Friday, December 31, 2004

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Idiot writes book

No, not me - Michael Crichton, writing State of Fear. He's thoroughly debunked by Real Climate, a blog authored by climate change scientists. I'll repeat just two of the blog's points. First, global warming involves average temperature, and is not contradicted by local cooling in some places. Second, sea level rise is very difficult to measure locally, so the relatively small sea level rise that has happened so far might not show up in the one place the Crichton points to, but it still exists and is still a huge future problem. For the rest, see Real Climate.

A pro-environmental rider legislative act

I had wondered if this ever happened - someone stuck in a piece of rider legislation on a budget bill that actually helped the environment, instead of hurting it. This one removes some non-native birds from the protections of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, so their populations can be controlled. Good job, and by a Republican congressman too.

BTW, I came across this from The Tangled Bank, which is a biweekly sampler of science blogs, and an interesting thing to take a look at.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The 9/11 Commission Report

Exciting book report time!

Finally finished the audio version of The 9/11 Commission Report, over 20 hours long. The main thing I wanted to mention was that simply reforming the intelligence system was only part of its recommendations - tightening port security and providing actual support for democracy in Muslim countries (not just talk) were important recommendations that haven't seen much support from the current administration.

I part company from my fellow semi-libertarians in believing there would be nothing wrong with a national identity card, just like many other democracies have, rather than the 50 state identity cards (driver licenses) we use. My suggestion for civil liberties is that noone is required to carry any I.D. (exceptions as appropriate like when driving, hunting etc.), BUT if you're convicted of a crime and not carrying I.D. when arrested, then you get extra punishment. So we won't become a "papers, please" society, while still having some security safeguards.

Going way further out on a limb, I'm half-convinced there's nothing wrong in requiring biometric information like a retinal scan or identifying genetic information as part of the card. The DNA would only be enough to identify someone, not the complete genetic code that would allow the government to learn scary secrets about ourselves. If it's required of everyone, not just those unfortunate enough to be arrested without being convicted of a crime, then it's a much fairer system. I'm not totally on the bandwagon for this, but it's intriguing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

How the left can make the Social Security situation worse

1. They can suggest a worse alternative - the left realizes just being against Republican proposals and for the status quo will not seem very forward thinking. One proposal is to suggest an incentive system for "private retirement accounts outside of the Social Security system so that the debate is not between 'doing nothing' and 'the Bush plan to fix Social Security' but between the Democratic plan to give you new ways to save for retirement and the Bush plan to dismantle a savings instrument you already have."

The problem is what kind of incentive would be created. An expansion of the IRA tax deduction is regressive, because increased income tax deductions provide proportionally more money to people who pay higher income taxes, i.e. the wealthy. A tax credit, which is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes for retirement savings, is not regressive if it includes an Earned Income Tax Credit for those too poor to pay income taxes, but it's expensive and will add to the budget deficit in the same way the Bush plan would add to the budget deficit. A tax credit accompanied by a tax increase on the wealthy to pay for it would be a good idea. Just as proposing a worse alternative could make things worse, proposing a better alternative could make things better. Of course, it doesn't fix the moderate-sized, long-term problem Social Security probably has.

2. They could end up fighting a good idea proposed by the Bush administration. This is a very low likelihood, but we can't completely eliminate the possiblity that Bush will come up with something that isn't completely awful. Two of my favorite blogs, Washington Monthly and Talkingpointsmemo (and many others), are trying to make opposition to privatization a litmus test for Democrats, but I think that should only be done for privatization that fails certain criteria, rather than a blanket opposition. Hard to believe I'm coming out to the right of them on this issue.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The sex offender down the street

According to California's new website registry of sex offenders, one of them lives four doors down the street from me. In my four years here, I've never seen anyone who looks like the man in the picture, making me wonder about the value of the website.

I had a discussion with a friend about the whole idea of the website registry. On the one hand it seems like an extra punishment for a crime someone has already paid for, but on the other hand the information was already public, in theory. It's a good example of information that used to be semi-private because it was hard to get now becoming available to everyone. A less-than-wonderful trend.

Mainly, the idea is a lost opportunity. They could have exempted people who were long-ago offenders or who have completed rigorous therapy programs. The whole idea could have facilitated rehabilitation by giving people a way to avoid being on the registry. But in America we don't believe in rehabilitation.

Pledge a picket

Via BoingBoing, I found that Planned Parenthood has a pledge-a-thon, where you give money based on the number of protestors that are picketing them.

Pretty cool. I think this was adopted from the Howard Dean campaign blog, where people pledged money based on the number of trolls attacking the campaign in the blog. It apparently got rid of most trolls - we'll see if it has any effect on protestors.

Bush bordering on torture?

Kevin Drum reposts a news article confirming that:

the Bush order approved interrogation tactics that include "sleep deprivation and stress positions," as well as "loud music, interrogators yelling at subjects and prisoners with hoods on their heads."

That doesn't sound quite like torture to me, or at least not-so-bad torture. But the question I've had about these "stress position" requirements we keep hearing about, is how do they force prisoners to maintain those positions? The only way I can see that is if they will do something worse to prisoners if they move from the position. Stress positions seem to be synonymous with beatings, and that's torture.

P.S. I suppose people could be tied/chained into stress positions. I think the term encompasses more than that, positions that prisoners have maintain like a low crouch. Someone tied in a stress position long enough would experience excruciating pain, anyway, and that seems to me to be an authorization for torture, directly from our dear president.

UPDATE: From Laura Rozen: stress positions included "forced squatting for an extended period".

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Biology and free will

Chris Mooney has a post about the religious beliefs of evolutionary biologists. Apparently they're not very religious. I got in a discussion in the comments section to the post, about free will and the lack of religious beliefs. I argued that in the absence of something supernatural, free will is just an illusion. Don't know if I convinced the guy in the argument.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Good post on Social Security privatization

A post by Brad DeLong covers some of the for- and against- arguments on Social Security privatization. The part I'm most sympathetic to is this one:

"Kent Smetters and company might say that Kinsley's (3a) is wrong: that once the privatized parts of Social Security are off the books, the Republican High Politicians will have no option but to propose serious spending cuts or tax increases in order to bring the Federal Government's General Fund into long-term balance."

Social Security is a partially pre-funded retirement program, so if the federal government can no longer use the prefunded SS surplus to partially cover up the deficit, then there will be a better chance to fix the deficit, especially by letting part of awful Bush tax cuts sunset as currently planned. That's why the Bush accounting proposal of to simply declare the increased costs from privatization ans not part of the deficit is truly horrible.

Absent this Enron-style accounting suggested by the Bush administration, I still think partial privatization can have some benefits.



Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shocker - Unocal settles human rights lawsuit over Burma

Unocal reached a confidential settlement in principle over a human rights lawsuit alleging it benefited from government repression while building a gas pipeline in Burma. The pipeline was built in an area where I used to do volunteer work, many years ago. The people I worked with are now refugees, driven out by government repression.

This is great news for the people there and for the principle that multinationals can't make use of repression by foreign governments in order to make money.

Details are completely missing (the settlement is not "certainly" worth millions as the website says), but still, it's great.

By the way, I used google news, and all the American reports on this story about an American company were 1 paragraph long, while the British website above was much more detailed. For what it's worth.

(Thanks Bob for letting us know!)

Monday, December 13, 2004

Applying biblical morality

I've been meaning to post this for some time, a letter that's been circulating through the internets.

(Thanks Mark and Melissa for the pointers!)


