Survey Says

Question number 24 in the January 2006 WSJ/NBC poll asks,

Do you think the Bush administration should conduct wiretaps of American Citizens who are suspected of having ties to terrorists without a court order, or do you think that the Bush administration should be required to get a court order before conducting these wiretaps?

Should be able to wiretap without a court order ————41%
Should be required to get a court order before wiretapping–53%
Depends——————————————————4%
Not sure—————————————————–2%

Funny what happens when you ask a specific question.

Published in: on January 31, 2006 at 9:48 pm  Comments (2)  

The Remains of the Day

One of my favorite novels is Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. The faithful 1993 screen adaptation by Merchant and Ivory is one of my all time favorite movies. I rank it there with Lawrence of Arabia and The Wild Bunch.

The performance by Anthony Hopkins is one of the most subtle and moving in movie history. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay adaptation is one of the best in movie history too.

The story is about butler Mr. Stevens who spends his life in loyal service to Lord Darlington, a man who is not worthy of his loyalty.

The movie was pitted against Schindler’s List for best picture. The irony of the best picture award going to Schindler’s List is that The Remains of the Day has something far more profound, subtle, and moving to say about the Holocaust than a Hollywood blockbuster movie ever could.

Published in: on January 31, 2006 at 11:18 am  Comments (2)  

How Icky

When I sit at my computer writing, I listen to a couple of Internet radio stations: Beethoven.com and Continuous Cool Country from Glasgow, Scotland.

I know what all you classical music experts are thinking. Beethoven.com, how icky. Well, they play requests, and I assume at least some of the requesters know what they are doing. And they play a lot of movie soundtracks which I like. I don’t consider it completely in poor taste to like movie soundtracks.

As far as my choice of country station goes, let’s not even go there. You’ll bring out my Redneck side.

Published in: on January 31, 2006 at 10:54 am  Comments (3)  

Palace Revolt

This is a riveting story in Newsweek: Palace Revolt.

They were loyal conservatives, and Bush appointees. They fought a quiet battle to rein in the president’s power in the war on terror. And they paid a price for it.

From the article:

These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as farfetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law. They did so at their peril; ostracized, some were denied promotions, while others left for more comfortable climes in private law firms and academia. Some went so far as to line up private lawyers in 2004, anticipating that the president’s eavesdropping program would draw scrutiny from Congress, if not prosecutors. These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.

The rebels were not whistle-blowers in the traditional sense. They did not want—indeed avoided—publicity. (Goldsmith confirmed public facts about himself but otherwise declined to comment. Comey also declined to comment.) They were not downtrodden career civil servants. Rather, they were conservative political appointees who had been friends and close colleagues of some of the true believers they were fighting against. They did not see the struggle in terms of black and white but in shades of gray—as painfully close calls with unavoidable pitfalls. They worried deeply about whether their principles might put Americans at home and abroad at risk. Their story has been obscured behind legalisms and the veil of secrecy over the White House. But it is a quietly dramatic profile in courage. (For its part the White House denies any internal strife. “The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn’t based in fact,” says Lea Anne McBride, a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney. “This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.”)

The chief opponent of the rebels, though by no means the only one, was an equally obscure, but immensely powerful, lawyer-bureaucrat. Intense, workaholic (even by insane White House standards), David Addington, formerly counsel, now chief of staff to the vice president, is a righteous, ascetic public servant. According to those who know him, he does not care about fame, riches or the trappings of power. He takes the Metro to work, rather than use his White House parking pass, and refuses to even have his picture taken by the press. His habitual lunch is a bowl of gazpacho, eaten in the White House Mess. He is hardly anonymous inside the government, however. Presidential appointees quail before his volcanic temper, backed by assiduous preparation and acid sarcasm.

Published in: on January 31, 2006 at 10:12 am  Leave a Comment  

The Hegemonic Nut

The War on Terror bastardizes the word war. War has been traditionally defined as armed conflicts between states. In the United States, it has been common to expand the word until it means any kind of conflict or circumstance with which one tends to find disagreeable. Witness the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, etc.

What we now know for a certainty is that young suicide bombers are well educated and economically well off compared to their peer group. They are led to their acts by men who themselves live comfortably and hold positions of power in their community. Terrorists are scattered about the world. They possess no organization the comes close to statehood. Their organization does not even compare to organized crime gangs. Eliminating terrorism is not like fighting a war.

The War on Terror fits with the other bastardizations of the word war. It merely classifies a group of people with whom one must defend oneself against and with whom one violently disagrees. Saying this is not making a political judgment per se.

