Tuesday, October 31, 2006

After Chores

I spent the day doing chores rather than writing. That felt good; almost too good. Now, I have taken up The Poetry Anthology, a collection from the first ninety years of Poetry magazine. I have been idly flipping through it reading poems at random. The shock and jolt of each new poem is one of the delights of a good poetry anthology. You never quite know where you are going or what you are doing. A definite route and plan is not always the most important thing anyway on bright crisp autumn days.

I think I will read for a little longer, jot odd thoughts on the back of postcards, and dream of being in love.

It is Halloween. I will dress myself as a geezer who reads poetry.

Monday, October 30, 2006

A political conundrum

An interesting discussion at I cite has focused issues with the upcoming election for me.

The upcoming election is a conundrum for me. I am one of the people who would like to see the Democratic Party move leftward rather than remain Bush Cult Lite. I do not see that happening. I do not predict any change should the Democrats win Congress this time around.

Note: I am always tempted to substitute conservative for Bush Cult, but accuracy dictates otherwise. Old style conservatives are beginning to recognize that the Bush Cult has replaced their ideology with crony capitalism and crony Christianity. If you are not in the Bush Cult, then you are a leftist of some sort. Welcome to the club William F. Buckley.

Democratic politicians belong to an opportunist party. Whatever the current political climate dictates as prudent political message becomes the prevailing ideological message for them. All too often, they succumb to communicating Bush Cult Lite messages. Those messages have helped lead us to the Iraq debacle and other fine messes.

There are no alternative third party candidates for whom I can vote. Does compromising one’s vote completely compromise one’s ideals? I just do not know.

Saturday at the Movies

I spent Saturday night sitting in a rocking chair and watching three movies on Turner Class Movies: Ride the High Country with Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, The Westerner with Walter Brennan and Gary Cooper, and the original Scarface with Paul Muni.

Totally delicious. A movie orgy actually.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

State Street disappears from the election rolls

My voting place is next door to the building where I live. A list of registered voters is posted on the door. My name is no longer on it, which is odd since I have voted there many times. The thing that burns me is that I have to try to straighten it out for an election where the choices between candidates to vote for are few. It is like choosing between indolence, stupidity, corruption, or all of the above.

I have a feeling I will be entering a labyrinth next week to change this state of affairs. If you do not hear from me for a while, that is where I will be.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Fence

The President signed into law the fence between the United States and Mexico. At least, we think he did. His abuse of signing statements never makes it clear anymore exactly what the law is. Let’s leave that issue aside and move onto the next.

Congress has not yet funded the fence. That is supposed to happen when they return from the elections, or when some of them do.

Let us now speculate on and predict what will happen when the 12 billion dollars to build the fence starts sloshing through the Homeland Security contracting system. I predict scandal, corruption, and cost overruns that will make it one of the biggest boondoggles in US history. In fact, I would not be surprised if contractors hire, either legally or illegally, Mexican labor to build it.

It is no use applying the finer points of philosophy and political economy to the immigration issue. Things like the fence and its vast potential for corruption will always take center stage and nudge substantive debate aside.

A few folks will make a lot of money off it. Everybody else will lose money. The corruption issue will replace all the substantive issues. The world will continue in its orbit.

Please, watch your wallet.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Try eating some prunes, Mr. Secretary

If you enjoy chaos and confusion, then you cannot beat a Donald Rumsfeld press conference for sheer entertainment value. First, you get the sense he does not have a clue as to how to fix the Iraq debacle. The question and answer session takes you beyond clueless. I like the way he attacks the questioner and their motives as a first line defense on every question.

If someone asked him what he had for breakfast, he would first accuse the questioner of trying to put words in his mouth for political motives during a political season. Then he would ramble on for five minutes wondering what breakfast really was anyway.

I would like a chance at a question. Why are things so fucked up in Iraq, how do you plan to unfuck it, and have you tried eating prunes with your breakfast cereal? Inquiring minds like mine want to know.

Extreme Denial

Jonah Goldberg thinks Iraq was a worthy mistake (NRO via ALD), but we ought to stay anyway. I am tempted to quote and comment on this short op-ed piece in detail. I am sure many have already beaten me to the exercise. Instead, I recommend you read it and try to find all the false assertions contained in it. Here is a first clue:
Those who say that it’s not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it’s the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it’s also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.

However, Jonah has a plan: a third way.
According to the conventional script, if I’m not saying “bug out” of Iraq, I’m supposed to say “stay the course.” But there’s a third option, and, funnily enough, I found it in an old column of mine (journalistic taboos be damned!). I think we should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether U.S. troops should stay.

Polling suggests that they want us to go. But polling absent consequences is a form of protest. With accountability, minds may change and appreciation for the U.S. presence might grow.

