synthetic zero


February 28 (b), 2003

Did somebody say Oulipo?

February 28, 2003

This is my United States of Whatever.

February 27, 2003

The Security Council vote is set for March 14. Either way it goes, things will be bad --- if the resolution is vetoed, and the US goes into Iraq unilaterally, the results will be catastrophic for us in the long term... but if the resolution passes, it will still be bad, since the way we've acted in the previous months will drain most of the credibility from the vote that we would have otherwise garnered through a more deliberate approach --- not to mention the fact that a long-term occupation of Iraq will lead to endless cost and political problems for us. One can still hope for some sort of deus ex machina --- some twist of fate that might lead to hope for us whether we go to war or not. However, I feel a sense of vague dread with respect to mid-March. "Beware the Ides of March..." Will there be a terrorist attack to coincide with a decision to go to war? It seems logical that they might attempt this --- once war has already been decided upon, terrorists, pushed by us into a temporary alliance of convenience with the "apostate" Saddam Hussein, have no reason to hold back any longer. And, separately, the one and only scenario in which Saddam himself would have a motive to use whatever weapons he has left against us would have become a reality.

Regardless of what happens, however, mid-March seems like the beginning of the end for our peace and security. It's so incredibly senseless. Bifurcation point.

February 26, 2003

If you know someone looking for a place to live in New York, let me know. Trying to find someone to share a 2000 square foot loft in the South Bronx; beautiful space replete with sunlight in a reasonably safe, low-income, up and coming neighborhood (lots of lofts opening up in the area).

Girls are always afraid that boys who they don't like (in that way) like them (in that way)... boys don't care that much if a girl they don't like likes them. I was telling Sue, you know, if a girl I didn't like really was into me, I wouldn't kiss her or anything, but I might dance with her a couple of times to make her feel better or something ... but girls don't want to do that. Sue said it's because girls are afraid of boys... a deep seated fear which she said is connected, ultimately, to the primal fear of being raped (not that girls think that a boy who likes them might rape them... just that this is the deep origin of the overall fear, which then expresses itself in many non-rape situations). Girls just don't want boys messing up their world. Boys don't think it's possible for girls to mess up their world by liking them.

February 25, 2003




So I said: you can say that again.

February 24, 2003

If you're in New York tonight, come see my friend Miranda July give a presentation at The Museum of Modern Art Gramercy Theatre at 8:15pm. I'll be there, helping a bit with the computer video setup. It's going to be a sort of sampling of a lot of her work over the last few years.

February 22 (b), 2003

Britain and the U.S. set a deadline of three weeks for the UN. This is it, folks: the countdown to disaster begins.

February 22, 2003

When certain spiritual traditions talk about dropping the self or ego, people think this means getting rid of themselves, putting themselves in a trash can or something like that. But that's not at all what is at issue. It's more like: get rid of this distorted, inaccurate idea of you that you're holding onto and identifying with which narrows down the scope of your perception and your life to a radically tiny picture compared to the immensity of who you really are. Yes, you're dropping something, but the thing you're dropping isn't the real you, it's just some fake you that you've grabbed, and it isn't something that is doing you a lot of good. It's mostly just interfering with your ability to live more fully in the context of your real life, something that is always going on all around you, but it is difficult to see with all these tiny little things that we're holding tightly in our fists right up in front of our faces. Can't see much with all that crap we're holding onto --- if you let it go you don't lose anything important --- you gain clarity of vision and access to a much bigger context.

February 20, 2003

Jeremy Bushnell has moved his raccoon weblog here.

Instapundit linked to a pro-war entry on this libertarian group weblog, prompting a very, very long debate in which I participated (starting around 1/3rd down, I post as "Mitsu", the exchanges get more interesting towards the end). It's useful to debate with people who disagree with you, because it helps you hone your thinking and discover new ideas. (David drew my attention to this).

