Saturday, August 19, 2006

Pluto, pluton, plu-gone?

Lots of discussion on the science-blogs about the proposed new definition of a "planet" -- for instance Bad Astronomy and Panda's Thumb. (Even Stephen Colbert got involved.)

By the new definition, Pluto gets to stay a planet, although it's somewhat downgraded to the status of a "pluton" (basically a small planet with a large, highly inclined and elliptical orbit) , but Ceres (now an asteroid), Charon (up to now considered a moon of Pluto) and 2003 UB313 ("Xena") immediately become planets as well, the final two also as plutons. So we'll have 12 planets, with the possibility of many many more (possibly up to 53).

No one asked me, but this seems like a fairly good piece of hair-splitting, and something of a jujitsu move against cultural inertia. It relieves millions of school kids of the immediate anxiety of losing Pluto (although at the cost of having to memorize more planets), while at the same time setting up the possibility at some future time (after new generations of kids have gotten used to the whole "pluton" thing) of splitting off the plutons entirely, which will be much easier to do once all those potential "candidate planets" are admitted to the fold and things get messy and difficult to memorize.

Now, perhaps someone would like to make a similar move to rationalize the definition of "continent" so that Europe loses its continental status, as it should?

Update: Kevin Drum has the latest machinations.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/19/2006 06:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Body parts

Husband, father, stage manager, blogger... and now, a budding video star. Here are two short videos made by my 7 year old son.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/19/2006 01:33:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) It always takes longer

45) Item. One of the most effective forms of industrial or military sabotage limits itself to damage that can never be thoroughly proven - or even proven at all - to be anything deliberate. It is like an invisible political movement; perhaps it isn't there at all. If a bomb is wired to a car's ignition, then obviously there is an enemy; if public building or a political headquarters is blown up, then there is a political enemy. But if an accident, or a series of accidents, occurs, if equipment merely fails to function, if it appears faulty, especially in a slow fashion, over a period of natural time, with numerous small failures and misfirings- then the victim, whether a person or a party or a country, can never marshal itself to defend itself.
Philip K. Dick
A Scanner Darkly (1977)

46) Unfortunate indeed is the man who works for a firm covered by insurance, for even his slightest injury may result in cancer.
R. Crane
"The Relationship of A Single Act of Trauma
to Subsequent Malignancy" (1959)
quoted by Peter W. Huber in
Galeilo's Revenge: Junk Science
in the Courtroom

47) Ah yes, once upon a time there was an age in which people went [to an event] to enjoy themselves, unencumbered by technology, with the memory of the event retained within our own heads. Today we use our artifacts to record the event, and the act of recording them becomes the event. Days later we review the event, peering at the tape, film, or video in order to see what we would have seen had we been looking. We then show the recorded event to others so they too can experience what we would have seen had we been looking. Even if they don't care to experience it, thank you.

The technologies for recording events lead to a curious result. Vicarious experience, I call it. Vicarious experience, even for those who were there. ...

Of course, a vicarious experience is never the same as a real one. We are so busy manipulating, pointing, adjusting, framing, balancing, and preparing that the event disappears. The artifact becomes the event.
Donald A. Norman
Turn Signals Are The Facial
Expressions of Automobiles

48) [Douglas] Hofstadter's Law says: "It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law". ...

Hofstadter's Law (revised):

It always takes longer
It always costs more
It will always be harder
There will always be more
There will always be less
than you expect,
even when you take into account
Hofstadter's Law
Donald A. Norman
Turn Signals Are The Facial
Expressions of Automobiles

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and idea (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 886 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/19/2006 01:17:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, August 18, 2006

Friday Photography: On Alcatraz

click to enlarge

Daryl Samuel (1992)

Location: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco

Previous: Hands With Softball

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/18/2006 12:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) At a distance

41) Data without generalization is just gossip.
Robert M. Pirsig
Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals (1991)

42) I love you all, but at a distance.
Anonymous girl typing on a computer terminal
quoted by Ted Nelson in
Computer Lib (1974, rev. 1987)

43) I think yet again of my father, who struggled to become a painter after he was forced into early and unwelcome retirement by the Great Depression. He has reason to be optimistic about his new career, since the early stages of his pictures, whether still or portraits or landscapes, were full of pow. Mother, meaning to be helpful, would say of each one: "That's really wonderful, Kurt. Now all you have to do is finish it." He would then ruin it. I remember a portrait he did of his only brother, Alex, who was an insurance salesman, which he called "Special Agent". When he roughed it in, his hand and eye conspired with a few bold strokes to capture several important truths about Alex, including a hint of disappointment. Uncle Alex was a proud graduate of Harvard, who would rather have been a scholar of literature than an insurance man.

