Sunday, December 20, 2009
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The Washington Post report that states will get more time to comply with Real ID.
This is nonsense, what is actually going on here is that RealID is dead and the administration has put off recognizing the fact for another 15 months. The 46 states that are non compliant know full well that the next deadline will be extended as well.
This was all totally predictable when RealID was passed as a rider to the 2005 Iraq war appropriations. The Senate never got a chance to debate RealID at all, it was added to the bill in conference without any Democrats present.
At present 25 States have passed laws that prevent compliance with RealID. Even if the number of states was smaller it was never very likely that any administration would have made good on the threat to refuse use of those state's driving licenses to board planes.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Hearing the story of a Belgian coma victim who has 'woken' after 23 years on the radio made me wonder if we are not going to have another re-run of the Terri Schiavo circus.
According to James Randi's JREF, there is nothing there. The alleged awakening is hardly of Lazarus proportions. The patient is still immobile and the communication consists of 'facilitated communication' with an assistant doing the actual typing.
As always, once the credulous media have publicized a false claim it will be impossible to persuade wishful thinkers otherwise. The story of the Belgian man who awoke from a coma after 23 years will be transmuted into fact.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Sunday, December 06, 2009
At one time what started in the tabloids stayed in the tabloid, since the OJ Simpson trial everything is a soap opera and everyone is always the injured party.
So Tiger's mistress is upset that he was 'unfaithful' to her? On what grounds?
It would be really nice if just one little part of the mainstream media could occasionally try to serve a more useful purpose than providing Jon Stewart with material. Can it really be that hard? If you know you are going out with a cheater then you should pretty much expect him to cheat on you as well and have no grounds for a complaint at all if you are also cheating on them.
Or in other words: It is no sin for a cheating cheater to cheat on their cheatee.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
The Climate Summit in Copenhagen has created an interesting clash between the City council and the local prostitutes.
The clash began when the city council decided to send notices to city hotels asking guests not to patronize the local prostitutes during the conference. In response the prostitutes are offering free sex to anyone who shows both a warning notice and their conference ID badge. Prostitution is legal in Copenhagen and the sex workers are objecting to the city council interfering with their trade.
But what was the Mayor thinking? The warnings sound like the newspaper editorials that some of the craftier bootleggers would run in their newspapers loudly protesting the evils of the demon drink. Prohibitionists would read the article and agree with it, the rest would think about going to Moe's for a drink, the location of which would be clearly stated in the article.
Friday, November 20, 2009
S. Robert Lichter writes an article titled Fox News: Fair And Balanced? in Forbes.com
As you might guess from the title, S. Robert Lichter's conclusion is 'yes'.
So who is S. Robert Lichter?
First hit on Google
So the only guy they can find to describe them as 'fair and balanced' is the same guy who they were paying as a consultant only last year? Surely a relevant disclosure to make in the circumstances?
I was rather interested to read the latest tactical maneuvering on the health care bill.
It is now clear that the initial GOP threat to force a reading of the whole bill has been neutralized. The best possible outcome for the Democrats at this point would be for Coburn to go through with his threat. The Democrats would then bring in a team of speedreaders to complete the reading over the thanksgiving recess while Coburn and some Democrat presiding miss their dinner, thus providing a highly visible proof of GOP obstruction.
But the more interesting feature is a consequence of the possibility of multiple filibuster threats. In theory any Senate motion is subject to filibuster. But in practice use of the filibuster tends to be limited to final passage rather than the intermediate stages. There is a reason for that, it is really bad tactics for the minority to attempt to filibuster early in the process.
As we saw earlier with discussion of the 'nuclear option', there are ways and means to get round Senate rules. A cloture motion sets out a time limit for debate on a motion. But there is no reason that the Democrats could not introduce a motion to change the rules of the Senate to introduce a time limit for debate on all future procedural motions for a bill. Such a motion would be subject to filibuster, but that is a one time event and a filibuster is not without benefit for those participating in breaking it. Whatever hardship the majority endures will be highly visible via local TV news and newspapers. Most would much rather spend a week sleeping in my office than on the campaign trail.
Under such circumstances the dynamics of the health care debate become very different. All the concessions that the majority made to the minority earlier are lost and then some.
And once there is one bill on the floor that is filibuster proof, it can be used as a vehicle for any purpose that garners a 50 Senate votes.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
The seizure of a consignment of Iranian arms destined for Hezbollah demonstrates a particularly difficult problem of intelligence: it may not make any difference at all.
While any action that reduces the amount of arms available to either the Iranian regime or their Hezbollah franchisees is good, this is clearly only a tactical victory at best. The arms factories will continue to churn out more weapons in Iran and some means will be found of delivering significant quantities to Hezbollah.
Clearly Israel was acting on intelligence sources. So it is equally clear that Iran and Hezbollah will be moving to close the breach. Not knowing is bad, but even if you know you are unable to act on it without a significant risk of not knowing in future.
Which makes me wonder quite why this particular interdiction took place. One possibility is that the Israelis knew that they would be loosing their source in any case, the source might be a defector.
