Monday, August 29, 2005

This Is Not a Permanent Base

If you've been wondering what we should do about the apparently permanent military bases which we are constructing in Iraq and which are causing so much unrest among Iraqis, Fafnir has the answer:
Should we keep permanent bases in Iraq or should we leave the area completely? Why not do both! The compromise: keep our permanent bases, but put up great big pieces a cardboard around em with paintings of permanent bases on em. Then paint signs on the paintings of the permanent bases that say "Ceci n'est pas une permanent base." That way when Iraqis wander by they'll just take our militarization of their country as a whimsical statement on the elusive nature of representation.

Friday, August 26, 2005


You know what I'm finding difficult to stop watching?

Panda Cam.

More Doctor Data

For those of you following the one-year-old's statistics, we have some new data. First, a little review:

9 months......21 lbs. 9 oz.; 28 in.
12 months.....22 lbs. 5 oz.; 30.5 in.
15 months.....23 lbs. 14 oz.; 29.5 in.

And now the latest results are in:

18 months.....25 lbs. 9 oz.; 32.25 in.

After shrinking an inch last time, she managed to gain in both dimensions. Now she is definitely more than half of her mother's (and maternal grandmother's) height. Not that it matters, I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Good and Evil without Metaphysics

This is the seductive beginning of a rather thoughtful article by Robert Anton Wilson:

The late Laurance Labadie once told me a parable about a king who decided that everytime he met somebody he would kick them in the butt, just to emphasize his power. My memory may have elaborated this yarn a bit over the years, but basically it continues as follows: since this maniac wore a crown and had an army, people soon learned to tolerate being kicked fairly often, and even began to accept it philosophically or stoically, as they accept taxation and other impositions of kings and governors. They even learned to bend over as soon as they saw the king coming.

Eventually, the king died and his successor naturally continued the tradition and kicked anybody *he* chanced to meet. Centuries passed, and, in the usual course of things, the nobility as a whole had demanded, and acquired, the same "right" as the king: any baron could kick anybody of lesser rank, and the knights could kick anybody except the barons or the royal family, etc. A large part of the population spent most of its waking hours facing a wall, crouched over, waiting for the next boot in the bottom.

The coming of democracy, in that amazing parallel universe, could only be understood according to the traditional thought-forms or acquired mental habits of the strange people there. Democracy therefore meant to those peculiar folks that *anybody* could kick *anybody else* as long as the kicker could prove that he (or she) had a bigger bank balance than the person receiving the boot in the rump. Within the context of the gloss or grid or reality-tunnel in that world, "democracy" could not have any other *thinkable* meaning. (See Berger and Luckman's The Social Creation of Reality if this sounds fantastic to you.)

He goes on to discuss the problems of a metaphysics of "Good" and "Evil" (as opposed to the more useful existential-phenomenological categories of "good for me or my group" and "bad for me or my group"). Much of it is quite good, but his criticism of Christianity and theologians needs qualification: he's talking about fundamentalism and fundamentalists (and, of course, these terms need to be further qualified, but the point is that they are subset of a much larger group). Thus, a sentence like the following seems naive and overextended: "The Christian theologian, historically, seems a person intent on terrorizing others into doing what he wants them to do and thinking what he wants them to think, or killing them if they will not submit." Still, he makes some nice points that many "real" theologians, i.e., the ones I would tend to agree with, have been making as well.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Health Care in the U.S.

Via Kevin Drum comes this excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker article:
One of the great mysteries of political life in the United States is why Americans are so devoted to their health-care system. Six times in the past century — during the First World War, during the Depression, during the Truman and Johnson Administrations, in the Senate in the nineteen-seventies, and during the Clinton years — efforts have been made to introduce some kind of universal health insurance, and each time the efforts have been rejected. Instead, the United States has opted for a makeshift system of increasing complexity and dysfunction. Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized world’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year.

What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries. American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average.

