October 21, 2007 archive

“Rumsfeld’s Revenge” led State Dept. to hire Blackwater

According to State Dept. officals, Donald Rumsfeld’s anger at losing control of funds to build the new embassy in Baghdad left State with no choice but to turn to Blackwater for its security.

In 2004 the State Department began planning for its new U.S. embassy in Baghdad and Rumsfeld lost a turf war for control of the billions in construction funds. As a result, Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowits decided protecting State was no longer their concern:

A new executive order, signed in January 2004, gave State authority over all but military operations. Rumsfeld’s revenge, at least in the view of many State officials, was to withdraw all but minimal assistance for diplomatic security…

Meetings to negotiate an official memorandum of understanding between State and Defense during the spring of 2004 broke up in shouting matches over issues such as their respective levels of patriotism and whether the military would provide mortuary services for slain diplomats.

The I/P rules are Stupid!

Now that I have your attention–I don’t mean the rules of different blogs.  I mean the rules being set down and enforced by big businesses trying to shut down the posting of clips from their movies or TV shows on free access sites.

I posted a clip from the movie Idiocracy in a comment here about a week ago.  This was a part of the intro to the movie–a really funny part that includes the setup for the movie.  A few days later I went to utube to find the clip again and it was blocked.  I also, at one time, wanted to link to utubes of The Daily Show only to find out that Viacom frowns on that sort of thing.

Four at Four

  1. In much of the western United States, ‘The Future Is Drying Up‘. Joe Gertner of The New York Times reports on the West’s lack of water and how drought is becoming the norm. “Over the past few decades, the driest states in the United States have become some of our fastest-growing; meanwhile, an ongoing drought has brought the flow of the Colorado to its lowest levels since measurements at Lee’s Ferry began 85 years ago… Lake Mead, the enormous reservoir in Arizona and Nevada that supplies nearly all the water for Las Vegas, is half-empty, and statistical models indicate that it will never be full again.”

    “Water tables all over the United States have been dropping, sometimes drastically, from overuse. In the Denver area, some cities that use only groundwater will almost certainly exhaust their accessible supplies by 2050.” Many western water managers were once of the belief that the severe drought years of 1950s marked the worse case fort the Colorado. But recent fir and pine tree ring studies have concluded that the drought in the 1950s “were mild and brief compared with other historical droughts.”

    “An even darker possibility is that a Western drought caused by climatic variation and a drought caused by global warming could arrive at the same time… Climatologists seem to agree that global warming means the earth will, on average, get wetter.” A study by Climate scientist Richard Seager predicts “the Southwest will ultimately be subject to significant atmospheric and weather alterations.” But, he cautioned, “You can’t call it a drought anymore, because it’s going over to a drier climate. No one says the Sahara is in drought.”

    Many water managers have known this for a while. The two problems — water and energy — are so intimately linked as to make it exceedingly difficult to tackle one without the other. It isn’t just the matter of growing corn for ethanol, which is already straining water supplies. The less water in our rivers, for instance, the less hydropower our dams produce. The further the water tables sink, the more power it takes to pump water up. The more we depend on coal and nuclear power plants, which require huge amounts of water for cooling, the larger the burden we place on supplies.

    Meanwhile, it is a perverse side effect of global warming that we may have to emit large volumes of carbon dioxide to obtain the clean water that is becoming scarcer because of the carbon dioxide we’ve already put into the atmosphere. A dry region that turns to desalination, for example, would need vast amounts of energy (and money) to purify its water. While wind-powered desalination could perhaps meet this challenge — such a plant was recently built outside Perth, Australia — it isn’t clear that coastal residents in, say, California would welcome such projects. Unclear, too, is how dumping the brine that is a by-product of the process back into the ocean would affect ecosystems.

    Over population, dwindling resources to fuel a 20th-century-styled economy combined with the realities of global warming. We have our work cut out for us. The sooner we admit there is a job to do, the sooner we can get busy. We have ideas that may be viable solutions, but getting bogged down in Iraq, the Arctic, the Amazon, or elsewhere trying to hold on to last century is not a smart way to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Sure, the future is scary, but a conservative approach, clinging desperately to a lost past, will only lead to more intense pain and killing in the years to come. We must embrace our future with an open and creative mind. We can do it.

Below the fold are three more stories. First, a couple of stories about oil drilling and prospecting in the Amazonian Rainforest. Second, today’s Guns of Greed with a story about the FIRST ever protest at the gates of Blackwater’s compound in Virginia. And third, a story about Quentin Blake, the wonderful artist who illustrated many children’s books, hired to make an ugly building in London disappear. So, don’t vanish… click the ‘There’s more’ link to reappear below the fold…

Slavery, Race, and the Death of the Democratic Party

From whence comes democracy, the government or the people?

A fine, passionate diarist elsewhere lamented:

I am angry.  I despair.  I am outraged.  I am exhausted.  I teach about a government that perhaps no longer exists

Which made me wonder:  maybe too the existence of democracy itself in the US is more mythical than not…  Remember women only got the right to vote in 1920, Native Americans and Chinese (among others) in 1924.  Up until the 1960’s women in many states, if married, automatically ceded their property to their husband.  In the 1960’s a woman could be fired for pregnancy, needed a male signator on her credit card even if she was a Rockefeller, and pregnant girls were kicked out of high school.

