Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ha Ha, U R Gay!

Ha Ha Uruguay! No wait, it's a good thing.

Uruguay has hosted South America's first gay wedding. Via nerve's Scanner.

Meanwhile, Paraguay has elected Fernando Lugo, ending the Colorado Party's 61 year rule.

Wait, or was that the other way around. Eh, who can tell the difference?

Mucking About

I was playing around with the customization settings today. That's why the site looks different.

Ah, so, anyway, it's pretty clear I'm not a graphic designer... Um, I'll mess with them more after work.

Politics Is A Contact Sport

So there seems to be some sort of robocall skulldugery going on in North Carolina by Hillary Clinton supporters.

I'm sure that this isn't officially or unofficially paid for by the Clinton campaign. I'm equally sure that she would be "shocked, shocked" to hear that "over-zealous" supporters were engaged in such tactics. I'm equally sure that the idea of "plausible deniability" is well known to the Clinton team.

Unlike (I suspect) many lefties, I actually don't hold this against Hillary at all. The attack is unfair, possibly illegal, and probably will harm democratic turn out (at least a bit). It's got all the trademarks of a Republican operation. But I LIKE that. Look, Hillary is endorsing (or at least not condemning) all this Jeremiah Wright nonsense and her surrogates are using possibly illegal voter supression techniques, and those are EXACTLY the sort of things that will happen in the general election. Obama or Hillary will be better on the merits. It's not even close. But you must MUST have a winner take all no holds barred attitude about winning. Because you damn sure know that Republicans will. If anything, it makes me more fond of Hillary knowing she's not going to bring a knife to a gun fight.

Look at the Patriots. They had a miraculous underdog victory over the L.A. Rams in Superbowl XXXVI in 2001 and went on to win in 03, 04, and come up just short in 07 (those are seasons, actual Superbowls played early the following year). In the 07 season, the Patriots were caught taping the Jets illegally. Allegations have surfaced that they have been illegally taping opponents for quite some time including in their first Superbowl win.

Are they likely to lose all their glory? No. No they're not. The games have been played, the franchise has become part of the public face of the sport, and the NFL. Going back would call into question so many records, victories and losses, it would be difficult and embarrasing to unwind it all. The same thing is happening with baseball. They are finally getting serious about drug testing, but all those records? Barry Bonds was almost certainly using when he set the single season record, but so was McGuire, Canseco, Sosa, Camenetti, etc... not to mention many of the pitchers that batters faced were using too (*cough*Clemmens*cough*). A few people have had their image tarnished, but no one will be taking back superbowl rings or putting asteristks in the record books.

So too with politics. George Bush has been in office for 8 years. He was placed there in one of the most poorly reasoned and controversial decisions by the Supreme Court ever recorded. He has been no end of awful for the health and well being of our nation on, well pretty much any level. But you know what? He's STILL PRESIDENT. If you want to fight the modern Republican party, the truth is they will cheat. They will work to drive down voter turnout, they will run racist, sexist adds, they will imply that you love Osama, or that you are Muslim or whatever... it doesn't matter. To insist on fighting "fair" is the modern equivalent of a French knight insisting on charging into massed bows at Crecy because it was the "honorable" way to fight.

Hillary is fighting dirty, but in my book that's a virtue not a vice.

Worse Than I Feared

Via Matt Y. comes news of an emerging Humanzee Menace. As reported yesterday, the coming of the Ape/Robot alliance has been proceeding apace, but according to Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics "if a female chimpanzee was inseminated with human sperm the two species would be closely enough related that a hybrid could be born." Now that Charleton Heston is dead, the floodgates have truly opened.

Oddly, this was attempted in the USSR under Joseph Stalin's regime in an attempt to create a "super soldier." In 1926, "Professor Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills to the quest for an ultimate soldier by crossing humans with apes."

Also, there's concrete proof that the apes and robots are already begun to collaborate, see this, from January of this year.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Kevin Understands Moodys

Kevin put up two posts while I was away, here and here on bond rating agencies. He gets it. If a bond gets an AAA rating, it qualifies as investment grade. And if it does that ... well then lots of banks make lots of fees, and they pay the rating agency commissions, big commissions.

Oddly, when you can make $200,000 in fees if a given bond qualifies, lots of bonds JUST BARELY qualify. I mean, it's probably not just a sloppy mistake that they left their "model available to bankers that allows them to run the numbers until they get something they like and send it in for a rating." It's probably not coincidence that "[Joseph] Mason, of Drexel University, compared default rates for corporate bonds rated Baa with those of similarly rated collateralized debt obligations until 2005 (before the bubble burst). Mason found that the C.D.O.'s defaulted eight times as often." (note: corporate bonds are better understood and didn't have the same opportunity and gamesmanship)

Find the original NY Times article here.



