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a crack in the ice

Feb. 27th, 2005

11:42 pm - Millionaire grounded for violating secret law

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette...

The millionaire in question is John Gilmore, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He failed to show his id at an airport, as no one -- then or since -- was able to show him the law that requires it. Apparently there is actually a law: they just can't show it to ya.

Feb. 24th, 2005

09:43 am - Dylan Denies Modern Rockers Rock

Bob Dylan has something to say to the so-called musicians who stooge for the music industry these days:


Snap! And man would it be groovy for Dylan to be a mathematician: "Erdos's in the basement / Mixing up the medicine / I'm on
the pavement / Thinking 'bout what the proof meant"...

Feb. 23rd, 2005

10:34 pm - What we all bank on, part II.

My last entry questioned the wisdom of centralized banking: now let's consider the centralization of mortgage-finance, with a little help from Alan Greenspan and the London Economist.

Current Music: "Don't Worry About The Government" -- the Talking Heads

10:22 pm - What we all bank on

Read this very readable article by Anthony P. Mueller on the economic drawbacks of our centralized banking system.

Current Music: "Pigs" -- from Pink Floyd's "Animals"

09:57 pm

A Reuters Science News article discussed the alleged discovery of living bacteria defrosted after 30,000 years frozen in ice. The upshot, indeed the title, of the article is: "Frozen Bacterium Has Implications for Mars".

It seems to me that some knowledgeable soul (not me) could write another article: "Frozen Bacterium Has Implications for Modern Humans Whose SUVs May Be Disinterring Ice Age Plagues We No Longer Have Antibodies For". Title needs work, but set enough journalists to 'think' about it and I'm sure they could come up with something catchier.

Current Music: Theme from 'The Thing' (1982)

09:26 pm

A fun little article from EurekAlert! discussing present theories that the Permian extinction resulted from runaway climate change resulting from global warming (the Permian warming is not presumed to result from billions of automobiles but from the explosion of extremely large volcanoes in Siberia).

This was a hellish world, in which the "atmosphere becomes one of hydrogen sulfide, methane and ultra violet radiation".

In such a world, an SUV would not be enough. You'd need 'The Landmaster', from Damnation Alley (picture credit to ritilan.com):

You probably couldn't rely on a steady supply of oil from a world economy under such circumstances, but if you built it to burn methane I bet you'd be in business. What your business would be, I don't know: I doubt it will be delivering milk. Maybe newspapers?

Current Music: "Air" by the Talking Heads

Oct. 31st, 2004

10:28 am - State manipulation of science.

If we kept good files, we could put this this International Herald Tribune piece in the STATE MANIPULATION OF SCIENCE file as well as the RADICAL CLIMATE CHANGE file. Right now I would like to address the STATE MANIPULATION OF SCIENCE aspect, revealed in the last several paragraphs.

"There have been continuing disagreements between American officials and other participants over the report's contents and timetable.

Last year, for example, the State Department distributed a document to representatives from the other Arctic countries saying it opposed having the technical experts draw conclusions about policies on greenhouse gases or other related factors until the scientific findings had been reviewed by the eight participating governments.

A copy was provided to The New York Times by a person involved in the project who criticized the delay in considering the implications of the climate shifts.

The document said this was "a fundamental flaw" in the process.

The implications of the findings could not be legitimately considered before the scientific assessment was completed and governments needed to have the right to suggest changes."

This points to a pretty basic problem in how the present scientific establishment is arranged, i.e. as a mostly state-funded industry. The government -- blast it all, EIGHT governments! -- want a chance to weigh in on a scientific study about climate change before 'the technical experts draw conclusions'. Isn't it obvious that such a requirement could tie up climate change studies for a geologic epoch? Exactly what are the powers of review that are being requested (or demanded) here? Does the State Department want each nation to have a veto? Or does it plan some kind of transnational political body (the "Arctic Eight Transnational Oversight Committee"??) to mandate constrains on scientific conclusions?

Oct. 18th, 2004

08:57 pm - Darth Vader takes his rightful place in the National Cathedral

Oh yes, you know high weirdness is on the march when you find this on the National Cathedral website.

05:39 pm - T.D. Houfek endorses John Kerry for President

This announcement will come as some surprise to people who know me, and who thereby know I have not endorsed a political candidate from either of the Two Big Parties since my political Illumination, ca. 1990. For someone who believes as I do that both the economic and civil liberties of all people should be restricted as little as possible, the Two Big Parties have perennially proffered Two Bad Choices, election cycle after election cycle. It could be argued that I should have become active in the Libertarian Party, which -- there can be no doubt -- reflects my political beliefs better than any other party. But somehow I have always doubted that party politics could provoke a true libertarian shift; instead I preferred the bloodlessly-revolutionary idea that market institutions, and other voluntaristic institutions, would "overgrow" many state functions until they were vestigial, and ultimately expendable. The free-market version of "The Withering Away of the State", I guess you could say.

There is a big problem with this model. It is essentially the same big problem that you see in the "free markets" taking hold in China and Russia, where mafiosos, generals, and foreign profiteers exploit the political machinery to divvy up market share and to suppress honest competition. Here in America things are dressed up a little better, but come to essentially the same thing. The United States Government, on all levels, regularly uses legislation, regulations, and various forms of "corporate welfare" to give unfair advantage to corporations, whole industries... but not, by and large, to individuals (at least nobody you know. I've known a lot of people to characterize Ayn Rand's free market philosophy was "heartless", but no Randian hero or heroine would stoop to exploiting an elected government to unfair advantage. Unfortunately, the business world in our world seems to be run by the sort of heartless oligarch who will always do so, reflexively. "My competitors will do it," you can hear them complain, "so I have to." And the politicians, were they ever pressed on the matter, could say the same thing.

