Friday, December 30, 2005


"Bad luck also for Jonathan Page: Racing strongly in Middelkerke on December 29, the American rider achieved a great third placing with a rusty piece of metal in the sole of his shoe, which caused a wound in his foot. As the pain worsened in the evening, Page had to go to hospital in Oudenaarde where he was treated, but he will not be able to prove his good form in the next few days as he is reported as not being able to even stand on his foot."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Funniest Christmas Story Ever


Sad but True

"In the U.S. bike racing does not even qualify for the status of "fringe sport." Think of if this way: Most pros in the U.S. are pros in name only. They would be better off working at McDonald's. That is not an exaggeration. It is like being a ski bum. Something to do in your twenties but eventually you have to grow up, stop mooching off your parents, and get a real job. A few may get lucky, but for every Floyd Landis there are a hundred guys who end their ten year summer with nothing to show for it."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Lower Surveillance Standard Already In Place

As originally passed, any FISA investigation must have had the collection of Foreign Intelligence Information as its sole or "primary purpose." The USA-PATRIOT Act expanded the application of FISA to those situations where foreign intelligence gathering is merely "a significant" purpose of the investigation. "Significant" is not defined, which vagueness will lead to inconsistent determinations and potential overuse of the FISA standards. The more lenient standards that the government must meet under FISA (as opposed to the stringent requirements of Title III) are justified by the fact that FISA's provisions facilitate the collection of foreign intelligence information, not criminal evidence. This traditional justification is eliminated where the lax FISA provisions are applicable to the interception of information relating to a domestic criminal investigation. The change is a serious alteration to the delicate constitutional balance reflected in the prior legal regime governing electronic surveillance.


Sections 104(a)(7)(B) and section 303(a)(7)(B) (50 U.S.C. 1804(a)(7)(B) and 1823(a)(7)(B)) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 are each amended by striking `the purpose' and inserting `a significant purpose'.

The Most Brilliant Explosion

"Early in the morning of January 23, 1999, a robotic telescope in New Mexico picked up a faint flash of light in the constellation Corona Borealis. Though just barely visible through binoculars, it turned out to be the most brilliant explosion ever witnessed by humanity. We could see it nine billion light-years away, more than halfway across the observable universe. If the event had taken place a few thousand light-years away, it would have been as bright as the midday sun, and it would have dosed Earth with enough radiation to kill off nearly every living thing...

"The flash was another of the famous gamma-ray bursts, which in recent decades have been one of astronomy's most intriguing mysteries...Before 1997, most of what we knew about gamma-ray bursts was based on observations from the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) onboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory. BATSE revealed that two or three gamma-ray bursts occur somewhere in the observable universe on a typical day."

Neil Gehrels,, Scientific American, Majestic Universe 2004, "The Brightest Explosions in the Universe", pp. 65-6

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

So True

"As in so many areas, Mr. Bush believes that whatever he thinks is necessary must be lawful, whether it be domestic surveillance by NSA, or torture, or denying the Guantanamo Bay detainees both the protections of the Geneva Convention and the writ of habeas corpus, or disregarding the United Nations Security Council, or his unconscionable detentions of American citizens, like Hamdi and Padilla. As in so many areas, Mr. Bush believes that whatever he thinks is necessary must be lawful. King George is a man of action, not of thought; he is a man of faith, not of law. This is a serious and growing problem for this nation." - University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone


“Is it not absurd, is it not a disgrace to the inventive age we live in,
to see a man obliged to employ, in order to get through the street,
a great vehicle, as large almost as a house?
So let us have the velocipiedes.”

—New York Times, 1867

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Good comment at Brad DeLong's

Otto, the power struggle is, I think, bigger than you've described it; it (used to) be bounded by a decent respect for the opinions of others and for the appearance of decency, for example. Social norms are part of the context in which these struggles happen.

Since 1994, though, the current crop of Republicans has jettisoned its fealty to that context and simply taken up outright lying. I think what Krugman's discussing is the pattern of the lies, not necessarily the true basis for this night-of-the-living-dead tax-cut attack.