I realize that both sharks and black men ar scary to Fox News and thus belong in the same general category, but which is MORE scary I wonder? Maybe a BLACK MALE SHARK! ZOMGWTF!?! That shark is wearing bling and Timberlands RUN MOTHERFUCKER!!

This Isn't Hard

Look, Kevin Drum here and Matt Y. here both worry about messaging on a Capital Gains tax hike. On the one hand, they're right that Democrats need to be better about messaging on this. It's true that if we want more services (like national health care! Please!) we will need to pay for it, and the current bond market conditions and horrible current debt and deficit position of the United States makes borrowing it all unattractive. Democrats do need to message this better.

On the other hand, IT'S EASY! The average voter isn't dumb, you just need to explain complex ideas in familiar language with real life examples. Increasing the Capital Gains tax provides a good illustration. So here it goes.

Obama, this is what you do:

Carry around a roll of pennies when you give interviews. If someone asks something dumb like, "wouldn't increasing the capital gains tax hit average americans with 401k plans" you say "that's just not true." Pull out your roll of pennies and hold it up for the camera. "This roll of pennies represents the capital gains tax." Break the roll open and pull out one penny, hold it up. "of all that roll, this penny is the amount paid by everyone in america that makes less than $200,000. This, [dump out the remaining 49 pennies onto the floor] these other pennies are all the rest of the capital gains taxes. Now you tell me, do you think this is a tax that hurts the middle class?"

It's really that easy. Come on, remember Ross Perot? All his charts and graphs were kind of goofy, but sometimes they were effective. The key is not to bring a bunch of pie charts though. Pick one message, break it down to use common terms that you don't need a financial degree to understand, and then illustrate it with a real life example that average people can relate to. Get on it!

More Signs Of The Apocalypse

Now that Charleton Heston is dead and Linda Hamilton is no longer battling robots, the ape/robot alliance for world domination is moving forward as planned.

Orangutan's struck the first blow with a crude spear. Meanwhile, scientists who inexplicably never watch science fiction movies created the first robot that could reassemble itself (and we all know what a good idea that is). Meanwhile, the Israeli army showed off its new robotic soldier like it was a good thing. Which means we're one lightning strike away from another Steve Guttenberg/Alley Sheedy movie.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vay Cay

I'm gone for a long weekend. Bye!

Photo of Playa Del Carmen courtesy of Flikr user PhotoFusion used under creative commons license.

Hillary Sees Shadow, 6 More Weeks Of Campaigning

Well, PA results are in and it went pretty much as expected. Hillary won, but not by a margin big enough to change the dynamics of the race. Obama still has a significant lead in delegates and popular vote, and there are even fewer delegates available to win.

Here's the rest of the Democratic Primary Schedule (with total delegates available):

May 3: Guam, (9)
May 6: Indiana and North Carolina (218)
May 13: West Virginia (39)
May 20: Kentucky and Oregon (125)
June 1: Puerto Rico (63)
June 3: Montana and South Dakota (47)

The single biggest state by number of delegates is North Carolina with 134.

On to Guam!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Pennsylvania Incomming

Voting in the Pennsylvania primary is today, which means tonight we all get to watch John King play with his funny iphone like touch screen while 5 hapless commentators try to say anything half way interesting with 0.3% of the vote counted.

Looks like a Clinton win, but probably under 10 points. Polls have been all over the place number wise, but they've all shown Obama tightening it up but probably not closing. A win for Obama would end it here, but that's just not going to happen. If it's really close (under 4% or so) then Hillary might drop out. In addition to being behind in delegates, she has a serious and widening cash gap.

Most likely though is a solid but not huge win for Clinton, and the campaigns slog on to North Carolina and Indiana.

Happy Earth Day

Gosh, we all look so small from up here.

Image public domain, courtesy of NASA


I wanted to point to this story in Saturday's New York Times. Turns out that the Pentagon was lobbying all those retired generals used as guest miltary experts and handing them talking points. This isn't particularly surpising to me but it would be nice if it was.

Predictably, unless you read Saturday's New York Times, you probably didn't hear about this. Oddly, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and Fox haven't mentioned it. wonder why?

