25 December 2009

Merry Christmas!

On this Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, we decided to give Ruby a smoked ham bone from a genuine German Wursthaus. Here she accepts it with enthusiasm, and then chews it with her eyes closed. May this Christmas be as satisfying to you and all those you hold dear. May joy this intense and complete be yours in the new year.

Here is more canine holiday cheer. And our Christmas message from PostSermon.

20 December 2009

Outdoor Furniture

After more than a dozen years of this type of abuse from two Great Danes, a German Shorthaired Pointer, and now Ruby, our 80+ pound Rhodesian Ridgeback, our Brown Jordan patio furniture is holding up very well. The tempered glass table top has held twice her weight, and provides a unique vantage point to observe squirrels in the neighbor's yard. And tasty though all that plastic webbing appears, it has so far not tempted toothy scrutiny. May it continue even so.

18 December 2009

Puppy Update

Ruby has been a busy girl. She won two ribbons in her class (6-9 months), and has taken other trophies as well. The welcome mat that used to lie outside our kitchen door entrance has been reduced to shreds of recycled tire rubber. This mat survived the combined efforts of Nessa (Great Dane) and Pongo (German Shorthaired Pointer), but somehow Ruby, at a svelte 80 pounds now, has been able to do what her predecessors' combined 230 pounds could not. It seems that she has a special talent for disassembly. Search out the weakest spot and just keep working it until it gives. Then on the next weakest spot. And so on, in a canine combination of intellectual exercise and oral gratification. As if her daily 1-2 hour walks/playtimes with other dogs just left her so keyed up that she needed a post-peripatetic chomp and chill. As if digging three-foot wide craters in the yard to tear out tree roots was not entirely satisfying (they're like sticks from the woodpile but much more challenging and flavorful).

She also triumphed over the pink hedgehog by biting off its nose. Now its formerly vicious squeak has been reduced to a whimper (because so much air escapes through the nose hole instead of the squeaker), and Ruby can munch it in peace. Its days as a recognizable object are numbered.

I'm off in search of a more robust doormat this weekend, plus a new cord for the lamp in the living-room. Fortunately for her, she pulled the plug out of the electrical outlet before she chewed it off.

Whenever I watch Ruby play with other dogs I'm reminded of this song:

She's such a party animal.

08 November 2009

Contempt for Congress, Among Others

The US House of Representatives has passed a healthcare reform bill. If it makes it through the Senate unaltered, it will, according to Betsy McCaughey writing in this weekend's Wall Street Journal, require employers and insurers to offer only "qualified" plans which can differ only in premiums and co-pays, not on what is or is not covered. The message is that the Democrats think you're too stupid to choose between competing plans if the choice is any more complicated than just dollars and cents. Their solution is to make health insurance a commodity. According to the Congressional Budget Office, your premiums will go up, not down, and the bill doesn't specify what a qualified plan is or is not. Otherwise translated as "we'll stick it to you later."

There is more, much more, to this 2,000 page piece of trash, but this much is clear. The Democrats are enemies of your economic liberty because they think you're too stupid to handle it. They just want to make life simpler for you. This doesn't mean that the Republicans are friends of liberty. No way. They want to take away your sexual liberty, because they think you're too irresponsible to handle it. And they've taken away a good bit of your privacy because they think you're too cowardly to accept the risk of terrorist attacks that real privacy brings.

In other words, if you care about your liberty, you might as well lump the parties together and call them Republicrats. Neither of them are comfortable trying to govern a free people who take responsibility for themselves and live with the consequences of their choices, wise or unwise. They are well-intentioned, but their desire to take care of you, to keep you safe from either yourself or from others, does not make them your friends.

Of course, the Republicrat discomfort with liberty (which compels them to seek the power to limit liberty) is only one reason why our legislation has been so outrageous of late. The other is that Congress as arrogated unto itself so much power and authority that it can no longer effectively handle its workload. As a result the Congressional Staff now numbers around 24,000. About 11,000 of them work of individual Senators and Congresspersons. They tend to be just out of college or law school, and they view their positions as stepping stones to real careers somewhere else. In other words, they have little or no real world experience, and they are not going to have to deal with the consequences of what they write as legislation. And what they write are not so much like laws as they are like bad term papers - there may be flashes of brilliance in somewhere in them, but they're too long and too full of other junk to find them out.

If I could wave a magic wand, I'd make Congress delegate a significant amount of their power back to the states so that local problems could get local solutions, and to the federal regulatory agencies so that more time and thought and less politics might go into those curbs on our liberty that we must accept in order to have a functioning republic. Then I'd cut back the Congressional staff, and turn more of their positions into careers rather than transitional jobs, so that there would be some experience and historical memory among the staff.

I'm not sure what I'd do about the bribery. It is clearly more widespread than Congress and exists at higher levels than I had thought. How else did some of New York City's wealthiest employers get H1N1 vaccine ahead of the city's medical clinics?

Of course, I could be wrong. Both the American Medical Association and the American Association of Retired Persons have endorsed this monstrosity of a health care bill. Or maybe big businesses and big lobbies aren't necessarily friends of liberty either. After all, the main reason that we are trying to reform the health care system in the first place is that we are currently at the mercy of big businesses (our insurers and employers) and big lobbies that look out for their interests rather than ours.

23 October 2009

Health Care Reform is Easy

Health Care Reform could be really easy. Did you know that every health care provider is free to charge anyone whatever they can get away with? The result is that every insurance company negotiates with every provider organization (hospital, medical group, etc.) over what price they are going to pay for what procedures and services. A big insurer can command low prices, so the costs get shifted to the smaller insurers. The result is that some insurers will pay $1500 for an appendectomy at a given hospital, while others pay $13,000. No wonder you can't find out what your hospital bill will be in advance. Nobody knows until all the insurance codes get put in, and the database lookups are done.

Now, people have to be hired and paid to do all that negotiating and to enter in all those insurance codes. Here is an opportunity for reform. Make cost-shifting illegal nationwide (not just in Maryland). Each healthcare provider (including pharmaceutical companies) organization can charge whatever they want for any given service, product, or procedure - but make them charge the same to everybody. And force all insurers to use the same codes for the same things.

A lot of people would lose their jobs, but healthcare costs would come down.

Without doing these things a "public option" would just bring the Government in as another big insurer, commanding low prices, and the costs would get shifted to everyone else. It would actually make the cost of healthcare go UP for most people.

But, noooooooooooo. We have to enact a public option to "compete" with private insurance companies, because competition drives prices down. Not so in this market. The healthcare market is neither free nor regulated. A public option would have the opposite effect to what is intended. At least until the private insurers are cost-shifted out of the market in just a few years and we get the Government as single payor. Then only the really rich or well-connected will be able to afford the best healthcare. The rest of us will get Government rationing.