....Nor is our system more efficient. The United States spends more than a thousand dollars per capita per year — or close to four hundred billion dollars — on health-care-related paperwork and administration, whereas Canada, for example, spends only about three hundred dollars per capita. And, of course, every other country in the industrialized world insures all its citizens; despite those extra hundreds of billions of dollars we spend each year, we leave forty-five million people without any insurance.
People need first to be aware of this and then (logically) pissed off about it.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Stem Cell Research

This report in this Post article could be important: Skin Cells Converted to Stem Cells. As the article states, "the technique could offer an end run around the heated social and religious debate that has for years overshadowed the field of human embryonic stem cell research."

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Oil Queues in China

Remember this chart about oil supply and demand from a few days ago?


Well, now there's this happening in China:

Chinese oil queue


Sunday, August 14, 2005

Frank Rich Is Good

Frank Rich has another good article today:
Mr. Bush's top war strategists, starting with Mr. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard Myers, have of late tried to rebrand the war in Iraq as what the defense secretary calls "a global struggle against violent extremism." A struggle is what you have with your landlord. When the war's über-managers start using euphemisms for a conflict this lethal, it's a clear sign that the battle to keep the Iraq war afloat with the American public is lost.

That battle crashed past the tipping point this month in Ohio. There's historical symmetry in that. It was in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, that Mr. Bush gave the fateful address that sped Congressional ratification of the war just days later. The speech was a miasma of self-delusion, half-truths and hype. The president said that "we know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade," an exaggeration based on evidence that the Senate Intelligence Committee would later find far from conclusive. He said that Saddam "could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year" were he able to secure "an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball." Our own National Intelligence Estimate of Oct. 1 quoted State Department findings that claims of Iraqi pursuit of uranium in Africa were "highly dubious."

It was on these false premises - that Iraq was both a collaborator on 9/11 and about to inflict mushroom clouds on America - that honorable and brave young Americans were sent off to fight. Among them were the 19 marine reservists from a single suburban Cleveland battalion slaughtered in just three days at the start of this month. As they perished, another Ohio marine reservist who had served in Iraq came close to winning a Congressional election in southern Ohio. Paul Hackett, a Democrat who called the president a "chicken hawk," received 48 percent of the vote in exactly the kind of bedrock conservative Ohio district that decided the 2004 election for Mr. Bush.

...But just as politics are a bad motive for choosing a war, so they can be a doomed engine for running a war. In an interview with Tim Russert early last year, Mr. Bush said, "The thing about the Vietnam War that troubles me, as I look back, was it was a political war," adding that the "essential" lesson he learned from Vietnam was to not have "politicians making military decisions." But by then Mr. Bush had disastrously ignored that very lesson; he had let Mr. Rumsfeld publicly rebuke the Army's chief of staff, Eric Shinseki, after the general dared tell the truth: that several hundred thousand troops would be required to secure Iraq. To this day it's our failure to provide that security that has turned the country into the terrorist haven it hadn't been before 9/11 - "the central front in the war on terror," as Mr. Bush keeps reminding us, as if that might make us forget he's the one who recklessly created it.

The endgame for American involvement in Iraq will be of a piece with the rest of this sorry history. "It makes no sense for the commander in chief to put out a timetable" for withdrawal, Mr. Bush declared on the same day that 14 of those Ohio troops were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha. But even as he spoke, the war's actual commander, Gen. George Casey, had already publicly set a timetable for "some fairly substantial reductions" to start next spring. Officially this calendar is tied to the next round of Iraqi elections, but it's quite another election this administration has in mind. The priority now is less to save Jessica Lynch (or Iraqi democracy) than to save Rick Santorum and every other endangered Republican facing voters in November 2006.

...Thus the president's claim on Thursday that "no decision has been made yet" about withdrawing troops from Iraq can be taken exactly as seriously as the vice president's preceding fantasy that the insurgency is in its "last throes." The country has already made the decision for Mr. Bush. We're outta there. Now comes the hard task of identifying the leaders who can pick up the pieces of the fiasco that has made us more vulnerable, not less, to the terrorists who struck us four years ago next month.


I read Hilzoy's post at Obsidian Wings on stem cells (upon the recommendation of Mark Kleiman and Brad DeLong) and found it to be one of the best short pieces on the topic I have read. I think I now understand what Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) is and why it matters.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Tipping Point?

