Friday, November 9, 2007

Do Unto Others

...as they will do unto you once elected.

It sounds like a pretty nice idea when it's called the Golden Rule, but it's a bit more seedy when it means "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." If there was ever any doubt that politico-preachers are more about power and prestige than principles, this settles it. It's one thing for someone to say "John Kerry is a douchebag but I'm voting for him anyway," because pragmatic Americans are frequently in a position of having to decide among less-than-ideal options. But when your convictions are ostensibly based upon the will of the infallible and omnipotent creator of the universe, you have substantially less freedom to be expedient. If Giuliani is a sinner, or force of evil, or whatever the hell Pat Robertson used to call pro-choice divorcees before he endorsed one of them, then it seems to me you don't really have the authority to endorse him, even if he is preferable to the other demons that populate the field. Not that preachers have any business opining on politics anyway.

(The middle guy in The Onion sketch couldn't have been more on the money: "I don't know whose credibility this ruins more." Bingo.)

Update: Jackie and Dunlap break it down:






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Thursday, November 8, 2007

Chuck D

That is, Charles Darwin, not the guy from Public Enemy. It's amazing how little respect the former gets in America these days. Marty Klein has a few pointed observations (emphasis added):

Say what you will about the Brits (the food isn’t their only fault), they gave the world parliamentary democracy. Not to deny their imperialism and funny hats, but they have often been an island of sanity (literally) in a world gone mad. And every day of my visit last week, I had some of that sanity in my hand.

Their 10-pound ($20) bill features a picture of Charles Darwin on the back.

Can you imagine that in the U.S.?
[snip]

I call these [antiscientific] opinions lies because when confronted with the evidence that they’re wrong, these people almost always say, “I don’t care about your so-called facts. I know what I know.” Worse, they spread these lies via government websites, “decency” campaigns, and TV shows.

One of the most tragic accomplishments of the Bush Administration is the cultural devaluation of knowledge. Facts are no longer seen as special. In a single decade, the scientific enterprise—the thought process that lifted human beings out of caves, cannibalism, and the fear of fire—has been nakedly politicized, reduced to the level of just another opinion.

As teacher Bob Riggins says, “Do you believe in evolution?” is the wrong question. It suggests that there is a choice. It implies that “believing” and “not believing” are, on some intellectual level, equivalent. But they aren’t.

Evolution’s history and contemporary processes have long been established as knowledge. In fact, you can see evolution easier than you can see intercourse causing pregnancy or the moon causing tides. The next time you get a drug-resistant flu or infection, you’re seeing evolution in action. And when you drop your pen, does it fall because of “gravity,” or the floor god Calvin? Does not believing in gravity make it any less real?

In England, people don’t discuss whether or not they “believe” in Darwin or Evolution. Millions of them are good Christians.

But in today’s America, more people believe in the reality of the Rapture than in the reality of Evolution. As Richard Kliman says in Philip Roth’s new novel, Exit Ghost, “these are people who don’t believe in knowledge.”

Defend Science.
Defend Science.

By the way, though I am no fan of strict dichotomies, I must accede to the claim that the battle lines have been drawn. Materialism, science, humanism, call it what you will: a worldview that relies on observation rather than revelation is incompatible with religion in any true sense of the word. Here is a fantastic critique of the often-espoused pseudo-moderate apologia of those who believe otherwise. (This is a clear case of pandering, as Brownback almost certainly does not believe in their compatibility; he just doesn't want to admit that he is a fundamentalist to those who don't already know it.) Such arguments are big on heart, to give them the benefit of the doubt, but undeniably small on brain. An excerpt:
To say that there is no conflict between faith and reason, therefore, is to say that the propositions one holds to be divinely revealed do not contradict the propositions knowable according to the standards of science or philosophy. Whether this is really the case depends, obviously, on just which propositions one thinks were divinely revealed and which are knowable in science or philosophy. If it turns out that a proposition one holds in faith is contradicted by a proposition known by reason, then one must either rework one’s theology, giving up on the idea that God revealed the proposition in question, or else show that the scientific or philosophical arguments that contradict that proposition are in fact inconclusive by scientific or philosophical standards.
Although the author offers a half-hearted defense of theism, it is notable that by his own logic this argument is scientific (or whatever we should call human-derived knowledge), and is thus no defense of religion as conventionally practiced. In fact, like all arguments that turn on the convenient convergence of rational belief with religious practice, it is a near deathblow to the rationale for religion, depriving it of its saving grace: What can it show us that we can't figure out ourselves? He says so himself:
To relegate normative questions to the realm of faith would be to deny the existence of an objective morality knowable by human reason—and in this way the virtues, natural law, and human rights become indistinguishable from whatever putative divine commands any crackpot may say he has lately received. This is not a view that anyone, especially someone involved in public life, should want to defend.
Matt Taibi also has a great piece in Rolling Stone that talks about the fairly recent Dover trial: our generation's Scopes trial. He makes an interesting an often-overlooked point in that while some of the more conciliatory intellectuals may pretend or even believe that the faith vs. reason conflict need not end in epistemological Armageddon, true believers are astute in realizing that it must. And they are equally right to fear that they will lose. Cognoscenti have no credibility in claiming that secular knowledge will not obviate and obliterate the current alternatives, as well they shouldn't:
"Dr. Alters," he said, "were you aware that Professor Steven Weinberg once said that 'I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive to religious belief, and I'm all for that!'"

"An unfortunate remark," said Alters, shaking his head and squirming. The look on his face said, "Can we move on?"

But Muise didn't: He rattled off more quotes from prominent scientists, including one from Gould ("Before Darwin, we thought that a benevolent God had created us") -- who, Muise noted with obvious pleasure, had once written a foreword to one of Alters' books. Alters shrugged it off, calmly sticking to his contention that evolution was not an indictment of religion.

As Alters gave his denials, Muise turned to the gallery and, for the first time that afternoon, evinced a small smile. That smile spoke volumes. It said, "At least my clients know when they're full of shit. But these eggheads . . ."

Muise had a point. His defendants and their ID theory had come under attack for an obvious reason: Just because you say in a court of law that you're not creationists doesn't make it true.

