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Saturday, January 26, 2002

Bryan Preston wonders when the press will bring up Vince Foster. My bet: They won't mention him at all. Too hot a potato. They won't want any comparisons drawn between Enron and their boy Bill. Way too much alike -- A lot of spin and hype covering up (with the help of the press) an enormous cesspool.

I have a recollection (could be unreliable, I pulled it out of the lower brain covered with dust and cobwebs) that Linda Tripp said that it was Foster who had to carry the order from Hillary to Janet Reno to "Get Waco off the news." Tripp said the resulting disaster devastated Foster, possibly leading to suicide, and produced no noticible effect at all on Hillary Clinton.
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Other people have been mentioning this, but it bears repeating. One of the purposes of the Geneva Convention is to prevent civilian casualties. It requires armed forces to be uniformed and clearly identifiable; and to avoid mingling with civilian populations during warfare.

Remember back when the big issue was civilian casualties? It was only a problem because the Taliban were violating the Geneva Convention. But no one mentioned Geneva. (Sort of like how the homeless disappeared during the Clinton years.)

Now that America has some prisoners, it's "Geneva this," and "Geneva that." We're torturing the poor devils by sending them to the Caribbean in the Winter, and providing "culturally inappropriate" toothpaste flavors..

Also, as Megan said:

...European governments are saying that we should give them Geneva Convention treatment. They're also saying that we shouldn't try them with military tribunals or give them the death penalty. Well, it has to be one or the other. If they're combatants under the Geneva Convention then we'll be trying them for war crimes, under our own military law -- and I'm guessing that there's a death penalty in there somewhere for randomly executing civilians...

Friday, January 25, 2002

I've been following some links, in between ferrying children around to various activities.

I went to Arnold Kling's web gazette, Great Questions of Economics, because he had linked to my bit on spectrum allocation (1/22/02). There I found more than I could handle, but read a piece by David Reed on the same subject. signals don't interfere with each other! That may seem surprising, because engineers and regulators use the metaphor of "interference" to get their work done. But in fact, radio signals just add to each other, non-destructively. And it turns out that what we call "interference" is actually best thought of as "limitations of a particular receiver technology".
I followed the Reed link to SATN, a web site and weblog of David P. Reed and Bob Frankston; and also Dan Bricklin. Wait, wait just a minute here...Those names sound familiar...two jumps from my little bloggix, and I'm among the illustrious!...who are they? well, you can find out yourself. Very cool guys. On to Bricklin's own turf. There I discover his article:

...The Segway is fun. It is most commonly compared to skiing, a sport where people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars or more for a set of equipment and $1,000 for a season pass. (See what Dave Winer had to say when he tried one.)

The Segway lets you be social. The success of many technologies is tied to how they fit in our social world. The success of the telephone was heavily influenced by the fact it could be used socially, despite the attempts of the telephone company to stop such uses (and reserve it for business and other "serious" uses). The Segway allows you to be much more sociable with others while moving than many other forms of personal transportation. When two people ride bicycles or motor scooters near each other, there is always the likely danger of handlebars touching and a resulting crash. The Segway has no such problems it seems (while riding you can push each other with no worse effect than when walking). The Segway takes up about as much area as a person walking, so you can travel in groups much as you would with walking, with all the social advantages...
I WANT one! I want to play with it. I want the mountain-climbing version...He has fascinating thoughts on how Segway's might just be the killer-app that changes the way we live. (And few living humans have as much right as Dan Bricklin to talk about "killer-apps.")
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I keep laughing about this. He didn't say a
single word to the press. Didn't have to . . .
Picture of Bush with the book BIAS

I'm annoyed by an opinion piece in the 1/22 SF Independent, (a small local paper)

One Darrell Salomon, attorney, is calling for a ban on private planes flying over San Francisco and other large cities. It's idiotic for at least three reasons.

One: Cars, trucks and boats can all carry those same dangerous payloads into a city. Eliminating planes would only slightly reduce our danger. A plane may possibly be the best way to spread Anthrax, but a truck could drive around spraying it for an hour and achieve the same coverage.

