Monday, September 29, 2008

Best Title Ever

Most meetings are pointless and boring, so why not spend the time planning a funeral or an orgy?

Reflection


Reflected Wood Duck, originally uploaded by dbuk2.

Better no bill than a horribly flawed bill

I know you probably didn't come here seeking reassurance on Congress' failure to enact the bailout bill, but I actually think we're better off without it.

Economist Nouriel Roubini writes that:

A recent IMF study (pdf) of 42 systemic banking crises across the world shows how different crises were resolved.

In only 32 of the 42 cases was there any government financial intervention of any sort; in 10 cases systemic banking crises were resolved without any such action. Of the 32 cases where the government did recapitalise the banking system, only seven included a programme of purchase of bad assets/loans (like the one proposed by the US Treasury)....

In the Scandinavian banking crises (Sweden, Norway, Finland) which are a model of how a banking crisis should be resolved, most of the recapitalisation occurred through various injections of public capital rather than a government purchase of bad assets.

Purchase of toxic assets – in most cases in which it was used – made the fiscal cost of the crisis much higher and expensive (as in Japan and Mexico).

|RGE Monitor via the Guardian|


So now I think we follow DR's suggestion and the Dem's should enlist some economists and write a good bill to solve the crisis.

On a constitutional note, I've always wondered why appropriations bills must start in the House (Art. 1, Sec. 7), but I think I just figured it out the Founder's reasoning today.

The Republicans in the House didn't vote for it because they couldn't sell it to their constituents. Voting for this bailout would have been political suicide for many in the House. It didn't matter what Pelosi said, the buyout of corporate stupidity was never going to work on Main Street where US Representatives have to live and campaign.

I'm not an economist, but I've been listening to a few recently and I think this bill was the sort of wrong-headed approach that the Bush administration is justly famous for. Fuckers.

The Red Hand of Lenin

"Capitalists can buy themselves out of any crisis, so long as they make the workers pay," said Lenin.

It is rarely regarded as common sense to quote him in polite company.

Yet as a description of what is taking place [with regard to the Wall Street bailout] right now, it is the most sense I've heard in a long time.

|America has a terrible headache, but it seems like no one wants to cure it - Gary Younge|

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Enfilade


M2, originally uploaded by RugNug.

Brits armor up in Afghanistan

Glad to hear the UK is taking their commitment in Afghanistan seriously.

Mastiffs, a version of American Cougars adapted for the army by a Coventry-based company, about a hundred smaller but heavily-armed 4x4 Jackal patrol vehicles, and a number of lighter vehicles to replace the existing fleet of Viking personnel carriers.

An MoD spokesman said it was "constantly looking to improve the equipment provided to its forces on the frontline". However, ministers and military commanders have made no secret of their frustration over the length of time it has taken. Part of the problem has been the severe pressure on the defence budget as billions of pounds have been committed to long-term projects, such as aircraft carriers and Eurofighter/Typhoon fast jets, of little relevance to the conflict in Afghanistan. |Link|

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ascent


Northwest 3, originally uploaded by DitB - Downintheblue.

Confessions of an RNC Security Guard

My friend Jack sent me a link to Avi Steinberg article, Confessions of an RNC security guard, in Slate. I enjoyed it immensely, here's an excerpt.

1:12 a.m.
Two discussions about the war in Iraq suddenly take place.

The first discussion is among a group of young Republicans standing in front of the Hyatt smoking cigars -- party favors from the Giuliani party. The men are all similarly clad in J. Press; some in houndstooth, some in navy blue blazers. The girlfriends, however, wear designer cocktail dresses.

"I'm sick of this chickenshit," says one guy, a sturdy Stanford 2L. "I hear too much apologizing for the war. We should all get behind McCain and stand up proudly and use the 'W' word. We have to tell the voters, 'No, we're not just making gains, we are winning this war.'"

The second conversation takes place between me and Scott, a baby-faced Marine who has served two tours in Iraq (and is expecting to be called up again any day). We're standing 2 feet away from the Republicans. As Scott tells it, his platoon spent almost two years roving around western Iraq doing the bidding of various local tribal bosses, fighting fierce and undefined battles against enemies who had been allies a week earlier.

His take on the war?

"It's bullshit," he says with a shrug. "We got no business there. We get played by all the locals. Guys are dying for nothing. Everyone's losing their minds. It's a disaster."

Initial Debate Reaction

I thought both candidates did a good job. Obama looked presidential and while John McCain gave off the crazy old man vibe pretty strongly, he didn't make any fatal miscues.

