Monday, December 31, 2007

احمد عمر سعید شیخ

Benazir Bhutto, before she died, claimed Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the alleged killer of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, killed Osama bin Laden. [update: this is about 6:13 in the first clip on the linked page. I'm not convinced it's what she meant, as per this comment.]

So ... ObL is dead. That Morgan Spurlock must have led Sheikh Omar right to his spider hole. Since the explicit driver of our foreign policy is retribution for 9/11, I thought I'd bring that up. While it's not obvious that the Bush Administration had anything to do with this, maybe we can give them credit for "letting it happen on purpose."

Still, the fewer of the known decision makers of the attacks that live, the harder it will be to uncover the unknown decision makers.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Climate Change, specifically in California

You can do many things to help slow down global warming, including planting trees near your house to help shade it and reduce your energy use. You can also drive your car less, buy energy-efficient appliances and recycle.
Well, I guess I'm done, then. No seriously, it's a nice article. It's not nearly as alarmist as I am, but somebody's out there enforcing journalistic standards, whereas I can saw whatever I please, really with the only risk being the NSA putting a bullet in my head. Or Google closing the blog.

It's got three slideshows and a fair amount of framing text. The slideshow captions are just assembled facts from around the literature, and some are using 2005's "The World Won't End Until After 2100" paradigm, but it's still a nice overview.

It's written with a California focus -- although it backs up to national and global frames -- so there's some discussion of the wine country, the port of Los Angeles and skiing. Here's a little cluelessness.
Among the earliest and most noticeable casualties is expected to be California's ski season.
"There's always plenty of snow, but you may just have to go out of state for it," said Rinda Wohlwend, 62, who belongs to two ski clubs in Southern California. "I'm a very avid tennis player, so I'd probably play more tennis."
You do have to admire her adaptability.

Oh, the comments. There's a lot of "Hah! You people are believing the imaginary climate change." Come on. Even George Bush has given up on denying it. One genius thinks moving out of the way as sea levels rise is a great solution. Actually, I brought this up because I saw a comment that read "To all you who believe this sky-is-falling BULL**** let me sell you a condo on Atlantis" and I thought it was "... in Atlanta," which would have been pretty funny. "Believe corporatist lies now because they've worked so poorly for you in the past." But, ah, it turns out that's not what he said. Remember my lack of jounalistic standards?*

* -- sorry, I was just watching a rerun of the panel on the future of media Joshua Micah Marshal mentions here on C-Span. Yes, I watch C-Span reruns, but I still feel like I have a full life.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Benazir Bhutto killed herself?

Yet now the Pakistani Interior Ministry is reporting that Bhutto died neither from a gunshot wound or shrapnel but rather from a blow to the head (causing a fractured skull) she suffered while ducking down into the car she was riding in to escape the gunfire.
Quick! Remove hard surfaces from jail cells before word spreads! Otherwise, there'll be a lot of suspicious 'ducking' going on.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Trying a new editing tool

I'm testing out ScribeFire, a FireFox extension, for blog editing.
  • Let's see if it does lists,
  • Styles
  • Colors
And how they come out on the blog itself. I'm also interested in how it does posting pictures and quotes like

ScribeFire works with most popular blogging applications -- including Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, LiveJournal, and Windows Live Spaces.
If your blogging application isn't on the list, chances are that you
can manually configure ScribeFire to work with it. This might take a
little bit of fiddling with the extension, and some knowledge of how
your blog software works.
Posting pictures is a problem. I'll see if I can edit this post when I work it out.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Global Warming Over!

2001 through 2007 have been seven of the eight warmest years on record. The ten warmest years on record have been in the 11 years 1997 - 2007. But! 2007 itself is only the Fifth warmest year, with an average temperature near a comfortable 58 degrees Fahrenheit. This means the four warmest years were in the six years 2001 - 2006! 2007 is cooler! The trend has reversed! Despite alarmist findings like
Anomalous warmth in 2007 contributed to the lowest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979, surpassing the previous record low set in 2005 by a remarkable 23 percent.
We're essentially home free!

