Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Did New Orleans Catastrophe Have to Happen?

I was put on to this story by a friend. Here are some pertinent quotes:
.....When flooding from a massive rainstorm in May 1995 killed six people, Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, or SELA.

Over the next 10 years, the Army Corps of Engineers, tasked with carrying out SELA, spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations, with $50 million in local aid. But at least $250 million in crucial projects remained, even as hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin increased dramatically and the levees surrounding New Orleans continued to subside.

Yet after 2003, the flow of federal dollars toward SELA dropped to a trickle. The Corps never tried to hide the fact that the spending pressures of the war in Iraq, as well as homeland security -- coming at the same time as federal tax cuts -- was the reason for the strain. At least nine articles in the Times-Picayune from 2004 and 2005 specifically cite the cost of Iraq as a reason for the lack of hurricane- and flood-control dollars.

The Newhouse News Service article published Tuesday night observed, "The Louisiana congressional delegation urged Congress earlier this year to dedicate a stream of federal money to Louisiana's coast, only to be opposed by the White House. ... In its budget, the Bush administration proposed a significant reduction in funding for southeast Louisiana's chief hurricane protection project. Bush proposed $10.4 million, a sixth of what local officials say they need."
(emphasis added)
So, in addition to having their National Guard depleted, the poor people of Louisiana got gyped on the flood control with disastrous results.

The really bad stuff hasn't even begun. Imagine living in the Super Dome for three days with overflowing sewage. Then being moved to the Astro Dome. It is almost beyond comprehension. It is hot down there and pretty soon people are going to snap. Then there is the crappy water and the diseases that brings.

Give to the American Red Cross. It is worth every penny.

Finally:
If Congress approves W.'s estate tax bill, giving $1.5 Billion a week to the 20,000 wealthiest families in America, you might see some of the rest of us snap too.

Billions for the rich but not one penny for the poor.

The Perfect Distraction


This is a picture of our Energy Secretary. He looks a little like Nikita Kruschev, don't you think? The guy who said "We will bury you." I'm feeling a little buried at the moment. This man is said to have a handle on our energy supplies and, in a roundabout way, controls the price of a gallon of gas. Its going up, up, up.


God (whoever he/she is) certainly moves in strange ways. Here we have the body politic of the United States moving toward a rejection of the policies of its President in Iraq, largely catalyzed by the aggrieved mother of a slain soldier (Cindy Sheehan), and Whamo!!, we have one of the largest disasters in memory visit our mainland. (Oh, Mr. President, while it wasn't terrorists, shouldn't the people of New Orleans have been entitled to a little Homeland Security? Heh?)

You can almost see W. plotting with Old White Hairs himself.
"Hey, diddle with the air currents off Africa a little Jehovah. Cause me a DISTRACTION. I promise I'll root out those unbelievers in return."

Warning! Unbelievers. Batten down the hatches and get Hurricane Insurance.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

AWOL or MIA


Why is this man not in Louisiana? Why is he talking about Iraq when his own country has been devastated? Why hasn't he announced massive federal intervention in the worst natural disaster to befall our country for decades?

The "Whys" dribble off across the years.

Update: Apparently he heard me. He has cancelled his vacation. What a drag. He won't get to blow off Cindy Sheehan who was leaving anyway.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Of Optical Illusions, Kinetics and ADHD

An alert reader has put us onto a website that has 57 optical illusions: http://www.michaelbach.de/ot/index.html
It is pretty awesome and I confess I haven't been through the whole thing, but I will. It brings up some interesting things that wander through one's cerebrosphere late it night when the crickets are singing. You need to click on the "rotating snakes" from this website below to see it better.


Optical illusions are interesting because they tell us something about consciousness. (!) Some of the recent work has shown that that cinema that plays in our head on a constant basis and, probably, when we’re asleep but we have our eyes shut (yuk, yuk), is not a continuous flow as we experience. It is actually like real cinema in that the brain assembles an optical (and I assume auditory and other sensual experience) “shot” at set time intervals. The time interval is short enough that we experience it as continuous reality. There are some unfortunate people where this doesn’t work and their experience “stutters.” Must be discomforting. On the other hand, some people have nystagmus. If you have them follow a light across their eyes, the eyes do not move smoothly across, they stutter. Interestingly enough, their visual experience doesn’t stutter. We have an amazing brain. There are even some children with rotary nystagmus. Imagine the high speed computing that goes into presenting a coherent and stationary image to the brain where the eyes are doing cartwheels!

The most interesting thing about all this relates to an underlying problem that I have been thinking about for years, the role of enzyme kinetics. Consider an organism for the moment, say something simple like a single cell bacterium (even this is complicated beyond our ability to understand). Contained within the tiny cell is an enormous number of chemical reactions all taking place at the same time. There is the energy metabolism, there is the synthesis of proteins and lipids, and there is the entire, separate mechanism of reproduction. Almost every single step in the bacteria’s metabolism is catalyzed by an enzyme, itself a protein. While every single reaction would itself go to equilibrium if left to itself, some of these reactions would take years, thus the necessity of the enzyme catalyst. Enzymes, to use the metaphor, make the playing field level. Actually, they don’t make it level, they make it consistent. By that I mean that they adjust the rate of each reaction so it exactly fits into the multiple competing reactions and makes the damn thing go. Amazing.

One can view cellular DNA, which is contained in all organisms except a few, nasty viri, as “mapping” a set of rate constants on the corresponding set of reactions. Our goal should be to sort out these rates. In particular, as in any series of chemical reactions, we should try and discover the “rate limiting step.” I can think of a number of disease where this might be of interest, including the multiple diseases under the rubric Cancer. But this is for a later day.

