Saturday, September 17, 2005

Off to London

I'm headed to London in the morning at 7am. After that it's Redmond until the 30th, back here for a few days and then, if all goes well, to corporate housing.

I Want a New Flag

I saw this, and just had to write a song to go with it.

I want a New Flag (with Apologies to Huey Lewis and News)*

I want a new flag
One that will really stick
In the craws of all those liberals
And other folks I think are sick

I want a new flag
One with baby Jesus instead
One to praise the angles and get me
Into heaven when I’m dead.

One that shows the whole world
What a Christian country we are
One that makes the Bible law
For all white men, near and far

I want a new flag
One beyond red white and blue
One with lots of pretty girls
And maybe some angels too

I want a new flag
One that inspires the troops
One that can’t be burned
But could be worn on all my suits

One that shows the whole world
Just what this country can do
‘cause when were done with the towel heads
We’ll be coming after you
Oh we’ll be coming after you

I want a new flag
One that does what it should
One that fills me with pride
One that makes me feel real good.

I want a new flag
One without a doubt
One that flys over Moscow
And makes the cheerleaders shout

One that won’t make me nervous
With all those confusing rights
One keeps down the blackies
And helps me sleep at night.

And helps me sleep at night.

*Views expressed in this song are not the express views of the management
-Signed, The Management
"I Want a New Drug" is a song probably under a lot of copyrights. This parody should, in no way, be mistaken for the real product.

I'm No Fan of PETA but..

This is intolerable.

Revolting video footage posted on the Web site of the Dallas Morning News shows officers shooting dogs. At least one of their victims survived the gunshots and was apparently left to die a slow, agonizing death amid debris from the storm.

Of course, shooting is not an approved, reasonable, or reliable method of animal control. In fact, The 2000 Report of the AVMA [American Veterinary Medical Association] Panel on Euthanasia—the veterinary medical authority on euthanasia—states, "[G]unshot should not be used for routine euthanasia of animals in animal control situations." This dangerous method often fails to achieve instantaneous unconsciousness; animals can be injured by initial gunshots and suffer tremendously before dying, as seems to be happening in St. Bernard Parish. Gunshot is also categorized as an inhumane method of killing in The Humane Society of the United States' "General Statement Regarding Euthanasia Methods for Dogs and Cats."

Media Training 102

While I'm on the subject of media training...

I note with no pride that my jobs for the 6 or 7 years, a majority or all of my job has been in the marketing department (as it currently is right now). As a result I've had an inordinate amount of media training. Not just the "get up and do a speech" kind, but dealing with the press (hostile and friendly), writing for publication, how to be on television, the 10 tricks to get into the papers and the 5 tricks to stay out, persuasive writing, use of visuals etc. A full course in other words. I'm at a point in my career where I have even spent time training others.

I found this web site some time ago and was looking at it today. I point it out not for it’s snarky attitude or partisan bias (although I somewhat enjoy the latter in much smaller doses than this), but because the analysis of the visuals is spot on. Ignore the text and just look at the pictures. I've added this to my collection of teaching/reference materials for marketing and persuasive writing becuase it's just too good to pass by despite the fact that it's being done by someone with whom I disagree politically.

They do things like this well at the White House and current administration is really exceptional. Look past the mock outrage the author is using to make his point and you’ll see a real masterpiece of Media Staging worthy of the heftiest Hollywood Movie or Product Placement Ad.

I’m impressed with the President’s staff. They’re really good at this.

Why Can't they Just Boil the Water?

After the inital Katrina disaster, Geoff asked me why the relief workers were shipping water into New Orleans when it seemed they already had more than they needed.

"Why can't they just boil it?"

I explained, but the photo goes it justice.

This is your drinking water on entropy. Any questions?

A Good Blog to Check Out

Interesting and very occasionally controversial. I've never met Lee in person ( I don't think), but he's a life long friend of TJIC and, like me, seems to have found a kind of philosophical neutral buoyancy with him.

Check it out, it's worth a few moments of your time (if nothing else, the Burning Man photos are cool).

Interesting Thoughts on Oil

from a blogger and FinServ analyst:

Some nuggets, but read it all. This is what real-world, rubber-meets-road financial services economics looks like.

Another chestnut is that "oil is doing the Federal Reserve's job for it", which I heard yesterday on a business news show---the implication being that Alan Greenspan and the Fed don't need to raise interest rates since higher oil acts to slow the economy just as higher rates do. More nonsense. Oil does not do the Fed's job; it reflects the job the Fed is doing. All else being equal, the more money the government prints, the higher oil goes. And indeed, over the past year all else has been equal. Despite the constant media hype about Chinese demand, last week Morgan Stanley analyst Andy Xie noted that oil's demand-supply relationship has not changed this year---but oil prices are up about 70%.


