Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The world's 10 biggest ideas - Features

New Scientist presents what it says are the world's biggest ideas.
Certain questions define the way we see the world. How did the universe begin? What is matter made of? What shaped our planet? How did the amazing diversity of life arise? We take many of the answers for granted, but maybe we shouldn't.

When we asked 10 of the biggest names in science to explain the significance of their discipline we were surprised by their response: who would have thought understanding quantum theory was relevant to the abortion debate? Or that a diamond ring can take you back to Pangaea? Set your mind spinning with our guide to the World's 10 Biggest Ideas...

1. The big bang

2. Evolution

3. Quantum mechanics

4. The theory of everything

5. Risk

6. Chaos

7. Relativity

8. Climate change

9. Tectonics

10. Science
Unfortunately, to read the complete articles you have to subscribe to New Scientist.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Using tragedy to do bad

As you recall, Bush referred to 9/11, the recession, and some other unfortunate event as a trifecta, allowing him to shed responsibility for economic sanity. It looks like the EPA has learned from the master. According to Representative Henry Waxman:
The EPA has drafted legislation that would allow the agency to waive any provision of the Clean Air Act, nationwide – including limits on toxic emissions and the health-based air quality standards – without any notice or public comment whenever the Administrator chooses to declare an emergency.

'ICE' Cell Phone Plan

Here's a good idea. This version is from the Washington Post
[A] simple initiative, conceived by a paramedic in Britain, has gained momentum on both sides of the Atlantic … . Cell users are being urged to put the acronym ICE -- 'in case of emergency' -- before the names of the people they want to designate as next of kin in their cell address book, creating entries such as 'ICE -- Dad' or 'ICE -- Alison.'
Instead of putting ICE in front of a name I want to designate, I created a new ICE listing.

As usual, the Bush administration is right on target.
Kathleen Montgomery, deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, said she did not have any comment on the matter because it was not the department's idea. Instead, she recommended that citizens look at the department's emergency preparedness site, Ready.Gov. The site recommends that next-of-kin details and other emergency information be kept on a "family contingency plan" sheet that can be downloaded from the site.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Frank Rich

does his usual masterful job of Bush bashing.
The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of 'compassionate conservatism,' the lack of concern for the 'underprivileged' his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action. …

Taking responsibility, as opposed to paying lip service to doing so, is not in this administration's gene pool. …

Brazenly enough, Mr. Rove has been officially put in charge of the reconstruction effort. The two top deputies at FEMA remaining after Michael Brown's departure, one of them a former local TV newsman, are not disaster relief specialists but experts in P.R., which they'd practiced as advance men for various Bush campaigns. Thus The Salt Lake Tribune discovered a week after the hurricane that some 1,000 firefighters from Utah and elsewhere were sent not to the Gulf Coast but to Atlanta, to be trained as "community relations officers for FEMA" rather than used as emergency workers to rescue the dying in New Orleans. When 50 of them were finally dispatched to Louisiana, the paper reported, their first assignment was "to stand beside President Bush" as he toured devastated areas.

The cashiering of "Brownie," whom Mr. Bush now purports to know as little as he did "Kenny Boy," changes nothing. The Knight Ridder newspapers found last week that it was the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, not Mr. Brown, who had the greater authority to order federal agencies into service without any request from state or local officials. Mr. Chertoff waited a crucial, unexplained 36 hours before declaring Katrina an "incident of national significance," the trigger needed for federal action. …

WHEN there's money on the line, cronies always come first in this White House, no matter how great the human suffering. After Katrina, the FEMA Web site directing charitable contributions prominently listed Operation Blessing, a Pat Robertson kitty that, according to I.R.S. documents obtained by ABC News, has given more than half of its yearly cash donations to Mr. Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. If FEMA is that cavalier about charitable donations, imagine what it's doing with the $62 billion (so far) of taxpayers' money sent its way for Katrina relief. Actually, you don't have to imagine: we already know some of it was immediately siphoned into no-bid contracts with a major Republican donor, the Fluor Corporation, as well as with a client of the consultant Joe Allbaugh, the Bush 2000 campaign manager who ran FEMA for this White House until Brownie, Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate, was installed in his place. …

If the era of Great Society big government is over, the era of big government for special interests is proving a fiasco. Especially when it's presided over by a self-styled C.E.O. with a consistent three-decade record of running private and public enterprises alike into a ditch.