Now Muise got to say the same thing to those superior-sounding intellectuals who flew into God's country and insisted, under oath, that they weren't enemies of religion. You can yell it at us till you're blue in the face, the lawyer seemed to be saying, but we who really believe know better.

To blue-state intellectuals like Alters, Kitzmiller v. Dover was just another clash with religious loonies of the same primitive sort found in the original Scopes trial, die-hards determined for some incomprehensible reason to drag us back to the Stone Age.

But to the defendants in this case, Kitzmiller was a chance to turn Scopes on its head. If what Scopes' defense attorney Clarence Darrow accomplished eighty years ago was to expose the narrow-mindedness and anti-intellectualism of the Bible Belt, lawyers like Muise were out to show the opposite in Kitzmiller -- that most scientists secretly hate God, laugh at his followers and would like to stamp out both for all eternity, only they don't take Christians seriously enough to be straight with them about this.

Both sides were right[.]
[snip]

But the real victory of the defense was in forcing men like Alters to insist with a straight face that Darwinism is not incompatible with religion. Technically this was true, of course, but it was striking that it was exactly the same kind of feeble technicality as the contention that ID has no literal connection to God or the Bible. A technicality like Clinton not sleeping with Monica Lewinsky, like John Kerry owning a rifle. Technically true -- but fooling no one.

Intelligent design may very well have been conceived as an end run around the Supreme Court, and in a matter of weeks, it will likely be exposed as such, when the Honorable Judge John E. Jones III rules in favor of Kitzmiller et al. in the Dover case. [Note: Judge Jones, who had close ties to Republican politicians sympathetic to ID, was suspected to be as favorable to the ID cause as anyone you could find on a federal bench. Nonetheless, his ruling was brutal. While he needed only rule on the impropriety of the particular case, which was obvious and could have been accomplished on a technicality rather than the heart of the legal issue, he chose instead to rule broadly and harshly on the impropriety of ID itself, essentially closing the door to similar cases in the future. He also lauded the ACLU prosecutor's devastating cross examination of the key expert ID witness, Michael Behe, as "textbook."]

But ID is also revealing itself here in Pennsylvania in another form. It's having a coming-out party as a deliberate satirical echo of the great liberal lie of the modern age: the idea that progressive science and religion can coexist.

For a century or so since Nietzsche, popular culture in the West has operated according to an uneasy truce, in which God both is and is not dead. We teach our children the evidence-based materialism of science and tell them they can believe in God and a faith-based morality in their spare time if they like.

And in some parts of the country, we celebrate Scopes as a victory over ignorance, while still insisting that we do not also celebrate it as a victory over religion. What these endless Scopes sequels tell us is that somewhere many years from now we're going to hit a fork in the road, beyond which this have-it-both-ways philosophy isn't going to fly anymore. Is God dead, or isn't he? Are we believers, or not? They know what we think. They just want us to come out and say it.


Almost anywhere else in the developed world, the notion if True Belief is quaint. But in the US, God is not dead quite yet. But make no mistake about it, it's Nietzsche or the Bible. I know who I'm pulling for.




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Taxes

Well, what else can I say:



You can find out more about the "carried interest" tax rate here. Needless to say, it has been greatly misunderstood by many who have opined on it. Further, while organizations like MoveOn are pushing this as a major populist issue (which it is) the implication is that this is a Republican thing, which it apparently is not. While a Dem introduced the bill to close the loophole, support for it on his side of the aisle has been less than convincing. Notably, Chuck Schumer of New York (he's close to Wall Street types, so this is obviously uncomfortable for him) has opposed the bill. We'll see what the Dems do, but if this bill doesn't pass it will (and should) seriously damage their credibility as the party of common people, especially in juxtaposition to Republican "elitism."



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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Elephant In The Room

[While it occurs to me that the title is probably the most cliche of all political puns, I still thought it was rather clever at the moment.]

Biden finally says what few others have had the balls to mention. I love that man.



Biden is not as wonkish on policy as my ideal candidate would be, but he's not full of shit either and that counts for quite a bit these days. Here is an excellent piece on Biden. It's wordy, but substantial. It also reminds us of his significant personal faults and past political transgressions (and some might claim it glosses over these), but all in all I think it's the portrait of a man who has the foundations of knowledge and character to be a good president. I think I like him for putting his foot in his mouth occasionally because he does so out of what seems to be unaffected candor, and he responds to his own unfortunate outbursts by neither denying nor eschewing his positions, but simply apologizing where it's warranted.

In short, vote Jackie Broyles.






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Friday, November 2, 2007

Constitution 102

I have already posted excerpts on this, but when a presidential front-runner like Mitt Romney says at the Republican debate--to copious applause, no less-- that it is acceptable for traditionally defined constitutional civil rights to take a back seat to the exigencies of safety, it bears repeating. [For some reason, I can't find a clip of him saying this. I saw the clip originally on the Daily Show, which has done a heinously amateurish revamp of their site and it is now almost impossible to find anything.] More excerpts below, and here is the full article.

When President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law in October 2006, he dismissed objections to its Draconian and tyrannical provisions with one very simple and straightforward argument (emphasis added):
Over the past few months the debate over this bill has been heated, and the questions raised can seem complex. Yet, with the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat? Every member of Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us.
That paragraph summarizes the Bush movement. Because the threat posed by The Evil Terrorists is so grave, maximizing protections against it is the paramount, overriding goal. No other value competes with that objective, nor can any other value limit our efforts to protect ourselves against The Terrorists.

That is the essence of virtually every argument Bush supporters make regarding terrorism. No matter what objection is raised to the never-ending expansions of executive power, no matter what competing values are touted (due process, the rule of law, the principles our country embodies, how we are perceived around the world), the response will always be that The Terrorists are waging war against us and our overarching priority -- one that overrides all others -- is to protect ourselves, to triumph over Evil. By definition, then, there can never be any good reason to oppose vesting powers in the government to protect us from The Terrorists because that goal outweighs all others.

But our entire system of government, from its inception, has been based upon a very different calculus -- that is, that many things matter besides merely protecting ourselves against threats, and consequently, we are willing to accept risks, even potentially fatal ones, in order to secure those other values. From its founding, America has rejected the worldview of prioritizing physical safety above all else, as such a mentality leads to an impoverished and empty civic life. The premise of America is and always has been that imposing limitations on government power is necessary to secure liberty and avoid tyranny even if it means accepting an increased risk of death as a result. That is the foundational American value.

