31 July, 2005

Evil genius

It takes a special kind of mind to devise a scheme in which energy-efficiency incentives reduce the nation's energy efficiency. Fortunately, Washington is blessed with just such gifted craniums, as shown by the hybrid car incentives in the energy bill.

As Saurabh notes immediately below, there are some very expensive (for the government) tax credits for purchasers of hybrid cars. He rightly complains that they are designed to benefit American manufacturers at the expense of the Japanese innovators, but that's par for the course. A bigger problem is that they move substantial cash from the Treasury -- which is to say, duties on Chinese spark plugs and whatnot -- to people rich enough to buy hybrids.

There is evidence that existing incentives for hybrids are working -- that is, gas prices, social conscience, and social status. There's already a waiting list for the Prius, the most fuel-efficient hybrid out there.

Meanwhile, I've seen no evidence that owning a Prius reduces household energy use -- there are plenty of anecdotes about buyers suffering from moral hazard-itis. That is, buyers know they are using less gas per mile, so they drive more miles.

The bill also includes direct subsidies to American carmakers to build hybrids -- as if the invisible hand weren't already bitch-slapping them in that direction.

Compare this to some other places where a bit of federal money could make a real difference. How about if the feds subsidized low- and moderate-income households to help them purchase new homes in dense walkable urban areas by expanding the "location-efficient mortgage" program? Imagine that -- offering money to people to help them lead lives scientifically proven to use less fuel? Or maybe paying for insulation and storm windows for low-income rental units? Yes, it subsidizes slumlords, but it also saves lots of energy while improving comfort and health for the poor.

But wait, there's more. The energy bill requires states to consider "high-mileage" hybrids to be high-occupancy vehicles, allowing them in HOV lanes. Great idea if your goal is to clog up the HOV lanes with cars that get 33 person-miles a gallon, thereby slowing down the people who are actually sacrificing a bit of comfort by car-pooling. A Ford Explorer with 4 people in it gets 60 person-miles per gallon. It deserves the HOV lane. A 1989 Civic with the A/C off can get 45 miles a gallon. Maybe it should deserve some privileges. A 2005 Chevy Silverado hybrid with an automatic transmission gets 19 mpg highway -- now that's who I want to reward! (NOTE: I JUST TRIED TO FACT-CHECK THIS PARAGRAPH BY READING THE 1,700-PAGE ENERGY BILL. I DON'T SEE THE HOV-LANE STUFF IN THERE, SO MAYBE IT DISAPPEARED AT THE LAST MINUTE. SOMEONE SHOULD TELL THE LA TIMES.

In any case, the overall fleet fuel economy is now allowed to remain fixed at its current level until at least 2010. Which means that every hybrid sold allows Detroit to sell another Hummer.

All in all, we have a winner!

"This deal is getting worse all the time!"

Via CT, this NY Times piece, which sadly points out that the apparent tax credit for hybrid vehicles actually caps out at 60,000 vehicles per manufacturer.
The energy bill sets up a complex formula that begins restricting eligibility for the tax credit once an automaker sells 60,000 gas-electric hybrids or cleaner burning diesels, known as advanced lean-burn vehicles.

Once an auto company hits the 60,000 mark, it has the remainder of that fiscal quarter plus one additional quarter in which buyers of its vehicles can receive the full credit. The credit ranges from $250 to $3,400 depending on the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

During the two quarters immediately after the cars and trucks of the automakers become ineligible for the full credit, buyers would receive 50 percent of the credit. The next two quarters after that, the credit is 25 percent. The credit is phased out entirely at the end of the fifth full quarter after the automaker sells 60,000 hybrids or advanced diesels.
Note that Toyota plans to sell 140,000 hybrids this year, meaning it will probably hit the cap in the second quarter. Implication?
By capping the credit, Congress has limited the incentives available to companies that have been at the forefront of hybrid technology.

"Ironic isn't it?" said Ed Cohen, Honda's vice president for government and industry relations. "It really does create market mismatch."
Meaning, when DaimlerChrysler and GM finally get in the game in a few years, they're going to have an advantage.

Might be time to start reading the bill text to see what other goodies are buried in there.

30 July, 2005

Stop making excuses for ignorance

A couple minutes into this interview, Condoleeza Rice says the Sept. 11 terrorists did it because they were "evil."

"We weren't in Iraq, we weren't even in Afghanistan," she says.

Strange -- I coulda sworn we went into Iraq in 1991 and never stopped the overflights, bombings, and sanctions. But I guess my memories are flawed. Must be the Prozac. Oh wait, that's an excuse. Must be my own inherent evil.


Sometimes too much badness happens at once. It challenges our ability to keep track. Yesterday in the U.S. Senate was a case in point. In one day, it:
  • Passed the dreadful energy bill about which Saurabh previously wrote.
  • Passed a law to exempt gun makers and dealers from lawsuits by people killed due to dealer or manufacturer negligence -- such as letting guns get stolen, selling them to terrorists, and so on. (The District of Columbia and the City of Oakland each have such cases in process; the law even kills off cases already in the system.)
  • Renewed or made permanent many of the most unpleasant parts of the martial law -- I mean the USAPATRIOT act.
  • Passed a transportation bill to build more roads, more highways, more highway bridges, more airports, and some more roads. I think the bicycles got a few bucks, too, but nothing major.
I write this from a sunny back yard deep in the exurbia of western Massachusetts. A cardinal nibbles from a birdfeeder. Wasps suckle on tiny blooms of queen anne's lace. Bees peruse the tall pink asters, then stop to collect golden grains of pollen. The air is gently scented with leaking maple sap, drying grass, and the decomposing oak leaves of the nearby woods. Somewhere in the distance rises a placeless, unidentifiable rumbling.

What I saw at the White House

Rhinocrisy recently cycled its Washington correspondent through Scott McClellan's cesspool, the White House briefing room. I shouldn't be so rude. Millions of people would love a chance to lay into the guy, so I should be gracious and accept my place at the table with an deep sense of responsibility and appreciation for those who put me there. But the heinousness of the Administration's politics and policies are not something I crave to be near. I prefer the anonymous bureaucrats who toil in ignominy, their honest labor betrayed by hypocritical, self-serving bosses. That sense was only deepened at the White House.

Security was easy enough. Rhinocrisy has its ways.

