March 29, 2009


Our prisons are overcrowded, expensive, and full of people who really shouldn't be there. As an MBA, I have worked out some alternatives for discussion:

At the Casa Madrona

Spent an hour or so in the courtyard, chatting with neighbors.

S.A. beat cancer 15 years ago; she's a fountain of helpful, thoughtful advice and a good source of weed.

Ian is working on his PhD. thesis on a subject I can almost understand. He's building climate models and he's full of energy and enthusiasm and good humor.

S.C. was my Dad's oncology nurse a few years ago. Now he's hit a rough patch and just wants to sit and talk about basketball.

O stopped by for a few minutes. She's pushing 15 and knocking the world around the soccer field.

Martin bummed a smoke and talked about his mother in Ireland.

Priya sat for a while and shared her plans for a small herb garden.

Annie asked to borrow a potato masher.

I'm a secular humanist. Beat that.


Another two bite the dust

Selected headlines from the Palmer Invitational this week:
  • "Gore's 65 Good for 1-shot Lead" - Salt Lake Tribune, 3/26
  • "Gore Maintains Clubhouse Lead at the Palmer" - Rotoworld, 3/27
  • "O'Hair Takes Lead at Palmer Invitational" - New York Times, 3/28
  • "As Only He Can, Woods Seals Another Comeback" - New York Times, 3/29
"Woods delivered the stunning coup de grâce with a flourish on Bay Hill’s 18th green. The putt was an uphill 15-footer, and it never wavered, falling into the middle of the hole..."

I think this could be a good strategy for them

Conservatives embrace the Snuggie.

Geithner reacts to Krugman

The difference this illuminates is that Krugman can explain his position, and Geithner either can not or will not. Instead, he contradicts Krugman, backs his statement with nothing, lays down a false dichotomy, tells us how "complicated" it all is (let me guess: so complicated that he would be wasting his time trying to explain it to us), and then launches into his talking points. Clap, clap.

It's really hard for me to overstate how disappointed I am with this guy.

P.S.: Am I the only one out there who it flabbergasted by the choice of purple ties during a recession? What's next, suspenders?

I see a role for North Korea here...

CIA officials initially believed Zubaida was an al-Qaida ringleader and that information he divulged after being water-boarded would prove crucial to preventing terrorist attacks. Both assumptions were wrong. Zubaida wasn't even an official member of al-Qaida. While he did possess some very useful information about al-Qaida's membership, most of it was obtained before he was water-boarded. The leads he provided later were almost all dead ends that wasted agents' valuable time and resources. The [Washington Post] says that Zubaida might now prove to be a thorny legal issue for the White House. If he's brought to trial in the U.S. after being water-boarded, he could very well be set free and establish a dangerous precedent for other Guantanamo detainees. The administration is examining the possibility of transferring his custody to another country instead.


March 27, 2009

And it's totally legal

For reasons known only to themselves, the BBC has put up a boatload of A Bit of Fry and Laurie sketches. A few selections:

Christ, we missed Våffeldagen!

It's March 25th. Next year, next year...

Hail Våffeldagen! (sort of an explanation here)

For the last time...Irving R. Levine, goodnight

This guy was brilliant. He reported real news, and didn't give a shit about whether people thought he was cool or not. He knew what was going on, and told you. Here he is reporting on the end of Bretton Woods era (starts a 0:41). In his dry baritone, he explains, without actually saying it, how the Nixon White House is handling the negotiations...inexpertly.

Even in the early 70s, when network newscasts had big budgets, the people on the air were mostly Ron Burgundy. Growing up on the fringes of the Empire, seeing this guy on tv suggested that somewhere there were people who had a clue and knew what they were talking about.

His one vice, which I came to love, was that he would get a little lazy toward the end of the story. He'd throw out some hedging remark, then dive into is big signoff. Something like:

"...but critics of the policy suggest it could make the problem worse. IRVING R. LEVINE, NBC News, Washington."

- or -

"...may result in the end of civilization. But for now, only time will tell. IRVING R. LEVINE, NBC News, The White House."

He was easy to mock, and I often did, because his level of self-importance was stratospheric. But, in retrospect, he was important. He was on the air in front of millions of people, explaining stuff that was important to people who really needed to understand it.

The only person today who I think combines his level of preparation on a tough story with a measured and serious delivery would be, um, maybe Jon Stewart.

March 26, 2009

Restaurant Review

The Artichoke Cafe, Albuquerque, New Mexico (located on historic Route 66).
  • Ambiance: Basic, stylish decor. A bit close, but quiet enough for easy conversation, even during noon rush.
  • Wait staff: Our waiter was competent, albeit with a bit of attitude. Self-importance was well below the pain threshold.
  • Food: Freakin' awesome.
If you're hungry in Albuquerque, don't miss it. (Frommers liked it too.)

Seeking Laird

answer your fucking phone

Robots: Fun's Over

"We are sleepwalking into a brave new world where robots decide who, where and when to kill," said Noel Sharkey, an expert on robotics and artificial intelligence at the University of Sheffield, England.

.....Arkin contends that a properly designed robot could behave with greater restraint than human soldiers in the heat of battle and cause fewer casualties.

"Robots can be built that do not exhibit fear, anger, frustration or revenge, and that ultimately behave in a more humane manner than even human beings in these harsh circumstances," he wrote.

Sharkey, the British critic of autonomous armed robots, said that Arkin's ethical governor was "a good idea in principle. Unfortunately, it's doomed to failure at present because no robots or AI (artificial intelligence) systems could discriminate between a combatant and an innocent. That sensing ability just does not exist."

March 25, 2009


Have a look at page #19...

