Saturday, November 30, 2002

Amazing scientific news:

This Saturday, scientists at the Max Planck Institute startled the world with the announcement of the discovery of a new element - lighter than Hydrogen - which they have given the provisional name of Kurtzonium.

Senior chemist and devoted CNN-watcher, Dr. Helmut Wirsing, said today that after watching Howard Kurtz' "extremely lightweight" interview of Rush Limbaugh on Reliable Sources, "There now can no longer be any doubt. Previously, we thought the lightest entity would be found in Hollywood. Something like a profile of Jennifer Lopez or a review of her latest movie. But in the face of what we saw tonight, we have to completely reassess our fundamental principles. This Kurtzonium is incredibly evanescent. Limbaugh wasn't affected at all - even down to the quantum level. What many expected to be a show-down between Limbaugh and his critics, turned out to be nothing more than a forum for Rush to pontificate. It's almost like Kurtz wasn't in the room. We need to investigate this further."

While the lightness of Kurtz caught most chemists attention, others detected a whiff of cloying sycophancy throughout the program. "Some people like that sort of thing", said researcher Dr. Walter Frese, "but to me, it stinks to high heaven."


Brother, can you spare a dyne?

News item:
Federal money to help pay heating bills has dried up

... a pool of federal funds available to needy natural gas customers in Chicago has already dried up because the federal government allocated much less money. The budget this winter is $1.8 million--down from $3.2 million last winter ...

That leaves about 14,000 utility customers without heat in the city, with the full winter still ahead.
- Nov 30, 2002
From the President's radio address:
Taking time to count our own blessings reminds us that many people struggle every day -- men, women, and children facing hunger, homelessness, illness, addiction, or despair. These are not strangers. They are fellow Americans needing comfort, love, and compassion. I ask all Americans to consider how you can give someone in need a reason to be thankful in this holiday season and throughout the year.

It's easy to get started and to have an immediate impact. Volunteering your time at a soup kitchen, teaching a child to read, visiting a patient in the hospital, or taking a meal to an elderly neighbor or a shut-in are all simple acts of compassion that can brighten someone's life.
- Nov 30, 2002
Question for Bush's next press conference:
Instead of taking a meal to an elderly neighbor, should we bring a tank of natural gas, now that there's no federal money for heating bills?


Al From is wrong:

We read over at New Democrats Online the following:
Democrats need to expand their base, not just to energize it. Democrats should, of course, go all out to rally their faithful to the polls, but that can't be the end of their strategy. The base just isn't big enough to win. The harsh reality is that there are more conservatives than liberals in America (and more moderates than either). - Al From
Oh, yeah?

How do you explain this then:


Let's be logical: (Inspired by Coulter's latest screed)
  • Ann Coulter: ... liberals are demanding that Americans ritualistically proclaim, "Islam is a religion of peace" ...

  • George Bush: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. ... Islam is peace.

  • Ann Coulter: We need to ... physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too ...

  • September 5, 2002: Secret Service agents and Washington police arrested a ... man near the White House yesterday after he was said to have made threats against President Bush ...
So ... when will the Secret Service get on Coulter's case?


Keep an eye on this statistic:

In Harold Meyerson's American Prospect piece on politics and Democratic options, he brings this to our attention:
What the Los Angeles Times' exit poll makes clear is that ... between the 1998 midterm and this year's ... the percentage of white voters increased from 64 percent four years ago to 76 percent this year.

And the whitening of the electorate does not seem to have been limited to California. Fox News conducted phone polls of voters on election night (an admittedly imperfect methodology), and concluded that the white share of the electorate grew in a number of "battleground" states from its figure in 2000: in Florida by 9 percent, in Colorado by 5 percent, in Missouri by 4 percent.
There could be a sleeping giant hidden in those no-shows at the polls.


Thursday, November 28, 2002

For The Rittenhouse Review:

The loons!  The loons!  Look out for the loons!

Micro update: In Noonan's latest column, she writes:
My political philosophy is conservative. I am pro-life. I live in New York City, surrounded by modern people. They are mostly left-wing, they are all pro-choice ...
"Modern people", indeed.


Another diagram:

Joe Conason has some interesting things to say about Kissinger's appointment, although his key point seems tenuous. From his article (Salon premium) we learn about the following relationships:

Kissinger and his colleagues are on a couple of boards at Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst - and they (Hicks especially) are tight with Bush. Therefore, Kissinger won't probe hard into issues that might embarrass Bush.   (Also, there are conflicts of interest because of present and former clients of Kissinger Associates.)

Yeah. Could be. But so far, that's a slender reed to lean on.


Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Sullivan outs himself:

We took a look at Sullivan's latest dispatch. Here it is:   (You don't have to bother to read it)
A WINTER'S TALE: I guess I passed a milestone this week. As the winter closes in, Provincetown gets a little bleaker each day. It's truly odd living in a resort town. From 50,000 inhabitants in the summer to 3,000 or so in the winter, it almost becomes a different town as autumn ends. The cafes close down; the stores shut; there are times when I almost feel as if I'm on Survivor, as each friend or acquaintance gets kicked off the island. To add to the weirdness, they're currently constructing the town's first real sewer - so much of the main street is dug up, with sand and soil in heaps and tracks all over town. Squint your eyes and the winding, uneven, muddied street could be of a century ago. But the solitude is also intoxicating. As I write this, I'm looking out at the dark bay, a lighthouse blinking in the distance, in my room on a wharf which has just had its water supply turned off to keep the pipes from freezing over. The boyfriend, beagle and I now live in a friend's house nearby, with water and a fireplace. I make a short walk each morning to the water's edge to begin the work day. It's simple living - but I am extraordinarily lucky to be able to live and work this way. And after twelve years of continuous living in Washington, it's healthy to take a break, to get some distance. When January comes, even the boyfriend will have to leave and we'll resume the long-distance thing. But I've decided to try and stick it out here by myself. I have a few friends still around, a dog, a fireplace, more books than I could possibly read, and cable television and DSL. More and more people are living here in the winter and I don't feel like a true townie in any sense until I've lost my Ptown winter virginity and stayed through the dark months. Besides, I'm going to be forty next year (gulp) and some solitude - which is different than loneliness - can only do me good. With the blog, it's also impossible to feel that lonely. Which is why, today, I'd like to say thanks to all of you for making this whole enterprise possible and coming back day after day to check in. Have a great Thanksgiving.
Okay, so what's the big deal? Well, not too many people know this, but there are secret messages buried inside his weblog entries. These emanate from his subconscious; even Sullivan doesn't realize he's doing it. Anyway, we shall use his latest post as an example. Take the first three sentences:
I guess I passed a milestone this week. As the winter closes in, Provincetown gets a little bleaker each day. It's truly odd living in a resort town.
Now examine the 1st letter in each word, and skip over the padding:
I guess I passed a milestone this week. As the winter closes in, Provincetown gets a little bleaker each day. It's truly odd living in a resort town.
And you get:
I am a liar.
Can you believe it?

Next time: We decode Michael Kelly's essays, and in the process discover who is really writing his material!


Define your terms:

We're on this particular subject, because all too often we've heard the term "Socialist" misused by conservatives. Bill O'Reilly, in particular, calls various support programs socialism. But that's incorrect. We currently have a Capitalist-Welfare state - like it or not. The primary definition of Socialism, according to the dictionary, is:
any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
Which nobody in the United States is supporting - pace O'Reilly.

Anyway, we thought it might be interesting to see if we could come up with a little table to get a better sense of what the different political systems were all about, and how they stood in relation to each other. This required gross simplification, and therefore the result is likely to disappoint or outrage some folks. But it's a first cut, and we expect to refine it later. That said, here is the table:

    government owns/controls
      little or nothing
    welfare - capitalism
provides support to:
no welfare
people   people
    business business   business business  
democratic Calvinism Socialism Poindexterism Liberalism Bushism Green Libertarianism
authoritarian Communism Mobutuism Monarcy Bismarkism Fascism Theocracy Tribalism

  • Monarchy is that which was practiced a thousand years ago, when the king/emperor/sultan owned everything (and there was no commerce - or at least it was practiced outside the purview of the monarch).
  • Theocracy refers to a system where Faith Based Organizations service the poor (which is quasi-governmental). Also, it's not particularly enamored by business (for moral reasons: encourages hedonism, may foster selfish attitudes, promotes "modernism", ...).
  • Instead of Bismarkism, we were tempted to say National Socialism, but that term carries way too much baggage.
  • We weren't happy to put Greens in the category of welfare-for-people-only, but it seemed like the best term to use for that case.
  • Poindexterism refers to the control that Admiral John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness could lead to. Control of personal behavior, with minimal business oversight, in a democracy.
  • Calvinism refers to the society in Switzerland at the time in history of maximum control (1600?). Everybody's life was regimented within a somewhat democratic framework. We are unaware of any modern-day, democratic, totalitarian system.


Insurance for me, but not for thee:

Sometime ago, we noted the Bush administration's cavalier attitude towards extending unemployment insurance for about 800,000 people. They took a hands-off approach. We read:
Congress adjourned its 107th session Friday, sending President Bush a homeland security bill but faltering in a last-ditch effort to help recession victims whose unemployment insurance is about to run out.

... House Democratic leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota asked President Bush to weigh in and press House Republicans to approve the Senate proposal. The White House insisted that Congress work it out.
And the Bush administration has also promoted "privatization" or "partial privatization" of the Social Security Insurance program. But let's make this point clear: You cannot "privatize" insurance. It's a contradiction in terms. If you privatize insurance, you're really dismantling it.

So, it looks as if the administration disdains insurance. It's everybody for himself. Sink or swim. No collective action to hedge against misfortune - right?

Not so fast!

Bush is in favor of insurance for businesses. That's why he pushed for the just-signed Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. Not only does it make terrorism available, it makes it mandatory that it be available: (from the NYTimes)
The legislation, which Mr. Bush had made a top priority, requires all commercial insurers to begin immediately offering terrorism coverage.
But there's more. The government is a partner with this program:
The bill also shields the insurance companies from the kind of astronomical losses that another attack like that of Sept. 11 could bring.