Then I walked down a block-long paved path, past a platform full of TV cameras and umbrellas against impending rain. Then there was the west wing of the White House, anda little white awning, and I see guy smoking outside so I know I'm in the right place.

Entering the room from the bright daylight, the biggest surprise is its size. It is perhaps 15 feet across and twice that deep -- at most a quarter the size I have sensed from watching it on TV. The room was obviously designed by someone with experience designing for TV; having the McClellan up a foot above the press -- and the cameras another 2 feet up, though not far back -- projects a sense of grandeur far beyond the room's actual scale.

Entering through the brilliant white wall and its pleasant old wood door, one finds a shoddy high-pile grey carpet on the floor, a decade past its prime, and 35 Johnson-era movie theater seats so impressed by lemon-chicken-fattened reporter butts that the best and brightest of the press corps must practically squat at the knees of St. Scotty.

I got there just on time at 9:35 for the 9:45 gaggle. To stage left, unfiltered daylight reflected off the country-club brilliance of the White House lawn. Starlings chirped audibly, their flight still permitted below the anti-aircraft guns, their voices clear over the vast auto-free zone north of the presidential palace. Light entered through single-pane windows with arched tops, like palladians without the side panels. That exterior wall retains its signs of class (in both senses of the word), but the press chamber itself was squalid if not gloomy, reminiscent of the billiards room in a cinder-block dormitory.

The building appeared to have rotted from within. The deeper one peered, the more dismal it looked. Reporters -- who all seemed to know each other in a cocktail-sipping, flirting sort of way -- sat and waited for Scotty, waited and waited, the room filling with make-up pasted broadcast babes and fresh-faced interns, all arriving long after the grizzled, uniquely jovial cameramen. Yes, men.

As people read newspapers and chatted, they absently glanced down the hall to where the press crew was unhurriedly finishing their preparations. It was fluorescent lit and low-ceilinged. Worn industrial matting on the floor, like the entry to a chicken-processing plant.

At length, out came a team of 5: Scotty and four aides. I didn't recognize their faces but I'm pretty sure that they included "senior White House source," "people briefed on the case," and "people close to the situation." (The latter "people" are, of course, each just one person.)

McClellan spoke very fast. Questioners were patient and indifferent to his bullshit. After 15 minutes, he abruptly said, "OK then," closed his leather trapper-keeper, and led his crew from the room, though questions could have kept going all day.

29 July, 2005


The time has come for me to attempt to answer what is arguably the most profound issue of the day: how would religious kooks react if they were to encounter alien civilizations?

I'm not really well-placed to answer this question, so I asked someone who is. I spoke with Claudio Pasqua, a janitor at Harvard's Divinity School, who has acquired an impressive knowledge of theology over the years, mostly gleaned from tracts discarded in Divinity School waist-bins. Unfortunately he took this interview a lot more seriously than I was expecting. Here it is anyway:

RHINOCRISY: First of all, do you believe extraterrestrial life exists?

CLAUDIO PASQUA: To be honest, I don't know that much about it. But, our government gives the SETI project several million dollars a year, so obviously THEY believe extraterrestrial life exists. And I think most scientifically-minded people would admit that in a universe so large, it seems very improbable that ours is the only planet to develop life.

R: What about UFOs?

CP: Well. I mean, I think it's of course possible that some form of alien life form could visit us, but I tend to favor the notion of Jung, that UFO reports are a sort of modern mythology. Throughout our history we've always wanted some sort of authority figure watching over us - Mithra, Jehovah, Ahura Mazda, what have you - I tend to think that UFOs fill that role for us in the rationalist, more atheist modern era. Sort of, you know, elder brothers who've already explored and understood this vast, cold universe and can guide us through it. So this is a kind of modern myth-making, supplanting the importance of older myths. Sometimes quite literally, in fact, if you look at the "alien astronaut" theories which suggest that some extraterrestrials visited ancient Sumeria or Babylon and gave humans the skills and technologies that allowed us to become civilized. That in fact parallels some of the early Mesopotamian myths, which had the gods Enki and Enlil giving these same tools - irrigation, farming implements - to humanity. So we're seeing a literal re-imagining of these old myths in a way that's more palatable to the modern mind.

R: Erm... that was very... thorough.

CP: (laughs)

R: What sort of positions do religions take on aliens?

CP: Most religions are more or less silent on the subject. Of course, there are some that are actually constructed around the existence of aliens, for example the Raelians or the Heaven's Gate cult. Or Scientology. But these are really on the fringes, they could be wrapped up in the general fabric of this broader tendency to believe in UFOs. I think most major religions are wary of making pronouncements on the subject, because they're afraid of being at odds with science. The Catholic church actually had tremendous entanglements over this very subject in the past, in fact. A philosopher named Giordano Bruno was executed because he preached what was then considered a very heretical doctrine, that the universe was not geocentric and there was extraterrestrial life. Remember that according to the cosmology of the time, heaven was actually a physical place - it was above the firmament, the vault of the sky that held the stars, and God actually, literally, lived directly above us. So when people came along and said, no, the earth isn't the center of the universe, they were contradicting this conception of the firmament and were in a way actually destroying heaven. And also, geocentrism suggested that human beings were important, we were special - but heliocentrism and later the idea that there were other suns, other stars out there really destroys that notion. And it leaves open a lot of thorny theological questions that I think most religions really aren't ready to touch.

R: Like are aliens Christian.

CP: Exactly. Or, was Jesus crucified on other planets? But also questions like, what is the nature of the Catholic Church, and is it still privileged in some special way if other Churches exist that have the same relationship with God? I think this would be more problematic for Christianity than for, say, Islam, which emphasizes the subordination of man to God, or eastern religions that are more abstracted, more about elementary concepts like consciousness rather. But Christians really emphasize the special privilege of human beings.

R: God created us in his image.

CP: Exactly. And gave us dominion over all his creatures, etc. So if there are other races, even if they are Christians, even if they do show up bearing Bibles, you know, where does that leave us with respect to them? I think these are uncomfortable ideas, so the easiest way to respond is with a sort of agnosticism towards the entire question.

R: Okay, this is a bit more loopy, but: how do you think that Christians would react if aliens DID come and visit us?

CP: (laughs) Well, that's really hard for me to answer, I mean I have no idea what the aliens would be like. But I think it's a fair guess they're not going to be Christians.

R: That's a pretty safe bet.