When Father finished the portrait, made sure every square inch of masonite had its share of paint, Uncle Alex had disappeared entirely. We had a drunk and lustful Queen Victoria instead. This was terrible.
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Fates Worse Than Death (1991)

44) I don't care if I'm remembered or not when I'm dead. (A scientist I knew at General Electric, who was married to a woman named Josephine, said to me, "Why should I buy life insurance? If I die, I won't care what's happening to Jo. I won't care about anything. I'll be dead.")
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Fates Worse Than Death (1991)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and idea (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 887 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/18/2006 12:32:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Golden nuggets

The golden nuggets of knowledge that fall from the mouth of Republicans these days, I mean. One learns so many interesting things following politics, especially when Republicans forget to guard what they say, and their real thoughts slip out. Today I learned that "blacks are not the greatest swimmers or may not even know to swim."

So said Tramm Hudson, the frontrunner in the race for Katherine Harris' seat in the House of Representatives.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/17/2006 10:53:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Anthrax update

Both Tara Smith on Aetiology and the estimable DarkSyde on dKos have posts up about the still unsolved anthrax attacks of 2001.

Smith sums up:
So, what we have is this. Someone who had access to anthrax, and the know-how to grow it up and refine it so that it would be highly deadly, remains at large. The letters were mailed from Trenton, New Jersey, so either that person lives in the country or at least had the ability to enter our borders. And, as far as we can tell, s/he (or, potentially, they) are still out there somewhere. In the meantime, a number of shortsighted approaches to security have been applied, such as this week's limitation on fluids in carry-on. As pointed out by Bruce Schneier,
Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

We need a severe overhaul, and we need to keep the unsolved anthrax attacks in the public eye. Someone out there has the technology to kill us--potentially, lots of us. We don't know when, where, or if he'll strike again, but the answer to the problem certainly isn't to react in a knee-jerk fashion. Instead of throwing a lot of money at problems without any rational underpinning for how it should be spent, we need to improve infrastructure--especially law enforcement and other emergency responders and public health--so that we can respond in a concerted and logical manner to threats like this.

Now that the Jon Benet Ramsay case has apparently been broken, perhaps we might look forward to some advances in the anthrax case? Maybe not -- according to Wikipedia:

As of 2006, the anthrax investigation seems to have gone cold. Authorities have traveled to four different continents, interviewed more than 8,000 individuals and have issued over 5,000 subpoenas. The number of FBI agents assigned to the case is now 21, ten fewer than a year ago. The number of postal inspectors investigating the case is nine.

The FBI and postal inspectors are in the process of preparing an internal report reviewing the history of the investigation. The report will include a list of "persons of interest" and the latest on the scientific tests used on the anthrax material. Investigators still have not determined the lab used to make the anthrax.

I've generally found that when the authorities start to enumerate, they're at a dead end.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/17/2006 06:57:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Another school board failure

Ed Brayton reports:
The school board in Harrison County, West Virginia has decided to fight a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Americans United over a large portrait of Jesus that hangs in the hallway of the high school there. They had vowed not to use public money to fight the suit, but a fund raising campaign raised over $150,000 for a defense fund, prompting the board to vote to fight rather than settle the case...

That a government entity such as a local school board could so badly misunderstand the concept of the separation of church and state so as to believe that there's nothing wrong with putting up a portrait of Jesus in a public high school is appalling. It means that the educational system is doing a terrible job of teaching what our government is, how it works, and the principles upon which it is built (which is likely) or that, once again, ideological preconceptions have overwhelmed everything else, or both.

To a local resident's complaint that the ACLU is trying to take away his freedom, Brayton says:

[T]his has precisely nothing to do with your freedom. Freedom exists at an individual level only. As an individual, you have an unquestioned right to hang a picture of anyone you wish on your own property, and the ACLU will be the first ones to defend that freedom. But this is a government facility, paid for with public tax money. Decisions made there are not a matter of individual rights, but of government authority.