OK, let’s wait until he completes that referendum. I hope he does not expect the troops to help him. Things are tough enough for them as it is. I hope he plans on spending his own money too.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Iraq, Hume, and Casual Humors

Gloomy reports about Iraq inundate us everyday. President Bush added his piece of gloom at a press conference this morning. He is definitely a beleaguered man. I do not doubt he suffers from his poor and failed decisions as to how to protect the US from terrorism, and the Iraq disaster in particular. That being said, the President needs to understand that presenting more sobering reports about Iraq shortly before election time rings hollow in several respects.

The Republican strategy for communicating about Iraq this election cycle has been entirely the same as in previous elections. Republican strategists announced this at the beginning of the campaign. The Bush Administration has tried to convince people that Iraq is the cornerstone in the war on terror and that we should, “stay the course, not cut, and run.” The poll numbers show this a failed political strategy. Now, these same political strategists are scrambling to convince the public that the Bush Administration has a nimble and flexible strategy to manage the Iraq occupation.

The news media has finally noticed that the number one issue this election is the Iraq occupation. The pictures and analyses coming from big media tell another story than that presented by the Bush Administration. Multiple enemies have the US troops in their crosshairs. The civilian death toll is about as horrendous as it gets. The Iraqi government and security forces are completely impotent to do anything resembling securing a cease-fire between bewildering arrays of militias. Thank you, big media, for finally running the Iraq story.

The question remains open as to how we really got ourselves into the Iraq disaster. I will hazard a clue as to part of it.

I was rereading David Hume’s excellent essay, That Politics may be Reduced to a Science, yesterday. Here is the first paragraph of Hume’s essay.
It is a question with several, whether there be any essential difference between one form of government and another and, whether every form may not become good or bad, according as it is well or ill administered? Were it once admitted, that all governments are alike, and that the only difference consists in the character and conduct of the governors, most political disputes would be at an end, and all Zeal for one constitution above another must be esteemed mere bigotry and folly. But, though a friend to moderation, I cannot forbear condemning this sentiment, and should be sorry to think, that human affairs admit of no greater stability, than what they receive from the casual humours and characters of particular men.

However, when I look back at the beginning of the Iraq invasion I recall a government and public that cast aside their constitution and institutions in deference to “the casual humour and character” of President Bush. The United States Senate, as they did during the Vietnam War, abdicated their war making responsibilities to a President. The far greater share of the American public deferred their judgment about a risky enterprise to the President. They did not bother to distinguish or discriminate between those who assaulted the World Trade Center and Saddam Hussein. Blank stares greeted any mention of civil war and sectarian violence, or costs in human lives and livelihood, as high probability consequences of the Iraq invasion.

Since the beginning of the Iraq invasion, a hard core Bush Cult has eschewed digesting any information contrary to their beliefs about Iraq or the infallibility of President Bush. Each day millions engage in apologetics either publicly or privately. This is merely a symptom though of what has happened.

People have radically broken with Constitutional principles, laws, checks and balances, and prudent public policy decisions. The fear factor has been part of it, but indolent gullibility has played the greater part in the breakdown in the institutions that should serve us better. I recall the lyric from the Alan Jackson song about 9/11: I’m not sure if I know the difference between Iraq and Iran. Yes, I have taken that out of context, but it does reflect a casual disregard and laziness about whom your enemies really are. That laziness persists to this day.

The polls show that more people have changed their minds about Iraq. The question is whether the real lesson has sunk in. Presidents are not music or movie stars. I recall the famous line delivered by J. R. Ewing in the Dallas TV show: once you give up your principles, everything else is easy. I would also add that once you give up your principles to follow the casual humor and character of a leader, you had better hope he wakes up on the right side of the bed each morning, and has his head and ass wired together before going to work.

The United States is a country where tough talk comes cheap. Support the troops is an idle phrase when you read the horror stories about how we treat the troops when their tours of duty are completed. The homeless person you see on the street just might be the man or woman you stuck the yellow ribbon on your SUV to support. Lamentably, much of this talk comes from our elected officials.

I know I will never vote for a candidate who supported the Iraq debacle, and has not made a true act of contrition to make up for it. A true act of contrition might be something like restoring the principles and institutions that serve the country well in many cases, proving that they know how to govern prudently in times of crisis, and accounting for their bad decisions.

Until then, and as far as their casual humors and characters go, they all look damned ugly to me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cheap and frivolous entertainment

We find our delights in odd places and about matters that are vain or of little consequence. Such is the delight in watching the Republicans scramble to find an appropriate message on Iraq. They will no longer mention, “stay the course,” between now and election time.

At my local bar, the Iraq occupation has had an odd history. First, it went from a topic exciting the passions either for or against it. Then it was something not mentioned in polite society. Now, people discuss it openly, and people never venture kind words about how it is going. It warms my heart each time I hear someone dump on the Iraq situation. The more I hear it, the more I hope a majority of the people will finally hold the Bush Administration and Congress accountable for the disaster and its resolution.