CP: (laughs) I'd put money on that one. But I think most Christians will react to that by being rather threatened by it, you know, because of all the questions it would raise, the doubts it would raise. So a lot of them would be pretty hostile, maybe even decide that these are demons or agents of Satan. And then consider the possibility that aliens might proselytize us.

R: We'd try and convert them, for sure.

CP: Definitely. Which could be a pretty sticky interaction, that might cause some friction. But in general I think... Religion has proved remarkably robust, adapting to new ideas, somehow managing to survive. The Copernican revolution should have destroyed Christianity - it literally shattered the sky, this notion of the firmament. But it survived. And I think if we ever do meet aliens religion will end up proving to be pretty tenacious.

R: Thanks for your time.

CP: My pleasure.

Energy bill (reprise)

Two follow-ups on the energy bill (which just got through the House):

1. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has been circulating a letter he wrote to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert complaining about a provision that snuck its way into the bill after debate was closed. It's ostensibly a $1.5 billion fund for offshore deep water drilling, but Waxman says language in the bill implies it's pork stuck in there by Tom DeLay, directed at the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America consortium, which is in his district. As evidence he cites the bill text: The subtitle, however, directs the Department to "contract with a corporation that is constructed as a consortium." Pretty gross, but really not as bad as the bill itself. This is just theft of public resources and massive, criminal abuse of public trust. That's fucking over the entire country and possibly the world.

2. The EPA decided to hold back on releasing its report on fuel efficiency trends at the last minute, probably to allow passage of this energy bill. The report shows that various loopholes (i.e., SUVs, basically) have allowed fuel efficiency to DROP since 1987 - the fleet average is down from 22.1 mpg then to 21.0 now. Igniting a debate about CAFE standards would have done poorly for a bill that does nothing to improve vehicle efficiency (probably the easiest way to cut back on oil consumption).

McClellan dodges:
Q Did the White House ask the EPA to hold it back as a way to ensure that it didn't get in the way of passage --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it really has any relation to the energy bill, but you might want to talk to the EPA about it.
...but there's really no question on what happened. The executive summary of the report says:
Fuel economy continues to be a major area of public and policy interest for several reasons, including:
1. Fuel economy is directly related to energy security because light-duty vehicles account for approximately 40 percent of all U.S. oil consumption, and much of this oil is imported.
2. Fuel economy is directly related to the cost of fueling a vehicle and is of great interest when crude oil and gasoline prices rise.
3. Fuel economy is directly related to emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. Light-duty vehicles contribute about 20 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.
Doesn't get more explicit than that.

27 July, 2005

Exorbitant gas bill

You'll note that a Bush energy bill is squeezing its way through the House and Senate this week. Easily done, since it's especially lubricious, being absolutely permated with oil. This Reuters bit has the salient details.

The broad strokes are, basically, tons of credits for oil and gas production and moving in the direction of new exploration, including, especially, offshore drilling. This is significant because it implies a recognition of a need to move to more difficult oil sources as easily-available sources run dry. To paraphrase Colin Campbell, when people start looking for oil under 10,000 feet of water, you know they're having problems.

Also, there's some bones thrown to the nuclear industry, including tax credits of up to 1.8 cents per kilowatt-hour. This might be something like 30% of the cost to the consumer (depending on time of year, etc.), so it's no small boost.

Finally, don't pay ANY ATTENTION to the suggestion that this bill does anything positive for renewables. The most charitable thing that could be said about it is that it glances in their general direction - but only so that it can more accurately spit upon them. There's meager bits about tax credits for purchasing hybrids, and a rather paltry home-efficiency refurbishing credit. Then $800 million worth of credits for utilities that invest in renewables - while simultaneously cutting the old requirement that all utilities must generate at least 10% of energy via renewables by 2020. No money for research.

This outlines the strategy for the future pretty clearly: bail out the oil and gas industry for the next ten years, spend like mad to exploit oil resources as much as possible while they last, and meanwhile encourage the growth of the nuclear industry. If this strategy is to succeed, note that nukes must replace both electricity generation AND liquid fuel, meaning the construction of something on the order of thousands of plants. Since the U.S. hasn't commissioned a new plant since 1978, this is a somewhat daunting task. But I look forward to the sight of a cooling tower's graceful curves peeking up over my neighbor's rooftop.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Some things never change. Specifically, the font on the International Socialist Organization's fliers. Civilization could end, and you can rest assured the ISO would issue a flier about it in 18-point bold Helvetica ("Fight back! Stop the oppression of fuel and gas shortages!").

I ran into some ISO-types busking in Central Square yesterday. I made the mistake of insulting their flier as I walked past, which resulted in a protracted tirade about the inefficacy of the ISO and left politics in general. It started as a general commentary on the robotic nature of ISO product, and how brainless they seem with their shoddy sloganeering. I believe my first salvo was something along the lines of, "I've lived in Boston for eight years, and you guys have had the exact same slogans the whole time." You know the ones: Stop this! End that! Fight back! Now! Now! Now! Simple imperative statements are appealing, for about ten seconds, until you realize that their political insight doesn't extend much further than that.

Eventually this conversation proceeded into the matter at hand, namely the "anti-war" movement. I'm glad to see that nothing new is happening on that front. Apparently there's a big rally scheduled for late September, which is presently split between the UFPJ* and ANSWER. The former obsequiously refuses to divest itself from the Democrats and mouth words in support of the Palestinians; the latter dogmatically insists on thrusting the issue of Palestine into a march about the Iraq occupation. "They're connected!" insisted the ISO type I was harranguing. True. True. This, I guess, is the leftist version of the "Kevin Bacon Game".

She also insisted it was necessary to support the Iraqi resistance if we are really opposed to ending the occupation, because those who do NOT support the Iraqi resistance think we have to "finish the job" in Iraq. This seemed to be a false dichotomy to me (I certainly don't get sorted correctly by it), and when I pointed out that it wasn't necessary to support the NVA or the NLF in order to want to end the Vietnam War, and many of the people opposing it were not so inclined, she demurred.

This makes hiding in the Internet seem like a much more comfortable notion, since the world out there is dominated by people acting out some bizarre Marxist fantasy, shining their alien light on the rest of us leftists and insisting that anyone who wishes to march in support of some particular cause (e.g. ending the occupation of Iraq) should be happy to wear that glow. Either I must wear ugly Marxist clothes or dress like a Democrat - not much of a choice.