Dear President Bush,


Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding
God's law. I have learned a great deal from you and try to share that
knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend
the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that
Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.
I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other
elements
of God's Laws and how to follow them:

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both
male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations.
A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not to
Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as
sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think
would
be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while
she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The
problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take
offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know
it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my
neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I
smite
them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the
Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states that he should be put to death.
Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police
to
do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that, even though eating
shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination
than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there
"degrees" of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of
God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear
reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room
here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed,
including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly
forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a
dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear
gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by
planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by
wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread
(cotton/polyester
blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.
Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the
whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn't we just
burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people
who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus
enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can
help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is
eternal
and unchanging.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Taking responsibility

The head of the International Atomic Energy Administration, Mohamed ElBaradei, was right to question whether Iraq had a nuclear weapons program, while the Bush Administration was disastrously wrong. In response, the Bush Administration is trying to get ElBaradei fired. Rumsfeld and anyone else who pushed the Iraq disaster, however, must stay. Very responsible.

Additions to the blogroll

Several new additions to the links on the left that I recommend:

Deltoid is an Australian blog that attacks bad science, mostly regarding authors who make up studies to prove gun control is bad or that climate change doesn't exist. Most doggedly persistent analysis I've seen, and he beats the heck out of any of his subjects when they fight back. This site exposed a prominent gun control opponent, John Lott, as a liar.

Brad DeLong is a (liberal) UC Berkeley economist writing about current economic issues. I find him especially interesting to read because I don't think he's taken a position yet on Social Security privatization, but has many bad things to say about the Bush administration's approach so far.

Fafblog is a group blog authored by Fafnir, Giblets, and The Medium Lobster. Someone with the strange name of Chris is occasionally mentioned. Besides recounting their various adventures, they enthusiastically "advocate" conservative positions by taking those positions to their logical extremes.

All worth taking a look.

Friday, December 10, 2004

I hate the World Bank

Their stupid website crashed my computer twice tonight. The second time was after 90 minutes of writing my definitive post on Social Security privatization (I didn't realize it was the World Bank's fault the first time). The post is gone, all gone.

To summarize it, I have mixed feelings about Social Security privatization. And I'm feeling very sorry for myself (cue violins).

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Gorillas' human-like reaction to death

This is from a CNN news item:

"After Babs the gorilla died at age 30, keepers at Brookfield Zoo decided to allow surviving gorillas to mourn the most influential female in their social family....Babs' 9-year-old daughter, Bana, was the first to approach the body, followed by Babs' mother, Alpha, 43. Bana sat down, held Babs' hand and stroked her mother's stomach. Then she sat down and laid her head on Babs' arm."

There's apparently no question they understood she was dead, and were acknowledging her in some way, for whatever reason.

While I have very little in common with animal-rights people in general, my perspective changes dramatically when we're talking about intelligent animals. Considering gorillas to be the moral equivalent of cows or fish is a huge mistake. Maybe considering cows to be the moral equivalent of fish is also a mistake - I'm not sure. But wherever the line is drawn, the great apes and possibly a number of other animals should be on the side where we treat them more like people and less like chattel.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Zen and the art of Prius driving

So I finally got my hybrid Toyota Prius, 6 months after ordering it. (I put on the "Al Qaeda Hates This Car" bumper sticker soon afterwards.) The car has a video display that shows when it's using the electric motor running off the battery, when it's using the gas engine, or both, and shows the gas mileage you're getting at that particular instant. So if you drive it just right, accelerating and decelarating sloooowly, you can just use battery power and hit the 99.9 miles per gallon.

The result is a much more meditative, slowing of acceleration and decelaration - as long as there's noone following you that's going nuts. I kind of like it, and wish I could've tried it sooner.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Calibrating torture and the law

Talkingpointsmemo has a discussion of whether torture is ever justifiable and should be legalized here and here (my oh-so-slightly-less-famous blog hit the topic too here (scroll to June 8). Talkingpoints' discussion recognizes the justifiability and legalization are two different things. The point I would add is that society should calibrate its decision on what should be legal based on what will happen as a result. Liberal lawyer Alan Dershowitz says torture will happen regardless, so it might as well be legal and regulated. As we've seen with the Bush administration, though, even semi-legalized torture has been completely abused.

I can imagine the extremely rare circumstance where torture would be justified, and I agree with Dershowitz that torture will happen. Where I disagree with him is in concluding that it should therefore be legal, when legalizing will bring vast amounts of "bad" torture, both legal and illegal. I think making it legal messes up the calibration. If something should happen, but only very rarely, the best way to achieve that result is (in this case) to make it illegal.

Friday, December 03, 2004

By this date in 2006,

if the current American casualty rate over the last 5 months in Iraq stays the same, more American soldiers will have died in Iraq than all the civilians that died in the Twin Towers.

Details on casualty rates are at this site.

I first wrote about this on September 7th, when the cross-over date was March 2007. Average American casualty rates have become worse since then. Maybe they will get better in the next 2 years, but we've heard that song before (getting better at the end of major operations, when Saddam and his sons are captured/killed, when sovereignty is turned over to Iraqis).

P.S. Can't leave out the token mention of massive Iraqi civilian casualties, far above what the US suffered, although it has no political importance here in the US.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Al Qaeda overplayed as a threat?

Kevin Drum points out a series of articles suggesting Al Qaeda is not the world-wide threat that Bush purports it to be. I'm not sure what to make of that, but like Kevin I thought I'd pass it along.

We still don't know the ramifications of the training we're giving today in Iraq for future terrorists, as well as the hatred for the US that Bush has created. If Al Qaeda is not the problem, other groups may well become the problem.

Kevin's also got a good, completely unrelated post on a screen-saver that launches denial-of-service attacks on spammers. Sounds tempting.

Night-hiking

I went backpacking over the weekend in Henry Coe State Park, which is a great local place to go to when it's not too hot. Since it gets dark at 6 p.m., I had time to kill after dinner, and went on a night hike.

First thing I saw was when I was using my headlamp at the beginning of the hike - something glittery and shiny on the ground. I reached down to touch it, and it scuttled away. It was spider eyes. The glint distracted me from the body.

I turned off the headlamp and walked in the moonlight. Nearly stepped on a very large toad, which is surprisingly unusual out here. It seems like back east I would see toads everywhere, but not so often in California.

Then I saw salamanders, lots and lots of salamanders. I had to watch my step to avoid crushing them. It hadn't rained in over a week and the rainy season is just starting anyway, so I was surprised by the numbers. The next morning it rained buckets and I saw only one. My lesson is that salamanders may like wet, but they like dark even more.

More reason to hike at night and see what's out there.

Update (5 p.m.): During the night hike, I took a break and sat in this oak tree with these weird growths that made an excellent seat. I just now got back from a meeting on oak woodland conservation as part of my job, and the person doing a powerpoint presentation had a picture centered on that exact tree! I of course had to interrupt the presentation to announce the very important point that I'd been sitting in that tree several days earlier. The coincidences in life...

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Rabies cure and the power of prayer

New York Times reports the first-ever cure of full blown rabies. A teenage girl who had the disease was put in an induced coma and given a cocktail of anti-viral drugs. Medical progress continues. At the end of the article are these two paragraphs about the girl's father:

Her father, John Giese, said he was grateful to the doctors and their novel treatment, but added that prayer had made the crucial difference.

"The day after we found out, I called on everyone we knew for prayer," he told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week. "We believe a lot of that snowballed and it really made a difference."

I expect the thousands of people who die every year from rabies also have many people praying for them.

I'm agnostic but can understand how people have a religious sense of the universe, or believe that the God had to start it all. What I have trouble with is the idea that God actively intervenes in miraculously picking winners and losers . What kind of God would save this girl's life and ignore even more tragic circumstances elsewhere? Even if you ignore the obvious possibility that the world is what it is, without active miracles, the theological implications of a God who picks and chooses is terribly disturbing, especially when those of us who are more fortunate adopt that viewpoint.

I guess this is an unusual Thanksgiving Day post. But I am thankful for everything that's good in the world, and for the efforts by everyone who try to make the world better. If there's something to spiritual beliefs, I'm agnostic about it, but would be thankful if that turns out to be correct. I'll bend my agnosticism to believe that a beneficial spiritual presence doesn't pick winners or losers.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

An Alaskan reaction to the election

A friend from Alaska responded to my posts about working on the campaign with an update of what's happening up there:

---------
Thanks for your work in Florida. I'd like to hear what the experience was like. Can't wait to see how Bush can find really cool ways to spend his capital he earned. New weapons to bring really bad people to their knees so that the U.S. can continue to win the love, admiration and respect of the rest of the world would be one guess. Scientists are reporting on the effects of global warming on the arctic and what causes the warming.