March 24, 2009

The forgotten Pearl of the Orient

Even in a big country like this one, we can have trouble fathoming how big China is. I was just thinking, China has a bit more than a billion people...about 1.3 billion on the 2007 numbers. You know it's a big country when the rounding error is the population of the U.S. (latest CIA estimate, 307 mm). China feeds about 20% of the world's people on 7% of the world's arable land.

Remember that Drew Carey joke? 'My dick is so big it has it's own dick. And even my dick's dick is bigger than your dick.' Where population is concerned, that's a pretty good description of China.

The supernumary appendage in this case is the diaspora. Wikipedia estimates that there are 40 million or so Chinese living outside China's traditional territory. Add 23 mm in Taiwan and 7 mm more in Hong Kong, and you have about 70 million ethnic Chinese living outside the PRC system. Taken as one country this population would rank #19 in the world, a bit behind Iran and a little ahead of France.

And I don't think it's particularly radical to think of it that way. China has made recapturing the largest elements of the diaspora - Hong Kong and Taiwan - a strategic priority. But this is a population that is not keen on being recaptured. In the generation or so since they were cut off (say, from the 1950s), they have prospered immensely:
They have done very very well on their own, thank you.

The extraordinary success of these city-states, as well as the Chinese in the U.S., draws the eye away from another story - that of the communities that have not done so well. These smaller concentrations, mostly in countries where Chinese were in the minority, have had a rougher go of things. In some cases they have disappeared entirely.

For many years there was a vibrant Chinese community called Cholon in Saigon. Gontran de Poncins, the French nobleman famous for his account of life among the Inuit, stayed there for awhile after World War II. His book about the experience, written two years before Dien Bien Phu, is an invaluable snapshot of the neighborhood's last few years of peace.

Cholon was heavily damaged in the Tet Offensive, and many inhabitants fled the war and subsequent communist rule.

(It's in better shape today.)

In Burma, the Chinese community was wrecked, along with everything else in the country, by Ne Win's nationalization program. This shut down the Chinese schools, sometimes, according to reports, by burning them. (Sometimes, according to reports, with the students still in them.)

I'd tell you about the Indonesian riots of the 1960s, and the exciting reunion tour of 1998, but you're getting the idea, right?

The Malaysian Chinese were a little bit lucky in this regard. In 1969 they were, like their Burmese and Indonesian counterparts, on the wrong end of a pogrom. It has become increasingly clear as documents are declassified that the official version overstated Chinese involvement in the outbreak, and understated the body count. But it was one of those rare civil disturbances that scares people back from the brink. It ended quickly, was confined primarily to Kuala Lumpur, and led to serious efforts to improve ethnic relations in Malaysia.

So the Chinese were able to stay (although Singapore, noting the wind direction, had seceded in 1964). Unlike his Burmese counterpart, Mahathir bin Mohamad's agenda was not one of isolation or ethnic purification, but an amalgam of nationalism and export-driven economic growth. Malaysia looked outward, and became famous for its neurotic pursuit of world records, landmark skyscapers, and maverick economic policy (encouraged, by the way, by a certain bearded guy we know).

Along the way a smallish majority-Chinese city called Penang kind of got lost in the shuffle. Situated on the Andaman Sea, Penang was once a key port in the British Empire, famous for its verdant hills, temples and clan houses, and the graceful lines of Fort Cornwallis :

Its fame, or perhaps notoriety, was further enhanced when it became the site of the aforementioned Emden's greatest exploit, the Llap-Gochian destruction of the Russian cruiser Zhemchug. (After I wrote my essay on Emden, I found a major contemporary New York Times report on the event, which you can read here.)

The headline faded, the world's attention moved on. Penang, once synonymous with the exotic east, became a distant memory, and then, in most minds, nothing at all. If that were not enough, it was unfortunate enough to be the place where S.J. Perelman lost his mind in Westward Ha!
All together I spent three and a half weeks in Penang before The President Monroe nosed over the horizon, and this much I will say for it: if you ever want a perfect honeymoon spot, a place where the scenery and climate fuse to produce unadulterated witchery, where life has the tremulous sweetness of a plucked lute-string and darkness falls all too soon, go to the Hotel Plaza in New York.

Of all the lethargic, benighted, somnolent fleabags this side of Hollywood, the port of Georgetown on the island of Penang is the most abysmal. At the time I was there, its recreational facilities consisted of four Tarzan films, a dance hall housing eighty-five pockmarked Malay delinquents, a funicular railway, and a third-rate beach situated five miles from nowhere.

If, after exhausting the potentialities of these, you retained any appetite for sightseeing, you could visit the Ayet Itam temple and botanical gardens. The former is possibly the largest, and unquestionably the dullest, Buddhist temple in Malaya, and no wastebasket is complete without a snapshot of this historic shrine.

Well, New Yorkers don't travel well. But he's right about the beach. Batu Ferringhi ("Foreigners' Rock"), is pretty awful. This may not be obvious from the pictures. But three things conspire to spoil a remarkably beautiful natural setting. First, it's overbuilt - not quite Ft. Lauderdale, but you can tell they'd like to get there. Second, it's wall-to-wall Saudis, and nothing says "pool-ready!" like a dozen or so black burkhas. And third, there's a mosque right there by the beach - with enormous loudspeakers - to make sure that you, the tourist, do not miss your pre-dawn Call to Prayers.

The one good thing about Batu Ferringhi is, it's five miles out of town.