* United for Peas and Eustace.
&dagger Act Now To Receive Free Bonus Gifts.

26 July, 2005

Putting numbers to it

In a report published last week, Merrill Lynch & Co. said the aggregate net income of the 70 largest companies in the [oil] sector is expected to rise 26% this year to $230 billion, on sales of $2.57 trillion, up nearly 10%.
$2.57 trillion is about 1/4 the GDP of the United States. It is the GDP of the biggest companies in the oil sector. Those of us who eat locally, don't use cars, and avoid using air conditioners -- we don't get to take part in the single greatest social project undertaken in human history. The extraction and combustion of as much fossil carbon as possible.

I think I'll take another cross-country road trip! After all, look at the charts: the poor oil companies are about to see their profits start to drop. Poor things, I have to help out -- it's like tsunami relief, only different.

Cycles cycle again

I remember this cycle from the 80s. At some point, the science-fiction pork-train hits the wall of reality. And today, we learn that the quarter-trillion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter might not survive the inevitable military budget cuts of the post-post-9/11 period.

Which is to say that there is a silver, or at least carbon-fiber, lining in the dusty fog of Iraq. One less tool for global military domination.

Now if they could just get rid of that missile defense system....

Get off the internet

Wolcott strikes again: the 101st Fighting Keyboarders are now the Couch Potato Pattons. Ouch.

But as Saurabh has pointed out before, there is a certain lack of vim on our side of the revolution, too. If religion was the opiate of the masses, the Internet must be concentrated Oxycontin. Because I have never seen such a bunch of doped-up activists on either side of this war.

So what should we call the people who spend their time looking at computer screens instead of, say, fucking shit up, or arguing with real live war supporters, or working on counter-recruitment, or just getting some sleep.

I would look for wit to my favorite snarky asshole right-wingers. But their terms for lefties are laced with fear and disgust at our supposed lack of concern about terrorism, rather than with good-humored amusement at our fecklessness.

So it's up to us. How about -- Hedgehog? OK, that wasn't very funny. How about the "Molotov CD-burners" who "picket lines of code" and "organize their desktops" while "pro-testing their motherboards"? Are we "memory stick radicals"? Or "link-lulled leftists"? Maybe we're "blue-screen black flaggers" or "blustering bloggers." Your thoughts?

Labor splits

I was going to write about SEIU and the Teamsters splitting off from the AFL-CIO (with rumblings of UFCW and UNITE HERE to follow), but the Bengali version of me did it first.

25 July, 2005

Move over, Zogby!

I don't think this site actually gets enough traffic to make it worthwhile, but I have inserted a poll to the left. We'll see how it goes.


Forty pages of disgusting filth go here. Just imagine you've been watching someone vomit into a gas station toilet for the past half-hour, that should set the atmosphere.

My license has been suspended, apparently. This particular saga began last october, when I drove to the airport to pick up my friend. On the way out, I was ticketed for going 35 mph in a 15 mph zone. This zone is the exit ramp heading towards the Ted Williams tunnel. It is a blind curve, and anyone going 15 mph on this ramp is in grave danger of being whacked by a taxi. 15 mph, don't you know, is incredibly slow. You could probably run this fast without too much trouble.* Clearly a speed trap, placed there for no reason other than to generate revenue via speeding tickets.

So I earned a $190 moving violation fine. Argh.

This being my first offense, I determined to contest it in court; though I had sinned, my sin was not great, and maybe I could have pled my way out of it. I dutifully filled out my slip, requesting a hearing, and mailed it in.

I heard nothing from the RMV until I received notification in February that if I failed to pay the citation by the end of the month, my license would be revoked. I harumphed for a while; clearly the official machinery had hiccuped and my hearing request had gone unnoticed, lost on the mailroom floor. But in the end I paid the citation online, via the RMV website, now including a $35 late fee.

I heard nothing more and assumed the matter was closed. Until the other day, when I was at my parents' house. My father opened some mail from his insurance company, where it informed him that one of the people on his auto insurance (myself) had been removed for reason of suspension. "Wuzzah?" I said.

So I called the RMV. It seems the official machinery had burped AGAIN, and somehow my online payment had not gone through; there was no record of the transaction at all. My license had been suspended, and a $100 reinstatement fee would have to be paid as well. $330 in toto.

I summoned up a towering rage and turned into a demon. My eyes became bloodshot, and the grinding of my teeth was like thunder in the heavens. I bellowed and walls shook down; file cabinets containing records of hundreds of meaningless infractions dissolved into dust. Desks burst into flames and crumbled on top of their occupants. Some ran around screaming, their skin crackling away in black flakes and their vitreous humor frying in their eye sockets. Others scrambled through the rubble, desperate to escape, even as I swept them up into my gaping maw. Skulls popped, ribs snapped, fluids spurted across my tongue. I could hear the pitiful wails and shrieks of all the petty officials and state troopers, desk clerks and bureaucrats who were responsible for this dereliction, as I ground their flesh to a fine paste between my molars. Horror of horrors, injustice, sweet revenge.

* Okay, maybe not. But for an automobile it's terribly slow. Try driving that slow sometimes. Then try driving that slow on a highway and see what sort of response you get.

"He was murdered."

I rather like this NZ Herald article about Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man shot to death by British police in the "heightened security" atmosphere resulting from the London bombings. I won't deign to call his death senseless, since by now it should be abundantly clear that life isn't actually supposed to make any kind of sense.

20 July, 2005

Physics and philosophy

I finished reading the book with the given title, penned by Herr Werner Heisenberg, a few days back. I don't really know much about physics at all, but I've always been impressed by the fact that physicists don't run around tearing their hair out and screaming "AAUUUGGHH!!" all the time. I dated an atomic physicist for many years (she might even be reading this), and as far as I can tell she never ran around screaming "AUUGHH" (except on account of my not having done the dishes).

The reason why I expect such behavior of physicists is probably familiar if you've explored quantum physics in even cursory detail. H. Heisenberg's preferred example is the famous double-slit diffraction experiment first performed by Thomas Young, which suffices to establish the key confundments in a simple fashion.

The setup is simple: you have a screen which has two narrow vertical slits in it, a monochromatic light source on one side and a detector screen on the other. Light strikes the first screen and is scattered* as it passes through the slits; the two waves of light interfere with each other (reinforce when their peaks coincide, cancel when they are in opposition), producing a characteristic "diffraction" pattern on the detector screen, with bright peaks where the waves reinforced and darkness where they canceled.