BUT WAIT! [Alaskan Republican Congressman] Don Young has beenholding back on the results of his thorough investigations on the matter. His results: "I don't believe it (global warming)is our fault. That's my opinion. It's as sound as any scientist's." Also, "My biggest concern is that people are going to use this so-called study to try to influence the way and standard of living that occurs within the United States." Makes me wonder why we even pay scientists
to come up with inconvenient conclusions in the first place. Don can settle the issue so quickly.

There's scary stuff in the conclusions of the study. The polar ice cap is melting so fast that we may be able to witness the elimination of one of the world's great megafauna in our lifetime. Polar bears would have no way to survive without the ice cap. Better yet: [Alaskan Republican Senator] Ted Stevens's plan to deal with the effects of warming are ingenious. Develop oil in the Arctic Refuge! Use the federal revenues to do more research (funds to be spent in AK of course). We can take no risks with our family and must drive the biggest, heaviest tanks on our roads. Yet it is unthinkable that we might inconvenience ourselves to lessen the risks of destruction of the earth's ecosystem. We may make the earth uninhabitable, but we're not really sure. Great entertainment if horrendous stupidity is your thing.

----------
Here's a short FAQ on the study my friend refers to.

Here's the website to get the study itself.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Not exactly important news, but -

I was wrong when I stayed on the fence over Bush's invasion of Iraq - I should have opposed it. This is an after-the-fact judgment based not on how badly things have turned out, but on how badly the Bush administration officials have bungled things. Their willingness to let American soldiers and Iraqi civilians die just to spite the UN is unforgivable. While I think Iraq, maybe, could still turn out to be better off someday with Saddam removed, the United States is definitely worse off, while Middle East stability and attempts to control terrorism are also worse off.

After-the-fact judgment can change again over time, I suppose. Maybe things will turn up roses starting tomorrow, and in two years I'll have to say I was wrong in hindsight in failing to support Bush's invasion. But right now, that's not looking very likely.

And now, back to the show in Iraq. According to the ticker on Maxspeak, total American deaths are currently 1,228 and counting (it's posted on the upper right side of the web page). Don't even ask about Iraqi civilian deaths.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Bush flip-flops on the "social promotion" issue - look at the new, incompetent, National Security Advisor

Lost in the news of Condoleeza Rice replacing Colin Powell is Condi's replacement, Stephen Hadley. This man bears a significant level of responsibility for the two main foreign-policy failures of the Bush Administration: blocking Richard Clarke's efforts to elevate terrorism as a priority in the 9-month period prior to 9/11, and leading a drumbeat to war in Iraq with the disinformation about WMDs.



Clarke makes clear in his book Against All Enemies that Hadley (as well as Rice) were major impediments in his unsuccessful effort to get the Bush Administration to take terrorism as seriously as the Clinton Adminstration had. One example of Hadley's effects (not from Clarke's book):

"In its report, the [9/11 Commission] confirmed that Mr Clarke specifically advised giving secret aid to the main rebel group in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance, to help it unseat the Taliban. The commission said the advice was rejected by Ms Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, who opted for a broader review of the threat."


On Iraq, Hadley emphasized WMDs and especially the "nuclear weapons program" as reasons requiring an invasion. Here he is on March 10, 2003 referring to the alleged attempts to buy uranium and centrifuges that the Bushies knew were either false or highly dubious:

"All of these facts point to a sustained, wide-ranging effort to develop nuclear weapons, which threatens the international community. This regime has cheated inspectors before; it has cheated sanctions for years. It has proven that its nuclear ambitions cannot be contained."

He was forced to apologize later:

"Stephen Hadley, President Bush's deputy national security adviser, on Tuesday became the second administration official to apologize for allowing a tainted intelligence report on Iraq's nuclear ambitions into Bush's State of the Union address. Hadley, in a rare on-the-record session with reporters, said that he had received two memos from the CIA and a phone call from agency Director George Tenet last October raising objections to an allegation that Iraq was seeking to buy uranium ore from Africa to use in building nuclear weapons....
Hadley suggested that details from the memos and phone call had slipped from his attention as the State of the Union was being put together."

From that March 10 speech, it apparently slipped his mind on a regular basis. I'm looking for the additional apology, Stephen.

He didn't suddenly become intelligent after the invasion. He gave yet another speech, claiming that minor and stale contacts between Iraq and Al-Qaeda prove a relationship existed, when the contacts were much more extensive between Al-Qaeda and Saudi Arabia.

So this man will be giving our genius president his own genius advice.

My real question: how incompetent do you have to be to avoid receiving a promotion in the Bush Administration? Is loyalty really the only thing that counts? Why is social promotion bad for third-graders but good for the people who hold our lives in their hands?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Republican morality in Congress

About 10 years ago, Republicans passed with much fanfare a rule within their party that any member under indictment for a felony had to step down from party leadership. This was in reaction to the problems Democratic leader Dan Rostenkowski created for himself.

The Republicans just got rid of this rule this week, worried that Tom Delay is about step into the same trap. Talkingpointsmemo.com is all over this. I recommend taking a first look here, and then just seeing what the website is saying now.

The Democrats have had a similar rule for many years, and have no plans to remove it from their rule book.

(Thanks Steve for the pointer!)

“Leave our homos alone”


That quote shows the reaction in a small, conservative town in Oklahoma when an overtly gay-hating group came to town to harass a high school student who had come out of the closet. A bright spot deep in the heart of a Red state, and a great quote.

From a Washington Post article (hat tip to Tapped).

Monday, November 15, 2004

So what's on the Foxnews website?

Judicial activism!

Here's the lead-in:

John Morganelli, District Attorney for Northampton County, Pa., probably had no idea what he was in for last week when his office appeared before Judge Leonard Zito for the conviction and sentencing of 27 individuals accused of using false and stolen social security numbers.

Morganelli’s investigators had worked for months to prosecute the group, 14 of which had not simply used false social security numbers, but had stolen and used the social security numbers of law-abiding people.

But although every one of the defendants pleaded guilty, Judge Zito refused to impose any period of incarceration, nor did he fine the defendants. Zito based his decision on the fact that the defendants were all illegal aliens, remarking that they should never have been arrested in the first place because the men committed the crimes “strictly for the purpose of working.”

Sounds pretty bad, that identity theft stuff has defrauded people of thousands of dollars and ruined their credit ratings. The only problem is that's not what these illegal immigrants did - they "stole" those SS numbers because they had to provide numbers in order to work, and instead of taking money, they paid Social Security taxes to other people's accounts. It's as if someone hacked your bank's computer and started depositing money into your checking account, without any method for making withdrawals. That's the best I can tell what happened, from carefully reading this and other accounts. It's the impression from Fox - illegals conduct damaging identity theft, judge lets them off scott-free - that's important and deceptive.

Many people won't be surprised at Fox's approach, but this is a special post for my conservative brother-in-law to keep in mind as he reads or listens to Fox.

P.S. Two additional points - first, it's not clear to me that these uneducated laborers knew they had real SS numbers, as opposed to simply being told they had to put down something, and that the numbers given to them were ones that wouldn't get them in trouble. Second, I think this could have caused income tax problems for the real SS number holders, if the laborers didn't pay full income taxes. Nothing I saw that reported on this case mentioned that as having happened. This still wouldn't be anything like the damage that people think of when they consider identity theft.

Update, 11/18/04: Reaction from the brother-in-law is in:

What a can o' worms. Where to begin…?

Let's be fair. This is not a news story. It is an opinion piece, and as the sage once told us, like a common orifice, we've all got one. Just so happens, this is one with which we disagree.