This leads to yet another oft-spoken absurdity about oil: even though it is near an all-time high, "it's still well below its inflation-adjusted high" of the 1970's. In other words, the price of oil is rising due to inflation, but we've printed so much money over the past 25 years that we've made oil cheap! So goes that line of reasoning, which is cognitive dissonance, denial, and circular logic all wrapped into one. Want a good prediction on where oil will be trading a year from now? Tell me exactly what the Fed's monetary policy will be and how much liquidity will be created or drained over the next twelve months, and I'll give you a pretty good guess on where oil will be trading.

Here's a good example of non-Guassian events causing market indices to temporarily uncouple from the market itself. In much the same way a weather vein will point the true direction of the wind most of the time, but become randomized in a storm, market indices have boundaries in which they are valid.

But parts of German society did quite well during this chaos, particularly those with access to the river of money creation. This included the staid banker class, as well as leveraged stock and real estate speculators---in other words, today's investment bankers, hedge fund managers, corporate insiders, and real estate flippers. At the height of its inflation during the early 1920's, Germany's stock market began a stunning climb that masked and defied the underlying economic chaos. This happened because people were desperate for any type of return on their money in order to meet their ever-increasing daily living expenses. Twenty-five year old stock traders got rich, while prudent savers and middle class pensioners lost everything to inflation. It is impossible to overstate the impact this had on traditionally conservative and ordered German society. The nation was turned upside down, and people were both fascinated with and enraged by the chaos that defined their daily lives. The public's reaction to this paved the way for the rise of Hitler, who railed against the "greedy money changers" who had benefited from the economic insanity. Importantly, Hitler's appeal increased exponentially after the great credit collapse of the early 1930's, when the inflation and debt creation of the previous decade unwound quickly. We know what happened after that.

If you knew the government would pay for your temporary relocation, rebuild your house, give you a job, and send you a nice check after a natural disaster, would you buy insurance? Would you live in a place less vulnerable to a natural disaster? Would you evaluate your overall risk profile rationally and take appropriate measures to protect yourself? And importantly, what incentive does government have to live up to its own responsibility to prepare for disasters if the printing press is always available as a salve when something happens?

A point I've been harping on for about a year now:

Since oil is currently priced globally in dollars, using a different currency for both pricing and transactions would remove the only way outside of direct military action the U.S. exerts control over a critical natural resource it does not own. This poses a direct threat to dollar hegemony and thus the system of debt creation upon which we rely.

There is, unfortunately a long section of reasoning-by-analogy in this, but I think it's more pedagogical and he isn't relying on the answer for anything more than an illustration of the larger principle of dollar-inflation.

The comments and critques are good as well. I don't agree with all of it, but it does reflect some of what I and others who work in the industry have been thinking.

The Powers of the Unelected Career Politician

This is more than a little frightening.

Elizabeth Reyes, 30, was terminated Sept. 6 after being quoted in The Washington Post three days earlier saying it was potential vote fraud to register in a place where you don't actually live. Ms. Reyes said that she was answering a hypothetical question, that she didn't know she talking with a reporter and that Mr. Rove's name never came up. The Post acknowledged that Mr. Rove's name was not mentioned but said the reporter did identify herself as working for the newspaper.


Secretary of State Roger Williams said that he decided to dismiss the lawyer after talking with Mr. Rove but that the White House adviser didn't request that he do so. "Absolutely not," said Mr. Williams, a longtime supporter of President Bush and a major GOP fundraiser. "Karl called me. He had read the article and wanted to know if it was our stance" that his voter registration status in Texas might be in jeopardy, he said. "I told him it wasn't and that the person who gave that opinion was not authorized to do so."

Not frightening because it's boogy-man Rove, frightening because a) it gives the strong appearance of being done at Rove's request and b) he's not an official elected to do anything. Just a guy who advises the President. There was a time in this country where people got all het-up around even the appearance of impropriety.

I remember the "scandal" at the beginning of the Clinton administration when elected officials fired some career bureaucrats from the WH Travel Office. This lead to Congressional Investigations even though everyone was perfectly within their charter and, it lead to nothing. Again the 'liberal' press had a field day throwing mud at the President and nothing was accomplished.

I somehow doubt that's going to happen here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

First-hand account of outrunning Katrina

An outstanding writeup from one of the CNN teams that were on the ground during Katrina from fellow-Bryce artist Lee Hughey.

