February 24, 2009

It Takes a Police State To Raise a Child

So says Texas Senator John Cornyn (Republican, of course), who believes all online activity should be archived for the police to peruse at their leisure:
"Keeping our children safe requires cooperation on the local, state, federal, and family level."
(CNET) -- Republican politicians on Thursday called for a sweeping new federal law that would require all Internet providers and operators of millions of Wi-Fi access points, even hotels, local coffee shops, and home users, to keep records about users for two years to aid police investigations.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, supporter of a bill that would require Internet user records to be saved for police.

The legislation, which echoes a measure proposed by one of their Democratic colleagues three years ago, would impose unprecedented data retention requirements on a broad swath of Internet access providers and is certain to draw fire from businesses and privacy advocates.
(HT: The Next Right, where I have ranted at greater length than here.)

Addendum 20090226. I just googled "inferring meaning in random data"[1]. At the bottom of the page, there was
In response to a legal request submitted to Google, we have removed 1 result(s) from this page. If you wish, you may read more about the request at ChillingEffects.org.
I don't know if the request is spurious or if Google's search engine is flawed, but I am entirely capable of navigating away from illegal material if I stumble into it. Except, of course, even if I do, I might get a visit from the police should Cornyn get his way.

And how long before people submit spurious complaints to search engines in order to suppress ideas they disagree with? I guess we'll have to hire more lawyers & more bureaucreats to assure that doesn't happen: everybody knows that the solution to a problem caused by big government is to make government bigger.
[1] I had recently found but forgotten the words 'pareidolia' and 'apophenia', and was trying to remember them

Be President, Barry

"House Democrats propose $410B spending bill", reports the AP. Including an 8% increase during a dangerous recession.

One of Bush's biggest mistakes was his failure, afaik, to veto a single spending bill while his party controlled Congress. Obama should not repeat it.

Let me fantasize. Everybody (Pelosi, Reid, etc.) gathers for the signing. Obama marches in stonefaced and announces he's not going to waste the American people's money with this and this and this and too much else to mention. He takes out a magic marker and writes a big block-letter VETO that he holds up for the cameras. Saying "Madame Speaker, take this back and fix it," he starts to hand the bill to Pelosi, but then he stops and says, "No, just start over." And marches out.

Seriously, "the President is who you vote for to protect you from other people's Congressmen." Obama should make it publicly clear that he is such a President. (Is he?) Note that early in his administration, Reagan fired government air traffic controllers who were striking illegally, even though their union had supported him in the election.

In other words, Obama should set up a kinder, gentler Sister Soujah moment with Pelosi.

February 22, 2009


Straight talk from Maureen Dowd:
We need leaders to help us through our crises, not provide us with crude evaluations of our character. And we don’t need sermons from liberal virtuecrats, anymore than from conservative virtuecrats.
The whole thing is worth reading. I'm gobsmacked to find myself agreeing with Maureen Dowd, but good for her. More like this, please. From all sides. This is America.

February 21, 2009

The Complexity Bubble May Not Deflate

At least, not without taking society with it.

I've remarked, elsewhere if not here, that Congress routinely passes bills that are too long to read. Obviously, things are being insinuated into those bills. Here's an example in the 'stimulus' legislation:
The provision, which attracted virtually no attention in the debate over the 1,073-page stimulus bill, creates something called the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board...The board would oversee the in-house watchdogs, known as inspectors general, whose job is to independently investigate allegations of wrongdoing at various federal agencies, without fear of interference by political appointees or the White House.

In the name of accountability and transparency, Congress has given the RAT Board the authority to ask “that an inspector general conduct or refrain from conducting an audit or investigation.”...(p)The language means that the board — whose chairman will be appointed by the president — can reach deep inside a federal agency and tell an inspector general to lay off some particularly sensitive subject. Or, conversely, it can tell the inspector general to go after a tempting political target.

I asked Grassley how he learned that the RAT Board was part of the stimulus bill. You’d think that as a member of the House-Senate conference committee, he would have known all about it. But it turns out Grassley’s office first heard about the provision creating the RAT Board last Wednesday, in a tip from a worried inspector general...(p)When I inquired with the office of a Democratic senator, one who is a big fan of inspectors general, I was told the RAT Board was “something the Obama administration wanted included in this bill.”
Note both the power grab by the White House and the fact that it was snuck into an unrelated piece of legislation that the people who passed it did not read in its entirety.

Things fall apart?

February 19, 2009

'Nation of Cowards'

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks.