I use “we” in the correct sense here; I agree that Matt Hayes’ opinion is wrong. However, he comes by his error honestly. He is not a journalist, consequently he misidentifies the story (no insult to present company; I am also not a journalist, but I played one on student papers both in high school and college attempt #1).

The story is that Morganelli's office is in desperate need of a paradigm shift. Why not bring in the criminal employers who hired illegals? The only reason these workers needed fraudulent SSN’s would be because the employers were filling out I-9’s and W-2’s fraudulently. Did the employers say, “Just make something up, we have to put something here,” or even fill out the form for the workers? Or did the fellows who brought them across the border for a price coach them, or give them stolen SSN’s? It sounds like the investigators from the DA’s office spent months on a fairly misdirected and uninspired investigation. So Zito isn’t the only one choosing not to “administer the law”.

That doesn’t mean that I agree with Zito’s decision. I was once told that “ignorance is no defense before the law.” And since when is committing a crime OK just so long as it’s “strictly for the purpose of working”? If the workers gave false or stolen SSN’s, they should be punished. But did they? The article assumes a great deal. But if the investigation showed they gave the employers false or stolen SSN’s, they should face the law. I know the penalty I would have meted out. An escorted, coach-class trip back to their point of origin. It may be that a portion of our economy is based on illegal workers. If it is, it is out-of-whack. The sooner we eliminate the illegal issue the better. That only happens over a long period of improving conditions in foreign nations, where illegal workers would frankly prefer to stay. They love their home countries; they just can’t make a go of things there due to the economic/social/political climate. And in the mean time, we need to actually enforce the law around border control issues. And I much prefer going after the employers and traffickers of willing slaves (which is what illegal workers are, let’s face facts). Those are the groups with the most power in the situation, the situation’s taproot.


Fair reaction, I think. And he agrees Fox News published an opinion piece that is wrong (yeah - progress!). I agree that illegal immigration is a problem, but our economy is dependent on that labor - the relationship is not simply of the US providing beneficial opportunities to illegals. Bushies and the Republican Congress have done nothing to address this problem (just like previous administrations).

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Belated post about veterans

Veteran's Day was several days ago, and I rarely get things in on time anyway, but I received a thoughtful email about veterans and decided I should post it.

I actually don't mind missing the holiday decreed from on high by our government - the post is about veterans, not about what the government tells us to think and celebrate:

WHAT IS A VETERAN?


(Attributed to a Marine Corps chaplain, Father Denis Edward O'Brian)


Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a
jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence
inside them, a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the
leg - or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in
the refinery of adversity.

Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America
safe
wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet just by looking. What is
a
vet?

A vet is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia
sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers
didn't run out of fuel.

A vet is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose
overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic
scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th Parallel.

A vet is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep
sobbing
every night for two solid years in Da Nang.

A vet is the POW who went away one person and came back another - or
didn't come back at all.

A vet is the drill instructor who has never seen combat - but has saved
countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account punks and gang members
into marines, airmen, sailors, soldiers and coast guardsmen, and
teaching them to watch each other's backs.

A vet is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and
medals with a prosthetic hand.

A vet is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals
pass him by.

A vet is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb Of The Unknowns, whose
presence at the Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the
memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with
them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.

A vet is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now
and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who
wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the
nightmares come.

A vet is an ordinary and yet extraordinary human being, a person who
offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his
country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to
sacrifice theirs.

A vet is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and
he
is nothing more that the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the
finest, greatest nation ever known.

So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just
lean over and say, "Thank You." That's all most people need, and in
most
cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or
were awarded.

Two little words that mean a lot, "THANK YOU".

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Planning for what's next

Some friends are holding a meeting tonight to discuss how to recover from the disaster of Bush's election. One of the main things I think about is how the right wing portrays itself as the place where all the new ideas are coming from in at least two fields I know reasonably well - law and economic policy. I think it's partly true and partly a matter of better salesmanship, but I think the progressive groups are going to have to pay much more attention to developing and promoting their brands of new ideas.

Some links about this:

An article saying "Democrats look to think tanks for answer to message problem" from The Hill newspaper in Washington DC. It points out that one of the two main Democratic think tanks, the Center for National Policy, is in severe financial trouble. The other think tank, Brookings Institution, is far too centrist (I think) to become an activist arena that pushes its ideas.

I think one thing that people on the left will have to do is pony up money not just for advocacy but also for promoting new ideas. CNP might be a place for that, although I actually don't know much about them.

Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense both do more than advocacy, which I'd define as opposing some polluting action or promoting an existing concept like designating new wilderness lands, and come up with genuinely new ideas. If I were them, I'd allow people to make dedicated donations for the "think tank" components of their work. They don't, though. Maybe we should donate to them anyway.

For a broader discussion of needing progressive think tanks, here's a thought piece from Soros' Open Society Institute (pdf file).

Slightly different tack, but still relevant: showing support for gay marriage goes beyond judges is important, and there is a real chance that gay marriage will pass the California Legislature. While this may galvanize the cavemen, it takes their stupid "activist judges" argument away from them. It's a mixed bag, but I think if the choice is unclear, you might as well do the right thing. The real battle will be over the referendum that will inevitably follow passage of a gay marriage bill in California. We'll have to be ready to work and pay for the success of gay marriage through the referendum process, and it won't be easy.

Regardless of the gay marriage issue, a lot of progressive ideas will have to be fought on the state level for the next 4 years.

Reasons for moving from Rochester New York


No offense to my hometown, but on this mid-November Saturday morning, I was able to go out for a run in the bright sunlight. At 7:30 a.m., it's warm enough to run in shorts with no shirt. I ran up a green hillside park with great views of San Francisco and the Bay. Ran home and then went back outside to the back deck, put a yoga mat down and did some pushups and ab crunches under the banana tree, with a faint smell of roses from the bushes that still have a few blooms. Back inside for a shower, and then back outside again for a soak in the hot tub. All by 9 a.m. - not something I'd expect to do in Rochester.

Update: there's some cosmic justice for my boasting post above - this afternoon I went to watch a film at the San Francisco Film Festival, came out afterwards and found my bicycle had been stolen. I hate cosmic justice, especially when it smites me personally.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Meanwhile, in North Carolina...

My friend Bill Grantham writes about his experience in the presidential election:
-----
Hey Brian,


[this started out as a response to your message and turned into
self-therapy. Sorry if I sound preachy or pundit-like -- I'm more
trying to work out my own feelings than convince you of anything]

Thanks for trying -- seriously, I mean that. For my part, I spent
three Saturdays canvassing door to door, and worked the polls on election
day. Mostly, I contented myself with giving fairly large sums of money, by
my standards, to Kerry, the DNC, ACT, and MoveOn. I did my volunteering
with a group that splintered off from ACT in order to be more partisan.
So we were a grass roots bunch of Democrats with no name or official
status. But we had very good organization at the tactical level. We
were actually optimistic that we could get enough turnout of unlikely
voters in Wake County (Raleigh) to overwhelm the rural vote and tip NC
to Kerry, despite the polls and the fact that Kerry/Edwards had written
off the state. Turns out we were wrong, obviously, but the process
illuminated how ineffectual and petty the Democratic party is in NC.
It seems they were more interested in turf and protocol than being
effective. However, this is only based on one side of the story -- our
leader's -- as I didn't work directly with the party. But there seemed
to be some truth to it.

I have had a strange reaction to the results, so far. Perhaps it is
some sort of physiological defense mechanism, a deep form of shock or
denial, but I have a strange sense of peace, rather than grief or
anger. I'm sure it will pass as soon as Bush resumes his willfully ignorant
policies and pushes for something egregious like drilling in ANWR, but
at the moment I feel no hatred. God knows there's plenty to be bitter
about, from Rove to the Swift Boat veterens to Bush's outright
slanderous misrepresentation of Kerry's positions on security, but I
just can't get myself worked up. Maybe I have indignation fatique.
Maybe I suffer from a variation of the Stockholm syndrome.