Notes from Media Training 101

On Wednesday I noted Ankle Biting Pundits citing an unpublished Gallup poll. I checked back yesterday and it still hadn't been published. Today however, it was.

Good news: The numbers were correct and slightly higher, but within the error bands, of the other polls.

Less good news: It doesn't support ABP thesis that the media is ignoring or under-reporting a story. It is, simply a non-story. Nothing much has changed and so, it's not really news. I note, in balance, the media in general a) conduct their own polls with higher error bars that are consistent with Gallup and b) the media are not beating the drum much on their own polls either. It's simply not real news in comparison to other stories. Media Training 101.

The other interesting thing to note is that a lot of right-leaning people are complaining that the media is not reporting "positive news on Iraq", and cite this as liberal bias. I would point out two things (also out of Media Training 101). First, the media almost never reports "positive news" on national stories like that. Simply, they are not interesting and don't sell as many papers as negative/divisive news does. It's simply a fact of life. Look at the Times or Globe or your favorite paper. Rarely does it say, "Mayor Doing Great Job" or "Senator a Swell Guy". Instead it says, "Dog Catcher Caught in Porn Sting" or "Bus Driver Takes Bus to Tryst With Dog Catcher". Why do they concentrate on low level officials doing bad instead of high level officials doing good? Because it sells papers! And, when they can catch high level officials doing bad, well, that sells a LOT of papers. It's simple economics.

Which brings me to my second point. In the '90s these so called 'liberal biased' papers were going after Clinton tooth and nail in an effort to catch him with his hand in the cigar jar. They were a willing enabler of the process of impeaching a president for a blow job. And while there was some cry of 'liberal bias' it would be hard to prove in a point by point analysis. Why did they do this? Because it sells papers, the only reason papers going into (and stay in) business. Exceptions exist on both sides of the political spectrum for very brief times, but no administration or media savvy organization would count on this. Papers don’t exist to find the truth, they exist to sell product. Occasionally finding the truth sells more product, but if not, the truth isn’t run.

My point? While everyone loves to have the coveted 'victim status', and current day conservatives love it every bit as much as their liberal counterparts, it's large a matter of whose particular ox is being gored at the moment, so take these things with a grain of salt. Tomorrow all the rules will change again.

Katrina: The Gathering

This is the most clever thing I've seen in weeks. I used to be a rabid MtG player but even at my peak I would never have thought of this.

Hat tip to TJIC

All Players must snicker when saying 'Santorum'

True Tales of Customer Service

Wednesday 2pm:

Comcast: Hello, Comcast Cable, my name is Raj, how may I help you.
Mark: Hi Raj, my internet and cable are out.
C: I'm sorry sir, what's your home number.
M:[tells him]
C: I see. And you're at [Address]
M: Yup.
C: hmm... there are no outages in your area. What seems to be the problem?
M: The internet is off and the TV only has the show information, but no show. It's showing the "wait just a minute" sign.
C: So it's all snowy?
M: ... ???... no, it's got all the show info. The picture is steady, just no program.
C: But no snow?
M: no.
C: That's impossible.
M: ...!!!... [po-lite-ly] No, it's obviously NOT impossible Raj, I'm looking at it.
C: Yes, sir, well I'm not showing any outages in your area.
M: [waits]
M:[waits] and...
C: Well we could send someone over, but I suspect it will fix itself.
M: [contemplates this new, obviously smurf-based technology] How about if we go for the "send someone over option"
C: Okay sir, how does [gives a bunch of highly inconvienient times]
M: [pretending to think about it while contemplating exactly how much I actually do or don't need cable...] Well, I don't think1AM tomorrow night is going to work for me, Raj. How about if we go for tomorrow afternoon between 3pm and 5pm?
C: Great. We'll call you 30 minutes before.
M: Please call me on my cell. The phone will be tied up with my dial-up connection.
C: Okay, what's the number?
M: [tells him]
C: Great. Is there anything else I can do for you.
M: [Like what? Is this really a time where you think you can successfully upsell more services? Jesus Fucking Christ! What's wrong with you? You want to do something? Fix my damn cable!]
No, that's it.
C: Thanks.

Thursday, 5:15 pm
Comcast: Hello, Comcast Cable, my name is Raj, how may I help you.
M: Hello Raj, my name is Mark, I called yesterday about getting my service repaired.
C: Great. Can I get your number?
M:[Great?][tells him number]C: I see. And you're at [Address]M: Yup.
C: When was your appointment?
M: Between 3pm and 5pm today. It's 5:15 and I want to make sure he was still coming.
C: Let's see here... Oh! ... yes there is an appointment. I'm sure he'll be along soon.
M: Okay thanks.
C: Great. Is there anything else I can do for you.
M: No.