Phew! That was close.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

New York Destroyed On Film

Cloverfield inspired a New York Times evergreen blog entry about movies that show the destruction of Manhattan. So, OK. I can write another movie.

Guess how Manhattan is destroyed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Charlie Wilson's War

Back before there were all these rifts between the US and Osama bin Laden, we cooperated in a war of resistance against Soviet aggressors in Afghanistan. Remember when we were the good guys in Afghanistan? So, there were two main points to the movie.
  • Our foreign policy is arbitrary and sentimental. JoAnne Herring (who insists that Zia Ul-Haq didn't kill Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, he had him properly convicted on [trumped up -- ed] charges and executed) convinces Charlie Wilson to go to Pakistan, where President Zia brings him to refugee camps. The refugees convince Representative Wilson that they're upset. He's on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and can insert unlabeled requests for money into the budget. The chairman of the subcommittee, George Long, is subsequently brought to the same refugee camp as has the same experience. So, we (and the Saudis) give them a billion dollars worth of arms.
  • T&A can really spice up a story. While all of these machinations are burbling along in the background, we get to look at a lot of fine female bodies. This is really the whole reason the movie's watchable. Really, any story is tellable in film once you find a way to inject scantily clad buxom nubiles.
Remember when we were the good guys in Afghanistan? Or at all? At the end of the movie, Charlie Wilson is convinced by CIA Afghanistan Desk Analyst Gust Avrakotos that schools and roads are called for, and goes forth to get money for those. But, frankly? It's not about killing Russians anymore, and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee only does defense appropriations.

Nation building was in those days the province of the State Department (and to some extent the Peace Corps! Shout out!) who made decisions in their own famously opaque way that had nothing to do with Congressional appropriations. So, we didn't do it.

Oh, well.

[note -- to clarify, this is a positive review. I like looking at attractive women's bodies, and think movies should lean on them more! While I might complain about the plutocratic thrust of the depicted government, I have no reason to think that it's not accurate. While there's undoubtedly some mythologizing, I don't doubt that West Wing got made in order to shut up a corruption witness.]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Imperative: Send the Downsize DC Message

So, I filled out and submitted the form. I gave them my phone number, but as they say that is required by congressional offices. I suggest you do the same.

Preview Letter

Note: the final letters will be addressed properly, each to its appropriate recipient.

am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my
behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on
terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist
police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop
overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all
terrorist acts. I am not afraid.

My personal comment to you:

I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment by Downsize DC. Our elected
representatives -- by which I mean you -- should be actively rolling
back misguided responses to terrorism. You need to foment our care for
our fellow man, not turn us into suspicious watchers of one another, a
la the Soviet Union. And you need to admit that the invasion of Iraq
was allowed by your inability to counter the panic of 9/11 as inflamed
by the President, and extract us from that regrettable occupation.

Mr. Rionn Fears Malechem


The risk of dying on a marathon course is twice as high if you drive it than if you run it

Fewer than 1 in 100,000 people died while running a marathon, Dr. Redelmeier and his colleagues reported. The chance that a middle-aged man — the typical marathon fatality — would die while running a marathon was about the same as the chance a middle-aged man would suddenly die anyway.
I have a 1 in 100,000 chance of dying every four hours? So, I can expect to live, um, carry the one, less that 32 years? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. Well, middle age doesn't strictly kick in until I'm 40, so that buys me 4 months. And it lasts until I'm 70, so if I make it that far, I'm looking at a 50 % chance of living until 102. Unless my analysis is flawed somehow. But, it's math! Math doesn't lie!

Of course, the bit about the driving fatalities suggests that just closing down roads saves lives, which I'm not sure is exactly right. But, I'll just start believing it's true.