Under the bill, formally known as the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, the government will pay 90 percent of the cost of a terrorist attack after losses are greater than $10 billion. For lesser damages during the first year of the program, the insurance companies will pay up to the equivalent of 7 percent of their premiums toward damages with the government picking up the rest of the costs. In the third year, the insurers will be required to pay up to 15 percent of their premiums with the 90 percent share for the government kicking in at $15 billion in losses.
There is no mention of a Terrorism Insurance Trust Fund, so we presume such a thing won't exist. That means if there's a big attack, some of the compensation will be paid out of general funds - i.e. by all of us. It's quite a contrast: No interest in paying unemployment insurance out of a trust fund that has $25 billion in it, yet enthusiasm for an unfunded terrorism insurance program for businesses.

Let us say at this point that we think insurance is rational and worthwhile. It is, historically speaking, an idea that's been useful to society for about 400 years. However, for reasons unknown, some on the right howl that insurance for people (unemployment, retirement) is a variant of socialism (which it isn't). Yet they cheer insurance for businesses.


Monday, November 25, 2002

Spell check:

This is off-topic (i.e. not current affaris), but we couldn't resist. Sometimes when writing entries, we make common spelling mistakes. In particular, we forget to remember the "i before e except after c" rule. So as a public service, we offer this handy reminder:
In our experience, an atheist will eventually abandon science, and yield to a belief in a higher being - a deity.
For more on this, go here.


Rittenhouse surveys the pundit world:

In a thought-provoking, 3,700 word entry (surely a record for a blog), we get a view of the hierarchies and social dynamics manifested by the species we like to call homo punditus. It's not pretty. But then, much of Nature is disturbing (always fighting, red in tooth and claw). In any event, it's a good read. We particularly liked this excerpt: (speaking about 2nd tier personalities)
It is not without reason that Andrew Sullivan, himself one of the media’s most brazen self-propelled climbers and perhaps the industry’s most desperately scheming and self-promoting parvenu, maintains a “suck-up watch” for his would-be colleagues. Nor is it a coincidence that Sullivan in his insecurity casts “suck-up” aspersions on journalists far more talented than he.



We took a look at Andrew Sullivan's website today, and this entry caught our eye:
KILLING FORTUYN: We now know the motive. It wasn't animal rights. It was opposition to Pim Fortuyn's criticism of unassimilated Islamic immigrants. It was an assassination made possible by the fusion of the multi-culti left and the medieval religious right - a fusion that threatens the very future of a free and democratic Europe.
So we read the story Sullivan linked to. The only information about motive was this:
Suspect Volkert van der Graaf said he killed the controversial right-wing leader because he considered him a danger to society.

The prosecutor's statement said Van der Graaf had said "he saw in Fortuyn an increasing danger to, in particular, vulnerable sections of society."
That's it. "A danger to society, a danger to vulnerable sections of society."

Yet Sullivan presents it as evidence that:
  • Fortuyn was killed because of his criticism of unassimilated Islamic immigrants.

  • The assassination was made possible by "the fusion of the multi-culti left and the medieval religious right."
Maybe there's more information out there about the assassin's motives, but from the evidence produced by Sullivan, his conclusions do not follow. Andrew is trying too hard. He should give it a rest. (Although, to be fair to Sullivan, he did manage to take a swipe at the "left", which is usually his objective - facts be damned.)


Sunday, November 24, 2002

Picture this:

There have recently been a bunch of stories about a financial connection between high-ranking Saudis and the 9-11 hijackers. They include:
We were confused because of the unfamiliar names and other details. Why not create a diagram to clarify the situation? So we did.

We don't think there's a smoking gun in this case. It looks like typical Saudis-helping-Saudis, but who knows for sure? One thing seems obvious: There are enough rabidly anti-American Saudis out there to make it likely that any charitable activity will en up helping a terrorist. That's the nature of their society right now - and is partly the result of the promotion of Wahhabism. Given that reality, the Saudi Princess should at least have been more circumspect about who she was sending money to.

At any rate, this flap should spur a proper investigation about Saudi connections to al Qaeda.

UPDATE: Conservative Mark Steyn thinks something going on (Pro al Qaeda embassy staffers? Strangers meeting at Los Angeles airport?). Check it out here.


Regulations? We don't need no stinkin' regulations!

There has been quite a fuss following the recent news about Bush's decision to relax pollution standards. From an article in the New York Times:
The Bush administration today announced the most sweeping move in a decade to loosen industrial air pollution rules. The administration said the changes would encourage plant improvements that would clean the air.
But nobody should be surprised by the action. Consider this statement made by Bush while he was campaigning for president:
The best way to achieve clean air and water was "to not try to sue our way or regulate our way to clean air and clean water."  Nov 1999
Which is exactly what law-breakers (or potential law-breakers) would advocate. Perhaps the same "don't sue and don't regulate" approach could be applied to fraudulent Wall Street analysts, manufacturers of unsafe consumer goods, purveyors of bacteria-laden food, and peddlers of insufficiently tested medicines.