Friday, February 29, 2008

a hopelessly didactic reflection on the trade that pays my bills

Because it reflects a dichotomy of our own minds and the seeming tussle between two outlooks that uncomfortably co-lodge with differing emphasis within each of us, this issue of intellectual property will never go away. Besides, why should /. readers be the only ones to waste time on such matters ;?)

To help you explore the dynamic of the deeper conflict, consider how patents and proprietary ideas have analogies in biology.

First a word of justification for arguments of this type: Biology works, we know, because we know there is life. And most of us know it is, when all its forms are taken in to account, at least two billion years old on this planet. And don't forget that DNA was the first coding scheme and not until the invention of language did humans begin transmitting adaptations as extra-genetic information. If you can make the idea-mapping of the analogy hold up, certainly biology is one of the most robust schemes from which to draw conclusions about what works in the long run.

Analogy 1: trading a reduced cost of being well adapted for the short term luxury and illusory comfort of having an exclusive brand name advantage.

Bacteria can and do swap genetic tricks quite promiscuously. That is why they are seldom more than a few weeks behind the most potent vaccines and antibiotics our laboratories can cook up. But no one bacteria benefits and the borrow-and-blend helter-skelter genetics going on in the sewers, the gutters and drug addicts blood streams allows no identity or family to emerge for more than a moment: all the triumphs of the microbes are entirely and universally collective. They are the Borg on this planet. Humans slowly trade and spread genes unless purged by plagues but in the grip of the conservative inclination, they actively repel genetic and extra-genetic learnings from outside their culturally enforced and narrowed gene pools.

Ego and altruism, whether entangled or discrete, will only carry you so far. The appeal made in favor of "open source" software is that it promotes the bacterial model of rapid incorporation and hybridization of new ideas: it accelerates innovation. But cui bono?
The dollars paid are a feedback connecting the closed-source software designer/developer to the user, a link that is missing in the open source model. The rock stars of open source like Richard Stallman or Linus Torvalds are sustained in their roles by having powerful thought leadership but a minimum of income compared to similar talent at a most high technology companies. They are exceptions. Most of the hoards of developers who have chipped in a bug fix, a new UI widget or a better sort utility to the existing body of open source did so in their spare time or to enhance their resume and have moved on to paid work. For a human to work consistently he or she must work happily. For a human to work happily in the service of generalized but personally absent mankind requires that worker to possess an empathetic imagination that replaces the exchange of wage or the reward of face to face gratitude and prizes the fleeting appreciation from contributing colleagues...and some other means of paying for the groceries. The nearest thing to steady income in open source software work comes from providing help, training and customization services to users who got the software for free but don't know how to make it work.

It can be argued [ I know it to be a working motive in MY life] that innovation is also suppressed by the threat of open source: "why would I expend MY time and money to solve a problem when I will not be rewarded for the solution?" Unless you work for a wealthy company, you will not have the resources to combat piracy of your ideas. But the solution to that problem cannot be separated from the cause: the profit motive that moves pirates rests entirely on the MSRP of the stolen software or components. If you give something away, the pirates have nothing and must look elsewhere. Money of course is only part of propietorship. If your ego needs lead you to strive for algorithms that must be treated like signed originals, perhaps you should take up art or write novels or run an academic CS lab that publishes research. That is a position no bacteria ever considers. It is our burden: writing software requires a lot of brain power but selfishness too requires a modicum of brainpower before the me/them boundry is discerned and enforced. The proprietary model of software patents is, in its psychological essences, the conservative's approach: "why should I give away an advantage? It gives me a distinguishing aid or ability others have not earned".

Well, yes it does and no it doesn't because the closed source model implies the proprietor of a set of ideas must either buy other people's ideas to compliment and complete his own capabilities or duplicate the entire development effort that the ensemble of all sundry successful inventors have produced in the given problem domain in order to match their effects with his private batch of techniques. That implied "go it alone or have the money to buy what you cannot invent" scheme is a staggering barrier. Personal or corporate gain are esteemed as unfailing motivators in neocon circles and the business schools and pulpits of capitalist enconomies but they too can not carry you over every hurdle. The dreadful failure rates for high technology start-ups ought to convince you of that.

