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Monthly Archives: June 2009

Frederick Hunt

June 30th, 2009 - 5:50 pm

One of the regular commenters on this site, who we know as “Fred”, passed away. His obituary is at Neo-neocon’s, where his handle was FredHjr. One commenter at Neo-neocon‘s says, “I feel like I lost someone that I knew personally.” What does it mean to know someone personally? Perhaps its true meaning is to “see within”; to gain insight; to look past external appearances and gain a glimpse into the person inside. Fred told us what he felt; what he feared; what he rejoiced in; what he hoped for. And that is more than we can say about so many people who we meet ‘personally’ in our daily lives. So maybe we can, with justification, say that we lost not just a commenter, but a friend.

One novel whose title I can’t remember begins with a scene describing an old woman, who, suddenly reacting to a greeting from behind, turns and momentarily forgets her age. For an instant the observer can see in her fleeting smile the girl inside the aged body; the spontaneity which she allows herself to show in a careless moment. And it raises the question of whether, deep inside of each of us, there isn’t something unchanging under our mutable circumstances. Perhaps the greatest miracle the blogosphere has wrought was in allowing us to meet those who snobbery, reticence, and lack of opportunity would have kept us from knowing. We knew you Fred, but a little and for a while.

For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come,
then that which is in part shall be done away.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Until then.

Update: Neo-neocon embeds a link to Leonard Cohen’s “If it be your will”.  The lyrics are on the page. As a child, Cohen bore a peculiar burden. “I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest,” he said.  I had never heard it before, though I knew Suzanne and Hallelujah and regret the gap in my education, but I know it now, as is Your Will.

Bearly true

June 30th, 2009 - 7:15 am

The Telegraph describes how a polar bear expert has been banned from attending a conference in his field in Copenhagen because his views are inimical to the orthoxy on “global warming”. The news story says:

Dr Mitchell Taylor has been researching the status and management of polar bears in Canada and around the Arctic Circle for 30 years, as both an academic and a government employee. More than once since 2006 he has made headlines by insisting that polar bear numbers, far from decreasing, are much higher than they were 30 years ago. … Taylor agrees that the Arctic has been warming over the last 30 years. But he ascribes this not to rising levels of CO2 – as is dictated by the computer models of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and believed by his PBSG colleagues – but to currents bringing warm water into the Arctic from the Pacific and the effect of winds blowing in from the Bering Sea. …

Dr Taylor had obtained funding to attend this week’s meeting of the PBSG, but this was voted down by its members because of his views on global warming. The chairman, Dr Andy Derocher, a former university pupil of Dr Taylor’s, frankly explained in an email (which I was not sent by Dr Taylor) that his rejection had nothing to do with his undoubted expertise on polar bears: “it was the position you’ve taken on global warming that brought opposition”.

Dr Taylor was told that his views running “counter to human-induced climate change are extremely unhelpful”. His signing of the Manhattan Declaration – a statement by 500 scientists that the causes of climate change are not CO2 but natural, such as changes in the radiation of the sun and ocean currents – was “inconsistent with the position taken by the PBSG”.


Rubik cubed

June 30th, 2009 - 6:17 am

Imagine debugging a million lines of code. How would you do it? The problem is a harder than simply finding the time. My old textbook reference suggests using the strategy of “test sets”. Put data in and check to see it is processed correctly. Sounds good, but the problem with this approach is that most programs have infinite sets of legal inputs, and therefore infinite numbers of test sets, any one of which might show up a bug. Another tack would be to prove that a program’s steps were mathematically correct. The practical difficulties of trying this on a million line code base are easy to imagine. But we’re not out of moves yet. One thing we can try is to prove the correctness of the program by parts; in effect showing that certain blocks will always be produce a true result given a legal input. Why am I talking about debugging million line programs? Because someone is so sick of incomprehensible, pork-laden legislation with all kinds of scams embedded in it that he has proposed a 28th Amendment. Bob Gale writes:

Earlier this year, Congress passed a “Stimulus” Bill. It was 973 pages long. This past Friday, the House passed a “Climate Change” Bill. It was more than 1200 pages long. … This got me wondering: how long, exactly, is our Constitution? How many pages did it take our country’s founders to lay out the structure and functions of our Federal Government? … Think about that. The entire foundation of our country – the complete design for our entire government — is clearly explained in only 11 pages.

No single Amendment is a full page. Many are only a single sentence.

Yet the bill that was passed on June 26, 2009 by 219 of our elected representatives — people to whom we’ve entrusted our Constitution, men and women who have sworn an oath to uphold it – was more than 1200 pages long. That’s over 100 times longer than the U.S. Constitution! And not one member of Congress, NOT ONE, read the whole thing! A word comes to my mind to describe this: “INSANE.” I cannot believe that this type of legislation and legislative behavior is what the signers of our Constitution intended when they invented Congress.

Therefore, I am respectfully proposing a 28th Amendment to our Constitution. I call it the Brevity Act.

No law, bill, resolution or any act of Congress shall exceed 2000 words, including all footnotes, amendments and signatures. Congress shall not vote on any item longer than that. Each item requiring a vote shall be read aloud in its entirety in session to a majority of members. Those not in attendance may not vote on the item.

