Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Full Blogosphere Alert

Bloggers in Egypt arrested for "Insulting the President" that is Mubarak

Free Alaa Seif al-Islam
Free Ahmed Droubi
Free Malek Mostafa
Free Moahmmed al-Sharqawi.

No US aid to Egypt while they are in prison.

I was struck by the case of Malek Mostafa

Another blogger, Malek Mostafa, is also in jail for insulting the president, as well as for blocking traffic and endangering public order. His blog was notable for its tolerant take on religious issues.

Mostafa belongs to al-Wasat, a religious party that broke from the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and bills itself as a liberal alternative within Islamic-based politics. Recently, Mostafa defended members of the Bahai religion demanding official recognition for their sect; the Brotherhood, which wants to apply Islamic law in Egypt, opposes the Bahai, calling them apostates.

Why did I only hear about al-Wasat when one of their blogging members was arrested ? There is a liberal alternative within Islamic-based politics ! Is the US supporting them ? I mean at least their right to protest and "insult the President" ? Fat chance.

I Also noted a bit of humor in a grim article "Seif al-Islam's parents were well-known political activists whose approach to bringing about change in Egypt centered on long meetings with like-minded militants" ah yes long meetings. I hope the blogosphere can be more effective.

update: current link I think
Readers of this blog will notice that I have recently sold out and added a google ads button. So far I have raked in $1.33. However, I just notice that, for the first time, I have used an apparently valuable word in a post. I mean it's not "mesothelioma" but my post denouncing H-1B visas and calling for complete international freedom of movement of academics (and everyone else) pulled an ad for, you guessed it, H1-B visas (ok it was easy to guess especially since, for all I know, the ad is still up there as you read this).

If that ad gets clicked then I will have done well by doing good. Only a few cents but my good deed was very very cost free.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I think That Tony Blair needs professional help

Fresh from his pleasant joint press conference with George Bush (as clever a political move as it would have been for Carter to hold a joint press conference with Khomeini), Blair visited with ex Prime minister Berlusconi (they probably chatted about David Mills).

Silvio Berlusconi al suo arrivo in Toscana per una cena con Tony Blair e con la moglie Cheril nella villa dei principi Guicciardini Strozzi di Cusona...

"Berlusconi on his arrival in Tuscanny for a dinner with Tony Blair and his wife Cheril in the villa of the princes Guicciardini Strozzi di Cusona ..."

Berlusconi is an absolutely loathsome person who is currently out of power and who was being hammered in local elections as they dined. Blair voluntarily chose to subject himself to Berlusconi in a bad mood (second worst thing possible after Berlusconi in a good mood).

Also, the only Guicciardini who ever had anything to say about statesmen was the Guicciardini who wrote about politics in the 16th century. I once read something along the lines of "Guicciardini who viewed politics as an expression of self interest in contrast to the more philisophical views of his contemporary Machiavelli"
A very appropriate place for Berlusconi to have dinner no doubt, but what is Tony Blair doing there ?

Blair is undoubtably not Machiavelli, but just who might he be in renaissance Italy is lost to history. Any such (...) wouldn't have lasted 15 minutes
(mildly naughty Italian anatomical reference elided).

Monday, May 29, 2006

Nexus and the Olive Tree IV ?

Nexus projects a tie in the mayoral election in Milan


In the past three elections, Nexus projections have shown a marked bias in favor of the right (in this case Moratti). I will refrain from making a prediction about the result in Milan, since Carlo Ciccarelli threatens to spray pain "Iatatore" on my new house (except for the fact that he can spelll).

Update: Note I did *not* make a prediction in the post above. The final NEXUS projection shows Moratti winning without a runoff with a predicted 51.3% of the vote

02:13 Moratti al 51,2%

Sono state scrutinate, secondo Palazzo Marino, 816 sezioni su 1.253 (il 65,12%): Letizia Moratti, candidato della Cdl, ha ottenuto finora il 51,22% delle preferenze. Il candidato dell'Unione, Bruno Ferrante, il 47,72%.

The same link gives the current data.

I definitely *did* make a prediction about the elections and I admit it. I predicted that no matter what happened Berlusconi would say that the results showed that the Italians have rejected the center left so there must be new elections.

"Bisogna incrociare le dita", dice il Cavaliere e si riferisce ovviamente allo scrutinio di Milano che comunque già gli ha riservato l'amarezza della storica roccaforte che inespugnabile certo non appare più. E infatti l'ex premier si limita ad aggiungere di essere "soddisfatto per il risultato del Polo in Lombardia". Con un nuovo appuntamento consegnato ai suoi collaboratori: la spallata ci può essere ancora, ora bisogna "puntare tutto sul referendum".


Looks like the guys at Nexus have learned their lesson. I prefer not to predict if and when I will.

arwen has left a new comment on your post "5/29/2006 05:35:00 PM":

no, no, non "Iatatore" ma IETTATORE !!!!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I hereby call on all governments to allow free mobility of university professors. All universities and other institutions of higher education should be allowed to hire whoever they want to reside, teach, and do research at their universities, without let or hindrance by any government whatsoever.

Answering Matthew Yglesias and following Brad DeLong

Yglesias wrote "I'll believe that this is all about altruism when I see an open letter from economists demanding that we scrap the complicated H1B visa system and instead allow unrestricted immigration of foreign college professors without all these requirements about prevailing wages, work conditions, non-displacement, good-faith recruitment of natives, etc." Let's convince him. I think his point is that such a gesture would help economist convince a politician or maybe even two.

I am sure that most economists consider H1B visas a hassle and barrier to recruiting the best colleagues (although really a very minor barrier). I don't think that young US citizen economists would be willing to tacitly accept protection from non US citizens by refusing to sign such an open letter. They might get a slightly nicer house by remaining silent, but they wouldn't want to look at themselves in any of the mirrors in it. Now it is true that policy makers don't care about economists' sincerity but what's better than a chance to make an self sacrificing offer that no one will accept ?

I admit that I, being an emmigrant economist, can obtain only benefits from my adherance, however they are trivial. National borders have only been a problem for me when I couldn't get out of the USA because my passport had expired and the US government was shut down for lack of funds. I'm pretty sure that I was an undocumented alien in Italy in 1989-90 but no Italians, including those who were paying me, seemed interested in the question, so I didn't bore them with it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Second Time as Farce

This too is bad news. It turns out that our lawgivers our conscript fathers have no problem with an executive which regularly breaks the law rendering them irrelevant, but searching a congressman's offce (with a warrant) is going too far.

The message seems to be that it is OK to ignore the principles enunciated by Thomas Jefferson so long as you also ignore the crimes of William Jefferson.

Legislators who accept anything but a search of a colleagues office are begging us to save the republic by voting them out of office. If we re-elect them, what will we tell our children ?
This is Horrible News

"Senate Panel Backs Hayden as CIA Director"

General Hayden was head of the NSA and clearly broke the law. The Bush adminstration's utter contempt for the US consitution and the rule of law can only cause permanent damage to the republic if it is accepted. If senators, congressment and judges defended the constitution, a criminal President would be like a sore on a healthy body.

The senate intelligence committee overwhelmingly voted to approve the appointment of a known criminal to a highly sensitive position. Thus they submitted to presidential lawlessness. Thus they created a precedent which will damage the USA forever.

George Bush could not do this. Our traditions can be saved by condemnation of Bush. A broad consensus against the constitution can not be remedied for generations.

Long ago, I argued that criminal methods might be morally acceptable and even morally necessary but that the criminals must be punished even if they did the right thing. General Hayden is a criminal. Respect for the law and respect for the idea of law, should have impelled the Senate intelligence committee to vote against his appointment.

The wound inflicted yesterday will not heal in my lifetime.
Supercomputers and Palmistry

The NSA is attempting to find something useful in the records of which US number was called from which US number and how long the conversation lasted. They never got Qwest data. Someone at the NSA anonymously boasted that they were analysing the worlds largest data set. This implies either that they have more data than they admit or that someone at the NSA is incompetent. However they are analysing a huge data set using extremely powerful computers and the latest available algorithms and estimators.
Given that, I would guess that the program is not only a crime but also a mistake.

I am atracted to an analogy. Let's say they had data on the palm prints of everyone in the USA and attempted to find suicide bombers by careful analysis of life lines. This would be an even larger data set and require very sophisticated algorithms. It would also be idiotic, because all of the analysis would be based on a false assumption.

Now with a large sample of palm prints of suicide bombers and non suicide bombers, one can draw valid inference about the association between creases on the palm and suicide bombing. Of course, I am sure the null hypothesis of no association is valid. However, my point (if any) is that without a sample of suicide bombers it would be impossible to test the null hypothesis that there is nothing to palmistry vs the alternative hypothesis that suddenly ending life lines are correlated with suicide bombing.

If someone at the palm print data mining program guessed that life lines mean something, that guess would never be abandoned. A huge amount of data with no data on the phenomenon of interest can not be used to determine correlates of the phenomenon of interest. The fact that between the NSA guess about pattern typical of al Qaeda operatives and the NSAs suggestion that the FBI investigate a particular Pizza Hut there may be trillions of floating point operations. Torturing a computer will not, sad to say, make a bad guess a good guess.

I think that the considerable patience Americans have with NSA law breaking is, of course, partly based on general contempt for the rule of law, but is also based on a mystical faith in powerful computers. They can come up with answers following processes much too tedious for us to reproduce with pen and paper, but they can't make a guess about al Qaeda sleepers a well supported hypothesis without data on al Qaeda sleepers.
Kevin Drum continues to stress the illegality of the NSA operations (the important issue) and stimulate me to argue that he shouldn't seriously consider the possibility that the program is effective.

