Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Survey Says

Question number 24 in the January 2006 WSJ/NBC poll asks,

Do you think the Bush administration should conduct wiretaps of American Citizens who are suspected of having ties to terrorists without a court order, or do you think that the Bush administration should be required to get a court order before conducting these wiretaps?

Should be able to wiretap without a court order ------------41%
Should be required to get a court order before wiretapping--53%
Not sure-----------------------------------------------------2%

Funny what happens when you ask a specific question.

The Remains of the Day

One of my favorite novels is Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. The faithful 1993 screen adaptation by Merchant and Ivory is one of my all time favorite movies. I rank it there with Lawrence of Arabia and The Wild Bunch.

The performance by Anthony Hopkins is one of the most subtle and moving in movie history. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay adaptation is one of the best in movie history too.

The story is about butler Mr. Stevens who spends his life in loyal service to Lord Darlington, a man who is not worthy of his loyalty.

The movie was pitted against Schindler's List for best picture. The irony of the best picture award going to Schindler's List is that The Remains of the Day has something far more profound, subtle, and moving to say about the Holocaust than a Hollywood blockbuster movie ever could.

How Icky

When I sit at my computer writing, I listen to a couple of Internet radio stations: Beethoven.com and Continuous Cool Country from Glasgow, Scotland.

I know what all you classical music experts are thinking. Beethoven.com, how icky. Well, they play requests, and I assume at least some of the requesters know what they are doing. And they play a lot of movie soundtracks which I like. I don't consider it completely in poor taste to like movie soundtracks.

As far as my choice of country station goes, let's not even go there. You'll bring out my Redneck side.

Palace Revolt

This is a riveting story in Newsweek: Palace Revolt.
They were loyal conservatives, and Bush appointees. They fought a quiet battle to rein in the president's power in the war on terror. And they paid a price for it.

From the article:
These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president's eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want—indeed avoided—publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray—as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage. (For its part the White House denies any internal strife. "The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn't based in fact," says Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. "This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.")

The chief opponent of the rebels, though by no means the only one, was an equally obscure, but immensely powerful, lawyer-bureaucrat. Intense, workaholic (even by insane White House standards), David Addington, formerly counsel, now chief of staff to the vice president, is a righteous, ascetic public servant. According to those who know him, he does not care about fame, riches or the trappings of power. He takes the Metro to work, rather than use his White House parking pass, and refuses to even have his picture taken by the press. His habitual lunch is a bowl of gazpacho, eaten in the White House Mess. He is hardly anonymous inside the government, however. Presidential appointees quail before his volcanic temper, backed by assiduous preparation and acid sarcasm.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Hegemonic Nut

The War on Terror bastardizes the word war. War has been traditionally defined as armed conflicts between states. In the United States, it has been common to expand the word until it means any kind of conflict or circumstance with which one tends to find disagreeable. Witness the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, etc.

What we now know for a certainty is that young suicide bombers are well educated and economically well off compared to their peer group. They are led to their acts by men who themselves live comfortably and hold positions of power in their community. Terrorists are scattered about the world. They possess no organization the comes close to statehood. Their organization does not even compare to organized crime gangs. Eliminating terrorism is not like fighting a war.

The War on Terror fits with the other bastardizations of the word war. It merely classifies a group of people with whom one must defend oneself against and with whom one violently disagrees. Saying this is not making a political judgment per se.

The War on Terror becomes a political when it obfuscates some clearly known facts.

The Middle East and its surrounding environment contains most of the remaining oil reserves in the world. That makes it of absolute geo-strategic importance to capitalist countries whose growth and welfare depend on oil. People can argue whether the Iraq War is about oil until the cows come home, but to deny that the United States has not pursued a policy of securing the steady flow of cheap oil from the Middle East is to deny the very policies publicly announced by all of the United States’ leaders going back to World War II. Some people cannot find their ass with both hands. Most of the rest should know better.

Recent elections in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt have put paid to the naïve notion that freely held elections will bring to power folks who are sympathetic to U. S. interests. We find the current Bush Administration in a quandary as to how to penalize the Palestinian people for their gross lapse in etiquette by voting a big majority to the Hamas Party. The news is filled with the failure of intelligence to predict the outcome of the election. The news stories do not note that it is beside the point. There was not anything to be done about it, except avoid free elections in Palestine until more favorable circumstances were created.

Now there is some fine distinctions being drawn about what is a free and democratic state. (I’ve done it myself.) What the new definition amounts to is a free and democratic state is one favorable to U. S. interests. Denying this definition of freedom and democracy is akin to denying the strategic importance of Middle East oil to the United States.

Those who have been playing the freedom and democracy chips as justification for the Iraq War have used most of what they have left. Free and democratic elections, monitored by outside authorities for fairness, don’t create the benign world favorable to U. S. interests that was hoped for.

The obfuscation caused by the War on Terror and its rhetoric has created a dangerous situation. One, it denies that protecting America from future 9/11 type attacks requires doing something about the never ending cells of disaffected youth who will carry out any future attacks. Killing every suspected young man who comes of age is not going to get the job done as far eliminating terrorism. Two, it conflates fighting terrorist activities with grand geo-strategic concerns and what to do about those concerns.

Those who exploit the War on Terror to justify military interventions are using the War on Terror as a ruse to garner favorable public opinion. This ruse denies the long line of U. S. foreign policy statements about how the United States can preserve global economic and military hegemony well into the future.

Such is the case with those who claim to be spreading freedom and democracy. Freely elected governments might remain hostile to the United States. One wonders if the notion of building democratic states from the ground up via military intervention has had its fifteen minutes of fame.

The hegemonic nut is not so easily cracked as some make it out to be. Supply your own solution, but not your own definitions and facts.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Lara, Gamma, and the Zeta Function

I ran across the wonderful mathematics book Gamma by Julian Havil last year while studying the Riemann Hypothesis. The book is packed with beautiful mathematics. (As an aside, it contains in one of its appendices an amazing 23 page summary of the elements of Complex Variable Theory.)

Here is what it says on the book jacket.

Among the myriad of constants that appear in mathematics, pi, e, and i are the most familiar. Following closely behind is gamma, a constant that arises in many mathematical areas yet maintains a profound sense of mystery.

In a tantalizing blend of history and mathematics, Julian Havil takes the reader on a journey through logarithms and the harmonic series, the two defining elements of gamma, toward the first account gamma’s place in mathematics.

Introduced by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), who figures prominently in this book, gamma is defined as the limit of the sum of 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + … + 1/n – ln n, the numerical value being 0.5772156… But unlike its more celebrated colleagues pi and e, the exact nature of gamma remains a mystery—we don’t even know if it can be expressed as a fraction.

Among the numerous topics that arise during this historical odyssey into fundamental mathematical ideas are the Prime Number Theorem and the most important open problem in mathematics today—the Riemann Hypothesis (though no proof of either is offered!)

Sure to be popular with not only students and instructors but all math aficionados, Gamma takes us through countries, centuries, lives, and works, unfolding along the way the stories of some remarkable mathematics from some remarkable mathematicians.

I lift the following quotation from the book.

We may—paraphrasing the famous sentence of George Orwell—say that ‘all mathematics is beautiful, yet some is more beautiful than the other’. But the most beautiful in all mathematics is the Zeta function. There no doubt about it.

Krzysztof Maslanka

Mathematics, like Lara in Dr. Zhivago, does not willfully seduce. The beauty of mathematics seduces as it is Lara’s beauty that seduces.


I have almost finished reading Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution: a Biography. Reading the book is a detour from a reading program I had set myself at the beginning of the year although the first two books on my list were Democracy in America and the Federalist Papers, so it is relevant.

Amar’s book contains an overwhelming amount of legal and historical scholarship on the Constitution even though it is pitched at a general public. The book allows some insight into the political philosophy and thinking of those who framed the Constitution and amended it.

Despite the scholarship in a book like Amar’s, I am not off the hook for doing my own thinking about the philosophical ideas and ideals contained in the Constitution.

