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Saturday, July 26, 2003

"That thick, fuliginous flatness got me in its spell..."

Dave T mentioned (from Jay Manifold) that the ancient question of whether Kansas really is flatter than a pancake has now been scientifically studied. You can read about it here
...Barring the acquisition of either a Kansas-sized pancake or a pancake-sized Kansas, mathematical techniques are needed to do a proper comparison. Some readers may find the comparing of a pancake and Kansas to be analogous to the comparing of apples and oranges; we refer those readers to a 1995 publication by NASA's Scott Sandford3, who used spectrographic techniques to do a comparison of apples and oranges.

One common method of quantifying ‘flatness’ in geodesy is the ‘flattening’ ratio. The length of an ellipse’s (or arc’s) semi-major axis a is compared with its measured semi-minor axis b using the formula for flattening, f = (a – b) / a. A perfectly flat surface will have a flattening f of one, whereas an ellipsoid with equal axis lengths will have no flattening, and f will equal zero...

...Measuring the flatness of Kansas presented us with a greater challenge than measuring the flatness of the pancake. The state is so flat that the off-the-shelf software produced a flatness value for it of 1. This value was, as they say, too good to be true, so we did a more complex analysis, and after many hours of programming work, we were able to estimate that Kansas’s flatness is approximately 0.9997. That degree of flatness might be described, mathematically, as “damn flat.” ...

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ change government's structure, not its size...

An interesting article, The Accidental Radical , by Jonathan Rauch, on what Bush is really up to...
...Many of these initiatives will make the federal government bigger or stronger, but, for Bush, that is beside the point, which is to change government's structure, not its size. The question is not how much government spends; it's how government spends. Conservatives have been obsessed with reducing the supply of government when instead they should reduce the demand for it; and the way to do that is by repudiating the Washington-knows-best legacy of the New Deal. Republicans will empower the people, and the people will empower Republicans.

"Twenty years from now," Norquist says, "who's demanding extra government if I have a 401(k) medical savings account, I've pre-saved for my old age, I have control over where I send my kids to school? Investing in smaller demand for state power down the road is a rational position."

So that is the sense in which the Bush paradigm is conservative, or at least imagines itself to be conservative. Besides, tax cuts dry up future Democratic spending initiatives; competitive sourcing weakens public employees unions; education reform weakens teachers unions; litigation reform weakens the trial lawyers; trade liberalization, another Bush priority, weakens private-sector unions. "The Democratic Party -- trial lawyers, labor union leaders, the two wings of the dependency movement (people on welfare, people who manage welfare), the coercive utopians (people who tell us our cars should be teeny), government employees -- all the parts of that coalition shrink," Norquist says, "and our coalition grows, every time you make one of these reforms."...
Sounds good, I hope it works. I'm just never sure where Bush is going. Which is as it should be; the magician waves the wand so you will look at that hand and not the other. It's hey presto! and suddenly we are toppling statues and freeing prisoners in Baghdad, and all those who cherish big government and the status quo are sputtering "but, but, but, but, but he lied to us!" "Sorry, boys, it's just part of the show. But I'm sure this next trick won't fool you smart fellers. It's very simple. You see, I have these three little cups..."
...Conservatives, for their part, believe that today they are the ones who stand for progressive change, in the face of "reactionary liberalism," but they have never been able to convince the public. That is what Bush seeks to do, both by rejecting the mantra of minimal government and by passing reform after reform. Never mind how you feel about any one of his initiatives; as a group, they seek to establish that it is Republicans who now "stand for the idea that the old ways will not work." If the Democrats dig in their heels and fall back on stale rants against greed, inequality, and privatization, so much the better. The voters will know whom to thank for the empowering choices that Republicans intend to give them. As for which is the "party of nostalgia," the voters will also remember who defended, until the last dog died, single-payer Medicare, one-size-fits-all Social Security, schools without accountability, bureaucratic government monopolies, static economics, and Mutually Assured Destruction...
(via Brothers Judd Blog)

Friday, July 25, 2003

Early analog weblogging ...

Kimberly Black writes:
My great-great grand uncle, Stephen F. Fleharty, may have been the first blogger.

Although it was common practice for soldiers in the Civil War to write regular letters home or to the local newspaper editors, Fleharty did one better. He actually authored his own column, "Jottings from Dixie". Like today's bloggers, perhaps he fashioned his writings after another prolific war time writer, John Adams.