It is important to note that this reinforcement pattern is a definite result of the interference of two waves. That is, if we were to only have a single slit, we would get a different pattern on the screen, and the pattern produced from a double-slit diffraction experiment is very different from a simple overlay of the patterns produced by two single-slit experiments.

Well and good, so far. Now comes the bizarre part.

Herr Heisenberg points out that the interaction of light with the detector screen is a quantum phenomenon - that is, it involves a single photon interacting with an atom. It implies fixing precisely the position of the photon in space. In fact, we can decrease the intensity of our light source to the point where we can actually observe single photons striking the screen (if, say, the screen is actually a CCD camera). Now, a single photon must be traveling through one slit or the other. If we send photons through the apparatus one at a time, then, it must behave just the same as it would in a single-slit experiment. We should thus expect to see NO interference pattern, but instead the aforementioned overlay of two single-slit patterns.

Not so: observe the results to the right obtained by a Princeton group that performed exactly this experiment. Despite the ability to watch the progress of individual photons striking the detector, the interference pattern STILL emerges. That is, the photon passes through both slits and interferes with itself.

If this doesn't raise the hairs on the back of your neck, consider this experiment instead: we can place a detector on either the receiving screen (as above), or we can place detectors along the slits themselves. This can be done by simply recording momentum transfers as photons pass through the slit, so that it need not disrupt the process. In the first instance (we learned above), we see a diffraction pattern. In the second instance, we see none. WE SEE NONE! The simple act of observation affects the behavior of the photon. (At this point you should flip out and run around screaming.)

Herr Heisenberg would have us believe that a fundamental epistemological principle that we all accept, i.e. contradiction, is simply not true at the quantum mechanical level. That is, there are actually THREE conditions: true, false, and undecided. For quantum phenomena, there are instances where the impenetrable mystery, the unknowable, cannot be resolved. We cannot say which slit the photon passed through after it has struck the receiving screen, because it was not decided at that point. There was a fundamental uncertainty, and so long as it was not resolved, both mutually contradicting conditions were equally true.

And, vexingly, the act of observation plays an inseparable role in this process. UNTIL we observe, the contradiction exists. But as soon as we do, it vanishes. Thus the totally bizarre result in the final experiment. By simply observing which slit the photon passes through, we decide its mode of behavior. I.e., we establish the truth by observing it.

I think this should be enough to fray anyone's mental fiber and keep them up at night, sweating furiously. But I don't know what to make of it beyond that; so, existence is bizarre and runs against our deepest expectations. Is some other truth hiding behind that quantum mechanical uncertainty?

* This scattering is itself a result of the uncertainty principle, actually, which says that we can never know both the position and velocity of a particle to an arbitrary degree of precision; there is a fundamental limit (based on Planck's constant), below which we must sacrifice one for the other. Since we know that the light has passed through the slit, its position becomes known precisely, and its velocity can therefore take a broader range - it might pass in any direction at all.

19 July, 2005

Abortive writing

Every so often I dig through my home directory and come across some tidbit of writing I began but never managed to complete. Here's a sample I just stumbled across (fully equipped with abortive ending):
It was precisely because Viola was not interested in cleanliness that they acquired a robot. Not that she was slovenly; rather, she did not make a habit of cleaning. Maintaining a clean home is a task requiring some measure of dedication, and Viola lacked such fastidiousness.

As it happened, the matter was taken out of her hands. "After all, a Muslim must be clean," Ayoub told her. And he went out and bought a robot. In retrospect, Viola wished that she had had the foresight to make this move preemptively, because Ayoub, being a man, lacked the necessary insight, and came home with an utterly unsuitable model.

At this time, their son Afzal was three years old, an age at which scattering objects across the floor is a favorite activity. Viola had assumed the mother's duty of cleaning up after her progeny, but gleefully announced her retirement from this line of work after the arrival of the robot.

It was a dome-shaped thing about the size of a bulldog, made of some glossy black material. It had no apparent inlets or appendages. Viola, who had never owned an autonomous cleaner before, took its simplicity to be a sign of sophistication, and for several weeks was greatly enamored of it, even after it ate a pair of her husband's slippers.

But in that much time, she noted its major flaw: though it was quite intelligent and could distinguish between a jelly donut smeared across the carpet and a chocolate eclair smeared across the carpet, and was equipped with all the accoutrements necessary to deal with these diverse scenarios, it was guilty of the error of omission. When it made the decision that a particular bit of chaos was not a mess, it would diffidently ignore it. So piles of Afzal's toys quickly began to accumulate around the house, like various archeological excavations. The robot lacked the capacity to tidy: it could not return things to their place.

Like a good Catholic, Viola immediately assumed the fault was her own, and spent many evenings poring over the robot's instructional manual, searching for the setting or mode that would cause it to begin tidying. When she at last realized that no such configuration was possible, and the robot was well and truly impaired, she felt the shock of betrayal.

She confronted Ayoub with this scandalous information and succeeded in precipitating a major crisis in their young marriage. He remarked on her laziness, and she remarked on his enforcement of antiquated gender roles. In the end, after many tears and one hurled vase (promptly cleaned up by the attentive and oblivious robot) and even the threat of a phone call to Ayoub's mother, Viola ended up sleeping on the living room couch, and Ayoub ended up sleeping under the kitchen table. Afzal had the bed all to himself.

The next day they both repented and made up with many sweet kisses and murmured apologies. She made him tea and he made her crevettes-a-l'ail, and they never spoke of the robot again. Both of them began picking up Afzal's messes. In time Afzal himself outgrew the phase when such profligate mess-making was considered permissable, and he had to pick up his own messes.

This state of affairs lasted two years, until one day, when the aging cleaner ate two pairs of slippers in a single morning, tried to gorge itself on a newly-acquired kitten, and was beaten to death by an outraged Ayoub.

The purchase of a replacement was taken as a given; by this time they had acquired the habit of luxury. Viola insisted on being solely responsible for the selection of this new cleaner, and Ayoub gave way without argument. He was more than a little shocked by the sudden derangement of the device, and felt a bit of shame for having purchased it. And he had not forgotten their fight of a year ago (such things stand out in a young marriage).

