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Saturday, June 21, 2003

Digby's back:

Thank goodness.


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Religion and politics:

Remember two years ago when there was a big debate about stem-cell research? One of the key figures in that affair was Leon R. Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, who is the author of Human Cloning and Human Dignity: The Report of the President's Council on Bioethics.

Well, guess what? He's just come out (May 2003), with another book. This one is The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis. From a book review:
[Kass] recognizes how scientific expertise has created dilemmas demanding anew the kind of moral insights that generations have gleaned from Scripture.
From the book description:
The first [section of the book] shows how the universal history described in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, from creation to the tower of Babel, conveys, in the words of Leon Kass, "a coherent anthropology" -- a general teaching about human nature -- that "rivals anything produced by the great philosophers." Serving also as a mirror for the reader's self-discovery, these stories offer profound insights into the problematic character of human reason, speech, freedom, sexual desire, the love of the beautiful, pride, shame, anger, guilt, and death.
NOTE: The first eleven chapters of Genesis consists of 6,770 words (King James Version). Which means there are only 615 words per topic*, or a bit less than 1½ pages of text in a typical book**.  Clearly, Leon Kass is extrapolating way beyond what's there.

* 6,770 / 11 : (1) human nature, (2) human reason, (3) speech, (4) freedom, (5) sexual desire, (6) the love of the beautiful, (7) pride, (8) shame, (9) anger, (10) guilt, and (11) death.
** typical book has 42 lines with 11 words per line.


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Donald Luskin watch:

Today's story:
Ding-Dong, the Bear Is Dead

By Donald Luskin

THE LOWS OF last Oct. 10 have proven, so far, to be The Bottom. Through yesterday's close, the Standard & Poor's 500 has gained 29.9% gain over the 245 days since Oct. 10's lows. Even from the somewhat higher lows of March 12, the S&P has rallied 26.6% over 92 days.

But is the rally sustainable? Yes. Was Oct. 10 the bottom? Yes.

I have consistently highlighted in this column the positive macroeconomic developments that have made this rally possible, and they will keep it well fueled for some time to come: the decisive resolution of the war in Iraq, the end of monetary deflation risk, investors' increasing risk tolerance, a robust earnings recovery, the market's deep undervaluation and a bet-on-a-miracle tax cut.

[big snip]

A year from now, I think investors will look back at today's markets and say, "What was I thinking? How did I miss that?" Today's stock prices are going to been seen as very cheap, indeed. And today's bond yields are going to seem comically low.

Donald Luskin is chief investment officer of Trend Macrolytics, an economics consulting firm serving institutional investors. You may contact him at don@trendmacro.com
From a little under two years ago:
MetaMarkets to Liquidate Funds

The end is in sight for the funds at MetaMarkets.com, a mutual-fund company that attempted to bring greater visibility to portfolios by announcing holdings in real time via the Internet. The San Francisco-based company announced Thursday that it plans to liquidate its funds, which have been struggling amid the tech downturn.

Specifically, the company will liquidate its $9.9 million OpenFund and its $1.4 million IPO & New Era Fund, according to MetaMarkets' Web site. "Accordingly, over time the Fund's investment portfolio will be liquidated and invested in money market instruments or other liquid assets until the Fund's assets are distributed to investors," the site says in reference to the funds.

The OpenFund, launched in August 1999, is down 26 percent this year after losing 42 percent in 2000, according to fund tracker Morningstar. The IPO & New Era fund, started in 2000, is off 57 percent this year, according to the company's Web site.

MetaMarkets is now looking to be acquired by a large finance or media corporation, and has brought in investment bank Allen & Co. to find a partner. "Capital is scarce and we have to ally ourselves with powerful partners," says Donald Luskin, chief executive of MetaMarkets and a daily columnist for The Industry Standard's Web site. "This is an environment that is hostile to innovation."


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Friday, June 20, 2003

Sad but serious:

The Washington Post has a web page devoted to "the faces of the fallen" (soldiers in Iraq). Updated every Friday.

Let's hope this list doesn't keep growing.


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Who done it?

