Saturday, July 31, 2004

The New York Times > International > Trade Group to Cut Farm Subsidies for Rich Nations
The World Trade Organization agreed Saturday that it would eventually eliminate billions of dollars of farm subsidies for rich nations in a new framework for revising global trade rules aimed at helping the world's poorest people.

The framework agreement approved Saturday night amounts to the halfway point in this round of talks. Officials hope for a successful conclusion in 2006, about the time that Congress will be renewing the farm program, which will have to include the changes finally agreed to by the global trade body.
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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Dems Extreme Makeover:: Wow. I have a respectful disagreement with a number of people about the war in Iraq. I think they are very wrong, but I respect their somewhat intelligent ideas, which seem to keep consistent over time.

This 11 minute video very clearly shows that Kerry is a different sort. He believes something only so far as his convoluted speech allows for multiple loop-holes, and the media doesn't have the attention span to watch his views morph over time.

It is clear from the video that Kerry changed his opinions on the war in response to the Dean campaign. This is far worse than Dean himself, despite his spastic shortcomings, who at least was honest.

The point isn't that Kerry is correct now or was wrong before, but that he cannot be trusted to do more than respond to the changing winds. This might be something of value in a long serving senator, but with the quick decisions that must be made as Commander and Chief, there is no choice but stalwart dedication to principled action.

This is why Kerry shouldn't be president: not because of a relatively irrelevant voting record, but what his record says about his character.

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Obama's rousing speech:: Contrasting the idea os "two Americas" and giving a wonderful speech with his inspiring origins story, Barack Obama is very good. I disagree wish some policy issues (anyone can make it in America, but we need the government to intervene in a number of cases?), but he is clearly a positive force in the Democratic party. We need more people like him. Too bad we have a waffler & straddler and a class warfare lawyer instead. sigh...

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Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The New York Times > Editorial Observer: The Democratic Convention: Feed, but Do Not Annoy, the Swing Voters:: Interesting article.
One of the great ironies of a modern political convention is that there's nobody more superfluous than the delegates from the states where the party is the strongest.

When Al Gore made his speech on Monday about how every vote had to count in November, people from heavily Democratic places must have mentally noted that theirs seem to be counted already. It makes sense that the safe blue states have the worst seats here, since nobody's really talking to them. Wherever their delegates go, they hear how critical the upcoming election will be, and how everything depends on voters from someplace else.
These are the great themes of the Democratic convention: 1) This is the most important political contest in the memory of man, and 2) it will be decided by six people in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The issues are cosmic, and the candidates are addressing a population the size of Toledo.
We are stuck with a federal election system designed by people who did not want to leave the future of slavery to majority rule, and the modern technology of polling allows candidates to pinpoint the swing voters in the swing states - star pupils in the Electoral College.

To make things still weirder, the parties organize their primaries so that the nominees are chosen by only a few lucky states. Democratic voters in early primary states selected John Kerry as the presidential nominee because they thought he would appeal to people in places like Florida. But something happened in the long months between the Iowa caucus and the Boston convention. Despite the fact that Mr. Kerry's great selling point was being a winner, the Democrats now regard him as, at best, a non-loser who can, with great effort, possibly be dragged across the finish line ahead of the other guy. If everybody is very careful not to tick off the six people in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
If I really cared about this election, and wasn't living in a swing state like PA, I would probably register somewhere where I could feel like my vote counted. As was pointed out by a friend Miguel in NY, "I have not considered registering in a swing state -- I have enough not fun at the post office where I live -- but I may campaign in one if it appears that that would be effective, and I've given 25 bucks to moveon"
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Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Cassini-Huygens-Multimedia-Images:: Looks like it's been redirected from its course to Dantooine.

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Thursday, July 22, 2004

The New York Times > Washington > Details Emerge on Flight 93:: Details of this story return some of the rage I felt as an initial reaction to 9/11.
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The New York Times > Opinion > Shrimp and Mischief:: Shrimp from Vietnam and China has been slapped with tariffs. Don't they realize the effect this will have on my shrimp-cocktail consumption rate?! The Bastards!!!