Well, after that, I wait for Elder to crack down on unnecessary speech codes that stifle legitimate free expression in the academy and workplace. I wait for him to crack down on spurious litigation about 'hostile work environments' and the like. I expect to be waiting a long time.

To be fair, a passage in Obama's Inaugural Address--
We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve...
--speaks to my sense of American exceptionalism: that the US has the opportunity to become the template for an advanced post-tribal society. The opportunity...

An Invisible Hand or One Hand Washing Another?

Despite plummeting oil prices, gas prices went up 15% in January. I didn't keep track of the dates, but at my station the price is up from a low of $1.57/gal to $1.88--while the price of oil has continued to drop.

1. Is this the invisible hand in action, or is it one hand washing another? Surely the oil companies wouldn't try price fixing in this market...or would they, with or without government collusion? Are new taxes being passed on to the consumer? What's going on?

2. Why hasn't this obvious price increase been mentioned by the media?

3. Why hasn't it been mentioned by our representatives, who are ever vigilant on our behalf?

February 18, 2009

Imminent Detection of Quantum Gravity?

I thought it was out of reach for the foreseeable future. In fact, I thought it was out of reach for humanity as we know it.

But look here (HT: arXiv blog).

Or here.

(Of course, detecting it--which remains to be established--doesn't mean you understand it, or that you've learned enough to try to understand it. Nevertheless this post's label is valid.)

February 17, 2009

Doth This Man Have the Right Sow by the Ear?

After a day like today in the market, voicing optimism feels like, ah, spitting into a strong wind.

The fact remains that insider buying continues robust. Knock on wood that they don't start selling after this major drop in the indices.

Here's another professor with a constructive attitude. Money quote (written just before the meltdown):
Our Venturesome Economy (TM !) has demonstrated a capacity to develop and deploy innovations that sustain our long run prosperity in good times and in bad. Personal computers recall took off in the dark days of the early 1980s. But we mustn’t let the ill-will generated by bad financial innovations lead to policies that harm innovators in the good economy! Clean out the stable, but please keep the horse.
I hope he's right.

February 14, 2009

Sheila Bair, Again

Dinocrat smells a rat behind Geithner's bad speech.

From the FT piece linked in the update:
...Mr Geithner’s sketchy plan raised suspicions of internal disagreement over the bail-out. Officials strongly deny those rumours, particularly any hint of divergence between Lawrence Summers, the head of the White House National Economic Council, and Mr Geithner, a former protégé of Mr Summers – though some acknowledge differences between the government and independent agencies involved in the process.
Bush-appointed FDIC head Sheila Bair is necessarily the only culprit, but she is an obvious one. This is worse than a leftist cabal. It's a compassionate conservative who cares about The Children.

Bair has essentially no private-sector experience. Apparently she views her agency, which is independent, as having powers which parallel some of the Treasury Department's functions. She gets fawning write-ups in the liberal media:
The high-ranking government official most likely to attack Obama's economic policies from the left is ... a Republican?
I take it as a contrarian indicator that Larry "Goldilocks Economy" Kudlow likes her.

To be fair, Bair spotted the housing trouble in late 2007, but her proposed solution was to have ARM teaser rates be made permanent. Unsurprisingly, the banks were not enthusiastic. (And lots of people saw the problem looming. Bair's approach, arguably, is to demagogue the situation and grab for power that she seems unqualified to wield.)

No worries, though. According to the Examiner piece linked in the previous paragraph:
Bair, though, said she remains "very much a capitalist."
For more reassurance, let's hear Obama say that he remains very much committed to holding elections in 2010 and 2012...

February 10, 2009

A Cultural Contradiction of Libertarianism

My instincts with respect to pornography and drugs are (ah, hard-core) libertarian.

Nevertheless, my gut feeling is that a society which flaunts genital flirting on the cover of a mass-circulation publication has gone signficantly awry.

Just because the government shouldn't control it doesn't mean it's healthy.

Just because it's suitable for discreet private use doesn't mean it should be splashed all over every public forum.
The cover of the 2009 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue shows Israeli model Bar Refaeli toying with the microscopic bikini bottom that she has taken partway off. Refaeli:
"This is the one I felt the most comfortable with...You have the beach, blue water and a body. That's it. I liked that the top of the suit was on."
Well, of course. She may act naughty, but she's really a nice Jewish girl. Gotta stay eligible to snag that tycoon hubbie, y'know...

SI speaks:
It's the cover that matters most, says SI group editor Terry McDonell...Refaeli wears a string bikini by Missoni — and the strings on the bikini bottom are being tugged south.

