Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Democracy through smart bombs

The Asian Times carries an article and opinion about democratizing the ME.

This week, coinciding with President George W Bush’s two-day trip to Saudi Arabia, the Bush administration is expected to notify Congress about an arms package for Saudi Arabia. The sale is part of an overall package that was announced at the end of July 2007; a series of arms deals worth at least US$20 billion to Saudi Arabia and five other Persian Gulf states, as well as new 10-year military and economic aid packages to Israel and Egypt.

Even by the standard of past arms sales to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, traditionally one of the world’s largest arms-buying regions, these are major arms transfers with the potential to significantly affect the regional strategic balance. One of the more notable aspects is that the Bush administration plans to sell advanced satellite-guided bombs, such as the JDAM, which the United States has never before sold to Saudi Arabia, fighter aircraft upgrades, and new naval vessels to six Gulf Cooperation Council countries, including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. Reportedly, the Pentagon asked the Saudis to accept restrictions on the range, size and location of the satellite-guided bombs, including a commitment not to store the weapons at air bases located near Israeli territory.

And unlike some past sales, no conditions are attached. In fact, when Rice visited the Middle East last July, she insisted that the Bush administration had not imposed demands on its allies in exchange for the arms and aid deals. “This isn’t an issue of quid pro quo,” Rice told reporters. “We are working with these states to fight back extremism.” And with no strings attached to the assistance – no democratic reforms, human-rights conditions or peace-making obligations – the arms sales do nothing to change the behavior of the authoritarian regimes in the region.

The article contains more than mentioned here. But if democracy is the goal overall, how does selling systems for large military assist asymetrical warfare. If the Saudis do not use the weapons to create an integrated defense force as mentioned in the article, what do we get out of it in relation to Saudi Arabia and democracy.

If McCain is right and it takes one hundred years, what measure of benefit is even applicable?


This blog seemed to provide a comprehensive list of technique. The following caught my eye of a couple hundred tacks. Live and learn. I am following CoRev’s lead that flamers are not trolls.

Short Term Versus Long Term:
this is a particular case of the Excluded Middle. For example, “We must deal with crime on the streets before improving the schools.” (But why can’t we do some of both?) Similarly, “We should take the scientific research budget and use it to feed starving children.”
Burden Of Proof:
the claim that whatever has not yet been proved false must be true (or vice versa). Essentially the arguer claims that he should win by default if his opponent can’t make a strong enough case.
There may be three problems here. First, the arguer claims priority, but can he back up that claim? Second, he is impatient with ambiguity, and wants a final answer right away. And third, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Argument By Question:
asking your opponent a question which does not have a snappy answer. (Or anyway, no snappy answer that the audience has the background to understand.) Your opponent has a choice: he can look weak or he can look long-winded. For example, “How can scientists expect us to believe that anything as complex as a single living cell could have arisen as a result of random natural processes?”
Actually, pretty well any question has this effect to some extent. It usually takes longer to answer a question than ask it.

WTO Doha, agriculture, and values

As I re-do templates for eventual updates to the site, I found this graphic on AB from the early days. I did misplace the link, sorry. But it appeared to be a great graphic for several thoughts:

1. The foundering of the Doha agreements was centered around agriculture protection.

2. Our beliefs about values are reflected where the money goes, perhaps. I think all of us agree certain government programs appear to be forever programs. But I would ask what drives it, and what are our values in letting it go on forever. Is it the private/government great divide, or does current mainstream economics as publicly descibed simply side step or cover the issue?

3. Why is the issue described in a so-called neutral frame? Does my auto mechanic tell me where I can go or not? He/she helps to get there, wherever there is, but the philosophy of mechanical service is not the point of auto use for me.

4. Are we being car-jacked, whether liberal and conservative? Without the media labels, how do we frame the issue without using the term class-warfare, which appears to simply close off discussion. If conservative, are you being car-jacked (many here can describe the left of center car-jacking)?

Water in the works in December 07

The Great Lakes Water Resources Compact was signed last December by the governors of the eight states that border the lakes — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York — and the premiers of the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The agreement requires approval of state legislatures before it is sent to Congress for final approval. Ohio’s Legislature is expected this week to become the first to approve the pact. New York’s may approve it later this month.