Analogy 2: Diversity or monoculture:

There is another analogy which biology can supply for our understanding of the limitations of proprietary ways. The recent book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver gives a very clear picture of just how limited our choice of food species have become due to the needs of mass production and corporate economic benefit. The problem with that [ assuming YOU aren't one of the species that has been terminated for want of profitability,] is that one bug can come along and starve the lot of us like potato blight did in Ireland 160 years ago. Everybody running Microsoft Outlook means that if some bright, or careless, hacker finds, for instance, a buffer overflow bug in the message handling machinery of that product then everybody is vulnerable to an exploit of that bug. Open source projects could be faulted for giving us too many choices. claims to have registered 170,861 projects as I type this. You get one look-and-feel engine from Microsoft. You get one from Apple. You have several choices including "roll your own with one of these API toolkits" if you run Linux. What you won't get is a single mode of failure that could fell an entire class of applications...a virtue that your MicroSoft salesman will describe as "chaos". What you do get is the option to look under the hood to see exactly what you are running. Bruce Schneier, in his truly excellent tome Applied Cryptography, persuasively argues that only open and published schemes of protecting data come in for the necessary criticism and scrutiny that really insure security. When you decide "I won't let others use my ideas!" you both cut off the vast free inspection and you put yourself under some level of obligation [such as GPL] to NOT use the public ideas of others. If you go that way, you had better be damn good or have a set of customers who have no other choice [such are usually referred to as your employers!]. The decision to possess an exclusive solution means you have one solution and it had better be right. But neither life nor software requirements and markets let any specific solution remain "right" for long.

Did you figure out where I stand on the issue of trying to own an idea that can be appropriated, used or transmitted for free? The biological analog of the proprietary is the creature so dangerous, ugly and unapproachable that only its own kind are adapted to mate with it. It had better have no enemies because rapid adaptation is not in the cards...think porcupines, perhaps or anklyosaur and triceratops or the Bush/Walker clan.

Personally, I don't feel entirely at home on either side of that fence.

[There is a 3rd alternative...the google way: owning the ONE copy of the working system and letting everyone execute for no cost but a loss of privacy and only ownership of the invisible code via holding shares of GOOG. Software-as-service is a model that will get more complicated with the introduction of Adobe AIR technology.]

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The universal breakdown

The similarity between conservatives and liberals is that they both mistrust certain kinds of power in certain hands and want it controlled. The difference is that the liberal suspects even himself and his comrades of the potential for abuse of power but to the conservative, the culprit against whom rules and arms should be arrayed is always some "them".

In the end, all that separates the two brawling camps of any politics might be described either as false discriminations or as a failure of one party to recognize exactly how common our basic humanity is. The disjuncture is not precisely mutual and symmetric, sometimes far from it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A tale of two Williams: judging the tree by its fruit.

With a separation of a few years, two men go to Yale, join Skull and Bones, enlist in the army and later work for the CIA...just the same right?

Though I was raised in a household where "Firing Line" was one of the few shows we watched and I still admire and try to model the verbal opulence of William F. Buckley, it looks like I am going to have to be the one to say a few sane words to balance the effusive obituaries.

His enthusiasm and the gray skin of intellectual respectability his language pulled around the tottering remnants of 1950's anti-communism, nascent political operations of Christian conservatism and bits of lopsided libertarian freedom-lust and corporate cupidity did indeed, as the eulogies suggest, help greatly to make that collection of moral midgets with diverse agendas appear like one big circus elephant. And the crowd eventually followed the elephant. By the time Reagan was deposited into the howdah of the republican party, the boomers like myself were already feeling like we too might be wealthy enough to have something to loose and were long accustomed to an unrepresentatively conservative balance voices on major media outlets thanks to the pioneering TV presence of Mr. Buckley.

Did William Sloan Coffin have a TV show? Buckley's upset with modernity as it touched Yale was already on display in his 1951 book, "God and Man at Yale", when Coffin, drained of his interest in fixing the world via the machinations of the CIA, took up religious study at Yale. Where Buckley's life work was a reactionary response to liberalism such as he perceived at Yale, Coffin passed him going the other direction in that same university. And note that Yale is not the monster factory you might presume by it's present graduate in the whitehouse nor Mr. Buckley: Coffin and Abu Dubya were in Skull and Bones together as was Buckley later on.