It is this courageous demand for core liberties even if such liberties provide less than maximum protection from physical risks that has made America bold, brave, and free. Societies driven exclusively or primarily by a fear of avoiding Evil, minimizing risks, and seeking above all else that our government "protects" us are not free. That is a path that inevitably leads to authoritarianism -- an increasingly strong and empowered leader in whom the citizens vest ever-increasing faith and power in exchange for promises of safety. That is most assuredly not the historical ethos of the United States.

The Bill of Rights contains numerous limitations on government power, and many of them render us more vulnerable to threats. If there is a serial killer on the loose in a community, the police would be able to find and apprehend him much more easily if they could simply invade and search everyone's homes at will and without warning. Nonetheless, the Fourth Amendment expressly prohibits the police from undertaking such searches. It requires both probable cause and a judicial warrant before police may do so, even though such limitations on state power will enable dangerous killers to elude capture.
(snip)

Our country is centrally based upon the principle that we are willing to assume risks in order to limit government power. Numerous other amendments in the Bill of Rights are grounded in that same principle. And, of course, that is the central belief that drove the founders to risk death by waging war against the most powerful empire on earth. Objectives other than physical protection matter greatly. We have never been a country that ignores other objectives and asks only, as the president put it, did "Americans take the threat seriously, and did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?"

The president's mind-set is utterly contrary to core American principles. Historically, the worst mistakes America has made -- those instances in which it has departed most radically from its ideals -- happened not when Americans failed to take seriously enough some Evil lurking in the world, but, to the contrary, they occurred when our government leaders exaggerated the threat of Evil and accordingly induced overreactions among citizens.

Historians will almost certainly ask about the Bush presidency: Did America adhere to its values and principles when defending itself against the threat posed by terrorism, or did it succumb to fear, overreaction, and violate its core beliefs in pursuit of illusions of maximum protection?


To put it another way...

This is an excellent recap of the point by David Foster Wallace, but since it's probably not linkable without a subscription, I will plagiarize the point below. [Of The Atlantic, Harper's, and The New Yorker, I'm not sure why The Atlantic seems to be notably more protective of their online content. I hate to do this, but this is the way media works nowadays.]
Are some things still worth dying for? Is the American idea* one such thing? Are you up for a thought experiment? What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?

In still other words, what if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?

Is this thought experiment monstrous? Would it be monstrous to refer to the 40,000-plus domestic highway deaths we accept each year because the mobility and autonomy of the car are evidently worth that high price? Is monstrousness why no serious public figure now will speak of the delusory trade-off of liberty for safety that Ben Franklin warned about more than 200 years ago? What exactly has changed between Franklin’s time and ours? Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

In the absence of such a conversation, can we trust our elected leaders to value and protect the American idea as they act to secure the homeland? What are the effects on the American idea of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Patriot Acts I and II, warrantless surveillance, Executive Order 13233, corporate contractors performing military functions, the Military Commissions Act, NSPD 51, etc., etc.? Assume for a moment that some of these measures really have helped make our persons and property safer—are they worth it? Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?



Here are a few things I've quoted before.

No one can terrorize a whole nation, unless we are all his accomplices.
-Edward R. Murrow

We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine. And remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to associate, to speak, and to defend the causes that were for the moment, unpopular. This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage, and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the results. We proclaim ourselves indeed we are, defenders of freedom where ever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
-Edward R. Murrow

One of our greatest leaders once told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. We should remember that.


Somewhat relevantly, this is not a model of government:




Non sequiturs below:







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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

An Education Well Spent

This is why I can't wait to get to medical school. The kind of students that populate top medical schools are truly amazing. Milton is a friend of a friend of mine from Vanderbilt undergrad, and I wish him all the success he obviously deserves.





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Monday, October 22, 2007

Why The System Is Broken

Here's a little something I stumbled across. While I often disagree with libertarians like those at Reason on many things, I rarely disagree with them on everything. Here's the bit of this argument that I like most:

"If you don't know what you're talking about," South Park co-creator Matt Stone recently told Rolling Stone, "there's no shame in not voting." The comment upset actor-activist Sean Penn, who scolded Stone for "not mentioning the shame of not knowing what you're talking about."

When it comes to politics, Americans who don't know what they're talking about have a lot of company. In fact, as George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin shows in a Cato Institute paper published last month, they represent a majority of voters.

Somin reviews survey data from the 1950s on that indicate "most individual voters are abysmally ignorant of even very basic political information." Furthermore, "a relatively stable level of extreme ignorance has persisted" despite rising education levels and increased availability of information.
The rest of the article fleshes out those assertions somewhat and then devolves into some personal whining that injures an otherwise strong point.


Of course, The Onion already knew that:
Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

And speaking of Parker and Stone, I haven't seen Idiocracy, but this little clip from it makes me think it's worth a gander:




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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Democratic Elitism

I have defended the notion of "elitism" here before. While there are some forms of elitism that I oppose, like plutocracy, I do consider myself an aristocrat in the original Greek sense of the word, which is better represented in the modern lexicon by the term technocrat. (I am aware of the irony of dropping Greek-bombs when defending elitism; how autologous!) In any case, I suppose I will be getting a cane, because I must sound a lot like this guy:





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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

AI


This reminded me of my philosophy of mind class. Dennett and Fodor would dig it.




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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Swift-Boating of Graeme Frost

This article pretty much says all you need to know about the Republican smear machine. Smearing candidates and speciously impugning the credibility experts are long-accepted forms of political and legal discourse, but I think you need to step back and consider the depths to which you have sunk when you viciously attack a kid and his family (using claims that are not just spun but purely fabricated, I would add) to defend an act that is frankly indefensible -- the denial of healthcare to children whose parents can't afford it -- just to preserve tax breaks for the wealthy.

"It's for your own good; socialized medicine will destroy everything in the end."
It's easy for a politician to say that to a camera, but it's not easy for a doctor to say it to a patient. Because it's not true.