Thursday 6:45pm

Comcast: Hello, Comcast Cable, my name is David, how may I help you.
Mark: [with a voice in which one can actually hear the sound of nailheads being chewed] Hello David. My name is Mark and I have been waiting for a repairman for 4 hours.
C: oh! Let me get your information.
M: [gives info]
C: Let's see... oh, the appointment's been canceled.
M: [incredulous]WHAT?!!!
C: Let me check the notes
M:[waits] [waits] [waits]Hello?
C: Still here. I'm just trying to track down the repair guy.
M: Why was the appointment cancelled?
C: I don't know sir. Where you there?
M: Yes, for almost 4 hours.
C: Ah, the notes have come up. It says here he called and no one answered.
M:[Pissed] What number did he call?
C:[reads off home number]
M: [calmly] THATS THE WRONG NUMBER!!! I SPECIFICALLY gave Raj my cell so this would not happen!!! Jesus McFuck!
C: ....
C: ... Let me see if I can get the tech to come over right away.
M: Thanks.
C: [with the care of a man using an old cardboard tube to detect mines in a large wet field]Sir? The tech is off duty now. Can we schedule a time tomorrow?
M: Fine. [ you could actually hear the period at the end]
C: How does 12-4pm tomorrow work?
M: Not well. I've already wasted 2 days with this, I cannot take more time off work!
C:[I found a mine! Quick, get in there!] Does 4 to 7 work for you?
M: That works, thanks.
C: [relief] Let me get you a confirmation number.
C: Sir, while I wait for number, can I make sure I have your cell phone?
M: Sure it's [cell number]
C: Let me read that back, [cell number]
M: That's right.
C:[the voice of a man watching his now wet cardboard tube unravel while simultaneously realizing the field also has wolves in addition to mines] Sir? That time doesn't work now. Can we pick another?
M:[silence] ... [silence] ... fine.
C: How does 7pm-9pm work.
M: [growing impatient, yet beginning to be fascinated about how wrong this is going] That's fine.
C: Let me double check your cell number. Is it [cell number]
M: That's right. Thanks for double checking
C:[the wolves are retreating from the field] No Problem Sir! I just want to make sure...
M: yes?
C:[realizes the wolves were leaving the field because the field is actually infested with Snakes] That time has also been taken.
M: You don't say?
C: [pokes his wilted cardboard tube at the ground, shuts eyes, repents]. Sir, could 9am -11am tomorrow work?
M:[having passed into amusement] As long as it's over by 11am. I'm having lunch with the French Ambassador and he doesn't like tardiness.
C: Yes sir. [steps on the spot ahead of him... foot lower... lower...)Let me get the confirmation number. And your cell phone is [cell number]
M: Yes it is [waiting to see how this goes wrong]
C:[surprise! joy!] And your number is 91516621!
M:[very slightly disappointed] Thanks.
C: Is there anything else I can do for you?
M:[in my best 'you've got to be kidding voice'] I doubt it.
C: Have a great night!
M: Thanks.

Thursday, 9:10pm

Jim: There's a comcast truck outside.
Mark: Really?
Jim: Yes, wait ... there's two now.
Mark: hahahahahahahahhaha
Jim: Why is that funny?

Friday, 5:45 am
Mark: Hey, the internet is working again.
Jim: Good. I guess it did fix itself.

Travis has a fun game

Travis is having a competion over in TJICistan to find, "the absolute worst concept for a crossover movie/novel/comic-book/role-playing-game/etc. you can think of. "

The entries so far are very amusing, so I encourage you to take a look.

I added four and have now thought of four more. I should ask if I can enter twice.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Why I like Wikipedia

I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

There is a small SPOILER ahead.

Near the end when Harry get the Horcrux open, there is a note signed by R.A.B. [That's it, that's the only spoiler] About an hour later, when I was thinking about something else, it occured to me that R.A.B. was Sirius Black's brother , Regulus who was once a Death Eater then tried to quit and was killed by the other Death Eaters on Volomort's orders. This is not the most subtle leap of logic, although there are other RAB initialed characters in the books and it's possible Rowling will introduce the character later.

I looked up Regulus Black on Wiki and was pleased to see others have fleshed out the theory completely.

That's the great thing about Wiki.

Geoff's New Apartment

Done over in a style known to all as "Junior Year".