I really wish policy makers would get the notion through their heads: trade is not zero-sum. We "protect domestic industry" with tariffs (i.e. corporate welfare), but fail to realize that there is need to protect businesses at home only in a world without free trade. Having multiple sources from all across the globe for each good makes our economy stronger, not weaker. Why are domestic shrimp farmers important if we can get shrimp elsewhere?

Also, I wonder what the authors of the editorial think about the people who will be swayed by it. More likely than not, the only people to be swayed are those who love free trade and are on the fence for Bush; this will take more votes from Bush than from Kerry because economic conservatives are center-right.

But Libertarian hawks shouldn't be distracted by this, at least with respect to the presidential election. As has been pointed out before, you're kidding yourself if you think that a vote for Kerry would make America more to your liking.
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Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Hawking concedes black hole bet:: In related news, millions of workers in office buildings across America made and instantly lost bets that they understood what Hawking's bet was about.
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JohnKerryIsADoucheBagButImVotingForHimAnyway.com:: I don't know if I agree with the second part of that message. (Hat Tip: The Bastard)
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The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Inside a Republican Brain:: "What holds the five Republican factions together? To find out, I depth-polled my own brain." Saffire scores again.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The New Yorker: Shouts and Murmurs"As a quick-thinking senatorial aide switched on the Senate’s public-address system and cued up the infamous “Seven Minutes of Funk” break, Mr. Leahy and Mr. Cheney went head-to-head in what can only be described as a “take no prisoners” freestyle rap battle.":: Gold. Read it all.
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What Are We Teaching Our Kids?:: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” -George Orwell. So now it's teachers, and their lesson plans vs. facts everyone should know. This is a very interesting read. I just wish that people would see a connection to the point brought up earlier, about state controlled media, and the negative effects of state controlled education.

Vouchers really make the most sense. Read more here and here.

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Samizdata.net | Forcing the issue :: ...of private property in space.
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The New York Times > Movies > Movie Review | 'Outfoxed': Spin Zones, Flag Waving and Shouting to Catch a Fox:: Only the New York Times would give a review and claim the following:
The partisan nature of "Outfoxed," a series of expository and analytical talking-head segments interspersed with the high-octane flag-draped shouting-head segments that have become Fox's trademark, is obvious. It is also, therefore, a little beside the point.
In my own judgment, Fox's hard news (which is labeled as hard news) is more objective, and presents both sides. Reporting from Iraq shows both political & economic infrastructure being rebuilt and road-side bombs killing people trying to do it. Reporting on the election almost always is based on straight quotes from either party or relevant organization. When the pundits get on, their opinions are labeled as such, even if they shout -- which happens on EVERY channel.

A few internal memos are given to show the bias. Fox claims that those are a few of thousands of memos, and would release them all to clear the record if CNN and the network news shows did the same. Now that is a real challenge to the established media. Clearly, the other parties won't release their memos, as their bias is so obvious it is clichéd.

By the way, go here for reporting on good news from Iraq. This comment there is interesting:
Another fortnight in Iraq, another fortnight's worth of news about terrorism, hostages, military and civilian casualties, faulty intelligence in the run-up to war, and the problems of reconstruction, as our mainstream media continues to focus overwhelmingly on bad news from the Mesopotamian quagmire. And yet, some still think that the latest coverage is actually too positive - as in this Reuters story: "Some U.S. news outlets are treating the 'transfer of power' to Iraqis as a new beginning for the country, even though the situation on the ground seems little altered, experts said." I guess some "experts" will remain "little altered" regardless of the actual situation on the ground.

And yet, there is good news coming out of Iraq, as this compilation of all the positive developments that you might have otherwise missed clearly demonstrates. I started looking out for good news from Iraq over two months ago, having gotten fed up with the unrelenting barrage of negative news coverage, which focused almost exclusively on violence, failure and dashed hopes. The good news is much underreported and not always easy to find, but clearly it's out there, and taken together with the usual Iraq coverage, it paints a much more balanced and, dare I say it, nuanced picture of a country, which is still waking up from a three decades' long nightmare and trying against many odds to become normal.