"The cover has to reflect the athleticism and sexiness of the culture. This photo is modern, her hair and swimsuit look natural. You see her freckles. Her body is amazing and she looks intelligent," McDonell said.
I'm all for athleticism and sexiness, but I wonder how much of the exercising is performed to enable people to spend more time f***ing. Not healthy.

Meanwhile, the libertines' counterparts in the culture wars, the cornfed religious right whose focus is on exorcising, are also obsessed about sex, but in a repressive way.

Both have me uneasy about the future.

Addendum. I had mixed feelings about whether Refaeli's ethnicity and citizenship were germane to this post. It turns out that they are:
In 2007, Refaeli became a source of controversy when it became known that she had evaded military service, mandatory for Israeli citizens over 18-years-old, by marrying a family acquaintance and divorcing him soon after. Refaeli stated in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, "I really wanted to serve in the IDF, but I don't regret not enlisting, because it paid off big-time," further adding, "Why is it good to die for our country? What, isn't it better to live in New York City?" Refaeli has since said the interview didn't accurately reflect her statements and threatened to file a lawsuit for libel. Consequently, the Israeli Forum for the Promotion of Equal Share in the Burden threatened to boycott the fashion chain Fox if they hired Refaeli, but the two sides reached a compromise in which the model agreed to visit injured IDF soldiers on visits to Israel and encourage enlistment in the army.
Societal acquiescence to her prominence is not a positive indicator for the futures of America and of Israel.

February 8, 2009

The New Kid Has Trouble Getting His Bearings

Dinocrat writes: President Obama has no executive experience. It would be an indication that he is learning on the job if he starts cutting back on his hyperbolic rhetoric. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long four years.

I agree completely, just as I agreed with George Will a few months ago:
It is arguable that, because of his inexperience, Obama is not ready for the presidency. It is arguable that McCain, because of his boiling moralism and bottomless reservoir of certitudes, is not suited to the presidency. Unreadiness can be corrected, although perhaps at great cost, by experience. Can a dismaying temperament be fixed?
No guarantees.

With fingers crossed, I remember that Bill Clinton got off to a very rocky start and wound up with a successful Presidency (one that would have been extremely successful if not for his personal flaws).

February 4, 2009

Outing 'Climate Science'

Richard Lindzen has broken the scientific establishment's 'blue wall of silence'. His Introduction has something important to say about how our culture has devolved.

Somewhere, Lysenko is laughing.

February 3, 2009

Rocket Scientists are Smart...and Blameless

Here. The article has much to agree with, but I am uneasy with wording like this:
So if it is the physicists who are to blame, how do we explain the fact that large and not-so-large crashes have been appearing with frequencies that are approximately time-independent?
Just because no single component of a system is exclusively responsible for a systemic failure does not mean that every component is blameless.

And all the children sing:
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down
That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.
(Tom Lehrer, understandably, perhaps is too harsh on von Braun--but not off target.)

February 2, 2009

They Knew It All Along

Jack Risko quotes Business Week about the new conventional wisdom at Davos.

1. Everyone stupidly failed to see the financial calamity coming except roughly four economists who now must be heeded in everything they say and all they predict.

Ouch. I thought the shoe would drop at some point, but didn't expect it in 2008. I made decisions on the basis that the establishment had the minimal competence to duct-tape together a decent election-year economy.

I'm pretty sure that some economists who were correct last year have been wrong for many prior years. Hopefully sooner rather than later, the pessimists will go back to being wrong. That is not to say that their views are without merit.

Speaking of wrong economists, Alan Greenspan was just about the only major culprit with the intellectual integrity to admit he was mistaken. I wish he would resume speaking out. His thoughts have value and the derision they would attract would be appropriate penance.

2. The private sector has ruined the global economy and can no longer be trusted. 3. Government is ascendant, with regulation closest to godliness.

I don't mean to shug off a dangerous and inexcusable situation, but it remains true that risk is a cost of progress.

IMHO the people who are shocked shocked to discover they can't trust the private sector have, in fact, never had much good to say about it. Since we can't trust the private sector, apparently it follows that we should trust the government.

Regulation keeps us brutish greedy peasants to a semblance of civilized behavior. Regulation is not intended to waste the invaluable time of the extremely busy idealists who serve as regulators. (/sarc)

4. These conclusions are correct and will stand the test of time…

Per Jack, my fear is that these conclusions are incorrect but will stand the test of time.