Friday, March 31, 2006

If a man kills thirty people to save 3000, has he done right?

"The IRA swelled in power, money and numbers. Its members executed increasingly ruthless operations against Protestant groups and British forces, but Scappaticci gradually began to notice a disturbing pattern: hot-blooded young men were sent headlong into dangerous missions, but their leaders stayed safe in their pubs back home. And when these foot soldiers died or landed in prison, the leaders sometimes showed up around town with the missing men's wives...To Scappaticci, their behavior seemed more like robbery than revolution. Scappaticci, the British intelligence services quickly recognized, had the makings of a perfect agent. A local man, born in Belfast. A credible IRA member. A disillusioned foot soldier. Beaten down. Ready.

In 1980, after a couple of years of working as a British spy--arranging meetings, handing over tidbits-- Scappaticci joined the IRA's internal security unit, which IRA men called the Nutting Squad...When the Nutting Squad found a snitch or a British spy, its interrogators typically tortured him, squeezed him for information, then 'nutted' him with a pair of bullets to the brain...The position gave him access to the IRA's innermost secrets...over several years he helped foil numerous killings and kidnappings.

Moreover, his position atop the Nutting Squad made him untouchable, if his own activities ever drew suspicion, he could simply divert attention by fingering an innocent man. Some British press reports estimate he killed as many as forty people...Each night (these spies rocked themselves) to sleep repeating the mantra their handlers had given them: 'The greater good. The greater good.' Scappaticci engaged in difficult mathematics, a calculus of souls. If a man kills thirty people to save 3000, has he done right?

Matthew Teague, 'Double Blind', The Atlantic, April 2006, pp. 54-6

Sometimes I feel this way too.

Tobacco companies pioneered the "flood of confusion" tactic used to make it seem that there are two sides to a story when there really isn't. This is the Rove-Dubya method too, and should be added to the indictment.
This is one of the things that has made it more or less impossible for me to talk to people about politics in a civil manner. You have to keep knocking down these phony planted stories and quibbles and misrepresentations and anecdotes over and over again, and eventually you lose your respect for the people you're trying to talk to and decide to enjoy yourself in your pitiful, hateful way, and just vent.

Posted by: John Emerson | Link to this comment | 03-31-06 11:57 AM

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The War

A wonderful time--the War: / when money rolled in / and blood rolled out. /
But blood / was far away / from here-- / Money was near.- Langston Hughes,
poet and novelist (1902-1967)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A mistake.

"PHILADELPHIA -- A burglary call at a house led to the seizure of roughly 2,500 pounds of pot worth about $11.6 million on the street, police said Monday."

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Nice word and story.

My eight-year-old daughter Ananya was about to do her homework, but her mind
was elsewhere. She sharpened her pencils. She arranged the eraser, sharpener
and ruler in a row. Then she collected the pencil shavings in a pile.

"Let's read the first problem," I suggested, but she began doodling.
"Well, have you heard the story of the bird's eye?" I asked. Her ears perked
up. I began...

Long ago in India, there lived a martial arts teacher named Drona. He ran
an academy in the middle of the forest where he taught the art of archery.
Students traveled for miles and miles to learn from him. A boy named Arjuna
wanted to be the best archer in the world. So he decided to study at Drona's
academy. He lived in the cottages for students.

Drona showed his students how to hold a bow and arrow. He told them to
focus, "Look at where you want your arrow to go. Nowhere else." He told
them to concentrate, "Think only of what you want your arrow to do.
Nothing else."

Arjuna listened intently. He practiced and practiced and practiced. One
night while Arjuna was eating his dinner, a gust of wind blew out the oil
lamp. Arjuna continued eating.

"I can eat in the dark because I know where my mouth is," he said to
himself, "I don't need to look at anything else."

He decided to practice archery in the dark. He relighted the lamp and used
it as a target. He thought, "I know where my target is and I don't need to
look at anything else."

He picked up his bow and arrows and began shooting. TWANG! TWANG! The
sound of bow strings filled the air. When Drona heard the sound, he came
out of his cottage. The sight of Arjuna practicing archery delighted him.
He blessed Arjuna, saying "May your arrows never miss their targets."

Soon other students grew jealous of all the attention Arjuna was getting.
"Why do you think Arjuna is the best among us all?" they asked the teacher.
That evening Drona made an announcement.

"Tomorrow, there will be an archery competition to find out the best archer,"
Drona said. "When the sun climbs over the horizon, be ready with your bows
and arrows."

The students polished their bows. They sharpened their arrows. Next morning
they gathered in the yard. Glossy bows and pointed arrows gleamed in the sun.
The wind was still but the students' hearts fluttered with excitement. Drona
stepped out. In his hands was a bird made of clay. He laid it on a tree far
from them.

"See that clay bird perched on the tree ahead of us? Aim at its eye," he said.
Then he called the first student. The student plucked an arrow from the
quiver, placed it on the bow, and pulled the string.
"What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked.
"I see the sun, the clouds, the trees," the student replied as he released
the string. The arrow shot forward and landed yards away from the tree.

The second student took his position. He plucked an arrow from his quiver,
placed it on the bow, and pulled the string.
"What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked.
"I see the tree, the branches, the leaves," the student replied as he
released the string. The arrow shot forward and landed near the roots of
the tree.

The next student came forward, plucked an arrow from his quiver, placed it
on the bow, and pulled the string.
"What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked.
"I see the bird, its legs, its wings," the student replied as he let the
string go. The arrow shot forward and grazed the wings of the bird.

Finally it was Arjuna's turn. He plucked an arrow from his quiver, placed it
on the bow, and pulled the string.
"What do you see ahead of you?" Drona asked.
"I see the eye of the bird," Arjuna replied.
"What else do you see, Arjuna?" Drona asked.
"Nothing. I only see the round black eye of the bird," Arjuna replied as he
released the string. The arrow shot forward with a swoosh. It pierced the
center of the eye of the clay bird.

"And that's the end of the story," I announced. Ananya thought for a few
"Hmmm.. I see. So I'm Arjuna, my pencil is the arrow, and the homework
problem is the bird's eye?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied. "It's a story from Indian mythology."

She didn't even hear me. She was busy with her homework.

* * *

This week we'll see words related to archery many of which could be used
metaphorically in unrelated contexts as well.

Parthian shot (PAR-thee-uhn shot) noun

A hostile remark made in departing.

[After the natives of Parthia, an ancient country in southwest Asia.]

Parthians were expert archers. Their specialty was firing arrows while
in (or pretending to be in) retreat which disrupted the enemy forces.
The more descriptive term "parting shot" is a synonym.

-Anu Garg (

"'One other thing, Lestrade,' [Sherlock Holmes] added, turning round at
the door: 'Rache,' is the German for 'revenge'; so don't lose your time
looking for Miss Rachel.' With which Parthian shot he walked away,
leaving the two rivals open-mouthed behind him."
Arthur Conan Doyle; A Study In Scarlet; 1886.

Oh Wow! The Future!

"During the first exuberant spring since the brush with Armageddon in Cuba, established organs of mass culture promoted almost anything that was optimistic. Life magazine celebrated the government's plans for using hydrogen bombs to blast out new harbors and a copy of the Panama Canal, and predicted that LSD, peyote, and other hallucinogens soon would be harnessed to make people 'more productive and generally effective.' There was infectious awe over miracles--both profound ones such as the discovery of the DNA molecule, the 'key to life itself,' and prosaic ones such as the invention of the pop-top beer can."

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters, Simon & Schuster, 1988, p. 711

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bad Policy.

"The ACLU and Students for Sensible Drug Policy are filing a federal lawsuit today against the Department of Education and Secretary Margaret Spellings. The suit challenges the constitutionality of the law that strips college financial aid from students with drug convictions. The New York Times wrote about it here.

