Sunday, August 24, 2003

Why do they always blame America first?

The recent celebrations of Martin Luther King's triumphs brought to mind a related subject: Affirmative action. At least for me, most of the blogging on that issue I've googled up seems to be from June or July. Some of it is excellent though.

From Alas, A blog:

Here's the choice we have: do we have a big overall advantage for whites (no affirmative action), or do we have a somewhat smaller overall advantage for whites (affirmative action)? In real life, that's the choice we have as a society, right now. We don't get to choose whether racism exists or not (it does); we don't get to choose to make the white advantage go away (it won't). All we can choose is whether or not we'll support a policy which will reduce the extent of the pro-white discrimination.

When America dealt with racial strife a few decades ago, they did something that to my knowledge no other nation has ever done in similar circumstances. They recognized that many Americans were disenfranchised, a few to the point where they did not always consider America's gain to be their gain. They made laws against racial discrimination, but they knew those laws would be impossible to enforce. Who can really prove one man refused to hire another for a certain reason? Of course in the case of some large corporations statistical studies could be done, but there would always be excuses. Nobody applied. They didn't have the right education because somebody else discriminated against them, so it's not our fault! The dog ate our homework, err, records, ect.

To partially compensate for the imposibility of enforcing the law, affirmative action was created. It was done not merely out of idealism, but also to strengthen America. The vast majority of minorities came to believe they had at least a chance to succeed in America, and that her gain was their gain. From the armed forces to all the easier jobs, they have invested themselves in America.

Now there are some who say that this policy, practiced as far as I know by nobody but Americans, (certainly not the French!) was wrong. They say that African Americans who achieve are stigmatized because people believe they only did so through affirmative action. Many people who believe this would hate them for other reasons even if there were no affirmative action. The program is not perfect, but when we look at how other nations around the world have dealt with minorities disenfranchised to the point of violence, it brings renewed appreciation of the American way. Those who say we are wrong and everyone else is right should think hard before being so eager to blame America first.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

New hope in Iraq?

The Washington Times, a conservative paper, is starting to publish editorials with reservations about what is happening in the war on terror.

GURAT, France, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- A disquieting new tone has sneaked into my routine telephone conversations with moderate Muslim leaders on both sides of the Atlantic. "Washington's bungling in Iraq worries me so much that I can't sleep anymore; it's damaging my health; it's a scary time," an internationally well-connected Arab-American Bush supporter told me Friday morning.

In a different article:

"With many separate agencies having overlapping jurisdiction, the commission finds that the U.S. government is not effectively organized" to combat the proliferation threat, the report's chief authors told a Washington news conference that week in 1999.

Where are the authors of that prescient report today? You might assume that the hyper-efficient and ever-vigilant Bush administration quickly seized upon them to run the CIA and the FBI, and to head up its Department of Homeland Security that was created to produce the very coordination and integrated defense and response to mega-terrorist attacks that the 1999 report found so wanting.

You might assume that -- but you would be completely wrong if you did.

The prime author of the report in fact was a former CIA chief himself, former Director of Central Intelligence John M. Deutch. And his right hand man in producing it was Republican Sen. Arlen Specter from Pennsylvania.

But guess what? Almost two years after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has yet to raise a finger to bring either of them into his administration or into his war on terrorism.

The report pulled no punches and blasted Republicans and Democrats alike with honorable and refreshing impartiality.

Could we be ready to turn a corner? Could we be only weeks or months from the time when conservative papers who finally started to doubt Bush now turn around and blame the liberal media for doubting him? I've thought deeply about it, and I honestly don't see how. I'm sure the Bush administration will renew their efforts now that even the conservatives are starting to doubt them, but I honestly don't see what they can do. Kofi Annan seems to be the only one in the UN who wants to get more deeply involved in Iraq.

Maybe we should all stop criticizing Bush before he invades Iran and Syria.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003

The editor of probably thought he was kidding when he dared Fox to harass him.

When is something done last month by a 'comedian and liberal activist' news and when is it not?

