Monday, July 31, 2006

Sunday, July 30, 2006

More on a one-state solution

My posting below on a one-state solution reflected the first time I had ever seriously considered that possibility. The concerns I raised seem like valid ones. But if they could be resolved, I'm now coming to think that perhaps a one-state solution would be the best bet. I don't know who posted the comment about a laic state (I had never heard that term before), but I'm glad you did.

This line of thought reminds me (unfortunately) of what we're trying to do in Iraq: a one state solution that includes the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites. Is there something we can learn there about how to do a better job of establishing a more successful one-state solution in Israel/Palestine that includes Jews and Palestinians? I don't think these two peoples are as fundamentally incompatible as the groups in Iraq. But there are serious issues that must be dealt with.

One question is whether the Palestinians even want a one-state solution that includes current day Israelis. My impression is that many of them want to get rid of all current day non-Arab Israelis. Is there any evidence that this isn't true, i.e., that they would want a modern, western-style, liberal, democratic, open, non-religious, one-state solution? I don't recall hearing any Palestinians arguing for that outcome. Given where we are now, the idea seems too idealistic to come true. But things change.

It hasn't been easy for Germany to bring the former East and West Germany together in a single state — and they were all Germans. Could Israel unify with the West Bank and Gaza in a similar grand unification? It wouldn't be easy. But it might be possible.

It seems like we have at least two examples: a failure (to date) in Iraq and a success (of sorts) in Germany. What about Europe as a whole and its attempt to form a unified society. You no longer need passports, and the Euro is established. But most of the European states that have voted on further unification (a European constitution?) have rejected it — at least for now.

Another possible model is South Africa. The disenfranchised black South Africans got the vote and took over the government. But they were smart enough not to ruin the existing societal and governmental infrastructure. So South Africa seems to have survived as a viable state and not to have deteriorated into the sort of failed state that plagues so much of the rest of Africa. If Israel expanded to include the West Bank and Gaza and at the same time enfranchised the Palestinians, would the result be a successful state? Would the Palestinians be willing to allow whatever changes they want in the structure of the state to take place through an evolutionary process which would preserve what's good about the current Israeli state?

I have been very impressed with what I have heard about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is not out for retribution. It truly wants reconciliation. Would that be possible in a greater Israel?

I realize that the name of the resulting state may be an issue. I'm not attempting to settle that here. I'm just using the term Greater Israel as a way to refer to a single state solution that builds on the current successful Israeli state.

If something like that could work it would have an enormous positive effect on the Middle East in general. It would do for the Middle East what Bush said the democratization of Iraq was supposed to do. Set an example of a modern, secular, democratic, heterogeneous state. Wouldn't that be something. Would Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. be able to withstand the pressure to reform themselves after that?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Why did the chicken cross the road?

The CEO of eSnips (I still don't understand how they expect to make money, but I keep using them, and I like reading the CEO's blog) has these answers. (She has a (very short) collection of "Things that make me laugh.")
GEORGE W BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain. Alone.

JERRY FALWELL: Because the chicken was gay! Can't you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the other side. That's why they call it the "other side." Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like "the other side." That chicken should not be free to cross the road. It's as plain and simple as that!

And here's a woman's perspective on Why Men are happier.
Men Are Just Happier People. What do you expect from such simple creatures? Your last name stays put. The garage is all yours. Wedding plans take care of themselves. Chocolate is just another snack. You can be President. You can never be pregnant. You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. You can wear NO shirt to a water park. Car mechanics tell you the truth. The world is your urinal. You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky. You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt. Same work, more pay. Wrinkles add character. Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100. People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them. The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected. New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet. One mood all the time.

Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat. You know stuff about tanks. A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase. You can open all your own jars. You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness. If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend. Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack. Three pairs of shoes are more than enough. You almost never have strap problems in public. You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes. Everything on your face stays its original color. The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades. You only have to shave your face and neck.

You can play with toys all your life. Your belly usually hides your big hips. One wallet and one pair of shoes one color for all seasons. You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look. You can "do" your nails with a pocket knife. You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache. You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.

A one state solution?

Would a one-state solution work? Can we imagine a successful state that incorporates all of current Israel along with Gaza and the West bank?

As it now stands, Israel is (for the most part) a successful, democratic, market-based, non-corrupt society and nation. The religious right has too much influence over some aspects of daily life. But other than that (and it should be fixed), I gather (and I don't know; I've never been there and I haven't studied Israel) it's a pretty reasonable place for most people to live — even non-Jews.

