painpill
2/21/2003

09:49  
Research and development
Is this latest attempt to speed up missile defense a bluff? It looks like these systems are far from being a able to stop an incoming missle, especially the "tumbling" missiles we're liable to get from North Korea. And anyway, will they protect Seoul and Tokyo? It's those threats (along with a certain preoccupation elsewhere) that prevent us from taking any action at the moment.



09:34  
All the juicy details
Slate takes a look at whether or not Carol Mosel-Braun is a crook... all the juicy details about her shady past dealings. It seems to me this stuff will be a major impediment to a serious run for her... the allegations are dangerous enough in their own right, but I definitely feel black candidates are held to a higher standard by the public, and are laughed off the stage much more readily. What I've read elsewhere that the Slate article doesn't mention is that Moseley-Braun was extremely charismatic and popular with voters - and not just just African-Americans.

By the way, is Medicaid fraud even a crime? Obviously hiding $28k in income from the good people at Illinois Public Aid is against the law, but "everyone does it" applies here... if this had happened at the Social Security office where I used to work, we wouldn't even have investigated the situation, because $28000 is such a small amount, and because it happens so often. I don't know how many people are doing this kind of thing, but my guess is it's a bigger drain on public funds than people think.


09:28  
Turning the tables
Some people have accused the Turks of trying to extort money from the US. It's not extortion, it's compensation. The prospect of war holds significant risks for Turkey. First of all, the Turks don't feel like they're at risk now. 94% of Turks oppose the war. But if we go to war, there will be a mass exodus of Iraqi Kurds into Turkish territory. Last time this happened (in 1991), there was a major recession in Turkey, not to mention political unrest. Now we are going to war again, and we've said we would do so unilaterally... so, there will be another flood of refugees, and more damage to their economy. They can either help us, to get aid and support to help control the situation - and this option may be political suicide for a fragile new leadership - or they can not help us, in which case they will have to absorb the shock from the Kurdish refugees without our help. So in a sense, we're the ones extorting the use of their bases, because without our help, the side effects of our war will chew up their economy.

By the way, part of the problem here is that the turks are demanding a signed agreement over this aid. That's because we promised them aid in 1991 and didn't come through with everything we promised (ie Congress didn't pass it all). The Turks are afraid the war will be short this time, and by the time Congress gets around to legislating the aid, the war will be long over. Given the history of it, i don't blame them. I don't think we're extorting the French or other allies (although Rumsfeld is threatening to withdraw troops from Germany now), but in the case of Turkey, they are the ones in a tight spot, not us.

If we don't get their help, the consequences are huge - not so much for us, although it might mean more American casualties and a longer war - but for the Iraqi Kurds and the prospects for democracy in post-war Iraq. In the previous gulf war, Saddam killed tens of thousands of Kurds in northern Iraq and sent half a million refugees into Turkey. A US force in Northern Iraq could prevent this kind of massacre again and help confine the war to Baghdad, if it can successfully control the countryside and take the oil fields intact.


2/20/2003

22:46  
Wild-man antidote to Milan Kundera
Culturebox has a great article on Edward Limonov, the author of that cult classic Russian emigre novel, It's Me, Eddie. I haven't read anything else by Limonov besides propaganda from the American expat magazine eXile (he's a semi-regular contributor) but the stuff about self-absorption rings true. Still, I don't remember taking him too seriously as a stylist... Eddie was more of a juiced-up memoir with teeth. Of course, I read it in translation, so it's harder to say.

If you want a more current emigre novel, check out Gary Shteyngart's The Russian Debutante's Handbook. I'm totally engrossed in it at the moment.


22:22  
Hydrogen bomb?
Nick Kristof's oddly titled article on the possibilities of hydrogen powered cars puts a more positive spin on things. But he only briefly mentions the problem of where the hydrogen might come from:

[...] getting the hydrogen can be a problem and can produce greenhouse gases. Hydrogen does not exist on its own but is locked up in water and fossil fuels. The goal is to use wind energy to pluck hydrogen from water in the ocean, but in the near term it's more likely that the hydrogen will come from natural gas.
Natural gas, incidentally, exists in great abundance but is much harder to move than oil because it comes from the ground in an already volatile form. Presumably, converting it to hydrogen wouldn't help.



10:16  
According to MSNBC, a North Korean fighter jet crossed into South Korean territory today for the first time since 1983. This is a frightening development, especially after they threatened to pull out of the armistice earlier this wk.