What comes next? Having turned the page on Mr. Bush, the country hungers for a vision that is something other than either liberal boilerplate or Rovian stagecraft. At this point, merely plain old competence, integrity and heart might do.

A Wimp on Genocide

Nicholas Kristof continues to write about Darfur.
[T]he Bush administration has even emerged as Sudan's little helper, threatening an antigenocide campaigner in an effort to keep him quiet. Brian Steidle, a former Marine captain, served in Darfur as a military adviser - and grew heartsick at seeing corpses of children who'd been bludgeoned to death.

In March, I wrote a column about Mr. Steidle and separately published photos that he had taken of men, women and children hacked to death. Other photos were too wrenching to publish: one showed a pupil at the Suleia Girls School; she appeared to have been burned alive, probably after being raped, and her charred arms were still in handcuffs.

Mr. Steidle is an American hero for blowing the whistle on the genocide. But, according to Mr. Steidle, the State Department has ordered him on three occasions to stop showing the photos, for fear of complicating our relations with Sudan. Mr. Steidle has also been told that he has been blacklisted from all U.S. government jobs.

The State Department should be publicizing photos of atrocities to galvanize the international community against the genocide - not conspiring with Sudan to cover them up. …

Perhaps it's unfair to focus so much on Mr. Bush, for there are no neat solutions and he has done more than most leaders. He at least dispatched Condi Rice to Darfur this summer - which is more interest in genocide than the TV anchors have shown. …

Still, the failures of others do not excuse Mr. Bush's own unwillingness to speak out, to impose a no-fly zone, to appoint a presidential envoy or to build an international coalition to pressure Sudan. So, Mr. Bush, let me ask you just one question: Since you portray yourself as a bold leader, since you pride yourself on your willingness to use blunt terms like "evil" - then why is it that you're so wimpish on genocide?

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Colin Twiggs' Stock Trading Diary

Colin Twiggs finds the following interesting configurations in the world stock markets.
  • S&P 500 - potential cup and handle
  • Dow Jones - testing resistance at 10700
  • Transport Indicators - possible top
  • Nasdaq - rising wedge
  • Treasury Yields - long-term weakness
  • Gold - 17-year high
  • FTSE 100 - cup and handle
  • Nikkei 225 - gapped up
  • All Ordinaries - compressed spring delivers
The first 5 are US markets. They suggest that the US markets are positive but quite uncertain. In contrast, the bottom three (All Ordinaries is Australia, where Twiggs is from) are all very strong. So why are the markets in the rest of the world very bullish, while the US markets are only marginally strong? Of course chart reading is all navel gazing anyway, but it's interesting to watch. Twiggs does seem to do a consistent job of interpreting his charts and not to read into them what he wants to see.

'Miracle mouse' can grow back lost limbs

The London Sunday Times reports that
"Scientists have created a "miracle mouse" that can regenerate amputated limbs or badly damaged organs, making it able to recover from injuries that would kill or permanently disable normal animals. …

Ellen Heber-Katz, professor of immunology at the Wistar Institute, an American biomedical research centre, says that the ability of mice at her laboratory to regenerate appears to be controlled by about a dozen genes.

She is still researching their exact functions, but it seems almost certain that humans have comparable genes.

“We have experimented with amputating or damaging several different organs, such as the heart, toes, tail and ears, and just watched them regrow,” she said. “It is quite remarkable. The only organ that did not grow back was the brain.

Free New Hampshire

Blogger ads do work. I noticed an ad for the Free State Project on my blog page. They intend to take over New Hampsire and turn it into a libertarian Eden.
The Free State Project is an agreement among 20,000 pro-liberty activists to move to New Hampshire, where they will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty, and property. The success of the Project would likely entail reductions in taxation and regulation, reforms at all levels of government to expand individual rights and free markets, and a restoration of constitutional federalism, demonstrating the benefits of liberty to the rest of the nation and the world.