Another is that the timing is determined by Israeli politics. Netanyahu is in a pretty weak diplomatic position, Israel has only one major ally and under Obama the US is not prepared to underwrite the Likud line. I doubt that this is the case, while Netanyahu is certainly capable of that type of calculation, the Mossad people know this and would be expected to control access to information accordingly.
Another possibility is that Israel would prefer to cause the Iranian regime to occupy itself with a mole hunt at the moment. Hunts for traitors can do an immense amount of damage in themselves. They can even cause defections of those previously loyal. If so, this would be rather interesting as Mossad is one of the few intelligence services that appears to have any useful internal knowledge of the Iranian regime. If they are prepared to risk losing sources it is likely because they consider the regime to be particularly vulnerable at this point in time.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Probably the most under-reported politics storyline is the news that Vivendi may IPO its stake in NBC Universal. This is been seen as part of a larger move that is expected to see NBC spin out of GE which currently has majority control.
The political impact of this is likely to be significant. At the moment MSNBC has a bizarre status as a tabloid that changes political complexion from Conservative in the morning to Liberal at night. From a business standpoint this makes no sense, the audience for Joe Scarborough is not going to watch Rachel Maddow in the evening or vice versa.
MSNBC would surely have addressed this incongruity years ago if it had been an independent company or owned by a media combine (Comcast may acquire the majority stake). The reason it has not is that GE is an industrial combine whose management is clearly more comfortable with conservative commentators. In the wake of 9/11 the channel attempted to refashion itself as 'Fox News Lite'. The spectrum of political debate was deemed to run from John McCain on the left through Dick Cheney in the center and off into the far right. The Democratic Party, the party that had captured more votes in the 2000 Presidential election and only a few percent less in the 2004 election was to be considered an irrelevance, a party of perpetual opposition whose opinions were now irrelevant and were not worth air time.
Things look rather different now. The Democrats hold the White House, Senate and House and appear to have every chance of keeping them for the indefinite future. MSNBC has recognized this trend and has switched their programming so that they are now backing left and right approximately the same amount of time. This is what passes for 'balance', favoring the GOP when it is the dominant party and switching to 'balance' when it is not.
I expect that MSNBC will jettison its Conservative hosts soon after it changes ownership and afterward attempt to establish itself as the unabashed liberal equivalent to 'Faux' News.
That is really not good for liberals. The reason that the GOP is in the electoral hole that it is today is that it has been marinading itself in the ideological foment of Fox 24 hours a day. That is really unhealthy to say the least.
Instead of coming to terms with the fact that the Bush administration approach of executive policy made through gut level instinct was a total failure, Fox keeps telling the GOP to double down on the gut.
Historically the progressive party is the party of ideology and the conservative party the party of pragmatism. The idea being that most people will be better off with a pragmatic conservative than well intentioned liberal following some ideological program designed before the invention of the internal combustion engine. Thanks to Fox News in particular, and the Murdoch press ion general, the conservative and liberal parties throughout the English speaking world have switched roles. The liberal parties are now the party of pragmatism and the conservatives are the ones peddling the ideological drivel written by charlatans and frauds channeling pre-industrial economic sages.
Liberals have been well served by not having a Faux News of their own. Hopefully MSNBC will not become one.
According to legend, if you can boil a frog if you put it in cold water and raise the temperature to boiling slowly enough.
Strangely enough, there is even empirical evidence for the claim. One physiologist, a Freidrich Goltz noted that if you remove the brain from a frog, it will no longer hop out of the water. Small detail that, the brain had been removed. In another source which I was unable to track down immediately, a researcher noted that frogs with intact brains will tolerate higher temperatures if the water temperature is raised slowly. In several hundred observations, every frog jumped out except for the one which became the 'proof' of the anecdote.
The reason I raise the question is that I have been thinking about the question of what happens if computers and robots start working so well that they effectively replace most forms of human labor? The idea is not so far fetched as it was even a decade ago. Twenty years ago practically all leisure time was spent either sleeping or watching television. Today people while away the hours on the Internet.
As one of the instigators of this brave new world we have inflicted on you all, one of the most frequent objections made against proposals I make is that they will 'kill jobs'. To which I answer that eliminating unnecessary jobs is a good thing. One of the biggest challenges we face in the industrialized world is the fact of an aging population. People are living longer and spending a lot more time in retirement. So the people in work are having to work for the people who are retired. To date we have answered this issue by importing labor from the rest of the world. But those countries are also starting to face the same trends and those sources will dry up, if not reverse the emigration trend as ex-patriots start returning.
But what if every job turns out to be replaceable?
Economists are not much help on questions of this type. The best they can provide is an explanation of the circumstances that caused the last event. At worst they attempt to bully 'unqualified' commentators into silence with specious claims of expertise.
Only about 15% of the wholesale price of a book is paid as royalties to the author. If we add together all the costs associated with producing the content of a book they represent less than 10% of the retail price paid by the end customer. The other 90% represents the cost of paper, printing, distribution and retailing. Costs and jobs that will be eliminated entirely as the industry moves from paper to digital.