But intellectualism is not the decoration that Americans, blue collared or red necked or red, white and blue populist like to declaim. And it is not the power-grab that Eric Hoffer made it out to be. It is another kind of labor, just one more tree in the orchard of human toil. It should be judged, as all supposedly practical efforts are, by its fruits.

The New York Times' obit will be typical:
Mr. Buckley’s greatest achievement was making conservatism not just electoral Republicanism, but conservatism as a system of ideas respectable in liberal post-World War II America. He mobilized the young enthusiasts who helped nominate Barry Goldwater in 1964, and saw his dreams fulfilled when Reagan and the Bushes captured the Oval Office.
All great biblical stories begin with Genesis, George Will wrote in the National Review in 1980. And before there was Ronald Reagan, there was Barry Goldwater, and before there was Barry Goldwater there was National Review, and before there was National Review there was Bill Buckley with a spark in his mind, and the spark in 1980 has become a conflagration.

That conflagration has burnt a lot of middle class families out of their American dreams.

The fruition of WFB's life long love of conservatism is NOT the moments he cherished such as the ascent of the vacuous Ronald-of-no-memory. The fruit was just ripening when Bush II took office. But now that fruit is coming ripe and you can smell it everywhere in the ditches and back alleys around Baghdad. "System of ideas" says the obituary....hmmm. The pastiche of conservative causes were all of tactical scale though Buckley cast spells of wholeness upon the collection of them. What wholeness then lets Mr Buckley, the sometime libertarian, excuse excessive police powers if the goal is anti-communism:
We have got to accept Big Government for the duration for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged, given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores. And if they deem Soviet power a menace to our freedom (as I happen to), they will have to support large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant centralization of power in Washington even with Truman at the reins of it all.

That two faced espousal of freedoms...isn't the current administration's dismissal of its legal obligations under FISA straight out of Buckley's old essay? Deregulated communications give us Murdoch uber alles, unregulated energy gives us Enron. Such are the fruits of Milton Friedman ideas championed by Mr Buckley and set loose upon us in the Reagan and subsequent administrations.

Its only my opinion but I say the wholeness that ties the disparate strains of conservative intentions together is on the strategic scale: they are a little bit afraid of almost everything they don't personally control. That in his last years, Buckley distanced himself from the religious excesses of Bush ideology and disavowed the Iraq war merely inform us that exuberant tacticians do not necessarily recognize the course their unwitting strategy compels.

Even Norman Mailer had to admit, nobody did so good a job as Buckley of dressing up the empty heart of conservatism so that it could be trotted out in the media and attract others who, self aware or not, did not want to share the world as the equals of the outgroups they misperceived or outright projected.

Monday, February 25, 2008

For which Oscar should this horror flick get nominated?

Find the most liberal constituency that is still politically alive and suck the votes out of it!

With humble apologies to George Romero and the craft of his poster artists.

[Cooper at HufPo has given Fallows at the Atlantic the sincerest flattery...or maybe there is just a spontaneous and profound unanimity in the air about what a sick thing a Nader candidacy is at this late date. ]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

patting myself on the back.

There is a Yiddish saying: "the child that is loved is called by a thousand names"
Within a family, that sort of semantic drift is tolerable.

In public writing, originality has to be bridled by some standard diction or communication is degraded. Its a fine line between being inventively snarky and losing your readers. Never stopped me, of course.

It seems that a pack of rapacious fools calling itself a government is also called by a thousand names. "bush league" seemed clear enough to me when it first occurred to me back in Oct of 2005 so I have used it often. Its obvious enough for others to have thought of it too. Given how few people read my dogged attempts at commentary, others would have to make it up for themselves. Just nice to see the right sort of people using it.

He is so right and so wrong

Pray to any deity you find efficacious and pray hard that Nader can't scare up enough votes to make another republican presidency possible.

The reasons Ralph Nader gives are all hard and demonstrated truths:
Nader, 73, said most people are disenchanted with the Democratic and Republican parties due to a prolonged Iraq war and a shaky economy. The consumer advocate also blamed tax and other corporate-friendly policies under the Bush administration that he said have left many lower- and middle-class people in debt.