Fox news has a major breaking story.

Franken, a satirist and former writer for "Saturday Night Live," admitted in a letter last month that he deliberately tried to mislead Ashcroft when he sought personal information from him.

"In the letter, I indicated that I wanted your story for a book about abstinence-only sex education entitled 'Savin' It!' I claimed that I had already received testimonies from several conservative leaders, which I had not," he wrote. Portions of the letter were published by

"The letter was sent as part of a satirical book I'm working on, which will contain only one or two chapters dealing with abstinence-only sex education."

Any traffic tickets in a drawer? Tease anyone of the opposite sex in elementary school, thus committing sexual harassment?

Maybe the new motto should be: Fairly balanced on the edge of the knife

In all seriousness, Fox has taken a step in a worrisome direction. Can anyone in a legal battle with a major media outlet now expect harrassment?

Could this be a major 'root cause' of American voter rage?

From the Economist:

If governments' ultimate goal is to maximise the well-being (ie, “happiness”) of society as a whole, then, says Lord Layard, some highly controversial implications for public policy follow. Conventional economic theory argues that taxation distorts the choice between leisure and income. Taxes reduce the incentive to work an extra hour rather than go home, or to put in extra effort in the hope of promotion. But Lord Layard's argument implies that people have a tendency to work too much. Far from being distortionary, taxes are therefore desirable. He suggests a marginal tax rate of 30% to deal with the “pollution” that one person's extra income inflicts on others, and the same again for habituation. The total of 60% is a typical European level of taxation (taking both direct and indirect taxes into account).

You should click through to decide if I've misinterpreted the rest of the argument (which with supporting examples and evidence is too long to quote), but basically he argues that it's easier to make individuals happy with huge amounts of money than whole societies, because one of the things that makes people happy is having more than the neighbors, and one of the things that makes them sad is having less than the neighbors, so raising average income only makes people happier to a point. He argues that having more vacation time makes people happier even if everyone else has more too. So money is a rat race (after a certain point) but not leisure.

Even if he's right, surely you have to take working conditions and job satisfaction into account as well. All the same, in recent years voter anger about giving people more than five years of welfare has been much stronger than about other forms of waste which are larger in absolute terms. Lack of leisure could well explain a more viscereal rage at feeling bilked by people who don't have to work for a living than by people who are at least hardworking dishonest folks.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Are these people stupid?

Blowing up their own country's infrastructure to hurt the country trying to rebuild it? Not just oil which they say we want, but THEIR OWN WATER SUPPLY?

From the New York Times:

The bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad today provided grisly evidence of a new strategy by anti-American forces to depict the United States as unable to guarantee public order, as well as to frighten away relief organizations rebuilding Iraq.

Tactically it makes a horrible kind of sense - from a certain warped angle. We expect the successful rebuilding of Iraq to reduce the appeal of terrorism. They agree. It makes sense only if the primary goal is not to help Iraqi's, or even Islam, but to harm America in any way possible, no matter what the cost to Iraq. Of course, this is pretty much the stated goal of the terrorists, so it would be naive to be shocked.

The problem is the rest of the Iraqi's. Many of them seem less angry at the people who attack their water supply and kill Iraqi policemen than they do at us. No sense being surprised by the priorities of the terrorists. It's the people who aren't scrambling desperately to help us catch them who should give us pause for thought. The people who aren't morons - so if they believe these things were done by Americans it's because they want to. They are the people who have me worried.

Yet perhaps this too should have been expected by those who supported the invasion.

From Steven Den Beste's 'Stategic Overview' essay (just a tiny part):

Why is the US fighting the war? Why were we attacked?

American success casts Arab/Islamic failure in sharp contrast. Politically, economically, militarily, technologically and culturally we set the standard and our accomplishments make their failure look particularly bad.