The story is not new, the introduction of industrial robots has led to a similar transformation in manufacturing industry. Employment in agriculture, already negligible, continues a steady decline. What is different this time is that the job losses are affecting the part of the economy that grew under the previous transformation. The 'knowledge workers' whose skills were meant to guarantee employment turn out to be as replaceable as the Victorian farm workers were.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the current recession was the realization that the feckless idiots funding extravagant lifestyles by borrowing against their house were previously the foundation of our apparent prosperity. Sales dry up when there is nobody with money to buy.
In retrospect, it appears that the introduction of containerized shipping transport is a much more likely cause of the recession in the mid 1970s than the oil price shocks on which it is usually blamed. The patient was already sick, the oil price shock was simply the trigger that sent him to the hospital. If the Wall Street crash had been the sole cause of the great depression it should have ended with the recovery that followed FDR's initial recovery act. Instead the country faced a second dip that I suspect was more likely caused by the displacement of agricultural workers displaced by rural electrification.
It is perhaps the worst legacy of Keynes that economists insist on ignoring the impact of technology on the economy in favor of mathematical and fiscal explanations for economic trends. It is not surprising why they prefer this, you can't plot a smooth curve through the invention of the shipping container, the barcode or the World Wide Web. More importantly, predicting economic trends from technology trends would require intellectual skills that modern economists have largely abandoned in favor of abstract algebra.
So we are caught in something of a trap. The aging population will cause our living standards to collapse if we do not eliminate jobs fast enough. But if we eliminate too many jobs we risk a depression or a slump. There may not even be a 'Goldilocks solution', merely eliminating the unnecessary jobs means that the economy has the additional capacity to meet the increased needs, it does not guarantee that the resources can be moved from one place to another.
We are caught in a trap, but here is where the frog comes in. If the water gets too hot, we can jump out.
As technologists, our only responsibility is to make sure that the economy has sufficient capacity to meet necessary needs. We cannot and should not worry about doing that job too well. If there is a temporary shortage of demand then it is the responsibility of government to address the issue. If we reach the automation limit then society is going to have to invent a new basis for allocating resources.
Monday, October 19, 2009
According to Slashdot, Booz-Allen has analyzed the cost of cloud computing for the federal government in a new report
So what does the report actually say?
As with many articles written by consultants, this one spends a great deal of time introducing Spurious Three Letter Acronyms (STLAs) and almost none explaining or justifying its underlying assumptions.
The short answer is that the government can best realize the cost savings of cloud computing by moving as fast as possible. It is thus regrettable that "there are currently no security standards for cloud computing".
In other words, we have an analysis of the cost/benefits of cloud computing that is forced to admit that the brave new world of cloud computing suffers from at least one significant technical deficiency.
Once this is understood, we can view the reams of jargon in a somewhat more skeptical light. The article is heavy on conclusions but the assumptions leading to those conclusions are hidden in the proprietary Booz-Allen "detailed cost model".
Forgive me for being a skeptic on this, but hasn't every development in computing infrastructure offered lower costs? When was the last time one actually did? Despite predictions, paper consumption increased rather than decreased as a result of the paperless office. It is only recently that electronic displays have become good enough and ubiquitous enough to rival paper. And the largest factor in the current decline in the demand for wood pulp is the displacement of newspaper by the Web.
Cloud computing certainly offers major cost savings in certain specific types of computing environment. But talk of 'the switch to cloud computing' suggests that cloud computing guarantees significant cost savings in every type of computing environment.
At no point in the Booz-Allen article do we learn where these cost savings are to come from. It is implied that some of the savings will come from lower expenditure on hardware and power as a result of better utilization of the underlying resources. There is also what should be a very clear red flag in the assumptions:
"Existing application software will migrate with the infrastructure to the cloud. Application software support costs remain out of scope. "
While some applications will migrate to a cloud environment without issue, those of us who have experienced government computing environments know that even minor changes can require considerable time and days of expensive consulting effort. In a government environment the costs of failure are high. The processes that control change to critical computing resources are designed to mitigate the risk of failure. Computing resources are comparatively cheap compared to consulting manpower. It is by no means obvious that cloud computing will be a break even prospect for the typical government data system, let alone a source of savings.
It is certainly rather difficult to understand how a $3 million investment in cloud computing infrastructure would result in a reduction of 'O&S' expenses from $77.3 million to $22.5. No explanation is given for these figures except for the admitted omission of the costs of migrating applications. While hypothetical cost savings of $50 million for a single data center might appear to be impressive, it represents only a hundred man years of consultant time, an amount that can easily be consumed several times over when an agency is required to make substantial configuration changes to every application running in the data center.
The key oversight of the article is the fact that no distinction is made between adopting the cloud computing model for new infrastructure deployments as opposed to 'switching' existing deployments to the cloud model. This distinction is critical when we look at the costs that the model is focused on:
4.Our model focuses on the costs that a cloud migration will most likely directly affect; i.e., costs for server hardware (and associated support hardware, such as internal routers and switches, rack hardware, cabling, etc.), basic server software (OS software, standard backup management, and security software), associated contractor labor for engineering and planning support during the transition phase, hardware and software maintenance, IT operations labor, and IT power/cooling costs.
These are of course costs that are typically incurred early in the deployment of a specific application. Once a system is deployed these are sunk costs that will not be recovered through a 'switch' to the cloud. While a switch to the cloud may allow a reduction in the cost of power and cooling, this benefit must be set against the real costs of making a significant change in the configuration of a deployed system, costs which are omitted from the Booz-Allen model.