That is to say, we need healthcare reform. But the bills under consideration don't fix healthcare. They just make the problem different, and for the most part, worse.

Why do we keep re-electing swine who dedicate all their thought and energy to political posturing and none to actually doing the right things?

19 October 2009

Show Bitch

We entered Ruby in her first dog show, and she was in three events this Saturday and Sunday. Here she is being handled by one of her breeders in the 6-9 month class. At 6 months and 2 days, she was the youngest puppy in the ring. She didn't win any prizes, but she didn't get excused for misbehavior, either. We and her breeders were quite pleased.

Since the show was within walking distance of our house, we invited her breeders and their three adult Ridgebacks (Ruby's mother, father, and aunt) to stay with us. Ruby made everyone play until we were all exhausted. Sort of like family camp for canines. It was quite a weekend.

10 October 2009

Clever Girl

Ruby is now adolescent. She has all her adult teeth, although some are not quite finished emerging. Thus armed, she has taken an interest in squirrels, which naturally leads to an interest in trees. Indeed, she has discovered that some can be climbed.

She has also discovered how to unlatch our gates. After confirming with the neighbors that she could let herself out at will, we put locks on them. This is only the beginning. She's a clever girl.

05 October 2009

Puppy vs Pink Hedgehog

Ruby has inherited The Pink Hedgehog from Maya and Nessa. You might wonder how the thing could survive two Great Dane puppies, but it has a formidable squeak. It hurts Ruby's ears, but she can't resist chewing it at least once or twice a day. Happiness, at least in part, really is a warm puppy.

01 October 2009

Still Mourning in America

There is no such thing as centrifugal force, the force you feel pulling outward when you swing a heavy object around. It is an illusion. There is only the natural tendency of the object to go in a straight line, and the centripetal force, the force you exert to pull the object back toward the center that keeps it from going in a straight line and forces it to move in a circle. I find it remarkable that the frail little woman my mother had become was the centripetal force that held together the world of the household in which we grew up and the network of extended family and friends that provided the society that brought us to adulthood and anchored our existence in a comforting web of relationships.

Now that world is flying apart. Her brokerage account has been liquidated to pay her debts. Her remaining assets have been distributed to her heirs except for her IRA, which Chase Bank seem unable to part with. The house in which she lived for 53 years has been sold, and its contents given away, sold, or auctioned. Many of her friends and relatives are getting old and dying themselves, or otherwise losing touch. Even though they all knew her, they do not all know each other or how they are related. Some met for the first time at one or the other of the two memorial services we held for her near the East and West coasts.

Bits and pieces of her world have landed here. Her "basket of gems" lamp now hangs in our hallway. Her prized antique, hand-operated, wooden washing "machine" stands as a planter in our living room. The wooden secretary chair that both she and my father used sits next to our piano. The VD poster from post WW II Japan hangs inside the door of our study. I suppose that I will look upon them fondly someday. But now they're jarring reminders that they are here and not there. They are out of the context where I remember them being. A context which no longer exists, because it was given life by her living in it.

I mourn for her. But I also mourn for her world. It was a part of my world, and a part of me seems to have gone with it.

I haven't been writing, because I haven't been reading. I come home from work, do what I have to do, and then go to sleep and get up and go to work again. There hasn't been time. Or more accurately, I just haven't had the extra energy.

But I'm coming around. This post, after all, is something. I'm enjoying our new puppy, who is ideal for us at this time. It's amazing how much comfort I can get from the sound of her chewing a cow's hoof. I'm getting to like riding my new recumbent bicycle, which I bought because I can no longer ride an upright bike due to nerve damage caused by those narrow saddles. I got it just in time, because outdoor exercise is how I keep my spirits up when the days grow short, and winter is coming on.

07 August 2009

We just had to ...

This is Ruby, our new Rhodesian Ridgeback, at 14 weeks. Today, at 15 weeks she is about 1/6 larger and considerably more active. We just couldn't resist. She now takes the baton from Samwise, Frodo, Maya, Pongo, and Nessa of blessed memory.

Healthcare Reform

I turned off the news coverage. I'm not one of the loudmouths in the town hall meetings. I have not been organized by anybody. I just have a memory.

The last time we tried to reform the American healthcare system, the Democrats over-reached so far that they swept Newt Gingrich and his fellow neocons into a Congressional majority - specifically to stop a poorly thought-out and un-tested healthcare reform bill. The Democrats took the wrong message from this. They figured they needed to do the same thing as before, but in stages. They are now trying another such mindless and untried overreach.

They are doing so because the Republicans also took the wrong message. The Republicans figured they should do nothing about healthcare reform.

The real message was that we need healthcare reform, but not what the Democrats propose. (As if they knew. None of them has actually read the current bill, and none of them wrote it. Their staffs pieced it together and probably no one human being knows everything in it.)

What we need is to take some baby steps.

(1) For the uninsurable, mandate at the Federal level that all health insurers pay into an Assigned Risk Pool, just like auto insurers pay into such pools for uninsured motorists. Let these pools be administered by the states. That way we can get 50 parallel experiments to find out how best to do it.

(2) To promote public health (part of the general welfare mentioned in the preamble to the Constitution), continue and strengthen Federal programs to vaccinate all people living in America (legally or otherwise) against common communicable diseases. Strengthen programs to maintain and improve our nation's water, food, and sanitation infrastructure.

(3) Create a minimal national standard for providing statistically based ratings of all health care providers in terms of patient outcomes and costs for all known conditions. These ratings need to be understandable, accurate, and fair. Then make them publicly available on the internet and by other means. Mandate that providers inform their patients of these ratings.

That's enough for now. Give it a few years to see how it works. Have we improved things, or made them worse? How have providers and insurers and consumers learned to game the system? What adjustments need to be made? This implies

(4) Create a tracking system to measure the improvement in the quality, availability, accessibility and affordability of healthcare, so that we will know whether the reforms are having a positive effect.

What I really object to is the idea of enacting a complex, major new system that no one understands with lots of unintended consequences that cannot be undone. In other words, the Democrats must be stopped again, but we still need healthcare reform. Just not their preposterous and ponderous "solution" that breaks what isn't broken, and fails to fix what is.

29 June 2009

Remembering Nessa

This Thursday past, we sent our Great Dane Nessa to walk with our Master. We were facing at heat wave and fireworks, either of which could have precipitated a terrifying and agonizing death for her, and she was on her last legs as far as getting into the car was concerned. Her death was peaceful, as was her life, considering that she was, after all, a dog.

