Saturday, March 07, 2009

Federal Judge Blows Citizenship Issue Away.

This last Thursday, the "Birthers" suit was dismissed in a terse and merciless opinion that names it as "frivolous," and the result of the work of an "agent provacateur," based on willful or witless misinterpretation of law and a waste of the Court's time.

read more | digg story

Friday, March 06, 2009

The National Rebuke

Rush Limbaugh demands to be the tar-soaked "anchor baby" of the Republican base. It's initially surprising how quickly this has become an issue - until you think about it. Because the only way to deal with this effectively would be to truthfully explain why exactly Rush does not represent the best interests of the republican party.

This, of course, would require discussing who and what those "interests" are. And somehow, nobody seems able to go there.

The "close your eyes and think of England" approach to dismissing reasoned arguments worked well enough when there actually were a few small, crumpled bills left on the nightstand after a distateful encounter. But it becomes entirely unpersuasive when the cash is replaced with an invoice for "services rendered."

In point of practical fact, it is no longer reasonably possible to expect anyone arguing a conservative case to be presumed an honest broker, faithfully expressing a defensible idea derived from fact and experience. There is now a very high bar to that presumption, and it has been put in place and jacked very high by the the pollution of the commons with fools demanding we give their stupid, provably dishonest and outright hateful speech the same respect reasoned arguments, well founded economics and solid scientific evidence deserve.

And yet the whining of the extreme right wing gets louder and louder, almost paradoxically, as more and more persons of intelligence dissociate themselves from associating themselves with embarrassingly public willful stupidity.

When a freshman republican has to joke that they might be a "closet democrat" in a clear attempt to gain an initial presumption of sanity, things are sad indeed. Of course, for his sins, he was forced to vote with the party against his judgement and that of his New Oreleans constituancy and for that, he's facing a recall petition. Maybe he should just come out of that closet.

Even four years ago, there were a great many more literate and persuasive voices on the Right, and what once were staunch bastions of rigorous conservative thought now content themselves with taking republican talking points and recasting them in bigger words.

I for one am intensely suspicious of people so conspicuously trying to blow smoke up my ass as that NRO piece, cited above. Insulting my intelligence in service of my vanity - well, perhaps I'm some sort of curmugeonly exception. With the NRO and other old line media sharply losing influence and revenue - perhaps I'm not as exceptional as all that.

There is only so much stupidity and self-congratulatory foolishness one can tolerate in service of any cause before one starts to question whether the cause itself is worth going down with.

I just wrote the following as a response in a digg thread and realized it made for a proper summation and a likely explanation as to why popular opinion has tilted so sharply and suddenly toward the center.

It's fallacious to assume that people are being dugg down or dugg up purely for partisan agreement or disagreement. It's fallacious on two levels. First, it reveals magical thinking - that an assumption about the internal motives of another is valid, when you actually have nothing to go on but a very minor behavior.

All you know is that the argument was found unpersuasive on the whole. Individual comments may help you determine the overall consensus about the worth of your argument, but of course the comments ARE made by individuals. You need a very large sample to make any useful presumption of motivation.

The second fallacy here is the presumption that both arguments are of equal merit. Never mind which arguments - this is true of any argument, or debate, and digg is explicitly set up to judge individual reactions to the merit of a post.

But we do not know why a point succeeds or fails with any individual. Nor, in many ways, do we actually care.

A debate or a discussion is a means to reach a consensus. In many ways, the exact consensus does not matter all that much.

However, there are cases where public policy has not respected the national consensus, because some factions of our culture have undue influence. Again, I'm not speaking to when, where, or what. I only point out that if you look back on history, a conspicuous disrespect for consensus has never worked out well, and the more conspicuously that disrespect favors the monied classes against people who are abused as direct or side effect to the concentration of power, the more reasonable it seems to the average man to kill them and take their stuff.

The Founders of the US Republic, being highly literate students of history, saw this as a problem - from the viewpoint of people who had nice stuff they felt they would like to keep.

I do not think it prudent to neglect such wisdom.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A new resource for Republican Dead-Enders

Lost in Tarnation: President Obama Announces Website For Holdout Opponents:

On the same day that President Barack Obama announced a new logo to highlight the impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, our most internet-savvy president also announced the launch of a website dedicated to “those who have yet to realize that the tide has changed.” The website, known as, is intended, according to Mr. Obama, “to reach out to those lost souls who are like that last Japanese soldier hiding in the Philippine jungle until the 1970s because he didn’t believe the war was over.”

It continues in that vein. The graphic is original to the author, who has not yet sent me a link to his zazzle store.

Oh, Republicans, Why do you hate Science?

Fox news decided to do a little "scientific polling" designed to prove something they knew to be true. Well, something got proved...

