Thursday, November 29, 2007

The clown congress gets a clue.

All year, I have been stunned and appalled by how utterly ridiculous the Democratically controlled Congress has been. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have been so blinded by ideology and hatred of President Bush that even the most stupid, brain-damaged, totally moronic ideas sounds great to them. These people are total fools, yet they don't even care.

Case in point: Congressman John Murtha now thinks that the surge in Iraq is working:
U.S. Rep. John Murtha today said he saw signs of military progress during a brief trip to Iraq last week, but he warned that Iraqis need to play a larger role in providing their own security and the Bush administration still must develop an exit strategy.

"I think the 'surge' is working," the Democrat said in a videoconference from his Johnstown office, describing the president's decision to commit more than 20,000 additional combat troops this year. But the Iraqis "have got to take care of themselves."
Representative John Murtha has been fighting tooth and nail against the Bush "occupation" of Iraq since day one of the current congress. Representative John Murtha has spent the last eleven months employing every legislative trick in the book in a desperate attempt to stop the surge and remove the troops from Iraq. Representative John Murtha is the standard-bearer of a political party that believes that President Bush only ordered a surge of troops because President Bush wants more working class people to die. Representative John Murtha of the "The War is Lost" party and the "The Surge is Futile" party now thinks that the surge is working after all!

Gee whiz, you know, if we had ever taken John Murtha's foreign policy advice seriously, it would have totally screwed over our troops and the nation of Iraq. It's a good thing that there is no danger of that ever happening again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Senator Hillary Clinton: Control Freak

How is it that Senator Clinton is being allowed to run the most blatant and utterly shameless dirty tricks campaign since, say, the last time a Clinton ran for president? Why is it that the suggestion that Hillary Clinton is anything less than the greatest, most compassionate, most infallible person to ever run for president is seen by the Clinton campaign as horrible crime to be subjected to swift retaliation? Why is it that the other presidential candidates are not allowed to think anything other than happy thoughts abouts Hillaryland if she can help it?

The latest trick from the first female presidential candidate to make Richard Nixon look like the Marquess of Queensberry: yet another planted questioner, this time at a Republican debate. Republicans everywhere were expecting some level of general idiocy from the clowns at CNN, and -- SURPRISE -- they got it.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thoughts about "Lions for Lambs"

Based on a single positive review, I went to go see the new film "Lions for Lambs" in the theaters. Although I missed the last third of the film due to an audio failure in the theatre, most of the rest of the film wasn't all that bad. Here are some thoughts about it.
  • The first thing one notices about the film is the attention to detail required to make Tom Cruise look like Republican Senator Jasper Irving. There is the obligatory lapel pin indicating his personal, daily political sentiment to the observing public (I blame Madeleine Albright for this), there is the vaguely flag-like red, white, and blue striped tie, and there is the important Southern hair. Apparently it was also necessary to give Tom Cruise non-lethal doses of Joker gas to broaden his grin into a full-head beamer.

  • The particular saga of the two college students, Ernest and Arian, who go from political science classes to being stranded on a winter mountain plateau in Afghanistan, could have easily made a great movie all on its own. The highlight of their backstory is a flashback to their college political science class presentation, which in a fairly obvious parallel to their Afghanistan prediciment involves them getting "sniped" at with half-baked questions and comments from the bored college students in the audience. Arian and Ernest managed to hold their own in the debate that their presentation provokes by resorting to the movie's default mode of political argument: cant.

  • Probably the most stupid argument that I saw in the movie came from Meryl Street's character, journalist Janine Roth, during her interview of the Republican Senator. Very roughly speaking the argument goes something like this:
    Senator: I have a new plan for winning the war in Afghanistan.
    Journalist: I think it's more important that we talk about the mistakes that were made.
    Senator: Yes, mistakes were made. Really bone-headed mistakes. Let's talk about the new plan now.
    Journalist: You already admitted to mistakes. How do you know that this new plan isn't a mistake?
    The one true pleasure of this movie is watching Senator Irving grow visibly more annoyed with this type of inane questioning while trying to hide the fact that he thinks she is a half-witted dingbat.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

An abominable proposition

An engineer proposes that control over monetary policies be given over to engineers. As a physicist, I can categorically state that that would be an economic disaster of titanic proportions. The culprit is that current hobgoblin of little, conservative minds: a fixed value of the dollar. Perhaps we physicists, being more acquanted with the theory of relativity than your average engineer, are more comfortable with relative quantities.

The first intellectual casualty of the fixed-dollar mentality is blaming the business cycle on the Federal Reserve system (author's italics):
“Capital” is measured in terms of money (dollars), is mobilized by money, but is not money. Capital represents real economic resources. The Fed cannot create capital. All it can do is create money and use that money to commandeer capital. Unfortunately, this can cause inflation.