And she was our dog, or rather we were her people. From the moment we brought her home she liked the place. She explored it quickly, even going up and down stairs (a thing she had not encountered before), and settled in. She didn't whine her first night. So intent on claiming the territory was she, that she ate the rosebush under which we had buried the ashes of Maya, her predecessor. We didn't punish her for it, and it was the only one of our plants she ever destroyed. She chewed it to bits, thorns and all. It seemed like a kind of doggie exorcism.

Her greatest enthusiasm was food. She is shown above as a puppy relishing her first taste of sour cream! The greatest tragedy of her life was that she became lactose intolerant, and had to do without it in her last years. This was more than compensated by our discovery of liverwurst as a medium for administering her medications.

Her second greatest enthusiasm was fur-to-skin deep conditioning aromatherapy spa treatments which she would self-administer by rolling in carnivore scats, or preferably cow manure. (Horse manure was a problematic decision - should one wear it or eat it?) Once during a walk through what turned out to be a pasture, she encrusted herself from head to tail in a cow manure rind over an inch thick. We had to shout to other hikers not to pet her lest their hands get stuck. Cleaning her (and our car, and ourselves) took hours, causing us to miss an opportunity to reconnect with former neighbors.

She took no trophies during her life (she didn't even like raw meat) other than title of Miss Congeniality. She was the easiest to train, most obedient, most compliant dog we have ever owned. When we put her on the lunge line we used to train Maya, our first Great Dane, she didn't lunge anywhere. She just looked at us as if to say, "OK. Where do you want to go?"

She was also a champion sleeper, having spent less than 2 of her almost 10 years on this planet in a state of wakefulness. Nevertheless, she was a quick learner of obedience commands and a student of human behavior who developed the ability to tell when we were going to take her for a walk before we knew ourselves. Or perhaps she had learned to shape human behavior rather than to predict it. She never revealed her secret.

She was the girlfriend/dominatrix of Pongo, our German Shorthaired Pointer, who preceded her in death. Although they rarely cuddled, they played until they were played out.

She struggled with early onset arthritis which eventually spread from her neck to her tail, laryngeal paralysis which gave her breathing difficulty, and female spay incontinence. This last could be spectacular: she awoke to greet us, wagging her tail which had been soaked in the puddle that appeared while she was sleeping. We were up until the wee hours cleaning the wee off the ceiling! We got this under control with PROIN (phenylpropanolamine), but in her last months she anointed the chair she inherited from Pongo so deeply that we had to let it go after she no longer needed it.

She was also great protection. When she held her head up, her nose was about chest height for an average sized person. This gave a new meaning to the phrase, "Eat your heart out," and served to help door-to-door salespeople take us seriously when we said we weren't interested. Her bark was loud enough to make the reflections in the windows waver.

As a puppy, she was afraid of children, and would bark at them. After some socialization, however, Halloween became her favorite day of the year, because she could greet the trick-or-treaters. Their parents even got used to her looming over their costumed kids. Although she was not cuddly, she was sweet and friendly, and loved to be stroked and petted. If she particularly liked the way she was being petted, she would lean on the person petting her, and sigh.

She never lost her enthusiasm for a good walk, provided it wasn't too hot or too long. This picture is from her last one.

23 June 2009

Note to Congress

For those of you in Congress who are dismayed that the Iranian election appears to have been stolen, consider whether you were elected in a gerrymandered district. Then, either fix the gerrymandering, or hold your peace.

Next, please note that if you support health care reform that exempts you and your staffers from its provisions, then you must implicitly consider yourself better or more important than the rest of us. But we are supposed to have government of the people, by the people - not by an elite. If you aren't willing to be one of the people, to have health care rationed to you the way it is rationed to the people, then you hold your office falsely, because you have deceived the people into thinking you actually cared about us so we would vote for you.

Of course there is a difference between you and Brother Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But for many of you it is a difference in degree.

18 June 2009

Is Iran Burning?

The Anchoress has some news and opinions, as well as some links. The present Iranian government was established by a revolution. It is acutely aware that it can be replaced by another one, and is taking active steps to suppress the possibility.

12 June 2009

Coming Around Again

I walked early under the Shadow of Death. It approached with the loss of my mother's parents, and again with the death of my father's dog. Just when I began to put it out of my mind the father of the girl next door was killed when a tractor-trailer jack-knifed into his car on a wet road. Then my own father died of a heart attack. I was twelve. Shortly after I turned thirteen, I was struck by a car and would not walk again for over six months. Then began a series of losses of relatives and friends such that by the time I graduated from college I felt weighed down by a burden of grief. I had a girlfriend, but she had doubts about spending her life with me. I just wasn't fun. I had become a serious young man.

So, I walked in the woods behind my childhood home. I stopped at the edge of a large pond (long since drained) and said goodbye to all the people I had lost. One by one, I let them go. I promised to visit them now and then, but I could no longer carry them with me. I had to take time to just enjoy being alive.

It worked. I later learned that my meditation was similar to one psychotherapists recommend for grief/depression that consists of putting all your losses or sad thoughts in a little boat on a river, and then letting it drift away with the flow.

The problem is that the river flows in a circle. Sooner or later, the boat comes around again to pick up another passenger. Until it's your turn to get in.

Now we're getting ready to euthanize our remaining dog, a Great Dane. She is old, arthritic, and suffering from laryngeal paralysis, which means her vocal folds snap shut when she gets hot, excited, or fearful, or whenever she walks more than a few steps. Which means she strains and wheezes and whistles to suck in air. Our vet said that if we don't euthanize her first, then a day will come when she will simply go into cyanosis (her tongue and mucuous membranes will turn blue from lack of oxygen), collapse, and die. For the first time in 31 years, the house will be empty when we come home.

The boat has picked up about a dozen people in the past few months, including my mother and many family friends of her generation. Now it's time for the dog. And next month, my childhood home. We will put it up for sale, because we don't want to be absentee landlords, and the neighbors were good to Mom. They deserve a new neighbor who will be good to them. And the house deserves an owner that will bring it out of the 1970s.

For the first time in 53 years I will be unable to visit the home I grew up in, except as a stranger who can only stand on the street and look at the outside, nostalgic for an interior that no longer exists. Indeed, I will help disassemble that interior by putting the contents into an estate sale.

Its OK, really. You get used to your griefs like you get used to your aches and pains. They recede into the background, and you can do what you want to do, and experience what you want to experience. Including joy, including elation. But every once in a while, something just yanks that background to the front.

We rented "My Dog Skip" from NetFlix and watched it the other day. At the end, well, oh s--t. We just cried.