True, Norquist apparently believes his crap about starving the beast, and it's possible that somebody, somewhere, might actually have believed supply-side (the more transparent lie of the two). I will agree that most of these theories' proponents probably did have a good laugh on the way to banking their shiny new tax cuts.

A bigger point is that the tax-cut reflex (something like an amoeba's reaction to light, perhaps) works completely, obviously, and insanely against the glue that holds the contemporary Republican party together and in power. I mean pork, in the specific form of earmarks.

Earmarks are what allows the White House to maintain its iron grip on the party, working through its captive congressional leadership-- earmarks are the goodies each representative can take home to convince the voters that everybody in Congress sucks, except my guy (which is what the public says now, so it's worked pretty well).

Earmarks and other goodies (Medicare B being the biggest earmark of them all) are how the party has managed to counteract the centripetal tendencies forced on parties and politicians by the horrendous expense of campaigns. Parties could no longer play the major part in financing campaigns and were becoming next door to useless very recently (remember the early 90s), before the current Republican leadership figured out how to use earmarks to restore party discipline.

It was brilliant. It was also, unfortunately, ruinous to our fisc. But we know where the true loyalties lie of the people who invented this system.

And thus we have the paradox of a party held together by giving away federal goodies, but reflexly devoted to destroying the means of providing the goodies.

This is the true triumph of white southern culture, or the revenge of the Confederacy; take your pick.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Tom Friedman Described at Unfogged

"You have to have something to talk about during all those long boring drives over the globalized surface of our flattened world, where the olive trees grow beside the lexus factories, and prices are expressed in Big Macs, and somewhere, somehow, McDonalds is advancing the cause of world peace."

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Baudelaire knew that this brave defense of the much derided
middle class, offered without a touch of sarcasm, put him
at odds with his confreres; to them, after all,"that
inoffensive being" the bourgeois,"who would like nothing
better than to love good painting," had long been anathema.
--Peter Gay, [3]Pleasure Wars

There is a beautiful portrait of Baudeaire by Courbet, but I cannot find a digital representation of it. Can anyone find one?

Monday, December 19, 2005

Semi-interesting quote of the day

"Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people." - Marx

Friday, December 16, 2005

Glib (but agreeable) comment at Unfogged

"Self-esteem is a very bad thing. There are more people with too much self-esteem than with too little. Furthermore, people with low self-esteem sometimes overcompensate by becoming better people, and they can often be easily convinced to run errands for you, have sex with you, etc.
People with too much self-esteem, by contrast, are heartless and abusive.
The theoretical possibility of having exactly the right amount of self-esteem does exist, in the same way that there is a theoretical possibility that entropy might reverse itself so that time moves backward."

Drug Fact of the Day

"Great Britain attacked China in 1839 to promote British narcotics trafficking, launching the first of the Opium Wars of 1839-42 to force China to open up trade. Among other things, Britain insisted that China agree to the importation of opium that British commercial interests were producing and trading in India. British policy makers were interested in China's vast market, including the solving of the conundrum of how to pay for Britain's national craze: Chinese tea. The solution was ingenious and utterly destructive. Britain would sell opium to China and earn the wherewithal to purchase China's tea. It is as if Colombia waged war with the United States today for the right to sell cocaine."

Jeffrey D. Sachs, The End of Poverty, The Penguin Press, 2005, p. 151

Where I pretend to be an economist.

This graph must mean something, but I just don't know what.

All kidding aside, the precipitous decline in our trade deficit means that there must be a serious macroeconomic adjustment made to the American economy. What that specifically is or when that will happen, I don't know. I can't even provide probabilities for a time frame.

On a related note, I read this at DeLong's:

"What I'm looking for in international standards that can be enforced--which means international governments--is a way to help assure that the gap between the have and have-nots doesn't widen."

