Saturday, September 09, 2006

(3089/898) Observations and prescriptions

109) CLARKE'S THIRD LAW: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Arthur C. Clarke
"Hazards of Prophecy: The Failure of Imagination" in
Profiles of the Future (1962; rev. 1973)

110) CLARKE'S FIRST LAW: If an elderly but distinguished scientist says something is possible he is almost certainly right, but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.
Arthur C. Clarke
New Yorker magazine (9/9/69) [OM]
[Note: Clarke's Laws - First Law: 110, 111, 751, 752; Second Law: 753; Third Law: 109, 647, 754, 755, 1013, 1057, 1402. Clarke's Law of Revolutionary Ideas: 1853.]
111) When an official declares something false, chances are that it is. When he or she says it is absolutely false, chances are it is true. [...] The overemphasis sticks out like Pinocchio's nose.
Jack Rosenthal
"On Language: Frame of Mind"
New York Times Magazine (9/21/94)

112) The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part II (play), IV,ii,86 [B15]

113) I wouldn't recommend alcohol and drugs to anyone. But they have always worked for me.
Hunter S. Thompson
quoted by Peter Whitmer in
When The Going Gets Weird (1992)

114) It's a shame that the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can't eat for eight hours; he can't drink for eight hours; he can't make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work.
William Faulkner
quoted by Peter Whitmer in
When The Going Gets Weird (1992)


[B15] - Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 15th edition (1980)
[OM] - The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations (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 865 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/09/2006 12:54:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, September 08, 2006

(3089/898) Faith

108) Another member of the religious meme complex is called faith. It means blind trust, in the absence of evidence, even in the face of evidence. The story of Doubting Thomas is told, not so that we may admire Thomas, but so that we can admire the other apostles in comparison. Thomas demanded evidence. Nothing is more lethal for certain kinds of meme than a tendency to look for evidence. The other apostles, whose faith was so strong that they did not need evidence, are held up to us as worthy of imitation. The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry [...] Faith is such a successful brainwasher in its own favour, especially a brainwasher of children, that it is hard to break its hold. But what, after all, is faith? It is a state of mind that leads people to believe something - it doesn't matter what - in the total absence of supporting evidence. If there were good supporting evidence then faith would be superfluous, for the evidence would compel us to believe it anyway. It is this that makes the often-parroted claim that 'evolution itself is a matter of faith' so silly. People believe in evolution not because they arbitrarily want to believe it but because of overwhelming, publicly available evidence. [...] Faith cannot move mountains (though generations of children are solemnly told the contrary and believe it.) But it is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness. It leads people to believe in whatever so strongly that in extreme cases they are prepared to kill and to die for it without the need for further justification [...] You see lots of these people on the evening news from such places as Belfast or Beirut. Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human feelings. It even immunizes then against fear, if they honestly believe that a martyr's death will send them straight to heaven. What a weapon! Religious faith deserves a chapter to itself in the annals of war technology, on an even footing with the longbow, the warhorse, the tank, and the hydrogen bomb.
Richard Dawkins
The Selfish Gene (1989)

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 866 left when I began).

As of today, there are 866 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2006 11:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Friday Photography: Photographer At Work

click to enlarge

Daryl Samuel (1995)

Location: Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, New Mexico

Previous: Hands With Softball / On Alcatraz / Cameras / Lighthouse

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/08/2006 12:06:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, September 07, 2006

(3089/898) Engineering

e to the x, du, dx
e to the x, dx
cosine, secant, tangent, sine
3 point 1 4 1 5 9
square root, integral, u dv
slipstick, slide rule
"M.I.T. Cheer" (c. 1972)

106) [T]he Grumman Flxible buses continued to develop new problems of cracking in different areas of the structure. And that is why the buses were ultimately taken completely out of service by New York City. And after a mechanical analysis [...] was finished, the legal analysis began. And that promises to take a lot longer to resolve, for loopholes in contracts and chinks in legal armor can be harder to declare benign than cracks in steel, and the mettle of lawyers does not appear to be prone to exhaustion by fatigue.
Henry Petroski
To Engineer Is Human (1992 ed.)