He wrote for the general public, specifically friends and family of those in his company, the 102nd, in two different papers in Rock Island, Illinois. His columns, which he numbered and dated, were compiled and published as a book in 1999. I have done extensive genealogical research on my family lines but I did not find his book until I inherited his brother William's (my great-grandfather) Civil war guard detail book. The detail book led me to a distant cousin who shared her mother's material with me and the existence of the book.

His writings were, at times, lengthy essays and others were brief bits of timely information. He wrote about the wounded and the dead, the brave and the fearful...
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Junk Bonds from California ...

Natalie recently expressed surprise that US States have bond ratings. (I imagine that this means that the shires of England don't issue debt?)

Bond Ratings constrain the US states from a lot of the financial fecklessness they would like to indulge in. Blow the budget, like California has, and the men from Moody's or S&P are attracted like flies to garbage, or detectives to a corpse...

What's interesting is that in this age of globalization, countries are now in the same bind. They too tremble at the thought of their ratings going down. I recently re-read a very interesting book on globalization, The Lexus and the Olive Tree , by Thomas Friedman. One of his points is that national leaders have become much like governors of US states.

It's a fascinating book, and I highly recommend it. My one quibble, (and it's an interesting bit of human psychology) is that Friedman demonstrates the utmost deep and sympathetic understanding of both sides of the various globalization debates—except when they happen in his own country. Here he calls Republicans let-them-eat-cakers. He seems to have no idea that Welfare Reform, which was being debated when he wrote the book, could be motivated by anything except heartless Republican selfishness, or defended by anything except the overflowing compassion of the Democrats...

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

P. Krugman
#110: Not looking for good signs

Judging from Paul Krugman's Dropping the Bonds (07/25/03) you would think something catastrophic had just happened to the U.S. economy. Instead, he is agitated because interest rates have risen by a few basis points off their 60-year lows. What did he expect? That they would go down forever? Well actually, he sort of did. Recall that he has spent the last year and a half pissing and moaning about a Japanese-style deflation happening here. So, he should be celebrating! A bounce in interest rates as an antidote to deflation is just what the doctor ordered.

Think of it this way. There are two ways, in general, in which the price of something can go up. One, an increase in demand, encourages more supply of the item in question at a somewhat higher price. The other, a decrease in supply, due to production cutbacks of some sort, causes prices to rise to as a means to ration the lesser amount of the item. Clearly, the former situation is usually more desirable than the latter.

We think a rising demand for money as the recovery begins in earnest is the most likely explanation for the modest rise in interest rates recently. It's a good sign.

Krugman, of course, is not looking for good signs. However, he can't avoid the obvious. During a bash of Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan for lending his support to tax cuts and deficits, Krugman comments that if we are ever to see budget surpluses again, we will have raise taxes once the recovery occurs. Oh really! Does that mean that there will actually BE a recovery and the recent deficits have done their job by stimulating it! This is quite a concession. As to the path to surpluses, maybe holding down spending would work. What do you think Professor K?

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Thursday, July 24, 2003

The next time someone tells you...

...that there are obviously no WMD's in Iraq, or we would have found them by now, just show them this article:
Fully armed Nazi bomber planes 'buried below East Berlin airport'
AN AIRPORT used by hundreds of thousands of tourists and business travellers each year could be sitting on top of thousands of live bombs.

Papers among thousands of files captured from the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany, claim tons of live Second World War munitions were buried in concrete bunkers beneath the runways of Schoenefeld airport in East Berlin. It is now the main destination for discount airlines, such as Ryanair, and numerous charter companies.

Not only did the commissars intern munitions beneath the runways, but also entire Nazi fighter planes, all fuelled and fully bombed-up, according to the Stasi...

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

One of our gals...


One of Iraq's most wanted generals was run down over the weekend by a young soldier who just a few years ago was running down opponents on the Fort Osage High School track team.

U.S. Army Specialist Heather Baldus, 21, of Independence, was standing guard duty west of Bagdad along the road to Syria. In a call to her mother Saturday, Baldus related the story of how she chased down General Husam (Hossam) Mohammed Amin...
Amin was chief liaison to the United Nations weapons inspectors before the war. Possibly knows a thing or two that will be useful to us. Just threaten him with Gitmo and he'll probably sing.