But I think another reason for this feeling is that some internal
tensions are resolved. I can now root wholeheartedly for a complete
and total success in Iraq. Previoulsy I was torn. I had opposed the war
from the start, never believing that WMD was the real reason (that
much was patently obvious) even when I believed they existed. I was
appalled by the arrogance, stupidity, wishfull thinking, and plain
boneheadedness with which it was conducted, and hated to think Bush could get away
with it. So I found myself wanting to things to go badly, but not so badly
Kerry couldn't fix them. Until I remembered that going badly means
people dying. So how many people do I want to die, in order prevent
Bush from being re-elected and pursuing policies that will result in
even greater tragedies -- more wars, a viscious cycle of terrorist acts
and responses? A moral quagmire I don't have to deal with anymore.
For better or worse, the people have endorsed Bush's approach.

So now I can hope for a spectacular success in Iraq (just as I would
have if Kerry had won, as I fervently hoped). I hope Iraq becomes a
stable democracy as soon as possible, Osama is captured, Al quada is
crushed, peace is acheived between Israel and Palestine, and the whole
Arab world changes its mind and embraces Bush as a saviour. Not
likely, but nothing would make me happier than for all these things to
be solved and off the table in 2008, so we can get on to what to me are
the real issues -- how can 5 or 6 billion (and counting) humans survive
and prosper without destroying all our fellow creatures on this planet?

What has enraged me most about Bush is not just the folly of his
foreign policy. It is that his administration systematically and relentlessly
undermines the only tools that offer hope in dealing with this grand
question: rational thought based on empirical evidence, and peaceful
resolution of issues through an open democratic process. I don't
expect him to change on this, and we must redouble our efforts to prevent him
from taking us back from the age of reason to the age of faith. In
foreign policy, Democrats and moderate (or non-neocon, at any rate)
republicans must try to make Bush's policy more responsive to reality.
But I am no longer (as far as I can see) faced with conflicting
desires. I don't worry about the Republicans getting credit for winning the" war
on terrorism" -- if they actually did, it would be worth it. Besides,
winning wars doesn't necessarily secure power. The Dems lost in a
landslide after Wilson won WWI, Churchill was voted out after WWII,
Truman barely hung on for another term, Bush I lost after what appeared
to be a decisive victory in the Gulf War. If anything, there seems to
be a trend to turn to the other party for a fresh start after a war.

-- [Well that's as far as I got yesterday, and I didn't get time to
finish it today. Need to go for a run before the light fades, and to
send this before the feeling goes away. Was going to talk about some
more concrete reasons for hope and strategy Dems should take, but that
will have to wait. The one thing I will say is that it does no good to
try to move to the right -- the right will just keep moving the target
rightwards. they will always call Dems extreme left wing liberals out
of touch with the mainstream, so if we let the center become labeled
leftist, the far right will become center.]
-----

My one comment right now to Bill's post is that the Republicans are not looking for an end to the War on Terror, maybe hoping it will be a very long time before people start thinking of a change in political parties for the postwar era. We'll have to persuade the people otherwise.

Anyone else wishing to respond can post in the comments section here, or email Bill at wgrantham @earthlink.net (eliminate the space before the @ symbol).

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

From a correspondent, known as the Bush Redux Survivor:

Reference to "Bob G." is in the comments in the previous post. Two people other than me reacting to each other in the blog - a breakthrough!


Hey Brian,
Never visited a blog before. I'm as nervous and excited as a little girl. First off, I'd like to say, I really enjoy reading your blog although i am both a first-time reader and a first-time writer. I want to echo Bob G's request for "juicy details" of your florida trip. I think I speak for your father as well. :)
Well, this is by far the most catastrophic domestic political and societal event in my lifetime. After a brief period of denial I skipped right by anger and went straight to depression, where I've been lingering ever since. I occasionally take a little mental vacation over to the world of apathy, but my long term goal is to be able to maintain a permanent state of denial.
I will say this: As much as I'm disgusted with the 59 million-plus morons (yes, morons! you all know who you are!)who voted for their poster-boy, I am also disgusted with the democratic party which cannot seem to produce a charismatic leader who can inspire their membership. Clinton is the one exception in a 24 year span. Kerry took forever to make a point. Doesn't anyone on the left know how presidential politics works? Short, Simple, Black, White. Get elected, don't teach civics. The people don't want to know.
Okay, one other point and then I've got to go back to work: Let us end now the myth that the American people won't be fooled, that the American people are smart, that the American people understand what's important. On the contrary, they are constantly fooled because they're not at all smart and have no idea what issues most affect their lives. By and large, in contrast to almost every other culture in the world, Americans are ignorant, arrogant and obnoxious. This is why George Bush is president. And he has fooled them into thinking that he actually has moral values and that he is reducing the threat of terrorism against Americans when he, as you and I know, is willing to send untold thousands of people to their deaths, and to disfigure and cripple many thousands more, simply to pursue his pre-meditated ideological agenda. He is willing to lie about anything and everything. And he has almost single-handedly converted an overwhelming amount of global goodwill into unprecedented fear and loathing. Well, you know his resume. Anyway, that felt kinda good.
Thanks for trying, Brian. You fought the good fight. For what it's worth, I heard Kerry took Orange County. Way to go!
Until next time...

My 2 cents of reaction here is that I'd prefer to refer to Bush's elections as a stupid mistake, rather than the people electing him as stupid. Makes the world feel somewhat less messed up to me, for some reason.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

My summary of the experience

It felt like being in a military campaign. In the aftermath, it feels like we had fought on the losing side of a war. I should quickly disclaim that anyone who has been in a real war might feel differently about the analogy (note to George "I have been to war" Bush: this doesn't include you).

There was an incredible amount of chaos and incredible hard work, and a feeling that if we only knew a little more about what we were doing, we could have been so much more effective. I heard some internal criticism of Kerry campaign in Florida, a feeling that it was being run in both too much of a top-down manner, but also with insufficient direction from the top. The sense was that there should have been less procedural control and more leadership. I don't really have the direct experience to say how serious or justified these criticisms are, and I don't think it's time to tear into anybody at the campaign. I certainly made my own share of mistakes.

So first, before I get too deep, I have a DVD recommendation: the four-disc Firefly TV series, from the creator of the Buffy and Angel television shows. As good as those two shows are, Firefly is even better. It follows the lives of some soldiers from a defeated army, living in a world where the wrong side won the war. Has some echoes to the current experience. I plan to watch it again. The series only lasted a year, but a movie is in the works.

Okay. Some thoughts on why people voted for Bush, and what we can do about it.

1. Argument in Bush voters' minds: 9/11 changed everything. Only a strong projection of military power and concomitant spread of the ideology of freedom will ultimately allow us to prevail over terrorism. While this is a simple concept, Kerry/the Democrats don't understand it and therefore will not protect America.

I think the response is 9/11 changed many things, but it did not change everything. Keeping such things as civil liberties and a decent respect for world opinion are still important. Democrats, and anyone with a brain, understand how important 9/11 was, but Democrats can also do a better job than the mismanaged job by Republicans. In 2006, it's time to tell Republicans to grow up - fighting terrorism is not a simple thing, as Iraq has proved.

2. Argument: You can't change leaders in the middle of a war.

Response: Why the hell not? The military does it - they sack military leaders all the time in the middle of actual wars when they're not performing. As I recall, they did it last year when one general wasn't being aggressive enough during major military operations. If you want more history, the North would have lost the Civil War if they had stuck with their terrible generals, instead of eventually getting Grant and Sherman in charge. Presidents should be sacked even more readily when the stakes are high and they are screwing up. Furthermore, the "war on terrorism", as Bush describes it, is not going to end in Iraq, so change is inevitable, and we might as well start soon with competent leadership. I think our response to this argument is to emphasize the military analogy - you sack bad leaders, fast.