Now, let's assume trade liberalisation is total. Imagine no barriers to free trade. Now, it seems to me that American hegemony would have to decline, because eventually our competitive and absolute advantages would all disappear. Eventually most inequalities between nations would converge. The only essential differences that might never change would be environmental. The Middle East will probably always have an absolute advantage in oil productions. However, even advantanges based on environment can be neutralized by other country's development of technology. Petro-states will eventually lose their advantage when alternative energy sources are invented. Labor is a non-factor as well. Eventually every country will have a good education system that will develop equally innovative and hardworking people as the US or India or China. I'm thinking of the fact that high tech companies like Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM are investing heavily in R&D in India, China, and even Eastern-bloc countries like Serbia. Basically what it comes down to is that people all over the world are essentially the same. No denizen of America has an essential (necessary) trait that gives them an absolute advantage over others in China, Russia, India, or Poland. Everyone works essentially equally hard, and everyone is essentially equally inventive/intelligent/creative. Thus, the only two major variables are environmental and cultural. I think the former will be neutralized, and I think the latter will be neutralized with the increased flow of ideas between cultures. The "Protestant Ethic" and the "Jamaican Laziness" will cancel out. Cultural mores will eventually merge and equate. Thus, I see no essential (necessary) reason why American hegemony will surive in the long term. Environmental and cultural factors will be irrelevant in the long run. Thus, maybe I'm misinformed or naive, but the way I picture a totally liberalised global economy is one that is essentially (in the long run) equitable.

CAVEAT: My idea is based upon rational actors who play by the rules. Cheaters always win, and I'd imagine that cheaters will take advantage of the developing world and keep them there. Thus, cheating prevents cultural and environmental factors to prevail and creates other factors that will ensure an inequitable world. In essence, Americans (businessmen and politicians) will not want to lose hegemony and will cheat to maintain it.

PS: I thought of this at 1:40AM. It might be crap.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

I'm lazy.

So here's a picture.

This is a real quality touring bike. I would have a lot of fun on it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Most. Injust. Thing. Ever.

Most. Depressing. Thing. Ever.

Obvious yet novel and insightful

"When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One's convictions should be proportional to one's evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn't—indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable—is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own."

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

My fear of graduate school.

"One problem is that the unsuccessful academic often does not have a place to step down to. (The contrast is with science—several failed biology PhD’s I know have made middle-class careers as techs). PhDs are both underqualified and overqualified for high school teaching—they have to retrain for a year, and many schools will fear them. Journalism used to be a catchall for well-educated failures, but now it’s a profession of its own with its own career track. (That’s right, they aren’t naturally stupid and dishonest. They’ve been trained to be that way. I’m not joking)."

Monday, December 05, 2005


Is this real? Is this a real college?

Just seen on The Daily Show

Faux News. Brilliant.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Daily Howler on American Education

Nor does Staples ever acknowledge one obvious cause of our shortfall. A few months ago, the Washington Post’s Robert Kaiser was heaping praise on the schools in Finland—the world’s best schools, he excitedly said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/24/05). It fell to us to note the obvious—Finland is a uni-cultural, middle-class nation with almost no immigrant population and few kids with second-language issues. But then, American schools get good results from middle-class, majority-culture students; on any measure like the TIMSS, the American average is brought down by the very low achievement levels which exist in substantial pockets of the US student population—among second-language kids, Hispanics and blacks. No, Finland never enslaved one-tenth of its population, then spent centuries denying literacy (by force of law) to that oppressed subgroup. Today, we Americans deal with the deadly effects of our ancestors’ benighted conduct. But because we ourselves have taught in low-income, minority schools—schools where delightful, deserving kids can be three years behind by the start of fourth grade—we don’t believe that those Japanese teaching techniques are likely to fix this American problem. Nor does Staples present any evidence to suggest that these techniques will help in these deeply-challenged schools—the schools where our educational disaster is occurring. Presumably, it is in these schools that American averages are dragged down on international surveys. Do we think that Japanese teaching techniques are likely to transform such schools? No, we don’t, and Staples offers no evidence to the contrary. His ruminations are wishful thinking—wishful thinking from a million miles away.

A Bicycle Seat

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