Let's ask the critics and see what they say:

Ebert: No risks here, by the book and solid. I'd give it a thumbs up for execution but there isn't a lot of creative range…
Siskel: No... No creative range? Are you insane or has syphilis finally taken your poxy eyes. There’s creativity all over the place. Look at the exposed brick! College students don’t usually have that kind of decorative flair …
E: oh yes, no one has ever thought of bricks before…
S: and the style elements. Why they alone propell this to be an achievement setting him far above the common herd…
E: … of RISD students…
S: .. huumphhh. Look at the clever use of the firearm! Hung over with clothes, it’s obviously an artistic statement about man’s constant struggle against war and violence. The clothes are a metaphor for peace, symbolically beating swords into plowshares…
E: You probably don’t’ want to start talking about beating your sword into anything unless you’ve got a new deal on cable tv there Mr. Lofferlighten. It’s a gun hat rack. … hmmm. And I think it’s loaded.
S: Fine, well what about the photo of Armstrong on the Moon? Strong, purposeful, alone on the vast white wall symbolizing Armstrong’s physical remoteness from the juxtaposed with the emotional bond he shares with the rest of mankind in our greatest moment. So purposeful, so symbolic, so
E: hackneyed. The word you are looking for is hackneyed Roger. I’m surprised you don’t know it better, it’s shouted at you all day. Unless you think that’s your name or something. All it needs is a motivational poster with a cat and a Kandinsky and it could be for sale as a K-Mart Kollege Dorm Kit. Shit, these kids haven’t even done the dishes!
S: from studying so hard and throwing all their effort into their art! The only time you’ve thrown that much into something is when you bumped Oprah at the roast beef station during the daytime emmys last year. Did you really step on her face to grab that ham?
E: That was her foot and it was falling over…
S: …drunk. Or did you mean the ham and not yourself?
E: Me? You’re one to talk. Even your probation officer doesn’t believe you’re drinking all those bottles of vanilla extract for the flavor..
S: You leave Stan out of this …

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

A Man with Two Watches

... never knows what time it is.
-Chinese Proverb

Bush's approval rating has declined to its lowest level in his presidency. So has his handling of the situation in Iraq. Moreover, fewer than half those surveyed approve of the way in which Bush has dealt with the hurricane, and a whopping three-fourths believe the United States is not prepared for a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
Iraq:Approve: 37%Disapprove: 58%
Troop Level:Maintain: 36%Reduce: 55%
Also, 75% say the US is not prepared for a WMD attack, and check out these numbers for how people think the reconstruction after Katrina should be primarily funded:
Reduced Iraq spending: 45% Repeal tax cuts: 27%Cut federal spending: 12% Increase the Deficit: 8%Raise income taxes: 7%

Gallup (un-sourced) via ABP via TJIC
Initial Response
(total good) 44%
(good) George W Bush 39%
(good) Residents of New Orleans 38%
(good) State and local officials in Louisiana 36%
(good) FEMA/federal agencies

Recent Response
(total good) 58%
(good) George W Bush 59%
(good) Residents of New Orleans 57%
(good) State and local officials in LA 56%
(good) FEMA/federal agencies

The President's Job Approval: 46% approve [UP from last week's 45% and last month's 40% . . . similar to Rasmussen's 47% approval (50%/likely voters)
Despite the Mediacrats best efforts, Gallup discovered that 60% of repondents still had confidence in the federal government's ability to handle natural disasters and 63% had confidence in the government's ability to handle terrorist attacks.

Currently Reading: The Armchair Economist

by Steven E. Landsburg.

I'm through about a third of it so far, enough to form an opinion which is: It's like reading a book on astrology. It presents a lot of mysteries, promotes some novel theories which the author uses to bolster his premise that all people are always make rational economic decisions. He is, however, glazing over a lot (a real lot) of complicated math and often simplifying to the point of incomprehensibility. He also, fairly regularly, undermines his premise by pointing out that some things don't seem to make any sense (he has a good example in 99-cent pricing structures), but takes it as a tenant of faith that they somehow do.

Actually, astrology is a bad analogy. Evolution is a better one. It a complex problem with a complex theory that sometimes makes predictions, sometimes is testable, but often leaves one stumped and saying, "why did nature chose that adaptation" or poses unanswerable questions like, "Why haven't we evolved X since that would make more sense...". Unlike evolutionary theory where detractors can point to god or an "intelligent designer", economics is clearly a man made enterprise. However economics and evolution seem to be governed by similar principles like adaptation to the environment/market, incentive driven outcomes etc, and I suspect are described by the same mathematics.

It's an interesting read and while I agree that his premise is true in the abstract, I tend to disagree that it's always true in the details. Like evolution, I think a lot of mysteries are left over from earlier states when the feature in question was an advantage but is not anymore. Hence, while once a product of rational choice, the memory required for the system to operate occasionally leaves artifacts which later are patently irrational with (for various reasons) little pressure to change.