What of interest here is that the video that plays across our consciousness is most likely a staccato performance (though perceived as smooth, as discussed above) because the neural chemistry is rate limited at one or more step. What that step is I haven’t a clue though I would look closely at the synthesis of neurotransmitters. I suspect that the electrical side of the process, i.e. axonal transmission via the action potential, is pretty rapid (though it does depend on ion movement and pumping).

This brings up a number of questions including evolution. Have we reached the end of evolution for the human brain because we have reached the chemical limit of thought? If the neurotransmitter synthesis enzymes in our brain were “speeded up” by mutations would we think faster? Would we evolve to the next level (unknown in the same way that prehomids could not conceive of Beethoven’s piano sonatas)? Does the current epidemic of methamphetamine abuse, which clearly speeds up thinking as it does for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder, represent the craving of the human brain for this next level?

Stay tuned!

Friday, August 26, 2005

Should we worry?


The following is a direct quote from the adventures of George W. Bush, POTUS:
WOMAN IN AUDIENCE:
I don't really understand. How is the new plan going to fix the problem?

PRESIDENT BUSH (Verbatim response):
"Because the -- all which is on the table begins to address the big cost drivers. For example, how benefits are calculated, for example, is on the table. Whether or not benefits rise based upon wage increases or price increases. There's a series of parts of the formula that are being considered. And when you couple that, those different cost drivers, affecting those -- changing those with personal accounts, the idea is to get what has been promised more likely to be -- or closer delivered to that has been promised. Does that make any sense to you? It's kind of muddled. Look, there's a series of things that cause the --like, for example, benefits are calculated based upon the increase of wages, as opposed to the increase of prices. Some have suggested that we calculate -- the benefits will rise based upon inflation, supposed to wage increases. There is a reform that would help solve the red if that were put into effect. In other words, how fast benefits grow, how fast the promised benefits grow, if those -- if that growth is affected, it will help on the red."

Kinda muddled?

You Betcha!

(and a tip of the crab claw to an alert reader who passed this along)

Our Dear Gov


Our Dear Gov-28 (Click on Comic to Enlarge)

Friday Crab Blogging


Always a favorite

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The War of the Inadvertenly Separated Text Box

It appears that all the flapadoodle about the Niger Uranium is now being laid at the feet of a Text Box. Yes indeed, the pertinent Text Box was apparently "Inadvertently Separated." Here, courtesy of a lead from our stalwart colleague Redjalapeno to the LA Times we have:
The national intelligence estimate on "Iraq's Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction," released in October 2002, was meant to reflect a consensus of the nation's intelligence-gathering agencies. It included the consensus view that Iraq sought weapons of mass destruction and a description of Britain's account of the Niger deal.

The British information went unchallenged in that chapter of the intelligence estimate. But the State Department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, disagreed with much of the nuclear section of the estimate and decided to convey its views in text boxes to highlight the dissent.

However, the text box on the African uranium claim was "inadvertently separated" and moved into another chapter of the intelligence estimate, where it could be overlooked, the Senate Intelligence Committee said.

A couple of months later, a White House speechwriter consulted the estimate while preparing the State of the Union speech, according to one source familiar with the process.
So, do we believe that this immoral War was started and justified because of a frigging Inadvertenly Separated Text Box?

We have been living in Never Never Land for almost five years.

Why Not?

An Amazing Proposition

This is an update to a previous post of mine:

Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Laughing all the way from the pump
Via KOS:
Montana's governor eyes coal to solve U.S. fuel costs
The Fischer-Tropsch technology, discovered by German researchers in 1923 and later used by the Nazis to convert coal into wartime fuels, was not economical as long as oil cost less than $30 a barrel.....Montana is "sitting on more energy than they have in the Middle East," Schweitzer told Reuters in an interview this week. "I am leading this country in this desire and demand to convert coal into gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel. We can do it in Montana for $1 per gallon," he said.
Now, in my post referenced above, we figured out that the price of a gallon of gas at the pump was largely a function of crude oil prices. (And that we were having the beJesus gouged out of us.) If you remember, the price of a gallon of gas other than the price of crude oil was about $0.77-$0.82.
The governor estimated the cost of producing a barrel of oil through the Fischer-Tropsch method at $32,
Back when the price of a barrel of crude was $30, we paid $1.37 at the pump. I think we could deal with $1.50 or $1.75 a gallon.

Unfortunately, there are some people that would be displeased, starting at a little house on Pennsylvania Ave.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Me and Bobby McGee

Vegetables

Kids Think Are Great!

Bologna
Ravioli
Watermelon
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Strawberries
Grapes
Bananas
Oatmeal
Applesauce
Tea
Cookies
Chicken Nuggets
Steak
Cereal
Marshmallows
Corn Dogs
Pink (!)
Purple (!)
Broccoli (but only with shrimp)

And, the all time favorite:

CHIPS!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

The New Men and George W. Bush

I am finishing a novel by C.P. Snow, "The New Men." It is one of a series that he wrote eventually called "Strangers and Brothers." They apparently made a PBS special out of this sequence of eleven novels, but since I don't have a TV, I didn't see it (no TV Dr. C., are you Pleistocene?) In any case, "The New Men" is a novel about the British effort to make an atomic bomb during World War II. Since C.P Snow was involved in this on the bureaucratic side, I assume a lot of the information is first hand, though the setting and personnel are fictitious.

