent Singularity Conference at Stanford
, Sebastian Thrun, Director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, gave a presentation on self-driving cars
. Thrun said self-driving cars capable of being used in everyday life will be possible within six years, sooner than the ten I predicted. Here's a video
of last year's Grand Challenge Race of robot cars. Remember, when watching these cars that no human is driving them. They are driving themselves. The ending quote is downright awe inspiring. "Stanley (the name of the car who won the race--only five actually finished the course) becomes the first vehicle in history to drive 132 miles...by itself. " The 2006 race took place in the desert. Now that they have proven they can make it through that course, the next hurdle is a self-driving car that can drive in traffic. Thus, next year's race takes place in an urban environment. Cab drivers better start looking for another line of work.
Shh, don't let the Christians see this
or they'll be rioting in the streets before we know it.
A Penny for Your Thoughts, er, Dollar
I'm hearing lots of whispering from international folks recently that the dollar is headed for a cliff soon. In addition, lots of other people are piling on too. The Russian Finance Minister last month expressed his concern about the U.S. dollar's stabilty as a the world's reserve currency. Russia plans to have the Ruble fully convertible by July. With high oil prices, Putin and his guard are flying high and feeling smug. They would love to see oil sold and bought in something other than dollars but I wouldn't count on it being in Rubles anytime soon. Of course, if the dollar does nose dive as some think is likely, I suppose anything is possible.
Shanghai'd Da Vinci
China Business newsletter reports:
In a search worthy of the movie itself, Shanghainese looking for the "Da Vinci
Code" after its debut, moved from street-corner to street-corner in search of
the illegal but still highly-prized dvds. Where were they? Despite the recent
crackdown on such fakes, the first few counterfeit dvd copies hit the Shanghai
streets four days after the movie's international debut, but then only barely.
Actually, that's an improvement. Last year the movie would have been on DVD on the streets of Shanghai before the film was even released in the theaters.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Ten Things I Hate About the Ten Commandments
Have I mentioned Youtube is one of the great inventions of the 21st Century? Here's more proof.
Apartment Bubble Watch
Someone I know is on the hunt for an apartment because their current apartment building is being turned into condos. She was telling me that searching for an apartment is like it was a year ago buying a house. Ten people will be after the same apartment and the landlords can pick and choose and up the rent accordingly. If the housing bubble ever pops, it's all these condos transformed from apartments that will blow up first.
Prudence in the Age of the Individual
Technology is empowering the individual in all sorts of remarkable ways. This is good but it also has its down side as we see with terrorists having access to powerfully destructive technologies. The worry about this access is one of the rationales the Bush Adminstration uses to justify spying without warrents and all the rest of their intrusive apparatus. It's probably inevitable that the advent of easily accessible powerful technology will mean we will end up giving up some of our privacy rights. But if we do give up our privacy rights than we will need to strengthen other judicial protections to counterbalance the loss of these other rights. That's the most troublesome aspect of the Bush approach--he wants us to give up both privacy and legal protections. He can spy on us but he can also hold us incommunicado. You can't have both.
Bush's Continued Tortured Logic
The LA Times has the goods
on the Bush Administration's continued attempts to evade the McCain Amendment on torturing and degrading treatment of detainees. You may recall this amendment was approved by Congress by an overwhelming vote. Of course, when Bush signed the bill into law, he wrote in a side note that he is not bound by the law. I'd like to be able to try that trick the next time I get a speeding ticket (not that I've ever had one, mind you). The McCain amendment specified that the Army Field Manual, the standard for treatment of all
detainees, would forbid cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody. Bush wrote in his side statement that he would be ignoring the law and it's not surprising that the LA Times reports:
The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of
the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading
treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would
mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to
international human rights standards.