I think it's hilarious that all the Lefty propaganda has actually convinced a lot of Islamic thuggos that Guantanamo Bay is a hell-hole. So they are babbling to interrogators to avoid being sent to a place where gaining too much weight is a problem for the prisoners, and where the climate is far sweeter than Iraq's... (via Bill Quick)

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

for a foggy SF night ...

Clouds come from time to time—
and bring to men a chance to rest
from looking at the moon.


P. Krugman
#109: This is Barbra Streisand with a spell-checker ...

Paul Krugman has written another column on the cheap. The only thing worthy of comment concerning "Who's Unpatriotic Now? (07/22/03) is to ask why the NY Times is not more demanding of this guy. At best the column is a rehash of a rehash of a rehash. He apparently thinks quoting other newspapers, magazines and columnists (Time, Knight-Ridder, Robert Novak, etc) to back up his points counts as primary research. So we end up with the standard views of the anti-war left. Iraq never attacked us, they were not a threat, there is no evidence of an Al Qaeda link and N. Korea is a bigger threat. This is Barbra Streisand with a spell-checker.

He apparently has some clue as to the weakness of this column. So, at the end, he throws in some unsubstantiated malarkey about Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador sent to Niger to investigate Iraqi uranium purchases, being harassed by the Bush administration for coming up with the wrong answer. According to Krugman's exclusive sources, Time magazine and Robert Novak (we're kidding about the exclusive part), Wilson's wife was a covert CIA operative and Bush allies blew her cover in an attempt to discredit Wilson. To Krugman this would amount to a criminal act and undoubtedly be unpatriotic.

We can't wait for the full story to come out on this one.

[The Truth Squad is a group of economists who have long marveled at the writings of Paul Krugman. The Squad Reports are synopses of their discussions. ]

Sunday, July 20, 2003

People are funny that way ...

Armed Liberal makes a good point, about the Uranium from Niger...
...Because somehow, in the cloud of Democratic operatives looking for an issue, and journalists looking for a story, this particle of dust gathered water and became a droplet.

Is this a good way to do politics?? Of course not. But let me make a connection for you.

I've done strategic consulting for several companies in the automotive retail industry, and looked at buying a related company.

And was amazed by a few things that I learned in doing research in the area. Everyone says they hate the experience of buying a car; the blatant posturing in negotiation, the trips back to the 'manager's office', etc. But the dealers who did away with that model, and simply tried simplified 'fixed price' selling, didn't translate the customers' dissatisfaction into sales, and have largely gone back to the traditional model.

Consumers hate the process, but for some reason, they won't buy into another process that apparently deals with their stated objections.

People are funny that way.

Similarly, the kind of Perry Mason-like tactic of seizing on a detail and refusing to stop gnawing at it while your opponent vainly tries to escape is the core tactic in modern politics...
'tis painfully true, I think. I'm fortunate not to be a Utopian, or someone who thinks that human institutions can be perfected, or I'd be banging my head against the wall...

And actually, on this particular issue, I have to wonder if Bill Kristol might be right that the Administration is loving this brouhaha...I kind of imagine it as the Old West, and Democrats are telling the townspeople, "Your sheriff is jailing bank-robbers, shooting desperados, and beating-up hoodlums...and some of his evidence may be unreliable!! Even false!" and the good citizens nod and smile and say "Yep. Right quiet 'round here these days..."

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Deterrence ...

From a great piece by VDH
...The problem with deterrence — apparently sometimes forgotten by our former presidents — is that it is not static, but a creature of the moment, captive to impression, and nursed on action, not talk. It must be maintained hourly and can erode or be lost with a single act of failed nerve, despite all the braggadocio of threatened measures. And, once gone, the remedies needed for its restoration are always more expensive, deadly — and controversial — than would have been its simple maintenance...
I was going to say something about how it is unbelievable to me that people won't recognize that the violence and tenacity of the Bush Administration is the policy that leads to peace. And that the equivocating and negotiating and retreating and appeasing and Blixing; the flinching, that has characterized our policy, both Republican and Democrat, for decades, is the very policy that leads to war and oppression. And leads not only to Americans dying by thousands, but also to poor devils in Third-World hellholes dying by the millions.

I was going to say something like that, but why bother. Those who have eyes have already seen...