Friday, May 16, 2003

It's not just the Iraqi Shiites and the Puerto Ricans of Vieques. A polar bear near the North Pole recently demonstrated its resentment at the unwanted presence of the United States military, attacking the USS Connecticut.

Via Charlie Stross.

Nathan Newman wants Democrats to remember John Kerry's courage in standing up to Reaganoid Iran-Contra duplicity. Well, some of us also remember that he had some good things to say about the Vietnam war, after serving there in combat.

Be that as it may, times change, people change, and some of his constituents are just a tad concerned with his more recent cowardice in knuckling under to the pressure from Dubya's crew to give him a blank-check war resolution...

For the first year or two after Clinton's welfare "reform" bill passed, the commentariat was full of gloating that employment was up, case loads were shrinking, and that this proved the critics wrong. Never mind that employment was up in every sector of the economy. Or that the more thoughtful critics weren't worried so much about what would happen immediately, but rather, what would happen in the first major economic downturn after the law's five-year limits had expired, when significant numbers of women might find themselves cut off from both jobs and benefits.

And now we know:

The number of Black children living in extreme poverty is at its highest level in 23 years, according to an analysis released today by the Children's Defense Fund. Despite several years of a booming economy, nearly one million Black children in 2001 lived in a family with an annual income of less than half the federal poverty level (disposable income below $7,064 for a family of three).

In fact, extreme poverty among Black children is significantly up from when the law was passed. (That's using the Children's Defense Fund's measure of "extreme poverty", which tries to take into account food stamps and the like in addition to cash income -- and so has been badly hit by Dubya's reductions in those programs).

Via the Slacktivist.

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Oh, boy, the NRA is going to love this:

The U-S military is now telling Iraqis they cannot own or sell guns. Any Iraqi who does faces arrest, according to a new radio spot running in the country.

More: And wouldn't you know, it comes just as Tom DeLay announces that back home, the Republicans won't extend the assault weapons ban.

It's a bit late, but here's my take on Bill Gates's charity.

The blogsphere brouhaha on the subject was begun by Jeanne D'arc, who admirably summarizes it here, with links to posts by others. Briefly, she admires Gates's decision to give 95% of his fortune to charity, likes what he's doing with the money, and believes it outshines whatever sleaziness was involved in the building of Microsoft. To which the counterpoints are, very roughly, these: There's something wrong with a state of society in which the best chance for the worlds' poor to get their vital needs served is for a rich guy to spend the money on a whim (Gates himself would concur; he calls that "a failure of capitalism"). That it was a pattern typical of nineteenth century imperialism to reduce conquered people to utter poverty so you could exploit them and claim credit for serving their needs all at once -- as if Gates was personally responsible for the actions of the IMF (which has, by the way, been a bit self-critical, of late). And boy, that Bill Gates sure is sleazy, isn't he?

Because, despite all that, I can't stand Bill Gates, I'll add two points that I don't think I've seen elsewhere.

First, it's easy to exaggerate the degree to which Gates is sacrificing his childrens' welfare. Gates's fortune is estimated at $43 billion. Five percent of that, divided three ways, leaves each of the kids with more than $700 million, which would put them comfortably on the Forbes 400, albeit toward the bottom of the list[1]. The life of the idle rich is still theirs if they want it.

More seriously, Microsoft's business practices do themselves have at least a potential negative impact on the third world. Specifically, many users now have no reasonable alternative to running Microsoft software (or think they don't, which amounts to the same thing). It has long been Microsoft policy to keep it that way, and they're pretty bloody in trying to do that, e.g., with anticompetitive discounts ("Under NO circumstances lose against Linux", its salesmen were warned, even if they have to give the stuff away) which are arguably illegal in Europe. Between that and Moore's law, a very significant component of the cost of a modern PC is Microsoft license fees, and the company is using all its significant power to keep it that way. It's not a sure win -- Linux is out there, and OpenOffice can at least read most Word documents -- but with digital rights management trickery like Palladium in the offing, which has the potential to keep you from reading any document in Word-some-future-version unless you're running Microsoft-approved software on a Microsoft-approved platform, it's not a sure lose either. And licenses that milk the most money possible out of the first world, are licenses that the third world can't afford.