I also think that this is, again, a perfect situation in which to examine the basic hypocrisy of so many anti-separation advocates. Change the situation just slightly: imagine that instead of a picture of Jesus, the school hung a picture of Muhammed. Would [the local resident] still be arguing that their "freedom" was being taken away? Not a chance. Even if the public there supported such a picture completely, do you suppose [a local minister] would be saying that the ACLU has no right to overturn the will of the majority? Of course not. Would anyone claim that hanging such a picture exclusively does not amount to an endorsement of Islam? I can't imagine anyone would.

Is this an endorsement? Of course it is, and anyone who argues otherwise is either lying or delusional.

If the people of Harrison County want large portraits of Jesus to be displayed in their community, there must be property owned by churches, fraternal organizations or private citizens where such portraits could be accomodated without causing any constitutional problem whatsoever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/17/2006 05:28:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Spitzer ad followup

For my first foray into posting a You Tube video, here are the two Spitzer ads I posted about a few days ago:


Ed Fitzgerald | 8/17/2006 04:27:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Genetic destiny?

40) We human beings ... spend most of our time acting out our genetic destiny. The difference between males and females. Males naturally tend toward a broadcast strategy of reproduction. Since males make an almost infinite supply of sperm and it costs them nothing to deploy it ... [t]heir most sensible reproductive strategy is to deposit it in every available female - and to make special efforts to deposit it in the healthiest females, the ones most likely to bring their offspring to adulthood. A male does best, reproductively, if he wanders and copulates as widely as possible ... The female strategy is just the opposite ... Instead of millions and millions of sperm, they have only one egg a month, and each child represents an enormous investment of effort. So females need stability. They need to be sure there'll always be plenty of food. [Women] also spend large amounts of time relatively helpless, unable to find or gather food. Far from being wanderers, we females need to establish and stay. If we can't get that, then our next best strategy is to mate with the strongest and healthiest possible males. But best of all is to get a strong healthy male who'll stay and provide, instead of wandering and copulating at will. So there are two pressures on males. One is to spread their seed, violently if necessary. The other is to be attractive to females by being stable providers - by suppressing and containing the need to wander and the tendency to use force. Likewise there are two pressures on females. The one is to get the seed of the strongest, most virile males so their infants will have good genes, which would make the violent forceful males attractive to them. The other is to get the protection of the most stable males, nonviolent males, so their infants will be protected and provided for and as many as possible will reach adulthood.

Our whole history ... can all be interpreted as people blindly acting out these genetic strategies. We get pulled in these two directions.

Our great civilizations and nothing more than social machines to create the ideal female setting, where a woman can count on stability; our legal and moral codes that try to abolish violence and promote permanence of ownership and enforce contracts - these represent the primary female strategy, the taming of the male.

And the tribes of wandering barbarians outside the reach of civilization, those follow the mainly male strategy. Spread the seed. Within the tribe, the strongest, most dominant males take possession of the best females, either through formal polygamy or spur-of-the-moment copulations that the other males are powerless to resist. But these low-status males are kept in line because the leaders take them to war and let them rape and pillage their brains out when they win a victory. They act out sexual desirability by proving themselves in combat, and then kill all the rival males and copulate with their widowed females when they win. Hideous, monstrous behavior - but also a viable acting-out of the genetic strategy.
Orson Scott Card
Xenocide (1991)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and idea (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 888 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/17/2006 12:25:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

As easy as I, II, III...

Almost everything you ever wanted to know about Roman numerals.

(Anything that got missed, Wikipedia's got.)

(And if not, this site does.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/16/2006 11:12:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Both Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum comment on unrelated incidents which point out the fact that the Republicans don't seem to do very well at understanding the behavior of foreign countries and their populations. As I alluded to a couple of days ago, I think this is fundamentally because they are unwilling to extend to other people full status as human beings.

Underneath it all, they don't think that foreigners are like us, they don't believe that they think and feel as we do, they suspect that other cultures don't share our essential values and regard for life. This causes them to both overestimate and underestimate what will happen, because they lack the empathy to say to themselves "What would I do in this situation?" and start from there before diverging because of cultural differences.