107) The great liability of the engineer compared to men of other professions is that his works are out in the open where all can see them. His acts, step by step, are in hard substance. He cannot bury his mistakes in the grave like the doctors. He cannot argue them into thin air or blame the judge like the lawyers. He cannot, like the architects, cover his failures with trees and vines. He cannot, like the politicians, screen his shortcomings by blaming his opponents and hope that the people will forget. The engineer simply cannot deny that he did it. If his works do not work, he is damned. That is the phantasmagoria that haunts his nights and dogs his days. He comes from the job at the end of the day resolved to calculate it again. He wakes in the night in a cold sweat and puts something on paper that looks silly in the morning. All days he shivers at the thought of the bugs which will inevitably appear to jolt its smooth consummation.
Herbert Hoover
quoted by Henry Petroski in
To Engineer Is Human (1992 ed.)

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 867 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/07/2006 08:59:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Party ID

On MyDD, Chris Bowers, who I have a great deal of respect for, complains that Democrats aren't playing up their party identification enough:
Someone needs to explain to me how Democrats plan to nationalize this election against Republicans without identifying themselves as Democrats. I might also need a refresher course on how people are going to develop a better image of the Democratic Party if our own candidates refuse to identify themselves as Democrats. As a third request, I would like someone to explain to me how Democratic congressional challengers plan to win without people being willing to press the "Democratic" button on November 7th. Virtually no challengers are going to manage higher name ID than incumbents this cycle, so in order to win back Congress we are going to have to rely on large numbers of people being willing to vote for the Democratic Party itself, rather than individual Democratic candidates. Not only is that never going to happen if our own candidates refuse to self-identify as Democrats, we can also see from Republican quotes that avoiding partisan self-identification altogether is exactly what Republicans want in this cycle. We can't win back congress unless we are willing to be partisans.

Here's my theory about why candidates of both parties might be inclined to soft-pedal their party ID:

Perhaps Republican candidates are hesitant to identify themselves as Republicans for two reasons. The first is the obvious: the negative perception of Republicans indicated by the disapproval numbers for Bush & Cheney and the Democratic advantage in generic ballots rather disinclines them to ID as one of those despised Republicans.

But the other is a little subtler, if true. With the national leadership, spearheaded by Cheney, Rumsfeld and Mehlman demonizing Democrats as the ultimate partisans (tantamount to traitors), the Republicans, by not identifying themselves one way or the other, show themselves not to be partisans. If Democrats are partisans, and partisans are bad, and everyone recognized that "Republicans" are the partisans that oppose the Democrats, by not wrapping themselves in the Republican ID, they say, in effect, "You can trust me, I am not partisan."

If true (and I admit, it could well be ascribing too much subtlty to political campaign strategy), then it also helps explains why Democrats may be shying away from being upfront about their party affiliation. They may figure that with Cheney & Company blackening the reputation of Democrats as ultra-partisan near-traitors, sticking that ID on themselves may do more harm than good. They may think that flying under the public's radar for partisanship will get them through the election better than attacking it head on, because it's so difficult to undo spin once it's out there (cf. Gore and the Internet and other anti-Gore slurs).

There are clearly some problems with this way of thinking. If you can't undo the spin, you can neutralize it, but that requires a loud hard-hitting no-holds barred counter-attack, the kind we didn't see when Kerry was swift-boated.

In addition, you can hide, but you can't hide completely, because the Republicans will be happy to loudly and publicly brand you a Democrat even if you shy away from trumpeting it yourself.

The real problem is, as Chris says, that you can't nationalize the election without setting up a clear bad-guy (the incompetent, corrupt, unloved Republicans, both local and, especially, national) and an clear good-guy alternative, your local Democratic. One of the advantages to this is that the nationalization can be one-sided: your beloved local Democrat is, in effect, competing against those disliked National Republicans away in alien Washington D.C.

So there may be a happy medium, when local Dems don't identify themselves so much with the national party (and risk being sullied by Cheney & Company's lies) as with other local Democrats, preferably the most trusted of them in the area.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/06/2006 02:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Perceiving foreign-ness

Garance Franke-Ruta:
Being unable to understand that foreign cultures really are foreign -- that is to say, very different from one's own -- is a common mistake and one, ironically, shared by disparate peoples in different nations. It is the universal mistake of the ego to project onto other actors one's own motivations and fears, and a sign of maturity to recognize the incredible variability of individual personality and values even within a single culture. But it is always a struggle to understand the myriad ways in which people are different from oneself, and an understanding of that difference can only be accomplished through the deployment of imagination, empathy, and calculated observation.

