Friday, February 03, 2006

Seperation of Church and State

Interesting Quiz.

I got a 17

Where Smegma Comes from

WARNING: Put down all food, drinks and oral drugs before you read this.

Penultimate comment on the STOU Speech

From Pharyngula,

Did he say anything in that speech that was actually true? I'm beginning to suspect that if he started by saying, "My fellow Americans…," that it might be fruitful to check into the INS records and see if he actually is a citizen.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

We Slowly Become The Things We Despise Most

... well, only if we are intellectually lazy and guided by emotion rather than logic. While not perfect in this, I had to give up on many cherished political traditions I had when I was young, once I took an objective, non-emotional view of them. Unions, for example, were hard to give up on, but I have come to the conclusion, there days of usefulness are long, long past.

Here's what it looks like when judges and fine legal minds contort themselves to hang on their goals instead of their principles. It's a little long, but worth the investment:

Judge Richard Posner's comments in the New Republic on how he would go about deciding the constitutionality of the NSA surveillance program are refreshing for their honesty:

You [Professor Philip Heymann] say that "First we have to address ... the defiance of legislated prohibitions and the absence of published standards and any known system of accountability to the other branches." Why first? The way I approach a case as a judge--maybe you think it heresy--is first to ask myself what would be a reasonable, sensible result, as a lay person would understand it, and then, having answered that question, to ask whether that result is blocked by clear constitutional or statutory text, governing precedent, or any other conventional limitation on judicial discretion. That is how I would proceed if asked to decide a case challenging the legality of the NSA surveillance program. I would try to find out as much as I could about the program--its contribution to national security and the inroads it makes on liberty and privacy--before I started waxing indignant over it, and that indeed is what I have tried to do, and the result of that inquiry is my article. I missed such an inquiry in the letter to Congress you co-signed that was published in The New York Review of Books.

The ironies abound. If this is how defenders of the NSA program must proceed in order to argue for its legality, they well fit the caricature of judicial activism that generations of conservatives have tarred liberals with when liberals argue for extensions of civil rights and civil liberties protections. That is, instead of being constrained by law in the first instance, defenders argue that a program would be good policy and therefore strain to find that it is not illegal or unconstitutional.

Posner, however, is no ordinary conservative. He has long abandoned the belief that one must speak in pious platitudes about doing what the framers intended, or not legislating from the bench. He regards all this as mere blather designed to mystify what is really going on in legal decisionmaking. Instead, he views the judicial task "pragmatically," in his words, as an extension of ordinary policy discourse, which is only mildly constrained by legal texts and doctrines, if at all.

Posner's candor lays bare a jurisprudential problem for both sides of the ideological spectrum. Defenders of the President must come up with what I can only regard as makeweight legal arguments for justifying what he has done, arguments that would indeed require judges to legislate from the bench, if that hackneyed phrase has any meaning. (For those of who you want a detailed defense of that claim, I direct you to Marty's many posts on this site.)

Moreover, the muscular presidency that the Republican Party now promotes also has little connection to the original understanding of the President's power, despite Professor Yoo's valiant efforts to selectively quote sources to suggest that it is so. Rather, the best defense of expanded Presidential power is that the Constitution must keep up with the times, or as it is so often put, that "9-11 changed everything." That is to say, to justify their constitutional claims, defenders of the President must become that most dreaded and hated of liberal stereotypes, a bevy of living constitutionalists.

But lest liberals rejoice in this irony, it is worth noting that Posner's candor challenges them as well. Posner has dared critics of the President to abandon a debate about what the rule of law requires and concern themselves only with what the best policy is. To respond to this challenge, critics must rediscover and renew their faith in the rule of law-- in the importance of law as an institution that constrains arbitrary power even when that constraint also prevents *them* from doing what they think just and right.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


I have to admit, I shot soda through my nose when I read this:

President panders to anti-manimal lobby! Dr Moreau flees country in rage!