I have come to believe other of his ideas as well. Poverty may be part of the problem - but not the primary part. Charity cannot solve it, since loss of face is the problem. The only question is, how we could fail to wonder how far people who thought 9/11 was a sensible response to that sort of humiliation would be willing to go to prevent further humiliation. Again, I don't mean Al Qaeda, or even those who approve of them, but the large numbers who might not agree but don't think they are psychotic idiots. And that they would see having their country rebuilt by the hated Americans as a humiliation is obvious too in retrospect. I didn't think of it either, but I address this to those who still in hindsight believe the invasion made sense.

For those eager to remind me that we need to decide what to do now, I still think where we went wrong and why is relevant to correctly making our next decision. Nevertheless, I'll move on.

Can we still snatch victory? Maybe. I think we need to protect the Sunni's now. And odder yet, Baath party members. I'm not saying we should coddle the latter. But if people with scores to settle can shoot them indiscrimately, they will be desperate enemies indeed, with nothing to lose. If we can prevent people associated with Saddam from being killed without trial, perhaps we can bring order.

What if we can't? A much more painful question. Anyone remember the domino theory? Somehow, people didn't panic in the streets for fear of a communist invasion when we lost the war in Vietnam, as if on some level eveyone knew the idea was silly. Of course, Al Qaeda has shown the will and ability to attack us however they can. It's not unimaginable that failure here would give them a critical boost, allowing them to recruit enough members that they could actually field enough resources to build an atomic bomb and get it into the United States. Very unlikely but not unimaginable. Perhaps we really can't accept defeat - at least not unless we have a huge victory elsewhere in the Arab world.

How about we start building economies elsewhere in the Arab world, places like Jordan or Egypt perhaps. We could not give the money to governments. Perhaps we could carefully support investment in promising businesses. If the problem is that they have no modern accomplishments to be proud of, perhaps we can start the solution somewhere where those who hate us don't have quite as much support. The Marshall plan didn't just rebuild our old enemies, but our allies as well. It won't be easy. We would have to get guarantees of government noninterference, and find something that cheap unemployed labor could manufacture at a cost advantage, but it's been done before.

Monday, August 18, 2003

I'd better hold off on trying to draft Alan Alda for President for awhile.

Something about Arnold Schwarzenegger running for governor of California was bothering me. Of course there's plenty of competition near the top of the acting profession, given the wealth and prestige available. He's shown he's shrewd, tough, hard working, determined, and good with people. But I didn't think he was asking people to vote for him because of that. I considered him to be trying to appeal to people who wanted simple (although not ALWAYS easy) solutions to complex problems - like fighting crime by taking big guns and shooting people.

When I tried to google up some of his speeches, the first useful hit wasn't one of my usual papers, but the Mississippi Sun Herald.

Even though his newest movie, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," is just as violent as his 1980s action flicks, he is considered supportive of assault weapons laws. Schwarzenegger says he believes voters should be able to separate the two.

"I don't run around every day with a gun in my hand," he told Berkeley-based Youth Radio last year. "So I want kids to understand the difference; one is make- believe like we do in the movies. But in reality I'm for gun control. I'm a peace-loving guy."

A little later on:

"After the translator finished, I realized: Yes! I am a Republican," Schwarzenegger said. "I pretty much thought it was as simple as the movies: The Republicans were the good guys, and the Democrats were the bad guys."

Schwarzenegger said he later starting touring the county for the Special Olympics and "learned how America really worked. And what I realized was this: both parties had good ideas. So it's dead wrong to see things only as us versus them."

Does he really give the voters credit for realizing he's not a crime fighting robot, or is he just pretending to while assuming he has the crime-fighting-robot vote sewed up? Even if the latter, it proves HE'S smart enough to know the difference - and willing to endure the headaches of thinking through the consequences.

Some people think the true meaning of being a Republican is cutting taxes for the rich while screwing the poor - but Arnold might not if he listens to his new employee Warren Buffet.

I'm sure he has faults, but I think he's still way better than some of those California voters deserve. The way the recall vote works, whenever anything goes wrong in the state, it's actually EASIER to get elected governor than stay in office, because 51 percent are needed to keep you in office, but when the vote is deeply split a new candidate could get elected by winning ten percent or less. Does Arnold really deserve an endless series of elections?