What he never says is that our democracy is t0o screwed up for his ego trip to have any positive effect on the problems he cites. Politics is a sordid business, a bucket full of compromises leaking good intentions away into the dust. But that is what we've got for a process and he demonstrated how badly it goes in 2000.

He'd do better, [if he could keep from vomiting], to have run as the "Green Democrat" or some thing like it but within the machine of the Democratic party. That way, he would have a few delegates come convention-time and he could bargain with that to get a few green or middle-class-friendly planks put in or left in the Democratic platform. The way he is going about it, not only will he have no desired effect on the Democratic campaign positions, he will increase the risk that we get four years of being screwed by John "I am against lobbying, trust me!" McCain making supreme court appointments and going full steam ahead toward wider military involvement in the middle east. What is with this guy Nader? Doesn't he know you need a strong stomach if you want to make democratic progress? [Or maybe he really is on the republican side...for them to make republican progress all that is needed is a partial detachment from reality .... yep, he could be one of them and just not know it.]

As I scan the 'sphere for reaction, I find all comments in agreement. One of the most damning is from a very smart writer who came of political age working with Ralph but sees the path of Nader reaching a nadir of pathos.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

greensmile on Wolcott on Obama....

I often find myself in some form of agreement with James Wolcott's take on things. Besides, you would have to be a Republican ditch digger to fail to appreciate the way he expresses himself. It was, to be honest, his writing that prompted the greensmile household to subscribe to the dead-trees form of Vanity fair. How else to explain the presence of the likes of this:

on the coffee table of a guy who saws and splits his own firewood to keep the house warm? [and, further honesty, it is the depicted edition, all 444 scented, ad-bloated, content free pages of it that will cause all further mail box bilge from Conde' Nast to go directly to the paper recycling bin.]

But the very talented Mr Wolcott seems to have rubbed elbows with too many in the demographic Vanity Fair courts...and had their dim view of humanity rub off on him. The print pimped the web format of Wolcott's words with this:
I have nothing against Obama ... but as obnoxious as is the chortling, crowing misogyny of a Chris Matthews or the rightwing buffoon (Michael Graham, I believe) Imus had on his show this morning (or Imus himself, for that matter), the rah-rah gaga Beatlemania oozing out of the Huffington Post over Obama is even more revolting. Watching middle-aged men reclaim their innocence and idealism is like having to retrace Kevin Costner's steps through a field of dreams all over again--it was corny enough the first time.

...and here I have to repeat for the benefit of Mr. Wolcott that we get rock stars and gurus because we are desperate creatures. Not because Obama has supernatural charm, not because any speech writer or ad campaign Svengali has us in his thrall and not because Hillary is deficient in some serious personal or policy way do we find so much enthusiasm for the campaign of Obama welling up at every turn and corner in the bluish tinted legions of the primary voters. To the chagrin of the pundits who have not seen it coming, this whole phenomenon is one of perception. Nothing changed except that after seven years of the government, the media and the punditocracy just not speaking to how very corrupt and deluded the George Bush administration has been, we have a glimpse of someone who can credibly say he never bought the BS.

You cannot give hope to people who already have plenty. A resurgence of hope says far more about those who dissolved it, wore it out, or outright stole it from people than it does about the person upon whom the hopeful have fixed their gaze.

Now if only the esteemed Mr. Wolcott, or anyone for that matter, would read my blustery pages.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Oh Noz! Nadir again

A week ago or so, MoveOn queried us about what issues to shuffle to the top of the agenda. One thing I suggested [for what that is worth] was that MO should pressure the Democratic candidates to keep environment issues and reduced fossil fuel dependence on the front burner in order to blunt any votes leaking over to the green party if Ralph Quixote Nader sought yet again to make his largely meaningless statement. I would vote green if it would do any good but all it does is help the Republicans. Nader should target his zeal at electoral reforms first and THEN seek office in a world where a minor party would have its proportional voice. We are still a winner-take-all electorate. Splinter parties only hurt those they are closest to.

Well, here it comes.

And beside his egotistical spoilsport intentions, hasn't Nader noticed that Al Gore, the guy he won't admit he helped defeat, has done vastly more to make American's conscious of green issues than Nadir EVER did?

Give it a rest Ralph.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

If liberals are really fair, they will cut McCain some slack on his personal life.