I have these two strong forces inside me pulling me in opposite directions. One force wants me to be engaged, and to speak even if my thoughts are not fully formed or consistent. The other force, a strong metaphysical fatalism, wants me to view politics from nowhere, let other people argue and fight, note what they say, tell disputants when they are inconsistent, inform them when they have failed to persuade, but continually remind myself that events will necessarily be as they will.

It is a natural tension between ideas and ideals. Ideals are ends to be achieved and often motivated by passions. Ideas are objects to be dispassionately understood and sometimes admired.

Meanwhile, the rain is falling on a relatively warm January Sunday. All too soon I’ll be gone before I want.


Despair’s advantage is achieved
By suffering—Despair—
To be assisted of Reverse
One must Reverse have bore—

The Worthiness of Suffering like
The Worthiness of Death
Is ascertained by tasting—

As can no other Mouth—

Of Savors—make us conscious—
As did ourselves partake—
Affliction feels impalpable
Until Ourselves are struck—

Emily Dickinson

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Not Just a Few Bad Apples

The trial of Enron's Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling begins in Houston on Monday. Some think the Enron scandal is an example of a few bad apples. They are dead wrong.

John C. Bogle has his new book, The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism, reviewed by Jeff Madrick in this week's NYT Sunday Book Review. John C. Bogle is a the founder of Vanguard Mutual Fund, the first to offer low charge index funds, and is a Wall Street Legend. His book is highly critical of the current state of capitalism.

Here are some excerpts from the book review regarding conflicts of interest and misstated financial statements.

In this book, Bogle abhors what he sees as rampant cheating among his peers - not only mutual fund managers but brokers, bankers, lawyers and accountants. It's not just a few bad apples, he says: "I believe that the barrel itself - the very structure that holds all those apples - is bad."

. . .

When Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York State charged a wide swath of investment banks with similar conflicts of interest, however, 8 of the 10 largest companies on Wall Street decided they had better settle the suit. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, among others, gave back profits and paid penalties of $1.4 billion, and altered the inherent conflicts in their managerial policies as well.

Nor was it only a handful of notorious companies like Enron and WorldCom that, under the tutelage of the most prestigious lawyers, bankers and accountants in the business, overstated their profits. Bogle totes up about 60 major corporations that had to restate their earnings - and this was not an inclusive list. Their stock market value equaled $3 trillion. That is "an enormous part of the giant barrel of corporate capitalism," he writes.

I am sure this means nothing to the apologists of the system. About the only thing that will turn their heads is a guilty verdict and long prison sentences for Lay and Skilling.

Friday, January 27, 2006


The year 1862 was a very good year for poetry because Emily Dickinson wrote a lot of poems that year. Here is one of them


The Heart asks Pleasure--first--
And then--Excuse from Pain--
And then--those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering--

And then--to go to sleep--
And then--if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor
The privilege to die--

Canadian Election

Anvilcloud at Raindrops has some interesting reflections on the Canadian elections here and here.


Annotated Life has a good series of articles on Katrina and Hurricane Pam.

The predictions immediately after the storm have come to pass. Unaccountable billions are being spent on no-bid contracts for corporate interests while the poor have been totally dispossessed. The Bush Administration has refused to turn over documents to Congressional investigators.

I had a man tell me last night at dinner that the poor were getting what they deserve for not having flood insurance. How many other American's have exactly that attitude?

International Football

Don't forget the Fourth Round of the English FA Challenge Cup is being contested this weekend. Start your day off right at 6:30 AM CST by watching Newcastle United play Cheltenham Town on Fox Soccer Channel. At 9 AM CST watch English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea play Everton. Both matches will be repeated later in the day for you sleepy heads.

Checkout the 2008 European Cup group drawings here. The big news is France and Italy are in the same group.

Come on. Let your hair down. Kick a little.

Latest Iraq War Numbers

The January Brookings Institution Iraq Index has been published. It's your one stop shopping for Iraq War statistics.

If anyone discerns a silver lining or light at the end of the tunnel in the numbers, please let me know. I couldn't find them.

If you aren't into statistics, numbers, and facts, please go to the White House Web site.

Or better yet, just make up your own.

3 AM

OK, it's 3 AM and I can't sleep. I feel kind of lonely too. If I was sleeping, I wouldn't feel lonely.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Principle or a Slippery Slope?

Some might call the following a slippery slope argument. Slippery slope arguments are not necessarily invalid.

Let us say that a government by the citizens guarantees rights and freedoms to all its citizens. At some point the Executive Branch of that government decides to suspend those rights for a small class of citizens. The Executive tells everyone not to worry it is only these others who have their rights suspended. These others are not like the vast majority.

History often shows that this small class of others grows larger once any one class of citizens has their rights suspended. Such is the way with unchecked power. At some point any who dissent or oppose the Executive no longer have rights. Those who still think they have rights are merely fooling themselves.

If the historical evidence leads us to this conclusion, then the argument is far from being a slippery slope argument. Slippery slopes do at times exist.

A Jury Trial

The Constitution guarantees the rights of citizens to a jury trial when they are accused of a criminal offense. A jury can decide both matters of law and fact even though the courts have greatly restricted a jury's ability to decide matters of law. A jury can however return a verdict of not guilty when they disagree with a judge's instructions on matters of law. This puts a lot of power in the hands of the citizens.

A sitting President can trump this power by detaining a citizen and refusing them their civil rights to a fair and speedy trial. The problem is that when the President does this he has acted illegally and violated the rights of the accused.

Treason is no different than any other criminal offense. The accused citizen has the right to due process of law. The abuse and denial of those rights by the Executive is an illegal and impeachable offense.

Safe? Strong?

Deartown Times gets after it with George Bush is weak on defending America.

If tomorrow New York city fell into the Atlantic, but we still had our constitution and liberty, America would continue to be America. If tomorrow California fell into the Pacific, but we still had our constitution and liberty, America would continue to be America. If tomorrow the Great Plains were to suddenly go fallow, but we still had our constitution and liberty, America would continue to be America.

But, if we amass great wealth and secure our oil and gold, but compromise our liberty and stretch the constitution to it's breaking point, America ceases to be America. If, through fear and weakness, we cede our duties as American citizen and give up our liberties to someone who promises security but demands unrestrained power (no matter his claims of benevolence), America ceases to be America. If Americans think their responsibilities as citizens ends at the ballot box, or worse, requires only unquestioning allegiance in the president, America ceases to be the America that generations before us fought and died to secure. We will have squandered their blood.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A note on the structure of the universe

Let’s divide humanity into two classes based on their beliefs about the structure of the universe. Some people believe the universe is a hierarchy. Every being, natural or supernatural, falls within the hierarchy. Beings in the hierarchy have the duty to obey the instructions of those higher in the hierarchy. Beings in the hierarchy have the authority to instruct and coerce those lower in the hierarchy.

The hierarchy changes over time. The divine right of kings has given way to the divine right of property. The hierarchy has been adjusted to take into account this event. Even though the hierarchy changes over time its moral justification is based on metaphysical authority to coerce those lower in the hierarchy. Obedience is the supreme duty. Authority in one’s sphere of influence is the supreme right and freedom.

The other class of people do not see the universe structured as a hierarchy. For them authority is not something with which a person is born. Authority is granted through negotiation and by other means. Governments develop constitutions and laws to regulate both authority and duties.

People in this second category believe there are certain areas in people’s lives where no person has the authority to regulate another person’s life. These are called equal rights. There is debate about these rights. Despite that there is a recognition that it is a matter for debate because no one possesses the natural authority to arbitrarily impose a duty upon another person

The division of humanity into these two distinct kinds is admittedly crude. However, public debates often halt when the disputants fail to identify the category to which they belong. This is not merely a matter of dishonesty or neglect. These two kinds of beliefs exist at an unconscious level of the mind and exert powerful influences on actions. The question of what one ought to do is never independent of one’s view of the universe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Little Pink Houses

Donald Trump has filed a $5 billion lawsuit against two writers for defamation of character. They claim his is net worth is less than the billions he claims to possess. Donald's taken extreme umbrage.

So much for frivolous lawsuits.