02 May 2009

Hospice is Safe

My mother fell ill in March and took another turn for the worse in April. In the end, there was nothing for it but hospice care, and she died in three days. With the help of the attentive staff we kept her safe from suffering, to the extent we could know what she was experiencing.

Shortly before she passed on, I opened a Bible to wherever the spirit led me. Though she was not religious, I read her Psalm 70 and First Corinthians 15:51-56. I hope they comforted her.

I haven't been posting lately, and I expect not to for a little while longer. I'll be back when I have words of my own to say, on matters of less importance.

05 April 2009

Yes We Can - Value Mortgage-Backed Securities

I can't tell what exactly the FASB (Federal Accounting Standards Board) did about "Mark to Market" valuation. (Earlier I wrote about how Mark to Market is destabilizing, making up markets go up too fast, and down markets go down to far.) Not even the Wall Street Journal seems to be able to report in any detail on what they've done. But it seems that firms can now mark assets to what some sort of extrapolated market would do, if the market were functioning "normally."

Bullshit. That's make-believe. If the actual market is non-existent, just make one up. There is no justification for this nonsense, because there is a real way to value assets, which I've also written about earlier. It's called expected discounted cash flow.

Let's pick what the Wall Streeters claim is the hardest of all assets to value right now - mortgage backed securities. For each one of them, an electronic and/or written trail exists to track down each mortgage and mortgagee that is bundled into each one of those securities. It is therefore possible to track down each mortgagee and do the due diligence (check his/her credit history, income, employment stability, loan amount, monthly payment, payment history, historical and present market value of the property that is mortgaged, etc.) and make a probabilistic determination of his/her likelihood of continuing to pay that mortgage. That probability times the number of payments, times the value of the payments discounted for inflation (again estimated from the historical moving average of the Consumer Price Index over any n-year period, where n is the number of years left on the loan) is the expected discounted cash flow from that mortgage - that mortgage's value.

Now if a non-accountant like me can figure out how to value mortgage-backed securities, you can be sure that the Wall Street accountants know how to do it. So why don't they do it? Because they already have a pretty good estimate of the answer and they don't like it. They don't want to know. And more importantly, they don't want you and me to know.

In other words, they're lying. They're still trying to keep from having to come clean and do business the right way.

It is not conceptually hard to value mortgage-backed securities. It is conceptually easy. The only hard thing about it is that it is tedious. A lot of people are going to have to hit the streets and do a lot of due diligence that was not done when these things were bundled up and sold and bought in a vast game of financial musical chairs.

Well, get to work all you lying assholes in the financial industries. I'm a taxpayer, and I want my chair back.

01 April 2009

Why Hospitals are Dangerous for Old People

Every time she is hospitalized for a major adverse event (stroke, breaking a hip, heart attack, etc.) she shuts down for a while. By which I mean she is overwhelmed by her own anxieties about death and dying, winding up in a nursing home for the rest of her life, losing control of her fate. Alright, I'm guessing. She rarely speaks directly about such things. And when her anxiety gets too high, she doesn't speak at all. She breathes through her mouth until her mouth is so dry that she can neither speak nor swallow.

The staff at every hospital she has ever been in (except one) interprets this as some severe neurological insult that must be evaluated thoroughly before anything else can be done with her. Up goes the sign over her bed, N.P.O. Medical jargon for Nothing by Mouth. Don't give food or water. She seems semi-comatose, and only groans when stimulated. The staff leaves her alone. Even with an IV, dehydration and starvation begin. Whatever the original condition that brought her to the hospital was, things get worse, by neglect. Neglect which only increases her own anxiety that she is really dying this time. The people who do speech and swallow evaluation won't be in until after the weekend, and all they'll find is that she can't speak or swallow.

"It's fairly common for old people to go into decline like this," says the physician on call. "We really can't give you a prognosis at this time."

What to do? Get there from wherever you are as fast as you can. Fly 3000 miles, call a cab, dump the suitcase at a hotel, get to the hospital. Walk into the room. Observe for a while to see if this is like the other times. Call the nurse. Describe the hospitalization syndrome in this patient. Ask for a sponge swab. Do what the nurse is forbidden to do. Swab the inside of her mouth with water. Rub her arms and shoulders. Speak to her. Swab some more.

An intelligible phrase comes out. Swab again. Another phrase. Conversation begins. Get a straw and give her a sip of water. She chokes and coughs a bit, but she swallows most of it. More conversation. Another swallow of water. The nurse begins to believe the narrative of hospitalization syndrome.

The next days are spent training the staff to hydrate and feed her like an infant. She cannot feed herself. Yes, maybe she did have another stroke. But we had to do this for the hip and the other things, too. It happens every time. The anxiety will keep her brain unwired until she gets out of the hospital, out from under the shadow of death. And unless she is fed, she will not get out. Really fed. Even when the staff learns that they must hand feed her, the shift change brings on a new person who brings in a meal and asks if she wants to be fed. She says no, and he leaves. Eventually someone comes to take away the untouched tray.

So one must check, every meal, every day, except for that one remarkable hospital. The one that can be trusted to really take care of old people. The one that lets you take a night off, or even a day. The one that even checks for the usual infections without being told.

Otherwise, generally, hospitals are dangerous places for old people. Without an assertive advocate, elderly patients can die from what is effectively neglect by a well-intentioned staff. That's what I've been re-learning the last couple of weeks. Oh, there was a new twist this time. A change of blood pressure medicine that left her slipping into and out of psychosis for days, even after it was changed back.

15 February 2009

Counter-insurgency @ Home

I've heard that the Stimulus Bill includes $4 billion for "neighborhood stabilization, a program begun under the Bush Administration, and Community Development Block Grants, which were begun under the Ford Administration." A big rice bowl, to be doled out by some sort of competition, not handed over to organizations like ACORN. Neighborhood stabilization appears to be the buying and redevelopment of foreclosed properties, whild CDBGs are more flexible.

Neither involves the comprehensive provision of social services to neighborhoods that are otherwise being taken over by gangs, which I think of as domestic counter-insurgency funding. Because who you go to for physical and economic security is who controls the turf. And if the good folks abandon the turf then the bad guys take over. In the case of gangs, the bad guys are a loosely organized criminal insurgency. In some towns they outnumber the police. ACORN does provide some of these services, but not a complete set. We are leaving a gap which both trustworthy and untrustworthy organizations (gangs, "charities" with ties to terrorist organizations, etc.) can try to fill.

On the other hand, if we try to create a domestic "Peace Corps" to provide these services, we run the risk that the Corps could be politicized and abused to skew elections. This can be dealt with by reasonable oversight and checks and balances. But the possibility should not be ignored.