From the article, a letter from the father:

"My son Graeme has helped put on a human face, that of a young boy, representing the needs of children and families across this nation. We are a hard working family that has stepped forward to support SCHIP. Mudslinging from the fringe has now been directed at the messenger. To be smeared all over the Internet and receive nasty e-mail — my family does not deserve this retribution. It is both shameful and pathetic.

"Driven by a most dubious agenda, shortsighted cut-and-paste bloggers, lacking all the facts, have made a feeble attempt at being crack reporters. This is an aberrant attempt to distract the American people from what the real issues are. Hard working American families need affordable health insurance.

"I find it morally reprehensible, and the act of a true coward, to publicly (world wide) smear a man and his family and not sign one's own real name to what they have written. I sign my name to what I write.

-Halsey Frost"




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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Doubting Thomas

I actually caught the 60 Minutes segment where Clarence Thomas, in an effort to promote his new book, paints quite a different picture of himself than history would suggest is the case. It did not go unnoticed, and he was called out on his hypocrisy. This post pretty much says it all.






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Fucking Linguistics

Tee hee.

Besides being at once playfully scatalogical and beautifully deadpan, the article is actually quite serious and thoughtful, as I will fail to suggest in my commentary below.

I love Steven Pinker. I think he should write just about everything that gets written about popular neuroscience and linguistics, and when he says things like "the gynecological-flagellative term for uxorial dominance," it makes me think he should write the clues for the NYT crossword too. That would be one fun crossword. (How fun would it be? Fucking.)*

*Pinker says that this construction is ungrammatical, which it clearly is. But I'm going to try and change that.

By the way, although most of the piece is focused on the sociolinguistics of profanity and the evolutionary traits that underlie it, he offers a spot-(fucking-) on assessment of what this means, politically, for us today:

When it comes to policy and law, it seems to me that free speech is the bedrock of democracy and that it is not among the legitimate functions of government to punish people who use certain vocabulary items or allow others to use them. On the other hand, private media have the prerogative of enforcing a house style, driven by standards of taste and the demands of the market, that excludes words their audience doesn't enjoy hearing. In other words, if an entertainer says fucking brilliant, it's none of the government's business; but, if some people would rather not explain to their young children what a blow job is, there should be television channels that don't force them to.


Read it.


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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Blackwater

I've always thought that contracting a war out to mercenaries (who are politically unaccountable and of a questionable international legal status, among other issues) was a terrible idea. I'm surprised how little political outcry it has caused. But amidst growing discontent among Americans for the Iraq war, and among Iraqis for Americans, the recent shooting of about 20 Iraqis by Blackwater has provoked the censure of the Iraqi government and attracted much negative attention from our citizens at home. Now there are a string of high-profile allegations, revelations, and PR disasters, culminating in congressional investigations. You could say the shit has officially hit the fan. I hope accountability is restored.

Also in the bad news department for Blackwater, the wrongful death suit against it by families of deceased contractors is a big news item once again.

All I can say is that I don't think people should be getting rich off war, period. Combined with the fact the Blackwater seems to have been greedy, unethical, and inhumane in many of its actions and policies, I hope courts show no mercy.


Update: Another embarrassing incident and a piece about, what else, corruption.


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Monday, October 1, 2007

Healthcare

In a follow up to this post, the Onion offers Bush's solution to healthcare reform, reminding us that it is not government's business to take care of (our own) citizens.

But seriously, the military-industrial complex is not very funny. Why We Fight is an amazing documentary that explores its historical roots and contemporary relevance. Every American should watch it.

Official site.


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Sunday, September 30, 2007

MD/PhDs

I'm glad that I didn't read this until my applications were done. Not that I was oblivious to the quagmire that is the NIH funding system.

While training more medical scientists than we can realistically support (and then having them drop out of research) is certainly a concern, another equally unfortunate scenario that could result from a glut of MD/PhD graduates would be if all of the promising candidates ended up in industry. Biotech is booming, and many predict it will be a juggernaut by the time I graduate, so they may indeed end up picking up the slack for a lack of government funding. Of course this is not inherently bad; many great things come out of industry research. But it would be a shame if industry consolidated too great a share of our biomedical capital, much as the pharmaceutical industry has done. Many very bright medicinal chemists and pharmacologists (and probably a few other specialties) have virtually no choice but to work for the overlords of Big Pharma.

Many of them do good work, but it's no secret, for example, that urinary incontinence is a very active area of pharmaceutical research. Why? Obviously, this is not a pressing medical issue. However it is a fairly common problem and, more importantly, one which won't kill you. If a drug were developed, a patient might well take it continually for 20 years. I won't belabor that it is a terrible disconnect when treating an innocuous "disease" is incentivized over one with a high mortality rate. It would indeed be a shame if many of our best and brightest physician-scientists were beholden to such a system of crass bottom lines. The people who will make the greatest innovations in medicine over the next several decades need only to have their patients' best interests at heart, not their stockholders.

Commercially viable research is driven by profit potential, and this end does not always square nicely with medicine's obligation to treat even the toughest, most unrewarding of cases. That is why we must maintain a strong backbone of government supported investigation into the difficult, ugly, never-gonna-make-anybody-rich-but-could-save-many-lives problems. Further, there is an important synergy here; basic academic research lays a foundation of knowledge by which industry can judge if there is potential for a commercial solution, and run with the promising ideas that academia has illuminated. So much preliminary investigation is involved before an idea can even be considered for the industry pipeline that industry would virtually never produce anything new if they had to do all the research in house. The fact of the matter is that an unbelievable percentage of promising research turns out to be a clinical dead-end, so the risk is simply too great for any company to sustain active R&D in that kind of field. That's why we need to have plenty of NIH money: everyone depends on it.



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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Ignorance of Crowds

Here is an excellent article by Nicholas Carr that assesses the hype over the new fad of "open-source" everything. In short, those who believe that collaborative, wiki-type projects will revolutionize corporate production philosophy are probably out of touch with reality. While wikis make for a popular encyclopedia, that product is so successful not because it lacks flaws --even its most adamant proponents would surely admit that Wikipedia is lacking in many areas-- but because it's free. The open-source model, left entirely to its own devices, will likely produce many more Wikipedias, and you can't sell one of those for much.