Well there's people and more people
What do they know know know
Go to work in some high rise
And vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico
Ooh yeah
And there's winners and there's losers
But they ain't no big deal
'Cause the simple man baby pays for the thrills, the bills,the pills that kill

Oh but ain't that America for you and me
Ain't that America somethin' to see baby
Ain't that America home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me

Little Pink Houses, John Mellencamp

Charges dropped against Pamuk

I have only read one of Orhan Pamuk's novels, Snow. I liked it a lot. Here is some good news coming out of Turkey.

From the NYT book section Court drops charges against author for 'insulting' Turkey.

ISTANBUL, Jan. 23 - An Istanbul court dropped charges against the novelist Orhan Pamuk today, ending a trial that put Turkey at odds with the European Union over the issue of freedom of speech.
Mr. Pamuk, whose works have been translated into dozens of languages, spoke in a newspaper interview about the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and also of the deaths of Kurds in Turkish operations in the 1980's against a separatist group. He was then prosecuted for "insulting Turkish identity." ...

The ruling was immediately welcomed by the European legislators. But the novelist's lawyer, Haluk Inanici, chided the court for framing its decision in bureaucratic terms rather than addressing the issue of freedom of expression.

"The court dropped the charges not because the trial violated the freedom of speech," Mr. Inanici said, but because "there was a missing approval by the Justice Ministry to proceed with the trial."

The article goes on to speculate that Pamuk's international reputation may have saved him. About 70 other intellectuals face charges of insulting Turkey.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Super Bowl

I know I said I was not going to think about the Super Bowl until the Friday before the game. However, I just picked up Seattle at +4. I figure they are about 1 point underdogs, and the spread should narrow within the next two weeks.

I'm going to make a money line wager on Pittsburgh to win. They are running at -180, but there should be a better deal the closer it gets to game time. I'll wait till then.

A Stake in the Ground

Molly Ivins writes I will not support Hillary Clinton for President. I discovered it via pas au-dela.

Molly makes this remark about some Democratic politicians.

Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can't get up and fight, we'll find someone who can.

Yesterday's Results

I need to erase this bitter memory right away. I lost both my football wagers. That leaves my season totals at 19 wins, 20 losses, and 2 ties. I have won 1 wager against the moneyline.

I'm not even going to think about the Super Bowl until the Friday before the game.

The English FA Cup fourth round proper matches are being played this coming weekend. Check it out if you get Fox Soccer Channel on your TV hookup.

Sunday, January 22, 2006


Sports betting has its romantic side: desire, chance, exaltation, and despair.

Sports betting is a lot like love and romance in its basic human emotions.

I have never won in romance. I've been a lot luckier with the football teams.

I once had a girlfriend tell me on more than one occasion that I did not have a romantic bone in my body. She was intelligent with excellent analytical skills. She measured me well.

Nowadays it just don't pay to be a good ol' boy

One of the favorite epithets that some on the far right throw at those on the left is that they are limousine liberals. I doubt if they actually believe that about those on the left.

I have an hypothesis that what irks them most are people like me who claim to be on the left.

My favorite attire is shorts and t-shirts in the summer and frayed button fly Levis and sweatshirts in the winter.

My favorite activities are books, bars, Bud, Maker’s Mark whiskey, baseball, betting on sporting events, and being full of shit but not caring.

Like I said, it’s just an hypothesis, and I admitted to being full of shit.

Gettin' tough
Just my luck
I was born in the land of plenty now there ain't enough
Gettin' cold
I've been told
Nowadays it just don't pay to be a good ol' boy

Gettin’ Tough, Steve Earle and Richard Bennett

The people's revolt south of the border

Evo Morales takes office today as Bolivia’s President. Thus, Bolivia joins the ranks of democratically elected leftist governments in South America that includes Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Peru and Mexico are holding elections this year. They may not be far behind in joining the leftist fold.

The people of South American countries have revolted against failed neoliberal economic policies. This is a good sign to the citizens of the United States who look for change, reform, and relief from those same failed neoliberal policies.

Those who champion unbridled neoliberal policies are now on the defensive to explain why those policies have failed so many people. They also must explain why the people who have suffered from these policies are no longer fooled and have revolted at the ballot box, of all places.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Little Romance Too

Last night, shortly before going to bed at 1 AM, The Last of the Mohicans started showing on TV. I have seen the movie a kazillion times, but could not resist watching it again. I like the love story between Hawkeye (Daniel Day Lewis) and Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe).

The film's musical score is my all time favorite.

Tonight, I am watching The Horse Soldiers. I have also seen this one a kazillion times. I saw it at the theater when it first came out and I was a kid. The love story between Col. John Marlowe (John Wayne) and Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers) is a good one.

I like a lot of romance with my historical war flicks.

"I appreciate your concerns."

There is a rhetorical trick in what is supposed to be persuasive dialogue.

Person A who supports the positions and actions of the party in power concludes his argument by saying, “I appreciate your concerns. It is too bad you are not willing to meet me half way. By the way, we will continue to do things my way.”

Not only has Person B lost the argument, but he is supposed to be so stupid he does not see that it was all about power in the first place.

I spent an interminable number of years in corporate America watching the trick being used. I even became quite good at it myself. Those with a minimal amount of experience soon learned to disregard the ploy. One waited for the train to run off the tracks to prove one’s point. It is far more difficult to lift the train back on the tracks after it has run off rather than steer it in the right direction in the first place. Sometimes the fools who often wield power will have it no other way.

When it comes to events such as the Iraq War, the stakes grow higher. One should be on one’s guard against this trick, and play a little smack down with it. During persuasion and negotiation, half way is about actions and consequences. Politeness is often the biggest subterfuge of all.

What Part of No

The notion that I would give up my Fourth Amendment rights because some President, with whom I do not particularly admire, respect, or agree, has a super secret process to protect those rights for me is ludicrous and absurd on its face.

What part of no is so very difficult to understand? This ain't partisan politics either.

A Little Treason

Treason has been front page news for several years. The sad and lamentable fact is that the general notion of treason and its Constitutional standing is mistakenly bound up with partisan politics. Article 3, Section 3a of the Constitution of the United States defines treason this way:
Definition of Treason. Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

The Constitution also has much to say about the due process of law and the rights of citizens charged with treason. See the following article and amendments:

* Article 3, Section 2c
* Amendment 5
* Amendment 6
* Amendment 8

There are no Congressional statutes that even come close to overriding the Constitution when it comes to treason.

The detention of a U. S. citizen considered treasonous, yet held without charges of treason being laid against him, and without the due process of law as guaranteed in the Constitution is illegal.

Accuse me of ignorance and stupidity, but if you accuse me of partisan politics in this matter, then go to Hell.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Dr. Gaius Baltar

My favorite character on Battlestar Galactica is Dr. Gaius Baltar. He is a brilliant scientist who becomes Vice President. He is guilty of helping the Cylons attack the United Colonies. He loves, and is often controlled by, Number 6, an incorporeal woman, who is a product of his mind. He is also in love with Number 6's corporeal Cylon duplicate.

He suffers constantly from moral dilemmas and conundrums arising from his love for the Number 6's and his duty to help save the United Colony fleet from the Cylons. He is as prone to do the wrong thing as he is to do the right thing.

He is highly unpredictable.

Three Styles

Writing my blog everyday tugs me between three different styles: writing an essay, jotting a note on the back of an envelope or postcard, or dashing off a letter.

This Week's Picks

It seems like only yesterday when I started wagering on the current football season, and possessed dreams of achieving fame and glory by beating the system. Now, my hopes have vanished. Still, I must fight the good fight, soldier on, and play my string out to the end. Wagering on football games is akin to being one of the outlaws in the movie The Wild Bunch. One dies with guns blazing to fulfill a code of honor. I romanticize.

This week's picks:

* Denver -3.5 home vs. Pittsburgh
* Carolina +3.5 away vs. Seattle.

A Fool's Errand

Tocqueville said this about the creation of the United States Constitution.

