Friday, December 23, 2005

"Poor" as a Relative Standard: A wonderful article from The Economist on how poverty is very much a subjective word. The article uses a comparison of a back-woods ex-miner from the mountains of Kentucky vs. a doctor in Kinsasha, Congo.

Done with typical British aplomb, it refrains from any explicit judgments while showing that what we consider poor is a far cry from a true dearth of material wealth. Tellingly, our backwoods ex-miner is far better off, materially, than the respected Congolese doctor, yet when comparing their contributions to society, one finds that material wealth is a misleading indicator of worth.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I'm sure he means well: I think I know what Bush's legacy is going to be: fear. Fear of everything and everyone (except our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who speaks soft words into our ears as we sleep). Look at his recent comments upon the Patriot Act getting a six-month reprieve in the Senate:

"No one should be allowed to block the Patriot Act,"
and then
"The terrorists still want to hit us again," Mr. Bush said Wednesday morning, as he was leaving the White House to make a hospital visit to wounded soldiers. "There is an enemy that lurks, a dangerous group of people that want to do harm to the American people, and we must have the tools necessary to protect the American people."
He's like a third-rate Stephen King, pulling out the bogeyman whenever times get tough.

Same with the NSA issue -- if you're doing what's right, then explain it to us in terms we can understand. Show us the laws, show us the interpretations, explain why it's in our best interests. Simply saying that if we don't spy on domestic communications without warrants, "the enemy will win," makes me doubt that precious sliver of my mind that says we should have faith in him.

But seriously, looking back, we won't remember his "compassionate" conservatism, and certainly not his fiscal responsibility. No, we're going to remember how scared we were of the lurking enemy, ready to pounce at any time from out of our closet, or grab our uncovered toes from under our beds. I know 9/11 changed everything, but you never heard Reagan lamenting how Ivan was in every airport waiting to convert us to a collective agarian society. He talked about Victory (and not just using the word for its own sake, a la the Iraq problem), he focused on hope and on possibility -- he inspired. Bush does the reverse, he wants us to cower, to shake, to put our heads into the sand and let ol' Uncle W take care of them, and would we mind letting him check out our mail while we're at it? It's for our own good.
Sad news: James Dungy, son of Colts' head coach Tony Dungy, was found dead in his Tampa apartment. Man, that's just plain awful. Foul play does not seem to be involved, thankfully, but not many details are available.

Via Radley.

This doesn't look good: Shockingly, the election in Iraq doesn't seem to have come with quite so hitchless as many had hoped.
Dozens of Sunni Arab and secular Shiite groups threatened Thursday to
boycott Iraq's new legislature if complaints about tainted voting are
not reviewed by an international body.

A joint statement issued by 35
political groups that competed in last week's elections said the Independent
Electoral Commission of Iraq, which oversaw the ballot, should be disbanded.

Interesting coverage at Iraq The Model, that includes some amusing, and troubling examples.
The results “after counting 89% of the votes in Baghdad showed that the UIA won 1,403,901 votes, the Accord Front won 451,782 while Allawi’s list won 327,174” said a spokesman of the election commission.

Lawyer Abdulwahid al-Lami is from the Lami tribe, the biggest in a province that is run by tribal relations. This candidate won 5 votes, yes 5 votes!This means
this man didn’t even get the votes of his own family…it doesn’t make sense. It
is as if the man paid 1 million dinar for each vote since the registration fee
for candidacy is 5 million dinars. Heh.-Sheikh Raheem al-Sa’idi was also running
from Maysan and he’s a local sheikh of a big tribe that has many thousands of
members in the south. This sheikh won 17 votes only!A usual sheikh is married to
at least 3 wives and has dozens of children, brothers and cousins and this one
won 17 votes only!The reason why such numbers are totally ridiculous is because
for any party or candidate to register, the commission asks them to bring 500
signatures from supporters!

Well, nobody ever said this would be easy.