But even as the corporate world has begun to embrace the idea of the bazaar as a forum for innovation, software programmers have continued to debate the strengths and weaknesses of peer production. The open source model has proven to be an extraordinarily powerful way to refine programs that already exist — Linux, for instance, is an elaboration of the venerable Unix operating system, and the open source Firefox browser builds on Netscape’s old Navigator — but it has proven less successful at creating exciting new programs from scratch. That fact has led some to conclude that peer production is best viewed as a means for refining the old rather than inventing the new; that it’s an optimization model more than an invention model.
Here I'm reminded of one of the early successful open-source models: the cryptographic doctrine of security through transparency. (Lo and behold, I looked for something to link for that concept and ol' Raymond is in the article. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Wikipedia after all. And maybe I shouldn't link a Wikipedia article to support my thesis that Wikipedia is pretty crappy.) Anyways, the theory basically says that encryption algorithms that rely on a secret in the algorithm itself (i.e., the algorithm is not known) are not as secure as those in which the algorithm is public, and only the key is secret. By the way, The Code Book is a fantastic lay explanation of basic concepts in cryptography.

Anyway, the reason the analogy is (hopefully) apt is that strong encryption algorithms are not developed by democratic collaboration; they are developed by the same isolated, eccentric geniuses as ever. But they are then scrutinized by the masses in a process that confirms and ensures their security. The wiki-digm may lead to better critics, but that's a far cry from producing better authors. In a production sense, the creation of material for them to improve upon is still rate-limiting. This is the invention vs. optimization distinction, and it's one of the primary reasons this "revolution" will end not with a bang, but with a whimper:
What makes the open source model so well suited to finding and fixing software flaws is that debugging is a task that requires little coordination among workers. Debuggers are able to sift through chunks of code in isolation — whether “splendid” or not — without knowing or caring what their fellow bug finders are doing. “Debugging,” as Raymond puts it, “is parallelizable.” All the debuggers have to do is communicate their findings and fixes to some central authority, like Linus Torvalds. The central authority takes care of synthesizing the work of the crowd, choosing the best contributions, melding them together into a coherent product, and then redistributing the work to the crowd for the next go-round.

But in Raymond’s observation, we also begin to see some of the limitations of the bazaar. First, peer production works best with routine or narrowly defined tasks that can be pursued simultaneously by a big crowd of people. It is not well suited to a job that requires a lot of coordination among the participants. If members of a large, informal group had to coordinate their efforts closely, their work would quickly bog down in complexity. The crowd’s size and diversity would turn from a strength to a weakness, and the speed advantage would be lost. Second, because it requires so many “eyeballs,” open source works best when the labor is donated or partially subsidized. If Linus Torvalds had had to compensate all his “eyeballs,” he would have gone broke long ago.

Third, and most important, the open source model — when it works effectively — is not as egalitarian or democratic as it is often made out to be. Linux has been successful not just because so many people have been involved, but because the crowd’s work has been filtered through a central authority who holds supreme power as a synthesizer and decision maker.
The take home:
The bottom line is that peer production has valuable but limited applications. It can be a powerful tool, but it is no panacea. It’s a great way to find and fix problems, to collect and categorize information, or to perform any other time-consuming task that can be sped up by having lots of people with diverse perspectives working in parallel. It can also have the important added benefit of engaging customers in your innovation process, which not only allows their insights to be harnessed but also may increase their loyalty to your company.

But if peer production is a good way to mine the raw material for innovation, it doesn’t seem well suited to shaping that material into a final product. That’s a task that is still best done in the closed quarters of a cathedral, where a relatively small and formally organized group of talented professionals can collaborate closely in perfecting the fit and finish of a product. Involving a crowd in this work won’t speed it up; it will just bring delays and confusion.

Ultimately, the hitch is the same as it ever was: the judicious selection of the talented few who possess the discretion to separate the wheat from the chaff. And we can't rely on the wisdom of crowds for that.



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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

Kiva

Microcredit is an amazing idea. And with the advent of decentralized financial transactions provided by the web, it has really begun to come into its own as an efficacious method of socioeconomic change. Kiva is leading the way in realizing this idea's potential. It's amazingly simple. It works like this.

Even those of us who have very little money can make a substantial contribution. After all, you're almost certainly going to get your money back, so it's really just an issue of living without part of your paycheck for a bit. I am stunned at the power of such a simple idea.






Update: A fantastic example of the way people in undeveloped countries are really lacking only for seed capital, rather than intelligence, ingenuity, or desire, is here. There are several other case studies in the enabling of the destitute and their amazing capacity for technological achievement (which sounds -- and is -- naively chauvinistic to say in light of these examples) in this book.


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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Healthcare Reform

RSU's got it figured out.

"You know, a lot of sick people think they deserve to get better. Bullshit. I don't see nothin like that in the Bill of Rights."
"We'll give sick people just enough to stop 'em from bitchin."







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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

On Reality

Read this. Wow, that's good. Here's a taste:

The rumored totality of America's cynical scorn for politics and leaders notwithstanding, this country has many citizens who still believe, even after what has happened, that if the president of the United States says it, then it must be true. This isn't a conscious thing; it happens way back in the slushy part of the brain, where unpleasant facts or disquieting fears are submerged and drowned like rats in an applesauce vat. Bush and his crew counted on that, using TV news messaging to furrow the field in preparation for seeding time, and their trust in the trust of Americans was shown to be well-placed.

When the serious push came, it came fast and furious. Dick Cheney declared that the Vice President's office no longer existed within the Executive branch because he didn't want to give any of his documents to the National Archives as is required by law, and actually went on to defend the legitimacy of his astonishing, arrogant, galactically mistaken declaration, and he got away with it.

Bush's lawyers put forth a claim of Executive Privilege that was the very living essence of overheated hubris run amok - a claim that for all intents and purposes declared Bush and his people to be fully and completely above the rule of law, and he got away with it. Subpoenas issued by Congress were either utterly ignored or smugly slapped aside, and the lawyers got away with it.

Another piece of draconian surveillance legislation aimed at shattering our remaining rights arrived in Congress, so the Bush folks brazenly bullied the majority into passing it by threatening to blame them for the next terrorist attack to come, whereupon the majority instantly wilted like orchids in a snowbank, the bill passed with room to spare, and once again they got away with it.