The War on Terror becomes a political when it obfuscates some clearly known facts.

The Middle East and its surrounding environment contains most of the remaining oil reserves in the world. That makes it of absolute geo-strategic importance to capitalist countries whose growth and welfare depend on oil. People can argue whether the Iraq War is about oil until the cows come home, but to deny that the United States has not pursued a policy of securing the steady flow of cheap oil from the Middle East is to deny the very policies publicly announced by all of the United States’ leaders going back to World War II. Some people cannot find their ass with both hands. Most of the rest should know better.

Recent elections in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt have put paid to the naïve notion that freely held elections will bring to power folks who are sympathetic to U. S. interests. We find the current Bush Administration in a quandary as to how to penalize the Palestinian people for their gross lapse in etiquette by voting a big majority to the Hamas Party. The news is filled with the failure of intelligence to predict the outcome of the election. The news stories do not note that it is beside the point. There was not anything to be done about it, except avoid free elections in Palestine until more favorable circumstances were created.

Now there is some fine distinctions being drawn about what is a free and democratic state. (I’ve done it myself.) What the new definition amounts to is a free and democratic state is one favorable to U. S. interests. Denying this definition of freedom and democracy is akin to denying the strategic importance of Middle East oil to the United States.

Those who have been playing the freedom and democracy chips as justification for the Iraq War have used most of what they have left. Free and democratic elections, monitored by outside authorities for fairness, don’t create the benign world favorable to U. S. interests that was hoped for.

The obfuscation caused by the War on Terror and its rhetoric has created a dangerous situation. One, it denies that protecting America from future 9/11 type attacks requires doing something about the never ending cells of disaffected youth who will carry out any future attacks. Killing every suspected young man who comes of age is not going to get the job done as far eliminating terrorism. Two, it conflates fighting terrorist activities with grand geo-strategic concerns and what to do about those concerns.

Those who exploit the War on Terror to justify military interventions are using the War on Terror as a ruse to garner favorable public opinion. This ruse denies the long line of U. S. foreign policy statements about how the United States can preserve global economic and military hegemony well into the future.

Such is the case with those who claim to be spreading freedom and democracy. Freely elected governments might remain hostile to the United States. One wonders if the notion of building democratic states from the ground up via military intervention has had its fifteen minutes of fame.

The hegemonic nut is not so easily cracked as some make it out to be. Supply your own solution, but not your own definitions and facts.

Published in: on January 30, 2006 at 2:11 pm  Comments (3)  

Lara, Gamma, and the Zeta Function





I ran across the wonderful mathematics book Gamma by Julian Havil last year while studying the Riemann Hypothesis. The book is packed with beautiful mathematics. (As an aside, it contains in one of its appendices an amazing 23 page summary of the elements of Complex Variable Theory.)

Here is what it says on the book jacket.

Among the myriad of constants that appear in mathematics, pi, e, and i are the most familiar. Following closely behind is gamma, a constant that arises in many mathematical areas yet maintains a profound sense of mystery.

In a tantalizing blend of history and mathematics, Julian Havil takes the reader on a journey through logarithms and the harmonic series, the two defining elements of gamma, toward the first account gamma’s place in mathematics.

Introduced by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler (1707-1783), who figures prominently in this book, gamma is defined as the limit of the sum of 1 + 1/2 + 1/3 + … + 1/n – ln n, the numerical value being 0.5772156… But unlike its more celebrated colleagues pi and e, the exact nature of gamma remains a mystery—we don’t even know if it can be expressed as a fraction.

Among the numerous topics that arise during this historical odyssey into fundamental mathematical ideas are the Prime Number Theorem and the most important open problem in mathematics today—the Riemann Hypothesis (though no proof of either is offered!)

Sure to be popular with not only students and instructors but all math aficionados, Gamma takes us through countries, centuries, lives, and works, unfolding along the way the stories of some remarkable mathematics from some remarkable mathematicians.

I lift the following quotation from the book.

We may—paraphrasing the famous sentence of George Orwell—say that ‘all mathematics is beautiful, yet some is more beautiful than the other’. But the most beautiful in all mathematics is the Zeta function. There no doubt about it.

Krzysztof Maslanka

Mathematics, like Lara in Dr. Zhivago, does not willfully seduce. The beauty of mathematics seduces as it is Lara’s beauty that seduces.

Published in: on January 29, 2006 at 1:18 pm  Comments (1)  

Affliction

I have almost finished reading Akhil Reed Amar’s America’s Constitution: a Biography. Reading the book is a detour from a reading program I had set myself at the beginning of the year although the first two books on my list were Democracy in America and the Federalist Papers, so it is relevant.