Which brings me to my decision not to try and draft Alan Alda to run for President just yet. I'm afraid he'll announce he only plays a peace loving doctor in old reruns, and wants to invade Syria and Iraq. If Schwarzenegger doesn't want to solve problems by shooting them, you never know.

Unfortunately, I can't say that no cheap shots were taken in the making of this post. I want to apologize to Calpundit and all other Californians smarter than me, or just plain better human beings than I.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Remember King log and King stork? Remember George Herbert Walker Bush?

When he went back on his no new taxes pledge I wasn't impressed. Not that I thought the tax cuts were a good idea; on the contrary. I might have been angry because I thought he had cynically used the pledge to get elected. Of course the Republicans were angry because of the taxes, so nobody was happy.

I wasn't impressed by his personal relationships with foreign leaders either. I guess most Americans weren't, since they traded him in for Clinton. I think Clinton was pretty smart, but I'm wondering if we the voters did it because we knew - or because he felt our pain?

Even then, I wondered exactly what people wanted when the chided him about the 'vision thing'. I may have even wondered if some of them had failed to consider the dangers of demanding from the man they elected something they did not themselves posess, or if others had questioned whether the wrong vision was really better than none.

Some of the jokes about Dan Quail might still be funny, but I wonder what lesson someone trying to avoid the fate of Bush Sr. might learn?

Junior promised a tax cut, and he delivered. He must have known that if he said he was sorry but under the circumstances it seemed like it wasn't a good idea, neither the left nor right would respect him for it. Somehow many common people seem to feel cowboy Bush is in touch with them, even if he might not seem that way up close. The current Bush administration certainly has a vision of America and our place in the world. He has a pretty in-the-loop vice president.

May God forgive us our prayers, for we seem to have gotten what we asked for. No use whining that a majority of us didn't vote for him - a majority of us felt relieved that decisive action of some sort was being taken when he invaded Iraq. He keeps popular promises no matter what, he's got a common touch, he's got the vision thing and a clever VP. Who could ask for anything more?

Friday, August 15, 2003 has a bunch of great links for 'Fair and Balanced' day. Since the power outage has sapped my sense of humor and my computer is in a big room I'm not air conditioning, my contribution will be entirely serious.

Here's Daniel Drezner's post on liberal sites which even a conservative such as him finds interesting. Here is a conservative who really IS fair and balanced.

Normally I would quote a couple of paragraphs to get you started, but it would be unfair to one or another of the blogs he discusses.

To make it more fair and balanced yet, here's the link, again via Drezner, to Calpundit's list of conservative blogs liberals find interesting.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Around four o'clock the power went out where I work. I didn't think anything of it at first, although I was a little surprised they sent us home so fast for a power outage. My wife was waiting for me (we work near each other and share a car) and I was desperately trying to help a wheelchair bound man get in touch with his wife so he could get a ride home - she was expecting him to work overtime, the building was closing, and heatstroke from waiting outside too long wasn't unimaginable. Meanwhile my wife was scared. I made several calls, then an assistant director (truly a great guy) said he would stay as late as necessary.

I didn't start thinking of terrorism until I heard on the radio (I'd heard it from a coworker but hadn't known if I should believe it) that this was happening all over the country. I knew all these cities had different power companies and generating stations, so I couldn't see any way short of coordinated terrorism that all this could happen at once. Meanwhile, a power outage would have nowhere near the impact to justify the huge concealment and risk such a coordinated attack would imply. I didn't say anything to worry my wife - but I was half convinced the other shoe would drop much harder.

Thank goodness it turns out there was a problem at a Canadian power station. This means power companies that would normally buy from them may have to puch their own generators harder, which in the worst case can lead to further generator problems. Everyone is pretty convinced there was no terrorist involvement.

Monday, August 11, 2003

From the New York Times, hints of a worst case scenario.

AGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 10 — Riots over severe fuel shortages continued today in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, as some officials who have studied the matter warned that fuel shortages could recur in other parts of the country.

United Nations officials said there was a "near certainty" that Iraq would face winter shortages of kerosene, a vital fuel for heating homes in northern Iraq, because of the same refinery problems that have led to the gasoline shortages.

To paraphrase General MacArthur, suppose the word comes to Washington, "Send me kerosene or send me bullets". Most of the people in danger of dying of cold aren't the same ones trying to kill U.S. troops - but we can't quite tell which ones are. Occasionally our kerosene does get shared with our soldiers in the form of molotav cocktails. How much will the president who prefers cutting taxes for the rich to helping America's hungry and homeless be willing to spend there? I know, I know, the tax cuts for the rich are supposed to create jobs. That's part of the point - money spent in Iraq isn't going to create many jobs in America.

It isn't helpful to repeatedly contend invading Iraq was a mistake - we have to talk about what we should do now. The first thing we should do is deemphasize hoping for the best and reemphasize preparing for the worst. We don't want to repeat that mistake again.

This is the worst dilemma I can think of right now. Even if we spend massive amounts of money helping ameliorate the suffering of the Iraqi people, it may only keep attacks on United States troops at the level they are at now. The violent wing would claim we were only partially moderating problems we ourselves had caused - even while they sabotage all attempts to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure. On the other hand, doing less could lead to widespread rioting such as MacArthur feared.

I've thought hard trying to come up with something more helpful, but the best I can do right now is to look more at worst case and less at best case scenarios.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Global warming has gone down on my list of worries.

Not because of this:

At the risk of fuelling up John Quiggin and UnAustralian Ken Miles (though only with renewable energy resources), here's a fascinating post on Aaron Oakley's Bizarre Science summarising new research suggesting that much of the observed 20th century global warming is actually caused by variations in the activity of supernovae (rather than carbon dioxide generated by evil western capitalists).

The author of the study (and Oakley's post) is Tim Patterson, a professor in the department of earth sciences at Ottawa's Carleton University, who specializes in paleoclimatology (whatever that is). The paper is published by the Geological Society of America, and appears to be refereed.

The quote links to the post, which has live links to serious analysis and more fun stuff.

Certainly not because of this:

You may not believe this — the ideological propaganda on this topic is little short of overwhelming — but there is no consensus of scientists in the field that global warming threatens a disaster immediately or even over the next 100 years and more, or that the present emission of greenhouse gases is something especially to worry about. Empirical data fail to support the dire predictions of what those gases could do, and the theory of some researchers is that any warming that does take place could be beneficial.

Note the weasel words. Even though pretty much all real scientists in the relevant fields (including those funded by the oil industry) agree we are contributing to global warming with the greenhouse gases we produce, real scientists don't predict an exact amount of warming because of the number of factors involved. They predict a range. If we assume the amount of warming will be at the lowest possible part of that range, it wouldn't be a disaster.

A couple of years ago I would have found this and this and this quite disturbing. I guess I still do, but I don't think any of the carbon emmission scenarios were based on a global depression. Nobody knows what's going to happen after that, but between AIDS and terrorism and dangers of war which often follow a global depression I no longer put it near the top of the list of dangers to civilization.

I guess I sound pretty gloomy, and I'm not sure it's justified. There have always been people gloomily convinced that the problems of their era would not be solved, and often humanity has muddled through. Yet there have been catastrophes ending civilization too, such as the collapse of the Roman empire. I think if we're going to muddle through, one of the things we need to change is the conviction we're going to muddle through without any need for serious thinking.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

What will happen after Castro dies? There was an interesting editorial in the Washington Times.