07 February 2009

Squirting Money

If you want to give yourself a rude shock, go to the Thomas website, and look up the bill H. R. 1, under consideration by the current Congress. That's the economic stimulus bill.

It reads more like it was not written, but excreted by a bunch of inarticulate, immature staffers in a terrible hurry. They just threw anything they could think of against the wall and are waiting to see what sticks. As if someone else was going to come and bail them out. The problem is that we are counting on them to be the adults. They are supposed to bail us out.

I was expecting several large, well thought out directives to make long neglected investments in infrastructure that will help to avoid or minimize future problems or that will stimulate growth in economic areas that we need to remain strong and free at home and dominant in the world. Things like fixing the levees in the Sacramento River Delta, and around New Orleans. Like inspecting and repairing or replacing bridges and tunnels. Like drawing fiber optics to replace CATV cable and twisted wire pair throughout the country. Or even - gasp - reviving the integral fast reactor (IFR), a type of inherently safe, proliferation resistant nuclear reactor that could power the country and the world for decades without a nuclear fuel enrichment cycle. We would have had dozens of them by now if they hadn't been nixed by the Clinton Administration.

I was also looking for things to draw investment preferentially into this country's economy, like reducing, suspending or eliminating the capital gains tax.

But no. What we get are a bunch of placeholders without any executing or enabling legislation that reserves money we don't have for spending on everything the Democrats have felt deprived of for the last eight years. Of course, some of those things need to be funded. Like insulating and weatherizing our homes and buildings. But not the whole load.

This thing looks like the product of brainstem rather than frontal lobe thinking, like it was produced by reflex rather than reason. It's Democrat trickle down economics, and it will work about as well as Republican trickle down economics.

Which means that it will work, sort of, if you don't mind the unintended consequences. Like the pseudo-neo-populist protectionism put into it that could start a beggar-thy-neighbor trade war that could tip the world into another Great Depression.

Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention that at our President's urging, our trusted representatives will get it all sorted out and voted on by tomorrow. They aren't just going to lay a turd on us. They're going to have the legislative and economic equivalent of diarrhea. The hershey squirts of money.

When it's all over, I hope I can afford Lysol.

25 January 2009

The War on Whatchamacallit

Right-wing radio and its blogosphere has been all a-twitter about members of the Obama Administration not using the phrase, "War on Terror." Well good for Obama!

Terrorism isn't an enemy. Terrorism is a technique. You can't win a war if you can't even name your enemy. But what do you call it when everything you can think of is Politically Incorrect.

It is certainly not a war against Islam. There are too many Muslims on our side to call it that. Like the ones I saw inside the Pentagon.

Academics get more specific. They call the enemy the "Global Salafist Jihad" or the "Jihadists" for short. But Muslims have positive associations with the Salafs (may Allah be pleased with them) and with jihad. It would be like someone calling the US Military the Freedom Fighters in the names of the Founding Fathers of the Republic.

If we need a short name for the enemy (and we do need one) I nominate the term introduced by Francis Fukuyama: Islamofascism. It connotes the toxic combination of a malignant narcissistic fantasy retrojected onto the founders of Islam, combined with modern Western fascist techniques of agitation, propaganda, and thuggishness. And of course, Western weapons. The worst of the Middle East in unholy matrimony with the worst of the West. It is a bad name for a bad thing.

Nobody should like it as a name for the enemy. That's the point.

22 January 2009

Hope and Concern

Let us hope that Barack Obama has become and will remain a powerful symbol in the minds of urban youth that if you go to school and work hard, you just might make it. You might even become President. If that is the major change wrought by the Obama Administration, it will be change enough.

On the other hand, Obama has already moved to change things. He's closing GTMO, which has become a public relations disaster for the US. But what will we do with the 250 remaining detainees? Even if we manage to repatriate the 60 we want to send back to their countries of origin, there are 80 that the CIA says are really bad guys but that there is not "enough evidence" to try them in US courts. That could be code for "if we put them on trial a bunch of classified information might get put into the public record." The kind of information the CIA is skittish about because it might reveal what they call "sources and methods."

And that still leaves 110 bad guys who could be tried and presumably convicted, and then what? Do we have the will to keep these SOBs in solitary confinement for the rest of their lives so that they can't recruit other convicts to their cause while they're in prison? It's not as is we haven't had home-grown Islamofascist terrorism before.

Then there is the next big round of bailout money. Which, given the relentless politicization of the Washington crowd, will be misspent either all or in part. But that's not so bad. What bothers me is that it will be spent in the absence of a viable economic model that predicts the effects of the expenditure. It's like the scene at the end of the Wizard of Oz, when the Wizard boards a ballon whose mooring rope is loosed prematurely. When Dorothy shouts for him to come back, he shouts back, "I can't! I don't know how it works!"

Once all that taxpayer money has flown away, we won't be able to get it back, because nobody really knows how the economy works. My concern is that we will have set in motion the chain of events that leads China to world hegemony and makes the US an also ran. You can bet that China will not be as benign a hegemon as the US.

Finally there was the "all hands meeting" that our new Secretary of Energy, Steve Chu, held today, which was broadcast throughout the DOE complex. He didn't have much to say about the National Nuclear Security Agency, much less the future of nuclear deterrence and nuclear forensics, or even next-generation nuclear power that doesn't require enrichment. He might be a Nobel prize winning physicist and a brilliant administrator, but it looks like there is a gap in his awareness thus far.

20 January 2009

A Good Beginning

At my lab today they broadcast the inauguration of Barack Obama, the 44th American to become President of the United States, but the very first African American. Afterward they marked the lab's annual celebration of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday with a panel discussion on the question of whether Dr. King's dream that people would be judged "not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character" had been achieved.

If the panelists hadn't said it, I would have. We have been forcefully reminded these past few weeks by the killing of Oscar Grant that it has not been achieved. Not fully, not yet. But today a huge stride has been made toward achieving that dream.

I remember another stride, taken 45 years ago.

In 1963, I heard that the middle-aged woman who was to be my fourth grade teacher told her class in our segregated, all-white school that they should "never let a colored child be your friend." I was in her class when the school was desegregated in 1964. As far as I could tell, she never let her prejudice show to her new students, white or black. At the end of the academic year, as was her longstanding custom, she kissed each and every one of her students on the forehead as they left her classroom for the last time. That year was a big step for her, and for all of us fourth-graders. Those purple lipstick marks on those dark foreheads could have been little prophecies that this day would surely come.

13 January 2009

Energy, Wealth and Money

Wealth is energy.