I don't understand why you seem willing to believe that the NSA program might actually work. The NSA has powerful computers and a huge data base, but their guess that "flurries of calls to U.S. numbers placed immediately after the domestic caller received a call from Pakistan or Afghanistan." are indicative of an Al Qaeda operative is just a guess. There is, as far as I know, no evidence whatsoever which supports this hypothesis. In particular, since there are, as far as I know, no known al Qaeda sleepers in the USA the association of the pattern and al Qaeda sleepers is based on a sample of zero observations. The fact that after making that guess the NSA crunches terabytes does not reduce their reliance on the original guess. A calculation based on a bad assumption will not yield an accurate conclusion (this is a case of gigo). I really think that many people are awed by the power of computers and willing to believe that they can do the impossible, that is, accurately describe something which has never been observed.

Now, as to the case of Kevin Drum, I understand that you always write that the NSA approach *may* work, *might* be useful, and must be regulated by law *if* it works. Still, persistent interest in the implications of the assumption that their approach works, hints at a belief that there is a serious possibility that it does work.

I think that, by now, it is clear that the NSA approach is both illegal and ineffective. Someone who leaks to reporters has attempted to point to examples of useful applications of the program. Thus not all people in the know are restrained by respect for the secrecy of sources and methods. This is obvious by now. Exibit A was the Brooklyn Bridge Blowtorch Buffoon who really did consider destroying the bridge with a blowtorch. In that case there was a warrant authorising a phone tap. Obviously pattern analysis had nothing to do with that detection of a threat to the USA, since warrants are not issued based on illegally obtained data.

Also the FBI complains about "another investigation of Pizza Hut" (see the very first comment). The FBI will always complain about expending resources doing leg work for other organisations, but the evidence so far is that the NSA program is a total failure.

Dear Mr Drum

(in a comment on his blog I dared call him Kevin)

It seems to me obvious that terrorists will not create obvious patterns. If activity looks a lot like al Qaeda communications, al Qaeda operatives will refrain from that activity. That's game theory. The examples of useful pattern analysis (pedophiles, who is in the super bowl noted on this blog) are examples in which there is a large enough sample of the phenomenon of interest that the association of a pattern and the phenomenon is based on evidence not guess work. The NSA might have the worlds largest data set, but without a sample of al Qaeda sleepers in the USA, they can't possibly learn about patterns typical of al Qaeda sleepers in the USA.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kevin Drum is very smart, but I think the older of two successive posts undermines the analogy in the newer post.

First Drum quotes Seymour Hersh being outstanding as always. Hersh has sources who confirm the general guess of what the NSA was doing with calling records

The N.S.A. also programmed computers to map the connections between telephone numbers in the United States and suspect numbers abroad, sometimes focussing on a geographic area, rather than on a specific person — for example, a region of Pakistan. Such calls often triggered a process, known as “chaining,” in which subsequent calls to and from the American number were monitored and linked.

The way it worked, one high-level Bush Administration intelligence official told me, was for the agency “to take the first number out to two, three, or more levels of separation, and see if one of them comes back” — if, say, someone down the chain was also calling the original, suspect number. As the chain grew longer, more and more Americans inevitably were drawn in.

Drum simply comments "Hersh's source says that this eavesdropping is a 'violation of the spirit of the law.' But if the program works the way Hersh says it does, it doesn't violate the "spirit" of anything. It just flatly violates the law" and of course he is right.

My thought is that the statistical analysis is not only illegal but also almost certainly ineffective. It makes sense to "chain" calls to someone the NSA has good reason to suspect is an NSA operative. The FISA court would almost certainly approve such analysis (remember the FISA court had never ever denied a requested warrant when the program began).

It makes much less sense to "chain" calls to a region in Pakistan or to numbers suspected of being related to al Qaeda with very little evidence. The initial guess is feeble. The analysis is based on that guess. The data available to the NSA can't help them if their guess is wrong. Consider the region in Pakistan. First it is possible that al Qaeda operatives in the USA avoid calling Pakistan, since the NSA strategy is obvious (and they surely have what turns to be a not so paranoid distrust of US privacy protections). They might call, say Hamburg instead. Second, they might use one phone for calls up the hierarchy and one for calls down the hierarchy making chaining useless.

Third, the main point is that many people in the USA call that region in Pakistan for perfectly innocent reasons. They might be immigrants or temporary migrants from that region, they might be US born calling a US expat (betcha the NSA did a good bit of spying on private calls of CIA agents) they might be someone in the USA who met a Pakistani at college or something. The initial evidence of Al Qaeda affiliation is clearly very week. A pattern of calls found by chaining makes it no stronger. Say there are a group of people in the USA who call each other and the region in Pakistan. The innocent explanations all still apply. You have something which al Qaeda operatives might or might not do which many other people definitely do. No huge data set nor powerful computer can get around that problem.

Now consider individual suspect phone numbers. You can find a group of people who call each other some of whom are al Qaeda suspects. The pattern of a group of people who call each other so the chains of calls instersect is perfectly normal. Members of the same terrorist organisation might or might not do that, but groups of friends and acquaintances certainly do that. The analysis has not added discriminating capacity to the original guess.

I think the only way to find an al Qaeda specific pattern is with a lot of data on al Qaeda operatives. They might be careless and call according to simple rules. With data on thousands of al Qaeda operatives in the USA it might be possible to learn those rules. This clealy has nothing to do with the real world. However, it has a lot to do with the unfortunate analogy in Drum's next post

Take a different, but equally incendiary example. Suppose that we could semi-reliably create a statistical portrait of child molesters: their age, geographical location, gender, and calling and buying patterns. Suppose they tend to rent certain kinds of videos, make phone calls to certain kinds of chat lines, and call up other known child molesters.

Needless to say, the FBI could track these patterns using the same methods as the NSA and then exploit the results to create lists of "possible child molesters." And it might work. But would we be OK with the FBI tapping someone's phone just because they fit a statistical profile? Or staking out their house? Or investigating their friends?

He asks if we would find such a use of statistics acceptable (I say yes except for using race, ethnicity, religion etc as variables). However the analogy is totally faulty. Sad to say, we have a huge known sample of child molesters. With that sample, we can find patterns (one commenter claims that child molesters are more likely than non molesters to be Star Trek fans). We do not have a huge sample of al Qaeda sleepers in the USA. In fact, I'm not sure any have been identified. We can't use any available data set to estimate typical behavior of al Qaeda operatives in the USA. The NSA can make wild guesses based on other data (like they call a region in Pakistan) but it can't evaluate those guesses and improve on them.

To me this point is blindingly obvious but no one seems to mention it. Aside from whether we want to pry with statistics, statistical analysis is useless without data on the phenomenon of interest.
Sebastian Mallaby wrote an excellent column, but I have two objections. Mallaby makes his point concisely
"By their serial dishonesty, Republicans have created a market for "An Inconvenient Truth" -- the title of Gore's movie." He also says the movie (which I haven't seen) is very boring.

I object to two claims in the last paragraph

Six years ago, Bush narrowly defeated Gore, apparently because voters thought he'd be a nicer guy to have a beer with. But after years of governmental bungling, of willful indifference to truth, the national mood seems to be changing. Voters have seen that nice guys can screw up. And technocrats with diagrams and charts have never seemed so interesting.

Nice guys can screw up, but George Bush is not a nice guy, although he may be a pleasant fellow. Niceness isn't just smiles and jokes. It also implies genuine kindness and decency underneath. Bush has the intellect of Reagan and the decency of Nixon.

Also, of course, he didn't win the election, or at least he didn't win it by convincing Americans who are not supreme court justices. I don't want to go back to that, but Mallaby should have added "in the electoral college" after "defeated Gore." Gore won the popular vote. This is an uncontested fact (a kind of fact which as Mallaby notes has gotten rare lately). That's all in the past and isn't worth much more than 2 words of 70, but, come on Sebastian, two words for 500,000 votes is stingy enough.

Mallaby doesn't say anything about Mallaby, but Margaret Carlson seems to be offering to drink a beer with Gore as penance. She also has the right word "likeable" not "nice." The dread thing which reminds me I better not even try to give advice to politicians (not that any are reading this blog) is that I would much rather have a beer with someone like Gore than with someone like Bush totally aside from the horrors of Bush the politician. I'd rather talk about global warming than whatever Bush chats about, and, I swear, I am lazier than George W Bush.

Bit embarassed about forgetting the word likeable. Over here we say "simpatico" and I have lost touch with my native language (although does anyone anywhere know how to say "outsourcing" in Italian Giovanni Vecchi says "apalto" which is, I'm afraid, correct but sounds like public contracting (as in is the word which comes before bribe in the Italian political dictionary). Of course, all Italians say "outsourcing." Come on NSA guys give me a hand here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The post below is a bit brief. I would like to explain why I am so thrilled that Clement Mastella is minister of Justice.

First the phrase "Francesco Tiratore" is a brilliant pun which I am still kicking myself for not inventing. It refers to 3 senators who voted for "Francesco Marini" for president of the Senate, thus showing their votes were definitely needed for "Franco Marini" to be elected President of the Senate. A franco tiratore is a sniper, but the word is used for members of parliament who vote against their nominal allies with a secret ballot.

Oddly 3 is the number of senators of the UDEur, one of the fragments of the Christian Democratic party. One of those Senators, not to mention the head of the party, is the Clement Mastella. I'm afraid I will be writing about those three often and I'm afraid that I will call them the holy trinity.