February 19, 2003

Snow was incredible in New York the last couple of days. On Monday the whole city shut down --- it was stunning. Beautiful, quiet, streets devoid of most cars. When we tried to park in the evening in a spot that needed a little digging out, what appeared to be a crazy old man came over asking if he could help. I asked him if he had a shovel and he said he had "access to one, what is it worth to you?" So I told him $5, and he went away. We kept mushing at the spot with our hands and legs, and finally he came back with the shovel. Instead of lending it to us, he went right to work himself, and started directing me how to maneuver the car. He would say things like "you see? It makes a track here ... don't worry about that, it doesn't matter ... come out here and look and you'll learn something ... don't worry, you'll get in, and you'll get out too ..." At first I thought he might not know what he was doing, but as he kept confidently yelling out directions ("Pull the car in! Now turn hard to the right! Now pull back! Move forward ... more, more ... now back it in and turn!") it slowly became clear that he actually did know what he was doing. After his final instruction the car slid into place --- perfectly --- this suspicion was confirmed. When I got out he said, "You see? You are smart. You have the right car." (A Subaru Forester) Then he gave us some sage advice, telling us to be kind to each other, and how we should respect nature, since this was nature. He said "You can control nature for a day, but you have to respect it." Susan was with me, and I said to her "At first I thought he didn't know what he was doing, but he did." She remarked, "In New York, it's the crazy people who know what they're doing, and the normal people who don't know how to do anything."

February 17, 2003

"You want to run away from me, but you don't want me to leave you."

"Oh, you understand me!" (hug)


We all went to Natalie's birthday party and she had us gather at the Japanese karaoke club in the East Village. Though we didn't all know each other we all got into the spirit and Natalie was ecstatic. By pure chance my song selections turned out to be big hits with the group, prompting Natalie near the end to call me "crunk." I forced myself to drink a screwdriver which I mixed myself with OJ and vodka. It tasted like cough syrup to me but I managed to get through it anyway. I didn't feel much of anything, as usual when I drink alcohol, though maybe it affected me somehow. Someday maybe I might get to like alcohol, though it hasn't happened yet. I have nothing against drinking, but it has never struck me as something all that appealing either, because of the taste. Still, I'm exploring it a little. The party was very fun, and Natalie's friends are very good singers (as is Natalie herself). Kind of odd to do karaoke where most everyone is a good singer.

Heather writes a beautiful and evocative description of the peace demonstration in New York.

February 16, 2003

The basic question here is: why the rush to war? Why can't we wait until we've at least convinced our own allies that this is a good idea? Consider this quote from the Los Angeles Times:

Blix was scrupulously factual, saying that no weapons of mass destruction had been found but that their existence could not be ruled out and that Iraq had made incremental improvement in its cooperation. Most significant, he said that attempts to verify or act on U.S. intelligence tips had not panned out. That bolstered members who said inspections should continue.

"The evidence evaporated," said one diplomat. "We are still not convinced that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction."

And we're insisting on going in when this is our evidence? When our secret intelligence is investigated and turns up nothing? Where's the beef?

I actually believe Saddam Hussein is hiding something. The way they're acting, it's clear that they are. However, we must not go to war until we've at least convinced our own allies it is a good idea --- otherwise, we're appearing to the rest of the world to be biased against Muslim nations --- when we let North Korea take a pass, and we invade Iraq with the flimsiest of evidence.

It's important to consider the fact that even if Hussein has chemical or biological weapons, that doesn't mean that much. He had them in much greater quantities before, and tried to use them against the Iranians, and though he killed many, overall it was not militarily decisive. Chemical weapons are primarily useful as psychological weapons, not as military ones. The threat here is marginal at best. As the New York Times points out, during World War I, it took about one ton of chemicals to kill one enemy soldier. Under perfect conditions, a ton of sarin (a very difficult nerve gas to produce) could kill 8,000 people --- but even if there were a light wind it would reduce the death toll to 700. That might sound horrific, but a ton of conventional explosives set off in a crowded area could kill a similar number of people.

Going to war as we are doing would simply drastically ramp up anti-American sentiment everywhere. We must give inspections and the international process enough time to either come to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein should be deposed by force, or that he can be safely contained through a process of ongoing intrusive inspections. Should Hussein then defy international opinion and interfere with inspections --- then and only then ought we to rally people around the last resort option of going to war. Any other course would lead to a radical increase in the recruiting pool for potential terrorists, not to mention establish a terrible precedent of unjustified preemptive war.

The demonstration was impressive, massive. I was surprised at how much coverage it got in the papers. I have seen reports of anywhere from 100,000 (police estimates) to 200,000 (CNN), to 400,000 (New York Times), to even 500,000 (NBC) --- in any event there were so many people that 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Avenues were all blocked off for a time. The police were generally friendly and some even apparently supportive. It was remarkable, even if I'm afraid, futile in the end.