Is this the tipping point? What happens next? Until now the supply of oil has always outstripped the demand for its production. The demand has finally caught up, and the prices are going up. In itself, that fact is nothing to worry excessively about, but the possibility of another oil shock (when, for example, one major supplier goes off-line for a period of time) is definitely worrisome.


See this article for details.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Woe(s) of the Democrats

Why do the Democrats suck so badly these days--at least in the vote-garnering department? Kevin Drum has a list of popular answers.
  1. Too socially liberal. Need to move to the center.

  2. Too wishy washy. Need to be loud and proud liberals.

  3. Too tin-eared. We're terrific on the issues, but we need to frame them properly.

  4. Too wimpy. Need to convince Americans we can kick Osama's butt.

  5. Too wonkish. People don't want laundry lists, they want character.

  6. Too gutless. Need to get down in the gutter with Karl Rove and rip his lungs out.

  7. Too shortsighted. Need to create liberal versions of the Heritage Foundation to help us build long-term vision.

  8. Too tired. Need to break loose from the past and offer fresh, original ideas.

  9. Too splintered. Need to quit pandering to the interest groups that actually vote for us.

  10. None of the above. It's the media's fault.

Kevin Drum quickly skewers #9 in his description of it, but I enjoy Fafnir's more humorous rebuttal:
Sometimes I just can't stop worryin about the Democratic Party an its terrible internal divisions an stuff. On the one side you got your centrist DLC-types with their balanced budgets an their lax gun control regulation an their health care plans an their reverence for Bill Clinton, and on the other side you got your hard-core lefty Howard Dean types with their balanced budgets an their lax gun control regulation an their health care plans an their reverence for Bill Clinton. If only there was some kinda way to bridge this vast an terrible ideological gap!
If I had to bite the bullet and choose, my dark side would lean toward #6. But some combination of #3 , #7, and #8 (which are more or less the same thing) is probably the wise answer. And, yes, #10 is correct to a degree, but Democrats need to learn to manipulate the press as well as the Republicans. I blame Democrats for failing to figure out how to do that as effectively. At this point, if George Bush said he believed the earth is flat, the New York Times would write that opinions differ on shape of the earth and then get back to the latest Paris Hilton "news" of the day. Our press corps needs to get over its case of A.D.H.D. and focus on exposing the b.s. coming from our politicians. Aw, it's hopeless, isn't it?


Giblets of Fafblog responds the only way one possibly can to radical cleric James Dobson's lunacy at Focus on the Family.
Your children are gay, you have always known it! But how can you prove it for sure? Behold Giblets's Guide to Proving Your Son Is Gay! These are can't-fail tests that should have you diagnosing deviant offspring as early as age 5. There's no use bothering with your daughter; she's stuck as a girl as it is.

  • Casually ask your son at dinner, "So, ever have sex with a woman?" If he appears uncomfortable, he's gay. Non-gays like sex with women.

  • Place two photographs in front of your son lying face down. On the left place a photograph of Tom Welling, TV's gay Superman; on the right place the stern but genial visage of James Dobson. Flip them over simultaneously. Which does your son look at first? If he looks at Tom Welling, he is gay. If he looks at James Dobson, he is gay with an unnatural fixation for James Dobson.

  • Tell your son you are going outside to play ball and wrestle alligators. Then shove your son to the ground repeatedly and say, "Whassamatta, crybaby? Gonna cry? Gonna cry?" If he cries he is a great big pussy and therefore gay. If he "takes it like a man" he's still gay, but one of those butch tough-guy gays, like a "bear" or a "top."

  • Dunk your son into a deep pool of water. If he floats to the top, he is full of buoyant gaymotrons (identified by physicists as the gay particle) and therefore gay. If he sinks to the bottom and drowns, he is a poor swimmer and unathletic and therefore gay. If he begins to sink and then just sorta hangs there, the water is gay.

  • Starve a large wolf cub for two days and have it wrestle your son. If he loses to the wolf, he's gay - it was only a wolf cub! If he beats the wolf, he is a lesbian. If he is beaten mercilessly by the wolf while apologizing for its economic agenda, he is a Log Cabin Republican. If he is bitten by the wolf, he is now a werewolf. Shoot him with a silver bullet before the rising of the next full moon.