Saturday, June 02, 2007

Susan Gordon, 1970-2007

Susan passed away last week, appearently while I was in Boston. I dont have all the details yet, but will update as they come in.

Susan posted here as the Strawberry Woman, and I have know her for the better part of 20 years. She was one of the 5 most influential people who have affected my life.

Right into The Danger Zone



TJICistan adopts my favorite work poster.

I had another at CertCo, very breifly, which had a picture of a sinking oil tanker. It read, PURPOSE: The only value of you life might be simply to serve as a warning to others"

I also have a T-Shirt I wear to the gym which says, in large letters "BOMB SQUAD" and then in smaller letters "If you see us running, try to keep up".

I wore this in a a hotel lobby after a lift once while traveling with McBride (Head of Capital Markets now for Verizon Business). I got "talked to" by the manager. McBride still reminds me of it a couple times a year.

Armed Madhouse

I needed a book to read on a flight back from Boston yesterday and (for *some* reason) I couldn't find Hitch's book God is not Great, in either the B&N or the airport bookstore (I strongly suspect it is being kept behind the counter to avoid "offending" anyone), so at the last minute I picked up Greg Palast's Armed Madhouse. I am also reading the quite excellent Guests of the Ayatollah by Mark Bowden (of Black Hawk Down fame), but unfortunately I left it in my checked bag. So I grabbed Madhouse and got on the plane.

Now, I have never been convinced of the case for war against Iraq, but it took me awhile to figure out why I was right. While suspicious of the President, that really wasn't enough, and while having some very minor intelligence and not so minor Iraqi friends who used to be in the nuclear business, that only seemed to justify my position, not really inform it as much as I liked to think. My worry was I was right for the wrong reason, a problem at least as bad as being wrong for the wrong reason. Eventually I figured out where my reluctance had come from and why; I was against the war because I recognized a marketing campaign when I see one and anything being sold that hard raised a lot of red flags. It was as simple as that. My job involves a great deal of marketing, so I have a pretty good feel for folks pushing a weak product, and this fit the bill. Weak facts, lots of conjecture, personal attacks on Hans Blix, "buy now before the price goes up" kind of urgency, etc. I'd like to think it was for more lofty, intellectual analysis, but it really wasn't, that came later after I had made up my mind.

So I picked up Armed Madhouse, read the first 30 pages or so and put it down as a far-left masturbatory exercise. Cute, but not definitely from a paranoid left kind viewpoint, I had thought. So instead I watched Alien vs. Predator (which was much, much better than I expected). My Digiplayer ran out of juice, so I picked up the book again and realized the author was from the BBC, then gave it another look. The BBC has been, over the last 5 years, much better at covering America than American journalists. Also, in flipping through it, Palast cites a memo from Grover Norquist about the libertarian economic "rules" the neo-cons wanted for post-war Iraq.

Then the penny dropped

Because, I happened to be paying a lot of attention to the Iraq economic rules (we were considering doing a microsoft based project in post-war Iraq back when we thought that Iraq would be stable in a few months), and I could not figure out a) why the laws they set up were so fucking bizarre, and b) why so many basic things failed to happen. Also, in my blog-wanderings I had seen the Norquist memo, but had never put these things together. Palast has a whole chapter where he maps the memo against the outcomes and shows how the "libertarian workers paradise" resulted in the outcome we all saw.

and it made sense.


Palast has lots of documentary evidence in the book he cites, most of it I just assumed was far left nuthouse stuff. Looking up a bit of this morning, I see that it's not. And, while I doubt it's "all true", it is unnervingly logical. I recommend picking it up and reading it yourself. I remain skeptical, but I can't easily dismiss his conclusions as quickly as I had hoped.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Goon Doctor

What happens when you post random medical maladies into a public form and ask folks to comment?

You get the Goon Doctor:

My girlfriend's vagina is all out of whack.

Holy shit, my tooth just broke

Help me learn about Opiods

A Tick on my Glans

What the hell is growing on my arm?