[1]: That assumes that he manages to get essentially all of the 5 percent to the kids -- a good bet, I think. For the Gates hoard to retain enough value to keep its relative place on the list may be slightly more doubtful, but there are limits; something like three quarters of it is Microsoft stock, but that leaves over $10 billion of other stuff, which is very conservatively managed.

Have you ever gotten the feeling that somebody's software was lying to you?

Wednesday, May 14, 2003

More news from Boston: I don't know what the "Chixie Dicks" are, but if you're curious, the club listings at the Phoenix say you can find out this evening at the Green Dragon, right near historic Faneuil Hall.

This Green Dragon is intended, in part, as a reproduction of the tavern which was a frequent meeting spot for the Sons of Liberty, and which is reported to have been a gathering spot for the revelers at the Boston Tea Party. So, you'll also be respecting our historic patrimony.

For all we've heard about Dubya's administration injecting politics into government research, its worth noting that some of their policies are backed up by independant research. During the last presidential campaign, for example, Harvard Professor Paul Peterson released a study showing clearly that vouchers improve student test performance. Though, strangely, only the performance of black students. Or, as it quickly emerged, only the black students at one particular grade level. Or something like that:

A Princeton economist, Alan B. Krueger, took the offer [of raw data], and after two years recently concluded that Professor Peterson had it all wrong -- that not even the black students using vouchers had made any test gains. ...

What makes this a cautionary tale for political leaders seeking to draft public policy from supposedly scientific research is the mundane nature of the apparent miscalculations. Professor Krueger concluded that the original study had failed to count 292 black students whose test scores should have been included. And once they are added -- making the sample larger and statistically more reliable -- vouchers appear to have made no difference for any group.

Via the indispensible dsquared, which goes on to discuss why "data dredging" is an unsound research method even if the data you're using is something like accurate (in a post to which the links are now bloggered).

Dubya's view of the importance of citizens' due process rights is shared by his allies:

THE US has reportedly asked Australia to take back war on terror detainee David Hicks - but Australia doesn't want to.

The New York Times says Australia is reluctant because Hicks has not violated any Australian law and would have to be released on his return.

He hadn't violated any laws. We can't have people like that walking around free, now, can we?

Via blogorrhea.

The theory behind Dubya's tax cuts is to give money to people who will use it to invest in new plant for their businesses, thus creating jobs, boosting the "supply side" of the economy. It works like this:

I have called three of my friends who have small companies here in Spokane. I have asked them if they think that the tax cut that Bush Co. wants will encourage them to hire more people. All three laughed. Here in a nutshell is what they said.

They can hire as many people as they want right now. If they don?t have the cash they can borrow the money. Interest rates are so low that it does not take much to regain their investment. The problem is that there is no market for the things they are making. No amount of extra cash will get them to increase production. And with no increase in production it does not take a genius to guess that they won?t be hiring in areas of marketing or sales.

It is a chicken or egg thing. In this case the employment or extra money for people to buy their goods is what is needed for them to expand their business. This is real rocket science. *NOT* It is what most economists have been saying all along.

"Most economists" including Brad DeLong and the much-vilified Paul Krugman.

In short, if you want to stimulate the US economy quickly -- and with the Fed now openly acknowledging the possibility of deflation, well, you certainly ought to around now -- you want government measures which will put cash in the hands of people who will spend it, not people who already have excessive amounts of liquid cash and no good idea of what to do with it.

Which sounds like just the time to propose new taxes on the poor, if that's what's needed to finance preconceived tax giveaways for the rich...

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Headline of an article in today's online New York Times:

Powell, in Riyadh, Sees Signs of Al Qaeda in Series of Explosions

But I thought they were going to be no trouble at all after we took out their base of power in Iraq...

Matt Taibbi thinks he's seen this film before:

It has become fashionable on the left and in Western Europe to compare the Bush administration to the Nazis. The comparison is not without some superficial merit. In both cases the government is run by a small gang of snickering, stupid thugs whose vision of paradise is full of explosions and beautifully designed prisons. Toss in the desert fatigues motif and the "self-defense" invasion tactic, and there does seem to be a good case.

But it's way off. It's wishful thinking. The Reich only lasted 12 years. The Soviets reigned for 75. They were better at it than the Nazis, and we're better at it than the Russians. Ask anyone who's lived in a communist country, and he'll tell you: Modern America is deja vu all over again. And if ever there was a Soviet spectacle, it was Bush's speech last week.