Now C.P. Snow is not an action writer on the order of Batman/The Incredibles. But, interestingly enough, there is a lot of sex, albeit off screen. (I had always thought the Brits were stodgy, sort of permanent Victorians. Not so.) C.P. Snow's main focus is the psychology of the men, and women, located at the Los Alamos (and Oak Ridge) of England, called Barford in his story but actually Harwell. The team of "New" men in his story construct a breeder reactor to produce plutonium. In reality, the British didn't build a bomb until after the War, so Snow tampers a lot with History.

In addition to the usual clash of personalities between the scientists and the administrators (an ongoing Snow obsession), there is the usual presence of the Communist sympathizers. One should not discount the effect of communism on the intelligensia of this period. They had all lived through the horrors of the depression and the fascist dictatorships. Many of them were fellow travelers and the brutality of Stalins regime was not well known. But I digress.

One of the themes of the book is the ethical quandary presented to scientists who have created nuclear weapons. There is a calculation made by the wife of the chief scientist who is a mathematician that predicts 300,000 instant deaths and as many lingering deaths if the bomb is used on a city such as London. The reality of the lingering deaths becomes evident when the chief scientist tries to extract the plutonium and is accidentally exposed. Since no one was aware of the effects of high dose radiation, they had to sit and watch. It wasn't pretty. At first nothing appeared to happen. Then the man began to feel weak and debilitated. Gradually he became sicker and sicker with vomiting, diarrhea and blood blisters on his skin, eventually he lost his hair. Since there were doctors available, and everyone was anxious to know what the effects of radiation were, he was monitored closely. After several weeks of constant support he survived. Barely.

It turns out that we have had extensive experience with this situation, the effects of lethal doses of radiation on humans, in the last 35 years. It is called Bone Marrow Transplantation and it is used to attempt to cure patients of intractable cancer (and for a few other, esoteric reasons.) First the patient is exposed to lethal doses of radiation and/or chemotherapy in an effort to eradicate the tumor.
Then, because what is lethal is the destruction of the bone marrow stem cells, there is an infusion of these cells either from a donor, related ro unrelated, or from previously stored cells from the patient.

Within a few days the patient begins to experience the symptoms that the scientist at Barford experienced. Because the bone marrow has failed and it takes at least two weeks for the infused marrow to take hold, the normal products of the marrow must be replenished by blood and platelet transfusions. White cells go to zero and there is the risk of overwhelming infection. It is not a pretty sight. I can tell you from personal experience.

These are the symptoms that the 300,000 lingering deaths the mathematician calculated will experience. They will die without the simplest of medical help. They will die without the succor of their family and friends. This is not the plague in Venice. This is Hiroshima.

Interestingly enough, BMT is something that is looked on as an index as to whether you have "arrived" in the medical world. In two developing countries that I visited in the 90's, Siberia and Romania, the major thrust at the hospitals was to have a BMT facility. They were ready to do this even before they had adequate support for such an endeavor, i.e. a Blood Bank. Such is the strangeness of hype. But I digress.

The effects of radiation on a human are devastating. The scientists at Barford (Harwell) saw this and were, in most cases, dead set against ever using the bomb on humans. So were many scientists at Los Alamos. Many were aghast that the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
When the second bomb was dropped on a city, ostensibly to compare a plutonium bomb with a uranium bomb, they were horrified.

This has all faded into history. The utter devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki does not seem to intrude on our perception of reality. The question has to be asked, how could any, reasonable, civilized country use an atomic weapon against a civilian population? Is any country ready to do this?

The answer, of course, is "yes." And the leading country that is ready to do this is the United States of America, my country, followed closely by Israel, Pakistan and India. In spite of the rhetoric, Russia and China have not shown an inclination to be first users of their bombs. In fact, one might make the argument that, at least for China, nuclear weapons were a defensive move.

Why do I say that we might use the bomb, with all its ensuing horror? I say that because George W. Bush has given me no assurances that he wouldn't do so, if it suits his purposes. He has instructed the scientists in our government, unfortunately not as inhibited as those of the 40's, to build a "bunker buster."
President Bush requested $US6.63 billion for nuclear weapons activities at the Energy Department, which maintains and develops nuclear warheads, up 0.7 per cent from the current 2005 fiscal year.

The budget includes $US4 million to revive a study on bunker-buster nuclear arms, called the "robust nuclear earth penetrator".
I would also like to point out that putting $6.6 billion dollars into nuclear weapons at the same time that he is demanding a cut in Medicaid
The final budget resolution requires those committees to make at least $10 billion in cuts -- all or most of which will presumably come from the Medicaid program
is a far more accurate portrayal of the twisted mind of our President than any novel by Bob Woodward.

Let me summarize. C.P. Snow in his novel, "The New Men," described the ascendancy of scientists as creators of a terrible and lethal new technology, nuclear weapons. He introduced us to the ethical struggles that these scientists went through, and described firsthand the horror of radiation exposure. The calculation of 300,000 instantaneous deaths and 300,000 lingering deaths was a clarion call for sanity. It was ignored.

We now have a President who looks on nuclear weapons as one more way to exercise the power of our country. He wants mini nukes and bunker busters for the arsenal. These are not strategic weapons, i.e. there for the purpose of deterrence. These are day to day, if-you-have-them-you-will-use-them weapons. He has taken the money for this from health care for poor children, Medicaid.

We don't have a crisis in Iraq. We have a crisis in our country that is so deep a pervasive that it is questionable that we will survive it.

We will become like the woolly mammouths of the pleistocene.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Cathy Sheehan?