Native American children were punished for speaking their native languages until very recently on their own reservations.

Pony Party: Sunday music retrospective

Lovin’ Spoonful

What a Day for a Daydream

Life on Earth 2.0 – with graphics upgrade

Note:  Please forgive the re-post – still seems relevant.

Life on earth, in fact all life (as far as we know) is sustained by the razor thin and fragile atmosphere of a relatively tiny random globe in an obscure and nondescript solar system based on a third rate star hugging the inner edge of one immense spiral arm of a generic spiral galaxy in a far flung region of the vast and only Universe we know (although we are beginning to suspect that there may be others – see Multiverse Theory).


Failed Revolutions

I posted this on big orange, but it is probably better suited for DD.

Having to travel this week, I picked up a Time magazine for some low impact mental aerobics.  Thumbing through the October 22 edition, I came across an article by Andrew Marshall, entitled “Anatomy of a Failed Revolution.”  The subhead was depressing:

A correspondent looks back on a week of hope and despair in Burma’s brief, shining – but ultimately doomed  – uprising

I could feel the despair rising in my own chest as I prepared to digest one man’s post-mortem of yet another attempt by repressed people to peacefully attempt regime change.  We know the Buddhist monks chanted the mantra:

Let everyone be free from harm
Let everyone be free from anger
Let everyone be free from hardship

We know the monks were gunned down in cold blood.

Howard Kurtz Has a Blog

Clive James once decribed a particular best-selling bodice-ripper as like “a long conversation between two not very bright drunks”.  Howard Kurtz’s blog, in which he promotes his promotional tour for his book Reality Show: Inside the Last Great Television News War (don’t worry, he doesn’t mean Iraq), is like a short conversation between a especially dumb goldfish and a piece of fake seaweed. 

I would much, much rather read Redstate.  I would rather stare at a pile of sand.

At the Harper’s Magazine website, Scott Horton described Kurtz as “one of the dumbest figures in print or on the airwaves”.  After reading Kurtz’s blog, I’m inclined to add “or in an oxygon-rich aptmosphere” to the list.

This must be seen to be believed. 

Everything but the Oceans’ Sinks

Cross-posted from The Environmentalist

Amidst alarms raised about the loss of ice in the polar regions, the extreme droughts across the US, the floods in the UK earlier this year, the increasingly unstable nature of the weather worldwide, a new concern has been raised about the Southern Oceans’ inability to absorb and store CO2:

The Southern Ocean around Antarctica is so loaded with carbon dioxide that it can barely absorb any more, so more of the gas will stay in the atmosphere to warm up the planet, scientists reported on Thursday.

Human activity is the main culprit, said researcher Corinne Le Quere, who called the finding very alarming. The phenomenon wasn’t expected to be apparent for decades, Le Quere said in a telephone interview from the University of East Anglia in Britain. “We thought we would be able to detect these only the second half of this century, say 2050 or so,” she said. But data from 1981 through 2004 show the sink is already full of carbon dioxide.

more below the jump…

Sully: Still Defending Racism

Whenever folks try to rehabilitate Andrew Sullivan, he is quick to remind us why he is so detestable.

As for the “science” of the Bell Curve, see this:

''The Bell Curve'' inflamed readers when it was published three years ago by arguing that economic and social success in America had become largely a matter of genes, not education, environment or other factors over which society might exert control. The chilling genes-are-destiny thesis, laced with racial overtones, was greeted with furious criticism. But much of the initial criticism was ill informed and driven by ideology.

It could hardly have been otherwise. The book's authors, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, did not release their statistical findings — the only important original contributions in the book — for formal review by scholars before publication. Their runaround obstructed response by other social scientists, who needed time to appraise hundreds of pages of statistical analysis. Now, three years later, scholars have caught up, shattering the book's core claims.

. . . [T]he book's evidence is riddled with mistakes. Two stand out.

The first error flows from biased statistics. The book tries to determine whether I.Q. or family background is a better predictor of success. I.Q. is easily measured. But family background is not. The authors' simplistic index incorporates parental income, education and job prestige, but leaves out numerous components of a child's upbringing.

That creates a statistical mirage, or bias, because statistical tests inevitably underestimate the impact of factors that are hard to measure. Mistakes in measuring family background obliterate the ability of statisticians to detect its impact on future success. Thus, as James Heckman of the University of Chicago has convincingly argued, the book's finding that family background is a weak precursor of success reflects its biased methods rather than the workings of American society.

Also compelling is evidence about the second notable error — that the authors' measure of intelligence is by no means immutable, as their thesis requires. Prof. Derek Neal of the University of Chicago and Prof. William Johnson of the University of Virginia have shown that scores on the measurement used by Mr. Herrnstein and Mr. Murray, the Armed Forces Qualification Test, depend on how much schooling individuals have completed. Put simply, the more students study in school, the better they do on the test. So what the authors call immutable intelligence turns out to be what others call skills — indeed, teachable skills.

This mistake turns the message of the book on its head. Instead of its sighing surrender to supposed genetic destiny for poor children, there's a corrected message: Teach them.

Andrew Sullivan remains a shameful figure in our public discourse.

Pony Party: Sunday music retrospective

The Byrds

Turn, Turn, Turn

Pony Party: Sunday music retrospective

Mamas and Papas

Dedicated to the One I Love

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