Amar’s book contains an overwhelming amount of legal and historical scholarship on the Constitution even though it is pitched at a general public. The book allows some insight into the political philosophy and thinking of those who framed the Constitution and amended it.

Despite the scholarship in a book like Amar’s, I am not off the hook for doing my own thinking about the philosophical ideas and ideals contained in the Constitution.

I have these two strong forces inside me pulling me in opposite directions. One force wants me to be engaged, and to speak even if my thoughts are not fully formed or consistent. The other force, a strong metaphysical fatalism, wants me to view politics from nowhere, let other people argue and fight, note what they say, tell disputants when they are inconsistent, inform them when they have failed to persuade, but continually remind myself that events will necessarily be as they will.

It is a natural tension between ideas and ideals. Ideals are ends to be achieved and often motivated by passions. Ideas are objects to be dispassionately understood and sometimes admired.

Meanwhile, the rain is falling on a relatively warm January Sunday. All too soon I’ll be gone before I want.

799

Despair’s advantage is achieved
By suffering—Despair—
To be assisted of Reverse
One must Reverse have bore—

The Worthiness of Suffering like
The Worthiness of Death
Is ascertained by tasting—

As can no other Mouth—

Of Savors—make us conscious—
As did ourselves partake—
Affliction feels impalpable
Until Ourselves are struck—

Emily Dickinson

Published in: on January 29, 2006 at 11:44 am  Leave a Comment  

Not Just a Few Bad Apples

The trial of Enron’s Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling begins in Houston on Monday. Some think the Enron scandal is an example of a few bad apples. They are dead wrong.

John C. Bogle has his new book, The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism, reviewed by Jeff Madrick in this week’s NYT Sunday Book Review. John C. Bogle is a the founder of Vanguard Mutual Fund, the first to offer low charge index funds, and is a Wall Street Legend. His book is highly critical of the current state of capitalism.

Here are some excerpts from the book review regarding conflicts of interest and misstated financial statements.

In this book, Bogle abhors what he sees as rampant cheating among his peers – not only mutual fund managers but brokers, bankers, lawyers and accountants. It’s not just a few bad apples, he says: “I believe that the barrel itself – the very structure that holds all those apples – is bad.”

. . .

When Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of New York State charged a wide swath of investment banks with similar conflicts of interest, however, 8 of the 10 largest companies on Wall Street decided they had better settle the suit. Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, among others, gave back profits and paid penalties of $1.4 billion, and altered the inherent conflicts in their managerial policies as well.

Nor was it only a handful of notorious companies like Enron and WorldCom that, under the tutelage of the most prestigious lawyers, bankers and accountants in the business, overstated their profits. Bogle totes up about 60 major corporations that had to restate their earnings – and this was not an inclusive list. Their stock market value equaled $3 trillion. That is “an enormous part of the giant barrel of corporate capitalism,” he writes.

I am sure this means nothing to the apologists of the system. About the only thing that will turn their heads is a guilty verdict and long prison sentences for Lay and Skilling.

Published in: on January 28, 2006 at 12:07 pm  Comments (3)  

536

The year 1862 was a very good year for poetry because Emily Dickinson wrote a lot of poems that year. Here is one of them

536

The Heart asks Pleasure–first–
And then–Excuse from Pain–
And then–those little Anodynes
That deaden suffering–

And then–to go to sleep–
And then–if it should be
The will of its Inquisitor
The privilege to die–

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 7:59 pm  Comments (6)  

Canadian Election

Anvilcloud at Raindrops has some interesting reflections on the Canadian elections here and here.

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 7:34 pm  Comments (6)  

Katrina

Annotated Life has a good series of articles on Katrina and Hurricane Pam.

The predictions immediately after the storm have come to pass. Unaccountable billions are being spent on no-bid contracts for corporate interests while the poor have been totally dispossessed. The Bush Administration has refused to turn over documents to Congressional investigators.

I had a man tell me last night at dinner that the poor were getting what they deserve for not having flood insurance. How many other American’s have exactly that attitude?

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 6:46 pm  Comments (3)  

International Football

Don’t forget the Fourth Round of the English FA Challenge Cup is being contested this weekend. Start your day off right at 6:30 AM CST by watching Newcastle United play Cheltenham Town on Fox Soccer Channel. At 9 AM CST watch English Premier League powerhouse Chelsea play Everton. Both matches will be repeated later in the day for you sleepy heads.

Checkout the 2008 European Cup group drawings here. The big news is France and Italy are in the same group.