Along with the change in attitudes about Iraq, I am also enjoying the prospect of the outside chance that the Democrats might win back one or more houses of Congress. This enjoyment does not arise from any belief that the Democrats will change things. Their complicity in bringing public affairs to a low estate does not allow any confidence in their abilities to put things right. However, watching those in power negotiate a precarious position does provide fun despite its being cheap and frivolous entertainment that will soon pass when Congress returns to conducting business as usual.

Despite my gloomy attitude about American politics in general, it would help if a few people such as Senator Santorum no longer graced the Senate.

Thinking about an illusion while staring out a Starbuck's window on an autumn day

About a week ago, I was drinking a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s early in the afternoon. I stared out the window idly thinking about Reason while an unending line of folks walked by the window and distracted me. People watching I guess people call it.

I wondered if my notion that I possess an effective reasoning power was an illusion. I certainly do not arrive at my initial conclusions about most things by using logical arguments or scientific observation. First, comes the conclusion, and then comes the argument. The argument often seems like window dressing to my emotions about something, or my desire to project myself favorably in another’s eyes. Aristotle talks about arguments, sort of, this way in his Rhetoric.

Emotion and desire are fundamental if not foundational. We often hear of emotion and desire as a retreat from reason, but they are inescapable. We would not have ideology if our emotions and desires did not allow us to create a space between philosophy and political action. We want others to accept us at the same time we want to be right. We must have a framework in which to fit the facts, and we dare not take a lot of time doing it if we wish quickly to arrive at basic political decisions. I do not denigrate ideology, for it has its place.

Reason attaches itself to the political after I have made my choices. Reason justifies my decisions rather than creates them, whether I choose consciously or unconsciously. I have read about these things in the past—Hume in particular. It is one thing to believe that reason is the slave of the passions and yet another to actually feel it on an autumn day while staring out a Starbuck’s window.

The ill consequences of conservative ideology caught my attention before I seriously inspected what was driving those consequences. The Iraq disaster, the economic descent of the working class, and the erosion of human and civil rights presented themselves for disapprobation before I have tried to discover what it is about conservatism that gets things wrong. That seems shameful to admit. Maybe, the illusion that my reason rules my passions is an excuse to be idle and indolent in my thinking right up to the point when disaster happens.

At any rate, I think there is truth to the old saying that we do not miss our water until the well runs dry. One must always guard against that lamentable situation regardless of the status of reason in our lives.

Monday, October 23, 2006


From Sam Hamill's translations, Crossing the Yellow River:

Letter Smuggled in a Fish

Your letter unfolds and unfolds forever.
I flatten it with my hands to read:

tearstains, tearstains and a trace of rouge
where it must have touched your cheek.

Yuan Chen (779-831)

I know you are only supposed to love people and not things, but damn I love that book. Crossing the Yellow River, that is.

The Morgue

People are dying in Iraq faster than the morgues can handle. The dead woman and her dead baby girl lie outside the morgue door in the sweltering sun. They are finally free.

My Library

I have a library I like. I could try to reread all my books and die before I finished. That seems big enough to me.


Clouds, cold,
and the hammering and whine
from the construction sites
ruin my repose.

Mostly the noise though.

I must spend a quiet night
and a morning somewhere else—
with a passionate woman,
of course.

I must erase
these fragments
of the city
if only for a moment.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The next Frankenstein

The discontent within the Republican Party and the conservative ideology is much in the news. Fundamentalist Christians, libertarians, fiscal conservatives, and neo-con war hawks have all expressed their dismay at the Bush Administration reign. Many claim that the Bush Administration is not truly of the conservative ideological persuasion. These charges always coincide with complaints by the disaffected that the Bush Administration has not attended to their particular political goals and concerns.

I think it is at least an open question whether conservatives did not get exactly what they deserved under the Bush Administration.

Crony capitalism has reached its zenith in American history and helped to exacerbate disasters such as Iraq and Katrina. Fiscal conservatives labor under the notion that you can have huge military adventures and crony capitalism and that it will not cost anything. In their minds, you can always take a few more bucks from the low end of the working class to pay the tab. That well is running dry in a hurry.

Fundamentalist Christians actually believe the majority of Americans want governance by a few preachers prancing and preening around a mega-church pulpit. What the fundamentalist preachers do not understand is that the folks in Washington D. C. are too self interested to give up their privileges to a bunch of folks who hate science, technology, and the hedonistic nature of global capitalism.

Libertarians still labor under the outmoded notion that you can have a large nation whose goal is world hegemony while at the same time have small government. People make fun of the dreamy ideas of Sixties hippies, but the libertarians ought to examine how closely they sound to those folks. Big time capitalism requires large government to grease the palms and wheels of commerce. Crony capitalism comes with the deal. You must have many folks in Washington D. C. to launder all that money. You have to wonder whether many professed libertarians really are what they claim. The conservative ones have been startling silent about the Bush Administration assault on rights and protection of freedoms.