“This is not a water grab,” says Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “It’s a commitment to protect a resource in the face of climate change and other challenges.”

The Great Lakes contain nine-tenths of the nation’s fresh water and supply drinking water to 30 million people in Chicago, Toronto, Buffalo and elsewhere. The lakes are an economic engine and the cultural centerpiece for much of the upper Midwest. But the fragile ecology of the lakes has suffered from pollution, invasive species of fish and the diversion of water to support Chicago and other cities.

The new agreement would control who can use the water and how much.


Grand Water Plan Downstream Pact” Last week’s agreement was truly significant, the most important changes since the first compact was drafted in 1922. And the manner in which it came about — no real winners or losers, but a cooperative regional effort to solve problems — was as surprising as it was refreshing.

“This is truly an historic moment,” said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. “Celebrate this day. This is huge.”

The new water deal has four basic elements to manage the water in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

1. The new guidelines establish rules for shortages – specifying who will take reductions and when they take them. This is essential for prudent water planning in times of drought.

2. The new operational rules for Lake Powell and Lake Mead will allow these two massive reservoirs to rise and fall in tandem, thereby better sharing the risk of drought.

3. The new guidelines establish rules for surpluses, so that if the basin is blessed with ample runoff, the Department of the Interior will have rules to distribute the extra water.

4. The new rules will address the ongoing drought by encouraging new initiatives for water conservation.

Previously, the compact divided the states into Upper and Lower Basins, with each to get equal allotments of 7.5 million acre feet per year. But some believe that the 1920s was a wet period, and the allocations were based on an assumption of 16.4 million acre in the basins. Today, the long-term average annual water flow is assumed at 13.5 million acre feet, so it is no surprise that increased demand, because of rampant population growth, had increased interstate tensions. The river provides water to utilities that serve 30 million people. (The eight states in the Southwest water sharing area).

I was hoping STR could post on the Great Lakes compact, and the very direct agreement not to ship water out of the current boundaries.

Stuff and nonsense, or does it make sense

The Wellesley Dump has expanded even more to date. It is not my town, but is remarkable.

Wellesley’s recycling program was started in 1971 by local environmentalists and the Department of Public Works when the town incinerator failed to meet air emission standards. Unlike many of the earlier recycling centers around the nation, Wellesley’s is still in business andis thriving. Located at the town Recycling and Disposal Center, the operation has grown from collecting materials in 55-gallon drums to using 40-cubic-yard, open-top,transfer-haul containers plus a dual ram baler. It is now run by the town public works department and consists of a recycling facility, transfer station, and yard waste composting site.Wellesley has never had municipal curbside garbage collection. Its residents—at least 83% of them—take their refuse to the Recycling and Disposal Facility (RDF),which is free only to residents.

The center is proud of its park and social gathering setting.Picnic tables, well-maintained lawns, trees, flowers, and a circular drive contribute to the site’s popularity for GirlScout cookie sales as well as political events.The center is also unique in its wide acceptance by townspeople and its dedicated staff. Further, the Wellesley recycling center sponsors a recycling education program aimed at all Wellesley residents, including a curriculum for third graders in Wellesley public and private schools.“Recycle. Join the Team” is its theme. The center also actively promotes other recycling in the community. For instance, it helps spread the word about community-sponsored rummage sales.At the recycling center, a wide range of services can be found: a redemption center for bottles donated as asource of revenue for the center, a yard waste composting operation, and Goodwill depots. The book exchange is also a popular gathering place for residents.

Obstacles Overcome: The Wellesley recycling program works, and it has always worked! Nonetheless, there are the complaintsthat recycling takes too much time and that separate storagebins take up too much space in the home. To overcomethese complaints, the center relies on its information and education program. Not only does the public works staff go to the schools, they provide community presentations and promote recycling regularly.

875 pounds of re-cycling material per person for the year was the goal, and 892 pounds was the end of the year measure for 2007.