I'm sure there were attempts rigging and intimidation, and some were no doubt successful. Could the effect have been enough to give the UIA a 1 million vote advantage, though? That would show some serious incompetence, largely on our part if we couldn't detect the smuggling of all that paper over the border from Iran.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More on Kitzmiller: I'm slogging my way through the 140 page opinion and while not yet done, have some commentary (in true FP form [don't need to be informed to have and express one's opinions]): First, Judge Jones carefully builds his treatment of the case through extensive citation to precedent, not only for the legal tests and burdens, but to show how courts have historically treated and described Establishment Clause cases. While this is hardly ground-breaking for a judge [umm, yahh - Ed.], he is nonetheless craftily insulating his opinion from the attack that he is letting his own feelings get in the way (please note this is a 2002 Bush appointee). For example:

After a brief recitiation of the parties, he gets to the Supreme Court tests for evaluating church-and-state matters, noting that the precedent clearly shows that the Court prefers a "belt and suspenders" approach to these cases of utilizing the "endorsement" test, and then further refining the issue by using the device created in the Lemon v. Kurtzman (the "Lemon Test"). Quickly, the "endorsement test" is the smell test; would the average outside observer find that the law or school board ruling in question perceive it to be endorsing a religion or religious dogma in general. (Emphasis mine). Courts love to assume the "reasonable person" stance, and it's a time-honored straw-party argument, but nonetheless, comprehensible. If endorsement is perceived, then you use the Lemon Test to find a constitutional violation.

Jones layers in stratum after stratum of historical cases to show how courts across the country have dealt with creationism in schools and government, and how the Dover school board deserves the same treatment. He never once tries to editorialize -- he simply keeps piling on with the stare decisis to show how he is falling squarely in line with those that came before him.

Second, and more interestingly (for a case of this type of magnitude), he relies on the parties' own testimony -- meaning he doesn't forget he's a trial judge -- he knows he's writing for appellate review (and possibly posterity), yet he is not hesitant about using the multiple inconsistencies (and yes, lies) against the proponents of ID to show that they are disingenuous about their intentions -- and in this type of case, intention means a whole lot (is it your real intention to teach science [to the extent that it is], or are you just pushing gospel?). Since a trial court is the master of the facts, appellate courts are loathe to, and greatly restrained in their ability to, overrule the trial court's rendition of the facts -- when the facts are strongly portrayed, the avenues for attack are greatly reduced.

Last, he directly confronts his critics -- noting that in today's environment, when you deny the fundamentalists (of every stripe) their way, you are accused of being an "activist" -- telling them they'd be sorely mistaken to confuse his bent with some California nut-job jurist who thinks owls should have more rights than unborn fetuses (for example). He takes a lot of wind out of their sails.

This post focuses mostly on the stylistic, as I couldn't possibly do justice to the actual substance in this space -- but here we find an example of style equaling the importance, and indeed heightening the effect of, substance.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Snoopgate: Yes, that's what they're calling it.

Radley points to this George Will column that says this:

In peace and in war, but especially in the latter, presidents have pressed their institutional advantages to expand their powers to act without Congress. This president might look for occasions to stop pressing.
To which Radley says:
Will is nothing if not principled. He's one of the few conservative pundits out there who hasn't let red-blue cheerleading or knee-jerk anti-leftism blind him to the corruption, overreach, and lust for power shown by this Congress and this president. Wish there were more like him.
I agree with Radley that George Will is principled, and I agree with Will that just because a Republian is in the Oval Office, conservatives should not become blind to abuses, or overreaches, of power. For those of us who are "knee-jerk anti-leftists" defending Bush against hyperbolic attacks becomes a matter of reflex and due consideration needs to be given whether Presidential authority has been stretched beyond its reasonble boundaries.

That said, lets keep in mind the atmosphere in which Bush was operating in during the course of this NSA program. There's a pretty fine group of "knee-jerk anti-Bushies" and conspiracy theorists, not to mention plenty of "respectable" critics of the administation and its ability to defend the country from terrorist attack. Would any president in that position have been willing to give up any intelligence gathering means that could prevent a legitimate threat? I doubt it.