February 14, 2003

It's Valentine's Day but what's foremost on my mind is the Bush Administration and their almost surreal dash to destroy peace and security for the United States. From this New York Times article about European reaction to this war:

In The Times of London last month, the author John le Carré went further, writing that "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember."
The problem with the war against Iraq is not that it goes too far in the name of national security --- it's that it will destroy our national security. Take the hawk position too far and it becomes a military liability.

I apologize for focusing on this subject so frequently in recent days --- I am very concerned about the state of security in our country.

I'm going to go to the protest in New York on Saturday. Noon at 1st Avenue and 49th Street. I'm going early because I suspect this will be a very large demonstration this time. I know quite a few people who are coming in from out of town. I am not a regular demonstration- goer --- in fact, though I have supported some of them, I have never felt strongly enough to attend a political demonstration before. This time the stakes are as high as they've been in my adult life. The chain of events that begin now I believe could lead to the long-term destabilization of the entire American civilization. What happened on 9/11 will look like a walk in the park by comparison. "Ah, remember how innocent we once were, when destroying two skyscrapers in New York seemed like a terrible disaster? Boy, those were the days."

February 13, 2003

My old friend Tammy (with whom I have a disagreement with respect to the Iraq situation) sent me a link to a weblog of a friend of hers. He wrote this recently:

Both Sides

  • He has no proven WMD, and might use them if we attack.
  • Invasion and occupation will be ruinously expensive, and is motivated by greed for oil dollars.
  • Inspections are good and can work, and the flexing of American military muscle that allowed them to resume is unhelpful, cowboy, and arrogant.
There is something deeply debased about those who can argue both sides of these mutually exclusive propositions. They worship not the goddess Reason, but the troll Spite.
I have to say I always find it amusing when people espousing conservative views use the word "reason" as a stand-in for "oversimplification" (though they naturally would not characterize their thinking in this way). As one of my favorite philosophers, Brian Cantwell Smith, is fond of saying, one could hire the Army Corps of Engineers to resurface the country into level slabs at 1000 feet increments, and this would indeed make certain discrete, oversimplified maps of the world a lot closer to reality, but it would also be clearly absurd.

I think perhaps one reason for this degradation of the word "reason" has to do with the way mathematical logic is sometimes taught to people who do not actually have a serious background in mathematics --- one sometimes gets the impression from a cursory introduction to logic that the summit of rational thinking involves reducing things to formal statements which can be expressed in terms of clear, unambiguous truth-values; i.e., as though the goal of rationality was to somehow mirror the apparent clarity of formal logic. What's missing, of course, is the sophistication of the true mathematician or physicist, people who have become painfully familiar with the well-established results pointing at the impossibility of such a project. If one doesn't have a deep understanding of mathematics one ought to be humble about what is possible to accomplish with it. As Einstein once said, famously, "As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality." This is a profound point that many armchair logicians fail to grasp --- they arrogantly take their small knowledge of logic and drastically misapply it (a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing).

Let's take the three apparent contradictions above, and rationally investigate them (using the faculty of reason as it was meant to be used):

"He has no proven WMD, and might use them if we attack." --- Unpacking the first assertion, the argument here is not that Hussein has no weapons of mass destruction --- it's that if we cannot come up with strong evidence about them, then he probably does not have many weapons left, and increased inspections and international pressure ought to make it very difficult for him to produce more, to weaponize them, to deploy them, and so forth. As for the second point, the whole point is that whatever weapons he DOES have left, he was very unlikely to use --- he didn't have a motive for using them, as using them would have resulted in his swift destruction (and he is many things but not a suicide bomber). However, if we do attack, he would no longer have a motive to avoid using them. (Notice how the oversimplified version of this argument gets projected into formal statements that appear to be contradictory --- this maneuver is rhetorically incoherent.)