If I were a secular Israeli I would have three main fears about a possible one-state solution.
  1. The state would deteriorate into a Islamist state.
  2. The militias of the various Palestinian factions would not disarm, and the state would deteriorate into violence.
  3. The state would become increasingly corrupt as has happened in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
So to take the possibility of a one-state solution seriously, I would like to see those issues addressed.

Here's an interesting NPR commentary entitled "Does Hezbollah Stand for Arab Pride?" by Adeed Dawisha, a Professor of Political Science at Miami University of Ohio and author of Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair.

Put it another way. How many current majority-Islamic states would you be willing to live in? From what I know (and, again, I haven't lived in any majority-Islamic states, and I haven't studied majority-Islamic states), my impression is that most (there must be some exceptions; Lebanon was moving in the right direction, but Hezbollah and Syria weren't helping) majority-Islamic states are undemocratic, corrupt, and repressive. I wouldn't want to live there. The fear is that a one-state solution would convert Israel from a relatively successful open liberal democracy into a repressive, undemocratic, corrupt society. Why would any society want to take that sort of risk?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Another Bob Park Gem

What's New by Bob Park - Friday, July 28, 2006:
On 3 Feb, after NASA climate scientist James Hansen told the NY Times he was being harassed for speaking out about greenhouse gas emissions (WN 3 Feb 06) , NASA Chief Michael Griffin issued a 'scientific openness' policy. However, on 6 Feb, the phrase, 'understand and protect our home planet,' was quietly removed from the NASA mission statement. It had been cited by Hansen to justify his remarks.

More "Now what" in the Middle East

This is in response to the comments on my previous "Now What" posting.

I agree with you that Israel's reaction was both wrong and counterproductive. I wish they hadn't done it, and I wish they would stop. If it were up to me I would stop.

I agree with you that Hezbollah is raising its profile and improving its stature in a large part of the Arab world by standing up to the Israelis. I think they are doing it by taking Lebanon hostage. I don't think that is right, and I think they should stop. I think they would reply that they have a bigger goal and that the means justify the end. I disagree both with their overall bigger goal and that the means justify the end in this case -- and probably in most cases.

I agree with you that in some sense Israel is probably more comfortable fighting what appears to be a real war than just having to respond to terrorist. It's a lot clearer where you are when fighting a war than when dealing with terrorists. I disagree that Israel is a nation of war. If Israel were assured of its future and were free from the fear of continued terrorist attacks, I'm convinced that it would live peacefully with its neighbors. I don't believe that Israel wants to be in a war or that it wants to fight its neighbors. The Israelis are creative and productive. They don't need handouts to survive.

I think this cuts two ways for Bush. On the one hand, it does distract the country from other things (as you said), and most Americans appear to support his position with respect to supporting Israel. In that sense it's almost a proxy for us being at war. Americans support the president when we are at war. On the other hand, it puts his entire reputation at risk. He came to power with relative peace in the Middle East. It's now a complete mess. It's his fault. He will have to answer for that.

Parental notification


Thursday, July 27, 2006

A friend

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Bush wrong (what a surprise) about tax cuts

From Jason Furman of the
On July 25, the Treasury Department released a study entitled "A Dynamic Analysis of Permanent Extension of the President's Tax Relief." This study refutes many of the exaggerated claims about the tax cuts that have been made by the President and other senior Administration officials, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and various other tax-cut advocates. Contrary to the claim that the tax cuts will have huge impacts on the economy, the Treasury study finds that even under favorable assumptions, making the tax cuts permanent would have a barely perceptible impact on the economy. Under more realistic assumptions, the Treasury study finds that the tax cuts could even hurt the economy.

In addition, the study casts doubt on claims that the tax cuts are responsible for much of the recent growth in investment and jobs. It finds that making the tax cuts permanent would lead initially to lower levels of investment, and would result over the longer term in lower levels of employment (i.e., in fewer jobs).

The Treasury also study decisively refutes the President’s claim that “The economic growth fueled by tax relief has helped send our tax revenues soaring,” — in essence, that the tax cuts have more than paid for themselves. Instead, under the study’s more favorable scenario, the modest economic impact of the tax cuts would offset less than 10 percent of the cost of making the tax cuts permanent.