I think it's pretty easy to justify the NSA program in the weeks and months immediately following 9-11, especially as we began to learn just how badly our intelligence organizations were failing. After that it's time to fix the system and make it work within the letter and spirit of the law. We ought to be producing enough data in a timely manner that Bush can get his (or Gonzalez's) ass in front of a judge.

Pennsylvania: Neither Intelligent Nor Designed: Well, my fair Commonwealth took its second step back toward sanity (the first was when the school board proponents were voted out of office in November) as a District Court judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania ruled that PA schools may not teach "Intelligent Design" as a viable scientific theory in biology class.

The Court held that the
citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy
and noted that it was
ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.
As I've (and I'm sure many others) said, ID is not a scientifically-tested theory, but a religious philosophy. Saying that because things are complicated, they must have been designed by some higher being is as simplistic as noting that God must love puppies or else why would he make them so darn cute?

A theory states that there are repeated actions or reactions, that there is a consistently explainable cause behind those actions or reactions, and that we're going to give you a test to show how it all makes sense. We may some day be wrong, but for now, it's both scientifically plausible and demonstrable.

What annoys me the most is how this argument got into a liberal vs. conservative, or monotheisitic vs. atheistic argument, as if Darwin himself wasn't a great proponent of a Christian god and admitted that neither he nor his theory could answer every question. Taking the Bible literally has caused more problems in this world than can be recounted. It's an inspirational parable people -- it illustrates certain truths and gives us guidance, but to take every word as well, the Gospel, leads you into certain logical, not to mention moral (ever stone someone for wearing cloth of mixed fiber or eating shellfish??) dead-ends.

Like it or not, school is for educating the mind, not necessarily about building strong moral fiber -- believe it or not, that's what parents (and your church/synagogue/mosque/mountaintop) are for.

Friday, December 16, 2005

I'm not sure we're qualified: Annika's starting a new blogging association.
Nose In The Air Media is not a club.
You don't have to join Nose In The Air
Media to be in Nose In The Air Media.
You don't have to be invited into Nose
In The Air Media. Just like some other hoity-toity blogging cabals, you might
find yourself waiting forever.
If you are reading this, and you want to be
in, you're in.
And you'll want to be in. It's that cool.
You don't have to
be a "big time" blogger to be in Nose In The Air Media.
You don't have to get
linked by any "big time" bloggers to be in Nose In The Air Media.
You don't
have to have been interviewed by Time Magazine to be in Nose In The Air
You don't have to be remotely interesting to be in Nose In The Air
Tire monopoly: Michelin is bailing out of the Formula 1 tire wars, leaving Bridgestone as the sole provider. So they'll all use the same tires and i think they should go back to the old, skinny tires. Combined with engines putting out 1000 hp or so, that could make F1 worth watching again.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Iraq vote blogging: I have nothing to add to this.

Via Ace.

Update. New link that may work better. Download the 15 second .WMV file.

King Kong: I only mention this to piss off Razor, but I haven't any interest at all in seeing this movie. I know it's film school heresy, but I didn't even like the original very much. Yes, it was quite astounding for its time. And it is a cinematic Moby Dick (in black instead of white), in which thematics are up for grabs, sort of a Rosetta stone for reading the politics of any reviewer. But three hours about an ape? Help yourself; I'll pass.
What the Hell, I'm Feeling Partisan: George Will, in full Manichean mode, on modern liberalism:
The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society's balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism -- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives. This is done in the name of equality.

People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.

That's very nicely put. The rest of the piece is pretty good, too.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

He's baaaaaaack: And no, I'm not referring to me, although I have been silent of late. No, I refer to my main man, David Foster Wallace, and just in times for the holidaze. His new book: "Consider the Lobster" continues the tradition of DFW alternating novel, anthology, essays, novel.... Lobster is in the essay department, or to be more descriptive, a compilation of essays and articles he's written in the past on such wide-ranging topics as his attendance at the 1998 AVN (that's the Adult Video News) Awards (the porn industry's version of the Oscars), the humor found in Kafka, and modern usage of American english.