But that which is new in the history of societies is to see a great people, warned by its lawgivers that the wheels of government are stopping, turn its attention on itself without haste or fear, sound the depth of the ill, and then wait for two years to find the remedy at leisure, and then finally, when the remedy has been indicated, submit to it voluntarily without its costing humanity a single tear or drop of blood.

Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville

Tocqueville did not say this merely because it is a fact. He said it because it is an important fact.

Countries who wish to export democracy and freedom should meditate on his words and plumb their meaning.

Otherwise, they may be embarking on a fool’s errand.

My home is a library

I live in a library I have created for myself. My library contains books for thinking, books that must be read multiple times, books whose ideas and arguments with which I substantially disagree, books for entertaining me, books for appreciating the author’s style, and books satisfying an odd curiosity born on the spur of the moment.

My home is a library. I wish I was a scholar.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The hardcore leftist professors at UCLA

The rating of left leaning professors at UCLA by UCLAprofs.com is getting some attention in Blogland today. Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber has the best take on it yet. See Radical Professors Exposed, Woo.

But apart from the fist innovation, UCLAprofs.com is pretty badly written, poorly designed and completely fails to hit its target, as most of the “radical causes” it cites (disapproval with President Bush, opposition to the war in Iraq) are in fact at present majority positions in the United States.

Real wages down for second year in a row

Real wage earnings for most Americans declined for the second year in a row. See the Economic Policy Institute's Wages down for second full year.

Real wage earnings for 80% of Americans remain at their 2001 level despite a 13.5% increase in labor productivity over that period.

You don't have to scratch too far below the surface to see the failure of the Bush economic recovery.

Why maths has no TOEs

+plus magazine has an interesting article by Gregory Chaitin, Omega and why maths has no TOEs. +plus magazine is a delightful magazine dedicated to mathematics. You don't need to be a mathematician to read and enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Dilemma and Work of the Social Libertarian

Can one be a political libertarian and on the far left when it comes to social and economic issues? That is dilemma some suffer from and try to resolve. Political libertarianism puts one in the conservative camp. Social and economic ideals put one in the socialist camp. These individuals, call them Social Libertarians, are admittedly a small and marginalized group in modern American politics. Social Libertarianism spans the divisions in American politics between conservatives, liberals, and socialists. Democrat vs. Republican categories work even less well for the Social Libertarian than it does for other brands of political belief.

Social Libertarians can resolve philosophical issues by going back to the ideas and ideals contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Preamble to the Constitution.

A necessary first step is to recognize that the establishment of a republic in America was a first step toward achieving the ideals expressed in those documents and not the completion of those ideals. America has much to do before arriving at the end of the journey toward these ideals. Some have considered them utopian in the sense they cannot be achieved. They have been the unwitting enemy of democracy because democracy is itself an American ideal that has yet to be reached.

Another essential step for the Social Libertarian is to interpret the Preamble’s “promote the general welfare” clause as speaking to economic rights and equality. A narrow category of property rights has always been taken seriously by Americans. The labor of the citizen has not enjoyed the same reverence. Yet a citizen’s labor is the single most important asset she has. Few arrive at the happy state where they have gained great estates that allow them to disregard their labor asset.

Another essential step is the identification of an economic bill of rights and its inclusion in the Constitution. Attempts have been made at identifying economic bills of rights. Marx takes a shot at it in the Communist Manifesto. Franklin Roosevelt took a shot at it too during the Depression. Their lists agree in some particulars.

Leftist social ideals are sterile without economic rights.

Beyond a well thought out philosophical position, Social Libertarians require a manifesto that elucidates the ideas, ideals, and the goals of a new political party that represents their interests and beliefs. The state of modern America raises the question of whether Social Libertarians can wait for a fully articulated philosophy or whether they should immediately create a manifesto and form a political party. The manifesto should be the priority. A Social Libertarian party will not gain strength and political influence without a manifesto that draws attention to the rightness of its cause.

Ideals are always finish lines at the end of a long hard road. Social Libertarians have the duty as citizens to travel the arduous road toward their ideals. America needs and requires the work and commitment of Social Libertarians to achieve its ideals, for they are one and the same.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Many people are smarter than me. I respect and admire them.

Why do I rebel against their judgment?

The world is dangerous. I must stand guard.

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Oregon Death with Dignity Act

The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Oregon Death with Dignity Act allows for some interesting reflections on the pursuit of happiness that lie outside the narrow legal boundaries and discussion of the case. A Reuters news story summarizes the case.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration cannot stop doctors from helping terminally ill patients end their lives under the nation's only physician-assisted suicide law, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

In a stinging defeat for the administration, the high court ruled on a 6-3 vote that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001 impermissibly interpreted federal law to bar distribution of controlled drugs to assist suicides, regardless of the Oregon law authorizing it.

The justices upheld a U.S. appeals court ruling that Ashcroft's directive was unlawful and unenforceable, and that he had overstepped his authority.

The Oregon law, called the Death with Dignity Act, was twice approved by the state's voters. The only state law in the nation allowing physician-assisted suicide, it has been used by more than 200 people since it took effect in 1997.

Under Oregon law, terminally ill patients must get a certification from two doctors stating they are of sound mind and have less than six months to live. A prescription for lethal drugs is then written by the doctor, and the patients administer the drugs themselves.

Ashcroft's directive declared that assisting suicide was not a legitimate medical purpose under the Controlled Substances Act and that prescribing federally controlled drugs for that purpose was against the federal law.

The directive threatened to revoke prescription-writing licenses for physicians and pharmacists who filled orders for life-ending drugs.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the federal drug law does not allow the attorney general to prohibit doctors from prescribing regulated drugs for use in physician-assisted suicide under state law permitting the procedure.


The court's most conservative members -- Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and new Chief Justice John Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush-- dissented.

Ashcroft reversed the policy adopted by his predecessor, Attorney General during the Clinton administration. Conservative lawmakers and groups had opposed Reno's decision.

The closely watched case pitted the federal government's power to interpret and enforce the nation's drug laws versus the traditional authority of a state to regulate doctors and the practice of medicine.

Bush administration attorneys argued that federal drug law trumped the Oregon law on the issue of whether doctors may prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients.

But Kennedy, joined by another moderate conservative, retiring Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, and the court's four most liberal members, rejected the government's arguments.

He said the administration maintained that the law delegated to a single officer in the executive branch "the power to effect a radical shift of authority from the states to the federal government to define general standards of medical practice in every locality."

Kennedy concluded in the 28-page opinion that the text of the federal law shows that "Congress did not have this far-reaching intent to alter the federal-state balance."

Oregon had argued that Congress did not authorize Ashcroft to overrule a state's decision about specific medical uses of controlled substances.

As a parenthetical aside, if Judge Alito had been on the Court instead of Justice O’Connor, the vote would have been 5-4.

Now let’s move onto broader pursuit of happiness issues discussed in the Declaration of Independence and necessary to understanding the Preamble to the Constitution.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness …

The Declaration of Independence

Happiness can be understand in a psychological sense and an ethical sense. The psychological sense of happiness means the satisfaction of a desire whether it be a right desire that is good for an individual or not. Ethical happiness can be understood in an Aristotelian sense.

Ethical happiness is the sum total of a life well lived and filled with all the goods of life. Happiness is the fulfillment of all those desires that are truly good for us. As such it is a final end that cannot be measured until the life of the individual is complete and a reckoning can be made of it. Ethical happiness is an ultimate end and not a means to other ends. Ethical happiness is also an activity which everyone has a right to pursue those things that constitute a good and well lived life.

Part of the strength of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution is that they are living documents whose ideas and ideals have expanded as American citizens have become more enlightened about those ideas and ideals. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act is another step toward the ideals expressed in these documents.

When an individual has lived his life to its end and faces the prospect of six months of physical and psychological pain, he has the right to end that life should he choose. Ethical happiness gives a person the right to calculate whether an additional few months lived under abhorrent conditions will add to or subtract from her ethical happiness as understood in the classical sense, and to make her own decision to die if she calculates that a few additional months of life subtracts from that happiness.