Actually, perceiving the "foreign-ness" of foreigners isn't hard at all, it's the default we fall back on. It's quite easy to think of people from other cultures as completely alien, almost inhuman, and fail to ascribe to them motivations similar to the very human ones we ourselves have. "Those people are not like us" was a common trope of the Cold War and World War II (especially regarding the Japanese), and this perceived inhumanity allowed others to be killed with impunity (or made it easier to imagine doing so).

There are human universals, things which are true across all cultures, because human psychology (as a moment's thought will make clear) is the same across all cultures. The way in which it is expressed will be different from culture to culture, and depending upon circumstances, and this can mask the essential sameness that lies underneath.

This is also true of the "nature vs. nurture" debate -- our behavior is confined within certain genetically-defined constraints, but the specific expression of it will be heavily influenced by upbringing and other cultural factors. The combination means that behavior is not "determined" by either nature or nurture, but is the result of a complex interaction between the two.

Such is also the case regarding political and social behavior across cultures -- we misunderstand the behaviors of people from other cultures because we do not fully understand the constraints that shape them, but if we did, we would find their behavior quite understandable, and can imagine ourselves acting in the same way (or in ways that are easily seen to be related), if put in the same circumstances.

So the problem isn't in projecting our own motivations on others, because our motivations are, most probably, essentially similar. The problem is that we don't see the other guy's circumstances from his perspective, but from our own, flipped 180 degrees, as if our situations were mirror images.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/06/2006 02:22:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Species and extinction

102) 99.9 percent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. As one statistical wag put it, "To a first approximation all species are extinct."
Roger Lewin
Complexity: Life At the Edge of Chaos (1992)
[Note: Apparently the "wag" is David Raup, according to Stephen Jay Gould in Eight Little Piggies (1993). See also #2161 Dawkins.]

103) To a good approximation, all species are insects.

Robert May
quoted by Richard Dawkins in
The Selfish Gene (1989)
[See #2161 Dawkins]
104) Nathan Keyfitz, the great demographer, estimated in 1966 that about 4 percent of all the people who had ever lived were alive then.
David Raup
Extinction (1991)
quoting Nathan Keyfitz
"How many people ever lived on earth" (1966)
Demography (3:581-82)
[Note: By 1990 the figure was probably close to 5.25%]

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 868 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/06/2006 12:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


This is from a piece on Flight International analyzing the recent airplane takeoff crash in Lexington, Kentucky:
What happened shows the power of a predetermined human mindset. If you think what you are doing is right, you bend the facts you observe to fit the picture you expect to see. If the two do not tally, instant decisions based on the mindset will win. A mindset might yield to reality if the brain has plenty of time to ponder the situation, but even that is not guaranteed.

Certainly not. We can see for ourselves that despite more than sufficient time for reflection, and overwhelming evidence that their actions, based on their predetermined mindset, have been disastrous, the Bush administration seems entirely incapable of changing their minds and their policies based on new information (or the obvious failure of those policies).

In fact, although it's premature to say so before the results of the upcoming election are in, it seems that even in extremis, they are unable to come up with new strategies and tactics even when their political lives are on the line. Oh, they can double their bet and call out more bully-boys than before, but they maintain the same strategic mindset no matter what.

[via Blog Around the Clock]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/05/2006 04:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


18 Sundays of Iraq headlines

This evening, trying to tidy things up around my apartment, I went to throw out a pile of Sunday New York Times dating from the beginning of May. Before I did, though, I went through them and extracted all the headlines which had to do with the war in Iraq.

  • Kidnapped in Iraq: Victim's Tale of Clockwork Death and Ransom

  • Clashes Roil Basra After a British Copter Crash Kills 5


  • Notes Are Said to Reveal Close Cheney Interest in a Critic of Iraq Policy

  • In Address, McCain Gives Avid Defense Of Iraq War

  • Despite Political Pressure to Scale Back, Logistics Are Pinning Down U.S. in Iraq