Now you see where this is going. Let me rephrase the original problem: how do you debug a 1,200 page “Climate Change Bill”? How do you find out whether a billion dollar ripoff is concealed deep in the bowels of this monster before it is enacted? The first step is understanding what it says. The intent of the hypothetical 28th Amendment is to make legislation short and readable. But a 2,000 word limit? Surely you jest. Well, maybe not. The payoff of breaking Hope and Change down into 2,000 word chunks is that we get to try the strategy of enforcing correctness by parts. That means of course, that big legislative agendas have to be modular. But why not? Most everything that works in the world we live in can be built on a modular basis. Why not laws?


In thrall to the Bargain

June 30th, 2009 - 4:11 am

Spengler, at the Asia Times, tries to trace the outlines of Barack Obama’s elusive Grand Bargain and doesn’t think it will work. “In Obama’s imagination, a Sunni Arab coalition – empowered by Washington’s turn against Israel – would encircle Iran and dissuade it from acquiring nuclear weapons, while an entirely separate Shi’ite coalition with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would suppress the radical Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This was the worst-designed scheme concocted by a Western strategist since Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery attacked the bridges at Arnhem in 1944, and it has blown up in Obama’s face.” Put that way, it does seem unlikely.

But it raises the question of why, without assuming that the President is a fool, that Barack Obama should think it would work. The apparent answer from the Asia Times article, is that Obama calculated from static assumptions; he did not allow for the dynamics of the situation; didn’t work out what the Sunnis and Shi’ites — and Israel — would be doing while he was setting up his Grand Bargain. Spengler writes:


Carnival of grotesques

June 29th, 2009 - 7:48 pm

Andrew Breitbart describes the rise and fall of “Perez Hilton”, AKA Mario Lavandeira, a person who readers may recall had derogatory words for the former Miss California and who recently had a dust-up with Will I. Am of the Black Eyed Peas, who readers may also recall authored that paean to Barack Obama, Yes We Can. Mr. Lavandeira is a man whose profession fits no known description, so I shall not attempt to characterize what he does. Breitbart however does. “What Mr. Lavandeira does on his Web site goes beyond satire or biting criticism. It is cruelty of the worst kind. No taunt or insult is too low. Using primitive drawing skills, he and his crew even scrawl vulgar pictures on the faces of their victims.” So you can draw your own conclusions from that.

The morality tale which Breitbart describes begins when Lavandeira attends a party presumably to suck up grist for his rumor mill, only to find that recent object of his derision, Mr. Will I. Am of the Black Eyed Peas, in attendance. Mr. Am’s inquiries provoked, according to Lavandeira’s own re-enactment of the scene, an urge to flee the club. But the Black Eyed Peas party followed him out and gave him, appropriately enough, a black eye. Breibart seems almost thankful for the bizarre circumstances which allowed a kind of rough justice to take place. He argues that, in politically correct America, no one else could punch out Lavandeira’s lights except a black man. Breitbart writes:

A rum transaction, if ever there was one

June 29th, 2009 - 5:34 am

Bloomberg describes an unlikely beneficiary of taxpayer TARP money: a British distillery. Diageo Plc. The story of how a British liquor company got paid $2.7 billion to build a distillery in the Virgin Islands is a convoluted one. Like most things in Washington, it had history. But before getting to that, here’s happened in a nutshell. The measure was stampeded through when panic over the financial crisis (=opportunity) was at its height. (Hat tip: Crooks and Liars)

June 26 (Bloomberg) — In June 2008, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor John deJongh Jr. agreed to give London-based Diageo Plc billions of dollars in tax incentives to move its production of Captain Morgan rum from one U.S. island — Puerto Rico — to another, namely St. Croix. DeJongh says he had no idea his deal would help make the world’s largest liquor distiller the most unlikely beneficiary of the emergency Troubled Asset Relief Program approved by Congress just four months later. …

“It’s kind of like the magician’s sleight of hand,” says former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Thomas, a California Republican who ran the committee from 2001 to 2007 and oversaw all tax legislation. “They snuck these things in a bill that was focused on other things.”

Congress inserted the tax benefits for companies other than banks in a fog of confusion and panic after the House of Representatives rejected the first attempt to fund the bank support effort urged by then President George W. Bush and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. …

“You had this remarkable brief period with no transparency, filled with backroom deals being made and an absolute blackout of information,” says Jim Lucier, a senior political analyst at Capital Alpha Partners LLC, a Washington firm that tracks legislation for hedge funds and institutional investors.

Referring to TARP tax breaks, he says, “It’s ridiculous and it’s a product of the legislative sausage-making machine.”

Now back to the history of the legislative sausage.


Night of the living dead

June 29th, 2009 - 12:59 am

The NY Post says the autopsy found Michael Jackson had nothing in his stomach but half-dissolved pills. His emaciated body was a network of needlemarks and scars weighing barely 112 pounds on a 5′ 10″ frame; and the whole skeletal assembly was surmounted by a head bald but for a scant covering of peach fuzz, a fact artfully disguised by wigs worn on all his public appearances. The Post writes:

“He was skin and bone, his hair had fallen out, and he had been eating nothing but pills when he died,” a source close to the singer’s entourage told the paper. “Injection marks all over his body and the disfigurement caused by years of plastic surgery show he’d been in terminal decline for some years.”