The policy has already derailed or destroyed the academic careers of nearly 200,000 would-be students since being enacted in 2000. Drug offenders are the only class of people automatically denied aid - murderers, rapists, arsonists, burglars, etc are still eligible."

Saturday, March 25, 2006


"The whole root of the evil was this modern urge to rise above your station, to live in luxury." - Narrator in Flaubert's A Sentimental Education.

Did someone at the AP actually write this?

One of the most unbelievable (in a good way) articles in the so-called liberal mainstream media.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Oh, Snap!

"The Republican regard for life begins at conception and ends at birth."

Detachment and Indifference

"...the scion of an established family, he was sent to Rome to be educated, and he remained there to pursue a career in government.

The Emperor Claudius banished him to the island of Corsica...mistakenly believing that Seneca had committed adultery with his own niece. Eventually, Seneca was restored to his position at the imperial court...and amassed great riches, under...the infamous Nero.

...Seneca was ordered to kill himself when the paranoid Nero (wrongly) suspected him of treachery.

...Faced with impossible moral dilemmas, Seneca took refuge in the Stoic values of detachment and indifference, and found that those values could bring him happiness even in circumstances more dreadful than he could have imagined...Emboldened by the Stoic belief that happiness is independent of mere circumstance, he accepted the 'blessings of fortune' without embarrassment or shame, yet remained fully prepared to relinquish them at a moment's notice..."

Independent Extra, 17 March, 2006, p. IV

Pretending to be Capitalist with Benevolent Advice.

"Tax-sensitive investing is one of the most important issues that all investors need to consider (the others being: prudently minimize non-tax investing expenses, diversify broadly, and control risk through asset allocation)."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Sound familiar?

"The British (Post World War I) occupation of Iraq drew heavy criticism at home almost from its inception. In 1920, a large-scale Shiite insurgency cost the British more than 2000 casualties, and domestic pressure to withdraw from Iraq began to build...the result was what historians have called the 'Quit Mesopotamia' campaign, which remained an issue in British politics until the end of the British mandate in Iraq in 1932.

...the Conservatives got the message and in 1925 initiated a series of increasingly desperate measures to sell their Iraq policy to the public. Colonial Secretary Leopold Amery led the rhetorical charge. In speeches in Parliament and before audiences throughout England, Amery blasted critics for their 'reckless disregard...of the honour of their country.' Calls by British newspapers to pull out of Iraq only emboldened the country's enemies, Amery said, and a 'policy of scuttle' would expose the British to far greater dangers...

Amery claimed the situation in Iraq was significantly better than his critics realized...the whole Middle East was undergoing fundamental changes, he declared, and Iraq would soon be a model of development and democracy for the entire region."

Joel Rayburn, The Last Exit From Iraq, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006, pp. 30-32

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


In justifying the NSA's warrantless surveillance program, Gonzales has argued that the review process required for a FISA warrant is too cumbersome for a program that is of "a military nature" and that requires "maximum speed and agility to achieve early warning."

White House lawyers, in particular, Vice President Cheney's counsel David Addington (who is now Cheney's chief of staff), pressed Mueller to use information from the NSA program in court cases, without disclosing the origin of the information, and told Mueller to be prepared to drop prosecutions if judges demanded to know the sourcing, according to several government officials. Mueller, backed by Comey, resisted the administration's efforts. "The White House was putting pressure on Mueller to broadly make cases with the intelligence," says one official. "But he did not want to use it as a basis for any affidavit in any court." Comey declined numerous requests for comment. Sources say Mueller and his general counsel, Valerie Caproni, continue to remain troubled by the domestic spying program. Martin, who has handled more intelligence-oriented criminal cases than anyone else at the Justice Department, puts the issue in stark terms: "The failure to allow it [information obtained from warrantless surveillance] to be used in court is a concession that it is an illegal surveillance."

Wise words.

In today's excerpt, a sampling of the wisdom of Learned Hand, judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and the so-called 'most important judge never to sit on the Supreme Court':

A wise man once said, 'Convention is like the shell of a chick, a protection till he is strong enough to break through.' The Preservation of Personality, 1927, p. 32

I shall ask no more of you than you agree with Dean Inge that even though counting heads is not an ideal way to govern, at least it is better than breaking them. Democracy: Its Presumptions and Realities, 1932, p. 92 is made up of a series of judgements on insufficient data, and if we waited to run down all our doubts, it would flow past us. On Receiving an Honorary Degree, 1939, p. 137

Right knows no boundaries, and justice no frontiers; the brotherhood of man is not a domestic institution. A Pledge of Allegiance, 1945, p. 143

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Wise Words.

We are haunted by the choices we will not have.

Very smart.

A slew of prominent conservatives--including George F. Will, William F. Buckley, and Francis Fukuyama--are coming out to express their new-found conviction that the Iraq War was a mistake. It's hard to object to their belated announcement, but they seem to be missing the key point.

Take Andrew Sullivan's "What I Got Wrong About the War:"

In retrospect, neoconservatives (and I fully include myself) made three huge errors. The first was to overestimate the competence of government, especially in very tricky areas like WMD intelligence....The result was the WMD intelligence debacle, something that did far more damage to the war's legitimacy and fate than many have yet absorbed....

The second error was narcissism. America's power blinded many of us to the resentments that hegemony always provokes. These resentments are often as deep among our global friends as among our enemies--and make alliances as hard as they are important. That is not to say we should never act unilaterally....

The final error was not taking culture seriously enough. There is a large discrepancy between neoconservatism's skepticism of government's ability to change culture at home and its naivete when it comes to complex, tribal, sectarian cultures abroad.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but:

The first and overarching error of neoconservatives, Mr. Sullivan, is their willingness (nay, eagerness) to use war to achieve their ideological objectives. Neoconservatives see war as a tool, perhaps messy and unpleasant, not to mention expensive, but sometimes useful.

War is the greatest horror we inflict upon one another, destroying bodies and lives, inflicting untold pain, often on innocent bystanders. War must be a last resort, undertaken with great reluctance, when no other option is available--appropriate only when necessary to defend ourselves against an immediate aggressor (as international law recognizes).

That was not the case with Iraq. Bush and the neoconservatives were bent on starting a war in Iraq for their own ideological and personal reasons and they made sure it came about. Bush's premptive war doctrine, recently reiterated, is more of the same failure to recogize the utimate horror of war.

None of the neoconservative mea culpas I have read have recognized this true (moral and pragmatic) error of their vision and understanding, which is more fundamental than Sullivan's three so-called "huge errors." If neoconservatives understood that war is appropriate only as an absolutely last resort to defend ourselves against an attack, the war would never have happened--hence no WMD debacle (because there was not enough to justify war), no offending allies with our arrogance of power, and no attempt to shape another country in our own image.

Sullivan, to his credit, does mention the tens of thousands killed and maimed in this war, but then he goes on to justify:

If we hadn't invaded, at some point in the death spiral of Saddam's disintegrating Iraq, others would. It is also true that it is far too soon to know the ultimate outcome of our gamble.

These are not the words of someone who understands the magnitude of war and its consequences. "Our gamble," as he put it, involved rolling the dice on the lives of tens of thousands of people, for our own purposes.

Until neoconservatives and the Bush Administration renounce the notion that war is a tool, we will not have learned our lesson, and more wars of aggression begun by us will follow.


"At Crozer, practice preaching courses brought King some of his best grades and highest approval. During the three seminary years, he took no fewer than nine courses related to the art of pulpit oratory...