In the story. Report by the E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change, we read:
The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to publish a draft report next week on the state of the environment, but after editing by the White House, a long section describing risks from rising global temperatures has been whittled to a few noncommittal paragraphs.

[...]

Among the deletions were conclusions about the likely human contribution to warming from a 2001 report on climate by the National Research Council that the White House had commissioned and that President Bush had endorsed in speeches that year. White House officials also deleted a reference to a 1999 study showing that global temperatures had risen sharply in the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion.

In the end, E.P.A. staff members, after discussions with administration officials, said they decided to delete the entire discussion to avoid criticism that they were selectively filtering science to suit policy.
This has gone on long enough.   Who were the "administration officials"?

Also, "Who put that student's thesis in the British report?"   And "Who put the Niger-uranium line in the State of the Union speech?"

Get crackin', all you reporters.


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496 years old:

The New York Times has an editorial about the Library of Congress' purchase of the world map compiled by Martin Waldseemüller in 1507. The Times notes that: "The map is the first to correctly show that America is a separate continent, and the name "America" — a tribute to the Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci — is printed across what we now call Brazil." and that "The Library of Congress has been trying to acquire the Waldseemüller map since 1903."

Better late than never. For an image of the map, click here.


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Thursday, June 19, 2003

Dog the Bounty Hunter should be dead:

Breaking news this morning is that fugitive serial rapist Andrew Luster was captured before dawn today by bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman. Chapman is a well known bounty hunter who's bagged: Quinton Wortham, Capital Hill rapist; Wayne Williams, Atlanta child murderer; William Scatarie, white supremacist and convicted murderer of Denver radio shock jock Alan Berg.

MESSAGE TO THE RIGHT WING: You can say all you want about how much you like this guy, but by all rights he should be six feet under.

Why?

Because he once served time in a Texas prison for first-degree murder. Think about it. If Chapman had:
  • A typically incompetent judge-appointed lawyer.
  • Alberto R. Gonzales (currently White House counsel) prepare the death-penalty memoranda.
  • Bush review the case.
Ol' Dog wouldn't be around today.

But you might say that Chapman deserved a second chance because he became a born-again Christian and had turned his life around. Sorry. That doesn't cut it with Bush. After all, he didn't let that stop Texas from executing Carla Faye Tucker. Let's read what Bush had to say on the matter: (emphasis added)
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, Carla Faye Tucker was a convicted murderess who was on Death Row and she - you know - converted her life to Christ.

JIM LEHRER: While she was on Death Row?

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: While she was on Death Row. And the reason I knew that was because she was on "Larry King Live" and other TV shows telling her story, and she was a compelling witness to the Lord, I thought. And unfortunately I saw her, and I say unfortunately because like many other Americans I fell in love with her story. And I was most impressed by her, and yet my job as the governor of Texas is to uphold the law of the land. My job isn't to judge somebody's heart. I believe that's up to the almighty God to make that decision. And so when confronted with the facts - the two questions that a governor - at least I ask - is guilt or innocence and was … Carla Faye - either had full access to the courts of law in the state of Texas and Washington, D.C., in the federal courts - when I answered those affirmatively, I signed the - the execution went forward.


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Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Cartoon:

We like this week's Troubletown cartoon.


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David "No comment" Broder:

"The Dean" of D.C. reporters takes time to examine what Grover Norquist is up to - by reading Norquist's recent Washington Post Op-Ed. Broder admits that Norquist is a serious player, and that "his description of what Republicans will do ... commands attention". Broder then writes: (emphasis added)
The consequence of [these tax cut proposals] -- not spelled out in his essay but clearly in his mind -- is a massive rollback in federal revenue and what he regards as a desirable shrinkage of federal services and benefits. In short, the goal is a system of government wiped clean, on both the revenue and spending side, of almost a century's accumulation of social programs designed to provide a safety net beneath the private economy.
Broder continues his essay by noting that Norquist's candor may have political impact - perhaps by energizing Democrats.  Which may be true.   But it's odd that Broder makes no comment about the merits (or impact) of the goal itself. Eliminating "almost a century's accumulation of social programs designed to provide a safety net".


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The reason why?