The real Penang is Georgetown, the old city. Nestled among green hills, it fronts a lovely natural harbor. You can take the bridge over from the mainland, but I prefer the old ferries:

There's no center, really. You just walk around. The Georgetown vernacular is a jumble of modern buildings and traditional shophouses (store on ground floor, family apartment upstairs). It's a little decayed, and at night even desolate, but the more you hang around, the more cool things you see.

The people are nice and the food is good. Well, actually, the food is not good - it is celestial...beyond category. Fresh produce and fish caught that morning, sauced in Indian curries with Malay spices...there is nothing else like it. For the cost of coffee and a roll at the Plaza, you can have three courses of the best food you can imagine, with change left over for the Tarzan movie. Try the hokkien mee, claypot noodles, and roti canai, with sweets after, washed down with madras coffee. Or just order randomly, it doesn't really matter - nothing tastes bad. It's amazing. For Anthony Bourdain to do shows from Malaysia and Singapore and not spend time in Penang - good God, what a blunder. It would be like going to Padua and skipping the Scrovegni Chapel.

Maybe one reason Penang's not front page news is a bit of shame on the part of Malaysia. Malaysia styles itself as big, new, modern. (Did you know Malaysia has over 200 golf courses?) Penang is a beaten-up old town. The more you poke around in it the more you see the old Malaysia, the country they're trying to stop being.

We visited a family acquaintance there, an old man. A few years before I was born he rented a bit of land, and with the help of some friends poured a concrete slab on it. He built a house and planted a banana tree in the back yard.
Fifty years on he was still living there, sitting on the cool cement floor and watching 'Malaysian Idol' on an old Sony. He had a motorbike parked by the refrigerator, and a nice simple bedroom with mosquito netting. The breeze came off the ocean, up the street, and ran lightly through the eaves. It wasn't the sort of place the tourist authority would feature, but it worked for us.

DSC05098.jpg picture by DoctorX

So maybe it's ok that the world has forgotten about Penang. Sometimes it's better to not be noticed - easier to be yourself that way. Penang has none of the self-importance of the modern Asian megacities, none of the brusque you-can't-afford-to-be-here attitude, none of the self-conscious vanity. It's just a nice place, with nice people, good food, and interesting things to see.

I kind of miss it

A little update

Exxon Valdex 20 years later.

The Winner

Surgeon completes brain surgery while having heart attack. I'm trying, but can't think of anything that could really top that...

Today's Manageable Goals Revolutionaries Practical Joke

1. Go to a coffee shop.

2. Sit down at a table near a well-dressed business person with your laptop.

3. Type on your computer whenever they say anything, and stop and look expectantly when they are silent. If anyone says anything, point to the email you were writing.

March 23, 2009

Place your bets

Consumerist's Worst Company in America bracket.

Appalachia: maybe not so racist, after all

Nate Silver is on the case, with some interesting results.

March 22, 2009

I'm sure there's nothing to be concerned about

"Swarm of earthquakes" near Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

March 21, 2009


The Alaska State Senate considers a bill to outlaw bestiality.

Seriously, this is a big heaping helping of hypocrisy. 1) Cruelty to animals, sexual or not, should be illegal. 2) Cruelty to animals, sexual or not, is a behavior that sexual predators and serial killers engage in as a prelude to their predation on humans. So why doesn't the legislature pass a law against cruelty to animals? Because there are too many who think that might prevent them from abusing animals for so-called "legitimate" purposes, from shooting wolves from planes, to driving them to death in the Iditarod. Well, at least the people who do that aren't "perverts."

Why Geithner should go

If it were, at this point in history, acceptable to have a Secretary of the Treasury whose claim to represent the best interests of the United States (rather than just Wall Street) hinge on plausible deniability, then Geithner would be acceptable. So would Hank Paulson, really.

We need somebody better, just at the moment.

March 20, 2009

In a nutshell

By a fortunate coincidence, I received a letter from Dr. Kapital today. He is living in his beloved Austria:

Dear Front,

I hope this finds you well. I was sorry to hear that every executive at your leading banks must be punished with a special tax. I was particularly amused by the 'household income' means testing. Nothing could be more incriminating than the fact that a financial professional has a highly-compensated wife.

Down at the monthly von Hayek coffee klatch in Salzburg it became apparent to me that even well-read and literate observers may be confused about what has happened. Here is a brief outline of my views, which I hope will be of some interest. Of course everything is contingent and even the best analysis is a mere abstraction of reality. While the models economists use assume a great deal, they do not assume things like tumbrils and guillotines. You have been warned:
  • The best summary on the preconditions of the crisis is Martin Wolf's recent book Fixing Global Finance. His columns in the Financial Times (latest example here) are among the few pockets of rational thought in the current environment. He observes that the world economy this decade was dominated by massive imbalances, mainly those between the U.S. and a few export-based economies (e.g., Japan, Germany, and China). These countries ran trade surpluses by policy, and the U.S., having no trade policy, took the other side of the trade. Abundant credit flowed to U.S. consumers, who did what U.S. consumers always do. When the U.S. consumer woke up broke one morning, a global economic crisis ensued.
  • Milton Friedman once supposedly said (then denied saying) "we are all Keynesians now." Whether it was true then, it certainly is true today. Stimulus is needed. Strong technical economists on both left and right believe the stimulus passed so far is inadequate. And yet recent polls show Americans will not stand for more. If something does not change quickly there, the phrase "downgrade to schtupped" comes to mind.
  • But don't worry, lots of countries are worse off than you, including all of Europe. Mr Krugman explains the Spanish case here.
  • As for Asia, who knows? Singapore has stopped, Japanese exports have fallen off a cliff. Amusing isn't it, that the Chinese would like their money back? They remind me of a Madame whose best client has run up a huge tab, and now is having potency issues. It is hard to prioritize the questions: are you going to keep visiting here (we need your business)? are you going to pay us (we can sort of see why you wouldn't want to)? are you doing something to fix your problem (we might be partly responsible, but hope you don't notice)? Even harder to put them delicately.
  • Once the crisis began, it exposed a massive failure of oversight. While Bernie Madoff and our friends at AIG have become emblematic, the fact is that the SEC was warned about Madoff many times and never did a serious investigation. And AIG operated as a giant unregulated hedge fund in plain sight, with the tacit endorsement of senior policy makers. Michael Lewis discusses the subsequent sheisssturm here.
  • I do not agree with many of the things they say, but Akerlof and Shiller's new book is one of those things you must read, whether you want to or not. Fortunately it is well-organized and well-written. Unfortunately, it says much of the eventual recovery will depend on factors that are not easily controllable, such as crowd psychology.
This mess - it has all been so sudden... If only we had been warned by some credible expert! Well, if you really want to understand what happened at AIG, you might read this 2005 warning from their most formidable competitor, a man with an outstanding long-term track record in markets. I find long quotations tiresome, but suggest you read every word of this epilogue to the unwinding of his derivatives business:
In a sense, we are a canary in this business coal mine and should sing a song of warning as we expire. The number and value of derivative contracts outstanding in the world continues to mushroom and is now a multiple of what existed in 1998, the last time that financial chaos erupted.