Americans are brave when it comes to their cars, but cowardly when it comes to Islamic terrorism

Bruce Schneier today points us to Downsize DC. Downsize DC wants to reduce the size of the government generally, as far as I can tell, which I'm not going to get behind, but I do agree with this:

There is really only one way to win a war on terrorism. Stop being afraid!

Achieving this victory does not require large armies, invasions, illegal spying, torture, detention camps, Kangaroo courts, or multi-billion dollar Congressional appropriations. Neither does it require us to shred the Bill of Rights or the Geneva Conventions. All it requires is a little backbone. And a little common sense.

Wow. I guess that's Huckabee-Edwards-McKinney

David Cobb is not a declared candidate for the Green Party nomination. I'm going to have to modify my earlier prediction. I think Cynthia McKinney will be hard to beat. She's a former federal legislator after all. I don't imagine she'll get along very well with the party leadership -- her police-office-pushing incident was just the most famous example of her petulance, and consensus-driven decision making is not for the impatient.

Oh, believe me.

Cynthia McKinney's other big problem is that she's a disaffected Democrat, and Greens don't really want to be seen as disaffected Democrats. Democrats, I think, tend to feel that if they were a little less progressive, a little less inclined to slit their own children's throats and pour the blood into the gaping corporate maw, then the Green Party would just disappear. But, the Green Party is fundamentally about a transformation in governance, not FDR-style modifications to mollify the people. And nominating McKinney would blur that distinction somewhat. But, it would be really good for money and visibility.

Jon Steward and Stephen Colbert break the lines

So, on January 7th, The Daily Show and the Colbert Report will resume, regardless of the state of negotiations in the writers' strike. That's unexpected.
A Comedy Central spokesman declined to say whether it had pursued a deal with the guild.
  • Jon Steward relies on his status as a major media figure on the side of the people. Who are largely laborers. Making an explicit anti-labor move is very bad for his brand. As Comedy Central is largely built on the success of the Daily Show, Viacom is risking the whole channel with this move
  • Stephen Colbert is also expected to behave well, but has a different but no less central problem. How could he be unscripted? Part of his shtick is that he simply reads what's on the teleprompter cards. I'm not saying Stephen Colbert the comedian can't handle the spontaneity. I'm saying that Stephen Colbert the character can't be spontaneous and still authentically recall for us Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and the rest.
  • What they'll fill the shows with is anybody's guess, but Letterman, Leno and Conan O'Brien have this problem as well
So, well, we'll see how this goes. Negotiations themselves don't seem to be going well -- the Golden Globes and Oscars are at risk.
“[T]his is our showcase for actors, writers, directors, technicians, all of them, to the world,” [Samuel Goldwyn Jr] said. “To show ourselves as snarling people snarling at each other will accomplish nothing.”
Why can't we all just get along? You writers can continue your strike as long as you show up and work. That's all we ask. We're happy to withhold your pay until you get what you want.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clinton and Bush 41 to clean up after Tsunami Dubya

Via TalkingPointsMemo
Former President Bill Clinton said Sen. Hillary Clinton has the answers to the challenges America faces during a campaign stop at Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College Monday.
One woman asked what Sen. Clinton would do in her first days as president. Clinton said his wife would deploy him and former President George H.W. Bush to nations to say America is open for business and cooperation.
So, together, these guys make one James Baker? Have they spoken to Bush 41 about this? Does President Clinton go everywhere with former President Bush now, eating pork rinds all over the world?

It seems a little unsupportive of your son to reinforce the idea that America was out of the cooperation business while he presided, but father and son have had their troubles in the past. And, it's true. Still, I can't help but suspect that George H. W. Bush hasn't totally signed on to this.