Let's say you buy a potato. The potato was produced by energy - the energy of the person who planted, tended, and harvested the potato, the energy of the sunlight on the potato vine's leaves that enabled it to grow, the energy of sunlight on the earth and oceans that evaporated the water that condensed into clouds that rained on the potato vine and watered it. Add to that the energy used by vehicles that transported the potato to the market, and the energy that you used getting yourself to market as well.

In other words, the potato is made of energy. And what is true of the potato is true of everything else. Wealth is energy, or rather the ability to command or use energy to do, to make, or to bring you whatever it is that you need or want.

There are those who claim that the nations of the world should use less energy, which they hope to achieve by economic contraction. If you get poorer, you use less energy.

But it is also true that if societies use less energy, they get poorer. They can get more efficient in their energy use, but eventually as human populations grow, they will get poorer unless more energy can be made available.

On the other hand, if more energy can be made available to humankind, we may eventually achieve the kind of utopian, moneyless economy envisioned in the old television series Star Trek. In Star Trek any character could walk up to a matter-dispenser, and get anything he or she requested, made from energy congealed into matter and re-constituted according to a pattern of information stored in the associated computer's limitless memory. To do this in the real world would take an enormous amount of energy, probably the equivalent of the output of a star for each person's lifetime.

But the economy of plenty eliminates money. Of what use is money when everyone has access to unlimited energy, i.e., unlimited wealth? If the tyranny of money galls you, then there is only one constructive solution - create so much wealth, create access to so much energy, that money is no longer useful or meaningful.

Notice that I said create access to energy, but I did not say create energy itself. All energy on earth comes from the sun, and all the energy in the sun comes from thermonuclear fusion of the sub-atomic particles created in the Big Bang with which our universe began. All energy "generation" is just finding ways to unlock the energy stored in little caches throughout the universe from that primordial event.

So the path to a utopian economy is not via using less energy, but more. By unlocking the energy in the little batteries left throughout our universe when it was created. By more technology, not less, by nuclear energy and whatever we can discover to succeed it. Sure, we need to avoid wasting energy, and we need to be careful how we "generate" energy and how that impacts our environment. But more is the ultimate path, not less. Not unless you think universal poverty is good.

Your wealth, your ability to use your energy can be dissipated by your culture or amplified by it. In the United States, it is normally amplified by the infrastructure in which we have invested, as well as by the relatively high level of trust we have in each other and in our institutions. In Mexico and Russia just to mention two examples, your energy is typically dissipated by lack of infrastructure and endemic corruption. But that is another story.

12 January 2009

California Dreaming: Irma La Duce goes to Sacramento

First, some background for what I'm about to say. We have had "The Wire," a serial TV drama on HBO about the illegal narcotics trade in Baltimore. Now HBO wants to do one about prostitution in Oakland, CA.

Dellums unhappy HBO drama about pimp set in Oakland

By Kelly Rayburn, Oakland Tribune, 12/21/08

OAKLAND — An HBO drama that would examine the world of prostitution in Oakland has come under fire from Mayor Ron Dellums and other city officials even before filming has started.

The show, called "Gentlemen of Leisure" and based on the 1999 documentary "American Pimp," would be set in Oakland and would focus on a pimp in his 40s and his attempts to get out of the business.

The show’s production, slated to begin in 2009, could be an economic boon for the city, which has made efforts to bring in more filmmakers, but officials such as Dellums worry about what impact the show would have on Oakland’s image.

Oakland under Jerry Brown and now Ron Dellums has become the murder and corruption capital of California. We already have a role model for how this should be handled in former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, but this being Northern California, there is no chance anyone remotely like him that would ever get elected mayor of Oakland.

But that's not my point. My point is that California is running a 40 billion dollar deficit, and its august body of state legislators can't seem to agree on what to do about it. Maybe they need Californians to get mad enough to march on Sacramento and demand that the legislators do their jobs. Maybe they need to be locked into the statehouse with no water going to the restrooms.

Perhaps we should combine these two stories. Why don't Californians pick any random collection of pimps and prostitutes and send them to Sacramento to solve the budget problem? They'd probably do a better job than the current legislature. At least pimps and prostitutes have demonstrated that they can handle money.

11 January 2009

Where have all the Vikings gone?

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

My psychologist wife says that if they don't have unstable personal relationships then they're probably normal people just having a good time. I think they're in-f__king-sane!

07 January 2009

Why are Palestinians still Refugees?

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Natan Sharansky opines in How the UN Perpetuates the 'Refugee Problem' that the Palestinian Authority, and then Fatah and Hamas have actually prevented the Palestinians in Gaza from moving into the settlements from which the Israeli government forcibly evicted its own Israeli citizens as part of a peace process. This is being done because the Palestinian leadership views the suffering of the "refugees" as essential to their broader political struggle to eliminate Israel. He quotes both Palestinian and European diplomats in support of this thesis.

It would be nice to see a map or a satellite mosaic that could confirm or disconfirm whether Palestinians have occupied former Israeli settlements, but best map I could find was in this BBC article. The only conclusion I can draw is that it's been 60 years: its time to build out the camps into cities, with real functioning infrastructure, and stop granting refugee status to their second and third generation inhabitants. They aren't refugees from anywhere anymore. They are living on the land of their birth, and their parents' births. Rather than build up the land and its people, the Palestinian leadership insists on engaging in behavior that repeatedly bankrupts their economy, squandering the foreign aid they receive.

But Sharansky also alleged that the Palestinians engage in the "most shameful military tactic: pimping the suffering of their civilians as a weapon of [propaganda] war." That accusation is easily corroborated. Further in this post, Yaacov Lozowick notes that,

Sometime this afternoon we killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in a school. The Palestinians claim more than 40 dead civilians, the BBC says it was 30. The IDF says mortar shells were fired from within the school, and even names the two Hamas men doing the firing; both were killed and must be counted among the dead. (I continue to be amazed by the level of micro-intelligence the IDF is working with). These dead civilians are added to the many dozens, perhaps even a few hundred who have been killed so far. Which is horrifying, and terrible. I'm a father, my children now all responsible adults, but I can remember fondly when they were younger. I think I can imagine the terror of the Palestinian parents in Gaza, and I can feebly feel the pain of those losing children. So can any Israeli. Contrary to what the Guardianistas tell you, we're human beings, not monsters.

See also this article.