Of course, I'm partial to Obama and I thought he did a good job of illustrating how McCain's support for invading Iraq was a fundamental strategic error.

Kranzberg's first law of technology

Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral. |Link|

Fashion police


Fashion police, originally uploaded by pixel.eight.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Military Occupation, coming to a city near you

Glenn Greenwald provides some outraged commentary regarding the activation of a US military brigade for crowd control and terrorism response within the United States.

The force will be known as the CBRNE Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF (pronounced “sea-smurf”). CBRNE is an abbreviation for Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive.

You gotta love the military and their acronyms.

I don't think this deployment is a good sign by any means, but I'm not surprised. I blogged about Republican machinations against the Posse Comitatus act back in 2005.

This may bring into sharp contrast one of the right wing's favorite talking points; the contention that personal ownership of firearms allows Americans to throw off a tyrannical government.

It will be interesting (in a morbid way) to see that proposition put to the test. I don't think the argument holds water anymore. The ability of the military to subdue insurgents in Iraq with urban air support, armored vehicles and precision munitions make me think that our military would make short work of American insurgents armed with rifles.

Having the most kick-ass military in the world is a mixed blessing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Microblogging & Mixed Media


Microblogging paints a picture, originally uploaded by shareski.

No blank checks for Bush

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only person who is dubious of Dubya's three page request for $700 billion.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama have condemned the notion of giving a "blank cheque" for the US treasury to buy up debt, and last night Democrats circulated a counterproposal that would impose far more limits on how the bailout would operate, including a crackdown on Wall Street salaries and a provision to route some of any government profits from the scheme into affordable housing schemes.|US elections briefing: Unity breaks out against Bush bailout - Guardian|

What's the worst that could happen if Congress gives Bush another blank check?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Solitude


Pretty Blue, originally uploaded by idg.

The Limits of Technological Optimism

Tonight I was reading about the zero-infinity problem in the proposed Restatement Third of Torts.

I'd run across a description of the zero-infinity problem before, but not by that title.

So, I did some quick searching and found this short explication of the zero-infinity problem in risk analysis:

The zero infinity paradox recognizes that risk is defined as probability times consequences.

But if the probability of an event is very low, nearly zero, and the consequences are negative infinity, infinitely negative, how do you think about that as a planning problem?

That was the problem of nuclear war... So the proposition then with respect to that very low probability, but very, very, almost infinitely negative disutility event, namely a general nuclear war in which all Americans might die... so everything possible had to be done to prevent a nuclear war.

That didn’t mean surrendering, but it meant doing everything that was technically feasible. And at what level of effort? At whatever level of effort it took. |Link|(emphasis added)
I also ran across the following excerpt of an article on the limits of technological optimism which mentions how the zero-infinity problem limits our ability to foresee the outcomes of our actions.
"Technological optimism" is the doctrine that a growing number of technological improvements in such areas as food production, environmental quality and energy will sustain life as human population soars.

It evolved as a response to the Malthusian study The Limits to Growth... Professor James Krier of the University of Michigan Law School believes that the technological optimists may be wrong.

Krier describes how the marginal costs of pollution control increasingly rise. He faults biologist Barry Commoner for neglecting population growth as the cause of pollution and positing the postwar technological transition as its cause. He argues that population growth forced this transition as science searched for substitutes for dwindling resources.

Krier criticises as "an article of faith" the technological optimists' belief that "S-curve" patterns of technological advance will always arrive in response to the "J-curve" of exponential population growth.

He thinks that the technological optimists may be deluding humanity by predicting the continual emergence of technological breakthroughs at ever-increasing rates.

He favours growth policies that would allow humanity to ease into a steady state of resource use and minimise the maximum cost, which would be a global crash after technological innovation fails.

Krier laments that modern technology can worsen pollution and invites problems of latency, irreversibility, "zero-infinity" risk and remoteness.

He thinks that appropriate technologies which have failed economically may fail politically because the political process has been captured by opposing interests. Krier urges that the population crisis should be addressed instead.

|Link| (emphasis added, minor editing for spelling) Abstract of Andrew D. Basiago, The Limits of Technological Optimism, 14 Environmentalist 17 (1994).

That's a nice explanation of my disquiet whenever someone insists that we've always found ways to stretch petroleum to meet our needs and the technology will always keep up with human demands.

I've seen this idea in the pages of the Economist magazine and asserted by some of my closest friends who are bright, articulate people that I respect immensely.