Cheney's chief of staff was convicted for lying about lying about lying about outing a deep-cover CIA agent and sentenced to federal prison, initiating the single most observably crooked bag-job in modern political history: Libby took the bullet for his boss, got rewarded for his service with a presidential get-out-of-jail-free card, and they all got away with it.

All of this was deployed in rapid succession, presenting the American people with a sudden feast of gibberish that has redefined incoherence across the board: the VP is not in the executive branch, and the executive branch is above the law, and the majority in Congress is actually the minority, and obstructing justice to protect Cheney from being prosecuted for annihilating a CIA operative isn't anything to get in a snit about. If that is not prima facie evidence that a new reality has been imposed upon us, then I don't know what is.

Slowly but surely, the eerie prophecy of Ron Suskind's iconic piece on the Bush presidency has been realized. Recall:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
**Shudder**
**Sob**





Tangent:



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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Integrity

This is why I love the ACLU. They stand on their principles, even for the assholes who openly contemn them.

Exoneration will obviously not salvage Craig's political career. After all, he pleaded guilty to the minor charge of "disorderly conduct." The calls for resignation are not because he's a criminal, they're because he's gay. The scandal isn't that he tried to have sex with a policeman, it's that he tried to have sex with a man.

Nonetheless, the ACLU is exactly right: in the same way that I can walk up to a woman at a bar and proposition her, a man may do the same to another man. And the same speech that's constitutionally protected in bars is constitutionally protected in bathrooms. They are also correct in pointing out that it would be quite easy to stop people from having sex in an airport bathroom, especially since airports are already crawling with uniformed officers. So this sting operation is, in effect, an extortion scheme that fails to accomplish its ostensible goal of keeping guys from getting busy on their layovers.

On a tangent, Daniel Gilbert's blog contains an excellent remark that embodies the cause celebre of the ACLU:

We live in a world in which people are beheaded, imprisoned, demoted, and censured simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Yes, those vibrations can make us feel sad or stupid or alienated. Tough shit. That’s the price of admission to the marketplace of ideas. Hateful, blasphemous, prejudiced, vulgar, rude, or ignorant remarks are the music of a free society, and the relentless patter of idiots is how we know we’re in one. When all the words in our public conversation are fair, good, and true, it’s time to make a run for the fence.



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Why We Should Leave

It hurts when a 3-star general and former head of the NSA under Reagan thinks the president is a madman. This op-ed is old, but not a bit dated. (That shouldn't be surprising, as any serious debate of the Iraq conundrum has been stifled by rhetoric and temporization.)

The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.

Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact -- put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.

Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating "nonbinding resolutions" that oppose the president's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.

For the moment, the collision of the public's clarity of mind, the president's relentless pursuit of defeat and Congress's anxiety has paralyzed us. We may be doomed to two more years of chasing the mirage of democracy in Iraq and possibly widening the war to Iran. But this is not inevitable. A Congress, or a president, prepared to quit the game of "who gets the blame" could begin to alter American strategy in ways that will vastly improve the prospects of a more stable Middle East.

No task is more important to the well-being of the United States. We face great peril in that troubled region, and improving our prospects will be difficult. First of all, it will require, from Congress at least, public acknowledgment that the president's policy is based on illusions, not realities. There never has been any right way to invade and transform Iraq. Most Americans need no further convincing, but two truths ought to put the matter beyond question[.]
(snip)

As Congress awakens to these realities -- and a few members have bravely pointed them out -- will it act on them? Not necessarily. Too many lawmakers have fallen for the myths that are invoked to try to sell the president's new war aims. Let us consider the most pernicious of them.

1) We must continue the war to prevent the terrible aftermath that will occur if our forces are withdrawn soon. Reflect on the double-think of this formulation. We are now fighting to prevent what our invasion made inevitable! Undoubtedly we will leave a mess -- the mess we created, which has become worse each year we have remained. Lawmakers gravely proclaim their opposition to the war, but in the next breath express fear that quitting it will leave a blood bath, a civil war, a terrorist haven, a "failed state," or some other horror. But this "aftermath" is already upon us; a prolonged U.S. occupation cannot prevent what already exists.

2) We must continue the war to prevent Iran's influence from growing in Iraq. This is another absurd notion. One of the president's initial war aims, the creation of a democracy in Iraq, ensured increased Iranian influence, both in Iraq and the region. Electoral democracy, predictably, would put Shiite groups in power -- groups supported by Iran since Saddam Hussein repressed them in 1991. Why are so many members of Congress swallowing the claim that prolonging the war is now supposed to prevent precisely what starting the war inexorably and predictably caused? Fear that Congress will confront this contradiction helps explain the administration and neocon drumbeat we now hear for expanding the war to Iran.

Here we see shades of the Nixon-Kissinger strategy in Vietnam: widen the war into Cambodia and Laos. Only this time, the adverse consequences would be far greater. Iran's ability to hurt U.S. forces in Iraq are not trivial. And the anti-American backlash in the region would be larger, and have more lasting consequences.

3) We must prevent the emergence of a new haven for al-Qaeda in Iraq. But it was the U.S. invasion that opened Iraq's doors to al-Qaeda. The longer U.S. forces have remained there, the stronger al-Qaeda has become. Yet its strength within the Kurdish and Shiite areas is trivial. After a U.S. withdrawal, it will probably play a continuing role in helping the Sunni groups against the Shiites and the Kurds. Whether such foreign elements could remain or thrive in Iraq after the resolution of civil war is open to question. Meanwhile, continuing the war will not push al-Qaeda outside Iraq. On the contrary, the American presence is the glue that holds al-Qaeda there now.

4) We must continue to fight in order to "support the troops." This argument effectively paralyzes almost all members of Congress. Lawmakers proclaim in grave tones a litany of problems in Iraq sufficient to justify a rapid pullout. Then they reject that logical conclusion, insisting we cannot do so because we must support the troops. Has anybody asked the troops?
(snip)

[T]he strangest aspect of this rationale for continuing the war is the implication that the troops are somehow responsible for deciding to continue the president's course. That political and moral responsibility belongs to the president, not the troops. Did not President Harry S. Truman make it clear that "the buck stops" in the Oval Office? If the president keeps dodging it, where does it stop? With Congress?