The only scenario in which it is likely that cost savings of the magnitude anticipated in the study might be realized is if the cloud computing model is adopted before the expenditures are made on hardware infrastructure when a new application is deployed or a major revision made to an existing application.
While the savings in such circumstances may well be significant, it is important to describe them as a development choice and not the 'switch' described in the article. Since only a small percentage of government information technology applications are newly deployed or substantially revised in any given year, it follows that the expected savings from cloud computing will also be modest in any given year, if indeed it is possible to reliably measure them at all.
Since the savings from cloud computing are likely to be considerably more modest than those promised, the urgency for action is likewise reduced. Rather than committing to 'switch' to the cloud computing model as quickly as possible, government agencies should only proceed at the rate justified by actual cost savings from actual trials.
Cloud computing certainly offers significant advantages to certain enterprises for certain types of computing services. In particular it is likely to be most relevant for the small enterprises that have no computing staff whatsoever, let alone dedicated 'data centers'. The more often cloud computing is presented as a panacea, a magic wand that automatically delivers dramatic cost savings with little effort, the more practitioners are going to dismiss it as yet another passing fad that promises much and fails to deliver anything.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
James Arthur Ray | Create wealth in all areas of your life: Financial, Relational, Mental, Physical and Spiritual.
Take a look at the Web site of 'motivational speaker' James Arthur Ray.
No cliche left unturned, note the use of words like 'harmonic' and 'spiritual'. There is even a little pyramid thrown in there.
This is the guy who ran the 'Spiritual Warrior' sweat lodge ceremony at which three people died.
50 people at $9695 each, makes close to half a million dollars, not bad for a week's work.
Monday, July 06, 2009
Bloomberg reports that a Goldman Sachs employee was arrested for the alleged theft of trading code. The suspect is a dual Russian-US national and was arrested after transferring the code to a machine in Germany.
While we do not yet have the details of this particular incident, it is the type of theft that would require significant resources to exploit. Without the necessary capital to front-run the Goldman-Sachs trades, the trading software is not worth too much.
Traditional businesses strategy is to use capital from a cash cow to develop new forms of enterprise. MBAs are told to 'work up the value chain' to find larger rewards. It has always been a matter of when and not if the Russian cyber-mob would decide to take the profits they have made from cheating bank customers and go after the banks themselves.
In this case the suspect is a dual national, most likely he has family living in Russia. It might well turn out that blackmail was involved. This has occurred in corporate espionage cases. If an employee has a relative living in a police state, they can be pressured in subtle ways. A parent gets sick but the normal hospital treatment is unavailable, unavailable that is 'unless' the child can perform a 'patriotic service' for the state.
Understanding the risk is one thing, working out how to apply effective controls is quite another. Attempts to compartmentalize information are expensive to design and maintain. Trying to compartmentalized code is more challenging still.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Matthew Yglesias makes a good point about Posner's proposed link ban. People want their sites to be linked.
Actually there are people who do not want to be linked, but they can do so pretty easily using technical means, no need to change copyright law. In fact the New York Times used to use links that automatically broke after a few weeks.
But even if they did not, who would if linking to the New York Times was prohibited? Adding links takes effort. I am happy to do so as a courtesy to the authors I reference, but that is really all it is. I am quite happy leaving the links out or linking to another news source.
Traditional news is now a commodity. I can link to hundreds of news articles on the coup in Honduras. The only newspaper content that is not commodified by the Web is opinion - which is the one type of content that the Web model supports effectively.
We need to work out a way for funding primary news gathering, but changing the copyright laws to affect linking is not it.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Krugman makes a good point, the whole country came together in the fight against terrorism, why not for global warming?
The cost of reducing carbon consumption is trivial to the cost of a single war. Yet for some reason the militarists never seem to have the slightest hesitation about spending a trillion dollars or so on a war.
Since supplies of carbon fuels are finite it is a question of when, not if, we change consumption patterns. And carbon addiction was and is the root cause of all the issues in the Middle East.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Now we know what Twitter is good for - piling on to the latest public embarrassment Twitter / Search - Argentina
Me: The simplest explanation for Sanford's behavior is that someone zapped him with some kind of mind control ray.
@Jonny5172 Gov Sanford told staff he would be "spiking some Argentina tail" & they HEARD "hiking the Appalachian Trail." Honest mistake
@kboreilly Now we know why Mark Sanford rejected that stimulus money: He already had more stimulation than he could handle.
Somebody on Facebook: "where in the world is gov sanford?" "apparently w/ carmen sandiego!"
Stewart On Sanford: Just Another Politician With A Conservative Mind And A Liberal Penis
Monday, June 22, 2009
The London Times has an excellent rundown on events in Iran.
Westerners, in particular Twitterers, need to take a deep breath. This is not about us, its all about the Iranian people and the type of government they decide to accept or reject.
In particular, the Times notes that far from being the central organizing force of the protests, almost no Iranians appear to have heard of Twitter. None of the 20 people they surveyed at an opposition rally had heard of Twitter. The revolution may not be tweeted after all, or if it is, the tweets may be playing a supporting rather than a leading role.