Come on. Let your hair down. Kick a little.

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  

Latest Iraq War Numbers

The January Brookings Institution Iraq Index has been published. It’s your one stop shopping for Iraq War statistics.

If anyone discerns a silver lining or light at the end of the tunnel in the numbers, please let me know. I couldn’t find them.

If you aren’t into statistics, numbers, and facts, please go to the White House Web site.

Or better yet, just make up your own.

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 11:25 am  Leave a Comment  

3 AM

OK, it’s 3 AM and I can’t sleep. I feel kind of lonely too. If I was sleeping, I wouldn’t feel lonely.

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 2:59 am  Comments (2)  

A Principle or a Slippery Slope?

Some might call the following a slippery slope argument. Slippery slope arguments are not necessarily invalid.

Let us say that a government by the citizens guarantees rights and freedoms to all its citizens. At some point the Executive Branch of that government decides to suspend those rights for a small class of citizens. The Executive tells everyone not to worry it is only these others who have their rights suspended. These others are not like the vast majority.

History often shows that this small class of others grows larger once any one class of citizens has their rights suspended. Such is the way with unchecked power. At some point any who dissent or oppose the Executive no longer have rights. Those who still think they have rights are merely fooling themselves.

If the historical evidence leads us to this conclusion, then the argument is far from being a slippery slope argument. Slippery slopes do at times exist.

Published in: on January 26, 2006 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  

A Jury Trial

The Constitution guarantees the rights of citizens to a jury trial when they are accused of a criminal offense. A jury can decide both matters of law and fact even though the courts have greatly restricted a jury’s ability to decide matters of law. A jury can however return a verdict of not guilty when they disagree with a judge’s instructions on matters of law. This puts a lot of power in the hands of the citizens.

A sitting President can trump this power by detaining a citizen and refusing them their civil rights to a fair and speedy trial. The problem is that when the President does this he has acted illegally and violated the rights of the accused.

Treason is no different than any other criminal offense. The accused citizen has the right to due process of law. The abuse and denial of those rights by the Executive is an illegal and impeachable offense.

Published in: on January 26, 2006 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Safe? Strong?

Deartown Times gets after it with George Bush is weak on defending America.

If tomorrow New York city fell into the Atlantic, but we still had our constitution and liberty, America would continue to be America. If tomorrow California fell into the Pacific, but we still had our constitution and liberty, America would continue to be America. If tomorrow the Great Plains were to suddenly go fallow, but we still had our constitution and liberty, America would continue to be America.

But, if we amass great wealth and secure our oil and gold, but compromise our liberty and stretch the constitution to it’s breaking point, America ceases to be America. If, through fear and weakness, we cede our duties as American citizen and give up our liberties to someone who promises security but demands unrestrained power (no matter his claims of benevolence), America ceases to be America. If Americans think their responsibilities as citizens ends at the ballot box, or worse, requires only unquestioning allegiance in the president, America ceases to be the America that generations before us fought and died to secure. We will have squandered their blood.

Published in: on January 26, 2006 at 10:59 am  Comments (3)  

A note on the structure of the universe

Let’s divide humanity into two classes based on their beliefs about the structure of the universe. Some people believe the universe is a hierarchy. Every being, natural or supernatural, falls within the hierarchy. Beings in the hierarchy have the duty to obey the instructions of those higher in the hierarchy. Beings in the hierarchy have the authority to instruct and coerce those lower in the hierarchy.

The hierarchy changes over time. The divine right of kings has given way to the divine right of property. The hierarchy has been adjusted to take into account this event. Even though the hierarchy changes over time its moral justification is based on metaphysical authority to coerce those lower in the hierarchy. Obedience is the supreme duty. Authority in one’s sphere of influence is the supreme right and freedom.

The other class of people do not see the universe structured as a hierarchy. For them authority is not something with which a person is born. Authority is granted through negotiation and by other means. Governments develop constitutions and laws to regulate both authority and duties.

People in this second category believe there are certain areas in people’s lives where no person has the authority to regulate another person’s life. These are called equal rights. There is debate about these rights. Despite that there is a recognition that it is a matter for debate because no one possesses the natural authority to arbitrarily impose a duty upon another person

The division of humanity into these two distinct kinds is admittedly crude. However, public debates often halt when the disputants fail to identify the category to which they belong. This is not merely a matter of dishonesty or neglect. These two kinds of beliefs exist at an unconscious level of the mind and exert powerful influences on actions. The question of what one ought to do is never independent of one’s view of the universe.