Now we know that Annie says for every barrel of stuff we dump as consumers there has been 70 barrels of stuff thrown away in the process of making the stuff.

I assume this does not include the stuff stored in lockers all over the country and not in use. Every American can stand shoulder to shoulder in the currently constructed storage space, and is one of the fastest growing industries today. This is called stored stuff, and can be read about in the next post.

Then there is the very profitable ‘ship your stuff’ to a Chinese labor intensive ‘recycle your stuff’ (now considered unAmerican) places to the port of Giyu, China as reported in USA Today. Trash picking at a profitable level, and insures that vessels do not have empty cargo holds on the three part journey of the US-China trade dependency. Reminds me of jolly England of old. And no healthcare costs to worry about, and no WTO to worry about. It is reassuring that no individual rights are violated as none have been established.

Plastic containers get turned into new products at a much lower rate than glass bottles or aluminum cans. The can you recycle today, for instance, will make its way back to the supermarket shelf in just six weeks. Because of health concerns, a plastic bottle will never become another plastic bottle. Recyclers often have a hard time making ends meet because the demand from manufacturers for recycled plastic — and, consequently, the money paid for it — is considerably less than for virgin material. Oh-plastics are not considered hazardous material. Currently there is little market for #3 to #7 plastics either.

Wellesley is rightfully proud of its dump. Citizen participation is quite amazing and helps provide the labor for sorting materials to a remarkable degree. Some of the other stories reminds me of how we do not pay for the cheap toasters and such from our major trading ally. More than we know.

Reclaiming water

The LA Times reports on one way to deal with a shortage of drinking water:

As a hedge against water shortages and population growth, Orange County has begun operating the world’s largest, most modern reclamation plant — a facility that can turn 70 million gallons of treated sewage into drinking water every day.The new purification system at the Orange County Water District headquarters in Fountain Valley cost about $490 million and comprises a labyrinth of pipes, filters, holding tanks and pumps across 20 acres.

Almost four years after construction began, the facility is now purifying effluent from a neighboring sewage treatment plant run by the Orange County Sanitation District, a partner in the venture.The finished product will be injected into the county’s vast groundwater basin to combat saltwater intrusion and supplement drinking water supplies for 2.3 million people in coastal, central and northern Orange County.But before that can be done, state health officials must certify that the reclaimed water meets drinking water standards. Officials expect the approval to be granted before opening ceremonies Jan. 25.”Our sources from the delta and the Colorado River are becoming unavailable,” said Michael R. Markus, general manager of the water district. “This will help drought-proof the region and give us a locally controlled source of water.”Last month, for example, a federal judge in Fresno ordered a 30% reduction in fresh water pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect the tiny delta smelt, a threatened species. The region, which is facing myriad environmental problems, is the hub of California’s water system.If the reclamation plant’s full potential is realized, officials say, up to 130 million gallons a day could be added to the county’s fresh water supply, lessening the region’s dependence on outside sources.Basically, the facility takes treated sewage, which would have been discharged into the sea, and runs it through an advanced filtration system.

Update: Chuck sends this link to NPR and a more complete story.

"Not by the hair on my chinny chin chin"

Lifted from comments on trolls:

I honestly don’t think there are any real “trolls” at this site. Trolls are malicious and their only intent is to sabotage websites. They might post hundreds of irrelevant posts with the only purpose of discouraging people from visiting that site.

I guess I’m more interested in how a discussion might influence a neutral third party who happens to “eavesdrop.” I’ve always thought that troll tactics always fail when judged by that test. Most people see through that kind of thing.

When somebody simply negates the interlocutor’s position and reiterates this until the other sides gives up responding, that’s perhaps “winning the argument” technically, but it’s not a discussion.

I think the summary of what defines a troll is pretty much (attempts of) derailing the discourse by a variety of tactics, including diversion, noise, and “draining” energy by engaging others in fruitless arguments, if need be repeatedly.

Treat trolls like cockroaches. Do as much as you can to squish the ones who pop up often, but don’t be surprised when another turns up later.