Embracing the four myths gives Congress excuses not to exercise its power of the purse to end the war and open the way for a strategy that might actually bear fruit.

The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.


Yeah. That's what I was gonna say.


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Monday, September 17, 2007

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fear and Disgust

...may not bode well for travelers, but lets try and stick to detecting things like weapons and explosives first. This is a stupid idea.





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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Busted

Bush and Petraeus have tried to attribute their agreement to begin drawing down forces next April to a success in Iraq. But, ignoring the fact that there are no indications whatever that this is the case, everyone already knew that we HAD to bring home about 30,000 troops at that time anyway. So let's not try to spin a military necessity as a policy move, eh fellas?






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This WILL NOT Change The World



As for the cancer part, exciting nanoparticles with otherwise innocuous radiation is actually a great idea. The problem is selectively delivering the particles to cancerous cells and not healthy ones. If you just give someone a mouthful of gold dust, that won't happen. (Antibody-based delivery is promising, though.) That idea is not exactly original, although it is certainly very clever. As for the radiation, though, radio waves will never work. Electromagnetic radiation will only interact strongly with objects or particles that are comparable in size to the waves' length, and radio is at a very long wavelength. For instance, AM radio at 1000KHz, which is the same kind you can pick up in your car, has a wavelength of about 300 meters, or 1000 feet. [Speed=Frequency X Wavelength, so: (3*10^8 m/s)/(1*10^6 s^-1) = 3*10^2 m] We are too small for radio waves to mess with and that's exactly why, as he demonstrates in the video, you can put your hand next to an RF generator and nothing happens. That's not true of the magnetron in your microwave! It's also why dinghies and canoes won't make a blip on a battleship's radar.

Anyway, the point is that nanoparticles require wavelengths of nanometers to excite them. The visible spectrum runs from around 400-800nm, with shorter wavelengths being in the UV range and longer being infrared. UV is obviously quite harmful, but it turns out that we can make particles tuned to resonate at the low range of the IR spectrum, which is otherwise harmless glowing warmth, and this causes tumors to cook. It's a therapy with beautiful potential, but again its primary limitations are in making sure that the particles are where they're supposed to be. So the idea is great, but he should know that radio waves are out of the question; the EMR must be from a much shorter part of the spectrum.

And as for the water combustion solving an energy problem, well, that's just retarded. Why do you think he can't find a buyer for the idea? Hydrogen fuel will never solve ANY problem, because the reason it burns in oxygen is that water is more stable than its component elements. That is, the amount of energy released by burning hydrogen is equal to the amount of energy required to split water. So if you split water and burn it you could, at very best, hope to break even. Unfortunately, even this is impossible; the laws of thermodynamics forbid perfectly efficient energy transfer, so it will always cost more energy to split water than can be released by burning it. Entropy * is a bitch.


*The video for the link is obviously apropos of nothing. It was the only link I could find to that ridiculously awesome MC Hawking song.



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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Awwww Snap

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-New York) lays into Petraeus.



"Optimism is great, but reality is what we really need."

True, and I suppose I should probably applaud his restraint in phrasing it so delicately, but for once I'd like to hear a congressman just say "Bullshit. You are full of shit. Stop lying to me."

The one piece of evidence he offers in support of a continued occupation of Iraq is an absurd fact by which to bolster the case for staying there: he says that Iraqis are taking losses several times higher than our own. That's supposed to be good news? Sure, on the one hand you could interpret that as them standing up so we can stand down, but on the other, more obvious hand, it means at the very least that there's a shitload of violence going on over there. And since our mission is a stable Iraq, that would seem to suggest we're not doing a very good job. So I wouldn't bring that up if I were him. (By the way, if that statistic is at all based on reality it is only counting a select group of combat-trained Iraqis, because Iraqi citizens are undoubtedly dying at a MUCH higher rate than that.)


Like a good military man, Petraeus just wants to do his job to the best of his ability. Fortunately then, he is not really in charge; civilians are. So let's give him his new mission: bring us home.

Robert Wexler (D-FL) makes the point:


PS: Petraeus toes the party line masterfully. He is intelligent and well spoken, and carefully crafts statements that don't smack of PR-firm talking points. He seems sincere in his beliefs, or at least he is not brazenly disingenuous. I guess what I'm saying is that after Gonzo, it is an honor to be lied to by a man of Petraeus's caliber.

PPS: Veracifier is the awesome.





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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jobs and Smarts and Diplomas

Some interesting thoughts.

Here's a thought that, while it certainly doesn't capture the thesis of the piece, has probably occurred to many people before:

Part of the change in a degree's value, however, comes from a trend that the authors decry: credentialism. "More and more employers don't care what you know," says Pryor. "They just care if you have the right sort of degree; it does nobody any good." Although they admit that scholars should conduct more research on the topic, Pryor says he believes that some employers -- banned from using many types of tests for employment purposes -- use the degrees that people have earned as a crude personality-screening mechanism. "If someone has the where-withal to finish junior college, even if they don't have any more real skills, some employers might figure that they are simply a better worker."



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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Bill Sali (R-Idaho)

Is a world-class douche bag. But don't take my word for it. There's plenty of sources to check.

I won't bother to comment on the obvious fact that his assholery is protected by the same amendment that protects the Hindu prayer, or that the Christian purity he insinuates is expressly forbidden by Article VI of the Constitution. Screw that guy.

Mark Day knows what's up:



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On Sicko

Some interesting thoughts. I'm not sure I totally buy his premises, or the historical applicability of the Upton Sinclair analogy (though I love the quotations), but it's definitely food for thought.





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Friday, August 24, 2007

Don't Mention It. No, Really, Don't.

Bush recently invoked the lessons of Vietnam as, get this, an argument for staying in Iraq. It was a stupid thing to say. He has failed to grasp the aptitude of the comparison before, and has been widely and deservingly excoriated for his ignorance on the matter. Once again, he has mustered the audacity to present a war he refused to serve in as a rallying cry for the current quagmire. And he is so unbelievably wrong, his credibility so minuscule, you really have to wonder who he's even trying to fool with this absurd rhetoric. I doubt it's working.

This op-ed sums up my thoughts pretty well.

Desperate presidents resort to desperate rhetoric -- which then calls new attention to their desperation. President Bush joined the club this week by citing the U.S. failure in Vietnam to justify staying on in Iraq.