To them, foreigners will always be the other, aliens that are fundamentally different from us people. That such people are considered by the conventional wisdom to be better at protecting us is ludicrous, because the first step towards defeating an enemy is understanding the enemy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/16/2006 03:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Jesus Camp

David Byrne (of Talking Heads) reports on what he calls "American Madrassas":
Saw a screening of a documentary called Jesus Camp. It focuses on a woman preacher (Becky Fischer) who indoctrinates children in a summer camp in North Dakota. Right wing political agendas and slogans are mixed with born again rituals that end with most of the kids in tears. Tears of release and joy, they would claim — the children are not physically abused. The kids are around 9 or 10 years old, recruited from various churches, and are pliant willing receptacles. They are instructed that evolution is being forced upon us by evil Godless secular humanists, that abortion must be stopped at all costs, that we must form an “army” to defeat the Godless influences, that we must band together to insure that the right judges and politicians get into the courts and office and that global warming is a lie. (This last one is a puzzle — how did accepting the evidence for climate change and global warming become anti-Jesus? Did someone simply conflate all corporate agendas with Jesus and God and these folks accept that? Would Jesus drive an SUV? Is every conclusion responsible scientists make now suspect?)

Awareness of the rest of the world is curtailed — one can only view or read that which agrees with the agenda.

Naturally, the kids being so young, there is no questioning of any kind — they simply accept what grownups Fischer and the others say — they get pumped up, agitated, they memorize right wing and Jesus slogans and shout them back obediently. They become part of a support group — a warm, safe, comfortable feeling for anyone, for any social animal, for you and me. No one strays or gets out of line even the slightest bit.

Get 'em while they're young -- that's the ticket! I complained about such under-age indoctrination to my CCD teacher when I was barely a teen-ager, but he didn't see anything wrong in it -- but, of course, the kids in catechism class weren't sequestered from the rest of the world, as the kids in the camp seem to have been. In any case, the technique is used by just about everybody -- think of all those "red diaper babies" in socialist summer camps -- because it's the best way to insure a lifetime of devotion. So few people ever challenge the precepts drummed into them as a child (and some of those who do flip from one extreme to the other).

(It works pretty good on young adults as well.)

Interestingly, Magnolia Pictures, the U.S. distributor of the film Byrne's referring to (Jesus Camp), says that they're going to "target both conservative Christian and liberal [documentary] audiences alike."

[via The Scientific Activist]

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/16/2006 02:31:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A peeve

I really wish that when people referred to the events of September 11th, 2001, they wouldn't say "nine one one." "Nine one one" is the standard American telephone emergency number, the al Qaeda attack on the United States should be called "nine eleven," as in 9/11.

It seems to me worthwhile to maintain the distinction.

P.S. Oh, and Republicans should knock off the "Democrat party" stuff, too.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/16/2006 02:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Magical thinking

37) I see Professionalism as a spreading disease of the present-day world, a sort of poly-oligarchy by which various groups (subway conductors, social workers, bricklayers) can bring things to a halt if their particular demands are not met. (Meanwhile, the irrelevance of each profession increases, in proportion to its increasing rigidity.) Such lucky groups demand more in each go-round - but meantime, the number who are permanently unemployed grows and grows.
Ted Nelson
Computer Lib (1974, rev. 1987)

38) Trust, but verify.
"A favorite expression of a great American entertainer"
quoted by Howard Rheingold in
Virtual Reality (1991)
[Note: The "entertainer" is identified as Ronald Reagan by William Safire in "On Language: Transparency, Totally", New York Times Magazine (1/4/98)]
39) The advocates of [the Pornography Victims' Compensation Act] seem to think that if we stop showing rape in movies people will stop committing it in real life. Anthropologists call this 'magical thinking.' It's the same impulse that makes people stick pins in voodoo dolls, hoping to cripple an enemy. It feels logical, but it does not work.
Teller (of Penn & Teller)
"Movies Don't Cause Crime" (op-ed) in
New York Times (1/17/1992)
quoted by John Irving in
"Pornography and the New Puritans"
New York Times Book Review (3/29/92)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) during the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 889 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/16/2006 01:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

(3089/898) Spinning

A world of made
is not a world of born...
We doctors know
a hopeless case if -
listen: there's a hell of
a universe next
door; let's go.
e. e. cummings
"1x1" (poem, 1944)
Where do we go from here
Chaos or community?
Paul Kantner, Grace Slick , Marty Balin & Gary Blackman
"Hijack" (song) from
Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship
Blows Against the Empire (record album, 1970)
Roll with the natural flow
Like water off a spinning ball
Out - the one remaining way to go
Free - the only way to fall
Paul Kantner, Grace Slick , Marty Balin & Gary Blackman
"Starship" (song) from
Paul Kantner & Jefferson Starship
Blows Against the Empire (record album, 1970)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 890 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/15/2006 12:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, August 14, 2006