His homiletics professor, Robert Keighton, brought to the classroom a preoccupation with style and the classical form of argument, which suited King perfectly...Keighton, like St. Augustine, emphasized that a large part of religion was public persuasion, as can occur when speakers of the highest gifts address the most difficult questions. King came to accept the shorthand description of oratory as 'the three P's': proving, painting and persuasion, aimed to win over successively the mind, imagination and heart.

...Keighton taught that a preacher should first prepare an outline based on one of the proven sermon structures. There was the Ladder Sermon, the Jewel Sermon, the Skyrocket Sermon, the Twin Sermon, the Surprise Package Sermon, and many others. The Ladder Sermon climbed through arguments of increasing power toward the conclusion the preacher hoped to make convincing. The Jewel Sermon held up a single idea from many different angles, as a jeweler might examine a precious stone. The Skyrocket Sermon usually began with a gripping human interest story leading to a cosmic spiritual lesson, followed by a shower of derivative lessons falling back to earth among the congregation..."

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters, Simon and Schuster, 1988, pp. 76-77


February 5, 2006
That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stranger

Jure Robic, the Slovene soldier who might be the world’s best ultra-endurance athlete, lives in a small fifth-floor apartment near the railroad tracks in the town of Koroska Bela. By nature and vocation, Robic is a sober-minded person, but when he appears at his doorway, he is smiling. Not a standard-issue smile, but a wild and fidgety grin, as if he were trying to contain some huge and mysterious secret.

Robic catches himself, strides inside and proceeds to lead a swift tour of his spare, well-kept apartment. Here is his kitchen. Here is his bike. Here are his wife, Petra, and year-old son, Nal. Here, on the coffee table, are whiskey, Jägermeister, bread, chocolate, prosciutto and an inky, vegetable-based soft drink he calls Communist Coca-Cola, left over from the old days. And here, outside the window, veiled by the nightly ice fog, stand the Alps and the Austrian border. Robic shows everything, then settles onto the couch. It’s only then that the smile reappears, more nervous this time, as he pulls out a DVD and prepares to reveal the unique talent that sets him apart from the rest of the world: his insanity.

Tonight, Robic’s insanity exists only in digitally recorded form, but the rest of the time it swirls moodily around him, his personal batch of ice fog. Citizens of Slovenia, a tiny, sports-happy country that was part of the former Yugoslavia until 1991, might glow with beatific pride at the success of their ski jumpers and handballers, but they tend to become a touch unsettled when discussing Robic, who for the past two years has dominated ultracycling’s hardest, longest races. They are proud of their man, certainly, and the way he can ride thousands of miles with barely a rest. But they’re also a little, well, concerned. Friends and colleagues tend to sidle together out of Robic’s earshot and whisper in urgent, hospital-corridor tones.

‘‘He pushes himself into madness,’’ says Tomaz Kovsca, a journalist for Slovene television. ‘‘He pushes too far.’’ Rajko Petek, a 35-year-old fellow soldier and friend who is on Robic’s support crew, says: ‘‘What Jure does is frightening. Sometimes during races he gets off his bike and walks toward us in the follow car, very angry.’’

What do you do then?

Petek glances carefully at Robic, standing a few yards off. ‘‘We lock the doors,’’ he whispers.

When he overhears, Robic heartily dismisses their unease. ‘‘They are joking!’’ he shouts. ‘‘Joking!’’ But in quieter moments, he acknowledges their concern, even empathizes with it — though he’s quick to assert that nothing can be done to fix the problem. Robic seems to regard his racetime bouts with mental instability as one might regard a beloved but unruly pet: awkward and embarrassing at times, but impossible to live without.

‘‘During race, I am going crazy, definitely,’’ he says, smiling in bemused despair. ‘‘I cannot explain why is that, but it is true.’’
The craziness is methodical, however, and Robic and his crew know its pattern by heart. Around Day 2 of a typical weeklong race, his speech goes staccato. By Day 3, he is belligerent and sometimes paranoid. His short-term memory vanishes, and he weeps uncontrollably. The last days are marked by hallucinations: bears, wolves and aliens prowl the roadside; asphalt cracks rearrange themselves into coded messages. Occasionally, Robic leaps from his bike to square off with shadowy figures that turn out to be mailboxes. In a 2004 race, he turned to see himself pursued by a howling band of black-bearded men on horseback.

‘‘Mujahedeen, shooting at me,’’ he explains. ‘‘So I ride faster.’’

His wife, a nurse, interjects: ‘‘The first time I went to a race, I was not prepared to see what happens to his mind. We nearly split up.’’

The DVD spins, and the room vibrates with Wagner. We see a series of surreal images that combine violence with eerie placidity, like a Kubrick film. Robic’s spotlit figure rides through the dark in the driving rain. Robic gasps some unheard plea to a stone-faced man in fatigues who’s identified as his crew chief. Robic curls fetuslike on the pavement of a Pyrenean mountain road, having fallen asleep and simply tipped off his bike. Robic stalks the crossroads of a nameless French village at midnight, flailing his arms, screaming at his support crew. A baffled gendarme hurries to the scene, asking, Quel est le problème? I glance at Robic, and he’s staring at the screen, too.

‘‘In race, everything inside me comes out,’’ he says, shrugging. ‘‘Good, bad, everything. My mind, it begins to do things on its own. I do not like it, but this is the way I must go to win the race.’’

Over the past two years, Robic, who is 40 years old, has won almost every race he has entered, including the last two editions of ultracycling’s biggest event, the 3,000-mile Insight Race Across America (RAAM). In 2004, Robic set a world record in the 24-hour time trial by covering 518.7 miles. Last year, he did himself one better, following up his RAAM victory with a victory six weeks later in Le Tour Direct, a 2,500-mile race on a course contrived from classic Tour de France routes. Robic finished in 7 days and 19 hours, and climbed some 140,000 feet, the equivalent of nearly five trips up Mount Everest. ‘‘That’s just mind-boggling,’’ says Pete Penseyres, a two-time RAAM solo champion. ‘‘I can’t envision doing two big races back to back. The mental part is just too hard.’’

Hans Mauritz, the co-organizer of Le Tour Direct, says: ‘‘For me, Jure is on another planet. He can die on the bike and keep going.’’

And going. In addition to races, Robic trains 335 days each year, logging some 28,000 miles, or roughly one trip around the planet.

Yet Robic does not excel on physical talent alone. He is not always the fastest competitor (he often makes up ground by sleeping 90 minutes or less a day), nor does he possess any towering physiological gift. On rare occasions when he permits himself to be tested in a laboratory, his ability to produce power and transport oxygen ranks on a par with those of many other ultra-endurance athletes. He wins for the most fundamental of reasons: he refuses to stop.

In a consideration of Robic, three facts are clear: he is nearly indefatigable, he is occasionally nuts, and the first two facts are somehow connected. The question is, How? Does he lose sanity because he pushes himself too far, or does he push himself too far because he loses sanity? Robic is the latest and perhaps most intriguing embodiment of the old questions: What happens when the human body is pushed to the limits of its endurance? Where does the breaking point lie? And what happens when you cross the line?

The Insight Race Across America was not designed by overcurious physiologists, but it might as well have been. It’s the world’s longest human-powered race, a coast-to-coast haul from San Diego to Atlantic City. Typically, two dozen or so riders compete in the solo categories.

Compared with the three-week, 2,200-mile Tour de France, which is generally acknowledged to be the world’s most demanding event, RAAM requires relatively low power outputs — a contest of diesel engines as opposed to Ferraris. But RAAM’s unceasing nature and epic length — 800 miles more than the Tour in roughly a third of the time — makes it in some ways a purer test, if only because it more closely resembles a giant lab experiment. (An experiment that will get more interesting if Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour winner, gives RAAM a try, as he has hinted he might.)