Update: I suppose this argument and response doesn't matter much now that's the election's over. Still, the Reps might try to argue something like it in 2008, especially if they stumble into another war somewhere.

Variant argument: Bush got us into this mess in Iraq, and I'm re-electing him to make him go fix it.

I really have heard this variant. Our only response is to emphasize better education and child nutrition, to try and reduce the level of stupidity in our country.

3. Argument: We have to support moral values, to keep gay marriage from tearing apart the foundations of our country.

Not sure what to do about this, except to tough it out. People as individuals and as age classes are becoming less and less homophobic. There will be some negative repercussions from the worst homophobic amendments that passed, and people will notice that Massachusetts hasn't gone to hell. This will be a decreasing advantage for Republicans over the next 2 to 8 years, and afterwards it will be an albatross around their necks. They won't be able to pivot positions when homophobia is no longer a selling point, either, the evangelical right won't let them for several decades. It's in the Republican platform. Karl Rove may have elected his individual candidates, but he's severely harmed the Republicans in the long run.

So that's my argument, for what it's worth. The other part is to work on individual levels with Bush voters. I plan to convince my conservative brother-in-law that Reagan was bad. It's my starting point.

Friday, November 05, 2004

A consolation

Silver lining in an awful week: I just learned of a 1965 low-budget horror flick filmed in Esperanto, starring William Shatner. I'm not making this up. Best thing ever - I have to see it.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Completing the circle

So I've returned back home. I somehow weigh what I did before I left, despite an exclusive diet of junk food and Coke. I climbed at the gym tonight, and it seemed to go like it did before I left for Orlando. And we have the same president. Except that we will still have him until January 20, 2009. That seems so depressingly far off. I can't stand it, I'm not going to think about it right now.

The work was great, and the people were great, and it was some of the most intense work I've done. I'd highly recommend to anyone to take the chance of joining an intense campaign in a battleground state. You can get more responsibility more quickly there than in anything else you can do. Of course, getting paid for it is unrealistic.

For what it's worth, we apparently won Orlando, and by a larger margin than last time. I'll take that with me. Update: turns out our victory margin was smaller than in 2000 - I'm not going to take credit where it's not due.

Time to surf the science websites for a while. There may be a way to get embryonic stem cells for research without destroying embryos. Let's see if Shrub can wrap his mind around this one. It might do some good.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Contingency plan

171 pounds. Damn. If Bush wins, I plan to get liposuctioned and pie him with all the fat I gained fighting his stupid candidacy.

Update: actually 171 is way too low, I was thinking 181, but that's what it said. I don't know what happened. Bush is sabotaging the scales in my sister's house.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Seeing twigs instead of forest

Got home at midnight tonight, and 10:30 yesterday. I don't know when I expected to have free time to do some work. I have to go to the climbing gym at least once, or my evil finger muscles will use the absence to collapse into nothingness.

As to how the campaign's going, darned if I know. I knew much more about the overall campaign when I wasn't volunteering. I don't even listen at the staff meetings for local news, when I can work in that time. I'm trying instead to figure out why we put a volunteer attorney in two polling stations at the same time. I argued that she volunteered, so it's her fault if she can't pull it off, but deputy counsel overruled. That's the twig level I'm on, I have no idea about the forest view.

Max Cleland came through the office yesterday. I shook his one hand and said, "you're doing a great job, Senator", and he said "no, you are." He hugged and kissed about every woman in the office - a Southern charmer. Kirsten Dunst came through this a.m., but I was too late - not sure if she hugged and kissed every man there.

So we may have an idea for what the Republican game plan will be, and it could be nasty. I hope to write more about this later before next Tuesday, but I probably won't have time to write too much more. We'll see.

Avoiding the scale in my sister's bathroom...

Monday, October 25, 2004

My fall and rise

Yesterday I showed up at Kerry HQ prepared for my exalted position of lackey to deputy counsel. Counsel was gone, and had the documents with her that I was going to use. So I got demoted, from lackey back to flunky. After calling absentee voters for 4 hours, counsel showed up and I returned to power, putting lawyers in their places.

Getting serious for a moment, I'd guess about half of the homes I called were African-American families. It's something of a mark of the racial separation of the country that my voice was in far more black households yesterday than I've ever visited personally. It probably shows I haven't done very much to overcome that racial divide on a personal level.

Got in a run yesterday, and the food doesn't seem out of control. Maybe I'll come out of this without looking like the girl who ate the piece of gum in Willy Wonka.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

First day on the job

The Kerry folks are very nice and very happy to have an extra lawyer volunteering, especially one that's here fulltime until Nov. 2. I am catupulting up the ranks to the position of lackey to deputy counsel for Central Florida, with the likely job of organizing the part-time volunteer attorneys to make sure they're going to the right places where they're needed.

At first glance that seems kind of like semi-important work, the only problem being one that can be described by my friends, that "organizational skills" are not my strongest points. I'm thinking I can do this though. So there.

Sister's weight scale says 176. So far, so good.

This blog is going to go in a little different direction for the next 10 days. I'm sitting in the San Francisco Airport now, about to head off to Orlando to volunteer for the Kerry campaign until election day. Since this might be an interesting time, I'll try and do a more diary-like blog.

This may also help in my more typical shallow pursuit: keeping off weight. I've had a lot more time free to exercise in the last 2 months, and it's been great. I've been eating a lot AND losing weight. That's already changing as I've gotten busy recently. I weighed 173 last week, and 177 last night. I'll use the blog to try and control eating and get some exercise, or by Nov. 2 I'll be too huge to get down to the polls.

So....

I'm supposed to join an anti-dirty tricks legal team tomorrow. They don't know anything about me, and I expect some inefficiency with all the new manpower flooding in. We'll see what happens.

Meanwhile, I'll be checking out this website, electionline.org, to try and get caught up on whatever dirty tricks might be out there.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Modelling his America after Putin's work

Bush's support and admiration for Russia's Vladimir Putin is well-known. One concept making its rounds is the gradual "Putinization of America" as the Bush Administration and its allies show decreased belief in civil rights, and in some cases like Karl Rove, outright contempt for democracy.

If any reporter has a chance to ask Bush a question, it would be interesting to ask him what lessons America should draw from Putin's "war against terror". Bush might show his admiration is more than an arms-length relationship.
Bringing "Question Time" to the US government

Kerry could make an interesting promise that would attract press attention: that he would bring some form of the British parliamentary "Question Time" to the US government if elected. Question Time gives parliamentary members the chance to ask questions of government ministers, including the prime minister. Kerry could do something similar in either or both houses of Congress. It would show the contrast between him and Bush, who is unwilling to be exposed to differing viewpoints. The Republican leadership in Congress also couldn't reject this offer out of hand without looking like Bush sycophants. And it would be a good idea.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Still more short items

From Media Matters: news media more concerned about Mary Cheney fake controversy than Bush flip-flop over Osama Bin Laden. (Thanks Melinda for the tip).

Video shows Bush debating-style deterioration over the last ten years. I watched this, and it's pretty remarkable. One linguist speculated Bush is deliberately acting stupid. I have trouble believing that he would dumb down his style from whatever worked in Texas.

Homo sapiens may have interbred with homo erectus in Asia in the last 50,000 years. Maybe this explains some aspects of the current president. It seems pretty doubtful to me though, considering how little evidence exists for our interbreeding with Neandertals, which are much closer relatives than H. erectus.

Heck, two more items from the Post:

For the first time in years, foreigners are disinvesting net dollars from the US. This could lead to a globally-disastrous run on the dollar, if some country loses its nerve and tries to sell all its dollars first. I hope it doesn't happen, but if it does, let it happen now so Bush can get his fair share of blame.