Finally, the conclusions in the Treasury study are based on the assumption that the tax cuts will be paid for by deep and unspecified cuts in government programs starting in 2017. The Treasury study is consistent with other research on dynamic scoring in finding that in the absence of such budget cuts — i.e., if the tax cuts continue to be deficit financed indefinitely — the tax cuts would end up weakening the economy over the long run.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Now what?

Yes, Hezbollah was wrong to cross Israel's border and kidnap an Israeli soldier. And Israel was wrong to overreact as it did. Now what?

For once I agree with Bush that it's not a good solution to return to the state as it was prior to these two acts. Israel withdrew from Lebanon, but Lebanon is still a source of terrorist acts against Israel. What would the world recommend any country do when terrorists attack it from across its border and the neighboring country is unable to stop them? What should we do if terrorists fired rockets into San Diego from Mexico and the Mexican government could do nothing to stop them? What should Mexico do if terrorists fired rockets into Mexico from San Diego and we did nothing to stop them?

It seems like the only reasonable solution, and one that all countries that wish to eliminate terrorism should support, is for an international peacekeeping force to occupy Lebanon and suppress the terrorism until Lebanon is strong enough to do it for itself. Of course if that guarantee is made, Israel must stop its campaign against Lebanon. The whole thing sounds nasty, but I don't know what else to suggest.

One of the basic premises of political theory is that the state has a monopoly on force. When that premise breaks down, it seems legitimate for an international agency to take over where the state failed. If that doesn't happen, then what? Everyone should stop fighting and live in peace with each other anyway. A cease fire. Is that going to happen? I doubt it.
  • If I were in charge of the Israeli government, I would stop the bombing. It's terrible. Besides, the only real solution without an imposed force is economic prosperity. This isn't getting there.
  • If I were in charge of Hezbollah, I would stop attacking Israel and devote my considerable efforts to helping Lebanon build a successful state and society. Isn't that what my constituents really want? This isn't getting there.
Both Israel and the majority of the Lebanese people want a peaceful and successful Lebanon. Sounds so simple. Why aren't we all working toward that end? Since I'm not in charge of either Israel or Hezbollah, I can't make it happen. So now what?

The Enemy of My Enemy Is Still My Enemy

From Bernard Haykel's op-ed piece in the New York Times
Several of Al Qaeda's ideologues have issued official statements explaining Hezbollah's actions and telling followers how to respond to them. The gist of their argument is that the Shiites are conspiring to destroy Islam and to resuscitate Persian imperial rule over the Middle East and ultimately the world. The ideologues label this effort the "Sassanian-Safavid conspiracy," in reference to the Sassanians, a pre-Islamic Iranian dynasty, and to the Safavids, a Shiite dynasty that ruled Iran and parts of Iraq from 1501 till 1736.

They go on to argue that thanks to the United States (the leader of the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy), Iraq has been handed over to the Shiites, who are now wantonly massacring the country's Sunnis. Syria is already led by a Shiite heretic, President Bashar al-Assad, whose policies harm the country's Sunni majority.

Hezbollah, according to these analyses, seeks to dupe ordinary Muslims into believing that the Shiites are defending Islam's holiest cause, Palestine, in order to cover for the wholesale Shiite alliance with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, this theory goes, the Shiites will fail in their efforts because the Israelis and Americans will destroy them once their role in the broader Zionist-Crusader conspiracy is accomplished. And then God will assure the success of the Sunni Muslims and the defeat of the Zionists and Crusaders.

In the meantime, no Muslim should be fooled by Hezbollah, whose members have never fought the infidel on any of the real battlefronts, like Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir. The proper attitude for Muslims to adopt is to dissociate themselves completely from the Shiites.

This analysis — conspiratorial, bizarre and uncompelling, except to the most diehard radicals — signals an important defeat for Al Qaeda’s public relations campaign. The truth is that Al Qaeda has met a formidable challenge in Hezbollah and its charismatic leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, who have made canny choices that appeal to Al Qaeda’s Sunni followers. Al Qaeda’s improbable conspiracy theory does little to counter these advantages.

First, although Sheik Nasrallah wears the black turban and carries the title of “sayyid,” both of which identify him as a Shiite descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, he preaches a nonsectarian ideology and does not highlight his group’s Shiite identity. Hezbollah has even established an effective alliance with Hamas, a Sunni and Muslim Brotherhood organization.