Winners average more than 13 miles an hour and finish in nine days, riding about 350 miles a day. The ones to watch, though, are not the victors but the 50 percent who do not finish, and whose breakdowns, like a scattering of so many piston rods and hubcaps, provide a vivid map of the human body’s built-in limitations.

The first breakdowns, in the California and Arizona deserts, tend to be related to heat and hydration (riders drink as much as a liter of water per hour during the race). Then, around the Plains states, comes the stomach trouble. Digestive tracts, overloaded by the strain of processing 10,000 calories a day (the equivalent of 29 cheeseburgers), go haywire. This is usually accompanied by a wave of structural problems: muscles and tendons weaken, or simply give out. Body-bike contact points are especially vulnerable. Feet swell two sizes, on average. Thumb nerves, compressed on the handlebars, stop functioning. For several weeks after the race, Robic, like a lot of RAAM riders, must use two hands to turn a key. (Don’t even ask about the derrière. When I did, Robic pantomimed placing a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger.)

The final collapse takes place between the ears. Competitors endure fatigue-induced rounds of hallucinations and mood shifts. Margins for error in the race can be slim, a point underlined by two fatal accidents at RAAM in the past three years, both involving automobiles. Support crews, which ride along in follow cars or campers, do what they can to help. For Robic, his support crew serves as a second brain, consisting of a well-drilled cadre of a half-dozen fellow Slovene soldiers. It resembles other crews in that it feeds, hydrates, guides and motivates — but with an important distinction. The second brain, not Robic’s, is in charge.

‘‘By the third day, we are Jure’s software,’’ says Lt. Miran Stanovnik, Robic’s crew chief. ‘‘He is the hardware, going down the road.’’

Stanovnik, at 41, emanates the cowboy charisma of a special-ops soldier, though he isn’t one: his background consists most notably of riding the famously grueling Paris-to-Dakar rally on his motorcycle. But he’s impressively alpha nonetheless, referring to a recent crash in which he broke ribs, fractured vertebrae and ruptured his spleen as ‘‘my small tumble.’’

His system is straightforward. During the race, Robic’s brain is allowed control over choice of music (usually a mix of traditional Slovene marches and Lenny Kravitz), food selection and bathroom breaks. The second brain dictates everything else, including rest times, meal times, food amounts and even average speed. Unless Robic asks, he is not informed of the remaining mileage or even how many days are left in the race.

‘‘It is best if he has no idea,’’ Stanovnik says. ‘‘He rides — that is all.’’

Robic’s season consists of a handful of 24-hour races built around RAAM and, last year, Le Tour Direct. As in most ultra sports, prize money is more derisory than motivational. Even with the Slovene Army picking up much of the travel tab, the $10,000 check from RAAM barely covers Robic’s cost of competing. His sponsorships, mostly with Slovene sports-nutrition and bike-equipment companies, aren’t enough to put him in the black. (Stanovnik lent Robic’s team $8,500 last year.)

Stanovnik is adept at motivating Robic along the way. When the mujahedeen appeared in 2004, Stanovnik pretended to see them too, and urged Robic to ride faster. When an addled Robic believes himself to be back in Slovenia, Stanovnik informs him that his hometown is just a few miles ahead. He also employs more time-honored, drill-sergeant techniques.

‘‘They would shout insults at him,’’ says Hans Mauritz. ‘‘It woke him up, and he kept going.’’

(Naturally, these tactics add an element of tension between Robic and team members, and account for his bouts of hostility toward them, including, in 2003, Robic’s mistaken but passionately held impression that Stanovnik was having an affair with his wife.)

In all decisions, Stanovnik governs according to a rule of thumb that he has developed over the years: at the dark moment when Robic feels utterly exhausted, when he is so empty and sleep-deprived that he feels as if he might literally die on the bike, he actually has 50 percent more energy to give.

‘‘That is our method,’’ Stanovnik says. ‘‘When Jure cannot go any more, he can still go. We must motivate him sometimes, but he goes.’’

In this dual-brain system, Robic’s mental breakdowns are not an unwanted side effect, but rather an integral part of the process: welcome proof that the other limiting factors have been eliminated and that maximum stress has been placed firmly on the final link, Robic’s mind. While his long-term memory appears unaffected (he can recall route landmarks from year to year), his short-term memory evaporates. Robic will repeat the same question 10 times in five minutes. His mind exists completely in the present.

‘‘When I am tired, Miran can take me to the edge,’’ Robic says appreciatively, ‘‘to the last atoms of my power.’’ How far past the 50 percent limit can Robic be pushed? ‘‘Ninety, maybe 95 percent,’’ Stanovnik says thoughtfully. ‘‘But that would probably be unhealthy.’’

Interestingly — or unnervingly, depending on how you look at it — some researchers are uncovering evidence that Stanovnik’s rule of thumb might be right. A spate of recent studies has contributed to growing support for the notion that the origins and controls of fatigue lie partly, if not mostly, within the brain and the central nervous system. The new research puts fresh weight to the hoary coaching cliché: you only think you’re tired.

From the time of Hippocrates, the limits of human exertion were thought to reside in the muscles themselves, a hypothesis that was established in 1922 with the Nobel Prize-winning work of Dr. A.V. Hill. The theory went like this: working muscles, pushed to their limit, accumulated lactic acid. When concentrations of lactic acid reached a certain level, so the argument went, the muscles could no longer function. Muscles contained an ‘‘automatic brake,’’ Hill wrote, ‘‘carefully adjusted by nature.’’

Researchers, however, have long noted a link between neurological disorders and athletic potential. In the late 1800’s, the pioneering French doctor Philippe Tissié observed that phobias and epilepsy could be beneficial for athletic training. A few decades later, the German surgeon August Bier measured the spontaneous long jump of a mentally disturbed patient, noting that it compared favorably to the existing world record. These types of exertions seemed to defy the notion of built-in muscular limits and, Bier noted, were made possible by ‘‘powerful mental stimuli and the simultaneous elimination of inhibitions.’’

Questions about the muscle-centered model came up again in 1989 when Canadian researchers published the results of an experiment called Operation Everest II, in which athletes did heavy exercise in altitude chambers. The athletes reached exhaustion despite the fact that their lactic-acid concentrations remained comfortably low. Fatigue, it seemed, might be caused by something else.

In 1999, three physiologists from the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa took the next step. They worked a group of cyclists to exhaustion during a 62-mile laboratory ride and measured, via electrodes, the percentage of leg muscles they were using at the fatigue limit. If standard theories were true, they reasoned, the body should recruit more muscle fibers as it approached exhaustion — a natural compensation for tired, weakening muscles.

Instead, the researchers observed the opposite result. As the riders approached complete fatigue, the percentage of active muscle fibers decreased, until they were using only about 30 percent. Even as the athletes felt they were giving their all, the reality was that more of their muscles were at rest. Was the brain purposely holding back the body?

‘‘It was as if the brain was playing a trick on the body, to save it,’’ says Timothy Noakes, head of the Cape Town group. ‘‘Which makes a lot of sense, if you think about it. In fatigue, it only feels like we’re going to die. The actual physiological risks that fatigue represents are essentially trivial.’’

From this, Noakes and his colleagues concluded that A.V. Hill had been right about the automatic brake, but wrong about its location. They postulated the existence of what they called a central governor: a neural system that monitors carbohydrate stores, the levels of glucose and oxygen in the blood, the rates of heat gain and loss, and work rates. The governor’s job is to hold our bodies safely back from the brink of collapse by creating painful sensations that we interpret as unendurable muscle fatigue.

Fatigue, the researchers argue, is less an objective event than a subjective emotion — the brain’s clever, self-interested attempt to scare you into stopping. The way past fatigue, then, is to return the favor: to fool the brain by lying to it, distracting it or even provoking it. (That said, mental gamesmanship can never overcome a basic lack of fitness. As Noakes says, the body always holds veto power.)