Regarding this stink about McCain's rumored relationship with an aid:
I am with Sean-Paul and a few others: if MoveOn started up because we thought a hunting pack of neurotic Republicans and people who use the bible as ammunition, by neglecting most other substantial government duties to pursue an obsession with Bill Clinton's indiscretions, wrought a travesty of proper governing, then we MoveOn types should not be strident in condemning McCain about the affair, if that is even the proper term for it. There are much more substantial reasons to reject McCain's quest to lead America, such as his thirst to cement our nation's course into an era of permanent war.
BUT...Whereas Lewinsky was not seeking a deal on taxation or regulation for some industry, the fact that Iseman was a lobbyist should be looked into carefully, especially after all McCain's brave talk about cleaning corporate influence out of government. Even if they did get personal it is a non-issue to me as long as it had no consequences such as undue influence on legislation. The possibility that the uptight fundies McCain has been courting will have a problem even with appearances of impropriety is a good joke though...its just not OUR issue. Jane Hamsher has a fix on the real problem

This is how I try to keep a little perspective about goings on around our nation's capital: nobody owns that dog so just about everything you find on it is a flea of some kind. What jobs did Iseman have before and after her dealings with McCain?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

What's Left? What was ever Right on the Right?

Raw Story informs us:
In a blog post at the National Review Online, reporter Jim Geraghty asked the question, "Once you take away Barack Obama’s likeability… what’s left?"

What indeed! What has he got going for him or what have his opponents got going against them? Hillary has been asking herself the same question, you may be sure. Speaking as a recent, and reluctantly former, John Edwards supporter, I would be glad to tell Mr Geraghty what is left as I see it:
Going for Obama:
  1. Obama actually can think on his feet and speak the language with clear force...he will not be our second aphasic-in-chief. He is not less able in this regard than McCain or Clinton
  2. Alone among all the presidential hopefuls, Obama was the solitary person to oppose the war when it was not popular to do so. THAT is leadership No one else can play that card and spinning the issue will show like a paunch on a fashion model.
  3. He was not born to money, certainly not to power and he has not had power for long. Make a weakness of that if you can Hillary but it means his support is coming from individuals rather than institutions to a far greater degree that your room full of the usual consultants can ascertain by a few phone calls.
Going against his opponents: An administration and its faithful sidekicks in the republican party who have managed through blind ideology and incompetence to bring about a perfect storm of political adversity that even their own ranks sometimes can't deny or avoid:
  1. inflation
  2. the highest forclosure rate in decades
  3. a crisis in the banking industry that will only be partially relieved by letting the oil Sheiks own our banks
  4. recession, one signaled by furious backpedaling at the Fed, one whose bark the fanboys of the MSM financial pages claim to hear in the "technical" distance and whose bite job seekers feel today
  5. An unwinnable war in a country that had neither terrorists nor WMD, a war that bleeds our treasury and divides our people and multiplies the enmities that gave rise to the treachery of a few Islamic fanatics.
  6. A country defiled with its descent into the lower rungs of human rights abusers: spying on citizens, torturing suspects. Even McCain has waffled on torture and only the utter dead enders still stand for our nation's pointless new cruelty.
[and many of you will have your own favorites to lengthen the second list, some impeachable offenses among them.]

The virtues of Obama may seem slight but the vices of present leadership, the price we all sense we will pay to set things right and the taint of association with that corrupt leadership fall on every other candidate. Mr. Geraghty, you may well wonder what has Obama got but the problem your strategists can't fix is that they have the stench of Bush/Cheney that will not wash off. Let me ask you a rhetorical question: How did your man Bush manage to make "anything to avoid more of the same" into a feeling so thoroughly spread among the population that all sorts of presumptions of power and attractiveness, including Hillary's, are falling like lead balloons? And let me give your hunkered down party strategists some free advice: disown and repudiate the Bush years and agendas as soon and loudly as you can...or else the majority of us, whatever our former political labeling, will have an easy decision to make.