Second, Hezbollah’s statements focus on the politics of resistance to occupation and invoke shared Islamic principles about the right to self-defense. Sheik Nasrallah is extremely careful to hew closely to the dictates of Islamic law in his military attacks. These include such principles as advance notice, discrimination in selecting targets and proportionality.

Finally, only Hezbollah has effectively defeated Israel (in Lebanon in 2000) and is now taking it on again, hitting Haifa and other places with large numbers of rockets — a feat that no Arab or Muslim power has accomplished since Israel’s founding in 1948.

These are already serious selling points. And Hezbollah will score a major propaganda victory in the Muslim world if it simply remains standing in Lebanon after the present bout of warfare is over and maintains the relationships it is forging with Hamas and other Sunni Islamist organizations.

What will such a victory mean? Perhaps Hezbollah’s ascendancy among Sunnis will make it possible for Shiites and Sunnis to stop the bloodletting in Iraq — and to focus instead on their “real” enemies, namely the United States and Israel. Rumblings against Israeli actions in Lebanon from both Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq already suggest such an outcome.

That may be good news for Iraqis, but it marks a dangerous turn for the West. And there are darker implications still. Al Qaeda, after all, is unlikely to take a loss of status lying down. Indeed, the rise of Hezbollah makes it all the more likely that Al Qaeda will soon seek to reassert itself through increased attacks on Shiites in Iraq and on Westerners all over the world — whatever it needs to do in order to regain the title of true defender of Islam.
Too complicated for this poor cat. But it looks like they may compete with each other to see who can hurt us the most. Not good.

Iraqi PM Addresses Congress

but he (or his translator) used the "L" word — twice! From the Washington Post
Confronting and dealing with [terrorism] is the responsibility of every liberal democracy that values its freedom. …

The people of Iraq will not forget your continued support as we establish a secure, liberal democracy.
(Emphasis added in the preceding.)

I'm surprised he wasn't warned that liberal is a dirty word among those in power in Washington. I guess it's just one of those cultural mistakes. Americans make them all the time when we visit foreign countries. This is what it feels like to be on the receiving end.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The current state in Iraq?

Peter W. Galbraith, a former United States ambassador to Croatia, writes the following in an op-ed piece in the New York Times
In the south during the formal occupation of Iraq in 2003 and 2004, the American-led coalition allowed Shiite militias to mushroom and clerics to impose Islamic rule, in some places with a severity reminiscent of Afghanistan’s Taliban. … Shiite religious parties and clerics have created theocracies policed by militias that number well over 100,000 men. In Basra, three religious parties control — and sometimes fight over — the thousands of barrels of oil diverted each day from legal exports into smuggling. To the extent that the central government has authority in the south, it is because some of the same Shiite parties that dominate the government also control the south.

Kurdistan in the north is effectively independent. The Iraqi Army is barred from the region, the Iraqi flag prohibited, and central government ministries are not present. The Kurdish people voted nearly unanimously for independence in an informal referendum in January 2005.

And in the Sunni center of the nation and Baghdad, the government has virtually no control beyond the American-protected Green Zone. The Mahdi Army, a radical Shiite militia, controls the capital's Shiite neighborhoods, while Qaeda offshoots and former Baathists are increasingly taking over the Sunni districts. …

In the Sunni center, our current strategy involves handing off combat duties to the Iraqi Army. Mostly, it is Shiite battalions that fight in the Sunni Arab areas, as the Sunni units are not reliable. Thus what the Bush administration portrays as “Iraqi” security forces is seen by the local Sunni population as a hostile force loyal to a Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad, installed by the American invaders and closely aligned with the traditional enemy, Iran. The more we “Iraqize” the fight in the Sunni heartland, the more we strengthen the insurgents.

Because it is Iraq’s most mixed city, Baghdad is the front line of Iraq’s Sunni-Shiite civil war. It is a tragedy for its people, most of whom do not share the sectarian hatred behind the killing. Iraqi forces cannot end the civil war because many of them are partisans of one side, and none are trusted by both communities.

For the United States to contain the civil war, we would have to deploy more troops and accept a casualty rate many times the current level as our forces changed their mission from a support role to intensive police duties. The American people would not support such an expanded mission, and the Bush administration has no desire to undertake it.

The administration, then, must match its goals in Iraq to the resources it is prepared to deploy. Since it cannot unify Iraq or stop the civil war, it should work with the regions that have emerged. Where no purpose is served by a continuing military presence — in the Shiite south and in Baghdad — America and its allies should withdraw.