They are, as demonstrated by the votes for Francesco Marini, necessary to the center left's majority in the Senate. After the election, Mastella demanded a ministry. He was outraged that his allies told him that, given the majority of 2 in the Senate (3 counting an independent) working in a ministry was inconsistent with being a senator. He actually complained that no one told him that before the election.

I am now more confident than before that the three Franceschi tiratori are the three UDEur Senators. There was an argument that the Center left could not make Mastella a Minister, because then he wouldn't be present in the Senate often enough and they would lose one critical vote. Somehow his allies were convinced that it was better to give him a ministry and lose one vote than to not give him a ministry and lose three. hmmm.

The ministry is interesting as the minister of justice has a unique position under the Italian constitution. All other ministers are expected to be collegial. The Minister of Justice, serving the cause of Truth and Justice, is not expected to follow the government line. On the other hand, the justice minister has little actual power because prosecutors, like judges, are magistrates independent from the executive. The odd role of the minister of justice can, perhaps, be understood by considering the first minister of justice of the Italian Republic, Palmiro Togliatti (who learned about due process in Moscow). He was part of a very very broad coalition which wrote the constitution and formed the first Republican government. Thus a role for him where he does not have to agree with non Communists but has little actual power. Thus also the tendency for the Italian Constitution to argue with itself (it tends to lose those arguments).

It is appropriate that Clement Mastella is presented as fitting into this coalition like the Communists fit into the post War coalition. Unfortunately the main role of the justice minister in practice has been to harass magistrates who are trying to prosecute politicians and advise the parliament on how to change the law in order to stop them (the justice minister in the first Prodi government refused to do this and was thus considered a colossal failure).

Mastella is ideally suited to the job of protecting slimeballs from justice. I consider his nomination to be a sign that the center left is seaking a justice truce with the opposition. Another hint might be the proposal to reject the first letter of resignation from Cesare Previti who will not be able to legislate full time, since he is under house arrest for bribing judges. The letter hasn't arrived as Previti refuses to resign, so counting on him to insist and send two resignation letters is ... like hoping that Mastella is now satisfied and will behave like a loyal ally.

Still could be worse. In Iraq political debates involve real Franchi Tiratori.
Joke's on me. Clement Mastella detto Francesco Tiratore is minister of Justice.

Could have been worse. I'm not sure how, but it could have been worse.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

David Ignatius attempts to argue that the NSA monitoring of all US calls is useful.

To do so he attempts to escape into a fantasy world. The absurdity of his argument is made clear from the 4th word in his column "hypothetical". It is possible to imagine a world in which the program were useful as it is possible to imagine a world in which pigs fly. In this world, it is clear that Ignatius's argument is nonsensical.

Let's take a hypothetical problem: An al-Qaeda operative decides to switch cellphones to prevent the National Security Agency from monitoring his calls. How does the NSA identify his new cellphone number? How does it winnow down a haystack with several hundred million pieces of straw so that it can find the deadly needle?

The problem may seem hopelessly complex, but if you use common sense, you can see how the NSA has tried to solve it. Suppose you lost your own cellphone and bought a new one, and people really needed to find out that new number. If they could search all calling records, they would soon find a number with the same pattern of traffic as your old one -- calls to your spouse, your kids, your office, your golf buddies. They wouldn't have to listen to the calls themselves to know it was your phone. Simple pattern analysis would be adequate -- so long as they had access to all the records.

This is almost too obvious to need arguing. I only do so because Kevin Drum seems to be semi convinced by Ignatius. The hypothetical example assumes something we know not to be the case and is irrelevant to the real world. It assumes that there, on September 11, there was a known al Qaeda operative in the USA and that the problem was to find out which cell phone he was using. We know there was no such operative. He would undoubtably have been arrested if his location was known. If it wasn't his photo would be in every post office in the country. Sometimes known criminals are allowed to remain free in an effort to catch conspirators. 9/12/01 was not one of those times.

Any effort to argue that the program is useful requires the definitely false assumption that al Qaeda operative calling patterns are known. They can only be learned by observing the calling behavior of known al Qaeda operatives. It is obvious that there were no known al Qaeda sleepers in the USA when the program began. It is almost as clear that none have been found since then, because the event would have been trumpeted for political reasons. Thus the hypotheical example of how the program might be useful is clearly irrelevant to the real world. The worlds largest data base and the worlds most powerful computers can not identify a pattern typical of something without examples of that thing. This is obvious.

Uh oh I am having trouble respecting fair use limits. I only want to highlight the clearly absurd passages in the column but I find myself quoting the whole thing.

This, in simple terms, is what I suspect the NSA has done in tracking potential sleeper cells in the United States. The agency can sift through the haystack, if (and probably only if) it can search all the phone and e-mail records for links to numbers on a terrorist watch list. The computers do the work: They can examine hundreds of millions of calls to find the few red-hot links --

Here he claims that having all phone and e-mail records, the NSA can "sift" through them. The hypothetical example of how it could sift is clearly purely hypothetical as it is based on a counterfactual premise. Yet Ignatius asserts definitely that the NSA can sift through phone records not that, for all we know, they might have the necessary sample of al Qaeda operatives but that they can. Having a lot of something does not imply the ability to sift it. You need a sifter to do that. The computers can do a lot of work, but if there is no data on typical al Qaeda operatives, their output is only as good as the human guess as to what al Qaeda operatives do. The assertion that computers have magical powers and can tell which links are red hot is techno mysticism. If you can't tell a plausible story about how to find the al Qaeda operative in a sample of three people using pen and paper, you can't convince me that a computer can find the al Qaeda operative out of 280 million people. Computers can solve problems which require too many calculations for a person. Computers can not solve problems which aren't scaled up versions of problems which we can solve.
The proof that the explanation of what is really happening is hypothetical is that Ignatius assumes the existence of a valid "terrorist watch list". I ask how was that obtained ?

Ignatius does not even attempt to defend his really crucial claim "(and probably only if)." The claim is simply stated. Since Ignatius feels free to assert that his conclusion (the NSA can sift) is true, his use of the word probably can probably be interpreted to mean "certainly not". To justify the program it is necessary to assert that the NSA needs all phone and e-mail records to "search all the phone and e-mail records for links to numbers on a terrorist watch list." Clearly Ignatius knows perfectly well that this is nonsense. If there is a terrorist watch list, the NSA would need the records of calls to and from numbers on that list. The idea that it would need to have all records on in ft Meade in order to find calls too and from those numbers is totally absurd.

That hack (sorry I can't name him, since I don't have the DC phone book with so I can't search for people named David Ignatius so I don't have the name) must know that if you want records of the calling activity of a number on a hot list you do not need to take records of calls too and from all numbers to then search for calls to and from that number. That's crazy. Ignatius is trying to convince us that the NSA but not the phone companies can generate a reverse phone bill with calls to a number (notice I live in Italy and can conceive of the idea of local calls appearing on a phone bill).

If there is an arguably valid "terrorist watch list" the NSA could easily obtain all calls to and from numbers on that list with a FISA warrent. Recall that by )/11/01 the FISA court had never ever denied a requested warrent.

Ignatius tries another example (which he got straight from Gen Hayden)

To explain the basic concept of pattern analysis, Hayden has told audiences that if you could monitor, say, the timing and pattern of calls on Super Bowl Sunday, you would know which teams were playing, how the game progressed and perhaps even who won
. OK see we have a sample of super bowls. The NSA has a large sample of calls made during super bowls involving a known team and victor. The super bowl is about the most public thing in the USA. Al Qaeda sleeper cells are quite different. The example illustrates again that with tons of data including zero data on the group of interest you have, in effect, zero data.

It is amazing really that people argue about the NSA program given that it is impossible to present a plausible hypothetical example in which the program could be useful and legal means would not work just as well. This is not at all a usual phenonmenon in policy debates. The illegal NSA program might be the most obviously worthless waste of public money on record.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Marshall Metaphor Watch

"If it's true, it puts us a big notch further down the creeping police state road. And we already passed the toll booth a while ago."

Some of Josh Marshall's metaphors have been excellent. I think, after this, they are on average about average. I understand that the creeping police state is Orwellian but remember what Orwell wrote and please please do not use a metaphor without calling an image to mind
Magari Fosse lo Stesso Partito da sempre

If only it were the same Republican party it always was

Digby starts an excellent post in an absurd way

Same As It Ever Was

by digby

[snip] Rick Perlstein has given me permission to publish an excerpt from his forthcoming book "Nixonland".

The trust in President Nixon might have been shaken somewhat on Day 101, when the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee repeated something he first said in October of 1966: time to declare victory and go home.

I knew Aiken was a Republican Senator (one of my memories of childhood was hearing that a Republican senator said we sould "declare victory and go home" again and again and again). I didn't know he was the ranking member of the foreign affairs committee. Ahhh those were the days the jingle jingle jingle of the ice cream man's truck and Republican ranking members and even rational intelligent honorable Republican ranking members.

Aiken was extraordinary even in his own time, but think has any organisation sunk so far as the party of Lincoln and Bush ? And don't make me try to imagine who they will nominate in 2140.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Monitoring the Bush Administrations use of "Monitoring"

The Bush administration's utter contempt for the truth is revealed when they lie when a technically true statement would have served their purposes almost as well. For example, White House spokesman Trent Duffy lied about NSA domestic spying "This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner,".