Katrina Relief and Federal Spending and Deficits,

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzes the relationshiop between Katrina relief and other Federal spending.
  • Even with the hefty Katrina relief and recovery costs, total projected federal spending will not be high by historical standards. If relief and recovery from Katrina costs $150 billion over the next five years, total federal spending over this period is projected to equal, on average, 20 percent of GDP. … [T]his level of spending will be lower, as a share of the economy, than federal spending in every year from 1975 through 1996. …
  • Total projected federal revenues are low by historical standards. Total revenues in 2006 through 2010 are projected to average 17.2 percent of GDP. (This assumes that expiring tax cuts and relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax are continued.) This is lower than in any year from 1977 through 2002. …
  • The tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 cost more each year than the total amount likely to be spent on Katrina. …
  • The costs of Iraq also are likely to exceed the costs of Katrina. According to the Congressional Research Service, a total of $192 billion has been appropriated for the war in Iraq. …
  • Spending for Katrina will add relatively little to the large deficits already projected for the next 10 years. …

Friday, September 16, 2005

Great ad

See it here.
When the governor diverted billions from our schools, teachers rose up to stop him. When he cut staffing required in hospitals, nurses took him on. When he tried to slash survivor benefits for families of slain police and firefighters, they said no...

The hidden agenda behind Seventy Five? It’s not about protecting workers. It’s about shutting them up.
For more ads go here.

U.S. to fight court ban on reciting of pledge

Not unpredictably,
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Thursday the Justice Department will fight to overturn a federal court ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance can't be recited in public schools because it contains a reference to God.
This was in response to a recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton in San Francisco that barred schools from using the pledge on the grounds that it contains "under God."

Interestingly Karlton said he was bound by the previous ruling of the ninth district, which he simply re-affirmed. When that ruling reached the Supreme Court, the court said that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring the case, not that the ruling was wrong.

It seems to me that a better issue than whether schools may use the pledge is whether Congress acted constitutionally when, as Bob Parks, put it, it
added the words "under God" [to the pledge] in 1954 at the suggestion of President Eisenhower. This was at the height of the communist witch hunt, at which time the public equated communism with atheism. A half-century later, we might note, the chief enemies of freedom are far from Godless.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Why don't all businesses keep track of what their customers are asking for?

I have my auto insurance with GEICO. They did a great job for me when I had an accident recently. Last night I called to inquire about their umbrella policy. In the course of the discussion I asked if the charge could be included with my auto policy charge and be deducted directly from my checking account as is done with my auto policy. The answer was that it couldn't because it was a separate policy.

It would seem to me that with a bit of back office bookkeeping, they could combine the billing for separate policies and save their customers (and themselves) some trouble. But it's not the biggest thing in the world either way.

The point of this posting, though, is not the particular service that GEICO didn't offer, it's GEICO's failure to note that a customer asked for a service that they don't offer. It would seem that every company should always keep track of customer requests. Someone should be in charge of looking at those requests and deciding whether some should be accommodated. Apparently GEICO doesn't do that. The telephone service person did not pass my on request to management. Why not? It wouldn't be difficult. One would think that this would be very easy way for companies to keep in touch with the needs of their customers. If I ran a company, I would make it my company's policy.

The ads just want to make money

It is often interesting to see what sorts of ads Google will place on my blog based on the blog subjects.

This time I got ads for Gay Marriage and Republican Singles (1000s of pictures of beautiful Republican Singles) at the same time!

There was nothing from the

So this is a freebe.

Global warming and New Orleans

Two op-ed pieces in today's NY Times talk about possible futures for New Orleans. Bruce Babbitt says Make It an Island.
New Orleans will survive only as an island surrounded by miles of open water. It will take a national effort, led by our best scientists, engineers and city planners, to achieve even this reduced vision of an American Venice. We must take the time to redesign the city to function as an island, with an island infrastructure, including relocated streets, highways and utilities. The island will need higher, stronger seawalls and levees sufficient to withstand new threats, including the rising sea levels and bigger hurricanes spawned in warming Atlantic waters.