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The Hudson Review | Bruce Bawer. "Hating America" :: This is a really good essay. Read all of it if you can. You'll learn interesting things like McDonalds has a larger market share in many European nations than it does in America, and that the media in these nations is state controlled because the public dispersal of information [free press] is "too important to be left to the [free] market." It would be only a farce if it didn't indoctrinate many Europeans into statist, anti-American ideas. It is too important to laugh at :)

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Economic Freedom Is on the Rise:: Nations are continuing to become more free economically. This is great. How much does it cost to not push for even faster progress? Probably trillions...
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One nation under God:: Read the whole thing. Teaser:
Anti-Americanism makes strange bedfellows. The Arab Islamists despise America because it’s all lap-dancing and gay-phone sex; Europe’s radical secularists despise America because it’s all born-again Christians hung up on abortion. They’re both right. The free market enables Hustler to thrive. And the free market in churches enables religion to thrive. In Europe, the established church, whether formal (the Church of England) or informal (as in Catholic Ireland, Italy and Spain), killed religion as surely as state ownership killed the British car industry. When the Episcopal Church degenerates into a bunch of wimpsville self-doubters, Americans go elsewhere. When the Church of England undergoes similar institutional decline, Britons give up on religion entirely.

‘When men cease to believe in God,’ said Chesterton, ‘they do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!’ The anything most of the Western world’s non-believers believe in is government: instead of a state church, Europe believes in the state as church — the purveyor of cradle-to-grave welfare will provide daycare for your babies and take your aged parents off your hands. The people are happy to have cast off the supposed stultifying oppressiveness of religion for a world in which the state regulates every aspect of life. The French government’s recent headscarf ban — which, in the interests of an ecumenical fig-leaf, is also a ban on yarmulkes and ‘large’ crucifixes — seems the way of the future, an attempt to push all religion to the fringes of life. A couple of years back, a Canadian ‘human rights commission’, in its ruling that a Christian printer had illegally discriminated against a gay group by turning down a printing job for pro-gay literature, said he had the right to his religious beliefs in his own home but he had to check them at the door when he left for work in the morning. Who’s in the closet now?

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Monday, July 19, 2004

Online NewsHour: The Analysis of Mark Shields and William Saffire -- July 16, 2004:: An excellent debate. I love Saffire. Cool under file, keeping view of the big picture, and very eloquent and deliberate as a wordsmith.

Shields could learn some good lessons.
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Thursday, July 15, 2004

Reason::"Ten Reasons to Fire George W. Bush. And nine reasons why Kerry won't be much better." Interesting reading. I'll refute them point by point shortly.
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The New York Times > Opinion > Conventioneering.com:: The official NY Times opinion on bloggers, especially those "wanna-be pundits" who will blog the convention. Maybe they should look here, and here, at individual blogs who get more readers than your average newspaper.

Either way, the opinion piece fails to grasp the threat to established media that is distributed journalism, as I like to call it. They certainly wouldn't be so light-hearted and patronizing if they knew the cost.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2004

USNews.com: John Leo: Blogging the watchdogs (7/19/04):: Blogs are pretty empowering. Before, a newspaper had the power to publish a letter of complaint or not. Now they have no choice but to yield to the news-making on blogs, which anyone can write. Read John Leo as he describes this in detail for the particularly poor publishing practices performed by the LA Times. heh...
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Sunday, July 11, 2004

Saturn Hailstorm:: Go here and listen to the quitcktime file of the sound generated from the following:

July 9, 2004: When the Cassini spacecraft reached Saturn on June 30th, it dashed through a gap in Saturn's rings ... and then did it again. The double ring crossing was part of a maneuver required to put Cassini in orbit.

Although the ring gaps appeared empty, they weren't. Innumerable bits of ring-dust were waiting for Cassini, and they plowed into the spacecraft at a relative speed of approximately 20 km/s. That's 45,000 mph!

"When we crossed the ring plane, we had roughly 100,000 total dust hits in less than five minutes," says Cassini science team member Don Gurnett of the University of Iowa. Fortunately the particles were small--"comparable in size to particles in cigarette smoke," he says. And most of the hits were to the spacecraft's tough high-gain antenna.

No damage was done, but it sounded exciting.