Once inflation gets going it tends to run away, with rapidly rising prices and escalating inflationary expectations. Ultimately this must be stopped. Unfortunately, raising the fed funds rate in order to halt inflation can cause an economy to “overshoot” into recession. Then, to fight the recession, the Fed will cut its fed funds target, thus starting the next oscillation of the business cycle.
Certainly the Fed could and probably has done this in the past. Certainly other monetary policies of past United States governments have also done this in the past. Remember, the business cycle has been around throughout American history; Andrew Jackson developed the predecessor of the modern Democratic Party, in part, to fight inflationary booms and busts caused by the State banking regime of his day. In another sense, the idea that the Federal Reserve can only create money is completely false. For example, the Federal Reserve controls the amount of money that banks must keep in deposit within the Federal Reserve system. By raising this requirement, the Federal Reserve can remove money from circulation.

Setting a fixed value for the dollar in terms of gold (or anything else) also doesn't make much sense in the era of globalization. Consider the case of China before the U.S. mortage disaster. China was then exporting anything and everything that wasn't nailed down to the United States in exchange for dollars. China would then use its dollars to invest in the United States in order to earn more dollars. In effect, China was shipping mass quantities of goods to the United States for the privilege of dollarizing its economy. This should have weakened the Chinese Renminbi substationally, but it didn't because the Chinese government maintained a fixed value of the Renminbi. In effect, the Chinese government was spending huge sums of money to prop up a boutique currency to compete against the dollar for the sake of national pride.

Setting a fixed value for the dollar in terms of gold would be just another example of spending money for the sake of keeping an inherently variable number at a fixed variable. In engineering terms, it's like arguing that the space shuttle should keep a rocket engine firing at all times merely to provide a comfortably constant 1g acceleration to the astronauts inside. If the astronauts inside can work perfectly well at any net acceleration at 1g and below, then why waste the rocket fuel?

Also note that the value of a dollar, even in terms of a fixed amount of gold, can still be altered. One mechanism for doing this is rumor-mongering. "Psst. Hey buddy, rumor has it that a bar of gold from the Fed is actually 1 percent lead. Pass it on."

The worst problem with the case for the fixed value of the dollar is the contention that interest rates would be kept low:
This new system would not be concerned with the federal deficit or the U.S. trade deficit. These relate to capital, and capital is not money. Similarly, the system would not be concerned with interest rates, which represent the cost of capital, not money. (As an aside, if the dollar were as stable as the foot, interest rates would be very low.)
The idea that putting the economy on the gold standard will make everyone happily share money with each other at practically no cost is just plain stupid. After insisting that the dollar must be defined in terms of a fixed amount of capital, in effect eliminating money in preference for a capital-only economy , the author now insists that we don't have to worry about deficits or interest rates because they just involve capital and not money. Yeah, right, whatever...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

How Noble!

Senator Hillary Clinton wins the world's smallest gold star for this:
Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her principal opponent for the party's presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama, but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Inevitability? What inevitability?

There has long been talk about whether Senator Clinton winning the Democratic nomination for the presidency is inevitable. The reason for the expectations of inevitability is obvious. Blind loyalty to the Clintons has become a defining pillar of contemporary liberalism.

This tradition of blind loyalty to the Clintons left her rivals for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards, with a dilemma: how to argue that he was more qualified to be president than Senator Clinton without implying that she was unqualified to be president. Their initial solution to the problem was to accept both premises and run upbeat, entirely positive campaigns. While there was still time, they could promote their candidacies without criticising her overtly; this strategy worked wonders for "Saint" Obama, but not as well for Edwards.

Relatively recently, this electoral strategy begain breaking down. Both Obama and Edwards were behind in the polls in the early primary states with the primary dates becoming uncomfortably close. Their refusal to overtly criticize Clinton left them looking like mere minions of the Clintons, as if they so weak-minded that they would rather accept a humiliating and possibly career-ending election loss rather than take the most elementary steps to salvage their campaigns. This was the crisis point for their candidacies. Staring defeat in the face, Obama and Edwards finally had to decide how much they wanted to be president. As it turns out, they wanted it rather badly after all, so they went on the attack.

Amazingly, the attacks actually worked surprisingly well, with the mainstream media even picking up on them and not dismissing them out of hand. For the first time since the defeat of HillaryCare in the 1990s, Senator Clinton was actually confronted with a political reality that wasn't happily rewriting itself to conform to the dictates of her will. The aura of inevitability began to waver and fade. Then, just today, this happened (hyperlinks removed):
ABC News' Eloise Harper and Rick Klein Report: It's been a rough stretch for Hillary Clinton -- a tough debate performance, a lost voice, and the revelation that the Clinton campaign had been coaching questioners at events.