We need to realize Mr. Castro's death will likely mean for Cuba what the fall of the Berlin Wall meant for the Soviet Union. After 44 years of totalitarianism, it seems doubtful the Cuban people will stand for anything less than a free society — but how free remains to be seen. Furthermore, America needs to make sure Cuba does not become a haven for "dark-side"criminal capitalism, as Russia has.
The next Cuban government and military may be staffed with a number of functionaries and soldiers who are serving under Mr. Castro, because they will be the only ones with the experience to do the job. There is a difference, however, between those bureaucrats and officers who do their jobs honestly and those who are corrupt and opportunistic. The DEA has confirmed that Cuba is a major cocaine transshipment center, though more to Mexico and Europe than the U.S. It is unrealistic to believe such activity can occur in a country that maintains such strict control of its airspace and waters without cooperation from elements of the military and/or bureaucracy. If the next government of Cuba includes these rotten elements, the implications for America are dire indeed.
The longstanding embargo against Cuba will be dropped to help our hopefully democratic neighbor get on its feet. This might provide the Latin American narcotics organizations with the opportunity they have been waiting for. They will swarm onto Cuba like flies on honey, trying to gain influence in the new government. If they succeed, they will be able to expand the import of drugs into America with newfound ease.

The ostensible focus of the editorial is on the effect a democratic Cuba would have on the illegal drug market, and some of the ideas are rather interesting. The casual assumption that 'The longstanding embargo against Cuba will be dropped to help our hopefully democratic neighbor get on its feet' is what interests me most however.

A large part of the reason (some would say the whole reason) we treat Cuba different from other totalitarian nations is because of the political influence of some Cuban Americans whose families had owned property nationalized by Castro. Many of these individuals are now in the sugar industry in Florida, and would lose a great deal of money if the embargo was dropped and we started importing sugar from Cuba. Some of them even cherish hopes they will somehow get their old property back in Cuba - but this seems unlikely indeed. None of these factors can be expected to change after Castro dies - not even if Cuba became the first nation in a long time to become a successful democracy after the anarchic collapse of their old government. It seems much more likely that the same interest groups will lobby against lifting the embargo, and the same congressmen will use whatever imperfections exist in the new government as an excuse for listening.

The future is far from certain of course, and I still have hopes of being proven wrong. But a casual assumption is dubious to say the least.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

Since I'm spending more time blogging and reading blogs again, I've been going through my sidebar. The blog I'm saddest about moving to the inactive column at the bottom of my sidebar is Neuron News. Looking at it now, I found again a great link to an article on consciousness in the Billings Gazette.

The idea of 'Politics of Consciousness' is especially interesting because it implies we might be able to learn about how to make the world community work by studying the brain - and vica versa.

On the other hand, I'm happy to have found Brain Waves with help from Steven Berlin Johnson. After I've read it for awhile, I'll hopefully have something interesting to say about it to put on my sidebar that you might not have guessed from the title.

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

From Science Blog quoting UCBerkley News:

The epidemic of HIV/AIDS in India is following the same pattern as that of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1980s, and it could become just as devastating unless preventive action is taken now, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, in a paper to be published Saturday (June 21) in the British Medical Journal. "In hindsight, opportunities were missed to stem the explosive growth of AIDS in Africa," says Dr. Malcolm Potts, professor of population and family planning at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health and lead author of the paper. "It would be a tragedy if we don't apply the lessons learned from the failure to control the spread of HIV in Africa to the current situation in India. It is very painful to watch history repeating itself."

The Bloviator quotes the Washington Post:

AIDS cases increased 2.2 percent in 2002, the first apparent rise since 1993, according to preliminary data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

If the final analysis of the national data collected annually by the CDC confirms the increase, it could mark a turning point in the AIDS epidemic in the United States. The epidemic had appeared to be stabilizing because of years of intensive safe-sex campaigns and the introduction of powerful anti-viral drugs that help prevent HIV-infected people from developing AIDS.

The cause of the apparent increase was unclear. Experts speculated that it could be a combination of factors, including a rise in HIV infections among young gay men in recent years, an increase in people who are failing to respond to the new treatments, and state budget problems, which could be limiting access to care for HIV-positive people who are poor.