In fact, the NSA was monitoring all telephone calls. They were not intercepting all calls, since, for most calls the monitoring consisted only of recording the number called and the duration of the call. Thus Duffy (and many more prominent others) lied when a careful choice of words would have created the same false impression without a lie.

In particular "monitor" sounds less threatening than "intercept" or "eavesdrop" so they denied monitoring, which was taking place. This shows that they haven't noticed that the intelligence community is leaking like a sieve. It also shows an extreme short term bias. Finally it shows complete contempt for the true, but we knew that.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

What Is To Be Done

by the Democratic Majority in the House of Representatives if one is elected November ?

The quote should make it clear that I am advocating class war. Some smart people and some dumb people (listed below) discuss how the Republicans will welcome a target, since all they are able to do is attack and how Democrats will have to be careful to choose which crimes and misdeeds to investigate first and to keep their individual egos in check. All true.

I think I have something to say about another issue. It is alleged that it is useful to be in opposition, because the opposition doesn't have to actually design policies that work. Policies that sound good but are voted down by the majority are fine. Also the opposition doesn't have to count noses. They lose in any case so they don't have to compromise with members of the delegation who are beholden to special interests (that means you Sen Carper).

All true. On the other hand, they don't get to schedule hearings and no one pays attemtion to bills that don't get into committee let alone out of committee. If the Democrats control the house, they should be able to pass bills that will be excellent policy, wildly popular and blocked by Republicans in the Senate or vetoed by Bush. The Republican priorities are so awful that it is easy to find excellent popular reforms which they will not accept. The reforms are likely to be so popular that bought Democrats will be afraid to vote against the caucus. The only risk (near certainty) is that the party leadership will not promote such reforms because donors or inside the beltway pundits disapprove.

What is to be done ?

1. Class War. As a policy matter it is urgently necessary to make the tax code more progressive. This policy is wildly popular. Evidence from past tax reforms shows that it is easy to cut taxes of 95% of Americans, reduce the deficit and improve the economy. This is a no brainer. Why am I sure the Democrats won't use the issue to crush the Republicans.

2. Medicare Plan D. It is obvious that paying private insurance companies more per patient than Medicare costs to convince them to compete with Medicare is insane. The Republicans can't stand a debate on this issue. Also, of course, it is insane to forbid the medicare administration from bargaining with drug companies. Again no way the Republicans can stand debate on this issue and no way they can keep the debate out of the press if the Democrats control a house of congress.

3. Immigration. The Republicans are tearing each other to pieces on this issue. The Democrats are divided too, but not too divided to keep the debate going and mainly watch the Republicans denounce each other.

4. Port Security and Chemical Plant security. Wide open waiting for an attack.

5. The Bridge to Nowhere. Republican pork is not the main cause of the deficit, but it can be a bridge to the Whitehouse.

6. Oversight and investigations. Not the only thing the House is for but very nice, very exiting. Maybe a bit too exiting as argued at length by 2 smart people and some others below.

Digby, Ad Nags and Billmon discuss the possible disadvantages of a Democratic Victory in the House. Billmon's point is that "having control of all three branches -- with a opposition party that's virtually invisible -- has clearly caused a major malfunction in the Rovian attack machine. Right now it's spinning around like a heat-seeking weapons system without anything to lock on to." An excellent point as always.

He also recalls the Iran Contra hearings, which remind me of Michael Kinsley's prescient column written when the scandal broke in which he asked a series of questions that last of which was something like "but the biggest most puzzling question is 'how are the Democrats going to manage to blow this one'." Somehow they managed and Billmon is clearly both right to be concerned and able to think of a relevant analogy.

In contrast the crook and the killer quoted by Nagourney warn the Democrats not to make the same mistakes the Republicans made by shutting down the government and impeaching an extremely popular president. As Digby pithily puts it "Lord knows the Republicans have suffered in the wilderness ever since then."

Depithing Digby, I note that, while the Republicans hurt the country and damaged their reputation with pundits and reporters (who couldn't help feeling a bit guilty about participating in the insane idiocy) they also went on to almost win a Presidential election against a serving Vice President during an almost unprecedented boom (and with a depraved idiot for a candidate too). Only a fool (or a Republican) would argue that it would be a bad idea for the Democrats to aggressively investigate the Bush administration if and when they get the power of the suppoena.

However, it is certainly true that the docket will be crowded. I agree with everyone that it would be better if the Democrats focused (also I wouldn't mind if chickens had lips). The press and public can't handle more than 2 or 3 scandals at a time and the press will only go into feeding frenzy if they have one main juicy scandal to sink their teeth into. Clearly various chairpeople of various committees will insist that the scandal under their jurisdiction is the key scandal. Thus they will fight each other for attention and, quite likely, begin repeating Republican talking points about each other. Their behavior will be probably be less pathetically attention seeking if said chairmen are all representatives. As Billmon puts it "Grabbing the Senate would help, although the advantages -- in terms of having a more high-profile platform for investigations -- are offset by the increased attention it would bring to Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden and (if he survives his primary) Joe Leiberman. To my way of thinking, any day those three aren't on television is a good day for the progressive movement -- and we don't have enough good days as it is."

Man, just cutting and pasting Digby and Billmon makes me feel smart. Ah yes, avoiding narcissism will be a problem, but I'm sure we can handle it.

But I mean really with so much appalling misconduct to investigate and with a public already convinced and eager for proof, even the Democrats are going to have trouble blowing these ones.
Hshorter Hsu

Bush's plan to put the National Guard on the border is just political theater.

His aim is to play dress up soldier again. We can be sure he won't be AWOL from this national guard mission.
Seriously though. This article shows that The Group is not going to give up without a fight. In fact, I would say that the CIA smells blood and is going in for the kill. An alarming thought but so long as they stick to leaking the truth it's fine by me.
One Fault the Blogosphere lacks (to be found here)
is an obsession with dumb puns.

For example, no one seems to have decided to refer to the paranoid political purge of the CIA as the New McCarthyism, nor to the targets of that purge, the "camp of CIA officers who felt that the Bush administration's venture into Iraq had dangerously diverted U.S. counterterrorism policy" as The Group. Finally no one describes that venture into Iraq as the most insane foreign adventure since the Children's Crusade.

Altogether an impressive demonstration that everyone else is more mature than I am.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Jonathan Chait wrote of the left blogosphere

But it’s not true if you take account of their political style, which is distinctly New Left. It’s a paranoid, Manichean worldview brimming with humorless rage.

Henry gives advice "Peer not too long into the abyss of the blogosphere lest it peer back into thee."

I decided to check on the humorless thing. Hmm must not have meant Atrios (you know the Pony for Holden guy) so how about Kos. This is featured.

randyhauser's diary :: ::

So the NSA is endeavoring to compile a database of all the phonecalls made by every American over the past couple of years. This is part of the NSA's continuing program to give the Bush Administration much more information that it may ignore.

While many people are getting bogged down in "legalites" and fears of "dictatorship" I prefer to look at how it may benefit me.

You see I lost the software that hooks my palm pilot to my PC and though I was able to recreate most of the contact list there was this extremely cute woman whose number I lost. [snip]

So what Im wondering is if I need to file an FOI request to get her number or if I can just make a simple request to the NSA.

Of course, I have no idea how to find the NSA ...

I've thought of doing something like calling a friend and saying something along the lines of "Al Queda, Al Queda, attention NSA can you guys please EMail me the number of Jackie Franco-Silva, I called her in December of '02" but that may get me different results than I had wished for.

Nuff said.
More Rock than Ore in the Data Mine

Now that we know exactly how much data the NSA is mining (the largest data set ever assembled) I, for one, want to know what the hell they think they can do with that data. They have huge computers (including ones that actually work because they weren't bought from MZM) and sophisticated algorithms but you can't get blood out of a stone.
They have buzz words "data mining", "link analysis", "pattern analysis" but no hint that they have an algorithm that would actually work but must be kept secret.

People are intimidated by huge data sets, complicated algorithms and powerful computers but there is one basic basic fact in mathematical statistics. You can't determine which patterns are associated with terrorist activity unless you have a large sample of terrorist activity.

Having a huge pile of data to mine does not make it possible to determine the association between patterns and the event of interest if you have only a tiny sample of the event of interest. If the NSA had data on the calling patterns of tens of millions of Al Qaeda operatives, a big computer could be decisive in the war on terror. Mere thousands or even hundreds of known Al Qaeda sleepers might imply a large enough sample with some variance in the dependent variable. In the real world the NSA is comparing the phoning behavior of people who are not known terrorists to the phoning behavior of other people who are not known terrorists.

They may have guessed about what terrorists do with phones, then searched the huge data set for the thousand phones that do the most of that. The FBI reports that this approach seems to be batting 0. Between the guess and the list of the 1000 most Jihadi Pizza huts in the USA there is a lot of computing but computing can not make a bad initial guess better unless the computer has data on the outcome of interest.

Now "link analysis" seems to include building a net out from the few captured Al Qaeda terrorists who have any e-mail or phone contact with the USA. This might be a reasonable thing to do, but there is no reason that the FISA wouldn't authorise it. The FISA court had never denied a warrent when the data mining started. Why would they have banned link tracing starting with someone for whom there legally obtained evidence that gave probably cause to believe that he or she was a member of al Qaeda ?

I think that the illegal program wouldn't pass the FISA court, because, once it is explained, it wouldn't pass the laugh test.
Hell Freazes Over

A plurality of Americans finally recognise that William J Clinton is relatively honest compared to George W Bush.