Our experience should be particularly sobering because we were a better-than-average candidate to exit gracefully. Gen Re was a relatively minor operator in the derivatives field. It has had the good fortune to unwind its supposedly liquid positions in a benign market, all the while free of financial or other pressures that might have forced it to conduct the liquidation in a less-than-efficient manner. Our accounting in the past was conventional and actually thought to be conservative. Additionally, we know of no bad behavior by anyone involved.

It could be a different story for others in the future. Imagine, if you will, one or more firms
(troubles often spread) with positions that are many multiples of ours attempting to liquidate in chaotic markets and under extreme, and well-publicized, pressures. This is a scenario to which much attention should be given now rather than after the fact. The time to have considered – and improved – the reliability of New Orleans’ levees was before Katrina.

Well, too late now. Your best chance, and the world's, is that the causes of this crisis are seen aright by the national leadership and corrected. America once had very good financial regulation, and certainly could again. But I must note, your stock market was at 1,000 (S&P 500) on Election Day, and now hovers in the mid 700s. Government action so far has been too slow, too small, and only marginally well-aimed. Meanwhile, Rome burns. For now we have a triumph of experience over hope.

There are reasons to think things will get better. Bernanke appears capable (this
60 Minutes interview is worthwhile), Krugman's star is rising, and stocks are the cheapest they have been in decades (ceterus paribus, lower prices --> higher expected returns). If you are looking to put your spare cash to work in the market (and why not?), this book (and the accompanying website) would be a good place start.

Best regards,

Doktor Kapital

PS -
It is good to see Obama leaving Duke out of his Final Four. They suck.

For the Laird

I hope this will clear up any questions about the suffering of the affluent.

About paraphrase Rick, there are some German things I suggest you not import. Others include:
  • Schopenhauer
  • Nietzsche
  • Hegel
  • Clausewitz
  • That gay cannibal guy
I think BMWs are still ok, but you're better off getting one used.

The Internet as if reading mattered

This looks like a useful tool.


Speaking of pointless drifting, it's not often that I want an expensive thing, unless its really expensive, like a personal Arctic exploration ship or a luxury submarine or a global party blimp.

But I've been watching too much Top Gear, and although I thought I was immune to the subject matter, I have to admit that I now want one of these, a bare 0-60 in 2.88 seconds rocket that beat the 1.5 million dollar Bugatti Veyron around the Top Gear track, looks small, tight, and classic, and is stripped of gormless gizmos. The top line version of this old Lotus design costs $53,000 new.

It does this by being, you know, light. If it were a boat, it would be an outboard motor with seat.

I learned the power to weight ratio deal years ago in Anchorage when I was just nursing an old slab-sided Yamaha 750 XS out of winter storage, surprised to find a new Porsche 911 pulling up next to me at the first light, desirous, in his endearing ignorance, of racing me. I gave in to the dark side this one time. Rather than blasting off, I just made sure I was a $600 used motorcycle length ahead of him and his expensive girlfriend all the way to Wings N' Things.

But there really is precious little true cache to be found in cars. The trick is to wait a while. Much cooler to drive this thing off a cliff when you're 78, doing about 150.

Also, by then I might have the money.

Intro to One of Those Chatty Quantum Physics Papers

I repost a quantum physics catch from Subcommander Sum.


Abstract. On the basis of three physical axioms, we prove that if the
choice of a particular type of spin 1 experiment is not a function of the
information accessible to the experimenters, then its outcome is equally
not a function of the information accessible to the particles. We show
that this result is robust, and deduce that neither hidden variable theories
nor mechanisms of the GRW type for wave function collapse can be made
relativistic. We also establish the consistency of our axioms and discuss the
philosophical implications.

1. Introduction
Do we really have free will, or, as a few determined folk maintain, is it all
an illusion? We don’t know, but will prove in this paper that if indeed there
exist any experimenters with a modicum of free will, then elementary particles
must have their own share of this valuable commodity.

“I saw you put the fish in!” said a simpleton to an angler who had used a
minnow to catch a bass. Our reply to an analogous objection would be that
we use only a minuscule amount of human free will to deduce free will not
only of the particles inside ourselves, but all over the universe.