It should be noted that this is one of the great things about blogs (see greenwald here and here). This information saw extensive distribution over the blogosphere despite its notable absence from major media sources. Many thousands more people recieved and distributed the information than would have been possible otherwise.

Harmful Pandering

Is there such a massive anti-thimerosal constituency out there that this is necessary?

My understanding is that there's no medical evidence of a connection between autism and thimerosal in children's vaccines. A comprehensive California study looked at the rates of autism before and after thimerosal was removed from childhood vaccines and found no difference in the rates of diagnosis of autism following the change.

Autism is a heartbreaking condition, and it's causes are still largely unknown. It is perfectly understandable that parents of autistic children are looking for a cause, both to help prevent it in future children and as a way to comprehend such an incomprehensible illness. For a while it was genuinely unclear if thimerosal in vaccines did trigger the condidion in certain children. But the evidence is in, and thus far it's pretty conclusive that there's no link. Pushing this bogus science is more than pandering, it's spreading harmful misinformation. If parent's believe this they are less likely to immunize their children, and immunization we know to be effective in drastically reducining child mortality in the populaiton. Spreading this kind of rumor is not ok. It has a real possibility to cause illness and death and it needs to be stopped.

UPDATE: According to Kevin Drum, there is a substatial (or at least very vocal) anti-vaccine lobby. Huh.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Ah - Ah - Achoo!

Ok, so ABC News wrote a whole three page column about ... Sneeze Fetishists. Yes really. This has to say something about the journalistic standards of ABC News doesn't it? I mean, Sneeze Fetishists? That's something that I could totally see as a topic in a Savage Love column (warning: NSFW content and language are frequent in that column), but ABC?

Between this and the widely derided performance of the ABC moderators in Wednesday night's debate, it hasn't exactly been a banner week for the ABC News team.

Photo by Flickr User Syd P, used under creative commons license.

This Just In

The National Defense University has released a report that calls the war in Iraq a "major debacle" (direct link to the pdf here).

I eagerly await their upcoming reports on the wetness of water and the religion of the pope.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Our Long Knickerbocker Nightmare May Soon Be Over

Looks like Isiah Thomas may finally be fired. It should be noted that this personnel move has been reccomended by chanting crowds in Madison Square Garden all season and professional sports writers about oh, ever since he was hired.

This Day In History

Twenty-two years ago today, the peace treaty was signed ending the Three Hundred Thirty Five Year War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly.

Where are the Isles of Scilly, and why haven't you heard of this protracted conflict you ask? Find out more here.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Also today in history, the FBI closed it's 31 month investigation into the lyrics to "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen.

Lunchtime Movie Blogging

What do Howard the Duck, Sidekicks, and Brain Smasher ... A Love Story have in common?

They never made it to DVD.

Debating Debate

I didn't catch it, but apparently the debate last night was pretty light on policy and pretty heavy on media generated faux controversy according to Will Bunch.

See also here. Yeesh if the liberal blogosphere is any guide it was a horror show. Chances are it wasn't as bad as everyone seems to think, but the chances that it was informative are about zero.

UPDATE: See also, Glenn Greenwald here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I watched Mel Gibson's Apocalypto last night on video. I have to say, it was one of the most historically accurate period pieces I've ever seen. I'm no expert on Mesoamerica, and I'm sure that scholars could find plenty of points of dispute regarding various details of the picture. Be that as it may, it was obvious that the film was meticulously crafted to communicate a by-and-large accurate picture of life in pre-Columbian Central America. The jewelry, the adornment of the various strata of Maya society, the contrast between small village life and a stratified Maya society with a powerful priest class, all of the details were excellent. Maybe not 100% accurate, but the film is very effective at presenting a WORLD, at communicating a complete and comprehensible vision of what life and society might have been like through the visual medium. It didn't rely on tedious exposition. It simply immerses the audience into the detail and allows the viewer to learn through observation. It was an engaging and intelligent choice for story telling.

The imagery and cinematography were excellent as well. The traditional costumes inspired by both Maya carving and archeological evidence were really beautifully realized, and gave the film a rich palette. The jungle scenes were lush. They used an over head "tree shot" several times. The camera seemed to be positioned about 40 feet up in a massive tree, giving the impression that you were a monkey or bird observing the frantic action of the people below. The city, on the other hand, while colorful, was shot brighter; the colors were much more washed out in the harsh light. Only the temple mount had strong reds and yellows.

Plot wise the movie was nothing special. Sort of a dark, Mesoamerican version of a standard fantasy tale. Prophecies, the one true hero, motive for escape, etc... It was certainly interesting enough. The real source of entertainment for me though was the film itself.