Some in Congress, the State Department and even the Defense Department's own lawyers are objecting. But as long as Bush is president and feels his powers as commander in chief allow him to ignore any law, it doesn't matter a damn whit what anyone else thinks.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Housing Bubble Watch
A block and a half away from our house a builder tore down a small house and built a new McMansion. They had an open house on Sunday. Price for the place was $700,000. There's no other house on the block worth even two-thirds that price. The only other house within four blocks that comes close to that price is another McMansion that was built last year.
Nothing Else Going On
Iraq, Iran, the deficit, Tom Cruise. Lots of important stuff going on out there. But what issue does Bush and the Republicans concentrate on this week: the huge threat of gay marriage
. Gays are the new Jews (for the fundamentalist Christian wing of the Republican party, for the Muslims and lots of others, the Jews are the new Jews)-an always available scapegoat and handy political device.
The Government Rules
Not to give you the idea I'm a raving libertarian or anything but this
is getting ridiculous:
Those heaping portions at restaurants — and doggie bags for the leftovers — may
be a thing of the past, if health officials get their way. The government is
trying to enlist the help of the nation’s eateries in fighting obesity. One of
the first things on their list: cutting portion sizes... At least that’s what is
recommended in a government-commissioned report released Friday. The
report, requested and funded by the Food and Drug Administration, lays out ways
to help people manage their intake of calories from the growing number of meals
prepared away from home, including at the nation’s nearly 900,000 restaurants
and other establishments that serve food.
I really don't need my taxpayer money being spent to tell me how much food I can eat. Seriously, what business is it of government to tell a private company how much food to serve? When I go out to eat I often don't gobble down the whole meal and instead ask for a doggy bag, eating the leftovers for lunch the next day, which saves me money and time. If others can't help themselves, eat too much, get fat and die of a heart attack, why should government be involved? Those overeaters are doing us a favor by dying early and putting less of a strain on social security and medicare.
There's no support for limited government among our populace and everyone, especially and including the current Republicans in the White House and Congress, are all for more government interference in our lives. And when everyone wants more and more government, more and more government is what you get--whether it is spying on your phone calls and emails or telling you how much you are allowed to eat.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Evidence of the Coming Singularity
Third Rail or Third Party
Peggy Noonan can soar with rhetoric and dive into looniness, sometimes in the same sentence. At any rate, her most recent column
on the possibility of a third party I found compelling even though it may be wrong. I especially agree with her on this:
Partisanship is fine when it's an expression of the high animal spirits produced
by real political contention based on true political belief. But the current
partisanship seems sour, not joyous. The partisanship has gotten deeper as less
separates the governing parties in Washington. It is like what has been said of
academic infighting: that it's so vicious because the stakes are so low.
I think that's exactly right. The parties mainly exist today to split the spoils and to enjoy power for its own sake rather than to do something constructive with it. Yes, there are differences between Republicans and Democrats but Noonan captures perfectly how this doesn't matter anymore:
Are there some dramatic differences? Yes. But both parties act as if they see
them not as important questions (gay marriage, for instance) but as wedge
issues. Which is, actually, abusive of people on both sides of the question. If
it's a serious issue, face it. Don't play with it.
I have long thought a third part rising was possible but in recent years have had less confidence it would happen. More than likely, people like myself who are fiscally prudent, socially liberal and carefully internationalist, are a small minority. Until we feel the consequences of bad governing, it's unlikely the electorate will do anything out of the ordinary.
Millionaires, Swimming Pools, Seattle Business News
I learned Wednesday morning that half the circulation of the Puget Sound Business Journal
is made up of millionaires. Now this wouldn't be very impressive if they only have a circulation of two people but, in fact, the PSBJ's circulation is far greater than that--it's one of the larger local business newspapers in the country. So, clearly we've got a lot of millionaires in this neck of the woods. Of course, I'm not sure how they came up with the figure. If it was done by a survey perhaps all those business people fibbed a little wanting to make themselves appear richer than they are. On the other hand, if it is based on total assets, and with the cost of housing here, I could see how many people could claim to be millionaires. Alas, I'm not one of them.