To be more precise, what we shall show is that the particles’ response∗ to a
certain type of experiment is not determined by the entire previous history of
that part of the universe accessible to them. The free will we assume is just
that the experimenter can freely choose to make any one of a small number of
observations. In addition, we make three physical assumptions in the form of
three simple axioms.

The fact that they cannot always predict the results of future experiments
has sometimes been described just as a defect of theories extending quantum
mechanics. However, if our physical axioms are even approximately true, the
free will assumption implies the stronger result, that no theory, whether it
extends quantum mechanics or not, can correctly predict the results of future

Date: March 31, 2006.

∗More precisely still, the universe’s response in the neighborhood of the particles.
spin experiments. It also makes it clear that this failure to predict is a merit
rather than a defect, since these results involve free decisions that the universe
has not yet made.

Our result is by no means the first in this direction. It makes use of the notorious
quantum mechanical entanglement brought to light by Einstein, Podolsky,
and Rosen, which has also been used in various forms by J. S. Bell, Kochen
and Specker, and others to produce no-go theorems that dispose of the most
plausible hidden variable theories. Our theorem seems to be the strongest and
most precise result of this type, and in particular implies that there can be
no relativistically invariant mechanism of the GRW-type (see Section 10) that
explains the collapse of the wave function.

Physicists who feel that they already knew our main result are cautioned
that it cannot be proved by arguments involving symbols such as <, |,>, ,⊗,
since these presuppose a large and indefinite amount of physical theory.
I note the comment about the description of unpredictability as a defect- it might seem strange to say that there is an unexamined bias towards predictability in theory; I'd conjecture it goes far beyond this instance. Theories which confirm predictability are potentially useful - so there is a natural bias towards confirming them.

March 19, 2009

Will it drift?

you betcha
oh yeah

March 17, 2009

Improving Google

This is a Google web interface I can appreciate have adopted.

Who does Tim Griffin know in Alaska?

Shannyn Moore poses this interesting question on the Huffington Post.

AIG: The Sanctity of Commercial Contracts

While AIG's bonus defenders blast the turbo-blather about the moral sancitity of contracts, I'm thinking of other laws.

RICO comes to mind. This handy little law allows the government to seize the assets of a criminal enterprise; for example, an organization committing a certain level of fraud. Does anyone want to put AIG to that particular test?

It can also be initiated in civil court, by a person "damaged in business or property." Tryouts to be named parties civil action will be held next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.

That's only for the mafia, you say? Ask Mike Milken. Or better yet, Congress.

"....Congress never intended it to merely apply to the Mob. (Blakely) once told Time, "We don't want one set of rules for people whose collars are blue or whose names end in vowels, and another set for those whose collars are white and have Ivy League diplomas."
Noted- the ACLU long objected to RICO cases as far too easy to bring against dissident organizations. The standards for a RICO prosecution are not exactly high.

March 16, 2009

Seattle Paper Folds: Who Named the Space Needle Remains a Mystery

The Seattle PI stops printing tomorrow, and yet, after 146 years, they never found out who named the Space Needle.

I forgot to report earlier: the person who knew more than anything about the Space Needle and who might have named it, a senior tour guide at the Needle I finally tracked down last year, reported what I suspected: it was one of the group of about 12 architects and designers at a meeting where someone said: "Hey, that looks like a Space Needle!"

That may be as much as we ever know. Updates as events warrant.

AIG: Please Hold for a Righteous Shitstorm

Paying out what appears to be $450 million in bonuses to its traders and executives, and repaying foreign banks with bailout money, AIG has just served itself up as villain #2, after Bernie Madoff.

"It makes me angry. I slammed the phone more than a few times on discussing AIG," Bernanke said. "It's - it's just absolutely - I understand why the American people are angry."

Phone-slamming Federal Reserve Chairman, never a good sign, particular just at the moment the administration has a strong political incentive to slow grill a corporate monster and invite everyone to the barbecue.

AIG, you've really done it now. You've made Barack Obama angry.

March 15, 2009

Furry Icarus

Recall the infamous Lemming snuff film from Disney, White Wilderness. I hadn't seen this since elementary school. It was a complete fabrication- the amiable wolf snacks were, in fact, flown from Hudson Bay to um, Calgary, and then launched off a cliff using a turntable.

The truth is always stranger. It's Walruses that plunge off cliffs.

March 14, 2009

This works a little too well


Gonz and Last One Left reel in a bounty of suckers on Linux's 15th Anniversary. You might think I am too mature and sophisticated to enjoy such shenanigans. You would be wrong.

Free sample:
Gonz: I'm with you on this.

Linux represents the old school, with its mainframe like interface, and arcane secret programming languages. Porting the softwares to this platform involves hiring the hippies who understand this obtuse environment. These people are typically unreliable, and have difficulty living wth the regular 9-5 work ethic. They believe in intellectual property theft, free love, substance abuse, and marxism.

You're doing it wrong

Democratic state with large population, enormous wealth, and a diverse industrial base lays off 26,000 teachers.

March 13, 2009

Gorbachev kicks some ass!

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March 12, 2009

Today's Bible Study

Let us turn our attention to a collection of commonly misconstrued passages:

"The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it."
Mark 11:12-14

"Now in the morning, when He was returning to the city, He became hungry.
Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered. Seeing this, the disciples were amazed and asked, "How did the fig tree wither all at once?" "
Matthew 21:18-20

"Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Behold, I will send upon them the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will make them like vile figs, that cannot be eaten, they are so evil."
Jeremiah 29:17

Reading carefully makes the message clear:


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March 11, 2009

A stupid joke for the Laird

A male patient is lying in bed in the hospital, wearing an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose, still heavily sedated from a difficult four hour surgical procedure. A young, student nurse appears to give him a partial sponge bath.