I have to say, if this had been produced and directed by a Mexican film company instead of Mel Gibson, it would have been lauded as an incredible landmark of historical fiction. Instead it was overshadowed by certain personal distractions of said actor/producer and a sort of "Passion of the Christ" hangover effect (oh, so it's all in a foreign language again eh?).

As reviews at the time noted, it IS really violent. Like Bravehart and Passion, Gibson doesn't flinch from portraying the brutality of historical life and combat. When you're making a film about a society that practices human sacrifice, you don't have much choice. I kept thinking about reading The Conquest of New Spain. One of the things that really struck me about Bernal Diaz del Castillo's narrative was the vivid descriptions of some of the cult practices of the Mexicans and Maya. Much is rightly made of the horrific and inhumane treatment of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica by the Spaniards, but it bears remembering that the Mexican regime they were supplanting was no picnic. Part of the reason that the expedition was successful was the willingness of vassal poli to cooperate with the invaders. Each year the conquered Maya cities had to send tributes of corn and human sacrifice to Techochtitlan. It's not clear that the devil they didn't know wound up being worse than the devil they did know.

MSNBC: Bad Tippers

It appears that MSNBC anchors think 18.4 cents is about 20% of $3.40.

You don't have to be some autistic math wiz to know that it at least sounds wrong. I mean, round 18.4 up to 20 cents, and 20% is 1/5, so multiply by 5 and... um, gas is more than a dollar a gallon now right? I haven't owned a car in 11 years and even I know that's not close.

One thing is for sure, if you are a waiter you do not want these people tipping you. "Hmm, bill for dinner is 30 bucks so what's a generous tip, $1.84? Heck, let's make it two bucks. That's about 20% right?"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

More Signs Of Victory In Iraq

I think this goes under "the insurgents are getting desperate" category of signs that victory is approaching, maybe in another six months.

How Could This Possibly Go Wrong?

Refugees International has a new report out on internally displaced people in Iraq. The upshot of this is that the Iraqi government and the US can't adequately provide services, assistance, and housing needed by these refugees. Instead "the vacuum ... is being filled by non-state actors." (report p2) Read that as "armed militias." Badr Brigade, Mahdi Army, Concerned Citizen Counsels, etc...

As a consequence, these groups are gaining loyalty and members. Meanwhile, the US can't plan for refugee assistance because that would be admitting that the problem is bad and could get dramatically worse. Republicans like to warn about all the horrible humanitarian disasters that could happen if we leave Iraq "prematurely." The problem is, there's never any discussion of the fact that those disasters could happen even if we stay there. It's simply not clear to me that our presence in Iraq is doing anything other than keeping the lid on the pressure cooker for a few months longer.

via Matt here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday Afternoon Zimbabwe Blogging

Things are not improving in Zimbabwe. Despite earlier rumors that Mugabe would step down, there have been increasing signs that is not in the cards. All foreign journalists have been banned, and rival candidate Morgan Tsvangirai's lawyer was arrested. There will be a meeting of African heads of state this weekend to address this crisis. Let's hope they come up with something good.

Total Odds Of Dying, Any Cause: 1:1

This image was originally published in the August 2006 National Geographic and is based on 2003 mortality statistics from the National Safety Council. Current statistics here.

via Ezra, via WSJ.

Image used without permission, please don't sue me.


Good news, we're winning in Iraq! Of course, according to Michael Yon we've been busy winning since August of 2005. The interesting thing is that "winning" is used as a present participle, which implies a progressive aspect. So if we were "winning" in 2005, and we are "winning" now, we must be "winning" even more.

It is curious that we can be constantly "winning" in Iraq, whether violence increases or decreases, whether political progress is made or retrenched, but the final end state of "win," i.e. that which we are presumably progressing toward with all this "winning" remains elusively undefined. When asked at what point we could remove more troops, Petraeus was evasive according to Robert Burns of the AP:

In exchanges with several senators, Petraeus refused to say when he thought it would be safe to resume troop reductions beyond July without risking "fragile and reversible" security gains.

Asked Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee: "Could that be a month, could that be two months?"

Petraeus began to respond: "Sir, it could be less than that. It could be. ..."

Levin: "Could it be more than that?"

Petraeus: "It could be more than that. Again, it's when the conditions are met that we can make a recommendation for further reductions."

Levin: "Could it be three months?"

Petraeus: "Sir, again, at the end of the period of consolidation and evaluation. ..."