As an alternative to using Shiite and American troops to fight the insurgency in Iraq’s Sunni center, the administration should encourage the formation of several provinces into a Sunni Arab region with its own army, as allowed by Iraq’s Constitution. Then the Pentagon should pull its troops from this Sunni territory and allow the new leaders to establish their authority without being seen as collaborators.

Monday, July 24, 2006

"He hit me first.” “But he hit me harder.”

In an interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times Daniel Gilbert talks about the asymmetry between action and experience.
[B]ecause our senses point outward, we can observe other people's actions but not our own. [B]ecause mental life is a private affair, we can observe our own thoughts but not the thoughts of others. Together, these facts suggest that our reasons for punching will always be more salient to us than the punches themselves — but that the opposite will be true of other people's reasons and other people's punches. …

[In an experiment in which two volunteers were asked to respond to touches from each other with equal force, here's what actually happened.] Although volunteers tried to respond to each other’s touches with equal force, they typically responded with about 40 percent more force than they had just experienced. Each time a volunteer was touched, he touched back harder, which led the other volunteer to touch back even harder. What began as a game of soft touches quickly became a game of moderate pokes and then hard prods, even though both volunteers were doing their level best to respond in kind. …

Research teaches us that our reasons and our pains are more palpable, more obvious and real, than are the reasons and pains of others. This leads to the escalation of mutual harm, to the illusion that others are solely responsible for it and to the belief that our actions are justifiable responses to theirs.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A decades-long human subject experiment

From a New York Times mulutimedia presentation.
[Donny Johnson] lives in an 8-by-12-foot concrete cell. His meals are pushed through a slot in the door. Except for the odd visitor, with whom he talks through thick plexiglass, he interacts with no one. He has not touched another person in 17 years. [No cats either.]
He paints by using colors extracted from the shells of M&M's.

Friday, July 21, 2006

What's New by Bob Park - Friday, July 21, 2006

Bob Park had a few choice comments in this Week's What's New.
On Stem Cells. "On Wednesday, Mr. Bush vetoed the 'Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.' The first veto of his presidency was exercised to protect surplus embryonic stem cells in fertility clinics from research, thus preserving their 'dignity' so they can be put out with the garbage."

On an Anit-Balistic Missile System. "In 1984, President Reagan called on the scientific community to render nuclear missiles "impotent and obsolete" with the Star Wars missile defense system. Nine years and $30B later SDI was terminated. There was nothing to show for it. George W. Bush, who knows as much science as Reagan did, declared we would have a missile defense by 2004. When North Korea announced last month it would test a missile capable of reaching San Francisco, the Pentagon revealed our missile defense had never been turned on. Why bother? The reason ballistic missile are such a powerful threat is that they are virtually unstoppable, but if we learned anything from 9/11 it is that terrorists can strike us without ballistic missiles. We have only the threat of preemptive strikes or retaliation. The Wall Street Journal today called for an ABM system to deter terror regimes, "they won't invest their money in weapons that won't work." No, only we do that."

On Penance."Last week I agreed to any penance readers thought appropriate for allowing myself to be used on the (bleep) ABC Primetime program about Adam Dreamhealer. By consensus—I mean two—readers called for the same punishment. I am to obtain a DVD of "What the Bleep Do We Know" and watch it all the way through - twice."

Thursday, July 20, 2006


I just uploaded my pretty face to eSnips, for which this is a free plug.

They give you 1GB of free storage for whatever you want. It's hard for me to see how they will make enough money from advertising, but that's their business model.

I've been using it mainly to back up files and as a way to transfer files from home to to work without having to send them by email.

Apparently they don't let you link directly to stuff that you store, though. The picture to the right above doesn't appear unless you're logged in as me. Try clicking on it, though.

Are we the center of the Universe?

From an Edge Talk with Lawrence Krauss
. When you look at [the cosmic microwave background] map, you … see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That's crazy. We're looking out at the whole universe. There's no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun … That would say we are truly the center of the universe.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


  Click here Click here for more. for more.

Five Minutes

From Tricycle
If you pay attention for just five minutes … you learn that pleasant sensations lead to the desire that these sensations will stay and that unpleasant sensations lead to the hope that they will go away. And both the attraction and the aversion amount to tension in the mind. Both are uncomfortable. So in the first minutes, you get a big lesson about suffering: wanting things to be other than what they are. Such a tremendous amount of truth to be learned just closing your eyes and paying attention to bodily sensations.