Neo-cons still believe that if you drop enough bombs on Middle East civilians, they will come to their senses and love the USA. That has not worked anywhere in the Middle East. In case neo-cons have not noticed, the Iraq occupation has stretched the military to its capacity. There are only two combat ready brigades available for their next lunatic military adventure.

Disaffected conservatives have gotten what they asked for in the Bush Administration. He is their baby and the DNA proof is undeniable.

Large ideologies such as conservatism always reconstruct and reinvent themselves when they lose share of public mind. The American Conservative movement did it fifty years ago. One wonders where conservatism goes from here and who their next baby will be.

I hope it is not Frankenstein the next time around.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Slaughter Gone Wild

The NYT headline says, Tables Turned for the G.O.P. Over Iraq Issue. And why not?

You do not have to be a Democrat, Republican, or any other political persuasion to view the invasion and occupation of Iraq as a blood bath, slaughter-gone-wild, and bad project poorly executed. Despite President Bush’s seriously bogus claim that it is the cornerstone of the war on terror, the people see beyond that easily refuted claim.

If the Democrats win big in November, they will let the war continue for at least another two years. They will betray the people again. Some more troopers will die; some will suffer seriously from their wounds for the rest of their lives. As many as a half million Iraqi’s will be killed over the two year period from 2006 through 2008. The Democrats are as worthless as the Republicans are when it comes to doing anything right.

I have sold my soul many times, but at least I never sold it for the outside chance of a vote. I hope I live long enough to read what the history books say about them all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I would miss you too much, dear reader

The stack of books sitting next to the table keeps calling me. Books of philosophy, politics, physics, mathematics, poetry, and the unread novel will not leave me alone.

Then there are your blogs, dear reader, that beckon me also.

I think I need to rent a hole-in-the-wall place furnished with only a table and chair and some pens and paper to get anything done.

Most likely, I would miss your blogs too much. I would dream of reading them to the point of utter distraction.

Being the weak willed soul that I am, I cannot think of a realistic plan B.


The first thing I thought about when I woke this morning was the Iraq Occupation and the recent Johns Hopkins statistical study of the number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the invasion. The study places the number of deaths at 600,000 plus or minus 200,000. That ranks the Iraq invasion and occupation right up there with World War II on a per capita basis. My suspicion about the horror of the conflict has been justified once again.

The Bush Administration has called the study’s methodology flawed. Experts in biostatistics have unanimously defended the survey as the best way to arrive at the facts.

The story has quickly dropped from the news cycle. The deniers go on their merry way. Meanwhile, the death tolls are increasing instead of abating.

Not only the Bush Administration, but also the American public in general has been guilty of willful ignorance about the situation in Iraq. Whether anyone likes it or not, the numbers always display their own tyranny.

I grow weary of thinking this and saying this: nothing good will come to the United States until we leave Iraq. Many have disproved all of the arguments for staying in Iraq. The most compelling arguments for leaving have not come from political hacks or activists, but from experts and those not politically aligned as Republicans or Democrats.

The hubris and willful ignorance of the Bush Administration is by now legendary. The citizens ought to know better. I was encouraged last week while talking to a friend, a staunch Republican and Bush supporter, when we agreed on an Iraq exit strategy. You pack your bags, you get on an airplane, you fly away, and you do not piss away time while doing it.

The deniers have had it all their own way. It is time for them to go to the back of the class and shut up. Too many innocent lives are at stake.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

What I really want to talk about is me

Chicago, after playing like homemade shit in the first half, came back late in the second half of last night’s game and scored two defensive touchdowns and a touchdown on a punt return to beat the Cards 24 to 23.

Winning ugly counts too.

That is not what I really want to talk about though. What I really want to say is that this the third straight morning I have spent looking at a blank sheet of paper with my fingers paralyzed and my mind bereft of thought—except for the poetry of Ray Carver running through it like a river. I should have never spent a few hours reading him Saturday afternoon. All I ever wanted to say is already in those poems. Things such as this.
The Scratch

I woke up with a spot of blood
over my eye. A scratch
halfway across my forehead. But
I’m sleeping alone these days.
Why on earth would a man raise his hand
against himself, even in sleep?
It’s this and similar questions
I’m trying to answer this morning.
As I study my face in the window.

People ask me what I do with my time. I tell them I spend many days looking at a blank sheet of paper or a blank computer screen. This kills further conversation, most of the time.

This Carver poem comes to mind.