Yet another Bush radical

[updated below]

I can't pretend that my observations and feelings can be generalized across millions of people (reason #7982 why I'm a lousy pundit), but in my own case, I think that the Bush Era has not made me more radical, it has, in fact, caused me to be much more centrist, except that "centrist" is not really the right word* -- it's made me much more pragmatic.

When the Democrats were in control, or sufficiently so that national politics were essentially balanced (such as when the GOP had the White House and we had Congress), I felt free to advocate much more liberal and progressive positions, both because I believed in them and because there was the possibility of influencing policy through the more leftish elements of the Democratic Party. Although no one (or practically no one) in office accurately reflected my views, enough of them were represented in one way or another (usually in some watered-down form) that I didn't feel entirely marginalized. On the other hand, I didn't really identify with the Democratic Party -- I thought of myself as a progressive independent who happened to mostly vote for Democrats as the least objectionable of the available alternatives. I don't think I could have been considered to be a radical, but some of my views tended more in that direction than toward the center.

In the era of Republican control, which began with Reagan, continued through the Gingrich Congress, and has reached its apotheosis in the Bush/Cheney administration, I'm much more willing to recognize that the Democratic Party is the one and only political institution which holds any chance of relieving us of the extremist right-wing monkey on our back, and that the only chance for the Democratic Party to succeed at that is through practical broad-spectrum coalition politics. That doesn't necessarily make me a centrist, or mean that my views have changed substantially, it just means that I'm only all too aware that without the votes of a lot of people who I don't necessarily agree with, we're going to continue to suffer through Republican (i.e. right-wing) political domination, and everything that means.

So if Bush radicalized me in any way, it was to make me a radical pragmatist, and that means that I'm sometimes impatient with those whose ideology and approach to politics hasn't changed any, despite the drastically changed circumstances and the pressing need for a Big Tent coalition.


* The problem with "centrism" is that over the years the political center has moved consistently to the right, thanks to the extremism of the Republican party. Ideas which 40 years ago were only espoused by fringe loonies like the John Birch Society, are now part of the mainstream Republican agenda, and this has gradually but inexorably dragged the center to the right. That's the biggest flaw in the DLC/mainstream media call for "moving to the center" or "triangulation" or "bipartisanship" or "non-partisanship" or whatever it's currently being called.

Not only that, but the "move to the center" trope is the constant refrain of the DLCers no matter what the circumstances or the political weather. Like the man with the hammer to whom everything looks like a nail, the self-proclaimed "centrists" never have another thought except trying to pretend that Democrats are Republicans. (To their credit, they don't mean like current Republicans, they mean something much more like the Rockefeller "liberal" Republican, of whom there are only a very few left -- primarily the New England Republican Senators.)

Because of this, because their analysis always presents the same suggested solution (rather like Amy Sullivan's regarding the way Democrats should deal with religion), their advice is suspect and can be safely ignored -- at least in the current circumstances, where Democrats lead Republicans in generic polling, where Bush's popularity continues to be at an extremely low level, where a majority of the people now think Bush's war is a bad idea and should be folded, and when we're in a mid-term election in a second-term presidency. There's no logical reason to think that moving to the center is a better political strategy than pounding on Bush, pounding on the war, pounding on the failures, pounding on the economy, pounding on the unpopularity of Republicans in general.

Update: Josh Marshall's post (which I linked to above) about the hardening of his stance to become a "partisanized moderate" was not actually the genesis of this post of mine. I started it in the afternoon, before I had read Marshall's piece, then put it aside when household distractions were preventing me from concentrating on it. Later, I read TPM and realized the two had a connection.

Kevin Drum has a thought:

[J]ust recently I've been thinking about what a genuinely profound story this is, one that the mainstream media ought to be more interested in. Instead of writing incessantly about "angry bloggers," they ought to be asking why so many mild-mannered moderate liberals have become so radicalized during George Bush's tenure. It deserves attention beyond the level of cliches and slogans.