While the role of Twitter may be exaggerated, many of those attending the rallies had seen the death of Neda Agha-Soltan on television. Since we can be sure that this was not on Iranian state TV, it is clear that attempts to ban satellite TV have failed.
With this information, we can sketch out the likely path that news takes from the street via camera-phone, to the outside world via the Internet and back to Iran via the satellite TV stations. The flow of information out of Iran is being driven by email and the Web, not in 140 character tweets.
But even if Twitter is not the conduit through which information flows out of Iran, it may play an important role in establishing and connecting the support infrastructure for this process. Almost anyone who receives information from inside the regime, knows that they can bring it to wider attention through 'Twitter'. And even if the recipient of that information has no idea what Twitter is or how to use it, they can quickly find someone who can. And once out on the Twitter flux, any information that has news value will be re-tweeted repeatedly until it comes to the notice of the mainstream news.
Every revolution has an external support infrastructure, usually these are pretty small and limited to exiles and second generation ex-patriots. Twitter has enabled the Iranian opposition to build a support infrastructure of hundreds of thousands, if not millions in less than a week.
Ten days ago, the Iranian theocracy appeared to be set to last for decades, today most observers think is a question of when, not if the regime falls. The injustice, and hence the illegitimacy of the regime have already been established, through the election fraud and the martyrdom of Neda Agha-Soltan. All the regime has left is fear.
A regime that rules through fear is weakened by every scrap of information that demonstrates it has lost control. The inability of the authorities to control Twitter is one such demonstration.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
I turned on the TV for the latest news from Iran this morning. CNN was doing its usual ad-laden drivel so I thought, why not try MSNBC?
Joe Scarborough, that's why.
Scarborough was originally hired when MSNBC was attempting to compete with Fox News, providing a non-stop GOP tabloid. Hiring an extreme-right former GOP Congressman fit right in with that bizarre plan.
After discovering for themselves that GE could not possibly outdo Rupert Murdoch in right wing tabloid TV, the channel has lurched to the left. This is at least a rational strategy. With Murdoch occupying the right wing tabloid space and CNN attempting to occupy the 'objective' space, the only place that is not being contested is the tabloid left space.
Hiring smart progressives like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman for prime time has turned MSNBC's fortunes round. But they still have a big problem, viewers still autopilot to CNN when they want news. Conservatives can flip to Fox and see programming that isn't going to challenge their prejudices with unfortunate facts. But Liberals can only find agreeable programing at MSNBC half the time. If they flip in the morning they will hear Joe Scarborough airing his rather simplistic and uninformed opinions.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Every so often a smart alec pops up on CNN touting his 'telephone poll' of the Iranian electorate which indicated that Ahmedinejad was in the lead running up to the poll.
Tehran Bureau takes the telephone poll apart. They point out that the last poll was taken over a week before the election and that over half the people called refused to give a response.
Given the absurd and undemocratic conditions in which the election was held, only a simpleton or a government shill would claim that people called at random would give their honest opinion to an unknown stranger. While 'undecideds' typically break fairly predictably in US elections, the people called up by Gallup and co do not face retribution by Baiji thugs if they give the 'wrong' answer.
The 'results' of the 'survey' were that 34% of respondents said they would vote for Ahmedinejad, 14% for Mousavi and 27% refusing to answer. The survey was taken May 11th through 20th, immediately after the four candidates to be allowed to contest the election were announced and before Ahmedinejad was exposed as a clown in a series of television debates.
The US election takes place over a period of 18 months, the candidates are well known to the electorate at least a year in advance. Late shifts in opinion are rare. The Iranian election takes place in a three week period, outside of which the opposition candidates are non-persons as far as state media are concerned. Presenting the results of this survey as anything other than a description of the state of play at the start of the campaign is deceptive and dishonest.
While the 'survey' predicts an Ahmedinejad win, it certainly does not predict a blow-out 66-30 win. No observer of Ahmedinejad's performance in the debates was of the opinion that he had increased his standing, quite the opposite.
Given the fact that every telephone call into and out of Iran is monitored, respondents had reason to believe that they would face reprisals for giving the 'wrong' answer. But in fact this was probably a misplaced fear as once the authorities became aware that a poll was being taken they would quickly redirect calls so that they would be answered by trusted government supporters.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
If Iran had already built a nuclear weapon, would it admit the fact?
Britain and France both managed to build a bomb with economies and manufacturing infrastructure shattered by World War II. Iran has seventy million people, a vastly larger economy and access to the past fifty years of technology. If the political leadership had given the order to build a bomb in response to the Bush 'Axis of Evil' speech in 2002, they could easily have completed it by now.
Having a bomb is one thing, admitting that you have it, quite another. India and Pakistan were both believed to have built bombs in the mid to late 1980s. Pakistan acquired enough fissile material to build a bomb in 1987 but did not perform tests until 1998. Immediately afterward, India performed its own nuclear tests and the India-Pakistan conflict became a nuclear standoff.
Iran would undoubtedly face serious consequences if it was to conduct a nuclear test of its own in violation of an international treaty. Israel would become a declared nuclear power, Saudi Arabia and possibly Turkey would start their own nuclear programs. Neither China nor Russia could be guaranteed to block US attempts to impose sanctions.