If we don't know when we're done, we'll never be done. Iraq is like the Winchester Mystery House of wars. Maybe a ghost told W. that he would die if the Iraq war ever ended.

Live From OUCH!

Well, journalists are a more trusted profession than lawyers, but at 26% there's a better than even chance that you will ejoy this video of mishaps that occured on live TV. I think the major lesson to be drawn from this is that if you draw the short straw and have to do the "live stand up where we show that yes, it's really snowing," best to watch where you stand.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

We Have A Term For This

I believe it's "criminal conspiracy."

These pricipals specifically discussed what techniques could be used to torture captives in US custody, including waterboarding. There's no excuse for torturing another human being who is helpless in your custody. None. This article describes high level Bush Administration officials approving war crimes.

The CIA knew it. That's why they kept going back to this Pricipals Committee. They were scared of going to jail, and they wanted explicit permission from their superiors for each and every thing they did. The "Golden Shield" memo from OLC head Jay Bybee is a shield against CIA agents going to jail. It's a shield meant to protect them from accountability to the law.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lunchtime Iraq Blogging

I don't have too much original to say about the Petraus/Crocker testimony yesterday and today. I was able to read summaries and catch the News Hour coverage, but that's it. Unsurprisingly, it seems that horrible horrible things would happen if we left totally for sure, but now we're winning in Iraq and we have to say but no one knows for how long because it's really complicated and who can predict the future (except for if we withdraw of course)?

I did want to link to this by Matt Yglesias. There's just a whole lot of plain sense in that post. There's really just no reason to think that our presence in Iraq is making anything better, or to think things would be better or worse if we simply left. Meanwhile, we're not accomplishing any serious strategic objectives by staying other than accomplishing ... staying. And no one has yet come up with a convincing definition of "win" in the Iraq context.

Make Your Own McCain Poster

You can make your own here. Have fun.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bad News For Commuters

Well, looks like the assembly has killed the Congestion Pricing Plan for Manhattan. This is really too bad. Manhattan needs incentive to reduce driving in the center city. Manhattan also needs more revenue for public transport. This would have helped both. Sadly, it's not to be.

Even more infuriating, The assembly refused to even hold a vote. There's no way for constituents to hold their legislators accountable on this issue. That's very frustrating since this issue is one of the most important issues for city residents in the last 5 years.

Important Consumer Product Recall Information!

The US Food Saftey and Inspection Service has announced a recall of 406,000 lbs of frozen cattle heads. Apparently the tonsils of the frozen cattle heads were not completely removed. Well YUCK! So if you recently purchased a frozen cattle head from Elkhorn Valley Packing you should definitely hold off on preparing that delicious meal and instead return it for a refund.

Lunchtime Poll Blogging

Survey USA has released their latest poll, and contrary to the trend lines of other polls I noted yesterday, it shows a strong Clinton lead of 18% in Pennsylvania. Also interesting is that their trend line is moving in the opposite direction from the other polls. The previous SUSA poll showed a 12 point Clinton lead, so SUSA has Hillary pulling away while most other polls show the gap narrowing. Interesting.

As noted, SUSA has a pretty good track record this cycle.

Scientific Progress Prepares To Go Boink

So, the good news is that physicist Peter Higgs may actually live to see the proof of his postulated "Higgs Boson" particle. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is nearing completion. This is the largest ever particle accelerator constructed at an astonishing cost of 2.6 Billion pounds (so about $5B USD). No one knows what will happen when it is turned on and it's beam of protons is accelerated to near light speed and then smash into the target, but the idea is that this collision will be so high energy it will allow the observance of the Higgs Boson.

Now the bad news. There is a very VERY small, but non-zero, chance that this will, erm, DESTROY EARTH IN A BLACK HOLE. Now in theory this would still take quite a long time to manifest. In THEORY. But, you know, cross your fingers.

Union Busting Columbia Style

Columbian companies have found an astonishingly efficient way to prevent unionization, just kill people.

Perhaps we should take this into consideration when we're busy debating a free trade agreement which Bush wants so desperately.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Happy New Beer's Day

Today, April 7 2008 marks the 75th anniversary of the enactment of the Cullen-Harrison Act. Although the Cullen-Harrison Act was not the end of prohibition, which would come in December of 1933 with the ratification of the Twenty First Amendment, it showed that the US had become fed up with prohibition and was ready for it's end.

The Eighteenth Amendment made the "manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors" illegal in the US, but did not define the term. The Cullen-Harrison Act changed the definition of "intoxicating liquors" from 0.5% alcohol by weight (the previous limit under the Volstead Act) to 3.2% alcohol by weight. This legalized weak beer througout the United States. It also began the tradition of weak, crappy American beer. Huzzah!