Our local paper reports on a vigil:
Chestertown vigil supports Cathy Sheehan
Then in the article it says "to show support for Cathy Sheehan" and the picture caption says "support of Cathy Sheehan." Who's Cathy Sheehan?

Awhile back (Saturday, August 06, 2005 - On Bloopers and Free Will) I blogged about S. Freud and the origin of the psychiatric concept of the unconscious. It is quite likely that this concept arose out of his observations of what we now call "Freudian Slips."
My local paper is strongly conservative. I would hypothesize that this Freudian slip of 'Cathy' for 'Cindy' is an unconscious attempt to downplay or trivialize this truly heroic woman. After all, I assume that this made it past an editor.

Then again, it might just be a goof, except Sigmund would say there is no such thing as a meaningless 'goof.'

Intelligent Intelligence

This headline from here via here:
Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity with New "Intelligent Falling" Theory.
Of course it is from the Onion. But, as usual, their snark hits a nerve. What we really need is intelligent intelligence in this insane debacle that is misnamed a "debate."

On a a related note, Smithsonian scientists have been castigated in the WaPo (that onetime newspaper) for criticizing an alleged scientist for publishing a rational for Intelligent Design (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) in a Smithsonian sponsored rag. I think this guy (the editor that published the article) is spooky looking. He needs a little sun. Has been spending too much time in the crypt back behind him.

Let me just make my position entirely clear.

There is an attempt by those on the Religious Right to force feed a religious tenet down the throats of children because they find the concept of evolution distasteful (tell THAT to the foie gras goose).
This tenet is termed Intelligent Design. It is not a theory, it is a belief. There is not one iota of scientific (i.e. controlled experimental) evidence for this belief. These people are trying to impress their religion on one and all. As far as I am concerned, an adult can believe whatever he wants as long as those beliefs don't infringe on others. He can believe that the moon is made of green cheese, just don't let him move to Wisconsin.

It is one more attempt at political control by this small group of people who have taken over our Country. Yes, I believe in conspiracy theories. We have one sitting in Crawford at the moment. Let him believe the earth was made in 6 days; that it is only 4,000 years old, that the dinosaurs never existed in real time, that all the geological stuff was laid down with the single purpose of confusing scientists, that all the interesting problems of genetic selection were designed to fascinate scholars but that they were all, well, just constructed (if you design something you have to construct it too).

Of course we all know, in the end, 'wink,' 'wink,' 'wink,' that it is just a manuever for political control. That it isn't really a religious issue but a political one.

But then, we live in the up-is-down world.

Friday Crab Blogging (Kid version)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Cindy Sheehan

I see Cindy Sheehan had to pack it in and return to California because her mother had a stroke. I feel for her and I am sorry that we did not have three more weeks of Camp Casey to irritate the CIC. No matter what you think, this woman has played this as perfect theater. The only thing is that she is sincere. It is possible that, if she stayed, people would have lost interest.

Ciao, Cindy. May you live to fight again.

Falluja, oh Falluja!

This from Juan Cole:
AP reported that guerrillas detonated a car bomb in downtown Fallujah, killing 3 persons, including 2 children.
Do you remember this:
America's Sinister Plan for Falluja

...The chilling reality of what Falluja has become is only now seeping out, as the American military continues to block almost all access to the city, whether to reporters, its former residents, or aid groups like the Red Crescent Society....

..if all goes as the Americans imagine, here's what the city's residents may face:

Entry and exit from the city will be restricted.
According to General Sattler, only five roads into the city will remain open. The rest will be blocked by "sand berms" - read, mountains of earth that will make them impassible. Checkpoints will be established at each of the five entry points, manned by U.S. troops, and everyone entering will be "photographed, fingerprinted and have iris scans taken before being issued ID cards." Though Sattler reassured American reporters that the process would only take 10 minutes, the implication is that entry and exit from the city will depend solely on valid ID cards properly proffered, a system akin to the pass-card system used during the apartheid era in South Africa.

Fallujans are to wear their universal identity cards in plain sight at all times.
The ID cards will, according to Dahr Jamail's information, be made into badges that contain the individual's home address. This sort of system has no purpose except to allow for the monitoring of everyone in the city, so that ongoing American patrols can quickly determine if someone is not a registered citizen or is suspiciously far from their home neighborhood.

and so forth...
It appears that the closest thing to an ideal police State just gave way to reality. At some point, whatever one does in Iraq is going to go wrong. It would be far better if we were not there.

Our Dear Gov-27 (Click Comic to Enlarge)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Laughing all the way from the pump

I’m taking a page from Corndoggeral:

Main Entry: gouge
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): gouged; goug•ing
1 : to scoop out with or as if with a gouge
2 a : to force out (an eye) with the thumb b : to thrust the thumb into the eye of
3 : to subject to extortion or undue exaction :

(While it is pretty clear that #3 is what we are dealing with, I’m sort of partial to 2a, colloquial GOPese you know.)

First let me remind you of this quote from our Dear Leader on 20 April, 2005:
Here at home, we'll protect consumers. There will be no price gouging at gas pumps in America.
Well we’ve all heard that up is down before, but this is pretty blatant. Unfortunately, I have to take you through some statistics. (Lies, damn lies, as Mark Twain would call them). Let me make this as simple as possible so even I can understand it (click graphics to enlarge; yes, I did the graphics):
Oil Production: Alright, that’s pretty simple, oil production in the world is increasing at a pretty slow rate over the last 25 years. Next we have oil consumption :
This seems right because we consume about ¼ of the oil produced every year (we only have 5% of the population but that’s something our children are going to have to deal with along with social security).