Greenspan says high household debt not a problem. He says people can handle the high debt, even if there's a housing bubble. How about those people with the adjustable-rate mortgages he's been advocating? He should read the previous article - what's going to happen to those rates when there's no foreign money coming in to keep them low? Greenspan is a bozo, and I'm getting cranky.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Bush hatred for UN more important than Iraq or US soldiers' lives

Bush rejected a plan to bring in several hundred Muslim troops, apparently including Arab troops, because of the condition that the troops operate under UN command. (Tip from Obsidian Wings, another great blog). Rather than admit that the UN has any use, Bush told the troops to stay away. Their purpose was to guard the UN compound. Without their help, the UN will not put a large ground team in Iraq to help prepare for January election. Bush stinks.

I wrote earlier that I think something like this might actually be Kerry's plan for Iraq: a split US-UN military command (scroll to August 7). The scenario: Kerry convenes a summit, a group of countries offer thousands of troops if they're under UN command, and Kerry tells America that we'd be stupid not to take the deal. Split commands are stupid militarily, but here they are smart politically, and they're better than not having any friends at all, which is Bush's plan.

Boy, I'm smart in calling this one. And anyone who claims I said last winter that Dean had the Democratic nomination locked up was talking to my stupid twin, not me.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Short pieces:

The draft
Kerry is really stretching credibility in claiming that Bush may bring back the draft. That could only happen in an extreme emergency, under which Kerry might also have to bring back the draft. To be fair to Kerry, his enlarging the military and plan for Iraq would make the draft somewhat less likely under his presidency.

All that being said, Kerry might feel he is doing the nation a service by either locking Bush into the "no draft" position, or making Bush pay a high price should it happen. This would be the Bush counterpart to Kerry being locked in on not raising taxes for people earning less than $200,000. I don't think saying Bush will create a "great potential" for the draft is the appropriate way to lock Bush down, however.

A Bush quote:
''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things."

That quote was favoring leaving Ariel Sharon alone to use military force in the West Bank and Gaza. The result has been less than clarifying. I think though that the real reason that Bush and his administration have stayed out is because they knew they couldn't match Clinton's personal ability to negotiate a deal, and didn't want the comparison to be so obvious.

Another excellent analogy, from the same website:
"If America were Iraq, What would it be Like?"

An ethical dilemma
A Democratic Congressman in a tight race in Oregon, David Wu, was involved in some kind of assault on an ex-girlfriend 28 years ago, as a college student. Neither Wu nor the woman will discuss the details - the woman never pressed charges. The question is whether this disqualifies him from re-election. Wu apologizes for his "inexcusable behavior" but is otherwise non-forthcoming. My take is he should either cooperate fully with questions so the world can judge him, or the woman could (anonymously, through reporters) let the world know what she thinks of him now, but absent either thing occurring, he's disqualified.
Hard questions equal trick questions

I'm still amazed by Bush's refusal to admit ever making a mistake other than appointing certain people he wouldn't name. Recap is here:

Bush, who had said during an April news conference that he could not think of a mistake, did not point to anything specific when asked again on Friday. He said that there are "lot of tactical decisions" in war that historians may question, and that he has "made some mistakes in appointing people, but I'm not going to name them -- I don't want to hurt their feelings on national TV."

I'd run these clips on commercials if I were in charge at the Kerry campaign, with an addition like "We all know someone who cannot admit a mistake. Would you give that person a position of responsibility? Do you want someone like that for President?"

For what it's worth, here's the conservative response, from the Free Republic website:

I think President Bush sidestepped this landmine deftly, but it clearly show's a moderator bias in attempting to give Kerry a powerful parting shot

Other conservative responses are at the link above. Along with Bush's refusal to answer hypothetical questions, it shows the line of thought is to say any hard questions are trick questions, and refuse to answer them.


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Science news, starting with the very good news

Malaria vaccine proven effective. This could save millions of lives ever year, including some people in America when global warming makes the American South more habitable for the malaria-bearing mosquitoes.

Bad news about amphibians. They're disappearing everywhere.

Giant virus qualifies as a living organism. Unlike other viruses, it can produce many of its own proteins. Snobbish biologists have denied viruses are organisms, even though they reproduce and evolve, just because they require other cells to function. This virus puts a hole in that theory. Now biologists just need to admit that computer programs are also alive.

The science blogs on the left side of this page always have good stuff to look at too.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Extreme fact-checking

Kevin Drum has a great post, doing detailed analysis and evaluation of the distortions by both Bush and Kerry in the last debate. Result: both candidates lied, but Bush was far worse.

My minor addition is from my own post back on April 23, regarding Bush's wetland promises:

"The not-so-good article that's half-worth mentioning is an AP report carried by the Washington Post, saying Bush plans to recreate, improve, and protect 3 million acres of wetlands [UPDATE: link doesn't work now - try this site instead for the same information]. The fine print is that one million of the three million acres is slated to be "protected." The government already has the job of "protecting" wetlands, so that is an empty promise. "Improving" applies to another million, but large improvement projects are already in the works, so he could be taking credit for something already planned. Improvement could also be extremely marginal and still count under his plan. The million new acres could be good, unless he's counting the wetland restoration projects already in the works."

Kevin is over-generous in rating the debate statement "I've got a plan to increase the wetlands by 3 million" as a minor lie, when it was only 1 million acres.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Yet more interesting political-ish blogs

The best is Fafblog, a great satire site, featuring the authors Fafnir, Giblets, and The Medium Lobster. It's not easy to describe - you're better off reading it.

Also interesting is Rudepundit, where "rude" is an understatement. Its posts are incredibly profane, violent, well-written, and knowledgeable. Unfortunately, I'd also consider it somewhat offensive to women.

I'm looking for a funny conservative blog. I can make myself read opinions I disagree with more readily if they can make me laugh. The best I've found so far is the Politburo Diktat, but there's got to be something better out there.

Friday, October 08, 2004

A dangerous bus driver

After graduating from college, I spent six summers driving buses in Denali National Park in Alaska. It was a well-paying job, partly because it involved driving a difficult, narrow dirt road with dangerously soft shoulders.

I remember talking to a fellow driver one time and telling him that I considered this other driver "most likely to roll a bus [down a hill]." He asked me why, and I said "nothing is ever her fault," that she never admits a mistake. The next summer, she drove a bus off the road. It didn't roll, thank God, but it did turn mostly on its side. People were lucky to just have minor injuries.

In tonight's debate, Bush refused to admit that he's made a mistake in the last 4 years, other than some people he's appointed but refused to name (apparently those stupid underlings make mistakes). This really struck me - he isn't qualified to be a bus driver. I don't know if it would affect Bush supporters or undecideds.

No real stylistic gaffes from either candidate. Too bad.
Post-law school careers

My law school classmate Junichi has a post about another classmate of ours who has allegedly become a high-class prostitute to pay off school loans (risque picture at the link). Junichi is right, there were lots of rumors about this woman when she came to campus, partly because she used to be on the TV show, Baywatch. It's funny how different (as in normal) someone looks in real life than in modeling pictures.

Federal prosecutors were going after her on criminal charges for prostitution and tax evasion, but are now "only" trying to use civil forfeiture to keep all her money that they had seized in the investigation. My main question is, why are the feds wasting time on this? Local police don't prosecute prostitution for the most part unless it involves streetwalking, human smuggling/slavery, or other more serious crimes. I would think federal investigations would prioritize even more carefully than city investigations, and stay away from the closest thing to a victimless crime.

I suspect the reason why they might be going after her is because the high-end aspect means she has money that they can seize. It all comes down to economics.

An additional note: she seems clearly guilty of tax evasion, which is bad. I don't see why they have failed to prosecute her for that.

Second note: Junichi laments that this option for paying off loans is unavailable to him. Don't be so sure.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

One for international democracy

The European Union recently agreed to begin negotiating with Turkey for membership in the EU, a move that credited Turkey with significant improvements in human rights and the democratic process. A major reason and impetus within Turkey for improving its record was to get the chance to join the EU.