One third of Americans think WMD's have been found in Iraq, according to a recent poll.




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Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Jumpin' Jim Jeffords jabs George junior:

Get Donkey! brings to our attention a June 5 speech by Jim Jeffords of Vermont: (excerpts, emphasis added)
  • The events of the past two years have only heightened my concern over the President's veer to the right, and the poisoning of our democratic process of government.

  • The promises of candidate Bush, who pledged to bring a new tone to Washington and packaged himself as a compassionate conservative, are unmet. On issue after issue the Bush Administration is not what it claims to be.

  • Pundits asked after last November's election: will the President over-reach with his Republican majorities in the House and Senate? Well, President Bush hasn't just over-reached, he has set a new standard for extreme partisan politics that on many occasions has been supported by the Republican-controlled Congress. In place of thoughtful policy we now have superficial and cynical sound-bites. Instead of confronting pressing national problems, our President lands airplanes while Rome burns.

  • While our troops search for W-M-D's in Iraq--we have found our own W-M-D's right here in Washington - at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They are President Bush's weapons of mass distortion, or better distraction. The Bush Administration says one thing and does another to take the focus off the present realities.

  • As he prepared to invade Iraq and win the support of other nations, the President promised the world that the US had a plan in place to rebuild that nation. But it quickly became apparent that there was no plan.

  • His polls and famous advisors tell him to talk about compassion and job growth, and how he is helping Main Street. But that is all it is, talk. In reality he adopts hard right proposals that favor those who need help least and neglect those who need help the most.

  • The Bush tax cut will threaten the country's long-term well-being by starving the federal government of revenue for essential services, such as homeland security, transportation infrastructure, education and health care. Our States are bearing the brunt of our dismal economic conditions, and these cuts will brutalize them.

  • While pretending to have compassion for our schoolchildren, the approach of No Child Left Behind is heartless.

  • The Bush Administration continues to protect special interests and ignore public support for strong environmental protections and conservation measures.

  • What makes the actions of the Bush Administration so troublesome is the lack of honesty. It amounts, in the end, to a pattern of deception and distortion; ultimately that does not respect the wisdom of the American people.
Phew!

For what it's worth, here you have a moderate former Republican saying that Bush is a liar, a policy disaster, extremely partisan, and not a bit compassionate. No wonder the right-wing radio loves him. But what about the rest of the country?


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Visualizing the effects of copyright law:

Via Incoming Signals we were directed to a graph showing the effects of various copyright laws. Essentially, a whole lot of stuff is off-limits compared to what would have been if the original copyright provisions were in effect.
Incoming Signals is a hard-to-classify blog. For example, there is a link to Buildings of Disaster, where one can purchase a miniature replica of Chernobyl to accent your living room decor.

It's a good site to visit when you want to take a break from heavy political stuff. You'll find links to the many-stringed-guitar, for example.
UPDATE: Even more power to copyright holders:
Hatch Takes Aim at Illegal Downloading
"I'm interested," Hatch interrupted. He said damaging someone's computer "may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights."

The senator acknowledged Congress would have to enact an exemption for copyright owners from liability for damaging computers. He endorsed technology that would twice warn a computer user about illegal online behavior, "then destroy their computer."

"If we can find some way to do this without destroying their machines, we'd be interested in hearing about that," Hatch said. "If that's the only way, then I'm all for destroying their machines. If you have a few hundred thousand of those, I think people would realize" the seriousness of their actions, he said.

"There's no excuse for anyone violating copyright laws," Hatch said.
A few hundred thousand destroyed computers? Sounds good to us!


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Monday, June 16, 2003

History major blasts historians:

There's really not much we can say about this story:
Bush Blasts 'Revisionist Historians' on Iraq

President Bush countered those questioning his justification for the invasion of Iraq on Monday, dismissing "revisionist historians" and saying Washington acted to counter a persistent threat.

"Now there are some who would like to rewrite history; revisionist historians is what I like to call them," Bush said in a speech to New Jersey business leaders.