When asked which man was more honest as president, poll respondents were more evenly divided, with the numbers -- 46 percent Clinton to 41 percent Bush

Of course it's true, obvious and overwhelimingly supported by massive evidence, but I thought they would never notice.

So what's next ? George W. Bush uglier than Richard M. Nixon ? Dumber than Warren G Harding ? Less charismatic than Millard [you don't expect me to know his middle initial do you ?] Filmore ?

update: Larry Johnson already suggests that he is almost as bad a boss for a spy as Joseph Stalin. Mr Johnson will be blogging from Siberia as expiation for his violation of Goodwinsky's law.
Curveball Extra Innings

I was thinking about pre Iraq war intelligence and, in particular, about curveball and the mobile biological weapons laboratories. Much has been written about how Mr Ball was not a credible source and how warnings to that effect were ignored. There is another aspect of the whole idiocy. Even if the alleged mobile Anthrax fermentors had actually existed, they would not have been biological weapons laboratories.

Consider my Mom (just google this anonymised non identifier 301-946-6253) and what she did in the war on terror. Back when there was this envelope with weaponised Anthrax in it sent to Tom Daschle people actually died. They didn't work in the Senate they worked at the post office (the DC mail sorting facility I think). That put my mom, the infectious disease coordinator of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services (not to be confused as it always is with the large office of Federal Department of Health and Human services in Montgomery County) one narrow district line away from the front lines of the war on Terror. My mom spent days working non stop distributing antibiotics to Montgomery county postal workers. She did not go postal, although she was a bit peaved about how the people who had laid off almost all of her MD colleagues insisted that an MD be present to count up to two pills or whatever she was doing.

Anyway, the point is that the weaponised Anthrax was ground into a very fine powder which could leak out of a sealed envelope. At the time it was explained that this meant that the bioterrorists had access to sophisiticated weaponised anthrax, because it is not easy to grind a mass of Anthrax spores into a very fine powder without killing them. Turns out the Anthrax definitely came from the USA (I thought Saddam had dodged the bullet silly me). Very fine is a relative term. I'm pretty sure that each grain of the very fine powder contains thousands or perhaps millions of spores.

So it is universally agreed that the hard part about making weaponised Anthrax is not getting some anthrax (fairly easy to find as it caused death and suffering for millions of years before people thought of using it as a weapon) nor growing it (easy) nor drying it out without killing it (very easy it "sporulates" that is goes into hybernation as a very tough dried out anthrax bacterium which is the reason it can be used as a weapon). The hard part is grinding the dried out stuck together Anthrax spores into a very fine powder without killing them (or yourself).

Thus the key point in bioweapons production is not the fermentor (which is so small cheap and simple that you can put one on a truck) but the mill. Basically even if Iraqis had been driving around growing Anthrax, the resulting stuff would not be useful as a weapon unless they had some very sophisticated grinding equipment somewhere else. Curve ball's story was not just false, it was also irrelevant.

I think that anyone who really knows much of anything about biological weapons would have to know that. The Bush administration line was not just wrong it was clearly silly.

Now why didn't I think of that before the war ?
Good Point Ed II or The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of American Capitalism

Brad DeLong links to Mark Thoma who Links to Ed Glaeser and Bryce Ward

"Blue State culture reflects primarily the legacy of different ethnicities working together at high densities: the most important historical explanatory variables are the share of the labor force in manufacturing in 1920 and the share of the population that was foreign born in 1920 strongly predict liberal beliefs and voting for John Kerry. ..."

The idea is that all those immigrants made xenophobia and religious intollerance very costly. People in Blue states learned to live and work with people of different nationality and religious denomination. I haven't read the paper and don't think it is really possible to statistically distinguish the variables stressed by Glaeser and Ward from religiousity and the legacy of slavery.

Still I have one other way of looking at the data -- Religiousity vs Religious uniformity. It is possible that people were just as devout in Blue states as in Red states, but they are devout in many different ways. I think it is possible that support for separation of church and state, religious toleration, and toleration generally in blue states is due to sectarian diversity. In 1900 Blue states had a large catholic minority and a not totally tiny Jewish minority.

Thus I guess one thing. There is probably a strong negative correlation between state economic growth up until 1973 and the fraction of Protestants in the state making Max Weber turn over in his grave. Don't worry Max, the causation is presumably growth causes Catholic (and numerically insignificant Jewish) immigration.

Another way of putting it is "The Blue states are the Jew states," but I'm not sure that is PC enough for the title (I confess I am not Jewish even though most people assume I am since I am very short and swarthy and have a germanic surname. Actually my ancestors include a long string of evangelical ministers).

This is interesting, since sectarian bigotry is one of the few faults that right wing Christian televangelists do not proudly proclaim. They insist that the have a common cause with conservative Catholics and orthodox Jews. I think they are telling the truth (for once). I think that, in the modern West, both the Catholic Protestant conflict which spilled oceans of blood in the 16th and 17th centuries and the war against the Jews which involved oceans of Xyclon B in the 20th century are well and truly over.

In fact, I agree with the many people whose names and URLs I forget who argue that religious intollerance has returned as a powerful political force in the USA exactly because the religiously intollerant have learned to tollerate each other the better to focus their fire on those who do not follow the faith of their fathers either because they are not religious enough or because they do not accept the shared traditional teachings of the various sects on sex.
Condoleezza Rice Lies; Dog Bites Man

The Bush administration argues that the case of Khaled al-Masri, who seeks an apology and monetary compensation for having been kidnapped by the CIA because they thought he was someone else, should be dismissed out of respect for the state secrets privilege. This is, of course nonsense. They argue that discovery would cause disclosure of classified intelligence sources and methods. If true, dismisal would clearly be the wrong remedy for the problem.

It is also possible for the US to concede that is to choose not to present a defence of its indefensible actions. In this case, al-Masri can tell the judge what he wants and the judge will accept it as fact and decide on appropriate compensation. Since al-Masri was clearly wronged by the US, this would be a fair outcome. There is no legal obligation to defend the indefensible.

I am not a lawyer. I think there is this option because Alan Dershowitz claimed that Clinton could have avoided the very inconvenient discovery of facts allegedly related to (in fact irrelevant to) the case of Jones vs Clinton by conceding. Such a concession is not in any way a concession. He could say that her claims were false but he was too busy to bother with them, as he said in requesting court imposed delay (not dismissal). The cost to Clinton would have been a tiny fraction of his legal bills.

In the case of Al-Masri, the cost would be to make, for once, an honest woman of Rice. She claims she told Angela Merkel that "when and if mistakes are made, we work very hard . . . to rectify them." As it stands, we are using outrageous claims of the priviledge to keep any act committed by CIA agents secret to avoid rectifying a n act which was not just a mistake but also a crime. Why is the US contesting a case in which it is clearly in the wrong ?

Also note that Rice's version of what she said to Merkel is contested by Merkel who claims that Rice admitted that a mistake was, indeed, made. Merkel's version is confirmed by an anonymous source. The fact that Rice chose to lie about what she revealed does not imply that she did in fact reveal the alleged secret which is now publicly known. Thus the any possible minor damage to US interests caused by revelation of the kidnapping has already been added to the huge damage to US interests caused by the kidnapping itself.

The no liability for clandestine operations exception which the Justice
Department is attempting to create would, as noted by Ben Wizner, amount "to giving a broad immunity to the government to shield even the most egregious activities." Howsabout the CIA decides that rest and recreation for CIA agents should be financed by robbing banks? That operation would clearly be covert. It would be neither more nor less criminal than kidnapping an innocent man without any evidence to speak of. Or for a non hypothetical example, how about the Iran-Contra business. That was clearly a covert operation which the executive attempted to keep secret. Should charges against North Poindexter et al have been dismissed to protect the secret ?

The US justice department is, as usual, saying that the US executive should be above the law, since they argue that if someone in the executive decides to call an operation covert then no one can be held liable.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Good Point Ed

Also in Congress, Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts questioned whether intelligence officials are hindering passage of a bill requiring telephone companies to do more to protect their customers' privacy. House Republican leaders canceled a vote last week on the measure, which seeks to prevent the fraudulent acquisition and sale of consumers' phone records.

``I am concerned about reports that some intelligence agency or interest had a hand in the bill's disappearance,'' Markey, senior Democrat on the House Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, said today in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.

Americans might not mind that the NSA is spying on them since over at the NSA they are good people who shop at Glenn Bernie and whose kids play soccer at Laurel (as the head of the NSA cogently argued) but I would expect them to be less sympathetic to the idea of the Bush administration making life easier for identity thiefs who are more or less up to the same game they are.

I'm sure there are identity thiefs who shop at Glenn Bernie too, but I don't want them shopping with my money, because the Bush administration doesn't want any privacy laws which get in their way.
Today I was trying to keep track of Republican Scandals.

I mean corruption scandals. No way I could keep track of the criminal policies which should be more scandalous than corruption. Just stuff that they recognise, in principle, is criminal and done for money not to damage opponents (no Plame) Managed to count them without having to take my shoes off.

1. Trmpac
2. Abramoff
3. DukeStir (Cunningham, Wade, Wilkes, Foggo, Hookergate, Jerry Lewis, ....)
4. Noe (Ohio investing in rare coins when they should have invested in beenie babies)
5. Frist's insider trading.
6. Custer Battles (not performing as well in the war zone as the name suggests)
7. White House chief domestic policy advisor shoplifting.
8. Secretary of HUD announces that contracts only go to Bush non opponents.
9. New Hampshire phone jamming.
10. Miranda (you have the right to remain silent. Anything you e-mail will be used against you on Fox news).