Unfortunately, it's not likely to happen, because answering his question would require having a clear understanding of the nature of the Bush/Cheney Administration, the actions of which are the ultimate cause of the transformation. Having been complict (willingly or not) in the construction of the false front that the Administration hides behind, the mainstream media is unlikely to be inclined to examine it too closely -- but if by some miracle, pushed by the change in the political winds, they do and "discover" its falseness, you can be sure that they will somehow fail to recognize their own part in helping to create it, and in enabling the ongoing misdeeds of Bush's government.

Update: Digby and Meteor Blades

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/14/2006 02:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Nader legacy

Once you start being someone else's puppet, it's hard to stop.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/14/2006 01:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bad advice

In the 1964 film Fail-Safe, an accident has sent a group of American bombers carrying nuclear weapons towards Moscow with the intent of attacking. In the Pentagon and at SAC headquarters, generals and civilian consultants meet to advise the President:
Prof. Groeteschele: In my opinion [the Russians] will take no action at all.

Gen. Stark: They're not going to just sit there, Professor

Prof. Groeteschele: I think if our bombers get through the Russians will surrender.

Gen. Bogan: Who's this professor, Mr. Secretary? What's he doing there?

Defense Secretary Swenson: Professor Groeteschele is a civilian advisor to the Pentagon, General. Will you explain your statement, Professor?

Prof. Groeteschele: The Russian aim is to dominate the world. They think that Communism must succeed eventually if the Soviet Union is left reasonably intact. They know that a war would leave the Soviet Union utterly destroyed. Therefore, they would surrender.

Gen. Stark: But suppose they feel they can knock us off first?

Prof. Groeteschele: They know we might have a doomsday system, missiles that would go into action days, even weeks after a war is over and destroy an enemy even after that enemy has already destroyed us.

Brigadier General Warren A. Black: Maybe they'll think that even capitalists aren't that insane, to want to kill after they themselves have been killed.

Prof. Groeteschele: These are Marxist fanatics, not normal people. They do not reason they way you reason, General Black. They're not motivated by human emotions such as rage and pity. They are calculating machines. They will look at the balance sheet, and they will see they cannot win.

Defense Secretary Swenson: Then you suggest doing what?

Prof. Groeteschele: [leans forward] Nothing.

Defense Secretary Swenson: Nothing?

Prof. Groeteschele: The Russians will surrender, and the threat of Communism will be over, forever.

Gen. Bogan: That's a lot of hogwash. Don't kid yourself, there'll be Russian generals who will react just as I would -- the best defense is a good offense. They see trouble coming up, take my word for it, they'll attack, and they won't give a damn what Marx said.

Prof. Groeteschele: Mr. Secretary, I am convinced that the moment the Russians know bombs will fall on Moscow, they will surrender. They know that whatever they do then, they cannot escape destruction. Don't you see, sir, this our chance. We never would have made the first move deliberately, but Group 6 has made it for us, by accident. We must take advantage of it -- history demands it. We must advise the President not to recall those planes.
Fail-Safe (film, 1964)
screenplay by Walter Bernstein
based on the novel by
Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler
directed by Sidney Lumet

In Walter Matthau's Prof. Groeteschele, I think we get a taste of the kind of advice, based on grossly mistaken premises and drastic misunderstanding of the psychology of non-Americans, which formed the basis for the neo-con belief that the invasion of Iraq would be a cakewalk, that we would be welcomed with roses and open arms, that there would be no need for a long-term occupation, and no possibility of a widespread insurgency.

In the film, Groeteschele's advice does not prevail, being overridden by the good sense of civilians and generals alike. It's a shame that in our own time, people who think like Groeteschele are the ones in charge, at the White House and in the Pentagon.

Update: DarkSyde points out what many of us who lived through the Cold War know -- that the threat from radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda pales in comparison to the threat of nuclear annihilation we were under back then. To compare the two is ludicrous, since "the odds of falling victim to Al Qaeda rank somewhere between falling off a ladder to your death and being struck by lightning inside your home," while the result of a Soviet nuclear missile attack would have been "convert[ing] some 20 million US citizens into plasma."

Update: I see that the right is (as usual, *yawn*) framing this as meaning that liberals are soft on terrorism and don't think it's necessary or important to prevent further terrorist attacks. What it actually means is that comparisons of the threat of radical Islamist terrorist to the Cold War or to World War II, so popular among wingers at the moment, are ludicrously inapt, and the strategies and tactics which were appropriate then aren't the best way to protect us now.