Let us not be confused by the narrowness of the Supreme Court’s decision or the Bush Administration’s attempt to deny the right to pursue happiness. Whether the Bush Administration is intentionally denying this right or merely misunderstands the Constitution's guarantee of the right to pursue happiness does not matter. Ignorance must be opposed as vigorously as malice. The right of an individual to pursue their happiness is absolutely basic to the Constitution. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act merely reinforces and facilitates a citizen’s right to pursue their happiness in an enlightened ethical sense even to the end of his days.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Vice President Al Gore at Liberty Hall

I just watched former Vice President Al Gore's speech which was televised on C-Span from Liberty Hall. The title at the bottom of the TV screen called the speech Bush Policies on Domestic Surveillance. It was more than a rebuke to the President about surveillance issues although he had plenty to say on that score.

Vice President Gore rebuked both Democratic and Republican parties for the careless and criminal way they approach elections and accountability.

Vice President Gore also rebuked the Supreme Court and the Congress for allowing the erosion of their Constitutional powers and forsaking their duty to exercise those powers under the Constitution and for the American people.

A key point came towards the end of his speech was when he rebuked American citizens, the sovereigns of the nation, for abdicating their responsibilities to hold their government accountable for abuses to the Constitution.

There was much more in his speech.

I found his concerns, accusations, and reading of the Constitution amenable to some of my basic concerns and accusations of which the domestic surveillance issue has become a lightning rod.

Actually, I was excited by his speech if you want to know the truth of my reaction. I hope the media gives it some attention, for it surely is a cut above what passes for political speechifying in this country no matter how far one feels it fell short of the mark.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hook 'Em Bears!

It was sad to see the Bears lose today, but they had a heck of a season. After the first month it appeared they were going nowhere. Then they won a lot of games and made it to the playoffs. That was exciting and a lot of fun.

The Bears featuring a young defensive unit, the best in the NFL, will most likely be a force next year.

Hook 'Em Bears!

Sunday Football Blogging: Final Edition

The Panthers beat the Bears 29-21. I had the Panthers and 3 points. For you kids keeping score at home that means I win.

I won 3 and lost 1 against the spread this weekend. That leaves my season totals at 19 wins, 18 losses, and 2 ties against the spread. I have won 1 and lost none against the moneyline.

I am ahead by 1.5 wagers for the season with 3 games to go. I can definitely live with that.

Sunday Afternoon Football Blogging: First Edition

The Steelers upset the Colts 21-18. I had 9.5 points and the Steelers. For all you kids scoring at home that means I win again.

I have the Panthers and 3 points against the Bears. I know what you're thinking. How can I live in Chicago and bet against the Bears? I am not betting against the Bears. I am merely predicting they will win by 1 or 2 points.

Plus, I am a mercenary bastard.

Iran: the Conservatives' Recalcitrant Child

War fever is growing hotter again. Conservatives have called for the bombing of Iran because of Iran’s recent recalcitrance in negotiations over giving up their plans to build a nuclear program. The conservative mind latches onto to the immediate start of hostilities as the solution when crises such as these arise. The issue of Iran’s nuclear program raises two sorts of questions. How does one resolve the Iran nuclear program issue? Why do conservatives and liberals (anybody to the left of conservatives in this case) arrive at different recommendations on the matter. A Lakoffian view of the questions sheds some light on the conservative call to arms.

Iran, from a conservative view, is part of an axis of evil whose charter members included Iraq, North Korea, and Iran. Conservatives arrive at this view by thinking of international relations as a family of nations with the United States as the father at its head who instructs, guides, holds ultimate moral authority, and punishes those nations who do not subscribe or obey the father’s moral authority and command. A corollary to this is viewing any nation such as Iran and North Korea as recalcitrant children in the world family who must be punished for not obeying the moral authority of the father, the United States.

Seen in this light the conservative call for hostilities seems unsurprising and a natural result of their world view and the metaphor on which it is based. The problem is that the conservative metaphor for international relations is not apt and breaks down when it comes to cases as to what is possible when dealing with countries who do not subscribe to U. S. moral authority and command.

North Korea possesses a sophisticated nuclear armament. If North Korea is a recalcitrant child, then it is a grown child with a mind of its own. Hostilities against North Korea guarantee North Korean reprisals against South Korea with deaths numbering in the millions. The moral authority of the United States and President Bush means nothing to North Korea.

That is why the Bush Administration has been impotent in creating any policy or program to deal with North Korean recalcitrance. The desire is to take the child out to the woodshed and apply the rod to his backside. The problem is that the child is fully grown, has some muscle, and will not to go to the woodshed.

The case of Iran presents the same issues as North Korea. Iran sits atop large oil supplies needed by large capitalist economies, influences certain Islamic world views far beyond its borders, has enough resources to further destabilize the middle east, and most likely isn’t as stupid as some conservatives hope. For instance, Iran is not hiding their nuclear program in plain sight. Dreams of a simple surgical strike against Iran to resolve the nuclear issue are merely wishful thinking.

The conservative position is that is why somebody must strike now while the Iran nuclear program is in its nascent stages. The hope is that Iran will be duly chastised and return home like a dutiful child.

One of the benefits of the Iraq War was supposed to be the liberalization of countries such as Iraq. The opposite has happened. Iran shifted dramatically in the other direction with the election of an ultra-conservative President who is more than willing to confront the U. S. and Europe. The expectation that bombing Iran would somehow not accelerate the process begun by that election seems another idle hope.

Any strike at Iran will force Iran to renew its efforts to create a nuclear capability with more vigor. The only way to prevent that will be to shut off the international resources who are more than willing to supply Iran with material for its nuclear program at the appropriate cash value. Iran has oil which means lots of cash. What gets lost in the Iran discussion is that the United States has no policy or program to shut off those resources.

Conservative war fever will continue to grow hotter because of the conservative world view. The Bush Administration has been eerily silent for the most part about the matter. Calling for the issue to be taken to the U. N. Security Council is a very tame tactic for the Bush Administration. The immediate response seems to mirror that of the U. S. policy towards North Korea. Could it be that the Bush Administration secretly knows, like others of a more prudent temperament, that bombing Iran merely takes the confrontation to a new level rather than in a new direction?

Will the conservative war faction force the same reaction from President Bush as the social conservative faction thrust upon him in the Alito nomination for the Supreme Court?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Saturday Night Football Blogging: Final Edition

The Broncos beat the Patriots 27-13. I had the Broncos and gave away 3 points. For you kids scoring at home that means I win. Thus, at the end of the day I am back to even.

Tomorrow presents the opportunity to win two football wagers. But I won't be thinking about that until game time. I will be spending the rest of the evening thinking great thoughts, and wondering why I decided to drink four cups of coffee after sunset.

Saturday Night Football Blogging

Seahawks win 20-10 over the Redskins. I had the Skins and 9.5 points. Ouch!

There is no crying in football wagering. Temper tantrums are allowed.

A Slight Recollection of Poverty

I lived in poverty during some of my childhood years. Here is what I mean by poverty. My family was either partially dependent or wholly dependent on outside help for food. I had one change of shabby clothing that needed to be washed every night until the clothing fell apart. My family often lived in dwellings smaller than a small suite at a modern hotel. Doctors were only for dire emergencies. I won’t labor more on defining the boundaries and or parameters of the condition.

I won’t talk about the other things such as how and why the condition would periodically come about. It is possible to be poor and consider oneself fortunate when bad events are scarce and not the everyday norm.

I was fortunate that I escaped poverty. I was born with above average intelligence, good health, and developed a strong body. After I graduated from high school I lived on modest means. The Marine Corps took care of me. I lived frugally while attending college.

I have a spotty work ethic, but I worked hard when I was motivated or inspired. I sometimes aggressively pursued promotions and recognition during my career to the exclusion of all other values and interests.

I have also been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. Being a white male helped my chances.

I would mostly say my good fortune has rested with those people who cared for me and sacrificed for me, those who saw potential and something good in me even when I was at my worst, those who sponsored me and gave me opportunities even though they knew they were taking a chance by doing so, and those who befriended me even when I was not deserving.