This morning I woke up to rain
on the glass. And understood
that for a long time now
I’ve chosen the corrupt when
I had a choice. Or else,
simply, the merely easy.
Over the virtuous. Or the difficult.
This way of thinking happens
when I’ve been alone for days.
Like now. Hours spent
in my own dumb company.
Hours and hours
much like a little room.
With just a strip of carpet to walk on.
I think I will spend the rest of the day pretending I am writing a Ray Carver poem just so I can avoid reality. I cannot think of any other option.

Waking in the middle of the night

What does this cold rain mean to me in the middle of the night? Nothing.

When I woke, her hand was not lying upon my chest. Without that it is cold no matter what.

Monday, October 16, 2006


I met an attractive woman Saturday night. I would really like to see her again. In fact, I cannot get her off my mind.

I have a feeling things would not work out. For one, I am old enough to be her father. For another, my life is very disordered right now and that would not be fair either. A high state of entropy would most likely set in quickly.

However, I am the proverbial moth drawn to the flame. I really should not let these things happen, but sometimes you just get lonely. And sometimes you want to prove you are still attractive when you meet someone you like.

Ok, here is the plan. I will do something out of the ordinary. I will think about it before doing anything more.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Who wants to take that long shot gamble?

Readers of State Street are not shocked to find that there is gambling going on here.

You cannot beat the bookie. The reason is simple: he does not give you fair odds. However, going into this weekend I was as close to dead even on my sports betting over the last year as you can get. I have had my share of good luck.

Even though I know I cannot win, I study the teams and the statistics as though I could. I should just pick teams at random and wait for the inevitable result.

I am crazy.

I do not bet much money though, so it is harmless good sport worth the price of admission to me. Many dreams are long shot gambles, but we could not live without them.


Yesterday, I was thinking about how I had not lost my credit card in a long time. Later on in the day, I lost my credit card. I feel as though there are strange unexplained forces working in the world—not all of them good.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Kick down the door and carry me away

Yesterday’s scary event was the suspension of my Internet gambling account. I called up the gambling company and they said that the state of Illinois had asked them to suspend all the Illinois accounts.

This story has what might be a temporary happy conclusion. Last night, I was able to log into my account, and this morning I got down for my weekend bets: a four-team NFL parlay, a five-team NFL progressive parlay, a five-team English Premier parlay, and just to spice things up, a Mets and Tigers parlay on today’s baseball.

I suppose the police will kick down my door any moment and arrest me. At least I’ll have a little gambling action my first weekend in jail. I hope they let me take my clothes out of the drier before they cart me away.

Meanwhile, the President and Congress sit on their collective asses while hell, war, death, and destruction reign in Iraq. Oh well, they made some Christian Blue Noses happy in Podunk, USA.

I ain’t bitter. Don’t get that idea.

That's Jerry Lee Lewis over there

Today’s side is the Jerry Lee Lewis London Sessions 1973, which, just so you know, is totally smoking. The CD kicks of with Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee and just keeps rocking. Towards the end, you get a great version of Movin’ on Down the Line, which I dimly recall was the B-side of the Great Balls of Fire 45 single way back in around ‘57 or ’58. You would think I would know since it is the first record I ever bought, but I am not sure.

Life is always good when you rocking with Jerry Lee.

I did not meet her in church

Earlier this week, I was talking to a woman when the conversation turned toward religion because she was beginning to read the Bible. She asked me what I believed. I told her I was skeptical of a lot of religious belief. She said that at least I must believe in some higher power. At that point, I knew that if I persisted in engaging in the topic, I would enmesh myself in debating a lot of fuzzy minded new age mumbo jumbo with some Bible thrown in just to confuse matters even more. I told her that if a cab hit and killed me while walking home, I would be nothing more than road kill. That immediately and mercifully ended the discussion.

This post is not about religion. I am not opposed to religion or the wonderful folks who take their faith seriously and find it a positive force in their lives. This is about me feeling superior to her. I have thought about this feeling of superiority more than I would have liked over the past few days and wondered if I should not be ashamed of it. However, I am not ashamed of it because I am superior to her. I care and she is looking for something to make her feel good.

About fifteen years ago, the born again and new age thing was cute. Now, it is like a pop record that people play too much on the jukebox. I am tired of hearing it.

I think I am too much of a polite listener. I listen to too much garbage without calling people out on it. At least, if I called them out they would get the hell away from me, which would be a relief from hearing about their sad miserable lives, which they fucked up in the first place, and how their new spirituality has changed everything for them.

I do not mind people fucking up their lives. We all make mistakes. I am a walking disaster myself. I just wish some people would not whine about it and make up new age/religious fables that are not true just so they can pretend they feel good and avoid their problems.

The part that really pisses me off is that these folks think I am the crazy one.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Geometry and the Foundations of Mathematics

Modern mathematics lays its foundations on logic and set theory. Mathematicians have expended a lot of effort to make their study rigorous. Nothing seems more rigorous than founding the subject matter on logic.