Sea levels are likely to rise two to three feet in this century. Coastal maps drawn from consensus estimates show that virtually all of the delta lands south of Baton Rouge and below Interstate 10 - some 5,000 square miles - will be submerged by the end of this century. …

In recent years state agencies assembled a $14 billion project called Coastal 2050. One of its proposals was to cut gaps in the Mississippi River levees, which would provide outlets for the river to deposit some of its sediment onshore to help rebuild the delta. This idea may help in a few areas, but it will do little to offset the vastly larger forces of a rising sea.

Other proposals in the package include building coastal barriers, plugging delta channels dredged by oil companies and re-vegetating barrier islands. But overall the Coastal 2050 projects have as much chance of success as King Canute commanding the tides to recede.
Henry Petroski says, Raise the Ground.
As daunting as it may seem to raise a major city, projects of similar scale have succeeded before. Prodigious amounts of material were displaced to build the Panama Canal, a feat accomplished with little more than steam shovels. With modern earth-moving and lifting equipment, raising New Orleans is certainly doable.

Of course, land raising is not the only engineering alternative to levees. The Thames Barrier, which rotates large gates into place when a storm surge is expected, protects London from flooding. The Netherlands has built massive moveable barriers to hold off a swelling sea. That low-lying country, which has more than 10,000 miles of dikes and other barriers to flooding, has looked to alternatives to increasing their height. Among these are houses that can float like houseboats. Industrial buildings can be similarly designed, and the principle of buoyancy places no inherent limits on the size of such structures.

Engineers are ready to come up with whatever it takes to rebuild New Orleans. The real question is how much the politicians are willing to invest.
I have no idea what to do — or why any massive investment is the best use of that money. We have a lot of needs and a lot of land. Why spend money to rescue land from the sea when we have so much vacant land in this country? Why not let nature take its course in lower Louisiana and find some way to live with it? That seems to be what Babbitt is proposing: accept the changes that seem to be inevitable and figure out how we can accommodate ourselves to them.

After all, it isn't as if New Orleans were a paradise like California. Earthquakes make living here dangerous, but they don't make the state uninhabitable. One must just take reasonable (and not overly expensive) precautions. (Does that sound like California parochialism? I do like living here.)

Of course, reducing global warming will slow the rate at which the oceans rise. But we don't seem to be thinking of that solution.

In the mean time Maureen Dowd and John Tierney continue in their roles of self-appointed Democratic and Republican political hacks respectively.

When Paul Krugman or Thomas Friedman write about politics, they write from a perspective of intelligent investigation. They take definite political positions, but they do so with an intellectual honesty that makes their columns worth reading. When John Tierney writes about non-political subjects, he too writes intelligently. But when Tierney or Dowd write about politics, they almost never say anything interesting. The only thing of interest in their political columns tends to be how well they can achieve their goals as attack dogs. That may be fun to read if you agree with the political positions they are taking. But it doesn't make for an interesting or intelligent column.

Friday, September 09, 2005

The view from the house of Bush

'What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas,' Barbara Bush said in an interview on Monday with the radio program 'Marketplace.' 'Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.'

'And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway,' she said, 'so this is working very well for them.'
I wonder how many of then she has invited to share her spare bedrooms.

The State of Iraq

The Brookings Institute publishes a regular State of Iraq report. You can see a summary here. Overall it appears that things are stabilizing and improving slowly.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


A while ago, I remarked on a suit brought by Christian schools against the UC on the grounds that UC was discriminating against the Christian school because they didn't teach standard evolution. The lawyer for the Christian schools recently asked
Why would California need to intrude into what has always been a teacher and student question?
Sounds similar to arguments I've heard on the abortion debate. Clearly, it's not a good analogy, but people will grasp at anything.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Same Sex Marriage Wins Vote in California

Update: according to an LA Times report, Schwarzenegger plans to veto the gay marriage bill.