Think about it. Huge weapons on display, in foreground and background. The leader who has never fought dressed in full military regalia. Crowds of adoring soldiers and "shock worker" types dressed in colorful costumes, carefully arranged for the cameras. A terrible, excruciatingly dull speech, 20 minutes of incoherent, redundant patriotism (Bush used the words "free" or "freedom" 19 times in an 1800-word speech) and chimpanzoid chest-pounding.

On May Day.

It's an interesting parallel, though he's not the first to make that observation...

Because they have seized my brain and won't let go, I hereby present two more dumb theories about the true identity of pseudonymous fugitive blogging heiress Isabella V.:
  • Yet another new bass player for The Upper Crust.
  • Harlan Ellison goes wired.

There. I've let you out now. Go away. Leave me alone.

On a slightly more serious note, if this is a hoax, then it has to be an unusually clever one, with multiple layers of deception. Though it won't look to me like a proper blog until she starts talking politics...

Monday, May 12, 2003

So, remember back when we needed to go to war in Iraq now! immediately! because of the threat of the weapons of mass destruction! which Saddam Hussein was concealing! from the UN? Remember back to then?

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants. ...

Leaders of Task Force 75's diverse staff -- biologists, chemists, arms treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts, and special forces troops -- arrived with high hopes of early success. They said they expected to find what Secretary of State Colin L. Powell described at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 -- hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents, missiles and rockets to deliver the agents, and evidence of an ongoing program to build a nuclear bomb.

Scores of fruitless missions broke that confidence, many task force members said in interviews.

But their disappointment has to be balanced against the liberation of the Iraqi people at large. And sure enough, Jay Garner, head of our provisional authority is departing very quickly, just like he said he would. If only to be replaced by another American proconsul, L. Paul Bremer III, as part of a overhaul of the administration there. And he'll find the liberation going just swimmingly:

Officials said the impetus for the overhaul stems in part from urgent warnings that the escalating violence and a breakdown of civil order are already paralyzing the effort to rebuild Iraq.

"Unless we do something in the near future, it is likely to blow up in our face," one official said.

Today, black smoke billowed over Baghdad's skyline as looters set fire to the city's former telephone communications center, apparently as a distraction for others who tried to steal cars nearby.

On the other side of the city, hundreds of looters, who now range through the city every day, poured into a former palace of Saddam Hussein after American military units decided to vacate it.

Baghdad is once again becoming a city of almost hourly eruptions of gunfire. Criminals are shooting at other criminals, officials said. Families are settling scores, and some Iraqis are just taking potshots at American forces.

But hey, some Iraqis have truly been liberated:

The only mental patient left behind at the high security ward of Al Rashad state hospital is a killer named Ali Sabah, a former math and science teacher with jet black hair and dark, searching eyes. ...

The complaint of the Iraqi psychiatric staff is that the marines stood by as looters carried away every bed, basin, cooker, air-conditioner, piece of furniture or thing of value.

The marines broke the door down on the maximum security wing, and in no time the patients were gone, untethered from the antipsychotic drugs that stabilized many of them.

One doctor said he was told by a Marine officer that the officer was there to "liberate and then leave."

But at least we now know we don't have to worry about the Iraqi WMD program, right? QuothNewsweek:

The well-known Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters -- but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. "We told them, 'This site is out of control. You have to take care of it,' says Munther Ibrahim, Al Tuwaitha's head of plasma physics. "The soldiers said, 'We are a small group. We cannot take control of this site'." As soon as the Americans left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults' seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.

But none of the looted material would be helpful in building a nuke -- just a "dirty bomb" spreading radioactive poison with conventional explosives. So the war was a success! I feel so much better now.

The business school at Case Western Reserve University has a new building -- a Frank Gehry concotion that was most recently in the news when snow sliding off its irregular, tilted roof started to pose a danger to pedestrians. Further disadvantages of the architectural style have become apparent: a gunman in the building recently took advantage of its irregular geometry to keep a SWAT team confused and on the run, holding them off for hours.

Which will surely help build anticpation at MIT towards the opening of The Stata Center.

Job announcement: The county Department of Human Sercies in Portland, Oregon seeks an interpreter fluent in Klingon.

The interpreter is needed to communicate with mental patients.