Despite this, one might still claim that geometry lies at the heart of mathematics. Geometry is basic to our everyday experience. Everyone is an excellent geometer even though we seldom recognize or think about it. We walk about the world each day and make prodigious and unconscious geometric calculations. If we were not excellent geometers, we would most assuredly die in a hurry. Think about walking the length of the Magnificent Mile in Chicago at rush hour. You had better know a lot about space and time, or you will be road kill before you know it.

Geometry is even useful when thinking about logic and set theory. The ability to draw a picture can be very useful when doing things like cardinal arithmetic or understanding the set theoretic hierarchy.

Much of the power of mathematics comes from formal symbol manipulation, yet drawing a picture comes in handy when trying understand what you are doing. Pictures, however, can lead us into logical errors, especially if we draw them sloppily. That is not the fault of geometry.

Anyway, I say that geometry is the foundation of mathematics in the fuzzy sense I have sketched. I will leave it there for right now.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Smitten Again

Yesterday, I discovered Tristran Needham’s excellent Visual Complex Analysis. Needham takes a geometric and visual approach to explaining the basics of complex analysis. He does a masterful job. I like the beat and it is easy to dance to so I will give it a ninety-eight.

Thus, does yet another book smite me.

I also met a woman last night who took me to her apartment to watch Forrest Gump since I had never seen it. I had fun drinking beer, watching the movie, and whatnot.

That was two pleasant surprises in one day. I would almost bet I have used up my allotted quota for the year.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Poor George

I learned this morning that Steven Pinker has written a scathing review in The New Republic of George Lakoff’s latest book (Whose Freedom?). I have not read Lakoff’s latest book or Pinker’s review since I do not have a subscription to TNR. Lakoff responds to the review here at Rockridge Institute.

I have read some of Lakoff’s other books though. The phenomenon that puzzles me about Lakoff is why certain people are so upset with him, no matter what he says. Some of what he says seems rather uncontroversial when measured against other philosophical works that arrive at the same conclusions. He uses research coming from cognitive science to explain why ideology often trumps the facts and our ability to reason about the facts. Many others have undertaken this philosophical project.

One of Lakoff’s claims is that there is no such thing as disembodied reason. People may disagree with that, but he is not the first person to mention it.

Oh well, it makes for great sport, especially for those folks who have not read Lakoff.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A strange call

I spent almost the whole day reading Penrose’s Road to Reality. The book, despite its difficulty, still mesmerizes me. I am over half way through the mathematical preliminary. So far, the math is things I have studied in the past. Penrose’s quirky brusque presentation slows me down, yet in a good way since it makes me think through things anew.

However, I am an old man now. I do not have time to reconstruct things in detail I have forgotten. The challenge for me with this sort of thing is to translate ideas and arguments into my own sketchy visual terms. That takes time too, but I often find it useful later on.

About sundown, I walked down to the Loop and back on Michigan Avenue to enjoy the pleasant evening and mix with the overflow crowd on the avenue. That was not as relaxing as I had hoped. The Lake might have been a better choice.

I picked up Penrose when I got back home, kept reading until past midnight, and then watched a TV movie while lying on the couch. I hoped I would eventually fall asleep. After struggling for several hours, I slept for about an hour and a half. An infomercial for cosmetics finally knocked me out.

Drinking a half pot of coffee has forced my eyes open. The Penrose book is sitting beside me on the desk. It calls me. I cannot imagine what it wants with an old man, who really should be doing something more productive with his time.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Rolling the dice on Iran

I found the David C. Hendrickson and Robert W. Tucker’s article A Test of Power in The National Interest Online an interesting and sobering article about the mistakes the US is making with Iran diplomacy. (link via ald)
A more reasonable understanding of America's true power is that it maintains in abundance the elements whereby to contain and deter threatening actions by hostile regimes. For defensive purposes, it can still marshal an impressive international consensus; it is only when it finds aggressive war necessary to ensure its security that it becomes isolated and friendless in the international community. For defensive purposes, its military power, both conventional and nuclear, is prodigious; it is only when the United States seeks to assign to military power tasks that press against its inherent limitations--e.g. using force to promote liberal democracy, or threatening force to compel change within the national territory of hostile regimes--that it appears insufficient for the tasks it is called upon to perform.
The essence of the argument for waging preventive war against Iran to prevent them from obtaining nuclear weapons goes like this.

Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weapons.
Iran is a rogue state.
All rogue states are irrational.
Irrational states will blow up the world because they do not care about the suicidal nature of their actions.
Iran will blow up the world once they obtain nuclear weapons.
Therefore, the US must start a war with Iran to prevent them from blowing up the world.

The argument displays the same logic that the US used to invade Iraq. Every premise in the argument is shaky at best. What the argument further obscures is the cost of a preventive strike against Iran. For instance, if you think oil prices are high now, just wait until the US starts a war with Iran. If you think the violence in Iraq cannot get any worse, just wait until the US gets in a war with Iran.