Aids is clearly a global problem. The cost of prevention is trivial compared to the cost of treatment. I expect the cost of a crash program to slow the spread of aids in India would be cheaper than the direct and indirect costs of a huge breeding pool for HIV. Disease knows no borders. The larger the number of infected individuals, the greater the chance of a crucial mutation providing the virus with resistance to a crucial drug coming into existance and spreading. If swine can be a dangerous reservoir for diseases that can infect humans, how much more so other humans?

It seems HIV is not a national problem but a global one - and one we are failing to deal with. I wonder what sort of government would be able to deal with it, short of the world government the black helicopter folks are always talking about? If disease turns out to be the way the world ends, the next civilization might not care how authoritarian it has to be to prevent a repetition - all the more reason to find a way freedom and capitalism and democracy can solve this problem.

Monday, August 04, 2003

You know how every month you see the unemployment rate, and there are a bunch of articles in the news how things are actually better or worse because of certain people not counted? Ever wished someone would tell you the real unemployment rate and be done with it?

Here's Wampum's original May post - as always, the quote is a link to the whole, which also has active links that don't show up in my quote.

This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the April unemployment figures. The rate, which had decreased from its high of 6.0% in December to 5.7% in January, due to a shell game "change in statistical calculations", crept up to 5.8 in March, and returned to 6.0% in April.

But a number of questions have been raised recently on exactly what does the "official" rate mean, and is it indicative of the actual employment picture in the US economy. Last weekend, the New York Times focused on the influence of long-term joblessness on the numbers, as these workers have been purged from the calculations in increasing numbers in the past few months. Yesterday, See the Forest asked what factors are included and does the BLS provide a number which includes such factors as discouraged workers, part-time due to economic factors, etc.

Well, the answer turns out to be yes and no. Or, I should say, the BLS provides that information, but only in "raw" numbers, i.e., not seasonally adjusted. It claims that somehow the information it needs to calculate the "real" unemployment rate, seasonally adjusted, is "not available".

Funny, with a little digging, I was able to do it. By using archived reports, I was able to find those counted as unemployed, those not in the labor force but desiring employment, and those employed part time for economic reasons, e.g., no available full time jobs.

He also has a monthly graph of the real unemployment rate.

Here's his August first update, as a chaser for those little unemployment graphs you saw in the paper.

And here's incentive for me to update my sidebar.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

This article from Wired is still chasing itself around my brain. Some of the selective quoting is very misleading or just plain over the top, as you'll know if you're familiar with Steven Gould's actual feelings about religion. Much depends on your understanding of the phrase 'some form of reconciliation'.

Ever so gingerly, science has been backing away from its case-closed attitude toward the transcendent unknown. Conferences that bring together theologians and physicists are hot, recently taking place at Harvard, the Smithsonian, and other big-deal institutions. The American Association for the Advancement of Science now sponsors a "Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion." Science luminaries who in the '70s shrugged at faith as gobbledygook — including E. O. Wilson and the late Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan — have endorsed some form of reconciliation between science and religion.

All the same the article has a couple of interesting ideas at the core of it.

In recent years, researchers have calculated that if a value called omega — the ratio between the average density of the universe and the density that would halt cosmic expansion — had not been within about one-quadrillionth of 1 percent of its actual value immediately after the big bang, the incipient universe would have collapsed back on itself or experienced runaway-relativity effects that would render the fabric of time-space weirdly distorted. Instead, the firmament is geometrically smooth — rather than distorted — in the argot of cosmology. If gravity were only slightly stronger, research shows, stars would flame so fiercely they would burn out in a single year; the universe would be a kingdom of cinders, devoid of life. If gravity were only slightly weaker, stars couldn't form and the cosmos would be a thin, undifferentiated blur. Had the strong force that binds atomic nuclei been slightly weaker, all atoms would disperse into vapor.