The New York Times reports that
California lawmakers on Tuesday became the first in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, with the State Assembly narrowly approving a bill that defines marriage as between 'two persons' instead of between a man and a woman. …

The measure now goes to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who has supported domestic partnership legislation in the past but has not taken a public position on the marriage bill.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Schwarzenegger, Margita Thompson, said after the vote that the governor believed that the issue of same-sex marriage should be settled by the courts, not legislators, but she did not indicate whether that meant he would veto the legislation. The bill did not pass with enough votes to override a veto.

"The governor will uphold whatever the court decides," Ms. Thompson said.
Let's see what Schwarzenegger is made of. Thompson's statement to the effect that the issue should be settled by the courts sounds like he has the courage of a girlie-man.

Apparently the Republicans can't think of any rational reasons for opposing it. They simply are not comfortable with the idea, but they don't have the courage to say so. Instead they mumble about suibverting the morality of society.
Opponents of the measure warned that lawmakers were venturing into uncharted and potentially dangerous territory.

"Engaging in social experimentation with our children is not the role of the legislature," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes, a Republican from Southern California. "We are throwing the dice and taking a huge gamble, and we are gambling with the lives and future of generations not yet born." …

"We damage the moral fabric of our society, that's what's damaged here," said Assemblyman Dennis L. Mountjoy, a Republican from Southern California.

Assemblyman Jay La Suer, a San Diego Republican, chided his colleagues for sending the wrong message about same-sex marriage, saying that no matter "how you candy coat it," it is wrong.

On Bush and Katrina

Thomas Friedman writes
[I]f 9/11 is one bookend of the Bush administration, Katrina may be the other. " …

[I]t's unavoidably obvious that we need a real policy of energy conservation. But President Bush can barely choke out the word "conservation." …

And then there are the president's standard lines: "It's not the government's money; it's your money," and, "One of the last things that we need to do to this economy is to take money out of your pocket and fuel government." Maybe Mr. Bush will now also tell us: "It's not the government's hurricane - it's your hurricane." …

The Bush team has engaged in a tax giveaway since 9/11 that has had one underlying assumption: There will never be another rainy day. Just spend money. You knew that sooner or later there would be a rainy day, but Karl Rove has assumed it wouldn't happen on Mr. Bush's watch - that someone else would have to clean it up. Well, it did happen on his watch.

Besides ripping away the roofs of New Orleans, Katrina ripped away the argument that we can cut taxes, properly educate our kids, compete with India and China, succeed in Iraq, keep improving the U.S. infrastructure, and take care of a catastrophic emergency - without putting ourselves totally into the debt of Beijing.

So many of the things the Bush team has ignored or distorted under the guise of fighting Osama were exposed by Katrina: its refusal to impose a gasoline tax after 9/11, which would have begun to shift our economy much sooner to more fuel-efficient cars, helped raise money for a rainy day and eased our dependence on the world's worst regimes for energy; its refusal to develop some form of national health care to cover the 40 million uninsured; and its insistence on cutting more taxes, even when that has contributed to incomplete levees and too small an Army to deal with Katrina, Osama and Saddam at the same time.

As my Democratic entrepreneur friend Joel Hyatt once remarked, the Bush team's philosophy since 9/11 has been: "We're at war. Let's party."

Urge Gov. Schwarzenegger to Sign the "Wal-Mart Accountability" Bill

Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger,

I urge you to sign AB 89 (J. Horton), which would begin to hold corporations who don't provide healthcare for their workers accountable.

The bill requires a report to the Legislature of the names of corporations in California whose employees receive healthcare benefits from the Healthy Families or Medi-Cal programs. Eighteen other states already track this information and I believe California should be next.

Profitable corporations like Wal-Mart are forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for their employees' healthcare needs. In 2004, a UC Berkeley study showed that Wal-Mart alone used the state of California to the tune of $32 million to provide healthcare coverage through Healthy Families and Medi-Cal.

We are facing a healthcare crisis in California. With skyrocketing healthcare costs, more employers are avoiding their responsibility to provide healthcare coverage to their employees.

Over 80% of the six million uninsured in California are in working families. Policy makers need to understand the trend for big employers to reduce or eliminate healthcare coverage.