Hope is not a method.

We must plan for the good and the bad, not simply believe in technology will solve all our problems. Technology may solve our problems, but that's a hell of a bet upon which to hang our entire civilization.

Check out the Bellman

The Bellman has been my source for the latest information on Troopergate and the Bush administration's plans to give away nearly a trillion dollars to Wall Street. So when you're done wasting time here reading my blog, you should check it out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Burning


statue of liberty in Las Vegas, originally uploaded by jsdart.

Worst President Ever Indeed

The meltdown of the financial markets in the 11th hour of Bush's tenure as President cements his status as the worst president ever in my mind. While this mess has been a long time in the making, I have no doubt that Bush exacerbated the problem. This is the man who repeatedly and unabashedly appointed industry lobbyists to "regulate" the industries they tried to exempt from government oversight.

Lawrence Mitchell, the author of The Speculation Economy: How Finance Triumphed Over Industry says it was the triumph of ideology over caution.

"Since Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, free markets have been preached in this country as being our economic salvation," Mitchell says.

" 'Government regulation' we've been told, 'is bad, it's evil, and the government doesn't know what it's doing economically'."

" 'It should be out of people's business'. That's nonsense, but that was the ideology that was driving it. 'Regulation is bad, free market is good'."

The next president after Clinton, George Bush, continued to de-regulate housing and financial markets and bragged about the results at the 2004 Republican convention, saying: "Another priority for a new term is to build an ownership society, because ownership brings security and dignity and independence. |How the financial bubble burst - Al Jazeera|
So much for the ownership society.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Collateral Damage


a celebration, originally uploaded by k1mk1m.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Stewart and Blair

If you missed Jon Stewart's interview of Tony Blair, you can watch it over at England for Obama.

Mousikus has some insightful analysis.

The basic problem was that the questions Stewart were asking demanded serious answers -- especially from one of the principals in the war. But this was not the forum for these answers. Blair was caught in no-man's land, as was Stewart.

Stewart never shies away from these questions -- but his typical guest is not usually personally responsible for a massive, global political crisis -- they're usually someone who's able to express an opinion freely and with little practical consequence. This isn't one of those situations when Stewart and the guest can both agree to look back and laugh at the way things turned out.

A weird, revealing moment of television.|Link|


Stewart's frequently claimed that the Daily Show isn't really news -- it's "just" a comedy show. I've always thought this a bit disinegenuous -- a protection strategy, since it's clear that the Daily Show is more than "just" comedy. It really is some of the most incisive political commentary... on TV...

But the Blair interview exposed the limitations of the show: some guests -- and the issues they entail -- really are too big to be handled by the show's format and culture. This isn't a knock on the Daily Show at all (as I say, I think it's indispensable); just an observation on something quite curious. |Link| (emphasis added)

US Army solicits new rifle designs & calibers

One thing that gun nuts never tire of is arguing about the best caliber for weaponry.

Bush's global war on terror has re-focused the attention of the military on the requirements for rifles and small arms. No longer is the military preparing solely for a combined arms assault using artillery, aircraft, tanks, armored personnel carriers and infantry.

In peacekeeping, occupation, and anti-terrorism operations, often a soldier is only armed with his sidearm and working against irregular forces where the US advantage in weapons platforms is neutralized.

So it appears that the military is at least willing to investigate a new rifle in a new caliber.

In a move that could reverse years of Army small arms policy, the service is asking industry to send in ideas for a new combat rifle that could replace the M4 carbine...

And in a dramatic gesture that could throw the door wide open to a totally new carbine, the service did not constrain ideas to the current 5.56mm round used in the M4...

Some in Congress have called for the Army to hold a “shoot-off” with several other carbine designs alongside the Colt-built M4 to demonstrate the state of the art in today’s military arms market. Sen. Tom Coburn (R - Okla.) briefly held up the nomination of Army Secretary Pete Geren in mid-2007 to force the service into side-by-side comparisons of M4 competitors in extreme dust conditions.

Many argue the M4 is more susceptible to fouling due to its gas-operated design, and say other systems are less maintenance intensive.

The move to broaden the competition is also calendar-driven: the so-called “technical data package” of the M4 — essentially the blueprints for the design — are up for release in June of next year. That means the Army can rebid the M4 to any company that can make it, potentially driving down costs and boosting production capacity.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Army is also in the midst of re-writing its carbine requirements document, which will spell out specifically what the service needs for its primary weapon...