"Invasion and occupation will be ruinously expensive, and is motivated by greed for oil dollars." --- Let's examine these assertions carefully as well. I actually happen to believe there is much more involved here than simply greed --- however, it is certainly the case that if there were no oil in the region, we'd hardly care what happened there. The fact there is oil there is a strategic reason to be concerned about the region. However, even if you subscribe to the view that it is simply greed that drives this war, the above pair of assertions are not contradictory. The cost of the invasion will be borne by public institutions --- the government as a whole. Oil companies, however, as private institutions --- and the rich and powerful in general --- could well benefit economically, overall, even if the country generally speaking suffers. Oligarchical countries are impoverished, but the oligarchy remains well-to-do with respect to the rest of the population. Though I actually believe the strategy will backfire in the end against all Americans, I do not believe the Bush Administration realizes the cost of this war will be that high; which leads to another reason this argument is not contradictory: the assertion is that the Administration is underestimating the cost of invasion and occupation, not only in monetary terms but in blood and destruction of American infrastructure. Thus, they may well be motivated by greed, not realizing the true cost of their strategies.

"Inspections are good and can work, and the flexing of American military muscle that allowed them to resume is unhelpful, cowboy, and arrogant." Inspections could easily have been forced upon the Iraqis and the Security Council through far more subtle means. If we had made it clear privately that we were very serious about this, and prepared to use force, but publicly appeared to be proceeding in a sober and deliberate fashion, giving Saddam Hussein leeway, then I suspect we could have brought even a reluctant Security Council around to a resolution that would have mandated the use of force after a certain time period, if the inspectors reported that Saddam Hussein was not disarming. I believe even France and Germany agree that Saddam Hussein is hiding weapons; that is not the question. If we really wanted to put forward a credible threat of force, we should have said that the trigger for war was a determination by the Council that Saddam Hussein was trying to conceal weapons. We could have turned that agreement into a binding part of a resolution that would have satisfied everyone and put far more effective pressure on Saddam Hussein, because he would have been backed into a corner by the whole international security apparatus. Instead, we've pushed things in an inept cowboy manner, and because of this we've placed America at the epicenter of terrorist fury --- had we proceeded more subtly, we may have been able to avoid war AND deflated the recruiting power of Al Qaeda. Instead, we're headed to war AND we're a big fat target for Muslim extremists, and we've alienated moderate Muslims as well. Way to go.

It saddens me, this misuse of the word "reason" by people who purportedly care about reasoning. I see it quite often --- it is seductive, this drive towards oversimplifying the world, oversimplifying arguments, situations, conflicts --- it makes things seem clear, but all it really ends up doing is replacing the richness of the real world with a cartoon with sharp edges --- easy to analyze, but not, as Einstein said, realistic. The real world is subtle, complex, filled with nuance and apparent contradiction --- to oversimplify the world into seemingly clear "rational" propositions is the pure hallmark of sloppy thinking at its worst. If I were an archer and I wanted to hit my mark, it would not help to pretend the target is a huge black square, there is no wind, and I can discount the effects of gravity and my own mental and physical condition. Such a method is comforting to your mind, but it won't win a war. Precision and accuracy require taking all those factors, and more, into account.

In the end this will not be an academic debate: it's going to turn into blood on the streets, death and destruction, and our own government is taking us down this path. Sloppy thinking could well lead to the end of the great American Experiment. This is why I am so irritated when I come across this kind of careless, reckless thinking masquerading as clarity --- it's not just a nerdly debate, it's deadly serious these days.

February 11, 2003

To: donaldduke@usa.com

At 05:52 AM 2/11/2003 -0800, you wrote:
>I believe we could do business together though we have never
>met before. To be precise, I am Mr Duke Donald, the manager
>of Bills/Exchange at the Foreign Remittance Department of
>Amalgamated Bank of South Africa Limited (ABSA)and the head
>of computer department. In my department, we discovered an
>abandoned sum of US$ 21.5 m (Twenty one Million five Hundred
>Thousand United States Dollars only) in an account that
>belonged to one of our foreign customers who died along
>with his entire family on November 1999 in a ghastly plane
>crash the fund is presently in the canadian bank in a dot
>account without any other person knowing about it and all
>the relevant imformations about it is under my custody of
>my colleague and I.
>For your role in this business, we have agreed to give you
>Twenty Percent (20%) of the total sum and 80% will be kept
>for my colleagues and I...
>best regards
>Donald Duke

Hello Mr. Duke. Before we proceed further, however, I think I need to send you all the money in my bank account first. Would that be satisfactory? After I've done that, then maybe we can talk business. Let me know if that would be satisfactory to you.