I didn't listen to the State of the Union Address last night, preferring to maintain my equanimity by attending a talk on quantum physics, but I knew I could trust my readers to email me with choice weird science bits. I'm getting a lot of "WTF?" email about this statement from Bush:
Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to prohibit the most egregious abuses of medical research, human cloning in all its forms, creating or implanting embryos for experiments, creating human-animal hybrids, and buying, selling or patenting human embryos.
It's pure political calculus. He throws away the
mad scientist and pig-man vote, and wins the religious ignoramus vote…and we know which one has the majority here.


Server trial by fire

Now we'll really get to see how well this new server provided by Seed holds up. Pharyngula just get linked by Slashdot, and I've seen a thousand hits come roaring in in 5 minutes. My lovely old Mac G5 server would have been screaming and shaking at this point, and you wouldn't be reading this article, that's for sure.

The Communist Manifesto

err.. I mean the Discovery Institue Manifest.

It reminds me a lot of those pamphlets I used to see the Campus Crusade For Communism hand out, i.e. it makes no actual sense but justifies an opinion some folks already have.

I'm sure a lawsuit is pending.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Big Picture

... continues to be one of my favorite economic blogs.

This is an interesting piece on how economists are often "perplexed"

WSJ: "After the economy navigated a brutal hurricane season to post robust growth in the third quarter of 2005, growth cooled considerably in the fourth quarter. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of U.S. economic output, increased at just a 1.1% seasonally adjusted annual rate as free-spending consumers became more cautious and the gaping trade deficit continued to provide a drag on the expansion. For all of 2005, GDP growth averaged a 3.5% annual rate. What does the slowdown in the fourth quarter mean for the economy in the months ahead?

Economists weigh in with their reactions:

"In both its overall appearance and underlying detail, the 1.1% fourth quarter growth in real GDP ranks as the most perplexing report in memory. At face value, such weakness would seem to make it more difficult for the Fed to tighten monetary policy again. But the underlying details reinforce -- if not increase -- perceptions that much faster growth lies ahead. Nonetheless, the confusing and conflicting contradictions with other data make it difficult to be confident in any inferences about the outlook."
-- David Resler and Gerald Zukowski, Nomura Securities International
* * *
"Consumer spending was actually a little better than expected, rising by 1.1% in the quarter vs. our forecast of +0.3%. I think more of the decline in auto sales was apportioned to the business sector (fleet sales) and less to the retail side than we expected. Housing posted a reasonable gain of 3.5%, but this was less than half of our assumed rise. The monthly source data pointed to a bigger gain, so this is a bit puzzling."
-- Stephen Stanley, RBS Greenwich Capital
* * *
"The consensus was a bit optimistic but this is a big surprise. The softness against our 2.6% forecast is explained by two components, fixed investment and government consumption. The former rose only 3.0%, with equipment and software up only 3.5%. This is baffling, given the 19.5% annualized leap in the value of capital goods production and the 14.9% rise in shipments of core nondefense capital goods. We expect big upward revisions."
-- Ian Shepherdson, High Frequency Economics

* * *
"While this was a disappointing report, there are signs of a very sharp rebound in GDP growth in the current quarter. First, much of the miss in fourth-quarter inventories is likely to spill over to the first quarter. Second, at least a partial rebound in defense appears likely. Finally, the ramp for consumption spending is even more favorable in the aftermath of the fourth quarter data. The bottom line is that we now see a very good possibility of 5%+ GDP growth in Q1 -- versus our prior estimate of +4.2%."
-- David Greenlaw and Ted Wieseman, Morgan Stanley

Liftport Art

I have long been fascinated by the idea of a skyhook, a platform in geosynchronous orbit at the equator with a cable/powered-lift-system/rope-ladder hanging down that can be used to reach orbit cheaply. IF the human race is actually going to leave the planet, AND there is no technologizable change in the physics of inertia, THEN we need a sky hook.

Liftport has a terrific gallery of what the platform migh tlook like.

Headline: People Make Poor Decisions!

Especially when it comes to politics:

Researchers asked staunch party members from both sides to evaluate information that threatened their preferred candidate prior to the 2004 Presidential election. The subjects' brains were monitored while they pondered.

"We did not see any increased activation of the parts of the brain normally engaged during reasoning," … "What we saw instead was a network of emotion circuits lighting up, including circuits hypothesized to be involved in regulating emotion, and circuits known to be involved in resolving conflicts."