Viola found


18 July, 2005

When hubris attack

Bill Keller, of the New York Times, referred to Matt Cooper's abrupt non-incarceration as resulting from "deus ex machina." There's nothing like a little Latin to put me in mind of Greek tragedy, and soon enough the word "hubris" was rattling in my tiny skull like a ball-bearing in a bicycle tire.

Karl Rove was on TV today, wandering around a parking lot, cell phone to the ear. I was in a few U.S. Senators' offices last Thursday and the phones were about to burst into flames from all the anti-Rove phone calls. And he just keeps digging in deeper.

But what's more shocking than Rove himself is that his style of life-as-war has already so completely infected the young. Rove, the man who used voter disenfranchisement and dirty tricks to become head of the College Republicans, could be about to fall. But today, the young have learned all too well from him:

- Paul Gourley, new head of the College Republicans, won his election despite being wrapped up in a scandal in which his boss, the old head of the organization, raised money by lying. Michael Davidson, of California, challenged Gourley but lost because the South Dakotan kicked out the pro-Davidson voting delegates of two states. When they complained to the "credentials committee" at the convention, the committee turned a blind eye -- it was controlled by Gourley supporters.

- In Nevada, the Young Republicans convention just wrapped up, $25,000 in the red. The head of the state party was accused very early on of walking off with -- go figure -- $25,000, if this report is to be believed. Now he's trying to shake down the state's Republican Congressional delegation. At last check, they were busy lighting one another's cigars and competing for how much smoke they could blow in their young leader's face.

- In New Jersey, Steve Damion, the head of the College Republicans, might have known before he became chairman that the group exists to offer volunteers and to train kids in the arts of grassroots politics and fundraising. But instead, he decided to take a quick shakedown route to the top, demanding pay from the state party in return for his volunteers. The state party, staffed largely by former College Republicans, looked at him rather like a drill sergeant might look at a recruit who says, "drop and give me 50." He's since been forced to quit in disgrace.

The good news is that the Republicans will soon be as decrepit and empty-shelled as the Democrats. The bad news is that civil society in the most powerful country in the history of the world will then be left entirely to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bush: Aides Who 'Committed a Crime' Will Be Fired

WASHINGTON -- President Bush, whose White House is facing increasing pressure in the investigation of the public identification of a covert CIA operative, said today that he would fire anyone found to have committed a crime.

He added, "We will also be firing any aides who are found to have died."

When politicians attack

Sometime last week, it emerged that someone was distributing a mod for the game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" called Hot Coffee, which allows you to view some sex scenes apparently hidden in the game. Rockstar denies having anything to do with this; the mod's author claims he only unlocked what was already there, and he can prove it. The scenes are real and are definitely explicit (you can find screenshots easily enough with Ole Henry).

Anyway: if any of you have ever played GTA, you're probably finding it hard to give a toss. After all, the game involves shooting up innocent people, stealing cars, pimping, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. Surely a little consensual sex should not raise many eyebrows, especially since the game is rated "M for Mature".

But, for some reason, sex crosses lines that misogyny, drug-dealing and brutal murder does not. Jumping on this particular train is Hillary Clinton (Joe Lieberman is aboard, as well). Quoth the Senator:
Clinton (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, said she will introduce legislation to help keep inappropriate video games out of the hands of children, and has asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the "Grand Theft Auto" game.

Her legislative proposal would institute a financial penalty for retailers who fail to enforce the video manufacturers voluntary ratings system rules. It would prohibit the sale of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors and put in place a $5,000 penalty for those who violate the law.

"The disturbing material in 'Grand Theft Auto' and other games like it is stealing the innocence of our children, and it's making the difficult job of being a parent even harder," Clinton said.

In calling for the FTC to launch an investigation, Clinton urged the commission to determine whether an AO rating (adults only) is more appropriate than the current M rating (mature) for the video game given this new sexually explicit content. She also requested that the FTC examine the adequacy of retailers' rating-enforcement policies.

Now, far be it from me to question the intelligence of a U.S. Senator, but... does Senator Clinton have Krispy Kreme donuts where her frontal lobe should be? An "M" rating restricts games to 17-year-olds (ostensibly), who, last I checked, were not exactly paragons of innocence. Furthermore, those parents who DO allow their kids to play this game are either (a) gleefully unaware of what their kid is consuming or (b) sublimely indifferent. In either case, the fault is obviously with the parent, whose responsibility it is to discipline the child, not with the game itself.

Clinton is also, apparently, calling for further studies into the effect of video games on children. Personally, I think she could have far more transparently courted conservative votes by simply having herself nailed up on a cross on the Capitol steps.

I think this is a fine opportunity to point out that Clinton is a slimy politician, lest anyone have any doubt, and in the coming years when she stands up against torrents of putrescent bile spilling from the mouths of a horde of evil conservatives, do not let yourself be swayed; harden your heart, and remember: she's not a human being. She is a construct, a cipher, a manifestation of forms.

But, back to the issue at hand; Clinton, as a cipher, is only expressing an extant societal tendency. I'm not certain that it has become harder to raise children in recent years, since I've never been a parent and I certainly have no basis for comparison over several generations. Actually I suspect instead that shrill voices have always been shrieking to scrub the world clean of all the filthy bits of drek humanity creates. An ugly and futile sentiment - we ourselves are the ones who shit and piss. Whether we scatter it everywhere or don't, it has to exist. We'll never make ourselves clean by denying that. Far better to see the world as it is and learn to live in it, messy bits and all.

15 July, 2005

Compassionate conservatism

Yesterday, the brilliant James Wolcott penned a missive about the bizarro-world "compassion" of the Bush Administration. But it might have been quicker simply to draw readers' attention to this story, which I believe captures the Bush Administration's level of empathy for the misconvicted, for the tsunami tsurvivors, for the various victims of bombings in Iraq, Indonesia, Israel, you name it, and for so many more I've lost count.
Convergence of Driver, Bicyclist Ends in Arrest: Bystanders Track Alleged Assailant
By Petula Dvorak
It began as a shouting match on a busy Capitol Hill street corner during the frenetic morning commute, a bike-vs.-car incident not uncommon in a big city.

But then the silver-haired, retired Navy lieutenant got out of his car, approached the red-headed ballet dancer riding a bike and allegedly shoved her to the ground, authorities said. He got back into his car and, as bystanders followed him, drove down the block to his nearby office, the bicyclist said.