Those leading the hysteria over the Iran nuclear threat are the same people who failed to regard any realistic assessment of the consequences of invading Iraq. Consequences simply do not matter to them.

These same folks say that no price is too high to pay as long as there is the mere suspicion that Iran’s ultimate goal is to become a nuclear power. Yet, these same folks always find a way to pass the risk and consequences of their actions along to other folks. They have no conception of what it is to pay the price and suffer the consequences of their actions. They do not care about making serious cost/benefit and risk/reward analyses. They go with their gut, which for them means their hysterical emotions.

Profligate and irresponsible gambling with other people’s lives and money is easy to do, and too good to be true. As with all things too good to be true, it will eventually end. Fools, however, fail to recognize this.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Congress finds another way to pave the road to heaven

Congress in its infinite goodness and wisdom has passed a law banning US financial companies from participating in financial transactions involving Internet gambling. This sent share prices of publicly traded online betting companies tumbling.

Of course, all the forms of betting in the US remain untouched. You cannot go wrong by betting on who is greasing whose palms in Congress. Morality always has a dollar sign when it comes to these folks.

As an Internet gambler who likes to bet a few bucks every now then on sports, I am glad they have relieved me of this terrible burden and paved my way to heaven. All I have to do next is begin believing in god.

Congress does not seem to realize that all a person needs to do to continue gambling online is open up an account at a foreign financial institution that is not subject to US financial laws. You can do it in about two minutes on the Internet. Whenever Congress attempts to improve morals, they always paint stupid in big bold letters across their foreheads. They could have done something like collect taxes on Internet gambling which would be a disincentive to gamble, plus they would have added some much needed revenue to the Federal finances after passing extravagant giveaway programs to the rich and the lobbyists. However, morals and principles are what count with Congress—somebody else’s morals, not theirs.

You might think they would have bigger fish to fry such as cleaning up the mess they created in Iraq. However, these folks do not waste their time on trivial matters such as life and death unless it is someone who is unborn or already dead. The low esteem and contempt in which the public holds them does not embarrass them, but why should it? Heads they win, tails they win. They always pass their risk on to someone else.

There is a sucker born every minute and they are not all are gambling on the Internet.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Iraq: the ultimate gambling addiction

Gamblers often go into denial when they lose. If only they had more money to bet, things would turn around. Those who gambled the fate of Iraq on a military invasion have crapped out. Yet they display the gamblers mentality. Let me bet on one more number at the roulette table and all will be well.

The Iraq invasion was a combination Neo-con political fantasy about building democratic regimes on the cheap, confused Cold War mentality about securing the US from terrorist attacks, and crony politics and capitalism as the way to reconstruct the country. This explosive mix of thoroughly bad ideas has indeed exploded. That has not dissuaded the folks with an Iraq addiction from asking for more lives and money to bet on failed strategy.

Too many Americans persist in believing, even after the disaster, the US can make better decisions about the fate of Iraq than its citizens can. Americans live in a dream state where they believe the collateral damage caused by the current occupation is acceptable to the Iraqis. This uniquely American attitude is a childish failure to sympathize at the most reasonable and basic level.

For the life of me, I cannot find a reason to support folks in their Iraq gambling habit. The Bush Cult will call this appeasement and defeatist. To which I say, who cares what a bunch of losers think.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Snake eyes means nothing to them

I have been thinking about the relationship between politics and sports gambling for several years. Heck, let us throw in the world’s biggest casino, the stock market, when talking about the relationship.

Before the Iraq invasion, I asked myself whether I would bet all my retirement money on an easy, quick, and cheap conclusion to the conflict. I quickly determined that no matter what the odds were I would not bet on it. Expert assessments of the pitfalls and costs were already public information. These estimates did not make the bet an attractive proposition.

Everybody from Joe Average to the President has spent a lot of time backtracking since the invasion claiming he did not know all the facts at the time. Maybe they did not or maybe they did not care to listen. One very good reason for this is that they had no personal downside risk. If you do not have to fight in a war, pay for it, or account for bad outcomes, why not roll the dice just to see what comes up? Rolling snake eyes is not that big a deal.

All the carnage to date in Iraq is a sunk cost. The astute businessperson knows that you do not include sunk costs in the evaluation of the future costs and benefits of a project. One of the things you do include is a risk assessment of the project going forward. Yet here we are in 2006 and Joe Average and the President still do not want to deal with the risk. The reason has not changed. They still have no downside risk.

I cannot help but wonder how they would bet if they did.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Who are the postmodern moral relativists?

Republican control of the U. S. government provides an interesting lesson in human nature and its relation to political power. Let us take the Tom Foley scandal as an example.