The point I'd like to extract is that two Hamas men were firing mortar rounds at Israeli troops from within the school while it was full of civilians! Don't people normally call off school in a war zone? What on earth were the civilians doing in the school during a shooting conflict? Or, consider the opposite question, if civilians were in the school, why on earth would Hamas gunmen draw fire onto the school by launching mortar rounds from it? Understand that one sets a mortar down on a hastily prepared position and then fires it - shooting a mortar is not an impulsive act, it is done with planning, execution and intention. Only one conclusion is possible - for whatever reason, the Hamas gunmen wanted Palestinian civilians to be killed by Israeli counter-battery fire. There is no way the choice of a school full of civilians as a firing site could have been accidental on their part. [Note added 1/9/08: More corroboration - see this.

And Pope John Paul II called Western secularism a "culture of death." I think that epithet applies much more strongly to what passes for culture in Gaza.

While we're at it, see this little video I found at Perpetua of Carthage.

06 January 2009

Gaza and Proportion

Shrinkwrapped has written "Adolescence and Societies" and "Gaza and the Palestinian Hostile-Dependent Adolescent."

I think he's on to something, although I reserve judgement regarding his take on the meaning of Insh'allah. He also neglects the role that honor/shame culture plays into the violent refusal of Hamas and the Palestinians to "grow up," but that's because he's a psychiatrist, not a sociologist.

And what does the world do? The world subsidizes the genocidal ambitions and persistent violence of the Palestinians. The aid does not help build the Palestinian economy, it merely preserves the Palestinians in their state of adolescent hostile-dependency. And yet, aid to the Palestinians can be analyzed in more detail to make it seem a complicated business.

The most charitable interpretation one can put on the Palestinian situation is this: every time the Palestinians raise the level of violence against Israel, Israel limits access to its economy to the Palestinians. The Palestinian economy tanks, and the world steps in to rescue the Palestinians from starvation. That is, the world steps in to rescue the Palestinians from the consequences of their actions.

I could blame the Palestinian leadership, Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, claiming that these two parties oppress their people and perpetrate violence against Israel that their people do not condone. But that would be a lie. These two parties mislead and rip off their people, but their violence against Israel is wildly popular.

What is Israel to do? What would you do to me if I took up the habit of firing a few shotgun blasts into your house every night? If there were a functioning government over us, you would call the police. But suppose this is lawless country, and that you are on your own. I fire my shotgun a few more times into your house, while you are thinking about it. I blow the arm off one of your kids. You try to reason with me. I shoot your kid in the leg. You try some more. I shoot your kid again. And so on.

At some point, you stop trying to reason with me, you stop apologizing for whatever you did that gave me cause for anger, and you try operant conditioning. You shoot back. Then you wait. If I shoot again, you shoot again. If I stop, you stop. You keep this up for as long as it takes, cycle after cycle, for me to figure out that this is a dance, and I am playing the tune. If I play war, you dance war. If I play peace, you dance peace. It's up to me. If I am not willfully stupid, I will eventually stop shooting into your house. Especially if you have a cannon that can blow my house to bits, should I make you angry enough.

Yes, I know. The actions of the Israelis look like disproportionate use of force compared to the military weakness of the Gazans. Apparently they have decided to give the Palestinians the propaganda victory in exchange for achieving a limited military objective, namely degrading the ability of Hamas to shoot rockets into Israel. To all the world it looks like Israel lost the conflict in Lebanon against Hizbollah, but no rockets have been launched into Israel from that area since then. If the current operation achieves a similar result, Israel will live with it. As they have said.

On the other hand, there was no worldwide appeal for a cease-fire while Hamas was shooting rockets into Israel. The images are gruesome, but given the anger they must feel, the Israelis must think their actions are restrained. Or are only Muslims allowed to get angry? The Palestinians hit Israel with all they've got, and the Israelis hold back. When they finally react, they do it with their hands mostly tied behind their backs, compared to what they could do if they really let their anger have free rein. The world does not complain about the Palestinians's violence, but it never fails to complain about the inevitable Israeli reaction.

And what would a "proportionate" use of force look like? Would the world stand by while Israel sends exactly the same number of rockets into Gaza every time Gaza launches rockets into Israel? Would the world stand by while Israel drops a bomb into a Palestinian market every time a Palestinian suicide bomber strikes in Israel?

Would you want to live like that? Or would you prefer to strike your enemy hard enough to get them to rethink this whole rocket business in the first place? And just how hard is hard enough, when your enemy seems impervious to learning from the previous six decades of experience?

Perhaps Israel should negotiate with Hamas. What would a "proportionate" opening position look like? Hamas has dedicated itself to genocide against Israel, which it calls the "Zionist Entity." Should Israel dedicate itself to a proportionate position with respect to the Gaza Strip?

Instead of calling for the Israelis to be proportionate, maybe the world should call for the Palestinians to grow up and build their Palestinian state if that's what they really want. They have already had more foreign aid per capita than it took to reconstruct Europe after World War II. And no small part of that, I might add, has come from the United States.

05 January 2009

Bull----ish on the Economy

Nightly Business Report did a short piece on Barack Obama's tax cut plan that featured Moody's estimates that the cuts would raise the US Gross Domestic Product by some percentage. I like tax cuts rather than big government payouts because tax cuts let us control more directly how our money is spent. But Moody's estimates have to be bulls--t. That's doesn't mean they are going to be wrong. It just means that the estimates are founded on inadequate models.

Now I'm no economist, but I am a modeler of complex physical systems, so here is what I think is going on.

Consider that the global economy is a giant network of people, corporations, and governments all interacting with each other in a highly complex and dynamic way. Mathematically we can represent each economic actor as a point or node or vertex, and each interaction between any two actors as a line segment or or edge connecting them. This collection of nodes and edges is called a graph. The graph theory literature is large, even though the subject is relatively new. It is new because large graphs can't be analyzed by continuum mathematics (like calculus). They have to be analyzed by large computers.

But the simplest questions one can ask about large graphs can be very hard even for a computer to answer. NP-hard in fact, which means that in practice you can't get the answer in a useful time. Even searching a large graph can be hard, let alone trying to compute how a graph of interacting agents will evolve in time. But that is exactly what you have to do in order to predict how the economy will react to a given stimulus. Such a model is currently beyond the capability of anyone, Moody's included.

Moody's, like all the other predictors, must be using a much simpler, and thus over-simplified model. It has to be over-simplified because, if it weren't, they would have predicted the current economic slowdown and done their investment rating much differently.

The modelers are getting a clue, however. I noticed that an Economics and Math professor is getting geared up for these kinds of problems, a book has been published, and another one is on the way. And while you're at it, check out the blog of Valdis Krebs, one the the world's go-to people on the subject of graphs and networks.

Don't hold your breath waiting for them to do real predictive economic modeling, though. Manipulating these large graphs may require quantum computers, and we don't quite have any of those yet.