Another interesting footnote, the Twenty-First Amendment specifically permits state regulation of alcohol (Section 2). This is why dry counties, blue laws, etc can exist.

More info here.

Photo from Flickr user surfstyle used under Creative Commons license.

Your Afternoon Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Yesterday was "Kanamara Matsuri" or the "Steel Phalus Festival" in Japan's Kanagawa prefecture. Formerly a festival for prostitutes to pray for good business and to avoid syphilis, it's now a fertility festival and HIV awareness event, which involves parding through the streets with a giant Penis.

Good old Japan. A sublime mixture of the culturally conservative and the batshit insane.

Photo from flickr user sachama used under creative commons license, some rights reserved by copyright holder.

PA Race Tightens

Ok, so last time I made predictions they, ah, didn't quite turn out. So without making any predictions, I did want to note that Obama seems to have significantly narrowed Clinton's lead in Pennsylvania. ARG, Insider Advantage, and PPP all have Obama and Clinton with a statistical tie, the others still have significant Clinton margins. The trend lines on the graph are pretty clear though. Every poll has the margin shrinking, just by different amounts. Also, SUSA has been the best poll this cycle, and they're still showing Clinton by 12 (down from 19 in their previous poll). I'll be interested in seeing the next SUSA poll.

Over all it seems that Obama will not catch Clinton, but her gain in pledged delegates will be pretty marginal. Still, the news has been slowly going against Clinton as more and more of the voters and media realize that Clinton has no realistic shot of winning the nomination.

As always, take polls with a grain of salt, and look at the trend lines not the individual poll data.

Elephants Never Forget

It seems that the old saying is true, Elephants don't forget. Especially if you have the habit of "demonstrat[ing] virility by spearing them." They hate that.

Photo by flickr user TheLizardQueen used under a creative commons license.

UPDATE: In other natural science news, scientists have demonstrated that mosquito fish can count to four. And that some scientists have WAY too much time on their hands.

Don't Ask Where We Got The Graphic

WOW. This is classic:

If you don't understand what this is about, um, don't ask. Really, you don't want to know. Just assume it's the unimportant inside joke that it is.

Via nerve's scanner.

Image used without permission for the purposes of satire and commentary.

One Ring To Rule Them All

I try to keep personal stuff off this blog, but I wanted to note that if you tried to call me yesterday I'm sorry for not picking up. There was a TNT Lord of the Rings marathon on Sunday. I'm sure those that know me will understand.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This Week On NPR

I meant to blog about this earlier in the week but I never got around to it. This American Life is one of my favorite radio shows. It's consistently intersting, informative, and by turns touching, funny, and provoking.

This week's episode was titled "The Audacity of Government" and the first story is really worth listening to (well the whole show is too...). It tells the tale of really typical lawless misbehavior by this administration. The case centers around the Bush Justice Department asserting it's authority to control the actions of the US Commissioner on the "International Boundary Commission" which has controled the US/Canada border for the last 100 years. It centers around this wall that the commission ordered taken down, and a subsequent lawsuit brought by the American property owners involved. The DoJ basically wanted to take the case over so they could roll over in the law suit and strengthen property rights, and the Commission (and especially the Bush appointed commissioner) wouldn't agree to that because he felt he had an obligation to uphold the treaty (which is the "supreme law of the land" according to the US Constitution).

Now none of this is particularly surprising to me. I mean, I didn't know about this in particular, but the cavalier attitude towards international law, bullying officials who are supposed to be neutral arbiters and non-partisan beurocrats all seems totally expected and par for the course. What I found so interesting was the attitude of the (former? still under litigation) US Commissioner Dennis Schornack. It was almost touchingly naieve. He seemed genuinely surprised that an administration that called the Geneva conventions "quaint" and specifically decided to open an indefinite detention facility in a location with confusing jurisdictional issues might seek to ignore or undermine an international treaty for purely ideological reasons. He supported Bush and worked hard for Bush's REELECTION, even after it was perfectly clear to everyone who looked at the evidence that thousands of people had died for, basically, no good reason on evidence manufactured and marketed by Bush and his employees. I hate to see this happen, and I genuinely hope that Mr. Schornack is successful in annulling his removal, but really, what did you expect.