  • Kurdish and Shiite Units of Iraqi Army Clash


  • Iraqis Form Government, With Crucial Posts Vacant

  • Misjudgments Marred U.S. Olans for Iraqi Police

  • Factions Argue Over Security Ministries

  • As New Leaders Seek Unity, Fresh Attacks Deepen Rifts

  • For Some, A Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq


  • Iran and Iraq to Work on Sealing Border Against Insurgents


  • Attacks on Iraq Oil Industry Aid Vast Smuggling Scheme

  • Bomb Kills At Least 27 In a Market In Basra

  • War's Risk Include Toll on Training Values


  • Terrorists Trained by Zarqawi Were Sent Abroad, Jordan Says

  • At the Site of the Bombing Attack on Zarqawi, All That Is Left Are Questions

  • Iraq Decides It Still Needs U.S.-Led Military Presence

  • U.S. Seeking New Strategy for Buttressing Iraq's Government


  • U.S. Forces Seek 2 Soldiers Apparently Captured In Iraq


  • Top U.S. General in Iraq Outlines Sharp Troop Cut

  • Wary of U.S., Syria and Iran Strengthen Ties

  • Dedicated Group Hopes to Prove Chemicals Killed Kurds

  • Hussein Thinks He Will Get Death Penalty but Sees an Escape Hatch, Lawyer Says


  • Car Bomb Kills More Than 60 In Iraq Market

  • Suddenly, Sand Bags and Potshots at Post 1


  • U.S. Military Braces for Flurry of Criminal Cases in Iraq

  • Sunni Politicians May Expand Boycott Over Kidnapping


  • Names of the Dead


  • Iraqi Demands U.S. Stay Out of Politics

  • Officer Faces Court-Martial for Refusing to Deploy to Iraq


  • Audit Finds U.S. Hid Actual Cost of Iraq Projects

  • Partisan Divide on Iraq Exceeds Split on Vietnam

  • Relentless Sectarian Violence in Baghdad Stalks Its Victim Even at the Morgues

  • Pentagon Extends Tour for 4,000 Troops, Ibcreasing Number in Iraq


  • Baghdad's Chaos Disrupts Plans To Cut U.S. Force

  • 'Civil War' Is Uttered, and White House's Iraq Strategy Is Dealt a Blow


  • Former Electricity Chief Named in Graft Inquiry


  • [none]


  • Dancers Have Landed in Iraq, Marines Offer No Resistance

  • Sunni Arab Lawmaker Freed as 'Gift' for Prime Minister's Peace Efforts


  • 14 Pakistani Shiite Pilgrims Shot to Death in Iraqi Desert

  • Names of the Dead

Note: The issue of 5/14 wasn't in the stack of papers I went through, so I filled in the headlines from the NY Times website for the paper's news section on that date.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/05/2006 02:16:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Stuff from science guys

95) When Karl Popper discussed the normative description of scientific rationality, he was forced to admit that in the final analysis rational science owes its existence to its success; the scientific method is applicable only by virtue of the astonishing agreement between preconceived models and experimental results. Science is a tricky game, but it seems to have discovered questions to which nature provides consistent answers. The success of Western science is an historical fact, unpredictable a priori, but which cannot be ignored.
Ilya Prigogine & Isabelle Stengers
Order Out of Chaos (1984)

96) The law that entropy always increases - the second law of thermodynamics - holds, I think, the supreme position among the laws of Nature. If someone points out to you that your pet theory of the universe is in disagreement with Maxwell's equations - then so much the worse for Maxwell's equations. If it is found to be contradicted by observation - well, these experimentalists do bungle things sometimes. But if your theory is found to be against the second law of thermodynamics I can give you no hope; there is nothing for it but to collapse in deepest humiliation.
A.S. Eddington
The Nature of the Physical World (1928) [ODQ]
quoted by Ilya Prigogine & Isabelle Stengers in
Order Out of Chaos (1984)

97) The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.
Philip W. Anderson
"More Is Different"
Science (1972)
quoted by M. Mitchell Waldrop in
Complexity: The Emerging Science
at the Edge of Order and Chaos

98) At each stage [of the hierarchical structure of reality] entirely new laws, concepts and generalizations are necessary, requiring inspiration and creativity to just as great a degree as in the previous one. ... Psychology is not applied biology, nor is biology applied chemistry.
Philip W. Anderson
"More Is Different"
Science (1972)
quoted by John Horgan in
"Profile: Philip W. Anderson
Gruff Guru of Condensed-Matter Physics" in
Scientific American (11/1994)

99) 'There is no truth beyond magic' ... reality is strange. Many people think reality is prosaic. I don't. We don't explain things away in science. We get closer to the mystery.
Brian Goodwin
quoted by Roger Lewin in
Complexity: Life At The Edge of Chaos (1992)