04 January 2009

Yes, I've Thought About It

I've been blogging recently about the problems associated with reducing the US nuclear weapons arsenal deliberately or by neglect. Am I for real, or am I just one of those people who deny the horror of what they contemplate by "psychic numbing" as Robert Jay Lifton believed? Am I one of those dehumanizing and dehumanized beasts that Bob Dylan wrote of in Masters of War?

Master Of War - Pearl Jam - Nuclear Remix - WalKnDude

I do not dare resolve that question for myself. That would be immoral. The Apostle Paul wasn't kidding when he said in his letter to the Phillipians (2:12), "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Not for me. And not for you either, though you may not be aware of it.

But I do what I do because I believe all humanity needs it to be done. And yes, I believe the special status of the United States (despite its imperfections) as the last, best hope for the spread of liberal democracy requires me to do what I can to keep it strong. Liberal democracy (government chosen by the people it governs, and limited in its power over the people it governs) may not make a heaven on earth, but all the other systems of government have made hells.

See also: Obscenity and Peace, in which the obscenity referred to is war itself.

Moral Hazards on the Path to Zero

Dianne Feinstein, like most people in the world, probably thinks US nuclear weapons are targeted at somebody's cities. This is not true — yet. I say not yet, because targeting cities is one of the moral hazards on the path to zero nuclear weapons. The current US policy (and probably the Russian policy as well) is counter-force targeting. Counter-force means targeting the adversary's nuclear and conventional military forces and assets. We can afford to do this, because we believe we have enough assets to survive a first strike and still deliver an effective counter-strike.

But at some point, as the US destroys its nuclear weapons, there may not be enough to target an adversary's forces. So, in case hostilities break out, we will have to target (hold at risk) something else the adversary values. This is called counter-value targeting. Counter-value targeting is aimed at economic and symbolic centers, which are usually co-located with population centers. Hence, counter-value targeting is effectively a euphemism for threatening to launch nuclear weapons at cities.

Depending on how the geo-political climate evolves as we proceed along the path to zero nuclear weapons, we may need to switch from counter-force to counter-value targeting. The question for the American public is whether this switch is compatible with their moral values, or whether it might be better under some circumstances to pause on the path to zero until geo-politics makes it safe enough to proceed without switching to counter-value targeting.

Besides our targeting policy, the other moral hazard on the path to zero is strategic stability. As our nuclear forces decline, do we disperse them so that a single strike cannot destroy them all? Or do we consolidate them so that they can be more easily guarded against theft and diversion by terrorists? If we consolidate, then we may have to "launch on warning," because if we wait for confirmation that nuclear weapons are indeed striking us, we will have nothing left with which to strike back. If we disperse, then we will need to have the will to spend resources on security measures - "guns, guards, and gates," etc.

We do not need to "commit to a nuclear free world," as Dianne Feinstein demands. By treaty, we have already done so. We need to have a sober consideration of how we might get to that world. It will not be as easy or as safe as many people assume.

See also: Folding the Nuclear Umbrella and Pitfalls on the Path to Zero

Morphing Presidents

I was hoping for a crescendo, but it never came.

03 January 2009

Folding the Nuclear Umbrella

Senator Dianne Feinstein has written an opinion piece entitled"Let's Commit to a Nuclear-Free World," in this weekend's Wall Street Journal. In it she boasts of having blocked the Modern Pit Facility, Nuclear Test Readiness, and the Reliable Replacement Warhead. All three initiatives were part of folding the US Nuclear Umbrella in an orderly manner, rather than letting it collapse. I'll address these issues in the order Ms. Feinstein did.

The Modern Pit Facility was envisioned to re-manufacture "pits," which I assume is what Senator Feinstein meant by her use of the word "triggers." While it is true that we can re-use pits from dismantled nuclear warheads, we would need to re-manufacture those pits in order to build in certain "inherent" safety and security (anti-theft) features that the old pits don't have (because they were designed so long ago). Moreover, if we cannot re-manufacture pits, then we need to keep a lot of old pits around in case one or more of our adversaries decides to "sprint" to nuclear parity or superiority while we are trying to reduce our stockpile. The ability to re-manufacture would have enabled us to destroy many more of the old pits without fear that we would be leaving ourselves vulnerable to our adversaries. To state it as bluntly as I can, the Modern Pit Facility would have let us reduce our stockpile far below what we could risk without it. Failure to develop some kind of facility like it may set a limit on how low our stockpile can safely go.

Nuclear Test Readiness is part science and engineering, and part politics. The science and engineering is obvious: nuclear testing is the difference between confidence and certainty that our nuclear stockpile remains operational. The politics is that maintaining readiness makes it less attractive for an adversary to test so that they can watch us flounder for a few years trying to get ready to respond. That would erode confidence in the US stockpile and resolve, and might make some countries wonder whether they can really count on our nuclear umbrella, or whether they should build there own. Failure to maintain a reasonable readiness may thus contribute to nuclear proliferation - among our allies.

The Reliable Replacement Warhead is proof that nuclear weapons scientists don't know anything about marketing. What was really happening is that parts of the warheads in the current (so-called "Enduring") stockpile need replacement or fixing every so many years. We can maintain parts of the old Cold War weapons complex to service those parts, or we can redesign the parts to be manufactured and maintained by a smaller, complex that is cheaper, more secure, and more environmentally responsible to operate. Again, the idea behind the RRW and the MPF was to substitute a smaller, more responsive manufacturing complex for a bloated stockpile that included a lot of nuclear spare parts. Failure to move forward with these projects may again set a minimum number of nuclear warheads and spare nuclear components below which we cannot safely go - a roadblock on the path to zero.

That is to say, we need to be able to go from zero nuclear weapons to a lot very quickly. Otherwise, if we get to zero, our adversaries will use the opportunity to take advantage of us in ways that are both unpredictable and horrible to contemplate.

We may indeed get to zero nuclear weapons some day. But let us not do it on a path that leaves us and our allies naked before our enemies. Let us fold the US nuclear umbrella in such a way that it can be re-deployed quickly should international conditions warrant.

See also: Pitfalls on the Path to Zero

02 January 2009

Gaudium et Spes, 2009

Let's all wish him well. Let's all hope he lives up to even a fraction of his promise. Martin Luther once said that everything that is done in the world is done by hope. As for change, someone once said that politicians need to be changed frequently, like diapers - and for the same reason.

Whatever your political persuasion, I can guarantee that Mr. Obama will surprise you. He didn't define himself during his campaign - he let us project our longings and hopes onto him. If he disappoints us, can we deal with it?

"Yes, we can."