This is the sort of thing that happens when people pay attention to "news" issues and horse race "who won" what legislation battles and totally lose focus on "what exactly is this administration doing? What is it's track record, and based on that what might I expect from it in the future?" It's just compeletly predictable. As Brad DeLong is fond of saying the "Bush administration is worse than you imagine possible, even after you take account of the fact that it is worse than you imagine possible."

Anyway, it's still available for download (and will be until Sunday night at least I think) so go give it a listen if you haven't yet. Some additional background on the issue here.

You Didn't Think It Would Be That Easy Did You?

Looks like Mugabe will fight on a run off election in Zimbabwe. There had been rumors he might step down as a run off election would be "beneath" his stature, but no luck. His party suffered a major defeat in the parliamentary elections, but neither candidate reached the 50% +1 threshold to avoid the run off (well, at least according to official results*).

I've called Mugabe a dictator, and for all intents and purposes he has been, but he is (or more correctly, was) a dictator with a popular mandate. The disasterous rural land policies, including the eviction of white farmers, were driven by a real populist sentiment and a desire for justice. The farms which were siezed were created by Brittish Colonists who siezed the land by force from tribal people and then subjugated them in their own country as second class citizens. Mugabe's "land reforms" were popular and allowed him to reward his political allies while removing his political enemies. The fact that Mugabe was unable to rig the vote such that he "won" is more than poor planning, it's a genuine reflection of the fact that the political landscape in the country has changed.

See here for an overview of Zimbabwe.

*EDIT: Actually, official results have not been released yet. This is really "speculation about official results."

April Fool's Joke Gone. . . Right?

Think Geek advertised a "Personal Sound Track" t-shirt featuring "a working speaker embedded into the front of the shirt. When you push the appropriate button on the pocketable remote you get music or sound effects appropriate for any situation." Their users reported that "their lives were 143% more exciting than without the shirt."

It allowed the wearer to select from sound effects (cheering, booing, crying, rimshot) and event music (entrance, sad accident, scary, thinking, etc...).

This was not a real product; it was an April Fool's joke. But they got so many responses for the product, they've decided to try and make one!

As noted though "Also although we'll try to keep the Personal Soundtrack T-Shirt as close as possible to what you see here, the final version might deviate slightly in appearance, features or price. Capiche?"

Slightly Less Significant Deaths In Black History

Wayne "Frosty Freeze" Frost breakdancing pioneer, died today. So go top rock, lock, and freeze on some cardboard for him today.


Pirates took control of a French cruise ship off the coast of Somalia. No word on the status of the bond stooge. It should turn out ok though. Jason Patrick and Sandra Bullock are aboard the vessel and will single handedly take out the bad guys, who are lead by Willem Defoe if I remember correctly.

On a more serious note, this shows the kind of consequences that can result from a failed state. There is literally no central authority in Somalia at all. There hasn't been since the UN pulled out in the early 90's. Stable governments, even horrible represive governments, are often preferrable to states of complete anarchy. As long as there is authority, even a malicious one, they have a vested interest in maintaining their status, which includes control over criminal elements (either as convicts or franchisees) and they can be threatened with loss of status in order to force them to conform to some basic norms. When there is no control at all, as long as the criminals are sufficiently well armed and organized, they can function unchecked (see Bin Laden, Afghanistan).

40 Years Ago


Oh, guess who voted against making MLK day a national holiday? Go on, guess.

UPDATE: In fairness, McCain has changed his position on this since 1983, and now supports the federal holiday. At least he came around I guess.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Drop Out?

Apropos of a conversation I had with a friend the other night, I was thinking about Hillary's insistence of sticking with this race despite increasingly long odds for victory.

The argument goes that she has no chance to win (which is pretty true, see here). Therefor, by staying in the race, she does two things: 1) cause Obama to spend money on fighting her instead of fighting McCain, and 2) weakening Obama with negative attacks. I don't buy it. First, while Obama is spending money against Hillary, he wouldn't necessarily be able to spend the same amount whacking McCain around. People donate to campaigns because they want the candidate to win, and they are affraid that their favored candidate might lose. Obama's fundraising has been mighty indeed this cycle, but I seriously doubt he'd be raking in $30M a month if the primary was over. Secondly, how effective are attacks seven full months before voting happens? If you can set the narratives of the playing field to your advantage, they can be effective, but I'm not convinced that large media buys actually gets you there. This goes to the second argument too. Really, is anyone going to remember or care what bad things Hillary said about Obama 7 months from now? In addition, I think attacks will actually help Obama should he get the nomination. The recent attacks that everyone seems to think are so bad are the Wright controversy and the "experience" attacks Hillary has launched. I think that having met these arguments and (presumably) overcome them makes Obama a stronger candidate. In a sense it could well "steal the thunder" of McCain saying "I'm more experienced." Voters may hear that and think "yeah yeah, heard it before."