100) [Hugh B.] Cott's Rule: The blander the bird, the better the taste.
Scientific American (1/1993)

101) "I think therefore I am" is the statement of an intellectual who underrates toothaches.
Milan Kundera
Immortality (1991)
quoted by Nicholas Humphrey in
A History of the Mind (1992)


[ODQ] - The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, 4th edition (1992)

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 869 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/05/2006 12:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, September 04, 2006

Public spaces

A couple of years ago, the Project for Public Spaces named the best and worst parks and plazas in the world. Among the best were New York's Central Park (left) and Union Square (right).

(Unfortunately, my neighborhood park, Madison Square Park, didn't make the list, but I still think it's pretty nice.)

The site has a plethora of information on public spaces, not only parks and plazas but also neighborhoods, downtowns, civic centers, campuses, mixed-use developments and transportation ("Plan your community around cars ... get more cars. Plan your community around people ... get more people."), but of particular note is their list of Best and Worst Public Spaces In the Galaxy.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/04/2006 04:20:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Evolution

91) Read faithfully, the genealogical tables of the Old Testament provided a means of calculating the date of the creation of the world. The most famous calculation of the date is that made by the Irish prelate James Ussher (1581-1656). In 1650 Archbishop Ussher published his conclusion: Sunday October 23, 4004 B.C., at 8 o'clock in the morning.
David Norman
Dinosaur! (1991)
[Note: according to Stephen Jay Gould in Eight Little Piggies (1993), Ussher actually set the time of creation at noon, not at 8am as reported here.]
92) According to our chronology, [the creation of the world] fell upon the entrance of the night preceding the twenty-third day of October in the year of the Julian calendar, 710 [4004 B.C.].
James Ussher
The Annals of the World (1658) [B16]

93) The earth is billions of years old and its living creature are linked by a web of evolutionary descent [...] Our continuing struggle to understand how evolution happens (the "theory of evolution") does not cast our documentation of its occurrence - the "fact of evolution" - into doubt.

[C]reation science is [...] a sham because the professed reason for imposing it on teachers - to preserve the academic freedom of students to learn alternative viewpoints - is demonstrably false. Creationists are right in identifying academic freedom as the key issue, but they have the argument perversely backward.

It was their law that abridged the most precious meaning of academic freedom [...] Creationists claim that the law broadened the freedom of teachers by permitting the introduction of controversial material. But no statue exists in any state to bar instruction in "creation science." It could be taught before, and it can be taught now.

"Creation science" has not entered the curriculum for a reason so simple and so basic that we often forget to mention it: because it is false, and because good teachers understand exactly why it is false.
Stephen Jay Gould
"The Verdict on Creationism"
New York Times Magazine (7/19/1987)
reprinted in Skeptical Inquirer (Winter 1987-88)

94) Why are some of us so loath to accept evolution at all, despite overwhelming evidence? Why are so many of us who do accept evolution so unable to grasp the Darwinian argument [of natural selection], or so unwilling, for emotional reasons, to live with it if we do understand?

The situation may be frustrating for someone like me who has spent a lifetime working with the power of Darwinian models, and feels no moral threat in their potential truth (for a fact of nature cannot challenge a precept of morality) [...]
Stephen Jay Gould
Eight Little Piggies (1993)


[B16] - Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th edition (1993)

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 870 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/04/2006 02:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Liberal governance and populist politics

Big Tent Democrat on Talk Left:
Politics is not a battle for the middle. It is a battle for defining the terms of the political debate. It is a battle to be able to say what is the middle.

[...] [T]he Republican triumphs since Goldwater are not ideological "ideas" victories but rather victories of the psychological paranoid style - the "What Is The Matter With Kansas" question.

FDR governed as a liberal but politicked like a populist. When LBJ rightly and to his everlasting credit removed one of the Dem pillars of paranoia - racism, the GOP co-opted populist racism, added the Jeffersonian notion of government and institutional hatred, throw in a dash of paranoid Red scare, now terrorism scare, and you get political victories.

The lesson [...] is to embrace liberal governance and understand populist politics. It may sound cynical, but you must get through the door to govern. Lincoln knew this. FDR knew this.