Had to skip little things like torture and not bother with old news like Bush's insider trading and cooked books at Harkin energy and Halliburton. Also Custer Battles refers to all Iraq reconstruction corruption which is destined to be the mother of all scandals.

Ooops forgot about that one. Ireally honestly forgot. It slipped my mind being such a little thing as a governor pardoning everyone who might or might not have broken a law for him. Sigh (unlaces shoes).

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Poking around in the Ash Heap of History

Remember the wobblies the IWW ? You know Joe Hill and Big Bill whatsisname the blood red American Anarco Syndicalist left ? Didn't think so. That's one movement on the Ash heap of History ... that is on the web. Let me check here.
That's one big ash heap no ?

Holy Jeebus they have a Salt Lake City branch ?!? And some workers actually recognised them as their sole bargaining agent ????? That's some serious shattuck.

OK how about the Communist Party of the United States of America ? Yep. And the commies are using power point "Here is a PowerPoint slideshow to accompany the article, Change Congress 2006! by Joelle Fishman" talk about contradictions. Actually reminds me of the time that Lev Bronstein visited Lourdes and noted that the loudspeakers showed that the Catholic church was using the true miracles of modern science to advertise their false miracles. Using power point shows that the CPUSA is using the true idiocies of modern capitalism to advertise their ... extremist uhm I mean unreasonable ... uhm oh shit I absolutely agree with everything on this page does that mean I am a commie ?

OK how about social credit ? I don't know what that is either but maybe google does. Holy mother of God there are a whole lot of web pages which include all three of the words "social", "credit" and "Quebec" that's like the Rhode Island Militia or the Salt Lake City chapter of the IWW (see above).

OK how about the
Flat Earth society ?

Damn man that internet has got everything on it. Let's see who has something good to say about Richard Cheney ?
OK about how Dick Cheney is good ? Well at least someone thinks Dick Cheney is honest ? OK OK but someone thinks he is smart ?

Uhm Mr Vice President, your allies are scattered and demoralised. Go to where you belong ...

Yes I know the ash heap of history doesn't have any space for you. I don't know where you belong either, but, hey, I'm an atheist. Why don't you ask Mr Alighieri for directions ?
Gather round younguns and let me tell you about the day I first heard they had invented the world wide web.

I didn't hold with those newfangled computer thingies at the time. In fact, once I planned to be the worlds last computer illiterate ahh the best laid plans of mice and me etc. I read in Science or Nature or one of them mags that scientists at CERN had developed a protocol for sending images over the bitnet (later renamed the internet) and that, while it had long been possible to send text, the need to send photos of particle tracks in bubble chambers had led someone at CERN to develope a program or protocol or pro something or other to send photos. Oh and also films and audio.

"Gotta lot o time on their hands have they ?" I thunk to myself. I figured they had a legitimate excuse but that this new pictures by wire business wus gonna be a huge humungous and very very large waste of time.

People who know me know that I generally try to avoid making predictions. I will now explain why. That prediction was so awesomely prophetic, unbelievable brilliant and even accurate that I recognise that I can never ever surpass it.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

David Frum makes a thing or two clear.

In a review of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, by New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon and retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor he writes

"Their story bears hard on Rumsfeld. But it daringly points a finger at a normally blame-proof figure: the general who actually planned and led the Iraq campaign: General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command during both the Afghan and Iraq wars."

What did Franks do wrong according to Frum. Frum notes he didn't plan an occupation, however Frum also makes it clear why he didn't -- the plan was to hand the keys over to Chalabi

"Rumsfeld's civilian deputies, Paul Wolfowitz and Doug Feith, welcomed this responsibility as an opportunity to put Iraqis in charge of their country's reconstruction. But there was only one organized group of Iraqis able to serve as a transitional, provisional government: Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress (INC)."

That's pretty clear.

Even more amazing than his (partial) defence of Rumsfeld is Frum's defence of Chalabi. He concedes that it was not Franks' idea to rely on Chalabi. He blames Franks because he "fully shared the fierce, almost unreasoning, hatred for the INC that pervaded the State Department and CIA" and, therefore, although, "Franks intended to hand over responsibility to a new Iraqi government ...,he himself had guaranteed that no such government was waiting to go."

Now I don't think that the duration of the planned occupation was Franks' call, that would be a bit hard to reconcile with civilian control of the military. Thus Frum's claim basically is that it all went wrong, because Franks did not give Chalabi the support he needed to make it work out fine. I see no other possible reading of his article.

Now Chalabi is even less popular in Iraq than Bush is in the USA. His party recently won 1 % of the vote and 0 seats in parliament. The idea that he could have saved a democratic crusade in a country that hates him is absurd. Given Chalabi's crimes, his lies, his corruption, his counterfeiting and his ties to Ira, the fact that Frum considers insufficient faith in Chalabi to have been the key flaw in Bush administration Iraq policy, makes it clear that Frum is insane.
OK took me 5 minutes to find Black claiming to be a moderate. A 60's fanatic would never do that. The search was for "lefist" on atrios which Chait should have done before calling Atrios a leftist. I had no luck with Kos. Searching I have not gotten to a post by Kos on the daily Kos not one. It is clear that many Kos contributors argue, a la Chait, that Democrats have to embrace moderates to win. Their hatred of
Joe Lieberman is partly due to the fact that, while they accept centrists from red states they won't settle for Conneticut and mostly because he lacks loyalty to the party. This concept would be totally alien to a 60s fanatic (at least if the party was the Democratic party).

(damn took five minutes) Atrios claims to be an angry moderate. The fanatics who tore the party apart
in the 60s and 70s would never ever ever have called themselves moderates. This is so long ago, that
barely bothers with himself but argues convincingly that the facts show that was not originally
leftist (this was 2003 maybe they are lefties now I haven't checked and make no claim) and that
media whores online is not leftist being rather Clintonite.

I´always a bit amused when people accuse sites like Media Whores Online , or Move On, or this one as being "leftist." MWO have always been unabashed Clinton Democrats. Move On began to support a censure resolution to get the country past impeachment, hardly the agenda of radical leftists.

Clinton Democrats are not and have never been "leftists," unless you´ve redefined leftist, as Howie "I am not a whore shut up Shut Up SHUT UP SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP" Kurtz has, as anything to the left of Jonah Goldberg.

Some of us have decided that when the other side is playing Calvinball, it´s time to stop trying to play by the rules.

(Lambert not Black on eschaton)

I'm a pissed off moderate Democrat who is tired of watching the feudalists and theocrats fight each other for control of the country. But, since the right wing loons have hijacked the media, and all debate is the center vs. the right, and the true "far-left" is utterly ineffective at spreading their message, it's time to for the center to start screaming a little more loudly.

And, I'd also add that I agree - The Nation is a combination of loony left anti-Semitism, fascist pompous drunk bully Chris Hitchens, and all sorts of limo liberalism at its worst. Oh, it does have Eric Alterman, who is the closest thing to a red meat liberal out there.

Note I don't have the link but, before he was Atrios, Duncan Black said he used to like Hitchens
but then strongly disagreed with his attacks from the left on Clinton and argued that Clinton had to govern
as a moderate to survive politically. Further from McGovern you don't get.
(not Kos but prominent on the DailyKos)
Kossaks generally approve of a pro life Democrat
Kos is effusive in praise of Reid. Does he know ?
(not Kos but everyone who reads the dailykos knows)

Come on they like Clark mcgovern's with modems they aint.
armando praising Ben Nelson
armando who is not Kos but is a big man on Koscus explaining why kossaks should be moderate.

This is hopeless I can't even find a Kos post on the daily kos.
Jonathan Chait calls Atrios and Kos left wing loonies

The left-wing blogs have taken after me for this, especially this passage describing the party's left-wing activists: "These are exactly the sorts of fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early '70s. They think in simple slogans and refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent."

Daily Kos has taken particular umbrage....After quoting my column, he proceeds in the next two paragraphs to call my column "obvious crap," "intellectually dishonest," and "bullshit." Oh, and he also calls me a "moron." Atrios, for his part, has taken issue as well. His counterargument, which I hereby quote in its entirety, is this: "Wanker of the Day."

Simple slogans? Refusing to tolerate dissent? Can't imagine where I got that idea.

To paraphrase Kevin Drum If you think that I have no desire to get into the middle of this infantile shouting match, you have not been reading the blog regularly (no surprise almost no one does). I am delighted to agree with Drum that Chait is totally totally wrong, Kos and Atrios are not at all like the " fanatics who tore the party apart in the late 1960s and early '70s." It is in fact so obvious that he is wrong that I think it likely that he did no googling at all to check his claim.

He quotes them and notes support for his claims that they "think" in slogans from the fact that they use slogans and that they "do not tolerate dissent" because they do not respond politely when they are accused of being irrational intollerant fanatics. I would like to dissent from Chait's implicit assertion that totally unfair harsh personal criticism based on false factual premises is exactly identical to dissent, but given his confusion he might sue me for libel (or slander or whichever it is on the web).

Kos and Atrios do indeed use slogans. This suggests that they are the sort of people who understand how politics works (as does their traffic and impact on special elections). They do not think in slogans. It is clear to any regular reader that they mostly think with reasoned argument expressed with words (although I suspect that Atrios, a recovering economist sometimes slips into thinking with numbers and formulae cause it's a hard habit to kick sometimes).