2/19/2003

10:12  
From the BBC:
A leaked document suggests that Washington is beginning detailed planning for a new generation of smaller nuclear weapons. The document - published by an anti-proliferation watchdog and confirmed as genuine by US officials - indicates the weapons could be used against targets like deep bunkers that contain chemical or biological agents.
This is what you call a first strike weapon. Incredible. I don't doubt that such weapons would be effective, or that they would be engineered to reduce the collateral damage that make tactical nuclear weapons prohibitive. But isn't this opening up a huge pandora's box? For the past few decades, policy makers have seen nuclear weapons as too dangerous to use in tactical situtations - not because they wouldn't be tactically useful, but because the one thing we had going for us in the fight against nuclear weapons use was the line separating conventional warfare and nuclear warfare. It was that line that made the cold war strategy of mutually assured destruction possible; if anyone had crossed it, the world would have been utterly destroyed. Building and using these weapons (and the Bush people definitely intend to use them - they're tailor-made for a war against the DPRK) crosses the line at a time when nuclear weapons are weilded by more and more powers - all of whom are watching us when they set policy.

I was in India last year on the anniversary of 9/11, and in the newspaper there was a special section about it. There was a picture of a woman with an American flag crying, with roughly this caption: "This woman lost her husband in the terrorist attacks on the WTC. Americans condemned the attacks, while still defending the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki." As unfair as this comparison might have been, it was a revelation to me that people outside the US see our country in light of those horrific events. That an Indian paper published the story is particularly telling - this is a country whose nuclear weapons policy isn't settled, a country surely looking to the US for guidance. Won't proliferating nuclear weapons - even small ones - at a time when our policy is to preemptively attack other proliferators be seen as arrogant American hypocrisy?

UPDATE: According to this related article on the BBC site, Rumsfeld may also be interested in depolying a neutron bomb:

An independent American nuclear watchdog organisation, the Los Alamos Study Group has got hold of and has published the minutes of a meeting held at the Pentagon on 10 January 2003 at which preparations for a conference on the testing of current nuclear weapons and the design of a new generation of weapons was discussed.

The conference is planned for this August at Stratcom, the Strategic Command headquarters in Nebraska. The weapons listed are: low (radiation) yield, earth penetrating, enhanced radiation (the "neutron" bomb) and 'agent defeating'. Agent defeating refers not to blowing up enemies' agents but to the destruction of chemical and biological agents.

It's not clear to me whether we have neutron bombs now, although everything I can find says we were producing them under Reagan. Nuclearfiles.org has information about neutron bombs and their development.



09:26  
This is really disturbing. When the news first broke, they wouldn't even list which financial institutions were involved. Now, at least you can see whether your account could have been among the ones hacked. But they still haven't released the name of the "third-party payment card processor". I wonder what their liability is. When I was with the Social Security Administration, I had to deal with several identity theft cases, and it was incredible how little we could do to help these people. Generally their credit was destroyed, and they had to spend long hours bouncing back and forth between the local police, the credit agencies (who can only be reached by phone), and SSA. Obviously there are difficulties when it comes to proving these things - you don't want it to be easy to change your identity - but it would be nice to see some policies addressing this.


09:13  
Thomas Friedman makes a convincing case for war, as always. His criticism of the Bush team is intense, though:
[I]t's time for the Bush team to shape up — dial down the attitude, start selling this war on the truth, give us a budget that prepares the nation for a war abroad, not a party at home, and start doing everything possible to create a global context where we can confront Saddam without the world applauding for him.
Also, Peter Beinart takes a serious look at some Bush policies past on Iraq. He still comes up a hawk, but it's not pretty.



2/18/2003

20:27  
It's official: Carol Mosely-Braun is in the race. I tried to find out where this speech was going to be, but no luck. Should have realized it would be at the law school, since she's a grad.


20:25  
Gregg Easterbrook's appraisal of the plan for H-powered cars is devsatating, but I see a lot of hope in what he says too. Yes, it's a smokescreen by the Bush admin, and yes, the funding is probably inadequate. But it sounds like this technology has real potential, if we put our backs into it. I've been disappointed, reading the response to this since the State of the Union. It was the one thing that piqued my interest at the time.

One thing about the article confuses me. On the one hand he says that H-powered cars are not really H-powered cars - that ultimately the power comes from elsewhere and the hydrogen is just the medium for it - essentially part of an electrolysis battery. But the bulk of his argument is about how hydrogen must be obtained from hydrocarbons, which are found primarily in fossil fules. Surely the amount of hydrogen in a battery would be trivial compared with the amount of gasoline we burn now in our cars, since the hydrogen wouldn't be destroyed in the reaction.