-like an itch they are hard to ignore, but made worse by scratching.i don’t believe the “highly intelligent” or exactly the “agenda” thing…because while their positions are predictable and seem to fit some political groups talking points, there logic runs from bad

So while it is a mistake to feed the trolls, sometimes you can drive them back under their bridge with a good logical clubbing.

Fair hearings of any kind are due

Morris D. Davis is the former chief prosecutor for the Office of Military Commissions. The opinions expressed are his own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Air Force.

The Military Commissions Act provides a foundation for fair trials, but some changes are clearly necessary. I was confident in full, fair and open trials when Gen. Altenburg was the convening authority and Brig. Gen. Tom Hemingway was his legal advisor. Collectively, they spent nearly 65 years in active duty, and they were committed to ensuring the integrity of military law. They acted on principle rather than politics. The first step, if these truly are military commissions and not merely a political smoke screen, is to take control out of the hands of political appointees like Haynes and Crawford and give it back to the military. The president first authorized military commissions in November 2001, more than six years ago, and the lack of progress is obvious. Only one war-crime case has been completed. It is time for the political appointees who created this quagmire to let go. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have said that how we treat the enemy says more about us than it does about him. If we want these military commissions to say anything good about us, it’s time to take the politics out of military commissions, give the military control over the process and make the proceedings open and transparent.

Thinking or testing

This blog on research digest of pysychology noted the following research report from Scotland on schools and how to learn.

Teaching children the art of collaborative philosophical inquiry brings them persistent, long-term cognitive benefits, according to psychologists in Scotland.

Keith Topping and Steve Trickey first reported the short-term benefits of using Thinking through Philosophy” with children in an earlier study.

One hundred and five children in the penultimate year of primary school (aged approximately ten years) were given one hour per week of philosophical-inquiry based lessons for 16 months. Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of the 16-month period relative to their baseline performance before the study.

Now Topping and Trickey have tested the cognitive abilities of the children two years after that earlier study finished, by which time the children were nearly at the end of their second year of secondary school. The children hadn’t had any further philosophy-based lessons but the benefits of their early experience of philosophy persisted. The 71 philosophy-taught children who the researchers were able to track down showed the same cognitive test scores as they had done two years earlier. By contrast, 44 control children actually showed a trend towards a deterioration in their inferior scores from two years earlier.

The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to ‘inquiry’ in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher. The children’s cognitive abilities were tested using the ‘Cognitive Abilities Test’, a measure which has been found to predict children’s performance on external school examinations.

“Follow-up studies of thinking skills interventions are very rare in the literature, so this finding is an important contribution,” the researchers said.

Topping, K.J. & Trickey, S. (2007). Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school-children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 787-796.

In MA upwards of three weeks of time can be directly devoted to taking the MCAS exams each year as part of measuring a school systems performance and improvements. It has turned into a high stakes game of competition to prove superiority among school systems, especially affecting real estate values. The exams are also used to measure individual achievement by parents at times, but are not designed to do this.

One of the teachers for my kids in elementary school in second grade was superb, but recieved only respect with no monetary compensation for her excellence. Her flair for innovation and individualization was grounded in solid andd well thought out curriculums. After ‘retiring’ she made the cover of Time Magazine as Teacher of the Year for her efforts in mentoring teachers.

There are countless examples of such behavior, and requires a lot of extra time to maintain. Some today that I am familiar with maintain private blogs with exciting content and presentation, but there is no way to compensate them in general.
Others simply put in a lot of time after school in such things as debate, theater, choral music.

Baseline testing is a valid activity, but does seem to be overblown as a way of educating kids. Baseline testing needs some sort of perspective placed upon the incentive structure. What is our goal?

Early returns from Iowa

NYT updated 10:19 PM ET
Republicans Vote %
Huckabee 30,852 34%
Romney 22,973 25
Thompson 12,289 14
McCain 12,109 13
Paul 8,995 10
Giuliani 3,246 4
Others 394 0
76% reporting

Democrats Vote %
Obama 879 37%
Edwards 704 30
Clinton 693 29
Richardson 50 2
Biden 22 1
Dodd 1 0
Others 3 0
95% reporting