Wal-Mart and other big businesses are avoiding their responsibilities and passing the buck to taxpayers. It is time we held them accountable.

I know Wal-Mart is a contributor to your campaign funds. I urge you to stand up to them and other corporate donors and sign AB 89.
Click here for a website where you can send a similar letter.

Catalyst produces hydrogen from water as a by-product

Scientific American reports on progress toward a hydrogen economy. The problem, of course is getting the hydrogne cheaply.
We have discovered a catalyst that can produce ready quantities of hydrogen without the need for extreme cold temperatures or high pressures, which are often required in other production and storage methods,' remarks Mahdi Abu-Omar of Purdue University. The compound he and his colleagues used is a so-called coordination complex based on the metal rhenium. Originally looking for a method to convert chemicals called organosilanes into silanols, the team combined organosilanes and water in the presence of the rhenium complex at ambient temperature and pressure. After an hour, the reaction had produced hydrogen gas in addition to silanols. According to a report published today in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the method generates a large amount of hydrogen compared to the amount of water used. …

One of the drawbacks, the team reports, is the high cost of the organosilane starting materials. But if the silicon byproduct can be sold or recycled efficiently, the new approach could be economically feasible.
This may be a start.

It's too bad that John Tierney has become a Republican political lackey

After all, he is a smart guy, and when he sticks to his libertarian principles, he writes interesting columns. The NY Times reports
Under the command of President Bush's two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. …

In a reflection of what has long been a hallmark of Mr. Rove's tough political style, the administration is … working to shift the blame away from the White House and toward officials of New Orleans and Louisiana who, as it happens, are Democrats.

"The way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials," Mr. Chertoff said in his television interview. "The federal government comes in and supports those officials."

That line of argument was echoed throughout the day, in harsher language, by Republicans reflecting the White House line.
John Tierney's column today is right on message. Tierney does acknowledge federal failures, but he tries his best to change the subject.
The liberals bewailing the insensitivity and racism of Republicans in Washington sound like a bad rerun of the 1960's, when urban riots were blamed on everyone but the rioters and the police. Yes, the White House did a terrible job of responding to Katrina, but Democratic leaders in New Orleans and Louisiana didn't even fulfill their basic duties. …

The federal officials who had been laboring on a one-size-fits-all strategy were unprepared for the peculiarities of New Orleans, like the high percentage of people without cars. The local officials who knew about that problem didn't do anything about it - and then were furious when Mr. Bush didn't solve it for them.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What good is government?

Not much according to Republicans. Paul Krugman continues this line of reasoning in his current column.
[T]he federal government's lethal ineptitude wasn't just a consequence of Mr. Bush's personal inadequacy; it was a consequence of ideological hostility to the very idea of using government to serve the public good. For 25 years the right has been denigrating the public sector, telling us that government is always the problem, not the solution. Why should we be surprised that when we needed a government solution, it wasn't forthcoming? …

[T]he undermining of FEMA began as soon as President Bush took office. Instead of choosing a professional with expertise in responses to disaster to head the agency, Mr. Bush appointed Joseph Allbaugh, a close political confidant. Mr. Allbaugh quickly began trying to scale back some of FEMA's preparedness programs.

You might have expected the administration to reconsider its hostility to emergency preparedness after 9/11 - after all, emergency management is as important in the aftermath of a terrorist attack as it is following a natural disaster. As many people have noticed, the failed response to Katrina shows that we are less ready to cope with a terrorist attack today than we were four years ago.

But the downgrading of FEMA continued, with the appointment of Michael Brown as Mr. Allbaugh's successor.

Mr. Brown had no obvious qualifications, other than having been Mr. Allbaugh's college roommate. But Mr. Brown was made deputy director of FEMA; The Boston Herald reports that he was forced out of his previous job, overseeing horse shows. And when Mr. Allbaugh left, Mr. Brown became the agency's director. The raw cronyism of that appointment showed the contempt the administration felt for the agency; one can only imagine the effects on staff morale.

That contempt, as I've said, reflects a general hostility to the role of government as a force for good. And Americans living along the Gulf Coast have now reaped the consequences of that hostility.