So if Iran did have a nuclear weapon it almost certainly would not announce the fact. Which is a problem for an aspiring demagogue with regional superpower aspirations such as President Ahmedinejad since not revealing the existence of a nuclear weapon means the entire point of having it is lost.
An equally plausible scenario is that Iran has begun but not completed its nuclear project. For decades India and Pakistan were described as being 'a screw turn away' from having a bomb. The Ayatollah Kohmeini, is reported to have halted Iran's first nuclear program (a joint project with Israel), describing nuclear weapons as the weapons of the devil. According to a 2007 US intelligence estimate, Iran halted an active weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it since.
The two most likely situations are that Iran has already built an undeclared bomb, or that the nuclear program was suspended just short of having completed a bomb. In either case, the optimum stratagem for Ahemedinejad to employ to become a declared nuclear power is to provoke an attack by Israel or the US and use it as a pretext for withdrawal from the non-proliferation and test ban treaties.
As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, bombing is not going to stop or even slow any Iranian weapons program. Iran is a vast country and neither the US nor Israel has much of an idea of the location of any nuclear facilities. And even if the locations of the sites were known, an attack would hardly come as a surprise. Any Iranian nuclear facilities will be built deep, deep underground. This has not been lost on the Israeli and US nationalist-militarist factions who have been discussing the possible use of nuclear weapons in a pre-emptive strike to prevent another country obtaining nuclear weapons.
The Israeli attack on the Iraqi Osirak reactor in 1981 was almost certainly a phyric victory. According to Iraqi scientists interviewed on CNN crossfire, the Iraqi nuclear weapons program expanded from 400 people and a budget of $400 million to 7000 people and a budget of $10 billion. Who would have imagined any other result?
Ahmedinejad and the neo-cons baying for a 'pre-emptive' attack on Iran are all militarists. They believe in the violence as a first resort, they have a tendency to overestimate their own strength and to dismiss their opponents as cowards. The only difference is that the Iranian militarists appear to be quite smart: in the aftermath of 9/11 they have finessed a fairly weak military position to emerge as the regional superpower. The US neo-cons and their Israeli allies have achieved the exact opposite: they have reduced the US from unchallenged supremacy as the one remaining superpower to parity with Russia and China.
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Reuters reports Nine accused of $92 million U.S. mortgage fraud scheme
The ringleader is allegedly Thomas Kontogiannis, whose name may be familiar to readers of Taling Points Memo as 'Conspirator #3' in the Duke Cunningham case. He is also apparently a part time arms dealer.
It is unclear whether this fraud is related to the Cunningham indictment or another scheme. Either way it is quite astonishing that a bank would lend $92 million for property that did not exist without apparently bothering to check.
Monday, June 01, 2009
Spent today trying to fix the hydraulics on the Jaguar. The hose going to the convertible top latch had gone causing hydraulic fluid to leak from the roof onto the gearshift.
While I was getting the hoses to fix that the handbrake cable snapped. Another job that requires me to take out the driver's seat and lift the carpet on that side.
It was the first time I had taken the Jag apart. That is partly because I have not wanted to risk it but mostly because very little has gone wrong except for the air conditioner, the rear quarterlight (after a thief broke it) and two coils dying on the engine. While the hose and the coils are very typical of an XK8, they are the only issues that have occurred on what is now a ten year old car.
So when the quote from the dealer was $1500 for labour and $340 for parts I decided to have a go myself. Turned out that the job was not as bad as I feared albeit I have not managed to complete it yet!
I took the drivers seat out and the rear seats and various bits of trim to run the hoses all the way from the top latch to the hole through the rear bulkhead into the trunk where the hydraulic motor is. That is where things have got stuck. There must be a retaining clip or something that is stopping the hoses from going through. So near and yet so far. Fortunately managed to park it under cover next door.
Did not get any dalek building done today because of the Jag. Will be cleaning the seats with leather restorer before putting them back.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Over the past week it has become ever clearer that the Bush administration torture program took place during the time that Cheney was searching for 'evidence' of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link.
Now consider what a friend who works as a defense analyst just pointed out to me: The principle objective of SERE was to expose troops to the techniques used for brainwashing, not defense against interrogation.
The military has long understood that the best way to protect military secrets is not to reveal any information that is not strictly necessary to any personnel who might be captured. Torture is not an effective means of interrogating POWs, any information is almost certainly worthless by the time the victim is finally broken.
The Vietnamese objective was to break the US airmen to extract 'confessions' and 'denunciations' for propaganda. The Pentagon began the SERE program in an attempt to avoid or at least mitigate similar embarrassments in future conflicts.
It is not just the timing of the torture that is suspicious therefore, the techniques themselves are suspicious. At a time when Cheney is known to be looking for any evidence that might be used to support a claim of an Iraq-Al Qaeda link the Pentagon stops using the techniques known to be most effective for interrogation on their prime Al Qaeda prisoners and instead begins to use techniques known to be most effective for brainwashing.