If nothing else, it's a mildly interesting read.

Maureen Dowd says Something That Isn't Stupid

by accident, but if true it puts things into a perspective I didn't have before:

it's frightening to think how it will handle the most demanding act of government domestic investment since the New Deal.

I'm not sure that it's true, but if it is, it's more than a little depressing.

True Tales

TJIC sent this out yesterday and reading it is like watching a train wreck, horrifying yet I dare not look away. True tales from the Piercing Hut:

There was one woman who was maybe in her late thirties who apparently had a thing for much younger men who would come in once a week to have her jewelry changed for a VCH, the entire time making very inappropriate comments. It all came to an end the day she put her hand on the back of my head while I was changing her ring. Another time a pretty frequent client of the shop had just purchased nipple shields that she was so proud of that after I put them on for her she had to walk around the shop showing everyone shaking her tits in their face. This would have been simply just a strange moment had her son, also a frequent client, not been sitting in the waiting room at the time.

I don't know what a VCH is, and I'm avoiding looking it up or listening to the Hermione Granger part of my brain saying, "well V must be..."

He also sent over this, which is part of the Advanced Gross-Out for Adults. Don't say I didn't warn you. Here.

Why I can't get worked up about Roberts

Because I gave some money last year to causes I considered to be currently the lesser of two evils, I have gotten a lot of spam urging me to write my Senators (let's see that would be ... oh, Kennedy and Kerry) to oppose Roberts (because the K's are probably undecided about him and need to hear from me to sort it all out). My question is "Why?"

The answer is, "because Bush wants him, therefore he must be evil"

While I admit there is a lot of history behind the logic to suggest it's worth, it still seems ad hominem to me.

Also, early on, it came out that he did some pro bono work in the Lawrence decision, and that seemed to stick in the craw of the conservative-religious folks, which naturally peaks my interest.

So, my concern about nominating a SCJ, especially a CJ, is this: will this person interpret the laws from a neutral standpoint, or will he use the fog of mythology and revealed truth to mask the complicated stuff.

Roberts, so far, seems to pass this test. Suspiciously well given his backers. "ah ha!", cry the 527's, "it's a mask! He's a conservative sneak in reasonable clothing. You need to write us another check to stop him". ...

So today, Volokh had an interesting post which sort of backs my view that, given the universe of offensive choices Bush could have made, Roberts doesn't seem like the worst choice.

As I suggested he might yesterday, Roberts today adopted the second approach, that of a traditional judge in a liberal democratic society, believing in truth but recognizing the difficulty of perceiving it.

Looks like I won't be sending the 527's any of my hard earned pennies this time around.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bluff Called

The President took responsibility today for (parts of) the Katrina Clusterfuck.


He's called the bluff. Now his critics (and me chief among them) can no longer call him a completely irresponsible fuckup. And, I'm guessing, he's soon going to realize that no one is going to take him to the wood shed, no one is going to humiliate him and, he might just look like a sympathetic, human figure. Hell, he might start taking responsibility for all kinds of things.

Then where would we be????!!!

The Periodic Table of Science Fiction

As a big fan of alternate history, I heartily enjoyed this.

Some Favorites:

Calcium (Ca)
Vandium (V)
Iron (Fe)
Astatine (At)
Gold (Au)
Lead (Pb)
Uranium (U)
Holmium (Ho)
Barium (Ba)
Rutherfordium (Rf)

and others...

The Moment of Choice

... but not quite the Moment of Truth. Not yet anyway. The GOP now has the opportunity to truely and fully accept the mantle they tore from the DNC in the '90s, i.e. the big spending, fiscally irresponsible, big governement party.

Yahoo notes:
In closed-door meetings, fiscal conservatives have begged their colleagues not to put the cost of disaster relief on the government credit card for future generations to carry.

Among those who have protested in these private sessions is Rep. Jeff Flake (news, bio, voting record) (R-Ariz.), a fiscal conservative who said his colleagues greeted his suggestion that disaster relief be offset by other cuts with "stone cold silence." He added, "You would have thought I was a Martian."

It is clear that Republican leaders' overwhelming priority at the moment is to project competence and generosity in the aftermath of Katrina. But Rep. Jeb Hensarling (news, bio, voting record) (R-Texas) said Republicans need to have heart-to-heart discussions about adding so much to the nation's debt.

"You can't tell me there aren't places to save a penny or two on the dollar and ship it to relief in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi," Hensarling said. "I just don't believe it as I look around."
Conservatives insist that they want to help hurricane victims and are not trying to stop Congress or the president from sending the money that's needed to rebuild. They just say the money should come from cuts in other federal programs.