The administration has always tried to treat 9/11 purely as a lesson about good versus evil. But disasters must be coped with, even if they aren't caused by evildoers. Now we have another deadly lesson in why we need an effective government, and why dedicated public servants deserve our respect. Will we listen?
The real question is: when will the backlash against Bush set in? When will the country finally wake up? When will we realize that we've been spending $80 billion a year to help Iraq (not counting the military costs) while we have been shortchanging our own welfare. Will the good citizens of the red states ever wake up to this outrage, or are they in terminal denial?

And terminal it may be for the future of this country if we continue along our current path of denigrating science and public service in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Will history look back on the Bush administration as the time when the only remaining super power became an also ran?

Frank Rich on Bush and New Orleans

It's pretty clear by now that Bush has demonstrated his lack of competence in his handling of hurricane Katrina. Here are a couple of snippets from Frank Rich's column.
The president's declaration that "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees" has instantly achieved the notoriety of Condoleezza Rice's "I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center." The administration's complete obliviousness to the possibilities for energy failures, food and water deprivation, and civil disorder in a major city under siege needs only the Donald Rumsfeld punch line of "Stuff happens" for a coup de grâce. How about shared sacrifice, so that this time we might get the job done right? After Mr. Bush's visit on "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Diane Sawyer reported on a postinterview conversation in which he said, "There won't have to be tax increases. …

On Thursday morning, the president told Diane Sawyer that he hoped 'people don't play politics during this period of time.' Presumably that means that the photos of him wistfully surveying the Katrina damage from Air Force One won't be sold to campaign donors as the equivalent 9/11 photos were. Maybe he'll even call off the right-wing attack machine so it won't Swift-boat the Katrina survivors who emerge to ask tough questions as it has Cindy Sheehan and those New Jersey widows who had the gall to demand a formal 9/11 inquiry.

But a president who flew from Crawford to Washington in a heartbeat to intervene in the medical case of a single patient, Terri Schiavo, has no business lecturing anyone about playing politics with tragedy.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Is there any hope for this country?

In a newly released survey, a Pew Forum poll
found that 42 percent of respondents held strict creationist views, agreeing that 'living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.'

In contrast, 48 percent said they believed that humans had evolved over time. But of those, 18 percent said that evolution was 'guided by a supreme being,' and 26 percent said that evolution occurred through natural selection. In all, 64 percent said they were open to the idea of teaching creationism in addition to evolution, while 38 percent favored replacing evolution with creationism. [emphasis added]

A Can't-Do Government

Paul Krugman echoes the point I have been making about Bush's disdain for the role the federal government should play in our lives.
I don't think this is a simple tale of incompetence. The reason the military wasn't rushed in to help along the Gulf Coast is, I believe, the same reason nothing was done to stop looting after the fall of Baghdad. Flood control was neglected for the same reason our troops in Iraq didn't get adequate armor.

At a fundamental level, I'd argue, our current leaders just aren't serious about some of the essential functions of government. They like waging war, but they don't like providing security, rescuing those in need or spending on preventive measures. And they never, ever ask for shared sacrifice.

Yesterday Mr. Bush made an utterly fantastic claim: that nobody expected the breach of the levees. In fact, there had been repeated warnings about exactly that risk.

So America, once famous for its can-do attitude, now has a can't-do government that makes excuses instead of doing its job. And while it makes those excuses, Americans are dying.
We have a can't do government because Bush and his friends believe the role of the government is not to do anything — except limit individual liberties when they are inconvenient for him and distribute public money to his rich buddies. I wonder how much Halliburton is going to make from federal rebuilding projects?

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Congress prepares $10 billion aid package

New York Times reports that
Congressional leaders were preparing to rush through an aid package of about $10 billion requested by the White House for the Gulf Coast region today as President Bush made plans to visit the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

Senate and House officials said this afternoon that the emergency money would be approved tonight without opposition. It was not immediately clear how many lawmakers in addition to the leaders in each chamber would be present for the vote, tentatively scheduled for 10 o'clock.
Individual contributions won't mean much when compared to $10 billion. (See my previous comments.)