“If there’s some new technology out there, they want to be able to write a requirement that will not limit the Army to something they could possibly have,” [soldier weapons project manager] Audette said.

The Army is leaving itself open to carbine ideas that could stray from the nearly 40-year policy of using 5.56mm ammunition for its rifles. Recent developments in ammunition calibers have bolstered critics who contend the 5.56 round has too little “stopping power” and passes through its target without incapacitating him...

[S]everal “boutique” rounds have been making inroads with weapons developers both in and outside the government. The 6.8mm and 6.5mm round are increasingly popular, as is the old-school 7.62mm round — which Special Operations Command plans to incorporate into its new carbine program. |Army Taps Industry for M4 Replacement - Tactical Life|

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

World's Largest Earthquake Drill

The Great Southern California Shakeout is going to mobilize some 3 million people in an Earthquake drill next month.

It's great to prepare for disasters and since SoCal is built on a series of fault lines, good luck to them.

Pressure Front


Nesden Temple, originally uploaded by abrarnadir.

More Pakistan Troubles

The distraction in Iraq has allowed the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation to seriously deteriorate.

Now the Pakistanis have effectively decided to deny the US permission to enter their country without risking a serious diplomatic incident because of our past interventions.

U.S. raids have embarrassed and angered Pakistan's military, and stirred widespread public outcry. The reported comments by Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas underlined the tensions.

"The orders are clear," Abbas was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. "In case [US troops cross the Pakistan border] happens again in this form, that there is very significant detection, where it is very definite, no ambiguity across the board, on the ground or in the air: open fire."...

Privately, Pakistani analysts said they did not expect Pakistani troops to shoot at U.S. forces, with whom they have been closely -- if uneasily -- allied against Islamist extremists since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Moreover, Pakistan's military has received roughly $6 billion in U.S. aid during that time...

[The recent cross-border incursion by US forces] has brought into focus the conflicting agendas and mutual frustrations that have plagued the U.S.-Pakistan military partnership since inception.

Concern also has intensified in Washington and other capitals over whether Pakistan, a nuclear power that is experiencing increasing violence by Islamist extremists, will remain a firm ally under the civilian leadership that this year replaced longtime military ruler Pervez Musharraf...

"Every country has certain red lines. The army wants to have good relations with the U.S., but it cannot tolerate operations on its turf," said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, speaking from Islamabad. "These American operations have caused a lot of collateral damage. . . . Some Pakistanis think the Americans may want to stabilize Afghanistan at the cost of destabilizing Pakistan." |Mullen Visits Pakistan as U.S. Raids Stir Tensions - WaPo|


Last January I blogged about Barnett Rubin's evaluation of Bush's mishandling of Pakistan, I'll just quote a snippet:

[R]ecent events demonstrate even more clearly is that the Bush administration's policy of relying on a personal relationship with a megalomaniac manipulator like Musharraf to fight al-Qaida has strengthened that organization immeasurably and perhaps fatally damaged the U.S.'s ability to form the coalition it needs to isolate and destroy that organization. |Link|


Now Musharrag is gone and we've very little pull in Pakistan.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

2008 Campaign Contributions



Over at the Bellman, DR was wondering how Obama's recent fundraiser was able to charge $28,500 per plate when the elections laws limit individuals to $2300 donations per year to a candidate.

I copied this chart from the FEC's 2008 Congressional Candidate and Campaign Committee's Guide (page 16). I think the cost of the plate goes towards the Democratic National Committee and not to Obama himself.

Testing my Twitterfeed

Spammy T mentioned Twitterfeed to me and I just had to try it out...

Confidence

Obama Pictures and McCain Pictures

Monday, September 15, 2008

Safety Propositions: Living in the Moment

I'm a planner and I spend a fair amount of time trying to be efficient with my work and in my collaboration with others. I should read more management literature... it's odd how our tastes change as we get older, no?

Anyway, sometimes I plan too much, I overthink things that should be simple. I've also noticed that even while driving down the road, I'll be thinking about work or some other topic not relevant to the driving.

So my mantra has been the live in the moment, at least while I'm driving. I'm a reasonably good driver most of the time and this can lead to boredom and daydreaming, especially in perfect weather conditions on long drives.

I think I would be happier if I lived in the moment more... although a certain amount of preparation and worry are healthy.

The trick is finding the right balance.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Safety Propositions: 911 ICE

A paramedic in the UK has sponsored a program called ICE, or In Case of Emergency. It strikes me as a great way to make your health information available to first responders.

Via Webware.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Guns or Butter



This two minute video illustrates the economic cost of Bush's elective war in Iraq.