I linked to Yahoo but similar articles are all over the place. It's a real hand-wringing, dark night of the soul for some, and I encourage it. All the things I've respected about the republicans and all the things I lothe about democrats are, at this moment, in play and the clock is starting to run out. I hope for the sake of the next few generations they manage to resist the easy charm of pocketbook compassion and stick to being the party of fiscal responsibility.

And sometimes that means eating your peas before dessert.

Let Us Quit English

Peter Lynn has a hilarious post on the English language and recommends we remove it from the open-source model and make it pay-to-say:

I’ve been thinking about this. Let’s do it. Let’s quit English. Anyone can pick it up, but few bother to master it, and there’s the problem. The vandals have taken over, so let’s just abandon it and start up a new language. Or if that’s too much trouble 2, let’s at least have a premium, subscribers-only version of English. We’ll reboot the language, lay down new rules, and give it room to grow in the right way. Eventually the two versions of the language will diverge as the people using the free version of English twist and pervert it into an increasingly debased pidgin tongue, and for all purposes, we’ll have a new language of our own. I’ll still have to use regular English at work, of course, but I use Internet Explorer there too, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use Firefox at home.

A Bush Administration First

The resignation of Michael Brown may be the first time a Bush Administration official has resigned as a result of failed performance. I did a quick bit of research (although not comprehensive) and found a slew of folks who quit to make room for someone else (Evans) because they were fed up (O’Neil, Powell) or because they were going to big money jobs (Ashcroft). I cannot find anyone though, as far as I can tell, who left due to mismanagement or even scandal. (and would like to be correct on this if I am wrong)

Every administration since George Washington had political pay-offs, incompetence and scandal, so I don't believe they it's a statistical anomaly based on the really good job they're doing over there.

No, this one has a whiff of ... accountability to it. Just a whiff, but it's definitely there.

In every two term administration, at about year 6, all the dirty laundry comes out and hearings, resignations and shock(!) are expressed that politicians can behave badly and not always in the public good. This is normal and healthy in our democracy. My only concern is that, except for some brief periods during Carter and Johnson, we've had the delightful gridlock of two party government. I'm hoping that we return to that sooner, rather than later, before the corruption metastasizes and we have something bigger and vastly more expensive to clean up than New Orleans and Iraq.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Truth in Titling

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

F vs. S

Dad: Do you think they should rebuild New Orleans?
Son: No, let it fester as a testament to the sins of Man
Dad: ...uuuhhhh huh. Which sins exactly?
Son: ummm.... video piracy!
Dad: I see.

A Golden Rule

An amazing quote today

"I can't comment on something that you may know more about than I do."
-President G.W. Bush

I... I... ... .... I... well, what else needs to be said?

We're from FEMA and we're here to help!

Wow. A fairly damning list of Federal Fuck-Ups.

FEMA won't accept Amtrak's help in evacuations
FEMA turns away experienced firefighters
FEMA turns back Wal-Mart supply trucks
FEMA prevents Coast Guard from delivering diesel fuel
FEMA won't let Red Cross deliver food
FEMA bars morticians from entering New Orleans
FEMA blocks 500-boat citizen flotilla from delivering aid
FEMA fails to utilize Navy ship with 600-bed hospital on board
FEMA to Chicago: Send just one truck
FEMA turns away generators
FEMA: "First Responders Urged Not To Respond"

The last one is straight from their website. This is a very broken system.

The Very Poor, No Good, Lousy, Very Bad Status of Science Writing

I posted a comment to Travis' blog today on climate change, but missed his point that science reporting is, basically, a farce. Coincidently, I stumbled across this piece in the Guardian a little later.

[Reporters oversimplify science] Why? Because papers think you won't understand the "science bit", all stories involving science must be dumbed down, leaving pieces without enough content to stimulate the only people who are actually going to read them - that is, the people who know a bit about science. Compare this with the book review section, in any newspaper. The more obscure references to Russian novelists and French philosophers you can bang in, the better writer everyone thinks you are. Nobody dumbs down the finance pages. Imagine the fuss if I tried to stick the word "biophoton" on a science page without explaining what it meant. I can tell you, it would never get past the subs or the section editor. But use it on a complementary medicine page, incorrectly, and it sails through.
Statistics are what causes the most fear for reporters, and so they are usually just edited out, with interesting consequences. Because science isn't about something being true or not true: that's a humanities graduate parody. It's about the error bar, statistical significance, it's about how reliable and valid the experiment was, it's about coming to a verdict, about a hypothesis, on the back of lots of bits of evidence.