Being a DFW adherent, I find this format (the essays) to be his strongest suit. The novel, in my humble opinion, does not lend itself to his method or madness -- he's too meta (stay out of this Eno) to be able to stay on one or even three plotlines (viz "Infinite Jest"). Some of his earlier (and much shorter -- well, I mean, we are being comparative here) books, "Broom of the System", for instance, to me, lacked a certain narrative consistency.

His short stories are either wonderful or painful (occasionally both) - the man can write some serious run-on sentences. I will even deign to agree with Eno that such form over substance, even when calculated, can grate.

But his essays -- they typically draw on his strengths while limiting his weaknesses (they tend to me more heavily edited, and while he is publishing the full-length versions never seen in a magazine, they are still consciously striving for his version of brevity, which helps). For a very entertaining read in this vein, go borrow or buy now, "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again" - his take on a Carnival cruise trip is particularly amusing.

Anyway, "Lobster" offers all the DFW insight (which is what you're paying for) plus his usual lexico-hijinks (which you're also paying for although it's a mixed bag), plus the satisfying knowledge that if you're not digging the subject matter, just wait 10 or 50 pages and it will be over.

Amazon chooses to direct DFW readers to authors such as Pynchon (right tune, wrong instrument) and Eggers (right instrument, wrong symphony) [I suppose the Alpha and Omega of post-modern lit so far, although rife with differences], but a more determined digger might uncover John Barth, Martin Amis, and even Richard Yates or John O'Hara as scraggly branches on the DFW literary family tree*.

*Of course vis-a-vis post-modern lit, w/r/t his progeny a la Pynchon, DeLillo et ux., one could argue that he merely trods along their path, as opposed to stepping squarely into their shoes-qua-mocassins, and but for his use of syntax and grammatical chicanery (not to mention the ellipse)... Well, it's all rather debatable as to his importance.
More Enviro Bitching: This story set me off:
State energy regulators on Tuesday unveiled one of the nation's most ambitious programs to expand the market for solar power, proposing to offer more than $3 billion in consumer rebates over the next decade.

Environmentalists said the California Solar Initiative would help reduce the cost of solar energy, create jobs and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Look, I'm excited for the day when I go "off the grid." But we're just not there yet, and flinging other peoples tax dollars around is not going to change that. It's coming; be patient. Cheap, weatherproof, flexible, photoelectric roofing is still a ways off. But the market is quite capable of letting us know when we've reached the tipping point, when the investment (and headaches) can be easily recouped. In addition, the rebates seem aimed at convincing homeowners to add panels. But new construction is clearly the place to make inroads. New construction means you're buying the roof anyway. Solar is an additional investment, but not ridiculously so. Then there's this:
The proposal revives an essential component of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid to expand use of renewable energy in California. The governor's widely publicized "Million Solar Roofs" initiative had bipartisan support, but it died in the Legislature this year after construction unions demanded high wages for solar panel installers.
What. A. Shock. Notice how GM is circling the drain lately? It has something to do with semi-skilled laborers earning six figures, with cushy pensions and benefits packages that would make members of Congress blush. And that's the thing here: Construction unions see money starting to fly around and want to hook themselves up to the teat. In the case of solar, it's taxpayer money, rather than corporation money, which makes it even harder to resist.

I've always said I'm a true environmentalist, deep down. But I also hate wasted effort, dodgy tax-funded initiatives, and socialistic greens who don't get the message that when alternative energy is economically feasible, people will embrace it in droves. This 3 billion dollar initiative is a waste. A better investment would be an innovation prize for solar technology/efficiency gains, like the X Prize that brought the private sector into space.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Who'da Thunk? This news item says that 38,000 people have put down a deposit for a ride on Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, via Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company. Full price: $200,000.
New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said construction of the spaceport, to be built largely underground in the south of the state near the White Sands Missile Range, could begin in early 2007, depending on approval from environmental and aviation authorities.
That's a lot of people, and a whole lot of money. They'd better spend a bit of it up front on writing an airtight waiver for passengers to sign.