This is only one of the terrible binds that faces our Republic at the beginning of the 21st century. The looming Social Security crisis is going to hit hard; there is no longer much for anyone to do about that. The largest voting block in the U.S.A., the Boomer generation, is basically going to get to decide whether to sacrifice the economic health of the entire nation to service their own failing health. You can bet that Generation X will end up forking over a hefty share of each paycheck to support the ever-increasing medical expenses of their parents -- remember that bill all those Democrats and Republicans recently signed, extending prescription drug benefits to all elderly Americans, not just needy elderly Americans? How could a liberal or a conservative, in good conscience, sign a stupid bill like that with a massive fiscal crisis looming? Anyway, George W. Bush isn't going to do anything to solve the Social Security Crisis, and neither is John Kerry.

After a couple of decades of scientific investigation it does appear that the planet is undergoing fairly dramatic climate change, probably as a result of human activities. I was extremely skeptical of this proposition until fairly recently, and certainly the politically charged nature of this particular scientific debate makes it difficult to figure out what really is going on. I now believe enough lines of scientific evidence are converging, that serious attention must be given to the matter. Kerry might do something positive in this area, if he wasn't hamstrung by deadlock, which he is likely to be. Bush? The Atlantic will have to be slapping his ankles on his ranch in Texas before George W. Bush takes any action on the environment.

Weapons of mass destruction are proliferating. Personally I think this is ultimately impossible to prevent. Just as it is impossible to prevent as the proliferation of any other weapon, or drug, or operating system, or anything that a lot of people will find useful. Still, there is no doubt that we need to work to keep such weapons out of the hands of people who are likely to use them. Unfortunately, our goverment's insistence on innovating many new kinds of weapons of mass destruction on the one hand, while striving to keep other countries from obtaining the kind of weapon the U.S. obtained sixty years ago, doesn't help its worldwide credibility much. I do not expect either George W. Bush or John Kerry to do much about the proliferation of WMD. Knowing what I know, which is no more than anyone could glean from the news articles, I can only recommend that if you live in New York City or Washington D.C. -- the economic and political capitals of America -- to please move.

That brings me around to my reason for endorsing John Kerry. It is really quite simple: no single figure in modern American politics have directed so much international hatred at the United States than George W. Bush. You may or may not agree that America or even George W. Bush deserves this great upwelling of Anti-Americanism, which has sprung up across the globe roughly as fast as the Internet. But despite any injured feelings we may have on the matter, and despite the temptation to think that we do not need the rest of the world, that we can "go it alone", we must take heed of the tide. Not to even mention the completely-pissed-off Islamic world, we have
also sharply alienated most of our allies in Europe and the "developing world". The Bush administration hasn't just pissed off the leaders of these countries, it has thoroughly pissed off the populations of these countries. As a result, it has become politically impossible for the leaders of these countries to support the United States. This will have repercussions on international economic relations, and even more importantly, on intelligence-sharing in the effort to prevent a really serious use of WMD on American soil. There is only one chance to repair these crucial relations in the short term. John Kerry must be elected President, to send the following signal to the rest of the world: "Yeah, George W. pissed us off too. Wanna be friends again?"

Don't worry: John Kerry will get approximately zero percent of his Liberal Agenda through a Republican Congress. We will have four years of gridlock; not the worst that can happen. Just as with "W", probably no meaningful action will be taken on any of the half dozen or so major threats to world security, but with any luck we won't invent any new ones. If we keep on good terms with our allies and try real hard not to give people the idea that we are conducting a religious war, we might save some of our citizens the trouble of being nuked by some lucky band of dangerous fanatics. Thanks to our present entanglements, this is a very real danger in the years ahead no matter who is elected President this November. But the greater danger is the revision of American government that might come after a successful attack. As Pericles said, "I am more afraid of our own mistakes than our enemies' designs". If Pericles could see the kind of mistakes we make these days, someone would have to find him a new clean toga.

Whatever dangers we face, from without of from within, we will be better equipped to face them with as much friendship and support as we can reasonably get from the rest world. This isn't about "pandering" to the popular opinion of other countries: we never have had to agree with them on everything and we don't have to now. It is about putting someone in the White House who can restore some measure of stability to international relationships that have endured throughout our country's modern history. In an era where it will be deadly important to cultivate new relations (with China and Russia, for example) it is extremely important not to abandon the old alliances. To do so would indicate that we are the kind of country that lets alliances slip whenever expedient: which is exactly not the signal you want to send someone you are building relations with. Better to run George W. Bush out of Washington on a rail, resuscitate our relationship with our allies, and begin to really think about where we are headed.

If you can't bring yourself to vote for John Kerry, please consider the following appeal, from the New Conservative, to vote for the Libertarian Party's Michael Badnarik. Although the present national emergency forces me to endorse John Kerry, I still think the Two Big Parties are a dead end for America, and that the Libertarian Party offers the closest approximation to sanity. I cannot chastise anyone for voting for Badnarik. Their vote too is a vote against Bush; it does not take a vote from Kerry (because we are speaking here of those of you who can't bring themselves to vote for Kerry even under perilous circumstances); and if there is actually zero chance of your candidate winning, at least you won't have to wash your hands after pulling the lever, or touching the screen, or whatever.

Oct. 14th, 2004

10:52 am - "Fact Checks" all the rage

My friend Sheila just pointed out that many of the major news organizations now have some kind of "Fact Check" box accompanying the claims of the contestants in the American Presidential race... boxes they pointedly did not have, before Cheney's botched reference to www.factcheck.org. I guess their focus groups found that the idea of checking facts played well with viewers, and that it was time to give this great new idea a try.

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