A good, if depressing note

Katrina Donations

I've been thinking about how to contribute to the Katrina Relief Effort and decided that, in addition to some hard dollars, I'd contribute some Frequent Flyer miles. If you want to donate your miles to the Red Cross follow the link below and it will give you complete directions based on which airlines.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

Slate has an unusually good, non-technical article dealing with the SCF.

You have good tickets to a basketball game an hour drive away. There's a blizzard raging outside, and the game is being televised. You can sit warm and safe at home by a roaring fire and watch it on TV, or you can bundle up, dig out your car, and go to the game. What do you do?

You've ordered too much food at the restaurant and there you are, completely stuffed, with a pile of pasta sitting on your plate. Do you clean your plate or not?

In each of these cases, the money is gone. Do you "waste" it, or do you go to the game, and finish your pasta? It is claimed by economists and psychologists that the right way to approach questions like these is only by looking to the future. Since the money is spent no matter what you do, the only real question you should be asking is what will give you more satisfaction—watching the game by a roaring fire or sliding to it in a blizzard; leaving the restaurant feeling content or leaving it feeling stuffed. The "sunk costs" are sunk whatever your decision; only the future matters. The fallacy in thinking about sunk costs is precisely that people feel compelled to get their "money's worth," even if it makes them suffer.

There are fewer things more politically charged than the SCF, and it's very common on both the left and right to use it to, on one hand, validate their flavor of the day and, on the other, villify their opponents. This article applies it to Iraq, but it's pretty easy to find articles using the same flawed logic around welfare, social security and affermative action.

Not that there aren't VALID arguements for all these points, it just that valid arguements are so... hard to think about and all. Sunk Cost is easier.

FTR, I often leave food on my plates at restaurants. I didn't size the portions and feel no responsibility to finish them.

Phun with Photoshop

Also from Volokh, I thought it was funny (in a strictly non-partisan way, i.e. you could have photoshopped Hillary or Bill in and I would have laughed as well).

To D. or not to D., That is the question...

An interesting thread over at Volokh on the usefulness of a Ph.D. in working in law and economics.

Honestly, (and not surprisingly) I tend to agree with this idea. I have a lot of smart friends who, unfortunately, get most of their knowledge of science from reading a lot of science fiction. While this makes them familiar with the concepts of science, it tends to also lead them to poor logical skills, reasoning by analogy and simplifications that simply don't work in real science. The science in science fiction exists to move the plot forward, not to educate or show the process of how science works. I can see the analogy here applying to law to the extent that law is also complex, subtle, and requires training to understand. I once helped an ex study for the bar (after he failed 4 times). By the end I knew the answers to a lot of questions that he did not, and thought I'd have a non-zero chance at passing the bar, but I also knew why it took real years to understand the law and I was very well aware of what I didn't know.

Exceptions exist, certainly. But I have found them to be rare and most people I know need to work through the discipline of a Ph.D. before they really know how to talk about a subject.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


It's been 1461 days since several of my friends, my company, and my job were wiped from the face of the Earth. That is more time than the entirety of World War II from Pearl Harbor to VJ day, yet OBL is still free.

Every 9/11 I remember the strange set of events on 9/10 which resulted in me flying the last flight out of NY that night and sparing my life (having blown off a meeting scheduled there with HP the next day). At Sibos last week I met with Joe Lott, the head of that particular HP team who's life was also spared by a similarly weird set of coincidences (he ripped his shirt at 8:00 and was downstairs in the 21st Century store buying a new one when the plane hit wiping out his entire team). Neither of us understands why OBL is still enjoying his freedom. If you can rationalize the failure of the president and his cabinet to find and destroy this man, and you are not reading from GOP talking points, I invite you to comment below. I reserve the right to delete any comments that have their origin in the ass-covering offices of Mr. Rove.

Mystery, Solved!

Mark: I still can't figure out this picture. It's very weird, but it came from somewhere.
Jim: Oh, that's how they test deorderants.
Mark: really??????
Jim: Yes.
Mark: and you know this how...????

MainStream Religion Explained

The most concise summary of mainstream religion, especialy christianity, I've ever seen.

Although I still beleive most people beleive in god becuase they are afraid of death.

Funny if it were not so Sad

and predictable.

Firms with White House ties get Katrina contracts
FEMA taps Halliburton subsidiary, Shaw Group, Bechtel for cleanup

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
At least two major corporate clients of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have already been tapped to start recovery work along the battered Gulf Coast.
One is Shaw Group Inc. and the other is Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former head of Halliburton.

I can't wait for the 2006 elections and a return to 2 party government.