Each time a dust particle hit Cassini, the impact produced a puff of plasma--a tiny cloud of ionized gas. Cassini's Radio and Plasma Wave Science (RPWS) instrument was able to count these clouds; there were as many as 680 puffs per second. "We converted these into audible sounds that resemble hail hitting a tin roof," says Gurnett, the intrument's principal investigator.

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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Robotic Nation Evidence blog links this page selling a Korean humanoid robot from WOW Robot. It is only a few thousand dollars, and has extremely fluid movement. I would complain that there aren't many sensors, the computation is probably pretty limited on board, and the movements are all scripted. Also, I’m not sure about the balancing, given the very big feet.

That said, it would be interesting to see what kind of higher level actions could be made from scripted primitives (for those interested in this, you should read about Brooks' Subsumption Architecture).

Also, I shouldn't underestimate the entertainment qualities of this bot. It looks great.
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The Good News About Productivity:: Arnold Kling, one of my favorite economists to read, gives the good news: productivity is BOOMING.
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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

CNN.com - Restaurant offers DNA test for link to Genghis Khan - Jul 7, 2004:: "'He was an all-conquering tribal leader,' said David Ashworth, a geneticist who is Oxford Ancestors' chief executive. 'He took their cities, he took their land, he took their women.'"

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The New York Times > World Business > Europe Reluctantly Deciding It Has Less Time for Time Off:: "Many Europeans now believe that shorter hours, once seen as a way of spreading work among more people, have done little to ease unemployment." This is an interesting article and a good development. Go here and here to learn about the amazing benefits of productivity from Virginia Postrel, where it is a myth that employment is more tight the more productive people are. No, a great deal of the money a corporation saves on anything goes back into the corporation in order to make it a better company.

Despite my own bit of schadenfreude to see the economies under-perform in nations that have blocked reasonable action in Iraq, it is always in my best interest for a neighbor's economy to improve. I hope this is a start.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

www.blogoram.com:: The Iraq "Weather Map" By UML Guy. Very Cool.
So we keep hearing stories of "hot spots" in Iraq, where trouble is happening. (And somethimes, we hear "stories" from "reporters" who are just trying to fan the flames and keep the spots hot.)

And when I heard this drumbeat of stories (or the same story repeated long past its news value) in the same locales, I would think: "Well, yeah, we know there are terrorists in that area. But what about the rest of the country? And what about all the good things happening even there among the terrorists? What about the cool spots?"

And that led me to this idea; and with the help of Microsoft MapPoint and Microsoft Excel, I was able to produce this "weather map", showing various hot and cool spots in Iraq:

Screencap (but do go to the site for an interactive map, with links to the related stories):

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Class Action? Third Aisle to the Left.:: Trial lawyers who benefit the more government imposes broad rules on business are joining forces with groups who see Wal-Mart a negative force in society. Wal-Mart is being sued by people claiming discriminatory promotion habits. Read the article linked to get one view showing how ridiculous the claim is.

It is the scapegoat for many anti-capitalists. Wal-Mart has done little more than combine extremely efficient supply lines and logistics with a decentralized local control, which yields an amazing number of products at extremely low prices all across America. This, combined with the extremely deep pockets of the family, is enough to make Wal-Mart the most often sued company in America.

Of course, once these products are available to a broad range of Americans, people forget their added benefit, and begin complaining about things like the protection of non-competitive local shops and the evils of foreign manufacturing (which is a far greater benefit to developing economies than all foreign aid in the form of welfare-like cash payments).

I just wish those who are motivated by security and equality would learn to appreciate the national security that comes from interdependence, the economic security of numerous and non-local sources of products, and the economic and humanitarian benefits of bringing the whole world into one growing economy.

At the very least, Edwards, among other dems, lefties, and reactionaries, should start reading more Milton Friedman. They can start here.

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CNN.com - Kerry announces Edwards as his running mate:: Edwards is probably a better leader than Kerry, even if younger, because he can stir a crowd to passions, and is clearly skilled with his successes as a trial lawyer (I'm still trying to decide what skills a legislator has. He or she uses a laymen’s knowledge on most issues to decide what is best for others. Compromise is their biggest feature, hardly making a moral stalwart).