Oh, and I ought to also give you the keys to my house, my car, my parents' houses, and their cars... and also my first-born child. Would that allow us to proceed?

Oh thank you thank you for letting me in on your wonderful Business Opportunity.

sincerely yours

Donald Duck

[Any similarity to actual email I have received or sent is entirely intentional.]

(By the way, the place to forward this stuff is: 419.fcd@usss.treas.gov)

February 10, 2003

It's funny how it's so easy to justify giving short shrift to things that affect the long term, like safety spending or education. It takes a disaster, built up over years or decades of neglect for people to wake up and pay attention. Columbia blows up and suddenly people are taking safety spending seriously at NASA. Let's hope the level of disaster that we will have to suffer before we wake up as a nation will be limited.

Mario Cuomo on Iraq:

If we were to have a war, we would of course win it, that seems clear. But then we would be there for five to 10 years, that's the best guess. And the last numbers I saw, the cost was $1.6 trillion. When you consider that the current budget estimate, which is $300 billion already in deficit, is for a $1.3 trillion deficit in five years, and that does not consider the Iraqi war, the dollar cost is --

But more important than the dollar cost, you will kill people, some of whom are innocent.

You will have your own people, some of them, in prosthetic devices and in body bags. You will not end violence with a war. You will precipitate it, because the hostility that already exists in much of the Arab/Muslim world will be exacerbated, and many of the people who are further angered are religious zealots who believe it is glorious and rewarding to give up their life to take yours. When you're dealing with people like that, the 19 people who brought down the twin towers, it's very hard to frighten them with the threat of death, when they look forward to it as an opportunity to visit the 72 virgins.

And you can go on and on with the sequelae of a war that would be destructive. What will it do to North Korea, a non-Muslim country? What will the Arab/Muslim world say about the fact that you let the non-Muslim nation with a much greater threat of nuclear power, you let them go, you settled for diplomacy there, but you took the Muslim people and killed them in a war?


February 9, 2003

If you change one thing, other things will change too. We tend to assume that you can just reach in and change one thing and the rest of the world will just stand still. It doesn't work that way.

February 8 (b), 2003

I normally don't ever venture into this territory, but I can't resist this: Britney Spears' too "out of control" for Fred Durst.

This article on liberal neo-hawks truly irritates me. These are people who supposedly had an "awakening" during the Bosnia conflict that it was possible for the United States to go to war without it being a terrible mistake. I just find it ludicrous that people think in these terms: as though the issue were whether "war" was a good idea, in general, or not --- and now that they've gotten over the hump of deciding that not every war is morally repugnant, they're ready to support practically any old war as long as we can provide some scant justification for it.

Sorry, folks. Yes, I am in full agreement that war is not always a mistake, though it's always a tragedy. However, this does not change the fact that war is nevertheless an option that should NEVER be taken lightly. We should go forward only when it becomes apparent any other choice would be worse --- and it matters a great deal whom you take with you as allies. It matters how you proceed, both militarily and diplomatically. And this cowboy, go-it-alone approach is the worst, the most wrong way imaginable. (I will say for the record that, unlike these neo-hawks, I was in favor of the first Gulf War, and I even believed that we should have taken out Hussein then, when we had the chance, and when everyone expected us to. But Bush Sr. actually proceeded through the UN, after getting authorization from Congress, AND after having explored diplomatic avenues first. That was then and this is now --- trying to do now what we didn't do then is about a million times more tricky.)

Even if the war goes "smoothly" --- initially --- there will be repercussions down the road. Are we going to occupy Iraq? Alone? Without a UN mandate? Just imagine the geopolitical consequences of that down the line. And what will we really have gained from doing this?

February 8, 2003

Thinking like the enemy: my logical guess has been that Al Qaeda will strike another East Coast city, but probably not New York, though it's hard to be sure. The reason? If they hit New York again then it will diminish the overall terrorist impact, because then people will simply say, "well, I'm just staying out of New York" --- but Al Qaeda wants every American to feel unsafe, not just New Yorkers, so it stands to reason they will try another American city or cities. However, given their limited resources they would probably want to hit a densely populated area, to maximize the amount of death and destruction for a given amount of explosives/radioactive material/chemical or biological agents.