I think he must be wrong on the first count - this technology is actually about burning hydrogen with oxygen, not charging hydrogen batteries.


20:18  
The LA Times has this quote from King George:

"Democracy is a beautiful thing, and that people are allowed to express their opinion."
Huh? Freedom of speech/expression is nice, but I think the fundamental idea of Democracy is that people's opinions actually mean something. But how many times has this president described the decision to go to war as his decision? And aides are always telling us that the presdident hasn't made up his mind yet.

Whose decision should this be? I'm not suggesting that presidents should act strictly according to polls, but in a representative demoncracy it sure would be nice if the leader showed some humility concerning his office.


2/17/2003

23:28  
Although I myself don't much like the thought of getting hate mail (and I haven't gotten any yet, since I just started this a week ago... but if you want, my email addr is to the right, near the bottom), I'd like to think Glenn Reynolds's complaints about hate mail are a good thing. This isn't because I disagree with him (although I often do); it's because it's a sign that the demographic of the blogosphere is changing. As far back as I've been watching, the blogosphere has been bloated with warmongers, conservatives, libertarians. I've always been puzzled/troubled by this, and it's a big part of why I decided to start a site. Nowadays, I feel like the left has a serious presence too.

By the way, the other obvious explanation for this is that the American public is more polzarized now than it has been since 9/11. In the wake of those events, people came together ain support of what was going on in the political arena, and while we've seen a midterm election in the meantime, the specter of war with Iraq is really polarizing. If the public is more agitated, you might get more nasty emails (especially if you're Glenn Reynolds).


23:16  
I'm sorry to say I watched the last episode (or at least, I thought it was) of Joe Millionaire tonight. I'd only seen last week's show, but I was excited about the possibilities of deception it managed to conjure up... Of course the premise was a great deception, but they've continued to find ways to ramp it up, tricking first the participants, then the audience, and ultimately Joe Millionaire himself.

Too bad the show tonight was a big disappointment. Somehow the nice idea that the participants could fall in love regardless of this millionaire monkey business got lost when FOX wrote out a check anyway. Maybe they didn't let us savor the moment before they got to the punch line, or maybe the participants just seemed more excited (and understandably so) about the big check than they did about each other. For me though, there was something dirty (vaguely whorish?) about the whole thing, and I felt dirty too, for having watched!


22:19  
Timothy Noah writes that this year's Economic Report to the President proposes a national consumption tax to replace the tiered income tax system we currently have. There is always the possibility of exempting "subsistence goods" such as food (I know that Illinois, for example, exempts food from sales tax), but this would still be vastly different distribution of income than we have today. A flat sales tax is generally viewed as regressive because the poor tend to spend a higher proportion of their income (living "paycheck to paycheck") than the rich. But even if these effects are taken out of the picture, a flat tax is very different from the progressive rates we have now.

One thing I've never understood about this equation: if most of our tax revenue really comes from the rich, then won't putting a bigger proportion of the tax burden on the poor have a negligible effect on revenue? Either tax rates for the rich won't fall very much, or we'll have to have huge spending cuts.


22:07  
Matthew Yglesias wonders whether the algorithms that good chess-playing computers employ when they play chess are similar to the way good chess-playing humans play. Chess programs assign specific values to contingencies on the chess board - for instance, each piece will have a value, and these values might be altered by which other pieces are present. Humans might think in terms of values, but everything is more fluid, and positional (strategic) considerations often trump material or tactical advantage.

As I discussed in an earlier post, the cutting edge programs grandmasters have to face are carefully adjusted so that contingencies have the best values possible - and these adjustments are made by grandmasters involved on the programming team. So, maybe it's fair to say these computers think like great players, but only because they've been programmed with the whole body of chess knowledge and intuition - arrived at not through calculation, but directly from the head of a grandmaster, probably through a laborious trial and error process.


22:03  
Noam Schieber explains how the Democrats' inbred polling/message tactics are leading them in the wrong direction. Sick stuff. It's incredible how much these kinds of decisions are made by funding considerations.


22:01  
North Korea is threatening to end the armistice? Eventually all this bluster is going to turn into something. I have a real sense of foreboding as we move toward war in Iraq. Are these sanctions they proposed (sanctions, which according to the NK's, would be an act of war) coupled with war games in the South really going to solve the problem? I don't see where they go next - although I've felt that way for a long time.


2/16/2003

22:34  
I think the BBC is confused... I don't see how melting water beneath the Mars's surface could create an ocean above the surface, since water is denser than ice. Still, this is exciting stuff, and it's good to see this kind of serious talk about missions to Mars in the wake of the Columbia's loss.





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