TPMDC | Talking Points Memo | Obama Preferred Over Reagan -- In Fox News Poll

Check out this question from the new Fox News poll: "What do you think the nation's economy needs more of right now -- the economic policies of Ronald Reagan or the economic policies of Barack Obama?"

The answer: Obama 49%, Reagan 40%.

If science reliably gave you the answer you wanted to hear - it would be Scientology.

The "proof" of what was actually intended is the fox news analysis, provided by a commenter.

FOX News Poll: Obama Believes in Bigger Government
Thursday, March 05, 2009
By Dana Blanton

Majorities of Americans think President Barack Obama is meeting, if not exceeding, expectations, and keeping his campaign promises. In addition, despite Obama's claim that he doesn't believe in bigger government, a new poll shows there is widespread belief among Americans that he does.

I love it. While 52 percent believe he is meeting expectations, only 14 percent think he is exceeding expectations. And even though people really like Obama and his policies and trust him and think his economic proposals are better than Reagans, a majority think that he believes in a bigger government that provides more services. He's a massive failure. May as well start impeachment proceedings immediately.

If I had Dana's job, I'd be rather proud of myself for that spin. But that's one very significant component of why I don't have Dana's job. As much as I like good booze - I don't want to have to need enough of it to drown my conscience.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bush's Secret Dictatorship

: "We may not have realized it at the time, but in the period from late 2001-January 19, 2009, this country was a dictatorship. The constitutional rights we learned about in high school civics were suspended. That was thanks to secret memos crafted deep inside the Justice Department that effectively trashed the Constitution."

read more | digg story

To complain is to volunteer.

Be part of the solution: If you're not part of the solution...

I happen to believe that government should be as small as possible, and structured to do as little as possible. Unlike many Libertarians, it is not because I believe that private enterprise can do things better by definition. There are some things that must be done privately and some areas where you could go either way.

The place where I depart with ideology is here: a government is a means by which a group of people can be well employed doing something worth doing. It has precisely the same basic rationale as a business - but it exists to account for those circumstances where common interests preclude any particular private interest.

Oh, and as an ideal principle, and as a way of testing the value of any particular government enterprise, it should produce the desired net positive outcome at a lower net cost than private enterprise could - if private enterprise could produce any acceptable outcome at all.

This is admittedly a complex idea and it's difficult to reduce to even simple mathematical expressions. You see, while a government should be profitable in terms of "adding value" to the area for which it is responsible, it does it in ways that are inherently and necessarily diffuse.

Take, for example, the building and maintenance of roads and bridges. It's almost impossible to justify a road that goes anywhere you want or need development to occur, without some government involvement or guarantee. Toll roads - a popular Libertarian idea - tend to dissuade people from using them, which in many cases has the effect of making the entire effort pointless - or at least blunting it's point.

And if roads are problematic, public transit is far more difficult to persuade as being directly profitable. They have to be evaluated as being a means to offset other, greater costs, while generating secondary economic effects.

For example, you really do not want people taking their cars into downtown cores. Those cars impose tremendous infrastructure costs, from parking (and enforcement) to pollution to congestion. At some point, people will simply go elsewhere, rather than put up with the "hassle tax."

This can be directly addressed by public transit.

Now, here's the problem with diffuse solutions to socal problems. No diffuse solution can ever be perfect, it cannot possibly solve every possible combination of issues one might raise as an objection to doing it in the first place, etc.

But again, here's where we get back to the entire point of having a government.

You need a mechanism in existence that serves to deal with things that cannot be solved without resolving various conflicts of interest.

Or in other words, a government is called into being by the existence of a "free market," and the absolute necessity for a "commons" in which that market may exist.

That which is literal and obvious in a village becomes difficult to discern when dealing with a congested urban area or, indeed, a nation.

But it becomes obvious again when we see what happens when government is taken over by those who do have a particular ideological vision that absolutely precludes an impartial, pragmatic and informed decision making process; who believe that government is an inherent evil, or who use that simplistic talking point to conceal a more basic lust for unchecked power and a complete lack of qualification for having it.

Governments exist to achieve certain things. In order to do that, they need talented, ethical, responsible people and ethical, responsible, fair and relentless critics. The goal is NOT to have one philosophy of government "win out" over another - the idea is to achieve a workable, useful, satisfactory consensus with a minimax outcome. I suspect that it's possible to mathematically prove that such a minimax outcome is absurdly unlikely if partiasan politics becomes completely divorced from the inescapable view that the objective matters in practical human terms.

Govenrment is not hockey. Hockey is hocky. At the end of the day, it is the game that counts, how well it is played and whether it's fun to watch. Government, on the other hand, must be judged by outcomes; when the process gets in the way, or even precludes dealing with real and serious problems, it's useless. I would suggest this is the fault of the participants - those who are elected, those who are appointed, and those who prefer to let it be somebody else's job.