Monday, December 12, 2005

A Shorter Review Also saw George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck" recently. All I can say is, liberals sure do like their heroes one-dimensional. I was waiting for Ed Murrow to begin healing the lame about halfway through the movie.
Walk This Way: I saw "Walk the Line" this weekend (in a beautifully restored Art Deco theater, by the way) and came away disappointed. Both Phoenix and Witherspoon do fine acting in demanding roles, but I didn't feel like they were given anywhere to go. The dialogue is not especially impressive, and there was little apparent chemistry between the leads. Cash, in the movie, comes across as a drunk, pill-popping rube with a guitar (and a lip curl that would do Elvis proud), who wants the woman of his dreams so badly that he dogs her around like he has pre-emptively pussy-whipped himself. Nowhere is there any sense of the dark depths of the mind of the man in black; rather than a cipher, he's just a motiveless blank slate, aside from a little heavy-handed work with a pleasing-the-distant-father angle late in the drama.

Here's a for instance: Cash whips through the Air Force in about four and a half seconds in this flick. Cut to brooding hillbilly singing in a hangar in Germany. Cut back stateside. No mention of the fact that Cash was said to have an uncanny ability with morse code. But nothing that complicated or complicating exists in the mind of this Cash, who seems too be just a dumb huckleberry with a guitar who stood in the right place at the right time. For all of Phoenix's work, and pretty decent singing, most of the time, they might as well have stuck a cardboard cutout on screen instead.

Two Cheers for Screw Caps: So says Professor Bainbridge, here, echoing a point that Flyer made when I saw him at Thanksgiving. If you aren't going to cellar the wine for 5 years, cork isn't necessary. And when cork is necessary, most people are storing the wines wrong anyway.

I worked in retail wine sales for a couple of years in the 90s, and I noticed that most stores don't even store their wine well. In some cases the customer's home storage system, even if it's just a clean basement, is better than the store's.

"That's not a knife. Now that's a knife.": And that's not a potato gun.

That's a potato gun.

Radley and the Maye case: The Maye case seems to have caught fire in the blogosphere. It's a good thing, too, since the case seems worthwhile of deeper investigation and it's an issue where bloggers could actually accomplish some good, as opposed to beating their heads against the brick wall of the Bush administration.

Blogger Battlepanda is keeping track of what bloggers cover the case and where they fall ideologically. Red team vs. Blue team, to see who can get the most attention for Maye. It's a well intended gimmick, as it presumes that there's no better way to get bloggers to pay attention than to make it about The Left and The Right. Maybe that's true and if it helps bring out the truth in this case, very well. But can I just say to the Great Blogosphere that it's not about you. Whatever the issue, whatever the cause, it's not about you and your petty rivalries and egos. Cover the story or don't cover it, you prove nothing by measuring reaction according to ideological lines.

I recall the same type of thing after Hurricane Katrina, questions of "Who'll raise more money, Liberal or Conservative blogs." Christ, get over yourselves.

The only thing worth noting in Battlepanda's post is at the bottom, the list of Mainstream Media outlets covering he story. A list of one.

Kudos to Radley for his dogged reporting.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Real Reporting: Sorry I've been silent of late. I've got a cold, the house is a sty, and I'm supposed to go away for a romantic weekend in less than 36 hours. In other words, you ain't gettin' cazzo out of me the rest of this week. Go read Radley instead. He's doing some actual reporting.

Note, by the way, that Radley's doing it without the backing of the Pajama crowd. Very intersting, wouldn't you say? I mean, they've got the money, the talent, and the vision, baby, and they're wasting their time in a circle jerk (called a "Blogjam" over there) of stale punditry on overworked topics. Meanwhile, an underpaid staffer at Cato is committing journalism. Imagine that.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Breaking Freaking News!!: Bush gets picked for jury duty!!**

Tomorrow, Bush gets his mail delivered!!