Then, on Sunday, everything started falling down around her.

After a very Presidential-esque news conference - Clinton turned around to leave the reporters and their peppering questions. A staffer swooped open a curtain, and chaos ensued. Four large American flags came crashing in front of Senator Clinton as she headed for the door. In a controlled panic, the staffers and the Senator attempted to catch the flags before they fell to the ground.
This isn't the kind of thing that just happens by accident. When a presidential candidate's set decorations "spontaneously" collapse around him or her, it is a message from powerful people on the inside of the campaign to the public that they want that candidate to lose. A notorious example in recent memory was Senator Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign (my boldface):
Without meaningful primary opposition, Clinton was able to focus on the general election early, while Dole was forced to move to the right and spend his campaign reserves fighting off challengers. Political adviser Dick Morris urged Clinton to raise huge sums of campaign funds via soft money for an unprececented early TV blitz of swing states promoting Clinton's agenda and record. As a result, Clinton could run a campaign through the summer defining his opponent as an aged conservative far from the mainstream before Dole was in a position to respond. Compared to the 50-year old Clinton, Dole appeared especially old and frail, as illustrated by an embarrassing fall off a stage during a campaign event.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Yet Another Self-Refuting Column

Here is Frank Rich discussing the dangers of a United States military strike on Iran (embedded hyperlinks removed):
There are saner military minds afoot now: the defense secretary Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen, the Central Command chief William Fallon. They know that a clean, surgical military strike at Iran could precipitate even more blowback than our “cakewalk” in Iraq. The Economist tallied up the risks of a potential Shock and Awe II this summer: “Iran could fire hundreds of missiles at Israel, attack American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, organize terrorist attacks in the West or choke off tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s oil windpipe.”
The point seems to be that the United States could end up being totally screwed if it attacks Iran. Later in the column, Frank Rich writes (embedded hyperlinks removed):
A full-scale regional war, chaos in the oil market, an overstretched American military pushed past the brink — all to take down a little thug like Ahmadinejad (who isn’t even Iran’s primary leader) and a state, however truculent, whose defense budget is less than 1 percent of America’s? Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t think even the Bush administration can be this crazy.
The argument seems to be that Iran could do all sorts of horrible things to us if we attack it, therefore, we shouldn't bully such a pathetically weak nation.

What's so great about Dinesh D'Souza? Part III

After a hiatus, I went back to reading Dinesh D'Souza's book "What's So Great About Christianity?" starting with chapter 11. This is apparently the start of a long set of argumentation about how God's creation of the universe is supported by modern science. For example, D'S0uza writes (p. 116, author's italics):
In a stunning confirmation of the book of Genesis, modern scientists have discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe. If you accept that everything that has a beginning has a cause, then the material universe had a nonmaterial or spiritual cause. This spiritual cause brought the universe into existence using none of the laws of physics. The creation of the universe was, in the quite literal meaning of the term, a miracle. Its creator is known to be a spiritual, eternal being of creativity and power beyond all conceivable limits. Mind, not matter, came at the beginning. With the help of science and logic, all this can be rationally determined.
I think there's a serious problem here that D'Souza hasn't realized. First, let me introduce some more convenient terminology. Let's denote the sum total of everything in existence, in whatever manner, shape, or form by the capitalized term Universe. Let's denote the entity with the properties of space and time that we describe with general relativity and quantum physics by the uncapitalized term universe. Now, we can imagine three possible hypothetical Universes:
  1. There is the Universe where God exists independently of any notions of space and time.

  2. There is the Universe where God exists independently of space and time, but where God coexists with a universe that does have the properties of space and time

  3. The Universe consists solely of a universe with the properties of space and time. There is no God.

Out of this slate of choices, athiests are pretty happy to pick Universe 3, even if the current laws of science break down at sufficiently early times in the universe's history. D'Souza, on the other hand, wants to assert both Universes 1 and 2 by asserting that Universe 1 leads to Universe 2 through an act of creation by God. In other words, despite explicitly stating that Universe 1 has no temporal properties, D'Souza nevertheless asserts that there is, in fact, a temporal property of Universe 1 after all: time evolution from Universe 1 to Universe 2.

The problem for D'Souza is simple. To say that creation is possible presupposes the existence of time. To say that God can create time is therefore a contradiction.

Friday, November 02, 2007

A question for liberals

San Jose, California got hit by a magnitude 5.6 earthquake on Tuesday night. Global warming exacerbated by the policies of the Bush Administration must be at fault somehow, but how?