‘‘Athletes and coaches already do a lot of this instinctively,’’ Noakes says. ‘‘What is a coach, after all, but a technique for overcoming the governor?’’

The governor theory is far from conclusive, but some scientists are focusing on a walnut-size area in the front portion of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex. This has been linked to a host of core functions, including handling pain, creating emotion and playing a key role in what’s known loosely as willpower. Sir Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, thought the anterior cingulate cortex to be the seat of the soul. In the sports world, perhaps no soul relies on it more than Jure Robic’s.

Some people ‘‘have the ability to reprocess the pain signal,’’ says Daniel Galper, a senior researcher in the psychiatry department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. ‘‘It’s not that they don’t feel the pain; they just shift their brain dynamics and alter their perception of reality so the pain matters less. It’s basically a purposeful hallucination.’’

Noakes and his colleagues speculate that the central governor theory holds the potential to explain not just feats of stamina but also their opposite: chronic fatigue syndrome (a malfunctioning, overactive governor, in this view). Moreover, the governor theory makes evolutionary sense. Animals whose brains safeguarded an emergency stash of physical reserves might well have survived at a higher rate than animals that could drain their fuel tanks at will.

The theory would also seem to explain a sports landscape in which ultra-endurance events have gone from being considered medically hazardous to something perilously close to routine. The Ironman triathlon in Hawaii — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and marathon-length run — was the ne plus ultra in endurance in the 1980’s, but has now been topped by the Ultraman, which is more than twice as long. Once obscure, the genre known as adventure racing, which includes 500-plus-mile wilderness races like Primal Quest, has grown to more than 400 events each year. Ultramarathoners, defined as those who participate in running events exceeding the official marathon distance of 26.2 miles, now number some 15,000 in the United States alone. The underlying physics have not changed, but rather our sense of possibility. Athletic culture, like Robic, has discovered a way to tweak its collective governor.

When we try understanding Robic’s relationship to severe pain, however, our interest tends to be more visceral. Namely, how does it feel?

‘‘I feel like if I go on, I will die,’’ he says, struggling for words. ‘‘It is everything at the same moment, piled up over and over. Head, muscles, bones. Nobody can understand. You cannot imagine it until you feel it.’’

A few moments later, he says: ‘‘The pain doesn’t exist for me. I know it is there because I feel it, but I don’t pay attention to it. I sometimes see myself from the other view, looking down at me riding the bike. It is strange, but it happens like that.’’ Robic veers like this when he discusses pain. He talks of incomprehensible suffering one moment and of dreamlike anesthesia the next. If pain is in fact both signal and emotion, perhaps that makes sense. Perhaps the closer we get to its dual nature, the more elusive any single truth becomes, and the better we understand what Emily Dickinson meant when she wrote that ‘‘pain has an element of blank.’’

It’s a gray morning in December, and Robic is driving his silver Peugeot to one of his favorite training rides in the hills along Slovenia’s Adriatic coast. The wind is blowing 50 miles an hour, and the temperature is in the 40’s. If Robic’s anterior cingulate cortex can sometimes block out negative information, this is definitely not one of those times.

‘‘This is bad,’’ he says, peering at the wind-shredded clouds. ‘‘It makes no sense to train. You cannot train, and I am out there, cold and freezing for hours. I am shivering and wondering, Why do I do this?’’

Robic often complains like this. Even when the weather is ideal, he points out the clouds blowing in and how horrible and lonely his workout will be. At first it seems like showboat kvetching that will diminish as he gets more familiar with you, but as time wears on it’s apparent that his complaints are sincere. He isn’t just acting miserable — he is miserable.

The negativity is accentuated, perhaps, by the fact that Robic trains exclusively alone. What’s more, he’s famously disinclined to seek advice when it comes to training, medical treatment and nutrition. ‘‘Completely uncoachable,’’ says his friend Uros Velepec, a two-time winner of the Ultraman World Championships. Robic invents eclectic workout schedules: six hours of biking one day, seven hours of Nordic skiing the next, with perhaps a mountain climb or two in between, all faithfully tracked and recorded in a series of battered notebooks.

‘‘I find motivation everywhere,’’ Robic says. ‘‘If right now you look at me and wonder if I cannot go up the mountain, even if you are joking, I will do it. Then I will do it again, and maybe again.’’ He gestures to Mount Stol, a snowy Goliath crouched 7,300 feet above him, as remote as the moon. ‘‘Three years ago, I got angry at the mountain. I climbed it 38 times in two months.’’

Robic goes on to detail his motivational fuel sources, including his neglectful father, persistent near poverty (three years ago, he was reduced to asking for food from a farmer friend) and a lack of large-sponsor support because of Slovenia’s small size. (‘‘If I lived in Austria, I would be millionaire,’’ he says unconvincingly.) There is also a psychological twist of biblical flavor: a half brother born out of wedlock named Marko, Jure’s age to the month. Robic says his father favored Marko to the extent that the old man made him part owner of his restaurant, leaving Jure, at age 28, to beg them for a dishwashing job.

‘‘All my life I was pushed away,’’ he says. ‘‘I get the feeling that I’m not good enough to be the good one. And so now I am good at something, and I want revenge to prove to all the people who thought I was some kind of loser. These feelings are all the time present in me. They are where my power is coming from.’’

As a young man, Robic was known as a village racer, decent enough locally but not talented enough to land a professional contract. Throughout his 20’s, he rode with small Slovene teams, supporting himself with a sales job for a bike-parts dealer. It was with the death of his mother in 1997 and his subsequent depression that Robic discovered his calling. On the advice of a cyclist friend, he started training for the 1999 Crocodile Trophy, a notoriously painful week-and-a-half-long mountain bike race across Australia. Robic finished third.

In October of 2001, Robic set out to see how far he could cycle in 24 hours. The day was unpromising: raw and wet. He nearly didn’t ride. But he did — and went an estimated 498 miles, almost a world record.

‘‘That was the day I knew I could do this,’’ he says. ‘‘I know that the thing that does not kill me makes me stronger. I can feel it, and when I want to quit I hear this voice say, ‘Come on, Jure,’ and I keep going.’’

A year later, he quit his job and volunteered to join the Slovene military, undergoing nine months of intensive combat training (he surprised his unit with his penchant for late-night training runs). He earned a coveted spot in the sports division, which exists solely to support the nation’s top athletes. For Robic, the post meant a salary of 700 euros (about $850) a month and the freedom to train full time.

This day, despite the foul conditions, Robic trains for five and a half hours. He rides through toylike stone villages and fields of olive trees; he climbs mountains from whose peaks he can see the blue Adriatic and the coast of Italy. He rides across the border checkpoint into Croatia, along a deserted beach and past groves of fanlike bamboo. He rides in a powerful crouch, his big legs churning, his face impassive.

While I watch from the car, I’m reminded of a scene the previous night. Robic and his support crew of fellow soldiers met at a small restaurant for a RAAM reunion. For several hours, they ate veal, drank wine out of small glass pitchers and reminisced in high spirits about the race. They spoke of the time Robic became unshakably convinced his team was making fun of him, and the time he sat on a curb in Athens, Ohio, and refused to budge for an hour, and the time they had to lift his sleeping body back onto his bike.

Stanovnik told of an incident in the Appalachians, when Robic, who seemed about to give up, suddenly found an unexpected burst of energy. ‘‘He goes like madman for one hour, two hours,’’ Stanovnik recalled. ‘‘I am shouting at him, ‘You show Slovenia, you show army, you show world what you are!’ I have tears on my face, watching him.’’