The man was identified as Ted E. Schelenski, 64, vice president for finance and operations at the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that promotes conservative policies. He pleaded not guilty this week to a charge of simple assault.

(There is much more at the Washington Post site.)

The difference is that the VP-Finance of the Heritage Foundation was promptly hauled off to jail, which is what decent people do to sociopaths in everyday life. For some reason, people are able to pretend that international affairs are different from city sidewalks.


After London, many smart liberals are ranting about how this disproves the "flypaper theory." You know, the idea expressed by the President of the USA when he approvingly quoted, "We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us."

Sorry folks, but the flypaper theory is a success. While the liberals complain about its supposed failings, that just shows what they know about flypaper.

Flypaper is a sticky amber-colored film often seen hanging in a barn. It smells sweet to the manure flies; they fly at it for a treat and get stuck.

There are different ways to reduce the flies on a farm. At some groovy hippy farms, they let the cattle wander around in the fields, dropping cow pies here and there. Cow pies would normally provide a fertile ground for fly reproduction, so farmers bring in a mobile chicken coop. The birds scratch through the cow pies, breaking them up into fertilizer and scavenging the fly larvae -- better known as grubs -- as nutritious snacks.

This can, according to farmers I've talked to as I root through their meadows, pretty much eliminate flies. When chickens chew up grubs, they are, as the MBAs say, incented to them all. If you don't let the manure pile up, the chickens, which in this analogy is the decentralized force of a healthy social system, can keep farms free of flies.

Then there's flypaper. Anyone knows who has actually lived on a farm (sorry President Bush, but your "ranch" doesn't count) knows that no matter how much flypaper you hang up in a barn, there are always flies rising from the manure pile, and some escape. That's because flypaper catches flies after they're born.

Farms that use flypaper to fight off the pests rising from ever deeper and more fetid manure (I'm thinking of my childhood home here) are doomed to flies not just in the barn but in the pond, on the porch, and once in a while, in the house.

The flypaper theory is exactly right. Iraq is a manure pile. Our brave soldiers, sent as decoys, are flypaper. And London, on the morning of 7/7, demonstrated how well flypaper works.

14 July, 2005

My rotator cuff injury disproves Christianity

Somehow, I managed to bruise my rotator cuff. I suspect this somehow relates to rock-climbing and not being strong enough in a thousand different ways. However, I will use this opportunity constructively to provide some compelling evidence that Christianity is bunk.

Observe the diagram to the right. You will note that the rotator cuff is a tendon supporting the humerus. You will also note that the rotator cuff runs UNDER the scapula (shoulder blade), between it and the ball of the humerus. This means that it is incredibly prone to being pinched by the two bones, resulting in inflammation and tearing. This is why rotator cuff injuries are so common.

Now, based on this, we can construct a proof as follows:

Some important tenets of Christianity:

  • God is perfect.
  • God created Man in His image.

    And our own observations:

  • The rotator cuff is an example of un-intelligent ("assinine") design.

    Therefore, either:

  • God did not create Man in His image.
  • God is a screw-up.
  • God is prone to shoulder injuries when He, say, throws too many pitches before the Archangel Michael pulls Him off the mound in the bottom of the Sixth, four pitches and six hits after he SHOULD have.

    Any one of these should be sufficient.

    Now, I'm aware that a number of Christians advance the idea that all of our ills arose after "the Fall", when we were thrown out of Eden by God, and we are in fact degenerating from our original hallowed state. I find it implausible that part of this degeneration was a reorganization of the tendons in our shoulder. But I suspect that you dogmatic exegetes will consider that an adequate escape valve from my iron-clad proof.
  • Women in science

    Don't miss this Pharyngula post on the difficulties women face in science. It's a two-fer, the first part about the "leaky pipe" syndrome at various stages in the European Young Investigator awards, and the second a paper demonstrating bias in peer review, concluding that women need to be, on average, 2.5 times as competent as men to be judged as competent. !.

    13 July, 2005

    How will they escape?

    Sorry I've been MIA. No internet at home. No blogging at work -- I've burrowed my way into a major news organization.

    Anyway, apropos of Saurabh's last post: Here in Warshington, the question on my colleagues' lips is, how will they squirm out of this one?

    I think a really wingnut Supreme Court nomination would pull the headlines away.

    Others worry that they'll have to spend time covering a Rehnquist resignation.

    And if all else fails, there's always the Clinton option.

    You know, as in "Iran is Bushese for Kosovo."

    And meanwhile, am I the only one who thinks MoveOn.org and other liberal groups are moronic in pushing for Rove to quit? They should be pushing for him to get thrown in jail. Maybe he can take over Judy Miller's cell.

    12 July, 2005

    A moving experience

    Work is hell this week (in preparation for the ENCODE genome consortium meeting coming up), so light on the posting.

    However, I couldn't miss the opportunity to insist that everyone read this July 11 White House press briefing, where Mr. McClellan categorically refuses to comment on the Rove/Plame affair. It's simply gorgeous. My man Scott takes repeated kicks to the groin and ends up rolling around on the floor moaning and weeping. Ah, how sweet it is! I've been waiting for this moment. Here's a choice niblet:
    Q Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?
    Ah! Rapturous!
    MR. McCLELLAN: John, I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.

    Go ahead, Dave.

    Q We are going to keep asking them. When did the President learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with the President -- with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson's wife and the decision to send --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions.

    Q When did the President learn that Karl Rove had --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions, Dick.

    08 July, 2005


    Lest you (ye teeming masses) miss it in all the London-related cacophony, be careful to note that Iran and Iraq are taking the first bold steps towards greater cooperation. Jaafari is going to visit Tehran later this month with a delegation from Iraq, and Iran has agreed to provide training to Iraqi troops. This is certainly going to antagonize the U.S., but I think that's an unmitigated good. The more distance created between the Iraqi government and the U.S., and the less dependent it becomes on us, the better for all parties.

    Also, while I'm mentioning Iran, Yoshie of Critical Montages has been doing a lot of cheerleading for recent elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who he feels is a lot more progressive in the pro-working-class, anti-neoliberal sense than some of the other "moderate" anti-clerical candidates. I'd like to be writing stuff of such depth, but unfortunately I suck. So just pretend that Yoshie is me. s/Yoshie/saurabh/g.