--Sylvia Boorstein
What I find particularly interesting is how everything is up for grabs with respect to awareness. The desires that pleasant sensations continue and that unpleasant sensations stop are very natural and normal. Boorstein isn't saying that one should attempt to banish those desires. She is saying that it's useful to be aware of having desires even as basic as these. It is important to be able to step back even a little bit from one's desires and simply be aware of their existence.

Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy

From the Washington Post
President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs.

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah. …

Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon. …

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement. "We have accepted the lawyer-diplomatic fantasy that talking while North Korea builds bombs and missiles and talking while the Iranians build bombs and missiles is progress," he said in an interview. "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?" he asked, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the North Korean leader.

"I am utterly puzzled," Gingrich added.

Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official who is close to Vice President Cheney, said he believes foreign policy innovation for White House ended with Bush's second inaugural address, a call to spread democracy throughout the world.

"What they are doing on North Korea or Iran is what [Sen. John F.] Kerry would do, what a normal middle-of-the-road president would do," he said. "This administration prided itself on molding history, not just reacting to events. Its a normal foreign policy right now. It's the triumph of Kerryism."

Friday, July 14, 2006

"What we have learned about how not to fool ourselves."

Bob Parks of What's New quoted Richard Feynman as having said that this is what science is all about.

Although I like this quotation, I think it leaves out a lot. Science doesn't help us in not fooling ourselves about our own subjective experience. Feynman enjoyed playing the bongo drums and being around naked women. His ability to be aware of and take pleasure in these experiences was one of his charms. He knew he liked them; he wasn't obsessed by them; he enjoyed them when the situation was appropriate.

We don't (at least so far) have a science that helps us work with (and keep us from fooling ourselves about) our subjective experience. What we've learned about not fooling ourselves in this domain is that we fool ourselves when we lose self-awareness. (Can that be made into scientific statement?) The best science-like disciplines we've developed along these lines are humanistic psychology and Buddhism. Neither would qualify as a traditional science. So I'd put it this way.
Science is what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves about the way the world is. Buddhism and humanistic psychology are what we have learned about how not to fool ourselves about our subjective experience.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Bartending, RFID Style reports.
A Miami-based 7-year-old beverage-monitoring software company is drinking from the keg of RFID and is selling a tilt switch that attaches to bottles and updates an Internet database every time the bottle is poured. … It's not merely recording how many times the bottle is poured, but it factors in the tilt of the bottle, the duration of the pour and the bartender's pouring style to calculate how much liquid is leaving the bottle.

"The software converts the tilt into an estimated volume, and the conversion is automatically perfected based on the history of each bottle; hence it becomes more accurate over time and adapts to each bartender's habits. When the bottle is empty, our sensor knows it and the software readjusts the historical pours of each bottle to the known volume of the bottle," said Beverage Metrics CEO David Teller, who said his company has between $5 million and $10 million in annual revenue. "Our system reconciles pours to ring-ups and recipes and automatically decides what is a long pour that should be changed to two pours [and] when to combine short pours in sequence."

Because the server that watches the tilt-tracking RFID system also tracks the POS (point-of-sale) system, it can also know what ingredients bartenders are using to make drinks and whether they are following the authorized recipes in addition to whether they are pouring too much or too little.
Sounds great, but …
John Fontanella, an RFID analyst with the Aberdeen Group, dubbed Teller's system "an interesting idea" but wondered whether wireless rings around the bottles would scare off customers and chill some of the bartender-drinker relationship.

"Will it be invisible to customers? Remember those machines that were used to accurately pour a drink every time? They were all over the place, and now I never see one. There is a reason why: It ruins the intimacy created between customer and bartender," Fontanella said. "Good bartenders take care of good customers. It's as simple as that, and that's what brings them back. If the customer is unaware, or if it is in a bar with a great deal of transient traffic, it makes sense."

But Fontanella is even more cynical about whether it will truly minimize theft. "I'm already thinking about how bartenders will beat this," he said. "They will find a way."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Martin Gardner

Jochen Fromm, who is continually coming up with interesting items, found this interview with Martin Gardner from a year ago. Here are a couple of brief excerpts.
Gardner: Uri Geller does [things that] are not done by magicians. Magicians would be ashamed to stand up in front of an audience and bend a spoon! It seems too silly. …

Notices: So how does he bend a spoon?