Republicans consider gays immoral and destined for hell. They also campaign vigorously against gays. The perennial gay marriage amendment is a good example. Republicans claim their stance against homosexuality has something to do with what they call family values and their religious beliefs. For many Republicans, family values reinforce their phobias and hatreds of certain classes of citizens. That is not to say all Republicans consider family values in this way, but let’s face it, the most virulent gay haters and bashers are Republicans. If there are moderate Republicans, they usually remain silent about the extremists in their midst.

Now, we have the embarrassing situation of a gay Republican Congressman preying on teenage boys. The Republican Congressional leadership conveniently turned a blind eye toward Tom Foley. The moral law comes from god unless it involves maintaining political power. Those who espouse absolute piety and morality fail on the simplest of moral tests.

This is a classic case of how political power corrupts. Those who would deny the rights of large groups of citizens can always open a little wiggle room if it means protecting one of their own to stay in power. I suppose when they go to church they feel that Jesus will understand that their hypocrisy is just a means to achieving the ultimate end, a benign Christian theocracy that includes a wink and nod when someone inside the leadership strays outside the bounds of decency.

Now, as I predicted a couple of days ago, the worst bigots such as Matt Drudge are blaming the victims. (By the way, long time Internet scuttlebutt has it that Matt is gay. Does anybody know if that is true?) It is heathen and horny teenage pages, encouraged by Democrats who only care about political gain, who are at fault. However, Denny Hastert cares more about finding out who leaked the instant messages than doing the decent thing, which is launch a full-scale ethics investigation in the House and punish those responsible for this sordid state of affairs. Hastert does this because he is culpable; he is the problem; the desire for absolute power has corrupted him and his political cronies.

Unchecked political power corrupts and makes hypocrites of those who claim to be the most pious. Those who rant about moral relativity display a moral relativity without peer. Those who have defended the erosion of the Bill of Rights should look at this scandal and learn why the Bill of Rights is absolute and not relative. Political power makes all morals relative. Only the strict enforcement of civil rights protects all citizens from predatory and dictatorial governments. The ruthless will always yield their morals for political power.

Republicans are fond of accusing their opponents of postmodern moral relativism. Yet this single-minded drive for absolute political power at any cost is the ultimate in moral relativism. Republicans have created a postmodern United States where the only value is the value of political expediency. They had help from the Democratic leadership who have stood idly by winking and nodding with their Republicans friends.

Ah, what the hell, they will all gather for church services on Sunday and Jesus will forgive them their sins and save their souls. This whole god thing appears to be a sweet deal.

All Killer, No Filler

I’m listening to the new Jerry Lee Lewis CD, Last Man Standing. Jerry Lee teams up with a hall of fame group of rock, country, and blues artists to produce a set of recordings that totally kicks ass.

As the Rolling Stone headline to their review says:

All Killer, No Filler.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Maybe, I do not want to know

Republican 2008 Presidential candidates have all been showing up at the right wing Christian alters so the radical right Holy Men can suitably baptize them as official candidates. The right wing Christian leaders are also urging their flocks to vote in the November election. A vote for a Republican is a vote for Jesus.

Of course, the two burning issues for these folks are gay marriage and feminist activism. These paragons of religious rectitude do not discuss war, poverty, and the decline of the American working class all that much. You can also bet they will not be discussing Republican Congressional leaders covering up for a Republican sexual predator. Losing a Republican Congressional seat is the equivalent of acquiescing to Satan’s reign. Add Congressional corruption scandals to the taboo list also.

I wonder what it feels like to be that self righteous and hypocritical at the same time. On the other hand, maybe, I do not want to know.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hey, we were only hitting the old stick

You knew I would be unable to resist this one. The Foley thing, I mean.

OK, Foley is a sexual predator. However, what are Hastert and Boehner? Foley might be scum, but Hastert and Boehner are the dregs. They are lower than whale shit. At least scum floats on top.

Of course, the Bush Cultists are already out in force. The only reason the Foley thing is in the news is because it is an election year and a bunch of Democrats will do anything to ruin their chances for election.

Who is going to protect family values if we do not have fine upstanding Republican Christian moral majority types such as Foley, Hastert, and Boehner to do it? Besides what is wrong with hanging out with the high school boys and swapping stories about hitting the old stick?

I am sure the red-blooded Republican male types will accuse liberal types of whining about the sissified child predator laws that Hastert, Boehner, and Foley passed. The only reason someone would bring up that embarrassing piece of legislation would be for political gain.

I expect some religious leaders will expound about how secular humanists, especially the 16-year-old heathen Congressional pages, have corrupted our fine Christian leaders.

The leaders of this country are immoral, corrupted, and hypocritical. The tragic thing is that too few people want to hold them accountable on even the basics of decency.

If you are not calling for Hastert and Boehner’s resignation, then you are part of the problem.