Now the going gets a little tougher. Next we have the price of a barrel of crude oil:

As almost every person in the United States over the age of 16 knows, the price of a gallon of gasoline at the pump is anywhere from $2.55 to over $3.00. In 2002 it was still at $1.35 a gallon.

Well, the first thing you need to do is look at the three graphs: production, price of crude and price of a gallon of gas. Why is it that even while production is increasing, the price of a gallon of crude triples and the price of a gallon at the pump more than doubles? Well, we all know the answer to that, its because the oil companies will charge what the market will bear.

Now comes the hard part. From “How Stuff Works” I got this graphic:

This allows us to make some calculations. First of all, one has to make some assumptions.
1. Assume that state and federal taxes remain the same (they do). In the State of Maryland these are fixed not by the price of a gallon of gas (like if you were buying anything else) but at a set rate. This rate is $.184 per gallon Federal tax and $0.235 per gallon Maryland tax for $0.42 per gallon (the national average).
2. Assume that Distribution and Marketing Costs are remaining constant or increase at a low rate, say 2% a year. In 2002 these were 13% of $1.35 or $0.175 per gallon. Allow $0.20 per gallon.
3. Assume that Refining Costs and Profits (more on this later) are remaining constant or increase at a low rate, say 2% a year. In 2002 these were 13% of $1.35 or $0.175 per gallon. Allow $0.20 per gallon.

Placing this in a table for a gallon in 2002 and 2005 except for Crude Oil:
Now, of course, the big increase between 2002 and 2005 has been in Crude Oil. As Can be seen from the graphs above, the price of Crude has gone from an average of $30 a barrel to $60 a barrel.
A barrel of crude makes about 20 gallons of gasoline (plus a lot of other things.)

Putting this into a new table and observing from above that in 2002 43% of the price of a gallon of gasoline was due to the price of Crude oil:


The actual price of gasoline at the pump is anywhere from $2.50 to $3.00. When Mr. or Mrs. America fill up their SUV at the Mobile or BP (Thank you Condi) gas station, their 20 gallons costing them over $50.00 of hard earned cash generates

TEN DOLLARS EXCESS PROFIT!

Where is this money going?

Well, there is a very good reason why Dick Chaney retains his interest in Halliburton:
Big oil hits the jackpot
High price per barrel is gushing windfall profits
BY STEVEN MUFSON
08/14/2005
There's no question that the drain on the average American's pocketbook has been a gusher for the big oil companies. Just look at the financial statements issued at the end of July.
Exxon Mobil Corp.'s second quarter earnings climbed 35 percent from the second quarter of 2004 (after excluding special items) to $7.64 billion. BP PLC, the world's second-largest publicly traded oil company, said its net income increased 29 percent, to $5.59 billion. At Royal Dutch Shell PLC, second-quarter profits rose 34 percent to $5.24 billion. ConocoPhillips, the third-largest U.S. oil company, reported an eye-popping 51 percent jump in earnings, to $3.14 billion. (emphasis added)

Mr. and Mrs. America, you are getting screwed.

Monday, August 15, 2005

George W. Bush and Cindy Sheehan

Of course George Bush is going to meet with Cindy Sheehan. But he will do it under circumstances that will be entirely to his political benefit. I don't know how Rove is going to accomplish it, no more than do I know how Rove is going to get out of Plamegate. But he will turn this thing to Bush's advantage.

It is part of the up is down Universe that predicts that the greatest threat to George W. Bush is a greiving mother. But it is also part of that Universe that says he will get off scotty free.

Isn't life interesting.

Our Dear Gov-26 (Click Comic to Enlarge)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Katherine Harris - Photoshopped

TBogg points us to here which points out the following:













As the post says, "Gonna make my brown eyes blue."

Sunday Morning Ramblings

Sunday mornings are usually quiet around here, so I thought I would just sort of ramble on about anything that comes to mind.

I am beginning to wonder how blogging has affected discourse. If one is an avid internet surfer, one knows about almost every major political event within minutes of its happening. Within hours, these events have entered the blogsphere and have received attention in the body of numerous blogs. How those blogs pick any single event to focus on is a mystery to me. One hypothesis is that emphasis carries over from the mainstream press, i.e. the NYT or the WaPo, or AP and Reuters (as they appear on, say, Yahoo News.) But this may not be so. The story of a lost teenager in Aruba received many inches in the mainstream but was largely ignored in the blogsphere except to comment on the mainstream's obsessive attention to the story of 'another missing white female.' (That is a another ball of wax, comments in the mainstream on the blogs and comments in blogs on the mainstream.)

After an issue or story surfaces on the blogs, there are blog comments, which spawn additional comments, or even raise different issues. It is all very complex and it is like the footnote to the footnote to the footnote that Barth parodied in Giles Goatboy, or a fractal. Does all of this discussion, and all of this ranting, since one can rant in a blog without consequences, lead to a greater understanding of events? I think so. I would present as exhibit A in this argument the attention given to the Downing Street Memo as a result of blog activity. That attention set the stage for Cindy Sheehan and together they may effect the course of the War in Iraq.