While the war in Afghanistan is far more righteous, it's been almost totally neglected because of the unnecessary distraction in Iraq.

Thanks to Spike for the link.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

In case of zombies...


In case of zombies..., originally uploaded by Drunken Monkey.

Vampires


Attack, originally uploaded by SaylaMarz.

Slaying the Undead

Last month we were discussing the Zombie Survival Quiz and zombie killing over at the Bellman.

I recently ran across the nice folks at Zombie Ammo (or catch them on MySpace), and they reminded me of the Bellman discussion.

Reasonable minds can differ on what is the best weapon to use against zombies, but I do like machetes and shotguns (like a Benelli M4), but assault rifles like an M-16 or AK-47 would be handy too.

But zombies are easy prey, they're only a threat in large numbers. I think the real question is what's the best strategy against vampires and werewolves.

They're far sneakier than zombies and I think fighting them would be more like guerrilla warfare than the the open warfare that would characterize zombie infestations.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Isle of Skye

Brainstorms... in a bad way

The Scientific American has an article on new medical research into the causes of migraines.

Thanks to my friend Dean for the link.

Metaphorically Speaking

Without question, [Bernard-Henri Lévy's] style irritates philosophers fond of tight, impersonal sentences, and it always will... Early on he mentions a well-known French formulation of the dividing line between Left and Right, Françoise Sagan's observation that "in the case of any given injustice, the man or woman of the Right will say it's inevitable. The man or woman of the Left will say it's intolerable." Lévy doesn't comment, possibly because Sagan's vision of the crusading leftist fits him too well, and he prefers, like most writers, to shape his own self-portrait. |A French Intellectual Star Considers What's Right About the Left by Carlin Romano - Chronicle of Higher Education| (emphasis added)


I was discussing this with friends over dinner and it seems highly questionable, at best it's metaphorical.

Conservatives certainly get upset when they feel disenfranchised (or their children aren't admitted to Hah-vahd). They just have so little experience of disenfranchisement because of their privileged lifestyles.

And certainly any leftist who has been around the block a few times knows that the way of the world isn't always just and you have to pick your battles...

Especially against police in full riot gear.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The discipline of steel


Pakistan Defence Day, originally uploaded by jahangirpix.

Steaming mad at dirt

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn's Raja Asghar reports that the several members of the Pakistani parliament are so upset at recent US incursions across the Pakistani border that they're discussing shooting at US troops.

It may all be talk, but I find it sobering that they're publicly suggesting options that they must know could risk a war with the United States.

Apparently the US has an understanding with Pakistan about incursions into their country and we're violating the terms, like exceeding the territory limits on one's hunting license. The authorities get very upset when you start hunting in the suburbs.

I wonder if this is an intentional provocation by the Bush administration to show how earnest they are about Afghanistan.

Did anyone notice that John McCain's acceptance speech never mentioned Afghanistan?

That seemed odd to me given the amount of time stressing McCain's service as a veteran to our country.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Word: Interneuter

interneuter [noun, verb]

Loosing your connection to the internet

Johnny was interneutered suddenly by his cable company which left him feeling much like his cat who was neutered a few days ago.
|Urban Dictionary|


The voting is currently pretty negative on interneuter (the urban dictionary is an interactive dictionary 2.0 of course). But I like it. I think it's even fun to say.

It is (far too often) a handy term when using a web-enabled phone or PDA to answer a question and you lose connection. I'm sure this has happened to most information professionals at one point or another.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Map Blogging

One of the great things about the Twin Cities are all the parks. So I've decided to memorialize some of the great parks I've been visiting for the benefit of others in the area.

Lakes I have known


I've discovered some fantastic parks
while volunteering this week. Sarah and I took Halle to visit the Grass Lake Nature Preserve today actually because it was so beautiful. Next time we'll take the camera... but until then, here's a map of the area and 3 cool lakes to visit next time you're in Shoreview (near St. Paul).

More fun with maps


Here's Grass Lake in relation to my workplace for some added context and a broader view of the Snail Lake Regional Park system (PDF).

Guilt Complex



So now that I'm qualified to direct traffic, I feel a bit guilty anytime I don't stop and help someone out when their car has died on a roadway. I've been patrolling this week with my ANSI vest and other traffic control gear, but I haven't seen anyone broken down while I'm actually volunteering.

Life is so rarely convenient like that... Robert Heinlein wrote that the pancakes and the syrup never come out even. Ain't that the truth.