Even if Krugman were correct in portraying some of Obama's support as cult worship, he is probably wrong in supposing it to be shallow or short lived. If we have a Barockstar Obama it is because people are desperate to escape the despair and disrepair brought on by the unbridled application of Neoconservative priorities and George Bush's "values". The unconscious calculation of voters as a ground swell that did not become a visible tsunami until it came ashore in the polling booth might be summed up thusly: "the less you are like Bush or the less you are associated with Bush, the better you are." I do not mean to belittle Obama's stellar organizing and speaking abilities, his high intelligence or his bone-deep appreciation of America's genius for enabling an ambitious up-from-nowhere rise to prominence...but to answer Mr Geraghty's question, it might be best for republicans to look in the mirror and take a little advice from Shakespeare: The fault dear Brutus is not in our rock stars but in ourselves.

Whats left? Quite a bit on the left actually. And we owe thanks for it. We thank you Messrs. Rove, Cheney, Bush, Kristol and Wolfowitz for being so spectacularly bad that even a Southern Baptist can finally smell it. We thank you for being so blind, so tolerant of lies and corruption, that doubts spatter from you like blood and excrement onto those who still witlessly or dishonestly praise your programs and play with words to put a good spin on your purposes.

Nixon got us off the gold standard...

and things have been down hill for US buying power as we took on debt and emptied middle class assets. Maybe the problem is Nixon only did half the who can as easily cut us loose from oil?

Really, it is not so much that oil is "vaulting through a longstanding psychological barrier" as it is that the dollar has been pushed through a hole in the floor. It is the military, political and especially the financial instability of America [the latter brought on by the former, I'd suggest] that has forced these adjustments in the oil economy. Lets just hope the dollar hasn't far to fall. Or lets just get off the oil economy while we are still a scientifically able player. It would be nice if the necons who gave the dollar that shove got politically castrated to requite their damaging stupidity. There is no hint in the history of the CPI to indicate than any candidate or program can pull it back up through that hole...that would be change I'd love to believe in but this is the real world, not a Disney movie or a Crawford TX home video we are watching.

The history of the CPI and many other things I can chart and correlate have been frequenting my desk top of late. I have been trying to understand the economy by reading the news for the last two months. I find that as long as I can mute the urge to blog all the sorry story that is unfolding in bits and pieces, I have time to read more. Well, I still don't understand economics but at least I spared you from a chapter-length ramble on the topic [so far]. Why even try to make sense of the world economy? Even with the heroic legerdemain of rate cuts by the Federal reserve and dispensing a $150 billion handout from our empty treasury, the news in the business world is unusually and steadily gloomy. Things you and I depend on for jobs are going to hell. Here is the unedited paste of the first page of Google business news from Monday morning Feb. 18:

Qatar Gives Credit Suisse A Lift
Forbes - 58 minutes ago
LONDON - Credit Suisse shares got a lift on Monday following reports that the Qatar Investment Authority, a Middle Eastern sovereign wealth fund, had begun its $15 billion spending spree in Europe and the US with a stake in the Swiss bank.
Qatar Buys Credit Suisse Shares, Prime Minister Says (Update5) Bloomberg
Qatar buys shares in Credit Suisse: report Reuters
AHN - Times Online - BloggingStocks - RTT News
all 36 news articles » CS - PINK:CSGKF

USDA declares major beef recall from California slaughterhouse ...
Lancaster Eagle Gazette - 18 hours ago
LOS ANGELES (AP) - The US Department of Agriculture on Sunday recalled 143 million pounds of frozen beef from a California slaughterhouse, the subject of an animal-abuse investigation, that provided meat to school lunch programs.
Video: Video Spawns Largest Beef Recall in US AssociatedPress
all 1,602 news articles »

Explosion at Texas Oil Refinery Hurts 1
The Associated Press - 53 minutes ago
BIG SPRING, Texas (AP) - An explosion rocked an oil refinery Monday in a violent blast that shook buildings miles away and injured at least one person, the company said.
Witnesses: Blast rocks Texas oil refinery CNN
At least one injured in explosion at West Texas refinery KMPH Fox 26
all 321 news articles »
Investors cheer as Toshiba nears HD DVD surrender
Montreal Gazette - 14 hours ago
TOKYO (Reuters) - Investors cheered an impending end to a format war for next-generation DVDs on Monday, pushing up shares of both Toshiba, on the verge of abandoning its HD DVD discs, and Sony, the leader of the rival Blu-ray camp.
Toshiba Says It May End HD DVD
all 1,246 news articles »