[Emphasis added -- Ed]

This is an extremely important point, and one that the Democratic party overlooks at its peril. The DLC strategy of minimizing the differences between Republicans and Democrats in order to co-opt votes from the center that would otherwise go to the other side might make some sense if we were talking about the Republican Party of 40 years ago, but with the GOP having moved so resolutely and deliberately to the right, even to what used to be considered the fringes, DLC-style triangulating simply shifts the Democratic Party farther and farther to the right, without any appreciable gain in votes. That's a recipe for disaster, and the practical result of adopting the DLC strategy has been dismal.

However, if I recall correctly, in the last two general elections, every time the Democratic candidates (Gore/Lieberman and Kerry/Edwards) took up a more populist tone, they gained in the polls, and when they backed away from it (probably because their mainstream inside-the-Beltway advisors don't like or trust populism, and feel threatened by it), the numbers went down again.

So what we're looking for in 2008 is a moderately liberal candidate who is not afraid of campaigning from a populist platform and speaking the language of progressive populism. To me, the candidate that seems to fit that bill most (at the moment) is John Edwards, which is why he is (intermittently, at least) at the head of my list -- but whichever candidate we come up with should understand this point: we need to meld liberal governance and populist politics. Liberal governance because it's the right and best thing for the country, and populist politics to enable it.

Note: In excerpting the short quote above I've deliberately removed any reference to Richard Hofstadter, who Big Tent Democrat calls "the most perceptive observer of our political history since DeToqueville." I did this simply to make the point clearer and more general, not out of any conceivable objection to Hofstadter, the center around whom the post is based. (Its title is "What Barack Obama Needs To Learn From Richard Hofstadter, Abraham Lincoln and FDR.") Please read the entire piece to get the whole story.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 04:52:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Kevin Drum:
Over the past 30 years the Republican Party has gone from Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to Newt Gingrich to Dick Cheney — i.e., from conservative to reactionary to crazy to batshit insane [...]

Nothing much to add to that, it's simple truth, except that I'll be interested, once this dreadful era of our history is finally over, to see the psychological studies of Cheney that come out.

Bush, I think, is relatively easy to figure out -- underachieving not-too-bright scion of a powerful political family used as a front and carried to high office by a ruthless political machine, he's the result of the interaction between father/son competition, noblesse oblige, movement conservatism and the Peter Principle -- but Cheney's psychology, linked as it is to a cold-war mentality, and his reactions to the Nixon impeachment, the Vietnam war and the anti-war movement it provoked (and the counter-culture so interwined with it), could be a much more interesting story.

(Not that I see Cheney as a tragic figure of some sort -- Drum is right in his thumbnail characterization, "batshit insane" -- but what made him that way?)

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 03:45:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Andre Agassi

What a wonderful and entertaining tennis player he was, and what a moving tribute to him this afternoon from the crowd at the U.S. Open, after his loss to Benjamin Becker in the final match of his career.

Agassi tries to contain his emotions
as he says good-bye.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 02:49:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


An observation

From my experience, it's practically impossible to watch Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor dancing "Moses Supposes" in Singing in the Rain, and not smile.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 05:56:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Viele Map of Manhattan

After reading a short article in the New York Times about the Viele Map of Manhattan (first made by Col. Egbert L. Viele in 1874, and still the standard reference map for architechs, developers, structural engineers and anyone else who needs to build on the island), I looked around a little, to find that Jason Kottke has put up a zoomable, dragable Flash version of the map which is really very neat and fun for any Manhattan partisan to play around with.

(Or you can buy your own here for only $1,600.)

Update (9/5): This New York Times article on the Manhattan grid is interesting. I especially like Reuben Skye Rose-Redwood's description (in his PhD thesis, "Rationalizing the Landscape: Superimposing the Grid Upon the Island of Manhattan") of the resulting geography as a "Cartesian flatland."

There's more about the Manhattan grid here and here.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 02:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Getting the job done

Ana Bernasek:

Sir Michael Marmot, a professor of epidemiology and public health at University College London and director of its International Institute for Society and Health, has spent most of his career studying the link between inequality and health around the world. In a much-publicized paper published in May in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Sir Michael and three colleagues studied health in the United States and in Britain. They found that at various points throughout the social hierarchy, there was more illness in the United States than in Britain.

Sir Michael theorizes that a reason for the disparity was the greater inequalities in the United States and heavier stresses resulting from them.