So I would guess they're going to try for a dense East Coast city rather than a comparatively sparse West Coast one --- although perhaps the Bay Area would provide the density they'd be looking for.

On the other hand, New York contains more symbolically important targets than most other American cities, so this would be a reason for them to try New York once more. Still... I think for a variety of reasons they will probably wait before striking here again. Perhaps they'll try DC again since they "missed" the last time.

Speaking of feeling like the Jews before the Holocaust... just saw Polanski's latest film, The Pianist, which is, of course, all about wartime Poland. Somehow, sitting there watching it, I really felt like those characters in the film --- bad things are going to happen, though we can't tell exactly how bad, yet you get the feeling it's all going to go a hell of a lot worse than they want us to believe. It's difficult to imagine ordinary life transforming into a wartime landscape, yet here we are in it now. Sort of surreal. I grew up thinking that stuff only happens in the past.

February 7, 2003

It goes without saying that every dark premonition and sense of forboding that I have regarding the upcoming military adventure with Iraq seems to be coming true. The long-term consequences for our nation will be very severe if we go ahead as we seem to be doing. An unnecessary use of force, a precipitous action against an enemy of only limited threat to us, while the real threat, Al Qaeda, is getting far less attention. We need to beef up the FBI, beef up domestic security, move carefully in the international arena to ease tensions --- instead we're doing everything exactly wrong, 180 degrees wrong, focusing on the wrong threats, planting seeds of disaster for ourselves and our children.

I am beginning to feel a little bit like the Jews should have felt in Germany before the Final Solution: maybe the time has come to get out of here. I don't want to abandon my own country, but then again the Jews must have felt that way too. There comes a time when you just have to get the hell out.

February 5, 2003

Huge breaking story, from today's Best of the Blogs, a continuation of the Chuck Hagel saga:

Everybody loves a good conspiracy theory and the revelation that Nebraska Republican Senator Chuck Hagel once ran and is still a major stockholder in the company that owns the company that counted 85 percent of the votes cast in his very own 2002 and 1996 election races is a potential doozy. His 1996 victory, some will recall, was considered one of the biggest upsets of that election; he was the first Republican in 24 years to win a Nebraska senatorial campaign.

On January 29, The Hill reported that Hagel had reported a financial stake worth $1 million to $5 million in the McCarthy Group Inc., a private merchant banking company based in Omaha. But he did not report the company’s underlying assets, choosing instead to cite his holdings as an “excepted investment fund,” and therefore exempt from detailed disclosure rules. As The Hill suggests, that claim is false or, at least was, until the Senate Ethics Committee's new staff director Robert Walker met with Hagel’s staff and changed the rules after The Hill began snooping around.

A major asset of the McCarthy Group (not listed by Senator Hagel in his disclosures) is the nation's largest vote counting firm Election Systems & Software (ES&S) [called American Information Systems until the name was changed in 1997]. Hagel resigned as CEO of AIS in 1995 to run for the Senate. Following his election, he resigned as president of the parent company McCarthy & Company.

Today, the McCarthy Group is run by Michael McCarthy, who happens to be campaign treasurer for--you guessed it--Chuck Hagel. Hagel's financials list the McCarthy Group as an asset, with his investment valued at $1-$5 million.

In short, Hagel controlled and still partly owns the only voting machines that counted his votes when he ran for election in 1996 and 2002.

But, wait. There's more. The majority stake in ES&S is owned by Howard F. Ahmanson and the Ahmanson Foundation, heirs to the Home Savings of America fortune. Howard Ahmanson has long been associated with Christian Reconstruction, a radical faction of the Religious Right that seeks to replace American democracy with a theocracy based on biblical law and under the "dominion" of Christians. For years, the Orange County, California multimillionaire served on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, the lunatic Right's think tank. He has channeled millions from his family's fortune to a variety of causes designed to discredit and defeat Darwin's evolution theory. He currently is a member of ultra-right Council for National Policy.