Two: The people in private aviation are a notably smart and sober group. Many have served in our military. Even in the sophisticated San Francisco area they are usually decent middle-America types. (I'm sure they overlap a lot with hobbyist woodworkers and HAM Radio enthusiasts. A buncha salt of the earth bore-me-to-tears guys.) They are one of the least-likely groups for a terrorist today to slip into unnoticed.

Three: Even small planes move fast. A plane in Marin County could be over San Francisco in a few minutes -- far too quickly for us to anything to stop it. To do any good, private planes would have to be banned from the ENTIRE REGION of every big city. That would eliminate most of the private aviation in the country. And terrorists could still fly over hundreds of medium-sized cities!

I suspect this guy bought a house near an airport and then felt aggrieved and ill-used because there were noisy planes flying overhead. Me, I'm keeping my eye open to buy a bumper sticker I've seen around. It reads: I Like Airplane Noise.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Good things are starting to happen in the garden. Buds are appearing on the trees, and new growth is starting to show on many plants.

ferns, 112k

My favorites, the ferns, are showing lots of fiddleheads. These are the characteristic slowly-unrolling shapes of new fern fronds -- they look like the curled tops of violins. They are also called croziers, because they resemble the staff that a Bishop carries.

If you click on the thumbnail on the right, there's a larger picture of four of them (112k).

1. This is xerophytic (dry-loving) fern, Cheilanthes sp. (sp. means species unknown). They grow in arid places and love to have their roots in the cool soil under rocks.
2. This is an Adiantum (Maidenhair fern, again unspecified) whose new foliage comes out bright pink, then gradually turns green. The tips haven't quite uncurled.
3. Blechnum gibbum "Silver Lady:" My most splendiferous fern. These grow up on a "trunk" like miniature tree-ferns.
4. Blechnum occidentale, Hammock Fern: Outrageous plant. We get bright salmon new growth in January and February! A winter treat.

For Macintosh users: If you have a suitable machine, and you haven't migrated to OS-X, I highly recommend it. It's pure bliss. Totally stable, and you'll never have to think about memory allocations or extensions again. Also, you can leave all your programs open all the time if you like. (use command-H to hide them)

Get Pogue's book; and also there is a cool haxie that adds windowshades, as in OS-9.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Suman Palit takes note that I like stories about people throwing things at each other. Indeed I do. He probably thinks I'm a bit crazy.

If you go back to my January 1 post, you will see the method behind my madness.

In fact I think throwing things is a good response to a certain form of terrorism. It can be very effective, and perhaps more importantly, anyone can do it. You don't need long hours at the shooting range, or years of martial arts training.

Update on the Bat Mitzva shooting (via Blogs of War): The gunman was stopped not only by a thrown chair, but also by a rain of bottles.

Moti Hasson said he was dancing when he heard the shooting.

"When I saw the Arab I ran toward him with a chair," said Hasson, a truck driver. "I threw the chair at him."

Hasson said he hit the attacker in the face with the chair while other people threw bottles at him. Others dove under tables. Some people shouted in fright.

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I've been feeling under the weather, and so am taking a lazy day spent staring at the screen and sipping Vitamin C. Meanwhile poor Charlene is wearing out the freeways of Los Angeles in a little rental car. It's not fair. (But I've got the kids, cats and dog, so it evens out) Ray Bradbury was dead-on when he called Los Angeles a science fiction nightmare. You can drive for hours, never coming to an end of it, never seeing anything sweet and nimble.

Anyway, she just called me, and her question is: Enron boomed and then crashed. How different are the Enroners whose 401-K's have plunged from the rest of us who have lost money in the last 2 years? How much of their losses were just paper profits? Should we give them more sympathy than dot.commers who lost their gains?