Other researchers have focused on how income inequality can breed corruption. That may be especially true in democracies, where wealth and political power can be more easily exchanged, according to a study of 129 countries by Jong-Sung You, a graduate student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Sanjeev Khagram, a professor of public affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Corruption, of course, can hurt growth by reducing the efficient allocation of public and private resources and by distorting investment. That may end up creating asset price bubbles.

Unchecked inequality may also tend to create still more inequality. Edward L. Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard, argues that as the rich become richer and acquire greater political influence, they may support policies that make themselves even wealthier at the expense of others. In a paper published last July, he said, "If the rich can influence political outcomes through lobbying activities or membership in special interest groups, then more inequality could lead to less redistribution rather than more."

In the United States, there is plenty of evidence that this has been occurring. Bush administration policies that have already reduced the estate tax and cut the top income and capital gains tax rates benefit the well-to-do. It seems hardly an accident that the gap between rich and poor has widened.

[New York Times (6/23/2006)]

No, hardly an accident. One almost might suspect that increasing income inequality was the purpose of the policies of the Bush administration, if one was a suspicious sort of person.

The best interpretation one can put on this is that they honestly feel that our society is better off with more and richer rich people, that there's more innovation, more robust international competition, that the well-off will take more risks if they're well taken care of. They may really believe this.

On the other hand, they could just be servicing their clientele.

Or maybe both.

Addendum: New York Times (8/27/2006):

Bankruptcy court is supposed to be a place where facts remain out in the open. But that seems to be changing in Delaware, one of the largest homes for corporate bankruptcy cases.

The Werner Company, a maker of ladders, filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in June; its bankruptcy is being overseen by Judge Kevin J. Carey of United States bankruptcy court in Delaware.

Earlier this month, Judge Carey agreed to seal documents detailing bonuses that will be paid to nine Werner executives. The move came after company lawyers argued that the pay disclosures “may create low morale and an unhealthy work environment” at Werner.

Ya think?

The judge also shut out the public from the Aug. 17 hearing on the pay. [Emphasis added -- Ed]

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 02:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


(3089/898) Jesus

89) One could immediately name a dozen figures who have been a far greater influence on the human race than [the historical] Jesus. For example: Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, St. Paul, St. Augustine, Mahomet, Copernicus, Calvin, Marx, Darwin, Lenin and Freud.
A.N. Wilson
Jesus: A Life (1992)

90) Professor Vermes reminds us of a legendary doctrinal argument which took place towards the close of the first century CE between Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and his colleagues. 'Having exhausted his arsenal of reasoning and still not convinced them, he performed a miracle, only to be told that there was no room for miracles in debate. In exasperation, he then exclaimed, "If my teaching is correct, may it be proved by Heaven!"; whereupon a celestial voice declared, "What have you against Rabbi Eliezer, for his teaching is correct?" But this intervention was ruled out of order because in the Bible it is written that decisions are to be reached by majority vote.'
A.N. Wilson
(quoting Geza Vermes)
Jesus: A Life (1992)

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 871 days remaining in the administration of the worst President ever.

Ed Fitzgerald | 9/03/2006 12:48:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

Clowns to the left of me,
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Martin van Creveld - The Transformation of War

Jay Feldman - When the Mississippi Ran Backwards

Martin van Creveld - The Rise and Decline of the State

Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
bush & company are...
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Bullshit, trolling, unthinking knee-jerk dogmatism and the drivel of idiots will be ruthlessly deleted and the posters banned.

Entertaining, interesting, intelligent, informed and informative comments will always be welcome, even when I disagree with them.

I am the sole judge of which of these qualities pertains.

All e-mail received is subject to being published on unfutz without identifying names or addresses.

I correct typos and other simple errors of grammar, syntax, style and presentation in my posts after the fact without necessarily posting notification of the change.

Substantive textual changes, especially reversals or major corrections, will be noted in an "Update" or a footnote.

Also, illustrations may be added to entries after their initial publication.
the story so far
unfutz: toiling in almost complete obscurity for almost 1500 days
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the proud unfutz guarantee
If you read unfutz at least once a week, without fail, your teeth will be whiter and your love life more satisfying.

If you read it daily, I will come to your house, kiss you on the forehead, bathe your feet, and cook pancakes for you, with yummy syrup and everything.

(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.

original content
© 2003-2008
Ed Fitzgerald


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