Massachusetts to adopt 'open' desktop

Tech News on ZDNetreports that
The commonwealth of Massachusetts has proposed a plan to phase out office productivity applications from Microsoft and other providers in favor of those based on 'open' standards, including the recently approved OpenDocument standard.

The state described the plan in a posting made to its Web site earlier this week as part of a public review process. Massachusetts agencies have until Jan. 1, 2007, to install applications that support the OpenDocument file formats and phase out other products.
I hope they succeed, but I wouldn't bet a whole lot on it. I hadn't even heard of this standard or associated toolset. Apparently it is supported by Sun, Novell, and IBM. We'll see.

Katrina relief donations: just say "no."

A number of companies are using Katrina as a PR opportunity. Here's a list of some of the companies that have issued press releases announcing their donations.

Does that sound cynical? It's intended to be. If making a donation to a high profile cause makes sense for these companies, that's ok with me. Just as it's ok with me for companies to support services I enjoy through their advertising.

But I'm not thrilled with efforts to encourage individual donations. I just received an email solicitation to attend a Katrina relief concert. It said bring your wallets. I'm not planning to go.

The point of insurance is to take care of situations like this. And the point of a government is to serve as the insurer of last resort. Wouldn't it make Bush happy if corporate and individual donations took his administration off the hook and he could continue pressing for tax relief for his wealthy buddies. I think that would be terrible. This is a federal responsibility. If Bush proposed a temprary tax of some sort to fund Katrina relief, I'd be all for it. But Bush doesn't believe in taxes, and he doesn't believe in the Federal government accepting any real responsibilities that require taxes. To ask people to donate instead of having a rational system for dealing with disasters of this sort is wrong — and it's why people don't understand why taxes are necessary.

Taxes support governmental services — such as disaster relief. Yet Bush and his buddies argue that taxes and government in general are bad — except, of course when he wants the goverment to restrict individual liberties. (Do I sound angry? I guess I am.) By making that sort of argument, Bush misinforms the public about how a government works, and making individual contributions to Katrina relief simply supports his position. Don't do it.

See next post down for related thoughts.

Katrina, Iraq, and national sacrifice

American Progress Action Fund notes
In 1961, as America was facing the challenges of poverty and war, President John F. Kennedy famously said during his inaugural address, "My fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." Today America finds itself fighting both a war and what could be the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history. When President George W. Bush addressed the nation yesterday, absent from his speech was any such call for sacrifice. But as the New York Times points out [in an editorial today; see excerpt below], this administration has never been one to counsel sacrifice.
  • President Bush could sacrifice some of his planned tax cuts. The cleanup following Katrina is going to cost billions of dollars, and yet conservatives are still planning on pushing ahead on their agenda – repealing the estate tax – a tax paid by the wealthiest one percent of Americans who inherit at least $1.5 million. Marshall Loeb, editor of Money and Fortune magazines, writes [on, a website devoted to following the equity markets], "The President could show that he, too, is prepared to sacrifice for Katrina's victims, perhaps by rolling back some of his planned tax cuts. The nation can ill afford to pay for a war, tax reductions and this disaster recovery at the same time."

  • President Bush could have called for conservation. Given the impact of this storm on major oil refineries in the Gulf, it was surprising that Bush did not call on Americans to take measures to conserve. The president of the American Petroleum Institute, Red Cavaney, said that now is the time for everyone to conserve energy, and that even offering energy-saving tips would help increase fuel efficiency. AAA is also urging conservation, asking motorists to drive less.

Here's the start of the NYTimes editorial mentioned above, which is entitled "Waiting for a Leader."
George W. Bush gave one of the worst speeches of his life yesterday, especially given the level of national distress and the need for words of consolation and wisdom. In what seems to be a ritual in this administration, the president appeared a day later than he was needed. He then read an address of a quality more appropriate for an Arbor Day celebration: a long laundry list of pounds of ice, generators and blankets delivered to the stricken Gulf Coast. He advised the public that anybody who wanted to help should send cash, grinned, and promised that everything would work out in the end.