If there is anything I think IS harmful it's when Hillary attacks Obama by implying that both she AND McCain have experience but he does not. That's guaranteed Youtube material. Well gosh, even HILLARY CLINTON thinks that Obama isn't experienced enough. . . etc.

Also, I think there are some positive effects as well. While the candidates have been spending lots of money on TV ads, the also have been spending vast sums on grass roots organizing. Both Hillary and Obama volunteers are out in force registering new voters and bringing them to the polls. That's money that wouldn't be spent (or wouldn't be spent with such abandon) if the nomination was decided. Also, by still having a "live" contest, it keeps the focus of the free media (news etc) on the Democrats. Their ideas and disagreements are getting more air time than anything McCain does. McCain has been busy flying abroad and going on a "personal history" tour because he needs to try and generate attention, anything to get people to look at him.

Sure some super motivated volunteers may be turned off by negative attacks, or may become so polarized that they will not enthusiastically support the eventual winner, but most people don't fall into that category. At worst, I think it's a wash. As long as Hillary can keep from saying nice things about McCain, I think the upside is significant.

Yoo Are A Criminal

Just wanted to echo what Glenn Greenwald says here.

A DOJ memo written by John Yoo, former Assistant Deputy Attorney General and current UC Berkley law professor, was just realeased thanks to the hard work of the ACLU. In it John Yoo writes a very lawyerly "opinion" designed to legitimize and legalize the torture and inhumane treatment of human beings in the custody of the US Armed Forces.

This was a criminal act in furtherance of a conspiracy to commit war crimes, plain and simple. In a just world John Yoo would be in prison. The fact that he continues to be employed by one of the nation's most prestigious law schools and frequently invited onto op ed pages and television shows shows how insanely skewed our national debate has become. This is not someone that should be engaged in as an honest intellectual. This is someone that should be jailed for war crimes.


George W. Bush still has around 9 months left in his term, but it's not too early for people to start speculating about his legacy. Fundraising for the Presidential library has begun (and designs have been submitted by an eager public unsolicited).

Along those lines, San Francisco has decided on a fitting tribute: the George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant.

This Knife In My Back, I Believe It's Yours?

Some pre-lunch finance blogging. Apparently they've dusted for fingerprints at the scene of Bear Stearns demise and they turned up a bunch belonging to Goldman Sachs. The rumors began circling the week before, and that Monday saw a big jump in the credit default swaps, but the last straw was a memo from Goldman to its clients stating that they would not be backing or trading with Bear.

As the article says "Should Goldman be blamed for this? Absolutely not. Bear Stearns was under-capitalized, over-leveraged, and stuffed to the gills with crappy debt." Just because Goldman was the first to the lifeboats doesn't mean that they were responsible for hitting the iceberg. Essentially it was a game theory problem. If everyone sticks together and keeps trading with Bear, chances are that Bear loses value but comes out the other side. Everyone loses money but not a ton. But, if one person heads for the door, it starts a stampede. The first out the door gets their money back, everyone else winds up with huge losses. So in a way, Goldman did it, but really, it was Bear's bad decisions that put them in that place to begin with.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Great Spaghetti Harvest

A classic for April 1 from the BBC.

Late Update: Also from the BBC, this.

Lunchtime Zimbabwe Blogging

It looks like Robert Mugabe, long time dictator of Zimbabwe may step down according to the New York Times. It seems that the election results were so heavily in favor of the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai that even Mugabe's practiced vote riggers could not credibly claim that Mugabe had won.

This is very exciting news for the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered under one of the most economically ruinous regimes on the planet. According to the article, the negotiations are not between Mugabe and his opponent, but prominent Mugabe supporters. It looks like they have seen the writing on the wall, and may be promising to sell him out in return for their own protection from reprisal.

Is There Anything They Can't Do?

Google books has been archiving written works, but some books are hard to capture. But Google books has come up with new Scratch and Sniff technology for your browser. Check it out here.

And So It Begins

Good news everyone, this could be the view from your new ranch style colonial vacation home. Google and Virgin Galactic have announced they will team up on the first human mission to colonize Mars. Go to the website here to learn more and take the test to volunteer.

Image from NASA taken by the Spirit Rover February 15. Original here.

UPDATE Nasa has released this incredible new image of water on Mars!