I don’t recall accurately what it felt like to live in poverty as a child. My strong suit is forgetting, denying, escaping, and avoiding. I am a terrible memoirist when it comes to describing unpleasant things.

Whatever feelings or emotions I have about that time long ago are seldom relevant to my conscious life today. I have no access to the unconscious feelings that reside within me.

There is nothing like success to make one forget about one’s humble origins and travails. That is a sin. The only thing I have to say in my defense is some things are not any fun to remember.

I was watching the news last night. There was a story about two older black women, sisters, who lost their home during the Katrina flood. They live in one room without appliances in a hotel. They wait each month for the government to inform them how much longer they can live there.

I guess that is why I am remembering some things I have spent a lifetime trying to forget.

Friday, January 13, 2006

This Week's Football Wagers

After meticulous analysis, here they are.

* Washington +9.5 away vs. Seattle
* Denver -3 home vs. New England
* Pittsburgh +9.5 away vs. Indianapolis
* Caroline +3 away vs. Chicago

With only 3 weekends and 7 games left in the pro football season, this is make or break weekend for me. This week I made my choices strictly by the season numbers.

Things Are OK

L. Paul Bremer III, the former director of the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the author of My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope has an op-ed piece, In Iraq, Wrongs Made a Right, in the NYT today. He concludes:
There is, of course, still much to be done. American troops and Iraqis continue to die battling criminal elements of the Saddam Hussein regime and Qaeda terrorists. President Bush has correctly identified Iraq as the central front in the war on terrorism, as Osama bin Laden himself acknowledged when he told his followers "the third world war has begun in Iraq" and that it would "end there in victory and glory, or misery and humiliation."

Despite these enormous stakes, some Americans have called for setting a timetable for our withdrawal or even pulling out now. This would be a historic mistake: a betrayal of the sacrifices Americans and Iraqis have made; a victory of the terrorists everywhere; and step toward a more dangerous world.
Did he submit his copy to the paper on White House stationary? Sigh.

Impeach President Bush?

Yes, let's do it.

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman calls for the impeachment of President Bush in her article of January 11, The Impeachment of George W. Bush, published in The Nation.
Finally, it has started. People have begun to speak of impeaching President George W. Bush--not in hushed whispers but openly, in newspapers, on the Internet, in ordinary conversations and even in Congress. As a former member of Congress who sat on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon, I believe they are right to do so.

I can still remember the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach during those proceedings, when it became clear that the President had so systematically abused the powers of the presidency and so threatened the rule of law that he had to be removed from office. As a Democrat who opposed many of President Nixon's policies, I still found voting for his impeachment to be one of the most sobering and unpleasant tasks I ever had to undertake. None of the members of the committee took pleasure in voting for impeachment; after all, Democrat or Republican, Nixon was still our President.

At the time, I hoped that our committee's work would send a strong signal to future Presidents that they had to obey the rule of law. I was wrong.

Holtzman presents her case by citing warrantless wiretaps, subverting democracy by willfully misleading the public about the Iraq War, torture, and other abuses of power. These are all issues that have been discussed in public forums. Holtzman's position does not stake out any new or radical position in that regard. Even some members of Congress are scratching their heads and wondering if they should do something about the issues.

The most recent bar for impeachment of a President was set when President Clinton lied to a grand jury about having sex with a White House intern. Abuse of power and felonies committed by a President seem well within the scope of impeachment hearings after the Clinton episode. The engaged and committed citizen should not be embarrassed by calling for full disclosure about abuses and impeachment of President Bush if the evidence warrants it.

A very vocal group claims that warrantless wiretaps do not matter because it is only the bad guys who are being tapped. Nobody knows who has been tapped and who hasn't. That dog won't hunt for the moment. The real point of the matter is whether the President has the power to do it, or has he illegally violated the rights of American citizens, abused his power, and committed felonies.

The same can be said of the other issues. The President is on record that he will continue to do whatever he wants regarding these issues. He needs to be taken at his word and taken to account.

One can arrive at an impeach President Bush perspective from many different philosophical viewpoints without being rabidly partisan about it. There is a Constitution and laws that stake out positions on these issues. Some don't care about that. They will assert that it is the bad guys who are in jeopardy from abuses of power. The problem with that argument is that the law already clearly spells out what the rights of citizens are whether they are suspected bad guys or not. Who has given up these rights before the fact? None. Some may want to give up their rights after the fact on the basis of a weakly argued war powers explanation. They are welcome to do it. That does not mean anyone who disagrees with their position must do the same. The Constitution and the law guarantees certain rights to all the citizens. The President is sworn to uphold those laws and rights.

The Congress won't thoroughly investigate and impeach President Bush of their own volition. The next big issue is how to cajole and pressure them into it.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Parent Trap

I watched the 1961 version of the Parent Trap this evening. I first saw it 1961 when it came out. I was thirteen and had the most terrible crush on Haley Mills who plays the twins in the movie. I was so dazed and confused.

I appreciated watching it again. The love story holds up after all these years. Brian Kieth, Mareen O'Hara, and the supporting cast are all good. When did Mareen O'Hara make a bad movie? Never.

You have to do stuff, every now and then, like get a chocolate shake at the diner and watch a movie that you enjoyed long ago.


I joined the Marine Corps shortly after I graduated from high school. I did not do it from conviction or strong desire to be a Marine. I wanted to settle my future for four years. I certainly accomplished my objective.

Some days I envy the reckless impulsiveness of my youth if only to settle my future for a bit.

The Economic Costs of the Iraq War - version 2

I was drinking a chocolate shake at Johnny Rocket's and rethought this post. I have made some amendments.

Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have an interesting paper, The Economic Costs of the Iraq War, posted on the Internet. Their conservative estimate is one trillion dollars. Their moderate estimate is 1.9 trillion dollars. Within their estimates they factor in human costs such as health care for veterans and survivors benefits.

William D. Nordhaus published a very good cost estimate before the war that estimated it at one trillion dollars if everything did not go as planned, or more accurately, hoped for. I was surprised at how little attention the paper got.

Putting an economic cost on war might seem a brutal way to look at it. It should be done everytime people deliberate on starting a war. There is something very sobering about putting a price on a human life. I wonder how many Americans would have supported the war if they had known that it would take an unspecified amount of time and at least trillion dollars or more.

It seems as though the unrealistic hope is always that the troops will be home by Christmas when war starts. It is rarely the case that they are.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Murakami-like universe

My reading glasses keep disappearing as I have mentioned before. I lost my last pair of reading glasses about a week ago. I bought some new ones. Then my old reading glasses reappeared in a place I had searched twice.

I lost my new reading glasses. They have reappeared but one of the lenses is missing.

My reading glasses keep straying into some Murakami-like universe until they decide to return home. It seems as though their lenses now have a mind of their own too.

Almost Forgot

I won 1 and lost 1 against the spread this past weekend. That leaves my season totals at 16 wins, 17 losses, and 2 ties against the spread. I have won 1 and lost 0 against the moneyline.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Geezer Meditates on Folly

One reaches an age when one realizes some things are no longer possible.

For instance, I know that I will never get to the next level of understanding the Riemann Hypothesis. It makes me a little sad.

Old age, despite its burdens, is supposed to be the age of wisdom. I don't agree with that. If you are not wise before you reach old age, then you never will be.

Yet when I wake in the morning and see the world in its infinite possibilities, I get this elusive feeling I might still grab one of those possibilities.

Folly may have followed me through all my life.

A Cold Rain

A cold rain is falling tonight in Chicago. I love it. It could be worse. Snow and frigid temperatures as an example.

The Alito Confirmation Hearings

The Alito confirmation hearings, at least from the Republican standpoint, is about abortion and overturning Roe vs. Wade. Secondly, it is about killing any remaining economic rights citizens may have. Thirdly, its about the right of the Supreme Court to overturn any law that does not square with the conservative sentiment prevailing at the time.

Yawn. Sigh.

Let's face it though. Any of us to the left of the ultra-conservative Senate Judiciary Committee are too stupid to win elections.

The truth really sucks.