One way or another - if you have ever complained about the result of government, well one of those roles has obviously not been filled. So, what are you doing that's more important?

Michelle Obama's 'Right to Bare Arms' Causes Uproar. WTF?

The latest arms controversy embroiling the White House has nothing to do with the Second Amendment. Instead, it's sprung from criticism about Michelle Obama showing off her toned triceps and biceps in her first official photo as first lady.

read more | digg story

Some suggest that this is a sexist grump by Old White Men who would prefer Michelle to be seen in a Hijab. But I think it's a fear of a beltway arms race. A pasty white flabby arms race.

But you know, folks, do what she does. Wear something that shows off your best features.

Hm. I wonder what flatters conscience and intelligence?

Man, that would be a niche product, on the hill.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Outside The Goldwater Limit

1AU T-Shirt shirt
1AU T-Shirt by webcarve

Or send your favorite political Representative a little office accent...

I'm coining a new term. The Goldwater Limit. Anything further than one AU from center is incapable of naturally supporting intelligent life.

In related news, the Republican Imperial Martian Compound runs low on tinfoil and duct-tape; aid appeals sent to Uranus.

This is one of those stories I do where the story is about reactions to stories. In this case, it's a DKos diary referencing RedState, LGF and Freep reactions, the reactions there, and to top it all off, the Digg threads regarding all the above. I'm starting to wonder if I should even bother reading the original stories any more...

Nah. But it's important to realize it's the reactions that are driving the story these days - and most importantly, the people like Rush who are trying to make up stories to fit the expectations of their audiences, who seem to have less and less connection with reality.

The deeper and more significant aspect of this is that it seems apparent that Obama set this up with a casual remark, saying in a throwaway comment that people had to "quit listening to Rush Limbaugh if you want to get things done." He let the yeast rise a little -"exploded" might be a better word - and then sent out Rahm Emmanuel to hail the resultant wisdom of the crowd across the asile.

The end result - winguntta has exploded, trying to 'get active' and force the Republican party farther to the right, to join with them in their belief and demand that Obama must fail.

Since rational people have some appreciation of what happens to a nation when critical policy initiatives actually do fail - whatever disagreements you might have about what you may think they should have been, as opposed to what they happen to end up being - this has had the effect of peeling off significant numbers of Republicans. Oh, not to the Democratic party, or to the Left - but they have no home in the RepublRedneck Recovery Planican party, and no-one speaking intelligently on their behalf.

And that leaves Obama - who is a died in the wool pragmatist and a skilled consensus builder whom I would personally peg as being Center-Right - well, the point is, he hasn't uttered anything conspiciously stupid, and he doesn't spit when he talks.

Meanwhile, back at dKos - the Schadenfreude is so deep you need hip waders.

Ben Smith notes today that Erickson has joined Limbaugh in rooting for Obama's failure. (h/t to Setrak) The RedState founder is even trying to recruit new "soldiers" for the RedState Strike Force, "to undermine Barack Obama's agenda and [help] him fail." Oh Noes!!!


Publish Post

Steele Bows Down To Limbaugh: ‘No Attempt On My Part To Diminish His Voice Or His Leadership’
We may now visualize the "Hip-Hop" RNC leader with a tastful, decorative clock featuring Rush Limbaugh's face hanging from a Rebel Flag lanyard.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

In praise of SMART boondoggles.

From Griper Blade, a blog I wish I'd known of earlier.

Griper Blade: Shooting Down Missile Defense: "Since Obama's election, Bush loyalists have been quietly freaking out that he may not really be willing to waste money hand over fist on missile defense anymore. The military has never been very excited about missile defense (Pentagon officials refer to civilian MD advocates as 'missile defense moonies'), so it's not like they see any worth to the systems. But those Bush loyalists sure do. And they've made repeated attempts to get you to panic at the thought of abandoning it."

A commenter wryly observes that, while utterly unlikely to succeed in shooting down missiles that are unlikely to materialize in any case, is as worthy as any other make-work program in these troubled times.

However, the end result is a great deal of very expensive and useless stuff, when for far less, we could achieve far more. I'm speaking, by the way, to people in the Canadian Parliament and defense establishment. I recall reading earlier today - and my apologies, I forget where, - that in terms of defense technology, and specifically in terms of the F22 program - that due to the usual practice of selling air-superiority technology to allies, the US (and a rather significant number of Canadian subcontractors) are, in essence, competing with themselves.

My initial thought as I closed the article was "what a stupid boondoggle."