The timing and the techniques provide two pieces of the puzzle. The destruction of the torture tapes provide a third. The fact that the administration had employed torture was already known at the time that the tapes were destroyed. The surviving records will almost certainly reveal the names of the staff involved. Destruction of the tapes clearly served no intelligence purpose and was clearly not going to be sufficient to derail the investigation into the use of torture during interrogations that had already begun. The only reason to destroy the tapes would be if it demonstrated that the purpose of the torture was for something other than interrogation, such as brainwashing the prisoner into confessing to the existence of a fictious Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship.
If the purpose of the torture is in fact proved to have been brainwashing rather than interrogation it changes the game entirely. The infamous Yoo and Bybee memos do not provide immunity for the use of torture in a brainwashing program, nor does the immunity provided by Congress.
All of which makes the current GOP attacks on Pelosi more understandable. The GOP can probably survive a truth commission into the use of torture for interrogations, but it knows that even its bedrock support in the heartlands is not going to forgive it if the scope of the commission expands to considering the fabrication of evidence used to make the case for a disastrous war.
(also posted to Talking Points Memo Cafe)
Monday, May 04, 2009
Howard Kurtz writes: "There was, of course, no way to predict that Bush's second term would be sunk by Katrina, bloody chaos in Iraq and a financial meltdown that would require a massive bank bailout."
Oh really? I admit that back in 2000 there was no way that anyone could have predicted that Bush's second term would have been sunk by bloody chaos in Iraq. But the failure of the war was already apparent by the 2004 election. That is why Howard Dean was a serious contender for the nomination. If anything the situation in Iraq improved after 2004. What folk reacted against was the fact that their original support for the war had been obtained through lies.
Katrina, being a natural disaster was genuinely unpredictable. But the indifference, incompetence and cronyism it exposed were visible to anyone who bothered to look from day one of the Bush administration.
The extent of the financial meltdown was mostly a surprise, but plenty of bloggers had been warning of the CDO issue for years and Warren Buffet had dubbed them 'Weapons of Mass Financial Destruction'.
What Kurtz really means is that nobody Howard Kurtz knows and talks to predicted any of this stuff and he cannot imagine a world in which his circle of beltway cronies might not know what is really going on.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Iran has jailed a US journalist as a spy.
This seems like a somewhat odd move for a country hoping to improve relations with the US. And it might well be an attempt on the part of some faction to prevent that happening.
Or it might just be that the US is still holding the Iranian diplomats that were arrested and imprisoned back in 2006 and that the Iranians have arrested Saberi to provide some bargaining leverage.
Hopefully it is the second as the first would make it very difficult to get her released. Unless of course she really is a spy in which case the US would have cause to bargain.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Monday, April 06, 2009
Saturday, March 28, 2009
At his pow-wow with the major bankers, President Obama reportedly said "excess is out of fashion". Unlike most incoming Presidents, Obama has not renovated the White House and is reusing the furniture from the previous occupant. There are even stains on the carpet, as he pointed out.
Which brings us to the second piece of news, that ShamWow pitchman Vince Shlomi was arrested for punching a prostitute.
Coincidence? I think not. Shlomi may be peddling super-absorbent cloths these days, but I will bet that there isn't anything he doesn't know about removing stains from carpets. Time to send the miscreant up to Washington D.C. for a spot of community service at the White House.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Saturday, March 14, 2009
So the Brother color printer started pleading for a new set of colour toner carts ($270). All three carts ran out at the same time, hmm. Time for a Google, which unearthed the following on a blog.
Re: Brother toner cartridge low toner override by Brett In SoCal (6/29/08 4:57 PM) reply + / -
Brother MFC 9440CN Toner Life End Message... The Final Solution!!!
1. With power on, open the toner access main door (You will get a "door open" message in the LCD.)
2. Hit the "Clear/Back" button and... ta-dah!!! you go right to the Toner Reset Menu' (cue Vienna Boy's choir sounds here).
3. Using the up ^ Down > "Search" arrow buttons, you can then scroll through reset options for each of the printer's  toner cartridges!
Code: B. = black; C. = cyan; M. = magenta and Y. = yellow
4. For each for these cartridges is the option to reset for low yield = S (small?) or High Yield = H
5. Using the number keypad, select option #1 (to reset each to the size you have installed.
6. Hit the "Clear/Back" button to get out of the menu, close door ad the problem is FINALLY solved.
Just tried it, works great!
Wednesday, March 04, 2009
So Apple iPhone controls over 66% of all mobile web use.
This does not surprise me at all as the difference between iPhone and other mobile web browsers is that iPhone works and they do not.
Palm ships the treo with an attrocious browser called blaser that seems to have been designed to use as much data service as possible. On the Palm you ask to download a page, wait two minutes, click a link, wait another two minutes, go back to your first page to go to the next link, wait two minutes for it to reload and so on.
It really does not take a great browser to eat into Apple's share. All it really takes is a browser that is not shitty.
And don't get me started on the Wap phone lunacy that had idiots thinking people would queue up to surf the web on a device with a display the size of a postage stamp and a browser that costs $1 to download the front page of CNN.
The mobile Web is about two things, one is access to relevant information, the other is the ability to perform relevant transactions. The key here being relevant. I might buy a book from Amazon on the iPhone, I am not going to do extensive comparison shopping. I might look up flight times, delays and so on, I am less likely to do online banking unless it is critical to do it right then and there.