There is no doubt in my mind that writing in a blog will help a person organize his or her thoughts and come to a better understanding of events. Having spellcheck also removes one of the more odious tasks of writing, thought it doesn't help one's grammar. Some people just write well. As Wolcott says, they "sing like the nightingale." I read some blogs because they are well written but mostly because they are funny (TBogg comes to mind). This type of humor has coined the phrase "snark" which, I see, has generated an entire subgenre on the Web. (I had forgotten that hunting the snark was a line from Lewis Carroll)

Writing in a blog is different than writing in a journal or even writing for the newspapers in many dramatic ways. Blog writing is like fractals, they let you meander out at any point into whatever you want and there is no editor to rein you in, as you can see from this ramble.

One also has to think about why someone wants to put their ideas out there for so many people to read. We want people to read our blogs, and we want people to agree with us (which is only human since it verifies our position), but mostly we want those numbers.

Well, time for another cup of coffee.

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Our Dear Gov-25 (Click to Enlarge Cartoon)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Letter from Senator Mikulski to Mr. Swanson

I am trying to understand this letter from my Senator.

This via AfterDowningStreet.org:
From Senator Mikulski
Submitted by davidswanson on Fri, 2005-08-12 15:03. Congress
August 12, 2005

Dear Mr. Swanson:

Thank you for getting in touch with me regarding the Bush Administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) used to justify going to war. I agree with you that we need a thorough, effective and objective investigation of the intelligence on Iraq and how it was used.

As a Senator and a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, I was presented information that led me to believe that Saddam Hussein had biological and chemical weapons and the means to use them. Bush Administration officials also said that Iraq had links to terrorism and was developing nuclear weapons. This has been called into question in light of what UN inspectors and U.S. forces have found - and not found - on the ground in Iraq.

The American people have a right to know whether intelligence on Iraq was valid, or whether it was skewed, selected, or exaggerated. That's why I insisted on a thorough investigation by the Intelligence Committee.

The Committee agreed, on a bipartisan basis, on an inquiry to examine:

- the quantity and quality of U.S. intelligence on Iraqi WMD, ties to terrorist groups, and Saddam Hussein's threat to stability and security in the region; - the objectivity, reasonableness, independence and accuracy of the judgments reached by the Intelligence Community; and - whether any influence was brought to bear on anyone to shape their analysis to support policy objectives.

The Intelligence Committee has already examined a huge volume of documents and held numerous hearings. You may have seen the press reports about testimony from Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and Dr. David Kay, who heads the Iraq Survey Group looking for weapons of mass destruction. The Committee's Chairman has also committed to holding open hearings and issuing a public report of our findings.

But I'm not sure this inquiry will go far enough. That's why I'm prepared to support legislation to create an independent commission to investigate intelligence on Iraq and how it was used.

You can count on me to do all I can to get to the truth about the information used to justify going to war in Iraq. The American people have a right to know.

Sincerely,

Barbara A. Mikulski United States Senator

P.S. If I can be of any further assistance in the future, please visit my website at http://mikulski.senate.gov or call my Washington office at 202-224-4654.
Does this mean that Senator Mikulski, and others, will now press for a further investigation into this issue? That they are not going to let it die an Iraqi death, in the dust and unremembered?

For sure:
the objectivity, reasonableness, independence and accuracy of the judgments reached by the Intelligence Community; and - whether any influence was brought to bear on anyone to shape their analysis to support policy objectives.
has not been addressed in any resonable manner. In particular, the suggestion that "influence was brought to bear" was shown by Sy Hersh in his famous "Stovepipe" article. As Hersh says:
How did the American intelligence community get it so wrong?

Part of the answer lies in decisions made early in the Bush Administration, before the events of September 11, 2001. In interviews with present and former intelligence officials, I was told that some senior Administration people, soon after coming to power, had bypassed the government’s customary procedures for vetting intelligence.(emphasis added)
Here you have the crux of the Downing Street Memo contention that the intelligent was being "fixed."

But, we are in Never Never land. No one believes facts anymore. We believe in a president who talks to an imaginary being in the clouds and thinks that everything is going to smell of roses in Iraq as long as we "stay the course."

If we make it to 2008, there is going to be some might heavy reckoning going on.

Jerks

Smearing Cindy Sheehan. How low can you get. AfterDowningStreet sends us to Democrats.com where the details can be found. I won't repeat them.

I continue to feel the deepest affection for this woman who lost a son in Iraq. There is no patriotism involved here. He was fighting in an illegal war that was started to steal oil for the obscenely rich jerks who populate our government.

If you want a real eye opener on this, check out the Rolling Stone article on Congress:
Four Amendments & a Funeral
A month inside the house of horrors that is Congress
By MATT TAIBBI
Its enough to make a grown man cry, or at least engage in a little projectile emesis.

Friday Crab Blogging

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Just Whose Sister City, Mr. Hitchens?

Of course it was during a blinding sandstorm. That explains all.
From HERE:
Baghdad Mayor Is Ousted by a Shiite Group and Replaced
By JAMES GLANZ
Published: August 10, 2005
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 9 - Armed men entered Baghdad's municipal building during a blinding dust storm on Monday, deposed the city's mayor and installed a member of Iraq's most powerful Shiite militia.

The deposed mayor, Alaa al-Tamimi, who was not in his offices at the time, recounted the events in a telephone interview on Tuesday and called the move a municipal coup d'├ętat. He added that he had gone into hiding for fear of his life.
Yes, it is really true. Mr. Hitchens berates us for not taking up Baghdad as a Sister City. Or Samarra, as the case may be. A car bomb is a car bomb.

Of all the crazy ideas. He's been reading to much John O'Hara.
Appointment in Samarra

A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market. The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The servant told the merchant, "I was jostled in the market, turned around, and saw Death.

"Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror. May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me."

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away, to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in the crowd. "Why did you threaten my servant?" He asked.