UK Government Starts Northern Rock Nationalization (Update5)
Bloomberg - 1 hour ago
By Gonzalo Vina and Ben Livesey Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government will introduce legislation today to nationalize Northern Rock Plc after the Treasury rejected a private rescue for the only UK bank to suffer a run on ...
UK'S Darling says Northern Rock bill to enter parliament tomorrow ... Forbes
Rock shareholders may end up with nothing MarketWatch
BBC News - Reuters - AFP - International Business Times
all 1,351 news articles » LON:NRK

ROUND-UP Asia's top steelmakers agree 65 pct rise in iron ore prices
Forbes - 28 minutes ago
LONDON (Thomson Financial) - Asias biggest steelmakers have agreed to a 65 pct increase in iron ore prices following negotiations with Brazils Vale, the world's biggest iron ore producer, in a move likely to set the global benchmark for the raw ...
Brazil Stocks Gain, Led by Vale After It Raises Iron Ore Prices Bloomberg
Brazilian miner Vale confirms iron-ore price deal MarketWatch - International Herald Tribune - Reuters - RTT News
all 163 news articles » ASX:IOH - RTP - PINK:NISTY

Times Colonist
Oil firms as fears supply could tighten outweigh easing demand outlook
Forbes - 3 hours ago
LONDON (Thomson Financial) - Oil was firmer midday as fund buying picked up, with the market weighing up the possibility fundamentals could tighten amid fears the standoff between ExxonMobil and Venezuelan state oil company could disrupt US supply.
Video: Chavez's battle with Exxon Mobil - 18 Feb 08 AlJazeeraEnglish
Chávez Backs Off Threats to Halt Oil Exports to US New York Times
The Associated Press - Financial Post - Bloomberg -
all 707 news articles » XOM

The Credit Suisse news was followed today with a write down of a billion or so in their real estate loan portfolio. Did Sheikdoms buying up our major financial institutions sound like good news to you? Wait for the other shoe to drop when you hear good news on the economic front. I hope by understanding the whole mess, I will know who best to vote for.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

why some people believe in god...

Even if its a long shot, if anyone has your number it would be god. What could you lose by buttering the old guy up a little? We all understand the psychological observation that risk/benefit perceptions determine our behavior but with the following bias: a really terrible outcome that has a remote chance of occurring gets more weight than a mild adversity that is much more likely. The strength of that bias is much greater in the conservative mind but everyone makes that mistake to some degree. In fact the coldly rational risk takers, who have studied and overcome the bias in some area of endeavor, are the ones that seem crazy and audacious to the rest of us...but reap the great rewards. The markets in commodities, stocks and other financial instruments are full of these creatures, playing until their number is up.

And some people believe in political economics...
A dissection of that life expectancy table into socioeconomic, occupational and racial subgroups would produce numbers painfully diverging from the average depicted in the table. Why did you vote republican? Why did you vote fundamentalist? Do I have to draw you a picture? The main use of crosses, need I remind you, is to mark where the bodies are buried.

Monday, February 18, 2008

We lost the first battle in the war on climate ignorance...

The science on "global warming" was clear enough for scientists to be alarmed 20 years ago but fossil fuel lobbies, Detroit and charlatans eager for the cheap votes of ignorant fundamentalists found it easy to cloud and bury the issue. The science never had a chance in the political and media arena...the very name of the problem didn't sound like a problem. Recognizing that framing an issue is where science often looses the war in the first battle , New York Times climate blogger, Andrew Revkin gathers comments from several climate scientists who bemoan the semantic paper sword fecklessly brandished at the denialists. Revkin invites suggested alternatives for labeling the issue in such a way as to make its title conjure up more realistic and conscientious apprehension of the subject.

That sounds like a fun game, here are some of my alternatives to "Global Warming"
  • CRISP: Climate Ruined for the Interests of Selfish People

  • ICaBODD: Industrially Created Business Opportunities in Drought and Drowning

  • DEATH: Degradation of Earth's Atmosphere by Thoughtless Humans

  • SCORCH: Saving the Climate is Out of Reach to Corporate Humanity.

The time scales really are a serious problem as Revkin and the scientists he quotes try to explain in that NY Times blog post. The laboratory demonstration of delayed impact of applied heat recounted in the post very accurately presents an analog to what is actually happening in the Antarctic according to this post at the authoritative site.