Published in: on January 25, 2006 at 12:24 pm  Comments (1)  

Little Pink Houses

Donald Trump has filed a $5 billion lawsuit against two writers for defamation of character. They claim his is net worth is less than the billions he claims to possess. Donald’s taken extreme umbrage.

So much for frivolous lawsuits.

Well there’s people and more people
What do they know know know
Go to work in some high rise
And vacation down at the Gulf of Mexico
Ooh yeah
And there’s winners and there’s losers
But they ain’t no big deal
‘Cause the simple man baby pays for the thrills, the bills,the pills that kill

Oh but ain’t that America for you and me
Ain’t that America somethin’ to see baby
Ain’t that America home of the free
Little pink houses for you and me

Little Pink Houses, John Mellencamp

Published in: on January 24, 2006 at 5:01 pm  Comments (2)  

Charges dropped against Pamuk

I have only read one of Orhan Pamuk’s novels, Snow. I liked it a lot. Here is some good news coming out of Turkey.

From the NYT book section Court drops charges against author for ‘insulting’ Turkey.

ISTANBUL, Jan. 23 – An Istanbul court dropped charges against the novelist Orhan Pamuk today, ending a trial that put Turkey at odds with the European Union over the issue of freedom of speech.
Mr. Pamuk, whose works have been translated into dozens of languages, spoke in a newspaper interview about the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915, and also of the deaths of Kurds in Turkish operations in the 1980’s against a separatist group. He was then prosecuted for “insulting Turkish identity.” …

The ruling was immediately welcomed by the European legislators. But the novelist’s lawyer, Haluk Inanici, chided the court for framing its decision in bureaucratic terms rather than addressing the issue of freedom of expression.

“The court dropped the charges not because the trial violated the freedom of speech,” Mr. Inanici said, but because “there was a missing approval by the Justice Ministry to proceed with the trial.”

The article goes on to speculate that Pamuk’s international reputation may have saved him. About 70 other intellectuals face charges of insulting Turkey.

Published in: on January 24, 2006 at 11:39 am  Leave a Comment  

Super Bowl

I know I said I was not going to think about the Super Bowl until the Friday before the game. However, I just picked up Seattle at +4. I figure they are about 1 point underdogs, and the spread should narrow within the next two weeks.

I’m going to make a money line wager on Pittsburgh to win. They are running at -180, but there should be a better deal the closer it gets to game time. I’ll wait till then.

Published in: on January 23, 2006 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Stake in the Ground

Molly Ivins writes I will not support Hillary Clinton for President. I discovered it via pas au-dela.

Molly makes this remark about some Democratic politicians.

Do not sit there cowering and pretending the only way to win is as Republican-lite. If the Washington-based party can’t get up and fight, we’ll find someone who can.

Published in: on January 23, 2006 at 6:48 am  Comments (4)  

Yesterday’s Results

I need to erase this bitter memory right away. I lost both my football wagers. That leaves my season totals at 19 wins, 20 losses, and 2 ties. I have won 1 wager against the moneyline.

I’m not even going to think about the Super Bowl until the Friday before the game.

The English FA Cup fourth round proper matches are being played this coming weekend. Check it out if you get Fox Soccer Channel on your TV hookup.

Published in: on January 23, 2006 at 4:58 am  Leave a Comment  

Romance

Sports betting has its romantic side: desire, chance, exaltation, and despair.

Sports betting is a lot like love and romance in its basic human emotions.

I have never won in romance. I’ve been a lot luckier with the football teams.

I once had a girlfriend tell me on more than one occasion that I did not have a romantic bone in my body. She was intelligent with excellent analytical skills. She measured me well.

Published in: on January 22, 2006 at 1:14 pm  Comments (2)  

Nowadays it just don’t pay to be a good ol’ boy

One of the favorite epithets that some on the far right throw at those on the left is that they are limousine liberals. I doubt if they actually believe that about those on the left.

I have an hypothesis that what irks them most are people like me who claim to be on the left.

My favorite attire is shorts and t-shirts in the summer and frayed button fly Levis and sweatshirts in the winter.

My favorite activities are books, bars, Bud, Maker’s Mark whiskey, baseball, betting on sporting events, and being full of shit but not caring.

Like I said, it’s just an hypothesis, and I admitted to being full of shit.

Gettin’ tough
Just my luck
I was born in the land of plenty now there ain’t enough
Gettin’ cold
I’ve been told
Nowadays it just don’t pay to be a good ol’ boy

Gettin’ Tough, Steve Earle and Richard Bennett

Published in: on January 22, 2006 at 12:23 pm  Comments (2)