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Compare and contrast:

The word is out: Iraqi mobile labs nothing to do with germ warfare, report finds (from the Observer).
An official British investigation into two trailers found in northern Iraq has concluded they are not mobile germ warfare labs, as was claimed by Tony Blair and President George Bush, but were for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons, as the Iraqis have continued to insist.
Now go read our transcript from last week's Fox News Sunday, and pay attention to what Brit Hume was saying about the two trailers. (Either further down on this page, or at this URL). Incoherent excerpts:
BRIT HUME: Oh, please.
BRIT HUME: They're hot dog stands, Juan, that's what they were.
BRIT HUME: Making cider?
BRIT HUME: ... What we have found is an array of facilities on board those mobile labs that the analysts say could not possibly have been used for anything else.
BRIT HUME: So, they're making stuff like Viagra?
BRIT HUME: Juan, that's, that really - that's the tooth fairy stuff.


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You get what you pay for?

The Rittenhouse Review comments on a ranking (by MSNBC?) of public high schools in the nation. We agree that the methodology is suspect, but we thought it might provide us with a crude way to rank state public school systems. So we made a table. In the first column is the state, and for fun, how it voted in 2000. Roughly speaking, Blue (Gore) states are high-tax, high-service states. The 2nd column is the number of "Top High Schools" each state had (out of a total of 800+). The 3rd column are the number of Electoral College votes each state will cast in 2004 - which is a rough proxy for population. Surprisingly, many states had nearly the same number of top high schools as Electoral Votes, but that was just a happy coincidence

Generally speaking, outstanding states (with # Top Schools >= 2 * Electoral Votes) were Blue. But there were some Red states as well (N. Carolina, Utah, Virginia). And keep an eye on Colorado, Florida, and Texas. They almost qualified. Sub-standard states (# schools < 1/3 Electoral Votes [min 6]) were often Red. Food for thought

Anyway, here is the table:

State &
how voted
in 2000
Red=Bush, Blue=Gore
Performance:
  better than expected:
 
  worse than expected:
 
2004
Electoral
College
votes
Ala. 4 9
Ak. 2 3
Ariz. 3 10
Ark. 3 6
Calif 163 55
Colo. 17 9
Conn. 14 7
D.C. 4 3
Del. 1 3
Fla. 50 27
Ga. 19 15
Hawaii 0 4
Ida. 2 4
Ill. 25 21
Ind. 1 11
Iowa 1 7
Kan. 5 6
Ken. 1 8
Louis. 0 9
Me. 1 4
Md. 41 12
Mass 17 10
Mich. 15 17
Minn. 14 10
Miss. 0 6
Mo. 6 11
Mont. 1 3
Neb. 0 5
Nev. 6 5
N.H. 0 4
N.J. 35 15
N.M. 1 5
N.Y 116 31
N.C. 39 15
N.D. 0 3
Ohio 16 20
Okla. 6 7
Ore. 5 7
Pa. 11 21
R.I 1 4
S.C. 12 8
S.D. 1 3
Tenn. 4 11
Tex. 50 34
Utah 14 5
Vermont 0 3
Va 61 13
Wash. 8 11
W.Va. 1 5
Wis. 10 10
Wy. 0 3

Excel spreadsheet of the data available here (caution, some variable state names: NY, N.Y., Penn, Pa.)


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William Illogical Buckley:

Busy, busy, busy draws our attention to a recent essay by Buckley (and summarizes it nicely). We took a look, and found these passages a fine example of foolishness:
[A critic of Bush] glides over the question as if taxes were a zero-sum game, an increase in the federal figure giving us a decrease in the state figure and vice versa. But it is not so.

but two paragraphs later, we read

[Critics of Bush] fail to acknowledge, let alone emphasize, that aid by Washington to the states has got to originate in aid from the states to Washington. If Californians want more public money, they can raise it directly, by increasing the taxes on Californians, or indirectly, by getting it from Washington, which will get it from Californians.
There are other problems with Buckley's writing, including the meaningless statistics of what fraction of income taxes the top X percent is paying, but the item above, where he switches from no-zero-sum-game (for one argument) to it-is-a-zero-sum-game (to make a different point) is typical of the specious reasoning going on. But sometimes Buckley convinces his readers, no doubt due to the peculiar prose style he employs.


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