Bush's comparison of the two conflicts rivals Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" utterance during Watergate and Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," in producing unintended consequences of a most damaging kind for a sitting president.

It is not just that Bush's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Wednesday drew on a shaky grasp of history, spotlighted once again his own decision to sit out the Vietnam conflict, and played straight into his critics' most emotive arguments against him and the Republican Party.

More important, Bush has called attention to the elephant that will be sitting in the room when his administration makes its politically vital report on Iraq to the nation next month. For Americans, the most important comparison will be this one: As Vietnam did, Iraq has become a failure even on its own terms -- whatever those terms are at any given moment.

That is, the administration has constantly shifted its goals in Iraq to avoid accepting failure and blame -- only to see the new goals drift beyond reach each time. Liberation of Iraqis became occupation by Americans, democracy became an unattainable centralized "national unity" government and this year's military surge has become a device for achieving political reconciliation among people who do not want to reconcile.



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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My Candidate

"This isn't American Idol; we're choosing the President of the United States." --Dennis J. Kucinich

I still like Biden a lot. He's a straight shooter, and I don't doubt his intentions. Richardson appears do be a Wesley Clark-like candidate: appealing on the surface but with little panning out on closer inspection. But the thinking person's candidate is a no-brainer: Dennis Kucinich. He's the type of guy who you would have hired on the spot if these debates were anything like a real job interview. He was a carefully considered answer to every question, and he honestly and fully elaborates his position. He is the only candidate that actually answers the questions instead of being evasive. His most memorable lines are fully backed by a consistent track record as a legislator and activist, unlike many of the candidates who just talk the talk. And as of late, he's actually become a pretty decent orator. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to pure policy talk, he's the only one with any cred. No, perhaps some of the author candidates have those credentials, but they refuse to talk about them. But there's still no doubt in my mind that Kucinich would make the best president. He would run the country better than anyone else. Maybe people wouldn't like him. Maybe he wouldn't give entertaining press conferences or uplifting SOTU addresses, but he would do a great job at what a president should really be doing: improving the lives of Americans through better government.

It's a damn shame that he's so thoroughly unelectable. But it's even more of a shame what a self-fulfilling prophecy this observation has become. Yeah, he's short, not particularly good looking, and is all around lacking in the panache that many people expect from a serious contender. And the media has treated him accordingly, virtually guaranteeing that he can be nothing more than a dark horse, or perhaps an anti-spoiler who forces the other candidates to reveal their positions on issues rather than their slogans. But at a time when Americans are (hopefully) awakening from our political complacency and realizing that likability is not an adequate solution to our very serious problems, I can't understand why we don't even give this guy a chance. I for one am appalled at how much the debates have already focused on Obama and Clinton, ensuring that they are the only two candidates likely to garner mainstream appeal, because the others are relegated to obscurity even to those who have an open mind to consider them.

Anyways, Dennis is the man. When he gets massacred in the primary, I hope someone thinks to add him to their ticket. And I hope he declines. But it would be a tremendous service to the country if the eventual winner would put him exactly where he belongs: in charge of an important government function that could use some work. He would make an excellent Secretary of Labor, Energy, Agriculture, HHS, or pretty much anything else that's really important but fairly unglamorous. I am praying to whoever will hear me, please let this guy do something bigger than holding a House seat from Ohio.


Links:

Dennis for President

A great piece that makes me wonder if Dennis doesn't have the rhetorical flourish to match his substance...

YouTube him for more, but here's a start:


I disagree with him on nuclear power. While it is an uncomfortable solution, it is increasingly looking like the only realistic option. But I believe he is the reasonable sort of politician he would honestly investigate the truth of this assertion, and if he could find an alternative, then more power to him. Otherwise, I believe he would submit to the necessity of meeting our power needs sustainably, and that seems to mean nuclear to me.


A response to criticisms that he didn't vote with dems on their Iraq withdrawal plan.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Link Dump

Patrice Evans on the ethics of being Goliath.

NYT says exercise is good for your brain! Interesting addenda on drugs; I hadn't heard that moderate ethanol intake increased neurogenesis.

WaPo has a reasonably informative, though perhaps overly glossy, commentary on the sub-prime loans debacle.

WaPo also has an interesting piece on an interesting type of political exploitation: a quasi-fraudulent scheme that fleeces donors. The specific example is Linda Chavez, a Reagan/Bush 1 hack.

Here is a good free peak at a piece by Michael Ignatieff on the lessons learned in Iraq. He has been accused of covering his own ass while not offering an apology, although I (and I am no fan of revisionist history) find that critique overly harsh. I think the piece is in fact much more humble and insightful than the HP author gives him credit for. Although, Ignatieff has been known to cling resolutely to the apologists' position in the past.

Here is an excellent piece on the biological basis of altruism's antithesis: spite. Did you know bacteria have suicide bombers too?

This provides a horrific example of industrial encroachment on the responsible, patient-oriented practice of medicine. Specifically, it details a scheme in which pharma can target its marketing efforts towards doctors in a way that encourages unabashedly quid pro quo exchanges (as if this weren't already enough of an issue). It's particularly pernicious in that it allows doctors to reap the benefits of crookedness without knowingly --or demonstrably-- acting unethically. Pharma bears the burden of any ethical suspicion, and with a powerful lobby and enormous legal team, they are well-equipped to face the legal consequences of this racket...by making sure that there are none. This is NOT right.


On a lighter note, a friend showed me this:



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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Post Secret

I have written about this site before.





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WMD Video

The first video gets a bit incoherent at the end, but it's an excellent expose on the rhetoric that has gotten us where we are today.

It wasn't misleading. It wasn't slightly but defensibly dishonest, if there is such a thing. It wasn't about "WMDs" that could include 20-year old nerve gas that we had sold them; it was about nukes. It wasn't about state sponsorship of terrorism, which Syria, Iran, and most of the Arab states are guilty of; it was about a direct connection to 9/11. It was manipulation. It was wholesale fabrication. It was lies. It was despicable.



On a related note, this includes some of the statements of the very architects of the Iraq plan before this horrendous idea became so fashionable.



If only this guy had been around to talk some sense into renegades like Colin Powell:


But he was not.


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