Next Tuesday, Bush speaks his mind freely (but in a non-panic-inducing manner)!!11

On New Year's Day, Mr. Bush's trash will be picked up, but not recycling as those guys have the day off!!

**If he does serve, one can imagine one hour into deliberations, his standing up and declaring "Mission accomplished: he's guilty." and walking out.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Ten Pre-Beatles Rock and Roll Songs Everyone Should Know:

10. And Then He Kissed Me, The Crystals. Spector's "wall of sound," Jeff Barry's classic Brill Building songwriting, held together by five great voices. It's like a little symphony.

9. Blue Moon, Elvis Presley. Forget the blues version; forget the doo-wop version. Elvis reduced it all to a simple clip-clop beat, a guitar, and as much soulfulness as Sam Phillips had ever seen in a honky. Pay particular attention to the improvised, falsetto bridge. This kid had talent.

8. Lonely Teardrops, Jackie Wilson. He sang a bit like Chubby Checker, danced a bit like James Brown, and once took a bullet from a desperate fan. This was his best recording.

7. Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison. Almost an obvious pick, really, but when was the last time you heard it? Not out of place on a country station, a rock station, or even a roots/alternative station. He was the godfather of modern singer/songwriter stuff.

6. Peggy Sue, Buddy Holly. Between the muffled, DIY sound of the drums and the steady swing of Buddy's right hand in the solo, this is early garage music. And listen to the hiccuping way he plays melodically with the girl's name. Buddy reigned over music for just over a year, but it was a year that can claim unusual influence on what came after.

5. Who Do You Love, Bo Diddley. One of the most influential riff in rock history. Or at least one of the most frequently ripped off.

4. Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash. Back when country and rock were still kissin' cousins, Cash was tops in both worlds. This song was more daring than "I Walk the Line," with its dark lyrical conceit (it's about falling in love) and Cash's low rumble accented by mariachi band horns. It's as weird as dick's hat, this song, and great.

3. In My Room, The Beach Boys. If there's a kick-ass songwriter who owes absolutely zero to Dylan, it's Brian Wilson. They say that it wasn't until Dylan that anyone wrote a rock and roll song about anything but girls and cars. But check this one out. Simple arrangement, lovely harmonies, and a lyrical idea that relates to young adults doesn't condescend to canned "kiddy" themes, the way Chuck Berry's stuff did. A pop masterpiece.

2. Rebel Rouser, Duane Eddy/Sleepwalk, Santo and Johnny. These two early guitar-heavy instrumentals helped shift the focus of a rock and roll band from piano (e.g., Shake, Rattle, and Roll) to guitar. By the time the Beatles hit the scene, a band consisted of a guitar (or two), bass, and drums. Eddy's song, in particular, established the sexual, masculine guitar motif. Santo and Johnny made it as much of a soloists instrument as sax had been in R&B.

1. Crying in the Chapel, the Orioles. Often called the first rock and roll song. Ironically, it was cut in 1953 (two years before Bill Haley rocked around the clock) by a gospel group who had been popular since the 1940s. It established a sound that would remain current until the Beatles killed doo-wop a decade later.

Ok, so that's eleven, technically. Sue me.

Common Sense: Here's a much more measured walk-through of a subject I touched on earlier this year, back when Larry Summers was getting beat up by the Crimson distaff. A taste:
In a legal environment that is no longer hostile to discrimination claims (and one where discrimination claims can still provide huge payouts) where are the legions of unhired chemical engineers suing DuPont for running a boy's club? There does not appear to be any differential between mathematically-oriented and humanities-oriented jobs in terms of the level of anti-discrimination lawsuits.
Also, his mention of Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage remined me of some of the musings of this guy . . . who, by the way, is also discussing the differences between men and women.
The secret is out. It had been so well hidden that it took an act of Congress to get it known. The secret is this:

People masturbate to pornography.