"Nurse", he mumbles, from behind the mask. "Are my testicles black?"

Embarrassed, the young nurse replies, "I don't know, Sir. I'm only here to wash your upper body and feet."

He struggles to ask again, "Nurse, are my testicles black?"

Concerned that he may elevate his vitals from worry about his testicles, she overcomes her embarrassment, sheepishly pulls back the covers. She raises his gown, holds his penis in one hand and his testicles in the other, lifting and moving them around. Then, she takes a closer look and says, "There's nothing wrong with them, Sir!!"

The man pulls off his oxygen mask, smiles at her and says very slowly, "Thank you very much. But, listen very, very closely...

A r e - m y - t e s t - r e s u l t s - b a c k!?

Frank Schaeffer preaches it.

Former republican calls current Republicans traitors. Also does a good job of following the lead of Democrats painting Rush Limbaugh as the "true face" of Republicanism.

March 10, 2009

Snowflakes dissolving in pure air

With the rest of the world thinking back to the 1930s, I find my own imagination going back to the 1940s. I mean the early 1940s in the Pacific, when America was losing every battle. It is a moment in which a strange aberration appeared in American military behavior.

At its most successful, the 20th century American military was a triumph of logistics and support over almost all other elements. The salient feature of 20th century American military strategy was not maneuver, or aggression, or valorous combat, although all of these were present, of course. The salient feature was the advance of American supply capability - steadily putting in superior infrastructure behind your forces while degrading the supply lines on the other side. In World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, U.S. forces secured physical assets and then tried to choke off the enemy main force by interdicting supply. When the war rested on these terms, as World War II did, we won. When the outcome depended on other variables (as in Vietnam) we didn't.

Anyway, in 1942 the U.S. couldn't play this game in the Pacific. American forces were green and outnumbered, and burdened with obsolete equipment like the Vought Vindicator, the Douglas Devastator, and the Brewster Buffalo "flying coffin." All physical assets (Pearl Harbor, Midway Island) were vulnerable. It would be two tough years before the U.S. could build its force up to the point where it could adopt its preferred "logistical advance with attrition" strategy.

Until then, a plan was needed. Up until the Battle of the Coral Sea, the American and British response in the Pacific had been fairly consistent. No matter where they were, from Singapore to Manila to Wake Island, Allied garrisons defended passively for awhile, had their planes shot down, and then surrendered.

But starting at Coral Sea, American strategy took on a decidedly more aggressive character. I don't know who gets credit for this. One obvious change was that at both Coral Sea and Midway the newly-appointed Frank Fletcher was the senior U.S. commander. Fletcher has been criticized as a timid battleship guy (and seriously, you do not want to get into this debate - rehabilitation attempt is here). But I notice he won his battles. Before Fletcher, the U.S. Navy was getting its ass kicked. Under Fletcher, they sank five Japanese carriers in two months and killed 4,000 Japanese sailors, against the loss of two carriers and 850 Americans.

Analysis of the Battle of Midway rightly focuses on the climactic attack of the American dive bombers, which in just a few minutes turned the Japanese carriers into raging infernos. Because of the incredible narrative force of that climax – I’ve just spent another half hour thinking about it – there is a tendency to forget what came before. And what came before was, simply put, the aviation equivalent of a series of human wave assaults.

A brief summary of American activity on June 4th, 1942:

  • 0520: Scouts find the Japanese carriers.
  • 0600: Every plane from Midway Island is in the air.
  • 0615: Twenty three U.S. fighters (mostly Brewster Buffaloes) attack incoming Japanese planes. 16 are shot down.
  • 0710: Four U.S. B-26 bombers (jury-rigged to carry torpedoes, and piloted by people who had never trained for this type of mission) and six Marine torpedo bombers attack the Japanese fleet. They do no damage, and all but two are shot down.
  • 0755: Sixteen Marine dive bombers attack the Japanese fleet. No damage is done. Eight make it home, six of which are damaged beyond repair.
  • 0815: Fifteen B-17s make a high altitude run at the Japanese carriers. No damage is done.
  • 0820: Eleven Vindicators attack the Japanese carriers. Amazingly, seven survive the mission. No damage is done.
If you're keeping score, at this point the Japanese have been under attack for about three hours. They've taken no damage and shot down or permanently crippled around 40 U.S. aircraft.

It gets better. Now the Japanese strike force is returning from Midway. Planes start landing, refueling, and re-arming for a new strike.
  • 0925: Fifteen Devastators from Hornet's Torpedo 8 attack the Japanese carriers without fighter escort. They're all shot down. No damage is done to the Japanese. (Survivor George Gay comments: "when we finally got up to the Battle of Midway it was the first time I had ever carried a torpedo on an aircraft and was the first time I had ever had taken a torpedo off of a ship, had never even seen it done. None of the other Ensigns in the squadron had either.")
  • 0940: Twenty six Devastators (14 from Enterprise and 12 from Yorktown) attack the Japanese fleet. All but four are shot down, and no damage is done.
So now the Japanese have shot down maybe 80 U.S. planes and no ship has yet sustained significant damage.
  • 1022: 49 dive bombers from Enterprise and Yorktown drop out of the sky and turn the Japanese carriers Kaga, Akagi, and Soryu into scrap metal. This takes about six minutes.
  • 1705: Enterprise dive bombers take out Hiryu, the last remaining Japanese carrier.
And that was it. The Americans just kept attacking, with anything that would fly, at whatever cost - until the Japanese fighters ran out of fuel, ammo, altitude, and stamina.