At the end of the table, Rajko Petek wondered whether he could continue to work on the crew. ‘‘It is too much,’’ he said to a round of understanding nods. ‘‘This kind of racing leaves damage upon Jure’s mind. Too much fighting, too much craziness. I cannot take it anymore.’’

Robic sat quietly in their midst, his eyes darting and quick. Sometimes he’d offer a word or a joke, but mostly he listened. At first it seemed he was being shy, but after a while it became apparent that he was curious to hear the stories. The person of whom they spoke — this sometimes frightening, sometimes inspiring man named Jure Robic — remained a stranger to him.

Robic finishes his ride as the winter sun is going down. As we drive back toward Koroska Bela, a lens of white fog descends on the roadway. We pass ghostlike farms, factories and church spires while Robic talks about his plans for the coming year. He talks about his wife, whose job has supported them, and he talks about their son, who is starting to walk. He talks about how he will try to win a record third consecutive RAAM in June, and how he hopes race officials won’t react to the recent fatalities by adding mandatory rest stops. (‘‘Then it will not be a true race,’’ he says.) In a few months, he’ll do his signature 48-hour training, in which he rides for 24 hours straight, stays awake all night, and then does a 12-hour workout.

But this year is going to be different in one respect. Robic is going to start working with a local sports psychologist who has previously helped several Slovene Olympians. It seems that Robic, the uncoachable one, is looking for guidance.

‘‘I want to solve the demon,’’ he says. ‘‘I do not want to be so crazy during the races. Every man has black and white inside of him, and the black should stay inside.’’

He presses the accelerator, weaving through drivers made timid by the fog. ‘‘This will be good for me,’’ he adds, his voice growing louder. ‘‘I am older now, but I have the feeling that I am stronger than ever before. Now I am reaching where there is nothing that is too hard for my body because my mind is hard. Nothing!’’

Robic attempts to convey the intensity of his feeling, but can only gesture dramatically with his hands, which unfortunately are needed to control the steering wheel. The car veers toward a ditch.

Acting quickly, Robic regrips the wheel. After a shaky second or two, he regains control of the car. We barrel onward through the mist. His sidelong smile is pure confidence.

Monday, March 20, 2006

An apt word.

"One more such victory and we are lost," exclaimed Pyrrhus, king of Epirus,
as he described his costly success in the battle of Asculum in Apulia.
With those words he gave us a metaphor to refer to a victory so costly
that it's barely better than defeat.

If we talk to those who lost their sons, daughters, mothers, fathers,
husbands, wives and other loved ones in war, every victory is a Pyrrhic
victory. A war is perhaps the only occasion when killing a person is not
just accepted but rewarded. If only we could learn to fight wars only with
words. Till then, let's look at a few words of war.

Pyrrhic victory (PIR-ik VIK-tuh-ree) noun

A victory won at too great a cost.

[After Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, who suffered staggering losses in
defeating the Romans.]

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:

-Anu Garg (

"With lawsuits multiplying like crazy and mutual accusations of
stealing the election spiralling out of control, almost any result
now looks as if it will be a Pyrrhic victory."
United States: Whatever Will They Think of Next?; The Economist
(London, UK); Nov 25, 2000.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Yeshiva

"The yeshiva (a word that derives from the Hebrew for 'to sit') would become the defining institution of the ultra-Orthodox fundamentalism that would develop in the twentieth century. It was one of the first manifestations of this emergent and embattled type of religiosity, and we can learn important lessons from it. Fundamentalism--whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim--rarely arises as a battle with an external enemy; it usually begins, instead, as an internal struggle in which traditionalists fight their own coreligionists who, they believe, are making too many concessions to the secular world. The fundamentalists will often instinctively respond to encroaching modernity by creating an enclave of pure faith, such as a yeshiva. This marks a withdrawal from the Godless world into a self- contained community where the faithful attempt to reshape existence in defiance of the changes without...The students of such a yeshiva are likely to become a cadre, with a shared training and ideology, in their local communities. Such an enclave helps to create a counterculture, an alternative to modern society...directly opposed to the modern spirit and its emphasis on autonomy and innovation."

Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God, Ballantine, 2000, pp. 110-1

Thursday, March 16, 2006


1. To date, the total worldwide grosses for the ten most successful 2005 movies, adds up to about $5.7 billion USD dollars. This single year figure of just ten films eclipses the total amount of accumulative funding for the Global Fund by about 1 billion dollars. Note that the Global Fund was created in 2001 to finance a dramatic turn-around in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria - diseases which kill over 6 million people each year.

2. The Kodak company paid $75 million USD dollars to have its name associated with the building, which is enough to provide emergency food rations to about 700,000 individuals suffering from malnutrition for an entire year. In 2006, the Kodak Theatre will celebrate its fifth birthday - each year, nearly 11 million children die before theirs.

3. Value of a typical pre-Oscar makeup appointment this year was $5500 USD - an amount capable of vaccinating 138750 children against meningitis.

4. Estimates place total number of viewers of the Academy Awards at about 1 billion individuals. This is roughly the same as the number of people who entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. This is roughly the same as the number who have no access to clean water. This is roughly the same number of people who live on less than a dollar a day.

5. 30 seconds of commercial airtime at the Oscars costs $1.7 million dollars USD. This money would provide clean water for over 100000 families in Africa, protecting them from cholera, typhoid, and other waterborne diseases that kill 2 million children every year. Sadly, during that 30 second commercial, approximately 10 children will die unnecessarily of poverty or preventable disease.

6. The diamond-encrusted Victoria’s Secret lingerie sets presented to each of this year’s five Best Actress nominees are worth over $75000 USD - enough to send more than 1000 African children to school for a year.

7. A Stuart Weitzman pair of “Cinderella Shoes” were worn during the performance of the nominated song “In the Deep” from the movie Crash. They are estimated to be worth about $3 million USD, currently enough to provide for pediatric AIDS medication to approximately 10,000 children for one year.

8. In the year 2000, 189 Heads of State and government, representing their citizens signed onto the Millenium Declaration, which included the commitment to meet the Millenium Development Goals by 2015. These goals are as follows:

- reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day
- reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger
- ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling
- eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015
- reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five
- reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio; halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS
- halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
- integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes
- reverse loss of environmental resources; reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water
- achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020.
- develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory. Includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction—nationally and internationally.
- address the least developed countries’ special needs. This includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports
- enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction.
- address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States.
- deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt problems through national and international measures to make debt sustainable in the long term
- in cooperation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth.
- in cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.
- in cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies—especially information and communications technologies

A Capitalist Moment.

Few concepts in finance are as emotionally challenging to the investing public as the good company/bad stock paradigm. After all, if the purpose of equity ownership is to collect a company's future earning stream, then doesn't it make sense to own the most glamorous, rapidly growing firms?

As readers of these pages know, on average, it most certainly does not make sense. Decades of empirical research using almost any balance-sheet metric you care to shake a CRSP shtick at yield the same monotonous result: value stocks have higher returns than growth stocks. It doesn't matter when-pre-Compustat or post-Compustat-and it doesn't matter where, whether in the U.S., other developed nations, or in emerging markets. While this concept was a tough sell in the late 1990s, anyone arguing against it now will wind up buried under a mountain of affirmative data, to say nothing of recent returns.

The real mystery is no longer if, but rather why? Behavioralists like Richard Thaler, William Haugen, Josef Lakonishok, and David Dreman believe that the reason is: investors favor growth stocks, thus overpricing them and reducing their expected returns. Conversely, they underprice value stocks, thus increasing their expected returns. In other words, those able to bear the stench of bad companies can belly up for the free lunch.