Tell me why I sweat so much?

and more. TMI

Glenn vs. Glenn


UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds defends Joe Klein and "responds" to my post by (a) accusing me of rooting for the U.S. to lose and (b) re-printing an e-mail he received from Michael Yon who claims that, in Anbar, "the guns are mostly quiet now" and the Infantry Task Force with which he is embedded "hardly have fired their weapons." Yon claims that things are so peachy in Anbar that the meetings of the Task Force are "more administrative than combat oriented."

Associated Press
reports today (h/d David Sirota):
Two US soldiers were killed while conducting combat operations in Iraq's volatile Anbar Province, the military announced Thursday.
The soldiers, assigned to Multi National Force-West, were killed Wednesday, the military said. The military declined to release the names of those killed pending notification of their relatives.
The deaths raised the number of members of the US military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 3,433, according to an Associated Press count.

And then there is this. And this. But the real fault lies with anyone who points any of this out, because they want the U.S. to lose. What is most amazing is that the same people (like Reynolds) who have been lying to the country for four straight years about all of the Glorious Progress being made in Iraq continue to expect that when they speak, anyone other than the shrinking band of hard-core war supporters will listen.
Many, many times over the last four years -- in numerous places in Iraq -- violence has ebbed temporarily. Yet Iraq, contrary to the ongoing claims from the Bush administration and its followers, has inexorably descended into total chaos and violence. Pointing to three-day lapses in violence in a single place as proof that things are improving is so transparently irrational that, particularly at this point, it merits as much response as the desperate claim that anyone who opposes the war "wants the U.S. to lose."

Do I want the US to lose? No, certainly not, and I never have. However, I have thought, since before the first bombs fell on Baghdad, that the key to non-losing was not to invade. I have been skeptical about this since before the invasion and, frankly, I dont see any reason to stop now.

GG makes a great point about anonymous sources too. What is the purpose of anonimity if the material is boilerplate administration text? Is the credibility of the president so low that he has to release information anonymously for it to get any play? And if so, why would it deserve to be called news?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

PZ Meyers' Hate Mail Bag

Thousands of years ago, when I was an astronomy grad student, I was in charge of the Pre-Print Library. The PPL is sort of a way of getting your idea out into circulation before it gets published, but after it has completed the peer-review cycle. Since the lag time can be a couple of months between acceptance and publication, the "pre-print" allows you to let folks know what you've done, that it's been reviewed and to start debate. In astronomy this isn't so critical because there just aren’t that many astronomers and generally everyone who would care has already seen your work in development or as a peer-reviewer. As such, the PPL was a boring, low-maintenance job (unless it was a Karen Strom paper, that's a whole other kettle of fish).

The librarian also gets a lot of "self-published" articles. Stuff that has not been through peer review or is even generally written by a trained professional scientist. It's often weird, kooky stuff and occasionally it's extraordinarily clever. Once or twice a year I'd get something so clever I'd have to think for awhile about why it wouldn't work, (usually it's a subtle variation of dividing by zero or conservation of energy, but buried so deeply in it's hard to see). In short, it was excellent work for a grad-student as it tests one's ability to reason and spot flaws.

That said, most of it was just sheer crazy fun in a paranoid tone, but all of the crazy stuff encapsulated one flawed assumption: Science works by endorsement, in the same way as religion e.g. there were quotes by Einstein that would be made to support the argument, because Einstein was an “authority” and couldn’t be questioned. Their goal was to get some professor somewhere to endorse their idea this making it “Science”. This was wrong, of course. Einstein was wrong about lots of things, most notably quantum mechanics, as is everyone else who ever gets quoted. Science is about error correction not endorsement or doctrine.

Reading PZ Meyers hate mail bag reminded me very much of the kinds of crazy stuff we’d get once every week or two. It’s nice to know some things never change.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Department of Happy Endings

"Vice President Cheney isn’t not on the phone records of the alleged D.C. Madam, who is accused of running a high-price call-girl ring in Washington, the accused madam’s lawyer said on Tuesday."