And then, in reading this, something clicked. You see, what we need is to concentrate on intelligent boondoggles. Useful and plausible boondoggles intended to generate useful side-benefits. It's nice to have something useful at the end, but if enough useful byproducts come along the way, it may not actually matter in the end.

One absolute priority is to keep very skilled people doing fairly much what they are doing. We really do not wish to see highly skilled weapons systems designers becoming available on the open market.

From several perspectives an ultimately pointless employment that, while unlikely to produce a useful weapons system nonetheless requires all kinds of amazing and useful technical spin offs is worth a certain level of support. And, of course, it doesn't end up producing some simple, easily deployed and cheap pain in the ass - as Gerald Bull (cite above) was casually able to achieve once he was forced to - erm - set his sights lower.

So, while it might seem obvious to cancel boondoggle missile defense programs - please. Think of the Children. We truly do not want to see that staff and technology wander off into unpredictable and horrifyingly effective "practical applications" in the "real world."

More to the point, think of all that lovely technology and all those systems that have come astonishingly close to actually achieving something. Indeed, what if the effort were intentionally expanded to explore practical applications using technology already developed? What if it were adapted to several fairly important long-term priorities - clearing space junk and producing some sort of asteroid defense?

Indeed, what about using the technology to create an anti-junk defense for the international space station - which could then be refined to be applied to communications and resource satellites?

Remember that these are inherently useful goals and which will absolutely have all kinds of high-tech industry spin-offs.

This, by the way, is the primary value of Big Science efforts, like a manned Mars mission - it's not the goal so much as what needs to be figured out in order to send a man to Mars that is the the compelling argument for doing it.

Weapons programs work much the same way. One of the beautiful things about any weapons system is that it's a fairly straightforward application of technology, the R&D is covered by military budgets, and there is a simple, defined development path. That's why cutting edge applications are first seen in military use. I'm quite certain that the initial development costs for the wheel were written off by some military or another. And it was retired soldiers who spread it into the civilian world, because even a former grunt won't grunt any harder than he has to.

So what we should be thinking, as part of the entire military procurement and supply planning process, is what technologies we'd like to advance and what sorts of systems and applications we would like to familiarize soldiers with, both in terms of application and in terms of a trained first generation pool of persons directly familiar with the basic technology. It's difficult to plan for spinoff applications that arise due to the solution of problems in unexpected ways, but you will have a rough idea of the general nature of those unexpected goodies.

It's not difficult to think of several technologies that absolutely must be developed - and soon. Robust and reliable high-density batteries and fuel cells, coupled with flexible, rugged electrical generation systems that can suck energy out of whatever is available - from sunlight to sugarcane. If you think that's a silly thing, ask any field commander how much any operation depends on maintaining a fuel train. Reducing that train by even a few percentage points is an extraordinary valuable thing, and it becomes worth doing LONG before it makes economic sense in civilian hands.

But we will need them as civilian ready units. Climate change is going to increasingly impact our ability to reliably keep energy running through wires and it's going to change what gets moved from where - even if no other unforeseen emergencies occur. Developing such capabilities must be seen as an urgent, national security priority throughout the Northern Hemisphere. We are going to have to solve all kinds of logistical problems and, as a matter of practical reality, the place logistics is most universally emphasized is within the military and various Coast Guards.

And then we must look at the certainty of some degree of rise in ocean level. We absolutely must develop amphibious technologies, because many of us are going to be living in amphibious communities.

And then there's an issue that Ottawa does not seem to be taking as seriously as it deserves - the emergence of the Northwest Passage as a practical reality. Realistically, this is not something Canada can offload on other powers. Aside from issues of sovereignty, take a look at the map.

The majority of potential North American deep water ports with shortest great-circle paths from Asia are Canadian. That means the shortest path between the two single largest economic powers - the United States and Japan - is right though Ontario.

We are about to become vital to international trade, as opposed to being perepheral. And we must, absolutely, as a matter of the most elemental self-preservation, control that crossroads. It must be secure, and if we do not secure it, I assure you, someone else will.

Current projections suggest that the Arctic Ocean may well be navigable, year round, by 2013. This absolutely mandates some sort of concentration of presence there, if only for the obvious necessity for an Air/Sea Rescue capability.

We need to learn how to feed, house and support large populations up there in ways that don't add fuel to the Climate Change fire, because those populations will develop as a matter of necessity. The shortening of trade-routes is so economically compelling that Canada's only real choice here is how to accommodate it. And, seriously, we must start now.

These are things that cannot become economically viable until you figure out how to make them work well enough to figure out how they should work. This is one of the great unspoken values of military applications. And in the case of Canada, we have more high arctic terrain than anyone else. I rather think it a good idea to be prepared to provide peace, order and good government.

Otherwise, we could be doing it unprepared, half underwater, while freezing in the dark.


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