Update: Let me amend my comments about Los Angeles. It is a place with many charming enclaves and pleasant areas. If I am driving there at rush hour on a smoggy day, it can seem like Mordor. But sometimes the winter wind will blow the smog away, and one can look past citrus and palm trees and flowers to snow-capped peaks shining on a balmy day...
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I just discovered Suman Palit, the Kolkata Libertarian (via Natalie). I like this guy! Interesting thoughts on India (Kolkata is Culcutta to us primitivos) capitalism, comic books, terrorism, English as a lingua franca...At first I though I was reading a dispatch from the banks of the Hooghly, but then he starts talking about the pleasures of deer hunting! India has deer of various sorts, as you know, but I was surprised that their hunter sounded like one of ours...

Turns out, not so. He lives in Illinois. Shoots pheasants and such. AND, he proposes replacing Valentine's Day with International Drinking Day! Just a regular guy.
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This is a small point, since the difference is surely clear to most readers, but when pundits write about the curious affair of Mr. Krugman, they don't differentiate between campaign contributionsand personal money.Mark Steyn writes:

The man who sneers at the malign influence of Enron money on Republican politicians -- or, as he calls them "the people Enron put in the White House" -- has received more money from Enron than any member of the House of Representatives. If he were in the Senate, where 71 of 100 members have been endowed with Enron moolah, he would rank in that crowded field as the third biggest beneficiary of the company's generosity.
But a Senate campaign costs millions, while the Senator's personal income is probably in the hundreds of thousands. One might estimate that a personal gift of $50k is roughly equivalent to a campaign contribution of 5 Million.

Imagine how the press would howl if Bush or any politician received an undisclosed personal check for 50k from a big energy company. "Here kid, don't spend it all in one place." They might even go so far as to criticize Clinton for that sort of thing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

I was reading Rich Karlgaard in the 1/21/02 FORBES on where the cheap, really-high-speed Internet connections we are all drooling for will come from. He thinks maybe wireless...

...The Federal Communications Commission needs to jettison its outdated view of spectrum rights. Today's blazing fast chips make it possible for messages -- whether e-mail, voice or video -- to zig-zag through wide swaths of spectrum without bumping into anyone else's message. Chip technology permitting this miracle gets doubly good every 18 months. Which means our FCC's laws -- which treat spectrum as a sort of real estate, complete with CCR's and fences -- get doubly moronic every year and a half.

The appropriate metaphor for spectrum in the 21st Century is the ocean, not real estate. Boats make one guarantee -- to avoid one another -- then the ocean is pretty much theirs to use. Similarly, e-mail, voice and video should be free to travel the entire sweep of God's airways. Only one law need apply: Don't interfere.

Memo to Michael Powell: Here's your chance to become the most famous FCC Chairman in history and rescue the American economy in one bold stroke.

I wasn't taking Megan to task for referring to The Pile; it is a pile. A bit of gallows humor is perfectly appropriate in her spot.

Rather, I was expressing awed admiration at how she has one-upped the whole blogsphere. There is no cooler place in the World to write a warblog than perched right on the edge, the grim edge, of the still-steaming rubble. Glenn Reynolds will have to move to Kabul, or risk being gradually eclipsed. . . post some pictures, Megan.

Monday, January 21, 2002

I've never been a fan of blocky skyscrapers. If we must have skyscrapers, I'd prefer something like the Woolworth Building. But the WORLD TRADE CENTER was a marvel of engineering. It was much more than a run-of-the-mill big building. I find it very moving to ponder its construction. It was an exemplar of what Western Civilization can achieve (And socialist slime-rabble can tear down.)

One example. The site was so close to the river, and the soil so porous, that it was almost as if they had to build in the water. It was necessary to start the project by building a wall down to bedrock, 70 feet below, just to dry out the 13-block site. Traditionally this is done by building a cofferdam first; but there wasn't room for a cofferdam, and the expense would have been prohibitive.

An Italian firm had the answer. A 3 foot wide trench was begun around the entire 13-block area. The trench was filled with a slurry of Bentonite (the same lightweight clay used to make kitty-litter.) The slurry provided enough pressure to keep water out and prevent the trench from collapsing. Digging machinery worked through the slurry to continue excavating down to bedrock. Then rebar cages were lowered into the slurry, and concrete was pumped into the bottom of the trench. As the concrete rose, the slurry was pumped off of the top.