The mobile web is not a replacement for the armchair web which is why ideas like walled gardens and such make no sense at all.
Sunday, March 01, 2009
The Bush administration frequently appeared as an attempt to repeat every tragedy of US history as farce: 1876, Vietnam, McCarthyism and most recently the Great Depression. So its no surprise that the 2012 GOP Presidential field is shaping up to be a re-run of previous farces.
Palin, currently the front-runner is the Dan Quayle of the pack. Lets see whether she makes it to the starting gate. Quayle dropped out of the 1996 race before he was fully in it.
Last week it appeared that Bobby Jindal might well be the Bill Clinton of the 2012 race, a different type of Republican, at least insofar as being apparently competent and not visibly corrupt. Like Biden in 1988, Jindal threw away his entire campaign in a single speech. Given the opportunity to address the nation in the response to Obama's address, Jindal pitched the core Republican base and gave a Reaganesque personal account that turns out to be a total fiction.
If Jindal runs his opponents will run endless attack ads of the part of the speech where Jindal is prevaricating. If Jindal does not run it will likely be because there has been a major eruption of a volcano that makes the attack on volcano monitoring look Katrinaesque GOP myopia. If Jindal is nominated, Obama will spend the week of the Republican convention taking a quiet family holiday in his birth state of Hawaii, an island created by a highly photogenic, continuously erupting volcano.
It is hard to see how the 2012 campaigns of Romney or Huckabee can turn out any better than their efforts in 2008, they can certainly do worse. Huckabee cannot beat Sarah in the primaries if she runs. If Palin does not run it will prove that an evangelical nut-jb can't win.
Romney's principal strength in 2008 was the willingness of the LDS church to organize and fund raise for him. Always looking for mainstream respectability, the LDS church saw having a Mormon at the top of a major party Presidential ticket as a way to achieve legitimacy. From that perspective, LDS political activities were a clear failure in 2008, drawing attention to the weirder aspects of the church and in particular the racist and anti-Semitic aspects of its control-freak philosophy. After its controversial involvement in California's Prop-8, the church knows that its political involvement will be closely scrutinized. Romney will still take the LDS vote in 2012, but may well find that the church is less interested in playing a political role and fails to deliver the money and the organization that made Romney viable.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
I spent much of the weekend throwing stuff out. Some pieces went on craigslist, others can be kept for a yard sale but most of the stuff is simply low grade junk that had been kept on the off-chance it might come in handy. Like pieces of scrap wood six inches long.
50 Days to D-Day
Thursday, January 29, 2009
What I found most interesting about this CNN piece is that the author is not making it up. There really is a National Republican Victory Monument.
And if you become a Platinum donor, your name can be inscribed on it!
The triumphal arch is more generally associated with the military victories of dictatorships and kings than electoral success in a democracy.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
The Firearm Blog shows an interesting twist on the development of the iPod. It is no longer an autonomous mobile device, it is a component in other devices.
The iPod touch is actually a pretty cheap package for a battery, computer and display.
Monday, January 12, 2009
I have been interested in 3D-Modelling, 3D Design and most recently small scale CNC for some time. But as anyone who has tried to work in that area knows, professional software costs a huge sum - thousands, cheaper commercial products tend to cost in the region of $500 and lack necessary features and open source software tends to be works in progress.
Looking at the features of IronCAD it is exactly what I need. It allows 3D objects to be built from acfurately dimensioned 3D models. But even the lite version still costs thousands.
What I need is really a limited time usage license. Instead of buing a seat I want a fraction of a seat, a few hours a month at most.
If we had decent DRM technology it would be possible to support this type of use. Software vendors could expand their market and avoid competition from below.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Over the course of a year solar noon varies by as much as quarter of an hour. From 12:00 (by definition) on midsummer's day and 12:15 around beltane at Greenwich.
'The astronomers' are apparently worried that solar noon must exactly accord with noon according to our clocks everyone else uses because it appears that they don't know how to correct for such things without changing the time table for everyone else. The rotation of the earth is not exact and not exactly predictable.
So what they do instead is they install a leap second once a year or so, giving only six months notice. This messes up no end of computer programs as it means a vast amount of rarely tested code has to be written to deal with the edge cases.
And so there is a US proposal to stop the idiocy and abolish the leap seconds. There is simply no reason to introduce regular corrections of the order of a second to a quantity that varies of its own accord by fifteen minutes over the course of a year. That is three orders of magnitude more than the corrections being made by the astronomers.
Unless you are an astronomer there is no particular reason to care which particular day of the year 12:00 corresponds to solar noon.
So the response of the astronomers to the proposed change is classic agenda denial. 'There is no publicly available documentation that adequately or consistently justifies the proposed re-definition of UTC' In other words we are going to keep meddling with the clocks because we don't know what might happen if we stop doing it.
This is really about power. The astronomers get a feeling of importance from being responsible for proposing their little corrections. They should be told firmly that this is going to stop.
The US should stop piddling around negotiating a change to UTC. Just define a time scale without corrections and announce that that is now official. Job done.