My great uncle, whose destroyer was sunk by a Kamikaze off Okinawa, used to tell me how crazy the Japanese were, how little they valued human life. It was a point of pride for him that Americans didn't do suicide missions. American propaganda, during the war and after, stressed this, too. Americans wouldn’t send a poor boy up in a Baka bomb, with no chance of ever coming home. A Brewster Buffalo or Vought Vindicator, maybe, but...

Here is the final note to the attack plan of Hornet's doomed Torpedo 8, from commander John Charles Waldron:
My greatest hope is that we encounter a favorable tactical situation, but if we don't, and the worst comes to worst, I want each of us to do his utmost to destroy our enemies. If there is only one plane left to make a final run-in, I want that man to go in and get a hit. May God be with us all. Good Luck, happy landings, and give 'em hell.

Brian Victoria in Zen at War describes a radio message from a doomed Japanese unit. It quotes Bassui's letter to a dying disciple: “Your end which is endless is as a snowflake dissolving in the pure air.”

Pilots of Torpedo 8, May 1942

Lincoln's pocket watch

From a story I heard on NPR:

A long-hidden message has been discovered inside Abraham Lincoln's pocket watch, the Smithsonian's Museum of American History announced Tuesday.

Watchmaker Jonathan Dillon was repairing Lincoln's watch in April 1861 when he heard about the attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and wrote a short message on the metal inside the watch, the Smithsonian said.

There it remained, unseen for almost 150 years, it said.

In a 1906 interview with The New York Times, Dillon reported that as soon as he heard the news about the first shots of the Civil War, he unscrewed the dial of the watch and wrote on the metal, "The first gun is fired. Slavery is dead. Thank God we have a President who at least will try."

The actual message that the museum found differs from the watchmaker's recollection. It says, "Jonathan Dillon, April 13-1861, Fort Sumpter [sic] was attacked by the rebels on the above date J Dillon, April 13-1861, Washington, thank God we have a government, Jonth Dillon."

According to the Smithsonian, it was not unusual for professional watchmakers to record their work inside a watch.

"Lincoln never knew of the message he carried in his pocket," said Brent D. Glass, director of the National Museum of American History.

The museum decided to open the watch after being contacted by the watchmaker's great-great-grandson, Doug Stiles, who had heard about the message Dillon said he had inscribed and wanted to see if it was really there.
It does make me wonder... Wither Obama's Blackberry?

Something in my eye

The rockets we grew up with.

UPDATE: Here's ours.

Dance while the music plays, when it stops the government pays

The Washington Post detects a pattern.

How about this...?

Not this, not this, but what about... about...something edgy...?

March 08, 2009

I have a new religion.

And it somehow involves Patton Oswalt.

In this one post he summons up everything that's wrong with folks reviewing Watchmen, skewers fanboys while simultaneously being one and I discovered his taste in TV is close enough to mine that I'm going to attempt to tivo everything he recommends (hell. I'm watching 1/2 those shows already)

Laird take note of his review of Battlestar Galactica:
"If you've never seen a single episode of the show you need to break your femur, get laid up in a hospital for eight weeks, and watch the entire run on either iTunes or DVD. I'd love to see creator Ronald D. Moore take on Gene Wolf's BOOKS OF THE NEW SUN, Warren Ellis' PLANETARY, or Bester's THE STARS MY DESTINATION. Wow!"
C'mon Laird. Hurry up and have some sort of malady that involves lots of downtime already.

Eisengeiste redesign

Eisengeisters: I believe the time has come for redesigning our happy blog. I submit these proposals for discussion:

1) Eliminate the Lord of the Rings themes and associated content. It was great, for a long time, but I think it's time for something new (or old).

2) Remove Meebo. I had a couple of good conversations there, but today I more likely to talk to Eisengeisters on IM or Facebook. Also, it motivates me not to leave our blog up in our browser, as it can mistakenly lead people to believe that I am available to have a Meebo conversation with them.

3) Put "Today's Tomorrow's Headlines" in the regular content section of the blog. This way, we'll know when there is a new "Today's Tomorrow's Headlines." Also, they will be archived and searchable through the Blogger interface.

4) Select a new theme (or lack thereof) for the banner and name. (I am personally leaning toward reverting to Eisengeiste.)

The Rock Obama

Walt Whitman's Voice

I stumbled across this article about the discovery of a recording of Walt Whitman's actual voice, reading a scrap of a poem, America, circa 1890. 1992 NYT article on the recording is here.

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,

All, all alike endear'd , grown, un grown, young or old,

Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,

Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love.

A welcome reminder.

March 07, 2009

Oregon Trail, the somethingawful way

Ok, this is brilliant.

The full thread is here.

The Real Anton Ego

Well, not exactly, but close. My hat is off to any restaurant critic who can call his meal “a three-star crucifixion...”

March 05, 2009

Nomination for the Nutstrong Nut

The rabutan.

Jon Stewart jacks up CNBC

March 04, 2009

Uh, what's that song about?

I had missed this little Foo Fighters stunt at the VMA Awards in 2007. Brilliantly conceived and executed.

March 03, 2009

Can you hear us now?

"...the Republican Party — which resisted Obama's recently passed stimulus plan and has criticized the spending in his budget — finds its favorability at an all-time low. It also receives most of the blame for the current partisanship in Washington and trails the Democrats by nearly 30 percentage points on the question of which party could best lead the nation out of recession."

Politico on the Mark Begich Hair: Kempt.

In high school, Sen. Mark Begich was notable for any number of reasons, but particularly for his glorious 70s hair. Even in latter times, the phrase "disco helmet" was bandied about somewhat carelessly.