Also, Edwards is stronger than Cheney. I think Bush should swap Cheney & Rice or Powell's positions. It would please many people and keep the operational habits identical. In addition it would place an African American to the highest position yet achieved, most importantly for reasons not having to do with race (though I doubt the NAACP or PUSH would notice).

That said, I hate Edwards' idea of "Two Americas". It is too close to Marxist class ideology, divisive, and wrong. Discounting new immigrants, the vast majority of Americans enjoy a rising quality of life. Immigrants join the rise after being here for 10 years, on average. Considering immigrants almost always start in a far poorer state than Americans, this is still remarkable.

Rising costs of education and health care only indicate that more people have access to these tools once reserved for the elite.

Edwards confirms my fears that the Kerry ticket is likely to raise tariffs or other protectionist barriers to trade, support a welfare state, and do nothing about Social Security.

Also, Drudge Report has some interesting links about the past comments on Edwards, some by Kerry.
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Friday, July 02, 2004

Shell Game

So it took a number of editorials and Op-Eds (which of course bled into the hard news sections) to show that 2 shells with sarin STILL don't qualify as a threat. How about 12? U.S. Says Poles Find Old Sarin Shells in Iraq. 1 gallon in 1 shell can kill 60,000 people.

Of course the point is that Saddam was a non-contained persistent threat in his efforts to acquire these types of weapons. We needn't find stockpiles to prove he was a potential threat. Just ask him, or maybe "Chemical-Ali", or maybe thousands of gassed Kurd & Shia civilians.

I had yet another discussion the other day about whether the war was justified, and came to somewhat a conclusion. The issue is of marginal cost. Certainly the $87B cost, <1K soldiers deaths, and <10K civilian deaths are not big numbers at all.

Now that civil war, hundreds of thousands of civilians dead, and millions of refuges (all predicted) have not happened, two reasons given why the war was bad are that
- US image has been hurt in the world's view
- The US has been distracted from the broader war on terror.

For the former, I would argue that people that see American action in Iraq as bad because it did not "follow international law" (despite 17 broken UN resolutions) isn't really that important. What is important here is that we continue to kill terrorists. I do not believe that extremists are just moderates “gone bad” by something that pushed them over the edge. You might have had some folks in Europe who liked Clinton but now hate the US war in Iraq, but this has little connection to people willing to die for their religion. I despise efforts to justify terrorist actions by linking them to a moderate past or an action taken by the other side. The point: the people of consequence (the terrorists) don't need another reason to hate America. Some of our once great allies are only proving the uselessness of cold-war era relations as our enemies change. [Also, go here to read about one interesting potential reason for their actions.]

As for the distraction, I would say what needs to be shown is that we have been so distracted by the war in Iraq that the opportunity cost of having terrorists escape in places like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia is GREATER than the benefit of invading Iraq.
The benefits to be tallied:
- No more weapons programs
- The "fly-paper" strategy, where the war is attracting martyrs in large numbers to Iraq where we can kill them more easily and with less risk of American deaths (verses a domestic terrorist attack). Note this also counters the second argument above.
- The humanitarian benefits are enormous.
- Libya shows the first step of a reverse domino-theory and hopefully a democratic state in Iraq will pay further dividends.

So, would we have Osama if we didn't invade? Can you show that the lost opportunities are greater than the list above? The answer is probably ‘no’ on both counts. This means it is basically a useless argument.

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Thursday, July 01, 2004

From the newspaper that brought you a celebration of James Joyce's work on Bloom's Day, and the indelible mark it has left on our collective psyche....

... I bring you the news that there are no Elite on the left (they are on the right).

This is name-calling at its worst. Like Ann Coulter, sadly, she is attacking name-calling with more name-calling.

Who does she think take up the majority of editorial positions in big journalism?
Who takes the majority of social science professorships at our indoctrinating universities?
Which party has an average donation rate an order of magnitude higher than the other?

Also note that the Club for Growth is “ultra-elite right-wing”, because they don’t think high taxes are conducive for business growth. If I agree with them, does this make me elite? If so, I can't wait till those bigs bucks start rolling in.

This is supposed to replace Thomas Freedman? Just in time for Freedman to go without criticizing zero-sum, protectionist trade policies of one objectionable presidential candidate.

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