Blue Agave and Political Thought

Once a week I go to Blue Agave for lunch. I take a book or the newspaper with me to occupy my mind, such as it is, while I drink three rather good and tall margaritas and eat some rather ordinary Mexican food.

Blue Agave, by the way, advertises they have every brand of tequila distilled in Agave, Mexico. You have to like that even if you are not an aficionado of tequila. The option is always there should you decide to broaden your horizons.

I took Tocqueville's Democracy in America with me to read today. I think I mentioned during the holidays that I was about to undertake a structured rereading of the canon of western political thought and continue many steps beyond. My intent was to take things in historical sequence, but, being the disorganized soul I am, I started reading Democracy in America first.

I won't try to justify amending my plan by starting with Tocqueville. I read Marx last year as a preliminary to the project. That hardly fits either.

The idea is to put everything to skeptical Cartesian doubt. Nothing will be beyond doubt, censure, or approbation. That is, at least as it is within my powers to overcome my prejudices, stupidity, vanity, and isolation.

This project captured my imagination five years ago. The sheer messiness of my life and my natural indolence has prevented me from pursuing it.

My intuition leads me to think Tocqueville was the good choice with which to begin. It will be a long time before I know whether the intuition is justified.

A Political Story

Lynn was born in Iraq. He moved to the United States and became a naturalized citizen. Lynn still maintains strong ties with his family in Iraq. He calls his parents and siblings as frequently as practicable.

One day Lynn is reading the newspaper in a coffee shop nearby where he lives. He learns that the government is collecting surveillance on phone calls by U. S. citizens to Iraq. All the miracles of modern information technology have been used to scrape and mine this information from phones, telecommunication switches, and the Internet.

Lynn becomes concerned. He knows the stories about those people who are considered enemy combatants and how they have no rights under U. S. law whether they be U. S. citizens or not. He decides to investigate the matter on his own.

He soon realizes that he has no chance of gaining information about himself because of the power and secrecy of the agencies who monitor and control the surveillance programs. He decides to sue the U. S. government to find out whether the NSA has been gathering information on him. He finds adequate legal counsel who are interested in taking his case.

Lynn’s suit bubbles up through the various courts in the land until it reaches the Supreme Court. By the time it reaches the court, it becomes apparent that Lynn’s private communications have been monitored by the NSA without legal warrant or probable cause.

Lynn’s legal counsel claims that his fourth amendment rights have been violated. The Attorney General of the United States claims they have not been violated.

Lynn’s case is at the center of a huge national Constitutional and political debate. The Congress and President have battled over the issue. The controversy has been at the center of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justices. The nation’s most reputable and learned legal scholars have publicly debated the issue. All of the news media have shown their spotlights on surveillance issues.

The Supreme Court rules on the case. Supply your own ruling. The law of the land is what the Supreme Court says it is. Game, set, match over.

The day after the decision, Lynn is watching C-Span. The Senate is holding hearings on a prospective Supreme Court judge. An unctuous Senator implores his colleagues not to play politics with the hearings and the nomination.

Lynn thinks, “don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining, Senator. It's all politics from top to bottom, side to side, front to back, across all time.”

The blunt truth

A person who knows me about as well as anybody once told me that if I was not so hard on myself, I would not be so hard on everyone else. I was startled by her bluntness and the truth of what she said.

Much to my detriment and lament it did not change anything. I could have spent many more happy days in my life if I had been a little easier on myself.

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Bush economic recovery

Annotated Life has a good article that analyzes the latest labor statistics from the December BLS report. See Latest Jobs Figures, And Reality.

The so called Bush recovery does not look good when compared against other recoveries.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sweet Dreams

I tried to watch football and read this afternoon. I mostly dozed instead. Each time I nodded off I had a sweeter and more vivid dream. The last dream was populated with large numbers of people and places spanning a 40 year period. It was filled with a collage of people I knew well or only knew by sight and reputation. Most of them were women, but none of the dream was erotic. I should write down the details of the dream before they escape me. I don't feel the need. Most of my life is a waking dream and suffices for detail and absurdity.

As I look out the window I see that Video Schmideo, the hole-in-the-wall video store on State Street, is closed with its windows papered over. The pleasant memories of my dreams are replaced by a slight sadness and nostalgia.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


Mary McDonnell plays President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica.

That is so nice.

Questions of character and political philosophy

Edward D. Mansfield and Jack Snyder have a good article, Prone to Violence, in The National Interest. Article via Arts & Letters Daily.

THE BUSH Administration has argued that promoting democracy in the Islamic world, rogue states and China will enhance America's security, because tyranny breeds violence and democracies co-exist peacefully. But recent experience in Iraq and elsewhere reveals that the early stages of transitions to electoral politics have often been rife with violence.

These episodes are not just a speed bump on the road to the democratic peace. Instead, they reflect a fundamental problem with the Bush Administration's strategy of forced-pace democratization in countries that lack the political institutions needed to manage political competition. Without a coherent state grounded in a consensus on which citizens will exercise self-determination, unfettered electoral politics often gives rise to nationalism and violence at home and abroad.

Absent these preconditions, democracy is deformed, and transitions toward democracy revert to autocracy or generate chaos. Pushing countries too soon into competitive electoral politics not only risks stoking war, sectarianism and terrorism, but it also makes the future consolidation of democracy more difficult.

This sort of instability was predicted before the war. The ability and willingness to reflect upon history is not one of President Bush's strong suits. The article leads one to reflect on broader issues related to the Bush Administration's ability to perform theoretical analysis and exercise practical reason.

Plato and Aristotle linked qestions of character and virtue with those of justice and the just state. That mode of inquiry has fallen out of favor in modern in political philosophy even though the characters of leaders are much discussed in the everyday political arena. There are interesting questions in this area though.

Does the current conservative ideology promote leaders such as President Bush? One must first inquire into what conservatism amounts to in 2005. The Bush Administration has shredded most of the ideas of traditional conservatism: protection of the Constitution, fiscal restraint, smaller government, prudence in the conduct of international relations, promotion of fair competition and trade, and an enlightened interpretation of Christianity.

It is difficult to determine what is left over after that. Let's call it a me-first attitude in all matters. If President Bush wants it, then he feels it within his right to take it regardless of consequences and accountability. Egoism at it its most elementary.

The Cult of President Bush does not mind. Conservatives keep hoping the coalition will survive the hubris and mistakes so that the Conservative Revolution will live to fight another day. Others to left of that group can't help but comment on the character and virtue of the man. It is just too easy to point out his cynical and hypocritical morals and those of his cronies.

To the extent that the conservative cause has degenerated into a pure and pristine egoism, it appears that modern American Conservatism does and will continue to promote the kind of leadership traits we see in President Bush.

Questions of character and virtue do count in politcal philosophy even though we strive to mute the bad leader's most egoistic tendencies through democratic institutions with checks and balances. Remarking on the character flaws of leaders is relevant when discussing Presidents and members of Congress particularly when the characters of the leaders are served by subverting democratic institutions, laws, and adminstrative policies.

Friday, January 06, 2006

It was a good one

The first episode of Battlestar Galactica was good enough for me to reaffirm it as my favorite dramatic show on television.

All the metaphysical and political questions remain in the story line. The enigmatic Number 6 is still in the story too.

The Playoffs

This week's picks.

* Washington +2.5 away vs. Tampa Bay
* New York Giants -2.5 home vs. Carolina

Come on. Let's get lucky!

Thomas Paine

I was supposed to begin a more structured reading program this week. I have been dawdling over the writings of Thomas Paine instead. It would appear my intemperance extends to my reading habits too.

Thomas Paine was a radical proselytizer for liberal democracy, yet also part anarchist of both communitarian and libertarian stripes and spots. Despite that he also proposed radical social reforms and programs for the poor and the working class.

He was an influential and active participant in the American and French Revolutions. He went back to England with the intent of leading radical reform movements within that country.

He fought bitterly with the likes of Edmund Burke and was charged with seditious writing. Paine skipped the country before the trial, and returned to France. He was found guilty in absentia.

Paine died in 1809. He was buried in a field on his farm in New York. Only a small audience attended his burial.