Once the concrete had hardened, they had their wall, and could proceed to excavate.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Writing about the Corporate Income Tax makes me remember, painfully, about the time in my bookselling career when I was selling law books. I think it was the Tax Court Reports, or some similar thing, that comprised hundreds of volumes, which were printed by the Government Printing Office. And we couldn't just order up a set. No no no, that would be too easy. The GPO printed them individually. And sold them individually. If you ordered a "set," each volume arrived separately, in its own box. And there was no invoice to let us know whether missing volumes had been shipped, but were lost or delayed in the mail, or were back-ordered, or canceled, or . . .

And that was a trifling nightmare compared with the fact that them's the Law ! If you want to obey the tax law, it's in there somewhere, in those hundreds of dusty volumes. Makes me think of the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the crate is taken to a vast government warehouse, where there are similar crates lined up as far as the eye can see . . .

Megan McArdle (writing, it appears, from a construction trailer at The Pile, formerly called the WTC -- is this blogger chic, or what?) has a luminously logical screed on why we should abolish the Corporate Income Tax. It's long and worth reading.

The Reader's Digest Condensed Version is, Get rid of it because:
A. It's phoney, the money still comes from people--shareholders, workers, customers.
B. The costs it imposes on business and gov. to collect it are more than the tax itself.
C. It costs us all even more because companies distort their actions to avoid taxes rather than doing what makes business sense.
D.. It's a nightmarish jungle of rules meant to close loopholes, and each one creating new loopholes or distortions.
E. Ending it would discourage corporate welfare because most of that is in the form of tax breaks--which are easier to pass in Congress than giving money directly (though the net effect is the same.)

...And before you liberal types start rubbing your hands in glee at the thought of those pained shareholders, keep in mind that the largest shareholders in companies are insurance companies, which invest in stocks in order to make the money they need to pay off when your house burns down; and pension funds, making the money to take picketing US Steelworkers off the streets and put them into good homes. The other big holders are mutual funds, which is what most of us have our 401(k)'s in. So when you say "I want to tax corporate profits", try silently saying to yourself "so that Mom can sell the condo in Florida and move in with me..."
It is good to keep in mind, as Peter Drucker pointed out years ago, that this is a socialist country -- because the majority of shares of American companies are held by mutual funds and pension funds -- which is to say middle and working class people, not "the rich."

I just came via Bill Quick on a Christopher Hitchins article:

...Mr Bush is still one of the most unqualified people ever to have run for the highest office, let alone to have attained it. There will never come a time when he reads for pleasure or takes a serious interest in another country...
I suggest that George W. Bush is the Most Qualified, Best-Prepared President of modern times. Why? Because the job of the President is leadership. And somehow he has got the hang of it.

That's what Bush was doing and learning as Governor of Texas. Without ever attracting the attention of clever journalists, he was a highly successful leader. He solved problems and made serious reforms without storms of controversy. He worked well with a Democratic legislature. Sometime before the election I read a poll of state governors. They overwhelmingly chose Bush as the best of the candidates. They knew, because they had been looking to Texas for leadership for years.

Peggy Noonan just wrote a piece on how the Bush administration is not troubled with leaks. Presidents have been wrestling with this problem at least since Nixon's Plumbers. And losing. Bush has solved it. Without fuss or bloodshed.

Clinton had an administration of people nobody had heard of before. Bush has surrounded himself with top-notch veterans; Senators, Governors, former Cabinet-members. People like Hitchins have said he is a puppet. But to get a group of such hot-shots to work together without strife or backstabbing is an amazing accomplishment. Somebody did it. If Bush is a puppet, who pulled this stunt off?

What really galls clever journalists and academics is that Bush looks and talks like the president of the Rotary Club in some mid-sized Texas town. People like Hitchins define themselves as being something just the opposite of the guy with the Ford Dealership in Midpuddle, Texas. It infuriates them that Bush seems blandly content to be what he is, and isn't even striving to be urban and clever. Doesn't even notice how witty Mr Hitchins is, or want his advice. It torments them!