Knowing the precise parameters of the situation you're in and the capabilities and inclinations of your enemy, to the extent that you can do so, and then planning one's actions and responses in light of that information, is tremendously important. Unfortunately for the right, that requires seeing things as clearly as possible, without ideological blinders and filters -- which is something they apparently cannot do.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/14/2006 02:41:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Takin' care of business

31) [Pete Peterson, CEO of Lehman Brothers in 1982] said three criteria should be used to gauge bonuses - performance, corporate teamwork and seniority. When Peter Solomon privately complained that his bonus was to be only $250,000, much lower than expected, he recalls that Peterson privately cautioned, "Don't get in a fight with [Lehman's President Lewis] Glucksman. It's only a couple of hundred thousand dollars. I'll make it up to you."
Ken Auletta
Greed and Glory on Wall Street (1986)

32) There have been enough scandals lately to make it worthwhile to take a look at how and why the mighty have fallen, and how to avoid the same fate. The goal isn't to avoid controversy but to make sure you know the implications- and potential fallout- of controversial decisions and that your company maintains a legally and morally defensible position. If you have any doubt about how you're handling something, put yourself through a few paces.

1) THE SMELL TEST. Can you look yourself in the eye and tell yourself convincingly that the position you have taken, or the action you have sanctioned, is O.K.? If so, proceed. If not, start over.

2) THE WHAT-WOULD-YOUR-PARENTS-SAY TEST. This is far more demanding. Could you explain to your parents what you do for a living, your business philosophy and your rationale for actions your consider expedient? They're shrewd and know you extremely well. If you could look them in the eye and not get a quizzical response or be sent to your room, proceed. If not, abandon the idea.

3) THE DEPOSITION TEST. Imagine defending your actions against the televised onslaught of a well-prepared, highly trained, motivated legal counsel or congressional staff. Your opponent has as much at stake in the outcome of the discussion as you do, and your debate will reach shareholders, employees and competitors. If your position could stand up against this, the odds are good you're on the right track. If not, rethink the matter.
Mary L. Woodell
head of crisis management of Arthur D. Little Inc.
"Fraud? Imagine You're In The Spotlight"
Sunday New York Times Business Section (11/24/91)

33) [A manager of an Edge City mall:] "... Most high school kids, they're very good and well behaved. You will only have a small segment with problems. We recognize them by sight and we ban them. We are private property. Arrest them for trespass and ban them ... Kids on average will have in their pockets $25 apiece when they walk in the door. We know that. When they leave they are much better than their parents because they leave almost to the penny with nothing. When you stop and think about it, that is very strong economics. You don't want to just stop just arbitrarily throw them out. But being private property, that does give me a lot of rights. High-spirited youth can be escorted off. Quietly, subtly, but out of the picture."
William Jackson
(senior project manager of Bridgewater Commons mall)
quoted by Joel Garreau in Edge City (1991)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 891 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/14/2006 01:16:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, August 13, 2006

(3089/898) A view from BB [Before Bush]

30) These were a people who believed they were God's chosen, and looking about them, there was every reason that they should so believe. Their waters teemed with fish and their forests with game; there was absolutely nothing to prevent them fulfilling their vision of a new Jerusalem, and they set out with immense vitality to do so, and their successes for two hundred years has been one of the wonders of the modern world. This in spite of occasional wrong-turning and backsliding, and Americans, no matter how aware some of them are - and some of them are not - of their own shortcomings, remain the envy of the rest of the world.
James L. Stokesbury
A Short History of the American Revolution (1991)

Note: "3089/898" is the designation I've given to the project of posting all my collected quotes, excerpts and ideas (3089 of them) in the remaining days of the Bush administration (of which there were 898 left when I began).

As of today, there are 892 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 8/13/2006 12:05:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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Here I am...
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Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

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Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
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unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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(You might want to keep a watch on me, though, just to avoid the syrup ending up on your feet and the pancakes on your forehead.)

Finally, on a more mundane level, since I don't believe that anyone actually reads this stuff, I make this offer: I'll give five bucks to the first person who contacts me and asks for it -- and, believe me, right now five bucks might as well be five hundred, so this is no trivial offer.

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Ed Fitzgerald


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