Friday, December 14, 2007

An important distinction

It often has seemed, these last few years, that the economy is managed for the benefit of the investment banks. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, for example, is an investment banker. But, it's not true. Many of the investment banks were hurt quite badly when the real property scheme started to turn. The economy is run for the benefit of Goldman Sachs, of which Mr. Paulson was formerly CEO. But, Goldman isn't the only institution with curiously good timing.
The subprime trading gains notched by Messrs. Birnbaum and Swenson and their Goldman associates are large by recent Wall Street standards. Traders at Deutsche Bank AG and Morgan Stanley also bet against the subprime-mortgage market this year, but in each case, their gains were essentially wiped out because their firms underestimated how far the markets would fall. New York hedge-fund company Paulson & Co. also turned a considerable profit on the subprime meltdown this year, as did Hayman Capital Partners, a Dallas-based hedge-fund firm, say people familiar with the matter.
Paulson & Co? Ah ... I'm sure there's no relation.

Mike Huckabee and the Assault on Reason

The National Review's Rich Lowry has a strange attack on Huckabee.
Huckabee has declared that he doesn't believe in evolution. Even if there are many people in America who agree with him, his position would play into the image of Republicans as the anti-science party. This would tend to push away independents and upper-income Republicans. In short, Huckabee would take a strength of the GOP and, through overplaying it, make it a weakness.
But, wait. Republicans are the anti-science party. Evolution's conflict with the Bible is the lever used to dispute rationality -- you can't cut taxes, raise spending, and call yourself fiscally responsible if you believe in Math. You just shout loudly and point at the Laffer curve. And they've been successful to the point where a talk show host can contend that the Earth's flatness is an open question.

You don't have a large outcry from the GOP when Gail Norton ordered an impact evaluation on reindeer of drilling in the Alaskan Native Wildlife Reserve changed, because they're the anti-Science party. They're pro-technology. They're strong advocates of diverting public money to high tech industries. But, they don't like Science interfering with public policy.

I don't want to be defending Governor Huckabee, but I do believe he'll be the nominee. And, I can only interpret Rich Lowry's column as an attempt to strike a blow for Mayor Giuliani, as he's the only GOP candidate willing to express a public belief in Evolution (I could be wrong on this, but I did look around some.) Sorry, besides Ron Paul, but he does seems to be visiting from another party, which one might call the Libertarians. I think Republicans are sensing that Mr. Giuliani's squalid corruption might hurt them in the general, even if he manages to stay out of prison until November.

The antagonism toward Science hurts public education, and research itself, but drives why Climate Change seems to be a partisan issue. Well, that and Democrats are overrepresented on the coasts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Bail Out Plan

So, the government bail-out plan consists of encouraging banks to save themselves by forgiving debt to people once their credit rating has been ruined but before they've been evicted. Now, this debt forgiveness is taxed as income, which income tax the President wants to forgive. That sounds like a good idea, but it should be worded carefully enough that my employer can't lend me my salary and then forgive the debt. I mean, it would be fine for me, but I don't think in general we want income taxes only to be on employees of companies with bad lawyers.

However, this plan largely bails out the banks. The banks, though, employed the loan officers and enabled the mortgage brokers who were the agents of evil on the ground. The banks should really take the hit, here, and if we lose all of our large banks, so be it. Losing all but one might be a problem, but that's not super likely.

I've been trying to think of a better bail out plan. Maybe every house with a mortgage can be put up for auction, at the 'owner''s discretion. The 'owner' retains the option to match the highest bid, and can apply his or her existing equity to the purchase. So, it's a massive price resetting.

I don't know where you'd get all the bidders, and I certainly don't want these imprudent buyers being rewarded with good deals on houses, but the houses are there, anyway.

In other news, the AGU Greenland news puts a crimp in my plan.
The Jacobshavn Glacier on the west coast of the ice sheet, a major Greenland outlet glacier draining roughly 8 percent of the ice sheet, has sped up nearly twofold in the last decade, he said. Nearby glaciers showed an increase in flow velocities of up to 50 percent during the summer melt period as a result of melt water draining to the ice-sheet bed, he said.
Greenland is about one-fourth the size of the United States, and about 80 percent of its surface area is covered by the massive ice sheet. Greenland hosts about one-twentieth of the world's ice -- the equivalent of about 21 feet of global sea rise. The current contribution of Greenland ice melt to global sea levels is about 0.5 millimeters annually.
Well, OK. We already knew the Greenland ice sheets were going to melt and drown Manhattan, and we already knew the IPCC grossly understated the speed at which this would happen. But, the idea that the Artic Polar Ice Cap will be gone in 7 years has a way of arresting the attention.