Death replied,"I did not threaten your servant. It was merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad, for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."

Our Dear Gov-24 (Click on Comic to Enlarge)

Cindy Sheehan

You have to wonder at the ironies of life. Here we are, many of us, writing and contributing to multiple efforts to end this illegal War in Iraq, and Ms. Sheehan has been able to do more for the cause than anyone including Howard Dean and John Kerry combined. Her honesty and straightforward confrontation of the horror that is this War, that is all War, makes the rest of us wilt in shame.

I am truly grieved for her loss of her son.

Then there is always this:



And this:

From the Woodstock Playbook

From here via here:
The Pentagon would hold a massive march and country music concert to mark the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in an announcement tucked into an Iraq war briefing today.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Some Books

Dirty Snow - Simenon. Probably his best book. Extremely black. Takes place in WWII France and describes the response of a petty crook to the occupation. When read in conjunction with Alan Furst's books, gives another view of occupation France.

An End to Suffering; The Buddha in the World - Pankaj Mishra. Really an excellent book even if Mishra is unable to fully account for modern belief in Buddhism. It is full of personal reminisces and is complimentary to his earlier book, The Romantics. It very much confronts the misunderstanding that the West has for the East, including Buddhism. Anyone with an interest in India should read this.

A Coffin for Dimitrios - Eric Ambler. This is a spy thriller set in the 1920's. It is a little dated and it is hard to get into the mood, things have changed so much. It is historically interesting. Do we still remember that the Greeks and Turks slaughtered one another?

Visa for Avalon - Bryher. This is a very unusual book. It is, I suppose, a fable. Bryher is the pen name for a less known novelist. The setting is the takeover of England by a probable fascism. Its mood is a little like the Aerodrome by Rex Warner. What would you really do if your country was going fascist?

Saturday - Ian McEwan. McEwan writes well. Here we follow a neurosurgeon in February, 2003, a month before the Iraq War begins. On the day described, there was the big march in London. There is a lot of neurosurgery and science, described lovingly and adoringly but the most interesting bits are the asides and premonitions about the War. McEwan is a man trying hard to be a writer. I am not sure he succeeds.

To Each His Own and The Day of the Owl - Leonardo Sciascia. I am not sure why I have started reading so many books set in north India and now these set in Sicily. They really are quite excellent. Looming behind both of them is the silent evil of the Mafia. Is there no place free from people like this?

Troubles and The Singapore Grip - J.G. Farrell. I read these two books because I thought Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur was so good. The one about Singapore is probably better and gives one an incredible picture of the fall of Singapore to the Japanese at the outset of WWII. Troubles is, well, a troubled book. It is set in Ireland at the beginning of the Civil War there in the early 1920's. Being of Irish extraction (and Farrell being staunchly British) it was a little hard to take some of the patronizing. But, all in all it was an interesting read.

The Sinister Pig - Tony Hillerman. I have to face it, if I know Jim Chee is on the loose again, I'll read it. But, unfortunately, Hillerman is losing his touch. He had a formula for a while, but I think he lost it. He lived behind my boss/colleague when I lived in Albuquerque but he was a recluse. I got stopped for speeding once zooming across the Res in Arizona one dark night. It was all I could do not to say "Yes sir, Officer Chee." (Oh, Joe Leaphorn makes an appearance, too. What more could you want. I know, Janet Pete.)

Basket Case and Skinny Dip - Carl Hiaasen. Face it, the guy is good. For unadulterated (wrong choice of words) fun you can't beat him. The cool, older, burnt out guy gets the cool, saucy younger, and always smarter chick. Much mayhem along the way. South Florida crazy; you can't beat it. He mops the floor with Travis McGee. On the other hand Tim Dorsey (Florida Roadkill, Hammerhead Ranch Motel, Singray Shuffle, Triggerfish Twist, Orange Crush) comes in a close second. Serge Storms is a depraved lunatic who is totally unhinged. I'd rather Jim Chee.

Rat King, Dead Lagoon, Blood Rain, And Then You Die, Cosi Fan Tutti - Aurelio Zen Mysteries – Michael Dibdin. I have some Italian blood in me so I have been attracted to these mysteries since I first read Dead Lagoon a few years ago. Aurelio Zen, the protagonist, is a fairly interesting and complex character. There is some sex, a lot of violence, but alos a lot about Italy which interests me.

Update, sorry

Monday, August 08, 2005


Somewhere in New Mexico pointing at Texas

Fox TV

Sunday, August 07, 2005


Jeff Danziger 08/07/05

Saturday, August 06, 2005

On Bloopers and Free Will

A friend of mine passed on a piece from the International Herald Tribune called "Confessions of a Blooper Snooper." Its pretty interesting and has this succulent morsel from a student essay:
Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper.
This got me thinking about malapropisms. At the time and for the life of me, I couldn't remember the playwrite of "The Rivals" until the author of the blooper piece reminded me that it was Sheridan. (I remember seeing this play 30 years ago in a production at the Folger. Excellent.)

Bloopers are interesting on a number of levels. In the first place, they frequently point to a truth that no amount of vitriolic ranting (the kind we engage in with blogs) can drive home. It is almost as if the humor of a phrase ungirdles the mind from what flows beneath. Within hours of the space shuttle Challanger's fatal flight, their were jokes circulating relating to the disaster. While these are not bloopers per se, they serve do allow expression of underlying feelings that more formal discourse inhibits or even forbids.

(Actually, in thinking about it, humorous blogs such as TBogg and Billmon are frequently more acute in their observations than the straight blogs like Eschaton and Kos.)