Noted today, this story from Politico:

Begich generally travels with a couple of copies of business or current affairs magazines. On this latest trip, he had an issue of BusinessWeek in tow, which, by nightfall, had been voraciously dog-eared and spattered in blue pen. A man whose hair remains kempt after a day of travel is a fastidious man, and Begich has thought out his system for traveling, down to the placement of reading materials. He keeps his magazines and papers in a blue shopping sack that he then slings over the collapsible handle of his carry-on...

We here at Isengard.Gov approve the elevation of Mark Begich - and his hair - to the U.S. Senate.

P.S. BUT that doesn't mean it doesn't piss us off when he tries to water down environmental regs for economic reasons. On this, I stand firmly with the bears.

P.P.S. Mark's also been hanging with "moderate" Democrats- ones who are making noises opposing the Obama spending plans. Considering his politics, it's not unexpected, but I would remind him that his constituency is far, far larger than Alaska now; the national interest must take precedence in a national crisis. Slowing the momentum for national action at this moment is a problematic strategy.

Somebody explains...

...the Seahawks picking up Colin Cole.

(Left: Colin Cole manhandles convicted dog-abuser Michael Vick.)

March 02, 2009

B-24 Story

I recently interviewed a great old fellow who piloted a B-24 during the war. We talked for about four hours, a cheerful, smart guy in his mid-80s, who is in great health, has been married happily since 1947, walks 4 miles a day, and served 12 years in the Peace Corps.

Because I am an artist and a natural egotist, we were eventually talking about the B-17 sculpture. I feel a little bad about this because the debate over the overall best bomber of WWII between the robust, beautiful B-17 and the specs-superior B-24 has never been settled, and here I am proposing a massive sculpture celebrating the B-17 to a man who piloted a B-24 through 25 full missions.

Ah well. We were talking about his experience of it all, and I asked him about what I might put on the ground below the formation. He thought a moment, and told me this story:

It is very late in the war, and they receive unusual orders for a very, very low level mission: 2000 feet. For the B-24, another big 4 engine high-altitude bomber, this is like sending the Space Shuttle on the commuter run to Cincinnati.

They were to destroy a railroad switching yard, where the locomotives are turned around. He was leading about a dozen B-24s to Germany to destroy this target. There was cloud cover; the flight, many thousands of pounds of explosives, hundreds of men, all headed for one initial point.

They came through some cloud cover, rail tracks, rolling farmland. Unlike every other mission, he could really make out individual houses.

One of which was a farmhouse, one near the rail feature, one that was the exact point upon which they were to release their weapons. He was sixty seconds away.

It was just a farmhouse. He could remember the haystacks. He could remember thinking that inside this house was a farmer, like many he had known back in Wyoming, that the buildings were a little different but the same in function, that in that house was a man who knew nothing of a major force of American bombers coming right for him.

He told me that it occurred to him that he could veer off, cancel the attack; this would have, in effect, spared a single house from total annihilation.

That he had sixty seconds to consider this, that he for a moment held this specific choice, and that he reflected in spite of a foregone conclusion, speaks I think to the best of a soldier's instinct. I reflect now that the truth was this: he had never had to really see an individual person he was assigned to destroy, and now he did, and it was in his power to avert this annihilation, and he, of course, chose the mission.

The mission was to destroy that place. The holy rage of the Allies against the Nazis manifested itself now in a hundred screaming engines, a rainfall of high explosives, rage, technology, speed and metal and death visited upon a man sitting in his farmhouse. Aluminum literally shocked from the good earth, reborn in incredible effort to a flying bomb, massed, directed against a single house, a single man. Dropped within the choice of a man.

He told me that this was the one moment when the scale of what they were doing, the distance between humanity- a real person on the ground- and the war and the mission, became clear.

I've heard this theme before. This is war fever both amplified and distanced by technology. It grew to absurdity in the U.S. Civil War, and ballooned in escalating war logic ever since. That life remains stronger than war amazes me.

Interestingly, Sen. George McGovern was also a B-24 pilot (note his comments on the failure to bomb Auschwitz.) He had a similar incident, but with the luxury of redemption.

Housh' to the 'Hawks!

The Seahawks have landed T.J. Houshmandzadeh, in what will almost certainly be their biggest pickup of the free-agency period this off-season. (So learn to spell it, guys!)

The Seahawks have also signed stunningly mediocre defensive tackle Colin Cole. Gone bye-bye: RB Maurice Morris, and (ugh) DT Rocky Bernard (to the Giants).

Boat: I'm On One

March 01, 2009

In praise of Mitchell and Webb

A few Mitchell and Webb selections. I like these guys...they're not up to a Monty Python or Fry and Laurie level, but no one else is either. They have their moments:
Special bonus: Numberwang (Numberwang has taken the world by storm, as explained here)

I've linked to it before so it doesn't count, but for my money this is the best comedy sketch of the decade.

May I compartmentalize? I hate to, but may I?

Farewell to Limbaugh's smarter, more skilled predecessor.

Like Limbaugh, Harvey got special treatment from both left and right because he was feared by both (if you were a conservative politician, he could wreck your career in 30 seconds). No one really liked him, as near as I can tell, except his middle American audience, and they adored him.

Olbermann eviscerates him (starting at 1:05) here, and does a pretty good job catching Harvey's intonation and cadence (not easy to do).

We tend to see these guys after they become caricatures. Here he is, whipping his fastball back in the day.

Fry and Laurie once explored the question of whether English could be used for demagoguery. Somehow, I think this is as good an explanation of Paul Harvey as you're going to get.