I think this shows the advantage of bringing democracy to international institutions. I've been a long-time supporter of international federalism, the idea of transforming or creating international institutions like the EU on a broader scale. Many years ago I was heavily involved with a group called the Association to Unite the Democracies. They've worked for exactly this idea - international democracy, an end to war, no more armies. Their history goes back to the 1930s, when they advocated a federation of America with the European democracies to stop Hitler from taking over the world. The group was also interesting in how its support cut across traditional left-right divisions. And on a personal level, both my grandfather and father were involved with the group over the decades.

I still think it's the right idea, but I just don't see it happening anytime soon. The EU could be a model, something that's far more democratic and hopeful than what many broader institutions like the World Trade Organization have become. Maybe someday they'll learn...

Monday, October 04, 2004

A thought experiment for Bush

Suppose in 1999 that Clinton, with Gore's approval, had started a war that Bush believed was the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Would Bush have refused to criticize the Clinton/Gore decision in the 2000 campaign?

Of course Bush refuses to answer hypothetical questions, so he could avoid this question. Too bad that it means we have no idea how he will act under hypothetical situations. We can guess though.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Fighting terrorism, one high-mileage car at a time

(UPDATE, NOVEMBER 2006: I've still got stickers and they're still free, just follow the directions below.)

Several months back, there was a lot of controversy over Arianna Huffington/The Detroit Project's linking of SUVs to terrorism. Their point - wasting gas simply funds corrupt Arab regimes that are breeding grounds for terrorism - is completely valid. I think, though, that it would also be useful to create some positive reinforcement for doing the right thing. In honor of those killed on 9-11, in support of those trying to make the world a better place, and as a good luck charm to try and get to the top of the waiting list for buying a hybrid, I had 500 bumper stickers made and will distribute them freely:




I'm waiting for my hybrid before I'll put it on the bumper of my car, but I'll let each person decide on his or her own if their car deserves the bumper sticker. Just send a self-addressed, stamped envelope (the bumper sticker is standard-sized, but folds okay), and I'll send you a sticker. Sorry, one per person. Send it to: B. Schmidt, 265 N. Rengstorff #31, Mountain View CA 94043.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Scientists fight back

From posts by Chris Mooney, I learned about a new advocacy group, Scientists and Engineers for Change. The group is one of the new "527" organizations that make independent expenditures in political campaigns. In this case, SCEC is sick of the Bush administration's interference with science policy, its policy of ignorance towards the decline in America's leadership on science, and its ignorance in general. What's best about this new organization though, is that it's about science, not about John Kerry. I hope SCEC stays around no matter who wins the presidency, and continues to press politicians to listen to actual science, and to support science.

The whole issue of "527" organizations is a different issue. These organizations pour money into campaigns, along with kinds of organizations and some shady operations. Fixing campaign finance is still a huge problem. No one should disarm unilaterally, though, as the Republicans are suggesting that the Democrats should do.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Attacked by credit card vampires

This weekend I was paying my credit card bill and noticed that through an oversight I had underpaid my last month's bill by $60. What I couldn't figure out was how that one-month, $60 underpayment resulted in a finance charge of $20. I called up the credit card company and they were happy to explain it to me: as soon as you pay less than the full amount of a bill, you begin paying interest not just on the carryover amount, but also on anything you add to the card in the meantime. My card was one that gives you points for using it, so of course I put everything I could on the card, and they were charging me interest on each purchase from the second that I purchased it. In other words, vampires.

Maybe I'm the only person who didn't realize this is how the financing works, but it got me pretty mad. My vampire card is MBNA, they do a lot of deals with organizations so that the organizations can have their "own" cards. Watch out for them, and carry garlic.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Why the left should support partial privatization of Social Security

Short Answer #1: It will eliminate the possibility of Bush's regressive tax cuts becoming permanent.

Short Answer #2: It will make money for future retirees, even if the stock market performs half as well as it has done historically.

Short Answer #3: Bush will screw it up just like everything else he does; this is a chance to propose something useful.

Please refer to the September 10 post below about the current Social Security surplus and whether the surplus is real, if you're interested in background. The main point I take from it is that the current SS surplus is real, but will entail problems in the future when the obligations created under current surpluses come due, and meanwhile Bush is using that surplus to hide the true size of the deficit he's created. There, now you don't have to read that boring post.

So this is why Short Answer #1 is important. If you partially privatize the SS surplus, then the current budget deficit is shown in its true awful colors. Bush's tax cuts will sunset in 2010 unless made permanent, as he is trying to do, and the income tax cuts are highly regressive, while the estate tax elimination is beyond ridiculous. Partial privatization will show the size of the deficit, and make it impossible to keep the tax cuts as is. Actually, I believe the tax cuts will be modified anyway, but this change will help push the changes in the right direction.

I don't see how the economy would be harmed. Some money currently invested in Treasury notes would shift to stocks and private bonds; no harm there. The federal government would have to offer higher interest rates on T-notes; slight harm to the federal budget, but much less harm than would come from extending Bush's tax cut. It's worth it.

As for Short Answer #2, the stock market historically has a 10% annual return, while T-notes have a 3% return. Many experts don't think the market will match its historical rate, but I'd like to be shown an expert who says it will underperform T-notes over a 20-year or longer period. Show me a financial manager who tells a 25-year old to invest her IRA in T-notes, and I'll show you an idiot. That's what Social Security is doing with revenues from 25-year olds.

As for Short Answer #3, it's self-evident that Bush will mess it up. I've looked at his "proposal" here and here. As this report says, the proposal is so vague as to be meaningless. My guess is Bush will eventually just offer tax deductions for larger IRAs. By his standards that's not bad, it's only skewed towards the moderately wealthy that currently fully fund their IRAs. By responsible standards, however, it stinks.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Today's inventions: the Hogmeter and the Interruptmeter

I came up with the first idea after a recent, annoying meeting. It would be a large electronic display showing the names of everyone at a meeting. Every time someone talks, a second display under that person's name shows the cumulative total amount of time the person has been talking, and maybe the percentage of time that person has been talking compared to everyone else. Even if the Hogmeter doesn't shut someone up, it makes what they're doing quite visible.

Kathy had the basic inspiration for the second invention, the Interruptmeter. This could be part of the Hogmeter, and just consist of a third display showing a running tally of how often each person interrupts other people at the meeting.

I think we're just approaching the technological level where voice recognition software could handle this , more or less. I look forward to the day when it happens.

UPDATE 9/17: An improvement on the Hogmeter (already!): if a person exceeds twice that person's percentage of time they should be talking compared to everyone else, a barely-heard oinking grunt will start as he or she speaks, and get louder as the percentage increases. Adjustments can be made for persons chairing the meeting, making presentations, etc. I like this idea even more now.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Identifying exactly who was forced into Bush's place in Vietnam

This post by Matthew Yglesias included the side comment, "Some other young Texan was forced against his will to serve in Lt. Bush's stead". It occurred to me that it might be possible to identify exactly who it was that was forced to go, learn what happened to him, and ask him what he thinks about how things worked out.

The way I'd guess it would work is to figure out who was the last Texan conscripted by the Texas draft board and later sent to Vietnam in the month that Bush got into the "Champagne Unit" of the Texas guard (I think that would have been May 1968). Arguably, this man would be the one that was sent instead of Bush. One thing wrong with that reasoning is that this man would probably be first on the list in the following month, June 1968. Bush did do him the favor of sending this man to Vietnam a month earlier that he would've gone. Would be interesting to find out what happened to this man in his first month in Vietnam.

Since this guy went to Vietnam a month early, though, he also leaves a month early, and somebody has to take his place a month early. The last man conscripted and later sent to Vietnam in the month that our Bush Replacement left also gets the privilege of serving in W's place (arguably). I believe Vietnam rotations were for six months, so there were probably 10-11 men that went to Vietnam a month early for W's sake, and finally one additional conscript at the very end of that chain, right before they stopped sending draftees to Vietnam, who would not have gone at all.

The main point is to put a human face on the cost that Bush's family imposed by using influence to get him into the Champagne Unit. It's something that the media could do.