William Cobbett disinterred Paine's body in 1819 and set sail for England with it in hopes to plant Paine's body in his native soil and erect a monument to Paine's greatness over it. The body was washed overboard during a storm at sea.


The new episodes of Battlestar Galactica start tonight at 9 Central time.

I am totally stoked. It is just a little after 4 in the morning, so I better keep a lid on it for a little while longer.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Maybe, this time

I spent another goodly amount of time this week trying to get my computer back in order. I think I got it right this time.

I'm growing weary of fixing things.

A question of justice

In Book II of Plato's Republic, Glaucon and Adiemantus challenge Socrates to defend Justice as an end in itself. They make two claims. No one would be just if they were not coerced. It is better to appear just, but be unjust.

The question of justice is related to questions about obeying the law. Everyone knows they can get into trouble if they disobey the law with impunity. Coercion is definitely part of the deal. However, some claim that it is unfair to others if people disobey the laws. Fairness might be the ultimate rationale for obeying the laws, but we are still left with questions about fairness and justice itself.

The President of the United States can just do stuff and worry about the legality of what he is doing later if someone calls him out on it. Glaucon and Adiemantus may have had it exactly right. It is better to be to be unjust especially if you can make yourself appear otherwise.

One of the nifty things I picked up at the Supreme Court bookstore in September of 1998 was a pocket edition of the Constitution. I like reading Constitutions and trying to make sense of political events in terms of how words and deeds often differ.

I find it very difficult to find any section in the Second Article that would excuse the President from violating existing legal statutes related to searches and seizures. Amendment IV seems rather explicit about the requirement for warrants and probable cause when conducting searches and seizures.

Let's hypothesize that a President wants to conduct illegal searches and seizures. We could appeal to his sense of fairness and justice. That might work. Socrates explain to us once again how justice is a virtue and an end in itself. Explain to us how no one ever willingly commits unjust acts if they know what justice is.

Or we could coerce him. We could impeach him and get him out of office. That assumes there is a legislative body with the backbone to get the ball rolling.

The situation might further be exacerbated when there is a prevailing culture of corruption, cronyism, and incompetence that includes all political parties and branches of government. Then what should the concerned citizen do? In my nifty little pamphlet containing the Constitution there is a copy of the Declaration of Independence. That document talks about revolution.

Revolution is disobeying the laws. It might be unfair and unjust to others to start a revolution. But what if the everybody is being unjust and the Constitution is merely a piece of paper for fools who do not know how to protect their rights? If I don’t protect my rights, who will do it for me? Certainly not a corrupt government.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Olden Times

Back in the old days things were not quite as easy as today. You couldn't wake up in the middle of the night, make some microwave popcorn, and watch a soccer match on TV.

On the other hand, people may have been so tired they did not have to worry about waking up in the middle of the night.

But if they did wake up in the middle of the night, I still assert their options were less.

Monday, January 02, 2006


The President seems the most ardent, vociferous, and chronic defender of the NSA’s current surveillance activities. The recent revelation that senior members of the Attorney General’s Office expressed doubt about the legality of some of these activities and counseled against them provides an interesting insight into what some people believe prudence to be.

There is an argument that goes like this. The President politely listened to folks who dissented from his view about his surveillance initiative. Therefore, he proceeds prudently when deciding policy issues.

What it demonstrates is the opposite. Once again policy makers and experts within the Administration were thwarted in their efforts by a core group of political operatives within the White House and the whim of the President. Listening to dissent and then muzzling it under the guise of national security prerogatives does not constitute prudence.

There is another other argument that goes like this. The President informed Congress of his actions. Therefore, he is proceeding prudently. However, what we find is a demonstration of the opposite case. Some of the members of Congress dissented, yet they were muzzled by national security concerns. That is not prudence.

Another argument goes like this. The President says the process is reviewed periodically. Therefore, the President is proceeding prudently. Reviewed by who? Can’t tell you. It’s a secret. What is the process? Can’t tell you. It’s a secret. What are the results? Can’t tell you. It’s a secret. Prudence has nothing to do with it.

Another argument goes like this. The President needs the power to do whatever he wants to protect the country from terrorist attack. Yet the powers of the President to start surveillance activities before receiving a court warrant has never been challenged. The existing powers of the President sometimes defy the imagination. This seems like another example of the President stamping his foot and throwing a tantrum as he did with the banning of torture. That isn’t prudence either.

Another argument goes like this. It’s just some chicken shit limousine liberals out to get the President who are causing all the trouble. Yes, like Republicans in Congress and Conservative members of the Courts. Intemperate speech will get you no where. It is not an argument let alone prudence.
Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining, Senator.

The Outlaw Josey Wales

Hook 'Em Hawkeyes: 2006 First Game

The Iowa Hawkeye football team plays the Florida Gators at 10 this morning in the Outback Bowl. Wake up, sleepy heads, and enjoy the game.

Football results

I should have stayed with plan "A" and not wagered at all this weekend. But there's no crying in football wagering.

Here's the results. I won 1 and lost 3 against the spread. That leaves my regular season totals at 15 wins, 16 losses, and 2 ties against the spread. I won 1 and lost 0 against the money line.

Through all the joy and heartbreak, I finished a miniscule amount down. I wish I could say I have been as lucky in love during my life.

The playoffs begin this weekend. This time I'm not going to be tossed from the saddle.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The New York Times Company Soon to be Known as the Two Edged Sword

The New York Times Company's fiscal year just ended. In a few short days we should see their financial reports for 2005. Until then, 2004 will have to do.

The New York Times is a diversified company with many media holdings, plus other holdings such as forest products. The NYT Co. had net earnings of $292.6 million on net sales of $3.3 billion. My calculator tells me that is a cool 8.9% net profit margin give or take a few tenths of a percent.

I know that the regular readers of State Street are hip, intelligent, and informed. I point out the numbers because occasionally someone from Sleepy Hollow, USA stops by and gets all confused about big time corporate America.

Lots of folks on the Left and the Right think the New York Times newspaper is a rag. Whatever. Far be it for me to argue the case for a multi-billion dollar corporation one way or the other. If they don't have the wherewithal to do that for themselves, then I would pronounce them all messed up.

The Bush Administration, having one piece of coal left over from 2005, decided to put it into the NYT Company's stocking for Christmas. They have started an investigation into the leaks that resulted in the recent NYT's domestic surveillance stories.

The New York Times Company has had over a year to get their legal act together for this eventuality. I'd almost bet they have a reserve set aside for legal fees.

The thing about it is that The New York Times Company is a publicly traded company with a shitload of stockholders and folks who own their debt instruments. They ain't John Doe who you can just whisk off to Cuba for the duration.

That creates problems such as trials and public information and other inconvenient time wasting activities.

Leak investigations are two edged swords. This could be way better than the Michael Jackson trial.

My early line is NYT as 1-2 favorites. I know what you are asking. Why am I giving Attorney General Gonzalez and President Bush that much credit?

Play Clean in 2006

My first act as a human being in 2006 was to wash two loads of laundry before sunrise. Don't laugh. It wasn't as easy as you think. I had to get dressed to go down to the laundry room. The early bird gets a washer and a dryer.

As we all know Germany will be hosting the World Cup Soccer tournament this Summer. Here are the current wagering favorites to win the whole shebang. We do it at State Street so you don't have to.

1) Brazil 3-1
2) Argentina 13-2
3) England 7-1
4) Germany 8-1
5) Holland 9-1
5) Italy 9-1
7) France 10-1
8) Spain 16-1
9) Portugal 20-1

I'm really liking Germany at 8-1 on their home soil. I'm tempted to put my futures wager on them today at those odds. They aren't going to get any longer. In the words of the immortal Gabby Hayes, "ya durn tootin'."

The USA is running at 80-1. They are going to be my long shot wager as the tournament gets nearer. Hook 'Em Yankees!

I'm planning on being real aggressive the rest of the day. I have not shaved in about five days, so I will try my hand at that to see if I still remember how to do it.

I have wagers on three football games this afternoon. I will tip a few and watch my money bounce around the football field.