Gardner: He gains access to the spoons before the demonstration. If you take an ordinary spoon, it’s easy to bend it. You can bend it back and forth a few times to weaken the metal to the point where if you just stroke the spoon it bends. That’s the whole secret of Uri Geller’s metal bending—getting to the material in advance and preparing it. …

Notices: If there are absolute standards for aesthetics in art, do they also exist in mathematics?

Gardner: Dirac was a great believer in having beautiful equations. “There is no room in mathematics for ugly mathematics,” was, I think, one of his statements. But in physics you can have very beautiful theories that turn out to be totally false. There is a predecessor of string theory called vortex theory, in which all the basic particles were supposed to be knots in the ether. Since there is no friction in the ether, once a little particle would form, it could not lose its shape. I was doing some checking on it, and I ran into statements by top physicists (including James Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, J. J. Thomson, and Albert Michelson) that this theory is too beautiful not to be true.
It turns out that Gardner had a very limited mathematics education — although he learned a lot while writing his column. As a student he studied mathematics only up to calculus.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

An identity thief

A great NYTimes story.
"I get scared that when I get out, I might have a problem and relapse because it would be so easy to take $300 and turn it into several thousand." …

His wife understands the temptations.

"I do worry a whole lot because — I don't want to say I agree, but I understand his mentality. People work really hard for eight hours a day and make minimum wage. And he knows he can get out and make the same thing with the computer in half an hour."

Bush Directed Cheney To Counter Wilson

There is a good story in The National Journal about the Libby/Cheney/Plame affair. It traces most of the incidents and describes the sequence of events. Basically Bush and Cheney wanted to discredit Wilson. That was understandable given that Wilson had published an op-ed piece that discredited them. It may even be that they had documents that they wanted de-classified—that they were in the process of de-classifying—that they thought would discredit Wilson. Nontheless, Libbey leaked Plame's identity and then lied about it. Here is that portion.
Central to the criminal charges against Libby is Libby's grand jury testimony and his statements to the FBI that when he talked to Cooper and Miller about Plame, he was only repeating rumors that he had heard from other journalists. Libby has testified that one or two days before talking to Miller and Cooper about Plame, NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert told Libby that Plame worked for the CIA, and that other reporters had heard the same information.

According to Libby's indictment, Libby told the FBI that after Russert told him about Plame, Libby responded 'that he did not know that, and Russert replied that all the reporters knew it. Libby was surprised by this statement because, while speaking with Russert, Libby did not recall that he previously had learned about Wilson's wife's employment from the Vice President.'

Contradicting Libby, Russert testified to the grand jury that he never spoke about Plame to Libby. Prosecutors alleged that Libby lied about Russert, and the Libby indictment states that he learned about Plame from Cheney and also from State Department and CIA officials with either direct or indirect access to classified information.

A central focus of Fitzgerald's investigation has been why Libby would devise a cover story on how he learned of Plame's CIA work when prosecutors had obtained Libby's own notes showing that Libby had first gotten the information from Cheney. Libby told the FBI and testified to the grand jury that he had forgotten what Cheney had told him by the time that he made the Plame disclosure to reporters.

"I no longer remembered it," Libby testified to the grand jury regarding his June 12 conversation with Cheney. It was only after speaking to Russert, Libby testified, that he "learned" the information about Plame's CIA employment "anew."

Federal investigators have concluded that Libby's account is implausible.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world with minimal government services and insufficient funds to develop its resource base. The largely agrarian and subsistence-based economy is frequently disrupted by extended droughts common to the Sahel region of Africa.

One of the things that seems strange to me is that someone thought that a story claiming that Plame sent her husband Wilson to Niger as a junket would be convincing. I never thought of Niger as a junket destination.
In any event, I don't understand why they just didn't continue with the declassification efforts and let it go at that.
During the same time that Cheney and Libby's effort to leak classified information to discredit Wilson was under way, other White House officials were working through a formal interagency declassification process to make public portions of one or both of the same documents. It is unclear why Cheney and Libby were apparently acting without the knowledge of other senior government officials who were working with Cheney and Libby to formally declassify much of the very same information.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

True for any religion

Jon Kabat-Zinn, in Wherever You Go, There You Are
A student once said: 'When I was a Buddhist, it drove my parents and friends crazy, but when I am a buddha, nobody is upset at all.'