As Chait would have known if he had bothered to check, the brevity, harshness and rudeness of their comments on him is due to the fact that they have read and heard his argument many many times and have attempted to refute his argument with facts and reasoning many times. I think that anyone who has read their long past efforts to refute the argument made by Chait will agree that they have totally utterly refuted it because it is nonsense.

My favorite old proof that Chait is full of it was Kos' response to someone who wrote that James Webb had a shot at the Virginia Senate seat but would have to get past the Kos wing of the party. Kos quoted that claim then noted that he supported Webb. Later Kos wrote a post begging Webb to accept his assistance. I should point out that James Webb called the last class at Annapolis with no women "the last class with balls" and that sexist midshipmen who harass women for both principle and pleasure call themselves Webbites. He aint Jane Fonda, he aint George McGovern he aint even Huber Humphrey. He is a Bush hating Democrat who can win a statewide election in Virginia and for Kos that is plenty.

Kevin Drum , whose patience is infinite, provides a new proof that Chait is wrong.

I want to test Chait's journalistic integrity. Before making his claim about Kos and Atrios he should have checked with google (no google no journalism that's my motto). I can easily find disproofs of Chait's claim e.g. by searching the daily Kos for Webb and wing. That's cheating. I am going to use words which Chait should have used and report back when I have proof.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Antigen Presenting Cells Fc and stuff

And now for something completely different.

I am interested in rational vaccine design. Therefore I am interested in the way in which antigens are dealt with by the immune system. I should warn that I am an economist and therefore don't know what I am talking about. OK my understanding is that what happens in an immune response is first the foreign entity (say a virus) sticks to an antigen presenting cell. It is brought into the cell via the normal process of pinocytosis (in English little bits going into cells) directed to a lysosome then to what is called the proteosome which was described after I dropped out of bio grad school.

Finally small bits of protein from the virus are presented on the surface of the antigen presenting cell either in the cleft of a protein called HLA class II antigen or tucked into another protein called HLA class I antigen. HLA class II is found on antigen presenting cells and antibody producing cells (called B Lymphocytes). HLA class I is found on all cells but red blood cells.

A bit of protein in HLA class II is presented to helper T cells where it is bound by a variable T cell receptor which present it to B cells which produce antibodies which stick to it. Most of us don't produce antibodies which stick to our own cells as the helper T cells with the appropriate T cell receptor have been told to die via a process which no one has managed to explain to me.

A bit of protein in HLA class I is presented to killer T-cells whith the appropriate recepter which are then "activated" and kill any cell with the bit of protein in HLA class I. Presumably the deceased cell had the virus in it.

Anyway it is key to get into an antigen presenting cell. Antigen presenting cells include macrophages which look like amoebas and wander around engulfing and destroying foreign entities when they are not presenting antigens. However most antigen presenting cells are dendritic cells (means they have tentacles) which are found in lymph nodes. They don't wander around they wait for foreign stuff to come to them.

I don't know about dendritic cells, but I know that macrophages have Fc receptors which bind to antibodies. Objects covered with antibodies stick to the Fc receptors of macrophages which then phagocytize (eat into the cell) them. The aim in this case is to kill the foreign entity if it is alive. Phagocytized stuff is directed to Peroxisomes which are bags full of peroxide and the graveyard of many bacteria and, especially, malaria.

Fc is the part of an antibody which is the same in all antibodies. It is important because it binds to Fc receptors, binds to something which prevents antibodies from being digested in the liver and binds complement (which I do not pretend to know what it is but it is important).

It is a fact that, if something is covered with antibodies, the immune system does not make a new reaction to it. antibodies are about the best inhibitor of a new immune response including activating killer T cells and making new types of antibodies.

I have a guess that the issue is that antibodies with Fc receptors direct the foreign entity into the peroxisome and not into the antigen presentation pathway (lysosome and proteasome).

If so it might be possible to make an antigen to which odd antibodies are made by first making normal boring antibodies, then cutting off the Fc part (this is easy) and putting the antigen back in for another go at the antigen presenting business etc etc.

Also I reall think that it should make sense to direct antigens towards the antigen presenting cell with bifunctional Fc less antibodies one half of which sticks to the antigen and one half of which sticks to an antigen presenting cell specific antigen.

That is all.

econgeek has left a new comment on your post "5/06/2006 10:14:00 PM":

You went to bio grad school?!?!? And more importantly, if you did, why on earth did you drop out?

Yes I did and got a masters degree which I have kept off my CV because getting a masters and not a PhD means you are a dropout. Actually doing research in biology requires a huge amount of boring work and the key necessary traits are attention to detail and self discipline. Econgeek is actually a regular reader of this blog and will have noticed my complete lack of interest in spellling, grammer and punctuation these are not important in biology, but negadiscipline makes me suited for almost no jobs at all.
Months after a status review hearing (in which they were not represented by a lawyer) concluded that there was no reason to incarcerate them, five ethnic Uighur Chinese citizens were released from Guantanamo Oh happier day. What is going on ? the multiply convicted Cesare Previti is in prison and the long since absolved Uighars aren't.

I'm sure that it is just a coincidence that a judge was going to examine their case Monday.

All in all a good day for the rule of law, still, as always, the Bush administration avoided judicial review of their actions enabling them to continue their lawlessness without an open constitutional crisis.

Also ethnic Washingtonian Pete Yost calls them ethnic chinese which means Han chinese if it means anything. For Pete's sake I note that they are Uighur separatists and might not like to be called ethic chinese. Still I'm sure they are mainly celebrating their release from the catch 22 penal colony and are prepared to become declare themselves ethnic Albanians.
Juan Cole finds that Ireland on line found something really important in the huge pile of captured Iraqi documents released by the Bush administration.

Saddam Was Trying to Capture Zarqawi

The Bush administration repeatedly made the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab Zarqawi a pretext for invading the country and overthrowing Saddam Hussein. They implied that he was a client of Saddam and that Saddam had arranged for hospital care for him.

Newly released documents from the captured Iraqi archives show that Saddam had put out an APB for Zarqawi and was trying to have him arrested as a danger to the Baath regime!

' However, one of the documents, a letter from an Iraqi intelligence official, dated August 17, 2002, asked agents in the country to be on the lookout for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and another unnamed man whose picture was attached. '

Thus the last alleged operational link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda has been proven to be a fraud. Zarqawi may have spent time in Ba'athist controlled Iraq just as he certainly spent years in US occupied Iraq and now is in US assisted in-transition-to-democracy-or-civil-war-or-both Iraq. They were trying to track him down too.
Cesare Previti is in prison !

Oh happy day.

For US readers this guy is way more corrupt than Abramoff, Wilkes and DeLay put together. The really important thing is that the legal system has survived 5 years of efforts to force it to submit to politics. More laws were changed in the effort to keep Previti out of prison than were changed to keep his friend (and unindicted co-conspirator in another crime) Silvio Berlusconi out of prison.

In fact, under one of those laws, which is in my view perfectly reasonable, his stay in prison will be brief, since he is over 70 and thus will be placed under house arrest.

He fought the law, and the law won. As I always root for the underdog I am

Friday, May 05, 2006

Porter Goss no longer DCI

Oh happy day. Looks like the poor man's prayer was answered (unlike said poor man, I won't guess as to which recipient actually exists and answered it but I suspect He or She was on the BCC list).

No doubt this has nothing to do with the new Watergate Congressmen and Hookers scandal (takes me back to my youth. Anyone remember Fanny Flagg the Argentine Fire Cracker and whoever it was who was chairman of the house appropriations committee [update wikipedia says she was Fanny Foxe])

However, I must note that Mr Goss has shown a certain obsession with sex as when he said Re Valerie Plame Wilson "If somebody sends me a blue dress and some DNA, I will have an investigation."
I'm sure that Ms Wilson, being more up on intelligence than I, understood that what then congressman Goss was saying was "Valerie if you want me to try to find which criminal ruined your career you know what to do, and, by the way, wear a blue dress while you are doing it." Wilson, being a person of some integrity, didn't go along and no investigation followed.
Oh Glenn how do I disagree with you ? Let me count the ways.

The post below was supposed to be about Glenn Reynolds recent idiocy as denounced by Jim Henley.

Of course, if we seized the Saudi and Iranian oil fields and ran the pumps full speed, oil prices would plummet, dictators would be broke, and poor nations would benefit from cheap energy. But we'd be called imperialist oppressors, then.

UPDATE: Various people (with various degrees of enthusiasm) see the above as a call for invasion. It was, rather, a comment on the vacuity of the "imperialist oppressors" language. Though I was probably wrong there anyway: If we really were imperialist oppressors, the critics would be sucking up.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ah, I see that Scott Adams has engaged in a similar thought experiment. His closing line rings true.

But just to troll a bit more, I do think that seizing Saudi and Iranian oil would be entirely morally justifiable on terms usually approved of by the left: They didn't earn it, they inherited it (it's like the Estate Tax writ large!). They're extracting huge profits for fatcats at the expense of the poor. They're racist, sexist, homophobic theocrats! (Literally!) Surely if it's ever permissible to redistibute wealth by force, this is the case. Right?

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias offers a practical objection: That there isn't enough surplus capacity in Saudi Arabia and Iran to make a difference. That's possible, but hardly undercuts the point. He also quotes Tim Lambert, who invokes Iraq -- but Lambert assumes, wrongly as usual, that Iraq was a war for oil. Had we wanted oil, we could have simply ended sanctions against Saddam, who after years of being limited to what he could launder through corrupt UN bureaucrats would have pumped plenty without us having to invade.