    07 July, 2005

    A brief anecdote

    A while back I stepped out of the house in the morning and found myself in the midst of a completely impenetrable fog. Somewhat elated by this but otherwise nonplussed, I leapt onto my bike (presently disassembled awaiting repainting - oh my darling, how I miss thee) and set off.

    It was definitely my kind of day, thoroughly weird and fey. Cars all had to travel at a crawl like confused buffalo, while I zipped around them and cackled to myself. Sound just sort of happened, somewhere, entirely free of visual context. People became ghosts, appearing and disappearing intermittently.

    And that was before I even got to the river. If elsewhere the fog was impenetrable, there, fed by the Charles, it was even more: practically solid, adamantine. It was mystery itself, drifting slowly across the surface of the water.

    Midway along the bridge I happened on a girl, leaning against the railing, staring over at blank whiteness. I sidled up behind her. She broke from her reverie and half-turned towards me, startled. "Careful, miss," I croaked. "Cursed pirates sail these waters!"

    Her face cracked wide with delight and she spun back to the mists expectantly, waiting for that mystery to unfold and birth something fantastic. And I put my foot down on my pedal and sailed on, feeling a little magical.

    More bombing

    Below I describe this London bombing as a major terrorist incident. Meanwhile, 13 people died in a coordinated series of bombings in Hilla, just south of Baghdad, today. Nothing new for them. So I should say, rather, that today London is a little bit more like Baghdad.


    Crooked Timber is a good place to hang out today.

    On a personal note, for a long while I've been ghoulishly awaiting the appearance of a major terrorist incident whenever I open Google News. Now that I've been satisfied, I take it back. I feel like I've been force-fed human flesh.

    06 July, 2005

    Darkest night

    New moon today; if you're planning to murder someone and bury their body in the woods, tonight is the night.

    05 July, 2005

    Post-independence hangover debriefing

    July 4th is a difficult holiday for America-hating scumbags such as myself. Mostly this is because of the line drawn connecting patriotism and militarism. In America, expressions of patriotism necessarily imply "supporting our troops", whom I must also acknowledge are "defending our freedoms".

    There would have been a time when I probably could have done that quite happily. Specifically, the years 1941 through 1950. In those years I would have readily and genuinely admired the valor and sacrifice of the many soldiers who, the ugliness of World War II aside, could honestly be said to have fought, died and been injured in the cause of defending the ideals this country stood for.

    But that was a long time ago, and in the meanwhile we've grown corpulent and long-clawed, inserting our digits where they don't belong and manipulating the guts of other societies. That's a military that's much harder to love. And I fail to see the connection between the actions of that military and my own freedom. Is it really the case that martial prowess is responsible for my right to speech? Shouldn't I instead be celebrating various judges and attorneys, activists and legislators who have kept this democracy vibrant over the years? I should have heard this last night:

    ANNOUNCER: And let's take this opportunity to remember all those Federal circuit judges who protected our constitutional right to speech and assembly. That's why we can all be here today, ladies and gentlemen!

    Unfortunately the graying judge in black robes doesn't cut as dapper a figure as the spry young military man, gun raised against his shoulder. And truth be told, the sacrifice involved is hardly on par. The former suffers through boring hearings and cramps in the buttocks; the latter could lose his hearing or buttocks. There's a pretty simple and compelling sway to it: surely that level of sacrifice must be undertaken for a reason. The best and greatest reason we can think of: our freedom(s)! Otherwise all those young men and women would be dying or coming home crippled for nothing at all, or worse, for an evil cause.

    But the chain is actually pretty easy to follow. When you get down to it, the role of the soldier in protecting our freedom is fairly small when measured up against a federal circuit judge or an ACLU lawyer. So viva the judiciary. Viva the fucking people who give a rat's ass and keep power where it belongs. Raise a glass to 'em, a day late.


    As a lifelong nerd, geek, dork, and dweeb, I have to express my confusion. Why are nerds so reviled? Is it because people don't like to feel stupid? Well, people probably don't like to feel weak and enervate either, but that hasn't resulted in an anti-jock backlash, as far as I can tell. Is it because academic performance is metered and physical prowess is not? If we got rid of grades, would nerds become popular chick-magnets loved for their wit and conversational breadth? Tell me, I must know!

    04 July, 2005

    Tabloid issue


    "It brings out my waist," says stylish Prexy

    03 July, 2005

    There are THREE branches of government...

    The rumor has it that Gonzales is on the "short list" of potential nominees for the Supreme Court position. I'd just like to point out the man's incredibly bizarre understanding of executive authority and the basic workings of government. From his Senate confirmation hearing:
    SEN. DURBIN: I'll give you that chance. In your August memo, you created the possibility that the president could invoke his authority as commander in chief not only to suspend the Geneva Convention but the application of other laws. Do you stand by that position?

    MR. GONZALES: I believe that I said in response to an earlier question that I do believe it is possible, theoretically possible, for the Congress to pass a law that would be viewed as unconstitutional by a president of the United States. And that is not just the position of this president. That's been the position of presidents on both sides of the aisle. In my judgment, making that kind of conclusion is one that requires a great deal of care and consideration. But if you're asking me if it's theoretically possible that Congress could pass a statute that we view as unconstitutional, I'd have to say -- concede, sir, that that's -- I believe that that's theoretically possible.

    01 July, 2005

    Comment system

    I got rid of Haloscan. This has some ups, some downs. I installed instead a hack by this guy named Ebenezer Orthodoxy called Metempsychosis, which lets you post comments without having to sign in. Looks okay, except it sends you to an ugly, ugly Blogger "comments post-mortem" page, reminding us that Blogger continues to suck. Why, Google, why? Why do you shit on us in this way when everything else you do is so good? Also, all your brilliant, brilliant Haloscan comments are gone, until such time as I can figure out how to convert them over.

    On the other hand, Haloscan is pretty irritating, and unlike Blogger it will kill your comments after about four months. Which is no fun.

    Not sure which is better...

    Oh god

    Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.

    Where has all the money gone?

    This article in the London Review of Books, on the misappropriation/mishandling/theft of funds in Iraq by American contractors and government agents, is neither a review, London-centric, nor bibliophilic in any way whatsoever. However, if people are going to stray from their mandate, this is a good way to do it. Excellent and thoroughly shocking article, with lots of dirt on the company everyone loves to hate, Halliburton.*

    * I remember a time not long back when the company everyone loved to hate was Monsanto (now a subsidiary of Pharmacia). Ah, those were the days...

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