There were four fresh injections around his heart, presumably from attempts to pump adrenaline into it to jumpstart it, the paper said. Three of them had penetrated and damaged his heart wall, while a fourth struck his ribs, the paper reported. He also sustained several broken ribs while authorities administered CPR during his final moments Thursday.

If any man in Guantanamo Bay prison had been found in this condition there would be cries for a war crimes prosecution. But since Jackson succumbed to that most socially acceptable and lucrative of ends, death by celebrity, the real question is whether anyone — anyone at all, bar some fall guy — will be found guilty of anything. If the Post’s report is accurate, the conspiracy of silence that kept this information secret, that prevented Jackson from being confined in a hospital and allowed him to commit to fifty performances in London is staggering. This guy lived and died in the middle of a big city; he was among the most watched human beings on the planet and yet everything that was publicly known about him was either a lie or so shaded a truth as to be virtually indistinguishable. How any investor could be induced to bet hundreds of millions of dollars on a series of Farewell Concerts featuring a man in the condition of a Holocaust concentration camp victim is something that could never have happened without some major league disinformation going down.

These information lockdown artists were geniuses. Where were these masters of deception over the decades when US codes, missile designs and nuclear installation data were falling down behind copiers, suddenly appearing in China or being accidentally published in open source? If these guys were put in charge of counterintel, Barack Obama could abolish the entire US Armed Forces and replace them with the Girl Scouts and no one would be the wiser.


Three years

June 28th, 2009 - 10:34 pm

John Burns of the NYT describes the virtual exchange of the Iranian uprising: the BBC Persian service. It, together with FaceBook, Twitter and the blogosphere, are what the Iranian government consider the center of the resistance against it.

As Iran’s ruling ayatollahs tell it, the main strike force plotting to end Islamic rule in their country is not on the streets of Tehran but on the upper floors of a celebrated Art Deco building in central London. … The propagators of an “all-out war” against the Islamic republic, as Iran’s semiofficial news agency has called them, are a group of 140 men and women who work at the BBC’s Broadcasting House, a stone’s throw from the shopping mecca of Oxford Street in London. Mainly expatriate Iranians, they staff the BBC’s Persian-language television service, on air for only six months and reaching a daily audience of six million to eight million Iranians — a powerful fraction of viewers in Iran, with its population of 70 million….

In the protests, an archaic political system has been shaken by the use of powerful new weapons: foreign-based satellite television channels like the BBC’s that beam their signals into Iran, social networking tools like Twitter and sites like Facebook that act as running diaries on the upheaval and as forums for coordinating protest activities, and cellphone videos that have captured the confrontation in Tehran for worldwide audiences, perhaps most importantly in Iran itself.

While Burns’ article may contain an element of hyperbole, there is no denying that information technology in its various forms has played a pivotal role in the dramatic events of the last weeks. Napoleon once said that a revolution “is an idea which has found its bayonets”. Where the Iranian bayonets are to come from is unknown, but at all events there must first be an idea; a source from which resistance is to originate, grow and spread. Now the idea is there. The news networks and the Internet have provided a fertile field for its spread of the idea; whether it will find its weapon is yet to be determined.


The Further Perils of Facebook

June 28th, 2009 - 7:39 pm

A woman who goes by the alias “Happy Slip” provides some pointers on how not to make a jackasss of yourself on FaceBook. The provenance of the Happy Slip moniker is given on her YouTube channel main page. It’s bizarre, but entirely plausbile I think, in households where several languages coexist on a more or less equal basis. She writes:

While growing up, my mom was always quick to remind me to wear a half slip with my dresses or skirts. She would say “Be sure to wear your hap eslip!!”. So I grew up thinking the term was always “happy slip”, until I was corrected by classmates who asked me if I had a sad slip as well.

But the advice on Facebook is useful because the slips you make on it are not necessarily “happy slips”. A city in Montana, for example, requires all its employees to surrender their Facebook and other social networking site passwords in order to ensure that the proper online image of its staff is maintained at all times. “Before we offer people employment in a public trust position, we have a responsibility to do a thorough background check. This is just a component of a thorough background check.” A number of “reputation management” companies are out there in fact, with promises to clean up your online image for a fee. In due time the only reputation you will care about is your online reputation. Decarte’s famous axiom will be rewritten as, “I post, therefore I probably exist.”


Decent interval

June 28th, 2009 - 3:15 pm

On a day when the EU warned Iran after it arrested locals working at the British Embassy and as many as 20,000 Iranians demonstrated against the regime, the administration once again offered to talk to Teheran on the subject of nuclear weapons. VOA says that “Top Obama administration officials say the door remains open for nuclear talks with Iran. They are discounting the latest anti-American rhetoric from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. … He was asked if the tough talk over the weekend by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might be enough to put diplomacy on hold. ‘Understand that he is not the decision maker when it comes to foreign policy and defense policy in Iran,” he said. “His comments are meant for domestic political content.’”