But practicalities aside, the point is -- why isn't war for oil not only morally permissible, but morally required, if the forcible redistibution of wealth in other ways (including "windfall profit" taxes -- or Evo Morales' seizure of natural gas wells in Bolivia) is OK?

MORE: Reader Tom O'Brien writes on practicalities:

Running the Saudi fields wide open would not do much for price. They are now being run at close to their maximum sustainable capacity. Running beyond that level for any length of time damages the reserve and curtails production. Can't fight Mother Nature regarding the reserve.

The Saudis don't really like these prices, although they surely enjoy them. They know as well as we do how markets respond to high prices, and the last thing they want is more exploration drilling in other parts of the world, more hybrid cars, more methanol plants, and the great horror of a plug-in hybrid that can run 40 miles on battery alone.

Well, that's about practicalities -- and based on practicality, the Estate Tax is a bust, too! (And the "windfall profits" tax, and, undoubtedly, Morales' nationalization.)

I'm all for the plug-in hybrids, though. As I noted in our podcast yesterday, I could do my commute plus errands without ever firing up the gas engine. Bring it on!

But while you do, ponder the fact that an arrangement that subsidizes fatcat dictators is sanctioned -- and even defended -- by people on the left, while even the idea of doing anything about it is condemned. That's not about practicalities, but philosophies.
posted at 09:35 AM by Glenn Reynolds

Henley writes "There are almost more errors than I can count here," I take that as a challenge and attempt to count them. My honest thought is that this is a complete waste of time (just what I like best) since anyone who can read Reynolds without seeing that he is an idiot is hopeless. It is interesting that he has become so prominent. I think the idiocy and the prominence are both based on supreme free floating arrogance (just what I like second best) which enables him to state opinion as fact, falsehood as fact, whatever he pleases as fact. People who agree with him may find this comforting. I suspect that a large fraction of his readers are people who disagree with him and want to get their blood flowing. Works for me.

OK errors.

1. Pointed out by Yglesias and O'Briend: Saudi and Iranian oil is being pumped at close to full capacity. Thus Reynolds claim is false. Reynolds cheerfully acknowledges this then boldly lies about what he wrote

2. Reynolds claims that his original post was not about "practicalities" but rather "Philosophy". Thus a post which talks about what would happen to oil prices if we "ran the [Saudi and Iranian] pumps full speed" is not a statment about oil, prices or pumps but about ethics. The fact that right and wrong are not mentioned in Reynolds original clearly false claim does not phase him a bit. His line is that a statement about what the price of oil would be is a statement about right and wrong and not about the price of oil because he says so.

3. "the vacuity" a rhetorical error for Reynolds to use this phrase. He's asking for it.

4. "the vacuity of the 'imperialist oppressors' language" is in no way addressed in the original claim. In fact, the action discussed by Reynolds would clearly be imperialist and oppressive being based on conquest and command. He might be in favor of imperialism oppression, but his original post serves only to provide weak evidence that the phrase remains useful as it makes it appear more likely that there is a wannabee imperialist oppressor among us. Since he denies imperialist aims, this is only weak evidence.

5. "I do think that seizing Saudi and Iranian oil would be entirely morally justifiable on terms usually approved of by the left." No one on "the left" is quoted. If by "the left" Reynolds means Lenin, he is clearly right, clearly not trolling and clearly not saying anything that isn't obvious. If he means supporters of the estate tax, he ignores the bloodshed involved. The estate tax, like all acts of the state, is based on the threat of force. However, very few heirs go down fighting it (I'd say so far zero). That something would be nice, does not mean it is worth a war to achieve it. Sure I would like Saudi oil to be managed in the common interest of humanity (and unlike Henley, I would guess that it would work fine so long as getting there didn't involve killing people). However, the means affect the achievement of the end. Reynolds might claim that taxes are like robbery, but he should not assume that everyone else ignores "practicalities" like how many people are actually killed. Nor should he assume that everyone else sees no difference between a law enacted by a democracy and a foreign invasion. Some of us think the democratic process provides some ligitimacy.

Also note that his original sentence said nothing about right and wrong. Being totally wrong about the basic facts which were the subject of his original assertion, he is claiming that he wrote something other than what he clearly wrote.

6. The libertarian's use of "by force" reminds me of 80s pacifists denouncing "war and preparations for war" to assert, rather than argue, that deterence was like mass murder. Taxes are backed by the threat of force. Seizing oil fields would require killing lots of people. "by force" equates the threat of force back in the background and actually shooting people. Most people obey the law because it is the law. Only if forced to look into the matter, they would understand that it is the law, as opposed to a public appeal, because it is enforced, that is people are threatened with force when they break it and force is applied if they resist arrest. Most people most of the time would obey the law even if they could get away with breaking it. That means we are acting freely under the law. The immence difference between different policies both of which work "by force" means that the phrase obscures rather than explains (or rather it attempts to obscure as it probably convinced almost no one with the possible exception of Reynolds himself).

1 & 2 again "Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias offers a practical objection: That there isn't enough surplus capacity in Saudi Arabia and Iran to make a difference. That's possible, but hardly undercuts the point." The original claim was exactly that there is enough surplus capacity in Saudi Arabia and Iran to make a difference. Reynolds claims that he wrote something other than what he plainly wrote. The brazenness is almost psychotic. He could have responded to the criticism by saying he mis wrote and that he meant to argue that "*if* (his false claim) then the stated views of Lenin and therefore "the left" would imply that they are in favor of overthrowing the governments of Saudi Arabia and Iran by force" (as mirable dictu Lenin was). Instead he claims that Yglesias misunderstood, because Yglesias interpreted his plain indicative statement using the standard rules of English instead of predicting the other statement Reynolds made later. Why is it so impossible for Reynolds to admit any mistake. In this case all he needed to do to avoid absurdity is write "what I meant to write was" or "what I should have written was". Why is that so impossible that he makes a claim about what his point was which is obviously false and makes him look like an insane idiot ?

8 "He also quotes Tim Lambert, who invokes Iraq -- but Lambert assumes, wrongly as usual, that Iraq was a war for oil." Lambert argues that we can predict the consequences of possible future seisures or oil fields by observing the consequences of past seisures of oil fields. For Reynolds' reply to make any sense at all, it has to be interpreted as a claim that the consequences of seizing oil fields depend on the motivation of the invaders. Since the US clearly wanted high output from Iraqi oil fields, this is still clearly nonsence. He has to argue that, if the US had invaded Iraq for oil, we would have done something different after the invasion. I haven't read Lambert and don't know if he assumed that Iraq was a war for oil. The motivation of the invasion is irrelevant to his argument, so I don't see why he would make the claim. Reynolds can't possibly believe his argument. He is just trying to change the subject by tyring to open an irrelevant controversy about a marginallly related issue.

9 "Had we wanted oil, we could have simply ended sanctions against Saddam, who after years of being limited to what he could launder through corrupt UN bureaucrats would have pumped plenty without us having to invade." Reynolds is apparantly un-aware that limits on the amount of oil that Iraq could sell were eliminated long before the invasion. The Oil for Food program could affect exports in two ways -- reparations to Kuwait and restrictions on what could be bought with the oil might have lead Saddam Hussein to hold oil off the market. However, Iraq was pumping all it could. The requirement that Iraq showed that some import was food, medicine or necessary to keep the oil flowing may have delayed imports that were indeed useful in keeping the oil flowing. Reynolds seems to imply that oil had to be laundered to be sold (by the way think of trying to launder oil and repeat "never use a metaphor without calling an image to mind"). Again the point seems to be to bring up an unrelated issue.

10. "But practicalities aside, the point is -- why isn't war for oil not only morally permissible, but morally required, if the forcible redistibution of wealth in other ways (including "windfall profit" taxes -- or Evo Morales' seizure of natural gas wells in Bolivia) is OK?" Some leftists are consequentialists (see Yglesias, Matthew or Waldmann, Robert). To us practicalities can not be set aside when deciding what is morally permissible or morally required. In fact it is not necessary to be a consequentialist to see the absurdity of Reynolds' staw man's moral reasoning. Even if consequences aren't everything, they aren't nothing either. In Reynolds straw man reasoning the question of whether the means will achieve the end is completely irrelevant to deciding if the end justifies the means. This is not leftism. It is a parody of a travesty of idiocy.

1&2 again "Well that's about practicalities" as was the original claim.

12 "Well, that's about practicalities -- and based on practicality, the Estate Tax is a bust, too! (And the "windfall profits" tax, and, undoubtedly, Morales' nationalization.)" Notice that Reynolds has no less doubt about the future than about the past. This is because all of his claims are based on faith and not evidence. He doesn't even explain in what way he thinks the estate tax or the "windfall profits" tax were a bust let alone present any evidence. The windfall profits tax is not purely hypothetical. One was imposed on oil companies when the insane restrictions on the price of domestically produced oil were lifted. I don't remember exactly when, but I assume like all authentically pro market policies in the past 38 years it was enacted during the Carter administration (which reminds me Jim why is it that the only politician who seems to have actual respect for free markets is a Democrat ?).

13. "But while you do, ponder the fact that an arrangement that subsidizes fatcat dictators is sanctioned -- and even defended -- by people on the left, while even the idea of doing anything about it is condemned. That's not about practicalities, but philosophies." Note that "anything" means war. Reynolds seems to be incapable of understanding the possibility that someone considers war a rather bad thing and is willing to support something but not war.

I'm sure I missed many gross errors. I think the problem is that Reynolds simply asserts anything which is useful in getting to the conclusion he wants. Also he seems to be an insane idiot.