~William Bernstein~

Tuesday, March 14, 2006


(ii) David pinpoints (pp. 6-7 & nns. 59-62) why the DOJ notion that Congress approved the NSA rogram in the 9/18/01 Authorization for Use of Military Force is undermined by the drafting, negotiation and enactment of the PATRIOT Act that was happening at approximately the same time. We've heard a lot in recent days about how critical it is that the PATRIOT Act be renewed to permit the President to fight the War on Terrorism. Just check out the President's remarks today on signing the renewal -- it's all about how the PATRIOT Act is so critical to the fight against the terrorists responsible for 9/11. (Hasn't the President heard the news that those authorities were already enacted in the AUMF?) We heard the same thing back in 2001, when the Act was first introduced. But the logic of the DOJ defense of the NSA program, if it were correct, would mean that many key provisions of the PATRIOT are largely superfluous. (Few observers have noted one of the most extraordinary aspects of the DOJ White Paper: In footnote 13 of that White Paper, DOJ responds to this PATRIOT-Act-is-superfluous argument by explaining that, in fact, the PATRIOT Act was not necessary for the "current armed conflict against Al Qaeda and its allies," and that it was instead merely a vehicle for removing "long-standing impediments to the effectiveness of FISA." In other words, the "necessary to defeat Al Qaeda" argument was merely a stalking horse, and the PATRIOT truly was, and remains, a DOJ wish-list to address issues that had long preceded September 11th. This doesn't mean that the PATRIOT Act should, or should not, have been renewed; it's merely to point out that, on DOJ's own reading of the AUMF, the PATRIOT Act is hardly necessary to address the current conflict with Al Qaeda.)

So True, Thanks to our Sterling Press Corps

the only reason that impeachment of clinton was a viable political option was that people were yelling crazy things about him for so long that it shifted the popular baseline of opinion.
Yelling crazy things makes the yellers look crazy in the short term. But in the long term, if they keep it up, they shift the popular conception of the landscape. I really think that's what has happened in the past ten years or so. Sometimes mere indefatigability is enough to lend credibility to your position.
I don't know how this speaks to the situation at hand. But I suspect that getting animated in favor of impeachment would not hurt the democrats. Right now, actual politicians don't need to call for impeachment; people like al franken do. Then, after enough time passes, actual politicians can say: the public has been calling for impeachment, and therefore, we must have impeachment.
The way to beat the republicans is to get less reasonable and more crazy. Therefore:
Condi Rice drinks liquified, aborted fetuses.

Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 03-14-06 04:50 PM

Do you agree?

"I never thought about whether or not people understand what I'm doing. The emotional reaction is all that matters. As long as there's some feeling of communication, it isn't necessary that it be understood." - John Coltrane

Worth looking into.

"...By our calculations, the total value of the real estate held but not legally owned by the poor of the Third World and former communist nations is at least $9.3 trillion.

...It is very nearly as much as the total value of all the companies listed on the main stock exchanges of the world's twenty most developed countries: New York, Tokyo, London, Frankfort, Toronto, Paris, Milan, the NASDAQ, and a dozen others. It is more than twenty times the total direct foreign investment into all Third World and former communist countries in the ten years after 1989, forty-six times as much as all the World Bank loans of the past three decades, and ninety-three times as much as all the development assistance from all advanced countries to the Third World in the same period.

...The words "international poverty" too easily bring to mind images of destitute beggars sleeping on the curbs of Calcutta and hungry African children starving on the sand. A truer image would depict a man and woman who have painstakingly saved to construct a house for themselves and their children and who are creating enterprises where nobody imagined they could be built. I resent the characterization of such heroic entrepreneurs as contributors to the problem of global poverty.

They are not the problem. They are the solution."

Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital, Basic Books, 2000, pp 35-36

Monday, March 13, 2006

Good comment at Unfogged

I was really devastated by the election results in 04. I agree with Weiner: it was a poly sci test that lots of people failed. I think what I underestimated in expecting a Kerry victory was how resistant people are to considering themselves suckers. If In the righty blogosphere, you will find many, many interesting examples of that resistance: intelligent people who continue to believe the war was a a good idea, that voting for Bush was the right thing to do, etc. These are people who decided, long before they ever heard of GW Bush, that limited government was a better alternative than an active government, and since one of the parties proclaimed itself the party of limited government, they chose that party as their own. There were political writers who they trusted, and those writers said: vote bush. Then the writers said: we gotta invade iraq. Bush said: we gotta invade iraq. And sure, Bush and the pundits gave reasons, but the average conservative voter didn't spend a long time evaluating those reasons, they simply stocked them up; it's what all people do, having chosen a party.

Since the time of W and maybe before, the republican party has basically been a fraud. But its supporters, they will cling to any kind of justification for its decisions to the bitter end. And we are nowhere near that end. Otherwise is to admit themselves fools.

We need a candidate who is firm enough to tell people they have been fools, and to do it in a way that they will respect. Hillary can do neither of these things, as far as I can tell.

Otherwise we will end up with another Republican presidency. It won't just be a Republican, but one with obvious ties to the set that is in power now, and no less corrupt.

Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 03-13-06 01:05 PM

Sunday, March 12, 2006

La Radio

"How to explain radio? You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."
-- Albert Einstein (attributed, unsourced)

Yay Irvington!

Irwin [a good WFMU DJ] also worked in the glamorous sex industry, at an "art cinema," when "art" was code for "boobies." I pumped Irwin for more, and here's what he had to say:

At 21, I spent a summer as assistant manager for a porn house -- the Art Cinema, on Springfield Avenue, in Irvington NJ, at a time when non-Hispanic whites predominated in that neighborhood. Today my 97-year-old aunt lives nearby in a seedy senior complex, so I pass through every two weeks. What was the Art is now a social service agency of sorts. I don't glance at it nostalgically.

I'm wondering, really, if the story is all that interesting. I've reflected, and frankly, there isn't anything scandalous, colorful, exciting, or even remotely sensationalistic about the job. It was, in many ways, a most uneventful gig. I can't think of a single anecdote worth relating. Not one! I did my work, got paid, and kept out of trouble. I hardly ever watched the movies, which were XXX-grade, though unrated -- really cheesy fringe-o'-the-biz flicks with washed-out color, dopey wah-wah funk soundtracks, and 25th-rate plots as excuses for gism-squirts every ten minutes. The patrons were suburbanites -- often couples -- fated to learn how unsexy porn could be. The popcorn was artificially flavored. The candy was overpriced. Just like now. The "raincoat brigade" didn't show up. One responsibility after the patrons went home was to sweep between the seats, and I never came across wadded up Kleenex -- just overturned popcorn buckets and spilled Coke cups. The aisles were stickier than the Knitting Factory floor at 2 a.m.

The last job in the evening was to climb a ladder and change plastic letters on the marquee.

A new (and apt) word for me.

This week's theme: words borrowed from German.

weltschmerz (VELT-shmerts) noun

World weariness; pessimism, apathy, or sadness felt at the difference
between physical reality and the ideal state.

[From German Weltschmerz, from Welt (world) + Schmerz (pain).]

Today's word in Visual Thesaurus:

-Anu Garg (

"I hate being told to have a good time! I'll feel the weltschmerz
if I want to."
Mari Sasano; Things to Do Today; Edmonton Journal (Canada); Dec 3, 2005.

What a fucker.

"But Mr. Frist, who also appeared on "This Week," said: "I think it, in part, is a political move because here we are, the Republican Party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the United States as commander in chief who is out there fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn — have sworn — to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us.""

Saturday, March 11, 2006

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Our Attorney General

"We do not transport anyone to a country if we believe it more likely than not that the individual will be tortured." - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales

How do they determine the torture probability? Do they simply divide the number of people tortured by the total population of said country?