Problems requiring 50 years of foresight, planning and discipline will never be solved by politicians with a four year time horizon, nor by businesses with a mantra of increasing profit in each three month period.

The politicians think time itself will end in November unless they can throw meat to the wolf pack of lobbyists. The CEO's think [their] time could end at the next annual share holder meeting. Despite the empty gale of glad yammering about their "green" intentions, by design, corporations think the world of the their profits and cannot think of what would profit the world. They live large this year on externalized costs the mass of humanity will have to pay back during [ or with ] the lives of their children. To be fair to the politicians, that "mass of humanity" includes a good many who can't think very far ahead either because they have few options for this month's meals if they don't grind up a little seed corn.

Note: some "green" is actually "a greenish glow in the dark". I am not categorically against the use of nuclear energy to alleviate our carbon burden on the climate but I trust the well funded industries who are behind most of the PR for nuclear energy about as far as I could toss a reactor. Until there is complete transparency of the relations between the science, the industry and the government involvements in nuke proposals, I am not supporting it as an alternative. Populism playing to fearful ignorance about nuclear energy does us no favors either.

When you are an addict, tapering off the drug is always a better idea than finding an alternative drug.

"Better" does not mean psychologically or physically easier, it just means better long term outcome. Who's in it for the long term, eh? Just consider the juxtaposition of the two posts I have linked here. One describes a laboratory demonstration that, though perfectly accurate in its analogy, and repeated for decades, only persuades the scientifically literate handful. The other describes an effect in the Antarctic scaled up from that demonstration to global proportions and well under way. The one says we could have known, the other says it may be too late for the knowledge to do much good.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

looks like a mob boss, sounds like a mob boss

...and works for Bush.

I know its not like there isn't plenty to write about. I've been laying low to work on a new look and maybe break in a new voice or two but some shit passes all powers of forbearance.

Driving home today [its a car pool OK? and it was 10 degrees F here this morning] I caught a minute or two of NPR's coverage of an interview Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scolia gave the BBC. If I let this go without remark, however repetitive that may be, I have winked at my country's debauched new cruelty.

To get right to the point, I was disgusted to hear Scolia mincing words about torture. He wriggles around like any other Bush Leauger, finding that somehow, while torture is cruel and unusual punishment for those convicted of crimes it might be OK to "smack somebody in the face" to prevent an act of terror. Such emotionalogic from a Supreme court justice? He steals lines from that idiot we can't manage to impeach. Just think what he is saying:
  • To say it is not OK to hurt people convicted of crimes but it might be OK to hurt people you suspect have information about an as yet uncommitted crime is ridiculous and uncivilized.
  • His words presume the culpability of the torture victim when in fact we usually have the wrong guy. [Six are to go on trial for the events of September 11 2001...HOW many more than that have we tortured?]
  • It is true that US laws and that tattered doormat under Bush's feet, the Constitution, only explicity protect US citizens from cruel and unusual punishment but what is the value of US law if the US rips up international laws like the Geneva Conventions. Isn't the idea "rule of law", not "rule of some laws some times and mostly whatever Prez sez".
I got home and found that Froomkin and others writing at Talking Points Memo were incensed. Listen to the interview if you pop up the sound player on the NPR page [and if you can stand it] because I cannot convey the tone, the glib and slippery equanimity with which the man is excusing torture. He is horrific in that ho-hum way we often see depicted as a trait of third reich functionaries. You should shudder to think this creature is one of nine who has final say over what the US government can get away with when, in the soul discretion of its executive and the intelligence operatives it employs, it thinks it wants a certain answer from a certain prisoner.

I understand the emotional appeal: what do you do if you are desperate to prevent death and destruction? What Scolia does not seem to understand is that desperation is not a fit policy, not a routine situation and torture condoned from the top and from the outset makes us as evil a nation as the evils we claim to be fighting: We Lose! [ or is this more of those "values" that got Bush elected coming to the fore?]
NOW DO YOU UNDERSTAND why this election is so important? 8 years of Obama, for instance, and we can hope to see a change in the balance of the court to muzzle these turd-hearted Bush appointees.

[photo credits to BBC]