This whole area of underlying feelings is rather fascinating. We are so inundated with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) that people tend to forget about the subconscious. This may be because that champion of the SC, Sigmund Freud, is no longer in ascendancy. I was recently in Vienna and visited the Freud museum.
I guess I hadn't realized what lay behind his work of 100 years ago until I visited this museum. He had a number of interests other than the psychoanalysis for which he is famous. He had an avid interest in the artifacts of ancient civilizations including totems and statues. Mirriam Webster defines totem as:
an object (as an animal or plant) serving as the emblem of a family or clan and often as a reminder of its ancestry; also : a usually carved or painted representation of such an object

I think that Freud's colleague and later antagonist, Karl Jung, was really into this, the idea that humans carry emotional baggage that is below the surface.

Most of us, particularly in America with our hyperreflexive concept of personal autonomy, will tend to deny that things we do are in any way dependent on a subconscious. Our entire legal system is based on the idea of free will and personal responsability. Free Will assumes that all decisions are the product of conscious, rational thought. Yet the evidence that we do not make decisions based on rationality is all around us. Indeed, one of the most common defenses in serious criminal cases is "insanity," whatever that means these days.

Freud was a fairly good teacher, if a little pompous. He delivered a series of lectures to medical students in 1919 which was collected in his book "Introduction to Psychoanalysis."
Right up front, long before the dreams, is his exposition of bloopers. Of course we now call them "Freudian Slips." But, we need to recognize that it is not merely serendipity that has someone substitute 'circumcise' for 'circumnavigate.' It was most certainly a male who did this (females usually don't say 'circumcise,' it is a taboo word; taboo is a whole area in itself that relates to the subconscious that we will go to some day). And this is a male who knows what the word 'circumcise' means. And the word 'circumcise' is one of the most frightening words in the whole, round, circumnavigatable world for a male, right up there with 'castrate.'

Freud spent a lot of time expounding on what Freudian slips told us about the subconscious. The problem for most of is that, while his theory is quite rational, the explanation is constructed out of whole cloth. We just don't know at all what goes on in the subconscious (those that believe in Free Will might even go so far as to say that we don't have a subconscious.) Said in another way, the scientific method cannot be applied to Freud's theory because there is no way to do a controlled experiment. It is based on explanations that seemed rational to Freud (and others).

But of course Freud was a product of his subconscious also. And within this subconscious was his entire childhood (I won't go there) and, if you believe Jung, many ingrained human memes. This gets into very dicey evolutionary theory. To say that a subconscious meme such as fear of castration results in the construction of totems (a la Jung), results in 'circumcised' vs 'circumnavigated' (a la Freud), and gets implanted in the human consciousness through natural selection (males who are castrated can't reproduce) is a tall order. And to go further and to postulate that Freud's theory itself was the product of a subconscious fear of castration that was evolutionarily selected stretches the imagination.

But, it could be true, I guess.

Hey, Idaho, Talk to Our Dear Gov

It looks like Idaho hasn't heard of Maryland. As Yogi Berra said: Its Deja Vu all over (link courtesy of Sirotablog at Working for Change):
Speaker of Idaho House considers legislation to require insurance
By The Associated Press

BOISE -- The speaker of the state House of Representatives is mulling a proposal that could require businesses to provide employees with insurance, or reimburse Idaho for publicly funded health care costs.

Medicaid costs have grown tenfold since 1990, and now account for about 14 percent of state spending.

To try to reverse the trend, Rep. Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, is proposing that employers buy health insurance for their workers, or pay the state to offset Medicaid costs.

Newcomb's target: Wal-Mart stores.
(emphasis added)
As I said, I guess Idaho didn't talke to Our Dear Gov a Republican who vetoed the same bill in Maryland.
Ehrlich Vetoes Health Care Bill Aimed at Wal-Mart

PRINCESS ANNE, Md., May 19 -- Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed legislation Thursday that would have effectively forced Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to spend more on employee health benefits in Maryland, a measure that has unnerved the retailing giant and prompted other states to consider similar approaches.
"O, what men dare do! What men may do! What men daily do, not knowing what they do!"

--From Much Ado About Nothing (IV, i, 19-21)

Friday, August 05, 2005


Friday Crab Blogging (fresh off the boat; soon to be steamed)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sent in by an Ace Investigator

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY Did you check for breathing?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Our Dear Gov-23 (Click Cartoon to Enlarge)

Paul Hackett.

Well, he didn't win, but:
Yesterday (Tuesday), one of the reddest regions in America turned a whole lot bluer.

I ran in a special election to serve in the United States House of Representatives from the 2nd District of Ohio. I am a Marine recently returned from Iraq, a husband, a father, an attorney, and a Democrat.


When I won the Democratic primary for this contest, few people believed we had a shot at victory. But DFA put its faith in me -- and went to work organizing on the ground and online. Your support helped build the greatest Democratic get-out-the-vote effort this district has ever known.

While we didn't pull out a victory yesterday -- we came incredibly close. We got 48 percent of the vote. And in those results rests hope for the future.

It had been 15 years since a Democratic candidate for Congress received more than 30 percent of the vote in Ohio's 2nd District and decades since a Democrat held the seat. Your support helped me improve Democratic performance by nearly 20 percent. This is a victory for democracy. And if we can do this in Ohio -- we can do it anywhere.
Everything is incremental. Next year we will gain back the House and Senate. Keep working!

Monday, August 01, 2005


Our Dear Gov-22 (Click Comic to Enlarge)