I would ride 10,000 miles

"Buy the best chain you can afford and then keep it clean and lubed. Put on a new chain at least once each season or when there is any measurable stretch. Determine stretch with a Rohloff Caliber 2 or Park CC-3 chain-wear indicator (available in many bike shops).

Some pro mechanics recommend chain replacement every 1,500 miles. I think you can go 3,000 miles easy if you use ProLink chain lube. The boys who make ProLink have had several test pilots out there to determine how long a chain will last with their product. At 10,000 miles, they say, the chains may fail from fatigue but still show almost no measurable stretch. That is amazing.

I still think, if for no other reason than guilt, you should replace your chain every 3,000 miles even if you use ProLink. Just keep track of the miles. If you use other chain lubes, the stretch test applies."

Funny Comment at Unfogged

"TMK, I don't know what you're talking about. When I hear someone say "and", the first thing I do is somehow shut them up until I can evaluate the truth of their first conjunct. If it's false, I simply don't let them proceed.

Similarly, if someone makes a true statement and then says "or", and the first statement was true, I just leave before I can hear what the second disjunct would have been. Why should I waste my time?"

Thursday, March 09, 2006

The name Martin Luther King Jr. gives me the shivers.

"He was simply Mike King--always shaking hands, encouraging and demanding, making himself the center of attention in any room, full of claims about the past and promises for the future. The key to his multiple roles and identities was always Ebenezer Church...

He could safely say that he rescued Ebenezer Baptist Church from bankruptcy within his first few months as pastor. Membership increased geometrically from two hundred toward a Depression peak of four thousand. His gamble paid off so handsomely that the church made him the highest-paid Negro minister in Atlanta at the end of his first year. (He) asked his membership to send him on a summer-long tour of Europe, Africa, and the Holy Land...Reverend King's triumphant homecoming in late August 1934 was announced to Negro Atlanta in a banner headline in the Daily World: 'Reverend King is Royally Welcomed on Return from Europe.'

This was King's moment, the watershed of his life, and he honored the occasion by changing his name from Michael to Martin, becoming Martin Luther King. For consistency, he also changed the name of his older son to Martin Luther King, Jr. The change of name was one of the most important events in the (five-year-old) King's early life..."

Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters, Simon and Schuster, 1988, pp. 43-44

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Sublime


"What is the impulse to make a 'comprehensive' portrait of a city-- to reduce endless social complexity to 90 minutes of celluloid? Just how much artistic hubris, outright cockiness, or postmodern colonial desires are present in the desire to present a complete fiction, a city crowded with so many representative slices of social friction that the various token characters can't help but smash into each other's cars? (And after they crash into each other, they hop out and hurl ethnic slurs at one another.)"

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

On The Palestine Question

In today's excerpt, Harry Truman ignores the advice of his State Department and members of the Foreign Service and leads the US into taking over the Palestine issue from Great Britain in 1948. Great Britain had brought the issue of a Jewish homeland to the world stage through its Balfour declaration in 1917, but:

"...weary of it all, the (British) government on April 2, 1947, turned the question of Palestine over to the United Nations. Official Washington stood sharply divided on the Palestine question.

The (US Joint Chiefs of Staff) counted it of 'great strategic importance to the United States to retain the good will of the Arab and Moslem states.' The director of the State Department's Office of Near Eastern and African Affairs wrote Marshall on September 22, 1947, to advise him against 'any kind of a plan at this time for the partitioning of Palestine or for the setting up of a Jewish state in Palestine.' Purportedly speaking for nearly every member of the Foreign Service or of the department who had worked to any appreciable extent on Near Eastern problems, he asserted that partitioning would require American enforcement, would sabotage American- Arab relations, and would fail because of Arab non- acceptance.

Harry Truman was undeterred. Even as Arab nations began moving toward the borders of Palestine, the president instructed the UN delegation to support partition.

...Jettisoning its imperial baggage, Great Britain announced it would end supervision of the Palestinian Mandate on May 15, 1948. State Department planner George F. Kennan's subsequent position paper warned that the United States strategic interests in the Middle East and the Mediterranean had been severely prejudiced..."

Ed Cray, General of the Army, Cooper Square, 1990, pp. 656-7

Monday, March 06, 2006

A favorite quote

"Bourgeois democracy is just a specific form of bourgeois dictatorship." - Lenin

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Funny Comment at Unfogged


I had a friend in college who, before his parents would come to visit, would take down all of the homoerotic posters, take the gay studies books off the shelves, etc. He called it "straightening the house."

Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 03- 5-06 07:12 AM

Friday, March 03, 2006


"Nothing in life is more remarkable than the unnecessary anxiety which we endure, and generally create ourselves" Benjamin Disraeli, (1804-81), British Prime Minister

"Grief has limits, whereas apprehension has none. For we grieve only for what we know has happened, but we fear all that possibly may happen." Pliny, the Younger, (62-113CE), lawyer, author and philosopher of ancient Rome

"Neither a man nor a crowd nor a nation can be trusted to act humanely or to think sanely under the influence of a great fear." Bertrand Russell, (1872- 1970), mathematician, logician and philosopher

"The psychological condition of fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now. You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap. And if you are identified with your mind and have lost touch with the power and simplicity of Now, that anxiety gap will be your constant companion."

Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now, New World, 1997, p.35

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Honey Rolls Right Off!

No, that's not a euphemism.

In The Dark

Are you in the dark?

No Method Except To Be Very Intelligent

"Aristotle is a person who has suffered from the adherence of persons who must be regarded less as his disciples than as his sectaries. One must be firmly distrustful of accepting Aristotle in a canonical spirit; this is to lose the whole living force of him. He was primarily a man of not only remarkable but universal intelligence... his short and broken treatise he provides an eternal example--not of laws, or even of method, for there is no method except to be very intelligent, but of intelligence itself swiftly operating the analysis of sensation to the point of principle and definition."

T.S. Eliot, The Sacred Wood, University, 1920, pp. 10-1

Nice Proof

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Good comment at Brad DeLong's

How do we characterize the "knowledge workers", who were promised that they would benefit from globalization, and be insulated from the increasing economic inequity?

People with college degrees? People with four year degrees? People with four year degrees in technical subects, not the humanities? All that, but only if you're a man not a woman?

Here's a simpler way to characterize them: what Tom Friedman was saying (and what Krugman is now disproving) is that *you*, the readers of the New York Times, are going to benefit from globalization and be insulated from inequities. You know who you are; you subscribe to the NYT or at least read its op-ed page regularly. Some of you got math degrees and some of you got English degrees, but by and large you are better educated, somewhat wealthier, slightly closer to the levers of power than non-NYT readers. Maybe the top 20% in pure economic terms, though that's only a rough proxy.

So the "knowledge worker" pitch was a way of saying: ignore the plight of the victims. You and I--you NYT readers and I the NYT writer--we're going to make out from this. Sure, we could drag our heels and resist. Sure, we could press for political change to ameliorate the condition of the worst off. But don't worry--none of *us* will be that hard hit. None of the people *we* know are going to suffer from the gross inequities. We're alright, jack. So don't spend any political capital on the bottom 80%--they deserve what they're getting 'cause they didn't take AP classes.

That's what Friedman's flat-earth meritocracy arguments amounted to. And that's why Krugman's rebuttal gets at something important. It's not just the losers in Kansas who advocate policies contrary to their own economic interests. All you well-educated NYT readers, you lucky ducks in the upper 20%? You have been suckered into advocating policies against your own economic interests, too. You thought you were in on the deal, when the whole time the oligarchy was cutting you out of the deal. And Friedman's rhetoric kept you on board, kept you thinking you were going to profit from the scam, when actually you were one of the victims, too.

Thanks, Tom. For that and the Iraq war, too.

Posted by: Tad Brennan | February 28, 2006 at 07:14 AM