In other news, I watched the UN presentation by Powell and the responses from the other delegates and the Iraqi ambassador. It looks like the response from Iraq is actually the most likely to help the Bush Administration's position: they were clearly lying and stonewalling big time, claiming that the American presentation was simply filled with fabrications. This implies, of course, that if you do not believe it is all fabrication, then you should agree with American decision to attack Iraq. Of course, all of this simply highlights the stupidity of the Bush Administration's approach --- had they played their hand more deftly, going into this more slowly, they would possibly have been able to sway the Security Council with the evidence they presented today. Instead, they've dramatically weakened our position in the world and drastically increased our vulnerability to attack from extremists by appearing to be dead set on war no matter what --- and thus, no matter how credible our evidence, any action we recommend will be looked upon with great skepticism. It is the work of political amateurs, tragicomic in its ineptitude, and could let us in for terrible consequences down the line. We can only hope the other leaders of the world will help dig us out of the hole we've fashioned for ourselves.

February 4 (b), 2003

The problem with the Bush Administration's case against Iraq is not that there's no case against Iraq. It's more like: even if they prove all of their allegations, it still doesn't mean we ought to rush into war against them. That is to say, I am quite sure Iraq has some stashes of chemical and biological weapons. I doubt they have any nuclear capability (they certainly don't have a functioning nuclear program right now). But even if Iraq has, as I am quite sure they do, stashes of these weapons, this still doesn't make the case that Iraq is actually our number one, number two, or even number five top threat. There are so many other things that ought to be taking precedence, like the crisis in North Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda (remember them?), and improving domestic security. It's mind-boggling that due to budgetary constraints partly exacerbated by the threat of war and the neurotic need for Bush to grant further tax cuts to his wealthy patrons, the Bush Administration is proposing to actually decrease FBI funding. The utter lack of strategic thinking here is next to impossible to fathom. Can they really be this reckless with our country's future?

February 4, 2003

One way to win elections: own the company that owns the voting machines. It's pretty disturbing, actually.

February 3, 2003

Every time some spam gets through my Eudora filters, I write a new one specifically for it. Of course, spammers are constantly evolving to get around the filters --- using alternate spellings like "seks" or adding spaces between the letters of spam keywords (i.e., "r e m o v e m e"). They try to make their email look more and more like a real message... including banter. Someday, to filter such messages might require increasingly sophisticated AI algorithms that can actually read and understand the messages. In retaliation, spammers might have to resort to AI spam generators to create what appears to be more and more legitimate email.

Maybe the new spambots would attempt to start a normal conversation with their targets, to gain their trust before delivering the ad. Of course, if the spambots get caught at that point, the ad might become ineffective (as human users reject the message in disgust)... so the spambots might have to evolve to become even closer to human beings (holding off, perhaps indefinitely, the delivery of the actual ad), and eventually their email would be indistinguishable from that of a human friend. Naturally, at this point I wouldn't mind getting spam --- how would you tell or even care that it was coming from a spambot?

To maintain their credibility, perhaps someday spambots will end up constructing android versions of themselves for the in-person meetings. People might fall in love with their spambot interlocutors. Get married.

Of course, this raises the possibility that the spambots would end up getting into conversations with each other, instead. They could meet, fall in love, get married. Perhaps it is via this route, rather than through the creation of AI for controlling missions to Jupiter or something, that machines will end up replacing human beings...

February 2, 2003

The situation in North Korea continues to deteriorate. For an Administration that is supposedly concerned primarily with national security, their inaction is inexplicable.

Meanwhile, some nonproliferation experts expressed dismay at a Washington Post report that the CIA told the Bush administration in November 2001 that the North Koreans were seeking to import centrifuges for their secret uranium enrichment program. The administration told Congress and the public of the program only in October 2002, after it had confronted North Korea and obtained a confession.

"They waited a year to tell anyone, including the Congress, and they've done nothing about it. It's astonishing," said Elisa Harris, a National Security Council official in the Clinton administration who is now a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland. Harris noted that President Clinton would have been excoriated by hawks in Congress for such a move and charged that the Bush administration is "ignoring this issue, accepting it as a fait accompli and hoping it will go away."

The North Koreans are already moving nuclear material out of the plants; it may already be too late to stop them from building bombs. Yet this Administration sits there and talks vaguely of multilateral discussions while preparing for an all-out attack against Iraq, a country that has no functioning nuclear program, and at worst has some decaying caches of chemical and biological agents (which are much more difficult to deliver effectively). What is wrong with this picture?

February 1, 2003

I kind of like this Hooverphonic album.

Every once in a while the whole apartment building shakes. It feels like a train going by, except: there is no train near this building, and it only happens once every couple hours or so. What is going on here?