Arguments for the Anthropic Principle are a dime a dozen though. The first thing I tried was Googling various key phrases of these arguments on the web, to see if they had been refuted yet. I couldn't come up with an authoritative answer. Finding a scientist in any discipline on the web is e-mail - whether he will answer or even read it is another question. Anyway, different scientists sometimes have different opinions on this. What I really needed was a forum read by many scientists and scientifically knowledgable people of many disciplines, who had the time and inclination to discuss the anthropic principle with laymen who have no formal qualifications whatsoever.

Oddly enough, I knew just where to go. is a usenet newsgroup where creationists and others dispute the theory of evolution, and where these arguments (and others from elsewhere) are disected by interested laypeople. Often the arguments have been refuted in print elsewhere, and the answer can be paraphrased with attribution, but there are some scientists and professors present if anything new needs to be analyzed. There is more about here.

My quote of part of Nathan Urban's reply is a link to the complete article.

However, Easterbrook is being very misleading in claiming that this
produces a fine-tuning problem; that was true 25 years ago, but not
today. This fine-tuning problem is known as the "flatness problem":
if the universe deviated from flatness (in the directions of either
positive or negative curvature) by a small amount, a universe like our
own would not be produced. There were a lot of appeals to the
anthropic principle to "explain" the fine-tuning. But since the
advent of inflationary theory, the flatness problem no longer exists.
Inflation explains how the universe can naturally be driven to
Omega->1 during a phase of accelerated "inflationary" expansion, no
matter what the original value of Omega was.

Ironically, Easterbrook mentions Alan Guth, who invented inflation,
without mentioning that Guth's theory killed Easterbrook's fine-tuning
argument about Omega.

On the other hand, Easterbrook's statements about the strength of
gravity and its effects on star formation appear correct; to the best
of my knowledge, we have no universally accepted, natural explanation
for why it takes the value it does.

It's too hasty to conclude that the anthropic principle is the only
explanation, though. For instance, see my own post

June 1998 post of the month.

His post is very much worth reading, but none of the replies yet offered to the argument are in the strictest sense scientific - which is to say testable. Even if you postulate an infinite number of universes none of them need contain life, just as the infinite set of integers does not contain all real numbers, and some would consider postulating an untestable infinite multiverse as speculative as a creator. Saying that it may be improbably but if it hadn't happened we wouldn't be here to worry about it is interesting, but most scientists confronted with the possibility that they had just observed highly improbably events repeatedly would at least consider alternate possibilities. After thanking him, I did suggest someone should amend the relevant FAQ (written by someone else) for the group, which reads in part:

And the probability that one of a random set of universes is a universe that supports some form of life is a third question. I submit it is this last question that is the important one and that we have no reason to be sure that this probability is small.

I have made some estimates of the probability that a chance distribution of physical constants can produce a universe with properties sufficient that some form of life would have likely had sufficient time to evolve. In this study, I randomly varied the constants of physics (I assume the same laws of physics as exist in our universe, since I know no other) over a range of ten orders of magnitude around their existing values. For each resulting "toy" universe, I computed various quantities such as the size of atoms and the lifetimes of stars. I found that almost all combinations of physical constants lead to universes, albeit strange ones, that would live long enough for some type of complexity to form (Stenger 1995: chapter 8). This is illustrated in figure 1.

As far as I know figure one is accurate, it varies the proton and electron masses and the strengths of the electromagnetic and strong forces but nothing to do with gravity. Seems a little misleading though, assuming Nathan Urban was correct, and if he wasn't it would be the first time I had ever seen something like that go uncorrected on

By now you may be wondering exactly what all of this has to do with the stuff I usually write about on this blog. The ideas I occasionally suggest about global consciousness are very speculative, and no doubt the future will be very different from what anyone alive now imagines, but we don't know the universe so well that we can rule out anything. I think whatever the foundation of consciousness turns out to be, it will be stranger than we can now imagine.

Friday, August 01, 2003

While I was browsing through the part of N.Z. Bears ecosystem page with blogs not yet extensively linked, I found Grim's Hall. A "weblog on politics, ethics, mythology, history, and the heroic life." It has a cool look, a Nordic theme, a 'Southern Democrat' perspective, and some new links and ideas.