So, say that the financiers have crappy bonuses this year, and next. And say that Manhattan housing rationalizes by mid-2009. It will have zero resale value. Zero. The immense amount of work required to adapt buildings to having their lower few floors under water is going to cause a lot of disruption in these prices. When President Romney moves the capitol to Salt Lake City, it's going to pretty hard to sell an apartment in a Manhattan brownstone.

The actual process of drowning is going to be kind of unpleasant. I've been practicing my crowd running and bridge running, but I'm kind of obliged to stay on the island and open a shelter while the shock wave is slamming down Long Island Sound. Well, we all have our crosses to bear, but I'll leave you with this story.


"I don't pay much attention to one year ... but this year the change is so big, particularly in the Arctic sea ice, that you've got to stop and say, 'What is going on here?' You can't look away from what's happening here," said Waleed Abdalati, NASA's chief of cyrospheric sciences. "This is going to be a watershed year."
It's just not clear if that was meant as a pun or not.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

That's really a nice speech

Maybe I'll look for it on YouTube later. He does use (see link) that "Danger + Opportunity = Risk" trope I dislike so -- it's weird, because that's like "clip art for speeches", and the rest of it is so well constructed.
These are the last few years of decision, but they can be the first years of a bright and hopeful future if we do what we must.


We are standing at the most fateful fork in that path. So I want to end as I began, with a vision of two futures, each a palpable possibility, and with a prayer that we will see with vivid clarity the necessity of choosing between those two futures and the urgency of making the right choice now.

I have no idea why Mr. Gore is so hopeful. I'd kind of like to know why he feels there's time left to act. The more decisively we act now, the better off we'll be, but aren't we just choosing between shades of unspeakably grim?

Al Gore: 7 years left on the polar ice cap

Last September 21st, as the Northern Hemisphere tilted away from the sun, scientists reported with unprecedented alarm that the north polar icecap is, in their words, falling off a cliff. One study estimated that it could be completely gone during summer in less than 22 years. Another new study, to be presented by U.S. Navy researchers later this week, warns it could happen in as little as seven years -- seven years from now.
So, if you were going to visit, now would be a good time.

Hurricane Season's been extended through this Wednesday

But, it's just a named storm. It's not even a tropical cyclone! Don't worry. It'll be totally gone by Wednesday. Or maybe Thursday. If you're going to Jamaica, wait until Friday. You should be fine.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Herbert Saffir is dead

I'm not totally on top of what's happening with hurricane celebrities, so this news is a few weeks old. Mr. Saffir died November 21st at the age of 90 -- he's the 'Saffir' in 'Saffir-Simpson.'
Before the scale, hurricanes were simply described as major or minor.

Mr. Saffir's innovation was ranking storm destruction by type, from Category 1 -- where trees and unanchored mobile homes receive the primary damage -- to Category 5 -- the complete failure of roofs and some structures. The five descriptions of destruction were then matched with the sustained wind speeds producing the corresponding damage.
5 is a good number of levels for stuff. When people try to design three-level alert systems, I try to slip in two more, because I know there are going to be requests for 'Medium High' and 'Medium Low.'
Mr. Simpson said the system helped him communicate the power of an approaching storm.

"We had a lot of requests before the scale: how many resources of what kind would be needed to deal with the storm," Mr. Simpson said during a phone interview earlier this year. "I couldn't tell the Salvation Army, for example, how much and what materials they should be shipping. The scale gave them a much better handle on that."

So, yeah, super useful. Thanks, Mr. Saffir! And Mr. Sampson? I guess we can thank you while you're alive.